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Friday, March 30, 2012

Biggest Pie ever Colonel John Blashford Snell OBE

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One of my early Heroes was Colonel John Blashford  Snell OBE .  This may surprise him as most of his contact with this 12-15 year old pieman was shouting at him to get back in line.

He was famous as an explorer and had recently completed his crossing of the Darian Gap in Panama...( Isn't wiki great).  But the role I most remember him in was as head of the Hunts that took place around my home town of Ripon, North Yorkshire.  It was organised with military precision and a great childhood friend's father, Ken Mason was the head gamekeeper and organiser of us... a motley crew of beaters with white tatty flags tied to bits of tree.

Somewhat less motley (and older) collection of beaters.

We all knew of his exploits through the local media and it had really captured my imagination early in life and led to a lifetime of travelling (whenever possible) or dreaming of travelling (usually during lesson times or whilst at work).  My joy of travelling and just moving from place to place stays with me even today on the bus trip  up to Bangkok.  I put it down to never expecting to have the opportunity... I think.

Back then, our French lessons had been cut with the following (true) explanation from a teacher.  You won't need French as none of you will be going that far unless there is another war!  My Careers interview lasted about 2 minutes and I was informed the only options were the Paint factory warehouse or Buxted Chicken factory.  So compared to an expected adult hood counting paint tins and poking around chickens innards, even the crappy bus I was on the other night becomes exciting.

Must point out at this stage that I have one of the worlds biggest chips on my shoulder and this will show itself more once I have an editor in place. 

Back to the beating.  What I loved about this was the remoteness, cold and isolation, especially in the fog, that went with the job.  The rather non politically correct shooting that went on was not much of a concern as we didn't see much of it and were never allowed near anyone posh enough to own a gun.   On occasions when some of the guns would be taking shots at rabbits that were heading in our direction we copped for a bit of lead shot and had to duck and cover, pathetically I remember, behind our plastic flags!  We then learnt that sometimes, even figures of authority, even my friends father were more that capable of projecting the F word  at a bunch of Toffs, 100 or 200 meters away across a field.... under fire...

This was very hard going underfoot.  No footpaths or tracks, just mile after mile of moor, field, thicket, wood and forest.  I got my love of walking and the great outdoors from these days and probably a fair degree of fitness from it.

Perfect day .  Never experienced silence like the moors in fog and snow before or since

Pie time.  For lunch we had the most enormous pie ever imaginable to a youngster.  Game pie.  It feed at least 20 of us, along with a few sandwiches and the odd swig of beer.  All the years I went beating (and I went well into my twenties)  beer never tasted so good as it did from an old can, tipped out of an old hessian sack onto the freezing ground.  I remember standing completely in the middle of nowhere, with the next person to me almost out of sight and, if it was foggy, completely out of sight, in which case we had to listen for a whistle.

I used to Keep warm by pouring hot tomato soup into a cup and huddling over it, sometimes dipping my egg sandwiches into it if they were frozen.

For the anoraks:  A raised, hot crust pastry affair full of whatever they had shot last week.
My abiding memory of  the great man (he was) is his "assisting" a friend of mine in his passage through some thick brambles with the words "If I can get a Landrover  through the Amazon, you can get yourself through that".

It was along time before any of us told him that a thicket had been too dense for us to beat.  Happy days!

Thursday, March 29, 2012

Phuket to Kok Kloy motorbike dash

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What a day that was.

5:00am start is normal for us, but the day just got wilder and wilder. Al fresco BBQ's always take some planning and managing, but with an incoming storm system and two nests of Red Ants to contend with, it took even more managing.

Great start to the set up was when we put the leg of one table directly on top of an Ants nest... this pleased them not one jot.  Got sillier stirring a pot of curry as we gave up the "run in and quick stir and run out again" ploy in favour of walking round and round the pot.  Eventually they got the better of us and we moved it.  Never win against ants.

Lovely well managed event (not by me I add) on a lagoon with beautiful views of the Andaman Sea and a not so beautiful view of a massive black cloud homing in on us.   The flames on the BBQ's were not troubling the food on top as they spent most of the time blown either horizontal or blown right out.

Job got done and apart from a few blown fuses, couple of near electrocutions and me walking into a spot light (that was switched on!  can't believe I managed that even when that tired) it passed of peacefully.  Then came the rains.

