Monday, 30 April 2007
Yesterday was 7 year old niece- ice-skating, then Pizza Hut. Birthday girl cries inevitably (that song wasn’t written for no reason, you know), kids eat too much crap, parents make mistake of ordering bottle of wine, Pizza Hut employees make mental note to refuse us entry next time. Today is Misssy Juniors 4th anniversary of making the world a better place (in her opinion…). Birthday tea at mine with extended family, two seconds after I get in my front door from a day of 7 hour’s teaching straight with only half an hour break (which I’ve decided to spend blogging, rather than eating).
Thursday is Indy’s 9th, when we will be water fluming with some other high octane kids and filling them full of crap and getting refused entry at Pizza Hut. This is the day that my freelance job starts also. Sunday is Baby Spongebob’s first birthday. Then a couple of weeks recuperation before other niece’s birthday involving going to a indoor ski centre, filling kids full of crap and getting refused entry to Pizza Hut.
You’ll notice that the month 9 months from now (I make it March) is baby free.
Sunday, 29 April 2007
It’s Cancer Research Race for Life time again and once more like thousands of unfit women I’ve entered and not done any training yet. This’ll be my third year. The first year was great as my sister and I entered together and actually got quite into the whole running thing. In the course of three months I had gone from not being able to make it to the end of the street without practically vomiting to being able to run 10K in about an hour with relative ease, if not total enjoyment. Nobody actually enjoys running. Even Seb Coe is quoted as saying "it's a bit of a pain in the arse"*
The payoff for the pain of running was that I always felt brilliant afterwards and people began to say how good I looked. Not because I’d lost any weight. For me losing weight is a bad thing, I am quite skinny anyway and if I lose anything my face goes all Skeletor like and people tell me I look tired and shout at me for not eating anything. I think I just looked healthy and was probably getting a bit of sun on my face making me glow a bit. Some time off the couch, computer, work desk is apparently a “good thing”. Who knew? So given that running is kind of a free beauty product that actually works, why am I so reluctant to do it again?
Why? Because it so bloody boring! For me running with music just isn’t enough to stave off that boredom. I took to downloading talking books (no, not “The Loneliness of the Long Distance Runner”) and radio plays to keep me entertained and keep me from hearing my constant running Inner Gill mantra of “I -Hate This, I - Hate -This, I Hate This”; each word said in time to every stride I took. It worked. I would actually run longer to get to the end of a chapter.
Then my sister got pregnant and I was left to run alone. There was no-one phoning every couple of nights to say, “Right, we’re going for a run. Get your gear on and let’s go” and then fight with me when I tried to get out of it. There was just me, and Inner Gill. Inner Gill who hated running.
I began to long for someone like my old PE teacher, Mrs Duncan. Mrs Duncan was always convinced that I was actually quite good at sport and would force me, kicking and screaming, to join teams, enter competitions, swim one more length, and more importantly would hunt me down when I skived her classes by hiding in the Sixth year Common Room. Bless her, there can’t be many like her, as most PE teachers are grown up school bullies who don’t even acknowledge anyone in their charge who show less than Olympian prowess. Tracksuited demons. But not Mrs Duncan. She believed that everyone should be included in PE and that everyone would enjoy it….if it killed her. She was like a personal trainer. She was like Burgess Meredith in "Rocky". She’s probably retired now but she could make a fortune forcing celebrities to go for the burn.
That’s what I need. Someone that makes you do the exercise you wouldn’t do if it were left up to you. Someone who hunts you down when you’d rather be on the couch watching
All the same I kept the running up for about nine months without my sister and was doing really well until I played a Scandinavian game of “Floorball” in
But now I don’t have that excuse (for getting out of anything) and I’ve got to start again tomorrow night and christen the new running shoes that Meeestermartin bought me for Christmas.
Yes, that’ll be Christmas, 4 months ago.
Oh did I mention that my 7 year old niece is running with us? So I’ve got to make sure she doesn’t beat me. The shame!
* OK, I made that bit up- but behind closed doors, I bet he's said it.
Wednesday, 25 April 2007
I’ve had my current car for about six years and yes, it’s looking a bit tatty. It’s been scraped (not by me, by someone who borrowed it- I am an EXCELLENT driver, be assured of that), it’s had the odd scratch from a malevolent teenager casually running something sharp along it as he/she passes by on a Friday night, it rarely gets washed and as for the inside..well frankly it’s slightly stinky.
It’s a SEAT, the poor man’s VW, and it’s served me well this last six years, needing next to no repairs. It’s not exactly done me any favours style wise though. In fact last year when I was on the yearly graduates night out, a group of my drunken students made disparaging remarks on my choice of car and wrote in the dirt on the side, “Cock Piss Partridge”. Which at least was a reference to quality television, so I consider my job done. They also got a bit carried away and started to rock the car as I tried to drive off. I’m taking all of the above as a “To Sir With Love” sign of affection, nothing else.
My friend Dave, who is what I believe is called, a “petrolhead”, helped me buy my car and did all the kicking of the tyres type stuff in the User Car Dealership when I bought the car. I hadn’t seen him for a while but when I saw him last his first comments were, “I can’t believe you’re still driving that car”. He then went on to comment how I he believed I hadn’t washed since I bought it. Cheeky.
