WELCOME, FRIEND!

Sale of Chicken, Al Mansoura


Sale of Chicken, to include:
feathers, feet, beak, breasts, eyes, legs, tail, gizzard, heart, liver, lungs, wings, intestines, brain and the thoughts therein which may stretch to consciousness, though not self-consciousness (it is a chicken after all). Continuity of such thoughts, if any, is not guaranteed to extend beyond any neck-wringing event that may immediately precede Sale of Chicken.
Weight of Chicken, for pricing purposes, is pre-pluck and is not reduced if plucking is required. Buyer may opt to keep the plucked feathers if desired but will have to gather them up by himself.

The Biggest Mac of all...

the burger at ramada interchange
Watching with interest to see what it is going to be when it opens. The choice is limited- yet another mall, yet another hotel, or just maybe the World's Greatest Burger Museum? If not that, why does it look like a super-bloated Big Mac, replete with squelchy gunge (I refuse to call it mayonnaise) already oozing from between the slabs of sludge. (Or do you have a more apposite description of MacDonald's fare?)

Of course, this should come as no surprise, in the city that built the World's biggest condom.

Beware of Almarai's New 'Mixed Apple' Product!

My favourite Almarai brand apple juice has been replaced on the shelves by Almarai's new 'Mixed Apple' formulation. The retired juice had no preservatives, no added sugar, and only two ingredients: purified water and apple juice concentrate. It was good to drink fresh and also could be fermented into a very pleasant cider.
the original (left) and the foul usurper (right)
The new offering contains: purified water, apple concentrate (blend of red delicious, golden delicious, rolls and fuji apple), refined sugar, citric acid, natural and nature-identical apple flavour, malic acid, stabiliser E440, caramel colour, preservative E202. The fruit content is 50%, the other 50% being accounted for by the added sugar, acids, colours, flavours and chemicals.
The worst of it is that most people will simply pick up the familiar Almarai square bottle with the green cap, only thinking they've changed the label. All the incriminating evidence is on the back, in lettering that can't be read without a magnifying glass.
And of course, it doesn't ferment, which is the only reason I knew something was wrong.

Boggs and the Girls - welcome back!

The good news from the front is that the management at Le Club (Doha Sofitel/Mercure) has re-engaged Boggs to provide the nightly entertainment. Or at least the on-stage nightly entertainment, the off-stage floor show being offered free of charge by the familiar parading ladies and dancing drunks. Nothing changes there.
Boggs, you may remember, is a very talented guitarist with a perfectly OK singing voice, accompanied this time by two girl singers, one is his sister or wife, I forget which, and the other is new, at least to Doha.
A three piece band, midi-backed, with a single instrumentalist is never going to rival Alan and the SoundSations for quality and variety. Nevertheless it is great to have options, especially in the old town centre, for the nights when you don't fancy an hour stuck in a taxi to West Bay. For me, that's most nights.

The Buzzards in Rose Bank Gardens

the buzzards in rose bank gardens, malvern, worcestershire

The more sharp-eyed and astute among my vast readership will have recognised, even without reading the caption, that this is not a picture from Doha or Dubai and will have correctly concluded that I escaped the desert, for a time at least. Sadly, all good things come to an end and, having taken the last ten days of Ramadan off, I am now back in Qatar, working through the Eid. Somebody has to man the pumps.

I'd be quite proud of the photo if the buzzards were real, but they are in fact a sculpture designed and made by Walenty Pytel, from Ross-on-Wye, Herefordshire, to mark the Queen's Diamond Jubilee. Like everything else in Malvern that can in any way be classified as 'change', the piece has divided public opinion and spawned almost as many column-inches in the local press as the grazing of sheep on the common.

The rainbow, on the other hand, is entirely the work of . . . Nature!  Eid mubarak, everyone!

Helga's Chickens

Helga's Chickens take the floor
around eight thirty every night.
Could anybody ask for more?

Perhaps some spotty troglodyte
would rather hide away and write
computer code, but that's a bore

and hardly likely to delight
Helga's Chickens. Take the floor
for instance - even if it wore

a carpet of a lurid white
our eyes would still be on the door
around eight thirty. Every night

the Paranormal's heaving. Quite
a crowd prepares for what's in store
and brightens as they dim the light.

