Thailand Footprint: People, Things, Literature, Music and Henry Miller too. Forget Yourself Here

Posts by Kevin Cummings

The following is a lengthy interview with John Gartland previously published in the book, Different Drummers, which John and I co-wrote and was released on November 8th, 2018. It is now available only as a paperback at Amazon after a brief stint as an eBook as well. The medium is the message. The paperback is currently sold-out at Queen Bee pub on Sukhumvit 26 directly across from the Hilton Double Tree Inn. We hope to remedy that soon after we correct a few typos and get a second edition out in late February. In the meantime, they have live music 7 days a week.

This is a long interview. By that we mean it will take an educated reader 12 minutes or less to read. If you can’t afford that time, best move along now.

Jim Algie in a book review of Different Drummers correctly pegged it when he wrote:

The centerpiece of Different Drummers is an interview with “poet noir” John Gartland, interspersed with selections from his work. It’s a clever way of showing how John’s working-class roots in England, his Shakespearean studies and travel experiences have sculpted his eloquent poems, which range from political diatribes to personal reminiscences about his family and the aftershocks of the two World Wars.

I would only add that the arc of John’s poetry runs a circle that will find a recognizable arc in anyone who has led a meaningful, enjoyable, and at times, of course, painful and aware life.

Paul Dorsey in another review of Different Drummers in The Nation newspaper said of John,

“Gartland is by far the best of all the expatriate writers in Southeast Asia.”

So enjoy the prose and verse of John Gartland or you could see what is going on with the wall and the U.S. Government shutdown over at Twitter. Up to you.

KC: You’re not a young poet any longer but you’ve been a poet, I suspect, in one form or another for at least fifty years. Fifty years ago it was 1968. What advice would the present day poet, John Gartland give to the poet of 1968?

John Gartland (Second from right) back in the day with Neil Murray (second from left)
at Newcastle upon Tyne

JG: That twenty-year-old, in 1968 was studying for a degree in English Language and Literature. at the University of Newcastle on Tyne  It was a rich and vital training in the world of belles lettres; of great poetry, and works of prose fiction. It also took in, in the first year, a grounding in Anglo-Saxon literature.

I’d first of all applied, the year before, to the University’s Fine Art Department (where Brian Ferry had been a student). I did the entrance exams, but failed to win a place. I wasn’t much of a painter, though I had sold a few paintings through an art shop in my home town. Following rejection by the Art Department, I‘d attended a teacher training college for a year, re-applied to the University English Department and had been accepted.

It was comparable, in literary terms, to the intensive classical training in drawing and figure work that was once traditional for visual artists. I was a kid from the North West rust-belt. Getting to University was a huge break for me. I was pretty much in awe of the literary “Great Tradition”, as F.R. Leavis called it. I had some poems printed in poetry magazines on campus, and I was writing poetry in a low-profile way, usually getting feedback on it from my girlfriend, who was also an English undergraduate. There was a poetry fellow position, for a poet who would visit the English Department and offer advice on any creative writing that students were doing. One poet in that role, Basil Bunting, offered me the best advice; to get out and “live some more”.  I had some talent, but I wasn’t ready yet to write anything much of substance. When I was ready, years later, that early training kicked in. Meanwhile, I’d done a score of jobs, and travelled widely. My advice to me in 1968, with benefit of hindsight, would be, have more confidence, and trust that poetic spark. Bunting was right of course. I needed to grow up. I’m still working on that.

I did have a creative alter ego, however. I wrote a weekly satirical verse column, on politics or university affairs, in the weekly student newspaper, Courier. A friend and fellow English student was a talented caricaturist and painter, and we did this weekly verse satire / caricature in the paper, which worked well for a couple of years. My artist friend went on, in subsequent years, to become Wilko Johnson, rock guitar hero, launching, out of Canvey Island, with the Doctor  Feelgood band, to international success.

Looking back on it, the weekly pressure to produce a verse column of a comic / satirical nature, to a deadline, was a useful discipline, and it taught me more than I realized, in basic technical skills.

 

Poetry ID

 

All those years ago, on Tyneside,

when we’d asked of Paris between the wars,

of Eliot and Pound, and their meetings of course,

and he’d looked at our fledgling poetry;

Bunting said, “It’s all right, but live some more.

You need to go out and live some more.”

I said thanks, and knew, as I closed his door,

he meant Poetry ID.

 

I’ve chauffeured cars and worked in bars,

crossed seas and worked illegally;

crashed out in Split, swabbed blood and shit

from floors in Vancouver casualty.

I’ve crossed the Rockies on a train

and jumped by parachute from planes,

drove a Cadillac through the F.M. band

from New York down to Miami.

Met Mozart in Carnegie Hall,

Bix Beiderbecke on Hadrian’s Wall,

got woken up by lightning

on the warm South China Sea.

Been there and back, and gone off track,

put the Darren Mountains in my pack,

I’ve taken stock at Lion Rock,

and swum in Lake Euphoria,

stirred Zen into my tea.

 

I’ve known apocalyptic trips

and rolled some monumental spliffs,

I’ve rocked to Doctor Feelgood’s riffs,

been frightened, heightened, free.

I’ve laughed a lot and loved my share,

I’ve come round in intensive care,

but many I loved no longer step

the headlong days with me.

I toast their sweet reluctant ghosts,

and all we did together, most

of all, this lush, uncharted coast

of Poetry ID.

 

Listen; words are the ladder we climbed from the slime.

Words that spring to your lips and sing of your time

are shouts in the throat of antiquity;

old oratory,  shrapnel hurled

right out of history.

Magical, fierce, exuberant and sad,

words made us wise and sent us mad.

Rhyme’s a trapeze we swing out on;

out over birth, dissolution and death.

Rhyme, old as the breeze, and mysterious as breath.

 

Look, out as far as you can see,

there’s love and birth, magnetic north,

the stars, and Poetry ID.

And I’ve come as before are to the old poet’s door,

to pass right through it, as you see.

I greet his shade, then turn once more,

ambiguous, naked, and stubbornly free,

with thanks, and a smile, a fond farewell,

and Poetry ID.

 

KC: Tell me about the changes you have seen in those fifty years. The Grateful Dead wrote a song titled, “What a Long Strange Trip It’s Been” in 1977. Tell me about your trip.

JG: I suppose my equivalent piece to the Dead’s “Long Strange Trip” would be “Cantos of Cred.”, a flyover of the dozens of jobs I’ve done. That’s printed later in your book.

As regards social changes, I’ve seen a crushing growth in the bureaucratization of life, in the UK, where I was born. It has turned into the most snooped-on, over-regulated and politically-correct nightmare. Free speech has been drastically curbed, an imported religious extremism institutionally protected, and democratic freedoms undermined.

However, my personal life-trip from day one took me through many major historical gateway events. I’m seventy years old now. Consider the exponential rate of change over that period.

Socially, there were huge improvements in health care, nutrition and the standard of living. The National Health Service made doctors’ expertise and antibiotics widely available. Unemployment was an unknown problem in my youth, and there was the possibility of access to higher education for kids (like me) from working class backgrounds, via selective examinations and grammar schools.  I remember that, in my State Primary School, in the early 1950’s, we were given pens with steel nibs, to write with. One child had the responsibility of filling our desk ink-wells with black ink, from a large bottle. Shades of Bob Cratchit.  (In infant school in 1953 we’d been given special blue souvenir drinking glasses, decorated with the royal coat of arms, to commemorate the coronation of Elizabeth the Second. Exciting, eh?).

My mother was a farmer’s daughter from Galway, in the west of Ireland, who’d had little education. She told me that she and her sisters at one time walked to school barefoot. She came over to England to work in a factory in my home town when she was just eighteen. She was supposed to stay with a distant relative, but they’d turned out bad, so she’d had to go it alone.  She’d told me semi-humorously years later, that King George VI came to visit the northern town, in pre-World War Two years, passing through in a motorcade. As a green young country girl, she’d had no idea what to expect. “I thought he’d be like fairy people” she said wryly. That was a very different world. My parents met while working in the same factory. My Dad used to say her family in Ireland rebuilt him, after the war, on farm food and Guinness.We went to Ireland, and the farm, every year in my early days. That two week holiday was the high point of the year.

 

ON JOLLEY STREET

 

As we walked into Jolley Street together,

you had slowed your customary pace.

 

Around the old Infirmary,

streets of houses without doors,

windows without curtains. Dust.

Forsaken rooms lay gutted of all private comfort,

and demolition smoke was in our way.

Around the old Infirmary

they were tearing down the terraces.

The old town we were born in, coming down.

It must be more than twenty years. It must!

 

And you had slowed your customary pace.

And strange, out there on Jolley Street

I didn’t read the omens straightaway.

 

Your soldier’s tales had drawn for me

such shattered places.

Anecdotes of war, and close escapes;

your travels, drawn so vividly

on Sunday walks,

across the years, across the town.

The annals of your boyhood days.

Much laughter, up and down, we had!

 

 

I was the I little boy you entertained,

and you, the storyteller, loved a beer

and books and poetry; my interesting Dad.

 

Despite your ragged nerves left by the war;

your hands that sometimes shook as if before

that bygone discharge from a military hospital,

in entertaining rambles you’d amuse and you’d delight.

But something unforgotten is the sight of private tears

on those Remembrance Sundays, in our town.

The way you could flesh out their “Glorious Dead”;

your mad Welsh chum who’d dance the seven veils,

dispensing army boots, a lousy shirt,

each piece of war-stained kit, in lumbering pirouettes,

each time you’d reach a respite and some wine.

He didn’t give a shit

for all the King and Country stuff,

and sang odd bits of opera, like you.

In time the war swept him away,

and many others you would mourn

each time “that bloody trumpet”

(so my mother termed it) blew;

Remembrance  Day.

 

I’d ask my childish questions and she’d stay

beside you, arm about your shoulders,

with her jaw set in that stubborn way;

just hating what the Last Post did to you.

How fierce she was; and Irish, too, those moments;

fighting hard, to keep your marching ghosts at bay.

 

I’m at the old Infirmary again.

While you’re out in a waiting room

the specialist’s pronouncing on your case.

Incurable, and far advanced, he says;

precise, discreet.

And though I speculated twenty years about it,

still, I ask if I was right;

as we walked out,

to tell the truth on Jolley Street.

 

But I had no closer friend than you.

And I, you see, had it been me,

would not have wanted you to lie.

 

I still can see your face and its emotions;

I still relive the anger

as I watched life tear you down.

Soon after you had gone I felt I didn’t

want to see the place we strode about so often.

In any case, with landmarks lost,

what would I recognize about the town?

 

There was no closer friend than you.

In spite all the other things I’m grateful for,

that’s why

I bitterly regret you had to show me,

prematurely, your ultimate example;

how to die.

 

My area in the North West, between Liverpool and Manchester, was classic rust-belt,  a coal-burning, long heavily-industrialized  place, large chemical factories,  caustic soda and soap works, flour mills, steel processing plants, wireworks, coal mines,  box works, aluminium  fabrication, hydraulics factories and gasworks, and many more. There were always factory jobs available, in student vacations, and I did many. We used to get regular dense fogs in winter, before the Clean Air legislation was introduced.

The air was bad in that town, very polluted, and I got pneumonia and a collapsed lung when I was three. There mustn’t have been adequate emergency treatment available in my local hospital, because I was treated in a special hospital, for chest complaints, out near Liverpool and far from my home. My parents had to take a long bus ride to visit me. They were both working, and their jobs simply did not allow them to take such a long trip often, after work, and arrive in time for visiting hours.  I remember being the one child, in a cot, in a ward full of bronchitic  industrial  workers, and coal miners with black-lung. They were very kind to me, but I developed a real case of separation anxiety from my time there, which left its mark for years afterwards.

