The 80's were a fantastic time to be coming of age. I was born in 1970, so that era was very special to me.
I lived in Wigan; my first venture into the fashion arena was around 81 or 82, when I got on the school cross country team so my dad bought me a pair of Reebok Gazelle. My athletic endeavours didn't last that long, but I enjoyed the status of being the first lad on our street to have a pair of Reebok and it was better than wearing Adidas Kick look a likes from Asda with four stripes on them.
Fashion was more than important it was your trademark and the brands helped hide any insecurity you may have had as a teenager.
I was into buying allsorts, first off there was the Patrick kagool, then the blizzard parka, then I got my first Lyle and Scott jumper which was a light blue v neck. My Mam used to give me money for dinner at school, but I saved it and made myself some butties and before long I had the £30 or so that it cost and walked all the way to the golf shop at Haigh Hall to buy it, then my Mam shrunk it in the wash when I'd had it about 3 weeks so I started dipping a pound or two here and there from her purse to pay for it's replacement.
By 1983 shitstoppers had been replaced by flares and I think by about 84 I had a particularly debonair wardrobe which included 2 pairs of Wrangler flared cords (brown and blue) a pair of Lee flared jeans with the bottoms cut off, a Benetton rugby shirt, sweatshirt, and shirt, a Nike Windrunner several pairs of trainers including Adidas ZX 400, Adidas First tracky bottoms, a Kappa Jumper, Fila Tracky bottoms and a couple of Marks and Spencers round neck woollens. Life couldn't get much better really could it?
My first experience of hooligan violence was at the Rugby rather than the football. Rugby League is to be fair mainly confined to the M62 corridor so there's a lot of rivalry. That glorious first rush was when Wigan played Leigh in the Challenge Cup semi final at Knowsley Road in St Helens. There was no segregation and me and some of my mates had tagged onto some of the older lads for safety, we stayed near them behind the try line in the ground and realised that the we were slowly but surely being joined by more and more lads who we recognised from Wigan and other's we didn't. When Wigan scored a penalty it went off. The excitement of that first affray is something I've never quite recaptured.
After the match it went off outside the ground as well, I was in a surge of about 100 Wiganers charging up the road towards some Leigh supporters with some copper in a high visibility jacket stood in the middle swinging his stick around shouting, "Come on then I'll have you all you fuckers."
He looked a right nob, he was more out of control than we were, I've never like the Old Bill since that.
A lot of the time it was blissful poverty, no money so dress well to look wealthy. There was one time a mate of mine's mam and dad had gone away and left him in the house for the weekend, we all got scalled up, raided our parent's drink cabinets and went round.
Among the delights mine host had acquired to make the party go with bang were a dog eared copy of Penthouse, some lighter gas, some solvent for cleaning stains off vinyl car seats and a few pills the doctor had given his mum for insomnia.
We were all out of our trees in about 40 minutes and just before we all passed out I thought it would be a good idea to try and get some birds round, so I rung one of those 0898 chat lines that BT were running at about a pound a minute to try and get some girls to the party.
Anyway I woke up in the hall at about 6 in the morning underneath the table the phone was on, with the phone off the hook, I picked up the handset and could hear voices so put it back in the cradle and sneaked off home.
When my mate's phone bill arrived, it was about six hundred quid, to put that into perspective you could buy a house in Wigan for ten grand at the time (and there's probably parts of Bolton where you still can). To this day I'm not sure that he knows how that phone bill came about.
Football wise I had two teams, there was the Latics who were in the third and Liverpool were my big team.
I remember the first time I went to Anfield with Mike I asked him what to expect, he said, "Don't wear white trainers"
Come half time the steps turned into a waterfall of piss and when we left my shoes were crusted in a mix of cigarette ash and urine.
Things could get complicated, I remember being at Anfield for the United game once and it went off in The Arkles, I was just getting stuck into the Manc bastards when I realised they were from Wigan, or there was the time we played St Helens in the rugby and had a row with some mates we had from Liverpool. You could be on the Kop for the United match and there'd be Wiganers with woolly accents who were with Liverpool, Scouse Evertonians who were there to team up with United, lads from Warrington who sounded more Scouse than us but were with the Mancs.
I've heard a lot of tales about travel to the match but not heard anyone match this one, me and my mate Mike (who I must put on record as being single handedly responsible for all my strays off the straight and narrow) had a mate who's nickname was Jimmy Hill because of his pointy chin, Jimmy's dad worked for British Rail and got issued with a pass for every member of the family to use the trains. It was basically a card that said "Staff Privilege Free Travel" or something like that and it had a grid where Jimmy's brothers and sisters could write in up to 8 free journey's a year.
We coerced him into lending us these passes (we must have swapped them for a mucky video or something) and would go into the local Woolworths, where they stocked some erasable biro's that Parker Pens were selling, write in ‘Wigan to Liverpool return' and the days date, go to the match and then rub it out when we got home and give him them back.
There was one time me and Mike were meant to go to Chelsea away but I overslept and he went by himself. Anyway I was woken by my old man coming to check in my bedroom that I was there, Mike had been nicked at one of the barriers with this pass and had given my name and address to the Old Bill and they'd rung our house to check his details.
