Thursday, 31 May 2012

The Law of Happiness and Divorce

I worked at a Seven Eleven store, doing the night shift, to support myself through university. The store was close to the city and had huge high rise government assisted housing blocks behind it, so the night shift was a busy time.

A lot of interesting things happened in that store. I met some amazing characters, I got robbed, hit by a guy with a stick, listened to many late night personal confessions and revelations like I was some sort of therapist and counselled a few souls who were beyond counselling - so I figured, what harm could I do?. 

I met drug addicts and whores of both sexes, was picked up, tried to pick up, had sex in the fridge and marvelled at the fact 7/11 had their own use by date gun that I could change to any date I wanted and 'use-by-date' any product in the store. (Especially relevant whenever you consider buying a 7/11 seafood roll - could I get sued for saying that? But can they sue me for recounting a practise used in one of their stores... stay tuned to find out.)

About five years ago I started writing a novel and one of the characters starts his working life doing night shift in a convenience store and his career then incorporates most of what I'd seen and experienced in my working life, starting in that 7/11 and then moving on to a career within a multinational media production company. 

And it would be wrong of me to tell which company.... so don't even ask.

It's a fiction, it doesn't name names, but the situations are all based on something I saw, heard, witnessed or lived myself - and then I exaggerate them to their most extreme outcome in order to highlight the craziness of something that was looked upon as morally grey and shouldn't have been.

I will be placing it online at Smashwords  in a couple of weeks - once I've done another proof read. I'm a terrible proof reader - I get so caught up in the story I forget to actually proof read and before I know it I'm 20 pages further along and haven't corrected a thing. I guess that's either  a good sign the story is entertaining - or that I'm a complete narcissist and love my own work.

I thought I'd put some chapters online for people to read - a preview of what's to come.


It's about a sheltered middle class guy and the girl he meets who schools him to become more wise about the world. What she can't foresee is his education about how the world really works takes his innocence and changes him into a far less likeable human being.

It's about love, sex, drugs, ambition and the study of the moral questions every person must ultimately confront and answer - questions that determine who we are going to be and what each of us consider to be good and bad - right and wrong, within the world we live in.

I think it's best described as a black dramedy. I hope it makes people laugh and cry, but most importantly - think.

So here are the first two chapters. I'll post a few more over the coming weeks until it's ready to go online. Then I'll post a link and it can be downloaded complete. I hope everyone enjoys.

The Law of Happiness and Divorce
By Scott Norton
© 2012

ONE − Nightshift and nametags.

Bailey Fairfield’s life was slipping away from him. He worked night shifts at a convenience store and the temporary job had taken weeks and turned them into months that extended into years. The end of his second year was fast approaching, but on this night there was a change from his usual routine; he found one of his regular customers, a transient night stalker, tucked under a shelf trying to go unnoticed and get some sleep. She was like a final flourish to the chip display as she lay curled in a ball. With her dirty toes protruding from her worn flannel nightshirt she looked innocent. The flannel was stretched and disfigured as she tucked her knees inside to give warmth. Her dark hair fell towards her shoulders, the oiliness from days of neglect binding strands together.  
"Excuse me," Bailey said softly.
The woman didn't move.
"You can't sleep here."
Bailey lent down and gently rocked the woman’s shoulder. She woke with a look of terror in her eyes and tried to place where she was.
"You can’t sleep here. Not inside the store.” 
The woman nodded her head like she understood, but she didn't. She said nothing as she got to her feet, walked down the aisle, out the doors and into the dark car park before disappearing into the distance. Bailey stood watching as the night swallowed her scuttle down the street.
The next time Bailey saw the woman she arrived with flowers picked from a neighbour’s garden. She placed them on the counter.
"For you,” she said with a smile.
Bailey didn't know how to take the gesture. The woman giggled and left the store.
She became a regular visitor after that. Once or twice each week she’d arrive, take some straws, sugar sachets and other free items, then leave. Sometimes she'd bring a gift: an old newspaper, a treasure masquerading as junk or something more significant, like a hand-made card which said hello in a more eloquent way than she ever could. One night, almost unnoticed by Bailey, she began calling him by name. Bailey asked her name. 
"Kylie," she said with growing confidence. Bailey suspecting she had a crush on him. She didn’t. 
Then one night Kylie arrived at three, looking shaken. She wore her usual flannel nightshirt with bare feet. She had blue markings on each temple, the result of shock treatment delivered by a well-known hospice she called home; a halfway house for Kylie’s mind to catch up with the rest of the world.
She began with small talk and slowly crept towards her treatment at the hands of one of the male nurses watching over her. 
“He stuck his cock in me. I told him not to, but he doesn’t listen.”
Bailey stopped stocking cigarettes and looked to Kylie with concern.
“He raped you?”
Kylie shrugged.
“They get to control everything; money; when you do stuff. You have to sign a paper that says they can do what they want to you.”
“Not rape. You should report it to police.”
“They’d get mad at me and I don’t have anywhere else to go.”
Bailey wanted to help but he wasn’t sure how. He gave Kylie a coffee, a free doughnut and set up a milk crate for her to sit.
“I’ll go with you if you want?”
“It’s okay,” she said.
Kylie never raised the subject again. By the time the sun came up Bailey put the story down to a cry for attention that Kylie backed away from when Bailey offered to help. But the night marked the start of a genuine friendship brought on by the boredom of night shift and a recovering drug addict’s insomnia.
One night a young woman entered the store. Bailey didn’t notice. To him she was just another in a long line of vacant faces, wandering the aisles, chasing a fix for a late night craving. Kylie spotted her glancing at Bailey. The woman scanned the shelves, the chocolates, the biscuits, the batteries, but always came back to a sly glance to the front of the store. At first Kylie thought she was a thief, checking to see who was watching. But she never took a thing.
"She’s pretty?" Kylie whispered.
Bailey stopped stacking shelves and looked. The woman was very attractive and she moved to the counter as Bailey looked her way. She stopped at the doughnut display, gazing at them as if she could make one levitate. 
"Are these fresh?" she asked.
"They’re yesterday's," Kylie added. "He’s got the fresh ones out back.”
Bailey looked to Kylie dumbfounded. Kylie laughed and released some red slushie into her coffee. She showed no sign of regret over her betrayal.
"Could I have a fresh one?” the woman asked in a flirting tone.
Bailey went to get a fresh doughnut.
The moment the woman left the store Bailey turned on Kylie.
"She was off her nut! Do you really think she cares if the doughnuts are fresh or not?”
“She liked you, idiot. She kept looking to see if you were looking."
Kylie let go a giggle as Bailey’s annoyed expression left him. He replayed the last few minutes in his head and realised Kylie was right. He mentally kicked himself for missing the signs.

