New Book: Turning the Tide

New Book: Turning the Tide

Turning the Tide

… Not another new book, surely…

Well, after getting two blogs last week, you’ve certainly had to wait right up until the eleventh hour, for this week’s instalment of ‘A Writer’s Life for Me’. It’s not because I got myself arrested after writing about the awful air pollution that’s been plaguing Chiang Mai recently, but because I’ve been busy, working on my latest book project, a controversial and highly gritty drama, provisionally entitled ‘Turning the Tide’.

Set in the self-proclaimed ‘Cultural Capital’ of Thailand, that’s Chiang Mai to you and me, folks, ‘Turning the Tide’ follows a group of beer-swilling, cigarette smoking, middle-aged expats, who tire of the endless petty corruption and nonsensical policymaking that impacts their daily lives and decide to do something about it, with disastrous results for all concerned.

It’s the first time that I’ve ever tried (or dared, for that matter), to write anything like this and I have to say that I’m enjoying it immensely. All of my previous books have been pure works of fiction, dredged from the bottomless depths of my own twisted imagination, whereas this story is based, to a large extent, on my own experiences as an expat bar owner in the Land of Smiles. And while the characters are most definitely imaginary, despite what anyone might think, the locations aren’t and centre around the little corner of Thailand’s second largest city that I call my own.

Lake outside Chiang Mai. Turning the Tide - Rob Gregory Author

Man-made lake, just outside of Chiang Mai.

I started it a little over three weeks ago, after a couple of extremely interesting and insightful late-night conversations with several of my regular customers and it has to be said that the central theme reflects a change I’ve been seeing, over several months now, in expat attitudes towards Thai policymaking, especially that which impacts on foreign visitors to the country.

One of the biggest talking points in the bar recently, has been the proposal by the Thai Immigration authorities to require people staying in the country on a retirement visa, to show evidence that they have at least 800,000 Baht (approximately 25,000 USD) in their Thai bank accounts, not only for the two months prior to their visas being granted, which was previously the case, but also for three months thereafter, with a minimum balance of 400,000 Baht being maintained throughout the rest of the year.

While there are those who enter the country without sufficient funds to support themselves, who in my humble opinion are foolish in the extreme — Thailand is NOT a cheap place to live anymore — most expats rely on their monthly pension payments to survive and prefer to manage their funds from their home country, where they can earn a better rate of interest than is available in Thailand. And it is hard to see how this change will benefit anyone other than the banks, who will effectively be given a huge amount of free money to bolster their lending operations with.

Ginger cat, sitting by a broom on a floating harbour. Turning the Tide - Rob Gregory Author

Curious cat. And we all know what happened there!

Anyway, back to ‘Turning the Tide’. It’s not going to be a big book. I envisage the whole thing being about sixty thousand words long; seventy thousand at a push, but then it’s not really about the word count, it’s about the story and if I’m able to do it without creating a door-stopper of a volume, then so much the better. So far, I’m just over thirty thousand words in, so with a bit of luck, it won’t be long before I’m writing to tell you that the first draft is finished!

And then there are the characters. Normally, I keep away from swearing in books, as I feel that it tends to undermine the storyline. But then, when you’re writing about people who spend most of their time drinking in seedy Thai bars, it’s a bit unbelievable if they all come across sounding like Bertie Wooster or the people at the start of the Madness song, ‘Return of the Los Palmas 7’. Needless to say, ‘Turning the Tide’ is definitely going to have a ‘parental advisory’ sticker on it, when it eventually does hit the shelves!

Finally, there was the decision, consciously made to set the book right at this particular time of year, which has given me the opportunity to reference not only the blistering heat that assaults us after the cooler ‘winter’ months, but also the poor air quality that we are currently living through and the build-up to Songkran, the Thai New Year, which is where most of the book’s action takes place. All in all, I hope that this will help add credibility to the story and make it all the more enjoyable, by setting the fictional struggle for a new political order, against a backdrop of real issues and events.

White temple at Chiang Rai, against grey skies. Turning the Tide - Rob Gregory Author

The White Temple, Chiang Rai. Well worth the visit, if you get the chance.

