Blonde Ignition!

When Paul knew of  ‘The Lola Boys’ Summer Season Andrew had carefully thrown together, he was so severely shocked he went blonde overnight!

Work! Surely not!

He realised he must have habituated to the vagabond lifestyle they had both adopted intermittently for the past few years.  He and his partner split their time between continents and condiments. Straining their palates and patience adventuring in  Southern Europe and South East Asia.   Now, the very thought of staying put for even a relatively short period, appalled Paul. He still dreamt  of visa runs and dodgy bus trips.

He knew this to be a highly capricious trait!

He’d first recognised this fervent wanderlust, which trekked doggedly ‘cross the rocky terrain of his juvenile brain when he was in that very state.

Doggedly juvenile !

He could vividly remember his thirteen year old self laying in bed. Unmade. T’ween teenage sheets. Fantasising of volcanic eruptions and highway robbery, (both preferably involving Adam Ant !)

Paul could remember standing and delivering on many an occasion during his fruity salad days, his inner highwayman robbing him of many an hour on the hairy road to manhood!

But adult he now was, and ‘grown ups’ were meant to work for a living.

They should ‘man up’. Slip into the leatherette hot-pants and  head for the heels – rather than the hills.

Even if the latter might sometimes seem more appealing!

Since ‘The Boys’ return from the Far East Paul had yet to plant his feet anywhere near a surface which could be firmly described as firm-ish.

His step was a touch tentative.

He was conscious of not wanting to settle too comfortably on any one spot.

Not quite yet.

He wasn’t really a one for roots. Follically or geographically. He found solace in a change of scenery. He knew there was something terribly fairground about his attitude. He wondered if, amongst the gnarled branches of his twisted family tree, there lay a lost relative who’d once worked the ‘Waltzer’.

He wouldn’t be surprised.

His late father had always had a whiff of toffee apple about him and had never been shy when it came to throwing for coconuts! Raymond had also been somewhat itinerant, having dragged his young family from an Australian apartment in Sydney to a tiny caravan in an aunt’s Cornish back garden. Then on to a small council house in south London followed by a spate full of spats running a hotel in Bournemouth and then onwards, or rather, upwards, to a rather unfashionable part of The Lake District to become landlord of ‘The Greyhound Inn’. A local pub, for local people!

Very local people!

All this mileage, and before Paul’s teenage years had ended. When he looked back, it had been quite an itinerary! Along with his father’s penchant for wandering, he had, admittedly,  undertaken a couple of outings under his own dubious steam.

A brief sojourn in southern Greece as joint proprietor, along with his sixteen year old sister, of a mafia owned guest house. Their tenure had ended in horribly dramatic fashion as Paul and Tina were pursued across europe by the employees of a small time greek Godfather. They had to avoid detection by taking an antique, snail-paced night train to Belgrade in what was then communist Yugoslavia. Their entire bundle of well-earned cash, which they had accrued over a long, hot honest summer, was stashed in Paul’s sweaty plimsole. It had been scary, smelly and thrilling. A darkly comic adventure.

There was also a short, tawdry love affair that saw Paul flee to Paris to briefly cohabit in an attic with a french drama student he’d met in Bournemouth. The bed sit was claggy with the pungent gallic smoke of a million ‘Gaulloise’ and Piaf screamed mercilessly of regret from the wifi. Not a cliche in sight!

Rien!

Paris had been fun – even if the drama student had eventually disappointed. Paul had already learnt that in the theatre not everybody got the big part. His Frenchman had turned out to be nothing more than a bit player! A veritable flop! It had definitely been time to make his exit, but Paul, like Edith, had no regrets. Onwards and downwards he had thought back then.  No wonder, years later, he still had itchy feet.

He’d had far too much rehearsal.

Along the rugged Andalusian’ Costa Del Sol the Summer burnt mercilessly on.  Sometimes a welcome sea mist would envelop the very lip of the coastline as the gracious Atlantic blew her cool breath towards home.  But on most nights, lacking an air conditioning unit that actually functioned, The Boys would lay together as far apart as possible. Mid-way between swelter and cremate!

It made for a most uncomfortable night.

T’was on such a sultry occasion, when Paul was awakened by excited shouts from his partner at three in the morning.

‘Paul. PAUL! Get up. Look at this!’

Paul shot up immediately. A talent he had doubtless inherited from his late father, who had been a London fireman.  Like his dad, Paul was always more than ready to slide down a pole when asked. He could be up and out within minutes – and with a well stocked overnight bag!

Paul went out onto the balcony where Andrew was standing. Before he even turned his head he knew immediately why Andrew had shouted to him. For behind the silhouette of his partner the entire eastern sky was a warm hazy hue of blood orange. It was alight!

‘Jesus!’ Paul exclaimed.

‘I know’ Andrew replied, ‘I think it’s bad. We should go and see.’

Paul made no hesitation,

‘I’ll get some clothes on.’

Minutes later the boys were marching across the parkland near their home towards the almost biblical scene which was unfolding in the near distance.  There was fire everywhere. Towards the top of the valley a whole ridge was aflame, whilst further down pockets of fire fluttered from bush to bush as if alive.  A group of spectators and some of those evacuated from the adjacent homes stood together transfixed by that most elemental of shows. The fire, though destructive, possessed a majesty which provoked terrifying awe.  The wind was blowing hard now. A hot dry wind which did nothing to help the firefighters who fought bravely on to contain the blaze. Every now and then a gust would bring a new cloud of choking ash towards the onlookers and they would feel the heat surge.

A woman screamed for her child,

‘Kelly!’

A large shrub caught ablaze just feet away.

It was time to leave.

There were panicked shouts.  Urgent screams as a policeman was yelling at an idiot who had got too near and was standing on the burning scrubland attempting to take photos with a mobile.

‘Loco! Loco! Cono!’ Paul heard the copper screaming.

The man by the burning bush pulled back through the smoke and made his way towards the main crowd. Paul saw at once that it was Andrew.

‘What the fuck were you doing?’ he screamed.

”Trying to get a good picture’ Andrew screamed back.

‘Let’s go’ Paul barked.

Andrew didn’t argue.

They turned and hot-footed it away from the near inferno which was still raging behind them.  It did so for many hours afterwards.

Andrew, who had been fired up by the whole adventure, stayed awake throughout  the night, should an evacuation be deemed necessary.

