Archive for May, 2010

Kidnapped in Yemen


This is rather close to home – Ludmilla is a friend of ours.

I won’t be taking Mrs Saul on holiday to Yemen in the near future. Not sure what’s going to happen with work trips either, although they are a lot safer than tourist routes.

Facebook links gone wrong


Facebook often makes suggestions of things you might want to ‘like’ or be ‘friends with’.

I wasn’t able to get a screenshot, but thought this one was an odd mix –

Texas Hold’em Poker

Many who like His Highness Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum like this

I’m not sure Sheikh Mo would approve…

Who’d be an MP?


I found this article by ex MP Chris Mullin interesting.

My take is that if you’re travelling for work regularly, you should be provided with travel options that represent the best balance of safety, security, efficiency and value for money. In addition, you should be free to ‘downgrade’ if you wish to for personal reasons, as long as that doesn’t directly affect your performance.

There is also an element of providing comfort for your employee that, yes, is a perk of the job.

Having a ministerial car at your beck and call must be wonderful. I’m sure that, occasionally, it can be a bit wasteful. That said, I honestly think it’s ridiculous to expect MPs, generals and other people who have to travel all over the place to use the cheapest public transport option, just because it’s there. If General Sir Bufton Tufton is working an 80 hour week, making decisions that affect people’s lives and needs to prepare for a meeting during his journey from X to Y, I would prefer him to arrive on good form, rather than jamming him into second class on the 0740 to London Bridge just because it’ll save twenty quid and we don’t want to upset the general public what have it so hard, God bless ’em. If a first class train is the right option, provide it. If it’s a ministerial car, provide that.

There’s a world of difference between someone commuting to work and back and someone travelling to various different destinations on a regular basis, especially if they are expected to work during their journey and to be on top form when they arrive.

I’m used to travelling on the cheap. When I worked in London I took buses and trains. When I had to drive for four hours to Warrington, I hopped in my little Skoda and drove there and back in a day. I wasn’t a senior VP though, responsible for millions of dollars of business. I was a junior Systems Engineer, happy to have the job I had. I don’t mind sharing a two seater Toyota between three, with no AC, all of us sweating onto each other whilst we drive to a customer in African Country X, because that’s not a daily occurrence and if we win the deal I win too – besides, sometimes that is the best and most expensive option available anyway.

I do get immensely fed up with the fact that I have to fly economy class everywhere. I do understand that business class, especially in this part of the world, is very expensive. I grin and bear it and I appreciate the airmiles I get and the accompanying lounge access if I fly Emirates. Also, if I am on a long haul flight, I usually arrive the night before, so get the chance to relax a bit before meetings the next day. If I had to fly for ten hours to Cape Town in economy, jump off the plane, present all day and then fly back jammed in between two large people, I would look for another job. If I couldn’t find another job, I’d just have to put up with it but would wonder what the cost/benefit ratio would be to my employer.

I would be quite happy to fly economy, but have the option, if cheaper than business class, of having two seats booked to make sure that I have noone next to me whilst flying to Lagos for eight hours, for example. With all due respect to my fellow travellers on certain routes, there are specific flights that almost guarantee having someone’s elbows in your ribs the whole way, or someone’s bottom spilling over the armrest, for example. I once flew twice over two months to a certain country on a route that always had 99% of economy class filled with labourers returning home from Dubai. I completely understand why these poor guys did not have the chance to wash before their flight, why they couldn’t read their tickets and sat in the wrong seats, why they squatted on the toilet or crapped in the washbasin and why there was complete chaos as soon as the plane touched down. I don’t blame them for their behaviour, but I do wish I didn’t have to be caught up in it.

My personal feeling is that Sun’s travel policies were stingey. In the old days, you were able to fly business class if you flew over a certain number of journeys every year or if the flight was (I believe) five hours or more. I think that was fair. I have a suspicion that the current rules were partly decided by people who spend their time flying around ‘nice’ places like the US or Europe where shortish haul economy flights are reasonably bearable.

I am not saying that I am too good to travel with ‘common people in economy’. I am saying that I think it’s often bad business to send your employees in the cheapest seat just because it’s cheap. Similarly, I don’t think it makes sense to send an MP home to his constituency on the 2345 from Waterloo, filled with drunk people, noise and dirt, just because it’s cheap and ‘the common man’ has no other option, so nor should our elected representatives.

