The Jolie boys outing

Cambodia Part 5 – a spot of tomb raiding

One of the unfortunate side effects of Cambodia’s recent past is that one should not go too far off the beaten track for fear of stepping on one of the 5 million land mines that still remain rooted in the fertile soil. In still more recent history, this amazing country is now getting a reputation for being something of a sex trade hub with children as young as 5 being lured into the appalling trade and sold for anything between $300 and $1000. A dark side to a light and airy country. 

Our day begins at Cambodia’s second most famous temple, Ta Prohm. This was the temple featured in the 2001 film, “Tomb Raider” starring Angelina Jolie and it was built by Jayavarman 7th under its original name “Ancestor of Brahma”. It was, in its time, certainly a very wealthy temple as a unique stelae records that Ta Prohm owned 3140 villages, had 28 high priests and 615 dancers and it also had a set of good dishes weighing more than 500kg, 35 diamonds and over 40k pearls. Unfortunately there weren’t any lying around when I was there.

The temple was subject to quite intensive restoration so many parts of it were obscured by unsightly cranes whilst other parts were mere piles of numbered bricks, like discarded jigsaw pieces, waiting to be put back in, hopefully, the right place. Today the temple is synonymous for it’s back to nature appearance and the trees that grow spectacularly through the walls and work their way sinuously through the ruins. Long, stringy fingers, almost of a melted cheese appearance, caress and grasp at ancient stonework and slowly strangle the moss covered hallways and open spaces. 

The temple is ours to explore and so we stroll from one end to the other where we find a number of saffron robed monks coming and going across an old wooden bridge. We also stumble across one of the more bizarre/stylish (delete as appropriate) fashion statements I have seen in a while. A lady, I’m guessing French, wearing an enormous white, flying saucer shaped hat with a thin red brim, white jacket, with red trim, red handbag and slimline red skirt with white polka dots. Her shoes are a very bright red and of the stiletto type. She stands out a mile and I marvel at the sheer impracticality of her shoes with a heel so thin it will probably snap off in a crack!. 

I am wearing purple. I say that because a member of our group assured me she could never be lost if she could see my shirt. She also said it took her eyes “a while to adjust”. Whatever that means!

From Ta Prohm to Pre Rup, a very popular temple from which to observe sunrises and sunset and where members of the Cambodian Tourist police, sell parts of their uniform, badges, cuff links, almost all of it, to tourists. I purchase a badge and wallet but draw the line at what I believe to be the offer of a (used) pair of official police pants!. At least I wasn’t offered handcuffs! 

Beantey Srei is a lovely temple. Dedicated to women it’s set on its own on a little island surrounded by a moat and with an outer wall. It’s really cool and kinda cute. It’s actual name is, repeat after me, ” Tribhuvanamahesvara” or “Great Lord of the Threefold World” and it’s constructed from pink and roseate sandstone. It’s a very intimate temple because it’s so small and it’s fantastically decorated with scenes from the Ramayana. Overall, I think it’s the most beautiful temple I see in Cambodia. 

The end of temple sightseeing means we are left with the afternoon to ourselves so we wander off into Siem Reap for some shopping. There’s a modern mall where I purchase a bright orange and blue t-shirt and which has a huge Sony store selling every PlayStation game imagineable. We pass a KFC which appears to be next door to an emporium where goods made from Crocodile skin are made. Are we sure it’s not Kentucky Fried Crocodile ?.   

We bargained for pictures in the market, had a Pepsi or two in a local cafe, let fish nibble at our feet at the appropriately named “Dr Fish” and picked up the only tuk tuk driver in Siem Reap who didn’t know our hotel and who had to stop for directions every fifty yards!. 

In the evening we attended a local “cultural show”!. I dislike cultural shows. I find them far from authentic and frequently drawn out and bothersome. Unfortunately this was at a packed venue where the noise was deafening, a member of our group had a major panic attack, the food was absolutely awful and a Japanese tour group (with obligatory drunk Aussie) invaded the stage and rubbed themselves against the terrified dancers!. 

It was not a success!. 

Karen and I, and another couple decided to walk back to the hotel but we stopped halfway so I could have a banana milkshake ( I presume it took so long because they had to grow the banana first) and we paused to admire the traffic lights with their animation of a little man who starts walking very slowly but who then speeds up as the lights begin to change. Quite cool. 

