Dear Birthday Girl

Dear Cat,

A little surprise message for you – thought I’d see if this postman would do me a favour and take some post for me – Peter said he’s very reliable.

So today is your birthday, and we’ve had a pretty weird time of late. I wanted to just let you know a few things, as you’re hopping around islands in ‘the far east’…

Number 1: We’re all so proud of you, and miss you terribly. Looking at your pictures and hearing about your adventures is fascinating. None of us have the balls to just pack up and globe trot like you – you’re amazing.

Number 2: Though you’re far away and this week brought us all some very upsetting news, it’s important that you know when it was just me and Dad sitting together before he left us, I was telling him all about your adventures, and his eyes didn’t leave my gaze. He was enthralled, and I had an overwhelming feeling that the Dad we all knew and loved returned, just for a few minutes, to listen and say goodbye.

Number 3: You’re my favourite person in the whole world, no matter which continent you happen to be on. You show me what it is to be determined, fearless, optimistic, strong – all the while maintaining an undeniable enthusiasm for life, and an ability to explode glitter canons with just your mind.

Number 4: I wish you were here very much, so we could celebrate the simple fact that you’re alive and not an imaginary friend like I used to genuinely worry you were. However, I’m glad you’ve spent your birthday in paradise land with Rimi, going on boats and looking at dinosaurs.

Number 5: People say things to me like ‘if I had a sister, I’d want her to be like Catrin’ and ‘you two have such an incredible bond’, and I totally agree. Everybody should have a Catrin, but I’m the lucky one who does. Worth noting that people also say things like ‘you two are terrifying’ and ‘what on Earth are you wearing?’ but that last one usually applies to you more than me.

Basically, in the words of Stevie Wonder, I just called to say ‘I love you’ and to wish you the most wonderful, bright, sticky-fingered, sunshiney birthday that the world can possibly muster. I know that Dad will be holding your hand every step.

Happy birthday to you, my brilliant sister. Love you always.

Zoë xxx

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Fadoom Part 1

Maaaaaate, 

Five weeks? 7 weeks tomrrow? I did send this 6 weeks ago, thai post mate.

You have been busy. I have been distraught. I wish I knew more.

Some of the questions. 

How do you deal with a child with skin falling off?

What do you do when a child will only sleep in your arms?

Do newborns always look so fragile in a car seat?

Will they remember any of it, any of the inadequacies, any of the pain, any of the fear that seeps through your skin.

Is he dead, I can’t hear anything, he must be, maybe I should just watch him all night.

Enter a world where everything is plausible, anything can be a signal of imminent death, mums net rules all, not being comfortable in pjamas leads to cold and vulnerable night time parenting.

Soooooo Chapt one. 

Fadoom. Thwack. Thud. Very loud noises. Massive crater in my life being created. Explosions. Almost all birds from local trees startle and fly off. Native Indian man touches ground in native India and senses great change is afoot.

Apologies for my tardiness, I don’t mean to be aloof. It’s actually F$%@ing happened hasn’t it.

Flashback *wavy blurred image or concentric image spiralling, your choice*

“Are you? You’re not? Oh congratulations, fantastic news!” kiss kiss. Then began the idyllic build up. “yes, it’s a boy” “we have a few names in mind” ha ha ha haahahahahhahaahhahahow its all ends so abruptly. One minute the pair of you are strolling along promenades like in images from a Victorian zoetrope. Thinking of how idyllic the new arrival with make your life, his little button nose, those cute little suits, dressing him up like the little girl you wished/longed for and that instant bond, the unbreakable, inseparable and unconditional bond. Laying the foundation for an altruistic voyage to furnish the babe with anything and everything possible within your grasp. Eating cake, drinking coffees, being driven as she can’t drink even though you said “its probably best if I drive for the babies safety”, but you can’t just have one can you.

I imagine that you had a similar mental pre curser to Thailand, a whole new world, a new fantastic point of view. Then when you look down and smile at Carpet and he lifts up his corner tassel for a Hi5 you see the 100% nylon / 0% magic label and plummet down. You are right, I probably would be repelled. I guess the idea of getting to some of these places and being met with disappointment or a load of happy people that describe themselves as a bit “mad” has always put me off the big travel.

I’m not saying the child is a massive let down, just to clarify.

Nine months is a game of 5 sections. I know this now.

  1. Excitement, apprehension, crippling self-doubt that the magic dust in your wand lacks sparkle.
  2. Massive Fu$ks and Sh£ts all round when its confirmed.
  3. The telling of people.
  4. The long drag of expectation, towards the end of which you have almost forgotten it’s going to happen. Most people have stopped caring or actually forgotten.
  5. FFFFFFFFFFFFFFFFFFFFFFFFFFAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAACCCCCCCCCCCCCCCCCCCCCCCKKKKKKKKKKKKKKKKKKKKK, WHERE IS THE FACKING BABY BAG, NO I DON’T WANT A FACKING SOFT TOUCH FACKING MASSAGE, WHAT DO YOU MEAN SHES NOT ACTUALLY IN LABOUR YET?                                                                          THERE IS A VERY SMALL CHILD STARING AT ME FROM THE BOTTOM OF A BIRTHING POOL.

 

I was not ready. I thought I was. Waters breaking, contractions and the helplessness. From start to finish you feel sick. All the unhelpful commenters don’t give warning of this. Relaxing music, smack the pony and greenwing on hand, were they serious? Snacks. Of course a top shelf nut bar or flump will make the pain go away.

