The Brokenman Reflects
It is as early as November when nameless soap stars, ageing fashion models and the fat wench who used to be in the Nolan Sisters appear on the Christmas adverts on TV. This is the first indication that the dreaded festive season is approaching. Now Christmas has long come and gone I remain firmly in agreement with Ebenezer on the subject. With a new year came a time for reflection, the opportunity to pen a few observations on the past year and offer an update on my situation.
I am probably best-known on this esteemed site for my Brokenman sagas and perhaps best forgotten short stories but the old and infirm amongst you may recall my early contributions to the site. In the main they were long meandering dissertations which were often little more than misogynist bluster. I was likened to a wizened old buffer from the days of the British raj sitting in a wicker bath chair on the cricket club pavilion haranguing the punka- wallahs and writing complaining letters to the Times.
What do you mean I haven’t changed very much…Harrumph! …. Frobisher take that man’s name!
There are a few subjects that have always had me reaching for my quill. The iniquities of the British financial institutions and the vagaries of western womanhood are always guaranteed to have me in apoplexy. I have also been known to eulogise about what a splendid bunch of fellows the chaps in the Stickman community are. And unless I am adequately medicated I do tend to spout a bit about Thai women on occasions. I also have a reputation for putting my “testicles on the shovel” and being disturbingly open in my testaments. This missive continues that tradition and I make no apologies for its length and the undisciplined nature of its ramblings. You may need to prepare a flask and a packed lunch before you embark on its reading.
The festive season is an ambivalent experience for me, one to be endured rather than enjoyed. There is much I love of the Yuletide traditions. I enjoy the chaos of the family arrangements and as a singer I get great delight in performing in Christmas concerts with my choir. But I hate the crass commercialism and the tyrannical contrived bonhomie that insists every one should be in a state of permanent jubilation for a month. I can also do without the draconian police clampdown on drivers and the pubs being full of non drinkers exclaiming “are you calling my beer a poof?” as a prelude to a fight. It never fails to amuse that if you are drunk between Dec 1 and Jan 1 you are a festive reveller. If you are similarly inebriated any time from Jan 1 to Dec 1 you are considered a pisshead.
The whole decade has been somewhat mixed for me. The pivotal event was the divorce from my English wife of 20 years in 2003. My career also saw more ups and downs than an adolescent’s foreskin. From being a thrusting successful executive and pillar of the community I had seen the effects of financial skulduggery, globalisation and divorce devastate my assets and aspirations. However, later in 2003 I also discovered the pleasures of the dysfunctional Disneyland of Thailand which gave me some purpose in life … a misplaced purpose perhaps but purpose nonetheless.
Since 2003 the advent of the Christmas advertisements in November had always prompted a pavlovian reaction in me or is it more correctly a conditioned response? (I must ask Fanta). It was the signal to confirm the Thai Airways flight and book a room at the Nana Hotel. It only remained to apply the “just for men” to my hair and shave my genitals then my preparations were complete for my pre Christmas Siamese sojourn. For a few years I only existed for my next Thailand trip. I lived as if I had only six months to live and certainly did not exhibit any indications of longer term planning beyond a six month horizon.
For two weeks at the end of November I would be happily ensconced in the sois of Sukhumvit. I was truly alive and would spend my time accumulating memories to sustain me through the dreaded Yuletide and the next six months until my next Thailand trip in May.
I have many wonderful memories of those 6 years. These memories include being greeted in the Golden Bar by such luminaries of the Stick fraternity as Marc Holt, Fanta and Sick Water Buffalo. I fondly recall the Stickman get together in the Big Mango bar in 2006 which was also the first time I met Cassanundra who has since become a good friend. It was also that week my nurse from Roi Et kept me incarcerated in a Nana bedroom for three days for her carnal gratification and I had my first and only conversation with the sainted Dana (although the two incidents are not connected).
My happiest reminiscences are of sitting in the Tilac and the Dollhouse with my old comrade Phil pointing out his favoured girls whilst waiting for Bangkok Barry to arrive breathless from some assignation. I could write a book about accompanying Union Hill as he occasionally descended the slippery slope down the Sukhumvit time tunnel or indulged in some elicit karaoke.