On the Latics side of things we had some blinding days, Blackpool was a favourite, there was one do up there either 86 or 87 when there were 54 arrests with 49 of those arrested being from the Wigan area. I think Blackpool and their main boy Benny got a bit pissed off everyone used to turn out for them in numbers because it was a good day out. However our real venom was reserved for Bolton.
In May 1986 ( I think it was the 16th to be precise and we'd been wearing pegs instead of flares for nearly a year) Wigan Athletic played Bolton Wanderers at home. At around 2pm an incident occurred at the Market Tavern public house where a group of Wiganers set upon a group of Bolton fans who were drinking inside the pub.
As a result of the incident Mr Andrew Greenwood and a friend of his from Bolton spent two weeks in hospital recovering from their injuries. Mr Greenwood received 220 stitches in his back for multiple knife wounds.
That coincidentally was the day that Mr and Mrs Lavin decided to move themselves and the rest of the family away from the hustle and bustle of Wigan to the bucolic airs of Horwich which lay within the Borough of Bolton and was home to some of Bolton's most unruly fans known collectively as the Horwich Casuals.
It took about 6 to 8 months for the death threats to die down and by late 1987 they'd stopped pulling knives on me in the pub.
By that time things had moved away from the sportier brands of the early mid eighties and I was shoplifting to support my addiction to labels like Ciao, Ball Jeans, Iron Wash Jeans, Liberto, Armani, Lacoste, Timberland and Best Company. People around me had similar tastes, by that time the Burberry jacket was dying off and people were coming up with Pop 84 or Marc O' Polo sweatshirts.
We were shopping at places like Woodhouse and Wardrobe around St Anne's square in Manchester or Reiss (which was in it's infancy at the time) and Phil Blacks or De Guy or Mezzanine.
By 1989 I was good friends with a lot of the Horwich Casuals and although I had a few ventures into other towns with them on Friday night I was still a Wiganer and I refused outright to go to the match with them.
My loyality has and always will be with Wigan and Liverpool, but things were starting to get uncomfortable with the police. The "hoolivan" with its cameras was at every game and questions were getting asked in Parliament and I knew something bad was going to happen then we heard about the dawn raids happening to Man City and Chelsea.
In 1988 I went to University in Leeds, I came home one weekend in 89 and there were a few gruff Scoucers drinking with the Horwich lot who claimed to be working on a building site in the area and who liked to drink and fight so wanted to hang around with us.
I asked them names of well known Kopites and Liverpool scallies but they fell silent.
At 5:30 on a Monday morning in April 1989 16 addresses in Horwich had warrants served and 16 men were detained in connection with organised football violence, I was away in Leeds at the time. The Scoucers were from the regional crime squad, I don't think I went to another match until 1991.
By 1989/90 I was into the Happy Mondays and the Stone Roses, I suppose an embarrassing silence is the best way to cover my fashion statements of that era, the rave scene was good and things were plentiful even though I didn't have a job but by 1992 I was becoming a wash out and a skeleton.
I didn't want to take poorly synthesised MDMA anymore, I liked fisticuffs and rough and tumble but the judiciary was leaning more and more towards custodial sentences so I opted for Thai Boxing as the outlet for my aggression. It's legal and fighting infront of a crowd of 400 people is a great lift but the referee and rules make it a more sanitised experience. Being in a firm of 200 charging at Blackpool's mob outside the Gasworks Social Club is a very empowering experience for a working class lad. By 1994 I'd visited Thailand to train and have a holiday and now I've engineered my life so that 50% of it is spent in Siam.
Life here is great, I still train in the beautiful sport but don't fight (I was never really that good). I've had the privilege to train and spar with some of the most successful Thai stadium champions and IBF boxing world champions. Life can be infuriating here for a westerner at times, but the laid back nothing matters attitude that can be irritating is what also makes it such a great place to live; there's never a day goes by that you don't see something that blows your mind, I was sat in a bar not too long back and a ladyboy walked past pushing a pram with a baby in it, you get surprises like that almost every day. I also recently had the privilege of interviewing Peter Hook of New Order for an online publication I write for over here when he played a DJ set in Bangkok; he's a hero of mine and New Order's music has greatly influenced my life.
The bars in Bangkok, Pattaya and Samui are crawling with ex and current hooligans, I call them Rusty Stanleys you can hardly go into a pub without bumping into someone you had a row with 15 years ago. All the main firms are represented here, Cardiff, Leeds, Borough, Stoke, Chelsea, Arsenal, Millwall, United, City, Liverpool, Forest, Everton, it's an endless list. Most of the animosity's forgotten (notice I used the word most) and it's good to have a laugh about things, you've got everything a bloke needs here and you're far from the critical eye of political correctness so everyone's in an easy frame of mind.
You walk into bars like the infamous Dogs Bollocks or the Lazi Pig (run by FYC's one and only Lee Spence) and they're full of 35 and 40 year old blokes thinking they're 20 again; chat about Charge Sheets and old scars litter the air like old Bovril cups and fag ends used to litter the Kop at 6pm on Saturday.