It’s mainly anger you feel initially, I’m passed terror now, these people who are meant to be medical professionals, don’t they know we are on the final straight. Yes her waters have broken, go home and wait till the contractions are 3 elephants apart. They have clearly never encountered a pregnant woman who’s water has broken before. Then you come home and it’s an onslaught of over attentiveness for the female. Food, drink, soft touch massage, calming humming, native dancing, tuna pasta, crunchie, tea, tea, tea, tea, tea more pasta salad. Fast forward a bespoke time period and you are arguing with an obvious naïve idiot at the birthing suite, over the phone, that you said call back when the contractions are less than 3 minutes apart. Is there someone else I can speak to because you patently have never encountered this situation before? He must make the tea…. Finally the gravitas of job in hand is taken seriously, and you are enroute.

The details are hazy (for the sake of this captains log at least). We had an intermediate room, there was a bolsh instigated and we entered the suite. “Incompetent F%^king people here, I’ve always been a tory anyway, this would be much better if it was privatised…..” I will apologise for the rest of my life after this. It was all there, birth pool filled up, music on, soft lighting, everything, two incredible people there to do nothing but help. Squash, jam on bread, total care and security for the most uncertain period of anyone’s life. I’ll fore go the faulty heartbeat monitor that left us in utter despair.

 

So he is here now. The son. The farther. The father son relationship. A bug. TBC

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Culture Vulture

9th May 2017

Dear Peter,

It’s taken me a long time to write this letter. You’ve been quiet too, yet I suppose that tells me everything I need to know about the joys of being a new parent. Time is no longer yours.

I’ve had plenty of time. That’s not the issue. And I’ve had many times I’ve wanted to put my time in Phnom Penh down on paper and tell you all about it, but the words just don’t come so easy.

As soon as I arrived in Cambodia, the midnight messenger started to ping.’Have you been to Pub Street yet?’, ‘You’re going to absolutely love it there!’, ‘Now you get to see the real culture’, I wanted to love it, I was ready to. Get that culture in my eyes.

After a long journey, I decided to have some dinner and then hit the rooftop for a beer. Snake, Cat and all sorts of tasty treats on the menu. I could eat a King Cobra for $100 if I wanted to. It would make me super strong, but I’m cool with being a weakling if it means I don’t have to eat snake steak. I won’t deny that 50 cent beer wasn’t a delightful find but there was something about this ‘Happy Hour’ that really struck me, and it’s still stuck in my mind now. The barman, his name was Sokhem, he asked me where I was from and soon as ‘London’ had slipped out my mouth he wanted me to tell him all about it. He dreamed of London, to him it was heaven.

He asked me what the jungles were like in the UK, and what my house looked like and where did I work. What did snow look like? How much did a house cost? What were British men like? His boyfriend was from Holland and had promised him trips to Europe and I hope he keeps that promise.

To put things in perspective, a bottle of water cost 75 cents. When I started asking him questions he told me his first job paid him $15 a month. His second job was $25 and he was a happier 23-year-old now, working in the bar as he got to meet lots of western men. How could it be possible for him to be paid so little yet work so much? He’s living, like so many here, well below the poverty line. I believe this is the poorest country I’ve visited yet.

A tattoo on his arm had a picture of a little fox with ‘if you want to love me, first fuck me‘ in italic underneath. Interesting take on things I told him, and he said this was how he felt. He felt lonely.

He lived with his Aunty now after his parents had left and gone North, they weren’t bothered with him and he said his Aunty didn’t talk to him either. For Sokhem, the only people that he recognised love from now were those that showed a sexual interest in him as physical connection, however fleeting, was all that filled his emptiness inside. It seemed he’d never known the unconditional love of family, friends and honest care so how would he understand that wasn’t all there was to it?

He’d been out the night before and his boyfriend had seen him in a bar with one of the hostel guests. Another dutch guy who’d invited himself along to see the nightlife. Soon as he’d set eyes on them, his boyfriend, you know the one that ‘loves‘ him, stormed out.

He pointed at his hair, “You see this bit here? I had to cut it this morning because when I woke up my boyfriend had put chewing gum in it whilst I was sleeping.”. Like it was normal, accepted behaviour and I talked to him about how wrong this was. Only the tip of the iceberg I’m sure. I wanted to take him out of that, away from that rotten relationship and show him what love really looks like. He was clinging to the promise of a trip to Europe, like that would fix everything. A hug, a listening ear and as many laughs as I could give him was all I could offer for now.

He wasn’t very good, terrible in fact, but every night he loved to sing. Such a joy for all the drinkers. I sat front row of course clapping and cheering him on. I hadn’t heard it before, I’m not a massive Emeli Sande fan, but he chose to sing ‘Clown’, and if I hadn’t clapped I would have cried inside. The other staff followed with renditions of Enrique and all the classics before boom! thunderclap.

A torrential downpour and a roof unable to keep the relentless rain from pouring in.

I ran inside soaked, careful not to slip arse over tit on the tiled floor. I’ve got a real fear of breaking my leg whilst I’m away. I decided I’d find something to watch about the area and learn something different about the area. That I did.

‘Finding Home’ was on Netflix. A documentary by Derek Hammeke made in 2014 which tells the story of 3 girls, yes girls… school girls, and how their lives went from bad to absolute vile and rotten when the sex trafficking industry swallows their heart and souls whole.

There’s girls as young as 5-years-old working in the brothels, maybe even younger. It’s thought that taking their virginity gives men vitality, youthfulness and magical powers that give them good health. It’s not what you’d first think either, not all abductions and criminal mastermind driven. A large amount of these children have been sold by their parents in desperate need of money. Religion here implies that when you are born you’re in debt to your parents and must repay them throughout your life, so a misunderstanding of that justifies this action. Add to that sex industry tourism and it’s a ‘real’ culture I’m not sure we’ll ever see the darkest depths of.

There’s a saying in Cambodia that “Men are like gold and women are like cloth, if you drop gold in the dirt, it washes clean and still shines. If you drop cloth, the stain never comes out.” 

When I woke up the next day I made my way to Daughters of Cambodia. A charity working to wash the stains from the cloth as best they can. The visitor centre was really nice. A little shop downstairs selling handmade gifts and home bits. On the first floor a spa and then on the next a cafe where I had really good lunch and giant pavlova for dessert.

