Monday, January 21, 2008


Telephones have always given Hector quite the wrong sort of buzz. All that unnecessary squawking!

Plus, they so often are inhabited (at the other end) by someone on a mission, even if that mission is simply to wreck your day.

Hence his long-standing practice has been to have short phone sessions. The vocal equivalent of an SMS text does the trick in most cases. There are exceptions: we all have those occasions where, on the phone, our contribution is mostly ‘yes’, ‘no!’, ‘really?’ These interventions are to remind the caller that, yes, no, really, you are still listening; even if you’re not.

The situation worsened significantly when some unspeakable cad invented mobile phones, aka cell phones or, in Indonesia, hand phones. They’re all the same: they bring bad news, or news you can do without at the moment, or inconsequential matters that would be far better advised remaining in cyberspace, being put in an email, or handing over to the snail.

Plus, whatever happened to the telephone ring? It used to be that a phone alerted you to the inconvenience of someone calling by a simple and actually quite melodious ‘ring’ sound. It varied. The Americans, who have been interrupting other people’s conversations at least since Valley Forge, liked the long single ring. Hector loved seeing American movies in the old days, when cage entertainment was just a Sci Fi dream, chiefly because unless they were Westerns and predated all the Bells, instead featuring America’s pioneers of wall-to-wall litigation, the Sioux, they invariably included this somnolent yet somehow disturbing and vaguely threatening sound.

Nowadays, and not only on mobiles, you don’t get many rings. You get the ‘1812’ (warning: classicist calling), or a selection of high-irritant muzak grading down to the latest dorky Rap Zapper. Ugh!

So for Hector, phones have always been a health hazard. They have always disturbed his sleep (whether at home or in the office).

He was thus thoroughly chuffed to read in The Independent, one Britain’s chief bringers of bad news to the upwardly worried, that mobile phones actually do ruin your rest time. Well, he always did think they were the wrong sort of brainwave.

According to this august journal – which Hec understands is published in all 11 other months too, and daily to boot; no wonder they have to run so much from Worry Wort Central (they’d never fill it otherwise) – phone-makers’ own scientists have discovered that bedtime use can lead to headaches, confusion and depression.

The latest news from WWC suggests that that using them before bed, or in bed which they say teenagers customarily do, causes people to take longer to reach the deeper stages of sleep and to spend less time there, which interferes with the body's ability to repair damage suffered during the day. Yeah! You gotta sleep off those Big Macs.

Hector’s advice: Never go to bed with your best phone. It's never a satisfying experience and can do serious harm to your relationship.

Saturday, January 19, 2008


Hector prefers to drive. It beats flying, under one’s own steam as an Avian can or in one of those metal cylinders that today flit ubiquitously about the sky under the control of an Aviator and where, according to the latest Mittel Europa pre-history derivative forest nymph myths circulated by Those Who Desperately Want You To Believe The World Is Shortly Coming To A Very Nasty End, they are killing us with their unsociable emissions while unlawfully warming the globe and unnaturally interfering with the ozone layer.

But of course these days he lives in Indonesia, where using the roads is subject to many little local difficulties not necessarily found in countries where there is enough money to build them in the first place and maintain them – more or less – thereafter.

A popular pastime for some shorter-term visitors to the part of Indonesia in which he lives – the island of Bali – is hiring a vehicle. Rates are cheap, the cars are generally crap but so are the roads, and if you focus on the kilometres rather than the time taken, nowhere is very far from anywhere else. Plus petrol costs Rp4500 a litre (that’s around 50 US cents).

Visitors intending to drive while in Bali might like to browse through Hector’s Handy 10-Point Primer:

1. Indonesia notionally drives on the left. Always veer left if approached from any direction by a yellow truck, a petrol tanker or a bus driving immensely fast and randomly. Unless it’s on your left, in which case you’re toast. And that’s if you can see it in the cloud of black smoke all trucks and buses produce. The black smoke is mandatory for all large vehicles so as to obscure from the view of potential victims their registration plates and driver’s face.

