Wednesday, August 30, 2006


This is what made my most recent trip to the Maldives really worthwhile! They're huge, they're graceful, and they come so-o-o-o close!

Monday, August 28, 2006

Power hungry

The Goat Pen

Dear Tenant,
Please register your tenancy agreement with Sharjah Municipality by the end of the month.
Yours truly,
Sharjah Municipality

Naturally, when I found this rather abrupt letter stuffed under my door I was a little concerned. But as the Firm dealt with all the tenancy contract details, I simply took the letter into the office adminisphere, where I was told by the Administratium that there was nothing to worry about. "It's all been dealt with. Everyone gets one of these letters." I was told.

The Goat Pen

Dear Tenant,
The tenancy has still not been registered with Sharjah Municipality. If you do not do so, steps will be taken.
Yours threateningly,
Sharjah Municipality

OMG. They're going to take steps. And I live on the 14th floor. How will I get to my entrance door now?

I took the second letter to the Administratium. "I thought you said you'd sorted this out?" I queried.

"Indeed we have, Mr Goat. Don't worry. Your tenancy agreement is registered and everything. Your well-being is absolutely assured."

And of course, I arrived home a couple of days later to find no electricity in my apartment. At first I thought there had been yet another brownout, but as everyone else had light and power there was definitely a different problem. The watchman explained that because I had refused to register my tenancy agreement, Someone Official had stolen the main fuses to my power supply.

Just as well it wasn't August, then. No power = no light, no aircon, no cooking. I found my way to bed by Braille and had an early night.

The next morning I was late for work. My alarm clock wasn't working because there was no mains power. D'oh! Followed by two hours in the lemming-like queue into Dubai instead of my usual 45 minutes, I was fuming by the time I reached the office. My conversation with the Administratium cannot be reproduced here for reasons related to profane language. Suffice to say that I obtained an apology and an undertaking to get the power restored.

Two days later I presented the Administratium with a receipt to the value of food in my freezer that had thawed out and had to be binned. Unsurprisingly I've not received any payment.

Sunday, August 20, 2006

Instant hooligan

Just add (rather a lot of) petrol

It's doubtless this sort of thing that's got two-stroke outboards banned from Dubai Marina.

A bigger plot in Winchester

The other day I rang EggSalad to ask about an advertised feature of the new webmail beta service. According to the blurb, I was entitled to up to 1GB of email storage. EggSalad advised me that 5MB was all I was allowed, unless I rented additional storage.

"Perhaps," I suggested, "You might like to consider that Gmail provides nearly 3GB of free email storage. HoTMaiL, another free email provider, allows 250MB. So isn't a minuscule 5MB on a paid-for service a little parsimonious? And how am I supposed to download the contents of my gargantuan Gmail inbox into my titchy EggSalad one [should I wish to do so]?"

It would appear that EggSalad has for once listened to a Valued Customer. As of today, my inbox (and presumably those of the other Valued Customers) has increased tenfold, to 50MB. This is not in the same league as 3GB, but is, as a poke in the eye with a stick is, better than a poke in the eye with a hot, sharp stick. I wonder if my phone call had anything to do with it?

Winchester disk: Synonymous with hard drive, apparently.

Wednesday, August 16, 2006

A hole in the ocean

The Gulf states are famed for their maritime prowess.

There is today a growing amount of maritime traffic, consisting not only of containerised and loose cargo, but also fishing boats and pleasure craft. Dotted regularly along the coast of the UAE are numerous little harbours, largely filled with GRP open motor boats. There are also more traditional dhows in either wood or plastic, and less traditional and almost exclusively Tupperware sailing or motor yachts.

Some of the harbours and marinas aren't so little either, and the number of these is increasing.

