30 May 2011


It was dreamlike. Poda I mean. I can't tell you how lovely it was though I guess for some people it would have been like hell on earth.

When I arrived, I discovered that I was the only guest booked into the "resort". So there was me and at least fifteen members of staff. Some day visitors came to snorkel, lounge on the beach or have a meal in the island's only restaurant but they were gone by late afternoon. So effectively I was the King of Poda for the three days I was there.

They call it a "resort" but it's basically thirty "bungalows" and the restaurant. Here are some things the island doesn't have - cars, motorbikes, dogs, roads, a swimming pool, souvenirs for sale, internet, television and electricity (between midnight and 6pm). Here are some things the island does have - coconut palms, monkeys, a curving white coral sand beach, two cats, a few secretive monitor lizards, electricity between 6pm and midnight, blue birds that squawk and a huge lump of limestone "karst" skirted by impenetrable jungle growth.

I walked a path through tropical greenery that led to the southern shore and laid my towel under the shade of an overhanging tree. There I continued to read "Bangkok - A Cultural History" by Maryvelma O'Neil in two long afternoons that were punctuated with swimming and snorkelling sessions in crystal clear waters that were so warm I was never driven out by chilliness. I collected a piece of old rope from the shore and gathered choice bits of white coral in a plastic bag I found in my knapsack. I was planning to make a wind charm. When pieces of coral clunk together they can make musical sounds.

Sadly, even on Poda the detritus of modern day life is visible on the beach from bits of broken fishing net to Coca Cola cans, food cartons and Old "Singha" beer bottles. I scoured my section of the beach and filled a large sack with flotsam and jetsam that I later returned to the dump near the restaurant. On the first afternoon, in six peaceful hours, I only saw two other people on my bit of beach - a couple of American girls in bikinis who congratulated me on my good citizenship.

Back at Bungalow C one of the resort workers - a young man called Bouw - assisted me with my coral knotting as the windcharm took shape. In return he gave me a chunk of his dried squid. He had caught it himself and dried it slowly over a grill. If you find the soles of plimsolls tasty, you'd probably enjoy dried squid. No doubt the British TV chef, Rick Stein would have been in raptures about the stuff. In spite of it, I finished the wind charm and was rather proud of the end result. I tied it to the lamp bracket outside my door and left it to posterity.

On Poda I took various photographs, including some pictures of Sunday's sunrise. I left in the early afternoon on a motorised longtail boat that whizzed me back to Ao Nang on the mainland and I looked back through the salt spray to gorgeous Poda, a tiny place in a turquoise sea that I will never forget - unless of course Alzheimer's creeps up on me! For your curiosity and visual titillation, here are a few of my best snaps:-

Southern shore
Resort bungalows
Andaman Sunset

25 May 2011


Oh dear. This is getting tiresome. Another four day weekend so another little trip to plan as my time in Thailand ebbs away. AirAsia from Bangkok to Krabi in the south of the country. I leave tomorrow morning at ten.

There is a tiny island that floats in an azure bay - an arm of the Andaman Sea. Its sands are bleached white and the water that surrounds it is crystal clear. I'm going to stay there for two nights, hoping that the weather and the sea itself are kind to me. Otherwise I'll be sitting in my little hut under the palm trees as rain teems down and waves crash, wondering how I could have been so crazy as to pick a place like that. Getting on and off the island will be difficult enough but when I heard about it I just had to go. An adventure.

It's called Poda Island and here it is. It's the larger one with the rocky outcrop. Full report when/if I return:-

24 May 2011


Just managed to get back from the school before Bangkok's leaden skies opened. I had stayed late working on the children's poetry collection I am compiling. It is going to be called "Where East Meets West" which is also the school's motto. In one way I want it to be like a parting gift though of course its main aim is to encourage and celebrate good writing. Writing poetry isn't easy at the best of times so I feel heartened that a lot of children - nearly all Thais - have given it a go. Perhaps in some future post I will share a couple of their poems.

At four twenty, after the computer network had automatically and irritatingly shut down as usual and as I was waiting to log straight back on, I found myself writing a poem of my own. Lord knows where the idea came from. I am imagining this poem right in the middle of a hefty collection and it's as if the poem itself is speaking to the onlooker who has arrived at that particular page. (By the way, water is now coming down in gallons as I write and the electricity just went off for a moment. Thunder. Lightning. Buddha's not happy!)

