Selaphum, (near Roi Et), 11th April, 2010 – Still sober.


Today is my sixth day of sobriety.

It is still boiling hot here; this afternoon it was nudging forty, and at three o’clock this afternoon, Wan and I decided to take a ride in the car to cool down.

I took the opportunity to teach Wan how to drive an automatic vehicle, and by the time we reached Selaphum, some 10 kilometres down the road, she was driving like a pro; a slow pro, but a pro. Tomorrow I will show her how to put it in reverse!

In spite of all my internet projects, which occupy a great deal of my time, reading books, watching a stack of movies I brought with me, and following all the violent events happening in Bangkok, I’m still getting bored. It’s difficult to put my finger on the reason, but there is no doubt the extreme heat is a contributory factor, as it is difficult to do anything except sit still by a fan or stay in the air conditioned bedroom. It is too hot to occupy myself in or around the house, or go for a walk.

In Pattaya it would be less hot but more humid – probably worse overall, but at least there are plenty of places I can go to, within a few minutes of my condo – like coffee shops, restaurants, shopping malls, cinemas – and yes, even a few bars. If all else fails, there’s always the swimming pool or the sea.

Selpahum is a ‘one horse’ uninteresting, sleepy, dusty junction, and Roi Et City or Yasuthon City are both close to an hour’s drive away.

So I’m not sure how long I can stay here, but am still looking to return to Pattaya maybe Tuesday or Wednesday next week.

I am keeping a close watch on the events unrolling in our capital, and it may be the case that I am better off to stay put in the heart of Red Shirt territory for the time being. So I’m not rushing into any decisions just yet. Life may be a bit boring, but it is quite tolerable.

I am continuing to stay completely sober, with Wan’s help and I am feeling the better for it.


MOBI VIGNETTES

MARDIE (Part 5)

Relations were a bit frosty, to say the least, when I awoke late on Sunday morning. Mardie was civil, polite even, but there was little warmth in her smiles, and even a young, naive Mobi, realised that he had probably blown it, big time.

I still had ten days to go on my holiday, and even though I felt devastated by the turn of events, I resolved to try and pull myself together and see what could be salvaged of my relationship; after all I still had ten days to try and repair relations with my beloved.

Mardie announced over a very late breakfast that she was taking me to see the Statue of Liberty on Ellis Island, and on the way back we would stop at a few more famous landmarks , such as the Empire State building and Central Park.

We duly did the tourist bit on a bitterly cold Sunday afternoon and Mardie behaved more akin to a tour guide than a girl friend. I guess she felt obliged to go through the motions after I had taken such good care of her in London. Besides, she knew very well that I had been saving up for  this holiday for months.

On Monday she was back at work and I resigned myself to ‘doing’ New York, on my own with the assistance of a guide book. I seemed to be making little progress on the romantic front so I resolved to suppress my disappointment and try to make the best of things.

I became an expert on the notoriously complex New York subway, and also used the city buses, the routes of which which were slightly easier to comprehend, but, as I soon discovered, the drivers insisted on exact change before they would let me on. Waving dollar bills at the driver got me nowhere.

I actually got around quite a bit and explored all the boroughs of New York, from Brooklyn, to Manhattan, to Bronx, to Queens and Staten Island. I even made it to Coney Island, all in the bitter, sub zero January weather.

It was the start of a long love affair with New York. I don’t know why, but I related to it and I started to like the crazy, brash, no nonsense New Yorkers. I hated London – to me so unfriendly, but New York seemed to suit my style.

I loved their ‘Diners’; fast food restaurants where you sat at a circular counter, and they cooked your food in front of you, fresh and delicious. Some of the best breakfasts I have ever tasted were cooked in those downtown establishments. I especially enjoyed the home fries and the eggs done to order.

I well recall the first time I ever ordered coffee in New York. The guy looked at me as though I had come from the moon. I had to repeat myself three times and point to the coffee pot before he understood what I was saying.  In spite of the Beatles-led, ‘England swings’- invasion of America, most Americans were even more insular then than they are today and the average new Yorker struggled mightily to understand our cute, English accents.

The subway seemed to be a microcosm of New York people and their culture.

In the late sixties the city was an extremely violent place – murders and muggings were common place – and you were chancing your arm if you rode the subway after ten at night unless you sat in the one carriage which contained the obligatory armed cop.

Unlike the London underground, New Yorkers were always willing to help a lost or confused soul – be it a fellow New Yorker, a country cousin from the ‘untamed’ west, or a shy, diffident young soul from the other side of the pond.

It used to amuse me, because such was the complexity of the subways, (sometimes there were proper interchanges, but on other occasions you actually had to exit the subway, walk a block before re-entering to take a different line – then there were ‘express’ trains that didn’t stop at every station, and so on….phew!), that even most seasoned travellers only knew their particular journeys, and were often totally at sea when it came to other people’s travel routes.

But that didn’t prevent them from chiming in and offering their advice on which way to go and where to change lines. Inevitably an argument would develop, and before you knew what was happening, the whole carriage had joined in, all shouting and gesticulating and insisting that they were right and everyone else was wrong.

Can you imagine such an event happening on the London Underground? Yet this was a daily occurrence on the subway – and I loved it!