Could anybody ask for more
than Helga and her brood? Before
you rush to call her 'parasite'

or breathe the appellation 'whore',
perhaps some spotty troglodyte
will rush to her defence and cite

an evening back in '94
when he succumbed, gave up the fight
and sang - O come let us adore
Helga's Chickens!

measure me

and measure me where skies are blue
  and life is a designer brand
    and rrussian girls go how arr you

and cultivate the favoured hue
  preferring what they understand
    and measure me where skies are blue

and winter warms me through and through
  like summer from another land
    and rrussian girls go how arr you

and have you night enough for two
  to dim the bleak beyond that's planned
    and measure me where skies are blue

and high apartments block the view
  of sand and sand and sand and sand
    and rrussian girls go how arr you

and how are you my darling do
  you feel a hardness in your hand
    and measure me where skies are blue
      and rrussian girls go how arr you

The Model and the Miracle Man

I only ever performed one miracle..

and that was ten years ago. It changed two lives forever, mine and someone much more famous, though her fame was to come later. I remember it vividly; how could I not?


I'd just arrived back in London from a six-month tour of duty in Saudi Arabia and was in need of three things: a bacon sandwich, a beer, and to see some women wearing less than the Saudi norm. Much less, in fact. And of course I knew of a pub that could provide all three, with knobs on. I'm telling you this to dispel any illusion that I'm setting myself up as some kind of holy guy. I'm not. I'm just another engineer who happened to work a miracle, once.
So, duly sated in all departments, I'd left the pub and was walking East along Pentonville Road, enjoying the normality of a bright sunny day after the searing furnace of the Middle East. I wasn't consciously thinking of anything in particular, but there was nothing at all wrong with my world. It was good to be back.

The best thing I ever did

was have my agent send my African photo-shoot to Benetton. I was just starting out then but I was like, why not aim high? My dad always said if you don't ask you don't get. We heard nothing of course, but I was doing OK. No big breaks but plenty of steady work. Magazines and a few TV commercials. That was before my accident...
It was my own fault for stepping off the track. Crazy that answering a call of nature can cost you half a leg. I'd been too long away from Eritrea and was only thinking about seeing my family again. Land mines were the last thing on my mind. The rest you know. I'd rather not talk about the worst times.
But I wasn't going to let it beat me. If I was to have half a leg, so be it. I'd wear an athlete's prosthetic, bare titanium and carbon fibre, and wear it proudly, with short skirts and one thigh boot on my good leg. That was my style and I was sticking to it.
And the work kept coming in. Folk don't realise that a lot of modelling work is face, hair, upper body, sometimes just hands. It's not all about the cat-walk.

It's not something I'm proud of

but if she hadn't been drop-dead gorgeous, and a far cut above the bar girls in every way, nothing would have happened. Something about my overnight flight, the beer, the bright London noontide, her physical perfection, my heightened appreciation of all things non-Saudi, perhaps even the bacon sandwich - all these came together in the moment our eyes met and we both knew, without even looking down, what miracle had taken place.
I panicked. I pushed past her and ran for my life, for my sanity.
The next time I saw her was in a cinema ad for the United Colours of Benetton campaign, on the cat-walk. Of course she's a household name now, a supermodel, and could buy and sell me twenty times over.
it isn't all about the catwalk
it isn't all about the catwalk

I was feeling pretty good

about life that day. I'd had lunch with my agent and she had a new offer for me. A shampoo commercial. Prime time, so good money. But that wasn't the best of it. She'd been contacted by none other than Benetton. Someone had found my old photo-shoot and wanted me to audition for a new worldwide campaign they were planning to launch. Of course they didn't know about my accident. OK, it was never going to happen, but it made me feel special to be asked.
After lunch, I was walking up Pentonville Road, near to The Angel, and there was this guy walking towards me, kind of staring. I'm used to that of course, but this was different. He seemed to look deep inside me, almost through me. It should have been scary but wasn't. In fact I've never felt so calm in my life. I suppose he was some kind of faith healer? I don't know. It just felt completely natural to have two good legs again.
And then he ran away!

And that's the story

I don't pretend to understand how it happened. I certainly don't claim to be able to work miracles to order, nor am I any kind of magician. Nothing like it has happened to me or anyone else in my circle, before or since. In fact, I'm very careful who I mention it to. All I know is at that moment I was the instrument or conduit of some power, and no doubt so was she. It has all but destroyed my sanity. I used to joke about this very subject. I'd say, why do faith healers never heal amputees? I notice they still don't, but I hold my peace.
Why did I run? Because I could. I'm running still.
Thank you for reading

Predestination - Believe it or Nuts!

