Readers' Submissions

Out Of The Formicary (14) – Home, Home On The Range Where…

  • Written by Markin
  • December 20th, 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.

A ‘view’ on ‘my’ balcony. Honest. Domestic Responsibilities.

I woke early on the morning of 16th March 2014. In fact it was still night.

Pen was sleeping.

The ‘hamburger meal’ of the night before was determined not to be forgotten and indeed to takes its revenge (perhaps revenge for my unfavourable review of it). I also recognised the symptoms as being the return of the ‘G’ thing (gastritis) – I thought I’d seen the back of that one.

butterflies bangkok

Is this boring? Yep it is. But this is essentially about ‘what I did on my holidays’ – I had a bad, truly unpleasant to be accurate, ‘hamburger meal’ and consequentially threw up early the following morning. It was boring.

From the bathroom to ‘my’ balcony and a coffee. The sun was rising and Pen was sleeping.

The sun rose.

Pen woke when I had to open the front door to ‘Mel’.


Mel, as I had named her (in a spirit of multiculturalism) is a small cat. Really not a beautiful looking cat. At first I thought she was a kitten but I had been fooled by her size – she was a Thai cat and (un)naturally small.

My relationship with Mel had been developing over the weeks of my stay on ‘my’ balcony. I first met Mel at ‘my’ front door – or rather that is where Mel met me. She had the loudest ‘meeoow’ I have ever heard of any cat. Honest.

I don’t really like cats, especially ‘pushy’ cats, but ‘Mel’ had somehow chosen me…or so it seemed to me. Off course ‘she’, being a cat, had probably ‘tired it on’ with many of the compound residents, in particular the farang residents of the balcony rooms and probably did so with each successive wave of occupants of the balcony rooms. It has to be said that I had by now become a ‘long-term’ resident. Many of the balconies were vacant and Mel’s options consequentially limited. Our relationship had necessarily at first been built on the ‘food nexus’. I had plenty of food (or so Mel thought) and Mel wanted food.

Indeed I did have plenty of food (that I did not want) – the remains of mostly inedible Thai street meals from the nights before. But at first although Mel wanted food she would only agree to receiving any food at ‘my’ front door.

Mel early in our relationship. Honest.

However, our relationship developed. Mel became less stand-offish and more inquisitive and one morning decided to venture into the room, straight through it, to the balcony. Mel liked the balcony. From that point she wanted to be fed there.

Mel later in our relationship. Honest.

The high quality photo’ also shows that I had been trying to do something about the on-going food crisis endemic to Thailand – by trying (with some success) to cook my own meals. I had purchased a ‘towl’ (small charcoal burner). In fact Mel preferred my cooking to Thai street food (a sensible and discerning cat). But of course what Mel really liked was ‘food for cats’.

Travellers’ Tip # Number 21. YOU can buy cat food and cat biscuits at most 7/11 should YOU develop a relationship with a cat during YOUR stay. Honest.

Anyway, as days and time moved on, as it always does, Mel spent more and more time in the room. She was in fact living in the room and particularly the balcony (just like me!). If I went out she would follow me to the gates of the compound and run up and meeoow very loudly on my return. I began to see that she was in fact probably an old cat and simply wanted some domestic stability.

Mel ‘being at home’, standing on the bed in the room attached to the balcony. Honest.

OK, there was a food nexus but increasingly food was not her only motivation – indeed food was often refused with her objective being to simply come and lie on the bed (with me – ahh) or on her own on the floor.

Don’t worry, Mel’s OK – just having a lie down. Honest.

Anyway, Pen had woken when I opened the front door to ‘Mel’. Pen saw Mel. Mel saw Pen.

Mel was half way into the room – she sensed something was different. Pen attempted to shooo Mel out, pointing at the front door, “Cat, cat…go.” Mel hissed a bit and went…but only just outside.

Oh dear, domestic disharmony.

Pen took her (menthol) cigarettes and went to the bathroom (smokers will know how it is I’m told). I went to the balcony to immediately be joined by Mel. Later Pen joined ‘us’. An uneasy domestic truce (on Pen’s part at least). Pen was more interested in the river. She had of course not really seen the river or the balcony the night before.

