Use and Abuse of Social Media

The Use

The number of users, regardless of their age, has increased rapidly. These are some of the reasons which may attribute to the popularity of social media:

• Social media is a bridge of communication between people. The main use of social media is to stay connected with friends and family who are scattered across the globe.

• Reading blogs and posts can widen a reader’s horizon on various topics on events that cannot be found readily in magazines and newspapers. It is important to read about other people’s opinions on various topics. Such interactions have empowered activists and particularly the youth to participate in revolutionary marches and uprisings.

• Gone are the days when job hunters relied on news of vacancies advertised in newspapers and employment publications. Today, job seekers can connect to prospective employers and referrals through social networking sites and job portals.

• Marketers and promoters can reach out to potential customers by using the social media as their launching pad. Video content marketing is one of the recent trends to introduce products to viewers on popular sites such as YouTube and LinkedIn. These videos are fun and attention-grabbing which can be shared with other viewers.

The Abuse

The other side of the same coin is not clean. While the social media has brought the world closer, it has given rise to crime and anti-privacy conduct. The advantages and used of social media have been marred by those who use it to go against societal norms, as these instances:

• Disgruntled employees use the social media as a platform to air their grievances and woes about their employers and organizations; spiteful ex-lovers upload explicit details to cause embarrassment to their former partners. What used to be private becomes public.

• Bullying people online has claimed many victims, many who were teenagers unable to stop vicious posts and comments about them online.

• Ethical hacking which has its uses to decipher anti-social acts has proved to be a millstone to governments worldwide-hacking has raised the crime rate further. Hackers have found ways to intrude on personal and bank details without being found out in time.

The Cure

It is necessary for the development of social media policy which protects one’s privacy and potential risks for individuals and businesses. There are ways to ensure social media does not become a deterrent to users and the community:

• Avoid posting personal information such as home addresses and telephone numbers on public forums.

• Adjust the privacy settings in accounts on networking sites such as Facebook, LinkedIn, and Twitter.

• Scrutinize profiles of those who send online requests to be connected.

Inspite of the pros and cons, social media cannot be dismissed and is here to stay. The present and future generations will use their online identity, conversations, groups, and shared posts as building blocks to reach out and interact with friends and acquaintances.

One Man’s Computer Gaming Odyssey

My experience in – and passion for – computer gaming

A Computer-Gaming Odyssey

The early years

Computer gaming has been an interest of mine ever since I was a young child. This article is part-reminiscence; part history – tracing the development of gaming culture over the decades.

My youthful experiences – in the 1980s – included playing Pac-man on some of the early Atari models, to playing the early installations in the legendary Ultima, Wizardry and Bard’s Tale Series on my beloved Apple //c. While the Ultima series was comprised mostly of two dimensional tiles, the early Bard’s Tale and Wizardry titles involved a rudimentary grid-based first person view.

The graphics – by today’s standards – could be described simplistic at best.

Over the years game designers sought continually to to extract more and more from the limited potential of Apple II and Commodore 64 personal computers. (Although I do not include, here, the IIGS)

Bard’s Tale 3 ‘The Thief of Fate’ – was perhaps the most impessive title to emerge for the Apple II- not long before the line was abandoned to concentrate instead on Apple’s Macintosh series.

For its time, ‘Bard’s Tale 3’ provided a sprawling game world, and devilish, maze-like dungeons. Given the extraordinary limits of the Apple // line of personal computers, the musical score of the Bard’s Tale titles was lively and ‘pleasantly catching.’ It comprised the ‘pinnacle’ of what could be achieved with the limited 128 kB Apple // c frame.

Hand-held electronic games were also popular for the time. Popularity at school rested at lest partly on possession of such titles as ‘Frogger’, ‘Scrambler’, ‘Burger Time’, ‘Donkey Kong’ and others.

I even recall my mother staying up late at night: entranced by my Pacman hand–held electronic game. Even then, gaming was not ‘just for the kids’.

Computer role-playing games, however, were always my favourite – and they still are.

