Thursday, October 25, 2007

Muscat, Liwa and Ankh Morpork

No diving for me until December.

Following our Eid trip to the Daymaniyat Islands both Beloved Wife and I had to get our dive kit serviced. The dive centre very kindly washed our regulators after each day's diving, but allowed water to get into the innards of the first stages. Water pissed out of mine when I set it up for the next day's diving. As any diver will realise, that is a potential recipe for disaster. The water rots the innards and causes malfunctions and maybe interruptions to the supply of breathing gas. So upon our return, I dropped all the regulators off at Scuba Dubai. I also dropped off all our diving cylinders for cleaning and testing.

The lack of dive kit isn't going to present any immediate difficulties for weekend entertainment. Every weekend up to January I'm booked solid. So is Beloved Wife, who intends to visit gay Paree. She doesn't fancy a week of intravenous, total-immersion motorsport.

UAE Desert Challenge
I'm marshalling in this year's Challenge all next week. This year my job is to chauffeur some press photograpers. I'll have my camera kit with me; perhaps I'll get some decent shots.

The Challenge starts at DIMC in Dubai on Saturday 27th October with the Scrutineering. There's the Prologue from 4pm on Sunday on the desert round the back of the police training college in Umm Suquiem. The prologue is normally good for some car, bike, quad and truck action around a very tight course.

Monday 29th sees the ceremonial start from Abu Dhabi, and then everyone heads off to Liwa for the week. Finally, the rally finishes back at DIMC in the afternoon of Friday 2nd November in time for tea and medals.

Gulf News Fun Drive
I'm one of the marshals on this year's Fun Drive, which is going to be a two-day event in Liwa. Including all the tarmac sections, but excluding getting lost, the total drive from Dubai and back again is just shy of 1000km. ADNOC is apparently going to be providing a fuel bowser at the start and end of each day's off-road sections. Cash only. Any potential competi- sorry, participant with a thirsty engine and a tiny fuel tank (Jeep Wrangler, Toyota Fortuner and Cadillac Escalade owners please take note) might like to consider bringing a spare jerry can of go-juice.

The marshals have to drive the whole route at least twice prior to the event. Many do it a lot more times than that. This will take care of several weekends. The Fun Drive area is roughly where I went camping last February.

Guards! Guards!
The Dubai Drama Group's Christmas play is the stage adaptation of Terry Pratchett's novel. I've landed a role, so evenings and weekends are taken up with rehearsing, I have to learn the words and, in the case of last Sunday, I had a plaster cast made of my face. No, I'm not playing Lord Havelock Vetinari.

Patrons of live theatre please put knots in your handkies for Friday 14th and Saturday 15th December. It's over at the Centrepoint Theatre, DuCTAC, on the roof of the Mall of the Emirates.

The curtain will fall as Guards! Guards! closes, and then Beloved Wife and I are off to the Maldives for our diving honeymoon. A week or so later, we're due back in Dubai to drop off our dive kit, pick up our winter woollies then it's off to Blighty for Christmas. We're having a shindig immediately after Christmas for those who didn't make it to our wedding in the USA in August. I'm thinking of inviting our luggage, and possibly Sir Richard Branson. Incidentally, I've now managed to get hold of someone at Virgin Atlantic in Dubai who appears to believe in the importance of customer satisfaction, so hopefully the Strange Case (boom boom) of the Missing Luggage will soon be satisfactorily resolved.

Edited on 5th November to add that Virgin Atlantic has decided that a couple of return tickets to London constitute adequate compensation. Now all Beloved Wife and I have to do is find time to make the trip!

Friday, October 19, 2007

It's a gas

Not satisfied with charging customers for using their credit cards, the Triple 'E' Triumvirate of Enoc, Eppco and Emarat have after less than one month now decided to abandon credit cards altogether. In this high-tech, 21st century, go-ahead, first-biggest-and-best society, we're all expected to produce crinkly cash.

