Sri Lankings. Do all roads lead to Beijing?

Got back from a trip to Sri Lanka with a pal who works for a mining company in West Africa. We saw this captivating little nation through very different eyes, but found many of the same things, and learned a few too. Travelling helps that. I’m not one for listing travelling as a hobby- don’t travel for travel’s sake -it will not guarantee you will be more interesting. Travel to learn things that will better you and who you go with, to see stuff, that doesn’t have to go on Facebook. But I think I learned things on this trip, and now I’m blogging about them.

Sri Lanka Graphic Montage

Dubai takes perspective and stuffs it in the padding of a champagne-sipping Ukrainian model’s bra. But for every Terstosterphoney, overpaid sleazebollock gyrating with a 21 year old while the wife is at home, there’s  a talented, discerning individual here because of the economy. I’ve found a heap of them I care about very much. The greasy hormonoids across chandeliered neon rooms were things I expected, but I’m still getting sucked into the vortex.

My maid only comes once a week, I don’t have an SUV, I have to share my five residence swimming pools with other plebs, it’s at least 6 minutes walk to the nearest decent bit of beach, I don’t go on enough boats, and I’ve not had a decent rare fillet steak in at least a month. Poor me.

This time last year, the deflated mattress in Brooklyn next to the crusty cat’s bum wasn’t so bad, nor the collapsable ceiling, aggressive Haitians in the stairwell and immortal bed bugs (justified by staying with my soul mate, rocking up a Brooklyn-shaped talent-fest as I write this, Theresa Caffrey).

In New York, London, Birmingham or Edinburgh, millions commute at least an hour every day, to share eight hours in a collection of allocated spaces with people we don’t always like or understand. Most of us spend two thirds of each day justifying ourselves through emails, invoices, estimates, documents that will possibly help in compiling other documents, gchat, texting, Facebook when nobody’s looking…  Then we go back, to the train, bus or expressway for an hour home-bound, to the bar, or to the sofa, for American impact-drama and dinner with a label that tells us it’s healthy, authentic or 30% off.

In Dubai, lower that productivity by 30%, reduce commute-time by 70%, increase job security by 40% and sunshine by 80%, and lower inspiration and gigs by 60%. Add a smattering of food imported from opposite parts of the planet, accepted in-grained racism in all directions, and the most beautiful hotels you’ve ever seen, and you’ve got your gig.

Dubai doesn’t give a household-pet-monkey about infrastructure but they’ve got the basics to justify the Sensational-Destination bits. Africa, based on the experiences of my friend and my sister’s time there setting up this brilliant community-based travel company, doesn’t do infrastucture either – you know, roads, power, supplies, that kind of shit, but – Dubai has money, Africa has resources. So does Sri Lanka.

Sri Lanka, child in car

And Sri Lanka has work ethic – not work like sitting at a desk making spread sheets, work like making things, growing things, refining things, carving, welding, weaving, making things. And not just because people need to pay the bills, or feed mouths. Cycling 8 miles at 3am with a cart of bananas is to put the children through higher education, to get your son his engineering degree, to get him to work abroad where his skills will be needed by people who don’t study engineering anymore, like Europe, or Australia, or the Middle East, or the USA, where we study Marketing, English Literature, Media Studies, Philosophy, Religion or Fine Art. Sri Lankans are bright, proud, and things are moving fast.

And they have China, as Africa has too. The new expressways and tinted vans with Mandarin on make it quietly visible. Every Sri Lankan will say that “China is our big friend”. And when China makes a highway that reduces an 7 hour trip to 2 hours, what’s wrong with that? So why do I have a dodgy feeling about it?

Sri Lanka was flagged up and traded up by the Dutch 450 years ago, extorted and exported to buggery by the British, and now it’s China’s turn to buy up the Pineapples, Rubber, Tea, Cashews and more. They’re not visibly implanting a religion or dictator, or enforcing communism, and Catholics, Buddhists and Muslims live together with a distinct sense of Sri Lankan culture and pride, whether in their appearance, homes, or  auto-embellishments, you can’t tell what kind of god someone believes in unless you ask him. But China’s quiet helping hand will have a vested interest that will arise if trouble does. Which hopefully may not be soon.

