I mentioned in my last post ”Asian Fiction: The Art Of Finding One’s Favourite Author” that I would elaborate on why I found the novel ” Ne’er The Twain Shall Meet ” by Nick Noye so intriguing. It was a novel that was first published in Great Britain in 1985, but a novel I purchased and read in Bangkok in 1986.
Life is based around a small restaurant in the back streets of Bangkok ran by an alcoholic Chinese restaurateur and his long-suffering and frustrated wife. Every morning for the past 7 years a retired English major (and also alcoholic), has joined the Chinese Restaurateur at a back table of his restaurant in order to drink whisky together.
For 7 years the same morning ritual of toasting each other with pure ice-cold rice whisky and the same old stories trotted out from each other’s lives. Not that they would know as neither speak or understand the other’s language, but still the friendship thrives.
The Retired English Major
Major Rupert Cullingham – James. Retired. Has only known a military career combined with a life of good living or as he puts it:
” Shall die proud. Done minimal work with maximum amount of everything else east of the bloody Suez.” – Nick Noye, Ne’er The Twain Shall Meet (p.24)
Daily he tells the restaurateur stories from his military time spent in places like Cairo, Delhi, Mandalay, Malaya etc. It was inevitable I suppose that he would end his day’s based in the far east and why not Bangkok? So was returning to England ever an option for the major?
” Couldn’t have returned to bloody England. A rented seaside flat, afternoons in the park or library, the Telegraph, an evening sherry, the television and penurious survival on my bloody pathetic pension? Not bloody likely.” – Nick Noye, Ne’er The Twain Shall Meet (p.25)
The major then elaborates on why he decided not to return and end his day’s in England:
” No, England’s not the bloody place to die in. Or live in. Take the weather. Where else can you experience winter, spring, summer and autumn within 24 hours? You need the metabolism of an eskimo, the endurance of an Indian ascetic and the skin of a bloody rhinoceros just to survive. And the food has to be the world’s worst. Expensive starch. Average peasant here eats better. And the English themselves! They never stop moaning. Everyone lives in the past. I’m no different. But at least there’s only one me here.” – Nick Noye, Ne’er The Twain Shall Meet (p.25)
The Chinese Restaurant Owner
The Chinese restaurateur only knows the foreigner as ” the derelict” a name he his given him due to his elderly age and the painfully slow way that he makes his entrance in to the restaurant from the taxi door each morning.
The Chinese restaurateur has been a two bottles of rice – whisky a day man for the past 12 years which has taken its toll on him both appearance wise and physically:
” My wife tells me the average customer pities me. They can save their pity. I pity them. I see their ambitions, envious selves always wanting, wanting, wanting. Few of them enjoy peace of mind. If they’re not worried about money they’re worried about something else. There’s always something new to be purchased or something old to be changed. A car, a wardrobe, a school, a house. And their gossip! They’re judge, jury and executioner combined. No wonder the’re unhappy. Nothing more self-destructive than passing moral judgements on others. Me, I’m content. Give me two bottles daily. I need nothing more. I have no ambitions. I don’t envy anyone. I haven’t the strength, let alone the inclination.” – Nick Noye, Ne’er The Twain Shall Meet (p.11)
The foreigner is the only person that the restaurateur extends credit to as well, allowing him to settle his account monthly. He believes he must have a pension from somewhere as the monthly bill is always settled by a cheque. Normally, he extends credit to nobody calling it a sure way to bankruptcy, but he knows the foreigner likes to do business this way and at least it gets him some monthly exercise of a walk to the bank in order to cash the cheque. He is in fact glad it’s a monthly payment though as a weekly walk to the bank would probably kill him.
One of the things he likes about the foreigner is that he’s a professional alcoholic. Just like himself. He never becomes rowdy or loud, he just sits quietly and drinks… a complete professional. The restaurateur has a two-tier pricing system, but the foreigner is never over-charged.
