Tuesday, 19 February 2013

Freewheelin’ in S.E.A - Day 40: Back to the future


After what felt like five minutes sleep, our 5 o’clock alarm rang. This would be the last time I wake in a bed that wasn’t my own, the last time I have to carry all of my possessions in a half-broken bag, on a half broken back, out of a half-broken hotel, the last blurry Bangkok morning I would witness through hazy eyes. I wasn’t ready. I could’ve stayed for at least a few months more, although I needed to stop living so I could catch up on my adventures. See, the life of a writer is a difficult balance between living and writing. If you're not out living the moments, you will have no experiences to draw from in your work, but if you're doing too much living you can scarcely find the time to get your experiences documented, and you end up with a back-log of life weighing you down as you get around. I'm searching for a happy medium, but think perhaps it can only be achieved with great discipline. I've always been a naughty boy. Exhaling the last of our smoke out of the window I went to get some water from the 7-Eleven. As I returned back down the narrow alleyway, I saw a Thai girl coming towards me, doing the walk of shame from our hotel. I assumed it was my brief neighbour, although it could have been one of many. I gave her a cheeky smile as she approached, one of those ‘I know what you’ve been up to’ grins, and she gave me a friendly little punch in the arm as she passed. I would miss this place.

God was waiting to wish us goodbye
After a few minutes our mini-van arrived and whisked us away from Four Sons Place. One thing I wasn’t going to miss was the crazy driving, as much as I enjoy the thrill of fearing for my life in near-death experiences, ten times a day was a bit too much. Still, the lunatic got us to the airport in good time, we checked in our dead weights and I felt like Atlas, with the weight of the world finally removed from his shoulders. I did a little boogaloo, moonwalk, and electric slide through passport control and boarded the sixth flight of my trip, which would be taking us back to India. I had hoped to spent this time like all the other spare time I’ve had, writing, but my mind was too tired to concentrate on such things and I spent it instead staring blankly at a screen which had some shit film or another  for me to doze along to. Sarah and I were both excited to land in Delhi, secretly hoping that a problem with the plane would mean we had to stay for the day, however, no such luck occurred. Still, we had a few hours in the airport which we’d gone home from a year before and we first visited a store which did free henna so that Sarah could get her hand done again. There was also a guy doing free palm readings, so I sat down with him on a tiny stool, offering my hands as reading material. He took them and then started explaining each line in detail. He said I had two head lines, which is very unique, but also meant that I over think. A running theme in my life, it seems. He said I had a long lifeline which has no breaks, meaning I won’t suffer any big illnesses along my journey. He told me that I’d be lucky up until the age of forty-five, and then I’d have to work harder to achieve what I want. He said that I had good karma, a good balance between hard work and luck, and good creative mercury, but I won’t be satisfied with my level of fame. He told me about the power of stones, telling me that I should try and get a 7 carat emerald on a silver ring and wear it on Wednesdays to improve my creative mercury and gave me a card, offering to guide me in more detail if I ever wished. That’s the second day in a row that I’d been pretty satisfied with fortunes for the future, and both were similar, so I must be doing something right.

Sarah had something on her phone which allowed us access into a fancy lounge where you could have a drink, eat and wait for your flight. Everything was my favourite price, free, so I filled my boots with a variety of different Indian dishes, snacks and a rum and coke, mixed extra strong on my request. Within an hour our flight number 111 was called and we swiftly boarded and got seated by the emergency exits, which is always a blessing for my long legs, thanks to a bit of pre-planning with my friend Johnny who works for Air India in London. Even though I’d just recently eaten, I had a good go on the Indian food that was served on-board, not wanting to miss out on another free meal, although this time I washed it down with a valium, and then edited some of my writing until my eyes grew heavy. I must’ve slept for around two hours and awoke to an announcement from one of the cabin crew asking for any doctors on-board to make themselves known. I felt sad upon hearing that, it was the first time I wished that I’d listened to my Dad when I was eight, and become a doctor. Still, I wrote that everything would be ok and it was written. No further alarm.

Our wheels bounced down on the ground of London town, nobody cheered as the pilot told us that the temperature was 2 degrees centigrade. I stepped off of the plane feeling positively buoyant, almost giddy, which could be put down to my lack of sleep, or the knowledge of the present I had left myself at home. No more expensive twigs, only the most darling of buds. We navigated our way through baggage collection, then customs, where I stopped at their ‘anything to declare’ section to declare that I love Sarah, before making our way onto the tube. I sent a message to my best friends to let them know their boy was back in town and was delighted to received a reply from Mike, reminding me that we had tickets to see The Dandy Warhols that Thursday at an underground club called Heaven, which to me sounds more like a cunning trick by the Devil to attract people to Hell. It was amusing to witness London’s tube culture after forty days away, until I ended up having to shout at two naughty teenage French boys for constantly trying to open the door of our moving train. ‘Ain’t nobody got time fo’ that’. We didn’t have time for anything other than getting back to Bethnal Green as quickly as possible, and everyone else smiled at me for telling them off. It was the first time in a long time that I’d acted like an adult. I didn’t like it.

It was freezing outside and we couldn’t face waiting for the bus with our bags, so we took a taxi from Bethnal to our Hackney home, which I managed to haggle, still in holiday mode, and arrived through the door of our expectedly messy manor to cheers from our housemates. Henry, Pete and Damien were gathered in the living room and welcomed us back with huge hugs, Henry throwing his stinky bag of skunk at me, which I immediately rolled into a homing missile and aimed directly towards my lungs. We spent an hour with our family of friends and then made our way upstairs where a big hot bath was waiting. We both climbed in together and lay in the heat watching steam hit the ceiling as the knowledge that we were no longer travellers with the world at our feet started to sink in. This automatically made mine itchy, but that’s to be expected, you cannot stay on the rollercoaster forever or you’ll never know what it’s like to queue, the anticipation of excitement is half the fun, and now was the time to anticipate the future. I knew that I had much to be getting along with, at least three books worth of material to release, music to finish working on and a script or two to finally write, once I’d transferred each days’ worth of memories from this trip onto page.

Although it could be looked upon as the end of an adventure, I still have a mountain to climb and with the support of my best friends, lover and all of my fellow Freewheelers, I’m certain I will overcome everything before me.


Tuesday, 12 February 2013

Freewheelin’ in S.E.A - Day 39: Sex, Shower, Spliff

We slowly rose at 10am, chucked on some clothes and headed straight to Milano the tailors to meet Sanjay. On the way there I was stopped by a plump Indian fellow who wore a blue turban and we started talking whilst Sarah was checking out some dresses at a market stall. He told me that he was a fortune teller and could see into my future. I’d wanted to see a fortune teller for quite some time now but had yet to get the chance, so I gave him a few minutes of my time and listened carefully to what he had to say, sceptically seeking signs of fraudulence. He first asked me to think of a colour and guessed blue correctly, probably quite easy to implant, if you know what you’re doing. He told me that December 21st 2012 (the date of the supposed end of the world) would be lucky for me, and that my aura would be cleansed. He asked my date of birth and told me that I wasn’t born on a good day for me, but I’d live a long and healthy life until I’m eighty eight years old. Jesus. He told me various other things, like I’d soon have a new job, I’m a peaceful, happy man and I have a clear temple but I think too much. No shit. He told me that I have good karma and would become successful and famous. He was trying to get me to pay him about £20 for a full reading, however, my funds were all but spent and I doubted Sarah was willing to fund it and then wait, so I thanked the man and went to meet Sanjay. We walked in to see a maroon pair of trousers hanging there, in the same colour I’d chosen for in the jacket, however we’d asked for black trousers and this little error worried us slightly. Sanjay apologised and I ended up saying I’d take both colours as they looked nice and I got them cheaply. The jacket was dropped off shortly after, but I was in no rush, talking football with my new homie until it arrived. I tried it on and he marked out the exact fit and length I wanted, and then off we went to grab a quick bite before returning to our hotel for the beautifully alliterated combination of sex, shower and spliff.

