In the Empty Quarter
As a young reporter in the 1970s I travelled in what the Romans called Arabia Felix – through the Gulf sheikhdoms and emirates, into Muscat and down to the southern tip of the peninsula. I saw Dubai when it was still largely a fishing port where the pearl divers set sail in their dhows: in Kuwait, I spent an afternoon with Mrs Dickson, the widow of the last British political officer in the Gulf, in her traditional Arab house down in the old harbour. In Saudi Arabia I camped under the stars with some Bedouin on the edge of the Rub’ al Khali or Empty Quarter, that stretch of a million square miles of desert which fills the bottom half of Arabia. Needless to say I was soon addicted and more trips followed. With the arrogance of the young journalist I imagined myself an Arabist and began to read all the available books. It did not take me long to realize that as only an occasional visitor I could never make the grade.