Further Extracts From The Diary of Dr JA Earnshawe (Jim Thompson House)
For one year Nok and I have been happily married and I have now worked for several months in a well known international school in Bangkok. I intended to provide readers with more of my adventures but I’m afraid, as always, my life has been rather humdrum and routine. Just as in England most of my adventures are lived out by the fireside – or rather, in my present circumstances, in front of the air conditioner.
But then, lack of adventure never deterred other submissions – so I reasoned, ‘something must have happened to interest readers?’ Then I remembered: Nok and I, along with our friend Cummings, went to visit Jim Thompson’s House in Bangkok during the Easter break; surely this would be of genuine interest to readers who must be fed up with the monotony of lady-of-the-night stories? Such tales do not represent the real cultural aspects of the city and do it a great injustice. I hope to restore the balance towards the aesthetic side of Bangkok with my present submission.
By the way, Nok and I are living in an apartment in Pratanum which is economically reasonable although the area does have a reputation of being rather tough. Apparently there was a robbery at the local bank, and because the robbers were mugged on their way to their get-away car, it did not enhance the reputation of the Thai legal system when it was later rumoured that the muggers were the local constabulary.
Pratanum Apartments, Saturday 7th April 2007
When Cummings called to the apartment I explained there would be just the three of us on the excursion, as Nok’s brother was ill in bed after a late night at the karaoke.
‘What! That man is still here?’ Cummings said, rather insensitively in my opinion. Nok looked a little uncomfortable and the room fell into an embarrassed silence.
We set out early and found the weather fine, but as always I carried my brolly and packed a spare mackintosh in my rucksack. Nok always takes issue with my cautious habits, but as an Englishman I know better than to have faith with the weather, no matter in what part of the Empire I should find myself.
As a further precaution, even though the sun rarely peeps through the yellow shroud of polluted air, I put on a wooly balaclava helmet that my Aunt Daisy had knitted for me. If I may say so myself I did cut rather a sartorial dash, attracting a number of second glances as we walked to our nearest sky train station.
After a few wrong turnings we finally found our way to Jim Thomson’s House. This should not be confused with Jim Thompson House where we first confusingly found ourselves; it is quite different to, and not near to Jim Thompson’s House. Jim Thompson House is a kind of museum for the exhibition and sale of silk products established by Jim Thompson. Jim Thompson’s House is Jim Thompson’s house; that is, where Jim Thompson used to live (but not work – that was Jim Thompson House).
Because of our delay we were booked in to the very last tour of the day. We passed the time waiting for it to begin by feeding the elephants that were kept in the grounds.
Our tour guide was a rather attractive young lady, and of course Cummings immediately took a shine to her. He continually interrupted to ask irrelevant questions and to my mind got a little too close as he listened to her answers. I accept she was rather small and had a very quiet little voice, but I don’t believe there was a need for him to get so close.
The house is a traditional wooden style building preserved as it was when Mr Thompson was in residence. To one room we were forbidden entry although we could see through the barred doorway. Apparently, it was the householder’s personal bedroom, and no one had entered since Jim went missing back in 1967. Cummings whispered to me that he hardly thought it credible since there was a copy of yesterday’s Bangkok Post on the bedside cabinet. I looked hard but couldn’t make out the date or even the headlines. Either Cummings has eyes like a hawk or my own have considerably deteriorated – I just put it down to his usual facetiousness.
In the guest bedroom we were shown something very amusing; a china cat whose head could be removed and the body then used as a chamber pot for those unfortunates caught short at night. This kind of detail impressed me. It suggested a life of marvelous decadence that motivated me to venture an enquiry.
‘I could do with one of those. Are any for sale in the gift shop?’
I think she misunderstood my request because she replied (much to the amusement of the tour group):
‘I sorry sir – can not – but gentleman toilet near at reception room – can satisfy after tour.’
I could feel myself reddening because, the truth was, I was indeed caught a little short – what with having refilled my teapot so many times at breakfast and spending all day on and off the sky train, I was rather extended in the bladder department.
