Tuesday, 31 March 2009

A New Bestseller By Andrew Hicks

A Fulani axe, the murder weapon.


“THE KANDINSKY LODE” by Andrew Hicks

Review by Dustin Caldwell embargoed for publication, 1st April 2009.

Andrew Hicks’ new book, “THE KANDINSKY LODE” is notable for reaching far beyond the literary range of “Thai Girl”, his first bestselling novel and “My Thai Girl and I”, a romantic confection of life in rural Thailand.

In a virtuoso exhibition of versatility, “The Kandinsky Lode” weaves a compelling narrative at many multi-textured levels which both entertains and informs. Themes of early Christianity are explored throughout, including the key proposition that myth and religion are inseparable as a conservative continuum and that Emperor Constantine’s ‘acquisition’ of Christianity led to the dominance of a highly assertive religio-political hierarchy.

In Hicks’ story, Desmond Jones, an accountant, lives with his wife Molly in their suburban house in Surbiton in the south of England. One day Des is disturbed to find their lodger, Augustus Dernit, dead in his room, empaled on his computer table by an antique Fulani axe. Nothing has been stolen except an ordinary Toshiba laptop.

The discovery leads Des into a terrifying quest for the hidden secrets of the ancient church during which he comes to fear for his sanity and for his very life. Gussie, as Dernit was known, had managed in his dying breath to leave some vital clues. Des pursues these with an accountant’s zeal, following many blind trails, but revealing truths that no ordinary accountant could ever imagine.

He learns that Gussie had been receiving a series of pop-ups on his computer screen, apparently from an extra-terrestial source. One that popped up just before his murder which he wrote in blood across his desk reads, ‘Iti sapis potanda bigo ne!’

After much research among Gnostic archives, Des discovers this loosely to mean, ‘That’s my story and I’m sticking to it!’ Could these words, he speculates, be attributed to the Virgin Mary herself?

Pursuing his search for the ‘Divine Toshiba’, the key to the mystery, Des is intrigued by repeated numerical references in Christian writings… the Ten Commandments, the Seven Deadly Sins and the Thirty Nine Articles to name but a few. Could God himself be an accountant who has made Desmond in his own image with a special role to play on earth?

And how, he asks, could Saint Peter on Judgment Day have sufficient data processing capacity to call up spread sheets of sins and good works without causing unacceptable queues at the Pearly Gates?

Then Des himself starts getting celestial emails from above. Extraordinarily, he seems to have replaced Gussie as God’s chosen intermediary on earth. These divine messages tell him that Jesus had a twin brother, named Judas Thomas, who was brought to France by Joseph of Arithmetea (sic) accompanied by Maximinus, one of the seventy two disciples who later became the first bishop of Aix. Des again is fascinated by the numerical references… even the name Aix contains the Roman numeral nine.

The emails continue, leading him to an obscure symbologist, Joseph Kandinski who is obsessed with finding the modern equivalent of the lode stone and the art of alchemy. Could the answer be the silicon chip, the modern source of fabulous wealth? Then the messages start referring obliquely to the Second Coming of Christ, to the multiple filial phantasm and the sacred messianic emanation.

From their joint researches they soon discover that the second coming is not in the person of Christ himself but of his resurrected twin, Judas Thomas who remarkably is already present upon earth. He has come, it seems, not as an evangelistic Christ-man figure but in the guise of a wealthy computer entrepreneur and philanthropist. His role is to give to mankind the benefit of God’s enhanced IT expertise, thus throwing new light on the expression, ‘Jesus Saves’.

Des learns that God runs MSDOS (Messianic Saviour Divine Operating System) for decision-making on Judgment Day, uses the Pearly Gates database and for word processing, God’s Word and Good Works. Could these divine software prototypes have new applications for mankind, thus indicating the worldly identity of the second son of God, already here on earth.

“The Kandinsky Lode” is thus an assured piece of fiction which seamlessly knits together the past and present and is as much an ingenious and blazingly good yarn as it is an exceptional piece of scholarship. Profoundly erudite, it is an intricate and intensely pleasurable read in which the writer has far excelled his novel, “Thai Girl”, his strangely successful first offering.

Not yet available at Asia Books, Bookazine and other good bookshops.

Sunday, 29 March 2009

Sleepless in Bangkok

Bangkok isn't all temples and glittering spires.

It's a bizarre mix of brutal concrete and glitzy commercialism...