There’s a difference between commuting to and from work and travelling for work. I think people who carp at our public representatives getting a seat in First Class forget that.

Coming back to Chris Mullin’s musings, the current cutbacks and scrutiny make me wonder why anyone ‘normal’ would want to be an MP and how that affects the type of person that we end up representing us.

As an MP, you are expected to have every aspect of your private life seized upon by the tabloids, face losing your job every five years or so, face ridicule, hositility, resentment and confrontation on a daily basis. All this is fine – it is, to a certain extent, part and parcel of being an MP. On top of that, you are expected to be paid a lot less than you would earn in the outside world. We don’t want our MPs earning millions, but we surely want them to be able to live reasonably when compared to what they can earn in the private sector. It’s not about your local MP being able to drive a Ferrari either – it’s about him or her being able to provide for his family and their future. A single man can live nicely off an MP’s salary. A married mother or father of four has to think of other people who depend on them. On top of that, it seems the direction things are going mean you are also going to be expected to have to travel in cattle class wherever you go.

So who do we end up with as our representatives? Often, I suspect, people who are less interested in doing the job for the boring reasons of helping the country and more interested in the fame and limelight that come with it. That doesn’t mean we get the best people representing us. There’s always an element of attention seeking in any politician, but the current trend seems to be to encourage the more extreme examples to run for office.

Granted, I am not a UK taxpayer at the moment, but if I were, I would prefer those in power travelling in sensibly costed comfort rather than being forced to travel with plebs like me. I don’t want ministers being flown home in helicopters so that they can get back in time for tea and Eastenders on a Friday, but I do think they need some degree of travel options that the rest of us don’t necessarily get.

Packing luck


In Cairo this week.

There’s a new terminal which is nicer than the old one, which isn’t that hard. I was even given some crisp new banknotes by the visa stamp man as change. A welcome break from the usual dirty notes held together by a few remaining valiant fibres.

The only downside is that my neatly pressed and packed suit and shirts look like I slept in them on the plane. Sometimes I manage to pack things perfectly, lifting them out of the case with hardly a crease, sometimes exactly the opposite – but I can never work out exactly why!

Nice pun


Peter found a great pun in today’s National.

Dubai driving stupidity


This is an extreme example, but there is still way too much bad driving here.

I really don’t think that strategies that involve, for example, giving Mrs Saul a $200 fine for ‘speeding’ at 80kmph whilst joining a motorway where the limit is 120 are going to help. As I and thousands have others have said a million times before, the general public would appreciate some more active patrolling and pulling over of bad drivers, rather than just implementing lots of speed cameras.

City of Sleaze


Interestingly, at the same time as the Observer has this piece on Dubai, the regional Bahdobian Herald is carrying this article.

Saoud Al-Hanim is a citizen of the Gulf State of Bahdobian, recently returned to the region in a hurry from London following a misunderstanding with local law enforcement officers.

City of Sleaze – How prudish Londoners are actually At It, all the time, everywhere

Dusk falls one evening during my first week in London as I walk slowly along a busy street, crowded with office workers heading home for the weekend. Needing to call a friend, I look at my mobile phone but find that the battery has died. I duck into a nearby public phone booth to make the call and shelter from the cold wind.

As I punch in the number, I hear the bells of a nearby church calling the faithful to Evensong – Britain is an overwhelmingly Christian country where homosexuality, divorce, adultery and similar acts were crimes until not long ago. As the bells fade, however, the gentle air of austere worship to which they alluded is replaced by waves of revolt caused by a barrage of sickening sleaze. The phone box is filled with advertisements from naughty schoolgirls, strict school ma’ams and busty teens offering lurid services. True to the rigid forms of the English class system, many of these services are limited to those privileged enough to have had a decent education – with a minority of British citizens possessing an educational qualification beyond the exams taken at 16, very few would be able to avail Busty Bettsy’s offer of A-levels. Most would have to plump for Pamela’s offering of O-Levels. Regadless – it seems every London Lady is out to make something extra on the side.