As the tour descended the stairs I sneaked back into the guest bedroom and quietly removed the cats head, putting it in my pocket while I enjoyed the excruciating relief of passing water down his neck – almost filling it up. I was about to replace the head and rejoin the tour when I thought I heard a noise in the next room. I looked hard through the iron gate of Jim’s bedroom but saw nothing; I wanted another look at that newspaper and try and make out the headline, so I pushed my head through the bars as I leaned into the room. I could still not quite make it out; ‘Bush … something … to meet …something like liar, or bear, at … no – it was no good. Cummings was probably just playing the goat as usual. Why can’t that man ever be serious for once?
It was then I found myself in a bit of a predicament. Somehow my head had got a bit stuck in Jim Thompson’s bedroom. No matter how I shifted it around and wiggled I just couldn’t seem to free myself.
Annoyingly, my absence from the touring party did not seem to have been noticed and I heard the main entrance door being slammed and locked along with ‘thank yous’ and ‘farewells’ were being delivered as the last tour of the day dispersed and the House was closed up for the night. At that point I became rather frantic; banging on the bars, calling out – even screaming for help, but all to no avail – no one could hear me.
Yet I only THOUGHT no one could hear me. Something rather incredible happened. Someone actually emerged from INSIDE Jim’s bedroom, unlocked the gate and came to my assistance. He did something that hadn’t occurred to me – he removed my balaclava helmet allowing my head to pop out from between the bars with ease.
‘I can’t thank you enough,’ I said to my Good Samaritan, for the first time examining his face. He was extremely wrinkled and very pale – it was as though he had never seen daylight for years.
‘Not at all,’ he said kindly, ‘- we all look after one another here.’
‘The names Earnshawe,’ I said, extending my hand towards him.
‘James,’ he said, responding to my welcome with a very frail hand.
‘How do you do Mr James.’ I said, ‘Do you work on security here?’
‘I live here,’ he said.
I understand that it is common practice to use custodians to look after empty properties in houses by those who may even pay for the privilege of staying temporarily in a luxury with landlords benefiting by not having their empty houses vulnerable to squatters – or having to pay for real security.
‘I don’t suppose you get many visitors at this time.’
‘Only two before you; one in 1967, and another in 1974,’ he replied.
Poor old sod is losing his marbles, I thought.
‘How long have you been living here?’
‘40 years’ he answered.
‘So I’m your third visitor. I see – thanks again for your help, but I really must be off now – if you would just let me out the backdoor, my wife and friend will be worried about where I’ve got to.’
‘You don’t understand,’ he said,’ ‘none of my visitors ever leave.’
‘What do you mean never leave? Do you mean your other two visitors are still here?’
‘Of course, would you like to meet them?’ he asked.
‘If you are sure it’s no trouble.’
He was losing his marbles. There wasn’t a soul in the room but us. I was about to call his bluff and meet his imaginary pals – no doubt the two china cats at either side of the fireplace.
‘Not at all,’ he said, walking over to a book case. He took hold of a book which I thought he was about to remove, but he tilted it towards him, appearing to trigger a hidden mechanism which silently, but dramatically, revolved the bookcase, revealing a secret door.
‘Please follow me,’ he said walking towards the opening in the wall.
A long spiral staircase descended into a cavernous basement leading to a well lit and carpeted area. It seemed as if we were in the reception of a luxurious hotel. James tapped quietly on one of the doors.
‘Lucky, may I see you for a moment?’ he said, ‘- we have another visitor.’
Without waiting for a response he tapped at another door.
‘Harry, would you just step out a moment please?’
After a short time, two extremely cautious gentlemen emerged from these doors. What my three hosts had in common was extreme old age, as well as a kind of incredulous interest in my visit. I was introduced by James to his two very real friends:
‘Lucky is also an English man,’ James explained, ‘an Earl in fact.’
‘The nickname comes from my days at the table,’ Lucky explained, ‘always was partial to a spot of poker.’
‘I was wondering about the name,’ I said, ‘- when I heard James call Lucky I almost expected a racehorse to appear.’
‘No, you won’t find Shergar here I’m afraid,’ Lucky explained, ‘- but like him we all had to disappear. I had an incantation with my children’s nanny back in Blighty in ’74 – had to high tail it here.’
‘An affair?’ I asked.
‘Well you could say that – but only a very brief and physical one. What brought you here?’
‘I was caught a bit short – you know, a rather desperate urge to pee came over me, sneaked in to do it down the neck of the china cat,’ I explained. ‘That’s when I met Jim – when I got stuck.’
