Archive for August, 2011

Best ever Gulf News article?

31/08/2011

It’s a field filled with strong contenders, but this surely has to be the most informative article the Gulf News has ever published.

Expert advice: Eat less fast food Overindulgence in food is bad for your health, nutritionist says

Strange court case

30/08/2011

Here’s a classic example of an odd court report from the Gulf News.

Sad story – and totally baffling.

How does this help your customers?

30/08/2011

One thing I’ve noticed during this year’s UK visit is the virulent spread of supermarket self-service areas. They are horrible!

I understand why supermarkets like these things – they save money. I can’t help but think they are shooting themselves in the foot. At the very least, they could do a lot to improve the current set ups.

Both Tesco’s and Sainsbury’s self-service areas are usually dirty and untidy – they just look shabby.

The queues of shoppers seem longer than the days of having actual cashiers, as the self-service ‘things’ don’t seem to work very well. They are a complete faff, as you try to fiddle with your change, fill a plastic bag, rescan every item twenty times and strain to listen to the instructions being whispered by Scottish lady who lives inside the machines.

What’s the point? They aren’t more convenient, they cause longer queues and they look awful. I think they are a major disincentive to shop there.

Surely Sainsbury’s and Tesco should be looking to employ some more local people? I appreciate that the business is run for its shareholders, the market rules, etc, etc.

Surely there’s a bit more to consider than a simple human vs machine cost-benefit analysis?

Both brands get very bad publicity every time one of their smaller stores opens up on a highstreet and puts the other ‘traidtional’ retailers out of business. Each of these openings is accompanied by press releases in the local paper telling us that the new store will serve the community and so on. Surely it’d be good PR to show some visible results of how you care about the community by actually employing a few people to work the till instead of making us all do the job ourselves? I’m sure the savings can’t amount to much more than a penny of a can of baked beans. I’d rather pay a miniscule amount extra for my pint of milk and be served by a human being.

I am hoping that this self-service approach goes the way of many call centres that were outsourced in a hurry a few years ago and which are now being brought back to the UK. I just feel it’s better business to have some real people in the shop.

At the very least, despite lowering both companies’ vast profits by a minimal margin, shopping there would be a less soulless experience. I am not saying that shopping at either retailer was ever a culture filled joyous occasion, but making it even worse than it was isn’t something I welcome.

While I am at it, it would be nice if Costa, Starbucks and other coffee shops and cafes occasionally swept the floor and cleand the tables. Lots of these places seem to turn into rubbish strewn wastelands by the early afternoon. Why do people pay five quid for a coffee and then put up with having to drink it whilst surrounded by the detritus left by the last fifty customers?

Hmmph. Perhaps I have lived in Dubai too long and am turning into a spoilt customer, but I can’t help thinking that having someone occasionally clear up might be better for business.

Urban Ninjas!

27/08/2011

After watching this this morning, courtesy of my brother-in-law‘s ninja obsession, we spent a lot of time laughing at this this afternoon.

Kindle UK rip off pricing

26/08/2011

I gave a glowing review for the Kindle and said it was worth every penny.

I still think it is good value for what it can do, but I don’t see why someone in the UK should pay almost twice the US price.

US 3G capable Kindle – $138 (GBP84.50)

UK 3G capable Kindle – GBP152 ($248)

That’s a $110 difference!

That stinks. Even allowing for some differences in tax, this is crazy.

I think I’d have had trouble buying and shipping the US kindle due to not having a US address, although I could probably have got around this by using a shop and ship type service. Even with some delivery costs, I am sure I could still have got it at significantly less if I’d ordered it from the US and had it shipped around the world to Dubai, instead of ordering it in the UK and having it shipped an hour’s drive away from the Amazon Milton Keynes warehouse to Richmond.

Book prices seem similar, give or take a few cents.

Kindle Euro pricing is also very high.

Don’t rip me off, Amazon. Or is the pricing actually fair for some reason? A ten percent uplift, I can understand, but this…?