TWO − Nocturnal Clubbing.

With a night off from work, Bailey was ready to enjoy himself. No longer able to sleep with the rest of the world, he lived in a permanent state of jet lag and often headed to clubs as the conservative crowd were thinking of coming home. On the second level of a club called Hades, in the darkness behind the upstairs bar, Bailey stood watching the dance floor. He didn't notice the girl who moved in behind him, but she noticed him.
Bailey looked around to see the extremely attractive young woman sitting on the divide between the booth and the walkway. She was almost completely dressed in black. She wore a cap and had her hair tied back. She swung a bottle of beer on her finger, jammed inside the neck.
“Hi,” Bailey said, desperately trying not to look too eager.
"You don’t remember me, do you?"
Bailey looked at the girl, wishing he did. He smiled, trying to be confident.
"From college, right?” He had no idea.
The girl was enjoying his confusion.
“If I asked you for something, would you lie and say you haven't got it?"
Bailey screwed up his face, confused.
"A fresh doughnut maybe?”
Suddenly the girl's face jumped into context. Bailey was on his third drink and while he wasn’t drunk, he had a buzz going. The next half hour flashed by. They talked about work; they laughed about nothing and danced to any song sounding vaguely familiar. Then the girl's tongue was down his throat. It was still there when the lights came on and the other clubbers ducked for cover as harsh fluorescent lights gave away make-up, age and imperfection.

"So?"  Bailey said, urgently searching for a way to continue what they’d started.
“Time to get going,” he said, regretting the words the moment they came from his mouth.
“You could come home with me - if you want?” the girl in black offered. It was the most beautiful sentence Bailey had ever heard.

Minutes later they entered a third floor flat, shed their clothes as they crossed the main room and walked entwined to a bedroom where they closed the door behind them and fell to the bed naked.

As the two lay panting in the afterglow of sweaty, passionate, satisfying sex, Bailey noticed the room for the first time. Hanging from the cupboard at the foot of the bed was a brightly coloured, ‘See how I grow chart’. The rest of the room was equally pre-teen. There were primary coloured toys displayed along a series of shelves and the side of the bed was modelled in wood to resemble a racing car.
"Is this your room?"
"Sort of," the girl said, as she leant over and lit a joint. “It’s my brother's flat, but he lets me use the room when his son doesn’t stay over.”
Bailey nodded as if he was fine with the idea of staining a young boy’s bed sheets.

A bad excuse later and he was hopping around on one leg and slipping his boxer shorts on. Once he’d found his jeans and shirt he headed for the door with only the briefest goodbye. As he walked home, passing suits on their way to work, he began thinking of the girl and that room. He couldn't work out why he’d been so uncomfortable, or why he left so quickly. The girl was beautiful; the sex was great, so why didn't he stay longer? He fished in his pocket for his phone and checked a text message from her that simply read, ‘this is me’. That’s when his heart sank. He’d heard the girl’s name only once and now, after beers, dancing and sex, he’d completely forgotten it.

That night at his store he had a strange feeling in his stomach, nerves, excitement. He was showing all the signs of having a crush on someone and not being sure if they felt the same way. Bailey was a schoolboy again. Every time the door to the shop opened he looked to see if it was ‘that girl’, it never was. By the second night the butterflies in his stomach had cocooned themselves into deep nagging self-doubts.

