Paul Heaton, the singer best known for being “the voice” of two great bands, the Housemartins and the Beautiful South, is planning a new tour of the UK this spring — by bicycle. Dubbed the “Pedals and Pumps” tour, Heaton will include 15 pub gigs, and he plans to cycle to all of them. “I’m looking forward to pedaling around the country to promote cycling and the British pub,” Heaton was quoted in NME about the tour. “Both are very close to my heart. I’ve been cycling all my life, and the British pub has provided most of my favorite stop-off points. It saddens me to hear about so many British pubs closing on a weekly basis, so I want to do all I can to get people back to their local.”
Last year Heaton put his money where his mouth is, buying a pub in the town of Salford. Heaton said that he decided to snap up the Kings’ Arms pub after growing concerned about the “fractured” local community. Convenience appeared to be a factor in his decision; he already was using the upstairs room in the pub as a rehearsal space. Although he admitted to not having a complete business plan yet, Heaton said that he was already pondering which types of snacks he wants to sell behind the bar, as well as a more important matter: the songs that will be played on the pub’s jukebox. For a hint of what may be on that jukebox, look no further than Under the Influence, an album of “favorite” songs that Heaton compiled in 2004. Included on the CD are songs from Elvis Costello, Willie Nelson, Al Green, Lee Dorsey, Manu Chao, Bobbi Gentry, Tower of Power, Hues Corporation, Lavern Baker, Randy Travis, and more. Diverse to say the least!
Heaton’s bike tour caused me to think about the possibilities of a Thai musician doing a similar series of shows. But lacking in “traditional” British style pubs, perhaps a tour of Pleng Puea Cheewit (“Songs for Life”, a genre of Thai folk music) venues might be more appropriate. As for cycling here in the wild environs of Bangkok, I don’t think I’m brave enough for that challenge yet. When I am travelling around Myanmar, I cycle constantly in places like Mandalay, Bagan, and Nyaunghswe. But attempting a similar cycling routine in Bangkok would be another story altogether. The biggest obstacle to cycling in Bangkok — besides the steamy temperatures and poor air quality — is the perpetually thick traffic. The main streets and side sois are almost always congested; bumper-to-bumper traffic jams at all hours of the day that can test the patience of even the most experienced motorists. Motorcycles dart and weave around the immobilized four-wheelers, making the idea of cycling amongst this disorganized throng a formidable task. I’m convinced that if I rode a bike around the city that I would take a spill the first hour.
I was a car owner and driver for many years when I lived in Florida, but since I moved to Bangkok 16 years ago I have yet to get behind the wheel again. And you know what? I don’t miss it a bit. I don’t miss the driving, I don’t miss owning a car, I don’t miss the parking hassles, and I don’t miss the insurance payments. Frankly, it feels liberating not having to worry about any of that crap. And I feel better that I’m not contributing to the polluted air. If I need to go somewhere, I let my feet do the walking more often than not. And when I have longer distances to traverse, I can take a water taxi, a motorcycle taxi, a regular taxi, the Skytrain, the Subway, or even a bus.
With so many transport options, it amazes me — no, it completely baffles me — why so many locals feel the need to own and drive their own vehicle around Bangkok. Even some foreign residents succumb to vehicle addition and drive in the city. I suppose if you have a big family and need to shuttle the kids to school — or pole dancing lessons — then owning a vehicle makes some degree of sense. But otherwise, why bother? Why would a single resident have the slightest need to own and operate a car in this traffic plagued metropolis? I truly think that many people ARE addicted to having their very own vehicle, considering it a convenience if not a necessity, and wouldn’t think of giving it up. But when I see these people sitting behind the wheel of their SUV or Mercedes Benz, stuck in traffic again — sometimes not moving more than a few feet in the span of twenty minutes — all I can do is laugh.