Christine’s extraordinary life: part 2.

We previously shared “Christine’s extraordinary life: part 1” in which she recounted her early memories and the story of her life up to the point where her husband, Michael, accepted a position as Managing Director of The Bangkok Post. On a snowy January in 1970, the couple left the UK for a new life in Thailand with their children. My interview with Christine was rich, interesting, and bursting with vivid memories and recollections. We talked many times over a number of weeks. The second part of Christine’s story explores her life in Bangkok and beyond.

The family’s arrival in Bangkok presented Christine with a very different life than she had previously been used to, or indeed could have imagined. Her husband Michael’s role as editor of The Bangkok Post exposed them to unique dimensions of Thai culture and society.

“Yes, it was a big shock coming to Bangkok.  A big problem was the heat, of course. I’d never been used to heat like that! And then there was my husband Michael, presented with this completely bankrupt newspaper. And I was suddenly living in this huge, horrid house, I can’t tell you how I hated it!”

“People in Bangkok knew we’d arrived because they’d put our arrival in the paper. I got the boys organised at a primary school, studying the English system, in a school which had 39 different nationalities attending. The boys didn’t mind. They were young enough not to care too much really. And they kept tropical hours, so they used to go to school early in the morning and come home at lunchtime.”

“And then I suddenly had these five servants in the house. I had a cook, a wash maid, a garden boy, a driver, and a night watchman! I was terrified.  All I’d ever had before in my life was a char lady. And I was really quite terrified of this cook. I thought, “God, she’s a professional cook!” But we became very good friends actually. She was a marvellous woman. I could write a whole chapter about her alone.”

The football results and going to prison.

By her own admission, Christine initially found her life in Bangkok rather boring.

“So, I’m sitting at home, the kids are organised at school, I hardly ever saw Michael because he was so busy in the office, I couldn’t even do my own washing up or anything because I’ve got servants to do it, and I rapidly get extremely bored.  So, I said to my husband one evening, “You’re going to have to find me a job because this is ridiculous. I need to do something!”

“So, to cut a long story short, I turn up at this office in quite a modern office block, and there behind a large desk is a big, fat Chinese man. Now, I’d worked in advertising, and I’d been a secretary and stuff, so I expected him to put me down behind a typewriter or whatever.  Not a bit of it; he handed me a copy of The Bangkok Post and said, “Read that.”  So, I read it, and then he said, “Now read the adverts.”  And I thought, “This is really stupid, what is going on here?” Anyway, I read the adverts and then he said “Now, interview me.  Pretend I’m Tom Jones,” who was a pop singer at the time.  And I thought, “This is mad.” Anyway, what happened at the end was he played my voice back to me in the room – he’d been recording me – and he said, “Yes, you’ll do. You can be on the air in a month.  I’ll take you out to the station.”

So, Christine began working for an English-language radio station in Bangkok. It was her job to read out various scripts and advertisements in ‘proper English’ – live on air.

“As long as you spoke English ‘properly’ and could read the adverts when they were meant to be read, you were in. I didn’t get much money, that wasn’t the point; it was something to do. Oh, it went out all over Thailand, all over Bangkok!”

So, I set up doing that and I loved it, it was quite fun.  I could do more or less what I liked as long as I read the adverts properly and the advertisers were pleased, which they were. I even used to read the football results which was absolutely hilarious! Because I used to read it like they do in England: “West Bromwich Albion 2, Arsenal 3” [Laughs]. Nobody could have cared less about the English football results, obviously.”

Christine had so many tales to tell. There were times when our conversation took abrupt, unexpected turns.

“Well, have I told you about the time my husband went to jail?” She casually added.

As an advocate of the free press, her husband, Michael, frequently published material that may have been offensive to the Thai authorities or to figures of influence and power in the country at the time.

Christine’s husband, Michael, at his desk at The Bangkok Post

“He was forever getting involved in libel cases.  If you live within a corrupt military government and you try and tell the truth, people don’t like it.”

During his time at The Bangkok Post, Michael was jailed for offending the military autocrat, General  Kriangsak Chamanan (pictured), who eventually staged a successful coup and ruled Thailand in the late 1970s.

