Friday, 29 May 2015

Airships, absurdity, death, toilets and mop handles

In my interview for Thailand Footprint I was asked about the themes in my books. I explained that two recurring themes are death and absurdity – always a laugh a minute around here – and I shared my thoughts about them by way of a true story of mine:

At one time I was keeping a low profile in a fleapit river town called Concepcion in Paraguay. But every damned night I was plagued by the same dream: I was a young German guy called Nobby Tirpitz, working on a giant airship as a lavatory attendant in 2nd class. I had a special mop, given to me by my late grandfather Othmar who had run a public convenience in Hamburg railway station. Anyway, I was in terrible danger in that airship. Trapped in the lavatory while a terrible fire raged outside, acrid smoke pouring in. Using my penknife I just had time to carve a message on the handle of the mop then shove it through the tiny porthole. There was an awful roaring noise…then I woke up.  
Airship recreation 

Years later I was living in Thailand and teaching English. Porntip was one of my best female students and one night she invited me to her family house in Don Muang (where the old international airport used to be). Her dad was a colonel in the air force. Well, I met the folks and had fantastic meal. Then her dad took me into the garage to see his collection of memorabilia. Medals, a WW2 Japanese flag and an oxygen mask, that kind of thing. And then I noticed what looked like a wooden pole. It seemed out of place so I asked him about it. He explained it belonged to the Hindenburg, the airship that had exploded in 1937. Said it was a broom handle with some writing on it but it was in German. Well, I knew German and picked it up. The handle seemed strangely familiar. Then I read the writing. Incredibly it was the message I’d written in the dream – ‘Anyone want to buy a cheap airship!’

You know, I’ve never forgotten that uncanny dream and the mysterious mop handle. Death, rebirth and multiple lives. It also explains why lavatories keep popping up in my books. In Zen City, Palmer is in one when he experiences the ghastly dream sequence at the end. Milo the assassin-monk emerges from a weird roadside toilet in Zen Ambulance and Neville’s family keep surprising him when he’s sat on the bog in Villages. 

One thing’s for sure – no matter where I am in the world, I’ve always tipped big when I use public lavatories.     
Like I said, death and absurdity.
Public lavatory in Wales (but very similar to German ones)

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