This is Mark Guthrie’s debut fictional account of Tom Howells. Tom is an idiot. A self-centred, well-meaning, vainglorious idiot. He is every backpacker that has approached South East Asia as a means of discovering himself. He is also a chronic masturbator.
Jacob Stevens is beautiful. He is a self-assured, flippant womaniser and Tom’s best friend. He is also a short arse.
If You’re In Bangkok, Bring An Apple is the account of how Tom and Jacob wind their way from Hanoi to Bangkok by way of beautiful Danes, lovable prostitutes, lucky pants and all manner of failed seductions.
It’s a tale of the humour brought about by the shared experience of third-world tourism, falling in and out of lust and STDs found in unusual places.
It’s a story that accurately reflects the day-to-day world of backpacking and casts a critical (though pustulous) eye over what happens when young adults travel thousands of miles to expand their horizons get drunk, stoned and forget that the exploitation of a country and its people should be frowned upon.
To Tom’s surprise he was right.
On one of their usual sun loungers they found Jacob fast asleep, still in his clothes from the previous night, impossibly unbitten by mosquitoes and a carton of mango juice cradled tenderly in his arms. He stirred as they approached and deftly flicked a used condom under the lounger with a flip-flop.
“Decided not to come back and share the juice?” called Tom getting the story straight as soon as possible.
Jacob cringed at his mate’s obvious attempt at espionage, but managed to conceal it in a yawn. “Yeah, I just thought I’d get a bit of peace and quiet. Y’know, gather my thoughts.”
“I didn’t think you had any,” chided Laisa, suspicious, but not sure how suspicious she should be, “well, not any that didn’t include booze and sex.”
“You forgot drugs and rock and roll.” Jacob leapt to his feet with an agility that defied his hangover. It was certainly there with a thumping and a bumping, but it was defied. “Not to mention theological conundrums.”
“Not Noah again?” asked Tom, an exaggerated roll of the eyes masking his relief.
“Yeah, I just can’t see any way around it.”
Siri and Laisa gave each other an ‘okay, I’m curious, but I know I’m gonna regret it if I ask’ look, but Jacob, who wasn’t bothering to wait, carried on regardless.
“So, when Noah was filling his ark two by two, how did he decide which of the three bears to bring with him?”
Siri was in. “Which three bears?”
“No, which two bears, he can only take two.”
“I know that, but which three bears are you on about?”
“The Three Bears!”
An arched eyebrow and a look of confusion.
“Bloody hell, I thought that you were supposed to be from Denmark, home of the fairy-tale, of Hans Christian Bloody Andersen.”
“The Three Bears? Porridge? Goldilocks? Bloody hell!”
“Okay, I’m with you. But what have they got to do with Noah?”
Jacob flicked a ‘they just don’t get it, do they?’ look in Tom’s direction who responded with ‘you don’t half talk some shit, but I’m not gonna say anything because as soon as you stop talking the girls are going to ask some pretty tough questions about where you were and it could get quite awkward round here’ look. It was a less complicated look than it sounds.
“They’re the same bears, aren’t they?”
“How come?” Laisa was in now.
“Why wouldn’t they be?” Jacob ploughed on
“Why would they be?”
“They just have to be!”
“This could go in circles for some time,” intervened Tom, “so I’ll clear a few things up.” The others acquiesced gratefully. “My mate Jacob here,” Jacob nodded at the mention of his name to emphasise that, yes, he was in fact the Jacob of which Tom spoke, “has this theory. It’s a crackpot theory, but a theory nonetheless. He is of the opinion that all characters in fairy-tales – including those of the bible – that share names are the same characters. The Jack with the beanstalk, The Jack that went up the hill, Jack Spratt…”
“Jackanory.” helped Jacob.
“Yep, Jackanory, thanks Jacob,” Jacob nodded again, “are all the same Jacks. The ducklings from The Ugliest Duckling grew up to be Huey, Dewey and Louis from Donald Duck. Benjamin the Donkey from Animal Farm is the same as the one that carried Mary and Joseph, and the wolves from Little Red Riding Hood and The Boy that Cried Wolf are one and the same…”
“It’s also the wolf from the Wolverhampton Wanderers badge.”
“You see? And due to this twisted, absurd logic Noah had to decide which of the Three Bears would go two-by-two onto the ark.”
Laisa and Siri digested this information and Tom would not have blamed them had they headed straight back to the hotel never to be seen again. Much to their credit, they didn’t.
“I think that the papa bear would do the honourable thing,” offered Siri. “To save the life of his wife and child he would give up his own and face the rising tides.”
“It’s not the bear’s choice though, is it?” added Laisa, Jacob’s face lighting up at the speed to which the Danes took to the task, like a Dewey to water. “It’s up to Noah. It’s his boat.”
“Ark,” corrected Jacob.
“It’s his ark and he has to take into account the future procreation of the species. Do we know what sex baby bear is?”
“I always imagined it as a little girl bear,” not beating but joined Tom.
“Well in that case, Noah would probably take the papa and baby bear as the young girl would be in better shape to have more babies in future.” Siri was sure that she had solved Jacob’s problem.
“Yeah, but that’s incest. The future bears would all be deformed, and surely Noah, as a moral man wouldn’t want to be the cause of inter-familial abuse.”
Jacob had a point.
But so did Laisa: “The bible doesn’t seem to be too bothered about incest though. I mean, at some point, if the animals are all two-by-two, then for them to redevelop the species brothers and sisters are going to have to be at it sooner or later.”
“As they say in Norfolk, incest is best.”
“Fun for all the family.”
“See?” crowed Jacob, “it’s not as straight forward as it seems.”
“Okay, well what about you Jacob?” Asked Laisa, somewhat cryptically.
“What about me?”
“Are you the same as the Jacob from the Old Testament?”
Jacob pondered this weighty question. If it was true, his deeply religious, Jewish grandfather would be very proud. Grandpa Haynestein had never been proud of him before, and this would be a biggie. But it couldn’t be true. “It can’t be true. I’m not made up like that Jacob, am I?”
“How can you be so sure?” teased Siri.
“I suppose I can’t, but if I was, surely I would know, wouldn’t I?”
“Do stories have self awareness of their predicaments?” mused Laisa.
“I’m not a made-up character, am I Tom?” Jacob, for the first time of his life was feeling the seeds of self-doubt, and wasn’t too keen on the sensation.
It was all getting a little bit post-modern for Tom’s liking. “No mate, I’m sure you’re not. I’m going for a swim. Anyone coming?”