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My top picks of 2010

Having been pretty good at posting a blog every week through 2010, the one that I’ve been looking forward to most is selecting my top picks of the year.  Only time will tell if this has been a vintage year but there have been a few gems along the way.

Best sporting memory

Retaining the Ashes

Honourable mentions: Winning the Ryder Cup, Dick Purchase getting a hole in one on the Majlis and then treating me to a gourmet brunch, me getting to play with Thongchai Jaidee in The Invitational, me (again) going around the Majlis in gross 70, Graeme McDowell winning the US Open.

The Ashes celebration and the Ryder Cup 2010

Best album

The National; High Violet

Honourable mentions; Arcade Fire, The Klaxons and Foals

The National - High Violet

Best book

David Mitchell – The Thousand Autumns of Jacob de Zoet

Honourable mention; Peter Carey – Parrot and Olivier in America

The Thousand Autumns of Jacob de Zoet

Best concert

Joint winners; Florence Prosser singing Fly me to the moon and Beatrice Prosser’s performance playing an impossibly difficult piece on the clarinet by Finzi in the Dubai College house music competition, junior section (she won!)

Best films

Inception (three watches, still no clue what happened)

Honourable mentions; Toy Story 3 and True Grit (Coen Brothers, I haven’t seen it yet but it’s bound to be brilliant), I’m also looking forward to seeing Burlesque.

Inception

Best (biggest) porkie

Nick Clegg’s pledge to abolish tuition fees

Nick Clegg

Best man of the year

Mark Zuckerburg

Best woman of the year

Sally Prosser (again!)

Honourable mentions; Florence and Beatrice Prosser

Best restaurant

Asha’s (again)Asha's logo

Best take-away

Naked Pizza and Wild Peeta (haven’t tried them yet but liking the names)

Honourable mention; Brick Lane

Best meal at home

Sally Prosser’s meatballs

Honourable mention; Egg and lemon soup cooked by me!

meatballs

Best golf course

Yas Links

Honourable mentions; Majlis, Saadiyat

These are my top picks for 2010; what made 2010 memorable for you?

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Hats off to Louis and Charlie

Pride of place this week goes to Louis Oosthuizen.  You could tell from his general demeanour what a nice, grounded individual he is from the way he strolled around St Andrews beating the pants off grumpy Tiger and his pals.  If you are wondering what he did with all of his money, he went out and bought a tractor!  Then he honoured a prior commitment to play in the Scandinavian Open rather than cry off on the grounds of being too important.  McDowell who won the American Open last year is in the same league, he spent the month after his victory drinking Guinness out of the trophy.  It’s brilliant to see a big bucket load of talent and humility being handed out to the good guys for a change.

Moving to a true sporting legend that I have long admired, Muttiah Muralitharan has sadly retired but not without achieving another milestone.  800 wickets is phenomenal especially that Murali overcame a disability to become one of the greatest bowlers (if not the best) who ever lived.  Every era throws up sporting heroes and while it’s sad to see them retire it leaves the stage open for new heroes to emerge.  Could it be the newly arrived Charlie Thomas Bellman who popped out last Wednesday measuring an impressive 50+cm.  Rumour has it that ’arry Rednapp is already eyeing him for a place up front as target man alongside Defoe.  Well done Mum and Dad (Sarah and Cam) and make sure young Charlie is fit and ready for the new season (if you are still wondering how to get coverage of the Premier League, click on this link and all will be revealed http://admcsport.com/en/ – it will be available on satellite, cable (Du and eVision) and online).

Sad breaking news, Hurricane Higgins died on Saturday (RIP) after a long battle against throat cancer which he blamed on smoking sponsors’ products (yes really, cigarette companies did used to sponsor sporting events).  I was never into snooker but Hurricane was one of a kind and lit up a very dull sport.  Click on the link to read one of the many obituaries –  http://news.bbc.co.uk/sport2/hi/other_sports/snooker/8852020.stm

I hear lots of people moaning about the quality of advertising in the UAE/region and whenever I listen to the radio I find it hard not to agree with the moaners.  The classic radio dialogue formula is sometimes funny but for all the wrong reasons.  The American-accented Lebanese Mum with the English Dad and Indian kids is always good for a chuckle.  Traffic jam reports for ads promoting a sale are another of my favourites.  Brilliant advertising is observational and builds on shared experiences and popular culture.  While this is a wonderfully integrated community there are still huge differences in our growing up experiences.  Below is a classic example, I laughed, whereas my Arab and Indian friends were left looking bemused and a bit offended.

