Wednesday, September 27, 2006

Norks like an Egyptian

I learned something new the other day. While window-shopping in the Mall of the Emirates I came across this display.

Correct me if I'm wrong, but I was under the impression that Anubis, the Ancient Egyptian god of embalming and miscellaneous post-mortem business was a bloke. A jackal-headed bloke, but definitely male. I was not aware of any close relative of his, such as a labrador-headed sister.

She's a fortunate therianthrope*, that Ms Anubis. It appears she's the only female who's permitted to stand in full public gaze in Dubai with her tits out.

*(Possibly actually a therigynthrope)

Ship of the desert

The Hunt for Red October...
звероловство на красный октябрь...

Там оно, на дороге Al Ain как подводный корабль пустыни
There it is, on the Al Ain road, like an undersea ship of the desert.

Monday, September 18, 2006

Pirates of Penzance

New laptop? No problem. Pocket DVD player? Easy peasy. Credit-card sized six megapixel digital camera with HiFi sound and 4GB storage? Certainly sir; how many would you like? It's generally possible to buy the latest high-tech gizmo from any number of retail outlets in town. You would expect a new item to be faultless. If it didn't work when you got it home it should surely be replaced or the purchase price refunded. Not here. Retailers have a dreadful habit of referring to the small print at the bottom of the receipt that reads Goods once sold will not be taken back. Fair enough, perhaps, if you discover that you could have bought it elsewhere for less money (should have shopped around, perhaps) but it is totally unacceptable in my view to pay for a new camcorder and then wait for weeks while it languishes in the workshop until the replacement for the burned-out integrated circuit is finally delivered from Korea by pack llama.

Yet just about everywhere only sells boxes. Any technical queries invariably get referred to a workshop that is probably somewhere in the dingy depths of Rashidiya. Despite the plethora of goodies on sale, it's always difficult to locate anything that isn't entirely mainstream. How many times have I been advised by a retailer that the item I want is out of stock and will have to be ordered...from Japan? More often that I should, and that's if it's available at all.

It's not only consumer electronics. I had to trawl Karama's domestic appliance scrapyard before I found a suitable belt for my washing machine, and that was pre-owned. A new drive belt was totally impossible to find anywhere, and that was after a lot of phone calls and visits to any number of purveyors of white goods.

Of course, the retail trade isn't always like this. When good customer service occurs it is very good indeed. I was delighted, when I returned a burned-out battery charger, to be told, "Whoops, our mistake sir. Wrong voltage. Here, have a new one." I was similarly impressed when I rang the cooker shop about a broken pane of glass in my oven door. The replacement was delivered and installed within twenty-four hours, all free of charge.

The following ditty is not aimed at those retailers who believe in customer satisfaction. It commemorates only those who regard customer service as a quaint anomaly, and consequently do not wish for any particular client, or any of his family, or his friends or associates ever to visit his store. The tune is by Sir Arthur Sullivan, and originally appeared in The Pirates of Penzance as "A Policeman's Lot". Appropriate for 19th September, perhaps?

Do you fancy a new flat-screen home theatre,
(Home theatre)
Or a camera, or Sony PS3?
Before taking it away with you, you'd better
(You had better)
Check it's fully working, 'cos the guarantee
Is unlikely to provide you a replacement
(No replacement)
If it's broken when unpacked. The sales guy
(Sales guy)
Will send it for repairing in the basement,
(In the basement)
And refunds are not coming in Dubai.


If it's broken when it's bought,
Your satisfaction will be naught.
That's the way we all do business in Dubai.
(In Dubai)

They will look at you as if you've grown antennae
(Grown antennae)
If you ask for a replacement part or spare.
(Or a spare)
You might as well request a pile of any-
(Pile of any).
Thing that's from a rocking-horse's derrière.
My front-loader had a drive-belt that was broken,
(That was broken)
So it wouldn't spin my clothes to make them dry.
(Make them dry)
My garments hadn't washed, though they were soakin',
(They were soakin')
For a spare belt "was not coming in Dubai."


If it isn't on the shelf
You must import it for yourself,
For alas, "it isn't coming in Dubai."
(in Dubai)

For domestic bits and bobs in vain you forage,
(Vain you forage)
Though of gaskets, grommets, grub-screws for your car
(For your car)
There is never any shortage. At the garage
(At the garage)
They've all automotive spares, which is bizarre.
(Is bizarre)
If you want an iPod, I am a proponent
(A proponent)
That there seems an inexhaustible supply.
(Bull supply)
But if you need to source a spare component,
(Spare component)
You'll be told, "It isn't coming in Dubai."


You will find that in this region
Spares are anything but legion.
For they mostly "are not coming in Dubai."
(In Dubai).

Thursday, September 14, 2006

Yo! Ho! Ho!

