Sunday, 1 March 2015

Emirates LitFest Sell-Out Shock Horror!


I'm on a panel at the Emirates Airline Festival of Literature on Friday with Orion Publishing Director Kate Mills and head of Norwich Writer's Centre Chris Gribble on 'How to make novels fly'.

It's not about taking Dorothy Parker's advice seriously* so much as creating books that people want to read. What is it that makes a book marketable, what's the 'secret sauce' that makes readers want to pick your work up and actually, you know, invest in it.

Sound interesting? Tough, bud - it's sold out.

For the first time, I'm also at the LitFest Murder Mystery Dinner vent on Friday evening, which I've never been to before. That's going to be funny, a table of unsuspecting rubes is going to be expecting someone famous and interesting and they're going to get me instead. Ha.

This, too, has sold out.

On Thursday evening, from 5pm-7pm, I'm doing a session on how to make a book - how to write one, edit one, find a publisher or DIY one. It's a sort of 'Shakespeare in 60 seconds' version of the three 2-hour workshops I usually take to cover these topics.

This, believe it or not, has also sold out.

However, it's not all bad news. I have complimentary tickets to the latter, so if you have great need and have been denied the seat you wanted to be raved at for two hours by a clearly unstable person, hit me up at @alexandermcnabb and we can arrange a ticket for you. 

It's going to be a busy end to the week. I got a radio interview Wednesday, a school appearance at Wesgreen School in Sharjah on Thursday (undoubtedly resulting in the usual scared kids and shocked faculty. Hey ho!) and I'm keynoting at Amman's Disrupt!/Books!/ workshop/conference/hackathon event Thursday evening too. 

I almost feel like a real author...

*"This is not a book to be tossed aside lightly, but thrown with great force."

Saturday, 28 February 2015

A Simple Irish Farmer Is Finished.


I have finished writing A Simple Irish Farmer. And I am glad. It's undoubtedly been the most arduous project of all the books I've completed, although Olives took many more years to become complete and Beirut and Shemlan both underwent major re-writes post-completion.

One of the things that has made this one harder is likely my clearer and sounder understanding of what the hell it is I'm trying to do here. Actually following the advice I dole out so glibly when I do workshops and presentations on writing and editing. There have also been some major changes taking place in my life alongside the book project, which have been a little distracting, to say the least. And, yes, I'm going to go on about the Dunning/Kruger effect again.

I started the book a year ago, almost to the day. There have been weeks when I haven't touched it. Days when I wrestled with it and was tempted to ditch the whole thing. Gnawing angst, delirious joy, certitude, doubt. All of that. A real roller-coaster. Right now, I'm quietly satisfied.

I'd like to pause and thank Fred Venturini here. I've no idea who the hell he is, but he wrote one of those 'Five Things You Must Do When Writing A Book' sort of articles/blog posts and, rarely for me because I usually avoid them like the plague, I read Fred's.

Four of them were the same sort of advice everyone else has to give, but his fifth point was 'Whatever you do, finish the book. Don't get involved in side projects, start something else or otherwise kid yourself. Hunker down, man up and just finish the damn thing'. I'm paraphrasing and you'll clearly see Fred's outraged howls in the comments to this post at some stage.

But I printed out the word FINISH in big capitals - and Fred's name underneath so I wouldn't forget where the advice came from - and hung the piece of paper on the blind in front of my desk. And then I set out to do just that. Every time I wanted to nip off to Twitter or exfoliate my Pinterest, I'd look at that word and get back down to it. And it worked.

Thanks, Fred. Really thanks.

Now what? A big fat edit. Beta readers. Agents. Depending on the outcome of that process, publish or self publish. I've no problem doing the latter, but I'd clearly prefer the former. If the latter, I won't be doing a local print run again. And I'm really not sure how much energy I'll be putting into promotion, either. I have the feeling the book will be controversial, which I'm not really looking forward to, to be honest. But that's a long way down the road.

