Damn, I’m running out of energy. Early mornings of digging earth, shovelling stones, wheelbarrowing stones through wet clay, moving concrete blocks from one end of the garden to the other, these things are catching up with me. Amy jokes that it’s like an everyday episode of the Biggest Loser and I hope that it can at least result in some weight loss. We generally only work until about 10am when the sun breaks through the cloudy haze and starts to sear flesh. If we are not running around on errands or furniture shopping we can get a couple of hours in from about 5pm when heat tends to dissipate somewhat.
I’m trying to keep my promise to never complain about the heat here and, in fact, most of the time it doesn’t bother me too much, certainly not to complain or moan about. But it is energy sapping. I’m at 3-4 showers a day at the moment. Any effort in the garden is almost instantly rewarded with wet clothes and it’s important to cover up as much skin as possible. The biggest pain is when bending down to pick out weeds and sweat pours over my glasses, which I’ve also managed to drop on concrete and scratch the supposedly scratch proof lenses. The next biggest pain is standing upright again and feeling dizzy for a few seconds.
We arrived at our house at about 8.30am this morning, with Amy’s parents driving up too. We had a small hornet’s nest to get rid of and Dad was going to show me the correct way to use the metal bladed strimmer, which appeared to be just not to use near anything that might smash the blades, which is unfortunately not that many places on our land but at least he got some long grass and weeds cut. However, as soon as we arrived I was so exhausted I fell asleep for 3 hours, despite all the noise going on around the house and garden.
We’ve started buying various bits of furniture that we need now that we are close to the end of the house build. We won’t get them delivered until we’re absolutely sure everything that needs fixing is fixed and that seems to be delaying us a bit and it looks like I may not even get to live here before I head off for my course in Chiang Mai.
I’m supposed to be doing a pre-course task before attending but I’ve just been too tired and time consumed with everything else. This weekend we are driving to Chiang Mai to meet Sydney friends Lekky, Steve and Lena, along with Jessica and her dad. We’ll drive back to Chiang Rai with Jessica and her dad the following day and then drive up to the Myanmar border the day after and see what goodies we can buy there. I’ll be driving mostly though I hope I can get Amy to drive on Sunday so I can watch the AFL on my phone.
I’ve had to pay for the AFL app access along with VPN subscription to be able to watch the games but in the end, it seemed to be the easiest option. There are a couple of Aussie bars in the city that screen the games but they don’t open until 5pm and the early games are already halfway through by then. Plus I like to have a beer and relax when watching and don’t want to have to drive the 20kms or so home afterwards. Damn, I can’t wait to sit down on our new lounge with a beer from our new fridge, watching football, overlooking the sun setting over the mountains out the back window, the smell of Amy’s delicious cooking wafting from our kitchen. It can happen one day, right?
I have more to write but it’s going to have to wait. There are no more 1994 entries scheduled to post either, not until I get more free time to write them up which might not be until the end of May.
What a lovely place to be, what a lovely place to be.
Five exhausting days down. Early starts, late nights, big digs and frequent fights. Building a house isn’t stressful, right? Even though I’m not physically doing the building there’s much to consider every day and without the local language, it’s an extra stress on Amy to translate and sometimes even decipher, as she doesn’t know some of the correct words and phrases for things in either language.
Language and its meaning have become an issue from time to time as, from what I can feel, Thai is quite vague about things and, of course, English likes to be precise. Words like soon, here, now, not sure and the ubiquitous yes and no can all be interpreted in many ways.
Amy has gotten used to the more precise language of English but I’ve noticed her falling back into vaguer terms which in the end frustrates me. Sometimes, she’ll get annoyed when Thai people do the same to her too. When it is other people, such as the workers building our house or Amy’s friends trying to arrange things etc then it doesn’t bother me too much but somehow when it’s Amy doing it to me and then she gets frustrated with me then it can escalate quickly depending on the moods we’ve woken up with. (This paragraph seems vague to me now on re-reading so maybe I’m adapting too!)
This week those moods have been tested by many things. The set of workers who have been here for two months have moved to a new site, dismantling their temporary shacks. We (Amy and her mum really) organised a big meal and beer and juice for their last night but that morning we had to run around to fix up a few things that the workers had broken or messed up that by lunchtime Amy and I were both getting hangry with each other.
Finally, we got some lunch and slowly our moods improved particularly after our builder dropped by and tried to help out with fixing things. Late afternoon soon came and we both couldn’t wait to start on a cold beer and we prepared tables, chairs and food.
Although most of the workers are Burmese and don’t speak Thai, and none of them speaks any English, we’ve come to know and appreciate each other whilst working together here. We can see that they are not professionals and they are doing their best, they work really hard in pretty rough conditions. If we look closely at their work we can see things aren’t straight or haven’t been done quite to the standard we might expect in the west, or the standard we might actually desire. We have to accept that you get what you pay for and this is what we can afford right now.
