Readers' Submissions

Out Of The Formicary (11) – The Long And Winding Road To The Starlight Express

  • Written by Markin
  • October 25th, 2014
  • 14 min read




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.




The View from MY balcony in Cha Am. Honest.


I spent several days sitting on ‘my’ balcony and doing what passes for thinking. True sometimes I had to leave the balcony.

Now my journey to the beach, the 7/11 and ‘Paradise’ were substantially longer than when staying at ‘Tony’. It presented a new challenge – here I use the word ‘challenge’ with its ‘modern meaning in the work place’: ‘challenge: (noun) something new and required to be performed, that is a bloody inconvenient; that which complicates tasks which were previously simple; something around which a way must be found’.

So now I had maybe a 440 yard (402.336 metre) walk from my balcony to the sea. Ok, had I run I could have covered the distance in less than fifty seconds as Lon Meyers of Virginia had done in the 1880’s or 44.5 seconds as John Walton Smith, from Los Angeles, had in 1979 to set a world record.

Yea I could have run but I decided to shuffle/stumble, so it took me a more leisurely twenty to thirty minutes.

So, out of the compound through the wire-mesh gates that are slid closed at night. Straight on, a shop on the left that never seems to get any customers, the scrawny cows in a make shift paddock on the right and another shop that seems never to get a customer, pass the chickens scratching away at the ground while a cockerel sometimes crows from an upturned bell-jar made of wicker, then a closed shop and another which although open and apparently well-stocked never gets a customer and a largish restaurant on the left (which I never eat at because it makes the mistake of specializing in Thai food which we should all know is largely inedible) then the road dog-legs to the right. At this point I’m beyond ‘my range’ my ‘good leg’ is hurting. But press on. Now on ‘beach road’ the ‘Nana House’ is on the right (yep, it is called that but don’t get your hopes up because Cha Am is not only not Pattaya it’s also not Bangkok). I chose it as ‘my’ stopping point. I sit and order a soda (20 baht).

After awhile the staff of the ‘Nana House’ got used to the late morning visit of the stumbling stranger (me god damn it!) and place an ashtray on ‘my’ table (can’t think why). After more of a while the waitress would say, “Soda” but mindful of a story about Jean-Paul (Charles Aymard) Sartre (21 June 1905 – 15 April 1980 – French philosopher or as us Brits might say another Frog nutter) who considered that he had been robbed of his freedom when his local tobacconist ‘automatically’ offered the brand of cigarettes that he’d been going in there to buy for ‘donkey’s years’, I one day ordered a “Fanta Red’ in my best Thai (so Fanta Dang). My freedom may have been restored but the waitress didn’t understand. I accepted a soda – better to be a non-thirsty slave than a free man.

I’d sit and think.

I’d think about ‘the journey’ from ‘the’ balcony to the Nana House.

Yep, it was different and some might say exotic even amazing when compared to to a similar length of journey made in my home country 5,919.32 air-miles away.

BUT what struck me was: Why were the cows so scrawny? Were their owners happy about them? Would they become the subject of a desperate email, “Dearest, cows sick, no food. Can send money help? Mr Weston Union? Thank-you darling. I not ask again.”

Also, how do shops that apparently never have a customer remain in business? Perhaps, “Dearest, business no good. Can send money help? Mr Weston Union? Thank-you darling. I not ask again.”

The chickens seemed healthy as did the cockerel (although he seemed a bit ‘pissed off’ or perhaps worried about being kept in an upturned bell-jar made of wicker – perhaps fearful that he might soon be going to star in one of the fights against another of his species to be shown on the Thai T.V channel dedicated to cock-fighting. Stage fright or pre-big match nerves. There REALLY is a Thai T.V channel solely, exclusively, jubilantly dedicated to cock-fighting. HONEST!!!!! Strange. Amazingly brutal, violent country).

I thought how amazing it was that I know so much about chickens.

My paternal grandfather kept chickens in the yard of his L.C.C. built three bedroom house in Plaistow (that’s pronounced ‘Plarrstow’ mate) in London. He, his wife and his eight children had moved there in 1936 when the slum that they had lived in on Major Road, Stratford (that’s pronounced ‘Stratford’ mate) was demolished.

Was he a farmer? No, a docker. But two sides of the yard with chicken-shacks and one side with rabbits hutches.

