The Mongering Philanthropist Part 14
Part 14 Suck a lemon and get that bloody smile off your face
It is now almost five years since my lottery win. I am sitting on the porch of Phai’s house with her head in my lap enjoying the Isaan sunset. I recently celebrated my 60th birthday and reflect that I have 1 million baht in a joint account with Phai which should pay for our keep for a year or so. I have another million baht in a bank account with my Thai solicitor Wanaporn for the purposes of maintaining my residential status. I still also have 500,000 baht in the bank in Kul’s hamlet which no one knows about; this is my running away money in case of emergency. In the UK I have £100k tucked away in a pension scheme and still have about £25k in various current accounts. In addition I have a quarter of a million pounds invested in an enterprise in the UK and a couple of ventures in Thailand.
There is always the fear with Thai women that my girlfriend Phai will take it into her head to have me bumped off for the money. But the house is hers anyway and she has her own income from being a teacher. She has enough money of her own to satisfy her needs so thankfully there is little motivation for her to hire a local assassin. Fortunately she did not know any hired gun as far as I know. The miscreant who murdered her policeman husband had met a bullet from the official executioner last year and Napadon and his rat featured associate are safely ensconced in prison serving 10 years.
I am confident Phai is still happy with me especially after I paid for an extension to her house. My pal Mike designed it and Alec and his crew built it. It was a clever design which involved an additional bedroom, enlarging the kitchen and giving her a big dining room for the extended family gatherings she regularly has.
Twelve months ago I took Phai to the UK for a month’s holiday. We went sightseeing in London seeing the Houses of Parliament, Big Ben, the London eye and Buckingham Palace from the upper deck of a tour bus which she thought was wonderful. She was mesmerised by the charm and relative calm of the British capital compared to Bangkok. We stayed in my little flat in the Midlands that she thought intimate, which was her polite way of saying, was small and cramped.
Phai is a sweet natured lady who charmed my friends and family when she met them. She got on particularly well with Devin’s wife Liz. This delighted me not just because Devin is my oldest friend but I genuinely care for Liz. Of all the English women I know she has never been judgemental about some of the situations I have found myself in usually through my own idiocy. Liz is also a teacher and they both took pleasure in exchanging experiences. Phai definitely enjoyed her vacation but I got the distinct impression living in UK held absolutely no interest to her and she was happy in her community in the Isaan. In addition she has never expressed any desire in getting married which also endears her to me.
In the year following the Cricket club banquet, Beverley’s affair with Sir Norman had grown until he finally decided to divorce his wife Suzie to great public outbursts from her which everyone ignored. We were invited to the wedding which was the main excuse for our visit to the UK. In fact I was honoured to be asked to give Beverley away in the ceremony. The wedding was a wonderful affair held in a small church in a quaint village in the Warwickshire countryside. At the reception in a disgracefully pretentious country hotel I teased her that now she was Lady Beverley it would be an additional half a crown to talk to her. I was pleased for her and delighted we had remained good friends but whether she will continue working for my company or continue teaching at the University she was not sure. The highlight for Phai was she finally got to wear the big hat she had so desired since seeing the wedding of Prince William some years ago.
We finally completed the statue for Charles although it was quite a challenging project. Charles sat for Chan to create a clay bust but we enlisted the help of our old friend Jennifer to create the clay bust of Charles’s father. She was on a tour of the States with an exhibition but was happy to take the commission. With the clay models Chan could make latex moulds from which he produced wax models for Pravat to invest in ceramic to convert to a bronze casting. The busts of Charles’s Grandfather and great grandfather were scanned en situ in Boston by the US bureau of Mali’s employers then successfully scaled and converted into polystyrene foam replicas at Mali’s offices in Udon Thani. Chan took a latex impression from the foam replica of Charles grandfather and produced a successful bronze via our conventional lost wax route.
However we decided to experiment with the polystyrene model of Charles’s great grandfather that Mali’s bureau had made. We invested the foam with ceramic as we would with a wax pattern and burnt it out to leave a cavity of the required shape. Pravat carefully cast the mould and when it was subsequently knocked out we were pleasantly surprised with the result. Although the surface finish was vastly inferior from our conventional lost wax process Pravat and Nok’s skills at chasing and dressing the casting eventually gave an acceptable finish. What was interesting was that we produced the casting in half the time that our conventional process took despite the extensive finishing work involved.
