Am I feral yet?
My scent is Sketolene and sweat. My skin dark with sun and dirt. Hair longer, and unwashed.
Guy in the pub thought I was hilarious. That was when I’d just moved in, nine months ago. He asked where I lived, and I told him in a hut in the jungle. He wanted to see a picture, so I took out my MacBook Air to show him one and he cracked up, announcing loudly:
“Bloke here says he lives in the jungle and he’s got a Mac!!!”
I didn’t really get his hilarity, but when a few weeks later my motherboard died from the humidity I remembered, and thought maybe he was right. Some things are just not compatible.
“Do you live near the sea?” they asked me at the shop when they gave it back.
Well yeah. About twenty metres from where it smashes against the rocks, throwing up thirty-foot explosions of spray. In the rainforest, by the ocean — yeah it’s damp.
A lot of things just die here. I bought about twenty solar lamps to plant around my paths, and they’ve all died, one by one, over the course of a couple of months. Shoes tend to die too. These days I’m barefoot anyway because I feel better in contact with the ground.
So am I feral yet?
Nah. It takes more than a few months.
Still nine months living here have changed me, I’m sure. I’m stronger than I was, just from living on this hill. And my senses feel sharper: my eyesight stronger, from these long vistas of hillside and sea, and my hearing sharper too, from these long dark nights.
The sun has come back round the headland now, its dying light hitting my porch full on when it’s not blotted out by chemical clouds.
I call it a porch. Some people say balcony, but that’s not right. Verandah, I think, is more accurate. It fact it’s more or less a living room, just without walls. The Greeks called it stoa, as in Stoic philosophy. Philosophy of the porch.
Cos that’s where you sit and philosophize, while you pass the inspiration anti-clockwise, rasta-style.
At dark I make a fire. A wood fire in front of the hut helps keep the mosquitoes away. But I’d do it anyway. It’s more like an observance or a form of meditation. I used to watch TV; now I watch flames.
That’s one of the beautiful things about living in this valley by myself: I can burn what I want. If I want to turn a banana tree festooned with dried-out leaves into a dripping fountain of flame, I can do it on a whim. One touch of the lighter and it goes up like a firework. In the dry season, at least. A beautiful sight, in the dark.
So many beautiful things about this little valley. The rocks I found under the vegetation, packed with quartz. The ocean rocking at the end of it. And the nobody in it.
Just me and the cobras, and the bats, the sea-eagles, the hundreds of little chameleons and salamanders, the owls, the butterflies and enormous moths, the mosquitoes and the ants and the evil centipedes and the big hunting spiders. And the monitor lizards. And the tortoise that Hippy rescued.
Nearly nine months now.
Am I feral yet?
Alienated, yes. Radically disenchanted, for sure.
Paranoid? You bet. It’s the only way to be these days.
With my bottled water and my Mac, and my yellow Fostex speakers?
But if I could stay here forever, living in the real and snarling at the world of simulacra, I would.
Like Eric Dollard, living out of his car in the desert for twenty-five years. Electrical engineer, mathematician, scientist, and feral human. Dollard is one of these outsider physicists, who is only known to the world because he has no choice but to help those who are helping him by putting out interviews and updates.
Feral was also the word that came to mind when I finally got to meet Atchara’s missing children, who had been gone for ten years. Something a little feral about them when they came back. It’s because of them that I stayed in Phuket longer than planned, and met the feral human Kailen Hodgekiss and the feral human Neung. And that’s how I came to be living here, under trees.
But Neung is a different order of feral, and Hodgy too, come to that.
Neung is the patron here, the man I think of as a human snake, partly in reference to his slender physique but also out of respect for his wisdom: which includes not being someone you should fuck with, but not necessarily being able to read or write. He grew up in the South. ‘Culture is … harz-core,’ he says. He was selling guns at the age of ten, or delivering them at least.
Guy’s gonna pull a knife on you, you’re gonna wake up in the middle of the night and find him in your room, says Hodgy, Neung’s greatest admirer. That was when Johnnie Buffalo came back and started trying something on about money he’d given Neung for something, but strictly, in Hodgy’s view, water under the bridge.
