A nation held to ransom?

10 Months, , still sober

Mobi-Babble

Sometimes I seem to lose all track of time, but it must have been about 10 days ago or so that Noo, Cookie and I took a stroll along the path by the lake and found that the undergrowth (weeds I guess) had seriously overgrown the track and the going was a little tough. Anyway we soldiered on but by the time we had returned home, Cookie and I were on our last legs, literally.

Poor Cookie immediately went lame for a couple of days, and I felt a nagging pain in one of my calf muscles – I must have strained it when trying to clambering through the chest high weeds.

The next day, I took stock. Cookie was still grossly overweight, which no doubt contributes to her propensity for going lame quite often and as for ‘yours truly’- I  was rapidly running out of wearable tops as my stomach continued to expand outwards. My weight was an incredible 98 kilos – by far the heaviest I have ever been, (even when I first took up exercise some 12 years ago  after a lifetime of ‘vegetation’ , I was only 90 kilos), and I was still woefully unfit with stiff, creaky joints that took a long while to get going in the morning. As with Cookie, I realised this was hardly surprising, given the increased weight that my ageing joints were being forced to carry.

So I immediately put Cookie on a ‘50% diet’ and I reviewed my own eating habits, and found them coming up seriously short. Although I was eating three relatively medium sized, not too fatty meals a day – cereal for breakfast, a sandwich in the afternoon and maybe a rice dish at night, I was stuffing myself with loads of fresh fruit. I was eating fruit to satisfy my ‘in between meals’ hunger pangs and to satisfy my craving for something sweet – a common problem for recovering alcoholics.

Previously, I had decided that by  indulging my craving for fruit – plus,  I confess, a nightly, thick, creamy chocolate ice cream – was the lesser of two evils, if I could succeed in my prime objective of keeping off the booze; and in any case, I used to think that fruit is  very good for you, full of vitamins. All that may well have been true  but fruit is also full of sugar, and I now have learned that an excess of fruit can often pile pounds of fat on middle aged stomachs – which is exactly what has happened to me.

So a week or so back, I finally realised that it was time to move into phase two of my recovery plan – get my diet properly under control, and reinforce my efforts to take proper exercise, which in spite of everything has been somewhat sporadic since my return from the UK. I would also add that apart from being grossly overweight and unfit, as an insulin dependant diabetic, I have been having increasing difficulty in keeping my blood sugars under control which has not contributed to feeling of general well-being. So I cut out all the fruit, except a half apple with my breakfast cereal, and no more ice cream.

After a couple of days of rest, Cookie’ leg was better, and since then, the three of us have taken a long, daily walk around the lake road to the 7/11 junction, through the grounds of  the Wat, and then back home again, all of which takes about 30 minutes.

Cookie is already looking much trimmer and in spite of the fact that for most of the past 10 days I have been in agony from the pain in my calf muscle when we take our daily walks, I have actually got my weight back down to around 94 kilos.

Thankfully, over the past two days the calf muscle pain has now receded to a tolerable level, and I am hoping that it will soon disappear completely. Apart from the pain, the thirty minute walk really ‘does me in’ and I feel like I have just completed a half marathon by the time I get back home. Cookie looks just as exhausted – what a pair we are!

I am under no illusions, and it will be a very long haul at my age, but it is imperative that I must now knuckle under and get myself trim and fit. I simply cannot go on like this. Nor can Cookie.

After the first few days of gasping for something to eat,  I have found that my hunger pangs and cravings  have substantially reduced; I know it’s just a question of ‘re-training my brain’. Every time I feel hungry, I sip some water or have a mug of tea – It works quite well; those of you wanting to lose weight should try it.

So 2011 was the year I quit the booze, and I hope that 2012 will be the year when I got my body back in some kind of half way decent shape. We shall see.

There’s nowt so queer as folk…

Yesterday, Noo had intended to drive her motorbike into town to do a bit of shopping, but we were suddenly deluged with some unseasonal rain which sort of  put a dampener on her plans.