But we'll see. Meanwhile, onward with the editing!

* The image is an Easter Lily badge, traditionally worn by Irish Republicans in the same way Brits wear a poppy. It's mine - Sarah got me one and I had it laminated into a bookmark.

Tuesday, 24 February 2015

I've Finally Sold Out To... Well, You!


Olives - A Violent Romance and Beirut - An Explosive Thriller have sold out of their print editions.

I'm still not sure how to react to that. So I'll just post about it.

I found out from WH Smith, who are providing the books for this year's LitFest (where I am severally appearing), that they couldn't buy my books from Jashanmals.

I naturally asked (gently and politely as always) the Jashanmal gang what gives and the response was that they don't have enough left to fulfil the order. There are about 5 'clean' copies of Beirut and a few more of Olives, mostly on the shelves in their stores. They're clean out at warehouse except for about 60 shop-soiled copies that are 'unsaleable'.

I've got a few copies at home. But that, basically, is that. Experiment over. We've sold out, people.

Shemlan: A Deadly Tragedy never did have a UAE edition and was always an online-only book, orderable as ebook or print.

Now, you can clearly still buy all three books as ebooks for Kindle, iPad, Android et al - and if you love print more than anyone loves print, you can also buy all three books in print from Amazon, Book Depository or, on order, from any bookshop in the world by quoting their ISBN number.

But the UAE edition wot I printed myself in the thousands, the booky books you could nip off to Kino's and carry away in a placcy bag, they're no longer available. That's it. Gone. Finished. Pining for the fjords.

I really couldn't do this without posting the 'buy' links for any lazy sods that haven't yet done the decent thing yet....




:)

Sunday, 22 February 2015

Fish And Superfish

I don't know if you've seen the broohaha, but there has been an almighty spat between members of the security industry and PC manufacturer Lenovo, which has perhaps unwisely been loading its consumer PCs with nasty little adware add-on Superfish Virtual Discovery.

Superfish behaves very badly indeed and basically renders any system it's installed on very vulnerable indeed to attack because of the way it uses security certificates to insert its own ad results into users' browsers. Many have questioned quite why Lenovo would be stupid enough to sell its users down the river for what can be only a miniscule contribution to revenue. This article on cnet is probably the most reasoned in tone - as you get up the security value chain, the screams and howls get impressively loud.

Anyway, I removed Superfish using the removal tool Lenovo was so achingly late to bring to bear on a problem it clearly had thought it could bland PR its way out of.

And this was the result. Which made me laugh a lot. We fixed the problem we gave you and now there never was a problem to start with. I'm glad I used Norton first to detect that, yes, I did have a problem. And pretending it's gone away, Lenovo, won't make it go away.


This dialogue box, to me, reads like the result of a battle between engineering and PR...

If you have a Lenovo PC made since last August, not a Thinkpad, but one of the consumer brands like Yoga, you might want to nip over here and run this here doohickey...

Sunday, 15 February 2015

Of Writing Books And Vicissitude

English: Image of a Viking Modular SATA SSD in...
An SSD in the wild.
(Photo credit: Wikipedia)
I have a new computer. It has a 4k screen and is basically very cool indeed. And then out of nowhere the other day that lavish and exquisitely detailed screen went green and the machine died and refused point blank to subsequently undie. It said it didn't have a boot device. The BIOS wasn't seeing the SSD - the solid state hard disk. This, in case you haven't realised by now, is really not very good news at all.

I sat staring at it, screaming inside. My book was on that thing. My novel. The new one. The one I've been fighting so hard to finish.

I have been writing A Simple Irish Farmer for a year now. That's not strictly true, I've had long breaks when I haven't been able to bring myself to face it, struggles with Mr Dunning and Mr Kruger and then (much shorter) runs of correcting what it was that was subliminally bothering me and getting back to work again. And then hitting another brick wall.

People often ask me about writer's block and I've always tried to be helpful but never really suffered myself. Now I'm an expert.

