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 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 …….

Super Koh-Habiting!

Paul had discovered Koh Muk, a small island in the Trang archipelago deep in southern Thailand, quite by accident. It had been mentioned over dinner by a charming, yet incredibly intense computer scientist from Bavaria. The friendly Teutonic boffin had posessed the charming habit of repeating the word ‘super’ in almost every sentence he’d uttered.

The meal had been ‘super nice’, but unfortunately ‘super expensive’! Andrew was ‘super great’ and Paul, disappointingly, ‘super-funny’! And the island which the young man was recommending them to visit was, of course, ‘super beautiful’ and ‘super clean’.

On first coming ashore, after a less than super journey, Paul could not argue with the former description. Koh Muk  was clearly super beautiful. It’s taste of paradise more than bountiful.

.

The latter recommendation though was less obvious.

As Paul and Andrew walked out of their shabby chic guest house and stumbled through a fishing village of stilted shacks, they could not help but notice the flotsam and jetsam that had made the island it’s permanent mooring.

Koh Muk was a little mucky in places.

Paul learnt later that most of the detritus was washed over from the neighbouring mainland. Along with something a little murkier swimming  beneath the surface.

But the beach appeared stunning to him. A spit of diamond white sand which spat out into an equally jewel-like sea. It was most impressive. As was the incredibly expensive ‘Sivalai Resort’ which luxuriated over that particular  part of the island. Private bungalows fit for minor royalty studded the beautifully manicured grounds. The beach, however, was not private.

Paul had discovered that all beaches in Thailand were owned by the King, and therefore open to everyone. All soles, whether prince or pauper, were able to feel the democratic sand between their toes. Even if it was on the less clean side of the island, Paul thought it was quite right that anyone should be able to take a dip in the affluent effluence. That, he considered, was super fair.

The boys stayed at the fantastically funky ‘Moonview Resort’ for  just one night. The size of the hut and the size of the European tourists packaged together, along with their super loud kids, made a longer stay quite unmanageable. Paul had never understood why parents long-hauled their tiny sprogs halfway across the world to just plonk them on the tropical sand with a bucket and spade. Surely Benidorm would do. The medical facilities on the Trang Islands were basic to say the least. What if one of these irritating toddlers was bitten by an irritated cobra? The famous serpents were apparently rife across the jungle-clad island. One nip and the nipper would be a gonner. Why couldn’t the selfish parents allow their off-spring to discover paradise for themselves later on in life on that most ubiquitous of pursuits – ‘The gap year’.

Another of Paul’s travel bugbears.

He and Andrew had already come across gaggles of ‘gappers’ gawping garishly at the locals. Gregarious amongst themselves, yet taciturn and closed when it came to anyone outside of their group. Paul wished the gap between their obviously intelligent ears had been filled with a few more manners. And often thought if the gap between their legs had also been filled with a little experience, they wouldn’t look so shit scared.

The only island folk folk who weren’t super friendly on Koh Muk were them.

Paul was astonished that one could pass a member of this strange legion on a long jungle trek, no passers-by for hours, and be completely passed by. Without so much as a gap-toothed smile. They were astoundingly under-confident in his eyes. Or just plain rude. Whatever, he was confident that at least some of them would return to their homelands altered by their odyssey. But being somewhat supercilious, he wasn’t super confident.

Farang toddlers, on the other sand, had no place in the tropics. In Paul’s opinion they completely removed the adventure from the environment. Unless, of course, they were part of the ‘Swiss Family Robinson’!

Paul and Andrew decamped, (well almost!), and made for the beach on the island’s west coast, known as ‘Had Farang’ – or ‘Foreigners’ Beach’. Ironically, Paul noticed there seemed to be less of those swimming in the waters of beautifull crescent  bay. It was quiet, apart from a few day trippers coming ashore from ‘dragon tail boats’ to puncture the peace with their squawking snorkelling.

Day trippers were another tribe he could do without!