But the state of my car is not my fault! For the last four years I’ve been ferrying Junior Misssymartin into her childminders. In that time she has coated the back seat in a mixture of baby-milk, sweeties, apple juice, vomit, pee, snot and tears. She has picked away at trimmings and drawn on the vinyl with a biro. She also once threw her new sandal out the window on a dual carriageway in rush hour, but that’s another story.
We’ve now changed childminders and Meeestermartin takes MisssyM jnr to the new poor soul's house, as it’s on his way to work. The journey is thankfully short and his vehicle should sustain minimal damage.
So, at least now my car is now relatively tidy and the chances of me crashing whilst screaming at JuniorMisssy have decreased about 90%. It is now that MisssyM jnr is out of the picture that my thoughts turn to getting a new car. But I’m no longer prepared to make do.
I desperately want a cream and black Mini Cooper. I have always wanted one. I look at other cars on the road and they just all look the same. The mini stands out; it looks beautiful. It says, “I drive a work of art. I drive a design masterpiece. I drive a British icon”. I want a piece of that action.
I know that I could get a reliable car for around 5K. But I WANT a Mini Cooper. I’m 38 for godsake! Can’t I have what I want? Haven’t I worked for 18 years now? Haven’t I driven a mingheap for six years? I’ve been a good girl all year and I want rewarded. In the words of my second favourite Smith's song “so please please, please let me get what I want, this time…”
I have been checking out Minis on the road for the past six months and I notice that a great deal of the drivers are silly little twenty something girlies. Why have they got a Mini Cooper and I haven’t? I go all brattish when I think about it. I WANT ONE! I DESERVE ONE! They don’t! I am now openly snarling at them, “Get out of my car, blondie! Let a real woman drive!”
So I have decided, all the freelance work I do from now on goes into the Mini fund. And guess what? I just got a contract for twelve weeks of scripting work! The Gods are smiling upon me, it's written in the stars! The mini will be mine, oh yes, it will be mine.
Oh and if anyone’s interested, Much loved R reg Seat Cordoba for sale…... will need valeting.
It has to be yoooouuuuu!
Monday, 23 April 2007
I don’t often write about my students. They are mostly harmless and don’t deserve to be used as subjects of my witterings, as they might start demanding editorial rights or something. To be honest if I did decide that they were fair game then I could pretty much just fill my blogs with a transcript of them everyday and leave it at that.
That’s what I love about my job. It’s not the easiest of professions, but I do spend a lot of my working day laughing.
So I think I’ll just quote today’s thing that had me chuckling on the way home.
We're in the studio and the students are working on filming a scene, and some members are in front of the camera chatting in between takes...
Student A : Aaah why did I do that? Aaah!
Student B : What?
Student A: I’ve just picked a scab off my elbow. It’s bleeding. Aaah!
Student B: Oh you’ve just reminded me. I’ve got one too, I’m going to pick mine off too.
Me: What are you doing? It’s like watching chimps, stop picking stuff!
Student B: Like your nose
Student A: …and eating it. That’s supposed to be good for you.
Student C: I heard that, it’s supposed to be good for your immune system
Student A; Yeah, that’s why you should share an ice-cream cone with a dog.
Oh there will be more from this lot...don’t you worry about that
Sunday, 22 April 2007
The exercise gave me a chance to lose my "Freecycle" virginity however. "Freecycle" is a nationwide internet community dedicated to giving items you don't want anymore a new home. It's like Ebay but for free. It's a Utopian reality and am now a disciple. ( Hey, I'm heavy on the religious rhetoric today, aren't I?)
I have been a member of the Aberdeen branch for about 5 months but until yesterday never did anything about it. So yesterday, I listed all Louis's Action Men (in various states of undress- it was like chucking out time in a 1970's San Francisco nightclub in that box), two wardrobes, walkie talkies, bean bag and duvet cover, numerous books and videos and a metal detector that seemed a great idea at the time.
Within half an hour all had been snapped up, and today most of it has been collected by grateful people bringing me gifts of biscuits and chocolate (how did they know?)
The reason for this mass clearout is not that I have become a clean freak (I can only dream…); it's that we are to be hosts to a couple of teachers from the Sri Lankan Blind School we visited last year, and they will be staying in Indy's Temple of Doom.
That last paragraph makes the whole enterprise sound like an episode of Blue Peter but actually we're not entirely sure what the deal is with these Sri Lankans. We met them for an afternoon last July when we delivered funds that Turriff Academy had raised for them, and vowed to keep in touch.
Within a couple of months the English teacher emailed and said she was going to visit us for a month. She would be bringing another teacher. It transpired that the other teacher would be a man. So you need two bedrooms, then? Actually no, one will do. Oh and I'm now using my maiden name…..
Arms crossed, knowing glances, Les Dawson style. Aha!
So, why are they coming over for a month, how are they going to finance this trip, what will be doing when they get here? John turns all protestant and moral, "I am not hosting a Sri Lankan shag fest!"
