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Tuesday, April 11, 2017


Indonesia can be a truly beautiful land. You're probably imagining walking alone on pristine beaches or dipping your toes into a blue ocean, you might envision angry volcanoes or maybe a plethora of wildlife and rainforest canopies. These are all true depictions of this amazing country yet there are contradictions too, often separating the rural from the urban.

dredging rivers for the first time since the 1970's
These differences show themselves in a variety of ways The first of which is how, if you live in or visit the capital, that the Jakarta government can spend buckets of money cleaning up the waterways of the capital in an effort to reduce the annual flooding, yet at the same time not address the problem of trash and litter which is one of the primary causes of the blockages in the first place. There are absolutely no meaningful attempts to encourage recycling or repackaging and you will very quickly tire of seeing unbelievable ignorance in the form of plastic containers being casually tossed from car windows. This ignorance is not the consequence of a lack of either education or means as the behaviour comes from both public minibus  angkots and Mercedes alike.
There is a heartbreak attached to looking out over a sea of beautiful rice paddies, being tended by men and women in coolie hats which encourages you to consider simpler, earlier times but this image is then shattered by glancing slightly left and seeing a festering pile of plastic filled refuse. This is something many visitors to the 5-star hotels of Bali rarely see but something those who choose to travel into the heartlands will be only too acutely aware of.
a common sight in Jakarta

With the fourth largest population in the world, it often appears to visitors that the majority of Indonesia's residents believe that having a large family takes precedence over managing the resources needed to accommodate the rapidly increasing number of people living here. This lack of foresight then rears its head in the expanding borders of cities, need for housing and related facilities and the consequent reduction in green areas. According to statistics published by The World Bank, Indonesia's child mortality rate (under 5's) has dropped from 226 deaths per thousand live births in 1960 to just 27 in 2015 so the excuse of having big families to replace siblings who would statistically die really doesn't apply anymore. Increasingly,
I'd like to say this is's not
the inability to care for, educate, and provide working opportunities to the populace provides the observer with too many examples of poverty such as beggars and sex trade workers, eager to make whatever living they can. Organised religions need to take their share or responsibility for this irresponsibility as much as the government.

This growing population also needs to be mobile as living in satellite cities and commuting to work requires transportation. Rather than focus on improving public transport, until recently the contradiction, unbelievably, was to even go so far as to make cheap, small engine cars available as an alternative to motorbikes, and this is on roads already congested and often gridlocked due to a lack of investment, lack of control over the quality and administration of the vehicles and owners, and the policing of these things. That many of Indonesia's roads are toll roads, one wonders how the money taken at the toll gates is used.
new toll gate in Karawaci made traffic worse

A nation suffering issues relating to health, Indonesia continues to make cheap, unhealthy food available to the masses and providing poor medical services to take care of a population is increasingly showing a gap between the haves and have nots.

Yet these contradictions, which are perfectly visible to, and well known by Indonesians, are passed off as "well, it's Indonesia" as if this caveat is a perfectly acceptable excuse. The problems are obviously heightened around the major cities whose reputations attract more and more people to flock towards the bright lights and potential rewards, but as with the story of Dick Whittington, the streets are more likely to be cess-pits than they are to be paved with gold. Every year the government go so far as to send a begging message to people on their way back from the annual Ramadan/Idul Fitri holiday not to come unless you have a job and lodgings.

Of course there are glimmers of hope. For the first time since the 1970's and as can be seen in the earlier photograph, the government is actually dredging the Jakarta waterways of the crap that is blocking them, something previous governments completely overlooked. Also Jakarta is finally going to have an LRT (light rail transit) and an MRT (mass rapid transit) train system in the next couple of years. But whether this is too little, too late will be the review of successive generations and with recent talk of moving the capital city to alternative locations which will surely only take the problems with it, One can only imagine the challenges facing those future generations.

Indonesia has in its hands the means to fundamentally address these issues. Clean up the high-level corruption that clogs the wheels of change and start employing people who can and will address the increasing problems. Clean up the police force and focus its attention on stopping the daily activities that snowball into ridiculous actions by Indonesians too long used to being allowed to get away with whatever they feel like. Get the religious leaders together to show that the abhorrent hardliners, whose pathetic attempts to unify the population over negative issues that will only divide the country further, will not work. At the same time, have those same religious leaders help to promote an understanding of what needs to be done with the social issues that are obvious influencing factors, and explain, using pictures where necessary, why. Dystopian futures are not science fiction, they are rapidly becoming science fact, we need actions to complement words.

