The Idle Scribbler: Songs from the Sixteenth Storey


In accepting our esteemed editor’s invitation to contribute this occasional column to The Pattaya Mail I have assumed the paper’s readers are English speakers and the majority of them Brits or from commonwealth countries. The content is therefore aimed primarily at that audience. Any opinions or views expressed in this column are entirely my own and do not necessarily reflect the policies of Pattaya Mail.

Idle Times in Chom Thian
Tempus fugit, time flies, …, The first Sunday in March marked a couple of significant dates; the official start of Thailand’s sweltering summer and, more significantly, for the scribbler at any rate, the first anniversary of my relocation (ghastly estate agent speak!) from upcountry tranquility in Isaan to the temptations and doubtful delights of this seaside “extreme city” or more accurately Pattaya’s marginally more sedate southern quarter generally called Jomtien.

Incidentally many have questioned my spelling of the name. The reason is because “Chom Thian” is in fact the official transliteration from the original Thai. If you don’t believe me take a stroll down Soi 5 and look at the sign on the Post Office. It clearly states “Chom Thian” Post office, not Jomtien. So there!!!

Anyway, back to significant dates. There’s always a ‘first’ time for everything and even after almost ten years in Thailand I had never before been bitten by the evil ‘skeeter’, in fact my only previous connection with the mosquito was being taught physics by Mr Emery who had been one of the wartime team designing the famous plywood bodied RAF light bomber. But on Sunday March the fifth, this first day of Summer I lost my innocence. A day made memorable for the Scribbler with a massive mosquito bite on the ankle. The effects of which seemed threatening to linger until next summer…

Paradise postponed – again…
What a bum decade this is already turning out to be. Just three and a bit years in and it’s looking rather like a new version of the 1930s with recession/depression looming, an ugly ultra right wing gaining ground (populism?) and barbarism again on the march in a Europe largely, although not entirely, peaceful and prosperous for more than 75 years. The lessons taught by two world wars in the first half of the last century and their dreadful consequences are apparently forgotten, or simply disregarded. The combined and detrimental efforts of brexit (at least in Britain), Covid and Vladimir Putin are surely going to be felt for quite a long time to come.

Paradise partly regained, in Pattaya at any rate…
After disappearing down a Covid black hole for almost three years the annual ‘high season’ has been once more upon us complete with bulging ‘baht buses’, teeming streets, packed restaurants and bars all to the enormous relief and satisfaction of local businesses and hotels.

One highly visible aspect of this tourism renaissance has been the astonishing number of these high season holiday makers are from Russia. It seems the sanctions following Mr Putin’s attempted invasion of the Ukraine supposed to bring the Russian Bear to economic paralysis are failing to have the desired effect. And Thailand is apparently officially glad of that – the Prime Minister himself General (rtd) Prayuth Chan-o-Cha has been at the airport to personally welcome visitors keen to escape the icy Russian winter for sun and warmth in the land of smiles.

Although many are wondering whether the large number of young men among the Russian guests suggests another reason. Could they be on the run from conscription and a distinctly unsunny visit to Ukraine? It’s a theory partly borne out by an equally astonishing number of applications for visa extensions being filed by the Russki sun seekers – this is I’m told especially apparent on Phuket.

Together with the return of the ‘high season’ next month will see us all soaking up the spirit of Songkran after the water festival’s three year Covid confinement. But saying ‘see us all’ is probably a bit of a lie, many Farang I know loath the fest and either leave town or ‘self-isolate’, which in Pattaya goes on far too long, spun out for purely commercial reasons.

The Scribbler has happier Songkran memories from the times I spent it at my former home in upcountry Ban Somboon village. There the festivities would kick off with my neighbour’s three little daughters being sent in to bathe my feet and generally show respect for their elders. During the three days as I rode the Yamaha the half dozen km to market in Khukhan I would be ‘ambushed’, but by utterly innocent and good natured kids who would again bathe my feet – and then chuck a bucket of cold water over me! Sad to say such innocence will be largely, although not totally, absent from next month’s jollifications here in Pattaya. That said I will make every effort to join in the fun, throw off my inhibitions and enjoy, or at least endure, the many soakings!

Ignorance of the law is no excuse – or so we were once taught…
Talking of bulging baht buses… Some weeks ago The Royal Gazette contained an item to the effect that the locally popular pastime of riding on the back-step of these cheap and cheerful conveyances was forbidden on pain of fines for both driver and passenger. In the past few days the Scribbler has been conducting an admittedly unscientific observational survey. It reveals a satisfying majority of these bulging vehicles are either ignorant of the law or simply ignoring it. I rather think the latter and rather like that although I must say that many do appear dangerously overloaded to the point where you wonder how on earth they can even maintain steerage!

The Master…
Another notable anniversary falling this month; on the 23 March it will be 50 years since the death of that towering figure of stage and screen Sir Noel Coward. What a genius that guy was. In his 73 years on this earth he managed to write 65 plays and eight musical shows with just one flop. He wrote dozens of successful screen plays and appeared as a character actor in dozens of films as well as writing and performing in literally hundreds of scintillating revues and cabarets.

He also wrote several volumes of short stories, a novel and a three volume autobiography. Time magazine said of him, “full of cheek, chic, pose and poise”. With his camp demeanour and a louche reputation you could add charm, elegance and wit to that list. Turning down the title role in the early Bond epic Dr No he quipped, “no, no, a thousand times no”, and on being told he was on the Nazi’s list of Brits to be summarily shot after a successful invasion of Britain, “Just think of the people I shall have to be seen dead with!”. Did someone say renaissance man?