I guess there are many poems in many dusty anthologies that get overlooked simply because they happen to be located somewhere in the middle of the book. Also, I like the idea of playing with poetry so that this poem has its own voice, its own way of looking at things as it tries to jump off the paper to communicate with the detached reader who happens to have flicked to that page. Here it is:-

Page 53

Sandwiched in the middle
Of this collection
I'm shadowed by the weighty poems around me
Idle readers who flick through poetry books
Or peruse the shelves
Hardly ever reach the centre
Where I've been hiding
Safe in the certainty
That no one would ever find me
Or recognise
My unusually stark style

That is
Dear reader
Till you came along
And spoilt it all...
So now
Speaking as a recently unearthed poem
Now that my secret is out
I feel I ought to say
Something of note
Like the middle is half way
So that's what I just wrote.

21 May 2011


Some blogposts are easy to write. Others are hard. My last post was hard. It was touching on something I had kept buried from others for years. Thank you to Jenny, the author of "Demob Happy Teacher", for letting me know that my post reminded her of a famous poem by Robert Frost written in 1916. I can see how and why she made that connection and I give you Frost's poem now in its entirety. To me it is clearly not about someone at a road junction in "a yellow wood", it is all about the repercussions of our decisions and the paths we choose to take through life. I wonder what you think dear reader...
Robert Frost 1874 -1963

* * *

The Road Not Taken

Two roads diverged in a yellow wood,
And sorry I could not travel both
And be one traveller, long I stood
And looked down one as far as I could
To where it bent in the undergrowth;

Then took the other, as just as fair,
And having perhaps the better claim
Because it was grassy and wanted wear,
Though as for that the passing there
Had worn them really about the same,

And both that morning equally lay
In leaves no step had trodden black.
Oh, I marked the first for another day!
Yet knowing how way leads on to way
I doubted if I should ever come back.

I shall be telling this with a sigh
Somewhere ages and ages hence:
Two roads diverged in a wood, and I,
I took the one less travelled by,
And that has made all the difference.

19 May 2011


Life. It can be so strange. Accidental moments may colour your entire life. I don't know why but I have thought about Pat in the last few days.

Who was Pat? She was a Scottish woman I had a steady relationship with in my last months at university. Thirty five years ago. She cooked meals for me and loved me. We were good together. She quietened some of my wildness. Showed me how to relax with people and be less combative. We danced. We visited Glasgow and Edinburgh and she sat by my side when I drove the students' union minibus all the way down to London for a political demonstration. She so much wanted to please me. She would ask my opinions about her clothes and make-up - stuff I never really cared two hoots about. I met her parents and her sister. Stayed in her family home. Got drunk with her. We talked and talked and woke together in many silver-grey dawns. That was Pat.

At Christmastime of 1977, I moved back to England to embark on my momentous teaching "career" (ha!). I was in a vast, tough comprehensive school in a godforsaken South Yorkshire mining village. Those first weeks were the hardest apprenticeship ever. I could sink to the bottom of the sea or I could swim. I chose to swim. And one of the things that kept me afloat was my growing love and affection for Pat. I couldn't wait to see her at February half-term.

Back in Scotland I returned to her. Less than two months had passed. I wanted her love and friendship to soothe my battered soul. I reached for her but she shut me out. The door was closed literally and metaphorically. I tried to get in but she was having none of it. There was no explanation just exclusion. She was lost to me as if those golden months before had never really happened. I never saw her again. It was a puzzle.

At Christmastime 1979, I met my Shirley. Before the winter of 1981 we were married. We had a mortgage and bills to pay. We were in love. We pedalled the treadmill of work before our babies came. A son and a daughter. Perfect. And then there were the other two we never met - the ectopic might-have-been children who got away like fish we failed to land. I think of them too. So I almost forgot Pat.

Some time in 2001 Pat got in touch with me again through the machinations of the Internet and I asked her - why. Why did you shut me out all those years back? And she told me a mutual "friend" called Andy, who by the way had always had a "thing" for Pat, reported that I had said to him I would never spend my life with her because she was too flat-chested! I emailed back that I had absolutely no memory of saying such a horribly shallow thing but if I did say it then I apologised wholeheartedly - even if it was over twenty years too late.

