Like many people around the world, I find the multi-car pileup that is the 2016 American presidential election at least as addictive as the gif... Are we connected on Facebook? Click here. Copyright EscapeArtistes. Comments - ...


On Behalf of Self-Employed People Everywhere, Can the US Hold the Election Tomorrow? and more...

On Behalf of Self-Employed People Everywhere, Can the US Hold the Election Tomorrow?

Like many people around the world, I find the multi-car pileup that is the 2016 American presidential election at least as addictive as the gif where the cat falls in the bathtub with the lizard and at times as hilarious as the video where the German guy tries to jump into a frozen pond.

Fortunately, these videos only take a few seconds to watch. The election, on the other hand, is a 24/7 multimedia shitshow. If you spend any time on the internet at all, it’s impossible to look away.

And if earning your living involves working online, it’s taking a major, major chunk out of the working day. For self-employed people the world over, this timesuck of an election is an absolute catastrophe. 8 November cannot come soon enough.

Just an Every-Day Republican WTF?

For me, as for many people, it started slowly. Notwithstanding the prior existence in European politics of pervy, orange billionaires – hello, Silvio Berlusconi! – it was almost impossible to take Donald Trump seriously. The hair! The word salad! The absence of any political positions! The bizarrely cheap-looking suits!

Surely, surely, the religious right had to object to a three-times married modeliser with a history of leching to Howard Stern? And why the fuck would ANYONE believe a self-proclaimed billionare who goes to the White House Correspondents Association Dinner and the Met Gala and invited the Clintons to his wedding is an anti-establishment candidate on the side of the poor folk? How could a man whose ex-model wife has a heavy accent – and whose model agency appears to have broken immigration laws – go out there and rant about immigration? It just didn’t make any sense.

Further, doesn’t everyone know that “reality shows” aren’t real? That they’re heavily edited and typically scripted to provide satisfying character arcs? (Unedited, Trump was “a disaster”, say his editors, and that’s not counting the bits where he used racist and ablist epithets.) Apparently not.

And so, like self-employed people around the world, I watched, with mild bemusement, as he hurled schoolyard insults at an apparently identikit parade of climate-change-denying, pregnancy-enforcing white guys with more-or-less decorative wives – not forgetting, of course, Ben “insert your own brain surgery joke here” Carson, and the lady whose face didn’t meet Trump’s exacting political standards.

Back then, though, the election wasn’t taking up too much time. It was mildly amusing, occasionally addictive. More than cat video level, in terms of distractions from the daily grind. When Trump and Cruz were really getting into it, it was up there with the day that allegations emerged that our then Prime Minister had had sexual relations with the hog roast during a university drinking society dinner. Or maybe with a good fail video. Anyway, it was easily possible to get work done.

Clinton versus Sanders was engaging, but far from hypnotic. It was politics, not soap opera.

Then It Got Frightening

And then it gradually became clear. Donald Trump, this bizarre, volatile orange buffoon, was actually going to win the nomination. He could REALLY HAVE HIS FINGER ON THE NUCLEAR BUTTON.

That was when it got scary. Really scary. At one moment it looked like we might have Sanders versus Trump for the presidency, and that Trump could then actually win. And I say “we”, despite being a foreigner, because having a narcissistic ignoramus with zero impulse control in sole charge of America’s nuclear arsenal is a problem for every single person in the world.

Donald Trump – Donald Trump! – could get annoyed by some tediously predictable disrespect from, let’s say, Kim Jong Un, for whom Death to America is something of a theme, and decide to nuke North Korea, starting World War Three with China and therefore blowing up the earth. I’m not going to get started on the wisdom of giving Saudi Arabia, a nation where women are not even allowed to drive and that probably backed 9/11, their own nukes, but here’s a nice letter from a bunch of guys who used to look after the nuclear button for a living.

This period was genuinely terrifying, the only vague consolation a hope that surely somebody, some tentacle of the giant global conspiracy we’re just now starting to hear about, would grassy knoll Trump before he blew up the globe. It also made for a lot of nervous phone-checking.

For a Moment, It Looked Like an Election

Next came a brief period of calm, when this farce vaguely represented a normal election. In the red corner, you had Donald Trump. In the blue corner, you had Hillary Clinton, a machine politician who is by no means ever going to have a giant tantrum and start a nuclear war. This is a low bar for leader of the world’s second-largest democracy and dominant power, I admit, but an important one, nonetheless.

If I may digress, Clinton also believes in all sorts of things that most Europeans consider fundamental building blocks of any civilised society and a not-insignificant portion of Americans consider a full-frontal assault on some woollily defined notion of freedom. You know. Everyone should have health care, even if they’re poor; rich people should pay more tax than poor people; women have the right to choose whether to have a baby or not; it’s probably a good idea to check someone’s not about to go on a murderous rampage before selling them a gun; etcetera.

So when she got pneumonia, soldiered on past doctor’s orders and collapsed – RIGHT IN THE MIDDLE OF A RIGHTWING SCARE CAMPAIGN ABOUT HER HEALTH – it wasn’t a good moment. Particularly for those of us who are self-employed, need to use the internet for a living, and find it hard not to get sucked down rabbit holes at the best of times.