The local public library was a favourite haunt of mine. Saturdays in my boyhood meant a trip to the swimming baths, a walk around the town museum, and a change of library books. Walking home, I’d be laughing and joking with my pals, crossing the bridge over the railway tracks to Bank Quay station, by the chemical works, along the River Mersey. Liverpool and Manchester were both about an hour away, by train.

There was the arrival of colour television, Rock n’Roll, the Teddy Boys, the spread of popular musical culture, via records, 45’s and LP’s, then stereo sound and hi-fi, reel-to-reel tape recorders, then audio cassettes, then videos and CD’s etc. Movies developed Cinemascope, dynamic sound, Technicolour, and special effects.

There was the availability of more mass-produced cars to buy, and new roads and motorways to drive them on. It was a golden period of new social mobility, when petrol was cheap, and before speed cameras were thought of, and before the road network clogged up with traffic.

There was the landmark introduction of the contraceptive pill (which unlocked sex), affordable international air travel, (which unlocked the world).  Feminism kicked off with Germaine Greer’s breakthrough book, “The Female Eunuch”, and  liberalization of attitudes grew in many areas, from dress to sexual behavior and the availability of drugs. The outcomes weren’t all uniformly good, but they were truly revolutionary to live through.

Then there was the arrival of the photocopier, the fax machine, and cheaper phone calls via the privatization of the telecommunications industry. Satellites in geo-stationary orbit fulfilled writer Arthur C. Clarke’s predictions, providing instant international communications, for voice, data and TV. Then came mobile phones, plus the arrival of  broadband over old voice networks, then fibre-optic cable leapfrogged the bandwidth of old copper-cable phone networks , bringing  new rapid  voice and data communication, plus Cable TV. There was also the advent of the Personal Computer, the Internet, and Smartphones.

There was nuclear power, lasers, holography, mass- immunization, unlocking the genetic code, the elimination of polio (a disease I remember had once confined a cousin  of mine in an “Iron Lung”)  the elimination of smallpox, developments in plastic surgery, the availability of cosmetic surgery  and organ transplants, and cyber implants, and brain-scans, and new drugs to curtail classical madness.

Rock Around the Clock.

Oh yes, there were also Sputnik, the first orbiting satellite, dogs in orbit, then men (and women) in orbit; first, Yuri Gagarin, circling the globe in a tiny capsule, then John Glenn, NASA’s flights and then the moon landings, and the exploration of Mars by robots, and the building of the International Space Station. There was the development and open testing of the Hydrogen bomb, nerve gases and biological warfare. There was the (first) Cold War and the age of M.A.D. There was Rock n’ Roll, Bill Haley and the Comets, Teddy Boys, Angry Young Men, Elvis, the Beatles, the Stones, Cream, Blues, Dylan, hash, acid, Reggae, the Korean War, Suez, Viet Nam, jogging, yo-yo’s, hula-hoops and Disco. There was the scourge of Aids, the spread of SARS through booming international travel, there was Ebola, flesh eating viruses, mad cow disease, accelerating dementia, and Rap music.

There was the political crucifixion of British M.P. soldier, poet and classics scholar, Enoch Powell, for predicting the future of the UK, memorable assassinations-a-plenty, from the Kennedys to Martin Luther King, and John Lennon, and many, many more. There were endless wars, the rise of militant Islam and the auto-destruction of Europe by demographic conspiracy. We were all expected to worship Globalism.

 

 

THE CORPORATION

 

Lie back and learn to love

the corporation.

Especially on a daily basis

rape means rage and tribulation.

Get wise that such humiliation’s

futile and corrosive;

not to mention an explosive parcel

ticking in your sanity.

You can’t reject the corporate embrace.

To think you can resist

is merely vanity.

Understand, you’re on your back,

my friend,

and they’re right in your face.

It’s macro-economic systems

goosing all humanity.

 

True, the world’s in corporate pawn,

even the oceans.

So is the air we breathe,

the lakes and trees.

 

Objections will be neutralised

as weird, subversive notions.

In profit-led inventiveness,

these systems hover over us

from when we’re born

to our assured decease.

It’s wearing, on a daily basis,

we recognize, beyond a doubt.

Admitting you’ve been had’s

just one more burden

you can live without.

We clarify your rights

and we appreciate your trust.

We anticipate your protest and

advise against all self-disgust.

So do yourself a favour,

and accept the situation.

Give all the ins and outs of it

their due consideration,

and go easy on yourself,

for rape is rage and tribulation.

Relax and smile; bend over,

learn to love the corporation!

 

On my life trip I enjoyed motor bikes, many cars, snorkeling, scuba-diving, parachuting, hot-air ballooning, hallucinogenics, and hiking and biking. I’ve always been a keen swimmer, in pools, lakes and ocean. I’ve traveled widely; from the Alps, to the Greek Islands to the Florida Keys, the Prairies, the Rocky Mountains, New Zealand, and the countries of  S.E. Asia, to name a few of the  places I’ve seen.

Then there were the lovers I’ve known, the painting I tried, the acting I’ve done, the four plays I wrote, and saw produced in the London Fringe, the novels I wrote, the political projects I followed, found were flawed, and sometimes murderous, so abandoned. There were the risks I ran, and the accidents I survived, and some lucky escapes.

And all the time there was a poet in me, watching, wondering, rejoicing in his recurrent good luck, waiting to reawaken, hit the release button and emerge. I can’t think, honestly, of a comparable life-arc, at any point in human history, to match my generation’s trip. That period took in the descent of the Bathysphere, the ascent of the VTOL Harrier jet, and the expansion of  Astro-Physics. Big Bang theory replaced Steady State theory. There was the UK’s Jodrell Bank  pioneering radio telescope, followed by more of them, internationally; the discovery of dark matter, and quasars and pulsars, and black holes and neutrinos and quarks, and the parallel refinement of rocketry and guidance systems. We saw research satellites, the Voyager spacecraft, exploration of our solar system, and the discovery of water on Mars, and the certainty, now, that a Mars settlement will come within decades.

Way back in my life there were born transistors, and the solid state electronics revolution, and the obsolescence of electronic valves. There was anti-noise, anti-matter, carbon-dating, electron-microscopy, micro-processors, micro dots and Nano-technology, new materials and super-conductivity and super-computers.There were still steam trains taking us on holiday when I was a boy. Then came  new diesels, then electric trains, then, abroad, bullet trains and  under-mountain and undersea railway tunnels, then there was magnetic levitation technology, fusion reactors, national power grids, hydro-electric, wind, and solar power. Oh, and they built the Channel Tunnel, and I’ve travelled through it by train from London to Paris.  I’m merely scratching the surface of a life here.

On my life trip I’ve seen a huge dumbing–down of society in general, and a decline in educational standards. I’m not imagining that. I worked as a supply teacher in comprehensive schools in England, after I was made redundant in the telecoms industry, and I’ve interviewed and evaluated numerous candidates for jobs, in various sales- manager roles I had.  Neither was an inspiring experience.

The growth of the Internet, and alternative information sources has, on the other hand, severely dented the influence of Establishment mass-media. It has alerted the general public to the destructive consequences of globalization, and the machinations of a corrupt ruling elite, engaged in ushering in a New World Order against their will. It has begun to trigger revolutions, such as the popular resistance, in the UK, to an EU super state, with Brexit, and anti-EU developments elsewhere in Europe. However, the threat of the aggressive advances of militant  Islam into democratic and gullible western nations is serious.  Free speech, a right valued as paramount through my life, and through the whole western enlightenment, is now under open threat from Political Correctness, and a political “Newspeak” predicted in George Orwell’s “1984”.  CCTV mass-surveillance, facial-recognition software, and satellite communications have made the Orwellian nightmare of Big Brother a technological reality.

The UK is the most spied-on place on the planet. The society that once gave us Speakers’ Corner  has morphed into an enemy of free expression, where university students demand “safe spaces” free from the dangerous influence of debate and alternative ideas. Truly bizarre, and possibly, ultimately tragic.

If I were a cynic, I might say I’d seen the best of it.

I’m glad the poet in me stayed the course, and I was hugely amused that, with the amazing launch of AIRSTRIP, at the legendary Heart of Darkness club, in Phnom Penh, in December 2017, I made it into a band before I turned seventy! (pause for hoots of self-mockery).

As I go forward, however, there’s one abiding influence from my lifetime I can be sure will go along with me, the Uncertainty Principle. As the robotics revolution resurrects the Luddites, and ushers in massive unemployment, that age of plentiful, available jobs I knew in my youth, seems as far-off as James Watt, Brunel, and Hargreaves’ Spinning Jenny.

God is dead, but let’s hope Artificial Intelligence knows better.

It’s not over ‘till it’s over. Onwards.

 

Count your blessings.

 

You grow old, as you have lived,

among charlatans, thieves, political liars,

talentless poseurs, decriers of the worthy,

running on jealousy. And infestations

of academic commissars,

post-modernist frauds.

 

It’s the culture of the cockroaches

and The Murderers of Truth Awards,

the era of the brainwashed and the ordure of

the journo-whores.

Betrayed and dumbed-down i-phone slaves

whose clueless, bovine ignorance

ignores the marxist killing floors,

bloodstained dystopias built on bones.

 

Whose ignorance of history abjures

the corporate criminals, and Maoist-clones,

the gilded movie bawds, the papal puppeteers  and

teflon pederasts, the rackets and

the turnover of temples-become-profit-zones,

the mummery of ritual to stupefy the herd.

 

In the culture of the cockroaches, subjection

is the meaning, and compliance is  the word.

So, count your blessings, poet,

you grow old, as you have lived,

amid the virtue-signalling of herds

of posturing tyros to the left of

the absurd.

 

KC: How does one improve as a poet – and in what ways have you gotten better at your craft?

JG: With poetry, like most art, given some basic talent, practice is key to improvement, but read other poets, ancient and modern, learn about the tradition and the revolutionaries. Practice at reading aloud is also important, since poetry, it has often been forgotten, is a performance art.  This certainly wasn’t the emphasis in the teaching I received, but it’s an integral part of the bardic and troubadour tradition, literally centuries old. Only recently did I recall my father telling me that he’d often been assigned to give poetic recitations when he was a boy. Apparently he was pretty good at it.  As a self-educated man, who missed out on formal schooling, and with an uncaring father forever embittered by the horrors of his soldiering in the First World War, he always encouraged a love of poetry in me. His last words told me to carry on writing it.

Reading aloud builds confidence for the poet, and extends the theatrical dimension of poetic narrative. It does require some acting ability, however; and rehearsal. It’s a way to make a poem pack more emotional punch. It’s a more direct, if risky, form of communicating the piece. Successful experience in reading aloud also feeds back into the style of writing. For example, it developed the narrative thrust much more in my work.

Also, looking back on it, the weekly pressure to produce a verse column of a comic / satirical nature, to a deadline, was a useful discipline in student days. It taught me more than I realized, in basic technical skills.

Studying for my Master’s Degree in Elizabethan and Shakespearian Drama, I had a year of total immersion in the works of Shakespeare and his contemporaries, which had to have a significant formative effect on my own creative development.

After I started writing poetry again, I reached out, about twenty five years ago, to other local poets, in Hertfordshire UK, and started a poets’ group which met every week to read and critique members’ work. The group, which I believe is still in existence, is called Poetry I.D. (after one of my poems of the same name) and proved very helpful to a number of poets in developing their writing, and gaining confidence in their art. The group organized readings and workshops, and produced an annual poetry collection.

