Saturday, February 28, 2009

Theatre trips

I’ve been to theatre twice in the last ten days.

I went to see Chicago last week. Husband and I saw it years ago in London even though musicals aren’t really our thing. (I think he only went to see the London show because of fishnet stockings and Denise Van Outen’s legs. They were damn fine legs.) Anyway, it’s a great show, fabulous dancing and really funny with it (“He ran into my knife! He ran into my knife… ten times.”)

Then last night I went to see a production of Vagina Monologues. I’d seen this in London too, though not with Husband who simply isn’t brave enough for it. A lot of the first half is funny and the second half is harder hitting; in my opinion it requires experienced actresses (and/or directors) to draw the comedy out. Timing has to be spot on. I think it was the first night but they were plagued with technical problems, mics not working and so on. Interestingly it was part in Thai (with English subtitles) and part in English (with Thai subtitles.) Brave, I thought, but I’m not sure it worked. (Although one of the best monologues was a Thai woman doing the piece about Japanese comfort women in WWII. I was reading the subtitles and half watching her and despite only picking up odd words of Thai, she was bloody marvellous; really harrowing.)

But, the audiences in both shows, though, were shockingly behaved: talking, chatting, using mobile phones, leaving the auditorium mid act, and last night, opening a bottle of champagne!

I tell you, it brings out the ogre in me. It does, it makes me FURIOUS. I think I’m going to have to make a concerted effort to get my theatre fix when I come back to the UK in future.

Friday, February 27, 2009

Friday Photo


I made the driver stop on the side of the road when I saw this gorgeous chap out of my window.

But what is he? The Thai driver said he was 'beef.' Why does he have a hump on his back like a camel?

I tried to google 'cow with hump' to find out what he was ... but it didn't produce quite the results I hoped for.

Thursday, February 26, 2009

Scoff is getting complicated

The first time Daughter went vegetarian she was seven. Her resolve lasted three hours until we served lamb at Sunday lunch.

The second time she was nine. She lasted eighteen months and Chinese food was her downfall.

About eighteen months ago she told us she would be turning vegetarian again on her thirteenth birthday. That was last Tuesday.

Now the thing is, Daughter loves meat (like her father) but she thinks it’s wrong to eat it. I have absolutely no problem with this; she’s always known her own mind and I’m proud of her.

I have two concerns: one is that as a thirteen year old she has enough protein and iron in her diet to compensate for the lack of meat. That one’s okay because it’s up to us to ensure. The second is that I now need to organise meals that can accommodate two rabid meat eaters, one vegetarian and me, who’ll eat both or either happily.

I don’t believe multiple meals should be prepared – but is anyone else catering for the same problem and have you any advice?
Her birthday meal
Phad Thai which we usually eat with meat in but not this time. It usually has tofu in, which would've been good, but not this time!

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Did we or didn't we?

A few months ago, The British Women’s Group gave some money to the Elephant Conservation Network for equipment. I went up to stay in Kanchanaburi last weekend with my family to present the equipment to their rangers who were in dire need of the kit.

During our correspondence, Belinda, their Director said ‘Just so you know, you probably won’t see any elephants…” Weeeell, okay, I wasn’t only going to see elephants, but really to hand over their equipment … Still, I thought it’s better to be prepared … manage your expectations, and all that. Then Belinda said ‘You will see lots of shit and footprints.”

Good, okay, then. Did you know that elephants crap every ninety minutes?

There are about 170 elephants in the Salakpra Wildlife Sanctuary and each mature adult requires between 200 and 300 kg of food EVERY DAY. That’s a lot of poo.

Elephants are hugely important in Thailand. They are royal, religious and national icons but they are still threatened by growing human population. Human elephant conflict is a big problem. The forests, the elephants’ home, have been encroached upon, exploited and developed. Now this means that the quality of food available in the forest is diminished and the elephants crop raid (they eat local farmers’ crops) which cheeses the farmers off, quite understandably.

Elephant Conservation Network is an NGO working alongside local people, other NGOs, local and national government agencies to find solutions to these problems.

So did we see an elephant? We certainly saw lots of poo. Belinda told me she’d never seen an elephant in the daytime up at the ranger station, but Pi Nui, the head ranger, said that a young bull elephant had wandered into the camp just the day before!

