Friday, July 18, 2014

In stitches

Regimental colour
While Beloved Wife has been away in the Rebellious Colonies, I've been preparing for my trip to England next week. The primary reason for going is to get involved with an English Civil War battle re-enactment. My old ECW regiment, the Norfolke Trayned Bandes, is having its 40th birthday, so here's an opportunity to meet old friends in the flesh rather than on Facebook, to engage in quiet and sober reflection, or more likely have a riotous party.

Naturally, I donated all my old 17th century kit many years ago, not that any of it would by now have fitted my middle-aged spread, so I'd be needing new costume.

In other news, Beloved Wife and I made contact with the Incipient Shire of the Pearl Coast. Who? A small UAE-based group of re-enactors who are looking to start up a local Shire; a section of the Society for Creative Anachronism. The National ran a story with a picture gallery.

What to do about garb? Linen is easy to obtain in Dubai, down in Satwa; wool less so, but I found something that would suffice. I got some white linen and set about making a big floppy shirt and some Authenti-boxers.

We bought a sewing machine to replace Beloved Wife's old steam-powered device, and I've been practising on it. Two shirts, two pairs of underpants, and various other simple projects later, I'm at last beginning to get the hang of this marvel of whirling mechanisms.

Doublets and breeches are, however, beyond my ability. I sought advice from the NTB and Frances emailed me basic patterns plus a whole lot of advice. Mike of the Incipient Shire lent me a doublet too, and all this went with many photos and yards of linen and wool to my new favourite tailor in Satwa.

Sleeveless jack

I figure that after Marlborough, it's unlikely that I'll be an NTB regular, so I've picked garb that can be used for SCA stuff here in the hotter clime of the Middle East.

Further to this historical re-enactment, I've been practising on my recorders. It's an instrument authentic for any time after about 1388, so is good for 17th century. I do need to learn more authentitunes, though. My repertoire currently ranges from Liberty Bell, through The Teddy Bears' Picnic, The Beatles, Bach, and even some Iron Maiden. Beloved Wife is probably glad she's in the USA and out of earshot.


Friday, July 04, 2014

Monty bank

You don’t suppose for an instant that you’d simply forget a pile of cash that you put somewhere? Even pirates traditionally made a map to where they buried their treasure; they surely didn’t forget about it. But normal, non-piratical people apparently do forget their bank accounts. I can see the situation of someone dying, having left no will, no relatives, and no instructions for what the bank should do with the money. As you can’t take it with you, what’s a bank to do?

Here is what should happen:-

“Dear Valued Customer,
We note that you have not done anything with your bank account for some time. Please confirm that you still need it, and need it to be active, by doing something with that account within the next 30 days. Pay something in, perhaps, or make a withdrawal. Actually, as it’s an internet-only online savings account, just log on using your secure username, password, security device, mother’s pet’s maiden name, and gaze at the account balance. That will be enough to let us know that we shouldn’t bugger about with your account. If you don’t do anything at all, after 30 days we’ll set the account  to ‘Dormant,’ and you can then contact us when you want to wake it up.”

I wonder how long a Dormant account has to remain so before the Bank assumes that it can steal your money? Or “Absorbed as charge,” as they prefer to express it.

Anyway, over at my favourite Local Global Emporium of Red Triangles, they do it a different way:-

“Dear Mr Goat,
We note that you have not done anything with your online-only savings account, so we set it to ‘Dormant’ two days ago. Here are several irregularly-spaced flaming hoops you now need to jump through.”

So I took the account details along with my original passport to one of the Red Triangles shops in a shopping mall. “This account. It’s Dormant, but you have to go to a main branch to do something about it.”

“But the bank’s blurb says a Relationship Manager can sort it out, and that’s what it says on this plaque on your desk.”

“Not me, Mr Goat; a Relationship Manager at a branch. It’s a teller service; not an administrative one, despite what it looks like. And as we’re in Ramadan, all the bank’s branches shut at 2pm, about three minutes ago.”

Now, if I had indeed forgotten about a significant pile of cash for a year I might not be surprised at having the account put to sleep. But I look at it at least every month when doing the domestic accounts. I use a microscope so that I can see the interest accrued.  Seemingly, just accessing the account isn’t activity enough. I might be inclined to move money about, but there’s little incentive to make a deposit when the interest rate pays fractions of one percent. Similarly, what’s the point of making a withdrawal when I can buy a kilo of bananas with the monthly interest?

