How High Can Everest Rise?

This appears in Quadrant magazine’s November 2019 issue, just out.

The Dizzying Heights

Ross Fitzgerald and Ian McFadyen

ISBN No: 978-1-925736-30-4

Hybrid Publishing : Melbourne

pp. 248, $24.99.

 

Review by Richard Laidlaw

It’s plainly very difficult being a political satirist these days, when the politicians seem to have cornered the market themselves and to have requisitioned all the best scripts, in the national interest, naturally. No matter. Those with the wit and the will to soldier on will scribble regardless. Someone will get a laugh, or a wry smile, or perhaps break down and sob uncontrollably at the hopelessness of it all, and give us all a giggle.

So it is with the indefatigable academic Ross Fitzgerald, teamed again with writer and actor Ian McFadyen, who has brought us a welcome glimpse of light from the heavens in the shape of ‘The Dizzying Heights’, the seventh book in the Grafton Everest saga.  Fitzgerald and McFadyen have penned an engaging yarn. By dint of supreme effort it manages – just, perhaps, and by the narrowest of squeaks in the view of some – to stay ahead of the tsunami of paradox and parody that threatens to submerge the embattled remnants of western liberal tradition and its totemic universal democracy with it.

As those who are familiar with his life and works know, Everest earned his stripes in the challenged academic environment of Mangoland. That alone is worth some sort of medal, surely? It’s not quite Texas (there are fewer assault rifles at large in the community for one thing) and is actually three times bigger and hosts a small town called Texas; but it’s certainly a place of wide-brimmed hats and a colourful antipathy to learning. To many, of course, that’s a plus. After all, as such people and their political or genetic descendants like to remind themselves, relatively few café latte liberationists or chardonnay socialists avoided official molestation or escaped punitive vigilantism in Mangoland in the early culture wars.

Yet as Gangajang so ably reminded us in ‘Sounds of Silence’, its 1984 debut pop anthem:

Out on the patio we’d sit,
And the humidity we’d breathe,
We’d watch the lightning crack over canefields
Laugh and think, this is Australia.

The block is awkward – it faces west,
With long diagonals, sloping too.
And in the distance, through the heat haze,
In convoys of silence the cattle graze.

No one with any sense of what Australia really is, beyond the end of the freeway out of town, would fail to sense a frisson – even if only ever so slightly – at the visceral, olfactory images those words evoke. Except, of course, farcically fictional fantasy figures like Professor Dr Grafton Everest, whose life’s work as been to avoid labour of any sort, physical or cerebral.

Grafton Everest is too good to lose.

In his six previous memoirs of the moment, Everest has touched every marker on the academic orienteering course and stumbled over, or kicked aside, most of the witches’ hats and police line tapes that these days impede progress on the roads of life. There are many who show one or two of the behavioural traits that Everest himself exhibits in spades. We are very fortunate that he is a work of fiction, a figment simply of very fertile imagination. (He would shudder at the word “work,” perhaps in the manner, as Saki once wrote in another context, of an Italian greyhound on contemplating the approach of an ice age of which he personally disapproved.)

The Dizzying Heights’ is a rollicking read.

Fitzgerald and McFadyen keep up the frenetic pace of previous Everest misadventures, in this latest volume of his saga. It wraps up some loose ends and brings other streams of consciousness to some sort of conclusion. It looks at times like a final curtain, though perhaps we’re looking only at the first of a series of Melba-like farewell tours. The latter would be best. Everest is too good to lose.

In a way, he is something of a modern Stoic, albeit from the modernist Frank Spencer school that perfectly stitches together stoicism and farce; he too makes an art form of drawing uncountable numbers of impossibly tangled strings together and then wondering why the cat’s cradle won’t hold. It’s a safe bet that the Stoic’s stoic, Marcus Aurelius, did not have university luminary, premier of Mangoland, inaugural president of the Republic of Australia and nearly President of the United States Professor Dr Grafton Everest in mind when he jotted down his ‘Meditations’ two millennia ago.

 

The Dizzying Heights’ is a quick read, a rollicking one; you could easily knock it over on a rainy day, between lunch and dinner with time off for afternoon tea. It is perhaps even more unbelievable than its predecessors, but that’s one of the results of serial farce, and not simply in the framework of literature. Certainly in this slim volume the good doctor-professor rises to dizzying heights indeed. Some Americans, bless them, even try to adopt him as a presidential candidate. But enough of plot giveaways; read the book, it tells the story much better.

++++++

Richard Laidlaw, who nowadays divides his time between Western Australia and Indonesia, was for many years a journalist in Queensland, and later a political adviser, including for National Party Premier Rob Borbidge in 1996-98. He has a blog at 8degrees0flatitude.com.

QUADRANT MAGAZINE, November 2019, pp 83-84.

Ross Fitzgerald & Ian McFadyen’s The Dizzying Heights  is currently available from the publishers:  https://www.hybridpublishers.com.au/

And from Booktopia:   https://www.booktopia.com.au/the-dizzying-heights-ross-fitzgerald/book/9781925736304.html

It Will Be Meowvellous

Bali

Sep. 4, 2019

Australian Elizabeth Henzell, from the Sunshine Coast in Queensland, is a fixture in Ubud and runs Villa Kitty at Lod Tunduh, although it might be more accurate to say that it runs her, since that’s the way of much charity work in Bali. She would modestly demur, no doubt, at the assertion that she rates any number of gold stars for her energy and dedication, but it’s an incontrovertible fact. Her overcrowded establishment for homeless cats proves that.

It’s far from a thankless task, though it must often seem that it is, and of course funding is a constant battle. It’s made especially difficult because people dump cats – kittens especially – at levels demonstrating epidemic levels of lack of conscience, or leave them at the door, as it were, so they become someone else’s problem, and a charge on someone else’s wallet. The same is true of charities that look after Bali’s deprived dog population.

Henzell last year came up with the idea of staging the ACATemy Awards as a way of raising awareness, raising funds, and rewarding Villa Kitty staff and supporters for their work in the feline interest. The First ACATemy Awards were held in May last year. It was a fun night.

The Second ACATemy Awards are on Friday, Sep. 13, and like the first, at Indus Restaurant in Ubud. Black Friday is an auspicious date for any cat, black or otherwise, and whether or not they are in the company of a witch and/or a broomstick.

For Rp 400,000 at the door (Rp 350,000 if you buy a ticket beforehand) you’ll get a great night out, a welcome drink and canapés, Indus Restaurant’s famed cuisine in two courses for dinner, live entertainment in the shape of guitar music from Renda Pangestu, performance by Cecilia Wong courtesy of the Bali Beach Shack, presentation of the 2019 awards, balloon raffles and dancing to 11pm to music by DJ Tiger and DJ Pantha.

It’s in such a good cause.

And as Henzell puts it: “Our staff deserve a night a year to recognise their work and just for fun. Boy do we need a bit of fun!”

Meow to that!

Silence! Well, Sort Of

Richard Laidlaw

Bali, Mar. 7, 2019

IT’S Nyepi today in Bali. Tomorrow, Mar. 8, 2019 CE, it will be the first day of 1941 in the Balinese Hindu Caka (say Shaka) calendar of 210 days. We’ve been more or less fixtures in Bali since 1926.

