Discovering the world on $20 per day ......................

Post 277: To Korat

The memorial service for the Rear Admiral was actually quite a happy affair. It was held in the Temple where six monks conducted the service and six more appeared as soon as the food was served. Everybody got fed, everybody had a good time and according to local beliefs, the recently departed will be back amongst us soon enough. The Thai’s don’t view death in the same ‘Permanent’ way that we do in the West. For Thai's, death is more of a transition into the next and hopefully better existence. I’d like to say that I believed as they do, but sadly I don’t. When my three score years and ten are up, I’m afraid that ‘permanent’ will be a very appropriate word to use. After a few short days I'm really quite sad to be leaving Sattahip, but it's not really as if I'm actually leaving, I'm just being passed onto a different branch of a family who‘s surname I still didn‘t know.

After just six hours in the back of a Mitsubishi Pick-up truck, of which only five hours and fifty minutes were uncomfortable, I've arrived in Korat. As Thailand’s 2nd largest City I’m surprised that I’ve never been here before, but then Korat is only really famous for being anonymous. I’ve past through here several times on my way to and from Khon Kaen, but this will be the first time that I’ve ever stopped and spent any time here. At first sight it looks like any other large Thai City, but then I notice that something significant is missing. Along the busy shopping streets, of which there are many, I see not one sign that I recognise from the West. No Starbucks. No Boots. No McDonalds. No KFC. No Tesco. No Esso or Shell. Yes, Thailand’s second largest city seems to have avoided the names that now fill most of Thailand's shopping streets and could well turn out to be my kind of place.

On the journey up here, I discovered that one of the reasons for my ’volunteering’ to come to Korat, was to attend the funeral service of a young lad who yesterday died from cancer. He was 13 years of age and from what I can understand, loved motorcycles. I didn’t know him and being invited to what in the West are such personal and intimate family gatherings feels a little bit weird, but I’ll go with the flow and see what happens…. mai pen rai

It’s late when we arrive in Korat. Nobody has really thought about hotels and so I’m taken to the family home on an Army Base in the middle of Korat. In the outdoor kitchen, the women folk cook a meal of sticky rice and fish bought back in Sattahip and us men folk wash it down with bottles of Chang beer. I’m shown to a large room with three giant floor fans. It is to be my bedroom for the night. I know that it’s the biggest and best room in the house. I have no idea where everyone else is sleeping but I somehow get the feeling that when it comes to the sleeping arrangements for tonight, I’ve been given the cream. I feel guilty, but then after six hours in the back of a truck on Thai roads, guilt only goes so deep.

Post 276: Back to Sattahip

All good things must come to an end, and Koh Chang had been a very good thing indeed. I’ve loved my week there and I’m sad to leave it behind me, but leave it behind I must.

My Thai isn’t great, but from what I can make out, we’re waiting for two more people to join us. It’s a Japanese Mini-Bus, designed for 14 and there are 12 already aboard. Two more shouldn’t be a problem, and if nobody had any luggage then they wouldn’t be. But we all have luggage, and it is a problem. Tempers are beginning to flare, we’ve already missed the intended ferry back to the mainland, the air conditioning isn’t working and next time folks, please advise me to do ’Rich Circulation’. I’ve saved a couple of quid by booking the cheapest means of getting from Koh Chang to Sattahip, but this is going to knock years off my life. What a month I chose to stop bloody smoking, and I’ve just used my last nicotine patch …. mai pen rai.

I must have fallen asleep and I’ve woken up in the town of Jontiem, just South of Pattaya. I fall out of the bus and grab my luggage from the bottom of the pile. The rest of the good folks are heading for Pattaya and I’m left at the side of the road with a smile, a telephone number and the slim hope that when people tell you to ’Call’ if you’re ever in town, that they actually mean it.

