Monday, May 31, 2010


I didn’t go to the cinema as a child. Well, not much. I went once with a friend and her mother to see Bambi but I was very nervous because my friend had told me it would make me cry and I didn’t really know what this cinema thing was about and I didn’t want to be crying in public. (I wonder if this is why I’m as tough as old boots when it comes to sobbing through movies and books.)

I didn’t go to the cinema with my family until I was ten or eleven. I don’t know why. We went to the theatre but not the cinema.  It wasn’t as though it was banned; we just didn’t go. It means that I have vivid memories for the films I did see.

When I did finally go with my family we were on holiday, camping in Somerset. My memory tells me that we went to see Journey to the Centre of the Earth but research suggests it might have been The Land that Time Forgot or At the Earth’s Core, which came out in 1975 and 1976 respectively.  Anyway, we might as well have called it Journey to the Core where Time Forgot for the interest it held for me. This was not a film chosen for my benefit. I am the youngest of three; I had no delusions about my importance (not) in the family.

Then in 1978, at 12, I went to see Grease because I no longer had to be accompanied. The following year, four months before my fourteenth birthday I went to see Escape from Alcatraz. This was memorable for me as it had a certificate of AA - no one under 14 and I was terrified of getting caught.

We have always taken our children to the cinema. The first thing I took them to was the Barney film. Daughter didn’t make it past the sound test. And Son only made it past with fingers in his ears and his face in my arm.

When we first got to Thailand there were no film ratings. In October 2005 I took the children and a friend to see Wallace & Gromit in The Curse of the Were-Rabbit. The children were 9, 10 and 11. We had to sit through all sorts of horror trailers and just as I thought it was all over, the trailer for 40 year old Virgin came on.

In 2009 film ratings came into effect in Thailand but I can’t say I’ve seen much difference. Trailers seem to be just as unsuitable as ever. In fact Husband and Daughter came back from the dental surgery yesterday with reports that a vampire horror had been playing in the waiting room, complete with gory decapitations. Small children roamed oblivious.

Perhaps they haven’t quite got the hang of it yet.

Saturday, May 29, 2010

A trip to a traditional Thai house

Last Thursday I went on a trip to Khun Preeda’s house, comprising of four traditional Thai houses. The garden and interiors – even the spaces between the houses  as in the first picture- are full of beautiful and traditional objects.

Traditional Thai houses are made of teak wood, which is cooler than other woods. Their ceilings are high because heat rises. They are built on stilts (see the last photos) because during the rainy season many areas flood and because it reduces the chances of receiving unwelcome visitors (snakes.)

The fourth picture shows an opium bed. The 'pillow' is made of ceramic! In front of the bed is a marriage chest which a mother gives to her daughter for her wedding. It would contain whatever the mother is able to give.

Friday, May 28, 2010

Friday Photo

Yesterday the school bus took four hours to get  to our apartment. The children were all ages, many siblings - and we all know how they can deal with a confined space - moods swung right through the emotional range as they struggled to cope with the ordeal. (And I don't mean missing the result of American Idol.)

This journey on empty roads is about 25 minutes. Normal can be as much as an hour. Friday afternoons are usually worse and an exhibition or concert at the exhibition centre near school can exacerbate the traffic. Last night was the start of a three day weekend.

Bangkok's traffic is notorious. I was much amused this week with the provision of a little light reading in case of such emergencies - in one of the city's fine taxis:

Thursday, May 27, 2010

Some of the aftermath

Until the red shirts made their camp there I didn’t even know that the junction in the middle of so many of the malls was called Ratchaprasong. I’m never likely to forget where it is now…

Yesterday’s visit to Bangkok’s shopping district turned into a surprisingly emotional trip.  I was cheered to do a bit of shopping and to find my favourite place to eat in the whole of Bangkok, the gorgeous Sunshine Kitchen inside Siam Paragon was in operation, but the rest of it was horrifying.

I knew CentralWorld had been wrecked by fire but the knowledge and the reality hadn’t quite come together.  I passed by in a taxi so still the impact didn’t quite hit me. Instead it was road level parade along Siam Square – Bangkok’s funky teenage hangout – that shocked me. Facades had gone and I looked straight into burned out cavernous holes. Wires and struts spewed out, bits of wall and ceiling, not claimed by the fire, hung useless from what remained of the structure. Water continued to drip through the fabric and pool over the ground.

I cried quietly several times while I was out yesterday afternoon. I walked back towards home, passing CentralWorld. God knows Bangkok isn’t in short supply when it comes to malls but the waste, the willful devastation… it took my breath away. Bullet holes and attempts at vandalism left their mark on the windows of Gaysorn Mall.

