The Mongering Philanthropist Part 11
In the last episode our hero was attempting to get organised. He had commissioned the new foundry, launched a website and successfully completed the first phase of a prestigious contract. However there was still a great deal to be arranged not the least a source of income.
Part 11. Play-acting nights, a wayward knight and unexpected gunplay.
We were seated in the sumptuous reception area of the prestigious offices of the firm Hampton Johnson and Wood. Beverly was looking cool and professional in her dark suit and white blouse although her skirt was as always just a trifle shorter than I suspect is the business etiquette. But as she has a splendid pair of pins the effect was pleasing as always. The offices are located on the 12th floor of a 30 storey edifice on Canada square in Canary Wharf. It is all quite awe inspiring but I could imagine many places I would prefer to be on a Monday morning.
I had arrived back in the UK on Saturday evening surprised to be met at Heathrow airport by Dr Beverley Hall my associate at the grandiosely named Anglo Siam Trading Company. We take a taxi to a pleasant modern hotel in the Soho area she had booked for us. I take a shower and climb into bed. Beverley climbs in and wraps herself around me. She shows consideration for my jet lag and thankfully does not make any demands upon my ageing body that night. Within minutes I am fast asleep.
I wake the next morning refreshed and we indulge in gentle Ugandan relations. We shower and make our way down to breakfast. The hotel is conveniently located a five minute walk from Oxford Street and five minutes to theatre land. I talked her out of a trip to Harrods and explore Oxford Street instead. Although Phai had laundered all my clothes before putting me on the flight I did not have any business clothes with me. I do not generally enjoy shopping but exploring the shops with Beverly was an enjoyable experience. She found a very nice light linen jacket for me. As I tried it on I remarked I only needed a panama hat and I would be our man in Havana. But I was pleased of the look of the linen jacket with a sky blue Ben Sherman shirt and dark chinos. I looked every inch the colonial businessman which would be very appropriate for tomorrows meeting.
After a light lunch we take a gentle stroll to the Queens theatre to see a matinee performance of the musical Les Miserable’s. It is a wonderful spectacle, I have seen it before but this did not prevent me crying my eyes out again. When we emerged from the theatre Beverly began walking me towards Greek Street home of London’s attempt at a red light district. I reminded Beverly that if she was attempting to shock me I had just returned from Bangkok which made Soho’s seedy and sordid efforts look like an Archbishops garden party.
We found a bistro that served indifferent Italian food at extortionate prices but the company was good and we had a very pleasant evening. We made our way back to the hotel. Once we settled I could see Beverly was in a playful mood. It was becoming clear she was getting a taste for naughty role playing games. She went into the bathroom and came out in a blouse and a short pleated skirt. Tonight she wanted to be the naughty schoolgirl and I was to be the stern headmaster. It still surprised me a liberated black lady with a PhD had such a penchant for this sport. I soon had her over my knee and her exquisite little bottom exposed to my attention. In the absence of a cane I improvised with one of my flip flops. My spanking made more noise than it inflicted pain but it had the desired effect on her. She mounted me with a sudden fervour and once her passion was assuaged we lay together relaxed and she let me leisurely explore her exotic little places.
I do refer to Beverley as my ebony temptress but in truth her skin is more the colour of milk chocolate almost a dark caramel and as soft as velvet. But of more interest is she has an incredible sense of fun. She has threatened to satisfy my Whoopi Goldberg fantasy as soon as she can find a Guinan hat and I can procure a Jean Luc Picard uniform.
I am woken from my reverie with the sound of our names being called and find myself back in the office in Canary Wharf. We are ushered into a meeting room by two men introduced as Graham and Ian. Already seated is a very attractive stern looking lady who introduced herself as Diana. We take our places around a huge conference table and Diana opened proceedings. “As you probably know Hampton Johnson and Wood are a multinational construction company and property developers. We have projects around the globe”. She continued “a part of our business is building high class apartments and condominiums. We have a few projects in London which are part of the legacy funding following the Olympics.” She preened herself before continuing “I am the vice president of the division responsible for procuring civic art works and sculptures in the public areas of our developments. She pushed out her breasts in an involuntary gesture and said “We also have a department that procures statuettes and exclusive home accessories that give a touch of class to our executive proprieties.”
Beverley interjected “Your company is well known and respected but our company has a reputation particularly in Asia and I feel we can offer you a rather unique service” She then gave her spiel about the recent project for Sir Norman Lunt and doing similar statuettes for the celebrated interior designers Moot and Mincing.
I could not fail to notice that this Diana was definitely a good looking woman. In her 40’s her dark hair was severely swept back and her pin striped suit was exquisitely tailored. I swear I could see the indentations in her tight skirt that suggested a suspender belt was holding up those sheer black stockings. I just hoped she hadn’t noticed my lustful attentions but suspected the tongue hanging loosely from my mouth had maybe given the game away. She ignored my indiscretion and asked Ian and Graham to explain their current interest.
Ian declared his department dealt with procuring civic art works and large sculptures for the public areas of their developments. They were finding having large statues from US and European founders very expensive. They had tried buying from a foundry in China but had experienced severe difficulties assembling the compositions when they got the various sections on site.