Our first Nyepi, back in the Roaring Caka Twenties, was an eye-opener. We had a live-in housekeeper that first year and, come Nyepi, she sent us away to a designated tourist hotel. Nyepi was not for Bules; too difficult, she told us. We thought she meant Bules were too difficult rather than that Nyepi was, but demur we did not.

Bules are foreigners; usually white ones. The word is informal, which is to say it’s rude, which is probably why these days you find it used even in court proceedings when some silly white person has got into trouble, as too many do.

But we were curious, and asked her how she proposed to spend Nyepi (in our house). The answer was instructive: having a quiet little party with a few of her friends who would move in for the magic 24 hours.

Several years later we decamped to a favourite seaside resort for Nyepi – these days we just stay home, because it’s easier and really no trouble – where we and other cultural refugees were shooed out of the restaurant after a very early dinner so the place could plunge properly into darkness.

We had booked our usual poolside bungalow. And while we sat quietly on its terrace, making sure the lights in the room behind did not escape to alert any bad spirits that there were people around, the hotel staff arrived en masse with all the pool toys and had a lively party in the H2O.

In more recent times Bali’s authorities have tightened up on Nyepi observance. The Internet is “closed” for 24 hours – 6am to 6am – though that’s functionally the mobile Internet. Hence the appearance of this little piece today, brought to you by the fixed installation at our house. The airport is closed for 24 hours and only police and public order and emergency vehicles are allowed on the roads. The day after Nyepi dawns nearly pollution free.

Actual observance is governed locally, though there seems to have been a shift recently towards a more universal code of practice. Effectively, everyone stays at home and does nothing, or does something very quietly, spending time in contemplation of sins and the meaning of life.

Our banjar (local “adat” precinct) disappointed us this year. We didn’t get the usual “no light no noise no sex” letter they stick on your gate before Nyepi. The nearest one I saw yesterday, returning from a late supplies mission, was on the gate of a house about 250m from ours. They must have miscalculated stock required.

Over recent years the concept of Nyepi has attracted the interest of locally resident lovies and the wider global diaspora of chakra-shakers and the like. It’s been touted as a sort of extra-powerful Earth Day, an idea that everyone who isn’t a Balinese Hindu should immediately take up as a gift from the List of Gaia’s Preferred Myths. It would do us all good, it is said. Yeah, right.

In the warp and weft of modern western life, not to mention its supposed yins and yangs, eastern philosophies have gained new traction. It’s always been a syncretic process, religion, in which beliefs formed in the early forest faerie sector have leached from one into the other. The founding Abrahamic influence in Christianity is by no means remote from this factor. Nonetheless the mysticism of eastern religions has new attractions for westerners whose culture has staled and whose civilisation is in cyclical decline.

Bali, of course, is the latest leitmotiv in chief of this phenomenon. Its unique syncretic Hindu religion – part Majapahit, part Buddhist, part animist – emphasises karma and incorporates eroticism that many outsiders, not all of them westerners, confuse with sexual licence. A whole cottage industry is now devoted to servicing the desires of western women to have their chakras adjusted. For the most part these desires are misplaced and too often have been fuelled by pulp-faction Eat Pray Love-style self-awareness books. The women get touched up both literally and figuratively.

Needless to say, none of it has anything to do with Bali’s Silent Day or the Hindu beliefs from which it springs. Nyepi is not an early Earth Day concept that the consumer-capitalist world should seize upon as a corrective to its many ills, real or imagined. To assume Silent Day is a formula for social renewal outside of its specific rites, or, worse, to actively suggest that should be so, is disrespectful of Nyepi rather than respectful of it.

For unbelievers, the requirements of Nyepi are more honestly observed in their quiet breach. The Internet for example is a utility, a function of modern life. If the religious authorities believe Hindu adherents shouldn’t use it on Silent Day, then that’s a matter for religious instruction. The faithful should wish to forgo it of their own volition.

Nyepi is not an opportunity for unbelievers to submerge themselves by specious acquisition into the sublime wonders of an imaginary world without intrusive technology. They can do that any time they like, by switching off their phones. It is for Balinese Hindus. It is a rite that flows from their belief system and it deserves honour and respect from everyone, unbelievers included.

It doesn’t demand detailed participation. Silent Day requires that certain measures are applied to your dwelling place and behaviour, and that’s fine. Observing the letter of these things, such as showing no lights or playing music that would be audible beyond your boundary, is no more difficult than, say, taking care not to publicly contravene Ramadan fasting restrictions in a majority Muslim community.

That’s chiefly a matter of courtesy and common sense. We could do with a lot more of that, everywhere.

Let Him Eat Cake

RICHARD LAIDLAW

Book Review

 

IT must be very difficult being a political satirist these days. So many politicians, to a man and woman, get underfoot with plots that would outdo a Goon Show episode and leave their writers wringing their hands in frustration: Why couldn’t we think of that?

So we owe a deep debt of gratitude to Griffith University historian professor Ross Fitzgerald and ABC broadcaster Antony Funnell for giving us the latest chronicle, the sixth, of the fanciful world of Professor Dr Grafton Everest. In 2015, Everest found himself Going Out Backwards. Apparently this difficult manoeuvre, performed with co-writer Ian McFadyen and shortlisted for the 2017 Russell Prize for Humour Writing, must have worked. In 2018 Everest has reappeared with another misadventure. Somehow this prompts fond remembrance of the Irish scaffolder who plunged from the thirtieth floor and was heard to suggest as he passed the fifteenth that it was OK so far.

These days, in the symbiotic worlds of populist politics and instant twitterdom, serious writers of farcical fiction face significant difficulties. In Australia, where Everest in So Far, So Good builds on his already established presence as the man who briefly held the balance of power in Senate and was premier of the state of Mangoland for ten days, and in Britain, he becomes an instant celebrity via a series of tweets of unsurpassed vacuity. They’re good landscapes for political vacuity, the crowned republic and the septic isle, sitting as they do right on fault lines between sense and nonsense. The earth moves frequently, creating significant shocks on the open-ended Rictus scale.

Several unpublished amateurs are in the mix there, operating on the shifting lines that no longer fully divide intelligent satire from unbelievable farce. There’s Australia’s latest revolving door prime minister, whose campaign bus which he has vacuously labelled with his ScoMo pitch runs around without him on board, because he has a busy schedule, you see, and lots of important things to do (like upset the Indonesians and a valuable trade deal in pursuit of a few extra votes in the Wentworth by-election that his party didn’t win anyway). He can’t waste time on the ground. He has to fly. Still, there’s a giggle in the thought that he’s labelled the very bus that he’ll almost certainly be going under, metaphorically, on Election Day.

Meanwhile his opponent Shorten (or is it Curly?) keeps his head down and some contentious policies under wraps. No point in taking fire if leading members of the other mob are running around all over the place offering themselves as targets. Besides, his political friend in NSW, the just departed opposition leader Luke Foley, has recently acquired public notoriety and Very Silly Boy status by letting his hands do the walking at Christmas drinks in 2016 and trying to avoid the consequences until – as was inevitable – someone on the other side, corrections minister David Elliott in this instance, poured a bucket on him under parliamentary privilege.

