Thursday, January 25, 2007

Who do you think you are?

I was only out of the country for three months, but it seems that is all it takes for people to get confused about who exactly I am.

First, my mobile phone number (which I've had for 10 years) was given away to some bloke in Newcastle. And secondly, I've just received a solicitor's letter demanding £1,500 in rent arrears for a house in Enfield I've never heard of and certainly didn't live in. To be fair Vodaphone sorted me out fairly quickly, although the guy from Newcastle I talked to briefly can't be too happy at having to change his number. As for the rent arrears (where there is a court order granted against me) hopefully it's a mix-up by the tracing agents hired by the solicitor - otherwise it means someone has been going round pretending to be me. (Not very imaginative. I'd pretend to be someone much more interesting. Brad Pitt maybe. Or Cristiano Ronaldo.)

Wednesday, January 24, 2007

Home at last

As you will have worked out, I have now landed back in the UK. Have spent a couple of days staying at my brothers in London and meeting up with friends, then back to Wales to have a belated Christmas dinner (turkey and all the trimmings) but am now back in gateshead. Where to be honest, it's grey and cold and I wish I was back in the tropics. Hey ho - time to start job hunting to get the dosh for the next trip...

Tuesday, January 09, 2007

The Chang Mai experience

Just a very quick entry to update the blog about my time in the North of Thailand. I'm currently in Chang Mai, in the north of Thailand and have just come back from a 3-day trek north of the city. A guided trek, which I normally avoid like the plague, and it wasn't particularly onerous with only 2-3 hours walking each day. But you did get to go bamboo rafting and elephant riding, both of which were cool, and we were staying in some of the remote villages with locals from the various hill tribes. No electricity, no running water, no flush toilet - but beautiful location and very friendly locals. The pictures below are from the village we stayed at on the second night, where we had a camp fire with some of the guys from the village. Worth visiting Thailand just for that...

Only a week to go now before I head back to London - where has the time gone!?!

Thursday, January 04, 2007


It's just gone nine o'clock at night in Chang Mai, one of the northern cities in Thailand and I'm just bringing the blog up to date before heading out for a night of Thai boxing (spectating, not competing).

As Shelia has asked what I did on Christmas Day, I thought I'd confirm that I did spend it with the relatives in Brisbane. Not a barbeque, not on the beach, but at the house of my cousin Paul - which was featured in the Superman Returns movie. He was a little unclear about whereabouts in the film it was, but at some stage a house on a TV monitor blows up, and it's his house (or at least a model of his house). So we had cold turkey. cold ham, prawns, salad, etc. Not a roast potato in sight (thankfully).

The picture below of my at a barbeque was actually taken Boxing Day morning, when various people turned up at my Uncle Doug's and had to eat the sausages I heavily burnt. Also I managed to fry egg on the barbeque - easier than it sounds...

So shortly after Christmas I headed for Bangkok, Thailand, which is like a different planet entirely. I was going to say that it was too full and too busy, but then I realised I sounded like one of those people from Newcastle who whinge on that they could never live in London. The traffic is mad and the pollution is awful, but in truth it seems as if the local population take life at their own speed. The only thing I found tiring was to be constantly approached by people trying to hawk taxis, DVDs, massage joints, jewellery, etc - if only saying 'just browsing, thank you' worked here as well as it does in Britain. (Having said that I have bought a Rolex Oyster for 20 quid*). Perhaps the worst thing is that Bangkok is a pretty vivid example of Galbraith's phrase about 'private affluence and public squalour' - when I got the train north it passed through miles of shanty towns made out of corrugated iron. Very sobering.

* NB - possibly not 100% manufacturued by Rolex

Wednesday, January 03, 2007

An awfully big adventure

While I was at my uncle's, he lent me one of his spare vehicles (he's a mechanic, so always has a fair few of them hanging round the yard). He's got a 4-wheel drive Daihatsu Rocky, which is 20 years old and a bit of an institution with his family. As fate would have it, a couple of hours north of Brisbane is Fraser island - a 100km long island, entirely made of sand where the only vehicles allowed are 4-wheel drives. It seemed like fate was pointing me in this direction...

So I headed north up the Sunshine Coast, and discovered how to catch the ferry over to Fraser Island. So at the beach, I pulled over and set the Rocky to 4-wheel drive and drove onto the sand - my very first off-road experience. It lasted about 30 seconds before I got trapped! After enthusiastically (but pointlessly) revving the engine for two minutes, a very helpful Aussie came over to help me. His first question: "Have you let the air out of your tyres?". Me: "No. Why would I do that !?!"