But what really gets up my nose is the bank’s keenness to shut down online access to an online-only account without prior warning. Wouldn’t it have been so much simpler to offer some timely alert so that I could move a nominal amount of cash around while I was banking online, instead of what I now need to do: drive all over town? Twice.


It gets better and better. I've now been to the bank, learned that reactivating a dormant account requires the filling in of forms, the presentation of at least one bank-issued card, my original passport and Emirates ID, and the making of a withdrawal. So it's both administrative and teller operations.

According to the relationship manager, in order for an account not to be suspended, the policy over at Red Triangles is that a withdrawal must be made at least once every three months. It is however possible to make deposits into a suspended account.

For Crying Out Loud! The e-saver account permits one and only one withdrawal per month without loss of all interest. I am apparently obliged to withdraw a nominal amount every 89 days just to prevent the account from being suspended, and then risk losing interest on the entire balance if I have to take out more money.

This is a Deposit Account. It's for Savings. Where, aside from the colossal interest paid [Hahahaha], is the incentive to save with Red Triangles?


Wednesday, July 02, 2014

Censure the censor

There’s been quite a bit of news here in the UAE about the new cyber-crimes law. It isn’t just to make hacking, phishing, scamming, and virus uploading illegal. Defamation is a big issue too. The local media were all abuzz a while ago when it turned out that, for example, it’s a criminal offence to make an assault in a public place an item of common knowledge by posting it on YouTube. It’s also potentially illegal to tag photographs on Facebook without the owner of the face giving written consent. In fact, even taking pictures of people turns out to be against the law, unless you have written permission.

Here’s me imagining that someone gurning in front of a camera gives that permission, but apparently not. Taking allegedly amusing photos of the scenes of drunken debauchery at any one of Dubai’s alcohol-fuelled Friday brunches could well lead to trouble, and we can see why. Imagine that I get my inebriated mugshot uploaded and tagged. Then, without my knowledge, it gets circulated by friends of friends of friends, and it lands in the inbox of my hypothetical ultra-conservative boss. A very real possibility of “Sayonara, Habibi!”

In practice, of course, the vast majority of pictures and tags are just fine; everyone’s happy to appear on their Facebook friends’ timelines, and innocuous pictures of a few friends having a couple of jars will not even be noticed, let alone commented upon.

A somewhat alarming part of the cyber-crimes law is that I am apparently responsible for what other people post in my blog or Facebook comments. I post a story, a few of my friends make comments, the thread goes off at a tangent, and then someone in Australia posts a supposedly witty remark concerning the intelligence and parentage of some prominent individual or corporate entity here in the UAE. That defamatory post would now be my fault.  

Hence the disclamatory footer on this blog. How can I possibly be held responsible if a hyperlink to a third-party’s website leads to something that someone, somewhere might find offensive?

The two local internet service providers in the UAE both provide connections to the 'net solely through proxy servers. It is obviously illegal to attempt to bypass the proxy, which automatically blocks gambling, anti-Islam, porn, and a whole lot more besides. Anonymising software that you can download from REDACTED is obviously not on an accessible website.

It’s coming to the United Kingdom too. “The [British] government is promoting filters to prevent children and young people from seeing content that is supposed to be for over 18s. This includes pornography and sites that talk about alcohol, smoking, anorexia and hate speech.”

I checked, and according to the website, TalkTalk has blocked my blog. There appears to be no way of contacting whatever faceless bureaucrat made the decision (because it’s doubtless a machine). Attempts to contact TalkTalk end when it becomes obvious that I don’t have an account with them. And never shall I.

So read this blog while you still can. The Grumpy Goat: Too controversial for TalkTalk.

To end on a happy note, and I realise that it goes with the current season in the way that ice-cream goes with ketchup, but here’s an old joke that circulated in Saudi Arabia a few years ago, on the run-up to the feasting season at the end of December. We’re already used to euphemisms such as “Festive” and also “Special Beverages” and even “Curly-Tailed Dog.” The UAE is, I'm pleased to report, much more relaxed than this.

Christmas Dinner Menu

Champagne Reception

Melon and Ham

Main Course
Roasted Christmas Turkey
Pork Chipolata Sausages
Roast potatoes
Red Wine Gravy

Choice of red or white Wine

Christmas Pudding with Brandy Butter

To Finish
Port and Cheese Board
Tea or Coffee

Sunday, June 29, 2014

Fast* track

Photo credit: Pradeep Warrier
“If you wanna go any faster, take it to the track.”

