Sunday, April 23, 2006

St George's Day

He's the patron saint of England. April 23rd is the closest England gets to a National Day so here goes with some commemoration.

I read here that The English share St George with several other places, including Georgia (no surprises there), Lithuania, Germany and Palestine.

I hope to indulge in some roast beef and Yorkshire pudding before the day is out.

Saturday, April 15, 2006


Syriana opened in the UAE last Wednesday. It's now playing to packed houses. The plot is labyrinthine, a state of affairs not helped by the censors snipping nearly three minutes out of the movie. There's a lot of talk and very little in the way of gunfire and explosions, so it's not the sort of film that might normally attract a UAE audience.

I suspect that Syriana would not have nearly the attention it's getting in the Middle East were it not for the opportunity to play Dubai Location Spotting. I'm guilty of it too. In one scene of George Clooney driving from Sharjah to Dubai on an astonishingly empty Al Ittihad Road, the camera zoomed back until I was able to nudge my companion and say, "I can see my house from here."

As for the censorship, if we assume that smut, nudity 'and similar approved' are censored because we all know it exists but we're rather embarrassed about it, then what does this imply about the UAE censoring a scene in the movie portraying maltreatment of labourers from the sub-continent?

Sharjah Rally 2006

The Sharjah Rally 2006 was on Good Friday. To be strictly accurate, it started on the evening of Maundy Thursday with the Prologue in a small piece of open land right opposite Sharjah City Centre shopping mall. Surrounded by apartment blocks, the effect of high-performance minimally silenced rally cars echoed around Sharjah. The din competed with aircraft engines for being up around the pain threshold.

The floodlit dirt course consisted of hairpin after hairpin, and attracted quite a crowd. Lucky motorsport fans got on to balconies; luckier ones got into the infield. I tried to take photographs of the racing and the firework display, but had limited success.

Friday saw six desert stages. I got into position inside a hairpin bend and took photos. Colin's new Roast Beef Racing Range Rover was a no-show. Apparently there was a minor electrical fault that killed the fuel pump. It was fixed in the service area and Roast Beef Racing was allowed to play on the afternoon session, going last because of missing three special stages.

I followed Colin and his co-driver Ramzi out of the first afternoon stage and belted the bash plate of my car on a rock. Still, that is what the sheet of 9 mm aluminium is for, and I was spared expensive damage to my non-rally-prepared 4WD.

This stage was not good for Ron and Jamie in their Impreza:

Fair play to them. They got the car back on its wheels and kept going, minus a lot of laminated glass.

Meanwhile, here's Colin and Ramzi proving that Range Rovers can really fly.

Monday, April 10, 2006

The innocent have nothing to fear

AIDS patients are not criminals, says the report.

Tell that to any expatriate worker who is unfortunate enough to test positive when undergoing the compulsory medical as part of the residence visa application process.

According to information publised by the British Foreign and Commonwealth Office, the punishment for testing HIV positive, and that means testing, not necessarily being, is immediate imprisonment followed by rapid deportation. There is no appeal process.

And here's me thinking that being deported is the punishment reserved for teachers who show Danish cartoons to students.

Marie Celeste

A group of us from the Dubai dive club went for a splash last Thursday. The wreck of the M V Dara is about four miles offshore, broadly west of Umm Al Quwain, and lies in several pieces about 20 metres below the surface. When we arrived, there was already a boat tied to the wreck, presumably to the buoyed line helpfully installed by the Emirates Diving Association.

Normal procedure in these circumstances is for the new arrival to tie off astern of the anchored boat. With divers already in the water it's potentially dangerous to lob an anchor in. The Universal Law Of Sod guarantees that the descending anchor would hit a diver; whereas it's usually really hard not to hit the wreck. Tying to the stern of the other boat was not helped by the crew of the other boat. There was no-one to be seen. We assumed - correctly, as it happened - that both occupants were underwater. One appeared soon after we'd tied off. His dive buddy surfaced about ten minutes later. So much for buddy diving.

How can competent adults be so heedless of their own safety? Congenital idiocy perhaps, or a desire to get mentioned here? Underwater visibility was only a couple of metres, so it would be all too (Not to. Happy now, Mme Cyn?) easy not to find the rope back to the boat. And with a knot or two of current, how far downstream of your boat would you eventually surface? Two hundred metres? Four hundred? That's one hell of a swim against the tide. The nearest land is only 20 metres away. The nearest dry land is four miles as the gull flies. Swimming, across or against the current, you'd have to cover a considerably greater distance. You're gonna die, dude, all for the sake of leaving someone in the boat to come and pick you up.

While I was in the water with my buddy, the aforementioned boat motored off. At the end of our dive, I couldn't find the line to the surface. It turned out that our friends had chucked their line overboard and it had sunk to the sea bed. Gosh, thanks guys! We surfaced astern of our boat and were duly picked up. There was another dive boat on site by this stage. Every one of the six divers on that one missed the anchor line to the surface and had to be picked up.

