A couple of days ago I receiving the latest two additions to my pack, Bourbon III and Scotch.

Bourbon & Scotch

Bourbon & Scotch

Bourbon is in the front. He’s slightly larger than Scotch and doesn’t have a dark strip running down his muzzle. Scotch is the slightly more active and inquisitive of the two, and had a great time barking at Rye yesterday evening, Rye having sought sanctuary by jumping up on the sofa next to me.

It was never really the plan to take on two dogs, but the woman who had been looking after the litter of six and its mother was having trouble finding someone to take Scotch. (Actually, it wasn’t so much that there was a problem finding someone willing to take on an adorable puppy, but she wanted the new keepers to be people she knew and trusted.) And anyway, looking after four dogs can’t be that much more work than three.

A check up at the vet showed that both dogs were basically healthy, but a bit anaemic thanks to tick infestation – nothing that a good medicated shampoo couldn’t fix.

Both have settled in well. A little bit of “crying” at night until they settle down. At first Scotch wouldn’t eat much, but that has passed.

Anyway, the sad news for me came in a ’phone call last night: someone has be found to take one of my two puppies, and I have to return one today. It’s such a horrible decision to have to make. I instantly fell so in love with both of them. So, with a heavy heart I say vale, Scotch. I hope you have a good life.


Merry Christmas 2015


It was my misfortune recently to have to pass through security at Suvarnabhumi airport twice in the space of a couple of hours or so. (Oh, how I love the long, slow moving queues!) Now, to get to security I have an option: take the left escalator or the right one. The first time time I took my usual route up the left escalator. Being very much a thrill seeker, on the second occasion I took the right escalator, expecting the experience to be the same. It wasn’t.

Left escalator: take off belt, but keep shoes on, pass through a metal detector.

Right escalator: take off both belt and shoes, step into a perspex tube which closes around you, and raise your arms.

I presume the perspex tube was to detect BO, in which case any terrorist with a personal hygiene problem and a shoe bomb would best be advised to take the left escalator.

My initial thoughts were: why the difference in procedures and (inherently) level of security? But then I thought: what’s the point?

Take off your shoes? There has never been a successful shoe bombing in the history of aviation.

Take off your belt? There has never been a successful shoe bombing in the history of aviation.

There has been a successful bum bombing (albeit not in the air), with the explosive device secreted in the bomber’s behind. In fact, so successful was the technique that Wahabi scholars have apparently issued a fatwah permitting future would be bombers to be well-and-truly buggered for the purpose of widening their would be bomb holders in the furtherance of jihad. If the authorities were serious about passenger security, surely they would ask all passengers to drop their trousers/lift their skirts, then bend over to have a torch shone where the sun never shines, rather than ask them to shed their shoes and belts.

Perhaps even more ridiculous is the continuance of “Duty Free”. On 9/11 (never sure why we call it that, given that it happened in September, not on November 9th) the hijackers were armed with box cutters. Quite frankly, a broken bottle of spirits makes a more formidable weapon than your average box cutter. (It also strikes me as ludicrous that in first class, the customers can have metal eating irons, yet in cattle class they have to make do with flimsy plastic knives barely able to cut an overcooked potato. As if a fanatic planning on bringing down an aeroplane with a spoon and fork would baulk at the cost of a first class ticket to have access to the implements of death.)

Of course, airport security isn’t really about security: it’s about creating a climate of fear, about making certain business owners very wealthy, about reminding the proles they are impotent in the face of authority.

So, it’s all security theatre. In fact, I can be more precise: it’s security farce.


Yesterday I took puppy Rye to the vet for a routine vaccination. Before administering the injection the vet took her body temperature in a most ignominious fashion. The temperature was high; she had a fever. No vaccination; I was asked to bring her back the next day.

And today when I took her back, she was still running hot.

She’s going to spend a couple of nights at the vet.

Whisky and Rye have never seen eye to eye. He snarls at her when she comes close, whilst she loves to jump on him and bite his legs.

