Tuesday, October 31, 2006

Drive like the Bangles

Encouraged by comments on SD's post, the muse appeared and made me come up with this. Thank you to the Egyptian in the blue Chevy who hit a parked car and then was too busy to wait for the police to turn up. This despite it being The Law not to leave the scene of an traffic accident, however minor. Thanks to an alert watchman, the Man Who Parks By Braille's insurance company should soon be footing my repair bill. I wonder if the police would have been so relaxed about his non-attendance at the scene if he'd reversed over a small child?

All the dents and scrapes on your car:
Where do they come from? Don’t you know?
If you drive too fast, (oh, way, oh),
You will cause people lots of woe.

All the bizarre men by the Nile:
They drive at midnight for a lark
With headlights off, (oh, way, oh),
So you can’t see them in the dark.

In an accident yesterday
I cried, “Woe, aye, woe
Aye, woe, aye, woe.”
'Cos of an Egyptian.

I parked my car in a space
When I arrived at my place of work.
Two hours on, I was told
It had been dented by a jerk.

By the time the police had arrived,
The other car was a long time gone.
Three hours I had to wait around
All because of that Egyptian.

Someone noted his licence plate,
So, why oh why
Is he allowed to
Drive like an Egyptian?

On the street put your feet on the dash
Shift the seat, so it’s leaning back.
Think you look so cool, (oh, way, oops),
As you collide with a Cadillac!

Now you need to find any cop,
So hang around for an hour or more.
When one arrives, (oh, way, oh),
You get the blame if you are insured.

All the rich kids with their Patrols,
And the Echo and the Sunnymen.
We all know that to survive
We’ve got to drive like Egyptians.

All the cops ever seem to do is
Say, “ ‘Ello,
‘Ello, ‘Ello, oh…
You drive like an Egyptian.”

Drive like an Egyptian.

Thursday, October 26, 2006


Why don't drivers in the Emirates use their turn signals? My pet theory is that if I use my indicators, this will tell other road users what I intend to do. Therefore the movement of my car will become predictable.

And this destroys my tactical advantage.

I have more than once been advised NOT to indicate, "because this confuses everyone else." Certainly signalling left and turning right would confuse everyone, even a lobotomised cockroach (Thank you, Prometheus, who appears to be an illeist), but so many years of driving has made using indicators an ingrained habit that has proved impossible for me to break.

I am indebted to today's Gulf News for this item. It seems that the police at least are on my side. Presumably, because it's impossible to indicate when the four-way hazard flashers are on, anyone who changes lane in foggy weather is going to get busted.

The inappropriate use of hazard flashers is a bugbear of mine. Please: not when moving in fog! That is when low beam headlights are appropriate, and foglights front and rear too, if fitted. Neither do hazard flashers mean, "I'm double parked and blocking the road, but that's OK because the winkers are on." A dashboard switch that made the car the width of a bicycle might be good, but the hazard flashers make a poor substitute.

I do think using hazards when approaching or stopped at the back of a queue of stationary traffic is a good idea. So is the automatic switch that makes all the rear lights flash like a fairground ride on Prozac after a substantial impact. Anything that helps prevent a rear-end shunt seems like a good idea to me. I used to have a Land Rover that did the flashing light thing every time I drove over the crest of a sand dune and came down with a bit of a thud. The car needed to be completely switched off in order to reset the system. Flashing lights; Disco. How appropriate.

But back to the Gulf news article. The penultimate paragraph includes the gem:
"...but when they get the licence, they forget the rules, which can save their lives and those of others.”

At the risk of my appearing to be a punctuation Nazi, observe how the comma completely reverses what I hope Brigadier Al Zafein probably meant. Despite what Microsoft Word's grammar checker may suggest, which does not always have to be preceded by a comma! (I have chosen not to comment on licence rather than licences.)

Lynne Truss' book provides invaluable assistance in the zero tolerance approach to punctuation.

Wednesday, October 25, 2006

St Crispin

Today, 25th October, is the 591st anniversary of the Battle of Agincourt, when Henry V of England defeated Charles d'Albret of France.

Four days ago, 21st October, was the 201st anniversary of the Battle of Trafalgar.

It has long been my opinion that UK public holidays need adjustment. There are too many in the first half of the year: Good Friday, Easter Monday, May Day and Late May Bank Holiday (aka Whitsun). Following August Bank Holiday there's then nothing until Christmas. Why not move one of the May events to break up the long autumn of work-work-work?

When should it be? Thanksgiving, the fourth Thursday in November, has already been bagsied by the United States. Halloween on 31st October? The fifth of November is Bonfire Night. 2006 is the 401st anniversary of the foiling of the Gunpowder Plot. (Celebration used to be compulsory in England, by the way). Having a national holiday here rather risks offending Catholics everywhere, and mid to late October is not good, at least from the point of view of the French. I refer to the start of this post.

All of this is of academic interest in the Land of the Sand. I'm back at work today following a two-day Eid break. No three or four day holiday for Muggins, and certainly not nine consecutive days off. Ah, the delights of the private sector.

