Foreman Funderdog

It’s been a while since I last wrote anything, I’ve been busy and life has been; erm, normal. 

Or what passes for normal these days anyway. 

I had a brief commute to India that lasted for just two days and then came back with a stomach bug that kept me occupied for just over a week… 

The India trip was in support of a sales bid and I had a bizarre coincidence while I was there that left me genuinely surprised. 

I was sitting with the prospective client’s CIO at the bar in a hotel in Delhi and was explaining that I wouldnt be able to make the UK visits scheduled for 1st week in September as I was on jury service. 

Then my personal phone rang with a +36 country code. 

Unusually for me, I answered it (it costs money to even receive a call in India thanks to o2) and found that it was the Jury service asking if I could bring my jury service forward.  

I agreed and things start from here.. 

Even though a few months have passed since all this happened, it’s still subjudice and so all names and locations are untrue. 

Lenny and Dawn had a chequered history, Lenny was raised offshore in one of those caribbean places and took to drugs early in his life. He’s genuinely thick and was too stupid to get above a one star job in McDonalds. 

Dawn had been married, but took up with Lenny a number of years ago, they had some issues and Lenny went to prison for offences against her. For some reason, he pleaded guilty to crimes that had no witnesses and was sentenced to a lengthy prison term. 

When he came out of prison, Dawn contacted him again. 

Yes I know.

They took up again together, and despite him being a jobless addict with mental health issues, Dawn allowed him to replace her as the main tenant on her accommodation. It doesn’t take a genius to work out why -the taxpayer now funded their joint lifestyle, even though Dawn supposedly had a high flying job. 

While Lenny was away on another short stint in prison a few years ago, Dawn went back to ‘her’ carribean island and made a few friends. 

For reasons that escape everybody, she kept the pictures of her male friends on her camera for a few years despite Lenny being paranoid due to the crack and meth he was smoking. 

Lenny caught her in a lie and they had a row, there were no witnesses at all. 

Dawn called the police and Lenny being a black drug addict with a record; was arrested and banned as part of the bail arrangements from the house that his benefits were paying for. 

Dawn  – for reasons unknown and in terror for her life don’t forget; went to the police station and left cash and clothes for Lenny. 

When bailed, he was shipped to another force who wanted to talk to him. He spent a day in their cells but was not charged. 

This all occurred on a cold and wet few days in January. 

Lenny, being a moron, went back to their house and broke in through the back door. Things went wrong and Dawn and her friend Sharon were stabbed. 

The stabbing was a fact and Lenny was eventually arrested and charged with GBH and Attempted Murder.

And so the trial began. 

For two counts of Attempted Murder. 

Only.  

CPS began the case by presenting a lurid set of facts that showed Lenny to be a cold and calculating criminal mastermind who planned and executed a chilling plot to murder Dawn in their home in Glasgow after travelling from Durham with murder in mind. 

The carefully selected weapon of choice was shown to the Jury and a breadknife that looked too cheap for a poundshop was shown in all its bent and pathetic glory. 

Dawn and Sharon’s wounds were shown to us on a completely useless rendered graphic and Sharon’s wounds were shown to be non-penetrating. 

A second weapon of opportunity was used on Dawn and she suffered one deep, potentially life threatening wound. 

This all took a few hours to present and things initially looked like it’d be a short trial. 

We were then treated to two hours of video testimony from Dawn. 

The first was from her hospital bed, the second a few weeks later. 

There were some big discrepancies in the two stories, with the second version being more dramatic than the first and some key facts changed. 

Dawn was then put on the stand. 

Despite the fact that she’d just watched her own videos, the story grew even more dramatic and lurid, punctuated by tears and sobbing. To be fair, she had been stabbed and a trial is an ordeal no matter what side you’re on. 

CPS gently questioned her. 

Did she know that Lenny was on drugs ? Yes, but he didn’t do it at home. She would NEVER let him do drugs in front of her. 

Did she ever give Lenny money for drugs? No. She was a GOOD woman 

Did she ever take drugs herself? NO. She was a GOOD hard working woman with a high flying career. 

Did she recognise the knife? She had no recollection of it. Where are you going with all these questions sir? Am I on trial here?

And so it went. 

Defence was very gentle with questioning, but. 

Did she ever leave Lenny Money for drugs in a jar. No, that money was for food if he needed it. 

Did she ever go with Lenny to buy drugs? No. Never. 

Why did you lose your job a few weeks before the incident? Was it drug related? NO. I started my own business via Facebook 

Where were you the day before the initial assault? Erm, I don’t remember?

Were you with Lenny buying drugs in Newcastle? NO, but I don’t know where I was. 

Have  you ever bought and smoked skunk? Er. Yes. On occasion. 

So you have seen Lenny do drugs in your house? Just Skunk. 

And so on. 

Sharon’s video testimony was shown and in a bizarre mixup the camera ran a bit too early and showed her sitting on the floor at ease before hurriedly refitting a soft neck brace and hunching over before she spoke. 

She then took the stand. 

Despite some random statements early on about how Lenny had kicked Dawn in the initial assault (something that Dawn didn’t allege), she admitted that she’d seen nothing and only heard the tail end of the row when Dawn left the house. 

She stated that Lenny was normally a lovely man and that on the night of the assault, he was “a crazed animal” and that she didn’t think that he consciously knew what he was doing. 

She was a balanced and fairly believable witness, although her evidence at times contadicted Dawn’s.

Let’s talk about the jury for a second. 

A couple of retired women who were initially terrified that the scary black man would somehow ‘get them’ afterwards. 

Three older blokes who saw exactly what they wanted to see and may as well have written ‘guilty’ down on day one and then pissed off home. 

One silly old git who brought the fucking newspaper coverage of the trial in. 

A couple of people who didn’t use their notebooks at all.. 

A pain in the arse bloke who went to court every day in a suit, just because. And who kept asking questions via the usher, at one point causing a half day delay. (me)

The questions came about because Lenny took the stand. He didn’t need to. Whatever he said could only back up the facts, he DID stab both women. 

We’d already had testimony from two cops who somehow wrote the same words that Lenny spoke at certain times in their notebooks, despite them admitting that they weren’t always together and that Cop 2 wrote his notes six hours later. 

