Book Reviews – Page 5
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More about the Book
I have just finished reading your book, and I couldn't put it down. I felt as if i was there in thailand, you have done an amazin job. I was in thailand for 4 weeks in January, and I have ta say that after readin your novel that I understand so much more. Me and my friends used to think that all thai girls were the same and we could neva understand how they used to sell themselves. We found them so intimidating as well, but now I understand so much betta. I did not have many nice encounters with the ladyboys ova there. I had one put a glass bottle to me, and another tell me that she was married to some boy I was chatting to. I stil dont understand why they took a disliking to me. I found it very strange how they looked at us farang women but you explained it so well in your book. I have more friends goin out to Thailand in afew months and I gave them your book to read before they go, I told them that this is exactly Thailand, that you have got it down to a t. You really have done a good job.
ps sorry if my spellin is bad and if you cant understand some of my slang, us Irish are terrible at writin..
I read your book in one sitting, well actually squirming would be more like it ! I picked up a copy in Surabaya airport whilst waiting to return to a remote island in Indonesia. I am presently working on a large construction project installing the basic infrastructure there. I ended up stuck on a twin prop airplane for two hours, then a seaplane, then a fast crew boat, then a fishing boat and then an outrigger canoe and finally an open truck. I started the book in Surabaya at 06.00 and finished it as the sun went down twelve hours later.
Your characters are so accurate it is obvious you have trod the path. Ben comes accross as a total prick and one almost wishes that he finds Fon shacked up with a fat ancient sausagebreath German at some stage, but of course that would have ruined the whole scenario of the innocence and purity of spirit of Fon.
Having lived, and loved, in Thailand I can emote with all of the players in your story.
I have been resident in Indonesia for ten years and am very happily married to a 'kampung girl' from East Java. They are far more reserved and traditional in some ways than Thai girls, but can be earthy and extremely hot-blooded as well. The ladies of the island of Madura are reknowned for their physical beauty, sexual prowess and extreme violence when crossed.
I have written several short articles about my life here, posted them online, and all seem well received, I am therefore going to attempt to emulate your example and write a fictional story about an East Javanese girl. I considered Balinese but their lifestyles are much more complex.
Good luck with the follow up.
Dear Java Geordie,
Thanks for your very colourful message which I was delighted to receive, not just for your nice comments but also for learning that the book is available even in Surabaya and that it sustained you through such a gruelling journey.
I'm glad you could emote with Ben even though he is 'a total prick'! Of course there are lots of these cruising Thailand, innocents abroad, and the not so innocent treading the primrose path... though don't be too tough on poor Ben. He's very young and maturer men suffer similarly when they fall in love with and in Thailand.
You're obviously an old hand in Asia and I do hope you realise your plans to write. It's been a great experience for me, and well worth it even if the book had not been published. 'Thai Girl' is totally non-biographical, as I always tell people who ask, so now I'm writing a more personal view of my life in the far rice fields of Thailand. Likewise it's fun and publication is ultimately in the lap of the gods.
Anyway keep writing and do stay in touch, and thanks again.
Great book! I especially loved they way you portrayed the character Fon. I am engaged to an Isaan girl from a small village out side of Khon Kaen, and she is very much like Fon in every way. The respect for her family, her pride, her sharp wit and humor, mood swings – it’s all spot on. She is a strong woman, but still has a fragile femininity about her which I find very attractive. Without generalizing too much, this is something I find many western women today have lost in their pursuit of absolute equality.
My fiancé was lucky enough to get a good education. Even though her family is poor, they realized she had great potential, and after making some sacrifices were able to put her through international school in Bangkok. This I guess makes her a bit more accustomed to western culture, but I love the fact that she would never compromise her Thai values. As Fon in your book, there are still aspects of her life that she is very private about. After having lived in SE Asia for a while now, I am not blind to the difficulties of a cross cultural relationship, and I think you discuss some of these problems in your book very well. Excellent food for thought!
Thanks for a great read!
Just a short one to say how wonderful your book was. Unputdownable as we Brits say. My wife is a teacher in Udonthani and I love the way you portrayed Thailand in such a beautifully balanced way. I am a physiotherapist in Norfolk and I get very angry (so does Ona my wife) when young men come for treatment and inform me that they are going to Thailand for a holiday because ALL Thai women are "loose". You have done a geat deal in your book to dispel that ridiculous myth. Thank you for a wonderful, and beautifully balanced book about Thailand and Thai culture!! Roll on the next one!!
