Saturday, June 18, 2011

Thailand Backpackers

A couple of years back I decided to embark on an expedition to the backpacker island of Ko Phangnan. My purpose was to study the modern day backpacker in their natural environment. It was quite a mission. Having returned I feel not unlike the intrepid anthropologists studying cannibals in the depths of Papua New Guinea. I managed to escape from the scene with my life, albeit with a nasty taste in the mouth.

Now what is a backpacker or a ‘traveler’ as they prefer to be called? I hate to categorise people on account of certain behavioral patterns that they exhibit, but how else can you begin to understand people who all seem to follow the same set of rules? I find it extremely difficult to determine between different sheep within a flock, as they are all sheep. The same might be said for backpackers (sorry, travelers)

Now I used to be a backpacker. There I said it. I feel better now. But when you've lived in a country for a number of years, speak the language you tend to avoid backpackers like, say, a hepes-ridden butterfly-collecter. In a lift.

In case you are not familiar with the type of personage to which I refer, here is a check list for identification purposes.

1.Brand new tattoo. The image should be sore and an antiseptic cream should be heavily applied. In earlier cases it may still be bandaged ( for those virgin pussies only been in Thailand a couple of days).

2.A bottle of water. The water should last exactly 120 mins, or about the time it takes to watch a Hollywood movie in one of the bars that cater for backpackers.

3.A backpack.

4.Cheap Asian clothes. Peasant Fisherman’s trousers with no pockets are a favorite. But most backpackers will wear anything that makes Thai people cringe. All the time they feel they are ‘blending in’ with the culture.

5.A complete disability to speak the language or understand the culture.


7.Some kind of bracelet or necklace normally made of small wooden beads. Both female and male subjects can be seen wearing these.

8.A constant fear of paying too much for anything. Backpackers rarely tip. And if they do it is by mistake.

Now it seems that backpacker fashion has changed somewhat. The men seem to shave their hair nowadays rather than grow it long as they did a few years ago. I did, however meet one Spanish individual in Koh Phangnan who had long shoulder length hair and a long beard. He looked like Jesus Christ; but he couldn’t manage to drive a Honda Wave let alone walk on water. And he was so tight that if he could turn the water into wine he would have either kept it for himself or bottled it and sold it back to the masses.

I am not bitter about getting old or any thing like that. I do speak from experience. I have traveled with a back pack around most of Asia, Africa and Europe. The difference is I guess that I prefer to spend time with locals. If I wanted to sit and speak with a bunch of Europeans I would have probably moved to Spain or Greece or somewhere else with peopled with barbaric semi-literates.

There is a definite fashion scene with travelers. It seems to me that they have all DARED to give up their day jobs or school or staying at home with the parents because they feel the need to do something completely ‘different’ …They are BRAVE and ADVENTUROUS And what do they do when they escape ?...They wear the same clothes as everybody else who is being ‘different’. They go to the same hotels as everybody ‘different’ they read the same guide book as everybody ‘different’ eat the same food as everybody ‘different’ etc etc etc….

What summed it up for me was whilst sitting in one of these Backpacker bars. I became quite hungry. I asked for the menu. I ordered a ham and leek pie. I don’t need to apologise for this. I was hungry and I like pie. I like ham and I like leak. On the table opposite was a French backpacker with his girlfriend. He sported a little elfish beard. His girlfriend had a metro sexual look about her. Short hair pseudo-intellectual-borderline-lesbian-chic. She was probably dating the elf to get back at her father. If you catch my drift….

He said “That is disgusting! – How can you come all the way to Thailand and eat food like this?”

“Because, I like it.”

“But you are in THAILAND!”

“That is correct.”

He looked over at his girlfriend. They exchanged a disgusted glance. “You have to enjoy the food here whilst you stay here. You have to eat what the locals eat” He told me.

“And what do the locals eat in Ko Phangan?”

“We have ordered Kho Pad Moo.” He said proudly.

“Yes.” I said. “That’s adventurous. Be careful.”

“It is REAL THAI food,” He told me.

In fact it’s a Chinese addition to Thai cuisine, but I let it slide.

They continued to stare. I grew fed up. This French fag and his dyke girlfriend were putting me off from eating my pie. They kept on staring at me like I was about to explode from cultural misunderstanding at any given moment. I had to set them straight.

It came out “Listen friend. I have lived in this country for many years. I have been married to a Thai for six years. I run a business here. I have two children who hold Thai passports. I like to eat pie because I can not get pie where I live in Thailand. I am on holiday. Let me eat my pie, please. I didn’t ask to talk to you.”

He said something in French. I couldn’t catch what it was. I should have paid more attention at school. Or maybe he should of paid more attention at school. Perhaps he is still at school. I got up from the table.

I paid the bill, leaving a twenty percent tip, and got myself out of there.

Saturday, June 11, 2011

Drink and Drugs - A writers tools of the trade

Well, like Kurt Cobain once said, I never really moved on from the b section in the library. Well, he didn’t. He died.

