Is it the way I tell ‘em?
I’ve been told by several people over the years that I’m a good raconteur. I love that word- raconteur*.
Anyway, I suppose it stands as some testament to my ability when people begin to take my tales and anecdotes and repeat them as their own. Now, this would be fine, I suppose, if I didn’t know about it. I mean what you don’t know can’t hurt you, right?
What really irks me however, and this has happened more than you’d think, is when people begin to pass their stories off as their own WHEN I’M THERE! Have I told them the story so well in the first place that I have somehow made them believe that they were there, that it is their own? Or have they passed it off as their own so many times before that when they told it again in my presence they have actually forgotten it was mine to begin with?
The first time this happened, I was sat in an izekaya with a friend and a few other folk and he began recounting the tale of his flight to Tokyo all those years before. I listened intently as I love to hear a good story as much as I like to tell one but very quickly I got this sickening feeling creeping up my spine, like some spider made from the feeling of tin-foil on fillings.
The (long) story (short) involved all us soon-to-be-teachers hitting the inflight booze pretty hard until the crew gave us free run of the galley leading to us sleeping the rest of the way and this one annoying ginger kid puking up all over himself.
As my friend was telling ‘his’ story he mentioned a ginger kid hitting the sauce, he came up with sound bites that were central to my own retelling of the story, even the details that I had used in the telling. Without a doubt he was telling MY story. He had never been on that flight, had never seen the kid slumped against the bulkhead covered in his own sick, his glasses squashed awkwardly on his face. He didn’t know that the flight attendant who’d spoken to me was a pretty woman in her late 30’s or any of the other minutiae that I could recall, having been there, but had left out of the story as they were unimportant.
The audience were laughing in all the right places, he had my timings pretty much down too, and I just sort of smiled. In my head I was screaming “WHAT. THE. FUCK?” What was he thinking? Did he REALLY believe he’d been there? Did he feel even slightly guilty telling my story in front of me? Would he realise half-way through and a knowing guilt slip into his voice? - I spitefully hoped for the latter. I thought about challenging him, asking him for some of the details that only I could’ve given but thought better of it, he was my friend, after all. But at the same time I felt so betrayed! A theft had occurred. He’d stolen my story, he’d stolen a bit of my life! I tried to console myself by seeing it as a compliment, a tribute to my ability to tell a good tale.
But it happened again, it’s happened a few times over the years, different people, different stories, but that first time is the one I remember the most. Since then I’ve dealt with it in different ways- I’ve challenged the person for more information (that they don’t have or answer incorrectly, as I point out), or I’ve simply told them, as soon as that eerie familiarity creeps into their words, “I think you’ll find this happened to me, not you”.
But I’m always left wondering- do they really believe when they first start to regale their audience that this is truly their story? That’s the part I can’t quite understand.
In a weird 21st-century-kind-of-way, I’ve also noticed the same thing happening across social media. People have stolen my status updates- I don’t mean they have ‘shared’ them or anything, I mean they have taken my updates, reworded them slightly and passed them off as their own, perhaps forgetting that they will appear, like a slap in the face, in my newsfeed.
The old adage is that everyone has a story. Actually, everyone has lots of stories but some of us are just a lot better at telling them than others. If storytelling’s not your forte then leave it to those that can. Go live your life, don’t steal other people’s just to make yours more interesting.
*Admittedly, the first time someone said this word at me I simply smiled and said ‘thanks’ before scurrying off to look up what it meant…
Som is waiting by the bike, trying perhaps to grab a moment between fares- time enough for a glug of water, a cigarette, or to shoot the shit with the others like him- but some of us are wanting to get away.
I signal with a barely imperceptible twitch of my index finger, but this is how it’s done, and even amidst all the other bodies spilling out of the station, Som notices.
This is his pickup, his patch and he’s driven me before. He’s got a thousand destinations memorised, and the faces and prices that go with them. I hop on the back of his bike, the shifting gears kind, and while it might not look like much Som knows every inch of it, has tweaked the engine, has polished the body work, has scratched and dented every inch of it in time. I wedge my bag between me and the grubby orange back of his tunic. There’s a symbol, a swirl, an incomprehensible sigil to my eyes. It certifies him as ‘official’, or perhaps it denotes his territory, or his gang affiliation but this is Thailand and those definitions are likely to blur, and I’m not sure how it works with these guys.
I smell the oil and sweat of days and bikes and heat, as well as the faint whiff of a carefully applied pomade. His hair is a neatly styled bouffant, coiffured to give him the look of some oriental henchman from a bad 80’s flick, straight out of Central Casting, but this is now and my life is in his hands. He’s missing some wraparound shades.
