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The week that was in Thailand news: Thailand’s pub closing hours: Calling time on the “jukebox casualties!”


The week that was in Thailand news: Thailand’s pub closing hours: Calling time on the “jukebox casualties!”

“Time, gentlemen please!” was the cry that went up from pub landlords. There was always some wag – often my drunken self – who would spout up: Ten thirty, guv’nor!

The shout was to announce that closing time was fast approaching and patrons in pubs throughout England had ten minutes to drink up and get out. With a bit of effort it was usually possible to find a hotel bar or club to carry on drinking but the licensing laws were hated by most Britons especially me and my fellow reporters. 

We started work late on our weekly provincial paper and always wanted to have one for the road, if not several for the street. At midday we would down tools and drive (yes, drive) to the pub to have as many pints as possible before 2.30 pm closing. 

I had not been much of a drinker at school and had almost passed out when my French teacher took us all to the pub to celebrate finishing our A-levels. On my first day at the Croydon Advertiser in 1979 – barely aged 18 – I drank so much in an effort to keep up with my hardened colleagues that I deposited my Ploughman’s Lunch in the office loo. 

Thus began a love affair with alcohol that lasted three decades before I inked my name on the pledge and along with cigarettes started to dislike the stuff. 

The draconian licensing laws in England had been introduced as a measure under the “Defence of the Realm” act at the start of World War I in 1914. It wasn’t until the 1980’s before pubs were allowed to open from 11 am to 11 pm and 2005 before they could open all day if they wanted. 

By this time I had “traveled the world” – or at least part of it – and found my way to Bangkok. In India I had been obliged to virtually go teetotal, something that improved my general health if not my mental well-being. Goa was an exception but by the time we arrived there a black substance from Manali had become our preferred method to escape the harsh realities of Indian travel. 

In Malaysia I was pleased to see tasty Tiger beer was available most everywhere and resumed imbibing albeit more sensibly than in my reporting days; after all I needed to keep to that five dollars a day budget so I could last for six months in Asia. 

Arriving in Thailand in 1982 there appeared to be very little in the way of licensing hours though beer seemed quite expensive compared to everything else. I mixed Lipo with ice and Mekhong to save money. I have always loved the taste of “tonic drinks” and it helped to tone down the revolting shock of Mekhong on my ‘sensitive’ palate.

Running out of money and finding myself slaving for funds in Australia I wondered why most of the pubs there had tiles that made them indistinguishable from the toilets. The answer came from a colleague at the Yellow Pages in Sydney who said that pubs in Australia all used to shut by 6 pm. Called the “Six O’Clock Swill” workers would pile out of their offices at 5 pm and indulge in an orgy of binge drinking and vomit. A very Australian and, to be fair, British habit.

The tiles meant that Aussie pubs could be easily hosed down – on the inside. 

By the 1980’s when I had a year long working holiday in Australia the old laws were a distant memory. What pleasure it was to walk in from the 40 degree heat and practice my new vocabulary; schooner, middy, pot and tinnie. Some bartenders even ditched the “Pommie Bastard” moniker (that I was later to discover is a term of endearment) and praised my cultural awakening. Then I would wander home avoiding the drunks who seemed to stagger on every Australian street at the time. 

Back in Thailand – with Aussie dollars that were quite valuable at the time – I settled into a routine of work and Thai study by day, and getting plastered by night. The Blue Fox in Soi Ngam Duplee was our local and a 20 baht tuk-tuk ride to catch happy hour in Patpong was the next stop. There a Kloster was an affordable 25 baht before 9 pm. I only had Singh with Thai meals or when I was going “hardcore”….it reminded me of Carlsberg Special Brew and my own brother’s untimely demise.

Closing times varied in what Bernard Trink described as “niterie entertainment venues” (a term I use to this day in my Thaivisa translations in a “tip ‘o the hat” to the former columnist). But there were always “after hours constellations” and a police owned establishment called The Thermae on Sukhumvit that you entered via the toilets (at both its old and “new” locations). It still runs to this day albeit largely catering to the Japanese market. 

