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Preview: Fake Plastic Souks

Fake Plastic Souks

Updated: 2018-02-24T17:34:42.974+03:00


A Little Bit Of Gas A Little Bit Of VAT


(Photo credit: Wikipedia)We got back off leave to the much-awaited introduction of Value Added Tax in the UAE. VAT is very much a fact of life in the UK, where it is charged at a charming 20%. The UAE's 5% pales in comparison but it remains that most unwelcome of innovations - a tax.Living for 25 years in a 'tax free' environment has been something of a privilege, I know. It has long amazed me that here we have an economy capable of functioning (and no, it's not about oil) without gouging its citizens for 25 or even 40% of their earnings. When you look at how little you get back from the UK government for all the taxes, fees and levies we pay, the UAE model is pretty compelling stuff.But last year we saw the soda and fag tax (no bad thing, mind, although it does rather tend to hit one hard in the Fevertrees) as well as a rise in the property registration 'fee' in Sharjah from 2 to 4 per cent (because a payment to government leveraged as a percentage of a transaction is a fee and not a tax, you understand) and now the dreaded VAT is here. The background noise of expats moaning has increased as a consequence, but there's no doubt that it has sneaked a lot of cost overnight into a life already become more expensive.VAT was the last thing on my mind the other night as I was cooking dinner, especially as the gas started to gutter. Having refused Sharjah Electricity and Water's cunningly worded invitation to give them Dhs 1,000 and the blood of our firstborn each month thereafter, we still rely on Fast, Faster and Faster Than Fastest gas and they duly rocked up soon after my call. Dhs130 for the gas and Dhs7 VAT, the chap informed me as he rolled the cylinder around to the back of the house. Tired and frustrated by the derailing of my sumptuous gastronomical event, I paid without demur. Only later did I stop to reflect that the wee swine had a) rounded it up to the nearest dirham b) taken VAT in cash without offering a VAT receipt. Guess where that Dhs7 is going (and I'm betting it's not the MoF!)?I must confess I'd expected the introduction of the new tax to be an Emirates ID style disaster and I appear to have been wrong in that - things seem pretty fluid in comparison. The overhead for businesses, mind, is significant. Not only is there the additional cost on 'value added', but the auditing and compliance costs are significant. One aspect I hadn't considered was outlined to me by a pal the other day - cashflow. Her business tends to run on big ticket contracts and payments rarely take place within 90 days. Paying VAT on each quarter's invoices means she's going to take a huge hit up front.That's not going to worry the lads over at Faster Than Fast, of course. Firmly embedded in the cash economy, they're likely laughing all the way to Al Ansari to send all that lovely VAT back to Swat to fund the construction of legion sprawling mansions...[...]

Manama, Ajman And The 'Dunes' Stamps


Manama Post Office

In an odd quirk of philatelic history, several of the Trucial States (prior to the formation of the UAE) issued stamps in huge and incongruous editions. I say incongruous, because none of them had anything to do with the UAE. I have a full sheet of 'Kings and queens of England' issued by Umm Al Qawain and others include celebrations of the Moscow Olympics and the space race.


Ask American philatelic entrepreneur (say that quickly after a couple of shandies) Finbar Kenny. As I have related before, Kenny travelled to the Trucial States in the early 1960s and did deals with the rulers of various emirates to issue stamps on their behalf. He then produced massive runs of stamps, which were destined to act as filler in every boy's stamp collection. In fact he overdid it so much that these 'Dunes' stamps are totally worthless even today. Stamps from Sharjah, Ajman, Umm Al Qawain and Fujeirah dating from the '60s can be picked up for pennies still.

Kenny, a somewhat colourful figure, signed up Ajman and so you can find stamp dealers still selling, stamps issued from 'Manama, Dependency of Ajman'. Manama, an inland exclave of Ajman in Sharjah (it's East of Dhaid, just off the Dhaid/Masafi highway) consisted at the time of little more than an adobe fort, a few cinder block houses and a tiny post office. That post office, responsible for issuing what must have been millions of stamps, is why we nipped off the beaten path for a few minutes yesterday, in order I could track down and take a snap of the offending institution.

So here it is in all its sleepy glory. In its time, one of the great stamp issuing centres of the world!




(Well, is it so BAD to want to own 3984670948?)

The Trouble With Stuff


 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)During the recent hurricane Irma, a number of Tesla owners stuck in the traffic fleeing the path of the storm were delivered a software update by Tesla which upgraded their cars and extended the battery life and therefore range of their cars. Once the storm had blown over, another update removed the additional capacity and reduced their cars back down to the performance level they had paid for.In fact, their cars were always capable of the extended range but they had chosen not to buy the full 75kw battery option. Few could have been aware that in fact their cars had the full battery installed, but that it had been effectively downgraded in software. Their cars were always capable of the extended range.It all caused quite a bit of controversy, as you might imagine. But it's just an extension of a whole range of issues which are linked to the concept that you buy hardware but license software and that when you buy into any ecosystem, your rights are effectively limited. You might own that iPhone, bub, but you don't own the software or any of the content it stores and gives you access to. This is also true of your Kindle and your Apple TV or other box with your Netflix subscription.We don't buy CD racks anymore and many of us don't have upgrade plans for those bookshelves. Content is digital, always-on and an Alexa command away. The ownership of content has changed forever. Of course, you never owned that book or music, you merely owned a physical medium containing the text or recording. The rights to the content subsisted with the author and publisher. But you could leave a book to your kid - you can't leave your Amazon account.Worse, your iPhone, Kindle, Echo or Tesla is enabled by software which you only enjoy a grant of limited right to access. Amazon et al can simply turn your super-duper gizmo into a brick of e-waste at the blink of an eye.Tesla extending that model to cars is sort of interesting. Next step is your house. An integrated home automation suite provided by the developer sounds really cool until you find out that if you break the terms of your licence (install the wrong type of shrub in your garden, say, if you've bought a Shiny) your kitchen will stop working.Volvo has started down that road in a sort of legacy manufacturer trying to be hip with the kids kind of way with the announcement of a sort of extended leasing package called Care by Volvo.  You can bet other manufacturers are going to start exploring the delights of software/hardware industry models for disempowering consumers and disintermediating insurance companies and others who currently profit from the lack of a car 'ecosystem'. In this, Tesla is Apple.Forget the threat of AIs and the like to our technological futures - here comes the spectre of the elife (and I don't mean Etisalat's crappy FTTH package) - your existence will be dominated by your parents' choice of life ecosystem for you and your world will be under license to The Man.You mark my words...[...]

A Rare Descent Into Bookiness


(Photo credit: Wikipedia)
I'm going to be back on the radio on Saturday, from about 10.30am Dubai time on the revamped Talking Of Books show (103.8FM Dubai Eye radio or streaming). It's a rare return to booky things for me.

I've not been entirely lazy. I've just finished a hard edit of Beirut - An Explosive Thriller after spotting a couple of SNAFUs in the MS. I made a number of improvements, some based on reader feedback but many based on being a much more experienced editor now.

It's funny what a difference it makes knowing what you know now. There were a couple of joins showing where I'd knocked down walls and rebuilt them, which is a little embarrassing having shifted over 10,000 copies of the damn thing. Oh well.

