Tuesday, 27 March 2007

A private hell

I am not much of a book reader, so when my old mate Terry invited me to his book launch and I pledged that I would get back to him after I'd read it , I thought I would have a bit of a daunting task on my hands. I pride myself on staying true to my word, so I knew I would just have to give it a go...

I was going to have to read on the hoof as Terry's communication came at a time when my life consisted of visiting my friend and my mum in hospitals at opposite ends of the dreaded Northern line. So, on a grey Thursday morning I wrapped up and stuffed the copy of Hell in Barbados into my handbag along with chocolate fancies and sandwiches for the sick. I got on the underground at Camden Town, and by the time I'd got to Bank, I was lost.

Lost in the unfettered primal scream and sweet corruption of London in the seventies that was the playground and nursery for so many of us. I couldn't put the damned book down. Terry's narrative just got you straight there, without effort or pretension.
I was starting to get a bit worried, because the "darker side" was beginning to lap at me ever so slightly with a sort of Pavlov's dog puppy suck.


I had planned on giving a copy of Hell in Barbados to my now hospitalised, hedonistic boyfriend, thinking that this supposed story of addiction and recovery would inspire him to clean up his act. I took a deep breath and carried on reading. However, I did decide to finish the book before giving him his copy, just in case I was going to kill rather than cure him!

By Friday lunchtime, passing through Stockwell and Clapham South I was furiously cured of any unsavory seduction into oblivion and adventure.

The remarkable thing about this book is that it speaks without judgment; it simply speaks from pure unadulterated experience. As you enter into Terry's universe, you feel the agony and the ecstasy. You feel the people around him in the same way, without judgment, but with an acute awareness of the prodigeny of human suffering the unexamined life can create.

As I continued to read this descent into hell, I was becoming increasingly aware of my own personal gratitude for my own life. What luxury to be able to close the book at midnight and make myself a cup of tea and stroke the cat.

It took me under a week of train journeys and late night snatches to finish the book. I thought that was pretty good going for me, the non-book reader.

But apparently not! Eventually my friend got discharged from hospital and I gave him his copy of the book. He sat down on the armchair, didn't go to bed and didn't get up 'till he'd finished it the next morning.

Truth is, I keep telling my friends to read the book, but I don't want to lend them my copy. Who would I recommend it to? Obviously anyone with addictive tendencies, but also anyone feeling depressed or sorry for themselves. Anyone unhappy in love or with bailiffs threatening and definitely anyone traveling the Northern line to visit their loved ones in care. - Coral

Monday, 26 March 2007

Susan Aldous on writing 'The Angel of Bang Kwang Prison'

Something that I find particularly rewarding about doing my book was in knowing that I was giving a voice to those who suffer unimaginable indignities. Countless people have died in prisons and through poverty, many being completely forgotten and it was great to be able to go back over some of these folk’s lives and give them a voice, be it a small, perhaps squeaky one, but one none-the-less. Love, Susan Aldous

Friday, 23 March 2007

Nicola Pierce's Bangkok Diary


This is being written on Saturday afternoon thanks to my getting drunk last night, alone, in the very posh hotel lounge. Ignoring both the disgusted looks I was getting from the ladylike bar-girls and the puzzled looks I was receiving from Japanese tourists, I doggedly kept re-ordering large bottles of Heineken while nodding my head along in time to the awful cocktail band who smiled sweetly while butchering the likes of Abba and The Eagles.

Earlier that day, Friday, I had made my first visit to a maximum security jail, the Bangkok Hilton. It wasn’t as bad as I expected. For one thing the prisoner I was meeting was an old hand at conversing with nervous visitors and was also, thankfully, fluent in English. For another thing visiting was a lot easier now, compared to the good old days as described in the soon to be released Angel of Bangkwang. There were phones instead of having to shout a conversation through two walls of wire mesh. The heat, however, remained the unbearable same.

We were kept waiting for 30 minutes. One of my group was an Asian woman who had recently married a guy inside. He was a young, unruly character who unwisely, but understandably, repeatedly lost his temper with the prison guards. She was punished by having to spend a half-hour of their hour-long visit waiting for him, and we were punished because we were with her.

They all arrived together; the angry young husband along with my prisoner, a veteran after seventeen years there with no end in sight, and an elderly wrinkled prisoner who was HIV positive. Jag and I covered many subjects in half an hour watched politely by this old guy. He seemed lost. His wife last visited him two months ago, his grown-up sons never visited. At one stage I smiled at him, Jag told me that he was a great singer, and he waved as hard as he could before settling into himself again. He was asked if he needed anything from medicine to cream cakes and he said no.

The more Heineken I drank the more vivid this old guy’s face swam in front of me. He was too gone to be angry like the raging husband and too gone to be hopeful like the patient Jag. He had just slipped quietly down between the cracks, and bars of Bangkwang. Probably gone forever. - Nicola Pierce, author.

