It’s about 18 months since I reluctantly quit Thailand’s shores to return to the UK.
Given that Christmas and the New Year (the Western one, not the mad Thai one) are traditionally a time for reflection and for contemplating the future I thought it might be an opportune moment for me to share some of what has happened and a little of what, I think, lies ahead.
First, I ought to give this some context. I used the word “reluctantly” to describe my departure – kicking and screaming might better sum it up. Simply, I didn’t want to go.
I left because, well, to put it in a nutshell, I couldn’t afford to stay. This magazine’s fortunes were on the wane. I’m glad to say that friends who took it over have done a great job of turning it around or you wouldn’t be reading this now.
Early in 2016 the money I needed to take out of the magazine each month as a salary was not matched by the sums coming in.
It didn’t require a degree in economics to work out the solution.
I said to my wife, stealing words from an old song by the Animals, “we gotta get out of this place”. I could have added another line from the same song “girl, there’s a better life for me and you”. At least I hoped there was at the time. The jury is still out on that for reasons that will become apparent as this article progresses.
So I couldn’t afford to stay. Once I had accepted that, it was time to try to put a more positive spin on the decision. You know how it is. Once you are on a course of action you try to make the pros column stack up.
There were quite a few pros for my going back to the UK. To expand on a few of them …
The move would make it easier for me to see my sons who are both in their 20s. There had been a gap of about a decade where I had not seen them after moving to Thailand following my divorce from their mother. They came out to Pattaya for a holiday and I realised how much I had missed them. Reducing the 6,000-mile distance between us was definitely going to be a plus.
I had health issues. Nothing major, I’m glad to report. But health insurance for affordable premiums was beyond me due to pre-existing conditions. The UK, with its free NHS (National Health Service), was very appealing. My prescription bills in Thailand were gradually creeping up. I reckon I have saved hundreds of pounds since I have been back in the UK on tablets and insulin.
In addition I wanted to give my wife the chance to earn decent money. Much more than she could hope to do in Thailand. We were both tired of scraping by.
So the die was cast, as Caesar is reputed to have said. Or Que sera, sera (what will be, will be). There was no going back on the decision.
Before I venture further it might be an idea to declare that this is not going to turn into a “I decided to get out; all farangs should do the same” type of article. There is no “dog in the manger” approach here. If you are happy in Thailand, I’m envious – not trying to persuade you to join any exodus.
At the start of last year, among my circle of friends the “going back” conversations increased in almost direct proportion to the drop in tourist numbers visiting Pattaya. I wasn’t the only one feeling the pinch.
I felt a little stuck between the devil and the deep blue sea. I didn’t have enough income to stay in Thailand; I wouldn’t have any income initially back in the UK.
My prospects in the UK looked bleak. I am in my mid-60s so employment was not going to be easy to find. On top of that I had nowhere to live. Fortunately my brother lived alone in a two-bedroomed cottage in Peterborough, East Midlands. Truth is, I think he would have preferred to stay living alone and not have me descend on him. But, he was not going to say there was “no room at the inn” (it is almost Christmas!). On top of all that I had next to no cash behind me. The hits just kept on coming.
Before I left Pattaya I made enquiries about how easy or difficult it would be for my wife to join me in the UK. It seemed that the fact that we had been married for the best part of 10 years – proper paperwork, not just a village party – didn’t count for a whole lot.
I went to see a visa company that had helped me renew my UK passport previously and made a good job of it. Its owner, Darren, didn’t mince any words. He told me some of the criteria I would need to meet to be able to take my wife to the UK. “You need to have XXXX in savings,” he said. I can’t remember the sum now but, anyway, it was immaterial. Given I didn’t have the proverbial pot to urinate in, that figure was never going to be a runner.
“Failing that, you have to be in employment and earning £18,600 a year,” he added. That sounded more do-able provided, of course, I could get a job. It was not going to be easy.
“Oh, and you have to have held that job for at least six months before you can apply for a residency visa for your wife.” The hits just kept on coming.
All in all, it didn’t seem to me the UK Government was going out of its way to be helpful. The minimum earning figure had been set a few years earlier during the time of the coalition Government involving the Tories and the Lib-Dems. The idea, of course, was to prevent people bringing their spouses to the UK and then poncing off the State. I read somewhere that one of the two coalition parties had wanted the minimum set around the £40,000, not £18,600. Although I had earned well in advance of that sum in the past, I was relieved the higher figure had not been introduced.
