Had lunch during the week with the British Charg? D’Affaires or rather Ambassador-in-waiting at the mansion which he has already taken over in the Embassy grounds.
Not a one-on-one of course. There were also about 8 accompanying media, including the usual suspects, and the Deputy Head of Mission, and Press Secretary. The Charg? D’Affaires has probably had about 20 of these lunches already, at which the Press Secretary will have doubled up as something much more serious. Journalists come late on the list. I guess about three places after the entire cast of Tiffany’s Show. Nevertheless it was a genial affair.
Asif Ahmad, the CD, is really quite a genial chap. Felt like I could ask him a question which he would not run away from. Good team at the Embassy now too it seems, touch wood.
Now I do not know how many of these occasions, lunches, meet- the -press dos, Queen’s Birthdays, I have been to. Every new Ambassador I guess since about 1990. The first was the best and the rest sort of progressively got a little bit stiffer by the occasion, which I put down to FCO civil service paranoia and new guidelines in dealing with the press, or maybe when I was fighting with some official at the Embassy. The worst was a dry one with coffee or tea and sandwiches for the hacks. I do not know what civil servant thought up that idea.
The Embassy also no longer sends me a bottle of whisky at Christmas of course.
But I never got one anyway until I complained to an unknowing second secretary that I had been missed out the year before so he started sending me them. However it was not long before somebody discovered the discrepancy and I was subsequently told it was not for the press but VIPs.
In the early days, after a lot of these dos, we would invariably end up at the back of the Safari Bar in Patpong, with a couple of first and second secretaries and occasionally the Deputy Head of Mission and yes even a bit of Embassy ‘tottie’, an expression no longer in the current FCO lingua franca.
Nobody I know goes to the Safari any more with or without Embassy officials.
One of my favourite Embassy pictures. The fast reaction desk at the 2004 Tsunami in Phuket. Sod the Scots & Ulstermen
Back to the present. Well the CD gave a rather long introductory speech. I was sort of concentrating on the prawns with garlic and pomelo in fact I would have photographed it but Richard Barrow at Thaiblogs might claim I nicked his idea.
The CD did however say that he had moved from NatWest Bank to the foreign office and had been around Asia a lot. He also added that the the British Foreign Secretary was committed to giving more support to unfortunate Brits in Thailand (or Brits in the shit as coined by the BBCs David Willis) provided they did not fit into the category of ‘feckless’.
Now all we have to worry about is what Brits are ‘feckless’ and thus non deserving, and will the person who decides their status have come from a background at Northern Rock or RBS?
A not so distant Consul at the Embassy had been transferred in from the then Inland Revenue and I felt a few Brits had to pay for their mistakes.
I dozed off during the conversation about Thai politics along with the nice new chap fresh in from C4 who understandably probably did not know what people were rabbiting on about. The British media are not particularly interested in Thai politics, I’m bored with Thai politics, and I am sure even the Thais are bored with Thai politics.
But I did wake up a couple of times. Once when one chap asked what Britain was going to do about Thailand’s ‘appalling human rights record’ (nothing I trust. I think I might put Burma higher on the list) and the second when another said the Democrat coalition should call an election now as the economy was booming, country stable, all systems go etc.
‘Tell me one reason why not?’ he asked.
At which point my colleague piped up: ‘Because they’ll lose!’
‘Er yes, that’s one reason’ came the reply followed by uproarious laughter.
Anyway I tried to get the subject away from politics. As a total non sequitor I butted in: ‘While we are on the subject could the fact that the recently departed Ambassador has hurriedly gone to work for Beer Chang be considered in some way as treason?’
The CD pointed out, actually slightly more drily than I expected, that he saw no problem as he himself came from commerce and banking and could return to it. Then Deputy Head of Mission, much more familiar with Drummondspeak, came up with the right answer which was of course that it depended on which football team one supported, Everton or otherwise.
The former ambassador Quinton Quayle took early retirement half way through his assignment and has gone to market for the Thai Beverage Co. in Europe and the United States.
Expect to see him in the documentary sequel to the BBC’s ‘Britain’s Most Disgusting Drinks’ which last time featured Carslberg Special Brew, one bottle of which has apparently more alcohol than a safe daily intake. If QQ does his job well Chang Beer will be the new favourite for alcoholics around Charing X.
(Google for the history between Carlsberg and Thai Beverages)
Soon the conversation returned to politics again broken only by the sound of my mobile phone which either gives a sonar ping or a full war alert. Unfortunately it gave the latter.
All in all a very pleasant affair and a good opportunity to case the joint again.
And I managed to persuade the Embassy to give us the same info which they give the Thai press.
They have had two sets of circulars, the propaganda staff for the Thais, and the need to know stuff for the British Press. In the time honoured FCO tradition the British press do not need to know a lot.
My only advice to the incoming Ambassador is watch with whom you are photographed. But doing a picture search I see he does not need to be told.
Ambassador Quayle promoting the ‘Know before You Go’ campaign to Pattaya hoteliers
My advice stems from my second most favourite Embassy picture. Its the one above, with former Ambassador Quinton Quayle, second from the left above, which was taken at a meeting of the British Chamber of Commerce (Eastern Seaboard) promoting the ‘Know Before You Go’ campaign. The outgoing Ambassador is posing with a group of supposed hoteliers.
Actually, one was a hotelier, another the commercial attache (Sorry, there goes the acute accent again) and the rest were all British kingpins in Pattaya’s commercial gay sex trade. It’s not hard to tell who’s who. When the Ambassador was later rung up by Inland Revenue & Customs asking about his friends in the picture he said he did not know.
People order copies of these pictures. They end up on desks and walls all over Thailand as a symbols of integrity, while downstairs boys swim in loincloths in fishtanks with apparently Her Majesty’s stamp of approval.
* Feckless: Lacking purpose or vitality; feeble or ineffective. Careless and irresponsible as in ‘ feckwit’.