Pat became a lecturer in a further education college in Scotland. She never married or bore any children and now she lives in her own little apartment in the suburbs of Glasgow having retired from her college just last summer.

After ten years I realise that I never did say such a thing about her. I liked Pat fine the way she was. She was pretty and I respected her. I realise that it was just Andy mischief-making. Spoiling something good that he didn't have. Perhaps he was drunk. Perhaps he was making a play for Pat in my absence. Anyway. It meant that the course of my life and Pat's life changed for good. I believe we'd have been together. We'd have made a home and a family. But it wasn't to be. I went my way and she went hers. I think that it's called the randomness of being.

17 May 2011


Haad Salad Sunset

Phangan is famous for its "full moon parties" - Bacchanalian beach raves in the far south eastern corner of the island. These events attract backpackers and latter day hippies by the score. So naturally, I booked accommodation at the opposite end of the island in Haad Salat - Salad Bay. And how lovely it was there. I had a spacious wooden bungalow to myself with a view from my wide wooden verandah that took in both the little hotel complex's pristine oval-shaped pool and a beautiful palm-fringed beach with the bay beyond. There little fishing boats bobbed colourfully.

On Sunday I went on a snorkelling trip which allowed me two hours on beautiful Bottle Beach. Yesterday I hired a bicycle and cycled till heat exhaustion, dehydration and excessive sweating threatened to do me in for good. It's true what they say about mad dogs and Englishmen. I recovered in the main town - Thong Sala, downing three bottles of soda water in a row before cycling up the west coast to an enclosed fresh water lagoon. On the way I passed a bizarre English pub - "The Masons' Arms". It looked as if it had been transported directly from the Home Counties.

This morning I had an hour long foot massage from a young lady called Non whose service involved both pain and relaxation. It made me think that to really benefit from Thai massage one would need to make it a regular feature of one's life. A one-off massage is okay but its benefits are probably not going to be long-lasting.

At Nakhon Si Thammarat Airport, a chubby Thai gentleman with cloudy eyes and a can of Heineken joined me at my lunch table and attempted most unsuccessfully to strike up meaningful conversation as we ate our chosen dishes. But one should never judge a book by its cover for when I attempted to pay my bill, the man insisted that he would settle it. I thanked him and then headed for the departure gate. Acts of human kindness in a world that often appears self-seeking and heartless are like jewels that glisten and ask to be treasured. In Buddhism such acts are often thought to "make merit", counteracting the wrong we all do.
West coast of Phangan

Bottle Beach

13 May 2011


Before I head off to the island of Koh Phangan - way down south - for three nights, let me tell you about a couple of this week’s most bizarre moments.

Monday morning. After waiting fifty minutes for a reserved taxi while dozens of free taxis flashed by the school gates, I arrived at a vast new government building on the outskirts of Bangkok along with an agitated lady from the school office. It was to be the next chapter in my visa saga – you know - the one that resulted in me being exiled to Malaysia for a weekend.

So there’s hundreds of people clutching papers and tickets in the Immigration section of this huge building, erected far from any public transport network. A robotic voice with an American accent announces appointment numbers while a different American-sounding voice announces other appointments on the opposite side of the room. The voices intermingle unintelligibly as red lights flash digital numbers above dozens of interview booths.

Finally I find myself in a cubicle with the twitchy school secretary and a uniformed female immigration official. I have to sign photocopies of my fifteen page work contract, two copies of my degree certificate and a handful of copies of my passport. The lady from the school chuckles as a conversation in Thai occurs with the severe young official. Then I get a translation.

“She say you look like Colonel Sanders!”

Then the young lady adds, “When I see you. Make me wanna eat!”

My instinct is to return the compliment but I fear my meaning might be misconstrued so instead I just laugh. When I am dismissed from the cubicle to wait a further hour for my re-stamped passport, I promise to get her some fried chicken.

Friday morning. I am working at the computer in my classroom. I shift the keyboard and notice something beneath it. It’s a polythene bag with a piece of card in it. There’s some writing on the back. I flip it over. It’s a photograph of a Thai woman in a rather untidy room. I recognise her immediately.

