The train pulled out of Hualampong station at 5 or 6 or some pre-sunset time. It was off to the dining car to reserve my seat by a window for three to four hours of drinking before they moved everyone back to their carriage and imposed the bizarre lockdown that occurred on overnight trains in those days, or at least in the second class air-conditioned sleeper carriage I was booked into. Justin was around for a while and the bottles of Singha beer quickly stacked up on the table mixed in with a white plate with small pieces of rice greased to it and I still wondered what the missing chunk of tooth I had just skewered off with a piece of crab shell in my crab fried rice would feel like in the morning when the affects of the alcohol wore off. For now though it was beer and more beer and feeling the warm air come in the window as out of another went the detritus of vegetable peel, leftover food and plastic water bottles as the staff cleaned up. It was coming time to move back. I felt a nice buzz but wanted more and like a fool had not bothered to avail myself of a bottle of cheap Thai whisky which was actually rum. Justin ever the sensible one said good night and headed back to the sleepers. That left me, a waiter and two policemen. They beckoned me over and I seeing a few bottles of beer on their table went. Soon we were headed off for the guard car or whatever it was called. Two uniformed policemen one older and taller with braid or something on his shoulder so I assumed an officer, the other younger and a three chevroned sergeant, me and a bunch of beer. Sitting in the van complete with refrigerator, bunks and a rack of M16 rifles life felt real and interesting and not just about a border run. Those were the days when the attacks on trains as they passed through the southern most part of Thailand on the way to the Malaysian border had just started and my new found friends were the security detachment to fend off any such assault. The M16s were loaded with live rounds. The night went slowly on as we sat around a table drinking more and more and moving ever towards repetition of the same phrases and words. My Thai was weak and their English slightly better. That was when the younger one, the sergeant ran his hand up my leg. At first I thought it was just a drunks action of friendliness but a second and then third time. Well it was more than that. OK I announced I was pissed and needed to get off to bed. The younger guy sat back and for a moment I did actually become worried but then the officer said he would escort me back through the gently rocking train and the throng of now locked doors to my carriage. The rest of the journey down was uneventful although the return was not.
Sam was from Belfast. He had been Helen’s boyfriend when I first met him. Now we shared the squat I had opened up with Ching. Sam had studied literature or something of that ilk at Queens and was maybe a budding writer waiting to happen. That though wasn’t exactly unique amongst the squatting circle I moved in. Sam right now though was a carer for old people in local authority institutions for old people. I was a student and then a democratically elected representative of a student’s union for a couple of years. It all added up to we spent a lot of time drinking, smoking and talking about literature, people, politics, humanity and women together. It worked. At that time there was nothing better than leading a bohemian lifestyle while funded by some pursuit that didn’t need much effort or work in my case or one that involved shifts in Sam’s. It was a good time even in Thatcher’s austere Britain although a six month stint on the dole was not exactly fun. Decisions on whether to pay the electric bill and eat baked beans and potatoes for two weeks or whether to dodge the bill and eat slightly better were never easy. Still six months without enough to get utterly wrecked on and six months spent reading every classic Hackney library had in it were definitely good things.
Me and James were sat outside the Harn Guest House on a small ally running away from the main drag of Khao San Road on what was a hot sweaty day typical of mid-year in Thailand. There was little to do except sleep or sit quietly at a table and talk. We talked the same things we always did. Where was Greg? Would his marriage last? Had Christopher done anything insane last night? Had Gary taken so many drugs he would never be normal again? It was a constant repeated pattern occasionally with different answers or different conclusions but usually not. Next to the Harn was the Nisa where Nut worked and further down past a few shophouses there was the VS guest houses where the junkies stayed and hung out. Eddie and Bernard sat quietly whispering to each other outside the Nisa living times of Vietnam or exchanging stories suitably embellished about their escapades or their status as some kind of underworld lynchpin. Bernard was a leftover of the Vietnam days. A military cook or postman or something masquerading as former special forces. Well dressed and fairly fluent in Thai maybe from a rumoured stint in Khorat jail. Eddie was a lost cause in tight shorts and protruding gut looking inflated with a pump from his skinny body. Eddie had not had a passport for as long as anyone could remember. Still they enjoyed each other company and stories. The alley was quiet apart from our occasional chatter. Certainly no Thai person was going to be walking around at that time of day unless forced. It was hot, very hot. I nursed a bottle of Singha beer being one of the few staying in the guest houses down the alley with enough money to buy such a luxury as beer. I certainly didn’t intend on falling through the bottom, and I also didn’t intend on buying the likes of Bernard and Eddie or James for that matter beer as it was unlikely they would ever be in a position to reciprocate. Still however low people went there was always someone lower, and it was as such thoughts passed between me and James that some activity was going on around the front of the VS. A group of long time residents were coming out of the front first a couple walking backwards and then a couple walking forwards with something borne between the four of them. They were coming up the alley towards us and it was soon obvious what they were carrying was another of the long term residents. Long term resident at the VS meant one thing – bad hard drug habit and these guys doing the carrying did not look in a good way. James and I waited to see the state of the guy being carried out. Another overdose off to intensive care we agreed. On getting closer to us one of the bearers lost his grip on an arm and first the arm hit the hard cement but everything seemed out of equilibrium and then the head made a dull thud on the cement next to where the two of us sat. It was obvious from one look whoever was being carried would not care too much about what his head hit now for he had been dead for sometime. The arm was quickly picked up again and some comforting words made to the body by a hopeful or unaware bearer. Up the alley they continued until the end where first one tuk tuk stopped and went away and then another until finally one allowed the body to be put in and taken to whatever hospital or morgue awaited. It wasn’t long before Bernard used the action of the day as an opportunity to come over and see if he could get a beer out of me.