Three weeks ago, sitting next to me in a taxi on the way to Suvarnabhumi, Bryan was on his way back home. He had easily survived Covid for two years never getting vaccinated. But he barely survived his last affair of the heart. I just want to go home he’d been repeating for weeks and now he was finally on his way.
Les Arches was the name of the place. A somewhat upmarket holiday resort on the island of Jersey CI. They produced a modest show in the adjoining concert hall. We were invited to one of the daily performances. Singer, entertainer and acting as MC was a pleasant young man called Gerry Dorsey. I was a young exchange student in London not yet 20 and on holiday. Graciously invited by the parents of my then girlfriend to spend the two summer months in Jersey.
Eh, the year was 1964. Yes, I know most Stickman readers were not even born then. But read on, it gets more contemporary shortly. Young, in love with a pretty Jersey girl, great beaches and friendly people. Afternoons in the sun on Portlet Bay or St-Brelades. And plenty of time to make friends. And one of them that I call Bryan as he wants to remain anonymous. This is his story. We became friends for a lifetime. That’s a cliché, often abused I know. But justified in my view and this case. Bryan was 5 or 6 years older than me and acted often as a sort of mentor in those days. Today neither of us can be called young or handsome any longer. Thai bargirls excepted.
I met Bryan at Les Arches. He was what he called himself a homme a tout faire. A sort of glorified handyman. And he was, in the wider sense of the word. Fixing stuff with his hands. But more so having genial ideas, organizing all sorts, and creating things. At the end of the summer, I returned to London continuing studies. In the years that followed we often met occasionally on weekends to see a show in London. From the moment we met he was always full of what he called the West End and the many shows I just had to see. That was not always possible as I’d returned back home and visited London just for a few days at the time. Sometimes we squeezed in two or three shows over a prolonged weekend.
Next time I met Bryan was in the 1980’s in America. On a tour through America’s west with a friend. Las Vegas highlight was illusionist, predator beast-tamer and showmen Siegfried and Roy. It was the eve of the two performers worldwide fame, but the show was no less impressive at the smaller Frontier Casino. Then we reunited with Bryan, now calling Las Vegas his home. He led us to another show where I would see Gerry Dorsey again. He’d changed name and found success. Engelbert Humperdinck was presenting his own show. Long passed the days in the modest showroom at les Arches. A well established and worldwide known crooner producing his own show and hits like: Spanish Eyes, Last Walz and Please Release Me.
Later Bryan would return to Europe and the 1990s brought some good years to him closer to home. Rotating between the UK, France and Germany. Part of a team to launch and fan-out Scorpion, a German group gaining recognition first thanks to an early hit Still Loving You and later with the worldwide megahit Wind of Change.
As for me, in 1988 I moved permanently to Phuket, Thailand. With Bryan we kept in touch. Over the internet now, first mostly e-mails, later Skype and then handheld smartphones and social media. What exactly is your job, I often asked him. And mostly his answers had been vague and evasive. I’m an impresario he’d say. What exactly is an impresario I would ask? I am what I’ve always been. Organizer, manager, promoter, arranger, fixer. I told you years ago, an odd jobs man. He’d had many good years making money, no need to go into details, he would add. But the years passed by, and with the new millennium things became more difficult. He started to lack the feeling for the changing times and the new tastes of the young. Bryan had fallen on hard times. He finally admitted it on long talks online.
Early in the new millennium Bryan finally came to Phuket. On a holiday, he said, together with his wife. It’s the third one, he added, and thing are not looking good. Sure enough, the wife left after just a few weeks. Bryan stayed. First in Phuket, then for a while along the Andaman Coast near Similan Islands. He had developed a taste for diving, and it became his dedicated hobby for a time. Later, he moved to Krabi. He now had a permanent girlfriend Lek, and his home was a 10-minute drive from Krabi Town. He had built a modest house on the girl’s or her parents’ land. I now lived in Trang, and we could meet more frequently. I remember one reunion with several other Europeans when the often debated is farang a pejorative term came up. I chipped in with my own precedent. In London our group of young students from France, Germany and Switzerland had a label too. The continentals, we were called. No-one to my knowledge took offence. Likewise, today I‘ve no problem being called farang!
Every now and then for some years Bryan traveled back home accepting time limited job arrangements. Then he retired. The last few years I believe they lived frugally on his UK pension. In March 2020, the pandemic hit. Travel ban, curfew, lockdown did not overly concern Bryan. He was happy to be where he was and would just stay there. But it takes two to Tango. Lek did not see it this way.
It was now November 2021. On his request I went to see him. He was in low spirits and despondent. I’m old and listless. Cheer up Bryan, I said, you’re still in good shape and strong. Yes, like Samson and she’s Delilah the deceiver, he quipped. Speak up Bryan, what’s wrong? He had suspected it for some time but now his girlfriend did not hold back any longer and things became obvious. Bryan had fallen into the trap other farang had long before him. The brother, always helpful, designing and then instrumental building the house was not her brother. They did not hide their liaison any longer. He now became just a paying lodger in the house he had built & paid for.
Bryan’s financial contributions now vastly diminished, the need for his presence became redundant. You’re an old man now, Bryan, Lek told him time and time again, right to his face. Finally, one time to many. Bryan packed his bags and left.
With few friends in the Krabi region he came to stay with me in Bangkok, in a rental studio on a low floor of the same building on Pradiphat Road. He was miserable. I’m off home, he’d say. Two grown-up children from a previous marriage would help him settle again somewhere, he’d say. Yes, you’re old but healthy I tried to encourage him. Life still goes on, you still have a future here, think positive.
Words he’d say, only words. He was lying on his bed almost all day. Earplugs in his smartphone listening to FM-88 or alternatively on the CD player listening to old songs of MLTR or Westlife. Yes, okay time to go home, I finally agreed. I made him come up to my condo on a higher floor. We had a drink. I took him to the kitchen window and pointed to the imposing a building less than 2 km in the distance. Look, I said, this is the rooftop of the new Bang-Sue train station. Covid vaccines are currently administered there. You have to take a motorcycle taxi, go there, and get the vaccine. There are long waiting queues. But with a bit of luck, you may get preferential treatment being farang and a paying customer. Without a vaccine they won’t let you check-in. Then we’ll sit down and book the flight.
On the way to the airport Bryan was quiet and pensive saying this time he was definitely on his last leg. I tried to cheer him up as best I could. He wished he could walk in my boots. Don’t say that, nobody knows what tomorrow brings. Later at the airport he walked to the immigration counter carrying a small carry-on baggage in his left hand, passport & other documents ready. He raised the right and waved his hand without turning back again. His way of saying good-bye for the last time.
Siegfried & Roy are both dead. Engelbert has no signs of slowing down. He is 85 and on Facebook he publishes a weekly clip he calls Tuesday-Museday. He talks of past fame and acclaim, but often also refers to the future, his traveling plans and upcoming performances he’s preparing.
Bryan has sent word after his arrival in the UK. He’s living temporarily with a family member near Leicester.
The author of this article can be contacted at : ILDEDEKLOTH@hotmail.com