We jumped into a cab full of creepy crawlies which took us back to Chatuchak market, where I’d been twice before, once with my hostel crew and once with Sarah. We spent a few hours running around, spotting so many things which we wanted for our imaginary future home and haggling our way around, getting lots of nice bits and pieces at knock-down prices. The pick of the litter was a carved wooden elephants head with a lamp light framed above it, which shines down upon the dark brown head and the elephants on either side. Sarah also bought a traditional puppet to go with the ones we’d bought in India and we also got more little gifts for friends and family. With our money now drastically disappearing and the night sky settling, we headed back to Khao San road, went into our room to try and pack everything we had into our bags, and sparked up a cannon as the Arsenal match kicked off on the TV. Tottenham scored within a few minutes, our former player and general scumbag Emmanuel Adebayor putting one in, but unlike last time, he didn’t run the whole length of the pitch to celebrate in front of his former clubs fans. In a fantastic turn of events, he was swiftly sent off after a horrendous tackle on our genial midfield man Santi Cazorla, and we got a goal back shortly after. Sarah and I had to go and meet Sanjay for the final fitting, so we made our way out and down in the elevator. As we walked along the alley there was a guy standing at the end, eyes closed and hands to the skies in a salute to whichever God he worshipped. I smiled at him as he came back to Earth and he looked up and said “Ping pong show?” I laughed at the contrast between his actions, and gratefully declined. He said “Are you London?” In a sporting mood I replied “Arsenal” and he said “Ahhh, 1-1” referencing the score which I was unsure how he was aware of.

Sanjay said the jacket was coming and took us to the outdoor bar nearby, ordering pints for the three of us. We sat chatting, watching the score-line increase as the ten men of our Tottenham rivals struggled to deal with the constant attacks, and then he shot off back to his shop, which was still open and attracting customers, leaving us there awaiting his return. The game finished 5-2, a perfectly happy ending to the trip on the footballing front, now all that was left was my suit. It was getting really late but I trusted Sanjay, and I was right to, because despite the delay, my tuxedo style maroon jacket with black lapels and black trousers both came back looking and fitting like a dream. He was a little more expensive than the original guy in Phuket, but worth every penny of the still minimal price for a tailor-made, bespoke suit. We both thanked our new friend and bid him farewell, returning to the gauntlet for one last stroll. Sarah’s remaining money was burning a hole in my pocket and when I came across another elephants head, this time a bejewelled version which had been painted red, I told her I had to have it. The salesman was deaf, but it didn’t stop him from whacking huge sums into his calculator, and me replying with low-ball amounts at the other end of the spectrum. I think I got it for around a quarter of what he started on, my final haggle of the holiday. We got a couple cheap shopping bags to take as hand luggage and returned to fill them with the last bits which our cases couldn’t take, and stuff for the flight home. Sarah fell asleep with ease as usual, but I struggled, it was too early for me. I rolled around on the bed trying to get comfortable and as the bottom sheet rode upwards I realised that it wasn’t just the pillow which was covered in a leathery feeling plastic, but the mattress too, which left me slightly puzzled. I heard footsteps in the hallway and the slam of the door next to ours, then within a few minutes strange noises. At first I thought it was a couple fighting, but a few moans and multiple pained groans later had me left with little doubt that there was some hardcore fucking going on. As furniture banged and screams rang out along the corridor, the purpose of the plastic pillow and bed finally made sense, the room was spunk proof, and the hotel was in all likeliness probably a low price haven for whore-mongers, who had no care where they sprayed their jizz, as long as it was being sprayed. The bed grew even less comfortable, but thankfully it didn’t last forever. Once my neighbour had seemingly stopped smashing his lady to pieces, I was happy to get a couple of hours shut-eye before our van to the airport arrived. I guess at least my day ended with a bang.

Wednesday, 6 February 2013

Freewheelin’ in S.E.A - Day 38: The beginning of the end, again

Peace be with you, and a side order of fries.

In every story, there comes a point which can be defined as the beginning of the end. This is that part, rolling slowly into Bangkok at 4.30am surrounded by smog and dark grey skies, which were slowly becoming lighter shades of the same dull tones. Gone were the beaches, gone was the sunshine, gone was the time, and we’d soon be following suit, getting gone, from here to there to still remain, in-part, everywhere. We’d planned to wind down over the next two days, do a bit of shopping and run a few last minute errands, but first, we needed a place to stay. We sleepily exited the bus and got straight into a taxi which took us to the Khao San road, where I’d spent an entertaining evening on my second night with the gang from the Lub D hostel. I went to find a decent place to spend our last nights, and after checking out two terrible looking joints I found one in a small hotel called Four Sons Place, which seemed clean and neat, bright white walls, black wardrobe and desk, flat-screen Tell Lie Vision and an en-suite wet-room, for roughly £13 a night. Done.

By the time we’d headed out for breakfast it was 8am and we sat in a big, quiet bar/restaurant, watching the last men standing from the night before, still boozing at a much busier pub across the road. There were a few Thai girls hanging around and we sat amused as a chubby, chavvy, bald dude practically begged one of them to come back with him, before getting into a small disagreement with some other leftover guy that she was making eyes at. I assumed he’d been buying her drinks there for hours, and now in the still light of morning, she just wanted to go home alone. You wouldn’t have blamed her. Before we did anything, we needed to snooze, broken bus sleep leaving us still shattered. We slept away the morning, swimming a bit more steadily into the afternoon. I’d found the name of a decent local tailor online and wanted to inquire into the possibility of having a new suit thrown together for me in the same style as the one which the tailor fucked up in Phuket. I walked in and was greeted by Sanjay, who assured me that despite the time constraints, it was definitely do-able. He measured me up again, as Sarah again gave clear instructions and we were again assured that it’d be fine. We told him of the last place and how they’d not listened and he promised all would be perfect. It turned out that Sanjay was a massive Arsenal fan, and I excitedly chatted with the first fellow follower I’d found in a while about current form and our oncoming derby against our arch-rivals Tottenham Hotspur. I asked him where it would be shown on TV and he said ‘everywhere’, but that he usually watches it at a nearby Irish owned bar. I said I’d probably join him there tomorrow and he told us to return at 10am the following morning for a first fitting. It turned out that Sanjay and his co-worker were Burmese, which automatically excited Sarah as she had set up and led an Amnesty International group at university and based her whole fashion collection on the Free Burma campaign. She asked if he would write something in Burmese which she’d wanted to get tattooed for a few years but didn’t know any Burmese people who could translate it, and after some deliberation he handed her back a piece of paper which apparently read ‘Freedom for all’ in his native script. I asked him if he knew of any areas or markets which were more Indian based as I wanted to search for some new princely robes, and he told us to go to the Phahurat market to find what we seek.


It was nearing 5pm as we were dropped off by our tuk tuk Tony, and rushed into the market which would soon be closing on a mission to find their sexiest Sherwanis, which I get taken up and wear as shirts, and there seemed to be a good few planted around, but nothing perfect. We walked into an outdoor market section which all seemed to be packing away, and found a stall which had a few I quite liked after trying on. I opted for a black one, which had a tunic collar, a body of beads and fancy embroidery. I managed to haggle the tired looking Indian Mama down to the reasonable price of around £20. It would’ve been half that in India, just like everything else, but I had something nice to add to my collection of evening and stage wear. Obviously I don’t wear them to bed. We went back into the market and found another shop which had some in a display cabinet. I looked through loads and liked a few, but she was going crazy on the haggle front, starting me at something like £80 each. I opted just to buy one, explaining that my endless pot of imaginary money wasn’t so endless, or imaginary. She understood, but I had my heart set on a deep dark red one with a shimmering paisley print woven into the cloth, sporting a collar and embroidery that only a Prince could pull off, and I was rocking it royally. We managed to get her down to £40, and Sarah said that she’d treat me to it for Christmas, which was handy for the both of us, as good presents are often hard to come by and you rarely end up getting something you really want or need without asking. Happily skipping out and past some more shops along the outside Sarah saw a sign which said ‘Masala Dosa’ and nearly had a heart attack. A masala dosa is a south Indian crepe, traditionally filled with potatoes, onions and various spices, cooked to a crisp and served with Sambar, a curry-like side dish and coconut chutney. They are delicious, and pretty hard to come by. We rushed in with tummies turning in anticipation and were not disappointed, being shot straight back to New Delhi on first bite, our last night there, which was very similar to today. We thanked the owner, gave our compliments to the chef, placed a good tip with the pittance we’d paid and left them with love. Namaste.