However. 

What they agreed on was that Lenny tried to kill himself four times after the event that night (the fucking idiot) 

1 – hanging – the branch broke

2 – Cutting his own throat, too blunt an edge

3 – setting fire to the car, in pouring rain

4- overdose, this one nearly worked, his heart stopped and he was hospitalised when cops 1 and 2 wrote their uncannily similar statements. 

And so my question. Lenny had stated that while he was in the  neigbouring force’s custody, he begged to be sectioned and said that he was suicidal. 

I asked that we see the interview notes. 

Four hours later we listened to excerpts from the custody notes. 

Yes he said it.

And was seen by a mental health professional who recommended that he see a doctor ASAP. 

 BUT. 

Notes after he was released said that he’d been reinterviewed and was OK. 

Despite Lenny being a fucking idiot with a drug addled brain, the CPS prosecutor couldn’t break him at all and a few people (me included) were trying not to laugh. 

Lenny admitted to the assaults and knew that whatever happened he was in deep trouble. 

He did say that the knife was his / Dawn’s and that he must have picked it up in the house. The CPS tried hard to prove that he’d carried it there, but if there was CCTV, etc. they didn’t want to reference it. 

I wrote in my notes something like this:

“don’t understand why GBH was dropped, no problem with that, but The Crown can’t prove intent here at all” 

Lenny’s defence was of drug-comedown paranoia, I looked up the symptoms, it was a reasonable thing to be looking at – he had a history of mental health issues, 20 years of hard drug use and previous suicide attempts. 

The next day, we were adjourned for four hours again and four new charges were introduced. 

Two of GBH with intent

Two of GBH

Lenny duly pleaded guilty to two counts of GBH and I hoped that we could all go home. 

Nope. 

We now had to deliberate on the four higher charges. 

The judge spent an hour in summing up and may as well have shown us a picture of Lenny in a noose while mouthing the words ‘guilty, guilty, guilty’. 

For some reason, I was made foreman.. 

We spent four hours in complete deadlock  and I wrote to the Judge asking clarification (as some of my fellow jurors had evidently been in another court)  – was it the Crown’s case that Lenny went to Glasgow with the intention to commit murder?

‘Yes’ – said the Judge, ‘however, don’t forget my guidance that ‘intent’ can last a millisecond and if you believe that for even a split second that Mr Rastus intended to commit murder then you must find him guilty.’ 

An hour later I wrote to the judge saying that we were never even going to get to a majority verdict and a mistrial was declared. 

It turned out that the case in the court next door was also attempted murder and also a mistrial . 

I spoke to a juror on that jury, she said that it was ‘a fucking fiasco’ and that the jury was 10 / 2 not guilty but the judge wouldn’t accept a 10/2 majority. 

This all sounds really negative and in some ways it is. 

The CPS in Lenny’s case was (in my view) vindictive and lazy. They saw a thick, black drug addict with a record and thought it was a slam dunk. 

It wasn’t

The jury system – though flawed and inevitably made up of a proportion of dimwits and loons, is the best we have and it’s given me a bit of hope that even when a judge is nakedly biased, people will do the right thing according to the facts and their conscience. (mostly)

I hope that Lenny is allowed to do whatever prison time the GBH charges would give him (up to 20 years I think) and that the CPS save us all the money and hassle of another botched trial. 

I know this though. 

NEVER EVER PLEAD GUILTY. EVER. 

Home is the Hound

So. 

my last few days in Chennai passed quite quickly, I had a Saturday flight booked for 530 AM and didn’t bother to pack until I finished work on the Friday.I had my (hopefully for a long while) last meal in the hotel restaurant, a few drinks and dozed until it was time to leave. 

The car journey was uneventful and I was one of the first people on the plane. 

Sadly, my company doesn’t want to pay for club seats, so it was premium economy on the flight, which is fine in every regard except the little matter of the toilets. Premium economy pasengers have to use the economy toilets, which on most flights isn’t probably an issue. 

Here’s the thing, a LOT of Indian air passengers don’t know how to:

  • Lock the doors
  • avoid pissing on the floor, walls, toilet seat, etc. 

At one point, I opened a door to find a woman hawking and spitting into the sink and also had the joy of watching a steward trying to explain to somebody already inside the toilet how to lock it. He eventually gave up and locked it from outside. He then gave me a despairing grin and said “I’m blaming you, this is your fault”, before sighing deeply and walking away. 

The staff were obviously stressed and I was grateful for the stewardess who topped up my gin with unfailing regularity and I passed the flight in a state of medication. 

I spoke to the friendly steward again as I left the flight, telling him I was glad to be back; he rolled his eyes and said “you’re glad, how do you think we feel”?.

Saturday and Sunday passed fairly easily, although it was strange being back in my own bed for a change and not having hotel noises all around me. 

Then Monday was the big day. 

Would I stay on the FuckedUpProjectOfDoom or would I leave?

After a very short discussion in which it transpired that the goalposts were not just moving, they were emigrating to Australia and demanding maintenance; I agreed to write a handover report and leave. 

A very pleasant leaving drink took place on the Tuesday night; along with a stay in possibly the worst hotel in London, if not the whole of the UK. – (Take a bow Fitzrovia Hotel, burning the whole fucking place to the ground would be an improvement) and I produced a fairly lengthy report that I suspect will get buried in a nuclear bunker; before wandering off grinning. 

And then.. 

Wednesday night, I picked up my festival buddy and we set off for Dover and the four-day combined pissup and Rock  Festival known as Graspop. 

The coach arrived about 30 minutes early and the ferry journey across was uneventful – and so we started our coach journey to Turnhout in Belgium. 

The drivers were fantastic, professional, knowledgable and good humoured. Even when some of the stupider elements on the coach got back on after a 90 minute ferry journey so pissed that they couldn’t walk… 

We arrived in Turnhout at 11ish on Thursday morning and because the rooms weren’t ready, decided to leave our travelling companions to squabble and queue in the hotel and wandered off for beers and an early lunch. 

   

 Turnhout was a most unexpected and very welcome surprise. 

It’s a beautiful little town, thirty minutes from Antwerp and  fifteen minutes from Dessel – where Graspop is held. 