An hour later, Aeg arrives in his Mitsubishi along with his wife and a welcoming smile. I can’t stay at his apartment on the Naval Base, but he’s found me an apparently suitable hotel called the ‘Paradise Ocean View‘. Suitable for what I wonder? For those of you who might remember Roman and Slava from Volgograd back in 2008, well it’s time to meet the outwardly friendlier Thai version. Aeg and his extended network of Family, Friends and Business Associates. It’s a long story and one day I will write a book, or another book, but I’m in Sattahip for the memorial service of a recently departed Rear Admiral who’s name escapes me. Why am I invited? Well, that reason escapes me too. But I’m here and I’ll go with the flow ….. mai pen rai

I’ve settled into the ‘Paradise Ocean View Hotel’, which ironically seems to be one of the few buildings in Sattahip that lacks any kind of Ocean View, and I’ve been taken on a whistle-stop tour of the City. For reasons of security, at least 50% of the tour I can not tell you about. It’s not that I’ll get shot for revealing Thai Naval secrets, it’s just that going ’In’ and ’Out’ of each Naval Base, I was locked in the boot of the vehicle. I’m sure that this wasn’t strictly necessary, but at least the guy’s up front had something to laugh about and I’ve got something to write about.

I’ve met the family of the Rear-Admiral and they do seem to be directly related to Aeg and his family. We went to the fish market somewhere on the coastal road and bought what in Blighty would have cost a small fortune. Oysters that the girl opened in front of us, 5Kg for 150 THB, £3.00. A mountain of fresh whole Crab (which in Thai is unfortunately called ’Poo’ ) at £1 per 2 Kg’s. Squid, Hawaii Lobster, Giant Prawns and a cold box full of Chang Beer and Spy Pink. These are great people that I‘ve found. The things that we are buying are by my standards amazingly cheap, but I’m only expected to pay my share, nothing more, everybody contributes equally.

Back at a house belonging to somebody who isn’t in the car with us, an oil barrel BBQ is lit and the cooking commences. A small team of builders are laying concrete at the side of the house and I sit wondering why they don’t move the wheelbarrow closer to the spot where they’re hand mixing the concrete. The wet mix is shovelled into buckets which are then carried twenty feet before being emptied into the wheelbarrow and pushed to the building site. I should bite my tongue, but I don’t. I move the wheelbarrow and for ten beautiful minutes, an energy sapping element of their already arduous routine has been avoided. It’s thumbs up all around and fifteen minutes later, they’re back to carrying buckets of wet concrete to the wheelbarrow again ….. mai pen rai

I’ve been given a 'Suzuki Swing II' to use during my stay here in Sattahip. It’s clearly an improvement on the older 'Suzuki Swing I' that I never rode, but the only thing that I really notice is that it actually has gears. The buggered toe on my left foot isn’t as happy as the rest of me, but oh how I’ve missed using gears over the past two weeks. It takes some getting used to. Four gears going downwards, nothing on the uplift and seemingly no neutral to worry about. I keep using my heel and toe at exactly the wrong times, but alternatively locking and then smoking the 1 Inch wide tyres is an absolute blast. This thing is a 2-Stroke and I guess around 110cc, but it weighs little more than an oily rag and could probably even put a smile on Jack Dee’s face.

Tomorrow it’s the memorial service and I really don’t know what to expect. I’m sure that it’ll be an experience and afterwards, I’ve been offered a free lift in a pick-up truck some 500 Km to Korat in Central Thailand. I’ve never been to Korat before but Aeg’s family are from that area and his parents have offered to let me stay at their home on an Army Base there. Last night I’d been a little too drunk to ride the Suzuki back to the Paradise Ocean View Hotel and so I’d been given a lift there by a stranger. This morning when I arrived down in reception, the pick-up truck was waiting to collect me. When we arrived at our destination, four kids and three bags of cement had mysteriously appeared in the back. I love this place for it’s unpredictability, and for exactly the same reason, I hate it. However, the best thing about not having a plan, is not having a plan. I can basically say ’Yes’ or ’No’ to anything on a daily basis, and if the mood takes me, I can later change my mind. This morning, the newly laid concrete path was being lifted again. They’d concreted over the drains ….. mai pen rai

Post 275: Koh Chang

.... big red sunsets, smiling new moons .... endless white sand beaches and fire dancing at midnight

................. Koh Chang really needs no words from me ... I'd only disturb the beautiful silence

...... the roads are spectacular but beware ..... they bite back .....

...... and the natural beaches are some of the best that you will find anywhere in the world.