Public readings, with this group, and subsequently, gave me valued experience in delivering and projecting my work. The feedback I received strengthened my self-belief as a poet.

I say, in all seriousness, Poet was a title I was reluctant to adopt lightly. After all my study, my reading, and as a student who had absorbed the ideas of T S Eliot and F R Leavis, the role of poet, to me, was a mantle, sanctified by tradition, something to be earned, rather than claimed. I’ve seen many people claim it with an embarrassing lack of any skill.

My Facebook page, and Lizardville Productions FB @lizardvilleproductions page, have served for some years now, as outlets for my poetry. It  has been like being able to give a reading whenever I want to, often several times a week. The positive feedback I’ve received from a loyal following has been a real stimulus to me as a poet, and I take this opportunity to thank those people for their support.

Though I have had work consistently published, in magazines and websites in the UK and the USA, my adopting the role of “Performance Poet” in S.E. Asia, put the emphasis strongly on live  readings. I started live readings at various venues in Bangkok, beginning at a performance evening  I started at Assumption University when I was teaching there. I continued in clubs in Bangkok, and still later, Phnom Penh. In the process I got noticed; some called me the ”Poet Noir”. For me, all this period was one of practice and development in my writing and its delivery.

As my workflow continued, and I was better known, I published two collaborations at Lizardville Productions. “Bangkok, Heart of Noir” was a poetic collaboration with Expressionist  painter, Chris Coles. “Blanc et Noir” was a poetic collaboration with photographer, Mark Desmond Hughes.

Working with great talents in other disciplines means you must produce of your best to merit the partnership, I greatly enjoyed complementing my poetry with the impressive output of these two guys.

A final note regarding improving and sustaining one’s poetic output, is a simple one. Be attuned and receptive for new ideas, images, inspirations. Always have a notebook with you. Some of those ideas can take months or years to gel.

KC: What has Southeast Asia gotten right that the West never learned? What do you miss about England?

Kevin Cummings, Alan Parkhouse, and John Gartland at The Jazz Club in Phnom Penh

JG: I feel no empathy with the brand of Buddhism in Thailand and Cambodia, even though I’ve been very influenced and sustained by Zen Buddhism, in my life and thinking.

I’ve always enjoyed the more tolerant attitudes to some aspects of life, that one found in Thailand. Such open-mindedness seems to be in decline these days, under military dictatorship.  However, since Thai tolerance also extends to thoroughgoing social corruption, it’s not always a positive thing.

What do I miss about England? Landscapes where I used to go hiking, like The Lake District, Dartmoor, Exmoor, the Yorkshire Dales, and Northumberland.

I miss mountain-biking in a cool climate. I’m also an Irish citizen, and I miss Ireland even more.  I go back when I can.

 

from.. Thoughts from the West

 

But driving

to the reading up in Donegal,

re-visiting the windy West,

as rapt as any lover,

best redeems a poet,

weaver without witnesses,

invests in me a landscape green

of ancestry and memory.

The straight road to old friendships,

and the boundless zest

of childhood wait within

the healing whisper of the trees.

So, under rolling Sligo skies,

through Drumcliffe, northward,

by Ben Bulben’s side, I’m breathless

in the land’s embrace,

this stormy blessing of a place

we cried so often, leaving,

lives ago.

 

KC: You and John Burdett had some major differences over Brexit. I believe you got a nice blurb from John out of it. Explain Brexit. What do the critics not get? What are your biases and blind spots that are toughest for you to own up to?

JG: Brexit is about the British people waking up to the fact that their agreement to participate in a European Common Market has been hi-jacked by a totally different agenda, to become part of a European super state. The following recent press  report about recently released government documents, puts it in a nutshell. It describes a political conspiracy against the British public.

“We were lied to!

A SECRET document, which remained locked away for 30 years, advised the British Government to COVER-UP the realities of EU membership so that by the time the public realised what was happening it would be too late.

Almost all of the shocking predictions – from the loss of British sovereignty, to monetary union and the over-arching powers of European courts – have come true.

But damningly for Tory Prime Minister Edward Heath, and all those who kept quiet about the findings in the early 70s, the document, known as FCO30/1048, was locked away under Official Secrets Act rules for almost five decades.

The classified paper, dated April 1971, suggested the Government should keep the British public in the dark about what EEC membership means, predicting that it would take 30 years for voters to realise what was happening, by which time it would be too late to leave.

That last detail was the only thing the disgraceful paper – prepared for the Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) – got wrong.

The document, known as FCO30/1048, was locked away under Official Secrets Act rules.

This 1971 document shows exactly what the plan was.

The unknown author – a senior civil servant – correctly predicted the then European Economic Community (the EEC effectively became the EU in 1993) was headed for economic, monetary and fiscal union, with a common foreign and defence policy, which would constitute the greatest surrender of Britain’s national sovereignty since 1066.

He went on to say “Community law” would take precedence over our own courts , and that ever more power would pass away from Parliament to the bureaucratic system centred in Brussels.

The author even accurately asserts that the increased role of Brussels in the lives of the British people would lead to a “popular feeling of alienation from Government”.

But, shockingly, politicians were advised “not to exacerbate public concern by attributing unpopular measures… to the remote and unmanageable workings of the Community”. “

After David Cameron, the former Prime Minister, through a combination of arrogance and incompetence, stumbled into offering a referendum on Britain’s membership of the EU, the Establishment’s absurdly exaggerated warnings against leaving (now derided as “The Big Fear”)  became comic legend.  Increased unemployment was the least there was to fear, according to this huge propaganda campaign. From the lock-stepped apparatchiks of the BBC to  pop-music  has-beens like Bob Geldoff, to political-has beens like John Major, to soon-to- be’s like Hillary Clinton and  Barrack Obama, there were dire warnings of  disaster, toil and trouble, if their beloved New World Order was disrupted. The UK Chancellor, Osborne made predictions of such spookily dire outcomes that the biblical plagues of Egypt seemed preferable to leaving the EU. This arch- black-propagandist, whose fictitious predictions patronized  and  insulted the public’s intelligence, was fired from the cabinet after the vote to leave. However, he has since been appointed the Editor of London’s mass circulation daily paper, The Evening Standard.  As my American friends would say, “Go figure!”

The cost has been huge. In addition to an eye-watering slice of taxpayers’ money, the government also gave away the UK’s right to make its own laws and determine its own tax rates, gave away its rich fisheries,  and surrendered a thousand years of English Common Law to the European Court.

Unregulated immigration of unskilled workers drove working class wages down, swamped the National Health Service, and flooded schools with non-English speakers.

About 1.95 million European nationals have moved to Britain since Poland and nine former Soviet bloc countries joined the EU in 2004, giving them freedom to come and work in the UK.

This compares to 1.49m migrants from countries outside the EU settling in Britain in the same time.

This means Britain’s population has increased by about six percent, due solely to non-British immigrants, in a decade.

People who drew attention to these alarming figures were smeared as racists, extremists, nationalist, and right-wingers, in a full-on BBC and mass-media onslaught, reminiscent, in its ruthless thoroughness, of Doctor Goebbels, or Senator McCarthy.

However, as we saw, the British  public were not fooled. They voted to leave the EU, because they had real personal experience of a drastic fall in the quality of life for ordinary folk, which fat-cat supporters of the EU membership did not.

Since that fateful vote to leave, we’ve seen the full weight of the UK establishment, from the BBC to the Lords, and ranks of rich media airheads, and patronizing EU hirelings, employed in an anti-democratic effort to deride, thwart, and possibly reverse the decision of seventeen and a half million Britons, to leave the EU.

Their masters, in Berlin and Brussels, urge them on, clearly alarmed at the imminent loss of the UK economy and its riches, from their super-state game-plan.

That, in brief, is the reality of Brexit.  Escape from a masterpiece of lies.

KC: Can you separate your life from your poetry? How are they separate? How are they intertwined?

John Gartland at a poetry reading at Queen Bee in Bangkok

JG: They are inseparable.  Writing a poem that works well is one of life’s high-order pleasures. It is completely habit-forming.

 

 PROCESSING

 

Of all the landmarks of the Forbidden City

which embellish this ruined quarter,

the Tower of Yearning still crackles

with lonely life.

Stored hereabouts is Dowland’s Lachrimae

and other melancholy data.

Here, gloomy church interiors,

journals of half -forgotten wars

and maps of vanished cities crowd

the great soliloquies.

There, a Roman amphitheatre

vibrating to the late quartets,

a pocketful of lunar rubble,

huge with silence, older than God.

 

For ages, keeping this from crumbling

into other data, bleeding into becoming,

I’ve tried sealing off the entire sector.

 

But it leaks remembrance, unconsoled;

like old reactor rivets,

hot for another quarter million years.

 

“Ordo Ab Chao” is the Latin expression that defines why writing poetry is addictive. It means Order out of Chaos.  Poetry is a rich discipline that allows you to visit life events that might otherwise be overwhelming, scary, inspiring; as a poet, to come back with something to say, to process them, into art. Poetry always did that.

If you get to the stage of delivering your poetry in public, and you are successful, you additionally get the actor’s or musician’s performance feedback. So, yes, poetry, among other things, is life therapy. It’s also a craft, of course, so without that skill component, and practice, it will be bad poetry.

It’s pretty scary thinking about drying up.

Creative cold turkey would be a serious hurdle to manage.

 

Here is the Muse

 

And when she saves your lucky skin again,

incredibly she opens to your tentative embraces,

and has you, in the hallway of the treasury,

some happy fool, exalted to be chosen, momentarily;

allowed to see her naked faces,

intimate, contemptuous, by turns.

 

She’s left you in the empty morning,

grateful, and alone again,

her number smeared like lipstick in your notebook,

and seems a fragrant phantom then,

till evidenced by carpet burns.

Short of a Beethoven string quartet, few art forms have the emotional depth, eloquence, and richness of poetry at its best. An awareness of a place in the long literary tradition enriches a writer and supplies a kind of empowering alchemy.  Isaac Newton famously wrote in 1675: “If I have seen further it is by standing on the shoulders of Giants.”

That’s exactly the way the Great Tradition can elevate and empower you, as a writer, if you can also bring something special of your own to the party.

 

TRUE DETECTIVE.

 

On the client’s balcony,

an answer hit me, vertigo high,

“One bad attitude’s

enough to find damnation.”

Sure; that’s why I slid through

those realities that evening

on his tuner, found this

case had grown impossibly big.

Heard the laughter from inside….

 

“Was just radio noise”, he testified,

“until I stumbled on the integrator switch,

and the whole gig went harmonic.”

Subversive hospitality; party-lover.

Said he’s seen too much now,

can’t go back there.

Batshit crazy;

or may just be a Buddha.

 

Altered and illegal states cheat

fiction, I told my client, later.

Naked laughter from the room behind.

“We’re locked into this caper,

brother. We score by bringing

something special to the party;

one way, or another”.

 

Time to go back, inside.

 

KC: The legacy of many a great poet includes the fact there is little to no money derived from the art. How would John Gartland like to be remembered? What do you hope readers of your poems, including the ones in this book, Different Drummers, will learn from their reading in the year 2068?

 

JG: Remembered for and by the work only. Oblivion is much more likely.

 

Oblivion to Bang Wa.

 

I’m looking, for the thousandth time,

down from this commuter line

at a weedy Chinese graveyard,

sliding by.

It says memory’s a shaky act.

 

Oblivion Junction to Bang Wa.

The rush-hour train is packed,

approaching Saleh Daeng;

our Skytrain, slowing down

now, for the station.

 

And over crumbling vaults,

the ring of corporate giants

looms in stainless expectation

of a drop-dead valuation,

for this real-estate of tombs.