The employees working here come voluntarily to be given jobs outside of the evil exploitation and trafficking they’ve become accustomed to. There’s a number of different job available, a hotel to be run, a spa to work in, the shop with all the items being handmade and sold and the cafe. I have a chat with Ruthie, the manager about furthering support in the future and ways they plan to expand their charity and the work they do. I have nothing but utter admiration for this woman.

The store is nice, very light with sky blue walls and white wash wooden furniture. The stories of the girls are painted on the walls in italic with swirling birds and flowers framing the text. ‘1 in 40 Cambodian girls will end up in a brothel’ it says.

What you don’t see is that they also support their employees with support workers, medical care, education and counselling. There’s a lot happening and I’m warmed to see that when faced with this overwhelming issue, there is a glimmer of hope starting to shine. This is one of around 200 charities trying to fight back and fix things, there’s another in the Coming Home documentary too. Daughters of Cambodia aim to take on 100 girls a year. That still leaves a lot. But everything has to start somewhere. From where there were weeds, beautiful flowers will start to grow.

I head on back to the hostel and up to the rooftop bar for more chats and songs with Sokhem and he tells me more all about his love of the X-Factor. A total dream machine to watch in wonder and amazement. He’s smiling and laughing and enjoying work today.

It’s what another friend said “Cambodians are such smiley people”, and it is beautiful and you are greeted with smiles everywhere but it’s what hiding behind these smiles, behind each shop door that’s disturbing. UNICEF research found around 64% of children here say they know a child who has been or is a victim of sexual abuse. Most victims of rape in Cambodia are children and the age is on a downward spiral. In just three years it had dropped by two. Once a victim of rape, the social stigma attached, the shame, the pain, and the broken soul left to linger would no longer see any future in this world. They feel too damaged to have a husband now or family. Feel too broken for any good to come their way.

It’s not just women: 1 in 5 men in Cambodia are victims of rape too.

Now, I know this isn’t all the country has, there are many wonderful parts too and I’m not thinking Cambodia’s the only place that’s got issues like this. In world slavery, they rank 14th. But when trying to take in the culture and enjoy my time here, I can’t help but have my heart go out to every local I meet, anyone that smiles my way, anyone that might try overcharge me or scam me in some way – Go for it. I get it. I don’t mind you trying to make me your victim.

There’s a lad in my hostel who’s on the bunk below me. He smells like an old lunchbox and is constantly whining because his iPhone got pinched whilst he was out in the city. He’s expecting sympathy from me I suspect, not the reality check I give him. Get in the sea!!

Cambodia history is brutal, we’re not educated on it in the UK and this upset me, I’d been so ignorant. The Polpot regime that killed over 2 million Cambodians, wiped out society, killing all educated people and all morals gone replaced by atrocious horrors and memories that nightmares are made of.

Why is it so prevalent then? How can it be so common? A UN report found that 45% of rapists in answered that sexual entitlement was their motive for raping a woman and 42% said they raped to punish a woman, it’s a terrifying mindset. Nearly 12% of them had raped 4 or more women with over half of them first raping their victims as teenagers and nearly 20% of them doing it under the age of 15. They’ve got enough problems here without the despicable perverts from the west coming over for a sex holiday too. Sick.

It’s a rarely reported crime. The shame that comes with it is too much and the legal process is poor. The most common punishment for rape tends to take place outside of court with the rapist having to pay an out of court settlement. How that makes it any different to how the brothels are treating the victims I don’t know.

Nearly 50% of rapists experience no legal consequences.

Real Cambodia. We not even scratched the surface.

Speak soon, take care,

Cat x

Ancient.

23rd March 2017

Dear Peter,

The past few days have been spent razzing’ it around Bangkok on the back of a scooter. I didn’t figure I’d be doing that on my trip, too many horror stories of broken bones and travels cut shortDSC00428.jpg, however, I found myself a top gun pilot and I got the job of navigator and turns out it’s the best way to see the city.

Also made it to the top of one of the ridiculously tall towers for beers and cocktails and the sun dipped down. Awesome end to 3 weeks of Thai adventures. I’d decided it was time to cross a border and explore more. Cambodia was the obvious choice. Time to get ancient.

I love first impressions. It’s that make or break moment that will define you for eternity if you make a big enough impact. My arrival at the hostel was momentous. First up imagine me sweating about 3 times more than that time you had to restrain me in the club because I was dancing ‘too much’, and looked like I’d just gotten out the shower. Remember that?! Ha!

I’m trying to drag about 22 kg up some metal stairs, I go head first and fall up the stairs into the feet of the woman showing me to my bed. Good. Good look. Not quite as good as when I get to meet my new roomies and realise a jar of Omega 3 supplements and some activated charcoal have smashed in my bag and mixed together to make a nice black, oily fish paste. It reeks. I reek. After unsuccessfully trying to flush the fish slick down the toilet, I just accept that’s what I’ll be known as now – Fish Girl. It smells like a dolphin’s wet dream and the heat is making it even worse. Good.

I booked a private driver for exploring the temples at sunrise, not because no one wanted to be fish girls friend but small talk such as ‘Where are you from? Where have you been? Where are you going? What do you do?’ drains me. It turns out I’m way more of an introvert than you’d probably expect. I’m realising I can get on with pretty much anyone, but there’s only a select bunch which I’d happily hang out with all day. Pi, my driver is cool. I will hang out with him.

DSC00447

At 6am we arrive at Angkor Wat. OoOoOooooh mystical (insert smoke machine here), very majestic, ancient as it gets mate. 

There’s mist floating over the moat that surrounds the temple, it represents the Hindu cosmic sea, that’s not water you see, it’s creation, life and energy inviting you to ride on a cosmic wave whose white horse waves will come crashing down on the beaches of salvation.

