Sunday, November 14, 2010

Blue Sky at Night, Fisherman's Friend

Poverty has struck once again but the constant gardener is undeterred. My aim in life is to have a better ginger garden than the smoking area at Changi Airport. The groundwork has been well and truly laid with this 80-baht banana from Jatujak:

And this 60-baht ginger and her sisters, which attract a tiny species of wasp (click to see it horribly enlarged):

The walls will by and by be convered in teen thook kae or lizard's feet. I ordered 10 near Jatujak last week after my visa renewal ordeal at the mad government complex in Laksi, and then when I made my way back through the heat and smog on Saturday they'd forgotted to get them. I went home dejected but just on the off-chance asked the garden centre 100 m from the house, and they said sure, we've got plenty, 20 baht a pop. Sometimes there simply aren't the words:

From Tom and Mam come a couple of frangipani, which are branches that their landlady's factotum ripped off the trees (with his teeth, it looked like) and put in water. That corpse you planted last year in your garden, has it begun to sprout? Indeed it has:

I'll plant a banyan tree in the bottom right-hand corner in due course, they root in anything; it may over the years bust that hideous wall, but they tend to be holy so there's nothing the neighbours can do but grit their teeth and worship. A sea almond tree in the other corner, I think, they also root in any ground no matter how stony.

Leo and Cheetah don't care one way or the other:

Saturday, October 23, 2010

Lantern Jaw

After all those years of living in Chinatown and finding there a single shop that sells them lanterns, I was wandering around the bottom of the road here in search of some noodles today when I happened on a shop that makes lanterns to order. They also make elaborate funerary and ancestral-rite thingies, and were surrounded by frames in various states of completion. Is that--? I said. Whatchoo want, the woman said, fabric or paper?

All very exciting; it'll have to wait till pay day, but maybe I can have a more interesting design than the red lettering on white.

Meanwhile, a ramble round the houses.

Saturday, October 16, 2010


The end is never the end, is it? Thanks to my mother I'm now in possession of a brand-new camera, so there's no reason why it should ever end.

At any rate, once I'd moved in it got to the point where the idiots proved such utter and complete idiots that I threw them out. What a pig's ear Nek's morons made of every single job they attempted. Utterly, utterly useless. I don't see how the world could possibly be a worse place if they were wiped out by some horrible disease. The paint jobs, as you can't quite see in the pictures, are abysmal, the plumbing is a fucking disgrace. I won't start on the job they made of the first-floor polished concrete which, until they dripped paint all over it that embedded itself deeply in the cement, was really quite nice. These things are best forgottten.

One day on the phone Nek, then hard at work ruining someone else's house in Lad Phrao, whined at me that he doesn't want me to complain to him all the time, he doesn't like, what would I think if someone complained to me all the time? I said he who takes the money listens uncomplainingly to the complaints, and at any rate if he wasn't such an idiot there'd have to be none. Serves me right for being cheap, I suppose, because in the end they won, simply by doing an even worse job than their low fee would justify. Without Nun it'd have been a complete disaster.

Never mind, never mind. They're gone, alhamdullillah. As you can see, the cats are happy:

Or almost:

And so am I, almost. The air is a million times better here, and in the small hours, despite having only a fan to cool the bedroom, I cover myself in the Cambodian scarf Cheetah is hogging in the picture. The local iron man, under the Klong Tan flyover, did an excellent job on the bookshelves and desk, and the maid is a treasure -- to the point where Tom and Mam have pretty much appropriated her, and I had to summon her back from their house last week to do the ironing. Admittedly the washing wasn't quite dry, so she thought she'd go over there and do whatever needed to be done first and come back as and when, which is fine.

Progress from now on will be too slow to warrant blogging, but I may put up a little tour of the area, with running commentary. The upstairs bathroom will be built eventually, and yes, I realise the Chinese lanterns out front are too small; I was too mean to spend an extra 200 baht on the bigger ones, so they'll be replaced in due course.

Meanwhile I leave you with a mood picture of the view out front at eventide. As m'uncle rightly observes, sooner or later the ground floor will have to be equipped with bamboo blinds for privacy. I'm exposed when I'm cooking, and the locals are wondering whether it's a restaurant. The maid, Noi, suggested I open a 'cocktail lounge', which I'm sorry to say in the argot means a whorehouse:

Saturday, August 21, 2010

The End

My camera disappeared in the move, so I'm afraid that's it.

Thank you for stopping by.

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

He Moves

The movers, five of them, turned up at 9 o'clock on Sunday morning and emptied the entire house of all valuables and invaluables within an hour, levering the hideous Chinese bed out over the front, strapping themselves to flowerpots the size of small mountains, everything. My belongings, such as they are, filled the whole lorry.  They drove over and performed the same manoeuvre in reverse and were all done before 1 o'clock. I've never seen anyone work so efficiently, or certainly not recently. All for 2,500 baht for the lorry and driver and 300 each for the strongmen, who would have been worth their weight in gold, but who am I to quibble. I gave them my TV and the dvd 'collection.'

Here, on the other hand, no progress at all had been made. The top floor was in the pristine state Nek had left it, gypsum wall a moonscape, airing holes uncut, dust an inch thick, no panels in the windows. A buck-toothed gentleman and the painter fixed the walls within about three hours -- as contrasted with the three weeks they'd remained unfixed -- and then I forced them to buy glass and do the back windows. On a Sunday? they said. Last Tuesday also good, said I, but failing that a Sunday will have to do. By the end of the day the windows were in, and I spent a restless night in my new bedroom listening to the cats explore their new home with anguished cries for help and orientation till I was well nigh out of my mind.