  
There are a number of  bars and restaurants and dinner was in an excellent Italian restaurant just on the main square and opposite the church. Our waiter managed to combine being incredibly pretty and charming and was unbelievably attentive without being cloying – no easy trick..

As a little extra, he served up some Carolina Reaper Chili powder – currently the world’s hottest chili and the waiting staff seemed fascinated as we mixed it with olive oil and added it to our meals. 

It was a great meal and a good start to what turned out to be one of those weekends that linger in the memory. 

On Friday morning, we boarded the coach for the short and pretty journey to Dessel and arrived in plenty of time to suss out the payment mechanism for food and drink before hurtling off to watch the first band of the day – The Dead Daisies. 

For a band you’ve probably never heard of, they’re an awesome band with an amazing pedigree. http://thedeaddaisies.com/line-up/

They were also the first band to do a signing and seemed pleasantly surprised to see a Dead Daisies T Shirt, which the whole band duly signed. 

  
They were nice guys and very generous with their time. Marco Mendoza insisted on kissing me full on the lips,the  filthy deviant. 

Good kisser though. 

Slash was on later in the day and my 21 year old Guns N Roses tor T Shirt aquitted itself well, despite being older than half the crowd.

  

There were a few good surprises, an excellent beer tent with dozens of video screens and regular appearances by the Lounge Kittens – clever, sexy and very, very funny.  

Kiss were the second headliners and managed to turn a buzzing crowd into something restless and bored, when their (fucking useless) lead singer went across the crowd on a zipwire, he was pelted with bottles from all sides. 

Marilyn Manson closed the show, but wasn’t that wonderful as a live artist, although his songs are amazing.. And the single most memorable moment for the two of us that day occurred when we somehow got into synch while walking along to his “third day of a seven day binge’ playing in the background.  

Something about the way we were walking seemed to worry people and a path cleared with people giving us a wide berth of ten metres and more as we ambled towards the exit. 

Saturday was more of the same, with standout performances by Alice Cooper, Arch Enemy and Slipknot. 

It was the first time I’d ever seen them play and they were awesome musically and visually, with a performance that still sends chills up my spine. 

On Sunday I had an early chat with the coach drivers, gave them both a tip to say thanks for their professionalism and humour and agreed that although we wouldn’t bother to go to the concert; they’d reserve front seats for us on Monday for the return journey. 

We then had a wander around Turnhout, a lovely lunch in a bar and another amazing dinner in the Italian restaurant, washed down with Belgian beer and a lovely bottle of Amarone.

   
    
 It was the perfect way to finish the weekend and I didn’t feel guilty in the least for not going to Graspop for the final day. 

The trip back on Monday was smooth and we missed the riots in Calais by one day, arriving back in the UK in the early evening. 

It took less than fifteen minutes to catch the coach up on the motorway after picking the car up at Dover and we exchanged friendly abuse with the drivers before I sped off and left them behind, feeling a bit sorry for the drivers having to put up with the stupidity and the smell all the way to Liverpool. 

All in all, it was just what I neeeded to get my head back into the place it needs to be and I’m writing this as I sit outside a pub in Birmingham, not yet assigned to a role, but getting paid anyway. 

Life’s good, I have some challenges and some things that I need to sort out as soon as my job (new role) situation is clear but I’m happy and will probably blog on the horrors of mowing a massive lawn with a hand-mower shortly. 

It’s great to be back. 

*sighs, sips beer, ends blog*

Phuket Pup

When I was younger, I thought I knew all the answers. Issues were in black and white and before the Internet, the only way to get information about people and places was to go to a library or have your opinion fed to you by a newspaper. 

It was genuinely a different world and my  trip to Ibiza with a mate was the first time apart from school trips to Calais that I’d ever seen anywhere outside England – yes England, I’d never been further north than Peterborough or further west than Heathrow. 

A typical working class boy from an overspill council estate in Romford in other words. All bluster, swagger and bullshit, what I didn’t know could have filled countless volumes, but I was too young and uninformed to know or care. 

I started working in IT when I was eighteen and after a year or two, was making enough money to have a couple of holidays a year in the glamour spots of Ibiza and Magaluf. 

But my fixed views of other countries really didn’t change in that time, Germans stole sunbeds, the Spanish were OK but you needed to watch your back. 

And so on. 

Over time, my views changed, sometimes overnight, sometimes imperceptibly. 

And travel helped. 

I’ve been lucky with work, it’s taken me to India (5 cities and twenty visits), France, Holland, Germany, Portugal, Norway, Malaysia and Australia. 

And exotic locations like Norwich, Edinburgh, Glasgow, Cardiff and Bridgend. And hundreds of towns in the UK for trips of one day or less. 

I’d never been to Thailand before a few weeks ago, all of my holidays had either been in Europe, Canada, Australia or the Caribbean. 

And I wrote about how fantastic I found Bangkok as a city in a previous post. 

So; I’m still in Chennai and we had another bank-holiday weekend – only this time I would be alone. 

I did a bit of looking for places to go on the Internet and settled on Thailand again, this time I would stay in Phuket in a quietish resort called Karon Beach. 

It was a longer flight, with stopovers, but it all went fairly quickly and I arrived at my hotel around 10 hours after leaving the office in Chennai, hours before official check-in time and with a sense of resignation that I may have to wait a while. 

Except. 

I received a beaming smile from the clerk, a sheaf of money off leaflets and was immediately shown to a room that was considerably nicer than my £30 a night should have paid for. 

  
Once I’d unpacked (30 seconds), I had a quick wander down to the beach and the shops before going back to the pool for a crash and food session. At the bar. Obviously. 

  
In the background, you’ll see rooms that had entrance into the pool. An extra £20 a night was the extravagant cost, so I moved to the largest and most private of the bunch, the whole transaction was worked out in five minutes, again with big smiles. 

Another pleasant surprise came when two separate groups of tourists started chatting to me, making any lingering worries about finding company disappear. 

One older couple lived in Bangkok and had been there for 16 years, he used to work in an office opposite my Bangkok hotel….

Towards evening, I went for a wander into town for a beer or two and to get my bearings. 

It’s a beautiful place. 

   
  

     

And I had a couple of beers with a Filipino guitarist named Victor who was auditioning for a spot in a new bar that had just opened. 