I sympathised and explained large sculptures had not been cast as one piece since the Renaissance. It was customary to make them in several sections and weld them together in the workshop. They are subsequently disassembled or sawn into manageable segments for transporting. I gave the opinion that many foundries rely far too much on the skill of the welder and chaser for this process which can result in major problems .I explained that we employed what is known as a Roman joint which facilitates assembly but stressed that they must be designed in at the very beginning of the process. I could see Diana had understood, thanked me for my observations then signalled for Graham to continue.
Graham explained his section provided an interior design service to the clients who expected their luxury apartments decorated with signature artwork before they move in. “We offer an exclusive range of statuettes” he said and offered a catalogue for my perusal. The catalogue showed photos of a variety of statuettes and figurines. The collection was extensive, one page had a selection of animals including, tigers, lions and elephants. Another page portrayed various birds like storks, herons and eagles. I was quite impressed by the range with examples of dancers both classical and abstract. There were mythological creatures, Hindu deities, art deco figurines and the inevitable erotica.
I exclaimed “That is an impressive collection some of the figures are quite exquisite Graham smiled and launched into his presentation “I thank you, but unfortunately we have a major problem. A month ago the foundry we were using had an explosion and the ensuing fire destroyed all the tooling and even the original clays. We still have a few statuettes in stock of our complete range but because we don’t have the tooling or the original art work we have a problem. However we do have examples of all the figures. Would you be able to use them as models to produce new moulds?”
I explained there was a significant difficulty with doing that because the bronze casting contracted when it cooled. This shrinkage was around 1.5% which meant the casting was smaller than the original. To produce a mould off a statuette would result in a casting with a further 1.5% contraction and would be look noticeably smaller and substandard. The art world refers to what are copies from a copy as “surmoulages” and are considered grossly inferior. “You would see the difference immediately and I would be reluctant to tarnish our reputation in doing it.” I added “I suspect you would not want to sully your own reputation in offering such mediocre wares”.
Seeing his disappointment I suggested we could make new clays by scaling up from the castings from which we could make new moulds. Unfortunately the tooling alone would cost about £15k per piece and with 200 pieces in your portfolio you are looking at a bill of £3 million to start again. I commented my partner in Thailand was an accomplished artist with an international reputation. Beverley jumped in and showed Graham some photographs showing examples of Chan’s work. Although they were mainly Wats, elephants and temple bells and very Thailand orientated they could see that Chan’s output was comparable in artistry to their catalogue if not in the range.
I could see Diana thinking carefully. “I appreciate your explanation of surmoulages, I think we will have to bite the bullet and commission new originals, hopefully our insurance should cover some of the costs. I can also help in speeding up the process as we have about six artists we often use but I am not sure how knowledgeable they are with making sculptures for casting in bronze.”
I smiled and suggested they could attend one of our sculpture workshops. Seeing I had Diana’s interest I described how we were holding a series of Artists schools at our foundry in Thailand. Beverly stepped in and gave her a brochure she had prepared. I could see Diana was interested but made no comment. Beverley also promised to prepare some estimates for the options discussed. Diana said she would send her an official enquiry and supply the details of the statuettes concerned. With the exchange of a few pleasantries Diana closed the meeting.
When we came out I was too lazy to fight our way across London to Euston on the Jubilee line and Underground with my suitcase so we took a taxi. It cost £50 and took almost an hour to get to Euston but it gave the chance to chat about the morning’s business. I thought the statuette business could be quite exciting; we were capable of making every item in that catalogue and could make money doing so. But I explained to Bev my reservations about the large statues and civic art. To date Chan’s large statues had been exclusively in Thailand. It would not be practical to ship completed statues across the world and could not imagine Phanon and Prem welding and reassembling a statue in a freezing cold British winter. Maybe we could set up a partnership with someone in the UK but it needed some careful thought.
At Euston we took the Virgin train to Birmingham. Beverley was still upbeat and teased me about my reaction to Diana. She evoked images of me chained to the wall and Diana in a Basque flagellating me with a wet leek. I do wonder sometimes about Beverly’s vivid imagination. When she got bored with that she became inquisitive about my life in Thailand. She asked “I know all the men want to know about the two young dark haired beauties but who is the delicate girl who looks like an Asian Keira Knightly?” I told her “she is Ratana my assistant and adopted daughter” to which she replied “Ah that explains the adoration I could see in all the photos”. She gave me a conspiratorial grin and added “I have even worked out who is the queen Bee in your harem, I reckon it is the classy older lady Phai ….because in all the photos she never takes her eyes of you, she obviously worships if you ask me.” I was beginning to consider Beverley a friend but felt it prudent not to reveal too much of my life to her. I did open up a little bit and told her about some of my misadventures like the rescue of Ploy. I described Kul and her gun skills with the degenerate Napadon. My stories entertained her and seemed to deflect her curiosity. We rolled into Birmingham New Street station just as I finished my account.
I finally got back to my little flat, it looked lonely and uninviting. I began to think maybe I should find a woman to look after me whilst I am back in the UK. I took a moment to think then took the thought into a dark corner and soundly beat it to death.