At the time – of course – no one had even heard of ‘Massively Multiplayer’ games OR of the internet.

Some of my favourite memories of my youth include days I spent at my local libaray, playing the quiz game ‘Millionwaire’, wagering 5 1/4 inch floppy disks on who would be winner. Back then, amongst enthusiasts, there was a real sense of community.

Looking back, now, it is hard for younger gamers to envisage the joy which my friends and I knew – despite what today would seem to be rudimentary graphics and sound.

And while those of my generation may have ‘moved on’ in our expectations for modern day gaming, I personally enjoy occasionally reminiscing about ‘a simpler age’ – now so long ago.

into the 1990s

As ‘time marched on’ – into the 1990s – I found myself turning to the PC as the Apple //c ‘passed into history’. The advent of VGA – and then SVGA – graphics while I was in secondary school – marked a milestone – and the quality of the gaming experience improved markedly also.

It was then, also, during this transitional phase – that the ‘Gold Box’ series of Dungeons and Dragons games set the standard. The ever-renewable D&D franchise would serve developers well for many years to come. Even within this series, the difference was marked between the original titles – which had been available on the //c – and those which made the most of the-then groundbreaking SVGA graphics.

To this point, also, Computer Roleplaying Games were mainly charcterised by ‘turn based’ rather than ‘real time’ combat. But the 1990s were to see a paradigm shift to ‘pause and play’ or ‘real-time’ combat.

Meanwhile, the later installations in the Ultima series boasted interactivity which – for the time – caused the series to ‘stand out from the crowd’. I can still remember the ‘buzz’ I felt from making bread in Ultima VI: and even cooking it in an oven. Trivial by today’s standards, such ‘touches’ added character to the Ultima franchise.

This was also the ‘coming of age’ of the real-time-strategy genre. Dune II, and ‘Command and Conquer’ in particular – set a basic template that was to be remodelled and improved upon – time after time.

The same might also be said of the first-person-shooters – which during the 1990s included such titles as Doom and Wolfenstein 3D. These titles ‘spread like wildfire in this the ‘heyday’ of ‘shareware’, and again provided a standard template which was later to be refined and expanded to include Player versus Player action.

The advent of multiplayer and online gaming – into the new Millenium

In good time first-person shooter gaming, as well as the real time strategy genre – were to evolve to the point where player versus player gaming became a lucrative ‘sport’. Today, Quake 4, Starcraft, Warcraft III – and other titles – are played competitively – often with thousands of dollars at stake.

Into the late 1990s, the computer role-playing franchise expanded to provide for online, and massively multiplayer gaming. Ultima Online comprised one of those original titles: just as the internet was ‘taking off’; but while broadband was still rare.

Ultima Online, in particular, was marked -originally by an uncontrolled ‘Player versus Player’ (PvP) element. This allowance for ‘Player Killers’ (PKs) greatly reduced the enjoyability of the game. Later developers were to learn from this – and provide ‘PvP’ under more controlled circumstances – often only with mutual consent.

Also the late 1990s saw the rise of such ‘first person’ titles as ‘Everquest’. For some time the ‘Everquest’ franchise ‘ruled supreme’ – comprising the standard by which games of the genre were measured.

But come the mid ‘2000s’ Blizzard’s “World of Warcraft’ (WoW) erupted onto the scene: providing new opportunities for (consensual) PvP combat, lush environments, rewarding multiplayer, and appealing animations.

WoW also struck ‘the right balance’ in instances of player death – with the resultant penalty not being so onerous as to seriously compromise gameplay.

World of Warcraft’s beautifully-rendered animation – cartoon-like – with no pretense of realism – featured as one factor behind the game’s appeal and longevity. This also might be seen as one factor behind Blizzard’s eclipse of the ‘Everquest II’ title – which failed to capitalise on its forerunner’s success.

Perhaps the only weakness of WoW – and other Massively Multiplayer Roleplaying Games (MMORPGs) – is the tendency for gameplay to be reduced to a ‘grind”. There is only so much fun players can glean from ‘camping out’ for spawns.

