Monday, July 31, 2006

All together now...

The fashion for satirical ditties continues unabated...

(Who wants to be a millionaire?)

Who'd like a link that's proxy-free?
I would!
To utilise VoIP?
I would!
Can I view pictures on display in FlickR
And reunite friends
Who are scattered afar?

Who'd like to share a video?
I would!
Then to YouTube I ought to go!
I would,
But sites are blocked by my ISP;
They would!
They're playing the game 'Monopoly'.

Who wants to download some email
I do!
At a pace faster than a snail?
I do!
Doesn't seem likely in this dry desert land,
And that's even though
I paid for broadband.

When I think it can get no worse,
I do
Oft use bad language, swear and curse,
I do.
Can competition cure all my woes?
Aye, Du
Has got to be better, I suppose.

What's in a name?

Malaysian children will be relieved to learn that it has become illegal to be named Cedric. Or Sunny, or Cherry or even Tiida. But the restrictions on naming children after cars seems to be limited to Japanese marques. There therefore remains the possibility of being called Mercedes, Portia, Maurice (and possibly Maurice minor for his younger brother), Dennis (after the fire engine), or even Austin.

As it's an honorary title, is Prince forbidden? I refer to the name, not necessarily to the artist formerly known as 'The artist formerly known as Prince'.

The vegetable name ban would have prohibited Terry Pratchett's character Carrot from being so named. And the ban on colours would have made Red Adair's monicker less memorable. Arachne is presumably still OK because spiders aren't insects.

But they are animals, and parents aren't allowed to name their babies after animals. Any living thing that isn't a plant or one of those rather strange organisms like bacteria or viruses is in all likelihood an animal. By that definition, Tarzan's young sidekick Boy would not have gained the Malaysian seal of approval.

That's all for now from The Grumpy (I'm glad I'm not Malaysian) Goat.

Saturday, July 29, 2006

What a load of sheet

Home Centre is having a sale. I decided to get rid of my old bed and replace it with a decent over-size example, and as there's a special offer of effectively 25% discount, I went to the bed department and made my choice.

Now, a King Size bed is substantially larger than my existing one, so none of my bed linen will fit. Logically therefore, it would make sense to buy some new sheets. And at this point the problems started.

The Home Centre bed frame requires a mattress the same size - logically. And the mattress was indeed available. Made in the UAE, I might add. But I was naive enough to assume that sheets to fit the mattress would also be available. I was sort of right; there was one sheet in an acceptable colour. The other half-dozen or so fitted sheets were lurid pink and livid vermilion. I am not macho enough to own and sleep on pink bedding.

HC: "But this 2.0m sheet will fit, sir."

GG: "Prove it. Put it on the bed in the shop."

HC: "See. It fits!"

GG: "Only if you want me to sleep on a banana-shaped mattress. If I lie on that the sheet will rip. Thank you, but no."

In summary, Home Centre's stock of sheets to support the bed sizes they're selling is extremely limited.

A quick check on Wikipedia, and then I was off to the Mall of the Emirates, armed with the following piece of information:

Bed size 72" x 84" is 'California King' (also 'Western King' or 'West Coast King'), which is the standard size for a king-size bed on the Pacific coast of the United States.

Sadly, it is not a standard size in any of the myriad bed shops in the MotE. No-one had fitted sheets 2.1m long, and no flat sheets were big enough. Most shop assistants looked at me when I asked for 1.8m x 2.1m bed linen as if I'd grown an extra head. I eventually resorted to buying the biggest flat sheet I could find, and then taking it to the tailor.

I always use the same tailor, because he's reliable, accurate and cheap. His assistant was less helpful. After explaining with diagrams that I wanted corners and elastic putting into this flat piece of cloth, he decided fifteen minutes into my explanation that although he said he understood, in fact he didn't. Remember this is someone who's capable of turning flat cloth into the complicated shapes necessary to hug a human body and look good. But a rectangular mattress defeated him. Almost one of those, "Manuel, let me explain" moments.

I am relieved to report that I finally found a couple of sheets, and the tailor eventually got it right. This is just as well. The old bed was taken away yesterday and the new one arrived this afternoon. It's enormous!

Wednesday, July 26, 2006


I've not done any on-line banking with the Red Triangles for a couple of weeks. Time, I thought, to check my balance and see how much of my recent credit card activity has filtered through the system.

Silly me! I fluffed up my password and had to reset it. Serves me right for not using it for a fortnight. Maffi mushkela. Reset password. Telephone bank to reactivate the account:

GG: Good afternoon. I've reset my internet banking password and a message says I have to phone you to get it activated.

HelpDesk: Indeed. What is your account number? And please key in your phone banking PIN.

GG: [fiddles with phone keypad, thereby proving his identity]

HD: Hello Mr Grumpy Goat. How much money is in your account?

