Stephen

Stephen. 63.

Er, Gorton, Manchester, I was born. Then round the Bradford area of, erm, just off Grey Mare Lane actually, so I moved around. I lived in Northwich for twelve years, and before I went to Thailand I lived twenty-five years in Mottram.

The first visit was about ten years ago. I just went on holiday, on my own, and er, that was the end of the marriage when I came back. Erm. I found the girls, and the drink, and everything, for me, you know. Probably a midlife crisis. I was 50 odd, then.

I had six birthdays in Thailand, on the beach, you know.

Erm. First year, I had big money, sold my house. Erm. And it all just went wrong, er, and I found myself facing the fact that I’m going to be on the beach and I said, ‘No, there’s no way I’m going to end up on the beach.’

And I’m sat in a bar one night… Well it’s not a bar, it’s erm, it’s a Thai-run little company that sold beer to bars, but they had a little area outside where all the—we call them Farang, that means foreigners—would sit, from all over the world. And one night, I said to him, I said, ‘I’ve had enough. There’s no way, next week, I’m going to be on the beach.’ So I had a little whiskey bottle, smashed it on my head, slashed my throat, slashed my… I was in a mess. And er, I went around a corner and did this, but someone had seen me from an hotel and she reported it to the people where I was drinking.

Next minute there was about thirty people around me, dressed me up, put a shirt on me, a clean shirt and everything, and ten minutes later I was on the drink again, enjoying myself again! [laughs] But I was in a mess, you know.

Anyway, cut a long story short, I ended up going on the beach, er, in Pattaya. Quite dangerous in Pattaya, near Walking Street, very famous. Erm, I did about one week there, carried my passport in my bag. I was scared, you know.

And I thought, I’ll go to Jomtien, because they’ve got an embassy there in Jomtien. I got there about one o’clock, in the early hours, I left about midnight, took about an hour to walk, and I ended up on the beach there. And again, I didn’t feel safe but, erm…

I went to the embassy the next morning, they couldn’t help me. I went every day for seven months to the embassy, at that time pleading to get myself home. In the end, it turned around where I didn’t want to go home. I met thousands of friends from all over the world. I never begged; people would just see the way I was and give me a drink, smokes, offer me food, clothes… And that’s how I existed for six years on the beach.

And two Canadian men said, ‘I think there’s an interesting story there.’ They said, ‘Would you like to write a book? We’ll put you in a hotel.’ But I ended up dictating to an English guy, he’s an actual English teacher, and he could stay in the hotel with me, and we finished the book. Just before the book was published, he died, so he never got anything out of this.

And then I got moved on from Pattaya, er Jomtien, sorry. Erm, ‘cause immigration were on my back. They wanted 100,000 Baht off me, which is about £2,000. I said, ‘There’s no way I can get that. I’m living on the beach, as you know.’ They all knew me. I was quite famous with the police and everything.

I packed a couple of bags. I left all, everything I owned, in this hotel and ended up back in Pattaya. I left Jomtien. And I survived there for another six months. And people from Jomtien were coming to visit me. I thought I’d lost everybody, starting again. It was hard, you know, erm, because you build up relationships with people, and they come back on holiday twice a year and say, ‘Bloody hell, Steve, are you still here?’ and ‘I suppose you want another beer.’ You know. I get took out.

I actually went to the police station the first day I arrived in Pattaya. I thought, ‘I’ve had enough’.

I went to the police station and they said, ‘How can we help you?’

And I said, ‘I think you should lock me up.’

And they said, ‘Why?’

I said, ‘I’m an over-stayer, six years.’

They said, ‘Stephen’—they knew my name—‘Stephen, just go away.’

And then, er, the police got me one night and said, ‘Look Stephen, we’re going to have to arrest you this time. We’re worried about your health, because you’re getting older’—they knew my story—‘and you’re drinking a lot.’ Alright, before ten o’clock in the morning, I’d probably had two bottles of whiskey, er, vodka, ‘cause you can get it cheap, you know.

Anyway, erm, they locked me up, and before I knew it I went to court, I went to prison for five weeks, and my friend from Canada paid for my ticket home.

Ended up on the streets in, er, Gatwick. I’m still in flipflops, shorts, in thirteenth December, freezing cold. Nothing, no money. And, er, I got help the next morning—just stayed up all night—I went to a charity, they paid for me from Gatwick to get to Manchester, where I’m a bit more familiar, erm, but I didn’t arrive until half past nine again, at night, so another night on the streets in Piccadilly Station.

I thought, ‘I wish I was back in Thailand.’ You know what I mean? I knew it was going to be hard. And it gets worse. I found the Booth Centre, and I didn’t know where they were going to be, on Cheetham Hill Road. But I got here about an hour and a half early, and luckily for me, I met the Thai lady who’s got the café just across the road, and because I’ve just come from Thailand, we hit it off. And her husband’s got the garage next door. And we’ve come very good friends now.

And the Booth Centre, different staff, have helped me. I was living in churches, every night for about five weeks. Different church every night, so seven churches, er, which was comfortable, good to me, food, everything. And slowly but surely, I got a doctor, erm, and now I’ve got accommodation. Er, it’s lovely, it’s a retirement home. So, er, nice and quiet. Happy Days.

The Beatles, Let It Be.