Paul went straight back to bed. Another trick he’d probably inherited from his old man.

There was after all,  no need for alarm.

And if one did happen to go off – Andrew would surely hear it and wake him.

Would he not?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Generated Paradise!

Paul woke in paradise at 1.30am, his entire body stinging from the bites of a tropical squadron of insects. The little buggers were buzzing around him like miniature Messerschmitt, each keen to land and pick up their bloody payload, punctually puncturing him every seven seconds, or so it seemed! Added to the critters fighting trench war fare amid the folds of the ancient mattress, Paul wanted to commit insecticide, but had neglected to pack any!

It was interminable.

There was a mosquito net but it resembled a moth-eaten piece of Victorian lace as it hung,spectre like, from the bamboo ceiling, only serving to disturb Paul and Andrew’s sweaty slumber even further. Andrew had twice been violently caught amongst it’s billowing grey mesh, the first time nearly garrotting himself, and on the second occasion falling heavily to the floor, swaddled like an overgrown infant. Paul had had to untangle his partner swiftly from the errant material, making even more holes in the useless piece of rag.

Andrew struggled proudly to his feet and went out onto the silken beach, the Indian ocean splashing just feet from the balcony of their overpriced bungalow on the underdeveloped island. Paul lay inside under the ragged remainder of the mosquito net, listening to the mercurial generator, which was coughing and spluttering it’s way through the night, drowning the sound of the ocean with one mechanical wave after another. The only other noise heard during the early eastern hours was the incessant coughing and spluttering of the friendly Berliner in the hut next door, who might have been auditioning for the part of Violetta, in ‘La Traviata’ – hourly.

It was a most productive disorder.

In fact, the entire nightly soundscape of stunning Koh Kradan reminded Paul of a touring fun fair. He imagined, during numerous bouts of torrid wakefulness, stepping onto the dove white sands outside, riding the ‘Waltzer’ and grabbing a quick Toffee Apple.

It was not the sound of paradise.

And he most certainly could not sleep.

But sadly there was no fun fair. Just the gigantic, archaic generator and the sanatorium next door.

Koh Kradan was paradisiacal during the day. Other than the day trippers who polluted the near pristine beach with their screaming and floating.

It was pure hell at night.

Paul only hoped he had not contracted Dengue Fever. Especially as the eccentric owner of their prefabricated resort was regularly holding court across his average restaurant, endlessly talking of his recent recovery from the killer disease!

There was no local food. There was no local flavour. There were, in fact, no locals!

The boys had come to the final island on their Thai odyssey, arriving from the striking  Koh Bulon.

Bulon, too, had had it’s own share of drama.

Not least, a jungle which the locals dare not enter for fear of the many ghosts who they swore resided there. Paul and Andrew had just happened to take lodgings on the edge of this forbidden place. They’d heard strange voices in the night, but had not been nearly killed by a malevolent mosquito net as on Kradan.

Koh Bulon was also an island stalked by giant lizards, some three metres long. Paul had got a shock early one morning as he saw a large reptilian tongue, which he was pretty sure did not belong to his husband, appear from behind their jungle hut. The magnificent creature passed majestically by, quite disinterested in the two goggle eyed tourists who watched astounded just feet away. It had been a magnificent sight.

A rare co-existence between fauna and those fawning over it.

There was incredible nurture as well as abundant nature on the charming island. A tiny school where the teachers rented out tourist huts, in which Paul and Andrew had briefly boarded prior to discovering their broody jungle abode, catered to travellers and pupils alike. It was a great lesson in how to use tourism to enable the local community. ‘A’ plus, Paul had thought.

There were also two very friendly squid fishing villages full of equally elastic locals. Locally generated solar power to provide for the resorts.

And a reggae bar!

Paul wondered if it could be bettered.

It was true their next island, Koh Kradan, where they were now residing, was a veritable Eden, but she had a vicious sting in her tail!

She was an Island of expensive resorts. No true inhabitants – only poor food and inflated prices. Together with the BBC’s ‘TENKO’ style hut, in which the boys were now staying, it was a touch disappointing.  Paul considered it to be the last resort. He decided he would never again choose to stay in such a place. Although Kradan was certainly a beauty queen, she was somewhat lacking in the personality department.

 

One would have a much better time, Paul knew, with the slightly sluttish Koh Mook who lay brazenly to the east. He’d always preferred a bunch of scruffy locals puffing away, rather than a division of armoured push-chairs from Potsdam!

Koh Kradan’s beach had recently been voted eighth best in the world by ‘Conde Nast’. Paul could not disagree, but thought it unlikely he and Andrew would return anytime very soon.

They would probably leave it to the honeymooners and the snorkelling toddlers.

And the beautiful fish.

Shame.

Especially as Paul quite suited a snorkel. Or at least that’s what Andrew told him, no doubt hoping for a quieter life!

The next day the boys were to leave for the big polluted smoke of Bangkok, but not before they had to endure another night in their over priced ‘Deer Hunter’ shack. Paul wondered how Robert de Niro would have coped. Then thought better of it.

It wasn’t a night for ‘Russian Roulette’.

That would no doubt occur in Bangkok.

Besides, the tangled mosquito net in the beautifully twisted Koh Kradan would probably get them first!

He lay back and drifted away to the soothing rhythm of The Straits Of Malacca, as they elegantly lapped the silver shore like slithers of mystical mermaids. The sound of the sea was a soporific shanty down in Thailand’s Trang Islands. An intense aquamarine lullaby. Paul let himself drift aimlessly away. But soon enough he felt a sudden tug back towards the shore. A distant rythym drummed steadily in a far off lighthouse. Or rather, a far off generator house. It thudded pleadingly. Gradually bringing him, involuntarily, back to land.  He was once again marooned. Beached in his bamboo cell.  A landlubber dreaming of the sea, and instead being deafened by the bloody generator all night!

Crunch! Thud! Screech! Boom!

The sound of paradise! Lost!

Well, almost.

Paul was more than ready to return to the real Thailand…..

# Me Too Please !!!

Paul would like to say he had never been touched up by a female pensioner before but that wasn’t the case! It was, however, the first time it had been by a lady of Thai persuasion, and a Muslim to boot. It was also a novel experience to have it happen on public transport during the day’s first call to prayer. It was almost as painful as the flat imam who shrieked to his flock quite tunelessly and far to regularly.