...but it can be cheap and cheerful and surprisingly human at times.

I always thought that retirement was going to be easy. You just sit around and watch the telly and eat too much food.

Like hell it is! Sometimes it can be horrendous.

We’ve just done the nine hour bus journey from the village to Bangkok and arrived at our grubby room in Sukhumvit Soi 71 at four in the morning. One of the objectives was to arrange reprinting of THAI GIRL and MY THAI GIRL AND I as stocks are low, but the first job was to move flats, to pack up a horrific accumulation of six years of stuff and move to our new place in Sukhumvit Soi 97.

A very tolerant taxi driver stowed a mountain of bags and we went and paid the deposit, signed the agreement and got the keys to our new room on the eighth floor of the nicely named ‘Romance Mansion’. Built I think as a hotel, it’s all very decent with polished granite corridors and everything as neat and clean as the old place was disgusting.

While I was to go back to the hospital the next day, Cat faced the major job of hiring a pickup and transporting the rest of our furniture, boxes and a small stock of books to Soi 97. I won’t bore you with details but having several family members in attendance as always, there were now five of us living in a room full of boxes (this is Thailand and that’s normal!) but yes, it’s been challenging.

Then we went to Tesco which is close by and bought a new TV which supplied Cat with her principle necessity in life and slowly we began to sort things out.

We also bought a new blender/liquidizer which is still my main necessity in life. Sadly when I went to the hospital to have the wiring in my broken jaw removed, things didn’t work out. On releasing the rubber ties which keep my jaw firmly closed, my mouth opened for the first time in a month but my jaw sagged sideways and my teeth wouldn’t meet or bite properly. The jaw seemed to be displaced just as it was after the accident.

Unlike me, the surgeon didn’t seem to be too alarmed and told me the bindings would have to be on for at least another two weeks so we are now staying in Bangkok until I go back to see him again. This was quite a shock and a big set back as I thought it should now be healed, but I shall lower my expectations and be prepared for the long haul.

Having one’s jaw broken and being unable to eat or speak is nothing though to the ghastly trauma of applying for a British tourist visa.

I very much want to take Cat with me to see family in England this summer. Back in the village I’d spent the best part of a week scanning the three different websites that contain the necessary info on applying for visas, putting together and copying the papers and filling in the application form. Having done this four times before and as paperwork should be second nature for a lawyer it should have been easy, but it wasn’t.

For example, there was ambiguity about which application form should be used. I went to the original laws that underly the process and I three times emailed the Embassy help line but got no clear resolution of the problem. So I filled in both forms to cover ourselves. It is all so very, very complex.

While the visa form for the Schengen countries of Europe is just two sides, the British form is like a book and asks ninety three questions such as ‘how much money do you, (the applicant) give to your relatives?’ and ‘are you a terrorist?’.

Anyway, we spent a long and horrible morning submitting the application and maybe I’ll tell the full story later when we’ve waited the estimated fifteen days for our case to be processed.

Right now my point is that here am I, a sixty two year old law abiding, tax paying citizen married to my Thai wife of six years who is not a terrorist desperately wanting to be able to take her to see family and friends in England and I’m as anxious as hell. We've been there together three times before and she didn't overstay but nothing is ever open and shut. The Embassy can make us wait weeks for an interview if they have any queries and they have an absolute discretion to refuse the visa… and it’ll be all my fault for getting the papers wrong.

Our flights are booked, the timing arranged with the folks back home but it could all get totally screwed up. I can tell you that I have not slept well for the last couple of weeks because of this and what with trying not to die of starvation because I cannot open my mouth it has been a busy and difficult time.

Do I by law have a universal human right to family life?

In theory I do but I can tell you it ain’t easy to assert it. Retirement abroad can at times be challenging.

On the other hand, if I were alone and retired in England there wouldn’t be three noisy young females sleeping in my bedroom at night keeping me awake and I’d bored out of my mind.

At least living here with Cat there’s never a dull moment.

Copyright: Andrew Hicks The ‘Thai Girl’ Blog March 2009

Tuesday, 24 March 2009

Move Over Buddha!

The 'Pu Ta' animist shrine by the pond in the rice fields.

Making offerings for the village's most powerful spirit.

Pu yai baan, the village head, blesses the offerings with water.

The old ladies pour offerings of rice whisky.

Not a bad way to start the day really...

... with alcohol and chicken to follow.

And if his gizzard's straight it'll be a good year.

