Sigh… First-world problems

This morning I found myself suffering from increased anxiety on the way to work (as opposed to my usual background anxiety), because the music compilation CD I had made featured some rather indulgent prog rock excesses. (If you must know, it was Yes’s early-seventies masterpiece Close to the Edge. And yeah, yeah, yeah: I’ve heard all the comments before. Don’t even start.)

The cause of the anxiety? That my Indonesian driver would think I have weird tastes, since the music is somewhat annoying to many (most) people. Twenty-minute symphonic rock masterpieces with complex time signatures, tight harmonies and monophonic Moog synths don’t always span cultural differences I’ve found.

So there I was, worried that my driver will think less of me because of my eclectic tastes. Then the CD started jumping and it also became a battle of wits and wills as to whether I tell him to turn it off, or he tried to move it to the next track, and who’d do which first.

All in all, these trips are quite eventful for me in terms of mentally grappling with in-car entertainment choices, among other things (like do I open the sunroof today?). But this is, of course, what we term a “first world problem.” And it got me thinking about other such issues Rebecca and I regularly encounter in our somewhat cosseted life here in Jakarta.

One example would be my almost continual battle with the staff at our serviced apartment over the number of fresh towels they give us. I need at least two: one for my regular swims in the adjoining huge swimming pool, and one for post-shower, plus a small one for my face.

Most times they leave only one big one, leading me to curse and mutter under my breath about inadequate towelage and how-complicated-can-it-be comments to anyone in earshot (that means Rebecca, who normally filters these sorts of things out).

And the staff always, always leave free soap and shampoo when we don’t need any, since we always take the free amenities at all the five-star hotels we visit. It’s something of a chore to collect up all the freebies and redistribute them to family and friends. Elsewhere in our serviced apartment, a faulty humidifier occasionally means the air in the bedroom is dry and gives us sore throats and sneezes.

There are more. To list them all would be exhaustive (and I’m already drained from having to lift to my mouth the cup of hot tea that the office maid brings to my desk every hour), but they include: really chilly shopping malls as well as over-zealous salespeople with no product knowledge. There’s also the loud housekeeping service every morning; a (free in the room) washing machine that makes annoying beeping noises; and the perennial problem of the fact that our apartment lifts often take a little bit too long to arrive.

Of course, reading the above would make you think we’re a couple of whining ingrates, which we are from time to time, I will freely admit. And though much of it was written with tongue firmly in cheek, all the examples are real in that we’ve both moaned about them (and when I say “both” I mean mostly me).

As to my driver? He supports a large family on a fraction of my salary, and works very long days with a smile and with humility, even through the mind-bending tedium of a lengthy Pink Floyd epic at 5:30pm in gridlocked traffic. I learn a lot from observing him. And more often than not these days, I simply don’t ask him to put the music on to save us both. It’s the kindest thing for both our sakes.


My secretary forgot to change my amusing cat calendar date. Now I have to do it myself. Tis a hard life to be sure.

Jack of all, master of one?

It’s often a question people ask, and often I don’t think they want to hear my hours-long explanation and observations. After all, ask me how I am and I will tell you, from my impending alopecia to a stubbed toe to my suspected but never proven blood sugar issue. So here, in a nutshell, is a summary of the various non-editorial jobs I’ve done, and some perspectives about each, looking back in the first instance to me aged 13. And that’s almost 30 years ago. Wow…

Your 5am news call, sir!

My first job was as a paper boy when I was 13. In fact, as soon as I was 13, I started working with the strong encouragement of mum and dad. Being the all-or-nothing person that I tend to be, I took the longest, deepest, darkest, remotest and, yes, rainiest job of all the rounds (it rained on more than anyone else, I rather feel).

This was in Sway, in Hampshire, in the UK (,_Hampshire). This means I was delivering across the vast open and unforgiving hostile steppes (this was my 13-year-old perspective, of course), in a national park, in some areas with no real roads, and many wild horses—most of which seemed as worried to see me as me them at 5am on a Tuesday morning.

Note that during this time, I also delivered a Thursday-afternoon freesheet and did a Sunday morning round (before my kung fu lessons, but that’s another post). Perhaps my love of print came from this? Who’s to say. My dislike of early mornings may well have done so…

When I left school to go to college at 16, as we do in the UK, I had to graduate to a new job. Forcing newspapers through waay-too-small letterboxes with snappy dogs or huge hounds the other side wasn’t cutting it for me any more. So I trod the path that many Sway teenagers had done before me—and I don’t (just) mean to the off-license. One fateful Saturday lunctime at the behest of mum and dad ( and I love them for it), I trudged to the White Rose Hotel (now Sway Manor,, then run by the Winchcombe family, or “sir” and “madam” as the senior owners liked to be called. My question at the time: got a job?

It was Peter Cutler (now of who, when I walked in at about 12pm, said: start tonight. Yikes!

