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The mistake that one can make when trying to keep a blog is to try to ‘catch up’ after falling behind. The idea of writing all that I’ve yet to write about is a daunting one. As a result, one procrastinates, leaves it another few days, and a few more, until a point is reached when the concept of ‘catching up’ becomes nigh on impossible. Therefore, for now at least, take me on my word that the last few months have been almost as eventful as always, but that some entries will be written retrospectively; for now, let’s just start again here.
This past weekend was the first long weekend of the term, and offered an opportunity to explore beyond the confines of this fine city: a chance to shave that ball-sac of mine once more and hit the open road. Destination: Chiang Mai. Despite my general tendency to travel solo, it was nice this time to be accompanied by a fellow teacher at my school, even more so given that they’ve previously visited as it saves me the hassle of researching an itinerary of my own.
(I could write a bit here about the history and significance of Chiang Mai, but some people have commented that those bits of the blog are a tad dull, so I won’t for now. Maybe the next time I go, the proceeding entry will be more expository, and less egotistical and self-centred……..MAYbe! Lonely Planet provide a great description in the meantime for those who would like to look into it further)
Given the distance of +450km, in order to make the most of our time, we opted for an overnight bus. Of course, I use ‘bus’ in the loosest sense possible: think sardine can, perfectly designed for optimal retention of leaked bum-gas and maximum discomfort to all passengers. (Those who’ve used ‘Arriva Trains Wales’ will know precisely this experience) In typical fashion, we had obviously not booked anywhere to stay in advance, so our top priority was to search for a roof over our heads and a pillow beneath…..right after we polish off our breakfast beers of course. (We are on holiday, after all!) The Alcoholics Anonymous Society say that one sign of alcoholism is morning drinking, but fear not; I can stop drinking anytime I’ve got no money. I wouldn’t listen to a word they say anyway, given their shameless false advertising. “Alcoholics Anonymous….where you immediately stand up and tell everyone your name, and your inner-most secrets…..” Also, it’s all well and good harping on about how many people die because of alcohol, but let’s not completely overlook the fact that alcohol results in the birth of a helluva lot of people too. The Lord giveth, and the Lord taketh. Anyway, we quickly found a hostel with a couple of spare rooms left, which was a relief to the both of us as it avoided the possible awkward situation of one of us coming back to the room to find a sock on the door handle (just the one sock mind, I need the other one to masturbate into…)
Chiang Mai has a great many temples situated within its walls, and most of the first day was spent trawling our way through as many of these temples as our little legs could handle. At one, we arrived just as a prayer was starting. Believing it to be the most respectful option, we simply knelt down, bowed our heads, and blended in. I’d compare the experience to that of when I watched the third Lord of the Rings film. I settled in for a good experience, enjoyed the ride for a bit, then realised I’d committed to something that was to last about ten times longer than I felt it needed to. In the end, I was praying for the prayer to end – perhaps it was that very paradox that caused the never-ending feel. Ho-hum, at least that’s checked off the to-do list now, though how it got on there, I’ll never know.
Before I tell you what happened that afternoon, I must pre-empt your inevitable reactions with a short explanation of what is defined as ‘good looking’ in this area of the World. ‘Beauty’ or ‘handsomeness’ is entirely objective here. There IS a right and wrong. It is factual – not subject to opinion. The following qualities make you ‘beautiful’ or ‘handsome’: light skin, light hair, a bridged nose, and double eyelids. Please don’t confuse these terms with ‘attractiveness’ though: this is yet another concept. Here, it is not uncommon to hear married people refer to their partner as extremely ‘beautiful’ or ‘handsome’……but not ‘attractive’. Now that you know that, you’ll be less surprised to know that I was invited by a stranger (begged, in fact) to take part in a male beauty pageant in November. Who am I to deny the people what they want? Look out for stage pictures of me in speedos in a few months’ time. My last pair of speedos were branded by Doritos….they were perfect for the occasional dip.
Day 2 was spent in Pai, approximately 150km even further North West, near the Myanmar border. Locally notorious for questionable police conduct over the past few years, partly due to the proximity of the town to some drug routes from Burma, it does offer some things…..but not much. The road between Chiang Mai and Pai is 140km of twists and turns (762 of them, if you believe their claim – I do), through beautiful mountainous routes….and I’d say that was the best part.