But her future's not on rails. The world is changing.

A Ceremony Older Than Buddhism

I have just watched a remarkable village ceremony, a propitiation of the spirits at a special shrine that owes no reference whatsoever to Buddhism.

I write in my recent book, “MY THAI GIRL AND I”, about the importance of Buddhism in our village and how it coexists happily with older animist belief in the spirits of the fields and the spirits of the dead. So many of the ceremonies that I see around here, despite the Buddhist trappings, are thus in fact ‘animistic’ in origin, ancient spirit worship much older than Buddhism.

While the Christian god is a jealous god, Buddhism has no god at all and so perhaps can coexist more easily with the spirits of much older beliefs.

I talk (at page 129 of the book) about the special village shrine, the pu-ta which uniquely has no relation whatever to Buddhist styles but looks remarkably like an African shrine to animist spirits. I’ve read that at these village shrines there are two major ceremonies every year but at the time of writing my book I’d never seen them.

Now at last I have and it was truly fascinating.

The other day Cat told me there was to be a big ‘Buddha party’ down by the pond that morning and told me to bring my camera. I was feeling almost too lazy to go but thank goodness I didn’t miss it. She went ahead with some chicken she’d killed and cooked while I followed on my bike.

The shrine by the pond is a square shed of concrete blocks with a corrugated roof, totally unadorned which could be a pump house or small storage hut. The front is open and inside is a raised area on which stand two roughly carved figures, male and female, she vaguely European, he with a droopy Mexican moustache. Scattered around them are several carved wooden rifles, a few chunks of laterite stone and some plastic bowls with the dried up remains of food offerings in them.

You see these shrines on the fringes of every village overlooking the rice fields and they’re always much the same, often newly built, plain and white, in stark contrast to the bright style of Buddhist temples.

Anyway, as I arrived on my bike that day, perhaps fifty people were hanging around the shrine, mainly women and children chatting happily in the easy way they do. Inside on the floor, wall to wall, were offerings of food, mainly cooked chicken and bottles of lao khao, Thai rice whisky.

The pu yai baan, our village head soon appeared and splashed water around the figures on the altar while two old women poured offerings of alcohol into a bowl, everyone casually looking on. Then those who’d made offerings retrieved them and started breaking the heads off the chickens, while an old woman threw buckets of water up onto the roof, laughing and joking. The main focus of the morning was then to examine the gizzards of the chickens.

I’d previously seen this done just after Cat and I had first come to the village… they’d consulted the spirits to see if our future together looked positive. If the gizzard from the neck of the chicken they’d killed was reasonably straight we’d be okay but if not it wouldn’t work out. Old uncle gave the thumbs up, saying we’d be fine… at least that is if Cat didn’t talk too much!

Now beside the pond, having made their offerings and done their duty to the spirits of the pu ta, everyone seemed happy with their gizzards and they all just wandered off home, looking forward to a special meal of rice and chicken.

As usual I asked Cat for her interpretation of the ceremony and it’s to ask for good fortune in the coming year, which of course means a plentiful rice harvest. I wondered too if the throwing of water was a symbolic request for good rains which is the key to a farmer’s prosperity.

As customs such as these are universal over a wide region, and having no holy books, I’m sure that the exact beliefs vary from place to place. I also suspect that they’re not very precise… the ritual simply carries on by habit from year to year and generation to generation because that’s just what you always have to do.

I’ve read that the pu-ta is the chief shrine of the village, the spirit itself deriving from an ancient ancestor who, if duly venerated, like a father figure will care for his ‘children’. However, if a village is racked with drought and illness and other misfortunes, then the influence of the pu-ta may wane because he has neglected this duty. The pu-ta is the central reference for social order, a refuge in times of trouble and a protection against danger. While he may punish the villagers for their misdeeds, they will look for other protectors if they suffer bad times despite having honoured his shrine.

The ceremony that I saw suggests that the old beliefs or practices remain strong in our village… everyone knew this was to be the day and had killed and cooked a chicken as an offering. Rituals such as this will continue though, even when the essential beliefs are slipping. The visit to the shrine was a pleasant social occasion to look forward to and a small investment to assure future security. As Thailand becomes more and more urbanised it will however become a sad affair for the old people left behind in the villages who still remember the old ways.