Later that week I went to see Sir Norman Lunt. His office was opulent with big leather chairs and light wood panelling. He welcomed me warmly like an old friend which was part of his charm and disarming manner. He told me he was pleased with the bench project which he considered a success. He laughed as he described he was up for an award for that design whilst a few months ago he was terrified he was going to get his fingers severely burnt “. I need another favour” he said “the BBC has asked me to participate in a documentary series about architecture and design. They have already got Norman Foster, Richard Rogers, Zaha Hadid and Renzo Piano participating so I feel a bit of a fraud in such august company.”
“They each have a theme and I have been asked to cover the development of materials in construction. Most of the stuff is boring and involves me talking about how concrete, steel and float glass revolutionised architecture and I need to humanise it somewhat.” He paused as he collected his thoughts “So I had the notion to include a segment about the historical use of bronze and thought about filming at your foundry. It has all the elements to make an interesting programme”. I was excited at his idea and told him so.
“I am in Shanghai next week so we will film a couple of the buildings I designed there then we go to Singapore. I thought about popping over to Bangkok and coming up to your place in the north to do a few days filming”. He paused before continuing “I must be honest with you, my wife gets a bit paranoid about me going to Asia and the only way I could get away with a trip to Thailand without the threat of divorce or the violent removal of my tender parts is that a BBC film crew will be with me”. Norman’s wife had once been a famous model frequently seen on TV but more often with her tits out on page 3 of a well known newspaper. She had a reputation as an 18 carat bitch and was notorious for her tantrums and very public outbursts. This spoilt behaviour was barely acceptable 30 years ago when she was a svelte beauty and provided the masturbatory fantasies of a generation of men. But it was extremely tiresome when witnessed from an overblown fifty something woman that was ageing very badly.
I could empathise with him but laughed “I can understand her fears, I am a bit of an Asia hand myself and you are still a babe magnet you know” He looked puzzled so I continued “Even my assistant Dr Hall froths at her front bottom whenever she meets you. His eyes lit up “You mean that rather scrumptious dark girl…. Gosh I had her down as a feminist type. She is always very efficient and as smart as a button but a bit aloof…. well who would have thought it”.
I told him if he let me know his itinerary I would sort the details for his visit to our foundry. I gave him a brief description of our set up and made a few suggestions for the programme of filming. I also joked that discretion was my middle name and would protect his reputation and his delicate ass from the terrors of his capricious spouse. As we shook hands he gave me his most charming smile I had often seen on TV and told me he was looking forward to it.
After leaving I made my way to Devin’s office. I wanted a chat about the structure of our companies. I was a little concerned we had started in business almost 12 months ago but never had a formal meeting or seen a report. Devin agreed but pointed out we had both been too busy building up our enterprises. He informed me he had engaged our accountant pal Ernie to prepare a set of accounts and a balance sheet.
Devin looked serious for a moment then began” I have worked for greedy selfish bastards all of my life. I could never believe the arrogance and stupidity of people who could not comprehend why their downtrodden employees were unwilling to lay down their lives for their profit and avarice.” I must admit I had never seen my pal so animated as he continued” They were so conceited they could not understand why their employees were reluctant to adopt austerity measures when they could see the boss buying a new Mercedes every year”. Pausing to catch his breath he concluded “I resolved if I was ever in a position of owning a business I would do it differently.”
He outlined his plan. We would be equal partners in our company the Wocker Trust. The trust would own the Grey Power Agency and the Anglo Siam trading company. Each company will pay the trust an annual management charge of £25k to pay our salaries and general admin. He was setting up his Grey Power Agency as a limited company. Our trust own 52% of the shares and have offered Angela 24% shares and 24% to Pete another chap he was bringing in to develop the consultancy side. He also proposed a profit sharing scheme on any surplus after expenses and tax.
“I suggest you do similar with Anglo Siam and offer Gerald and Beverley the same deal. I explained the income came from buying castings and sculptures from Chanarong Art Castings at a 10% discount then invoicing the customers at the agreed price. Devin cut in “I estimate a 10% margin even on your current turnover will generate enough to pay a management charge and modest salaries. If we offer a three way split on profits that appears equitable and give them a real incentive I think it would work”. I added there is a real potential in the business and Gerald and i believed Beverley are highly motivated to exploit the opportunity.
We were in agreement so Devin declared to start the financial year in January and pay ourselves a director’s salary of £20k a year from the trust. He told me he would put the first month’s payment in my bank account on the first week in January.
This was somewhat of a relief to me. I had received no income for nearly a year and my original “pissing up the wall” fund had almost gone. My pension fund was now fully invested and I had only the remaining £18k from my everyday saver account to last me. I knew I would probably need to commit £10k to the Artist workshop and was concerned the remaining £8k would not keep me more than a few months.
The artist workshop had not yet been included in the agreement but I knew I would have to integrate it into the Anglo Siam operation as Gerald and Beverley would be selling it, taking the bookings and chasing the money.
I went upstairs to see Gerald and seeing Beverly was there I teased her about meeting Sir Norman that morning and that he had asked about her. She blushed slightly but I could see she was thrilled. I explained his intentions to visit our Thailand operation and asked advice on how we could capitalise on it. I also put the business proposal to them and they seemed surprised. I asked them to think carefully and I appreciated the risk but if the business took off they would be sharing that success. I must admit I was astounded how quickly they agreed to my suggestion.