I apologise, by the way, if I’m not taking this seriously enough. I’m British, so my nation officially entered clown country status with Brexit and is now an international joke. Even before that, we never really treated our leaders with the reverence attached to the “First Family”, meaning most of the population found the Cameron-swine imbroglio more hilarious than distressing. Further, it’s not my country that’s going to have to somehow glue itself back together once the yelling stops: fun fact, we’re still tearing ourselves apart over Brexit.

The Full Soap Opera

Right now, however, the US election seems to be past scary and into full-blown telenovela territory. And, for those of us who usually start our working day with a quick skim of Twitter and a glance at the news headlines, it’s an absolute catastrophe. It’s extremely hard to look away from this Game of Thrones boxset of a rolling news saga and get on with any work at all.

I use the phrase ‘past scary’ loosely, of course. That 40% of Trump voters in Florida believe his opponent to be, not metaphorically but literally, a demon, as in a creature from the pits of hell with horns and a tail, is objectively really fucking frightening. Although 77% of the country believes in angels, so there’s that.

But, seriously, this election is the news equivalent of crack cocaine. There was the bit when we all learned that Donald Trump had a) personally lost almost a billion dollars in a single year and b) used that loss not to pay any federal income tax at all for ages. That was quite exciting.

Now we’re entering pussygate. Or locker-room gate (because doesn’t every man boast about sexual assault in the gym changing room? No? Really? You’ve been in the wrong locker rooms!). And that is CAR CRASH addictive.

In case you’ve been in a coma, a behind-the-scenes video emerged of Donald Trump bragging that he liked to kiss women without their consent and even “grab them by the pussy”, which he could do because he was a star. The video alone was bad enough for Trump’s partner in what he calls his “locker-room remarks”, a scion of the Bush dynasty, to be fired from TV. Weirdly, it failed to significantly dent Trump’s position as the flag-bearer of the family values party and candidate for fucking President. Go figure.

Since then, a steady stream of women have bravely gone public with allegations that Trump did, well, pretty much what he boasted about doing in the video. This convincing series of accounts of petty, pervy, enraging assaults stretching back decades have been met by accusations that they’re part of a vast global conspiracy (in rightwing rhetoric, just fyi, that usually means The Jews), or, of course, that they are, in the words of Twitter trolls across the globe, “too ugly to rape”.

A couple of Howard Stern clips are also doing the rounds. There’s the one where Donald Trump laughingly cops to being a sexual predator. There’s the other one where he brags about going into the changing rooms of the pageants he ran and ogling often very young women. In this instance too, a number of women are accusing him of doing something HE IS ON TAPE ACTUALLY BOASTING ABOUT DOING, and his campaign is calling them liars.

Oh, yes, and there’s the one where he sleazes on a 10-year-old girl. Ick. Not to mention the questionable under-age rape lawsuit which has been doing the rounds for a while.

Best of all, this all happened within virtual nano-seconds of Trump holding a press conference with women who accuse Hillary Clinton’s husband of sexually assaulting them, although one of them literally signed an affidavit saying it never happened. (And, no, Bill Clinton is not running for president. And, yes, he’s probably no angel either.)

It’s like the OJ Simpson car chase, except spread out over 25 days and the full glories of the internet. It’s mesmerising. What should be a discussion of the future of America seems to be devolving into a competition about who’s the rapiest, Bill or Don.

And the Award for Best Supporting Actress Goes To…

Even the bit-part players in this election are fascinating. There’s Gloria Allred, the go-to lawyer for victims of misbehaving celebrities in search of tabloid payouts, in full empathetic hand-holding mode. There’s Kellyanne Conway, the very smooth and extremely blonde political operative who seemed able to defend literally anything but has gone strangely silent since the allegations surfaced.

There’s Ben Carson, the man who has singlehandedly killed the cliché “I’m no brain surgeon but…”, and Rudy Giuliani, last seen denying Hillary Clinton was in New York for the Twin Towers when he’s actually in a goddamn photo with her.

There’s the fair Melania, no doubt currently reviewing her ironclad prenup with a sense of deep regret and the hardass lawyer that hubby funded to sue the Daily Mail over retracted allegations she was an escort. There’s Michelle Obama who almost – but almost! – managed to bring some class to proceedings. And, of course, there’s Vladimir Putin, lurking in the background like some sinister puppet-master.

But Think of the Self-Employed!

And it goes on, and will go on, and will go on, making it harder and harder for the poor, procrastinating self-employed to get anything done at all. There’s another debate to come. There will, no doubt, be more video and audio of Trump saying vile and take-your-pick-ist things. There will, no doubt, be more emails revealing Clinton and her team to be machine politicians, doing what machine politicians do.

There will be more accusers. There will be more out-of-left-field segues such as Donald Trump accusing Clinton of being on drugs – quite frankly, I wouldn’t put it past him to openly call for armed revolution. While it’s currently hard to see how much lower this election could go, I can guarantee it will find new, horrific depths, and plumb them.

How long before the sex video, really? We’ve already had a couple of soft porns.