He chastised himself for the way he left and the coldness he displayed on recognising the child’s room. He berated himself for not remembering her name and he tried to compose a text to her a dozen times, but each time he left it unsent for fear she would discover he’d forgotten her name.
Kylie arrived at three, her usual visiting hour.
“My feet are cold,” she said, as she came behind the counter and sat on a milk crate.
“You’ve got bare feet.” 
“I had bare feet yesterday and they weren’t cold then.”
Bailey was in no mood to deal with Kylie’s strange view of the world or her warped logic.  
“I could get you a towel to wrap them.”
Kylie nodded and Bailey headed to the storeroom to grab a towel. When he arrived back Kylie was microwaving a seafood roll and helping herself to coffee.
“Hey Kyles, I’ve told you before, the coffee’s okay but you’re going to have to pay for the roll.”
“I’m not eating it.”
Bailey threw the towel on the ground near the milk crates. Kylie took the heated roll and placed it in the centre of the towel. She then wrapped the whole thing around her feet. Bailey looked on in awe. He didn’t have time to list the problems relating to the sale of a seafood roll preheated and used as a foot warmer, so he let it slide and went to do a money drop.

By the time he'd finished, Kylie’s feet were warming nicely and she was happily sipping on her slushie-enriched coffee.
“So what have you been up to?” Bailey asked.
“There’s a rat in my room. I can hear it at night.”
“A rat?”
Kylie nodded.
“They say they’re bad, dirty and that, but it went straight for my soap and ate it. If it’s so dirty, why does it love my soap? I told them about it, but no one believed me, so I set this old mousetrap. It worked, sort of.”
“You caught it?”
“Yeah, but then it ran away with the mousetrap on its head like a necklace. It looked really pissed. I think he knows it was me.”  Kylie took another sip of her coffee.
“You think rats are that smart?”
“Not smart-smart”. Kylie said as she drank. “Just rat smart, they only ever do what’s good for them and they put all their smarts into that one thing. That’s why there’s so many of them. Hard to get rid of something when they only think about not being got rid of.”  
Bailey went to the back office, grabbed the mop and bucket and guided them with the mop’s handle into the main area of the shop. As a slow song piped through the speakers he mopped to the beat, removing a thousand steps taken across the floor over the past twenty four hours. He meditated as he moved the mop in a figure eight, slowly covering each aisle. Kylie never once took her eyes off him.

She watched the way he swivelled the handle in-between strokes. She watched his lips moving as they mouthed words to the song wafting into the air from above. She saw the moments his mind reflected on the girl and checked the door in a vain hope. As he neared the end of his mopping a customer arrived and walked across the still wet floor. Bailey breathed deeply through his aggravation.  The moment the customer left he flicked the almost dry mop over the footprints until there was no trace the intruder ever existed.

"Do you think he'll get tired?" Kylie asked. Bailey looked to her confused. Kylie had seen the expression many times before.
"The rat; do you think he'll get tired carrying the mouse trap around on his head?"
"I don’t know, maybe.”
“But he knows. He knows what a trap looks like so he won’t go near another one, will he?”
“I really don’t think a rat is that smart, Kyles.”
Kylie shook her head in disagreement. She was accustomed to Bailey's naïve view of the world.
“I think I'll start wearing shoes,” she said.

Bailey grabbed the use-by date gun and went through the door at the back of the shop that led to the office and storage area. To one side stood a large cold room door, he opened the door and walked into the fridge. He grabbed a box of chicken rolls, ripped open the tape on the box and began to use the gun on each roll before stacking them in the fridge. With every click of his gun he extended the lifespan of the processed rolls as edible food.

And then the girl he’d been waiting for appeared. Something made him look up when she entered. She looked at Kylie, then around the store. She meandered up and down the aisles, looking to the front desk, glancing at the door leading to the back office and procrastinating in the hope of spotting Bailey.

Bailey did what most twenty three year old men wish they could do when confronted by a woman they’d slept with and then forgotten their name, he hid in the fridge behind the chicken and seafood rolls.

"Chicken rolls are good," Kylie called out, as the girl swung around the front of the shop near the counter.
“Just don’t eat them.”
The girl looked confused, but Kylie just pointed a finger to the fridge doors at the far end of the store and Jenna slowly walked to them. She saw Bailey working inside. He was suddenly too busy to notice anything. She gently knocked on the glass. Bailey looked up; doing his best to act surprised at seeing her.
“Hi,” he said with enthusiasm, his words muffled and repelled by the airtight seals on the fridge.
“I was hoping you’d call me,” the girl said with a raised voice.
“Sorry?” Bailey held a hand to his ear to indicate he hadn't heard. The girl opened the fridge door.
“I was hoping you’d call me. You weren’t at the club last night. I almost sent you a message. But I figured, you hadn’t sent me one... so,” she spoke with a disappointed quality.
“I'll come around.” Bailey pointed towards the end of the fridge, he was looking to buy himself time.