I now wonder how the little girl I photographed at the scene will remember ceremonies such as this one and what they’ll mean to her as she grows up and moves away from home. Her very traditional old grandmother was one of the crones offering alcohol to the spirit of the temple, while the tiny girl was in a ‘Thomas the Tank Engine’ tee shirt.

So where will this child’s life lead her now? Her family is poor and she’ll probably leave school early to go to Bangkok to earn pitiful wages. Despite her village upbringing, life for her will be very different to that of her grandparents. As rice farmers who first had to cut back the forest to make rice fields, facing tigers and elephants and drawing up the ladders at night to keep safe from bandits, for them it’s been hard.

It won’t be easy for their grandchild either and from the sweatshops of the city she may well remember her village childhood with nostalgia and regret.

Andrew Hicks The ‘ThaiGirl’ Blog March 2009

Monday, 16 March 2009

Thai School Girls Made Apsara!

"My Thai Girl and I"... the movie!

A day out of school at Sikoraphum.

School girls hard at work practicing their dance.

And next day transformed into apsaras.

Nearly a thousand years after these figures were carved in stone.

A final bow.

I’ve seen Niagara and a few of the world’s great water falls but none has the impact of the unexpected.

When in Sierra Leone exploring the jungle and pristine beaches to the west of Freetown, we stumbled across a small waterfall that was at least as memorable as Niagara. Following the sound of thundering waters, suddenly there it was, perfect, untouched, unvisited and with so much magic added by surprise.

Not far from our sleepy rice village in Isaan, we’ve recently had a similar experience, uplifting in its beauty and revelation, this time a display of traditional Thai dance at the ancient Khmer temple of Sikoraphum.

We had staying with us in our village home in Surin province some documentary makers, who were with us to shoot preliminary footage for a film version of MY THAI GIRL AND I, the book about my life in Thailand with Cat. As nothing much ever happens here, it was going to be hard to find things for them to shoot.

When you’ve seen one dry rice field you’ve seen the lot so I decided to take them to see the temple at Sikoraphum. Dating from the Angkor era and almost a thousand years old, the temple truly is a gem. It’s well preserved and maintained and has a very special atmosphere indeed.

Usually it’s deserted and there’s hardly a soul there but on arriving we found the lawns around the temple occupied by hundreds of school children from the nearby Sikoraphum Phisai School. A teacher explained to us that they were out of the class rooms for a few days for a special ‘integrated learning’ project, using trigonometry for example to measure the height of the temple stupas. And what’s more some of the school girls were practicing for a traditional Thai dance display to take place the very next day.

No movie maker would miss an opportunity like this so we came back the following day and the dance was even more special for being so unexpected. Previously while practicing the girls had been in sports clothes as they went through their dance routines, all giggling and worldly. Today in their elaborate costumes they were transported to another time, back to the Khmer empire, the era of Sukhotai or Ayuttaya. These were ordinary school girls made apsara, the lissom messengers of the gods, seen famously carved in stone at the temples of Angkor, and they danced like angels.

The setting was idyllic, the platform of the temple providing a perfect stage. The costumes complemented the warm browns of the temple’s brick work and the dancing itself was impeccable. I was utterly entranced.

The Thais love dance but so often their current obsession with coyote girls gyrating sexily to loud music obliterates all interest in more traditional forms. How sad this is as traditional dance is perhaps the finest of Thailand’s performing arts. Even in Bangkok it’s rarely seen today except in shows put on for tourists and then not always very well done. I was told a few years ago that traditional Thai dance is so much in decline that many of the forms and skills are being lost.

That a provincial school such as this one should thus excel itself in traditional dance and make so creative a use of its local temple is therefore a huge credit to them. I can only say that they gave us an unexpected and special moment which I for one shall certainly long remember.

Thailand, obsessed with sexy dancing from six year olds at school to almost every show on television, has abandoned it's love of traditional dance which is so very sad.


Andrew Hicks The “Thai Girl” Blog March 2009

Sunday, 8 March 2009

In A Pool of My Own Blood!

"Bangkok's bastion of wholesome and culturally acceptable tourism."

Established in the early fifties, it's a quirky place.

And boasts the oldest unchanged hotel lobby in Bangkok.

Koh Samui? No The Atlantas's pool on Soi 2.

"No sex tourists, louts or other degenerates." A principled stand that makes for a pleasant hotel where I always stay and meet interesting people.

But this time I ended up in a pool of blood and on the operating table at the Bumrungrad for three hours.

Now for a whole month I’m unable to see my tongue or even to open my mouth.