Honestly, we really do appreciate the work they’ve done and it was great to see their happy faces as we tried to talk with each other. We found out that they are all from Yangon and only get back home once every 2 years and it’s a three-day bus ride. We told them that we could understand how they feel, being displaced in another country. Amy has to chastise some of her friends who sometimes make derogatory comments about foreign labour ‘taking our jobs’. Yes, it’s the same here as anywhere else in the world. She reminds them that she was in the same situation for ten years in Australia and had to face the same kind of intolerance from people too.
After a few days of stress, we were somewhat more relieved at the arrival of some doors and windows. Even though we don’t have them all yet it gave us a small sense of security and a feeling that this is ours. Despite all the minor faults here and there, most of which can be fixed, we can see our home becoming more real. Now, if we can just get the final doors put in, maybe we can stop the rats and hairy worms from invading.
Talking of visitors a local dog decided to drop by and christened our new driveway gate before continuing on his way. A cat seems to have left its mark in our dining room too, something we’ll have to clean up smell-wise before we move our two in here and they decide to start doing the same thing.
We also need to start investigating what types of trees to plant to entice more birds to come and visit, in the hope that they eat more of the bugs that are hanging around. We’re on a big learning curve with the garden and due to its size just taking care of it is very time-consuming. Currently, watering takes a couple of hours. Yesterday I borrowed Amy’s dad’s strimmer, called a lawn mower here, and set about attacking the weeds and long grass that have sprouted pretty much everywhere. The strimmer uses a metal blade and our land is littered with hidden rocks and stones and I didn’t even make it halfway before the blades got messed up and the internal rotor decided it had had enough of my heavy-handedness and the thing fell apart. Looks like an easy fix but only for someone who knows what they are doing, ie. not me.
Luckily, many things seem to grow easily here. I mean, besides the weeds. Check out the size of our first mango below.
Back with the ants. Life seems to be involving them in one way or another as each day passes. I guess we gotta share this place.
One dinner time, as Amy was preparing some fabulous dish that I forget now as it’s not really relevant to this story, she told me to serve myself and heat up some rice from the fridge. I grabbed the container and a plate and went to the table, plied the lid off and saw little black dots on the rice which looked like it may have been mould. I decided to wait. In Amy’s parent’s house, copious amounts of rice are made daily, whether it’s used or not, some kept out, some in the fridge and a fresh lot in the rice cooker.
I called out to Amy and said there was ‘black stuff’ in the rice. She asked if it was mould, and I said maybe or maybe ant eggs. She came to have a look and declared it was just tiny ants. That’s ok then. I picked around the black bits as best I could. Amy estimates she would have probably eaten well over 10,000 ants by accident in her lifetime.
The following night Amy’s dad offered me a dish of red ant eggs with veggies to which I declined. I also spied the tub of rice from the fridge and noticed that one of the tiny ants in there was still moving. I bet those things can live all the way through your body.
The ants are everywhere in Amy’s parent’s house, anywhere where some form of food can be found, though not sure what’s in the bathroom that entices them, maybe flecks of toothpaste and dead skin. I’m wondering how we can keep them out of our house.
Which leads me to the second ant story. As I was watering the garden I’ve been pulling out weeds, loosening the ground with water so I can pull up as much of the roots as possible. I find this strangely satisfying. I’ve been careful to look out for snakes and other little beasties and then I came across an ant’s nest, less than ten feet from our kitchen.
The ants were possibly disturbed by my watering but were running around in a bit of a tizzy, some of the carrying stuff that I couldn’t quite make out. I went and told Amy about the nest and she didn’t think much of it at the time saying if we need to we can get rid of them with ‘chemicals’.
So I went back to watering and weeding, noticing that the ant action had died down mostly, with just a few scattered wanderers scurrying about. That was when I felt an almighty sting on my finger as I was pulling up a weed. I let go of the weed and pulled up my hand to find one of these little bastards attached to my finger. I quickly brushed it off as the pain intensified and I wondered if I needed to go to the hospital or something serious like that.
I pissed and moaned for a bit and carried on watering and after a while, the pain subsided. It did make me think though that if a bunch of these ants had decided to climb up inside my shirt or shoes, that would be something a little more worrying and potentially dangerous.
Later, Amy saw a picture I took of the ants and proclaimed ‘Oh those ones are nasty – we need to get rid of them’. We’re looking for ‘chemicals’ now.
PS – the feature picture isn’t connected to this post. It was taken when I managed to duck out from Amy’s parent’s house on my pushbike. I enjoy just riding around the small sois (streets) nearby and getting lost before finding my way again.
