Chapter 454

13 Nov

Pivotal moments. When they are happening, you don’t necessarily think to yourself, “Hello, pivotal moment alert”, but as past events become distilled into that narrative entitled Life So Far, they stand out, like chapter headings in a novel. Looking back, I can instantly recall a few classics from my own story: Chapter 8: The Day Dad Bought me my First Harmonia; Chapter 17: The Day I Nearly Cut my Tongue in Half and Blamed it on the Boy Sitting Next to Me; Chapter 421: The Day Jess Walked into the Workshop at the Christmas Decorations Factory.  

At the time, the significance of such an event is often drowned out by the everyday minutiae occurring around it. When I first me Anthony, I was newly married, newly emigrated and disconcertingly jobless. Fed up with the haphazard nature of agency work, but patently unqualified for anything else, I had found Anthony’s details on my agency’s list of ‘permanent clients’. Greatly appealing was the word ‘permanent’, as was the job’s location, one suburb across from my own. Everything else about this assignment was frankly terrifying. The list of medical issues in Anthony’s care plan ran on for pages: C1 quadriplegia, total paralysis from the neck down, unable to breath independently, permanent tracheostomy, unable to regulate own temperature, one kidney etc etc… In what I now understand to be a typically pathology-focussed medical summary, barely any mention was made of Anthony’s personality, personal life…personal strengths. I was very, very close to bailing out on our meet-and-greet session, partly because I felt I would be dangerously out of my depth, and partly because, if all you saw of Anthony was his care plan, you’d be forgiven for thinking that his quality of life must be non-existent. How pivotally wrong you would be.

For Anthony, there was no doubting it when the most pivotal moment of his life came along. At the age of 6, he was hit by a car whilst walking home from school. This was more than the start of a new chapter; it was the beginning of a whole new book, for him and for his family. His is a narrative in which Bad Luck and Good Luck constantly jostle for dominance. It’s bad luck to be hit by a car and to injure your spine at the highest possible level. And yet, if this is to happen, it is remarkably fortunate that it happens to happen outside a healthcare centre and that a doctor, seeing the immediate aftermath and instantly sensing the seriousness, commences CPR straight away. With a C1 injury, you stop breathing. If deprived of oxygen for more than 3 minutes, your brain becomes permanently damaged, which is why so few survive suffering this “hangman’s” injury. From the moment of impact until this very day, more than 30 years later, Anthony has not taken a single breath unaided. In this 30-year relay-race, with that doctor firing us out of the starting blocks, one person has passed the baton of respiratory responsibility to the next in an unbroken chain, and despite some fumbles, it has never been dropped.

It is also decidedly lucky to be equipped with an innate temperament of boundless positivity, and to be born into the kind of family who will fight tooth-and-nail on your behalf, endure years of sleepless nights and endless days in court to get you the things you need to thrive, and to instil in you an extraordinary sense of self-efficacy and resilience. Victimhood is not in Anthony’s repertoire of attitudes.

When I arrived for my interview, Anthony was still being positioned in his chair, but told me to go through and wait for him in his study. Shortly afterwards he joined me and we chatted, me sitting slightly awkwardly in what I think was a child’s rocking chair, him looming above me on his magnificent mobile throne. It wasn’t the longest conversation ever, but we covered a lot of ground, jumping from one topic to the next… did I like music? Yes. Had I ever worked with a phrenic nerve pacer? No. Would I be available to come on a trip to South Africa? Huh?? 

“He’s amazing”, I said to Jess on the phone afterwards. “We’re the same age, we have a lot in common. I’m going to give it a go”.

Nearly 5 years later, gazing through the wide lens of hindsight, it’s easy to see that had I not met this man, the very idea of a career in nursing would never have occurred to me. Suddenly, I found myself working side-by-side with nurses and learning, in the most practical fashion, about anatomy and pathophysiology, ventilation and perfusion, the internal logic and special quirks of the human nervous system, as well as the fine art of Keeping Someone Alive. Before long, the clinical side of things had transitioned from being frightening to fascinating, and learning all this stuff whilst caring for someone so downright enthusiastic about life was transformative for me. As I began my formal nursing training, I continued to have lightbulb moments, as a new concept learnt in class would suddenly cast light on a previously opaque idiosyncrasy of Anth’s condition. I clearly remember, for example, the day I learnt about the meandering miracle that is the vagus nerve…

“Anth! I now know why you can’t breath, but you can digest food! It all makes sense. You’re TEXTBOOK!”

