# 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!

The Old Man And The Sea!

Author’s note.

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

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

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

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

‘The other way’ Paul screamed.

‘You said the right’ Andrew shouted back.

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

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

‘Fuck off you bossy twat’.

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

‘Piss off’ said Andrew.

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

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

Sometimes ignorance was bliss thought Paul.

But The Lola Boys were definitely all at sea.

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

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

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

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

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

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

‘You do it’ Andrew spat back.

The boat trip was not going well.

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

Though in less sober language!

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

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

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

This excursion! Jesus!

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

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

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

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

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

He also knew he was wet.

It was most frustrating.

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

‘What?’ Andrew replied.

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

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

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

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

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

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

‘Bollocks’ he cursed, blood filling his palm.

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

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

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

‘Twat’ Andrew hissed.

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

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

‘Jesus Paul!’ Andrew shrieked.

‘What?’ asked a panicked Paul.

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

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

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

He was definitely getting delirious!

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

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

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

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

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

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

Now was not the moment.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

They obviously had a puncture!

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

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

He only hoped they would make it back.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Only never in a kayak.

And, thought Paul, never again!

The 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.