 

And suddenly, statistically,

you know that someone

on this train, will get off

at big  Junction O, today;

will never have another

job to sweat about, or have

another monthly pass to pay.

 

And in another hundred years, or less,

say seventy five, not one aboard

Oblivion to Bang Wa now will be alive,

and many here today can’t know,

that  they’re already booked to go,

express.

 

No one stayed top-dog, fatcat,

mad-ass, high-so, in-crowd.

No one stayed hot, stayed high,

stayed strong, stayed up-and-coming,

loaded, or knew why they didn’t give

a fuck for any of it, anymore.

Of course, long dead, or ga-ga,

they’re guaranteed not to.

 

But some are heard laughing,

Oblivion to Bang Wa,

some are still laughing

in books that they left you.

 

KC: Talk about humility. What does it mean to you, if anything.

 

JG: As the Ancient Greek writers knew well, hubris invites nemesis.

In the face of the abiding mysteries of life and death, the philosopher knows humility is the wisest virtue.

 

Witness Statement

 

Lost beauty, and lost self-respect, lost scope.

Lost joy, lost peace, lost self-belief, lost hope…

And owning

the pathology of moral dissolution

is revolving-door to wisdom

(when self-knowledge realigns us).

There’s no impartial witness statement

here, in life’s bargain self-a-basement.

It is our naked suffering defines us.

 

In the time of slippage,

insincerity and drift,

he’d lived in many places,

gathering up the thoughts of man,

embracing the forbidden,

and concealed behind an actor’s faces.

A Jungian meditation saved him.

Analysis the fix began…

 

 

“Lost love and lost compassion and lost pages.

Lost chances, and lost promise and lost ages.

I squandered all my assets and rejected every boss.

Though often high, and sometimes drunk,

I know I was a pilgrim monk

for Fragments of the True Loss.

I write a witness statement

from the pit of Purgatory, brother.

I write a hack of self-discovery,

a true confession, and no other.

Lost passion, and lost confidence, lost heart.

Lost pity, lost integrity, lost freedom, and lost art.

Each humbling profanity,

each annihilating breath

are assassins to our vanity,

and naked dress-rehearsals

for the opening-night of death.

 

I owned self-hatred as my name,

the peace of understanding was the prize.

No glitz or lies can mar my game,

no cataclysm, wound or dross.

Redeemed the world with different eyes,

I guard the Fragments of True Loss.”

 

No fix, no hold, no grip

and no abiding plan,

the slide into the

mystery of True Loss

distinguishes, then

levels every man.

John Gartland, David Armstrong, John Fengler, Prewa, and Eric Nelson
(Photo by ALsdair McLeod)

To learn more about John Gartland’s poetry go to:

amazon.com/author/amazonjohngartland

 

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Christopher G. Moore is a writer. I know one when I see one and more importantly, I know one when I read one. He has written 27 novels, 9 works of nonfiction and hundreds of essays. Years ago I wrote something that I felt was innocuous but the feedback told me otherwise. It was that Christopher may likely be remembered in writing circles as an essayist more than as a novelist. In writing Rooms – On Human Domestication & Submission he now runs the risk or reward of being better known as a writer of nonfiction period. Moore, a prolific writer by any measure, has declared himself agnostic on the verdict. I believe him.

His previous nonfiction works include: Heart Talk: Say What You Feel in Thai; Faking it in Bangkok; The Orwell Brigade; Fear and Loathing in Bangkok; The Age of Dis-Content; The Cultural Detective: Reflections on the Writing Life in Thailand; and Memory Manifesto: A Walking Meditation in Cambodia, which I reviewed here at Asia Life Magazine.

Rooms, at 369 pages, plus 44 pages of notes, and a 7 page index is Moore’s most ambitious nonfiction work by a country mile. It is the first work by Moore which I have read that felt like an academic read. This is Moore the Oxford graduate with a degree in law writing to a world-wise audience – the university law professor well-prepared at the chalkboard, lecturing to hungry students. Rooms reads like a Ph.D thesis to me, and that’s what I didn’t like about the book. It’s a book that piqued my interest frequently, and left me confused on occasion. It’s a tome that is worthy of being peer reviewed in scholarly journals and causing Moore to be awarded a doctorate in anthropology, psychology, or futurology. That’s good news for Moore but I came away realizing I fall far short of being that peer.

Rooms is about room culture, a subject I knew nothing about and had given little thought to when first entering Rooms. I now know a great deal about the subject. What I am less clear on is how useful that information will be for me in the future and what void, if any, it helped fill. Stay tuned.

The notes in the back offer a fascinating glimpse, in my case, of what I had just read. With hindsight I recommend you consider reading them first. The pages are a window into Moore’s mind and what must be his Bodleian-like library. One of the terms found on the first page in the notes and throughout Rooms is “Sedentaries”. The term is used to distinguish sedentary people from mobile ones. Our hunter gatherer ancestors are an example of mobile cultures.

” Sedentaries is used to refer to the lack of physical activity in most people’s lives. All such people live in room culture. While long hours of physical labor were part of the early city-states and carried on through the Industrial Revolution, modern people are noted for their physical inactivity. One 2016 international study found that in a life span of seventy-one years the average person spends 41 percent of his/her time in front of a technological device, 29.7 percent sitting down, and 0.69 percent exercising.

Moore takes the reader on a Rooms expedition that includes several topics of interest to him. Specifically: privacy, technology, systems, George Orwell, violence, history, economics, psychology, architecture, power elites, human rights, personal freedom, the brain, legal issues, artificial intelligence, and the future, distant and not so distant. If that seems like a lot to digest in one book, it is. Moore tackles these complex subjects in Rooms with clarity and a sense of purpose.  He has done the same in his previous works, but this book felt unlike anything Moore has ever written or more accurately unlike anything I have ever read by Moore. Rooms is a book which might not garner Moore a huge audience, although that is certainly possible, but it should find an appreciative readership, possibly avid and curious readers who are not yet addicted to screens big and small.

If you are looking for Steven Pinker optimism in Rooms you’ve come to the wrong place. Moore paints a dark, pessimistic future for mankind or at least that’s my interpretation. As a former lawyer Moore is often not definitive in his thoughts and ideas. He’s more likely to use the word “may” over “shall”. This leaves a lot of wiggle-room for what actually happens in the future or what actually happened in the past.

Moore’s pessimism is what led to my confusion at times. An example occurs on page 343 in a chapter discussing Rooms After AD 2060. I get that we are losing freedoms, including privacy. I get that we are more sedentary. I also get that, like Bancini in One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest, we are losing these freedoms voluntarily. What I have trouble comprehending is that there will be no resistance – that we will all acquiesce. As Moore puts it, “Everything about us will be legible, accessible, measurable, characterized, commoditized and stored.” So far so good. He goes on to say, “The Hollywood-style rebel-hero, who seeks refuge from this world of rooms, would be viewed with the same disgust that we reserve today for child pornographers.” Maybe it’s my Berkeley birthplace or my Santa Cruz, California home, two places known for where old rebels go to die, but I cannot wrap my head around that one. Where’s Pinker when I need him? The Chief’s of the world are still out there, able to break out a window and run free.

Of all the subjects Moore covers I found the issue of privacy the one that held my interest the most. Whether I agreed with his take or not made no difference. What mattered to me was that the subject was given proper thought. Rooms by Christopher G. Moore is a time demanding, deep read that requires the reader to analyze the author’s thinking and their own. Rooms explores a time when we were wilder and nomadic and takes us to a gentler less violent place and analyzes the cost of that gentleness.

Does Moore remain hopeful for humankind in the future? Does he believe that technology will free us or further confine us? I’m not sure. But I do know this from reading Rooms by Christopher G. Moore: if you find yourself in a room alone with a door, leave yourself some wiggle-room. Don’t assume that the door is locked and don’t assume that you are alone. Open the door to your room and take a wild walk.

Rooms launches at Amazon on January 9th, 2019 and is available now for for pre-order as an eBook for $6.95. For information about the paperback follow Christopher at his official blog CGMoore.com.

 

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A great interLockeutor, Thom Locke is kind enough to interview me about expat living in Thailand, blogging, writing, and my latest book, Different Drummers, which includes over 50 noir poems by John Gartland …. Last promo of 2018. Merry Christmas and Happy 2562 from Thailand Footprint.

thomlockepublishing

I am very honored to have Kevin S. Cummings here at the Locke Report for a little sit down. Before we begin I’ll tell you a bit about this man of many talents.

Kevin Cummings was born in Berkeley, California and has lived in Bangkok, Thailand since 2001. Kevin’s interviews, book reviews and profiles have been featured in the Bangkok Post, Bangkok 101 Magazine, What’s On Sukhumvit, Chiang Mai City News, the Phnom Penh Post, and the Khmer Times. The Dude gets around. Different Drummers is his second book.

In 1999 he started an internet company that provides legal support services to USA law offices and government agencies, including the Department of Justice. He also sells T-shirts. Kevin now divides his time between Thailand and a small beach town in Northern California, known as Surf City.

THL: Kevin, the expat crowd in Thailand is quite diverse. How did…

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It was a good question. It’s always a good question with the “r” or the “l” sound. It was asked by my regular taxi driver in Bangkok, Thailand the day after the midterm results for the USA came in. Normally his questions are simpler like, “Where you go?”

I thought, but didn’t say, “You wait until the next one, of course.”

Our Noir Commander-in-Chief by the artist, Chris Coles – waiting for 2020

I remember, as a senior in high school when Duane Thomas was playing in the Super Bowl for the Dallas Cowboys and was asked if he thought the game was the ultimate experience. Duane replied, ““If the Super Bowl is the ultimate game, how come there is another one next year?” 

That answer always stuck with me. Events tend to matter to the extent that we give the event meaning. Life goes on, win, lose or EPL.

There is a new event with meaning happening for me. I have a second book out called, Different Drummers. Subtitled, Bangkok Beat Redux, it follows upon the formula of Bangkok Beat, which was released in June of 2015.

Stephen King just came out with a new book called Elevation. He tweeted his 5 million Twitter fans that he’d like them to read it. I did the math and figured out that if just 1% of his followers did what Mr. King asked it could result in 50,0000+ sales. Now that’s a meaningful event.

I am happy with Different Drummers and I hope, like Stephen King with his new book, that people read it. I hope people read it for the lengthy interview I conduct with my co-author, John Gartland and the 50+ poems written by John. I hope they read and enjoy the wonderful story by T. Hunt Locke about a young Mama Noi arriving in Bangkok in 1960. I hope they take the time to look at the dozens of photographs taken by Eric Nelson, Alasdair McLeod, Ken Sieczkowski, Steve Porte, and Mark Desmond Hughes. My favorite one is of Chris Catto-Smith asleep on the red couch at Checkinn99 (taken by Eric), after a hard day’s night, under the large framed photograph of Mama Noi and flanked by two Chris Coles portraits. That’s a teaser.

I hope you read Different Drummers for the profiles, reviews, and interviews with interesting expats and Bangkok visitors including Tim Hallinan, Doug Stanhope, Collin Piprell, J.D. Villines, Lawrence Osborne, Joe Cummings, Jim Algie, John Burdett, Christopher G. Moore, Peter Klashorst, Hugh Gallagher (AKA Von Von Von), Colin Cotterill, and many more. Jeez, lets be honest, I hope you get the paperback just so you can study the great Colin Cotterill cover art.

Click photo to go to Amazon USA

Available NOW as Ebook or paperback

The book is currently available as an eBook at many of the usual outlets, including Kobo, Barnes & Noble and Tolino. It is available at Amazon world-wide as a paperback. Amazon offers a nice feature: any reader who purchases the paperback will be immediately eligible to download the eBook for free – no charge. When the paperback arrives in Thailand it will also be available at Checkinn99 on Sukhumvit 33 and Queen Bee Tavern located on Sukhumvit 26. Go there for the book or the live music. You can’t lose.