2. Indonesians drive all over the place. Wherever suits is the rule. This is especially so with motorbikes (see below).

3. White lines, which are rare outside of bigger cities and their surroundings, have nothing to do with keeping left or even (what a concept!) in lane. They are driver testing devices: you pass the test if you can keep your vehicle centred over the white line and you get bonus points if you can keep your wheels equidistant from the mid-point. There is no difference between broken white lines and solid ones. A broken white line simply means the road line-painting machine was playing up at the time, or the paint was running out. Or someone came out with a bucket and stole half the paint before it dried.

4. The overwhelming majority of Indonesians ride motorbikes. On your right, on your left, up your clacker. Motorists are kind of, sort of, well, supposed to at least look as if they’re thinking about the road rules from time to time. Motorbike riders are exempt from this requirement.

5. Drivers and riders turning out onto busy roads never look right. They might see the approaching traffic if they did that. Nor do they stop. That would cost them valuable points in the highly popular national Shit-That-Was-Close Near Miss competition.

6. On the open highway (ha!) a vehicle flashing its right-turn indicator (a) may be turning right – this is however very unlikely; (b) might be saying it’s safe to pass (it never is); (c) could have a driver who has inadvertently activated the indicator while sending text messages on his mobile phone; or (d) might be thinking vaguely about turning left in approximately 10 kilometres; if this is the case it will travel towards its objective in the middle of the road at 20kmh.

7. Traffic lights in Indonesia go amber before they go green (that is, as in most civilised countries; but only if they’re working). All Indonesians have a chromosome that impels them to hit the hurry-up-in-front horn just before the light goes amber. The further back in the queue they are, the more advanced they are in timing this chorus. Ignore the horn-hoon immediately behind you at a red light: he will almost certainly stall his vehicle anyway.

8. Most intersections have free turns left on red. Don’t get in that lane if you’re going straight ahead. You will spark a riot and a policeman will materialise from nowhere and demand from you large quantities of untraceable currency.

9. Everyone goes straight ahead from right-turn lanes at traffic lights. Except the buzzing cloud of motorbikes on your left, and an occasional yellow truck; they will all turn right, across your bows, as you pull away on green. It’s a good idea to use your hazard lights at such places. It never means you’ve broken down (all Indonesian vehicles are beyond repair, except government Mercedes limos, see below). It means: I’m going straight ahead from this turn-right lane.

10. If you hear sirens, it may be an ambulance out trying to catch customers, or it could be a huge police escort for the shiny new Mercedes limo of the deputy assistant under paper shuffler in chief who is late for a tea or who has forgotten to take his files to a meeting. Police escorts often also use loud hailers, through which high-volume but totally unintelligible intelligence is transmitted (in Indonesian). Don’t try to understand it. Assume it is the local lingo for ‘get out of the [insert your preferred adjectival profanity] way NOW’ and do so. The difficult bit is to guess which point of the compass they will come from.

Wednesday, January 16, 2008


Some people say that Hector’s a crusty old curmudgeon. Of course, Corey Delaney wouldn’t. The newly celebrated 16-year-old let’s-wreck-the-neighbourhood party organiser from Narre Warren, Melbourne, would never have heard the word or, on the evidence of his serial post-party television appearances, have the faintest clue what it means.

Nevertheless, Hector feels disposed to fly an urgent interdiction mission in Corey’s defence. Not because the young man has been unfairly treated, but because like many 16-year-olds, he’s clearly a nincompoop. Another word he wouldn’t know, understand, or on the evidence of his televised media celebrity appearances, be able to pronounce.

A lot of folk have been thoroughly stupid in the Corey Delaney House Party matter, now apparently a ‘global’ story.

They include, in descending order of demerit: Corey’s parents, who left him alone at home while they went on holiday 1000 kilometres away; the Victorian police, whose senior leadership has ensured the entire force now looks as if it comprises a deliciously and dangerously impractical genetic synthesis of Keystone Kop and PC Plod; the media, for forgetting (as it always does, especially on a slow news day) to apply common sense to appreciations of story ideas and presentation; and Corey himself, an uneducated, mindless little dork without an ounce of understanding of what self respect actually means or involves. But then, he’s 16 and clearly shouldn’t be let outside unless under supervision or on a leg-rope.