12th Mar 2023 – How cautious I was at the time, still not knowing what was dangerous or not. Now, ants and lizards, in and around the house, are just normal. We never did get any chemicals.
Blood and death? Is this all I am to hear for the rest of my days?
Could you not find pleasure in the act of love – Or have you become so perverted that you find excitement and entertainment only in brutality?
30th Jan 2022 – Poignant words in 2018 and still 4 years later, and, sadly, probably for any time in recent human history. I forget which comic this comes from and don’t recognise the character – maybe The Question. It’s kinda ironic to note that he is being brutal whilst complaining about others brutality!
I recently asked my students how to fix pollution and one laughingly suggested killing all humans. Drastic but perhaps the only real solution. They played out the whole scenario talking about everything else would just continue its normal cycle of growth and rebirth and perhaps one day humans would evolve again but with the ability to learn not to make the same mistakes.
Another busy week of back and forth. I’m slowly getting into the rhythm of the hours and the days. A weekly rhythm is illusive still but that’s fine, most days I have no idea what day it is. It’s a big change from sitting around in an air-conditioned office, staring at a screen for 12 hours at a time, though I do spend a bit of more time looking at my phone these days.
One time last week Amy came to me laughing after having talked with the electrician at our house. Apparently, he had heard, from someone around in the village, that I was a professional football player from Australia! I can guess that this came from the village store where I’d been a total of once at that time.
I trekked up there again to buy beer for our workers after one long day where I did a lot of back-breaking weeding. There’ll be more of that to come for sure, barely scratched the surface. Anyway, I managed to convey that I needed 12 cold beers and that they were all for Amy, whilst I was just having a yoghurt drink. They complimented me on the house and then said how hot the weather was. Well, it’s small talk but I’m getting there slowly when I’m allowed off my leash. I wonder what gossip that visit generated as I trudged in in my boots and sweat-ridden clothes. We shall see.
Talking about being let off the leash, whilst I’ve been happily driving around in Amy’s mum’s car, or dad’s truck, I was granted permission to ride the motorcycle. Usually just at night when it’s quieter and we never go too far anyway. Amy had been riding with me on the back and I think she was finding it hard to control with the extra weight, better to let me ride instead.
I think she almost changed her mind on the first few runs though. The motorcycle is somewhat dilapidated and the front brake doesn’t work at all. It took me a while to master the gear changes, whilst also using the gears to brake half the time. I decided we’ll get an automatic bike when we get round to getting our own. Much simpler. I need simple these days.
The weather has been pretty good as far as I’m concerned. Even on the hot days, it wasn’t too much of a bother but I know it will get much more sticky and hot next month. The evenings, as the sun is setting, are perfect. We rode out to the old airport where folks young and old walk, run and ride up and down the runway, to get a bit of exercise in. Has to wrap up before the sun disappears though as there is no other light there at all. A few vendors have figured it’s a good place to make some money on water and various other drinks.
We walked past a group of about 30 teenage boys playing football, shirts vs skins, and I watched them for a bit, noticing the topless fat boy at the nearest corner. A few seconds later the ball came his way with a long floating kick from midfield. This was his chance for glory. But he had his back to the ball and facing towards us. His team all screamed at him, ‘Fatty, wake up and stop checking out the farang’s wife’, talking about Amy. Everyone laughed and we kept on strolling.
We met up with Goi, one of Amy’s old school friends, as we were walking and they chatted whilst I called up my cousin Sharon to see how she’s doing back in England, now that things are not quite so frantic with her looking after my mum. She asked if I felt bereaved and I said I didn’t really, things have just been too busy to even think about it too deeply, though I was always reminded of mum whenever I took photos of unusual plants and flowers. Sharon said to send them to her instead which I had planned to do anyway.
Later, when Amy and I were having dinner, she told me about Goi’s life and her worries about health, money and the future. Similar to another friend who is also raising a child, around 8 or so years old each. We are sympathetic to their situations as they ask about ours and why we don’t want kids. For us, the answer is obvious, we don’t want to have the same worries and concerns that they are now having. For some reason, it doesn’t make sense to them.
After the football incident, we are also constantly discussing the fact that some people around they city stare at us – a lot! We can understand people’s curiosity but some people literally gawp, mouth wide and follow us as we walk past. Foreigners are not that uncommon around town or even out in the countryside these days and we think maybe it’s because Amy doesn’t look like the traditional Thai girl a lot of foreigners seem to go for. I decided that next time it happens I will softly say in Thai, ‘Excuse me, what is it that you are staring at?’ The only downfall to this plan is that if they answer, I probably won’t be able to understand.