After a long day bed seemed like a sensible option so, after reminding Karen we were in 254, I let her go and get our key from reception. 

Here is her conversation..

Room 452 please ?. 

No madam, I can’t see your key. 

Karen to me : What room number ? Me : 254

Karen to reception : 452 please. 

More searching. 

No madam, it’s not here. 

Karen to me : it’s not here. Me (a little frayed round the edges) : it’s 254!!. 

And so it went until the young lady on reception twigged the hotel only had two floors so it must start with a 2!. 

So that was Siem Reap. Wonderful, glorious Siem Reap and incredible Angkor. It was time to move on to visit one of the most haunting and evil places I have ever seen. 

May I speak plainly ?

Sometimes a work colleague will stop what they’re doing and say “You CANT say that Patrick!” and be rewarded with one of two things. Occasionally, if feeling in a generous mood I will both look puzzled and ask “Why not ?”. 

I can’t help it. My brain thinks one thing and sometimes my mouth just goes along with it or dies the complete opposite!. I find words tumbling out of my mouth before I’ve actually thought about them properly. It’s just a reaction to something said or done and, if deemed “shocking” enough, gets the stated reaction. 

But I don’t get it. 

To me you say what you see. Actually I think that was “Catchphrase” catchphrase but I’m sure you know what I mean. There’s an compulsion to let the words out and no amount of my brain umming and erring about it, if they want to come out then they will. 

I couldn’t be a diplomatic because I’m not diplomatic. I once told a senior member of the judiciary to pull his “f**king finger out and get on with it” whilst clerking for him. His response, “My clerk thinks I should get on with things” was both restrained and apt. But that’s just one example. 

I’ve told smokers they stink or smell like ashtrays, I’ve called people cretins and morons, I’ve got loud and called people in the office bloody idiots or told them I don’t like them making me look like a twat!. 

But I don’t mean it. My mouth opens and, before I’ve had a chance to actually form the words, out they come. Oops! 

On the phone, in the unsettling unpredictability of my job, I’ve lost it with people on the phone. My tone changes and I feel the words coming. I bite them back as often as I am able but it can be a struggle so the occasional “How many times do I have to tell you ?” Or “Look, this is the sixth time I’ve been through this” comes out, bringing frowns (or is that wind?) from colleagues and the senior manager, sitting some feet from me, will interject with a sharp, “Patrick!. You can’t talk to people like that!” Or I’ll get “the visit” where she will come slowly across to my desk for “the quiet word in the ear”. Neither of which I appreciate as my one wish, at that moment is to turn to her and say “Just keep your nose out will you, you daft old bat!. You aren’t dealing with the idiots I’m dealing with!”. 

But the tongue gets firmly bitten. 

I get quite a few warnings about my behaviour. It’s not a physical act people worry about but what was once (okay, several times) called my acerbic wit, my cutting cynicism, my brutal dissection of others. 

I think that means I let my gob run away with itself. 

Actually I think I’m pretty tolerant. I don’t go out of my way to be malicious or rude, I don’t seek confrontation but just sometimes I want to cut through the verbiage and get my point across. I want to get to the point, cut short the call (to me the more drawn out they are the more painful I find them and the harder they are to concentrate on) and, because I’m Autistic, I don’t want people to tell me something in twenty words when five will do. 

I want clarity, brevity and not something that I need a dictionary to understand. I don’t want lectures or pedantic discussion, I just want to know A, B and C. 

Is that too much to ask ?. 

And so I speak plainly. I cut through the flim-flam, I get to the point. 

I try to do so kindly. I prefer the disarming use of humour, even if it’s caustic humour with a hard edge, to downright rudeness. I rarely swear and try not to resort to name calling or cheap insults unless truly deserved but I want to get on and the longer people talk then the less I take in and the more confused I get. Think of it as me protecting myself rather than me being rude or blunt. 

I struggle with verbal instruction particularly if long winded. Keep it simple folks. I’m not stupid (okay, there will be a vote on that later) but bullet points are better than War and Peace!. 

And so, if I say “What are you on about ?. I didn’t get a single word of that. Can you try it again and this time use plain English ?”, I’m not being rude but, to me, eminently practical. 

