Sgt. Pepper Is Alive And Well
My mother had a favorite film. Gone With The Wind. An American epic historical and romantic drama set in the country’s south during the civil war. Margaret Mitchell’s bestseller book turned into one of the early blockbuster movies made and released in the 1940s. Surprisingly though, my mum’s favorite persona was not then heartthrob Clark Gable but Vivien Leigh (Scarlett O’Hara in the film). After an eventful life enduring tragedy, hardship, loss and pain Scarlett keeps her head high and at the end of the movie has these words “after all, tomorrow is another day”. It became my mother’s lifelong Leitmotiv. Us children coming home crying after a fight or any other perceived injustice her consoling words and solace mostly ended that same way; “tomorrow is another day”.
Last year I suffered a personal tragedy. My 19-year-old son died in a motorcycle accident. Days of brooding over the why or why him question followed by weeks of a state of deep despondency. I finally realized that I could not go on living in this zombie-like state of mind. But how to shake it off? Freudian psychopathology treatment is not available here and is not what I was looking for anyway. I remembered my mum’s mantra and repeated it to myself again & again. Eventually it helped to provide the silver lining around the dark cloud hanging over me and started ever so slowly to bring solace. Good friends are also an important part to help you climb out of the deep abyss of depression. Their counsel differed only slightly from my mum’s; never forget, they said, life goes on!
Not quite back in the saddle yet but hopefully getting there I figured during the later weeks of last year it was now time let loose a few more of my good old times stories as Stick once observed. More to the point, working in Phuket when it was still the beautiful pearl of the south as it was accurately praised then in tourist brochures. To us farang locals it was simply Phuket being Phuket, the real & original one and we loved it that way.
But first a trip to Bangkok for a few days to meet up with two friends who had come up from Pattaya to join me for a few days. After dinner in one of our favorite eateries, Monsoon in Soi 8 we walked over to Soi 4. A front seat at Hooters is Paul’s favorite lookout for bird watching as he calls it but front view seating is hard to come by after 8 PM so we settled for the outside terrace of the Dynasty Inn. Parading girls & ladyboys distracted us for a while. But soon our attention shifted to the small bar almost opposite called an unusual name: ResthuB2. A live band was hammering out old songs from a not too far away past that appeals to us oldies. When they tuned into two of the Beatles classics; Let It Be and Yesterday I said let’s finish our beer and move over.
Excellent idea that made our evening a great one. The first class & versatile lead guitarist played the solo at the end of the inevitable Hotel California. I just had to go over, high five him and told him he could stand anytime next to Eric Clapton such was the quality of his performance. When I put a generous donation in the kitty one of the two vocalists, actually a young lady, soon approached me asking for my request. Anything out of Sargent Pepper’s lonely hearts club band will do I said. It’s one of my favorite Beatles LPs. But, I realized, not necessarily familiar to youngsters in their early 20s. Not a problem though in the age of internet, smart phones and YouTube. After pulling up the lyrics on a large i-Pad they consulted with each other for a short time and then, all of them pointing vigorously at me started to sing: “when I grow older losing my hair many years from now….!” Later on when the bar started to empty out past midnight they produced two more, better known Beatles songs; Penny Lane and Strawberry Fields Forever. Even my son when he was little loved Sgt. Pepper’s album though mostly for the colorful cover. As for me, far from being offended to be pointed out as an oldie, on the contrary I felt rather complimented as in reality I’m a few years older than the songs theme; when I’m sixty-four! But it did bring back a memory from times long past when I myself asked for that very song to be played.
Charley was a footballer in his youth and later of some notoriety when he was chosen for the national team several times. His playing career over, he became a manager. He earned a national Championship trophy title with one of the top teams. Probably his biggest triumph. Health and injury concerns incited him later to abandon the big scene but his love for football remained. Toward the early 90s a modest amateur team from a Lausanne suburb was his latest baby. Charley became their manager.
His other love was wine. Not just drinking wine but knowing about it. The many wine producing regions, the cépage (grape variety) and the way to treat and nurse vineyards over the year until harvest time that he participated himself in often in the Lavaux region overlooking lake Geneva. Over the years he became a renowned wine taster and sometimes participated in amateur or professional wine tasting events.
