“This way looks pretty safe,” I say, marching ahead around the corner and straight into the trap: six, maybe seven Thai teenagers, eyes full of malice, fingers already on the triggers of their pistols.
I freeze. Behind me, my companions are backing away, about to take their chances ducking through heavy Bangkok traffic, but there’s no way I can outrun our assailants. There’s too many of them, they’ve got me cornered, and I’m wearing badly thought-out footwear. Few farang* are out in this part of the city tonight, and a pale-skinned blonde that’s fresh off the plane is a prime target.
“Tell me again where you’re going,” says my Nan, pouring me a Bacardi and coke with significantly more Bacardi than coke. “Your dad said something about North Korea?”
We’re in her kitchen, a few miles from Heathrow Airport, where every few minutes planes roar over so low that it feels like they might take the roof with them; the kitchen we’d sat in when I was 11 and taping my first interview for a school project on family histories, when we talked for hours about growing up in wartime London because her mother couldn’t bear to let her be evacuated and I realised that real life is seeped in better stories than anything I could invent. The moment, I suppose, than sowed the seeds for a career as a journalist.
It’s Easter Sunday and the church bells are ringing over Palermo. We’re sprawled on the rooftop terrace of our apartment, watching the seagulls over the domes and palazzios and the Arab-Norman towers, the blue hills and the just-glimpsed sea. Wagner’s Tristan and Isolde is mingling with the shouts of a market trader and the table is littered with olives and espresso and remnants of last night’s wine.
It’s 5.58am, I’m hungover, and I’m on a train to the city that I used to live in for a mad dash to my old GP to try and get last minute vaccinations.
Somehow, I manage to do this every single time I leave Europe. I remembered two days before I was due to go to India (a place that you really, really don’t want to visit without the right jabs, especially during the monsoon) that I had singularly failed to book an appointment, and had to sheepishly ask my friend’s mum (a doctor, thankfully, not just some sinister-sounding needle enthusiast), to inject me with all of them at once and hope for the best.
Avoiding eye contact, I scuttle over to my desk, but he’s spotted me, and is already making his way over. In a slightly higher pitch than usual, he asks if I have five minutes for a “little chat”.
I follow him into a meeting room, trying to look serious and professional and not at all like someone who plans to be elephant-spotting on a jungle island in just over a month’s time.
“I can’t stop you from leaving,” says my boss. “I mean, I won’t try, since you’ve clearly got a pretty solid plan laid out for when you go.”
“I’ve got a one way ticket to Bangkok,” I mumble, apologetically.
I’ve done it. I’VE DONE IT.
I had to wait an interminable age until my boss actually decided to head home for the evening (he inexplicably opted to stay until nearly 8pm, which I’ve never witnessed before), but I waited until the coast was clear, typed up my preternaturally restrained letter of resignation, spent 25 minutes hunting around for an envelope (perils of the digital age) and then perched it jauntily on his keyboard for early morning discovery. The presence of a few stragglers from the media team prevented me doing a little dance, but I did one inside.