Idiotic lamp post update, plus gone again

24/08/2011

Much as I enjoyed my holiday in the UK, I was quite happy to be back in Dubai.

I was prepared for the suicidal Ramadan hunger driving and the humidity.

What I wasn’t quite prepared for was the continued insistence of the developer of our area in ruining the look and feel of the place.

A while back I posted about the main Boulevard having its pleasant brown lamp posts replaced with some hideous silver things. This job was completed. It’s ugly and it’s pointless. It doesn’t improve the area, was clearly never part of the masterplan. I hate them.

Now the developer is installing these lights along our quiet sidestreet. I should really post some photos of the road before it is ruined, but for now you’ll just have to imagine a pleasant tree-lined street, lit by small brown lamp posts that give out a gentle yellow light that completely matches the lighting of the surrounding buildings. It’s lovely – calm, well put together.

Now our quiet street is being filled with these awful silver things – we will have double the density of lamp posts, all of them emitting a bright white light that doesn’t fit in with the development at all.

I am furious, but there’s nothing I or other residents can do. This is basically the developer sticking two fingers up at its investors, proving to us that despite the occasional rhetoric, we have no say in the appearance of the area we have chosen to live in, an area which can be ruined by the whim of one person at the developer who chooses to inflict his bad taste on everyone with no consultation.

What’s particularly galling is the response I received by email from the customer services department claiming that the lights were always part of the master plan and that the current lighting that has been there since October 2007 is only ‘temporary’.

Not happy. Why can’t people stop fiddling with everything in Dubai? Build it properly the first time and then just leave it alone!

In other news, Eid has been declared a day earlier than expected. This is sort of good news – as I am on gardening leave till my new job starts on September 1, I was free anyway.

Mrs Saul, however, had to return from the UK in order to go to work today (Weds 24 September) and tomorrow, as well as Sunday, before having the rest of the week off for Eid. Now that Eid has been declared, she has Sunday off, as well as the rest of next week.

This means that she and other members of staff had to come back from their summer holiday to Dubai simply in order to attend two working days at school. It was a strange decision anyway, making them come back for three days’ work, separated by a weekend. Having only two days is simply rubbing salt into the wound. Given the choice, we would have stayed in the UK or planned something else.

As it is, we are going home to the UK – a judicious use of Skywards miles, plus being able to cross charge my flight thanks to a training course I need to attend in Switzerland during the first week of September (EasyJet to Zurich, then Zurich to Duba on EK). That said, it’s all totally ridiculous – lots of people flying in and then flying out again, or being stuck in Dubai for Eid if they’re no able to pay for another set of flights out. Daft.

I realise that these are not big problems in the grand scheme of things, but this is my blog and I’ll whinge if I wanna.

Kindle wonder

24/08/2011

I bought a Kindle last week – why did I wait so long to get one?

In recent months I’ve been feeling that my brain is getting underused – I have lots of books on the bookshelf that need reading, but schlepping them around whilst travelling for work, or even just taking them into the office to read over lunch, is not practical.

When flying, I find it hard to do much more than watch TV or read the paper or a fictional novel. Trying to manage more than 45 minutes of ‘A History of Africa’ or some kind of sales training or management book just can’t be done. All I can manage is dipping in and out of things and that means carrying several tonnes of weighty tomes with me.

The solution – get a Kindle. It’s so obvious, I can’t believe I have taken so long to get one. I was thinking of getting an iPad, but the advice I got and the research I did lead me to the conclusion that I needed something that was brilliant for reading and OK at other things, rather than the other way around. I always have a laptop when travelling, as well as a BlackBerry (hopefully soon to be replaced with an iPhone), so an iPad just isn’t necessary right now. Plus, I do read a lot when on holiday, so the Kindle’s ‘e-ink’ screen is the only option when there’s a bit of sun in the sky.

The entire Kindle experience has been brilliant from start to finish. I was on holiday in the UK, so had it delivered to my father’s house.