Masala Dosa and a happy customer

Next stop was a loose end which needed tying up, so we headed to Silom, first taking Sarah around the night market, which is bang in the middle of the red light district, getting some odd bits and pieces to give as gifts to folks back home and somehow getting lost in the neon Jungle. I could’ve sworn I knew those streets like the back of my hand, but in all honesty I don’t know the back of my hand very well at all, and it showed. After walking for what seemed like an age in the night time humidity of this sweaty city, we came upon a place I remembered, and then the woe was over. I entered the building where my journey began, and greeted the guy on reception fondly. It was he who recommended the museum of the arts to Brady and I on my first proper day there, and he let me into the luggage storage room where I’d faithfully left my Mac jacket and Chelsea boots after swiftly realising that they were surplus to requirements. I dug them, safe and sound, from behind a load of cases on a shelf, signed it out and thanked the guys, wishing them many blessings.

Buggin' Out

Finally our days work was nearing an end, and we hopped into a tuk tuk so Tony 2 could drop our tired bodies back at the Khao San Road, unfortunately, he dropped us at the wrong entrance, meaning we had to walk all the way down to the other end through a gauntlet of tourists shopping the night markets, and boozed up revellers stumbling around, to get  back to our hotel room. Perfect. The noise pollution on this street was ridiculous, at any one standing spot you could probably sing along and dance to five different songs, with a football stadiums worth of chanting and shouting over the top. There were people everywhere on this street, where the seedy underworld entwined so flawlessly with the seemingly innocent, creating a vibrant mess of civilisation building itself up and knocking itself down simultaneously. I liked it. There was a good vibe. After twenty five minutes of fighting through various opponents, we reached our sanctuary. I started my ritualistic writing, and after another of my days immortalised on page I became hungry. It was the barbeque meats we’d walked by on the way back, they always get me. I hit the streets on a solo mission, up and down between stalls to score a Pad Thai with chicken and squid from one street vendor, and a pineapple shake from another, returning to my lady with some tasty eats for the equivalent of £2 in total. We scoffed the lot, Sarah passed out, and I continued with my consistently expanding memoirs until 4am, when I rested my head on what seemed to be a plastic covered pillow, which I recycled into a cloud and floated off on.

Gauntlet of goons

Freewheelin’ in S.E.A - Day 37: Dead and Breakfast

Our breakfast dining area
I jolted upright in our huge comfy bed and quickly jumped out. There are few things that can make a man act this way upon waking, one of which is an all you can eat breakfast, which is exactly what we had coming. I looked out from our balcony and heard talking, so I knew some of the others were already down in the poolside dining area. I shook Sarah like an excited kid does to his mother on Christmas morning, throwing clothes at her, then rushing downstairs to have my hung-over hunger satiated. James, Andrea and Taijahna were already seated at a round, rotating table which had a variety of cereals, croissants, pastries and juices. One of the staff on hand came straight over to take our order and we asked for the full works to help steady our heads. A few minutes later and we were delivered plates with sausage, eggs, bacon, hash browns, mushrooms and toast. Half way through I asked for more bacon and hash browns, which were cooked up swiftly and brought over as I continued to gouge away, adding various baked goods to my plate. Richard arrived looking slightly faded, with a fresh faced Aimi beside him, then the bride and groom arrived, wearing matching robes that had their names embroidered in the back, which the resort had made especially for them. We sat chatting and admiring our beautiful surroundings, wishing we could somehow stay there for longer, but we only had the place until 4pm so we returned to our suite to make the most of the big bath, and sat soaking, staring out across the sea in a state of bliss.
The view of Heaven  from down on Earth
As much as I enjoyed the comfort of staying in such lavish dwellings, where everything is taken care of and everything you need is to hand, I couldn’t help feeling slightly like an imposter, like a hobo that had drunkenly stumbled through a back door and somehow ended up being served dinner in Buckingham Palace. I’m sure most of this places guests didn’t stroll in with over-stuffed back packs and joints hanging out of their mouths, but what can I say, that’s how I roll, no need to put on any airs when you’re already flying. So fresh and so clean, clean, we fell together onto our bed and christened it as the most expensive bed we’d ever had the pleasure of making dirty, proudly rolling around and making the most of it, before our forthcoming evening spent trying to sleep in a bus seat all night. We packed most of our stuff, then returned to the poolside, where Alexa’s mum Karen and her brother Easton had joined us to swim and sunbathe for the afternoon. Sat in paradise, catching rays, is definitely not a bad way to waste a day. Unfortunately the sands of our hourglass had all but fallen, and a cab arrived to take Sarah and I to the bus station. We thanked Alexa and Hayden, wishing them all the best for their honeymoon and said goodbye to our temporary family of friends, whom we had both greatly grown to love. The doors closed, and we were on the road again. After forty-five minutes we reached the bus station, bought two tickets for the night bus to Bangkok, then waited an hour in a little cafe getting some cheap, local grub from a serve yourself buffet. Our bus was ready to depart at 5.30pm, and we boarded, leaving our bags stored below. We amused ourselves doing arrow word puzzles until it became too dark, then I spent an hour or two tapping away at my keyboard, still ascending the mountain which you’ve been reading, until I became tired around 9pm. I popped a valium and it knocked me out. I was shaken back to life around midnight, as the bus jolted me upright in my seat, so I popped my second helping and faded back to black. An off switch to life is a tempting thing to have, however I’d tend not to opt for such an easy way out if I wasn’t stuck between two narrow chairs for 12 hours. Either way, needs must, and they worked a charm. No harm.

Relaxing beside our own personal infinity pool

Monday, 4 February 2013

Freewheelin’ in S.E.A - Day 36: Love is in the air. The air is everywhere.

The sun rose in the east and planted a kiss upon the chest of the westerly moon which was stirring in the sky. I opened the curtains and space disappeared, making way for wedding bells to ring. We grabbed our growing sacks of crap and chucked them on our backs, marching in the boiling heat towards the bride’s hotel. The sun was shining for them and we were thankful that it had chosen a good day. We got to Alexa, who was chilling out in her room and seemed like she didn’t have a worry in the world. She had her wonderful husband to be, her friends and family, and we were all in a tropical paradise, so I suppose it makes sense that she was like that, however I thought I’d get to see some stereotype of a bride panicking about her hair or shoes, or cake, or veil, or dress, but no, nothing. She was cooler than an iPhone 6 wearing sunglasses and a BOY London baseball cap.

I went off to find a place where I could print the poems which I’d written for Alexa and Hayden, as they’d asked me to read them later on at the wedding. Once sorted I went up and down the roads trying to find the cheapest quote on bus tickets to Bangkok for the following day but had no joy and gave up, returning to the girls who were dancing around the room listening to a DJ playlist on my iPod called ‘Music to make girls dance’. Perfect. Our cab arrived and we were whisked away, bidding Patong beach farewell as we made our way out and up along the coastal road towards Phuket town. For their special day Hayden and Alexa had hired a five-star luxury villa at a place called Andara resorts, along the west coast of Phuket on Kamala beach. Just driving in was like entering another world, a palatial building with black marble floors and warm wooden walls, beautifully decorated and dripping with class. A vast step up from the wooden huts on the river that we’d enjoyed three days previously. The villa they originally wanted, number twenty-four, was unavailable, but the owner of another had agreed to let them rent his for the wedding. There were thirty villas which increased in both size and bedrooms as their numbers got higher. We were in number thirty. Pure swank. After thirty five days roughing it, and a whole life mostly void of the fancier things, I was looking forward to seeing ‘how the other half live’, as were Sarah and Alexa. From the moment we walked in, people were there on-hand for whatever was needed. I left my maid of honour with the mother of the bride to take care of Alexa, and carried my own backpack towards our suite, I always feel too bad to let one of the little locals carry it as I know how heavy it is and I’m bigger than them. We jumped in a little car/buggy hybrid and whizzed up a driveway which wound around to a big gate. The gate opened and I walked along the pathway, towards a staircase. I was led by a member of staff to a great wooden door which slid open to reveal a beautiful looking room with a king sized bed, which had two towels folded and twisted to resemble a pair of swans which together form a love heart sitting on top of its plump looking duvet, a huge flat screen TV, wooden floors, wardrobes and ceiling, a sliding door which led to a balcony, two sinks, a wet room and the biggest bath I’d ever seen, which I immediately started running. It had been five weeks without having one of my beloved baths I was ready to freshen up in style. I rolled myself a jazz cigarette and sat out on the balcony, looking across at the Andaman Sea in all of its deep, blue glory as the sun shone down upon it. The bath was taking a very long time to get full but luckily I had every goal from the most recent premier league football games being played back on the wall, which was an adequate distraction. I asked one of the workers for an ironing board and iron so I could smarten out my garm’s and did my first bit of ironing in three years. It was still a waste of time. I then called reception and asked them for the wireless password and was very surprised to discover it was ‘ZION8888’, leading me to believe I was in the holiday home of some powerful religious zealot.  I daren’t lay on the bed or mess up our pretty swans until Sarah had her chance to witness the room, before it gets Dionified with my upturned bag and general spreading of crap, but I waited for a good half an hour, making myself busy until the huge bath was finally run. When I got to it, the water was ten times hotter than it was when I’d left it, so I then had to start adding cold. Unfortunately time was running out, everyone was meant to be downstairs by 4.30pm and it was already 4, so I had to get into the boiling hot bath and have the shower head constantly cooling different bits of my burning body and slowly lowering the bath temperature. It was a disappointing situation to say the least, but I don’t think a wet Dion running over half way through the service smelling like bubble bath would’ve been a viable option, so I hopped out, had a cool blast with the shower then got dry and ready in a matter of minutes.

