Today I reach what for many people is a significant milestone; I’m 60.
Mrs R has been winding me up about getting a pass for the BTS and I have been countering that that is unnecessary and she is more than welcome to sit on my chopper.
I’ll be celebrating by taking my daughters – aged five and eight – on a hair-raising bike ride down to the park and back. If the cops stop me for being out I’ll explain in my best Thai that I’m off to get vaccinated at Bang Sue Central Station.
“With two little children at 140 km an hour, sir?”
“Yes, officer, the wife just left me and you know how hard it is to get childcare these days”.
I’ve never let Thai language get in the way of a good lie.
To mark the occasion – that in all likelihood will be spent in lockdown isolation – I’ve come up with some milestones since 1961.
So if you’re the sort that demands news and doesn’t appreciate a column with personal reflections, go straight to comments where you’ll find many like minded people to complain with.
For those of you who might be of a similar age who fancy a bit of nostalgia or younger ones who might like to learn something about an alternative Thai life, read on!
If you do, why not relate some of your own memories below.
I was born in the back bedroom of my parent’s house in Beckenham, Kent. My dad bought the four bedroom property for 30,000 quid around 1960 (after he died in 2004 we sold it for 417,000). I was the fifth of six kids.
My earliest memory was Listen with Mother on the radio and Andy Pandy on the black and white TV. We got color in 1977 to help take our minds off mum who had just died so tragically young from bowel cancer.
Childhood was very happy, characterized by lots of playing in the woods, bicycling and kicking footballs into my father’s roses. My first real strong memory is of England losing to Brazil in Mexico City then watching in horror as a 2-0 lead against the West Germans ended in a 2-3 quarter final defeat. The first of many disappointments.
There were two memorable days before I was 20. The first was leaving secondary school, a place I loathed. I didn’t bother to go in on the last day and missed the final assembly in which another boy put a CCF armoury thunderflash under the stage.
The other was when I was nineteen and someone I’d never met in Rue Saint Denis beckoned me over; but the less said about that the better.
Despite gardening and decorating jobs at 50p an hour through late childhood, I started my first real job as a cub reporter in Croydon the week after leaving school.
On my first day my new colleagues took me for a liquid lunch to the Purley Arms. The crusty hacks liked me because I wasn’t a graduate and only got an E in my business studies A-level.
Proving my manhood I sank four pints of Stella then promptly returned to the office and threw up my Ploughman’s Salad in the loos. Despite staggering back into the newsroom my female dragon of a boss who terrified me, sent me off to cover my first Golden Wedding.
Mr and Mrs Martin were lovely and told me that the recipe for a happy marriage was “none of that foreign food”.
My first air flight in 1980 was to Paris for the Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe with a party of stockbrokers organised by Coral the bookmakers. One guy bet 500 pounds that his suitcase would get to the carousel first.
This was the big leagues. Unfortunately I had no money left to put on my Arc selection Detroit due to that pesky minx in the St Denis shadows. C’est la vie.
In 1982 I quit my job and flew one-way to Delhi on Ariana with a stop in Kabul. Soviet military craft reminded us why Afghanistan was off limits at that time.
Highlights in India were being asked for our autographs at the final cricket test in Kanpur and sampling an aromatic black substance from Manali.
My first day in Thailand was in April 1982. I remember reading about the Falklands War at a beach hut on Chaweng then having a 50 baht mushroom omelette called “No Name” on the menu.
The rest of the day I can recall in the sharpest detail to this day despite it being a bit of a blur at the time.
I came and went to Thailand for the next few years before arriving with 4,000 Aussie dollars in 1985 and making my best ever investment.
I signed up and completed several months of the “Natural Approach”, learning Thai at AUA in Ratdamri Road. The American ajarn Mr Brown told us not to try to speak, just listen and soak it up.
I cheated at night with a very helpful Thai lady I met in the street in Soi Sribumphen. I asked “pai nai?” and she replied “pay gap khun”.
My first Thai job arrived immediately at Brit-Am academy English language school in Silom. It was the sweetest 2,000 baht for a week’s toil that I have ever earned.
I celebrated with a “baen” of Mekhong made tolerable with two or three Lipo’s that had prizes in the lids.
I taught myself to read and write Thai with a Linguaphone book and within six months could write a postcard.
My visas were renewed either by going to Padang Besar or the Thai embassy in Penang. I favored bus to Hat Yai, diesel taxi thereafter. Each trip came after getting tax clearance at Banglamphu.
In 1986 I had a close shave with Immigration. A disgruntled wife of an Australian at another language school had reported me for working illegally but a guy whose name was very close to my own was arrested and locked up in Suan Phlu detention instead. (He’s a member on ASEAN NOW and these days a Thai citizen).
He had no passport and was deported while muggins got off scot free. I took my friend’s teaching hours and set up home with an English dentist in a rundown but quaint wooden house over a bit of duckweed surfaced klong in Thong Lo.
When HIS disgruntled girlfriend threatened to plant heroin in the rafters we relocated to an Indian owned block in Soi 39. The rent was 2,750 baht a month but I was earning 35K.
My first health scare in Bangkok was an amoebic liver abscess that developed after some dodgy Hoi Thot (mussel omelette). The doctor at St Louis said it was lucky my “tap” hadn’t burst.