With my immediate financial concerns eased I was getting restless in England and yearned to return to the kingdom. I went to see my son Matt who was successfully fitting the benches for the Birmingham City contract to the schedule he had from Beverley. He also told me he had a solid plan for the Bristol docks project due in the New Year. He was pleased with the money he had made and was enthusiastic for any future ventures I could offer.
My youngest son Richard had returned from an extensive four week course in Cambridge armed with his TESOL certificate which would allow him to teach English in Thailand. I told him to get ready to return to the kingdom with me the following week.
I went for a drink with Gerald; he is an interesting and entertaining fellow a couple of years older than me. I took him to a lap dancing club in the town and ensured he was looked after by the girls I knew there. I needed his opinion on my ideas for establishing the commercial framework for the Artists workshop. My initial proposition was that we set it up as a separate division within Anglo Siam Co. The income would come from a 5% commission on all bookings. I had informed him that I had promised my assistant Ratana a profit share with him but wanted his opinion if we should include Beverley as she had little involvement with this venture. To Gerald’s credit he insisted I include Beverly in any proposed incentive scheme as they were now a team.
It was the middle of November before Richard and I manage to return to Thailand. On the flight we discussed his plans and his motivations. Pan and Phai had arranged for him to teach English in their school. It was a 20 hour a week contract which would still allow him some time to get involved in the artists workshops. I had no doubt the principal inducement to living in Thailand was the women but I was inquisitive if it was one girl in particular that had prompted his actions, was it Nong or Ratana?
“To be honest” he said “Ploy was special but I know realistically that relationship had little future. Nong is beautiful and clever but is a bit of a butterfly. I do like Ratana, we have a great friendship but we are like brother and sister which is nice.” He gave me a grin and continued “Mali and Ratana have introduced me to many lovely girls amongst their circle of friends and in truth I am spoilt for choice in that department. I am actually interested in experiencing living in a different culture amongst friendly people for a couple of years before I have to settle down back in dreary old England”. I was reassured by his reply as I was concerned that he had lost his heart and would eventually end up broken-hearted and destitute. It would appear it was only silly old farts of my generation who did that. We talked a little about our respective plans. I finally confessed my lottery win to him but by now I had it all invested in various ventures. I admitted it was an exciting time but I was nervous until it all came together. The flight passed quickly and we arrived at Suvarnabhumi airport mid afternoon.
We checked into the Nana Hotel and after settling in and taking a shower we make our way to Soi 33. Following a pleasant dinner at Tenderloins we pop our head into the Office bar. Rich is pleased to see Rose and Lily his two Chula chums sitting at the bar. They also seem delighted to see him so I know I have lost him for the night. I take a stroll to Soi Cowboy to see my pals but find they are not there, I will expect a doctor’s note from them next time we meet. I am soon joined by a young cutie and buy her a drink. We eventually take a taxi back to the Nana and up to my room. She is a little sweetie in her late 20s with a trim little body marred only by the ubiquitous tattoo on her belly. This was the first time I had engaged in commercial sex for some time. I had visions of having my Monger’s certificate revoked for not keeping up my flying hours. She left around 2.00 in the morning stretching the definition of long time.
The next morning Rich is still engaged with his two companions so I take breakfast alone. I visit Wanaporn my Thai solicitor as I wanted to confirm the arrangements and structure of my company in Thailand. It had been a few months since all the agreements were signed and everyone had now had a few months grace. The agreement was Wanaporn would invoice both companies with a monthly management charge to my holding company Phet Enterprises. Chanarong Art castings had agreed a 30,000 baht/month management charge and the girls at Chez K 10,000 baht/month. Wanaporn expressed the opinion that these figures were more than fair for the two businesses. He felt the problem was whilst every one was good at what they did they did not have adequate business systems and disciplines in place. I told him I had bought them computers but had yet to install an integrated software system. Wanaporn smiled “I can do you a good deal on a SAP/ERP type programme” he passed me a CD across the desk. It is pirate copy so I wouldn’t flash it around but most savvy office girls will understand it”.
I went back to the Nana Hotel, barfined Kae from the Golden Bar and took her for lunch in Bullys. As usual I gave her an account of what I had been doing since I saw her last. During the conversation I casually asked if she had ever worked in accounts. She answered that she had studied accountancy and spent a few years in the commercial office. I was a little taken aback “I thought you were a receptionist” she quickly replied “No you assumed I was receptionist but you not listen to me” I ask her “Did you ever tell me you were an accountant?” She retorted “No because you never ask me”. Realising I was about to enter into a black hole of perverse Thai logic” I asked if she had ever worked with integrated or computer business systems She proudly announced she had worked many years with a SAP system.
I calmly collected my thoughts for a moment and enquired if she could set up a similar system in a small business to which I received an immediate “Yes No problem”. I asked if she wanted a job for two weeks setting up an accounts system for me and she instantly countered with “how much you pay.” Realising I was now in negotiations I asked how much she earned and added because she didn’t go with customer I knew her income was limited. She told me she made less than 10,000 baht a month with tips. I told her I would pay her 20,000 baht for two weeks work and she would be staying in her own room at our hotel Chez K. She agreed without hesitation so I told her we would be flying to Udon Thani the next day.