Unpacking it was a pleasure, getting it charged and switched on was easy – this entire part of the experience has been honed to be a real pleasure. It’s not a ‘techie’ experience at all, it really is straightforward and easy.

Once I was up and running and marvelling at the fact that I could get books delivered over 3G, for free, wherever I had a connection, I decided to make my first purchase. This is where things started to get confusing – either the device wasn’t connecting, or Amazon had nothing in their library to sell me.

Checking on the Amazon website confused me further. It seemed there were about six titles available to me. This couldn’t be right…

At this point, despite the problems I was experiencing, the whole Amazon Kindle experience continued to be just brilliant. Their web page handles things so that Amazon call you, rather than the other way around, which makes a nice change. A pleasant lady from a call centre I guess to be in the Philipines was soon helping me out. It turned out that since I had used my UAE credit card and given a Dubai address, my Kindle was locked into the Middle East Amazon Kindle store. Amazon don’t seem to be paying any attention to this market, hence the lack of titles available. The call centre lady simply re-registered the Kindle to my UK address and everything was working perfectly.

I’ve already bought several books – and read them. It’s just fantastic having everything to hand on such a pleasant looking, simple device. I love it.

Even though I am in the IT industry, I get excited about the cool things the Kindle can do. It’s brilliant fun to be sitting on a train in the middle of nowhere, buying a book over the mobile phone network and having it appear on your Kindle seconds later. Incredible.

Calibre, a free e-book application, has helped me get even more use out of the Kindle. I use it to grab The Times (subscription required), Telegraph, BBC and Economist websites every day and convert them to Kindle format. You don’t get all the pictures, but it’s good enough. I can’t get UK daily papers in most of the countries I visit, but now I have plenty of material to read every day. I should probably start getting the Guardian too, to give me something to get angry at.

Not every book I have wanted has been available in Kindle format, but I expect that to change over time. Amazon have a link to click that lets you ‘inform the publisher you’d like a Kindle version of book X’. I think the wording should be ‘please inform the publisher you didn’t buy anything as there was no Kindle version available’. That’d be a bit more likely to spur people into action.

How the Kindle affects the publishing industry is something for a whole other speculative post. For now, from my position as a ‘simple reader on the street’, all I can say is top marks to the Kindle. I love it. It wasn’t a cheap present to myself at about 150 quid, but it’s worth every penny. I expect it to get a lot of use over the coming months.

Biscuit enjoys the latest in e-book technology…

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Thoughts on the recent HP news

23/08/2011

I was baffled by the news coming from HP last week. Having just left the company and having worked for one of the divisions affected, I thought I’d write down my thoughts on the topic. A ‘view from the field’, if you like.

HP announced that they were buying Autonomy, thinking of selling off the PSG (Personal Systems Group) and were killing their new tablet device, the TouchPad. From my position of probable ignorance, I find all these decisions odd.

Let’s start with the purchase of Autonomy, a UK company that does ‘corporate search’. Selling this software doubtless involves a lot of pre-sales time, knowledgeable and skilled staff – a consultative, solutions driven approach.

This approach doesn’t exist in the HP I saw. This doesn’t mean that Autonomy won’t carry on being successful as an, erm, autonomous division within HP – I just can’t see anyone in the existing divisions selling it.

So what’s the point of buying Autonomy? They are a successful software company doing something fairly niche. HP are a systems company with almost no software that sells, beyond their systems management suites. I see no fit whatsoever, aside from buying Autonomy being an investment that will yield a return if they are left alone to carry on as normal, albeit with a bit of extra clout behind them now – I just do not see how Autonomy will drive sales of HP kit in any significant way. The situation reminds me of Sun buying MySQL, another strange decision that seemed more of a vanity purchase than anything else. Both acquisitions make me think of a middle aged man buying an expensive electric guitar he can barely play, just because he’s sort of always wanted one and it looks good in the living room.