Spending weekends with the respectable Thai ladies I had met through Thai love links provided a respite from mongering and building my legendary photo collection of Thai girls in West Bromwich Albion shirts (small youth size). Another highlight was dinner with the delightful Jodi and BKKSW. My subsequent friendship with BKKSW has certainly given me an alternative perspective on life.
I would always make the obligatory trip to Pattaya to meet up with my football supporter pals. A great delight was the pleasant company of Materialsman and being introduced to some amazing bars I would never have found for myself. I would invariably sample the Thai girl friend experience for a few days. My visit would always entail a trip to Laemchebang to see my Thai lady friend Nat, and then it was back to Bangkok for the final few days of my vacation customarily spent with my oldest pals Phil and Union Hill.
I consider in 24 weeks over 6 years I was more alive than the majority of my friends in England have been in the last 24 years. Unfortunately I would have to return to Blighty and endure Christmas without the comfort of a female companion. Two years ago it was during such a bout of loneliness when I made the fateful decision to marry my Thai lady friend Nat the following Easter.
This brings me back to my current reflections.
What’s another year?
Eighteen months ago my world was idyllic, for the first time in years I could visualise a future beyond a six month horizon. I was in a job I loved in a business that was successful and I felt valued. I had my Thai wife living with me; she had settled in well to the UK and enchanted everyone she met. I was so happy if my smile was any wider my face would have fallen in half. But I had not appreciated just how fragile that happiness was.
In late November my wife informed me she had significant debts in Thailand, principally on credit cards. Under considerable pressure to repay them she returned to Thailand with the intention of sorting them. I gave her the last of my savings to satisfy the most urgent obligations. Then “God's clog fell on me”, the British economy collapsed and the company’s order book evaporated overnight. Despite years of successful trading the banks refused to support the business and demanded drastic cost savings. I was made redundant on Christmas Eve.
My fortunes rallied a little in January. I got a job in Cambridge. Nat returned from Thailand and moved to Cambridge with me. Things looked extremely promising but within a few weeks of starting the owner notified me he intended to close the plant in March. Nat then informed me she had found a job in a Thai restaurant and was moving to live in London. I closed the Cambridge plant and moved the business to the owner's Wiltshire operation. I returned to the Midlands at Easter a defeated man. It was early May before Nat came up to spend a weekend with me. It transpired the Thai restaurant job was actually in a respectable (?) Thai massage parlour. When I put her back on the coach to return to London I knew I had lost her. Several years of emotional investment and aspirations for a life together vanished before my eyes.
La donna e mobile (Woman is but a fickle jade)
It has been over nine months since I last saw Nat and the pain is only now a little less raw. Friends are no longer asking me about her and hopefully have stopped sniggering at my foolishness. I can look back dispassionately with a degree of objectivity. I can begin to draw a line under the experience.
I accept getting married to a Thai lady was Brokendorf’s last gamble, but Nat was not a willowy young beauty, just an ordinary chubby older lady who I had lost my heart to. I certainly did not see myself as the great white rescuer; I saw her as a sensible lady of independent means and our relationship was firmly based on a mainly platonic friendship of 6 years standing. I was bemused that she didn’t appear to give much thought to the effect her leaving had on me but I was thinking within the western paradigm.
However capricious her behaviour I do not believe she meant me any malice, nor do I believe she used me to get British citizenship. I am beginning to understand the mistake I made was seeing her actions in terms of a western perspective. Much as I loved her I now accept that I indulged myself in a form of anthropomorphism and bestowed her with western values and characteristics she (in retrospect) clearly did not posses. Codefreeze explained this to me as a “projected image”. With the benefit of hindsight I can now see some of the signals over the years which I chose to ignore at the time. She had a long history of living beyond her means for the purpose of making face with no thought about future or consequence. I had often witnessed examples of a “vicarious generosity” with money and things not in her gift which my selective myopia failed to register.
When we decided to marry she was under no illusion of my (lack of) wealth, she knew I was never rich enough to address her problems but she obviously saw me as a short term respite from them. I wanted to share a dream with her but her dream was to return to a lifestyle of profligacy that would shame an Arab potentate. She knew to do so she must first pay for her previous decade of indulgence and excess, or more accurately to repay at least enough to lift the threat of a Thai courtroom and the restrictions imposed by the Thai financial institutions.