“Tell me, Henry!”

“Well, there’s this nerve…”


The trip to South Africa was more than just a passing comment. The practicalities (health insurance, equipment hire, 24-hour staffing etc etc) and expenses (wages, flights, accommodation, film crew (!)) involved in such a trip had taken years to iron out. Indeed, a sizeable chunk of the funding came from Anthony himself, who, a couple of years previously, had entered the TV quiz show Millionaire Hotseat and bagged himself a cool $50,000. Drop into this video at 8 minutes to see him clean up. It’s pretty epic:

So I came on board at just the right time and it was during this trip – this exhausting, life-affirming trip – with myself as the only non-nurse amongst 5 staff, that the cogs really started to whirr. And now, years later, with my Masters of Nursing Science all wrapped up and a dream nursing role awaiting me in the new year, I find myself working my last few shifts with Anthony. I’ve been just one of many hundreds of carers who have passed a period of time in his company. I hope I’ve done my small part in keeping him moving on his already remarkable trajectory, but for me, Chapter 454: The Day I Met Anthony, was one that pivoted me off on a new, exciting heading, and for that, Anth, I’d like to say: thanks mate.


*                 *                *


Briefly, in other news… back to things Nepalese. Do you remember I mentioned about that 14 year old girl, Samjana, who we brought down the mountain to hospital? She had a huge necrotic wound burrowing into her heal and a worrying growth at the base of her spine. Well, thanks to the donations that have come in, she has successfully undergone surgery, with no less than three surgeons in attendance. They removed a pretty enormous and angry-looking tumour from her spine and we are currently awaiting biopsy results to learn more about it. Raj and Kushab were with her beforehand and afterwards, and they report that she is recovering well. We are hopeful at this stage that she may not have to lose the foot, which is a far more optimistic prospect than she was facing a couple of weeks ago. There is still a long road ahead for Samjana, and financial assistance is sorely needed for whatever happens next, so if you feel like helping out, you can do so here:


In less than a week now Jess and I will be jumping aboard our budget airline flight to Sri Lanka, where a wedding and other adventures, no doubt, await. I’ll be reporting back.

Thanks Legends,


Hen x




Nepal Week 2: Births, Deaths and the Bits In-between

3 Nov

In my early twenties I spent a couple of years working as an undertaker in South London. I was struck pretty early on by the contrast between the shear scale of the funeral industry (people will not stop dying) and its virtual invisibility. I had never seen a dead body before I started working there, and I don’t think this experience is particularly unusual. Funeral operatives have become masters of stealth, Men and Women in Black who slide around the peripheries of your awareness in unmarked vans, discretely ferrying the Recently-Departed from A to B, so that the Still Here can carry on their normal lives, unmolested by that most inconvenient truth of all: everybody carks it. Death really gets in the way of our plans, doesn’t it? So we don’t like to talk about it and we certainly don’t like to see it.

Things are different in Nepal. Here, death is something we’ve all been through many, many times before and each death is but a linkage point in an almost infinitely long chain of reincarnations. So death is visible, open–welcomed even–and inextricably woven into everybody’s everyday experience. It is certainly nothing to be feared, and this perhaps goes some way to explaining the atmosphere we encountered when we visited a Nepalese old folks home, at the start of our second week of placement.

The home was in Devghat, one of the holiest of Hindu sites, situated at the conflux of two holy, roiling rivers . The holiest part of this holy town is reached by crossing a wholly terrifying suspension footbridge. But vertigo aside, there was a beautifully calm feeling about this place. Everyone we passed seemed to be very old and very smiley, and all were dressed in the most optimistic shades of orange. When we arrived at our destination we were shown around to a backyard area. Plastic chairs were brought out and lined up, and hey presto!.. we had a clinic. Gradually, our bright-eyed, spritely new friends began to emerge.

