Sunday, 29 April 2018

British Expat Detained In Dubai (Well, Shacked Up In Sharjah, Really)


(Image Credit: Wikipedia)

The car was down at Al Futtaim, going through the process of leaching several thousand dirhams from my bank account, so I had a bit of time yesterday to take on a Quora question asking about the 'Dark Side' of Dubai. I occasionally give in to temptation these days and take a few minutes to correct the bias and willful ignorance you find in people's attitudes towards 'here'. I know, I know, it's bad for me and I shouldn't, but just one now and then couldn't harm. I can control it. I'll know when it gets out of hand, trust me.

Anyway, yesterday's post reminded me of the time I was nicked in Sharjah. It's not quite 'Brit Expat Jailed in Dubai', but it'll have to do.

It was back in the early '90s and it had been raining. A lot. So much so that mate Matt and myself went out for a Friday mooch around with our cameras and snapped the wildly unusual spectacle of cars sloshing through huge puddles anything up to a couple of feet deep. This was prior to the great Sharjah Drainage Project and we are really talking pretty impressive puddles or, as Dubai's RTA likes to call them on its traffic information screens, water ponds. I mean roundabouts where you can't see the round to about. (Charmingly, BTW, all roundabouts in Sharjah are called squares. Who knew?)

Out of the mosque behind us emerges a small fat man with big fat beard, wearing a Sharjah police uniform, who promptly nicks us for 'taking photo of lady'. I kid you not. Within twenty minutes we find ourselves down the cop shop facing charges of photographing ladies. It very quickly started to look very serious as our man, let's call him Abdulla, runs us in and proceeds to start arrangements to charge us. His colleagues clearly think Abdulla's taking things a bit far and there's quite a lot of joshing and good-natured beard pulling going on in Arabic. Meanwhile,  Matt and I are starting to realise this could go very, very pear shaped indeed and we are becoming sore nervous.

Now I have to explain something. In the old days, cameras used stuff called 'film'. This is a strip of coated plastic which is exposed to light by a thing called a shutter. Each time you take a photo, a square of plastic is exposed and then you wind it on so that a fresh square is ready to expose. When you've done this 36 times, you unload the canister of film from the camera and take it to a shop and pay money to develop it, which is a chemical process that makes prints of your photographs.

Seriously.

So eventually I break into the excited chatter and address myself to Abdulla's colleagues and say, basically, 'Look, he's gone too far. We were just taking photos of the puddles. But I can sort this easily. Take my film from my camera and develop it. If you find one lady, fine you can arrest us and charge us and throw away the key and everything. But if there is no lady in photos, Abdulla here pays for the cost of developing the film.'

This is generally considered to be a beezer scheme and therefore adopted by all present with a great deal of laughter except Abdulla, who fights a brave rearguard action in the face of logic but eventually - with incredibly bad grace - gives in to the prevailing sentiment. We have to sign a chit affirming that we will never again go to the Al Faya area of Sharjah and photograph the ladies. I was all for protesting this clear injustice but a very hard kick on the shin from Matt cured me of the temptation. We signed and fled.

I can't remember ever encountering a situation here that can't be managed with a little grace and humour - I have found wit and wisdom are greatly prized (mostly by observing others, clearly). And, generally, I have found the police are more interested in arbitration and settling things without filing cases. They have a healthy aversion to paperwork. And every time I see a 'Brit Arrested in Dubai for Playing Tiddlywinks' I look beyond the headline and 99% of the time, I get a 'hang on, it's not that simple. There's something missing from this here story' feeling.

Recently, they've got to the point where even the comments on the Daily Mail have started to question the 'man banged up for eating marshmallow' stories. And the comments on the Daily Mail, as eny fule no, are usually a litany of nail 'em up, a fair day's work for a fair day's pay etc etc. (The world's most popular news website, racking up over 250 million monthly views, the DM is actually considered to be too unreliable a source to be cited as a reference on Wikipedia - didja know that?)

The problem is not that these stories are all so easily taken in and amplified by media with vast bias and little or no 'journalism'. It's that they potentially cheapen and obfuscate real miscarriages of justice.

