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So I was expecting to be writing this beginning of August Blog article from my hotel room in Zambia.  As it is I find myself doing the writing in my office in Phahon Yothin, Bangkok!  Now how could you be some six thousand miles from your intended destination I hear you ask.

I will try to answer your question but there is a caveat to my reply and I will put that here, first, before the criticisms and moaning’s of a very grumpy old man appear.

I love Thailand and I love it for all its faults.  Many Thai people will get angry if you suggest Thailand is anything but the best place on earth – they have been educated to believe they are a superior country to the others on this planet.  Obvious nonsense I know but when you tell this to children at school every day from the age of four it tends to stick.  Thailand is NOT the best place in the world, it is not perfect and it has numerous flaws.  It is, however, a quite wonderful country full of smiling happy faces, a fantastic cuisine, great beach resorts, enchanting islands, ornate Buddhist temples and a culture unlike anything else you will have ever experienced. Thailand is now my home and I love it and its people.

I would not ever think of living anywhere else.  I have been here since 2004 and, save for a return to the U.K in April 2005 for a couple of weeks to tie up loose ends, I have not left South East Asia since.  A weekend in Hong Kong, another in Singapore and a few trips across the borders to Laos and Cambodia and that is it.  Therefore my trip to Zambia is a huge thing for someone who was used to travelling around the world and on airplanes every month or two. It was also my first visit to Africa, a huge and interesting continent that is home to some of the greatest sights on earth and offering a plethora of magnificent wild animals in their natural surroundings.

Okay my trip was for business purposes and not pleasure but it is a trip I both hope and expect to be making two or three times a year.  Future visits to Zambia will, hopefully, see me visiting Victoria Falls and taking a short safari across Kafue National Park – armed with a camera only just in case my favourite funny man, Ricky Gervais, is reading this.  Actually I hope he is reading because I can tell him he is not as famous as he thinks – when I type the name Gervais it comes up with a red line under it indicating he is not yet recognised by my computers dictionary – no worries Ricky, I have added you to the dictionary now.

I was actually excited about the trip.  Nothing much excites me these days which, for you younger readers, is something that happens to old farts like me – life starts to get a bit dull after sixty plus years.  It was going to be my first trip to the new Suvarnabhumi International Airport in Bangkok although, of course, now it is not so new having opened about eight or so years ago!  Still it is new to me and after dashing around the duty free and likely spending an hour or so looking for somewhere to have a last cigarette would see me waving a brief farewell to the Land of Smiles.

My ticket was to be for a flight on the morning of Tuesday twenty-eighth July at one thirty in the morning.  I was downstairs in my house ready to go by ten in the evening on Monday night and sitting on the porch waiting for Bowling (my business partner for you non-regular readers) to give me the flight ticket she had booked. I called her a couple of times as the minutes drifted by and come eleven fifteen I was getting anxious and, worse still, angry.  It was then she advised me that due to being very busy she had asked a friend of hers to get the ticket but told me not to worry.  Not only was the friend on his way and nearly here but he was also going to drive me to the airport.

It was now eleven forty-five and there was no sign of this so called friend.  Even if he arrived immediately the duty free shopping and chance of a cigarette were literally going up in smoke.  By midnight I received the news that saw me looking for a cat we did not have so that I could kick it (metaphorically Ricky, metaphorically).   The ‘friend’ had come clean.  He had not purchased the flight tickets because the money she sent him (which I had given her) had been spent buying a gold necklace for his wife’s birthday.  You are kidding me right?  What sort of numb skulled idiot does that?  The answer obviously is the numb skulled idiot Bowling entrusted buying the flight tickets to.

The next day, Tuesday, was spent hurling abuse at Bowling with directions for her to hurl same abuse at said friend.  By five that evening we had got the money back with apologies which were dismissed by me as pointless and the friend was told by me never to darken my doorstep again.

Now Bowling was told directly to get the tickets for the next flight out which was Thursday morning, again at one thirty after midnight.  All through Wednesday she assured me she had spoken with the travel agent and everything was fine.  I kept asking and later insisting on her giving me the actual e-ticket but her reply was always ‘in a minute’ followed by ‘do not worry it is all arranged.’

