I first met Dave some 22/3 years ago here in Jakarta.
We were both English language teachers and part of a thriving community yet relatively small fry in a larger expat pond. Our drinking haunts were then centred around the Blok M bars, where we mingled with brawny American and Australian oil workers, geologists and other hard-drinking folk.
We had a few things in common: we were both former UK primary school teachers with responsibilty for managing our respective school's football teams, we both supported the football clubs of our teenage years – his was Carlisle United and mine still is Charlton Athletic – through good times and bad. (These past two seasons, our clubs have languished together in the third tier of the Football League.)
Another key to our relationship was that, although I'm a Londoner, I spent a few years living in West Cumbria, a few miles south of Carlisle, where I developed a lifelong antagonism towards the nuclear power industry. We were both keenly aware of the economic dependency of the region on the one remaining major industry – the Windscale Nuclear Plant. To balance this, we were also able to share reminiscences of hiking through the fells of the Lake District and the beers to be found in country pubs. (Our tipple of choice here is Bintang – there isn't that much to choose from.)
Both of us shared a horror of Margaret Thatcher, a trait which remained close to the surface throughout the rest of his life. He would regularly send me links to articles about the various horrors and ills which he perceived throughout the imperialist camps of the UK and USA,
When we met he would have a full-blooded rant, much of which I tried to tune out because my moans and rants have generally been more parochial, focussed on the world in which I live, Although, like all folk 'exiled' from our native lands, our perceptions bestraddle two worlds, Dave was raised as an airforce brat, regularly decamping to his father's overseas postings. To my knowledge, he only once rented a semi-permanent home in all the 23 or so years he lived in Jakarta, and latterly, Bogor.
Not being a psychoanalyst, I hesitate to wonder why he never formed a lasting relationship with a soulmate. Just once he almost achieved one and Dave arranged to take her back to the UK to meet his family. She never turned up at the airport. Maybe that is why he often appeared to wear an aura of alienation. To the many folk who encountered Dave in recent years, he was the 'bag man', a cantankerous and opinionated old sod. He was profoundly deaf in both ears. At times it was difficult to penetrate his ramblings; though perhaps he just didn't hear our interjections,
But then, he was also our 'Quiz Master', displaying a profound knowledge of many topics. He was someone who could retain dates and names of so many seemingly esoteric subjects that there were few who would achieve high scores. At times the Bintang got to him and a quiz would suddenly cease because of a perceived slight, perhaps a moment of inattention as a team member wandered off to order another round, or to make room for it. There were also occasions when the quiz didn't actually start: the Bintang had reached him before we did.
A few years ago, in 2004, he returned to the UK for an operation on a cancerous growth on the left side of his face. Knowing that his income depended on articles he wrote for a number of English language publications, friends organised a benefit for him so that he would have some cash in hand as he tried to sell, and get paid for, another article.
I suspect that his book, Foreign Fields Forever, a short, compact history of one of Britain's forgotten ‘little’ wars, namely the conflict with the new Republic of Indonesia from 1945-1946, will be hard to find.
I have been sent an archive of articles from the monthly magazine JakartaJave Kini which I can't upload as it's a zip file. Email me if you'd like to read them.
I've also published a number of articles on Jakartass when the main media have decined to publish them. Access them here.
When I last saw Dave, just over a week ago here in Jakartass Towers, I thought he looked better than in a very long while. He was in a very positive frame of mind and, at his request, I willingly agreed to publish an 'advertorial' for his self-produced 'Mutton Mutiny Scrapbooks'. This now won't happen. Dave deserves a wider audience and as a suitable epitaph I may open a blog containing his articles.
Although I'm immeasurably sad at his passing on April 8th, maybe the nature of it was kind. He was sitting in an armchair, hand on his chest, so the end was in some ways merciful. We're all getting older – Dave was 63, not 60 as media reports suggested – and the future here can be bleak for those of us far from our 'homelands'.
His family are due to arrive tomorrow (Wednesday) to arrange his cremation. On a number of occasions Dave expressed his wish that his ashes be scattered on the slopes of Gunung Salak. An expedition is already planned for the end of this month and although his family may have other wishes, the hike will go ahead as a mark of respect.
As a mutual friend has written, "it's a cliche, but this is like the passing of an era."
Well, not yet, as I hope the wake, yet to be arranged, will prove.