Bend over and think of England

The ad was critiqued in Brand Republic and this perfectly demonstrates how even in England some people just don’t get it (although I suspect the comment was a joke): The message is one we are all familiar with, 2 obvious questions arise: 1) If the campaign is encouraging people to be conscientious and pick up their own litter, why would these same people have dropped it in the first place seemingly moment earlier? 2) Why is this campaign encouraging people to bend over in a way that can cause lower back injury? It’s common knowledge that one should bend from the knees and keep a straight back.

For all of you, in the UAE, looking to dodge the ads on commercial radio, World Service has moved to 90.30.  It’s being broadcast out of Abu Dhabi so the signal is patchy but given the quality of the programming it’s worth persevering with.

Another subject that caught my eye this week is worries about a double dip recession.  The commentators predicting a double dip obviously don’t have a clue what they are talking about, you need a recovery to have a second dip.  There is no way out of this until the government stimulate the economy (starting to pay off debts is a good start) or the Chinese arrive on mass.  My advice comes from re-watching the very excellent Rome series:

“Quidquid ages prudenter agas et respice finem” (whatever you do, do it with prudence, and consider the outcome).

The Chinese have certainly arrived in style on the wine investment market with 2009 En Primeur prices at world record levels.  Apparently they top up a glass of £1,000 a bottle wine with a bit of lemonade!  MMI has managed to snap up some top quality 2009 wines including the most sought after first growth – Lafite.  Hurry, hurry, hurry if you want some (get in touch with me and I’ll point you in the right direction and be prepared to forget my be prudent advice).

At the other end of the scale Bud is tax-free at MMI this week and I made some great discoveries during my annual visit to Spinneys.  Firstly, you can earn Air Miles there and secondly Del Monte has started producing fresh juice locally – AED 13 for 1lt of orange juice (bargain!).

Finally some wildlife stuff to uplift you, an amazing picture and link to more incredible scenes from nature: http://www.guardian.co.uk/environment/gallery/2010/jul/21/wildlife-photography-scott-linstead

Bee and flower

To end, it’s got to be the best 5 cricketers I’ve seen play:

  • Muttiah Muralitharan
  • Ian Botham
  • Shane Warne
  • Michael Holding
  • Viv Richards

There is loads of controversy in my choices – I could have picked 100.  Any objections please pitch in with a comment.

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Paul strikes again

Paul the octopus

Paul's (and my) prediction

Mr P is seriously good at this prediction game and we are now fishing for his thoughts on who will win the British Open.  Taking the lead from my blog entry before the World Cup started, he’s gone for Spain in the final.  Could I be the new Paul?

This has been a good week for news in the UAE.   HSBC’s regional chairman thinks sending debtors to jail is a great idea.  So if you owe HSBC money get the hell out of dodge town, judging by their usual response times you’ve got about a year’s head start before they notice.

http://www.arabianbusiness.com/591996-jail-works-for-recouping-debt—hsbc-boss

While on the subject of HSBC they have an offer to upgrade to an Advance account which includes receiving 100,000 Air Miles.  The nice thing about Air Miles is that if you do use them for flights there are no restrictions and you can travel on the airline of your choice.  At this point I do have to declare a very vested interest, Air Miles is a client of ours and jolly nice people they are too.

More local news, the Sheikh Zayed Road stunt drivers were revealed as a police officer and government worker.  In a great example of punishment fitting the crime they were fined AED 1,000 for their antics.  This seems about right, a kiss equals three months in prison for offending local morality whereas driving like an idiot and endangering the lives of other road users is covered by a small fine.

http://www.arabianbusiness.com/592311-police-officer-convicted-over-dubai-stunt-driving

Meanwhile the good people at the stats office have been having some fun cooking up the latest population numbers.  Once again the population of Dubai has grown despite all evidence to the contrary.  As you may recall from your English teacher at school, there are three types of lies – lies, damn lies and statistics (Benjamin Disraeli).

http://www.arabianbusiness.com/592241-dubai-population-grows-nearly-2-in-q1—official-data

Even higher up the humour stakes this week were Gazza’s extraordinary offer to mediate in the Raoul Moat stand-off, there’s Geordie solidarity for you, and Joe Biden proving that Vice President’s are totally irrelevant.  When asked why America was exchanging 10 Russian spies for four American spies Mr Biden replied that the American ones are very good.  Well if they are so good how did they caught?

The Israelis take it even further and exchange half the population of Gazza for one soldier.  In welcoming Netanyahu to the White House has Obama conveniently forgotten the stealing of identities to murder a Palestinian in Dubai and the boarding of a ship in international waters?  I’m the elephant in the room.