Dubai Autodrome advertises both car and bike track days where, we are told, there are no speed limits, no speed cameras, no manhole covers, no sand spits, no donkeys on the road, and no crazy Afghan truck drivers on the wrong side of the road. In addition, the only other motorists out there are consenting adults, all doing more-or-less the same thing in the same direction. And there are marshals, and first-aid facilities in case of a spill.

In truth, taking my bike to a track session would probably be overall a lot safer than a Friday trip to Kalba. But that had until recently, not got me on to the track. For ever and a day, my excuse was not having any full leathers, and they’re mandatory for bikers. Then last December happened, and I resorted to my back-up excuse: cowardice.

Anyway, a lot of the Autodrome track sessions were for experienced riders only, and I satisfied myself with taking photos.

And then an alert of a ‘Newbies’ evening session dropped into my inbox. I hummed and hawed, and then with a couple of days to go I booked and paid online. No excuses now; I’d be at the Autodrome on Thursday evening.

The advertised itinerary was three groups, and three 20-minute sessions for each group. Because Thursday is a work day, and also it’s summer and consequently ridiculously hot, not many bikers turned up. Most arrived in shorts and flip-flops with their racing bikes on trailers. Muggins rolled up with a small selection of tools in his panniers and fully dressed for action.

I prepped my bike by removing the panniers and clicking the rear suspension up by one notch, and then went to register. They gave out customer loyalty cards. “Do six track sessions, and the seventh one is free.” The summer sessions are on the short, Club circuit because that’s the only one with floodlights, and are consequently cheaper than winter track days on the full GP circuit. “Do six summer sessions,” we were advised, “And save the free one for the full circuit!”

It also turned out that only about four of us were in the Group C “Newbies” and Autodrome management decided to combine Groups A and B. Net result: three 25-minute sessions rather than 20 minutes. Bonus! While we were being briefed in air-conditioned comfort, the bikes were scrutineered, and when I got back to the pit garage my bike had an approval sticker on it. Good to go.

It was with no little trepidation that I queued up on the pit lane for two familiarisation laps, following the leader at relatively low speed to learn the official racing lines where the track was most grippy. The first Group C session followed immediately. As there were only four of us, I felt as though I had the track to myself until a Frenchman on a BMW S1100RR went steaming past me on the start/finish straight and I had someone to race follow. Newbies aren’t allowed to overtake except on the start/finish straight, and he had 193BHP as opposed to my mere 135BHP. I overtook him a couple of laps later and, I’m told, he spent the rest of the session right behind me. I say, “I’m told,” because we all had to fold in our mirrors in accordance with the First Rule of Italian Driving: “Whats-a behind me is not important.”

I got progressively quicker throughout the session, and 25 minutes later I was quite relieved to see the chequered flag so I could come into the pits and have some cold water and a sandwich.

The sun was setting when the second session started, not that this made any material difference to the temperature. By now I was becoming a little more consistent with my braking and gear-changing points. I’d chatted with a couple of the experienced guys and learned a couple of markers on the asphalt. Notably, “Squeeze between the kerb and the pothole on the hard right into the uphill chicane or you’ll be all over the place through the chicane and very, very slow.”

Full-throttle acceleration to the red line isn’t something my bike experiences very often, but it got plenty of that past the grandstand. And I could feel the ABS and slipper clutch doing its work on the hard braking into corners. In over five years and 50,000km I’ve not decked a footrest. Now I was doing so regularly, and the bike remained rock-steady while cranked over. Perceived wisdom for track riding is that at this point one should slide one’s arse off the seat and stick one’s knee out. I’ve never been comfortable with that. My new seat, with its broad cheeks to support my, erm, broad cheeks, rather discourages that sort of behaviour. A bike seat that is comfortable and supportive on long touring trips isn’t the best one for flinging a 300kg 1400cc machine around a track that’s designed for 600cc supersport crotch-rockets. I had to content myself with leaning my upper body and easing off the throttle a little so that nothing other than the folding footpegs actually hit the deck.

I was, on average, one second per lap quicker on the second session, and a further second quicker on the third, despite darkness having fallen. I may have been the only punter on the track by the end of the third session. One guy had gone home because he’d rather foolishly turned up with a tinted visor and wasn’t allowed to participate in the dark.