She was sitting there, all doled up in her glad rags, waiting for the rain to stop, so I finally felt sorry for her and offered to drive her in.

We went to the ‘Big C/ex -Carrefour’ complex on Pattaya Klang, and I decided to have a coffee while Noo went and did her bit of shopping in the supermarket.

I used to love the little coffee place, outside the AIS phone shop on the second floor because not only do they make very tasty, inexpensive coffee, but it was a great place to sit and do a bit of ‘people watching’.

The ‘Carrefour’- Big C complex has always been a wonderful place to sit and watch the world go by –mainly because it is at the edge of two worlds – the world of the permanent and semi-permanent residents of our fair city and world of tourists who throng the nearby beach and beer bars.

If you sit in this Big C at any hour of the day and you will see a veritable hodgepodge of Pattaya’s unique and varied humanity: scantily clad  young ladies – either out to buy a few bits and pieces, or even to transact  a bit of afternoon ‘free-lancing’,  if they can land any well-heeled punters;  elderly, pot-bellied farangs, arm in arm with tiny young ladies a third of their age; young, often good looking farangs, hand in hand with some of the ugliest, most outlandishly dressed  bar-girls you have ever seen; ancient farang couples who are so old they can barely walk and look as though they might expire in front of you; young Thai ladies with clutches of ‘leuk kreung’ kids scampering along behind them; immaculately dressed Thai women – obviously red light workers – out for an afternoon with their pimp Thai boyfriends;  and so on and so forth. What a wonderful place!

So I was somewhat disappointed when Noo returned only half an hour later, her shopping done and suggested we buy some take away Japanese food at ‘Fuji’ down on the ground floor to eat back at home. I asked her why she hadn’t bought some Japanese food in the supermarket and she replied that she didn’t know thyat they sold it.

‘Come on,’ I said, I’ll show you.’

‘But what about the shopping trolley?’ she asked.

‘What about it?’

‘Well we can’t take it back in the supermarket with us and it’s a long way downstairs to the car park.’

I thought for a moment.

‘No problem’ I said, ‘Follow me,’ and I wheeled the trolley to the front of Home Pro, the DIY hardware store, opposite to Big C.

‘What are you buying here?’ Noo asked me.

‘Nothing, I’m just leaving the trolley here,’ whereupon I took the trolley to the customer care desk, where they took care of it and gave me a plastic number so that I could reclaim it when I had finished shopping.

Noo, started to walk into the home ware store. ‘Where are you going?’ I asked her.

‘Well we’ll have to buy something.’

‘No we won’t, come with me,’ I said, grabbing her and leading her out of Home pro and into Big C.

‘But what about the trolley?’

‘What about it?’

‘Won’t they want you to buy something? What will you tell them?

‘Nothing,’ I said, ‘Don’t worry about it. It’s not a problem.

She said no more and we walked into Big C and bought our bag of Jap food and walked back towards Home Pro.

‘We can buy a piece of plastic fencing for the garden – it costs 200 Baht’, she said to me.

‘A piece of fencing?’ Do we need a piece of fencing?’

‘No…but…’

‘So you want me to spend 200 Baht for the privilege of having Home Pro take care of our shopping trolley for 10 minutes?’

She looked at me, nonplussed. ‘No… not really…but…’

‘Look, you stay by the escalator and I will go and collect the trolley.’

So saying, I marched quickly over to the Home Pro counter, handed over my number and collected my trolley without a sign of a murmur from anyone. I even got a lovely smile and a ‘Kop Khun Krap’, accompanied by a dainty wai from the pretty young lady there.

It seems to me that wherever you go in the world, people are essentially the same. They are always worried about doing the wrong thing in public or embarrassing themselves – or, in the case of Thais – losing face.

Dear little Noo, who is usually so careful with our money, was prepared to spend 200 Baht on something we didn’t need, rather than risk losing face with the Home Pro staff.