I’ve hatched lots of plans this past week, notably to buy a big kite, start kettle bells and go to the Isle of Islay.  Having made up my mind to go to Islay I checked with my Scottish golfer friends how to get there and was met with blank faces.  For anyone that is interested you head towards Glasgow and turn sharp left.

On 6th July one of my client’s sent me an e-mail letting me know that today is the day that Marty McFly arrived in the future after hitting 88mph in a pimped out Delorean in 1985.

back to the future board

Before you get excited it was a hoax that stormed the internet (I fell for it and dug out my Back to the Future box set) once again proving the power of viral.  To offset my palpable disappointment I was rewarded with these gems

http://www.11points.com/Movies/11_Predictions_That_Back_to_the_Future_Part_II_Got_Wrong

http://www.11points.com/Movies/11_Predictions_That_Back_to_the_Future_Part_II_Got_Right

Having rambled enough it’s time for top 5s; this week I’ve settled for my five favourite footballers of this World Cup:

  • Xavi; Spain
  • Xabi Alonso; Spain
  • Iniesta; Spain
  • Mueller; Germany
  • Sneijder; Holland

If I don’t hear anything, I’ll assume you all agree with me (otherwise get busy with the comments box).

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Cheats do prosper

Despite England’s sharp exit I’m still fixated with the World Cup, sorry.  Now we know for sure the big man upstairs doesn’t care about football.  Suavez’s last-minute handball wasn’t punished and Uruguay are through to the semi-final.  Rugby has a penalty try for deliberate cheating, football has now lost all credibility.

hand ball

Cheating is rewarded and the football genius Maradona is still intensely proud of his hand of god.  Suavez is also very proud of his actions, this is what he had to say:

“The Hand of God now belongs to me. Mine is the real Hand Of God.  I made the best save of the tournament. Sometimes in training I play as a goalkeeper so it was worth it. There was no alternative but for me to do that and when they missed the penalty I thought ‘It is a miracle and we are alive in the tournament’.”  His punishment, a one match ban!

footballers

FIFA had their chance, they should have banned Maradona when he openly admitted he cheated and then we wouldn’t have been left with World Cup where cheats are treated as heroes.

footballers celebrating

I was very disappointed with Brazil.  They spent the whole of the match against Holland trying to stop Robben by foul means and completely forgot about Wesley Sneijder – my player of the tournament so far.  It was horrible to watch Brazil trying to kick their way to victory.

Meanwhile Capello keeps his £6 million a year job and vows to bring in new players.  Fabio, here is one for you – Adam Johnson.  I spotted him last year and he should have played a starring role in the World Cup.  Instead you picked his understudy at Man City, Sean Wright-Phillips and played Milner in the position he left behind two years ago.

Final word on football (until next week) can someone please explain to me why Chelsea let Joe Cole go and have since signed Yosi Benayoun?  One classy English player for an OK Israeli, a very strange decision which leads me to predict Chelsea won’t win anything next year and their sugar daddy is preparing to up sticks.

Changing subject completely, I was left cold and seriously angry by the decision of a court in Iran to sentence a 43-year-old mother of two to death by stoning.  The barbarity is beyond belief but other things struck me about this case.  Firstly there was zero evidence; Sakineh Mohammadi Ashtiani was convicted in May 2006 of conducting an “illicit relationship outside marriage” on the basis of “judge’s knowledge” – a loophole that allows for subjective judicial rulings where no conclusive evidence is present.  Secondly, under Iranian sharia law, the sentenced individual is buried up to the neck (or to the waist in the case of men), and those attending the public execution are called upon to throw stones. If the convicted person manages to free themselves from the hole, the death sentence is commuted.  Treating women like tenth class citizens is one thing but oh my god.  Please click on the link below for the full article.

http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2010/jul/02/iranian-woman-stoning-death-penalty

I sprang out of bed this morning and yet another thought popped into my head – if Britain’s green and pleasant land is warmed every year by the Gulf Stream are we going to get more than we bargained for this year?  As always I turned to Wiki for a better understanding of what could happen.

The Gulf Stream, together with its northern extension towards Europe, the North Atlantic Drift, is a powerful, warm, and swift Atlantic Ocean current that originates in the Gulf of Mexico, exits through the Strait of Florida, and follows the eastern coastlines of the United States and Newfoundland before crossing the Atlantic Ocean.

I watched bits of the Glastonbury Festival, Muse were amazing (click on the link for a bit of shock and awe) and Stevie Wonder is a legend.  However Stevie you should really consign I just called to say I love you to the dustbin of history.  How could somebody so talented write such an awful song?

