Readers' Submissions

Out Of The Formicary (9) – There’s A Bluebird Sitting On The Branch…

  • Written by Markin
  • October 11th, 2014
  • 22 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.

There are some sentences that you just don’t think will ever be spoken or written, such as:

Bar lady (anywhere in Thailand), “No, no, no 300 baht too much plenty for long-time, my grand-mum say when she bar girl that enough and I must not greedy.”

Or

Police Inspector, “Mr. Wallace was strangled with a spanner.”
It’s probably equally unlikely that I’ll ever hear these words spoken,
Son/grandchild, “What did Thailand ever give you dad/grand-dad?”
In the unlikely event that I was asked this question, I think my response might be,
“Well, amongst other things I think Thailand gave me gastritis.”

Nanthana (aka Nang) was of course involved in how it came to pass that I acquired a Helicobacter Pylon infection by marooning me on a rice farm near Chiang Rai in 2010. However, I was not so much concerned with the causes but the effects.

For those in ‘The Don’t Have Gastritis Community’ a well known on-line, free encyclopaedia says, “Many people with gastritis experience no symptoms at all. However, upper central abdominal pain is the most common symptom; the pain may be dull, vague, burning, aching, gnawing, sore, or sharp. …”

I disagree.

The pain is, how may I describe it?… Well…sporadic but oddly regular and BLOODY AWFUL. Stomach muscles ‘grip’ then ‘lock’ for maybe two minutes accompanied by vomiting and stuff.

For those in ‘The Gastritis Community’ there is bad news – there is no ‘Gastritis Community’ – perhaps try joining the ‘In-growing Toenail Community’ or the ‘Those Who Rely on Oxygen rather than Helium to Sustain their Life-form Community’ or heaven forbid ‘The Brain Tumour Community’ (Christ!!! This term was actually used in a recent BBC News broadcast!!!)

Is this all boring? Yep. Is it self-indulgent? Yep. But this is essentially another ‘what I did on my holiday’ submission. What I ‘did on my holiday’ was to spend several days stumbling from my bed to the bathroom (in Tony Guest House, Cha Am).

My friend Manny, his significant other and Mel (and her side kick at Tony Guest House) were more than kind. At first I could stumble to the seats outside ‘Tony’ and sometimes as far as the 7-11 forty yards away (to get cigarettes (in case someone needed them, not saying I did), water and cans of tuna and a very ill advised bottle of Hong Thong). Subsequently, I’d phone Manny who’d hand the phone to his significant other while I’d give mine to Cat. Then Cat would walk to the 7-11 (to get my cigarettes (in case someone needed them, not saying I did), water and cans of tuna, a very ill advised bottle of Hong Thong).

Later on, Cat (always chaperoned by her mate) would twice a day knock at my door with a mug of soup and bread. She would never take a Satang. Thank you Cat.

Later still Cat bought me some Thai medicine. It had ‘ginger roots’ on the label. I took it – I was past caring. It’s acted as a purgative (and some) it also had a somewhat frightening hallucinogenic effect.

I think the effects of the ‘medicine’ I’d been given and lack of food and it has to be said foolish doses of (Dr) Hong Thong, although moderate by my standards at least, produced some strange dreams the majority of which I only blearily remembered. The only one of clarity involved me running – not running to or from but… just running. I then and only then fully realised that this would now only ever be a dream. How strange.

My feeling of mind / body divide became more intense and I dwelt on it.

After many days (and with thanks to Manny, his significant other, Mel and her mate) I felt OK enough to think about going further than a seat at the entrance to Tony Guest House and then one Tuesday evening to… manage to go further than a seat at the entrance to Tony Guest House.

Back to ‘Soi Bus Station’ and hopefully a chat with Ola.

Indeed Ola was there, at ‘her’ bar. She seemed to hold a ‘superior’ position at the bar because of her command of English and her personality. She was not a maasan – Cha Am is far more relaxed than that.

There were very few customers although this was still ‘high season’: a goodly percentage of those who popped-in seemed to be longer-term residents of an aging disposition – simply using the bar as ‘their local’ for a pint (or 0.568261 litre) and a chat.