Why this book? Maybe because it's not a Middle Eastern book, maybe because I'm much more aware of what I'm doing as I work now. Maybe because there have been a number of changes taking place around me. And maybe because I'm setting myself a higher standard. There have been other factors, not least of which is everyone's insistence on telling me that there's no demand for books set in Ireland. Apparently the only place in the world that's nearly as unpopular as the Middle East among publishers and editors is Northern Ireland.

'Write a book set in Tuscany,' a best-selling friend told me. 'They holiday there. They understand Tuscany.'

I had another major knock-back when I interviewed a former IRA member last summer, realising that the aim I'd had for the book wasn't really coming through. I'm happier now, but the realisation hit me for a several weeks and had me unable to pick up my keyboard and set to. I'd tinker like an overfed cat playing with a dead gecko. For the last couple of months, though, it's been good. I know where the ending's going, my characters are dancing in spirited unison and a couple of hard edits have exposed the issues and corrected things.

I've been so busy, in fact, that I hadn't made the time to do something I do obsessively with my WIP manuscripts. I hadn't emailed it to myself - my version of making a backup - since the first week of December, in fact. I usually do that every couple of days when I'm working.

Three months' work, about 16,000 words and a lot of editing - on screen and by hand. At least two full edits of the 60,000 word MS. All gone.

I sent the machine off to be repaired and to have the data recovered. And found out that's the bugger with SSD's - when they go wrong, they go very wrong indeed. It's not unusual to see an SSD drive 'brick' and take your data with it. All of it. And that's what mine has done.

I started work again today. It all feels very Sysiphean, tell the truth. But if I do one thing, I'm going to finish this damn book if it kills me. Which, on current showing at least, it may well do.


Sunday, 8 February 2015

Strange Searches Ride Again

English: The CERN datacenter with World Wide W...
(Photo credit: Wikipedia)
Search engines are funny things. There they are, making billions of dollars out of giving you what you're looking for on the Internet and here I am, clearly screwing up that process for a small but frustrated number of searchers.

Sure enough, some people get what they're looking for - and there is a constant stream of people finding out what's in Tim Horton's deeply egregious French Vanilla coffee as well as crappy, additive-packed products like Pringles, Aquafina, Big Mac Chicken Nuggets and their (mostly really gross) ilk.

And there are quite a number who find their sojourn here truly useful, believe it or not. I know, I know, I'm amazed myself. But thousands have landed here and found, for instance, the secret to how to switch off the trackpad on a Samsung S5 Ultrabook - I am truly glad to have helped so very many of my fellow sufferers. And many searchers for Sri Lankan gems have found my 'buyer beware' post, which is a good thing, I would submit.

But others haven't been so lucky...

Here follows a compilation of some of the stranger recent visitors to this dusty and neglected backwater of the Internet.

Subsy onche emarat
You never know, you might win a game of 'Internet Era Trivial Pursuit' with this. Nokia's head office in Finland enjoys the IP address 131.228.29.81. Which is how I know that the person searching the World Wide Web for 'subsy onche emarat' works for Nokia. Other than that, and the fact this blog is the second Google result for the phrase, I am utterly baffled. What on earth was he/she looking for?

Food adultery
This one seemed funny until I found the post the searcher found and, clearly finding it amusing at the time, I had actually headlined it 'food adultery'.

