The island is a little more developed than Chang and besides, after 10 days marooned there, I was ready for a little more variety. There are concrete paths criss-crossing this diminutive drop of rock in the Andaman Sea, so it’s easy enough to get around. Better to hire a scooter than trek from Ao Yai to the harbour in flip-flops, as I did one afternoon. I still have pale circles of flesh on my feet from where the straps caused blisters the size of 20p pieces. The humidity means it takes an age for any cut or scrape to heal.
On arrival, scooter taxis are waiting to whisk you off on a death-defying ride to your chosen resort. We’d been blagged into choosing Hornbill Huts by a woman who got us a quid discount on the speedboat fare at Ranong. It turned out to be at the far end of the white crescent of sand that is Ao Yai (Long) Beach. My pack being that heavy with now-useless diving gear, I was getting used to dropping them at the first place I came across at a new destination, and finding somewhere better/ cheaper that morning. My hut at Hornbill was the most basic yet. Windows didn’t close, door swung open of it’s own accord; an invitation to dinner for the local mosquitoes. I put the valuables in the safe at reception, and decided to eat before looking for somewhere better. It was there I came across the biggest cock I’d ever laid eyes on. Person, that is…not penis. Not that I look at those.
Connor is a guy with issues. And a sizeable chip on his Northern Irish shoulders. Allegedly from Belfast, but with no trace of an accent (until he put it on) he’s been coming to Phayam for years, apparently…and not many people have a good word to say about him. I was sat eating my lunch, and he was wandering round the reception area with a hurling stick with metal bells on it, bouncing a ball up and down. Not sure how many people on the island play hurling, so it’s probably not that important that he’s short on friends. I was wondering if he was trying to look cool as he stood in front of my table, bouncing this ball. I cocked an eye at him over the lip of my book…it wasn’t conducive to a peaceful read, to be honest. He got bored when I ignored him, and went away. Thought it’d be the last I’d see of him when I moved later that day. Unfortunately, it wasn’t the case.
I found a new place to stay, a great little hut one row back from the beach. Windows lock? Check. Door actually closes in the frame? Check. Result. Not that there’s any theft on the islands, but I’m sure the insurance companies would be reluctant to pay out if you just left the whole place open to all and sundry. As darkness fell, I wandered 100 yards up the beach to find a beer. A skinny Thai with multiple tattoos, including a couple on his face, shimmied down from a bar and leaped circuits around me, enticing me into the Joker Bar for a pint. I laughed and walked up with him; the place was quiet, but it was early doors.
“What your name?” he quizzed.
“Warren, mate…what’s yours?"
I grinned “That makes sense.”
“Well you were making a right song and dance about getting me in here.”
He chuckled, though he probably didn’t understand the phrase’s meaning.
I liked Song right away; he’s absolutely mental. Never stops moving, whether it’s dancing, pouring you a beer, or showing you some lethal Thai boxing move. It’s impossible not to smile when he’s around. I got to know the rest of the lads pretty quickly, too. Ay, Boy and a big lad whose name I cannot recall…I called him Sumo, though. They were greatly amused by that. He was the chef.
Second night there, and I got chatting to a few travellers. Song asked if we wanted to go to a party at the Hippy Bar on the next bay. Definitely. Everyone was pissed, and Sumo got me on the back of his bike. His tiny girlfriend sat between his feet. If Columbus Insurance could see me now I thought, as Sumo tore down the rutted pathways to the party. We got there in one piece, though.
The music wasn’t bad at all, and the place was jumping. And they had a pool table at the back. Lovely. Hadn’t played much since being with Jocky and The Colonel, so I was raring to go. There was a local lad on the table, beating all comers; he was pretty bloody good. And who should he be playing but Connor? Or Cocknor, as I’ll refer to him from now on. It’s a more suitable moniker. We got talking between shots, and I was prepared to give the guy the benefit of the doubt, as regards him being a complete arsehole. He soon convinced me otherwise. Hinting at his Belfast past (“I can’t talk about that”) I was under the impression he was trying to cultivate some hard man mystique about himself. This was reinforced when I mention Kalao, the cool chick from Gan’s party. He muttered out of the side of his mouth while watching the Thai take another shot “Be careful…she’s a friend of mine.” I thought I’d misheard “Eh?” I hadn’t even said I’d fancied her or was after her. “I said be careful, she’s a friend of mine…” He looked at me. Was I supposed to be scared, or something? Jesus. This set the tone for all our future exchanges.
From what I could glean from other people on the island, Cocknor fancies himself as the Alpha Male on Phayam, and doesn’t like it if the locals get friendly with anyone; he feels threatened. He also struts round like a prizefighter. The fact he has a silly, patchy wispy beard doesn’t occur to him to clash with this image. It looks like a skewed handlebar moustache from 20 yards. I was told one story of his exploits by Dave, the elderly shopkeeper in the village. Two girls were browsing the shop when Cocknor, after striking up a brief exchange, took it upon himself to buy them a hat each. “Thinks he’s a hit with the ladies. He’s a fool.” Succinctly put, Dave.