On the way back from our tour … we did see an elephant. Can you see the elephant shaped thing behind the heads and the trees?

Click to make it larger
if you can't see it.

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

And the worst mother award, goes to....

First of all I’ve got to say Happy Birthday to Daughter (my youngest) who has become a teenager today!

And that, she says segueing neatly, is why I’m too geriatric to be camping … in tents … ‘luxurious’ or otherwise. (If you missed yesterday’s post, you need to scroll down to read it for this to make sense.)

It doesn’t look bad, does it? It wasn’t bad as tents go … I just prefer not to go anywhere near tents any more …unless they’re beer tents, wedding marquees or possibly, as a customer, the WI jam tent … and only then for raspberry jam with the pips left in.

The British Women’s Group donated some money to an NGO, the Elephant Conservation Network to provide desperately needed equipment for the rangers. Nobody was available from the welfare group to attend the handing over of the equipment so the invitation was put to the rest of the committee. We had cancelled a weekend in Kanchanaburi only a few weeks before – we wanted to walk the Hellfire Pass – so we decided it would be an ideal opportunity to go and see where the BWG money had gone.

So that’s why nine people were crammed into a pick up truck and bumping over four wheel drive terrain toward the rangers’ station in a forest in Kanchanaburi, home to 170 wild elephants. The four children were in the back; the five adults in the cab. I had expressed concern at the safety of this but as you can see from this picture, as well as myriad others of men using pneumatic drills in flip flops etc, health and safety in Thailand? Pah. I was shouted down. I made them promise to hold on tightly.

Half an hour of being jiggered and jolted over rivers, up and down banks, through falls of bamboo, we arrived safely at the rangers’ station. The children beamed at their adventure and Son announced that the ride alone was worth coming to Kanchanaburi for.

(Tomorrow I will tell you about the elephants, presenting the equipment etc but as I don’t want to tease you any further, we’ll crack on to the x-ray part of the anecdote - sorry.)

Eventually it was time to leave to meet our car back at the guard station by the roadside, so we all climbed back into the pick up. Daughter asked if she could use my sunglasses as the dust was bad in the open back.

The terrain prevented us from going fast but it’s flatter at this point so we’ve picked up some speed to maybe 25 mph. I guess we’re half way through the forest and suddenly there’s a banging on the pick up roof, B hits the brakes and comes to a stop. Daughter leaps out of the back of the truck to retrieve my sunglasses. The dust trail billows, catching up with the pick-up, I squirm as Daughter wipes the grit over my lenses. Then we’re on our way.

A minute or so later someone bangs on the roof again. I think ‘oh god, why can’t she keep hold of them?’ There are more hands this time, more urgency. I turn to look into the back. ‘Oh my god, it’s a child … it’s Son.’

Daughter’s out the truck in no time, followed by Husband and I and then the rest of our party. We stand around in a circle, looking at Son who is lying, groaning, on his back among dried bamboo leaves; ochre dust wafting around him...

So dear readers, this is how I won the worst mother of the year award: nominated, accepted and declared out right winner.

Next stop Kanchanaburi Memorial Hospital. Son is declared unfractured, given some pain killers, because oddly he hurts all over and allowed to go on his way.

Monday, February 23, 2009

A tent is a tent, right?

Husband, having been a boy, loves camping. When we were students, our first holidays together were camping trips. For the first one, based in Hull, we borrowed a tiny tent and drove off to the Lake District in search of Roman artefacts. (I will never forget trying to find Hadrian’s Wall in the north of England. We stopped Marigold, my bright orange car, by a dry stone wall: ‘Do you think this is it?’)

Husband - or Boyfriend as he was at the time – wanted to ‘rough it.’ He longed to camp in the mountains, hunting and foraging for food to provide for me. There must be something deep in his psyche as this wasn’t particularly a feature of our relationship. Luckily I camped as a child and I’ve always despised campsites that have lots of facilities: a TV room, swimming pool, showers, a shop and a restaurant. That’s not proper camping! However I wasn’t willing to skin rabbits either.

We usually compromised on a farmer’s field with loo and a spidery shower by way of facilities. One campsite in the Isle of Wight was just a field and we had to walk to a local pub for anything more serious than a pee. This type of site just about fulfilled Husband’s yearning to be caveman. Back in the Lake District, another place was perfect - the farmer appeared early in the morning with fresh eggs. Oh joy. And Husband’s desire to provide meant that he got up to make breakfast (every time). No wonder I married him.

