brings an Arab touch to London shopping

London was lovely over the holiday period. I’d been half hoping for a white Christmas while I was there with my kids, but actually the weather – described as “unseasonably mild” by the UK weather experts – was quite cool enough for my Gulf-acclimatised sensibilities. I doubt I would have strayed from the fire at all if there had been a real freeze.

So lots of good food, long walks in Hampstead and Notting Hill (old stamping grounds and still my favourite parts of the city), followed by the inevitable bout of Boxing Day shopping.

You have to admire Londoners’ stamina, and that of their wallets, that they can splurge all that cash on festive cheer and still have the resources to go out on a “sales” binge the day after. But they seem to revel in it.

The shopping areas of the West End – Oxford Street, Regent Street, Knightsbridge – were simply mobbed. You had to walk shoulder-on to the coming crowd on the pavement, and do some pretty nifty manoeuvring, like a fish swimming against the current.

I’m not really the kind of shopper who can just go out to browse. I need a goal, a clear-cut end to the expedition. And in London I was a man on a ­mission.

My youngest girl, Amira, had set her heart on something she saw in duty free in Dubai. A “3Doodler” is billed as “the world’s first 3D printing pen” and she, being a creative lass, wanted it immediately. We were rushing for the plane and I didn’t want to stop, so promised her we would get it in London.

That was my intention at least. The Hamley’s website said they had it in the Regent Street store, but when I got there I was told it was sold out. I tried Harrods, but the Qatari-owned store in Knightsbridge didn’t have it either. I gave up, with a feeling I’d been let down. What I really needed, it occurred to me, was a proper guide to London shopping and other tourism facilities, something aimed at visitors from the UAE and their unique requirements (like 3Doodlers) while in the city.

No sooner had this thought crossed my mind than I got a tweet from my old pal, Ben Flanagan, a colleague on several newspapers and still a contributor to this newspaper, and other media in the Gulf, from his new base in the UK.

Ben, along with partner Mohammad El Huseini from Jordan, has launched a website called, the tweet informed me, as a guide to the city for visitors from the Middle East. The region’s love affair with the British capital is well known, but there has been very little specifically focused on Gulf visitors. is updated daily in English and Arabic, and looks a real professional job, I must say. It gives advice and directions on where to go, what to do, restaurant reviews, shopping, property guides and lots of other stuff.

“It’s early days, but the reception has been pretty good. It’s aimed at the luxury visitor, so advertisers like it, and there really is very little out there in Arabic. It’s potentially a great market, so there are other ways to monetise it apart from ads, ” says Ben, who launched the site on December 30.

He always was pretty good with the new tech, was Ben, and would often help me out of my tech-troglodyte difficulties. But I never had him down as some Zuckerberg-type whizz-kid. We shall see. If he can tell me where to get a 3Doodler, I’d be convinced.

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