It’s the new cleaner who has been visiting my room after school for the last week or so. As an inverted snob, I have always gone out of my way to be friendly towards those who have menial roles to perform in the workplace. So it has been with the new cleaner. Every time she has entered my room I have greeted her – Sawasdee krap and smiled. She doesn’t seem to speak any English.

I flip the photo over. I realise that what is written is a mobile phone number with her name scrawled next to it. It’s a flaming invitation to get in touch – possibly literally!

Perhaps she needs me to tidy up her room. Maybe she wants to come back to Sheffield to be our cleaner - possibly performing other domestic duties? I must ask Shirley for her considered opinion. She can also weigh up whether or not I look anything like that finger lickin’ Kentucky fellow - Colonel Bloody Sanders!

11 May 2011


A Buddha's hand in Ayutthaya

I wish instead that I had a picture of Bic to show you but I don't. Like many Thais, he was of Chinese ancestry. He lived beneath my room in the staff quarters. He was one of only two receptionists in my little guesthouse. They tended to work from either seven in the morning till four in the afternoon or from then till one in the morning.

Bic was thirty two. On the Sunday evening before last I bid him good night as I folded the Bangkok Sunday Post but he chased after me, catching me up on the stairs.

"Mr Pud. Mr Pud I go leaving."

"What? You're leaving Bic? When?"

"Tonight. I go tonight."

I couldn't believe it. Bic was my chum. I had taken him out for a couple of meals and in return he'd invited me to a bar where he insisted on returning the favour. He was with Kat who is a receptionist in the adjacent massage parlour. In Chiang Mai I bought Bic a souvenir T-shirt and one day he bought me a blueberry muffin from a nearby bakery. Bic made me laugh and I made him laugh.

"But why Bic? Why are you leaving?"

He looked away self-consciously and paused, wondering what to say and then he announced in his pidgin English, "Me bad sometarm."

I didn't want to push him for I could see that he was close to tears. We shared a manly hug. I put a five hundred baht note in his palm to say "thanks" for his kindness and good humour and we said goodbye.

Since he departed so suddenly, I have tried to find out the truth about why he left and from each witness I get a different story. Had he stolen money? Had he been hitting the bottle? The lady owner - Thida - said she had absolutely no idea why Bic had left. The other receptionist, Leila, said he had resented demeaning criticism from the owners' daughter. A cleaner suggested that he had been having an affair with Kat from the massage parlour. That Sunday night Bic told me he would be going back to his family home in Hua Hin but a couple of days ago Leila said he had moved in with Kat who is married with two children.

Sometarm the truth is as elusive as a dream that steals away with the dawn. Perhaps I will never know why Bic left.

I remember one night, not long after I arrived in Thailand when Bic confided in me that he was still broken-hearted about the ending of his most significant love affair. It had lasted seven years - he said - and he still thought of that woman every hour of every day even though they had been parted for some three years. He said he had never told anybody about his utter distress before and I said he needed to "move on" but I didn't mean literally.

Like atoms on the move randomly colliding, we never know whose paths we will cross. Bic was just somebody I met along the way. People come and people go. What more is there to say?

8 May 2011


Long-term visitors to this humble blog will be surprised that I am about to post on the subject of golf as it is not an activity that I have ever referred to before. The only golf I had ever played in my life before today was at seaside putting greens or so-called "crazy golf" courses. You know the sort I mean - where you have to take twenty strokes to bash the bloody ball up the ramp to the "crazy" windmill or round the "crazy" U bend to the "crazy" bridge which leads to the "crazy" hole filled with "crazy" gravel and "crazy" cigarette butts. It was enough to drive holidaymakers crazy.

So there I am at the Ratchada golf driving range, fifty metres from my hermit's cave. I am having lunch in the air-conditioned little cafeteria. Fried rice with chicken and mixed vegetables in soy sauce washed down with a bottle of Chang soda water. I watch the golfers whacking balls up the lawn which is two hundred and fifty metres in length and protected by vast nets.

Each golfer has a friend. I'll call it a golfball hopper. It's adjacent to the striking zone. He, or very rarely she, touches a floor button with the club's head and a ball is magically released from the hopper on a metal arm which swings out and deposits its small white globe on to a little patch of artificial grass. The golfer then addresses the ball and, if he is any good, drives it far beyond the hundred metre marker down the range where hundreds of other balls are scattered. The hopper is robotic and magical. We may not be able to prevent famine, AIDS, unrest in Arab nations or greedy bankers' shenanigans but we can create important kit like the automatic golf-ball hopper.

