UAE travels

BAHRAIN 2010

pt I – One misty monday evening in late January , while driving home from a gig I received a circular text message from an agent, asking for artists to spend 3 weeks in The Barbican. The prospect of spending February in a London shopping center didn’t appeal, but I volunteered anyway. The call came back with money and conditions;

  • working in costume in a shopping maul
  • 21 consecutive days drawing, no days off
  • paid for 3 hours a day, expected to work upto 6 hours
  • 3 weeks in a shared apartment with complete strangers, self catering

This made the job even less appealing and so I considered skipping the gig, as I already had 3 weddings booked during the dates mentioned. Then I spoke to the agent who seemed bemused that I wasn’t keen on a paid holiday… in BAHRAIN!!  I had mis-read the text. Suddenly my head spun and the thought of 3 weeks in sunny Bahrain, all expenses paid was irresistable. My worries about leaving my two cats in kennels were brushed aside as I pictured me on a beach everyday, basking in  the sun. My offer was made and I sat back waiting for the call…. and I waited… The flying date was just 12 days away and so time was of the essence. I waited. After 3 days I assumed that a competitor had won the bid, as often happens on lucrative foreign jobs. To my surprise, by friday my agent informed me that I was chosen for the gig! However it hadn’t been set in writing and so not to cancel any bookings.

The clock started ticking and I grew ever more nervous and conscious that I was due to fly on 06/02, therefore had to cancel my performances on 06/02, 20/02 and 27/02. I hate cancelling on a client and so my conscience was working overtime as I waited for instruction. The days flew and I heard rumblings about ‘corporate branding’ and paper requirements. With a week to spare I decided to order £300 worth of large Edding marker pens, to cover the 21 day booking. 21 days of solid drawing, no days-off… that was unheard of!  I was sure I would fade and die in the Bahrain heat, working such long hours, I hoped my drawing partner (2nd Carix) was a resiliant, seasoned hand. Elena Esau was the chosen carix to partner me. I was familiar with her work and knew that she was relatively new to the circuit, far from seasoned and liked to work on A4. Then the paper wrangling began. No sooner had my 100x large markers arrived, than I was told we would be drawing on smaller A4… I had one day to order 100x new smaller Edding markers for the trip.

Then the client decided to change the paper (again) to A3; changed the flying dates to 08/02 and changed the fee, to shrink the budget!!  I was unamused, but kept my eye on the end-game;  the gross fee. I was in a panic, poor Elena called me in a flap over never having used A3 (large) paper before and the trials of having to find larger brush-tip pens and a clip board in time for the new dates. To top this, the client expected me to fly from Heathrow, not Birmingham… because doesn’t EVERYONE live in London after all?? This of course meant booking a train and a hotel for the evening of 07/02, adding a day onto my schedule, even though I’m not working until 10/02. My patience was wearing thin by now.

In the meantime we had been instructed to find various pieces of ‘FUNKY’ clothing in a black/purple/yellow  vein. I had ordered black/purple trainers online, which arrived a size too small and so this meant spending a day shopping in Leicester for suitably ‘FUNKY’ (keyword) trainers in black. I found some Adidas Superstars (a personal fave) which set me back £50 with yellow laces. I bought them and began wearing them in, ready for Bahrain. The Costumier emailed to say the trainers were unsuitable, due to the ‘branding’ and so alternatives would be found.  I can see me being asked to dress like Timmy Mallet all day everyday!!

I began to realise the client was expecting me (and all) to jump through hoops for this booking. Having received no contract, I began to wonder where I stood, if on arriving in Bahrain, the client rejected me for being ‘too branded’ also, especially following the firing of a ‘Roller Chick’ for being ‘too old’!!….   We shall see

Oil fires in Kuwait

Oooops!

Unhappy artistes

By the end of the first 3 week contract, most of the performers were despondent to say the least. The constant bitching and moaning from the skater girls, coupled with the basic living conditions, general Arabic rudeness and uncertainty about our wages being paid, all took its toll on our morale. Then, out of nowhere, the client asked us to stay on for another week, while they negotiated an extension of our contract, from 3 weeks to 7 weeks!!  This was something to ponder…

TO BE CONTINUED…….

For more photos from Bahrain, see my main site 

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ABU DHABI 02/11/2011 – Ferrari World, F1 Speed Week  (Heavily Edited Version)

When a new agent calls and asks you if you’d like two weeks work near Dubai for Ferrari, you have to take a minute to scratch your head and wonder; “Is this a wind-up?”!  But the call was genuine enough and with just two weeks notice, I found myself packing a case to fly to Dubai on 2nd November, with a smile on my face but some trepidation.  I had been booked to work alongside a new artist named Chrissy Marshall, who I didn’t know. However, he pulled out at last minute and so I volunteered the job to a colleague of mine  in Leeds.

