David, who died on April 9th 2011 aged 63, arrived in Jakarta in mid-1987 to work as an English language teacher and proved a popular, yet strict, teacher and a congenial companion.
A History and Politics graduate of the University of Wales, he soon developed a keen interest in the affairs, both ancient and modern, of Indonesia. This was to stand him in good stead as, with increasing deafness, he was unable to continue working in classrooms.
For a while he worked as a sub-editor for two English daily newspapers, the Indonesian Times and the Indonesian Observer. The Times, owned by Suharto’s final Vice President, B.J. Habibie, suspended its operation in the late 1990s following his failure to secure the presidential seat, whilst the Observer folded in June 2001 because the printer refused to print the newspaper due to “certain financial obligations” that the paper could not honour.
From then on David worked, generally on a freelance basis, as a writer for a variety of English language publications. These included the Garuda Inflight magazine, the Jakarta Post, Tempo weekly news magazine, the monthly Jakarta Java Kini lifestyle magazine, and a variety of foreign publications such as Z-Net and Socialist Worker (UK).
The latter two allowed David to comment from his staunchly socialist standpoint on international affairs, especially on matters of human rights and the military.
His father was an air force officer so David had a peripatetic upbringing, including three years in neighbouring Singapore during the fifties. Shortly after his father’s death in 2004, David wrote, “He was a singularly honest man, tough-minded, caring, a good guy. A lifelong socialist, extremely practical, without a trace of humbug in him, he lived through some very interesting times and gave me an interest in lots of things.”
Thus we discover David’s wellspring, the source of his integrity and his wide-ranging interests which came to the fore in the many quiz evenings he organised in bars around Jakarta. He revelled in the role of quiz master, keeping everyone entertained with his presentation and idiosyncrasies, often playing up to his image as a hard-of-hearing curmudgeon.
He had a keen sense of humour, with a range of cutting remarks. Of one now departed expat he said, “M, if you ever reach maturity, you’ll be a halfwit!”
His deep love of Indonesia was manifested in his regular statement that “you will never understand a thing about Indonesia until you’ve read ‘A History of Java’ by Sir Stamford Raffles.”
David was a thorough researcher and authoritative writer. Apart from his many articles, his self-published 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, is a minor classic.
Books, especially works of non-fiction, were one of David’s greatest loves and he often gave them as a free gift, or in exchange for a bottle of Bintang.
As time went on, David’s health began to suffer, and in late 2004 he returned to England for an operation on a cancerous growth on his face. Knowing that his income depended on articles he wrote for a number of English language publications around town, friends organised a benefit for him so that he would have some cash in hand when he returned to try and sell, and get paid for, another article.
In more recent years, as work dried up, he compiled a series of Mutton Mutiny Scrapbooks – collections of his excellent articles, plus articles written by other people that he considered interesting.
For his last year, David ‘retired’ to a room in Bogor from which he would occasionally surface to regale friends with his thoughts on his beloved football team, Carlisle United, or the magnificence of the bird life in Pulau Seribu or his wanderings through the Cumbrian Fells or Scottish Highlands.
His passing left his many friends bereft of a unique man of integrity.
Go thee well, Dave