He and Andrew had been squeezed onto the truck as if they were being transported to Smithfield meat market.

Twenty people had miraculously squashed onto the tiny Song-thaw and that was before Madame Weinstein had rolled up. Using Paul’s inner thigh as a hand rail she dragged herself up into the vehicle and collapsed heavily onto his lunchbox. By lunchtime itself she had already greedily partaken of his sausage roll and had had a bloody good go at his scotch eggs. Paul was shocked. He’d always thought pork was off limits to those of the Islamic faith. Madam Weinstein was obviously an exception.

When they arrived at an unpronounceable little town rather too near to southern Thailand’s Islamic insurgency, Paul clambered from the vehicle with the leg that stilled worked, happy to escape the Muslim fundamentalism that had been happening onboard. He bade the woman a smile as he left, he didn’t want to appear ungrateful. It was a characteristic he was ashamed of, but he could do nothing about it.

He was a natural tart.

He and Andrew then struggled across an unsafe road bridge with their lumpy rucksacks to get to the bus station on the opposite side of the highway. They were greeted with broad smiles by the locals and, as per usual, much hilarity. There seemed to them to be no hostility here towards unbelievers, not on the surface at least. Everyone from pancake pedlars to paternal pedallers, cycling their kids to school, were utterly charming. And, all seemed incredibly happy.

After an obligatory stop at the local ‘Seven Eleven’  in order to furnish Andrew with enough cigarettes to kill a laboratory Beagle, The Boys doggedly trudged towards the pick up point for their bus south.

The small building was not so much of a bus shelter, more a shelter for the homeless. A few elderly looking vagrants peopled the place with their roguish charm. One of the old boys was most insistent that Paul take his plastic chair. Paul was unable to refuse, even though he was very concerned the tiny piece of furniture might buckle accidentally beneath his occidental weight!

He sat for a while with the gentleman, smoking cigarillos and chewing the fat as Andrew looked on most amused. The main reason for Andrew’s delight was the fact that his husband was now being felt up once again. Only this time by one of the old geezers who was dressed as a 1970s pimp!

 

There was more than a whiff of ‘Huggie Bear’ about the cheeky chappie. Paul was well aware that if he didn’t move swiftly away his lunchbox could be on the menu again. He’d have to join the growing throng of performers using the hashtag ‘Me Too’ soon.

 

He posed for a quick photo, the retouching only occurring during the sitting! He assumed it must be down to the Penhaligons ‘Oud De Nil’ he’d sprayed on far too liberally that morning and absolutely nothing to do with his far too liberal appearance.

He did wonder sometimes if he’d had slut tattooed onto his forehead without his knowledge. He made a mental note to check when he next came before a looking-glass.

After a mercifully short while Andrew and Paul found themselves in a surprisingly comfortable air-conditioned mini-van heading towards the Malaysian border. Paul did a deal with Leh, their driver, to take them on to the actual border post and to wait for them as he and Andrew did a visa run in and out of the country.

After driving through mountainous jungle they reached the imaginary line between the two nations. Machine gun wielding soldiers smiled at them as they alighted, their fingers resting disarmingly on the triggers. Paul and Andrew smiled back wanting to stay on the good side of the seriously armed soldiers. There was obviously sometimes a touch of  trouble at this particular post thought Paul, hence the armies posting. He wasn’t sure whether the heavy armoury mad him feel safer, but he knew he would be most pleased when the whole diplomatic affair was over.

It actually went very smoothly.

The Boys stamped out of Thailand, walked across the strange no-mans land that always fascinated Paul when they crossed an international land border, and stamped into Malaysia. Whilst in that marvellous country Andrew had a fag and Paul visited a public lavatory, then they then they hit the duty free shop.

There was a splendid array of cheap branded alcohol which surprised them both, especially as they had found it difficult to even get a beer on their visit to the country a few years back. They then stamped out of Malaysia and back into Thailand and were given a further thirty days on their visa.

Completely gratis.

There were a few times when being a UK citizen had it’s benefits. This being one of them.

They then found Leh and motored on to the small town of Satun, which nestled steamily in a jungle valley deep in south-west Thailand. They had not expected the place to be so charming. Yet it was like travelling back in time. As the boys headed into one of the rural suburbs they were transported to a riverine oasis of laughing children and their equally contented parents.

Hens clucked as mother hens mucked out. Dads  mended fishing nets. One man was washing his cock! One of the feathered varieties of course. All going about their daily life in a timeless and effortless fashion. It was as if time did not exist in the pretty dwelling. Other than the odd mobile phone, which now seemed to Paul, disappointingly ubiquitous across the entire globe.

As the heat of the day peaked at an astronomical high and the fecund grey clouds threatened to discharge their abundant moisture, the boys headed back to their guesthouse to avoid a good soaking. They partook of a brilliant yellow curry,  which was as good as the one made by their great friend Stella. She was always the benchmark when it came to Thai cuisine, having once managed an extraordinarily successful Thai restaurant in London. Her ears must have burned as hotly as the dishes they sampled on their travels,as each time they would gauge a curry’s  appeal.

‘Not as good as Stella’s’ one of them would often remark. On this, their latest excursion, their friend’s ears had probably not burned quite as often, as the food had come up trumps. Paul had even learnt to replicate a couple of the stranger dishes in order to cook them for her on the their return. If he could get hold of the inordinate variety of aubergine that existed in Thailand. He thought he may have to sneak some into his rucksack on the flight home. Surely BA couldn’t be sniffy about a touch of excess eggplant! Then again…

But it was not quite home time yet. Andrew and Paul were to make their merry way from the roasting town of Satun the next morning, and head out to another lesser known Island the latter had discovered.

The next morning the call to prayer blasted zealously into their furnace of a room at a rude 5am. There was really no need to set an alarm in Thailand’s Deep South. The mosque very thoughtfully did it for you.

Thankfully, thought Paul, this fella was in tune. He really didn’t mind the exotic alarm call at all, but wholly disapproved if the holy man was religiously missing his top ‘B’ flats!

After an intensely bitter coffee (Apparently! A local brew!) they waited for the bus which was to take them to meet their Song-thaw, which would then head off for the small port of Pakbara. Paul took his cologne from his bag and went to spray himself. He stopped suddenly, changing his mind. Perhaps he’d give the Penhaligon’s a miss today. After all, one never knew who their travelling companions would be, and Madame Weinstein and her equally fruity brother, Harvey, who he’d met at the bus-top the previous day, were fresh in his mind. Too fresh!