‘You got stuck having a pee in a cat? That IS impressive. But that can’t be a reason to escape from society for the rest of your days?’
‘It isn’t,’ I agreed. The second gentleman interrupted to introduce himself in a distinct Australian accent.
‘G’day,’ he said with a friendly smile, ‘- the names Holt.’
‘Marc Holt?’ I asked, ‘I’ve always wanted to meet the author of Foreskin’s Chronicles.’
‘What?’ he said, clearly puzzled. ‘It’s Harry Holt.’
‘You must have heard of Harold Holt?’ James said, ‘- the Prime Minister?’
‘Wilson,’ I said, ‘wasn’t the PM Harold Wilson?’
‘This Harold drowned in 1967.’ Lucky explained.
‘Really?’ I said, ‘you wouldn’t think it to look at you.’
But you would, I thought.
‘”All the way with LBJ” was my catch phrase,’ Harry said with a fond grin, ‘- thought it best to keep a low profile after that.’
‘But LBJ wasn’t that bad’ I recalled, ‘– I always thought it rather refreshing with a bit of ice.’
They stared at me as if it was I who was the mad person in the room.
‘Well,’ I said, ‘- taking my prompt from the embarrassing lull in conversation. I really must be getting along.’
‘That’s impossible.’ James said firmly. ‘If you go, then we must all go.’
‘Well, you are most welcome to come along to my apartment – my wife knocks up a cracking son tam.’
‘See that box up there.’ James pointed towards a box high on the wall at the foot of the spiral staircase. It contained a brass lever, covered by a glass window.
‘We haven’t long to go now, but you; you are still in your prime.’
‘Thank you’ I said bristling with not a little pride, ‘- I do try to look after myself.’
‘When the last of our little community dies for a second and final time – and that is likely to be you – one of the guardians will come in and pull that lever. Exactly 30 seconds later it will trigger the collapse of the entire basement, entombing our bodies forever in a concrete sarcophagus. No one must ever know we lived on after our first deaths – otherwise that would implicate our guardians.’
‘But who are these guardians?’ I said, trying to win time as I worked out a way to get out of this predicament.
‘Let’s just say that they are people even you would have heard of.’
‘Stop this morbid talk.’ Lucky cut in cheerfully. ‘Let us all have a game of cards. We can make up two pairs now. I’ve been waiting over 30 years for this!’
So we played cards. After a few rounds I excused myself. I had to take leave of the old gentlemen now. And they were VERY old – and of course quite bonkers. I knew that after I pulled the lever I had just 30 seconds to get up the spiral staircase.
When I broke the glass something happened I hadn’t expected; a siren went off. As I ran upwards to my escape the three old men, alerted by the howling siren, began to pursue me. I am no spring chicken but in comparison they were cryogenically frozen. When I reached the top, I briefly glanced back below before closing the bookcase. As long as I draw breath I’ll never forget what I saw. As Ian Fleming said, ‘you only live twice’. According to his wise words; you live a second time only when you look death in the face. It seems that even when you are very old it gives you quite a fright.
I got out of the building through an open window. The rumbling and collapse of the basement was understandably mistaken for an earthquake. The elephants took fright and were stampeding out of control. I clung to the wall as they thundered past me breaking down the gates.
As I passed through the mangled gateway I found a note from Nok telling me that she was waiting with Cummings in a nearby beer garden. I hurried along and found the bar was crowded with motorbike boys and I did not immediately see my wife and colleague. At last I found Nok absorbed in drinking from a whisky bottle as Cummings chatted to a bargirl. I thought that they would be relieved to see me but I was greeted by a stony silence. Suddenly, Nok turned on me firing out an angry accusation;
‘You stay Jim Thompson House – go sleep with guide.’
‘No darling, I went for a pee in the cat.’
‘Is that all?’ Cummings asked grinning. ‘I hope you didn’t demolish the house.’
‘Of course not,’ I said – (I tried to sound hurt). ‘What do you take me for? But I think there was a kind of an earthquake after I left – it stampeded the elephants. Best stay indoors for a bit they’re running around crazy out there.’
I put my hands in my pockets and found the head of the china cat in my pocket.
‘See,’ I said handing it to Nok, ‘I took the head off the cat before I used it as a toilet.’