Owning a boat is one of those things that 'rich' people seem to 'do'. The concept of someone scrimping and saving in order to afford a boat doesn't seem to occur to marina operators or purveyors of spare parts. Swindleries Chandleries appear to regard a boat owner's wallet as a goldmine to be worked to exhaustion at every available opportunity. Nevertheless, I confess to wishing to own a boat, but alas have no hope of being able to afford the sort of boat I'm willing to own. Not for me is the open-topped plastic projectile with about four-hundred two-stroke horses dangling off the back. Dubai Marina recently decided to ban two-stroke engines, which may be the thin end of the slippery slope to the demise of two-stroke outboard motor market here.

I want more comfort than that offered by an open boat. I want a cabin. And I want a vessel that's big enough to handle a sea that's rougher than a millpond. I fell in lust with a 42 foot trawler yacht when I was at the Dubai Boat Show earlier this year. Generous benefactors who fancy donating half a million quid to The Grumpy Goat's Afloat fund please let me know.

An unfortunate practicality of boat ownership involves where to go and what to do with it. As a diving platform, Dubai is no longer a good location. Poor underwater visibility because of dredging and reclamation through the rainbowing technique has rendered most west-coast dive sites not worth visiting. The Mussandam peninsula is very interesting from a boating and diving point of view, but it's in Oman and therefore requires a prohibitively high pile of paperwork to visit in one's own boat.

I read in the local press that Dubai is intending to increase the amount of pleasure-boat traffic by tenfold over the next few years. The mega-rich owners of islands on The World will almost certainly need a boat each. The only real alternatives - sea planes or helicopters - would be a lot more difficult to park in Dubai. How about water taxis? How likely does it seem that the mega-rich owners of their own private islands would rely on public transport?

So what do we find? An enormous increase in the number of marina berths to provide moorings for this projected geometric growth in private boat ownership. That's a lot of potential income for marina operators.

Years ago I used to own and operate a Marina, but it failed its MOT and had to be scrapped. boom! boom!

I may be wrong, but presumably people own boats in order to ride around on them. Alas, too many boats serve solely as tropies to bob in the marina collecting dust on top and barnacles beneath.

Dubai Coastguard's current requirements (which have the habit of changing with the wind) before one is permitted to take a boat offshore are currently fairly onerous. A copy of an official form has to be filled in with the name of the vessel, registration details, owner, people on board, destination, purpose of voyage, etc, etc, at least 24 hours in advance. The form gets officially signed and stamped 'approved' by some faceless bureaucrat before being faxed back. Occcasionally a phone call is required to remind the coastguard to fax the form back. Prior to leaving harbour this form, together with the boat registration and names and ID details of everyone on board, has to be given by hand to the local coastguard.

A couple of weeks ago, the Dive Club was, at that point, refused permission to launch. The reason given was that the club, that owns the boat and has it registered with the Dubai coastguard, was apparently not on the official approved list of 'people who are allowed to go diving'. Yet a week later the same coastguard wasn't even interested in seeing the paperwork.

Having, in their mercy, allowed us to go offshore, does the coastguard monitor our safe return? Not so I've noticed, although I make the effort to drop into the office and say that we're back. Could we call M'aidez on a marine-band radio in case of emergency? No chance. Marine VHF is virtually prohibited here. Anyone caught using one is liable to a hefty fine, and in any event all channels except Channel 16 'non-stop habibi music' must be disabled. Compare this with elsewhere in the world where owning at least one marine VHF radio and being licenced to use it is openly encouraged, if not compulsory, for any boat bigger than a coracle.

My point is this. If the grandees of Dubai coastguard wish to devise and operate a Byzantine if not to say Kafkaesque system to control boat movements, how do they hope to cope with a ten-fold increase in pleasure-boat traffic? It would be prudent in my opinion to allow boat users to talk to each other and to the coastguard, even when out of mobile-phone range. "Ahoy there! Can you let me know your phone number so I can call you to explain that you're about to run agr...oh, never mind." By all means licence marine VHF to control the idiots, but don't ban it. Some form of certificate of maritime competence might be wise too. The current rather frightening reality is that anyone with a sufficiently fat wallet can buy a boat and cruise away in it without the first idea how to use a chart, a compass or a rope.