Pen liked the river, the white birds and the lizards that were massing for their morning feed. Pen liked the balcony.

We sat and had coffee – Pen and me (not Mel). Pen had been in Cha Am several months but did not know it had a river.

I told her of the ‘hamburger meal’ and its consequences. Pen said and I quote, “No problem,..I look after you.” My response was, “NO, I want look after you.”

This is strange, I find the whole ‘deal’ strange. The motivation for ‘us’ being together on the morning of the 16th March 2014 for Pen HAD to be based around and on the cash nexus. For me? Yes, sex was part of ‘the deal’ but I wanted more. What did I want? You think I know?? Anyway the cash nexus contracted our togetherness for at least the next three days (1,000 baht a day for Pen and 300 bar fine – if YOU want to know).

Days and time moved on, as it always does. Three days past but there HAD to be a further contract – another 5 days.

‘We’ had a routine. I like routines. Wake late, feed Mel (Pen ALWAYS, perhaps in a spirit of multiculturalism, called ‘Mel’ ‘Cat’ while I continued to call her by her real name), breakfast and watch the lizards. Pen tried to entice the lizards, frying pan in hand, point at the ‘towl’ and say, “We cook, it’s cheap.” I would make shoooing noises.

Then a shlap but not so much of a stumble to the beach via ‘the Nana House’.

On the walks, Pen was ALWAYS on my left side. Inwardly I had given her a pet name, ‘Steady Eddie’ (with respect to Edward Francis ("Eddie") Charlton (31 October 1929 – 7 November 2004) who was an Australian professional snooker and English billiards player. He remains the only player to have been world championship runner-up in both snooker and billiards without winning either title). Pen was like that – never spectacular, never obtrusive, ever dependable.

Pen ‘got it’ that ‘the Nana House’ was at the limits of my range due to the ‘ bad, good leg thing’. We’d stop at ‘our’ table where an ashtray would be delivered for ‘us’. Then onto the beach.

Pen was not ‘freaky’ about the sun – didn’t mind it – but ALWAYS complained about it being too hot. I’d reply, “Yea, welcome to Thailand.” Pen would always sun bath fully clothed and swim fully clothed (bloody strange behaviour, if you ask me).

Pen returns – refreshed from a dip. Honest.

Sometimes we’d go for a meal near the fishing pier. Pen who had lived in Cha Am for several months did not know it had a fishing pier or of its restaurants. She was suspicious, “Girlfriend tell you?” No, I’d read about it in a book.

Travellers’ Tip # Number 22. Honest. I kind of recommend ‘Thailand’s Islands & Beaches’, Lonely Planet Series as a ‘Travel Guide’. Its entries are accurate and you’ll get more information from it than you would from your ‘significant other’. But it doesn’t have enough pictures and so is not good to look at (unlike your ‘significant other’).

An average meal near/at Cha Am fishing pier. Honest.

YOU may have picked-up that I am no fan of Thailand’s so called, self styled, ‘cuisine’ but there is little that even the Thais can do to stop sea-food being edible.

Travellers’ Tip # Number 23. Honest. Cha Am has a number of VERY good sea-food restaurants near the fishing pier. Where is the fishing pier YOU say? Go anywhere on Cha Am beach and look LEFT and YOU will see a bloody long pier, YOU can’t bloody well miss seeing it. Walk to it, if you are an efficient biped, or get a motor-bike taxi (perhaps Tik, “You call me Peter”) to take YOU there. The food is reasonably priced (unlike Hua Hin).

Of an evening we would sometimes go to ‘Paradise’ (Bar and Restaurant) for a beer and a game of pool. More often we would simply go ‘home’ and watch the TV or sit on the balcony – in shifts. Pen came to know my favourite programmes – MY turn to be controller of the remote and her turn for the balcony – and I came to know her favourites (Thai soap operas of course! “…Here’s the remote I’m off to the balcony – I value the brain cells I’ve still got left”).