And what a gang they were… sometimes, only pictures will do a thing justice, so I refer you to these, taken by my good friend Elsa, with her excellent camera and even better eye:

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Interspersed between dancing, hugging, eating and bicep-flexing, we managed to do a bit of nursing. But really, apart from some general aches and pains and a few athlete’s feet, there wasn’t a whole heap wrong with this crowd. In contrast to my previous experiences of nursing homes, I was amazed to find that everybody was apparently quite happy–not to mention ambulant, self-caring and (most refreshingly), continent. In fact, the whole experience was as much of an enriching tonic for us as it was for our hosts, and I, for one, skipped out of the building at the end of our visit feeling 10 years younger. (On our way back through the town even I stocked up on orange clothing, in the rather optimistic hope that it might help me secure a long and happy life).

We recrossed the mighty grey rivers by boat, passing the point, at the convergence of the two, where the dead are cremated and sent on their final voyage downstream. And if we follow the logic of reincarnation, then the immaterial, immutable essences that formerly animated the burning bodies set adrift here, will now, reembodied, be journeying down smaller, darker waterways as they are squeezed and coaxed into being born anew. Little did we know that the very next day, we would be lucky enough to witness this moment, not once but twice, as our adventures took us to the other end of the mortal coil…

Previously, during our stay in the mountains, we had had the pleasure of working alongside a very gentle and knowledgable obstetrician, who told us that before we left Nepal, he would love to show us around his hospital. The opportunity came the day after our visit to Devghat, and our friend was good to his word. Having placed his long queue of patients on indefinite hold, he led us off through the corridors, wards and departments of this heaving, hot and slightly oppressive public hospital, patiently answering our questions as he went. The last stop on the tour was Maternity. Here, we passed by a series of rooms, each containing women in progressively more advanced stages of labour, until, at the end of the corridor, we were ushered through a door on the left and into the Birthing Room. In this bright, concrete space, as curtains gently billowed in the warm breeze, giving passers-by a fleeting but candid view of proceedings, three women were reclined, legs in stirrups, actively, well… birthing. And so it was that before our very (wide) eyes, two new human beings popped into existence within the space of five minutes. Whilst obviously a routine occurrence for most people in this room, which typically stages around 60 births a day, for myself and some of the other uninitiated among us, this brief episode was as profound as it was unexpected. If I had hair, it would have been standing on end. I do have eyes, and to my surprise, when I blinked at last, I found they were leaking.

Having passed Monday with the Soon-to-be-Departed and Tuesday with the Newly-Hatched, we spent the rest of the week with humans who were somewhere on the road in-between. On Wednesday we were hosted by Raj and Kushab at the farmstead where they had grown up. Here, in response to the number of burns injuries we had seen in the mountains, we split into groups and had a go at making simple clay ovens; something people might be able to build in their homes instead of having open fires, into which it is all too easy to fall.

The huge diversity of experiences available within the nursing profession has always been one of its major appeals for me, but still, I never imagined that one fine day I’d be mashing up cow shit, mud and water with my bare hands, in the name of preventative healthcare. It was fun. An atmosphere of friendly–but nonetheless genuine–competitiveness pervaded proceedings as we broke off into our respective teams. I wish I could tell you that with the combined intelligence and ingenuity at their disposal, the two Melbourne Uni teams were able to revolutionise Nepalese cooking practices forever. Alas, the efforts of my team in particular, whilst admittedly more conceptual than practical, were broadly met with blank incomprehension, followed by great general amusement. We called our visionary creation the BamPoo Oven, in honour of its two chief construction materials: bamboo and poo. Despite the widespread skepticism of our colleagues, once the bamboo had burned away and the poo had hardened a little, we did manage to perch a cooking vessel on top of the oven and bring a small amount of water to the boil. But yeah, perhaps not a design classic.