One of my earliest memories is of him ripping off the head of a chicken.

The chicken tasted good.

I never saw him dispatch a rabbit but I’m sure he did it with equal love (love for his wife and eight children that is – true love).

It annoys me when I hear some Thais whining that Thailand is, “A small, poor country. Send money? Mr.Weston Union? Can? Today?”

This led me to thinking about the fact that my paternal grandfather had had a stroke thing. So I thought about my ‘S’ affected leg/foot (now my ‘good leg’ – everything is relative). A helpful web-site states that one of the effects of ‘S’ thing is,

“Problems with walking. After a stroke, your toes may catch on the ground as you walk. This is known as 'drop foot'. Walking can be more difficult and you may be more likely to trip or fall. You might feel unsteady on your feet and struggle to find your balance. An Ankle-Foot Orthosis, or AFO, is a type of foot brace, usually made of plastic that can help with standing and walking. It can improve your walking speed, stability and balance.”

Get out of here!!! Treat it as a ‘sports injury’, stop whining (you’re not Thai) and get on with it. Or phone Tik (you call me Peter) to come and transport you on his motor-bike (Wan and I were having a threesome, although she didn’t know it, because I was now using ‘her’ Tik as ‘my’ motor-bike taxi driver).

Is this boring? Yep. Is it self-indulgent? Yep. But this is what I did on my holidays in Cha Am.

OK, it may be less boring and self-indulgent. How many senses do we have? “Four”. Nope! No, no, no. NO.

Think about it.

Don’t worry there is now NOT going to be a diversion into the paranormal. No whiff of popery here.

Do we not talk of a sense of balance? Well, it’s real. So, that’s five senses.

Try an experiment. Close your eyes and touch the tip of your nose with the index finger of your left then right hand. Easy? OK, that’s six senses – knowing where one part of your body is in relation to another.

Or, did the result of the experiment lead to either left or right hand index finger becoming stuck in an ear or a nostril (or some other orifice). Yes? YOU are perhaps drunk or have a sexual predilection that YOU are not keen to consciously acknowledge or you have recently had a ‘S’ thing or are in the process of having one. Phone an ambulance – NOW.

Anyway, it was NOT the ‘S thing’ leg that I thought about it was the ‘good leg’ that was problematic – because it was causing me PAIN. But, treat it as a ‘sports injury’, stop whining (you’re not Thai) and get on with it.

So, after a while ,walk on, pass ‘Tony Guest House’ to ‘Paradise’. I stop for another soda in Paradise (25 baht) or occasionally a ‘Fanta Dang – apparently the staff here speak Thai.

After a few visits I met Paul a Swedish guy who had worked as a computer engineer in Denmark. How else could we possibly have met? Only in a bar called ‘Paradise’ in Cha Am. Amazing.

He was of course quarto-lingual. I think he had realised that Danish and Swedish are about as much use as Welsh or Thai as world languages so he spoke German and English as well. Oh he also knew, “Some Dutch”. Hmmm. Amazing.

One of the pleasures of Thailand (and there ain’t as many as advertised) is the pleasure of meeting other farang. Of course he was an interesting man – he talked little of his work as a computer engineer (I feel he down-played that aspect of his life), but he did talk of sailing a small yacht from Sweden to Scotland – at night, in a storm, using dead-reckoning (in the days before GPS). Fascinating, really fascinating. I envied him – I had had such a small life by comparison.

YOU will often perhaps find that some lives are big while others are small – I know I have.

I would have liked to have contributed more to conversations. I carry a card given to me by a hospital. It’s a laugh:




My get out of jail free card. Honest.


Anyway, onwards. Over the in no way threatening beach road to the deck-chairs on the beach and sit for a while.

Travellers’ Tip # Number 14. Sun-loungers disappear from the Cha-Am beach in late February/mid March – then there are only deck-chairs under colourful parasols –Thai style. There really had been no high season in Cha Am this year.

After a while reverse the journey back to the balcony – blah, blah stumble/shuffle blah.

Sometimes the journeys from the balcony were shorter – to the ‘compound shop’. It catered for the basic needs of the Thai residents but really not at all for the ‘high income’ farangs. “Often I think that Thailand is simply not hard-wired for business practices (other than being Tuk-tuk drivers).” But OK, it did cater for essential needs – I could purchase Krong Thip cigarettes there (hey, someone might come to visit who SMOKED).