Despite some very sludgy Tamil-shaped goings-on in recent years, Sri Lanka is the authentic, multi-cultural island of bright, earnest, hard-working friendliness that Singapore markets itself as, (instead of the weird plastic anti-soul themepark Singapore is).

I don’t know. I know ‘Neo Colonialism’ is a buzzword that describes something very real, and steadily raping African and Asian resources and nations. I know the gold in Dubai’s Gold Souk comes from a sinister chain of very unsavoury people, that starts with a young mother with a pick axe and baby on her back in an un-reinforced ditch in an unofficial mine in the Ivory Coast, who along with thousands of others has to run for her life when it rains.

I know that Sri Lankans sell to where the markets are, that they govern themselves, that post-Tsunami they’re hard-working, resilient people in a very beautiful country, and I hope they stay that way. It’s a lovely country in the middle of some big changes, but it has the resources, the people, and the strength to hold its own.


Keep Young and Beautiful

Try this. This is a delightful piece of copy for womens’ cosmetics over 100 years ago. While the vocabulary may have changed, the sentiment has not.

Antique cosmetic copy

  • If you want to be prettier, try this.
  • Pretty and clever people use this.
  • It’s really clever.
  • There’s no way you could make it yourself out of cheaper things or stuff in the garden.

Three differences between this and our modern day beauty-fuel:

  • There is no Faux-Sciencey nonsense – eg Pro-Marine Collagen Organic lifting Serum, 24 hour hydro booster molecular oxi Q10 pro-retinol etc.

(For a serious debunking of all these Bollockisms about cosmetics and other delightful crappages of our times, please, please read Ben Goldacre’s brilliant Bad Science, which explains that if your skin could actually absorb fish DNA, you would have scales. DNA is what makes and keeps you what you are, despite many imaginative science fiction flicks. We should be very pleased our DNA cannot absorb or replicate other DNAs by simply rubbing it in, and no, the Clinique lady in Debenhams should not be wearing a bloody Labcoat. The Edwardians didn’t go that far).

  • Three Flowers Face Powder also doesn’t include our lovely present-day buzzwords either, these words that mean so much: replenish, revitalize, enhance, hydrating. radiance comfort, defense (American spelling) extracts, regenerate,  nourishing, youth-surge, visibly-lifting… you get the gist.
  • This copy is accompanied by a cartoon, as opposed to a photoshopped flawless 20 year old.

I spent five days last month sitting next to a talented designer photoshopping the crap out of a 24-year-old’s face for a product aimed at ladies in their 40s.

And here’s the killer. This kind of advertising is at least 120 years old. And the corresponding vitriol and indignation, that’s nothing new either. But if we’re all so savvy, aware, and won’t be sold to, when it comes to picking up something off a shelf, you’re more likely to pick up the product with the pretty lady on it. Or the funky graphics for a funky price if there’s more in your wallet that day.

We can still be manipulated, but it’s lovely when we’re not, and just appreciate things because we genuinely know they’re great. In that category I can put Monster Munch, Rescued Dogs, the Game of Thrones books, Baby Oil, Hugs, Spaghetti Bolognaise, orgasms, Emeli Sande and a pint in the Golden Rule in Ambleside. Nobody told me why. They just are.

The BishBoshBang Infographic

Stats that won’t end up in your PowerPoint presentation. They may, or may not be true. I’ll let you be the judge of that.

2012 More or Less


The Setting:
Beirut. Capital of Lebanon. A fuzzy, laughing, pock-marked electric oasis, ensconced in the Arabian wedge of the Meditteranean. Garlic, booze, concrete, olives, amorous eyes, hormones on steroids and cigarettes in every hand, cornered between angry nations pointing rockets and fingers at each other.

The Cast:
Seven Brits – alcoholism, nihilism, Borat & Partridge quotes, mutual piss-taking, self deprecation, limited understanding of exchange rates, cheerful and willing abandon at regular intervals.

Three Aussies – construction, management & mining consultants with a vent for hedonism, females and the pursuit of happiness.