So, if I’ve ever upset you by my bluntness, rest assured that it is rarely intentional. I’m not diplomatic or cautious in my language because I need to process or understand and, if I go through a lot of pleasantries, or let you gabble on, I’m simply going to forget what you’ve said or lose interest or get confused, possibly all three. 

It doesn’t mean I don’t like you. 


So, may I speak plainly ?. 

I am lost without you

I am. 

I am me. 

Not you. 

What’s it like being you ?. 

You and I. Me and you. 

I know you. Or I did. 

You lived here. You lived with me. 


The memory is vague. 

Why did you leave ?. What did I do to you ?. Was I nasty ?. Was I cruel to you ?. 

We used to be happy, you and I. 

Not all the time. 

But happier then. Happier than now. 

I looked for you one day but you had gone. 

You never left a note. You never send me cards to tell me where you are. 

I miss you. 

Did I reject you ?. Did I tell you that you were obsolete ?. That I didn’t have a place for you ?.

Forgive me. 

I want you back. I want you back again. 

Here. With me. 

Whatever I did. Whatever I said. I’m sorry. 

Please let us be friends again. 

Life feels strange without you. Incomplete. Part of me is gone. 

Please come home. 

You belong here. You belong with me. 

The door is always open. 

So please, think about it ? 

Did I abandon you ?. Did you abandon me ?. Please, just say that alls not lost..

I am bereft without you, Happiness, 

Please come back home to me! 

A monumental afternoon

Cambodia Part 4 – Temple hopping

Sometimes food abroad is a bit iffy. I’m quite wary of what I eat because I’ve had one or two dodgy experiences but the food in the hotel was great. Yes there were Cambodian dishes but there were also some familiar dishes to refuel for the afternoon ahead. 

Back at the South entrance to Angkor Thom our Cambodua guide and English tour leader had a set too about mini buses and we were invaded by a group of Thai tourists all wearing the same bright pink baseball cap. For a moment I saw so much pink I thought I’d blundered into a flock of flamingos!. 

We eventually arrive in a clearing which contains two intimate temples set apart from each other by the main road. Disembarking from our vehicles we are immediately assailed by a chorus of Cicadas that would put most heavy metal bands to shame. They’re deafening!. The entire clearing echoes to the sound of frenetic chirping and I can honestly say that I’ve never heard such sustained noise from a group of animals in my life. And it doesn’t let up. It’s a constant accompaniment. 

Cicadas are a benign insect that neither bite nor sting humans and their song, for want of a better word, can exceed 120 decibels in volume. And that’s loud. As someone with noise sensitivity I can truthfully say that, within ten minutes, all I could hear was a very sharp drone in my ears as the high frequencies had been smoothed away by the bombardment!. 

Anyway, one of the beautiful little temples was called Thomannon and its sister, Chao Say Tevoda. Both temples are quaint little ones and are under the restorative eyes of the Chinese who do a lot of work in the archaeological zone. Both have, in their own way, gone back to nature and become more closely knit with their environment but they’re great places to clamber on and they both have some lovely carvings if you look closely enough. 

They also come with their own child entrepreneurs who follow you about trying to sell you a fridge magnet or twenty. 

We like fridge magnets. We collect them when we go abroad and sometimes friends will bring one back for us. Some are truly garish and ghastly whilst others are like tiny little artworks. We have a bag full of them from Cambodia. We could start our own business. A young girl detaches herself from the group and approaches me with a fistful of magnets. I give a knowing smile, tell her I have no money, point at my partner and, as she turns her head to look where I’m pointing, I scarper rapidly in the other direction. It’s a strategy. It works!. 

Our days adventures end at Ta Keo, a mountainous temple built in sandstone and originally called “The Mountain with Golden Peaks”. The climb to the top is described as being “steep when compared to other temples”. I would describe that as an understatement. It’s very steep. Not bad going up but coming down isn’t for the faint hearted and the assistance of a guide rail or coming down on your arse is recommended. A guide displays a nimble sure footedness as he bounces up and down the steps and puts us all to shame. I take comfort in the fact he’s probably done it all for years whereas we are merely mewling babes. 

I return to the bottom to find that Karen (the partner) has done very well with her fridge magnet purchases by purchasing 11 of the bloody things for $6!. We are single handedly keeping the fridge magnet makers of Cambodia in business!. 

