Monday, February 26, 2007

Bachelor Boy

Sharjah shuts door on single men in the city

Sharjah is aiming to be “family friendly” as the municipality is asking all men to move out to industrial areas, or face eviction.

The rule is binding on all male bachelors who are staying in the emirate without their families.

The municipality wants to purge the city of bachelors and labourers as they are accused of causing nuisance to families by indulging in immoral activities.

All single men, no matter whether they are engineers, doctors or executives, are not allowed to live in the city.They have to find accommodation in industrial areas,” said Abdullah Al Shwaikh, spokesperson for the municipality.

Al Shwaikh said the municipality has started random inspections at residential apartments in co-operation with Sharjah Police, and hundreds of bachelors have been evicted in the past four months.

“There won’t be any more warnings as they [bachelors] have already been informed about the move by the media several times in the past. Now we are resorting to stringent measures like disconnecting water and electricity of people who refuse to co-operate with us,” said Al Shwaikh

“We have already allocated designated areas for labour accommodation in industrial areas. But that solves only part of the problem as even bachelors, no matter what category of the labour force they belong to, create embarrassing situations for families by their indecent behaviour,” he said.

When asked whether industrial areas have facilities to accommodate bachelors, Al Shwaik [sic] said a number of new buildings that suit all pockets have recently been built in the area.

He added the municipality has issued orders to landlords in the city to not have rent contracts with bachelors.

Responding to the issue, many bachelors who are currently living in the city said it is unfair to push them out just because a handful of people are indulging in undesirable activities.

“I don’t understand why I should live in the industrial area when I can afford to stay in a plush apartment in the heart of the city. I am not planning to get married in the next two years. Does it mean that I have a ban to live in the city until I find a wife?” asked Shinoj Karunakaran, a software engineer from India.

Shayar Salim, a marketing executive, said authorities will be driving bachelors to the wilderness if they force them out of the city.

This arrived in my In-box yesterday. It certainly has the aura of authenticity about it: Anjana Sankar apparently does work for Gulf News, and Abdulla Al Shwaikh is indeed a senior official in Sharjah Municipality. Furthermore the writing style resembles that of the local newspaper. The subject matter, too, is not beyond the bounds of possibility. If the Municipality can enact immediate legislation to ban bicycles (which incidentally had precisely zero effect on Sharjah's two-wheeled population), what limit can there possibly be to its powers?

However, where is the date on the article? What is its source? Is the email reproduced from Gulf News? Khaleej Times? National Enquirer? Sunday Sport?

I particularly like the way that we cause "...nuisance to families by indulging in immoral activities." and "...create embarrassing situations for families by [our] indecent behaviour..." and spend our time "...indulging in undesirable activities." Ah yes, that would be me.

I suspect, this is a wind-up, or possibly an attempt to put the wind up the 'male bachelors' [sic] in the city (as opposed to which particular other sort of bachelors? Hermaphrodite bachelors, perchance?). Would the actual author please step forward to receive a reminder that April Fools' Day is over a month away.

Thursday, February 15, 2007

Hard of Parking

The Sharjah-Dubai highway isn't the only car park in Sharjah. There's another one just outside my office. But it isn't just for employees of the office. Visitors to the banks or the pie-shop on the ground floor also park in the off-street car park.

So far, so good. The problem starts at around 7:30 when all parking spaces are occupied. People start to park in the aisles. "It doesn't matter. I'll only be two minutes."
Well, I'm fed up to the eye-teeth with being late for meetings, or worse, late away from the office at chucking-out time because of having to wait for one of these so-called two-minuters. Waiting for up to twenty minutes for Mr Land Cruiser, Mr Echo or Mr Grotty Mitsubishi Bickup to come and move his vehicle does not put me in a good mood. One of these Hard Of Barking explained to me that he was a very busy man, and that this fully justified blocking two other cars.

Yeah, right. And my time has no value. I'm glad that's sorted out.

I've resolved that henceforth there will be no more Mr Nice Goat. Instead of waiting patiently (or occasionally hooting my horn, in accordance with local custom and practice) I'll have to take further steps.

Step 1: Call Sharjah Police. This ought to be extremely satisfactory, except that there's a further long wait for the Constabulary to show up, during which time the driver will inevitably appear. It's always worth pointing out to him that the police are aware that he's been reported. I also make it my business to advise any other blocked-in driver of the appropriate phone number.

Step 2: Almost invariably the keys are left in the ignition. I worry about moving someone else's car, potentially without insurance and opening myself to accusations of attempted theft. After rolling the offending vehicle out of the way, perhaps the ignition key should be removed and put in a safe place to prevent theft? Under the back seat perhaps, or locked in the boot?

Step 3: Push the offending vehicle out of the way in the style portrayed in Fried Green Tomatoes. Alas, this sets off airbags and involves further ado with the police and insurance companies. Will the excuse of "I'm sorry officer. I started the engine and didn't realise that the car wasn't in neutral" be believed? "But I always rev the engine to the red line and dump the clutch..."