But, ahem, Hector admits that on the way to becoming a crusty old curmudgeon, he was responsible for a minor trail of riot and rampage. Not in recent years, to be sure, and never to the extent that young Corey apparently managed in the previously undiscovered and soporific suburb of Narre Warren.

But there was a week in London in the early 1960s that Hector confesses is completely blanked from his mind.

That too involved a Must Not Be Missed Party. Someone else’s; and it wasn’t at anyone’s parents’ house. But it must have been a knockout blast.

Little Corey, instant media celeb, says he doesn’t remember his party because he was out of his head. Hector, former unapprehended raver, relates to that.

It would be unfair, even as a curmudgeon, to feel negatively towards Corey simply because he speaks in MySpace grabs, wears yellow sunglasses and a duvet in public, and has a nipple ring. Times change and one should not be churlish about this.

In Hector’s teen years, nipples were never a matter of public record, or ringed except by the natural aureole. They were things (female things) that were reserved for between-consenting-adults-time or the teenage facsimile of same if you were bad enough to get lucky enough. Today, when you are officially a Nobody until you’ve made a tit of yourself, a nipple ring is apparently a Must Have among the low and disgraceful.

So let’s not be too hard on Corey. One day he may realise he’s been an idiot. Let’s hope so.

Saturday, January 12, 2008


An evocative echo of a distant past has ruffled Hector’s feathers, with the news that the conqueror of Everest, Edmund Hillary, had died.

When Hec was a very young fledgling, around seven or eight in human years, there took place a Very Good Year. It was 1953 and it brought a Triple Whammy: the Coronation of Queen Elizabeth II; the Coronation Test series between England and Australia; and Hillary and Sherpa Tensing Norgay’s historic successful attempt to reach the summit of the world’s highest mountain.

It was, in retrospect, the last fading echo of Empire. And Hec was at that time resident in Cyprus, an ‘army brat’, there because his dad was serving those fading imperial obligations. That northern summer, or a good part of it, was spent in the cool heights of the Troodos Mountains on that lovely but sere eastern Mediterranean island, at a camp annually established to provide relief for the garrison from the heat of the plains. It was in no way similar to Simla, but the thought was there.

The Test series was broadcast ball by ball – complete with intermittent fade and much static, also largely something of the past nowadays – and the Coronation itself was a radio event like no other. And for Hec, Edmund Hillary, from the farthest flung dominion, and Tensing Norgay, from the country that since 1815 has provided Ghurkha soldiers to the British army, crowned it all with their Boy’s Own adventure on that far, far mountain peak.

Hillary’s passing brought pause for reflection. How much has changed in the 54 years since that golden, tented, summer amid the cedar forests of the high Troodos. And golden memories, too: of the search, eventually successful but so profoundly disappointing (it was a very small trickle hidden away under rocks and ferns!), for the poor little runnel that was Cyprus’ only perennial stream.

This was particularly exciting because that little runt of a river eventually feeds the island’s largest watercourse which then flows through Nicosia, the capital.
In those days (it has been ‘controlled’ today) it was at Nicosia a wild, dry and stony creek, home to snakes and other nasties, until either winter rains or melting Troodos snows caused riverine tsunamis, one of which nearly terminated Hector’s contemporary ambition to reach double figures, and that of the family cat, marooned on the branch of a Eucalyptus tree).

Cyprus, pre-EOKA, seemed to the young Hec to be basking in the late autumn sunshine of the third, fourth or fifth empire that had held the island. It was a place of fascination and some potential adventure (the Cephalonia earthquake of 1953 shook us badly in all senses); of lazy days on empty little beaches (they’re crowded with tourists today) searching with horrified fascination but in vain for a fearful, fatal fin cruising offshore; of strange-tasting lemonades under the carob trees on springtime trips to the seaside; and of the excitement, one winter morning in Nicosia, of waking to find a lonely (and very tiny) little patch of snow in the street, while the Troodos mountains gleamed whitely in the distance; of scrambles round Crusader castles; glimpses of Byzantine splendour in the monasteries atop impossible rocky crags; fabulous Ottoman mosques that truly evoked a sense of the peace of God; an expedition to Salamis (ruins of same, an opportunity for much eight-year-old adventurism with the deliciously frightening risk of a reptilian encounter thrown in); and rambles along the Venetian walls of Nicosia and among the colonnades of Crusader abbeys, with a curious sense that one had been there and been seen there before. Such is the forceful power of history.