Incidentally, someone has stolen the EDA's buoy. Primary suspects are the local fishermen. They appear to believe that no-one else owns a GPS, echo sounder, or can navigate, and by removing the buoy they can prevent divers from nicking the fish out of their traps.

Friday, April 07, 2006

Think bike

Finally Sharjah Municipality has decided to do something positive about the irresponsible suicidal two-wheeled hooligans who terrorise the neighbourhoods. Not the local chapter of Hell's Angels; I'm referring to those wobbling menaces who weave in and out of the traffic without regard for life or property. As a matter of course, pedal cyclists here ride on the wrong side of the road, never use lights, and often weave in and out of queues of (sometimes moving) motor vehicles.

However, Sharjah's proposed ban has very little to do with traffic safety and everything to do with appearance. Scrap dealers often use bicycles to transport cardboard and other waste, and the Municipality's first priority is remove these from the public gaze. The thing is, using an old-style rod-braked single-speed boneshaker to transport scrap looks so-o-o Third World. Sharjah is of course a metropolis comprising 21st century edifices of glittering mirrored glass all soaring skywards.

I have had my car scratched by some old ironwork poking out from a bicycle. Before I could stop the perpetrator, he disappeared into the distance riding between two rows of oncoming cars, on the wrong side of a dual carriageway.

The reasoning behind riding on the wrong side of the road is that on the sub-continent a bicycle is regarded as a pedestrian, not as a vehicle. We all know that it's safer to face oncoming traffic when walking on a road with no footway. It is nevertheless alarming to enter a roundabout and find a bicycle crossing your bows from the wrong side. Stamp on the brakes to avoid flattening him and get shunted from behind.

We are told that the bicycle ban does not extend to children, delivery boys or commuters. Presumably this is provided they're not carrying any flattened cardboard boxes. We are also advised that anyone caught cycling after the new rule has come into force will have their machine confiscated and melted down into paper clips. There was a plan to ban only unregistered bicycles, but this fell over when someone realised that there was no way of registering one. I could write a Pythonesque sketch about this.

"...You don't need a licence for a bicycle"
"Yes you do. Here's mine. Look."
"But this is a Permit To Have Your Car Resprayed with 'Car Resprayed' crossed out and 'Bicycle' written in in crayon."
"The man didn't have the right form..."

But it's OK to ride on the footways, provided, that is, that they're not covered in wheelie bins, potted plants, steps, parked cars or sheesha pipes. The one thing that is very unlikely to be found on the footway is a pedestrian. No-one walks in this town. It is also OK to cycle for recreation along the sea-front or in the park. As it is going to be illegal to ride from residence to the park, are we going to be treated to the unlikely sight of pedestrians carrying their bikes to the Corniche in order to go for a ride? Incidentally, a lot of the Municipality parks include prohibitions on bicycles, dogs, campfires, topless sunbathing and immoral activities [sic].

People do not ride bikes here out of choice. If you were earning AED 300 a month gross, - yes that's less than fifty quid - would you go everywhere by taxi? How would you afford a car?

The pro-bike camp is on record to say the solution is to provide bicycle facilities. Cycle lanes: the two-wheeler panacea! Given the local habit of putting a motor vehicle on every square inch of available asphalt, how is a metre strip of cycle lane going to remain clear?

Frankly, the idea to ban bicycles seems to have come out of the same Good Ideas Lab as the inflatable dartboard.

Saturday, April 01, 2006

Censor sensibility

It's four months since the controversial movie Syriana was released in the USA. Debate continues to rage here as to whether the film will be released in the UAE at all, and if so how much will find its way into the censors' waste bin. One thing appears certain: an uncut version is unlikely to make it on to any of the multitude of silver screens. I've not seen the movie, obviously, so cannot comment on whether a partial or total ban is justified. It is curious nevertheless that the same Officialdom that permitted Mr George Clooney and his entourage to come to Dubai and make part of the movie now feel that the script that was approved is now not suitable for public consumption.

If, as appears may be the case, the script portrays a nation uncomfortably similar to Dubai in a less than flattering light, then perhaps permission to film should have been withheld. But it's too late for that now.

Might I suggest that if Syriana includes unflattering words coming from Mr Clooney's mouth, all of his works should be banned, and he himself should be persona non grata in the Emirates. This is what happened to members of the band Saxon owing to the allegedly offensive lyrics of one of their songs, written nearly a quarter of a century ago.

All Clooney DVDs should perhaps be burned in a huge protest bonfire on the helipad of the Burj Al Arab. Bring out your Ocean's 11! Bring out your Good Night, and Good Luck! And definitely bring out your Solaris!

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