When he re-entered the shop he asked Kylie if she’d mind watching the store for a few minutes as he ushered the girl into the back office for privacy. Kylie nodded, took a sugar jam doughnut, placed her lips to the hole and squeezed hard. She was always happy to watch the store for Bailey.

In the back room Bailey considered any number of white lies to get out of this awkward situation. He desperately wanted more from this girl, but he sensed danger. His great fear with relationships was being hurt. In the past he’d protected himself with a string of empty sexual encounters, but this girl was exciting, edgy and unafraid. If he allowed this to become more than a one night stand, she might discover how much of the world he couldn't make sense of and then she'd confirm what Bailey feared; that he wasn’t someone of substance.

In the face of this he told the truth. History had taught him saying exactly what was on his mind was the fastest way to repel a woman. He felt it better to be disappointed now than heartbroken later.

"I couldn’t remember your name.”
The girl was shocked.
“I usually make more of an impression.”
“You did. It was an amazing night, but…you told me your name at the start, and all I was really thinking about was … you know. Then when it did go that way, it seemed a little late to ask again.”
The girl smiled. She liked honest. She hadn’t come across it often. Bailey read the smile as the beginning of the end and jumped in first.
“I'm not sure it's a good idea, anyway, you and me.”
“So you don’t want to fuck again, right now, while she’s out there minding the store?”

Bailey re-evaluated his plans.

“We could do it in the fridge,” he offered.
“My name’s Jenna. Don’t forget it again.” She grabbed Bailey’s hand and led him through the cold room door and towards the back of the fridge. It didn’t take long for the windows facing the store to fog up.

Over the next 40 minutes Kylie rimmed five doughnuts and served three customers. One customer wanted a pouch of tobacco and some papers, one just wanted papers and the third, a middle-aged woman, wanted balloons, two shoelaces, a packet of wooden skewers, and papers. 

The milk deliveryman arrived with five full crates of milk stacked and loaded on his trolley. He entered the store with a smile and nodded to Kylie as he passed, heading for the fridge. Kylie giggled to herself as the man wheeled his crates into the back office and opened the cold room door.

The crates came off their trolley.
Jenna and Bailey were lying behind a wall of soft drink boxes so they couldn’t be seen in the shop. But from the main door of the fridge the deliveryman saw everything. Kylie and Bailey had their pants down and a rhythm they weren’t ready to lose, until the interruption. They jumped to their feet and quickly turned away from the delivery man, who was standing with the door and his mouth open. They dressed like they’d been caught by a parent. Still adjusting her top, Jenna strode confidently past the milkman and out into the store. She opened one of the display doors to the fridge as she passed.
“Are you working tomorrow night?” she asked. Bailey was still trying to button his jeans.
“I'll see you then.” 

Within four weeks of that chilly second meeting, Jenna was virtually living in Bailey's apartment. The first week she had a toothbrush in the bathroom, the second and third weeks began a slow trickle of possessions and by the fourth week all she needed was an official invitation and she could change the address on her licence.

Bailey's apartment was on the first floor of a red brick building. From the street it had the architectural charm of a standard Russian tenement. Through the front door there was a small entrance hall with a bathroom to one side. The large single room made up the rest of the flat. It had a Japanese futon that stood as a couch during the day and a bed at night. On one side of the room was a television, with CDs, DVDs and various games all neatly stacked in cheap wooden shelves. On the other side, tucked away behind a curtain, was a very small kitchenette. It boasted a sink, a stove and a bar fridge with a microwave sitting on top. It was everything Bailey needed.

Jenna loved it.

“You can stay if you want,” Bailey said, one night in the afterglow of sex.
“I should hope so after that.”
“No, I mean for good.”
Jenna was lying on Bailey's chest. She looked to him with a grin on her face. He looked at her, also smiling. It was one of those ‘couple’ moments, a private memory that can’t be shared with anyone else.
Jenna put her head back on Bailey's chest and listened to his heartbeat. Now it was her heartbeat as well. A smile travelled through her.

The next few weeks were relatively uneventful. Jenna moved in and made Bailey’s flat her own. It took on a distinctly Japanese feel, not because Jenna liked the motif, but because she liked the price of items made out of paper and bamboo. They also seemed to go with the aesthetic of the room and more importantly, they made sense of the futon.

One evening, as Jenna was cooking, following each step in a complicated recipe, a neighbour came to the door. He was around thirty, dressed in dirty denim jeans that probably weren’t bought that way, but had, over time, come to resemble the fashion.
“Hey,” Bailey said, establishing standard first contact between two male neighbours.
“I had a plant on my balcony. It's gone.”
“I didn't see anything.”
“Someone climbed onto the balcony and they had to come from yours to do it.”
“Unless they had a ladder.”
The neighbour was growing increasingly annoyed by Bailey’s attitude.
“Look, you know what I'm talking about. It was perfect, almost ready.”
“I’m not much of a gardener.” 
“Do you think you’re smart?”
“What did I say?”
“I think you took it.”
“Come in and have a look if you want.”
Jenna came to the front door.
“What’s going on?”
“There was a plant on my balcony and genius here claims he knows nothing about it.”
“We don’t smoke, sorry.”
Bailey realized instantly what was going on and couldn't believe how incredibly stupid he'd been. The disgruntled neighbour took one last angry look at him, then turned and went home.