Tent Grand Hyatt Dubai octoberfest shirt
It's an oddly specific search string, isn't it? It gets you this here post from a search on Bing, sadly not the first result. However, I had totally forgotten the post and it brought back memories of an ancient - and glorious - promotional fail.

tim hortons french vanilla ingredients
*little first page win dance*

mkene fishermen in  lotoboka
It's not that someone searched Bing for this odd - inexplicable even - phrase. It's not even that they landed on the blog by searching for it. It's that when I repeat the search, Bing or Google, it returns no results. SO HOW DID THEY GET HERE? Doodeedoodoo doodeedoodoo...

faking girl sudani dubai uae
Look, I don't mean to be rude, but if you can't spell it, I don't think you should be allowed to do it. The charmer searching for this got to this post, which I am glad to say was no help whatsoever to him, but did amuse me greatly as I had forgotten it.

paper,printer,ink to print fake money
I love this one. The putative commencement of an international criminal's career, cut short not by enforcement agencies acting on his/her clearly larcenous search history but by said criminal finding instead of the clear instructions he/she sought, this blog. How that happened, I do now know, because searching the first ten pages of results on Bing, I couldn't find the offending post myself!

best way to stop my etisalat frm consuming so much dataplan in a very little time
Clearly an unhappy customer. The answer, of course, is turn off data on your mobile. You're unlikely to find any answers here, of course...

dubai faking girls sex pics
This delightful person a) can't spell and b) works for (or has access to the network at) Lutheran General Health Systems in Chicago, Illinois. The visit came from 168.235.196.136, see. Not very Lutheran as searches go, is it? 

Wednesday, 4 February 2015

How To Make Books

English: Open book icon
(Photo credit: Wikipedia)
On the 5th March 2015, I'll be spending a couple of hours of my afternoon telling a small and bemused audience at the Emirates Airline Festival of Literature how to make books in the UAE (or elsewhere, actually).

I'm intending to start with a blank piece of paper and end with a shiny, printed book full of lovingly sequenced words, something I have traditionally spent three two-hour sessions doing (How to write books; how to edit books and how to publish books respectively), so squeezing it all into one short blob of 120 minutes is going to be a laugh.

If your idea of fun is sitting with other worried people as a strange man cackles, gibbers profanity and strews the air with streams of disconnected and scabrous half-thought, you can book a place at the session right here. It costs Dhs200 per person which I hasten to add I don't get my hands on. I'm doing it for free: the LitFest keeps the lot. Like a sort of literary European Central Bank, they are...

So what do you get for your hard-earned cash?

For starters, we'll take a look at stories and why we want to tell and write them. We'll look at the structure of a story and why a story even needs a structure. We'll look at characters and locations and at how a combination of the two can be used to create scenes, which build towards chapters. Pretty soon we'll find we've written a whole book and then we'll take the covers off how you edit your own work to knock it, wriggling and squealing, into shape. 

Then we'll look at what you do with it next: seeking an agent and through them a conventional publisher or the alternative - the process of making books yourself in the UAE, from Kindle and iPad e-books through to printed booky books you can riffle through and smell the gutter to get that scent of a 'real book'. 

Of course, our journey will include the unique kinks and needs of publishing print and e-books in the UAE and Middle East,  where things quite often aren't quite what they seem. And then, when you've dragged your noses out of that there gutter, we'll look at book marketing in a short of Shakespeare in 60 seconds sort of way.

All in two hours. Gosh.

If you've been to one of my writing, editing and publishing workshops before, you're not likely to learn anything devastatingly new unless you missed out a session or two. If you have been a prior victim and you're after a refresher (and not a refund, remember: no refunds), this might be interesting. If you're new to this and think you might want to give it all a go, the session should be thought-provoking, fun, packed with ideas and useful to you.

Should. I said should.

5th March, 5-7pm at the Majlis room at the Intercontinental Festival City Conference Centre. You have to book, places are limited and, just to be clear, because I can't say this enough, there are no refunds. The link to the booking page is given above and also here for your clicking convenience.

I might try and make you buy my books at some stage in the proceedings. It's a sort of occupational hazard.

Thursday, 29 January 2015

Sajida And The Bomb

There's a wall in our house slowly being covered with posters. We like neat poster art, and they're from places and artists that have amused us, art deco from Prague and communist era posters from Estonia rub shoulders with Swedish drinks adverts and monochrome calligraphies of the names of the dead from the 2005 Jordan bombings.