Rooster is such an infrequent visitor after the “Great Warning-off of Marriage” (circa 1990) that I don’t know if or when it ever closes these days. 

Six am at the Thermae was when someone in the old days might have shouted “time, ladies please” – for it was invariably only the hardened and wizened “ladies of the night” who had failed to secure customers who remained. My mate used to call them “jukebox casualties” as they slumped around the machine that would play music from Boney M. and the Eagles’ Hotel California among other tracks from the seventies. 

The “casualties” would normally only flicker into life, albeit briefly, if the latest hit from Pumpuang Duangjan or Carabao was selected on the jukebox. I sang un-melodiously along to the hits because A) I was drunk and B) I learned most of my Thai tones through endlessly listening to Thai music on cassette tapes that had the lyrics in the vernacular on the paper sleeve. 

I even got the odd ripple of applause for renditions of “Made in Thailand” or “Welcome to Thailand” (efforts that went beyond the Thaiglish lines of “Tom, Tom where you go last night, I love Muang Thai, I love Patpong”). 

Teaching English door to door to Japanese children meant that my evening entertainment never started before 10 pm and it was usually eleven before I ventured out. My whole life would have been turned up upside down if England’s – or heavens forbid Australia’s – old opening hours were in place! 

Chucking out time varied in the go-go bars but Cheap Charlies like Rooster didn’t mind when you had to leave – at least that meant one didn’t have to pay a bar fine if a lady had caught your eye. (Ladies drinks were a no-no and a “hangover” from the days of travelling on a tatty shoestring. As Nana Plaza rose to prominence in the 1990’s and the ladies got wise to me practicing my Thai and not taking them out I learned to call the time it took for them to lose interest in me as a “nana-second”).

Later one of Thaksin’s puritanical ministers told us we had to be tucked up in bed early. Like countless crackdowns it was an inconvenience, nothing more. Those who think that the crackdown is a modern, “junta” invention need to think again. 

My musings on the subject came to mind after the latest reincarnation of Tourism Minister, Pipat Ratchakitprakarn, suggested this week that tourist areas in places like Bangkok, Phuket and Pattaya should be allowed to open to 4 am.

The suggestion has not been received entirely positively. 

While some business leaders suggest this will lead to an upsurge of 15-20% in spending others have pointed out that there are few drinking tourists anyway so multiplying zero by a couple of hours will still get zero. Others have complained it will be annoying for those trying to sleep in Pattaya. Well, if I wanted to sleep I wouldn’t be anywhere near Soi 6 or Walking Street! 

The issue of changing the opening hours remains in the air. 

Pipat’s suggestion of visa freebies for Indians and Chinese has been extended to the end of April 2020 but the cabinet stopped short of giving away more citing unspecified data that Mr Singh and Mrs Woo would just stay on in Thailand if they could. To be fair, who could blame them for preferring Thailand to India and China!

In other news related to my Sunday sermon we were told that the classic hit that used to play in every capital bar in the mid 80’s – One Night in Bangkok – was enjoying it’s 35th anniversary this week. It’s cheeky lyrics (related to chess of all things) resulted in a ban by the broadcasting authority that later became the NBTC, but the bars ignored that.

A bar girl once proudly displayed her English skills to me by singing it almost perfectly. Except for the line about ‘cloisters’ as she boomed out: “You’ll find a god in every golden Kloster”. Her version was an improvement on the original….

In another fun packed week on Thaivisa it was not just bar related stories that piqued interest. The forum went into meltdown as it was announced that smoking was banned at home from Wednesday. The puffing curmudgeons saw red and imagined they would be dobbed in by their wives if they didn’t give them more “housekeeping”.

But of course, just like the absurdity of saying people would be jailed for smoking on the beach, the law is really a means for the authorities to act where second hand smoke has been proven to hurt members of a household, particularly children.

I sympathize with this view. Nobody in this day and age should be smoking in confined spaces around others, especially children. I grew up in a house where four elder siblings smoked like chimneys. I was completely hooked by age 9 and only managed to ditch the filthy habit in my late thirties. 