When the bus arrived the boys climbed awkwardly between the pots and packages looking for a free seat. Paul spotted two towards the rear, he also locked eyes with a hulking German Adonis with eyes like cerulean pools. He flashed a blindingly flirtatious smile towards Paul, who did a little giggle worthy of that of an embarrassed schoolgirl. ‘Shit’ he thought mischievously, ‘Why didn’t I apply my ‘Oud De Nil ?’ But his ego had been well and truly touched up by the naughty moment.

He collapsed into his seat next to his soporific partner and then caught sight of a stunning young fraulein who was boarding the bus just behind him. She smiled longingly at the godlike creature to his rear. He realised immediately it had surely been her who had elicited the smile from the handsome Teutonic passenger, and not him. He knew he’d smelt a rat. He was losing his touch!

‘Now’, he thought, ‘where’s that bloody perfume?’

He turned and gave a cheeky smile to the young lovers behind him.

She was certainly a very lucky girl.

‘# Me Too Please’ he thought, sinfully, to himself.

The imam would most certainly not have approved!

Far From The Madding Flock!

The sultry Thai breeze lifted Paul’s curls as he gazed out at the tropical islands to the west bringing with it a cool clarity. He had been reading Virginia Woolf on the beach and it had put him in pensive mood, some would say a pretentious bent, but Paul had stopped listening to life’s small minded critics, whose mission,it seemed, was to chip away steadily at the confidence of others in order to prove their own small self-worth. They seemed meaningless to him now as the burgeoning sun began her swift descent towards her crimson pillow. If he wanted to be pretentious that was up to him.

He gazed at the four erratically shaped islands which lay on the dreamy horizon and imagined the comings and goings on their peculiar shores. He knew three of them to be ‘Bird’s Nest Concession’ Islands. A phrase he had not come across until a few days earlier when he and Andrew had met a charming Swedish couple on their arrival at their ever so laid back resort. In fact, for days, it had just been the four of them sharing the windswept beige sands which looked across to the national marine park of Koh Phetra and her rocky companions, so he had learnt a fair deal from them concerning what went on amid the mysterious limestone outcrops.

Although the islands were part of a conservation project and therefore had no population, there were a few temporary residents. Some fisherman who made use of a paradisiacal bay, which far outstripped the beauty of Leo Dicaprio’s beach in the well-known film, along with a band of intrepid climbers, whose job it was to scale the shard like cliffs in order to reach the sky caves of the island’s only permanent inhabitants, the multitude of Sea Swiftlets. These oceanic mountaineers were not keen ornithologists hoping to catch sight of a rare bird, but rather keen businessmen with a sharp eye for the nests the darting creatures created.

‘Bird’s Nest Soup’ was apparently a thriving business in southern Thailand. The homes of the tiny birds were collected and sold to make the famous oriental delicacy.

The market in China alone brought in over a hundred million pounds a year, Paul understood why the lithe sun-burnished athletes risked life and limb hauling themselves up ropes hundreds of feet in the air.

The rewards were sky- high.

The nests themselves were formed from the dried saliva of the Swiftlets and he couldn’t help but feel a pang of sympathy for the poor avian creatures who must have flown back to their roosts too often to discover themselves homeless. Made destitute, just so some fat businessman in Shanghai could salivate over a dish of hideous soup.

Paul, who had swallowed many an odd concoction in his time, could not think of anything worse than eating a bowl of bird spit. But it seemed he was in a minority in the east. The fashion was so profitable that he and Andrew had been warned not to visit the Islands for fear of being shot at. Heavily armed guards were another of the islands itinerant residents.

Paul looked again towards the western seascape, the islands now silkily silhouetted against a pink backdrop. Their beauty seemed to him less romantic now, with the plight of a million vagrant birds hatching in his mind. He had initially wanted to row the five kilometres to the nearer Koh Laoliang, but he knew that after the drama of he and Andrew’s previous nautical escapade, he would have trouble convincing his husband to take up oars. The thought of being picked off with a long-range rifle, like a clay pigeon, also held limited appeal. Therefore the enigmatic islands would for now, have to remain just that.

An enigma.

Besides the island on which the boys were now residing was quite gorgeous enough. Home to a small Muslim population, who made their way growing rice, rubber and luscious watermelon. The place was incredibly friendly. The few tourists who endeavoured to find the beautiful isle were treated more as close friends than ‘farang’.

Paul had discovered the island on an esoteric website specialising in the lesser known nesting sites Thailand still had to offer. He and Andrew had made their way south from the stunning Koh Mook on a local form of transport known as a ‘songthaw’. This was basically an open truck with two rows, (the literal meaning of songthaw), made up of a duo of uncomfortable wooden benches. They reminded Paul of the forms on which pupils had been made to sit at junior school. Of course with senior buttocks, they were far less accommodating.

As they made their way through rural lanes and stopped briefly at remote farms to collect passengers on route, the vehicle became somewhat crowded. A young girl on wooden crutches; an old girl with wooden teeth; an entire family with what appeared to be their entire worldly belongings filled the truck making Paul and Andrew decry their long greedy western limbs. They shamelessly fought for space alongside greedy toddlers and smiling pensioners, eventually succumbing to the cramped conditions and moulding into one like hot sardines in a can. They were practically family by the time they arrived at the tiny pier to take the small boat across the Andaman Sea. The passengers had shared everything. Their lunch, their conversation, their scent. The sheer humanity onboard the wagon had been tangible and it touched Paul. He thought how different it had been to the starchy underground journeys one takes in London. The passengers had become one, not like the separate sullenness exhibited on the miserable tube. It is true it had been rather cramped, but the human spirit had not. That had soared way overground.

On their first full day on the island Paul and Andrew hired decrepit bicycles and pushed on towards a village near it’s centre. They made a sweaty pit stop and hoped for a beer at a bijoux local establishment. The old lady, who had a look of a toothless Mother Theresa welcomed them warmly. She brought her snivelling grandson from the back room to meet them – he was not at all amused. The boys had to settle for water, it being a Muslim enclave, but they were sated. The liquid bringing life back to their liquidated limbs. The amiable old lady even made them some banana fritters, on the house, she wouldn’t hear of taking payment. It was more than refreshing. Both Andrew and Paul thought it might have been the friendliest part of Thailand they had yet visited. And they’d certainly been around.

