Got suited up last night to head for the British Embassy hosted QBP at the Erawan Hotel. In the middle of Sukhumvit I was diverted. And then, after the whispered’ You even more hamsum today andloo’, the sound of ‘God Save the Queen’ was soon far from my mind.
QBP? Yes QBP. Its apparently Embassy speak for the Queen’s Birthday Party – as in ‘Just orf for a G&T at the QBP’- and while they are being economic with their language they are being less so I guess with their parties. (Whoops ‘clarification at end of story)
I had been going to these events for years until recently. But they have always been at the Ambassador’s Residence. Yesterday’s was in the main lobby of the Erawan Hotel so nobody gets to blow up the Ambassador’s residence.
Actually I lost my invite to the QBP. Well I did not lose it. I know exactly where it is. It is in Nepal probably half way up Everest in the pocket of my colleague Andy who had mistaken the time of his flight and thus had no time to bring it around after picking it up for me.
So I called up the Embassy QBP Secretariat and left a message on the answer phone saying so and asking could I just present personal photo ID?
Above Right: My favourite British Embassy picture. A harrassed official appears only to represent English victims after the 2004 Tsunami
I also called up Kim, who stands in as the Embassy Press Officer, and also asked her to make sure somebody knew about my predicament.
The British Embassy is of course terrorist paranoiac. This comes I believe of supporting our dear American allies in every ‘butt kicking exercise’ they undertake.
‘Oh, I thought you were going to boycott the QBP again,’ said Kim, or something like that. Kim is not as green as one ‘Press Attache’ who sent me around a bottle of Johnny Walker when I complained I had ‘not got the usual bottle this year’.
Andrew Drummond boycotting the QBP? Would anybody notice? Or rather, had somebody noticed?
Patra, from the ‘secretariat’ came back and said ‘No Problem’ and emailed me a new invite to print out. Guest No. 255. ‘Just show some photo ID,’ she said.
Then Kim came back: ‘I am sorry she said. The line is ‘No card invite, No entrance.’
Then I told her what Patra said. ‘Er, the line is?’
‘Whose line is it anyway?’ I asked. No reply.
This year Kim has given me two exclusive statements: “We can confirm that Mr. X has been given consular assistance”.
And: “We cannot comment on consular cases”.
She, probably rightly, did not even respond to my enquiries about a British Chamber of Commerce breakfast.
But I’m getting suspicious.
Anyway there I was in Sukhumvit having decided to go having glued the print-out to the back of a Cornflakes packet and thinking that if they call security on me I will go kicking and screaming shouting: ‘They’re trying to gag me’.
There are not British many hacks or hackettes left, I thought. Father Joe is usually there and perhaps there would be the two Rachels, one from AFP and one from the BBC and both good fun. Then, I thought, sod it. I’ll just drop into a bar and see a couple of friends.
I guess by the time the national anthem came up in the Erawan I was singing along with Procul Harum in one of my local haunts. I can’t mention the name because ‘Dirty Dog’ my internet stalker will probably bomb it.
Anyway I like the pragmatic Ambassador Asif Ahmad Right. He tends not to shrink away from any subject. And officially of course he is more British than I am. This despite some stupid whining from British Chamber of Commerce members (my enquiry above) and some well known Bangkok Brits earlier this year that they did not have bacon at their ‘Breakfast with the Ambassador do’ on account of the fact that he is Muslim.
Ambassador Asif is British by birth. His father who after working in London, where Asif Ahmad was born went on to become an Asian diplomat and, I’m guessing here, naturally thought Britain was a better country for his son to be a national of, than his own. (edit: 3/11/11)
I am however British by descent. My father was a former RAF pilot and one of the first twelve pilots in BOAC/BEA, (Better Off on A Camel/Bend Over Again Caroline) and British Excuse for an Airline/Better Eat Afterwards) the forerunners of British Airways (Brutish Scareways).
My elder brother was born in the UK. When it came to my turn, however, my Brit-by-marriage mother decided to pop back to Copenhagen for my birth (she was born Danish) .
This was on account of the fact my father was away on one these long trans-continental trips which lasted over a month in which after each day’s flying the passengers would dine with the Captain in either some posh hotel, or Bedouin tent. He claimed to have flown into many a tribal war as airports were also excellent battle grounds for charging camels.
This category of British by descent has been a real headache and it came into law in the 80s.
‘Unfortunately your daughter does not automatically qualify for British citizenship,’ said the Embassy official when I turned up to register Annie’s birth and apply for a British passport.