And time passed very nicely. 

I didn’t bother with dinner that night, I went to a few more bars and then took a TukTuk to Patong to see what the nightlife looked like. 

And stayed for an hour. 

It was busy, but felt somehow like they’d tried to recreate Soi Cowboy, but just got it somehow wrong and off kilter. Maybe I was just tired from 40 hours of no sleep. 

But I had a couple more drinks in a place called Rock City, watched some live music and was back in Karon Beach less than two hours after leaving. 

   
        And had some more drinks. 

I went back to my room at some point or other; had a swim and slept the sleep of the innocent and very pissed. 

  
Saturday was a deliberately quiet day during the day, a long walk along the beach, a swim in ferocious riptides, lunch and a crash by the pool in the afternoon. Oh. I also adopted a dog for a few hours, he followed me everywhere and I had to take him back to the bar where I found him.. 

   
   Then it was a case of gearing up for the evening’s assault. 

Food was definitely needed and I found a great little restaurant that had a superb (if slightly ballad heavy) live band. Gin was on special offer and I sat and watched the world pass while eating excellent food, sipping gin and listening to music. 

I found that I’d been remembered in two bars in particular, one a quiet little place that only had space for 6 people to sit. The other was a huge place with a live band, bar girls, ladyboys, a flamboyantly gay barman and a mama-san who was larger than life in all ways possible.  

 

  
I finished the evening in the smaller bar, had a few beers with a German, took over their sound system via bluetooth and played music from my phone and left fairly late.. again. 

Then a surprising thing happened; it was one of the bar staff’s 40th birthday the next day and I was invited to share their meal. 

I blurrily accepted and went off to sleep as I’d decided to get up early and take a trip up into the hills. 

The next day, I negotiated an all-inclusive fare and set off for the Big Buddha. There were Elephant camps along the way, the photo below shows how far phones have come – filmed at burst at roughly 30 MPH. 

  
The Buddha itself didn’t disappoint, it was free to enter, is still a building site and was a genuinely peaceful place. 

   
      

I was moved by the practice of setting bells to wish people luck or to remember them, they looked stunning and sounded beautiful when the wind caught them.  

After that, it was a trip to the JungCeylon mall in Patong for a bit of lunch and wandering around. The clouds were gathering and cover seemed a good move. 

The monsoon hit around 4pm, the rain was cold and actually stung when it hit the skin. 

How do I know this?

It’s because I decided to walk to the beach. 

People looked at me strangely when I went out, but they all wanted to talk to me when I came back. 

On a length of beach that stretches for over two miles, there was just me and some mad Russian guy. 

We nodded at each other and walked into the roaring sea under cover of the torrential rain roughly two hundred metres apart. Lightning was flashing every ten seconds or so and I remember thinking that we were far apart enough not to be killed by the same bolt of lightning. 

The sea was like a warm bath after the rain and I let myself get battered around by the riptide until I was physically tired from the waves and my laughter. 

It was glorious; stupid, borderline suicidal and utterly fantastic.   

Then I went to the birthday meal. It was a very quiet affair with no booze and a lot of brilliantly prepared food. The red sauce by the fish is the spiciest thing that I’ve ever tasted that doesn’t have the word ‘psycho’ on the label. 

   
    

I stayed for a while until the bar picked up with some other customers and wandered up to the music bar where the mama-san gave me a bearhug and the first free drink of the night. 

I ended up in a mixed group comprising of some Russians, a couple of the girls from the bar, the outrageously camp barman and a ladyboy who stole my phone to take a series of selfies. 

Occasionally I was harassed by one of the tough, funny and streetwise kids who have to earn their living selling flowers. He was 12, had a patter like an old style barrow boy and was fond of showing how he could do magic tricks.   

   
    A six foot four Russian woman who looked like she wrestled bears for a living dragged me up to dance for a while. 

As did the ladyboy, who promptly jumped up and put their legs round my waist while dancing. I think I could be heard laughing six bars away. 

More of the same occurred, at one point the Russian lady’s boyfriend produced a small knife and ran it across his throat while I was dancing with her. I had no idea what the gesture meant and I laughed even louder. 

Eventually it was time to crash and I said my final goodbyes to the mama-san, who insisted on one last drink – and I received the biggest surprise of the night. 

A gift. 

Two of the girls had bought me two tiny souvenir picture frames as a souvenir. They probably cost next to nothing, but I was a bit choked up to receive them. I don’t really know why they did it, but I am very grateful. 

 

The next day I did a final beach walk, checked out, had lunch on the beach in a very strangely named place and took the taxi back to the airport. 

   
When I was younger, I had very fixed views on the world. 

It’s hard to remember what they were now to be honest, but I would probably have frowned on dancing with ladyboys. 

I feel blessed to have had the opportunity to find out otherwise .

Phuket was astonishing,  the friendliness and openness of everybody I met turned me from a fairly insular ‘not sure what to expect tourist’ into a participant. 
They’ll never see this, but I thank them all. 

March of the Cyber-Lemmings

The weather has changed a lot this week, from incessantly blue skies and sunlight so hot that it actually feels like an oppressive physical weight; we’ve gone to black skies, torrential rain and Thunderstorms.

I like the storms, I’ll happily stand in the rain and dare the lightning to do its worst. Given that I did that on a hotel roof this morning – while standing in a swimming pool may say a little too much about either a sense of invulnerability or a death wish.

Your guess is as good as mine on that – I’m leaning towards the former though.

I had a dream last night, more of a nightmare really.

I dreamt that I was working thousands of miles from home on a job that I’m massively overqualified for and that is ultimately pointless.

I woke up disoriented and scared, had a little cry and then went back to sleep.

Yesterday was a strange day, a mix of tedium and annoyance in equal measures, with an amazingly bizarre incident happening in the hotel gym after 9pm.

I’m glad to say that I’ve been working out a lot lately and that I can fairly easily do pull-ups and a complicated form of press-up without looking too stupid.

Because as I was working out alone in an empty gym, a group of locals at a conference came in and started watching me.

Being the shy person I am, I just notched up the music and tried to make it all look just a little easier.