We wend our way back to the hotel. I think that those of the group who decided not to come out this afternoon have kind of missed a trick. Why travel all this way to not see some fascinating sites and sights but go and do some shopping instead ?. I know the afternoon is optional but the temples are all so unique and interesting, the more the merrier for me. I do appreciate getting templed out as it’s happened to me before but Angkor Thom is famous for its temples, not its local branch of Woolworths!. 

Our dinner that night is at a local restaurant. Again we can’t fault the quality of the food with a variety of tasty dishes set before us including Snake headed fish and fish amok ( a bit like running amok but involving less exercise!). 

It’s been a grand day! 

Say Wat ?

Cambodia Part 3 – in the Adults Adventure Playground..

Up early. 

This is the day I come face to face with one of the archaeological winders of the world. But to face one of those you must have breakfast so I fill up on fruit, pastries, bacon, baked beans and potatoes, all washed down with copious glasses of orange juice. Then, wearing a yellow t-shirt so bright it puts the sun to shame, I am ready for the off. 

The sun was already fierce by the time we stopped at the entrance to the archaeological zone to get our pictures taken for our passes. It was just after 8.00am and already a sizeable queue had formed. Thankfully, given our official tour group status we were hurried through and, passes sorted and verified, they let us loose in the park.

Angkor Wat is protected by a wide moat and to enter you first must cross a broad stone bridge which leads from the car park opposite to the outer wall of the temple complex. As you cross you can just see the iconic spires, peeping over the roofs. Built between 1113 and 1150 in the reign of Suryavarman 2nd, Angkor Wat is both a state capital and a temple. 

And it’s utterly magical. 

One of the largest religious sites in the world, it is based on a Hindu universe centred on a stylised Mount Meru, the centre of the physical, metaphysical and spiritual universes and it’s the home of Lord Brahma and the Demi-gods. 

There are so many facets to Angkor, so many little details, that it’s easy to miss some. We missed seeing the famous relief “Churning of the Ocean of Milk” because we were so caught up seeing other things. 

Inside the complex another broad causeway leads to the central elevation. On either side libraries and large reservoirs lay empty. The reservoirs have been utilised for many photos of Angkor as they are ideally placed to catch the facades reflection. 

Wonderful friezes of Apsara dancing girls adorn the walls and everywhere you look there is another exquisite carving or another viewpoint, another photo opportunity.

I know that to some it’s all a bit samey, a bit, well, dull I suppose. People see gorgeous photos of places and expect an exact recreation of what they’ve seen. Have they never heard of photo manipulation ?. I had seen photos and thought it looked fascinating. I thought it was an astonishing place with a beauty not born from bright colours, not eye catching, but an austere beauty, a quiet dignified air, something beautifully crafted to a plan that only a master builder could have come up with. 

This was spectacular. But it wasn’t an in your face spectacular. 

The central representation of Mount Meru is called The Bakan. Here, proper etiquette must be observed. Hats are removed, knees and shoulders covered, for this is a sacred place and if you are asked to do something to show respect then I think you should show it. It’s their country and their rules. 

The short climb is steep but well worth it as, from the very top of the tower you get a 360 degree view of how Angkor fits in with the surrounding jungle. From my vantage point I could see people streaming to and fro along the causeway and, further in the distance, the static balloon that rises majestically to give tourists an aerial glimpse of the wonders below. 

It’s simply awesome. 

Even in quite a small area I found places where, away from the crowds, I could stand and quietly contemplate the genius of its construction. It’s uniformity, it’s solidity, the quality of its carvings, the designs, the patterns, it’s glorious setting. I felt so alive. Refreshed, invigorated, blown away by the imperious nature of one of the worlds great wonders. 

But Angkor Wat is just part of a much larger picture. 

Angkor Thom, the fortified city, is equally noteworthy.

The bridge to the south entrance has 54 gods to its left and 54 demons to its right. Each figure holds a seven headed Naja. 

Our next destination was another of Angkors famous temples, the extraordinary Bayon. 

In the 13th century, King Jayavarman 7th began to construct a Buddhist temple in the site of a previous Hindu construction. What he delivered were 54 towers bearing more than 200 carved faces of Bodhisattva Avalokitesvara, the “Holder of the Lotus” or “Lord of the World”. He looks a friendly fellow, quite serene, an enigmatic smile playing about his lips. Like Angkor Wat this is, again, a representation of Mount Meru on three levels and again there are very fine reliefs depicting domestic scenes as well as conflicts with the Cham. 