As good a place as any to begin

Halfway through the fourteenth bar of Tárrega's 'Recuerdos da la Alhambra', Michael's 'A'-string breaks at the bridge. The sudden crack and the sharp squeak of spiral-wound silver against skin stirs not a few of the audience into rapt attention. Novelty, after all, and perhaps another's discomfiture, can more than make up for a temporary glitch in performance.


Peter, realising a short break is inevitable and conscious of his pre-concert beer, excuses himself politely and negotiates the eight knees and thirty-nine toes (Ms. Jessica Armstrong had a childhood accident involving a bacon slicer) separating him from the aisle.
Joe, on the scaffolding, applies himself to the rotting soffit board. Too far gone for patching and filling, this is a full replacement job. He hooks the claw-hammer under the board's lower edge and jerks the shaft sharply downwards. The decayed timber cracks and splinters. Eight hundred and seventy three out of eight hundred and seventy four tiny fragments miss his eye. In a way, that's lucky. He drops the hammer and swears.
Standing at the porcelain, half finished and already quite comfortable, Peter, on a whim, grabs the Victorian brass handle (with his free hand) and throws open the frosted glass casement. Joe's liberated hammer, now approaching thirty miles an hour, strikes the top corner of the cast-iron frame with a loud report. Understandably, Peter drops his penis and swears. Shaken but unhurt, he recovers from his fright, inspects his trousers, and swears again, this time with feeling.
Joe, with the corner of his handkerchief and much grimacing, succeeds in de-splintering his eye. Thus relieved, he looks around for his hammer, remembers dropping it, spots it five storeys below on the pavement, says 'bollox', then (wrongly) 'but no harm done' and sets off down the ladder and out of the story, another innocent emissary of Providence.
The rest of the concert no longer an option, Peter slinks out of the hall by a side exit and proceeds homewards by the back lanes, oddly bent, and with inturned toes. Such attempts to avoid human gaze are always futile and he soon collects three small boys, excellent mimics all, and paramount among them, one Josie, shock-headed, bold and gallus.
'Haw Mister whit's up wi yer legs - canny walk right?'
Silence - the wrong response. Emboldened, Josie picks a lump of moss from a crack in the wall. Moss that's only growing there because fourteen years ago Sammy Gow had a minor stroke and afterwards never quite got around to clearing the gutters. These last two years before he died, well, the wall got a bit wet and, anyway...
So Josie chucks the moss and catches Peter behind the ear. He ignores it and keeps shambling on. Again, the wrong response, because the next missile is a small stone. Then a bigger one that hurts. Peter spins round and Josie's in his element:
'Ye canny walk - ye canny run - ye canny catch me!'
Josie's pals take up the cry. It's a good one, after all:
'Canny walk, canny run, canny catch me! Canny walk, canny run, canny catch me!'
Now under a hail of moss and stones, Peter loses the place and charges at Josie...
jonathan livingston calvin (another emissary of providence)
jonathan livingston calvin (another emissary of providence)
Seagull 'A' still has the herring but seagulls 'B' and 'C' are gradually wearing him down. With his beak clenched on the fish, his oxygen intake, essential for power flying, is impaired and, though bigger and stronger, he can't shake them off. He drops his quarry and, beak agape, wheels right, breaks free and swoops back towards the harbour...
Josie skites on the new-fallen herring. Peter trips over Josie. Both set up a roaring and a door flies open.
'Maw - this auld man's chasing me' Josie starts up, but she skelps him on the ear and says 'Aye, cause ye're throwin stones again. How many times huv I telt ye...'
But now she sees Peter's wet trousers and her face changes:
'Ye dirty wee pervert wi yer filthy breeks, chasin' wee boys, see if ma Joe wis here, ye're deid meat. He's a scaffolder'
Peter doesn't bother to argue the non-sequitur but beats a hasty retreat and runs the last mile home. Safe at last, washed, changed and comfortable, he sees it's only 9 p.m. He's home a full hour earlier than if he'd stayed for the whole concert. Never one to waste the gift of time, he opens up the laptop to do an hour's work on his latest article:
There is no such thing as chance - he types - all that happens, everything that moves, breathes, waxes, wanes, is merely enacting God's perfect plan, set forth at the dawn of time. when there was neither heat nor cold, light nor darkness. Praise be to God. Even the humble seagull...
Thank you for reading!

