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.

A Flight Of Fancy!

When Paul gleaned from a terribly friendly gay couple back at the Mekong that one could take up lodgings on a military airbase in Thailand he knew it would take no persuasion to get Andrew onboard. ‘Wing 5’, a military base belonging to The Royal Thai Airforce, amazingly allowed tourists to stay at a hotel put in place for the airmen and their families.

As long as their was room of course.

Just over the runway and adjacent to the hotel was a gloriously unspoilt beach. Cleaned and swept by the cadets when they were not in the cockpit. In fact, as Paul had only spotted just one very small and very old banger of a plane in two days, he wondered if there was much real action at all.

Paul had always had a penchant for a snug uniform and a peak cap, perhaps due to his early years when being schooled at a naval ‘borstal’ in Waterloo. Most days it had felt much like ‘The Battle Of Waterloo’ He had loathed the violent establishment. But the hang-up for a touch of naval brass still clung to him like a tight flak suit.

Sadly, most of the airmen with whom they’d touched base seemed a little too young and too petite to trigger any flights of fancy.

They were more like fledglings. Aiming high, but quite obviously some had not yet left the ground. There was certainly no chance of shooting a bit of ‘Top Gun’ – but the recruits were very amiable none the less. Paul had been hoping for a touch of Val Kilmer. But on Wing 5 it was more a case of nice man rather than ‘Iceman’.

       He certainly wouldn’t cometh!

The boys had reached Prachuap Khiri Khan, a small Thai seaside town near the border with Myanmar, just a couple of days before they’d got their wings. They had taken a fantastic, if lethargic, sleeper train down to Bangkok. They’d spent a couple of hours at the almost majestic Huamphalong Station, before boarding another choo-choo to chug down the track to Prachuap. This journey had proved a little more turbulent.

Paul had secured he and his husband comfortable seats for the first part of the five-hour trip, the latter section, however, proved less ‘plane’ sailing.

The diminutive guard marched Paul swiftly along the platform of an unpronounceable station in the centre of the country at supersonic speed. He then made a sign for them to board the very front carriage of the train. He showed Paul to a nicely padded seat surrounded by a plethora of miserable Frenchmen.

‘One person here,’ he gestured, and then took Paul to the front of the engine and then disconcertingly pointed to the luggage compartment, into which a small seat, sans cushioning, had been squeezed.

‘You here’, he said.

‘Lovely’,  Paul replied smilingly, not meaning a word of it. It was, after all, just big enough for a small Buddhist monk who’d recently been on hunger strike. Not something Paul had done for a while. Starvation or monkdom, if he were to be totally candid!

When the time came the boys were instructed by the little ‘Hitleresque’ guard to take their luggage to their new compartment. They lumbered clumsily through the train, struggling with their rucksacks and oversized hand baggage, knocking out teeth and removing hairpieces as they went. On their arrival in cabin 1, they were greeted enthusiastically with sour faced contempt and no attempt by anyone to make a gangway through which they could walk. Paul spun sharply a couple of times, in feigned surprise, trying to bash a little bonhomie into the rude bastards – but rien!

All the French they had met this time in the east had, like a bad vin rouge, not travelled well. They were tannic and left a hideous aftertaste. Certainly not giving off the charming Gallic bouquet their French friends at home possessed. Paul assumed that they must have come from Paris! A city known for it’s lack of cordiality, even amongst it’s fellow countrymen.

There was certainly no ‘entente cordiale’ on this railway.

Andrew, (quelle surprise), was then shown to his roomy chair in club class, and Paul was led into the hold, forced to wedge himself between fourteen valises and a mop and bucket.

But he was more than content to be squashed in on his own rather than having to share the malodorous atmosphere of the main cabin.

When they eventually arrived at the little coastal town, frequented mostly by Thai tourists, they had failed to get any of the tuk-tuk drivers to understand them. This despite having the flight plan for their home-share written down in perfect Thai script. These guys were certainly not high flyers when it came to reading and writing.