And until someone finally invents a self-control app that blocks not just certain websites but pages containing certain terms, the outlook for the self-employed economy looks grim. So, on behalf of the self-employed and procrastinators everywhere, please, America, can you just get this election over with? Tomorrow sounds good to me. Thanks.

Picture credit: Flag by Julian Carvajal on Flickr’s Creative Commons.

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This Is Not a Celebratory Forties Post

Lilies - half fresh, half aged, in a glass vase.
I remember how very old I felt approaching 30. And, with hindsight, I’m sure 42 will come to seem equally young, equally naive. Yet, like adolescence, early middle age is a difficult time. Because ageing is real, it hits you, and it sucks.

I don’t feel old, you see. I was mildly surprised to find myself quite puffed climbing to the lookout for Mount Bromo last week with a couple of 20-somethings – for “quite puffed” read chuffing like a steam train and terrifying the poor kids into pausing for fear of heart attack. Young people don’t seem like a separate species to me yet and I’d entirely neglected to notice that these two were roughly half my age.

Thanks to sundry affordable enhancements – I went back to blonde after finding one too many grey hairs, occasionally nuke my wrinkles and am seriously considering doing something about my smoker’s lips — I don’t even look particularly old. But I am.

And that sucks. I might be carrying on like a 20-something and, for that matter, still pass for one in a sufficiently darkened room, but my body, in particular my withering ovaries, continues to deteriorate.

Quite frankly, I imagine that watching friends and family pop off this mortal coil has quite the reverse effect.

It is around this age, of course, that one discovers the fear of death. I’d like to think that this gets easier with, ahem, maturity, but quite frankly, I imagine that watching friends and family pop off this mortal coil has quite the reverse effect.

In early middle age, the immortality and invulnerability of youth is replaced by the hideous revelation that half a life has passed in the blink of an eye and the other half will rush by even faster. I have realised I’m going to die with a shocking and awful clarity, and every so often it fills me with tremors of absolute horror.

It seems bitterly, bitterly unfair that we’ve only got one short life to live and can only do a handful of things with it. I’d quite like to have the certitudes of religion, the opium of the masses, that there’s something pleasant on the other side. But I’m damn sure there isn’t, and when the cells shut down, it’s game over.

This is why, dear younger readers, they call it a midlife crisis. People abandon the daily grind or their partner of many years to pursue big, bold dreams. Why? Because it’s at this kind of age that you realise you only have one life, and need to make the most of it, and often the one you have feels like a trap.

My beer gut appeared more than a decade after my baby and has absolutely fuckall to do with it.

I apologise, by the way. This is not one of those celebratory forties posts, embracing my newfound wisdom and maturity, loving my wrinkles, celebrating my muffin top and generally cheerleading for the inevitable.

You will not hear one word about how happy I am about my beer gut because it gave birth to a baby a) because my beer gut appeared more than a decade after my baby and has absolutely fuckall to do with it and b) because I would much rather be thin. Sorry!

There are many things I am grateful for at this stage of my life, but I remain absolutely fucking enraged by the sheer unfairness of middle age.

I consider myself a feminist. But I still think wrinkles suck. On both genders. Unless you’re Peter O’Toole, of course. And, despite more than five decades of feminism, I am unable to think of a female equivalent of late-period Peter O’ Toole or, indeed, of the term “roué”.

Men can grow old disgracefully, can sport lines and “silver highlights” as signs of distinction, and can procreate easily within inches of the grave. Women, well, can’t. Sorry, loves. While almost everyone looks better young than old, the veneer of youth is more critical in a woman. I’ve yet to meet a person who was actively improved by a beer gut, but straight men can get away with a lot more spare flesh than either the girls or the gays.

For, oh my god, the slowing metabolism of middle age is no fun at all. I used to be able to eat what I wanted and give off an – admittedly deceptive – impression of athleticism. Now I have to think about what I eat, refuse myself things, and still expand out of my trousers. I’ve put all the weight I lost through dengue back on – and extra. This is, like all the myriad indignities of early middle age, just the very, very top of a long and slippery slope with mediaeval horrors at the bottom.

I don’t mean the generic whines about being treated as a combined cashpoint and taxi service.

I am lucky enough to be parenting a teenager in middle age. This has its joys, as parenthood, an activity whose sole purpose is to adequately equip a child to leave you, approaches its key goal. It also has its sorrows.

I don’t mean the generic whines about being treated as a combined cashpoint and taxi service. In fact, I’m blessed with a parent-child relationship that extends beyond said functionality into intimacy.

But I have a glimmering, now, as Zac closes in on adulthood, of what a man meant when he said to me long ago, “Oh, that’s a lovely time, when your children are small and you are the centre of their world.”

I don’t want to be the centre of my son’s universe, of course. That would be warped. It’s good that his friends are the focus now. But, still, I do very much miss the days when I was the mother of a young child. I’m not yet ready to give up that stage of life.

And I suspect that this desire to cleave to your children even as they grow further and further from you is something that persists and intensifies lifelong, and that like so much else in middle age, it just gets worse with age.

So what I want to know is this. What’s the secret?

So what I want to know is this. What’s the secret?