In these circumstances, the chroniclers of Everest have done a sterling job. In So Far, So Good, the good professor-doctor even becomes president-presumptive of the forthcoming Republic of Australia, by virtue of his instant further celebrity, a venally vacuous PM, a series of farcical incidents in Australia and Britain, and acquaintance with a smart robot whose real task is to spy on him but who covers himself in virtual glory by also baking cakes. Everest has a strict wife who rations everything from sex to comfort food. Many will sympathise with him in this predicament.

Among the walk-on characters in the latest misadventures of Professor Dr Grafton Everest is a large, assertive woman who was once a leading politician and is now Australia’s ambassador to the U.S.A., the U.N., Italy and the Vatican. A good gig if you can get it and you like Fifth Avenue and Milanese millinery. There are other vignettes that strike a chord for anyone well versed in Mangoland’s history and culture – one senior female academic, for example – and the labyrinthine nature and Byzantine ways of Canberra. People sometimes ask themselves if they miss this suspect bouillabaisse. The sensible among them are apt to answer no.

So Far, So Good – the title sounds like a lift from The Compleat Optimist– takes the reader on a manic ride around the commercially focused universities of the Neocon Age, through the drivel-strewn gulches of Western politics (where are the Apaches when you really need them?) and the obsession with eyes down, two thumbs technology, fear of outsiders and distrust of elites that misinforms modern dialogue.

As a certain British wartime ambassador to Moscow observed, in a report to the Foreign Office in London that he typed himself and which remained suppressed for fifty years – it noted the arrival of his new Turkish counterpart, Mustafa Kunt – in dark days one looks for little shafts of light from heaven. Fitzgerald and Funnell have provided one with Everest’s latest dispatches. Its cover is evocative too. It features a lovely illustration by Alan Moir, the Fairfax cartoonist, to whom the book is dedicated.

It’s now in my library. I’ve put it next to my volume of Collected Rants. It seems a very suitable prophylactic against the tsunamis of confected angst that otherwise threaten to submerge us.

So Far, So Good. By Ross Fitzgerald and Antony Funnell. Hybrid Books, Melbourne. Paperback and e-book. IBSN 978-1-925272-97-0 (p) | 978-1-925282-55-9 (e)

A Bitter Blow

HECTOR’S DIARY

 

Snippets from his regular diet of worms

 

THE CAGE

Bali

Thursday, Aug. 9, 2018

 

THE second Lombok earthquake, on Sunday evening (Aug. 5), was far worse than its immediate predecessor (Jul. 29), and as finally calculated at seven on the Richter scale the biggest in this area in quite some time. Deaths are officially put at 131 (Aug. 9) despite other reports suggesting a toll closer to 400 and the government saying the toll is certain to rise as collapsed buildings are searched. There are countless injured. There was a very small tsunami, measuring centimetres not metres. Inevitably, there was chaos after the quake and when it’s dark and there’s no power, as was the situation in Lombok, it’s extra scary. Aftershocks continue. There was a 6.1 tremor today (Aug. 9). The place looks like a battlefield. The bulk of the impact was in the north of the island. Senggigi is a ghost town. The northern Gilis have been largely cleared of people. Hotels and restaurants have closed for the duration, which is unknown. Villages have been laid waste everywhere.

The Indonesian authorities responded immediately and effectively and deserve applause. There were already troops on Lombok after the first quake, which killed 20 people, and these were swiftly reinforced, including by two medical battalions and an Indonesian Navy hospital ship. Evacuated tourists were flown to Bali at no cost (to themselves), another creditable action by the authorities. Others in the Gilis have been evacuated by sea.

The Australians issued advice to reconsider the need to travel to Lombok and the Gilis, promising to keep this under review in consultation with the Indonesian government. Lombok is certainly not a place for a touristic experience at present, or a place for too many well meaning but competing feet on the ground.

It’s early days. The casualty count cannot yet be finalised or a realistic estimate of infrastructure damage provided. Fortunately it’s the dry season and at least some of the publicly funded reconstruction work should be completed before the rains arrive. The public priorities are immediate relief with food and clean water, healthy shelter, preventive health measures, and strict policing to minimise looting and theft. But the people of Lombok will need on-going assistance well into the medium term future, and in that scenario there’s room for private charities as well as public assistance and that provided by investors with assets – which are also damaged and at least temporarily non-performing – in the area.

The longer-term economic consequences are unknown. It is a tragedy that Lombok did not deserve, and one whose relief will require everyone’s attention, and their wallets, for a while.

And So It Goes

A BLUDGE is beaut. That’s what we suggested in the previous diary a month ago, if anyone can remember that far back. And so it was. But we suppose we should now get back to scribbling. Actually we’ve missed it. We’re not really in favour of gentle decay and decline.

The month away from the quill was fairly active here, it seems. Far too much went on that might have dipped the nib in the ink had we been energised enough to hold the feather attached to it.

Bali elected a new governor who campaigned on a platform of ignoring Indonesia’s two-child policy, preferring the Balinese standard of four, and failed to elect the rival candidate whose promise was that he would stamp on Tomy Winata’s proposed Benoa Bay despoliation forever (an emergent smaller excrescence at Serangan seems to be a fait accompli). The Bigger Families Party takes office on Sep. 17.

Mt. Agung bubbled along with its long period of volcanic activity, monitored by scientists whose discipline of volcanology is by nature inexact, which mystifies tourists present and proposed, as well as others, who wonder why no one can really say what the mountain will. In the old days, before 140 characters became not only the limit of argument but also its epitome and its leitmotif, such people could be ignored. That’s if you heard from them at all.

Cheesed Off

YES, we know you’re not supposed to do it, so when you’re nicked all you can do is suck it up. But we do like our cheese and occasional affordable imported rations are always welcome. The unofficial dispensation is a kilo of curd per pax, though even then, if someone super-officious or out of sorts happens to spy it in your baggage on arrival you’re up for a lecture about how Indonesia makes its own cheese. There’s no argument there: It does; and some of it is very nice.

On our recent return home from the land of the fractious girts, we had stretched the envelope with four kilos of tasty mousetrap, a mainstay of our larder. It’s far cheaper when sourced from places where cheese is not an exotic concoction that wouldn’t go at all well with nasi goreng.

We had handed in the customs form on which we declared we were carrying food and, on the back of the form, in the space provided, had scribbled a note saying this was cheese for personal consumption. This information was ignored. So indeed was the form itself, which was snatched away, crumpled up, and left on the bench.

We were pointed at a poster nearby that warned not declaring foodstuffs was punishable by hefty fines involving multiple zeros after some big numbers and/or a stay in one of Indonesia’s lovely prisons. Our protests that we had declared it as required led a young woman in Bea Cukai hijab rig to put on her bossy face, what could be seen of it, and tell the Companion to sit and wait “correctly”. The Companion didn’t sit, correctly or otherwise, but we’ve been here long enough to know when not to poke a stick in the cage, however much you’d like to.

They called the senior duty quarantine officer, a gentleman who struggled into view 40 minutes later. It had long been clear that while with Indonesian officialdom sometimes you can and sometimes you can’t, this time fate had arranged for us to run into a whole pack of can’ts.