I met up with Richard later and we had a quiet evening in the Nana plaza. The next morning Kae was waiting in the hotel lobby with just a small overnight bag. It always amazes me how light Thai women will travel ….until you marry them. The three of us took the flight to Udon Thai and a taxi to Chez K. Rich entered through the new entrance as Kae waited with me as I paid the taxi. Kul and Kwan give shrieks of delight on seeing Rich. Kae and I were ignored as they dragged him into the restaurant “We have big surprise for you Rich”. When he saw Ploy and her baby he stood open mouthed. Ploy flung her arms around him and gave him a hug I was sure would break his ribs “Oh Rich I am so happy to see you I have much to tell you.”
As she showered him with kisses I was amused at his total bewilderment. I had not told him about the rescue of Ploy and was enjoying his surprise. I also knew I had handed him an interesting conundrum. Ploy introduced her daughter Lawan to him and as Rich had not seen the new establishment I suggested she give him a tour whilst we talked business.
The excitement over, we all sat in the reception area. I introduced Kae to Kul and Kwan and explained she had come to help them install and show them how to operate the accounts package. I reminded them of our agreement and that Wanaporn would invoice them 10,000baht every month as a management charge for my investment. Seeing the look on their faces I told them to imagine they were paying me as a Pua Noi (little husband) and it will not be so painful. They laughed but I think they understood the point I was making.
Kae quickly set the computers up, loaded the accounts programme and gave the girls a quick demonstration. I was impressed that Kae appeared to be such a good instructor. It was also clear she was quickly becoming friends with Kul and Kwan. I suspected it was the common bond of working bar, although of course none of them ever went with customers. Kwan claimed to have been cashier and Kul only worked in the kitchen but I allowed them their simple delusion. Whilst everyone was occupied I slipped out and into Mikes bar opposite for a quick beer.
When I returned everyone was sitting in the restaurant eating. Ploys daughter was sitting happily on Richards lap whilst Ploy was feeding her. Kae said she had seen her room it was like a palace and she was very happy to stay here. She informed me the next day she would set up the operating system and show them the simplified data entry routines.
Richard and I finally made our way to Phai’s village by taxi. He mildly berated me for not telling him about Ploy and her rescue as it came as quite a shock to see her there. He remarked somewhat wistfully “She is absolutely lovely and her daughter a delight but I think my life just got a little more complicated.”
Rich received his customary warm welcome from Phai and Ratana and he took over Mali’s old bedroom once again. Ratana was pleased to see her adopted brother and immediately made a phone call. Within the hour Pravat arrived with his cousin Nok in his pickup and the four of them vanished into the night.
Phai and I had been invited to Chan and Pan’s for dinner. On the drive over I commented on how good it was that Ratana and Richard got on so well. Phai laughed and explained “Ratana and Mali love to take Richard out with them. They make big face to have a farang brother…. much more face than if he were their farang boyfriend”. Seeing my bemused expression she continued “because their friends all think they have chance to be his girlfriend. “ I doubt I will ever understand women as long as I have a hole in my anal aperture but made no comment.
Dinner at Chan’s gave the opportunity to talk business. I explained I had bought Kae to set up some business administration systems at Chez K but later that week she would be doing the same at the foundry. I could see Chan was unenthusiastic, he was happy to continue using his handwritten ledgers and using Pan to do his accounts on their kitchen table. I joked that I was installing it to make sure you pay me my 40,000baht management charge every month. I suggested that we were starting to get busy and needed to get the paperwork organised. I explained that Kae would set the systems up but unless Pan was willing to leave teaching they needed to consider engaging someone to take care of the administration. Pan nodded in agreement with me. We discussed possible candidates and Ratana was suggested, I acknowledged she would be perfect for the role but she was becoming fully occupied with her current responsibilities. Phai stated Mali was very happy with her job in the design bureau in the city and couldn’t be enticed away. I suggested they would need to have someone whilst Kae was here to instruct them and left them to reflect.
On the drive home Phai asked me “Is Kae pretty?” I replied with a smile “Of course she is …..She works for me and all my girls are pretty” I had never known Phai to be jealous before so I quickly explained about Kae’s history, her miscarriage, her husband absconding and her cancer and subsequent mastectomy. It was testament to Phai’s good hearted nature that Kae suddenly went from being a potential rival to a sister to be supported.
Next day I discussed Kae’s project with Ratana and recommended she have her own arrangement for the Artist workshops. I also suggest she become acquainted with the total system and maintain a watching brief. We also discuss how we would organise the Artists workshops when they started.