Also it’s worth checking out Gang of Four – they are back!  For those who don’t know them they are a Brit band from the 1980’s credited by the Red Hot Chilli Peppers as being the band that most influenced their music.

http://www.gangoffour.co.uk/

With Dubai clearing out for the summer, news is a bit sparse.  I’m going to dedicate the next few weeks to unearthing bargains.  For all of you golfers out there click on the link for summer rates.  Yas Links is highly recommended, it was designed by the same guy who created Kingsbarn, my favourite course in the whole wide world.

http://www.emiratesgolffederation.com/promotions/index.asp

Another bargain – check out MMI’s summer wine offer in-store while it lasts.  Monster savings on some very drinkable wines.  Click on the link for store locations and if you want to avoid tax give Barracuda a swerve and head off to Al Hamra Cellar.

http://www.mmidubai.com/find_our_shops/

With my family off for the summer we had a bit of clear out.  These are my top 5 from when Florence and Beatrice were tots (they all escaped the clear out!).

  • Book: Jolly Pocket Postman
  • Film: Toy Story
  • Audio: Big Friendly Giant (BFG)
  • Clothing: Beatrice’s bee dress
  • Toy: Rocking donkey

Join in the banter and please leave your comments below.

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How can you tell when a politician is lying?

When his lips move!  Sorry to roll out that old joke but I wanted to highlight my favourite moment of the election aftermath.  At David Cameron and Nick Clegg’s love-in last week, Cameron was questioned by a journalist if he recalled what he had said when asked to retell his favourite joke.  His answer at the time was ‘Nick Clegg’.

In partly owning up, he then went into politician speak about if you looked hard enough it would always be possible to find slight policy differences between the Tories and Liberals but they would all work together in peace and harmony.  David, you called Cleggie-boy a joke and I suspect you have a similar thoughts on the Liberal’s policy on Europe and an amnesty for long staying illegal immigrants.

My favourite clip from the election was Adam Boulton squaring up to Alistair Campbell.  It was extremely funny watching the hamster-cheeked Boulton trying to remove his jacket so he could land one on the very fit-looking, former Labour spin-doctor’s, grinning face.  Take a look for yourself and let me know if you still think Sky isn’t The Sun in disguise.

The British press and public love bashing Dubai and I always wondered how long it would take the good people of Britain to catch on to Dubai’s sex trade – this expose from a former resident is horribly accurate apart from the bit about married men and the family-free summer months.  Either I’m terribly naïve or I’m right in thinking the vast majority of married men enjoy going out during the summer for a few beers with their mates but know how to behave properly.

http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2010/may/16/dubai-sex-tourism-prostitution

Observation is one thing but this week I’ve decided to reveal my latest money-making idea to scupper iTunes (which is a complete rip-off) while at the same time putting free-loading record companies out of business.  Why should Apple discriminate on price and now the internet has come along with all of its social media opportunities what role do record companies have anymore?  If you live in the US you pay a lot less for downloads than you do elsewhere and the Middle East is basically a download-free zone.  No wonder people download illegally and a lot of the time they don’t pay anything.  My guess is a lot of people don’t mind the artist making money but would prefer not to give money to Apple.

I’m going to provide a portal where artists can upload their albums.  For a download people will pay £1.99, the artist will receive £1.89 and I’ll get 10 pence.  As well as making money from touring. the band will get the money from reasonably priced downloads – 100,000 downloads equates to £189,000.  I will be looking for applause and investors!

Second lastly, my car is nearing the end of its useful life and I’m a wee bit short of the money needed to buy a Bugatti.  I need everyone’s advice – a Mini Cooper S or a Fiat Abarth?  Pictures below.

To close off, it’s top 5s time.  Radio 2 in the UK is holding a vote to decide on the top five singers of all time.  Click the link to join in.

http://www.bbc.co.uk/radio2/rocknrollband/singers/

Here are mine in no particular order (my wife will be horrified that Aretha Franklin isn’t on the list).

  • Robert Plant
  • Billy Mackenzie (The Associates)
  • Freddie Mercury
  • Morrissey
  • Cedric Bixler (at the drive-in)

Feel free to chip in via the comments section.

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Is Gordon Brown a volcano?

Before I get into the subject of volcanoes, I decided to do some research on what appeals to blog readers.  This research involved asking my wife and she immediately came back with food blogs and in particular those featuring fantastic recipes.  I’m not a great cook but I’ve got a few ‘go to’ recipes in my larder which make an appearance in the summer when my family makes a sharp exit, one hour forty minutes after school breaks up.  I have to be honest at this point and own up to my inspiration coming from Jamie Oliver.  Here goes with the recipe that never fails.  I’ve named it Keith’s two-minute banker:

Ingredients

One tin of baked beanz (250g or 400g, I prefer 400g for left-overs the next day)
Two healthy sized gherkins sliced however takes your fancy
Six Herta Hot Dogs sliced into half inch chunks
One chilli cut finely (Keith’s tip, don’t throw away the seeds!)