Two Filipinas, immaculately turned out, all-seeing, all observing, not about to take any shit. Off anybody.

One Palestinian/Lebanese – the only member to actually understand often less-than-favourable comments from locals. Tolerant, thoughtful counterbalance to everyone else. Loveable.

One South African – Ladykiller, ladles of charm and no problem being the butt of jokes because he always gets the girl (although he doesn’t know what Savoury means or who Bill Murray is).

One Scottish-Indian, bright-eyed, loved up, up for everything, owner of the most inimitable accent I will ever hear.

The ensemble headed to Beirut last weekend for a 30th bash. Memory loss. Fearlessness. Intermittent Aspergers. Regular premature Alzheimers. Puke. Bidets. Abused curtains. Lots of laughing.

The Scene.
Flydubai took us to the city where the Arabs go to party, where Roman ruins dance between the ghosts of old wars and potentially imminent ones on streets peppered with smiles, stares, shwarmas, cigarettes, hugs, handshakes and a smoky warmth wherever you end up.

Biblical stone broods beside bullet-addled bricks, and 70s highrises cuddle up to Maronite churches, while Byzantine columns sleep between cacaphonic pylons. Decent Graffiti frames Hesbollah posters. 60s Mercs cut up brand new Porches. And men, men everywhere – soldiers on corners, old men on chairs, flatcaps and leather jackets, on steps, in doorways, outside shops, fifteen for every lady, with unabashed stares at unchaperoned women, hands forever scratching itchy bollocks (apparently it’s because it’s common to shave your pubes in Lebanon, but the ladies didn’t seem to have the same problem).

One street is old Berlin in summer, the next is Havana in Winter. The manic roads and crumbling history are Athens, with streetfaces of downtown Memphis or Barcelona. Plenty feels like downtown Marseille or Lille in the mid 80s, or like the 80s in general, only everyone’s off their faces, wants to be your friend, to show you the very best of their country and drives like a complete mental. Rear view mirrors are for ornamental purposes, as are lanes, pavements, traffic lights and zebra crossings.

The Plot.
Ha. Not really. Started with good intentions, but there were no illusions that the plot was going to be devised or found on this trip.

At 5am, 1.5 hours before the flight, I met my roomie for the first time, a stunner a long way from the home counties with a clever media job, in a pile of drunken bags and stuffs on the roadside. We’d both separately decided that as it wasn’t a school night, it was fine to travel to Lebanon on NO sleep and extended inebriation. On the plane, one of the Aussies thoughtfully warned a Lebanese man that we might be doing “terrible things to your country”. He was wrong. As much as Brits and Aussies are a royal pain in the arse on a global scale, anything we thought was unacceptable or just plain silly was fine with Lebanon. The locals’ primary concern was that we love the place, and we did.

Jihad Salon pour homme - We'll blow you away

We hired a coach and saw some sites. A million years of stalactites, (or an incredible, drippy Jim Henson/Terry Gilliam set at Jeitta’s Grotto), the serenely chilled RomanChristian Byblos, with fishermen chilling in the sunset on a 4000 year old port, giant angry marshmallows or rocky fingers swearing out of the bay at the Corniche, electric bars and happy drunks staggering across Jemayze. But mostly we ate, drank, ran, danced, wobbled, sang, questioned scam artists, lather-rinse-repeat as needed.

We met Hamdan, the checker player with the most incredible moustache any of us will ever see, the scamster arsewipes at BO18 who took a chunk of our money for a table guarded by overweight overzealous bouncers in bad suits & attitudes, then charged the entire bill again to the Aussie Birthday Boy’s card once we’d left. The larger than life ponytailed soulsinger Alex Nashef in Bar Louis. The kind taxi driver who didn’t get offended when we observed the thickness of Rafik Hariri’s eyebrows. Reem, the barmaid who kept pouring us ‘surprise’ shots and cocktails. Local ladies with lashings of eyeliner, piles of cleavage and plenty of soul. The Finnish girls who scammed us into paying their Bar tab. Wolf whistling soldiers. Bemused hotel staff. Amused pizza boys who could see a chunky profit a mile off. Everyone you looked at was looking back.

