Friday, March 30, 2007



A couple of stressful weeks. These have included a visit by a communications agency to meet and chat with Mrs Assad about taking on some of the wider communications needed by the Trust. As I had briefed them, and to a large extent recommended them, I was keen that they actually got to the nub of the issues - how the vision and aims of the Trust relate to the more formal social and political context in Syria. Will the Trust be allowed to succeed, or is it really justa bit of window-dressing? We got part way there, but I felt they were holding back and Mrs Assad was wanting more.

Then a brief 36-hour trip to Qatar to attend a conference on literacy, where Mrs Assad was giving a keynote speech for which I had drafted the original. In the event six people went with her as well as a team from protocol and her press office, and we all travelled in the presidential jet. That may sound grand, but the experience was anything but. Luggage had to be handed to protocol 12 hours ahead of flight time, everyone had to be ready at the airport an hour ahead of the flight. It would have been better in many ways to take a scheduled flight. Protocol as usual were interested only in arrangements for Mrs Assad, and any inconvenience to the rest of us was of no consequence at all. Better that six people sit kicking their heels for an hour than risk her being delayed for a minute.

When we arrived at Qatar, the experience was repeated. Our luggage took hours to arrive at the hotel; one of us had only twenty minutes to get changed an ready for a formal dinner that evening. Again, when we left, luggage had to be passed over hours before we left, and and and. Reached home to find a cigar had been taken from one of my bags. If another request to do this again comes my way, I shall politely make my own arrangements.

Then almost immediately off to London to attend a couple of workshops with architects and Cultural Innovations. Flew BA against all my past resolutions as I had to leave on a day when Syrian Air did not fly to London. Productive meetings, with some worryingly high costs emerging for the landscaped park element of the project, and still not much progress made in respect of the web. Time at home, which was nice, except that it was necessary to deal with plumbers as one of the radiators had ceased to work after they had installed a new boiler - so a day watsed waiting for someone to visit, which they did in the early evening and then decided that what was needed was not a new valve but the draining of the entire system, which meant yet another appointment.

Back to Damascus to prepare for a presentation on Massar to Sheikha Mozah, Princess of Qatar. This again was a Protocol affair and the preceding 24 hours were a series of bizarre, inappropriate and unreasonable requests, which we wasted much time and emotional energy batting away. The trouble is Protocol want everything to be perfect, and for us, the best way to see Massar is to see it warts and all. The main issue this time was the teenage debate, which was on the top floor of the cultural centre. The Princess, we were told, would emphatically not go up stairs, and it would be an insult for me to even suggest it. Don't ask. In the event I left it open to Mrs Assad, she suggested the teenage activity, and they both went up stairs without a moment's trouble. The Princess, I was told later, very much enjoyed the activities, so that was a positive.

Then a presentation on progress by Cultural Innovations to Mrs Assad. Again, twitchy for me, as this time a 2010 completion date was put on the table, slipping from late 2009. Then a scratchy 6-hour Trust Management Team meeting, where a lot of stuff had to be aired, as there is growing discontent between the projects (basically all my team) and shared services. My reservations about how this will all work in practice are starting to appear in the day-to-day. And of course I now get a lot of it bounced up to me, either as a shoulder to cry on or as a possible way to cut through the crap.

I have also been told that I cannot depend on the commitment of government funding given to me by the Deputy Prime Minister. Hey ho, more work to do there then.

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