Whilst our garden is a constant battle against weeds, our next challenge will be the constant battle against insects, particularly, ants. Ants are everywhere in Amy’s parent’s house. Whatever is built they will find a way in. I don’t have anything against ants, as far as I know, none of them are dangerous, the thing that freaks me out with them is that sometimes, in low light and I’m not wearing my glasses, it looks like the walls or floor are moving and I’m reminded of tripping on mushroom tea. And it makes me want mushroom tea! The ants and the weeds will take over this world. They are unstoppable. We planted 5 small Jacaranda trees this week. Fingers crossed they take root, survive and maybe in a few years time even flower.
Another busy day taking care of business on our house building site, which often just involves sitting around and answering questions about what should go where, and we’re off in the evening for a dinner/birthday party near Mae Chan. The dinner is for one of Amy’s friends who is visiting from Bangkok, for her father’s birthday. I drive Amy and 3 other girl friends, up the highway, down some small farmland back roads passing new paddy fields and ending up on a small farm estate in this beautiful valley wilderness.
As I’m already used to with Amy and her friends getting together it is a non-stop barrage of noise which I’m mostly glad I can’t comprehend. Soon the food and beer are flowing and I’m quickly drunk enough to try a few deep-fried crickets. They seem pretty tasteless though I’m reassured they are a perfect accompaniment to beer but I prefer the mix of chilli with beer, to be honest. Maybe the crickets are better when eaten fresh and still crunchy. Will try again one day. Maybe.
I cheer everyone along including the birthday dad and his brother who are particularly amazed that I am 50 years old, thinking that I was only 30. They decide to welcome me as their son-in-law and later, drunker, as their daughter.
We hit it off so well, and I’m made to feel so welcome here that my new dad plays some tunes on a traditional instrument for me, after which he takes me out the back of the shed and invites me to pee on his fields anytime I need – a special privilege it seems.
Both the dad and brother run farmland in an organic way by using nature to counteract pests to allow proper growth. I’m invited to come along for lessons any time in the future and I think it’s something I’ll end up doing if I have time. We communicate in mixed sentences of Thai and English and dad grows more fond of me with each drink. He’s starting to flag it a bit though and I offer to take him up the hill to his home. But when we get there his son is drinking whisky with his friends and I’m invited to sit for a shot. I eventually get the old man to his room where he lights up a cigarette and continues to pour out his affection. Eventually, I make it back to the food and drink but by now I’m so far out of it that I blank out anything else the evening brings, except for one pee stop on the way home. Amy drove home of course, not me!
The following day is a complete write off for me though we go back to the house to answer any more questions and I sleep quietly on a mat on the tiled floor in the corner of what will be our living room.
My days now will be repetitious with going to Home Mart type stores and picking accessories as they are required, hoping that our selections make sense when jammed all together in our house. Does a red front door go better than blue? Who knows? Over the next month, we will find out.
One afternoon we have to get back to take Amy’s grandmum (on her dad’s side) to get an injection at the clinic. She has an open appointment and dad says to go at 5pm. Now, this is a fine example of how it’s possible that some people’s brains are wired differently, as discussed in a previous post. Dad doesn’t consider to confirm this appointment and as he and mum are out for the evening it is up to Amy and me to take grandmum. When we get there the clinic is, of course, closed. Amy complains quietly to me that this always happens with her dad and she gets frustrated cos everyone gets angry with her when she makes a fuss about it. But it’s a huge waste of time for us and no apology is offered.
Worse still is that when we wake up in the morning both mum and dad are out for the day and although it isn’t stated it is expected that we will take grandmum when the clinic opens again today, despite all the things that we have to do too. But we do so and for this, we are not even rewarded with a word of thanks.
Amy complains that dad never offers to clean up dishes or more female related housework and anytime she says anything her grandmum will scold her. It is obvious that grandmum has spoiled and coddled him all through his life, much as she does with Amy’s brother too. It reminds me of the time Amy complained to her boss about the behaviour of the barista where she worked in Sydney and the boss said to ignore it as he’s ‘just a boy’. What fun it must be to go through life just as a boy.
In other news, I’m adjusting myself to the ways of the slipper. Thai houses are shoes off but slippers are offered as you enter, many shops do this too. I’ve soon learned that tie up shoes are time wasting and having to learn the little kick to shove off my slip-ons and step delicately into the slipper shuffle. I now understand the shuffle of my friends in Malaysia. The shuffle is required as you don’t get the slipper or thong on in the first go but work it up your toes as you shuffle along. You may then continue shuffling so that your shoes don’t suddenly come flying off. I haven’t quite mastered it yet but I’m getting there. I’ve even started thinking about where the pile of shoes and slippers are going to end up in our house when it’s ready.
