remotely corrupt

10 November. Prime Minister, Boris Johnson, is questioned about sleaze allegations. He responds that the UK, "is not remotely a corrupt country."

9 November. It is revealed that former attorney general and serving MP, Geoffrey Cox, had spent lockdown working for the government of the British Virgin Islands, advising them on tax evasion and corruption. Since becoming an MP in 2005, this side job has earned Cox around £6m.

In 1993 I returned to Yemen after four years away and bought a secondhand car.

It was the best car I ever owned: it had a sofa-style front seat, a bull bar that could demolish castle walls and a 4.2 litre six-cylinder engine that purred at rest and roared when required. And there was the decor. The dash was covered in tasselled green velvet, the rearview mirror had a clock giving Islamic prayer times, there were bunches of plastic grapes hanging in every corner, the top of the windscreen bore the legend, 'God, Nation, Revolution' in Arabic, and the headlamps had dark eyelashes attached, cut from black leatherette. It was a J40 Landcruiser, arguably the finest 4x4 ever built.

In Yemen’s capital Sana’a where I bought the car off a dealer on the Hadda Road, the J40s all came in a khaki colour, hence the local name, huba', meaning 'dust' but also 'chaos'. Yemenis loved renaming cars: the new Landcruiser J80 which had been released in 1990 broke with the tradition of square boxy design and went for well-rounded curves, hence its nickname, Leila Alawi, after the curvaceous Egyptian singer. A later model that somehow resembled a cigar was dubbed Munika, after Monica Lewinsky. My own, pimped-up huba’, the dealer told me, had been owned by a tribesman from al-Jawf, an area renowned for its banditry.

In 1993 I had arrived back in Yemen to find the country drifting inexorably towards conflict. The unification of the two Yemens, north and south, was not working. There were intermittent reports of fighting around the country as the army splintered and took sides. People were getting nervous. Bureaucracy slowed. My own application for a resident's visa was proving slow to complete.

One morning, driving through Sana'a in my beloved huba', a vehicle careered out of a side road in front of me. I had only a split second to react, slamming on the brakes before I smacked hard into the front nearside wing of what was a brand new Leila Alawi. I got out and inspected the damage. My bull bar was slightly bent. The Leila had fared less successfully. The wing was destroyed.

Having had prangs like this in Yemen before, I was not unduly worried. The usual reaction to such events was utterly casual. I had once knocked a door clean off a stationary car when the driver opened it suddenly as I was passing. The man simply got out, picked the battered door up and threw it in the back of his vehicle, shouting at me, "No problem. Drive on. This is Yemen."

But this time it was different. The driver got out, walked towards me, took out a notebook and wrote down my registration number, then went back to his car and drove away - Leila Alawi's wing clanking a bit. Not a word was exchanged. I was mystified.

Two days later, all became clear when I got a phone call from the British Embassy: Had I been involved in a car accident recently? Could I come in to see the consul immediately?

I went. The consul explained that I had smashed my car into an important man: the chief of police. Apparently, the chief was furious, demanding my immediate expulsion from Yemen and 2,700 rials to repair his car. I explained to the consul that the accident was completely the chief's fault. The consul sighed and explained to me that when one crashed into the chief of police, it was always your fault. I left, fuming.

A day later I was informed that my application for a residence visa had been refused. It looked like I might have to leave Yemen only weeks after arriving. I didn't want that. I went to see a friend whose brother was high-ranking officer in the military. Could he help? Meanwhile I offered the chief 500 rials.

Things then went quiet for a while, but then I heard that my resident's visa was approved. The chief suggested we settle for 1,000 rials and sent a man to get it. I was relieved. It was not a huge amount of money.

Wherever you are, the rich and powerful will bend the rules, if they can get away with it. Without power you are at their mercy. I had no doubt that my friend's brother had pulled rank on the chief. One day my friend would be expected to do something in return, I'm sure, but without that assistance I would have been on a plane.

The situation in Yemen continued to deteriorate over the following months. The money-changers in the souk closed, they couldn't keep up with the pace of depreciation. There were rumours of a massacre in the south and tank battles in the north.

A month before war finally erupted, I was a passenger in a car that narrowly ran through a red light in the centre of San’a. Unfortunately a traffic policeman spotted the infringement, commandeered a passing car, and chased after us. Our driver paid him off with 150 rials. That's the other thing about corruption, it spreads.