Out Of The Formicary (8) – “I Do Like To Be Beside The Seaside, Beside The Sea…” (All Together Now, “I Do Like…”)
This is essentially another ‘what I did on my holiday’ submission. My intention had been to submit once a week from Thailand. That did not happen. Each ‘episode’ was either fully written in the time period it is related to or written up from notes made in that period. To make full or any sense of the ‘episodes’ it is (I’m afraid) probably necessary to first read this.
On the 15th February I woke up. I always think that this is a ‘good thing’ to be able to say.
It is true that ‘stuff’ had not gone to plan – I was not with Auy/Esso or Pa as had respectively been: ‘Plan A’ and subsequently ‘Plan B’.
Life was made better because neither Auy nor Pa were in the room.
I was in Cha Am!
Oh! I do like to be beside the seaside. I do like to be beside the sea! I do like to stroll along the Prom! Where the brass bands play: "Tiddely-om-pom-pom!" So just let me be beside the seaside. I'll be beside myself with glee. And there's lots of girls beside, I should like to be beside the seaside! Beside the sea!
(OK, OK, not my words (if only) but those written, in 1907, by John A. Glover-Kind and made famous by music hall singer Mark Sheridan who first recorded it in 1909. “It speaks of the singer's love for the seaside, and his wish to return there for his summer holidays each year. It was composed at a time when the yearly visits of the British working-class to the seaside were booming. It was, for a long time, used as a signature tune by Reginald Dixon MBE, who was the resident organist at the Tower Ballroom, Blackpool between 1930-70”). (From Wikipedia, the free encyclopaedia – and now font of all human knowledge).
I/little me/us had seen/heard/experienced Reginald Dixon MBE, the resident organist at the Tower Ballroom, Blackpool (between 1930-70) perform his ‘signature number’ on his organ, the mighty Wurlitzer’ (snigger/nudge/wink/British sea-side humour) ‘.
It wasn’t only in 1909 that, “the yearly visits of the British working-class to the seaside were booming”. In fact I’d dispute this; seaside holidays may well have begun to ‘boom’ for the British working-class in the late nineteenth century but for a very large percentage of the working-class in 1909 a holiday, whether beside the sea-side or anywhere for that matter (other than beside the local slag-heap or factory gates), was just an impossible dream. (True, in 1909 people did not know that soon many would get a foreign holiday, at the state’s expense – in France).
It annoys me when I hear Thais say in defence of something or another, “Thailand is only a small, poor country.” I can say with some certainty that my paternal grandparents (in common with many others of the time) were poorer than any Thai citizen today (Thailand is not a poor country anymore – by the way the UN, UNESCO, the Red Cross and other international organizations agree! It is simply a poorly managed country/economy).
The 1930’s did see a ‘boom’ of sea-side holidays for the British working-class, in ‘holiday camps’ (rows of wooden, garden-sheds near the sea-side). This re-boomed in the late 1940s and 50’s (when many (well a percentage) of the working-class returned from their foreign holidays (in various parts of the world).
My childhood memories often centre on ‘holiday camp’ holidays in the 1950’s. Gritty times.
By the 1960’s my family’s fortunes had improved. My father had become a ‘Head Buyer for Haberdashery” (look up haberdashery yourself!) for a large London chain of department stores. With it came a free two weeks in a house in Bisphan – the posh bit of Blackpool Lancashire. This along with turkeys, crates of whisky, boxes of cigars and chocolates and cigarettes; all from ‘grateful’ suppliers, or those who hoped to become grateful suppliers to the ‘Head Buyer for Haberdashery” for a large London chain of department stores. With the house came free tickets to see Reginald Dixon MBE, the resident organist at the Tower Ballroom, Blackpool (between 1930-70) perform his ‘signature number’ on his organ, affectionately known as ‘his mighty Wurlitzer’ (snigger/nudge/wink/British sea-side humour).
Thailand may not be amazing (it just isn’t – despite hype, bull-shit and myopic Thai propaganda), what remains amazing for me is that I was amazingly in Tony Guest House, Cha Am, Thailand.