There’s nowt so queer as folk’…. But I love them!!…well…Noo anyway.

A Nation held to ransom… but with no money to pay the demands.

Today the public service unions in The UK are holding the largest, coordinated one day public sector strike, since the 1920’s – almost 100 years ago.

We all watched aghast as the Greeks and the Italians  stubbornly refused to accept that there simply isn’t any money left in their kitties. We  decried the actions of the people in those countries who embarked on violent street protests and  public services strikes to show their virulent disagreement with their government’s attempts to introduce long overdue austerity measures. ‘Don’t they understand that whoever may have been responsible, there simply isn’t any money left to pay them?’ we asked ourselves.

Now, in the UK, we are seeing the start of similar, very unhelpful action.

I know and sympathise with many public service workers who see their pension benefits being eroded. It must be particularly galling to embark on a career of public service, understanding that you may well receive relatively low compensation, but always with a guarantee that you would be able to retire earlier than most, with a good pension. Then, after years of dedicated work, you find that the rug is being partially pulled from under you and that you will now have to work longer, will be required to make greater pension contributions, and may even end up with a slightly lower pension.

But to those who are striking today, I would like to put to you the following thoughts.

There is no question that the entire world is in middle of the biggest financial crisis that has ever existed. We are literally on the brink of global financial meltdown and at any moment the Euro may collapse which will have far reaching, devastating effects on the British economy. Is this really the right time to start withdrawing  labour and damage our fragile economy even further and create chaos across the land?

As a percentage of its GDP, the UK has more debt than almost any other country in the western world, yet at the present time, its debt borrowing interest rates are amongst the lowest – even lower than Germany.

Why? Because the financial markets perceive that Britain is one of the very few countries who has dared to bite the bullet and take the necessary, highly unpopular austerity measures to reduce its spiralling deficit. So in spite of the fact that the UK is clearly on the right lines, do you still selfishly insist that any cuts should not be extended to public sector workers?

Millions upon millions people in the private sector have either lost their pension entitlements entirely, or have had them drastically reduced, through no fault of their own.For the past thirty years, a vast majority of private sector employees have been obliged to accept changes in their pension arrangements which are now based on defined contributions, rather than defined benefits.

This is because commercial organisations can no longer afford to guarantee a pre -agreed level of benefit – based on employees’ final salaries. All they can do is make contributions to a pension fund, and when they retire, see how much money has accumulated in their ‘pension pot’ to buy them a pension.

So if companies operating in the real world can no longer afford to guarantee a level of pension – and this has been the case for many years now – why is it that public service workers expect that ordinary tax payers will fund guaranteed, public sector pensions that they have no chance of getting for themselves?

How can these public workers  justify striking, just  because they are having to work a few extra years and will suffer a slight reduction in their income, when millions of people are living close to poverty, unable to make ends meet, and are struggling to pay their monthly utility bills and to put a decent meal on their tables.

How can the public sector justify striking when they still have a job and still have a pension, unlike a generation of young adults who are probably condemned to decades, if not a lifetime of unemployment?

Rightly or wrongly, government pension schemes have never, ever been properly funded. The public sector workers keep insisting that the funds that they have contributed through the years have been used for other purposes. This may well be so, but the fact remains that the level of contributions that they have made over so many years, was never even close to the funding level necessary to meet the pension requirements as has been guaranteed by successive governments.

Pensions have never been properly funded, which is one of the many reasons why we are in the mess we in today. It is very sad and very wrong, but unfortunately you have been unlucky enough to draw the short straws. People are living longer and the gravy train is over. It is long overdue to reassess what public sector benefits the state can afford in a world which is in economic turmoil.

The government is still negotiating with the unions on the details of the proposed changes in the pension arrangements. These talks have not yet reached a deadlock, so why is the union calling a strike in advance of any irretrievable breakdown in discussions?