Paul’s energetic semaphore didn’t help much either, and after ten minutes of polite, yet infuriating bemusement, the boys set out on foot to find their room for the night. They arrived, a couple of miles later and almost collapsed under the weight of their 23 kilo backpacks. Paul cursed himself inwardly for making sure they had both used all of their British Airways allowance. Andrew did the same, but in a less introverted fashion. Much like a bitchy, superannuated air stewardess.

Paul knew he’d overpacked!

A couple of mornings later, after having touched air base, Paul and Andrew made a pre-dawn trip to a Hill-top temple – minus baggage. They usually saw 4am from a vampiric perspective, yet in Thailand they rose as early as monks.

Or rather – monkeys. Because the particular shrine they were climbing towards had been taken over by two types of that primitive primate.

And they weren’t monkeying around.

Paul knew the pack had a fearsome reputation locally, often stealing visitor’s cameras and sunglasses, but he had no idea they were always so ill-tempered. Surely, he considered cheekily, these belligerent little bastards had also been shipped over from Paris!

Andrew managed to bypass the bothersome buggers, but after his third attempt, Paul aborted his climb. A huge, cantankerous git, had blocked his take-off each time, baring teeth and flying at him each time he took a step higher. The aggressive simian had taken an instant dislike to him, it was quite obvious. A clear case of air rage. As Paul attempted to front things out, the affronted ape took umbrage plus a large section of Paul’s curls, torn from his head in what was now an even clearer case of hair rage. Paul pushed the malevolent monkey from his shoulder, avoiding eye contact, which he knew was a no no. He shouted to Andrew for aid, but there was no response. He was obviously on another planet. The planet of the apes!

Only after another hard shove from Paul, and another paw-full of hair later did the monkey business cease.

Paul was slightly shaken. The creature had been in fight mode and he was unashamedly in flight mode. It was a little uncourageous he knew. Whatever, he wasn’t going to end up with a black arm after an unwelcome monkey bite, as he had once witnessed during one of he and Andrew’s previous oriental adventures.

And he wanted some hair left!

He made a sharp descent to ground level and waited on the tarmac for Andrew to do the same.

Once Andrew had made a safe landing, they then headed across the runway and to the stunning monkey-free beach called Ao Manao; Lime Bay in Thai. But there were no sour French faces on this stretch of track.

Just a couple of stunning gay porn stars from that wonderful country, restoring Paul’s faith in the place and providing a little ‘je ne sais quoi’ to the day.

The temperature as well as the libido was literally soaring now. The suffocating humidity practically saturating. Paul could feel what was left of his hair expanding exponentially on Wing 5.

It was following it’s very own flight path and would soon be in dangerous need of some hair traffic control.

But Paul knew there was nothing to be done folically  speaking down in the tropics. He knew he just had to fly with it. Even though he was well aware that his big, bouffant look did absolutely nothing for his husband’s landing gear.

He knew the best he could do was to fly solo.

Although the terribly charming couple of Parisian Red Devil’s made a tandem flight seem most appealing, their bodywork and precision of movement being deliciously aerobatic.

Vive La France !!!

Paul knew it was time to take off before he booked himself a very cute seat on Air France. And this time he would be in club.

Le Mile ‘Igh Club!!!

Wing 5 had certainly lived up to expectations. It was magnifique in every way.

But it was definitely time to take flight.

Paws For Thought!

The Year Of The Dog padded up to the boys without warning, briefly licked their faces, and then scampered noiselessly back to it’s kennel without so much as a yap. In fact the whole celebration for Chinese New Year had been little more than a whimper!

Paul had hoped the celebrations in Nong Khai, with it’s large immigrant Chinese population, would be barking mad as usual. But two firecrackers and a couple of lanterns do not a party make. It didn’t stop Paul and Andrew from having their own ‘do’ though.

They thought they ought to celebrate, especially as Andrew was a dog. And always had been! Having been born in 1970.