Knees, Plungers & Aliens

The old way

A long time ago, I studied photography. I used a manual SLR camera, took light measurements (incident and reflected), applied filters, adjusted focus, aperture and exposure, developed my own negatives, mixed my own chemicals, did my own darkroom work and, occasionally, achieved some pretty creditable results, none of which appear on this page.

I did all this because I wanted to be in complete control of the image, from inception to display. But recently, because of my traveling lifestyle, my photography is reduced to quick snapshots with a mobile phone - low quality, granular, soft, flared, shaded, blurred - but fun and immediate. And you know, I'm thoroughly enjoying it. But there's a special class of picture for which the mobile phone is second to none - the complete accident!
what plungersome thing art thou?
what plungersome thing art thou?

Exterminate... Exterminate...

The phone rings, you fumble it out of your pocket, press a couple of keys by mistake, and click - another random picture for the archives! This one could almost be a wounded Dalek, its infamous sink-plunger attachment sadly limp. Or maybe Davros has put it on floor-sweeping duties as a punishment for failing to exterminate the Doctor, yet again. Or it could just have fallen downstairs of course. The Daleks would hate Lisbon. Stairs everywhere. They'd be completely scuppered. Rome isn't much better. The Spanish Steps. Daleks top and bottom and the girls would still be selling flowers on every tread. The human spirit triumphs over technology again.

being a triptych

the knee
the knee
the alien
the alien
the peak
the peak

Sights unseen

Sometimes, body parts feature. Here is the right knee, mine, and seated, if knees can sit. With a crease that wouldn't shame Beau Brummell. But what about the other leg? Not mine. The turned table-leg, emerging from, or perhaps disappearing into, the Stygian gloom. Its machine-cut concentric rings flashing wan highlights through the knee-lit murk.
- o -
When they come, they will not be green. They will not speak with human tongues. They will know you. They will know you. They will know you. And then you'll say - is someone there? Your voice is all the sound you'll hear. And still they know you, know you, know you.
- o -
Though you bind me, even to my face, I will break free. For through the tightening shroud, will there come no light? I am no wrapped parcel for your friends' amusement. Are their teeth as white as mine? From the strained peak shall spread cracks. As Prometheus, as Samson, even as the Phoenix, I shall rise again, and sing of things untold.
That third picture in the set of three - the one I called 'the peak' - has me completely baffled. I have absolutely no idea what the phone camera was seeing. That's the joy of accidental photography.

serendipity

where there is life
where there is life

And finally

After so much surrealism, let's close with something less outlandish. This accidental phone-snap has four people in it, one relaxing, three going about their business. The guy mostly hidden by the chair he's sitting in is Croatian. The walking girl in blue is Filipina. The man in the distance is Syrian, and the one standing with clasped hands is Tunisian. And that's one of the things I love about the Middle East - a genuinely random accidental photograph catches four different nationalities in one place. It's a privilege to live and work here among people from all over the World.
I hope that, after reading this, you might look again at some of your own happen-stance pics, before automatically going for the delete key. You too might have some hidden gems, or even the seeds of a flight of fancy. Thanks for reading my nonsense. Click, click!

Bull-neck and the Blue Lagoon

More random photographs

We can't be serious all the time. What follows is my latest selection of wholly accidental phone pictures, usually taken in the process of fumbling the phone into or out of my pocket. The descriptions probably say more about me than about the pictures, but I'll leave others to judge.

 

bull-neck and the blue lagoon
bull-neck and the blue lagoon
"Without prejudice" mutters Bull-neck, apparently to himself, lost on his mission to pass through life unencumbered, even by clothes. The almost apologetic bolt from the blue makes no impression; if he so much as notices it, he gives no sign, but blunders on, looking forward and down. Always down. His early baseball cap years have taught him there is no sky, no stars. Now sure in this knowledge, he has no need to shade his eyes. There is no light.
memories of a copper still
memories of a copper still
The roof is long gone. The malting loft has crumbled and fallen onto the the stills below. Rats have ravaged the barley sacks and mice gleaned their leavings. Wind, rain and time have stolen the last vestige of brewing aroma, leaving instead dankness and mildew. But the gleam of copper, caught in a wet Hebridean sunbeam, still speaks of uisge beathe, the water of life, and of death. 
the farm of dragonhide
the farm of dragonhide
The Farm of Dragonhide is where the lines are straight and all that is green is painted.Clapped out tankers pass for tractors for nothing is sown, nothing grown and nothing harvested.

