Drink to the present before it shall fail – 24th February 2020

It was a weekend of dying. In the morning, Kimi, my great friend in Kuala Lumpur passed away at the too young age of 36. In the afternoon our neighbour’s grandfather passed away at the ripe old age of 90.

My one aim in life was to live longer than my father, something which I managed to surpass in the last year or so. My father died when I was just 18 months old; lung cancer, after a lifetime of being advertised to the health benefits of smoking. It’s difficult to gauge exactly what effect that event had on my life but it is surely significant. Death was a part of my life from the beginning.

One of my earliest memories is aged 4, sitting up in my bed, crying my eyes out, knowing that one day I would die. I couldn’t believe it. What was this thing called life all about if you just ended up dying?

Whilst I was sitting around crying for my friend far away, feeling useless, the neighbours were busy making preparations.

Could I get to KL to be with everyone? What kind of funeral ceremonies do my Muslim friends have? Are they celebrations of someone’s life or sombre occasions like in most of the west?

I’ve become somewhat familiar with Thai funerals unfortunately. Many of Amy’s family are at that age when funerals come along more often. I’m also getting to the age when more and more friends will leave too. And it will be my turn sooner than I’d like too.

In the smaller villages of Thailand it is still traditional to keep the body in the home for around 5 days before cremation. I’m not sure about burial here. All the funerals I have attended have been cremations and the only places I have seen graves are for people with Chinese backgrounds. I think burial should only really be used if a tree is planted along with the body which I know has started to become more popular in some places and seems to make a lot of environmental sense.

Gatherings, food, prayers and respects are shown by visitors to the home, from relatives and the local residents. Family spread out all over the country will drive back to attend. As this grandfather was 90 years old and his family have lived in the village his whole life it was due to be a big turnout. So big that local farmers where hired to clear the jungle land opposite our house to make an impromptu car park. There were some big rats living in there that were quickly grabbed by the locals and I don’t want to guess what for.

Huge gazebos were erected, a PA system bigger than Motorhead (every house seems to own huge PAs – even worse when combined with their Karaoke machines!) Each night for 5 nights, crowds would gather, monks would chant, food would be served until on the final day a huge silver decorated cart would take the body off to the crematorium, followed by everyone as it spiralled through the village.

I sat through an hour or so each night of chanting and it was quite meditative and mesmerising, especially as I was often lost in thought for my friend Kimi. I then struggled through another night of a chief monk talking. I didn’t struggle with his words, though I didn’t understand anything, it was the crappy plastic chairs playing havoc with my back and posture. The monk was hilarious, the crowd often erupting into laughter and I could feel the ease within everyone. He even joked about me and was sad that I couldn’t understand what he was saying. Of course the whole crowd turned to look at me. I think I’m just know locally as ‘that farang’ who lives here. Amy translated a lot for me so I got some of the fun. At the end the monk opened up his homemade accoutrements to make a little extra cash. People gotta eat I guess.

In contrast, I finally heard what happened to Kimi and discovered that Muslim tradition requires the body to be buried as quickly as possible. I don’t know what kind of ceremonies happen around that and I’m guessing not everyone in his family would have been able to attend this.

Kimi had been finalising some concerts for some European bands and the Kuala Lumpur concert will happen this coming weekend. I will fly down to meet Kimi’s wife and all our mutual friends. I will treat the concert somewhat as a memorial to my great friend.

These coincident deaths have obviously brought sharply into focus thoughts around death but as I wrote last time, these thoughts are still confusing. I’m still processing it all.

I’m very grateful to have made friends with Kimi 12 years ago and to have felt such a connection that we remained in contact over this time, worked together often and I visited him many times and he always showed me his big heart; giving me excruciating massages, taking me jungle river swimming and one time directing me into the ocean filled with jellyfish – a story that is repeated for everyone on every visit. He didn’t piss on my jellyfish sting but I know he would’ve if I had asked him.

23 years, 26 years, 52 years, 90 years. It’s not enough for anyone. Soon, all our names will be forgotten, let’s remember whilst we can.