But the Seattle Nirvana ex-axe-man had a point. The B section is one hell of a ride. Burroughs and Bukowski wrote exactly what they wanted to write and made a career doing just that. One got drunk continually for sixty years and the other shot pharmaceuticals in the main line for fifty. Kurt’s kinda writers took risks. They hung around east Hollywood and blew their pay packet at the races. They sipped coffee at the socco chico and blew Arab boys. The audacity of some of their later work is staggering.
When Burroughs was writing Queer he was debating whether it was possible to write in the third person after his debut junkie was written in the first person narrative. Pussy. Fifteen years later he is cutting up pages sticking them back together, typing them and sending them to what are now major publishing houses. These publishers would send these bizarre manuscripts to the printers and a few weeks later they were on the shelves: Post-modern stoned gibberish.

Bukowski’s last novel Pulp was written in the detective style but almost completely without plot. For all you non-writers out there plot is pretty much essential in a detective novel. All of Bukowski’s published prose is completely uncompromised especially the short stories. These writers had style and whatever they put on the page was hot. I doubt they would find a publisher nowadays. The age of sobriety is upon us. Maybe we have grown up?

A few years ago even British writers were in on the act. Novelist, television personality and adverb bothering Will Self was sacked from the Guardian for shooting up smack on John Major’s charted aircraft. How rock and roll is that? These are the kind of writers I admired. Not the coffee-swigging university-graduates that are nowadays clogging up the Asia book shelves like ants at a frigging picnic. I liked writers who took risks.

All the major publishers are looking for is the next Stig. Preferably a live one. It’s a great time to be a Norwegian detective novelist the same way it was profitable to be a Scottish drug-writer twenty years ago. Just ask whathisname Nesbo or Alan Warner. Right place right time – I’ll think I’ll have that Porsche in lemon yellow please. Thanks very much. Nice one.

I also admire Burgess, who also had little time for plot or formula fiction. He wrote some interesting books in Malaysia that were published back in the UK. The thing with Burgess is that he drank, his wife drank and they didn’t care who knew about it. Bad boy Burgess hit the deck drunk in a Brunei classroom claimed to have a brain tumor and was sent home to pen clock work orange. Next thing he knows he is set up in a Sussex cottage reviewing and writing for good hard cash. His wife dies of alcohol and Burgess marries an Italian baroness. Sells the film rights to CO and gets annoyed that it smashes the box office. There’s no pleasing some people, apparently.

I also like some of the old pulp boys; Raymond Chandler, Dashiell Hammett. Before that Stevenson, H.G. Wells. Wilde could write a line but not a plot. These writers all drank like their type-writer-ribbon depended on it. It was in the job description. Writers drink. Full stop. Well, not any more, baby.

Alexander Trocchi took it to another level. A brilliant writer who I feel was overlooked due to his lifestyle. Bad boy Alex according to Burroughs, ‘could find a vein in a mummy.’ His addiction grew to such heights that he ended up pimping his wife out on the streets to pay for both their habits. This I feel is perhaps taking a step too far into the realm of the counter-culture. But what was the beat generation all about if it was not about rich educated men acting like poor juvenile delinquents?

Gregory Corso I like as a poet. But he was by all accounts a nightmare to be around whilst he was using. Ginsberg was obviously a very bad drunk. Embarrassingly so. Kerouac wrote like you would expect a drunk to write. Quite tellingly his most powerful book Big Sur was written once he realized he had a drink problem.

The list goes on; Hemmingway, Faulkner, Hamilton. Where are today’s drunken authors?

The truth is drinking and writing is like drinking and shooting pool. There’s perhaps an hour or so after the fifth beer when you just can’t miss. Before and after that the output is pretty tame.

It seems nowadays that the print publishers are like record labels promoting safe bland product whilst challenging artists starve. A young writer can’t go out on the road the same way a young rock and roll band can so we have to write what the publishers want us to write, perish, or like myself eat window putty and drink rain water. Asia is where the new experimental fiction is. The one place in the world where there is a lot of diverse writing on the book shelves. Here we don't freeze to death from the cold and when we get hungry we make fools of ourselves in classrooms.

In Bangkok about seventy percent of the fiction is self-published and a lot of it very good. You know you are in for something different with each book. Titles written by half-drunk expats sitting in a ten dollar hotel room and hitting the keyboard while swigging back the beer. That’s my kind of writer. Not the coffee drinking, morning jogging sons of a bitches that populate the bookshelves of any high-street bookstore chain in the West. I want a novel to be a cry of despair not a means to put the author’s spoilt brat daughter through her freshman year.

Now where’s that bottle of blues.

Monday, June 6, 2011


69,000 words completed on the latest Fun City rewrite. It must be the 13th draft by now. I'll be whizzing that off to Rebel publishing for their requested review. Also Bangkok Books have sent a contract for a collection of short stories all based in Thailand. So I'll be writing a few new ones aswell as going through all the old stories published over the last few years. The sub is now out in hard copy and avaiable on amazon. All busy, busy, busy. Must get out on the streets of Bangkok this weekend and gather some material...

Friday, June 3, 2011

Nick Drake.

By the time this photo of folk singer-songwriter and guitarist Nick Drake was taken on Hamsted Heath the man was in a bad way. He died from an overdose of prescribed medication shortly after this picture was taken. Nick was always shy but this shyness had progressed into a total withdrawel from the world. Many around him blamed the drugs he took, but apart from weed and the prescribed medication Nick didn't dabble as much as many considered. In modern times like ours where we seem able to recognize and treat mental illness sooner somebody as unique as Nick Drake may have lived to write more than the three beautiful records that he left us.