I had never worked with ANON*, but knew he had a good sense of humour and was a talented artist, so the deal was struck and ANON made his way to my house to catch our train to Gatwick and our first stop; Etap Hotel.

Next day we met up with a small group of 16 other performers at the airport, including balloon modellers and face painters… I was beginning to realise I’d been booked as a children’s entertainer LOL. The flight was pleasant enough, while ANON sat behind me, chatting to a charming face painter who became the focus of his attention for the next few hours.

We left the airport and were hit by a wall of hot air, instantly reminding us, we were in an Arab country.  The excited crew were then bussed across Dubai to our hotel. By this time I was feeling distinctly nervous at the memories from Bahrain last year; which saw the troop sharing apartments in a run-down area, living head to toe and having to cope as best we could in squalid conditions. Frankly I was expecting the worse and so my excitement was distinctly muted throughout. However, upon arrival my jaw hit the floor…..

The Hotel was 5 star and my heart was lifted, until I entered the room and saw a double bed!! We were swiftly moved to a twin room, which was still a little small for two grown men to live in for two weeks, but we coped! I soon discovered that as well as an avid talker, my room-mate was also a snorer. Luckily he warned me and I had brought ear-plugs, so my sleep was never interrupted. We enjoyed a free meal and retired for a night of excited conversation and trepidation.

The next morning we were driven across the desert to Abu Dhabi and our venue; FERRARI WORLD!!!  Words cannot describe the scale of this awesome arena and indoor theme park, we were all mightily impressed.

Ferrari_World_Abu_Dhabi

The troop were shown around and fitted for our costumes or uniforms, which reminded us of a red Ali-G!!

Ali-G uniform

The first day began with a yoga class, hosted by our Guru friends Paul & Remy (sand sculptors), which relaxed everyone nicely and helped us bond.

Soon the lovely balloon girls disappeared to build the frame for their F1 Ferrari balloon car, while our sand sculpters began playing with a 10 ton pile of sand! Its a hard life eh? ANON and I grabbed our pads and made our way to the atrium, where ANON had some chairs set up ready to be seated for his guests. I chose to remain mobile, with my clip board, knowing this would give me two weeks of exercise and not make me an easy target for the “ME_MEs”!!  I had experienced Arab crowds before and knew that manners, queues and order meant nothing to them, coupled with a distinct lack of English language, they could be demanding to say the least!  I had briefed ANON, but he was sure his years a well-known theme park had prepared him for the onslaught.  I decided to start with a 1 mile lap of the venue, taking in the sights and watching our Free-running Acrobats, great guys!

Free Runners

By the end of the first day, I had knocked out 70+ caricatures to an applauding crowd of queueing ride-goers, drawing one every 3 minutes and moving on, to the cry of “UGLY PEOPLE, FREE TO UGLY PEOPLE!”  I chose only the most willing and most interesting faces, to avoid those stagnant moments when drawing shy girls or children, picking their noses. I worked the crowd, telling them to repeat “1 – 2 – 3, WOOOOW!” at every reveal, which went down a storm.  However, all attention was on ANON, who hadn’t stopped drawing all day and had a crowd around his chairs. ANON had turned out around 30-40 colour caricatures to a queueing audience, but at times he struggled to control the queue. I reminded him “HALAAS” meant “FINISHED!” in Arabic, which should help the following day. The Arabs loved him and so did the clients, so everyone was happy.  The Face Painters were also suffering from unruly Arab children, wrecking their stand and pushing in. I gave them the same advice and we crossed our fingers for the next day.

The next few days flew by and we all got into our swing, loving the audience participation, but becoming aware that security was an issue, as the sand sculpture was being vandalised daily and the Balloon ladies were being harrassed by young Arab men! Face Painter Holly had been taken ill and the crew was one woman short for a day. I was struggling with the food; we were treated to free canteen food each day, which was tailored for the 900 Indian workers, Curried slop with bones. Even our resident Gurus Paul & Remy chose to pay for Italian food eventually, as the slop became inedible. The lasagne and tuna steaks were good and kept us going.

We discovered that the main atrium was an excellent arena for us, so the drummers and acrobats put on a show for the queueing audiences.