I have no doubt she was happy in her time with me but I now see our aspirations were on parallel tracks that would never meet. When I lost my job it merely confirmed that I was not the solution she sought. Her pragmatism saw the job in London as a vital source of income and the opportunity to be back amongst her own kind.
I had ceased to provide what she needed; she had ceased to need what I was providing so I became unnecessary.
Paradoxically she sent me £100 a month for six months towards the last £6k I lent her. Whether through guilt or through a genuine concern for my hardship I remain unsure. In my current circumstances it was very welcome, as was the fact with her gone I could turn down the thermostat on my central heating by 15 degrees even in the depth of winter.
My contact with her now is almost non-existent; she never answers my phone calls and rarely replies to my texts and emails. She has been back in Thailand since Christmas and has talked about working in Hong Kong. She has also intimated she may return to the UK in March, to the job in London, but not to me. Her UK visa expires in September and I will obviously not support its extension. I imagine the next time I see her will be on the steps of the Amphur in Bangkok when we dissolve the marriage. I wish her no ill will but am looking forward to writing a submission in the not too distant future entitled “Closing that chapter”
Vesti la giubba (On with the motley)
I rejoin my tale in May having said goodbye to my wife. It was four weeks before I found a temporary job which lasted just six weeks before being laid off. After losing 4 jobs in 6 months I had exhausted my options and resources so I submitted to the inevitable. In the first week in June I threw myself on the mercy of the welfare state and signed on the dole at the job centre.
I should explain the workings of the British welfare system. The system offers no help for someone experiencing temporary difficulties if he still has assets (i.e. his own house or savings). However it does offer a safety net for the truly destitute. Having lost my house in my earlier divorce and any money I had accrued since had been dissipated in my recent marital misadventure I passed the means test and qualified for assistance.
Once I had registered as unemployed the local authority paid my rent and community tax. Payment protection insurance covered my credit card repayments and loan I took out to cover old debts from my first marriage. It did however take a few months of dispute with the pariahs of the UK Insurance industry before they agreed to honour what I had for years been paying premiums for. I received a job seeker's allowance from the State of £64 per week to cover gas, electric, water rates and food. Although it leaves little for the pleasures in life I can not complain as I acknowledge there are millions of people far worse off than me.
In order to qualify for the £64 job seeker's allowance I am required to present myself at the job centre every fortnight. I have to demonstrate I am available and actively looking for work. I do this by completing a sheet noting my job search activities which the officer signs off and my payments are approved. I send a copy of this sheet to the Insurance companies to ensure they continue to cover my debt repayments. I have heard many complain about the indignity of all this. I am not among their number and I consider myself very fortunate to live in a country that has such a welfare system.
I am proud of my country which has given much to the world but I despair at what self serving politicians, grasping industrialists and greedy financiers have done to it in the past 20 years. The destruction of our industrial base began with Thatcher and has continued unabated since under the banner of globalisation and an indecent haste to export British jobs to low wage economies. Unrestricted immigration was an experiment in social engineering initiated by new labour under Blair and Brown and was intended to replace the British working class with a more compliant workforce imported from Eastern Europe and the Middle East. Britain is the only banana republic with cold winters and the only nation in the world where the ruling intelligentsia appear to hate the country, its own people and traditional values.
I am uncertain where a UK economic recovery will come from. There is not enough confidence and too much debt for a consumer led revival. It will not come from exports as we don’t make anything any more. In the past year the UK has lost 50,000 small businesses. This is due in no small part to the drying up of bank credit despite the huge sums of public money being pumped into banks for the very purpose of business lending. Small businesses provided 60% of the UK GDP; they are a vital source of innovation, entrepreneur spirit and possibly our only salvation.
The financial services industry was only ever 8% of GDP but constituted 30% of UK “growth”. The government was in thrall to these pirates despite evidence that this growth was mere smoke and mirrors. It is all quite sad and rather than financial regulation the situation actually requires a few politicians and senior financiers being publicly lynched from lampposts in the street.