Friday, August 13, 2010

Cry Freon

The air conditioner has been installed:

You have to admire the concentration of the Chang: when he paints he paints and nothing can blur his focus, not the floor on which he's dribbling, not the bedroom lampshades he's generously slathering in emulsion, nothing. Silk doesn't really take to scraping, so they're ruined. On the first floor the drippings seeped into the concrete and are now preserved for all eternity under a layer of crystalline sealer; looks horrible where it's black. The only option is to sand the sealer down in those places, paint the splotches over thinly with the grey wall paint and seal it again. Luckily the sealer turns it roughly the same colour as the concrete, and if it's not overdone it'll serve. I nonetheless threw another screaming tantrum and cut 2,000 baht off Nek's total, which leaves zero.  

The welder plumbed -- so why don't I call him the plumber? -- quite well I think. He'll finish that today, attach handles to the first-floor windows, and patch all manner of holes with cement and generally tidy up. The useless pair spent another day desultorily scraping things off floors. The he-useless tends to wander off halfway through some minor task in search of more moonshine, and when he comes back he's forgotten where he was. Sad, of course, except he then bellows at the little wife to get a move on.

P.S. 'Quite well' my arse.

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Designated Driver

Another day and Nun switched his phone on, only to tell me he's waiting for Nek to pick him up and bring him back. I told Nek to do it fast as the boys can't work on their own, partly because they don't want to and partly because they have limited resources. They can paint, but that's about it, and there's lots left to do, as you can be sure I pointed out.

Later I rang back and said can't you sit on a train or bus? It'll cost about 150 baht. He sounded as if this was the first he'd heard of these modern marvels and said he'd have to confer with Nek.

Later still he had some other reason why it's going to take several days, so I told him not to bother. The welder can apparently also plumb, and the coat of tile putty on the roof can wait till another day. Instead Nek can make me a little roof over the back door from the leftover iron or wood. All that remains is to add handles to the first-floor windows, put obscured glass in the top-floor windows, make a bathroom threshold and drain, and to sand down the botched paint job on the shutter and spray it instead. Oh, and replace the doorframe on the top floor. And put in some porous barrier in the courtyard to keep the sand in but allow the rainwater to flow out into the drain at the back.

PS: And fill in the hole next to the back door. And put a strip of rubber sheet at the bottom of that door.

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Tree 2

The monstrosity has been tamed. She'll never be a beauty, but at least she no longer offends the eye quite so much:

Since I had to pay for it, I only had my side of it done: isn't that petty? My punishment is that I'm now rather exposed, and my reward that I have a view, nondescript though it may be:

The balcony floor is all shiny with penetrating sealer, and in the process the boys lost the rest of the tub, because once mixed it sets very fast. Apparently with a bit of thinner the other two tubs will be enough for the whole floor. They did some desultory painting, but Nun's not there and m'neighbour says yesterday they were drunk and lying around on the ground floor doing nothing. They'd also failed to put the glass in the first-floor windows, apparently because the welder forgot watever it was that he forgot.

Nun's switched his phone off; God knows if we'll see him again.

Monday, August 9, 2010

alea iacta est

The lorry has been ordered for Sunday, the air conditioning man for Thursday, there's no turning back now.

The Catch

The American neighbour, a mighty gossip before the Lord, says the reason the owner moved out to the swamps beyond the airport is that she has cancer. She does look frail and always wears a sun hat, and I can't for the moment remember her hair, or whether she has any. He says she seemed a lot worse seven years ago. Still, it is a worry. Then again she has no children and I expect the house would go to her younger sister, who's an almost equally fey and pointedly helpless person, plus she's been trying to sell the house for years whenever she had no tenants, and the building five doors down has also been unsuccessfully for sale for a long time, so I don't expect to be kicked out immediately even if she gets sick again, which inshallah she won't.

Sunday, August 8, 2010


Having been given money for the family, Nun promptly decided it was time he went and saw them for two days. I suppose when he's here he works well, including Sundays, so I have no reason at all to stop him.

This morning he finished the windows in the back and then plugged the worst of the leaks -- a drainpipe cuts through the overhang on the top floor, and the rain comes in all around it, soaks through a rotten window frame and generously waters the wall below. There's more: the flowerbeds above the second-floor balcony also soak through the concrete, water gathers outside the flowerbed surrounding the spirit house (the brown-black patch), and the snails' trails at the bottom are hairline cracks that someone covered with smears of cement, now broken and useless:

He reckons it could all be remedied with a coat of tile putty, for which I didn't have the money until I remembered that Nek owes me a water tank, which isn't really needed until I make the bathroom. So now we have about 4,000 baht to play with, which I may put towards the roof sealer and a little iron-and-PVC roof over the back door. Who, as they say, is your daddy.

Meanwhile the painter carried on with the free ground floor job, and the welder branched out and painted the banisters and window frames, very neatly too. Nun claims the two of them will come in while he's away.

Saturday, August 7, 2010

One Damn Thing After Another

Nun seems to have taken over the entire job, including asking for advances. He says his family in Lopburi are starving and having to kill the celebrated monkeys for food, I exaggerate, so I coughed up another 10 grand. I bought some more paint for the painter too, which leaves a mere 6,000 baht in cash to the total. I told him he'll have to get the rest off Nek, but he said it's fine, so long as the family can eat he's content.