Now Whisky is sitting, looking at Rye’s empty crate and whimpering.

As Jodi Mitchell sang

“You don’t know what you’ve got ’til it’s gone”.

And I too am grieving with a sense of senseless loss for a different reason.

As Tolstoy wrote

“Each unhappy family is unhappy in its own way”.


The only thing that seems consistent with the way the British government treats is expats is the level of contempt with which it treats them.

Consider the case of renewing a passport. Until a few years ago one went to the British Embassy or nearest Consulate, handed in the old one and picked up the new one a few days later, or had it posted to you. Simple, convenient.

Then they changed the rules. You had to send a photocopy of your passport to Hong Kong to apply for a new one. (In Thailand one is legally required to keep one’s passport about one’s person at all times, hence the photocopy.) There was also an outrageous charge for DHL to courier your passport back to Thailand – not that DHL actually delivered your passport to your door – that was done by the Thai Post Office, which employs rather too many light-fingered posties.

Then they changed the rules again. This time you had to send the photocopy to the UK.

And then once more they changed the rules. The process has been privatised, and now one must go to the offices of VFS (a Swiss company) in Bangkok in person not once, but twice. The thought of VFS fills me with dread. I had to use their service to apply for a visa to India. The place was noisy and chaotic – a little taste of India before you arrive. So, rather than having the passport returned to you at home, it’s returned to VFS. However, you still have to pay the £23 courier charge. Outrageous! There will also be a VFS “processing fee”. It’s not yet clear how much this will be.

Consider the case of an elderly pensioner living in the far North, somewhere like Chiang Rai, 800 km from the embassy. There’s no way to make a round trip in a single day, so not only will renewing a passport take 4 days of the pensioner’s time, it’ll also involve two night stays in an hotel. That’s a lot of extra time and cost.

Also consider the case of someone living near the border with Malaysia who loses their passport or has it stolen. They’re 1150 km from Bangkok. They can’t fly (no passport), so have to go by train or bus – around 17 hours by train or 16 by bus each way – and there’s only one train a day which is frequently cancelled because of track failures. That’s a total of 8 days off work and a lot of gruelling travel.

Have the civil servants responsible thought this through? Do they really think this is an acceptable way to treat the country’s citizens?

Anyway, it’s a couple of years before I need to renew my passport. Doubtless the system will have changed again by then – I hope for the better.


They’re back, and this time it’s personal.

After a break of several months, the Oriental Magpie-Robins have deigned to nest in my light fitting once more.

Oriental Magpie-Robins, the Third Batch

Oriental Magpie-Robins, the Third Batch


Thai Heinz tomato ketchupTomato ketchup (or “catsup” if you are of an American persuasion) is surprisingly popular in Thailand. Most supermarkets stock at least 2 or 3 brands, foremost amongst them being Heinz. Admittedly, there is probably an equal volume of sweetish chilli sauces alongside, including one by Heinz, but tomato sauce is undoubtedly a favourite here.

If you order French fries, then there will inevitably be a small dish of the sauce to dip them in. (French fries are seen here more as a snack food for drinking with beer than an accompaniment to a main dish.)

Tomato sauce has also long been incorporated into Thai cuisine. It appears in recipes for “peak kai lao daeng” (deep fried chicken extremities in a kind of reddish local gutrot-enhanced sauce) as well as in the Thai version of sweet and sour pork (which is rather less gloopy than the Chinese version one endures in the West). There are even some versions of the Thai national dish, Phad Thai, which include it, though this is an abomination.

