It’s My Affair, Goodbye to All That
The lady from Social Services looks at me over the top of her reading glasses. “So what are your plans for the future?”
“Young men have plans.” I smile. ”Old men have regrets.”
It’s now six months escape from Thailand back to the UK and into a hostel for the homeless. At the gracious favour and mercy of our local social welfare department I find myself sharing accommodation with the misfits; the alcoholics, the drug takers and the just plain crazy dudes who didn’t quite make it into residential care.
I’m living in a large house set at the end of a cul-de-sac of a pretty housing estate in a pretty village situated in the middle of the beautiful, rolling Norfolk countryside. The neighbours, of course, despise us. It’s not just that our rambling unkempt hostel with its overflowing garbage bins and unsettling occupants are an eyesore and a threat to real estate prices. But that we are a constant reminder of the bad and the ugly that forever usurps the good in life, like a coffee stain that won’t wash out of the white shirt you only just bought. Just when you thought you’d made it to the mainstream, pulled yourself up to respectability and well-trimmed lawns, along we come and spoil it all for you.
Down the corridor from my room resides Taffy the Welshman, a criminal psychopath who spends all his waking hours hunched in front of the TV set, a rollup dripping from his lip, watching programs about luxury cars that he will never own, of attractive girls he will never meet, of cheery mates he will never have.
As night falls Taffy creeps into the kitchen looking for scraps of food that other residents have left behind; a piece of bread left on an unwashed plate, some soup in a bowl waiting for someone to come long and wash up so that another house mate can use it. Our criminal friend has the same benefits as the rest of us but he chooses to spend it on booze. On benefits day he buys as many packs of beer as he can carry up the hill to the house. A bottle of Jack Daniels in his pocket pilfered off the supermarket shelves, rolling tobacco to feed his dirty addiction. And appearing out of the ether comes his like-minded drinking buddies. Today it’s Taffy’s shout until the cans lie empty and crumpled on the living room carpet. At 32 years of age, the ex-army cook is drinking and smoking himself to a not too distant death. And nobody gives a shit.
Then there’s Jim the druggie who sits in silence, blocking the stairs, unblinking like an owl, lost in memories of old highs. He’s watching your every move though. Checking what goes into your pockets, remembering where you keep your wallet. He waits until you’ve left the house and breaks into your locker looking for a valuable to pawn. Jim’s a great buddy to the new arrivals, helping them to settle in, because it gives him a chance to evaluate just what might be worth nicking.
Across the corridor is Paul the Loon. At night I hear him muttering and moaning in his restless sleep as he clutches his dick. When the full moon waxes he utters a low mournful howl, tortured by endlessly repeated dreams in which he had, he once confessed to me in a more lucid moment, killed his lunatic half-sister. Reality and fantasy is mixed in his frazzled brain. On a good day he will make it down to the bookmakers, scan the lists for names of horses or dogs that jump out at him, and put his dole money on a combination of double or treble bets. He shows me his betting slips. A greyhound called ‘magic encounter’ teamed up with a steeplechaser named ‘black magic’ in the 3:30 at Worcester. On a bad day Paul dances to the sounds in his head.
I tell you, brother, it is a long way down from Thailand.
I guess I could have stayed. My funds would have lasted a couple of years longer given that I had met Ning who was incredibly cheap. I should have got the websites up and running and making money. But then I’m no marketing guy and with four ideas under my belt and all failing it just didn’t make sense to do the same thing over again and expect a different result.
Remember Noi? My factory girl, my bête noire, my nemesis, my sometime ex-girlfriend who threw me out after the failure of my fourth business venture and having endured my endless line of excuses for not making money?
When she heard that I was returning to the UK, she suddenly became interested again and unblocked me in both Line and Facebook. My love for you has gone up again, she proclaimed as though love was something you could measure on an hourly or daily basis with some kind of love thermometer. If there is some kind of implement in existence I guess the Thai love thermometer would have a scale marked off in dollar increments.
I thought that she had seen I was of no use to her and finally, she was done with me. But my returning to the UK opens up an opportunity for her. And her sweetness returns.
Well if you dangle some dope in front of a drug addict in remission, it’s a strong character who can resist. I am not that strong character. There is no easy on / off switch for the Thai love drug, and just when I was getting myself clean again, temptation is put before me.
So with renewed hope beating in my heart and with a dream that somehow Noi and I could be reunited on English soil, I set off to the UK with a sense of purpose and steel in my stride.
Ah, but how we free Masters of the Universe are cut down on the lances of Western bureaucracy. Now without my executive expat salary, large house in the suburbs, beautiful wife and mia noi package I am nothing to the system. Swashbucklers need not apply. I’m now a national insurance number in a system that sends text messages ordering me to attend appointments with hospitals and doctors, to attend meetings with job counselors and benefits advisors, to phone for fact sheets and forms. I’m a record in a database. This is surveillance Britain with CCTV cameras silently recording one’s every move, where computer banks hum with the searches of your daily transaction histories, where software programs make sure you are plugged into the matrix. A Britain soaked in a diet of day-time TV commercials for payday loans and injury lawyers you can’t afford; where obese women are in charge everywhere and Pakistani gangs can gang rape 1,400 girls because the politically-correct system labels immigrants as Untouchables.
