Archive for January, 2009

Sign of the times – leaving cards out of stock


One of the ladies* in our office is arranging the ‘goodbye’ card for a colleague who’s leaving – not an easy task, apparently, as two of the three card shops she visited in Dubai were completely out of stock.

* These sort of things would never happen if it were just men in the office. Many of my close friends have only ever rec’d birthday and Christmas cards from me in the years since Mrs Saul came on the scene…



It rained in Dubai last night, with lots of thunder and lightning too.

Have a look at this video of our next door neighbour – freeze at 29 seconds in to see the lightning strike the Burj!

I am expecting wet patches on our ceiling by the end of today, but there is some progress in that department.

Yesterday I met up with the only helpful person involved in any of our property woes, ‘Dave’ from the main contractor. Dave will be looking at the roof above us to see if there are any obvious leaks. His team will be taking a chunk out of our dining room wall to help find out if the bubbling under the paint is caused by water leaking from the bathroom, or by something else.

This is movement in the right direction, which is a relief.

There was some bad news, however.

The noise coming through the window at night into our bedroom is not caused by traffic or passing planes. It is caused by air for the building’s air conditioning whooshing along in a nearby pipe. When the AC is on, you can hear a rumbling, but it’s not too annoying – distracting if you’re finding it hard to get to sleep, but not the end of the world. As the moment our AC is off and the noise is driving me crazy. At times it sounds like a plane flying past. Having spent most of my early years living near to Heathrow, noise from planes doesn’t really bother me. Noise that sounds like noise from planes but is actually air rushing through an AC pipe is infuriating. Strangely, Mrs Saul is not bothered by the sound, but that may be because she works far harder than me and falls into a deep sleep the moment her head hits the pillow.

Apparently there is little that can be done about this particular issue. It’s caused by stupid design and can’t be rectified without major structural changes. A nearby building is much more affected, I am told. I will be in touch with people living there to see if anything is being done about it.

The second piece of bad news was about sound proofing, or lack of it. Walls between rooms in the apartment apparently consist of one concrete block. Walls between apartments consist of two concrete blocks. There is no specific soundproofing whatsoever and the nature of the wall’s construction means various sounds – chairs scraping, voices, knocks and bangs etc – travel straight through. There is also probably very little that can be done to the wall itself to improve things, even if I paid for the work to be done myself.

I’m waiting for the property developer itself to confirm all this officially. If this is true, which I expect it to be, I’m extremely disappointed. A flagship development with no soundproofing? Pathetic.

Dave has a sound proofing person who will hopefully come around to do some tests and possibly recommend a way to improve things.

Despite all this, our situation is still better than the poor couple who, I am told, bought an apartment that backed onto the kitchen of a nearby cafe. They have had to move out whilst the entire wall is taken down and soundproofing installed. Not surprisingly, trying to get to sleep at night with a fully operational kitchen next door to you, separated by a small, uninsulated wall, was a little difficult.

Buses for Africa


An interesting article here from the BBC, about the Ivory Coast building its own buses (albeit based on components from Iveco).

This comment caught my eye –

“In Europe the technology is very sophisticated with lots of electronic devices. In Africa we don’t need this. We just need robust buses because our roads are not very well done like in Europe. This is an African design for Africa.”

This is something I’ve commented on here before. Many of the countries I visit have roads filled with what you might call ‘serviceable’ cars. By serviceable, I mean vehicles that a decent mechanic can repair and maintain without having to buy a proprietary diagnostic computer system from the manufacturer, or having to stock up on tonnes of electronic gadgetry simply for the key to be able to turn in the ignition. Most of these vehicles are pre-1995, not particularly luxurious but still going strong.

A Lebanese Liberian Toyota importer I met in Ghana (sorry, I’m showing off a bit here) told me that older model Toyota pickups fetch a much better price than the current range – the previous generation are simply tougher, last longer and are more reliable. It’s interesting to see a market where a ten year old secondhand vehicle can be worth more than its three year old younger brother.

I wonder how much electronics is really needed and whether there’s a market for European vendors to produce more basic vehicles, both for Europe and elsewhere? How about a Mercedes S class or Range Rover for Africa?

I believe that Land Rover and other manufacturers have versions of their basic 4x4s that are for the Africa market only. The reason they are ‘Africa only’ is that the electronics have been removed – that doesn’t mean simply providing manual rather than electric windows, it means removing some of the electronics involved in engine management. The result is a more reliable car, but one that is more polluting and wouldn’t meet European and US standards. At least, that’s what I have heard from people in the know.

Some European vendors are definitely manufacturing more solid, less complex vehicles for sale outside Europe. South Africa has a VW factory producing what are essentially Golf Mark 1s with an updated interior, as well as a VW van from the same era. They aren’t expensive and are still fairly basic. I am sure that VW don’t sell these in Europe so as to avoid cannibalising their more recent and more expensive models. This is understandable. I am sure they would sell extremely well if they were available, particularly given the current climate. Maybe we’ll start to see some brand new, right hand drive new/old Mark 1s appearing on the streets of Essex. Kevin and Gary would be souping them up in no time.