Phad Thai is one of the few dishes that can be considered to have a definitive recipe. It’s not a traditional Thai dish, but was rather the winner of a competition to create as a new national dish at the behest of Field Marshall Plaek Phibunsongkhram in the late 1930s or thereabouts when he was avidly trying to create a unified national Thai identity. He also wanted to wean Thai people off rice and on to noodles. Though at the time he held the notional title of “Prime Minister”, it’s probably better to consider him a fascist dictator along the lines of Mussolini – a role he held from 1938 to 1957 with a four year break in the middle. He was also responsible for changing the country’s name from Siam to Thailand, and for the the rewriting of the words to the National Anthem along suitably jingoistic lines. Despite being of Chinese ancestry himself he led a campaign to boycott all Chinese owned businesses in the Kingdom, and one of his charming henchmen (also of Chinese ancestry) notoriously likened the Chinese in Thailand to the Jews in Germany. So perhaps Mussolini and Goebels rolled into one. But enough of good soldier Phlaek, though I can be pretty sure he wouldn’t have approved of American ketchup in his fried noodles.

Another major use of tomato ketchup here is to slather liberally over pizza. Every pizza restaurant has a bottle or sachets of the condiment at the table. Even the upmarket place I order home delivery from (and which actually does a pretty good, authentic version of the fired dough) includes a few sachets of the stuff Sellotaped to the box.

Given some of the strange perversions of pizza that appear here, an overdose of tomato slop might actually be the only way to make them palatable. Artificial crab sticks and mayonnaise pizza with frankfurter-stuffed crust anybody?

And to the point of my ramblings: a few days ago I bought a packet of locally made frozen gyoza (Japanese dumplings) for lunch. The accompanying pouch of soy-based dipping sauce felt a little strange. Once I’d defrosted it I had a taste. Yes, it was that staple of high Japanese cuisine, tomato ketchup. Only (at least, I hope only) in Thailand.


Yesterday morning there was an unwelcome visitor to the moobaan: a python (reticulated python, I think). The local snake catchers were called and he (or she) took it away, though at one point one of the security guards was bitten.

I had feared that this beautiful creature was headed for the cooking pot, but I’m assured it’ll either end up in a zoo or be released in the countryside away from people.

I find it surprising that a snake can grow to that size in urban Bangkok. That said, it might just possibly be an escaped pet.


I haven’t posted for a few weeks. Truth to tell, the news here in Thailand is rarely edifying, and the same sorry stories repeat time and time again.

“Spoiled kid of a rich family kills someone and gets away with it”
Most recently a younger member of the Red Bull family who was allegedly drunk and high on drugs slammed his Ferrari at high speed into a policeman’s motorcycle then dragged him down the road for 200 yards. The policeman died. The heir’s indictment has mysteriously been postponed six times. Immediately before the final scheduled indictment attempt he was allowed to leave Thailand to see motor racing in Singapore. He then developed a sniffle and got a doctor’s note saying he was unfit to fly. The statute of limitations on one of the charges then expired. So, yet another rich kid looks like getting away with murder.

“Drunk policeman shoots tourist dead in fit of pique and gets away with it”
The only twist in this story is that one Chiang Mai policeman who shot a Canadian tourist didn’t actually get away with it. Rather foolishly, he went on to club his new wife to death; she was heavily pregnant at the time. He subsequently pleaded guilty to the murders of both his wife and the tourist.

“Technical college students shoot at/knife each other. Only one or two dead”
Across Thailand there are rivalries between technical colleges. Students arm themselves and attack those from a rival college. Frequently there are fatalities. Occasionally an innocent bystander gets killed.

“Another policeman/soldier/rubber tapper/teacher shot/blown up/beheaded in the South”
The Islamist insurgency continues to rack up dead bodies; pretty much every day there’s a new report of somone’s being murdered. The death toll is now well over 5,000 and the killings continue apace.

“Thailand flooded”
I didn’t expect a repeat of the 2011 floods quite so soon. After all, didn’t the government promise to invest massively in infrastructure to prevent a recurrence? Recent headlines include “Flooding in east Thailand worst for 50 years”, “Thai floods force closure of 17 factories in industrial zone”, “Thailand floods death toll rises to 73”, “Millions affected by floods in Thailand”. Still, no need to worry here in Bangkok; as Deputy Prime Minister Plodprasop reassured us “Bangkok will be 100 percent safe unless there is more heavy rain in the North for a couple of days.”