Different Drummers acknowledges a talented squadron of artists, writers, musicians, and painters. Four of them stand out. They are Chris Catto-Smith, John Branton, Keith Nolan, and Jerry Hopkins. Without these four there would be no Different Drummers or Bangkok Beat. More importantly, there would be a lot fewer memorable events in my life. Read the excellent Bangkok Babylon by Jerry Hopkins if you want to know where my book ideas come from.

In the Author’s Note of Different Drummers I quote Christopher Hitchens, “Everyone has a book inside them, which is exactly where I think, in most cases, it should remain.”  I would never relish the opportunity to debate Hitchens on this point, but I will disagree with him, now that he is dead and buried.

Writing and publishing a book is not the ultimate experience. There are too many authors and too many books, nowadays, for that to be the case. Like the Super Bowl, books keep on coming. But there are only two books written and published by me, with John Gartland’s poetry and a short story written by T. Hunt Locke. That makes it an event – a good event. Unlike the Super Bowl, it will never be an annual one.

Elections come and go. A good book or live musical event will stick with you if you are lucky. Happy reading in 2018 and beyond.

Go to Amazon or your preferred online retailer and buy  Different Drummers today.

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Joe Cummings

Joe Cummings is cool. Anyone who doesn’t wear a red MAGA cap can figure that out. Of course, that brings out the haters as well as the appreciators. We live in a binary, polarized world much of the time. I was in the Joe C hater camp, once. I had read that the Louisiana born and Army brat Cummings, best known for his pioneer days writing at Lonely Planet and Ronnie Wood lifestyle, didn’t like many things about Americans or maybe it was America? Well, fuck him, right? I am an American. So let me not like Joe, first, even if I had never met the guy at the time.

I’ve changed camps, now, with the help of a quote from Voltaire:

“Appreciation is a wonderful thing. It makes what is excellent in others belong to us as well.”

Let’s face it, grudgingly if it makes you feel better, Joe Cummings does a lot of things well and worse yet he’s made a good living and a good life for himself during his lengthy one-man show. Who does he think he is, making money from writing? No one does that anymore or so it seems. Joe’s a self-admitted 1%er when it comes to writing – I’m less sure about his portfolio. On top of that the guy wanders all over the planet he helped emancipate and never gets lost. There was a time when I used to think that, with a break here or a chance meeting there, Joe Cummings could have been Anthony Bourdain – all whiskey wishes and raw ant-egg salad dreams. Like so many times in my life I got it ass-backwards. With a few different decisions made, perhaps Tony could have traveled a more content and longer path? We’ll never know. Game Over for Bourdain. Joe’s and Keith Richards’ lives keep streaming on, with a few tolerable demons along for the ride.

I’ve read a fair amount of Joe Cummings’ work. Who hasn’t picked up one of his many over-priced coffee table books in a bookstore and perused it for a good-long while before setting it back down and then moving on? My favorite is, Sacred Tattoos of Thailand – Exploring the Magic, Masters and Mystery of Sak Yant.  Joe did the writing and Dan White, who died too soon in 2012, created the photographs. I was too cheap to buy the book but it gave me a lot of pleasure. Mainly because it was so superior to the competition out there. You can also watch Joe do a TedX talk, filmed in Chiang Mai titled Spells & Sigils: The Magic & Mastery of Thai Sacred Tattoos. Joe explains that tattoos, once the domain of sailors, circus performers, and gangsters, have a very spiritual, protective nature in Thailand. They’ve also moved upstream into HiSo/Celebrity territory.

 

Joe Cummings receiving a protective tattoo in the same placement he later recommended to Anthony Bourdain

My regular reading of Joe Cummings includes his monthly column in Bangkok 101 Magazine, appropriately titled Joe’s Bangkok. Joe’s writing often times reminds me of a professional baseball umpire calling a perfect game. Joe’s great at what he does. He calls the balls and strikes of any story flawlessly, and as he sees them, yet at the end of the game or in his case the article or book, you haven’t noticed that he was there. He rarely becomes an integral part of the story. The reason you don’t notice him is because he never makes a mistake. It is what I think makes him that rarest of things in the scribe world –  an in demand writer. His latest book, which I have not read is, The Hunt Bangkok . It’s a book that helps you experience the sprawling metropolis of Bangkok the way the locals do.

I’ve come to believe that while Joe C is no regular Joe his spirit and mine have a lot in common besides our surname. In fact it’s eerie, the amount of commonalities we share. Almost in a Lincoln/Kennedy kind of way. Here are just a few:

Joe Cummings holds a Master’s degree from Cal Berkeley.

I was born in Berkeley, California.

Joe Cummings speaks and reads Thai language fluently.

My wife speaks and reads Thai fluently.

Joe Cummings is beanpole thin.

I used to be beanpole thin.

Joe’s dad was a Golden Gloves boxer with an undefeated record.

My dad took me to a Golden Gloves boxing match once.

Joe Cummings plays regularly in a band at live music venues.

I listen to bands regularly at live music venues.

I could go on but you get the idea. Like most people we are more alike than we are different.

I did finally meet Joe long after becoming Facebook friends, at a live music pub run by an amiable Brit. Prior to that chance meeting our chats were always cordial and Joe was always helpful when I needed help. I respect our similarities and our differences. Our musical tastes don’t always align but even here Joe comes across accommodating enough. On the subject of music he wrote recently, “Critics be damned. You like what you like. ” It’s a good attitude and I suspect it applies to Joe for critics of all kinds.

One of the subjects I chatted with Joe about was interviews. He’s on record as stating that he doesn’t do many. And that seems to be the case. For a guy who has shown the Bangkok ropes to the likes of Mick Jagger and Steven Tyler and tailored those threads accordingly, Joe would make anybody’s interview A list in Southeast Asia. I thought of asking Joe for an interview but concluded that that would put him in a position of having to say, yes or no. And thoughtful guy that I am, I decided to spare him that choice.

It hasn’t kept me from coming up with some questions I would like to ask Joe, however, so here goes. My phantom interview with Joe C.:

KC: Your father was Colonel Cummings in the Army. You were a free spirit during the Vietnam War. How were you similar to your dad and how were you different? Tell me a poignant father/son story about conflict. Tell another father/son story about bonding, please.

JC:

KC: When you graduated from Berkeley you were said to have had at least two job offers: one from the CIA and one from Lonely Planet. Tell us why we shouldn’t believe that you accepted both simultaneously? It worked for the Paris Review after all.

JC:

KC: Name your three favorite guitar players whom are living and your three favorite that have died and what you like, specifically, about each, musically or personality wise.

JC:

KC: Who is your tailor in Bangkok and where do buy your shoes? What was the occasion for your last tailored suit?

JC:

KC: Where, if anywhere, did Anthony Bourdain go wrong? What were your thoughts and feelings when you heard the news?

JC:

KC: What exercise do you do besides walking? Alone, I mean. What’s your best tip on how to drink alcohol and remain thin?

JC:

KC: Do you ever regret picking up the cigarette/whisky combo habit or do you wax philosophical like Christopher Hitchens used to?

JC:

KC: What were your last meals under $3.00 and over $100.00 and where were you?

JC:

KC: Do you prefer asking questions or answering questions? Why?

JC:

KC: Musicians or chefs in Bangkok. Who are the bigger rock stars? Name a maestro or two.

JC:

KC: What music streaming service do you use and recommend?

JC:

KC: What’s your favorite live music venue in Bangkok, Chiang Mai, Hanoi, Jakarta, Rangoon, and Bali?

JC:

KC: What’s the dumbest question you’ve ever been asked in an interview, this question and this interview excluded.

JC:

KC: Heaven, reincarnation, or, this is it? Choose one and tell me why it’s preferable to the others.

JC:

KC: Who were your mentors and/or idols in life during Act I, Act II, and Act III?

JC:

Thanks, Joe. Lets do this again sometime. I’d ask you a question about why you don’t like America, but your answer would make too much sense.

This, of course, is not the greatest Joe C interview ever. That was to get the attention of your eyeballs. That interview was done by Joe’s longtime friend and fellow All-Star musician, Keith Nolan in 2016, It’s part of Keith’s Beyond the Lines series found on YouTube and aired in the past on cable television in Bangkok. Truth be told, I like to interview authors but I don’t always enjoy or even watch the Beyond the Lines interviews. Listening to authors talk about their books can be a drag. I prefer their written words. However, this is my favorite interview in the series. It comes across as two friends, musicians, and adventurers having a good time.

Dizzy Dean is credited with saying, “It ain’t braggin’ if it’s the truth.” Satchel Paige, another baseball player, famously said, “Don’t look back. Something might be gaining on you”. I like Joe Cummings for a lot of reasons. Mostly because he tells the truth and doesn’t look back. They are good rules for living. While others, including me, are arguing the merits or demerits of an inconsequential person or moment, Joe is just as likely to be flying into a Chiang Rai airport in a 12-seater prop plane in order to visit a biker-buddy at his bar. Joe knows. He knows what’s important and what’s not important. To him. And I think that is way cool. Stick around and enjoy the best Joe Cummings interview – ever. By his friend, Keith Nolan.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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StudioPeter

I’ve been mentally taking notes for a Peter Klashorst profile for years. I haven’t had writers block so much as a dam of ideas broken open to a torrent of thoughts making it hard to decide which stream of consciousness to follow? Klashorst as artistic genius is the easy choice. There are many others from which to choose. For those unfamiliar with the Dutch painter who in the 1980s became one of the leading personalities of a European art movement named “The New Wild Ones” I hope to introduce a small part of him to you. For those of you who know Peter better than I, my goal is to weave a partial portrayal of him that will be worth reading. I’m not adverse to seeking advice when I find myself in deep water so I asked a writer-friend how he would describe Peter. “That’s like asking a blind man to describe an elephant”, he replied. That pretty much describes the task at hand for me. I asked another man of accomplishment to describe Peter in three words. My assumption was I’d get back three adjectives. There are thousands applicable to Peter. Instead he returned, “A train wreck.” That response caught me by surprise yet I understood how the phrase applied instantly. Peter Klashorst would be a difficult person to come across without taking a longer look. He’s a physically small man with a big heart and a steam engine of a libido, when he’s healthy, along with carloads of impressive art to his name.

My personal struggle with his profile always came down to a simple question. How do I separate the artist from the art? That seems to be the popular course in the #metoo times of Bill Cosby, Harvey Weinstein, and Woody Allen. Then I read a line on British author John Burdett’s Facebook page that got me on the right track. John wrote about a lifetime observation of his that “…great talent and conventional morality rarely inhabit the same body.” That made me think. A lot. For one, what is “conventional morality”? I’m not sure. But I am reasonably sure that Peter Klashorst’s morality is unconventional. He is also, unequivocally, a great talent. I’m sticking with artistic genius. Let’s define it:

 Genius: Very great and rare natural ability or skill, especially in a particular area such as science or art. – Cambridge English Dictionary

How many artistic geniuses with unconventional moralities have you met in your lifetime? I’ve met damn few that I know of. And I think I know why. I’m not always eager to meet them. That was the case for me with Peter. Four friends were heading over on a Sunday evening to meet-up with the painter and I was invited along. I gave it a pass. Pablo Picasso may not have been called an asshole, but I figured Peter likely was one. Anybody that talented must be. So why meet him? Life is short.

