Friday, March 07, 2008


She was barely awake, yet desperate. The night-receptionist handed back her card saying “it’s blocked”.

“It can’t be blocked,” she replied, “It’s corporate, it’s unlimited.”

It was 5.15 a.m. at my hotel in Dubai and we were both checking out. My car to the airport was booked for 5.30 a.m. but I had budgeted plenty of time – no worries. Not yet.

The young woman, she was welsh by her accent, fruitlessly cycled through her cards. The desk man tried each in his machine. Every time the same answer – “blocked”.

She tried a different tack. “Look, my colleague Reg Henshaw, he’s staying in the hotel. He’ll be able to cover it.” She looked at her watch but the clerk was unbending. “I’m going to try these cards once more only.”

She looked at me, then back to the hotel man. “I’m sure your machine’s broken. My card has no charge limit. It’s impossible for it to be blocked. Why don’t you try this gentleman’s card?”

Well, I had prudently paid the balance of my bill the previous day, anticipating just such a last-minute emergency. My card had worked for £4,000 pounds, surely it would be good for the couple of hundred covering my last night.

The clerk agreed to try. My details were retrieved and I entered my pin number: card blocked; socket failure. He went and borrowed another machine from the restaurant with the same unhappy result.

I had often wondered what hotels do when they can’t process a credit card transaction. I now discovered the answer. He gave each of us a copy of our bill as a receipt, then he had someone photocopy both our credit cards and we had to sign underneath. Finally we were free, and made our separate ways to our cars to the airport.


Although I am now back in the UK, it’s only for the briefest period. The project has been rescoped and we have an urgent deliverable this month so I will be back in Dubai working with the client early next week. My contract now extends to the end of April.


Reading Stanislaw Lem’s super-impressive “His Master’s Voice” again. Just reminds me how brilliant Lem was. It’s a shame that cerebral novels of ideas are so totally out of fashion – people just have no patience. Get it.