Sunday, May 26, 2013

The AWOL Ambo

In May 2010, nerves were frayed at the UK Mission in Bangers. Red Shirt protestors (the United Front for Democracy against Dictatorship) had set up camp next to the Embassy compound, a brick's lob from the Ambassador's residence. They were a noisy bunch who played Thai country music 24/7 and liked setting off fireworks. Silly Billy UK based staffers (now living on site to cut costs for HMG) thought they were getting mortared. There was much panic below stairs. Many diplomats, worried about a Mau Mau style massacre, fled to Pattaya to play elephant polo and 18 holes of golf. Surely the upper ranks of the UK Mission would be sporting their best stiff upper lip?

Bollocks they would. 


I was out on the beat when "Grass 1" called me up on the dog. He was my Number 1 snout at the Embassy. He told me a bundle. The Ambo went "a bit doolally" and had gone walkabout through the Red Shirt crowds at the gates of the Embassy.

“Apparently he ended up wandering around the demonstration site in his slippers and dressing gown. What do you think about that?”

“Quite the English thing to do,” I replied. “If the apocalypse is on your doorstep, you go out for a peek in your jim jams, don't ya?”

“But the public has a right to know,” said Grass 1, “the press in the UK should be informed, the ambassador has lost the plot.”

“Did you see any of this happen, have you got any pictures of him milling in the crowd?”

“No,” Grass 1 said, “I heard about it."

“Shut it. That’s hearsay, sunshine. And malicious falsehood into the bargain. They not teach UK media law to you stuffed shirts down the FCO? The mother in law was right about youse lot. The Foreign Office ain't been the same since they absorbed the Commonwealth.”

“But still, Her Majesty's Ambassador wandering around in slippers and a dressing gown ought to be enough really. After all, the-public-has-a-right-to-know-this!”

“It didn’t happen,” I said, and put the phone down on Grass 1.

I was still intrigued. I found a pay phone (without a sleeping dog) and called up Grass 2 in the Consular Section at the Embassy. Grass 2 was "locally engaged staff" a 19 year old FCO dependent with no A levels, little training and a very big gob. He was on 100 Baht an hour (£2). The minimum wage back in Blighty (as of March 2010) was £5.93 an hour. 


“Mate, did you hear the one about the Ambo?” He asked.

Not again.

“What, he went to the shops to buy milk in his pajamas and dressing gown story? Yeah.”

“No,” said Grass 2, “he faked a heart attack to get out of the country!”

I'm an Ambassador...Get Me Out of Here!
Grass 2 gave me the rundown. The Ambo had chest pains. The road to the local hospital was blocked with "lumpen proletariat" (Red Shirts). His son was getting married in the USA. Him and the missus was due home leave.

“The Ambo had some palpitations and said, 'I think I'm having a heart attack.' Used his condition to bunk out of town and avoid all the troubles.  He's gone to the USA to get specialist care, where his son is getting married. Tacked on medical leave to his annual home leave and left us here to deal with it. Everyone thinks he faked it. They even had an ambulance round the Embassy. The guy’s a malinger, a bottler. Old David Fall (the previous Ambo) never bunked off a crisis.”

"You what? Pack it in son, the Ambo would never jump ship!"

"Straight up, Guvnor, our man in Bangkok has done a bunk." 

"You'll be telling me fairy stories next," I said. "Stroll on."

I put the phone down on Grass 2. The Ambo had gone AWOL?  It was hard to believe. I sent the Ambo an email -- the US Embassy was doing an online "Town Hall Meeting" with the American expat community about the Red Shirt protests in Bangkok. I got this in response.

"I am currently on leave in US 15-26 May and then on a duty visit to the UK, 27 May - June 4. I will return to post 7 June."

After the Thai Government overcame protestors in Bangkok in May 2010, the Ambo returned to duty “very subdued and restrained” according to Grass 2. “He’s usually very cheerful and full of energy. Not this time. Think that story going round the Embassy about him pulling a sickie wot dunnit. And he left his DHM in the lurch. He wouldn't stop complaining about the additional workload.” 

Soon after, the Ambo retired from the diplomatic service (in November 2010) and took a job as a barman for ThaiBev's Charoen Sirivadhanabhakdi (owner of several Scottish distilleries and Chang Beer, sponsors of Everton FC).  Charoen was a large backer of the Yellow Shirts -- who closed the airport in 2008 and occupied Government House for several months before that. As for Our Man in Bangkok, the move from diplomacy to pulling pints left few surprised.