Thursday, 12 May 2016


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...

1 comment:

Macthomson said...

Do the memoir, habibi! Ifound writing mine a cathartic excursion down pathways I thought would be of no interest to anyone else until my persistent daughter demanded to know how I'd ambled, stumbled from 1940 to the end of that century. Whether I shall continue with the chronicle to include a fifth quindecade remains to be seen, though. My hesitation is in part due to the fact that I'm still not entirely sure of what to make of my seven years in the Sandlands... still the odd feeling of 'unfinished business'.

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