These are two of the images on that wall: stark and yet beautiful pieces I bought on the night when 'Into the Light' was staged, an art exhibition protesting and defying the 2005 Amman bombings. It took place the week after the atrocity.

My agency was one of the event's sponsors (I was, and am, terribly proud of that) and I flew in to attend it, feeling a little bit brave. My wee Britty snoot-cock at Al Qaeda. I can perhaps be forgiven: there were 16 guests in the Grand Hyatt at the time, most of the lobby was plaster-boarded off, behind the white plaster wall was still a scene of carnage. Bloody walls, smashed glass, wrecked furnishings and burned carpet.

There was a book on 'Jordan from the Air' in my room with a note from the GM. I thought it was to say, 'Thanks for being a brave wee bear and coming to our hotel even though it's a bomb site' and it was actually 'Here's to your 40th stay, Mr McNabb.'

Damn.

What was perhaps odder was that I had written the foreword to the book. It was sponsored by Jordan Telecom and they were a client. A couple of months before, I got a 'We've sponsored a book and we need a foreword from the Chairman for it' request. So I sat in that quiet room and read my own words written in another man's name in a book gifted to me by a bombed out hotel. I still have it. The book, not the hotel.

I was running an office in Amman at the time, based in the Grand Hyatt's Zara Centre. I didn't live there, but was travelling a couple of times each month and staying at the hotel. A lot of the hotel staff I knew from working on events there, having evening drinks in the lobby lounge or my morning reads of the Jordan Times over breakfast were killed in the bombing. Sixty people died in a terrorist incident that stunned what up until then had been - oddly enough - one of the safest and most stable countries in the region. A friend was standing by the reception desk, protected from the blast wave, and watched the glass doors of the hotel shatter and blow out.

For some reason, I wrote a bombing in an Amman hotel into Olives - A Violent Romance, which at the time I scribbled the scene seemed a little preposterous. The book was written before the Amman bombings...

So it's strange to see Sajida, the bomber that didn't quite go off, on my TV again. She always seemed a little confused, a little simple. Her pals detonated bomb belts packed with ball bearings, an evil payload that turned three hotels into massive games of deadly, high speed pinball. They were killed, she was caught.

ISIS (Daesh, whatever) want to swap her for a Jordanian pilot and, possibly, a Japanese guy. Jordan's said yes to the swap. A muddled, silly woman for a war hero. Deal.

But it's brought it all back for me, a strange time - one of fear for the safety of friends and a renewal of the feeling of grief for the senseless loss.

UPDATE: As we now know, this didn't end well. That confused, silly wee woman was hanged at dawn today (the 4th February) and we all watched (or in my case refused to watch) a pilot get burned to death in a killing that has pretty much united the world in revulsion.

Wednesday, 28 January 2015

Bill Gates, GM seeds, Monsanto and Africa. Hope for the future?

Bill and Melinda Gates during their visit to t...
(Photo credit: Wikipedia)
I do find this all profoundly depressing.

There I am, minding my business looking at a news website, when my eye catches one of those annoying little 'On the web' link-bait thingies. 'Bill Gates' predictions for 2030' it says. Fair enough. I refuse to click on 'em as a matter of principle (my furious rebellion has come to this over the years) but a while later I made my own way over to the 2015 Gates Note, which is Bill and Melinda's version of the sort of photocopied note that goes with the Christmas card to let everyone know little Gypsophila is now taking ballet lessons and wee Roderick has stopped eating light bulbs.

Bill and Melinda make a number of predictions for the future, slavishly picked up and amplified by all manner of media. One of them is 'Africa will be able to feed itself'. Which is nice. I was reading all this worthy guff, all the time being keenly aware of a nagging sensation about Bill Gates that I've tended to have since the days when, as a journalist, I was in receipt of official letters of complaint from Microsoft about the things I had to say about them - and him.