GG: I don't know. I can't get on line.

HD: How much is in your deposit account?

GG: Errr, not sure. As I just told you, I can't get on line.

HD: What is the credit limit on your plastic card?

GG: Not a Scooby, I'm afraid. I could tell you if I could get on line.

HD: Date of birth?

GG: Bingo! I know that one.

HD: Very well, Mr Goat. You have demonstrated that you could be almost anyone, so your account will be reactivated within an hour.

And I can confirm that the account was indeed reactivated.

Monday, July 24, 2006

Get what you want. Punch someone!

Have you seen the lurid orange Axiom Telecom adverts in the cinema? The offer is simple enough. Buy a mobile phone, and if the price drops within five days, the shop will refund the difference.

The catch? The refund is in vouchers, not cash as implied by the adverts.

The previous advert featured - apparently - Barney Rubble on the psychiatrist's couch having all his problems solved when he learns that he's due a refund of couple of hundred dirhams. Inane but memorable.

The current advert features a manic, grinning employee, happily dispensing largesse in the form of vouchers to all those customers who were overcharged during the previous week. Then a stereotypical thug appears and demands a refund for a phone he bought five months ago. Through intimidation he gets his refund, and then assaults the shop assistant.

Alright, I know it's a cartoon. I know it isn't real. But the offer being advertised is real.

Leaving aside the ghastly colour and the advert's offensive content that have caused me to remember the product, what is the message?

Apparently, in Axiom telecom we can obtain money off vouchers to which we are not entitled provided we threaten, bully and punch the guy behind the counter. And here's me thinking that assault was a criminal offence.

I certainly shan't be buying anthing from that particular shop any time soon.

Saturday, July 15, 2006

Another skyscraper II

There has been some progress since the job started. To date, however, there's been no progress upwards; all recent activity has remained up to four metres below the original ground level.

The piling is finished. I missed the pile test, where a selected pile is loaded with large numbers of eight-tonne concrete cubes and the amount of settlement is measured. The next stage is to expose the steel reinforcement to provide something for the concrete ground slab to attach itself to. Normal procedure is to break the concrete at the tops of the piles and thread foundation slab steel into the ground slab steel before pouring the foundation concrete.

The contractor has installed steel I-columns around the perimeter of the building footprint. These act as underground fence posts to hold back adjacent earth while the soil around the piles is excavated. Exactly the same technique was being used in Washington DC, as photographed by nzm.

Not many piles visible. Most are below ground

It is a little unfortunate that the steel columns were installed using a crane with a vibrator attachment; the columns are vibrated so that they glide into the ground, and will presumably be removed using the same technique. Everyone living or working nearby spent a couple of weeks having their dental fillings loosened by the all-pervasive vibration. Still, it's less noisy than a steam hammer donking away all day.

A crane

Now that dewatering has been installed, an excavator can trundle around the site without sinking into a noisome muddy pool. In fact, provided the pump keeps on running the ground will likely remain dry. Groundwater slurps up the little green pipes by suction and is ultimately discharged into a nearby storm sewer.

The consequences of inadequate dewatering

As the excavation started, it quickly became apparent that of all those piles that were installed, initially only two were visible, poking out of the bottom of the excavation. There were several suspicious-looking bent bits of reinforcing steel. I suspect that the tops of some of the piles were inadvertently demolished during the excavation process. Further excavation to around three metres below original ground level finally revealed several other piles. So they didn't all sink without trace into the quagmire. We are now regaled by jackhammers as the concrete is broken out to expose the steel bars.

I have finally managed to upload some pictures, courtesy of Picasa. That's on 22nd July, a week after uploading the text.

Sunday, July 09, 2006

A nice little earner

I do not enjoy visiting the dentist. It's something to do with being utterly helpless while my mouth is filled with half the contents of an ironmonger's shop and intense pain is inflicted. Samurai Sam doesn't enjoy it either, but was kind enough to coin the term Tooth Pirate.

When I was a kid, I went for a dental checkup every four months. And all used to go well. The dentist invariably congratulated me on my straight, clean teeth. He generally did the usual scale and polish, but this was probably more related to finding something to do while I was in the chair.

And then the old man retired. The new dentist, fresh out of Tooth Piracy School, went beserk in my mouth. "Seven fillings? Are you serious?"

My parents took the attitude that I must have given up on toothbrushes and started a seaside rock habit over the preceding four months. Either that, or the old guy had been half blind and not noticed cavities, or was it conceivable that the new dentist regarded my mouth as thirty-two potential gold mines? Thanks to the National Health Service, I (or rather my parents) would not have to pay for the treatment because I was in full-time education. Therefore the more work the dentist did, the more income she would receive from the NHS.

