2009-10-04 Despatch from Sweden

Utmyrby, Sweden 4 October 2009

The time has flown since my return from Ghana and the UK. I had about three weeks in Chiang Rai and, since then another three weeks in Sweden. Tomorrow I fly from here to Reims for a drug safety meeting where Iím running a workshop. Iíll be home again on 11 October.

The short time in Chiang Rai was busy with a good deal of work and a trip to Bangkok to discuss a big editing job for the Food and Drugs Administration (Thai FDA). I did spend some lovely days on the farm, overseeing the last details of the improvements, reading and doing my Thai homework.

One interesting development was a visit from the Forestry Department. They were in the process of surveying land across the country and checking out who was doing what: who had built on Forestry land or was cultivating it and so on. As in many countries with enormous areas of land, mostly forested upland areas, belonging strictly to the government, the people have progressively encroached on it and, in some cases of course, destroyed areas of forest. In my district, it was a matter of documenting what had happened and getting the maps up-to-date, not seeking to identify offenders.

The result is simply that my whole farm, with the exception of the small plot in the valley, is now registered in Forestry records as being occupied by my friend Gumpone (the ex-monk) with me being noted as a member of his ëfamilyí. It doesnít really affect the court case, but, in due course, it could have a very positive effect on the security of the land if the court doesnít actually take it away from me. As in all matters relating to land, I, as a foreigner have to trust a Thai citizen to protect my interests in such a situation. My experience in that respect has not been reassuring, but I do feel that Gumpone is a man of integrity.

Extravagance in Bangkok

During my short trip to Bangkok, as well as attending to business with the FDA (for whom I have been doing work on and off for some years), I met up with Pravich for dinner, as is my usual custom.

We went to a lovely Italian restaurant, Niuís on Silom, where we have been before ñ indeed often enough for us to be recognised and welcomed as old friends. Itís a very elegant and expensive place with a wonderful 1st floor restaurant and a jazz lounge downstairs. The lounge has comfy leather armchairs in which one can enjoy the sometimes exceptionally talented performances of four-piece jazz groups, while taking oneís cheese, dessert and coffee after a meal upstairs. We did not hold back on this occasion and Pravich said it was the most expensive meal he had ever had (it was over a hundred pounds each ñ disgraceful).

I did my usual trip round the bookshops and bought a few interesting volumes to satisfy my voracious appetite for reading (mostly fiction). Since coming to Sweden, Iíve read Catcher in the Rye and the remarkable (spurious) sequel by Mr ëCaliforniaí (60 years later). I was deeply impressed with Salingerís classic, unsure whether or not I had read it before. Rafe introduced me to Stieg Larsson and the million-selling Millennium trilogy. With the third volume not yet out in English (Larsson was Swedish), Iím coming to the end of volume 2 with some anxiety about not being able to maintain the required dose of this absorbing and addictive story. Itís very good stuff. I also read another of Alexander McCall Smithís great books, How Laís Orchestra saved the World. This is set in the second world war and is quite different from all his other writing Iíve seen. Charming, memorable and touching.

While on the subject of books, not much news about my own, except that Iíve received my first royalty cheque which means that real people are buying it, but I donít have any up-to-date sales figures. Thereís been one review so far ñ a highly appreciative piece on the internet from a healthcare academic. Iím hoping thereíll be some in more influential places like the BMJ and the Lancet, maybe. Thereís been lots of interest, but not much serious exposure yet. Itís still only six months since publication, and I guess the next six months will be much more significant ñ one way or the other!

On the road again

So, tomorrow off to Reims. Then itís the annual WHO meeting, this year in Rabat, Morocco, and then off to Cambodia to help manage some meetings with government health officials, and last of the trips this year, to India for a conference and a training course. Next yearís WHO and ISoP meetings are in Ghana ñ so thatís a return trip to be looked forward to. Rangsit University have already asked me to return again and run my weekís communications skills course for undergraduate pharmacists early in the New Year. It seems that the passage of my sixty-fifth birthday in January will not much affect work and travel. I shall continue to work as long as I am performing at my best and as long as my poor old body supports the effort!