There is one quotation I’ve seen floating about on countless occasions, and that is that “Life is about the journey, not the destination”. I’d say that Pai is the first place I’ve ever been where I could apply that sentiment in a literal sense. (Except perhaps that time I was rushing to the toilet with a bad case of diarrhoea) On second thoughts, I may be being too harsh. It offers a great deal of private resorts with great views. Perhaps ideal for couples for romantic getaways but, unfortunately, I’d left my socks back at the hostel. It was a relief therefore to get back to Chiang Mai early evening.
Disclaimer: Through reading this blog, some may get the impression that I have an affinity towards law-breaking, but I’m sure it’s only because I write about these experiences. I’d wager that most of you break a few laws now and again, you just don’t care to admit it. I say this because days 1 and 2 were dry days in Thailand: days during which any consumption of alcohol was forbidden by law……BUT, when a bar is encouraging you to buy their ‘special cups of coffee’ (any drink you want, but in a coffee cup); and when you see police turn up at that bar, and walk away with a fat brown envelope (just kidding, they didn’t care about subtlety – it was cash); and when it’s run by an Italian family all wearing suits, then perhaps it’s politer (and safer) to just buy a few drinks……
Day 3: Hired a couple of bikes, and once my travelling buddy had recovered from being wiped out by a truck, we headed up the nearby mountain towards Bhuping Palace (pronounced ‘pooping palace’ and yes, though I’m now in my thirties, I still find this hilarious!). We never made it that far, but had time enough to practice my Peter Andre impression under a couple of different waterfalls on the way (my lisp is coming along nicely now), and visited ‘The Secret Temple on the Hill’. Clearly someone spilt the beans on this secret though because most of China and the USA had congregated there. If there’s one thing I hate, it’s tourists. They get in the way with their cameras and families, and curiosity. They get in the way trying to do exactly what I want to do, but can’t because they’re there! And that, I think is why I hate them: because I reluctantly have to admit that I succumb to the stereotype at times. Having rented bikes, crashed one, and mingled with those of whom I just spoke, I became the quintessential tourist, and finished the day with a new tattoo (because, of course, nobody does that when they travel!) It’s not like I got something stupid and cliché like my name in Thai script somewhere on my leg…….. :-s In my defence, it was less about having another tattoo, and more about the way it was done, that being with a bamboo stick as opposed to the needle. Verdict in a nutshell: the needle is more of a dragging feeling across the skin, whereas the bamboo stick is very much like being stabbed a thousand times – something that plenty of people back in Britain would have been more than happy to do for free. Again, just like the typical tourist, I now have a world map on my wall, and I plan to put a pin in every location I’ve been. Unfortunately, I can’t use it until I’ve travelled to the top two corners of the map. Until then, it won’t stay up on the wall.
The journey back we took by train, simply because we hadn’t pre-booked a bus ticket and they were all full by the time we bothered asking. Cue 11 hours on a rickety, splintery wooden bench, right next to the toilet (squat hole) that kept wafting scent of ‘eau de wee-wee’ our way. It was on this journey that I realised perhaps there is a small part of my mind still in Bangladesh. It was when I tried to climb off the stopped train onto the track, thinking we had arrived. At least in this country, there are actual allocated stations I suppose – it’s actually a wonder I’ve even survived this long. Still, only 12 years to go now…..
Due to the prickly heat sensation that the skin suffers in this hot weather (+40 degrees Celsius with a ‘real feel’ of 50 degrees Celsius – that’s literally halfway to boiling!), I decided to experiment with the above named product. It is a talcum powder designed to cool the area of skin it is applied to, a bit like a cold flannel…..or so I imagined.
After liberally covering my backside area, and seeing no harm done, I thought I’d take advantage of some rare foresight, and poured a handful on my meat-and-two-veg area too. After all, Mother always said that “prevention is the best cure”. The effects of this product are not immediate: it slowly begins to cool the skin to a more comfortable state, before bringing the temperature down to a perfect level…..then continues – to a point where the cold feels like fiery heat!