The majority of ladies at the bar were women. Good, I like women not girls. Of the ‘girls’, a disturbing percentage were…well simply …fat.

I like women who have ‘been around the block’ but it seemed that the block the ladies had been around might have been situated in a town or city in Syria which had been subjected to a lengthy period of mortar and heavy machine gun fire and more than occasional barrel-bombing. I felt sorrow and depression in about the same measure. Time to move on – I made my excuses to Ola (who unlike me had not lost weight since our last meeting) and left.

I fully intended to return to Tony Guest House, but ‘Ola’s’ bar is at the furthest end of one side of the rectangle which forms ‘Soi Bus Station’, taxis are to be found at the sea-side end. I reached the sea-ward end of the rectangle but the effects of the ‘leg thing’ and the weakness produced by the ‘G thing’ were taking hold. I simply had to sit down.

I sat down in the last bar on that side of the rectangle. It was small and had the feeling of cobwebs. Two ladies there were eating – I interrupted them and ordered a beer. What a desolate place – no music, no nothing – except a barely functioning TV tuned to a Thai soap-opera.

I had to get out a soon as possible – to stay longer would have invited a wish to buy a large bottle of scotch and a larger bottle of aspirins and go, put on a Leonard Cohen CD and join the ‘Dead Community.’

I offered a 500 note. A lady went to the till and remembered how to use it. No change in the till. I asked whether it was always like this. She glumly nodded yes. I felt growing desperation – I had to leave. OK, ‘ring the bell.’ Both ladies were surprised. But still insufficient change in the till. OK, get out. Get out now before it’s too late and I fall into a cocoon of cobwebs.

I really found this a dispiriting experience. Was this to be the memory of the evening?

Ok it did not have to be. I walked up the other side of the rectangle Then the sound of the ‘Hallelujah Chorus’ or that music in ‘The Simpsons’ – a bar with many ladies, no actually girls (by my standards) where music was playing. The girls were wearing a variety of brightly coloured Lycra (or some such fabric) dresses.

DESPITE the girls’ shouts of “Welcome” and “Hansum man” I went in.

I believe the bar was called ‘The Vacuous Vulture’ or something like it – its name certainly had avian connections (you’ll find it should you want to).

I joined the three girls at the sofa at the front of the bar– they had been doing ‘the calling’. Although by inclination I prefer to play (sod it, I preferred to play) off the back foot this was a time to attack. This was to be a twenty-twenty encounter not a three day game. I elected to bowl first. I asked their names, where they were from, how old they were, when they came to Cha Am, how long they were going to stay…blah blah blah. Faced by this unexpected turn of conversation the three diminished to two, then one (respectively: fallen on own wicket as a result of a short pitched delivery and the other out stumped). Exhausted by having on her own to think and answer to this barrage of hostile conversational bowling but being on her own ground the last suggested a game of pool. I reluctantly agreed.

At the table we shook hands. She asked me if I remembered her name. I didn’t. I asked her if she remembered my name. She didn’t. One all – I’m not beaten that easily.

Her name was Wan.

We played a few games – I didn’t lose them all, mostly because she was ‘sodding useless’ at pool.

She grew tired of it all. I grew tired of it all.

We sat and had a couple more drinks. She was twenty-five, from Isaan and had had a son a week ago (SHRIEK!!) … OK, OK linguistic slip, corrected to one year ago (minor shriek). Her husband (real registered marriage she assured me) had left her one week after the birth – no linguistic slip.

Please, please not the same old story. It is hard not to subscribe to the Thai male stereotype when it is so often reinforced.

I felt a combination of sorrow, depression, wish for companionship and a minor amount of lust. “How much for long-time?” Wan, almost giggled, “We start 1,000?” Me, “We stop 1,000. Ok, three days?” OK, this was to be a three day match. She was surprised but OK. Bar fine 300 a night.

We left but only after a girl asking, “You want two girls?” This seems a (un)usual policy in Cha Am. Look, normally I’d say, “Yes you bet, quick, let’s go!” It’s (theoretically) my thing – we all have our ‘things’. But no – not sure why.