Tony Guest House is ideally placed for access to the beach – but then so is almost every hotel and guest house in Cha Am. All you have to do is cross the in no way threatening beach road. In my case a fifty yard walk/shuffle/stumble.
I made it…(phew) and dumped my body onto a waiting sun-lounger – almost certainly the first in a thousand generations of my gene pool to do so.
Where was I? Cha Am of course! But the day before on the beach had been taken up with ‘taking care’ of Pa – making sure she had enough to eat and drink and minimising the relentless flow of ‘conversation’ about her hair salon (yea right) and the fact that she was fat (she was not fat) and of course ensuring that her fully clothed body was never exposed to the horror of…direct sunlight.
There had been little time for ‘orientation’.
Cha Am beach is long and has sand, deck chairs and loungers (in February) and colourful parasols (except on Wednesdays when the beach has only sand).
Travellers’ Tip Number #8. Cha Am is often compared to and contrasted with Hua Hin. Here’s mine: comparison – they are not the same. Contrast – they are different.
Perhaps better to think of other ‘long beaches’ that you know of. For me, Benidorm, Spain (where I have been many times), Viareggio, Italy (where I lived for one year, a life-time ago) or the Algarve, Portugal – all three have superior beaches of that of Cha Am.
Or perhaps make comparisons to ‘long-beaches’ in one’s own country. Blackpool has a much better beach (if you live in Luxembourg then emigrate to a country which is sensible enough to have a coastline (go now!) and you’ll find it has a better beach somewhere).
But I was, not in Blackpool (thank god) but beside the sea in Cha Am.
It was time for me to touch the sea – I had not done so the day before (too busy tending to Pa).
I resisted the temptation to put a handkerchief, with knots at the four corners, on my head (I did not have a handkerchief) and stumbled towards the sea.
The sea that I stumbled towards at Cha Am (Honest!)
What I had not realised is that Cha Am has its own version of the Mariana Trench or Marianas Trench of the Pacific which reaches a maximum known depth of 10.911 km (10,911 ± 40 m) or 6.831 miles (36,069 ± 131 ft) at the Challenger Deep. The Cha Am Trench has a maximum known depth of maybe 6.832 inches (± 3inches).
I fell down it and landed on my bum. I stood with uncertainty and took three goes at surmounting the almost insuperable cliff.
I made it…and dumped my body onto the waiting sun-lounger.
Ok, no embarrassment – only half of those on Cha Am beach that day had witnessed the incident.
Where was I? Cha Am of course! But what was the I?
I’ve mostly had a tolerably good working relationship with my body – no substantial mind / body divide. There have been difficult times of course, as in all partnerships, but never divorce (bit like my marriage to Ant really). OK, the ‘S’ thing did near bring a permanent separation between us (my mind and body I mean) but we had decided to forgive (if not forget) – no mutual recriminations. But this walking/leg thing was ‘different’.
The pain was real. I mean real!!!! Not walking – no pain. At first walking – no pain. After 100 yards – pain. 250 yards – real pain. I mean real PAIN!!!! Like the on-set of cramp without the full development of it. So stop. Five minutes no pain. I could identify no cause.
Is this all boring? Yep. Is it self-indulgent? Yep. But…it may ring a chord with many of the old ‘community’ (I HATE the term ‘community’).
It creeps up on you. Increasingly there is a mind / body divide!
It starts when those TV ads become less ridiculous and become mildly interesting (those ads for ‘circulation boosters’ or chairs that at a touch of a button swing forward and eject the sitter). The process continues with a growing envy of those who can afford a ‘stair lift’.
The body becomes a source of suspicion. What will it get up to next? And in particular what will it resist you getting up to next?
I decided to treat the ‘leg issue’ as a ‘sports injury’ – and ignore its cause.
Anyway, after the day on the beach all I had to do was persuade my legs to cross the in no way threatening beach road and after fifty yards of walk/shuffle/stumble dump my body onto a waiting bed at Tony Guest House.
This became a daily routine.
I like routines – they are comforting.