And in a final piece of funny events, I had a laugh when shopping in the supermarket yesterday. I’m not usually one to laugh at miswritten statements on t-shirts in Asia as I believe it shows an ignorance on both sides of the coin. But this one made me chuckle. I’m guessing this aunty was in her 50s and her shirt read ‘I WANT TO SEE YOU FUCKING DIE!’ We’d probably be arrested for wearing this shirt in Australia or the UK and I do hope that she actually did understand the words on her shirt cos that would make her truly punk rock.
Here’s the sunset from our bedroom window. Enjoy your day, wherever you are.
It’s becoming obvious that I’m not going to be able to keep up with regularly posting updates here as time seems to slip on by. I’ll do my best to keep note of things and get to them when I can but not sure how I’m going to be able to keep them concurrent with events from 1994, of which there is still a mass of writing for that year in my diary.
If I just limit myself to a paragraph per note I’ve made this post is going to get quite long. I’ll try and be more concise.
So, our final morning in Dorset sees me going through some boxes of things my mother kept over the years. I’m interested in the photos more than documents such as birth and death certificates and old school reports. In particular are a couple of school photos I’m guessing from when I was 12 and 13. You can just see my hair starting to get more punked up, for which I got so much shit at school at the time, from teachers and older kids who nicknamed me Sid. I never got on with that nickname as I was more into Johnny Rotten but it was difficult to tell kids that as they were kicking and punching me for their random pleasure. The thing with these two photos is you can still see the light in my eyes, just starting to dull in the later one. These years were the start of what later would be diagnosed as mild depression. The transition from middle to high school was particularly traumatic as I had a whole new bunch of older kids to pick on me though I soon found some allies.
Before we know it we’re up the motorway again, back to other old haunts in Southampton. We’re staying with Amy’s cousin Ting, who has been in England so long she has the thickest English accent I’ve heard for a while – so much so that I barely recognise her on the phone sometimes.
Amy heads off with Ting to do some shopping as they are cooking together at a friend’s house that evening, whilst I head over to see my old pal, Chrissy.
Chrissy was the wife of Steve, whom, if you’ve been following so far, was the inspiration for writing the 1994 diary after his untimely death the previous year. I caught up with her briefly in Sydney a few years before as she was attending someone’s wedding there, just a suburb or two away from where I was living at the time. It was good to catch up again and talk shit like we did in the ‘good old’ days.
The afternoon is made more pleasant by the arrival of Steve and Chrissy’s daughter Rebecca, who was less than a year old the last time I saw her. I am shocked at the resemblance to Steve and can’t stop looking at her face. It’s like he’s right there again.
I also make quick friends with their dog who despite being somewhat shy took to me for some good pats, strokes and ear rubbing. But soon enough it’s time to leave.
I head back to drop the car at Ting’s and get out the maps app so as to walk to the pub where I will meet more old timers and down a couple of pints. The air is very cold but the exercise warms me and I look into people’s houses as I pass and wonder what their lives are holding for them today.
I stop off for some hot chips as I’ve not eaten much today and it would be preferable to line my stomach with something traditionally British and stodgy to soak up any alcohol intake.
There are some bands playing tonight, including some old friends but I’m not so interested in the music as I am in talking. Rich introduces me to his partner Geraldine and later Rob and his partner Emily turn up. A couple of other hopeful attendees find themselves busy elsewhere so they’ll just have to come and visit me in Thailand one day.
A jovial atmosphere and pleasant conversations quickly end this all to brief meet up but it’s much along the lines of that last night in Sydney, with certain friends you can just pick up on conversations with even years of interruption between.
The following morning we’re off to London. Amy wants to go shopping. I’m not particularly thrilled at that idea but I’ve set myself a task to track down a book I’m looking for. We’re also booked for a dinner in the evening at the Shard near London Bridge.
I’ve always enjoyed London as a place to visit but never, when living in England, felt the urge to live there. So, even rush hour tube trips have some sense of adventure to them. I’m constantly reminded of the Clash as we pass by certain stations and wonder at the motivations they had as they went from small house suburban London city to mega hotel New York city. Man, they wrote some tunes.
One thing I immediately notice is how much more multicultural London is than Sydney. Although not so used to hearing the English accent anymore it seems that in many places we visit and pass by that people aren’t speaking English at all. It’s a little unsettling and really cool at the same time.
This point is highlighted even more as we head for a pub lunch and I’m annoyed at myself for not understanding the bartender’s accent. I forget to apologise for my difficulty as her’s is a Lubjiana accent, so I ask her more about her country. She’s busy though but I think she wasn’t offended at my ignorance in the end.
We pop into Waterstone’s bookshop and finally I find the book I’m looking for, ‘Churchill’s Secret War’ and take this final chance to pick a couple of books about The Fall. I wasn’t going to buy these originally as I figured I could find them digitally but they were there, I was shopping, this was possibly the last day I’ll ever be in England and so they ended up in my luggage. Amy felt the same and bought a couple of massive cooking books which definitely means a rejig of our bags later tonight.