Against this background I knew I could be out of work for some time. I battened down the hatches determined I could survive through a harsh regime of strict frugality. With a recession of biblical proportions there was very little recruitment activity anywhere. I explored all the avenues and agencies but out of over 100 applications I have only had three (unsuccessful) interviews. Being “over qualified” was a commonly used justification for rejection. Attempts to apply outside the world of manufacturing and business such as local government or the health service was met with prompt rebuff and the pronouncement they would accept no applications from candidates without the relevant experience specified.
Cassa kindly gave me a contact with an agency that advertised technical positions in SE Asia. In six months I applied for over 30 management and engineering jobs I was eminently qualified for but did not receive the courtesy of a reply from any of them. I strongly suspect Asian companies will not entertain applicants above the age of 50
I explored Lecturing in Further Education as I have done a bit in the past. I was accepted for a place to study for the PTLLS preliminary qualification for college lecturing. Unfortunately the course was cancelled through lack of interest. With manufacturing in decline, an 18% drop in the number of students studying for manufacturing or engineering degrees has been reported. This resulted in a 30% reduction in lecturing positions in both Higher and Further Education.
I continued to network as much as possible and recently attended an evening lecture of my professional institute. What was disconcerting was past colleagues, friends and acquaintances of years avoided me as if I had leprosy.
Did they think that unemployment was contagious?
Wise men from the orient
Although job seeking absorbed most of my time it does not take up 24 hours day. I was already suffering with porn blindness from excessive internet surfing with my left handed mouse. The “orgasm compilations” are like watching “goal of the month” competitions every day and can begin to pall after a while. I filled my time scribbling a couple of short stories although my last effort “The Bangkok lady boys’ male voice choir” did not generate much interest or comment.
My principle leisure time activity was corresponding with fellow Stickmanites. I continued to get support from Lookpapa who has always served the role as my kindly uncle. I received some fascinating advice from Caveman principally about confidence and his comments go some way to explaining my predicament. Codefreeze has also been a source of wise counsel. I exchanged notes with John Daysh, an intriguing writer with a highly individual style. I have been particularly pleased to correspond with Mac BKK, a highly intelligent and perceptive fellow and I suspect we will develop a genuine friendship in the next few years.
In previous missives I gave mention to some of the remarkable fellows who regularly write to me but I beg your indulgence and mention those I missed last time. Jason R, Gary S, Bruce H, Sean B, Robert M, Wayne S, Peter P, Greg H, MT and Brian Itsme. Their notes have always entertained and kept my spirits up
The reputation of gentlemen who visit Thailand is tainted by feminist propaganda and the antics of certain Neanderthals in Pattaya. TV programmes like the Louis Theroux nonsense portray us as sad old tossers. This misrepresentation is considerably unfair and grossly inaccurate. The majority of fellows I have met through the Stickman site have been some of the most articulate, intelligent and generous spirited chaps on the planet.
But there is one myth I would like to dispel and that is that only Brits and Aussies can comprehend the “British” sense of humour. I will not deny there is a definitive British humour and my affection for Antipodean chaps is well documented. I have yet to meet an Aussie or Kiwi I could not get on with but I do not believe our sense of humour is unique to us. I will concede that there are a small minority of Americans who miss the joke however I could cite a number of Americans (such as Greg H) I correspond with who posses a sense of humour as well developed as any Brit or Aussie. I correspond with guys in Germany and Switzerland who appreciate our wit. Eyal from Tel Aviv and Shardy from as far away as India share our outlook. Even Mack BKK whose perceptive wit I so admire hails from Scandinavia. You would have to go a long way to find a more sensible and pleasant fellow than David M (who does the translations for the site) and he is French. I feel the common interest and common decency that the tribe of Stickmanites all share transcends national boundaries.
We could actually start a government from chaps in the Stick community. My old comrade Phil would be Chancellor of the Exchequer as he could certainly teach the Treasury a thing or two about budgeting. Union Hill would be the minister of culture to ensure we avoided it. BKKSW would definitely be minister in charge of law and order and Korski responsible for foreign affairs. Cass would be attorney general, Bangkok Barry media relations, Marc Holt small business minister and Fanta minister of Education. I am certain other readers have similar ideas for membership.