Method

Mix all of the ingredients into a Pyrex bowl (cling film over the top optional, don’t bother if you want to save on waste)
Put in microwave for 95 seconds
Stir
Leave to rest for 78 seconds

Finishing

Season generously with pepper
Add a teaspoon of Worcestershire sauce
And here is where I deviate from Jamie – add a dollop of mayonnaise (don’t stir in)
Serve without any green chopped stuff on top.
Enjoy!

Moving swiftly on from food as I know the boys would have been captivated by my award winning recipe but I may have lost a few of the girls (by the way I did sell that recipe at a dinner party and I’m pretty sure Donna Sheridan and Lee Faulkner are still trying to perfect their versions).  I was searching for a volcano metaphor and I hit upon a review of a book on Gordon Brown by Andrew Rawnsley who is a columnist for The Guardian.  His central thesis is that Gordy is a playground bully prone to erupting like a volcano whenever the mood takes him.  My advice is to steer clear of him on May 5th as the Liberal Democrats are going to win!  Now wouldn’t that be fun simply on the basis that the Lib. Dems. have been completely ignored by the Aussie bruiser who has run British politics since the days of Thatcher.  Even Blair took a punt and decided to ask for Rupert’s blessing on the basis that things could only get better.  Now Murdoch has switched allegiance again and bet on Cameron and I hope he loses his shirt and trousers.  Tail firmly between his legs, perhaps Murdoch will do us all a favour and decamp permanently to America where he can continue to spread his own special brand of vitriolic right-wing propaganda through Fox and the Wall Street Journal.  Guess how many journalists the Sun sent to cover the last Liberal party conference?  The answer is exactly the same as the Times, i.e. a big, round none.  So Clegg will not be indebted to Rupert and his spiteful army of media thugs and can get on with governing the country for the benefit of the country rather than for all of Rupert’s rich mates.

With travel chaos throughout Europe I was interested to see what the poor airlines thought of it all and more importantly what they would do.  The answer my friend was blowing in a wind of volcanic ash; namely to send intrepid pilots on test flights into the eye of the storm to see what would happen.  Now I know where my hand would have been when the request for volunteers came.  Impressively Willie Walsh of BA chief exec. fame was the first to volunteer which adds a whole new layer to putting your money where your mouth is.

While on the subject of airlines do you recall all of Richard Branson’s indignation about BA price fixing?  Well guess what, the peoples’ champion has been up to according to the tabloids?   ‘Virgin Atlantic has been hit by allegations by the Office of Fair Trading that it colluded with Cathay Pacific to fix airfares.’

Following on from this, a bit of honesty from a manufacturer – Toyota take note.  As reported in Arabian Business; 3D TVs on sale in UAE by mid-May – Samsung. UPDATE 1: Watching 3D TV can give viewers epileptic seizures and strokes – Samsung.

http://www.arabianbusiness.com/586391-3d-tvs-on-sale-in-uae-by-mid-may—samsung

And now for something completely different, an image of the sun posted on the NASA website last week.  I’ve left the technical explanation below for all of you boffins I’ve been attracting to my blog.

Picture of the sun

A full-disk multiwavelength extreme ultraviolet image of the sun taken by SDO on March 30, 2010. False colors trace different gas temperatures. Reds are relatively cool (about 60,000 Kelvin, or 107,540 F); blues and greens are hotter (greater than 1 million Kelvin, or 1,799,540 F). Credit: NASA

Before my infamous top 5s, below is a free download for a track from the upcoming album by The National; it’s brilliant.

http://www.americanmary.com/

The argument about Top 5 punk songs is still raging so this week I’m going to try top 5 Heavy Metal tunes – no apologies for top and tailing with Ozzy and his merry men (but happy to open a debate as to whether Led Zep fall into the heavy metal category).

  • Black Sabbath; War Pigs
  • Motorhead; Ace of Spades
  • Led Zeppelin; Immigrant Song (thank you Oscar Faulkner for remembering the title for me)
  • At The Drive In; One Armed Scissor
  • Black Sabbath; Paranoid

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Breaking news: Germany help England win the World Cup

Wayne Rooney clutching his kneeFinally a World Cup where we are not going to lose on penalties to Germany.  Instead, in the guise of Bayern Munich, the Germans managed to conjure up a four week rest for our talisman and main hope of World Cup glory.  This is the picture of the moment when it all went just right; a fired up Wayne Rooney wearing the three lions on his chest will bring home the FIFA World Cup Trophy.