Next Tuesday 19th September be Talk Like A Pirate Day, i'faith!

D'ye fancy filling your bucket-top boots with grog and dancing a hornpipe, wi'a curse? Then p'rhaps ye'd better be getting in some practice afore the big day. All hands to braces, wi'a wanion, or else damn ye as a bilge-rat landlubber! Knock the weevils out of the ship's biscuits, stick a parrot on your shoulder and say, "Arrr!" and ye could be rewarded with doubloons wi'out stint.

Or else curse ye as a backstay, devil a doubt! Swab the deck or ye'll be feeling a lick o'the cat, or else be clapped in the brig down below in the foetid orlop like some mutinous dog, belike!

And if ye enjoy the world of Jolly Rogers, rum-soaked pirate captains, buried treasure, Black Spots and walking the plank, there's more swashbuckling than ye can shake a cutlass at in The Pyrates by George Macdonald Fraser.

KEYBOARD: For the high-tech pirate

Now on to a tenuously related piece of inanity. The Church of the Flying Spaghetti Monster teaches that it is the diminishing number of pirates that is responsible for global warming. That's not the 'speed boat and AK-47 in the Straits of Malacca' type; only the 'Captain Barbossa' type: the sort of pirate who might be 'disinclined to acquiesce to your request.'

The theory, basically fewer pirates = more global warming, includes as corroborative evidence the fact that in the USA, when Hallowe'en comes round at the end of October and countless thousands of American children walk the streets dressed as pirates, the temperature in the USA drops.

Perhaps we should all do our bit. Talk Like A Pirate and save the planet.

A few helpful definitions:

bucket-top boots
Thigh-length boots beloved by pirate captains. The tops are normally folded down and up again to make the boots knee-length. Hence the 'bucket top'.

A mixture of rum and water.

(Music for a) lively dance for sailors.

wi'a curse
With an expletive.

In advance of, before, or in front of.

hands to braces
Ship's crew to get ready to do some serious pulling on ropes.

A curse that relates to the waning of the moon.

The bottom of the ship and the noisome liquid that collects therein.

A non-sailor.

A beetle that infests ship's biscuits, Stegobium paniceum. Not actually a true weevil. Given the choice, always select the lesser of two weevils.

A gold coin weighing seven grammes. Originally worth two ducats.

wi'out stint

One of a series of ropes that prevent a vessel's mast from falling forwards when under sail.

devil a doubt
An expletive.

swab the deck
Clean the floor.

Cat-o'-nine-tails: a multi-strand whip used to enforce discipline. Hence 'not enough room to swing a cat' when describing my kitchen.

clapped in the brig
Incarcerated quickly and with determination in the ship's prison.

The lowest deck of a three-deck vessel.

Prone to committing mutiny.

A despicable and egregious person, presumably one with a wet nose and a waggly tail.

In this style.

Jolly Roger
The traditional pirate flag, comprising a white skull symbol on a black background.

walking the plank
A Victorian fallacy.

Literally, one who strikes noisily upon a small round shield. Or possibly one who slaps his thigh and cries, "Sa-ha!"

Short, slightly curved broad-bladed sword. Can be held between the teeth when swinging on ropes, but beware of narrow gaps, lest you impersonate a boiled egg.

Toll tales

Has the Roads and Transport Authority come to its senses? Last December I blogged about my take on the RTA (then Dubai Municipality) commissioning a study including proposals for tolls for traffic entering Dubai. According to today's Gulf News, "Reports about the road tolls in Dubai are baseless..." says Maitha Mohammad Bin Udai, the Chief Executive Officer. And 7Days confirms it, at least for now.

My guess is that the comprehensive study has shown that imposing a congestion charge without providing a viable alternative means of travel would do absolutely nothing to reduce traffic. According to the Gulf News, Mattar Al Tayer, Chairman of the Board and Chief Executive Officer of the RTA, said "We will not do it for the sake of collecting money." However, "Never believe anything until it's officially denied."

Incidentally, who exactly is the CEO of the RTA? Maitha Mohammed Bin Udai or Mattar Al Tayer? Come on, Gulf News: it's Make Your Mind Up Time!

Everyone who lives here must know about the dreaded Sharjah Schlep*. This traffic jam impacts on all roads leading from Sharjah into Dubai every morning. My spies advise me that a senior Sharjah police officer wishes to see ramp metering installed on the merge ramp that takes traffic from Al Ta'awon in Sharjah on to the Dubai-bound Al Ittihad Road at Al Khan interchange. I think this is a brilliant idea...for revenue-raising. It would of course do nothing to relieve congestion.