Ferrari Acrobats

I was loving the audience attention, with happy grinning Indians, Arabs and Phillipinos loving my caricatures, but ANON was feeling slightly overwhelmed by the fifth day and chose to sit out one afternoon. Being away from home for the first time and surrounded by non-English speaking crowds, all demanding “ME_ME_ME!” can be too much for anyone. We took a tour of the park and enjoyed an Italian steak, before I stepped up and grabbed an audience of young Indian guys, yelling “DAGAN, DAGAN” (beard, beard)! LOL

Beards

“DAGAN, DAGAN!”

Burqa

My day was made when three Burqa clad ladies asked to be drawn, I could only fit one to a page, so drew one sister… a masterpiece! She loved it and happily posed for a photo too. This made my millennium!!  Meanwhile the sand pit was taking shape and looking impressive, despite the odd child’s hand-print.

sand sculpture

After we’d broken the back of the job, a few of the guys let off a little steam at the Hotel bar and enjoyed a pleasant evening at the Shisha Bar too.

Rotana Pool

By now we had all discovered the pool, sauna, steam room and massage parlour… MUCH NEEDED by all may I say.  Accompanied by an extensive breakfast buffet, this made the perfect start to every day. The occasional tension cropped up, but on the whole we found Paul & Remy’s positive influences helped to keep the group sane… Well, most of the group!

Monkey Boy

Baboon Bobby!!

The Acrobats wer live wires, to say the least, but I took them under my wing and gave them drawing tuition each day to help calm them down, but Bobby was just an animal LOL…

Baboon Bobby

The drummer boys were taking things in their stride, while providing an uplifting beat to work to and some relaxing plinky-plonky string music in the coach too!

Alain and Paolo

By the second week Face Painter Holly had been taken ill with Arabian Flu,  the Acrobats were near cripples and the Balloon girls were working day and night to finish their car on schedule. Meanwhile I had heard enough from ANON and I was missing my lady, but sharing a room made it impossible to get any personal time to Skype her, so I enjoyed the solitude of my own head as often as possible.

Back at work and after the F1 race weekend, we were left with no customers and so took to enjoying the rides, I lost my Roller-coaster cherry on the world’s fastest ride ‘Formula Rossa’ at 150mph!! We finished the day drawing the other performers, such as the Kids entertainers and Russian Dancers…

Russian dancers

George and Paul Hoggard, sculptor

Russian Dancers

Iwas very sad on the last day, as everyone had finished their jobs, even the Balloon girls, who worked every hour available and the dressing room was slowly emptying. This had been an exhillerating job, being surrounded by positively charged, talented artists. It was great to work with ANON, who did us all proud by working slavishly, in the face of great demand and only had one wobble, when he broke down on the 5th day and cried. Glad to say the bitter memories of Bahrain before were effectively vanquished and replaced with much happier ones.

Balloon Girls

The troop enjoyed a final night party at a beach bar, which was frankly unimpressive, looking more like a Walkabouts Pub, but we made the most of it then carried on the party back at our hotel.  Young Jakk (Free Runner) was an absolute star in his shirt and tie, as he performed two back-flips on the hotel marble floor!  The other young-uns decided to light a Shisha pipe in their room and caused some dodgy burn marks in their carpet… the rest of the evening was frankly a blur!  The flight just 3 hours later was painful, but Jakk still had some energy!!

Jakk Lowry

I met some wonderful people and made some good friends, so I shall miss Dubai and Abu Dhabi greatly and hope to return there again soon to work. I took the stealthy approach, honouring my contract by not handing out cards, but signing my work ‘Spot On George’ which is a top FB and Google term, then emailing the Hotel upon my return. I also launched a new website upon my return www.caricaturist-dubai.com  which I hope will be a slow-burning success.

PS; After 8 days online, just had my first enquiry from Dubai for next May. How chuffed am I? …and not a single business card handed out!

*ANON – After many personal threats were made against me, I have been forced to remove all reference to the artist who accompanied me. 

UPDATE 2012

So far had 4 enquiries for Dubai from my website, with one client pointing out my ‘local opposition’…

I’m sure I can compete with that, lucky the client didn’t see the talented Amir Taqi (Abu Dhabi), who rivals Kruger with his talent on canvas!  Just hope he doesn’t take up ‘live caricature’!  That said, just been booked for 2012 F1 in Bahrain again (20, 21, 22 April) by a former client who is used to flying talent into UAE. Soooooooo looking forward to that gig!  Watch this space…..