Come hither, my lads, with your tankards of ale,
And drink to the present before it shall fail;
Pile each on your platters a mountain of beef,
For ’tis eating and drinking that bring us relief:
So fill up your glass, For life will soon pass;
When you’re dead ye’ll ne’er drink to your king or your lass!
Anacreon had a red nose, so they say
But what’s a red nose if ye’re happy and gay?
Gad split me! I’d rather be red whilst I’m here,
Than white as a lily and dead half a year!
So Betty my miss, Come give me a kiss;
In hell there’s no inkeeper’s daughter like this!
Young Harry, propp’d up just as straight as he’s able,
Will soon lose his wig and slip under the table,
But fill up your goblets and pass ’em around
Better under the table than under the ground!
So revel and chaff As ye thirstily quaff:
Under six feet of dirt ’tis less easy to laugh!
The fiend strike me blue! I’m scarce able to walk,
And damn me if I can’t stand upright or talk!
Here, landlord, bid Betty to summon a chair;
I’ll try home for a while, for my wife is not there!
So lend me a hand I’m not able to stand
But I’m gay whilst I linger on top of the land!

Drinking Song from the “Tomb” by Rudimentary Peni

Salut!

I lost my membership card to the human race – 17th February 2020

It’s amazing how one emotional event can soon be overshadowed by a larger one therefore putting the first into more perspective. On Friday I fought for what I believed and ended up in a cloud of destructive self doubt. On Saturday it all became irrelevant.

I try to clear my mind. Breathe in and breathe out. Focus on it. Thoughts come charging, running across my imagination. Focus. Re-focus. But they come too quickly, from all sides. Emotions rising from my belly, adding to the darkness inside.

I started writing a diary in 1994 after my best friend Steve Burgess passed away aged only 23. I kept that up for the year that saw me move from England to Australia. I continued writing bits and pieces over the years and then in 2018 I decided to start this blog and document another transition moving from Australia to Thailand. The final move date was decided by my mother’s passing in February 2019.

Now I have to write again about another best friend passing away, this time not significant of anything. Just another Saturday. He was 36 years old.

I’m shocked and devastated. I don’t have many people I would consider as close friends and now another has gone. Rationally I know it happens, it happens to everyone. Everyone you know will be gone. Everyone you love. But I’m not feeling rational again yet. Just let me be like this for a while. I’ll be ok.

I love you Kimi.

I’m starting to see why people find comfort in religion. Their faith counters our natural fear of death. If it all boils down, that is all it is. And that’s fine. I have to learn to deal with my fear of death by living now. The fear of death should make us happy.

Defenders of the world we make believe in – 5th February 2020

This morning’s breakfast was interrupted by a special cat delivery of a small baby bird. Once extracted from her mouth the bird attempted to fly away but couldn’t get too far. Some missing feathers, some blood and maybe a broken wing. Better the delivery was already dead. Now we will guiltily try to nurse this baby back to health or comfort it to it’s demise.

When bleeding lizards and frogs are delivered we simply throw them back in the long grass. What makes us more sympathetic towards some animals over others? In the same way meat eaters think it’s disgusting to eat cats and dogs. Why I can justify eating fish to myself?

On returning home in the afternoon, the baby bird had indeed demised. The killer (pictured above in gentler days) strutted around oblivious to Amy’s admonishments and sadness. It was dinner time. “Feed me!”

Gratitude Journal

I am so happy and grateful to be able to see the sun rise over the hills. This morning I videoed it for a couple of minutes. It was beautiful.

I walk my love in mornings gleam – 4th February 2018

How to write this?  How to put my feelings into words, express my thoughts clearly.  Maybe I can’t.  So let’s just stick to the facts.

I was contemplating a visit to the UK before settling in to my new life in Thailand.  Knowing my mother was probably in her last year and the timing was kind of right, it had suddenly become a possibility. I know I wrote just recently that I wouldn’t go back but something, I’m not sure what, made me reconsider.  A couple of hours into my first night shift, I called my cousin, Sharon, to discuss.

Sharon was fine with the idea but did warn me that my mum was very ill now and it may not be the way I wanted to remember her.  The doctors at the hospital, knowing a little about my mum’s wishes, had given her a good dose of antibiotics that hadn’t helped her much, so the decision was to switch to morphine for pain reduction and for her body to fight for itself.  This seemed a good solution.  If she had the strength she would recover, if she didn’t, she would be comfortable.