I left my towel by the sink, along with my hair stuff and a brush, then rushed downstairs to be greeted by James and his gorgeous little girl Taijahna, and Hayden’s brother Darryn, who is a professional photographer and was snapping pictures of them and some other guests, awaiting the arrival of the bride to be and her entourage. Within five seconds the heat took its toll, even in the late afternoon it was sweltering. They had the walkway set up so that it led onto the infinity pool, where Hayden and Richard were stood, having a quiet exchange with the minister. Hayden was in very good spirits, as ever the superstar Superman, but you could see a few nerves as he cracked jokes and paced around, waiting for the love of his life to arrive. I saw Aimi, and asked if I could join her, since both of our partners were on duty with the bride and groom, and we sat together getting increasingly excited at the beautiful scene. Then some movement started, people positioning themselves for the oncoming arrival of the bride and Darryn running towards the gate to get some snaps. Next came the music, and I looked down to see the bride making her way towards us, with my lover following behind smiling. They both looked gorgeous, tip toeing over scattered flowers until Alexa met Hayden above the pool and they looked at each other with such love, and readiness. The ceremony started and the Australian minister who was leading the service very casually started reeling off facts about  the meaning of love, Greek gods, and some other stuff that seemed to have everybody a bit lost as they sat admiring the brides stunning dress, she looked beautiful and he handsome, the perfect match for this fairytale. It came time for the vows, which they’d written themselves, and they did not disappoint, both making such heartfelt dedications to each other, promising the world in such a way that you’d have to believe they will receive it. It was too much for Aimi and I, sat there crying our eyes out at the lovely display.

If it wasn’t for this moment, so many moments would have been missed. My journey was only decided upon because Sarah and I were invited to witness these two spirits come together, and without that, none of the experiences I’ve had would have happened at the time that they did, and never in the same way again. I was grateful they’d given me the excuse to see some more of the world and escape London for an extended break, and this magnificent scene was the culmination of Everything.

They each had a glass of sand in a different colour and a larger empty chalice in-between them. They lifted their glasses, simultaneously pouring their sand into the new container, joining their separate lives together in matrimony as the sun lowered behind them. The groom kissed the bride, the bride kissed the groom, Aimi and I cried some more and our other halves signed the witness declaration, then returned to our loving arms, where we all gathered to throw flower petals at the newlyweds. After a half an hour of photographs with everybody, whilst knocking back constant glasses of champagne, it was now dark and we were loaded into two vans and driven out of our villa and down to the nearby beach. We were each given sky lanterns, which we lit, and let go after making wishes for the bride and groom, then watching them as they quickly rose, slowly disappearing from sight. Back at the villa, dinner was served, and it was out of this world, a buffet of numerous fancy dishes, of which everything tasted divine. Soft shell crab, fish, prawns, various meats, curries, the lot. Some of the best food I’d ever eaten. There was even somebody on hand at our table who kept filling Sarah’s glass of water every time she had more than a sip. To say we were well looked after would be an understatement. I popped back up to our suite quickly and was amazed to see that in the time I’d been away somebody had come in, replaced my wet towel and placed my hair stuff on a small towel, neatly by the sink. Blew my mind. If I’d known they were that good I would have jumped on the bed earlier, when I had time to burn waiting for my bath. Back downstairs it was time for speeches, Richard went first and nailed the best man speech with ease, lightening the already bright mood further with tales of his and Hayden’s past drunken adventures and saying some genuinely nice things about both bride and groom. Alexa’s Dad followed, seeming very happy and proud at his successful, lovely daughter and her new lovely husband, and Hayden’s father put in a good turn too, cracking everybody up just like you’d expect an Australian Dad to do. I was up next, and took a minute to explain how much of a powerful blessing it is to witness true love such as theirs, and how I knew they were on a good path for the future, because they have something very special between them. I then read the poem I’d written a few days earlier whilst on the long-tail boat in Khao Sok, followed by another which I’d written prior, which went:

'Something special here is found, four feet floating happily above the ground,
we gather celebrating the love they’ve made, which grows a little more from day to day.
With those two rings, you’ve become one, your love burns brighter than the sun,
together, safe when harsh winds blow, you’ll warm each other through the rain and snow.

We all know that whatever the weather, like birds of a feather you’ll stick together,
under each other’s wings you’ll fly, two souls becoming stars that light up the sky.
Live for one another, until the end, and cherish every day you spend,
be strong, united, forever stand, you can take on the world when you’re holding hands.

We’re here to witness true love combined, creating something that’s divine,
so kiss the bride and kiss the groom, let pride and happiness fill the room.
We’ll toast your future and your past, share this joy and raise a glass,
whilst you dedicate your hearts to each other’s lives, as Alexa’s husband, and Hayden’s wife.'

Believe it or not, in 35 days of travelling, this was the first time anybody had asked me to read something. Considering it’s what I do, I did find that a bit strange, and a bit of a shame for them, but I didn’t ask any office workers to send an email for me either, so it’s fair enough I suppose. It was an honour to have been asked to take part, and it went down perfectly. Two of my best friends had gotten married earlier in the year and they had the groom’s auntie read some horrible piece about doing the housework and shit, instead of getting me to write one for them, which I didn’t really get, but perhaps he was worried I was going to expose our history of mushrooms and weed to his unaware parents. Nevertheless, Alexa and Hayden followed me, thanking everybody for travelling across the world to join them and then BOOM out of nowhere the guitar and saxophone came out and they started doing a duet, Alexa’s delightfully strong singing voice accompanied by a backing track whilst Hayden strummed a few numbers and made his way around the saxophone in a virtuoso fashion as we all danced along and cheered them on. It was brilliant. After a few songs the P.A broke, so we switched over to a playlist for the rest of the evening. We were steadily getting through the drinks as we sat around chatting, and at 10pm Hayden informed me that he’d just had to pay a small fortune to hire the staff for an extra hour to continue serving us all the free drinks, and we had an hour to get our monies worth. Game on. Sarah and I repeatedly took it in turns to get each other glasses of vodka and orange, which we’d swiftly take in the elevator, one floor up, to the fridge in our room. By the time the hour was over, we had at least twelve glasses, as well a few beer bottles and ten shots of tequila, which I had one of the waiters measure out for me before they left. As our numbers depleted we were left with just those who were staying at the villa, Hayden and Alexa, Richard and Aimi, James and Andrea, Darryn, Sarah and I. Hayden pulled out his guitar and strummed away as we all sang along to ‘Killing me softly’ by the Fugees whilst Sarah rolled up some confetti, before getting into our swimsuits and diving into the pool for a late night swim. It was weird being in such a place after all the staff had left, the whole villa was truly our playground and we had a great time knocking back shots and hanging out together. The guys asked if I’d read them some other poems of mine and I delivered ‘The Ballad of James Tanner’ and ‘The World of the Day’ which they all admitted enjoying more than the lovey-dovey, family friendly pieces from earlier.

