x Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 23 July 2017

From the desk of Frank Kane: mugging for investors

It really was a first. In 30 years or so of financial journalism, Frank Kane has covered lots of bankruptcies, receiverships and liquidations, but never has he reported on one as light-hearted, even as celebratory, as the Drydocks World affair this week.

Khamis Juma Buamim, the Drydocks chairman, had a jaunty air about him. Satish Kumar / The National
Khamis Juma Buamim, the Drydocks chairman, had a jaunty air about him. Satish Kumar / The National

It really was a first. In 30 years or so of financial journalism, I've covered lots of bankruptcies, receiverships and liquidations, but never have I reported on one as light-hearted, even as celebratory, as the Drydocks World affair this week.

From the moment he bounced into the room at the Grand Hyatt, Khamis Juma Buamim, the Drydocks chairman, had a jaunty air.

"Are we allowed to smoke?" he quipped, before passing some complimentary remarks about the floral arrangement on the podium. It was all quite jolly.

The event was an hour late beginning because of proceedings in court at the Dubai International Financial Centre, but he was undaunted. "It's nice to keep the world waiting," he joked.

Although it struck a discordant note with the gravity of the events we were there to discuss, it appeared to be a coordinated strategy by Drydocks to see the glass as half-full rather than as half-empty.

The journalists waiting for the event to begin were warmed up in advance with the gift of freebie bags bearing the Drydocks logos. This was another first, in my experience, at a "voluntary arrangement proposal" event.

The contents of the bags seemed especially well chosen.

There was a Balmain credit card wallet, I guess designed to hold all your IOUs; a rather nice pen, which would be useful for any potential write-downs; and a pointy object I was told was a letter opener but which looked sharp enough for a haircut.

There was also a chunky drinking receptacle with Drydocks logos. The assembled hacks spent a few minutes trying to work out who the mugs were in the whole process.

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What is happening at the Sheraton Jumeirah hotel? The little fun palace at the extreme end of the Jumeirah beach "strip" used to be one of my Friday favourites: a lovely sheltered beach and big open lawns with palm trees where you could sunbathe and listen to the birds tweeting in the trees.

(I mean singing, of course, although the idea of a blackbird with his wings wrapped around an iPhone sending messages to all his friends via micro-blog is rather amusing.)

Last Friday, my first visit for a few months, all was changed. The beach was being dug up by an excavator. Mountains of sand were being removed, exposing bare pipes and other groundwork.

The security man explained that the beach had been quite badly damaged by big waves in the recent storms, and it was being "restabilised". Fair enough, I suppose. There's no accounting for nature.

But what the Sheraton management has done to the lawns is nothing short of unnatural. Bang in the middle of the grass, a monstrosity of a "beach club" called Bliss has been built. Where once you had birdsong and the whistle of the wind in the palms, now you have blaring techno music and the screams of revellers.

It's anything but blissful.

Many of the beach hotels have gone this way recently. I suppose they all saw the business going to Barasti, and had to follow suit. The worst, in my view, is the Habtoor Grand, where the grotesque XL club ruins what used to be the best beach in Dubai.

Please, Sheraton, think again.

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At a posh dinner party in Arabian Ranches recently, the conversation among the men in the mixed Arab and western gathering turned, inevitably, to football.

I often have to watch football in the UAE with an Arabic commentary. I'm always impressed by the Arab commentators' ability to talk non-stop for 90 minutes without apparently taking a breath.

Equally, I've often wondered why they can't pause sometimes, just for reflection.

A Syrian guest at the dinner offered an intriguing explanation: "They used to all work as radio commentators, where you aren't allowed any silence time at all, and can't get out of the habit."

Is this true?

fkane@thenational.ae