I’ve learned a lot from my first track session. Firstly it’s a lot of fun, even when not riding as fast as you dare. Second, I now know that my bike handles in a predictable and steady manner, even when cranked over as far as I dare. Previous bikes have squirmed and protested under those conditions and threatened to pitch me off. And I think that’s pretty good for a heavyweight, shaft-drive tourer. I now know that in my road riding, I’m well within the bike’s performance envelope. My normal sport/touring tyres I ran to their edges. There is evidently no need for me to consider softer, sportier rubber than Pirelli Angel ST or equivalent.

In fact, the single problem came on the way home. I got stuck at two sets of traffic lights and spent about eight minutes having my bike pour boiling hot air all over my legs, and by the time I got indoors I was bordering on heat exhaustion. A litre of oral rehydration salts and a cool shower sorted that out.

* In the grand scheme of things I'm not very quick. My best lap was 1'25" which is distinctly unimpressive when compared to UAE Sportsbike Championship times of around 1'06".


Monday, June 02, 2014

Game of Thrones

The Goat admits it: his grand tourer doesn’t have a particularly comfortable saddle. It should have, bearing in mind that the 1400GTR is supposed to be capable of crossing continents, but the Concours14/GTR forums are full of complaints about how uncomfortable the seat is, and which after-market custom saddle is best.

Here, then, is the Game of Thrones. Opinions are like arses, in that everybody has one. And every one of them is slightly different. Understandably, this fiscally astute Goat is reluctant to lash out many hundreds of dollars on a throne that may or may not improve his personal seating arrangement upon his own Black Beast. It’s fair enough for Seth Laam to say he’ll adjust his custom seat if he didn’t get it 100% right first time, but this is an option that isn’t realistically available to Muggins who’s half a planet away.

Muggins did notice that the police GTRs imported to the UAE for reviewing by the Sharjah constabulary came with Corbin single seats, and the Goat asked his friendly neighbourhood Kawasaki dealer nicely if he could borrow one of these saddles for a weekend. The idea was that, if he liked the Corbin, he’d order one of his own. But no, that option wasn’t available. Neither was borrowing  a police-spec GTR with all the blues and twos. No surprises there, then.

Just in case a random surfer happens upon this blog in an effort to find a customised motorcycle saddle, here’s the list of links:-

And for air cushions:-

It’s very quickly obvious that pretty much any option involves the expenses of specialist craftsmen working with high-quality materials, plus the shipping charges from the USA and import taxes. Plus, in some cases, a need to ship the old seat so that it may be adjusted. Few if any of the options are realistically available for an impecunious Goat living in Dubai. It’s not solely a cost issue. The Goat would happily pay full price for the right product, but would very much prefer a ‘try-before-you-buy’ option.

However, a solution has presented itself in the form of Mr Rasheed of Delmon Upholstery Est. in Satwa. (Opposite the Municipality office).

Old cover off, and
cutting about to commence
Day 1:    The Goat brought his existing motorcycle seat into the shop and, assisted by various photos of customised seats downloaded from the internet, supervised as Mr Rasheed removed the old cracked vinyl and started to hack at the foam with an ancient breadknife.

Trimming the foam.
Draft final. Old foam cut and new blue foam added.
Day 2:    The Goat dropped into the shop to review the draft final shape of the foam. The seat had been adjusted to move the low point further back, widened slightly, and had a saddle horn added at the front. The Goat sat on his reprofiled saddle and declared it good.

Day 3:    Mr Rasheed covered the foam with a smoothing layer of spongy interfacing, and stitched a marine-grade black vinyl cover. By mid-afternoon on the third day, the seat was back on the bike.

More photos of the process, along with some finished custom saddles from which the Goat may have obtained inspiration, are here.

The Goat is to try it out and come back to the shop if there are any adjustments required, which is nice.

Oh, and as the Goat also owns a Road Zeppelin, motorcycle seat comfort, or the lack of it, should hopefully no longer be an issue.


Sunday, May 25, 2014

Cupid stunt

Photo: 7DAYS
Pictured is "one of 'tens' of 'worrying' images received by Dubai Police on a daily basis".

According to today's 7DAYS front page, it's irresponsible recklessness that is the traffic offence du jour, and we are all to be appropriately outraged. Of course; the biker in the pic isn't wearing boots, gloves, a jacket, and presumably no armour in his trousers. If he falls off, he may live to regret it. Notwithstanding his behaviour, I think the guy in the pic is a bit of a dickhead.

But biking attire isn't the point. Reckless driving by motorcyclists in general is. Apparently, the police have been confiscating bikes at a rate of about eight a week in Dubai so far this year, and Daddy simply pays the fine so that Offspring can continue on his headlong trip off the bike on to the ground or maybe six feet under it.

