The house is gone, but memories linger

Last week curiosity got the better of me while in the vicinity of Samitivej Hospital, and I dropped by the little soi off Sukhumvit 49 where I lived for more than two decades until 2006.

I approached the soi with some apprehension. On the last visit, about five years ago, our former residence had already been replaced by a bare plot of land resembling a temporary car park. At that time I had hoped there might be at least some remnants of the garden which had been full of trees, bushes and flowers.

But there was nothing left, not even a token twig or leaf.

This time I was prepared for bit of a shock - and I got it.

My eyes were greeted by a hideous grey, unfinished concrete condo that neighbours tell me has been two years in the making and appears to have stuttered to a halt. It also swallows up the entire plot, so when it is eventually completed there won't be even a hint of garden.

I feel for the original owners of the land, who still live next door and whose house is now totally overwhelmed by this monstrosity . A lovely elderly Thai couple, they sold the plot for a bit of retirement money. They are paying for it now.

A man needs a maid

There was one bright spot to my visit last week, however.

As I stood there wilting in the heat, contemplating the eyesore which had once been an oasis of greenery, Khun Oh, the old couple's long-time maid, appeared and greeted me with a wai and a big smile. We had been neighbours for 26 years and I have known her since she was a teenager _ now she is a middle-aged mum while I'm a certified wrinkly.

Oh has always possessed a bubbly personality.

She was best friends with my late maid Tong, who readers knew as Ms Yasothon, and was devastated when she died. In the early 1980s we indulged in some memorable Songkran water battles in the garden, along with Ms Yasothon and her minions. You wouldn't catch me doing that now.

Saucepan abuse

It may sound a trifle strange, but I am always reminded of Oh by an ancient dented saucepan in our current kitchen. During one of the aforementioned Songkran showdowns, I tried a sneaky attack by bombing her from the upstairs bathroom. I was clutching this saucepan full of water and unfortunately _ accidentally _ let go and it crashed to the ground, thankfully missing Oh. The rogue saucepan collected assorted dents from that incident, and although I've repeatedly thrown it out, the wretched thing keeps reappearing.

Every time I boil some peas or carrots, the 30-year-old dent is a reminder of my juvenile behaviour all those years ago when I was guilty of severe saucepan abuse.

Home sweet home

Twenty-six years is a long time to live in one place. It was the entire '80s, '90s and half the "noughties". To put it in more understandable Thai terms, 1979-2005 was long enough to embrace five coup attempts, three of which were successful.

When I first moved in to Soi 49, Thailand's prime minister was Kriangsak Chomanand and Jimmy Carter was still in the White House. It was the time Pink Floyd released Another Brick In The Wall and the Police were Walking On The Moon.

It was the sixth house I had resided in during my first decade in Thailand.

They were all fun, including some memorable years on Sukhumvit Soi 8 where Ms Yasothon first arrived on the scene as a maid. Little did this innocent Isan lass realise then that she would be stuck working for Crutch for the next 30 years.

But it was the Soi 49 residence that eventually became "home". I was fortunate to have been able to stay there so long, most of the time sharing the place with former Post colleague and good friend Tony Waltham. When I finally got booted out at the end of 2005 it was probably time to move anyway. The house was falling to pieces just like its occupant.

Garden of earthly delights

One thing I missed most about the Soi 49 house was the garden. It had been kept in fine shape by Khun Noi, the husband of Ms Yasothon. When we first moved in, the yard was bare and uninviting, but Noi transformed it into a jungle retreat, with a strong Isan flavour. There was every shade of green supplied by a variety of foliage _ trees, bamboo, ferns, potted plants and some unidentifiable things that looked as if they had escaped from the Day of the Triffids.

It was a pleasure just to sit there and soak it all in and quite a few "PostScript" columns began their life while taking in that view, watching the squirrels at play. You won't see any squirrels now.

While I'm not exactly a "Greenfingers", gardening has always appealed to me, especially if someone else is doing it. I am happy to say that at the current residence, Noi is still in charge of foliage activities.

Once again he has done a splendid job, creating plenty of shady spots in which I can doze off while watching the dog chase the squirrels. It's a tough old life.

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About the author

Writer: Roger Crutchley
Position: Writer