There ensued a scene worthy of the best British farce. “I have a deal for you,” said the Diary, loudly enough for other defaulting arrivals nearby to hear and have to supress a giggle, while dumping his contraband loudly on the bench. “You have the cheese and I’ll keep the plastic bag.”

Great Line-Up

IT’S pleasing to see double Miles Franklin Award winner Kim Scott in the line-up for this year’s Ubud Writers and Readers Festival (Oct. 24-28), because Noongar country, the southwest of Western Australia, is our home when we’re not in Bali. Scott is a celebrated Australian writer who has been weaving the magic of Noongar lore into his novels since Benang: From the Heart(1999), which won the Miles Franklin 2000 prize. He won again with That Deadman Dancein 2011. He’ll be a treat in Ubud this year.

So will Fatima Bhutto, Hanif Kureishi, and a whole list of others. It’s the UWRF’s fifteenth birthday this year. It’ll be a rave. Check out the festival’s website.

Flying High

THE Merah Putih is fluttering at The Cage, up for its annual outing. It’s Independence Day on Aug. 17 and our practise is to fly the flag for the whole month of August.

We won the unofficial race for First Flutter in the precinct again. Ours was up and waving triumphantly well before any others, though a little raggedly as it has been in service for some years.

Big Bird

BIG is best, or so the legend goes across a very wide field of human endeavour. And now the big Garuda on the Bukit above Jimbaran is complete. It has even won the imprimatur of chief foreign social arbiter Sophie Digby, of The Yak Magazine. It’s very big, at third biggest in the world of oversized monumental statuary. Ozymandias might even be jealous, if his remains were real rather than just the poetic fancy of Percy Bysshe Shelley.

In Bali those who seek to monumentalise have until now tended to be more modest about it, unless on a traffic circle, or about monkeys, or in honour of Independence Hero I Gusti Ngurah Rai. But from all reports most people are very pleased with Big G, so that’s good. We’ll all have fun finding out how the access roads to the new attraction will cope with all those big buses.

It is plainly visible from a long distance as an artificial eminence. Closer to hand and from the back side, as Indonesian English delightfully puts it, it looks more like a chap with his hands up, trying to surrender perhaps, than a mythical eagle. But never mind.

Farewell, Friend

IT was sad to learn recently that Dale Sanders, a long term resident of Lombok and a fierce Kiwi, had left the field. He had been in poor health for a while. We’re sure they gave him a very fine and richly deserved Haka at the pearly gates.

We first ran into Dale 12 years ago, when for our sins we were editing the Lombok Times, from Bali, and he, for his, was marketing real estate across the strait. One day the All Blacks were playing the Wallabies and we were both watching the televised match, he from Kerangandan in West Lombok and we from Nusa Dua. The lads in green and gold scored first – they can’t have read the rules of trans-Tasman rugby clashes, which state that an All Blacks’ Haka gives the Kiwis a 10-point lead before kick-off – and we incautiously messaged him pointing out that the Aussies were ahead. His response was succinct: Not for long. It proved a depressingly accurate forecast.

Chin-chin!

The Bludge Report

HECTOR’S DIARY

 

Titbits from his regular diet of worms

 

VASSE, Western Australia

Monday, Jul. 2, 2018

 

WE are, we’ve told friends, having a bit of a bludge. One of them very kindly said we deserved to do this. Many others, perhaps, just shrugged, Atlas-like or otherwise. Some others among them may have breathed a sigh of temporary relief. We’re aware that diarists can be a bit in your face sometimes.

But having a bit of a bludge is a very Australian thing to do. It’s one of the finest aspects of being a citizen of the land down under. Bludging has a long and honourable history in settler Australia. It may even trace its origins back to the day Captain Phillip got his boots muddy at Sydney Cove in 1788 and gave himself the next day off to recover.

It is fifty years since John Gorton, our personal favourite post-war Australian prime minister – Gorton was an honourable man who later voted himself out of office with his casting vote in a tied party room leadership challenge – bemused the British media when he arrived in London on an official visit. Someone among the small flock of hacks present asked him what he had come to Britain to do. Gorton cracked his engaging lopsided grin, a product of his war injuries, and said: “I’m here for a bit of a bludge.” This mystified the assemblage of Poms until it was translated for them. Then, we think, they not only understood, but also empathised. The true bonds of former empire were stronger then.

A little downtime helps to reduce the overburden of premium dross under which we have to live these days. And even if this is the depth of what passes for winter in the southwest of Western Australia, it works a treat. A change of climate is as good as a rest.

Black Hole

TELSTRA, Australia’s still formally protected telecoms utility, struggles to provide adequate IT service to many parts of the country. It’s a sizeable pebble, Australia, after all, though most of its 25 million people are huddled along the eastern seaboard. In the west, where people make an art form of feeling deprived by federation and policies designed (they claim) to advantage the big cities “over east”, it struggles even harder.

Vasse is a pleasant town near the major tourism centre of Busselton, on the edge of the Margaret River wine country. It is not remote, in any sense. But it is one of Telstra’s many black spots; a place where in IT terms service might sometimes be better spelled ecivres. Worse, it’s such a black spot that it’s really more of a black hole, like one of those intergalactic gravitational vortexes into which everything gets sucked and not even light can escape.

The Diary’s travelling modem, by which access may be obtained to the Internet without impacting on the data plans of one’s hosts, works brilliantly. Except in Vasse, where, not to be crude (hah!), an allegory comes to mind relating to the ephemeral habits of tarts’ couture. Still, we’re here for a bludge, as previously noted, so it really doesn’t matter terribly much. Except when it does. But then again, if that’s the case, there’s a measure of relief in just muttering, “Oh knickers!”

Batik On

WE chose to fly Bali-Perth this time with Batik Air, one of the local labels of the Malaysian-Indonesian Lion spinoff Malindo. It’s a good outfit and flies the latest Boeing 737 marques. It’s also dry, which might be a downer for some travellers, but who really needs to drink alcoholic beverages on a flight of less than four hours? Don’t bother answering. The question is rhetorical.

It’s cheap but full service, and with more legroom than you get in cattle class on other low cost carriers, who really should call themselves Packemin Airlines. It was our third time with Batik. And we’ll be back on board again.

Speaking of packing them in, we hear from travellers who have endured the new seventeen-hour Perth-London nonstop flights with Qantas – part of the grand plan to link bits of the Anglosphere without the distressing necessity to land even briefly in other bits of Gaia that so worry the tremblers – that if you’re down the back in QF’s sardine-tin 787s, it’s a very long time to spend with your knees up round your ears.

It’s a Con, All Right

NOT many people read Quarterly Essay. It’s published every three months, as perhaps its title might suggest to the mathematically astute, and it features writing that goes rather beyond the hundred words with pictures format that seems to attract the text generation. It’s a shining example of what Australian intellectual thought can actually offer, if anyone wants to bother.

In its latest issue, just out, the headline article is a brilliant deconstruction of Neoliberalism. Even if you don’t believe Neoliberalism is a con job by the oligarchs and others whose policy is to keep the proletariat under the heel, it’s a damn good read.