Or perhaps the intention is to make going offshore such an administrative palaver that it ensures all boats are kept firmly moored in some posh marina, solely to provide somewhere for their owners to sit and drink their juniper-berry-flavoured beverages.

Sunday, August 13, 2006

An obscure anniversary

August 13th is vertumnalias, the feast of the shape-shifting Roman god of seasons, change, plant growth, gardens and fruit trees. His name is Vertumnus, and he could well be C. S. Lewis' inspiration for the name of this character.

Saturday, August 12, 2006

Hand baggage

That'll please the operators of airport duty-free shops, won't it? The list of permitted items doesn't allow cameras, DVDs, MP3 players, stuffed camels or even paperback books. Presumably there's suddenly a fear of cabin crew being overpowered and bored to death with readings from 'the first thousand-page volume of a new trilogy from a major new talent...'

At least it's only flights to and from the UK and US that appear to be affected. Villains are apparently not tempted by the dubious delights of - to cite a couple of random examples - Prague to Frankfurt or Doha to Manila.

Look on the bright side, though. The mobile-phone addicts (and indeed the mobile phone-addicts) who are so desperate to contact their loved-ones the moment the wheels touch the runway will now have to wait until baggage reclaim. And with a total dearth of bags to collect from the overhead bins, no-one will find it necessary to spring up from their seats before the aircraft has come to a complete stop. I assume we'll all get additional baggage allowance to compensate for the six kilos of hand baggage now consigned to the hold.

With no liquids permitted on board, this will prevent passengers from spraying pungent odours all over themselves and through the rest of the cabin. I wonder if perfumes will be permitted in on-board duty-free? Surely not, especially if there's a transit stop. "I'm sorry madam. That half-gallon of Chanel No.5 that you bought en route from Dubai to Frankfurt is confiscated before you board the Frankfurt to Washington flight."

Perhaps, if we are serious about in-flight security, all passengers should strip to their birthday suits and fly in airline-issue disposable paper gowns akin to those issued to hospital patients. All clothing and other effects could then go securely into the hold so that they can be thrown, dropped, lost and occasionally stolen. Imagine the horror of arriving in Reykjavik for a high-level meeting only to discover that your Armani suit and Gucci shoes will shortly be arriving in Melbourne.

Facetiousness aside, full marks to the security services for uncovering the alleged plot and apprehending the alleged villains. Let us all hope they've got the lot, and normality can soon be restored.

Wednesday, August 09, 2006

Underground, overground

The deplorable local lack of pedestrian facilities is irritating and dangerous. I'm referring not only to the scant provision of pedestrian crossings, but also to something as fundamental as footways (or sidewalks or pavements, depending on your nationality).

It is impossible to reach Al Ta'awon Mall in Sharjah on foot, for example, unless you cross at least one three-lane dual carriageway. To get from my apartment to Hardees (for want of a better example) on Al Ittihad Road involves either a 3.2km walk and seven road crossings, or else a suicidal scamper across ten lanes of urban motorway. Apart from over the bridge at Al Khan interchange there's no footway. Unsurprisingly, despite living within 400 metres of the said Hardees, I never walk there. I seldom go there at all, but that's beside the point.

An awful lot of people do run the gauntlet of Al Ittihad Road. Even more frightening is the habit of pausing on the white lines, under the mistaken impression that cars always stay in lane.

Part of the solution is obvious: provide pedestrian bridges or underpasses. I wholeheartedly applaud Dubai's recent decision to provide pedestrian crossing facilities.

But why, when crossings are provided, do so many people not use them? I have lost count of how many times I've had to brake or swerve to avoid someone walking on Sharjah's Al Wahda Street. Residential apartments in Abu Shaghara district are connected to the local Al Falah Plaza shopping mall by a footbridge.