David Campbell MacKellar
Hi, I enjoyed your book, thanks for writing it.
* The good: I love Thailand, the Thai people, and yes, especially Thai woman. Some have such a sweet voice, I can listen to them talk Thai all day. Your book brought back many good memories for me.
* The bad: I was looking more for romance between Fon and Ben...or at least one less sexually frustrating. I know that men do go to Thailand, some for the sex trade, some for the week long girlfriend experience, and some for love and marrige, and some to live in that wonderful country for years on end. However, Fon's approach to life and sex did highlight the difference between women. Some do anything for money, and some save themselves for family, love and marriage. I think this is a theme all over the world. In poor countries, there are "special" circumstances which I believe you highligted admirably.
* The ugly: Emma. Need I say more?
Well, Ben was a bit of a wanker at times too, but Emma was down right bitchy.
My friend and I had a big laugh about how she emmulates western (white) women we have known.
I often think Western women want to know what men can do for them, and Thai women want to know what they can do for men. I mean this in a broad sense, to make a man comfortable with clean clothes, food, happiness, and yes, sex. Whereas western women want to know what a man can do for them to make their life better. I read some where, western women want to be like men, and Thai women want to be like women. I tend to care and treat real women more romanticly than women that want to be like men. Or as another friend of mine said, "I know when a woman is too much of a man for me."
On another note, I read you wrote a paper or small book for the Filipinos in Hong Kong. Can I get more information about what your wrote, and how you distributed it?
Kop khun khup,
Thanks for all your nice comments about "Thai Girl". I'm glad you enjoyed it and, I guess your mates read it too. Keep passing it on!
Yes, several readers have said that Emma is a wingeing !!!!!!, but don't be too hard on poor
Ben. He's still very young and wet around the ears!
I was interested in your thoughts on western and Thai women. Yes, the Thai women seem sweet and purry, but don't underestimate them for one moment. After the softening up process, they're pretty formidable I can tell you. No passive, doe-eyed doormat, they're powerful personalities and no push-over and that's what I like them for.
My 'Filipina Helpers' Handbook' was published in Hong Kong in about 1981 and all 3,000 copies sold out in a few months. It was top of the SCM Post bestsellers' list, beating Frederick Forsyth into second place! There was a real need for it and I'm pleased to have done it. Only after I'd written "Thai Girl" did it cross my mind that the issues were much the same, of poor migrant workers leaving their villages to look for opportunities in a very tough world.
All the best,
Dear Khun Andrew,
I am Jann, a 18 year-old Dentistry student at Khon Kaen University, Thailand. I bought your novel a year ago or so when I was in secondary school, by chance of stumbling into it in a book shop in Don Muang airport. The reasons to buy the novel were so simple: its cover and of course it's about a 'Thai girl'..which I thought might have something to do with my surroundings and me' Because of my Admission exam and geting into university, I had to put your novel down and turned to my textbooks..... I have just finished reading your novel by now and like other readers said--It's brilliant! However, it seems to me that the novel doesn't cover all the characteritics of "a Thai Girl" that appears as its title ....obviously the novel mentions about Isaan girls mainly. And I understand why that is. Isaan is a so called poorest part of Thailand, but the richest part in humor and smiles. If you had noticed, most of Thai comedians are from Isaan. Most of us have hard lives....so it's kind of a smile to hide the pain. We have to be happy and learn to be satisfied with all the things we have, and live our lives peacfully.
However as the capitalised economy comes closer and closer and now totally surrounds us, we cannot possibly stay cool and live easy like a 'slowly blowing wind'. Captivated by the colour of the modern cities and technologies, money is a big deal to everyone. You could die poor by starvation if you're not energetic and get used to doing things fast and pulling tricks to make money like people in the city. But how could uneducated people in Isaan do something like that. They fall behind, don't know much about new technologies and what's going on in this world, except worrying about 'will there be enough rain to grow rice?'. So, if the old man is too fallen behind and too poor to support education for his next generation , what's the choice for the next generation then?..... To leave school and find work in the city is only the first thing that springs to their mind. A boy is to be a labourer and a girl, if she has got a good mind and wants to struggle, then she might do something like Fon, but if she isn't and prefers some easier way, she might be a pretty girl in a car showroom or a prostitute...or a 'temporaly wife' for a dirty Farang.