Getting back in the saddle
From 1997 to 2007 the number of divorces in the UK involving people above the age of 45 increased by 30%. Almost 70% of these divorces were initiated by wives. A recent survey by the Department of Work and pensions identified 600,000 single women above the age of 50 (SWOFTIES) in the UK. The survey also identified that only 17% were looking for a male partner. This confirms my contention that most women of a certain age do not want the physical “unpleasantness” of a relationship with a man and those that do are merely looking for a handyman.
I continued to explore internet dating sites but in a desultory manner with no great enthusiasm. Then out of the blue on an obscure dating site I met a Thai lady who lived within 5 miles of me. By a cruel twist of irony her name was also Nat. Following an exchange of notes we met in a nearby hotel. The first date was an unexpected success and further dates followed. At 50 she was the oldest Thai women I have dated but delightfully petite she looked at least 10 years younger. Originally from a respectable family in Bangkok she had lived in the UK for 10 years, been divorced for 5 and had no children. She had a job in healthcare, was bright, had a captivating smile and for a few weeks she returned the smile to my face.
I was very careful not to say too much about my recent marital problems, I know nothing is less attractive than to hear about one's previous partners. I was discrete and also went out of my way to be charming and attentive to her. When she inquired if I knew the Sukhumvit area of Bangkok I was at pains to explain I only visited the district when I attended bible class with Stickman.
She told me the story of the divorce from her middle class English husband. I could not fully understand her tale but the reasons appear not to have involved a third party but revolved around his involvement with an amateur dramatics group which she felt absorbed too much of his time. This knowledge did not auger well for my prospects with her particularly as my hobby is singing with a male voice choir. She was pleasant enough but after we had been out a few times she tended to be moody and had a list of requirements and expectations that seems par for the course with hormonal women whatever their nationality.
Then as quickly as it began she ceased contact with me. I was disappointed but not unduly, my track record with Thai ladies living in the UK leaves much to be desired. The phrase “mai pen rai” and possibly “close escape” comes to mind.
It was a few months later when I saw her photo and profile on a different UK dating website. I was interested as to her welfare and inquisitive why she had stopped seeing me. I contacted her and asked if I had done anything wrong. Her reply was illuminating.
“hi, coz the way u r not impress me, smell smoking sometime & too much problem at the moment with yr wife, work, condition not good enough to b my type, I am not tall & quite small short but I like taller than u a bit.. sense of humour not tune in together, life in Thailand too boring with night life naughty style..u did not do anything wrong..u get job yet?
As scathing put downs go I have received far worse although it did little for my already fragile ego. I was mystified why a woman 4’10’ would need a guy to be taller than my 5’7”. It also begged the question “Do I really prefer Asian women or is it that I perceive them as more available?”
My ideal woman would be my pal Jodi. She has the confidence of a western education and a self assuredness from doing a job she was born to do. Yet she retains the grace and femininity of her Asian heritage and has a well developed sense of humour. We correspond regularly as we have a common interest in choral music. But I do appreciate it will remain unrequited. She is at the top of a wonderful career and enjoys a unique status and prestige in Bangkok. She would be highly unlikely to ever be attracted to a life in the UK. Still, one can dream.
I will concede that the finest specimens of western women are possibly more beautiful than the most stunning Asian beauty, but Hollywood aside if you put the average Thai woman against her western counterpart Thai womanhood win hands down. However I maintain the most beautiful females you see in the UK are without doubt westernised Indian women.
I was amused that a recent “Lonely Planet guide” declared nearby Wolverhampton as the 5th worst city in the world. I can understand this, the city being the location of the Custard bowl where our rivals Wolverhampton Wanderers play. However its principle attraction is a large population of delicious young Indian girls. Watching these enchanting creatures around the shops and offices in the city is a pleasure to almost rival the delights of ogling the University students and shop girls around Siam Square and MBK in Bangkok.
Unfortunately these exquisite creatures are totally unavailable to the average white Englishman. They generally keep within their culture when choosing partners be it Hindu, Sikh or Muslim. Indian men own all the businesses and have all the money so there is certainly no economic advantage being a white guy.
The net effect of all these demographics is there are at least 4 times as many decent presentable English men seeking love as there are interested presentable English women available above the age of 40. A cursory perusal of dating sites will confirm that the majority of western women have their heads firmly inserted into their anal orifices. Most astute men realise they are a lost cause.
