|The Ballards - Dubai|
In Star Trek NG Captain Jean-Luc
Picard is prone to intone in his best stage baritone: "Make it so.....".
Go to them with a crazy idea on the back of an envelope,
and they will tell you to "Make it so......"
Built on a sandy creek overlooking the Arabian Gulf near
the Straits of Hormuz, until 1971 Dubai and the other 5 Emirates were
small trading posts full of itinerant Arab peasants and Indian traders,
overseen by a benign British Protectorate mainly for historical reasons:
we had conquered them hundreds of years previously to ensure our cargo
ships were not plundered on their journeys back and forth to India.
In 1971 the United Arab Emirates was born, poor but proud, and the Treasury breathed a huge sigh of relief. Little did they know that the UAE were sitting on truly vast quantities of oil which over the next 25 years they would exploit and export, ending up wealthier than Britain and one of the fastest-growing economies in the world.
This fabulous oil wealth and a lack of the need or desire to defend itself has created a country with enormous self-confidence. Basically, they've got so much money they can distort the normal rules of politics because anybody who threatens them they simply buy off.
They like the English because we were basically fair to them before Independence (unlike we were to Israel), and we're a good oil market. But they don't need us like we need their oil reserves.
Late-November 2006 England: floods, rain, wind, more
rain, gales, short days, dark nights (and did I mention the rain?).
Heathrow gets worse every time I travel, every advance
in technology designed to expedite the process of boarding an aircraft,
such as web check-in and those cool Smiths Heimann x-ray machines (well
done Sir Roger for buying Heimann at the right time), has been nullified
by pointless triplicated "Security" checks designed to reassure
the travelling public that "something" is being done, and manned
by insufficient slow, surly personnel.
Passenger security is simple: equip each flight with
4 air marshalls.
We made the gate (...doing 98. I said let them truckers
roll, 10-4.....) in the nick of time and had front of block seats which,
for Economy class I have to say were very roomy.
All the passport staff were female, veiled (apart from
the face) and apparently about 12 from what I could see.
I've noticed that everybody in the Arab world keeps themselves immaculate - they have their hair cut every couple of weeks and keep it beautifully coiffured. They are all either clean-shaven or have long beards but their clothes are always immaculate.
I savoured the delicious irony of being in a taxi where the heavily-bearded salwar kameez-wearing Moslem driver's mobile phone ring tone was a Christmas carol.
Out hotel was in the marina: a long way from the airport through atrocious traffic, and everywhere was construction.
Being a trading deport, the inhabitants of Dubai have traditionally been very cosmopolitan and their interest is not in you but in what you have to trade, or your money.
The traffic in Dubai is awful: they have built (and are still building) huge 12-lane highways everywhere, but they don't drive very well or use the roads efficiently, so there are constant hold-ups and accidents. many of the drivers have minimal experience.
I have never seen so many Lamborghinis, Range Rover
Sports and Bentleys in such a short space of time. Like Oman, all the
cars have a "binger" that "bings" constantly if you
drive over 120Km/h (75mph) - apparently all the locals disconnect them.
Dubai has gone from a flat piece of unappetising desert
to a huge metropolis in 30 years and there are only so many identical
tower blocks you can build, so they have started to get a bit silly.
Ten miles out in the middle of the desert has been built
a brand-new, no expense spared, state of the art motor racing circuit.
The building at Dubai Marina is incredible: I'm used
to seeing one or two tower blocks go up, then one or two more. Here, 500
or so are going up all at once. The scale of the expenditure is thought-provoking:
most of these blocks are not hotels but holiday apartments for sale (and
95% are sold off-plan).
We made a conscious decision to see what the UAE is like
outside Dubai, so took a long day-trip up to the Musandan Peninsula in
Heading North towards the Omani border, the road deteriorates,
with serious speed humps that slow even us down to a walking pace, then
a series of scruffier and scruffier towns and finally a cement city with
cement truck-carrying overpasses and the smelliest garage squat loo in
Beyond the brand-new border stations the Musandam road
(and the approximately 25 cars per day that use it) is wide, smooth, picturesque
Eventually the road abandons the water's edge and snakes up in to the hills before cutting off the very tip of the peninsula and curving down to Khasab (not that there's much to see in Khasab, just an oversized port that trades, illegally I suspect, with Iran).
Dubai has a reputation for being expensive and glitzy
and yes, parts of it are, but once away frm the main drag, we ate well
and cheaply in street cafés, little restaurants and even the big
hotels. The service and food was unfailingly good.
Just as we started to relax we had to come home again,
which was a pain. An early morning whizz back across the city to the airport
and in to the immaculate and efficient (Heathrow, take note) terminal.
The Departure lounge is something else.
Into the back of the Virgin Airbus again, more films
and finally Holds over Canvey Island for an hour while Heathrow caught
up with itself.
...to grey skies, rain, short days and huge long passport queues. How on earth can we justify 8 Immigration personnel serving 4 non-UK passport holders whilst one harassed Indian woman is asked to deal with 450 UK passport holders queuing half way back to the aircraft?
I was left with the honest desire that someone somewhere take a long hard look (via Dubai) at the way we in the UK handle customer service in general, and dealing with the flying public in particular.
Next time I think I might fly myself there...