Foreign Affairs

MANY years ago, an editor of practical erudition for whom Hector had the privilege of working gave him a weekly foreign affairs column in his newspaper, and announced this at the daily news conference with a smile and a line that we’ve always remembered: “He has many of them,” he said. It wasn’t quite true, not unless you’re the sort of person who thinks many is any number above zero, that is. But never mind. Hector’s cachet was temporarily given extra glister. Of such things are undeserved reputations built and unlikely legends made.

Foreign affairs have always been our interest. We began that exercise long ago, in the country of our birth and in a pan-European fashion, though with a pre-EU (and certainly pre-Brexit) British cast, even if was not the then authorised one. It was better than trying to gauge the density of the fog and worrying about the fish and chips. Later, we thought at the time to the mutual interest of both parties, we transferred our spyglass to the antipodes and engaged the world with an Australian perspective. That was back in the days when the Anglosphere was a clubby sort of thing, a bit like the Freemasons without the goats, instead of a network of fear-filled foxholes in an alien world. Even these days, it’s still better, as well as more fun, than staring blindly at the back fence muttering about the perfidy of the government in forever failing to buy you the most expensive beer on the bar list.

So the advent late last year of Australian Foreign Affairs, a journal to be published three times a year by Schwartz Publishing Pty Ltd, was a welcome shaft of light from the heavens. Allan Gyngell, honorary professor at the ANU in Canberra, wrote in the inaugural issue an article headlined The Company We Keep. In it, he said this of Australia’s foreign affairs interests: “Australians need to see themselves as the actors, not the audience, in the drama of the changing world; to shake off that nagging fear of abandonment and replace it with confidence in our capacity to set our own goals and to understand the path we have to make, with others or alone, to get there. No one else can do it for us.”

Amen to that, we said silently to ourselves as we nestled in the warmth of early afternoon lamplight and the space heating mandated by the wintry weather in our present location.

Bali Bind

WE’LL be back in Bali on Jul. 12, if the schedule is adhered to and unless Mt Agung chooses that day to make yet another effusive demonstration of its power. A date with the limpid ripples of our favourite Bukit beach soon thereafter would be welcome. That will follow the adventure of switching on the hot water system at The Cage, a task that involves fiddling around in the midnight dark outside, so that pre-slumber showers can be taken without the bad language that accompanies cold ones.

Thereafter, Hector will be back to his regular regime of scribbling on local issues of note. We’ve kept his to-read folder up to date throughout, but we’re not entirely sure he’s actually read much of it. Still, he can catch up with all that on the evening flight back. It’s a dry one, after all.

Chin-chin

 

Barely Aware

 

HECTOR’S DIARY

Titbits from his regular diet of worms

 

THE CAGE

Bali, Monday, Jun. 4, 2018

 

THE practice among some western tourists here of going around in their beachwear well away from the beach has caused comment before, among the Balinese themselves though they are polite people and chiefly keep silent, and among some of the more sensitively inclined resident foreigners.

Contrary to the exhibitionist argument, it is not prudish to suggest that riding around clad only in a little string bikini is rude. It is not an elective option that anyone would choose who is not either dotty or self-obsessed or both. The Diary is not a prude, or exempted from the proclivity of that half of the human population in possession of an extra chromosome, to look at the sights. We do understand that this can alarm persons who are not thus genetically equipped, especially these days when you’re not really supposed to notice something lissom and very nearly naked.

But, thank goodness, boys are still boys even these days, or are for the most part, and those with good manners don’t make a nuisance of themselves.

There’s a general acceptance that in tourist areas, practically anything passes muster. Bars and nightclubs are where people misbehave, after all. That’s their purpose. A beachside bar is fine if you want to be cheeky and to let it all hang out. But the “tourist areas” are fairly closely defined, or should be. Sitting on a scooter on a traffic-jammed road wearing less than most Balinese would consider decent for underwear is simply rude. It’s also very stupid, because if you’re in an accident your two tiny little scraps of fabric won’t protect you from anything.

The same principle applies to men. Riding around bare-chested or in budgie-smugglers isn’t a good look anywhere, unless you’re a narcissist or are being paid to do a photo shoot. Despite the claims of some westerners that Bali’s unique culture is licentious and sexually explicit, an argument that is banally bolstered by references to bare-breasted village grannies, it’s not like that all. The culture does embrace a measure of eroticism and is the richer for this. But it is stylised in public performances and otherwise kept for the village or the home.

It has nothing to do with westerners who like to think Bali is just the place to come and get your gear off.

PHOTO: Snapped in a By-Pass traffic jam last week.

Er, Yer

IT was amusing to read recently that Bali’s legislators have turned their querulous collective minds to the matter of culturally appropriate architecture. Well, it would have been amusing, if, as usual and in the way of politicians everywhere, they hadn’t mistaken their target and fired a fusillade in the wrong direction.

They called on the state-owned operator of Ngurah Rai airport to ensure that infrastructure to be built largely on reclaimed land at the seaward end of the airport was culturally appropriate. Stuff with Balinese touches, they mean. It’s a utility area and moreover an airport, so architectural flourishes are probably unnecessary anyway. And they haven’t said a word about local opposition to further interfering with the tide line, which those with any acquired memories will remember was fairly disastrous in the area in the 1960s.

More to the point, if the legislators wish to ensure the future of Balinese glimpses in local architecture, they should turn their attention to the built environment outside the airport. It may be too late, which would be a pity, but for our money it would be really good if visitors exiting the airport on arrival were not encouraged to assume, by the vistas that confront them in the vast unplanned metropolis that is South Bali, that they’ve just landed in Jakarta; or back in it.

Read, Weep, Smile

AT the other end of Bali’s demographic, where real people live, or try to, and which sadly is a slide-rule and not a spirit level, the peripheral details that bother politicians and those who advise them are of little importance. This is something of which the writer and private spiritualist Jade Richardson reminds us in the latest post on her blog.

It’s about Made, who lives at Amed and whose commercial life is collapsing around him because his little beach hut hire point is ignored by the sort of tourists who chiefly come to Bali today. You should read it and weep. Then you should smile. Made would like that.

A thought reoccurs: It’s such a shame that theoretical Marxism and original Christianity long before it never really got off their starting blocks.

Island Life

THE former muse of Mengwi, the remarkable Susi Johnston, has resurfaced.  Remarkable is one adjective, ours; another is marvellous, a third indomitable and a fourth fabulous, for all of which references we are indebted to our spotter of ephemera, Philly Frisson, currently in Sydney. Johnston is living on another island. It’s smaller than Bali (and cooler) but it’s one where the right to occupy or dispose of property for which you have paid is a legal certainty. It also has properly engineered roads, effective policing, a functioning local government, and a few other benefits. It’s called Vashon Island and it’s in Puget Sound just off Seattle, on the northwest coast of the continental USA. It’s virtually within hailing distance of Canada, that pleasant country that is home to unarmed North Americans with health insurance.

Johnston is opening a gallery, Aspidistra, on Vashon Island, where her skills in interior design development and details, custom masterpiece furniture, furniture design, as an art advisor, and in art acquisition and specialist sourcing will surely be much sought. What a great outlet for quality Indonesian art and other cultural elements.

The grand opening is tentatively set for Jun. 16. We wish we could be there.