The advent of the internet and an expansion in tourism has increased awareness of the alternative and there are now thousands of western men exploring the option of women from Thailand or the Philippines. This has created a demand for Thai womanhood that potentially exceeds supply. All the young attractive girls on Thai love links have numerous suitors and can afford to be very selective or even predatory. Even quite ordinary older ladies have a stable of western men plighting their troth. I have noticed on the more visible sites like Tagged, older Thai ladies have the photos of at least a handful of middle aged western men as “friends” on their profiles.
I believe the demand for young Thai girls whether bar girls or nice girls is such that in the not too distant future a relationship with a switched on Thai girl below the age of 35 (whether bar girl or nice girl) can only ever be on a time-share basis. I suspect many Thai girls are acutely aware of their value; the message appears to be “Get yours whilst stocks last!”
Notwithstanding I would certainly prefer to have a feminine graceful Thai girl sharing my life. I still believe outside the urban centres of Thailand there are thousands of honest Thai ladies without guile who are seeking a western man for genuine reasons. I remain convinced my future love is sitting in a village in Isaan waiting to meet me. She will be a gentle lady in her 30s or 40s and most likely a school teacher, librarian, nurse or government officer
The alternative is Olive from “On the Buses”. The thought of a disappointed English woman galumphing and multitasking around my flat fills me with dread. Particularly when going out of her way to make sure you are doing your “share” or whatever is the latest perception of being equitable the feminist media has instructed them. It is not difficult to see the source of western women's dysfunctional behaviour if one watches soaps operas on TV where strong women dominate weak-willed men. In most of the western media men are portrayed as buffoons or pantomime villains. Feminism certainly has a lot to answer for and one day I will write a dissertation on the insidious effects of feminism in society… if you are not careful.
Is that a white wench with BMR?
One pal Frankfurt Barry suggested I should stop seeking women below my “niveau” (which is the German word for station or standing in life). Initially I thought it strange advice to give a fellow with self esteem issues (albeit temporary) but he is a sensible bloke so I took his advice on board. I recalled similar counsel from BKKSW who also suggested there was a rare group of women who can be charmed by beautiful prose; you just have to find them.
I had taken a break from chasing Asian women and in fact, in my current financial situation I had given up on all women. At a loose end one evening I explored one of the UK dating sites and identified a handful of educated, attractive and (apparently) intelligent English women. I carefully composed an amusing letter of introduction and sent it to my selected target group.
My expectations were not great. I was aware that the attractive women on these sites will not even read an email until they have checked the photo on the sender’s profile. Only if he meets her exacting standards of physical appeal will she look at the email. But nothing ventured is nothing gained.
To my great surprise within a few days I received a reply. The lady informed me she had only recently joined the site having taken a month’s free membership. After a couple of weeks she was disappointed with the site and was leaving that week. Although she had received an overwhelming amount of interest from surprisingly handsome men she was saddened by how shallow and vacuous they were.
Then she received my missive and she told me she was quite delighted to read a literate piece of correspondence. In 6 years on these dating sites I must have sent over 300 notes, this was the first time my writing skills had got a woman’s interest …but even a stopped clock is correct twice a day.
We began corresponding; she was a little younger than me, a solicitor by education and a lecturer at the local University. She was refreshing, charming and highly intelligent. When we finally met I was pleasantly taken aback how petite slim and pretty she was. She took me to see a play at the University theatre, the play was a turgid affair but we went for a drink later in a lively town centre bar. Our conversation ranged from the operas of Puccini to the origins of the British working class movement. After 6 years of exclusively dating Asian women where the principle conversation would begin “I need new shoes, new dress, or money” (Insert as appropriate), an intellectual discussion with a female was a huge novelty.
I took her to one of my choir concerts the following week which she hugely enjoyed. A stage musical and a rock gig followed in subsequent weeks. It was a novel experience being with a classy English woman who declared to be very comfortable in my company. We had a couple of weeks break as she was on the short-list for a dream job and she needed time to prepare for the interview. I duly contacted her as I had tickets for a concert she had expressed an interest in but was hugely disappointed when she informed me she would not be able to come….she had become romantically attached to a bloke and whilst she enjoyed going out socially with me her new man would not understand. I was saddened, although we were still at the friend stage I was optimistic about this relationship developing. It was a few weeks later I spotted her in town with her new beau. I was quite surprised at her choice. He was big and swarthy and looked like a gypsy complete with tattoos and a gold earring. It may appear churlish of me to comment but I swear his knuckles dragged on the floor.