Then a couple of them tried lifting the same weights or using the same equipment as I moved through a circuit – annoying and still amusing as the pin was quietly moved to a lower weight when they thought I couldn’t see.

One of them actually took a selfie with a pathetically low weight while still wearing his work shirt, grinning at the camera as if he’d deadlifted a car..I was stifling giggles for ages.

A fairly boring dinner followed and I fell asleep to the sound of distant thunder.

And in my second dream.

I was back in the little parallel universe that I created a few months ago; but it was different.

It was weirder, slightly broken, the sky seemed fractured and the stars hurt to look at them.

The keyboard still stretches on for ever, but strange shapes flit at the corner of your vision, moving as if they’re trying to hide from view.

I heard a familiar booming laugh and a blinding light flashed in synch with the laughter.

No – not him.. not this time.

It was the dog, he’s been trying on his new godhood and I think he rather likes it.

Over a thousand people follow him now, which doesn’t sound like a lot, but how many people do you know that really  believe in Jesus.

I have to say, it suits him, he looks Magnificent  – he’s the same size as he always was, but he glows. His eyes are painful to look at and he has a weird sort of presence, it’s almost like he’s the centre of a dog-shaped black hole that is much bigger than the physical space it occupies.

We had a quick catch-up, he’s been busy it seems, mostly pissing on temples of other gods and leaving a bit of a metaphysical piddle problem for the priests to deal with.

He told me a story from his Valhalla days about a green-eyed shield maiden and the nature of leadership and I’ve promised to add it to his story at the weekend.

Then he showed me what he was laughing at.

I’d created a world, but I didn’t put any rules and restrictions around it, so although the gerbil couldn’t get out of performing and failing the task; he could do something about the spider monkey and the constant smacking around the head that he received.

Being a sneaky little fucker, he knew that he couldn’t appeal to Shiva or the dog, both of whom have a nasty sense of humour, but he could go to somebody who might just help him out for fun and to get back for a few missed nights because of booze and fucking shit up .

Parvati – or Meenakshi – Shiva’s wife.

She managed to get in through a crack in the fabric, creating a hole that moves and swirls, never in one place long enough to get a view of what’s on the other side.

And so the gerbil’s prayers were answered  – after a fashion

He wanted support and reinforcements in numbers, he didn’t want to be a gerbil anymore and he wanted to get that fucking spider monkey and give him a daily thrashing.

You need to be careful with the gods.

The dog danced and grinned as he told me the story, lightning flashing from his eyes, illuminating the keyboard and a very pissed off spider monkey who was strapped to the spacebar.

And being slapped around the head by an almost endless succession of lemmings.

The gerbil was still recognisable somehow, he just looked different to the other lemmings, a little more cynical and bowed under by the weight of the thing that he’d done.

lemming

Oh  – he was the only lemming who jumped the queue to give another slap to the monkey.

But the basic rules of the universe hadn’t changed, he still needs to complete the task in front of him to move on and to get back to his life.

And there’s a million gerbils all jumping over the keyboard at random intervals.

He’s fucked –  and my universe is now more chaotic and ridiculous than it ever was.

I confess that I laughed at this, a multitude of gerbils all doing the same thing because the one in front did- too close to the problem to see that they are the problem.

Doomed to trudge on the keyboard for ever.

Still, they could whack the spider monkey about; so that’s progress of a sort I suppose.

I watched for a while, lost in the spectacle of stupidity before me – and then…..

I heard the booming laugh again and saw the twin flashes of light.

The dog grinned at me one last time before buggering off to annoy some Buddhists.

I woke up with a start as lightning flashed outside the hotel.

I could swear that I saw huge glowing eyes and a big grin etched across the sky.

Who knows?

Quarantined Dog

It’s been a bit of a flat week back in Chennai, the FuckedUpProjectofDoom trundles on, but has now slowed to a pace that is actually painful. 

Never mind.. Move On. 

The weekend arrived with a bit of a whimper, I thought about going out on Friday but was so tired and bored that a desultory dinner and two beers was enough to send me to bed with my tail between my legs. 

Saturday started with a long gym session and a plan to get in a car around 3pm to go to some temples in a place called Kanchipuram -including one dedicated to my old mate Shiva. 

Before that was pool and relaxation time and a spot of lunch. 

It fell apart slightly with the introduction of a large wedding party and the attendant bullshit that follows a wedding in any country. 

The normally quiet pool area became a gathering for a group of early 20s males doing the age old territorial dance, I’d already bounced two of them into some lift doors as they tried to force in past me as I left; and to be honest I wasn’t the happiest Thunderdog. 

 Going on the basis that if they wanted to talk to me, they’d find me, I put my headphones on and crashed on a sunbed. 

Only to hear music from the outside through headphones that are pretty much noise cancelling. They’d set up a five piece speaker system. 

I looked up to see another of the Europeans telling them to turn it down and wandered over to make sure that the little crowd that was forming didn’t do anything silly. 

My sunny personality and air of inner calm won the day and the speakers were packed away and my new friends were all smiles as I wandered back to my sunbed. 

Lunch was a pizza and a bottle of water, which for reasons that still escape me took 80 minutes to serve up, by which time I was told that it was too late for the temples. 

Plan B was the Phoenix Mall  – a popular local tourist spot by all accounts and I set off with the hope of seeing something interesting.

I didn’t of course. 

It was a mall, what was I expecting?

To be fair, the power went off three times, giving it that Zombies  – Dawn of the Dead feel and the Vengaboys were playing at 7pm – which meant I HAD to be in the car before 6.30pm. 

Other interesting facts. 

Not one restaurant had an alcohol licence, including the Hard Rock Cafe. 

For Fucks Sake. 

You wouldn’t go there for food would you?

So it was back to the hotel, a bit of food, a couple of beers and fall asleep watching catch up TV. Last night’s fare was The Following – I only watch it now to see Kevin Bacon either get killed or go full serial killer. 

This morning I had a fairly good sports massage, an hour by the pool and then was ready to hit the road to Kanchipuram. 

The wedding party was still around and a number of  them still haven’t worked out how lifts work. 

My room, along with the pool and spa is on the top floor and the lift arrived with a large number of guests who hadn’t pressed the ‘0’ button. 

