x Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 21 January 2018

This was the year that was - This year's Saloons

From the region's biggest dog show to the man who caught Klaus Barbie, 12 months of Saloons.

Lee Bangwic holds up his three-year-old chihuahua, Valerie, At the 22nd Pedigree & Whiskas Dubai Pet Show.
Lee Bangwic holds up his three-year-old chihuahua, Valerie, At the 22nd Pedigree & Whiskas Dubai Pet Show.


The connection was not immediately obvious to anyone but Richard Baronet "Dick" Bloom. On January 4 "Rbbloom" added two lines to Wikipedia's entry for Burj Khalifa. "Does anyone think the 828-metre height was accidentally arrived at? It's Goethe's birthday. Isn't that a relevant fact?"

User, "Timsdad" thought not, deleting the entry two minutes later. Bloom reinstated it. So began an unlikely battle to link the pioneer of German Romanticism with UAE's highest tower.

We tracked Bloom down. He explained: "I've been reading Goethe since I was a teenager. I've read everything he ever wrote in the original German. I'm no expert… I'm a fan."


The Dubai Pet Show attracts 25,000 visitors and boasts the largest dogs-per-square-metre ratio in the Middle East. We were there for the show's 22nd year, down among the poodles, pomeranians, rottweilers and bull mastiffs, not forgetting the chihuahuas, dressed as a wedding party.

Maintaining canine harmony might seem the organisers' most pressing challenge. In fact: "The most aggressive exchanges occurred in the overcrowded car park...[where] people were fighting over spaces." According to one disappointed owner: "The doggies deserve better than that."


When Simon Smedley committed "Twittercide" his online fans reacted badly. "You have to remember you are a leader," one said.

Better known as Catboy, the Dubai-based co-host of one of the Emirate's most popular radio shows, this founding father of the local Twitterati explained: "Twitter is an addiction. I'm trying to wean myself off it." We had our doubts. Sure enough news of his cyberdeath proved exaggerated. One week after his announcement Smedley's feed remained live and tweeting.


The circus came to Khalifa Park. We spoke to the Egyptian lion tamer, Faten el Halw. She told us she was famous and the only female lion tamer in the world. An acrobat at nine, a snake-handler thereafter, a lion tamer while still in her teens, she has roamed the world with her pride of lions (and one tigress) for 30 years.

Her interpreter told us: "With the cats, it's like dealing with dogs. They can smell fear. She has to show them she is stronger. If she didn't, they would attack her."


"Don't have a computer. If you feel an overwhelming need to have a computer don't turn it on. If you must, be sure not to connect to any network."

These rules of "cyber defence", were imparted by the security expert and part-time Abu Dhabi resident, Richard Clarke.

A US government adviser for three decades, his predictions of an al Qa'eda atrocity ("something spectacular is going to happen") weeks before September 11 went unheeded. His subsequent testimony before the 9/11 commission made his name.

Today, as founder of the private consultancy firm Good Harbour, he works for Abu Dhabi's government. Does he see threats everywhere? "No. But you see security things everywhere."


In John Schneider-Merck we found one of "a select cast of yarn-spinners that tell of an earlier frontier lifestyle lived by expatriates round the world".

The 70-year-old Dubai businessman recalled Peru in the 1970s where he helped capture the hitherto elusive Nazi war criminal Klaus Barbie - there under the name Klaus Altmann.

Suspicious of the ageing German, Schneider-Merck dug out old photos of the infamous Gestapo head and contacted the Nazi hunter Simon Wiesenthal.

Apparently, it was the ears that gave Barbie away, Schneider-Merck said. "As you get older many things change. But the ears, they stay the same."


Most of us try to make sense of the world and our place in it. We met one man proud of his lack of direction. Editor of Amagazineofrandom, Vivek Blech had just launched Dubai's quirkiest, least explicable publication. Or, as he put it, "a sporadic intentional experimental personal magazine that celebrates people and their misadventures".


We took a rare glimpse inside Al Mafraq Juvenile Rehabilitation Centre, home to 60 offenders -some as young as 12. Its recently appointed director, Paul Baker, a former UK prison governor, outlined the centre's philosophy.

"Our focus is on rehabilitation…the trick is to get underneath the skin of every single boy you work with, to work out why they are offenders in the first place."


Throughout Ramadan, Eid al Fitr, Eid al Adha and on to National Day the city is bathed in light. We spoke to Khaled Allaq al Hammadi, responsible for the illuminations that brightened the city this year. He said he used "common sense" to stage the illuminated show, mixing Arabic and English words because "the UAE is a multicultural country… proud of its Arabic roots [and welcoming to] all nationalities".


Two decades after Manchester's Haçienda closed it was reborn in Abu Dhabi. We spoke to DJ Andy Williams, whose own career was inspired by a good night out at Factory Records' northern club. "[Factory] created something unique," he said. "In some small way we hope to replicate that time again here."


Days after Gunung Merapi, Java's "Mountain of Fire", began a series of eruptions we met M Wahid Supriyadi, Indonesia's ambassador to the UAE. His daughter lives just 25km from Merapi's summit, yet we found him philosophical. He spoke of encouraging the 90,000 Indonesian expatriates here "to help each other" and expressed gratitude that "the government of the UAE is always one of the first...to offer assistance".


On the eve of the Club World Cup we spoke to Duncan Revie whose father - the former Leeds United and England manager Don Revie - made the brave decision to move to the Emirates in 1977 and coach the national side.

He recalled: "For a lot of people… dad's decision to take the job was the first time they'd heard of the UAE. It's come a long way. I'm proud my father played a part in that."

To look back on 2010 with The Review online, visit www.thenational.ae/2010