Sunday, October 22, 2006

Just add water II - Adding the fish

Over the past week or so I've been populating my aquarium. I made an early decision to try to keep it looking reasonably natural, and to have all the fish from, very broadly, the same area of the planet. Having selected south-east Asia, my tank is inappropriate for Amazon piranha, South American angel fish or African cichlids. As part of the 'natural' decision, there is no room in my aquarium for bubbling plastic divers, skulls, treasure chests, sunken ruins or fairy castles. Instead there are a few interestingly-shaped pieces of bogwood, a big hollow (plastic) rock and some real plants. And some tropical fish.

The current list stands at:-
Tiger barb (tiger striped) - 5
Tiger barb (green) - 4
Bala shark - 3
Boeseman's rainbow - 4
Armoured catfish - 2
Black molly - 3

I lost a shark and a tiger barb to Ronnie (or possibly Reggie) Cray. Back to the shop with that one! And my experiment with one male Siamese Fighting Fish and four females soon ended with them all riding the porcelain express. It's a mystery why the all went belly-up; the other fish are all fine and the water tests say water quality is OK.

Future plans are for a small shoal of clown loach. These are currently not coming in Dubai, but deliveries are expected sometime this week, I'm told.

The only additional thing I need is an automatic feeder to prevent hungry fish from turning on each other if I go away for a few days.

Sunday, October 15, 2006

Just add water

My aquarium is installed, commissioned and is teeming with life. After planting some genuine greenery, some real bogwood and an authentic plastic rock, it was time to check water quality. Chlorine, as found in tap water, is deadly to aquarium fish, but fortunately chemicals are available that instantly get rid of chlorine from the water. A small bottle of bacteria helped to get the nitrogen cycle running. The pumps are pumping, the bubbles are bubbling and the overhead light goes on and off.

The Aquarium: All 375 litres of it

After a week or so, everything looked good so it was time to introduce the first residents. I picked a couple of suckermouth catfish and four tiger barbs. The catfish are referred to locally as janitor fish, as they spend all their time hoovering algae off the glass, gravel and other tank hardware. The barbs' primary purpose is to be ornamental and cute. Tiger barbs are shoaling fish; I read on the InterWeb that a solitary one will pester other fish and take chunks out of their fins. If there is a shoal they generally pester each other and leave everyone else alone.

Within twenty-four hours I had an outbreak of the dreaded ich. White-spot is a protozoan infection that if left untreated will kill all the fish in the tank. Where it came from is a mystery. There could have been ich cysts in the gravel or any of the fish or the plants. "Immediate action" is the recommended course, so I immediately shot down to the aquarium shop in Sharjah and got hold of some methylene blue. The warmer the water the quicker the ich life-cycle will be, so 28C and 48 hours later I'd removed all symptoms and hopefully killed the infection stone dead. One dead tiger barb too, unfortunately.

I returned to Sharjah Aquarium Centre a day or so later to pick up some more fish, and some spare white-spot treatment just in case of another outbreak. I had a very careful look at the tiger barbs in the shop, and was able to confirm that there was no evidence of ich anywhere in that tank. I also collected four shark minnows. I'm pleased to report that the tank has apparently remained ichless. I bet the infection came in on the plants.

I had previously read that a small freshwater crayfish could be a good idea as a bottom-feeding scavenger. "They will have a go at fish occasionally, but are generally too slow to present any real danger," went the tropical aquarium website. Yeah, right. Lobby the lobster immediately started moving the furniture around in the tank. The following morning I discovered the decapitated corpse of a silver shark. Maybe it died, and the lobster had been noshing on the carrion. Or not: that afternoon one of the barbs got caught in a pincer movement. Either the lobster is a lot quicker than advertised or all the other fish are dozy and stupid. Or possibly both. I now learn from other aquaculture websites - those that are not concerned primarily with selling aquatic invertebrates to the punters - that lobsters, crayfish or what have you do not make harmonious and co-operative tank mates.

One of the Cray Twins

Bearing in mind the pincers, I was amused to see Jay, or possibly Edgar, slurping something off the lobster's carapace, just out of range of the latter's weaponry. Crustaceans can't generally do 'cross and annoyed', but this one came close. But it'll have to go. I explained to Abdul Kareem over at Sharjah Aquarium that even a tiny lobster seems too aggressive for my tank community. He has agreed to accept the lobster back and exchange it for some less nocuous fish. A pity really, because the crustacean is fascinating to watch. Ornamental fish are however a bit expensive to be used solely as one of the lower levels of a food pyramid.

Wednesday, October 11, 2006

On The Buses

"When two or three are gathered together they shall discuss Dubai traffic." A great favourite has always been whether or not tolls should be introduced. I have always maintained that entrance tolls to Dubai are a cynical fund-raising exercise. Without a choice of mode of travel, travellers are simply forced to pay.