On the other side of the farmyard, Raj and Kushab had teamed up with some Dutch volunteers and built this seriously impressive, fiery-eyed, double-stove topped affair:


Having come up with a design that actually works, their team won and to celebrate, we all quaffed beer and barbecued chickens under the shade of the lychee trees. I spied my chance and grabbed a quick photo with Raj and Kushab, legends that they are.


The final week was winding up, and the following morning we drove out to the next province along from Chitwan and there, in the blazing heat, we staged our last health camp with an excitable horde of 100 or so children. Standing knee-deep in a river, we went through hand-hygiene and toothbrushing, before performing an en-mass de-headlousing operation with combs, river water and a powerful brew of pulped raw mustard seeds. Here, we can see our friend Duane (another legend), gamely demonstrating the procedure and smiling throughout, despite having an excruciatingly stingy, mustard-clogged scalp.

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After this was done we set up another makeshift clinic and, feeling exceedingly nursey by now, did our best to deal with whatever was presented to us. Despite being without doctors this time, we put our heads together and had a pretty good session. It was an enjoyable, confidence-boosting end to an extraordinary placement, and I’ll say now that I couldn’t imagine a finer bunch of soon-to-be nurses to have shared it with.

And so we came to our final night together, with half the team heading off trekking and the rest of us sloping back to Katmandu the following morning. There was beer, a barbecue and an appropriately flamboyant/downright-drunken dance-off of between us and our infinitely more coordinated hosts. I think I may have pulled out the Angus Young scissor-kick dance more times than was strictly necessary, but it was that kind of a night. For Kerrie, our clinical educator/surrogate mother/all round magical person, we sang a  song we had been working on- “Nursing Queen”, sung to the tune of “Dancing Queen”. It made her cry, in a good way.

Goodbyes aren’t much fun, and neither is writing about them, so we’ll just skip ahead to the present. Assignments finished, job secured for next year and another exciting trip just around the corner, I have to say that life is passing through a pretty peachy patch at the moment. Plans are already being formulated for a return to Nepal, this time with Jess, hopefully early in 2019. In the meantime, I will endeavour to keep you informed of exciting/disturbing/amusing happenings, as and when they occur.

All the very best,


Hen x

Nepal: Week 1

17 Oct

Hello Friends,

Sometime I have a vague image of every person I know living in a very tall apartment building. As the levels go up, the people become incrementally more fabulous, until we find, in the penthouse, a very special collection of individuals who are so bloody wonderful that some of them are sprouting wings. This categorisation is, of course, entirely subjective, not to mention judgemental, but that’s ok: I’m the landlord. Whilst people arrive and shuffle around the lower and middle floors almost without my noticing, I always get the same feeling of certainty when someone moves in upstairs. In the course of this post I would like to introduce you to two of the newest residents…

Dragging my suitcase from Kathmandu airport into the dusty bustle of waiting taxis, I spied my name, scrawled in red biro on a crumpled piece of paper, grasped in the hands of a kind-faced man. This was Raj, the first of my new top-floor tenants. He hugged me warmly, like an old friend, and with reassuring words and gestures shepherded me into a car. The extent of this man’s awesomeness had not yet been revealed to me, but I had a pretty strong inkling from that very first moment.

Along with seven other lucky student nurses, I’m here in Nepal to complete my final clinical placement. Before heading to the hills though, we spent a couple of days in Katmandu. Kathmandu sits in a valley surrounded by mountains that are often obscured by smog. Its streets, alleys and passageways form a traffic-jammed mycelium web that threads its way below cracked, teetering buildings, some unfathomably ancient, some still being born. Post-earthquake repair is in full swing, but you get the feeling that this city has been breaking apart and patching itself back together for centuries. It is relentless, noisy, hot, smelly and wonderful.

In Kathmandu there’s a temple and a god for everything you could need in life, and for afterwards too. Hoping for an uncomplicated trip to the dentist? There’s a shrine for that. Want to usher a terminally ill relative towards a peaceful passing? The euthanasia temple is the place for you. And I’ve seen some hectic wiring in my time, but Kathmandu has to take first prize in the Most Hectically Wired City I’ve Ever Seen competition, with telegraph poles creaking under the shear weight of the crazy nests of black cable they support. But still…it all seems to work.

