Tenx9 audiences usually enjoy a good bowel story; as they do tales of acute embarrassment; odd family idiosyncrasies and close encounters of the evangelical kind. (There are many of those here in Northern Ireland.) My stories often include all the above. Last year in Bangor I told a tale about growing up on the Esplanade. This one is a bit more exotic and is about my trip to Thailand back in 2004.
‘What are you reading about tonight?’ The Mothership asks when I go down home on Friday night and foist my children upon her and my Dad.
‘The time I had the runs in Thailand,’ I reply.
‘Awk you’re not, are you? Who would want to listen to the like of that? Your father couldn’t stomach it at all. He’d have to get up and go out. Wouldn’t you Ronnie?’
My Dad feigns deafness and pours himself a glass of wine.
Hers’s the story, should you wish to read for yourself.
Tenx9- At The Seaside
I should have known not to have seconds of goat curry. And thirds. Definitely not thirds. This curry was, like most I had eaten in South East Asia, generously spiced with red chilli, and not even the coconut milk was rendering it tolerable. But on I lingered at the table, because this was a celebration, for not just one, but two good reasons.
Rahesh, the owner of our backpacker hostel, had just completed the building of a sixth hut, so at least 2 more guests could climb a rickety wooden ladder to a enjoy a ‘rustic’ stay, sleeping on less than pristine bed sheets. Each hut did, at least, have a bathroom, although water pressure was an issue as neither the shower nor the flush had much of an ‘oomph’. I had taken to using the loo in cafes and bus stations and even shops if they’d allow me, because I was very much in love with my boyfriend and I feared that this may not be reciprocated, if he had to hear me emptying my bowels through paper thin walls. On the up side, each hut cost £6 per night and since we were travelling for 3 months, it was in our best interests to be frugal. ‘Please, eat! eat!’ urged our host’s mother, a tiny wiry woman who kept appearing at my elbow, smiling a huge toothless grin as she ladled out spoon-fuls of sticky rice and curry. I ate up. I was very hungry.
The second reason why this was a celebration; was the fact that we were alive and able to eat curry from plates improvised from banana leaves. Two hours earlier I had feared death by drowning in the Andaman Sea after being caught out in a squall. ‘Come kayaking, it will be fun!’ said our new American friends, and so we had assembled at 10am on the beach for a trip. The last place I had gone paddling was Killyleagh, where we had not only been issued with life jackets but helmets too. Our tentative safety enquiries were met with much derision by the men hiring out the kayaks from their shack on the beach. ‘You will not need such things. You can swim, right?’ So in we hopped and with a push and a whoosh we were off, paddling through azure waters. It was exhausting. ‘Oooh, let’s look at these fish!’ I would say, ‘What fine phosphorescent creatures!’ My boyfriend knew rightly that I just wanted to rest.
Chicken Island, when we arrived, was unremarkable. We had just left one stunning beach with white sand, for an identical stunning beach with white sand. There was a bar serving the same jam-jars of iridescent red shite which in Thailand masquerades as a cocktail. I was not a fan of these at any time of day, but especially not at 11-30. Even by my standards, this was uncalled for. There was pottering, and sunbathing, and watching in awe as a fruit seller deftly sliced pineapple into uniform pieces with what looked like a machete.
But then I feel rain. Rain does not pitter patter in Thailand. Rain thunders down in heaving plumps, with a force not emulated by the shower in our hut. My intrepid boyfriend, and the American lads, who had told us several times, that they are ‘very strong swimmers’, are flexing their muscles and gearing up for the challenge. We decide to go before the squall whips up even more. Tourists had come over in a glass bottomed boat and they were pointing with incredulity at us, as we clamber into the kayaks. We paddle, fruitlessly. Waves crash into our faces, my stomach lurches and my arms ache. The sky is a huge purple bruise. ‘Paddle harder,’ shouts my boyfriend. ‘FUCK UP!’ I shout back. I cannot paddle any harder. I have reached peak paddle. ‘Can we go back?’ I yell. ‘No need!’ he replies. ‘Look, it’s calmer out there.’
It is not, calmer out there. It actually looks worse. I am going back, I decide. I will swim if I have to. We turn the kayak. The wind behind us makes our paddle to the shore infinitely easier, and we are almost catapulted onto the sand. There is hardly any room on the glass bottomed boat but for a price they let us drag on our kayaks and we bump our way back to Tonsai beach. We pass our Americans, who are still valiantly trying to conquer the waves. We ask if we can stop and pick them up. I can’t hear what our Captain says but his voice is gruff and his hand gestures are more than a little dismissive.
Back on dry land we scan the seas. ‘Please,’ we ask the owner of the kayak shack. ‘Can you do anything? Our friends are still out there.’
‘Out there?’ says the man. He laughs and shakes his head. He looks, not only unperturbed, but amused. A long 20 minutes later we see two dots appear on the horizon. Just as suddenly as it arose, the storm packs up its bags and buggers off. We watch as our friends, who don’t look nearly so cocky now, edge closer and we swim out to greet them. ‘Drinks later?’ they ask. I nod with alacrity.
We have a rest before Rahesh invites us to partake in his mum’s special curry, before heading to the other side of the bay for evening frivolity. On the terrace, windchimes tinkle in the light breeze and Morcheebais playing in the background. The sea is calm and in the darkness it meets the sky in soft, velvety swathes. Everyone is lounging on bright cushions drinking beer, or Coke, all in ebullient form. All, that is, except for me. I am squatting, in a way that is both graceless and deeply uncomfortable, in the most basic hovel known to man. The curry has turned against me. It is the revenge of the goat. In the absence of a lock, the door threatens to open and a misguided cat is mewing and trying to get in. Twice I try to stand but I am doubled over by crippling cramps. And then, above the whine of the crickets I hear my boyfriend’s voice. It is not a voice I want to hear right now. ‘Just a second,’ I say, ‘go back to the others.’
‘I’ll wait for you,’ he says. ‘It’s dark out here.’ There are times when you want your other half to be kind and chivalrous. This was not one of them.
I blunder out and gesture that I need to leave. To reach our part of the island we have to climb over a few rocky outcrops. We usually love donning our head torches and having a moonlit scramble. There are no water taxis tonight. Usually we have to convince them that we like the walk home, and to leave us be. I am now vomiting behind one rock and having the runs behind the next. I have vomited over my new duck-egg blue skirt. I have vomited over my boyfriend’s feet. I don’t know how I have any fluids left. Back in the hut, I assume that I have no moisture remaining to expel, from any orifice. I am wrong. ‘Yon fellow’s going to wish he’d installed better plumbing after this,’ says my boyfriend, as he tries to force carroty pieces of sick down the plug hole with a pencil. The embarrassment I feel singes my soul. I fear that I may be given the boot, but when I crawl into bed I see him futtering with his First Aid Kit. ‘I wonder could I improvise a drip,’ he ponders. He is, you see, a doctor, and instead of being revolted by my condition, is seeing it as a medical challenge. The thought of needles makes me want to vomit again, so instead he rubs my back until I sleep.
When I wake in the morning my mouth feels like the bottom of a hamster’s cage, but I have a concave stomach, for the first time in my life. In bounds my boyfriend with fresh mango and water. ‘It’s gorgeous out there,’ he says, beaming. ‘Shall we go for another kayak?’
‘Fuck off dear,’ I reply.