‘You were born in Denmark. You have to apply to the Home Office on Form blah blah ‘
‘Yes, but I was only there for a couple of weeks and I didn’t know it was Denmark did I?’
The only exemptions were if one of the parents was in the forces or government service.
‘But my father Squadron Leader Roddy Patrick Drummond DFC was in government service more years than you lot combined. And he was bombing the Jerries when Bomber Command were still dropping leaflets!’ I whined, adding up his years in the RAF and combining them with his years with BOAC and BEA, then government owned.
(My father flew Hudsons and B17 Flying Fortresses for RAF Coastal Command 220 Squadron. IWM picture shows 220 Squadron Fortress crew in the Azores)
‘Doesn’t count,’ said the official obviously thinking ‘Well this guy’s no chip orf the old block is he?’
Pic: Annie at Suvarnabhumi airport having helped herself to crayons meant for British kids stranded after the Icelandic volcanic ash cloud. Nationality undecided. In 20 years Britain may be Third World she says, besides she’s not so sure about those bagpipes, and haggis.
Anyway never ever argue with a British official or civil servant, or desk wallahs as my father would say. I meekly got together all the items on their shopping list. I had to prove I had worked or been in the UK more than 3 years. I mean, apart from postings to New York, Sydney and Los Angeles and scores of foreign assignments, all my working life before Thailand had been in Britain. Would not my National Insurance Number do? No. Proving where you had worked is not such an easy thing to do especially when newspapers take dives as they often do and they no longer have Human Resources departments.
So I had to find my father’s birth certificate, his wedding certificate. I had to call up RAF Personnel, the British Airways museum in Hatton Cross, where a dear old chap remembered my father from his flying ‘Vickers Viking’ days and had all these incident reports, like when an engine conked out in mid-flight etc. I had to get letters from the Daily Mail, and my first ever newspaper the Reading Chronicle to prove I worked there.
In short I had to prove I existed and where I came from – and I thought the British Government knew.
Oh what a pain it all was; and then at the end I had to hand over Ãƒâ€šÃ‚Â£600 plus for my daughter Annie’s passport.
And then out popped my son Mathew. I was seriously thinking of stuffing him back in. But I did the same again early this year.
Anyway back to the QBP. Well in my early days here these bashes were quite fun. After all the Thai dignitaries had come and gone the press contingent remained and to the bitter end button-holed the waiters with the trays to ensure there was an uninterrupted supply. One one occasion a hack just in from Phnom Penh was clearly smoking something quite exotic while at the same time trying to get into the pants of a young second secretary with a double barrel name.
In fact we had to be prised out of the blue smoke haze by our fingernails and then herded out at the end of these affairs and on to the Pong.
And the Embassy officials were also a different breed. I quite often used to meet one Deputy Head of Mission in the ‘Safari’ bar in Patpong.
(The Aussie Ambassador knew the ‘Kangaroo Club’ intimately and had a hilarious tale to recall after accompanying Princess Anne, the Princess Royal, and of course myself, on her 1989 trip to Thailand, Burma and Laos as her ‘blood donor’, which ended something like ‘Streuth god know why she would want my blood?’)
The British DHM later emailed to say Shanghai was just as outrageous. And as for the law enforcement guys, well there are stories I just cannot tell not least because they implicate myself.
And as for Visas. Well after covering the visit to Thailand of Prince Charles and Princess Diana for Channel 4’s ‘Media Show’ I returned to the UK with my Thai girlfriend( the one who later held a knife to my throat but who today is stil la friend), supplied with an instant visa, who was not even required for interview, and who certainly could not have paid her way home.
Still this is 2011 and I have to get real.
Meanwhile a message for the Embassy. If you still want to send me an invite next year please send to my real address not the one I use for death threats, Dirty Dog, and UNESCO press releases.
Actually don’t waste the cash on the printed invites. Just get Asif to tweet.
Up the Reds!’.
Voluntary Clarification: The cost of the QPB was met from donations from local and Thai businessmen.
Wow. Just talking about Nepal seems to make thing happen there. Today in Katmandu, Nepal, Anushna Miriam Shrestha Bell, made her debut into this world at 3.3kg. Her dad, Tom Bell, was the former Daily Telegraph correspondent in Bangkok.
Hearty Congratulations to you both. That makes one of each…me too!
Just as well Anushna Miriam Shrestha was not born here. How would Thais get around pronouncing it?
Proud dad – So Tom did you make the QBP in Katmandu?