Breaking free of Kathmandu by road is a bit like trying to get out of Glastonbury festival on the Monday morning. Queues of buses and trucks lurch forwards briefly, kicking up clouds of dust, only to inexplicably stop again and sit idly stewing in their own exhaust fumes for extended periods of time. It took us around nine hours to reach our destination. Once we were free of Kathmandu’s suburbs, the going became quicker but exponentially more bumpy. Our nursing hive-mind, already keenly attuned to each individual’s bowel habits, quickly identified this journey as a very effective Intervention for Increasing Bowel Motility. Raj was with us all the way, jollying and cheerleading us along with periodic shouts of “My dear friends! Mind your everything!”

We arrived at The Hotel Mona Lisa in the town of Sauraha, nestled on the edge of the Chitwan National Park, well-jostled but also well-happy. We were greated by the hotel staff, who garlanded us with flowers, pressed red, gloopy rice into our foreheads and plied us with sprite. And at the front of the line of welcomers was the hotel owner, Kushab, who is not only Raj’s brother and virtual doppelgänger, but is also a legend of epic proportions and yes, you’ve guessed it, now lives in that exclusive residence at the top of my imaginary apartment block.

Kushab is gregarious, assertive, hilarious and jolly whilst Raj is s little softer and a little more shiny-eyed. Both men are masters in the art of the spontaneous bear-hug, and both are utterly tireless in their drive to improve the lots of those for whom life is a struggle in this, a particularly poor part of a particularly poor nation. The work that we are helping with here is but a tiny piece of an extraordinary puzzle of projects and initiatives that have already brought vast improvements to the lives of thousands of people in the remote, rural communities here. Through hustling and haggling, carousing and charming, but mostly through plain hard graft, they have been able to deliver running water, healthcare and education to a population who have been otherwise forgotten.

The very next day we rose at 5am and made for the mountains, alongside other volunteers, both local and international, and a troupe of wiry, tireless porters who bounded ahead of us, up treacherous short-cuts, with food and medical supplies for the community we were visiting. It was hot-going, but we all put in a solid effort and reached Kolbhanjyan in around 9 hours. We could see the small collection of buildings from across the valley, and as we descended the final ridge we spotted the welcoming committee, a brightly coloured congregation awaiting us on a raised platform of stone at the entrance to the village. As we each ducked through the welcoming bamboo arch we were once again garlanded and splodged with red rice, to the sound of generous applause from our hosts. It was enough to make us feel terribly heroic, even though all we’d really done was climb a big hill.

Feasting followed by singing and dancing around a bonfire was the order of the evening. The villagers sang a question-and-answer style song that went back and forth between the men and the women, whilst the young girls and boys spiralled their arms and shimmied their hips. For our part, we smashed out “You’re the One That I Want” from Grease, followed by a thigh-slapping rendition of “I Will Survive”. Both parties were suitably perplexed by the other’s performance, but the evening was a good ice-breaker. After a final round of hot potatoes and Nepalese-style barbecued chicken, we settled down for the night, 14 of us on the earth floor of the school house. We felt we had given a good account of ourselves and partied pretty hard. It was about 8.30pm.

The following morning we rose early for the health camp. People from near and far afield began filtering into the village at around 7.30am. In the morning, having been taught the Nepalese for “Hello”, “Sit here” and “Give me your arm”, we did nursey things like taking blood pressures and doing other observations. Sitting in with the doctors as they assessed the patients was a pretty eye-opening experience. There were lots of burns from the open fires that people have in their homes, plus plenty of broken bones and other orthopaedic issues that result from a life of hardship on a mountain. We also saw things like glandular tuberculosis and rheumatic heart disease that are pretty much non-existent in all but the most disadvantaged communities in Australia. We fixed people up as best we could and if they were in serious strife, Kushab was straight onto the phone, arranging for them to be brought down the mountain to the hospital. One girl in particular was in a fair bit of trouble. We’ve set up a gofundme sight for her, so if you’d like to find out more and maybe chip in, the link’s at the bottom.