Anyway, they were supposed to arrive today but apparently their visas have been refused. The government is not satisfied that they have enough money to support themselves for a month. But watch this space, they are determined to come and I'm guessing there's blogging mileage in this puppy yet….
Saturday, 21 April 2007
So it's Saturday and we check out of the Davis Hotel.
John gets his bill for the bottle of wine he orders on Room Service that cost more than our entire food and drinks bill in our WEEK in Koh Lanta. Here's him signing the visa bill...Old Chinese Proverb says; "Never order Room Service unless other man is paying..."
Today is our last day and we’ve got the whole day to check out more
First things first, we need to check the Songkran situation. Remember we fly out tonight, we can’t get covered in flour. The hotel receptionist seems to think we’ll be fine at the market. And she’s mostly right. There’s a bit of water pistolling going on, but nothing we can’t handle. In fact the occasional cold jet of water is quite welcome as we go through the steaming labyrinth of shopping heaven.
In all we spend 5 hours here, and it’s the first time in the whole holiday that Indy complains. He is understandably disturbed by the single-minded rabid shopping psychosis his mother goes into, coupled with the fact that, like every other 8 year old boy he hates shopping. John placates him by taking him to a weaponry stall whilst I look at trinkets and baubles. And when I mean weaponry, I mean medieval type stuff. Look at this!
John buys himself and Louis a penknife as we’re guessing customs aren’t going to let this item through.
Next ,we visit animal aisle and I find this the hardest of all. It’s not that the animals are being cruelly treated; these are pet shops of the types we used to have in the
I’ve been wanting a dog for some time, particularly a cocker spaniel. I am now confronted with my dream golden cocker spaniel puppy and have to be dragged away from her, practically sobbing and wailing “Did you see how we connected? Did you see that? We had a wee moment!!!”
Then I similarly connect with this beautiful retriever in the next stall. Tooooo difficult! I am led away, with John trying to calm me down by reminding me of the jewelry.
So here’s me minutes later making the deal of the century on two rings, one swiss blue topaz and the other peridot. I am a happy monkey. And a female stereotype, it would appear.
So fast forward four hours later and the market starts to wind down, the Flying Martinis buy a new case to take their newly acquired booty home in and Songkran madness starts again. But we are ready this time. Check Indy going all Rambo through the market. That’s my boy!
And check Indy’s Mum (unarmed I may add) getting absolutely soaked just in time for boarding the plane home.
See why you’ve got to love this place?
On the way home we plan our return trip.
I hope you’ve all enjoyed reading the Thai Misssives. And I hope even more that I’ve encouraged some of you to buy plane tickets to
Friday, 20 April 2007
Despite the fact that I've been posting up the last of my Thai blogs over the last few days (There's still one last one to come- but I can't post it now for reasons too boring to relate- it'll be up later tonight) we have actually been back since Sunday night.
In that time I've realised that nothing of note has happened in the UK during our absence. On the flight from Dubai to Glasgow, the cabin crew doled out copies of the Saturday Glasgow Herald and I knew that it had been a slow news week when the front page headline was about Wayne Rooney's "better half" (could you find a worse half? She'd have to be an Ork) Coleen stunning the nation by NOT wearing a hat on Ladies Day at Ascot. Sweet Jesus, will the madness never end?
Things hotted up slightly on reaching Glasgow and Sunday papers which of course had the earth shattering news that like his old man, Oor Wullie, our next King but one, was going to hang about a bit (read shag a few more well bred fillies) before marrying some fertility tested Sloaney breeding machine. This place has gone to the dogs! (Corgis, perhaps?)
Of course, all events and real news have been scrapped for the Scottish Parliament election coverage. Maybe this time next year we'll be an independent nation, who knows? It's certainly looking like it could happen. I think a lot of Scots are thinking they'd rather have their taxes spent at home than on an illegal war in Iraq and that we could probably benefit from being freed from the clutches of the US. Since the UK government doesn't seem to want to distance themselves from Mr Bush's crackpot foreign policies, then maybe at least the Scots have a way out the back door.
Now, I know that a lot of folk don't want to lose our ties with the Royal Family. I'm not one of them, but I understand that many people have a lot of affection for the inbred bunch of disfunctionals. Even now that the best ones are dying off. So I am hereby offering up my Family as candidates for the Scottish Royal Family. I think we've got all the ingredients you'd expect.
Take my Gran- she'd be a great Queen Mum. She is just like Viz comic's Mrs Brady, Old Lady, but more offensive. She also looks great in lilac and is despite some recent health scares refuses to leave this mortal coil- so she's definately a candidate for reaching the big 100. I'm sure she's also choked on the odd fish bone, as HRH used to do regularly just to keep us on our toes.
My Dad upsets groups of people regularly, just like Prince Philip. He'd never be out of the papers. He's not been as bad as to call people "slitty eyed" like old racist Phil did that time in China, but he did once upset all local golfers when introduced to the chairman of the local golf club, he said something along the lines of "And I thought all golfers were queer...". He has also in the past told a Stevie Wonder joke to a blind man. He's perfect for the job.
My mum thinks she's in charge of everyone anyway so she's perfect for Queen. And she's had the same hairstyle her whole life- just like Liz.