 The Script. (Names *****ed) 

“I knew it was time to go when I asked that man to drag me around the floor by my feet”

“Reception said they’ve run out of beer – they didn’t sound very apologetic about it”

“I think I’ve got chocolate cake in my ear”

“Promise you won’t make me leave this room or do anything today or I’ll have a panic attack”

“What’s the conversion for dollars into Lebo thingies again?”

5pm on BBM “Is anyone up yet?”

“A good midget porn title? ‘It’s alright, they’re not children'”

“He is genuine ********* face” (Borat quote in response to very Borat-sounding coach driver)

“If nothing else my kids’ll have good manners.” – “J****’s kids’ll probably have ***** ********”

“Who’s that dude staggering across the street down there? Oh, it’s D***. D***! We’re here!”

Wedding Learnings

My big sister Jessica got married to Graham Simpson last week in the Lake District. She is now Jessica Simpson. Here are some Wedding Learnings.

If the bride is a badass businesswoman flying high on the crest of a going-global entrepreneurial tidal wave, and not very ‘weddingy’, it helps to have a Mum who is a badass events-organising behemoth. While this entails power-struggles between two bright, assertive ladies, it also means Brilliant Wedding on the cards, and that’s what we got.

Family Weddings are a novel way to find new ways of infuriating your mother. One is to move to Dubai 6 months beforehand.

Another is to get ‘relatively tipsy’ the night before, and tread a stiletto-heel-shaped hole in the 300-quid veil, which is then discovered 3 hours before the wedding

Fixing the hole by sewing heart-shaped lace on it does not necessarily fix it but does make a ‘funnee story’ the entire congregation knows about before the service thanks to a blaspheming mother

My brother Ben is exceptionally good at chauffeuring over 30 international guests around the Lake District without grumbling, and generally being a charming optimist throughout

Optimism pays off, because the gods of Lakeland Weather smile on Jess and Graham. Which helps in a landscape like this:

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My mother is exceptionally good at decorating small Lakeland churches

Hanging a painting of one notable absentee in the church is highly effective as both a perfect finishing touch and source of waterworks

The best man forgetting the rings is still not as bad as stomping a hole in the wedding veil. And he got them in time for the service.

Auntie Mary is an exceptional trooper for driving up the country by herself and partying hard, albeit terrifying a few of the younger single males

It is ill-advised to tell lots of people to meet the bridal party at the Queens Head pub the night before, when there are 6 Queens Head pubs in neighbouring towns and villages, and you’ve booked the wrong one

It is ill-advised as a guest to corner the bride the night before the wedding to tell her you’re disappointed with the accommodation/setting, and the bride’s mother may be restrained from giving you a piece of her mind

Everyone knows the culprit of the exceptional clouds of flatulence throughout the reception. And no it wasn’t me or Ben.

My sister is exceptionally good at making speeches, picking excellent husbands and not getting upset about holes in her wedding veil

During the speeches, the biggest laugh can be caused by a six year old who raises her glass “To Toast!”

The bridesmaid is not only best friend of both bride and groom, but the reason they met, and therefore has quite a substantially positive impact on a few folk’s lives. She’s also a bloody good poet.

Uncle Geoff wins a gold star for realising he forgot his suit upon arrival in Ambleside, then driving down to Preston with a very tolerant wife to buy a brand new suit

The Dukan diet removed a cumulative 24 stone (estimate) from wedding guests – this is equal to approximately 2.5 guests

Uncle Duncan (not a dietitian) retains an exceptional capacity to frighten small children by playing with his dentures at the dining table

Don’t be offended when Uncle Ken comments on your boobs

It takes a noble best man in a kilt to not retaliate when the fellow-Scottish kilt-wearing groom lifts up his tartan in the middle of the dancefloor to prove he really is a Scot

Don’t be offended if the DJ hastily takes back his microphone after your ‘rendition’ of the start of “I like to move it”.

But here’s my rendition of At Last for Jess and Graham’s first dance:

Do be in awe of the rendition of Sugar Hill Gang by the ladies from Charleston, South Carolina

Do be amused by a very british, very camp rendition of Hey Ya.