Apparently the Earth Dog was communicative, sensible and responsible in the workplace. Paul had always had the sneaking suspicion the Chinese were full of shit!

Still, he loved a ‘do’ and celebrated everything from Thanksgiving to Hanukkah. Despite the fact he wasn’t an American Jew. Any excuse for a knees up. He was most dogged in that respect.

Although ‘The Year Of The Dog’ proved to be a bit of a bitch, Nong Khai certainly didn’t. The city was an interesting mix of every breed. A real mongrel of a town. And, like the canine variety, having just as much character.

The boys had fallen in love with the place for a second time.

Andrew was already looking in local estate agents to enquire about the cost of being re-homed. It was definitely a city in which they could envisage themselves living. Exotically situated opposite Laos on the banks of the Mekong, and just scruffy enough to make them feel at home. They both concurred on this. But they knew it was time to pause for thought. Certainly not to jump in with both paws.

Not quite yet anyway.

But the moment for ‘walkies’ was fast approaching

The boys had also made friends in Nong Khai.

They had first met Prik a few years earlier when on a similar jaunt. He had worked as a ‘Man Friday’ in the guesthouse which they had terrorised with strident Barbra Streisand tunes. The handsome Prik informed Paul he now had Fridays off, as he had a bar of his own – a music bar called ‘Chillis’.

Prik is  the Thai word for chilli. So when he invited Paul and Andrew to come and sing that very same night they accepted.

After all, how could they turn down Prik?

They were condescendingly surprised to find a rather sophisticated set up at ‘Chillis’. The bar was fabulously funky with an enchantingly cool garden and a very hot sound system. Chilli was certainly the leader of the pack.

Top dog in Nong Khai when it came to entertainment.

He played guitar and sang with perfect intonation – something Paul and Andrew found rather unusual. The rest of Thailand seemed to be awash with a cat’s chorus of vocalists. Pitching up perfectly to howl into the moonlit night like werewolves clawing at their own privates.  Chilli, on the other paw, was the dog’s bollocks.

Of course, Paul managed to last only a couple of beers before he was put into the ring. He massacred a Nina Simone number and managed to put a few people off Diana Ross for life, before slipping onto the pool table.

Joe Public, however, didn’t spot a thing.

The audience of locals, along with a brilliant Spanish guitarist called Fernando, developed a case of endless love. Paul was thrilled to be thought of as best in show – for one night a least.

The following evening Andrew performed a few of his own tricks, culminating in a brilliant Latino version of Robbie Williams’s ‘Angels’. His West End pedigree shone through. Paul knew the best dog had won. The rosette went to his husband, it usually did.

They’d not lived a dog’s life in Isaan, more the life of Riley, running with the in pack. They’d sniffed out a place in which they could see a new future. The scent of it was exhilarating.

Paul knew the year of the dog was gonna be great for this couple of woofters!

But first they had a beautiful pup of their own to consider. Their beautiful Pomeranian Lola had not even used her passport yet. They just hoped she was willing to follow their lead.

On their final day in the city Andrew and Paul sat discussing their future in a dodgy bar. A hair of the dog was most necessary. They both agreed they truly loved the place.

Nong Khai? Woof!

Or perhaps. Yap! Yap! Yap!

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Alarm Cocks!

Paul knew Andrew had always enjoyed cock in the early morning, but the noisy dawn chorus which now woke them for the fourth day in a row at 4.28 am was insufferable to them both.

Andrew had often crowed irritatingly about being a ‘morning person’ but even these avian alarm cocks where too much for him!

Some of the cocky birds began their wooing at just before midnight up on the Mekong, making it clear to Paul that their body clocks were completely out of cock.

This rabble of roosters, at times what sounded like thousands of them, had ironically made it impossible to lay. Paul knew he had over egged the location of their little shack, on the tiny island in the river. He had, what it seemed, booked them into a gigantic organic poultry farm!

The boys were more than ready to move on or a real cock fight was on the cards. And not one of the feathered variety! It would give a whole new meaning to the term ‘battery farm’!

