Thursday Dec 31, 2009

A what?

The last day of 2009, with intentions of blogging more in 2010 - I've tailed off over the last few months. Time to get back on to it! I enjoy it, as do my 80 or so regular readers, I hope.

My last post for the year...

My father fell on the ice over Christmas and has spent the holidays in hospital, all of which is worth several posts in itself.

Whilst visiting him, I noticed that when serving food to the patients, one of the nurses was obliged to wear a brightly coloured vest with 'nutritional co-ordinator' written on the back of it, just so we knew what he was.

Nutritional co-ordinator?

On that note, I say goodbye to what was, quite frankly, a pretty rubbish year for all of us.

Sunday May 31, 2009

Business lunch, Yemen style

When I was Sana'a the other month, we had lunch at the 'Hospitableness Salon'. It's a slightly different experience to lunch with a customer in Dubai or the UK, for example.

Before lunch is served...

Goat, fish and random soft drinks are ready.

English man too stupid too eat goat with one hand.

Schoolboy error - eating goat with left hand.

Give it a go with the right - Brits just aren't used to ripping food apart with one hand.

Two hands, I can manage.

Lunch over in twenty minutes.

Bananas and honey with bread and sticky stuff on a separate table. Pud's ready.

I was quite glad that the working day was over after this.

My verdict on goat - quite fatty, but tasty when fried up in the stir fry side dish we were given. I was happy to give ripping bits of goat to pieces a try, but I am a pathetic Westerner and would prefer my meat not to resemble too much the animal it clearly came from.

Saturday May 30, 2009

Wo ist mein Transit van?

It's in Lagos.

Ok, you'll have to trust I'm telling the truth, as there's nothing in the picture that suggests the van is anywhere other in its native Hamburg, but that's where I took the picture.

A lot of the second hand cars and lorries you see around in Africa and the Middle East still have the names and logos of their original owners on them. I found myself doing a doubletake the other day, wondering why a lorry apparently belonging to a German pig farmer from Westphalia was driving around the outskirts of Dubai.

Sunday May 17, 2009


On every trip I do, I always take along at least a pair of chinos and some 'backup' jeans in case I need them.

On this week's trip to Jordan I didn't bother with the jeans, for some silly reason. Climbing out of the taxi this evening was a bit problematic, as I had to have my suitcase with me on the back seat, as the cab's boot wasn't working. Whilst trying to clamber up and out, case in hand, I suddenly head a ripping sound - my rather old chinos had decided to use that moment to give up the coast and rip in a rather embarrassing location.

I now have three days with nothing but a pair of suit trousers to wear. Bother.

The moral of the story seems to be to have what you never need with you at all times - that way you'll never need it. If you don't bring that spare pair of trousers, shirt, cufflinks, toothbrush, etc, etc, you're bound to regret it!

Monday May 04, 2009

How much!?

One of the things I always try to find when away on a work trip in Europe is a decent bar playing good live music.

I've not had much luck so far in Paris - just the odd Irish pub with someone on guitar - good fun, but nothing very special.

When I got back to my hotel this evening my ears lit up, so to speak - rockin' blues was blaring across from the bar across near reception. Excellent!

I plonked myself down, thinking I could have a quick drink and enjoy the music before an early bed, so as to be bright and breezy for tomorrow's customer meeting.

The waiter handed me a drinks menu, which I glanced at, put down, got back up and then went straight to my room.

26 Euros for a diet Coke, even if the following Coke costs 12 Euros is a little steep...

Dubai prices are suddenly looking a lot more reasonable.

Sunday May 03, 2009

Mask wearing

Several people on my flight to Paris today were wearing those surgical mask thingies, presumably as a precaution against swine flu.

I find this sort of thing spectacularly irritating. The masks don't really do much. At best, they might provide some sort of psychological comfort to the wearer. They give me the heebie jeebies when I see people wearing them. I find it toe-curlingly pretentious.

Two of the people wearing them today were obese, with cigarette packs in their shirt pockets. It strikes me that they have more to worry about in terms of protecting their general good health. They also had to take the masks off when burbling into their mobile phones, rendering the entire exercise utterly pointless.