Apparently yesterday a man from the electric came and threatened to shut us off, charging 20 baht for the privilege. I tried to pay today but the Prakanong district office and her dependencies sleep on Saturdays, and my trip to the arse of beyond Onnut was wasted. Ever conscientious, I then psyched myself up to sweep the monstrosity's blossoms out, but someone had done it already.

Next was a trip to the iron workshop under the Klong Tan flyover to discuss my desk and shelving. The man there was one of those people who seem permanently wrily amused by nothing in particular, though you can't shake the feeling that the joke's on you. We doodled on the back of his wall calendar, he made a few suggestions, and he'll come back with an estimate, or rather I'll go back for an estimate as and when. Nek can do the job, but I'd rather not have anything to do with him after this.

My shelf brackets have gone missing; I have a feeling I put them somewhere safe when the owner came, and now I can't remember where. On top of the bathroom?

Friday, August 6, 2010

Heart of Glass

Nun and the welder put in the french window panes, except for one, which was the wrong size, and attached some bolts, ears and slightly twee but serviceable handles:

The painter was at work on my ill-gotten paint job downstairs until he ran out. He's patient and neat, but he doesn't judge his own work, so you have to tell him where it didn't take sufficiently, and like most chang he doesn't consider anything but the task in hand, happily painting over nails and craters that he should have seen to first. Still, he doesn't mind if you then tell him to do it (note Tom's scooter, which he kindly lent me for the week):

The tree man came with his girlfriend, who is the brains behind the operation, and quoted me 3,500 baht, a number that is becoming of ever growing importance to me (and how many other blogs do you know that parody WG Sebald). He claims 500 of that is the bribe to shut up the city; I tried but failed to haggle him down. As we surveyed the monstrosity from the first floor, an old woman from next door screamed at everyone to sweep the monstrosity's wilted blossoms out of the gutter pronto, which task will nonetheless have to wait till another day.

Thursday, August 5, 2010

Industry 2

I made my way over brimming with hope and vim -- to find the first floor painted a distinct shade of lavender boudoir. Oh dear, I said, maybe when it's dry... That is dry, they said. Such long hours I spent too, choosing the shade from the TOA 'palette.' Checking in the shop, it turned out that if you tip the sample away from the light, it does mysteriously take on a purplish tinge. It wasn't to be helped, so I bought another 2.5 gallons, this time making sure it was strictly black-based.

A soulful slip of a boy, about 12 years old, was working with Nun, and believe it or not he's quite good at painting walls. Within about an hour and a half he'd painted the boudoir with the new grey, which is just right and by sheer luck within the same spectrum as the floor. Nun, meanwhile, had paved me a balcony and cemented the iron frames both sides. Between them they achieved more in one day than all the useless dregs Nek had favoured me with taken together. The welding youth arrived with the glass panels just in time for the downpour, and they unloaded them and left.

The painter asked for 100 baht. It was the least I could do, especially since he'd asked me what colour I want the ground floor painted. White, I said, careful not to blink. Touch wood Nek's forgetfulness is for once working in my favour: I'd told him to leave the ground floor for the time being, but wouldn't I be a fool to bring it up?

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

Racing Snails

On the phone this morning, Nek demanded more money so he could buy the glass for the iron-framed windows. I said that was the reason you needed more money on Sunday. He said the paint is running out. I said buy more. Krub, he said, but didn't.

Chang Poon's name is Nun, so if it's not too late to change the cast list that's what he'll be from now on. While the boys and girls slept, Nun finished the frames for the french windows:

and the iron windows in back:

He too was waiting for the money to buy the glass. I said get it off Nek, he's had 62,000. Nek apparently told him it was all gone, so I suggested he borrow it off some other sucker, the wife, the wife's uncle, I don't care, I'm fresh out. Upstairs the outside of the windows had been painted, black in front, as I said, black in back, as I didn't, matt where I'd asked for glossy, badly.

My arrival -- I won't say galvanized, but stirred, as one might stir thick soup, some activity. Desultory scraping of walls, but come 4 o'clock they all piled on the pavement outside, ready to call two-and-a-half hours a day. I objected, so they did a bit more incompetent painting of the front shutter and then drove off in this season's worst downpour, most of them exposed to the elements on the back of the pickup truck. Serve them right.

And thank God for it, because it allowed me to identify a couple of leaks that can now be plugged. (Let's face it, I'm going to have to stay at the old house another week, hopefully for a week's rent only, though we shan't tell Nek that). The intersection floods knee-deep but in my courtyard it all runs off like a dream. Outside, I bought a climber with indigo flowers from a jolly toothless woman -- all toothless people look jolly -- who was sheltering from the rain there, for 100 baht. She identified herself as a gardener, so I said come back in about three weeks and we'll do business like nobody's business.

Then of course I hit my head on the ill-painted shutter. Slapstick is a cold version of pastoral.

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

Back to Normality

...if there is such a thing. Chang Poon and the Youth welded, a little teenager had done some painting, a little man joined the little woman in painting the shutter, badly. Not exactly 'five to six' people at the paint brush, but at least some. What a pig's ear these idiots have made of the gypsum walls. Neither hide nor hair of Nek, maybe just as well.

I'm fully aware of the comic potential of frustration, but there's nothing funny, to the penguin, about the penguin sliding along the ice on his stomach, nor about this whole fucking farrago to me.