Clinging to the wreckage
My two sons have always played a role in keeping my equilibrium. Although they live with their mother a few miles away, since the divorce they had religiously maintained seeing me at weekends. This routine began with seeing my youngest lad every Saturday and the eldest on Sundays. When Nat left me my youngest lad began staying at my flat a few nights a week. He has always enjoyed my cooking and the freedom he does not get at home. Now 20 he is a sensitive and tormented soul and I am the only person in the extended family that has ever listened to him and tried to understand him. This has created a close bond between us so when in September he went away to University in Portsmouth 150 miles away, it left a big void in my life.
My eldest lad, now 23, is a more robust personality and our relationship has revolved around a mutual love of football. In 10 years I have only missed a handful of his games. When his younger brother left for university he took up the baton staying weekends with me. In October when he broke his ankle playing football he moved in with me. For six weeks he ensconced himself as a permanent fixture on my settee watching Star Trek reruns and eating me out of house and home. It was wonderful. When his ankle healed he returned to live with his mother because of the proximity to his workplace.
My flat felt very empty again.
Taming the black dog
I consider myself a resilient fellow. Throughout my life I had my share of the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune and had always bounced back. When my Thai wife left me I was understandably disconsolate and the events of the previous six months in Cambridge and Wiltshire had left me physically and mentally exhausted. The final indignation of signing on the dole had plunged my spirits to low ebb. However the cathartic effect of writing about my experience in submissions to the Stickman site and the subsequent correspondence with fellow Stickmanites raised my spirits for a time.
I am certainly not the suicidal type and although I experienced occasional bouts of gloom I felt confident of my resilience to eventually overcome my predicament. I was even blasé enough to explore my darker thoughts and penned a rather ill-advised essay entitled “Letting go”. I felt quite guilty about my intermittent feelings of melancholy knowing that there were millions in a far worse situation than me. The good lord gave me certain gifts, a sense of perspective, a vivid imagination and an unusual sense of humour. He also gave me a healthy thirst so it would be quite easy to drown my sorrows in drink in the solitude of my flat. Fortunately I did not; I am exclusively a social drinker and have never been able to drink with carpet under my feet.
But I had underestimated the cumulative and insidious effect that constant rejection and negative input can have on the psyche. The human spirit requires nourishment to sustain it and stimulation to grow. For a couple of months I had become a hermit rarely going out unless it was unavoidable for provisions or to attend the job centre.
Charles Handy’s metaphor of the boiling frog seems pertinent. If a frog is put in a pan of boiling water he will feel the pain and immediately jump out. If however the frog is placed in a pan of lukewarm water he is comfortable and remains still. When heat is slowly applied the frog does not notice the increasing temperature until he is boiled to death.
The erosion of my self esteem was incremental and unnoticed until I began to wake each morning with the metaphorical black dog sitting on my chest. Even simple tasks became daunting and I found I would burst into tears if I watched a film or heard emotional music. I was slowly losing my confidence, sense of perspective and sense of worth. I was beginning to think maybe I was a worthless piece of excrement.
I woke one morning shocked at what I had become. I had really let myself go. I hadn't washed or changed my clothes for days…. I smelled like a small African village.
Fortunately help was at hand
I have a bunch of mates I have been friends with since a boy. Over the years we religiously get together every four months. They are a disparate bunch and include a University professor, an airline pilot, a writer of pop hits, a forensic scientist, a tax inspector, an accountant and the inevitable solicitor amongst their number. The only thing we have in common is a lifelong friendship forged when singing together as boy sopranos in a church choir over 40 years ago.
The next reunion was a sportsman's evening at the local golf club. I made a real effort to pull myself together, put on a good suit and dragged myself to the event. The guest speaker was Don Goodman, an average footballer who had played at some time for every Midland club in an uneventful career. He was however an entertaining after dinner speaker. The evening was pleasant, the company as always engaging but despite my efforts to portray a customary joviality I think my friends were shocked to see my decline.