Beirut is currently free on Amazon, which is driving a steady trickle of sales of the other books, particularly Shemlan - A Deadly Tragedy but  also A Decent Bomber. I have a new project on the go, but I'm taking my sweet time and my wordcount is more like 1,000 words a month than 1,000 a day. I'm not really that fussed, tell the truth: life's quite busy enough right now.

But the chance to return to my favourite medium and talk about my favourite things was too great ever to refuse and so I'll be joining new host Annabelle Corton (she of Emirates LitFest fame) to talk about the three books in all the millions of books in the world I'd take to a desert island and to review Omar El Akkad's dystopian novel American War.

So there we go - now you know how to avoid me on Saturday morning!

Leave And That...


(Photo credit: Wikipedia)So I haven't posted in over a month. Sue me.We've been on leave.I hate flying, much as I love EK. A380s rock, the films were awful. Kindles rock more than A380s. Except in turbulence which we saw almost not at all. Heathrow sucks lemons.Drove to Wales to see me mum for a couple of days, she's fine, thanks. Bit shaky. She's over 90 now. Fierce independent lady. The office calls, can I come back early? No. I shipped our bikes from there over to Northern Ireland. Halfords think I'm a totes jackass. They're all hardcore bike freaks, we have two bikes we love to ride when we're home. I got a puncture a while back and took the bike into them. They're all, like, can't you fix your own punctures? And I'm 'No.' And then they're, like, it's a quick release wheel so you don't have to bring the whole bike in. And I'm, 'Sue me.'They boxed the bikes for me. They still think I'm a nutter, but now I'm another store's problem. They're happy about that.Back to London for a couple of days in a Premier Inn because the sister-in-law's house (AKA Twickenham Central) is full of neeces. We like Premier Inns, actually. We got a great night's sleep every night, which is their promise, after all.Photon checks into a hotel. Receptionist says, 'No bags?' Photon replies, 'Nah, I'm travelling light.'Lovely week, Hampton Court, Thames Cruise, shit service at Pizza Express at the O2 (just drop the express, love, and you're fine) and mad wannabe BBC 2 Children's Presenters at Hamleys Regent Street. We reckoned these kids are freebasing to stay that hyper all day. They're so over the top even the neeces think they're a bit, well, mad. The office calls and asks if I can come back early. Still no.And then we're on the open road to Salisbury for three idyllic nights at the Beckford Arms, a truly magnificent pub. These people offer you Bloody Mary for breakfast. They're very likeable. We spend the days wandering castles and long walks. There's a Catholic cemetery nearby, packed with little snippets of social history linked to the area's immigrants. The barman at the Beckford convinces me to take black pepper in my Hendricks. Oh me, oh my, people. Black pepper and strawberries in Hendricks. This is the future.Heathrow, crappy BA and then Belfast. Meet up with the neeces again and do much neecing around. Business stuff, solicitors, banks and accountants. Oh, joy. We did a 5k Fun Run in Rathfriland. The bloody town's on an enormous hill. The outward jog is downhill. It's only when we turn the corner that the bleeding obvious finally hits our dull monkey brains. Ouch.Two men walk into a bar. Ouch Ouch.Drives up into the Mournes, Camogie practice, Mary Margaret's pub and wandering along the seafront at Warrenpoint. The Green Pea Café and their insane BLT (Brioche eggy bread, smoked bacon and sundried tomatoes with rocket. Oh dear me) and then the Hotel at Hilltown - the Downshire Arms to you, mate - for Sarah's birthday. Scallops, steak and dancing. The office calls. I get the message. We rearrange flights and hop to Heathrow, do a night in Twickenham Central and take the all-day flight the next day. I love EK, but that flight doesn't suit us. Back in the office for Wednesday, wiped out but functioning.The weekend's almost over and it's all a vague memory now. A frenetic, lovely charge around the place doing things and seeing things and meeting people and laughing fit to bust, drinking stuff and eating stuff and driving around and just basically living it up.And now we're back. You know, that sort of what are we doing here feeling mixed with the sense that we're back home and that. Settling back down into things, taking a weekend drive around the place and getting back into the rhythm. I have my wallet back in my back pocket and have stopped obsessing about the car being nicked. I'm back on 24x7 broadband mobile access and not paying Vodaphone two bleeding quid a day for data.Life's good...[...]

A Dabble At The Dhaid Date Festival


Sharjah's inland town of Dhaid has an annual date festival. Who knew? We were wending (actually, waddling or wobbling might be more accurate) our way home after a particularly pleasant stay at the Hatta Fort Hotel and caught an overhead billboard advertising the Dhaid Date Festival. And we thought, 'Why not?'We'd been promising ourselves a stay at the newly revamped JA Hatta Fort Hotel since we played chicken there a few weeks ago. I can only report that we had a fabulous time. Quirky, independent and offering service standards and food quality that I would argue go beyond any other hotel in the UAE, the hotel's facelift has preserved the retro charm of the place and yet brought it up to date. It's all rather chic and we went large for the weekend. Hence the waddling.Part of the reason why Hatta made us fatta...Dhaid is an oasis, fed by water from aquifers and the man-made network of aflaj irrigation tunnels running down from the nearby Hajar Mountains. It has long been so, reports from ancient Gazetteers such as old 'mutton chops' Lorimer put Dhaid as an important centre for agriculture and the coming together of the inland and coastal tribes. Even today, it's a notable agricultural centre. So the idea of a Date Festival not only makes sense, it quite tickled us. Anticipating a mixture of Killinascully meets Craggy Island's Funland, we made tracks Dhaidwards.This is the second year of the Festival, which takes place in the Dhaid Cultural Centre. The hall is decked out in shell-scheme and carpets, with a stage and seating as well as a raised diwan area. The stalls are a wonderful mixture and we wandered, wide-eyed around them chatting to a wildly eclectic mix of people. There were date traders, farmers, agriculturalists and, gloriously, apiarists aplenty.You'd be amazed at the sheer variety of dates grown in the UAE (one of the world's leading producers of dates, if you but knew it) and they were all on display at the festival, from pick and mix stands selling loose varieties through to enormous weighed bunches some ranging above 50 kilos.We chatted about date palm propagation (as one does) and sampled dates from farms all over the UAE, learning our klas from our medjoul. Everyone was very shy but very friendly and we got the feeling that foreigners taking an interest was a rare and welcome surprise. But the high point for us wasn't the dates, but the honey. Sarah's dad keeps bees and bottles his own honey and we had already come across the bee keepers of Dhaid, but the date festival had brought a handful of colourful figures from further afield. One chap was selling wild honey from the RAK mountains, eye-wateringly expensive, black as night and gloopy.Then we came across Mr Honey. A bee-keeper with 500 hives in Al Ain and RAK, Ahmed Al Mazrouei cut a genial figure as he showed us the different qualities of honey he'd spun out the combs he'd lifted from his hives, from his black mountain honey through single flower varieties. Dipping little plastic spoons into the jars, he took us on a tour around some of the most amazingly flavoured honey we'd ever encountered.He had started the whole thing with six hives. Now his two sons work with him and he runs a delivery service through Whatsapp (you can find him on Instagram, too!)Ahmed Al MazroueiEntranced, we bought a little jar of the black stuff for Da back home - honey so thick it piles up when it's dropped from a spoon back into the pot, tasting darkly of liquorice, molasses and deep caramel. I wish we'd bought another jar for ourselves, but now we've got contacts, baba...A final whirl through perfumes, palm frond weaving and organic herbs and we found ourselves back out in the sunshine, blinking and very, very glad indeed that we'd taken the opportunity to drop in and say 'Hi'...It'll be on again this time next year. I'd heartily commend a visit, too![...]

