Thursday, December 13, 2007

The doors in the mall go ding-a-ding-a-ding

I was amused to find this scrap of paper blowing around in the Mall of the Emirates car park. I guess someone was displeased about the number of parking spaces that someone else had occupied. Any guesses as to the nationalities of the protagonists?

Sunday, December 09, 2007

Liwa experienced

Here's the report now that I've got all the expletive deleted sand out of the car.

Three hundred and fifty drivers and another fifty marshals. That is an enormous number of vehicles to hit the sands of Liwa. Yet this is what happened last Friday.

As a volunteer marshal on the Gulf News Fun Drive, I attended a couple of meetings organsised by Gulf News and made three drive-throughs prior to the big day. I noted here that the whole trip would involve a lot of hours behind the wheel. From Dubai, one of the run-throughs totalled around four hundred kilometres comprising asphalt roads, gatch tracks, sand tracks and dunes.

A major consideration was fuel. Fortunately the Goatmobile comes with two fuel tanks, so despite a capacity-robbing dent in one of them there’s plenty of reserve assuming that I gas up at the last petrol station before the off road bit. The ADNOC at Mafraq was still ninety kilometres from the start. The next petrol was at the end of the off-road section at Hmeem. An absolute minimum range of 250km would be required. I picked up a spare five gallons of petrol in a jerry can. Someone with a Wrangler or similar vehicle with a small tank and a huge engine might be grateful!

The original plan for the Fun Drive was for two days of desert driving with a camp-out at Moreeb Hill. Owing to ‘insurmountable technical difficulties’ it was not possible to organise the second day’s drive, so Day 1 was extended. At the end of this, everyone would head off along asphalt roads to Moreeb for food, beverages, entertainment and camping before returning home on Saturday at their leisure.

Marshals were required to have driven the entire route at least twice prior to the event. I drove the whole route twice plus the Day 2 route that was subsequently cancelled.

On the day itself the event was spectacularly well organised. There were separate areas of parking for marshals and drivers, there was breakfast, and a registration system to ensure that everyone got their lunch packs, water and goody bags. A fuel bowser was set up on site to fill everyone’s tanks. Cash only and, predictably, an enormous queue that resulted in a slight delay to some of the later starters. Marshals were inserted in pairs into the departing stream of traffic, and off everyone went.

With tulip diagrams and a GPS with the route programmed in, plus the huge numbers of wheel tracks in the sand, it was not easy to get lost. Added to this, the road book contained prominent landmarks, some of which had names that were also emblazoned on signs stuck on poles along the route.

There were a couple of inevitable stucks and unfortunately one or two breakdowns. Marshals were on hand to assist with minor repairs such as getting tyres back on to rims, pushing and towing. I felt it necessary to remind some participants to wear their seat belts. This included representatives of the Emirates Driving Institute, who I’d have thought should have known better. Everything was going swimmingly until we encountered the first big bowl. It was like a sandy version of the Battle of the Somme. What was supposed to be an easy drive down into a bowl and up the other side half a mile away turned into a morass of stuck vehicles. Of course, the dry sand didn’t help. It got chewed up by 1600 tyres and turned into talcum powder. Out came my tow rope and shovels.

“Have you lowered the tyre pressures?”

Of course everyone had, but several kilometres of sand driving had pushed the tyre temperatures up and the 15psi (one bar or 100kPa in new money) had turned into more than 20psi. In many cases, letting some more air out and giving a push was enough to get the stuck car moving again. One driver insisted that someone else drive his Land Cruiser out for him, so my navigator did so. I felt a bit guilty afterwards, so drove back in to give this family of pedestrians a lift up the hill to their car before they were either squashed by some high-speed loony or they fell over with the effort of walking up the slope.

Shortly thereafter my navigator spotted a camel actually giving birth. We stopped and waited, taking a well-earned breather from towing and pushing, and watched the rather wonderful sight of a new mother encouraging her brand new baby to get up on to its unreasonably long legs.

The Fun Drive route led in a very approximate semicircle back almost to the Hmeem Road. The deal for the competi- sorry, participants was that those who arrived at Check Point 2 before 2pm would be allowed to continue on to a more challenging additional section with lots of very large slip faces. Naturally, marshals were all very keen to do the last section. Just as well, really. There were plenty of stucks and a couple of breakdowns. Plus by this stage some drivers were getting a mite concerned about the red bit on the fuel gauge. We struggled to get a Nissan Patrol out of a horrid steep-sided soft bowl. Eventually we decided to check the driver’s claim that he’d lowered the tyre pressures instead of just taking his word for it.

“Hah! Twenty-one pounds per square inch!”

“But they were fifteen, honest!”

A quick session of deflation later and the Patrol drove straight out. There is a moral in there somewhere.

I got off the sand at around sunset and re-inflated using the facilities organised by Gulf News. A row of 4x4s lined up at the multiple filling whip looks to all the world like cattle at a trough. There were still plenty of cars in the desert behind me. The final sweep team and breakdown recovery must have had a very late night.