Scraping the Barrel

An even quieter Monday: Nek disappeared like the wind on Sunday and then decided to have himself a holiday or, as he put it, take his child to [rest of sentence drowned out by my screaming]. That meant Chang Poon was also mysteriously absent, as was everyone else. You can't win with these people: if you're nice to them they think you're a soft touch, if you're horrible to them they're scared, but only of your presence, so they stay away. At my wits' end, I addressed Nek in the universal language of money and told him I'd cut 1,000 baht for every day that no progress is made,

Will it work? This morning he claimed he'd finish the french windows today and 'five or six' of the boys would paint the walls upstairs. We'll see. Meanwhile I have a spare 1,000 baht to pay for an extractor fan.

Kitti finished his job and got paid. Now he'll only have to help me put up the lanterns outside on the day. My sole complaint is that he rather eccentrically fixed it so that only one of the twin bedroom lamps can be switched on from the door, while both are controlled from the bedside switch, but I decided to think of that as a feature.

Sunday, August 1, 2010


A quiet Sunday. Seems to have been a quiet Saturday too: Once I'd left the welding youth must have been out of there like a flash, leaving Chang Poon on his own and progress stalled. We're still, to coin a phrase, four tiles short of a full counter. Nek was there when I arrived, pacing nervously, waiting for another instalment. I subjected him to the usual psycho-terror, and Knotty was dispatched upstairs to paint the walls. Not sure if that's to be welcomed, so I told CP to go up occasionally and avert the worst.

Kitti had more or less finished his job, and very nicely too. All that remains is to attach the breaker box, move one socket because it'll get in the way of my desk, and, once the bed has been airlifted into the third floor, hang the Chinese lanterns outside. I can't expose them to the danger, having invested all of 400 baht in keeping the ancient craft extant.

The owner came to take her rent and everything that wasn't nailed down, including Big Jim's vast industrial fridge. She also told the neighbours to move their plants so they don't trespass on my bit of pavement no mo' and then whispered to me to plug the holes in the manhole cover because otherwise they'd 'pour food down there.' Yes yes, I said. The American neighbour's mother-in-law, a member of the farming community, had a look round and shouted at me to get the broken cover out of the sewer in the courtyard. I shouted back there's no hurry, and we had a high old time.

PS: Looks like the worst was averted in the sense that Knotty disappeared the moment I left, having in two days managed to paint one coat on the bathroom walls only, a job that would take me -- even me -- about 45 minutes. 'Do it yourself then.' No. I'm paying, aren't I, so I don't have to.

Saturday, July 31, 2010


Nek has essentially subcontracted the whole job to Chang Poon, under whose supervision the house is nice and quiet but for the sounds of industry. He made progress on the famous iron-framed french windows with the help of a welding youth from Nek's stable (they don't sag, it's just the camera's fisheye):

Kitti electrified the courtyard (and m'readers with it, I trust):

And the concrete floor is coming along on the sunny side. This is more or less how it ought to look. It has to dry properly and will then be given a coat of penetrating sealer (ha), ordered from the shop at the end of the street:

The kitchen counter's nearly tiled, but nothing more had been done on the top floor, and Knotty had started painting the back door so badly that I'm having to ask for him to be kept away from any job where the permissible margin of error is less than three inches, which is all of them.

PS: Kitti referred to Knotty as khon tod suea, 'he who takes his shirt off' which I thought was very funny.

PPS: Apparently it wasn't Knotty but the bow-legged woman, who is perhaps rightly being relegated to menial tasks after all.

Friday, July 30, 2010


The new floor looks the way wet cement looks: I walked on it just to claim it, but we'll see when it's dry.

The tree surgeon came to look at the monstrosity. He thought I wanted it felled and said this couldn't be done, but I said no, I just want it given a haircut, and I don't want the city to do it because they'll chop it off at the knees. He promised to check with Kor Tor Mor and come back with an estimate. I said what do you call these nasty fast-growing trees that are barely good enough for the paper mill, he said ton mai yai, I said yes I know, but what do you call these trees, etc.

Thursday, July 29, 2010

Pouring the Flooring

Finally the floor is being poured. Some progress had been made on the top floor -- the worst of the ridges had disappeared -- but still the airing holes need cutting. Someone had also made a start on painting the window frames upstairs, and the house was swarming with the boys who are supposedly on strike, killing time while they waited to move on to the other site. Chang Poon was left in charge, working with Knotty, which is fine by me:

Say what you like about Knotty, with his woodbines and his bloomers and his bandanna, but when he works he works. As for Chang Poon, Roger Scruton, enemy of all things new, says nobody understands concrete; I reckon CP understands it as much as it can be understood by anyone. They'll be at the house till 1 o'clock in the morning, the hour when the concrete is 'polished,' meaning they throw the magic powder or indensifier over it (it has to be thrown, as though in disgust) and smooth it. I offered to buy them some beer, but Knotty said they'd have the money thanks.

Kitti is making steady headway. A nice man really, once he gets used to you he doesn't whine so much, except occasionally to annoy you, and unlike Nek's people he starts at the top of a task and works his way quietly and inexorably to the bottom. Here he is stringing up the halogen downstairs:

Assuming the Position

A kilometre or two away as the crow flies, Jarrett documents the builder's favourite position. Not sure if we ought to glamourise vice in this way. He also links this furniture shop: looks like they copy whatever they can pick up at Wat Suan Kaew, much of it hideous but some of it quite nice and worth considering as I mismatch my dining chairs.

Also notice how the sun always shines in his pics while mine seem to be suffused with a sort of tinny glow, like a meat locker, as if the very elements conspired against me.

