The weekend that saw Bradley Wiggins win the Tour of Britain and Manchester City clobber United, I was oblivious to the high emotions stirred by both events, taking a long-envisioned trip to Koh Samet. When we decided to move here we pictured regular visits to the beach and the hills. I have a strong desire to see as much as possible whereas at home I’d say “oh, shall we just go next weekend”. Our time here is finite (that is to say our time in bangkok, I’m not being maudling).
It only took 2 hours by cab and a 20 minute speed boat ride to deliver us from the city and dump us in the green sea. A strip of white sand to wade towards and the promise of an apocalyptic storm above. There were no life jackets, we put our faith in the sea, our Captain and his toothless mate – the teeth I imagine he’d lost by bouncing wildly on the waves and whacking his face, but it may have just been too many sweets for the lad – a warning to us all.
Soon we were in our ‘deluxe’ bungalow, with our very own veranda encouraging us to converse in a Tennessee Williams Southern drawl. “life is partly what we make it, and partly what it is made by the friends we choose”, or “for time is the longest distance between two places”. There is great satisfaction to be had in attempting this accent, go ahead have a try. When the kids went to sleep we’d chat and quaff wine like proper grown ups, talking in whispers and listening to music and jungle sounds. <The reality was less Williams and more Alan Bennett ‘Talking Heads’ monologue. “Oh look James, one of those Flying Pickets looking birds that was after Patti’s crisps earlier has left a poo on your beach towel”.>
We planned to do little more than sit around on the beach, build sand castles, frolick in the sea and eat. So that’s what we did. We bought a penny floater to kick about, which we lost within a day. Perhaps one of the many boz-eye’d stray dogs took it, or the wind blew it away. Abe got his first tattoo, he chose Spiderman even though he never watches it, but at least he put some thought into it unlike mine in my early 20s – the “want that one” – Little Britain approach.
Patti learnt a new word, “gecko” and fortunately for us all there were plenty around so she wandered about like she was selling the Liverpool Echo “Gecko! Gecko! Gecko!” All she needed was a high visibility jacket, a placard and a limp. Abe and I watched a cat stalk, capture and eat a tiny lizard as we swung on a make-shift tree swing. She left him dangling from her mouth for long enough to etch the memory and trigger a long list of questions from Abe: “Mum, why do cats eat lizards?” “What will their poo look like?” My explanation that animals often eat other animals became a lecture about how Disney has ruined our perceptions of animals by humanising them but Abe just wanted the gory details.
I saw a woman I recognised, perhaps from my last place of work. I told James, “I’m sure I recognise her from somewhere, but if it is her, I didn’t really like her anyway, she was miserable and she’s not even smiling now”. I didn’t approach her, I didn’t speak to her at home, so why chat here? My mum would’ve done. “You don’t remember me do you?” is something she often says in startled faces of balding men, boys from my school who she probably took on a school trip in the early 80s. “He didn’t remember me but I remember giving him a Dairylea triangle and he didn’t say thank you. His mum was in the Housewives Register”.
I thought sharing a room with our kids on a desert island could be as joyless as the new Diana film looks but I was wrong. Wrong in that it was amazlingly pleasant, not wrong as in, what a joyful surprise the film turned out to be. I doubt I’ll ever watch it unless I’m stuck on a long-haul flight and Diana is the only option…never say never. The kids shared a couch, top to toe – it’s rights of passage. The sea air knocked them out and they both had coughs like they worked on the docks and chain smoked Lambert and Butler so they were ready for bed by 8pm, freeing James and I to sit outside and be eaten by ‘mozzies’ (another new word for Patti).
James: “Guess how many bites I’ve got?…14!” – He never lets me guess.
Every night we ate at a different restaurant on the beach, although they were all much the same. I came unstuck with my ‘order-what-you-wouldn’t-cook-for-yourself’ technique on a few occassions and wound up sharing most of James’s play-it-safe meals. We slumped on sun loungers like chaise lounges, trading off pins and needles up the legs and achy backs for the ambience of lanterns hung from trees above and smells of barbeques and lemon grass, reminding us we were in South East Asia.
The sounds of the sea, the warmth of the breeze, the remains of the full moon, prompting us that we were there to relax. Nobody was ‘whooping’ at the glory of the moon while their mates did ‘how low can you go’ under a flaming pole and drinking cocktails from buckets, not on our island. I think we need to go to Koh Phangan for our next full moon trip – two sides of the same coin. Abe developed laryngitis – loving the sound of his own croak and Patti came home with bronchitis. I don’t think it was to do with the hedonism of Ko Samet unless they’d been sneaking off to Koh Paghnan while we were on the veranda.
A group of young boys from 8-11 years in long shorts with brown slender bodies, gathered in front of our table one evening. They juggled fire quite spectacularly nunchuks aflame, a hula hoop set alight and spun around the narrow waist of another boy as he paddled in the waves. They were a bit too close for comfort and had chosen under our table as their paraffin stash. Abe declared them his heroes. Their skills were incredible and shit all over my ‘walk the dog’ yoyo trick acquired at the same age. They didn’t come around the tables to ask for money afterwards so it didn’t feel exploitative or wierd.
Koh Samet proved to be our best family weekend break to date. We tend to hire a minibus for our trips and usually request a DVD player to protect the kids from enduring ‘I spy with my little eye’ games. Neither of them can spell so they’d be shit at it. Our driver was somewhat of a Mr Bean fanatic and we watched 3 CDs of slapstick back to back, much to Abe’s delight. Before arriving home he treated us to some disco tunes which could well have been the soundtrack to Rita, Sue and Bob too. Wandi greeted us back at the ranch, she’d been shopping for jeans with her sister and had enjoyed a long family weekend, though when she said “last night I sleep with my son”, I think she meant she slept over at his house.