I can confirm having a whale of a time. I personally gave away fourteen ‘I’ve been rescued by ME4x4’ stickers.

I hope everyone else out there had fun, as per the name of the event. Commiserations to those who didn't finish because of mechanical failure. Hope it’s not put anyone off desert driving.

Marshalling again next year? You betcha!

Thursday, December 06, 2007

Pretty birdie*!

Fourteen years of school and college
Filled my mind with useful knowledge:
Arithmetic, reading, writing; science subjects held no fear.
Compulsory athaletics
(Though at gym I was pathetic.
You can be unsympathetic). I was told one day that we’re
Interviewed by the headmaster, “University draws near.
Learn to be an engineer.”

Off I went to Portsmouth Poly
On some full-time student jolly
With a student grant that unbelievably should last all year.
Forty hours a week of study,
Then at weekends getting muddy.
End-of-term exams were bloody difficult to pass, I fear.
But I scraped through with a 2-2. Celebrated with a beer.
“Now I am an engineer.”

“Not so fast. There’s a recession,”
I was told. It caused depression.
Nobody required a newly-graduated engineer.
Six month’s gainless unemployment
Caused a dearth of life enjoyment.
Much rejection; much annoyment. Why did I choose this career?
Many dozen applications, ’til at last, “A job is here.
Come, ‘Assistant Engineer’.”

From my fam’ly I departed,
Now the world of work had started.
I, like Norman Tebbit’s dad, had ridden off to get to here.
Minuscule remuneration,
Highly-priced accommodation,
Financial emasculation. What a start to a career!
Far from grand, in bedsit land I lived, with everything too dear
For a civil engineer.

But I trained ‘under agreement’.
That is what my boss said. He meant
I should have no social life, training to be an engineer.
Ev’ry night another semin-
-Ar. (Do they let only men in
Wearing suits, not jeans or denim?) Always dress in business gear.
Sartorial elegance is mandatory, yes my dear,
If you are an engineer.

Ten years later, with a house,
And still as poor as a church mouse.
Mortgage payments, household bills, and not the cost of fags and beer.
Couldn’t make ends meet in Blighty,
So I made what was a mighty
Brave decision late one nighty. “I’m fed up of living here!
I am off to be an expat. Be an expat UAE-er
Where they’ll need an engineer.”

Twenty years since graduation,
I live in a foreign nation.
Finally the studying and training has paid off, my dear.
This is what it represents,
And why it’s no coincidence
Professionals oft take offence whenever the photocopier
Needs attendance by the man who styles himself as ‘engineer’.
He is not an engineer!

You don’t need a BSc
Or some post-graduate degree
To fix up the Electrolux because it’s making noises queer.
Characters like Casey Jones
Are cause of many anguished groans
From engineers, as I have shown. Do you agree? Then sign up here.
LL B or MD, MICE, and a PhD are
‘Lawyer’; ‘Doctor’; ‘Engineer’.

(*Edgar Allen Poe on Prozac)

Monday, December 03, 2007

Message by owl

I spent too much of the National Day weekend doing a chore that I've been putting off for too long. There is a decade's worth of pigeon poo all over the flat roof of the Falling Down Villa. I took a shovel, broom and a load of bin bags aloft and shovelled shit until I'd run out of empty bin bags. Getting the full bags to ground level resulted in some nasty rope burns. The polypropylene line was way too thin for a controlled descent. After lowering the bags to the ground with the tow rope out of the Goatmobile and much profanity (some of the bags burst, being Al Cheabo gossamer-thin), it looked as if I'd made hardly any progress at all in removing the guano.

Having shovelled for several hours, I fervently hope that the plague of pigeons may be over. I found some 'bird scarers' in the West Marine catalogue and asked Beloved Wife to arrange for a couple of them to be Shop 'n' Shipped from the good ol' US of A.

Pigeons are allegedly petrified of birds of prey, being both birds and prey. An oversized long-eared owl with yellow, staring eyes ought to put the willies up any self-respecting pigeon. It went up on to the roof last weekend, and is currently on top of the parapet. The message delivered by this particular owl should be clear and unequivocal. It involves pigeons, sex and travel. If they don't get the message, the pigeons are going to be subjected to the Lehrer Solution.

Detractors of scarecrows have observed that birds get used to a scarecrow, so the instruction booklet that came with the plastic bird of prey suggests moving the owl around periodically. Added to this, the head is on a rotating bearing, meaning that the slightest breeze has the owl apparently looking all around, impersonating Linda Blair, and therefore ought to be suitably scary.

There being no limit to the ingenuity of pigeon-haters, there's a different model as well, just in case the pigeons suss out that Linda Blair is in fact made of plastic. The latter consists of a plastic owl's head to be mounted on a stick (stick not supplied), and a four-foot wingspan. This owl flaps its wings in the breeze and also sports the obligatory scary stary eyes.

It remains to be seen how effective the owls are long-term. But I don't recall any evidence of pigeons at Hogwarts.

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