Finally, and to finish this piece on contradictions on a lighter note, why is it that some Indonesians, who are averse to raising voices at the best of times, when in a quiet room insist on communicating with their friends/colleagues by shouting? Beats me...

Tuesday, October 4, 2016

Why I don't believe the Penny Dreadful excuse...

I have long believed in the adage that you should only expend energy on the things over which you have an element of control. But there are times when you have to make your voice heard. This post will not make a difference to the status quo but it will allow me to share my thoughts on the title of the post. So on this note I recently received an email from a friend thanking me for recommending season 3 of Penny Dreadful and then going on to wish that...well, to wish that I suffered, horribly, and all because of the ending. This is how Penny Dreadful touched some people, to the point that they got angry/annoyed/frustrated/peeved/miffed enough to believe that the friend who recommended it is somehow happy with or responsible for the way it ended.

If, by any possible chance, you have yet to watch season 3, then know that this blog entry will contain a number of spoilers, enough to probably convince you to never begin watching it in the first place!

Friday, September 30, 2016

H.P. Lovecraft is turning in his grave

I've always been a voracious reader. Admittedly not always the kind of material that would have helped me to pass more tests but still, a reader nonetheless. My passion has always been for pulp horror fiction. Stuff like Night of The Crabs by Guy N. Smith whose use of the middle initial N. distinguishes him from the writer Guy Smith, born 20 years after Guy N. Smith. Mr. N. Smith is best known for writing stories of crabs, enhanced to enormous size after consuming radioactive waste, who then proceeded to terrorise English seaside towns and for me, as a then twelve or thirteen year old, being loaned a copy of The Origin of The Crabs with the explicit detailing of dismemberment-by-pincer came at a time when I was already afraid to enter the water thanks to Spielberg's Jaws, so to think that I now needed to be wary of crabs too meant for less than enjoyable spells being dragged around rock pools on holiday. Then there were the likes of Shaun Hutson (Slugs) James Herbert (Rats, Cats) Stephen King (Cars, Clowns, and Dogs) meant that you could find horror just about everywhere. A personal favourite was the British author, Brian Lumley. Lumley is most famous in the pulp horror genre for his series of Necroscope books where the main character, Harry Keogh, uses a talent to speak to dead people to increase his own potential and thwart a vampire invasion from a parallel universe. But Lumley's passion also extended to writing about the Cthulhu Mythos, a fictional universe created by H.P. Lovecraft.

Lovecraft was a horror writer who scared his readers with tales of Old Gods, and Cosmic Horror. Forgetting the present and submerging yourself in the text could take you to ancient polar cities, filled with a sense of impending doom at their rediscovery, or to be horrified by fish-people hybrids (again with the aquatic horror). The stories were designed to be read by adults but after the likes of Hutson and Smith these weird tales galvanised my young imagination in a way that Stoker, Shelley and Poe had never been able to. They are still a go-to on my Kindle and when I tire of whatever novel I'm currently reading it's rewarding to slip back into the world Lovecraft created.

As far as movie adaptations of his work go, well there have been some but the ones I've seen have mostly been of the not-that-good variety. Re-animator and From Beyond were ok-ish horrors designed to take money from teenage 80's audiences. Dagon was a film which, had it had a decent budget, might have done some justice to the Shadow over Innesmouth story, but apart from these it's been thin on the ground. Even Guillermo Del Torro seems to have shelved his desire to make At The Mountains of Madness. So imagine my surprise to find an animated movie Howard Lovecraft and the Frozen Kingdom. 

I don't mind that Dracula has been used to help kids to count. I can live with the fact that zombies were, cleverly, ripped from their voodoo roots to symbolise the greed culture that has engulfed first world societies. I can even handle the need to shamelessly drag classic movies into the world of reboots and re-imaginings as the originals will always be there. But I do draw the line at making the Cthulhu Mythos a kids playground. In what appears to be an attempt at doing a Tim Burton cartoon without getting the man himself involved, the producers have tried to take the Frankenweenie animation style and turn Lovecraft's work into a place for youngsters to ooh and aah about Shoggoth and tentacled horror. Lovecraft's visions are not something I would want seven and eight year olds delving into and I can only imagine the sleepless nights small children would have.