As I lay in bed, I suddenly felt the very gates of hell swinging open directly under me, the concentrated fires of which were aimed directly at my nether regions. The panic set in as I realised the potentially life-ending mistake I had just made. I made every effort to manoeuvre myself from the bed to the bathroom without letting either testicle make contact with the thighs, ignoring the open curtains to the street that allowed nearby residents to glimpse my naked John Wayne impression. I failed to make it all the way there, stopping at the fridge to snatch at the first thing I could reach. Hands shaking, entire body sweating, I took off the lid of the ice cold bottle of water and stood in the kitchen, pouring the water onto the area. It had the same effect as drinking fizzy pop after eating chillies – it magnified the pain beyond anything I could have previously imagined. Convinced that an amputation might be necessary if they didn’t drop off of their own accord, I thought about my potential future as a female. Being the eternal optimist, I simply concluded that at least then I could wear a wig and look like I have hair on my head again. On the other hand, I also thought about an old friend who underwent surgery to become a woman, and had massive breast implants – I’ve never been able to look him in the face since. I have another friend whose wife accused him of being a transvestite – eventually, he just packed her things and left. I did once wear a skirt to school as a protest against dress code inequality; unfortunately, I turned up in the same skirt as one of my teachers. I’m not sure who was more embarrassed, him or me.
I refused to give up yet though. I crawled to the bathroom where my salvation lay in the form of lukewarm water from the shower. It was there, a few minutes later, that I caught a glimpse of my reflection, as I sat naked on the shower head with tears streaming down my eyes, and that weird snot that only happens when you cry, dribbling from my nose. It was quite possibly the most pathetic sight I’ve ever witnessed, and I’ve seen my fair share of pathetic sights (strangely, most of those sights have involved myself and a mirror).
Snake Brand Active Cooling Powder: does nothing it says on the tin!
Apologies for yet another long gap since my last post, I guess I’m just becoming lazy. I’ve identified five symptoms to my growing laziness:
Anyway, onto the update. Everyone’s name here is incredibly long, and even the Thai people acknowledge this. They do so by providing every one of their children with a nickname: Thai names, it seems, are even too difficult for Thai people! In just ONE of my 10 classes, there is a ‘Kitty’, a ‘Boss’, a ‘Four’, a ‘Nine’, a ‘Friend’, a ‘Cartoon’, a ‘Pancake’, a ‘Blink’, a ‘Sea’, and a ‘Garfield’. I’m told that previous years had such names as ‘Tiger’, ‘Cool’, ‘Manager’, and our all-time favourite ‘Slam-Dunk’. It was recently decided that I should have a Thai nickname too, just like the Thais have an English one. I’m now referred to as ‘Meuk’ - it means ‘Ink’ – on account of “all my tattoos”. I only have three! Still, in this area of the World, I’m told that the use of exaggeration increases by a billion percent every year.
My classes are still going as well as I could hope. The Maths I teach is fairly basic, and that’s the way I like it. I’ll stop at nothing to avoid using negative numbers in my lessons. There’s one smart-arse in the English class who seems to know everything, although his grammar is always a tad off. I really hate it when people think there clever, but use the wrong grammar! Science is by far my favourite, but then it always was. I used to carry out my own experiments at home in my spare time. In fact, I often said to myself “I can’t believe I’ve made a cloning machine that works.”
Today, I had my first haircut in this country and, I have to say, I take my hat off to the barber. It makes it easier for him to cut my hair. It seems that the obsession with massages in Thailand extends to the barbers too. I don’t like to be touched any more than necessary at the best of times, I certainly don’t want someone kneading my head and poking my temple, eyes, ears and throat just for the sake of a haircut. They even insisted on washing my hair both before and after the cut, just in order to fit in two massages – why?? I’ve hardly got any hair to start with, and the little I have is shaved off to nothing – there’s no hair left to wash by the end!
I’m told this is perfectly normal though. “It’s relaxing” they say. As much as I try to assimilate to the culture, I’m not sure I’ll ever find it relaxing for someone to try to cave my head in with their bare hands, and slip a couple of cheeky wet fingers in my ears…..twice!
While I’m on the subject, I also complained to the guys about the massage I received in the toilet of a club the other night. As I was standing at the urinal, peeing away, someone started massaging my back, my neck, my ears, and my kidneys – highly distracting – but, as at home when someone in the toilets gives you the soap and a towel to dry your hands, one feels obliged to hand over a few pennies in return. The response from the guys?:
“Erm, no Meuk, that’s never happened to any of us, nor anyone we know. It sounds like you just got felt up in the toilet by a strange man…..then paid him for it…..”