Your novel is almost true about Isaan girls, but not always. The discussions among Farangs in your novel about Thailand and Thai girls are interesting...and I think it would be nice if Thai people were good at English and able to speak out for themselve. It's very disappointing and upsetting about some views of Thai girls and Farangs because for some girls they think of a Farang as their Hero or Rescuer, but instead for some Farangs, they think of her as a money spender and something to relieve their sexual desire.
It's nice though to hear some bad view of Farangs toward us...If you have this novel in Thai edition, it would be really nice for us to understand Farangs and of course, to know where we stand in what way --negative or positive in Farang's opinions.
Again, the novel is great.... However, it would make me cry a river if Fon had got a sad ending. Her life is hard and misery enough. If you are planning to write part 2 of the novel, please dont let Ben break her heart, please!
Keep on an with an excellent job!
Dear Khun Jann,
Thanks so much for your lovely message. I am always especially thrilled to receive a message from a Thai person as I have little idea how many Thais read the book and what they think of it. Yes, I'd really like to see it published in Thai because I hope that Thai readers would enjoy it as much as foreigners seem to have.
I am fascinated by your description of being young and Thai and how life can be tough in this country. As you say, things are changing so fast here and the rural people lose out all the time. Do you remember Ben and his friends talking about how Thailand is rushing too fast into a consumer society and losing some of its cultural values? And remember him standing
dreaming in the rice field in Buriram, thinking what a beautiful life it could be in the village with your extended family all around you, if only farming could give you a proper livelihood and how sad it is to see rural life breaking down as everyone floods to the cities for low paid work.
Yes, the people of Isaan represent a triumph of the human spirit, but I do hope that when they take the role of comedian, Thailand is laughing with them and not laughing at them for being 'Lao'.
Do some of the farang in the book have a low view of Thai women? Surely not! I thought they all loved the Thai people as a whole. As Maca said,he chooses to be in Thailand for the Thai people and their gentleness. Okay, at the end Emma and Ben say how sad it is that Thai women have the reputation world-wide of being available to any man who will pay them, but this is a stereotype that has arisen from the huge scale of 'adult entertainment'in Thailand. In contrast, of course, the "Thai Girl" story portrays Thais in a good light and is a about a young woman who is the opposite of that stereotype, professing traditional values that are still surprisingly strong today throughout the country.
And finally, you'll cry a river if I break Fon's heart in Thai Girl-2! I'm so pleased that you care! But at the end of the book, Ben is in London about to start a two year internship as a lawyer while Fon is still on Koh Samet waiting and wondering. Maybe her heart's been broken already!
Do please pass on the book to your friends and I'd love to hear from them too.
With best wishes to you for your studies. I hope it all goes well for you.
I've just completed your novel: Thai Girl. Very poignant, emotional and a great read. It's a very touching story. Not what I was expecting at all (after reading Bangkok 8 and Tattoo by Burdett). While I was reading your book, I imagined that the smart, scheming Fon was stringing along love-struck, naive Ben. But in the end, well, he turned out to be a flakey young farang.
I thought the story was a well-weaved misdirect and,at the same time, very symbolic of what could happen to thailand's tourism industry when Burma becomes the next 'in' tourist destination, as mentioned by one of your book's characters.
Thai Girl would make a great movie. I hope someone has been smart enough to snap up the film rights. I laughed outloud at Odin's comment about David slaying Goliath with his g-string.
Good luck with all your future creative ventures.
Thanks so much for your message with your very kind thoughts about "Thai Girl".
You say the book wasn't what you were expecting and I wonder which publisher's version you read. The book cover as sold in Thailand is rather more lurid than the one published in Singapore (see www.thaigirl2004.com) and they might raise different expectations. I wonder which one represents the book better and would love to know what readers think.
And yes, a movie! Of course I agree with you, it could be a great movie, though the ending is hardly classic Hollywood.