Is there some magic bullet by which one accepts ageing, comes to terms with one’s own mortality, acknowledges one’s children leaving and embraces the myriad physical transformations of middle age? Or is this a suite of problems that you drag around with you until the day you die, occasionally ignoring it but never really overcoming it?

Time heals all things of course. But time is also the mechanism of ageing, so I don’t see that one working out at all.

I’ll write something about travel next week, I promise. I’ve done enough of it of lately and there’s more coming up.

And, yes, like so many middle-aged clichés, especially on Bali, I’ll go back to doing yoga. It can only, one assumes, improve my mood.

Image credit: Dying Lilies – Experimental Ageing by Scott Wylie on Flickr’s Creative Commons.

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Dengue Is Not My Bitch

Having been bar reviewing, on and off, since the late Jurassic, I rarely get hangovers. But the one in Singapore was a corker. The aching legs that had kicked in as I progressed to my sixth bar of the evening hurt worse than even the day after we climbed Mount Kinabalu. And I had an absolutely splitting headache that neither water nor even paracetamol could dent.

All of which was most odd since, feeling a little under the weather, I hadn’t consumed huge quantities of booze and had paced myself solemnly with water. It was, further, inconvenient, as that day I was due to collect Zac from the airport – after a school hols sojourn encompassing Australia, New Zealand, Germany, Belgium, the Netherlands and the UK – and meet friends in Chinatown.

Still, as a lapsed Catholic I believe in suffering through anything that’s self-inflicted and quite a lot of stuff that’s not. And, even if I didn’t, I could hardly abandon my spawn at the airport, or fail to meet up with friends we hadn’t seen in six years and who were even checked into our hotel.

“Do you feel cold?” I asked at the airport, pulling my cardigan around me, as Singapore’s besotted fondness for A/C struck home quite bitterly.

“Not really,” said my spawn, who, despite having failed to manage his sleep on his flight back from the UK, seemed much livelier and healthier than I.

Odd, I thought. And, curiouser and more curiouser, the chills continued to bite even in the steamy surroundings of sunny Singapore.

“I’ve either got the world’s worst hangover or I’ve got dengue.”

“Sorry about this,” I said feebly to our friends, as my action-packed schedule for our sojourn in Singapore – the new National Gallery! Haw Par Villa! One of the best bars in the world! – shrank down to a shivering hobble through Chinatown to Maxwell Food Court for Hainanese chicken rice at Tian Tian. “I’ve either got the world’s worst hangover or I’ve got dengue.”

Dengue, AKA breakbone fever, is an occupational hazard of living in the tropics. Around 100 million people go down with it every year, with symptoms ranging from a mild flu to internal bleeding and death by way of something highly painful and extremely debilitating.

Knowing me, however, they assume I have a hangover. And, to be frank, having heard gory tales of precisely what dengue does to you from sundry Old Asia Hands, I don’t feel quite ill enough to be diagnosing myself.

My bones ache, sure. I probably have a temperature, though I don’t have a thermometer to check. I have the mother of all headaches. But I don’t have the searing pain behind the eyes and, although my appetite is off, I have yet to start puking my guts up. Further, chills smack more of flu than dengue.

In fact, with my cardigan firmly wrapped around me, I even manage to go for two sedate local beers, before curling into the foetal position around 8pm and shivering myself to sleep.

The flight passes in a miasma of sweats and chills, interspersed with copious quantities of water.

There are few things less relaxing than transiting through an Asian airport – indeed, any airport – with non-specific flu-that-might-be-dengue-oh-for-god’s-sake-woman-man-up-and-stop-being-such-a-hypochondriac. Mercifully, Zac happily carries my tote bag, whose several kilos seems rather beyond me, and is happy for me to sit down and rest every few hundred metres.

At this stage, I’m still thinking it’s a bad flu, but am wondering whether I might be diagnosed with something more sinister at an airport, and refused admission to one country or other. And I fear that if Indonesia bounces me back as being too sick to come in, Singapore certainly won’t have me either, leading to a potentially nightmarish – and financially crippling – unscheduled return to the UK.

I decide not to sit down, and hope not to shiver, or sweat excessively, when in line at immigration. The flight passes in a miasma of sweats and chills, interspersed with copious quantities of water – the first line treatment for dengue, like that for flu, is basically drink water and take paracetamol (not aspirin or Nurofen, if you’re reading this for medical advice, which you shouldn’t as I AM NOT A DOCTOR). The mysterious leg ache won’t go away, and AirAsia’s minimalist legroom policy doesn’t help for not only is it a bucketshop airline, it’s a bucketshop airline with a target audience significantly shorter than me.

At Denpasar, we pass immigration quickly, which is a relief since collapsing in an immigration line would not be a good look, and I slump in a corner while Zac sorts his bag out. I deliver a not-bad-in-the-circumstances performance at haggling with Denpasar Airport’s toxic taxi touts and my aching legs, my jetlagged spawn and I finally return home.

That is, I concur, rather dengue-esque, and also a feature that Old Asia Hands on their second or even third bout of dengue recall with a certain gory relish.