Siam Square frontage. I like seeing the vendors: setting up despite everything.

Other posts mentioning CentralWorld, before, can be found here, here, here, here and here.

Wednesday, May 26, 2010


I had a fabulous session in the gym this morning. I was fired by banana power; a tiny cup of tea (can’t do without) and a banana half an hour before I started. I seem to have come on leaps and bounds today; stronger, quicker, smilier.

I had plans to go to the newly reopened Siam Paragon today but when I’d showered and dressed, this happened:

Still seeing the sky like this (it’s rain not fog) is waaaaaay better than seeing it full of black smoke.

(I think it might have cleared up enough now for me to brave the outside world. I am off to sit in Starbucks  in Siam P with my book, notebook and index cards… just because after weeks and weeks of not being able to… now I can.)

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

To G who's fab and not at all a bully

You may have noticed my references to the gym in recent weeks. If you look back over the previous three years on Tea Stains, such mentions were scant. Alright, non existent.

The gym and I are not natural friends. It’s not that I dislike exercise… it’s just that given a choice I’ll plump for a good book on the sofa. So, yes, plump I got.

And plumper and plumper.

A while back I was listening to myself declaiming that someone I knew wasn’t taking responsibility for their situation. It wasn’t related to their weight but about something else entirely but as the words left my mouth I had a moment; *Ping!* it went. Maybe it was hubris, I don’t know, but in my case it was a weighty light bulb moment, relating as it did to the size of my arseage. I wasn’t taking responsibility. I was waiting for someone else to show up and do it for me. And then I had this horrible realization that no one was coming.

OMG: I had to do it?

It’s not only about getting slimmer, but about getting fitter and stronger so that I’ll be okay in my future. I am also trying to sort out certain mechanical problems too – impingement in my left hip and my right shoulder which cause occasional pain.

The worse thing about all of this… is the sense of déjà vu because I’ve done it all before. Oh yes. Yoyo? Indeed; the yoyo has nothing on me. I can do all tricks, "walk the dog," “through the tunnel” and the fat lady (oh no, that’s not a trick, that’s me.) Of course I’m talking about yoyo dieting not the game on a string (I can’t do any of those stunts either.) It’s bloody depressing losing the same kilos over and over again so this time it’s got to be for good.

And honestly, I dislike the gym. It’s so boring. But this time I’ve got a magic charm: G. She comes to our gym three times a week to bully motivate me. And I do actually quite enjoy it when she’s there. But still, when G’s text comes ‘Jenny, I’m leaving now – I’ll see you down in the gym’ I still react like one of Pavlov’s dogs in his less well known experiment: *Tut! Huff! sharp puff of air through rubbery lips!* It’s like this physical response – if I were speaking, it might be: ‘Oh FFS’ - to the realisation that it’s nearly gym time. All this in spite of the fact I feel better afterwards.

So I’m trying to retrain myself. I’m trying to find a new approach to my feelings about the gym and the text message. I do feel good after I’ve been – I’m trying to be mindful of that. When G’s texts come in now I take a deep breath; suck in my cheeks and I smile. I contemplate feeling good afterwards: ‘The gym with G?’ I think. ‘Great.’

And then sometimes, I'll "eff and blind" all the way down to the sixth floor.

Monday, May 24, 2010

Still scared

Things have calmed considerably in Bangkok. The original curfew that was instigated on Wednesday night between 8pm – 6am was extended. The following three nights were 9pm – 5am and last night until tomorrow it’s 11pm – 4am.

I feel a bit manic. We’ve raced around trying to be normal. On Friday after the biology exam we went to the cinema (Daughter and I saw Bounty Hunter which was just the sort of nonsense with pretty faces we needed. Son saw Robin Hood – I have a very low tolerance for dodgy/slipping accents (Johnny Depp, I'm talking about you in the first Pirate film) – I’m not sure I’ll cope with this film.) On Saturday all four of us went to see Shrek which had us all laughing. I do love Shrek. I saw lots of friends while we were out all trying to be normal or trying to cheer themselves up.

Everyone has taken a bit of a bashing but I expect we’ll get there in the end.

However, it turns out I’m still scared.

Not about Bangkok – though I am a little, if I’m honest – it’s the novel again. I’ll stop a minute while you all sigh. *Collective sigh*

Scared scared scared. That’s what I am. I’m fairly certain that I know what I have to do but I’m too frightened to start.