As an aside, you might be interested to know that a popular figure on the Pattaya scene Patrick Murray (Micky Pearce from the Only Fools and Horses TV comedy) has appeared recently in the British Press – the Daily Mirror to be precise ¬– criticising the minimum earning stipulations. The article made it sound like Patrick was in a worse situation than myself. In it he described himself as a Skype dad. The only way he sees his young daughter is via the internet. Must be tough for him and her, not forgetting his wife.
Also, because he has a little one he needs to prove he is earning more money – £22,000pa, I believe, and, given he is self-employed, he needs to be able to show he has been earning that sum for a year. For me, because I’m employed, as opposed to self-employed, it was only six months.
Anyway, I’m jumping ahead of myself here.
I haven’t expanded upon the trials of getting a job when aged 60+ in the UK. Before I had moved to Thailand I had been a company director, the one doing the employing, not the one applying for a job. My CV was laughably out of date. I was no spring chicken and looking for work. It was tough and demoralising to say the least.
At the outset I was full of determination and confidence in my job quest. But, as the weeks turned into months and with hardly the courtesy of a reply to any of my job applications, that confidence soon dissipated. It got so bad that I even enquired about the possibility of receiving a “job seeker’s allowance” from the Government – a fancy way of describing the dole (unemployment benefit).
In my entire working life I had never taken any money from the State – although it had taken enough from me! I was not keen to start now. But money was getting very tight and I did not want to borrow from my brother given he was already doing enough to help me. Maybe the dole was a way forward even though the prospect of putting my hand out filled me with dread.
Once I had swallowed my pride I went along to the employment exchange or whatever it is they call it now. There I was told that I could apply for a job seeker’s allowance but I would have to be back in the country for three months before any payment would be made. The hits just kept on coming.
At one stage I was down to just 18 quid in disposable cash. I have since determined to do all I can to never find myself in that situation again. It has worked … so far!
After prolonged effort I finally landed a job locally. I started literally the day before I would have been eligible for the job seeker’s allowance to kick in. Talk about cutting it fine. So it had taken me three months to get a job. Now I had to hold it down for six months before my wife could join me in the UK on a permanent basis.
As it turned out she came over for a little more than three months on a visitor’s visa last Christmas, going back at Songkran. When she went back, I had completed the six months of employment. Time to apply for the residency visa.
Now, as I sit typing this, the visa application went in five months ago and we are still waiting to hear. Bet you think Thai officialdom can be a pain in the butt. They are amateurs compared to the Brits.
So just to give you an idea of the timeline …
June 2016: Return to UK to seek work.
September 2016: Get work as a sub-editor on a motoring magazine.
December 2016: Wife arrives on a tourist visa.
April 2017: Wife returns to Thailand to apply for UK residency visa.
May 2017: Application for her residency visa goes in.
June 2017: I go back to Thailand for fortnight’s holiday.
October 2017: Still await visa decision.
To sum up – if, say, my wife gets her visa and arrives in the UK around the time you are reading this (maybe a big IF) I will have been parted from her for virtually 14 of the past 18 months.
I can’t see that this is a recipe for a successful relationship. Though there may be some of you out there who might think this sounds like bliss. Consider if marriage is for you, if that is your reaction.
I try very hard not to get bitter and twisted about this delay. I try not to descend down the “it would be easier if my wife was an illegal immigrant” way of thinking. But it is tough at times. My attitude is that the UK is a plural society that’s not likely to change any time soon – even if its citizens voted to exit Europe. Indeed, this willingness to accept people not born in the UK will work in my favour should my wife ever get her visa.
It’s tempting at times to try to rewind to June last year. Would I have left Thailand then had I known that 18 months later I would still be waiting for my wife to join me? I thought it would take a year at worst. Fact is, I felt at the time that I had to go. The milk has been spilt, no use crying.
So, given it’s that time of year, let’s talk about Christmas. Two years back I joined with friends at Jamieson’s for what turned out to be my last Thai Christmas lunch. It was a good turnout and a great buffet was served.
But did it feel like Christmas? Sorry, but Christmas in Thailand doesn’t work for me. The traffic is a busy as on any other day and the temperatures are just too high. Christmas has to be celebrated when there is hardly a car on the roads and you have to need to be wearing at least one jumper – maybe two.
The guys I was with – perhaps 15 in total – and their families made a decent job of celebrating Christmas the right way. I’ll give them their due. However, of those assembled on that day at least three of us (including myself) are now back in the UK. Of the other two, one now drives around in a BMW, the other in a bus. How fortunes can differ.
These two friends are around 200 miles apart in Yorkshire and Surrey with me in the middle. Maybe I’ll try to get us together soon. We could form the “Couldn’t Hack it in Thailand” club (the Chiits – or something that rhymes with it). I can think of three or four others from my circle of friends also back here in the UK who might also be up for membership.