That’s how it goes when you end up lying in a Bangkok street in a pool of your own blood.

It all happened like this.

I’d come down on the bus to arrange reprints for my books, THAI GIRL and MY THAI GIRL AND I and to see my American friend Bill who’d just arrived from China. It had all gone pretty well and that fateful day I’d met up for lunch with another old friend, Anthony. We’d both enjoyed the ‘eat all you can’ salad bar at Sizzlers in Thonglor, including a world class chocolate mousse or three and I thought that was going to do me for the rest of the day.

Later at The Atlanta in Sukhumvit soi 2 (www.theatlantahotel.com), an eccentric boutique hotel that’s my home from home in Bangkok, I’d spent the evening chatting to a pleasant English university professor and his family and belatedly had an urge for a slice of pizza. It was nine already and not wanting a full Thai meal, I headed off up the soi and turned right past the Rajah Hotel and into Soi 4. The thought of a quick beer was appealing too but to avoid the hassle of sitting in a bar, I bought a can of Archar from Seven Eleven for 19 baht and sat down on the granite step of a closed shop to drink it and watch the world go by.

Finishing the beer, I got up intent on my pizza but I didn’t get very far. Suddenly the soi was swimming in circles. I remember grabbing at some grey plastic guttering which gave no support and then there was darkness and a terrible crash.

When a suicide gets hit by an inter-city train he must for a nano-second register the impact and I now think I know how it feels. I was puzzled by the crash but soon came round to find myself lying in the street in a pool of my own blood.

First I was conscious of a mouthful of broken teeth, of Thai voices around me, of someone giving me back my glasses, of kind people helping me up and sitting me down on a chair just outside a pool bar. Anxious faces appeared out of the door. Bar workers gave me tissues and one of them sat and attended to me for ten or fifteen minutes.

‘You shouldn’t drink too much,’ she said disapprovingly.

‘I wasn’t drunk at all,’ I replied. ‘Just had a dizzy fit… tired, hungry, low blood pressure maybe.’

My shirt was covered in blood and clutching a handful of bloody tissues, I tried to assess the damage. From the neck upwards it hurt! My jaw ached but I could still talk. I had a big open cut on the bottom of my jaw, my lower lip had been lacerated by what remained of my lower incisors and I’d badly bitten the side of my tongue. And worryingly I was bleeding profusely from my right ear.

Otherwise I had not a mark on me… not on my hands or knees or anywhere. I must have gone down like a rag doll and taken it all on the chin.

The nice bar lady offered to get me a taxi, but no, I said I could walk. With the one-way system a taxi would have to go three sides of a square and it wasn’t far back to The Atlanta. So stupidly I walked and very kindly she came too, talking to me all the way, and delivered me slowly to the door of my hotel.

I got some funny looks at reception but I took my key and climbed the three floors to my room. There I spent one of the worst nights of my life in a lot of pain, bleeding into a towel and getting increasingly anxious.

I am strong, I am invincible… and surely I’d quickly bounce back. Wounds heal very fast. I’d be sore in the morning but in a few days it’d be okay.

Then I began to get increasingly worried.

My tongue was double its usual size and filled my mouth but trying to close my jaw I got a bit of a shock. When the molars to the right side of my mouth touched, the rest of my teeth didn’t touch at all and on feeling below my ears there were some worrying lumps. I must at least have dislocated my jaw, if not broken it.

Come six in the morning I crept gingerly down the stairs to the hotel lobby and there to my joy was a ministering angel in the svelte form of my old friend Le Phoque who’d clearly been up late that night. Roger looked aghast at this bloody apparition but swung into action and promptly called a taxi and bundled me inside. Within five minutes we were in the Emergency Room of the Bumrungrad, one of the world’s top private hospitals. (See www.bumrungrad.com).

People were rushing everywhere and they all seemed to be in a hurry to help me. I was laid on a bed and curtained off and an orderly injected a pain killer while a surgeon, no less, asked me what I’d been up to and cleaned the wounds on my chin. He told me I’d have to be admitted to the hospital if my little problem were to be fixed.

There then began a long perambulation to almost all departments of the hospital except gynecology and geriatrics, with Roger in attendance. I can’t remember what order it all took but I was soon admitted to a four bed ward and within a relatively short time had had an X-ray and CT scan of my head, a chest X-ray, an ECG and consultations with a cardiologist, with a dentist, with an ENT man who told me my eardrum was not perforated and just about every blood test possible. It was all very thorough, proving that the Bumrungrad is an impressive outfit indeed.