The answer is simple. Under current legislation once a union has voted to strike, a walkout must be held within 28 days or a new ballot must be held. But once a strike is held, the union then has a legal “mandate” for more strikes or other action until the dispute ends.

Thus, the union has secured its ‘yes ‘ vote and desperately needs to use this vote to strike within the 28 day deadline, just in case subsequent discussions with the government do in fact arrive at a compromise offer which their members might be inclined to accept, even though the union may well disagree.

I suggest that public sector workers should closely question their union leaders about their real motives for calling the strike at this point in time, especially as meaningful discussions are still continuing. Ask yourself why even the labour party, the party of – and supported by – the unions, does not support this strike?

A Lustful Gentleman

Here it is folks, under the ‘BUTT… BUTT…BUTTS‘, you will find the last two parts of Chapter One of my revised novel. I will now quickly move on to chapter two, which will be published over the coming days and weeks.

Some of you may have realised that I  continue to fine tune the text, even after I have published it here and this is an on-going process, right up to the time when it is completed. Most of the revisions, are very minor – just brushing up on the syntax or the sentence structure with no material changes to the underlying text.

In the unlikely event that I do make a substantive change which affects the plot lines, then of course I will inform you.

For those of you who read the first five chapters before I withdrew them from my blog and started again, I want to inform you that the character of Bobby Solo, the American lawyer – whose background story was set out in the original chapter two – is no more. I have removed him completely as a character and revised the plot lines accordingly.

There are several reasons for this decision, but the main one is that I decided there were too many principal characters and the plot became too difficult to coordinate. There are now only three main characters; Na, Toby and Ying – and I am very confident that the revised plot works much better with just the three of them.

Tomorrow, I will re-open the novel ‘Tab’ and publish the entire first chapter of ‘Lust’ as a blog ‘page’.

I hope you continue to enjoy my humble efforts.

BUTT…BUTT…BUTT… I don’t give a hoot!

CHAPTER ONE

(Continued)

x

There is no question that history always seemed to have a nasty habit of repeating itself, certainly as far as the hapless Na was concerned.  But it would be too easy jump to the conclusion that she was either simple minded or stupid – or even both.

    It wasn’t that she was lacking in intelligence; in fact, during her brief years at school she had demonstrated, on the contrary, that she was, and is, a very bright girl. As for being stupid, well if she was really stupid, she would never have managed to survive all these years, virtually on her own devices in this Mafia controlled hell-hole, since she was barely sixteen years of age.

    Not only had she been able to take care of herself, but she had also looked after her mother, as well as her offspring. Despite some tumultuous ‘ups and downs’ in her life, never once did anyone in her little family really want for anything during these past eleven years – ever since she had made that life-changing decision to leave the safety and comfort of the children’s mission at the age of sixteen.

    She sat on her thin mattress and looked across the dimly lit room at her mother, who was fast asleep on an adjacent mattress and at Wan, her seven year old daughter, who was also ‘dead to the world’.

    It was four am, and although Na was totally exhausted from her gruelling, fourteen hour shift at the Beach Road beer bar, she couldn’t fall asleep. Too many thoughts were whizzing around in her over-active brain.

    But at least, at long last, little baby Jom was asleep – probably from sheer exhaustion. When she had arrived home, an hour ago, the two month old baby had been screaming his head off, and there was nothing his grandmother could do to calm him down and get him off to sleep. He was not sick; he was just a screamer – ever since he had been born; so different from little Wan who had been such a gentle, quiet baby. Jom rarely slept more than four or five hours in a twenty four hour period. ‘How could two such different babies have come from the same mother’s womb?’ Na reflected. ‘Well,’ she surmised, ‘they might have had the same mother, but they had very different fathers. Maybe that’s the answer.’

    In the end, just as the three of them had more or less given up hope of getting any sleep that night, Jom had mercifully closed his eyes and had fallen into a deep slumber. Dow and Wan had lost no time in doing likewise, but for some unaccountable reason Na remained wide awake; contemplating her myriad problems and musing yet again, over her brief, but eventful life.