That evening Kae phoned me, she had got as far as she could at Chez K and would like to start work at the foundry site. Alec had planned to come and service the compressor so I asked him to bring Kae with him. When I arrived the next day and walked into the office I was surprised to see Acheron, Phai’s sister in law there. Acheron explained she used to help Jow her travel agent husband in the office. But now he had a thriving business and a full staff he did not need her. She was bored being a housewife and had offered to help us. I suspected Acheron could foresee a lot of interesting activity taking place in the near future and did not want to miss out on the excitement. I was happy with this; Acheron was an amusing and intelligent lady in her 40s. She was also rather attractive with a wicked glint in her eye that would definitely brighten things up around the place. I welcomed her to the team with a huge smile.
When Kae came to the site with Alec I introduced her to everyone and left her to it as Alec and I went to service the compressor. By the end of the day Phai Pan and Ratana had made appearances and introduced themselves to Kae.
I went with Alec as he returned Kae to Chez K. On the way Kae gave me a progress report, she had covered order processing, raising despatch notes and invoices. Tomorrow she would cover purchase requisitions and payroll. She declared they were all willing students and they would understand the basics within a few days. Alec informed me he had a few things he wanted to do on site so could give Kae a lift in for the next few days.
I felt I had neglected my pals Mike and Alec of late so had invited them to dinner at the restaurant that evening. Over a rather splendid sea bass in lemon and chillies I discussed the maintenance contract for the foundry with Alec. He informed me he was happy with this arrangement as it fitted in well with his other projects. Mike explained that they had started to pick up work in the district and were building a house for a Canadian bloke and his Thai wife. They had gone into partnership together, Mike did the drawings and the planning consents and Alec organised the labour. I told them I was thrilled for them.
We had just finished eating and Nong was preparing the bill when Ploy runs in through the door in obvious panic. “I have seen Napadon my mothers boyfriend” she shrieked “he in a truck at end of street, I think he come to take me back or to box me”. We hardly had time to take this in when a big ugly Thai man enters the restaurant with a gun in his hand. He is followed in by another Thai man wielding a baseball bat. I noticed the second man had filed his teeth which with his long nose gave him the appearance of a large rat. On seeing her nemesis Ploy gave a scream and runs into the kitchen. Kul came into the restaurant to see Napadon pointing the gun at her. He screamed “little girl you not so big now you have a gun point at you”. To her credit Kul stood her ground and did not bat an eyelid. Napadon fired a shot but fortunately it went well wide and missed Kul by a significant margin.
What happened next was unbelievable and something I only thought happened in movies. Alec stepped forward grabbing hold of the weapon in Napadon’s hand and in a single deft movement removed the weapon with his left hand. In what appeared a simultaneous motion he slammed the heel of his right hand into his face. The crunching sound as his nose broke was sickening and Napadon immediately collapsed to the ground.
I saw his rat featured associate move toward Alec ready to swing his baseball bat at him. At that moment I regressed forty years. I was on my way to a football match in Manchester or Liverpool, a group of cowardly thugs had asked me the time simply to ascertain my accent so they could beat me up. I felt my blood rise and ran towards the rat featured degenerate launching a kick which connected firmly with his testicles. I could feel the soft tissue collapse against the hard leather of my traditional and substantial Oxford shoes and his eyes stood out like bulldogs bollocks. His head involuntary fell forward presenting his face as a target that I punched with as much force as I could muster. It looked more impressive than it actually was but as he was off balance it was sufficient to put him on the floor. With a speed that surprised everyone Mike sat on the rat creature. 18 stone of solid Australian immobilised him “You are going nowhere you bludging mongrel “he said to his startled and terrified captive. As I caught my breath I saw Napadon unconscious on the floor apparently not breathing and feared Alec had killed him.
I was amazed how quickly the local boys in brown had responded to the gunshot being fired and Kwan’s phone call on seeing her friend being threatened. Seeing four of Udon’s finest appear in the doorway I was apprehensive that on seeing a farang involvement we would be blamed. The usual philosophy of the Thai police is the farang is always at fault.
I was relieved when two of the policeman politely asked Mike to let his captive up. Once he was on his feet they begin to belt seven shades of shit out of the felon with their batons. They dragged him out screaming by his hair and threw him without ceremony into the police van waiting outside. Another policeman checked Napadon’s pulse and deciding he was still alive dragged him out by his heels until the four of them are close enough to throw him into the police van alongside his companion. The eldest of the four police men spoke to Kul for a while then gave a crisp salute to Mike and Alec and marched out.
Alec was smiling as he took a chair at a nearby table “you know” he said “I had been in the US Marines for 20 years and that was the first time I had ever used the skills I had been trained for. It is quite exhilarating.” I remarked I had never had any military training my reaction I am ashamed to admit was from being a football hooligan many years ago. Mike laughed “That’s the first time my fat arse has ever been of any use”.
The Thais seem to have a more pragmatic attitude to violence but Ploy Nong Kul and Kwan all gave Alec a huge hug and a kiss. Mikes wife on hearing gunshots had rushed across from the bar and Kae who had been upstairs during the incident came down to see the excitement. The girls did what Thais always do when there is excitement and cooked some food. Mike declared he needed a stiff drink and sent Pong to fetch a bottle of whiskey from the bar. We sat drinking it with still shaking hands. I later phoned Phai to tell her I wasn’t coming home and would see her tomorrow. What surprised me she told me she knew about the shooting already. Jeez talk about jungle drums; I did not dare ask how she knew in case there was voodoo involved.