The next big event was meeting with the plastic surgeon. He sat me down at a computer screen where I confronted my own death’s head in ghoulish detail. The way the salami slices of the CT scan are made into a 3D image of the skull is quite remarkable but mine told a sorry story. Yes, the doctor told me, the jaw is badly broken, vertically down the front and at the back on both sides in the usual place where it hinges. The lines on the image were hard for me to interpret but smashed would seem a better term than fractured.

The best procedure in this case, he told me, was to do an arch bar intramedullary fixation which involves fitting a metal arch inside the mouth above and below the teeth and then binding these together with rubber ties threaded between each of the teeth. Done under general anesthetic the jaw is manipulated into place so that the lower jaw is biting correctly, the mouth is then sewn closed and the patient is told to put up and shut up and to come back in about a month’s time.

Cat had been told of the accident and dropping everything had got on the bus to Bangkok for the nine hour journey to be with me. It has never been so good to see her and she’s since been by my side feeding me, tolerating my less worthy moments and generally being a tower of strength.

The op was scheduled for 3.30pm on my third day in hospital but with only a few hours to go, it was postponed until 9.30pm because of pressure on the theatres. Hell’s bells, it’s the waiting that’s the worst but I just had to wait.

Then they came for me a little after eight and I was parked in the waiting area with a silly cap on my head contemplating my fate until well after ten. I’ve never had a general anesthetic before. It’s like a brush with death, to be so switched off, so vulnerable, while people you don’t know do unspeakable things to you. I tried not to think too much about it but it wasn’t easy.

The nurses were chatty and fun but with my hair net and a cartoon thick lip like Wallace and Grommit, I wasn’t at my best. One of them said I must be fit because my pulse rate and blood pressure were low, but then maybe that was why I’d crumpled up in the street.

Then at last they wheeled my tumbril into the theatre and bounced me bodily across onto the slab. There was more hanging around and then the anesthetist appeared. As she administered the potion, I felt an unpleasant hot sensation in my left arm and I slipped into nothingness.

The surgeon had a lot of sutures to do in my mouth, sewing my tongue back on and stuff and so the operation must have taken more than three hours. The next thing I knew was the Devil sticking needles into my tongue and I was back in the recovery room. I felt okay except that my body seemed agitated. I just couldn’t settle but kept squirming around. After two hours recovery I was wheeled up to the ward and back to bed for a few hours before the morning light came up.

So that’s my story and it explains why my tongue is now sealed tight in my mouth for a month, and why I can only eat and speak through my teeth. At least I’ve now escaped the hospital and for the next month I’ll just have to get through it and grit my teeth… all too literally.

I have to admit that I just detest hospitals. When they ask if there’s anything I’m allergic to the answer’s always ‘doctors’, and even though the nurses were all Miss Thailand International runners up, I hate being pestered to have my blood pressure taken every half hour while they ask me the same questions again and again.

“How much water you intake and how many times you pee pee/poo poo since mid-day please?”… and so it goes on.

I was also experiencing a terrible pain in my wallet, caused by the hospital’s request for a deposit toward payment of the bill. Their estimate was hugely overestimated and in true Thai style a ‘deposit’ meant pre-payment of the full amount, otherwise the operation would not go ahead. The only way for me to get hold of so much money was to get up from my bed, go to the bank and personally withdraw it.

Actually we took a taxi to the bank and the taxi driver was a wonderful old soul of eighty one. He talked non-stop about his back ache, forgot to put the meter on and when he said, “Mai pen rai, give me whatever you feel like” he earned himself a double fare. To deal with my aches and pains I was just about to spend several times more than he’d earn in a year.

So now I’m back at The Atlanta with Cat taking amoxicillin and trying to work out how not to die of starvation. For someone like me, being almost unable to talk is pretty serious, though at least it’s not life threatening. Cat’s been winning all the arguments by default but she’s also fantastic at finding liquid foods for me so I may not starve after all.

I’m taking a milk formula which claims to be a complete diet and otherwise it’s yoghurts and soups. Cat has been out and bought packets of a rice gruel called ‘joke’ and the hotel kitchen prepares this for me. So my breakfast’s a joke, lunch is a joke and so is dinner. Such is life!