Did you ever see 'Hideous Kinky', a delightful low budget film with Kate Winslett. In the spirit of the sixties she bums off to Morocco with her two little girls and has an affair with a Moroccan boy. It's never likely to come to anything and at the end she just has to leave him and go home. A Romeo and Juliet theme where two totally different people are hopelessly drawn to each other and then torn apart can be very moving. Some people think the ending of "Thai Girl" is a bit of an anti-climax while others say that the emotional climax is when Ben leaves Fon on the island which tugs at their heart strings. As in 'Hideous Kinky' it could make a powerful ending to a movie. Well, thanks again and do tell your friends about "Thai Girl".
I have just this minute finished the book and i had to write an email just simply as this book was amazing and a subject so close to my heart.
I am currently in Thailand and in fact living with my girlfriend who was and is a bar girl. Our story was very much similar to Ben and Fon's and for me being only 21, the difficulties of a young relationship over here are very hard.
The difference obviously being that mygirlfriend was not shall we say as lucky as Fon and did not find an alternative to working in a bar. But she is a happy girl from Isaan, always looking to provide for her Mother.
I thought you captured stereotypes brilliantly in the main characters, while making Fon respectable yet very poor. This i would say is a rareity over here because many girls have no choice but to work in a bar. However i don't quite think the book captured their view on sex and the sex trade. For instance it is accepted by almost every girl's father over here, and in fact encouraged that she works in a bar. Sex is very liberal. They separate themselves from sex with a customer and very often act as though it doesn't happen and have regular boyfriends. My girl does not go with customers, though she has before and it is part of life i have to accept.
I liked the way Ben was a typical western male; in a way i found him similar to myself. I obviously went to a bar and met my girlfriend but since speaking to her and hearing what she had to do, i find the sex trade here disgusting and vile.
Ben kept himself very well throughout the book getting drunk to forget and making new friends. And also Emma, a very typical modern western woman, demanding and not easy to read. I longed for a happy ending and really expected this book to end differently. I guess i hoped it would. I mean i remember very well when i met my girlfriend, i was staying for two weeks and after i left i did not know what to expect. I returned home to my job and home. I thought she would do the same and forget about me. I got home and called her everyday, missed her with such great pain it was unbelievable. So i quit my job and came back to Thailand.
I get by and go home every now and then, but i would do anything for this girl as love has conquered me. I had a good job and life, but love is more important to me then all that. As yet she cannot come to England and until then i come and see her. I just guess what i am saying is that i expected Ben to do something similar. Although tied down, i expected him to come home and feel the same pain i did and have to come back! I suppose i was hoping the story would end that way.
It was a great novel and as i say a story very close to my heart.There were parts i would say were slightly off, but this book is so close to what i have lived, there are going to be differences. I think there was a slight lack of emphasis on how a farang is seen in Buriram.
Visiting there quite recently to see my girlfriend's family, as a farang you are treated like a celebrity because you are classed as rich. Children follow you and point, and people on every corner try and speak to you in Thai.
Finally one thing i think that was majorly under-exaggerated was money. Thai people expect farang to pay for things not through rudeness but through culture. Farang are rich and we can go on holiday and not work, but Thai people do not. If you eat with Thai people generally as a farang you pay. When you go to meet the family you pay! I think there was a slight lack of emphasis on this part. I am sorry Andrew i have read back and it seems, taken a brilliant book and critiscised it. That is not what i am doing at all; i am just comparing my experiences, in the hope you might be slightly interested.
I hope there may be a second installment to find out what happens if anything between Ben and Fon, as the fairytale could be complete if they can wait for each other. And anything is possible if you are willing to make it happen!
Thanks again for the book.
Many kind regards and Good Luck for the future.
Thanks so much for you message with your compliments which mean a lot to me and for your heartfelt story.
You say you hoped for and expected a different ending to the book but as far as the story goes, it is exactly the same as yours. What has to happen at the end of the holiday, but you get on the plane and go back home!
Ben tells Fon what you have just said to me, that you can make anything happen in life if you want to; maybe he will be as determined as you in this, but maybe not. As Emma coldly predicted, perhaps it was always likely that his family would find him a cosy career and that he has now reverted to type as a conventional middle-class guy.
Of course it's he who has all the opportunities in life, while poignantly Fon is left on the beach working from day to day, waiting for a letter and hoping that her worst fears have not materialised.
Yes, Ben is devastated at leaving her, but as the theme of the story is perhaps of hopeless love, longing, separation and loss, it would have been a sell-out if I'd let them sail off into the sunset together. But it's never over till it's over and who knows what will happen to them!