Looking forward, I hope my wife will be with me for Christmas. If she arrives in time we may go to Peterborough Cathedral for a concert featuring Ian Anderson. Remember him? He was the flautist and singer with the group Jethro Tull back in the late 60s/early 70s whose trademark was standing on one leg as he played. Their big hit was Living in the Past.
I’m trying hard not to do as that Tull title suggests. Perhaps the content of this article will suggest I am losing the struggle.
Have a great Christmas everyone.
The 10 things I miss about Thailand (roughly in order)
1 The friends I made. In the UK friends tend to come from your own age group. Not the case in Thailand, I’m happy to recall. Made many good friends in Pattaya whom I still miss. All my UK friends live in Kent in the very south-east of England which makes seeing them an event that needs to be planned in advance. Impromptu drinks down the pub simply don’t happen.
2 Cheap beer and food. In my UK local the price of a pint of Cobra (Indian brand but brewed in Burton-on-Trent) is £4.10 (about Bt180). At Murphy’s on the Darkside a pint of Tiger lager is Bt120.
3 The sea, sun and ….. well, I’ll let you finish that sentence.
4 Watching all my favourite football team’s matches live. Now I’m back in the UK I don’t get to see in full the games that kick off at 3pm on a Saturday afternoon (not allowed here for fear no one would actually go to a match). Settling down at 9 or 10 on a Saturday night with San Mig Light in hand to watch the footie was a pleasure I miss.
5 Being called a “sexy man” even when it’s a blatant lie.
6 Tea money. The thought that a donation to “charity” might speed things up or smooth problems over is, I’m sorry to say, missed. This is especially true given my wife’s visa delay.
7 Great golf on the doorstep. Apart from having too many water hazards Thai golf courses are generally a visual delight and usually more affordable than those in the UK.
8 Fast treatment in hospitals. I may have struggled to pay the bills towards the end of my time there, but paying for treatment had its plusses. The idea of “come back in an hour” for results is almost unheard of here in the UK.
9 Affordable petrol (or gas as the Thais like to call it). A litre of juice in the UK costs about £1.20 (approx. Bt52) which is roughly double the cost of that at a Shell garage in Thailand.
10 Cost of living generally. I was able to buy a three-bedroom detached house in Pattaya several years back now for a little more than Bt2.1m. You would be lucky to get a studio flat in Peterborough for three times that price.
I reckon I could name many more after a few minutes’ thought.
The things I don’t miss about Thailand (not in any order)
1 Running up beer tabs. Never could get on with them. I twice walked out of the same pub – the Caddy Shack (sorry Keith) – forgetting to pay after their quiz nights. I settled later each time but still found it embarrassing.
2 Three-month reporting to Immigration. Officials had really speeded this up by the time I left but I still thought it was a pretty pointless exercise.
3 Signing loads of documents to “authenticate” them. Thought it especially crazy to sign copies of my passport which had my signature on them already. Used to have to sign every page of this mag’s financial accounts times four. More than 100 sheets in total.
4 The competitiveness among farangs in business. The desire to squeeze the last sedang of discount reached almost risible proportions at times. I remember one guy asked for my best price if he signed up for a year. I told him the price would not alter each month but the last advert insertion of the 12 would be free. This was to try to ensure he stayed the course. Amazingly (not) he felt it was an offer he could refuse. Maybe that’s why I had to give up day-to-day running of this magazine.
5 Flooding if it rains for more than 10 minutes. Let’s just say that the drains in Thailand leave much to be desired.
6 Songkran madness. Being driven at a snail’s pace around the city while people try to soak you with cold water is not my idea of fun.
7 Crazy roadworks. The ability to dig up roads – and leave them dug up for inordinate amounts of time. Redirecting traffic in illogical ways as they did when the tunnel into Pattaya Central was being constructed. The seemingly never-ending nonsense that is Siam Country Club Road.
8 Crap drivers. Guys who move into the lane of oncoming traffic to overtake when there’s no room, but expect you to brake and let them back in when a car comes from the opposite direction. I always used to close up the gap on the car in front so they couldn’t get back in. Not a popular move, but it gave me a warped, yet small, sense of satisfaction.
9 Similar subject – the queue jumpers. Those who lack the decency to wait their turn. In the UK people actually stop to give way when you are both waiting to be served. Almost unheard of in Pattaya.
10 Signs of poverty. Not so much in Pattaya but more visible the further north I drove. Though, that said, the number of people begging on the streets of Peterborough is a shock to the system in a so-called civilised society.