You don’t really need a guide here so we are off at our own pace, just wandering up and down and looking for the best carved face. To be honest they are all beautiful and it’s such a special place I’d urge you to go but then it would get crowded and, you know, I don’t want it to be. I want it to be mine (and for a few special people). 

It’s such a thrill to be let loose in these places. To be told to go off and explore. To climb up, climb down, go left, go right, see one great view, turn around and catch another. Simply amazing!. 

Our morning ends just down the road from the Bayon at the Terrace of the Elephants and Terrace of the Leper King, two fine terraces with carved depictions of elephants. These look out over the Royal square which is now used more as a meeting area or car park than anything Royal and one has to be careful not to be mown down by an errant tuk tuk driver on the busy road that runs alongside. 

You also have to run the gauntlet of hawkers, mainly children, who ply their trade here. 

Let’s buy a guidebook shall we ?. 

How much ?. 

How much you offer ?. 

How much do you want ?. 


Too much! 

But sir, price here $27.95! 




I’m not very good at bartering. I think I pay too much because I don’t do eye contact and I don’t like confrontation and I give in quite easily but this games quite fun. Eventually I end up with what I want for $6 with a free plastic bag to protect it. And it’s a genuine book, not a photocopied one like some ended up purchasing. You really have to watch their hands when they hand it to you. Little magicians some of them! 

It’s back to the hotel after a wonderful morning. As we drive through Siem Reap we pass a shop proclaiming itself to be the home of the Asian Smile Service or A.S.S. for short. I wonder if I’d get a bum deal from them ?. 

But now it’s lunch time. Time to replenish our reserves. 

There’s more to come. 

Look back on Sangker

Cambodia Part 2- on the river

Battambang is Cambodia’s second city. 

Do countries need second cities in case the first one gets lost in the dark on the way home ?. Who decides what constitutes a second city ?. 

Battambang reminds me of Battenburg, the two tone, marzipan flavoured cake of my childhood. That was memorable for being sweet and tasty. Battambang was memorable for its hotel. Only not in a good way. 

The Steung Sanke hotel (hereafter known as the Stinky hotel) was a curious affair. Upon entering the lobby from outside, where the temperature was in the 90s, the hotel management had decided that freeze drying the guests should be introduced and had installed vast air conditioners to pump out icy blasts of freezing air and leave us torn between rushing back outside to warm up or putting on multiple layers of clothing. The gift shop was in a suitcase (it was so small they shouldn’t have bothered but perhaps they had no suitable gifts to offer) and the lift had trouble accommodating a single person and their suitcase. I am even less impressed when I enter our room to find the air conditioning has been switched off and I go from extreme cold to being roasted alive. 

Our meal in town, at the Khmer Delight, is delightful. We have soup enriched with coconut milk, meat and fish satay, sweet and sour fish and a chicken curry. All quite mild but very tasty. The soup is a special highlight with its deep, full flavour. 

At some point in the night the worlds most constipated person finally empties their bowels. How does Patrick know this I hear you say ?. Was he there ?. Did he witness it ?. 

No, I didn’t actually witness it. I might be weird but I’m not that weird. However, the magnificent groan of pure, unadulterated relief that echoed through the hotel was proof enough. It was a “I’ve finally done it” groan. Magnificent!. Unfortunately it’s not the only sound that echoes in the night. Slamming doors, talking in the corridor, banging, crashing and the faithful being called to prayer lead to a disturbed night before I throw back the curtains onto a waking city and look down at the sunlight dancing mischievously on the inviting pool. 

So to breakfast. Long story. Short version. Canteen. Plastic chairs. Dirty tables. One chef. One egg each. No butter. Two slices of barely toasted bread. Smidgen of jam. Bloody awful. 

I have no bottom. 

Some people, unkind people, have said I do, occasionally, talk out of mine. I can’t. I don’t have one. 

This is important because, for the next 8 hours, as the temperature rose into the early hundreds, I was going to be on a boat, exposed to the elements, with hard wooden seats. And not having a bottom makes sitting on said seats very painful. 

Life along the Sangker river is fascinating. Stilt houses line the banks, fishermen ply their trade from long boats, some decorated with ever watchful eyes. Nets bob in the gentle current, their position marked by a floating cola bottle. We do our best not to err, rock the boat, but our motorised passage inevitably leads to small waves that ebb and flow and disturb some poor fisherman and catch. 

