Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Sharjah’s finest

Heading home the other evening, I took my usual route that included a loop around a cloverleaf interchange. Who, in Dubai, can honestly say they’ve never done that? Anyway, this was Sharjah. I got into the right-hand lane, and just as I got to the diverge taper, a Sharjah-registered car pushed in from the left and forced me on to the breakdown lane. So what? It happens all the time. But what makes this incident even more annoying than usual is that the car doing the pushing was a new blue and white, blue-light bedecked Sharjah Police vehicle containing a brace of Sharjah's finest.

So what was the enormous hurry? An emergency call, perhaps? There were no sirens and no flashing blue lights. Nevertheless, I gestured to Mr Plod that he should go in front of me and continue on his urgent way.

Not so urgent, apparently. He signalled for me to stop (on the breakdown lane, where I’d been forced so as to avoid an impact), and then pulled level. Winding down the window, both Plods let fly with a torrent of Arabic abuse and plenty of hand gestures that, had I made them, would have been misinterpreted as a single digit. Recognising “Shway, shway,” I realised that I was simply being inconvenienced by a pair of power-crazed, socially inadequate peons who had been given uniforms and were flexing what minuscule authority they had.

The Law, having by now delayed dozens of commuters by blocking the loop road, then zapped off up and over the bridge, with the Goat following at a discreet distance. I learned how we should all drive by observing the example being set. With hazard flashers winking - and it wasn’t even foggy - the police car weaved in and out of the traffic over all four lanes, before stopping at the back of a stationary queue in the middle lane.

By some miracle the right-hand lane was empty, and because I wished to turn right at the traffic lights I drove past and made my right turn. Just before I made the turn, I noticed the blue lights come on and Mr Plod pull over some other hapless motorist.

If someone - anyone - wishes to be respected, it is surely imperative that he, or she, behave in a manner that engenders respect. If you see a police car being drive idiotically and arrogantly, it’s a bit rich getting pulled over and being given a talking to about driver behaviour. But “do as I say, not as I do” is endemic. A few minutes at the main gate of Sharjah police headquarters will quickly reveal that laws pertaining to mobile phone use, seatbelts and window tinting are also widely flouted.


Friday, April 25, 2008

Fine and handy

It’s so very easy to pay the penalties for road traffic offences. Simply check Dubai Police on line or at the public cash-payment machines in the shopping malls, flex your Flexible Fiend and, as if by magic, your motoring offences are expunged. Super convenient for the busy motorist. Or leave it until the annual re-registration at Tasjeel to pay up. Aside from the cost, and let’s face it if you’ve just bought a Lamborghini you’re unlikely to be hard up for a couple of hundred dirhams, there is little or no punitive message. Perhaps Black Points on the driving licence provide the punitive element. Collect enough, and you get a bicycle your licence is suspended. It’s easy to see quite how effective having no licence is when we see spotty fourteen-year-olds driving Land Cruisers to the mall to drop off their mother and sisters because neither Daddy nor the driver were available. No licence. No insurance. No right to be on the road. No respect.

How well has the Black Points system to punish bad drivers been thought out? Your car gets photographed at R17 and this earns you as the owner a big pile of points. The first you learn about it is when you look at the Dubai Police website, or possibly up to a year later at Tasjeel time. But suppose you were away all summer and lent your car to a friend? Hah, some friend, who will of course happily turn up chez Plod and confess. And the bear is a Buddhist.

Supposedly the traffic police computer systems across all seven emirates are interlinked, but my single speeding incident in Dubai last October doesn’t show on Sharjah Police’s website. The Goatmobile is registered in Sharjah so maybe at Tasjeel time I won’t get fined, unlike last year when I had to pay Dh200 for doing 101kph in a 100 zone. One of my colleagues recently paid his fines at a machine in Dubai. Then a fortnight later he had to pay them again because they were still showing as unpaid on the Sharjah Police system and it’s impossible to re-register the car unless all fines are paid.