Finally, I’ve met an extended group of Felang (foreigners) teaching in the area, one of whom came agonisingly close to taking home a transsexual from the above club, before finding out the truth at the last moment. “No way, she used to be a man – I’m not gay!” he says, to which his friend responds “You wouldn’t be gay because she’s a woman now. My girlfriend used to be a child, that doesn’t make me a paedophile.” How does one argue with that logic?
I’ve been reminded that ‘Meuk’ also means ‘Many colours’, and that it was chosen for me due to a combination of that meaning (along with ‘Ink’) as a reference to the ‘other sides’ of my personality that most people never learn about, but can sometimes shock those who do learn about them. I have no further comments to make on that subject ;-)
Of the past 72 hours, I have spent 30 on a bus. I have just completed the dreaded ‘Visa-Run’ required in order to be allowed to stay in the country to work. After making my way down to Bangkok on Wednesday afternoon, I travelled in a bus North to the Thai/Lao border where Nong Khai crosses over to Vientiane. In order to make my life easier, I opted to make the trip with a company that specialises in Visa-Runs for foreigners here. This was my mistake. It meant that I was to spend the next three whole days in the company of some of the worse people I’ve ever had the misfortune to meet. These were people who carried all of the worst stereotypes of ignorant, arrogant tourists with a sense of entitlement. Here is a summary of the characters I met:
South Africa - Stoner: Needn’t have bothered to pay for the bus journey: so high, he could’ve floated his way to Lao.
England - Chav: Rather than assimilate to the Thai culture, opting for comfort, rather than style, in her choice of clothing, wore a luminous pink tracksuit low enough to show off her black thong. Her ‘cushion-like’ body shape provided a view rather like I imagine how it would look if someone tried to strangle an elephant with cheese wire.
Finland – Roid Rage: Huge torso, but skips ‘leg-day’ in the gym. So top-heavy, you wonder how long those chicken legs can keep him up before he collapses. Pushes his chest out every time he walks / sits / breathes, and aggressively argues with anyone who has a different point of view to his own.
England - Ex-Military: Despite his claims of “I used to be in the army so I can easily cope with hot, humid conditions for hours on end in a bus”, he is the first person to complain about EVERY thing! Constantly whingeing like a two year old.
America - The Political Expert: No matter what you think you know about politics in any country, this American kid knows more, despite being 18 years of age, and never having travelled beyond his home town before. Seems to be particularly knowledgeable about British politics and the “Gordon Down” period. (That’s not a typo – he really did believe his name to be ‘Gordon Down’ as opposed to ‘Gordon Brown’) Warning: expert alert!
America - The Runaway: “I’d love to go back to live in New York, but I’m not allowed”. Refuses to elaborate upon questioning.
England - The Sex Tourist: “My wife of 24 years left me so I’m just here to take advantage of the easy p*ssy” (note the quotation marks there!!)
Wales - The Fake Welshman: Claims to speak 7 languages fluently, including Welsh. Doesn’t understand a word of Welsh when I speak to him. In fact, his English is terrible too. I call bullsh*t.
Australia - The Drunken Racist: Always has a can of beer in his hand, regardless of the time of day, and came out with this nugget – “Burqas should be banned. I mean, you can’t see what’s underneath, whether it’s a man, woman, or terrorist”. Yup, great logic there Sport. Whilst we’re at it, let’s also ban crash helmets, fancy dress costumes, make-up, and long hair shall we? In fact, if you’re able to identify a terrorist just by looking at their face, there’s a guaranteed job at MI6 lined up for you! Also, while I’m on this subject, I really hate the use of the term ‘Religious Tolerance’ – it sounds like just putting up with a difference in religious points of view. Why not use ‘Religious Acceptance’ instead (or something similar with equally positive connotations?)
America – Mr Terrible: The worst of the worst. He is ‘that guy’: the most disgusting, horrible, despicable person I’ve ever come across. Coked up to the nines at all times, deliberately trying to wind everyone up, loves the attention, and reaction when he succeeds, and goes out of his way to make everyone’s life as difficult as he possibly can.
