Mike Atkins was deputy editor at Citylife from 2004-2005. Among his many stories Mike wrote a regular column titled Henry Beauchamp remembers… in which an ageing colonialist and his loyal staff, manservant Boonlert, got up to all sorts of naughties.
Mike left Citylife to work for the Irrawaddy, followed by the Bangkok Post. He now works for The Times in London and misses Chiang Mai dreadfully.
Watching the venerable Duke of Edinburgh celebrate his ninetieth birthday the other week, I was reminded of the first time I encountered the sheer variety Chiang Mai’s international community afforded. I had been sent up from Bangkok, almost 20 years to the day, to write weak puns and tenuous nob gags for a fledgling monthly organ known simply as Villagelife.
After a long and arduous overnight journey north, with my trusted manservant Boonlert in tow, I was immensely relieved to finally throw my bags on the floor, mix a gin and tonic and collapse onto what was to be my bed for the next 12 months.
Early the next morning, and all quite of a sudden, this strange creature burst into the room. Now, I have never been much good with physical description but if, gentle reader, you could imagine the resultant offspring from a night of passion between matinee idol Bruce Willis and serial honey guzzler Winnie the Pooh, you might get close to what this chap looked like.
“Aah me jandles stink like fush frum a chully bin,” it said, by way of introduction.
I looked at Boonlert for an interpretation, but alas my manservant had taken a dreadful pounding the night before and lay limp, sweaty and slightly bruised by my side, unable to rouse himself to the glory of the morning.
Through tone of voice – and my experience with less well-bred Australians _ I worked out that this creature was in fact a native of New Zilnd and that it wanted me to follow him, which I duly did.
It was barely seven o’clock, but we had walked for miles, past savages dressed in rags, angelic maidens draped in silk sarongs and noble Englishmen clad in Red Bull T-shirts and vomit stains. At last we came to the offices of Villagelife.
“Ah jeez, arve bun button ti diff bi muzzeez,” said Pooh Willis, staring at some red bumps on his arms. I smiled placidly and said “Absolutely, dear chap. Absolutely.”
I was led over a teak drawbridge, through an entrance hall decorated with the skulls of previous Deputy Editors and down a dark stairwell into a kind of cavern. I couldn’t see very well, so I struck a match. As the phosphorous ignited, a thousand voices shrieked and I glimpsed swarms of tiny figures darting for cover. One poor wretch remained at his desk.
“He’s bleedin’ blind as a bat, mate,” barked Pooh Willis. I looked at his name-tag. Head Photographer.
At the end of the room was an enormous sparkling chasm. Above the chasm hung a sign, creaking as it rocked side-to side: ‘Kim Pemasingki’ it read.
I felt stunned, and began sweating profusely…yet I was peculiarly drawn towards this bright tunnel. I looked at Boonlert, and noticed that my manservant was also stiff and glistening, drawn inexorably towards this gaping hole.
“Bonza, orifice, keep ’em stinky,” said Pooh Willis.
“Absolutely, dear chap. Absolutely,” I replied.
Upon entering the office, I was confronted by a silhouette behind a desk. Almost immediately I felt a tug at my trousers, and looked down.
“Spare a bit of social realism, mate?”
I was looking at a naked and dirty wretch with tracing paper skin and doe eyes.
“Got any kitchen sink, mate? Bit of existential nihilism, maybe?”
“Jemima!” We all jumped as thunderbolts and lightening (very, very frightening) cracked through the atmosphere, and the seated silhouette swivelled to reveal La Pemasingki. “Enough with the intellectual hokum,” she growled. “Go and make tea for our guest!”
Jemima cowered and scuttled off, scattering split ends and purple prose as she ran.
“Fair dinkum tea-bagger,” muttered Pooh Willis.
“That was our Deputy Editor,” boomed Pemasingki.
I nodded and shrank slightly. As did my manservant.
“Now what we need Beauchamp, and the reason we brought you here, is simple. We have a hole that needs filling.”
“Yes, ma’am,” I said
“We have plenty of gritty investigative journalism for pages one to three, courtesy of Jemima,” she said.
“Absolutely,” I replied
“We have the flash restaurants and spas for page four sewn up by myself and Pooh Willis,” she roared.
“Quite! Quite!” I said.
“Gurgle! Dunny!” yelped Pooh Willis.
“But I have a hole on page five!” she roared. “We need smutty innuendo!”
“Can you do it, Beauchamp?” Pemasingki asked, leaning over her desk. “Can you write smutty innuendo?”
“Well, I don’t know ma’am. I can’t do it alone. I always write with my good man Boonlert. And we don’t come cheap”
“How much, goddammit,” Pemasingki howled. “How much for you and your manservant to fill my hole every month?”
“Well,” I hovered. “It’ll be double your usual rate.”
“That’s outrageous,” she scowled. “Two baht a month?”
“Those are my terms,” I said.
We struck a deal and for the next 12 months I worked night and day filling Ms. Pemasingki’s hole with the fruit of my labours.
And so, 20 years later and with a succession of far less rewarding jobs behind me, it is with great pride that I observe how this once modest newsletter has swollen into a fine upstanding organ, rising up each month and showering its readership with the seed of inspiration and the cream of compassion.
Jemima Austin-Allegro has blossomed into a fine writer; Kim Pemasingki is the arbiter of fine taste we all needed; and Pooh Willis is even walking on his hind legs. Yes, the Villagelife club is an honourable one. I am proud to be a member – and so is my manservant.