Ramp metering works by limiting the amount of traffic entering the main road. Detector loops measure the amount of traffic on the main road, and control traffic signals on a merge sliproad. The busier the main road is, the less additional traffic is allowed to merge. More red and less green time. Logically, if the main road is completely gridlocked, there is zero spare capacity and the sliproad will be on permanent red. Drivers will assume that if they never turn green, the signals must be broken. Echo and the Sunnymen**, among others, will be tempted to push past the red light and thus get popped by the enforcement camera. K-ching! Several thousand per day times Dh200 is a sizeable chunk of change. (How much does running a red light cost in Sharjah? I know it involves Dh500 and vehicle confiscation in Dubai.)

Actually, there's a thought. Impound the car of everyone who runs the red light on the metered ramp, and very soon there'll be minimal traffic driving into Dubai from Sharjah. I'd better stop now before I produce any more half-baked ideas that become government policy.

* Thank you, Mme Cyn.
** Thank you, Secret Dubai.

Tuesday, September 12, 2006

Ghosts do roam

Once upon a time a building was constructed. The apartments were decorated with plain walls, and all the floors were covered with patterned ceramic tiles. Landings were tiled throughout, with large mirrors to create the illusion of spaciousness. Three lifts were provided so that the tenants would not have to climb hundreds of steps. The gleaming edifice was opened To Let in 2003 with rents set to discourage all but professional tenants.

Sadly, soon after construction it became obvious that the building had been constructed over an ancient burial ground. The underground car park, the lifts and the landings were all possessed by a malevolent spirit. This ghost burned the buttons on the lift panels and painted over the digital displays. Curiously, only the buttons for floor 8 was at first attacked in this way. Other buttons were destroyed later, but the worst damage was always inflicted on Number 8.

The building maintenance team was in despair. As soon as the damaged buttons were replaced, they were once again burned. And there were further poltergeist activities: writing mysteriously appeared on the walls in the car park and landings; official notices from the building management were torn; the words WELL COM were scratched into one of the lift control panels. And then the djinn signed the name Riyas in two of the three lift cabins, scratching the word into the stainless steel. From the height of the writing above the floor, it was clear that this mischevious sprite stood at least 1.6m high, unless it possessed the power of levitation.

The landlord was at a loss. He declared that closed-circuit TV cameras would be installed in the lift cabins. But alas, to no avail. The cameras, so small that they were invisible, never provided any evidence as to what was damaging the lifts.

It remains possible that the actual perpetrator is a teenage smoker called Riyas who lives on the 8th floor. Alas, it seems beyond the wit of the building management to make this connection and evict the vandal.

But isn't the ghost story so much more interesting?

Thursday, September 07, 2006

Goats do roam

If the presence of goats on the road is effective in keeping traffic speeds down, why doesn't it work in the Emirates?

According to this news item, Canada seems to be a goatless zone, and high speeds are therefore possible. Just as well our Swiss hero didn't find any caribou.

Sunday, September 03, 2006

Wait for me

The UAE's change in working week produced the unexpected bonus of a three-day weekend. The old Thursday-Friday weekend prevailed in August, and as 1st September was a Friday, the new weekend meant that I didn't have to turn up for work until Sunday.

So Saturday suddenly became available for diving. Other Dive Club (ODC) needed someone to tow their boat and launch it in Khor Fakkan. I met ODC's dive marshal early on Saturday morning, hitched up the 30-foot speedboat and dragged it to the slipway. After putting my diving kit on board, I reversed the trailer into the water, where ODC backed the boat into the sea. In the forty-five seconds it took me to park my car and the empty trailer, ODC had turned round and headed (or do I mean sodded?) off to the other side of the harbour to pick up the other divers. Standing on the slipway and gesticulating was to no avail; after collecting everyone else, they headed off to go diving..., leaving Muggins on the slipway.

I made several phone calls and left various profane messages on answering machines. Eventually someone managed to contact the boat by telephone, which came back to collect me. A frank exchange of views followed. Apparently the misunderstanding was that I had quickly and efficiently towed and launched the boat, but was not going to dive. This despite the cylinders and bag of dive kit that I'd put on board; something that I regarded as a big clue. Despite an almost overwhelming temptation to go home and leave ODC with their own problem with recovering the boat to the trailer and towing it home, I decided to bury the hatchet and instead of stropping off in a huff I had a couple of splendid dives.

There is a monstrous honeycomb moray in a defunct air conditioner on Inchcape 1. Being immersed in 30m of sea water just off Al Aqah Beach Resort has done nothing for the aircon, but the moray seems to like its home. It's been living there for months, if not years.

At Martini Rock, which is just south of Khor Fakkan, I found the biggest turtle I have ever seen. According to my buddy it was almost as long as I am, easily exceeding the size of the more common hawksbill turtles. By approaching slowly and carefully I was able to get really close without the turtle getting spooked and swimming away. A turtle, despite its apparently non-hydrodynamic shape, is easily able to outrun a scuba diver with little discernible effort.

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