These days, like a lot of people I can't afford to get nicked, but the spirit's still there, fashion wise over here shorts are a daily necessity because of the weather, there's a brand you can't get in the UK called Molecule, they're the nuts. I've got bits and pieces of Stone Island stuff (the jeans are indestructible) I like a lot of the Adidas retro trainers even though they give me ingrowing toenails, I've Sergio Tacchini tracky tops in the wardrobe back in England and like Lacoste and Ralph Lauren polo shirts. I do find it hard to walk past the Lacoste shop here without nipping in although it's a real pain when you find a beauty and then see a copy of it for less than a fiver on a stall.
I've got a bit of an identity crisis now what with Latics and Liverpool both being Premiership, OK no I haven't it's Latics through and through. It was priceless being sat in a bamboo bar during monsoon season in Chiang Mai Northern Thailand last year watching Latics making their Premiership debut at home to Chelsea on telly, watching them get robbed to a one nil defeat and hearing my old mate Brian Cannon leading the JJB in a chant of "We're going to win the League, We're going to win the League and now you're gonna believe us"
If you'd told a 15 year old me that was what would happen in twenty years time I probably would have slashed you.
Oh and PS if you're the t##t that gave me the tattoo's with the blue pen in the Dog's Bar when I fell asleep there the other week, the Nazi and National Front ones I didn't mind so much but the Bolton Wanderers ones went a bit too far. Cheers!
Bang Kwang Prison
Bang Kwang is famous or should that be infamous as the Bangkok Hilton however the Thai translation is "Big Tiger" because it eats people.
I remember a few years ago walking down the famous Khao Sarn Road and seeing a sign pasted to a wall that said "Visit Prisoners in Thailand" and it sparked my curiosity as something different a change from sitting in a bar, but never got round to it, then a few years ago Michael Connell's case made the news when he disembarked from a plane at Bangkok Airport with 3400 disco biscuits in his suitcase. For a long time I was in two minds about going to visit, I'd read the book "Damage Done" by Warren Fellows and wanted to try and see if I could help one of the prisoners enduring those harsh conditions but at the same didn't want to be like a modern day Siamese Madame Guilotine doing a bit of ghoulish tourism. I was speaking to a mate of mine called Spike, who's from Bury in Lancashire and the topic cropped and his eyes lit up.
"I've been visiting Mike every week since he got caught. I send him fags and stuff. He really appreciates visitors, he'd be happy to see you."
With a few more pressing matters out of the way I headed down to Bang Kwang Prison in Nonthaburi on the northern edge of Bangkok yesterday, carefully dressed despite the heat in long trousers and a long sleeved shirt I got out of my taxi at the main gate. Outside there were groups of women praying, some looked like nuns, I don't honestly know if this is a regular sight or if there was a specific reason for them to intercede but anyway I headed over the road to the visitors centre where I handed in a photocopy of my passport and explained that I was there to see Michael Connell.
"Building 2 cannot. Closed. Come back tomorrow. Today building 4,5,6."
"Are there any other foreigners I can visit from those buildings then."
The visitors centre didn't look like much, it was like a lot of Thai places bus terminals, council offices, utility companies, it was a partially open sided building with a thin roof, concrete floor, rows of plastic seating occupied by gossiping Thais and the odd official behind a grille or desk handing out bits of paper and stamping them when they returned and I was taking in the sights and considering buying some food in the shop/restaurant attached when a foreign lady walked in.
She smiled back and when I politely asked her her business she explained she was visiting her boyfriend and that despite Mike not being eligible for visitors that day another Brit Anthony Flanaghan was so I filled in the necessary forms and was told that I could see him at 9:30 so went and sat with Ellsie, the German lady who helpfully played tour guide for me. I bought some fruit from the counter and put it in a carrier bag then wrote "Anthony Flanaghan Building 4" on it. When the time arrived we were given back our forms and a security card to attach to our shirt, we crossed the road and took a door round the side of the main entrance. Now despite it's fearsome reputation the place didn't seem that harsh, the walls were high as you'd expect of a prison but the uniformed staff who searched me and x rayed the bag of fruit were all smiles the way a lot of Thai people are, more so in some ways, the few corridors and doors we walked through didn't seem that dungeonesque or horrific more like being in the belly of an old ferry you know, big wooden doors with bolts and 15 coats of paint.
The final big door opened out into a courtyard with two long out buildings running down either side. Ellsie hurried along, she was keen to see her boyfriend. Inside the long houses look more like a big post office terminal rather than a prison where there are glass and aluminium partitioned booths with a chair and a phone on the desk. Through the glass there's a gap and some metal bars and a corridor.
Ellsie told me the phones worked in two particular booths at one end and that the guards had to go and get the prisoners and could be anything from 10 minutes to half an hour.
Tony who was born in 1970 was arrested in Bangkok in 2004 carrying 700 grams of heroin. The full story is a bit vague but an accomplice of his was arrested shortly after on Ko Samui and a search of his house retrieved smaller amounts of marijuana, amphetamine and heroin.