Dragonhide Farm mattered once.No-one remembers why.

the lady in purple mohair
the lady in purple mohair
And if I see you when the rowans are ripe, walking alone by the mill stream, will you remember two younger people, eager and a little scared, talking of blackbirds and finding new ways to hold hands by accident? Will you know me still, or see only a worn mask? And will you be wearing that purple mohair, the one that smelt of spilt Guinness and Hartnell's 'In Love', the best a student could afford? 
the shining ones
the shining ones
This is the cavern and council of the shining ones. This is their forum. They are their own light. When they meet it is always in splendour. The golden ones are first among their kind, their radiance of a higher order. They do not speak in words. There is no need, as they come together in perfect agreement, and their will is done. They know us, know our ways, and wonder. 
the nevada desert highway
the nevada desert highway
This picture is a complete mystery - a fortuitous combination of colours and camera movement conspiring to create a highway crossing a red sandstone desert. It's one of my favourite random snaps. One I'd have been proud to have created deliberately. Suffice it to say it's indoors, in Doha. I've been to Nevada, but this wasn't it! 
hey mr dreamseller
hey mr dreamseller
Come buy, come buy! The shrouded dreamseller rattles his wares, with promises of a chemical future. Come buy! He needs your love, your, trust, your money, as all his own is gone. His face, too, is gone, with the last of his humanity, He who should have died, remains to kill. Come buy, come buy!
By now, if you've read this far, you probably think I'm quite mad. But I'm not. Not quite :)
Thank you for reading! 

Big, blue and very long

bullnose mercedes truck - blue to boot
I don't expect everybody to share my enthusiasm for the bullnose Mercedes, but bear with me while I explain why this one is special. It's blue. (They are nearly always orange or grey/green). It's articulated, while most of them are rigid 10-wheelers. It has a white painted exhaust stack, nothing short of an affectation. It even has some tread left on the tyres. And it was there, waiting for me.
and articulated, and long

How to dump a load, Doha style

All was going smoothly. The truck was parked in position and the hydraulic ram was raising the huge hopper to tip the load conventionally through the back flap. Until, inexplicably, it tipped over sideways. like this:
unconventional offloading, by falling over sideways

And in so doing, it twisted the trailer out of recognition, or at least well beyond repair. Fortunately, no-one was standing where the load fell.
shame about the trailer though...

The Bollard & the Law of Thirds


The phone call was going on a bit, the sun was hot, the atmosphere humid and the bollard was the only berth available.
The Law of Thirds (photographic composition) states that the best positioning for the main subject detail is the intersection of vertical and horizontal trisecting lines, adequately and innocently confirmed here by our friend Joe.
And speaking of bollards, on another occasion and another country, an Irish friend with a gift for  metaphor related how one of the company, much the worse for wear, left the bar to attempt the short walk home. "We found him 100 yards down the road, starfished over a bollard". An unforgettable image!

When you can't afford the gym...

you make your own. I live on the top floor of my Muntazah apartment block. A few nights ago I heard sounds of work being done on the roof above me. This isn't unusual as the roof carries the outdoor halves of all the split air-con units and all the water tanks to boot. But this sounded different, more like carpentry, sawing and hammering. Next morning, checking it out, I find that the watchman (who lives on the roof in a rough shack) has made himself a private gym from scavenged bits and pieces and made a pretty fine job of it too. The weights are made of sand and cement, cast in old paint tins and joined by a length of scaffold bar. And that press bench is as solid as any 'real' one. Impressive, no?

the home made gym on the roof

SoundSations - A Joe Cocker Moment

It doesn't happen often, but it did last night, in Doha Krossroads. A long time ago, Joe Cocker took a pleasant enough Beatles song, 'With a Little Help from my Friends', and showed us what it was really all about, how much deeper it was than the bland sing-along version on Sgt Pepper with Ringo on vocals. Last night, at Krossroads, we had another 'Joe Cocker moment'. Alan and the band gave us 'Don't let the Sun go down on Me' as I've never heard it before. It was a phenomenal performance, deeply soulful, almost anguished in its intensity. Alan took Bernie Taupin's lyric and Elton's music and turned them into something SoundSational that deserved to be captured for posterity, but wasn't, of course. I hope these guys know how good they are. We do, those of us that bother to listen.