I saw a little infographic thingy, the 'Four keys to agricultural productivity', sourced from AGRA - the Alliance for a Green Revolution in Africa. These sorts of acronym pop out at me nowadays, they usually mean 'Big Business/Agro Disguised As Something You'd Like More'. Alliances, Committees and Action Groups funded by Big PR to front some vested interest or another.

And such is AGRA. The weasel comes in their own FAQ:
Can resource-poor smallholder farmers afford to buy seed every year? 
Yes. In fact, we are finding that seed companies regularly sell out of their stocks every year, and still cannot keep up with demand. Selling seed in small packages and making it available at the village level has greatly increased farmer adoption of improved seed. Mobile money has likewise boosted sales of seed in remote villages. AGRA also works with farmer organizations that offer group buying opportunities, as well as access to credit. What we are increasingly seeing is that, by adopting improved seed, farmers are becoming more prosperous and more able to purchase additional seed, as well as other inputs.

Does AGRA support GMO in Africa?
AGRA invests in conventional, farmer-driven breeding as a way to give farmers access to high-quality seed at prices they can afford. The big problem for farmers in Africa is access to reliable seed. Currently, only about one quarter of Africa's smallholder farmers have access to good seeds, compared to, for instance, 80 percent of farmers in China. New varieties are needed because many of the seeds farmers use today are inherently low-yielding and vulnerable to crop diseases and pests.

Well, hold on a moment, folks. What was wrong with a straight 'no' to that last question? And why would farmers HAVE to afford to buy seed every year?

It's interesting that everyone here is talking about 'maize' when they mean 'corn' or 'sweet corn'. Is it just my nasty, suspicious mind that tars us all with avoiding an increasingly unpopular and maligned word? Did you know that Canola was a brand name, coined (at least in part) because North American consumers wouldn't like the sound of 'rape seed'? Or that over 90% of the North African rape crop is Genetically Modified (GM)? Or that over 95% of American sweetcorn is GM - designed to be resistant to chemicals such as Monsanto's poisonous Roundup herbicide and so allowing the crop to be drenched in such high levels of the awful stuff that it makes its way into the food chain - and the food that people eat?

AGRA was founded in 2006 through a partnership between the Rockefeller Foundation and the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation.

So we take a look at this drought resistant 'maize' Bill's PR guy is waffling on about. It would seem 'Joyce Sandiya' in Tanzania was likely planting ZM 309 or ZM 523, two varieties of hybrid corn developed by CIMMYT (another acronym right there, this time for the 'International Maize and Wheat Improvement Center', whose research into drought resistant corn was backed by, wait for it, the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and the Howard G. Buffett Foundation). It was planted in Malawi in 2009 to great success.

Which is great, right? We're feeding Africa. Yay.

Except I can't help feeling unsettled by some of CIMMYT's bedfellows. They're working with Monsanto, the poster child for egregious GM and a company in which one Mr Gates' Foundation has a substantial, 500,000 share, investment (he's also invested in GM company Cargill but is tight-lipped about both investments). They're also linked to genomics company GeneMax, 'big six' GM company DuPont and agrochemical and genomics company Syngenta. Their 'advisory board' have strong links to Monsanto and Cargill.

They've got GM scrawled all over them.

It's interesting looking at all the coverage of their work, how they always partner with a local authority/research associate and ensure the local boys are upfront when it comes to the headlines and credit. Again, that's just me being suspicious and remembering the techniques used to publicise Microsoft 'win' stories back in the day.

You won't be surprised by now to learn that 25-year former Monsanto executive and GM research pioneer Robert Horsch is the deputy director for agriculture at the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation.

So there's Africa's hope for the future, right there. Bound to buy their seeds every year (wait for the prices to go up), mired in debt and tied to restrictive contracts and drenched in glyphosate herbicides, producing poisoned food in thrall to big agribusiness that snuck in under the coverage of enlightened philanthropy.

You really couldn't make it up...

