Tag Archives: UAE

Swedes lead the world in mad

I thought Brits set the pace in mad until a Swedish man made news with his botched attempt to split the atom . . . in his kitchen.

Check out the article below for the full story, my favourite bit was when asked on BBC World Service where he had bought the raw materials he replied, “eBay”.  I’m still not sure whether I burst out laughing because it was funny or petrifying.

Swedish man arrested after trying to split atoms in his kitchen

Dubai is not a scary place to visit after all

Early this year there were some scary stories that Dubai is a very dangerous place to visit if you are British as you have a better than evens chance of ending up in prison for smiling in public.  Now there is a report out using data rather than hearsay and guess what, Dubai doesn’t even warrant a mention.

Brits behaving less badly

The first rule of customer service

Don’t automatically put your valued customer (aka the guy who buys stuff from you) onto an auto responder with the memorable line: Your call is important to us.  I’m not sure why I do it but I immediately reply, ‘if my call is so important you would have a real person talking to me right now with a nice telephone manner being very helpful’.  End result, happy customer and I tell my friends and work colleagues about how great you are.  Also while I’m on the subject here is another tip; if someone presses 2 for English it works better if the person who answers speaks English.   

Catching taxis to gloat!

I’ve had a big week catching taxis, they would pitch up to my house and I would ask, are you Indian?  If the reply was yes I jumped in and talked cricket nonstop.  Back in Blighty there is always a lot of Daily Mail sponsored debate about immigration, Norman Tebbit famously set an Englishness test for anyone who wasn’t Anglo Saxon white.  He reckoned everyone with a British passport that doesn’t support England at cricket should be sent back from whence they came.  Which brings me nicely to the picture below.

England vs India 2nd test

Real Estate still suffering

There was interesting piece in Arabian Business last week looking at Real Estate projects that have stalled, one of which was Universal Studios. With the continuing glut of residential and office space which, from what I can see is being significantly added to, Universal Studios was a great idea as it would have pulled in more tourists.  Dubai is short of major entertainment attractions; Alton Towers would do really well here.

Universal Studios

Universal studios

One other great story from Arabian Business, the UAE is going to bid for the Olympics, a marathon in July would be interesting.

How to get noticed

Companies spend a huge amount of money buying visibility and another big amount creating messages that get noticed and make people do something they weren’t necessarily planning to do, e.g. buy a Ferrari instead of a Toyota Prius.

An Abu Dhabi Sheikh has taken a bold approach to raising his profile by having his name sculpted in sand so big that it can be seen from space.

Hamad from space

Down, down and ever down

I hate to say this but America has caught a huge cold (just a sneeze used to trigger a worldwide recession).  I’ve long been a bear on the word economy and now we are about to enter what could be a deeper depression than hit in 2009, then we were talking about financial institutions, now it’s government debt.  Those with a strong stomach and a glass of the stiff stuff from MMI read this article and prepare to batten down the hatches.

The man who predicted this

Happier days for Man City

To close on a lighter (sport-related) note there was a time not long ago when Man City were all about entertainment, you never knew what was coming next but it was usually very funny.

A former player’s, Paul Lake, autobiography, I’m Not Really Here, tells the story of one match in 1989 when City could have guaranteed promotion by beating Bournemouth at Maine Road. They were 3-0 up at half-time – party time! – and the manager, Mel Machin, told the players he was bringing in a special friend for the team talk. In came the comedian Eddie Large – shiny silver suit, sleeves rolled up – to dole out individual advice to the players … each time using a different celebrity impersonation. “Deputy Dawg ordered me to keep tight in defence,” Lake recalls. “Cliff Richard advised Trevor Morley to shoot on sight, Harold Wilson told Bob Brightwell to keep it simple and Benny from Crossroads told Andy Dibble to stay awake.” The game finished 3-3.

Happy days and I’m sure Mario Balotelli would have thrived in this environment.   

Top 5

My wife knows I can’t resist a gadget, maybe it’s a boy thing.  Here are my favourites:

  • Bokashi bin that turns food waste into compost (for my tomatoes)
  • Pickle fork for extracting pickled onions from a jar
  • Extra long shoe horn
  • Weber Q 100 gas BBQ
  • iPad 2

Off on my hollers (back to the UK, quick blast of The Clash White Riot to get me in the mood), see you when I get back.

