From Fleet Street to the Big Chilli
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From Fleet Street to the Big Chilli

It came as a shock to learn that long-time friend and colleague Colin Hastings died on Monday in Bang Saray when he suffered heart failure and the car he was driving collided with a wall. He was 73. Here are a few personal memories of Colin, best known as publisher of Big Chilli magazine.

I first met Colin at a pub in Bangkok in the early 1970's after he had travelled from England with friends. With his experience on Fleet Street newspapers in London he expressed interest in working at the Bangkok Post and a few weeks later there he was. His journalistic knowledge proved invaluable and he went on to hold many responsible positions at the newspaper.

Working closely with Colin in the features section for a couple of years in the 1980s was a most enjoyable experience and he was always coming up with fresh ideas and witty headlines.

I recall when the Post first published colour photographs in 1981. The main article featured a beautiful book about Thailand's hilltribes, From the Hands of the Hills which included magnificent photographs. The introduction of colour might not seem a big deal now, but at the time it was a major advance and Colin's advice, particularly on the layout, was invaluable.

He later started his own publishing business and in 1999 launched Big Chilli which proved a big hit amongst ex-pats with its lively writing, fascinating interviews and hard-hitting editorials. I was fortunate enough to help out at the Big Chilli for a year and witnessed just how much effort Colin put into it -- a true labour of love.

Sporting life

Colin kept himself in great physical shape and looked years younger than his age. He was an excellent sportsman, competitive in any discipline and outstanding at squash.

He was also a talented footballer. In the late 1960s, before he embarked on his travels he was signed up by semi-professional side Kingstonian FC and a photograph of his signing appeared in the Surrey Comet newspaper. He continued to display his football skills in Bangkok with the Royal Bangkok Sports Club and the British Club.

Colin remained a close friend throughout the five decades we knew one another and he was always cheerful and very good company. He possessed such energy and a zest for life it's hard to believe he has gone. RIP

Jungle train

In 1980, Colin and I shared the most memorable train journey I have experienced in Thailand. We had just spent a few days relaxing in the southern border province of Narathiwat and were returning to Bangkok from Hat Yai on the "express" train, which was scheduled to arrive just after dawn.

It was evening, and we had taken up a position in the restaurant car, enjoying a snack and a beer, when the train ground to a halt in the middle of the jungle. This was nothing out of the ordinary for Thai trains, but after half an hour, the jungle telegraph informed us that a goods train had derailed in Surat Thani, and we could be stuck there "for a while". That was the cue for everyone in the restaurant car to order more drinks and settle in for the evening.

Mobile nightclub

"For a while" actually turned out to be six hours as the train stood motionless in the jungle while the jam-packed restaurant car got louder and louder transforming into almost a mobile nightclub. Being the only foreigners Colin and I soon became targets for everyone trying out their English and we experienced some comical conversations. Still, it helped pass the time.

The scene took on a more bizarre dimension when squadrons of moths descended on the restaurant car, attracted by the light in the normally pitch black jungle. It resembled a scene from Hitchcock's film The Birds except these invaders were overweight moths which kept plunging into our glasses of beer.

Our saving grace was that the beer ran out so Colin and I returned to our berths for some much-needed sleep. We eventually arrived at Hua Lamphong station the following afternoon, eight hours late. It was a journey Colin and I would never forget.

Slippery when wet

Speaking of train delays It is not only in Thailand that this happens. In England it is a common occurrence but there is always an entertaining excuse.

Considering the jokes about the English weather, perhaps the most unlikely explanation came on the St Pancras-Derby train when passengers were told a delay was caused "because of excessive heat on the tracks." Another explanation that puzzled London commuters came when trains were cancelled on a winter's day due to "excessive sunlight".

There was also a famous moment when the Eurostar from Paris to London was delayed by "the wrong kind of snow". Even better was when passengers were told the 8.16 to Bedford was cancelled "due to slippery rain".

Clowns and seagulls

One of the strangest announcements came on the Cardiff-London route when passengers were informed the delay was caused by "a giant clown on the line". Apparently an inflatable Ronald McDonald had blown off the roof of a McDonald's restaurant and blocked the line. Finally, at a south coast station commuters learned that their train had been delayed because "the driver of the 8.15 from Hastings to London has been attacked by a seagull".

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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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