Wednesday, July 28, 2010


Nek is officially an idiot. Inspecting the french doors I want, he'd equipped himself with nothing but his photographic memory, which as some wit remarked is a strictly amateur-photographic memory, shaky, out of focus, faces cut off, and decided that on the whole the job was the same as making these ghastly aluminium doorframes I have on the ground floor and which he'd previously had occasion to fashion. Today was the big day, so he phoned while I was in Boonthavorn and informed me that this meant the central two panels, which will open inwards, would therefore have to be smaller.

I flew over like a demon and demanded they all pile into the car and look at the About Cafe doors this instant. Luckily he hadn't quite trusted himself with the job and Chang Poon was in charge of it, so he was sent to accompany me instead. In the taxi he got car sick and kept asking 'Are we there yet?' How they got him from Lopburi to Bangkok is a mystery; perhaps it's not so bad sitting in the cab of a pickup truck. At any rate, thank God for Chang Poon: he looked at the doors, and understood, and gave the right answers. He then went with me to pick up the tiles for the counter (a snip at 755 baht including borders) from Talad Noi, so it wasn't a total waste of time. Of course I had to send him back to the house in an open vehicle, and the tuk-tuk driver wanted 200 baht, which I'll charge to Nek.

Measure twice, cut once. Christ.

Tuesday, July 27, 2010


Deviousness is a many-headed Hydra, or a leaky bag, for every misdeed you stop two new ones emerge. Now Nek arrives in good time in the morning and then sneaks out, so that when I arrived at 3.30 he was already gone. On the phone he claimed to be 'outside' and after some noisy clanking of the cogs decided he was inspecting the iron-framed French windows. I told him this would have been a golden opportunity for the boys and girls to paint the window frames. I hope his second job pays well.

The bathroom walls had been done, thank God, but those idiotic gypsum walls still need a couple of panels fixed and the airing holes cut out on one side. Do they form the flat surface we have come to expect of a wall? No they do not. Do they resemble a Bangkok pavement in the sheer intricacy of their angled layers? Indeed they do.

The view from the wardrobe:

The first-floor balcony lamp is an orphan, the line discontinued. Now I have to go to grim old faraway Boonthavorn again to buy a new pair as HomePro Ploenchit proved useless; so useless in fact that I had to complain to the manager and recommend she fire everyone in the lighting section. Recalcitrant jobsworths, the lot of them, like comedy French waiters only infinitely more stupid. Yet at the Ratchada branch they couldn't be more helpful. Perhaps I should have told the manager to fire herself.

Monday, July 26, 2010

The Tantrum

Although I told Nek off this morning, he managed to arrive 10 minutes before me, at about 3.30. I threw the planned tantrum, telling them I was disgusted by their performance and ashamed to be a member of the same species (or words to that effect). Kitti had also decided to prolong his holiday, so I bawled him out down the phone, making sure to do it within hearing of the others.

But of course if you make a dragon you have to pay for it, so I then had to hang around till 7 pretending to keep an eye on their every move, bored out of my mind. Along the way I gave one of the girls an earful for sitting idly around, and told Big not to be an arse and start puttying the seams in one wall before trying to screw on a few more panels in another but do one thing at a time, for the satisfaction of having done something properly and going to bed content. Which reasoning was much appreciated, and indeed by the end of the day he'd puttied over most of the inside of the wall and looked pleased with himself, no doubt faking it for my benefit. I keep looking into his bad eye instead of the good one.

Not a peep out of Knotty, which was satisfying. I think the only one who really appreciated my antics was the little bow-legged woman who lugs the heavy equipment, having more wit than the lot of them put together but being relegated by tradition to the most menial tasks.

Chang Poon, the cement expert, really is a wizard, not only with an unerring feeling for a plane surface without need for a spirit level but with the sort of craftsman's pleasure in his own practiced motions that you always read about but rarely see. Didn't even like it when Nek chatted to him, so caught up was he in his work. For how long? Well... Then again when I addressed him in the language he gave me a bloodshot look and said I'm sorry I have no idea what you're on about, and Nek had to translate my Thai into his. By the end of the day they'd plastered the inside of the bathroom walls.

With so much time to kill I also went and enlisted the girl in the shop next door to spy for me, established the quantity and price of the paint I'll need for the first floor and the heat-reflecting paint for the top -- a snip -- and got the garden-centre woman to find me a tree surgeon for that unkempt monstrosity outside. It'll all come crashing down round my ears soon enough.

In the evening a lovely breeze blew through the open first floor and I went for a walk down the side-soi, to the accompaniment (this being a Mooslim area) of evening prayer.

New Regime no. 3,214

No progress had been made after I left on Saturday: the gypsum walls were still not finished. This morning I phoned a sleepy Nek at 8 sharp and said things will have to improve significantly. No more clocking off at 5 unless a job's done, nice early mornings like the ones I keep. I'll have to go every day at 5 o'clock to review the day's work and hear the battle plan for the next day. No more Mr Nice Pope, as Herbert Lom put it.

Meanwhile a couple of dull pictures of no great progress:

Spot the nice emergency lamp.

Saturday, July 24, 2010


Nek claims his boys are on strike, something to do with not wanting to get up in the morning. There'd been no progress on the brick walls, but he and Big were making some headway on the gypsum walls. The girls were still desultorily sweeping floors. Still, the bedroom is starting to look like more of a room. Nek dreams of moving to the country and planting trees for the paper mill. To do that he reckons he needs 3 million baht to get him through the first five years till he can harvest his trees. These will fetch, he thinks, about 10 million, and so on.

He claims he's off to Lopburi tonight to fetch a builder who can plaster the walls. I'll put up some pictures when it's done; these photos of unfinished walls are really remarkably boring.