In the afternoon we did an education session with the children, teaching them tooth-brushing and hand-washing. Raj was right there with us, being downright adorable with the kids, who were themselves downright adorable.

The whole experience so far has been an absolute privilege. Our little group was tight to start with and this first week has only made us tighter. After another, even wilder night of bonfire shenanigans I felt that the imaginary tower block in my mind had become dangerously top-heavy with goodness. It was with sore backs and heavy hearts that we bade farewell the next morning and tumbled back down the mountain to soft beds and cool showers.

I must apologise for the lack of photos in this post. Plenty have been taken and I will endeavour to stick some in next time. In the meantime, please have s quick squizz at this link about Samjana, the girl we brought down with us to the hospital:

I think that will about do for now. There’s heaps more to tell, and tell I shall, but probably when I get home and have a computer, because my thumbs are aching from writing this on my phone. Thanks for reading and please feel free to follow/comment/make suggestions. Or not- whatever blows your hair back.


Lots of love,




Back in the Saddle: Six Years in Four Paragraphs

6 Oct

Hello Friend(s). It’s been 6 years, almost to the day, since the urge to blog was last upon me. The original narrative–my over-land adventure from Devon to Korea, where I would become a teacher and possibly start a K-pop empire–abruptly lost its momentum, you may recall, due largely to my realisation that teaching was well-difficult and stressful. This realisation lead to visa-retractions and necessitated my beating a hasty retreat back to the UK, flying in one day the same distance it had taken me 3 months and many memorable mishaps to cover on my outward journey.

Back home, with all my carefully laid plans unravelled around me, I found myself at the loosest of loose ends. Happily, this was the moment fate chose to introduce me to my future wife, Jess. She was, and still is, Australian, and was living in London on borrowed visa-time. I was, and still am, impulsive and in love. These factors, combined with my being entirely rudderless, directionless and impressionable, meant that it was probably no surprise to anyone, except perhaps Jess, that 3 months later I was living with her and her parents in the Eastern suburbs of Melbourne.

Since then we’ve been married -twice, for good measure. Jess is now–having completed a gruelling Masters program–a graduate architect and I, after a couple of false starts, think I might also have found my thing (for the time being, anyway): I am on the very verge of being unleashed upon the unsuspecting Australian public, as a registered nurse.

So here we are. I’m not sure where this will go, but the need to write things down has been simmering for a while now. In two day’s time I head to Nepal, where I have my final nursing placement, so the next couple of weeks will no doubt contain some noteworthy happenings and after that, who knows? Jess and I are off on some adventures next month, taking in Sri Lanka and Kerala on our way home to a Devon Christmas. I’ve also been making the odd bit of music over the years (odd, meaning both infrequent and weird). So maybe this will become an adventuring blog, maybe a music-ing blog, maybe a gory nursing blog…or maybe it will, after some initial promise, fizzle out like a disappointing indoor firework, leaving nothing but ash in the shape of a turd and some acrid smoke.

It’s too close to call…


With warm regards,



Episode 9. Just a song.

20 Oct

Here’s the link for song number 5:

It’s a rainy evening kind of a tune and it’s the second waltz, so I’ve called it Waltz 2. Please enjoy thank you.


Hen x





Episode 8. Mission Abort!

22 Sep

Here’s something you might not have expected to read: I’m home. My plans have unravelled in the space of a couple of weeks and I’m sorry to say that it’s all down to one thing: Teaching. Now, who on Earth would want to do that for a living?

It wasn’t the kids – the kids were sweet, polite, adorable even. It wasn’t the school – it seemed a very happy sort of place, with a lovely principal, friendly staff, good school lunches and so on. And it wasn’t being in a foreign place – I LOVED Korea. No, it was just the shear amount of time, energy and stress I had to put into the preparation for and execution of teaching. Some people are clearly cut out for it, and I have a new-found respect and admiration for those people. For some reason I unquestioningly assumed that I was one of them, but I’m not, and the thought of spending a whole year doing something I positively dislike was simply not acceptable to me. So I quit.

