Archive for April, 2008

Are you a Goth?


This tragedy, as described via the BBC, beggars belief.
I remember when I was around 16 and 17, cycling around and sitting with friends around Richmond town centre. You’d regularly get groups of what we called ‘Kevs’ (short for Kevin) roaming around looking for ‘Goths’. Goths appeared to mean anyone who wasn’t wearing a shellsuit and a baseball cap and didn’t live on any of the nearby council estates. We had ‘The Whitton Lot’ and ‘The Ham Mob’, amongst others. When they weren’t fighting eachother and drinking Special Brew, they were drinking Special Brew and looking for ‘Goths’.
It goes without saying that not everyone from the local council estates was a shellsuit wearing moron, but the Kevs all happened to come from there.
One evening I remember being approached by a bunch of Kevs. ‘Are you a Goth,’ they asked. Being incredibly quick thinking under my floppy hair, I simply replied ‘No, er, I’m not’. ‘Cheers mate. Do you know where there are any?’ was the odd reply.
I wasn’t able to inform them as to the whereabouts of any local Goths.
One evening I got punched in the face by one particular Kev who sat down next to us for a bit before standing up and belting me. We ran off and got the Police, who came back down to the riverside instantly after interviewing us. I identified the guy who hit me and he was arrested and charged. I also made it, with the two friends I was with, to Richmond Magistrates’ Court. He’d pleaded not guilty – standard practice, as advised by defence solicitors for these kinds of crimes as the witnesses don’t usually turn up. We were there though and he changed his plea, being ordered to pay me around £200 at about £5 a week.
The Police praised us for bothering to turn up. Most witnesses didn’t bother and they were pleased to nail this guy, who was a repeat offender, but never convicted. I’d thought he was in his early twenties, but he turned out to be just fifteen years old.
It seems in this, clearly far more tragic case, the Police did their job well too.
I really have no ideas how this kind of awful behaviour can be stopped.

When elephants attack


We spent the last week but one in Sri Lanka, visiting various places and generally enjoying ourselves.
The view in Ella –

One afternoon was spent at Udawalawe national park.
I have a nice point and shoot digital camera that also takes quite good video clips, but I don’t bring it with me if Mrs Saul’s bringing her much better Sony. This was one occasion where I will forever regret not having taken a video of the elephants we saw, but hopefully Mrs Saul’s excellent photos will convey what happened…
Based on the last time we went on safari in Sri Lanka, I was expecting to enjoy the automotive wildlife more than anything else. True to form, plenty of classic Land Rovers were on display.

Last year there were even some old Series 1s still in use. This herd featured some ‘newer’ Defenders. I love seeing these old things still going and still making money for their owners, even if there’s hardly a newer one to be seen on the island, now that Toyota have well and truly stolen Land Rover’s market. They all seem to rattle along regardless of load. Ten Sri Lankans, a drive and a guide were no issue. I also found it interesting to see a diesel engine at work. We rode over some hefty ruts in ours and it just kept pulling along, even in two wheel drive – apparently the front differential was broken. I think the Wrangler would have had to been put in and out of low range, less convenient than just trundling along.

I hear what you’re saying though – get to the elephants and stop wittering on about old Land Rovers and diesel vs petrol.
Ten minutes into our drive and we stopped by a group of elephants enjoying a mud bath right next to the road, something our guide told us we were lucky to see so close up.

We spent a while looking at them while they enjoyed their bath. There were no males in the group, as males get kicked out and have to roam around on their own, unless it’s mating time. Quite right too.
Two of the adults were pregnant.

After a while they began slowly crossing the road, right in front of the Land Rover. I began to think to myself that we were really a bit too close and seemed to resent our presence.
We watched them cross over for a minute or two as they headed away from us.

Mrs Saul was clearly thinking along the same lines as me and asked if they could be more dangerous when pregnant. Just as our guide told us that was the case, the driver switched on the engine, which turned over for about 20 seconds before growling into life.
This clearly spooked the herd. The senior lady in charge turned around and started trumpeting, causing the others to turn and follow her lead as they began to walk towards us.

They then lined up very close to the car and started behaving more and more aggressively, trumpeting loudly. I began to get a bit worried at this point. Our guide did too, it seemed. He held out his hand towards them – I couldn’t help thinking that doing so was unlikely to do much good if things turned uglier. The outstretched hand certainly didn’t seem to calm things down at all.

The trumpeting got louder and they moved closer towards the Land Rover. Mrs Saul ducked down closer to the cab and I did the same, shouting at the driver to drive off. The guide was saying the same thing to him in Sinhala. He duly drove off, but promtly stopped again after only a few metres, grinning back at me from the front cab.
At this point the herd was starting to march up to us in a line, trumpeting loudly and generally making it clear we were not welcome.

