Wednesday, January 31, 2007

The big match

Dancing in the streets. Face-painting in red, white, green and black. Decorating cars with flags and cruising up and down the roads of the Capital and elsewhere. Sounding car horns until the wee small hours. This is how victory in a football tournament is celebrated in the Emirates.

Do they know nothing? Have they learned nothing from the West?

The correct way to celebrate your team's result is surely to:

  • Drink a skinful of lager.
  • Hurl racist abuse at supporters of the other teams.
  • Use phone boxes and bus shelters as public conveniences.
  • Overturn parked cars and set them on fire.
  • Assault members of the constabulary.
  • Throw bricks through shop windows.
  • Complain vehemently when accused of football hooliganism.

    Or maybe the Western soccer hooligans could actually learn a thing or two from Emirati fans.

    Congratulations to the UAE team. You have made a lot of people very happy.
  • Sunday, January 28, 2007


    Last Friday I was privileged to see an almost perfect example of appalling taxi driving. My vantage point, the passenger seat of a Jeep Wrangler on Sheikh Zayed Road, allowed me to watch in morbid fascination while a representative of Cars Taxi tailgated and repeatedly swerved across all five lanes. The only thing the driver wasn't doing was exceeding the speed limit. There was far too much traffic to make speeding even remotely possible.

    The thing about Dubai's taxis is that they each carry a reference number on the back along with the message "If you have any comments about my driving please telephone Dubai Transport on 04 2080 888".

    I wasn't at the wheel, so I decided to comment. I politely explained to the operator what was going on and how I thought the driver's technique was dangerous, particularly considering that he had passengers on board at the time.

    Dubai Transport telephoned me this morning. I was told that the driver was hauled into the office today and given a dressing down before being sent on a week's retraining.

    As far as I'm concerned, this is a Good Thing. It has all the potential to save lives further down the line. I'm particularly pleased that Dubai Transport appears to have taken my complaint seriously, and even had the courtesy to call me and let me know what they'd done about it.

    Another authority that takes a dim view of erratic driving practices is Dubai Police. Their number is the free 800 4353, and they'll be happy to hear about highway hooliganism and hard-shoulder abuse, and not just by taxi drivers. From a hands-free telephone, obviously.

    Wednesday, January 24, 2007

    The illusion of reality

    Far back in the mists of ancient time there was a television programme called The Young Ones. Always brash and often hilarious, the programme portrayed the surreal misadventures of an unlikely group of students who shared a house. Frequent targets for the parody of student life included the appalling landlord and a complete inability to keep the kitchen and bathroom clean. Naturally, the show was immensely popular with students. No-one in my hall of residence ever did any work between 9pm and 9.30 on Thursday when The Young Ones was on.

    Then in 1993, Channel 4 decided to prove that real students were exactly the same as The Young Ones. The basic idea of The Living Soap was that six real-life students in Manchester would all share a house. Cameras would record their behaviour over a year and broadcast a weekly summary. For the students, and thousands applied, the promise was living rent-free for a year plus the chance of becoming a TV personality.

    In the real world, a group of friends on the same course, or with similar interests or political ideologies might get together to rent a house. But The Living Soap was not designed to be real. The programme makers picked six individuals who would never have chosen to live together. If I remember rightly, there was a hairy heavy-metal fan who might have been studying to be an engineer, a single mother who may or may not have been a lesbian, a clay-shooting arch-Conservative, a soccer obsessive, a clubber, and an art student. Naturally, with such a diverse range of opinions, arguments were frequent and vitriolic. Just the sort of thing the programme makers wanted, and bearing almost no resemblance to actual student life. Selective editing had even the programme's participants complaining about being misrepresented. The only thing that these half-dozen people had in common was that none of them ever seemed to do any studying. I recall the televised interview of Matt the engineer with his tutor. He was being reminded that as he'd done no work at all that term it was likely that he'd be thrown out of university.

    How realistic is Reality Television? Not very! We as viewers are supposed to believe that, because the participants are not acting to a script, everything they do or say is in some way real. Being trapped in the Big Brother house with the knowledge that cameras and microphones capture your every waking action isn't going to affect your behaviour? Is it reasonable to throw together individuals from wildly differing backgrounds and expect that differences of opinion aren't going to result in arguments? Of course not, and this is precisely what the programme makers are banking on. As for no script, I reckon even that's a fallacy. There must be some kind of plan to turn domestic dystopia into entertainment.