I was listening to BBC World Service the other day and was intrigued to hear what Billy Bragg had to say about Englishness.  He made the very good point that England is the only team going to the World Cup that doesn’t have its own Parliament or National Anthem.  If the National Front had their way they would have us believe that we can add Christmas to this list.  These revelations occurred on or about the same time that the stand-up comedian Michael McIntyre pointed out that the Scots have a habit of taking things that don’t belong to them and appropriating them.  An example, the Scots took the tried and trusted boiled egg and turned it into a Scotch egg through the simple expedient of adding a few breadcrumbs.  Watch him on You Tube giving lots more examples, hysterical.

Turning from sport, which favourite confectionery maker is destroying rainforests in their never ending quest for palm oil?  Greenpeace are running banner ads all over the internet to make sure we don’t miss this one.  Step forward Nestle and take a bow.  You talk about corporate responsibility on your website but the truth is your business is driven by the never ending quest for increasing shareholder value and the directors getting a nice bonus at the end of the year.  Please go and stand in the corner with all of your corporate banker mates.

Greenpeace banner on the Guardian website

Talking of the internet, for all of you in the UAE who have experienced problems with uploading pages in recent weeks, Etisalat has announced there is absolutely no problem.  Last time they absolved themselves of all responsibility it ended in a very public spat with BlackBerry and this latest aberration is creating a bit of a stir in the comments section of Arabian Business.  Feel free to join in by clicking this link.

It’s amazing when you start writing how everything links together.  BlackBerry popped up in the paragraph above and this gives me the perfect opportunity to mention a very interesting article I read on the fading popularity of BlackBerry.  In essence everyone still accepts it’s a great business tool but they want more, more, more from their mobile device.  ‘Hats off’ to Steve Jobs and his merry men for creating the iPhone and then handing it over to the millions of Apple disciples to create ever more brilliant applications. Genius.  I love my BlackBerry and as someone who lives the brand dream each and every day it takes a lot to shift my behaviour but the first seeds of doubt have been sown.  Could there be a Heinz Baked Beanz to Branston Baked Beans moment just around the corner?  On the subject of Branston one of the worst days in my life was when they dropped spicy Branston Pickle.  Guys, big, big mistake; since the British invented curry the whole world is going spicier – you should not be heading down the milder route.

I started with sport so I’m going to finish with sport.  News broke last week that David Sullivan, the chairman of West Ham, made a flying visit to Dubai to seek out investors.  Doesn’t he read the British papers, we’re flat broke and if he snogs some unsuspecting women he’s off to jail with no sign of the keys.

Returning to the World Cup I went to a celebrity packed leaving do yesterday and here is the legendary Paul ‘Nudger’ Thornberry’s ‘top five footballers that ever lived’ list:

  • George Best
  • Eric Cantona
  • Jim Baxter
  • Johan Cruff
  • Pele

I’ll go first with my comments on Nudger’s list.  Messi to replace Baxter and Maradona on instead of Cantona.  I also reserve the right to have Rooney in my starting line up if he brings home the World Cup!

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The analytics of age

Someone has pointed out that my blogs need to promote ATOM more and re-reading some of the articles I have posted I can see that I wander off-piste rather a lot (ha, managed to get a sporting reference in straight off the bat; ooh there was another one).  Anyway this week my lead subject is Google Analytics.  It’s brilliant and I’m now an expert so if any of you want to better understand who is interested in what you have to say on your website I’m your man – if you have any really grown-up questions I have my wing man all prepared, step forward the mighty Matt ‘the stat’ Birch.  I have one criticism of Google Analytics and it concerns an Americanism.  At this point I have to say that I don’t share the common hatred of all things American.  I actually think they do some things very well, like, for example, peanut butter.  On Google Analytics the dates are upside down, month followed by day followed by year.  Now that is extra-specially dumb and I don’t think I need to explain why.

While on the subject of stats another one I came across was the description of a 31 year tennis player as a veteran.  Ouch.  Seven minutes 32 seconds later I discovered another horrid stat, a child laughs 300 times a day and an adult 15 times.  Now here is a promise, if you can spare thirty minutes to visit our office I promise the combined efforts of our jolly team will ensure you exceed your daily quota of giggles.  And before Mighty Marek of MMI fame comments below, it won’t be due to the work we present to you.

Talking of being a veteran at age 31, I woke up this morning seriously worried about where my life is heading.  Last year you may remember I was raving about the Maccabees brilliant new album; Wall of Arms (is album still a word?).  Now the Maccabees are a serious indie band, a little bit off the radar, so I felt very comfortable being an admirer.  This year I can’t stop playing Midlake and it’s horrible.  They are beardy sorts playing electronic folk and I can’t believe I just owned up to liking them.  I sense punk mark two is just around the corner to save me.