Despite this, as of 2009 the World of Warcraft franchise continues to be enjoyed by millions of gamers: with two major expansions having been released: and possibly with more to come.

Opportunities for meaningful PvP is also important for many. Epic overarching storylines are also desirable: and comprised a central feature of Lord of the Rings Online (LOTRO) – perhaps the best MMORPG of 2007.

Most importantly – a player should never be lost for something to do. Hours of ‘grinding’ simply are not good enough.

Other recent competitors of WoW include ‘Dungeons and Dragons Online’, and “Warhammer Online’.

‘Dungeons and Dragons Online’ – in particular – encourages co-operative rather than solo gameplay. Such are the class designs that they complement each other.

Upcoming titles planned for release this year (2009) include ‘The Old Republic’ (based in the Star Wars universe) and ‘Stargate Worlds’.

Amongst all this, Industry watchers are left to speculate as to who will one day usurp the ‘WoW’ crown. The challenge for MMORPG developers is to balance options for single and multiplayer co-operative play, while minimising the all-too-familar ‘grind’.

Looking back: single player gaming – late 1990s to the present day…

The late 1990s and early ‘2000s’ saw more breakthroughs in the depth and complexity of first person shooters, computer roleplaying games, and real-time strategy.

We will close, however, with a final consideration of the CRPG genre.

This period was marked especially by the ‘Baldur’s Gate’ series; as well as the ‘Icewind Dale’ titles, and the masterful ‘Planescape Torment’. Bioware’s ‘Infinity Engine’ provided lush graphic backgrounds, accompanied by moving musical scores and deep, immersive and epic plotlines. Adaptable as ever, the Dungeons and Dragons franchise was brought to a new generation. Despite a massive fan base, though, the Infinity Engine line was abandoned before its time – and the much-awaited ‘Baldur’s Gate III’ never emerged.

The ‘Fallout’ series, meanwhile, provided a gritty third person and turn-based gaming experience. Its post-apocalyptic themes developed such a solid following that – in 2008 – Fallout 3 was one of the most anticipated titles of the year.

Diablo I & Diablo II also emerged through this period – marking a new age of ‘action RPGs’: and heralding a new age of ‘co-operative’ online multiplayer gaming. The series is notable for its deeply atmospheric music, and for its dark and foreboding environments.

So popular – and resilient – has the series been, that even now – almost ten years since Diablo II, veteran gamers are eagerly awaiting the new instalment. Diablo III looks set to comprise one of the best-selling CRPG titles for 2009.

Other recent impressive titles include Elder Scrolls IV ‘Oblivion’, Bioware’s ‘Neverwinter Nights’ series, the ‘Knights of the Old Republic’ (KOTOR) series.

Neverwinter Nights I & II provided a ‘makeover’ for the Dungeons and Dragons franchise – with expansive opportunities for user-created content and customisation.

‘Oblivion’, meanwhile, provided for an immersive world, with a plethora of individual characters – each with their own quirks, voice recorded dialogue, and routines. Oblivion’s graphics were ground-breaking for the time – and have left industry watchers to speculate: what next for the Elder Scrolls franchise? Many suppose a new instalment will emerge in 2010.

Meanwhile, The ‘Knights of the Old Republic’ series, (also by Bioware), introduced players to a Star Wars universe set several thousand years before the subject-matter of the original Star Wars universe.

Finally, the KOTOR series (I&II) featured epic storylines; detailed character development system, immersive game play, weapon and armour customisation, and spectacular combat animations. Such elements comprise solid fundamentals which might be borrowed from in ‘The Old Republic’ when it is released some time in 2009-2010.

In conclusion

2009 is set to be a most interesting year. Aside from what we have considered already in this feature, there is a mass of titles in production – many for release this year.

