Thursday, 20 November 2014

The Digital Hobo

I'm introducing a new series to BritinBeirut: The Digital Hobo.

Let's start with a definition ... actually, to be more accurate, let's wait for Chrome to load the relevant page on Merriam Webster.

To pass the time, here's a joke I recently heard. "An Irishman, an Englishman and a Scotsman walk into the bar, the Irishman's holding an enormous ... "

Oh, it's loaded.

noun \ 'ho-(,)bo \
: a person who has no place to live and no money and who travels to many different places
:  a migratory worker
:  a homeless and usually penniless vagabond
plural hoboes also hobos

Adding "Digital" to the beginning of that describes my situation in Beirut perfectly. OK, I'm not penniless, nor a vagabond, but I do move around a lot for work and life, and I'm certainly a migrant worker.

As a freelance communications guy I spend a lot of time hopping from place to place, updating various online platforms and generally being the scourge of Beirut's bars and cafes as I relentlessly hunt for a decent Internet connection.

Having left the country for a year, I'm out of touch as to the best connections in town. I have a rule though, it's got to be free, none of this paying for 30 mins here, or an hour there.

So, Digital Hobo aims to give a relatively humorous look at Beirut's free Wi-Fi spots, I might even comment on the usual concerns, like the coffee, maybe. It depends how long I have to wait for Chrome to upload my latest ramblings on this or that...

This post was inspired by the fact I'm currently sitting somewhere waiting for 13MB PDF to download. It's been 10 minutes so far.

Oh, and here's a little tune for you to enjoy. I'll link to it, uploading it would just drain my will to live.

Monday, 17 November 2014

Pictures of Beirut

BritinBeirut has been polluting the Instragrams this week.

A great name for a 24/7 in Hamra

Possibly the Worst Beer in the World

An excited equine in Downtown!

Glad to see that #Grammarfails still happen 
in Beirut

Shopping by "candlelight" #Blackout

Finally, this scary little Wednesday Adams 
in #Oslo in Mar Mikhael

If you'd like to follow along, click on the Instagram widget in the right hand column.

Monday, 10 November 2014

Some Things Never Change

After a year or so out of the country I find myself back in Beirut for a few months before I (hopefully) head off to the UAE.

As a freelancer and a digital media guy, I’ve been rudely reminded of the state of the city’s Internet infrastructure, or the lack of it. It seems that merely updating your profiles and playing around on a few sites takes forever and I half expect to hear the clicking and beeping of an old dial up modem in the background.

I suppose I got lazy and complacent, living in London over the past year and enjoying Internet speeds so fast as to almost be redundant. I mean, if you’re getting in excess of 2 MB/s, who needs 3 or 4?

Case in point - when I shamelessly lifted the image above (from here) the website code popped up in Google and I had to reload.

So, I’m back, trying to (re?) adopt my old lifestyle of sticking the laptop in my bag and heading off to Hamra’s cafes to get a little work done like some sort of high tech hobo. I’m leery of endlessly paying to refill my generator at home, so it’s to Prague I head when the daily three-hour cut approaches.

Freelancing’s a pain in the ass at the best of times, but when you head into a place and get 56 KB coming down the pipe, you know you’re screwed, it's like listening to the endless dripping of a leaking tap. I was told time and again that the Internet plans in the country have improved, but it seems like the bars and cafes of Hamra have avoided the upgrade. Expensive coffee? Sure. Internet from 1995? Yep.

First world problems, as they say, but it is depressing when your 3G connection is faster than your wireless.

If anyone has any recommendations, I’d much appreciate them.

Thursday, 7 March 2013

Time at the range

After a long absence I’m restarting my blog, albeit slowly.

So, here goes…

I’m a fan of guns.

I’ll qualify that, within a controlled environment, and given that the users of said weapons know what they’re doing, I’m a fan of guns. I don’t believe in hunting, unless you’re actually going to eat what you shoot. I also don’t believe in gratuitous violence. I also believe that if you don’t know what you’re doing, you have no place owning a firearm.

In short, I enjoy shooting, or more accurately (pardon the pun), I enjoy target shooting.

So, with those qualifications in place, here goes…

I’ve been around guns all of my life. My dad was an officer in the British Army and, at least so I’ve been told, used to carry a sidearm with him all the time when I was knee-height to a grasshopper. After that I was surrounded by soldiers and eventually graduated to shooting empty Coke cans at the bottom of my garden with an air rife (BB gun). I went on to shoot at school during the time I toyed with joining the army. There was a time when I was the best shot with an SA-80 in my local age group. These days, I’m a reasonably good clay pigeon (skeet / tiro) shooter owing to too much time spent in freezing Irish fields in December.

 SA 80

Ireland: Cold

So, it was with great delight that two friends used some form of wasta (influence exerted through personal connections for the non-Lebanese out there) to get us up to the Lebanese Army Shooting Range somewhere in the hills above Dora (the route seemed ridiculous and I couldn’t find my way back) for a morning of target shooting.

Now, and I’ll apologise in advance, I had assumed that the range wouldn’t be anything to write home about. However, what I discovered was quite something. Located in the basement of quite an impressive sporting complex was a modern, well-appointed range. It was certainly more impressive than the range I occasionally shoot at back home in Northern Ireland.

It’s administered by Josons, the best-known Lebanese gun dealers and, as I was about to discover, the distributors for Beretta in Lebanon.

So, we walk in and stroll around the waiting room, the walls of which are adorned with all sorts of pistols. I’m immediately drawn to the Sig Sauer range of handguns. Reputedly the most accurate and reliable handguns in the world (they used to be used by the men in black who guard the President of the US), a Sig is something I’ve always wanted to shoot.