Later on in the sweltering day they looked towards the island of Koh Libong as they climbed an unmarked hill on route back to their lodgings. This was where the mystical Dugong made their home. Strange aquatic creatures related to the sea cow. They nested in the rare sea grass that covered the ocean floor nearby. Paul thought he spotted a large shape gliding slowly beneath the sapphire surface, but Andrew informed him it was nothing, just a shadow. He was quite obviously delirious from the stifling heat and the outmoded set of wheels with which he was struggling. As they hit the crest of the hill relief flooded them both and they careered  downwards towards the rubber plantation below. It was not the most opportune of moments for Paul to discover that the stopping mechanism on his bike was non-existent.

‘Ding, ding!!! ‘ He screamed at Andrew as he flew past his lover as swift as the swiftest Swiflet, taking the bend faster than Lewis Hamilton and just managing to avoid a stray water buffalo meandering gently through the trees at the bottom. Both the buffalo and Andrew made their displeasure known. In no uncertain terms! Neither seemed to approve of the drama which had just unfolded as Paul had almost taken flight.

‘Why is everything a bloody performance with you?’ Andrew chastised.

‘It’s not my fault if I’ve got no buggery brakes!’ Paul shouted back.

He considered it most unfair for Andrew to fly off the handle when he had almost gone headfirst over his.

They cycled on through the shimmering green and eventually came to another idyllic spot. A charming  resort of wooden cabins directly on a perfectly deserted stretch of beach. They were joined only by two ice cold beers. It was pure perfection.

As Paul gazed across the Emerald Andaman Sea towards the other islands in the Trang Archipelago, and the geography beyond which imperceptibly became Malaysia, he felt very lucky that he and Andrew had decided to make their temporary nest where they had. It was an unspoilt heavenly place.

Even if the bikes were crap.

Arriving back at their own nesting ground he sat on the tawny beach alone. His thighs smarting from the unintended work out which they had been given. Andrew was already unconscious inside their roost.

A warm wind unlocked Paul’s locks and he once again picked up ‘Mrs Dalloway’ to continue his literary discovery. He certainly wasn’t afraid of Virginia Woolf. But he was a little fearful of revealing the dazzling island he and Andrew had discovered. Thinking, egotistically, that doing so in his leanly read musings would lead to it’s discovery. The package cuckoos would arrive and fling them from their secret hideaway.

Would he let his small flock of readers in on the destination? And Pigs might fly, he thought. He had, after all, already given them more than enough clues!

He lay back, solitary on the deserted beach, just him, a lone eagle swooping the sky, and the high flying literature of Woolf to keep him company. Pretentious he knew. But who cared? There was no one to judge him. Not until the other snow birds came flocking.

And that could take a while.

The Old Man And The Sea!

Author’s note.

The author apologises for a complete lack of photography in this blog. The reader will realise for themselves why this is the case.

Paul had known in the pit of his stomach, that the idea of he and Andrew taking a sea kayak and paddling off for the famous ‘Emerald Cave’ on the edge of Thailand’s Andaman Sea could easily end in disaster. But as per usual he ignored the deep warning signs and instead set off onto the deep for a titanic moment on the high seas.

The boys set off from the beach at an ungodly hour, Paul only hoped that there was some seafaring deity who had also risen early and would therefore be looking down or up at them. The sky was a hot slate of muted greys and the sea matched her sullen mood. After a short watch, it was as crystal clear as the Indian ocean, that the Gods had obviously had a very late night! The Boys were on their own.

After the inaugural launch of the SS Lola, The Boys  initially paddled in manic circles attempting to work in tandem; their double act though far less successful offshore. They were sinking much faster than they ever did onstage. At least that took a good couple of hours Paul thought. He barked an order at Andrew to come to the right. Andrew misunderstood his nautical command and used the right oar frantically, steering them over to port.

‘The other way’ Paul screamed.

‘You said the right’ Andrew shouted back.

‘I meant go to the right – to starboard’.

Paul’s formative years at naval school were flooding back. Sadly his pretentious use of seaman’s terminology fell on Andrew’s deaf ears who responded with equally salty language,

‘Fuck off you bossy twat’.

‘We’re taking on water’ Paul said urgently.

‘Piss off’ said Andrew.

He had never been keen on Paul’s inner seaman!

Paul was in the back off the kayak and feeling stern, he could see the boat was filling gradually with seawater. He could also feel himself sinking further into the ocean. He was now wet up to his waist. The kayak was so low in the water he suspected the hull must be filling too. He was well aware that his experience of boats was actually leading him to panic. Andrew, whose boating credentials extended to having once sung show tunes on an American cruise ship on  some of the more ordinary Caribbean islands was certainly much calmer.

Sometimes ignorance was bliss thought Paul.

But The Lola Boys were definitely all at sea.

They managed to plough on through the deep ocean. As they rounded the cape of sheer vertical emerald jungle a large swell began to rock them now and then, each time causing a couple more gallons of seawater to sweep over the side of their craft. Paul stopped paddling occasionally and used his hands to scoop out as much water as he could.

Eventually, after a strenuous row and an even more energetic row, the boys spotted some dragon tail boats moored near to the base of the cliff. They paddled furiously to get to the rocks. When they arrived at the small bay there was nowhere to get ashore. The rocks were jagged and sharp, covered with millions of glass-like barnacles. They managed to navigate to the mouth of a small cave which had a couple of ledges on which they could perch as they attempted to empty their vessel.

‘Let’s leave it here’ said Andrew. Quite exasperated.

‘We can’t’ said Paul. ‘If the tide changes she might be gone when we come out’.

Paul spotted a rope hanging from seemingly nowhere at the mouth to the ‘Emerald Cave’,

‘Let’s tie her up over there’ Paul suggested.

‘You do it’ Andrew spat back.

The boat trip was not going well.

Paul paddled the boat over to the random line and attempted a ‘Sheepshank’. It had been a considerable while since he’d tied one, and what with all the stress of the ‘Lusitania’ moment he settled for a ‘Reef Knot’. He’d always considered that to be one of the most stylish of rope ties, and he knew if he didn’t get the boat secured quickly Andrew would be telling him to get knotted.