Saturday, 28 April 2018

BOOKS BOOKS BOOKS BOOKS BOOKS

I can justify that headline. A man called Books reserves his, Books', books of books. There.

Meanwhile, adding to yesterdays frankly amazing news about Birdkill going on promo and being FREE yes FREE for the next four days (it was five days but you wasted a day dawdling), I can now reveal that A Decent Bomber is ALSO FREE for the next five days.





And if that weren't already enough, Beirut - An Explosive Thriller is ALREADY permafree. So now you're looking at getting THREE of my novels for nothing.


AND now Shemlan - A Deadly Tragedy is on promo for £0.99 with a deal through free/bargain books promo website manybooks.net!

I mean, gosh, it's like a bargain book basement around here!

Let your friends know. Hell, let your enemies know. Here be free books aplenty!


Friday, 27 April 2018

Birdkill And Book Promo MADNESS

Of all the reviews on Amazon for my books, my favourite of the lot is for Birdkill: 
"This is a cynical negative, depressing book. Everyone decent died. I'm sorry I read it."

Well, it's been a very long while indeed since I did anything about promoting books around here. So I might as well make up for it with a mad raft of book promotions all taking place at the same time.

Why?

Well, no particular reason other than I've neglected things over the past couple of years. Beirut - An Explosive Thriller is 'permafree', which is driving a steady wee trickle of sales of the other books and generating the, very occasional, odd review or so on Amazon. These are generally very positive, occasionally sorta negative but, overall, customers have been provided with satisfaction. But it's generally a wee bit quiet and I'd like it to heat up a tad. SO...

For the next five days, psychological thriller Birdkill is a FREE ebook, saving you the trouble of parting with $4.99, the usual asking price.



Birdkill is about a teacher, Robyn Shaw, who suffered a massive trauma while she was at a school in Lebanon, in a town up in the mountains called Zahlé - it's a very lovely town, home to - among many other things, the very lovely wines of the Chateau Ksara.

Robyn's mind has shut down and she remembers nothing of the events at Zahlé, but she nearly died up there and goes through extensive physical and psychological rehabilitation in the UK. Back on the road to recovery, she gets a job teaching at a research institute for exceptionally talented children and it's there things start to go pear-shaped and Robyn's mind appears to start unravelling.

She realises she's losing her sanity and in desperation calls journalist friend Mariam for help. Mariam has to rush to uncover the hidden secrets in Robyn's horrific past before her friend loses her mind.

"McNabb's story of weaponized children and disastrous drug trials astounds and horrifies.."

"Has a visceral effect on you after having read it, the imagery is so vivid and real."

That sort of thing from the reviewers, thank you very much. So why wouldn't you a) download it FREE NOW for your own delight and b) TELL ALL YOUR FRIENDS ABOUT IT!!!

You might have guessed b) is the payoff line. Do it now before you forget, there's a good thing. Tell them all before it's too late...

ithankyou

Monday, 16 April 2018

Madam Ghost Village Pano


Google being brilliant or scary, you call it. If you have an Android mobile and you're online, then take a number of snaps by rotating yourself, Google will generally recognise it's a panorama, stitch it and send it back to you. The shot above was from our weekend fossicking around Madam's 'Ghost Village'...

They did this stunner when we were a-hiking up in the Mourne Mountains a few weeks back. If you think about it, the processing power to analyse the volume of images uploaded to every Android mobile in the world and determine which ones would make a pano is alone a stunning thing...



Google's like Kate Bush's yoyo that glowed in the dark... what makes them special makes them dangerous...

https://youtu.be/pllRW9wETzw

That's all folks...


Saturday, 14 April 2018

Ghosts In The Desert? Madam!

Blog posts are like London buses or policemen. You don't see one for two months and when whoosh along come thousands of the swine.

I found myself down the usual wormhole in the Internet the other day and discovered an odd location in a map when I was looking for something else entirely. It caught my eye as I scanned the area and I zoomed in again to check the distinct impression of a strange label flickering on the map.

I'd never seen it before and it was oddly fascinating.

Sure enough, it was there: 'Ghost town'.

I checked it on Google Maps, where it was labelled 'Madam old town'. We went there - to Madam old town or Madam ghost town, depending on which source you believe - today.