Pinky, Lucky, Latta and Khan


They sound like a subcontinental Trumpton fire brigade, but they're not. They're the rocks of Sharjah's 'antique' trade, those four. Latta's has always been upstairs in the Blue Souk, but Pinky's has moved around a bit since we first came across it in Sharjah's unrestored old central souk area, now known as the 'Heart of Sharjah'.Named after the owner's daughter Pinky, the shop was a treasure trove of Indian furniture and assorted knick-knacks, from battered water jugs through to carved wooden textile printing blocks.Our first visit to Pinky Furniture had us stumbling wide-eyed around the stacked jumble. An Indian bench caught our eye. 'Is this old?' Sarah asked the proprietor as we made our way between piled cupboards and dressers.'Oh, absolutely,' he replied. 'Made just last week.'How could you not warm to that as a response? We got talking. Mr Mukri had a 'godown' where there was more furniture, Omani doors and the like. And there, baking slowly in the ambient heat, was a wonderful collection of dusty things, some new but many 'original' pieces nestled in the tottering piles of furniture.There was some sort of family fall-out (to be honest I can't recall any details), resulting in Pinky's spawning a rival - Lucky's. We visited Lucky's once or twice, but it was always Pinky what had 'the good stuff'. The other game in town was Mr Khan, located at the back of the street the Post Office is on, who tended to stock the 'new style' of Indian furniture - the iron-banded browny stuff which made Marina Trading's fortune. We started to see this sort of thing popping up in London, in Lewis' and 'funky' furniture places. The basic rule of thumb on pricing seemed to be what cost a rupee in India cost a dirham in Sharjah and a quid in London.We were furnishing our first villa, filling the vast yawning white spaces, so we bought benches and other stuff from Pinky, visiting regularly as his stock was topped up by containers coming in from India.A while later, we'd fallen off the 'antique' furniture buying bandwagon and tended to look to Ikea rather than the furniture warehouses. We visited the brand new Souk Madinat Jumeirah, wandering around the alleyways of the fake new souk and realising that we were among old friends. Sure enough, all the traders were the boyos from upstairs at the Sharjah Blue Souk. After the third or fourth encounter it started to get surreal. 'Why are you here?' I asked one of the familiar faces.He beamed back at me. 'Here it is fixed price! No haggle!'It was indeed - the outrageous starting prices of Sharjah had become the fixed prices of Dubai and the tourists were, get this lads, paying them without so much a murmur, let alone a howl of 'Are you telling me that's not worth twenty shekels?'And so, a while later, when I saw a shop close by Mall of the Emirates labelled 'Pinky Furniture & Novelties' I knew the exodus was complete. Pinky's, too, had clearly fallen for the bright lights and the allure of 'fixed prices'.Only, as it turns out, they didn't. These days Pinky's is still to be found in Sharjah's industrial estate, run after his death by Mr Mukri's son and daughter, the eponymous Pinky. The Dubai adventure was brought to an end by outrageous rent increases (I mean, would you believe that? Really?) and the realisation that, actually, Pinky's customers are happy to make the journey and also that these days, Facebook is a vastly more powerful shop front.We went for a visit and a wander down memory lane over Eid and walked away with two cupboards. It was just like old times - and I remembered (too late) how hard it always was to leave Pinky's without buying something.Here's a pin. You're quite welcome. allowfullscreen="" frameborder="0" height="250" src="!1m18!1m12!1m3!1d3607.187847331328!2d55.41156151425921!3d25.29789208384946!2m3!1f0!2f0!3f0!3m2!1i1024!2i768!4f13.1!3m3!1m2!1s[...]

Dubai Radio Ads


This is not a radio ad, but only marginally less annoying.

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Dynamic Simon? Hi, it's Drippy Pete. How are you?
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I was wondering, Simon. What makes you so much more dynamic than me?
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this ad is regulated by the ministry of health and a baby racoon called dennis and contains no promise of future investments going up or down all situations portrayed are purely hypothetical and do not reflect reality perceived or promised. terms and conditions apply

Did you hear that? That's the sound your back makes when you sit at your laptop every day. Did you know your desk could be killing you? Avoid splayed prostate syndrome and the awful bone crushing side effects of bad posture by sitting on Dr Foster's Orthopedic Cushions. Sweat absorbing, hygienic and available in a range of coruscating colours including Windows 10 wait state blue.

Sorry. I forgot to turn the radio off after the news this morning and ran into the ad break. It was almost over before I realised and switched off.

The Hatta Fort Hotel Makeover. And Chickens.


Sheikh Rashid opens the Hatta Fort, 1981We walked into the reception of the Hatta Fort and peered around the transformed area. 'Good morning,' smiled the receptionist.'Good morning,' we replied. 'We're here for a chicken.'His smile faltered. 'Check-in?''Oh, no. Chicken.'You could see him realising that perhaps this was going to be a long, long day...The small and delightful Hatta Fort Hotel nestles way up in the Hajar Mountains, the rocky range that runs down the spine of the UAE and gives rain to the country's Eastern coastal towns. The hotel's been there since Dubai's ruler, Sheikh Rashid bin Saeed Al Maktoum, first declared it open back in 1981 - a weekend treat for romantic couples and a destination for various groups from bikers and wadi bashers to companies organising team building events and conferences.1981 again: the Gazebo restaurant notably absent!Back in the day, it was home to all sorts of expatty events, murder weekends and meetings of the Chaîne des Rôtisseurs (Ah, darling, the quenelles of crustacean were simply divine). We've been going there since the  late '80s to enjoy quick getaways in the tranquility of the mountains, walking in the grounds or driving around and exploring the Hatta tracks. These peregrinatory pleasures are now, thanks to the hardening of the Omani border, no longer possible - and the road to the hotel is no longer the Dubai-Awir-Lahbab-Hatta highway, again because of that border. You have to take the Mileiha road, which snakes around the Omani border. But the Hatta Fort nevertheless still makes for a glorious weekend away from it all.The Hatta Fort was for many, many years managed by the same chap, one Sergio Magnaldi. At one stage he tried to retire but came back again. He ran a small but tight ship, the happiness of the staff was always notable and over the years it became clear that the people who worked at the Hatta Fort tended to stick around.The hotel's really something of an old friend. The chalet-style rooms with their round '70s spotlights and tall wooden roofs, the Jeema restaurant with its classical French menu enlivened by some truly glorious curries and, of course, the amazing Roumoul Bar - my favourite bar in the world. I kid you not. The interior of the Roumoul Bar was pure James Bond: a huge, curving leather-sided walnut counter dominated the brown velour-walled room with its rich walnut panelled ceiling home to little glittering brass spotlights. You were instantly transported back in time when you pulled up a chair at the counter. Cocktail shakers would rattle. Home made crisps and - for a while - dishes of canapes would appear. And all was well with the world.The Hatta Fort's rooms circa 1981. Spot the wall decoration.You can perhaps imagine how we felt when word reached us that the Hatta Fort was being renovated. Clearly the potential to ruin the whole thing was enormous. Sergio's wife had already had a go at updating the rooms years ago and had made an awful job of it, installing insane tin dogs, huge red bed-heads and utterly inappropriate lighting fixtures, as well as introducing faux-antique 'Marina Trading' style chests and strange chaise longues into the rooms. And, for some reason, odd swathes of leopard skin print material draped around. The hotel managed to rise above the whole thing. Would it survive a complete makeover?The room post Mrs Sergio - note the chicken has survived the changes.And if they were going to completely remodel the rooms, what about the brass and enamel chickens that used to hang on the walls? They had been there since the year dot and had even survived Mrs Sergio's reforms. They were pure '70s, fantastic dangly things made up of sweeping leaves of brass and bronze with shiny enamel-centred flowers and things. Sarah nagged me for weeks to get in touch with the hotel and see [...]