So there I was again, overcome with a feeling of déjà vu as I sat on the porch on Wednesday night at ten in the evening waiting to go to the airport.  By eleven fifteen Bowling eventually managed to make her way down from her bedroom navigating an entire flight of stairs all on her own.  We headed to the car and were being driven to the airport by her boyfriend, Tateeb.   We were, of course, late and once again my plans for a leisurely time in the departure lounge lay in ruins.  No matter though I just wanted to get on the plane and go to Zambia.

We stopped at a petrol station for gas, we sat in a traffic jam for thirty minutes as Bangkok’s roads were turned in to rivers by the tropical storm of that evening, we stopped again because Tateeb needed to pee, we stopped again because Bowling needed a bottle of water.  The supposed thirty minute journey to Suvarnabhumi International airport took one hour thirty minutes and we arrived with only forty five minutes to go before the flight departed.

Bowling then took centre stage at the counter and started writing down numbers on scraps of paper and passing them to the check-in clerk.  Soon we were dealing with three check-in clerks and I knew the entire thing had been fucked up again without understanding a word of what was being said.  My blood pressure was going through the roof.   I was then asked for eighty thousand Baht for the return flight – this, you should recall, is the return flight I have already paid forty thousand baht for. ‘What’ I screamed and stared daggers at Bowling who visibly shrunk by six inches under my gaze of rage.  ‘Fuck off and die’ I shouted at literally everyone at the airport and  shouted it so loudly I saw two armed policemen approaching and guessed others would not be far behind.  I wheeled my trolley out of the departure area and stood lighting a cigarette with my hands shaking from the anger.  I was trying hard to calm down and thanking whatever higher power there is that I did not have a Kalashnikov in my possession.

We returned to Phahon Yothin and not a word was spoken.  I was literally still shaking with rage and did not even care to hear the explanation as to why the entire thing had once again gone tits up.  In fact it was not until around two the following afternoon that Bowling telephoned me (from three meters across the hallway) to see if it was safe for her to come and speak with me.  To be honest it was still far from safe but I told her to come anyway.

She then advised me the travel agent had made a mistake – hardly staggering news given what had transpired about fourteen hours earlier – and had booked the ticket as a provisional but then forgotten to confirm the booking or pay for it!  Bowling had, as all Thais will always do, covered for her because the agent is Thai and I am only a farang.   The thought that they can mess a foreigner around so much just to avoid losing face just made me feel another immediate need for a cat to be sitting very close to me feet!

It was Friday before we spoke to each other again and by now I was calmer although still bloody angry at the entire debacle.   This time Bowling would book the ticket on-line and we sat together and filled in all the little boxes, she paid the money and hey presto I received an e-ticket in my inbox to fly to Zambia at one thirty on Sunday morning.

Now, as I sit with my bags packed again and type this message, I am back to a state of almost calm and once more looking forward to my trip overseas and to the wonders of Zambia.  I have also reflected that this tale of complete buggeryupiness is typical of Thailand.  Even the simple things take days to do and that is if they get done at all.  What is worse is that nobody cares and nobody even considers changing things.  A case of the train has come off the tracks so let it just keep going along the grass then!  Amazing Thailand the advertising for tourists says, close in my opinion but really it should ready ‘Completely fucking unbelievable Amazing Thailand.’  They say many foreigners leave their brains at the airport when arriving in Thailand – I am guessing that is so they are on a level par with their hosts from the off!

And finally, do you know what the worst thing about all this is?  I had to do my own IRONING!  My clothes had been in and out of my damn suitcase so many times they looked like they had spent a year rolled up in a garbage bag and, like the proverbial cat, given a good kicking around every day.  I loathe and detest ironing and this was the first time since 1998 that I have actually ironed anything – I realized very quickly that I still hate ironing!

My next blog article will tell you about my six days in Zambia – assuming, of course, that I ever actually get there