So I was learning my way around a place which, in later years, was to become one my favourite cities. But at the same time I was desolate at the way my love affair was going west on me.

I still met Mardie after work and we would either go for a meal downtown, or do a bit of shopping and cook back at her apartment, but there were few signs of affection from my pretty little New York lady.

We started to argue with increasing frequency, and I well recall one major row which, of all things, concerned how to get to a particular place on the subway. By this time I considered myself an expert, and I remember having a blazing row with not only Mardie but her flat mate as well, insisting that they were wrong on their proposed route. I forget who proved to be ultimately correct – probably them – but it served to emphasise how relations had dipped to an all time low.

I think we must have been on our way home on Thursday evening, when, to my surprise, Mardie announced that she was taking the Friday off, and would I like to go to Washington for the weekend?

This seemed like an offer I couldn’t refuse, but just when I was relishing this proposed intimate weekend in the Capital City, Mardie added that I must agree that we stay in separate rooms.

This was a body blow, but it was better than nothing, so I eagerly agreed to the conditions and the following day we took the subway to the downtown Greyhound Bus station, and boarded a bus for Washington.

Apart from my obvious interest and enjoyment of seeing all the famous sights for the first time: Lincoln Memorial, the White house, Federal Government buildings, Arlington cemetery with its Kennedy memorial (it was only a few years previously that he had been assassinated and feeling was still very high), the Veteran’s memorials, and other famous and interesting spots in and around the capital and so on, two particular events stand out in my memory from that long ago trip.

The first was when we arrived at the bus station in Washington. It was already dark and we had nowhere to stay. Mardie had reasoned that it would be an easy matter to find a bed and breakfast place in the nation’s capital.

It transpired that the bus terminus was in a pretty rough area of downtown Washington. In fact, in the 1960’s pretty much the whole of downtown area was pretty rough and was largely a no-go area after dark.

As soon as we emerged from the terminus building we were approached and jostled and by huge, poorly dressed blacks who asked us for money and gave us the ‘once over’ with menacing eyes.

We looked around for taxis, but there were none in sight – just crowds of blacks, seemingly hanging around, doing nothing.

My naivety prevented me from panicking too much, but Mardie was not at all happy. She grabbed hold of me and said we better go back into the bus terminal. I resisted, asking her what good that would do? We needed to find somewhere to stay.

We were still arguing and the blacks were becoming ever more interested in these two white folk who had suddenly appeared in their midst when a taxi drove into view. The driver took one look at us, wound down his window and beckoned us.

We hurried over, and the guy, a black, jumped out of his cab, threw our bags in the trunk, literally pushed us into the back seat and sped off.

He didn’t stop cursing us for five minutes.

“What in God’s sweet name was you white folks doing out there at this time of night? You must be plain crazy! Don’t yer know that there’s at least five murders a night in that neighbourhood?

That place is real bad – full of bad assed ‘nigras’ – murderers, pimps and druggies. You two both lucky you not already dead!”

Of course we didn’t know and we told him so, but bit didn’t stop his tirade.

As it turned out it was very difficult finding a place to stay and we eventually ended up quite a way outside the city, which cost us a fortune in taxi fares, but I guess cheap at the price considering the alternative might have been a quick mugging and possibly death at the hands of ‘city residents’.

As agreed, we took separate rooms.

All of which, in an indirect manner, led me to my second memorable incident. The high cost of the taxi and the cost of the rooms which had to be paid for in advance blew my budget, so I needed to change some money.

Fortunately the banks were open on Saturday morning, so we stopped by a bank armed with m y crisp ten pound notes and a passport. The bank took one look at my money and declined to change it. They had never seen British currency before in their lives.

Ok it was a bit of an ‘out of town’ branch, so when we arrived at the centre of Washington, we tried again – same result; second bank, third bank, fourth bank – all with the same result. Sorry we don’t change British money here.

I had not encountered any problems in changing my pounds in New York and I was amazed that the banks in the capital city of the richest, most powerful and technologically advanced country in the world could be so ‘provincial’.

In the end, Mardie lent me some money and I repaid her when we returned to ‘civilisation’.

We enjoyed our stay in Washington and I detected a slight thawing in our relationship.

By the time we returned to New York, I only had a couple of days of my trip remaining. Mardie was becoming increasingly friendly and the night before my flight, for the first time since my early days in New York, she came to me in my ‘bedroom’ and we had a little canoodle – foreplay but no sex.

Looking back, I think she felt sorry for me. She knew that I was crazy about her and that I was very upset at the souring of our relationship. I think she wanted to cheer me up and send me back home in reasonably good spirits.

She continued in the same vein when she took me to the airport then following day – very friendly, almost loving. When she said goodbye to me at the airport departure gate, I am sure I detected a tear in her eye as she gave me a full blooded kiss on the lips.

At the time, I thought that she was crying at the thought of me going away again; but in reality, it was probably because she believed she would never see me again.

She was wrong.

One thought on “Selaphum, (near Roi Et), 11th April, 2010 – Still sober.”

  1. Being interested in books, have you read George Mackay Brown? Greenvoe, if you can get it, or, “For The Islands I Sing” will help ease the transition.

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