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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.


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!


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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The cats have been playing

A few years ago ATOM invested in a brand expert who engages with companies to discover their essence enabling their brand to become a decision-making asset guiding their every action.  Take Apple for example, their essence is ‘think different’ so they never get involved in producing twists on established products invented by competitors.  No Walkman lookalike/doalike for them, they went straight to the iPod.  Our very own brand man, Nameer Kanderian (name and shame), has built a very strong essence for ATOM given which imagine my surprise when he was caught on camera dressing up as Jack Sparrow at an Iftar staged by one of our major clients.  Pirate and agency, umm . . .

Nam as pirate

Not capturing our brand essence

On a more serious note, the full-scale of the tragedy engulfing Pakistan has emerged, with the United Nations saying that the floods have affected 13.8 million people. This is more than the combined victims of the three most recent big natural disasters the world has faced – the Haiti earthquake in January, the 2005 earthquake in northern Pakistan, and the Asian tsunami – although the death toll from the flooding is much lower. Officially it stands at around 1,600, but with so many parts of the country inaccessible, it is feared it could end up being much higher.  Locally, The Green Foundation has launched an appeal and this is a fantastic opportunity to offload all of your unwanted electronics for a very good cause.  Details on their website or in this ITP article.

Also our very good friends at TDIC (well done to Alison Carmody for coming up with the idea and getting it off the ground) have organised a quiz evening at Left Bank Abu Dhabi on Tuesday to raise funds.  The prizes are well worth winning so I’ve spent most of the Eid holiday swatting (two days for the private sector, Friday and Saturday, thanks).  Air Miles have contributed some great prizes and it’s well worth noting they have a triple points promo running through September – my iPad is getting ever closer.

It seems ages ago but I’ve recently returned from holiday during which I’m pleased to announce that I witnessed four sunny days in a row – a British record.  Suitably flip-flopped and shorted-up when my girls came across tree surfing to replace our cancelled fishing trip (wrong sort of tide) my hand flew up in the air.  Little did I know that it would involve making my way up a tree about 36,000 ft in the air and then balancing precariously on rope bridges as I made my way Indiana Jones style to the next tree (I use the term bridge very loosely).  Once you started there was no way back and at one stage a traffic jam took shape behind a young lad who refused to leap off a tree minus a parachute into a rope net that was located in France.

Tree surfing

Those tree surfers are my daughters - gulp!

Other highlights included; conquering Pew Tor on Dartmoor in the sunshine, camping with friends in North Devon, visiting Riverford Organics for a guided tour around the farm and a scrummy meal (whenever our guide looked away I was scrumping apples, plums, artichokes, tomatoes and sweet corn – only the rhubarb escaped my deep pockets), breaking my (world) record for eating Cornish pasties and visiting my good friends Anthony and Kathy Wills at their malt whisky distillery on the Isle of Islay – Kilchoman (read my wife’s review of this here).  For anyone who doesn’t use SatNav head up to Scotland, go through Glasgow (tip, follow signs to the Erskine Bridge unless you want to finish up either in Glasgow town centre or back in Carlisle), skirt Loch Lomond and Loch Fyne and wend your way to the Islay ferry at Kennacraig on West Loch Tarbert.  The Wills’ have built the first independent distillery on Islay for well over 100 years and by making clever use of the barley from the farm next door and the unique peat waters of Islay they have created a masterpiece.  Islay itself is spectacular and even better it has a brilliant old-fashioned links golf course with lots of right-angled doglegs and blind shots adding to the challenge.

Beach on Islay

That's us - the only ones on 6 miles of beach on Islay

Another tip for anyone planning to visit England, avoid the M6 car park.  I will never, ever complain about traffic in Dubai again.  Whenever you see a traffic jam on the opposite carriageway in England the temptation is to gloat, don’t, your turn is coming soon, very soon.

Everyone we met in England seemed to have kids receiving news of their A level results.  The whole country was awash with A* and people like me saying exams were much more difficult in my day.  With many more highly qualified students than places at university, David Willets, the new minister for universities in the coalition government, hit upon a novel idea.  His advice to the 170,000 school leaves who will be left without a place at university due to spending cuts; sixth formers who fail to secure a university place should start a business. Funds, experience, knowledge of the game all sprung to mind.  Imagine a 17-year-old student walking into the Dragons Den trying to sell the mass production of false identities to the under 18s so they can blag their way into pubs.