Musical matrimony
A well-stocked fridge
By this point it was 1am and we went into the games room. It was another huge space which had a pool table, a ping pong table, another huge flat screen television (a feature in every room) and its own kitchen, complete with popcorn machine. I excitedly tried to work out how to use it, and found a can of unpopped corn, as well as all the salt and boxes to put it in, the only thing I couldn’t find was a can opener. I looked all around for one but no joy. I refused to be defeated, looking at the can again, and then I realised that it wasn’t made of tin. I grabbed the only thing I could find, a biro pen, and came down upon it with a stab, like John Travolta in the overdose scene in ‘Pulp Fiction’, tearing a hole in the side of the can. I ripped it open and got the machine popping, and within a few minutes, we were all munching on some salty goodness as we shot pool and listened to The Beatles. Darryn was off on one and kept disappearing on solo missions, running around the huge empty villa and returned telling us how he’d done a few naked laps in the pool. Unfortunately on his way back he’d smashed his foot on a step, which had left his little toe sticking outwards away from the others, clearly broken. He seemed pretty confused by it, and said “Cool, I’ve never broken a bone before”. Sarah went off to get our first aid kit and I joined him in his room as he was feeling queasy at the thought of her bandaging it, and needed to be sick. I stood with him, and his vomiting made me need to do the same, so I emptied a ridiculous amount of sympathy sickness into the toilet bowl too, drastically lessening my forthcoming hangover, before joining him on the bed to be bandaged by Sarah. We returned to the others to find the bride laid out on the sofa, sleeping like an angel as the groom and best man noisily attempted to play ping pong in their inebriated states. As the clock struck 4, there could be no more, and we each made our way to our bedroom doors, wishing each other a good night’s sleep after an amazing day. Cupid stayed awake, watching over every room, feeling successful in his work.


Friday, 1 February 2013

Freewheelin’ in S.E.A - Day 35: Early rising and happy endings

Koh Phi Phi

After roughly four hours slumber our 7am alarm sounded, shaking us out of bed and towards Alexa and Hayden’s hotel for our early departure to visit a few surrounding islands with most of the wedding party. The sixteen of us loaded into a van and were driven roughly an hour away from Patong beach, finally reaching the pier where we were to depart from. We loaded onto our boat which had a large cabin with around one hundred seats, and a roof deck which we all proceeded to climb up to, catching a good forty-five minutes of the new morning’s sun before reaching Khai island. The main man on the boat who was guiding us with regards to the activities had a very interesting mic technique. Interesting in as much as he spoke with a deep boom, like a boxing announcer, and repeated everything he said a minimum of three times. “So now, we are at Khai island, we are at Khai island. We have one hour to spend snorkelling, to spend snorkelling, one hour at Khai island, to spend snorkelling. One hour”. It was fantastically amusing/annoying to listen to, but we did as instructed and stepped ashore. It was a tiny island with quite a disturbing amount of litter spoiling the yellow sand, which was covered almost entirely with sun-loungers. It was clearly a haven for tourists on flying visits who didn’t really care where they threw their rubbish, and small food stores who didn’t mind how their customers got rid of their leftovers as long as they were buying snacks. We walked a hundred metres or so to the other side and were faced with roughly one hundred and fifty Chinese tourists in a small section of water, all snorkelling or posing for photographs with a variety of amusing poses and facial expressions. I joined them, diving under to admire the coral reefs and schools of fish which would gracefully swim by, almost unfazed by the movements of everybody around them. Being under the water was very peaceful and I took my time going from rock to rock, admiring all the different species that would come out to greet me before returning to their dark dwellings. The water was extremely choppy and we had to make our way back to the boat, unfortunately, due to their dock being smashed to pieces by a recent storm, they had a long line of blue and white blocks tied together, which floated on top of the water creating a wobbly walkway to get us back on the boat. The best man, Richard, and I helped everybody else along, and then bounced our way back to the safety of boat.

Hanging out in Heaven
After another thirty odd minutes of sailing, we arrived at Koh Phi Phi, the location where they shot ‘The Beach’ with Leonardo DiCaprio, and all jumped out excitedly to explore our beautiful surroundings. It wasn’t as peaceful or deserted as it is in the movie, what with a couple of hundred people scattered about the small space sunbathing, but Sarah, Richard, James and I swam across fifty metres of treacherous rocks covered by shallow water, to a secluded section where we lit up a peace pipe and passed it around. The difference between the two sides was drastic, and the seclusion created by the towering rock faces around us made things seem very peaceful. I could’ve stayed there for days but unfortunately we had a boat to catch so, after a little exploring, I followed the others back across, making it back to the boat just in time for it to set off towards Phi Phi town. A buffet was served on the boat and we all stuffed our hungry faces and sat chatting for the next thirty minutes before our final stop. Phi Phi town had a really laid back vibe to it, immediately after arriving we thought it was a shame we only had an hour, but Sarah and I made the most of it, setting off on our own to have a look around whilst the rest of the gang hit a bar to rest up with a drink. We headed towards the point where the Tsunami hit, but must’ve taken a wrong turn as we never made it there, instead we just found a beach which inexplicably had hundreds of huge black boulders all along the sand. Walking back, we checked out a few local stores and then returned to the boat, again just in time for it to set off. It is great being on tours and getting to see many different places in one go, however, I would’ve preferred to have spent the whole day on ‘The Beach’ instead of being given an hour at each place. Regardless we returned to the top deck, where Hayden pulled out his boom box, supplying us with some crunchy grooves to bop to as we sailed along the now calmer waters, getting a good burn going on our skin for the next hour and a half.
Cheeky monkeys
The Sea
We made it back to the pier where we started at and were met with a table full of plates. Upon inspection, I spotted one with a picture of me on it, then another with Sarah’s beautiful image. Despite the obvious tack, I thought they were worth the £2 each so I bought both, then we got into our awaiting van which drove us back on the long journey, through the evening traffic, finally arriving at the hotel in darkness. Absolutely shattered we showered then fell asleep, only to be woken by my 9pm alarm. It was time to see the tailor for my second and hopefully final fitting. Sarah was dead in bed but I managed to blackmail her into joining me, dragging her sleepy head up the road and into the shop. Again we waited, and waited, and then finally the suit arrived. I tried it on, and Sarah immediately spotted errors where after all of his bigging himself up, the tailor had not listened at all. There were pockets where there shouldn’t be, flaps where we said no flaps and the fit was far from perfect. She pulled it to pieces, obviously annoyed at how the moron had fed us lies about his competence when he was clearly just a bullshit guru. He wasn’t happy to have his failures pointed out, I wasn’t happy with his work, and due to him being unable to correct the whole thing by the morning he reluctantly handed back my 2000 baht deposit and I left feeling extremely disappointed. We spent pretty much our entire dinner time bitching about his stupidity, the waste of time and his utter disregard for his customers wishes, how he brushed off our requests so easily, as if he could psychically envision what I wanted. Arrogant fool.

Hayden and Richard had been talking earlier about getting an aloe vera massage and I thought it sounded good after our day getting blackened by the sun, however Sarah wasn’t interested, so she went back to the hotel and I went out on a mission to differentiate between massage parlours and brothels. After passing a few dubious looking joints, walking for about ten minutes, I came by a place with a price board outside and a few girls waiting. One immediately approached and asked if I wanted a massage, at which point I decided they’re probably all the same anyway, saying yes as I was taken inside by a chubby fifteen or sixteen year old with braces on her teeth, wearing some ridiculous silver, strappy platform shoes, which she removed at the door, and white socks. Very ‘on trend’. It turned out that she would be my masseuse, so I stripped off as instructed and laid on my front with a towel covering my bum. She proceeded in covering me with aloe vera and massaging my back and arms. She was nowhere near as good as the little gay fellow who I had in Chiang Mai, and I felt a little hard done by this time, as I lay on a thin mattress on the floor with her straddling my back. She asked me to roll over so she could do my front, and after a few minutes more, she asked if I wanted “special for 500 baht”. I said “Excuse me? What’s that?” and she said “Hand job” gesturing in a wanking motion. As much as I’d have liked a happy ending from a plump little dumpling of a child after an average-at-best massage, I declined her kind offer, at which point she all but gave up on my massage, leaving only one side of my front with the sun treatment. I requested that she finish what I’d paid for, which she did quickly, before getting my clothes on and running back to my sleepy lover to tell her of my encounter and requesting that she give me 500 baht’s worth of satisfaction. Never one to disappoint, I was gifted a very happy ending to another good day, and passed out within two seconds.

Freewheelin’ in S.E.A - Day 34: Underwater Angels & Jesus in Space

I was walking through a desolate city. Nobody else was there and the buildings were deserted and crumbling. Abandoned cars were scattered all along the low bridge that I was crossing, but there was a certain serenity to the chaotic scene. Everything was calm, like being out in the middle of a sea without waves. I peered over the side of the bridge to look into the water and saw my lover, laying in a shallow pool fifteen feet beneath me. I noticed her hands clenched around her throat, her legs kicking as she struggled and realised she was trying to kill herself. In an obvious panic, I immediately dived head-first into the water and arrived at a new day.