The popular South Carolinan dance ‘The Shag’ provides an infinite supply of jokes unrelated to technique or style when demonstrated on the dance floor

Ceilidhs are profoundly confusing

The evillest cat that has ever lived likes to slowly chew the feet off mice for hours next to groups of people outside the Langdale Chase hotel

Fireworks are the definitive way to make sure your wedding goes off with a bang. Yes I went there.

Picking Kenyan & Rwandan honeymoon destinations that are “Not massively kidnappy” does little to ease tensions of family members

All in all a brilliant wedding. Well done Jess and Graham, and mum, and the Simpsons, and Christine, and Ben, and Vic, and all the people that flew a long way for a perfect weekend, and the ones that didn’t, but gave it their all. And to Jess and Graham again – for the start of a very happy life together.

Dubai Learnings part 2

In response to the well-received Dubai Learnings Part 1, here’s the next edition>

It is illadvised to invite the chinese weapons salesmen to your friend’s houseparty

A tablespoon of Ghee is not worth eating for 100 Emirati Dirhams.

Sludgy drinks puddle + heels + free bar = Wrist support which makes you look like an IDIOT

If I live on the 26th floor, and work on the 40th floor, and there are 11 feet per story, my median average altitude at any given hour of the day in one month (or Maddiyan height) is 308 feet.

There is a speed bump for every head of the population. Dubai Ladies’  wardrobes do not lend themselves to sports bras. Therefore, 3+ years in Dubai = Saggy boobage due to bumpage.

Dubai is 12 towns on top of one anther like a layered cake, based on nationality, income, profession and religion. Everyone mixes with their tier, with differing opinions about how high or low it tier is. All expats are sociable and confident, soon get to know enough of their lot and then call it a ‘small world’.

Breast Punching is not universally hilarious.

Arabs LOVE Vimto. Not just a little bit.

Do not expect U-turn opportunities. If you need to go left, go straight for 2 miles and back. Then you can turn right. Stupid.

There are no Mosquitoes in Dubai. Or if there are, there are about 11. This is great.

There are no pigeons. This is also great.

750 quid to fly back for your sister’s hen for 4 days is entirely worth it, providing your mother doesn’t have a sulk for 2 of them


Youtube parties get a lot more competitive when there are 5 professional DJs in the room.

It is illadvised to put TV presenters in head locks (observed not perpetrated)

Living out of a suitcase gets irritating after 6 months

Serious pillow fights in hotel rooms with 8 multi-award-winning creatives at 5.30 am + 8 bottles of champagne = a world of pain at the desk 4 hours later.

Dubai is not going to get finished. But it’s good enough.

Someone willing to kiss you after an extreme allergic reaction and exorcist-style vomitousness may have questionable standards

Seeing the British riots through the eyes of Indians, Lebanese, Australians and French was profoundly humiliating and frustrating.

A bidet is not for puking in.

Ramadan – a chance to understand the culture you are in, and be more respectful to everyone and everything. And also go to lots of lovely houseparties and make some lovely friends.

It’s fun to see some of these friends on the telly.

Local film channels are brilliant and beautiful in their random selections. But whoever decides when to cut the films for the advert breaks is TERRIBLE AT HIS JOB.

Prawn Tempura is an acceptable breakfast

If the shop in your work knows you as Oranamin C Lady, this is probably not great.

Oronamin C in Dubai

DishDashes and Abayas – symbols of identity & pride, worn with class, not any form of extremism. Far from it.

Badass cars are not driven by Badasses.

International professional Stand-Up Comics can still be genuinely afraid of your mother.

Filipinos – the hardest working, most courteous, astute nationality I’ve come across in the USA, Dubai, Australia or anywhere – it confounds me that they work so damn hard around the world when such uncharacteristic corruption is in charge at home.

Having a glass of champagne passed to you by an acrobat hanging from the ceiling is very cool but also a bit weird.

Peanuts and Japanese Rice Crackers does not a well balanced diet make.

Rain is a lovely thing.