“Can you believe that?” Bailey asked, astonished.
“I thought he was going to hit you.”
“It's not my fault I didn’t get what he’s on about. How stupid would you have to be to have it on your balcony where people could see it?”
“I know. I’ve been waiting for it to be ready for weeks. It’s in our bathtub, by the way.” 
Bailey stood with a stunned look on his face. He was hoping he'd misheard. But Jenna just returned to the kitchen to work on straining the plant fibres out of gee she'd shortly be using to make brownies.

Bailey opened the bathroom door and drew back the cheap plastic curtain - his mouth fell open. There was the plant, complete in its ceramic pot. It even had the planter tray that it sat on next door.
“Don't turn off the heat lamp,” Jenna called out, sounding like a growing expert.
“Are you insane?”
“If he finds it he’ll kill us.”
“He looked pretty harmless.”
“He’s growing dope on his balcony!”
“He’s not growing dope, he’s saving money. And now I'm saving time and money.”
Bailey shook his head. He knew Jenna wasn’t like any girl he’d ever dated. But she seemed to get him, or at least put up with him. And that's why he was suddenly so happy. 

That evening, as the two sat eating brownies and talking about nothing, Bailey discovered more about Jenna. The afternoon’s events made him curious and the brownies made her talkative. As she’d struck her teenage years, symbolised in independence and individuality requiring all friends to dress and act in identical manner, she took to being a Goth.

At a private girl’s school it was difficult, tartan grey being the colour of the uniformed skirt with a white blouse and equally bland grey jumper. But for Jenna, the uniform was nothing but a challenge: the jumper became black, the skirt was concealed by a scarf worn around her waist and her foundation became paler, highlighting the black eyeliner. Her teachers despaired, removed and reported. At every opportunity Jenna and her friends withdrew, reapplied and re-emerged highlighted.

It was at a time when her parents were in the middle of a protracted divorce and neither wanted to say or do anything to suggest either of their children were less than their favourite. It was a world where few lessons were delivered by lecture, and many were delivered by example. Jenna had learnt them all and instantly began using them to negotiate her way through life.

More recently she'd begun studying for a diploma of education, her goal, to teach primary school students. Bailey had known she wanted to teach, but not young children.
“I think I could really do something with kids that age,” Jenna said. “That’s when a person needs someone to help work things out.”
“What sort of things?” Bailey asked, intrigued by the comment.
“Everything. How the world works.”
Bailey was finding new layers to Jenna every day and everything he discovered made him love her more.

As for her, she didn’t feel she knew Bailey any better than when they’d first met. She did of course, but she was making the same mistake others made, assuming he couldn't be as straightforward as he seemed. When he told the truth, it had to be cloaked in some sort of ambiguity. When he did something for the good of someone, he must have seen an advantage in it for himself. Jenna was convinced Bailey’s mind was working through agendas the way a computer works through binary combinations. She was sure he was plotting and evaluating every circumstance, every scenario, predicting a thousand different outcomes and was too slick to be discovered. What she saw was a master of spin delivering a perfectly honed public image of benign innocence. Bailey swore he wasn’t holding anything back, but Jenna didn’t believe him; that would make him an outcast in a world of players plotting many moves ahead. In her mind, there was no way a person could get to Bailey’s age and still be so naïve. She was certain there were sides to his personality he wasn’t ready to reveal. It all added up to an intriguing personal riddle, a riddle Jenna was determined to solve. 

Thursday, 24 May 2012

Lady Boy Gaga

Bangkok is screaming. Gaga is in town. Perhaps the only City in the world capable of hosting and matching the excesses of Gaga and she's come to meet it head on.

She's staying in the heart of town. Yesterday I walked past on my way to travel the sky train and there they were, camped outside waiting for a glimpse of their high priestess - a tribe of Bangkok Lady boy Gagas.

I spoke to God - and ordered a Heineken.

I’m in Thailand – beautiful warm and friendly Thailand. A few days ago I flew from Bangkok to Roi-Et in Northern Thailand – part of Issan, one of Thailand’s poorest regions, populated by independent rice farmers working small plots of land.

I flew Happy Air. A small airline that delivered a flight exactly as their name promised. Nice to fly with a domestic airline that provides food and drink as standard service. 

But I forgot the only really important travel tip I know when touring Thailand – If a Thai person tells you something is, ‘Spicy, little bit,’ do not eat it! Fortunately my screams for water were easily heard over the small engines and the other ten passengers all had a good laugh.

The next day I drove to Yasathon where I went for a meal in a nice restaurant called Priew and ended up coming face to face with God.

My waiter God.