A photograph of Peter Klashorst by Robert Mapplethorpe (Image may be subject to copyright)

However, Peter’s art continued to intrigue me. So I decided to buy a Klashorst original. If you are going to be a consumer, as we are taught to be in the USA, you might as well be a creative one. And besides, the price was right.

Peter was once photographed by the famous photographer Robert Mapplethorpe when he was a younger and already a highly established artist well known in the New York City art scene and the larger art world. Peter won the Buning Brongers Award, a biennial Dutch art prize for young artists, which is the biggest private art prize of the Netherlands. In 1983 he received a prestigious Dutch Royal Award from Queen Beatrix. If that doesn’t impress you I heard from a credible source that he was the first choice to do an artistic re-branding of Heineken beer bottles and beer cans until that unconventional morality got involved. None of this information was known to me at the time I met Peter in December of 2015 at Hemingway’s Bangkok to conclude my purchase. I just knew he was good at what he did. You don’t need to be an art expert to figure that out.

Peter arrived wearing flip flops, jeans rolled up with self made three inch cuffs, a denim collared shirt untucked, no jewelry or watch, and a pale white chrome dome. His body was smaller than I had visualized but nothing else about him or his personality was diminutive. References provided upon request.

 

Peter Klashorst on the balcony of his Phnom Penh Studio with large painting

We sat down and ordered reasonably good food – oysters and sushi. It was the afternoon so Peter drank water as we ate and talked. The alcohol comes later, at night, he told me. Peter is immediately likable. That caught me off guard. I’m convinced that had art not been his calling he would have made a fine Bentley car salesman on Wilshire Blvd in Los Angeles. First Round draft choices of the Lakers or Clippers and the rich and famous would all find Peter’s charm and selling ability genuine. Like his art it wouldn’t be a question of whether you are going to buy from Peter but which one? Peter would hate that job, of course, as he would any conventional job. To my knowledge, artist is the only occupation he’s ever known. Lucky guy. There is no pretense with Klashorst. What you see is what you get and truth is what you will hear. Unfiltered truth.  He’s a rare bird in that he doesn’t come across like he’s all that but he is all that. Peter took ample interest in me too (no hash tag). Bonus points.

With Peter was the painting he had completed from a smaller study he had posted online. It was a painting of his home and studio on Street 130 in Phnom Penh, Cambodia. The work was inspired by a painting completed in 1888 by another Dutch painter, Vincent Van Gough. Titled The Street by Vincent but better known to art lovers as The Yellow House. Both paintings depict the artists immediate surroundings and the place where much of their art was/is produced. I liked the painting straight away from the study, but what Peter brought was considerably more detailed. It was much better than I had hoped for. I was as happy as any material item can make a person happy. I would later learn that in October of 2014 Peter had an exhibition of his art shown at his home depicted in the painting, named appropriately, Lust for Life.

 

Peter Klashorst with a painting I call, The Yellow Studio or Street 130

It is Peter’s lust for life that makes me now realize you cannot and should not separate the artist from the art. It is a continuum. Peter is the art and the art is Peter. You can’t have one without the other and the world is a more interesting place because of each. A more recent exhibition of Peter’s art was held in Bangkok called Cunt and Cock Show held at Rebel Art Space. It featured, well, must I paint you a picture? Peter painted plenty. Themes found in Klashorst paintings range from the erotic, irony, death, power, absurdity, humor, politics, Disney characters, Super Heroes, paradox, junk food, society – high and low – or any combination of these.

Painting is a very personal experience. As Peter commented in an interview with the Phnom Penh Post a few years ago, “It’s like showing yourself totally naked and it’s terrible. You cannot run away.” It’s often said that art speaks to us. Peter’s art has a large vocabulary – some of it obscenity laced. What you hear and see will depend on your own eyes, ears, and mind. My mind tells me that Peter is a brilliant portrait artist. In reality he’s brilliant at whatever art he attempts, I just prefer some brilliance over others. So, too, does Facebook. Peter has been banned multiple times, not long ago for depicting Mickey Mouse in a sexually explicit pose with a grown woman. Facebook, in its infinite wisdom, deemed that Mickey was a child and thus Peter had depicted child pornography as art. Peter countered with an offensive that he had a copy of Mickey’s Identification proving the mouse was a man. Considering that Mickey was conceived in a garage by Walt Disney in 1927 I liked Peter’s chances in a court of law. But Facebook dispenses with those formalities – they are the new sheriff in town and Peter is Otis on the old Andy of Mayberry Show, the likeable imbiber always doing short-time.

Portait of Bob Marley by Peter Klashorst

Female Fighter in Columbian jungle by Peter Klashorst

 

Small Study of Man in Foodland by Peter Klashorst. He speaks to me.

Portrait of a Young Woman by Peter Klashorst

Peter Klashorst Self Portrait – Last of the Mohicans

 

There are legitimate reasons for people to want to discuss the unconventional morality of Klashorst in more detail. His trials and tribulations with HIV and the health complications that followed due to his voluntary decision to stop taking health-benefiting medications for periods of time are well documented. Read his Wikipedia page for starters. Decisions have consequences as a Yale Law School lawyer once told me. I have gone from not liking Peter Klashorst before I ever met him, to liking him a great deal, to questioning his judgment, to hoping he likes me. And none of that matters. Yes, decisions do have consequences and Peter Klashorst makes those decisions every single day. He decides to paint and engage his talent on his own terms as an act of free will. He decides to live. He will die another day. Those decisions are far reaching and long lasting. He is the embodiment of what it means to be an artist in this century or any century past. He’s not the last of the Mohicans, he’s still a new wild one.

At the conclusion of my two hour meeting with Peter at Hemingway’s I was impressed with his demeanor and stories, so I told him, “Someone should write a biography about you.” Peter replied, matter-of-factly, “Oh, they have.”

Of course they have, I remember thinking. Of course they have.

A YouTube video of Peter’s Art Exhibition, Die Another Day

 

You can follow Peter on Twitter @KlashorstPeter or inquire about his art on Facebook when he’s not banned at https://www.facebook.com/klashorst

 

 

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Frank Hurst’s crime novels follow the adventures of intelligence officer Mike Rawlin as he tries to capture a dangerous international drugs trafficker in South East Asia. Frank was himself a former drugs intelligence officer who travelled widely during his career. The books are about secrets, romance, and rivalry in the dangerous jungles of the Golden Triangle and the corridors of power in London where deception and conspiracy loom at every turn. Go to http://www.frankhurst.com for more information.

 

KC: Frank, welcome to Thailand Footprint. Let’s get this party started: Tell me about your works of fiction as if you were pitching them as screenplays.

FH: Pitching for a screenplay – now that would be a thing!

Well, the plan is to write three books under the collective title “The Golden Triangle Trilogy”. The first two, “The Postmistress of Nong Khai “and its sequel “The Chiang Mai Assignment” are already out there. I know that as I spotted them in Asia books in Bangkok yesterday! The third is a work in progress – I’m hoping to complete it in the next few months.

Essentially the books are set in the world of drugs smuggling and more specifically in the Golden Triangle area of South East Asia where opium and heroin production was so rife in the seventies, eighties and nineties. It’s a story about two people, Mike Rawlin, a slightly past it, but dogged British Customs investigator on the trail of Bart Vanderpool, a dangerous Dutch heroin trafficker, Vanderpool is a much younger man – charismatic, clinical and ruthless. Although Rawlin is as determined as a Bulldog and is the more likeable of the two men, he has some serious personal weaknesses and is prone to severe errors of judgement. These central characters dominate the plot as one tries to out-smart the other. As the story progresses the rivalry turns to dislike, then hatred and by the end each is out to terminate the other man. There is love rivalry too. In the first book, Mike Rawlin recruits an informant, a beautiful Thai woman, who also happens to be Vanderpool’s current lover. Rawlin falls for her and it all gets very messy. The informant, Lek is the character in the book’s title – The Postmistress of Nong Khai, passes messages for Vanderpool and for a while Rawlin is able to intercept them. But infatuation takes hold and during a sea chase off the coast of Phuket Rawlin has to make a choice – does he want the girl or the man he has been hunting…?

The second book “The Chiang Mai Assignment” follows on from the first. At the outset, Rawlin is back in Britain, personally wounded, a broken man, relieved of his front-line job in Bangkok and resigned to sorting paper clips in the London Office. Both Lek and Vanderpool have survived but the Dutchman has ditched her for another model, and now his drugs operation is flourishing again. Rawlin is recalled unexpectedly out of the wilderness to track him down. His first task is to find Lek and turn her. By the end of the book, he travels undercover to Thailand using a false identity, and after some adventures and with the help of newly recruited Lek, he locates Vanderpool and plans his downfall. Meanwhile, back in London MI6 have offered to help Customs bring Vanderpool to justice. Between them the two agencies hatch a plan to stage the theft of a valuable Dutch masterpiece from a London gallery which they think will coax Vanderpool out of the shadows. But all is not what it seems. MI6 have a hidden agenda and their true motives are hidden from Customs and Rawlin. The book culminates in the destruction of Vanderpool’s home, the seizure of his latest heroin consignment and “death” in a drive by shooting. But is he truly dead? His body is not recovered. “The Chiang Mai Assignment” is as much about the dangerous world of Thai drugs smuggling as it is about skulduggery in the corridors of power in London.

The third, will follow on from book two and will be the final chapter in the saga. It’s half written at the moment. It will be set in Thailand and many of the old characters will resurface as will quite a few new ones … I like to think that the settings, both drugs intelligence work and Thailand are authentic. Many of the scenes actually happened to me – but some did not!! Just as well really!

KC; When did you catch the writing bug? Did you have any role models? Who are your favourite writers of crime fiction, dead and alive. 

FH: “The Great Game” by Peter Hopkirk made a big impression on me. It was about British and Russian spy networks in Northern India and Central Asia. The fact it was a true account with real people made it even more spellbinding. Since I left the service a few years back, I have started to read more fiction but I’m a bit of a fuddy-duddy and seem to like the old stuff the best. Graham Greene and George Orwell have been very inspirational. The lines are so simple but so descriptive at all sorts of levels. My love of the Far East has been a reoccurring theme and so I found Orwell’s first book “Burmese Days” brilliant to read – tragic and politically very thought provoking, and Greene’s “The Quiet American” set in 1950s Vietnam is simply wonderful. I modelled Mike Rawlin on the central character in that book to some extent – past his best, nervous about the future, willing to do bad things to get his own way. I also really enjoyed “The World of Suzie Wong” by Richard Mason set in 1950’s Hong Kong. The first story about a man falling in love with a bar girl – very sensitively written and it had a happy ending! I feel embarrassed to say that I hardly ever read modern crime novels – I should of course, even if its just to see how a proper bestseller is written by an expert but I’m too set in my ways – I just seem to plough on – oh dear!

KC: Fill me in on your work history and how that plays into your fiction.

