Saturday 1 February 2020

The Triumph of the Call Centre

It is my lot to have to deal, because in some ways I live a complex life, with a number of banking institutions on a regular basis. In short, I have four banks. I know, I know, it's just worked out that way and there's nothing to be done about it. Two of them, UK based, are highly competent organisations that do the stuff you need, when you need it.

I was arguing this morning with a certain local bank from the smallest emirate, who had set out to destroy my life and otherwise poke me with sharp sticks until I explode. The manager, to resolve the frustrating situation entirely of their making, called the call centre.

This is the third occasion in recent times that someone from a bank who is facing me across a desk has called the call centre to actually, you know do something. Although this act in itself presages the disintermediation of the carbon-based life form in front of me (quite satisfying really, a little like being able to gesture at them with an imperious wave and have them disappear in a puff of smoke with a sort of poofff sound), it is something of a worry.

Call centres are the modern equivalent of Roman Triremes, enormous ships packed with slaves tethered to oars and made to work by the application of copious lashes and a kettle drum. They are staffed by interns and other marginalised segments of society (out of work actors, former travel agents and record company executives), utterly disempowered and driven only by the need to recite the scripts they have been provided with. 'Is there anything else I can help you with today?' invariably ending the call where they haven't been able to help you.

They are where customers are sent to be ignored and frustrated. They are the dregs, the bowels of the earth. They are the people we shout at when we're angry with a company (usually, but not always, a bank or a telco), who take the abuse so that their management and witless marketing teams can go on behaving as if the company is at least nodding at the idea of behaving decently and with the slightest of intentions towards fulfilling some degree of what is laughingly described by corporates as 'customer service'.

So what if these IVRs, drones, bots and under-rated call handlers become the only interface to the customer? If there's no such thing as an empowered human being you can deal with? And what, then, of the 'promise of AI' in customer service?

What if we have reduced the customer experience so much that it's not really about technology developing and reaching up to equal great customer service, but customer expectations and experience being downgraded to the point where semi-evolved technology is good enough?

What then?

Tuesday 14 January 2020

In Plain Sight - Five Places You Probably Didn't Know Were Even There

The landscape of the Emirates is dotted with little bits of history: a murabaa (watch tower) speaks of a conflict between emirates or tribes here, a wall reminds us of a war there. Sometimes we find ancient ruins, millennia old, sometimes we can stumble across an Iron Age fort or two. And sometimes we can find memories so fresh they still hurt - and yet they're carved in the landscape around us. Such is history.

So here are five to watch out for - these particular examples are ancient places that speak to the distant past, but which you've probably driven by time and again without realising anything was even there. You can visit, or just take a spin on Google maps and see what there is to see from a satellite.

Most of these sites (well, all except Jebel Buhais) are fenced off, so you can't actually do anything once you get there, except perhaps fly a drone over and take some snaps (watch out for no fly zones), but you can impress friends by even knowing there's a thing there! The links in the names are Google pins...

A key Iron Age settlement, Muwaileh is an archaeological site in the middle of a residential area just off the Sharjah University City campus. It was here that researchers found evidence of Iron Age collective authority developing around water resources, of the domestication of the camel and one of a very few objects found that date back to the Emirates' virtually iron-free Iron Age - most of the metals we find from this era of the country's history are copper, bronze or precious trinkets in silver or gold.

Ed Dur
The site at Ed-Dur is actually an important pre-Islamic city. Ed-Dur has been put forward as Pliny’s Omana ‘a harbour of great importance in Carmania’. Carmania was a Persian province under Alexander the Great which stretched along the coast from Bandar Lengeh to Bandar Jask on the Persian shore. Ed-Dur is linked tightly to its 'sister city' of Mleiha, inland of Sharjah.

Ed Dur is most likely one you've passed many times as it's on the coastal route north of Umm Al Quwain to Ras Al Khaimah - many expats will know it as the Road To The Barracuda. It was at Ed-Dur that archaeologists found the first use of alabaster as windows, as well as extensive finds of weapons, jewellery, coins and other artefacts that point to an flourishing in an era under Hellenistic influence and a decline and fall, likely to the Sasanians in or around the 3rd Century BCE.

In its blossoming, it was a sprawling settlement greater in area than 1st Century London. One of the key finds here was a temple dedicated to the Sun God, Shamas - and the earliest surviving evidence we yet have of the written word in the land of the Emirates.

