Thursday, 23 June 2016

Brexit Last Minute Facts Shock Horror


Me and Bob shake. No hard feelings, mate. You're still wrong, mate.

I was delighted to find myself back in the Dubai Eye 103.8FM studios this morning, I must say I have missed my regular radio slots an awful lot.

The Business Breakfast team brought me on to wrangle about Brexit with a nice chap called Bob, which we did in a good natured sort of way. Here's my argument about why we should stay in the EU, in the hope it might be helpful to someone, somewhere today as the UK casts its votes on staying in the Union. It must be said, there has been all too little coverage from our mainstream media that has championed the causes of context and analysis that so often are pushed as an argument for why MSM is still relevant in our social world. Here are some of the bullet points I used to back up my 'remain' point.

Let's start with the big stuff. Our membership of the EU has made us more wealthy, more healthy, fairer, more free and more secure than if we had been outside the 28-nation bloc. Here's why:

Wealthier
  • 1 in 10 British jobs are linked to the EU's single market. That's 3.5 million jobs.
  • The UK's exports to the EU comprise some 54% of our total export of goods, some 40% of services. In other words, over half of our nation's trade depends on the EU.
  • 300,000 British companies, some 74% of our nation's exporters, operate in EU markets.
  • The EU's trade agreements are good for us. There are 46 in place, 70 under negotiation. If you take the example of South Korea alone, our trade doubled between H1 2011 and H1 2012 when our EU trade deal was in place.
  • If you're worried about the mad US trade deal, TTIP, so's the EU. That's why it's not being steamrollered through, which is what the US would dearly like to see.
Healthier
  • EU environmental legislation has been key to the development of better healthcare practices and keeping GMOs at bay. 
  • EU regulations on dangerous chemicals in foodstuffs, the workplace and agriculture have kept us protected against the interests of big business that would have dominated our polity otherwise.
Fairer
  • We have equal pay and anti-discrimination legislation and protections in place. 
  • The EU's anti-trust, tax evasion and competition laws have protected our businesses from unfair competitive practices. A company like Google has to listen to a 28-nation bloc - would they listen to a lone government in the same way?
  • The European Court for Human Rights exists to ensure justice to a standard agreed between our 28 nations to be the highest in the world. 
More free
  • We are free to travel, live and work anywhere in the EU. Over 1.4 million Britons do so. To deal with the great canard of immigration, incidentally, 942,000 people of Eastern European nationality and 791,000 people of Western European nationality currently reside in the UK. And 2.9 million people of Indian and Chinese nationality.
  • At the same time, we're not part of the Schengen agreement - so our control over our borders remains tighter than that of other EU members.
More secure
  • Put aside the fact the EEC, to become the EU, was formed in the aftermath of two bloody world wars and centuries of warring and economic conflict between the nations of Europe. 
  • The European Arrest Warrant alone makes us more secure and more able to ensure justice is done rapidly and effectively.
In 2015, we paid £8.5 billion in net contribution to the EU. That's 0.3% of British GDP, a minuscule amount in terms of government spending. That's equivalent to something like 7% of the NHS budget.

And yet it underpins over half our export trade into a zero-tariff hinterland giving us access to over 500 million consumers.

We keep getting shown the 'Norway model' and yet Norway pays more per capita in contribution to the EU than Britain does, is still subject to EU regulation AND legislation and yet can play no part in the democratic process that evolves, agrees and sets those regulations and legislation. It's hardly a win-win.

If we left, we'd see a 'hard border' between the Republic of Ireland and the North. We'd see 10% duty on all car exports from the UK to the EU, which to me just sounds like the death knell for an industry that today has no British ownership whatsoever. And you could say goodbye to those Airbus manufacturing facilities, too.

What about our sovereignty? Our democracy? The European Union IS democratic. If we'd spent 10% of the time and effort we've invested in Brexit understanding our MEPs, voting for them and engaging in dialogue with them, we'd be in a lot better shape when it comes to our participation in Europe. The EU commission proposes legislation, our MEPs vote for it, modify it or reject it in a totally democractic process.