We’ve tried ordering some of the soups in The Atlanta’s excellent restaurant but the smallest particles cause big, big problems. With my teeth sewn tight shut, all my nutrition has to come up a straw and be filtered through the gaps between my lower teeth. To finish a bowl of soup can take an hour if there are bits in it as the straw blocks and the solids block clog my teeth.

After a week, the external injuries on my chin are completely healed but the soft tissue injuries to my mouth are still very sore. All food has to be sucked in over my lower lip which is still twice its normal size and has precious little skin. Probing around with a tooth pick to clear my blocked teeth isn’t fun either. And the stitches on the side of my tongue are truly painful and any speech or movement is excruciating. The stitches themselves and the metal work in my mouth are like a mouthful of barbed wire which chafes the cheeks, so I’m a complete mess.

The rubber fixings are very tight and any movement or swallowing feels as if the teeth are being pulled out of their sockets and causes pain to the fractured hinges of the jaw. Some of the broken teeth are very sensitive and I’m terrified that during the next crucial month something will flare up… a severe tooth ache or an abcess or whatever. The dentist assured me that none of the damaged teeth had pulp exposed so I may be in luck, but it’ll be a big problem if this happens.

It’s torture really, especially when I look at what is one of the best menus in Bangkok and watch all around me in the restaurant tucking in. It’s quite scary that the food’s there in front of me but I can’t eat it.

Yes, it’s a gruel and unusual punishment!

At least when Tantalus couldn’t reach the water and grapes, he could open his mouth and grumble about it. For me, even hissing through my teeth is painful!

Cat and I managed to walk up the soi to Boots this morning where we met an English friend from The Atlanta who’s a dental hygienist and we carefully chose mouth washes, liquid vitamins and a stock of amoxycyllin to keep at home as a back up in case anything flares up.

So all in all, it hasn’t been fun, but given that I was alone when fell, I’ve met nothing but kindness from strangers and from the many friends around me… not to mention having a top hospital only a mile or two away. The Atlanta’s been a haven too. Even if I can’t actually talk to any of my friends, sitting by the pool has helped us take the strain and the hotel staff have been great.

It’ll be a difficult month though and while I still feel quite wobbly, when I’m stronger we’ll get the bus back to the village. The temperature in Isaan has fallen to 39 degrees which isn’t so hot and being home and cooking and sieving food in our own kitchen should be much easier than in a hotel room.

Which only leaves a few superficial musings about ‘life’.

I think I’ve done okay so far as this is only my second accident… one when I was aged six and now this one at sixty two. The first was when Nick Drake, my childhood friend fell heavily across my leg and fractured my tibia. I’ve told that story elsewhere in my tribute to Nick, now post-mortem a singer song writer, well known throughout the world. (See www.brytermusic.com Articles.) I guess I was the lucky one.

In this life I’ve not risk been risk averse though, climbing and sailing, driving across the Sahara and travelling to remote places, and I still belt my mountain bike through the rice fields much to Cat’s alarm. Yet the most horrific accident happens to me walking down an urban street!

Okay, the fainting fit could be a cause for worry but the quacks could find nothing of concern and just counseled caution. I shall certainly not stand up too quickly in future.

And thinking of risk, this was the moment I wished I’d had medical insurance. Over the last forty years, insurance companies have made massive profits from me and it would have been better never to have been insured. That’s been my recent attitude and for my uninsured years in Thailand I’m still ahead as the sum total of all the medical premiums I didn’t pay would have far exceeded my recent hospital bill.

Even so this has been a salutary warning and I think it’s time to think again. Trouble is, if I insure myself and Cat, we’ll be fine but then awful things can happen to other family members. I’m sure we can propitiate the spirits for less than the cost of medical insurance though!

So can anyone now advise me on medical insurance in Thailand? A healthy fool of sixty two who indulges in dangerous sports needs to find some reasonable cover.

I sail and cycle and very occasionally walk down Soi 4. And not so long ago I jumped out of an aeroplane high above Australia.

Oh, and I’m married to a Thai wife.

That too should surely be on the list of dangerous sports!

PS This was written a few days ago and we took the bus back to the village last night. It was a twelve hour overnight trip as the wretched bus chose this particular occasion when I was hardly back on my feet to have a hydraulic leak and we were hours late leaving. But it’s good being back home, I’m feeling considerably better and it’s much easier preparing food here than in the hotel.

Andrew Hicks The “Thai Girl” Blog March 2009