Archive for April, 2011

Underwear is a must


Thanks to Alexander McNabb, I was made aware of this thrilling piece of local journalism.

“As a matter of discipline, children should be taught to wear underwear,” said the boy’s father.

Wise words.

How much this Batrol you pay?


I have a new car.


More info shortly.   If I may permit myself a brief moment of boasting, I now own three ‘iconic’ Gulf cars – Patrol, Wrangler and Range Rover.  Who’d have thought it.  My future progeny will  be forced to ride bicycles after I’ve used up all the world’s petrol.

Never lose your thirst for knowledge


There comes a time when children stop asking ‘why’ to everything they see or experience.  Their sense of wonderment and curiosity abates, crushed by the reality of life – some things simply are as they are and there is no point questioning any more.

So it is for the average consumer in the UAE.  On arrival, you might wonder why the supermarket is charging you Dhs9.50 for an item, when there are no coins other than the 1 dirham coin and its smaller brothers, the 50 fil and the 25 fil.   How are you supposed to get the correct change?

Eventually, you lose your sense of wonderment and questioning and accept that the final price is not connected to any reasonable logic in terms of the coins that are actually available in the market.  You stop asking why and you just go with the flow – the flow being, in my case, a general assumption that things will even out in the end, unless I feel grumpy and the supermarket is blatantly short changing me without even checking with me first.   I make them round things down in my favour when I am in that grumpy mood.

It turns out, hilariously, that the current situation is actually a complete farce – a variety of fil coins is allegedly available and there is not reason not to get the correct change.

We have the fearless Gulf News to thank for this information.  Quite why the current change-free set up has rolled along for years with noone else finding out the real facts is beyond me.

I have never seen any coins other than the 25 fil, 50 fil and one dirham.

I have never lost my sense of wonderment for these kinds of UAE based oddness.  This report has made my day.  I wonder what will happen next?  Personally, I’d prefer prices to be in 25 fil chunks to avoid my pockets filling up with shrapnel, but there you go.


Suitings and shirtings


It looks like, after nearly two and a half years of going back and forth, that I finally have perfectly fitting, tailored work clothes. My last two work trips have seen me happily wearing a suit and tie all day, in complete comfort. Wonderful.

Dubai has lots of tailors – it’s relatively inexpensive to have a custom made shirt and suit. You pay pretty much what you would for a good shirt from Marks and Sparks or Debenhams, except it will actually fit. A decent suit with good material starts from about 1,500Dhs (250 quid).

Don’t expect the process to be easy, though. As with many service oriented experiences in Dubai, you will probably find yourself having to get involved far more than you wanted to.

Despite the hassles occasionally involved, I think it’s well worth it. Based on my experiences of shop bought clothes, I am shaped like a freak. For a shirt to fit me around the neck, the rest of the garment will resemble a tent. Conversely, it trousers fit me around the waist, they need to be taken up by several feet. I think the high street stores used someone from a travelling freakshow to collect their statistics. The result is, I think, that most British men are very badly dressed when it comes to business attire. I don’t want to pretend I am some kind of arbiter of style, as I am not. I’m just saying that the average man is not served very well by the average hightstreet clothes shop. Tailoring’s far too expensive for the average Brit, so the UK is filled with people squeezed into uncomfortable jackets, their top buttons permanently undone.

Back to Dubai.

Following Mr Ronski’s first steps into the world of bespoke gentlemen’s outiftters, I had a couple of shirts made at Parmar’s in Bur Dubai. I wasn’t very pleased with the results – maybe I had an unlucky experience, but the results were far from perfect, as well as being quite pricey. On top of that, their shop is located in Bur Dubai, which made getting there and finding somewhere to park nearly impossible.

My second foray took me to Whistle and Flute in Satwa. The shop is hidden in a building set back from Plant Street – hard to find at first, but easier than a trip to Bur Dubai.

The first three shirts they made for me were, it seemed, perfect. I wore them very happily during a trip to South Africa, albeit without a tie. Then I had them washed and they shrank. Still wearable but too tight around the body for everyday work use. Flattering and well cut, but not much room for manoeuvre.

I had some more made, suggesting that a pleat be added to give some more room around the shoulders and the collar size increased. I also told them to wash the fabric before cutting it. These results were better, but still not perfect – partly, I think, because I had started doing regular circuit training by then and my shape was changing a bit, partly because they just didn’t listen to what I wanted.

Six shirts in, things were still not completely as I wanted them. I was faced with a common dilemma here – do I keep plugging away with these guys or start from scratch elsewhere and potentially end up reliving the pain? Why was I, the non-tailor, telling the tailor how to make the perfect shirt for me? Surely that was the tailor’s job?

I decided to persevere.

I now have almost the perfect cut. My top tips are to tell the tailor you want a loose collar, then make him add half an inch to whatever he suggests is loose. I also asked for the collar not to be stiffened – basically the same ‘floppy’ collar you get when buying a buttoned down option. More often than not it’s the stiffness of the collar rather than the collar width that make it feel uncomfy. I just can’t stand having a collar that’s even a little bit tight. Bouncing around in a Beirut taxi in the morning rushhour, fumes blowing in through the window whilst trying to digest your breakfast is one thing. Doing that whilst being gently strangled is another.

Other customisations involved making sure the shirts are loose around the underams – you get sweaty in the Middle East and cloth too close to the skin soaks up the sweat and unsightly patches quickly spread. Plus, I don’t spend my time leaning against doorposts like an Ermenegildo Zegna model – I need flexibility to lift up my luggage and put it in the hatrack, etc, so some give is required.

I was really pleased with the recent results. A couple of tweaks are still needed – the tailor randomly changed the position of the buttons and the width of the forearms, for some odd reason. Once this has been addressed, I will have something I am 100% pleased with. I will then buy lots of cloth from the two nearby cloth shops, which is a cheaper option than buying it from the tailor, and have lots of work and ‘fancy’ (casual) shirts made with a variety of short and long sleeved, button down and business collar and so on.

This will mean something very important – I will never have to go to a shop to buy a shirt ever again.

Whistle and Flute also did me a very good suit. It was basically a copy of the Gieves and Hawkes suit I wore at my wedding, but with lighter fabric and more space around the underarms to match my exacting and obsessive underarm spacing requirements.

The suit is very good and I’ll be getting another one made. I may even venture in the direction of getting some chino type casual trousers done – anything that means I never have to go clothes shopping ever again.

So, I can now wear a suit and tie for work, feel comfortable, look as good as possible and not find myself tearing off the tie and ripping off the jacked at the first available opportunity. My grandfather on my mother’s side was a Saville Row tailor. I am sure he’d be pleased.

Private Eye sees Middle East circulation soar


I don’t think this issue of Private Eye will be widely available on news stands in Kuwait City.

You have to be careful with Private Eye.  I’ve often been travelling to one place or another, happily reading Private Eye on the plane, suddenly realising it has a large article covering something awful that’s happening in the country I’m flying to.  I have to make a mental note to make sure I leave the issue on the plane.

That said, I’ve never had my bag searched, apart from one occasion when flying home from Pakistan.  I don’t think anything bad would happen if my were gone through and Private Eye pulled out, but it’s better to be safe than sorry.