There is nothing worse than a reformed smoker but I don’t see why I should have to put up with people smoking close to me in 2019. It is an utterly revolting and dangerous habit. The Thai government pays lip service to its eradication because of money and further makes themselves look silly by the aggressive stance on e-cigarettes.

But having been inside a snooker hall for the first time in years this week all I could think of was the smell of rancid tobacco. I blamed that on not being able to get a break higher than 20…

Road Rage violence caught on tape made Thailand’s streets look even deadlier than occasions when brake failure and “lap nai” (micro-sleep) are blamed for the carnage. A taxi driver ended up in a pool of blood when a motorcyclist pulled out a knife while a pick-up driver wielded a sword. Don’t tempt fate out there folks – if someone ever baits you drive away and never, ever get out of your car to confront someone. 

Standing up for the law this week was a 46 year old Japanese woman called Megumi who studies at Kaset University in Sakon Nakhon. This “stickler for the rules” was shown on video refusing to let a “win” (motorcycle taxi guy) get past on the sidewalk. A man with a family also had to turn back and use the road. 

Having lived in Bangkok for nearly all my adult life and being an inveterate biker I thought one poster who I usually disagree with who talked about “live and let live” made some valid points. He was shouted down by the baying masses.

I stayed out of this argument as I have a soft spot for the Japanese and their law abiding and thought that Megumi – while risking physical attack – was being brave and was well within her rights to stand her ground. 

Hopefully one day all the pedestrians, in Bangkok at least, will be on “skywalks”, the cars can stick to the roads and the sidewalks can be converted into bike lanes……

I would like to say that Italthai’s Premchai the Poacher got his comeuppance this week. I’m afraid that despite being convicted of poaching, illegal gun possession and virtually taking home Luuk Chin Leopard on a stick to his mumsy, he somehow remains free. When is Thailand – after reasonable appeals –  going to have judges that say: Take Him Down!

The headlines of all stories about convictions – especially of the rich and famous – have to be taken not with a pinch of salt but a whole Pack of Saxa. The small print after the admissions and bail usually mean that what looks like jail is actually the complete opposite – freedom. 

And so to a bumper set of Rooster awards. The “Ask Someone in Power for a Rolex” award goes to the CP Group after the submission for a 290 billion baht expansion plan for U-Tapao airport arrived in Thonburi nine minutes past the deadline. Methinks it may have been better to pay a “win” to drive them on the pavement and face a fine rather than lose such a deal due to the vagaries of Bangkok traffic. 

I also would not be surprised that the court ruling has something to do with another DPM having a vested interest in the bidding outcome. 

The “PRA(yu)T Award” goes to our esteemed and totally democratic PM Uncle Too who said that he is “like a cotton fruit (santol) – that tastes better when crushed”. I’d love to introduce Big Too to my mate Somchai in Buriram who owns a steam roller. 

The “Philanthropy in the Face of Adversity” prize goes to the executives at THAI who have been asked to take a pay cut to save the state’s much maligned and financially strapped airline. Your gesture in accepting 399,000 baht salary a month instead of 400,000 shows the Thai people what it is to be magnanimous and caring about the country’s future.

The “Taking the Urine” award goes to the noodle vendor posting on Thai social media who suggested that he pees in the broth to cure his customers’ aches and pains. The story created one of the forum’s few hilarious and light-hearted threads this week as everyone tried to outdo themselves in punning.

I found a small fraction of the pi*s poor wisecracks funny but few of the jokes made me laugh out loud – in fact no pun in ten did. 

Finally, the coveted “Typo of the Week” trophy is shared. Chiang Mai News can have the cup for six months after the relatively standard boob of saying that an Icelander who rode his bike into a tow truck was also from Ireland. Confusing the two countries is usual in Thai media spelling and daily life. Ask Austrians and Australians.

Even people from Niger have been confused with Nigerians for some unfathomable reason. 

The other winner is The Phuket News who reported on the burly tourist from Oslo who caused the death of a British man in the next room who had confronted him with a knife in a dispute over noise. 

Both men were with their wives but it was hardly surprising that the Norwegian won the argument.

Apparently he had been trained in “marital arts”. 


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