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Turned out nice again June 3, 2010

Posted by normanmonkey in Friends, Travel.
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Surin Beach, Phuket

So much for learning from mistakes. The second night in Patong was a bigger disaster than the first and there’s a broken man by the swimming pool today. In one mad Sangsom fuelled hour he managed to break his watch, lose his iPhone, wallet, bank cards and dignity, be photographed pole dancing with bar girls like the worst Brits abroad cliche you’d never wish to meet, run out of money, not be able to pay his tab and still manage to find the time to wake up in his room for the second consecutive night with Ugly Betty.

I swear this travelling companion only exists to make me feel good about myself for a change.With the iPhone are all his photos of the wedding in Kulala Lumpur and his time in Thailand. All he has left is Betty.

He emerged to greet us today as we took drinks in the grounds. For someone who’d been working on his tan and acting like George Michael in the Club Tropicana video for the past week, he was unnaturally ashen faced and jittery. ‘I don’t remember much and Betty’s still in my room. She made me a cup of tea this morning and now she’s watching Thai soaps. How am I going to get her out without people seeing me?’.

It’s all quite endearing really. They do actually make a lovely couple and showing all the characteristics of a long-term relationship. I’m told she nagged him for the full thirty minute Tuc-Tuc journey back to Twin Palms for losing his possessions and being disgusted with him for drinking too much. It’s not often one’s drawn to say it, but I think it had occurred to a girl who works the tourists of the Tiger Bar on the notorious go-go strip of Bangla Road she could definitely do better.

His problem now was that it was midday, Betty was settling into his room and somehow a walk of shame was going to have to be negotiated. None of us would’ve noticed him carefully leading her around the side and through the undergrowth, thus avoiding the walk of shame round the pool area at Phuket’s self-annointed ‘most stylish, contemporary resort’. That is until Betty spotted us by the pool and shouted out to wave and say ‘HARRO! HOW ARE YOU!’ with such enthusiastic ferocity she could’ve won awards as a budget tannoy.

People, all bright, beautiful and well-to-do, who’d been swimming, lounging in the sun or quietly been reading Vogue or the International Herald Tribune over their lunch at the Pool Cafe looked up in unison to see where the tranquility shattering noise had emanated from.

What greeted them was the sight of a highly animated Thai bar girl in a high heels and a short, tight purple dress, with a matching purple brace on her teeth. Next to her stood a man frozen, like an escaping POW trapped in the full beam of a sentry’s searchlight, dying a thousand deaths on the spot, not knowing what his next move should be.

Does he panic and attempt to usher her along, only looking even more guilty or does he play it cool looking like this is exactly what he does all the time? Instead he stood frozen as we prolonged the agony, ‘Did you have good time…ah, that’s nice…did he look after you? He likes you too…Maybe you see him again tonight? ‘ (at which point I swear I saw a vein pop in his forehead as he chewed his lip).

In the longest of shots that someone had failed to have their attention drawn to the scene, there was a follow up shrill shreik when Betty looked over to where we’d been sitting and grazing on lunch: ‘AWW NAAAW! BIRD GOT YOUR BURGER!’. Even the bird looked stunned. Friend just inhaled deeply through his nostrils, pursed lips and looked dead ahead into vacant space.

Like a good painting, the disapproving eyes of all the guests followed their journey around the pathway toward the reception entrance with Betty tottering along and timing the arm flung around his shoulder just a fraction before they disappeared out of sight.

He hasn’t spoken much again today. The words ‘rock bottom’ have been used a few times. For once, I think a very quiet night is on the cards.


Apocalypse Betty June 2, 2010

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Patong, Phuket, Thailand

Dispatches from the front line

So now we have had our first encounter of Patong. We’d been briefed on what to expect, but it was worse, much worse than any of us imagined and there have been casualties. Today has been about licking wounds, piecing together the events of the evening and vowing that on our return mistakes will not be repeated.

It was a platoon of three: me, a veteran of tours of Bangkok, Koh Samui and Koh Phangan; plus two new recruits who’d not seen active duty before. You can tell which ones are going to make it and which aren’t. You can see it in the eyes. They didn’t stand a chance.

After early reconnaisance we settled into a bar called Tiger and drew immediate contact. Big mistake. We were mobbed and outnumbered. That’ll teach us for coming out of season in the name of peace and quiet. There’s fifty bars out there. All with their own perils, conceits, traps, temptations and each requiring its own particular survival and exit strategy. We never even made it past the first one we stopped in.

Sangsom buckets were ordered and the novices engaged. I’d warned them about the potency of the local brew mixed with Red Bull, but they just didn’t listen.

It’s an indictment of the English education system that, despite fine schooling and a University degree, you can still watch a man get rinsed repeatedly by a Thai prostitute in a game of Connect Four. Do they have a world championship for Connect Four? Because if they do you can swear to God bet your last shirt that the top seeds are all Patong bar girls in short skirts and heavy slap who can hold their SangSom as well as their nerve.

Each defeat cost him a pair of tequila shots: one for him, one for her. By the sixth, seventh – god knows, who was counting anymore? – consecutive defeat. All I could see in front of me was a massacre, but it was too late. Too late.

“Medic! Medic! Man down”. Call all you like, here in Patong the only medicine they know is another tequila. I knew then our mission was over. And what was our mission? Just to survive, get out with our dignity intact, to not get chewed up and spat out by the night. Some chance. This is Patong, soldier boy. You’re not in Putney anymore. And they know it too.

There’s only so much that could be done as I took casualties to my left and to my right. One was trapped in his own Connect Four hell, broken down a little bit more by the cries every few minutes of ‘I rin! I rin!’ and his pockets becoming as rapidly drained as his face.

The second I lost around 1am to a girl he had earlier christened Ugly Betty. Was it the fringe, the specs or the braces? Worse. it was all three. A perfect Betty storm. ‘Man Down! Man Down…what’s the goddam point anymore. Make mine a double. With the sound of Lady GaGa turned up to the max, no one can hear you scream.

You think you know a man. What makes him tick, what drives him on. His hopes, his fears. You’ve shared your tenderist moments, broken bread, laughed, cried, run rampant, howled at the moon. You’ve fought shoulder to shoulder with him before: London, Sydney, Reading. Then you see him after a couple of buckets in the humid heat of Patong. And the worse thing is he didn”t even want saving. From me, from himself, from Patong. Or Ugly Betty.

I took a Tuc-Tuc back to Twin Palms at 4am with a man unable to stand due to his buckets and tequila forfeits. he was a jibbering, jabbering wreck. Today his mind is blank to most of it. Maybe by fault or by design. We’d been wiped out. It’s a jungle out there, but tonight Patong, we’re going back. This time, we mean it and no, we will not be playing Connect Four.