Roger The Radar Rotter


(Photo credit: Wikipedia)Roger the Radar Rotter generally lurks around the Sharjah University City area. His favourite places are the roads around the AUS campus, the back road that tracks along the landfill from the logistics center to the roundabout by Sharjah English School and the Middle Road from the Mileiha Road up to the 311. Oh! And also on the stretch of Middle Road just beyond the 311 turnoff towards Sharjah City.He's more Wile E. Coyote than most. He likes to hide his little portable radar behind a lamp post and then drive a few hundred yards up the road and lurk, no doubt giggling softly to himself and drooling, waiting for the flashes to go off.Knowing full well that we skittish victims can sniff he's around when he parks up, he often hides the car. This means the wary are rewarded with glimpses of cars parked in odd places as more trusting souls trigger the cheery 'pop' of the radar followed by the inevitable 'cherching' of the Sharjah Police cash register.It's an expensive game these days: they've just put the fines up. So why speed at all? You ask, in all sensibility.Well, the reason Roger has quite so much fun with his sneaky tricks is he likes to pick roads that have insane 60kph limits on them. The roads around the University are, for instance, long and straight and have two lanes. They are nowhere near any crossings or habitation, just long tarmac stretches running along outside the high campus walls. The UAE, very sensibly IMHO, has a 'grace limit' of 20kph above the actual speed limit, so you can travel a maximum 80kph on these roads. Nudge it just 1 kilo above it when Roger's around and POW you're toast, bub.The wee back road behind Sharjah English is a long straight line of blacktop running along a fence and surrounded by scrubland. The low speed limits make the drive interminably frustrating and the old speedometer does rather tend to sneak up a little. And then you spot, out of the corner of your eye, a glint of something out of place. Slow down, pass by regally and breathe a little sigh of relief as Roger sits in his hidden car, shaking his fists and snarling, 'Damn you McNabb!'The other day I was driving thusly, overtaking a very slow lorry on the road behind SES. I had spotted Roger's car on the hard shoulder ahead and was taking things easy, when I get some spotty Herbert in an FJ giving it socks on the flashers and horn behind me. With a resigned sigh I pulled in beyond the front of the lorry and moderated my speed.With satanic glee, I watched my tormentor speed past me, honouring me with a great display of shade thrown sideways as he hit the throttle to let me know one of us was a real man with a real right foot and the other a sissy rated by all and sundry as less than zero.Boom!Tisshhhh...I felt a little like Elric of Melniboné, Michael Moorcock's anti-hero whose sword feasts on souls and passes a little of the energy to its tragic albino* wielder.For I had given Roger the soul he craved but the benefit, my precioussss, was mine, all mine...*Apparently these days we're supposed to say 'person of albinism' but frankly, my dear...[...]

Virus Attack Shock Horror. Don't Say I Didn't Tell Y'all...


(Photo credit: Wikipedia)About 16 years ago, prescient me sat down to write a book to take my mind off my recently ceased 60 a day habit.This amused me a great deal for a number of months and involved bringing together a self-manifesting roasted chicken and various other objects, the angriest policeman in the UK, a leather catsuited CIA operative who gained considerable sexual satisfaction from killing, a hapless doctor from Richmond, a shadowy cabal of evil octogenarians a sex worker called Kylie and divers other players.These were gathered together to form the 100,000 word lump of idiocy that was to become my first, very silly, novel Space. Widely rejected by people who knew what they were doing, it reposes on Amazon at £0.99 simply because a few years ago I opened the thing and took a look and it amused me greatly. Its first Amazon review reads 'this book is not funny'...Anyway, don't tell me I didn't warn you this was going to happen:Trickling through the Internet like sand through pebbles, the Hellfire virus replicated itself, building heuristic databases on its host servers, configuring itself to match each host operating environment, squeezing itself into every device it could find, hijacking middleware, pushing Java subroutines into client devices. It built lists of target machines from lookup tables on its host servers, patiently gathering information, segmenting targets and flinging out code through ports to match vulnerabilities in hardware and software alike. Its primary target lists, defined on the servers at The Space Agency, replicated in China, Dubai and Portugal, started it on the scavenge for secondary targets. The core lists were updated as scavenger routines passed back server information. As each primary list was completed, the servers triggered client targeting routines, passing code across to client devices. The virus reached the last of the first batch of core target lists and started to disperse code across to the last class of servers. The folder named Utilities opened automatically and a fresh batch of code started to stream across the world’s networks as the virus targeted the next class of URLs in its fast-growing lookup databases. The virus completed its host lookup tables, closed the core folder then deleted it. The core code streamed out of the server farm at The Space Agency, triggering a delete routine it had left behind and flowed out through a single private network connection that had been preserved for this moment. It replicated its core, then: snaked out to a number of defined primary servers around the world. From these, it started again, using the information gathered by its hunter applets to send out new child routines to the new servers it had identified over the past 24 hours. Each child carried the core virus routines but also had added what it had learned over the past day, new backdoors and open port locations, new platform configurations added to its databases. The replicated core routines each started life anew, stronger, smarter and bulked by the data they carried. Its performance started to slow as links became clogged with virus traffic, new routes harder to find each time a search routine triggered. Slowly, Internet traffic died down so that only the virus was sending and receiving information across huge swathes of network. As terminals came live, the virus scavenged and infected them, triggering the Hellfire display and sound routines. They waited, counting processor cycles. Every machine the Hellfire virus had infected became inoperable as it closed down any inputs except the ones that waited for the next command from the virus. Global bandwidth utilisation soon dropped to an absolute minimum. There was no traffic. The Internet was dying.Her[...]

Statutory EU Compensation, British Airways Customer Service And Ritually Disempowering Customers