With all the castings produced we needed to find a partner company in the USA who would assemble and fabricate the final statue en situ at the Boston HQ of Charles’s family banking organisation. We knew it was impractical to ship Chan and his team to the States. We eventually found an extremely competent American art foundry based in North Carolina and proceeded to ship the all the pieces which numbered a few hundred castings. Chan sent them a detailed plan of how he had constructed the roman joints for future assembly and fabrication. I was more than willing to take the long flight over to explain the construction if needed. The company was based near Charlotte in what I consider one of the most beautiful parts of the USA. Although it had been some years since I had been there when I was making castings for the NASCAR teams. I had found them the friendliest of people and all the women looked like Dolly Parton. Jim the proprietor of the operation was an intelligent fellow who in a telephone conversation informed me he understood Chan’s instructions perfectly so my visit although welcome was not necessary.
The final assembly of the statue in the foyer at the bank’s headquarters in Boston was successful. Charles reported he was delighted with the result. We were also very pleased with the money we had made on the project. We had also learned a great deal about the new technologies and realised we must begin to invest in our own scanning and 3D printing facility to augment our traditional skills. In addition we realised we must keep the knowledge Mali had on board and get her more involved.
Richard’s plan to quietly get married was foiled. Ploy told Nong who let the cat out of the bag to Kul and Kwan. Richard and Ploy were subsequently subjected to an interview with Phai and Kul that would have not been out of place in the days of the Spanish inquisition. Richard decided not to argue and agreed to go along with their plans for a traditional wedding. He knew life would be so much easier to do so. An astrologer was consulted and a favourable date was set for a month’s time. I phoned his brother Matt inviting him to come over for the wedding (at my expense). Once the die was cast Richard and Ploy flew down to Bangkok to visit the British Embassy and sort out the affirmation of freedom to marry. It was three days before they returned complaining bitterly about bureaucracy in general, the Thai Ministry of Foreign affairs in particular.
My first task was to help find a home for the couple. Kul assisted by identifying a vacant house at the edge of the hamlet. It had two bedrooms and although small had an enclosed backyard for Lawan to safely play in. It was within walking distance for Ploy’s job at Chez K had a twelve month lease and the rent was only 2500 baht a month. It would be perfect to set up home until Richard was ready to return to the UK. I paid the twelve months rent in advance but told them they would have to furnish the place themselves. They seemed very happy with the arrangement.
Phai had conceded to Kul and Kwan and it was agreed the ceremony would be held at the restaurant and at the couple’s new home.
A week before the intended ceremony Rich and I went down to Bangkok to meet Matt on his arrival. The ladies of our community were so engrossed in the wedding preparations they hardly noticed our departure. We collected Matt at the airport and as I had paid for him to travel first class on Thai airways he was relaxed and like a dog with two dicks. I had booked three rooms at the Nana hotel so after we had thrown our cases on the bed we took a beer in the Golden bar to catch up on our news and discuss the plans for the next week..
We had dinner at the Heidelberg where we put ourselves outside some wonderful steaks then took scooter taxis to Soi Cowboy. Our first port of call was the Tilac and was delighted to find the usual suspects Harry Bill and Mack sitting in their favourite seats. I introduce Matt to them and as with all true friends picked up the conversation as if it was only yesterday we had last chatted rather than the six months it actually was. I had to endure the obligatory banter such as “It’s the three musketeers Freeman Hardy and Willis” or “Are your two sons here to lift you on and off the bar girls?” But it was all good natured. Rich was keen to show his brother his favourite bar Baccara so they departed whilst I caught up on the gossip with my pals.
We met up later at Suzy Wongs where I introduced Matt to visual evidence that the Thai female Djihm is the eighth wonder of the world. I suggested we return to the Nana area before we got too inebriated so we could stagger back to our hotel rooms. Matt expressed the opinion that Suhkumvit must be the best place in the world for a stag night. We took a taxi back to explore the Nana plaza. I left the lads in Rainbow 4 whilst I went to see the coyote dancers at Lollipop I had heard so much about and was suitably impressed. By 1.00 o’clock I realised I had drunk too much to do justice to any young lady that night so went to bed alone.
The next morning I went down to breakfast assuming my lads had found company last night so send texts that I would meet them in Hanarans at Midday. When they arrived it was clear they had tied a few on the previous evening. As they were both too delicate for any further mischief I suggested make our way to the tailors opposite and get measured for a suit for the wedding. We were efficiently measured and I suggested we all had the same colour and fabric with a two button style. An 80% cotton 20% wool fabric was recommended as it was almost as cool as linen but would retain its shape and not get so creased. I warned the tailor we would need to collect them the day after next but he seemed completely unfazed by this. The fittings complete and a smart mid grey colour selected we felt a thirst upon us. We made our way back to the Golden bar for a restorative beer. I asked Matt if he wanted to see any of the tourist attractions like the palace whilst we were here but received a firm rejection they even refused my suggestion to visit Siam square to ogle the University students and shop girls in their uniforms and wondered if they were actually my offspring.