Just south of Madam, (I still can't say that without thinking about Frankie Howerd and his 'Ooh, madam!') you turn right off the road and head into the sands. And there you'll find this:




It's all protected by a sort of berm of sand humped up at the village entrance, you have to take something of a leap of faith and just drive up over it. The sand's pretty soft, what with so little rain this winter.

What is it? Why's it there? Was it really Madam before the road brought strip development to this little inhabited area of Sharjah made famous only because it was on the road to Hatta, now blocked to all but Omanis, Emiratis and permit holders? It looks like corpo housing. The sand's reclaimed it in the main. There are neon light fittings but no sign of power or other infrastructure.

All in all very odd. A little mystery...




WooOOooo!

Wednesday, 11 April 2018

Sorry

Look, I've been busy. It's been crazy busy with the day job, I got loads of admin work for things 'back home' and we just spent a week in Northern Ireland for Easter.







You ever wanna take a hike somewhere beautiful? Try the Mourne Mountains...

Anyway. That's it. I've been busy. I'm sort of writing, but taking my sweet time. I'm not really taking much notice of 'Dubai life' beyond work. I'm not very interesting beyond perhaps my abiding loathing for the weevils who staff Budget Ireland and my deep rooted hatred of Skoda Rapids.

Nothing to see here, folks. Move on...

Wednesday, 28 February 2018

Meeting Mr Fox

Arabian Red Fox picture taken in Al Sukhnah, J...
Arabian Red Fox picture taken in Al Sukhnah, Jordan (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
I wrote this simply ages ago for Jordanian website/writer's collective Project Pen, but the site's down nowadays. So I'm putting it up here, just so's I can link to it when I want to and stuff. Enjoy!

Meeting Mr Fox 

The shell that almost killed them all came with no warning, sounded no different to the thousands of others scudding around the blue summer skies like little birds. Baba was reading a newspaper, his shirt sleeves rolled up. Ahmed was sitting under the wooden kitchen table, playing. The shell exploded and suddenly Ahmed wasn’t under the table anymore. There was a lot of dust and smoke. Baba looked asleep, but mother was holding her head in her hands and crying. Ahmed wanted to go to her but his legs wouldn’t work. Baba had eventually woken up and Ahmed had walked with a limp ever since.

After the shell, they had a big piece of orange plastic sheeting over the hole in the wall. It stretched from the floor to the roof. Now summer had fled and the winter had come, it billowed and flapped in the wind and let the cold in. Finding wood for the fire had become very difficult. The winter took everyone by surprise. This proved, Ahmed’s father growled as he hunched over the mean fire in their damaged kitchen, they were all donkeys. Winter always came, this year was no different. Except this year they were distracted as the fighting became worse, the houses shaking with relentless concussions. Ahmed didn’t go to school anymore, so he was at home when the soldiers came.

His mother was making bread, the bakery having been shut by an explosion that took away ovens and bakers alike in a single savage wrench. Baba had salvaged a sack of flour from the ruins before the flames took hold and the stock room collapsed on the heads of some thirty men trying to do the same. They ate bread every Friday to try and make the flour last. Baba was out looking for fuel and food. Foraging, his mother called it. Jamal said it was called looting, like taking the flour, but everyone had to do it because there were no shops. And anyway, nobody had money.

The soldiers shouted a lot and one of them punched Ahmed so stars came. His mother begged them but they didn’t listen to her. She cried as they held her arms and pushed her onto the floor. She screamed when they pulled at her clothes until one of them hit her too and she was quiet.

Ahmed ran and ran through the streets, his ankles twisting on the rubble strewn on the pock-marked ground. He called out for his baba but nobody replied. There was fighting but Ahmed didn’t care about the bullets and they seemed not to care about him, either. None of them plucked at his skin. They buzzed, whistled and spattered on stone. They called out to him. But he didn’t want them, he wanted baba to come and stop the soldiers hurting ummi.

He left the city behind as he tired and stopped running. He walked now, no longer certain of where he was going or why, but impelled by some instinct to get away from buildings and the soldiers and the vague idea that perhaps he would walk and walk until he found his baba. Perhaps God would help him. He started mumbling God’s names, just in case he was listening. He had learned ten of them when school had stopped.