*

    Her meagre savings were fast running out. It was costing her a lot of money to keep baby Jom in formula milk and nappies, and ready cash was something that was proving very hard to come by these days. Apart from a few brief bright periods, it had been an upward struggle, ever since that terrible occasion, seven years ago when she had been obliged to sell every item she possessed to settle that crippling hospital bill.

    Her lovely motor bike, her jewellery and gold, her apartment furniture, fridge, TV, video player and even her precious land in Khon Kaen had all fallen victim to the need to raise money to pay her bill. Even then it hadn’t been enough, and she had been obliged to resort to borrowing from illegal money lenders to find the balance; spending the next three years, working day and night like a coolie, to pay off the loans which had been grossly inflated by the loan shark’s horrendous interest rates.

    She had embarked upon a serious retrenchment of her lifestyle, had been obliged to do a ‘moonlight flit’ from her luxury condo – owing three month’s rent – and  moved into  a modest, Thai-style room in a cheaper part of town. The first couple of months were very difficult as she was unable to work at all with a new born baby to nurse, but once she had recovered her full health and handed over the daily baby-caring duties to her mother, she slowly started to get her life back together.

    The scar on her stomach meant that she would never work again as a go-go dancer, but she was still a young and very stunning looking girl, whose good looks still turned most men’s eyes, even in a town which was crammed full of young, attractive women. Indeed, after she delivered her baby, her still slender frame filled out judiciously in all the right places, blessing her with an ‘hour glass’ figure that was more enticing than ever. She had blossomed into a gorgeous, desirable young lady.

    There were good times and bad times. On occasion, she would be ‘bought-out’ of the bar where she was working for several days at a time, or even for a week or so, by her farang customers. Most of these tourists were kind and generous to her and made sure she had a good time. Once in a while, a customer would take her with him to another part of Thailand and over the years she visited most of the popular Thai tourist destinations; Phuket, Chiang Mai, Koh Samui and many others. She even obtained a passport which she used on a couple of occasions when one of her richer punters whisked her off to Hong Kong or Singapore for a ‘shopping weekend’.

    In spite of all her trials and tribulations, she remained a bright, fun loving, effervescent young thing, who spoke passable bar-girl English and she became an ideal companion for foreign businessmen, often more than double her age, who travelled the region. Many of these men – usually divorced and with little spare time to go searching for a new wife – would revel in the ego-boosting delights of having a drop dead gorgeous young lady hanging on their arm whenever they went out on the town or socialised with friends.

    Indeed, Na nurtured the hope that one of these guys might end up being her future spouse, but as the years went by, such ‘business’ trips became rarer and rarer. Moreover, her daughter and mother, back in their rented room in Pattaya, remained a major obstacle to her chances of finding a husband.

    There were times when she wouldn’t find a customer for days and she had to resort to pawning some of her precious possessions at a local pawnshop, but eventually, a well-heeled customer would come to the rescue and pay her enough to redeem them, until the next occasion when she became desperate for money.

    On a few really bad occasions, she was obliged to tolerate the ‘bottom end’ of the ‘kaak’ sex-market; old, ugly fat farangs, (many of whom reminded her of the evil Klaus of her youth), who made her perform acts that disgusted her. But she had to live, and for the main part, life wasn’t too bad. Most of the farangs were reasonably well behaved and she generally managed to keep herself in good spirits.

*

    She had onl dozed off for a few minutes, when Jom suddenly started crying again. Within seconds, her mother awoke and picked him up, holding him in her arms, trying desperately to nurse him back to sleep. Five minutes later, the two adults breathed a sigh of relief as Jom once more closed his eyes and his grandmother placed him very gently back into his cot.

    Dow lay back down quickly fell to sleep but Na was wide awake again. For God’s sake – she had only slept for a few minutes! What on earth was going on? She decided to think back over her recent life again, as that seemed to get her in the mood for sleep. Now where was she? 

