Archive for December, 2006

In case you didn’t know…

19/12/2006

Most of Etisalat’s offices are now open from 8am to 8pm, which I didn’t know. I dropped round this evening just after 6 on the off chance and was pleased to see they were still open.
No queues, no hassles, just 20 minutes to replace a lost sim card and get a pre-pay card for my sister while she’s over.

The Sauls are coming

19/12/2006

My mother, father and sister are currently flying towards Dubai at the moment. They’ll stay for ten days at Aaron’s flat in the Dubai Marina whilst he’s away.
I’m particularly looking forward to taking my dad offroading!

The Sauls are coming

19/12/2006

My mother, father and sister are currently flying towards Dubai at the moment. They’ll stay for ten days at Aaron’s flat in the Dubai Marina whilst he’s away.
I’m particularly looking forward to taking my dad offroading!

Get me a cuppa Prime Minister, then finish off those dishes

17/12/2006

Mrs Saul and I went to see The Queen. The film with Helen Mirren in it, that is. Well worth seeing.
The same thing struck us both whilst watching. There are a couple of scenes where Tony Blair’s at home in his small house in Sedgwick, the constituency he represents. It’s a fairly small place and Tony is seen doing various household tasks whilst discussing Princess Diana’s death with his wife.
We were wondering what audiences in this part of the world would make of that? Would they think it odd that the man in charge of the world’s fifth largest economy lives in a tiny three bedroom house, makes his own tea and has a wife who tells him not to forget to wash the dirty plates? I can’t see that being the norm in lots of other countries. A good advert for Britain or not? I think it is.
There was one detail that nagged me a little. There are a few scenes where the Queen’s driving her Land Rover through her estate, on one occasion accompanied by Prince Charles. On neither occasion does she wear a seatbelt. I think she would – safety first, even if you are the Head of State.

Chris, my brain is like a parachute!

17/12/2006

I’ve never enjoyed going to the barber’s very much. Ever since I discovered the flamboyant barber around the corner from me, however, things have changed. Raymond (as he’ll be known for the purposes of this blog) has a unique view of life and expresses it in vivid metaphors narrated in beautifully garbled English.
As I suggested to him during my last visit, Raymond should really print a book of his better sayings. As he flits around you, snipping a bit here and there, poking your eye out whilst brushing clippings of your face his fluffy brush, he relates his latest news and views with panache.
Some of his better outpourings:
“Chris, my brain collects too much. You know, my brain is like a parachute! As it opens it catches all that falls into it as it floats down, you know, just like a parachute!”
“Chris, life is like a house with three doors! You know it, the houses with three doors? Mmm, I think you do. One door he take you straight out of the house, the other he take you deep inside the house and the third… Well you know, in the house with three doors, you don’t know where he’s going! Don’t you agree about the house with three doors?”
“Oh Chris, what is money? If someone has 5,000, are they 5,000 happy? If they have 10,000, are they 10,000 happy? I see you agree with me, I’m glad. Well, that is the truth, so why fight for money? I don’t.”
Sometimes the phone rings and it’s a customer booking an appointment. Sometimes it’s a friend of Raymond’s. Raymond always seems to know whose calling, even though it’s a normal phone that doesn’t show the number of the caller. If it’s a customer, he instinctively answers the phone politely with a simple ‘Raymond’s, helloooooooo’. If it’s not a customer he instinctively picks the phone up and screams down it angrily in his language, before slamming the phone down. How does he know who’s on the other end?
“Oh Chris, it’s a sense that I have. Who can explain it? I can’t!”
“Oh Chris, how can I become a Sir or a Lord in your country? Is it a difficult thing? Actually I don’t want. I will be… [takes deep breath and puffs up his chest] the court jester!”
“Oh Chris, thank you so much,” he says as I make him 45Dhs happy. “Come back soon. I am just a barber, but it is a good business. Hair don’t ever stop growing for Raymond to cut so be back so-ooon!”
He should be knighted by the Queen for services to hair.

A cat to be reckoned with

17/12/2006

My father sent me this link about Simon, the only cat ever to win the Dickin Medal, the animal award for gallantry, often referred to as the ‘Animals’ VC’.
A lovely story. I wonder what the soldiers on shore trying to sink Simon’s ship would have thought had they known about the positive role the ship’s cat was playing? Would they have thought of the British sailors as sentimental fools, or would they have wished that they had a cat of their own to keep them company?