(I need Dummies Guide to Twentieth Century Britain. Does anyone have recommendations for researching twentieth century life? How we used to live?) 

Friday, May 21, 2010


The decision about whether to take Son to school for a maths exam on Wednesday was tough. He’s been working towards these GCSEs for two years and not taking them – particularly if this is our last year here – would have major implications for him. But in the grand scheme of things, it’s just an exam and putting yourself and your child at risk for that is ridiculous.

The problem was knowing how to a calculate a risk that’s not possible to quantify. How far is this fear? How far about fact or just about what is sensible? There were fires burning and fighting to the north, south and west of us but things to the east looked clear.

As Husband told you here we don’t have a car. This is hardly ever a problem. We live near both a sky train and an underground station and taxis are plentiful: crap but plentiful. However, the sky train and underground services had been terminated since the trouble had escalated so I considered the possibility of staying down near school overnight.

In the end I knew getting there was the easy part – the route was clear of trouble- and that’s what decided me. I’d worry about what to do after the exam…. well, after the exam.

Traffic was heavy but we’d got plenty of time. Almost as soon as we left home, Husband called to say there were new fires and they were getting closer– one in the road next to us, one the road beyond that and several others visible.

We arrived and I settled myself into the coffee shop next to school. Son went off with his friends into the campus. I tried to work. Other parents came in. It’s exhausting meeting anyone because all small talk revolves around the state of Bangkok and while it’s all that I can think of, it isn’t all I want to talk about. An ongoing, low level anxiety has been with me for two and a half months which sometimes peaks into high level fear; yet more chit chat about it doesn’t help.

In the taxi and the coffee shop, Husband and I been communicating about the possibilities for getting back into central Bangkok. In the end we decided to book a hotel near school for Son and I… just in case. I tried to get back to editing my novel. Then phones started ringing in the café. Rumours of martial law and a curfew began to spread. No-one knew what time it would be but if it was six o’clock, as was being touted, we couldn’t be sure to get home after the exam. At least that would be the decision made: we would stay at the hotel.

Son’s exam was due to finish at 5.15pm. Following news of the curfew the café manager told us they were closing at 3.30 (actually, he told us ‘three and a half’ but I knew what he meant!) so we packed up and went into school, where we found the library open. Phew. I love libraries; they’re my spiritual home. I opened up my Mac, looked at my novel and closed it again. I got my book out. I looked at some magazines. I didn’t want to talk with anyone. The library was due to shut at 4pm. They let us stay until 4.20ish. One of the other mothers received confirmation that the curfew was 8pm. I was back to worrying about trying to get home and or deciding to stay at the hotel.

Just as I’d moved to the reception area some teachers came down to the front of school. Through the glass I saw the senior managers and then a number of students. The core maths students’ exam is half an hour shorter than the extended maths exam so I wasn’t surprised until I spotted Son, some 45 minutes earlier than his finish time. He looked shocked.

“I tried to call you,” he said. “None of our ‘phones work… does yours?”

Mine didn’t either. I spoke to some staff to find out why the students were out early. Worried about the deteriorating situation in Bangkok and getting hundreds of students home before a curfew, they had taken the decision to stop the exam part way through. The students were told to write a declaration on the front and inside their papers stating that they have been instructed to stop at x time. As long as at least 50% of the paper is completed IGCSE (the i stands for international) have informed the school that they should, given the exceptional circumstances, be able to award the students grades, though there is no guarantee of this.

We went out on the road to get a taxi. I tried and failed to phone Husband. There were hardly any cabs. Those that came past refused to stop and the two that did stop listened to where we wanted to go, looked frightened and said the Thai equivalent of ‘Not bloody likely.’

I kept trying to phone home: Husband’s mobile, Daughter’s mobile and the home phone. Absolutely nothing. It looked as though I had service but nothing was connecting.

I am so bad at making decisions. I wondered about the hotel. It was a trek but we could walk it but I wanted to be at home with Husband and Daughter too, not trapped in a hotel because we couldn’t get back. One of Son’s friends was waiting for his car and he offered us a lift … about half way. Half way home? Was that the stupidest decision ever? Neither near home nor near the hotel. I tried the phone again. I emailed (thank god for my Blackberry) and smsed. I still couldn’t get Husband. Eventually I decided that half way home on Sukhumvit Road we’d be more likely to get a taxi willing to take us the rest of the way. It would’ve been a helluva walk, but we could have done it. I wanted to ask Husband what it was like locally before making a decision (I wanted him to make a decision, actually) but I still couldn’t get hold of him.