A Little Seasoning

THE Mulia, the concrete hotel and resort complex at the southern end of Geger Beach at Nusa Dua with occupancy rates that would make a confirmed recluse feel lonely, seems not to know in which hemisphere it is situated. It’s planning a huge adults-only party on Sep. 1, apparently to be called Rapture (will partygoers get beamed up?) and says it is destined to be an annual “end of summer” signature event.

The seasons don’t really matter in the tropical zone, especially to tourists, except insofar as to whether they’re wet or dry, but Bali is south of the equator. If anything, Sep. 1 would be the calendar start of spring and hence the end of winter.

Maybe we should pass the hat around and buy the Mulia a big globe as a decorative presence and educational tool. Perhaps they don’t care, but that big line round the middle of it is a dead giveaway.

So There!

A LITTLE game was going around Facebook recently, in which it was claimed the No. 1 song on the charts on your fourteenth birthday describes your life to come. We think it works.

The Diary’s song was It’s Only Make Believe. We’ve always believed that.

 

Chin-chin!

The Doolally Squad

HECTOR’S DIARY

Titbits from his regular diet of worms

 

The Cage, Bali

Sunday, May 20, 2018

 

 

IT’S hard to know what to write about the Surabaya bombings. Doubtless there are those who would advise against writing anything about them. But that won’t do. Perhaps we could start by saying that at least the suicide bombers did everyone a favour by exiting the gene pool. It’s a shame hell doesn’t exist except as a human notion. They’d look good rotting there forever.

There are, however, some practical things worth noting about the events of the past week in East Java and elsewhere. First, let’s consider this: it is all but impossible to live a secluded, unnoticed life in Indonesia, the more so within the majority Muslim community, where the mosque is not only the prayer room but also the community centre and the focal point of guidance. The archipelago is in any case communal by cultural history, social preference and force of habit. In Surabaya, someone must have worked out that the mad father and mother of the sacrificial children seemed a bit bent, if not actually murderously doolally. Perhaps they decided it would be better, or safer, not to have worked that out, and that if the local prayer leader wanted to do so, he would; there’s a sort of communal blindness too. The substantial cache of pipe bombs found after the church attacks would have been difficult to pass off as spare motorbike mufflers, even to the thickest of casual observers. Did anyone say anything, to anyone? If they did, to whom was it said?

The second thing to be said is that the police did a good job after the events, both in Surabaya and in Pekenbaru, though clearly more needs to be done in the intelligence gathering area by both the police and the national intelligence body. A good rule of engagement for any police is one that states that if you see a terrorist, shoot him dead instantly, or her, since it seems women are taking up the profession of mass murder. Going some way back to Densus 88’s previous tactics, as has now been authorised, is also a sensible protective measure. There’s an argument too for reviving the military’s tri-service special forces, also now under way, though they should stay out of it unless the situation is truly dire. Densus 88 is the best policing anti-terrorist tool in the kit.

The third, and most important, thing to say is that Indonesia should not allow itself to be spooked by terrorism into retreating from the democratic norms that it has courageously and progressively put in place since the Suharto era. It shouldn’t worry, either, about the longer-term effects on tourism of an uptick in terrorist activity ahead of next year’s presidential election. There may be short-term dip, primarily in western source markets. Leaders, especially in Bali, need to develop a responsive and responsible narrative on that front.

Taking Fire

AN old friend, Ross Eastgate, a former Australian army officer who now writes (in Australia) on military issues, got into trouble for a column he wrote after the Israeli army employed snipers to pick off selected targets on the “front line” between Israel and Gaza. As he noted, snipers are legitimate military assets when they are used to target enemy military personnel (or important insurrectionists or terrorists). Using them against a crowd of protesters chiefly armed with slingshots, whether or not they have been organised by Hamas, the Palestinian terrorist outfit, is not. It’s a war crime, plain and simple.

Hamas in Gaza took advantage of the Trump decision to shift the U.S. embassy in Israel from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, to drum up more anti-Israeli action. Given the conditions that exist in Gaza under Hamas’s control, we can safely assume that the interests of the common people there are not its primary concern. But the modern State of Israel, originally the product of a European Jewish plantation in the Levant two millennia after the Romans threw them out, has a duty to abide by international law. It’s a legal state and it must behave lawfully, particularly if it proclaims its democratic credentials.

The trouble is, the global Israel lobby has turned into an art form the idea that anti-Zionism is the same as anti-Semitism. It isn’t.

A Lovely Man

WE left Queensland 13 years ago and headed to the west coast. Not in the Billy Joel sense. We’re not doing a stand-up routine in LA. Who’d bother in Perth anyway? And we retain east coast connections and lots of old friends, some of whom come to see us from time to time, though that’s in Bali, our Fat Controller-proof bolthole.

Sadly, we lost another of our old friends recently, former Queensland treasurer and Labor Party strongman Terry Mackenroth. He died, far too early, and unexpectedly, soon after the lung cancer that he’d beaten 20 years ago had been diagnosed again. They gave him a state funeral (in non-Toff Australia that’s without the trinkets and baubles). It would have been good to be there (it was in Brisbane on May 8) but like so many things these days that was not to be.

Mackenroth was a hard-fighting politician but straight as a die. If he said he’d do something, you knew he’d do it. If he said he wouldn’t, all you could do was shut your briefcase and go away. He was also a very lovely man.

When people leave us, we pause for thought. There are always anecdotes that spring to mind. They can be a comfort. After he saw off his first bout of the Big C two decades ago he got into the annual shave heads for cancer fundraising effort. At that time, for his sins, Hector’s amanuensis was working in politics, having given up on Rupert Murdoch. It was the opposite side of politics from Mackenroth’s.

The annual tribute visit to the minister’s parliamentary office, to deposit that year’s personal contribution to the razor gang, was always a treat. We’d stay for a brief chat and then return to our own quarters. The funny looks and pursed lips of our own little troupe of flacks when we got back from enemy territory were fun to observe.

Name Games

THERE’S another of those curious Facebook-focused phishing exercises going around at the moment. It purports to list the 20 people most important to you. That’s on Facebook, of course, which isn’t real life at all and your best friends (who are also your worst enemies) are actually those two chaps called Cursor and Autocorrect.

We’re very happy that we haven’t appeared on anyone’s virtual nearest and dearest list. At least, we hadn’t when we last checked. To appear on one would bring to mind Groucho Marx’s sensible injunction against joining any club that would see fit to invite him.

Big Wedding

SINCE we were in Bali, where big weddings are all the go, we felt no pain in missing out on that other sizeable celebration in Windsor, U.K. Well, we wouldn’t have anyway, but let’s not spoil a good story.

On Friday evening we were at the Nusa Dua nuptials of a couple whose connections, from our perspective, are some lovely friends we’ve known for years. Nyoman Sueta is a community leader in Nusa Dua and his wife Made Siri is too. She also makes fabulous pancakes.

We ran into other old friends there, Made Winarsa – who is now sommelier at the St Regis Bali – and his wife Ayu Trisna, whose hospitality records run right back to the Conrad Bali years ago and both of whom we’ve known since they were students. There were lots of speeches – it helped that they were all in Balinese and Indonesian of course – and between times, opportunities to chat.