I'm not sure why Thai people take on nicknames when their own names are so wonderful – who couldn’t be impressed by a moniker such as – Surasak Tinsulanunda? The nicknames chosen are usually two to four letters long and never consider any meaning from another language. I’ve met many Poos, Banks, Kaks and Nods, but this was the first time I’d met God. And good for him for aiming high!

I listened to a live band, Chailai, who had some very catchy songs. Back at my hotel I walked into their own club and what seemed to be a live version of Idol. A few craggy, older musicians looked bored as they played drums and guitars without much commitment. Then a stream of singers came out and did rock star impersonations. With each new offering I was convinced it could not get any worse. I was wrong. It could and it did. But with Heineken at $2 dollars a bottle I got drunk and hoped a beer buzz would make them all sound better. Wrong again!

I drove back to Mudkahan and toyed with the idea of dropping in on Laos for lunch, but they asked a decent price for a visa, 1500 baht and I thought that, at $2 a Heineken, the money would be better spent back in Thailand.

The final leg of my Issan adventure was back to where I started in Roi-Et. I visited a temple with a famed water fall about twenty minutes outside the city. The monks were plentiful and sat at the top of the steps that led down to the falls. I inched down the many steps, first constructed and looking like scaffolding, and then out of carved stone in the hillside. When I got to the bottom I found a long pipe above a constructed altar that dripped water into a man made sink.

Assuming I’d not found the water falls I walked on, only to discover these were the falls the monks above assured me were well worth the visit.

Down by the bathroom drip falls, there was a lovely old lady sweeping the altar for dirt. There was no dirt anywhere and hardly an altar, just a tiled platform to give the drip catching sink some reverence, but she kept sweeping. I think she may have had some sort of religious breakdown, or perhaps she snapped on seeing the dripping falls after having climbed down so far. But her cleaning was very intense and she spat words at anyone that came near. Alone at the bottom of many steps, guarding a much touted, but non existent natural wonder, she swept an altar visited by few and standing guard over an ever diminishing trickle of life giving moisture. Her futile and unnecessary toil an interesting metaphor for religious devotion or perhaps modern religion itself?

I climbed the steps back to the top. They seemed to have doubled in number and steepness and in the very hot 35+ degrees heat, with clinging humidity, I was dripping sweat by the time I reached the summit. The monks, who had initially encouraged me to take the journey, now gleefully welcomed me back. They also revealed a very large ice chest that they opened. It was full of cold drinks and ice creams at inflated prices. 

Well played monks, well played.

From there I walked up the average wall of Thailand that seems to have been built, not to keep out the marauding Mongol horde, but to give visitors a better view of the countryside before heading up the hill to the temple..

The wall is about 200 metres long, styled on the Great one of China, and made of rusty coloured bricks and concrete that is a marvel of 80's engineering. Even the  fact they forgot to put in any drainage, so the tiers fill with water and make walking almost impossible, seemed a quaint throwback to the architecture of the 80's. But what can you expect from a wall that looks like a great one, but isn't?

At the end of the average wall is the entrance to the Whatmaha Jaide Monkhum temple. I decided to call it the Bob temple in the Thai nickname tradition. Bob the temple was impressive and I went through a beautiful golden gateway that lead to more gold of the main temple beyond..


I climbed the many sets of stairs to the highest part of the temple, expecting to see more monks pulling the old ice cream chest scam at the top of each flight, but they were all hard at prayer up top. I particularly liked the safe placed before the altar at the highest point within the temple.

Christianity these days underplays it’s need and greed for donations, but here the message is placed boldly up front, so anyone wanting to kneel and pray is well aware that greasing a hand makes the message more likely to get through to who it is intended.

If you're still skeptical of course - you can always travel to Yasathon and deliver your message in person.

$2 Heineken - it's a miracle delivered by the hand of God!.

Friday, 11 May 2012

Death by TV – R.I.P Steve Irwin, Scott Amedure and Simon Foster.

 Steve Irwin was an unassuming, unexpected star of TV. The documentaries he made were point and shoot. They fell into a reality TV category because anything could and did happen. Sure Steve planned what he was going to shoot, but he did it in a different way to other wildlife shows like David Attenborough. We watched Steve because we knew at any moment, due to his reckless daring, he could be attacked and genuinely hurt.

As his fame and ratings grew, so did the risks he took and eventually, in a quest for extraordinary shots, he swam with stingrays and was speared to death.

It almost went unnoticed in terms of the culpability of the television lens spurring him on. And, to be honest, Steve was his own producer making his own decisions so there was little window to point any finger of blame except at Steve.

But his quest for adventure and ratings is a symptom of death by TV, something that is surely going to become more recognizable in the future.

We have truckers driving on treacherous roads where we watch because they may go over the side and die, or drive over a crack in the ice and die.

We have people risking their lives in the name of daring journeys or surviving horrific circumstances that they have placed themselves in to gain ratings.

