Archive for February, 2012

Rich people on yachts


The most inventive headline for the most informative article ever?

Worth it for the picture of Sting along.

Does what it says on the tin.

Banking logic


I was checking my credit card statement the other day when I saw an interesting transaction – a transaction of 199.26Dhs, against a credit card number that I’d cancelled over a year ago after the card was lost.

Citibank gave me a Priority Pass over a year ago, as part of the benefit of getting a Citibank Ultimate visa card. Priority Pass gets you access to airport lounges all over the world. Citibank cancelled this service at the end of 2011, so I was surprised to see a charge relating to Priority Pass in Feb 2012.

I called up Citibank, who explained to me that the charge related to my using a lounge in Dubai airport on Dec 23 2011, just before the Priority Pass service expired.

We had a long discussion. The (helpful) lady on the phone explained that as I had already used my Priority Pass more than twice in 2011, this visit was chargeable. Now, I don’t remember any such mention of the pass being limited to two visits a year, but that’s probably my fault for not reading the small print.

The key thing is that by using the Priority Pass a charge was incurred. Without my being informed or asked to approve a cancelled credit card was invoiced, with the sum appearing on my bill. That’s not very secure.

In parallel, my ATM card expired in January. I haven’t received a new one yet. And because I haven’t received it and registered it, I can’t access my current account online. When calling the bank I was told that this is for ‘security reasons’. I can call phone banking and transfer money and other similar things – but I can’t go online and access my current account because an ATM card has expired. For some reason, that would not be insecure. If all my current account related services had been cancelled that would have been annoying and stupid, but at least consisted with the ‘security’ message.

So, charges can be placed against an expired credit card.

But because an ATM card I never use has expired, I can’t view my current account details online. But I can still call up and get the same info over the phone. And that’s secure.


Phew, I feel better now!

Olive Killer Elite Feathermen on a Mission


Christmas and the New Year ended up, totally unexpectedly, being a chance to read two great books (Olives and the Feathermen) and watch two fun films (Killer Elite and Mission Impossible) that featured Dubai and parts of the Middle East.

The whole experience made me realise how little this region features in film and literature (unless I am missing something). The last novel I read that featured the Middle East was the Little Drummer Girl (if anyone has some good recommendations, please let me know).

Let’s discuss things in order of importance, the first of which I will review in this post.


Olives, by Alexander McNabb, has the best description for a novel I have come across: ‘Olives – a violent romance’. It tells the story of a British journalist going to work in Jordan and getting involved in various goings on. The politics of people, water are all woven together to create a very good read.

In the interests of full disclosure, I know Alexander -altough we have actually met once in the flesh, albeit briefly at a party, he is, as Mrs Saul describes them, ‘one of my internet friends’. I know him through blogging and Twitter.

I thoroughly enjoyed Olives for three reasons. In reverse order of importance, this time –

1. I know the author. His blog postings on the writing and publishing process, along with the way he’s used Twitter to publicise the book have been very interesting and fun to follow.

2. The book features ‘the region’. I have travelled to Jordan and elsewhere and I enjoyed reading a novel which, for the first time in my experience, took place in a Middle East that I am familiar with. I didn’t empathise hugely with the main character, who I thought was a wimp, but I empathised with his being a Brit abroad.

3. It’s a good book.

If anything, reading Olives has inspired me to write something. After nearly ten years of travelling to, for Brits, unusual places, I think that the proverbial novel in everyone is bubbling to be written by this nobody. The key is combining personal experience and anecdote into a compelling fictional narrative. In translation that means, writing a great story that rings true. Olives achieves this admirably.

I enjoyed reading the other side of the Story. Israeli stories often get heard. I don’t hear the Palestinian stories so often. It was entertaining and interesting to read one here. I feel guilty describing part of the process of reading about what is essentially a harrowing topic as ‘entertaining’, but getting deeper into this topic would necessitate the kind of long essay that my university tutor would have described as ‘ clear in topic, but ultimately disappointing in execution’. I hope you get my point.

The Kindle edition has a few typos, but nothing serious. McNabb’s blog entries on the whole topic of self publishing are interesting and well written, providing quite an insight on what it takes to get something good to market. If you want to get published, you could do worse than read what McNabb has written. I am sure that, if you contacted him directly, he’d offer you some direct assistance as well.

Even if you’ve never set foot in the Middle East, Olives is a great read. A violent romance indeed, highly recommended.

What a mix


I love the flight to Amman on Royal Jordanian.

You get interesting mixes of passengers on lots of EK routes, but this flight and Amman airport on the way back provide such a contrast.

Korean pilgrims to Christian sites, very Yemeni working men, hijab wearing Jordanian ladies, super-tight jeaned Jordanian ladies, Jordanian Grandad in his greeny beige suit and smokers’ teeth with thirty year younger son in tow with greeny beige suit and slightly better teeth that will soon get worse, Indian businessmen and computer engineer types with, totally out of place looking Israelis with US passports, plus the odd British IT business traveller. My favourite is the strong coffee sipping security services Jordanian in business class at the front, looking very bored.