Shortly after arrest Tony who grew up in Coventry in the West Midlands was sentenced to death, the death sentence was reduced on appeal in December 2006 to life imprisonment and in January 2007 to 33 years. One of the requirements of inmates on death row is that they wear leg irons which are welded in place and cannot be removed.
As I waited for Tony the place started to fill up, mainly with Thai women come to visit husbands, fathers or sons, but there was a small group of English women who seemed up beat and high spirited who congregated near the corner that Ellsie and I were in. Judging from overheard conversation one was a mother come to visit a son, the others were regular visitors who visited once or twice a week and helped keep the spirits of the English inmates high.
When Tony arrived he seemed genuinely pleased to receive a visitor and also well liked by the English entourage he made a few coarse jokes with them and asked if they'd had news from his sister. He appeared healthy, upbeat and in good spirits.
When I asked him how he was he said, "Walking on air man. They've just let me off death row a few weeks ago and took my leg irons off. They weigh 3 and a half kilos it's not easy getting around in them and when they come off it's like learning to walk again."
He talked about his predicament and accepted his fate which he seems to have come to terms with (as did Mike when I spoke to him later) and struck me as being a likeable and intelligent character. When I asked him how he occupied himself he told me that he wakes at 6:30, when he is allowed out of the cell into the open area where him and two or three mates have their own little shelter or "house" as they like to call it, where they can cook, chat, exercise, read until 3pm when they have to go back to the cell. Tony then likes to be asleep by 9 so tries to exercise as much as he can in the free part of the day but will often read until he sleeps.
When asked what he likes to read he told me, "Philosophy mainly, I've been reading Plato, Socrates, Marx things like that, there's quite a big library here we all put our books in there when we're finished. I've read loads of novels and fiction I can't be bothered with them."
I was expecting having read "The Damage Done" in which an Australian serving time for a similar offence to Tony tells of the horrors of the jail to be regaled with stories of eating lice and mixing the puss out of open sores in to add flavour and although there were some unsavoury details passed on I was surprised at how little Tony complained.
He told me the cell is crowded, his has 20 men in a space around 7 meters by 5, others can hold as many as 30 although some hold less as well. Now he's off death row things are a lot easier and although he has a long sentence he intends to stay in the Thai prison system for the duration and relatively speaking he has a short sentence, there were guys who'd had leg irons on for 18 years in the previous unit and the long term cons really do want an easy uneventful life.
The overcrowding is an issue, the corridor space outside his cell is also used as cell space and he often sleeps against the railings which separate the two. A quite common occurrence that he has to endure is to be party to an amorous couples gay trysts within a few inches of his face which if you're a heterosexual male I'm sure you can empathise with him when he says ,"It gives me an headache that does."
But Tony to his credit when mentioning a negative will always counter it with a positive, he told me of his two sons Kyle and James aged 19 and 16 and how James is joining the army, after telling me that he has to shower and wash using river water he tells me he's got top marks in his Thai language lessons.
The subject of Michael Connell crops up as it was him I initially wanted to visit and he explains that Mike is hoping to get transferred to British jail although Tony would prefer to stay in Thailand because of the violence within the British prison system. He elaborates that "shit" does go on in Thai jail, but it is confined to 3 areas, drugs, gambling and the lady boys and gay mens' love lives and jealousies.
As we talk (despite being told by officials to the contrary) Michael Connell walks past behind Tony and I point him out, Tony explains I can speak to him later once our visit is nearly up. When Mike comes over to talk he appears again like Tony upbeat and complicit of his fate. He appears underweight and explains he's lost a lot because he's playing football in free time and sweating it out in the heat and not really eating properly, he looks forward to being in the UK because of better official treatment in the UK although Tony feels life is a bit more easy going in a Thai jail despite the uncertainty and corruption. They both remain optimistic of further reductions in their sentence however readily admit that the uncertainty of any reduction is part and parcel of the Thai system.
There seems a genuine camaraderie amongst the inmates receiving visitors and despite the lengths of their sentences a genuine optimism for the future. When the visit was over I passed the bag of fruit through a hatch to be passed on to him and wondered if Tony would eat it or turn it into the hooch he told me the inmates use to get pissed on at the weekend.
Beer and ### and chips and gravy
Those of you of a certain age and gender who hale from the North West of England shouldn't really need the title explaining, but as I like to be as inclusive as I possibly can I'll add a bit more information for people who've had the nerve not to be brought up in Lancashire or Cheshire.
Back in the glorious nineteen eighties, what might loosely be described as a"pop group" called The Macc Ladds thrived on the periphery or should that be the underbelly (or an even more iniquitous part of the anatomy) of the music industry in the UK.
They did little for the furtherance of political correctness and got proscribed from a number of venues before they even played them. One of their better known tracks (which is rumoured never to have graced the hi fi system of the Vatican) was/still is called "Beer and ### and chips and gravy". Out of politness I've ommited the second component of "what a Macc Ladd" wants although if you can't work it out it starts with "s" and ends in "x".