A black serrated edge silhouette, tipped with lotus shaped tops, against the purple sky teases you with what’s to come. This temple is the biggest temple in the world, dun dun derrrrrrrrrrr (!) and it draws the big crowds too. Dedicated to Lord Vishnu, he’s the blue god with 4 arms who’s ultimate protector of the universe, big responsibility means big Hindu temple. You’re responsible now for your own son, protector and up keeper of the lil’ chap. Now imagine that times infinity, Vishnu’s job.

It was built to look just like Mount Meru, that’s where gods live and it’s the centre of the Hindu universe. It’s old, like real old, like 12th Century old. For the mega-geeks, there’s a ton of insanely genius mathematical equations and solar alignments involved in the architecture. 

I wander around dodging the other tourists as they stop to take a selfie on the path towards the temple. The ancient path of enlightenment. Don’t forget your selfie stick.

DSC00438.jpgSo many people gaze upon this idyllic spot every single morning. Yet it’s the morning that’s also taking away the temples more delicate details. You can see every single brick has grooves and bumps all over, now smooth. They used to be embellished all over with carvings of demigods to appease the all mighty gods, like “Hey gods, look at all these demigods yet still not a single one as awesome as you!”.

DSC00442.jpgThe morning mist just keeps eating away every intricately carved surface and we’re left with only an outline of what was once here. The skill and workmanship put into this place is beyond comprehension and soon it will be beyond visibility too.

We saw about 5 other temples that day. All awesome, ancient and everything you’d expect to see so I’ll just tell you about my absolute favourite, Ta Prohm. I know how much you love Jurassic Park,  and I figure Indiana Jones wouldn’t be too much DSC00537.jpgfurther down your film list, followed perhaps by Tomb Raider… well, this is that temple! I love it.

Deep in the jungle, the tree’s are taking back the temple to the earth from which is came. Their huge trunks suffocate it. Pouring themselves over the rocks like thick lava slowly bending and covering every single crevice. 

There are piles of tumbled bricks lying all about the place with ‘No climbing’ signs placed upon them. It looks like giants have been playing Jenga. Crazy to think it took 10 million bricks to build this lot. Fascinating.

I’m also fascinated with every hole that’s been drilled into the bricks. How did they do that? What did they use? Isn’t the plumbing here awesome and exciting? Or am I just a total nerd? I think not. I look forward to bring you with talk of ancient plumbing techniques upon my return over Pizza Express’s finest products.

There’s too many tourists to peg it round the temple doing some kick ass ‘jump n rolls’ or vine swinging but check out this lil’ fella that I found. He looks like a big bad ass spider.

DSC00533.jpgI didn’t get too close at the time, turns out he’s a St Andrews Cross spider. And those 4 things that look like extra long legs aren’t. He’s just really into home decor and makes these wiggles in his web to make it look more rad.

Hope all your home decor’s coming along nicely. I’m excited to see it all when I get back. No doubt your loft full of carefully placed rain trap baking trays will be a drip free dream by then.

Lots of love, as always,

Cat x

 

7 11, heaven.

30th March 2017

Dear Peter,

How are you ol’ pal? Thanks for that roast dinner picture you Watsapp’d me the other day. Impressive. Looked like a tasty feast. It’s about time I told you a little bit more about the cuisine I’ve been sampling.

You’ll agree that one of the most exciting things about coming away was the opportunity to try so many new and delicious dishes. You know what a foodie I am, and how much I like to eat. I’d seen so much on the TV back home about the street food of the East.

Fish balls on sticks, plump steamed dumplings full of moist delight, BBQ’d snake, crispy scorpions – a tempting snack for sure. But nothing quite as popular as the most sought-after dish of the Thai foodie scene.

The best thing about this dish is that you can get it pretty much everywhere. There’s a place called 7 11, open 24 hours a day and when you enter you know the aircon controller here has their game on point. It’s the best. Sometimes I just walk in for a dip back down to reasonable temperatures. The automatic doors open, the divine drop in temperature starts to work it’s magic at solidifying you back to a non-melty mess, and you’re faced with an aisle of beauty products.

Screen Shot 2017-03-30 at 15.44.08Snails feature a lot on this aisle.

Did you know however old a snail gets, they never look a day over 17 years old? Incredible isn’t it? It’s nothing to do with their diet or lifestyle, it’s because housed in those shells on their backs they carry with them the elixir of life. Just a few teeny tiny drops per snail. So for that reason, smearing snail juices all over your face makes you look dead gorgeous.

I’m sure all the snails died very happy knowing that the people who once towered so high above them, standing on them, crushing their shells and ending their lettuce loving life, would one day be smearing dead snail bodies all over their faces to unleash their youthful powers. I can bring you some back if those late nights spent feeding the baby are taking their toll?

Now, back to food. Each store has a vast array of plastic wrapped offerings, but this one wins hands down. It’s the easiest food to eat on the street and it seems to be one of the most popular, I’d heard so much about it from fellow traveller folk.

The 7 11 Cheese Toastie.

I know what you’re thinking Pete, but trust me… this is no ordinary toastie, this is a 7 11 Toastie and it rocked my world.

You take your toastie to the counter, and get this – they have a toastie machine on the till where they cook it for you! Crazy right?! Never in my wildest dreams did I imagine eating a toastie cooked right next to the till in any shop ever. You can buy all your drinks, get yourself some treats, play with some tacky little toys on the shelf, and all the while your toastie is there having it’s cheese melted to oozy perfection. Sainsburys, Tesco, M&S – Take Note! They’re always toasted to earth core temperature. Fool me once toastie, with your escape cheese dripping and burning my bosom, more fool you. Fool me twice, by burning my tongue so I can’t taste anything the rest of the day, more fool me.

