Everything on the previous page – and much more – is contained in the pages of Our Man in Phuket. Alan is no elegant prose stylist, not interested in the niceties of language. But then he wouldn’t want to be. Much of the book’s impact and immediacy comes from his demotic, “tell it as it is” approach. The years roll back as he refers to ”nooky”, “birds”, “piss-ups”, “ prats” and “tom-tits”, or the “doodlebugs” that blew away half of his grandmother’s Paddington house.
Ever the pragmatist, his response to his future wife’s marriage ultimatum outside Marble Arch tube station is, “Oh shit” before muttering “Oh, all right then.” The arrival of his first-born elicits the comment: “just another sprog… keeping me poor for the next 20 years”.
An earthy sense of humour allied to a wry capacity for self-deprecation pervades the memoir. Alan notes, for example, that “a good diver’s hand linesman should be able to feel every move his diver makes, especially when he farts.”
When deciding on where to live in Phuket, his house’s location had to meet the “triple D” factor: the “Drunken Driving Distance” that he could manage from bar to home without mishap. His own gaffes, mainly small social ones, are those of a “plonker”.
Ever willing to take on challenges, he volunteers – admittedly for a sizeable fee and a bottle of brandy – to bring ashore a decayed corpse in Ghanaian waters full of rotting fish and where visibility is absolute “zero.“ Marooned in Kuwait at the time of Saddam Hussein’s invasion, he organises the escape of a group of expats to Saudi Arabia. As with most endeavours in his life, Alan succeeds.
For most readers, the most captivating parts of the memoir are about Phuket – which he adores – and to which he has contributed so much, despite the “file and forget” attitude of officialdom, which he frequently manages to circumvent. Describing his sojourn on the island as his “fantasy life”, settling here effectively ends his 38 year marriage to Marie. The abrupt termination still gives him pangs of remorse. But ever the pragmatist, Alan finds a Thai partner, who wins him over by selling him a mattress for five times what he intended to pay.
Alan and Siriporn are still together. With characteristic generosity, he built a walled compound where nine members of his extended family live to this day.
If the book has a weakness, it resides in its rather slap-happy grammar and syntax. Nothing a decent edit could not fix – if this fascinating book ever runs to a second edition. And an index would be useful. But these are minor cavils.
On the credit side, Alan’s own sketches of underwater projects, coupled with photographs, add variety to the sprightly text, and the contributions from “outsiders” – particularly the correspondence between Alan and various troubled expat “nutters”, is hilarious.
All in all, this is a book that pulls no punches, a read as entertaining and plain-speaking as the man himself.
Our Man in Phuket by Alan R. Cooke MBE is published by Kris Books