East to West - Bangkok & London
November 2002©Nigel Spiers
Itís Friday morning and my last day in Bangkok. As I take the first luxurious toke of
Mr Rothman's finest tobacco on the steps of my hotel a baby elephant walks past with
its handler. Nobody pays any attention except a couple of fat American woman in
desperately tight Lycra who instantly recognise a kindred spirit. Of much more
interest to the locals is a lovely Cocker Spaniel puppy which yelps and howls with
joy as its street vendor owner, an enormous laughing Thai woman, rolls around the
pavement. They are playing and licking each otherís faces with complete abandon
while tourists dodge and skip the flying limbs.
Opposite the hotel is a 24-hour supermarket which sells everything from scrawny
ducks to Chateau Latour. Above is a nightclub called the Elvis and Tom Jones Bar
with life-size neon figures of the two heroes and promises of live performances
At breakfast the Bangkok morning paper announces that bank interest rates have been
cut by a quarter of a percent to 1.25% so Iím off to talk to them about my mortgage.
Nobody here expects much from the weather and London is not about to disappoint as
we swoop down through thick clouds and drizzle to Heathrow. Ah here is my host at
the barrier. An enthusiastic driver with a lack of direction only rivalled by the
lost tribes of Africa.
We finally arrive at our Islington offices to find two Irish navvies re-cobbling
the lane outside. A hundred yards of new sewer pipes have been laid. Itís not a
famous street Ė just any old narrow alley between two commercial buildings.
Why not just tarseal it? No the two men take each of the ancient cobble stones
pilled along the side of the alleyway, hand trim them, fit and tamp them down.
While unloading our car I couldnít help overhearing their conversation:
"Was a fine evening we had last night Patrick"
"And where was I then Sean"
"You was with me yer fookiní daft bastard"
Itís a mild, grey, damp Sunday afternoon and Londoners are starting to come out
onto the streets. Iím staying at a West End hotel just off Charring Cross Road.
This is home to Londonís publishing and music industries. What could be better than
a Sunday afternoon at Borders bookshop? The staff donít mind if you read any of
the books, magazines or newspapers while sitting in the armchairs dotted around
this fabulous store. Iíve found some great Sunday reading and as I approach the
counter an old lady dashes in front of me. She picks up a paper from the row of
appalling Sunday tabloids and tells the queue
"I knew it Ė I told my Jack the bastard was queer"
as some hapless politician is cruelly exposed in 3 inch letters on the front of
The Daily Gossip.
Sunday night with BBC 1 - Oh my God! Ė Itís bloody Rolf Harris on the art of
Toulouse Lautrec. Only the Poms would put up with such a sanctimonious plonker.
Monday morning, the sun is shining, and Iím shoulder to shoulder with thousands of
excited people of all nationalities going to the World Travel Market exhibition.
As we set up our stand a copper comes up and confidentially tells me:
"Listen son - you Ďear anyfing what donít seem right Ė give us the nod and weíll
be right on the job."
With this piece of cryptic advice he hands me an exhibition handbook.
I can only assume heís talking about the threat of bombs and fire and yes there
on page 1:
"In case of fire the following announcement will be made:
"Attention please, attention please, Mr Goodfellow report to the security suite."
"When the fire procedure is cancelled we will make the following announcement:
"Attention please, attention please, Mr Goodfellow is cancelled"
Well that seems clear enough and Iím sure all the Chinese, Latvians, Russians,
Iranians, Tanzanians and Peruvians here will have no trouble following those
Then on page 2:
"If you receive a telephoned bomb threat here are some steps you should follow:
1. Remain calm
2. Try to discover the bombís location
3. What it looks like
4. When will it explode?
5. Ask did the caller plant the Bomb
6. Ask the caller why he planted the Bomb"
Later the loudspeaker system howls out a heavily distorted version of God Save the
Queen and the following announcement:
"There will now be a two minute silence for those who have fallen in war"
The Croatian gentleman with me leans forward and whispers
"which war does she talk about Ė hah?"
At my hotel I turn on the telly to watch the news. The top story is David Beckhamís
broken a fingernail. His manicurist believes it could keep him out of the game for
up to 6 weeks. This is followed by a live telecast of a Robbie Williams concert.
The problem is that we are all fed such a solid diet of visual musical dross that
weíve forgotten the basics Ė talent, passion, craftsmanship and singing in tune.
Sunday Morning in London and time for a bit of a wander and a drop-a-Kulcha. Down
Tottenham Court Road the pavements are a sea of bobbing brollies. Across Piccadilly
Circus and Eros is looking a little bedraggled today. On to Burlington House for a
I reel out of the Royal Academy of Arts after a full frontal assault by the grand
master of colour. Bolstered by a cuppa Iíve decided to go another around with Vasily
at the Somerset House Courtauld Collection.
As I trudge back to my hotel my umbrellaís blown inside out and my shoes are
squelching but who cares - "Cos I love London so".