Now I don’t know about you, how realistic your dreams are, or whether you remember them at all, but for me, what I see is seen and often remembered as realistically as any other memory would be. Sometimes even realer than reality seems to be. Because of this, I could be excused for not really feeling the ‘vibe’ for anything other than getting over what I had witnessed. Despite this, Sarah and I headed to catch the final rays of an overcast day after waking up still drunk at 1pm, hitting Patong’s white sandy beach, a thriving spot for merchants who come by every few seconds doing their rounds to all the tourists, peddling everything from cans of 7up to wooden hands. There was nothing I wanted, except escapism, so I swam into the awaiting Andaman sea. The sea is where I want to end up. I know part of the sea is within me, just like Everything else, but I look forward to giving myself to it completely when I disappear, to remain still here. After some distance, I reached danger, as a bunch of loons riding jet-ski’s seemed to be heading incredibly near to where I’d set my target. I turned and hurriedly swam back to shallower waters, where I floated around with my arms stretched out, like a crucified Jesus in space, bringing my mind back to its positive centre.

I returned to Sarah and the ‘Steppenwolf’ and spent a couple of hours reading more about the books’ intriguing protagonist and his attempts to understand the world around his routine existence. Sarah decided that it was imperative that she got sausage and mash in order save her insides from creating a black hole, so we made our way back to the bar we’d had breakfast the previous day. On the way, we walked past a tailor’s which had a sign saying ‘2 suits for $79.99’. Always in the market for a bargain, I entered and we were swiftly sat down, our swimsuits dampening the owner’s red sofa as he loaded the table in-front of us with books featuring the collections of all the top designers. As always, Sarah’s skills in this field left me in good stead to get what I wanted made well and she explained everything in detail to the Indian owner, who assured us of how professional and experienced he was and how he guaranteed it would be great, whilst taking my measurements and talking to his colleague. Then came the pricing. What the sign didn’t say was that the advertised price only covers the making, and you still have to pay for the material on top. After a few ridiculous quotes and some subtracting of items, we agreed a good price of roughly £75 for the suit. Forty-five minutes later, with Sarah slowly fading away we left the tailor and got some grub, which replenished both body and mind with its simple homely Englishness.

After a few hours laid up in the comfort of our lovely Kamilla, entertaining each other as we always do, we then had to return to the tailors for the first fitting at 9pm. We needed the suit before we left for the forthcoming wedding, but they told us at the time that they have a very quick turnaround when needs be. After being sat waiting for around twenty minutes a tired Thai tailor arrived on a motorbike, chucked a strange looking rag of the maroon material I’d chosen over me, then chalked markers onto the shoulders before whipping it off of me and running away. The owner told us to return and collect the jacket the following evening, and then disappeared. We left and found an Egyptian restaurant, so stopped by for barbequed kebabs and hummus to finally rid us of the remaining poisons of the previous days. I was settled in the wake of the storm, and sat writing as Sarah slept. ‘300’ was on in the background, and as I rested my eyes I hoped that my Spartan compatriots would join me in my slumber, just in case the demons reawaken.

Wednesday, 30 January 2013

Freewheelin’ in S.E.A - Day 33: Superman’s Stag Party

Following a glorious lie in we awoke in each other’s arms around mid-day, stopping at yesterday’s football bar for a traditional English fry-up before heading into a nearby mall in search of some suitable footwear for the forthcoming wedding, due to storing my Chelsea boots at the Lub D hostel in Bangkok at the start of my trip. After strolling around and purchasing a few little bits and pieces for our future home, we went to a nearby market where I picked up some fake Birkenstock sandals for £4. That’ll do. We made our way back to our room, got showered and ready for the Stag and Hen parties, leaving our guest house around 7pm and taking a ten minute stroll to Alexa and Hayden’s fancy hotel, where all of the wedding party were gathering for drinks. It was lovely to see our soon-to-be happily married friends and being introduced to the thirty-odd family and friends who had flown over from England and Australia to this magical middle ground, to witness true love combined. I was introduced to Aimi, who was the female version of me in the sense that she was married to the best man, Richard, whereas the maid of honour, Sarah, was on my arm. Aimi informed me of Richards plans for all the guys to go and watch the Muay Thai boxing, and said he’d organised some VIP tickets for 2000 baht a pop if I wanted to join them. I jumped at the chance, it was something I had been interested in seeing, but there was no chance of going with Sarah who is not one for organised displays of violence. Richard took Hayden away after secretly distributing a bunch of Superman t-shirts to the six of us guys who had opted in for the boxing, and we all put on our kit for the evening. The groom and best man returned shortly after, Richard also wearing his t-shirt and Hayden in a full Superman outfit, blue spandex, red cape, complete with bulging padded muscles on his chest and the hugest cod-piece ever, stuffed down the front. Beautiful. We all cheered as he got straight into character, ready to save the world, or destroy himself trying. Sarah had been carrying a bag full of hen party accessories around Thailand for the past two weeks, and shared out an assortment of pink feather boas amongst the girls and adorned Alexa with a tiara and white veil, a garter belt, and a sash which read ‘Bride to be’. Despite the general tack of such things, she still managed to make it look classy.
Happy Hens
With an hour until the van came to separate the men from the boys, I decided to do Sarah and I the favour of going back to the hotel to get us more cash as I didn’t have enough to cover the boxing, let alone the boozing which would go alongside it, and Sarah hadn’t brought much either. We were still in the travellers’ mind-set and hadn’t considered paying for any extras. I found my way out of the mazy corridors at their hotel and started walking at a fast pace. After about a hundred metres, the skies opened up, a torrential downpour the level of which I had yet to be caught out in. I considered going back, but I hate turning back once I’ve set off for something, so instead I started running. The more I ran, the wetter I got, it was after all still thirty odd degrees so my clothes were acquiring water both internally and externally. I stopped at a market which was closing down, in search of salvation in the form of an umbrella to save my clothes from being fully drenched through, and after some panicked running around I found a guy who had them. I pointed to a crappy little one asking how much, “500 baht” he replied. I looked him in the eye with an expression of ‘as if it’s worth that’ before saying “give me the sunshine price”. He was playing hardball, but said he had some rain Macs, which he spent a few minutes looking for but couldn’t find in his mass of hidden boxes. That’s the thing with shopping in Thailand, it takes seconds to find what you want, but ages bartering over prices whilst they try and stitch you up for as much as they can. After what was probably nearing ten minutes in this increasingly flooded market, I managed to get him down to a much sunnier price, and darted off, arriving back to our hotel looking like a drowned rat. I grabbed a towel, dried myself quickly as best I could, took a few thousand baht out of our hiding place behind the fridge and shot back into the ocean-like street. Time was running out by this point so I tried to get a tuk tuk to take me back, but literally no one was willing to take me without first ripping me off, so I ended up jogging all the way back under my flimsy new umbrella. I arrived back at the hotel to be met with the pity of the others as I sat, soaked through next to a small fan, trying unsuccessfully to dry myself. By the time I knocked back a much needed beer, the minivan arrived. There was a couple sitting on the front row who found it very amusing to see eight Supermen loading in behind them, and they took a few photographs as we set off. We pulled up outside the place and were directed up a narrow stairwell with a policeman waiting at the top. Hayden was in front of me and was immediately stopped by the cop, who said “YOU SUPERMAN, WELL I POLICEMAN” and then grabbed a massive handful of his crotch whilst cackling like a deranged Lex Luther with a pocket full of kryptonite to take down our hero. We ran away, laughing at the sexual assault he had committed on our groom, but this was a stag party in Thailand after all, so you have to take the assault which a pinch of salt, a few tequilas, and then worry about the counselling a few years later.  I think it was mainly just his balls anyway, the balls are ok, I guess.