Though in less sober language!

Both of them were aware the excursion was not bobbing along nicely as one would wish, but Paul imagined they had independently decided to weather the storm that was brewing, and not let a little water cloud the moment.

Andrew, with a lamp strapped to his head, took the lead. He began his best doggy-paddle into the blackness of the cave. Paul thought he had the look of a drowning miner and smiled silently. He knew Andrew was not in the mood to be mocked. Not when there was drowning to be done. He followed confidently as Andrew lead them deeper into the earth. The cavern grew smaller, and darker with each stroke. They swam an abrupt corner and then there was nothing. An ink-black space and a mass of sea life swimming beneath them.

Paul turned to look for Andrew. There was no light at all and Andrew had been in charge of the torch. The entire rock felt like it was pressing heavily onto to him. It’s billions of tonnes of millions of years of limestone crushing the very breath out of him. He knew it had been stupid.

This excursion! Jesus!

Not only did Paul have a problem with being out of his depth – not just in water. He also loathed tunnels. Whilst driving at speed into the numerous underpasses that pepper Andalucia’s coast road, he had often had to suddenly decelerate, breathe deeply into a crisp bag, and think of a Barbra Streisand number so as to avoid passing out in the underpass.

So why had he considered a watery journey through a hell-like landscape to be fun? It was if he were swimming the Styx in Hades – the devil had the only torchlight. He could just about espy his partner in brine floating on his back about twenty feet behind him – the meagre light shining uselessly upwards into the cavernous cathedral of stone.

Paul then felt an all too familiar dread begin to course through him. His breath became shallow and his head started to spin. He knew he was starting to have a panic attack. It was not the first time.

Paul had always been highly confident in the water from a very young age. He’d been a leading member of ‘The Duckling Club’ at Putney Swimming Baths when he was a just able to walk. His ‘Ten Yard Certificate’ had proved a cinch! But his confidence had taken a huge knock years later when he found himself in hot water on the famous Ipanema Beach. He and two friends had almost come a cropper in the heavy surf there, whilst on singing gig on the QE2. It was only when the three of them managed to make it back to the beach that they had even noticed the entire lack of other swimmers and the flotilla of red flags dotted along the shoreline. He knew then, he’d been completely out of his depth. And he knew now, he’d try to make sure he never was again.

He also knew that having been a strong swimmer in Rio had saved him, but he’d allowed a plankton of doubt to drift across his subconscious. He was now of the knowledge that he was completely powerless if Neptune was not in the mood to play beach-ball.  And the realisation had entirely destroyed his once buoyant attitude to the water. A tsunami of doubt now plagued him like a school of malevolent Men ‘O War. He knew the sea to have an entirely different character if she so chose. Malevolent and unforgiving.

He also knew he was wet.

It was most frustrating.

‘I’m turning back’ he gasped pathetically at Andrew.

‘What?’ Andrew replied.

‘I don’t like it’ Paul choked, ‘I’m going back.’

Paul used the special waterproof bag, in which his unused camera was packed, as a float, and began to kick for the small opening of daylight he could just make out. He didn’t know if Andrew was following. He didn’t care.

‘For fuck’s sake’, he heard Andrew’s baritone echoing in the distant darkness, ‘never again!’

When Paul got to the mouth of the cave he clambered unceremoniously onto the kayak, much of the sea joining him. He fiddled ferociously with the knot he’d tied wishing he’d gone for something simpler. A granny knot would have done! But he’d just had to over do it!

After freeing the vessel he paddled towards the rocks where Andrew had now beached himself. He alighted the craft awkwardly and he and Andrew then attempted to empty the boat for a second time.

‘Shit’ Paul screeched, ‘my hand!’ He had just scraped his left hand painfully along the banarcled boulder he had been trying to cling to whilst performing their marine routine.

‘Bollocks’ he cursed, blood filling his palm.

‘Stop panicking’ Andrew shouted, ‘this is the last fucking time I do anything like this with you. It’s always a fucking drama!’

‘No it’s bloody not’ yelled Paul, slipping from the rock and lacerating his other palm on the razor-like geography which engulfed them.

‘Shit’ he said quietly, hoping Andrew hadn’t noticed.

‘Twat’ Andrew hissed.

They both hauled the boat onto her side and watched as gallons of water flooded out.

‘See’ said Paul. ‘I knew we were sinking!’

‘Jesus Paul!’ Andrew shrieked.

‘What?’ asked a panicked Paul.

‘You’re getting all that blood into the bloody boat!’

Paul looked down and saw the scarlet rivulets dancing along the orange fibre glass hull. It looked oddly pretty. He thought he might be getting a little delirious. He said nothing.

‘So what’ screamed Paul. He didn’t think an extra half litre of him would make any difference to their vessel’s buoyancy. That was just displacement.

He was definitely getting delirious!

‘I’m gonna call over to that bloke on the boat’ he said to Andrew in a manner of exaggerated calm.

‘No don’t’ Andrew yelled ‘that’s so embarassing’.

‘I don’t fucking care!’ Paul said shakily, ‘our boat is sinking. How the buggery bollocks do we get back?’

******************************************************************

Andrew realised their dilemma. Their craft was useless in her present state, and Paul certainly wasn’t helping with his constant panicking. In fact, he didn’t think Paul to be of any use at all. He knew his partner had gone to naval school but that had been over thirty years ago. His current nautical knowledge was now a half-remembered mess of knots and camp semaphore. With a touch dodgy morse code thrown in. Nothing practical that would help them out of this oceanic mess he had allowed himself to be talked into.

Paul always yearned for adventure, yet so often found disaster. Andrew often wondered if they had to come hand in hand. That just maybe his partner craved the exciting moment and the drama. He didn’t want to consider it.

Now was not the moment.

******************************************************************

The boatman made a sign to come over. Paul and Andrew used their boat as a float and made their way over to the larger vessel.

Paul clambered aboard and helped the friendly captain haul the boys’ kayak onboard. It was so heavy they had to ask for help from another of the boatmen nearby. After a few seconds it was obvious why. Seawater gushed for several minutes from a spout on the bow of the boys’ boat. It splashed at length noisily back into the sea, much to the amusement of several European tourists floating safely nearby.

