While May is typically rainy and overcast, June in Chiang Mai is wetter than an otter’s pocket. The heavens open each afternoon, as regular as clockwork, and this beautiful northern town becomes immersed in a miserable, grey shroud that often lasts until near sundown. Predictability can be a good thing, though, and our four friends, the Flying Kites of Chiang Mai, had over the years devised their own ways of dealing with the downpours.
Collins, that stout British military man, would tie 7-Eleven carrier bags around his shoes, don a plastic poncho and go about his business as usual. Peter, the thrifty Californian who never quite managed to leave Chiang Mai, would put on all his dirty clothes, rub some “Puff” fabric detergent over himself and stride out into the rain, thus combining shopping errands with his weekly wash. Amrik, the entrepreneurial Indian, would break out his waterproof beard net, grab the sturdiest of umbrellas and spend the afternoons darting from shop-front canopy to shop-front canopy whispering “Oh dear, my goodness, oh, dear” with every puddle-wary step.
Ming, meanwhile, the ageing Englishman with a dicky bladder and a house full of his wife’s extended family, friends and casual acquaintances, would hoist the white flag and set up camp wherever he happened to be, waiting for the rains to pass with a hip-flask of cheap gin and a Sudoku puzzle book.
And so it was that Ming found himself on Walking Street late one Sunday afternoon. The sky had turned black and the pitter- patter of raindrops had sent shoppers scurrying into the cafes and bars of Rachadamnoen. Taking refuge under a nearby stall’s huge umbrella, Ming helped himself to a generous nip from his flask, bent down to release the valve on his catheter and perused the goods on offer.
A wide array of garments was laid out on the table. Clothes for dogs, apparently. And there were loads of them: tiny T-shirts, Spiderman costumes, even little bumblebee outfits. Ming couldn’t really understand why after thousands of years dogs would suddenly feel the need to dress up like an airline pilot. But as he got older, Ming realised that there were in fact a great many things he didn’t understand.
Feeling somewhat sentimental, he picked out a nice camouflage all-in-one for the dog at the Last Rites Cafe. Noi, the bar owner, had been dreadfully upset recently, what with her son having joined the army, and Ming thought this might cheer her up.
When the rain finally let up, Ming, feeling rather pleased with himself, took a last swig of gin and headed off to the Last Rites to catch up with his old pals and present the little doggy soldier’s outfit to Noi.
Down at the Cafe, the Kites were in fine form. Collins was dressed up like some kind of plastic bag monster, Amrik was still muttering into his beer- “Oh dear, my goodness, oh, dear” – and poor old Peter looked like he’d just been in a fight with an Alka Seltzer and a glass of water.
When Noi saw her dog dressed up in military fatigues, she burst into tears and scurried away upstairs. “Oh dear,” said Amrik. “My goodness.”
“You silly arse,” barked Collins. “Her lad is off at war and you want to remind her of the fact? You silly arse.”
“It’s not very sensitive,” said Peter, foaming quietly in the corner. “You should take that thing off the dog. Like now.”
And so they tried to remove the offending garment. But the dog was not having any of it. He had been pulled this way and that getting the thing on in the first place and he wasn’t going to be messed about any more. Every attempt at contact from the Kites was met with a sharp snap of the teeth and a deep, threatening growl.
“Take it to Stevenson,” Collins barked. He meant Alexander Stevenson, a kindly sort who had devoted his life to saving mangy soi dogs and placing them with new owners. “If anyone knows how to handle wild canines, it’s him.”
And so, with much dramatic shepherding and cajoling, they bundled the wild eyed dog into the back seat of Ming’s car and sent him off to see if Stevenson, the mutt whisperer could help.
The dog crouched on the back seat, staring at a petrified Ming in the rear-view mirror. Almost as soon as they got onto the Superhighway, the dog leapt onto the front passenger seat and started barking furiously. As scared as he could ever remember being, and barely managing to keep control of the car, Ming began swerving all over the road. The dog promptly dived at Ming’s feet and started biting at his ankles. He pulled his feet up from the pedals as quickly as he could then jabbed them back down again to kick the dog and hopefully find the brake pedal.
By now the car was all over the Superhighway. And as cars scattered to avoid collision, the dog got hold of Ming’s catheter bag with his teeth. Knowing that one good bite would send his widdle splashing, Ming grabbed the first thing that came to hand, his mobile phone, and started to bash the dog on the head. After several hefty blows (thanks to an insistence on persevering with an ancient Nokia that weighed a tonne) the dog let go and shot over onto the back seat, whimpering and yelping.
It was really no surprise to find that the police had been following Ming’s weaving car, although in all the excitement he had plainly not heard their sirens. What did surprise our friend, however, was being fined 400 baht for using a mobile phone while driving. And then of course, the cherry on the cake, an extra 500 baht for the dog being dressed like a soldier, a law Ming had presumed applicable only to paramilitary organisations in the South and Bangkok, not mangy mutts in Chiang Mai.
So, with both car and dog impounded, Ming was left stranded on the side of the Superhighway Out of gin and with his Sudoku book full, he started the long walk back into town.
“Oh well,” he thought. “At least it’s not raining.”
And with that, the heavens opened.