What will be on the roads of, say, Casablanca in twenty years’ time? Will the 1970s Mercedes 200 taxi still be going strong whilst Europe’s scrapheaps are full of Mercedes’ 1990 to 2010 models? Or will Casa’s roads be filled with the cars currently driving around Europe? Will simpler models, stripped of electronic unreliability be sold directly to Africa or will electronics keep their place but become more reliable and easy to maintain?

US President to drive around in hideous vehicle


The Jeep aside, I’ve never been a big fan of American cars. ‘Ugly’ probably sums the situation up best, followed by impractical and gas guzzling.

The BBC is reporting on Obama’s new limo, a vehicle that appears to embody all the worst elements of US auto-styling. It looks like a compilation of all the worst aspects of the US auto industry, neatly combined into one, albeit bullet proof, over the top monstrosity.

Grinding French


I really enjoyed speaking French with the partner and customer in Tunis last week. Although I’m always frustrated by how much worse my French is compared to when I left university, I do feel that my fluency has improved over recent months, thanks to regular trips to North Africa.

I’ve also exchanged a few emails in French with the customer – nothing very complicated, but a good chance to force me to polish off my written skills as well.

My French speaking colleagues are always very polite to me, but I can’t help feel that I’m murdering their mother tongue somewhat with my grinding sentences. Still, I seem to be getting my message across, which is what it’s all about, n’est-ce pas?



The noise from our next door neighbours is starting to drive me crazy.

It’s not their fault – they are not playing loud music or screaming at each other at three in the morning, they are simply going about their every day lives, in their home. The reason I can hear almost every footstep, conversation and the scrape of a chair being moved in the room adjacent to our bedroom is simply due to poor construction standards.

Our last apartment was excellent – you never heard a peep from next door. Other places I’ve lived in have been similarly quiet. I’m astonished that somewhere like our current place, which is supposed to be a ‘flagship development’, has been so badly put together. In general, it’s a beautifully designed, picturesque area, if you ignore the developer’s bizarre decision to spit the area in two with a huge, cobbled, road that is constantly filled with traffic. Quite frankly, however, I would rather swap the nicely decorated lobby and pretty fountains for something less attractive if it meant not being woken up every morning by the sound of chairs being scraped across the floor, light switches being flicked on, noise from water pipes, conversations echoing through the wall, etc.

Whilst I’ve asked the developer to provide me with some info on what soundproofing was done, that’s not going to change anything. Short of pulling the building down and starting again, I can’t see that there’s anything that can be done to improve things, short of sticking egg boxes on the walls or buying the adjacent apartments myself and leaving them empty.

I need to go home and spend some time in London for a while. That will help me start to appreciate living here again – currently the mix of apartment irritations, appalling traffic and infuriating customer service is getting me down.

Dubai driving tips


Seabee has some excellent tips on how to drive in Dubai.

Things are much better these days, but there’s still room for improvement!



Christmas and New Year saw us host my mother- and brother-in-law for just over two weeks. We had a great time – a fun mix of the usual Dubai tourist trail, plus plenty of relaxing and enjoying time together at home.

Sadly, there all the areas of ‘natural beauty’ we visited in the UAE had one thing in common – they have been, or are being, ruined by litter and graffiti.

Desert drive to Pink Rock – rubbish all along the root.

Jebel Hafeet – rubbish down the mountainside.

Walking along the beach – one cigarette end for every grain of sand.

Hatta Pools – rubbish everywhere, see the pics below.

Such a shame.

What bumps?


My brother-in-law, Riz, took this little video of me driving Mrs Saul’s car over some bumps in Hatta.

As mentioned before, driving this car offroad is a complete revelation. The bumps look a little smoother in the video than they actually were – although the Wrangler would have bounced up them without any issues, I’d have had to pick my line carefully to avoid scraping the underside. Much more than this in the Jeep would not have been much fun for any passengers, either.

I simply drove up, flicked the car into low range and rolled up the bumps, the chassis hardly moving around at all. The video shows the car’s air suspension raised and doing its job perfectly. Incredible.

Colonel David Smiley


I highly recommend reading this obituary of Colonel David Smiley.

What a career. Some highlights from the Telegraph’s article –

“Over the years Smiley was to break more than 80 bones, mainly as a result of sport; on two occasions he broke his skull, once in a steeplechase and once when he dived at night into an almost-empty swimming pool in Thailand.

After the war, he held the record for the most falls in one season on the Cresta Run in St Moritz; bizarrely, he represented Kenya (where he owned a farm) in the Commonwealth Winter Games of 1960.

After war broke out, the Blues sailed for Palestine, where one of Smiley’s first jobs, as a lieutenant, was to shoot his troop of 40 horses when it became clear they were of no use in modern combat.”

For more info on his activities in Oman and what is now the UAE, these two articles are interesting.

After reading all this, I don’t feel like I’ve achieved much in my life.