Friday, July 23, 2010

Frenzied Activity

The lamps had been hung and cast a mellow glow over the top floor; I like these emergency lamps, which are now all over the house. Kitti really does the work very neatly. He was stringing the halogen string across the first floor and put up the outdoor lamp on the balcony. Looked good. I think I may be a lighting designer of some genius. He couldn't comprehend why I don't want to keep all the fluorescent tubes (there are dozens), because, he said, they're so bright. I said take them, make them your own, brighten your home. I'm beginning to think he's winding me up.

Upstairs, meanwhile, Big had made the first two airing slats in the gypsum wall, sadly lined up with the door frame rather than the actual door, so he had to do it again, while Nek was sculpting the ridges for the plaster on the brick walls with lovely, fatty-looking cement. As I was chatting to Kitti, we heard terrible shouting from above, apparently because Big had made a bit of a pig's ear out of the slats the second time round. Just then Kitti was demanding money for the power line for the air conditioner -- 20 metres of it -- so it seemed a good time to flee the scene.

Thursday, July 22, 2010


Kitti is just made that way, he whines. I showed him the lamps, he whined (he doesn't like the little outdoor ones). I confirmed that I want the bedroom lamps to hang down at equal length, he whined (it means buying a bit of black cable). He then assured me that he had absolutely no idea how to move the air conditioner, so I told him I'd been deceived and worse and he'd at least have to put the cable there so the other guy can do it. Such whining you never heard. I left him looking crestfallen, staring at the wall. Genuinely crestfallen, I think, it's his nature. But he'd put up the ceiling fans on the top floor, now handsome and black.

The brick walls are built, the doors have arrived. Two women had cleaned the house and were even chipping bits of stray cement off the floor of the courtyard, which alas will be covered in 25 cm of sand and earth. Nek was all charm, even asked me my name. What a nice man he is after all, I thought. Turns out he's waiting for the next instalment.


Here's the picture I couldn't be bothered to upload. He looks quite piratical... On the whole my policy is not to have any people in the pictures since that's not the point, but he insisted. Why he felt that entitled him to a free drink is beyond me, but it's like in the villages, there's always one wit who comes up to you demanding money or drink. The rest of the village seem to find it amusing, or they're embarrassed, you can never tell why people laugh, can you, in this part of the world:

I made the 10 o'clock call. Nek's not there; he claims to be picking up the old doors that he's fixed and made a frame for. Kitti's there.

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

A Horrible Day

I hate spending money on useful objects. One of the most depressing days I remember is when I bought Fino -- and it tells you what a magnificent success I've made of my life that the worst spree I can recall is buying a second-hand moped. At any rate I always come away feeling I got nothing for it, which of course isn't true. For today's not terribly upsetting tally of 2,300 baht ex transport, I got eight lamps and a couple of shelf brackets for the kitchen, which in theory isn't bad. But the horrors of Ratchada: so many, I had not thought death had undone so many...

The workmen, meanwhile, have slowed down dangerously. They can't have turned up long before me, so I'll have to ring up every morning now. Nek laboriously built me a doorstep in the courtyard, very neat, gently teaching the mooncalf (I'll call him Big hereinafter, he has a rapper's solidity of flesh) as he went along, which was nice in its way but shouldn't have taken most of two days. Upstairs the knotty fellow finished up the brick wall by himself, none too well, posed for a picture I'm too tired to bother uploading, and kept making the moron's sucking gesture for 'gimme drink.' I suppose if he was a rocket scientist he'd be working in rocket science, and maybe we should feel some sort of solidarity here on the losing side of life, but I can't.

Chang Kitti is proving a whiny, soft, shit-eating person -- oh no, so far, my house, really he can't possibly think of picking up the circuit breaker box; oh no, not the air conditioner, far too busy. At least he seems to respond to my kind of bullying, which is essentially to subject them to rapid alarming mood swings. Since it comes naturally, I might as well use it to my advantage where I can. We'll see: I'll have to tell him I'll cut 5,000 baht off his fee if he keeps acting like a cunt.

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

The New Electrician

Chang Kitti  (for it is he) conveniently lives just at the end of the soi and quoted me 15,000 baht for the lot, which seems sensible since there's a lot of fiddly stuff to be done; with a token discount it's 14,000. His free-hand drawings, when I showed him round, were slightly neater than my own ruler-assisted designs. The breaker has moved yet again and will now sit on the left-hand wall, next to the second post.

(Maybe I should say that these shophouses consist of three or four pairs of steel-and-concrete posts held together by i-beams, meaning there are no load-bearing walls at all, which is why you so often see two of them knocked together or the whole front torn out or glassed in.)

I'll need a few more lamps than I thought, for the stairs and the corridor upstairs, but the ones I fancy cost all of 100 baht.

PS: 200 baht, it turns out. They're marked on the Boonthavorn website as 1xx baht, which seems to mean roi gwa baht, or 'under 200.'

Saturday, July 17, 2010

Reno Wedding

Shortest on record. The electrician turned up an hour and 45 minutes late, and I hadn't slept well. Still, the traffic... Jolly fat bloke, brought a worker along the same lines, and they took down the lamps and fan as directed and drove them over to the house.