Paul knew Andrew was looking at the package group and thinking that they should have made the same easy choice and come on a motorised vessel. With a guide! It had been Paul who had wanted to take the adventurous route. He knew sometimes Andrew suspected him of doing it on purpose, just to have something to write about. If Paul were being entirely honest he thought Andrew may have had a point. But he wasn’t really sure.

After all, it was a hell of a risk, and he was hardly a bestseller!

When the boys’ kayak was eventually disgorged, the helpful shipmates they’d just met launched the SS Lola back into the water. Paul boarded first, followed by his partner. They thanked the boatman for their services and set off out to sea to return to the beach.

As they paddled away from the relative safety of the rocks, Paul’s hand dripped blood steadily onto the oar. The myriad of cuts stinging sharply as the salt water cut into them mercilessly. The water was coming onboard even quicker than before. Paul had a terrible sinking feeling.

They obviously had a puncture!

He said nothing. Andrew had managed to get himself into a good mood after the earlier drama, and was now singing the tune to ‘Hawaii Five 0’ at great volume, quite unaware of the volume of water filling the Boys’ stern.

Paul knew it was more like ‘Hawaii Five No’!

He only hoped they would make it back.

He emptied their water bottle and began to fill it with seawater, furiously decanting the stuff to whence it had came. When the water had decreased to thigh level he stopped and began to paddle quicker than Hiawatha with a rocket under her pretty feathered arse!

A last the beach came into sight. Paul was fairly confident they could make it.

‘That’s the last fucking time I do anything like that with you’ Andrew began, his sea shanty again, now a familiar tone to Paul, who knew their double act was just treading water at the moment.

‘It’s not my fault’ Paul steamed in, ‘I didn’t ask the bloody boat to sink.’

‘But it always happens with you.’ It’s always a bloody drama!’

‘Maybe that’s when you’re along’ Paul sailed in, ‘I’m alright on my own.’

Paul threw the paddles weakly at his husband and started to make his way up the beach. He was going to have words with the guy who’d hired out the leaky death trap of a bloody shit tub nearly killing them both!

Andrew started to drag the canoe along the sand but soon found it too difficult. It was clear the entire hull had filled with water again. They had been so close to going down.

Paul complained to the kayakman who very kindly offered to only charge them half price for the pleasure of sinking – twice! He explained it was not his fault, he could only be certain of the state of his fleet on their return to port. He then gave a dull, wry look alluding to the tonnage the boys had displaced on the vessel.

‘Bloody dangerous’ Andrew snarled and stomped up towards the bar. It was ten thirty!

Paul was annoyed to say the least. He was glad they’d both survived. But he wasn’t so sure their relationship was entirely as shipshape.

He suspected a couple of tankards of grog may improve the tempestuous situation. But the waters were definitely rocky.

Later, Paul stood in the passive pink sea. Alone and blissfully thoughtless. He felt the sting from his lacerated hands and was immediately reminded of the rocky moment earlier in the day. He smiled.

He headed to join Andrew for a beer, happy to be a landlubber, the wind coming confidently back into his sails. The thought that he and Andrew may have run aground dissipating as fast as a warm sea mist. He knew that he and Andrew had navigated far rougher waters in the past.

Only never in a kayak.

And, thought Paul, never again!

The Sunset Years…

After having majestically marooned themselves on one of the paradisiacal Trang Islands, Paul and Andrew were not yet in the mood to move on. The island vibe on Koh Mook was so tranquil it bordered on the soporific. Paul knew for certain it was a truly hypnotic place and that if the boys didn’t leave soon they could fall under it’s tropical spell forever. Therefore, an escape was planned. But not before the two castaways gave themselves over to the island’s charm for a few days longer.

They were staying in a simple hut directly on the stunning beach of ‘Had Farang’. Paul thought the ‘Resort’ rather ordinary but the old adage ‘location, location, location’ could not have been more apt. He and Andrew’s temporary home was built on bamboo stilts set directly over the powder white sand. The aquamarine ocean rippled just a few nautical feet away. It was pure class. And should have cost a fortune. But didn’t – at least, not yet!

The service at the Resort, however, was not quite of the same quality. The motley crew of staff members were oddly vacant. Paul had noticed immediately that more than a few of them were at least one noodle short of a pad Thai!

As the sun began to step on the gas nearing it’s zenith, midday became sweltering. Paul stood on the beach at noon attempting a kind of sweaty semaphore. He was trying to get one of the dodgier members of staff to clean the boys’ room. They had stayed for a week now and it hadn’t yet seen the tip of a toilet brush! The towels were practically walking and the bedsheets  had a whiff of a busy Berlin brothel. His sweaty mime, however, was not going at all well. Despite Paul’s best efforts at miming sweeping, polishing and scrubbing, it seemed none of these translated into the Thai for ‘clean room please’. The puzzled lad smiled back at him with a toothless grin and laughed.

‘Room clean, clean room’, Paul must have repeated at least twelve times. On each occasion eliciting the excited response ‘loom kee’ from the befuddled worker. After relentless repetition Paul knew it was time to wrap up the bizarre little rap. It was, after all, quite pointless. Paul wondered for an embarrassed moment if he’d just picked on a random Thai tourist who had no connection with the ‘resort’. In fact the only way one could decipher who was actually employed by the place was by spotting the uniform the staff were required to wear. An electric blue and vivid pink creation which was eminently more colourful than those who wore it.

Paul, quite out of character, turned away from the Hawaiian shirt. He was exhausted. A few moments later the helpful lad arrived with five rolls of toilet paper for Paul. It was evident he did work at the huts. Paul accepted the more than generous amount bog rolls with a confused smile.  He wondered if the guy in the shirt knew something he didn’t.

He hoped not.

The staff at ‘Long Beach’ generally shuffled slovenly from kitchen to table and then back again much like colourful zombies. And if one did occasionally break into a brief smile, the parlous state of Trang’s dental service was more than apparent. Paul noticed that their was a touch of ‘The Walking Dead’ stalking stealthily across the entire island. He suspected that the gene pool was rather shallow in places. But hey, they were young and amiable enough, so even if he did have to wait an hour for a warm soda water, he couldn’t get angry.