Naively, I’d been going for the standard 25BHT Toastie, that’s 58 pence Peter, 58 PENCE. I’d eaten about 234 of these so thought perhaps it time to spice things up a bit, and that I did. I opted for the 35BHT toastie, because I believe in treating yourself at least once every day, every hour, every…. always, and yet again my world was changed.

Double the cheese, double the ham and a hint of nicey spicy-ness which I couldn’t quite place the taste from.

Maybe paprika, maybe a lil garlic, maybe a lil crack and meth sprinkled on top for extra flavour. I’m pretty sure that’s the secret ingredient because I can’t stop eating them now and I find myself waking up at 4am thinking ‘God damn I’d like a toastie right now’. It’s possible I might need help, but there’s a lot more flavours to get through, ones with hotdog sausages, one with egg, one with purple gloop and sweetcorn… and who am I to say no?! I came here to eat and eating it what I shall do.

I visited another 7 11 today in need of a hit, but they were out of stock. However, some bloody genius had put a mash potato machine next to the till that gives you a tasty dollop of powered potato plop and it comes comes with gravy on top! Bodger and Badger would be proud.

It’s been a month so far, and with all these world culinary wonders I continue to be in awe every day of everything the East has to offer. In an ideal situation, I’ll return to the UK when our supermarkets have caught on to this simple, world-changing, consumer-satisfying, profit-booming product offering, and HURRAH! Shopping will never ever have to be boring again.

Sending you much love,

Cat x

The Elephant in the Room.

25 March 2017

Dear Peter,

I’ve been to Phi Phi, it’s beautiful. I had an absolute ball, lazing all day in water, looking out into paradise. Dancing all night whilst watching death defying fire dancers make all sorts of blazing shapes in the darkness. Ton’s of party games, musical chairs with the added threat of having your ass set on fire, limbo a big favourite with the locals lowering the pole each time and flipping themselves back to hop along under whilst a party peep balances on their belly… pretty impressive. We’ll play when I get home.

Ton’s of party games, musical chairs with the added threat of having your ass set on fire, limbo a big favourite with the locals lowering the pole each time and flipping themselves back to hop along under whilst a party peep balances on their belly… pretty impressive. We’ll play when I get home.

I had a really awesome time, and met some superb people. I’d tell you more, but I’m not going to be one to kiss and tell so we’ll end this story now.

Now, back in Bangkok a little while ago, I was sat with a girl I’d met. So excited, the famous Full Moon party was on the horizon and we were about to get started on our plans of drinking copious amounts of Samsong filled buckets, covered in psychedelic body paint whilst dancing like loons on Haad Rin beach under March’s biggest moon.

Sounds like the exact place you’d expect me to be right? But before I’d booked anything something online caught my eye, Phuket Elephant Sanctuary.

The website said there was a new opportunity to volunteer with them for a week and my god, delight filled me from top to toe. It meant missing the mega party but sod that, I party the same way regardless of what state the moon is in and this place looked incredible. I signed up for the week and got so excited looking at all the info that I very, very nearly missed my flight. The gate shut at 1400hrs and I arrived at the airport at 1430hrs. By some miracle, and with 17kg on my back I managed to peg it through the airport, be let through security, sprint it down to the furthest gate away possible and board the flight at 1448hrs. Take off at 1450hrs. Praise the aeroplane lord! A hot mess, but happy knowing I can run like Gump when needs be, and double luck when my bag arrived on same flight too.

Now, where’s my box of chocolates?

I wasn’t prepared for the week ahead. They say miracles don’t exist but I promise you this is exactly what’s happening at this place. I was met by Montri who had the warmest smile plastered on his face, he’s one of the founders alongside an incredible lady named Louise. The staff treated us like family and involved us in every aspect of elephant life at the sanctuary. Our first morning was spent observing the elephants with the morning tour group. We also watched a video on the life the elephants had led before being bought to the sanctuary, it broke me. I sat with silent tears running down my face whilst witnessing the darkest depths of evil.

They’ve been open 4 months and in that time they’ve been able to rescue 5 elephants. It’s tough because, unlike the UK where we have laws and RSPCA officers in place who can take animals out of cruel environments, they have to buy each elephant. They aren’t cheap either. It’s likely that Mahouts will only want to sell an elephant so they can trade them in for a younger elephant to work, we’re talking 10’s of 1000’s of pounds for each rescue. What they’ve achieved in such a short amount of time already is nothing short of incredible.

Screen Shot 2017-03-25 at 12.38.07.pngThey say in Buddhism that before you are reincarnated as a human we were all elephants. Meeting Kannika, I’d have to say she is my spirit animal. She ruled the roost at the sanctuary, always aware that the grass is greener on the other side of the path and charging towards the juiciest banana trees and bamboo she could find regardless of what her Mahout said.

You’d just hear this huge cracking noise and down the trees would fall for her to get her eat on. The other elephants followed her lead, she’d be the one to suss out the route, go off and get what she wanted. As soon as the other saw her do it, they’d follow her lead and join in.DSC00245.jpg

She’s inseparable from Madee, her best elephant friend and to see those two hanging out together, learning to be elephants again was so lovely.

Gaew Ta was a blind elephant who had been hit in her eyes by her last owner. She’s older than the others and severely traumatised. She’s unable to hangout with the other elephants as any noises she’s not used to terrify her and she will lash out to protect herself. She’s gotten a lot better, but building back the trust that her Mahout lashed out of her will take many months more, maybe even years.

Dok Gaew is a lot older than the others. She’s in her 60’s and has been working in the trekking camps a long time. She’s finally getting the rest, love and elephant life she should have always had. She’s always found trailing behind the others, but I’m sure in time her legs will heal and she’ll be able to keep up with the herd once more.