The storms had been the of the usual short, exceptionally intense tropical  variety that we know and love so well.  This was now  medium/hard rain set in for the night and I had a 45km motorbike ride to the bus stop just off Phuket Island in Khok Kloy.  An hour would have been plenty of time but for having no petrol in the bike and having sent my wallet off in the car along with my phone and other belongings to keep them dry.

Luckily I caught them at the second set of lights, grabbed some money, filled the bike up and the chase was on.  By now, I knew I would be lucky to make it for 8:00pm.  This was driven home to me near the check point when the bus I was meant to catch actually overtook me.  I overtook him on the inside again as he was stuck in a bit of traffic going through the Check Point, but he caught me again going over the bridge.

Despite the pouring rain and only wearing my chefs jacket, I gunned the bike and got in the slip stream.  He beat me by about 30 seconds and was surprised when I swung my mighty steed (Honda wave 125) in his path to stop him leaving.

Somehow we had all overtaken the car but the bus driver and Station Staff knew it was me and told me I could get on.   However, my luggage, passport, work permit, money and phone were in the car and I couldn't even ring them to ask where they were.  Five minutes later, they showed up, I got on the bus and changed in the minuscule toilet and was happily, but soggily once again, Bangkok bound.

Got a few strange looks from the western tourists and backpackers as I boarded the bus, as Khok Kloy Station really is a remote and desolate place for a westerner to be.... at night.... after chasing it down ... but hey, I get that all the time!

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Photographers - No pleasing some folk.

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Quick rant today.

This past year, I have had FOUR professional photographers... with websites and followings etc. coming in as customers.

One is a long standing friend of some 6 years, another I have known now for 2 years and the others have stayed here on extended holidays.  Great pics on their websites and they all specialise in different areas, namely Press photographer, sports & extreme trekking, wildlife and scenery.  A pic from each site once I have cleared it with them.

What they all have in common is that not one of them has EVER!!!! wanted to take a pic of me.  Are they telling me something?

Monday, March 26, 2012

Free equipment in Thailand or delusion

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Well it's the end of the tax year again and we are all delighted to be tied up with red tape and beaten senseless with a stack of Kor por sor this Orr Bor Tor that and Kor Sor Head the other.   To lighten up the situation I tried to make some sense of my current Asset and Liabilities charts and wondered if some of my purchases had actually cost me anything in real terms.

Example one.: The free coffee pot.  Priced in Bon Cafe Phuket at about 12,000 baht, it does nothing other than heat and froth milk for cappuchinos and lattes.  BUT.... I bought it with money earmarked for drinking - a rugby tour with the Phuket Viagrabonds to the far flung reaches of Pattaya no less.   I had earmarked 15,000 baht for "recreational purposes" and was on the verge of booking a bus ticket up there.

We were aiming to see some of the Rugby action on the pitch as the previous year we spent 4 days there and didn't even find the Stadium.  Didn't try to hard either.

Sooooooo, this money is marked as dead and not expecting anything from it other than the odd hangover, bruise and a few days earache from the enemy.   Due to an outbreak of conscience and guilt though, i didn't go.  Instead I went to Bon Cafe, bought the machine and put the spare 3,000 to good use in the Jug and Crocodile.

My argument is that as I bought it with condemned money, I actually got it for free.  This on the basis that I arrived home with a coffee pot as opposed to nothing.  Below is a pic of the beautiful machine and for my tech. minded biker mates, it has counter rotating shafts!!!.... whatever they are!

Friday, March 23, 2012

Getting round bangkok - lost passport

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For the first 4 years I lived here, Bangkok was just a place you passed through.  A place to sleep off jet lag, or have one last cheap chang beer before boarding the plane to France.  All that changed when I was struck there in 2001 waiting for a new passport to be issued.  With 7 days to kill and low on beer tokens, I set about exploring on the cheap.

I stayed again at the Youth Hostel, more because I had learned some of the bus routes near it, enjoyed the river and had made friends with some of the staff in the restaruant on a previous visit.   It was a short walk to the nearest pier and as I have always loved boats of any kind I knew I was about to enjoy it. Only managed a few short hops that trip, the highlight being the pier itself at Tha Tewet which is full of fish that keep us entertained whilst waiting for the boat..

I had by now worked out that the best way (for me) from Khao San Road area to the central areas was to get on the river taxi and go to Saphan Thaksin.  Here the Sky train started and the rest was easy.  Great day out and saved a fortune over what others seemed to be paying for taxis and tuk tuks.

