As I told you last week, the magic carpet has been sulking. It’s not at all impressed by the international press coverage of its journeys so I have dusted it down and we are off. The weather has been a bit dismal in England, so we are going to sunnier climes. The name Jim Thompson jumped out at me from the scarves and I knew instantly where we are going. Yes, it’s Bangkok.
Let me tell you about Jim Thompson. He was an American architect born in 1906, the same year as my father. He served with the OSS during WW2 which took him to Ceylon and then on to Bangkok as part of the liberation. The military personnel were billeted in the Oriental Hotel, by then a faded shadow of its former grand self on a par with Raffles in Singapore and the Peninsula in Hong Kong. So began Jim’s love affair with Thailand, the Oriental hotel and his interest in silk.
He found a group of Thai Muslim silk weavers in one of the old quarters of town and was fascinated by their product and skills. Later he would set up the Thai Silk Company. With five other people each putting up US$250, they bought the Oriental Hotel and for a time it was his home. He became involved in the redesign, but there seemed to be some disagreement about the building of a new wing...remember he was originally an architect, so now he set about making Thai silk famous throughout the world and forgot about architectural design. His silk was featured in Vogue magazine in 1947 and by 1951 his silk was used for the costumes in the movie THE KING AND I, based on an earlier book Anna and the King of Siam, set in the previous century. Jim himself soon established Royal connections and Queen Sirikit of Thailand was one of his best customers.
Now, if you will excuse me for a moment, I must adjust my scarf with its Jim Thompson signature and show off its flowered design to advantage whilst we prepare for our landing in front of the facade of the old part of the original Oriental. I have not been here for a long time. Wow! There is a very large posh hotel now but that’s not for me. Of course, it is furnished with Jim Thompson silk.
My husband and I were lucky to have a room in the old building way back in the Seventies. It was very faded then but evocatively romantic. In my mind I danced with Yul Brynner as the King of Siam and for some moments I was Anna, the English governess, a good few inches above his head. So, I will hasten inside the gracious old building and look for my dancing partner. Forty years on, I have lost at least three inches in height....surprising how it redistributes around one’s middle as one ages, so now I might be held at a greater dancing distance but at least not look down on the royal head.
There are shadowy figures sipping cocktails. Is that Noel Coward, Somerset Maughan, John Le Carre, Norman Mailer, Graham Greene, my word....Barbara Cartland with a scarf more flamboyant than mine? May I join you? I timidly ask. Certainly not! snaps Barbara. We're all proper writers. No bloggers here! Time to go. I must give instructions not to fly over the Cameron Highlands in Malaysia. Poor Jim went on holiday there and disappeared in 1967. An unsolved mystery to this day.
One last look around the grand old building. An even dimmer figure appears. Do remember this hotel was built in 1876.... I see its first Royal visitor, the Crown Prince Nicholas of Russia. We all know what happened to him when he became Tsar! I shall speak very kindly to the carpet to keep me safe on the way home for fear of flying bullets as I want to be with you all next week.
I have just bought a larger Smart TV in view of another long Lockdown. With the film industry and cinemas not offering new blockbuster movies, I am all set to watch another re-run of the old classics in the comfort of my sitting room. Not much room for dancing but if that movie plays again, I'll be paying attention to the detail of these silk costumes.
Today I will try dancing whilst I push the cordless vacuum cleaner around! No good for a fast polka!
Busy Bee, Scarf Face!
Series 2, Blog 14.
Ps. The usual Sunday morning email alert is also not impressed by the international coverage and for the past two weeks has posted the blog in some readers' JUNK boxes. I find this very funny! In future you may have to go directly to SCARFAID or busybeehazell.com.