Gunning the bike into life with a flick of his wrist and a jerk of his flip-flopped foot, he slides us effortlessly into the molten river of twilight traffic. I’m plugged into justice-white earphones, my shuffled up soundtrack for the ride is Nirvana’s “Smells Like Teen Spirit”. Som’s earphones are tarmac black and I wonder what his soundtrack for this journey is. The disparity between our journeys- driver and driven….
The assembled cars and buses crawl painfully up and down six lanes of traffic but through this grid-locked, grid-like maze a swarm of bikes buzz and flit around. I see his face, caught for an instant in the mirror, caught in the harsh white flash of a tail light, changing the tone from twilight shadows to a sinister red, his jaw is working feverishly on a wad of gum- wired on M-150 (Red Bull’s stronger, scarier brother (Don’t trust a drink that has a number instead of a name!). The muscles in his jaw are firmer, more pronounced than the ones in my arm. He could probably bite through the traffic in his way if he wanted to.
His thumb is tipped with the eerie talon of a fingernail, he jabs at the indicator, a half nod to order amongst the chaos, and we weave around taxis, trucks and tuk-tuks; there’s pick-ups laden with the sun-stained labourers, towels round their faces to fend off the exhaust fumes; buses filled with half-dead commuters who loll out of the windows.
He never hesitates, never misses a beat. He’s man/machine following his tarmac-trapped destiny. This is what he does, this is all he does.Som is a master of the road, but overly cocky. He lives at the wheel and breathes only the road (but I can’t help but think he’ll die that way as well). He jams the throttle, slipping the bike like a knife into the ribs of this gridlocked mess; he works the road, he works his jaw and Cobain is screaming in my ears and I could keep driving forever, tell Som to just keep driving…
The traffic gets deeper and denser as we approach my destination but Som finds roads within roads, and when they all run out-without missing a beat- he hops up onto the pavement, dodging pedestrians and street stalls and STOP.
Dismounting, I hand him a note and he’s already away, back into a sea of tail lights, exhausts and folding darkness- night rider.
Original Text 26.01.13 Bangkok/ Photo Dec ‘13. Ha’noi.
This is Victor.
I’ve met Victor a couple of times, or at least seen him around. He can be found in bars all over town peddling his wares; little phone-strap trinkets strung from his fingers, representing all the signs of the Chinese zodiac, although this time his waistcoat was also clipped up with all manner of tat and he had some silver elephants dangling from his right digits to complement the menagerie on his left.
He speaks with a slight, lispy overbite and a clipped, almost colonial, accent. His English is impeccable.
I’ve seen him around before, even bought one of his talismans before, a night long ago with a long-ago girl amidst floods and confusion. Tonight, Rumjuggler and I try and try to resist his pitch, even as he tells us he does this to support his crippled, 94-year-old mother. Ultimately we fail and I invite him to sit with us a while, to share his story. He tells us how lucky we are to travel; he argues that the Anglo-Saxons are the oldest civilisation on earth, until we tell him otherwise and then he posits that they’re at least the most interesting. He asks us why we ‘fled’ England and nothing we murmur feels good enough on my own tongue, except to me, except to Rummy- who knows how I feel because he feels it too.
We buy some of his charms.
Victor tells us his grandparents fled China, way back when, they took a boat, looking for a better life- only a pillow each and a mosquito net between them. Nothing else. He tells us he used to work for an air-con/ refrigerator company, working his way up to ‘Credit Supervisor’ despite only having a high-school education. His English is self-taught.
The company ran out of business in the 90’s but he’d gotten out before then, decided to go his own way and be his own boss. I had to respect that. His favourite thing about his work now is getting the chance to interact with so many people, getting to practise his faultless English and eking out a living as his own man for him and his mother.
I’ve seen him before, I’m sure I’ll see him again.
On the inside, looking out. Bangkok. October 2013
You can buy everything in my local supermarket. Bangkok, July 2013.
Zoe in her new place. Bangkok, August 2013
Sasha was a strange and elusive girl, quite unlike anyone I’ve ever met before or since. She was a beautiful, sensitive, crazy little mystery to me, and to everyone else I think.
I sometimes wonder where she is now, what she’s doing, why we broke up and when. It all seems like another lifetime, like some long forgotten dream.
All too often she eluded my camera just as she eluded my understanding; just as I eluded her affections. This is a scan of a photograph I’d long thought lost, the original is somewhat hazy and out of focus, the scan even more so. Like the girl herself, her image wants to stay hazy, out of focus and somewhere out of reach.