Now I know it's a little bit of an oblique entre into an article posted on a website that discusses travel in the Land of Smiles, but it addresses a very important issue for visitors to Bangkok and its adjacent areas, because the former two elements of what a Macc Ladd wants are freely and readily available across the length and breadth of Thailand, however (and trust me I've researched the matter thoroughly) the latter two features on a gentleman from North Cheshire's wish list can at times be sadly lacking.
Now I know that by mentioning the Macc Ladds, there'll be sensitive principled caring types with a feel for environmental issues and a concern for the welfare of the less fortunate who'll be screaming blue murder and rapidly botching together voodoo dolls of me (I'm short, a little overweight have blue eyes and shoulder length brown/black hair if you want my likeness to be accurate), and those who like to become part of their host nation by immersing themselves in the culture and eating the local food will be marking me as an outcast and Philestine by admitting to my need for good honest chipped fried pomme de terre in a rich brown sauce.
Now before I continue, and before I die from a million pin pricks, I do actually like Thai food. It's great.
I would wholeheartedly encourage those of you making your first visit to Thailand to try as much of it as you possibly can (and I don't just mean a banana pancake).
The most basic explanation I've heard of Thai food is that it's a sort of mix of Chinese and Indian, although to be fair that's something of an over simplifiaction.
The main thing that characterises Thai food is the chilli, when you eat in a restaurant virtually every meal will be accompnied by four pots of different types of chilli to liven up your repast. Thai's like their food spicy and us northerners (if we're real northerners that is) like it bland, if you've tried Thai food in a restuarant back home you're more than likely to have been served something that's been toned down for the western pallet, so prepare yourself for something with a little more squeak when you get here.
There are a large number of dishes available in the Land of Smiles, and the ingredients that give Thai food it's distinctive zest include lemongrass, ginger, chilli, fish sauce, shrimp paste, garlic and coconut.
There are a huge range of dishes available, generally speaking (and I'm being very general) the stuff in the south tends to be have more of a seafood/coconut slant, while the stuff in the north tends to have more of a meat/chilli slant.
Thai breakfast if it's not fruit, tends to be a dish called Khao Tom, a litteral translation is "rice soup", which really leaves little room for a description except to say that it isn't that spicy unless you add too much chilli and is available as Khao Tom "Gai" (with chicken), "Moo" with pork,"nuen" with beef "plah" with fish or "Kueng" with prawns.
Personally I rarely get chance for breakfast in Thailand and I can just see you thinking "Wow what a diligent guy, he's so busy he doesn't take a morning meal." Those of you who know me however realise that I do sometimes take a morning snack known as a "Lay" (ridge cut fried potato) available at 7/11 stores flavoured either as "Extra barbeque" or "nori seaweed". I have on several occasions been spotted at 6:30 am breezing my way home with a couple of "Lays" after an evening discussing the Premier League in an establishement that as a mere oversight forgot to close it's doors at 1am.
Daytime dishes vary greatly. If your not keen on spicey stuff Pad Thai's a safe bet. It's sort of a mix of fried noodles, vegetables a bit of rice and "gai" or "kueng", when you get it the granular stuff on the edge of the plate next to the lime is ground peanut. It's meant to be mixed in along with the lime juice to add flavour.
The curries are also well worth a try I'm not well up on the actual difference in types, but there is Kaeng Daeng (red curry) or Kaeng Keo (green) and Massaman (which has a slightly different flavour) all of which are available as beef, chicken, pork or prawn dishes.
My current favourite, which I find excellent for a hangover or head cold is "Tom Yam", it's a spicey soup that can contain either chicken, fish or prawn. Broadly speaking there tend to be two types, it can be a clear soup or an opaque dish, usually served with rice. The opaque variety tends to be red in colour and although I could be wrong I've a feeling the pigmentation in the dark variety comes from shrimp paste.
If your tongue, the roof of your mouth and other parts of your digestive tract are made like most westerners of human skin, you may want to excercise caution and finish any food order with the phrase "Pet nid noi" it means "a little bit spicey" or "mai pet" which means "not spicey". However if your innards are made of asbestos, kevlar or the type of heatproof bricks they use to line the test sites at atomic weapons research establishments you might want to try the phrase "pet mahk" which means "very spicey" or "pet mahk mahk", although when you sit down to bid your lunch a fond farewell, don't say I didn't warn you.
There's also a great deal of fried dishes, ie fried rice with a meat or fish of your choice or fried noodles (which are sometimes sheets of flat noodles) in a similar style with a variety of sauces.
One of my personal favourites is a dish called Laarb. It's traditionally a dish from the north of Thailand, it can be found in Bangkok/Central Thailand, but rarely so in the south. It's made of ground meat (of your choice) and seared with chopped chillis, onions and beans. The salads here are also highly recommended as an option for those who wish to maintain an enviable physique.
I'd also be doing you a disservice if I failed to mention the differnet type of food outlets you'll encounter over here as well. Back home your probably used to restaurants where they come and serve you at the table then you pay and go about your business, or shops where you can buy food (prepared or otherwise) then take it home and do what you want with it.