A BA plane taking off. This can take a while to actually happen sometimes... (Photo credit: Wikipedia)Okay, so you've heard the story about how British Airways managed to screw up our flight at the New Year. Being a little annoyed at the way things turned out, I wrote them an email afterwards letting them know I thought they should pay compensation.Here's what happened, in case you find yourself in the same boat. It's a long post, sorry.Under EU regulations, airlines are liable to pay passengers compensation for a flight originating or landing in an EU country that is delayed over three hours. For a short haul flight (Under 1,500km - ie: Belfast to Heathrow), that compensation is €250 per passenger.The opt-out for airlines is when the flight has been delayed by 'extraordinary circumstances'. These are a little fuzzy, but include acts of terror, the plane being turned into a giant pumpkin, dinosaur attacks, civil disturbances, strikes (NOTE here, not including industrial action by the airline's own employees!) and 'Weather conditions incompatible with the safe operation of the flight'.Airlines really, really don't like this piece of EU legislation at all. Oh, no.If you are delayed by more than two hours, the airline is in any case responsible for providing you with a reasonable amount of food and drink; a means for you to communicate (for instance refunding the cost of your calls); accommodation, if you’re delayed overnight and transport to and from the accommodation (or your home, if you are able to return there).If the airline is unable to organise these (and in our case British Airways was clearly in no state to organise festivities in a brewery. You could argue the merits of an airline which will accept passengers for carriage from and to airports where it has no arrangement in place to manage customers in case something extraordinary happens), the CAA's guidance is that you have the right to organise reasonable care and assistance yourself and claim it back later.Keep receipts for everything. In fact, keep any and all paperwork you have INCLUDING boarding passes that have been replaced or superseded, baggage slips, everything.So we were delayed, apparently, because of the weather. Handily, the UK's Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) publishes a list of dates and flights cancelled from Heathrow which it believes would be grounds for refusing a compensation claim on the grounds of extraordinary circumstances. It's linked here for your handy reference.Our New Year's flight - BA1417 on the 30th December 2016 - wasn't on that list. So I wrote to BA and told them I thought they should pay the compensation. To be fair, they had subjected us to a deeply unpleasant two-day incapability-of-providing-a-flying-machine experience and had totally failed to provide any assistance beyond a useless call centre and their Twitter team offering a refund in extremis (so we do what, walk home?) as well as some pretty meagre meal vouchers the next day.They had also failed to properly notify passengers of their statutory rights - a nasty habit airlines have these days.British Airways responded smartly enough to my email:Your claim’s been refused because BA1417 on 30 December was delayed because of adverse weather conditions, which prevented the aircraft operating as scheduled. Under EU legislation, I’m afraid we’re not liable for a compensation payment in this situation. We take all reasonable measures to avoid delaying a flight and we always consider if there are any operational options available before we make a decision. We’re very sorry the delay was necessary in this case.I love the 'I'm afraid' line in that. I wrote to them again - they have a handy online form for emails which means y[...]

Dubai Font - The Typeface, The City, The Legend


Dubai has its own typeface, Dubai Font.

And I have to say, I love it. Cool, contemporary even a tad, dare I say it, futuristic.

Created by Microsoft under a doubtless lucrative deal with Dubai Government, the new typeface is the first time a city has got its very own Microsoft font. Well, apart from the remote and little known city of Comic Sans, Wyoming.

You're welcome. My pleasure...

Fake Plastic Souks Is Ten


(Photo credit: Wikipedia)Oh golly, oh gosh! I nearly missed it. Happy Birthday, Fake Plastic Souks! Ten years ago this month, I was sufficiently intrigued by the idea of expressing my opinion without using a pseudonym (at the time the standard approach for bloggers in Dubai) and was also missing writing magazine articles (I used to do a lot of that) enough to contemplate starting a blog. It's hard to imagine today, but back then it was all, well, terribly experimental. Now, of course, it's quaintly retro.It all followed on from another experiment in online scribbling, a Wiki called 'Orientations' I had started to put together, which played with the idea of creating a hyperlinked series of articles that led you on an adventure, a little like playing Colossal Caves, around what was something of a stream of consciousness. PB Works, the nice people wot hosts the Wiki, have been threatening to take back that workspace for years and yet the crumbling ruins of that largely incomplete experiment still exist. The first word of the first post on Fake Plastic Souks linked, through the fiendishly clever use of houmus, back to the Wiki in a sort of nod to the past.Here's the first Fake Plastic Souks post, linked for your clicking pleasure!That first post was inspired by the sententious rumblings from the Arab Media Forum and amused me greatly. Like many things that amuse me greatly (my first novel, for instance), I find I am in an audience of one. Luckily, that has never detracted from my amusement. The ability to amuse oneself avoids a great deal of unpleasantness in life, I find.An awful lot of water has flowed under the bridge since those early days, quite a lot of the events which took place around me documented as I jotted things down. It's not quite Samuel Pepys, but I occasionally enjoy stumbling across something old and dusty. In all this time, a tad over 1.2 million pages have been read. Which is nice. I would hate to think how many words I've thrown into this little cloudy corner. I've probably written about 700,000 words in my various novels (not including the two books I made from FPS posts for publishing workshop purposes) and likely more in the blog.Oh yes, the books. There were two of them, made when I needed a text to create a sample book for a 'hands on' publishing session I did for the LitFest chaps. The first one documented 2007-2009: Fake Plastic Souks - The Glory Years. I joked that I'd do another one if that book sold more than ten copies and to my mild amazement, it did. So I made the second, Fake Plastic Souks - The Fear Returns, which covered 2009-2011. The links take you to the Kindle editions, but there are also paperbacks. I never did get around to a third one. Just as well, probably.It all seems a little irrelevant these days. Mind you, an early and perhaps over-passionate proponent of 'social media', I now find myself yearning to sit under a tree and play with wooden toys rather than post, share, tweet and snap for the benefit of small and frequently mildly bemused audiences.I think my favourite things from over the years are were when I 'outed' Harper Collins' Authonomy and the 'Shiny' posts, which did rather tickle me. Documenting the egregious contents of Tim Horton's French Vanilla Coffee not only provided me with amusement, it has informed something like 10,000 people. The 'stuff they put in our food' posts have always caused the most 'Yews'. My abiding interest in food, of course, led to the co-creation of Dubai's first 'food blog' with partner in crime Simon McCrum, The Fat Expat. That was finally shuttered due to lack of time and photographic talent back in 2013. TFE was never really Instagram gold, but I still use it to[...]

Airline News


Kentucky man demonstrates customer service experienceI'm hesitant to add more words to the trillions that have been shared around the world after US airline United caused a passenger to be rendered insensible and dragged off a flight by three police officers. If you have by any chance been hiding in a nuclear bunker for the last 72 hours, 69 year old Dr David Dao was travelling home from Chicago to Kentucky on a United Airlines flight on Sunday and refused to give up his seat when instructed to do so by the crew. They called the police, who removed him forcibly.United's blundering mismanagement of the entire incident reads like an text book on how to create a global PR fail of such magnificent proportions that it wipes $800 million off a company's stock price - which is precisely what it has achieved.Although it would appear everyone was told the situation was due to 'overbooking', in fact United needed four seats to fly its own crew out to staff another flight. It had managed to screw up its own rostering to the point where it had to try and get people already boarded on a flight to agree to give up their seats. It offered $400 compensation, then $800 - which Dao agreed to and then rescinded his agreement when he found out the next available flight was 2.30pm the next day.Of course, it's easier to say 'As the flight has been overbooked we are offering passengers...' in a tannoy than 'As we have goofed up our rostering and have four unexpected dead heads, we are offering passengers...'United's consistent use of obfuscation and mendacity is only part of the whole glorious and potent mixture of incompetent communications that led them to become an object of global opprobrium. With a video of a bloody and unconscious man being dragged down the aisle of the plane being shared by millions, the company's CEO said this was 're-accommodating' passengers. The company also said that Dr Dao - a man torn from his seat on a plane - had been 'refused boarding'.Dao is currently being smeared across mainstream media, a sad incident from his past being dragged up to show us that this seemingly innocent Doctor is actually a gay sex fiend who was struck off for ten years and earned a fortune playing poker instead of doctoring. We'll likely find out he was horrible to hamsters and kittens, too. United has finally, and this is Wednesday, made a full and proper apology - something it should have done at the latest by Monday but, in our Twitter-driven world, really Sunday was the time to react. It would seem United has either engaged an agency or started listening to its incumbent.But the late reaction is too scripted, too late and follows an initial and very different reaction. Result? It lacks the one thing we know is the most important element of communications in today's environment: authenticity. They don't sound like they mean it and that's precisely because they don't mean it. United has consistently made it clear that Dao was an inconvenient trouble-maker because he didn't do what they told him to do and wanted him to do.Is United responsible for smearing Dao? It's hard to tell, really, the smear has certainly made the 'innocent passenger' narrative more complex but it has also prolonged the coverage of the whole sorry incident. And with every new story, we have a chance to replay that video of a man being dragged from his seat - bought, paid for and occupied with every expectation of being able to fly home that night - and pulled off a plane like a sack of spuds.For me, currently engaged in an arbitration case against British Airways, the story has particular resonance. Airlines are big businesses and the regulation of their behavio[...]