Once, we got complacent about our ability to find suitable sites and left it too late in the day. We couldn’t find a site anywhere so we had to beg a publican to let us camp in their garden. He wasn’t keen but we promised to be up and out early in the morning. Another great place was a cheese farm in Cheddar which we stayed in for several days: years later we took the children back to the same site for their first camping trip. One place, though I can’t remember where it was, one of the other idiots in the field left a gate open and our field filled with sheep during the night. We had our dog Pepper with us on that trip and she woke us by bouncing around inside the walls of the tiny two man tent at the sound of the sheep.

Anyway, memories of my camping holidays weren’t what I was going to tell you about. Ever since we came to Thailand, Husband has been espousing Thai campsites, which, he assured me, were luxurious. I’ve all but lost interest in camping. It’s true, it’s great fun but when you’re young but it’s hard work when you’re older and I need my comforts.

But that was how I found myself this last weekend in a hotel/campsite in Kanchanaburi, Thailand, and now I’ve run out of space. Tomorrow I’ll have to tell you about our tent, the wild elephants, how I won the worst mother of the year award and the trip to casualty for skull and spine x-rays.

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

One Stop Shop

Today we had the delights of our annual expedition to the One Stop Shop for our visas. It sounds such an accessible little place, doesn’t it?

I’ve heard some horrifying stories of trips there. You have to go, accompanied by all the correct paperwork, photocopied and countersigned four times and queue in twenty three different lines to get the correct stamp on the relevant bit of paper work, all in the right order. If you don’t complete the process in the day, you have to return the next day to try again … from the start.

Actually, those stories might be an outright lie. This place has taken on a life of its own in my head. My friend, L, said she’d rather a trip to the gynaecologist!

That is not the experience for us ‘company people’. We’ve signed one form each and sent our passports and Husband’s work permit to his place of work. Magic activities are undertaken by elves lawyers and we are informed of a time to appear, as a family, at the One Stop Shop, where we are greeted and seated. The lawyer then scoots about with all the papers, as detailed above, and returns to us to sign them. We all signed seven or so pieces of paper today, in Thai; no idea what they were about.

Eventually we are ushered into a room to meet the Immigration Superintendent. He connects passport to paperwork to face in front of him, for each member of the family and then the right to stay in Thailand is granted.

So now we have the right to stay in Thailand, I wonder, will we have a job?

With the help of lovely lawyer it’s so easy for us and yet, as my friend points out, the gynaecologist or dentist might be preferable.

I’ve thought lots about this recently. My second book contains more of this material than the one I’m writing now. I’ve tried to work out how to convey the foreignness, the struggle to do things. How to describe the newspapers, adverts and chatter all around me, being in a language I cannot understand well?

I think the experience with the lawyer at the visa place makes it clear to me how impotent I can feel here.

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Why why why? And what?

Since September/October I’ve been in a regular habit of blogging nearly every day but since Christmas I’ve been a very bad blogger.

I’m not quite sure why. It’s not for lack of material. I’ve started lots of posts - I know because I write them in Word first – and then thought ‘Oh deary me; they won’t want to know that.’ And then I haven’t posted them.

Sometimes I think this blog get a bit confused – it has a bit of an identity crisis. It isn’t quite sure if it’s an ‘I live in Thailand … Isn’t that different?’ blog or an ‘I am trying to write a book’ blog. It is definitely an ‘I am trying to write a book’ blog but … well … I do live in Thailand…

It started life because I wanted to join the Novel Racers but honestly, the writing angst drivel of that first year, makes me wonder why the comments didn’t dwindle dramatically rather than build slowly.

When I am writing well, (producing words rather than producing high quality prose!) I don’t have much to say about the process. And I am obsessed with visuals … funnily dressed Thai promotional people or impressive decorations.

So why do you come here? What do you like? (I can’t promise it’ll mean a change in my posts but at least I’ll know whether to have a full blown identity crisis or not.)

Tuesday, February 10, 2009


Husband has visitors.

I won’t see Husband all week but they brought STUFF to make up for that.

I have, in my sticky mitts, all of Mary Wesley’s books. Plus, in my kitchen, I have TWO boxes of 120 teabags and THREE jars of marmite.