I screamed at the driver to go and so did the guide. We moved off slowly, with me wishing the 35 year old Defender had been designed to go a little bit quicker.

I have to admit that I was pretty scared. For obvious reasons I don’t have much experience with elephants, but had expected the guide to know what was what. The guide seemed pretty scared as well, which suggested that the whole experience had been a bit unnerving for him as well.
Were we in any danger? I’ve really no idea, but having several elephants walking quickly towards you, trumpeting and stamping their feet was quite an experience. I wish I’d been able to video it all – the trumpeting is loud!
The rest of the trip was uneventful, though we did pass the same herd on the way back, at a much safe distance this time.
You can see some more pics from our tip, all courtesy of Mrs Saul, here.

Why not serve it in a thimble?


I can imagine how the conversation went in the boardroom at the French Bottled Water Company…
CEO – Zut alors, we need to find a way to make more money!
Enterprising Marketing Man – Bof! Why not simply sell smaller bottles for the same price?
CEO – Sacre Bleu! Noone will accept that! Why would anyone keep buying our water if we got rid of the 330ml bottle and replaced it with something smaller and charge the same outraaaageous price?
EMM – Why not give it a go, mon brave?
And, behold, it works – everyone trapped in a hotel room who wants something fizzy and watery that isn’t beer, buys the teeny weeny bottles.
Why not take it one stage further and sell it in thimbles, for twice the price?
Another great business – the teeny weeny bottles of ketchup and mayonnaise that appear with room service these days. Gone are the little pots, filled with a reasonable portion from one big bottle, in are the ‘use once’ pepper pot sized containers. Average utilisation of contents of said teeny weeny bottles must be about 10%. An entire ketchup making industry based on the fact that the majority of your product simply get thrown away.

Istanbul again


After a couple of short trips and a nice few days off in Sri Lanka, work travel is starting up again.
Istanbul today, Ankara day trip tomorrow, then back home to Dubai on Weds. Off to Cairo next week, Oman the week after and a possible Croatia visit at the beginning of May.
Istanbul seemed incredibly exotic the first time I came – this is my fifth or sixth visit at least, so it’s starting to be part of the normal quarterly trek. I always enjoy it though and get kept busy by the local team. It looks like we’re near to closing a couple of good deals that will give us some good local references, rewarding the legwork done so far.
This time I’m in the Hyatt Regency, courtesy of Sun’s excellent corporate rate. An early arrival meant my room wasn’t ready, so I was upgraded to a bigger room overlooking the Bosphorous. The desk is positioned such that my back is facing this wonderful view, so Sun shareholders don’t need to worry – I have been adding value moving forward all afternoon, with no distractions distracting from my value add moving forward.
I’m going to force myself to use the hotel gym. After making efforts to keep the old suit trousers fitting nicely I’ve become a bit lazy again recently, with the proximity of freshly baked cookies right next to the checkout at my local Spinneys not helping the situation… Time to get back into (reasonably) good habits.

The Economist on where I live


This week’s copy of the Economist has a nice cover photo featuring some of the skyscrapers that can be seen in the region.
I’m a bit disappointed – although you can see the Emirates Towers, you can’t see the UP Tower, where we used to live. The UP’s right next to Emirates Towers and is a nicer looking building than some of the others that are featured.
Still, having your former next door neighbours’ building on the cover of the Economist is still pretty cool.
Photo courtesy of The Economist.

Pop over here to see the view from the top of our new neighbouring mega tower.

Web 2.0ey Googley mashuppy serendipityiousness 3.0


I had a quick play with Google Earth today and typed in ‘sweihan’ for fun, Sweihan being an area we’ve done two trips to recently.
Sweihan duly appeared and I noticed that someone had associated a video with the location in Google Earth. Clicking launched a YouTube video – looking closely I recognised a stylish and particularly well driven Jeep Wrangler. Mine! It turned out that the video had been taken by Dimitry, who’d been on the first trip we’d done and had posted a short video onto YouTube. Cool!
Here’s the vid –

Fossil Rock again


We lead a fun newbie drive to Fossil Rock, the beginners’ classic, the other day.
I particularly enjoyed getting the chance to drive Brian’s FJ Cruiser for a bit. I can see why it appeals, but personally I’m not too keen on the styling. It was very capable – I locked it in third gear, low range and whizzed up and down Fossil Rock a lot more comfortably that in the Wrangler. Despite it’s offroad styling, this simple drive seemed to dent a few things underneath. Nothing major, but if a car is a real 4×4, a trip to Fossil Rock really shouldn’t cause any damage, cosmetic or otherwise.