That Saturday night in May 1986, after a busy (120 or so) service, I walked out of there vowing never, EVER to return to the stinking, disgusting pots and pans, the loud and brash attitude of my colleagues, and the endless ribbings I took as the newbie (AND losing my Saturday night freedom). That was 1986. I actually did leave in the very end… but in 2000 (I even worked part-time as a national magazine editor). In between was one of the best and most rewarding jobs I’ve ever done. For 16 years and not one night.

Being the ambitious type that I can be if I try, I ended up as third chef and either to my eternal shame or eternal luck, I graduated to assistant chef. Peter Cutler will always be my head chef, but I was a pretty good number 3. Or number 2 from time to time, and occassionally number 1 on breakfasts. My remit was starters, salads and sweets, and I still remember the recipe for salad beaucaire. Julienne of leeks, bacon, egg, something else… I think (I may need to look it up). They even offered me to stay and become a fully trained chef.

I worked there also to support my time studying biology at university—Portsmouth Polytechnic as was—during breaks, and worked every summer. Once I graduated, I was happy enough going in at 8:30, finishing at 2pm, then starting again at 5:30 then nipping into the bar at 9pm. And cycling home later on, often crashing into rose bushes (always roses, always). I made some of the best friends I have ever had, many of whom remain so in my heart if not on my Facebook page), and learned (and I do mean this seriously) how to think “on the fly” and how to prep a good “mis en place” to prepare and second-guess the service. And I made the best custard my chef had ever tasted. Just the once… Later on, Anne and Paul, the brother and sister team who ran operations, become close confidantes. Well, I did spend one or more nights propping the bar up, as I said.

Of course, this couldn’t go on forever, despite my love for the job—I did, after all, study chemistry, biology and physics at A-level. So when I was offered the job of assistant scientific officer at the UK Ministry of Agriculture’s Horticulture Research International (HRI) at Efford, Lymington, it seemed like I was going to find my life-sciences feet. But a monthly-renewed contract and laughable pay put paid to that. Nonetheless, again, I made some of my closest friends there and, among the roses, the magnolias, the trees and the glasshouse tomatoes, we had so much fun (and mutual suffering). This was in 1994/5. I know as I remember hearing “Wannabe” by the Spice Girls when counting tomatoes in a glass house.

No more flowers…

After a brief interlude during which I obtained a post-grad diploma in environmental management, I returned to HRI briefly, but then saw another opportunity: science graduates needed as editors! Well, I’d always had a passion for reading and writing, and was an avid magazine collector. So again, I jumped in and got great hands-on education in the dark arts of sub-editing.

Onto editorial…

This was for science journals, not magazines, mind. Not for Nature, or for New Scientist of whatever. No, this was for Computers and Structures, Applied Mechanics, Theoretical Physics and the like. Here, grammar was the rule of law and I learned to wield it. I’m still sure many of my colleagues who went to journalism school have NO IDEA what a “comma splice is” or could not talk about conjunctions and coordinate clauses.

That lasted for a year or so, but when I saw an ad looking for a staff writer for magazines about the Internet, I jumped. After all, ad my dad’s behest, I had taken a Higher National Diploma in graphic design and did work experience at my dad;s ad firm and elsewhere…He must have seen the potential of a cynical writer with an eye for cover design.. (Charlie Brooker: I was only a few months behind you…)

You see, I did fancy myself as a writer and I had always wanted to try the Internet, so in the first few weeks, I wrote 300-odd website reviews. And the rest is editorial history…

Matthew Beech Leppard

Matt is a 41-year-old British graduate, who’s been based in Asia for more than 11 years, and was editor-in-chief of Travel + Leisure Southeast Asia (TLSEA) when all this started. Prior to this position, he spent more than 15 years working in an editorial capacity in various jobs ranging from department head with the Bangkok Post newspaper to editor/production manager for an online-based company and, even further back, editing such delights as the Journal of Applied Microbiology. Today, he is the Chief Operating Officer and Publishing Director of Mobiliari Media Group, overseeing a number of publications such as Indonesia Tatler, Millionaire Asia, Cosmetic Surgery & Beauty, and Forbes Indonesia.

Passionate about music and movies, Matt is totally obsessed with all things Pink Floyd, from their early 60s incarnation as a happy-go-lucky whimsical pop band to their later doom-mongerly rantings on lunacy and alienation. But he will, when prompted, freely confess to also loving Abba and other frothy pop. Even The Spice Girls and Robbie Williams. Oh yes.

Matt counts Once Upon a Time in America, Withnail & I and Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas among his favorite movies, though he also loves comedy. 30 Rock is one of his favorite shows, and he regards Liz Lemon as one of his mentors, even though she’s fictional.

A lifelong insomniac, Matt is always on the lookout for a remedy or solution that is not dangerous, addictive or which causes the munchies…