Apparently it's kind of necessary, so after he got his 9 year-old son to let the air out the Rocky cut through the sand like a knife through butter. Note - always be wary of relying on good Samaritans. Everywhere I went on the island, someone felt compelled to tell me that my tyres were too low (especially an obnoxious South African boy who I had to force myself not to give a good hard clip around the ears).

Anyhow, I can heartedly recommend 4-wheel driving on sand. Bombing down deserted beaches, skirting the waves and scattering bird life. Heading inland up impossibly slopes, all the time bouncing up and down like a kid at the fairground. All in all, I had a great time indulging some repressed boy-racer instincts.

My second day on Fraser Island was a different kettle of fish. After setting out early. I headed north up the main beach but after an hour had to pull over as I had come to where one of the streams fed into the sea, and as it was high tide it was too deep to pass. If I waited until low-tide it would be easy to pass, but how long would that be? How deep would be not too deep?

So I stood at the side of the creek, looking and waiting, and watched as a couple of 4-wheel drive trucks managed to get through (just). So with a rush of blood to the head, I decided to give it a go myself. I got in the car, headed down the beach to give myself a bit of a run-up and drove towards the creek.

You've probably guessed that I didn't make it. Perhaps I went too fast and created too much of a bow wave. Perhaps I timed it wrong and got hit by an incoming wave. In retrospect, perhaps the other vehicles were significantly bigger than mine. And certainly I should have waited for the water to get lower. So the engine cut out half way through the creek, smoke rises from the bonnet, the Rocky starts to sink in the wet sand and suddenly the deserted beach is full of people running towards me. (Where did they come from, and why do most of them seem more interested in taking photos rather than helping out?).

I waded out with my tow-rope and another helpful Aussie bloke pulled me with his 4-wheel drive. I didn't know this at the time but experienced 4-wheel drivers were convinced that unless I was towed out quickly the Rocky would bob out into the open sea. Thankfully I got back onto the land, although it took 3-4 minutes for all the water to pour out when I opened the car door. Seriously! There was a hell of a lot of water in the car. The whole bonnet of the 4-wheel drive was under water - I must have ended up in 4-5 foot of water.

So - what next?. My new friend Shaun (the one who towed me out) gave me a lift to the nearest resort where we telephoned the only mechanic on the island. The less than helpful gentleman was unwilling to leave his workshop but gave instructions on how to get a diesel engine started again. My friend Shaun was keen to have a go at getting me started again, and as I know nothing about engines I was happy for him to try. Sadly, the lazy mechanic hadn't been too exact with his instructions so as it turned out Shaun was fiddling about with entirely the wrong part of the engine. (Another lesson in relying on enthusiastic but amateur good Samaritans)

So I went back to the nearest resort with the intention of hassling the mechanic to come and help me out, but this proved to be a mission impossible. The rangers and resort staff were pretty convinced that as it was now the afternoon he would be blind drunk and I'd be best off looking elsewhere. So I tracked down a general odd-job man, who knew what he was doing and it took him 20 minutes to get the water out of the engine and to get the Rocky going again. It's quite dramatic to see the water shooting out at hundreds of miles per hours - 100 years ago you could have sold tickets for people to watch.

So I sped off, and spent the afternoon driving round the Island, stopping off to see a few sights relieved that I had dodged the bullet. I thought I'd stop to get a bit more fuel for the journey off the island, and catch the last ferry. But my luck had run out, and this time the poor old Rocky refused to start (this is when I nearly assaulted the obnoxious South African boy, so you can see he didn't choose the best of times to approach me).

My odd-job friend came and had a look, but this time he proved unable to help me out. As salt water had got into the engine and dried out, there were now tiny grains of salt coating the electrics, which were going to cause trouble and there was nothing that could be done. I would have to stay another night, get a jump start in the morning and drive back to Brisbane without stopping the engine. Which is what I did - discovering from some of the resort staff, and various people coming up to me, that I had been the talk of the island all-day long.

Obviously I felt like a right twat. Part of the family mythology was that the Rocky was indestructible, and had survived hell and high water (this time the high water was literal). I had had it 48 hours and had fucked it up completely. I got back to Brisbane, where I told my uncle that I'd had a bit of an accident and that the car was pretty damaged. I don't think he believed me at first, but even when he worked out that I must have been in a hell of a lot of water it didn't seem to affect him much. Thankfully not much fazes Uncle Dougie, and he's convinced that he'll get it going again...