Some people, I admit, might have gone to the doctor at this stage. But guidance with flu is to sit it out for the first three to five days unless something hideous happens, my temperature is only 38.5° (101.3°) against an expected 40° (104°) for dengue, which, even with my reptilian normal body temperature of 36.4° (97.5°), makes me figure I’m just not that sick. Further, Facebook tells me there’s a flu bug going around our neighbourhood.

Then my eyes start aching. When I move them, it starts to feel as though someone’s running sandpaper between the back of my eyeballs and my brain. That is, I concur, checking the NHS list of dengue symptoms for probably the twentieth time, rather dengue-esque, and also a feature that Old Asia Hands on their second or even third bout of dengue recall with a certain gory relish, rather as if reminiscing over grim toilets or that time they got captured by bandits.

I decide to see how I do after the day in bed I should have had the day before were I not scheduled to escort Zac from Singapore to Bali, order takeaway, and proceed to projectile vomit pizza all over the bathroom like an out-take from the Exorcist.

But for the puking, the next day passes remarkably well. My temperature drops. The aches seem to recede. I binge, contentedly, on

In fact, I’m even ready to contemplate doing activities with Zac for the remainder of his school hols – we have ex-Bali friends over from England and plans for diving etc – and, even if I don’t feel like getting out of bed, it feels like the flu bug has gone.

On the morning of day four, the roof falls in. My joints ache so much I can’t get into a position to sleep and come quite close to crying with pain and frustration. My temperature rockets back up. The pain behind my eyes progresses to cheese-grater levels and I can’t seem to get around it by moving my head not my eyes as I could on day two. I start vomiting water, which worries me, both since dehydration is a real risk and since I’d like to keep my paracetamol down.

On Twitter, where I’m whining, as is my wont, Mr Travelfish (an Old Asia Hand who’s had dengue twice to date) wonders, not for the first time, whether I would like the number of a doctor who does house calls, including blood tests for dengue.

I think about the economics of this for a while. Then I think about the alternatives, of actually getting up and sitting in a taxi – because there’s no way I can ride a bike or even sit on a motorbike taxi – and waiting in a doctor’s surgery or a hospital, and call Dr Ari.

He arrives. I describe my symptoms. He nods. Apparently, it sounds like dengue. He gives me some tablets that stop the puking, although don’t bring my appetite back, and takes two vials of blood. One is to establish whether I have dengue. The second is to establish whether my platelets have been so ravaged by it that I need to go into hospital.

I send an only marginally compliant Zac off to the cashpoint for money, and then off a second time for more money. For I have, in contravention of my own best advice, allowed our insurance to lapse. Sod it, I think. I’m probably being melodramatic. Or a hypochondriac. I almost certainly don’t have dengue, and if I do, it’s obviously a mild version.

He’s definite. I can’t go in the morning. I need to go to hospital tonight.

Time passes. Zac games. I order him takeaway and drink some Vitamin C. Early in the evening, Doctor Ari rings me back. My platelets are well below the 100,000 mark (a normal range is 150,000-440,000, and mine are 81,000) and I need to go into hospital. He’s found me a bed at Kasih Ibu.

“Do I really need to go tonight?” I ask.

“Yes,” he says. “We don’t know what level they will be at tomorrow. If they were above 100,000, you could stay at home, but they’re not.”

I whine a bit, but he’s definite. I can’t go in the morning. I need to go to hospital tonight. The problem with dengue, you see, is that if platelets drop below a certain level, generally 20,000, it can kill you pretty quickly if you’re not in a hospital with access to platelet monitoring, blood transfusions etc. (Some stay at home and monitor their own platelets until they reach a level they determine requires hospitalisation. These people are made of sterner stuff than I.)

I post a message in my rare blood type Facebook group mentioning that I’m going to hospital with low platelets and asking people to keep an eye out for a call from the docs. (Bali uses beer fridges to store its blood, and blood groups that are only a bit rare in Europe can be very rare in Asia, so rare blood group donations are requested as and when needed rather than kept in stock.)

I am most annoyed. Bastard mosquitoes. How the devil could I have been so blasé about mosquitoes? And, further, why did I ignore my own advice and let our travel insurance lapse?

There is one issue, of course. What on god’s earth am I to do with Zac?

The strange thing is, at this juncture, I’m not feeling all that bad. I’m quite capable, for example, of packing my little holdall for the hospital and carrying it to the taxi, although I can’t be fagged to change out of my nightie as I’m only going to be wearing it anyway. The leg aches are less awful, the headache is a bit less drilly, I’ve managed to train my head to move in place of my eyes, and the drugs mean I’m not puking: I haven’t eaten, but, hell, I think, I can do with losing the weight.

There is one issue, of course. What on god’s earth am I to do with Zac? At 15 and nudging six feet he can fend for himself given adequate funds for a day or even several, being perfectly capable of ordering takeaways, ordering taxis and, for that matter, going to the shops and cooking for himself, but it’s not going to be very nice for him.

His most regular sleepover buddies, further, are off the island, as is the Bag Lady, to whom I already owe about a gadzillion babysitting tokens after I asked her to put him on a flight which then refused to take him then switched my phone off while on a sleeper train in China (long story).