I am in Paris this week for a customer visit at the demo centre Sun have here. Flew in this afternoon, off home again on Wednesday.

Paris is not part of my usual beat - much as I enjoy visiting the cities in my region, it's nice to have the chance to go 'somewhere nice' for a change. Ever since mid-Europe was taken out of the area I cover, there's been a distinct lack of visits to 'easier' places for me.

What do I mean by 'easy'?

- Getting on and off the plane doesn't involve any pushing or shoving, excessive hand luggage in plastic bags everywhere, people jumping up the minute the wheels touch the ground, etc.

- No smelliness on the plane\*

- No need for visas, you walk straight in, without any confusion as to where you are supposed to queue.

- Sensible driving (thought this may not apply in Paris!).

- Smooth roads.

- No deadly diseases. Or mosquitoes.

- No visible signs of heavy security. (Having a gentlemen with a rifle sitting outside the lift of your hotel floor is both reassuring and rather worrying at the same time, but isn't a situation I would actively choose to find myself in. Same goes for armoured vehicles sitting outside reception).

- Getting to meetings using easy, efficient public transport, rather than bouncing around in the back of a Toyota Corolla for hours on end.

- Being able to walk around outside the hotel in the evenings on my own, partly because it's safe to do so, partly because there is actually something to do and see.

- Decent toilets. (Using a squat toilet when wearing a suit, with no toilet paper in site is not something I enjoy).

- A climate that suits my English constitution.

I'm looking forward to this week!\*\*

\* I fully understand that my fellow passengers on certain routes simply aren't able to get access to showers and soap as easily as I can. That's not their fault.

\*\* Sun shareholders need not worry, this meeting is for a very important project. I promise to be back in my old haunts regularly during the remainder of Q4!

Saturday Mar 28, 2009


I had a good trip to Yemen last week, both in terms of the work that got done as well as personal enjoyment.

Due to various home computer related issues, I haven't been able to sort my photos out yet.

That said, I know that I won't have a better picture of someone chewing qat than this one, courtesy of Wikipedia.

I also don't have a picture of the man selling plastic doormats at a road junction. He was in full local dress, including dagger and AK47, plastic bag of Qat and cigarette in hand. Sometimes you just don't have your camera to hand when you need it!

Friday Mar 27, 2009

Admiring the view

Mrs Saul and I are off to Kerala for a week, leaving on April 3.

Whilst reading up on what to do there, I particularly enjoyed this gem from Wiki Travel -

"Hawa Beach, is among one of the beaches in India where top-less sunbathing is tolerated and well appreciated by the locals, who come on the weekends to admire this view free of charge."

Friday Mar 20, 2009

To Malarone or not to Malarone

This week's trip to Lagos has really taken it out of me.

I'm blessed with a fairly hardy constitution and rarely suffer from anything worse than a bad cold - and that only happens once a year or so. In four and a half years of travelling all over the place, I've managed to avoid everything but the odd bad stomach.

So why has Lagos left me feeling rough as anything? Getting from a to b in Lagos involves some tiring bumping around in traffic, hot weather and exposure some germs that my English body's not too used to, but this week wasn't different to other African trips I've endured with no side-effects whatsoever.

I think the culprit was the anti-malaria tablets I was taking. On my first two trips to Africa I took doxycycline, with no side effects. The problem with doxycycline is that you have to carry on taking them for up to three weeks after returning, which can be inconvenient. For that reason, during my last Africa trip, also to Lagos, I was recommended Malarone. Malarone only needs to be taken one day before you leave, one a night during your visit and for seven days after you return. Much more practical.

I don't remember suffering from any side-effects during my last dose of Malarone, but this trip seemed to hit me with most of the commonly listed potential problems. Throughout the week I had abdominal pain, zero appetite, bouts of nausea and generally felt rough.

It looks like next time I will have to go back to using doxycycline. What a pain.