Mary Wesley’s books have been repackaged with gorgeous period feel photographs since I last had them. I much prefer these new ones.

Monday, February 09, 2009

Brilliant books

Either I’ve lost my critical faculties or I’ve read some stonkingly good books lately. For the first time in my life I’m keeping track of what I read – you can see which ones I’m referring to over to the left. I so wish I’d done this all my reading life.

I’ve just finished The Dead of Summer by Camilla Way. I’m not sure how I’d missed seeing this title around but I had and it only came to my attention when someone nominated it as their choice for book club. It wasn’t available here so I Amazoned it. I was unmoved by the cover … it looked so ordinary; I read the back and promptly forgot any of the details when asked about it at the last meeting. So, my expectations were fairly low.

It was fabulous. I really enjoyed it.

The story is told by twenty year old Anita to a child psychiatrist, ‘Dr Barton’.
The narrative is intercut with the original reports from 1986 of Anita’s interviews with Dr Barton. It recounts the events of one summer after Anita, a thirteen year old Pakistani girl, has moved to Lewisham with her family, following the death of her mother.

Her second paragraph tells us: ‘By the end of that summer three of us were dead.” She cuts out newspaper reports of child crimes, and tells us that her friend Kyle is the most famous of the mini monsters. Of course it doesn’t go entirely as we expect.

She starts at her new school where she meets Denis who leads her to Kyle, who lives almost opposite her. The three of them form a friendship; all they appear to have in common is their being outsiders, those ostracised by other children.

Camilla Way captures the voices of the kids; the cruelty, the tedium of summer holidays, the feelings of isolation and detachment from their families. I particularly loved Anita’s sisters. They had tiny parts to play but they were drawn so expertly, they lived.

Now I have to lend it to someone else to read. It’s not available here in Bangkok so we have to pass around the available copies. I don’t want to lend it out …I want to read it again and see how she did it.

Little Bird, Camilla Way’s second novel, is due out in August 2009.

Sunday, February 08, 2009

How are the French so chic?

I’ve just been down to school to pick up Son and his friend who’ve been on a camping trip. It was the expedition for the bronze International Award (this is the equivalent of the Duke of Edinburgh Award but goes under a different name here.)

I was waiting in the café with another Mum, a French woman who came to Bangkok at the same time as we did. They are a lovely family and our boys, despite being chalk and cheese (brie?) are friends. D rang his mother to say they were back. Five minutes later D appeared in the café. He looked fantastic – as though he’d been on a five star spa break and not camping in the Sam Roi Yot National Park. We chatted for a bit while my son didn’t turn up… (Son lives on a timescale unique to himself.) Then they left, with the parting words from D, that Son, wasn’t looking quite as clean…

Some twenty minutes later, Son appeared in the distance. ‘In the distance’ was the safest place to be but I had to confine myself to a taxi with him. He looked like Pigpen from the Charlie Brown cartoon, walking in a cloud of debris. I'm glad to report he had a great time, but had he changed his clothes all weekend? Who knows? He had tide marks of grime in his neck. Ewugh.

Friday, February 06, 2009

Lisa Ratcliffe

Back in May 2007 I received the following in my inbox:

Are you JJ?
If so, you can email me back here.
Many thanks,

Once I’d confirmed it was my inbox, we wrote back and forth. She told me of the difficulties she’d experienced in her life and her struggles to recover. She wrote about her immediate family and the joy they gave her; her parents, her birth family and her friends in Spain who had helped her recapture her confidence and belief in herself. She had had a difficult time but the wisdom she had gained from those experiences she passed willingly onto others. She made time and spirit to give to those struggling with what they were trying to do.

I’m not surprised to discover now that she had made contact with other Novel Racers in a similar manner. She had an unfailing generosity toward other people who were grappling with their own experiences.

A few days after our first contact, the following message appeared in my inbox:

Just received the invite and it's in
the evening - fantastic - Joy of Joys!
I can make it!

This would be the first time we met, at the launch of Caroline Smailes’ first book, In Search of Adam. We arranged to text each other when we arrived at the bookshop in case we didn’t recognise each other. She was as lovely in the flesh as she had been in cyberspace.

