Sunday, March 23, 2008

On the road again

Khon Kaen, Thailand

At it again, my trusty laptop and I. My tattered passport overflows with Thailand entry and exit stamps, and so it is difficult to tell exactly, but I calculate that this is my 21st trip to the land of smiles. Considering my average trip here lasts 3 to 4 weeks, it is hard to tell which place I should call home.

Two days of work in Bangkok. If there is one thing you can count on in this unpredictable world, it is that Bangkok will always have yet another impossibly glitzy shopping mall coming up in the Siam Square area. The streets are teeming and the weather is ridiculously hot. I note with interest, and not a little glee, that the forecast for Sunday is Max 4C and snow in London, and 34C and wall to wall sunshine in Bangkok.

A coach trip to Khon Kaen. We could have flown, at £40 apiece, but decide to try the £8 coach that gets you to Khon Kaen in 6 hours. Only the Thais could provide such outstanding value for £8 (which is what I pay as cab fare from home to Reading station). The air-conditioned coach has private entertainment screens in front of every seat, with a range of movies (with both Thai and English audio options) and games (I learn to play Super Mario World). Each seat has a dozen settings and can give you a back massage. The road versus skies equation never looked better.

Ensconced in Bee’s tiny but much-loved flat in Khon Kaen University, writing this at 3:00 am in the throes of the usual jet lag.

Saturday, March 15, 2008


'If you hear that same sweet song again, will you know why?
Anyone who sings a tune so sweet is passing by'

I had noted last week that I was yet to hear the blackbird sing this young year, but that has since been put right by a lovely chap I found hopping and cooing in my backyard this morning. I know that I tend to go on a bit about the blackbird's song, but truly, there is no sound that gladdens the heart more. William Henley said it much better than I ever could:

The nightingale has a lyre of gold,
The lark's is a clarion call,
And the blackbird plays but a boxwood flute,
But I love him best of all.
For his song is all of the joy of life,
And we in the mad, spring weather,
We two have listened till he sang
Our hearts and lips together

Yes, the joy of life sounds about right. If you have real audio, you can hear a sample here.

I would love for the interloper in my garden to stay and sing all season, but Robert Hunter speaks the truth, anyone who sings a tune so sweet is only passing by.

Saturday, March 08, 2008

Here comes the sun

It is early March, and there is the faintest whiff of spring in the air. I know, it was only last week that a light snow could be seen falling, and the temperature is still hovering in the early teens. However, the daffodils are already reprising their role as harbringers of spring, and the birds can clearly feel it coming in the air. It is too early yet for the blackbird to fill the air with its liquid tones, but a pair of Robins have already started raiding my backyard for tufts of grass to line their nest.

As spring approaches, a man's thoughts inevitably turn to his garden. Long someone who held gardening in about as much esteem as outdoor jogging or taking long walks in the countryside on weekends (very low, to clarify), I was converted last year and found myself browsing seed catalogs and devising devious methods to keep the evil pigeons off my cherry tomatoes. With the resounding success of my green chilli crop last year (see picture), the plan is to double the metrage this year, moving along from the increasing returns to scale spot that I currently inhabit on the chilli production function. Chilli is also a patently risk-reducing crop choice, since the squirrels, pigeons and myriad other pests won't go anywhere near it. Given the relatively low labour requirements in growing it, and the daily demand for it in my kitchen, chilli is just about a perfect crop for me. I reckon I'll also have the usual tomatoes and various flowers, but cut out the attempts at exotics like okra and aubergine this year. However, all planting will have to wait until I return from Thailand and India in April.