About an hour later, Sharon messaged me saying she had been called urgently to the hospital and perhaps another hour later she sent through a message, carefully worded, “Your mum has just silently faded away.  No more struggle, just peace and tranquillity.”

Sharon had passed on my love whilst mum was still breathing and held her hand until she was gone.

Of course, this outcome was not unexpected, I guess we had all been gearing ourselves up for this moment and I was strangely calm.  I sat at work, contemplating, thinking, sad but not emotional.  I went over memories of my mother and they all provided me with comfort.  I’m grateful her end wasn’t an extended suffering, around the other dramas of the palliative care ward.  Grateful she had been happy in her last few months at the care home.  In fact, my sadness is countered by everything she did for me, knowing that she was proud of what her son had achieved in his life.  I will continue to make her proud.  I just wish I could share these things with her.

I called Amy.  She had just got back from an event and had had a couple or three beers and was in a tipsy chatty mood, so I let her talk and I sat and listened and loved her words, pouring out of her and into me.  I soaked up her love and thought to myself, my mum has gone but my life is still complete.  I have everything.  I am happy.

When Amy talked about my mum, I gently told her that she was gone and she couldn’t believe me.  She burst into tears and apologised for talking all about her night and herself.  I calmed her down, telling her it was just what I needed.  As she continued to cry though I could feel myself starting to crack.  I started pacing the office I was in and managed to stay positive.  Amy insisted we go back to the UK for the funeral and I agreed, though not particularly for the funeral part but it presents us with the right opportunity to catch up with what is left of the family – something I now feel compelled to do.

I finished off my night shift and when I got home set about making new plans.  As I was due to quit work in a few weeks anyway, it seemed to make sense not to bother coming back to Australia after going to the UK, instead ending up in Thailand.  My son, Hayden, was also due to visit me in Adelaide the week before I was going to leave.  So with a little bit of juggling and some flight changes, I’ll leave Adelaide to go to Brisbane to visit Hayden for a few days, then to Sydney, on to Thailand next, to pick up Amy to fly together to the UK.

All of this planning kept me busy and I ended up awake for around 30 hours before finally sleeping peacefully until the following morning, where I failed to get up with my alarm.  No hurry now.  No more work, no more night shifts.

Still calm inside, still quiet.  Doubled meds, finishing off the codeines.  I can’t wait to hold my little Amy in my arms again.

Goodbye mum.  Thank you for everything you did for me.

Love you, always.

I leave my home, I leave it in the care of a friend – 30th January 2018

Hoo-ee!  I woke up yesterday morning after 16-20 hours of restless sleep, through 42-degree heat, though a cool change was in the air, it hadn’t quite made it to the upstairs in our new house.  I was totally betwattled.

Even the first coffee was no cure and I lurched around the supermarket uncertain why exactly I was there.  I figured it out in the end and shopping done I contemplated going back to sleep again.  The second coffee finally kicked me into gear but I had nothing to do except some reading and waiting for the man to come and give us internet again.  I stayed awake with both fans blasting and kids shouting in their backyard, perhaps hunting the floppy-eared white rabbit I saw hopping down the street earlier.

In fact, by the time evening came round I was no longer sleepy, contemplating security in our new house and a message I got from my cousin Sharon, that my mother was sick again and back in the hospital.  I got to sleep what felt like just a couple of minutes before my alarm went off and here I am back at work again, dopey-eyed with spinning stars.

My mother suffers from COPD, basically what emphysema develops into.  She needs oxygen all the time now and gets chest infections very easily which knock her down.  The infections are usually fixed with a course of antibiotics but consistently return when they are finished.  It’s been like this for the last 12 months or so.

She finally had to leave her home and now lives in a nice care home.  She was sad to leave and lose the independence she loved but she understands she couldn’t go on there anymore as she needs fairly constant monitoring.  The sale of the house should cover her care home expenses for a few years.

Being a practical sort, my mother often told me not to return to the UK for her funeral as it is a waste of money.  Amy and Sharon have both asked me if I want to go and visit but, practically, there isn’t much I can do for her, she will feel upset that I spent a lot of money to visit and I think she doesn’t want me to see her so invalid.  She has always been so strong.