That evening the lads reject my suggestion to visit Patpong so we made our way to Soi 33. We enter the Office bar and I am pleasantly surprised to see Richards’s old Chula friends Rose and Lily there and knew I had lost my boys for the night. I must admit I was astonished that these two delightful ladies had not by now found themselves farang sponsors but such is life. I arranged to meet the lads for a late breakfast the following day and made my way by motor cycle taxi back to the Nana plaza. I perused some of my old haunts like Mandarine, Fantasia and two bars on the third floor but ended up in a bar on the second floor whose name I can not remember. What I do remember was the pleasant mamasan I had met there some years before. She claimed to remember me; I bought her a couple of drinks and had an agreeable chat. She allowed me to bar fine her as the bar was quiet and came back to the Nana hotel with me. Once in my room she declared she had not been taken out for over 18 months. I was quite amazed by this although in her 40’s she was still attractive with a tight body totally unadorned by tramp stamps or piercings. She was surprisingly attentive and much better company than some of the pretty young airheads who dance in the bars. She also did not twist the concept of long time and it was almost 0700 before she left.
I met up with the lads for a late breakfast in Bullys. After three days I thought it would be expedient to return home as we may finally begin to be missed. At midday we collected our suits from the tailors. I was delighted with the outfits and with light blue shirts and spotted blue ties we looked a million dollars. We took an afternoon flight to Udon and a taxi to Phai’s house. Phai had met Matt on her UK trip and welcomed him like a long lost son preparing her new bedroom for him. Matt is a handsome man now approaching 30 and when Ratana was introduced to him she immediately asked if he would like to go with her to her favourite bar near Ratnak park in the city that evening. I noticed she did not mention Mali and assumed she was going to make face introducing her new farang brother to her friends.
The next day Matt told me he could not believe the attention he got from some extremely pretty girls. He told me he was used to the occasional head turning by the girls in his home town but here he felt like a premiership footballer. He remarked “I know you have told me about this in the past but I never believed it … I do now”
The day of the wedding began extremely early at the crack of dawn with Phai and Ratana getting Rich prepared in his traditional Thai attire. Our family piled into the minibus and made our way to Richard’s new home. Ploy and nine monks are waiting to perform the blessing ritual for the couple and their house. Once the ritual was completed we leave the monks in the house with the gifts of money and the food Phai had prepared for them. What surprised me was that this was the end of the monk’s participation and would now return to their monastery.
Alec and his wife Jenerai join us and we make the Khan maak procession for the hundred yards or so to Chez K. This is a wonderful party atmosphere as what seems like most of the district seem to be there with musicians and guys beating long drums amongst the entourage. At the door of the restaurant Kul, Kwan and Nong with Mike and Pong present a ceremony of obstacles which are meant to symbolise gates. I recall Richard had to present envelopes containing gifts to be allowed through these metaphorical gates.
Once inside the restaurant Richard and Ploy are taken to a prepared area. They kneel and put their arms on cushions whilst Kwan’s uncle poured water from a conch shell over the couple’s hands. Kwan’s uncle is a local politician of some standing in the community and considered the senior man to perform the ceremony. I do apologise for not reporting accurately on the formal procedure but all I remember was how absolutely beautiful Ploy looked in her traditional Thai dress and what an absolute prat my Richard looked in his. It was a moving ceremony. Eventually the formalities turned into a serious party. I have never seen so many people in the restaurant and felt the whole population of the Isaan had turned out. Rich finally changed out of his traditional Thai dress into his new suit to match me and Matt. I must confess we looked extremely dapper and had several people remark on how smart we looked. I have never seen so much Thai whiskey and beer drunk on one evening. I recall an Isaan band playing for an hour or so then Somchai playing his keyboard for the party. I vaguely remember Charles appearing at some time in the evening and was surprised to see he spent most of his time with Ratana as his escort. In my drunken meanderings I thought although everyone assumed he was enamoured by the enchanting Nong I was convinced he was secretly infatuated by my Ratana and was certain time would prove me correct.
