All things must pass
Your favourite Sunday columnist takes a final, emotional, bow
Today is the final Sunday of 2019. It is the final Sunday, arguably, of the decade as well.
And after 11 years, it is my final Sunday with you.
What a wonderful rollercoaster ride it's been, but after 11 long years of churning out a column every seven days in the Bangkok Post on Sunday, I must finally take my leave. They say house guests and fish go off after three days; I can't image how I smell after 11 years.
And so it is time to fold my clothes, place my toothpaste and Valia back into my toiletries bag, drag out the dusty old valise that has sat in the back of my wardrobe for more than a decade -- and take my leave.
There are a couple of things I would like to say before the carriage arrives.
First of all, who would have thought I'd last this long? This column came about owing to a single decision I made, in 2008, to run the Bangkok Marathon. No, not the dinky 5km walk -- that's for the infirm and fat executives of the sponsoring company -- or even the 10km stretch. I ran the whole kit and caboodle.
For six months I trained before the 42km run itself, and it was such a memorable experience I decided I had to put it all down on paper. On a whim I sent it off to the Bangkok Post.
Unless I am mistaken, this was back in the Bangkok Post's golden era of bustling newsrooms, crotchety reporters and classified advertising. In 2008 we were still holding newspapers with two hands, as opposed to reading them with a flicking thumb in 2019.
Clearly I had some lessons to learn. My original story was 5,000 words long, suggesting I was way too verbose, an accusation that has been thrown in my face repeatedly for the last decade. They printed my article in a severely truncated version and the following week I got the phone call.
Kinokuniya bookstore in Siam Paragon. That's where I was standing at the time. How serendipitous I was in literary surroundings.
"Um, would you like to write for us every week?" came the voice of Paul Ruffini, Australian editor of Brunch at the Bangkok Post back when it hired foreign journalists. "No more than a thousand words."
Boy, that challenge was enticing and daunting. I have always been up for a new challenge. I agreed.
"Let's just start it off and see how it goes," Paul said. "We can review it in, say six months or a year."
Paul never did. And that was how it all began.
I started writing, week in week out, 52 weeks a year, for a total of 11 years. This is column number 572. I have written about 750,000 words, which is even greater a word count than War & Peace (587,287). I have this secret desire to be a pulp fiction novelist, but chastise myself for not finding the time to write. I can see how wrong I have been.
Alas, we are in the era of digital disruption. Times are tough for newspapers. Staff numbers and budgets have been slashed, and it is too much of a financial burden to maintain a columnist such as myself. It was this time last week I stumbled across the short email informing me of my impending demise, and I must admit I wiped a little tear from my eye.
Oh, but I have no regrets.
I am proud to have put Sunnybank, where I grew up in Brisbane, Australia, on the map. For many years I referred to it, comparing Sunnybank in the 1970s with Thailand in the 2010s. The audacity I had to do that! After flogging that horse to death I introduced you to characters such as Evil Neil, one of my dearest friends whom I still see every day for coffee and therapeutic chat. And, of course, Absolut and Smirnoff should have been funding me for the past decade for all the free publicity I gave them.
And speaking of therapy, I guess this is what this column really has been for me. It has been a vent for my own frustrations and stresses of daily life in Thailand. And I proudly state I have written about those frustrations and stresses without ever being cruel or nasty to this beautiful country I call my home.
I'm not going anywhere, dear reader. I remain here in Thailand, running my English school, hosting radio shows, making speeches and generally being a man about town. It's just I have a couple of hours spare now on a Tuesday night, which was my weekly deadline. Looks like I'll be catching up on episodes of The Crown after all, or firing up that pulp fiction career.
Oh but look. The carriage has arrived.
Take care, dear reader. I will regret not being able to connect with you weekly (or as we say in this modern era, "reach out to you". God how I hate that … where will I be able to vent my spleen over such things now?). We can no longer journey along our path together, catching up every Sunday. There has never been an absence of something to write about, which is testament to the colourful lives we lead in this country.
And I do thank you. I have received so much positive feedback via online messages, emails, letters and telephone calls. I read them all. Some very, very generous souls, including a former prime minister, have donated to less-fortunate Thais after reading about them in this column.
And, of course, there have been the dissenters. Recently at the Ploenchit Fair, I had a Brit come up (uninvited) and say he'd stopped reading my column owing to my "incessant referrals to Donald Trump". Later that night I went into my database to see just how many times I'd referred to Trump over the past 12 months. A grand total of three. You see? Morons really do make us perform the most curious acts late at night.
For the guy who told me via Twitter that he could write a far better column than mine, I'm sorry I never replied to you. It's not through disagreement with you. You are quite right. It is not difficult to write a snappy witty column that would outshine mine. Just try doing it every week for 11 years.
To all of you, both fans and the mortally outraged, thank you for taking the time to call, write and communicate. Thank you for reading me! Thank you to my glorious editors over the years: Paul, Noel, Alan, Michael, intensely-talented Kong and beautiful Ja towards the end. If I have forgotten any of you, then I apologise and blame it on the Absolut.
And look, here I am tearing up again. No, don't walk me out onto the gravel driveway. The porter will help me with my valise. You stay there, at the front door that's in need of a paint.
Don't worry about me, either. I'll be fine. I'm not travelling very far -- and anyway, that is what life is all about. It's a new year, dear reader, and a new decade.
Till we meet again … sooner, perhaps, than you think.