As for our sovereignty, you'd really have to be a Little Englander to put that at the head of your worries. In today's world, we are no longer an Empire or a global power. And we've already given up more sovereignty to our regional assemblies than we've ever given up to Europe.

I've heard 'leave' campaigners talking about how 60% of our laws are made by the EU, but that's never substantiated. The British Chamber of Commerce estimates between 10 and 20% of British legislation is impacted by EU legislation. And as far as I can see, the vast majority of that has been positive for us rather than in any way negative. And by positive, I mean that if the rights of the individual are protected against the interests of big business, I'm for it.

Who would argue in today's globalised, hyper-networked world that isolationism is an option? It's simply not.

Have a nice vote.

Wednesday, 22 June 2016

Brexit Angst, Ireland, Impotence And All That


A couple of months ago, I was all 'Brexit, meh', especially when I tried to register to vote in the referendum and was informed I was ineligible because I've lived overseas more than 15 years.

Yup. Disenfranchised. I suddenly and inexplicably feel like throwing myself under a race horse.

It's incredible how disempowering the Internet can be when it's put in the hands of British civil servants. The language is all 'Right, guys, let's help you out here' and the stark reality is Colditz.

Over the last few weeks I have become increasingly concerned. And my feeling of absolute impotence has nothing to do with the fact that my minuscule vote, my only puny weapon in this pointless game that's been labelled 'democracy', has been torn away from me. It's that I genuinely believe my countrymen are stupid enough to vote to leave the EU and it's giving me the thundering heebie-geebies.

Sarah and I started looking at the consequences for us, for starters. We own property in the UK mainland and Northern Ireland. Sarah's Irish. I'm English. We face the very real prospect of a 'hard' border being established between Ireland and Northern Ireland as a result of Brexit.

Take a second to let that sink in. Never has Ireland been so united in the past two centuries as it is today. Irish people - as well as British people and, in fact, European people - are free to move around, settle in, shop in and generally live in the whole of Ireland. If we Brexit, that'll end. There'll be a border between North and South for the first time since Mo Mowlam whipped those churlish boys into shape as she was dying of cancer.

Irish Premier Enda Kenny filed a neat piece in today's Guardian, where he points out that we enjoy a WEEKLY trade of some £900 million between our two nations. Ireland is the only land border the UK has with another EU country. When that border becomes a real one, with cameras, customs officers and troops and stuff, we'll be plunged back to the North/South divide. That trade will be monumentally disrupted. All that tosh about £350 million a week to Europe pales in comparison, even if it were a true and a fair picture which it most certainly is not.

A hard border across Ireland? Where we've been busily tearing down walls for the past twenty-odd years? We'll be back to the Troubles faster than you can say A Decent Bomber*. Ireland will once again become partitioned and divided. A two-state solution imposed on a workable, wobbly but tenable one-state compromise. Neat.

I'm told there are something like a million Irish people living and working in London alone. Something like 5.5 million people in Britain are of Irish origin. One of our early 'migrant communities' they have enriched our nation and integrated into our society so much that we're practically mates these days. That's quite the miracle, 'cos when I was growing up, they were Paddies and they were stupid. We're over that now and we've learned to rub along a way lot better than we did in the days of 'No Dogs, No Blacks, No Irish'. I'd say there's a degree of mutual respect and even camaraderie these days. Even if 1847 does still tend to crop up now and then...

As Kenny says of Ireland and the UK in the context of our respective roles in Europe, "The UK and Ireland are like-minded on EU matters, and the process of working together in Brussels has built an immense store of knowledge, personal relationships and trust between our governments."

It's interesting that across Europe, our forced multiculturalism is about chickens coming home to roost. The Germans have Turkish Gastarbeiters, the Dutch Indonesians, the French Pieds Noirs and we British, we have Bangladeshis, Pakistanis, Indians, Caribbeans and Irish. Dominion it seems is a two ways street. It's funny how we created, or colluded in the creation of, the wars in Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya and Syria and yet we're so squeamish about accepting the consequences of our export of violence and terror. We, of all people, should have learned. When you break other people's countries, their vulnerable come to you for help.