We discuss and conclude that he’ll stay at home this evening, and the ex-Bali friends will come over the next day to supervise. In the taxi, the mother of a schoolfriend with whom Zac stays over – with whom I have yet to have a proper face-to-face conversation – calls, heroically volunteering to have him for as long as it takes. She has four kids, she says, and staff, and will pick him up tomorrow. Whew. She is a saint.

The staff present me with a distressingly large though in theory perfectly reasonable cost estimate for a projected five(!)-night stay.

The hospital might be expecting me, but that doesn’t mean it has a bed ready. My vital signs, all encouragingly robust, are taken in the casualty area, and I’m hooked up to a drip. I am already regretting my lack of unread books, if not yet feeling self-pitying about visitors.

The staff present me with a distressingly large though in theory perfectly reasonable cost estimate for a projected five(!)-night stay (23 million IDR, or over $1700 US). I sign a bunch of paperwork, order dinner despite the fact I have no appetite, and put down a deposit for my treatment.

It’s my first time in an Indonesian hospital, although Zac had day surgery to remove the plate in his arm at Sanglah. Though not as sheeny-shiny as the more foreigner-focused places, which can run you $3000 for a five-night stay and drugs (not necessarily the right drugs, either), it seems on a level with a small private hospital in the UK. That’s to say: better than the NHS, lightyears behind the Hong Kong extravaganza where Zac’s arm cost $20,000 to fix and several centuries ahead of the facilities in Tsagaanuur, Mongolia.

All the rooms are private, which provokes a rash of financial panic, but Doctor Masyeni, who’l be looking after me, is a tropical medicine specialist who does a lot of dengue (there’s a lot of it about on Bali). Further, this is where the Bag Lady got treated, as well as sundry other Bali bods, so probably a good place to be. And, further, I’m in no condition to go touting my arse around town looking for quotes.

“Two and a half years?!” she says. “And you haven’t had dengue yet?”

My room has a telly, which is nice, but they haven’t fronted for the better cable movie channels, which is less good. I have my very own bathroom, into which to drag my IV stand, and one of those beds that goes up and down electronically, which would be rather fun in a childish way were I not so pathologically enfeebled.

Doctor Masyeni appears and examines me. We discuss how long I’ve been in Bali. “Two and a half years?!” she says. “And you haven’t had dengue yet?”

“Well, actually, I think I may have done,” I say, explaining the mysterious flu bug in Bangkok which had sickened both me and Zac and which dengue researchers we met on a beach in the Philippines identified as likely a mild bout of dengue.

Dengue is worse the second time, apparently. You can get it up to four times as there are four strains. And, for anyone who’s ever been told that dengue mosquitoes bite just during the day, they bite at night as well.

We discuss whether mine is a Singapore dengue or a Bali dengue and conclude, regretfully, that it’s likely a Bali dengue. I resolve to be more sensible about mosquitoes.

I suspect that only a person who is on the mend could actually hold down even a soupcon of green slime.

I settle into the tedious routine of mid-range hospitals everywhere: crack of dawn breakfast, 6am blood tests, twice-daily vital signs, 9am cup of tea, noon lunch, afternoon tea, etcetera. I Skype with my parents, Skype chat with Zac, WhatsApp with the Bag Lady and the Bag Lady’s sister, who promises me papaya leaf juice.

Papaya leaf juice is, among the Bali expat community, generally held to be a fantastic dengue cure-all when it comes to getting one’s platelets back to a level where folk will let you out of hospital, although Dr Masyeni winces and says there’s been no research when I mention it.

Even when mixed with guava juice and lime juice, the taste is quite spectacularly vile – bitter, with backnotes of slimy compost. On the other hand, my platelets need a hand. Following a course that’s fairly typical of the disease, they drop and drop until they’re at 26,000, close to the level at which a transfusion is typically given, and levels are being tested every 12 hours, not every 24.

An unsightly rash pops up across parts of my body. They’re petechiae, the nurse explains, or bleeding into the skin, which causes me (and my folks in the UK) to self-diagnose with dengue haemorrhagic fever, when what I’ve actually got is dengue fever with haemorrhagic features.

I start on the juice, glugging great mouthfuls of it with my nose held, in between forcing down hospital food, and, that evening, my platelets start to rise. Should I have dengue again, I’ll take it again, even if, rather churlishly, I suspect that only a person who is on the mend could actually hold down even a soupcon of green slime, and that the relationship between chugging a bottle of green slime and rising platelets is therefore correlative rather than causative.

Around teatime, around $1200 poorer and with platelets still resolutely below 100,000, I make my way downstairs, call a taxi and head home.

By the morning of day 4, I am super-keen to leave, what with the bill rising and all that. My platelets have increased a second time, although only to a smidgin over 50,000, and I’d like to be excused rather than hanging around waiting for them to get to 100,000.

I explain to Doctor Masyeni that I have no insurance and am covering this out of my own pocket, and can I please, pretty please, go home now. She says she’ll check my blood again at 12, and if it’s still rising I can leave, though I’ll need to keep an eye on my levels.

And so, around teatime, around $1200 poorer, with platelets still resolutely below 100,000 but mercifully relieved of my IV, I make my way downstairs, call a taxi and head home.