Sheba's Palace (Shimal Fort)
The area around Julfar (the precursor city to Ras Al Khaimah, but NOT 'old' Ras Al Khaimah, although the city has expanded to encompass the area of ancient Julfar) is rich in Islamic era settlements, spanning the 900s and first millennium settlement at Jazirat Al Hulayla, the fortress of Shimal, dating to the 1100s (known today as Sheba’s Palace) and farms in the Wadi Haqil.

This development of agricultural resources inland of the port town is mirrored at Sohar in Oman, where at around the same time we see extensive development taking place along the Wadi Al Jizi, the route from Sohar inland to Buraimi. Here's a drone shot:

Shimal fort is pretty impressive, but also pretty inaccessible, sadly. Your best bet is a drone or a pretty hectic scramble around the rocky escarpment it sits on, with a fine view of the extensive plains of ghaf trees below it. The area's settled now and it would be wise to bear in mind that you're intruding on private life if you do decide to go biffing around the place.

Jebel Buhais
The important and extensive necropolis of Buhais encompasses burials from pretty much every pre-Islamic era with the sole - and deeply puzzling - exception of the Umm Al Nar period. Many of the burial sites here have been at least roofed over - and some key finds have been removed to Sharjah Archaeological Museum. Right in the middle of the extensive area of burials dotted across the east-facing face of the outcrop of Buhais is an Iron Age fort, first excavated by an Iraqi team in 1974. Again, a drone shot:

Above: The Iron Age Fort at Buhais

Al Sufouh
The Al Sufouh Archaeological Site is perhaps the maddest of the lot - it's bang in the centre of the residential neighbourhood inland of the Palm Jumeirah and it includes an important Umm Al Nar tomb, which you can see to the centre right of the Google image above. It's a classic shape, better seen from this drone shot of the Umm Al Nar tomb at Mleiha Archaeological Centre:

So there you have it. Just five of five hundred or more places around the Emirates where you'll find the past is hidden in plain sight.

We'll be talking about this sort of stuff on the 7th February at the Emirates Airline Festival of Literature, in a session where I'll be 'In conversation with Peter Hellyer' about the history of the UAE.

Sunday 12 January 2020

Children of the Seven Sands to be at the LitFest Shock Horror

Well, it would appear as if 5pm on Friday the 7th of February is the time to be at the Intercon Festival City.

That's when I'll be joining History Ninja Peter Hellyer to talk about the history of the Emirates in general and, of course, Children of the Seven Sands in particular. The book launches, and will be in the shops from 02/02/2020 - but the LitFest session's on the 7th.

What's the plan?

Well, for a start you're going to find out there's a hell of a lot more lurking below the surface of the UAE than you ever thought. We're going to visit the Garden of Eden and poke about around Noah's Arc and biblical floods - just for starters.

We'll be wandering around ancient Sumeria and finding out about the first intercontinental human trade network, which centred around this here place where we live.

We're going to look at the death of 10,000 men in Dibba, the Arab monopoly of trade with the East and the mystical city of C14th Hormuz - a strange island out of a fantasy novel, totally without water, brilliantly flecked by minerals and built around a salt mountain; home to over 50,000 people of sophisticated tastes and cosmopolitan ideals.

We're going to steep ourselves in the blood and agony of the Portuguese conquests of Arabia and the Arab trading networks that spanned the Seven Seas, in the Arab revolt that followed and the British suppression of their local Arab trading competitors and forceful domination of the Gulf.

We're going to wander around the wild hinterland of the Emirates and meet Bedouin tribes, explore the ancient port of Julphar and examine the wars and conflicts that shaped the modern Emirates.

And we're going to play around with stories of the past - of Zayed the Great, who killed the Ruler of Sharjah in hand to hand conflict, of Abdulrahman of Al Heera, one of the stormiest and most feared - and respected figures of the Trucial Coast and of the leaders who ruled the Trucial States under British protection and in the face of plague, drought, famine and - occasionally - plenty.

We're going to learn about the British invasion and bombardment of Dubai in 1910, the battle to establish an airport in Sharjah and the wars between the Emirates of the coast. And we're going to steep ourselves in intrigue, coups and counter-coups as well as heroes and tales of derring-do. We'll learn about oil and the colourful figures who stalked the Emirates holding concessions under the noses of Rulers brought up to a lifetime's haggling in the souk and minded to drive a hard bargain.

