Bangkok Phil

This much I know

Some of the things I've learned from life

The website of the Guardian UK newspaper runs a regular series called ‘This Much I Know'. Each week, a well-known person - perhaps a movie star or politician - gets into the hot seat and shares their thoughts on what they've learned in life. It's a selection of random musings, life lessons and single-paragraph viewpoints that are nearly always fascinating to read.

OK, I'm not a celebrity or anything, but being as I'm turning 50 next month, maybe I'm qualified to look back on life and come up with some of my own ramblings. So, this much I know.

Travelling is always better in retrospect. I forget where I read that quote but I couldn't agree more. I love returning home and looking at holiday snaps with a travel partner - and laughing at the back stories to each photo. But I hate so many of the things associated with travel these days - airport security checks, the squeeze into economy class, the fight for overhead luggage space, extortionate airport taxi fares. All that stuff can f**k right off.

In some ways I'm envious of those people who have lost their parents - those folks who have gone through the whole grief and bereavement process and have been able to get on with their lives, albeit with an understandable and permanent sense of loss. I'm very close to both of my parents, who are now into their 70s. And although they're in relatively decent health, the clock is ticking. I find that hard to deal with because I'm not sure how their passing is going to affect me. It's a total fear of the unknown.

I'm not the slightest bit religious but I have a passion for English country churches. You can be travelling around England and find yourself in Chipping Sodbury and there's a gorgeous, old country church on the edge of the village. I love the creak of the wooden door as you twist the handle to enter, and the peace and solitude as you step inside. I can sit there for hours - not in prayer exactly but just enjoying the moment, in a place so far removed from the chaotic world outside.

When I've got an hour to spare, I'll play all my favorite bits of movies. I don't always have the patience to sit through a whole film but there are certain scenes that I never tire of watching. A day always improves no end when I watch the courtroom scene from ‘My Cousin Vinny'. You can never underestimate the power of a movie scene and the effect it can have on you.

Sometimes in a moment of clarity, I'll think to myself ‘Wow! You've lived in Thailand for 24 years!" It's a long time isn't it? - most of my adult life in fact. When I planned on living here, I didn't know how long it was going to last but so far, so good. A lot of folks come here and retire in their 50s and 60s but very few come here in their prime years and stay the distance, so I'm secretly quite proud of that in a way.

I'm a massive animal lover. I can't bear to look at photographs or read stories about animals that have been mistreated. And there are no words to describe my contempt for people who are willfully cruel to animals. There have been many instances where I've taken a holiday and the whole time has been dominated by me caring for the sick dog who lives at the end of the street. Animals are like children. They rely on us for support - and my word, how we've let them down.

I was always in love with the idea of living and working abroad. England in the 80s was a great time for me but I hated the daily grind and the perpetual ‘greyness' of life in the UK. I got the wanderlust in my mid-20s but didn't have a clue where I wanted to end up. I contemplated becoming a tour guide in Belgium at one stage. I have no idea what that was about.

I've always been a bit of a ‘wheeler dealer' and I still enjoy being around those ‘market trader' types of people - the duckers and divers, the bobbers and weavers. I got my first Saturday job when I was 14 years old, working in one of those traditional second-hand ‘junk shops' where all the furniture would be piled on the pavement outside. The owner would leave me in charge for hours and the moment he was gone, I would select four items and remove the price tags. When a customer showed interest, I would quote them an inflated figure and pocket the difference. It wasn't stealing and everyone got a fair deal. The junk shop owner got his price and I got mine. So I was 14 years old when I first experienced the thrill of making money ‘on the side'

I haven't worked in a company environment and done a Monday to Friday, nine-to-five job for almost ten years. I just can't work with other people. And I'm sure I'm just as difficult to work with as well. It always frustrated me when colleagues took an age to complete a simple task or had to ask for help at every stage of a process. Patience and the ability to suffer fools gladly have never been my strongest points. And don't get me on to the topic of those endless company meetings that are a waste of everyone's time.

I know how to cook and I've never met a person who can iron a shirt better than I can. Perhaps it's a survival instinct but it's enormously reassuring to know that if you suddenly find yourself alone in the world, you're probably going to be OK.

I've always taken a great pride in my appearance. I spent my first ever wage packet on a beautiful leather jacket and that began a life-long love affair with clothes. For that reason, I hate to see men hit middle-age and just ‘let themselves go'. They stop caring about what they look like. There's no excuse for it and I think that you're always judged on first impressions.

I come from a family of green-fingered males. My grandfather won numerous awards from the local council for the best-tended front garden in the district. And he passed those gardening skills down to my father. When I was born, perhaps the planets were out of line on that day, but I never got the gardening genes. I can put plants in soil and literally watch them die in front of me.

I pursue every objective with a fierce intensity. I've always hated the thought of doing things in half measures and it's an attitude to life that puts enormous pressure on you. For example, if I set out to learn a language, I'm only satisfied when I can speak that language fluently. I can't be the sort of person who waves phrase-books under a taxi driver's nose.



"very few come here in their prime years and stay the distance, so I'm secretly quite proud of that in a way."

You can either be proud of it, or wonder quite why you've done something so abnormal with your life.

By Smeg, UK (4th April 2014)

Thank you for these fun and interesting thoughts.

By Pablo, Thailand (30th March 2014)

Well Phil. I must say you've done good for yourself. You are a better man than I am, but I guess we already knew this 55555. Who taught you how to iron your clothes? Anyway here's wishing you a very happy birthday in advance and welcome to the fifties club.

By Donald, Thailand (24th March 2014)

An interesting read.... Being fifty is great. You finally seem to know who you are and stop worrying about what the world thinks. So look forward to turning fifty: It's the beginning of the rest of your life :)

By Michele, Thailand (18th March 2014)

A poignant insight into another human being's reflection... This much I do know.

By Julia, BKK (12th March 2014)

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