Archive for March, 2012

What a sad state of affair’s


Great to see an English product being promoted in Dubai Duty Free.


It’s a shame that no-one involved at any stage noticed that there’s an unnecessary apostrophe.


How can a company filled, presumably, with native speakers, make such an obvious mistake? What’s going on with standards of written English in the UK?

It’s a sad fact that the work emails I get from non-native speakers are often better written and punctuated than those from Brits. Sad.

Whatever next


A massive step forward.

But will we ever get these new fangled mysteries such as direct debit here?

At least we now have ‘chip and pin’, even if the banks (or at least my bank) never told us we did, leaving us to find out by accident.

That’s settled then


Port Harcourt is the main city for Nigeria’s oil industry.

A few years ago it got too dangerous and most of the oil companies moved a lot of their operations to Lagos. Then it got better and they moved back.

For obvious reasons, the oil industry is a target market for me in one of my ‘focus’ countries, so I was wondering if it was safe to go there. The partner said probably not, as it was ‘a bit restive’. I checked with Tim Newman, who I had the pleasure of meeting up with in Lagos during my last visit.

Here’s his answer.

Port Harcourt is as dangerous as hell, our guys don’t go out without an armed escort there and we sent the families home years ago. It’s prone to kidnapping, I’d avoid it if I were you. Seriously, the security situation here is really not good.’

So, no, I don’t think I’ll be going to Port Harcourt any time soon. Sad and frustrating.

I could have been a superstar


I’ve spent the afternoon playing along to various backing tracks on YouTube. It’s so much easier to learn guitar these days! Free backing tracks, chords for songs, tips and tricks, full lessons, paid for or otherwise.

Will all this mean we’ll see more skilled musicians, more people getting musical? I hope so.

I’d have given my right arm for something like this when I was learning the guitar.

It wasn’t all bad. I used to record my own backing tracks onto my parents’ Philips portable cassette player. Later on I had my own little stereo to help. Not quite as professional as the track linked to above though!

The Assad emails – what’s really interesting


In the articles I’ve read about the private emails unearthed by The Guardian between the Al Assad clan, no-one seems to be commenting on the fact that they are all in English.

I was very surprised (and relieved) when I came to Dubai to find that all the business emails, plus a lot of private emails, are written in English, even when both speakers speak Arabic as well.

For business reasons in this part of the world, the likelihood that the content of the emails will need to be seen at some point by a non-Arabic speaker is fairly high, so it makes sense to use English by default. That said, there are plenty of emails still written in English, even when both parties know for certain that only they will be reading them. I can’t imagine having to write, say, in German to a whole office English speakers, just to say something along the lines of ‘cake in the kitchen for my birthday’.

Another contributing factor is that many Arabic speakers have been educated in English at university level, or learnt their skills in English – a computer course for example. In certain situations, when you speak two languages well, you pick the one that fits best with your topic and the general environment, I suppose. It’s also my understanding that many textbooks simply don’t have Arabic versions. So whilst religious topics are clearly well covered in Arabic, English is going to be your only choice for computer science, engineering and other topics.*

Many of my Arabic speaking colleagues tell me they can’t even type in Arabic – they often don’t even have an arabised computer keyboard, for example. If they need to write Arabic, they use this method.

All of this goes to show that amongst educated people in the Arab world, the general use of English is very widespread. Even a comparatively poor Jordanian taxi driver will be able to communicate in English to do his job in Amman. This probably comes as a surprise to many Westerners, who think that the Gulf and Levant are full of people who cannot be communicated with, when the opposite is true. It’s a very anglophone region. More so, I have often felt, than a certain other country in the area.

I find it quite ironic that the head of state of a country officially called the ‘Syrian Arab Republic’ chats to his wife in English. Granted, his wife is British born and he studied in the UK, but still!

* Obviously a similar situation applies in French speaking Arab and African countries, but the Levant and Gulf countries were never colonies in the same way as most French speaking non-French countries were.

Renault 4L or Patrol?


I think I’d prefer to cross the Moroccan desert in my big comfy Patrol, AC blasting.

This does look great fun though.
Film de présentation du raid 4L Trophy 2011 by 4ltrophy_officiel

Old posts, whither in the wind


Bother. I’ve just noticed that lots of my old posts no longer have their images working properly.

It seems the photos were hosted on rather than on Flickr. Who would have thought, in 2005, that would be disappearing so soon? Sad.

And the calls begin…


I’ve had a new phone number from December. Since the beginning of March I’ve started getting at least two cold calls a day from financial advisors.

Who’s sold my number on? I am always very careful about providing it, on a web form or suchlike. I always tick the boxes that prevent, supposedly, the company in question sharing that information.

It’s infuriating.

I also feel sorry for all the British guys (and they are always Brits) doing the cold calling. It can’t be much fun. They still all need a better sales script. The usual lies about ‘we spoke about a year ago and you asked me to call you back around now’ are easily exposed when the number they have for you has only been in use since December. Fortunately I haven’t had the ‘my computer’s broken and I’ve lost my notes’ spiel yet. That one particularly annoys me – do you honestly expect me to invest my life savings with someone so careless and incompetent?

Near Big Red again


From last week. Just a 12 second panorama from up high. The Patrol got higher up then the Wrangler and the Vitara!

Some pics from my Lagos trips


I’ve really enjoyed my trips to Lagos this year.

Getting there’s not enormous fun – seeing 150 Nigerians racing towards the gate and nearly knocking the little Philipino Emirates employee who was trying to control the bordering process was both hilarious and frustrating. The flight there involves lots of pushing and shoving and general rude behaviour. A Chinese man actually stood on my bag to try to clamber past me in the immigration queue. Thou shalt not pass.

I felt I made progress on both trips – meeting the partners and some key customers. There’s a long slog ahead though, but that’s what I signed up for.

Here are some pictures – apologies for the quality, but the camera on BlackBerry is just at that ‘good enough’ level which means it’s hard to be bothered to get my ‘real’ camera out of my bag.

An ocada (motorbike taxi) driver takes a break.


Apartment building/large concrete advertising hoarding.


I don’t want to stay here, pet.


Range Rover! A classic from the 70s still working as a tow truck. I need to write an article on these beasts for a Land Rover magazine.


My driver’s comment when I pointed this out, was ‘oh, I think they are burning something down there’. No kidding. A tug boat had caught fire.


More Land Rovers. ‘They are very strong, sir. But not the new ones. Toyota better’. Sad.




Getting from a to b can be a challenge.


I was devastated that hotel policy wouldn’t allow money laundering.


This security lady had sellotaped the access card to a stick so that she didn’t need to stand up constantly to open the doors of the little security area we had to walk through to get into one customer’s office. Ingenious. I thought it was a fly swatter at first – I suspect it performs both functions.


If you’re at the Four Points Sheraton, they have a lovely outdoor bar with a great sax player. I think this guy was called Ebenezer – he certainly did a great, upbeat version of Careless Whisper, African-stylee.