And lastly, BaanYen. Oh, how she so wanted to be best friends with Kannika but she only has eyes for Madee. They rescued BaanYen just two months ago. Her legs were bad from the years spent at the trekking centre. The iron saddle, the brutal beatings, the lack of food to keep her weak. Her Mahout at the sanctuary was taking good care of her, DSC00228.jpgmassages and tiger balm and other treatments to get her on the mend. The sanctuary were doing all they could to get an x-ray machine big enough for an elephant so they could take a closer look at what was going on inside.

After each walk in the morning, you could see her favourite bit was getting into the lake at the end of the day to take the weight off her feet. Hey, who doesn’t love that? She’d sit back and through water all over herself with a face full of joy.

I stayed at the apartments where the other staff lived and there were only two other, absolutely lovely volunteers. My days started at 9am. We’d arrive before any of the other visitors and have dippy eggs and coffee for breakfast – my fave! Then it would be time to get in a right mess mushing up elephant breakfast. Squidging banana’s, mango and rice with my hands into big ol’ rice balls for them to eat. You know how much I like getting in a mess, so you will know how much I liked this. The only thing I thought would maybe make it better would be being able to get into the big bowl and mush with my feet at the same time. Heaven.

We’d also chop up about a billion pineapples a day. With giant knives and feed these to the troupe when they’d get back from their morning walk.

Then with elephants out, we’d go clean up their yards. Elephants never stop eating. They have a bigger appetite than me on a hangover Sunday lounged on the sofa staring at the endless lists on Netflix, whilst devouring everything deliveroo has to offer. I was impressed and pleasantly surprised how little poop this endless eating created. DokGaew was an absolute dream, though blind, she kept her yard spotless.

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Now I don’t know if you’ll remember this but one Summer when I was a teen, my StepDad had me work with him on his building site for bit of pocket money. “A GIRL ON A BUILDING SITE? I DON’T BELIEVE IT?!” I loved it. I love the smell of wet plaster, I love the sound of people walking on planks as they plonk on the scaffolding, I love watching the cement get all mixed up and I love seeing paint spattered faces from where they’ve been rollering the ceilings with emulsion. I spent that summer wheelbarrowing, mixing up, painting, and I specifically remember learning how to remove Velux windows and being surprised how easy it was to click them out of their frames. In 36 degree heat, as I entered my own solo wet t-shirt competition and felt like I might pass out this all came back to me.

My Stepdad taught me how to dig like the best of them. Like hell would I let a little heat knock me out. It was time to build 5ft high sandcastles for the elephants to sleep against and I’d dig that sand and dig even deeper down to my kickass reserves to build the best elephant beds they’d ever sleep upon.

I’d be stood in water troughs as deep as I am tall, scrubbing it down and making it all shiny and clean. There was no need for any water as I was sweating buckets and using my own sweat alone was able to wash down 3 out of 4 troughs. Right nice.

DSC00287.jpgAnd you know how prepared I always am… I’ve packed a feather cape, latex pigeon mask, 10 grams of glitter, party cannon, tiny hands, fake fangs, green obsidian, rhino head (from you), pretty much packed for every occasion right?! Not for this. I had no hat and no gloves. This made entering what looks liked the biggest haven for spider holidays I’ve ever seen, to load up the wheelbarrow with palm leaves really great fun. Did you know the edges of the leaves are razor sharp and able to slice right through human flesh? I do. I know that well now.

We did a lot of elephant watching too. I could watch them forever. In the evenings we played badminton and watched the local lads play footy. We’d go to the night market and we’d talk. I love those ladies and their stories made my heart grow. They’ll never understand how much they taught me that week and how much respect and love I have for them all. Even when they are throwing fake snakes at me whilst I chop down the overgrown grass and make me scream every time. Fun and giggles. I love people like that. They knew it.

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What the sanctuary are doing here is one part which I was able to participate in. What they are doing in terms of the bigger picture is changing everything. Trekking Centres have their eagle eyes on this place, they don’t like it. They want it gone. They want to carry on regardless and make their money. What’s happening now is they are seeing that this place is working. Tourists are coming. They are raising awareness and they are educating the Elephant Trekking industry to show there is another way. It’s very early days, but the are on the way to something miraculous happening. I’m sure I’ll be back in years to come and will be blown away with all they have achieved.

On my last day, I sat watching the elephants play in the lake and there were flowers falling from the sky. I don’t know where they were coming from but it was as if the sky was giving them little kisses better. It’s been an incredible week at Phuket Elephant Sanctuary, this place proves miracles can exist. The team are the most wonderful, welcoming and beautiful smiling people and made us feel part of the family. They taught me so much and I’ll forever be grateful.

BaanYen had been really struggling this last few days, the pain in her leg had become unbearable and this morning she was unable to stand at all. The team here did all they could. They managed to source a digger to try ot lift her and they spent the whole morning with her trying everything they could.

About midmorning, a single grey raincloud passed over the sanctuary, quite odd on such a hot day with no other cloud in the sky. It passed over from the direction of the yards and poured down for about 10 minutes before disappearing. “That’s nice” I thought “least that will have cooled her down as she wasn’t able to get into the lake today.”. 

That wasn’t the case.

I know you’re kinda sceptical when it comes to this kinda thing, but the Thai’s say that the rain is the ‘passing rain’, and it comes just before death. The Mahouts knew what it meant, the ladies in the kitchen knew too. In the next half an hour, BaanYen found her peace. She passed away surrounded by so much love and she looked like she had just gone to sleep, it happened really quickly. It made me feel sick inside and angry, and so sad that she’d just arrived at refuge two months ago and it ended now.

In the next half an hour, BaanYen found her peace. She passed away surrounded by so much love and she looked like she had just gone to sleep, it happened really quickly. It made me feel sick inside and angry, and so sad that she’d just arrived at refuge two months ago and it ended now. An innocent creature, so gentle and giving.