Le Club, back in contention, maybe

le club, doha mercure grand, formerly sofitel - the last word in sophistication
The time has come, the Walrus said, to re-evaluate Le Club in Sofitel. Regular readers here may remember that some years ago the place was heaving every night. A succession of good lively bands coupled with a liberal entry policy more than made up for the general air of dilapidation verging on squalor. It was never a place to take the legendary maiden aunt; nevertheless, a good time could be had, dependably, for the moderate outlay of the price of a couple of beers.
Where it all went wrong was when the management decided a few years back to make it members only and restricted the membership to men and married couples. When people stayed away in droves, they 'compensated' for, or more accurately compounded their losses by increasing the prices and hiring cheaper bands.
But, it's an ill wind that blows nobody some good. Ramada/Radisson's recent decision to blanket ban Chinese girls with UAE or Bahrain visas, while it has killed the Orion at a stroke (takings can scarce be a quarter of pre-ban levels), has almost overnight corrected the extreme gender imbalance of Le Club. In fact, on Tuesday night, for a time the men were actually outnumbered, for the first time in five years. This happy state of affairs, so rare in Qatar, together with Le Club's recent refurbishment, together made for an enjoyable evening.
Were the girls happy with their new venue? Certainly they appreciated the open door policy. They had some reservations about the prevailing demographic of the clientèle (though they expressed it in simpler language) but hey, even that will change naturally with time, if the word gets out.
And if the management re-engages Boggs and his girls.

Things I don't do any more

I've never actively given anything up...

but every now and then I realise that I've not done something for a long time. Such a long time, perhaps, that I can't really say I do it any more, whatever 'it' is. This week, I've had a couple of days off work for Eid al-Adha. Now, extra days off in Doha can be quite long. Especially for one allergic to shopping malls and five star hotels. So, between sessions on the computer and sessions on the guitar, I found myself reminiscing over some of these things I never actively gave up but which just drifted out of my life, somehow. For example:

I don't run marathons any more

In fact, I don't compete in any road races. I used to. For about ten years, between the ages of 35 and 45, I pounded the pavements regularly, training and competing. I'd do about ten events a year, mostly half-marathons and triathlons, with the occasional marathon thrown in for good measure. I wasn't good, of course. My personal goal was always to finish in the top third of the field. If I ever made the top quarter, I felt I'd won the race!
My last competitive run was the Snowdonia Marathon, a pretty tough one with several serious climbs. And then, I didn't do any more. No particular reason. I continued to tell people that road racing was one of my hobbies, until I realised it wasn't. I still run from time to time, but for the most part, I've replaced that aspect of my life with walking. I reckon it's better for 59 year-old knees. And certainly in the extreme climate of Qatar, walking is exercise enough, and more than most of the locals attempt. OK, what else don't I do?

I don't play sax any more

except possibly to blast out Auld Lang Syne on Hogmanay. And this mainly comes down to dentition. Unless you're Jimi Hendrix, you don't need your teeth to play guitar, but you do to play sax. In particular, you need your four lower incisors, the very four that I lost through a gum disease, about ten years ago. Their replacements are cosmetic more than functional, and not up to the job of supporting the lower lip through extended passages in the upper register. So, the sax had to go the way of the road racing.
In fact, it's no great loss. I really only took up sax when a folk-rock band I was part of morphed into something much heavier and my flute wasn't really hacking it. I'm still well able to play flute, and as mentioned above, my guitars are my constant travelling companions, so my music is alive and well, if saxless.

And I've stopped growing hair!

Rather like the saxophone, this one wasn't from choice. It wasn't even that short hair is more sensible in hot countries. It's just that there's less of it growing up there than there used to be. Pity. I'm of the generation that reinvented long hair in the sixties and seventies. It was more than a fashion statement. It had a lot to do with peace and harmony, just as the skinhead look was all about aggression and militancy.
In the forty odd years since Woodstock, I've never really wavered from the idea that we can and should work for a fairer and more peaceful world. All that has changed is that I can no longer grow the 'uniform'.