I woke up the next day in bed with Phai with a raging hangover and with absolutely no idea how we had got home. The day after the wedding Rich and Ploy made their way to the district Amphur to perform the legalities of their betrothal. I received a text from Charles asking if he could have a chat with me sometime. When we met later that day I was still under the influence and I thought he was about to ask me for my permission to marry Ratana and said to him “before you ask I would be pleased to give my consent for you to marry my daughter Ratana” Charles gave me a look as if I was one of those guys that lick the windows on the special bus and exclaimed “ Jeez Phet I think the world of your Ratana but I thought you knew I am unofficially engaged to Nong” shaking his head he continued ” No you daft bugger I wanted to talk about business with you”.
We had a long chat and it appeared he was fascinated with our operation and wanted to become involved in our business. He knew whilst his father enjoyed the rudest of health he was unlikely to hand over the reins of their business for another 10 years. Charles stated he was bored in Boston so declared he was going to spend half his time in Asia running the Bank’s operations here. He continued “I really want to learn about business other than banking, so was considering getting involved and investing in your enterprise”.
I later had a quick chat with my solicitor Wanaporn for advice then had a meeting with Pan and Chan over dinner to discuss Charles’s interest. Although we were comfortable we did need an influx of capital to fund our investment in the 3D technology and to improve our melting facilities. It was suggested if we sold him 10% of the company for 9,000,000 baht (£200k) we would get some much needed capital to invest. Charles would join our board and get involved but we would retain control.
A week after the wedding I returned to the UK with Matt. The flight home was the first time we had the opportunity for a long chat for some time. His roofing and contracting business had expanded; installing the benches for Birmingham and Bristol councils had led to other lucrative contracts. He now had three employees and they proved willing to tackle unusual projects so he was pleased how it was developing. He was also hoping to develop his relationship with the exquisite Danielle our receptionist back in England. “However I may even move to Thailand either to work with you in the foundry or join your pal Alec and his contracting crew ….the thought of living here is very tempting”.
Later that week, I attended a board meeting of the Wocker trust at Devin’s offices. Our accountant pal Ernie has joined the board to keep an eye on the financial and tax side of our enterprises. I was a little disappointed that Devin and Ernie had vetoed my proposal to open a high class S&M Emporium and spanking parlour in the town. I had indentified suitable premises and earmarked my old friend Sindi as a potential Madame. I saw a big demand but they pointed out I was likely to be wearing arrows on my suit in Featherstone prison very quickly. They suggested that I had spent too much time in Asia and it was affecting my perspective, they were probably correct.
Devin informed me my initial £100k investment was now worth nearly a half a million pounds. I have taken a salary of £30k from the company for the past few years which more than pays my living expenses in the five or six months I am in the UK. With the occasional dividend I receive it even allows me to put a few quid away. In addition the income from my Thailand enterprise amounts to £15k which allows me to live comfortably when in the kingdom.
The Grey power agency now had almost 200 associates and an ever expanding portfolio of businesses they were involved in. I had occasionally got involved with the consultancy side but my main interest remained the Siam Trading Co that Gerald successfully runs for me. The trading arm continues to find customers for the products of our foundry amongst the property developers and interior deign community. The marketing arm continues to promote our sculpting summer schools to great success. Gerald tells me although he can find the art world a bit precious and challenging at times he enjoys this side of the business immensely. He maintains a high profile internet marketing campaign which he frequently refreshes with ideas from associates in the Grey Power agency.
I went with Beverley to a meeting at Hampton Johnson and Wood in Canary Wharf in London. A few years ago they lost all their tooling and original artwork in a fire at their casting supplier. We had previously completed the tooling for four of their popular statuettes and an initial 10 castings off each. It had been a success but at the time Beverley had told me they had baulked at our prices. On the train down to London Beverley briefed me on her recent meeting with them. From that first project they had extrapolated it would cost £4.9 million to rebuild their complete catalogue of statuettes so had put off doing anything for a while. They now needed to rebuild their inventory and had an immediate requirement for another six statuettes to be recreated. They also planned to complete their portfolio over the next three years which will involve new tooling and castings for 30 parts a year.
Beverley was concerned they had been investigating other suppliers. However she felt we retained a slight advantage. They had been very happy with our service and quality, and their two artists Samantha and Theresa who attended one of the artist workshops had given us a glowing report. Beverley thought we just needed to be a little creative with our pricing. The journey by tube from Euston to Canary Wharf was crowded giving little chance for conversation but gave me the opportunity to coalesce a few ideas I had.
