The rubber tree and the hopeful ant
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The rubber tree and the hopeful ant

Throughout January PostScript has been written from my house balcony in Chaiyaphum while taking in a view of avenues of rubber trees with the occasional intrusion of stray chickens. In fact, I am surrounded by rubber trees.

As a result, I haven't been able to get out of my head an old Frank Sinatra song, "High Hopes", featuring an ant trying to knock down a rubber tree. As the lyrics inform us "anyone knows an ant can't move a rubber tree plant". As a child, the thought of an ant taking on a mighty rubber tree caught my imagination and has remained ever since.

There are plenty of bold Chaiyaphum ants about no doubt nursing "high hopes" but I am pleased to say the rubber trees are standing firm.

The trees are planted in straight lines so there is a satisfying symmetry about them which helps create the avenue effect. They have been shedding leaves quite steadily throughout this month and when the wind gets up the falling leaves create a deceptively autumnal feeling. Many leaves have turned assorted shades of brown, some a yellow mustard hue and even gold.

A gust of wind is enough to create a flurry of falling leaves. Some leaves choose to fall individually without any wind assistance and it is quite a comforting sight as they glide gracefully to the ground as if selecting the right spot for a soft landing. Like Olympic divers, you could almost give the leaves points for style.

Anyway, the view beats writing in an office although the chickens can be a bit of a pain.

Bathtubs and beds

I've often wondered in what environment famous authors gained their inspiration, but haven't been able to find any who were turned on by rubber trees or squawking chickens. Literary works often begin in handwritten form and it comes down to the individual foibles of the authors.

Agatha Christie felt most comfortable writing while sitting in a Victorian bathtub munching apples. Edith Wharton, author of the Age of Innocence and the first woman to win the Pulitzer Prize preferred to write sitting in bed with her dog tucked in next to her.

Perhaps the weirdest was Dame Edith Sitwell who took a little nap in an open coffin for a bit of inspiration before she began her day's work.

Some furry support

Many authors have found inspiration in their pets. In addition to writing while standing up Ernest Hemingway liked having cats around. Edgar Allan Poe even wrote while his Siamese cat sat on his shoulder. You can't beat getting a purr of feline approval.

John Steinbeck loved his setter dog Toby, but their relationship was severely tested when Toby ate the first draft of his novel Of Mice and Men. Steinbeck wrote afterwards "two months work to do all over again…I was pretty mad but the poor little fellow may have been acting critically".

Shedding light, from the shed

George Bernard Shaw, Roald Dahl and Dylan Thomas all wrote from garden sheds. Like most authors, Shaw didn't appreciate being disturbed. "People bother me," he once remarked. At his Hertfordshire village home, he built a rotating garden shed so he could catch the sunlight all day. He named the shed "London" so that when he had unwanted visitors his staff could say quite truthfully "he's in London".

Spy novelists had their own preferences. John Le Carre wrote much of his early novels scribbling notes aboard a train on his daily commute from his Buckinghamshire home to his MI5 workplace in London.

Le Carre visited Thailand several times and is believed to have completed The Honourable Schoolboy while staying at the Oriental hotel in Bangkok. It's a pity he didn't do more travelling on Thai trains which would surely have been slow enough for him to compose a couple of additional novels.

Harry Potter's cafe

JK Rowling's idea for Harry Potter came during a four-hour delay stuck on a train. She later wrote much of the first Potter book in crowded Edinburgh cafes. Among them was The Elephant House which calls itself the "birthplace of Harry Potter novels". Its restroom is inevitably plastered with graffiti associated with Hogwarts.

Rowling was anonymous at that time, but when her fame grew writing in cafes was no longer feasible. She now has a special writing room in her garden and admits to consuming up to nine mugs of tea a day.

Coffee, the writing fuel

When it comes down to it, most writers don't need quirky habits for inspiration. A few cups of tea or coffee will do the trick, although some overdo it. Voltaire was said to knock back 20 cups of coffee a day. Best-seller Lee Child admits to getting through "about 30 cups of coffee a day" while writing his Jack Reacher exploits.

There is also the cautionary tale of French novelist Honore de Balzac who consumed an astonishing 50 cups of coffee a day. He reportedly died of caffeine poisoning.

Watership legacy

Last week's reference to the rabbits in Watership Down stirred memories amongst several readers. My thanks to Andrew Pearson who recalled that not long after the film was released he was walking past a butcher's in Malton, North Yorkshire, and looked up to see some rabbits hanging above the door with a sign: "You've read the book, watched the film. Now eat the cast."

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Roger Crutchley

Bangkok Post columnist

A long time popular Bangkok Post columnist. In 1994 he won the Ayumongkol Literary Award. For many years he was Sports Editor at the Bangkok Post.

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