I’m obviously popular with them because a guy at the front of the lift moved to the middle and bellowed ‘FULL!’ as I walked forward. 

As gently as possible, I moved him back to the side and said ‘apparently not’  – it didn’t help his ego to hear the giggles from the women in the lift. 

And so to the car. 

It’s around a 90 minute drive and the driver was waxing lyrical about the wondrous saris and silks available. After a brief conversation that consisted of me saying:


No Silk’ 

‘No Saris’

‘No workshops’

“No shopping’

Our relationship was a lot clearer and we arrived at the town in good time. 

There are three big temples in Kanchipuram and they’re all very impressive. 

   
   

The quality of the stonework is incredible, amazingly detailed and it tells a story as you move around inside the temples. 

I was quite stoked as 3.30 came round, that would be when the first temple opened the door and let people in. My 5 Rupees for allowing me to use a camera had also given me a fairly annoying guide who kept trying to move me on  – while I was looking for Shiva. 

   
  Then he dropped a snippet of information – as a foreigner I wasn’t allowed inside the sanctum. 

I was quite shocked and asked him to show me where it said it, apparently it’s in Hindi.. 

He seemed to think I’d still follow him after that news and was quite shocked with the ‘fuck off’ that I gave him in lieu of a tip or payment. 

And we moved  on to temple number two, it didn’t open til 4pm and we were too early, but it was an amazing looking place  
    And it was genuinely peaceful, people were lying on the grass outside just enjoying the day and waiting to go and pray. No sign of Shiva though, just a few statues and carvings and we moved on. 

The third temple was the biggest of the three and I managed to avoid paying for a camera ticket by asking the ticket seller where it was written that I had to pay for entrance for me. He tried to do the guide thing, but I asked him to leave, which he very graciously did, 
My driver was starting to look nervous by now and I had to point out that I’m not really a tourist, just doing tourist stuff – hence no silks, shops or interminable time spent looking at craftsmen.

   
    The doors opened to the temple itself and I joined the queue, genuinely excited to get to see a temple to a god that I keep weaving into my writing and to see what happened next. 

Which was THIS

  My driver wanted me to walk towards the left side of the temple and to follow him, I decided that I didn’t fancy listening to anybody any more and walked slowly around the outside. 

In his (very) broken English, the driver explained that the temple was dedicated to Shiva  – I showed him a picture on my phone and he seemed a touch surprised that I even knew what he was talking about. 

We drifted through the temple at my pace and I took photos of things that seemed interesting while he followed with a confused look on his face. 

And eventually we came across a priest, he was opening up a small shrine with a huge bunch of keys – I’ve never seen so many locks. 

The priest waved me over and I waited patiently until the last lock was opened and the huge doors were pushed inwards. 

To a small shrine to Shiva with the god surrounded by mirrors on six walls. I slipped a note into the colection box out of sight of the driver, who was looking at me like he’d never seen me before. 

The priest asked my name and gave me a blessing and a garland of flowers, the driver also received a blessing with a slightly dumbfounded look on his face and told me that we were very lucky. 

I smiled. 

We walked back to the car, seeing these guys before we exited the temple. 

   
It’s been another strange day here. I started writing this in my head after being banned from the first temple. I was vaguely angry, feeling ripped off and disappointed. 

And yet. 

And yet… 

I knew something would happen – just not what. 

The driver sneaked glances at me on the way back, I think I confused him today but that’s a good thing. We should never assume anything. 

Nothing is fixed, anything can happen. 

And Shiva will continue to dance with me for a while yet I think . 

   

Pom Cheu Thunderdog

SO. 

Very soon after a day of discussion about ‘should we?’  ‘What else will we do?’ What about??” The decision was made to fly to Bangkok for the Bank Holiday Weekend. Flights were booked via Air Asia and the Dream Hotel in central Bangkok was to be the place that we’d try to sleep for a few hours a night. 

I only took a small hand-luggage size suitcase, but I overpacked even so, with a pair of trousers and a long shirt (and a pair of more formal shoes) not making it into the daylight. 

We finished work early for the day, dumped our gear at the hotel, picked up our weekend luggage and left for the airport, having cunningly checked in on line and printed our boarding passes off in advance. 

Chennai customs had a short conversation about whether a piece of paper with:

  • a seat number
  • a barcode
  • our respective names
  • Air Asia in at least five separate places
  • Oh.. and the words BOARDING PASS

Constituted  an actual boarding pass. 

Eventually, they agreed that we could indeed go through to security to receive a body search; as the electronic gates in a brand new airport are apparently only for show and then on to the ‘departure lounge’. 

At this point, we made an interesting discovery, you can buy Tiger Beer in individual cans at duty free. 

Apparently you’re not supposed to drink them in the airport, but it wasn’t like we could undrink them. 

And so the relaxation began. 

Approximately 30 minutes before the flight, an announcement was made asking the Thunderdog party to go to the gate. 

This is verbatim. 

‘Sir, we were worried that you would not be on the flight as you do not have boarding passes’

We duly waved our accredited pieces of paper and smiled happily, knowing that they had been stamped by Customs and Security. 

‘Yes sir, but we do not accept those passes at this airport’

More happy waving of our passes, swigging from beer cans as we continued to smile at the increasingly agitated staff. 

We were joined by somebody more senior, we knew that because he was male. 

‘Sir, as my colleague has intimated, we do not accept pre-printed boarding passes at this aiport, so would you kindly do the needful and go to the desk and get new passes?’

We stopped smiling.

‘This desk, is it back out past security?’

‘Yes sir’

‘No.’

‘Sorry sir?’

‘No, we’re not going anywhere, we have stamped boarding passes and the airline accepts them because it issued them. This isn’t our problem, we’ll be over there until we board.’

‘But sir’. 

‘You want them you go and get them.’

At which point, petty beuracracy turned to impotent anger  and our new friend left us. 

The flight was uneventful, on time and reasonably comfortable. 

I bought a local SIM card on arrival, taking a reasonable amount of Germanic sarcastic abuse for wanting to be independent of wifi networks, we took a very cheap taxi and drove to the hotel. 

Through wide streets with good infrastructure, dizzying towers and an incredible amount of scenery, the night air was vaguely tinged with flowers and the traffic moved in orderly patterns. 