Then Son’s friend hailed an approaching cab that I’d not seen. I opened up the passenger door and with a heavy heart, I told the driver where we wanted to go. He was eating chicken legs and sticky rice. He didn’t say no outright. I thought about offering him double the fair as I was getting desperate. I didn’t know how to beg in Thai. He was a ‘wide boy’ speaking enough English to do the deal, some duckin’ and diving. “Ooh,” he said, chomping on the chicken leg, “it’s going to be dangerous for me.” He told me he’d do it for 600 baht (four times the going rate.) In the spirit of negotiation I offered 500 but my heart wasn’t in it. I was just relieved to find someone kind/crazy/uninformed enough to drive towards the centre of Bangkok.

And so we got home.

As I’m checking this over before I post it, it’s Friday morning and I’m back sitting in the coffee shop outside school while Son does a biology exam. As we drove down Sukhumvit this morning it’s beginning to feel a bit more normal. On the outside, at least, Bangkok is looking more like itself.

Thursday, May 20, 2010

Like Bees to Honey (Blog Tour)

Welcome to chapter 24 of Caroline Smailes' new book, Like Bees to Honey. I'm so excited to be part of this tour where you can read Caroline's book across a range of blogs all over the world.

Don't start reading here, go to Caroline's blog to start reading at Chapter Zero.

If you'd like to buy Like Bees to Honey to read in a more conventional manner, you can buy it here.

Otherwise, for the next chapter, please go here to DJ Kirkby's blog.


Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Bangkok burning

I decided I wouldn’t keep posting about the state of things in Bangkok because it’s probably not all that interesting to you but that meant not blogging at all yesterday. It’s all consuming here; ever present and I can think of little else. Thoughts of exams are all wrapped up inside the state of Bangkok.

School was open yesterday and Daughter got to and from safely but after 10pm last night we received a text from school stating that it would be shut today. Talks had broken down and internet rumours suggested a dawn raid.

When I woke this morning, I could hear the wop wop wop noise of helicopters. It’s still present now in the distance, beyond the sound of my air con.

This is the view from my kitchen window this morning at about 8.30am:

And yes, we have an exam this afternoon.

Update: 10.05am:

Monday, May 17, 2010

Quick catch up

Turning off my Bangkok topic Twitter stream has been very good for me. It’s still bloody awful out there and everywhere I go I hear people say their company is sending wives and children home. But going on Twitter now means I hear my writing and blog friends talking about normal stuff and not dead bodies and fighting. I feel less anxious. 

I won’t go home until Son has done his exams… so we went to school this afternoon for a geography exam – it was only open for exams today – and we got there and back without seeing anyone with guns; we saw no razor wire, or burning tyres.  I did see some sand bags but I pretended they were for the rain. I waited the three hours in the coffee shop with my laptop rather than going home.  And I wrote. Well I got myself ready for the next step of writing.

In the gym on Sunday (oh yes! I was there voluntarily…) I was listening to A Conversation on The Writing Life with Julia Cameron and Natalie Goldberg. One of them described the different drafts that they do. In their second draft they write out a description of each scene’s business and they stick it together and then up on the wall. I’ve always been a cutter and paster: actually cutting up my essays and sellotaping them back together again in an entirely different order so this idea resonated with me. Then Liz said something in her post here about writing a synopsis in order to diagnose where the plot holes are.

I am struggling with the gargantuan thing that is my draft. It’s too big to see any sense in it so I’m going to make a mixture of these two pieces of advice in the hope that it gives me something of a manageable size to work with.

Oh and check this out: I'm one of the 32 blogs! Please come back on Thursday. I can't wait. Caroline's work is extraordinary. Her writing is like poetry that I can understand without having to read it six times. (Oh dear, don't think too badly of me.)

Sunday, May 16, 2010


God grant me the serenity 
to accept the things I cannot change; exams, revision, Bangkok’s streets, other people’s parents.
Courage to change the things I can;
 the mess on my desk, the spagetti jumble of wires under my desk, the ergonomics of my writing space;
and wisdom to know the difference. How wise am I? Aren’t I doing well?

When the rest of life is spiraling out of control I’ve discovered there are lots of things I can control. Here’s an after picture of my desk. Yes, this IS after. This is tidy now, okay? 

Thank you to everyone who has facebooked, emailed, texted or twittered support and thoughts to us.

Saturday, May 15, 2010

Falling Down

I've a guest blogger for you today. Husband is here to tell you about his journey home yesterday through the war zone that is Bangkok. I know, it doesn’t sound much of a topic and it is very long, but do read because it gives a flavour of life in Bangkok right now.