The Super Stags
Little kids warming up
We were lead to our seats in the small, brightly-lit arena to rounds of applause and cheers from people in the crowd, and were shocked to see that by some stroke of luck Richard had scored us the front row. Now when I say front row I don’t mean five metres away with a railing separating you, I mean we could actually use the ringside as a place to rest our beers. I was at one end next to Richard, Hayden was beside him, then Bob, Alexa’s father, followed by Hayden’s old German friend Borg, Alexa’s seventeen year old brother Easton, Hayden’s good friend James and finally his older brother Darryn, who completed our motley crew of mainly Aussies and Englishmen, being served constant beers and chain smoking cheap cigarettes as we waited for the fight to start. There was an announcement being played on loop, repeatedly saying “TONIGHT! MUAY THAI BOXING. TONIGHT. 9’OCLOCK. TONIGHT” which wasn’t in the slightest bit annoying. The announcement stopped and the first fighters entered the ring. As I was on the end, every fighter in that corner had to walk right by me, up the metal stairs to my right and over or under the ropes, depending on their size. I was aware that young kids always fight first, but I was pretty shocked and surprised to see a little boy in my corner and a little girl in the other, both of whom couldn’t have been older than eight years old. It was an uncomfortable first fight, it felt pretty wrong to me, even though there’s nothing to say girls shouldn’t fight if they want to, seeing such a young little thing going head to head with a boy just wasn’t that enjoyable to witness. I was urging her to win, and she gave as good as she got, but I think the little lad just pipped her to it. Between each round a fighter would come back to my corner and I’d get splashed by the ice buckets and water being poured over them, a great addition to the experience. It also made for some great photo opportunities of capturing the tired fighters in their brief moments of rest before going straight back into trouble. The boxers got progressively older as we got progressively drunker and more into it, making a few bets with each other and the local bookies there, who were clearly more ‘in the know’ than any of us drunken foreigners. I took a trip to the loo to piss away some cash, and went to wash my hands at a sink where five or six young Thai lads in shirts and trousers were waiting. As I turned on the tap, one guy gave me some soap and another stood behind me and started slapping my back with cupped hands, which made a strange popping noise as he went along my spine. It felt good so I left him to it for a few seconds, then he put his arm up and underneath mine and cracked my whole back sideways to the left, then to the right, then straight, making my spine pop numerous times and leaving it feeling wonderful. Another guy gave me a towel for my hands, and then used another one which he quickly whipped up underneath my Superman t-shirt, wiping my back, then chest before I could even realise what he was doing. Another guy came from behind and pulled both my ears downwards simultaneously, causing an unusual crack in them which I’d never experienced. At that point I started to back away whilst handing over a tip, a flurry of thirty seconds or so had seen me attacked at all angles and I left the toilet feeling fresh to death. Richard was watching on and found it all too amusing, I told him it was the best value £3 tip I’d given in a long time. There was a really good fight between two teenage boys and I could see it going one way so I decided to shoot some video. Within one minute, I’d captured the knock-out blow. The other kid laid watching birdies tweet for a few seconds then came to. His opponent came over to make sure he was ok and gave him a hand up. It was a nice moment in amongst the madness; respect within battle always shines through.
Every fight was accompanied by a couple of live musicians who created atmosphere which some repetitive, engaging beats on their tablas, backed by a guy laying down some atmospheric flute which danced in-between each hit. The fighters seemed to sway, bounce and attack according to the steady rhythm that filled the hall. They were like the snake charmers of the affair, except when they played, people would fight. The main event saw an Australian guy named Victor against a French guy called Anthony and we were all cheering on the Aussie to the point of losing our voices. It was pretty back and forth, but Victor edged it. They all left the ring, and we clambered up to get a few photographs of our gang, before going down to congratulate Victor the victorious and get another snap with the sweaty lad.


Happy hard-nuts
We left the venue feeling elated, with around an hour and a half before we’d planned to reconnect with the hen’s who had been off for dinner, before moving on to some sort of gay man’s sex and karaoke show. Borg walked us along the dodgy street that Sarah and I had been down the previous evening, and we were all getting a lot of attention. The women were not shy about grabbing at our crotches as we walked past every bar, I suppose it’s a cheaper way to advertise than printing flyers.  We were led into some strip club which had two long platforms forming an L shape and televisions everywhere showing the live match between Chelsea and Liverpool. It was a strange juxtaposition of football and pussy in one, a bar built purely to satisfy the needs of typical men. I’m sure they would’ve had food to gorge upon along with the constant booze, should we so desire, although most of the dudes in there looked hungry for something else. I found myself amused by my urge towards watching the game, rather than the women, but every so often a pimply little arse would pop in face, vying for my attention, and money of course.  The line ups were ever changing every few minutes and each girl was numbered, so you could pay a bar fine in order to have the girls company. It was like a vending machine, except you type the number into the waitresses head and out pops herpes. I’d rather have a Kit-Kat. The match ended 1-1, a decent result for an Arsenal fan, and we vacated the premises after emptying our glasses of rum and beer, only to go straight into another bar, except this time it was a ping pong show. As I walked in, there were a few punters onstage with balloons held between their knees and a girl bent over in front of them with a straw held in her Minnie Mouse house. With one blow, all three balloons were popped and I spotted our girls all sat along the opposite side of the stage laughing. I went over to reunite with my favourite person in the world and we shared one of those passionate kisses where everything around you falls away and only you remain, just two figures, floating through space and time before being warped back to the here and now. Magical. We couldn’t believe the coincidence, of all the ping pong shows, in all of Patong, we had to walk into the same one as them. Perfect timing. I remained on the girls side (where I’ve been for most of my life), whilst the guys were getting harassed by the feverish working women of the night across the other side, and they filled me in on their evenings exploits. The next thing you know, Hayden is onstage, sat up with a woman laid down in front of him, shooting half of a banana out of her own makeshift fruit basket, urging him to catch it in his mouth. We stood there screaming “NOOOOO”, whilst the bride’s Mum and Grandmother looked on in stunned disbelief. It was priceless. Luckily he is a smart guy, and only caught it with his hand, although when he cheekily popped it back in I felt a collective cringe. Good job he was marrying someone with a great sense of humour or he’d have been in the dog house before even saying ‘I do’. I walked back over to gather the guys so we could hit the Banana Bar and Disco (no relation to the showgirl) we’d heard about, and looked up just in time to witness the new girl onstage drop something from her insides into her hands. Then I saw movement. Then all of a sudden, the spreading of wings. It was a LIVE BIRD! My jaw hit the floor, it was too much. Almost speechless and fully disgusted, I returned to the girls and Aimi said that it was the first time she’d seen a real life ‘pussy’ eat a bird. I cracked up and told her I would write that down. Done.

I ran a little upfront and blagged the club manager to let Hayden and Alexa in for free, and then hit a few shots of tequila with James, Richard and Superman, bonding further with my new brothers. Every one of the gang were such open, great people, and I knew that we were in for a good few days in each other’s company. I have no recollection of the music which was being played, but I remember dancing along pretty happily with our joint forces until the older members of our crew were nearly falling asleep and the younger lot perfectly paralytic, and ready to drop. We left our family and ended up getting lost, wandering aimlessly for twenty drunken minutes, away from the direction we were meant to be heading in.  Ready to collapse, we jumped onto a passing tuk tuk and were swiftly dropped off, only a staircase away from sweet sleep, where we laid to rest and let another day die.

The Last Shot

Monday, 28 January 2013

Freewheelin’ in S.E.A - Day 32: Life’s a leech

The feeling of excitement at the sound of your morning alarm is a rare occurrence, but that’s exactly what I experienced as I awoke in our miniscule shack just before 8am, knowing that another good day was there for the taking. Yet again, there was building works right outside of our room, this time two guys hammering more wood onto another of their half made huts. Noise had been a common occurrence for the past few days, wherever we’d been staying, but was probably due to the early season which we were visiting in, where everywhere was preparing for the onslaught of sun-chasing travellers looking for somewhere a bit nicer to spend their winter months. We gathered with the gang for a quick breakfast, then hopped on our long-tail boat which took us back the way we’d kayaked the previous afternoon.