My brother is the Prince Andrew type international playboy. STILL not married! At 36! Just ask my gran- it's all she talks about.
Where does leave that me,and the Flying Martinis? Oh, we just want to be those peripheral royals that get a wad of cash for doing not much of anything, that get the kudos, privelege and use of the country houses but no-one really knows how they get away with it.
We've all got our own green wellies and headscarves so we're good to go.
Give it some thought and get back to me.
Ps: One more Thai blog to go up- sorry for messing with your heads. It'll be up later.
Thursday, 19 April 2007
The Thais know how to celebrate New year, they really do. Unfortunately their method of celebration is one that we probably couldn’t adopt on the 1st January in
Songkran- High-grade pneumatic waterpistol essential
The Thai New Year or “Songkran”, is celebrated mid April. We asked what year it was and got about 10 different replies, probably because we weren’t making ourselves understood, not because Thai people weren’t sure. I'm still not sure- if someone can tell me for sure I'll be grateful. No use not knowing what year it is....
The Thais celebrate New Year on the 31st of December, then there is the Chinese Lunar New Year that takes normally place in February and there is the Thai New Year which is in April each year. We should MOVE New year to July and call it Scottish New Year as it will be much better, and you wouldn’t have to freeze your ass off every year going from party to party with your carry out. Take this as an official "Let's move New Year" campaign launch.
I digress. This is how the Thais do new Year (Songkran). They get buckets of water, high powered pump action water pistols, anything that will be able to soak passers by. Then they let rip. We don’t have a great deal of photos of the utter full on madness of the Friday night as John was worried about his camera. But here they are anyway. They don’t even half represent the utter madness of people unleashing water-fight hell on the
On the Friday night, not knowing much about the reality of Songkran, we headed out to the
Louis didn’t like it either. Normally he would be right into a water fight but he was completely overwhelmed and crucially, unarmed. Had we known, we would have bought him a water pistol, but by the time we made it through to the centre of the madness, the kids had had enough and we had to take them home. Louis lashed out at a guy who put just a little too much flour paste on his face, with a little too much force, ignoring Louis sense of humour failure.
Songkran looked great too. But an early Flying Martini exit was essential. So we head back through the masses and get spat out the other side of Khao San Road, a lot whiter and wetter than when we got there.
Time to find a tuc tuc that's brave enough to take us through the hail of flour and water fire back to the Davis (where they probably won't let us back in....)
Tomorrow: we come prepared....
Tuesday, 17 April 2007
Getting a tax rebate;
Getting upgraded to first class by the airplane check in clerk cos she likes your face;
Winning the car you bought a raffle ticket for in the shopping centre;
Duvet day policy at work- (do you know anyone whose work has this? It's a myth!);
Being “spotted” and made the next big thing by some Svengali;
Being upgraded from bog standard hotel room to a lux suite.
Well, smack my arse and call me Paris Hilton, we were upgraded in the Davis Hotel (our most expensive hotel room- end of trip treat) to the Ambassador suite!
In fact the way it was done was just beautiful.
Receptionist (to me): “Excuse me madam, would you mind if we upgraded you and your family to the Ambassador suite”.
Would I mind? Would I mind?!
“That’ll be fine,” I say calmly, whilst inner Gill shouts “Ambassador suite!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!We’ve made it !!!!!!!!!!!!!!!Aaaarrgggghhhhh!Hahahahahahhahaha!”
So we are taken to the suite by our porter who, rather cheekily, I thought, enquires, “Did you book this suite or were you upgraded?”
He is clearly stunned that such obvious plebs are setting foot in the suite to do something other than clean it.
“Upgraded,” I confess (“What’s it to ya?” Inner Gill thinks)
“This is the best suite we have in this wing of the hotel” This guy still can’t believe we’ve been allowed in.
“Hmmm” I say (“I’m tired of you doubting our suitability to this strata of luxury, my man. Now let us in so we can all run around naked screaming, open all the free soaps, drink the mini bar and wash our undies in the Jacuzzi,” Inner Gill snarls)
I’m getting the picture here and I think back to ten minutes ago. This was the guy who met us at the door. Let’s switch on the 70’s Blake’s Seven going back in time visual effect and return to yesterday in Kanchananburi. The scene is this, booking our taxi to Bangkok from a sixty/seventy year old guy who looked like one of Magnum’s contacts with longhair, moustache, opened Hawaiian short and flip flops. He wants 1,800 Baht (about £30) for the fare which is OK considering the hotel is advertising a taxi for twice that. He wants it paid in advance. No, we may be farang but we’re not stupid farang, mate. We give him half now, say we’ll pay other half when safely arrived in Bangkok.
John checks something before handing over the cash, “This taxi is air-conditioned?”
“Yes, yes, is big Toyota, has air conditioning!” he assures us
Next morning our cab turns up. It has rope keeping the boot shut, has a need of a great deal of panel beating repair work, is not a make of car known to man, is filthy and yes, that’s right, the air-conditioning consists of…opening a window. Only one of which in the back seat actually opens.
