Saturday, May 12, 2007

Alive and, indeed, kicking

Going to the Fiftieth Anniversary Ball of the Bangkok Patana School was an oddly disorienting experience. I was at this school in the early 1960s. It was a completely forgotten part of my life in a way, and then in the 1990s I began thinking about those days again because I was writing "Jasmine Nights". And the school was transformed into the "Schola Britannica" in my novel, really Patana with an odd dash of Ruam Rudee School thrown in. And many real events became (in a thinly veiled way) immortalized in that novel:my discovery of how babies are made, and how Mrs. De Ferranti slapped my face when I tried to explain it in biology class; Mrs. Vanit's life-changing lecture on rotten paper-mâché; and the surreal production of my play.

On arriving at the Hyatt Erawan ... and this hotel did exist in the 1960s, so is as much a part of my childhood as Patana is ... I once shoplifted a copy of Euripides from the arcade bookstore ... I was just about as "fish out of water" as you could be, because I had neglected to find out that the evening was black tie. Not that I would have come in a tuxedo, but I've got several outlandish variations on "national costume" that I produce for such occasions. Instead I came in a blue suit with a Marvin the Martian necktie. I therefore felt quite stupid.

I looked in vain for someone old enough to have actually been at school with me. You see, I had with me a copy of the play we produced, which I believe to be the first "world premiere" ever staged in Patana, and I was hoping to find someone who had been in the cast. This was "Electra" starring Chao, Fawzia, John Murphy, Cheemah, and many other names to conjure with....

Mrs Queckett gave a speech and I have to say sounded and looked exactly the same. She asked me whether I wrote fact or fiction. I asked her exactly what she meant by that. She told me that fiction is things that aren't true (something I would strongly and passionately dispute!) ... and then she said, "You always told the most appalling stories as a child."

I do remember that she once berated me for adding a cymbal clash into a string quartet. "That just isn't done, Cookie," she said, "that's an important lesson you simply must learn." I didn't answer, but I stubbornly held on to my notions of artistic integrity.

Alas, I haven't learnt it yet. I believe that is why I may have become famous, but I've completely failed to become rich.

Anyway, it was extraordinary to see her. And extraordinary how she was able to reduce me to an eleven-year-old again with a few simple utterances.

Andrew Homden, the new headmaster, said to me, "So you see, she is not only alive, you might even say she was kicking!" How very true.

I do believe that for me the high point of the evening was seeing my childhood family doctor, Dr. Dickson (who used to sell chemicals to me, Ozzie, and Rama for our evil scientist experiments) dancing wildly to a Pink Floyd cover!

It was also great to see people like Catherine, Ariane, and so on. And oddly enough, the table I was at, where I didn't know the people that well -- they were all second generation and third generation Quecketts and Stuetzels! -- I thought it might be ghastly but it turned out to be absolutely rollicking and brilliant.

This is the footage (taken with my phone) of Dr. Dickson's terpsichorean brilliance.

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