Some days he sat on the shore at their wonderfully tranquil ‘Long Beach Resort’ longing for a drowning. But he was careful what he wished for. There had been a couple of moments in the recent past when he thought his evil wish had been granted, only to realise it was his husband who was the centre of the life-guards attention. Andrew had been the day tripper in trouble on more than one occasion. Paul had blamed it on the ‘Chang’ but he knew truthfully that his partner’s stroke could do with a little improvement. After all, Andrew couldn’t always rely on his ‘doggie style’! It was most exhausting.

The boys settled into beach-life swimmingly. Koh-habitation came very naturally to them. A small ‘restaurant’ set in the jungle supplied perfect sustenance and the odd visit to the marvellous ‘High Bar’ set amid the tropical canopy, provided shady relief.

Life was, all at once, perfect.

Superb!

As Paul left Andrew for one of his manic meanderings around Koh Muk he knew for certain this perfection would not last forever. It wasn’t just the hideous ‘gappers’ who’d found a gap in the market.

The large tourist companies were beginning to exploit it too. Their characterless chalets being thrown up by the natives on any spare patch of beachfront. Paul knew, having seen how other islands in Thailand had been allowed to develop, that it would probably be a case of paradise lost.

But for now it was super nice.

He inwardly blessed the youthful German who had sent them to this little corner of heaven. It had been a superlative tip from a super smart ‘Gapper’.

He knew they couldn’t all be completely superfluous.

What a superman!

The Lola Boys Go To Pearl Island!

Paul had implored Andrew not to touch the oyster curry. It sounded to him both unappealing and dangerous.

It turned out to be both!

On the long train journey down from Prachuap Khiri Khan, heading for the jungle of Khao Sok, Andrew suddenly became violently ill in carriage 8, on seat 29.

The passenger in seat 30 was not amused.

Andrew suddenly developed the pallor of a stale Brussel sprout, and had already started to emit the putrid wind that is associated with that most unpopular of vegetables. After another of the countless food hawkers passed through the aisle offering fried something on a stick, Andrew decided to fill a plastic carrier bag with what was left of the crustacean curry. Paul had a rapid word in his partner’s shell-like and advised his husband very firmly to make for the nearest public convenience. Which happened to be inconveniently located at the other end of the railway car.

There was trouble brewing in seat 29.

As Andrew made for the lavatory with his ‘Seven Eleven’  bag still attached to his gob, Paul could only pray that he wouldn’t trip on the Buddhist monk who was lolling quite unmindfully near to the exit. He knew that oyster and saffron were considered quite appealing in the culinary world, but doubted the monk would agree were Andrew to shellfishly saturate his religious robes!

Thankfully his partner made no such contribution and managed to get to the ‘little boys room’ just in time to make a noise little boys generally didn’t usually make! The roar reverberated through the train like a Chinese dragon on steroids. The Thais, never a race to engage in unnecessary confrontation, acted as though nothing had occurred. Probably putting it down to the churlish nature of carriage number eight, which was nothing if not rickety.

There were a group of Europeans,however, who made it quite clear they did not approve of Andrew’s fishy Brexit, as they glanced disdainfully towards the temporary oyster shack Andrew had made his home. Paul returned their approbation with one of his very hard stares, a talent he’d learnt from reading Paddington Bear in his early youth.

After all, it wasn’t Andrew’s fault his seafood was resurfacing. Plus, had these Teutonic bullies stuffed themselves with something other than Snitzel and Sausage whilst in the charming Thai seaside town of Prachuap, they too may have suffered a little sea sickness!

Paul didn’t voice this opinion of course. He was more than aware that the British were very capable of the same blinkered choices when it came to eating and drinking abroad.

He knew people who had lived on the Costa Del Sol for twenty years, and only frequented English bars, ate bangers and mash, and couldn’t count to three in Spanish! But he wasn’t going to name and shame. What was the point?

Most of those types couldn’t read anyway!

After what seemed like a night’s fishing expedition Andrew returned to his seat. Quite exhausted and terribly clammy. Paul knew there was no way they were going to make it to their intended destination of the prehistoric forest of Khao Sok. If they persevered with their itinerary there could be an altogether different rumble in the jungle. So when they hit the very ordinary city of Surat Thani in southern Thailand, they alighted the train and made for the nearest hotel.