But it does have the additional features of a taxi driver with ferociously long nails (going for that Guinness Record, I think), an array of Hindu icons of deities arranges along the dashboard, a Sistine chapel-like fresco painting in engine oil on the car ceiling (do cars have ceilings? You get my drift) and plastic seats which given the absence of ac and the fact we’re all wearing shorts, makes for a thrush inducing ride from hell.
It gets s worse and John is responsible. Figuring we’ve got 2 and a half hours in this chariot of hell, he spies a cassette. John Lennon’s “Imagine”, the soundtrack to the documentary film. He takes the cassette out of the box, examines it, but it’s written in Thai. He asks the horny fingered driver if he can put it on. The driver looks pleased. He nods enthusiastically gesturing to the tape deck (tape deck but no A/C….humpfff!).
The sound of a south east Asian warbling woman blasts out the speakers. I glare at john in a “What fresh hell is this?” kind of way. John looks back, and offers this,
“Maybe it’s a Yoko track…”
But no of course it bloody isn’t. It’s 90 minutes of Thailand’s answer to Petula Clark. So now we’ve got the stench of hell, the feel of hell, the temperature of hell, the look of hell AND the sound of hell. Hell!
We cannot offend our horned host and listen to the tape until the end of the journey. He is chuffed we like it.
So flash forward to our arrival at the Davis which is top of the range hotel-tastic. See pics if you don’t believe me. And the Flying Martinis arrive in the Thai equivalent of the Trotters Independent Trading Reliant Robin. John opens the door and bashes it on the front step and apologises to the driver. The porter looks at him and shrugs as if to say, “Don’t apologise, you’ve probably improved it.”
This is the guy that takes us up to our room.
So I’ll leave you with some pics of the ambassador suite…..and later I’ll post some of us soiling it…..
The Davis Hotel, yes they let US in...
Bedroom 2 (Before the kids went in...)
Dr Louis Cheeseman, Scottish Ambassador to Thailand, outside his suite
Monday, 16 April 2007
Last year my pal Jonny came back from Thailand with hundreds of photos of him sitting with a tiger lolling about his lap. Within a day of seeing these photos I had scheduled a trip to The Tiger Monastery on our Thailand itinerary. The deal is here at the Tiger Sanctuary is that these are tigers that have been rescued. They’ve maybe been rescued from illegal poachers,found injured or are cubs found abandoned after a mother has been killed. They are looked after by a group of Buddhist monks and rangers. Most have been reared from cubs in the sanctuary to adulthood.
Any tiger cubs born in the sanctuary are not allowed contact with the visitors as they are released back into the wild as soon as they are able to fend for themselves. At the moment there are only thought to be about 250 tigers in Thailand. Apparently a lot of the poaching (read, “killing”) is for the Chinese medicine market, where a tiger’s penis can fetch thousands of dollars as it is believed to have virility enhancing powers, if you know what I mean. Get some bloody Viagra over to Beijing quick!
You don’t really need anything more do you?
Look at my boy rolling about with a fully grown tiger! Look at my girl sitting on a tiger’s belly! The chief monk made a bee-line for her, and took her straight over to meet the tigers. Mum and Dad had to wait in line with all the other Muggles. Mum and Dad look on, terrified. Eve’s thoughts on the matter?
By comparison, look at John and I tentatively touching a tiger…..
I really wanted to touch its head but they wouldn’t let me. Something to do with the big teeth, I think.
In reality you only got about two seconds with any of the tigers. The monks or rangers chaperone you and are understandably nervous as hell. You only get enough time to pose with the tiger as your photo is taken. Of course, you also have to sign a document on the way in that more or less says, “Tigers may eat you, don’t hold us responsible. You went in of your own free will.”
No matter how tame these beasts seem to be, you’d best never forget that tigers are wild animals. They have a tendency to take your face off.
The tigers are kept in large cages and are trotted out once a day for about an hour to see the visitors, and you can get a chance to lead the tamest one (seen below) back to her pen.
I was slightly disappointed you didn’t get more time with the beasts but there were about fifty people there. It was great just to watch them, though. I’ve got more photos of the tigers than my own kids.
But look at this…this is one of the monks being asked for some cat food (a cooked chicken) by doing the same thing our cat Harleyboy does when he’s hungry…by being a big sook. This enormous beast rubbed its face up against the monk's like a big moggy. This photo kind of captures it.
Later on we share our pickup truck back to Kanchanaburi with a London backpacking couple of physiotherapists called Laura and Dan and a German couple called Melanie and Robert. They are all staying at the Apple Guest house where we had planned to eat for our last night.
The Apple runs a Thai cooking school and food is supposed to be great. So that night we head down and meet up with our fellow tiger fanciers. We have a great night and I even speak a smidge of German again. Little point other than some practice for me, as Melanie’s English is as good as mine, but the two of them seem to like the fact that I give it a go.
So goodbye Kanchanaburi . Quite possibly the best two days of the trip so far.
Tomorrow we’re off back to Bangkok and one night of extreme luxury in the Davis Hotel before heading home….Oh and it just happens to be "Songkran", Thailand's New Year.