Red Alert 3 was one of the best real-time strategy titles of 2008: offering challenging multiplayer combat, with innovative and often humorous story lines and units. 2009 will see another instalment in this series: ‘Red Alert – Uprising’. Undoubtedly for some this expansion will find its way onto the ‘must-have’ list.

Mass Effect II, Dragon Age, Guild Wars II and Star Trek Online, meanwhile, will likely be amongst the most popular in their respective genres.

Twenty years ago virtually no-one could have foreseen the evolution of games genres and computer technology that has unfolded since.

Regardless – looking to the future – who knows what awaits?

A Life on the Lam

Unlike David Copperfield, I will not start the story of my life at the beginning of my life, as for all intents and purposes my existence did not begin until the age of twenty one, when I left these shores for Australia. I was what, in those days was called a ten pound Pom. For ten quid the Government of Australia would fly you out to Oz, and all one had to do was to stay there for two years. That length of time could be long in the passing, but, at twenty one years old, the cantering along of the calendar does not mean very much. Only after the age of fifty does time begin to have any meaning for the individual, and then simply because one realises that one is running put of ones personal stock of the commodity and there are no top up supplies available.

As the aircraft manoeuvred on the runway at Heathrow, I could see my mother waving from the roof of the terminal building. It was at that point that the penny finally dropped as to the enormity of what I had done. As I was negotiating the final barriers in the departure lounge, which would separate me from all I had ever known, thereby pitch forking me into God knows what, I wanted desperately to change my mind and stay. The only reason I continued with the venture was because I would look such a fool if I were to take that quantum leap back into the arms of the familiar, and I had looked a fool on so many occasions in the past that nothing would have induced me to add to my laurels in that department. I cannot but feel that most of the disasters in History are the product of people who lacked the courage to reverse their course.

Finally we were up in the air, an exhilarating experience for one for whom not so long ago thought foreign travel to be day trip to Manchester. They had given me a window seat, which suited me perfectly. My travelling companions did not. Nothing wrong with them, perfectly respectable folk, a niece and her aunt. We were only a few feet off the ground when the niece started telling me all about auntie. I suppose the old dear was able to speak for herself, but at the age of ninety one, I presumed the venerable party thought it best to conserve her energy. It was not that I harboured any particular animus against nonagarians, it was just that I was terrified the old dame could cash in her chips at any time and I would spend the flight to Australia wedged between the fuselage and a corpse.

The journey was pure magic, flying over territories I had heretofore only read about in books, the one drawback was auntie. The crew were continuously feeding us, and auntie persisted in shovelling most of her’s in my direction, with the inevitable result, what goes in, must come out. There was an obvious solution to the conundrum, but I was petrified of negotiating my way past auntie in case I slipped and crushed the life out of her, in those distant days I was far too polite to inform her to shift herself as I needed a dump. When finally I set foot on Australian soil, it was not the Wizard of Oz that was on my mind

I suppose I had anticipated landing in Perth on a Monday and starting work on Tuesday. Naturally, things did not quite pan out in that manner. I did get a job, selling encyclopaedias, but it did not take long to discover I was no salesman. After a couple of weeks, I landed a job labouring in a steel mill. Now, if there is one thing I can not abide, it is physical labour, but when one is broke, one does not chose ones options, just grab what comes along.

With my suitcase clutched in my hand, somewhat reminiscent of Charlie Chaplin I walked from the hotel to the bus stop. The steel mill operated a hostel and a place had been booked for me, this is where things started getting complicated. A man approached me, he was much older than I, he chattered away, and, being an amiable cove, I reciprocated. The fellows name was John Wayne, the upshot of all this talk was him offering me a job running a business he was about to set up. I said yes, and before I knew what was happening, I was in a car heading off into the wilds of Australia. As you may have guessed, I was a bit simple in those days, and, unlike a good Bordeaux, I have not improved with age.

After several hours driving, we reached John’s home, he left me alone in the car while he went into the house to explain what he had found in the big city. The squawks, shouts and imprecations echoing around the happy homestead left me in no doubt that his latest discovery did not find favour with his missus, and that it would be a night in the car for me. At that time of year the southern continent could be perishing.