Yes, it's, true Thai/Lao culture has a long tradition of taking a minor wife, even one taken for only an hour or two. You call the bar scene 'disgusting and vile', so can the girls really be totally immune to all of that?
Certainly some parents now hope for girl children as they are more dutiful and make better money than men, who are often drunks and wasters. They may also sell their daughters or connive at their new life, if the money keeps flowing back to them. But sometimes if it is her choice to work in a bar, she may keep it as secret as possible.When she goes back to the village, everyone will smile at her but they may envy her money as well as despise her and there will be vicious talk. The farang, not speaking Thai/Lao/Khmen/Suay, you will miss all that!
There is a genuine modesty among Thai women and who knows what it takes to display yourself naked every night and to be available to every grotesque old bloke without the option to say no. You will never hear anything of this though, because it is not the Thai way to talk about it; the trauma will simply be smoothed over. You may thus get the impression that offering sex for sale is not a big deal. (Though see one of the earlier messages on this Forum where a Thai talks of the long-term trauma of being a bar girl.)
Finally, Ben does attract a lot of attention when they go to the village, such as on the local bus, the inevitable implication always being drawn by the Thais. And yes, the money thing is not made a lot of in the book, but Ben always pays for everything, doesn't he, and Fon and Jinda do quite nicely out of him with a free trip home to see Mama, all expenses paid.
So to finish, follow your dream, mate and good luck to you. It'll always be one of the greatest experiences of your life. It's extraordinary the fascination we and the Thais seem to have for each other.
Anyway, tell everyone about "Thai Girl" and do keep in touch. You wanted to know how my story ends and I want to know about yours!
PS : Your email to me had no subject and I nearly deleted it with the thirty or so spams I get every day. Do make sure and mark it Thai Girl if you write again.
I have just finished your book and confess that as much as I wanted to like it, I regret that I found it quite repetitive and quite boring. I did however love the political views in the conversations between the travelers, and that is what kept me reading.
I found the character of Ben to be idealistic, hypocritical and perhaps for me, unbelievable. I have never met a young man who talks of love to a ladyman while in Thailand. Ben was too romantic in the book and this made it too unbelievable for me. His relationship with Fon was repetitive and at one point I put the book down as I was feeling so uninterested in their repetitive relationship. Luckily I picked it back up to be rewarded with wonderful pages of the politics of Bush, war and globalisation which were so wonderful and found that the book was only saved by those few pages. The conversations between the travelers was the highlights to the book.
I purchased the book on leaving Singapore after a couple of weeks in Thailand. I am sorry to say that I think, for me, it was too bogged down in an uninteresting romance. I am sorry to say this, but I believe that you show in the conversation pieces that you have wonderful political views that I think the world need to hear and not hide them in the midst of an uninteresting romance. I hope that you concentrate on the political side that you so wonderfully narrated throughout the book, then publish that and let me be the first one to read it. I know I would not put the book down.
As I say, it is only my opinion and this is only my perspective and I wanted to take up the offer of emailing you with some of my views.
Oh well, you can't please all of the people all of the time and I'm very happy that you've said some very nice things about parts of the book, at least. And I am being totally honest when I say how much I appreciate your feedback as I find it very interesting to learn different peoples' response to the story. Your message also helps save the Readers Forum from becoming repetitive and boring because it says the diametric opposite of most previous ones. I'm particularly glad you liked the travelers' alcohol-inspired 'political' dialogues in the book as there have been several critics (all of them American)who've said this is the weakest part of the book.
Personally I'm very picky about the novels I read and frankly I enjoy relatively few of them. For example I found 'The Da Vinci Code' quite ridiculous, though the religious themes were fascinating. Certainly a novel sometimes can be redeemed by politics or religion though in my opinion, very rarely by sex.
Okay, so you didn't believe in hypocritical Ben as he was far too romantic, though other readers do seem to get very involved with his passion for Fon. One tough Aussie told me how he was reading the book at work and had to go outside so his staff couldn't see how much it was affecting him!