An amusing local story that caught my eye the week before I left was a report in Arabian Business claiming 113% rise in number of interviews as companies search for employees.

True or false?

Best international story, in the wake of the Gulf oil spill is there have been 2,000 additional applications for commercial fishing licenses.  Now that BP has exonerated itself from all blame those baddies at Transocean and Halliburton will have a lot of fun compensating all of the people who would have been successful fisherman if only.

More fun, penalty shoot outs as we all know are tense affairs. Take a look at what happens when a goalie celebrates a great save a wee bit on the premature side.


And talking of ‘while the cat’s away’, this video is what happens when you let loose 100 of them in an Ikea store. No joke.

No top 5 this week, simply my annual award for best Cornish pasty.  This year it goes to an exceptional example of the pasty maker’s art, Ellis’s Bakery in Tavistock, Devon which has been going since 1907.  Freshly baked on the premises, great pastry, perfect seasoning and cracking ingredients.  In short, highly recommended and to all you Cornish bakers, raise your game!!

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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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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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Filling the government’s coffers

So much went on last week that I don’t know where to start.  Having given it much thought I’ve decided to, once again, solve Dubai’s ills in a single dramatic stroke.  For those of you who will call for me to be pelted with eggs I’ve got a less controversial alternative.

I’m really sorry (for myself as well) but the UAE has to bite the bullet and introduce income tax – at this point I’ve ducked for cover as the first egg has come winging my way.  The simple fact is they have to raise money to extricate themselves from the mess that they’re in and stealth taxes sneaked in under the radar just give the legion of mini-moaners too many opportunities to stamp their foot and cry foul.  What I’m suggesting is a flat rate of 10% on all earnings over AED 10,000 a month, for example, if you earn AED 15,000 you will pay AED 500 a month in tax.  There will be those who baulk at this so let them get in a huff, pack their bags and get used to paying at least 30% (59% if you live in Denmark).

Now at the very beginning I mentioned an alternative and very cunning it is too.  An on the spot fine of AED 500 for everyone who uses a mobile phone while driving.  For all of you who are thinking this is a drop in the ocean I noticed 54% of the drivers waiting at a traffic light this morning were on their mobile.

With Dubai’s problems solved I’m tempted to get up take the applause and exit stage left.  Resisting this urge, Toyota’s troubles caught my attention.  I read news of the recalls with interest as I wanted to learn how the biggest car manufacturer in the world handled a crisis.  After all they probably employ the best, most expensive crisis management consultants in the world.  The sort of people that advised John Gummer that he should attempt to feed a hamburger to his four-year-old daughter Cordelia at the height of the mad cow scare.  Unless I’m missing something their initial response was to hide for as long as possible and hope it went away.  As we all know, this tactic doesn’t work as there is something called the press who love a good story involving people behaving badly.

Now, I’m not a PR expert but as I read the stories of Toyota owners’ scary experiences with stuck accelerator pedals I was a little put off buying a Toyota.  This state of mind existed right up until I heard an interview with a consultant on BBC World Service.  He said, and I nearly quote, he would still buy a Toyota because he knew what to do if the accelerator pedal stuck to the floor.  Now call me old-fashioned but my first instinct would be to buy a car where the accelerator pedal responds to what I wanted it to do.  Anyway, his solution was ingenious – if it happens, resist the urge to hit the brakes and stick the car into neutral.

Another a big event from last week was the launch of the first Massive Attack album for over 100 years.  On first listen courtesy of Spotify it sounded promising if a little bit like all of their other albums, which leads me nicely to this week’s top 5; best bands from Bristol.  Unfortunately I could only think of three (Massive Attack, Portishead and Tricky) and if I widen the net to Bath I have to include Tears for Fears.  Taking my cue from Massive Attack I’ve decided to do the top 5 vocalists that I would like to hear on one of their tracks.

Gil Scott Heron

Bobby Womack

Matt Bellamy (Muse)

Lily Allen

Amy Winehouse

What would be your choice?  Ok, ok, all my blog readers in the South West can tell me their best 5 bands from Bristol.

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