End of a sorry saga for mushroom pickers
- 19 May 2019 at 04:00
- WRITER: ROGER CRUTCHLEY
The best news of the week is that the mushroom-picking couple have been released from jail following a royal pardon by His Majesty the King. It is a most pleasant surprise and hopefully puts an end to a grim nine-year saga that reeked of social injustice from the very first time it surfaced back in 2010.
The sad tale of the middle-aged mushroom-pickers renewed debate about social status when it comes to dealing with the law. Everyone is painfully aware of high-profile cases in which little or no action has been taken against the kin of influential families for deeds considerably more dastardly than picking wild fungi.
It is a complex tale, but as best as I can work out, the following is roughly what happened:
When police raided an illegal logging operation in Kalasin's Dong Ranang National Park in July 2010, the gang escaped but an abandoned motorbike was discovered in the forest. Police traced it back to the couple who claimed they had nothing to do with the illegal loggers and had simply been mushrooming in the forest. They explained that when they learned the police were raiding the loggers they fled on foot in fear that they might be arrested. Their fears proved to be well-founded.
It is admittedly not entirely clear whether the couple were "wood moths" -- villagers helping the illegal loggers -- but it looked more like they were simply in the wrong place at the wrong time.
As far as the police and the courts were concerned, it was a straightforward case, especially as the duo confessed to illegal logging. But according to the couple, they were confused and thought they were confessing to illegally picking mushrooms in a protected park. They said their lawyer told them if they confessed they would receive a light sentence.
The light sentence turned out to be 15 years in jail, reduced from 30 because they confessed. Not surprisingly this went around the world. Headlines of "Thai Mushroom-Pickers Get 15 Years in Jail" did not look great. After considerable public pressure, the sentence was reduced to five years in 2017.
At last they are free, but they have suffered nine years of misery.
Readers will probably remember a more entertaining story featuring mushrooms, when in November 2007 a Thai army helicopter made an unscheduled landing in a field in Kanchanaburi and the entire crew set off on a mushroom-hunting expedition. The hed khone mushroom from that area is said to be particularly tasty.
Army officials were not amused. It was not the actual mushroom picking, but the fact that the pilot and the crew abandoned the copter for more than an hour. The aircraft belonged to a search-and-rescue squad, but whether its mission included searching for wild mushrooms seems rather doubtful. A number of the participants were transferred to inactive posts, with no immediate access to their favourite mushrooms.
I must admit to being a great fan of mushrooms from an early age. On Saturday mornings, because there was no school, my mum would cook a larger breakfast than usual and always included a couple of really big, juicy fried mushrooms. They were absolutely delicious, especially if supported by a few blobs of ketchup. It was my favourite meal of the week.
On occasions my brother and I would cycle out to the nearby Chiltern Hills on mushroom-picking expeditions, which were spectacularly unsuccessful. On the rare occasions we discovered some fungi, it looked nothing like the delicious specimens my mum served up. We usually returned with what looked more like toadstools and sensibly, no one would even touch them. Perhaps our family had read too many Agatha Christie novels. The author loved disposing of characters by poisoning, and was particularly partial to using deadly mushrooms in soups, stews and other concoctions.
The poor mushroom tends to be a villain in literature, primarily because of its poisonous capabilities. You only have to look at the names of mushrooms to give you a most uncomfortable feeling: Dead Moll's Fingers; Witch's Hat; Devil's Urn; Poison Pie; Deadly Dapperling; Destroying Angel and Death Cap. Actually, they would make great names for heavy metal bands.
Apparently the most common killer mushroom is Death Cap and with a name like that you can't say you haven't been warned. It is extremely devious as it doesn't look particularly evil and even tastes quite nice… initially. But once the convulsions start you know you are stuffed. Incidentally a killer mushroom starred in a Midsomer Murders episode entitled "Destroying Angel". The evil fungi lived up to its name.
I think I'll skip the mushrooms on toast I had planned for breakfast.
In answer to a reader, yes I'm ancient enough to remember Murray Mints ,"The Too-Good-To-Hurry-Mints". The TV ad in the late 1950s had a bearskin-clad army sergeant order a soldier leaning against a wall to get in line.
The soldier responds cheekily with "You will just have to wait until I finish my Murray Mint, the too-good-to-hurry-mint¬." Then the full squad march past and burst forth into song with "Why make haste, when you can taste, the hint of mint in Murray Mint." Those were jolly times.
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