We’re starting to flag now and consider changing our plans for dinner tonight. It’s another beautiful sunny cold day, particularly bitter when the wind rushes through small side streets. We decide to head to the Shard early and see if we can just go up and take some pictures. We end up on the 34th floor at the small bar there and decide to splash out on a bottle of champagne and 6 oysters. These kinds of expenses usually bother me but I decided to relax again and enjoy this indulgence despite the fact the cost could probably build us a swimming pool in Thailand.
We reflect on our lives as we stare out across this old city and talk about how people think we are lucky to be able to do this and that. But we have worked hard, had a plan and always pointed our way towards it. I guess those comments are somewhat driven by the social media construct where friends generally only see you having fun, what appears to be, all the time. We know we have made the right choices along the way, the choices that have got us where we are now.
The following morning we are greeted with snow. What a nice surprise. The Mexicans we meet at the breakfast table in our guest house are equally thrilled and we watch them as they step out to take funny photos. We do the same a little later as we stuff our suddenly heavier re-jigged bags into the car and head to the drop off point. Unfortunately, our phone direction finder leads round in frustrating circles and we decided just to figure it out following the signposts instead.
Amy decides on one last shop at the airport, so I get in the mood and pick up another book about the rules of being English, something I mentioned to Amy when she smiled happily to the guy in the take away the previous night. I told her it was not usual for someone to smile at other people in England and the guy probably thought she fancied him. This is overplaying it a bit and is also the exact thing that attracted me to Amy in the first place. That was in Sydney though, where smiling is an everyday occurrence. I’m sure the English can often go a whole week without a smile.
The English confound me more on the plane to Bangkok. It’s another A380 but this time jammed with ‘bigger’ English people looking for thrills in the ‘land of smiles’. Despite leaving at midday, it’s an overnight flight as we fight against earth’s rotation and the English are up and at the crew galley all night long refilling on free booze. I did this once when the experience of flying was still new to me. Free booze must not be missed but I found it impossible to get drunk and to drink enough to be able to sleep. I would just end up with a frustrating headache at the end of the flight, so I never drink on planes now.
And then occurs the most English thing I can imagine. There are two meatheads sitting directly in front of Amy and I and they were constantly bouncing in their chairs at every toss, turn and minor readjustment. I glance the Sun in the lap of the one who is coughing consistently and roll my eyes. Midway through the flight, Amy needs to get out to go to the toilet so I get up and step into the aisle. Being half awake I was a little clumsy getting up and knocked the chair in front of me where the now angry boofhead looks around and proclaims, ‘Was that on purpose? I think it was, wasn’t it?’
I’m perplexed. My only reply is ‘Sorry?’ and I look behind me to consider if he’s actually talking to someone else because his words just don’t make any sense to me. Amy is bewildered too but trots off to the toilet as I stand and wait. The two meatheads decide that they’ll settle themselves down with more whiskey and the event passes. I still can’t imagine what leads to the guy’s question, if I knocked his chair on purpose, what was the reason? We’d had no previous interaction at all. It just seemed a typically antagonistic English response, a show of never back down, one-upmanship.
Those two guys ended up rushing off the plane to get to their destination of my more booze, sun and you can guess what else.
Our day has only taken 12 hours and we transfer at Bangkok for our flight home, finally my last flight for this period. There has been so much travel and rush over this month that it has been almost impossible to sit and relax and reflect. Probably for the best. Even mum’s funeral seems like something surreal and dreamlike that perhaps didn’t even happen.
This final flight is curiously filled with French and various Middle Easterners and I watch on as people struggle to find their seats. It’s a little strange really – it’s not that hard, is it? The numbers ascend and the letters go across. It seems to take an age for some people though. I wonder if their brains are wired differently, something that will soon be confirmed as I adjust to life in Thailand.
Back in Chiang Rai, we rush to sleep, eat, advise our builders, eat and sleep again. Another day disappeared into the mosquito-ridden night.
Well, today is the day to bid farewell to my mother officially. I’m filled with some nerves, some trepidation and some relief. Sharon and Ken are busy running around preparing for guests invited after the funeral and their son, my second cousin, Mungo turns up with warm hugs and regards, along with his eldest daughter Ella, who shares his dad’s bright blue eyes. Despite the nature of the day, there’s no sombreness really, just a realisation that this day needs to be done and in short time life continues for all of us left.
I spend some time trying on Sharon and Ken’s hat collection whilst Amy irons me a shirt.
We head to the funeral service, just in a small room, a converted barn called The Barn. Possibly an Australian was asked what to call it. The site is a new cemetery where ashes and bodies can be buried with trees and a small memorial plaque.