Friday, 13 April 2007
The war aspect of Kanchanaburi is everywhere, and I suspect that the bridge and the railway are the reason why a lot of Europeans come here. However the area surrounding Kanchanaburi is also a national park and has some amazing scenery and areas of natural beauty.
We’re not normally ones for organised trips but we went on a cracker of one on day two of our stay here. First of to
The Erawan park rangers have cottoned on to something- tourists leave rubbish. I have ranted about this in the past. So you are only allowed to take drinking water into the park, and you must check in your bottles, sign for them and leave a deposit. Each bottle is numbered, so they can check discarded bottles against names, and presumably find you wherever you are hiding and then beat you to death with them.
We are told by our guide Mu Mu, an extremely confident but fast and impenetrable English speaker, that we are welcome to swim in the pools of Erawan and that the little fish will give you a firm Thai massage. In actual fact, the buggers bite you, constantly and are not afraid of splashing or shrieking, despite my efforts to frighten them off.
I adopt the technique of swimming like a Olympic champion to outrun the little beasts but they are everywhere and to be frank, they are not little. It seems weird that the other day I was snorkelling in amongst the beautiful Koh Phi Phi Nemos and trying to touch them, but now I am frantically swatting away the biting brown leviathans of Erawan and shrieking like a girl.
Some Thai biting fish, yesterday
Safe to say eve didn’t go in any of the pools and whined the whole time, asking where lunch was and wanting to go home. She likes a good dash of ceramic tile and chlorine with her swimming water.
Next up, we go for a walk with some elephants. Here we are with Bunta (22 years old) and Seesaw.
Unlike our previous Elephant walk on our
And we saw one of the babies, who snotted all over my white trousers and rooted about my person for anything edible.
Next up we went rafting which was fantastic.(No pics, unfortunately.) With life jackets on, Mum, if you’re reading… Louis and John jumped off the the raft and swam most of the way downstream. John in River swimming shocker. See, I told you it was a ll a bluff..he was like flipping Tarzan. And I went in fully clothed but hung onto then raft so that I could be in earshot of Eve’s whining lunch enquriry and pleading to go home.
One of the other rafts had an unwelcome visitor in the form of a water snake. A deadly water snake. We might not have been so keen to jump in the River had we known. Yikes!
Monument for those POWs whose remains couldn't be found
Bit of history fill in for you first. Kanchanburi is the site of the famous River Kwai and the legendary Bridge on the River Kwai. If you are reading this and have never seen David Lean’s “Bridge on the River Kwai” with Alec Guinness, I would suggest you don’t own a TV, or don’t live in the UK, as it is shown about once a year. It’s a great film; rent it if you haven’t seen it. Particularly if you're one of those people that thin Alec Guinness was only Obi Wan Kenobi.
The Bridge is part of the Death Railway, so called because in Japan’s attempts to conquer South East Asia in the second world war, they used mainly British, Dutch, Australian Prisoners of War and Malay, Thai, Indonesian men as slaves to build a railway to link Bangkok with Burma, as a supply route for the Japanese army. During this time (1943-1945), the POWs we’re hardly fed, forced to work 19 hours a day, given next to no medical assistance and brutalised generally. A railway that should have taken four years to build was built in sixteen months and the first train that traveled along it was full of prostitutes for the Japanese officer.
Over 100,000 POWs died and many more Thai, Malays, Indians and Indonesians also died as a result of malnutrition, disease, blood poisoning or execution. Here is the War cemetery in the centre of Kanchanaburi. A great deal of Scottish soldiers are buried here, from the Gordon Highlanders, Argyll and Sutherland regiments alongside English, Welsh, and Dutch. Most were 20-30 years old. There are a lot of British and Dutch in Kanchanaburi visiting the various sites of remembrance. On Koh Lanta for example, we met a couple who had visited the cemetery to see the grave of an uncle who had died as a POW. I wonder how many more we saw today had a personal connection.
The railway is still in use today but the original rails have been replaced. You can still see the original structure in places such as this viaduct. Small gauge rails with 1943 stamped into them. Many men died here, from accidents, either by falling rock or drowning whilst building the railway. We went on a train along the Death Railway and every minute you are thinking about what went on here. You know the facts but we have absolutely no real concept of how horrific it must have been for these men. The whole time we were in the area of the River Kwai and the cemetery was incredibly sobering.
Despite the heinous acts committed by the Japanese Army in this area (using POWS as slave labour, poor nutrition and lack of medical care are all contraventions of the Geneva Convention) I am most surprised to see a great deal of Japanese tourists. I’m not sure about how I should feel about this. Particularly at the Bridge on the River Kwai itself there’s the usual Japanese malarkey of photographing one another a thousand times over, posing smiling in front of whatever landmark they are visiting. This poses a couple of questions for me.
- How is this war taught in Japanese schools- i.e what have these people been taught about the actions of the Japanese during this time?
- Am I being unreasonable to expect that Japanese people maybe don’t visit this site of the darkest part of their history?
- That aside, if we say that yes, the Japanese should visit these areas in the same way that German children are taught about the Holocaust in honest detail, should a little bit more decorum and respect be present?