Wan called a motor-bike taxi guy (Tik but you call me Peter). Off we go.

Back to Tony Guest House via ‘Paradise Corner’ a bar/restaurant twenty yards from ‘Tony’. There was a party ending in ‘Paradise’ – so free food – hey, my kind of restaurant.

We chatted more – Wan wanted to marry a farang and so wanted to learn more English. She had a ‘reporters’ note book’ which she showed me. The first two entries were, “Do you have a wife?” and “Do you have a girlfriend?” They were perfectly written and Wan could say them with the best English that she could. I answered “Yes” and “No” respectively. I suggested a third vital question might be, “Do you have an ashtray?” and a variation, “Do you need an ashtray?”

Teaching of the difference between ‘want’ and ‘need’ followed. OK, OK a role had been established for me – thank god. I was in truth uncomfortable being with ‘a girl’ but having been a teacher (of adults for thirty-two years, although not teaching English) I did now have a self-created role that I could manage (and Wan could benefit from!)

I could have followed up with an introductory Economics Lecture about the difference between ‘need’, ‘want’ and ‘effective demand’ before going onto a discussion of ‘pure market’ v ‘command’ models of resource allocation in dealing/coping with the fundamental economic issue of resource allocation in the face of competing end product needs/wants.

Yes, I could have done that but I had an inkling that was not what Wan wanted or indeed needed.

Instead, we explored the difference between Wan saying, “A friend help me too much with English” and “A friend helped me a lot with English”. Hey, vocabulary and simple tenses.

I felt better about ‘stuff’ (even if Wan didn’t). If Wan played her cards right I could help her too much.

Back to ‘Tony Guest House’. No indignity of the handing in of an ID card, Cha Am or at least ‘Tony’ is just not like that – just a simple nod and sly smile from the night-shift lady at reception.

After the obligatory showers, Wan came to the bed. There was ‘the dance of the seven towels’ (OK, one towel) – that was OK as it was the first night after all.

Now, I’m honestly shy in writing this, but what then took place was a more than desultory coupling (for me at least) but ‘it’ had to be with her back to me because I really, really did not want her to look at, or be able to see, my face. Why? Because I am and old and she is young. Much of the unfairness of her life and the world in general was reflected in that time of coupling.

But, my hands are up in surrender – I enjoy that position anyway – it’s one of ‘my things’ – we all have our things. And looking on the bright side it was possibly a better experience for her than working as a road-sweeper for 300 baht a day as she said she had fairly recently.

The next day was a Wednesday and we all now know what that means, don’t we? Or haven’t you been paying attention? Yes you at that back?

Wednesday means no chairs on the beach in Cha Am because Wednesday is beach cleaning day in Cha Am (remember?)

Lunch in/at ‘Paradise’ and then Wan just had to go back to the ‘Vacuous Vulture’. Hey I’d thought I’d paid for her not to have to do that! Hey ho, but she’d see me there later.

With no beach I had little alternative but to go back to ‘Tony’ where I started to read “The Suspicions of Mr Whitcher” by Kate Summerscale which was apparently winner of the BBC4 Samuel Johnson Prize in 2008. It is a big book.

Travellers’ Tip # Number 10. Don’t take as ‘holiday reading’ “The Suspicions of Mr Whitcher” by Kate Summerscale which was apparently winner of the BBC4 Samuel Johnson Prize in 2008 because as well as being a big book it is boring.

I went to the bar early. The girls were not wearing cheerful, colourful Lycra stuff but rather drab T shirts and shorts. Apparently I’d struck lucky as Tuesdays and Thursdays are free-style nights at the ‘Vacuous Vulture’ – they can wear what they like, rather than that which management dictates. The evening wore on but I already knew that Wednesday may mean no deck chairs on the beach in Cha Am but it also means ‘Night Market’ in Cha Am. We went.