She has a Do Not Resuscitate order in place, saying she doesn’t want to hang around suffering and just being kept alive for the sake of it.  She saw that happen with her sister.  I hope she’s not suffering.

I did go and visit her about 18 months ago after she was taken to hospital for the first time.  She was still able to do things to take care of herself at that time and it was really nice to be able to sit back and relax in my old family home, just chat and watch TV.  I actually enjoyed being back in the UK, it was the tail end of summer so some days were comfortably warm but it was also nice to feel that clean English chill in the air some nights.  These are memories I would like to keep of the last time to see my mother.  Somewhat selfish I know.

My mother’s sickness it most likely smoking-related, though she quit about 20 years ago already, she had smoked for about 20 years before that.  With cigarettes always around I soon started pinching some and the few times she caught me smoking she couldn’t really say anything to deter me.  I finally stopped smoking myself when my son was born.  My own father died of smoking-related lung cancer before I was two years old.

Nobody passes the test of time – 19th January 2018

Time is short.  Our time is short.  Have you done everything you want to do yet?  What do you want to do?

Do you already look back at a life fulfilled?  Will anyone remember who you were once you’re gone?  Next year,  next century, next millennium?

images (3).jpg

The week has been ok.  It’s my last day of six twelve hour shifts, the last four as night shifts.  I’m tired and slightly out of it.

We are often reminded of our fragility.

There’s always a lyric that can be found to echo my thoughts.  Often, from Nomeansno.

Thin voices call out of thin air
“Do you really care?”
“Do you really care?”
There is no reason to be afraid
All of the bodies have been laid to rest
Nobody passes the test of time
The long climb
Into thin air
Thin air
There is no one there

You think you have time
You have no time

An image may be left in place
Of what was felt there is no trace
In words recited without a sound
By voices buried underground
There is no meaning to be found

 “Do you really care?”
There is no one there
You think you have time
You have no timeThere are no castles without ghosts
And no spirits without hope
But nobody passes the test of time
You stand in line, you have your place
Then in the space of moments fall
From again and again and again
To not at all
From again and again and again
To not at all
I do not fear the buried sounds
Of words that echo underground
A memory is a loaded gun
And I remember everyone

I remember you..

“Do you really care?”
There is no one there
“Why are you scared?”
There’s no one there
You’re clean, strong, and free
Like you always wanted to be
You’re alone, alone, alone
There is no one there

You make dust from sand – 17th January 2018

Each night shift I usually head out for my second coffee at around 10.30pm.  Obviously, there’s no coffee shops open but luckily the OTR service stations are 24/7 – their catchphrase is ‘We never close’.  Their coffee is not great but the caffeine quota is perfect.

There is an OTR about 15 minutes walk from the office so I can get a little exercise for bonus points too.  The first time I went there I just followed the main road which was a little dull and unexciting, as trucks roared past on their night runs from warehouses to stores and others returned home from their evening adventures.

I looked at the map and found a parallel back street that is a million miles away from the dull orangey-yellow flourescence of the main road.  The street lighting here is whiter and paler and mostly blocked out by trees.  Some places are pitch black underfoot and you have to step heavily to avoid tripping on pavers raised by the roots of the trees.  The other thing you notice is the quiet.  No one is around, not even cats seem to bother with this street.  You get a nervous excitement when someone else is walking on the street, will I get stabbed or punched or who knows.  I generally call out a ‘hey’ as I pass and usually just receive a surprised grunt in return.  Oh well.

Halfway down is one the opposite side I usually walk, there is a graveyard.  I didn’t think too much about it until one night I decided to take some pictures.  Some folks had decorated their relatives graves in Christmas lights which offers a jolly juxtaposition.  I considered how some people find graveyards spooky but I think that is a result of the gothic architecture of some of the memorial stones.  I mean what could happen here – everyone is dead already.