Don’t get me wrong, I am in no way anti Japanese. I hope one day to visit Japan, but it strikes me as odd that this be an area marketed to Japanese tourists. We have been in three other areas in Thailand and have seen next to no Japanese. Kanchanaburi is full of them. Do Americans visit Hiroshima? Is it long enough ago that we should move on? Am I being overly sensitive? After all these people are not responsible for the sins of the previous generation. They have as much to do with the actions of the Japanese Army as I do with British Imperialism and slave trading.
I don’t know, I can’t help thinking of the families who have placed messages and wreaths of remembrance for their fathers and grandfathers in Kanchanaburi War Cemetery, or of the few surviving POWS who return here for reasons of their own. How do they feel about a Karaoke barge full of singing middle aged Japanese tourists floating down the River Kwai belting out “Rawhide” in Japanese?
Thursday, 12 April 2007
It's the Last Last Lanta Blog
I have an announcement to make. I am acquiring a Thai bride. She doesn’t know it yet but she's coming home with me.
This is the Lady who gave me my first ever Thai massage and I want to take her back to the ‘deen with me. For quite a wee lady she was able to hoist me into the air with her feet. Absolutely incredible.
I have only had one decent massage before at the Kandalama Hotel in Sri lanka. Before that point I never saw the fuss. The Kandalama experience was one of pure luxury with fresh white cotton towels and proper professional massage beds with a hole for your face and a clay basin in your line of vision with a beautiful lotus flower in it, for your viewing pleasure.
But this was even better. Here I am getting the best massage ever in a bamboo bed on a beach. No white towels, no lotus flower, just me, my new best friend and her entire family having their dinner next to us.
John had been for one the day before and put the fear of God into me. “It’s quite sore actually, she kept on telling me to relax but she was crushing my legs with her entire body weight…”
But this is the equivalent of the difference between actual flu and man flu. Actual flu is a horrible, debilitating genuine illness; man flu is a slight cold that induces the male recipient to whine like a baby as if he had actual flu. The massage was just firm- deep tissue massage, I think they call it. So deep-tissue, that the woman’s elbows pressed into my back stick out the other side of my body. But sore it wasn’t. I was so relaxed that I feared I might dribble or snore, or worse, release and involuntary fart into the atmosphere.
I am never going to waste my money on a massage from Oldmeldrum’s “Bees Knees” beauty salon again. An Aberdeen College Beauty Therapy graduate whose idea of a massage is to absent-mindedly rub some lavender oil into your shoulders for ten minutes whilst she plays a new age whale noise tape isn’t going to cut it any more. I want to be elbowed, walked on and hoisted aloft. This woman even massaged my ears for goodness sake!
The other thing of note that has happened in the last couple of days is our boat trip to Koh Phi Phi.
Koh Phi Phi is the former unspoilt paradise, discovered by many a tourist and backpacker and now thoroughly spoiled. But you can’t have it all ways. There are two islands in Phi Phi, Phi Phi Don and Phi Phi Lei. Phi Phi Don is like Benidorm and Phi Pi Lei is like heaven, having been preserved as a National Marine Park. No houses can be built there and you can only visit on a day trip, which is what we did. Phi Phi Lei is also the film set of “The Beach” and as such now attracts more visitors than before, hoping to have a wee personal slice of paradise.
Our first port of call was indeed “The Beach” which is indeed lovely and instantly recognisable as the beach that de Caprio et al gambolled along. But of course now it is lined with twenty boat cruisers like ours. But the good thing is that you can only swim to get there, so that you can’t take a heap of snacks, water bottles and rubbish to leave there to last for all eternity like people seem to do on other beaches, so the sand is pristine. We didn’t go straight to the beach but moored in the deeper sea beside it and snorkelled which was fantastic. There were hundreds of brightly coloured fish, it was like "Finding Nemo" down there! They would all mill around you in shoals, centimetres from your face. Just wonderful.
John had given me an underwater disposable camera but unable to chew gum and walk at the same time, snorkeling and using an unfamiliar camera proved too much for me and I think I have broken it, so may not have photos of me and Louis pretending to be Don and Valerie Taylor (the divers filmmakers in Jaws). Still not everything has to be recorded. Put it like this; I think I will remember this for a long time, so who needs photos?
The thing about snorkeling is that when you see something you forget that you can’t shriek “Look! Look! Louis! An Angel fish!!!” without drowning yourself. I found this hard to get over and frequently snorted water up my nose in my excitement. Definitely going to learn to dive at one point. I can see why it’s so addictive. Memories of that film, “Open Water” aside……
Then we sailed on to “Monkey Beach” named after the fat baboon like beasts that hump in front of you with abandonment for your entertainment. We’ve seen monkey behaviour before to the max in Sri Lanka, where we had to endure a pornographic monkey display on our hotel room balcony. The memory of it still makes me gag, but I can’t go into why- just too revolting. Will get me banned from the blog site.
So we let the hoardes of Swedes taunt the monkeys with bananas whilst we snorkeled some more. Getting onto the beach was an ordeal though. We had to swim quite some way from the boat. Louis is getting to be quite a good swimmer and I was confident he would make it. I would take Eve with her armbands on, on my back. John however, can swim but in his head believes he cannot, which is a problem.