Post 274: Koh Chang

A week? I can’t have been on Koh Chang for a week? Maybe the calendar’s wrong, it only feels like a couple of days since the gruelling journey to get here finally ended. I guess Koh Chang is one of those rare places in Thailand where you’re much more likely to loose your sense of time than your virginity. I guess that there are places here where a Gentleman my receive his Relish in abundance, but if there are such places then thankfully they’re really very well hidden. Either that, or I’m simply not looking for them, probably both …. mai pen rai

I’m trying to think of things to tell you. Things that have happened that might be of some interest. Well, I broke my toe, the first toe on the left foot. Technically it’s a dislocation of sorts, but the pain is probably the same. The pain wasn’t really as bad as it might have been. I know this to be true because later that night I caught the same toe in a hole in my bed sheet and discovered that the ‘’Worst pain imaginable‘’, is only a temporary accolade. Unfortunately, my ’Travel Insurance’ didn’t commence until two days after the incident and the medical assistance that I sought was therefore quite rudimentary. I was told to put some cream on it, which I did. It didn’t stop the pain, reduce the blackness or even lessen the swelling, but at least it slipped through the torn bed sheets a lot more easily than before.

I’ve been pottering around the Island on my little Honda Click, enjoying the scenery and watching tourists who would never dream of riding a bike at home, kissing the tarmac at every tight bend. Is it the sun? Is it some chemical in the SPF 15 tanning lotion? I’ve no idea, but there’s something about holiday islands that tempts ordinarily sane people into acts of sheer lunacy. It really is quite scary at just how crap some people are at riding these things but it makes it easier to understand why travel insurance is so bloody expensive. I watch them brake when they should be opening the throttle, turning in when they should be running wide and I seem to be the only person on this Island wearing a crash helmet. Did I mention filling up with petrol? Probably not, but you fill up using fuel stored in whiskey bottles and buy your fuel grade according to colour. I’m Orange.

Not content with just this one beautiful Island, I hopped onto a boat at Bang Bao and spent some glorious time on several others. A little snorkelling, diving with some borrowed scuba equipment and too many hours spent under too much sun with too little sun cream. Does life really ever get much better than this? As a man who once resided in the fine County of Essex, Canvey will never seem quite the same again. I’ll tempt you with come pictures another day when I‘ve got more time ….. mai pen rai

Post 273: Onto Koh Chang

The Island of Koh Chang is just a 25 minute ferry journey away from the bustle of the mainland. On the other hand, if like me you arrive at the wrong ferry terminal, then it’s more like 55 minutes ….. mai pen rai

The West side of Koh Chang seems to be where everything is located. When I say ’everything’, I of course mean everything in a tourist sense of the word. My first stop is Klong Prow Beach, a few kilometres South of the main tourist area of White Sands, but close enough for rental bikes to be available and for budgets not to be broken.

I try three rental bikes from the same vendor. It’s actually a local seafood restaurant but here in Thailand, diversification is everything. The three bikes are all quite recent model Honda Clicks and all for various reasons are accidents just waiting for inconvenient places to happen. The first has a warped front disk making the brake either ’On’ or ’Off’, there’s simply no middle ground. The second has just been serviced and the mechanic has over-tightened the head races making steering virtually impossible. The third has clearly already taken a giant leap of faith and landed heavily on both wheels, wheels that are now buckled to hell and back. To the eye, all three bikes look perfectly clean and usable, but I fear that many wide eyed tourists wont try before they buy …. mai pen rai

I move along the Soi (Street) and at the ’OK Dive Centre’, I find an identical Honda Click. It looks just as clean as the others but after a brief test ride, I declare this one to be fit and proper. The vendor is impressed with my Thai. Not that I can speak Thai, because I really can’t, but She’s impressed that at least I try. I sign the ’Hire Agreement’ and she asks for my Passport. I refuse and she smiles, ’no problem’. Leaving your passport when renting a bike isn’t necessary, but most people simply don’t question it when asked. The bike’s not only good, but it’s also very cheap. 150 THB per day is 50 THB cheaper than Death Trap Central and yes, I do have my own lovely helmet Ma‘am.

How would you describe Koh Chang? Well, I guess that depends on which particular part of Koh Chang your looking at and how expensive your vantage point is. In Thai, Koh means Island and Chang means Elephant, so Koh Chang is the ‘Island of Elephants‘, but I suspect that the only elephants here now are strictly for the amusement of tourists. Around the Island travelling anti-clockwise, there seems to be a mixture of ’One Stop Vacation Resorts’ where the rich are segregated from the poor and then some less expensive ‘Beach Resorts’ for those who’s Rolex watches did not come with lifetime guarantees. For others, like me, there are small huts that you find via advertisements nailed to palm trees.

