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My last day at high school in South London went with a bang. Not that I was there to enjoy it.
Some naughty sixth form leavers had raided the CCF armory and got hold of a thunderflash, a pyrotechnic device used to simulate battlefield conditions that were used on school army days. It is deafening when set off outside – they always had to warn the neighbors near the school that it wasn’t the IRA.
These students had put the device under the stage at the final assembly.
Unfortunately the best, perhaps the only memorable thing that happened in my boring school days I missed. I could’t be bothered to say goodbye to the friends I made at school. I have never seen a single one of them to this day.
I was thrilled to leave school behind and start my Brave New World (I never understood, or read that set text!). I was confident that I was already sufficiently streetwise and savvy from playing truant and ignoring teachers.
The following Monday I started work as a cub reporter on a very well read and highly regarded provincial broadsheet. However, it was a rude awakening – I was treated like a dishcloth and soon realized that at 18 I had an awful lot of growing up to do!
Presently I found myself in the company of thieves and ne’re do wells, otherwise known as the Metropolitan Police. I also started associating with all manner of other South London riff-raff from gypsies who threatened me with golf clubs when I went to report on their illegal camp to a man owing thousands in rent who had been housed in a luxury flat by the council because they had nowhere else to put him. He forewent the golf club and threatened to shoot me. My teacher hadn’t told me about all this.
Quickly, me and colleagues started chasing police cars and fire engines to get the scoop. On one occasion at a road accident a pedestrian had lost a leg that the police had put in a cardboard box. The copper at the scene winked and said that the victim who was on his way to hospital was “hopping mad”.
This black humor – experienced by me at crime scenes and in countless courts when ushers would slip me notes in the press box with scurrilous observations – made me realize that school days had sheltered me from the realities of life.
I thought I was a big man for not crying when seeing the virtually lifeless body of my mum who was on the verge of death from colon cancer when I was just 16. Now I was in the real world. And it was even worse than that family tragedy.
I quit my job in 1982 to travel the world fully expecting that now – after being a reporter for the best part of three years – I could stomach anything and face any eventuality.
Then I arrived in Thailand…..
One of the first things I did while on tourist walkabout was pop into a rescue foundation office in the Rama IV area. I was fascinated by the pictures of dead bodies in glass cases outside. I’d seen some of the grisly things on show but this was another level. The man in charge smiled at my newbie question:
Is this appropriate? Maybe not, he conceded, but it sure helped keep the donations flooding in for his organisation. I soon discovered that the Thai public were not shielded from the realities of life and death at all. But it didn’t seem to damage them – quite the opposite.
Their print media and television at the time – and to this very day – published the most terrible of images. You had to access the Thai press of course, The Bangkok Post and The Nation would never go down that route fearful they would alienate foreign readers with all their “Sense and Sensibilities”.
On the streets riding a motorcycle for hundreds of thousands of kilometers around the kingdom I came across some shocking scenes. A Benz with people inside was on fire in Petchaburi, a motorcyclist’s head came off and slammed into a taxi…..a man who was next to me “on the grid” at an intersection at night left a second ahead of me and was creamed by a pick-up. He was trying to get up despite his leg being 50 yards away. Hopping mad, eat your heart out.
I am forever reminded of these stories in my translation job for Thaivisa that sees me put into English an average of ten stories a day from the Thai mainstream media. Many of these involve accidents and serious crime – with descriptions and pictures (albeit blurred in most stories) that would make anyone’s hair curl.
I am acutely aware that the clientele of Thaivisa fall into two camps. The largest of these, I perceive, think that translating the full details from the Thai press is voyeuristic, unnecessary and sensationalist. Others – perhaps those who might have seen gran in the coffin in the front room as was customary in Britain not too many years ago – say report it like it is.
I usually defer somewhat to the sensibilities of the former group with words like “suffered head trauma” when the Thai says the brain matter was spread over a wide area and took half an hour for municipal cleaners to scrape it off the tarmac. But there are some stories where the power of the news, in my opinion, really needs a “no holds barred” approach.
One such story this week was what happened to a young lady optician out shopping for fruit at a market in Bangkapi.
The driver of the Number 115 bus lost control and sent her to the next life after crushing her between the front of his bus and a power pole. I warned my editor that this story was going to have the full details and he went with that.
Many posters laid into Thaivisa but a few came to our defense with one, “seahorse”, suggesting that detractors not visit “Liveleak or Bestgore websites”!
My opinion, for what it’s worth is that Western societies – despite all the images and reports that are out there in these days of social media – have become too insulated and protected by death and destruction. People die in “hospices” and not at home any more. The Western media shield us from real life with the mistaken idea that we can’t stomach reality and that by showing it they will lose readership. Funny that this seems to run against the ever increasing drive towards sensationalism in reporting.
While the description of the unfortunate optician’s demise was too much for many I took pity on them when it came to describing the death of an infant crushed by a fork lift truck in Trang. The story here was less about the horrible injuries and more about the cover up clearly being perpetrated by the owner of the timber merchants worried about being prosecuted for having unsafe work practices.
Some posters on such stories burble that “death is cheap in Thailand”. Believe me the Thais care about death as much as anyone else – the only thing that is cheap is the compensation paid by the rich to the poor.
Death is something that the rescue foundations – who provide a fantastic service in Thailand helping both the public and the police – face every single day. In Bangkok this week netizens came to the defense of one rescue staffer who had to spend a whole night with a corpse – he had jumped off the Rama VII bridge – because the cops couldn’t decide whose jurisdiction it came under.
The staffer’s mistake was venting his frustrations online as so many do these days to their cost. His employers – mindful that they must not aggravate the cops who they rely on – transferred him pending an investigation.