It was the Anti-Chennai – just as hot, but clean, gleaming and efficient. 

And then it got interesting. 

As we neared downtown Bangkok, the streets grew busier, more bustling, all after 3am. 

Stalls lined the roads, street food and souvenirs, fried insects and T-Shirts. 

And bars. 

Roadside bars everywhere, people milling and smiling, a true melting pot of races and nationalities. 

By common agreement, we dumped our bags at the hotel and went out for ‘one beer’ before bed. I took this picture just before we bought the single, solitary beer that we were going to drink. 

  
Dear fucking god, it tasted good. 

And so, some more beer, then gin and more gin and more gin later, we arrived at our final bar for the night. and it was getting noticeably lighter. 

  
Our final bar was owned and operated by somebody straight out of central casting, she was tough and funny, drank more than her customers and insisted on plying us with shots. 

Which she matched drink for drink. 

  
There were other clients at the bar, an English bloke who may well have been on the run and a Yakuza type who broke into spontaneous dancing at around 6am. 

  The photo below was taken just before 7am, I honestly don’t know how much we drank, but only our Yakuza friend was left up. 
 

Sleep followed until 1030 and we grabbed a hurried breakfast and after a short stint at the pool, took a tuktuk to the river to pick up a ferry. 

Which of course; didn’t happen. 

After a significant amount of bartering, we eventually boarded a long tail boat and gave instructions to just take us around. 

 The driver was a surly fucker, but we had beer, camera phones and stupid grins as we toured a whole new world.   
  

This lady tried for ten minutes to sell us a whold load of crappy souvenirs before unveling her trump card. A freezer full of beer. 

It would have been impolite to refuse. 

  

But, oh god.. The scenery and the smell of barbequeing food from the small boats that sold a whole range of items to both shore and river traffic. 

  

  We left the river near the Royal Palace but were too late to get in, so wandered around for a while until it was time to think about the evening’s onslaught. 

After 15 minutes for a shower and a change, we got a taxi to a bar at the top of a tower. 

Cloud 47 is the name and it was.. wonderful. 

The jouney was a bit more eventful in that the driver didn’t know where it was – my local SIM and data now not so  amusing as Google maps did the heavy lifting for the driver, nor would it be the next day when checking German football scores became important. 

The views over the city were amazing and the staff showed the smiling helpful faces that I’d come to associate with Thai people by that point, nothing was too much trouble, everything was done with efficiency and a sense of care. 

And the view….  

  
 

After we left, we took a suicidal tuktuk back to the Soi Cowboy area and immersed ourself into the weirdness for a while. 

It’s a strange area, both seedy and amazingly alive at the same time. There are very few rules and certainly no inhibitions, some of the ladyboys are actually incredibly good looking and in the bars anyway, helpfully identified by the name of the bar or a sign stating exactly what it is. 

And sometimes they had a sense of humour too. 

  
We left there at.. I don’t know actually. 

I do know that I had another couple of gins at a roadside bar before staggering to bed after 3am. 

We’d been there for 24 hours. 

Sunday started pretty gently, I had breakfast and then went for a walk, refusing the generous offer from the hotel for a rocket fuelled breakfast and another offer from a  group of working girls? on the street. I only half heard the line that the nearest one used. It was either “I like big cock’ or ‘I have a big cock’. 

  
Bangkok reminds me a lot of the street scenes in Blade Runner, the same diversity and sound, plant growth and neon, huge screens overhead. It’s pretty cool. 

 An elevated railway runs above the streets, it’s cheap, fast and air-conditioned. 

    

  

And everywhere you walk, you catch hints of flowers and citrus. 

We did a bit of mall-time on Sunday and I was staggered by the fact that I could eat a huge lunch, with two fruit smoothies for £2. 

The food was excellent too. 

After lunch, my local SIM and Tripadvisor found us a spa and we whiled away a few hours being beaten and manipulated, stretched and pummeled by Thai masseuses. 

Don’t go there you filthy pigs, my masseuse was middle aged, heavy set and had a nasty cough, which thankfully, she kept behind a SARS mask. 

Excellent massage though, I floated out of there. 

Just in time for the next ten-minute clothes change and a taxi to Khao Sang Road and a whole new set of nightlife experiences. 

We had a quiet dinner one road back, idly watching the hippies and hordes of backpackers walk by. 

   
  It’s a pretty area and goes from being chilled to frantic in the space of a hundred metres or so. 

An upstairs bar with live music was our first and longest stop,  we had a good view of the street and the entertainment value of a group of Aussie backpackers, pissed out of their brains and lighting up (mostly female) pedestrians below with a laser pen. 

   
   It shouldn’t have been funny, but it was fucking hilarious, we obviously got involved and the biggest cheer of the night went to a Thai girl who slapped one of the Aussies and then threw her drink in his face. She REALLY wasn’t impressed with the laser. 

More bars followed. 

Quite a few. 

And we decided to get a tuktuk back to the hotel area for last drinks before crashing. 

Our driver offered us a ‘menu of services’ and THIS was the front of it.. 

  
  So that’s our code word for the weekend. 

MBBK

I may get T shirts printed. 

Monday was more sedate, we breakfasted, checked out and took a taxi to the Wat Pho temple. 

Our driver negotiated hard for his fare, and I only laughed a tiny bit when we got pulled by a traffic cop in full Judge Dredd mode who fined him for no seatbelt. 

It was double our fare. 

The temple was amazing, go see it. The pictures don’t do it justice. 

   
                   

After that, it was lunch at the biggest mall in Asia, the Siam Paragon and a train back to the hotel to get our taxi to the airport. 

We were running on fumes by now and had the misfortune (or vice versa) to meet some of our fellow passengers on the flight, a group of middle-aged Indian ‘gentlemen’ who tried en-masse to push in front of us in the queue. After some gentle remonstration, they decided to go to the back.. 

It was a reminder though of the culture of entitlement that some of the people here have and was a way of preparing us for the other side of the cultural mirror. 

The flight was on time, there were lots of empty seats and the hotel car was waiting. 

A couple of beers and some bar snacks later and the weekend was done. 