Getting home? A simple activity that for various reasons, to be recounted here, left me standing at a bread counter in a supermarket feeling very much like Michael Douglas in the film Falling Down only without the sub-machine gun (luckily for the Baker).

So you can fully appreciate my inner feelings of wrath and despair (at the same time), I will need to give you a little context:
  • Bangkok is in the midst of a form of social unrest that borders on civil war.  As I type, on Friday night, the Army and the Redshirts have been fighting most of last night and all of today. 
  • The company I work for is located in the Business District in Bangkok, only a short distance from the protestors barricades and myself and my colleagues have narrowly missed some of the more violent incidents in the area only by time rather than by distance.  Indeed one colleague didn’t manage to miss the violence at all.
  • My job entails, among other things, responsibility for our disaster recovery procedures.  This essentially means I am responsible for staff safety in times of crisis (like today).
  • Because of the escalating violence in the city yesterday evening, we had evacuated our offices and today rebased a number of staff (including myself) at an alternative site located about 8km from the city centre.
  • I don’t own a car.  The upside of which is that I don’t have the stress of driving in Bangkok traffic (a whole amusement park rolled into one neat four wheeled package), and the downside is I have to rely on trains and taxis to get around (and buses if I ever pluck up the courage to use them.)

The rest of this blog entry is a description of that 8km as I experienced it this evening, and of a baker’s narrow escape from loaficide (made up word, but trust me, it’ll catch on).

I managed to leave the office early, though not in the nice “it’s Friday let’s all pack up early and head for the pub” way.  More of a “There’s fighting in the streets between the army and the demonstrators, the transport system is shutting down, and we need to get home before dark in case we get shot by accident” kind of way.  So not having a car, and the ‘alternative’ office location being in the suburbs, this meant a taxi ride to the edge of the inner city (Skytrain) rail network. I began walking along the road in the direction I wished to travel, with my head filled with worry about the shooting, family and staff safety, and the impact the reduced work rate would have on my deadlines. Do you know how hot it is in Thailand in May? Every few steps I turned around to see if an empty taxi is sneaking up on me from behind. The first available taxi that stopped refused to drive me to the train station, no reason was given.  The second agreed.  The driver proceeded to tell me that all sky train stations were closed due to the fighting in the streets today.  I insisted, in my very poor Thai, that I still had 20mins to drive the 2-3km of road to the station before it was due to close.  He asked where I wanted to get to eventually, and I told him the location of our apartment, further into town. Get a motorbike from here, he said, it would be easier. Easier maybe, but an 8km motorcycle taxi ride though Bangkok’s gridlocked streets wouldn't help my already fragile nerves so I insisted that he take me to the station. If the trains had stopped running, I told him, I would get another taxi from there.  He found this amusing. 

We continued on in silence for a few minutes (I have to say this, so our conversation cannot be blamed for what happened next.) For no apparent reason, he decided to leave hitting the brake a fraction too late, and proceed to ram his taxi into the back of a large black SUV that had stopped in front of us.  Luckily he was wearing a belt, and I, in the backseat, was spared injury.  However his taxi cab faired less well and with the front crumpled like an empty crisp packet, we got out joined the motorist we had hit and surveyed the damage. 

Now at this point I have to relate an Expat folktale. Soon after we arrived in Thailand we were told by some expats we met, that if you are involved in an accident or witness a crime in Bangkok, your best course of action is to leave as soon as possible.  This was supported by apocryphal examples where foreign witness were effectively prosecuted and responsible for the damages or compensation, in line with the Thai justice logic that those most able to pay, should be the ones to pay, and the fatalistic belief that if I had never come to Thailand in the first place, then this poor taxi driver wouldn’t have rammed his vehicle up the backside of a sporty people carrier on this most unfortunate of days.

So in a manner quite uncharacteristic for me, I checked that the two motorists were unhurt, explained that I had to leave, promptly turned away and jumped into the next passing cab.  Resisting the temptation to say “Just drive!”, I couldn’t in Thai even if I had tried, I left them to sort out the mess and drove on towards the station: 10mins before it was due to close.

