Tuesday, August 26, 2008


GEORGE Orwell has always interested Hector. His pages never end up on the floor of The Cage. Hec has a soft spot for brooding, deluded, complex personalities, especially ones from the shadowy period when the Brits finally worked out that no one actually wanted them to have an empire.

This sort of self-realization has a deep impact on the psyche. The human condition demands that we are loved and wanted. Even Joe Stalin, late of Georgia, probably felt even more demonic than he would otherwise, because nearly everyone hated him and his “friends”, few though they were, feared his homicidal tendencies.

Orwell (real name Eric Arthur Blair, a product of the British Raj) was a classic English snob-socialist of the sort so frequently found lurking at the shadowy skirting boards of last-gasp imperialism. He later became less than enamoured of Russia’s own expansive designs masquerading as a kindly Soviet bid to save the world from itself (and for Mother Russia, a process newly energised today by Bad King Vlad in the New Kremlin and appropriately featuring Georgia), even though he was a chap with profoundly communistic tendencies himself. It must have been his Burma experience: he so wanted to liberate all those poor teak trees.

Hec’s favourite Orwell scribbling are “1984” – how passé that now sounds – and “Animal Farm”. Both are the proper products of a febrile mind; one, moreover, determined to shame people into submission. (For Hec, 1984 is chiefly memorable as the year in which he turned 40 and started counting backwards. This year, he’s enjoying being 17 again.)

Having had some experience with pigs – the school farm at his English alma mater provided good opportunities for sneaking a smoke behind the sties – he has always found some sympathy with the animals of which Orwell wrote, who much preferred preferment and set out to be more equal than others.

He has been re-reading Orwell’s diaries, less as a primer on the life and times and passing thoughts of the good George than as an exercise in historical recall. Now, of course, he can do so on the web, since a kindly English academic has taken upon herself the task of turning old George into a daily blogger. Orwell's private diary - written from 1938 onwards and much less interesting than his political diary, which records the long collapse of the faith that underpinned his astounding intellect - is now appearing 70 years to the day after he penned his ruminations. It's vital stuff for anyone who wants to check on the weather and the readiness or otherwise of blackberries (the ones you pick and eat).

Hec says he just can’t wait for 2015, when he’ll be able to read of strange and disquieting disturbances down on the farm.

CLAWNOTE: On Orwell, his diaries, and many other matters, the excellent Gizmodo website (http://gizmodo.com) may interest fellow scribblers.

Wednesday, August 13, 2008


BEREFT of other things to do, on a suddenly cloudy day at The Cage, Hector was forced to browse a little more widely than normal today.

This is because all that otherwise seemed to be available in his favourites and even on TV consisted of wall-to-wall Olympics and Wall St-to-Wall St gloom. Not Hector’s scene in the least. Plus, all his friends on Skype seemed temporarily to have ex-Skyped. He was heard to briefly ponder: “Was it something I said?”

The scratchy old bird doesn’t really do sport, unless it’s rugby and the Australian Broadcasting Corporation’s otherwise excellent Australia Network satellite television service forgets to encrypt the signal for commercial reasons and therefore fails to blank out his free-to-air screen as the dollar-hungry plutocrats who rule modern rugby insist it does.

And frankly, he says, there is no pleasure to be had watching chubby little analysts, bulging out of their latest designer attire, explaining (a) that they hadn’t really got it all wrong before; or (b) in working out that the inevitable result of the said analysts apparently having not got it all wrong before is that The Cage will have to engage in a less than pleasant and profoundly unplanned period of belt-tightening.

In search of light relief, therefore, Hec’s eye was caught by a little gem on the ABC’s website saying that Ethel, Norman and Irene, among others, were dying out.

They’re not the victims of global warming. They’re casualties of the changing habits in naming babies. Poor Norman (“North Man” in Old German) has slumped in popularity by 99.85% since 1907, it seems.

It had been popular for boy babies in the Anglosphere ever since William the Conker Man hopped over to England from Normandy and socked poor old Harold right in the eye. William was a Norman. OK, he spoke French, but he was basically straight off the Longship. Harold was an Anglo-Dane, a sort of cousin, really. It was a family thing. He just didn’t have all the Angles.

Anyway, back to the game: Norman no longer conquers, and Ethel and Irene have been sent off. There’s some hope for tradition, since Ruby, Olivia and Joshua are holding up the forward line, but things are clearly on the slide. Hector blames the rash of ill-educated celebrities who now rule the world for this. They name their offspring things like Moonchild, or worse, and still demand to be taken seriously.

Walter and Percy came second and third on the list of endangered names. Hector knows both a Walter and a Percy. He says he’ll warn them they are endangered.

The biggest drop-off among the girls was Gertrude, which is derived from the Old German for “spear maiden”. Presumably, she got the point. People wanting to call their daughters something suitably martial but nonetheless modern might be advised to favour “Taser”.

CLAWNOTE: Hector is a Spanish name. No meaning is attached to it, so people who suggest it means “will hector you from under wet cement” are clearly wrong (says Hector)

Sunday, August 10, 2008


A NEW wine drought appears to be on the point of whacking Bali.

Fresh on the heels of a hard decision at The Cage, to favour the "local" vintage rather than imported stuff at 170% duty, Hec had a nasty experience on his resupply mission today.

There were no casks of his (un)favourite Aga Red on the shelves. Habis (finished).

There was a time a while back - it was while officials in Jakarta seemed to be busy working out where the under-the-table-money had gone to - when wine and for that matter spirits all but disappeared.

Hec has a firm rule: he likes to be able to stand up at the end of the evening. But he also likes a drop of the grape, suitably vintaged, preferrably red (a white zinfandel is as far as he's prepared to go in the blonding department; unless it's a nice fresh Frascati for a shadily sunny Sunday brunch) and he gets a little miffed when it's not available.

Price-wise, Bali's been doing its best to provide wine at what anywhere else would be extortionate rates but which in Indonesia - where wine is drunk almost exclusively by the expatriate community and is therefore a highly taxable proposition - is actually reasonable. A local plonk need only set you back around Rp 67,000 - a snip at $Aust 8.27 on today's exchange rate, Hec notes sniffily - against a base price minimum of $Aust 16.00 for a foreign product clearly grown on the downside slope from someone's chicken run.

Hence his sudden affection for Aga Red, which is produced in Bali from grapes growin in Western Australia. (There are other Bali-produced wines but Hec's a pretty staid fellow and likes "his" brand.)

So, horrors! Having purchased a cask or two from his favourite emporium some time back he dropped in today to snaffle a little more and the shelves were empty. They were bare. The wine had seeped away. There was not a cask of red to seen.

He was disconsolate (as you can imagine). And even more so when he took his sorry tale home and, browsing the Internet in the hope of spotting something that might bring zest back into his day, found a story that told him Australian wine exports had fallen 13 per cent. Apparently the Americans have woken up to the fact that if they foreclose on your mortgage you won't have a comfy house to sit around and drink in.

Hec has a different take on this. He reckons that if the Aussies have all that spare wine, they could do worse than cut a deal with whoever has the relabelling deal in Bali, and flog off some of the surplus to this poor nearly dry little isle.