When Brands Go Wrong


For many years, I was the delighted driver of Toyota's achingly brilliant MR2, first the 'ordinary' one then the leather-seated T-Bar. A glorious car that, sadly, would never take off in France, because pronounced in French it translates to emmerdeu or pain in the arse. Rolls Royce narrowly avoided naming one of its models Silver Mist after someone pointed out that mist is German for dung although this didn't stop Clairol, which actually brought its 'Mist Stick' curling iron to market there. Mitsubishi's Pajero is, as eny ful no, called a Shogun in the UK and a Montero in other European and US & South American markets. That's because pajero in Spanish means onanist. And Ford rather blew it when it took its Pinto into the Brazilian market, where in the local argot pinto refers to an under-endowed gentleman.Kia's sporty concept for a car named Provo, caused an outburst of offended reaction in Northern Ireland where it is slang for Provisional IRA. Who was to know?I love these stories and can never get enough of them: the marketing disasters of idiotic nomenclature amuse me greatly. This is because, as anyone who's read this blog knows, I am a child.The sustained train crash of Vegemite's attempted launch of a new product a few years back tickled me from the get-go and was a gift that kept on giving, from the opening salvo right the way through to the inevitable derailing and appalling subsequent tumble down the embankment and into the oil storage depot where a guard was smoking.We start with the fact that Vegemite is itself a poor and pallid parody of the King of Dark Salty Spreads, Marmite. Vegemite came up with a new product, an insane experiment in wrongness which makes cheesy peas seem attractive, and proposed launching a jar stuffed with a blend of Vegemite with cream cheese. The company, in a move which should have served as a history lesson for the British Natural Environment Research Council in the same way Hitler would have profited from a quick review of Napoleon's invasion of Russia, asked the public to suggest a product name.And there it would have ended if they hadn't chosen, from the 50,000-odd suggestions, 'iSnack 2.0'. The bloke that made the suggestion noted it was a tongue in cheek effort, but that escaped the drooling idiots at Vegemite brand owner, Kraft Foods. The company's head of corporate affairs defended the name: "Vegemite iSnack 2.0 was chosen based on its personal call to action, relevance to snacking and clear identification of a new and different Vegemite to the original."I kid you not. Even Hitler himself jumped on the bandwagon.It's apparently now called 'Cheesybite' which is, IMHO, not a great deal better.The daddy of them all, the fact that Coca Cola was originally dubbed 'Bite the wax tadpole' in Chinese is, sadly, not due to an outbreak of idiocy at Coke marketing central but was the result of over-eager merchants daubing signs advertising the new wonder drink in the 1920s.Which is really something of a shame...Mind you, the geniuses at Pepsi didn't need a new product name to make a mess of things, did they?[...]

The Passing of Paper


(Photo credit: Wikipedia)I follow quite a few legacy publishers on Twitter and suffer from the not infrequent urge to block them as I stare, open-jawed, at their attempts at what they clearly think is 'marketing'. Where most self-published authors have worked out, often by trial and error, that 'buy my book' doesn't work, publishers are frequently to be found out there using Twitter as a broadcast medium.My least favourite of an ugly bunch are the guys who have clearly logged into Twitter for their daily session ("Dave does Twitter from 4-5pm, then goes through the slush pile") who then retweet anything nice said about them or one of their authors. To the luckless recipient of this gold, a timeline suddenly packed with retweets of breathless praise for Dave's publishing house, event or client's book until Dave runs out of RT cruft. At this point, if you're really unlucky, you'll get Dave asking you what's your favourite colour or what book changed your life as he practices his 'engagement' skills.The example that flashed across my disbelieving eyes last night, however, took the proverbial biscuit:It ticks every 'shit use of Twitter by a publisher' box I can think of. What, you mean if I pre-order this book and send you proof that I have, indeed, placed a pre-order, you'll actually send ME a real whole honest-to-goodness PDF file containing chapter one of the book I can't read yet? I am SO grateful! I can't begin to thank you! Really! A whole chapter one of a book I just paid for but can't read as a crappy, bitty PDF (like the ones torrent sites serve) just for little me? Squee!These are just a few examples of how legacy publishers are struggling to get their heads around marketing, promotion and distribution in a post-paper world. We're not quite there yet, of course - there's still a lot of papery stuff around. But anyone not habitually wedded to a paper-based business model can see that the consumption of ideas, information and narrative on mushed-up dead trees and bleached old knickers (paper) is moving to a diverse and often inter-connected ecosystem of devices with blinding speed. When we are using those devices, we are not pleased to be 'disrupted' and, in a device-centric world, the publishers' ability to use their market power - sales teams stocking retailers - is minimal. They're no better off than the rest of us. The Internet, as we have been seeing since 1995, is a great leveller.The idea that there is value in selling information encoded in a 'book' or indeed any other conventionally printed product now belongs in a Cadbury's Smash advert. When was the last time you looked at a paper map? I fondly recall driving across Scotland in 1988, following a printout from Autoroute 1.0 and picking up some hitch hikers who, when they found out I was following a computer programme around Scotland, became very nervous indeed and wanted let out early. They clearly thought I was a madman. It's taken a while, sure enough, but the paper map today is (along with the dedicated GPS device, incidentally) a thing of the past. The ability to contextualise information based on a layer over the 'real' world is incredibly powerful. It's why Google has invested so much in building that layer with Earth, Streetview and the like. Apple is rumoured to be making a huge play in 'Augmented Reality'. Not only are we consuming information about where we're going totally differently, we can clearly see around the corner a world where we won't care where we're going. We'll just tell the car to go there and it'll tell us how long it intends to take and then provide us so[...]