This driver turned out to have issues of quite a different kind, and he kept groaning, and looking over his shoulder at me with a sad grimace.  Eventually I deciphered his upcountry Thai, and realized he was groaning “puat thong, puat thong” ‘I have a stomach ache’, and looking at me as if I could cure it with a wave of my, now shaking, finger.  I didn’t feel very talkative, with worries of my own, but he continued regardless.  “I will stop here” he said as we approached a junction, “toilet” and “no money” were other words I could make out between the groaning and strong Thai accent.  Now I’m getting worried all over again.  I have about 5 minutes left to catch this train, and this guy wants me to help me with his financial woes: perhaps pay for a stomach operation, or a new toilet.  Clearly I was having trouble getting the gist.  After he stopped, I know not where, I reluctantly reach for my wallet.  All became clear, as he refused my payment.  What I suspect he had actually been saying was something like this.  “I have a really bad stomach ache, so I need to go to the toilet, and soon.  I am going to have to let you out here, and therefore there will be no charge.”  With a mixed feeling of relief and mounting panic, a strange combination I can tell you, I alighted from his cab.  His final gift to me, was a gesture towards the right side of the junction, which possibly meant ‘you need to go that way’, but could just as easily have been ‘whatever you do, don’t go down that road’.

Anyway, having left two cabs in as many kilometers, I was now resigned to the fact that I was not going to make the last train.  So my next mission was to find another taxi that was prepared to take me towards the centre of town, closer to the fighting.  I knew it wasn’t going to be easy.

I had forgotten to tell you, but I had an errand to run.  Not a big deal, but starting to become significant.  I had chatted with JJ earlier in the day, and she has mentioned that we needed to get some groceries in.  Not quite “stockpiling during the Blitz” groceries, but I expect she was half thinking about being stuck inside for a few days, if things got even worse over the weekend.  As I was out already, and not expecting the trains to shut down, a car crash, and a gastrically challenged taxi driver, I had of course agreed to pick some up on my way home, to save her the need and risk of going out in central Bangkok.

Of course, now I am stuck in the middle of nowhere, with the clear and present danger of being caught up in civil unrest, without public transport or a taxi able to cover more than a mile without some sort problem, ‘grocery shopping’ has now moved way down my priority list, somewhere below ‘getting the hell out of here’ and ‘finding my way home without breadcrumbs’.  But, it’s too late, I can’t ring home now and explain that after all I won’t be stopping for groceries.  Because JJ, who has now spent the day, not having to go out, would need to venture forth as evening and increased risk of violence descends.  So pull yourself together Beast, you’re a grown man for Christ’s sake, a couple of onions and a pound of mince should be a piece of cake.

To continue my journey… I decide that the safest thing to do is get as close to home as I can first, shop in my neighborhood, then at least if things got worse, and the traffic was already approaching gridlock,  I could even walk home from the shops.  Good plan, poorly executed, as the first few cabs I tried, replied with various Thai versions of “you wanna go WHERE!”, “No way mate” and “sfsfsfsfsfsfsfs” (that noise plumbers make when you ask them how much it’s going to cost).   I am now mentally working out how long it might take to walk the remaining 5-6km to my home, and not liking the answer.

Finally I get a young driver (greater appetite for risk, perhaps), who agrees, rather readily, to take me.  A normal, or should I say uneventful 5km later, as passing coils of razor wire and short troops with long guns should never be called normal, I arrive at the supermarket about half a mile from home.  Grateful and I guess a little guilty from my previous ‘free’ rides, I over-tip the driver and head inside for some shopping.

There’s something quite unreal about the inside of a supermarket.  The gurus of shopping habits have created an artificial world for us to live in; where everything is in neat rows, perfectly plump or succulently sweet.  And the muzak makes you feel as if your cares should fall away from your shoulders, as you are carried along a slow peaceful conveyor belt of desires.

Well clearly, I wasn’t very well emotionally prepared for such a peaceful experience, so I grabbed my basket, tore around the shelves too fast to actually see what was on them and filled it with safe essentials that required no mental dexterity; ham, cheese, butter, and bread.  Ah, the bread.  Let me tell you about the bread. 

We are a nuclear family, two kids, JJ and I.  However our tastes rarely align, with a vegetarian daughter, carnivores (son and I), and sensibly healthy, natural produce JJ.  Not your raving “honey is cruel to bees” type natural, but more your “brown bread instead of white please” natural.  So I selected one of several brown loaves and the very last white loaf I could see for me.  The bakery counter slice the bread for you, so I present myself and my loaves to the nice Thai lady behind counter and she pops the brown loaf in the machine.  Now I’m no slicing machine expert, but I would be surprised if pushing the loaf towards the blades with you bare hands is the most effective method (in the long term) for slicing bread.  Anyway, this is not a tale of lost digits, so stop smarting, and I’ll get to the point.  She pulls the sliced loaf from the machine and balances it vertically (it was bloomer shaped) with one hand, exactly the same way the Cat In The Hat balances the fish in the kettle, on a plate with an umbrella, while she fumbles for a bag with the other.  With a fair amount of shaking and teetering she eventually manages to get the loaf into the bag.  Now for the white loaf, and not just any white loaf, the last white loaf in the shop; for all I know the last white loaf in Bangkok. 