Thursday, July 21, 2016

You can call me Daron. Mister Daron.....

The surveys would have us believe that the top life-stress situation is the death of a loved one, closely followed by divorce and moving house, and with change of job still making it into the top 10. Technically change of job, at least in terms of life-stress, actually means losing ones job rather than voluntarily changing it. I guess I can see that.

With that in mind, having only just moved house in February of this year and losing Dad last year, you'd probably say that I could have picked a better time in which to voluntarily change my job too but, never one to shy away from a bit of masochism, I decided that now was in deed the right time to change my job and in April of this year I tendered my resignation to EF Swara.

EF have been my employers for the duration of my stay in Indonesia and were in fact the ones responsible for getting me to leave Thailand after receiving my CELTA. Having started as a teacher in 2009 I was soon promoted to Director of Studies where I then spent the next 6 generally-enjoyable years training teachers, interviewing students and teaching classes, amongst other things. Armed with this knowledge I guess you'd now understand how much of a difficult decision resigning was too.

Over the years a number of friends have extolled the virtues of working in a main school rather than an English academy. It was, they said, "the best move that they'd made...", professionally and financially, or it was "the next logical step..." as I "can't work for EF forever...", yet still I fought to stay in the position I'd worked up to. I did this partly because of the enjoyment of the job brought about by the diversity of students ages and experience, but mainly because my interest was always around teaching adults. Working in schools surely had it's attractions, but it would mean working with kids, and for a whole year of it at that!

So it was probably a helpful nudge or maybe it was more of a blinking indicator light when I started noticing the volume of unnecessary paperwork that I was spending my time doing - that kind of thing annoys me. This led me to reconsider those earlier converstaions with friends and look around at some of the other changes that were occurring, both in Swara as well as EF in Indonesia generally.

I understand that 'paperwork' in either its digital or hard-copy format is an essential part of a company's practices, It goes hand in hand with creating "best practice" and covering a company's backside in case of mistakes, but when the onus for completing that paperwork detracts from the time spent teaching, or traing people, then that's not good. So when that annoyance starts to eat at you to the point that it makes you unhappy, you have two choices; put up with it or, as the euphemism goes, spend more time with your family.

Now coincidentally it was the thought of spending more time with my wife, Yohana, that became the catalyst. Yohana sets off to work early and gets back home late afternoon whereas I had been starting late morning and, depending on classes, been finishing between 7.30 and 9pm. Changing to a school structure would mean that we could spend more time together as I'd be getting up before her and probably back before her too.

The chance to work in a Senior High School means essentially the best of all worlds. I teach young adults, I'm teaching literature, conversation, comprehension and structure and I get to enjoy the school system including the daily structures, facilities and of course the holidays.

The first few days have been a mixture of training, orientation and, as of today, teaching and while change always means freshness I find myself loving every minute of this. I miss my old colleagues and students, it would be weird if I didn't but the new guys here have made me feel so welcome and the students are a perfect joy to be in a classroom with. It's going to be a great year...

Thursday, April 7, 2016

Geoff Stoker

I'm going to miss my Dad today.

Not just today, I've missed him every day for the last year, it's just amplified today.

It's been a year since I saw cancer, a truly terrible disease, take a great man away and there hasn't been a day in which I haven't uttered expletives when describing cancer, but I'm not naive. There is no fountain of youth that keeps those we love with us or that allows us extra time, time beyond that which we've been allotted, he could as easily have been taken earlier......but I'm sure, given the choice, we'd all have preferred later.

Over this last year I've wished that there was some way, other than memories, which would have allowed him to be here when we needed him to be; those family situations that needed his opinion or a decision on the state of English cricket.

I know that Mum would have wanted him to stay around, they'd even have been able to celebrate a Golden Wedding anniversary denied to them both. To have been able to experience those few extra minutes, during which they could have continued to play out moments of love and togetherness that became a way of life from the moment they decided to spend their lives together, seems to be something only Hollywood can give. Yet spending time with his friends and family, both immediate and extended, meant a huge amount to Dad and I'm sure to his friends too.

I think that I speak for both Mum, Glen and I when I say that his loss is considerable. His uncanny ability with football score analysis, gained from years of his sons filling in the pools coupons, seemed to mean that we would never be millionaires but obviously that's not what I'm talking about. Instead I mean the man who cared deeply about his sons' choices, even when he was at a loss to understand them, Dad I miss your guidance.