He made his way back to the cooling shade of he and Andrew’s waterside hut. He leaned languorously  against the wooden balustrade of the scruffy verandah luxuriating under the jungle leaves. Long brown bodies, lithe figures languid with youth, lounged lascivious beneath him. Paul watched the tanned twenty somethings for a while as they laughed and gesticulated with a freedom only the young possess. Every now and then one of the youthful group would jump to their feet with ease and stretch effortlessly for a cigarette paper. Or another would touch their toes gracefully on the way to grabbing a beer. Their loucheness caused Paul to stiffen. Not in the romantic sense! More in the spinal department! He was well aware that his body was a touch more mature nowadays, yet there was nothing like seeing a bunch of fit, over-exuberant gits doing a bit of yoga to rub it in. He looked away – a touch of ‘downward dog’ filling his soul.

The glorious sunset which followed was expected and so therefore somehow less impressive. Paul knew that it must have been down to him. The Trang Islands had not suddenly become less beautiful. He marvelled cynically at the human ability to habituate to a truly beautiful environment and therefore cease to be aware of it’s wonder. The setting hadn’t lost it’s magnificence, rather Paul had altered his setting. His course had been set to slightly miserable. He made a mental point not to do it again. He would make sure he enjoyed every part of the sunset of their stay on Koh Mook.

He looked towards one of the workers sporting one of the loud shirts and with equal volume attempted the room cleaning charade. Once again he was met with the same wide-eyed, slack-jawed response.

‘Loom kee’ boomed the boy in the brash shirt, ‘loom kee’.

Paul knew he was not going to get the room cleaned.

But as he was staying in paradise he really didn’t care.

He headed onto the beach to join the troupe of acrobatic young friends stretching lazily into the pink sunset. A little ‘salute to the sun’ perhaps.

Well, he thought,  if you can’t beat them …….

The Sunset Years…

After having majestically marooned themselves on one of the paradisiacal Trang Islands, Paul and Andrew were not yet in the mood to move on. The island vibe on Koh Mook was so tranquil it bordered on the soporific. Paul knew for certain it was a truly hypnotic place and that if the boys didn’t leave soon they could fall under it’s tropical spell forever. Therefore, an escape was planned. But not before the two castaways gave themselves over to the island’s charm for a few days longer.

They were staying in a simple hut directly on the stunning beach of ‘Had Farang’. Paul thought the ‘Resort’ rather ordinary but the old adage ‘location, location, location’ could not have been more apt. He and Andrew’s temporary home was built on bamboo stilts set directly over the powder white sand. The aquamarine ocean rippled just a few nautical feet away. It was pure class. And should have cost a fortune. But didn’t – at least, not yet!

The service at the Resort, however, was not quite of the same quality. The motley crew of staff members were oddly vacant. Paul had noticed immediately that more than a few of them were at least one noodle short of a pad Thai!

As the sun began to step on the gas nearing it’s zenith, midday became sweltering. Paul stood on the beach at noon attempting a kind of sweaty semaphore. He was trying to get one of the dodgier members of staff to clean the boys’ room. They had stayed for a week now and it hadn’t yet seen the tip of a toilet brush! The towels were practically walking and the bedsheets  had a whiff of a busy Berlin brothel. His sweaty mime, however, was not going at all well. Despite Paul’s best efforts at miming sweeping, polishing and scrubbing, it seemed none of these translated into the Thai for ‘clean room please’. The puzzled lad smiled back at him with a toothless grin and laughed.

‘Room clean, clean room’, Paul must have repeated at least twelve times. On each occasion eliciting the excited response ‘loom kee’ from the befuddled worker. After relentless repetition Paul knew it was time to wrap up the bizarre little rap. It was, after all, quite pointless. Paul wondered for an embarrassed moment if he’d just picked on a random Thai tourist who had no connection with the ‘resort’. In fact the only way one could decipher who was actually employed by the place was by spotting the uniform the staff were required to wear. An electric blue and vivid pink creation which was eminently more colourful than those who wore it.

Paul quite out of character, turned away from the Hawaiian shirt. He was quite exhausted. A few moments later the helpful lad arrived with five rolls of toilet roll for Paul. It was evident he did work at the huts. Paul excepted the generous amount of bog rolls with a confused smile.  He wondered if the guy knew something he didn’t. He hoped not.

The staff at ‘Long Beach’ generally shuffled slovenly from kitchen to table and then back again much like colourful zombies. And if one did occasionally break into a brief smile, the parlous state of Trang’s dental service was more than apparent. Paul noticed that their was a touch of ‘The Walking Dead’ stalking stealthily across the entire island. He suspected that the gene pool was rather shallow in places. But hey, they were young and amiable enough, so even if he did have to wait an hour for a warm soda water, he couldn’t get angry.

He made his way back to the cooling shade of he and Andrew’s waterside hut. He leaned languorously  against the wooden balustrade of the scruffy verandah luxuriating under the jungle leaves. Long brown bodies, lithe figures languid with youth, lounged lascivious beneath him. Paul watched the tanned twenty somethings for a while as they laughed and gesticulated with a freedom only the young possess. Every now and then one of the youthful group would jump to their feet with ease and stretch effortlessly for a cigarette paper. Or another would touch their toes gracefully on the way to grabbing a beer. Their loucheness caused Paul to stiffen. Not in the romantic sense! More in the spinal department! He was well aware that his body was a touch more mature nowadays, yet there was nothing like seeing a bunch of fit, over-exuberant gits doing a bit of yoga to rub it in. He looked away – a touch of ‘downward dog’ filling his soul.

The glorious sunset which followed was expected and so therefore somehow less impressive. Paul knew that it must have been down to him. The Trang Islands had not suddenly become less beautiful. He marvelled cynically at the human ability to habituate to a truly beautiful environment and therefore cease to be aware of it’s wonder. The setting hadn’t lost it’s magnificence, rather Paul had altered his setting. His course had been set to slightly miserable. He made a mental point not to do it again. He would make sure he enjoyed every part of the sunset of their stay on Koh Mook.

He looked towards one of the workers sporting one of the loud shirts and with equal volume attempted the room cleaning charade. Once again he was met with the same wide-eyed, slack-jawed response.

‘Loom kee’ boomed the boy in the brash shirt, ‘loom kee’.

Paul knew he was not going to get the room cleaned.

But as he was staying in paradise he really didn’t care.

He headed onto the beach to join the troupe of acrobatic young friends stretching lazily into the pink sunset. A little ‘salute to the sun’ perhaps.

Well, he thought,  if you can’t beat them …….