Now, I don’t ask for much.  I didn’t complain when we had to virtually shut down the office today.   I remained positive when faced with opposing views on how to stay safe and stay working at the same time.  I didn’t moan when there was no food left in the canteen at lunchtime because I lunch ‘British time’ (after 11:30),   I didn’t rant at the taxi drivers who refused to take me, or at those who did but then crashed.  But I did particularly want to have white toast on Saturday morning, while having breakfast with the family (only possible at weekends).  It’s not that I don’t like brown bread, it’s just that I wanted white.  I wanted it, and there was no good reason why I couldn’t have it, save this bread balancer in front of me.  As with the previous loaf, after slicing, she balanced it precariously in the air with one hand whilst attempting to open a plastic bag with the other.  Should I help?  Should I place my hands on either side of the loaf to prevent it from toppling?  As I was weighing up these options, the bread appeared to come apart in mid-air, like the stages of a rocket all falling away at once.  It was too late, the slices were scattered on the floor.

“Sorry, sorry” she said, and ran off to the nearby shelves to retrieve another loaf.  But I knew she would return empty handed.  I had inside information on the white loaves, or lack of them.  She actually came back with a second brown loaf, which I nodded and let her slice and pack instead.  Now I know it’s not a big deal.  When compared to the violence and suffering in the streets outside, it is of no consequence.  But it was the one thing I, myself, me, wanted for myself today.  It was the one thing that didn’t entail having to deal with the opposing forces of other people’s needs, opinions or actions.  It was the one thing that I had decided would make things a little better today.

In the film Falling Down, this is the point at which Michael Douglas snaps,  a massive surge of rage engulfs him, and he vents with a machine gun against the forces that had conspired to prevent him from simply getting home.   For me it was a little different, I probably looked a touch sadder than she would have expected from a brown loaf, but I thanked her for slicing it, put it in my basket and made my way to the checkout.

I did walk home the last half mile with my shopping bags, past the soldiers and the sandbags. It probably helped. And JJ was lovely when I got home, and cooked my favorite dinner.  I’m sure I’ll enjoy the brown bread toasted in the morning, and I also hope nobody dies in Bangkok tonight.

Thursday, May 13, 2010

Odds and sods

Yesterday I MSNed Husband to give me a subject, any subject I said, totally random if you like and I'll blog about it.

He wrote back with 'Lithium based psychotropic treatment theory.' Git.

I considered researching it to blog about it (because that's the sad sort of person I am) but Google wondered if Husband had actually mean 'Lithium based psychiatric treatment theory' and I lost interest after that. (I bet you're thanking your lucky stars.)


I'm loving this literature map which I saw on Green Ink Girl’s blog.


I've been trying really hard to edit but I failed because I can't put my book down. I'm reading Nicola Morgan’s Wasted which lovely Allyson brought back from the UK for me. It's wonderful; really different and brilliantly executed.

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

What's this about?

I haven’t blogged today because I couldn’t decide what the post should be about.

It could be about how I am reading lots of YA fiction (Young Adult for the non writers) at the moment. Above is a selection of recent purchases. Or it could be about how differently I choose books nowadays from how I used to make selections.  I still go into a book shop and browse – my version of worship – and I do continue to judge a book by its cover (Pigtopia) but these days I do take lots and lots of notice of bloggers' opinions. I wonder if readers (as opposed to wannabe writers) are also looking to blogs for recommendations.

Mortlock, My So-Called Afterlife and Wasted are by authors who blog. You can find Jon Mayhew’s blog here; Tamsyn Murray’s here and Nicola Morgan’s here. Looking for Alaska was recommended by Nathan Bransford, an agent who blogs here.

Sunday, May 09, 2010

We have the technology

There is only so long that the average Bangkokian can go without shopping.

With the Red Shirts still camped out along the shopping district, one mall has come up with a solution.

Yes, let’s build another one.

Emporium Stadium: Bangkok's latest (temporary probably) mall.

(Update: access opp Emporium on Sukhumvit or via soi 35.)

Saturday, May 08, 2010


This is still the normal sight if you go out in Bangkok at the moment.