There’s little to do save plug in the iPod, try and ignore the rectal discomfort (even using life jackets as padding!) and watch the world go by. Slowly. 

Our journey along the river takes about four hours. There is one incident of note when a boat ahead of us, carrying a French group, gets tangled up in some weeds. We sail past offering words of “encouragement” to them and, as lunch is served, we emerge into the vastness of Tonle Sap lake. 

I am wary of lunch given its come from the hotel but I am quite pleasantly surprised at the fare on offer. Our boxes contain a curious pasty, a sandwich which contains meat of an indeterminate species, a cake, a biscuity thing and some fruit. 

Tonle Sap is vast. During the wet season it measures over 155 kilometres in length. It is also, virtually featureless. At one stage in the crossing we travel for over an hour without seeing anyone or anything else. It’s quite an eerie place. I wouldn’t want to be stranded in the middle. 

Eventually civilisation begins to emerge. Floating towns with all facilities. Schools, shops, doctors, all floating on the surface and only accessible by boat. We stop at a school to pass on our unwanted food and the reed boxes it came in and there is a general clamour of excitement at our arrival from these warm, welcoming, polite people. The children wave at us as they paddle by and a genuinely warm welcome, not one put on for tourists. They are such a friendly people, the Cambodians, but they also strike me as being quite docile, non complaining, tolerant and not particularly hard. Perhaps, given their history, that’s not surprising. 

Approaching land we stop at a virtual city on the lake for a refreshments break and the chance to look at some mean crocodiles before its back on the boat for the short journey to our next stop, Siem Reap. 

From what I can see, Siem Reap is a lovely town full of quality hotels, decent shops and markets yet compact and easy to get your bearings in. This is important to me. I am hopeless at reading street maps. I get lost easily. Our hotel, the Allson Angkor Paradise, is an attractive building set back from one of the main thoroughfares with a deliciously cool lobby and a gorgeous looking pool. Our room is interesting with its broken socket, safe that’s unsafe and the absence of toilet paper. It also lacks a view. But it’s a room, it’s cold, it’s lovely. I am exhausted. 

And for the next part of our trip I’m going to need all my energy. 

Angkor Wat. Your up! 

Look back in Angkor

A tale of Cambodia Part 1 – Border hopping

I never had a bucket list. 

I never had a list of things to do or places to see. Things I needed to tick off before I died. Given I’m Autistic and quite like lists that is, perhaps, strange. 

Sometimes you just stumble across places. Sometimes you are just in the right place at the right time or you feel a connection. 

That was Cambodia. 

Planning our holidays is my forte. Comparing hotels, airlines, itineraries, prices. Bargaining, cajoling, encouraging, occasionally ranting, for the best deal. That’s when my Autism gets its kicks. 

Our holiday actually began in Thailand and ended in Vietnam. Both great. But not Cambodia. That’s ace!. 

To begin with we actually walked from Thailand into Cambodia. Walked. We didn’t drive. We didn’t fly. We walked. 

So that may not mean much to you but to me it was really novel. These days we are so accustomed at driving, of taking the train, or flying that arrival and departure seem mundane. We leave A and arrive at B and borders, be they be between counties or countries, fade into insignificance. 

But the act of walking is a physical act. 

At one point I had one foot in Thailand and one foot in Cambodia. I straddled two nations. 


Entering Cambodia involved a laborious process involving fingerprinting every one of us, making hand gestures, laughing at colleagues jokes, laughing at passport photos, taking our photos (stand on the white cross), checking the visa is genuine, more laughter and finally, just as your about to pass out through heat stroke (as you are all crammed together in a narrow hallway with little ventilation) they wave you through. 

While I wait for the others I pay 5 baht for a toilet break and then have a wander to change some money. 

Poipet, Cambodia’s border town is chaotic, noisy, crowded and very hot. It’s the sort of place that, in the UK, I’d avoid like the plague. It seems to go against every Autistic instinct  but here, in my element, in the special zone, I just plunge in. 