There remains the option, if there are no empty parking spaces, of on-street parking nearby and walking up to 100 metres to the office. Oh, but of course, walking in the Land of the Sand is probably illegal.

Sunday, February 04, 2007

Liwa overnight

A small group of us went camping last weekend. Four cars and six people followed and old Desert Challenge special stage route for about 160km on a mixture of sand tracks and high dunes east of the Hmeem Road near the eastern end of the Liwa crescent. After stopping near Abu Dhabi airport to fill our tanks to the brim at the last petrol station before Liwa, we stopped along the Hmeem road to scavenge some firewood that had been kindly deposited on the roadside by a fly-tipper. Onward south, past the Rainbow Sheikh's oversized Land Rover, we eventually turned left on to a gatch track and spent about 40km having our fillings vibrated from our teeth.

It was then time to leave the track and hit sand. I had the opportunity to use my tyre deflators for the first time. What splended devices these are. Screw one on to each valve and it lets the air out before snapping shut at exactly the pre-set 15psi. Deflators aren't cheap, but mine had the advantage of being dispensed through the largesse of Mr S. Claus last December. And it beats the pants off kneeling at each tyre in turn, holding the valve core in and repeatedly checking the pressure.

Off we set, with Gadget Boy leading and the Grumpy Goat bringing up the rear. The dunes started off low and undulating with a couple of surprise lumps and dents. At one point Gadget Boy got airborne and came down with a spine-compressing jolt. No permanent harm done, but it served as a reminder that when the sun is high in the sky the lack of shadows and contrast can make spotting holes in the sand a little tricky.

We had a couple of minor crestings too. Don't stop exactly on the crest of a slip-face with all four wheels in the air! Both were easily recovered with a second car and a tow-rope.

It soon became obvious, as the route developed into higher dunes, that we weren't going to complete the whole planned route, so as 5pm approached we started to look for a sheltered bowl in which to camp. I erected the tent behind the GoatMobile on a flat piece of sand, at which point the wind changed direction through 180 degrees and spent the evening trying to demolish the tent. I'm pleased to note that the cheapo dome tend purchased two years ago from Ace Hardware withstood the attempts of the wind to get it airborne. The wind eventually gave up at around 10pm.

Air mattresses are wonderful things when seeking comfort in a tent. So are duck-down comforters, and I don't care how bulky these are to transport. I think it was Baden-Powell, inventor of the Scout movement, who said something about how any fool could be uncomfortable when camping. Presumable B-P knew a thing or two about life under canvas.

I hear that it rained in Dubai and Sharjah last Friday night. No such misfortune in Liwa, which is probably just as well. I suspect the Ace Hardware budget camping kit - tent and two sleeping bags for Dh50, if I remember rightly - would not stand up to substantial rainfall.

The following morning, and tracks on the sand indicated that we'd been visited overnight by many wee beasties. Lizards, I think. As we had a leisurely breakfast and packed away, we were eyed beadily by a crow, presumably awaiting our departure so it could pick through our trash. The bird was due for some disappointment. Apart from the ash remains of the campfire, we took everything away.

The morning's entertainment became the early afternoon's repair project after Gadget Boy got his Patrol mired to the floor pan in soft sand. Diff-locks failed to shift the car, as did sand ladders, but the tow rope once again proved its worth. But the car wouldn't steer. The steering damper had filled with sand, preventing all steering. There was a certain amount of rummaging underneath with spanners and molegrips to remove the damper and empty the sand out before we were once again on our way.

About 130km of off-road driving is not good for decent environmentally-friendly fuel consumption, and the Patrols with tiny fuel tanks were by now getting a little low. We had some 30km of dunes and sand tracks to go plus about 25km on asphalt to the nearest petrol station. Those of us with long-range tanks still had plenty of fuel, and I thing someone had a hosepipe and jerry-can in case of emergency.

It was around this point when we started to spot gazelles. Lots of gazelles. Herds. One individual actually ran parallel to me while I followed a sand track, and I can report that the animal was running in excess of 55kph before cutting across in front of me and diving under a barbed-wire fence. The gazelles must have been semi domesticated; I'm sure that we'd not have seen wild ones at all.

The last 30km of off-road consisted of uninspiring undulating sand tracks. These were surprisingly difficult going, requiring lots of right hoof and low gears. Still, we successfully emerged on to asphalt and re-inflated our tyres before heading off for petrol. No-one actually ran out, although the short wheelbase Patrol was on its last half-gallon. About seven miles of reserve is a little tight.

The petrol pump attendant cleverly didn't tell me that his credit card machine was broken and I'd have to pay cash until after he'd finished pumping gas. Luckily I had just enough cash money to cover the cost. What is wrong with advising the customer that it's Cash Only before dispensing fuel is something I don't really understand.

The journey back to Dubai and the Northern Emirates was a long slow cruise along the Liwa crescent, looking at the hugh acres of arable land, and a brief stop for refreshments at the ADNOC Oasis in Arrada (where they do accept credit cards), before heading north through Madinat Zayed to the coast road and heading for home, shower and an early night.

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