Despite life’s trials – and they were real ordeals - Lisa always presented a positive enthusiasm for life, for her families, her writing and for horses. It gives me great pleasure to look back at her blog posts about horses and her enjoyment at the technicalities of learning to ride.

She had such courage; with the help of those who loved her, she put herself back together and in school and back on a path to a happier life.

Even after her diagnosis she continued to chivvy me with my writing. “Writers …write,” she urged all of us on her last blog post only a week ago.

She was the bravest woman. She found emotional reserves to blog the journey of her illness, not for self indulgence but for other people …to benefit anyone else experiencing the traumas she’d experienced.

My love and thoughts go to her husband, her daughters, her families and her friends in Spain.

If you can please give something in her memory at

Wednesday, February 04, 2009

Same same but different

I am right at the end of the Mary Wesley biography and I’m loving it; really enjoying it. The closer I get toward the end the more details there are about the books and I know I’ve got to have a Mary Wesley fest. I can’t wait to read them again now I know more about her life and I’m twenty years older (can I really be twenty years older? How has that happened?)

Husband has got some colleagues coming out next week, so if I hurry, I can get them sent to one of them for him to bring out for me. Husband appears to have forgotten the ban on buying books. Husband is a very good man. (What do you think? Perhaps if they aren’t purchased by me in a regular shop and they aren’t addressed to me by Amazon, maybe they don’t really count as purchases?)

In other news, my lack of post yesterday was because I was traumatised by another haircut. It was bound to happen sooner or later. A friend had recommended a hairdresser and so the other day I set out full of enthusiasm, clutching an address and directions and I couldn’t bloomin’ find the place. This happens to me all the time in Bangkok.

I have a very low ‘mad’ threshold when it comes to my barnet. My hair looks crazy when it’s a good cut and behaving well, but I was looking battier and battier as the dreadful hair cut I had last June grew out. I was attempting to keep a semblance of control with hair slides but it wasn’t working out. In fact, it was such a terrible hair cut, that not even my mother made her usual ‘Oh Jen …’ in tones of terrible disappointment …‘what have you done to your hair?’ comment.

Anyway, I never did find the recommended hairdresser so I walked into one (an internationally branded one) off the streets. What could I expect? She was lovely, spoke English. I showed her my picture and she said ‘similar to this?’ I should’ve known, shouldn’t I?

It’s not quite right but at least is less barmy than before.

Monday, February 02, 2009


I did a bit over a thousand words this morning. I must continue to write then blog because I produce more wip words that way.

In celebration of my words, I decided to go off to Dasa Books to see if I could find some copies of Mary Wesley books… (Husband has requested that I do not buy any more books until I have made a significant dent on the TBR pile, but secondhand books, surely, do not count? I really don’t think they can count because there is a secondhand book sale coming up at the Siam Society on the 14th …)

Anyway, Dasa Books, with the warm chocolate brownie that I resisted, had only one copy of a Mary Wesley book and it was in a Scandinavian language. I forget which. On my way out I found a Christina Koning, called ‘Fabulous Time’ in the sale bin. I often buy a book after reading her review of it in the Times so I took that instead.

A new tack: I will phone home and ask them to send me their copies of Mary Wesley books.

Sunday, February 01, 2009

Bits and Pieces

I’ve had an uppity downy type week when it comes to writing. I’ve been worrying about the release of information and what, if I can’t release and reveal yet, goes in the middle 40,000 words? Do things just keep getting worse and worse?

I’ve been traumatised by the past participle of 'to glide' being simply 'glided'. I mean I know it is but if ‘to ride’ is ‘rode’ why isn’t it ‘glode’? Or if ‘to slide’ is ‘slid’ and not ‘slidded’ why isn’t it ‘glid’? It’s such a mystery to me.

I’ve just finished reading ‘A Thousand Splendid Suns’ and it made cry about four times right at the end. I don’t cry at books very easily. I must be a stony hearted old bag. I really loved it. I found it difficult to conceive that we are living in the same world.

I’ve just started reading ‘Wild Mary: The Life of Mary Wesley by Patrick Marnham. I loved her books back in the eighties and I used to wait for the next one, worrying that she’d left it so late to write. (Her first book was published when she was seventy.) I think, twenty years on, that I need to read them again. I shall have a look in the second hand bookshop this week, as my copies are all stowed in my attic in England.