Sometimes Pen would ‘phone her mates from the bar and invite them to join us (including Cha Am’s one and only obvious lady-boy) either for a meal at the pier or drinks at ‘Paradise’. I did NOT like this!!!!! I resented paying for strangers who oblivious to my existence would come and scoff ‘our’ food and drink and therefore eat ‘my’ money. But what can you do? It seems to be ‘Thai cultural stuff’.

I noticed that Mel did not invite her cat mates (there were many cats at the compound) to come and eat ‘her’ food – the reverse, Mel’s food was ‘her’ food, ‘her’ room was ‘her’ room and ‘her’ balcony was most definitely ‘her’ balcony. There had at first indeed been cat territorial disputes – Mel had seen off ‘space invaders’ (with my assistance – she was after all a small and possibly elderly cat). It seems to be ‘cat cultural stuff’.

Look, I’ve already compared Pen to a buffalo and dead Australian snooker/billiards player and now to a small/elderly/not good looking cat! How much more can I insult Pen! But look these are not intended as insults!!!! Honest.

I knew already that I would never in my life forget my ‘relationship’ with Pen. At the age of sixty-three this is really not a difficult claim to make!

Ok we were not, and were never likely to be, ‘loves young dream’ but we got along together.

Or did ‘we get along together’? There was ‘cash nexus thing’. 1,000 baht a day was being received by Pen ‘to get along with me’ (and 300 baht a day to her employers/owners to let Pen be available to ‘get along with me’). And of course there were consequential expenses.

Would I have paid ‘Mel’s’ owners 300 a day for ‘her’ to be available to me? Would I have paid ‘Mel’ 1,000 a day to come and avail ‘herself’ of the consequential expense of ‘her’ eating food I had purchased?

But this is a terrible comparison. I am comparing Pen (a human being for god’s sake) to Mel (‘who’ I felt affection for) ‘who’ was after all only a bloody cat (for god’s sake)!!!

Within the foggy world of the ‘cash nexus’ there is only the argument of ‘price’.

So NO, I would not have paid ‘Mel’s’ owners any price to make ‘her’ available to me. Should ‘Mel’ have baulked at not being paid for ‘her’ company I would have told ‘her’ to take ‘her’ hair-brush and ‘her’ plates (yep I’d bought Mel a plate, hair brush and special blanket) and tell ‘her’, in no uncertain terms, to sling ‘her’ hook and go and find some other balcony to be fed on!!!! Perhaps including some choice words about how ‘she’ was no longer a young cat and never was an oil-painting when younger. Time to be grateful for what ‘she’ could get. No negotiations about ‘price’ – take the food or leave it. Hard man ha?

But remember Mel IS a CAT and I WANTED to buy Mel food and look after ‘her’.

Pen is a human being and a fine and decent human being at that (honest). I use ‘decent’ in relation to a ‘woman of the bar’ (a hooker)? YES I do. Do I ‘judge’ others according to how they make money? Yes I do. But then I have to concede that there might, just might, be some who although ‘investment bankers’, estate agents or professional football players for Manchester United, are or might (just might) be ‘decent’. I wanted to look after Pen.

But was I happy at paying a total of 1,300 for Pen to ‘get along with me’? NO!!!!!

Look I find the whole ‘thing’ strange. I’d never involve myself in ‘stuff’ like this back in Blighty. I would never (even in the strangest of dreams) think or imagine going to Blackpool or Weston-super-Mare (think of any seaside town in YOUR country) and picking up a bar girl. I’d NEVER consider it!!!! NEVER.

I’ve never had a one night ‘thing’ (whether mediated by the cash nexus or not) – not in Blighty or Thailand. I’ve never been to a massage parlour or ‘visited’ a prostitute (strange term visited).

I have a friend in London who visits a prostitute once a week (never the same one twice). He is assiduous in his research. He scours the internet and belongs to several ‘groups’ that rate brothels and their ‘girls’. I find this strange behaviour. I don’t like him talking about his ‘hobby’ – I find his tales grim and somehow a version of ‘Portnoy’s Complaint’ (Portnoy's Complaint, a novel that has been described as a “humorous and sexually explicit psychoanalytical monologue of "a lust-ridden, mother-addicted young Jewish bachelor," filled with "intimate, shameful detail, and coarse, abusive language." Philip Milton Roth born March 19, 1933).