Most of the South Africans I work with don't bother to take any anti-malaria tablets at all, the thinking being that if treated, malaria's not the end of the world, particularly when the tablets on the market don't provide 100% protection and often come with nasty side-effects. Lots of they guys actually have malaria and suffer from the odd bout now and again, which they describe as rather like having a bit of flu.

Personally I would prefer to stay protected - I only visit African from time to time, after all. Next time I won't be using Malarone though. I'm not looking forward to the next few days as I finish the course.

Sun shareholders - see what we all go through for you? :)

Wednesday Mar 18, 2009

Crusading - with a multimedia projector

I saw a poster on a wall yesterday, whilst bumping our way through Lagos traffic.

It was advertising the sale and rental of projectors for -

- Film watching

- Corporate presentations

- Parties

Fair enough. There was one suggested use that I didn't quite understand, however.

- Crusades

I had images of knights turning up in Lagos on their way to Jerusalem so that they could pick up a projector to take with them. I'm sure it would have kept them entertained during cold evenings stuck in their castles. You could also use it to beam bad films into an enemies' encampment. After a siege consisting of five solid days of Woody Allen's more recent films, anyone would be ready to throw in the towel.

One of the local guys at the customer explained it to me though - crusades, in this context, is referring to religious gatherings...

Still, I wish I'd got a picture!

Monday Mar 16, 2009


I'm in Lagos this week to see a couple of customers.

The city is looking a lot nicer compared to my last visit here two years ago - the roads look substantially cleaner and all the motorcyclists, stunningly, are wearing helmets. Getting from a to b is still challenging and tiring. Bouncing around for hours every day in a small Toyota van is not much fun. It's pretty sweaty out there as well!

My hotel is very impressive. 2007 saw me in a hideously expensive, run down place. Simple, but it did the job, if somewhat charmlessly. This year I'm in a hideously expensive refurbished place that definitely earns all of its five stars.

Nigeria doesn't have the best reputation amongst business travellers, but there's plenty of work to be done here and, in my limited experience, it's not really that bad at all. Challenging in logistical terms, but fun nevertheless, particularly if you're travelling with a group of people to share the experience with.

Thursday Mar 12, 2009

Pete Goss makes it to Oz

The sailor Pete Goss has completed an amazing journey from the UK to Australia.

Sun used to sponsor Pete Goss in the last 90s. I was the Systems Engineer who looked after the installation at his group's office in Totnes in the South of England. At the time he was building a super catamaran yacht to navigate the globe. Sadly, the catamaran didn't get very far before part of its bow broke off and the voyage abandoned.

Interesting that he managed to make it to Australia using 19th century technology after being let down with the best the 21 century could offer.

Meeting and working with Pete and his team, in my very small way, was a real privilege. He's one of those inspirational types who fires up those around him, doesn't give up and is always up to something or other.

His offices were also, I reckon, the first StarOffice users in the UK at the time!

The ISP that was founded around the project at the time is still going strong with their content management solution. It all used to be on Sun at the time - I wonder if it still is?

Wednesday Feb 04, 2009

SA this week

Nice trip to SA this week, beginning last Thursday with a friend's wedding just outside of Jo'burg - a rare occasion when work travel fits with something personal.

If you're looking for somewhere to stay outside of town, I recommend Misty Hills, where we were. Odd fluorescent lighting aside, it's a great place - lots of individual chalets amidst lots of greenery. Steer clear of their restaurant though - everyone recommended we visit The Carnivore, as it's called, but it must have gone down recently. They couldn't get our booking right, the ambience was terrible with uncomfy chairs and bright lights adjusted to shine right in your eyes. More importantly, the food was awful. Instead of the buffet of juicy game we were looking forward to, we had to put up with a parade or cold, dry meat, drab salads and desserts that were clearly shop bought. Yuck.

Sunday Jan 04, 2009


Tunis till Weds - the first time since 2003 that I'll have spent more than just one quick night here. I'm looking forward to seeing some future customers for my product set - hopefully my grinding French won't put them off.

One thing I will be staying away from is the local hooch in my minibar. As proof that every society has its own special tipple, a bottle of 40% fig 'eau de vie' is nestling in the fridge door, frightening off the cans of Sprite.




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