Me and Hodgy, we have same blood. And I can see that, even though they come from such different backgrounds.
Neung, if I’ve got the story straight, was raised by monks and educated by criminals.
It’s not easy too get anything straight around here. But you’d have to be a straight-up idiot to fuck with either of these blood-brothers.
Didn’t stop Johnnie Buffalo, of course.
Neung is number 1, that’s what the name means.
And his number 2 is A, or Ai, or Aye, or Eh? it doesn’t really matter. A is of the same snake-like build, and his hair is afro, and everybody thinks he is Neung’s son, which he isn’t. No, no, says A when people ask him, not my father, my brother.
Neung’s other blood-brother.
A says he models himself on Captain Jack Sparrow.
The bar is shaped like a ship, after all. Stranded on the steep hillside like Noah’s Arc in the middle of the forest. It’s got a mast, a crow’s nest, a wheel house, everything. Painted colourfully on corrugated iron outside: JAMROCK JUNGLE SCHOOL AND CAPITAL OF WE.
And who is ‘we’?
People who have not forgotten how to live.
One time we were having a party at Jamrock — it was probably the third of our periodic ‘Groundations’ — that being the rasta term for a periodic gathering of the tribe — and people were eating and drinking and Thai Sawan were playing their beautiful blend of reggae and southern folk styles, and the place was rocking in such a nice way. Almost everybody was Thai — just Rico, Ginni, Johnnie, myself, and one or two others — and I turned to Rico and said,
You know, if you were from another planet, and you wanted to take a look at human beings, but only had a couple of hours, you could do worse than drop in here for a while. I looked around.
Rico gets it.
I’m not trying to idealise anyone. It is what it is. Just humans, bound together in a natural human culture, living, getting by, getting on, making their own entertainment… These days that’s a rare and beautiful thing.
The conviviality is all.
There’s a rich subculture connected with this rambling jungle road which has only gradually revealed itself to me. It’s centred around musicians who play or have played in overlapping bands. Fine musicians, some of them, who’ll never make much money, but like so many in this country, find a way to get by. Like Neung, they are mostly from the South, from Pat-a-loon. Jamrock on these occasions is like a little enclave of the South, tucked away in the forest on a road that goes nowhere.
They haven’t changed. Honorable, gentle, down to earth, their radical plan is to carry on being how they always were, and to keep doing it until they can’t. Just being human.
And of course I can’t be one of them, not quite, but they accept me and appreciate my musical skills and forgive my pathetic inability to grasp their language or eat their food without going through comical agonies.
I’m the only farang here sat the moment. And I’m feral in a different way, my own special farang way.
Staring suspiciously at the sky.
Gazing absently into flames.
Following trails of termites with my flashlight.
I haven’t retired, I tell people, I’ve dropped out. I blew off my career and walked away, ended up living in this in a steep patch of forest at the end of a long, rambling jungle road.
My Bohemia. Finally.
I’d stay here forever if I could, but I’ll have to get my shit together back in the ‘real’ world — the other world — at some point.
And Jamrock is here today, but it might not be here tomorrow. So I have to make it count.
Like Hodgy said, This can’t go on forever.
Unless I get bitten by a cobra, then it kind of will.
There’s always more than one way of looking at things.
There’s Hodgy’s way, and there’s Johnnie Buffalo’s way, for starters. For a while, that was quite dramatic, that opposition. Then suddenly it was just me and Johnnie Buffalo. And then just me.
Staring at the full moon through the gauze of unnatural scuzz.
Playing the piano in a boxing ring, four walls of solid rain.
My mind a whirl of outsider physics and ancient philosophy.
I have doubted everything , and come finally to something I don’t hate knowing.
That’s been my trajectory. Radical disenchantment, real despair, followed eventually — and miraculously — by these sunrise epiphanies.
That’s what I’ve found: if you just keep reading the lethal texts, buried deep beneath them, if you’re still sane enough to read them, you might find the vital codes.
Or maybe that’s just what I tell myself to sustain the illusion of sanity.