However in Thailand, what can pass as a restuarant is four formica tables in the road, an old lady with no teeth, a camping stove and two pans that don't know what a brillo pad looks like. There's also a great variety of stalls, handcarts, grilles welded to motorbikes and old women with a six foot bamboo pole with baskets on either end, all of whom are prepared to sell you some form of nourishment.
Most of the stuff is usually fine to eat even off roadside stalls, however as a word of warning be careful of the "street barbeques", the places that have piles of small satay's that they grill on half an oil drum filled with burning coals. I used to love the chicken and beef from those places, but curiously seemed to be plagued with bouts of dyspepsia, however since I've steered clear of them I can still be described as a "frequent visitor" to Thailand although my visits of another nature seem to have become less and less frequent.
As a word of warning one might be advised to try and stick to static catering establishments rather than the mobile ones which have been known to leave people in hospital. The worst ones I've learned from anecdotal experience are the "hot dog stall welded to motorbike variety".
A friend of mine was lying in hospital in Ko Samui where he was receiving medical attention for torn knee ligaments, a dislocated arm and various cuts and grazes, when he had the following telephone conversation with his travel insurance company in the UK.
Agent, "Why are you in hospital Mr xxxxxxx ?"
My Friend, "Becuase I've had an accident."
Agent, "When did the accident take place ?"
Friend, "5:45 am Thai time on the 17th."
Agent, "And what happened ?"
Friend, "Well I was riding my motorbike home from a beach party when a catering establishment crashed into me."
Agent, "Where you drunk Mr xxxxxxx?"
Friend, "No but the man driving the restaurant was drinking a bottle of whiskey at the time."
In a similar vein, if you want to make use of this website for cautionary purposes I'd steer well clear of a dish called Som Tam. It's actually supposed to be very healthy, it's a sort of salad made with shredded pappaya, chillis, lime juice, chillis, fermented crab meat, chillis, uncooked meat and chillis. It actually tastes quite nice at first, but I dare any westerner to eat more than four or five forkfuls. As with all great designs it is bi functional, it has a medicinal use which medics stationed in Thailand during the Vietnam War discovered. Some GI medics stationed in Khorat ran out morphine to treat soldiers who'd recently lost limbs and were clean out of ideas as to how to treat their patients when they saw local ordelies rubbing a concoction on the recently dismembered stumps of the victims. They noticed that the profuse bleeding stopped immediately, the severed veins healed themselves and skin of a harder than usual variety grew over the wound. When asked what they were using the orderlies replied "Som Tam."
On a serious note, much as it tastes good, and can be a challenge for "chilli heroes" because of the uncooked element in the meat and fish, it can be the cause of some severe discomfort and should only be sampled by the very brave, the very well insured or the severely constipated.
No dip into a country's ingestable delights would be complete without a look at the local liquid refreshments, and I can honestly look you in the eye without wavering when I say, "I've done a fair amount of research on the topic."
The first phrase that comes to mind when discussing Thai liquor, is "all that glitters is not gold."
Look at it objectively, these statements apply to virtually all Thai brand liquid intoxicants. It's cheap, it's strong, it tastes delicious. It has a nice label on that makes me look well travelled.
However what they don't tell you in the brochure is that it'll give you the hangover from hell.
The two main indiginous beers, are Singha and Beer Chang. Singha is brewed by the Boon Rwad distillery and has a very full hoppy taste, it was taken from a German receipie that was used by some German Engineers who were working here in the earlier part of last century. Chang is a much smother drink and both taste very good when chilled however their strengths run at around 6 or 7% proof, which makes them a little harder to manage over the extended periods of immersion that us westerners tend to favour whilst here on holiday. Personally (and you can called me a heretic for this) I prefer the foreign beers brewed here under license such as Heineken and Tiger, they're 5 or 10 baht more expensive, are less volatile and the morning after are less likely than their local counterparts to see you up before the local judge on a murder charge.
There are two types of people in my opinion who should consider venturing onto Bangkok's busy streets with a Singhover or Changover, either people with assertiveness problems or those with very hard mates.
It's rumoured (although not confirmed) that Mother Theresa was once in Krung Thep on an aid conference when she was treated by local dignitaries to the region's fayre.
The morning after and 6 big Chang down the line she staggered towards the conference, kicked a beggar who asked her to spare the price of a cuppa around the head then beat him with her stick shouting, "Get a ####### job you lazy ####."
We all have days where we feel like that, some more than others and its on those occasions that we get strange spiritual urges to seek out the type of food that our forefathers were raised on. It's no coincidence that complimentary therapists, when helping in the treatment of cancers look at a patient's lineage and asses the type of food their ancestors were nourished with so they can prescribe the type of diet that they're genetically predisposed to thrive on.
When I had a little health scare a while ago I went to see a complimentary dietician who after a week or so of DNA testing and family geneology suggested I should try and survive as far as was solely possible on chips, Hollands Pies, chip shop gravy, salt and vinegar crisps and dandelion and burdock. I managed to adhere rigorously to his suggestions and the proof as they say is in the pudding, with the fact that I stand here proudly infront of you 100 kg in weight and with no foolish delusions towards excercise.