We arrived at the palatial offices of Hampton Johnson and Wood and were ushered into a conference room to be greeted by Diana the vice president of procurement. Also seated were her division assistants Ian and Graham who we had met before. After the introductory pleasantries Diana began proceedings by reminding us they offered an exclusive range of statuettes as a service to the clients who expected their luxury apartments decorated with signature artwork before they moved in. She continued by explaining they were considering placing orders for 100 different statuettes over the next three years. Diana was an attractive but stern looking lady in her 40s I recalled our last meeting when she was dressed in a severe business suit but I had noticed the indentation of a suspender belt beneath her tight skirt which distracted me considerably. This time she was clad in a very tight soft summer dress which accentuated her feminine shape and was no less distracting. “Today” she exclaimed jolting my attention back to the proceedings “I want to discuss an immediate requirement for the next six statuettes” She paused for a moment before continuing “However we do need to discuss your prices, if we extrapolate your previous costs to this current requirement it will cost us £125k which is far in excess of our allocated budget”. Warming to her theme she proceeded to voice her concerns for the costs of the long term requirement. She remarked “your costs of £1 ¾ million ….sorry I mean £2 ¼ million albeit over three years is far more than we can afford”.
By her inadvertent slip of the tongue she had given me a clue to her budget and her price aspirations. I needed a minute to think so gave Beverley our prearranged signal that she should deflect the conversation. On cue Beverley interjected “Did your artists Samantha and Theresa enjoy the workshop and retreat in Thailand?” she continued “I only ask as we never received any feedback”. I believe Diana was grateful for the distraction, she gave a smile and began to discuss the fulsome report she received from them. From Diana’s imprudence I deduced she was looking for a price of £17,500 per statuette package which comprised new tooling and 10 castings. The previous project had cost her an average of £25,000 per statuette package. Chan and I had since done some detailed costing on utilising the 3D technology and foam patterns introduced by Mali and her company. The time compression and reduction in process stages offered opportunity for considerable savings. We estimated we could produce the tooling and make 10 castings for a typical statuette for around £15,000 and still make a reasonable margin.
I felt it time to relieve Beverley so when a break in the conversion occurred I took a deep breath and said “Dianna, I understand your predicament and must confess we have given it deep consideration. Since Samantha and Theresa visited we have been developing some new technologies that could be of interest to you”. Seeing I had her attention I continued to outline the work we had done using scanning techniques. Ian jumped in and remarked “we know all about scanning technologies we have used them on some of the civic art works and large sculptures for the public areas of our developments. “ I replied “Then you will appreciate what I am proposing, if we scan some of your castings we can eliminate the need for having to re-sculpture clay models”. Diana quickly asked “What about the perennial problem of surmoulages we previously discussed”. Graham cut in “what about the issue of data clouding”. I paused before answering “I believe with a suitable computer programme we can build in an allowance for the 1.5% contraction that occurs and I know STEP protocol can alleviate the issue of data clouding.” I continued “I believe there is a real opportunity to employ this technology to our mutual advantage… my estimates suggest we could produce a typical statuette package with appropriate tooling and an initial ten castings, for around £18,500.
I kept quiet for a moment whilst Diana absorbed and processed my proposal. I could almost hear the cogs turning in her head. She finally broke the silence” To be honest even that may be a little too much for my superiors; they are looking for a cost of £17,500 per package for the next six parts but a cost nearer £16,000 for the volume requirement”. I put the pained expression on my face that is obligatory for these situations before replying “I would certainly consider that figure if I had some guarantee that we had the total order for 100 over the next few years, I would need some volume to justify the investment in the technology”. Diana also put on the pained expression before declaring “We would need a much bigger price reduction than £18,500 for that type of agreement”. I was unfazed; this was my indication that negotiations were possible and had now begun. I nodded to Beverley who got up and began writing figures on the smart board. Detailed negotiation was Beverley’s forte and I had handed the baton to her knowing all I had to do was support her as directed.
The discussions continued for another half hour until an agreement was reached which Beverley wrote on the board and printed off two copies for the parties to sign. After the usual promise of the exchange of written confirmations and usual pleasantries Diana closed the meeting and walked us back into reception. On the way out I invited her to visit our operation in Thailand or maybe sample our artists retreat with her husband and make a holiday of it. She held my hand a little longer than a handshake required and quietly said “I am not married and do not have a partner so I may well take you up on that offer sometime”. With that we said our farewells and made our way to the Underground station.