Evenings were spent in hunting for food with varying degrees of success – there really is little edible food in Cha Am (or in fact Thailand as whole).
But I don’t really like being alone. So after several days I decided not to be alone.
But and although Blackpool beach is far better than Cha Am beach, both resorts have a prom(enade) to stroll along and while Cha Am might not have a brass band (with or without “Tiddely-om-pom-pom”) Cha Am, unlike Blackpool, did hold the near certainty that there would be lots of girls I should like to be beside, beside the sea!
In fact, I don’t like girls, I like women.
I had done my research and knew that my quest for company would lead me to ‘Soi Bus Station’.
I was also in telephonic communication with my good, good friend Manny. He said it was no more than a twenty minute walk from Tony Guest House. Yea right, twenty minutes for an efficient biped. I tried walking for twenty minutes on a couple of occasions only to get… …‘nowhere’, turn around and walk/shuffle/stumble for twenty minutes and dump my body onto a waiting bed at Tony Guest House.
But you just have to try and try again (don’t you?).
So, one afternoon it was inevitable that a motor-bike taxi would be hailed. The drivers wear yellow high visibility vests. I flagged one down – in fact he might have been a building- worker on his way home but he had a high-viz vest. Good enough. “Soi Bus Station?” Off we go. After one hundred yards he stopped and talked to another high viz wearer – it was apparent that he didn’t know the way. This is strange to the point of unbelievable. Cha Am is very small – it is not Pattaya – surely all citizens of Cha Am beach, especially motor-bike taxi riders, know ‘Soi Bus Station’. But then perhaps he was a building- worker on his way home.
We arrived. It was late afternoon.
Cha Am is not Pattaya. Soi Bus Station is the only ‘bar area’ in Cha Am. It was once a ‘bus station’! Unsurprisingly its layout reflects this! A rectangle with maybe five or six bars on each of the long sides – with rooms above the bars. There is a central bit with four or five bars.
It was late afternoon – true Cha Am is mercifully not Pattaya but none of the bars was open except one in ‘the central bit’. I sat, had a soda and phoned Manny. He said, and I think I quote him accurately, that I was, “…a tosser…”, for having gone too early because Cha Am is not Pattaya.
But everything comes to those who wait (personally have not found this to be true). After some waiting I walked around the rectangle. Bars were beginning to open but only so the ladies could have something to eat. Even on the short stroll I had to stop (you guess why).
Another bar. Customers were not expected but I sat anyway. I met Ola.
Ola is a jovial lady in her thirties, she speaks good English. We chatted. I bought us beers and then …she bought us beers!!! And she …smoked (menthol) cigarettes. My god! I knew what I had to do next…
Ask her if she wanted to play pool.
Sports have (strangely) loomed large in my life. I’ve played many. I have been excellent at none of them, but never a ‘mug’ or ‘embarrassment’ at any of them.
Having found out at ‘the Mothership’ that I was no longer a ‘good’ swimmer (but rather, had become a pathetic flounder) I was reluctant to play pool – it was the last hope.
I had become a decent pool player mainly thanks to one piece of advice from my (good, good) friend Manny. In his bluff and direct manner he had advised that unlike most quests in a man’s life, “…the hole is not the goal.” The goal is initially to ‘cover’ the holes with your balls (snigger/wink/nudge/British sea-side humour). Cover two or indeed three holes and you have probably won the game (snigger/wink/nudge). Then, taking the game at your own pace, try to get as many of your other spherical objects near the covered holes as possible. Thai bar girls find this confusing – they are shot players and like to get the game over quickly (snigger/wink).
Anyway, I’d got to the point where I could think three shots ahead and… execute them. Initially my Thai lady opponents would look as though they were wiping the floor with me but then the matador would reveal the sword behind the cape (snigger)… game over.
This had been the way of things with Anna who I met in Bangkok in 2008. She was the best shot player that I have encountered. Eventually we teamed up and went on a ‘road trip’ to Pattaya – slaughtering all in our path.
Ah, memories. ‘Glory Days’ (one really can live your life with Bruce Springsteen numbers as your sound-track – think I’ll listen to it now).