As you travel further around the Island, the posh hotel complexes seem to vanish just before the road does. Worry not, the tarmac might be gone but the less trodden path continues. The tarmac becomes a single strip of wandering concrete and then turns to gravel. After that, the way forward becomes slightly less certain and you take your pick from numerous sand tracks with hand painted signs nailed to coconut trees. One sing that I particularly like the look of simply says ‘Nice Beach this way’. These non-roads would have the Tiger screaming for mercy, but the little Honda just ploughs on through them. It’s fun, it’s not scary in the least and I just simply can’t stop laughing … mai pen rai.

Along these sandy tracks you find huts that are available for rent. Electricity and ceiling fan, 300 THB per night, or with air conditioning for 500 THB. It reminds me of Koh Samui some twenty-five years ago. Before they built the airport and kicked the living crap out of the place. It’s now ’High Season’ in the more upmarket areas of Koh Chang, but here in Backpacker Ville ….. all year seems to be ’High’ season.

I lounge on the beach wondering what to do next. I’m drinking cold milk from a freshly chopped coconut. Close to the shoreline, sitting on a rickety old wooden bench in the shade of a tall tree, which I must say is a particularly agreeable place to be right now. The first sign on the tree tells me ''{lease Not to Pick Coconuts'' and the other simply ''Beware of Falling Coconuts'' .... now that would be quite ironic …. mai pen rai

Post 272: South to Sattahip

The road heading south out of Pattaya seemed like the best one to take. I knew that it went to Sattahip and then onwards to Koh Chang, but I wouldn’t be going that far tonight … would I ? A bike shot past me, clip-on bars, single racing seat and a menacing megaphone exhaust. Not a clue what bike it was, but it was travelling twice as fast as me and sounded like a dream. There are an awful lot of bikes on the road tonight. Real bikes, not just scooters or tourist rentals. I keep seeing groups of Harley’s and old Japanese Big 4’s, but by the time I get them in my twist ‘n’ go sights, they’ve usually gone. There must be some sort of bike gathering happening at the weekend. In Pattaya I saw a group of German guy’s wearing leather vests and looking every bit like well groomed weekend Hells Angels. Nothing unusual about that in Pattaya, but perhaps these mustachio dudes were actually here for the bikes. I’ll try and find out what’s happening …. and then probably avoid whatever it is that I find.

I turn away from the main road where I’ve surprised myself by actually keeping up with most of the traffic. I head towards Khao Chee Jan and the giant image of Buddha that clings to the face of a mountain. Mountain? Hill? No idea, but it’s 130 metres tall and was put here to commemorate the King’s Golden Jubilee back in 1996. As a golden outline of Buddha attached to a rock face, it’s probably the best example that I’ve seen, but then again, it’s competing in quite a small and specialized category. I wander around for a while as the sun begins to set. If I’d arrived here an hour or so earlier than I could have walked to the top, but I didn’t and I’ll probably get over it.

Instead of heading back towards the main road and Sattahip, I turn right and head uphill. I could say that something of interest was calling me, and in a way it is. Some kids have been larking around and moved all of the sprinklers from the lawns to the side of the road and created a curtain of water right across it. It’s fun, nobody knows me and I really don’t give a shit. I’m old enough to travel alone but that doesn’t necessarily mean that I ever grew-up.

Refreshed, at the top of the hill I find the ’Silverlake Vineyard‘. Yep, I didn’t know that Thailand had a wine industry either. Sadly, the tasting room is closed but the view of the big red sunset from the top of the hill is quite spectacular. I’ll look out for a bottle of Baan Silverlake next time I’m in a restaurant with a wine list ….. So somebody better remind me at a much later date.

Then, I hear the noise again. A deep burble in the distance, getting closer. I twist ’n’ go and just manage to flag him down before he vanishes into the distance. It’s almost dark and he has no headlight. In fact, he has no lights at all. What he does have though is a bike that’s dressed like an old Manx Norton but beneath it’s skirt sit’s a Yamaha SR400 engine …. Could I possible have a go?

