A Hamaster stroke


Another weekend comes around and another week’s events calms down as the sediment kicked up in the big work pond decides to settle.

This time next week I will be in the Middle East. This time last year I thought that if I were to go to the Middle East it would be to write about an insurgency or some kind of diplomatic war of powers… or terrorism. Even this week Israel’s Mossad group and their alleged covert hit squad who assassinated a Hamas leader in a five star hotel in Dubai last month have been making the headlines as their forged passport photos have been plastered over the media.

I am not going to a five star hotel to report on the findings of the Dubai government. I am going to Dubai to review the very hotel the Hamas leader, Mahmoud al-Mabhouh, was murdered in. As a journalist, this is a very weird concept. The afternoon I go to the al-Bustan Rotana hotel will be an odd one. Timely, interesting and will mean more to me than just what the hosted lunch spread will have to offer.

The scene of an assassination. The stage setting for a great media frenzy about secret identities and religious friction. The historic war between two worlds in the cradle of civilization summed up in the western media as a screenplay-like thriller. Needless to say I will be on my guard for the hint of a story, the PLC hasn’t beaten all the news instinct out of me that easily. But won’t it be a bit like going to the Watergate complex in the 1970s and writing about the security system?

The  lavish five star al-Bustan Rotana hotel in the glittering metropolis of Dubai boasts sumptuous interiors and a unique attention to detail. Every room is designed specifically for the requirements of each guest. There are plenty of electrical sockets for all your needs and all rooms are sound-proofed. There are plenty of facilities available for active guests and there are floodlit tennis courts within walking distance of the main building so you need never miss a practice whether you are visiting for work or leisure purposes.

I think not.

Assassinations don’t usually make good sales where hotel rooms are concerned. Maybe during my hosted lunch I should excuse myself and put on a blonde wig? See if anybody notices.

It just occurred to me that this blog post might get me in a lot of trouble and I may not be permitted to travel to Dubai as a guest of the Dubai government and Virgin Atlantic if I post this before I leave and so, even though I am writing it on 21st February 2010 I will publish it on the day of my return, 3rd March 2010.

I can’t believe I am embargoing my own blog but I can’t risk it.

So I heard more about my trip abroad last week and as if work is giving me even more incentive to dig my way deeper and deeper into the heart of the company and eventually take root, I have been given a sort of sideways promotion. I am now the editor in charge of a newly acquired luxe holiday company’s brochures. Gold Medal package holidays for the rich, famous and holiday-deprived. One of their dolphin-skin bound brochures even features a double page spread of private hire Lear jets.

So being the editor of an esoteric brand bound only for the coffee tables of pampered PAs tasked with booking Lance, Emmeline and their gorgeous children and nanny a month in Zanzibar with space for one of the yachts then I don’t have much of a problem with it. It’s power. No more money but it’s power and something a bit different. At least this way I can’t be accused of selling out because I’m still living on my squeak of a salary.

Still, it is more money than I had this time last year.

Back to Dubai. Even though I am leaving in five days I don’t want to risk publishing this until I get back just in case anything I divulge puts me in hot water. They are very sensitive over there. Swearing alone can get you six months in prison.

I received my formal invitation last week and it began by informing me that because we are guests of Virgin Atlantic (and so subject to being upgraded if capacity allows) for the flight I mustn’t wear trainers or jeans. Call it a culture shock but I was stuttering the sentence aloud to my colleagues in disbelief. To be honest, I probably overreacted. My reaction was more akin to that of being scandalised – like rather than winebar dress policy (to which I love to adhere, never missing the chance to dress up) it was more compulsory nudism and luminous body paint.

They want me to wear what?!?! I have to go butt naked with ‘I heart Richard Branson’ painted onto my tits in day-glo gouache?!?! Well I never!

No. After a minute of panicking about what to wear I did what I usually do in this situation and I logged onto asos.com and bought myself a brand new flight outfit. Black linen trousers, a nautical sweater and a lapis short trench to go with my silk crochet pumps, off-white leather satchel and white bargain bin pashmina. I’m going to look $100. If you don’t believe me then I can show you the receipts.

My days will be filled with hosted lunches and dinners punctuating various inspections. Photography have given me a few tasks and I have to fill out a report when I get back so I’ll be making just as many notes as I would normally but not just for my own use, for the use of an actual company whose job it is to write about these places accurately to win customers. No pressure then. Equally, I need to make friends swiftly because I want lots of pictures of me looking at ease in the lap of luxury for the publishing department newsletter.

My ultimate favourite item on the itinerary is probably the most outlandish (literally) out of all the other relatively high-brow engagements. I am going on a desert safari which also requires new clothes. I am so excited about it. A 4×4 ride over the dunes, crashing over them and down into the troughs between them, followed by camel rides (gotta get a picture of me on a camel looking like an Arabian princess… toe rings and relocating my old nose-peircing hole may be necessary measures), a halal barbecue under canvas and then henna tatoos, belly dancing and hubble bubble (to be honest I’m not interested in that, being asthmatic, the whole smoking thing never really appealed to me).

So this time next week I will be in the Arabian desert itself tucking into some barbecue and drinking something non-alcoholic and it will be unforgettable.

See you when I get back.


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