It's raging hot here so yesterday I took a taxi to deliver some money for a friend but then I walked home along Sukhumvit. There were soldiers inside and outside Chavit Park near Nana skytrain and then again outside Asok sky train. Canvas tents have been erected to provide shade for them.

On most of the over road walk way things (the technical term) there were also pairs of soldiers. I crossed over from Times Square to Robinsons and asked these chaps if I could take a photo of them.  They were very obliging.

The PM's road map isn't pleasing all of the people. There were attacks in Bangkok's business district, Silom again last night; two dead and at least seven injured.

Friday, May 07, 2010

Friday Photo

Phew; thanks for the sign. I might never have realised.

From the tea plantation in Chiang Rai, Thailand.

Thursday, May 06, 2010

Unsteady Jenny

I love how meeting blog friends is like making proper, in the real world, friends. I met a blog friend today for the first time –  *Waves* - she just lives over the road from me which is pretty fab.

I went to hers; so I got me some cat lovin’ too, which is even better.

Lovely Talli has given me this Prolific Blogger Award. I wondered if it was for my verbal diarrhoea-like tendencies. These have been strangely missing this week as I worry away about my novel and my next step. I'm not sure how many people I nominate... I might have to check up on this.

Back on form tomorrow for a Friday Photo.

Wednesday, May 05, 2010


I’m having another go at Twitter. It wasn’t a rip roaring success last time. Nobody believes me when I say I’m shy but I am, so there.

Last time, I signed up to follow my friends (and they reciprocated) and all was well. But the minute a stranger asked to follow me I had a bit of a breakdown. I stood in a cyber corner, watching, waiting until I felt a bit more comfortable. Not a lot of fun for anyone. Then there was a snarky comment and went and found my handbag and snuck home - without even saying thank you to the host. (Closed up the account to friends only.)

But I’ve been watching Twitter over this whole Bangkok/Red Shirt thing, and I thought I might have another go. I'd like to be part of the writing twittering thing.

If you’d like to follow me, you can find me here:

Get Twitter Buttons

I promise to try really hard not to be the party pooper in the corner.

Monday, May 03, 2010

Totally Terrified, not Probably Poisoned

I’m definitely feeling a bit sick today. After lunch I found Daughter doubled over the dining room table in tummy agony.  At first I thought I might have poisoned us both with some geriatric feta cheese I put in our lentil leftover salad. Me, I just felt nauseous. When I thought about the combination of elderly ingredients I used in the lunch, they could all have been responsible. I couldn’t put a day on the leftover rice but it was easily last week; I had to reject a fair proportion of wrinkled squashy tomatoes before finding some firm enough to actually cut rather than press. The coriander leaves were crying out for chlorophyll and so wilted not even fresh cold water would revive them.

Anyway I still might have poisoned Daughter, but when I returned to my desk, I remembered why I felt sick. Encouraged by your comments to listen to my intuition I have made a terrifying decision. I have to write a parallel story to my present novel’s story. OMG.

I have to write a new X0,000 words when I thought I had finished the writing new words bit.

I am going to do what I said I wouldn’t ever do. (The parallel story is not set in the present day... *gulp* historical periods *hyperventilate...)

I am trying to remind myself that I have to write the best book possible. It’s not about finishing the book to some sort of false deadline.

This feels right; terrifying but right. It complements what my feelings are about the themes in the book. I am excited (as well as sick with nerves)

PS Daughter's tummy ache has gone. She is made of tough stuff. Me? I'm still feeling sick.

Sunday, May 02, 2010

A Writing Post

I’ve finally got back to editing my novel, Polite Lies. When I'm back in the UK in July (for good or as a holiday? Who knows? I certainly don't.) I have an Arvon course in July in Moniack Mhor (Writing Mainstream) and I’d like to have reworked the novel before I go.

But I’m a bit traumatized by this whole redrafting and editing process. As a flier by the seat of my pants I knew the end of my story but I had no idea how we’d get there. As a result, when I wrote it, I only felt equipped to write chronologically, A to Z. Now that I’m redrafting it seems obviously that there are lots of structural alternatives to this.

I’ve had several ideas for potential structure and frankly they’re all a bit (a lot) scary.

Am I any more equipped to reshape now?

There’s one idea that feels really radical. I can hear whispers in my head about rules being there to break but only if you know what they are. Do I? I’ve never seen this done before but that doesn’t mean it hasn’t been done. Or it could mean it’s a jolly stupid idea.

I have another idea that would be writing half the book again. I quite like this idea but hell, scary. It involves something I thought I’d never do.