There was an interesting corollary to the story. A week later Phai told me she had a visit from a Police Colonel from Udon Thani. Napadon and his Rat companion had recovered. They were well known to the police as drug dealers, petty thieves and all round bad eggs. The colonel explained that under a little mild coercion (a severe beating) they had admitted to being involved in the murder of her husband six years ago. They had also given up the name of the local crime chief responsible. I sincerely hoped that she would now get some closure on the tragic incident.
It was the last week in November the date of Sir Norman’s arrival with his film crew came and went. After three days I received a rather frantic phone call from him. He said he had a few problems and asked if I could meet him in Bangkok. He sounded quite desperate so I arranged to meet him the following afternoon in the lobby of the Nana Hotel. That evening Kae informed me she had got as far as she could, the system was now live and everyone just needed some practice in using it. I told her I was going to Bangkok and she asked to return with me. On the flight to Bangkok I gave Kae the promised 20,000 baht and told her that she had done a good job. She told me she was angry with me at first that I had told everyone about her problems with cancer. “They pity me” she said “but after a time they see I know my job and we become friends. They are good people and Jai Dee. I thank you to be so kind to me you are good friend”. At the airport she took a taxi home and I take one to the Nana.
It was around midday as I walk into the lobby of the Nana Hotel. I hear my name being called and I turn to see a fellow sitting in one of high chairs. I didn’t recognise him at first he looked dishevelled his hair was untidy and had been dyed. He was unshaven and sporting a moustache which made him look like refuge from the village people. “Bloody hell Norman what has happened to you?” I exclaimed. He looked sheepishly at me and said “it is a long story and I need your help” I took the seat next to him as he began to recite his story. “I arrived in Bangkok from Singapore with the producer and a camera man. Tony the cameraman persuaded us to visit Pattaya, he reasoned we were a day early so could catch up the time. We explored a few bars he knew and I was mesmerised.”
He paused for a moment “I had never been to Pattaya before; in fact I have not even seen Bangkok properly. Last time I came with the wife, we stayed at the Dusit Thai, had a trip on the river saw a few temples then flew to Bali. I never knew a place like Pattaya existed; I am ashamed to say I got involved with a young lady from one of the go-go bars” A wistful expression covered his face as he continued “she moved into my hotel with me. She was amazing I have never experienced such tenderness and attention in my life…..and I sort of lost the last few days” I laughed “it sounds to me like you just had the most extreme case of the Thai girlfriend experience I have come across.”
He continued to explain how eventually Malcolm the producer hauled him from the spell of his Siamese seductress, which was when he phoned me. However the cameraman Tony was still missing. Malcolm had remained in Pattaya to look for him whilst Norman had taken a taxi to Bangkok to meet me. He looked terrified “We are well behind schedule we got some good material in the can in Shanghai and Singapore but nothing like enough. We were relying on getting some good filming in at your place. If we don’t get something recorded in the next few days’ we will miss the deadline and word will get back to my wife.” He was almost in tears as he continued “She was uneasy about me being in Thailand at all but allowed it because she believed I would be away from the fleshpots safely ensconced in the jungle. But if she knows I have been in Pattaya for a few days she will go ballistic. I really am at a loss what to do”.
I thought for a moment then phoned Ratana, informed her of the situation and asked if she could get her pal Ben to meet us at the foundry site tomorrow. I suggested she tell him everything and to see if he could borrow a good quality camera for the day money no object. I apologised for dropping it on her but I would see her tomorrow. I added “and tell your mother not to wear her fancy hat when she meets Sir Norman tomorrow.” I then phoned Jow, Phai’s brother in law with the travel agency asking he get me three seats on the last flight from Bangkok to Udon Thani tonight which I believed was 6.15 pm.
We then went to see the guys who run the limousine service at the Nana hotel. They knew me well and I was greeted warmly. I told them I needed to get my pal down to Pattaya to collect his colleague and then return them to the airport for the last flight to Udon. He looked as his watch, remarked “Can do” and immediately called one of his drivers. Whilst instructions were being given I bundled Norman into the ageing Volvo telling him I would meet him at the domestic terminal of the airport later. One last phone call to Kul telling her to expect two guests at the hotel tonight completed my arrangements so I made my way to the Heidelberg for a steak. With an hour or so to kill I drafted a script for tomorrows filming.
I took a taxi to the airport to find Norman and another fellow waiting for me. The fellow was a young chap in his late 30s with a nervous demeanour. He was introduced as Malcolm the programme producer from the BBC. They inform me Tony the cameraman was still missing. I explained my plan and my attempts to find a substitute camera man but it would probably cost a few grand. I asked Malcolm if he had money left in the budget to pay them. Norman quickly interjected “don’t worry about the money if it pulls our arses out the fire it will be worth it” Malcolm added “my reputation with the corporation will be in tatters if this gets out so I appreciate your help”.
The flight to Udon gave the opportunity to discuss the plan for the next few days and my ideas for the script. Malcolm and Norman were positive about my ideas. When we arrived at Udon I was pleasantly surprised to see Mike waiting for us in arrivals. He explained that Kul had told him we were in a bit of a spot so had come to collect us.