The establishment in which they found themselves was situated on a dark backstreet on the wrong side of the rail tracks. The over made up woman who welcomed them rather severely, wanted to see no passport, just payment up front.

She assured them it was a nice room. A fact, which after they climbed the multitude of concrete steps to the third floor, they concurred with. It was a pleasant room, were it on a wing at wormwood Scrubs!

Still it had beds, and strip lighting, so they could at least see as they stripped and fell onto the oyster grey bedsheets of what was quite obviously a knocking shop!

On waking from his sick-bed Andrew felt much better and had begun to come out of his shell once more. Paul persuaded him that to hang around in the gritty Surat Thani was not a good idea, perhaps they should head further south, to the Trang Islands.

There was a train leaving at awful ‘O’Clock, and they should be on it.

Andrew agreed, still appearing a trifle pistachio.

Paul was aware that his partner really didn’t have the muscle to argue. And he knew it was him who had warned against the mollusc Massaman. So now his partner was literally jellyfish in his hands.

 

The enigmatic Trang Islands,  deep down in the Andaman Sea, had enthralled Paul since he’d first read about them years ago.  They lay, like a strand of wild pearls, in the Indian Ocean, close to the border of Malaysia. They were home to the equally mystifying Chao Lair, The nomadic sea gypsies of Malay descent, who moved effortlessly with the tide. Making their home wherever the weather was set fairest – much like The Lola Boys!

 

Following another interminable journey on a local train, which just happened to follow the track of the famous ‘Orient Express’, minus the luxury and the murder, the boys arrived in Trang. A mainly Muslim town in the deep south of Thailand, but one that was not prey to the Islamic terrorism that Paul knew stalked the west.

The Lola Boys were not even that adventurous!

There had been some recent bombings around Yala, and the train that had chugged innocently along that line had been blown up a couple of times in the recent past killing many.

The Boys avoided this region and took a minibus due west from Trang, along with a surly French couple and a smiling Thai teenager. Soon they reached the pier, more than an hour away hidden amid the mangroves.

The young driver, who was high on natural energy and quaffing copious unnatural potions which had the same effect, crashed twice on route. Once into a petrol pump, and then again into a scooter that was obviously not so obvious to him. Paul caught his face in the rear view mirror. They both laughed. The tight-arsed couple in the front seats did not share their amusement.

They quite obviously feared for their lives!

Paul wondered how they would cope with the erratic Thai ferry network once they began travelling the islands. De-ipodded and deep in despair. Some of these so-called ‘gappers’ really shouldn’t travel, he thought.  At least not until they’ve had their gaps filled.

In every way!

Then perhaps they’d pack a little experience to bring along with them.

But he knew he was probably being bitter, having put a little too much of that into his own ruck sack for the journey.

Wasn’t it Oscar Wilde who said youth is wasted on the young? Paul knew, as he climbed clumsily aboard the boat to join the miserable duo, that the Irish genius was correct.  The greenness which came with the inexperienced so often kept them clammed up within their shells. Paul was fairly certain he had never been like that, but he couldn’t be quite sure.

When they arrived on the tiny island of Koh Muk, the nomenclature of which Paul had deemed most appropriate, he and Andrew were both knackered. The latter even more so as he had been vomiting Oyster for over twenty-four hours.

They hit the only resort which had a vacant bed in their price range and collapsed into the reception.

They were shown to their hut, which was just about big enough for a hobbit, and both realised independently, it was to be for one night only.

Or divorce could swiftly follow!

The expansive space outside, however, was more than enchanting. The rugged coast of Trang province, with it’s magical limestone karst scenery, cast it’s spell magnificently.

The boys had arrived in paradise.

Koh Muk wasn’t mucky at all. Not at first sight. What a gem!

Paul was aware that in Thai ‘Muk’ was translated as pearl.

Therefore, The Lola Boys had arrived on Pearl Island. An incredible place, home to Thailand’s famous Emerald Cave.

But as his partner still posessed a tinge of something very green he thought he’d better not mention it.

Andrew, after all, had quite clearly had enough oyster to last a lifetime.