6.45am: Myself and Nicola Wells, my good friend and deputy for the week, are deposited at Heathrow to catch the 10am Gulf Air flight to Abu Dhabi in the United Arab Emirates. The Show Daily team of freelances has been commissioned by Jane’s Information Group to produce five days of magazines for the visitors and exhibitors at the international defence exhibition – IDEX.
We bump into one of our reporters, Brian Walters, and go through security. Even though the machine doesn’t beep, I am subjected to a thorough frisking – they even check the soles of my shoes.
On the aircraft it’s great to see the team’s other reporter, Chris Foss, and deputy editor GÃ¼nter Endres. The flight is fine until we get to Bahrain. A 50-minute stop where we can’t get off the aircraft turns into two hours and 10 minutes. Sandstorms have delayed the passengers hoping to connect with our flight.
When we finally arrive at our five-star hotel, Show Daily editor Paul Beaver informs me that our computers are not yet installed in our office, but they will be done overnight.
Lie in until 8.30am. It’s a typical first day – we have electrical, network, scanner, printer and font problems. An Iraqi technician fiddles about with the network so that at least we can ‘see’ each other’s Macs.
At 7.15pm we eventually leave for the hotel, where I have a hot date with a large Kir.
Arrive on site before 8am after having to walk through a crowd of heavily armed guards.
Today is our first proper production day – the show opens tomorrow. We have until 8pm to do the issue that will be given to tomorrow’s visitors. The deadline for our first form is 10am. We find that our office is locked and no one knows who holds the key. Stand outside for 45 minutes – it is already nearly 30C.
We struggle to meet our deadlines throughout the day. Problems with CD writing mid-afternoon – I’ve got the software, but not the hardware, and Nicola has the opposite. It doesn’t help that we have not had any lunch. It eventually arrives at 4pm, just as we’re losing the will to live. Apparently it had been ready for ages, but even food needs the correct security pass.
We passed over the English cover just after seven o’clock, but ISDN and printing problems mean we hang around until almost nine for the all-clear from the printer. The taxis have long since gone, but we are lucky to cadge a lift from an Englishwoman who works in the office next door.
We peruse the first issue over breakfast and I’m furious to discover that there are two glaring errors. Surely we could not have sent page six with the last line missing? And the cover story columns have been changed – nothing lines up as it did. After checking the original Quark documents to make sure the cock-ups are definitely not ours, I spend 20 minutes on the phone to our contact at the printers.
All the VIPs are in attendance on the opening day and security are giving it all they’ve got when we arrive.
Only 56 pages today, but two more of those are English editorial. (The back half of the magazine is in Arabic.)
Just as we’ve passed over the cover and are making to leave, the censor decides that we can’t use it with a picture of UAE defence minister Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum because it could offend the day’s most important visitor – Abu Dhabi Crown Prince Sheikh Khalifa bin Zayed Al Nahyan, deputy supreme commander of the UAE armed forces.
Cursing, we rejig everything and promote a picture of the top man to cover lead with the riveting headline “Sheikh Khalifa bin Zayed opens Show”. “Boeing outlines regional strategy” is moved down the page, accompanied by a smaller Sheikh Mohammed.
With two pages left to do at the end of the day, the message from the printers is that we need to resize our pages to be 275mm instead of 273mm deep. Apparently they have been resizing the pages all along, which is what led to the cock-ups in the first issue.
US and British exhibitors are sending home all but a skeleton staff due to the flight worries and the fact that President Bush warned Saddam he had 48 hours to decide whether he was going to leave Iraq or be bombed.
Our last issue is being produced for the final day of the show. Things start badly when a Zip disk gets stuck in my machine and the hard drive has to be taken to pieces to remove it. Then we discover that the flat-plan we have been storming through has totally changed since we left England and no one thought to mention it.
Somehow we manage to claw back some time, aided by the fact that the last issue has only 24 pages. We find ourselves packing up our gear and leaving for good a full two hours earlier than previous evenings.
But at 9.30pm during our final dinner together, I get a message from the printers. There is a line missing on one of the pages. I round up Brian, who wrote the story, and find a quiet area for us to speak to the printers. Thankfully, when we at last get through, it is a false alarm. Pour me another Kir, there’s a good waitress.