Paul found it quite ironic to discover such a hatred of these fowl creatures. Especially as he was more than proud that his husband had achieved great theatrical success in the past when playing the part of ‘Rooster’ in the hit musical ‘Annie’.  Andrew had been nominated for a prestigious ‘Olivier Award’ that year for his free-ranging, cocky performance, and was amazingly still able to amuse Paul with his uncanny ‘Cockle-Doodle -Doo’!

Alarmingly, it was now a case of ‘Cockle-Doodle-Don’t’!  Or more than a few feathers were sure to fly!

The time was now 5.20am, way before the sun was even considering making her entrance, and Paul sat on the makeshift terrace of the guest house, in the deafening dark.

He attempted to concentrate, tablet in hand, and began to write a blog. The competition betwixt the horny birds was too much, the only tablet Paul realised he could handle was a strong paracetamol. He reverted to reading a Julia Child recipe he’d just found for ‘Coq Au Vin’ , in an attempt to bring some cruel solace. Luckily the ‘sol’ did just that. And as she climbed swiftly into the purple sky, silence reigned.

Finally dethroning the cock of the walk!

It was blissful.

Later that morning, just after the cocks had crowed their last, the boys climbed aboard a local banger and made for civilisation.

The ‘little green bus’ was just as charming and cheap as they had remembered. Paul was a firm believer that if one wanted to truly know a place then public transport was by far the best introduction.

Nong Khai, the Thai city for which they were heading, was a veritable metropolis compared to where they had recently been travelling. He hoped that some relative comfort would provide some much needed ‘shuteye’.

Andrew began to sketch a pencil drawing of the sleep deprived Paul along the way.

The artist chewing incessantly on nicotine gum, until he found a short stop along the way to partake of the real thing!

Paul nodded sleepily, much like a chicken liver on a stick, until the creaky bus pulled into the bus station at Nong Khai.

As he and Andrew donned their rucksacks and started the trek towards their new boarding house, he thought at least now we shall get some sleep – minus the flocking roosters!

After all, he was nothing, if not a cock-eyed optimist!

A Bridge Over Troubled Water.

The boys arrived in Sangkhom, a small town further along the Mekong, with just a little trepidation. They had visited the friendly workaday settlement four years previously, and had loved it for it’s exquisite ordinariness.

Paul rarely liked to journey backwards, much preferring the surprise and adventure of the soi less travelled. Quite often somewhere revisited had lost the very essence of why one returned, tarnishing both the return trip and the original stay. It was always a risk.

Fortunately very little had changed in Sangkhom.

On pulling in to the two-horse town they’d noticed a new ATM outside the local supermarket but that seemed about it. Fortune still seemed to smile down sunnily on this little stretch of the great river.

At first sight at least.

They were, however, to discover that was certainly not the case. The real riverine tale being a steady stream of sadness and survival.

As they entered the little ‘Buoy’s Guest House’ and crossed the precarious rickety bridge to the small island to which their dilapidated hut creakily clung, the familiarity of their surroundings were at once entrancing. Paul recognised the even tinier shack across from what was to be theirs on this occasion, and was immediately reminded of an evening they’d shared on it’s verandah with a gregarious Gallic couple. They’d inhaled some herbal tobacco together and laughed into the star-studded night as Paul hazily revisited his schoolboy French.

The fat yellow dog was also still padding around amicably, although her hips now appeared to have seen better days. Paul knew the feeling!

And Buoy, the smiling, ebullient proprietress, was still there to welcome them effusively into her home. No need to show passports on checking in. And beers and such were to be taken from the open fridge and written down into book number ten. The number of their shack.

Probably far too frequently!

Paul and Andrew adored an honesty bar. It was so refreshing in every way.

But something at ‘The Buoy Guest House’ was not the same!

The Boys had arrived on a rather special day. It happened to be the very day on which they’d fallen for each others dubious charms, twenty-six long years ago.