Tavistock College

Spot the difference

Princetown jail

Which is the school, which is the prison?

In mentioning the music I grew up with I am often accused of being a public schoolboy. I actually attended Tavistock Comprehensive School on the edge of Dartmoor in Devon. My school often got mistaken for Princetown Prison which lay around ten miles away.  I have just realised that my American friends did something else stupid, name an Ivy League University after an English prison (there is a spottable flaw in my argument).

Apologies for finishing on sport but following the 6 Nations rugby tournament I was trawling the reviews to try and get a better understanding of why England under-performed.  It wasn’t so much the losing it was the total lack of ambition.  Good players like Delon Armitage have somehow had all of their confidence surgically removed by the England coaches.  Jack Rowell the legendary Bath coach of old was pretty scary if you under-performed but he was a cuddly teddy bear of a man compared to the brooding Martin Johnson.  Armitage was so obviously out of form yet managed to start four of England’s matches while the bang in form Ben Foden sat warming the bench.

Anyway, enough of being an armchair critic, this is what a gentleman called Miles Kington concluded on the subject of England rugby: ‘Was William Webb Ellis really the first Englishman to pick up the ball and run with it?’ Probably not, but he was almost certainly the last.’

And now for something completely different, to try and rid myself of my alarming drift into folk I’m going for top 5 punk songs this week.

  • Beat on the Brat; Ramones
  • Anarchy in the UK; Sex Pistols
  • White Riot; Clash
  • Alternative Ulster; Stiff Little Fingers
  • Germ Free Adolescents; X-Ray Specs

I would be staggered if anyone out there can beat this list of classic anti-establishment songs but feel free to have a go.

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Stop Press: The Great British Cheese roll cancelled!

Competitors in the annual cheese rolling race on Cooper's HillI was going to dedicate the whole of my blog to the very sad news that the annual ‘madder than barking mad’ Cooper’s Hill (near Cheltenham, Gloucestershire, UK) Cheese Roll has been cancelled.  The race involves a giant Double Gloucester cheese being set loose from the top of Cooper’s Hill and competitors charging down the hill after it. The first person over the finish line at the bottom of the hill wins the cheese.

Accurate information is hard to come by, but the tradition is at least 200 years old. Each year the event has become more and more popular with contestants coming from across the world to compete or even simply to spectate.  Last year 30,000 people came to watch and it is very funny with a capital F. It’s a sort of giant roly-poly where grown-ups get to re-enact their childhood game of rolling down a gentle slope in the local park.  In the grown-up version competitors hurl themselves off the top of a one-in-one hill and career over in a series of ever more elaborate triples with double twists thrown in at regular intervals.

So who banned this festival of fun?  The meanies at Health & Safety or as they are better known the Ministry of making up silly rules to stop people enjoying themselves.  OK, so due to the steepness and uneven surface of the hill there are usually a number of injuries ranging from sprained ankles to broken bones and concussion. However a first-aid service is provided by the local St John Ambulance (Gloucester, Cheltenham and Stroud Divisions) at the bottom of the hill, with a volunteer rescue group on hand to carry down any casualties who do not end up at the bottom through gravity.  This to me sounds like job done, having played a lot of rugby if ever the St John’s Ambulance was called onto the field, the injured party magically leapt back to their feet before the medic arrived.  At Bath Rugby we had a brilliant first aider called Pete Pothercay (definitely the wrong spelling, sorry), he had a magic sponge and the ability to heal broken legs at the sprinkle of a bit of water.  Thinking back he was actually the forerunner of Harry Potter.

So where is all of this local Brit stuff going?  Well, my daughter Florence Prosser has a brilliant suggestion, relocate the cheese rolling to Big Red (a massive sand dune near Hatta).  Wouldn’t that be fun?

And so to my second story of the week.  For all of you who thought the Japanese have the monopoly on extreme (bordering on seriously dangerous) reality TV shows you are very wrong.  The French have just entered the contest and the Eurovision judges have given their latest game the full ten plus two bonus points.  The game, conjured up by a game show creator, invited contestants to a Mastermind-style knock out contest.  In the French version of the game the contestant was strapped into the chair but rather than being a comfortable black leather version it bore more relation to the variety used in American states that don’t trust lethal injections.  The quiz master was one of the contestants, they all asked a question and if the victim in the electric chair got it wrong they pulled a lever which administered an electric shock.  Also each time a question was wrongly answered the voltage was increased, ouch and ouch again.  Towards the end, the contestant was told by the game show host that the next shock they administered was of near fatal proportions.  Refusal to pull the lever resulted in eviction from the game – 82% pulled the lever!