I exit the phone booth, my phone call forgotten. Despite the Prime Minister at the time, Tony Blair, proclaiming himself a Christian, it seems his attitude was somewhat louche when it comes to prostitution. If you happen to find yourself with a dead mobile battery, or in need of a wee, the London public phone booth will be your only option – and this is where Great Britain’s lie becomes clear. Replace ‘Great’ with ‘Sickeningly Perverted’ and the truth behind the capital’s citizens’ outwardly reserved and stuffy image becomes all too apparent.

Noone knows how many prostititutes work in London. I don’t either, as I couldn’t really be bothered to look up any of the available statistics, but at a rough guess, based on my time here, there is one for every third man living here. Many come from abroad – astonishingly, it seems, these women don’t want to follow this line of work in their hometowns. Many more, however, bonk for Britain under the nose of the complicit authorities.

Those authorities seem to ignore the issue completely. The Scotland Yard’s Vice Squad, once famous for shutting down the steam powered spanking machines to be found in Victorian London’s country houses, are strangely absent. Not once during my four years did I see them patrolling the streets, so I assume they are simply staying at home, reaping in the profits, doubtless controlling the very trade they are supposed to suppress.

Stand on any London street and you’ll see people talking to each other. Look at people talking on the phone to each other, or reading a newspaper on the Tube, a vast euphemistic tunnel built by slaves – we all know what they are up to. It simmers and seethes, unseen but oh-so-keenly felt.

In the office, flirtatious behaviour is the norm. Ask any photocopier salesmen what the most common technical problem is that they see and you’ll hear confirmation of what bubbles under the surface of every supposedly straightlaced wage slave – come Christmas, there’s a nary a Brit who has not photocopied his buttocks during the Yuletide period. These black and white images are often used to festoon people’s Christmas trees – a pagan symbol, appropriated by the Church, now sullied by an outwardly pious people in the most salacious way.

Visit any pub or disco of a Friday evening and it’s clear licentious behaviour is a way of life for many people. Yet the Vice squad sit by and do nothing and these places are rarely, if ever, raided and their occupants locked up.

In a city of sixteen million, one thing is abundantly clear to a casual observer like me – everyone’s At It.

‘Would you like fries with that,’ asks Jane, a somewhat faded looking brunette serving me at a local fast food store. I know what she really means – she’s asking me if I want a serving of pointy penile symbols to munch on, served in a red(!) ‘container’, seeking to augment her pitiful minimum wage with dirty deeds done dirt cheap. Deeds openly celebrated by the eponymously named song by AC/DC, a group of transvestite she-males popular amongst London’s poor. I refuse her offer. ‘Thou art a trollope, a scrubber, a lady of repute most ill’, I mumble at her, make my excuses and leave. As I walk to the door, I take one last look around. Everyone in this fast food restaurant is clearly either tart or punter. The Vice squad could be here, arresting, charging and locking up, yet they sit by and do nothing.

Summertime sees a frenzied peak of suppressed sexual activity. Men strip to the waist, showing off the signs of their virility – beer bellies and tattoos. Women of all ages giggle like teenagers and romping in the bushes of Hyde Park is something every resident has indulged in at some point during their tenure in this Capital of Sleaze – often within walking distance of a Church or visiting nun. During Easter, many wives consider it the norm for their husbands to seek out the kinds of services offered in phone booth advertisement – it’s the accepted thing, universally carried out by everyone, everywhere.

It’s no wonder that the London Tourist Board routinely refer to the place as ‘Rompertown-on-Thames’, ‘Hump City’ and the ‘Slagville of the South East’.

Four years into my tenure here and I begin to find this cauldron of lust, its frothings hidden by the oh-so-not chaste veil of a cauldron lid, its carryings-on covered by the thin, flighty nightie of respect, all too much. Is there anyone in this city who is not At It, day and night? There must be two people, somewhere, who don’t adhere to Johnson’s famous maxim that ‘when a man is tired of London he is tired of being At It’.

A young couple in my office, recently married, live near me. One evening, I leave work early, sneak in through an open window and hide in their bedroom wardrobe, desperate to witness that at least one normal couple here are chaste and pure. That first night, she went to sleep early, while he read Top Gear magazine. The second night, they both switched the light off at the same time. I cringed as they moved together in a warm embrace, flaunting themselves in front of the wardrobe door’s keyhole. Relieved, I watched them pull apart as she told him she had a bit of a headache.