FH: I got very fluky in my career. More by luck than judgement I was recruited into the investigation arm of HM Customs in London within weeks of joining the British Civil Service. As a result, I spent the next nearly forty years chasing criminals, mostly drugs smugglers and often in some far-flung corners of the globe. I remember asking an ancient colleague, shortly after I’d joined, what opportunities there were to serve the Crown overseas. He shook his head gloomily and said “None whatsoever!”  Fortunately for me, I managed to prove the old fellow wrong and after fifteen years cutting my teeth catching drugs smugglers at Heathrow airport and Dover docks, I was sent to Thailand to try to develop intelligence about Howard Marks, perhaps the most famous British drugs smuggler of all time. I was totally bowled over by the place and instantly recommended that we open an office there – with me in charge of course! The Department, perfidious as ever, did open an office in Bangkok but sent me to New Delhi instead.  What a joy India was though! Meanwhile I’d been collaborating with the US DEA and the Canadian RCMP among others on the Marks case and between us, with the yanks in the vanguard, we managed to bring him to justice. Marks was a truly international drugs man, highly intelligent, charm personified with a coterie of followers in all the important drugs producing countries, including in Thailand. To his credit he never dealt in hard drugs, keeping himself strictly to weed, but he made a ton of money and had a lot of fun doing it. My character Bart Vanderpool is loosely based on Marks although I’ve made Vanderpool much more venomous and cold-blooded. Vanderpool is a heroin trafficker – Marks was not. In my book that’s an important distinction to make. After Marks, Thailand and India I was dispatched to the Eastern Caribbean where I did six years on the trail of the groups who smuggled cocaine north from south America in fast boats. That was quite an adventure too. In my time in the service I worked at Scotland Yard, doing my best to encourage cooperation between British Customs and the British police. Mostly it was preventing them from trying to strangle one another! I also spend a period in charge of Customs maritime and aviation operations and both these spells have informed my books one way or another. The constant turf warfare between so called cooperating crime and intelligence agencies was not very edifying at times and I write about this in all my books. And my spell amongst the boats and planes has given me an opportunity to weave in story lines about this type of smuggling too. Although I never got my dream job – in charge of the Bangkok office I made sure my character Mike Rawlin did! And so my love affair with the country continues.

KC: Great to hear about Mike. A lucky guy. Have you spent any time in prisons? As a visitor hopefully. What was that like? 

FH: Yes, I have! Too many to count! Although it might add colour to my career if I’d been a serving inmate it would also have meant no career, so my prison visiting has been exactly that – visiting prisoners, usually ones that I’d had a part in locking up. The basis for visiting prisoners is quite simple. To extract information from them – to try to recruit them away from the dark side and become a crusader for the cause … that’s what they tell you. In fact, it’s often a bit more complicated than that. I try to capture some of this in the books and there are quite a few scenes set in Klong Prem gaol in Bangkok. Prisons can be harsh places especially the ones I visited in the third world. Tihar gaol in Delhi and a prison in Kathmandu spring to mind. The worst prison I’ve visited in Thailand in terms of conditions is undoubtedly the Immigration gaol in Bangkok, but that was a few years ago. Overcrowding, poor sanitation and other violent inmates are the main dangers. Mind you, it’s a little artificial visiting as an official. You always get given a clean airy place to talk, knowing full well that at the end the poor man will be carted off into a much less attractive part of the building. Cigarettes were always important – I always carried fags (English not US slang!) They were a kind of currency and it was amazing what intelligence a couple of packets could buy. Whether the information passed was any value was another matter… Sometimes colleagues of mine have been called on to visit someone on death row. This can be a disturbing experience – trying to ply information from a human being who is destined for the drop in a couple of weeks. In general, I was always amazed by the resilience of most of the prisoners I encountered, which served to inform me how much a man (or woman for that matter as I’ve visited some women’s prisons too) can endure and in particular how much they can adjust when the chips are down. For a professional criminal its treated as an occupational hazard I suppose. Even those, lower down the food chain – the couriers or drug mules, some with ten or twenty years ahead of them are rarely crushed. It brings out a hidden resolve in most, which is kind of encouraging.

KC: Tell me how drug enforcement is different in the UK than the USA. Has a post 9/11 and 7/7 environment seen any changes for either you or your former colleagues? How has the enforcement game changed, if it has?

FH: Wow, Kevin this is a huge topic!! I could go on about this for ever!

US and UK law enforcement are similar in many ways – they share roughly the same goals but there are significant differences, mostly related to organisation and money. In a nutshell, in the drugs law enforcement area alone there are a host of different, and dare I say competing agencies, in the US ball park. In the UK there are relatively few. This can cause difficulties in the US in terms of cooperation and coordination; in intelligence sharing in particular. If the British have challenges with turf warfare (which they still do in part), the US has this in spades. A British colleague working in Miami a few years ago counted over 90 different agencies in Florida alone with a remit against drugs crime. From the parks police to the FBI. From a district task force to the DEA there are hundreds of them. And that is where the money comes in I think. Someone has to bankroll their budgets. In the US my impression is there is more money, pound for pound, available at national, state and district levels to fight drugs crime than there is in the UK. The problem is it is not too well synchronized. And overseas budgets in the US are huge compared to the UK. From crop substitution programmes in Afghanistan to the purchasing of planes, helicopters and high-tech equipment for small Caribbean countries, the list is endless. UK interventions have tended to be more subtle – intelligence related generally, an area in which I think we have punched above our weight.

One major judicial difference, the one we often used to talk about is in the area of wiretapping. In both jurisdictions telephone interception as we Brits call it is legal. You need a warrant of course. But in the UK intercepted communications can only be used as an intelligence tool. In America they can be adduced as evidence. You will never here the recording of a conversation between two drugs traffickers played out in a British court. There will not be a transcript either. The British investigator must gather the intelligence gleaned from the wiretap and use it to point him towards where he can catch the criminal – in the act preferably. This is a constant theme in my books – otherwise it might appear too easy. Knowing a man is drugs smuggling by listening to him talk about it is not enough. You have to bring other evidence before the court if you are to convict him.

As far as the changing landscape post 9/11 and 7/7, there has indeed been a change of emphasis. From a UK perspective alone, there was a significant shift post the collapse of the Berlin wall also – but in the opposite direction … Let me explain. After the end of the Cold War and the Soviet Union was wound up, UK security agencies – MI5 and MI6 were left with huge resources, vast expertise but no one to fight – no enemy. What did they do? They ploughed their skills and know-how into the war on drugs and offers to assist the traditional law enforcement agencies – police and Customs came flooding in. New Government Departments were created, others were dismantled or amalgamated. It was a big upheaval and I think we are still recovering from it. It was not all good. And now of course since 7/7 and 9/11 the shift has move away again, the security agencies have been forced to reduce their assistance in the war on drugs. In Islamic extremism they have found a new enemy and have more on their hands than they can manage.

KC: Fascinating. I’d be remiss if I didn’t ask you about your own drug use: pre, post and during your enforcement career. Were you a Boy Scout or a Bad Boy? What is your personal belief about recreational drugs and drug use. Again, pre, post and during employment. I remember an old fact or myth that “Cops have the best drugs.” Truth or hyperbole?

FH: It’s a question I have been asked often by inquisitive friends – usually close ones when in drink. I suspect they think my answer is probably a little disappointing …  I did try cannabis while I was at university – a right of passage I suppose.  Usual story; a joint – ganja from Jamaica – was passed around one day, I inhaled and enjoyed it. This happened a couple of times and then someone brought in some resin – Lebanese gold, I recall. I puffed away happily and then was overcome by a terrible feeling of fear and paranoia. After an hour I was violently sick and since then I have never indulged; although I have been tempted. When I became a drugs investigator any thoughts of taking drugs were quickly supressed. If asked by work colleagues about my history with drugs, I lied. Simple as that. If I hadn’t I would have been out of a job. On reflection, I’m pretty sure most of my colleagues lied too. I have never bought drugs, taken cocaine, heroin or any of the amphetamines and in truth I’ve never had the urge to try. I saw at close hand what heroin in particular can do if unchecked and it frightened me. As law enforcement officers we were not expected to have an opinion on the legalisation question. We had a job to do and we just got on with it. Catching smugglers could be a lot of fun! In terms of our opposition – the smugglers themselves – I enjoyed being in the company of the cannabis and hash guys much more that the hard drugs merchants. They tended to be more sympathetic, they always had an interesting story to tell and led a freewheeling lifestyle that appeared quite attractive. Cold hearted profit seemed more important to the heroin guys and I found little in common with them. Having said that, many of the cannabis traffickers like Mr Nice, Howard Marks had to do deals with suppliers that dispensed a wide range of gear, so their links to the hard drugs trade could become a little blurred at times.  The legalisation of drugs is a complex matter and it would take too long to express them here. But in handfuls, I would be opposed to the legalisation of most of the hard stuff but be broadly supportive of a more relaxed approach to cannabis for example. Fairly predictable eh? Of course, legalisation would not stop smuggling because governments would have to tax the product and this would leave an opportunity for smugglers – cigarette and alcohol smuggling is still huge business for example. And in order for legalisation to be effective you would have to carry the majority of the world’s jurisdictions with you, otherwise countries where drugs were legal would become attractive places for smugglers to operate from – I think the Dutch have had problems with this for instance. In terms of cops and drugs, I can put my hand on my heart and say I’m confident that none of my colleagues in the UK ran a side-line in drugs trafficking. Unfortunately, this is not the case elsewhere and during my long international career I came across many examples of law enforcement complicity and worse in some cases. I remember an investigation once when we seized a consignment of ten kilos of cocaine and the forensic analysis revealed traces of finger print dust in the mix. Enough said…

KC: Why Thailand? Where is home base? How did you make that location decision.

FH: I was born in South London, but I now spend most of my time in the rural English county of Sussex, travelling to Thailand three or four times a year. I first came to Thailand in pursuit of Howard Marks in the 1980s and fell in love with the place. Many business trips followed over the years and when I was stationed in India we used Thailand for R&R. A week before the 2004 Tsunami my wife and I signed a contract to buy a condo in Phuket. We moved in six years later – it took that long to build it after the catastrophe. Nowadays I use Phuket as a base to travel the region and it’s in Thailand that I do most of my writing. I love the north in particular and use the locations as backdrops for the books.

KC: A Bangkok expat once told me about Thailand: You can make friends easily but you have to choose them carefully. How do you make and choose friends in LOS? Do you ever thin the herd?

FH: Land of Smiles! I love that label. Although, I think your friend’s observation is very true of pretty much everywhere in fact. Given my former occupation and background I’ve always had to choose my friends very carefully. I’m not outwardly gregarious and it takes me time to work people out. Part of my government schooling I suppose!! The ones I’d count as true friends are few if I’m honest, and they have been around a long time – mostly. The thought of culling any of them would be painful. As I get older I wish I’d trusted people more when I was younger. Wariness of others can be quite destructive. These days, now that the official shackles are off, I’m trying to train myself to be a lot more approachable! Hopefully this will bring me many rewarding experiences and new friends in the future.

KC: One last one, A Multiple Choice Question:

 I see myself as:

 A. A writer

 

B. An author

 

C. Retired

 

D. A hobbyist

 

E. All of the above.

 

Explain.

 

FH: All of these and more probably! If I had to plump for one, I’d maybe say writer. It sounds a bit pompous though … The fact is I get a lot of joy from writing and I wish I’d started in earnest a lot earlier. Better late than never, and now I have been introduced to a whole new exciting world. I have a lot of other interests but at the moment the writing seems to be in the ascendant. Long may it continue!

KC: Thanks, Frank. Best of luck on your third Mike Rawlin novel and the new exciting world you have found. 

You can follow Frank on Twitter @FrankHurstBooks

 

 

 

 

 

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ONLY TO SLEEP
By Lawrence Osborne
256 pages. Hogarth.

Published July 24, 2018

 

Two years ago Bangkok based author Lawrence Osborne was put in an enviable and unenviable position. Osborne was given the opportunity to say yes or no to becoming the third author to write an authorized Philip Marlowe detective novel, other than Raymond Chandler. Chandler completed seven novels in the well-known series starting with The Big Sleep published in 1939 and ending with Playback in 1958. An unfinished manuscript of Poodle Springs at the time of Chandler’s death was found. It was completed by Robert B. Parker and published thirty years later. Parker would go on to pen the first approved sequel of a Marlowe novel, Perchance to Dream, published in 1991. Benjamin Black was next handed the baton or stick of lit dynamite. The Black-Eyed Blonde was published in 2014. The Black-Eyed Blonde by Black, better known as Booker Prize winning author John Banville was met with critically mixed reviews and disappointing sales.