I also got a chance to do the same with Rob’s new Wrangler Sport. A more comfortable ride than my 2001 Wrangler, but limited by its automatic gearbox.
For some reason, the Wrangler can only be locked in first and second – I suppose this is fine for rocks, but for sand driving you really need a third, fourth or even fifth gear. Keep it in drive and it changes up, leaving you stuck. Leave it in second and low and you run out of revs pretty quickly. Much improved ride and a nicer interior, but I’d still stick with a manual.
Tim’s Kia did a lot better than I expected. It’s the best candidate for an impromptu bumper remould, but managed the drive easily.
Everyone had the chance to get stuck (apart from me 🙂 ). Tim was particularly proud.

I love this pic (courtesy of Mrs Saul). It looks like it belongs in a Toyota brochure.

A full set, courtesy of Mrs Saul, can be found here.

Mrs Saul’s new car


Here’s Mrs Saul’s new car. The saga of its purchase will be related later.

It’s a 2003 Range Rover Vogue. In the interests of protecting the planet, it’s a V8 4.4 litre. In the interests of fashion it’s ‘Bonatti Grey’, which matches one Mrs Saul’s many toenail shades.
After 5 years of rattling around in a Vitara and a Wrangler, life is now much more comfortable on the road. The quality of the ride is incredible.
We took it to Dibba beach last Friday after landing back from a short holiday in Sri Lanka. Trips to the East coast in the Wrangler and long and rattly, with the camping kit jammed on the back seat. The Range Rover just floated us down there at highspeed and bounced gently across the beach. Incredible.
We’ll continue to use the Jeep for desert driving, but I’m itching to take the Range Rover on some simple desert trips. I know it’s just as capable, if not more so, than a Patrol. I suspect a dented front bumper is a bit more expensive to replace though.
After driving the Range Rover, the Wrangler really feels like two deckchairs strapped to an engine. There’s nothing wrong with that, of course, but it doesn’t mean a particularly comfortable ride.
There are some odd things in terms of build quality. For a car that’s so expensive new, you’d think that Land Rover would have made sure that the plastic on the window controls and steering wheel wouldn’t peel off. You’d also think that the plastic Land Rover centre pieces that fit in the middle of the wheels wouldn’t fall out either, costing $20 a go. Some glue will fix that.
We searched long and hard to find a good one, so other common problems I saw – badly fitted panels and faded door handles – aren’t present on ours.
In short, it’s lovely. Land Rover may have been German owned when it was built (then US and now Indian owned since) but it’s a British car and I’ve always wanted one.
Don’t let me down, Land Rover. I don’t want to be writing a blog entry in 12 months’ time swearing that it’ll be nothing but Nissan or Toyota from now on….
You may see me behind you on the Sheikh Zayed Road, flashing you out of the way as we whizz along in our leather sofa on wheels.

111 Letters


I urge you to head over to Fake Plastic Souks, for an ongoing series quoting from a most useful book – 111 Letters.
The first installments are here and here.
A sample –
Consulting a lawyer
My husband and his mother are maltreating me and my life is very miserable. I am really living in hell. It is now for more than six months that we are separated.
Will it be possible for me to get divorce?
Positive Reply
I think it is possible for you to seek divorce under the circumstances that you have mentioned.
Please come to my office for further action.
Negative Reply
My gentle lady why must you hurry for a divorce?
Take time to cool down.

Apartment frustrations


The workmen are in, supposedly to finish off the final round of snagging in the apartment. It’s mostly cosmetic stuff, but I expect the apartment to be completed properly, to get what I am paying for and to have problems that I pointed out in September sorted out.
So far some simple things have been done well, some less so.
A wooden doorframe panel was replaced – the original was slightly damaged towards the bottom but was ok. Its replacement is a different shade of brown, with a different grain, so doesn’t match the door or the rest of the doorframe. It is also damaged.
Grouting in the bathroom has been repaired, apparently with grouting that’s a different colour to the rest of the grouting.
A chip in a marble washbasin has been filled in. Before, if you looked closely, you could see a small chip around the tap. Now it looks as if someone has stuck some pink bubble gum next to the tap.
The ceiling had a dip in it. It doesn’t dip any more, but it does have some odd lines running across it. It wasn’t right before, but didn’t look too bad. It’s still not right and fortunately still doesn’t look too bad. I will just get used to a different kind of not looking quite right.
I don’t understand what goes through these guys’ minds when they are doing these jobs. I made it crystal clear to their supervisors that if ‘repairing’ the various issues that had been flagged would simply make them worse, I’d prefer to leave things as they are. Mrs Saul is not happy.
There is obviously a certain level that gets reached. Beyond that things may be changed, but they won’t be improved.