I approach a lady who is changing money from a small booth. She sees me coming and clutches a baby tighter to her whilst, with one hand, she makes an odd gesture. Perhaps she is warding off evil or perhaps there’s a fly annoying her. Who can tell ?. I smile (okay, I’m not good at smiling. Probably scared the crap out of her) I offer her $50 and explain that I want to exchange some money. She thrusts the baby at me but I don’t know what the exchange rate is for babies today and anyway, I’m not Angelina Jolie or Madonna so adopting isn’t really my thing. I also note that the baby doesn’t come with any accessories or a warranty!. 

When she realises that I actually want some money she snatches the $50 from my hand and thrusts it into a drawer which she swiftly locks. Then, from another drawer she produces fat wedges of notes which she counts out, fingers licked, between each couple. A figure reached, at least in her mind, she pushes them in my direction and looks expectantly at me. 

So does the baby. Synchronised expectant looking! Weird. 

It’s 4000 rial to the dollar which seems pretty good so, with a nod, I pocket my dosh and return to our party, pockets bulging. 

My partner and I have distinctive suitcases. Hers is a very bright pink plastic case and mine is a deep red with a multi coloured strap. Easy to spot amongst the blacks, greats and deep blues. I track their progress into Cambodia on a hand pulled cart and see them, perched atop a pile, on the bus that will take us further into Cambodia. 

We are in!. 

Haunted self


The blight creeps within me. 


Pity the self which endures the slow unstoppable taint. 

Not a battle but a war. A war with no victory in sight. 


No retreat. 

It’s hands reach for me. It’s fingers, nails filthy with the years of taint, into my brain. 

Piercing, stabbing. 


The Self. 

Screaming defiance, manning the blockades, up, up, onto the ramparts. 

Defend me. 

I see you now. See you for what you are. 

You desire me. 

Make me yours. Reduce me to a pitiful thing. Control me. 

I smell the stench of decay. Your fetid smell. Your vile corruption. 

Embrace me. Hold me. Envelop me in your putrid flesh. 

I hear you. Your insidious whispers. Your odious enticements. 

Shall I surrender ?. 

The Self cries “No” 

Begone you loathsome thing, you despoiler, you abhorrent creature. 

Retreat before me. 

Today this battle is for me to win, not you. 

This war, for it is a war, will go on. 

I know you, oh creature of the dark, you who lurks in the shadows and recesses of my mind. 

I know you, I see your face, I know your smell, your voice is known to me. 

And your name. 

I know it. 

To speak it gives me power over it. 

I will fight it. 

The Self fights on. It will not surrender. 

So, retreat now, detestable creature, retreat to those dark corners. 

Lick your wounds. 

And come once more to battle. 

I know you. You cannot win. You will not win. 

This is MY war. 

And I will see you conquered. 

I name you. 


Life The Unbearable Being..


Is a four-letter word.

I don’t like four letter words.

I don’t like life. Living life.

Except it’s not living. It’s enduring.

It’s surviving something that I don’t want to survive.

Life is hell. My own personal hell. Tormented by the demons of self loathing, self hatred, burning in the fires of emasculated self esteem.

I hate. I hate myself. I hate that I hate myself.

The screaming in my soul, the endless self recrimination flaunting itself, capering, cavorting before my eyes like some cheap whore.


I hate being. Being here. Being without choice. A forced being.

Enduring the being.

Existing without purpose. Existing without joy. No existence. No existence at all.

Torture myself. Despoil myself. Cutting, scratching, scraping. Release the pressure. Purge myself. Self flagellation. Sweet river of blood.

Come forth thy Crimson river.

Flow quickly. Flow, spurt, ooze, thick rivulets, thin streams. Flow on.

Pain. The pain on the flesh cannot be measured by the pain within. There can be no comparison. Skin merely wounds, soul cries in its agony.

I. Am. Being.


Bring me sweet darkness. Envelope me in its arms of shadow. Embrace me to its bosom of the night.

Take me now.

Do never let me go.

Bullying, Abuse and a difficult tale to tell..

This is hard to write. Some of it doesn’t show me in a good light. Or perhaps that’s for others to judge. It’s about some things that happened to me between the ages of 13 and 16 and …. Well, you can judge. 

Why now ?. Why am I writing it now ?. Because I can. Because I should have addressed it years ago. Because I have nobody to talk about it now to. 

And because the scars burn as freshly today as they did then. 

I was bullied at school. Perhaps that’s inevitable when you are tall, acne ridden, walk funny, have a pudding basin hair cut, wear flares and hand me downs and your vocabulary is full of big words. 