Wednesday, 21 March 2007

The writer in the mirror

Writing Hell in Barbados was quite traumatic for me. It gave me the long-awaited opportunity to tell my side of the story in some of the many scenarios I have been through. Certain things were truncated, though- for instance, I would have liked more of the original text I wrote about my time in Afghanistan, to have been included, such as what happened in the refugee camp I ended up stuck in for six months, penniless, swatting against the clouds of flies by day and the mosquitoes by night. But we wanted to get into the story re Barbados sooner, and thus certain ‘streamlinings’ were necessary. The text, as it transpired, was a lot less cumbersome and more aerodynamic than when it started.
It brought back a lot of memories, some painful, some long buried in my memory, some happy. People I had almost forgotten about, those I had loved and lost, for instance, but whose presences seemed to return like homing pigeons for the writing of this book. This book gave me the chance to seriously review some of the events I have been through- and realise their influence upon me. It was an incredibly cathartic experience, and I am now preparing further writing for Maverick House re my experiences as a ‘Down and Out in London’- as a former crack and heroin addict, living amongst the junkies, whores, pimps, dealers, et al of the dark underbelly of London Town, especially in and around north London’s King’s Cross area.
All of which marks a change in the kind of thing I have written about in the past. Back around the 1990s I wrote a series of books for a combination of American and British publishers on folklore, the tarot, magic spells, the Lord of the Rings, and dragons, in particular, ‘Step by Step Tarot’ by HarperCollins (circa 1992), ‘The Dragon Tarot deck and book set’( U.S. Games Systems Inc. 1993), and ‘The Lord of the Rings Tarot deck and book set’( U.S. Games, 1994). - Terence Donaldson, author.

Tuesday, 20 March 2007

I Heart Farang!

Note: Farang is the Thai slang for 'westerner'.

My favourite way to kill time while commute to work on Bangkok’s only SkyTrain is reading and listening to music, sometimes engaged in both simultaneously. It’s a good 30 minutes I look forward to every day. On one glorious day, mild sunlight shone through the mirrored glass and formed a comforting layer on my back easing the chill within the train, as I flipped through my magazine trying to find the last page where I’d left off, I overheard a sassy Thai girl on my right talking on her mobile with her girlfriend about how she rejected a farang friend’s sexual advances last night, all proclaimed amid numerous multiracial passengers.

I sensed that this must be good so I put my fingers between the pages and was all ears. Here is the gist of what she spoke unnecessarily loudly (English is in italic). “Girl, we went to this fabulous club, danced like crazy and he tried to get me drunk, right? Only he was drunk first… Anyway, we went back to his car and suddenly he was all over me. I was like ‘Fuck you man! Get lost!’ and just stormed out of his car!”

Upon hearing those sweet words, I pondered why she was so generous to share her latest misconduct of her boy friend to us. Although I did enjoy her girl power, it was a bit out of place. It is very unusual for a Thai to express personal intimacies or strong emotions in any audience, especially amongst strangers. OK, she might be more progressive than your average Thai Joe and Jane but I can’t help but think that did she tell the story as a way to misguidedly boast up her self-esteem in public? She wanted the whole SkyTrain to know how pissed off she really was? Or that she has a westerner friend who wanted to grope her? Or that she enjoys nightlife and can swear in English too? What’s with the jabbering of English words in Thai colloquialisms? Was she trying to prove something?... Am I overly analysing this?

I have my reasons to doubt, though. My theory is that some Thais associate themselves with western influences to appear and feel superior to their fellow countrymen, turning certain values into yet another quest for status and putting themselves up on a pedestal above peers.

To cite a vivid example via a story told by my dear Farang friend who has been in Thailand for over a decade, who was strolling in a department store and noticed two Thai women chatting away in their language. As they walked past her, one of them glanced at her and switched into a would-be English-speaking Caucasian for no relevant reason except to show the blonde madame that she could speak English and to remind her friend of her “Western” status.

With the help of someone’s ring tone, I caught myself before I actually blabbered any of these thoughts out loud and resumed reading my magazine. As I looked down on my lap there was the first page of Robert De Niro’s interview in January issue of GQ I bought in early February at a bargain price. Trying to drown out other noises, I felt my jeans’ pocket where my portable MP3 player filled with self-picked tracks from Jamie Cullum, Coldplay, and U2 was tucked. Then I froze.

In my home DVD player, I had the first disc of Arrested Development Season 3 waiting for me. Plus, I’ve been trying to find a used copy of Thomas Harris’ Red Dragon to complete Dr. Lector’s trilogy.

Quickly, I closed my GQ and put it promptly in my shoulder bag, contemplating…who really is the biggest phony of them all. Pornchai - Maverick House Asia