So why was I doing much the same in Thailand? I don’t know!!!!! But still, how much did I value and wish to have Pen’s company? For me this became bound up in the issue (again) of why was I in Cha Am or indeed Thailand?

I had to make a decision – the smiley, amazing, exotic Thai government required me to renew my visa by 3 April 2014. You know I really don’t understand the point of issuing a six month triple entry visa? Why? Really, why? All that it meant was that I had to leave smiley, amazing, exotic Thailand for another country (perhaps my own) and stay there or visit another country (that I had no particular wish to visit) and return.

Time for ‘an audit’: to stay or leave and not to return.

It remained true that I really don’t like Thailand in most of its ‘parts’! OK, enough said (put away the stun gun).

But I also had other entirely personal (and therefore boring) reasons for not extending my stay in smiley Thailand (but I’ll share with YOU) – simply health issues.

There was the ‘bad’ ‘good’ leg thing. It caused me pain and was hindering any progress to me becoming a (semi) efficient biped. I was baffled. Treating it as a sports injury (that is ignoring it and hoping it’d go away) was not working. But the problem had been overcome by the motor-bike taxi service of Tik (you call me Peter). It is strange how quickly and easily you fall into some local habits. Back in Blighty I’d never even think of hailing an unknown motor-bike driver and putting MY life in their hands to vi with other road users of exotic driving skills (without even the benefit of a crash helmet) – INSANE behaviour!!! But I’d got into it. Tik is in fact a good driver and a good guy (that’s still bloke) – I’m tempted to give YOU his ‘phone number. So I decided to ignore ‘the leg thing’ as a factor as to whether I should stay or go.

More pressing was the fact that for two months I had been plagued by the ‘G’ thing. Whether the over-rated’ Thai ‘cuisine is foul or not maybe a matter of ‘taste’ but what is objectively true is that it is not compatible with gastritis – ‘they really don’t get along together’. This was a BIG negative on the balance sheet of staying.

Again I reviewed why I’d come on this trip (I’d decided to call it a voyage/quest – it certainly was not a holiday!) and to what extent I’d met/accomplished objectives/goals (however hazily conceived). Some of my reasons for the voyage were ‘general’ and others entirely personal (yep, self-indulgent and admittedly boring).

What I had accomplished was NOT being in the UK for February and March. Along with January these two months in the UK are without redemption (in my opinion) – cold, dank, grey and lacking in sunlight – just plain miserable months. OK, Thailand’s climate may be unpleasant but it’s all relative (ain’t it?) Yes, I’d rather have been on a Greek island or the Algarve or southern Italy but the ‘cash nexus’ ruled this out. So, in this respect ‘mission’ goal fulfilled.

I had come to give Auy (Nanthana’s daughter) and her brother (Esso) a holiday but the memories of the short time spent in her company back in Bangkok meant that this was no longer a goal I wished to achieve. In fact Auy, via continuing SMS, was becoming, how shall I put it…a pain in the arse. Her stream of SMS which asked ‘where I was’ were problematic. She knew I was in Cha Am but not where in Cha Am. I liked it like that.

Far, far more disturbing was her insistence that if I stayed in Thailand long enough I’d see Nanthana again because as Auy said, “…mum start new life soon…” Oh dear. So, Auy was a negative on ‘the balance sheet’ of whether to stay in Thailand for a further ‘two month tour of duty’.

Of course I’ve found that I often have unconscious motivations for doing something or another.

I had not realised it fully before but part of the trip was about finding out how much the ‘S thing’ had affected me. I had found out to my frustration that I could no longer play pool! Ok, I could play but would have to accept being beaten by Pen for god sake!!!

Nor could I swim. OK, I could splash and flounder around – not like a whale but more like an inept herring or wounded sardine.

