I was waiting for my ears to pop. They hadn’t sorted themselves out since we’d landed. Crossing the short distance to Koh Samed – the small ferry nosing its way across the warm waters of the Gulf of Thailand on a perfectly blue sunny day, (temperature about 35 degrees C) I was beginning to feel relaxed. The sea-breeze, the warm sun on my face, the tang of breeze, and the prospect of a couple of weeks on an island paradise was beginning to take the edges of my road-weariness. And yet, my ears-valves refused to open fully. It made for an interesting acoustic. Conversation was muffled, but audible. It sounded like me head was in a cloth-bag. Still, I was feeling good – I love boat trips and ferry crossings to small islands in particular. As Koh Samed came into view against a sunset, the words of Cavafy’s poem came to my once again (‘May you enter harbours you are seeing for the first time’). I was last in Thailand seventeen years ago, backpacking around on a budget with my half-Italian, half-Iranian girlfriend of the time, Emily. We spent time on some of the Thai islands further south (Koh Tao and Koh Nang Yuan stand out) but not Koh Samed – so this was a ‘new harbour’ for me; and I was returning as a guest tutor for Skyros: flight, accommodation, food and expenses included. How my fortunes have changed! Yet this time, I wasn’t on holiday or a journey of self-discovery – (Siddhartha and all that) it was effectively a business trip. I would be running my Life:Fiction course every day – two four-day stints, with one day off in the middle of the session. Since it was smack bang in the middle of OU term time I also had marking to do – groan! However much I was loathe to take ‘work’ with me, this was the only way I could negotiate this excursion. Online marking of term papers is pretty much the same, wherever in the world you do it – although being able to pop down to the tropical beach for a swim has its compensations!
On making landfall (toes sinking into warm white sand the texture of demerara sugar) our bags were carried up to our rooms by nimble Thai lads. We had a chance to freshen up before the first meal. The room was spotless and comfortable with good air conditioning – essential! I felt better after a shower and a change of clothes. There is something psychologically reassuring about unpacking. It is good to finally arrive. I was looking forward to exploring the island and getting to meet the participants properly…
We had a brief ‘briefing’ followed by a lovely welcoming meal provided by the sweet staff of Samed Cabana – the beach-side resort we had colonised for the duration (enriching the demographic of Swedish and Russian families – many of whom had brought their small children to this safe and picturesque island).
The schedule was bashed out in time for the official start of the programme the next morning – and my daily routine became as follows:
Sunrise meditation and swim
Breakfast on the beach
An hour of writing (working on folk tales)
Demos – the community meeting from 9am
Ecos – staff/participant groups
Then I was free (by 10am) to crack on with my marking – oh joy! I set myself a quota of a couple a day, which would allow me to plough through them within the 12 days.
Lunch on the beach was at 1.30pm
After lunch I usually chilled out on the beach with a book (or a MSS or screenplay…), going in for a swim when things got too hot.
Around 4pm I prepared for my class – browsing my notes over a cuppa.
5pm my writing workshop – held in the resort restaurant.
7pm – free time! Dinner with group, or a quiet one.
Optional evening activities included dancing and the final cabaret.
So, that is the shape of my day for a couple of weeks, with the odd variation. Hardly gruelling, though in the heat it was hard to do any marking or teaching – especially late in the afternoon when the natural tendency is to have a siesta, or a cold bottle of beer and a swim.
Highlights that followed include swimming under the full moon, the day out to the Turtle Sanctuary and the pilgrimage to the white Buddha … Watch this space for further dispatches from Fantasy Island!