Sadly, quitting meant having my Korean work visa revoked, which meant I had to leave pretty sharpish. So, from deciding at around midday on Monday that I’d had enough, it was less than 12 hours before I was on a plane out of there, and by Tuesday evening I was back where I started 4 months ago, in Devon. “Surreal” is a suitable word to describe the experience.

So there we go my friends, that little adventure has come to an end, and with it, my dreams of building a K-pop empire. The closest I got was singing inane nursery rhymes in front of a class of bemused looking Korean children. Such is life.

What now? Well, for the present I’m rather enjoying the novelty of eating pasties, drinking ale and meeting all the new babies that have shown up whilst I’ve been away. What next? Well, I have a few ideas. For a start, there are still 8 songs to give to you. So although this blog has lost all of its narrative, purpose and allure,  it still has a vague reason to exist. I shall therefore continue with the monthly freebees, and if  I think of things to say along the way, so much the better.

I’d like to thank you all for joining me on my travels. Reporting back to you made the whole thing feel far more purposeful and  I hope I managed to adequately express what a frickin’ amazing time I had, even when I was losing my possessions, freaking out on mountains, dodging landslides and getting the shits.

I’ll leave you with one image that for me, sums up the whole experience:


This month’s song is a synthy, melancholic little ditty called “Waltz 1”. Please follow the link below:


Fondest Regards,

Hen x x x


Episode 7. Dogs, cats and speedboats.

25 Aug

I had to spend another week in Bangkok in order to make final arrangements for my Korean working visa, so to make the most of this we decided to get ourselves tailored suits. This is a very pleasant way to spend your time, particularly if you fill the periods between fittings with Chang-towers, bowling alleys and darts boards. This is pretty much what we did with our remaining time in Thailand’s capital. My Dutch Planners would have despaired of me – the closest we came to doing anything cultural was when we stumbled, drunk, upon an international food fair and gorged ourselves on the international food fare.

Due to the inclusion of such essential items of baggage as a trumpet, some framed photographs, a piece of fossilized tree and a Sponge Bob Square Pants Whoopie-Cushion (I’ve still got it Satti – you’re right, it’s an ice-breaker), my wheeled holdall had been split at the seams since about the third day of my journey. The baggage-handlers on Bangkok Airways had very kindly tried to gaffer the whole thing together for me previously, but with the addition of my new suit I decided it was time to upgrade. So with my Korean visa finally obtained, I purchased a black luggage item with approximately the same dimensions (and weight) as a largish chest freezer, and, with my new travelling buddy Autumn, got the hell out of Bangkok.

See? Massive.

Our destination was a small island called Koh Lipe, recommended to us by our very knowledgeable tailor (Tailor On Ten – if you’re ever in Bangkok looking for a suit, look no further). It was a two day journey, the first of which wasn’t much to write home about, spent as it was entirely on a coach, but the second was a bit special. We were collected at 7.30am from our hotel by a very grumpy man in a Subaru saloon. My knowledge of Thai people is pretty limited, but I still wouldn’t mind hazarding a guess that our driver was The Most Grumpy Man in Thailand.

With just a scribbled receipt from a travel agent, we had no clear idea of where our stroppy chauffeur was taking us, or how long it might take. All we got from him were occasional barked commands, such as “Wait here!” and “Stay!”. In our back seat my friend and I chatted and speculated. I suppose we were “shooting the breeze”, passing the time with idle conversation, as I believe is not unusual for two people sitting next to each other in a car.

“Please!¬ Talking more slowly!” came a sudden plea from our driver, who had an expression of pure anguish on his face.

“Oh, sorry. Shall we talk more slowly so you can understand?” I replied, stupidly.

“No!! You two….Talking, talking, all the way! Sleep!”

He required us, quite urgently it seemed, to shut up, and although we were essentially in a taxi – that we had paid for – it seemed wise to do as he asked. It was very hard though – being told-off unexpectedly almost always triggers the giggles in me. In the end I just had to shut my eyes and pretend to sleep, struggling to contain the shudders of laughter that periodically rocked through my body.