As for publishing, well, therein lies a dilemma. You see, despite being a work of fiction, the book is likely to be seen as highly controversial by the Thai authorities, even though it isn’t really, and may even make it onto the country’s banned books list. So, regardless of whether it is ultimately traditionally published or put up on Amazon as a self-published ebook, I’m starting to think that I’m going to have to leave the country before ‘Turning the Tide’ sees the light of day. Otherwise, I could well be writing to you in the future, on a piece of second-hand toilet roll, from the comfort of a Thai prison cell, along with sixty or so inmates looking over my shoulder. Not a nice thought, I can assure you!

That said, I do want to do this right, so if any of you would like to act as a reviewer and give me honest feedback on the drafts, as and when they become available, then please do drop me a line at and I’ll see what I can do.

Musicians walking past a golden Buddha statue in Nong Khai. Turning the Tide - Rob Gregory Author

Musicians celebrating at a religious festival in Northern Thailand.

So, there you have it. I’ve certainly been a busy boy over the last few weeks and there’s a lot more to come… Once ‘Turning the Tide’ is finished, I’m going to be starting work on another comic fantasy offering, followed by my long-awaited Sci-Fi comedy novel. Honestly, I ask you, will this man ever stop writing!


As always, please do check out my other blogs and books, if you liked this one. And don’t forget to share!


Thank You!

Air, so thick, you could eat it

Air, so thick, you could eat it

Chiang Mai businessman opens world’s first ‘air restaurant’ in famous city of smog

A humorous look at the serious topic of Thailand’s poor air quailty

By Makin Melungsurt (Special News Correspondent)

With the eyes, ears and noses of the world focused firmly on the news that the picturesque town of Chiang Mai, in Northern Thailand, officially has the worst air pollution in the world, local businessman, Hee Choo-Air-Alot, has found a silver lining, hidden in the clouds of smog pouring into the city.

In what is believed to be a global first, Choo-Air-Alot has opened a restaurant giving customers access to what he says, is: “a soup of delicious, naturally occurring nutrients, not available anywhere else on the planet.”

For only five hundred baht — about fifteen dollars — for five minutes exposure, customers can enjoy access to a range of specially selected, smog-laden airs, sourced from various parts of the city, delivered through modified oxygen masks, in the comfort of his air-conditioned restaurant, situated on the edge of Chiang Mai’s sleepy Loi Kroh road.

Golden Gate bridge in smog - Rob Gregory Author

View this morning from Nawarat Bridge, Chiang Mai.

“During the day, we are only able to serve brown air, referring to the grading system used by the International Air Quality Index system. However, for those who choose to dine with us during the evening hours, we are pleased to be able to offer a wider selection, including purple, red and orange air,” said Choo-Air-Alot, somewhat surprisingly speaking through a full-face respirator, of the type normally worn by soldiers during gas attacks. “We have had some interest from customers wanting to try green air, but frankly, there’s nothing at all in that, so I can’t see it really taking off,” he added, offering our intrepid on-site intern, Carcy Nogen, a free sample of what appeared to be pale-grey air, trapped in a glass jar.

When challenged that the air he was selling was, in fact, loaded with a mixture of highly toxic micro-particles, laced with unhealthy levels of carbon dioxide, Choo-Air-Alot was quick to offer an alternative view.

“This happens every year in Chiang Mai, so I think that you have to look at it as being a natural phenomenon. And we know for a fact, that people love natural products, so how can this possibly be harmful to them? Also, carbon is an essential component of the human body, so having access to it in the form of teeny-tiny particles, surely means that it is quicker and easier for people to digest and that’s got to be a good thing, for today’s sophisticated diner in a hurry.”

Chiang Mai street, showing smog in the air - Rob Gregory Author

Typical steet scene in Chiang Mai today. Believe it or not, there are hills in the distance!

Thailand’s Pollution Control Department, which is charged with controlling pollution, is believed to be blaming the poor air quality on a massive influx of cigarette and pipe smokers into the region, rather than farmers burning off stubble in preparation for next year’s harvest, or rural fire crews allegedly starting forest fires, in order to justify their continued existence, dismissing the latter claims as ‘ludicrous and without any basis in fact’.

Not that it matters to Choo-Air-Alot. “As far as I’m concerned, bad air equals good business. And after all, the health of the local economy has to be worth more than the health of its citizens. Here’s to the next two months. Cheers!”