26239555_10158747586668504_5523052862651661837_n.jpg

There’s a nice graveyard near where I live.  Actually, Adelaide seems to be full of graveyards when I think about it.  Anyway, this one is almost like a landscaped park, sectioned off to cater to different ethnicities, cultures and religions.  Not so much of the olde Euro-gothic stonework.  I had a nice walk around there one evening, only saddened when I came across a marker for someone who had died young.  I thought about the lives these people lived, what they may have seen, which parts of the world they came from to get to Australia.  I used to look at people in random non-descript places, walking the street or wandering the shops, and zap myself into their heads and try to look through their eyes and take on their entire histories that brought them to this place, right here, right now.  A momentary flash of an existence that someone else lived, though nothing you can hold on to and maintain.  Now I mostly just ponder my own existence and how someone I never met or knew might browse my death mark one day and wonder about my life.  Round and round we go.

I was reminded of the times a few of us used to hang out drinking in a graveyard in Bournemouth before we would head to see a show at Capone’s just across the street.  The time when we had finished school forever and took our old textbooks there, burned them on an old grave and then got drunk to celebrate our freedom.

But down this street there is little sign of life and to me, it is the perfect playground for childish mischief.  But no kids are about, no underage drinkers in the park or graveyard, barely a barking dog or passing car.  Is everyone tucked up nice and early in their neat clean houses, living the dream?  Will I be doing that in my little piece of paradise being built in Thailand?

Talking of which, Amy was overrun with paint charts today, having to decide tonight the colours that would be in and outside our house.  She asked my opinion, and I’m pretty easy, so I just said paint everything inside white.  This is far too boring for her but she can’t tell if any colours that she does choose will work because it’s just too hard to imagine right now.  Again, as a typical man looking for a quick solution, I told her to choose what she wants and if it doesn’t work out we can just repaint it later, no problem.  I think by the time she went to bed she still hadn’t picked anything for the indoor colours.

Sleep in safety – 14th January 2018

After my last night shift ended on Friday morning I managed to force myself to stay awake until about 5pm, with the aid of cheap coffees from the local service station.  I chucked down a couple of Panadeine in the hope they would ensure I didn’t wake up wide awake at 2am and they worked a treat.  I’d forgotten to take my alarm setting off from last week so I was gently awoken at 5.50am to a mellow Beastie Boys tune.  I picked up the phone and noticed Amy had sent a message whilst I was asleep.  The message was a little disconcerting:

“If I died tomorrow just do what you want to do OK.  Life is just today we don’t know what will happen.”

I still wanted to sleep some more but these words tumbled in and out of my consciousness.  What motivated these words with no context at all?  There was nothing I could do to answer this question right now and eventually I fell back to sleep for a few more hours.

Later she called me after she had just woken up.  She sounded sleepy but happy.  I asked her about her message and she told me she’d received some bad news about her school friend Fah.

I’ve met Fah a few times on previous visits to Thailand.  An attractive girl who loves to eat and drink in nice places and works for Thai Airways.  Last year she complained of stomach aches and went to the doctor to have some tests done.  They discovered she had cancer and that it was quite advanced already but still hoped to be able to treat it with chemotherapy.  She started that treatment but was often not healthy enough to be able to do it.  The bad news came this week that they found the cancer advanced to her pancreas and that is was untreatable.  She might only have 6 more months to live.  6 months ago she was fine (as far as she knew).

Amy said Fah’s parents were with her at the hospital in Bangkok and I mentioned how tragic it is for a parent to have to watch their child in pain and to lose them.  Amy told me that Fah’s only sibling, her brother, was killed in a car crash years ago when he was just 11 years old.

I thought of my mother and how I hoped that she wouldn’t have to go through anything like this.  She already lost her husband, my father, when I was just 18 months old.  I thought of my son and how I hoped that I wouldn’t have to go through anything like this too.

Amy and I agreed that she should go and visit Fah as soon as possible.   There’s nothing one can do, nothing one can say, except to give each other comfort.

11890980_10153116399808479_3509895512368051393_n

It’s interesting to be posting my old diary entries – I haven’t read them since they were written.  I can look back at certain events with a more distant eye and reflect on what my true motivations were at the time and ultimately how trivial they seem now that they are in the past.  It was so serious to me at the time.  I guess that’s the wisdom of age.

Right now though, I’m struggling with concentration and direction.  I can’t get all my thoughts out quick enough and will have to come back and try again tomorrow.