Then there's poetry

Until five years ago, I was quite well established in the poetry scene, regularly reading in my home town and in London, contributing and moderating a number of on-line forums, and with a fair published portfolio under my belt.
The day the music died was when our son was killed in a motorcycle accident. When such tragedies happen, we recover as best we can. Family, friends, poetry, music and work combined to bring me through the worst times. Poetry itself remained important, but the poetry scene I dropped like a hot potato. I had to. People meant well, but I was being watched. Almost everyone was expecting a tragic magnum opus from me.
Well, tough. I'm not Alfred Lord Tennyson (who wrote In Memoriam for his deceased brother). My 'art', such as it was, was inadequate to express such depth of feeling. I wrote a prose obituary and abandoned poetry for a couple of years. I found, though, that I was happy writing prose, and HubPages proved a perfect vehicle for (much of) what I wanted to say.
Well, I'm back to writing poetry again, but rather like the road racing, I have no interest in re-entering the world of competitions and submissions for publication. I have nothing to prove.

Over to you, David Cameron...

Paralleling the fatuous Western fashion for tattooing random Chinese characters on various body parts, there is an equally strange but happily reversible Chinese fashion, especially among the younger ladies, to wear T-shirts emblazoned with more or less random English words and phrases. A few I've seen recently include:

"Garage Snorkelling Crew",
"Feathers from an earlier time",
"The mist has spoken from the hill",
plus several that more resemble samples from the shredder bin. But until today, nothing as surreal as this offering:

CAN DAVID CAMERON 
(picture of horse here)
REDEFINE THE TORY PAPTY (sic)
AND POINT THE WAY TO A NEW KIND OF
AMERICAN CONSERVATISM?

Well, can he? And if not, why not? Surely his Papty could only benefit from his attempt? The wearer, unsurprisingly, had no idea what the words meant or even how they were pronounced, had never heard of David Cameron or the Tory Papty, far less the Party, but liked the horses, the cut and colour of the T-shirt, and thought it looked well on her. No argument there.
The front, by the way, had more horses. And no politics.

Doha 2006 - Remembering the Music

Doha 2006, but where?
Old timers in Doha will well remember when this was the best live music venue in town. That was before they levelled the dance floor, built the ghastly Qube outside, turned the stage area into a kitchen and decked the walls with screens showing non-stop football. It is, of course, the Sherzhad, in what was the Ramada before Radisson Blu took over. The band on stage looks like Street Noyz, but without Nelson on stage, so probably early in their set. He was always one for the dramatic entrance when the audience was well warmed up.
Speaking of the Radisson/Ramada, last week saw a sudden change in door policy towards the Chinese women. Only those holding Qatar resident's permits are now admitted. Those visiting from Bahrain and UAE (or anywhere else) are not allowed in. While I have no issue with an establishment setting standards of behaviour within its walls and denying return access to known offenders, discriminatory door policies are another matter altogether and would be illegal in most developed countries. But this is Qatar and still developing.


The Pompous Pigeon of Knightsbridge Lane


Like many British expats, something I look forward to on my all too short home visits is a decent real ale. This year, my daughter presented me with a Christmas box of selected bottles. But she didn't stop there. Noticing that our real ales often have quirky names, like 'Bishop's Finger' or 'Old Speckled Hen', she decided to out-do the originals by relabelling them to a new level of quirkiness. I secretly suspect she had some fun in doing it!
don't all buffaloes have waxen knees?

and aren't all porcupines aquatic?

so easy to attract the disapproval of one's peers

who prefers to be in a box today

HSBC Blues

For years, I'd been quite happy with my Internet Banking from HSBC. So I wasn't too worried when they told me my company had to be migrated to the new HSBCnet web portal. The move would take two to three days during which I'd have no Internet access to my account. Stage one went smoothly- they had no trouble at all disabling my old portal. Stage two, enabling the new, was more of a challenge apparently, as it took them forty days (and forty nights no doubt) to re-enable my access and necessitated no fewer than three trips to Dubai (from Doha) to sign various papers and finally collect the new security device.
Then came the real challenge- working out how to use the new portal. There's no doubt that it is more flexible and powerful than its clean and easy predecessor. If I were an accounts manager for a large corporation I'd probably be delighted with it. But for a small company with a single account, its layer upon layer of complexity is overkill with a vengeance. For example, before I could transfer some cash to my personal account (very necessary after forty days in the banking wilderness) I had to:

  • Assign all our accounts (we have only one) to an account group called 'A'
  • Declare a maximum daily transfer limit between all the accounts in group 'A'.
  • Declare a maximum daily transaction limit between accounts in Group 'A' and elsewhere.
  • As System Administrator, assign myself to a user group of one person (me)
  • Authorise my user group to effect payments and transfers on Account Group 'A'
  • Assign my own signing limit within this user group for transfers and payments.
Intuitive, huh?

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