Where when I joined them we sought a new location for the circuit breaker, which doesn't at all have to sit where Nice wanted it and may as well go to the right of the door, where it's out of the way. Fine. Then he quoted me 20,000 baht. Now the whole house here cost me 18,000 to wire from top to bottom, breaker, all new cables, the lot. In the new place the cables are perfectly usable, he'd just need to add a couple and move others around (even Nice only wanted 4,000). But some people see a white man and they have their thoughts, that's only natural, and some jobs aren't worth getting out of bed for either; I'm the same, I price myself out of unpleasant chores. So I asked what the fee for the day's work might be, and he said 1,000 baht. Handed them over, 'end of.' The electrical shop at the end of the street, where they may be getting tired of me, later gave me the number for another one.

Nek, on the other hand, was busy building the walls upstairs -- well: he sits, they build, but without him they wouldn't -- and later took down the scaffolding for the counter, which is now a handsome free-standing structure:

Or maybe not handsome, but freestanding anyway. He's even proposing to work on Sunday. The mooncalf proved to be a quietly amusing person, proudly lugging four of the lightweight (but still heavy and unwieldy) bricks up two flights of stairs like a highly evolved beast of burden, and the knotty man seems a friendly, wry kind of cove. I'll be eating my words for a while yet, day to day.

Friday, July 16, 2010


When I worked for Arab News, the Bangladesh correspondent was forever sending stories that began, 'Opposition Awami League has embarked...,' so instead of saying how are you we'd greet each other with the words, 'Has it embarked?' to which the polite answer was, 'It has embarked.'

Well, Nek has embarked: he's torn out the gypsum half-wall between bedroom and bathroom and will replace it with the lightweight brick, which looks sturdy and white, and do the same for the facing wall until the bedroom starts. We agreed, although I fear he doesn't see the point, simply to fill the bedroom wall with cheap foam rather than Stay Cool, 3 inches of it, and he persuaded me to pay extra for that (2,000 baht). When I promised, it seemed to uncap a great underwater oil well of activity, probably because he now no longer thinks I'm ripping him off. He immediately struck out to buy some cement, and by quittin' time they'd laid down (or whatever the verb is) the under-cement (or whatever the noun is) for the counter, working peacefully together, him and the mooncalf and an older knotty fellow whose shirtlessness seemed a kind of camouflage.

Nek thinks the courtyard will need a layer of sand under the soil, which is probably right. Six bags, he reckons, for about 1,800 baht. We'll come to that as and when.

Meanwhile a couple had a terrible fight outside, the woman screaming abuse and throwing their motorcycle helmets at the man across the road, picking them up and throwing them again. When she walked off and came back for the third time, he gave her an almighty kick and she ran off down the side soi. The neighbour, a nice American, claimed it was the liveliest it'd been for seven years. He also says Big Jim was a horrible man and has now left the country.

Thursday, July 15, 2010


I found some insulation material called Stay Cool at Siam Cement (not a company one would support with a great deal of enthusiasm), which is just soft foam with foil on both sides. 300 baht for 2.5 sq. m. But the fact that it has a cooling function completely threw Nek, who was in a state of high dudgeon and immediately demanded more money if he was to insulate the whole place. I was able to reassure him that I don't care whether it's cool or not, I just want some insulating foam in the bedroom walls so they don't go doong doong doong when you knock on them and wake up the whole neighbourhood. We have now calmed down and will inspect the wares tomorrow.

Meanwhile an example of the workmanship together with my irate scribbles, in brick: 

And the view from the courtyard, as I've taken to calling it:

Not so much apres moi as dehors le deluge.

The Happy Medium

Instead of tearing the gypsum walls down we arrived at a compromise: we'll leave the bedroom part walled in gypsum, possibly filling in the hollows with polystyrene or some cheap insulating material for maximum firmness and minimum boing when you knock on them, and in the bathroom part we'll take out the inner panel and instead line the outer with some sort of lightweight white brick made from recycled something-or-other (paper or rags I imagine).

Nek left happy, taking the old doors, my kitchen sink and 20,000 Baht with him. The gaping hole in the kitchen counter is going to baffle the maid and may alert her to the fact that her time is up. Good riddance. When I was away she didn't clean the floors again, or anything much really, as if I wouldn't notice.

Whingeing about the maid: the expat's favourite pastime.

Meanwhile I'm thinking maybe a high stone threshold would be nice between the bedroom and the future bathroom, to be looked into in a few months.

Wednesday, July 14, 2010


So when I got there, they were already building the kitchen counter -- the brick feet were up, the wire for the concrete had been strung -- and on the top floor they had started building the walls.

Immediately we came up against the limitations of Chang Nice and his no longer quite so celebrated estimate. Nice had insisted that the loads and loads of free bricks I have lying on the ground floor would be too heavy for the concrete floor up top, which is probably true, and we must therefore use 'gypsum.' By this I thought he meant some ultra-light breezeblock, and told Nek to use it. But it turns out it's just cheap sheets of, well, gypsum I suppose, held in place by aluminium rails. Terrible flimsy arrangement.

The options are: either to let Nek tear the gypsum-and-rails out again before he's finished -- at least no real harm is done, nothing has been covered or painted, and the walls are only half up -- and start from scratch with light breezeblock; or to put up with it but fill the hollow between the two sheets with some sort of insulation material, and then perhaps tear them down later when I'm building the upstairs bathroom. It all depends on what he proposes to finish the gypsum sheets with; if some variety of plaster will stick, maybe it'll be fine.

About Nek's famous affection for the boys (for that is what they are) I'll say no more than that it is an abomination in the eyes of the Lord. The boys themselves... there were two about, one a great mooncalf, and cross-eyed to boot, but no doubt a steady worker when not asleep, the other a witty fellow whom I later caught on the step fashioning a heart out of leftover wire. Nek and the witty fellow exchanged the peasant's knowing smirk behind my back when I didn't know the word for 'glossy' and used the word 'glossy' instead; nor had I failed throughout my career to observe the word 'glossy' on the tubs of paint that are my daily bread, but never mind that now.