I had thought of it before but today I mustered enough courage to hire a club and two buckets of balls for 150 baht - about £3.10. I was the only farang (foreigner) there and I imagined that the Thai guys would drop their clubs and burst into paroxysms of laughter when they saw my untutored attempts to bash my balls (golf ones!) to kingdom come. As if I was in a sketch from "The Benny Hill Show", many of my balls dribbled pathetically into the nearby gutter and the well-kitted Thai bloke at the next hopper kept looking anxiously across when my balls flashed in front of him instead of soaring outwards.

Nonetheless, I persevered and hit several balls beyond the seventy five metre marker. Sometimes I felt I was trying too hard. It was about the swing and keeping your eyes on the ball. So now I exist near the bottom of golf's world rankings. World number one, Lee Westwood is already looking nervously over his shoulder. Tiger Woods would be doing the same if he wasn't scouting for healthy blonde white girls or writing dramatic self-flagellating confessions for press conferences.

6 May 2011


Goodbye O-sa-ma
Though I never knew you at all
You had the audacity to gloat
When you watched the Twin Towers fall
Innocent people died for your warped ideology
And fools were drawn to play your evil game
They set you on a pedestal
Thinking Allah was your other name

And it seems to me you lived your life
Like a rich boy on a spree
Never knowing which bits of the Qur'an to cling to
As you plotted against humanity
And I wouldn’t have liked to have known you
Cos I’d have whacked you if I did
We’re glad your candle burned out
Long before your vile legacy ever did

3 May 2011


Although there were unaffected millions in Africa, parts of Asia and South America, in the so-called western world very few us remained mentally untainted by the insidious effects of mobile phones. It transpired in early 2012 that the widespread use of mobiles or cell-phones had been cunningly promoted by imperial pioneers from the distant planet of Olama in the constellation Baden, several light years from Earth. Their objective was Death.

Instinctively, I had always had an aversion to the mobile phone and came to view its use with increasing alarm. Where ever I went I saw these damnable new-fangled objects in people's hands. At bus stops, in restaurants, behind the wheels of fast-moving vehicles, at sports events and weddings, in cinemas, even at funerals. They were everywhere. It seemed to me that when people fondled them it was rather like looking at small children gripping their comfort blankets.

Friends and family - who were unknowingly already infected by their phones - tried to persuade me to get my own phone. Some even smirked at me as if to say - what a dinosaur - how can he even exist without a mobile phone? The more I was tormented and the more obsessive the mobile phone use I saw, the more my resistance grew. Thank heavens!

Nearly everyone I ever knew is gone. Huge pits were dug on the outskirts of all major cities and the bodies of mobile phone users were bulldozed in until even the men who operated the bulldozers succumbed to the inevitable.

As I say there are few of us left. A couple of months ago I decided to live in Buckingham Palace as the Royal family were gone along with their security staff and just about every member of the metropolitan police service. The Queen had a waterbed and that is where I sleep. I have seventeen motor vehicles parked out on the gravel in front of the palace including a reinforced Hummer, a cherry red Porsche and a Rolls Royce Silver Ghost. Sometimes I look down from the famous balcony and wave but of course there's nobody there to wave back. Just a few pigeons, flapping around the Queen's corgis and blind zombie-like settlers from Olama who have been shipped to Earth simply to ease their home planet's population crisis.

I think to myself - was it worth it - all that jibberish - those interminable text messages and contacts lists. Every year upgrading phones, failing to live in the here and now. Phoning friends to ask - what are you doing and getting the inevitable reply - I'm on the phone. The Olamans - what a trap they laid - and humanity walked straight into it like the children of Hamelin.

1 May 2011


All cities need green lungs but with its endless traffic and high rise construction fever, Bangkok needs these oases more than most cities. Its most famous park is Lumphini. I went for a stroll there yesterday. What did I see?
Swans conversing at the lakeside.
A chain of blindfolded young people.
Brass band practice under the trees.
"Women in the next Three Decades" bronze sculpture.
Grandmother and grandsons at the lakeside.
A monitor lizard at the water's edge - see her blue forked tongue.