The next day, John gave me a tour of the town, such as it was, all the while telling me how rich his family was, well, I may have been simple but I had not been lobotomised. We stopped off at the local garage to re-fuel where the owner answered a few questions for me. John did come from a rich family, but he was as thick as they came and not allowed access to the inherited lucre, he was given a small allowance and that was that.

Oh calamity, here I was in a wilderness that was not even on the map with a nut case as broke as the Colossus of Rhodes. The business John had been thinking of starting was selling cars. By some miracle, I was able to persuade him to buy an old banger on HP, and I was to take it to Perth and sell it. The ploy worked, as soon as the paperwork had been completed I was on my way. The only fly in the rejuvenating serum was that I was not very good at driving. I negotiated the one hundred and seventy five mile trip back to Perth in second gear as that was the only one I could find. On the way I had phoned the steel works and told them my wife had been rushed to hospital with appendicitis, and I would be in work the next day. So, I still had a job to go to, but, by God, I’d had one hell of a fright.

Working in the steel mill was ghastly, but it had to be done, there was no other option. Every day I scanned the papers in search of more congenial employment. One particular advertisement caught my attention, I rang the number given, they asked to see me. Bingo. A few days later I dumped the jalopy, then it was off to the Pilbarra. At that time, the North West of Australia was like the Klondike in the Nineteenth century, people came from all over the world to work there, about the only nationality one did not see was Australian, they had more sense than to go to the place. If on the odd occasion you did sight one of the natives, it was odds on that they were either running from the law or their creditors, it was as sure as Hell they were not there from choice.

Life here was like nothing I had before experienced, the rules of normal society were not ripped up here, they had never existed in the first place. In one particular fight, a man had been knifed to death, they had to keep the body until the police arrived, so they stuffed it in the canteen’s walk in fridge. Unfortunately, no one took the trouble to tell the cook, who suffered the indignity of a heart attack on discovering a stiff where the bacon ought to have been in his cold store.

It was here in Dampier that I mastered the art of driving. I’d had lessons back in England, but my efforts were so lousy that the instructor had refused to teach me any more, but here in the out back, with unlimited space and no competition for it’s monopoly, I perfected my skills. I had particular trouble with reversing, as the essential fact that when executing that particular manoeuvre one had to turn around and look where one was going, eluded me for quite some time, but eventually, all came well.

Weekends were spent in boats. The Dampier Archipelago is a series of uninhabited islands set in turquoise waters, every weekend we would set out for the islands we took our own beer and caught the fish when we got there. Now civilization has poked it’s nose into that little paradise, and it is now necessary to obtain a permit to set foot on the islands. They call it progress for God’s sake.

Six months in Dampier and I was off, if one had but a scrap of ability coupled with a reasonable grasp of the English language, then one was in demand. A few jobs later found me in a town called Wickham, same neck of the woods, same game, construction. It was while at Wickham that I had the great adventure of my life. Nothing would ever compare with the period which I spent on Legendre Island.

As at Dampier, weekends were spent in boats, and after the statuary six months at RRIOA, I developed a chronic dose of itchy feet. Loving islands as I did, I decided it was time to go and live on one. For the venture, I purchased a small rowing boat approximately the size of a bath tub, this was totally inadequate to negotiate the fourteen miles of open sea to reach Legendre, so a friend towed me out, and there I was left, completely alone with no contact whatsoever with the outside World. What I ate was what I caught, just as well I had always been fond of fish.

My stay on the island came to an abrupt end. Some friends had come out to visit me, but their boat capsized and when they failed to return to the mainland, a search was instigated. The first I heard of all this was when a helicopter landed on the beach besides me, the chopper had a glass front and mine was on display as I was starck naked at the time, which was the state in which I was returned to civilization

Once back on dry land, I needed a job. Quickly. Having often cooked for friends, I thought it reasonable to try my hand as a cook, my friends thought so too, and told me of a pub whose owner was in need of a chef. I marched into the pub and announced that I’d had my own restaurant in London. I was given the job on the spot, it was for a week and I was to start there and then. That night I cooked one hundred and twenty covers with great success, which lead me to believe the patrons had no palates and their knowledge of food did not extend far beyond the confines of a cornflake box.