So we're not exactly bullish on this Brexit thing. There are a lot of other reasons why Europe has been very good to the UK and continues to be a good thing. But this one aspect of a highly complex argument alone is enough to have us running scared. The rest of it, if you're even vaguely interested, I'll be chatting about on tomorrow's Business Breakfast show on Dubai Eye Radio from around 08.20am Dubai Time. You can stream it live by following that there link.

*See what I did there?

Friday, 17 June 2016

How Green Is My Sharjah?


The unthinkable has happened. The old battered dumpsters that used to line our sandy street have disappeared, each one replaced by two shiny new plastic bins. One is marked 'General waste' and one 'Recyclable waste'.

I quite miss our old one. Some expat anarchist had sprayed 'Green Day' on it:


Well, 'green day' is finally upon us! Sharjah's upped its green act with waste management company Bee'ah, with a goal of 'zero to landfill' being the stated aim. The new bins aren't the only sign of change around here: for years an integrated waste management policy has been rolled out with thousands of staff litter-picking, bin emptying, street cleaning and waste segregating. It's taken its time, but that tremendous effort has finally reached our street.

It's the end of an era.

We used to go visiting friends and family in the UK, our hosts dancing after us and correcting our bin-using habits. This goes in the green bin, that goes in the orange bag, this goes in the black bag, that goes in the green tray: depending on where you were in the country, the recycling regimen would change, but generally people are in the habit of segregating waste into organics, recyclables, bottles and general waste. They always seem to fill the bottle baskets when we're with them, but that's probably just because they're pleased to see us.

Of course, we've always just had the dumpster. Our waste segregation regimen has generally been pretty much 'throw out stuff'. That includes broken office chairs, broken shower curtain poles. Anything. Just lay it by the dumpster and hey presto! it's gone. Actually, the bin men often don't get to the larger stuff, there's always some opportunist who's got an eye out and larger items generally don't stick around beside the dumpster for longer than an hour or so. The record was a broken office desk we chucked out a few years back: it was gone within ten minutes.

So now we've joined the ranks of the responsible: a second bag in the kitchen is devoted to plastic, cardboard and tins. We're actually becoming civilised. Wherever will it end?

Thursday, 9 June 2016

Never Before In History Have So Many Readers Bought So Many Books From So Many Authors.

English: A Picture of a eBook EspaƱol: Foto de...
 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
There have been a number of recent reports celebrating the ‘undeath’ of print, with a reported decline in the growth of ebooks and a growth in print books. It is, of course, total bunkum.

All of the figures breathlessly trotted out to a compliant and all too credulous media are based on sales of traditionally published books by large publishers. America has been wooed by figures from Nielsen which only cover books with ISBN numbers (omitting, therefore, every single book published straight to Kindle), while the UK has been assured that a sales decline among the big five publishers is representative of the market (when it most clearly is not).

It all rather reminds me of the knight who won’t stand aside in Monty Python’s Holy Grail. ‘Rubbish,’ he declaims after his arm’s hacked off, ‘’tis but a scratch.’

Now I, oddly enough, don’t actually care what format you prefer to read your books in. Whether you love the smell of printed books or believe the earth is flat, that’s fine by me. I don’t buy into this whole triumphalism of print over ‘e’. It’s all a bit like the Mac vs PC stuff: too much pointless partisanship. The consumer will, when the smoke blows away, dictate what format of content they prefer.

The greatest danger of all, to my mind, is that the book itself will decline. But the sight of traditional publishers, desperately bobbing about in the sea, clinging to the wooden spar of traditional print, warehouse, sale and return – the model that has sustained most of them through long, long careers - pricing ebooks at unreasonably high levels and then pointing to consumer reluctance to pay those prices as a sign that the format itself is broken, is more than I can bear.

Never before in history have so many readers bought so many books from so many authors. The truth of the quiet revolution taking place is that people who otherwise would never have got their books to market (me, for example) are now able to share their work with global audiences. There are thousands of people out there finding new readers and millions of readers finding new authors whose work they enjoy.

Don’t get me wrong – every lunatic who thinks they've written the best thing since War and Peace now escapes the qualitative filtering process, so there’s lots of rubbish out there, too. But I have never met anyone who could put their hand on their heart and say they haven’t ever bought a traditionally published book that was utter rubbish.