It was with disbelief that I first saw my current speeding fine. Having convinced myself that I was at work in Sharjah when the alleged offence occurred on Al Quds Street in Dubai, I made the effort and turned up chez Plod in Al Twar where a helpful officer showed me the high-resolution pic of the Goatmobile. Ah, bang to rights, then.

A new feature on the Dubai Police website is the marvellous idea of clicking on‘Show Picture’ to see the photo of the errant vehicle, in lieu of all that tedious going to Al Twar.

And then up pops the message:

The picture could not be displayed on the internet

One would have hoped that the new feature would have been checked for functionality before rolling it out for general consumption. Perhaps there have been complaints regarding privacy. It could be very embarrassing for all concerned, having your motoring sins published on the worldwide web, showing that at the time of the alleged offence you were accompanied by someone else’s spouse. Come to that, despite the convenience of knowing whether or not you got busted, isn’t it an invasion of your personal privacy if any Tom Dick or Abdullah can check your motoring record at the machine in the mall or through the police website?

For amusement, and in direct violation of somebody’s privacy, it would hypothetically be possible to enter a random registration number, possibly of the imbecile who just carved you up... It could be a competition: get a few mates together and see who can find the highest value of outstanding fines. See which car has incurred the most Black Points. And how about the oldest outstanding fine?

Imagine finding a vehicle with over Dh20,000 in fines owing, and with some fines dated back to 2002. This would imply that the car hadn’t been re-registered for the past six years. If that’s the owner’s attitude to registration, what’s his opinion on motor insurance?


Tuesday, April 22, 2008

23rd April Calloo, callay!

Happy birthday, William Shakespeare. 444 years old today. Probably. Also happy birthday to Max 'E=hν' Planck (150), Shirley 'Good Ship Lollipop' Temple (80),'jogging' Jim Fixx (76) and Lee '$6M' Majors (69).

Happy St George's Day. St. George is the patron saint of inter alia Aragon (who isn't called Strider nor is Isildur's heir), Canada, Catalonia, China, England, Ethiopia, Georgia, Gozo, Greece, Malta, Montenegro, Palestine, Portugal, Russia, and Serbia. Also the cities of Amersfoort, Beirut, Ferrara, Freiburg, Genoa, Ljubljana, and Moscow, as well as a wide range of professions, organisations and disease sufferers including the Scouts, the Freemasons, the Hellenic army, farmers, shepherds, syphilis, and leprosy. I do hope those last few aren't connected.

And today is more or less the first anniversary of Beloved Wife and my engagement.

Finally, today is the day I thought I'd figured out how to get an animated GIF to display on my blog. The image itself is free, and may be found, along with a plethora of other stuff, here. Unfortunately, although it displayed fine in draft, I now find that access is 'forbidden on this server'. So I went along to PicAttic.

Monday, April 14, 2008

Punx not dead

Inspired by Keefieboy's recent post about seventies music, I remembered how I thought that the punk rock phenomenon has passed me by. But maybe I wasn't so unscathed.

It was the summer of the Queen's Golden Jubilee.

I was boating on the Thames with my friend, LawfulGoodofCowplain. We moored up in order to go for a pub lunch when a Thames ferry went past. This was of itself not an uncommon occurrence.

What makes it remarkable is that there was a live band on board that was playing Sex Pistols numbers to the seething mass of middle-aged punk rockers on board. Presumably the boat had been chartered specially as a Golden Jubilee celebration by people who could have been old enough and wise enough to know better.

LGoC's small children asked, "How come, Daddy, that both you and Uncle Goat know all the words?"


Tuesday, April 08, 2008

Happy eightieth birthday, Tom

3 4 2
1 7 3 -

1 4 7

I first encountered Tom Lehrer at the age of around 22. Unlike most of his fans who seem to have been inducted during their Bright College Days, I'd already graduated and had a proper, albeit poorly-paid, job. During the week I lived and worked in Sevenoaks in Kent, having left My Home Town in search of gainful employment (as per Norman Tebbit’s dad), but most weekends I stayed in a disreputable house in Portsmouth with my old college buddies. We would have drunk lots of beer if we hadn't all been so cripplingly poor. Instead, we painted wargaming miniatures and indulged in table-top wargames, roleplaying and computer games. Does anyone remember the Sinclair Spectrum’s 'Elite'? A quarter of a century later, I’m pleased to report that we now all have lives, thank you. But I digress. Occasionally during our riotous evenings in this hotbed of celibacy someone would pull out an ancient vinyl disc of An Evening (Wasted) with Tom Lehrer, and very soon I found myself singing along.