This radical change of direction occurs just after the Three 'E's have printed thousands of 'we're gonna charge you 1.65%' sticky notices. Now they'll all have to come down and be replaced with 'ain't yer got cash?' posters. How organised! I've seen more organised Brownian motion...

A recent letter in 7DAYS suggested that if the petrol companies want cash so much, we should shower them in small change rather than paper money.

An alternative to cash is prepaid cards. Naturally the petrol retailers love this. They get the money up front, and can collect the interest on it. By my rudimentary calclulation, if half a million punters each hold Dh100 on the card for a year, the petrol companies ought to collect the thick end of two million dirhams in interest alone. And there is the added advantage that a lost or destroyed card is to the customer's sole loss.

There is, however, a solution. Adnoc has never imposed the 1.65% surcharge, and after 20th October will continue to accept credit cards for fuel and other purchases. There is another advantage with Adnoc. The red-labelled 90 octane el cheapo petrol is only available at Adnoc. This is of academic interest to the Goatmobile, whose high-tech engine prefers the green-label 95 octane (or even blue 97 octane), but a Jeep Wrangler is quite happy with the red stuff.

Adnoc is alas 'not coming in Dubai'. I shall have to be organised and remember to gas up on my way home from work in Sharjah.

Saturday, October 06, 2007

Little boxes, little boxes

Little boxes made for cricketers.
You stick one down your trousers
To protect you in the game.
There are pink ones and brown ones
And one made of aluminium,
But if you catch a googly
It will hurt you just the same.

Another type of box is the ubiquitous ISO container. Steel boxes, typically 40 feet or 20 feet long, designed to interlock like Lego and designed to fit on to trucks, freight rail wagons and on to ships and barges. The concept is brilliant. Rent or buy the volume and have it moved from here to there. Assuming that your box doesn't fall off the ship and spend its final hours being a hazard to navigation before descending into the abyss, all your worldly goods arrive unscathed at their destination.

I am not an expert on the minutiae of container handling. But something that I've noticed for a while has finally got me to the keyboard. It was brought to a head a couple of days ago when I spotted an interchange loop closed all day while a 40-foot container was being lifted out of the road by a large mobile crane and plonked back on to a flatbed truck. Evidently the truck had gone around the interchange at high speed (for a given value of high) and the container had slid or rolled off the back, landing with a clang on the road. I dread to think what happened to the contents. Hopefully not Ming vases, Queen Anne furniture or miscellaneous gentlemen who seem to have mislaid their passports.

Why did the box fall off? Look at the photo. At each of the eight corners is a hollow block which is designed to receive a locking device. I wonder if the container was actually locked on to the truck?

The twistlock typically takes the form of a rectangular lump of metal with a handle on the bottom and a pyramid on the top. The container is placed on the truck, and at each corner one of these devices is inserted up through the load bed into the container and given a quarter turn to lock it. Now the container can't possibly slide off, and can only roll by taking the entire vehicle with it.

And yet, in my unscientific and rather frightening survey last Friday, around 60% of the containers aboard trucks on the Emirates Road were unsecured. I don't know what the law says about it, but common sense suggests that a thirty-tonne brick (or 2.4 tonnes if it's empty) would do a lot of damage to the road if it were to fall off. It might hurt the truck driver if he stomped hard on his brakes and the container came hurtling through the back of the cab. Containers falling off trucks are not uncommon. Look for the huge gouges in the asphalt on interchange loops. Listen to the local radio for tales of traffic jam woe.

What really concerns me is the prospect of one of these containers unexpectedly sliding off and squashing a car. My car. With someone I know in it. There was a case reported a couple of years ago in Doha where a taxi and occupants were squashed flat by an errant container. The taxi was about 50cm thick, and that was only because the container hadn't managed to squash the engine block.

Surely there ought to be some laws, rules or Codes of Practice to prevent containers from being unsecured? And how about some enforcement? Preferably before someone else's household goods get rattled around like a couple of brickbats in a cement mixer.

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