Thursday, December 28, 2006

Getting physical

I have never been a beacon of excellence in the gym or on the sports field. The blame for this must largely go to school in general and to PE teachers in particular. My unenviable experiences of how Physical Education was taught under the English state-school system was enough to put me off sports for ever.

In any other subject, the function of a teacher is surely to teach. That is, to take knowledge and transfer it to the student. But this, it would appear, does not apply in the case of PE teachers. Because everyone already knows how to play football, the function of the teacher becomes that of a referee, blowing his whistle and yelling at anyone who isn't running around like some hyperactive springbok. Woe betide any student who doesn't actually know the rules of the game.

The most instructive piece of PE education I ever received was during a line-out in a rugby 'lesson'.

"Goat! You can't do that!"

"Why not, Sir?"

"Because it's in the rules. Don't you know the rules [that I haven't seen fit to explain]? Are you stupid?"

Clearly that is the answer. I'm stupid - because I don't understand the rules as taught using telepathy. And to this day, I still don't know what rule (or does rugby have laws?) I'd allegedly broken.

And similar things happened during public humiliation sessions euphemistically entitled 'hockey', 'basketball', 'cricket' and worst of all, 'athletics'. I am not built like some Kenyan beanpole, neither do I resemble Giant Haystacks. Long-jump, high-jump, shot-putt, discus, javelin? Nope. Can't do any of those. There are presumably techniques to get the projectile in question as far or as high as possible. But no-one ever chose to teach me these. It was a matter of throwing oneself over an alumininium pole or taking a running jump into a receptacle consisting of sand, fag ends and cat poo.

And the rugby pitch was similarly afflicted. It was, and still is as far as I know, invisible from the school buildings, and as such was used by the local populace to exercise their dogs. It was offputting, to say the least, when any form of rugby tackle invariably ended with the protagonists smelling like the local sewage works and the teacher protesting about the pong.

What didn't help was being excluded from the informal ball games. I'd demonstrated on the playing field that I had little ball-hand-eye co-ordination, and being the youngest and shortest kid in the year didn't help with being a runner. Who in their right mind would want me to play in their team? And who wants to be friends with the class swot anyway?

Things improved later in my school career when I was one of a few who were permitted to play badminton instead of soccer. Hooray! Something I actually enjoyed, despite the derisory and homophobic remarks made by the teacher and most of the rest of the class. Nevertheless, I've never been the right shape to play badminton well, so it was simply a means to while away the compulsory 40 minutes per week of physical activity.

Who knows? I might have been keen on something athletic if it hadn't been for the active stifling of my enthusiasm by a whole succession of teachers who were only interested in encouraging the lads who were already in the school teams.

Sunday, December 17, 2006

Salutory tale

In recognition if the impending season, here are some words first published almost a century ago. Ignore the message at your peril.

The Reckoning

Now the festive season's ended
Comes the sequel parents dread;
Pale and visibly distended
Bilious Tommy lies in bed,
Face to face with retribution
And an outraged constitution.

What a change since, pink and perky
Tommy swiftly put away
Three enormous goes of turkey
At the feast on Christmas Day,
Getting by judicious bluffing
Double quantities of stuffing.

As to pudding, who could reckon
Tommy's load in terms of size?
Who attempt to keep a check on
Tommy's numberless mince pies?
Hopeless task! His present pallor
Proves his prodigies of valour.

Then I found him, notwithstanding
Such colossal feats as these,
After dinner on the landing
Secretly devouring cheese,
Flanked by ginger-beer-and-coffee,
Sweetened with a slab of toffee.

I, his uncle, gave him warning,
Showed him the error of his ways,
Hinted at tomorrow morning,
Talked about my boyhood days;
All in vain I waved the bogey
He despised me as a fogey.

Well, perhaps the pains he suffers
May be gifts of fairy gold,
Since he now says, 'Only duffers
Eat as much as they can hold.'
Thus, through physic and privations,
Tommy learns his limitations.

Punch, 2nd January 1907

Just the thing I need. How nice.