Sunday, 18 January 2015

A Cairo State Of Mind

English: View from Cairo Tower
(Photo credit: Wikipedia)
The pollution is staggering: the air is grey with it, the sunlight dappling the twisted trees by the roadside moves with the slow miasma. It rained in the night, the moisture still shines in the ruts and gulleys of the serpentine backstreets and alleys.

Cats dart nervously between cars or feed on the rubbish piled up on the kerbsides, a broken-legged skinny dog whines. Its ribs are stark, skin-stretched.

The traffic grumbles and roars, constantly punctuated by the cacophony of blaring, bleating horns. People weave between the battered cars, squeezed into each other by the press of steel as they scurry or loiter.

Everything's grubby, despite the rain.

The statue of Ibrahim Pacha stands proud on its great block, the leader of Egypt's armies, the defeater of the Ottomans, defender of the realm and much other rot beside. His hand is raised, his mighty, verdigris-streaked steed below him as he looks out over the filthy, crumbling city around him. When it has all fallen in on itself, neglected until it simply collapses under its own febrile weight and the vibrations of the traffic - like an African Jericho - he'll still be proud, still be there. The downtown area is increasingly being bequested to the poor and marginalised as the Money moves out to 'New Cairo', with its Emaar developments and Al Futtaim Malls.

Over lunch at the conference, one of my fellow speakers tried to prod me about how fake and spangly Dubai is. I was too polite to tell him it was the one thing Cairo's brightest and bestest aspire to, so much so they're building a facsimile of Dubai on the outskirts of their fatigued city just as Dubai is building its very own facsimile of the pyramids. Let's swap: your culture for our glamour. Don't forget to spit on your hand before shaking, buddy.

A subway takes you away from the Great Man, steps take you down to pass under the road around the statue. Two men loiter for tips at the bottom. They have a plastic table to rest their prayer beads and ashtray on. There's an escalator going up and two fat old women approach it nervously. One is holding a box of food on her head, the scarves covering them drape over shapeless shoulders. They hop on, grasping for the handrail.

Disaster: a mis-step and their movements become increasingly Lorenzian, catastrophically they reach out for each other and lose the handrail. The younger of the men with the plastic table starts to move, sensing the unfolding tragedy. He's too slow, the ladies tumble, one onto her back, one falling forwards. The box of food goes flying as he belatedly hits the escalator stop button. I catch the food, the ladies wailing and scrabbling at the glass sides of the stairway as they try to heave themselves to their feet. They bat away the vain attempts of the man to help them, calling to God to help them. I right the food box and leave it aside as other onlookers rush to help the howling women.

Coming up out of the subway into the exhaust-laden sunshine, a man with one leg has paused to regain his breath after the climb, his crutches under his armpits supporting him as he fumbles for a cigarette. His clothes are shabby and his trousers shine with dirt.

For three Egyptian pounds, Dhs 0.50, I enter the Hadiqat Al Azbakiyah, the Azbakiyah Garden. It's marginally quieter in here, the traffic outside carving its way around the Great Man presiding over his crumbling eternal triumph. The pathway is a precarious walk, the paving has caved in. The kerbing is worn and shattered, litter and piles of leaves block the pathways. There's a destroyed, inexplicable low building with a collapsing rusty iron balcony at the end of the pathway, an Ottoman era relic clashing with the 1970s architecture of what can only be a toilet block, its slab sides spattered in bat shit. It is, of course, padlocked shut.

There are gardeners here and a grubby-looking heron vies with two crows to get at a small geyser gushing up from a broken pipe as a turbaned man in a gelabiyah hoses down the matte leaves of the exhaust-dusted plants. A group of men loiter around a gazebo. One calls out to me, 'Hello mate, hey buddy.' I wave a hand as I leave them behind.

I wander around, wondering at the unkempt, smashed-up state of the place. Only the Egyptians could break a garden.

Back to the hotel, then, to feed the mosquito in my room. He must be missing me by now...