Dengue recovery can mean two to three months of utter enfeeblement and general wussiness, occasionally accompanied by throwback aches and pains, and can lead to post-viral fatigue syndrome.

Given that much (although not all) of my income requires me to be on my feet and moving, and all of my income depends on me being able to think straight and type, I’m hoping it’s not going to be that long. The school fees don’t pay themselves, you know and, if you don’t have insurance, the hospital bills don’t either.

Oh, btw, if you’re looking for travel insurance, World Nomads will cover you no matter how long you’ve been out of your home country, though you’ll likely need a residential address (check the Ts & Cs).

Thanks to John Tann for his Mosquito image on Flickr’s Creative Commons.

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Eight Reasons to Visit Java

The most many visitors to Indonesia see of Java is Jakarta airport. But, while Indonesia’s gridlocked capital is a tough city to love, and hectic traffic makes this populous island tough to get around, there’s more to Java than sprawling Asian mega-cities. If you’re thinking of visiting Java, here’s eight good reasons to get up and go.



Smaller than Angkor Wat, yet at least as majestic, this serene, 8th-century temple is one of the world’s great religious monuments, and especially awe-inspiring when shrouded in mist. If you can, visit during Waisak, the three-day ceremony for Buddha’s Birthday (it falls on 11 May in 2017), to see it in all its vibrant glory.



Possibly the most iconic of Indonesia’s volcanoes, Bromo stands stark amid a sea of black sand, where the local Tenggerese still ride horses as they have since time immemorial. It’s volatile and very active, and the Tenggerese still propitiate the volcano with offerings at the Yadnya Kasada festival in June.


The Ijen

Just a short hop from Bali, the Ijen plateau offers tranquil highland landscapes, coffee plantations, perfectly conical volcanoes and the Kawah Ijen crater lake, from which miners draw chunks of sulphur. It’s possible to stay at hotels in Banyuwangi, like the Hotel Santika Banyuwangi, but, although accommodation is more basic, the highlands themselves make a better choice.



Java really is at the epicentre of Indonesia’s Ring of Fire, and Krakatau, midway between Java and Sumatra, rocked the world when it erupted in 1883. There’s little of the original volcano left, just the shattered edge of a caldera and Krakatau’s “daughter”, Anak Krakatau, which continues to rise from the sea at a spectacular 6 metres per year.



Indonesian cities can be hard to relate to, due to largely uncontrolled development, pollution and litter. But cultured Yogya, with its vibrant modern art scene, attractive old town and university city lifestyle, is the exception that proves the rule. It’s also a perfect base for exploring Borobudur.


Dieng Plateau

While today Java is overwhelmingly Muslim – albeit with some distinctly Hindu and animist features – this serene highland landscape is scattered with literally hundreds of Hindu temples. The temples themselves aren’t stunning, but the crater lakes and rural landscapes are: consider staying in Wonosobo for a better choice of accommodation.

Ujung Kulon

The Sumatran rhino might get all the press, but in this national park in far west Java, the rare Javan rhino is still occasionally seen. Not far from Krakatau, with striking offshore islands and unspoilt forest full of bird life, Ujung Kulon is rarely visited.


Bandung Tea Plantations

Back in the Dutch colonial era, tea grown around Bandung was a rival to the British plantations around Assam and Darjeeling – and, while most teas are mass-market, a handful of growers are producing organic, hand-crafted teas for connoisseurs. Stay here for colonial hill stations and misty tea plantations, many of which are open for tours.

Image credits: Borobudur 4 by Thrillseekr, Mount Bromo by Ronald Tagra, Sunrise from Ijen Crater, Indonesia by Jimmy McIntyre, #Krakatau by Valdemar Anthony Kornholt, Kereta Kuda, Malioboro, Yogya by Danumurthi Mahendra, Telaga Warna Dieng Plateau by Jimmy McIntyre, Orange Umbrellas by Riza Nugraha and Tea Garden in Indonesia by Skyseeker, all on Flickr’s Creative Commons.

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Tinder in Middle Age Is Not the Merry Bagatelle It Is at 23, Y’All

Using Tinder while middle-aged has its pros and cons. Perhaps the most, ahem, solid positive is, as a lady of my acquaintance observed, “The cock pictures. At least it shows they can actually get it up.”

I’d hesitate to say that the opportunity to visually try before you buy is the only pro of Tinder. For example, even on Bali, an island replete with beautiful, grateful, dewy young women both Asian and Western, most of them unlikely to guzzle an entire bottle of wine over dinner and then have vocal “opinions”, Tinder shows that there are men in middle age prepared to, if not precisely “date”, then at least, well, have sex with women of approximately their own age.

That age, of course, being a moveable feast. For nowhere does the heterosexual man’s enviable capacity for self-deception display itself more boldly than on Tinder. Here “Brian, 42” sits portly in his blazer in a deckchair, while “Victor, 31” stares haggard, balding and greying into a mirror that’s clearly reflecting a very different self from the selfie that results.

jn9714 OR Oregon Deschutes National Forest Forest Fire Danger sign All Fireworks Prohibited AJD51021 OR Oregon Deschutes

To be fair, neither men nor women of middle age possess the selfie skills of millennials. And that’s not just because, when a millennial lady sends a boob shot to a millennial gentleman – a habit I’m told is quite prevalent, at least in Oz – she has less to worry about than we golf-balls-in-a-sock types.