Beverley and I hardly spoke until we were safely at Euston on the train that would take us back to the midlands. Beverley gave me a huge smile and declared “Wow that was an unexpected result. An order for 6 statuette units this year and a total of 60 over two years at £17,000 each will give you an additional turnover of over half a million pounds a year”. I replied “Yes it was particularly pleasing as we feared they were about to freeze us out completely. In addition this will help validate the investment in the new technology.” Beverley could not resist the opportunity to tease me “ It also looked as if the fragrant Diana will be replacing me in your affections” I gave her a huge grin and replied “Bev nobody can replace you, you were wonderful today despite you being a married lady we still make a good team”. Beverley did not return my smile and went quiet for a moment. “I am afraid this will probably be our last business trip together, Norman has picked up a prestigious contract in the US which will mean him being away for the next year or so. I have decided to be the dutiful wife and travel with him”. She took my hand before continuing “It means I will be resigning from my position with your company within the next month I am sorry”
Seeing the tear in her eye I squeezed her hand and said “Bev I am so happy for you I think it is fantastic, you will love living in the States and Norman is a good bloke who clearly idolises you”. I continued “I have loved working with you, you have been fundamental to the success of the company and I am proud to be considered your friend.” The tears were streaming down her face now as she sobbed “You have been wonderful to me and probably changed my life, since knowing you I have transformed from an uptight spinster and college lecturer into a confident woman and now married to an amazing man.” I put in “Don’t forget you are also now Lady Beverley but I hope you are still using your fertile imagination and have found some new role playing games to suit your new status.” She blushed slightly and laughed. The next station was Birmingham International where her husband would be waiting to take her back to their home in the picturesque Warwickshire countryside. As we said our farewells I wished her luck and reminded her she would retain her directorship of the Siam trading company but I would have to forgo her bonus scheme. She laughed and departed from the train blowing me a kiss. I remained on the train which would deposit me home within the half hour.
I persuaded Devin and his wife Liz to come over to Thailand for a two week holiday and stay with Phai and me. With Richard vacating the spare bedroom Phai finally had her guest room back which she excitedly redecorated in readiness for our friends. I collected them at Bangkok airport but as it was late when they arrived and they looked exhausted I booked into one of the motels near the airport. .After dinner we let them retire early and sleep off their jet lag.
Next morning we checked out of the motel, returned to the airport and flew to Udon. At Udon airport Rich was waiting with the minibus to transport us to Phai’s house. Liz seemed happy being entertained and by Phai and Pan and being a school headmistress herself was interested in the activities at their school. She even spent time in Chan’s studio revealing an artistic bent she did not know she had. When I suggested Devin attend a meeting with Wanaporn my solicitor in Bangkok she hardly batted an eyelid and agreed without argument.
We caught the early morning flight from Udon and we were in Wanaporn’s Asoke office at 9.30. I was pleased to see my old friend Kae working in the office she looked happy in her new job and gave me a friendly wave. Our meeting with Wanaporn was short and amicable; he and Devin shared a few connections in the legal community. The meeting was merely window dressing and an excuse for me to show my old pal the delights of the salacious Sois of Suhkumvit. We took a taxi to the Nana area; it will come as no surprise I had booked us into the Nana hotel.
After we had checked in I suggested a beer in the Hilary bar. We are greeted by Joy and Kim who join us for a drink. I explain that it is Devin’s first visit to Bangkok and tipped Joy a wink a signal which they immediately understood. I paid their bar fine and gave them each 2000 baht to introduce my friend to the Siamese waltz. A slightly bemused Devin allowed himself to be cajoled to his hotel room by the two girls. I told him to relax as Joy and Kim would take good care of him and that I would meet him in the hotel lobby at 7 pm.
I suspected he had never experienced a threesome before and he probably didn’t get a twosome very often. Although I have a great affection for his wife I imagine she is like most English women of a certain age and keeps her husband on short rations. He was certainly in for an interesting afternoon.
I later met up with Devin in the Nana lobby; he looked exhausted, relaxed and thoroughly despunked. That evening I took him around my haunts in Soi Cowboy. He was mesmerised and declared he finally understood my fascination for the place. On the flight back to Udon Devin turned to me and remarked “I hope you still adhere to the old agreement of what goes on tour stays on tour” I laughed and replied “that goes without saying but you had better suck a lemon to take that bloody smile off your face before we get back”
We booked into the Oriental hotel in Bangkok for the last two days of their holiday before flying back home. It was astronomically expensive even with the deal Jow had done for us. It was however an amazing experience and an excellent base for Phai and me to show our friends the famous sights of this exotic and incredible metropolis.
Chan’s studio is attracting some world famous artists and his own reputation as an artist and bronze caster continues to grow. All the lost wax casting/investment and sand operations were now in the new building. This leaves the old building to be used completely as an artist studio and demonstration centre.