I suspect I was the subject of a few conversations over the next few days as the following week I received an invitation from my accountant pal to go to the Albion match with him where he has seats in the director’s enclosure. The next week my solicitor friend collected me to attend a couple of charity presentations he was making. The week after I was taken to a sportsman’s afternoon at the cricket club with Duncan McKenzie as the guest speaker and the subsequent week we all went to a highly entertaining amateur theatre production. Over the two months it was clear I was the recipient of a concerted effort by my friends to get me out and lift my spirits. By the time I was next in the director’s box at the Albion I had recovered sufficient to collar the club chairman with a proposition. My idea was to run a series of my photos of nubile Thai girls in Albion shirts (small youth size) in the match day programme.
For some strange reason he declined my proposal.
Blue skies ahead
I am returned to my old self, my perspective is restored and my sense of humour is repaired. I am indebted to my pals for rallying around me.
With the approach of Easter I will have been unemployed for 10 months but I am a little more philosophical about the situation. I can survive for a few more months as I have become accustomed to frugal living. But I will have to review my situation in June when the protection insurance expires and I will have to find £400 a month in debt repayments. Strangely enough I am actually in less debt now than I was 12 months ago.
The prospects of a management job in the cast metals industry seem as remote as ever and it feels such a waste. With a wealth of technical expertise and management experience I have much to contribute and feel I should be helping some organisation battle the storms. But my recent experience suggests that the few remaining employers are using the recession as an excuse to revert to a greedy grasping behaviour that would shame a Victorian mill owner or Ferengi slave trader. Stove pipe hats are coming back into fashion and I am unenthusiastic about spending another six months helping to save a company only to be considered disposable having done so.
I am not quite ready for the scrap heap and I am currently on the shortlist for a technical sales position with a foundry supply company. Getting around the country and meeting people is just the type of job to restore my enthusiasm and I am optimistic that my experience will secure it. If however nothing comes of this I do accept I need a completely new direction and I am prepared to return to University full time in September. There are bursaries available for teachers in shortage subjects and I have begun the lengthy application process to study for a Post Graduate Certificate in Education.
Starting anew aged 54 is both an exciting and scary prospect. Becoming a mature student may have its attractions; I imagine the young Indian female students will be far easier on the eye than the hairy arsed foundry men I have had to suffer for the past 30 years. My only reservation is that financial circumstances may curtail my visits to Thailand …but it will certainly not terminate them. The thought that I may never again perambulate Soi Cowboy or Walking Street does not bear thinking about.
I can not envisage taking a vacation anywhere other than SE Asia. The Mediterranean holiday resorts hold little attraction. I would have the same difficulty scoring in open play with western women on the beaches of Spain and Greece as I do on the streets of Britain. The female attention one receives in the Land of vertical smiles is in such stark contrast to that experienced with western women it can certainly cloud ones judgement. But I am under no illusions about the reality of Thailand’s attractions, particularly the bar scene. I do appreciate it is a fantasy; like Quark’s holo-deck suite in Star Trek DS9 it is a mere illusion. However despite its problems, the Thai bar scene remains infinitely preferable to the European P4Pmodel which is totally devoid of joy. There is still a strong sense of sanuk in the salacious sois of Sukhumvit that is totally absent on the sordid streets of Amsterdam or Hamburg.
I have been berated for my association with Thailand by many who consider me a dissolute. I am well aware that my Siamese sojourns are an anathema to English women and I have probably burnt my bridges with them. However there may be more than a slight element of envy in the remarks of my detractors. I can not fail to discern that most Englishmen I know are little more than beasts of burden to their ungrateful and embittered spouses. Their only topic of conversation is how the value of their houses has risen. Although I may lament the dearth of feminine companionship, I answer to no one and I enjoy an enviable relationship with my sons without the cost and heartache of supporting their mother. For six years I got to Thailand twice a year, made some wonderful friendships and cavorted with soft skinned lovelies of a finer quality than most men in England have experienced in a lifetime.
I sense my fortunes are about to improve, and one way or another I will be back in the Kingdom before the end of the year. I need to create some new memories.
Will I make the same mistakes again?
Watch this space.
Hang in there, Phet. Few writers have developed the following that you have. There are many, many Stickmanites rooting for you.