So Dubai's ambitious new bus system, unveiled recently and publicised here looks like one giant step in the right direction. This is in addition to the Dubai Metro, due to open on the easily remembered 09-09-09 and rumours of a tram route along the recently refurbished Jumeira beach Road. I do hope that such public transport initiatives are extended to inter-emirate routes. How else can the private car Sharjah Schlepp be reduced?

There will always remain the problem of buses keeping to a timetabled route on a traffic-congested highway. The usual solution under these circumstances is to delineate a dedicated bus lane. But how, given normal custom and practice in the UAE, would bus lanes not be permanently blocked by queue jumpers and parked Land Cruisers? Enforcement cameras, perhaps? We all know how effective these are in preventing speeding. They'd have no more success in keeping bus lanes clear.

I am nevertheless a little concerned about a comment made by the head of Dubai's Road and Transport Authority, reported in the same article:

Commenting on the introduction of toll system [Mattar Al Tayer, head of the RTA] said the RTA is studying the feasibility of introducing the system along with other emirates and dismissed reports the idea has been shelved.

Compare this statement with one from 14th September. Why don't they talk to each other and agree on a story before blabbing to the Press?

As for me, using the bus seems like a terrific idea... except when I'm hauling several diving cylinders to the club or dive shop for filling, or when I'm doing my fortnightly shop, or when my destination is miles from a bus stop, or when I'm towing a boat, or when I'm going driving in the desert, or when I'm taking the car to be serviced...

Monday, October 09, 2006

Just a phase we're going through

My congratulations to whoever thought up the idea of having a small exhibition in the Galleria at the Mall of the Emirates about Ramadan, Islam and the lunar calendar.

Unfortunately, someone made a serious series of errors with the 'phases of the moon' part of the display. What a terrific idea: a series of photographs of the quarters of the moon, each with a little explanatory plaque.

It might have been nice if the captions corresponded both to the pictures and to reality. Observed from the UAE at least, the waxing crescent illuminates the right-hand side of the lunar disc, not the left. The waning crescent illuminates the left-hand side (wi' a wanion!) Instead of showing two half-moon photos, the display has used two copies of the same image, with one of them inverted. This is appallingly obvious when checking the craters and seas on the illuminated side. I also suspect that the images have been created by some PhotoShopaholic blacking out different parts of copies of the same full moon image.

If the night sky isn't available to check, some correct moon images may be found here.

Running the photographs from either right to left or left to right would make sense, whereas putting up the images in a pseudo-random order does nothing for public education, which is presumably the main purpose of the display. Maybe it doesn't really matter and I'm fretting about nothing. But I would have thought that a culture that regards the lunar calendar in such high esteem would be very keen to educate the masses on such a significant subject.

If you're gonna do something, do it right!

Tuesday, October 03, 2006

It wood be nice

For some time now I've been looking for a strong and well-built item of furniture for an aquarium. The basic problem is that the fish tank I've had my eye on for a while will weigh close to half a ton once the weight of water, gravel, glass and fish are all totted up. So it's not small. Ikea, emporium of budget furniture from Sweden, had nothing suitable on offer. Any wooden box of approximately the correct dimensions had the ominous 'maximum weight 100kg' on the label. Good for a TV perhaps, but not a fish tank. I encountered the same problem in Homes R Us, Home Centre, Marina and Pan Home Furnishings. Lots of stuff, all the wrong size, or too feeble, and in most cases both.

Chipboard is out, as is MDF. The problem with these is they're not strong enough. They bend under the weight of paperback books, so a few hundred kilos of aquarium is entirely unsuitable. The fish-tank shop offered a custom-built box for the tank to sit on. But at over Dh1000 for the cabinet this didn't strike me as particularly good value for a few square feet of the dreaded chipboard veneer. And despite the catalogue showing several colours, Petland was happy to impersonate Henry Ford. "Any color[sic] you like, as long as it's black."

I even drew up some dimensioned sketches and touted them around the carpentry souq. No-one I asked was willing (able?) to provide what I wanted; they all wanted to use MDF and most demonstrated an inability to read drawings in third angle projection.

At this point one of my friends - yes, actually I do have some of those - suggested Pinky's in Sharjah Industrial Area. Chunky furniture, made of real wood, I was told. The map on the Pinky's business card is not particularly helpful, and after an hour of Sharjah traffic and asking unsuccessfully for directions, I got through to the warehouse courtesy of Directory Enquiries. I arrived at the door just as the man was locking up for lunch.

"Hi. I see you're shut. Oh well. At least I know where you are now. See you some other time."

Not at all. He re-opened the warehouse and let me wander among the Indian reproduction antique-style furniture for the next half hour. Yes, in his lunch break. Although I couldn't find anything quite right I thanked the salesman and promised to be back.

I did go back a couple of days later. I'm pleased to report that I found a suitable sideboard that looks the business, which was polished and delivered exactly as requested. What a star! The extremely pleasant surprise of getting decent customer service has warranted these words.

And now I await the delivery of the aquarium itself. Even as I write, it has arrived, so the rest of my evening is going to involve reaching into a big glass box.

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