Convinced I was the reincarnation of Escoffier, I set off to Melbourne to conquer the culinary world. Jobs came and went, the worst was in a country pub where I was entertained on a nightly basis by then sounds of the pub keeper belting his missus from one end of the joint to the other, and I was not going to stand up for her, he was built like a brick dunny and getting my ribs broken was not in the job description.

Time to go home, I had seen the World, or at least I thought I had, little did I realise that I had only just started. On my return my family treated my like the conquering hero, but the trouble with families is that they think they know you, and the problem is, they invariably do. The “Darling your home” refrain soon changed to “Why didn’t the bugger stay there”. Not to worry, I was soon up and off again.

My next berth was Iran. The past had always been my favourite subject, knowing of the glories of Persepolis and Susa, I saw myself stepping into history. Unfortunately, all I put my foot into was a revolution. The uprising against the Shah coincided with my arrival in the country. This was not the surrogate excitement of life, as experienced via television and the press, this was the real thing, there are many ways to learn about fear, this was one of them.

My posting was in Khusistan, the revolt here was particularly virulent, ethnically, the population of this part of Iran was Arab, these people were rebelling against their hated Persian overlords as well as against the monarchy, add this to the residual resentment against Westerners in the Middle East, and you have a potent brew.

Westerners were particularly targeted by the rebels, such was their singular brand of logic, we were assessed as supporters of the Government simply because we worked for it. Expats were attacked, some were killed, there were days when we could not leave our villa, as the word had been put out that we would be shot if seen on the streets.

I vividly remember on one occasion, when we were expecting to be attacked, we positioned ladders against the courtyard wall in order the reach the roof should things get out of hand.. In the living room we had prepared a stock of Molotov cocktails. If an assault on us should materialise, then we were determined to take some of our attackers with us.

I left Iran after three months, my leave was due, took it and did not return. Having a gun stuck in my ear by one of the Iranian constabulary was not my definition of work experience. Nonetheless, I had not done with the Middle East, oh no, the best was yet to come. Actually, a taste of revolution did me good, toughened me up for what was in the pipeline.

Back to Blighty, although not for very long. I loved England, only in small doses, there was something in my make up which revelled in recklessness, not that I realised it at the time, as strange places and peculiar situations formed the normal tempo of my life. Another advert, another interview, this time in a charming eighteenth century house in Berkley Square. I had a chat with a Swedish gentleman, he did not tell me much about the job as it was terribly secrete. When I arrived home in Chester later that day, there was a message waiting for me, the job was mine. I was off to Baghdad.

Think Baghdad, and the mind conjures visions of palm trees, balmy nights on the banks of the Tigris, yes, that is all correct, only in February the temperatures are sub zero, naturally, I had dressed for sunshine. One lives and one learns, at least most people do, I have only managed to live.

In those days, Baghdad airport resembled nothing so much as a ramshackle garden shed built out of corrugated iron sheets. I was met and conducted to the Canal Hotel, this establishment was Government owned and used to train staff in the catering trade, a task at which they were crushingly inept. In the run up to the second Gulf War, this establishment was used as the headquarters of the UN mission. I could not help feeling that someone a joke at the expense of that portentous body, later when it was blown up I howled laughing.

The overwhelming impression the hotel gave was of cat’s urine, the place stank of it, and the creatures overran the corridors. The menu was extensive, but little on it was available. One would ask the waiter for a particular item, only to be sternly informed by the functionary, “Marco”, meaning finished. One would then patiently trawl down the list until something was eventually available, whether one liked it or not, one took what was on offer, it then took two hours to arrive, by which time all and sundry had drunk themselves into a stupor and did not fancy any food after all. Life is tough in the tropics.