Nok examined the head for a minute and seemed to be fascinated with it. Then without warning, she smashed her whisky bottle on the table and held the jagged edge to my throat.
‘Now I take your head off and use as toilet.’ She screamed.
‘Put that down!’ Cummings shouted.
Nok, shocked into her senses by Cummings sudden intervention sheepishly placed the bottle back on the table. But Cummings hadn’t finished.
‘The funny thing is,’ he said, ‘if any one should be angry with jealousy it should be your husband. You may be able to pull the wool over his eyes but…’
‘Steady on old chap…’ I tried to interrupt but my colleague was in full flow.
‘But, he continued unabated: ‘don’t you think it isn’t obvious to everyone else what is going on here with your so-called brother who any one with half a brain can see is just a parasite.’
‘TIC MY BROTHER.’ Nok screamed out. Cummings was stopped in his tracks by her emphatic outburst. For a few seconds she paused, as if she was dismissing the idea of disclosure at all, but then she seemed to gather courage and in a low voice she told us her harrowing story:
‘First from age of nine years – my father him abuse to me – now brother him same. What has been done to me it is not good. I don’t like for me. Now first time in my life I meet good man and marry him– he take care and make happy for me – I afraid to be losing him so I make angry. I sorry – but inside I hurt badly.’
Her gaze was grave and lost in the distance. It seemed as though she was slipping away from me into a deep abyss and I was helpless to prevent it. At that moment she looked the loneliest and most pathetic creature in the world.
I was frozen by the sense of something irreparable. My impulse was to run up to her and hold her, but as I tried to move I realised I was pinned fast by the collar to the hook of a rack behind me which I had backed into when I was charged with the bottle.
As her pain became too much to bear, she ran out into the street. In a wild effort to follow her I tore myself away from the rack pulling it off the wall, bringing down a row of shelves on top of me along with the helmets of the motorbike boys, which scattered all over the floor. The room was enveloped in chaos as the boys, thinking I was trying to make off with their property, descended upon me, the shelves and their helmets in a sprawling melee of confusion.
As I lay face down on the floor, an even deeper sound like multiple bomb blasts had developed around us. It became so loud and frightening that we slowly rose to our feet as the building seemed certain to collapse. We had forgotten our immediate differences as the deafening roar froze us into mute inaction.
Startled by a sudden comprehension of the situation, I ran out into the swirling dust. The pounding had fallen to a distant drum beat. As the air cleared, I saw ahead of me what looked like a pile of scarlet rags beaten flat into the road. Yet, as I approached I saw that something almost human protruded from the bundle. It was an arm, and at the end of the arm, a hand, and the hand held the head of a china cat.
It was then I knew I had lost her.
I gazed at what was left of the brown forehead, the closed eyes and the locks of jet hair trembling in the breeze and said to myself: ‘The world for me had been good – it was now no longer good – but it wasn’t even bad. It had become something meaningless and beyond hope. There seems to be no longer any point in anything.’
For what seemed to be an eternity I held the tiny lifeless hand that clutched the head of the china cat. Perhaps I was surrounded by a staring crowd – I didn’t know or care. Yet astonishingly, something did start to break through my coma. The approaching squeak of rusty iron from a pedal bike emerged from the glare of the sun ridden by a man with a magnetic radiant smile. I could sense that something extraordinary was about to happen. He stopped before me, and continuing to smile, handed me a card. I felt compelled to read it:
‘Green Star Assurance Company, Trent and Associates Ltd.’
I knew immediately that this was symbolic of something profoundly deep, and as I looked into the smiling face I knew what it was. Even the tragic death of my beautiful wife, could not be meaningless – some good would come from it, life would go on – I knew there was always hope.
A familiar voice from behind me interrupted my train of thought.
‘That lady – she steal from me head of cat – then elephant – him walk on her.’
I turned towards her and she looked at me gravely and, as her lips opened slightly with the suspicion of a half smile, I held her tightly in my arms like a child. I could feel her heart beating quickly in her chest like a little bird as I returned the card to the man on the bike. With a sad reluctance he took it and rode off.
‘Let’s go,’ I said to Nok, ‘we’ve got to evict big brother from the house.’
J A Earnshawe BSc PhD
Excellent, as always!