Sunday, June 22, 2008

Logan's Run

I have always been a fan of end-user motoring. It is undoubtedly the cheapest way of getting a car. In my previous life in the UK this was the only way I could afford a car. The method is to buy a knacker with a year's MOT (the British roadworthiness test certificate which is 'not a roadworthiness certificate' according to the certificate), run it for one year, or until it goes seriously wrong, and then scrap it. Feeling lucky at the end of the year, I have been known to get the knacker through the MOT again. I would have run my Ford Crapi for a further year if I'd not sold it to some other end-user motorist when I left for the Gulf.

One of the advantages of end-user motoring is that you don't give a hoot if some ignoramus dings your pride and joy in the car park. Another is El Cheapo Third Party insurance, and a third is that old cars are more user-friendly to spanner wielders. With less of a need for special tools there will be fewer visits to the workshop. Spares can easily be had from the scrappy, which shows willing in the areas of recycling and saving the planet. Of course, such a motoring lifestyle only works for someone who knows (or is willing to learn) about cars, doesn't mind getting greasy hands and can tolerate the occasional failure to get to work on time.

So what are the UAE authorities playing at?
    "Dubai/Abu Dhabi/Fujairah: A car more than 20 years old will soon be an unfamiliar sight on the roads, as authorities intend to get them off the streets as of next January 1.

    The Ministry of Interior announced that the decision to ban cars more than 20 years old aims to ease traffic congestion and to curb pollution.

    The process of phasing out old cars will be completed in stages.

    Traffic departments nationwidce
    [sic] will stop registering or renewing licences for vehicles more than 20 years old as of December 1."
This is a cynical ploy, doubtless at the behest of the major motor-trade agents, to sell more new cars.

'To curb pollution' It is generally true that newer cars produce lower emissions than their older counterparts, so this is surely more an issue of keeping the engine in tune than regularly replacing the vehicle with a new one. A very effective way to reduce vehicle emissions would be to ban the Prado (291g/km CO2 0.68g/km CO) and force people to buy the Yaris (141g/km CO2 0.39g/km CO) [Source here], but that's unlikely to happen any time soon. Imagine the sudden disappearance of all 6, 8 and 12 cylinder engines, together with legislation requiring the purchase of the new Nissota Peon Hybrid, a vehicle that runs on organic tofu and rabbit droppings.

'Ease traffic congestion' This means reducing the number of (old and therefore cheap) vehicles on the road. And here, ladies and gentlemen, is the real reason for the new rule. It is to exclude poor people from private motoring. The irrefutable logic is presumably that the said poor people can travel by company bus between Sonapur and their sweat-shops and therefore have no need to drive. If you need a car, you'd better be able to afford a decent one, or else you can go and live in a different country.

For practical purposes the 20 year rule will affect very few vehicles. Most cars die in their teens of corrosion, multiple blunt-force trauma or terminal thrashitis. There ought to be a reward for getting to 20, not a punishment. Instead of an arbritrary expiry date, all that is needed is a requirement to pass the annual test.

Surely, if you can keep your elderly Ford running, and keep the emissions low enough to get it through the registration process, there's no sensible reason to chuck it away and buy a new one. Of course, all the lights and brakes must function and there has to be no corrosion in critical areas. The same rules would get a seven year old mobile traffic offence off the road. Dodgily reconstructed crash victims ought to fail if the brakes don't work or the chassis are bent. I know people who have had their old Nissan Patrols fail because of weld repairs to the frame, so this principle is at least established.

It's the threat of being unable to transfer ownership of a 10 to 19 year old vehicle that worries me. How does someone get rid of a 15 year old Nissan? It's impossible to sell. Does he risk not registering it for a year or so until he leaves? What might happen is that the purchaser won't transfer title. The previous incumbent leaves, and it will be impossible for the authorities to recover any speeding, parking or red-light violations from the new non-owner. I forecast an explosion in the number of teenaged illegal, unregistered vehicles, closely followed by a rash of knee-jerk legislation.

And what of historic vehicles? Special rules must surely be introduced to allow the owners of classic cars to use them on the road. I would be disappointed although not surprised to learn that only selected wastafarians were allowed to own and run old classic cars.


Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Eighteen fifteen

I was at the 180th anniversary battle re-enactment. Having driven over with a carful of likeminded pissheads friends, we met up with hundreds of re-enactors from all over Europe and beyond. Between drinking sessions we were billeted in local schools.

A curious thing happened on the way to the battle site. I had 'senior officers' in my car, and I was also in uniform, as a junior artillery officer. Asking how to get through the traffic, a motorcycle cop took one look at all the gold braid, said, "Suivez-moi" and we carved our way through the congestion accompanied by twos and blues.

I spent the entire afternoon of the battle on the ridge overlooking the battle site with the rest of the artillery, shooting at the French. Our four-pounder ran out of black powder, and we had to nick some from some nearby Germans.


Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Fire escape

Kabaddi, a boisterous and occasionally violent team game, is immensely popular in Bangladesh where it's apparently the national game[1], and beyond. It's essentially a cross between British Bulldog and Tag, but has the added twist that you're not allowed to inhale while attempting to tag an opponent.

Witty remarks alluding to Bill Clinton aside, the method employed to demonstrate that someone is not inhaling is to have them chant, "KabaddiKabaddiKabaddi..."

Which brings me on to my main point. I have to play 'Stairwell Kabbadi' whenever I visit the other office in the same building. Is this some attempt of mine to keep fit? Well, maybe, if the avoidance of passive smoking counts as keeping fit. The offices themselves are all designated as non-smoking areas, so the smokers choose to get their collective fix in the fire escape, notwithstanding the 'Please No Smoking in Stare' [sic] signs that the building management has kindly pinned up. The alternative option - to smoke outside - evaporates during Ramadan, of course.

There is an alternative to Stairwell Kabaddi, which is to become a Nybster. Regrettably both lifts are so slow that waiting for them can take aeons.

At least my complaints that mixing naked flame with flammable trash was dangerous has at last largely eliminated the hazardous habit of dumping cardboard boxes and other office waste in the fire escape. How are we supposed to evacuate a building if the fire is in the stairwell and we're not allowed to use the lifts?

That's still not as bad as my erstwhile residence, Grumpy Goat Towers. The bottom of the fire escape stairs there were habitually used for storage of mattresses, supermarket trolleys and moribund bicycles[2], and were thus completely useless as emergency exits. Requests made to the management to clear it out, followed by threats to inform Civil Defence[3] went completely unheeded.

[1] Not cricket, then? I'm surprised.
[2] Not unlike Birmingham Canal Navigations.
[3] Arabic for 'Fire Brigade'.


Thursday, June 12, 2008

I know where you're coming from

This map was generated using the World66 web site. Is it, as the website intends, a graphical demonstration of countries I've visited? Well no, actually. I used the tool to save myself a thousand words and summarise whose passport holders can obtain a 30-day free visa on arrival in the UAE. As at today, here is the up to date information.
    Important disclaimer: check before you visit. Rules tend to change. Caveat peregrinans.
Oh look: citizens of rich and/or western(ised) countries are allowed to get in for free. Why are the visa costs going up (example: from Dh100 to Dh500) for citizens of all the other countries? How fair and reasonable is it to charge high rates to prospective labourers, teaboys and maids when western executives can get in for nuppence?

Ah, but of course we want rich, professional executives to visit and to buy allegedly 'freehold' real estate, whereas we hate the idea of nice residential areas becoming polluted by large numbers of hawk - spit - ching! bachelors. By making visas prohibitively expensive it'll knock the UAE off their itinerary.

While we're about it, let's tear down Satwa. A picture of old Dubai does the rounds that shows Sheikh Zayed Road in 1991. As recently as then, Satwa was pretty much a desert. In 17 years it has become urbanised, turned into multiple copies of the Crumbling Villa and been scheduled for demolition. Where are Umm Khammas and her Freej chums going to live then? Modern luxury apartments, presumably.

And having expunged from Dubai everyone except the rich, living la vida local in their modern luxury apartments and villas, who's going to empty the bins, sweep the streets, dust the aforementioned apartments, clean, service and refuel the cars?


Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Exactly what it says on the tin

Those who think they know me surmise that I'm a crotchety old misery-guts. Possibly with good reason. The blog isn't by the Grumpy Goat for nothing.

But, surprisingly, it's relatively easy to make me happy and to keep me that way. I'll let you into a little secret. Essentially, all I want is for things to happen as advertised. A digital camera that comes out of the box and takes digital photos is unlikely to disappoint me. Someone who promises to return my loaned DVD on Thursday and then does so is a source of some satisfaction.

To keep me in a state of delight, simply deliver a little more than was promised. Go the extra mile, or even an additional yard. I rang DEWA yesterday to report a minor water leak on the Authority side of the meter, and by the time I got back to the Crumbling Villa it had been attended to (although there's still a small leak...). Another example is when I discovered quite by accident that my pocket digital camera would record moving pictures with sound.

It is cheating, however, to offer an inferior service than what you advertise and then briefly to upgrade it to 'adequate'. This is what happened to Seabee with Itisalot recently, and it produced a blog praising Itisalot's customer service with such effulgent enthusiasm that it ended up on last week's Gulf News blogosphere page. I find the idiom 'damned with faint praise' springing to mind.

Good old Red Triangles Bank rang me a little while back, with a customer satisfaction survey. A series of questions took the form: "On a scale of 1 to 10, where 1 is worst and 10 is best, how do you rate...?" Bearing in mind the foregoing, if the service is pretty much as advertised, I give it five or six. Yet the interviewer recoils like a kicked puppy if I report that I am "fairly satisfied" and then don't give a score of nine.