You may sit there with some cynicism, thinking how impossible it is that all of these people could be together in one small mini-bus, but I shit-you-not, the above are as accurate descriptions I can give about these people. To the countries listed, here is my message: be glad that you are rid of them. If I were to search for a positive spin, it would be this – it really brought home the realisation to me of how wonderful the people are that I actually work with here; how down-to-earth, kind, and sensible they are, and how lucky I am to be a part of such a group.
So, that’s the list of characters, but what actually happened during this trip then Ems? Well, much of it was waiting around in all honesty. Having arrived at the border, I queued for about two hours, only to be told that my paperwork was incomplete because I had failed to mark the box confirming whether I’m male or female. Rather than allow me to borrow his pen and check the box, the immigration officer (who had clearly gotten out of the wrong side of the bed) sent me to the back of the queue again – there went another hour. Then I queued a further three hours at the Thai embassy in Vientiane, only to be told that I was missing another piece of paperwork needed from my employers. This was easily fixed with one phone-call to the school (who were, in all fairness, very efficient), but not before being issued with the initial threat of having my Visa application denied. I can’t deny that I felt a strong sense of injustice in all of this. Here I was being threatened with denial whilst illegible drunkards and drug addicts were being processed without hassle.
With an overnight timescale for Visa applications to be processed, we were checked into a nearby hotel. To give you an idea of the standard of this hotel, there was one poster of instructions in all the bedrooms, informing the guests of what they would have to pay in damage costs if they stained any of the following: bed sheets, floor, TV, TV remote, curtains, door handle….. with either semen or blood! Needless to say I slept with my clothes on that night.
Having built up a loathing towards my entire company, I declined their offer to join them getting (more) drunk, and go clubbing, and went for a walk by myself instead. Being a man of small pleasures, and easily entertained, I rather enjoyed this walk – helped by the fact that I saw a doggie ménage-a-trois. Two of them were actually having sex (the real type, not just humping - I know this because they were doing the weird thing when they’re actually facing away from each other), whilst a third was humping any part of the female it could still reach. Eventually, I was able to tear my eyes away, walk further along, and find a local bar.
The beauty with travelling alone is that things tend to happen to me that wouldn’t otherwise happen. As I sat down, the owner clocked that I was alone and joined me at my table. By doing this, not only does he get to practice his English, but he also gains respect from locals who now think he has a white, Western friend who frequents his place. I cared not a jot – in return for his company, he supplied me with several free beers and a bowl of chips. There was one further price to pay though: it was a karaoke bar, and the owner now wanted to perform a duet with his new white friend.
“Oh, really, I can’t”
“Yes, you sing with me”
“I’m a terrible singer”
Next thing I know, I’m trying to mumble my way through a song sung in Lao, with no idea what I might be saying. In a language where the difference between saying “ded” with a hard ‘d’ or a soft ‘d’ can be the difference between saying “sun” or “p*ssy”, I’m not sure I really want to know what atrocities might have been spewing from my mouth. The crowd seemed to find it hilarious anyway. No harm done it seems.
Over breakfast the next day, I was accused of being boring for not getting drunk with the rest, and I was forced to listen to the same story, told in different ways, by each of the others. All of them had something to say along the lines of “Oh, man, I was so wasted last night. I can’t remember anything”. (Good story fellas, I can’t wait for the book to be released) and “What am I like eh?” If you really want to know, you’re like an absolute bell end!
It transpires that Mr Terrible also managed to wind up the wrong guy, a gentleman with close ties to a senior immigration officer in Thailand, by sexually assaulting his girlfriend and trying to start a fight in his cocaine fuelled state. He, disgusted with everyone’s behaviour the previous night, starts fishing for names and details of which schools these people work at. (Oh, did I forget to mention? Most of these characters were teachers…..) As a result, Mr Terrible was detained at the border for a few hours on the way back. We have no idea what happened, or what was said, or if there are any further repercussions for him but, when he was eventually allowed through, he had lost all of his arrogance and energy, and kept his mouth shut. Just as I was starting to hope for a quieter journey back, I realised that all this did was offer a chance for all the rest to become the centre of attention instead.
Here are snippets of the conversations I remember from the 11-hour journey back:
- The Runaway: “I have a 42 inch plasma TV screen. It has everything.”
- Roid Rage: “Is it flatscreen?”
- The Runaway: “It has everything”
- Roid Rage: “What colour is it?”
- The Runaway: “It has everything”
- The Fake Welshman: “Mine’s a 55 inch”
- Roid Rage: “Yeah, well, I have a projector so mine can go as large as 120 inches!”