Post 271: Sanctuary of Truth

Just north of Pattaya on Rachvate Cove Naklua, in 1981, 35 acres of prime ocean front land were purchased and saved from certain vulgarity by an unassuming Thai businessman. The man in question probably gets a mention here and there, but his name I’ve forgotten and that’s probably the way that he wants it. Upon the 35 acres has been built a wooden structure, not a Temple and not a Shrine. It’s a ’Sanctuary’ and until visiting this place, I had absolutely no idea what a sanctuary really was. I now know exactly what one is, it’s this place. Don’t bother looking it up on Wikipedia because that will just confuse you more, just come here and the minute you enter it’s ornately carved wooden gates, you’ll immediately understand.

The Sanctuary isn’t finished, and nor will it ever be complete. It’s a continuous work in progress that reflects the world in which we live, a constantly changing landscape over which we only have a certain amount of control. It shows the relationship between Human Beings and the Universe …. Father, Mother, Earth, Sky, Sun, Moon and Stars. In Eastern philosophies these are the truths of being human, the truths that philosophers had searched for from time immemorial. Now, you’ve probably gathered that I’m a bit of a sucker for all of that ’Truth’ stuff, but here in Naklua, nobody is trying to ram anything down your throat.

The topbox on the Scooter attracts attention, nice attention that’s not from the law. Nobody wants my money, they want me to explore, enjoy and to report only nice things about them. A ticket is produced, a guide summoned and a horse and cart appears for my convenience. I’m red but not because of the already burning sun, red through embarrassment. To decline the offerings would be offensive to them, but to accept them is offensive to me … mai pen rai

The Sanctuary stands on top of a concrete base but everything else is wood. Meticulously carved by an increasing number of artisans who have been retrained in the almost forgotten art of wood carving. The salt air destroys the wood and any metal fastenings rust within five years. It’s a labour of love that‘s never ending and never finished. The attention to detail is stunning but the real joy of this place is in the way that the light plays around the structure. It’s quite surreal and impossible to describe. The uninvited guide wants me to keep on moving but I don’t want to ’look’, I simply want to ’absorb’. I take a million photographs but what’s the point? You need feelographs to get any real hold on this place.

As the tour comes to an end, I wander off into the workshops and talk with the carpenters. I’m invited to try my hand on an actual, but no doubt soon to be hidden, small carving. It makes me feel like a part of the building and one day I’ll return and try to find my tiny contribution. Enough said. If you’re interested then one day you’ll visit this place, and if you’re not then you wont …. mai pen rai.

Post 270: Pattaya

To be honest, I did recognise that it was a one-way street, I just wasn’t too sure which way. Unfortunately the Bike-Cop sitting at the top of the Soi, knew exactly. He shouted and then started giving chase. He had a standard issue 200cc Boxer and I probably couldn’t out-run him, but as he was fat and pursuing me on foot, I probably should have tried.

It isn’t like getting a tug in Russia, here it’s done with a smile and even the larger fines are peanuts. Ignoring my IDP, he confiscates my UK Driving License, hands me a ticket and points me in the direction of Soi 9 and the main police station. The fact that while he’s writing the ticket most of the two-wheeled traffic if doing exactly what I’d just done means nothing. They’re Thai, and I’m Farang.

In the main police station, I grab a ticket and wait for my number to be called. I’m the only Farang in there and thus probably the only person with more money than excuses. So … no point in keeping me waiting. I hand over 400 THB, £8 in old money, and my ticket is stamped three times, by three different officers, in three different glass cubicles. Back at the scene of my accidental crime, the Bike-Cop is all smiles. I’ve no doubt just fulfilled his daily ticket quota and the rest of the day is his own ... mai pen rai kap

It’s still only 9:00am and Pattaya is still sleeping. Just as well, because when Pattaya wakes up, it’s an absolute shit hole. On the brightside, Scooters here might not be the cheapest in Thailand, but they’re certainly plentiful. For 200 THB, or £4 per day, I’ve picked up an almost brand new Suzuki 125 Hayate. Nope, I’ve never heard of it either, but I have to tell you, it’s a lot more fun than it sounds. Automatic, push-button start then simply twist and go. I’m not used to the set-up and keep applying the back brake every time I reach for the clutch. The brakes are probably fine, but without any engine braking to mention, it feels a little weak in the stopping department. But hell, does this thing go. It flies along in traffic and can turn on a sixpence. After just a day on this thing I can totally understand why ’feet forward’ riding is this years black. My only problem with that is that on a bike, I ride on my toes and not on my arches. It’s a little weird and I have to keep reminding myself that the petrol tank is somewhere beneath my arse and that using a knee to steer the bike is a fruitless and futile exercise.