OK done, I’ll get another fix later.
Anyway time to find out.
OK I was a decent pool player.
I could think three shots ahead and…not execute even one of them. No power in the right shoulder, no ability to get my cue (snigger/wink/nudge/British sea-side humour) to a high enough angle to play the ball with back spin.
Ola and I had a couple more drinks. I knew what I had to do next…
Ask her if she could get me a motor-bike taxi to take me back to Tony Guest House.
Ola was I think mildly surprised that it was to be only me that was going back to Tony Guest House.
Back in the room I reflected on that day’s experiences (I do that a lot). Why was Ola not there? I liked Ola and she seemed to not dislike me. So why?
That question was easy to answer. Pa had endlessly shrilled about the fact that she was fat (she was not fat), Ola did not once shrill about being fat (she was fat). That’s it – it was as simple as that.
I felt guilty about feeling this, I felt guilty about noting it in the ‘daily notes’, I feel almost guilty about writing this now – but not enough guilt not to write it! It is quite simply true!
I find fat difficult to handle (snigger/wink/nudge/British sea-side humour).
Pa was forty-two years old, perhaps she did not have the figure that she had had when she was twenty-two or thirty-two, so what? (I don’t like girls, I like women). Pa was not fat but I don’t like all women who are not fat!
Ola was maybe in her late thirties, she was a woman, I liked her but she was fat. Listen, I don’t have to find fat women attractive!!!! It is as simple as that.
But it is of course not as simple as that. I remembered a conversation I had had with my son on our ‘holiday’ on Koh Toa (him, me and Nang) in 2006. He and I talked about a one time friend of mine – my son knows him well. I suggested that my one-time friend’s wife was a dismissive snob with no sense of humour and that she was fat. My son was near outraged. Not about the comments regarding snobbery or lack of humour, these were taken as incontrovertible, self evident truths, but about the fact that she was ‘fat’. Listen, she is clinically obese! I find it strange that accusations of snobbery and lack of humour which clearly are matters of individual perception and subjectivity were not contested but something which is objectivity true has become ‘sensitive’. I pitied my son and those of his gender/social class/age. But then to a lesser extent I pitied myself for having been partly dragged into this ‘malaise’. The situation is simple – I, in common with many men, don’t find fat women physically attractive!!!! And I bloody well don’t have to.
As an aside, I refrain from putting a blindfold over my eyes when in the company of those who clearly have a long-term personal habit of, on a daily basis, consuming more calories than they burn – I see it as a matter of good manners to ignore the personal failings of others (however much they offend me).
As a further aside we had a good time on Koh Toa (despite the fact that much of the ‘advertised’ coral is dead).
We managed not to be murdered on Koh Toa, perhaps because neither my son nor I wore bikinis. But Nang did wear a bikini (“Shy for what? Scared for what?”) and also lived to tell the tale – perhaps the Thai Prime Minister would consider her to be lucky.
Ok, I did not want a ‘room-mate’ that was fat – this still allowed for many possible ‘candidates’ (far more than had I been in Blackpool!).
I did not want someone who shrilled about SMOKING – a diminishing pool of ‘candidates’.
But still what did I want? A replacement for Nang? NO, NO, NO!
A long-term relationship? What a stupid idea!
A sex-tourist tour of duty? NO – just not me. I’ve never ‘done’ short-time – it does not appeal to me. Actually, that it not true. There had been a number of short-term encounters because Nang had been people shopping – but never a one-on-one ‘short time’ or ‘one-night stand’ unmediated by the cash nexus.
So what did I want? You think I knew?
I almost got lost in thoughts of mortality – via thinking about ‘long term relationships’ and the impossibility of that term at the age of sixty-three. Hey ho, the point isn’t whether there is life before death the point is to get as much life as possible before death (even if your leg hurts).
So very late that night I slept. I think that this is an ‘OK’ thing to be able to say.
Tomorrow would amazingly be another day beside the sea side, beside the sea (in Cha Am).
(Sorry but…) that’s not all folks
All together now… “I do like to be…” http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=f2ccKonjwYE