Paul thought of it as a milestone, though he was well aware his partner sometimes considered it more of a millstone!

They celebrated in the afternoon with bottles of honest beer and some honest downtime.

The earth didn’t move, but their shaky accommodation certainly did!

 

Later that day, as the boys bravely crossed the bridge of sticks back to the main house, they twigged! It was a different bridge. It was longer and lower than before.

It also leant a little to the left, much like Paul!

 

They then spotted the crooked concrete pylons which had once held up the restaurant. Unevenly sprouting from the river bank like a contemporary Stonehenge.

And the main house, they now realised, was half the size it had been on their previous visit. They knew at once, the earth had certainly moved for Buoy.

They discovered this joyous and spirited lady was also marking an anniversary, yet not the kind most people were eager  to reach. She explained that three years before she had lost her husband to a massive stroke, and shortly afterwards, half of her home to the mighty river in a single stroke.

The wet season had brought with it tragedy,  her husband and livelihood went violently downstream to join that great spiritual estruary.

It was heartbreaking, as the boys learnt how the Mekong had changed it’s mood during the last few years, growing angrier and more ferocious than ever before. Buoy, having lived on the river all her life, had never witnessed the ‘Mae Nam Khong’, as it is known in Thai, behave in such a torrid way. She was certain the current situation was due to global warming. But there were darker forces at work too.

As the Mekong snaked it’s way down from the Tibetan plateau, through China, Myanmar, Laos and Thailand, before escaping into the sea via the majestic delta in Vietnam, it’s ancient course was being irrevocably altered.

There was now a veritable deluge of huge hydro-electric damns. Great ‘green’ projects that did very little to help the farmers on the verdant plains downstream.

As the Chinese government intermittently flushed these monstrous constructions in their own national interest, little interest was being shown to the thousands of villages who saw their once fertile fields inundated with mud and thereby rendered useless.

Masses of farmers had flooded to join the urban mass in the growing cities of Bangkok and Phnom Pen to work as building labourers.

Growing condos instead of cabbages!

It seemed the vegetables making the big decisions upstream didn’t give a damn.

They could only build them!

Paul also discovered that there was an ambitious plan afoot, headed by none other than China, to blast a vast channel through the Mekong all the way from Yunnan, a province in it’s south west, right down to Luang Prabang in Laos. Thus creating an artificial,  all season waterway capable of carrying 500 ton cargo vessels.

He thought of the incongruity of these giant ships which were to set a course and dwarf the beautiful Buddhist temples, he and Andrew had previously delighted in, situated along the shoreline.  Gigantic steel river monsters washing away thousands of years of antediluvian  beauty in an instant with their giant wake.

A tsunami of slime and greed!

He wished the world would awaken to the disaster that was already taking place. Mankind was getting itself into very deep water.  He’d read of the growing consensus which predicted that in just ten years time the natural habitat of the mighty Mekong would be entirely washed away. Completely destroyed. And there would be no way to turn back the tide once this precious waterway had been dynamited to damnation!

A turbulent point that has got much of the Thai population,who will be affected by this blasted idea, close to boiling point.

Things had certainly changed beneath the surface in Sangkhom, and right along the Mekong’s exotic serpentine journey. And now it was beginning to bite back.

Paul knew one only had to listen to Buoy to realise the evidence didn’t need any buoying up. The rising waters and their now frequent tempestuousness were proof in themselves that the plimsol line had been crossed.

He was, for once, very glad he had trekked backwards, as it had enabled him look forwards. But the future was not bright. It was not orange. It was sludge grey and stultifying.

He silently cursed the Chinese and the equally ignorant President ‘Chump’ for their reckless and shortsighted view on the level of the disaster. They were ignorantly allowing this watershed moment to drift on by  He was sure they would rue the day when they had tampered with the globe’s natural plumbing. They, after all, would also be submerged when the waters rose.

And Paul knew for certain that he would not be drowning in pity on their behalf.

Neither would the beautiful buoyant Buoy.

Damn fools.