We're going to find out that the story about the end of the pearl market in 1929 because of the cultured pearl and the Great Depression is pure bunkum - and how the whole silly tale sprang up in the first place. And we're going to find out what happens when you fire an Exocet missile at a ship carrying 400,000 tonnes of oil. And no, it doesn't explode. We're going on a journey to the past - a past you didn't know was there under your nose.

It's going to be a roller-coaster, without a doubt.

This is the make a booking link right here.

That there will be drinks at the Belgian after, you can be assured.

Thursday 9 January 2020

Children of the Seven Sands. Who's a little smartie?

So this is the cover of Children of the Seven Sands and I think (I could perhaps be accused of being ever so slightly biased) it's a little beauty.

So here's a big thank you to the elves and dwarves at Motivate Mansions, who sweated over making the book all really rather jolly.

The book's edited to death, although something horrible's sure to have slipped by. You've got 140,000 words to get right. The picture captions are done. It's all ready to rock and roll, basically. The cover's the last element to be settled.

And now it's just a waiting game as the NMC does its thing. Time to ponder how the hell I ended up writing a history of the Emirates in the first place, how I decided to plunge into non-fiction having had a perfectly pleasant time of it writing novels. I try not to remember the research, the tottering piles of academic papers and esoteric volumes. The cross-checking facts and all that stuff.

The acid test is around the corner now - Joe Public. Will it be enough of a narrative to be readable? Will it deliver on its promise of making the UAE's often bloody but never less than fascinating history come alive? Or will it trudge and heave, limping its way to being bookshelved halfway through?

I could care less right now. I'm sitting gazing at the cover and rolling the title around in my mouth like warm brandy.


Monday 6 January 2020

How NOT To Use A Drone

The Iron Age Fort at Jebel Buhais, imaged by an ex-drone

I have posted previously about my acquisition of a DJI Mavic Pro drone and my subsequent attempts to kill it. Pal Jane asked me the other day, from her new Italian fastness, to recommend a drone and I wholeheartedly endorsed the DJI drones (a friend has just bought the amazing DJI Mavic Mini and is astounded by its stellar performance) even as I confessed to her that I had finally managed to terminally, utterly, destroy my own Mavic that very morning.

This, she said, was her concern. To spend so much money and break the thing. I pointed out how very, very hard I had tried. I am dumb, the drone is smart. Time and again, it eluded death at my hand with a cautionary 'I'm sorry, Dave, I'm afraid I can't do that.'

The Mavic returns home if you fly it out of battery. It returns home if you fly it out of range. It refuses to fly too far or too high. It detects objects and refuses to fly into them even if you aim it straight at them at full speed. If you fly it behind a mountain so that it loses contact with the controller, it returns home automatically. If it's hit by bursts of military grade RF, it comes home. If you fly it in high winds, it warns you and asks to come home. If you try to fly it illegally, it warns you. I know, I have done all these things. And the drone has survived time after time.

And then I managed it. Peak feckwit.

There's something magical about the moment when you realise you have trashed nigh on a thousand pounds' worth of perfectly integrated, smart, highly autonomous technology. It's a nasty, deep-in-the-guts ache, a tingling that refuses to go away. Your mouth dries and your heart-rate flies through stratospheric. The first thing you do is denial. No way, no way that happened. I mean, that's bats. I flew it under a bridge, over a plunging waterfall, imaging the roiling torrent below.

How could it have crashed? I lined it up beautifully for the flight over the waterfall. It sailed under the spans above, danced above the mad white water below. It was a perfect trajectory.

It was, indeed - straight into the overhanging branches of a tree. The first rotor chopped off a branch, ripped into the green wood. The drone struggled briefly to right itself then other rotors snapped twigs and it dropped into the rushing white waters.

Drone to stone in less than a second. Game over.

The only (very slight, I can tell you) good news is that I had already taken the drone shots I needed to illustrate Children of the Seven Sands.

The rest is just bitter, salty tears...

Saturday 4 January 2020

Happy New Year And All That

We took an A380. It's quicker...

So, here we are back 'in station' from 'leave in UK'. The coming week will involve the usual getting used to be being back home in this place which is home but not really home. As I pointed out on Twitter,  I'm back where I came from but not where I started.

Over the years, that has felt increasingly odd and, a bit like a tetanus jab, it gets worse every time.

I have things to focus on, of course - work's going to be mad, I know. And then we have Project Children of the Seven Sands, which launches in under a month...