These guys are giving all bikers a bad name, and from a personal point of view, I don't need to get tarred with the same brush, just because I happen to ride a motorcycle.

But how about getting the level of two-wheeled lawlessness into perspective?

'Tens of worrying images'. Not dozens, scores, or hundreds. Assuming for a moment that Dubai police would have said 'hundreds' if they'd received more than 101 pictures, then 'tens' means no more than 99. Last May, 7DAYS reported how two million traffic offences had been recorded in Dubai in the first four months of 2013. That's around 16,500 offences per day.

'Worrying' images constitute less than 0.6% of the total reported traffic offences. I think it's the remaining 99.4% that should be worried about.


Thursday, May 15, 2014

Video kills the way of the car

The rise of the portable and affordable high-definition video camera has produced video blogs, uncountable numbers on YouTube of videos featuring Russians running out of talent, and copious potential material for the purveyors of law and order. It’s this last point that I want to address here.

Dubai Police actually promotes a campaign that is imaginatively called “We Are All Police,” with a couple of contact telephone numbers: 800 4353 and 800 7000 since you ask. You’re welcome. The basic idea is that you pick up your phone and report an alleged offence, and the police will follow it up. Getting twenty calls all with variations on a theme of “Black Land Cruiser with this registration number driving at speed up the breakdown lane” might produce some police action. However, using a hand-held mobile phone while driving is illegal, so a lot of these witnessed offences presumably go unreported.

Anyway, my business proposal is to combine We Are All Police with a GoPro (or similar) camera. I’m sure many drivers spend their days wondering why there’s never a police officer around when someone displays a monumental lack of regard for safety or the law, and my proposal is to do something about it. Publishing a video on YouTube of someone publicly assaulting a van driver is illegal, and the material should, we are told, be handed to the police. So here’s the plan.

In essence, I ride my motorbike around Dubai with a GoPro camera stuck to my helmet, and I record the registration number of each vehicle along with the offence being committed, all in the same take. Dubai police get a copy of the video, and I receive 50% of the fine as payment. I estimate that I could clear several hundred dirhams a day just going about my daily business and only noting mobile phone use. Dubai police receive the other 50% with little effort beyond entering the data on the RTA’s database. Imagine how much cash I could make if it were my day job…:-

Selected traffic offences: 

Reckless driving                   (AED 2000 and 24 black points),
Mobile phone use                   (AED 200 and 4 black points),
Not wearing a seat belt            (AED 400 and 4 black points),
Inappropriate use of hardstrip     (AED 600 and 6 black points),
Tailgating                         (AED 400 and 4 black points),
Running a red light                (AED 800 and 12 black points),
Stopping on a pedestrian  crossing (AED 500).
(I could make a packet every Friday just by taking a GoPro down to outside the mosque on my local street corner!)

The benefits are obvious, from an income stream for Muggins for doing little more than riding his motorbike, but go on to improved driver behaviour and consequent reduction in collisions once the idea that any motorcyclist out there might be a police deputy, in much the same way that wearing a POLITE fluorescent tabard might. Then drivers might actually notice motorcycles, which would be of further benefit in the area of motorcycle safety. Oh, and I’d get to feel as if I was getting back at some of the knuckle-dragging morons who have inexplicably been allowed control of a motor vehicle.

What of gainsayers who say that “Let he who is without sin cast the first stone.”? How about I only report offences that I never commit? And yes, I would undertake police training if I were required to demonstrate some level of competence on two wheels.

And what of resentful motorists who take it into their pretty little heads to run bikers off the road, much as what happens already? Would you risk it if there were a reasonable probability of the incident being caught on video and used in your prosecution? No, I didn’t think so.


The opinions expressed in this weblog are the works of the Grumpy Goat, and are not necessarily the opinions shared by any person or organisation who may be referenced. Come to that, the opinions may not even be those of the Grumpy Goat, who could just be playing Devil's Advocate. Some posts may be of parody or satyrical [sic] nature. Nothing herein should be taken too seriously. The Grumpy Goat would prefer that offensive language or opinions not be posted in the comments. Offensive comments may be subject to deletion at the Grumpy Goat's sole discretion. The Grumpy Goat is not responsible for the content of other blogs or websites that are linked from this weblog. No goats were harmed in the making of this blog. Any resemblance to individuals or organisations mentioned herein and those that actually exist may or may not be intentional. May contain nuts.