Poolside palaver

Image of Tyler Brûlé

It’s time to play a special edition round of The Fast Lane’s “What Would You Do?” If you’re not familiar with the rules, I give you a scenario and you need to choose (honestly) one of three options I provide about how you might deal with it. Here we go.

Imagine you’re at a very well-respected hotel in the middle of Bangkok, the weather’s warm and dry and you’re ready for a nice day in the sun. In your tote bag you’ve got a good book, a bundle of your favourite magazines, all the necessary sun shades and screens and you’re mentally prepared for a day without electronics or digital interruptions.

Arriving at the pool area, you’re surprised to find it’s already quite busy but fortunately there are still quite a few groupings of empty chairs. The cabana boy quickly follows your gaze and guides you to three loungers two rows back from the pool. As drink orders are jotted down, towels are tucked in around the cushions, an umbrella is moved into position for a bit of shade and you set about arranging yourself for a day of reading, dozing, dipping and drinking.

As you flip around to find the paragraph you last recall reading, you spend a bit of time surveying the scene. Along the far left of the pool most of the shady patches have been taken up by Japanese couples who don’t want too much sun; off to your left, along the same row, are some Swedish families who seem to have just met that morning; and to your right are some Norwegians committed to ensuring they’ll be the darkest people disembarking at Oslo airport in 24 hours.

Eventually you drift back to that paragraph you seem to have stalled on and start to read. After a minute or two you flip the page and glance around. Who is that talking and why so loud?

Never mind, your book is too interesting. You stumble through a couple more paragraphs but have to look up again because it’s now become impossible to block out the conversation. Correction, it’s in fact one individual talking to a collection of friends and family who are doing an excellent job of hanging on to his every word and looking genuinely interested.

You try hard to focus on the whirr of the boats on the river, the hum of air-conditioning units on the surrounding buildings and the gurgling sounds of the pool’s filtration system, but all you hear is: “Would you believe I now have over one million air miles and that’s just on Delta? Would you believe it? I mean, here’s the thing, it’s saving me so much money but then I still have to pay all of those taxes. And here’s the other thing, you’re really not going to believe this ...”

At this point you mumble to yourself, “No, I really don’t believe I’ve flown all the way from Zürich to Bangkok to sit beside a loudmouth from the inner reaches of New York’s Tri-State area to hear him bellow about taxes on his air miles.”

For the better part of an hour you try to fight it but soon embark on a reconnaissance mission to find a quieter patch and report back that you’ve found a sunny/shade area that’s a picture of tranquillity.

Minutes later, you’re happily installed, you’re back into your book and all’s well in the world. Two minutes later you hear the slapping of flip-flops against the soles of a determined gait that’s coming straight towards you. You don’t even need to look up to know that atop the sandals is a too-chiselled mom who is about to shatter the peace.

“OK, OK, kids,” she shouts. “What does everybody want? Excuse me, waiter. Waiter! OK, the kids would like the fish fingers but can we get the fries really well done? Can you please make sure they’re well done? OK, drinks. Maybe some Evians but they need to be big bottles, not small. And what juices do you have?”

While the kids toddle off to put their swimmers on, mom is now shouting to the far end of the pool to organise dinner reservations – five adults and nine kids (and no, the three nannies won’t be joining) at some Chinese joint – and telling the nannies the programme for the rest of the day.

As mom joins the kids in the changing room you shift along about five sets of loungers to create a buffer and quickly get back into your book. For a good three hours all is well until a French family descends and their seven kids go cannonballing into the pool. The first splashes that hit your lenses can be excused as they’re just excited children in the Thai capital for the first time. The soaking of your newspaper a few minutes later is just a bit of misguided splashing by the same rambunctious kids.

But what about the sustained spray that pelts you and fellow guests for the next 15 minutes? The dilemma, then: do you say something to the kids? Have a word with the parents? Or beat a retreat to your room?

I’ll leave you guessing which one this columnist opted for.

Tyler Brûlé is editor-in-chief of Monocle magazine


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