Foreigners are used to Brits behaving badly overseas. We parade our nationality, and regional identity, in gaudy football shirts; get loud when drunk, cause scenes and pick fights with total strangers. Our name is Legion and we are many -- lager louts, football hooligans, the barmy army and feral youth. That's us Brits in the corner, a bunch of turds who shouldn't be flushed out the country!
During the years 2003 to 2012, I learned that diplomats were no different to the rowdy exports and Club 18-30 types best forgotten from package holidays of Kodachrome youth. And, after the brief from the FCO in 2003, I was committed to NOT getting drunk and/or causing scenes or fights at functions with members of the FCO, DFID or UN.
The first incident was minor but it served as a prelude of things worse to come. It happened during our "familiarization visit" to Bangkok -- a one week trip to find suitable accommodation at post. We had been invited out for drinks by a senior DFID staffer to Gulliver's, a large, noisy pub off Sukhumvit Road at the back of the city's Arab quarter. We arrived to discover the man from DFID, a pallid Geordie meat pie in a colonial short sleeved shirt, pissed up and grumpy. He was leaving post and the outgoing diplomat was looking to palm off his motorbike. He put on his Arthur Daley hat and tried his luck with me.
"You make contact with your customer. Understand their needs. And then flog them something they could well do without."
"You've got to get a bike, mate, it's the only way to get around town, you'll be stuck in traffic otherwise." I told him that I liked traffic jams ("a good opportunity to catch up on meditation,") and that I had no interest in buying his scooter (conveniently parked outside for a test ride). After a short sulk and another pint of Stella, the man from DFID started to rant about his volunteer work with Father Joe and the Human Development Foundation.
I waterboard you in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirits (hic!)
"This guy does great work with the kids, they've all got AIDS, and he's the only one who cares about 'em! Anyhow," he roared, "I want to get David Beckham down to the orphanage to meet these kids, can you help?"
"Is Klong Toey near the beach?"
I pointed out to the drunk silly diplomat that I did not know "Father Joe of Klong Toey". Or Mr. Beckham. The man from DFID folded his arms and snarled. "What kind of person are you, you don't care about kids with AIDS? What kind of journalist are you, you don't have David Beckham's contact details? These kids worship Beckham! And if he were to come to the orphanage it would make their fucking day and you don't fucking care! What's wrong with you, for Christ's sake!"
Sensing an international incident, the diplomat's wife interceded and he promptly shut up. Later, lying on my all-expenses-paid bed at the Hilton, next to the British Embassy on Wireless Road, I thought about the briefing from the FCO in London. I had been warned about diplomats losing their inhibitions overseas. This was the first meeting with my wife's colleagues. In a strange and paranoid kind of way, it felt like I was being tested. Would they all be like this chap, were they all belligerent, anti-social drunks? Shome mishtake, shurley?
No mistake. The answer is "yes". Brits can be riotous drunks and their civil servants are no exception. One incident that sticks out in the mind happened after drinks with DFID staff at a fancy Bangkok hotel in 2005. A legless DFID lovely, in a black dress and tottering red heels, jumped into a taxi home. As it rolled out of the 5 star luxury hotel, she stuck her upper body out of the window, blowing raspberries and hurling V signs at bemused Thais and shocked guests.
"You fucking cunts," she shouted, "what the fuck are you looking at? Wankers! The lot of you!"
I shook my head. "Tut-tut," I whispered to the wife, "you would never think that she works for the British Government."
Later, in a quiet moment, I pulled her up about being drunk and disorderly in public. "I don't care," she said, "if anyone gives me any shit, I just pull out my dip card. Nobody fucks about with you when you've got that."
Life does not imitate art. It imitates a game of Monopoly. Short of murder, or odd jobs with Victor Bout, we could do whatever we wanted and get away with it because diplomatic status is a get out of jail free card. Our position was unassailable.
Power and rank goes to the heads of some. One chap who got himself into a spot of bother was the former Defence Attache, Colonel Mustard, a flint-eyed chopper pilot who ran amok on a business class flight from Bangkok to London after mixing drinks with anti-depressants. The Colonel said that he had no memory of the incident and was plagued by PTSD from victim identification duty after the December 26th Tsunami. He got off but Colonel Mustard lost his job as the Defence Attache and went to seek an honorable death in Basra, Iraq.
Next, a raucous display at a New Year's Eve Party in Bangkok in 2006. Beaucoup FCO and DFID were in attendance. It was an atypical English social gathering. Stilted conversations, heightened or dimmed by copious amounts of booze poured down the neck; sneaky office romances played out in dark corners; take out Hawaiian pizza on the table spread with a cigarette butt stubbed in its pinapple; and last, but by no means least, dirty, drunken dancing in the sitting room to cheesy Seventies disco.
It was a Satanic display. Boozed up dips from the FCO were simulating sex acts with bacchanalian fervour. A usually reserved female from the FCO was rubbing up to peers and familiars like a pansexual fawn, a man-eating PA from the FCO, and her visiting Father from England, bared their bums for a double mooney to the camera (yes, there were pix). And an oikish provincial (FCO), fresh from a tour of duty in Iraq, was doggy bonking his spouse to Abba on the wooden tiled floor of the luxury apartment.
Dec 31st 2006: Thai security forces look for clues