The officials are all very nice and understand the nature of my mum’s requirements for no religious texts, prayers and hymns. More people turn up that I expected, most that I don’t recognise but people that Sharon has managed to find in mum’s contacts book. I don’t get much chance to talk with anyone to find out more but later reflect on the words passed on from these people about their appreciation for my mum.
It’s weird to see the coffin and imagine your mother is inside. But I know she isn’t there, that is just the body she was using. It did bring home a finality though and I felt sad.
The service starts with a song I picked which I knew mum would’ve liked. It’s called Day Is Done by Peter, Paul and Mary. I also chose the closing music which is Acker Bilk’s Petite Fleur. After a quick introduction, it’s quickly on to me. I have a prepared speech and stiltedly read aloud as I attempt to input some emotion into it and occasionally make some eye contact with the onlookers. I’ve never been one for standing up and talking in front of people; unusual for someone who used to stand in front of a 100 people and attempt to sing back in younger days.
My speech went like this:
I just want to share a small story that reflects what my mum meant to me and how she subtly influenced me to be who I am today.
I’m guessing I was about 21 or thereabouts at the time and we were living in Colehill.Most dinner times I would come home after work and mum would have baked something for us to eat, me in my room, her in the living room.This particular evening she prepared a big fry up.Eggs, bread, mushrooms, tomato and baked beans.I was grumpy and ravenous.As the egg was the final component and it hit the plate I thanked her (I hope) and headed off to my room.
Some how I caught myself on the corner of the door and the whole plate plummeted to floor, depositing everything onto our worn carpet.I was devastated.I don’t remember what else was going on in my life at that moment but this was the final straw, the end!I think I burst into tears!
My mum quickly came along and told me to get something to clean up the mess.She looked at me and said ‘Don’t worry, I’ll make you another one’.Somehow this new plate of food tasted bittersweet.I felt guilty but happy.
This short anecdote demonstrated mum’s attitude and unknowingly influenced me as I have since developed a strong streak of patience, a lack of drama and a get on with it approach to any difficulties in life.
This was just the way my mum was.She just got on with things without making a fuss and bother.She’d be furious with us all now making all this palaver over her demise but a funeral is never for the deceased but for those who are left.So let’s remember her like this, and as we go on our own ways, let’s just get on with it.
My cousin Ken reads through a chronology of mum’s life and another song is played. Mungo reads a short poem that also pretty much reflects my mum’s wishes (except the second line!).
‘By Herself and Her Friends’ by Joyce Grenfell
If I should go before the rest of you
Break not a flower nor inscribe a stone,
Nor when I’m gone speak in a Sunday voice
But be the usual selves that I have known.
Weep if you must, Parting is hell,
But Life goes on, So sing as well.
Finally, the director reads out a poem that my Aunt Lorna has requested be read. Lorna is the last survivor sibling sister and unfortunately isn’t well enough to travel to attend today.
‘Weep not for me’ by Constance Jenkins
Weep not for me though I am gone;
into that gentle night.
Grieve if you will but not for long,
upon my soul’s sweet flight.
I am at peace,
my soul’s at rest.
There is no need for tears.
For with your love I was blessed;
for all those many years.
There is no pain,
I suffer not,
The fear now all is gone.
Put now these things out of your thoughts.
In your memory I live on.
Remember not my fight for breath;
remember not the strife.
Please do not dwell upon my death,
but celebrate my life.
As this poem is read out I start to feel a little emotional and so look outside through the window whilst taking in the words. In the building opposite a dog has decided to push through the curtains and sit in the window, taking in the sun. Life goes on.
The rest of the afternoon is spent chatting with mum’s friends and associates, some who I’ve met previously, others I’ve often heard her talking about over the years. I think the service was appropriately short and without fuss and was a nice way to think about my mum’s life.
Later, we’re joined by Mungo’s two youngest kids who tear around the kitchen distracting us with laughter and screaming fun.
And later still, a final dinner with my cousins where we eat well and drink copiously, even managing to pry the last drops out of Ken’s bottle of Dalwhinnie. Discussion ranges from my mum’s life to deeper, more philosophical things as Mungo stirs the pot with his Dad, who is up for the debate. Amy is wilting and I soon offer we retire to bed and the day ends with an upbeat feeling and one that I know my mum would have enjoyed partaking in.
We’re taking an overnight flight to the UK and of course, I slept a lot already. It’s only in more recent years that I’ve been able to even sleep a little bit on planes. Except for that one time out of Guangzhou, I was lucky enough to start to talking to a girl as we were waiting for departure. Just by chance, she knew the staff working the counter and wrangled an upgrade to business class for herself. She was kind enough to come back down to cattle and tell me to follow her back to business class, where there was a spare seat. Best sleep on a plane ever, and probably the last time I’ll enjoy that too.