Now for a word about what I was doing in Baghdad, Saddam Hussein had commissioned twenty five nuclear shelters to be built in the metropolitan area, it was my job to design and supervise all the concrete used in them. It was one of those shelters, the one at Adhamiya, which was blown up during the first gulf war.

We did not spend every long in the Canal Hotel. We arrived back from work one day, only to be told that our rooms were required to house a fraternal delegation from some socialist paradise or other, and the next day, we were on the streets with the personnel department frantically trying to find us alternative accommodation. Then, the whole process would be repeated a few weeks down the line, and once more we would be turfed out on to the street.

Eventually, our campsite was completed, we now had secure accommodation. The structures were prefabs shipped in from Sweden, sort of Ikea on the Tigris so to speak. Our site was located in what was then called al Quds, the most poverty stricken sector of the city. The entire area stank of sewage, but like everything else in life, you get used to it.

Life in Iraq was dangerous, the Iran Iraq war was at it’s height, the walls of the houses draped with black mourning flags. The flag would go up, the coffin arrive, then a few days later a television and fridge would be delivered as compensation from the Government for the loss of a loved one. The whole place seethed with resentment, it was nothing to see people standing in the middle of the road weeping uncontrollably. In the southern part of the country, the conflict was known as Saddam’s war, although not openly, that would have been too dangerous by far.

As expats, we were sheltered from many of the vicissitudes of wartime existence. The shortages of food in Baghdad were horrendous, at one point, onions had not been seen in the shops for six months. There was an institution called the foreigners shop, to get in you had to show your passport. They would accept any currency except the Iraqi Dinar, naturally, the locals were not allowed in this establishment. On sale were items the locals could only dream of, but even here the supply was patchy. A rumour would go around that there was bacon on sale in the Foreigners, and we would all pile into our cars heading downtown before they sold out.

There was a constant danger from bullets. The Iraqi army was being comprehensively beaten, but every night Saddam would appear on the television announcing another glorious victory, people would then rush out into the streets firing celebratory rounds of ammunition into the air, not caring that what went up, invariably came down, it was nothing to have a bullet come through the roof while enjoying a cup of tea.

I spent two and a half years in Baghdad, and despite the perils of life in war torn Iraq, it was the finest project I have ever worked on, I enjoyed every moment. My sojourn in Iraq came to an end, and once more I was on my travels. By now I was a dyed in the wool expatriate, I could not have coped with a cosy nine to five job in England, such an existence would have driven me off my trolley.

The next port of call was Saudi Arabia. I had been given a start date, however, six weeks elapsed before I left for the Kingdom, I was not complaining, after all I was on full pay. On arrival. The full story was revealed. This project involved building the King’s personal gold mine, the problem was that some of the engineers had been caught half inching the King’s gold, not the wisest move in that particular polity. By the time I came on the scene, there were more members of the compliment in the slammer than sitting behind their desks. It was touch and go whether we would be slung out of the country, in the end, the Saudi’s went ahead with the project, the King wanted his gold.

The location of the project was a small outpost called Mahd adh Dahb. The workings went back some three thousand years, and some archaeologists think this was the site of the biblical Ophir, location of King Solomon’s mines.

This was in the eighties, and even then there was considerable resentment against the royal family. The consensus was that the country would eventually go up like a bottle of pop. I did a year in Saudi, which was quite enough, there is only so much of a good thing a body can stomach, and that place was not even good to start with.

Libya was another workers paradise, an absolute hell for those condemned by birth to live there. I was working on the Great Man Made River, thousands of miles of pipes bringing water from the artesian well of the Sahara to the coast. When I say pipes, do not imagine the feeble little things bringing domestic water to your home. These monsters were big enough to drive a double decker London bus through, and totally useless. There was no need to bring water to the coast, there was plenty there already, but, this was Gadaffi’s pet project, and with that, no argument was possible. Once more I was living in a society held down by brute force. While I was in Libya an uprising occurred, the entire town of Brega was wiped out as an act of retribution. When the pampered liberals of the West demonstrate against the authorities and complain of a police state, I do not know whether to laugh or throw up, the self indulgent fools have no idea what the real thing is like.