The processes have changed. The filters have changed. As with every aspect of the digital communications revolution, we are expected to take more responsibility for the content we consume and share. We are editors more than ever before, we are the filtration process. It’s not perfect, there’s plenty of room for evolution. But it’s still all very, well, punk and I love it for that.

Never before in history have so many readers bought so many books from so many authors. And almost half of them are independently published by authors or small presses - with the penetration of ebooks in this incredibly diverse and dynamic new market blossoming thanks to low price points that reward readers and, critically, reward authors just as well, if not better, than their 10% share of a printed book's cover price through a big publisher.

Decline. Pfft.

Monday, 30 May 2016

The First Screen And Violent Desires

Family watching television, c. 1958
 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
I can remember a chap at a conference referring to mobiles as 'the third screen' (after TV and PC) and, some years later, someone putting on one of those Arthur, King of the Britons voices to prophetically announce that the mobile was now the first screen. Cue gasps from audience, challenged by speaker's uncanny insight.

Which is all well and good, but this whole constant screen lark is getting out of hand. I'm increasingly infuriated by the experience of lift doors opening to reveal people gazing at their mobiles. It's like a ritual, as dependable as Southern Indian men walking into lifts with mirrored back walls (cue comb whipped out from back pocket and furious primping of hair, usually by someone who hasn't pushed the button for the floor he wants and rewards you, when you get out, with that 'tch' of irritation as he realises he's in the car park and not, in fact, the 43rd floor). The slack-jawed mobile gawper stands there thumbing away at his handset, oblivious to the ten people staring at him and wishing him dead as their own lives ebb away, waiting for his convenience.

After a few seconds, he realises and either looks up and dashes for the lift or, worse, just belatedly blunders in with his head still buried in his mobile. Not buried quite as far as I'd ideally like it, I can tell you. On good days, the doors close painfully on his shoulders and I have to struggle to contain my elation.

I have little fantasies of being alone in the lift, the camera lens in the corner obscured by some fiendish device invented for one of my novels, grabbing the back of his head and dashing it against the mobile screen propped against the lift wall, bouncing his ugly pate against the little rectangle until splinters of Gorilla Glass are embedded in his...

Okay, I have to rest for a few seconds.

Aaaand we're back.

Stuck in traffic on the benighted MBZ, watching the guy in front leaving a hundred metre gap until the car in front of him, his eejit features dipping like one of those wee birds with felty heads you used to get that pivoted on a plastic base to dip eternally into a glass of water. And you know that means he's texting or Whatsapping or Facebooking or whatever other neoloverbism you want to dub his slavish infosharing with.

I hate him. I watch cars push into the yawning gap he's leaving; one, two and three people all getting home one car, two cars, three cars ahead of me. I want to get out and go knock on his window, perhaps talk to him, point out that directing a tonne of steel, glass and, increasingly these days, plastic might might just be a teensy weensy bit more important than sharing photographs of Rima's first puke. Or even rip the mobile out of his fat, hairy hands and toss it under the wheels of the jerk in a brown Renault Duster who's undertaking us both and filling the permalacuna that mobile-head is leaving in the flow.

But the one that really, and I do not want to understate this too much, really, really gets my goat (I don't have a goat, but if I had one it would get it. Probably comprehensively eviscerated.) is the blithering dimwit who walks into me in the shopping mall because he is gurning into his mobile, his sago-slack features lit by the flickering of the YouTube clip of a cat whose arse is being used as a pencil sharpener by a dog egged on by a buttered mandrill.

I mean, right into me. I'm standing quite still because my wife is consumed by the enormity of the choice between Wallis and Chic. Shoes or dresses. She's torn, uncertain. I'm waiting for her to reach the epiphany of the indecisive shopper and Elie The JerkTard actually walks into me. And, finally, my legion suppressed fantasies of violent urges silently played out on numberless witless screen-droolers find their outlet. Sarah's headed for Chic, because there's a Lebanese man with male pattern baldness hanging out of the smashed plate glass window of Wallis, his body jerking as arterial blood spurts, drenching the long cougar-print dresses drooping from their circled hangers.

And yes, I do feel better now, thank you very much.