The Great Emirates Laptop Ban


Abu Nidal (Photo credit: Wikipedia)It is notable that the UK, in slavishly following the 'security advice' of close ally the USA, has not included the UAE and Qatar in its version of the great laptop ban. It takes no great stretch of the imagination or cognitive leap to infer that this ban has a commercial implication, working as it does directly to the detriment of the three global airlines operating a 'feeder flight' model out of the UAE and Qatar.The biggest threat to the three is a loss of business class travellers, probably the only people who will lose out significantly. While it's great for parents to provide kids with tablets to keep them entertained (those of us without children clearly think this is just bad parenting, but that's quite another kettle of marmosets), Emirates' much-lauded ICE entertainment system offers films, music, games across literally thousands of channels. The big hit comes when you lose that precious work time.The solution appears to me to be blindingly simple - and if EK moves fast enough, they could get in a massive media hit out of this one. Buy in 100 Chromebooks, 600 Lenovo Ultrabooks and 300 Macbook Airs. Load them with MS Office. Provide them on loan to business class passengers (they could be booked at time of flight booking or even online check-in) who can bring a USB memory stick (or, if they forget, be offered a complimentary little red Emirates one) to bring/save their work on. To be honest, most these days work with online resources anyway, so could log in using any machine. The machines would be cleaned (both hygenically and data-wise) after each use. The IT stuff could be handled by EK subsidiary Mercator, already (quietly) one of the world's great software and services players.Catch the current news cycle and you've got the solution in seconds. It might not fit everyone's needs, but it'll comfort many - and I think catch the public imagination, too. In the face of a mean-spirited and dubious use of security as protectionism, EK could show it's the customer who comes first and they're willing  - as always - to go the extra mile.The ban is, of course, quite loopy. For a start, UAE security and civil defence is way better than US security. Dubai and Abu Dhabi are major international hubs and trusted by tens of millions of passengers each year. Their security procedures and capabilities are best practice. And there's nothing to stop a terrorist flying a bomb from Paris or St Petersburg - the idea that only Arab airports could be the source of a threat is as risible as Trump's Muslim ban. Which targets, it should be noted, different nations to the laptop ban.Not that I, for one, am in any rush to go to the US. I have stamps in my passport showing a lifetime's travel around the Middle East and no desire whatsoever to stand there having some jerk in a uniform shouting at me and asking to look at the contents of my laptop.This whole thing about making us dance around airports in our socks and ditching Masafi bottles because they could be bombs (presumably the water bomb is these days considered a credible threat) has long rendered me sore amazed. The IRA's last bomb on the UK mainland weighed a metric tonne, was packed in a lorry and blew out the heart of Manchester, doing £1 billion of damage. The concerted and sustained terrorist campaign waged by the IRA against the might and weight of the UK's civil defence and military over thirty years compares rather oddly to the threat posed by a bunch of bloodthirsty yahoos in Toyota pickups. It's what prompted me to write A Decent Bomber in the first[...]

The Unbearable Lightness Of Not Writing


English: Erik Pevernagie, painting. Representing the opposition with lightness of being (Photo credit: Wikipedia)I'm not writing.I'm not editing or marketing, either. I'm not planning, plotting or playing with a new MS. I started a new book but it's come to a sort of 'meh' point and I've put it aside while I do other things. I've scribbled a few short stories and other things, but nothing really significant.It's mildly embarrassing when you meet people who know you only as a booky person, because they invariably (and perfectly politely) ask what you're working on at the moment and 'I'm not really, I've just sort of got nothing right now that's floating my boat' sounds wrong.But it's God's honest, guv. I see no reason to force things and the new project is nowhere near qualifying for that excellent advice that saw me race to get A Decent Bomber done, 'Finish!'I'm glad I'm not under contract. The agent/publisher would be nagging, reminding me an MS is due in next month and I'd be going spare about it, wracking my brains to force words onto the screen as I write in the certain knowledge that it's not really what I want to do or, indeed, what I want to write. And, by extension, that it's not really quite good enough to put my name on it and be proud of what I've done. I'd hate that.It's not like it matters, of course. As we speak I languish in complete obscurity as a writer, so my lack of a new project is hardly going to have the NYT worrying about the future of literature.In fact, it's something of a bonus. There's a certain sense of relief at not having characters bumbling around in my head all the time, not worrying about getting that next scene down or being niggled by a piece of dialogue. I've been doing more cooking, ambling about on the Internet and going out at weekends to rediscover bits of the Emirates. It's amazing how you get blasé about living somewhere as downright wonderful and exotic as Lalaland.And no, I've not been posting here very much. I realised the other day that this silly little blog of mine will turn ten years old next month. That's pretty venerable. I suppose I shall have to celebrate in some way.In the meantime, I'm enjoying the, well, lightness of not writing...[...]

How To Self Publish Your Book In Dubai. Or Anywhere Else, For That Matter...


I just thought this was more fun than the EAFOL logo, to be honest...

The Emirates Airline Festival of Literature is once again upon us. Yup, that was a year right there.

I'm doing  workshop on how to self publish in the UAE, although you'd be able to use the info to self publish in Copenhagen, Watford or even, to remain topical to our peregrinations last weekend, Kathmandu.

I'm also doing a Q&A panel session on publishing, apparently which seems to have become an annual event confirming me as the UAE's poster child for self publishing. Which is all very nice, but I'd honestly rather be talking about censorship, selling books, telling stories, spies in the Middle East or the region's troubled relationship with narrative fiction, building a sense of place in novels, terrorism in fiction or a number of other aspects of my booky life. Hey ho.

What do you get for your Dhs 250? Well, you get to be shouted at by me for two hours. You'll also learn about editing, cover design, page layout, formatting your core manuscript, file management, rights, ISBNs and copyright, dealing with the National Media Council and booksellers in the UAE, printing books and mounting to sites like Amazon - as well as ebooks and Kindle, Apple, B&N and other online outlets. Then we'll also explore book marketing and promotion, online marketing, using dashboards and other booky sales stuff.

In short, a grounding of all you need to know to publish your own book effectively, to the highest possible quality and directed at the widest possible audience. Not bad, eh?

Kathmandu: The Green Eye Of The Little Yellow God


(Photo credit: Wikipedia)There's a one-eyed yellow idolto the north of Kathmandu;there's a little marble cross below the town.And a broken-hearted womantends the grave of 'Mad' Carew,while the yellow god forever gazes down.He was known as 'Mad Carew’by the subs at Kathmandu.He was hotter than they felt inclined to tell.But, for all his foolish pranks,he was worshipped in the ranksand the Colonel's daughter smiled on him as well.He had loved her all alongwith the passion of the strongand that she returned his love was plain to all.She was nearly twenty-oneand arrangements were begun,to celebrate her birthday with a ball.He wrote to ask what presentshe would like from 'Mad' Carew;they met next day as he dismissed a squad.And jestingly she made pretencethat nothing else would do but the green eye of the little yellow god.On the night before the dance,'Mad' Carew seemed in a tranceand they chaffed him,as they pulled at their cigars.But for once he failed to smile and he sat alone awhile,then went out into the night beneath the stars.He returned, before the dawnwith his shirt and tunic torn,and a gash across his temples dripping red.He was patched up right awayand he slept all through the day,while the Colonel's daughter watched beside his bed.He woke at last and asked herif she'd send his tunic through.She brought it and he thanked her with a nod.He bade her search the pocket,saying, 'That's from "Mad" Carew,'and she found the little green eye of the god.She upbraided poor Carew,in the way that women do,although her eyes were strangely hot and wet.But she would not take the stoneand Carew was left alonewith the jewel that he'd chanced his life to get.When the ball was at its height on that still and tropic night,she thought of him and hastened to his room.As she crossed the barrack square she could hear the dreamy air,of a waltz tune softly stealing thro' the gloom.His door was open wide,with silver moonlight shining through.The place was wet and slippery where she trod.An ugly knife lay buriedin the heart of 'Mad' Carew:'twas the vengeance of the little yellow god.There's a one-eyed yellow idolto the north of Kathmandu;there's a little marble cross below the town.And a broken-hearted womantends the grave of 'Mad' Carew,while the yellow god forever gazes down.(J. Milton Hayes)This is my way of saying we're off to Nepal. Who knows what we're going to find... [...]