The book's currently with the UAE's National Media Council, who have to decide whether it will break the world or whether it is not so painful as to be beyond their ability to ignore its more dramatic twists and turns. There's a lot in there they could potentially object strongly to - so we're hoping they are feeling brave, generous and generally able to take a deep breath, perhaps even hold their noses, and let the whole thing go with, if not their blessing, certainly their veto withheld.

Why should they?

Well, for a start it's all true. The truth may not always prevail in the world of Middle Eastern politics and culture, but the Emirates is in a funny place right now and probably more capable of facing up to the comforting and uncomfortable facts of its history than it ever before has been. This is the story, the full and unexpurgated story, of this land and its origins. Now, more than ever before, an environment prevails where that story can be told without fear of censorship or, indeed, censure.

Secondly, it's all rather wonderful. This history is rarely less than amazing, delightful and utterly counter-intuitive. I can only hope I have told it in a way that at least communicates a touch of the splendour, madness, hope and fear that is woven through a past that is magical, deadly, innocent and majestic in turns. Why would you possibly repress a past that is so colourful and magical, that gives meaning to your present and lets your people start to explore who they totally, really are? Is that a big claim for a book? Sure it is, and I'm happy to make it and stand by it.

And thirdly - and I make no apology for this - it's told by a friend. Now, we might be talking about a friend who's a bit loud and embarrassing and who drinks all the fruit juice before the important guest gets a look in, but you're better off with this story in the hands of a bumptious friend than an enemy - and you're certainly better off with a sympathetic interpretation of the archives than you are with a literal parroting of the British view as they recorded it - for instance.

I'm not saying by any means that I've papered over cracks or omitted inconvenient truths because I most certainly haven't - but I've given context where that is relevant and explained actions where they seem otherwise inexplicable. I've told the whole story only after I understood the entire thing myself, so that each action and event is given (I hope) the right weight in the overall scheme of things. I may not be a safe pair of hands, but I'm the best you're likely to get around here for a while yet.

Once we're through that, it's final covers, a quick review of the layout/page proofs and off to print in time for 02/02/2020 when we should be launching the thing.

In the meantime, there may be some promotional activity. You have been warned...

Thursday 5 December 2019

#SharjahSaturday - A QUICK FAQ

Frequently Asked Questions

What IS #SharjahSaturday?
It's just a wee Twitter hashtag. I've proposed a route around Sharjah to let people see what's on their doorsteps and what they could be getting up to on the weekend instead of being cooped up in their Dubai apartments or dragging their weary butts out to yet another brunch.

We'll be a-Tweetin' as we go, no doubt. I've sort of picked things that seemed to make sense for starters, but I've not even touched Mleiha; Wasit Wetlands; Sharjah Archaeology Museum; Sharjah Car Museum; Discovery Centre;  Sharjah Aquarium; Sharjah Art Museum or the Sharjah Art Foundation Collection. Let alone the conservation centres, lodges, inland or east coast places. There's a load to do in Sharjah - and that leaves another six emirates to explore afterwards...

What ARE you doin' then?
See blogs passim. Like this here list with Google pins for everything...

Why are you even bothering with this?
Because I got irritated at someone whining on Twitter a while back about how pinned down and shallow they felt living in Dubai. The Emirates is a rich, colourful, glorious tapestry of amazing things - and many of these are in Sharjah. So I thought it was worth sharing.

Also, I have a book to sell.

A book to sell? REALLY? Wow! Do tell MORE!
Children of the Seven Sands is the Human History of the United Arab Emirates, by me and published by Motivate Publishing and launching at the Emirates Airline Festival of Literature 2020.

It just happens to tie in nicely with Sharjah's wild, rich and often extremely bloody history. The book charts the 130,000 year-old human history of this place, from the emergence of anatomically modern man from Africa to populate earth through to the end of Eden, the discovery of metals, early societies and trading networks, the advent of Islam and the fall of the first human intercontinental trade network to the bloodthirsty Portuguese, the dominance of the British and the violent, internecine wars and vicious scrabbles for power that eventually resulted in transforming the Trucial States into the United Arab Emirates.

Was that a book plug you just sneaked in?
No, no, no, no. Of course not.

If you want to attend the Children of the Seven Sands LitFest Session, the link is here. Ahem.