Autonomy will have to work hard to avoid the traditional acquisition path –

– Exciting, nimble company that does cool stuff gets bought by large corporate that doesn’t really know what to do with it.

– Millions of requests for help from sales teams across the world flood in with unqualified, time wasting leads.

– Sales drop as a result.

– The good people start to leave as their souls slowly die, sucked into an interminable round of infuriating processes, badly designed corporate expense claim tools, conference calls, reports and other tedium.

– Charismatic leader who built the company up in the first place leaves his VP position and uses his billions to start up a new, exciting nimble company that does cool stuff.

– The acquirer ends up with some source code, real estate and the people who couldn’t find better jobs elsewhere, as well as some furious customers who see their investment ruined as the product shrivels and dies.

I genuinely wish Autonomy all the best, especially as they are a British success story. I am not optimistic.

So what about the PSG announcement?

I don’t know if there are some legal requirements to announce that you are thinking that you might sell off part of your business. If not, why announce that you might be selling the division off? Can this not be kept quiet until there are more concrete plans? Maybe there are some concrete plans around the corner.

Regardless, an announcement like this is going to hurt business, especially in the Middle East.

Granted, choosing what PCs to buy is not the same as picking, say, your strategic datacentre platform for the next five years. Lots of companies have a variety of PC vendors. Customers like knowing that there is a future for the products they are buying though – any hint of a question mark over a vendor’s future will have Middle East IT managers worried that they are buying something that is not 100% assured and which might cause them issues in the future, technical or administrative. These concerns affect IT managers anywhere, but this region, the Gulf especially, has a particularly conservative set of decision makers who do not want any danger of making a decision today that will make them look bad in the future.

Why sell PSG at all? The general consensus seems to be that it makes money, but not as much money as HP might like.

Selling PSG doesn’t seem to be the answer to this problem. Customers love the fact that HP are able to provide everything from mice and keyboards up to massive mission critical systems. In reality HP function very much as separate companies – PSG don’t really work with the x86 server guys, who don’t work with the Unix guys, who don’t work with the storage guys, who don’t work with the consulting guys. This means a customer can get bombarded with lots of meeting requests from various HP people who all work out of the same office but who have never actually met. I genuinely believe that customers sometimes buy HP as they are simply bombarded by millions of annoying salespeople and a purchase order is the only way to get them out of the office.

The customer is still buying from ‘one HP’, however, even if the different divisions within HP operate very independently. Sell off the PC and laptop business and you have another vendor in front of the customer, with different partners with different interests.

People point to IBM’s sale of Lenovo as an example of how this might successfully be done. Lenovo seems to be doing well, as are IBM. My feeling, being part of the desktop world, is that it makes IBM salespeople’s lives difficult not having a complete portfolio – not impossible, but harder than it would be if their PCs and laptops were still made in house.

I would be asking how to make PSG more profitable. If the margins don’t get anyone excited, how can we increase those margins? I think there are some clear areas where PSG could be made more profitable, so it can be kept part of HP proper, with the benefits that entails for HP and HP customers and partners.

The concept of ‘value add’ has been a running joke between me and friends for a long time now. It’s a cliche that is constantly trotted out. The usual irony is that what people call ‘value add’ is often referring to the basic value that a product or service brings. The ‘value add’ should be some extra bits that make the basic product or service more compelling.

PSG should start delivering some ‘value add’ in the true sense of the word.

From where I sit, PSG’s value is that they have what corporate customers need, it is in stock, a bit dull (a good thing in corporate IT), but does the job and is well priced. PSG do this extremely well. I found it very interesting to see how the business of selling boxes worked. The colleagues I worked with were paid to sell boxes and they did it brilliantly.

Shifting boxes does not usually mean high margins and PSG deliver near zero value add that might increase those margins.

Everything was driven by what the customer asked for, with very little guidance going on. There was near zero input in terms of advice around which models were better, near zero focus on how customers might manage the boxes sold, no providing services around assessing a customer’s business requirements, etc.