To those of you who did know him, even in passing, I'm sure that on this day you will choose to remember Geoff in your own way, but please do remember him. I know that he remembers you.

Dad's light has been somewhat dimmed, but it will never fade whilst we still remember those times in which we met him.

Try to enjoy the cricket, Dad, and don't give Stokes a hard time.....

Thursday, January 14, 2016

The House 14 Months On - Hitches, Glitches and Progress

At this point in the building of the new house it's important to retain a sense of perspective. I am also finding this to be quite a lot harder than I'd imagined.

If you buy an existing house, you buy what you see. You might buy something that needs no work at all and you can just move in and continue on with life. At the other end of the scale it may be a doer-upper with a process to convert it into the mental picture you had when you bought it. Either way, you have a rough idea of what's going to be involved.

In our case it is essentially the opposite and we're watching the slow process week by week and month by month. I can only imagine it to be like watching a factory build a car. When you buy a new car you are given the keys to a beautiful, shiny, new-car smelling dream. In the case of a second hand car you can still see the finished product. What you're not expected to do in this situation is to attend the production line to see exactly how it's put together. But curiosity, as in the words of Steven Wright, killed the cat (even if for a while I was the main suspect) and it is this, along with in most cases a significant financial investment, that forces us to go and take a regular look. In fact it reminds me a lot of knowing what the present is before it's wrapped and given to you.

Alternatively, and much more in keeping with human nature in this case, Albert Einstein pointed out that curiosity has its own reason for existing. That reason is to ensure, even without building, architecture, plumbing or carpentry experience, that you get to point out what's been missed. As a tradesman I assume that's what they live for, to have a layman point out that "you've missed a bit". I guess nothing makes your day more than knowing that Joe Public has his finger on the pulse and your best interests at heart.

That being said, there is always a period after the build called "snagging" where you get yet another opportunity to go around and point out all of the areas where the tradespeople "missed a bit". In our case we do seem to have had some aesthetically-challenged bods as you can see from the photos but all is being put right.

The kitchen is better news. We found out that the wall tiles that we wanted were out of stock in five places that we called. Then finally the sixth called back and confirmed that they had them and we can go ahead with the tiling on Monday the 18th of January. The kitchen equipment company are in the process of updating the CAD drawings and have confirmd that they can install once the tiling is complete anwe have the sink, hob, extractor and oven with them ready to be built in to the granite.

Next up are the wooden shelves and brackets....

Monday, January 11, 2016

The House 14 Months On...

At this point we are so close to being into the house it's starting to get frustrating. For the last couple of months, little things seem to have been causing big, and unnecessary, hold-ups. For instance, the project manager confirmed that they hadn't applied to the national electricity board for connection. Seriously, what's up with that? He then went on to confirm that the water supply wasn't connected yet either!

Apart from that there have been the usual snagging issues and they'll take a while to complete. The little 'touching up' jobs. These have included some plastering work and some cosmetic bits too but the biggest issue for me is the door we had made to enter the back yard seems to have warped a bit. Anyway, problems are in hand and being dealt with.

So that means our main focus is on the kitchen. This part of the project seems to have taken over our entire lives and something that was supposed to add a little extra to the house, in terms of extra room as much as atmosphere, is starting to resemble Ahab's quest for the white whale.

If you've been keeping up with this subject on the blog you'll know that we had a plan to get the kitchen looking something like this....

well it turns out that because we have a U-shaped kitchen, just like this needs stuff like this...

8 metres of kitchen cupboard base units
8 metres of marble work surface
17 metres of ceramic wall tiling, grouting and adhesive
1 x sink
1 x tap
1 x surface-top gas hob
1 x extraction fan and exhaust tubing
1 x built in gas oven

The tiling will take 5 days to put up, the kitchen units will take two weeks to make and can't go up until after the tiling, the plumbing and gas installation is to do and then the shelving to be done.

At this point we could still go for a simpler approach but, as with Ahab, the whale is in our sights. 

On top of the kitchen the single main thing that needs doing is for security bars to be fitted around the perimeter of the back of the house. The area seems genuinely nice and this is really just a precautionary measure, seemingly done by everyone.

Current plan is to move in on the weekend of the 30th and 31st of January. Watch this space for details.