The setting was Peninsula Island, which will be familiar to many Australian and other visitors. It didn’t rain (it’s the dry season now) and the south-easterly breeze from the ocean was pleasantly cool.

It was a great night all round, and it was an honour to be present. We had our photo taken with the bride and groom, an obligatory thing. Possibly we jumped the queue for that. But nobody seemed to mind.

MEOWvellous

IT’S without question the purrfect way to spend a Saturday evening in Ubud. There will be no yoga, for one thing. The occasion is the inaugural Villa Kitty ACATemy Awards, an invitation only soiree at Indus Restaurant. It’s on May 26.

Elizabeth Henzell, hostess with the mostest on the night and the inspiration for Villa Kitty, tells us we should be dressed up as much as we like and be prepared to dance the night away. Yes, um. Good. Make mine tonic water with ice so it looks like a G&T (an old trick from our flack days).

Villa Kitty does marvellous work for Bali’s feline community and is worth support every time. Its sponsors are great people.

Elizabeth recently lost Maya, the light of her life. She arrived six years ago as a hairless waif and became a silken black tortoiseshell with the love and proper food and care she found with Elizabeth, along with the 10 other cats who shared her domain. She had a good life and was loved. There’s nothing to beat that.

Chin-chin!

Off We Go

HECTOR’S DIARY

Titbits from his regular diet of worms

 

The Cage, Bali | Wednesday, May 10, 2018

 

IT’S been a while between scribbles here at the Diary’s desk, for all sorts of reasons that really don’t rate a mention. We have heard no complaints, but we’ll ignore that silence and the signals it might otherwise send, and bat on. It’s compulsory for writers to write, but not for readers to read.

We were back on the Outanback Track today, the Diary and the Companion, for the first time in eight months. It was a doddle, though the proof of the pudding, not to mention potential denouement, will come later, when the muscles react to the shock. It was nice to stride out (and largely up) our 2,400 metres of morning walk routine. From a walker’s viewpoint it didn’t look much different from how it looked the last time we did it, which was before last year’s two-month European adventure.

A brisk morning walk in these parts, of course, requires an early rise, or else the sun melts you; and this in turn demands both alarm calls and earlier nights. Still, that’s said to be better for you than reading – or, worse, scribbling – into the wee hours. It’s probably not quite as much fun, though we can set that off against the necessity for karmic equivalence.

Mount Up

GENERAL Prabowo Subianto, he who likes military-style parades with his politics and a fine horse from which to review them, and who envies ants their ordered eusocial societies, has secured the backing of the Prosperous Justice Party for his candidature, as leader of the Greater Indonesia Party, in next year’s presidential election.

This was expected. He ran against the current president, Joko Widodo, in 2014, and lost, which, predictably, he didn’t like very much. The Jokowi presidency is not to the taste of those who believe government is better in the hands of people who hold the Quran aloft and cite it in preference to the Constitution, or others who believe they have a field-marshal’s baton in their kitbag.

This week’s news from Malaysia may have emboldened their optimism. There, the 61-year stranglehold on power of the formerly ruling Barisan Nasional has been broken by the voters.  Former Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad’s informal collection of “others” won the popular vote and a sizeable majority of parliamentary seats. His venerable age – 92 – might give Bernie Sanders hope for 2020. The voters heard Mahathir’s message loud and clear. They were fed up with the institutionalised corruption of the ruling clique. But Indonesia is not Malaysia. This is not just because Indonesia was formerly Dutch and run as a dysfunctional mercantile empire while Malaysia was British and run as a much more efficient one.

Phoney Argument

THE pre-paid mobile phone shemozzle continues. It was a joke to begin with. Now it is well past that point. Under regulations that took effect this year, people who buy pre-paid SIM cards with which to operate their phones have to provide official identity documents and register. This is sensible in an era where otherwise any phone can be a covert command post.

But there’s some glitch in the system – apart from the shambolic nature of the phone companies’ own administrations – that means even if you have registered, they’ll still cut you off. If the phone companies were running a kids’ party, there’d have been a riot by now.

Since rectifying the continuing idiocy requires further queuing up – take a number and wait to be called – and that this frequently means many wasted hours, it’s easy to see why people are fed up with the whole thing. Many Indonesians use pre-paid SIM cards and top them up. The telephone companies profit from this. With the acquisition of profit comes a duty of care, along with – one would have thought – some interest in keeping customers happy. These benefits of consumer capitalism are often invisible here. Indonesia might be a little more raya if its privileged private sector could get its act together. Well over 200 million Indonesians must dearly wish it would.

The phone registration funfest only affects pre-paid numbers. A better way is to have a post-paid plan.

The Germane German

IT was Karl Marx’s birthday on May 5, so happy 200th birthday to him. It’s probably just possible to mention the name in Indonesia without getting into trouble for expressing communist sympathies. We certainly have none that stem from the subsequent perversion of Marxist theory by the later crop of despots, tyrants, various leaders dear or great, or helmsmen or mass murderers, who purloined essentially sensible social ideas and buggered them up, or ignored them, in single-minded pursuit of their own misanthropic interests.

Though we do like good theories and to consider these objectively, as an otherwise unreconstructed Tory of our past acquaintance, economic theorist Henry Ergas, did recently in an engaging commentary in The Weekend Australian. His conclusion was basically that communism didn’t work because political practitioners bent its theoretical basis out of recognition, and anyway that the theory itself contained fatal flaws, especially those concerning the morality and ethical standards of the sort of people who historically end up dancing privileged mazurkas on the froth on top of the great beer of human affairs. Agreed. You could say exactly the same about capitalism.

Past Imperfect

WELL, it always is. It makes everyone a little tense. Just ask any historian. But in this instance we refer not to that which passed before, as in the entity that is a foreign land where they did things differently, but to the novel of that name by writer, film director and actor Julian Fellowes. It’s the Diary’s current reading for siesta time. It’s pretty good in 10-page tranches.

We should have read it long ago – it was published in 2008, following his first novel, Snobs– but didn’t. Most of our reading is not fiction. There’s enough farce and incredulity in real life to fill our regular reading list. What makes Fellowes’ Past Imperfect perfect for our relaxation is that it is set in two eras – the (now decade old) present, and fifty (then forty) years ago – and, moreover, in Britain, our domicile before we flew the coop, um, nearly fifty years ago now.

The narrative has some lovely vignettes – the fictionalised Season of 1968 provides many and seems to have been somewhat more outré than that of 1965 – and some devastating put-downs. There’s one that particularly caught our attention. The narrator, confronted by someone who unwisely asserts in conversation that something wouldn’t happen where he came from, responds:  “Where was that? I forget.”

Neanderthalistan

CHRISTINE Retschlag, the Global Goddess whose travel writing has made her a familiar face in Bali, reported a sour incident the other day, from Yeppoon, a little place on the central coast of Queensland, Australia.

She was in the area doing some scribbling, as you do if you’re a global goddess, and would be dining alone. Women have been doing that for ages, after all. It’s actually a pleasant pastime, too, even for men. There are no embarrassing pauses in the conversation, and you can quaff the wine of your first choice.

Retschlag had called in at a restaurant in the afternoon and said she’d like a table – that table in the corner, she pointed out – and duly returned at reservation time. The establishment had given the table to a couple.