And Oh, for just one more game of cricket. Well, not one more game but a few more games ‘cause ONE more game might be like ‘the Dons’ last game (Sir Donald George Bradman, (27 August 1908 – 25 February 2001), often referred to as "The Don", was an Australian cricketer, widely acknowledged as the greatest Test batsman of all time. Bradman's career Test batting average of 99.94 is often cited as the greatest achievement by any sportsman in any major sport. He needed a modest 4 in his last ‘Test’ to finish with an average of 100+ . But Bradman was bowled for a duck by Eric Hollies. I bet he was pissed off!!!!!!!! And some.)

It’s strange how sports have loomed so large in my life. Never excellent, never ‘first to be chosen’ but still YOU would want me on YOUR team (or at least NOT want me to be on the other team – honest). So, what was left?? Consider sky-diving or the skeleton-louge? (maybe …but my death wish is only marginal).

So, in many ways ‘mission accomplished’ – ‘I’m not the man I used to be – case closed.

Via this (because one thought leads to another) I realised that ‘the trip’ was also about reflecting on / reviewing my life in general.

Part of that review was Nanthana. I had always known that ‘the trip’ was very much about ‘coming to terms’ with her entering that altered state – that is what the medical profession call ‘being dead’.

What I saw was that writing about her was part of the process: a homage, a record that she had existed. Just another Thai hooker? Yes, but I suspect that in this role (combined with the efforts of her colleagues) she had bought more joy to the world than Mother Teresa and Jane Austin combined. SHE deserved to have a record or her existence.

But this would have to be a work in progress and ‘being in Thailand’ was not hindering it (although contact with her daughter was!)

In fact being in Thailand was helping because Thailand provided different and diversionary experiences. Much is relative. Yes, I could return to the UK but as Bruce Frederick Joseph Springsteen (born September 23, 1949) has so nobly put it sometimes, “I just want to hear some rhythm, I want a thousand guitars, I want pounding drums, I want a million different voices speaking in tongues”. Although I don’t like most of the ‘parts’ of Thailand, Thailand does provide ‘this’ experience for ME.

In fact I really question whether the ‘experience’ of Thailand is better for ME or for the Thai. I suspect that it is better for me!!! NOT because of money but because I know that I can get out before the pounding of drums and a million different voices speaking in tongues becomes deafening and insufferable – the ‘Thais’ can’t!!!! (Bad luck ‘Thais’).

So, on the audit: ‘the drums’ were not as yet insufferable (but ear-plugs would come in handy).

So on balance I decided I’d stay (I think that really I knew I would).

If a ‘clincher’ in the decision making audit was needed it was of course that the balcony, the room, the cat and Pen had morphed into ‘one’ – it was a ‘package of experience’ that I didn’t want to give up.

But there was the problem of the cash nexus. I simply could not afford the 1,300 baht that I was paying for Pen and I to ‘get along’. Really, I could not afford this sum however modest it was. It would have given Pen a monthly income that amounted to more than my available monthly income!

And there were the associated expenses – although it had to be said that Pen was modest in her food requirements (as was Mel) there were other ‘expenses’ (she liked the dresses that I bought for her – having not forgotten the frayed hem of the old crushed taffeta dress with the flounce at what I still believe to be termed the bosom, that she was wearing when we met, I WANTED her to have more). (Mel demanded no further expenses her, brush, blanket and plate were enough). (And the balcony had been bought a plant and a towl – enough).

So, I had to put to Pen that from this point it was to be an ‘expenses only deal’. The question/statement was put with some trepidation. What if Pen said, “NO?” Would I have then told her, in no uncertain terms, “to sling ‘her’ hook and go and find some other balcony to be fed on!!!! Perhaps including some choice words about how ‘she’ was no longer young and never was an oil-painting when younger. Time to be grateful for what ‘she’ could get. NO negotiations about ‘price’ – take the food or leave it.” Would I have said this just like a ‘hard man might?

Well, no I wouldn’t have. So, with a prospective visa-run and a signing up for another ‘two month tour of duty’ or returning to Blighty kind of hinging on Pen’s response the question/statement was put…

Now I’m sure you’re going to be surprised (I was a little) because she said… “YES.”

So onwards…

Pip pip.

(Sorry but…) That’s not all folks.