The Political Expert: “Yeah, man, the CIA is responsible for so much shit. You know they invented syphilis as a biological weapon don’t you?”
Given that America wasn’t discovered until 1492, and syphilis has been around longer, forgive me for calling “bullsh*t” on this one too.
- Stoner: “Have you heard about the ‘Hardon Collider’ in England?”
- Me: “Do you mean the Hadron Collider in Switzerland?” (I couldn’t stay quiet any longer)
- Stoner: “No man, it’s the ‘Hardon Collider’. It’s going to be the end of the World”
…..I wait for a punchline…..nothing comes….. *Late Edit – I just realised I made an accidental pun about it there though :-D*
- Stoner: “I don’t have vaccinations. There’s Nano-technology put into the blood stream with them so I’ve never in my life had an injection”
- Me: “Didn’t you say you went to China two months ago?”
- Stoner: “Yeah, so?”
(I may be wrong, but I believe that entry to China is allowed only by those with a certificate showing they’ve had the Yellow fever vaccine – I’m happy to stand corrected though)
There were plenty more conversations along similar lines. 11 hours of them in fact! I haven’t memorised this passage about nightmares written by Dostoevsky, I just happen to be reading the book at the moment, but it struck me as being perfectly relevant to this situation:
“In a morbid condition, dreams are often distinguished by their remarkably graphic, vivid, and extremely lifelike quality. The resulting picture is sometimes monstrous, but the setting and the whole process of the presentation sometimes happen to be so probable, and with details so subtle, unexpected, yet artistically consistent with the whole fullness of the picture, that even the dreamer himself would be unable to invent them in reality, though he were as much an artist as Pushkin or Turgenev. Such dreams, morbid dreams, are always long remembered and produce a strong impression on the disturbed and already excited organism of the person.”
I still expect to wake from these nightmare-ish few days any second. Then again, if it does all turn out to be a bad dream, I’d have to re-live the entire experience. Why would I want to do that? After all, at the end of the day, I was granted my Visa, and I am allowed to stay. HORAAY! Thought you’d get away without a happy ending there did you? ;-)
Following on from yesterday’s post, another reason for the gap in entries is that I’ve been struggling with creativity. I was so determined to try to make each post an adventure – to try to provide humour – to try to ensure that each entry embarked on an exploration of the intricacies and poeticism of the English language – to provide snippets of my adventures in a manner that was both sufficiently eloquent and elegant to be deserving of your attention. I sought so desperately for the appropriate words and sentiments that would entertain you, the audience, resolving not to pour the linguistic dregs of the language into these pages but, after much internal deliberation, I’ve decided…..”f*ck it – you’ll get what you’re given.”
Following a recent conversation about ‘ambitions’, I’ve been working on a list of things I’d love to do in life before I expire. I imagine we all have one, but here’s mine (in no particular order):
- Be in a film that’s released on DVD – this could be as an extra, or just because I was accidentally filmed in the background, but I must be able to see myself on the screen.
- Watch the Singapore F1 Grand Prix, live, from a rooftop hotel pool with a cocktail in my hand.
- Get a black belt in two other martial arts – I’m not fussed on which ones.
- Be fluent in as many languages as there are decades that I have lived (3 languages by 30, 4 by 40, 5 by 50 etc).
- Become a fully certified stunt-man, and be credited in a film as somebody’s stunt-double.
- Get my teeth straightened.
- Work in Disney World, and be honoured with the privilege of being Mickey Mouse in one of their parades.
- Finally pluck up the courage to donate some blood (I have a massive phobia of needles).
- Learn to play the Banjo.
- Own the entire collection of Disney Classics films.
- Step foot on Antarctica and eat some of its snow.
- Become a qualified pilot.
- Watch the El Clasico and Milan Derby football matches live (in both stadiums in the case of El Clasico).
- Have a book published.
These are all things I would like to do, the fates of which are in my own hands alone. There’s a saying I remember from somewhere that reads something along the lines of “the best time to plant a tree was 20 years ago – the second best time is now”. I have no idea how many (if any) of the above I’ll achieve, but it’s nice to have goals either way. Feel free to share yours in comments below – it’d be nice to receive some further suggestions: after all, I may like some of your ideas more than my own…..