The result is that a customer would buy 5,000 units of a current mid-range PC, demanding that HP meet the specs they had decided on. An ideal situation with higher margins for HP would involve some consultative selling. That would have meant the customer would keep his price per unit the same, but buy, for example, 3,000 lower end PCs for users who didn’t need the power, 1,000 thin clients for his call centre, 1,000 workstations for his users who needed more number crunching, along with some installation and management services.

I was part of the ‘value team’ for my region. We focused on selling the higher margin thin clients, workstations and point of sale devices that had higher margins. Those higher margins obviously went towards a more profitable division. They could also be used to subsidise key projects where commodity PC pricing meant margins were low or negative.

Teams like ours were definitely a step in the right direction, but I felt we were fairly unique in HP in general, as well as up against a culture of box shifting. I was responsible for thin clients, a sales cycle that usually takes six to nine months and involves selling not just the device that goes on the desk, but defining a number of different requirements along the way. I was paid on thin clients, but needed to help sell all the bits inbetween, whether they were HP products or not. My take on things was that we as HP had to own the total solution, show we knew what we were talking about and make sure that we drove things forward rather than have to rely on other vendors to help us. This was the approach that helped me and colleagues be very successful at Sun when selling thin clients.

Doing this at HP proved to be quite tough. To be fair, I made some progress and had good support from my boss, but it was harder than it should have been. I was astonished to hear statements from salespeople that ‘their customer had not requested thin clients’. I then astonished them by saying ‘I don’t care what the customer wants’. Of course, I cared very much what the customer wanted – the point I was always trying to make was that a customer who has not been told about the solutions you sell is not going to ask to buy them from you.

The PSG approach I saw would never have sold any PCs back in 1981. They would have returned from customer visits saying ‘the customer requested some more typewriters’.

One of the key things that is driving new PC sales over the coming months is customers migrating from Windows XP to Windows 7. This often involves buying new hardware. If you have large installations or want to manage things properly regardless of the size of your userbase, this migration will also involve using various Microsoft or third party tools to deploy, patch and generally manage all these PCs.

Most customers need help with all this.

HP had some services built around Windows 7 migration, but they were sold by a different division and were not really suited to our region or to smaller customers.

PSG offered nothing in this space – in Dubai we were trying to put something together that would help customers along their Windows 7 migration path. In return we expected to get services revenue, better knowledge of customers and their future plans, a chance to sell our higher margin ‘value products’ rather than yet another tranche of mid-range PCs, etc, etc.

Another problem, which we were making progress with but which seemed endemic all over the place, was a lack of co-operation between PSG and the server teams. Thin client sales involves servers and storage, but the different divisions didn’t really seem to work together at all.

So, in summary, if HP want to improve PSG margins when selling to corporate customers, they need a more consultative approach to selling, they need to kick the different divisions up the bottom and force them to work together and they need to compensate the sales people in a way that helps encourage them to be less reactive and more involved with being a real vendor who helps a customer drive his IT strategy, rather than just reacting to ‘requests’. Selling PSG will cost money and time and leave HP with a gaping hole in their product line and their key value proposition of being able to deliver everything a customer needs from top to toe.

I can understand HP selling their consumer PC and laptop division, however. Tiny margins, little opportunity to improve margins with ‘value added’ services and so on.

I upset some of my HP colleagues on a couple of occasions, by openly stating what I think is clearly the truth. In terms of their PC and laptop products, HP make boring kit that is unlikely to set the consumer world alight. Their corporate kit is equally boring. HP’s value proposition is that they have what you need, it’s well put together, well priced and is in stock via a large number of partners.

That’s it – dull kit, but it does what’s needed.

There is nothing wrong with this, at least in the corporate world – the PSG division that sells PC and laptops does this very well. As I’ve mentioned already, my colleagues were selling well and meeting their targets. A travelling salesman’s laptop or an accountant’s PC doesn’t need to look cool, it just needs to work, have a good warranty and be well priced.