In later years I was living in Bangkok when they started dredging the canals in the area of my house.  Bit of asking around and we found the canal taxi ways.  It basically runs from the Golden Mount Temple/ Makahan Fort Junction, past the rear of Sukhumvit and out to Ban Kapi Mall.  Wikipedia have the stops listed here.

Fantastic day out and a great way to see Bangkok from the water. Don't breath in though!

I'll be on it again next week and will try to jot down the fares and timetables.  Only ever seen them in Thai!  

Thursday, March 22, 2012

Get me out of here...part two

Not always perfect here in Land of Smiles, but it is as close as can be hoped for.  I spiced my life up a bit by leaveing yearly to work in France, travel cheaply round asia, or travel even cheaper in Thailand, staying with and visiting friends and former colleagues. I arrived in 2000 but the seeds were sown three years earlier.

This chapter of my life began in 1997 outside the Divorce courts.  Being a forward looking person I had planned for this the best I could.  Earlier in the morning, before I met the Lawyers, I placed pictures of my motorbike, my dog and a picture of me with Taggy  Wass, on Charles Bridge (Czech Republic) on the steering wheel of my car. My mindset had been all week that whatever happened  that day, my future life would involve much more travelling.  Basically a positive year zero.

I5 years into my travels, I would have to say that Prague in winter sticks in the mind the most.

It worked, and I never looked back on the outcome of that day, neither positively or negatively.  It happened (can't even remember any details of it now) and I moved on.   My mind had been focused on the photos and the proceedings passed me by with no trace of malice, hatred, victory or loss.... It just happend and I was on the road to adventure for the second time in my life.... The first time being the 15 years or so spent with my biking mates roaring around the highways and back lanes of Europe... always high on life and adrenaline.

So, day one and I instantly stopped smoking and sought out my friend Sue who was staying with me at the time to ensure I went through with it.  Right Sue!  I want to do this please.  "If I need a cigarette this week, I have to give you one pound for every cigarette I smoke and I will buy them from you at this price.  Next week, it is two pounds per cigarette, week three is four pounds, then eight and then sixteen".  I did buy one cigarette from her and paid sixteen pounds for it in that last week.  That was it, job done.

I calculated the money saved and bought a new mountain bike.  GT Talera from an old school friend of ours Mark Swindles who had a shop near the old fire station in England.  This served "Notice to Quit" on the two stone or so of flab I had acquired the previous two years.

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Low season in "The Lak" Missing you already.

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Don't know who started calling Khao Lak "The Lak", but I first heard it from Trisha and was so impressed I use it all the time.  Not even sure if anyone other than us two coffee addicts call it that anyway.   Trish is away on travels but am sure will be back soon sitting with me outside the shop as we natter our way through 3 or 4 strong coffees of a morning.

Said good bye today to a few more friends who are leaving town.  Is it really the beginning of the end of High Season?  As most of the work here is seasonal, roughly November to April, we get used to hello's and good byes down the years.  Prior to the Tsunami in 2004 I had 3 seasons under my belt which entailed a lot of welcome parties, farewell parties..... Tooooooooo many in fact, and as I worked the off season in the South of France, the whole scene carried on and on.

I have always been excited by change and the end of the season, whether here or in France forced me into moving on.  Every time was, and still is,  just as exciting and I can just about feel the next bout of travel coming on. From my biking days right up to now, I loved nothing more than getting on the bike, bus, train plane, yacht and just heading off.  Planned Northern Thailand to catch up on Rugby playing mate and a trip over into Laos should just about be in the budget.

So it's au revoir to Pastor Al, Karin, Dan and Kim.  We wish them all luck and follow their adventures on facebook.  Who knows, we may have a Canadian Division in the coming years.  I am so jealous as I would love to be back on the road.

We are looking forward now to the peace, tranquility and rain that will surely follow this incredible heat.  Had a few torrential downpours and storms this past week and soon this is set to become the norm.  Time to get out of Dodge and put in a few months travelling, see old friends....  and RELAX.

My friend Al, reports his weight once a week to his Church and as he is a pastor, I suggested he put it on the board with the hymn numbers. That way his congregation can make bets on his progress..... or otherwise  I should really sponsor a Shires Pies Board for the occasion.  "Pastor Al's weigh this week, courtesy of Shires Pies is :......."    Be great to see the collection plate full of betting slips instead of buttons.  Good luck anyway, and hope we are all together again for early breakfasts watching the Bang Niang sun rise.

All the best for the rest of the season, but will I ever be glad when it's over.  Must be age!