We had a one hour hike which would lead us to the Namtaloo Cave, followed by another hour inside, then the trek back to our temporary, humble abodes. As we started our guide told us that there would be a few spots where we needed to cross small rivers, and after navigating through various jungle on our narrow pathway we reached the first. We were also warned about the leeches, something which Sarah had been shitting herself at the thought of for the past few days, but there was not much that could be done to avoid them, except prayer and good luck. I suppose long trousers could’ve helped, but I only packed one pair of black shorts and they barely covered my lanky limbs, which probably looked even more appetising than the four hot wings for 99p deal, which you can get from Big Portion Chicken in Hackney, to the awaiting bloodsuckers all around. I pulled off my trainers as did Sarah, to avoid having to march around for hours in drenched footwear, and we followed the others. By the time I got my trainers back on, it was time to take them off again, and we were falling behind with all the messing around, so I walked into the river with my trainers on my feet and my lady on my back, dropping her off at the other side safe and dry. We did this method another two or three times, but were both getting stressed out, Sarah by the fact that she was doing something she really didn’t want to, and me by the fact that she wasn’t having a good time. I knew she was doing it for me, and that made me feel bad because I’m only ever happy when she is. It didn’t help when she decided to hop over a few big rocks on another watery path and ended up slipping, smashing herself, thigh first, down onto harsh rock, and soaking her feet in the process, rendering my previous work of carrying of her pointless and her having an even worse time than before. I found my first leech having a go on my hand after exiting another watery trap, and spivved out in a ‘GET THIS FUCKER OFF OF ME’ kind of fashion, whilst Natasha smashed it off of my hand with a rock. It was much smaller than I’d imagined, obviously yet to be filled with my blood, however because of how they hook into your skin, the bites don’t stop bleeding for ages after you’ve ripped the little shits out of you. Nasty likkle raas clarts.
Entering the cave that I nicknamed 'Nick'
We reached the entrance to the cave, where Sarah’s worries were forced even further by the fact that there were a few points inside which were flooded by a freshwater forest stream, and we’d have to swim through them, in the dark, with only head torches to light our way. A few years back a big storm made the water level rise so high that a group going through it all died; another factoid to worry my wonderful woman. Nevertheless, we all entered slowly, the lights from each of our heads flickering like fireflies as everyone looked around excitedly. We reached the first flooded part, which we all jumped in to, one by one, swimming across for a few metres before clambering out into the serenity that only ultimate darkness can bring, this is until your mind starts thinking about what else could be in there with you. I wasn’t thinking about the leeches, I wasn’t worried about insects, I was just enamoured by the beauty of the surrounding rocks, admiring the formations within this secret dwelling. In the past, this cave was a hideout for communist students fighting the Thai Government back in the ‘70's, but now it’s a key point for trekkers from around the world to navigate. Sarah was struggling through, quite clearly scared and not having the best of times, but she was brave and persisted with the support of our gang, myself and the Belgian boys all giving her a hand when needed. My favourite point of the cave was when we had to head upwards between two rocks, there was a narrow gap between them, and no floor, just rushing water beneath us as we split our legs and arms on either side and jumped ourselves along the gap. On the other side was another pool of water which we had to jump into and swim across. It was up to our necks or further and took some heavy swimming in our clothes and trainers, then we climbed out at the other side, checked for more leeches, and then looked up to see hundreds of bats, all hanging from the ceiling. A number of them would fly around when we shined torches on them or made noise, whilst others remained still and seemingly asleep. There were huge exotic looking spiders everywhere as well as scorpions, frogs, and god knows what else, but that didn’t stop us all turning off our torches to experience the pure, peaceful blackness until one by one, people switched back on. My torch came on last, I could have stayed there for a good few hours, or at least until ‘The Fear’ crept in. I kept trying to placate my lady by assuring her that it’d be over soon, and we had a branch to smoke upon our exit. We walked through for another fifteen minutes, until we could see natural light cracking through the distant exit. We splish-splashed through the final dash, stopping only for our guide to pick up a couple of toads, which both reacted by instantly playing dead, in order to protect themselves. He sat one of them against a rock, and placed the other right in front of it, so that it looked like they were having a snooze and spooning. We took our final steps back into the scorching sunlight, looking back to see how the trees and bushes almost fully hid the hole which we came out of. All of that mounted tension immediately lifted at this point, Sarah didn’t die and neither did I, all was well in the world, and would be even better once we’d made it back to our floating salvation. Despite another leech trying to have its way with my foot, the returning march through the forest seemed a lot easier than on the way there. Perhaps we’d just gotten used to it by this point, everything is easier to deal with when you’ve had a bit of practice. After a short trip back to the floating raft houses, I dived straight into the lake to cool off, then we gathered for a final spot of lovely lunch before grabbing our bags and bidding the delightful local folks a fond farewell, before smoking our joy on the boat ride back to the pier, then driving back to our original accommodation in Khao Sok.

Hanging off the ceiling, I know the feeling.
Spooning frogs
Sarah the Survivor

Tired Team Canada
We decided that rather than staying another night at the Jungle Huts, we should pool our money with Team Canada and try and get a ride to Patong Beach that night. After a fair amount of haggling with our guide we managed to get his boss to drop the originally ridiculous quote down enough to make it worthwhile, and the seven of us waited at the huts with our worldly possessions for a new driver to turn up. I went to grab our laundry back, and get some drink and snacks for the journey, and after handing over a 1000 baht note for 110 baht worth of goodies I left the store and soon realised the girl on the till had given me 990 back, 100 baht more change than she was meant to. I walked back in and tried to explain, but she didn’t seem to fully comprehend her error, still I gave her back the 100 anyway and left with my karma fully intact. As much as I like free money, if she’d had it docked from her wages I’m sure she’d have felt it a lot more than I would. It’s despicable how little the Thai workers get paid, however, I’m sure just like everywhere else, their bosses do alright for themselves. After the best part of two hours wait, having our first chance in a few days to contact the world outside, a van rolled up and we loaded in. To kill a bit of time, Sarah and I decided to co-write a silly little story, one word each continuously until the end. She went first, and it ended up like this:

‘Ten thousand years ago there lived six magicians. Many students eagerly gathered at Glastonbury trying hard to understand the secrets of their ancestors. All minds together would unlock the bubble world, but there wasn't enough love leafs to create transsexuals. Fire breathing dragons appeared; everyone started laughing at their cocks. Later the demons from limbo stole the magicians’ sleeves so they couldn't fly anymore...’

I spent the next few hours doing my usual writing in the dark, doggie chasing his tail trick, ending up in Patong Beach after two hours of fast driving from our man with van. We bid him farewell, and walked into the place we’d heard was pretty decent. It was full. The place next door, named Kamilla, looked decent enough, and had a sign in the window saying ‘Rooms 400’. I had a quick chat with the lady owner, and managed to get three rooms for our gang at a discounted rate. Sarah and I took the first one, and went up the stairs, straight into a pretty fancy little room which had air conditioning, a lovely double bed, wardrobe, TV, fridge, table and en-suite wet room. Comparing it to where we stayed the previous night would be like comparing Johnny Depp with Johnny Vegas, it was more than adequate for our needs, and only a five minute walk away from the main streets. After a quick bang and shower in succession we hit the streets to scope out our surroundings, and within two minutes I passed a bar, and noticed that Arsenal was playing against Fulham on one of their screens. I looked at Sarah and she read my mind, leaving me there to watch the last five minutes whilst she went into a shop. It was 3-3 at home, another not great result as it stood, but I hoped that my watching would somehow swing the balance in our favour, since I’m a very lucky man. Whilst standing at the doorway I noticed a few local ladies of the night standing nearby, fanning themselves on the corner. Three big Indian men with moustaches approached a slim little thing, trying to work out a deal with her, which judging by the interested looks on all of their desperately depraved, drooling faces would’ve meant a situation no human should ever have to experience. I don’t know the quoted price, but it was no dice, and they shuffled off down the road to try and satisfy their twisted urges elsewhere. I was thankful. Back in the world of football, the dying seconds of the game saw us given a penalty, and I excitedly pointed it out to Sarah who was walking back towards me. Our dynamic Spaniard Mikel Arteta stepped up to the spot, but had his effort saved by the goalkeeper. “FOR FUCKS SAKE!” I shouted as the final whistle followed right after, and a Thai guy beside me laughed at my aggravation. At least some happiness was caused by our inadequacy to get a decent result.

We walked through the seedy main streets, Sarah somewhat un-enthralled by what was on offer whilst trying to scope out somewhere decent to lead Alexa’s hen party to the following evening. I was excited by my ugly, flashing, vibrant surroundings, it reminded me a lot of the dodgy places in Bangkok where I’d had a good laugh with the Lub D hostel crew during my first few days away, and I was looking forward to experiencing more of the same madness with my best friend now in toe. By this point we hadn’t really witnessed the ultra-seedy side together, and I was eager for us to see some crazy shit . We went full circle, ending up back at Kamilla, where we firstly searched for our favourite movie channel (the only thing that was good in Koh Samui), which wasn’t available, but we found another showing films in English, which went on in the background yet again as I wrote myself to sleep whilst Sarah was zonked.