There were soldiers on the road. Ahmed was tired and scared. His legs hurt. He bit his lip when he saw them and slipped off into the woodland. The light was fading and it started to snow. There was a big tree that hadn’t lost its leaves and the patch of ground around it was clear of snow. Ahmed sat down on the damp ground, shivering. He pulled up his knees and wrapped his arms around them, listening for the soldiers in case they had seen him. The woodland grew darker. The silence ached. Occasionally there would be a creak. There were no shells or machine gun fire here. Ahmed could hear his teeth chattering, the shivering convulsions making his weary body ache. The snowflakes became bigger.

Light-headed with exhaustion and cold, Ahmed tilted his head to catch a faint scratching sound. He noticed a hole in the ground. The scratching was coming from the hole. Something glittered in the darkness of the opening. Eyes. A head emerged, red fur and a snout with a black nose.

‘Good evening,’ said the fox in fuzha, the formal Arabic like they had taught at school.

Ahmed closed his eyes and shook his head as if it would make the talking fox go away, but it was still there when he opened them.

‘You’re not a very polite little boy,’ the fox pointed out as he came out of his set and padded over to Ahmed. He sat down a few feet away and cocked his head.

‘I’m sorry,’ Ahmed tried to remain calm. ‘I’ve just never met a talking dog before.’

The fox sniffed. ‘I am not a dog,’ he said pointedly. ‘I am a fox.’

‘Sorry,’ Ahmed mumbled.

‘And don’t mumble. There’s nothing worse than people who mumble. It’s the height of rudeness.’

Ahmed stopped shivering. He felt very calm. He fancied he saw the fox smiling, but he couldn’t be sure. The woodland was serene, the snowflakes calming and soft as they touched his cheek. ‘Where did you learn to talk?’

The fox rubbed his snout with a forepaw. ‘What sort of question is that? Where did you learn to talk? Humans really do take the biscuit. You’re an arrogant bunch aren’t you? All superior, yet you’ll not find us animals killing each other with weapons like you do.’

‘I don’t kill people. The soldiers kill people.’

 ‘Same thing, child. It’s your species kills people. Whether they wear uniforms or not. They kill foxes, too, when they can. They kill for sport. I wonder you don’t get sick of killing. You don’t even do it properly, to eat. You just kill to kill. Nasty lot, really.’

Ahmed wanted to cry. It seemed so unjust yet he didn’t have an argument against the wiser fox. ‘The soldiers do it. Not me.’

‘You’re just a child. You’ll grow up to it. All those soldiers were children once. The men who came to the wood with spades were children once. Mind you, the chickens were worth the trouble. Delicious.’

‘So why are you even talking to me if you hate humans so much?’

‘You looked lonely.’ The fox shifted and flicked his tail. ‘Where are your parents?’

‘In the city. I ran away from the soldiers. They were hurting ummi. My baba was out and they came.’

‘Shouldn’t you go back? It’s cold out here and you look blue.’

Ahmed nodded. The fox was right, yet he was too tired. He tried to move, but he was frozen to the spot. He felt frozen, too, like a chicken. They used to have a freezer in the house before the electricity went away. It had chickens in it. Ahmed’s eyes started to close, sleep overwhelming him. He moved to lie down and the fox came up to him.

‘Here,’ the animal said, not unkindly. ‘You can have some of my heat. I have it to spare.’

The warm little body snuggled against Ahmed's chest. He smiled. The fox had an animal pungency, his fur was soft. Ahmed closed his eyes.

Later on, the sky black and the moon casting shadows in the white woodland, the fox woke. He turned to the boy’s face and sniffed it. The warmth had left the still form. The fox licked the child’s soft cheek.

After a while, he started to eat.

Thursday, 11 January 2018

A Little Bit Of Gas A Little Bit Of VAT

English: Nouadhibou, Mauritania, cooking gas f...
(Photo credit: Wikipedia)
We got back off leave to the much-awaited introduction of Value Added Tax in the UAE. VAT is very much a fact of life in the UK, where it is charged at a charming 20%. The UAE's 5% pales in comparison but it remains that most unwelcome of innovations - a tax.