As Lehrer points out on the album soundtrack, The Elements 'may prove useful to some of you someday, under a somewhat bizarre set of circumstances', and this is indeed what happened. I learned it, and have performed it live for Redditch Choral Society, Tinker's Farm Opera, and even the Doha Players. The latter was part of my bit for a revue show; other bits included When You are Old and Gray, I Hold Your Hand In Mine and the extremely dubious Masochism Tango.

It came as a shock to a pub pianist in Loughborough to discover, when he played We’ll All Go Together When We Go, that at least one of the patrons – you can guess which one – knew all the words and the tune.

At one point I even borrowed a copy of the 'Tomfoolery' vocal score and jotted down the alternative lyrics in my copy of Too Many Songs by Tom Lehrer (and Not Enough Drawings by Ronald Searle) (Pantheon, 1981, ISBN 0-394-74930-8). Not that I can read music, of course. My own ability with reading the blobs is extremely limited. I learned to sing most of Tom Lehrer's works by listening to my three CD set of Tom Lehrer Revisited, An Evening (Wasted)... and That Was The Year That Was.

So who enjoys Tom Lehrer? Typically it’s college students, even after they’ve grown up and got jobs, mortgages, families, a semi-detached Ford Mondeo and 2.2 pinstriped garden gnomes. Apparently, those who can appreciate the vocabulary and still enjoy scatological humour and smutty innuendo.

That’s me, that is. If it’s also you, this link might prove entertaining.


Tuesday, April 01, 2008

Moral outrage

Seven grand for a parking space? Who in his right mind would pay seven thousand dirhams a year for the questionable privilege of parking on the street in Sharjah? According to this Gulf News story, over seventy suckers residents to date. The irony is that a year's worth of Pay and Display season ticket is available from Sharjah Municipality for Dh 2300 which would entitle the vehicle concerned to park anywhere in Sharjah without additional payment. Of course, parking in the Pay and Display may entail a short walk, but this is a small price to pay for being such a monumental cretin as to sign a lease on a flat without allocated parking. Think of the money saved.

And do I learn that Dubai's Road and Transport Authority is considering car-pooling permits? Car-pooling is, to anyone unfamiliar with middle-eastern values, for practical purposes illegal. There is the moral aspect of sharing the car with a non-relative, and the financial one of removing trade from the RTA's taxi fleet, even if the taxi you ordered fails to turn up. But now, in a putative attempt to alleviate the traffic chaos caused by a complex combination of cheap motoring, sporadic public transport, substandard highway designs, overdevelopment and selfish drivers, it may soon be possible to apply for a car-pooling permit, for which there'll doubtless be a fee to pay and reams of paperwork to submit. More jobs for the shabab.

Such a system will make illegal minicabs more rather than less of a problem: "It's OK, officer. I'm not operating an illegal taxi. We're all sharing my car on our trip to the office. And I have an official RTA permit, see?"

The RTA appears incapable of understanding the difference between an illegal taxi and someone giving a colleague, friend, relative, or spouse a lift. It's only a matter of time before a parent gets busted for dropping little Samantha off at school on his way to the office.

It's the very real potential of Moral Outrage that makes stories like this one possible. "The UAE is a Muslim country and it is unlawful to sit with a woman in a public place" Yeah, right. Of course it isn't illegal to sit in your car with your wife. Girlfriend, perhaps, but not wife. But the fact that anyone reckons that to say that it is (and be bribed to turn a blind eye) has the tiniest probability of being believed is a damning indictment of the sort of Morality Police incident that does nothing to enhance the international reputation of the middle east. Note that the reported incident involved sitting in a car and eating lunch, not steaming up the windows (unless the shwarmas were really hot, I suppose...).


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.