Following a romantic disappointment with a lady from Ranong in 1988 I had a brief sojourn in Copacabana returning for the Cup Final when Liverpool lost to Wimbledon.
On the same day I met my first Thai wife, twelve years my senior, at the Peppermint in Patpong. We married in 1990 principally as I’d tired of those three monthly visa runs. We tied the knot in Bang Rak (The District of Love) and had a reception for two in Superstar after a burger at McDonald’s.
Children followed in 1992 and 1994.
In 1989 I bought my first bike for 39,000 baht – a yellow Honda MTX 125cc that I sold the next year and bought a “made from old parts” Honda Rebel 250. Many “steeds” followed, including a Steed.
I bought my first car in 1997, a Toyota Soluna for 373,000 baht. A mate drove it out of the showroom as I had no idea about the pedals.
I got bike and car licenses on the same day in 1998 which meant that “conversations” with plod at roadside checkpoints became a little easier.
In 1994 I got a job as Thai teacher at Bangkok Patana School after moving to Soi Lasalle. My first ever work permit said I taught maths as for some strange reason Thai teaching seemed to be reserved for Thais.
When the education minister came visiting I made myself scarce. In 1998 a very plummy and influential man called Stuart Morris hired me for a new school called Harrow International. He kindly tripled my salary.
At the interview he only asked me about Scrabble. After buying a copy of the Official Scrabble Players’ Dictionary at Asia Books near Villa I rose to represent Thailand in international competition becoming world ranked 19th in 1996 and champion of Asia in 1998. I still play five or six practice games a day in 2021.
Harrow was a 15 year blast that ended in 2013 with a two year “retirement” before I started work at Thaivisa as a translator in 2016.
I never divorced but my marriage disintegrated and I got hitched according to Buddhist tradition with the current Mrs Rooster, 15 years my junior, in 2004 and have lived with her in Ratchayothin ever since. I waited until my first kids had grown up before having a second brood.
Apart from having a son who followed me in supporting Spurs and a daughter who got a master’s degree from Oxford, one of the happiest and proudest moments was during the devastating floods that hit Bangkok and surrounding areas in 2011.
With missus number two we went in search of missus number one in Pathum Thani. We rowed in and found her happy to see us on the top floor of her now island house, living with her dog.
I then took both wives for a row in ten feet deep water around the estate, actually called The Lagoon. They both complained about my appalling rowing skills.
That house was the first one I’d bought in 1999. It cost me all my savings and I was obliged to sign a paper saying it was now my wife’s and I had nothing to do with it!
Since then I bought four condos (in my own name) and flipped several others. I built a large house for my second wife’s family about ten years ago fulfilling a promise I made at my wedding.
I became a resident of Thailand in 2003 after collecting a mountain of paperwork and paying 20,000 baht (just in time as Mr Thaksin raised the prices thereafter).
I never bothered with citizenship as the right of abode was what I was after rather than having another nationality. Besides, I consider myself British and my Thai friends consider me Thai.
In conclusion, it’s been an interesting and varied life full of the ups and downs we all experience no matter where we live or who we are.
In preparation for writing this I asked a friend’s 13 year old daughter what was the biggest event of her young life explaining I was too young to remember JFK but mine was 9/11.
“Duh” she said with that scornful look like I was the oldest and most decrepit granddad she’d ever seen.
“Covid, of course”.
Sadly, she was absolutely right.
Nothing in our lives could have prepared us for this; in Thailand, especially Bangkok, in a truncated Week That Was due to my own ramblings, things got worse and worse.
Daily infections were up to nearly 15,000 at the time of writing with 100 plus deaths a day.
Foreigners over 75 were vaccinated at Bang Sue Grand Central Station and Rooster managed to register as a 60 year old for Astra Zeneca.
A BBC story – summed up by Rooster – slammed the government for its Covid-19 record.
Then Prayut said what a wonderful job he was doing on Facebook and managed to blame his compatriots in his inimitable fashion.
Labour minister Suchart then claimed that the Thai government was not discriminatory – always guaranteed to get a lather filled rise from the forum faithful.
Several people keeled over and died on the streets and sidewalks of the capital, at least two with the dreaded lurgy.
Much of the country was in lockdown and the Bangkok roads were quieter than Songkran except for the ubiquitous “Grabus Deliverus Motorcycus”, a noisy insect.
Some of the Phuket Sandbox tourists had to bus to Suwannaphum (my spelling) after domestic flights to deep red zones were cancelled for two weeks.
More restaurants closed in Pattaya and officials in Hua Hin doubted they’d be able to open to foreign tourists by October 1st.
The Buriram Moto GP was cancelled again.
Biggest stink was a Food Panda delivery guy who lost his job after mischief at the anti-government protests. Irate netizens called for a boycott and business rivals stepped into the void.
In crime news the callous Lopburi shooter, a school director, from February last year had his death sentence upheld while a hill tribe man who buried his building contractor boss under a Taling Chan house in concrete, was found wandering in his homeland of Doi Tung soon after.
They always return home, don’t they?
Finally, the pawnshop owners surprisingly said that business was dire.
They explained the reason.
Many Thais had nothing left to pawn.