BAHRAIN 2011 – F1 Here I come…

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BAHRAIN FORMULA 1 – April 2012

I was initially booked to perform at the 2011 Bahrain F1 Grand Prix circuit, but events in Bahrain lead to the cancellation of the event. As luck would have it, the promoter was keen to book me for the 2012 F1 and so my contract was continued and the date was fixed for 20-22 April ’12. I was looking forward to my first time working on the circuit grounds. As luck would have it, I had also been booked to draw for Intel upon my return from Bahrain, on a new Samsung tablet, which promised to be better than my old HP tablet and so I took the plunge and invested in the new Samsung before flying to my F1 gig… £1000 well spent I hoped! I packed my new tablet, along with my old HP tablet, my portable printer and a host of adapters, ready for a successful digital gig.

I had requested to fly from Birmingham, knowing flight went to Dubai then Bahrain from here, thus avoiding the trek to Heathrow and possible hotel expenses.  However, as it turns out, the cheapest flights available flew via Frankfurt; OK I thought, its an adventure. I hopped my plane at 9am and settled in for a quick flight… We stopped off at Frankfurt and had to go through security AGAIN, before the next leg of my journey. I bagged a window seat to Bahrain and settled down to watch the movies. Some 6 hours later we were told of a ‘stop-over in Dohar for an hour or so!! WHAAAT??  As we sat on the tarmac, the local Arabic authorities decided to flex their muscles by boarding the plane and checking our documents. Unbelievable. Eventually we arrived in Bahrain to a mass of confusion, as a dozen or more other entertainers were buzzing round, awaiting organisation and transport, which came eventually. All-in-all it was a 12 hour+ journey and I was happy to see my bed, this time in my own apartment – ALONE!!!

Bahrain Remee Palace

I was a happy bunny and couldn’t wait to begin the adventure. I soon discovered that it began at 8.30am on the bus the next day; an early night was in order. The next day, 3 large coaches were filled with around 135 entertainers, who were all shipped to the F1 circuit for the day, including my colleagues Simon & Sheba Cassini and me. The circuit was impressive and we made our way to the relevant tents/areas.

F1 Circuit Bahrain

I was slightly concerned to find that I had been setup in the Kids Tent, which luckily had great Air-conditioning. I would be the first to admit though, digital caricatures are really unsuitable for children, as they take 10 – 15 minutes per drawing!! Oh well, I would make the best of the arrangement. While everyone else was setting up and rehearsing, the caricaturists were at a loose end (as usual) and so we took a walk around the circuit and stadium, followed by a drink and chat with Superman and Captain America!

Sheba, Simon, Superman & Captain America with George

Sheba, Simon, Superman & Captain America with George

There were some fabulous sight and sounds around, which we soaked up during the day… all 10 hours of it, until we were picked up in the evening, once all sound-checks were complete. The diversity of fellow performers was great; from stilt walkers and jugglers to lookalikes, Scotts pipers and street-dancers. I love this kind of buzzing atmosphere and spent all day trying to guess what each civi-clad  colleague specialised in.

The hi-light of the day had to be the Boeng fly-by of the tower on the circuit; a huge passenger jet swooped over the starting grid of the track, heading for the tower, then pulled up at the last minute, as a salute to the Prince of Bahrain. It seems even pilots need rehearsals LOL. Impressive!!

The day came to a close and my area still had not been set-up, when the promoter presented me with the appropriate HDMI lead which was needed for my performance. This would have to be plugged in the next day.

We enjoyed an evening of chat and vino in our rooms, before another early night, ready for our 8am start on friday.

We piled into the bus the following day, amidst rumors of civil unrest in Bahrain, with protests and fire-bombs reported. We were all a little nervous but had seen no signs of the disturbances and so soldiered on. This time the security at the circuit had been beefed up and all 135 performers were held outside the gates, while security fed them through the metal detectors… TWICE, then searched our bags and confiscated all liquids and aerosols!! Great start to the day; This made us around one hour late at starting and did nothing for our enthusiasm.  Once in situ and in costume however, most were ready for action.

stilt cyclists

stilt walkers

Superman & Captain America

Unfortunately, the printer which I had been asked to use, was not being recognised by my new tablet PC and so I left it in the hands of their technicians to install and configure, before I could begin my sketching. I took a wonder around the grounds and enjoyed the sights.

Bahrain pipers

We were working with a fellow Carix called Daniel, who I’d never met before and I was keen to see his walkabout drawings, but I couldn’t find his patch on my travels, no matter how I tried. By mid-afternoon my printer was working and it was time to begin my drawings. I started with a less than impressive sketch of my Promoter, Faisal. He politely thanked me and left me to my queue of waiting punters, which I diligently worked my way through until around 5.15pm, when we were due to pack up the tent. Just as I was doing so, an irate lady began shouting at me, demanding to be drawn and claiming she had been ‘promised a drawing’. This swung no weight with me and I politely refused, then pointed her towards the girls who would explain the situation. I turned away and continued to pack away.