In truth the person in the chair was an actor and there was no electric shock involved.  However this social experiment demonstrated the power of reality TV and that people in power follow the same behaviour patterns whatever their nationality.

On that sober note it’s time for a jovial top 5.  Best comedians not including my mate Roy ‘The Legend’ Palmer who could make me laugh at a joke he had already told me 20 times or  David Trick whose after dinner speeches always had most of the audience under the table by halfway through.  At this point I have to admit that I can’t remember the names of the comedians the Laughter Factory, Dubai, bring out every month so I am going to have to go for TV comedians.  I’m sorry so many are yesterday’s vintage but I’ve been away from home for too many years.

  • Michael McIntyre
  • Tommy Cooper
  • French and Saunders
  • Eddie Izzard
  • Cast of Mock the Week (Dara O Briain, Hugh Dennis, Andy Parsons, Russel Howard, Frank Boyle, Rory Bremner)

I’m eager to be enlightened…please add your comments.

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Cream always rises to the top

I was in one of those ‘nothing interesting has happened this week’ moods when up popped the Oscars followed by Forbes Richest People in the World list.  The thing that caught my eye about both was women (I hasten to add not the party numbers the celebs were donning for the Oscars).   Kathryn Bigelow became the first woman to win Best Director for the Hurt Locker and it was made especially brilliant as she was previously married to James Cameron (who was widely tipped to pick up all the gongs going for Avatar).  In addition there are exactly six women on the ‘richest 100 people alive’ list.  None of these women are self-made; they all inherited their fortunes from their Dads.  How can this be?  At my school girls were much cleverer than boys especially in anything to do with creativity.  Given that they do so many things better than men they should be the ones inheriting the earth instead of which boys grab everything going.

While on the subject of girls my brilliant wife Sally is involved once again in a very worthwhile cause.  Trekking through Lebanon in aid of refugee and orphaned children.  You can follow her progress as she trains, raises money and gets stuck into the challenge on her blog: trek for lebanon.  I’m a huge fan of Lebanon but I don’t buy into Beirut being the Paris of the Middle East.  It’s simply not true, the people of Beirut are incredibly friendly and they know how to welcome guests and party like it’s always the weekend.  Parisians by contrast live up to their stereotype and then some!  At this point I have to mention a dark secret that has haunted me for many years.  The second greatest Britain ever, as voted by a BBC Poll in 2002, actually had a strong claim to be the greatest Frenchman ever.  Isambard Kingdom Brunel’s Dad was French and he was educated at Lycée Henri-Quatre in Paris.  Fortunately no-one French has ever read my blog so my secret should be safe.

Turning back to Sally, she has received generous support from companies like Unilever, MBC, Emirates NBD, Emirates Leisure Retail, MMI and BASF.  In these difficult times it’s great to see companies still actively helping good causes.  Banks here seem to struggling a bit and if HSBC is anything to go by I’m not surprised why.  I mentioned last week about things happening in threes, this is my last week’s tale of woe with the aforementioned world’s local bank (can somebody please explain this slogan?  It’s absolute dogs-do on the simple premise that they are a big, impersonal, multi-national with absolutely zero personal service).

HSBC embarrassment number one.  My cash point card (AKA ATM card), wouldn’t work in HSBC cash point machines.  The advice from HSBC – try it in a National Bank of Dubai ATM; it worked!  You might say smart for offering sound advice but for goodness sake it’s absurd that you can’t get your money out from the people you bank with.

HSBC embarrassment number two.  I couldn’t transfer money through online banking from my UAE account to my UK account, their advice was try before 2 p.m.  It worked, meaning HSBC’s 24/7 internet banking service only operates for around 6 hours a day.

HSBC embarrassment number three.  Internet banking again, I couldn’t get various functions to work.  When quizzed a representative of the bank told me that their internet banking service only works properly with Windows XP, in other words two operating systems ago.  Jeepers, get a new IT department.

I was going to do top five banks but I ran out of ideas after none so having tried and failed to get a car loan from HSBC (they don’t do car loans for companies anymore) I’m going to do top 5 cars of all time.

  • Jaguar E-type
  • Aston Martin DB9
  • Mercedes-Benz 300SL Gullwing Coupe
  • Citroen DS 19 (when I was a kid I loved going to France to watch Citroens’ trick of rising when the hand brake was released)
  • Mini Cooper John Cooper Works

Which model turns your head the most when inhaling the smell of petrol and burning rubber?

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