I’m actually on my way to ’The Sanctuary of Truth’, just to the North of Pattaya in Naklua and then tomorrow down to Koh Chang via Sattahip. I’ve never been to any of these places there before but I’ve heard an awful lot about them and hopefully, they’ll all exceed my expecations. One of the reasons for choosing Pattaya as my first port of call, was not simply because of the availability of Scooters, but to head South and to avoid Tassaneeya who is currently down in Hua Hin on the opposite side of the Gulf with her latest squeeze. Now don't get me wrong, when a former girlfriend acquires a new partner, I'll always be the first to congratulate them, but when the term 'former' is replaced with 'current', I'm not usually so quick with my congratulations. Anyway, the plan of avoidance was good, but an SMS message this morning tells me that She’s changed direction and is currently in Koh Chang. She had no idea that I was going there, so lets just hope that as an Island, it’s a hell of a lot bigger than it looks on the map ... mai pen rai kap.

Post 269: Bye Bye Blighty

‘Yelo Taxi’ to Braintree Railway Station, their spelling not mine, but it was quite big. The driver’s a former City Sprint Despatch Rider, there are a lot of us about. Braintree Station, a ticket to Terminal 4 and thirty minutes spent watching three men measuring the distance between the rails. One man with a measuring device and the other two with large warning flags, eagle eyes and a pair of health and safety badges.

Train to Liverpool Street on the hour and bang on time. The journey takes me back but n reality, it’s carrying me forward. Stratford’s beginning to look all grown up, so lets hope it’s ready for 2012. Underground to Heathrow, but here on the Piccadilly Line it’s really more Overground. I pass the time by mentally reciting the postcode of every station along the way and wonder just how many London miles you have to ride in order to become that anal.

London’s Heathrow Airport. Etihad Airways Check-In counter, Zone C @ T4. ’T’ stands for ’Terminal’, good choice, it’s really quite grim. It’s still three hours before departure. Standing in a long line playing the slowest ever game of human Snake. Why do some people look more suspicious that others? A floppy eared Spaniel sniffs around their cases and moves on. I’m relieved, but I’m also embarrassed for having had such uncharitable thoughts based solely upon a persons physical appearance. ’Physical Appearance, what other kind of appearance is there? I’m smiling. The Spaniel looks happy in his work and I wonder if the European Working Time Directive applies to canines? He moves closer to me and my smile begins to fade. I remember the weed that I found growing all across Siberia and although I didn’t mention it at the time, a few samples may well have found their way into my topbox. Thankfully the dog sniffs once, flops his very floppy ears and moves on down the line. I’m a non-smoker, but does that really have to include weed?

’Is this case Fragile Sir?’. I giggle. She’s pointing to my topbox. If it’s survived everything that I’ve thrown at it over the years, then I’m sure that’s it’s far less fragile than I. On the other hand, I’ve seen what United do to Guitars, ’Very Fragile’ I warn her. ‘Thank you Mr Thomas. You’ll collect your bag in Bangkok. Have an enjoyable flight with Etihad Airways and here is a ’Pass’ for the Etihad Diamond lounge that you’ll find located next to Gate 10’.

With two hours still to spare, I decide to have what will be my last UK meal for quite some time. I’m limited for choice, so it’s ’CafĂ© Rouge’ and £10 for a small plate of shite. Hell, for £10 in Asia I could eat like a King and still have enough change to get myself into an entire world of shite. Well, I’m not in Asia yet so I’ll just eat my salmon fishcakes and prolong the gastronomic experience by whining about it on the Blog.

Passport control. Am I being ’Signed Out’ I wonder? No idea. Security is thorough. I suspect that babies have been conceived with less physical contact than this. Laptop out, pockets emptied, shoes off. No metal anywhere, step through the electronic door frame. ’Beep’. Arms aloft, legs apart, memories of ’SUS Laws’ come flooding back. (Ask your Parents). ’Beep’. A brisk and thorough frisking from an unsympathetic security operative. ’Beep’, bollocks. Nicotine Patches, metallic based, please don’t confiscate them. I’m a non-smoker, so please don’t confiscate my nicotine inhaler either.