The treatment did have a slight side effect in that it shrunk the waistbands of all my trousers but it was a small price to pay to rid myself of a potentially fatal verouca.
Although I regularly stray from my regime and can be seen eating curry, tom yam, pad thai and fried rice I often feel it my duty to seek out good propper chips, gravy and pies. Now I do actually feel that I've been reasonably diligent in my quest for a decent chip supper, but I'd like to throw it open to the readers of KSR.com and see if they can come up with any better establishments than I've been able to source.
I must point out that meat pie chips and gravy is more than just a meal. Its a religious experience. For a northerner it's got greater spiritual significance than a trip to Mecca (or the Gala Bingo Halls now that Mecca have lost market share).
The food being presented to you is only part of the experience. The person partaking in the sacrament should be if not blind drunk, at least half cut, defineitely not sober, preferably with a couple of betting slips from William Hill in his or her pocket and if not bloodied from a fracas outside a nightclub the recipient of the mana should at least be in the mood for a fight.
He must queue up for his food, be abusive to the staff (who will be wearing white and blue checked aprons that have not been washed for 3 months) and complain about the price and size of the portions.
There are few places outside the UK that offer this service.
"The Chippy" on Lamai Beach Rd, Ko Samui fails miserably. OK the chips and pies (made by Big Joe's English Food Company) it sells are as close to damit as you'll get to the real thing back home, however the staff are polite. I've never seen a fight in there and the food (including chip barms with gravy) is reasonably priced.
I'm told that the Offshore Bar, Soi Nanai in Patong offers a very similar range of food to the chip shops in England, but lacks an offensive owner, does not have a plate glass window to throw queue jumpers through and doesn't have a calender, stuck on last months page with a picture of a cottage in the Yorkshire Dales on it.
Pattaya being the strong hold that it is of mainstream British culture has several options for chipsomaniac, my favourite are The Pig and Whistle and Rosie O'Gradies, both on soi 7, they probably fail in offering the fully chippy experience as the food is closer to restaurant standard than necessary, but will leave you with a high cholestarol count and the need to buy some bigger shorts.
There is however one establishment in Bangkok on Sukumvit Soi 23, which bears the signage "Fish and Chips". It comes very very close to the real thing, almost indiscernably so. The flooring is worn brown lino. The salt cellars have a single grain of rice in them. There are posters depicting Lancashire Life in the the early 20th Century. The food is of a standard which could be the envy of any friery in Greater Manchester. The staff there although Thai and diligent have that half shocked, half weary look that says, "That's the bloke that dropped his trousers and asked me to marry him last week." and best of all there are fights in the queue.
If anyone has any further offerings that can be put into the hat for Thailand's Chippy of the Year, I'd be very happy to hear about them. Happy hunting.
As for the Macc Ladds, I've heard they all went down Torremelinos although rumours are that one of them isn't a million miles away.
Wan'a chip luv ?
"Don't shit yourself that's the secret," I'd never been on a motorbike taxi before and they were the words of advice my mate Chris had given me about riding on one.
He said, "Most accidents happen when farangs get on the back and don't know what's going on. They panic and try to jump off when it gets a bit scary."
At the time I was trying my best not to shit myself. We were going the wrong way down a one way lane and a bus was coming towards us. The sheer terror was incalculable, I'm struggling for metaphors, it was like being on a motorbike heading straight for an oncoming bus. I covered my face with my hands, a few seconds later I uncovered my eyes and saw that we were ten feet (that's about 3 meters for those of you from mainland Europe) away from colliding head on with the bus.
I made the sign of the cross and wondered weather to jump or not but the driver glided deftly to his left and slid through a gap about two feet wide (that's about an inch and a half wider than your humble narrator for those of you from mainland Europe). The slipstream of the bus to my right and of the taxi to my left made the hairs on my arms face the wrong way.
When we got to my destination I paid the driver the prearranged sum of sixty baht although I genuinely felt like "tolchocking the brazny vesch in the litso real horrorshow for making me kaki my breshies which at the time were the heigth of fashion" (if you don't understand that last little phrase try reading A Clockwork Orange by Anthony Burgess although the diction gets the general sentiment across).
I'd always sworn never to get on a motorbike taxi, but that day matters were quite urgent, I had 20 minutes to get from Sukumvit to Thai Air's offices on Silom to get my flight changed or loose it altogether. Once the panic was over and everything was sorted out I heaved a sigh of relief, reflected on the journey and thought how convenient that particular option had actually been.
The return journey to my hotel wasn't that urgent, but I weighed up the other modes of transport available and actually opted for a motorbike again. This time, as I was relieved and happy to be staying in the kingdom for another week and not so petrified of the consequences having managed a successful maiden voyage, I actually enjoyed it.
I sat back on the seat, lit a cigarette at some traffic lights, waved flirtatiously at a young lady in a taxi and regretted not having brought anything to read with me.
When I got back to base camp I pondered for a while over another facet of Bangkok that makes it so enchanting, there are just so many ways to get around in this great city.
