2015-06-25 Down by the riverside

Down by the riverside

It was lovely to be back in Oxford, though it was pretty cool with a chill wind much of the time. There were one or two glorious, sunny days and I sat in the garden reading and enjoying the late-spring flowers, especially the old outdoor orchid, roses and a host of cheerful country-garden blooms. There were tiny apples and pears on the fruit trees and lots of wild strawberries too.

Rafe, on his way to visit his sister in Devon, arrived the day after me and we had a couple of happy days together. We walked through Christ Church Meadow, with its ancient trees in new leaf and wildfowl by the Cherwell; were amused by the efforts of experts and amateurs punting in the sunshine; admired the small herd of longhorn cattle grazing in the middle of the city. We went to the wonderful smoker’s and gentleman’s emporium - Havana House on the High Street – where Rafe bought a new Petersen pipe for his collection.

As usual, he set about fixing things round the house, including one piece of intricate key-hole plumbing under the bathroom sink where the plug mechanism had fallen apart. He helped me choose an electric drill (a Makita) – a piece of equipment which, being my father’s son, I feel is essential for any mature household. We used it to fix a natty little pinboard I had bought for the kitchen. We pottered round the antiques market in Gloucester Green and found a couple of early 20th century chiming mantel-clocks which I had been hoping to find to join my chiming wall-clock I’d bought in Devon. They seem to keep time, but one of them chimes chaotically at any time at all it seems (especially twenty-five past the hour) so I set it on silent for now.


I have to confess that I was deeply depressed by the election result. I’d cast my postal vote and made my small contribution to Oxford East staying Labour (as it has been for many years) – but it was a single red constituency amidst a sea of blue locally, and nationally, of course. I’d had some correspondence with my MP – Andrew Smith – about Nana Yaw’s application for a UK visa and had been very impressed with his response. Towards the end of my stay he was doing the local rounds, and I had a few minutes with him chatting at my gate, bemoaning the fate of the country, the dire quality of the pre-election debates and suggesting that Labour needed to discover its vision and some irresistible radical policies.

I do wonder what is ahead for the UK in all sorts of important aspects, not least the welfare of the poor, the unemployed, the homeless – indeed everyone who is not already successful and strong. ‘One nation’ is a tragic impossibility, it seems to me, under a government so dedicated to the welfare of the wealthy and privileged.

Romance and a big holiday in prospect

You’ll remember Nana Yaw, my good Ghanaian friend of five years. Early this year he proposed that we should team up and live together, something that, quite out of the blue, amazed and thrilled me. How the prospect of living with a 70 year-old could satisfy such a young man, I can hardly imagine, but he seems to have no doubts at all. The challenge is finding some way of living together and of testing the relationship to see if we feel it really could work on a permanent basis. What we’re thinking is that he might come to Thailand as an international student and study for a degree at one of the local universities and live with me in Koggalae.

After his proposal, I went to Ghana for a week in March and we had a lovely time, enjoying the entirely new character of our relationship. In September, we are going to South Africa for three weeks to see the sights – Kruger, Victoria Falls, the winelands, Cape Town and the rest. It’s a very exciting and romantic prospect!

Events in Oxford

I went to see Jurassic World a day or two after it was released. It’s a great spectacle though a pretty dumb and predictable story, populated largely by caricatures rather than characters. Chris Pratt – handsome, solid, capable – is the principal redeeming feature of the film, but Bryce Dallas Howard is a laughable disaster as the theme park’s manager (she chases through the jungle in high heels, apart from a host of other absurdities). It’s visually and aurally brilliant and worth seeing if only for those qualities.

I was invited to a piano recital in a private house – a kind of ‘Schubertiade’ – given by an Australian pianist, Mark Hooper. He played Mozart and Chopin beautifully, though some of the more extravagant pieces were really too big for a domestic setting , especially the Fantasie Impromptu. It was a lovely occasion, followed by wine and snacks in a model English country garden in the city. A charming aspect of the event was meeting the pianist’s Croatian boyfriend whom he was shortly to marry.

On the day I went to London to see my dentist and ophthalmologist, I popped into the British Museum to see the exhibition ‘Defining Beauty: the body in ancient Greece.’ Stepping into the dim, beautifully lit space was breathtaking: a glorious statue of naked Aphrodite, interrupted while bathing, and four stunning, heroic male figures, one the famous discus-thrower. There were more than a hundred and sixty exhibits, including a tiny, very ancient, figure (6cms tall) of Ajax on the point of killing himself. Lots of beautiful and fascinating stuff.

As I was going to bed one night, I noticed blue flashing lights from across the river. From my balcony, almost directly opposite the house, I could see emergency personnel in their bright yellow reflective gear helping someone up a ladder out of the river onto the towpath. I could hear them saying that there was another person in the water. One man prodded the water beside the towpath with a long pole and then a team arrived in an inflatable and scoured both banks, including a group of overhanging trees. Overhead a helicopter circled. I was perplexed that it never managed to steady its powerful searchlight on the scene of action, but Mark later suggested that it may have been using its thermal imaging system to search for a body. They appeared not to find anything and, after an hour or so, packed up and left.

Back to the tropics

It’s always a wrench to leave any one of my homes, but I know, as soon as I arrive at the next destination, I shall feel quite settled again. So it was returning to Chiang Rai. The battery in my truck was flat and wouldn’t take a charge from the charger, so I bought a new one: a dry battery, the first time I have seen one of these. It looks as though it has many advantages, not least holding its charge when the vehicle is not used for long periods.

The farm is looking wonderful in the midst of the rainy season, everything flourishing and the teak trees soaring to ten or more metres now. On my first trip there I came home with an enormous jackfruit, two pineapples, several bunches of bananas and ten duck eggs. I sat in the gazebo for a few hours thinking and reading. Birds and butterflies played around me and fish leapt in the pool.

It was Ui’s nineteenth birthday a couple of days ago. For his present he wanted funds for a party for his friends in town. The mother of a friend of his runs an at-table barbecue restaurant, so he hosted about thirty friends for a serous nosh-up. He does not drink alcohol, so there was only Coke and Sprite and innocent stuff like that.

Today, I’m off to Bangkok for a long weekend, primarily to have one of my regular check-ups for my rheumatic disease. Taking daily steroids (even though a tiny dose – 5mgs) demands that vital signs and blood indicators are kept under review. I’m hoping to meet up with Bui and Pravich while I’m there. I’m also looking forward to swimming in the pool at the hotel – I’ve neglected exercise terribly, though I have been on my static bicycle a couple of times since I got home.

Out of Bounds is not yet selling in great numbers, but I have had some very positive feedback from a handful of readers. Whether strangers will feel as enthusiastic about the book remains to be seen. I’m waiting anxiously to see if there are any reviews in the publications I sent free copies to.

I’ll get the May and June photos uploaded next week when I return from Bangkok.