An un-eventful day and I was hoping for better results the following day, so we retired once-more to our hotel, after another late evening coach home. This time we were joined by a small troop of Eastern looking lads, in T-shirts, not speaking a word of English. Curious.

Additional Bahrain security

Due to the security delay, the next began at around 7.30am!! This was not popular, but we gained entrance much quicker this time, despite the all-out Bus search on route. Still no sign of trouble though, despite the reports and worried texts from my friends and family. So the day went on.

This time, we had time to see some of the stage acts, which included those nice Eastern guys; THE SHAOLIN MONKS – Masters of deadly Kung Fu!! they were mighty impressive,as was the world’s No1 Michael Jackson lookalike NAVI ( who turned out to be th guy in the room opposite at my hotel, LOL)

Shaolin Monks

NAVI

Double Dutch

We were also entertained by some Double Dutch skippers and the Red Hot Chilli-Pipers, blowing away at rock classics on stage! It was a great spectacle and the crowds loved all the performers.  Carix Dan was enjoying the job, though a little heat-struck, being outside! I too was doing my bit to keep the crowds happy, but had started the day with a complaint from my Promoter; apparently I was rude to the lady from the previous day, who had reported me to anyone who would listen. Turning your back is a mortal insult in Bahrain it turns out… My confidence was severely blighted for the day, but I did my best.

Bahrain caricatures

The final day came and my confidence was restored as I plugged my ear-phones in and blissed-out to my tunes, over the scream of the car engines outside.  I was getting the hang of the software and new tablet, which was notably faster than my previous tablet. I enjoyed the flow and did my best to control the non-stop traffic at my table. I made a few new fans and had my photo taken several times, with punters declaring “You’ve made my day truly memorable!”

Thomas Varghese

The day went with a smile and soon we had a break during the main race, for a couple of hours and so enjoyed some sun-time and some more live acts. We joined Jack Sparrow to watch Wacky Chad on his pogo-stick, backstage. We were due to have team photos taken and to take a bow on stage, but just as the call was given, we were told to return to our tent…

Chad

Jack Sparrow, kilts and pogo-sticks in the desert!

Very disappointed to be the only performers not in the team photo, but we did our duty and heads-down, we kept on drawing until the whistle blew and we were free to go… outside to hang around for the next 3 hours, while the DJ finished his set for the evening. Was a little deflated climax to the event for us caricaturists and balloon-benders.

Pops Balloons

It was a beautiful evening though and we enjoyed the lights and atmosphere, while we waited for our coaches, some were flying straight from the event and so goodbyes were said. Didn’t get my chance to see any drawings or say fairwell to Carix Dan (waving in photo), but hope to catch up with him again soon. Working with Simon & Sheba was a blast, a thoroughly nice couple and jolly good eggs!

F1 team photo

The following morning, the few remaining entertainers made plans to meet at my favorite water-hole ‘Marina Club’, which had two pools, a beach and a fabulous restaurant. We had 10 hours to kill before our return flights to Birmingham and so I joined the Jugglers and Circus acts by the pool for the day… or at least until the thunder struck!!

Marina Club

We had a thoroughly splendid day of relaxation and bonding with fellow Power-kite enthusiasts Jeb and Nathan of ‘Odd-Balls’ in Camden. We did our best to top-up our tans and enjoyed swimming in the rain, before we headed off to find some authentic Arabic food for our evening meal. We must’ve looked a sight, cross-legged on the floor…

Arabic food

That evening, we all packed an hopped on our bus, looking forward to another 12 hour ordeal on the plane. Once again we stopped on Dohar, then Frankfurt after a sleepless night in a cramped seat. My back was in agony by the time I staggered off at Birmingham, having been through 4 airports and I swore never to fly that same route again; Heathrow and First Class for me next time, no matter what cost!!

It was a great trip though, all too short at just 6 days, but I still had time to make some new friends and expand my world a little more. Fingers crossed for next year I say, looking forward to cocktails with Simon & Sheba again, but maybe I’ll volunteer for walkabout caricatures next time! 😉

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Comments
  1. bobby baboon says:

    Thats a good reminder of the trip george. funny how i take being compared to a baboon as a compliment!
    word is bond

  2. Simeon Kiola says:

    Aside all previous comments, was nice to meet you all and i enjoyed the read. Wish you all the best and thanks again for my drawing.. Its on my wall in front of my desk and it makes me laugh every day. Hope to see you guys again some day.
    All the best!!! 🙂

  3. George says:

    Really sorry if I’ve upset you Mick, wasn’t intentional. Just one thing pissed me off and had to mention it.

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