Travellers’ Tip # Number 11. Honest, Cha Am has a Night Market on Wednesdays. It’s in ‘Cha Am town.’ It is maybe a 15/20 minute motor-bike taxi ride from the beach strip. It’s fairly big and amongst other things sells beach towels but not ashtrays.

I bought beach towels.

The next day the deckchairs, sun-loungers and colourful parasols were back on the beach. We went armed with ‘our’ beach towels but only after stopping in at the 7-11 where I purchased a larger book for Wan to note language stuff. She didn’t want it, “Too big”. Oh dear Wan don’t you know that English has many words? Also we got her some reading material – she chose a combination of religious tracts and Thai ‘Mills and Boon’.

Now early afternoon the sun was bright and the temperature rising to a comfortable (ha bloody ha) 35 degrees. Wan ‘sun bathed’ fully clothed. I wanted to swim but was wary of the ‘Cha Am Trench’ and another unfortunate falling on my bum incident. Instead I tried to set up an ‘arty’ photo shot…and failed.



My beach towel on Cha Am Beach (Honest)



It has to be said that this could have been a great photo (yea right) if it had not been for the gentle sea breeze that Cha Am is well known for. For those unfamiliar with the Beaufort Scale or to give it its full name ‘Beaufort Wind Force Scale’, (which is a measure of wind speed and not of force in the scientific sense) it ‘rates’ wind speed from 0 (calm) to 12 (hurricane). On Cha Am beach from mid morning to evening the wind speed is about 7 – 10. Or as seafarers would say, “Ahoy there! Its blowing a near f*%king gale” or when up to scale 10, “Abandon Ship.”

Travelers’ Tip # Number 12. Honest, the Cha Am sea breeze is real – nope, it’s a WIND and it’s real. It will disrupt you – don’t bother trying to read a newspaper (instead take a big, heavy book but not the one I’d chosen), eating may be made difficult because polystyrene containers WILL blow away and if YOU are a SMOKER (not saying that I am) YOU will find lighting-up a REAL trial of patience and ingenuity – keep trying.

Travelers’ Tip # Number 13. Honest, try buying a beach towel and a good lighter – put the towel over your head and then lighting up – many say this works.

Late afternoon Wan unexpectedly declared that she had to go back to the ‘Vacuous Vulture’. Hey, I’d thought I’d paid for her not to have to do that! Hey ho, but she’d see me there later but not to go there as early as I had the evening before. Hey ho.

I went as arranged. Thursday, so colourful Lycra – good. We sat in Wan’s usual ‘calling’ seat on the sofa. “Welcome”, “Hasum man”. Bored, I joined in. The ladies at ‘Ola’s bar’ are more witty. If a prospective customer (and there were few) fails to respond and passes they will stand, point and more loudly call, “I remember YOU.” Then laugh. Or then when ‘the customer’ is further away, in unison point and call, “Cheap Charlie” and laugh more. I tried introducing both new calls – hey it passed the time.

This was my third night and my clock was running down. OK, “I pay seven nights more.” Wan was surprised but OK. Bar fine 300 a night so for 7 nights 2,100. Look that’s an easy sum!!! No, no a calculator had to found and used …yep OK it IS 2,100. And 1,000 x 7 for Wan? Yep, 7,000 but I’m going to pay daily. OK. Deal done.

Later when I was thinking of ‘us’ leaving another girl came and said that Wan wanted to go to a disco with the other girls and would this be OK? Unexpected but OK.

Wan arrived back at ‘Tony’ at about 2.00 AM, put on a towel and started reading.



An abiding memory of Tony Guest House, Cha Am (honest)



I thought this to be rude.

Unsurprisingly we woke late, surprisingly the towel was firmly in place.

I was surprised that a crowbar was unnecessary. But it wasn’t. Wan now ‘on-top’ began bouncing up and down frenetically – literally hit or miss. A TRULY unpleasant experience.

Perhaps uncharitably, I thought of Nang and how our bodies could synchronise without effort or words spoken (so unnecessary for words to be spoken). Even when one of us was being ‘inventive’ the other would understand and ‘the new’ would immediately be familiar. Hey ho.