Do I have to come/make excuses for not coming?
No, not at all. I have no expectations here and if six people rock up, that'll be super. That's six times more people than me tweeting about things to see and do in Sharjah.

Where you starting?
Jones the Grocer - Flag Island for around about 9am. Google pin here.

Do we have to come to [insert location on the day]?
No, you can turn up, stay as long as you like in a place, miss a place out, do whatever you want to. We happen to be wandering around in a particular order, but that's no reason why you should feel you have to. HOWEVER, if you're with me/the main group, entry to Sharjah Museums properties is FREE YES FREE. If you're not, they'll make you pony up the entrance fee. To be fair, that's usually only pennies in any case - Sharjah's a very museum friendly place.

What about locations?
Every location for #SharjahSaturday is linked in this here blog post with a Google Maps pin. Isn't that all terribly convenient???

What do we need to bring?
Just yourselves. Some money for coffee/lunch/souvenirs. Perhaps some bottled water for walking, perhaps a hat for the kids. You WILL need to book Rain Room if you want to do that. The link's here for booking a slot.

Is there much walking?
Quite a bit of wandering around, yes. The most walking will be the afternoon, but there's no rush and if you want to hop in a cab at any stage, well, why not?

Where do we put the car?
We'll drive to Mahatta from Jones, then out to the Wildlife Park - about a 30 minute drive. We'll come back to the car park outside Fen in the Sharjah Art Foundation Area, which costs pennies. I'd suggest you dump the car there and walk the rest of it.

What if I have other questions?
@alexandermcnabb or just #SharjahSaturday!

Wednesday 4 December 2019

#SharjahSaturday - The Skinny

Look on the bright side - only a couple more days to #SharjahSaturday, then I'll shut up about it.

Sharjah Museums, being wonderful chaps, have extended free access to the various museums we're visiting on the day if you're travelling with the group, which is super of them.

In the meantime, here's the plan for the day in a series of handy dandy links:

     Google Pin here to Jones on Flag Island

     Google Pin here to Mahatta Fort

Mahatta Fort in the 1990s, prior to its restoration. It was a bit of state...

11am Arabia's Wildlife Centre
     Google Pin here to Arabia's Wildlife Centre

Petting zoo at Arabia's Wildlife Centre. Featuring neece.

1pm Fen Café Lunch followed by the Heart of Sharjah
     Google Pin here to Fen

Have I mentioned Fen's chocolate cake before? I have? Oh, right, then...

3pm Rain Room NOTE you need to book this one! Booking link HERE.
     Google Pin here to Rain Room

Rain Room. This is the bit you stay dry in. Actually, you stay dry in the wet bit, too...

4pm Sharjah Museum of Islamic Civilisation
     Google Pin here to da museum


5pm The Heart of Sharjah/Al Bait Hotel
     Google Pin to Al Bait Hotel

The cylindrical barjeel at Al Bait is unique in the Emirates...

And there we end the day!

6-7pm Goodbyes/Head to Ajman

Not clever, not funny, not mature...

Tuesday 3 December 2019

#SharjahSaturday - The Heart of Sharjah

Al Hisn Sharjah

Soooo, here's the scheme. Wandering back from Rain Room and the Sharjah Museum of Islamic Civilisation, we find ourselves walking past Al Hisn Sharjah - Sharjah Fort.

The old fort of Sharjah was recorded as a significant building on the coast of the Trucial States and so it would have been - the Al Qasimi stronghold of Sharjah was part of the alliance - a Federation, really - which tied Sharjah, Ras Al Khaimah and many holdings on the islands and southern Persian coast together under the seafaring Huwala tribe and their rulers, the Al Qasimi.

The fort was almost entirely knocked down by the-then Ruler of Sharjah, Khaled bin Mohammed Al Qasimi, in the late 1960s. The current Ruler, HH Dr Sheikh Sultan bin Mohammed Al Qasimi, rushed home from his studies in Cairo to try and stop Khaled from destroying the fort but was in time to save a single tower, called Al Qubs. Reduced from a major fortification to a effectively a single 'Murabbaa', or defensive tower, Al Qubs gave its name to the square in which it stood - Al Burj, or tower, square. It was colloquially known as 'Bank Street' in the 1990s because all of the buildings around the square, funky early 1980s jobs designed by a Spanish architect (and now much celebrated, although due, at least in part, for demolition) towering over the little burj housed banks.