Yet despite the bridge, and the highway median barrier being topped by a tall spiky fence, significant numbers of shoppers cross the highway and scale the fence, sometimes while loaded with their purchases.

A couple of years ago I heard a traffic report on one of the local radio stations, possibly thi bitti mix. According to this report, two guys were attempting to transport a ladder across Sheikh Zayed Road opposite the Trade Centre Apartments. If it weren't so tragic, it'd be hilarious. I wonder what was wrong with the Fairmont footbridge? Not enough of a challenge, perhaps?

How about the big footbridge that connects (ish) Lamcy Plaza to Karama? About a third of this spans the road between Za'abeel and Maktoum Bridge. Amazingly, I've seen people cross this part on the footbridge, drop down the steps on to the wide median and then cross into Karama at road level. Why not stay on the bridge?

Background image courtesy of Google Earth.

< Hic! >

The picture simulates one of the effects of being drunk, but without the expense, hangover or risk to driving licence.

Monday, August 07, 2006

SEWAt I have to put up with?

How difficult should it be to pay an electricity bill?

In theory it's a doddle. In practice it is...sometimes. The combination of electronic billing and internet banking means that I merely have to tell the bank my SEWA customer number and the amount to pay, and the utilities bill is instantly paid. Huzzah! Another satisfied customer.

This month, in common with typically every second month, I was less fortunate. Log on, click here, pull down 'SEWA', type amount to pay, and...Incorrect bill amount. Payment rejected. Ring 'Red Triangles' bank (who is not ADCB, who only has one red triangle) and quote reference PM01.

I had a happy telephone session with the internet banking helpless desk, who decreed that it was all my browser's fault, and that I needed to fiddle with my PC and adjust the cookie and firewall settings. Seemingly the bank was incapable of understanding that the same settings were fine last month. Eventually it emerged that reference PM01 means 'payment rejected'. Ah, I'm glad that's clear then. Payment rejected. Quote reference 'Payment rejected'.

Eventually it emerged that the reason for the rejected payment was the amount I was trying to pay differed from the amount showing on the bank's computer. Last month's bill has not been updated.

"It's not our fault! [it never is, is it?] You have to talk to SEWA. And no, we at 'Red Triangles' are incapable of parking your instruction until the new amount gets uploaded, or paying SEWA the amount you have instructed anyway."

Telephoning SEWA proved difficult when I learned that their website was down. They don't seem to be listed in the UAE telephone directory. The main phone number listed on the bill was answered, but it was the wrong section. "You need to ring Consumer Section on this number."

"This number" turned out not to be Consumer Section. "Ring the main number." Now there was no reply at all. I was instead treated to 20 rings. "Three rings for the elven kings under the sky, seven for the dwarf lords in their halls of stone, nine for mortal men doomed to die and one for the dark lord on his dark throne in the land of SEWA where employees lie" before the line cut off.

Eventually I used a different phone number from the comprehensive selection of regional offices and got through to the computer section, where the kind man told me that SEWA had on 2 August informed the banks how much their customers owed.

Telephone the bank: "But SEWA hasn't told us to expect a payment. Don't blame us."

"Yes they have. On 2nd August, actually."

"Ah. [curses, foiled again] Well try in two days."

Yes, I'm told takes 'Red Triangles' an entire week to upload this information.

SEWA reads my meters on 7 July.
SEWA raises a bill in July.
SEWA advises the bank of the current balance on 2 August.
SEWA delivers my bill on 6 August.
Bank may upload the bill information on 9 August.

Meanwhile, the blurb on the back of the bill states that "Bill amount must be paid within 7 days, any delay will render the customer liable to disconnection without prior notice."[sic.] Am I really to believe that threat? And if so, what can possibly justify punishing me when something as simple as paying a bill is made impossible by the very people who deal with this sort of thing for a living?

Maybe I should go back to keeping my money under my California King mattress and paying for everything by visiting personally and handing over cash.

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.