I could have stayed in Thailand; would have stayed; should have stayed. True life hinges on these choices. Who knows the outcomes? It would have meant another year of sex. Perhaps more than death, we men fear never making love with a beautiful woman again. I know, having lived in Thailand, the possibilities. Back home I see my fellow Englishmen are already dead, psychologically speaking at least. I watch them in the department stores and car parks, trailing behind their fat partners and wonder just how can they get naked and screw these repulsive-looking females? Truly, it is better to be celibate whether by choice or by circumstance than to be hitched to one of these lumbering oxen, is it not? I’m in a country where carrying the wrong thoughts in your head are a crime.
It is an epiphany moment. There are those in a worse plight than me. They are middle-England going about their lives, never having experienced Thailand. That is Thailand, the mindset and not a geographical location. They have never crossed the line into fantasy. They may dream of winning the lotto, but have never experienced it. Thailand is where fantasy is real and dreams are bought. In Thailand, I lived!
I feel sorry for my fellow homeless guys because they have died within. They have given up on life. Paul the Loon has something deep within him that he wants to, but doesn’t know how to express. I am helping him to write letters to his daughters put up for adoption when they were no more than toddlers a dozen or more years ago. Paul has hopes for a reconciliation, to rewind the clock back to a time before demons entered his head.
Jim the druggie will never again experience the same highs. Perhaps the two of us do share something in common after all now that my Thai experience is over. At least I can show him there are alternatives and let him figure it out for himself before his mind becomes too addled and hope fades forever. I doubt it though. I catch myself, an hour or more slipping by as I day dream about Pattaya, Hua Hin, Bangkok, Ayutthaya, Loei, all those amazing places and smiling faces.
Yesterday Taffy asked to borrow five quid. I tell him go eat shit. Today he asks for 50p. I give him a look of contempt. He will go shoplift something instead.
Yet as bad as it may seem, England does offers compensations. Libraries, for example. Books for free. Loads of them, more than you could ever read in a lifetime. Books you can take home where they implicitly trust you to bring them back. And free wi-fi, too. In the shops and at railway and bus stations. In public buildings I can connect to the internet for free. And the social services give me food coupons to swap at the food bank for two weeks worth of free groceries and English comfort food. I haven’t eaten rice in six months. No more som tam or nam plaa. Instead we have chips and cheese and real beer. I can eat as good as the taxpayer at the next table; and share the same sunshine on my face when I walk through a public park where golden autumn leaves swirl graciously to the ground. A public park with no entrance fee. A place without dual pricing.
I can chat to strangers and share a cultural bond; unlike Thailand where you are never sure if the person you’re speaking with has some hidden agenda.
The calls from Noi become a fading echo as the days turn to months and no job materializes. Thailand on your CV raises unasked questions in the minds of interviewers. A career gap needs careful explaining or better, some devious lying. Thai lies, I call them. Because the truth is messy and half a globe away.
Opportunities expand for my Noi without my presence. She’s starting to raise ducks and is learning hydroponic techniques. She tells me she doesn’t want to end up as my maid – she can make it on her own. So why then, I wonder, does she keep on hanging on? She says feels guilty for my homeless plight. Had she not quit me for a better opportunity I wouldn’t be in my current situation. Yes, well a little fore-thought wouldn’t have come amiss. Yet to be honest, I wish she was gone instead of hanging around like an unwanted shadow forever reminding me of what I can no longer enjoy. Those days with her are done and dusted in my mind. There are more and different experiences to be had back here in Blighty, so long as I keep my standards up and don’t fall into the trap of giving up on life like my fellow homeless friends.
It isn’t easy to give up on Thailand. There’s part of me that doesn’t want to let go, come what may. But I have to ride that tiger and control it, rather than let the beast control me. It means releasing Noi, cutting her adrift, and then looking around to see what resources are to hand. I have learnt that there is life after Thailand; just that it is different, and takes some getting used to and isn’t necessarily so bad. It means not dwelling on what’s gone but instead using that experience to guide my future destiny. It’s looking at life through the windshield and not the rear-view mirror. After all, brother, to the future is where we are all headed.
I receive some good news at long last. After seven months of applying for jobs and attending interviews the length and breadth of the country, I have been offered a job good. At the age of 61 I thought my time had passed. But no. I’m back in the game. I’ll have money. I’ll have opportunities. And in two weeks time I’ll be in my new apartment. I’m on the upswing.
But one thing you can be sure of. I’ll not be informing Noi of my new job because she will be all over me like a contagious disease, holding out the hope of the good old days returning. I’m almost cured of that sickness. Like the reformed alcoholic, the drug addict in recovery, I’m not going to get sucked into that again. Goodbye to All That!
It all seems so good to be true. I beg to God that she is gone.