The colleagues I upset seemed to think that HP’s laptop and PC range was exciting in some way, whereas I thought it wasn’t. I had a couple of conversations about why people bought Apple products – one senior HP colleague in particular couldn’t understand why anyone would buy an Apple laptop when the HP equivalent cost a bit less and had ‘a larger SATA drive’. This thinking appeared to be fairly dominant and showed to me that there was little understanding of how to make consumer kit that people liked.

The way HP display their wares, in the Middle East at least, encourages customers just to buy on price and specs. Tens of models, crammed together, screensavers displaying Ghz and RAM and disk sizes. Two inches away, a similar display from Asus, another from Acer and so on. The Apple section, meanwhile, has three models laid out on a nice white table with plenty of space. Specs are available, but aren’t displayed on the screen itself, leaving you to appreciate this lovely box that’s in front of you. Yes, it’s more expensive, but the whole sales experience encourages you to buy the MacBook, even if the grey HP thing in the same shop costs less and has a bigger SATA drive.

So ditch the consumer stuff. I don’t have the figures in front of me, so maybe I am doing this division a disservice, but if you don’t like low margins and there is little way of improving what is now a total commodity market, maybe it’s best to get out of it. The corporate world could clearly have some changes made that would improve profitability.

This brings me to the HP TouchPad.

I am amazed that HP just cancelled this product so quickly. Before I left there were still lots of rousing emails being sent by chief execs about how the TouchPad was going to revolutionise computing. As The Register mentioned in one article, HP’s PR company were still arranging the shipment of demo units to journalists on the day HP announced they were ditching the things.

I always felt that HP were being a bit unrealistic with the TouchPad. What was the likelihood of HP creating something as cool as the iPad? Probably near zero. Why even set yourself a goal like that? You are doomed to failure. My prediction was that the TouchPad would be ‘a bit crap compared to the iPad, but it’d be in stock, reasonably priced and would pretty much do what was needed’.

Aside from initially being overpriced, that’s exactly what it was – and there’s nothing wrong with that.

Consumers were always going to be unlikely to buy the TouchPad. Corporate were surely the target market. The average IT manager has management and employees badgering them about tablet computers. There are mixed reasons for this – some people just want a free iPad from work, others could genuinely benefit from the form factor of what The Register has wonderfully christened ‘fondle slabs’. IT Managers also have the problem of people bringing in their own iPads and Galaxies and demanding that they be able to use them.

HP are (or were) perfectly positioned to clean up the corporate tablet sector. Customers buy lots of stuff from HP already – here’s another device that does what’s required, along with the tools a corporation would need to embed them into their current set ups. The only criticism a user might have of it is that it’s not an iPad. Well, users, just as the IT department gives you boring but functional HP laptops that cost half what a MacBook would, you’d be getting a boring but functional tablet that would also be well priced when corporate pricing comes into play. Unfortunately, it’s not an IT department’s job to give us all the toys we’d all like to have.

The TouchPad was the perfect fondle slab to use to keep users happy and to provide a tablet when a TouchPad type device was genuinely needed.

The TouchPad has gone though. As has a lot of management credibility and the trust of employees who now look like idiots after having talked the device up to their customers for several months.

A lot of the corporate messaging at HP reminded me of the last days of Sun. HP’s slogans and statements just didn’t really match what it did well and didn’t seem to resonate with customers who loved HP for its solid kit. Just as Jonathan Schwartz was warbling on about open source and MySQL, something in which the customers who generated the company’s profits generally had little interest, HP was talking about ‘Everybody On’. Everybody On is supposed to be HP’s vision for getting everyone connected. I am not sure who ‘Everybody On’ is supposed to speak to. Consumers don’t think of HP as being a cool company whose message they would take notice of. Corporate customers want boring but reliable kit and do not care about ‘context aware’ connections to the internet.

Maybe I am being naive, but if Sun’s marketing had played more to its strengths, we might still all be there, still happily working for a great company. I wonder where HP is heading?

