Ian McNamara

Sweet grandchild of mine

The incredible journey and how it all unfolded

This week's column is a mini-slice of life. A slightly embellished biography, featuring a tale of hope and despair on two continents.

You were an early developer, a spurt of activity around the age of eight resulted in a cycling proficiency award, a one length freestyle sew-on badge and a Blue Peter runners-up certificate in the under 9 age group for 'Best bottle-top collage featuring deprived third world folks in a typical village scene'. However, the period since then has been an accomplishment ice age. It was as though your creative and intellectual juices reached their peak before the age of 10 and this early promise fizzled out with barely a whimper.

Even the sight of a couple of GSCE certificates adorning the mantelpiece couldn't console your Grandmother who'd been predicting great things for her favourite grandchild since that 'golden week' in May 1980, when you captured the class 4 spelling crown and scored two goals for the school football team in a derby match.

She watched as the neighbour's offspring, who was still sucking the ink out of biros at the age of ten, hit his creative peak at the right time and garnered a full set of GCSEs, A Levels and an honours degree from, what used to be, the local community college. With every visit you could see her vision of you, as the shining hope for the next generation of the family, slowly dimming.

When Granny went to the bingo hall in the sky it was time to look back and reflect on the halcyon days. You'd regale Granny with tales of your exploits at school and she'd lavish you with gifts of ginger beer and McVities chocolate digestives. It was now your mission to make Granny proud. It was time to honour her memory.

Several years attempting to transform yourself into an intellectual failed miserably and your destiny appeared to be based on the twin certainties of marrying the buxom Debbie from the local chippy and resigning yourself to the life of a Makro shelf stacker.

Then opportunity knocked in the form of an ex-classmate, Julian. Confident and tanned he made a surprise appearance one wet Wednesday in the local Spanish-themed hostelry. You and everyone else in the 5th form had assumed Julian was gay - an assumption which was based entirely on his name. Yet here he was, dressed head to toe in fake Polo gear, downing San Miguels with a bevy of bleached curly-permed beauties surrounding him. He was rattling off stories about his life as a teacher in Thailand. How, after graduating from the L.S.E., he "did the backpacker thing" and then "fell in love with that crazy town they call the City of Angels".

An offer of a beer from you resulted in a few more insights into the teaching world in Bangkok. "Don't worry about paper qualifications, any idiot can get a job." It was then you realized that one way to honour Granny's memory would be to teach others everything you learnt. Maybe you didn't have as much to offer as the average Oxbridge graduate but you could tell a good story and got on well with people - attributes that would surely hold you in good stead as a teacher.

The following day, after shaking off a wicked hangover and withdrawing your life savings from an ATM, you headed off to Thomas Cook and booked your flight to Taiwan. Realising your error too late you arrived in Taipei feeling as dejected as the average Man U fan every time their team play against a real European side.

Fast forward. Taipei didn't go as well as you hoped. After three months spent eking out a living as a corporate language school slave you still hadn't saved more than enough to pay the taxi fare to the airport. However, fate, in the form of a blacklisted medical practitioner came to your aid, and within a couple of weeks you were up over 2,000 dollars and down one kidney.

Bangkok's certainly been an eye opener. Buxom Debbie from the chippie has been replaced by the more petite Lek from the Soi 7 beergarden. Even so 'hunky dory' wouldn't be the phrase used to describe your life right now, if it was medically possible to sell your other kidney you would probably have done so by now and used the money to get back to the land of cold women and warm beer. Harking back to that fateful night in the Manhattan Club you wish you'd not limited your conversation to the topic of "Thai babes".

Someday you'll get out of here though but until then it's just you and Lek against the world, although she hasn't been back home for three days now. You may not have conquered the world but at least you can console yourself with the notion granny's looking down and smiling proudly once again - if only for a fleeting moment. Now, if only your parents thought the same way.


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