“Government Minister says something ridiculously stupid”
The ability of government ministers to spout total nonsense that anyone with even a single functioning neuron is rubbish is uncanny. They universally appear incapable of distinguishing truth from fiction – or hold their countrymen in such contempt that they assume they will lap up any old rubbish.

“Massive corruption in government project”
Corruption is omnipresent; there’s probably not a single government project that doesn’t involve graft. Many projects such as the rice mortgaging scheme (losses to date estimated at over 400 billion Baht – that’s roughly $13 billion – the government has repeatedly refused to provide accurate figures on the costs and losses) appear to have been specifically designed to facilitate corruption; the poorest farmers have gained very little from the scheme.

With daily news like this, I sometimes wonder why I bother to read the news in the newspaper. Perhaps I should just stick to the cartoons and the crossword.


When I first came to Thailand everything seemed very cheap compared with the UK.  As a rough rule of thumb I figured fruit and vegetables were about a third of the cost back home.  Nowadays, however, things feel much more expensive, though I’ve totally lost touch with how much food now costs in the UK.  I therefore decided to compare some every day items from Tesco-Lotus (Thailand) and Tesco (UK).  As far as possible, the items were of similar quality, and prices have been adjusted where unit sizes are different between the two countries.  (For example, in Thailand yoghurt is sold in slightly smaller pots.)

  TH UK Difference
Fruit & Vegetables  
Banana (each) 21p 20p +5%
Pineapple (each) 53p £1.00 -47%
Lettuce/head 75p 75p +0%
Beansprouts/kg 64p £1.63 -61%
Potatoes/kg 75p £1.25 -40%
Green beans (200g) 43p 91p -53%
Tomatoes (each) 17p 17p +0%
Limes (each) 2p 3p -33%
Onion/kg 67p 45p +49%
Pumpkin/kg 62p £1.00 -38%
Sweetcorn (each) 27p 50p -46%
Broccoli/kg £1.48 £2.99 -51%
Red cabbage/kg £1.18 62p +90%
Shitake mushrooms/kg £6.85 £14.00 -51%

Looking at fruit and vegetables, these were generally 30-50% cheaper than the UK, except for bananas, lettuce and tomatoes which are around the same price, which is odd given that they are all locally grown. Onions and red cabbage were more expensive.  Red cabbage I can understand, since there’s little demand for it here, but onions, which are grown in the north and also imported from China are a mystery.

Limes in Thailand aren’t quite the bargain they seem since one needs 2 or 3 to yield the same amount of juice as a lime in the UK.  The price is also strongly seasonal – currently they are at pretty cheap, but towards the end of the dry season the price skyrockets.

The cheap price of potatoes is a bit of a mystery since potatoes are only used in a few southern Thai, Indian-influenced curries such as Matsaman – not that I’m complaining. Though French Fries are very popular here – usually as a snack with drinks accompanied by tomato ketchup for dipping, or as part of a fast food meal – they are virtually never made from fresh potatoes, but from frozen, imported fries; Thai potatoes just don’t fry very well.

  TH UK  
Whole chicken/kg £3.34 £2.59 +29%
Chicken breast/kg £3.96 £9.00 -56%
Beef mince/kg £7.28 £5.34 +36%
Stewing beef/kg £10.00 £10.00 +0%
Belly pork/kg £5.25 £6.00 -13%

I had expected chicken to be cheaper in Thailand than in the UK, given that Thailand is a major exporter of chicken to Europe, though whole chickens here are quite a bit more expensive than in the UK, yet chicken breast is less than half the price.

Beef isn’t particularly popular in Thailand.  Most people favour fish and chicken.  However, lots of people do enjoy a visit to a steak house, which is a bit of a mystery, given how tough and chewy much of the locally produced beef is.  The prices of both beef and pork are broadly comparable in Thailand and the UK, which is perhaps unsurprising, given the global nature of the market for animal fodder.