There’s a damning article here that probably says things more succinctly than I have in this slightly rambling post.

I wish my HP PSG colleagues the best of luck. I really enjoyed working with most of them, but I am quite glad to be out of the commodity business and back in the world of solutions that solve business problems.

Yerevan

08/08/2011

We had a ‘boys’ trip’ to Yerevan in June.

The general idea was to find somewhere we could get to easily and cheaply – after Baku was struck off the list, Yerevan was decided on.

I had no idea what to expect – post-Soviet misery, or something a bit brighter that was tourist friendly? Fortunately it was the latter.

A house was booked at about 600Dhs each for the seven of us for five nights (five nights being the minimum, even though we only stayed for four). We were met at the airport by the holiday company who owned the house and taken to our palace, a multicoloured, bizarrely decorated place that more than served its purpose. My next apartment will definitely have showers with built in radios and disco lights.

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We had a great holiday – Yerevan town centre is well laid out and completely safe, with lots of cafes and bars. There’s plenty of late night entertainment too. We found a place run by two brothers who had grown up in Dubai – ‘That Place’, under a car park in the centre of town is highly recommended as a basic but fun venue to go to.

I’d also recommend ‘Tomas’ Smokey Ribs’. We ended up there thanks to a leaflet we’d picked up along the way – and were even lucky enough to meet Tomas himself.

‘Welcome to Tomas’ Smokey Ribs’.

‘Thanks – what’s your name?’.

‘Tomas’.

At Tomas’s we met Hovik, who promised to show us around. A day or two later he took us to Lake Sevan, about an hour out of town, past the delights of various casinos and ‘sauna motels’ along the way. We even got to see the traditional ‘bribing of the traffic policeman’ after he was stopped for speeding.

Lake Sevan has some great restaurants that serve freshly caught fish along with other Armenian delights. I don’t recommend the Tarragon based fizzy drinks though.

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Hovik holds forth after lunch. And lots of toasts.

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One top tip if you are going to Yerevan – although you can get a visa on arrival if you hold a British passport, you do need a full page.

Duncan, who had organised the whole trip, didn’t have a page free, so had sent his passport off to be renewed three weeks or so before we were due to leave. Sadly, due to the total farce that is renewing your British passport if you live in Dubai, it turned out that it would take eight weeks for it to to be sent to Dusseldorf to be printed (something that previously used to be done in the consulate itself). He had it sent back and decided to risk things at the airport at Yerevan, but even though he had a half page free, the powers that be wouldn’t let him in and he was sent back on the same plane he had arrived in an hour previously.

Duncan has a famous shirt, known as the ‘bib shirt’, for obvious reasons, as you can see below, so we decided to enjoy the trip as much as possible with him there in spirit.

I would recommend Yerevan for a short holiday – we had a great time and I’d happily go there with Mrs Saul. Everyone we met seemed astonished that we were there at all – ‘why are you in Yerevan?!’ was a frequent question. I expect that with Fly Dubai going there fairly regularly, the locals will get used to seeing more and more tourists over the coming months. The city deserves it.

Duncan refreshes himself with an Armenian beverage.

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Lawrence and Chris share a joke with Duncan.

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Duncan refreshes himself with the local tipple.

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Lawrence and Duncan decide whether to swim in the ice cold pool.

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Whilst Duncan relaxes with some music, Lawrence tempts him with a sip of the awful ‘extra bitter’ version of Armenian lager.

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Duncan chats with Kelvin and Matt about the day’s tourist trail.

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Kebab news

08/08/2011

This article has to be oddest I have ever read in the Gulf News.

An Italian town has banned the sales of kebabs – naturally a Dubai newspaper’s Bahrain bureau provides us with the reactions of readers of a Kuwaiti newspaper.

Next up, a German town bans the sale of hommous and Gulf News bring us their Iraqi bureau’s summary of the reactions to the ban by readers of a Jordanian computer newspaper.