We have little girls being pushed by mothers to fulfill their own faded or unfulfilled dreams in a quest to win pageants and we sit and watch the little dress up dolls, knowing full well, because of the parenting, in many cases we are watching the first chapter of very tragic lives.

Producers seem to be seeking out people who are living lives that are clinically diagnosable for the entertainment of those at home.

They are finding others who have been born and bred to abhor certain types and then couple them with these hated adversaries and thrust them into circumstances where they are made to live together, and it’s all filmed for our amusement as they co-exist.

Meet the Reynolds, a family of Neo Nazis who live on a secure and guarded compound in the rural wilderness of forgotten land. They rise at six thirty every morning and school their children on the best methods to defend themselves against all intruders. Mum Mary-Anne keeps their cement bunker shipshape and rotates the canned supplies, feeding her ‘God warriors’ on canned food that is about to outlive its 15 year use by date.

In the Davis Junior household, an African American Jewish family, they love to sing and dance and celebrate diversity. Eva encourages her children to embrace foreign cultures and live alternative lifestyles.

But today, their lives are about to change when these two mothers trade places on Wife Swap.

Wife Swap knows people tune in to see a train wreck and one day soon that train wreck is going to take a life. It may sound melodramatic, but real lives are being challenged, changed and destroyed on these shows.

It’s easy to argue that in many cases the changes and exposure to a new culture or lifestyle helps and expands the minds of people who may never have come into contact with such influences otherwise, and these points are valid. In many cases the setup and payoff is enlightening for everyone involved and for the audience. But pushing for ever increasing diverse intermingling, often clearly chosen to annoy the different households, will eventually lead to something going horribly wrong.

Already there is a case in the UK where the aftermath of the show, well after filming had completed, left one wife declaring her lesbianism and her husband, Simon Foster, taking his own life. There’s been little coverage of what’s become of the two children involved.

I would be interested in a follow up Wife Swap show to find out how many couples have divorced and how many of them laid the blame in part or whole at the feet of the show that disrupted their lives. Maybe these results are for the best. Maybe some of those involved were liberated from oppressive lives they didn’t have the courage to get out from under… but we’ll never know because producers have better sense than to highlight the danger and damage done in their quest for ratings.

No-one seems to really care. The producers are slick and the spin doctors savvy enough to keep the virtue of the entertainment front and centre. But the line between interesting voyeurism and something far more sinister was well and truly crossed some time ago.

When will the first death occur on Bridal-plasty? Law of averages says it will happen. Any doctor will confirm that a general anesthetic carries a risk and patients have, can and will continue to die from complications of both anesthesia and surgery. On every episode of every plastic surgery show, people go under the knife under full anesthetic. So it’s not a matter of if but when this first televised tragedy occurs. The producers and networks will spin it somehow, or bury it, and even worse, the ratings will spike because of it, but someone’s going to die for the sake of onscreen entertainment.

Many years ago a young man, Scott Amedure, famously confronted his long time gay crush on the Jenny Jones show, a contemporary of the Springer show. Humiliated, the man Scott revealed he had a crush on waited until they got home and shot Scott dead.

So how much responsibility does TV have? How much responsibility do we as an audience have? On drama shows there are time slots that dictate exactly what subjects can be explored and even which topics cannot be explored, but how does fly on the wall reality TV deal with this issue especially now that some of it is live to air?

Can a producer who puts a pitbull and a kitten in the same cage plead innocence because he didn’t know what the outcome would be?

Update - June 3 2013 - Two stars of the Discovery Channel show Storm Chasers were among the 10 people killed by tornadoes that rampaged through central Oklahoma on Friday, unsettling the highly risky cottage industry of tracking tornadoes and forcing the media to rethink how they cover deadly twisters.
Tim Samaras, 55, a leading storm chaser and founder of the tornado research company Twistex, was killed in the Oklahoma City suburb of El Reno along with his son, Paul Samaras, 24, and Carl Young, 45, a Twistex meteorologist, according to a statement from Tim Samaras' brother, Jim Samaras.

Read more:

Thursday, 10 May 2012

How to become the 1%

It's not that I want to be ridiculously wealthy, it's just that I like their toys. If those big wealthy kids would just let me play with them every now and again I'd be happy. But of course, like all selfish kids they don't let anyone else near them. They have the new philanthropist mentality - "I want to help everyone who is less fortunate than myself - but I'd rather not have to socialise with them."

I'm not bashing the new wave of billionaire who are giving like none of the 1% have ever given before... I'm just saying, a billionaire giving 10% of their yearly income is an enormous gesture - but is it equal to a person on 40,000 who donates $4,000? I would argue it's less impressive because it's easier to live on 9 million, down from 10 million a year, than it is to live on 36,000 down from 40.

But I digress - the question is how do you and I get into that tax bracket where we can squabble about whether or not our deductible contribution is more likely to change the world than our lifestyle.