General Kriangsak Chamanan

“So, anyway, we were both at home; I think it was the children’s half-term or something. And he said “I’ve got to go back tomorrow because I’m going to have to go to court, and I may well go to jail.”  I said, “Don’t be ridiculous, you won’t go to jail.”  He said, “Yes, this time it’s going to happen.”

“There was a piece published in the paper, about the son of General Kriangsak Chamanan. His son was a sort of a ‘leftie student’ who had been in Vietnam, I don’t know, and had made a speech at some student gathering, a pro-communist speech, and this was reported in the paper.  And the General was very angry about it because it reflected badly on him.”

“And he (Michael) was sentenced to prison! Well, when he was in court, the judge said, “It’s nothing to do with you really, you weren’t even in the country at the time the article was published.  Just tell us who wrote the piece, and when it happened.” And Michael said, “No, I am the Editor of the paper, and I am responsible.”  And the judge said, “This is the first time anybody has ever stood in my court and said they were responsible for anything!”

“So, anyway, the judge then said, “Then I have no choice but to sentence you to 30 days in Thanyaburi District Prison!”

Michael was sentenced to 30 days in Thanyaburi District Prison

“The General heard about this and said, “No, I’m not having that, you’ve got to sentence him to hard labour.”

“And so, the judge, who was being leaned on, said “Oh well, alright.” And if he wanted to keep his job he was going to have to do as the General said.  So, Michael was sentenced to 30 days of hard labour too. The local governor in our district of Thailand was absolutely horrified, and very embarrassed to have this foreigner sentenced to prison. So, he said, “OK, the ‘hard labour’ I sentence you to do will be to do my gardening around my house, which means that you can come out of the prison compound during the day.”

“In the end, it was ridiculous, we actually bought a lawnmower, and our driver did a bit of ineffectual grass cutting, and that was what amounted to the ‘hard labour’ [laughter]. And Michael just sat in the garden, working – he was still editing the paper all this time, you see!”

“And I did some Danish embroidery while I was sitting there with him. And we watched the lizards in the garden. Yes, oh, I’m not going to cry now, but that was a hard time for me.”

“But the reason I’m telling you this story is because that was the moment I said to my husband, “I’ve had enough of this, I want to go home now.”

Coming home.

The family returned to the UK in the 1980s. Their return, as was ‘Michael’s way,’ was also impulsive and adventurous.

“As usual, this is about my bloody husband, who I love dearly but who was an impulsive pain! Anyway, we looked around this house near Bristol and it was in the most terrible state! The whole of the top floor – it was a three-story house – the whole of the top floor was black mould. Black mould!  And there was a tree that was growing in it and its roots were in the walls. It was terrible.  The wallpaper was hanging off, the kitchen was completely empty, except for an old Victorian dresser.  It was in a terrible state, and the people were sort of camping out in it really. But the drawing room was absolutely wonderful, it had oak panelling and a huge, wonderful Elizabethan fireplace with a wonderful carved stone lintel, and oh, it was lovely.”

“It had a garden, which you couldn’t see, it was wilderness, it was a real jungle. And my husband said, “I think we ought to buy this,” and I said, “But listen?!” Anyway, he did, he bought it that night!”

The family lived in what would be a beautiful family home and Christine has lived in the South-West ever since.

Michael died on September 11th, 2013.

It was clear from our conversations that from the moment they met, as students, in the Bristol University Union Bar, Michael had been, and would always be a pivotal part of Christine’s life story. Ten days after their first meeting, he asked her to marry him and his brave, impulsive, ambitious, adventurous nature helped to shape a life story that reflects a rich tapestry of adventures and experiences.

“I’m very grateful. I’ve had a wonderful life. I was very lucky. My husband was the right man, in the right place, at the right time. He had been trained by a New Yorker to sell advertising and believed that it’s advertising that keeps newspapers together. In the end, he turned that Bangkok newspaper around – just as he’d dreamed of doing as a young student!”

Did you enjoy Christine’s extraordinary story? Let us know in the comments below.