Friday, 27 May 2016

Friday State Of Mind


"A Decent Bomber was an excellent story."

"I read and reviewed prior novels by Alexander McNabb (Shemlan, Olives, and Beirut). I enjoyed all of them, and recommend them to anyone who enjoys a good thriller. In my opinion, A Decent Bomber is the best yet."

"McNabb moves from the familiar ground of the Middle East to Ireland, and remnants of the Provisional IRA. Thoroughly enjoyed this book. A really pacey thriller with brilliant characters."

"Crime, political, conspiracy, action thriller, call it what you need to, this one is a page turner you do not want to miss."

"Thoroughly enjoyable."

"Enjoyably nasty canter through a familiar Troubles-based background."

Straight five stars on Amazon. Rave reviews. It's sold less than 200 copies.

Sometimes I think I'm missing something massive, shake my head and just move on...

Friday, 20 May 2016

An Alternative To That There Soulless Mall


So you want to get up to something different this weekend? Something a little more off the beaten track than wandering around marbled malls listening to that swishswish of the mall walkers, too lazy to pick up their feet as they wander around the 'new roundabout', packed with shops selling things they can't really afford and don't really need?



Let me suggest something. Over here, on ShjSEEN, is a wee guide to Sharjah's souks. Go for the early evening shift, from about 5pm onwards is good on a Friday or Saturday. Have an adventure. Fill your boots. You can thank me later...



BTW, all the souk names in the piece are links to Google Maps, so you have no excuse about 'finding my way around Sharjah'

Friday, 13 May 2016

Beirut - An Explosive Thriller And The Dynamics Of Free Vs Amazon Advertising


Warning. Very long post about book marketing.

So here's the skinny. In Mid-March, I dropped the price of Beirut - An Explosive Thriller and Olives - A Violent Romance to FREE on Apple, B&N, Kobo et al.

This then forced Amazon's Amazing Algorithms to 'price match' the books and make them free on Amazon. This is not something Amazon lets you do otherwise, only letting you make a book free for 5 days per quarter if it's enrolled in Kindle Unlimited and therefore exclusive to Amazon.

Note, as per my previous post on this, you have to change to the 35% royalty to do this, otherwise Amazon gets shirty.

Amazon's big machines decided to chop Beirut and Olives in the US store (.com) but only Olives in the UK store (.co.uk). The volumes are markedly different: 30 free Olives downloaded in the UK compared to 700 in the US.

As of today, Beirut is now free in the UK store. You can go here and get it. Do please feel free to share the link on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram or another other platform where you think your followers, friends and family might enjoy a fabulous international spy thriller packed with guns and bombs and babes and stuff. [endplug]

So what has all this 'free' told us?

For a start, people have found Beirut a lot more attractive than Olives: 3,000 downloads compared to 700. As you can see from the covers side by side above, the title and cover of Olives don't really cut the mustard. Not sure what I can do about that, to be honest. However, it would appear Beirut got a bit of a lift up on some unseen list or another, because its early trajectory was amazing, speeding it to #1 free thriller on Amazon.com for a few halcyon days.

What has the knock-on effect been? A handful of Shemlan - A Deadly Tragedy sales have been bubbling along, 14 copies in April and so far 4 copies in May. Sales of A Decent Bomber and Birdkill have also slowly started to lift (6 and 7 copies respectively). However, Beirut's downloads have slowly declined, dropping from a relatively steady couple of weeks at 30-50 copies, then a couple of weeks ranging from 15-30 copies and now running at 5-15 copies per day.

There have been a couple of additional reviews of Beirut and Olives alike on Amazon, 4* and 5*, thank you. But the maths is amazing - almost 3,000 downloads to drive 10 book sales and two reviews.

Generally, as my books have got better (IMHO), their sales numbers and therefore number of reviews has declined. Which is wonderful, really.

Amazon Advertising

I've also been running an advertising campaign for Birdkill on Amazon over the past week. This has been interesting, particularly compared to the experimental Twitter campaign I ran. I have kept relatively quiet on other platforms to better isolate and judge the results and impact of the Amazon campaign.