Some people make history, while others scratch around to find inspiration from it, and them.

Hillary’s life achievements make pale shadows of most, Hector’s included. Human genius and strength of character turned a New Zealand beekeeper into one of the most inspiring and far-sighted natural leaders of the 20th century. Hillary was a modest man, a product of Britain’s extraordinary history of plantations of its peoples and its heritage of language and law around the world.

It is good for the soul to recognise the great. Of whatever provenance, they are a gift to us all.

Monday, January 07, 2008


Hector doesn't often take much notice of sport, other than of the actual games being played.

So the perpetual tumult over 'sledging' in international cricket, and specifically the poor little misunderstood Aussies' participation in same, rarely rates an itch at The Cage, far less a scratching.

But the sheer wilful stupidity of the row over Australian Andrew Symonds being 'racially sledged' by the touring Indian test side, and the sin-binning of an Indian offender for four matches, is more than the poor old bird can bear.

Symonds knew what to expect. And it wasn't good manners! He was sledged on Australia's 2007 Indian tour by Indian spectators as a 'monkey'. That's pretty rich, coming from a crowd of Babus. But anyway ...

The trouble with sport - and unfortunately cricket, the game they really play in heaven, is the worst afflicted, perhaps because of all the spare time built into matchplay - is that gamesmanship killed sportsmanship long ago, when loudly self-promoting entrepreneurs got among the players waving huge sacks of cash.

Hec, who saw an umpire's raised finger once of twice too often in an uninspiringly amateur school cricket career many seed bags ago, nonetheless remembers the old days with fondness.

They were days when cricketers did not have to dress up as clowns to get noticed; or behave like them.

They were the days when if you were batting and you knew you were out, you walked before the umpire raised his digit.

They were the days when the umpire's digit was the only one raised on the pitch.

They were the days when if you were bowling, or keeping wicket, or even if you were just plain bored out of your brain in the outfield, you did not carry on like a kindergarten class on its annual icecream outing in pursuit of a questionable dismissal.

Symonds is a good cricketer. Unfortunately, like most of his team mates, he's also a good gamesman. Note: NOT a sportsman.

He knew he was out against the Indians when at the crease in the most recent match of the tour. But he didn't walk. He even says there was no need to. (Maybe he should try spraying on a conscience when he's applying all that over-the-top, look-at-me sunblock before matches.)

When he's bowling - which he does extremely well - he capers round the wicket in his warpaint and blonded dreadlocks (soooo yesterday, Andy!) every time he thinks he might intimidate an umpire into giving an opponent out. Too often, umpires acquiesce. That's not cricket; that's a circus. Sorry, but it really is behaviour more appropriate to the monkey house than the cricket field.

He's not alone, of course. Nowadays, thanks to bags of money and a universal collapse of good manners, everyone's at it.

It's very tiresome. It's not only cricket, an obscure game even to most people in the Anglosphere; it's other field sports as well.

Football players (the ones who chase the "world game's" little round ball around but can't touch it with their hands unless they're the goalie) are celebrity performers, capable of synthesising all-but fatal injury if an opponent actually tackles them.

Tennis players, from Mac The Mouth onwards, have been to prima dona school and many, it seems, have graduated summa cum laude with majors in hysteria and hissy fits.

Hec doesn't watch baseball and knows only enough about ice hockey and American football to guess that everyone involved likes to wear the sort of armour that did Sigourney Weaver absolutely no good in those 'Alien' movies.

But forever adolescent males behaving badly are apparently the norm there too.

Hec would have the lot of them up before the Beak if he had his way.