The list of things that make me unhappy is far longer than I intend to type. A couple of selected examples includes software that crashes, photocopiers that jam, expecially when I'm in a hurry, vending machines that eat the money and don't dispense goods, and real estate developers who don't provide the facilities they promised. Also people who promise faithfully and then simply fail to turn up. Whether its recalcitrant inanimate objects or unreliable people, I feel very much like Basil Fawlty berating his Austin 1300 estate: "If you don't go, there's little point in having you."


Monday, June 02, 2008


What happens when you suddenly change location? Standard Imperial procedure is to dump garbage before going to lightspeed. In practice, it can be more difficult than that. What's the point of flogging or dumping all your stuff if there's even a slight risk that you'll hate the new place and need to revert to the old?

In my case it was the summer of 1996 when I suddenly relocated to Doha, Qatar from Redditch, UK. I pretty much packed a suitcase, turned out the lights, cancelled the milk and left.

Four years later I sold the house. This was mere nanoseconds before UK property prices rocketed after a decade of slump, but that's another story. The new owner packed up all my personal stuff and stacked it in the shed, and I rented a large white van on my subsequent visit to Blighty and took it all away. The motorbike was sold. I'd had plans to get the odometer right round the clock and then to sell it as 'low mileage but a bit tatty', but eight hundred quid for a sixteen year old Kawasaki (ZG1000-A1 if anyone's interested, and yes I do know the picture is of a later model) with about 90,000 miles and that hadn't run at all for several years was an offer I couldn't sensibly pass up.

My father agreed to store my stuff ad infinitum, but after he died in 2004 I was instructed by his widow to clear it away lest it have an unfortunate accident with some matches. So I turned up to the funeral in another white van and moved all my worldly goods to Plymouth.

Circumstances change. In six years I'd built up a second houseful of stuff in Qatar and then moved to the Emirates. Standard Imperial procedure again. Most of my possessions got sold for a pittance, thrown away or broken by the shipping contractor, and I stated to accumulate new stuff again. And then last summer Beloved became Beloved Wife, and we combined our two households into one. An exercise involving quarts and pint pots required yet another session of disposing of possessions. We kept both fridges, and still have far too many televisions and too much kitchen equipment.

It has become increasingly apparent that I'm becoming less likely to return to a life in England. Last March I spent a week there, sorting out my stored stuff. Air tickets cost nothing, thanks to Virgin Atlantic's compensation, and I took the opportunity to go through all my gear that had pretty much filled Nanny Goat's garage for some time. I had been putting off doing this for ages. Although it had virtually no monetary value, my stuff represented over three decades of my life. But I have a new life now, and it was time to bite the proverbial bullet and deal with it.

The experience is slightly surreal. It's rather like going through a deceased relative's effects. As the effects were all mine, it was something of an out-of-body experience. College notes went to the tip, along with old correspondence. I considered the possibility of identity theft, but concluded that bank statements with defunct addresses for accounts that no longer exist are probably useless except as firelighters. Books and magazines all went to the local charity shops, as did Lemmings and Populous on 5 1/4" floppy disks, curtains, bed linen, pots and pans, tools, and clothes that would now not encompass my middle-aged spread.

No-one wanted my electronics. Apparently British charity shops aren't allowed to sell electrical appliances, so the scrap-metal brigade at the local municipal dump recycling centre ended up with a couple of what used to be high-end video recorders and a set of HiFi separates. Lucky scrappies. I begrudge throwing away a broken printer because I lack the know-how to mend it and a better new one is Dh200. But this is as nothing compared with the gall of destroying something that's in perfect working order.

Dozens of trips in Nanny Goat's minuscule car to and from Chelston Meadow later, and the garage was finally empty.

Nanny Goat is as much of a hoarder as her offspring, and we inevitably couldn't bear to part with a few mementoes. One ancient suitcase of Stuff ended up in the attic, and a lead-crystal decanter full of Produce of Scotland found its way into the cocktail cabinet. My sword, eighteenth-century wig and other items from my previous life as a historical re-enactor went to friends who still do re-enacting. Some of it may appear on eBay in due course.

I gave my motorbike helmets to the local Fire Brigade. A nice shiny fibreglass helmet in a charity shop might look like a bargain, but it may be a potential death-trap. I don't want to be responsible for it falling to bits under impact because it's old. The chief paramedic instructor appreciated the opportunity to use a proper helmet for training or cutting-into-little-pieces practice. I don't know what became of my motorcycle leathers. They had been stored, but when it was time for their trip to the charity shop they'd vanished. Like an old oak table.

Meanwhile, my old oak table, chairs and a couple of particularly large furniture items never made it out of Redditch.


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