John didn’t learn to swim until he was in his twenties. As a kid his Mum nearly bankrupted herself paying for thousands upon thousands of lessons. But John was the swimming equivalent of that Maureen from “Driving School”, no matter how much tuition he got, he still couldn’t do it. I even tried to teach him, but he had no confidence and just couldn’t manage a length.
However, one night on our first ever holiday together in Corfu, Joe , an Army PT instructor living at our resort discovers that John can’t swim and makes it his mission to teach him. Being a bit of a one, Joe doesn’t wait til the next day to put together a carefully constructed programme of swimming exercises. No; Joe is a British squaddie . John must learn to swim NOW!
John however has tanned a bottle of Metaxa Brandy that we won in a pub quiz, that no-one else could stomach. John is very pissed. He may even have been sick at one point, I can't remember. Joe dodsn’t care- he orders John into the pool and doesn’t let him out until he can swim like a fish. Job done. We are forever in Joe’s debt. Even though John nearly died.
That’s over fifteen years ago and John can swim pretty well, but he still doesn’t rate his ability. He also panics a bit as I lower Eve into the water. In my mind, Eve goes down the ladder first and floats for a couple of seconds with her arm bands, until I get in and position her on my back, ready for the swim ahead. John jumps in the water, for some reason wanting to get in before Eve, and duly jumps on her, knocking her off the ladder. Eve is crying hysterically.
I now have to swim half a mile with a screeching, terrified three year old who refuses to go onto my back but instead acts as a lead weight at my front, clinging tightly round my windpipe as I try to swim to the shore. There was a point where I really thought, “I have to do this, if I can’t do this, we’re both dead.” But I made it, but only because I let go of her and then took her hand and made her swim alongside me, making my job a hundred times easier...and effectively saving both our lives.
Meanwhile, John is having his own personal nightmare as he thinks too much about not being able to make the distance coupled with the responsibility of having to save Louis, should he start to fail. The distance feels so much longer than it looked from the boat. But after considerable self-doubt, he made it and Louis is a swimming god.
Nevertheless, John is freaked out by the whole thing and pays a guy to canoe him and Eve back almost immediately. He was so grateful for the guy in the canoe that I think he might have paid him half his annual salary. Where’s Joe when you need him?
Other news, there’s a snake loose at the Kaw Kwang Beach Resort! The excitement! We gather round to watch as some of the waiters try to coax the poor bugger out of the palm that it has tried to escape into with broom handles. But never fear, as some Swedish blokes are clearly snake catching experts and shout helpful advice like “You need a net!”, "You're not doing it right!", and "No, do it this way!"
Sunday, 8 April 2007
As I usually get ants in my pants on day four of any holiday, I was granted special permission from the Fuhrer to attend an “event” to stop me bugging the rest of my tribe. This event was- Mouy Thai or Kickboxing to the rest of us. I clambered into the pick up with the rest of the full blooded males from the hotel, chewing raw meat and demanding Thai brains spattered all over my face from a kick that could KO a kangaroo.
Actually I was a little worried. How would I handle seeing severe pain? Would I have to fit into that annoying man thing, you know, the one learned at school from playground fights, or could I leap into the ring, Ghandi-like, and show a nation the error of it’s ways, extending the hand of peace (and getting bitch slapped for my trouble)? Hmmmmmmm.
I made a pact with an ex soldier called Steve that ON NO ACCOUNT was he to let me volunteer for any “Kick the Shit out of the Drunk Farang” contest, even if it was the eight year olds. ( I am as many of you know a master of the ancient Scottish martial art- Up Yu).
And so it began. First of all two greased up kids whacking the living bejesus out of each other. Actually, it was a lot more like dancing, and I began to think that this whole show was a set up to cream it in off the tourists. A fact I shared with my immediate neighbours, two fabulous Aussies called Kate and Derianne. Being Australian/ Kiwi, they instantly connected with me through the international language of swearing and we fecked and arsed our way through the whole shebang.
But then it really started- eight young men (twenty five is the retirement age for Kick Boxers) fighting knockout to win the title. Champions from every local Island and the main man from Bangkok. Only three rounds instead of the usual five so they went at it hammer and tongs.
And I loved it! It was energetic, skilful and edge of the seat. There were two knockouts- and I mean knockouts- lads lying prone on the floor and being woken with smelling salts and some rather aggressive neck manipulation. (Not a Doctor in sight!)
Me and the ladies went for “Pinkie” as we christened him to win. He had an honest face that could take a kicking and looked like the boy next door.
I had asked the gentleman next to me what each competitor was called. He answered Yes each time. He looked like the old guy in Gremlins, complete with stringy beard. However, I already have an Eve, which I on no account feed after midnight, so I left him to it.
Pinkie smashed through his first round beating a mulleted bouffante easily. Second round he just made it to the final with more elbow and knee action than his opponent. Then, after a “show match” between two tired older boxers which got rather heated towards the end. It was- The Final.
Pinkie was facing the Thai Mike Tyson. He was hard as a bag of nails. As my Scottish screeching echoed round the stadium, Pinkie fell over in 35 seconds, his honest face squashed against the canvas. Ach. Bollocks.