Shortly after this rather lucrative trip to the dentist I got toothache for the first time in my life. Lower right seven had developed an abscess, and it hurt like hell. Several trips to the dentist followed, involving root canal work, temporary fillings and a catering pack of pain killers. I can safely report that root canal work is nowhere near as much fun as a good solid kick in the head.

So now I had two metal legs in one of my teeth supporting a lump of amalgam alloy. Over the next few years, various bits of tooth fell off the sides, ultimately leaving a metal lump protruding out of my gum. Then one summer holiday the filling fell off, leaving a pair of metal posts poking up into my mouth.

Off to the dentist again. By this time I was at university, so I engaged the services of a new practicioner. "Full time education? Free treatment then."

Suddenly, on hearing this new piece of good news this new dentist decided that, far from just dealing with my collapsing Lower Right Seven by inserting a third metal rod (ah, more root canal work. Oh joy), all of my fillings were now loose and leaking and would have to be replaced. Does the term 'k-ching!' spring to mind? I bet it did then too. I should also add that at this point the dentist decreed that my mouth was too small for my wisdom teeth. The top two would have to come out "immediately, and the lower two probably within the next six months."

"Why can't I have Lower Right Seven out? Because it's such a nice little earner, perhaps?"

Maybe I was less than safe actually pointing out to the man with the drills and sharp implements that I had seen through his nefarious scheme. More agony over several rather brutal sessions ensued. I am advised that I shouldn't really have been spitting bits of bone from the empty sockets for the next few weeks.

Six months later and I'd moved job, town and residence again. My latest dentist took one look in my mouth:

Tooth Pirate:"I see you've had two wisdom teeth out."

Grumpy Goat:"Indeed I have. There's no fooling you, is there? According to my previous dentist the lower two will have to be extracted really soon."

Tooth Pirate:"I don't see why. There's plenty of room for them."

Grumpy Goat:"Hmmm. Would you care to put that in writing?"

Needless to say, the Pirate Code decreed that all tooth-pirates should close ranks. I was unable to get a professional statement to the effect that a dentist had done unnecessary work. As Lower Right Seven was giving trouble again, I asked that it be extracted, thereby allowing the wisdom tooth to grow up and forwards into the gap. "Don't be silly. We don't pull teeth any more."

And this now seems to be the prevailing attitude. Instead of one dentist pulling a troublesome tooth for a single fee, the tooth is repeatedly repaired, collecting a fee each time. For anyone who's counting, good old Lower Right Seven has been tampered with at least four times, and I'm not finished yet.

The same tooth was fiddled with twice more while I lived in Doha. By then I was being told that an amalgam filling was temporary and I'd ultimately need a gold crown. Clearly the dentistry industry is getting more ambitious in its quest for money. According a different kind of pirate, 'obsessed with treasure' is a symptom of being of the buccaneer persuasion. I asked about an extraction, and was told that "if it had been done twenty years ago than the wisdom tooth would have grown forward and into the gap. Now the wisdom tooth is fully erupted it can't ever fill the gap. So no extraction. Except of money from your wallet, of course."

I am relieved to report that this evening's trip to yet another tooth pirate has so far not proved as lucrative as I feared. My old fiend [sic] Lower Right Seven is giving me hell yet again (for about the seventh time), but I'm advised that on this occasion it's a minor gum infection that can be treated with pills and potions. Let's hope the painkillers kick in so I actually get some sleep tonight.

What does 'bivouac' mean?

The local Radio 2 station has recently been running a 'word nerd' competition. It's simple enough: listen to the presenter mispronounce an esoteric English word, look it up in a reasonable dictionary (if necessary!) and SMS the correct definition to the radio station.

The Grumpy Goat was rendered significantly less than grumpy last week when he received a phone call:

"Are you Grumpy?"

"It depends who's asking."

"Would you like a free meal for two?"

"Yes please. Yes, I am indeed the Grumpy Goat. How do I collect the voucher?"

Sumibiya is the name of the new yakiniku Japanese restaurant in the InterContinental in Deira. So new in fact that it hasn't even found its way on to the hotel's own website. As the name suggests (to anyone who understands Japanese), the principle is 'grilled meat'. There's a gas burner in the middle of each table, and diners cook their own slices of meat over the flame. Add to that the vegetables, rice and noodles and the total experience is definitely recommended.

And it was made all the more acceptable because it was entirely free!! Special beverages weren't included, but as I was driving afterwards, this wasn't ever going to be an issue. To those who fancy it, I estimate a decent meal for two excluding booze would usually cost around Dh400. No, not cheap!

bivouac n - temporary encampment without tents

Tuesday, July 04, 2006

A grand day out

On the east coast of sunny Fujairah
The sea is the Gulf of Oman.
To the west are the famed Hajjar Mountains;
To the south you will find Khor Fakkan.