Smile and thought shall receive. I remember the pass that was handed to me at Check-In. Etihad Airways Diamond First Lounge, access all areas. Holy Mother of Extravagance. Real coffee and biscuits without a brand name stamped anywhere upon them. Sumptuous chairs upholstered in the finest gerbil pelts to match the stunning coffee tables. Ocean deep carpet, two attendants to every guest and that’ll do very nicely for me. I look a little out of place, but I look even more out of place when I pull out my crash helmet and start taking photographs. ’Nice helmet Sir’. It’s not often I get compliments like that these days, ‘Thank you very much’.

It’s all just a little too posh in here for me. At any moment, the actress masquerading as a receptionist is going to call to me. ‘’Sir Alan will see you now’’. Magazine and Newspaper racks, probably solid teak, definitely no Red Tops. The room begins to fill. I’m the only person not wearing a shirt with a collar, but still the attendant offers me a massage; Head, Neck, Foot, Body or All? I wonder if he’s taking the piss, but I think he’s being deadly serious. I decline, but I will admit to at least being curious. Did I mention the Bathrooms? Alone, they’re probably worth whatever extra a 1st Class ticket would cost you. Basins, thrones and urinals all hewn from solid marble and seemingly heated to body temperature. Single use hand towels, Egyptian cotton, dry once and then pass to the poor people to launder.

Back in the lounge, it’s all a little bit too much for me. I’m overwhelmed, my well worn Converse trainers are attracting unwanted attention and not just because of the smell. I feel like something of a fraudster. ‘Champagne Sir?’ …. it’s tempting, very tempting. ‘No thank you .. I’m a non-smoker’.

Post 268: 48 Hours to Departure

Back in early January, I was starting to get my ducks arranged into neat little rows when the wind suddenly changed direction and scattered them all to hell. I wont bore you with the matrimonials, but my plans went out of the window and all existing bets were cancelled. The full-fat tour of SE Asia wasn’t going to happen and I had no alternative but to make the best of a bad job. A bad job? What the f**k am I saying? I’m about to bugger-off on another adventure and even in my book of elementary reasoning, that’s about as far removed from ‘Bad‘ as it‘s ever possible to get. My brother Alan pointed out that since the start of this new millennium, some fairly inclement fortune has blown my way, and he’s not entirely wrong. But, on the many occasions that I’ve had the misfortune to grab the shitty end of life’s stick, I’ve then compounded the problem by forgetting to wash my hands after letting it go. Glass half full or glass half empty? I wasn’t really sure, so last week I sat down and typed out an ’S & S’ list. It wasn’t the longest list ever written, but there was certainly an awful lot more ‘Sugar’ than ‘Shit‘ on it. Time to stop complaining and get on with it Geoffrey.

It’s also time to change the stuff that I don’t like in my life and start concentrating on the things that I do enjoy. The first thing that’s got to go is the place that for the past 14 months, I’ve jokingly called ‘Home’. It all began pleasantly enough, but the occupants have recently changed and it’s gone from being ‘Eclectically Strange’ to ‘Uncomfortably Strangeways‘. I’ll spare you all the gory details, but as of Tuesday 9th of February, it‘s history. My bags are packed, what I’m not taking with me will be stored and on Monday evening, the remainder will be ceremonially torched. It’ll be just like ’Burning Man’, but in Essex and without the gratuitous nudity. Hell, I’ve even started running and stopped smoking again. I’m not quite ready to start living on soya milk and tofu, but give it a little more time and all things are possible.

Moving into February and I’m actually beginning to embrace this newly unplanned existence. In the past, I always fooled myself into thinking that I was just always going against the flow, but in reality, I probably wasn’t. I did some crazy things, but they were all done within the fairly broad parameters of some loose but unwritten plan. This time however, it’s different. I’ve got a ticket to Bangkok, a loose plan to find a rental bike somewhere in Chonburi and an intention to then start heading South. South only because South is a direction that I’ve never really travelled and South form Chonburi are places that I’ve yet to visit. I’ve absolutely no idea how far I’ll go or even when I’ll be back, but I’ll try not to get arrested and will update the Blog as often as I can.

Oh, the reason for the photograph? That's exactly where I found my milk this morning. Not in the wonderfully cold fridge, but in a cupboard next to the cornflakes where the previous user had clearly thought it most convenient to leave it.