After we left, the sanctuary held a blessing ceremony with the monks to ensure BaanYen spirit passed on. Her Mahout said she would be a human in her next life as this is what Buddha taught.

Maybe one day I’ll meet BaanYen in human form. Another reason to give everyone you meet with as much kindness, fairness and happiness as you can.

Know it’s been a long one, maybe some night time reading whilst you’re watching over babba.

Love,

Cat xx

It’s all gone Patong.

23rd March 2017

Dear Peter,

Last time you wrote you told me that a queasy quiver grin had become a feature of your face. You said you’d “forgotten about lie-ins and sleep, given up on having a life and you were prepared to lose all sense of dignity“. I imagine all those thoughts, every fear that every crept into your mind, and every loss of what went before has been swept away in a tidal wave of love today when you held your gorgeous little boy in your arms for the first time.

I’m so happy for you. I’d love nothing more than to give your beautiful, new little family a big squeeze and cuddle today and shower you with congratulations and ‘coochy-coos’ and be part of the most magical day you’ve probably ever experienced.

Screen Shot 2017-03-22 at 12.55.25You’re going to make a smashing Daddy. What a lucky little boy! The number of laughs you crack me up with till my tummy hurts, the responsible voice you are to me at times such as “This travelling thing sounds like a terrible idea, I really don’t want you going on your own”, sorry I ignored that one but I was right and you were wrong, ha! The look you give me when I’m being a genius and talking complete and utter sense.

Screen Shot 2017-03-22 at 12.50.07.pngThe lovely handmade birthday cards you’ve always made me (my personal favourite here), and the all round awesomeness you radiate as a man that just know’s his stuff and has got his shit together.

Kid’s in for an incredible life and it all starts today.

I cannot wait to meet the lil’ fella!

102 days till I am home. It’s going to be a long wait but magic when it’s time. I’ve been away 3 weeks today, it seems like a lot longer. Time goes a lot slower here, it’s amazing how much more you can do with your day when you don’t have work taking up 8 hours of it.

So I told you I was in Phuket Town. Phuket town was dead, I found one Blues bar there for beers in the evening and cross the other side of the island was a place called Patong. You’d vomit immediately if you ever went.

Like the blue bottle fly that’s landed in my mayonnaise and destroyed this portion of chip dip forever. That fly that got carried away with the temptations of the fatty goodness mayo had to offer, oh how good it felt when it landed, greasing it up and rubbing it all over till it found itself stuck upside down, furiously kicking it legs out still screaming ‘I’m alive, I’m living, I’m covered in grease and I am living the fucking dreeeeeeam, seriously I AM.‘.

Well, that fly, stuck like that reminded me a lot of many of the leather-skinned, fake handbag clad, tenured tourists. The beach is dirty, the street is full of bars covered in trashy, plastic tigers with red led eyes flashing to the repetitive sound of Justin Bieber.

Everywhere you walk there’s an offer of a snake show, a tiger “kingdom”, an elephant trekking centre, a monkey torture event, sorry I mean a happy dancing monkeys show where the monkeys all love it and spend all day choreographing their lil routines so the audience can film them and then one day, one day they might make it onto YouTube and become the next most amazing video to go viral and they’ll be famous and they’ll never have to work again… right?!

Nope, no thank you. This is not the Thailand I travelled all this way to see. Patong, twinned with Benidorm can kiss goodbye to my tan lined ass.

I got a Tuk Tuk and did visit another nearby spot which was much more secluded. It was here that I saw my first two Elephants, Yaya and Laguna. They were adorable. I thought I’d done my research right, everything looked all well and good on the surface of it. Tons of food for the elephants, they were able to be kept cool in the water throughout the day, they were so playful and fun, how could they not be happy? It did niggle me as to why a 2 year and 6-year-old elephant were here without their mother, why was that?

I was happy that they had no sign of injuries or a single chain in sight. I’d searched the reviews online for any complaints or warnings of cruelty against them. There’s nothing so far. I did really just want to be near them and have just even a little moment of magic where I could imagine this elephant was my friend. I imagine we’d become the best of friends if we could have had even longer to hang out. But it plays on my mind now…

I think I made a horrible mistake.

The poison of Patong had most likely spread it’s dark venom to this little spot too. I’ll never know their true story, if I did it would probably break my heart. I feel these giant, grey bundles of joy have no doubt endured more pain, suffering and cruelty than this world should have ever placed upon them. Ten minutes of joy for me, filled with kisses from the elephant and cheeky wandering trunks and it was incredible, but what on earth landed that elephant up in the sea?

It’s all gone wrong in Patong. I took a flight and headed to the nearest slice of paradise I could find, Phi Phi.

Have a beautiful day with your son Peter, your world just got a whole lot more beautiful and I know you’ll raise that child to have love and respect for every creature in this world just like you do.

Sending all my love,

Catrin x

 

 

Hunkering down for Impact. 

I have had varied opinions on sudocrem. It’s too thick, to thin, leaves a greasy residue and can be previously witnessed carrying around a recently solicited female for a personal ornament. Or is that a holiday hunkahunka. Wahey etc. I’ve been told that it’s OK, I’ve bought some, but my London mother, let’s call her Marylou for anonymity, slates it heavily. Too waxy and never sinks in. Drapolene is apparently the one. Mumsnet concurs. It sounds like what a barber would soak combs and scissors in, or a prohibition period tincture. I’ll give it a go. She has birthed three, so that beats most of the parents I have easy access to during work hours. I’m not getting into parent chat with everyday people; it just provokes them to pull this very odd face. A third grimace, a third insane smile, a third plus remainder eyes trying to look through your skull. While nodding, while head quivering. Like when you say confidently “emparedado de jamón y queso por favor”, and the actual foreigner casually says, “para llevar?” stripping you of everything you have to offer the world in two words you don’t understand. All you have is this smiley head quiver. Did I mention I could ask for a ham and cheese sandwich in Spanish? There was no Spanish at the Marlborough. To be honest there was very little enlightenment at the Marlborough. No choice, just dark German and dampened aspirations.