By the third night, I was looking forward to leaving the wardrobe, as my supplies of food and drink had run dangerously low. I decided to watch for one last time. That night, they got home later than usual. Apparently slightly tipsy, they fell onto the bed together. Disgusted, I began to think that a drunken coupling would ensue, proving my point that in the London suburb of ‘Tottenham upon Totty Bonking’, everyone is, indeed, At It. Nothing further happens, however – my two dear, chaste friends appear to drop off, tired from the night’s revelries. Delighted, I burst out of the wardrobe and throw myself onto the bed to congratulate them.

Sad to say, they did not understand my intentions. Shortly after, with my fare paid for by the British Government, I left for home from Heathrow. The irony – a member of the Vice Squad escorted me to the airport in my own private van. Instead of rounding up prostitutes he had rounded up this innocent reporter. His parting words sickened me with their stereotypical judgement of me and my nationality. ‘You lot,’ he said, judgingly, ‘you’re all At It’.

The Joy of being a Landscape Architect


Some bad language, but very funny.

My poor landscape architect friends. Everyone does think they are landscape gardeners. And I encourage this perception.

More Dubai bashing drivel plus too much Lady


I was thinking the other day that we were due a poorly researched, mildly salacious and thoroughly inaccurate article on Dubai from the British press. Right on cue, ‘William Butler’ from the Observer obliges.

Alexander’s post says pretty much everything I would have. I have to emphasise that calling Dubai ‘Sodom-sur-mer’ is total nonsense. I have never heard anyone use this phrase, ever. What’s disappointing is that if ‘William Butler’ was going to make something like this up, he could have chosen something that might actually have stuck. I like ‘Dubtown’, but that doesn’t sound sleazy at all. Any suggestions are welcome in the comments section. ‘Drubbertown’?

I feel a mickey take on William Butler’s piece coming on…

I also commend the Authorities’ steps in combatting these types of immoral activities.

I do have one comment to add. No lady of the night in the region would call herself a ‘whore’. The universal Gulf term is ‘Lady’, as in –

‘Too much Lady here, sir’ – Taximan comment, accompanied by a suggestive moustache wobble when dropping you off at certain places.

‘You wan Rady?’ – Universal Chinese Lady greeting.

‘Hmm. Ladies all gone, sir’ – Securityman announces the sad news with a long face, leaving you pleased that you can enjoy the band without unwanted attention.

‘Ah, it’s a cryin’ shame all the CIS ‘ave gone ‘ome’ – Big Dave the Oil Worker Wot’s Bin ‘Ere for Yonks reminisces about the glory days of ’92 to circa 2004.

‘Hey Soviet’ – a greeting shouted from certain tinted windowed Japanese SUVs at blonde ladies of any nationality walking around certain areas of certain Gulf towns in the early 2000s. This practice has now been stamped out, fortunately.

I don’t want to sound like I am an Expert on All Things Lady, but you do occasionally encounter these things, especially if you like listening to live rock music in Drubbertown’s hotel bars.

There is genuine surprise, for most Europeans, when they encounter Ladies in the Middle East or Africa. If you come from London, you might have seen dark stairwells in London with the euphemistic ‘Model’ written outside on a piece of card. You’ll also be used to cards advertising services placed in public telephone booths or might have seen someone a bit scraggy looking walking around near King’s Cross. Arriving in certain countries and being blatantly approached in the hotel bar the first time is always a bit shocking. It’s always fun to play tricks on visiting friends who think that they might be in with a chance with the most stunning women they have ever spoken to, only to realise a bit later that it’s their wallet and not their good looks and charisma that the Lady is after.

One day I will relate the joys of having a business meeting in Dar es Salaam’s ‘Jolly Club’. Never have so many fine members of the female sex shown so much interest in a discussion about thin client computing.

The Economist on the Burqa Ban


Just when I was about to write my own balanced and reasoned article on Belgium’s recent Burqa Ban, the Economist does it for me.

Like Muslims in Europe wanting to add minarets and loudspeakers onto their mosques, I feel the answer to both issues is just to wait a bit and not stir things up. It’s not worth it – neither side benefits and there are more important things to worry about. Put your own houses in order in other ways and get round to these issues afterwards.