    She had been doing OK. Not particularly flush with money, but apart from the odd bad week or so – usually during the low season – she had managed to earn enough money to keep herself and her family comfortable. Wan had been enrolled at a decent Thai school, and although they still lived in a modest room, they ate well and had enough spare cash to make their lives a little more tolerable, with the occasional forays out to restaurants and the cinema, and of course, they had the ubiquitous television and mini CD karaoke stereo set that kept them entertained during the endless hours they spent at home.

    ‘Then what happened’, she asked herself?

   She was twenty-six years old when another moment of total madness overcame her. She became very friendly with a Thai man who worked in the same bar , and after a short period it had developed into a romatic relationship. He was a very handsome, charming young man who was the resident DJ and he only had to snap his fingers and the bar girls would come running. His sexual appetite was legendary and on most nights he would take two or three girls home with him from the bar.

    But Na was something special, and he soon became as infatuated with her as she was with him and as the affair grew ever more serious, she realised with much pleasure that she had shacked up with one of the very few men who could truly satisfy her. They had many interests in common and in particular, they shared a love of the latest western hip hop music. Na became convinced that this time it would be different and for the first time for years, she allowed herself to fall in love again. Her young Thai lover promised her the earth. He told her that he wanted to marry her and he would take care of her and her daughter for the rest of his life.

    For a short while, she believed every word he said, but when the first flush of romance started to wane, his eyes started to wander once again towards some of the other delectable young girls who were plying their trade in the bar, along with Na.  She should have known better, but once more she allowed her heart to rule her head. After all these years of working the bars, she should have realised that no Thai man would really get serious with a bar girl who slept with farangs for money, but like so many before her, she somehow believed that she was different. She decided on a foolhardy strategy that had already failed so miserably some eight years earlier; in her desperation to hold on to him, she once again allowed herself to become pregnant.

    It was a silly and disastrous mistake, as this time, the father-to-be didn’t even stay long enough to see her through the early months of her pregnancy. Within a week of learning of Na’s condition, he packed his meagre belongings and was gone – out of her life and his job at the bar for ever. There were plenty more jobs in Pattaya for a handsome young DJ.

    As before, she had cried herself to sleep for a week, then picked herself up and soldiered valiantly on. She continued to work as a hostess, right up to the time she delivered her second child; although for the last four months of her pregnancy she had to rely on her ‘share’ of  the few drinks that came her way. Even in ‘sin city’, nobody wanted to bed a heavily pregnant lady.

    After this latest birth, life once more became very tough and most of her prized possessions seemed to be permanently lodged in a nearby pawnshop. But even the birth of two babies had not significantly damaged her very trim figure; sure, her naked body bore a few tell-tale stretch marks of two full term pregnancies, as well as the ugly ceasarian scar, but all things considered, she was still in pretty good shape.

    ‘Yes,’ she assured herself, ‘I am still in good shape and I can still attract the men. Nothing to worry about…nothing to worry about…’

    At long last, sleep came to the weary Na for a few precious hours.

xi

    Her unsatisfied craving for somtum temporarily forgotten, Na hurried over to the smouldering car wreck to confirm what, deep down, she already knew. A large crowd had gathered around the badly damaged vehicle, but she pushed her way through in unladylike fashion and peered in through the darkened side window. One glance was enough; she knew him well enough. It was him – Toby – that bloody drunken old man.

    ‘What a bastard!’ she said out aloud. ‘What a fucking bastard!’ You crazy, drunken, bastard!  How many people have you killed Toby?’ she screamed through the window at the lifeless form, which lay slumped across the steering wheel.

    She turned her head to look at the scene of carnage – at the dying and badly mutilated bodies that were strewn across the road. Then she turned back towards the car and the perpetrator of this outrage.

    ‘I hope you’re dead, Toby, I hope you’re fucking dead! Because if you’re not – your life won’t be worth living, I can promise you that!’