Having mentioned the face pullers I feel I should mention that I have begun to adopt the same queasy quiver grin when people ask me if I’m ready to be a dad. Yes I am. I must be. I’ve “Forgotten about lie ins and sleep”, “given up on having a life”, I’m prepared for the “nappies and ESS HAYCH EYE TEE everywhere”, I know I will “loose all sense of dignity”, I’ve kissed goodbye to “peace and quiet”. How can I not be ready? I’m trying to act in a normal way for someone about to have their first child. I am scared, I felt faint when a whimper wafted across from ‘the other half’ followed by a muffled “My boot has broke.” I heard “water”. I felt sick. I want him to arrive now though. I do find it quite difficult to deal with the little gems of wisdom others feel the compulsion to bestow on me. People who have had children, people who have siblings that have had children, people that have friends that have had children, people who have the basic understanding of how they started life. I have rarely requested information. I don’t want it if I haven’t. I would like to see how I feel about it all if I’m truly honest. Like not knowing the ending to a great film, any of the Jurassic Park franchise for example. But I have learned people can’t help themselves. They love it. Maybe they are trying to help. Their lives have been so horribly affected by parenthood that they wished someone had been there at the inception, raining down negative wisdom. Infinite wisdom that leaves little wind in my sails. I want things to be new and untainted.

You are experiencing so many fresh products. New and exciting. There is an excellent Izzard sketch based around Buddha and Sid Arthur’s veg stall. He got down to the bones of it, right down. Total Buddhists, meanings, how that some of the cast is also in Christianity, a bit like amazon originals. But I want to hear your take on it, your feelings about it. Bin there done that, did that classic travel route, in reverse, have you eaten the fragrant Snek pie yet? You should, I did, five times mate. It’s probably more legitimate to gently suggest to these commenters that they should refrain from spoiling things for you. Not so easy from the side of the table with the empty glass. People should try and live consciously, and think about their thoughts and actions more I guess. Or maybe I shouldn’t be so angry about life and accept that other people, who have collected more wisdom, may be super wise about a subject I have yet to learn.

Sudocrem

7th March 2017

Dear Peter,

I’ve arrived in Phuket Town to a new hostel. I’ve opted for a private room after listening to two twenty-somethings attempt to have crappy, not-as-silent-as-they-probably-thought sex last night. There’s a double mattress on the floor, a mirror, two plugs and curtains. Luxury. Everything is coloured white. Including me, lying on the bed covered in Sudocrem, I’m hoping to eliminate the poison from the 40-odd angry bites I have all over. “It’s not Mosquito season” they said. They lied. Do mosquitoes even know what a season is? Do those little bastards even care?

You and I are going to be spending a lot more time relishing Sudocrem’s thick, pasty goodness over the coming months. I can’t decide who has the better deal. Bum or bites?

My last couple of days in Bangkok were just as mental as the first. I took a trip to Chinatown… Or more commonly known as the belly of the beast that is eBay.

DSC00104My Mum sometimes buys naff shoes from eBay. The last pair she got were meant to be size 5, what arrived was a size 3. “Where does this crap come from?” well, I know now.

Rows upon rows of shit shoes as far as the eye can see. There are sex toy stalls galore with giant bags of viagra that look more like dishwasher tablets from floor to ceiling. There are guns. There are toys, albeit terrifying ones, choking hazards right here.

Tiny winding streets of electronics I would have thought went extinct a long time ago, enough tiger balm to eradicate headaches for eternity.

“Who is buying all this crap?”

And then I saw it – plastic ferns. How could you Pete? I mean really? Really!?

I met my first long-haired dreamboat. You’d have loved it. A scuba diving sun-kissed, sea hunk from Switzerland. We drank together whilst commentating on the various “dates” happening around us. A Californian guy joined our table with his Thai lady. They barely spoke a word to each other. It turned out he’d met her at a massage salon, she’d attached herself to him pretty sharpish and he told us “It’s great, I get to buy her drinks all day and then bang her all night”. It bought Mr Swiss & I much amusement “How romantic!” we thought.

I’m learning English is a little tricky to follow. When I tell Scuba-Man “When in Rome…”, he looks at me funny, laughs and says “We’re not in Rome, we’re in Bangkok.”. I like the Swiss.

I also met a giant. A golden one, with a face as big as the moon in the sky and Alabone galaxies, inlaid on the end of each toe. This was at Wat Pho temple. I know you asked me to strip it back to bare bones right so here goes.

I know you asked me to strip this culture jargon back to bare bones right so here goes.

Wat Pho is one of the Buddhist temples in Bangkok and it’s got a giant golden reclining Buddha cotchin’ inside. He’s 15 m high and 46 m long. Size isn’t everything, though, this place is nowhere near as popular as the Emerald Buddha I went to see the day before.

Buddhism bare bones.

There are about 300 million Buddhists in the world, that’s only 6% of the world’s population and minor in comparison to Christianity which storms ahead in the religious leagues with 35% of the world following. A chap named Siddhartha Gotama started Buddhism couple of thousand years ago when he realised “Holy balls of Buddha, life doesn’t have to be this way” and he was then enlightened.

He told other people how they could live this way too, they just had to follow 3 basic rules, the ways of wisdom shall we say. They are to:-

  • Live a nice moral life,
  • Live consciously, think about your thoughts and actions,
  • Be full of wisdom and learn lots so you can be super wise.

Do all these things right and it will lead you to true happiness – how awesome’s that?

It’s all about understanding that you don’t need money or wealth. You just need to be a good person. Be a good person, always carry a £1 pot of Sudocrem, and true happiness can be yours forever. Promise.

Much love,

Catrin x

 

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