It was about 8.30 when we arrived at Chez K. Kwan takes them upstairs to their rooms and instructs them to shower. She had set up a chair on the balcony outside, once showered she positions Norman in the chair and begins to cut his hair whilst Nong gives him a manicure. They retrieve his shaving kit from his luggage and proceed to shave him and remove the moustache. Once restored to the human race they make their way downstairs to the restaurant where Kul had prepared dinner. With a dinner inside them Norman and Malcolm begin to recover their equilibrium. I suggest they get a good night sleep in readiness for the next day which promised to be busy. I also requested that Norman bring a few different shirts with him.
Next morning Alec kindly gives us a lift to the foundry site. We are surprised to see Ben with an NBT film crew. National Broadcasting service of Thailand is the nearest equivalent to the BBC in Thailand. I asked how he had managed to arrange that. He explained he was old friends with Artie the producer and a couple of the crew. He continued “They were filming a news report in Korat and when I told them the situation they were eager to help”. He felt they were attracted by the kudos of working with the BBC. Then with a smile added “Although the 30,000 baht I offered them each may have swung it”.
I introduce Malcolm to Ben, Artie and his three crewmen. After a short discussion the crew set up in Chan’s studio. Ben explained they had already done some filming of the process and the site so we would just need to do some shots of Sir Norman and stitch them in. Chan had various stages of the process laid out, the clay original, a mould, a wax and a built up tree ready for investment. He also had a ceramic mould in various stages so we could create the illusion he had been producing it over a few days. There was also a finished statuette of a Wat (temple) as the allegory of architecture.
My script described the development of bronze from cavemen finding copper fragments in the embers of their camp fire and using them as jewellery to alloying with tin to create a stronger metal used for axe heads and spears tips. It also gave a history of the lost wax casting process which Norman delivered with great style and gravitas. He was filmed handling a latex mould, trimming and assembling the wax then dipping the tree in the slurry and the stucco ceramic. At this point we got him to change his shirt before he did the second investment giving the impression it was the next day. They recorded Pravat and Nok in full protective gear melting the bronze and pouring a batch of moulds. We had rigged Norman in similar safety equipment which gave the impression he had actually cast the moulds. It was all very believable.
There were some general shots of a half sized clay sculpture of the beloved king being produced by Chan and good exposure of the foundry area. I was particularly pleased with the informal coverage of Sir Norman sitting eating with everyone at a huge trestle table we had set up in the new foundry building. He was filmed chatting with Chan, Pan, Phai, Ratana Acheron, Pravat, Nok and myself. He spoke about the nearby Chaing Ban site and its prominence in world history. Norman exuded charm and the shots were quite wonderful. A final change of shirt had him handling a bronze axe head and the finished Wat casting which completed the filming.
It was late afternoon when we finished and I climbed into the NBT van to return to Chez K with them. A few final shots around the hotel as Norman returned to his original script expounding on the historical context of the Iron Age and the industrial revolution. As he was sat in the restaurant Kul, Kwan, Ploy and Nong made sure they got on film somehow. Malcolm took Artie up to his bedroom which was turned into an editing studio. With the filming complete the rest of us enjoyed our dinner.
After a couple of hours they returned, Malcolm reported they were very happy with the results and more food was found for them. Mike came over with a crate of beers and an impromptu party began. It was almost midnight before Artie and his crew decided to leave. Malcolm pulled out his cheque book and wrote a cheque for 160,000baht which he handed to Ben. He also promised to write a glowing testimony to Arties boss at NBT on BBC headed paper. I am not sure whether it was the money or the promised testimonial that pleased Artie more so I will reserve judgement. The next morning Alec gave Norman and Malcolm a lift to the airport, we said warm farewells Norman shook my hand genially and added “I definitely owe you one my friend”.
We all settled back to some normality for a week or so and every one was happy. Phai had been thoroughly charmed by Sir Norman and didn’t stop talking about him for days. The following week I got a call from him. The BBC was pleased with the programme and was broadcasting it that week. He reported his wife remained unaware of his aberration….he had got away with it. He also informed me that there was still no sign of Tony the camera man although there were reports of him being seen in Tibet with a sect of transsexual monks.
Beverly phoned telling me the programme had been shown by the BBC on Tuesday night which usually had low audiences but as it was the third in the series it had quite good viewing figures and rave reviews. She was excited that we featured in about 20 minutes of the programme which was a wonderful advertisement for us. She was surprised how long the film crew seemed to have spent with us. I laughed and promised to tell her the full story when I next saw her. I also got a few phone calls and emails from friends and family commenting on seeing us on TV.
It was the week before Christmas when Gerald phoned me telling me he had received the first bookings for the Sculptor’s Workshop prompted by the TV programme. There was a London artist who had some original statues she wanted casting in bronze. A young American heir to a banking empire who wanted to learn about the casting process and a wealthy middle aged couple from Stuttgart who were enthusiastic amateur sculptors. Gerald had used his initiative and offered a package deal for £5,000 each and was surprised they all agreed without question. They would be arriving in Bangkok in two weeks time. That would be the first week in the New Year week, bugger me…..it was time to get organised.
To be continued