It’s hard to say just how good it was, from my point of view it was pretty special. I went with two colleagues for a weekend away and returned with two friends, a ton of stories, some fantastic memories and some new laughter lines. 

I honestly loved Bangkok, we only scratched the surface in three days despite doing our best to keep to 20 hour days or so. 

It IS the Anti-Chennai, it’s vibrant and buzzing, friendly and open, the people are all smiles, the streets are clean and smell of jasmine and honeysuckle at night. 

I’ll never forget it. 

Thanks to Jens and Lars. 

Founder members of the MBBK club with branches in Berlin, London and Chennai. 

Pondicherry Pooch

20150427_072202_Richtone(HDR)

What a weekend!

As is the usual case here, it doesn’t matter how carefully you plan, how much research you do, or how little you try to leave to chance. It never quite works out how you imagined.

I went to Pondicherry this weekend, it’s a fabulous little town and a real anomaly in that it was a previously French settlement and therefore very different from the surrounding state.

There’s a close tie to the place from an office point of view, one of our team’s grandfather was the first ever Indian pilot in the Royal Flying Corps and was (much later) the Ambassador to France and was involved in negotiating the transfer to Indian control.

It’s an amazing story and well worth a read.

http://www.sikhfoundation.org/people-events/first-indian-pilot-sardar-hardit-singh-malik/

Anyway…

My plan was to get a pre-arranged taxi to take me straight to the resort hotel that I’d meticulously researched and booked online, I gave the company travel desk:

  • The name
  • The address
  • My booking reference
  • A map

The car arrived on-time and we started the 150 Km drive to Pondicherry, I spent some of the time on conference calls and the rest of it listening to music, so the trip to the town went quickly.

And an old friend made his first appearance of the weekend.

The driver turned to me and asked for the name of my hotel…

Somewhat taken aback, I gave it to him and he proceeded to stop the car and ask random strangers for directions.

Again

And again

And again.

Being a modern and well-prepared Thunderdog, I have a local sim card in a smartphone and had been watching him get gradually more lost on Google Maps.

After he asked me once again for the hotel name, I sort of lost patience and very politely* told him to stop the car, showed him the map and told him where to go.

It was fully dark by the time that we reached there, I gave him less than half the money promised and told him that I’d pay him the balance if he managed to find his way back on Monday.

I then checked into my room and tried to log onto Wi-Fi so that I could catch up with what was happening at work, only to find that the code was ‘expired’  – no worries, I trotted back to reception to get another code, only to find the same issue.

Here’s a little known fact about Indian hotels –

Every. Fucking. Person. On. Reception.

Think that they’re an IT expert.

After demonstrating to the receptionist for a few minutes that every code had the same outcome, I was passed to another old friend.

IMG_2678

Yes, the small god of hoteliers had decided to possess the hotel manager at this point, who being more senior, along with being rude and incredibly punchable; decided that the problem was that I was using an Apple device.

After what seemed the whole weekend, I proved to him that his own phone couldn’t log on and he reluctantly reset the server.

I had an indifferent dinner, washed down with one of the two options open to me (beer or vodka) and then.

A thunderstorm happened..

Dramatic and vivid, the rain fell in huge warm sheets and the lightning arced across the sky in flashes of white and purple.

It was glorious and it went on for hours.

And I stood in it and laughed while I got drenched.

The next day, I spent a few hours in the sea was lucky enough to see a pair of eagles overfly the coast and a flock of small swift-like birds  and and then travelled to another resort for lunch, washed down with a few vodka martinis or vice versa and then went to Pondicherry in the evening.

I was lucky enough to have met a few people who would share a lot of the day and they took me to an ashram; which for some reason I found to be a sad place rather than peaceful.

The on to a huge bustling temple to Ganesh, the Elephant god; where this poor chap stood outside, prodded by a miniscule handler to take the money from the hands of supplicants and give them a gentle knock to the head.

20150425_182156

Inside the temple was noisy and chaotic, gaudy and crowded, I paid for a blessing and only had large denomination notes, so received a bouquet of flowers for some reason; and then sat on the floor and took the sights and sounds in for a while.

It was the most relaxing thing I’d done in ages.

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After that, it was time to wander the seafront and watch the locals get on with the serious business of having fun.

The local kids have turned a statue of Ghandi into a slide, in England there’d be health and safety concerns, threats and arrests.

Here there was laughter.

I know what I prefer

20150425_191537

After dinner, we trooped back to the hotel and I made the mistake of trying to order a vodka on room service.

Apparently; room service finishes at the same time as the restaurant.  – words still fail me..

I spent the bulk of Sunday alone in town and just wandering the streets, it was hot and I think that my clothes may disintegrate in the wash.

It was great though.

Sitting in a coffee shop having a quiet sandwich and milkshake for lunch, I commented that a piece of music was particularly relaxing and nice to listen to.

It was Shiva’s prayer…..

Yep  – him again. He seems determined to get my attention until I get to one of his temples at least.

20150426_182937

I saw markets and temples, statues and monuments, the sun, sea and sky. I was unbothered during this time and as the day wore into evening; I allowed my gaze and gait to become subtly more intimidating so that I could wander through groups of people and even a quartet of cocky-looking cops made way for me, causing a quiet internal snigger.

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At one point, I heard a choir singing and walked to a church at the back of the seafront and stood outside for 30 minutes or so listening to a beautiful service in French before wandering back to a rooftop bar for dinner.

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I finished the day with beer and lobster and a fantastic view before promising a tuktuk driver 5 times the going rate if he drove VERY fast to the hotel

I’m still grinning now.

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I finished the weekend with a walk along river that parallels the beach, watching the fish troll the fishermen by jumping out of the water just beyond the reach of their nets before heading back to Chennai and the office.

20150427_074557_Richtone(HDR)

All in all, it was an amazing experience, I managed to track down the CEO of the hotel group, emailed him with some observations and have a promise of a free weekend in any resort in India within their group.

First though, it’s the Bank Holiday Weekend.

And Bangkok – there are three of us booked on a flight that leaves on Friday night with no plan as yet, although we may do the floating market and tiger temple trips, which should fill enough time up with lying by the pool and getting drunk on local beer to make a whole weekend.

😀

* A lie, it started with STOP THE FUCKING CAR!!!!!!!!