I think the incident which best sums up this clown occurred a few evenings later. There was a party at the River Bar. I was chatting to some English girls, all diving instructors, when one of them said “What the fuck is that guy doing?” and nodded over my shoulder. I had an inkling about who it would be before I turned around. Sure enough, Cocknor was dancing with some girl who kicked him up the arse playfully each time he turned around. He proceeded to flex his muscles, laughing, then jumping into her in faux kung fu moves; pausing at the end of each move: elbow to face: uppercut to chin: kick to midriff. After each move, he’d quickly scan the bar to see who was looking. Are women going to swoon? Men look on admiringly? “Gee…I wish I was as cool as Connor…” I think not. I laughed and filled the girls in on him.
A night later, and I’m playing pool at My BBQ Bar with a vicar’s son from Birmingham. His brother had left for bed, and the party had died down a little. The bar owner joined us. He’s a nice bloke; insists on getting you stoned before you play him, so he has a better chance of winning. He soon found out I play better smashed. The three of us were having a right old laugh, not playing too seriously, ignoring the odd foul…as you do. After a couple of hours, Cocknor turns up, with a bottle of Johnny Walker for the owner. Talk about buying your friends. He makes a big show about handing it over, like some Mafia don giving a gift at a wedding. Looking around to see who noticed. Ridiculous. I should have just left there and then. Myself and the owner were nearly done, when he balls-ed up a chance to win easily. I had one ball and the black to sink. Both balls in bad positions (a bit like Cocknor’s, you’d imagine). I lined up a shot. Cocknor leans over my shot and said “You’ll never make that.” I rattled the ball home, but didn’t do myself any favours with position for the final shot. “I’ll only be impressed if you manage this one.” I smiled without looking at him, slicing the black finely and cleanly; it glided into the corner pocket. I stood up straight and chalked my cue. “Impressed now, are we?” I smirked. Oh, he didn’t like that. You can smell the competitiveness ooze out of this idiot’s pores. So here’s how we nearly came to blows.
Cocknor racked up the balls, occasionally frowning at me. Here we go, I thought. Now the guy has a real chip on his shoulder about being Irish. This much was obvious from previous encounters. He flipped a coin.
“Heads or tails?”
“Winner breaks.” I informed him.
“Says who?” he frowned, stepping back and pushing his chest out.
“Well it’s winner stays on, and winner breaks…we’ve been playing this all night.”
“It’s a fresh game. Heads or tails” he said again, leaning over the table to block my break as I lined it up.
“Fresh game nothing…every game is a fresh game. But the winner breaks.” I smashed the balls.
“Well what do you fucken know” he growled, the Irish accent suddenly resurfacing.
I stood, and waited for him to take a shot. He stalked theatrically around the table, stepping back to crouch and shoot before looking back up at me as if I was cheating. I gave him an open palmed shrug. You’re on an island in Thailand, not some shithole in Belfast. No aggression required. No wonder he left…he probably got told to.
“What’s the problem? It’s only a game…don’t take it so seriously.” Knowing full well that he takes everything so seriously.
“Whose fucken rules are these?”
“UK rules, mate…you should know.”
“You calling me English?” The chest is out again.
“Did I utter the word English? Is Northern Ireland not part of the UK anymore?” I raise my eyebrows. “Just play the game.”
“You call me English?” he repeats.
I’d imagine this guy could start a fight in an empty room.
I give up. Walking over to the owner, who looks a bit bemused by the whole situation, I pass him the cue. He tries to get me to stay, saying I should play. “I’m not playing this guy” I tell him. “It’s too much trouble.” I didn’t come travelling to fight, I left England to get away from aggressive morons. I left the Birmingham lad there, I think he was too stoned to move.
As I leave the table I say to Cocknor “Enjoy your game.”
“Are you calling me fucken English?” he shouts after me.
“Change the record.” I toss over my shoulder as I walk out. I’m surprised he didn’t come after me…I was half expecting a punch-up on the sand.
I head out into the night and down the beach; angry that I let myself get so wound up, but pleased it didn’t come to blows. Wouldn’t have done the rib much good, and he’d only have dragged me down to his level. Besides, it’s always better to walk away from trouble. I just can’t understand the mentality of someone like that; you’re in one of the most beautiful places in Asia, and you want to fight someone?
I got closer to Coconut Resort, to where I’d (thankfully) moved (I couldn’t imagine myself and the feisty cretin exchanging pleasantries over breakfast later that morning). Passing the South Star Bar, I saw four people around a bonfire. Another beer for the road, or just head home? I slowed down, debating the options quickly. Would I manage to sleep if I went to bed now, anyway? I was too annoyed. Young MC’s “Know How” made my mind up for me, and I headed for the fire.
I’m pleased I did.