Living for 25 years in a 'tax free' environment has been something of a privilege, I know. It has long amazed me that here we have an economy capable of functioning (and no, it's not about oil) without gouging its citizens for 25 or even 40% of their earnings. When you look at how little you get back from the UK government for all the taxes, fees and levies we pay, the UAE model is pretty compelling stuff.

But last year we saw the soda and fag tax (no bad thing, mind, although it does rather tend to hit one hard in the Fevertrees) as well as a rise in the property registration 'fee' in Sharjah from 2 to 4 per cent (because a payment to government leveraged as a percentage of a transaction is a fee and not a tax, you understand) and now the dreaded VAT is here. The background noise of expats moaning has increased as a consequence, but there's no doubt that it has sneaked a lot of cost overnight into a life already become more expensive.

VAT was the last thing on my mind the other night as I was cooking dinner, especially as the gas started to gutter. Having refused Sharjah Electricity and Water's cunningly worded invitation to give them Dhs 1,000 and the blood of our firstborn each month thereafter, we still rely on Fast, Faster and Faster Than Fastest gas and they duly rocked up soon after my call. Dhs130 for the gas and Dhs7 VAT, the chap informed me as he rolled the cylinder around to the back of the house. Tired and frustrated by the derailing of my sumptuous gastronomical event, I paid without demur. Only later did I stop to reflect that the wee swine had a) rounded it up to the nearest dirham b) taken VAT in cash without offering a VAT receipt. Guess where that Dhs7 is going (and I'm betting it's not the MoF!)?

I must confess I'd expected the introduction of the new tax to be an Emirates ID style disaster and I appear to have been wrong in that - things seem pretty fluid in comparison. The overhead for businesses, mind, is significant. Not only is there the additional cost on 'value added', but the auditing and compliance costs are significant. One aspect I hadn't considered was outlined to me by a pal the other day - cashflow. Her business tends to run on big ticket contracts and payments rarely take place within 90 days. Paying VAT on each quarter's invoices means she's going to take a huge hit up front.

That's not going to worry the lads over at Faster Than Fast, of course. Firmly embedded in the cash economy, they're likely laughing all the way to Al Ansari to send all that lovely VAT back to Swat to fund the construction of legion sprawling mansions...

Sunday, 10 December 2017

Manama, Ajman And The 'Dunes' Stamps


Manama Post Office

In an odd quirk of philatelic history, several of the Trucial States (prior to the formation of the UAE) issued stamps in huge and incongruous editions. I say incongruous, because none of them had anything to do with the UAE. I have a full sheet of 'Kings and queens of England' issued by Umm Al Qawain and others include celebrations of the Moscow Olympics and the space race.

Why?

Ask American philatelic entrepreneur (say that quickly after a couple of shandies) Finbar Kenny. As I have related before, Kenny travelled to the Trucial States in the early 1960s and did deals with the rulers of various emirates to issue stamps on their behalf. He then produced massive runs of stamps, which were destined to act as filler in every boy's stamp collection. In fact he overdid it so much that these 'Dunes' stamps are totally worthless even today. Stamps from Sharjah, Ajman, Umm Al Qawain and Fujeirah dating from the '60s can be picked up for pennies still.


Kenny, a somewhat colourful figure, signed up Ajman and so you can find stamp dealers still selling, stamps issued from 'Manama, Dependency of Ajman'. Manama, an inland exclave of Ajman in Sharjah (it's East of Dhaid, just off the Dhaid/Masafi highway) consisted at the time of little more than an adobe fort, a few cinder block houses and a tiny post office. That post office, responsible for issuing what must have been millions of stamps, is why we nipped off the beaten path for a few minutes yesterday, in order I could track down and take a snap of the offending institution.

So here it is in all its sleepy glory. In its time, one of the great stamp issuing centres of the world!

Tuesday, 21 November 2017

From The Dungeons

Book Marketing And McNabb's Theory Of Multitouch

(Photo credit: Wikipedia ) I clearly want to tell the world about A Decent Bomber . This is perfectly natural, it's my latest...