Thus a series of choices resulted in the birth of Only To Sleep. The Chandler estate had to decide if another sequel was legacy worthy. Lawrence Osborne had to decide, as he writes in the Author’s Note, whether to venture into the perilous position of stepping into the mind of not only another writer but one of his characters. Osborne had the luxury of taking his time making that decision. During that period he made three additional choices: Marlowe would be 72 years old, the setting would be south of the Southern California border, and the year is 1988. After that he wrote the first forty pages. Then and only then did he say yes to the project.

Can you imagine a Marlowe novel written in the Amazon age not being panned? I can’t. So if you are looking for book reviews that trash Only to Sleep they are out there in spades and some of them are entertaining. But before you opt to do that I recommend that you read the reviews of Only to Sleep written by Osborne’s peers. Laura Lippman’s review in The New York Times is particularly good. Of the people actually capable of writing a Marlowe novel none I have seen have been critical in a mean-spirited way. Quite the contrary. That tells me something. After all, we live in mean-spirited times. Please note: I hated Lady in the Lake by Chander. One of the worst crime novels with one of the clumsiest plots I have ever read. Mr Chandler did a great job of describing bricks and mortar though. 2 1/2 Stars.

I feel better now.

There are enough Chandler-like sentences in Only to Sleep to keep most purists happy, “It was ninety-seven in the shade and there was no shade.” “He moved like a sloth in linen.” Or “She seemed dressed for a date in the middle of nowhere.” Original thoughts but as one question in the tale goes, “What was wrong with cliches anyway? They serve their purpose.” However, it is the Osborne sentences that kept me turning the page even when peppered with food, drink, and regional language, specialties of the writer. This is, as the author admits in a published interview, more of an Osborne novel than a Chandler one. If that’s a bad thing it remains an unsolved mystery to me.

What Only to Sleep gives you that other Marlowe novels do not is an elderly, silver-tipped cane-toting protagonist and a seventy-one year old primary antagonist. The latter is said to be, “The most generous man in the world” and he’s a mean son-of-a-bitch too. Let the games begin. And they do, with a vengeance. The spirit of Marlowe past has not been a retaliatory figure merely for the sake of retaliation but that’s what we get on more than one occasion. Osborne takes detours from Marlowe’s (or is it Chandler’s?) psyche with confidence. There is no man with a gun entering through a door at any time. There are no guns or bullets at all. The cane we are introduced to has been used by Marlowe since he broke his foot in 1977. A Japanese “sleeping blade” made by a master smith in Tokyo is tucked inside the elegant walking stick. Marlowe is “Out of the combat zone now.” But that has to do with his voluntary surrender on the battlefield of love. The only sexy thing he sleeps with nowadays is his cane. There are no sex scenes of Marlowe with a much younger woman in this story – another good call for the times – but jealousy rears its head plenty. Marlowe is old, after all, not dead. We know or at least we think we know that the jewel-steel blade will replace the Colt Detective Special at some point. But when? There is no sorrow for the reader when a good writer takes his time and Osborne does. A slow simmer gets you to hard-boiled after all. Eventually, the predator in Marlowe is reawakened. His Big Sleep will have to wait.

Mexico and San Diego (headquarters of Pacific Mutual insurance) were old haunts for the author during the 1980s when he was an investigative reporter for a San Diego newspaper and he uses that knowledge well. Mexico and Baja, California are the shining stars here, not the Golden State or Bay City. A bull fight with opera glasses replaces the bar fights and smashed beer bottles of decades gone by. There is a grieving widow to be found, close to forty years younger than her said to have drowned husband. It is here that Osborne’s time as an expatriate must have been called upon. “We all need something in this world. We all come from places where we can’t get them.” That line could be placed in many an Osborne novel and it works perfectly well in this one.

All the characters in Only to Sleep are interesting, if not vital. Just as importantly, there were not too many to track. Likewise for the dead bodies. Kill Bill this is not. My favorite moment comes from a misfire by Marlowe using his now fashionable weapon of choice. His days of placing a perfectly symmetrical bullet-hole in a perp’s head are over and he knows it. Marlowe has changed since he was thirty or fifty. Why would he not? You may or may not like the changes but recognizing them and hearing his musings on aging should be part of the fun in this read. After all, “You get so tired of the people you already know.” I read Only to Sleep in three sittings, when it could easily be read in two. Mainly to prolong the enjoyment. As Topper the mystery man who calmly spins tops says, “Likes and dislikes are for little boys.” This is a good book to be read by men and women who can give it the non-grudging admiration it deserves.

A paragraph caught my eye around the midway point in Only to Sleep:

“So we are forced to read the puzzling code that other men devise for us. I resented it. Who wouldn’t?”

Lawrence Osborne has succeeded in doing just that. He has taken a puzzle left to him by a legendary writer. In fact he read the code that his peers Parker and Black wrote as well. There may have been times when he felt forced to do so. It’s not the typical research an accomplished author is required to do. But in the end when he looks back on Only to Sleep I doubt that he resented it. Why would he?

 

 

 

 

This book review as well as an unpublished interview with the author, Lawrence Osborne will appear as part of my second book of non-fiction stories, literature reviews, and interviews titled Different Drummers. To be published by Frog in the Mirror Press in October, 2018.

 

 

 

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Five years ago, during Songkran celebrations, I hunkered down and created this blog, Thailand Footprint with the help of a cool cartoonist who drew the frog in a coconut shell. Web-traffic peaked in 2015 and 2016 at rather impressive but not Stickman-like numbers. For a blog that featured the arts, people, and literature of Thailand, I was pleased with the results. I still am. It’s now a body of work of sorts for AI anthropologists to look at, if they are intelligent enough to do so, long after I am gone.

To commemorate and celebrate the past five years I am also pleased to announce that I will have a new book coming out called Different Drummers. When Bangkok Beat was published almost three years ago I did a few interviews with fellow authors, Paul Brazill, Jame DiBiasio, and Thom Locke. When Joe my new tailor from India at Charlie’s Design Fashion House expressed interest in interviewing me I immediately thought, why not? The timing was right. It may have even been my idea. My memory is not what it used to be.

As an aside, for anyone looking for a good tailor shop in Bangkok, I highly recommend Charlie’s Design Fashion House on Sukhumvit 16, conveniently located directly across from Foodland. Joe and his staff are way cool. Check out their online reviews.

It’s not every author in Bangkok who gets interviewed by his tailor. I hope you enjoy the exchange. And thanks for reading Thailand Footprint over the years.

Joe from Charlie’s Design: We had the distinct pleasure of fitting up the rather large blogger and author, Kevin Cummings recently. Kevin has some interesting insights into the world of literature, fashion, shoes, and the City of Angels.

How long have you lived in Bangkok and where else have you found yourself over the years? What do you enjoy about living here?


On average I have lived in Bangkok for 75% of each year since 2001. Over the course of my lifetime I have circumnavigated Balboa Island in a dinghy, panned for gold in the creeks of Auburn, California, played hoops for Chico State and worked on Market Street in San Francisco. What I enjoy most about Bangkok is the anonymity. But now that that’s over I still enjoy the street food.

How did you hear about Charlie’s Design Fashion House?

Late last year I was listening to Billy Gibbons when my Bangkok 101 Magazine arrived. Inside I read an article, “The Sharp Dressed Man”.  I then did some research on Bangkok tailors. The clincher: I was impressed with your web-site design and your social media reviews, plus I’ve always liked the way Sukhumvit 16 buzzes while being tucked away from the other even and odd sois.

Kevin Cummings, author of Bangkok Beat and Different Drummers gets fashion advice from Joe at Charlie’s Fashion and Design located on Sukhumvit 16.

 

Your taste seems to have evolved since we first met you. What made you lose the Magnum P.I. look?

Peer pressure, mostly. They convinced me the 80s were over.

You have written about some of the more interesting creative people living in and visiting Thailand in your debut book ‘Bangkok Beat.’ How did you decide what material to write about?

I knew what I didn’t want to write about: Food, travel, conquests and Go Go bars. I wrote a book that I would find interesting, with the help of the best poet in Southeast Asia, John Gartland , Ace storyteller and historical fiction thriller writer, Thom Locke, and pro photographers Eric Nelson and Alasdair McLeod. The book will have been out three years this coming June. It has aged pretty well.

Bangkok Beat written by Kevin Cummings

What writers were your early influencers?

Kurt Vonnegut, Ken Kesey, Philip Roth and Gary Trudeau. I like humor when it adds to the neurosis.

When did you first consider yourself a writer?

I don’t consider myself a writer. I like to write. The distinction is similar to a professional violinist and a country fiddler. Both pursuits are admirable and both are skill-sets. It’s not easy for the fiddler to make a living fiddling for one thing.

What do you like to wear when you write?

My Bangkok Soi Dog #1 T-shirt with art by Chris Coles. I have several.

What’s the one item of clothing that every man should have in his closet?

A good quality bathrobe, unmonogrammed, long enough to meet the knee while sitting. Charlie Rose would still have a job if he had only donned one.

Do you have any other books in you about Bangkok or other topics?

Yes. My publisher, Frog in the Mirror Press has prodded me along with a few fans of the first book to write a sequel. It will be out late summer of this year. John Gartland, Thom Locke, and Alasdair McLeod are once again on board. And I’ll purchase some Eric Nelson photos at our standard rate. Without their contributions I wouldn’t do it, simply because it wouldn’t be as fun or as good. The title and cover art are in the works. A manuscript is complete. The Tokyo Joe’s to Queen Bee story will be told, among others, and who wouldn’t want to read about that?

What writers living in Thailand do you admire?

Robin Williams long ago said of the Hollywood crowd, “There’s Jack (Nicholson), and then there is everybody else.” At this moment in time there is Lawrence Osborne and then there is everybody else. I’ve heard Lawrence has a good sense of humor for an English gentleman. Anyone who likes Bill Murray is okay in my book.

Of the top tier writers, in addition to their writing abilities, I admire their doing. Joe Cummings, Jim Algie, Christopher G. Moore, Colin Cotterill, Jim Newport, Collin Piprell, John Fengler, John Burdett to name a handful, they all do. They all live. They skip hibernating season for the most part. They prepare for death far better than the average bear. That’s what I find most admirable about good writers.

Finally, you’ve lived an interesting life by some people’s standards. What’s next for you?


A linen blazer. After that, as my wife likes to say, we’ll have to wait and see.

Kevin Cummings at his Bangkok Thailand tailor shop - Charlie's Fashion and Design located on Sukhumvit 26

Kevin is wearing a Chinese sourced waffle-cloth bathrobe made by Charlie’s Design paired with Maui Jim sunglasses and a Bangkok Soi Dog #1 T. Find out more about Kevin’s book Bangkok Beat here or read an Auburn Journal column written by Kevin here.

 

All Photographs by Alasdair McLeod

 

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Doug Stanhope came to Bangkok on March, 17th 2018 at the Westin Hotel on Sukhumvit 19. I’ll be writing about the show at a later date. This Thursday, April 5th, 2018 comedian and musician Bill Bailey will be flying in for his comedy show at the Westin. Doors open from 6:30. Show starts at 8:00. Top flight comedians are like watching X-Games performers. They do things people would like to do but are incapable of. Support the live arts when you can, ladies and gentlemen. Life is short and in the long run we are all dead.


 Bill Bailey tackles politics, philosophy and the pursuit of happiness Thursday, April 5th at The Westin Hotel on Sukhumvit 19.

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