So you've never personally come across the soft, feminine side that causes us men sometimes to make such fools of ourselves?! I respect what you say, but I don't think Ben's obsessive love for Fon is so atypical for an inexperienced young lad; though Clarissa, the posh English lawyer simply puts it down to lust! He is simply following our western traditions of courtship, wallowing in love and sighing from afar for his lady, something that the Thais never begin to understand. He wants Fon to love him in the purest way possible too, though if Jack Russell is right, she'll be more interested in his wallet and on that score he doesn't do too well at all. Fon always tells Ben that passionate love is dangerous, but perhaps in the end she loses control of her emotions and suffers as a result.
Western men can certainly be bewitched by Asian women and sometimes, despite an apparently unlimited choice, they are romantic enough to fall for one woman and to want that one only. If you need any evidence just how romantic men can be, you have to look no further than the story of Robin in the previous Message 48 on this Forum.
Finally, no, I'm sorry I haven't written anything political, though how about corporate law? If that tickles your fancy, why not Google 'hicks and goo company law'. It'll be great for insomnia and it's got absolutely nothing in it about romantic men, though even we lawyers can be romantic sometimes!
With my best wishes and thanks,
I have recently finished your fantastic novel Thai Girl. I found so many things in your book that struck home to own personal involvement with Thailand and Thai people. My current situation is that I have a Thai Girlfriend who I have known now for 2 years.
My Journey started after meeting a Thai lady whilst still here in England which resulted in me getting my heart broken. We remained friends but one of the reasons for breaking up was my lack of understanding of Thai culture, I just could not understand why she always wanted to help her family and did everything when her brother did nothing, Now I fully understand.
To get over my heartache I booked a 2 week holiday to Thailand to Bangkok and Pattaya, at this point I had no understanding of the sex industry and what went on. I then found out all the truths 3 days before departure whilst looking on the internet. When I went to Pattaya my eyes were truly opened.
I have to admit that I did have my share of girls before one night going into a well known go go club where I came across my now girlfriend. We then spent the rest of my holiday together and when my time came to go back to Bangkok we left together. The inevitable day came and we had to part and that time I must say that I felt like Ben and Fon, sad and hurt. I was telling my teeruk that I will be back in Feb 05. The look in her eyes stays with me to this day (I hope so but I will not hold my breath). This you explained in your book with Ben and Fon I guess she wanted him to return but thought it would never happen.
After my return I went about my life and we exchanged e-mails. i was ok but I did remember thinking I wonder if she will ever stop working in the go go bar. I duly returned in feb 05 and then that's when the love really kicked in as I think then she thought more of me than just another customer. Since then I have been back to Thailand 6 more times and leaving tomorrow to see my love again.
The moment for me that made up my mind that she was special was that my girlfriend never asked me for any money when we were apart. i knew that she had other customers that were sending her money for her love and one man even asked her to marry him, but she never asked me for it. Then one day she felt the need to ask as her mother was sick, the pain in her voice was sad and of course i had to help. She still held true to her thoughts that maybe she could have both love and someone too provide for her family. My girlfriend had a vision like many girls from Issan to make enough money for a new house for her mother and to look after her.
The time that we were apart was sometime very painful as we talked every day on the phone and she would call me after work to tell me that she had to go with a customer, this i found very difficult as although i understood why, it still hurt my heart.
Then came the time that I had to ask her when she would stop working and after we talked she agreed that she would stop earlier this year. My girlfriend has not been working in the bar scene since June and we are now discussing our future together. I am looking forward to going home to Ubon in Feb as this will be the first time that I will meet my girlfriend's Mother. She would not take me whilst she was working and until she was sure that I would be around for ever. I guess that she did not want to be seen with a falung and then not get married?
Reading your book brought out all the emotions that i have felt over the past 2 years. The hardest thing i find is how to explain to others the reasons why these girls enter this way of life. i personally have a lot of time for them as they really are amazing. The majority would choose another way of life if the opportunities were there that we have in the west, but they are not, so they do the best they can to provide for the family. Could you imagine an English girl doing all that to provide for their mother??
I too, like many of your readers, wished for a happy ending and yes it brought tears to my eyes, I think more for the fact that I was missing my girlfriend. I have passed the book onto friends to read in the hope that they can understand the way of life, and what drives the girls to do this work. My next big challenge is to get married and then face my parents when I get asked, 'So where did you meet her then'?
Keep up the good work Andrew and i will keep checking back for Thai Girl 2. I will also buy another copy for my Thai friends to get their thoughts on your story.
Martin (35) England