One Of The Has-beens
I was thinking how relevant that sentiment expressed in the above title could be for many of the present and past "mongers" who have passed through Thailand in search of an elusive dream. It is the title of one of the classic shearing songs from Australia's history of the "glory days" of when wool was "king" of Australia's exports – and when the men who took off the wool from the backs of the sheep were legends.
I'm one of the has-beens, a shearer I mean
I once was a ringer and I used to shear clean
I could make the wool roll off easy like soil from the plough
But you may not believe me for I can't do it now
I'm as awkward as a New-Chum and I'm used to the frown
That the boss often shows me saying "keep them blades down"
I've shore with Pat Hogan, Bill Bright and Jack Gunn
Tommy Leighton, Charlie Fergus and the great roaring Dunn
They brought from the Lachlan the best they could find
But there's not one among them who could leave me behind
Still, it's no use complaining – I'll never say die
Though the days of fast shearing for me have gone by
I'll just take the wool nice and easy – shear slowly and clean
And I merely have told you just what I have been
(The song was set to the tune "Pretty Little Polly Perkins")
A few years ago, I downloaded and saved a couple of video clips of country life in Isaan and, even now when I look at those clips, a feeling of nostalgia sweeps over me to see a way of life slowly disappearing. I haven't had a lot of time in Surin province in Isaan – but I do remember certain facets of what time I did have there with Natalise and her family. Surin was the home of Tony Jaa (Jaa Phanom), Muay-Thai exponent extraordinaire, film star and not a bad singer into the bargain – and, from what I hear, quite a nice guy – and the recent victim of an Internet death hoax. He is not dead.
Although, as I have said previously, living in Surin (or any rural part of Thailand) is not something I would choose but there still remain fond moments that I treasure from the short time I did share there with Nat and her family.
However, getting back to the "has-beens", my thoughts have shifted to so many of the beer bars where we "refugees" often find ourselves ensconced on a lonely bar-stool with our double-shot of Jack Daniels (or whatever), our memories and that ever-present thousand-yard stare. We "has-beens" are not very much interested in the girls these days – we are lost in those long-gone halcyon days when it seemed as if we could command anything with a wave of the hand. Doesn't seem so easy now, does it?
The guy on the stool, three slots away to my right, wouldn't look out of place wearing a Jackie Howe singlet – truth is he could have just stepped out of Stevenson's Shed at the end of his shift down on The Lachlan. He could even be "The Ringer" except for the large beer gut that would never allow him to shear anywhere near the 321 sheep in one shift by Jackie Howe in 1892. Then there is the fact that this is a small bar in Chiang Mai and he is way out of time in the wrong century and country. Perhaps I am as well. Still, with a bit of imagination, one could pretend that is where we now are – amazing what a double shot or three can do. Unfortunately, The Eagles are now playing "Lyin' Eyes" on the bar stereo and the Mamasan just refilled my shot glass with another double Jackie (Daniels that is). Listening to The Eagles seems to take away the ability to pretend to be back in 1892. Truth is I'd never know what it was like back then – I can only imagine.
How did we get here? I would ask that bloke a few stools away except for the fact that I don't wish to spoil his reverie and I don't want my own to slip down the plug-hole of imagination.
Where did Natalise go? Last time I heard, she had a lovely new brick home back on Oz – and she only has a year or two to go before it will be paid for. Good on you, Love – you deserve that – you always had a good business head on those shoulders. I bet you never imagined that is where you would be back in those few weeks we had in the village up in Surin – you have all my admiration and best wishes for all that you do in life.
So, the way I see things, it looks like there is going to be a change for the worse here in The-Land-Of-Not-So-Many-Smiles-As-Before. The smart "old hands" are already leaving the sinking ship for greener pastures – and good for them – it's about time people started to stand up for themselves and expect the respect that they deserve. Reality is a great leveller, isn't it? I mean, some of us came here with pockets bulging with US dollars and some bulging with British pounds or Euros – and we were welcomed like homecoming heroes – so what went wrong?
Bugger this going back to 1892 – listen, we should be going back to 1982 or 1998 – even 2000 would do me just fine. Back then a barfine was no more than 500 baht and a full overnight stay with the most beautiful girl in the bar would cost around 1500 baht. AND back then you would get the real girlfriend experience. Try to get that now. I tell you for what it's worth – things are crook in Tallarook – and they are only going to get worse.
I wonder if I can get these other two "has-beens" to join me to start up a petition for equal rights for "has-beens" – I mean, we do now have a progressive new government and I am absolutely certain they would be more than happy to give equal rights to "Has-beens". Who am I fooling? Nobody but myself – because that will never happen, so I better put that idea away in the drawer with all those other lost dreams.
Isn't it strange how roles can change, along with values and goals. Back in 2005, I can remember two guys who would always begin their day in a small cafe / bar on Thapae soi 2. They would sit there over a couple of beers and a bite of breakfast every morning – and it seemed as if they stayed there for a large part of the morning, making me wonder what it was that could make a man wish to use up so many valuable hours drinking when there were so many other things that one could be doing. But look at us three "has-beens" sitting in this little nondescript bar – not even talking to each other – and I sure as hell don't recognize this bar as one I often frequented back then.
If I'm honest with myself, I do remember the bar where I met her – it's not that far from here but I won't go near it now. The truth is that we "has-beens" don't want those memories to change – we want to be able to recall everything just the way it was – because it will never be the same again for any of us. That guy, three bar-stools away to my right, knows the game as do all of us. This is why we don't engage in conversation – and I also think the Mamasan knows the game as well – that is why she doesn't talk very much to any of us.
Tomorrow, I'll be leaving here – this was just a whistle-stop trip to get lost in a few memory lanes and try to recapture a few precious moments that can never be recreated. I wonder what those other two "has-beens" will be doing tomorrow. Perhaps it may be a repeat of tonight's little exercise for them – but, for their sakes, I hope not. It is so easy to drown in the mud from where you can so easily become just another lost soul who can see no future.
In spite of the negatives that so many of us seem to focus on with the major changes happening around us in Thailand, I do believe that things will work out for the better. Of course, nothing will ever be as we "has-beens" will remember – but Thailand is a growing nation that is full of so much potential. Nothing ever remains static and change is inevitable, so we have to grow with those changes. When I say "we", I do not include we "has-beens" – most of us don't have enough time left to make any changes necessary in our outlooks. I think I can speak for the other two "has-beens" when I say that we are quite happy living in our dreams of what once was. Just let us pretend it is still how we remember it all was. We're all just big, old kids – and kids have a lot of fun in their pretend games – so can we, if only we try. Just let us get on with it.