Our plane in and out of London is the new A380 and it is huge. Even for the likes of us paupers, it feels like there is a little more room to breathe at least. I barely manage to sleep though.
We arrive in London around 6am and the weather has me instantly cold and chilled (not in the relaxed sense at all). We pick up a hire car, which is amazing but I keep forgetting that it is manual and stall it at every roundabout. Then we take the wrong lane and exit off the motorway and the sky is grey and the rain is drizzling just that annoying amount to make the wipers screech. I am thoroughly depressed already.
Somehow the shitty English coffee manages to take off the edge at least for a while. Just remember not to watch what the barista actually does and just go by taste. I think I had one half decent coffee this trip – which is one more than last time I visited the UK.
As we arrive in Brighton the sun very occasionally decides to show itself. We’re staying at Amy’s university friend’s house and she just happens to live herself on Brighton Marina. Sometimes I feel especially lucky to find myself in such beautiful places just through the people that I know.
It’s a great little house, and when I say little, I always forget just how tiny and compact English houses are. And doors – always doors. Gotta keep that heat in.
Amy has decided that we must eat Indian food on this trip and, as they are everywhere, it’s only a short walk to our lunch. It’s cold and even the slightest breeze is enough to make us shudder. We have prepared appropriate coats but there’s still the other bits turning blue. Luckily the sun decides to stay for a long while and the sky turns blue. Wait, are we still in England, in February?
Amy’s friend, Bookie, speaks with the typical American accent of her tutors from years ago. Something that I (or Australia) have managed to change with Amy over the years. She doesn’t sound English and not really Aussie but at least it’s not American.
Bookie is married to an airline pilot and he is away 20 days a month and he’s away now, arriving back in the following couple of days for his birthday. They have a five-year-old son called Kyle and when he comes home from school I’m tasked with keeping him entertained whilst food is prepared. We have fun playing Star Wars action figures and making up stories.
Later, Amy and I enjoy the comforts of a nice soft bed and perfect pillows. Back at Amy’s parent’s house, the bed we are sleeping on may as well be a block of concrete – it’s good for learning to sleep on a tiled floor though. The only downside of the night is I wake up having a coughing fit and end up in the living room for a spell. Amy is starting to catch it too and her voice is starting to crack.
We wake up again to brilliant sunshine and coffee’d up (instant) we hit the road, passing Arundel castle and some other Olde Worlde buildings. The history and mystery of England is a little bit magical for me if only the temperature was more appealing.
Heading along the coast we get back into very familiar territory for me, with roads I travelled repeatedly in other glory days. We soon arrive at my cousin’s house and are treated to a warm welcome of food and central heating, along with discussions about details for my mother’s funeral and some other minor details that need to be sorted whilst I’m here.
My cousin, Sharon and her husband Ken have been doing all the hard graft for my mother and for me, of course, over the last 18 months or so. I’m so lucky that she has been here and willing to assist with everything.
It still doesn’t seem real that my mother isn’t here to talk to, to show pictures and to keep updated on the minutiae of everyday life. I feel sad about that but not overly emotional. I keep wondering if I’m going to sit down one day and have a big cry. Maybe. I’ve upped my dose of antidepressants recently, in preparation for my big life move and it’s likely they are helping keep things smooth for me emotionally.
Another coughing fit just after going to bed sees me again relocating to the living room until I’m on the verge of sleep when I return to bed and later Amy wakes me with coughing of her own.
The weather is excellent again and even though it’s cold there’s little wind to bring in the chill. We drive back to my hometown and go to the bank where my mum and I have a joint account and sort out access for Sharon to deal with expenses etc. Amy and I spend a little more time walking around, returning again for pizza at Piccolo Mondo, once my favourite pizza ever, not so much these days though, it’s still good though.
We take ourselves on a country drive as I search out Bulbarrow Hill. I love this place. It sparks that mystical quality of olden days more than some of the other places scattered around the south, even more than Stonehenge. It’s a fabulous view and the sun’s rays break through the scattering of clouds.
I have time to scoff down some more home cooked food, that Sharon says isn’t to her usual quality but it tastes great to me. Bring on the cheese, potato, garlic and butter anytime!
I’m off for a quick catch up with old school friends Rupert and Murray, though we barely have time with our busy schedules. A quick couple of pints and it’s time to head off on our merry ways, and I am feeling quite tipsy. That is until I open the pub door and the cold wind blast instantly sobers me. This forces me to reminisce quite clearly the many many nights spent walking home from the pub, or the local football club, or the school field where we huddled around a couple of cans of beer and maybe a fire. Those days were either hell fun or hell shit depending on my mood and what was going on around me. I miss the good bits. A lot.
Edit: Could not stop humming this tune during these few days – https://youtu.be/xk2QbCDRP0U