She protested, as you would. She’d reserved it and they’d taken the reservation. They told her she could have another table, slap bang in the middle of the room. There was a row.  We’re sure it was decorous, if steely-eyed. And she finally got the table.

But sheesh! It’s 2018, fellas. Even in provincial Queensland. The restaurant’s name is Vue.  We mention this so others in town with less prehistoric attitudes are not unfairly thought to have been responsible.

Heads Up

TODAY is Ascension Day, in Indonesia Kenaikan Yesus Kristus, a red day in the national calendar, a public holiday. It’s a Christian festival. It is also relevant to Muslims, since Yesus, aka Isa, is their Messiah and a very important Nabi, being the last prophet before Mohammad.

The day is marked by Indonesia’s millions of Christians, those whom the loudly Arabian-desert robed lot, who’d like Arabian mores to swamp ancient archipelagic customs, would rather ignore. Indonesia’s Christians officially come in two constitutional brands:  Kristen and Katolik. We’ve often wondered what the Pope makes of that.

A Little Bit Rudy

FORMER mayor of New York City and now Trump legal flack Rudy Giuliani got off to a flying start in his new day job. Avi Steinberg | The New Yorker

 

Chin-chin!

Peak Effort

HECTOR’S DIARY

HECTOR IMAGE FOR BLOG

Titbits from his regular diet of worms

The Cage, Bali | Saturday, Apr. 28, 2018

 

DIAN Cahyadi, with whom we had the pleasure of working in Lombok more than decade ago, on a little and now extinct monthly newspaper called the Lombok Times, has achieved a new personal best for 2018. Actually, it’s a double triumph.

He scaled Mt. Rinjani, a feat in itself. We’ve seen photographic evidence. It wasn’t photo-shopped. It did look a tad chilly up there at 3,726m, where if the air is dry – and it is at the moment, now the dry season has properly kicked in – the lapse rate can easily take 25 degrees Celsius off the sea-level equivalent temperature.

Lombok’s Sasak people are not necessarily built for chill. This is a property they share with most Indonesians whose good fortune it is to live in an equatorial archipelago. His wife Barbara, who with Dian produces the useful Lombok Guide monthly, tells us the air temperature was zero Celsius when hubby and party left their long-way-up-the-mountain base camp at 2am to trek to the summit for sunrise. Brr-risk.

He’s a glutton for punishment, too. He’s done the climb four times now, an annual treat at the start of the climbing season. He and his mates clean up rubbish left on the mountain and take time out to educate porters and local communities about the importance of the environment.

(This item has been edited subsequent to its original publication, to reflect information later made available.)

Plumb Line

THE Governor of Jakarta says he’d like to see all the boats that service the Thousand Islands off the city operate safely. That’s an eminently reasonable position to take. It follows a report by the national maritime transportation safety agency to the effect that most of the boats are unsafe and poorly crewed.

There’s an easy solution. It is to ensure that boats are well built, adequately maintained and their crews competent, that navigation is conducted by the rules and not by whim, that boats are not overloaded, that weather conditions are taken into account, that harbourmasters work as harbourmasters instead of collectors of additional fees, and that the waters are effectively and not just ephemerally patrolled by enforcement agencies.

In short, the trick is to run things as they should be run and not as an informal and frequently manic circus. We made that point publicly. Someone came back immediately and said, well, that’s where the grand plan fails, then.

It’s hard to argue to the contrary, though we wish this were not so.

What Refugees?

THERE’s an interesting article in the Jakarta Post today – the newspaper is celebrating 35 years of telling it like is, give or take a line or two, by the way – that points out the refugee problem Indonesia faces. There are 14,000 such people, that we know of, who have arrived in Indonesia for a variety of reasons. One of these is that Australia remains a preferred destination for people seeking a new life, or any sort of life at all.

The Australian drawbridge was pulled up sharply some years ago, of course, assisted by a policy of employing the country’s navy to turn back unauthorised vessels. Australian policy is to deny entry to anyone claiming refugee status and specifically to keep such people out of Australian waters where, should they reach them, the courts might take a less political and more humane view of the country’s responsibilities.

It’s a policy that has worked, in terms of reducing basically to zero the number of people who are able to place their lives in the hands of rapacious people smugglers and get on leaky boats that might sink and drown them. Stop the boats was the Australian government’s mantra. It was a constant refrain.

It has left Indonesia with a problem, however, though that’s not Australia’s fault. These people – refugees, economic migrants, potential pogrom victims, whatever – are in Indonesia after unauthorised arrival and are therefore Indonesia’s responsibility. None will be going on to Australia, short of a change of conceivable government and a Damascene conversion among the electors. That won’t happen. So they’re stuck.

Kuta Crawl

WE’VE just had the considerable pleasure of a visit from an old friend of the Companion, and of the Diary’s by natural association. She’s a journalist who lives on the Gold Coast in Queensland – and who had a lengthy spell in Hong Kong too, long before its reacquisition by China – and whom we had been trying for ages to get to come and see us.

She and the Companion go back a long way, more than three decades, in fact, via various adventures and misadventures, and she’s a lively sort. So we all had fun. Ubud and Candi Dasa were on the expeditionary schedule, in pleasant accommodations (Tegal Sari in Ubud and Bayshore Villas in Candi Dasa) and plenty of activity (Venezia Day Spa in Ubud and Vincent’s – for the Thursday evening live jazz – in Candi Dasa) plus time at The Cage with its cooling Bukit breezes, ocean glimpses and chance of chainsaws. On the latter, it did seem that the gods had smiled upon us and declared a moratorium on borrowed buzzing for the duration. Or perhaps it all took place while we were away.

On her last evening we went into Kuta, toured the shops, bought some things, and dined at Un’s, a favourite spot of ours. Their frozen margaritas were declared a thing. The traffic afterwards, in contrast, was declared an unimaginable thing. And so it was, but then it almost always is. The more bucolic lifestyle of the western Bukit is much better, especially if you want to take photos of pretty little cows.

Handbag Parade

THE Kuta outing provided another chance for the Diary to prove his credentials as Handbag to the Companion. This is something we’ve done, in various places and forms, over rather more years than it is now comfortable to recall.

These days, it’s not corporate hand bagging. We are no longer required to stand around, consort-like, and engage with small talk persons who are unknown to us and whom we might otherwise wish to keep in that state of dimensional offset. It’s actual, physical, handbag carrying that’s now all the go. This is a duty we perform with serious intent, since a woman’s handbag is like one of those black holes in space. Things go in them that are apt never to be seen again, but it wouldn’t do to be the duty handbag holder if something were to be required from within and could not be found. Not finding things in her handbag is a job reserved for the lady who owns it.

In Jl. Legian in Kuta this week, while the distaff detail was in a shop looking for things with bling on them, we stood sentry outside, toting the handbag and trying to ignore the importuning of the massage ladies across the street. Sometimes it’s good to have reached an age where, like other things among life’s former functions, blushing is no longer feasible.

Whine o’Clock

180428 HECTOR'S DIARY CARTOON

This is a very good point. More information please.

 

HECTOR IMAGE FOR BLOG

Chin-chin!