There is a web-site about Krong Thip cigarettes – honest!!!! (strange, amazing thing the internet) – one contributor has posted,

“Has the author ever had a Krong Thip cigarette? It's like smoking a chicken bone.”
Is he or she correct? What would I know?

Sometimes the journeys from the balcony were much, much shorter – to the bathroom. The ‘gastritis thing’ was determined that it should not be forgotten.

Since Auy’s, (Nang’s daughter) abrupt departure in Bangkok, I had received many SMS from her. One received while I sat on my balcony said, “hello martin my life very hard when are you go back to London I think you can stay six month can? I am so sad canot take care you. Mum want I take care u please take care I am sick. Auy”

I was tempted to invite Auy and her brother Esso to come to Cha Am. It had after all been one of the driving reasons of this trip to give them both a holiday. And because of the ‘G thing’ I really felt like being taken care of. But mostly I was deeply touched that Nang should have passed on the need for Auy and I to consider ourselves as family. But still and nevertheless I declined the offer.

But it did lead me to considering whether or not I should stay six months or go home now. That thought led me to thinking about trains (I could get a train back to Bangkok).

Travellers’ Tip # Number 15. Honest. There is a daily rail service from and to Bangkok. It is as always by far the best way to travel. It’s cheap, efficient and fun. People will walk the aisles and sell you food and stuff and if you are a smoker (not saying that I am) YOU can smoke between the carriages with others in the ‘Smoking Community’.

On my balcony I thought about trains!




View from ‘my’ balcony in Cha Am where I thought about trains. Honest.



I like trains.

I thought about sex.

I like sex.

I thought about trains and sex.

I like trains and sex on trains.

I thought about train journeys I had taken in Thailand and one in particular. Nanthana and I were on a train. It was going from Chumpon to Bangkok. We had, with my son, been on Koh Tao for a week (and survived).

Nanthana had a sleeping berth. I had a sleeping berth. Get out of it! Luggage into one berth and me and Nanthana into the other.

I stayed inside Nanthana all night. I can do that – or at least could do ‘that’ then because I was only fifty-six back then.

We were children playing with a jig-saw puzzle that we had played with before – the parts fitted together effortlessly. This was husband and wife. Real husband and wife ‘stuff’.

We shared head phones – you can do that because it’s not illegal. We arranged our bodies so that we could be inside and around each other and in the dim light at least be aware of if not see the other’s face (not that we needed to ‘see’ because touch was good enough). Nanthana tuned into Loa music. It was sweet. We used to sleep to Loa back in ‘Family Ekamai’(When we were not having sex, or thinking about having had sex or thinking about having sex or watching sex or talking about sex – which wasn’t often).

I put on a CD – the only one that is worth it – Love “Forever Changes”.

We loved.

Back at Chumpon station, before boarding the ‘Starlight Express’, there were two fat, or do I mean too fat, German women sitting on the platform. They were young. I cannot put into words how fat they were – truly obese does not give an adequate description. They were red raw from the sun – they MUST have been in pain and given the amount of skin they had they must have been in great pain.

I asked, “Where have you been to? Did you like it?”

I really don’t usually start conversations with strangers. I was in a buoyant mood.

They looked at me with utter distain.

My son who is a young and a VERY hamsum man came to talk to them. They were so charmed.

Then Nanthana appeared. She had been shopping – for food this time. The fatter of the two German young women (if that was possible) had braids in her hair. Nanthana took the braids out – she had been asked to by ‘the girls’ in an attempt to create inter-racial bonding with a down trodden, exploited sister (they were of course, in their minds, all de-facto members of the ‘Women Community’).

My son looked on.

I thought, “What do you two fat, young people think? You think I’m an old man who wanted to chat you up? NOW you can see I am with the most beautiful person in the world”.

Nanthana was not objectively the most beautiful person in the world.

I looked at the two/too young, fat holiday makers on their big adventure with such distain that my son and (even) Nanthana noticed.

I thought also of how strange the whole experience of being in Thailand with Nanthana and my son had been. ALL of these thoughts ran through my head in a flash – you know how it is.

Then we got onto the train.

Nanthana and I loved all that night.

But now I was in Cha Am and Nanthana was dead and the sun was setting.




Pip pip


(Sorry but…) that’s not all folks.