The restaurateur say’s:
” Managing a restaurant whose menu has no prices – we charge according to market costs of fish, meat, poultry, vegetables, etc.., and prices fluctuate daily – I’m privileged to charge at will. Should customers be noisy, drunk or belligerent,I over charge on principle. Then I get customers who are impolite, prevaricating or downright rude. They pay extra, too. I can’t understand some of these people. Ordinary meek and mild, scared of their own shadows, as soon as they enter my restaurant they’re overbearing and, after a few drinks, obnoxiously arrogant. I tolerate their distressing behaviour but they pay for the privilege. Drink makes them behave that way. Nothing else. They’re rank amateurs. I despise them. If they can’t cope with booze they should leave it alone.” – Nick Noye, Ne’er The Twain Shall Meet (p.9)
The restaurateur’s wife
The hard-working restaurateur’s wife has for a long time been frustrated by her husband’s daily drinking. Furthermore her husband’s drinking has left her feeling less of a woman due to his impotency. She is thankful for small mercies in respects that the foreigner comes to drink with and keep her husband company and at least she knows where her husband is. Although she is hardly worried about him getting in to mischief as she say’s:
” I’m the only married woman I know who never worries about her husband’s absence. Even if he went outside he couldn’t get into mischief my friends suspect their husband’s of. For that I should be grateful – but it’s a mixed blessing.” – Nick Noye, Ne’er The Twain Shall Meet (p.39)
She has fed her husband unwittingly every type of aphrodisiac known to man to restore him to his former glory. A former glory that was full of surprises, energy and virility.
The restaurateur wife say’s:
” He’d unwittingly eaten mixtures of toad spawn and day-old bats; diced cockroaches and dogs’ kidneys; shredded pig’s bladder, swallows’ tongues and blessed lotus stems, meatballs composed of finely ground rhinoceros’ horn, the congealed blood of unborn goslings, the yolk of a turtle’s egg and two deer’s hearts soaked in my menstrual blood.” – Nick Noye, Ne’er The Twain Shall Meet (p.43)
But this was all to no avail. Oh how she wished her husband would stop drinking.
One day a woman arrived in the restaurant and introduced herself to the restaurateur’s wife as her niece. To be honest they were not that closely related at all. The woman was just distantly related to the restaurateurs eldest brother or something like that. She certainly looked Chinese and worked at a manicurist place above a Chinatown barbershop. Each morning the niece would stop by the restaurant on her way to work.
The manicurist / niece was also adept at giving massages to those who requested them, but much preferred massaging women than men as men became aroused easily. Some men even requested relief by massaging parts that were not in the script. The money would be far greater, but she was not that type of woman and certainly did not want to bring shame on the family name. However, she could tell some stories about the nature of men. The restaurateur’s wife damned her luck. She herself had the problem of never encountering arousal, whereby her niece had to fight it off for most of the day. A problem at opposite end’s of the spectrum as it were.
Whilst out shopping for ingredients one day, the restaurateurs wife was stopped and told an alarming tale about her niece. She refuses to believe idle gossip, but was informed that her niece a manicurist / masseuse that works above the local China Town barbershop is more than a masseuse,. Apparently has a few more skills on the old C.V as it were or at least strings added to the bow. It was surely no more than utter idle gossip as these sorts of people have nothing better to do.
The Manicurist / The Niece
Money is the name of the game as far as the niece is concerned. In fact money, property and privacy and probably in that order if we are to be honest about things. The one thing that can be said about the niece is that she knows what she wants and she knows how to get it and she let’s nothing or no one get in the way of accomplishing those goals.
Dropping in to the restaurant each morning before starting work and spinning a tale or two about how child-like men remain all their lives brightens up the restaurateur’s wife’s day. They both tend to agree that it’s the women who run the country. Aside from the light-hearted stories and laughter the niece pities the restaurateur’s wife greatly. She hardly ever see’s her and her husband converse together and feels sad that anyone’s marriage should result to this. Plus of course there’s the other problem she has.
The niece say’s:
” I rarely feel sorry for anyone. But I do feel sorry for her. She told me he can’t do it. She should let me have him for a while. I’d make it stand to attention.” – Nick Noye, Ne’er The Twain Shall Meet (p.55)
Other characters In The Book
The daughter of the Chinese restaurateur, who wishes her father would stop drinking.
The foreigner / Englishman’s maid servant.
The manicurist / niece’s man-servant.
As the story unfolds certain happenings cause massive disruption to the characters daily lives in this intriguing tale set in the back streets of Bangkok, Thailand.
I loved the detailed descriptions of Bangkok life and the characters were brilliant. But most of all being English myself I enjoyed cultural contrasts the major makes throughout the book between life in Thailand and life in England. We English apparently have a reputation for a bit of a moan and a rant and the major does this to perfection…. brilliant. If you can still get hold a copy of ”Ne’er The Twain Shall Meet” by Nick Noye then I highly recommend it.
This was one of those rare books that I read from cover to cover straight after purchasing.
Moaning and complaining across cultures.