I am indebted to the Fluffkins for the Christmas gift presented to me at this year's Dive Club Christmas Champagne Brunch. Following last year's incident involving a table, a camera and the whirling blades of a ceiling fan, I was given this:

Apparently, when I hear bells ringing, I should duck.

How thoughtful.

Tuesday, December 12, 2006

Something completely different: ITS

Dubai's ambitious development includes an all-new Intelligent Transport System, or ITS to its friends. As any Dubai driver should have noticed by now, ITS manifests as a whole series of new gantries over the major roads that can flash variable messages in Arabic and English to road users. Part of the system has been put on to selected existing gantry signs, where the lack of spare space has restricted the new displays to lane arrows and speed limits.

According to one of my transportation spies, based on experience elsewhere on the planet the provision of ITS can reduce congestion by 15%. The idea is that by telling drivers well in advance about changes in the highway conditions ahead, they can get into the correct lane well in advance or possibly even take an alternative route rather than getting trapped in a traffic jam.

Another issue is variable speed limits. Although it appears to defy logic, reducing traffic speed from 120kph to 80kph actually increases the flow. Essentially, as we go slower we reduce our braking distances ('headway' in traffic engineer speak), so more vehicles go past per minute. One of the reasons for imposing lower speed limits through roadworks is to increase the flow through a reduced number of lanes. Naturally, another reason relates to the safety of the Boys In Blue.

So far the theory is fine. Operators continuously monitor the traffic using CCTV and detector loops, and with the help of computers the speed limits are varied so as to ease traffic flow. In extreme weather conditions, lower speed limits can be displayed to assist any drivers who are incapable of understanding that dry-weather speeds and stopping distances are inappropriate on slippery roads. If a lane gets blocked by an accident, breakdown or - perish the thought - a puddle, the green arrow can become a red 'X' to advise drivers to vacate that lane.

And in practice? This morning was typical: in the pouring rain, spray and generally foul driving conditions, the ITS signage continued with its 100kph clear road advice. Of course, 100kph is a limit, not a target. But in crawling traffic, how credible is that? On the Emirates Road last weekend in the rain, the large message signs told us to drive at 60kph, not 120kph, and to beware of standing water, yet the same system was simultaneously displaying a 100kph speed limit!

And I have yet to see a lane closed by an overhead display. It'll be as effective as a chocolate teapot. The only realistic way to close a lane is to block it with a uniformed officer of the law. And the best way of slowing traffic is to bend a couple of cars and then advertise them with some flashing blue lights. Everyone will inevitably slow down for a good look. There's never been a traffic accident in Dubai before...

If the variable message signs contradict each other, if they are never seen to vary, if the system is never seen to react to rapidly changing road conditions, will drivers simply assume that the ITS is an expensive system of illuminated signs that can, along with all the other street furniture, be ignored? Traffic police already have a difficult enough time enforcing traffic regulations. An additional system whose reliability no-one seriously believes will not make their job any easier. Without credibility, the ITS cannot perform a useful function. Without drivers' compliance, ITS cannot hope to deliver on its promises.

Tuesday, December 05, 2006

Fun Drive

It's the Gulf News Fun Drive on 8th December. I got involved at a very late stage as one of the new marshals. My job on the day will be part of a Mobile Rescue Team (MRT) who will drive the route and help out with any stuck or broken-down vehicles that we may encounter.

So it's important that I know the route. Last Friday I went out with a group of around ten marshals to tape the route. This job has to be done several times, tying bits of 'Gulf News' plastic tape to bushes, rocks and bits of fence so that the participants know that they're on the correct route. Why several times? Well, a secondary purpose of the plastic tape appears to be to provide some variety in the diet of the local camels. Driving the route also enabled me to record it on my GPS so that on the day I wouldn't be referring solely to the tulip diagrams and the tape.

Although the route started off easy, there were several tricky climbs in the soft sand. I kept getting 'refusals' until I checked my tyres and found that the heat had elevated the pressures to 22psi. Dropping the pressure to 1 bar (or 15 psi in old money) solved the problem.