THIS experience had to STOP. I tried to ease Wan’s head to my shoulder but… I think the medically inclined might term what happened next as being fellatio (also known as fellation). It was neither asked for nor expected. I tried to reciprocate but ‘it’ was not wanted.

‘Later’ I held Wan very tightly and I think inappropriately ‘thanked’ her.

Look, I like sex, I like it a lot. It can bring people together and for those involved acts as a shield, if only temporarily, against the always present howling void that is the ever expanding universe.

There was some hope for us.

But then back into the towel and a pressing need to return as soon as possible to ‘The Vacuous Vulture’. Hey, I’d thought I’d paid for her not to have to do that! Hey ho, but she’d see me there later but not to go there as early as I had the evening before. Hey ho.

As it turned out I did not meet Wan at the bar that evening.

It had always been my intention to rent a room somewhere in Cha Am. I had asked Wan to help in this quest by ‘asking around’ at the bar. She hadn’t.

It was time to do it myself. I was kind of reluctant to ask the ever helpful Cat (at Tony Guest House) if she knew of a room for rent – it might be taken that I didn’t like Tony Guest House or her – but I did ask. No problem! Her mum owned several rooms near by. She took me to have a look.

If you have been to Cha Am (or are going there from Bangkok) you will almost certainly enter Cha Am beach via a bridge over a river. You will not notice that you pass a ‘compound’ near the bridge. The ‘compound’ has about thirty rooms/homes. Twenty are homes of Thai families (including Cat, her kids and her mum) but ten or so are ‘temporary homes’ for farangs. The best rooms, the ones over-looking the river, are essentially reserved for farangs.

There is nothing special about the balcony rooms – they are Spartan: large, double bed, table, TV, fridge, dressing-table, ceiling-fan, bathroom and balcony.

It maybe trite but all is relative. It IS the relative which in my view makes Thailand attractive to many.



The view from my (our) bedroom window in Kilburn, London. Honest.



It was the balcony, the river and the view that ‘made the room’.



The view from the balcony, Cha Am – the bridge from Bangkok. Honest


It did not take long to seal the deal!!! 5,000 a month – water, TV (30 channels) and electricity included.

I phoned Wan and told her to meet me at ‘Tony’. Reluctantly (!) she agreed. From there such luggage as there was, was moved to ‘the new home’. Wan liked the view but really did not like the bathroom (good job she was paying for neither).

The next day was another day on the beach, gentle sea breeze (about Beaufort Scale 9 that day) and fully clothed sun-bathing for Wan. I did managed to collect some large sea-shells which would serve as ashtrays (someone might need them) but then a pressing need for Wan to return as soon as possible to ‘The Vacuous Vulture’. Hey, I’d thought I’d paid for her not to have to do that! Hey ho, but she’d see me there later but not to go there as early as I had before. NO!! I’d see her back at the balcony. Hey ho.

Wan arrived at about 6.30 but soon said that she wanted to go and chat with Cat who often sat with her family on an old sofa just outside ‘the compound’. We went.

I uncharacteristically wished that I could speak Thai because I would have liked to have chatted with Cat. I usually don’t wish that I could speak Thai because, let’s face it, as a ‘world language’ it’s just about as useful as Welsh – but let such languages be spoken by the indigenous peoples who believe they have a unique language/culture that it worth preserving.

I went back to the balcony and sat and thought and sulked.

Given her avowed wish to learn English because she wanted to marry a farang, Wan might (just might) have been better off chatting with me.

I sat on the balcony and did what passes for thinking.

Wan ‘came back’ at about 9.00.

“Look, enough is enough,” I found myself saying. “Here’s 1,500 go NOW.”

“Cannot it dark.”

“OK, we sleep.”

“Watch TV?”

“NO.”

“Have light on?”

“NO!!”

Wan woke at 7.30 am (I feigned sleep) she readied herself and left. She did not look back.

And so the story ended…you probably know it oh so well …

But then another (probably) begins,

I got up and went to sit on ‘my’ balcony.



Pip Pip.



(Sorry but…) that’s not all folks