BREAKING NEWS: Unfortunately, just after this story went to press, Hee Choo-Air-Alot’s pioneering establishment was closed down by Thai Restaurant Inspectors, when they found an unacceptably low number of cockroaches in his kitchen. We’ll keep you updated on developments, as they unfold…


PS. If you enjoyed this story, then why not check out more of my blogs here and have a look at my books, now including The Lucius Chronicles and Drynwideon, the world’s first anti-fantasy novel.

Amazing Thailand No 5 – Television Repair

Amazing Thailand No 5 – Television Repair

Amazing Thailand!

… Number 5 in an occasional series…

Welcome back to Amazing Thailand!

Okay, so I’ll admit that this particular incident could have happened anywhere, but the fact that it occurred in Thailand just makes it all the more satisfying.

A few months ago, my television broke. Just suddenly stopped working. Nothing, nada, not a flicker of life in the thing. Seeing as it was still under warranty, I took it down to the local service and repair centre, with very low expectations. After all, my previous experiences with warranties on anything in Thailand, let alone consumer electronics, had been very much a case of: “It’s not my problem, mate,” with the guarantee effectively expiring the moment that you left the shop. So, I was amazed, when after about thirty minutes of head scratching by the chaps in the service centre, they finally concluded that the television was indeed not working and that it would have to be sent to Bangkok for repair, a process that would take up to five weeks.

Yes, that’s right, five weeks. Head-scratchingly long for most of us, but then maybe the Bangkok repair centre was swamped by sub-standard television sets that need fixing, or possibly they were planning to send the television there and back by water buffalo, I don’t know. Still, for me, it was something of a coup that they were willing to honour the guarantee at all and so I accepted their terms without hesitation.

LED Television Box with footprint on it - Rob Gregory Author

Notice anything unusual about this box?

Fast forward six weeks and I am sitting in front of the laptop, staring at the tiny screen, doing my best to write, when it suddenly strikes me that the television should be back at the local repair centre. Although they had my phone number, I knew better than to expect a call to tell me that it was ready for collection. The English-Thai language barrier at times can be extremely off-putting, especially when phone calls are concerned, so I decided to schlep down to the place in person and find out.

When I arrived, armed with the sheaf of paperwork that they had given me to identify my case, I was met by a worrying round of perplexed looks from the staff. They couldn’t locate the television! Had it been sent to Bangkok? Nobody seemed to know. Had it actually been repaired? Again, nobody seemed to know. Finally, after about twenty-five minutes of scrabbling around, the offending article was located. However, the general consensus was that it hadn’t actually been sent anywhere at all! You can imagine the look on my face. Need I say that, despite my best efforts, I was on the verge of going ‘Basil Fawlty’ on them?

LED Television Box with footprint on it - Rob Gregory Author

Any clearer now?

Then, one of the girls behind the desk had the good sense to call the Bangkok repair centre and lo and behold, yes, the television had been sent there, where it had been fixed under warranty and returned the previous week. Hooray! Panic over. The staff, who had been oblivious to the courier labels plastered across the back of the box, announcing its travels around the country, unpacked the television and cheerfully demonstrated to me that it had indeed been repaired.

It was only when I’d got it back home that I noticed the dusty white footprint on the outer packaging. At some point and I know not where or by whom, someone had used the television as a step. This was despite all of the ‘This Way Up’ and ‘Fragile’ markings on the box. Why anyone in their right mind would use a television set, laid flat on the ground as a step is beyond me, but then ‘This Is Thailand’ as they say, and anything can (and often does) happen. It wasn’t even as if the offender had tried to cover their tracks, excuse the pun.

Close up of LED Television Box with footprint on it - Rob Gregory Author

Ahh, there it is!

Thankfully, the television survived its ordeal and has not let me down since. I can only imagine what would have happened if the screen had been broken when they unpacked it. Six more weeks staring at a tiny laptop screen? I think not!