    And then someone makes an allegedly racist remark. Oh, horror, horror! Questions in the House of Commons! Full-page articles in the daily press! I may have missed something, but I thought that reality television purported to show reality. And in my real world, people do actually make racist remarks. And yes, these might well be offensive. Unless the offensive language is directed at a white, male, able-bodied heterosexual, in which case it's considered perfectly acceptable, of course. Apparently, the participants in a reality show have to behave realistically, yet at the same time remember that they're on television and constantly modify their behaviour to suit. So-called reality television shows no such thing. QED.

    Big Brother is a massive international success. All the recent publicity can surely have done nothing but good in the quest to boost ratings. It's the sort of advertising that no amount of money could buy.

    Personally, I can't be bothered with it. When I want to watch reality television, I'll tune into the news. And even then I'll take what I see and hear with a pillar of salt.

    Wednesday, January 17, 2007

    Carnal Banana

    Actually, this has very little to do with Sins of the Flesh and even less to do with bananas. It's a plug for the Dubai Singers' forthcoming performance of Carl Orff's Carmina Burana. The performance will be in the DUCTAC main theatre on Thursday 9th March. Tickets will be Dh 75.

    There is so much more to this work than the Old Spice advert or the misadventures of some kid called Damien Thorn. I'd go as far as to admit that Carmina Burana is one of my favourite choral pieces. Another is Mozart's Requiem. So I'm not such an uncultured oaf after all

    So why am I not in it? Mainly because to my annoyance every rehearsal so far has been on a Monday, and therefore clashes with the dive club meeting. Plus, I've just booked a holiday in Thailand and the only outbound flight available that suits my itinerary and allows me to use Qatar Airways frequent-flyer miles is also on 9th March. As I'll not have been out of the UAE for 272 days by that time (trips to Hatta and Buraimi don't count) and 285 days since I'll have been out of the Gulf, I think I owe it to myself to go and look at some scenery that's not brown.

    Monday, January 08, 2007

    In the Pink

    I have noticed several Google searches ending at The Grumpy Goat that started as a desire to find Pinky's, (or Pinkys, or Pinky) emporium of Indian Furniture and Handicrafts in Sharjah. As a kind of public service announcement, here are some directions to Pinky's in Sharjah.

    The warehouse is probably best approached either from Dubai or from the E311 Emirates Road.
    From the Emirates Road, turn off at the Sharjah-Dubai border and follow Sharjah Ring Road. It's signposted 'Al Nahda' and 'Al Khan'. Turn right at the first interchange on to Third Industrial Street. The turn is about 2km from the Emirates Road, and Pinkys is in Industrial Area No.10 on your right.

    From Dubai, drive through the airport tunnel and follow Beirut Road towards Sharjah. Go straight on through several sets of traffic lights. You enter Sharjah as you drive under the Ring Road bridge, and then look to turn right into Industrial Area No.10. By the way, this route is usually devoid of massive traffic jams, which is probably a good thing. I should point out that the map on "Your one-stop information center" take ages and ages to download on Ye Olde Dial-Uppe, and the Java version doesn't want to work for me at all. And once downloaded, the map alleges that Beirut Road is called 'Al Rashidiya Road', a factoid not borne out by the street nameplates. There are so many inaccuracies in the PDF map that it ought to be entered for consideration in next year's Booker Prize for Creative Fiction.

    LOCATION: North is in the top right-hand corner

    If the directions were useful (or not!), please feel free to comment.

    Tuesday, January 02, 2007


    Nothing at all to do with the Othello board game, for a bit of fun, try this.

    The best I managed was 23.6 seconds, although I've also been known to screw it up completely.

    What is more difficult is the real-world task of putting the dive club's boat away. This involves reversing a 35ft trailer through a 4m wide gate, then through ninety degrees within a walled compound. Preferably without demolishing any walls, destroying any outboard motors or scratching any paint. That's a car and trailer combination around 16m long inside an area around 22m by 14m.

    (Note to self: With a braked trailer, remember to disable the brake, otherwise it won't go backwards at all!)

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