$100 of my hard-earned spent a while ago on Twitter was targeted not so much at keywords as at followers of a number of book promoters, publishers and book recommendation accounts. That resulted in 29,707 impressions and 90 clicks. I think I sold one book, so we're doing better than McNabb's Law of Clicks would have us believe should be the case.

I thought Amazon advertising was likely to be more impactful. Here, you're targeting people at the moment of browsing and purchase and you can target by genre. If you think about it, that's nigh on perfect. It's like being on someone's shoulder in a bookshop with the ability to whisper, 'That one. There. Birdkill by McNabb. Do it.'

Amazon lets you serve up a number of ad formats, placing the ads on other book pages, newsletters, into Kindles and so on. Like Google's Adwords, you bid for your clicks. In my genres for Birdkill, (Literature & Fiction: Action & Adventure; Mystery, Thriller & Suspense: Conspiracies, Mystery, Paranormal as you ask) the bidding was in the range US$ 0.40-0.50. In reality, I had to raise my bid to $0.55 to start getting impressions and eventually raised it to $0.60. My average cost per click has come in at $0.53.

The bidding works just like Google: your bid is accepted above the second highest bid, rather than just topping all bids.

So far, we're not quite done yet, Amazon has yielded 22,057 impressions, 118 clicks and two book sales and we're about 60 bucks into my budget. That's better than Twitter and again better than McNabb's law of clicks, but it's a pretty impressive catalogue of fail - Birdkill is a well packaged book and to see 118 clicks turn into 116 bounces is pretty depressing.

There has been no appreciable impact in the sale (or download) of any of my other titles since the campaign started. Unless you count one copy of Space...

Here are the Birdkill ads in the various formats Amazon supports, all auto-generated out of the base data you supply them - you don't have individual control over each creative:

 245 x 250
Didn't know those paltry two reviews would show. Five stars, mind, which is nice, but not enough reviews really. Funnily enough, that doesn't seem to have affected the CTR (Click Through Rate to you, mate), which has been just over 0.5%.

270 x 150

I like this one best of all. Those reflections are right classy...
270 x 200

300 x 250
402 x 250

980 x 55

And, finally, I is in ur Kindle...

It's worth bearing these in mind when you look at your advertisement format and the text you're planning to use... The 'astounds and horrifies' line did quite well on my Twitter campaign, which is why I decided to re-use it here. Do people want to be 'astounded and horrified'? Who knows? All this stuff is merely trial and error. If it were a science they'd teach it in school.

And so at the end of a two month campaign of experimental free offers and advertising campaigns targeting keywords and followers on Twitter (as well as messing around with a lot of organic Twitter targeting: ads.twitter.com/user/yourusername is a powerful dashboard for measuring the impact of tweets) and a genre-targeting campaign on Amazon, I am none the wiser. Although arguably better informed.

If you know anything wot I don't, or have any new angles on the above, please do feel free to share.

And don't forget to drop an Amazon review when you've read your free books!

Thursday, 12 May 2016

Thirty

Martin, R.M. ; Tallis J. & F. Arabia. 1851 Wor...
(Photo credit: Wikipedia)
It was thirty years ago when I first travelled to the Arabian Gulf (Wikipedia says Persian Gulf, but then Wikipedia has a distressing tendency to say tomayto, faucet and German Shepherd Dog) - on business, as it happens. Few, back in the day, were intrepid enough to travel to the peninsula for touristic purposes and most of those were Germans seeking exciting new ways to get skin cancer.

It was thirty years ago I was head-hunted by a strange, balding suspected megalomaniac and pitched into a world I could never have imagined; a world of madness and oddity beyond belief. If the end of days was to be filled with cats barking and men walking backwards, I was severely underwhelmed, because Saudi Arabia in 1986 was a great deal weirder than all that Dantesque nine circles of hell stuff. You want dystopia? Welcome to the Gulf, my friend. We have too much dystopia. How much you like pay?

I was to sell things. To this end, a strange attempt was made to put me through a thing they called 'Sales Training'. Basically, you pretended to be interested in people, asked them lots of questions to find out what they wanted and assured them your product was just what they needed. They agreed, signed the form and you ran away with all of their money, a small percentage of which you were allowed to keep.

What could possibly go wrong?