Pravat continues to grow into the role running the foundry and the sculpture assembly operations. I took him to see some modern investment casting foundries in Singapore last year and with his boundless enthusiasm has been applying some of the new techniques he saw to our lost wax foundry. Pravat is also experimenting with the lost foam process using polystyrene patterns instead of wax which will augment our capabilities. The idea of CAD imaging system and 3D printing suggested by Mali is proving interesting. We are currently using the facilities offered by Mali’s bureau but are in the process of purchasing our own equipment with the influx of cash from Charles. I suspect it will not replace our traditional techniques completely but it is certainly a real opportunity that will secure our future. I have no doubt Mali will eventually join our company to help us develop this technology.
The Greensand section of the foundry is doing well under the supervision of Nok. The first jolt squeeze moulding machine made a significant difference to the definition of our castings and the recent addition of the second machine has made a major impact on productivity. We erected a 30 tonne silo to accommodate sand deliveries by tanker instead of bags which is considerably more economical. It has also allowed us to install a continuous screw mixer to make our own sand cores. With the synthetic clay sand system well established Nok consistently produces 220 moulds a day with his two assistants.
The Greensand foundry can now produce the Chinaman’s entire weekly requirement in two days whilst the business from the UK now takes up another two days and the petrochemical grids from Andreas takes the other days capacity. At one time when they were not busy we would use Nok and his team to assist the lost wax section but now the sand foundry is established .in its own right. It now has a turnover of 40 million baht a year; I am proud of Nok’s progress and have persuaded him to get involved in the Thai foundry society to expand his horizons.
The biggest influence on both the Investment and the sand foundry has been the improvement to our melting facility. With Alec’s help we installed electric induction melting with 2 x half tonne furnaces to replace the pit furnaces which has revolutionised our melting capacity and capability. We retained the pit furnaces in Chan’s studio mainly for the occasional demonstrations.
We do occasionally make engineering castings in the sand foundry but my partners are against increasing it. Knowing how demanding and capricious that market can be I think they are probably correct. The Investment foundry and Chan’s workshop last year saw a turnover of almost 80 million baht making it a substantial business in the district. Phai’s sister in law Acheron has been taking care of the administration and paperwork of the company for a year or so. She is a cheerful lady with a surprising energy. Her organisational skills allow Chan and Pravat to run their activities without having to worry about the routine management. Her contribution has been significant and she ensures I get my management charge paid promptly every month.
Chan’s workshop is always busy with commissions from artists from around the world which often involves visits from them to supervise or just see the process. His studio is regularly filled with a mix of artists’ young and old, professionals and enthusiastic amateurs. This is in addition to the almost monthly arrival of tourists for the now established Artists workshop and retreat promoted by Gerald in the UK. The majority of these visitors stay at Chez K so the girls are also happy and making a nice living.
Phai and Pan insist that Chan gives demonstrations to local children. Every two months a party of school children from all over the province arrive at the site. At times I think we are a branch of showbiz rather than a commercial foundry organisation but Chan loves it and Ratana is always willing to lend him a hand with the presentations. The highlight is our “Kids summer school” when my Ocker mate Benny brings up the lads from the Children’s home in Chonburi. They pitch tents, make clay models paint pictures and roll about in the wet clay. All our ladies get involved in cooking food and organising games although the lads prefer the boisterous tournaments and battles arranged by Pravat and Nok who are just big kids themselves. Some of the lads have disabilities so a couple years ago Charles donated the money to build a clubhouse on the site. It provided a facility for catering to augment our rustic refectory, space for inside activities and a dormitory for the boys who found sleeping under canvas difficult.
Our activities had apparently created a lot of interest beyond our local community. A VIP expressed the desire to make a visit and meet the boys from the orphanage on their next trip to the site. Phai and Pan were beside themselves with excitement at the news and I could do nothing with Phai for days she was such a quivering wreck.
On the day of the visit the local TV news team came to cover the event, it was interesting to see Artie and his RBT crew again. The site was decorated with flags and photos. The VIP arrived in a limousine and a huge entourage of security. I was very conscious of the great honour this visit represented and even I was bowled over by the grace and beauty of the elegant young VIP. I think most of the province had turned up and all the schoolchildren for miles around were in attendance. It was quite a pageant with displays of song and dance by what seemed hundreds of children. Our lads from the orphanage were presented and they gave her a small bronze bust (that Chan had helped them make). The VIP was charming to the children and seemed genuinely interested in them.
