Tuesday, 10 February 2009

bangkok bye byes

Yesterday the mercury bubbled and fizzed around 35 degrees C. Humidity was a drenching 30%.
How I long for snow tomorrow!

After months of mostly haunting the abodes of backpackers, I have been embedded in a grand old hotel by the banks of the river for the last two nights of my journey, to be amongst the shades of my writing confreres.

They range from the sublime to the bathetic. My fellow countryman (I'm pure Pole when it suits) Joseph Conrad stayed here, as did Somerset Maugham, Noel Coward and Gore Vidal (and I have lots in common with that trio) and many other illustrious wordsmiths; also, alas, those literary pygmies (prolific certainly but pygmies notwithstanding) Jeffrey Archer and the shimmering pink blancmange herself, Dame Barbara Cartland, graced, or soiled more likely, the Oriental's sheets.

Writing this blog - and this is my final instalment from foreign parts - became an integral, if unintended, part of the journey.Š

The blog began in a last-minute panic on the eve of departure, when I'd pressed all the wrong buttons and obliterated myself: it endured teething pains in Siberia where the keyboards were in Cyrillic and I didn't know which buttons to press: and came onto its own in Mongolia where I was tested and tormented by screeching teenagers playing computer games all around me, but where I found I could retire into a sound-proofed bubble of concentration, which gave up its riches willy-nilly.

If you are reading this, thanks for accompanying me thus far.

I hope to write more when I'm back at home, where I'll start on a long-overdue journey inwards.

What form despatches will take I do not know.

Tuesday, 3 February 2009

tattoo tales

Everywhere one looked on our island there were tattoos.

Fierce dragons thrashing a passage around the impediments of overripe midriffs; demure circlets of flowers around a young girl's upper arm, an hommage perhaps to Laura Ashley; exotic hieroglyphs highlighting the knobbly vertebrae of a youth's backbone, and all manner of curlicue and arabesque.

I bear my own relatively recent tattoo on the deltoid rump of my left arm, an elegant hum, ancient seed syllable denoting Absolute Reality - the ultimate conversation stopper. It took me over five decades to even entertain the thought of having a tattoo.

Thanks to Darren, tattoed from head to foot with more planned, I took the steps down to his mate's tattoo parlour in a basement beneath a louche hairdressers in the Hackney Road, and was pricked and pierced for half an hour, and then went home wrapped in cellophane.

I didn't feel much, having smoked, for Dutch courage, a tiny spliff in the graveyard opposite beforehand, so apprehensive was I of the imagined pain and even more of what felt like the ultimate transgression I was about to enact, a flight from polite society.

More frightening than that even was how to tell my mother!

She bore her own tattoo, the number 63565, on her left forearm for all the world to see, branded as she entered into Auschwitz in 1943. That number overshadowed my whole life (I often considered that at my mother's death I would have to surgically remove it and keep it preserved in aspic in a bottle, so precious was it. In the event I allowed it to be cremated with the rest of her, but the ashes remain in a lovely ceramic pot in my living room; I am not yet ready to release them to the Golder's Green Crematorium Garden of Remembrance, as decorum demands.)

A few months later, and with renewed Dutch courage from complimentary cocktails in a Swiss mountain hotel, I told her. Perhaps mellowed by her own unaccustomed cocktail, she hardly batted an eyelid, long resigned, too, to what she saw as my follies.

So thanks Darren, and not just for the tattoo. You were such a whizz with computers, and helped me choose and set up my first laptop. I dare say you are still tuned into cyberspace and admiring my blogging prowess from another dimension.

In your simple, direct and often disarmingly crude way, you taught me more in the few months I knew you than any number of sophisticates had, in more than a decade of spiritual searching.

What a shock it was to hear of your death the evening I returned to London from a retreat!
Worse still to see you the following morning at the morgue, unreachable behind glass as your body was still in the coroner's care, so uncertain was the cause of death. Suicide would not have surprised any of your friends, bereft as you were from the loss of Chris your soulmate a year earlier.

There was a dreadful contusion on your forehead, which in my ignorance I thought was a gunshot wound, or mark of some other shocking violence. It turned out to be nothing more than the bruise a corpse acquires when its brow is pressed against the hard wood of a bedframe for days on end. It was a long while before a troubled friend battered down your door and found you. You were 33.

Death from natural causes was eventually proclaimed. A relief, although no one quite believed it.

I led your funeral, as I had Chris' a year earlier.

His had been a baroque and whacky affair, his coffin arriving for the event in the reduced glass hearse of a motor bike sidecar, which had conveyed him from Tufnell Park to Kensal Rise, a not inconsiderable distance. You could not help but smile.

You too aspired to be a biker, Darren, but smiles were in short supply that year and for your funeral we thought a limousine was best.

Another year passed almost to the day, and I led my mother's funeral.
One of the best things I've done.
Many thanks to Rosalind for supporting me so fully through a momentous week.

Enough funerals already!

ooo, I dooo like to be beside the sea-side.....in hua hin

My first seaside holidays were Whitsun breaks on the Isle of Wight, where my parents had once honeymooned.

A friend and client of my father's, Mr.Horwich - a Horowitz from Bialystock recreating himself as an English hotelier - had acquired the Pier Hotel at Seaview. The eponymous pier had long since been claimed by changing habits of travel and the ferocious appetite of the English Channel, and hardly a strut or beam survived; but the hotel was a beautiful Victorian affair that struggled on into a postwar world. It was wonderful to a child to explore grand staircases and labrynthine corridors, sniff around salt-smelling cellars and wonder at the overwrought balconies and ornate white stucco of the facade, crumbling and eroding in the sea air.

Looking out across the waves, beyond the massive round forts sitting it out in the straits, deterring past and future Napoleons from setting foot on our green and pleasant land, lay Portsmouth beckoning from the mainland. Portsmouth, drear and uninviting, best seen through a marine haze or obscuring summer downpour. Portsmouth, that would reclaim us after our few days' idyll-by-the-sea. With this constant reminder of the quotidian and dull, we frolicked and rollicked for our allotted few days, in a gay abandon.

Many many years later I spent the New Year with friends in the New Forest. So close to childhood haunts, I persuaded the friends to a jaunt on the Island. We motored around on the first day of a fresh year, through Ventnor where I like to believe I was conceived, and on to Seaview where I promised tea at the Pier Hotel. Driving down the final tree-lined slope to the hotel, prelude to past delights, I was flooded by memories. Coming out onto the Esplanade at last there was a shocking, shattering, unbelievable, vacancy. All that remained of the beloved building was a great smashed concrete raft, level with the earth.


We never did get round to diving on Koh Tai.
Perhaps it was a subliminal response to the two diving instructors, the one a chain-smoking (I'm sure he'd devised a way of smoking underwater) South African with a partially bleached Mohican, and the other a hefty monosyllabic shaven-headed hulk, with the craggy skull of a Cro-Magnon.
Lovely fellows, but you wouldn't want to meet them under a dark rock.