Pal and colleague Adel thinks I should document my life in the Gulf. This sort of advice is usually to be avoided, because friends and family always think you sound more interesting than you really are. But it was he convinced me to go Prado over Infinity and he was so very right about that. Let's face it: if you want advice on car buying, Emiratis are unfailingly sound. But memoir? Really? The diary of an expat nobody? Who in their right mind cares?

And then it hit me on the drive home yesterday. It's been thirty years. 30. The big three zero. I've turned into some of those crusty old bastards I met when I first arrived. They were legends those people. They had seen strange things, could tell strange tales. And I cast my mind back to those first experiences in the sand pit and I must confess, I amused myself greatly.

This is always a dangerous sign. It means I'm about to write something everyone else thinks is shit.

So here's the deal. I'm going to have a go at dredging it all up and posting it. God knows, the blog has been missing posts badly enough recently. I might get bored and just give up - and I start the exercise with that caveat. I might carry through with it and turn it into a book, although Middle East Memoir is arguably the genre which gave 'vanity publishing' its bad name to begin with. But then I've made something of a speciality of publishing books that don't make much sense. Why stop now?

In the spirit of the wonderful Dubai As It Used To Be and even Facebook's Dubai - The Good Old Days, I'll have a go at remembering the anarchy and madness that made me fall in love with the Gulf, and the wider Arab World. For this is the place I still call home today and for which, 30 years on, I retain a genuine and abiding love...

Thursday, 5 May 2016

shjSEEN - Sharing Sharjah Things, Stuff And Stories

English: Sharjah, United Arab Emirates (UAE).
(Photo credit: Wikipedia)
I'm contributing blog posts to an interesting project called shjSEEN, which is being run by the Sharjah Chamber of Commerce and Industry.

The idea is to take a fresh look at Sharjah and perhaps delve into the many hidden joys, delights and treasures of The Cultured Emirate, under the tagline 'One city, lots of soul'.

I can hear you Dubai types scoffing as I type, so you can stop that right now, pally. Sharjah's got a great deal going for it - all you have to do is look beyond your brunches, blingy bars and chain stores. And you can get over that wailing about the traffic, while you're at it. At the weekends, when Sharjah's arguably at its best, it's generally a breeze.

Sharjah HAS got soul, lots of it. From the area where I live (whose tribal leader, in the 1920s, invaded Ajman and occupied its fort), down to Al Khan on the Dubai border (where a protracted gun-fight took place between Dubai and a gang of dissidents, which stopped each day to let the charabanc of British travellers on Imperial Airways pass), Sharjah's got history. Loads of it. There are Umm Al Nar tombs, iron age settlements and ancient cities, forts and trade routes that go back - literally - to the dawn of humanity. There's the history of trade, from the lovingly restored (and beautiful) Souq Al Arsah and Heart of Sharjah through to Mahatta, the fort which was built as the Gulf's first airport hotel.

There are sights to see, from Mleiha's world-class visitor centre to the many museums, art galleries and exhibitions. There's loads to do, from dune bashing over fossil rock, chilling out in Khor Fakkan (Sharjah's the only Emirate with coastline on both the Arabian Gulf and Indian Ocean) through to wandering around the Sharjah Desert Park with its Natural History Museum, Wildlife Centre and Botanical Gardens.

In Sharjah you can buy diamonds, pearls, oud and bukhour, ambergris, musk and antiques, from old stamps and coins from the UAE and wider Middle East through to khanjars and water jars: you can wander perfume souks, spice souks, old souks, new souks and even gold and blue souks. You can take the kids to the aquarium or to play as you enjoy a waterside coffee at Al Qasba, or Al Majaz. Or let them go wild in the rides, swings and waterpark at Montaza.

If you fancy a full-on Friday brunch without having to fight off hooning, red-faced drunks in Paul Smith shirts and Coast dresses, the Radisson Blu does a family one including pool and beach access, so you can snooze it off - and cooks up some of the best Lebanese food you'll find outside Beirut. The Sheraton Sharjah does a glorious afternoon tea for pennies.

So I'll be looking forward to writing about these things and more - because there is, yes, a lot more. It's all rather fun, I must say!