by 8 Degrees of Latitude
The squawking cockatoo has outed himself, by invitation but reluctantly since he and limelight are not a good match. This Q&A from the Siapa column in the Bali Advertiser of Aug. 3, 2016, may perhaps interest some people.
Richard Laidlaw: Bali Diarist
Richard Laidlaw was born in Britain towards the end of World War II during the Battle of the Bulge in December 1944. As a British army child he lived in many places, all of them with better climates than Britain’s. Later he attended school in Britain and went on to study economics, politics and history. Richard has always scribbled for a living, even in the military. For 30 years starting in the late 1960s, Richard worked for newspapers all over the world. He has had a home in Bali since 2005. Besides keeping up with his Blog, LinkedIn, Facebook and Twitter accounts, Richard has penned the Hector’s Diary column in the Bali Advertiser for the past five years.
What is the most vivid memory from your childhood?
There are so many. I remember with delight the mellifluous, unamplified calls of the Muezzin from local mosques. Recordings played at maximum volume over bad sound systems did not then exist. When I was six, I remember seeing the sun set over the Nile at Wadi Halfa in Egypt. Flying from Britain to Sudan in those days was a three-day journey and Wadi Halfa was our second overnight stop. Sadly, it’s now beneath the waters of the Aswan Dam.
What did you enjoy doing as a child?
I’ve had books with or near me for as long as I can remember. Nowadays my Kindle is my travelling library. When I was at school I used to love writing essays. Landscapes and memories have always interested me too. Long walks were always fascinating and still are.
When did you first know that you had writing talent?
When my first chief sub editor tore up my first story and told me: “That’s good. Now do it properly.”
What are your hobbies/interests?
Music, reading, writing – in that order of preference. I’ll listen to anything, except Hip Hop and Rap, from icky pop to hard rock. But I’m a classicist at heart. My favourite piece is Samuel Barber’s 1938 Adagio for Strings. It enunciates Doom and piques my inner melancholy. It’s a shame so many people know it only as the musical score from the movie “Platoon.”
How did you wind up in Indonesia?
I first visited Indonesia in 1999. My wife had been to Bali the previous year with family. It had always been a place we’d said we’d never bother with, but she came back from that trip with verifiable intelligence to the effect that the island was very far from being just Kuta.
What books have made a lasting impression on you?
Haruki Murakami’s 1Q84 is fascinating, as is Will Self’s Great Apes. And Kenneth Grahame’s Wind in the Willows.
What is your work history?
Some would say 50 years of undiscovered crime. I’ve worked in many places, though chiefly in Australia, which I reached when fully formed (thank goodness) at the age of 27.
What newspapers did you write for?
I worked for the Press Association, the British national news agency, from 1967 until I left the UK in 1969. I’ve worked for newspapers in Africa, Australia, Papua New Guinea and (briefly, on a work permit) the now defunct Lombok Times in Indonesia. In Australia I wrote for the Brisbane Telegraph, The Sunday Mail and The Courier-Mail (Brisbane).
What was your specialty?
Politics and economics. I found myself fairly quickly moved into editorial rather than reporting roles. I think that’s because I could spell and remember things. I amused myself with film critiques and long interrogatory lunches.
What stories are you the most proud of?
Early on I investigated a few things that got into print. Enough said on that. The 1974 Brisbane floods and Cyclone Tracy in Darwin (also in 1974) produced some gut-wrenching stories. But by the time I had any reason to be proud, I was organizing and managing rather than doing field work.
What do you consider the pinnacle of your newspaper career?
Being a senior editor and editorial writer on The Courier-Mail. Though editing an army newspaper at the same time, as a Reserve officer, was interesting and challenging, got me back up the sharp end, which I loved, and kept me fit.
Why did you choose a cross looking Cockatoo for your Hector’s Diary icon in the Bali Advertiser?
Hector is a sulphur-crested cockatoo. His mates live anywhere from Maluku to New Guinea and Northeastern Australia. Does he look cross? He does squawk a bit.
Why the name Hector?
The original Hector is from a satirical column I wrote in the Brisbane Sunday Mail in the 1980s in Queensland. It was named not for the Greek hero of mythology but for the irritating, won’t-shut-up nature of those who hector other people. Some friends acquired a sulphur-crested cockatoo and called him Hector. He’s been with me in spirit ever since.
What are your strengths that help you in your column?
I’ll read anything, even the labels on cans, and even in Bahasa Indonesia these days, so I’m a natural collector of inconsequential facts and left-field ephemera. Thus my diary is a collection of singular thoughts, occasionally joined like a string of DNA. One hopes these might entertain and even inform.
What kind of feedback do you get?
Some people send emails or leave me a little billet-doux on one of my social media platforms. Occasionally you get a phone call. People very rarely get in touch to sing your praises. They almost always do so to inform you that you are an unprintable idiot and sometimes to tell you that unexpected and unwelcome visitors are looking for you and will find you. It’s best to just ignore those who have been provoked to anger.
What are the most frustrating and the most satisfying aspects of writing your column?
Because the newspaper diary is Bali-focused, it is sometimes frustrating looking for “good news” local items that aren’t already double-glossed over by the tourism-travel-lifestyle media. Hector does try to look after the charitable NGOs and that gives me satisfaction.
What is the biggest challenge in writing Hector’s Diary?
Remembering that your own global-but-western perspective is alien to many deeply ingrained political, cultural and social precepts held in Indonesia. In other words, what you think is not always what you should write. It pays to bear in mind that Bali Advertiser readers don’t want to be shouted at (well, who does?) which means that they’re just like readers of any newspaper anywhere. Bali’s expat community is eclectic, and very far from being exclusively English speaking.
Where can people learn more about you and your work?
Blog http://8degreesoflatitude.com; LinkedIn https://id.linkedin.com/in/richard-laidlaw-3b5b5210; Facebook RichardSLaidlaw; Twitter Hector @ Scratchings.