Tomorrow at 9, Nek's going to pick up the old doors from here and pocket another 20 grand. I suppose I'll have to break it to him gently about the walls.

The Moment of Truth Approaches

So today I get to see what Chang Nek and his notoriously useless boys have done while I was away. He's been paid 20,000 baht upfront and wants another 20,000 today, so something should have happened. Important purchases before we get there: a spirit level, a whip. Thank God for Chang Nice's detailed estimate, which I can now use to tell Nek what I want.

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

The Estimate

Sadly, Chang Nice produced an estimate that wasn't so nice, though I'm sure it's a fair price for the quality of work he would provide:

It comes to 114, 209 baht (I like the 9 baht). Some items seem perfectly reasonable -- the kitchen counter is cheap at about 5,000 baht, and the wiring is a snip at 4,000 -- but there's 10,000 baht for an undercoat of see tong poon gau, meaning some sort of primer for old plaster, except the plaster isn't very old, plus 25,000 to paint the place on top of that, which strikes me as fierce. Plus a larger wodge for the third-floor walls and floors than seems entirely reasonable. At any rate, on top of the total he'd then take 15 per cent for 'overhead', which comes to another 17,000 or so, so all in all 131,340 baht.

That's a good 50,000 more than Chang Nek wants for the entire job.

On second thoughts, Chang Nek is a very nice man, and if he looks as though he has a grievance, he no doubt has a very good reason for it. The challenge is to go and supervise him every day since he's reportedly in the habit of absconding and has no idea how to build things. But you pays your money, you makes your choice. Enough dithering.

Monday, July 5, 2010

The New Contractor

Of several candidates, one of the likeliest was Chang Nek, who had done most of the work on this attractive bar. Under close supervision, I was told, he'd do a decent job, and he quoted me 80,000 baht for the entire work, which seems cheap.

Problems: he quoted the price off the top of his head, which after my trouble with the lovable but utterly vague first builder gave me pause, and he was said to be no good at plumbing. I was also warned that he'd absent himself given half a chance, whereupon his workers would take a siesta that could last for days. He was an hour late for the first meeting, wrote nothing down and made no suggestions. He looked as though he had a permanent unspecified grievance that might prompt him to don a shirt at the drop of a hat, which is his own business, but I took an instant dislike to him, so combined with the other problems I decided he'd be at best a fall-back option.

Next up was Chang Nice, so named because I didn't catch his name and he was unavailable on Saturday, when he said he was going to school. It's hard to shake your programming, so I immediately decided someone so studious must be a good person. Imagine, then, my horror when I met him and he didn't smile, didn't laugh, didn't meet my eye, spoke barely above a whisper and generally conducted himself as though his Saturday classes focused on silent killing techniques for the Secret Service. Worse, he wore neatly pressed clothes and a pair of desert boots, wrote everything down in tiny handwriting in a Rolodex, and firmly corrected any erroneous notions I might entertain as to the particulars of the job.

For instance, I felt the circuit board merely needed to be moved from inside the downstairs bathroom, where the mains creeps out of the tiles, to the outside of the same wall. In this I was mistaken. Without looking, Chang Nice informed me it would go in the left-hand corner of the front bit. When I started to argue, he merely pointed to the tangle of wires at the top of the bathroom, which indeed had no very good reason for being bundled up there because the wriring ascends to the upper floors from the corner to which he had pointed, and said, 'There.' I gave him no further lip.

Having inspected the property, he lightly circled Wednesday the 7th on his Rolodex, pointed to the page, and promised by that date to produce a detailed breakdown of the jobs in hand, materials and labor listed separately, the go-ahead to be given for each item as and when I had the money to pay for it, and left without another word.

I suspect he's got the job; if his workers are half as terrified of him as I am the work will be swift and accurate.

Saturday, July 3, 2010

Genesis 1.1

In the beginning was Big Jim's, which went bust, leaving behind 300,000 baht's worth of electricity bills, 20 sacks of bricks, a list of pie legends, lots of sticky tags, an armada of bar stools, a dismantled pool table, a stinking loo, some of the worst self-made plumbing ever seen, a false ceiling of unparalleled stupidity, mysterious sticky-tape outlines on several floors, a cooker, a custom-made fridge, and a sad printed board advertising never-to-be-eaten budget meals of revolting aspect, which the shop here supplied.

And Big Jim also left a subsided extension. And the Principal said, demolish, and it was demolished. And the Principal saw that it was good, and paid over the odds, and dismissed the Chang who had demolished the extension, for he didn't even have a car, let alone a piece of paper on which to jot down that which the Principal said unto him, nor a photographic memory to compensate for the deficiency. Though he was a nice man, yet he was useless, so he went forth to seek his fortune elsewhere.

And the Principal said, let there be no ill will between us on account of you lied to me that it was done when I lay sick abed, yet it was not done. I verily believe you needed the money, and at least you finished the job, which is more than some would do, though admittedly you made about 15,000 baht clean profit from the 20,000 I paid, not counting the 4,800 baht for the lorry that carried away the rubble, plus it took you two weeks during which you worked in total six days, resting on the seventh, the eighth, the ninth, the tenth, etc. but let that be a lesson to me. Now fuck off.

And the Principal embarked on his search for a new contractor.