Smoked salmon 200g £4.26 £7.50 -43%
Salmon fillets 200g £4.26 £2.43 +75%

Thai fish varieties are very different from those in the UK – no cod or haddock here – so a direct comparison isn’t straightforward, apart from salmon, which is imported from Australia, and smoked salmon which usually comes from Japan.  The fresh fish is much more expensive, but the smoked version is much cheaper than back in the motherland.

  TH UK  
Dairy &c.      
Eggs (10) £1.46 £2.00 -27%
Fresh milk 400ml 49p 35p +40%
Cottage cheese 150g 90p 33p +173%
Philadelphia 250g £3.19 £2.19 +46%
Emmenthal 250g £9.32 £2.75 +239%
Edam 250g £3.58 £5.20 -31%
Cheddar 250g £3.68 £1.80 +104%
Butter 454g £3.42 £2.71 +26%
Fruit yoghurt 110g 28p 14p +100%
Whipping cream 1l £3.53 £3.70 -5%

Eggs are cheaper in Thailand.  They are also one of the many items the government controls the price of.  Milk, which historically hasn’t been part of the Thai diet, is pricey.

Imported cheeses are very expensive, being double or more the price in the UK – and this is for mere Australian copies of the European originals – though Edam is curiously cheaper.  The cottage cheese isn’t imported, but is locally produced.  I suspect that low local demand justifies the high price.

The high price of yoghurt I don’t understand.  It’s not as if it’s made wholly with fresh milk; it’s mostly made from milk powder imported from China.

  TH UK  
Sliced white, 240g 36p 31p +16%
French stick 66p 45p +47%

It’s not really fair to compare Thai sliced bread with that of the UK; Thai bread is pappy and sweet, to be eaten with condensed milk and sugar.  The baguettes from Tesco-Lotus, however, are actually pretty good; I always have a few chunks in the freezer for emergencies.  Low demand probably explains the relatively high price.


  TH UK  
Sugar 1kg 50p 99p -49%
Sunflower oil 1l £1.73 £1.50 +15%
Extra Virgin olive oil £5.46 £2.00 +173%
Jasmine rice 2.5kg £2.68 £4.50 -40%
Linguine 500g £1.45 £1.70 -15%
Taco shells 8 pieces £1.39 £1.03 +35%
Flour 1kg £1.33 74p +80%
St. Dalfour jam 284g £2.97 £1.99 +49%
Honey 600g £3.42 £2.22 +54%

As expected, imported ingredients are expensive (olive oil, flour, jam), and locally produced ones (sugar, rice) relatively cheap.

Sunflower oil is locally produced, but most locals will used the cheapest available oil, usually soya bean or palm oil, so there’s not much demand.

Honey is locally produced, so the high price is a little odd.  The high price has also encouraged a lot of adulteration, and some things labelled as honey are largely sugar syrup.

Perhaps surprisingly the taco shells are locally produced.

  TH UK  
Coke 1.25l 49p £1.00 -51%
Scheppes tonic water/can 30p 64p -53%
Orange juice (pasteurised) 1l £1.71 £1.00 +71%
Apple juice (pasteurised) 1l £1.48 £1.10 +35%
Tesco ground coffee 250g £3.70 £2.47 +50%
Tesco teabags 100 £3.83 £2.57 +49%
Gin 750ml £6.92 £15.30 -55%
Whisky 1l £10.69 £17.50 -39%

Coke (locally produced) is cheap, as is tonic water (imported).

Fruit juice is more expensive here, even though oranges are grown locally, as are apples (though I suspect that apple juice is made from cheap Chinese apples).

Coffee is more expensive here – though there are cheaper, locally grown coffees available.

Tea is popular here – particularly amongst the Thai-Chinese – though it’s thin, watery stuff, not a proper cup of British tea. Proper tea is therefore a minority interest, hence the price.

The good news is that when I get too troubled by the high price of tea I can console myself with a nice, cheap glass of gin and tonic or a tot of Scotland’s finest.