This year, probably mid or late 90s Charley had decided he would bring along his amateur team of footballers or at least all those who could make it or afford the 14 days journey. In the end about 20 young people took the trip to Phuket with the elder Charley in their midst.
Charley was a demanding coach on the pitch. But off the training grounds he was a gentle and soft-spoken man and would always listen to the youngsters’ problems, give advice and sometimes stepped in to help in any way or manner required. They all respected his sometimes harsh demands on the playing ground but loved him for his human side and the kind and honest man he was.
After their arrival at the hotel I went to greet them all. I was accompanied by Rueang, the tour guide whose job was to try and sell local excursions. After a while she approached me somewhat disappointed. Out of all these guys she had not managed to book or sell a single excursion package. That’s when two of the young people approached me asking for a moment in private. It was Charley’s birthday in 3 days, they said, and they had all contributed secretly to a fund that was to organize a once in a lifetime party for him in this exotic country. A surprise party they wanted to offer the man they all revered. The word birthday was not to be mentioned in front of him until the very day.
There was little time left but enough to find the appropriate venue near the hotel, chose and assemble the menu, order the birthday cake and inform the band of the songs they had chosen to be greeted with and played, but most of all the impromptu musical insert to be played when the candles on the cake were lit. When the day came there was excitement in the air. Charley was led at first gently and later more like pushed to the venue by the young people. Only his wife, the only female of the group knew but kept the secret. She had to be told, naturally, and was privy to the planned party.
All went according to plan. The food was tasty, the service so-so but that didn’t matter as the young people had brought along several bottles of Charley’s favorite wine from back home and that was much more important. The moment came to blow the candles and the band chimed in the tune: when I grow older losing my hair many years from now…..! The highlight came of course when the refrain “when I’m sixty-four” played, all of the youngsters joined in to the delight of the other patrons unrelated to the party. They cheered and ask for the song to be played again and then again. This time everybody joined in the “when I’m sixty-four” bit and many people came over to congratulate Charley. Some offered little presents. Returning to the hotel later Charley’s assault was not quite over yet. A colorful Happy Birthday Charley banner had been placed over his room entrance, decorated with flowers and welcomed by staff. A memorable evening.
Days later and totally involuntary on my part came my 15 minutes of fame. It was the wine tasting evening. As other years Charley had brought along several bottles of wine, all carefully wrapped in colorful gift paper. Some of his friends staying at the same hotel as in previous years joined in. None of the young footballers were present for the event. Charley, a many times Phuket visitor, ordered them all off to Soi Bangla to have fun.
For us others the name of the game was to predict the origin or even better the correct appellation of the wine without seeing the bottle’s label. The hotel provided the appropriate wine glasses for white and red wine and the tasting & guessing games began. To keep us from getting pissed too soon the hotel provided canapés and salty sticks to consume between different tasting competitions. Only when the proper origin or name of the wine was correctly found would Charley unwrap the bottle to finish off what was left. The first 3 bottles brought mixed results from the participants. The last bottle contained a less well known cru (wine vintage). It was a Grandvaux supérieur. It took me but one sip to identify. I had lived in the village of the same name in the beautiful Lavaux region for a few years and consumed a glass or two of it with most of my meals. Cheers, congratulations and much backslapping were to follow.
At the conclusion of the tasting evening and tongue in cheek Charley scolded the other 6 or 7 participants as to how very sad it was that none of them could name the correct appellation, especially that many of them also originating or living in the famed wine region but had to leave it to a “foreigner” to get it right!
Later, a day or two before returning home Charley confided in me. He had known all along about the “birthday surprise”! You’re not only an excellent footballer and wine connoisseur but a fine actor fooling the lot including the wife with your perfect show, I told him. That’s not all he replied. I brought the Grandvaux supérieur because I knew you’d recognize it immediately.
There’s a sort of epilogue to the story. One of the young footballers had become friendly with a girl working as a kitchen help or waitress at the hotel. They became more amical, infatuated, lovers, later engaged and eventually married on the guy’s next visit to Phuket the following year. I’ve no further details but get a yearly e-mail saying we’re in Phuket again on our holiday doing this and that, visiting here and there. And still happy together!
Who says Farang – Thai marriages never work out?
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