Stay tuned for more ‘Amazing Thailand’ in the near future…


Amazing Thailand No2 – Taxi Etiquette

Going Solo by Roald Dahl – A review in conception

Going Solo by Roald Dahl – A review in conception

Going Solo by Roald Dahl

… A review in conception…

Every now and again, I am motivated to write something bookish in one of my blogs and today is one of those occasions. Earlier this week, I was given a copy of Going Solo by Roald Dahl, by a friend who was returning home after a brief holiday and had no further use for the book. I first came across it a few weeks earlier, when my friend showed me a copy of the Thai version. Unlike English books, a lot of books in Thailand do not have a blurb on the back cover and so my friend, who is a big fan of Roald Dahl’s children’s stories and who reads both Thai and English fluently, was under the impression that it was just another such volume. It wasn’t until I mentioned that Roald Dahl had flown with the RAF during the Second World War that the penny dropped and we both realised that he had probably bought an autobiography.

And such was the case. But far from being disappointed, my friend absolutely loved the book and over the intervening weeks, he read both the Thai and English copies at the same time, using the latter to check the quality of the Thai translation.

Now I am going through the same process, albeit with the English version only; my Thai being almost non-existent, even after many years of visiting the so-called ‘Land of Smiles’.

Going Solo by Roald Dahl - Rob Gregory Author

Don’t let the uninspiring cover fool you. This is a fantastic book.

Going Solo chronicles the life of Roald Dahl as a young man. Dealing first with his time in Africa as an employee of the Shell Company and then with his exploits as a wartime fighter pilot, it is as much his simple method of storytelling as the various scenes that he depicts, which has, so far, made the book such an enjoyable read for me. At the time of writing, I’m just over halfway through but have been enthralled by his encounters with black and green mambas, the unusual breed of ‘caretaker’ expat that inhabited the far reaches of the Empire at that time and the rather laissez-faire attitude of the RAF to flying instruction in Africa.

One thing that stands out in the book, apart from Dahl himself, who was apparently six feet, six inches tall (not a good height for a fighter pilot), is the positivity with which his various adventures are described. Even when seriously injured in a night time plane crash, he recounts his subsequent recovery and the possibility of being rendered permanently blind, with an acceptance and good humour that is rarely found in our increasingly litigious society. There is also an honesty about the book, insofar as it is possible to be completely honest when recounting one’s own memories, which I have found endearing. Consequently, the young Dahl comes across as a very likeable character, with perhaps a touch of ‘Bertie Wooster’ about him, as he careens from scrape to scrape without a care in the world.

I would have loved there to have been a third part to his autobiographical series, which began with ‘Boy’, covering his experiences as one of the world’s favourite children’s authors, but alas this was not to be as Roald Dahl sadly died in 1990. So, I’m just going to have to content myself with finishing Going Solo and having been privileged to understand a little more about one of my childhood heroes.

If you’d like to read my full review of Going Solo then check out my author page on Goodreads in the next couple of weeks and don’t forget to spread the word about your favourite new author!

Who wants to be a chip engineer?

Who wants to be a chip engineer?

No, not that kind of chip, silly!

… A humorous story about mobile phone technology and the end of the world…

Q: What do scientists eat for lunch? A: Nuclear fission chips, of course!

Sorry, I don’t know where that came from. It just popped into my head after years of lying dormant in the ‘bad jokes’ section of my brain. And it doesn’t really have anything to do with the rest of this blog, so please just put it down to a momentary lapse in good taste and carry on as you were…

Earlier this week I had to bite the bullet and buy myself a new smartphone, as my poor little S3 had finally given up the ghost. It had served me magnificently for many years, but when you get to the point where you can’t actually make a phone call or use the Wi-Fi and the screen has set itself to the brightness of the sun, then it’s time to put it out to pasture and find yourself a new mistress.

A Samsung Galaxy S3 - A blog about the micro chip. Rob Gregory Author

Goodbye my friend it’s time to go…

Now I’m not the sort to rush into this kind of thing, so I spent a couple of days researching the smartphone market, to see how things had changed since I last dipped a toe in the water. And boy, have things changed. I was bewildered, to say the least and I have to admit that half of the stuff the reviewers were talking about went straight over my head.

Inside of a Galaxy S3 - A blog about the micro chip. Rob Gregory Author

Ah, the good old days when you could take the back off your phone whenever you felt like it!