You aren’t popular. 

You get your clothes thrown in the shower, you get your clothes urinated on, you get spat at, you get threatened, you get called Queer and Poof because someone’s told the school you are gay so nobody will sit beside you for fear of catching it, you get pushed off chairs, pushed off a moving bus, you get punched, kicked and called names. And even the staff join in. They yell “Four eyes” at you or “Specs”, they knock you over on the playing field because “I couldn’t see you, you lanky streak of shit”. 

School was great. 

So I fell in with the wrong people. 

I went shoplifting. I got arrested. 

Not a proud moment. 

My father, a man prone to outbursts had the physical answer, trousers and pants down, and a whipping with a bamboo cane. FA Cup Final day 1978. I had to stay in the garden with my parents that afternoon. When I went indoors to the toilet he accused me of sneaking off and told me I couldn’t be trusted. I was a thief and a liar. 

So he repeated the dose. 

But this wasn’t abuse. 

My parents felt I needed curing. They enlisted JW, a renowned child psychiatrist. 

JW was a bastard. 

At our meetings he would talk to me first and then report to my parents who sat in the next room. But he never listened to me. I must be hearing voices he insisted. I had demons inside me, telling me what to do, they were evil and so was I. I had to tell him all about them. I had to draw them. What did they say to me ?. What did they tell me to do ?. 

He went on and on. 

I told him there were no demons or voices. I wasn’t possessed nor evil. I had done something wrong, been persuaded to do so by the wrong people and could I please go now ?. 

His tirades continued. 

Eventually my parents decided that it “wasn’t working” and they took me away from his “care”. I hated him and I hated them for putting me through it. And I blamed myself for getting myself into this predicament. 

As the years passed I gradually forgot the fine details of his office, of his face but could recall his words and manner and, three years ago, whilst my regular psychiatrist was away I found myself being treated by an affable Irish locum, Dr Quinn. 

During our conversation one rainy afternoon I happened to mention my past involvement with mental health services. And I mentioned JW. 

Dr Quinn put down his pen. “Do you mean JW who practiced in … ?” He asked. I answered in the affirmative. 

I didn’t expect his response but remember his words as though they were said yesterday “He was an evil, evil man. The damage he did to you and children like you was well known. His methods, his actions. Utterly vile. The fact that nobody said anything about him at the time is utterly shameful. I am so sorry that you were put through that. It was abuse, pure, unadulterated abuse. A disgrace”. 

I sat there frozen in shock. Perhaps it was confirmation of what I had suspected but had never thought would be confirmed from an independent source. 

I had never imagined revisiting those days, thought that area of my life would be one I would recall only in nightmares and in those times when, uninvited, they crept back in and tormented me, never leaving go. 

And they still live with me. 

Feelings I cannot shake, that bring on the night terrors, the sweats and a sense that I was to blame. But for a single act, all would not have happened. PTSD, but of its own kind. 

I was abused sexually as well. Not by a family member but by two faceless, anonymous men who plied their evil in public conveniences. They thought they would enjoy groping and grasping at me, and no doubt others whilst seducing us through threats of violence and the intimidation of numbers. 

I fled, hurt, soiled, to the police. They showed no interest. They took no descriptions. They made no move. Instead they took my details and, with a knowing smirk, which I took to be one of secret disbelief or a belief that I was gay and beneath them, told me not to frequent any more toilets but to get off home. 

I can barely bring myself to use them now. The very thought of using a urinal turns me cold. I would rather disgrace myself in the street than be subjected to such an unwarranted invasion again. 

I told my mother. I told her the barest story. I told her that I had told the police. My mother, perhaps unfeelingly, shuddered at the prospect that her son might be gay, that he had crossed into territory she felt only disgust for. She wrote it in her diary. Blandly, of how she would ask one of her lawyer colleagues if the police might think me a homosexual and what she might do about it. Having no interest or luck with girls made those views only too easy for her to embrace. 

As with all things time passed. No more diary entries, no more discussion. But the damage was done. 

Perhaps I am too hard on myself. 

Do I hate myself because I take so much blame on narrow shoulders ?. Do I invite self loathing because I see these acts as being a punishment upon me for a weakness, deeply entrenched ?. 

I hate myself. 

That is self abuse. 

It comes. It goes. 

But I cannot break it.