Why did Khaled want to erase the fort? The reason was to lead to his untimely and tragic death - I'll tell you all about it on the day or you can read about it in (altogether now) Children of the Seven Sands!!!

Dr Sheikh Sultan preserved many of the original materials from the demolished fort, including window frames and other fittings, as well as a detailed plan of the old building. In the late 1990s, he started the huge restoration project, rebuilding the Sharjah Fort in a faithful reconstruction that used traditional materials and followed every line and crenelation of the old fort. And there it stands today, dungeons and family rooms alike, a fine example of an Arabian fort.

A wander down the shaded walkways of the traditional Souk Al Shanasiyah

Of course, you could skip the fort and just dive towards Al Bait - in my humble opinion one of the most beautiful hotel properties in the Emirates. Sharjah's development company Shurooq spent some Dhs 27 million transforming three old merchants' houses and a goodly lump of the 'Heart of Sharjah' traditional old town and souk areas into an achingly funky hotel that screams good taste, oozes tradition and whispers luxury, modernity and chill-out sensuality around every leaf-dappled, quietly murmuring corner. The hotel is managed by Asian uber-chill hotel chain The Chedi and it's not only insanely expensive, but blindingly gorgeous. We're planning to nip in for coffee and perhaps, management permitting, a tour of a hotel that truly stands out as unique and glorious.

The Al Bait Mercedes. Rest of hotel not pictured...

And then we'll maybe take a walk through the Urban Garden as we make our way back to the car park outside Fen Café, where we'll say our farewells or perhaps plan to meet up down the road in Ajman, where evening entertainments abound - Ajman's fast-emerging hotel businesses include a number of beach-side properties along the Corniche, from the very Russian and luxurious Ajman Saray, to the seafront terrace of the Fairmont Ajman or perhaps the English-themed Outside Inn, altogether less salubrious. We're not going to the terminally funky Oberoi Al Zorah, easily Ajman's most luxurious hotel (and an outstanding property in its own right) or the Radisson Blu Ajman with its 100-foot-long sports bar but they're there for anyone adventuous enough to go looking...

The Urban Garden. Its urban. It's a garden.

See you there! Jones The Grocer, 9am, Saturday 7th December. As I've said before, come as you are, stay as long as you like, dip in, dip out, cherry pick - just don't feel you're being 'organised' - we're going to play it all very much by ear! The only thing that is constant is #SharjahSaturday on Twitter, where you can share your Sharjah joy (or pain!) with the world!!!

Thursday 28 November 2019

#SharjahSaturday - The Sharjah Museum of Islamic Civilisation

The flowering of Islamic science resulted not only in the translation and preservation of the knowledge of the ancients, but in a remarkable flourishing of scientific investigation, discovery and achievement. To this day, a significant amount of our scientific and mathematical vocabulary is peppered with words that have their root in Arabic, a result not only of Baghdad's remarkable Bait Al Hikmah, but of observatories and centres of knowledge in Cairo, Alexandria, Cordoba and elsewhere in the Islamic world.

Mantissa, algebra, zenith, alkaline, alchemy and alcohol all trip off the tongue, but they're all rooted in Arabic. So's the word assassin, before you get too uppity over there in the Arabic corner. Something like 60% of the stars in our modern night sky remain named in Arabic - a remarkable testament to the legacy of Islamic achievements in astronomy. This efflorescence of the sciences in the Islamic 'golden age' provided the base for the subsequent explosion of scientific thought following the dark ages in Europe, but it also underpinned the exploration of our world and the opening up of global trade networks.

As we discover in Children of the Seven Sands (ahem), the Arab traders of this area sailed the seven seas (the number of seas between here and China, as it happens) thanks to the navigational skills and observation of the stars that Islamic scientific discovery underpinned. It was from here that the first intercontinental trade networks were formed. The Emirates' most famous son, Ibn Majid of Julfar, left us a remarkable legacy built on the long-standing Arab navigational capability that sustained trade networks across Asia from before the C8th BCE through to the C15th and led to a virtual monopoly of the eastern trade until the Portuguese embarked on their bloody and cruel conquest of those networks in the early 1500s.

All of this and more are awaiting you at the Sharjah Museum of Islamic Civilisation. The building was originally a souk, but it turned out not to be a terribly successful one. The Museum, I am glad to be able to report, is an altogether more successful venture and provides a brilliantly put together display of the eye-opening ethnography of the Islamic world.

Which is why it's included in #SharjahSaturday, natch...

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...