I watched proudly as Chan was presented to her and he introduced Phai and Pan to her highness. I was pleased that they also presented their headmaster and his wife and felt it was a bit of payback to them for their support in letting Phai and Pan have time off school for our numerous activities over the years. Then almost as soon as she arrived the VIP climbed back into the limousine and departed with her entourage on to her next engagement. Everyone stayed for the party…and what a party, tonnes of food was conjured up from somewhere and served from our rustic refectory. Chan’s studio was converted into a bar and a Morlam band appeared from nowhere. You have to hand it to the Thais they really know how to throw a party even though I knew I was probably paying for it.
Phai has often told me that Ratana sees me as her father figure. I love that Ratana seems to have adopted me as her new dad. She is a lovely girl and as my PA watches over my interests with great enthusiasm. In our regular discussions I have persistently encouraged her to continue her studies and she finally enrolled in a distance learning course for a master’s programme with a UK business school. I sit with her once a week mentoring her through the programme which I must admit is a labour of love. I have promised to take her to the UK when it is the obligatory residential seminar she has to attend later in the year. I have vowed to book her into a good hotel which I know is her motivation. I realised some time ago she has a real partiality for comfortable hotel rooms.
Ratana has been managing the Artist workshops very successfully amongst her other duties and I know with the dividend from this activity and her salary from me, although not impressive by western standards is enough to consider her as a young woman of significant independent means by Thai standards. I have yet to see her with a regular boyfriend but know I will be the archetypal protective father when she finally brings a serious suitor home.
I know my son Richard is ready to return home to UK with his new wife Ploy and his adopted daughter Lawan. He had thoroughly enjoyed his years in the kingdom but knew it was time to go home. He has already resigned from his teaching job at Phai and Pans school. I have offered him Beverley’s old job as Gerald’s assistant but informed him he has a lot to live up to. Fortunately Gerald has assured me he will take him under his wing and show him the ropes. I have told Richard there is £50k in a trust fund for him to put down as a deposit on a small 3 bedroom house when he returns to the UK. I decided as I was going to give up my flat in the UK I would pay him the £10k I saved if he would put me up on my visits back to the UK. Ploy was thrilled at the thought of entertaining me on my visits home so it was all agreed. My pal Devin had identified a 3 bedroom house in his home town and had promised to make the necessary arrangements on their return to the UK. Although Ploy was committed to being a traditional housewife and mother to Lawan when in England my friend Annie who owned a Thai restaurant in their town had said Ploy could work weekends as a waitress to keep her busy and involved in the local Thai community.
Kul and Kwan are thriving, the restaurant is always busy and the four rooms almost fully occupied with our various activities. With the imminent departure of Ploy they had already converted her apartment into a fifth hotel room. I know they are coveting Nong’s room for the same purpose. I still go and spend a couple of days with them every month and enjoy their hospitality. I also have a beer in Mikes bar and was pleased to see he had engaged Somchai to play his keyboard on Saturday nights.
Charles has set up Nong as his Mia Noi in the house now vacated by Richard and Ploy. He attends the occasional board meeting of Chanarong Art Castings; he offers a new perspective and often contributes valuable ideas. Unfortunately I can not get anyone interested in my latest idea for insect farming. I am informed it is an incredible source of protein which will become increasingly valuable in an ever growing world population. I am also reliably informed there are 46 tonnes of insect for every human on the planet. I was particularly interested in farming crickets which already sell for £3/kg and you can 10,000 in a single tank. Pan and Phai tell me insect farming is only for poor people and not for Thais. I had jokingly threatened to find my next girl friend in Cambodia or Laos and set up my insect farm. They (half) jokingly informed me I would find my willy fed to the local ducks if I did.
Five years ago I was practically penniless living a lonely existence in a one bed roomed flat in a rust belt industrial town my prospects limited. Now my enterprises employ 20 people in the UK and Thailand and I spend more than half the year in the Kingdom most of it in my little Issan commune. We have a busy time over the next few months. Pravat finally proposed to Mali and their wedding next month will be the highlight of the year. I do not expect to be sober on that day.
I still get away occasionally to Sukhumvit and Pattaya but consider my mongering days are probably over. I have hung up my metaphorical boots although I may turn out if they are a man short or have a lot on ….who am I kidding? I shall continue to monger until the day they screw the coffin lid down and bury my dick separately and with full military honours.
I have noticed my team are becoming increasingly capable of running things without me so I am finding I have time on my hands. Maybe I should write a novel? I could not offer tales of Ladyboys, drug dealers, corrupt officials or shootouts with AK47s. Maybe I could write a story about a sad old tosser who after coming into a bit of luck finds a new life in Thailand ….No, nobody would read that.