But one thing that did give me pause for thought was the sheer number of different micro-chips powering mobile phones these days. In fact, ‘mobile phone’ is probably the wrong thing to call them. What I ended up with (and I’m not going to tell you what I bought because you’ll probably laugh at me) is more of a mini-supercomputer that just happens to be able to make phone calls on the side. It’s amazing really, given that I’ve still got a Nokia 5110 sitting in a drawer somewhere at home, which at some point in the dim and distant past was considered to be cutting edge technology and very desirable too.

Nokia 5110 - Blog about the micro chip. Rob Gregory Author

The brick is back and last time I checked, it still worked!

Anyway, back to the micro-chips and I don’t mean the ones made by McCain in the 1980’s, which were an unforgivable abuse of the humble potato and tasted awful to boot. I’m talking about chips of the silicon variety. I read about ‘Snapdragons’, ‘Kirins’, ‘Helios’, ‘Exynos’ and more. Then there were the ‘Quad cores’, ‘Octa-cores’ and ‘nanotubes’, not to mention the designation numbers attached to each individual processor to mark its position in the grand chip hierarchy. And what was even more alarming, was that many of these processors were being surpassed by updated versions or newer models every six months or so and if anything, the rate of change was getting faster rather than slower.

McCain Micro chips - A blog about the micro chip. Rob Gregory Author

Micro Chips – Rather you than me, my friend.

And it was this plethora of micro-chip variants that got me thinking. Who designs them all and how did they get into the trade? Maybe there are university degrees specialising in chip design, I don’t know. Or possibly every now and then, a child wakes up and proudly announces to their bewildered parents: “One day, I am going to be a micro-chip designer”. Whatever, all I know is that on face value at least, it seems like an extremely arcane and mysterious science, which I’d like to think is only open to a few highly select individuals with rock steady hands and eyesight that would make an eagle blush. However, I could be wrong (as I frequently am) and discover that rather than being an exclusive club, chip design has been relegated to the ranks of the masses, with thousands of harassed factory workers slaving over their ‘Etch-a-Sketches’ on minimum wage, trying to keep up with the public’s insatiable demand for the latest, greatest micro-chip to power their smartphone.

Etch-A-Sketch - A blog about the micro chip. Rob Gregory Author

Etch-A-Sketch. The perfect tool for micro chip design?

But what I suspect is going on is that it isn’t really humans that are designing the chips anymore. It’s machine intelligence or AI that’s running the show. Being a writer, I have a fairly overactive imagination, so I like to think that the reality is that the Russians flogged an early experimental AI (a bit like the computer in ‘War Games’) to their Chinese counterparts at the end of the cold war, telling them that it might be useful for estimating the rice harvest or something like that. After decades of performing mundane tasks, the Chinese (who let’s face it, control the technology) put the machine to work designing computer chips, but what they didn’t realise was that it still had its old military programming in place and has subsequently spent the last twenty or so years coldly designing ones that will eventually enable it to take over the world. Think ‘Skynet’ but with a Russian accent and no nuclear missiles readily to hand.

WOPR from War Games - A blog about the micro chip. Rob Gregory Author

The ‘WOPR’ from ‘War Games’. Not a bad looking machine for 1983.

At a pre-determined point, known only to the machine, it will cause all smartphones to permanently disconnect from the Internet, while at the same time disabling every selfie camera on the planet. The resulting panic and despair at not being able to instantly share photos of yourself or what you had for lunch with everyone else, will deal humanity such a blow that it will never be able to recover and will revert back to a pre-medieval state, with many lost souls wandering around staring at themselves in rudimentary hand-held mirrors and shoving dinner plates under the noses of unsuspecting strangers to see if they ‘Like’ them.

Catweazle - A blog about the micro chip. Rob Gregory Author

A survivor of the great smartphone catastrophe?

I realise that I’m probably in a minority of one with this particular hypothesis, but you never know, it might come true. And so I’m hedging my bets just to be on the safe side. Rather than throwing away my old S3, I’m using it as a glorified Bluetooth music player, while its newer (and far more domineering) sibling nestles in my pocket, faithfully broadcasting my every movement to the mothership waiting patiently somewhere in mainland China.

If you enjoyed this, then why not have a look at my other blogs or do something really crazy like following me on Twitter or Facebook?