I must have eventually drifted off, because the next thing I knew, we were at a port. I got out and heaved my ridiculous suitcase from the boot of the car, wondering what was going to happen next. Our ever-helpful driver jumped straight back into his seat and spun off, yelling a final “Wait here!” as he disappeared in a cloud of bad-tempered dust.

Well, it turns that our that our scribbled receipt now got us ONTO A SPEED BOAT! This was a totally new experience for me. I got myself right up front, strapped on my headphones, and for the twenty minutes or so before I started to feel horribly sick, literally had the time of my life. After that I slunk to the back and just tried to hold it together.


When we finally arrived on Koh Lipe an hour or so later, my new suitcase continued to be the most embarrassing thing I’ve ever owned. It took two men to carry it ashore, and once placed on the sand it immediately began to sink. I was tempted to let it.

To get to the beach we wanted, our last mode of transport for the day was a small scooter with a side-car, driven by what I guessed to be a six year old boy. We somehow managed to balance 4 passengers plus our luggage onto this contraption, and although it was at first extremely reluctant to get us to the top of the island’s only hill, with a little persuasion we were soon wobbling our way down onto a beautiful beach, whose only inhabitants seemed to be a pack of stray dogs. After traipsing around for half an hour or so, my suitcase leaving what looked like tractor tire tracks across the sand, we eventually found an actual person, who said we could rent a bungalow from him for the equivalent of about £6 a night, which seemed more than reasonable.

Later that evening we found one of the few establishments that was open for business on the island. It offered Thai massage, which seemed like just the thing to end a day such as we’d had. As I lay on my front, drifting off to sleep whilst my back was softly pummelled and strolled upon, a stray cat came and nuzzled against my neck. After a few minutes it was purring happily and then it started gently nibbling on my ear. I had no idea whether this was part of the service, but lying there, with the sound of surf crashing on the deserted beach, dogs howling and scrapping in the distance, cat intimately purring and chewing on my lobe, vertebrae cracking; lying there it hit me that I had never been – in every possible sense – further from Devon than I was at this very moment. From a pasty on a chilly Tuesday morning in Plymouth Station to this, in two months. Lordy.

The prospect of my new life in Korea is looming distinctly and slightly nerve-rackingly on the near-horizon now. In order to try and un-addle my travel-addled brain, I set up a small office on the beach and spent some time brushing up on the little Korean I had learnt before I left England. It was a very nice office as offices go, and soon I had a dog too. This dog had obviously always wanted to be an office dog instead of a beach-bum dog, but hadn’t had the opportunity until now. We had a very nice little fantasy life there for a few days.

Our beach-office good-life idyll could not last forever though. Another reason we’d headed to this part of Thailand was that it was very close to the border with Malaysia. To extend our visa-waivers and continue our stay in Thailand, it was necessary for us to do a “visa run”. This is where you leave Thailand, enter another country, say a quick hello and then go back into Thailand again. So long as you get stamps in your passport confirming each of these stages, you get another 15 days. A whole industry has been born out of this technicality. All day, every day, air-conditioned mini-vans and taxis ferry tourists to and from the border. As with Russian beer bags, this is another fine example of good old red tape and loopholes keeping an economy ticking along!

So we had to leave Koh Lipe, and unfortunately I had to let the dog go. I gave her a glowing reference but I think she might have had enough of the office environment anyway. She said she’d probably end up going into business with that stray cat from the massage parlour.

Well, now I’m on another island, and as the fun clock ticks down on my Lovely Journey, each sunset seems to be a little more stunning than the last, each Chang a little sweeter. In a week from now I’ll be wearing a suit and standing in front of a classroom full of children. They will be expecting me to be knowledgeable and authoritative. Structures and schedules are in place, my name is on a list – I’m going back into the system. After all, this whole trip has just been one, very long, commute…

So next time you hear from me I’ll be in The Land of The Morning Calm. There, at last, I can start to make a real band, using the clay of young, innocent minds and the kiln of my bitter obsession. In the meantime, here’s another little ditty from the album. It’s title is “We’re Together/You Dumped Me”, which also happens to be all the lyrics. Handy, eh? No sleeve notes needed.

Hope you like it. I like you.

Henry x