I had one extremely hairy moment involving my car stuck sideways on a slip face. Entirely my fault: having failed to approach the slope sufficiently fast, I attempted to 'moon-shot' and loop around to the bottom, but the soft sand had other ideas. About six well-built gentlemen stood on the right-hand side step to counterbalance the car while I drove out. I had the bent side-step repaired yesterday. There's nothing in the Prado manual that tells me the maximum number of fat bastards permitted on a side-step, so I could probably sue Toyota, were I living in the States. In any event, repairing the step was doubtless cheaper than a whole load of panel-beating.

The Saturday run-through commenced with the Marshals' Breakfast and issue of equipment. The rainy weather persuaded me to use a bin liner as a waterproof tabard, which made me look like a refugee from a punk rock costume party. Almost no-one had brought any waterproofs.

Wet sand is amazingly easy to drive on. I was able to do most of the route without engaging 4-lock. The Prado has full-time 4WD, so it's not possible to drive in 2WD. I looked for where I previously got stuck on the slip face, and drove past without even noticing it. The disadvantage of the hard sand is that it is much more resistant to being dented by bumpers, so the risk of bodywork damage increases. I tried to be ever so careful on downward slopes so as not to lose my rear bumper, with limited success.

Flat areas were muddy and like greasy Teflon to drive on. This is fun until you realise that the scrubby bushes are not going to get out of the way of a car going sideways. And the mud goes everywhere. It is said that if there's no mud on the roof, you're not having enough fun.

The mountain section of the Fun Drive route was very interesting. Rain had washed out several sections of the graded track, so 4WD low ratio was the order of the day. We were unable to complete the mountain section on Saturday because at one point the entire track had been washed away. Twenty-seven vehicles turned round on top of a precipice on a track barely wider than a single car, and drove back to asphalt roads, arriving at around dusk. I rather hope that the track will have been regraded in time for the Fun Drive. The climbs, drops and views are all spectacular.

This post was originally going to be about those hardy campers who bravely stuck it out all weekend despite the weather. I seem to have threadjacked myself with the GNFD. Nevertheless, to all those who courageously stayed under canvas all weekend, despite the sky being as black as a bad guy's hat, in the expectation that it would stop raining, I salute you. You're more tenacious that I would have been.

Sunday, December 03, 2006

Listing to starboard

I have here an example of some whinging expat doggerel
The quality is very poor; it should be wrote on bog-er-roll...

The tune, by Sir Arthur Sullivan, is here.

The landlords who increase the rent beyond the legal max.
I've got 'em on the list,
I've got 'em on the list.
The threat to boost inflation with that Value Added Tax.
I've got it on my list,
I've got it on my list.
Impatient wastafarians with flashing headlight, who
Would rather crash their cars than wait ten seconds in a queue.
The people whom you telephone because their product's cack.
They promise to return your call, but never ring you back.
And intolerance personified: the Danish boycottist.
I'm sure they'd not be missed,
You know they'd not be missed.

You may put 'em on the list,
You may put 'em on the list,
For they'd none of them be missed.
They'd none of them be missed.

The management who won't admit a man in overalls.
I've got 'em on the list,
I've got 'em on the list.
Monopolies who charge excessive rates to make phone calls.
I've got 'em on the list,
I've got 'em on the list.
The chip upon my shoulder that increases every day,
The law that says that it is not permitted to be gay,
The sweaty summer temperatures that make us stay indoors
Inside our concrete box comprising forty-seven floors,
And the genius who says you need a licence to get p!ssed.
I'm sure they'd not be missed,
You know they'd not be missed.

You may put 'em on the list,
You may put 'em on the list,
For they'd none of them be missed.
They'd none of them be missed.

The gentleman in uniform who'd rather just say, "No."
I've got him on my list,
I've got him on my list.
Though yesterday it was OK, today he orders: "Go!"
I've got him on my list,
I've got him on my list.
The high-rise towers everywhere, and ne'er a patch of green.
The concrete, steel and mirrored glass. No plant life can be seen.
The threat of a congestion charge: a most alarming sign,
Yet if you want the train you'll wait until two thousand nine.
And the fool who drives with hazard flashers on in rain and mist.
I'm sure he'd not be missed,
You know he'd not be missed.

You may put 'em on the list,
You may put 'em on the list,
For they'd none of them be missed.
They'd none of them be missed.

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.