After selecting my particular flavor of Sig, we set off to the range.


A trainer from Josons followed us in and gave us some tips. The pictures below might be some guide as to whether or not he succeeded:

After we’d shot around 50 rounds or so with the pistols we were sorely tempted to try out the Beretta Storm submachine gun.

Beretta Storm

After around 200 rounds giggling like a schoolgirl it was time to hit the road.

A great time, knowledgeable and enthusiastic staff in a modern setting, I’d recommend it to anyone.

And here's a little proof that I can actually hit a barn door at 50 metres:

Wednesday, 30 May 2012

Three guys walk into a bar

The following pictures were taken by a good friend of mine, Ziad, while myself, Nadim and Chadi were having a very in-depth, serious conversation at Bricks, Hamra.

The captions are his own, I've arranged them as thought or speech bubbles. All the shots are unposed. He is a veritable photographic sniper. And I shall have my revenge.

Ladies, let this serve as an insight into the minds of bored boys men.

Never before has someone seen straight to the core of one of my Machiavellian schemes...

Any suggestions for the final speech bubble?

I remember what I was doing, it was quite vile.

Monday, 2 April 2012

On police and cars

I'm about to state a Lebanese truism:

Where there is a traffic jam there is a policeman. Or four.

Seemingly without rhyme or reason Lebanese traffic police don't actually do much beyond taking the place of traffic lights, or marshaling cars around, or more accurately through, roundabouts.

I've come to the conclusion that the ISF (Internal Security Forces) have a deep, institutionalized fear of traffic lights.

Rather than allow these heinous machines to do their (incredibly complex) job of regulating traffic flow, they instead have decided that Charbel and Ali are much better suited to the job.

The results? At rush hour, roundabouts are no longer roundabouts, they're actually junctions where three incoming roads are closed off while one is freed to move. Traffic lights become designated iPod playlist management / radio tuning areas while your friendly policeman (having stopped traffic from one direction, more often than not counter to the color of the lights) chats with the kaak (local bread to the foreigners) guy on the corner. Once you're through one set, the next is so overloaded with traffic that you're often better going on foot.

I remember one day a few years ago when the then minister of the interior claimed that he was going to solve Beirut's traffic problems by increasing the numbers of police on the streets ... By the end of the week my journey home had doubled in length.

Rather than enforce laws concerning speeding, dangerous driving, or seatbelt and cellphone usage (and Lebanon has a truly appalling road safety record) the ISF has decided that they must meet the threat of the traffic light / roundabout head on.

The problem is, dysfunctional as the Lebanese approach to navigating traffic lights and roundabouts is (when the police aren’t present), it actually works. Yes, there are lines, but they move. No, you don’t give way to motorists on the roundabout, when you enter you shove your way on, and out the other side. However, it works, quixotic as it might seem, traffic does flow.

My question is this:

Do the ISF fear erosion of their powers through the insidious spread of the traffic light, or the devious machinations of the roundabout?

Or, is it a case of having too many men and no idea how to use them?

If it's the latter, as I strongly suspect, might I suggest they send the surplus to the back office and have them work on the endless piles of paperwork in evidence at every ISF office I've ever visited?

Though I must admit, they do look very pretty with their lovely white gloves.

(Today's rant was brought to you by "roundabouts" Mkalles and Habtoor.)

Monday, 26 March 2012

The Party of God, paintball and a genuine appreciation for Almaza

Around two years ago I was sat with a group of friends in Gemmayze’s Le Rouge. It was an eclectic group, it usually is. One of us had flown in from out of town for a few days and was being unusually noncommittal when we invited him out for a few drinks the following night.

After some gentle persuasion he spilt the beans, he was in town for a story a friend was writing for GQ. Now, GQ’s a great magazine and everyone’s curiosity was peaked. Gradually, the story came out.

A friend of his had somehow managed to arrange a paintball match between a group of American journalists and a team of Hezbollah fighters, in the name of, a., the story, and b., the general furthering of American-Lebanese relations through sporting violence.

My friend was the key in arranging this little get together.

I first met Andrew Exum during the foreigner’s orientation sessions at AUB in 2004. He came across a little, read very, brash. We were asked to introduce ourselves and he stood up, “Hi, my name’s Andrew and I work for the C.I.A.” The Americans all laughed, the Arabs didn’t.

The next I heard of him was an interview with Maingate, AUB’s student rag. It was then that I, along with the rest of the school, learnt that he was an ex-US Army Ranger Captain, had served in Iraq and Afghanistan, that he had a gallantry award, and that he’d authored a book. Oh, and he was attending CAMES, the centre for all the strange foreigners who come to AUB to learn about Middle Eastern politics, as was I.

Despite the odd start, the CIA joke wasn’t well received, Andrew soon became a close friend of mine. He favored public humiliation for anyone who failed to correctly conjugate their verbs in Monday morning’s Arabic flagellation class; he got into a heated argument with the head of AUB’s history department over small unit tactics; he called out Robert Fisk during a brown bag session over a typically unsupportable statement. I’ve lost count of the number of nights spent drinking Maker’s Mark, debating the qualities of Almaza or commiserating with him after Scotland got annihilated at the rugby. Again.

Exum (left) and some other drunken fool on my
balcony, Hamra, 2004, Almaza present and correct

In any case, he’s one of the good guys. A sharp, critical thinker when it comes to his day job, working on policy recommendations, a great, funny writer when it comes to his blog and above all, a lover of all things Lebanese. And one of my best men at my wedding.

Oh, and a great paintballer by all accounts.

Obviously, the article isn't to be taken too seriously.

Thanks to Joe for the heads up.

(GQ initially commissioned the piece.)