A most unexpected call this morning from a particularly chirpy John Geddes – who at 78 is the oldest gentlman adventurer I know.
For the past two years at least John has spent the vast majority of his time living out a well-earned retirment in Burma – or Myanmar to give the country it’s proper modern name.
For donkeys years before he headed out to the exotic east, John was a private hire car driver in Edinburgh and a well-kent face round the Barras in Glasgow.
I don’t know what the Burmese is for “well kent face” – but that’s excactly what John is now in the Bota Htaung township of Rangoon. There he finds his pension goes an awfy long way, while the deference to older people and the relaxed pace of life and the suit him perfectly, thank you very much.
John spent his early 70s becoming something of a whiz on computers and emailing – but has left that behind now that he lives in Burma. These days he is regularly out of touch for months at a time – with access to phones difficult enough and access to email a complete non-starter.
So during the recent troubles in Burma my thoughts often turned to John – and my hope that he was ok. Of course, I needn’t have worried. He was no soooner back in Scotland than on the phone to say his hellos and check on pals back in this neck of the woods.
He assured me the troubles didn’t impact on the population in Burma anywhere near as much as the coverage suggested. Indeed, he insisted that if stone throwing youths hadn’t got involved the original parade by Buddhist monks would have gone ahead peacefully and been forgotten within hours.
In fact John told me: “I felt a damn sight safer over there when it was at its worst than I ever do on the streets of Edinburgh or Glasgow.”
But don’t get me wrong – John’s no apologist for the regime and knows what goes on. Hence he almost choked on his green tea when a BBC reporter sidled up to him in the local hotel where he likes to take his afternoon drinks in downton Rangoon.
The female reporter had made the journey over the border from Thailand on the hunt for foreign nationals as the trouble kicked off. Clearly someone told her about the kindly old Western “uncle” down in Bota Htaung. But if the BBC woman expected some Colonial welcome straight from days of Empire, she was in for an unpleasant surprise.
“She damn well could have got me the jail!”, John told me. “The last thing I need is anyone thinking I’ve got anything to do with the BBC. I cannae imagine what she was thinking.”
If that reporter thought she got a flea in her ear during their brief encounter in that Rangoon hotel, John assures me it is nothing compared to the email he sent her when he touched down in Qatar during the long flight home. Ouch.