I’m sure he’ll soon be reinstated as that is Thai style as much as picking up corpses is their daily stock-in-trade. Ruam Katanyu, Poh Teck Tung and Sawang Boriboon (in Pattaya), to name but three, do a sterling job but you need a strong stomach to both live in Thailand and read their reports.
I recall, having learned how to read Thai through crime magazines, that Poh Teck Tung was one of the first things I could say AND spell in Thai!
Fortunately for those with weaker stomachs there was, once again, plenty of a much more light-hearted nature to entertain and amuse readers of all ages and bents on Thaivisa this week.
Story of the week among the Thais – that received good attention on the forum, too – was “Mr Durian” (Rooster’s applied moniker) who offered his daughter and 10 million baht for a good son-in-law who could take “Nong Karn”, 26, off his hands and help run the thriving durian business!
Unfortunately the advertisement backfired somewhat after 10,000 prospective grooms applied from all over the world.
Ten million viewed the translated story on a Chinese website alone. Anon “Sugar Daddy Non” Rotthong was forced to backtrack and abandon the selection procedure though the local mayor – with a twinkle in his eye – said this was a pity as his own son would have made an ideal suitor.
The selection day was due to have been April 1st that gave plenty of grist to the mill for those who thought the whole thing was just a publicity stunt to boost sales of durian.
Apropos the “King of Fruits” I have to report that I am getting old. On reading the story about attractive Nong Karn I have to admit I was drooling on my computer – not from this fresh-faced cutie thirty years my junior but from the thought of where the next plate of Rooster’s favorite fruit was coming from……a sign of the times.
Top story from top cop Big Joke this week was the Lt-Gen’s news conference after his BFF and DPM Prawit Wongsuwan cried foul after a news site suggested that “His Portliness” had used public funds to sip luxury coffee at 12,000 baht a cup.
In most countries this fake news nonsense would be laughed off by politicians. I could imagine someone like former PM David Cameron lapping up such an opportunity at the despatch box turning such a suggestion to his advantage with some carefully chosen old Etonian slap-downs!
Unlike Democrat Party Leader Abhisit Vejjajiva, Prawit did not go to Eton and has about as much repartee as a broken down wrist watch. I once met Abhisit at a Scrabble tournament, as you do, and we conversed briefly about his love for Newcastle United FC. He was one of the only Thais I have ever met who could pronounce English better than moi!
What would have been called “Coffee-gate” in any Western country had the added benefit of allowing the military to go after Pongsakorn, a deputy at the ‘upstart’ Future Forward Party, who foolishly admitted sharing the story. He could be banned for ten years for this storm in a coffee cup. Thus joining those who face similar trouble for promoting a high profile person to front their party.
Suffice to say that the election hustings are proceeding in the Thai style to which we have all become accustomed.
Pot and pots of various kinds kept the titter-o-meter straining this week. You had to laugh at the suggestion that it would be a good idea to admit smoking marijuana by going to the police for their “amnesty”. That would be one sure way to find yourself on an unwanted database.
Meanwhile a Chinese man featured in the alliteration headline of the week after stealing all his neighbors’ plants to stock the garden at his “ban roo-roo” (luxury house) in Chiang Mai – blame Rooster for “Police Prosecute Poo the Potted Plant Pincher”.
Down in Thong Lor in Bangkok the real story was missed. The headline suggested that the news was all about 206 sidewalk motorcyclists being nabbed in one hour generating 206,000 baht in fines. The real news was that the Thong Lor cops had actually managed to leave the station for purposes other than shake down tourists near Soi Cowboy!
The constabulary at that particular “nick” are notorious. For one thing you might have thought they would have been a bit more determined to protect one of their own who was dragged under the wheels of Red Bull Boss’s Ferrari. It’s a never ending case that will never end in justice unless someone kidnaps Boss at Harrods and delivers him to the RTP like the daredevils who achieved that with Great Train Robber Ronnie Biggs on the streets of Rio de Janiero.
Even then I doubt Boss would actually do the time.
And so to a few Rooster awards. “The Lying Female Toe-Rag Award” of the week is jointly presented to Mew and Jomsap, both Thai ladies I am glad I never met. Mew tried to cover the fact she was paralytic behind the wheel and drove herself into a klong by blaming the aforementioned Poh Teck Tung. Admittedly the foundations do sometimes cause accidents with their scary driving but this was not one of them. Find Mew and jail her please.
Jomsap, a former teacher, has been jailed for eight years for perjury. She took in everyone – including the hapless Bangkok Post who had a “Free Jomsap” campaign – after she claimed she had been wrongfully incarcerated in the death of a 74 year old cyclist. It was a messy affair and she had now been proved to have lied in court. A nasty piece of work who I hope does not enjoy rice gruel every day.
Meanwhile the Arthur Daley sponsored “You’re ‘Avin A Laff Award” goes to the middle men who brokered the deal that will thoroughly shortchange the boys from the Moo Ba academy over their cave drama movie deal with Netflix. Maybe the families think three million baht each is enough money after all the trouble they caused! I don’t.
The “Darwin Award” for complete lack of service to the gene pool goes to the two motorcyclists caught on video at the “U-Turn of Death” in Nan. One hopefully receives his prize through the bars of his cell while the other is awarded posthumously, for obvious reasons. Bikers should learn to look especially if they hope to pass on their genes as well as their jeans.
The last award is the “Double Rouble Trouble” (it helps to pronounce it incorrectly) that goes to the Russian in Pattaya who expected sex at a traditional Thai massage place in Jomtien. When he didn’t get it he smashed the place up. If and when he comes back from Cambodia to face the music he may find the Pattaya police to be the least of his worries.
His Russian wife will also be waiting for him.