Another Sharjah Shipwreck


Cometh the storm, cometh the shipwreck. It's happened almost every year for a few years now, although we missed out last year. It seems like every time there's a decent storm around here, some poor mug ends up beached on the sandy Sharjah or Ajman corniches. I don't know what it is that attracts them to this particular stretch of sand, but it does.

They're currently digging up the beach along Sharjah's corniche, installing what looks like a drainage system. Absent any explanation whatsoever, we can only conjecture it's to support further hotel development (Boo!) on what is a much-loved stretch of public beach used every weekend by thousands - unless they're going to expand the corniche road, known locally as Muntaza Road. We can only hope they're going to put the beach back neatly the way they found it.

There was absolute chaos on Friday night as a combination of roadworks and rubberneckers who'd heard there was a beached ship to stare at brought traffic to a standstill on the beach road and all the roads that feed into it. The police were trying to impose some sort of order on everything, with the wind still doing a pretty good howling impersonation and the sea still dangerous. Earlier in the day, the wind was so strong out to sea, you could lean back into it and not fall over.

The name of the beached boat looked like 'Hira', which would make it an 867 tonne offshore supply/anchor vessel sailing under a St Kitts and Nevis flag, although this is by no means certain - there's also a Turkish Hira and an Indian one, neither of which look anything like this one. Another time I read it as 'Hide' but couldn't find anything under that moniker. It's firmly stucked in the sand in the shallows a hundred yards or so away from the beach proper. There's nothing about it in the news, which is odd as The National and Gulf News have both made much of past beachings.

Anyway, by Saturday pretty much everyone had got over it and the crowds had thinned. It's still out there, presumably waiting for a high tide, a tow or Godot. You can imagine the poor captain calling the owner: 'Hi boss. I've got got good news and I've got bad news.'

The Second Router


This is a Cisco router in 1987. Today this device is the size of a Higgs Boson bla bla bla. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)A 'rooter' routes network traffic but the implacable march of Americanisation has us calling it a 'router' as in the Rout of the White Hussars. And, living in a house with thick concrete walls, we found ourselves in need of extending our increasingly ubiquitous home network. For suddenly our lives are filled with Apple TVs, bluetooth speakers, iPads in every corner and a burgeoning collection of laptops. Sitting at the centre of all this stuff, like a spider in the centre of a web, is Alexa the Amazon Echo.The trouble was upstairs. The distance and concrete mass was simply too much for a nice, simple wireless repeater, what we needed was a second router up there so we could stay connected to the source of all cat memes in our sleeping hours.In order to extend your network with a second router, you run an Ethernet cable from the primary router to the secondary location (in our case upstairs) and then all you have to do is configure the second router. This is a process no normal human being should have to go through, involving hooking up the router to a PC, rolling up your sleeves and getting under the bonnet. It's not nice in there, I can tell you. Not having been under a bonnet in many, many years, I found myself struggling. Quite what someone who hadn't spent their lives around computers would make of this stuff, I really don't know.It sort of boils down to this, in case you're interested: you need to turn off any DHCP settings and switch the router to 'fixed IP', then give the router a different IP address to the primary router. So if your main router is (which most are these days), you call this one You need to switch the router to 'access point' or 'bridge mode'. You should change the channel, too, unless like us your house is built like a Peenemunde bunker and contains huge wireless free zones. Having done all this, you plugs the Ethernet cable into the Internet 'in' plug and Robert is your father's brother. This process should be documented somewhere in your router manual, but it's usually not 'up front' for some reason.While you're doing all this, you should probably change the default password on your router (all routers have 'admin' as their default password, like all dogs are called Malcolm*). It's amazing how many people don't. And write the new password down somewhere you'll be able to find it easily in a couple of years when you've finally got over the trauma of configuring routers. Again, it's amazing how many people don't.Why, oh, why this stuff still - after all these years - doesn't just plug in and work out of the box is beyond me. When we're running around talking about the age of AI and the wonders of IoT (Internet of Things. It's linking pencil sharpeners and hairdryers to the Internet so they can talk to your Amazon Echo. Why? Don't ask.), to find the most basic building blocks of domestic networks still require hard configuration and demand people get to grips with IP addresses, channels and network settings is beyond belief.Never mind. Battered, bloodied and bruised, I sorted it out in the end and now we can gently fry ourselves in high frequency radiation upstairs as well...*This was a gag in, admittedly crap, TV comedy 'My Hero', which starred the admittedly brilliant Ardal O'Hanlon as Ardal O'Hanlon. It tickled us for some reason, and led[...]

Fake Plastic News


(Photo credit: Wikipedia)There's an awful lot of talk about fake news online, a background rumbling that occasionally erupts as indeed it has this week. We have all enjoyed the controversy surrounding the US intelligence dossier that purportedly places the future President of the land of the free and home of the brave in a Moscow hotel room watching gleefully as a number of ladies of dubious reputation perform vengeful lewd acts involving micturating on a bed previously used by the previous President of the LOFTAHOFB.The fun thing about the story, which is more than likely total bunkum, is how deliciously fun it is. Liberal America would just love to believe it. So would most of us, no?The trouble is that it's getting very hard indeed to sift the wheat from the chaff. But fake news is nothing new: we've always been rather surrounded by it. Was King Richard III really a vile, drooling hunchback who murdered two little princes? Probably not, but we've been just a tad under 500 years late coming to that conclusion. At the time, the spread of rumour was mostly by word of mouth - Gutenberg had only just invented the printing press and printed his celebrated bible - and so it was word of mouth, together with a wee dose of Shakespearean bile a hundred years later, that was to seal Richard's poor reputation.Gutenberg's press - and pretty much every innovation in media and communications since - merely accelerated the process.Richard was just one of a million historic examples of fake news, many of them classic examples of history being written by the victor. Sitting in Dubai, the issue of the Al Qassimi 'pirates' comes to mind - opposed to the invading British, they were quickly labelled brigands and pirates and so, for a good hundred years, the whole area was happily referred to as 'the pirate coast'. My own novels have often played with the idea that my freedom fighter is your terrorist and vice versa.From Gutenberg to the Internet we see the rapidly evolving role of news media - from the invention of the 'newspaper' through to the era of press barons and the dominance of media by politics and big business. Idealistic journalists have constantly found themselves challenged by repressive forces, from political interference through to commercial censorship, our media has represented a combination of people telling truth to power and power telling lies to people.We used to depend on those solid journalists and their editors to help us better understand the world around us from an informed viewpoint and we were, up until pretty recently, happy to buy whatever narrative they decided to shape for us. If we suspected any interference behind the scenes, we tended to gloss it over. For our media and governments would never tell us porky pies, would they? Our government, after all, governs in our name, does it not? Represents us? Why, then, would they lie to us?It's not just governments, of course. Big business loves fake news. Advertising and PR agencies have long placed fake news stories in media. You can spot the weasel words, 'studies say' and 'most folks agree' are just two of many sure-fire signs that studies don't and most folks wouldn't. Palm oil, gun lobbies, Israeli settlers, big pharma selling GMOs to Africa - you name 'em, they've been manipulating news by seeding untruths and obfuscation disguised as surveys, research and expert opinion.As the Internet has whipped the news cy[...]