Here's an outline of some of the different options available.
If you smell some nice food being cooked you can stop and try some.
Within a hundred yards you'll have sweat accumulating in every nook and cranny of your body and within two or three you'll need a change of clothes.
Wear something light and loose fitting.
Bother unless it's journeys of less than a couple hundred yards or so.
They're a very quick efficient way of getting from A to B, especially in heavy traffic. Can be exhilarating.
You may need a change of underwear. If you have back problems repeated motorbike journeys can aggravate them.
Agree on a price before setting off, and get the driver to come down 10 to 20% on his opening price. Insist on wearing a helmet. Keep your knees tucked in.
Panic or wobble about.
They're a quaint entertaining way of travelling. They can cut through traffic, but not as well as motorbikes. They carry more than one passenger.
The drivers tend to have commission deals set up with tailors shops, bars, massage parlours, jewellery stores etc. and will constantly bother you to take a visit at no extra charge. Often once you're on board they'll tell you that your original destination is closed to attain this end.
Knock them down to about 50% of their asking price.
Believe a word they tell you.
Taxi's can be a nice comfortable way of getting around town. They've got aircon, are amply protected from the rain and have plenty of storage space for luggage and shopping. If three or four of you share the fare it can actually work out cheaper than the other modes of transport.
They sometimes have the aircon on too high and aren't too good at cutting through traffic. The drivers have a habit of talking complete nonsense about how bad the traffic is, how little money they earn. If they hear you mention an English Premiership Football team they will furnish you with their intimate knowledge of the side ad nauseum. If they hear you speak even a single word of Thai they assume that you're fluent and will speak freely and openly to you in their dialect despite your protestations that you only speak a little bit.
Wear a seatbelt. Insist on them using the meter instead of letting them quote you a price.
Mention a Premiership Football team especially one that's doing well. Let them hear you speaking Thai.
I'll put my hand on my heart and admit to it I know next to nothing about the buses in Bangkok, so if you don't like me personally their main "pro" is that you can be 100 % certain never to run into me on one of them, although apparently they're very cheap. From what I can work out they are either air conditioned or non air conditioned and those who use them tell me they're a good way of getting about and cover virtually the entire city.
They go head on at you when you're on to the Thai airways office on Silom on a motorbike in an emergency and make you soil your breeches.
Expect to be one of too many people jammed onto them and have to listen to very disconcerting engine noises. Find out from somebody how to go about using them.
Expect any help from me!
Bangkok's River Boats or River Taxis a very very cool way of getting about. They're fast, cheap, exciting and offer some outstanding views of the city. Bangkok was known as the "Venice of Asia" because as recently as the 1980's the best way to commute was by canal although recently most of them have been closed off because they became polluted although a couple of the main routes (Chao Prahaya and Klong Saem (sic)) are still used. A lot of people visiting Thailand form the west want to see the old Thai culture and travelling my river boat will give you that on old charming creaky timbered boats.
The Chao Prahaya boat is pretty easy to use and is quite tourist friendly and there's a pier at Banglampu near Khao Sarn Road and near Wat Po, Wat Arun and the Grand Palace.
The routes they travel are a bit limited and there is little tourist information on them, so unless you're on the Cha Prahaya one ask somebody who knows, if you use them it may take a while before you know your way around. You might get a bit of water splashed on your face and have a bit of a nerve jangle getting on and off them but it's part of the fun. If you don't like me you've got the chance of running into me on one of them.
Give them a whirl.
Fall into the river, or expect it to go without hitch, but you're on holiday so what does it matter ?
The Skytrain or BTS was opened on the Kings Birthday on December 1999 and was a real milestone in the development of Bangkok as a modern city. There are two lines which cross the majority of the city and intersect near Siam Square. It's a fast, safe efficient way of crossing the city and can offer some pretty good cityscapes from above ground level. If you're in a hurry through the business districts of town it can be the best way to travel.
It can be a bit overcrowded at time so expect the odd game of sardines and it can be a bit disorientating at times, a lot of people when they first start to use it have to ponder about which exit they take so expect a few wrong turns during your visit but it's still a good way of getting about, oh and I got my pocket picked on there once but don't let that put you off, everybody who knows me will tell you how unlucky I am.
Give it a try, enjoy the views and zip through the congestion.
Get aggravated like I sometimes do at the dumb foreigners who can't work the ticket machines or the barriers.
The Underground/MRT or "Mass Rapid Transport" system is the latest weapon in Bangkok's artillery as it prepares to do battle for the title of number one 21st Century city. It opened in around 2003 and after a couple of false starts and hiccups it now runs quickly and efficiently across the city from Hua Lamphong (the Central Railway Station) to Chatuchak Market in the North and intersects at two or three places with the Skytrain.
The aircon is sometimes set a little bit too high so when it isn't rush hour you can feel the cold and a lot of its stops are non tourist destinations. The map and ticketing systems at the stations are a little bit on the vague side if you don't know your way round Bangkok.
Give it a try.
Worry about it if you don't give it a whirl, the views aren't that spectacular with it being underground and anyway it'll still be there when you come back.