Project followed project, Pakistan where I had to be accompanied everywhere by an armed guard, the Philippines, a country which had crafted chaos into an art form, Saudi again, would I never learn? Of course not. All the while Nemesis was lurking just around the corner, waiting for me, and like everything else in my life, the encounter was dramatic.

I had returned from another stint in Saudi, a particularly gruesome experience, with the intention of having a six month break between contracts. I enjoyed my six months, living as I had always lived, high on the hog, and why not? There was always another lucrative contract on the horizon, but, this time things were different. There was a slump in the construction industry and no new work materialised. By the time I realised things had changed, it was too late, I was broke.

There was nothing for it, I had to sign on, oh, the humiliation, but there was worse to come, far worse. For some reason, the local council made a mess of my housing benefit, by the time things were sorted out I was two months in arrears with my rent and they refused to pay the backlog. The inevitable happened, I was served with an eviction notice. I tried everything to avoid being thrown onto the streets, to no avail. I went to a centre run by the council, supposedly to help people in my situation, it was rapidly brought home to me that the people who worked in such places were exceedingly partial as to where they dispensed their do goodery, and white Anglo Saxon Protestants were definitely de trop.

All I wanted was a little help, they handed me a list of estate agents, against every name was the notation “No DSS” They could not even take the trouble to disguise their indifference. I was living in Leyton, no money, no food, in order to eat I had to walk the seven miles into central London, then seven miles back, finally, the day came when I had to leave the flat, it was not much but all I had to call home.

The time of year was February, bitingly cold. For a few hours I was elated, away from my flat, no longer terrified of the landlord’s agent banging on the door demanding money I did not have and had no prospect of obtaining. That relief soon evaporated as the reality of life on the streets hit home.

How to fill a day with nothing? Oh, it can be done, but take it from me it is hard work, endless hours in libraries and art galleries, the lunchtime lectures at the National Gallery became a fixture of my days. Little things became immensely complicated, just getting a drink was a problem. When on the streets, there is no tap to turn on for a glass of water, no fridge to turn to for some milk, I was reduced to trawling around public lavatories in search of drinking fountains. The Champagne days were gone with a chill wind.

I spent my nights in a cardboard box just off Oxford Street. Eventually, I was found by a CAT team who placed me in a hostel in Great Peter Street Westminster, from there I could hear the chimes of Big Ben, so close to riches and power, yet they could have been on another planet for all the relevance they had to my current situation.

This may sound strange, but my problems truly started after I had moved into the hostel. Living on the streets, I was too concerned with the mechanics of surviving from hour to hour to think of anything else, freed from these pressures, I had the leisure to contemplate what it was that had happened to me, at this point I came as close to a breakdown as I ever will.

In the fullness of time a flat was found for me, in Whitechapel. Things started to improve, that was inevitable, I am nothing if not a fighter. All my life I have written, scribbled would be more accurate, but now I applied myself seriously to the task. I wrote a novel, the gates to the future were wrenched open. In publishing, nothing opens overnight, there were still plenty of hungry days in the pipeline.

One cold February evening, the telephone rang, it was a construction agent asking if I would do a job in the Caribbean, this was Wednesday, Sunday found me sitting at a table on the sea shore eating lobster for my dinner. As they say, life has its little ups and downs.

After the Turks and Caicos came Siberia, couldn’t have got more of a contrast if I had ordered one up especially. I thought I had experienced most of what is possible, however, Siberia stretched my boundaries ever further. The company put me up in an establishment called the Hotel Tourist, not a bad place actually, the mafia had taken over an entire floor and filled it full of tarts, I was hooked on the place, honestly, you could not make it up. I came to know quite a few members of the mafia, they were tremendous fun. Life goes on, I do not know what the future holds for me, frankly I do not want to, but I can be absolutely certain of one thing, it will not be dull.