The millennial is mainly thinking lighting. By contrast, the best the typical pre-surgery lady of middle age can hope for is that, should Tinder progress to the “on our backs” stage, our boobs will remain roughly positioned on our chest, rather than collapsing below our armpits and sagging into the sheets like a pair of deflating windsocks the second we let go of the headboard onto which we are clinging as if our lives depend.

Apparently, for the record, “boobs staying on chest” is the middle-aged gentleman’s equivalent of the middle-aged lady’s “getting it up”. Frankly, I dread to think of the requirements when Tindering in one’s 60s, which is probably why Brian, 62, has set up a new, or maybe even his very first, Facebook account to become Brian, 42. That’s assuming he’s not married, of course.

For another peril of Tindering while middle-aged is the prevalence of PEOPLE WHO JUST SHOULDN’T BE ON THERE. They’re usually quite easy to spot. On Bali, they cunningly camouflage their marital status by subtle devices such as posing in a motorcycle helmet, with their back to the camera, not using a photo at all, or replacing all images with shots of their dog, or perhaps even their child.

And, yes, I did say their child. It appears there are middle-aged ladies who find shots of someone’s small, ginger toddler unaccompanied by dad(?) an appropriate prelude to sexting. Or maybe that’s for the youngsters?…..

Unfortunately, Tinder is also technology, and therefore replete with all the dangers that lurk in anything binary for those past the bloom of youth. And those dangers extend beyond middle-aged men who haven’t the technical nous to disable potential matches within their – and therefore their wives’ – Facebook social circle.

For example, a lady might inadvertently, while cackling over Brian, 42, with a friend, perform some weird finger movement that results in an inadvertent “super-like”, leading to a stupendously awkward conversation that closes rapidly with the lie that a lady is deleting her account as she’s new here and Tinder is “not for her”.

Or a lady might confuse her current location with her past settings, leading her to send a retrospectively toecurling and highly sexually aggressive message to some poor 20-something who’s advertised himself as liking cougars and looking for a sugar mummy and isn’t even in the same town, only to scare him so absolutely shitless that he deletes all text from his profile in a fit of millennial angst.

Said lady might then learn from a friend that said friend has 17 Facebook friends in common with hot surfer who probably wasn’t looking for a cougar after all, and that therefore a real life encounter in a bar is actually highly likely and probably imminent and all one can hope for is a large, stiff gin and mutual lack of recognition.

Strangely, Tinder is replete with 20-somethings who are happy to engage in congress with ladies verging on the age at which they-could-be-your-bloody-mother-are-you-mad?! Should a more sophisticated explanation of this phenomenon be required than “most 20-something men will shag anything with a pulse”, one theory suggests that many straight teen boys have a mother with a hot friend, and that said hot friend becomes the stuff of formative fantasy. Congress with a woman in her 40s while in his 20s is the closest the former teen will come to living out those early shower self-romances that left his actual mother wondering why the conditioner went down so goddamn fast.

Naturally, the teen boy’s fantasy of shagging Mama’s hot friend did not include a realistic depiction of the morning after.

Oh god, the morning after! It’s a depressing fact of middle age that a woman who can plausibly pass for 30ish, when supported by dim light, alcohol, cosmetics, Botox and a full night’s sleep can age literally two decades after a night of passionate congress, lost sleep and sliding makeup. It is also a fact that the panda-eyed morning-after look which, like tube tops and crop tops, looks so damn sexy on those under, say, 30, transforms into crazed, bin-ravaging bag lady once past the doomy threshold of 40 and the “witching hour” of 6am.

Of course, certain problems of Tindering while middle-aged are specific to Bali. Here many middle-aged gentlemen stave off the ravages of time and alcohol by surfing like demons, leading to a remarkable depth of torso talent compared to, say, Singapore or, heaven forfend, London. Most middle-aged ladies will lack tight-tummy shots of themselves navigating epic barrels, not to mention tight-tummy shots of any kind, not to mention tight tummies.

Sadly, Tinder takes all its pictures from your Facebook feed. And until you learn that it’s possible to post pictures for Facebook that will only be visible to yourself – and hook up with the gays to learn how to do sexily revealing shots that magically camouflage sundry porcine parts – the typical middle-aged woman’s Facebook feed will be comprised of a) unflattering shots in the grip of children and b) unflattering shots in the grip of alcohol. For, unlike the selfie generation, we do not spend hours of our “busy” days waving long sticks and practising looking good on camera.

On balance, I feel, especially for those of us whose thumbs seem so much less opposable than millennial thumbs – and particularly for those middle-aged lady writers who can’t send so much as a text message without accurate punctuation, even if that’s at the cost of the easy flow of banter and frankly plain unnerving to anyone who doesn’t write for a living – that the old-fashioned way of meeting people at a bar has much to recommend it.

And so, dear Brian, 42, this time I really am deleting my account. Just after I’ve met up with Delroy, 28.

Thanks to Mark Goebel for his Fire Danger shot on Flickr’s Creative Commons.

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