Hip hop entrepreneurs

17/12/2006

Whilst flying over Pakistan today I listened to a recent podcast from Radio 4 about rapper Jay Z and his business empire.
The fast that hip hop artists seem to embody this kind of entrepreneurial spirit has interested me for a while. Can you imagine a group of indie kids from the US or the UK starting their own clothing line and restaurant chains? It obviously helps if you have willing consumers – I can’t imagine many of the fans of the bands that I like wanting to be part of something so commercial. Stone Roses tracksuits and branded vodka anyone? That said, since noone in my music world’s done it, maybe the market is there.
There were some interesting comments on the reasons why Jay Z, 2.5p (sorry, 50 Cent) and others have this drive to be successful and the business nouse to do it. Coming from the streets where there’s nothing to lose helps. Seeling drugs gives you important lessons in buying and selling, the concepts of margin, marketshare and the legal frameworks within which to work. Hip hop’s right there with the best of American capitalists when it comes to unashamedly making cash. Indie musicians who have had a slightly easier start to life are probably more likely to turn up their noses at the idea of embracing ‘the Man’ and cold reality of cash – unless you’re talking about selling a few t-shirts, that is.
I do find it odd that people are seemingly so willing to buy branded products from people who like to go on about how rich they are all the time. Imagine watching a music video featuring the managing directors of the major clothing retailers. As you watched them informing you how filthy rich they were and how they could buy as much tasteless bling as their hearts desired, you’d probably start questioning whether you really wanted to fund their excessive lifestyles by buying overpriced hooded tops from them. Not so Mr Jay Z’s customers, luckily for him.
All this is not to say that makers of ‘alternative’ music aren’t necessarily savvy businessmen too, but I expect those that do go on to use their money and reputations to build businesses do so in a rather more behind-the-scenes manner. They might own a bar or two or start a record label, but it’d be done rather less conspicuously. Johnny Rotten is apparently now a major property dealer in the US, but he doesn’t make much noise about it. Probably a wise move too. I can’t see ‘Sex Pistols’ branded semi-detached housing estates in the suburbs of LA being very successful with their target market.
What would I have done with my cash had Jesus Wore Ray Bans made it to the big league after our legendary summer tour of ’92? Hopefully I’d have done something rather more sensible than buying Rolls Royces to drive into my country mansion’s swimming pool.

Shape up, big hotels

17/12/2006

I’ve just arrived in a small guesthouse in Islamabad and been pleased to find free broadband internet access. How come a small private business such as this manages to give their guests good value, yet branded hotels across Europe are still making their customers pay through the nose?
Ok, it’s not me that’s usually paying when I’m travelling, but Sun. Still, you’d think that the days of 20E for 24 hours access should be long gone by now and that if they aren’t large companies like ours should be lobbying for better pricing for this kind of thing. Well done to the Chancery guesthouse, I say.
This is actually my third trip over the last five weeks or so where I’ve stayed in a guesthouse rather than a big hotel. I don’t want to have this post read by Mr Schwartz and co and have my words come back to haunt me, but Sun could probably save a lot of cash by putting us up in more modest places. As long as the place is clean, my omelette doesn’t give me food poisoning, I can be picked up from the hotel and have decent internet access, I’m happy. I do like to use the gym if I’m staying for more than one night, but I suppose I really ought to go old school and just do some pressups instead if it means the room’s half the price.
The journey here was a bit of a pain. We left nearly two hours late which meant I missed my connection in Karachi, but PIA handled things very well at the other end. I was taken good care of with a free pass to the business lounge and used the internet there whilst someone sorted out my boarding pass. Things can go wrong, but it’s how a company handles the situation when hiccoughs do occur and the people from PIA were very courteous and helpful.

Shore leave

15/12/2006

Judging by the number of men in their 20s and 30s with short haircuts and a rather bored and hungover look to them wandering around the shopping mall today, I wouldn’t be surprised if a US navy ship were in town.
I don’t tend to go the same places in Dubai that I used to when Mrs Saul was back in the UK all those years ago, but when I did it wasn’t unusual to bump into servicemen from the US or the UK, particularly as the second Gulf War had just started around that time. They were always instantly recognisable, with the Brits usually being the worst behaved. I once had a great chat with a guy who was a senior member of the staff maintaining the nuclear reactor on an aircraft carrier. He emailed me a few days later to say hello and invite me to drop in on him should I ever be in his part of the States, which was kind of him. I was amazed he had access to email on the ship – the image that I’d had in my mind was of some kind of spartan vessel familiar from WW2 films, except with a nuclear powerstation humming away inside.

Dark Star Safari

15/12/2006

I’ve just finished reading Paul Theroux’s Dark Star Safari, which describes the author’s journey from Cairo to Cape Town, through the Sudan, taking in Malawi, where he worked with the Peace Corps in the 60s along with Kenya, Zimbabwe and Tanzania, amongst other countries.
It’s a very readable if rather depressing account of the places he visits along the way. Theroux doesn’t come across as a particularly pleasant person – that said, however, he doesn’t seem to care whether people like him or not. He’s very snobbish towards other travellers for example, implying that if you don’t have the luxury to take the time to do things the hard way, or you aren’t particularly fond of being shot at by Somali bandits, you’re somehow not a real traveller.
There are numerous references to Rimbaud and his life in Ethiopia. Whilst I never had to read any Rimbaud at university* I was familiar with his name and a little of the poet’s life history. I had no idea that once retiring from poetry he’d been a trader in Africa.
Theroux has some fairly cutting views on aid to Africa. I can understand both his point of view and the other sides of the story. I would be interested to hear his thoughts on some of the projects I’m lucky enough to be involved in. I’m not an expert on aid to the developing world, but I do feel that the work being done to deliver affordable IT services and internet access is more the ‘teach a man to fish’ kind of aid, as opposed to the ‘give a man a fish’ vicious circle of dependency.
It’s ironic to read that at the end of his trip most of his valuables are stolen from the safe of his Johannesburg hotel – supposedly their most secure location for several weeks, having made it all the way from Cairo with him without anyone pinching them. Ironic too that during his last days on the continent an unpleasant bowel infection leaves him with unpleasant reminders of his African safari, long after his return to the States.
* Despite my clear dedication to my subject, I never read any of his work in my free time either, you’ll be shocked to hear.