You can read all the books, make all the bold investment choices and pay thousands of dollars for advice and for 99 out of a hundred people I guarantee nothing will change. You need to invent, create and then patent a unique and needed idea or thing. You need to pick the one stock in one thousand that goes from a penny dreadful to a dollar+ stock, you need to win the lottery and then invest wisely growing that base by over 10% per year.

In ten thousand people, expect 4 millionaires and about 0.005% billionaires.

But there is a way to guarantee your family will one day make it and it involves time. If one person per generation, or two for every ten were to donate their entire wealth when they pass away to a trust fund that gained a high interest rate above inflation, an interest income that compounded and everyone also made regular minimal contributions, as little as 2% of income per month made by every working family member, over time, your family would be sitting on its own fortune. At that time a more profitable investment could be looked at and entered - remembering of course, each critical decision along the way could bring your generations of hard work undone. But - instead of it being a 4 in ten thousand chance of getting rich, the chance of investing with Bernie Maddoff or buying a profitable company that quickly sucks your money dry and goes belly up would be almost the reverse percentile chance - maybe 4% risk.

Place strict controls on the fund, allowing future generations to get a start from the money pool and you've made it into the ranks of the elite within a hundred years.

A HUNDRED YEARS! Why didn't you tell me it would be a hundred years at the start and I could have skipped this idiot article?

A hundred years seems like an awfully long time when you're a teenager, it's a long time when you're in your twenties, a good slab of time once you hit forty and not nearly as daunting when you celebrate a grandparent, or great grandparent's hundredth birthday and that person was someone you knew or have known for years.

That's when you realise one hundred years isn't a ridiculous time to wait for your family - the children of your children and their children to be living without economic fear because your legacy was one that recognised that simple fact.

And it's not like there aren't immediate benefits along the way. My Will stipulates an amount equal to the cheapest four door sedan on the market to be withdrawn from the fund when any child of our family's direct line turns 18. A further 10% of the fund to go to that child at age 30 to be spent on the down payment of a property. That's all they get.

Now, as with Bernie Maddoff's investment strategy, someone along the line could end up living in the 'City Edge' trailer park and having 16 kids in an effort to get rich off their own reality show, only to discover all their neighbours also have 16 or more kids. And those kids at 10% each would wipe the fund clean. C'est la Vie.

My Nephew Charlie isn't worried!

Ideally, with the ethos of this fund adopted, protected, contributed to and respected rather than rorted over time, it should not just grow but exponentially flourish. By the time you are a great grandparent you can reasonably expect more than 3 of your line coming into this world. By the time a great grandparent, close to ten based on an average 2-3 child union.

Remembering that the fund should become a family legacy, something the entire family controls and contributes to - if it's respected, the more who draw from it, the more who should contribute to it and so on.

You can put in whatever other safeguards you want, for instance, the board of the trust fund can be those reaching 40 years of age to give the direction of the fund some mature heads to guide it. You could also put in decisions for old age, although most make allowances for this in their own lives in our family. But this fund is yours to dictate to at the outset and its done so your legacy to your family will be more than a vague memory of you for a few older members and a few pictures that get looked at 3 or 4 times a year, maybe even hung on a wall in the hall to the upstairs toilet. Whatever the case, this is a family trust fund that can allow you to make a positive contribution to the future generations and let them know that even from the distant past, you knew you had a responsibility to them and for them and you did what you could to fulfil those obligations.

Wave if you know your uncle's got your future covered.

Also - general rule that covers everything...

You're never too young to appreciate sports!

Wednesday, 9 May 2012

Gays can't be trusted!

Many years ago I was shocked to discover the Australian Red Cross refused to consider me as an appropriate person to donate blood because I'm gay.

This was twenty years ago and I was asked by the nice grandmother posing as  a nurse - "I thought you people knew you couldn't donate." - I didn't. It was also the first time I'd been classed as a 'you people' by a seemingly sweet and kind conservative bigot. 

Grandparent is really the perfect disguise to hide personal aresholery. But I guess back then times and testing were very different, so, even though I was very embarrassed and had to slink out of the crowded room being stared at - I understood, or at least I convinced myself I understood.

But now we're in 2012 and I see I'm still ineligible. If you search hard enough on their website in the right section: you are ineligible if you have: 
  • Had male to male sex (that is, oral or anal sex) with or without a condom?
  • Had sex (with or without a condom) with a male who you think may have had oral or anal sex (with or without a condom) with another man?

I have to ask what the difference is between a gay man using a condom and a hetero couple using one. Even worse, why is a gay man practising safe sex rejected but a heterosexual practising unsafe sex is fine. This is such a good example of how the conservative majority cloak and hide their bigotry and ignorance, put aside their common sense and logic, in some sort of personal quest to discriminate against people or practises they don't condone. 

I guess the blood bank knows Gays can't be trusted to know their status or be tested. 

Shout out to Obama and Biden for their same sex marriage equality stance. A real leader showing real leadership and I hope, if he was facing a serious challenge in November that he would have done exactly the same thing! He's still a hero of mine and Americans should be proud to know they have a leader that has done the impossible - restored the credibility of the presidency after George W Potatohead.