You're mistaken in thinking Fujairah
(And I don't mean to mislead or kid ya)
Is only the part with the airport.
What about the old mosque out at Bidya?

A nearby rock's called Snoopy Island.
It's noted for snorkels and diving.
Because they're not building a Palm there
The corals and sea life are thriving.

So taking your mask, fins and snorkel
(The sharks are all fiddling and small)
Have a splash for an hour in the ocean
And practise the breast stroke and crawl.

Once suitably tired and sunburned,
Retire to the shade and the caff.
There's old ale (well, lager) and sarnies
And tables outside on the path.

Then drive back to Dubai via Kalba.
I guarantee that the day's fun'll
Continue with driving on twisty
And mountainous roads, and a tunnel.

Thanks to Wallace, and Albert, and Stanley,
Inspirers of my doggerel.
It's not as highbrow as a sonnet;
As for haiku... I write those as well.

Marriott Edgar (1880-1951) was the inspiration for the above, which should be recited in a northern English accent.

Sunday, July 02, 2006

Tinth anniversary

Today is the tenth anniversary of my arrival in the Gulf. I landed at Doha airport on the morning of 2nd July 1996 and was transported immediately to the Ramada hotel, a building apparently inspired by Douglas Adams: 'Huge yellow slab-like somethings, huge as office blocks...' and 'Uglier things have been spotted...but not by reliable witnesses.' With nothing to do in the evenings other than watch Forrest Gump on cable TV, I went for walks down to Doha's old souq, which is over a mile and a half from the Ramada. I quickly discovered high temperature and silly humidity. I also learned that all taxi drivers honk at any pedestrians, who are clearly looking for transport.

It was a week before I was presented with my villa, a small and somewhat run-down building that was about four times the size of the house I'd just left in England. I was so pleased about the size of the provided accommodation along with the news that the rent and all utilities would be paid by my employer that I accepted the place before learning that all my work colleagues had bigger, posher, grander houses with more facilities. Moral: Check out what everyone else is getting before agreeing to your own package! Funnily enough, I lived in that place off Al Mirqab Al Jadeed Street for the longest time in my life that I've ever spent at the same address - almost six years.

One of the first surprises was that in the Gulf, the hot tap has a blue button on it. For cold water, turn the red tap. Of course, this changes over in the winter...

A week after arriving, I was presented with a Hyundai Accent rental car, in which I spent several happily confusing evenings driving around (and around and around) Doha, trying to figure out how the roads all connected. I bought a car six months later, once I'd managed to satisfy myself that it was possible to drive in Qatar without having a road accident. Inevitably, the first prang happened almost immediately to my brand spanking new 4x4, when Mr Klutz in a Volvo scraped my back bumper while I was parked outside the office. I ran outside, and we exchanged views concerning intelligence and parentage. Apparently it was my fault that I had parked in a marked parking bay, and Mr Klutz's life membership of the Hard of Driving Club had nothing to do with it. Then the police turned up and I had to produce my driving documents at the police station in order to get the accident report so that Mr Klutz could pay for the repair.

Six years later, I moved to the UAE. First a year in Dubai and since the summer of 2003 in Sharjah. Apart from an initial two weeks in the tiniest hotel room in Bur Dubai, I've always lived in Sharjah. A year of the Sharjah to Dubai morning commute almost turned me into a candidate for a padded room.

The change of country entailed a change of employer. Despite what was written in my contract of employment, I am displeased to report that I have yet to receive my end-of-service air ticket from Doha back to England.

What have I achieved in my ten years in the Gulf, aside from working, that is?

I learned to scuba dive in Qatar (I can't find a Doha Sub-Aqua Club website, so no hyperlink) and continued to dive in Dubai. On the dry side, I've learned to drive in the sand, I've appeared on the stages of the Doha Players and the Dubai Drama Group, and I've been to the Maldives, Philippines, Bonaire, Jamaica and the USA. There's no way I'd have been able to do most of that on a UK salary. And I joined cyberspace, something else that was prohibitively expensive in 1996 in the UK on an engineer's wage.

I've had seven different vehicles, one of which I destroyed one night by hitting a camel at 100kph. Nanny Goat was in Qatar on holiday at the time and was in the passenger seat. She's been dining out on the tale ever since. We were both unhurt, the car was a write-off (until some enterprising panel beater fixed it; I seem to see the same vehicle every time I visit Qatar), and the camel was dead as it hit the ground. Oops.

Does meeting people count as 'achievements'? If so, a very long list of names should by rights appear here. I'm not going to post the entire list, just the abridged version. Please don't be offended if I left you out. You could always opt in by posting a comment. Nevertheless, greetings to Nix, Pegz, Jax, Stevo, Wilberforce, the Fluffkins, and of course Mme Cyn.

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.