Wednesday, July 30, 2008

What a nerve

I have had shoulder pains on and off for a couple of years now. I put it down to sleeping awkwardly when I awoke unable to turn my head to right of centre. In an extreme case one day, the only way I could get out of bed was to roll on to the floor and claw my way up the wall until I was on my hind legs. I always thought it was a strained trapezius muscle. It usually took a week or two to right itself.

Anyway, push came to shove recently. Beloved Wife instructed me to go and see a neurologist after my right thumb went numb. You do know that the Goat has opposable thumbs, don't you? Over at Welcare Hospital in Dubai, I was poked, prodded with sharp instruments, had my blood pressure taken and was quizzed about my dissolute lifestyle, smoking and drinking habits and so forth. Incidentally, 120/80 is apparently a good, if not surprising, blood pressure for a middle-aged, lardarsed stress-puppy.

Then it was off to X-ray to have my neck irradiated by röntgen rays. This was followed by something called a Nerve Conduction Test, in which up to 100mA was pushed into my fingers to see how much pain I could tolerate how the nerves in my hands and arms were performing. Apparently I have two pinched and inflamed nerves in my unnaturally-straight neck, all of which account for the aching shoulder, numb thumb and bouts of pins-and-needles in my right hand and forearm. The neurologist also said he reckoned I had carpal tunnel syndrome, although I don't believe it. He prescribed me some painkillers and also some new drug to bring down the nerve inflammation. The latter has a monstrous list of side effects that includes diarrhoea, constipation, drowsiness, sleeplessness, hunger pangs, loss of appetite, euphoria, depression... You get the picture. I was also prescribed a wrist splint to use whenever I bent my wrist: all day at work, and all night when asleep. Someone at the dive club noticed the splint and, for obscure and esoteric reasons, asked to borrow my DVD when I'd done with it. He mumbled something that sounded suspiciously like "winker's cramp."

After three days I gave up on the wrist splint. I am annoyed to discover that I'm allergic to neoprene if I wear it for 23 hours a day. A nasty attack of dermatitis wherever the splint had been has been giving me fun and games for a week. Not wishing to risk an infection, I treated the open sores - yes, really - with Betadine solution. This seems to have worked, but I'm now on moisturising hand cream with added vitamin B12 to get rid of the squamous skin caused by the iodine.

I trust wearing a wetsuit for an hour or two won't produce a similar effect over my entire body.

Meanwhile my right thumb is still numb. Partly to appease the carpal tunnel syndrome theory, I have moved my computer mouse over to the other side of the desk, reversed the buttons, and I'm forcing myself to use the mouse left-handed. On-screen targeting is slow and haphazard, but it's gradually getting better.

I'm rather hoping that a week away from my desk will relieve the pressure on my nerves - in all senses of the word.


Sunday, July 27, 2008


For anyone who's not aware of Mr Praline, he is the plastic-mac-wearing character played by John Cleese who either has a dead Norwegian Blue parrot or who wishes to purchase a fish licence.

Praline: I wish to register a complaint.

Official: We're closed for lunch.

Praline: Never mind that, young man. I wish to complain about this Salik tag what I purchased not half an hour ago from the ENOC station down the road.

Official: Oh yeah? What's wrong with it?

Praline: I'll tell you what's wrong with it, my man. It don't work. That's what's wrong with it. I stuck it on my windscreen, drove over Garhoud bridge and the system deducted Dh500 from my account and logged seven Salik fines.

Official: I can't help you. Please log on to the website and click on the 'Contact Us' tab.

Praline: I tried that. Your website is down. And anyway, I'm here in person. Find me someone who can deal with the problem.

Official: He is not on his seat. Please wait.


Praline: Is the person who can help me back yet. Is he back "on his seat"?

Official: No. He is on vacation for three weeks.

Praline: In that case, I shall speak to someone else about car pooling.

Official: You need a permit.

Praline: Your inspector slapped me with a Dh5000 fine the other day while I was driving to work with my friend. And the rules say that if you give your friend a lift you don't need a permit.

Official: But this is not a friend. He is a work colleague.

Praline: My colleague and I live in the same street. We socialise together. Our families go on vacation together.

Official: But you work in the same office. Therefore he is not a 'friend' but a 'colleague', so you must have a permit. No permit: Dh5000 fine.

Praline: I've had enough of this. I'm leaving. I'll cancel my utilities and then I'm off to the airport.


Official: You can't have your DEWA deposit back unless you can produce the original receipt.

Praline: But you've been supplying me with water and electricity for the past several years! And you won't do that unless I've paid a deposit.

Official: You are completely correct.

Praline: Therefore I must have paid a deposit.

Official: Absolutely right.

Praline: And now I've paid my final bills, I get my deposit back?

Official: Only if you produce the original receipt.

at the airport...

Praline: I'm leaving. I'd like my visa deposit back please.

Official: You must collect your deposit from airside. We can't have you getting your deposit back here and then disappearing back out of the airport, can we?


Praline: Can I have my deposit back please?

Official: You should have collected that on groundside.

Praline: Oh... Can I just --- ?

Official: No! You cannot go back.

Praline: Give me my money!

Official: We have no money. An Airbus A380 just left and all 500 passengers took their deposits. I started my shift with half a million dirhams in used hundreds and it's all gone. Will you take a cheque?

Praline: A cheque in UAE dirhams? My bank in my home country won't cash that. What is the alternative?

Official: A voucher for Dh1000 to spend in Dubai Duty Free and a free cuddly Modhesh?

Praline: Does it talk?

Official: Yes.

Praline: I'll take it.


Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Procrastinate! Procrastinate!

Isn't it exasperating when, just after the road is finally resurfaced after years of being a potholed wreck, the gas board comes along and digs it up again? And then the cable TV company does the same thing. And just as it settles down to normality, as the last road cone is removed, the water main springs a leak and out come the cones, signs and shovels. Again.

You'd have thought that the utilities could have done their work before the road was resurfaced.

Well yes, and this is indeed what is supposed to happen. Far back in the mists of ancient time, in the great and glorious days of the former galactic empire (Thank you Douglas Adams) the Public Utilities Street Works Act came into being. Essentially, before carrying out road improvement works, the highway authority writes to all the services companies and says, "We're going to resurface/widen/build a cloverleaf interchange on this road. Please let us know what stuff you have underground and where it is, tell us if you need any of it diverted or protected, and if you're planning any upgrades or repairs please do them before we do the road surfacing."

PUSWA 1950 has now been superseded in the UK, but the world over, similar legislation is in place to prevent the new, smooth, pristine road surface from being immediately peppered with trench reinstatements.

Now comes the bit where I sail close to the wind and talk about work. I'm paraphrasing here.

In February 2007, I wrote:
    "Dear Utilities Company,
    We're planning new interchanges as per the attached drawings. Please tell us if you have any pipes or cables in the area, and if so, what measures to divert or protect them do you require?"
And in June 2007:
    Dear Utilities Company,
    We've not heard from you. Please find enclosed copies of our previous letter and more drawings. Are any of your pipes or cables affected by our proposals?"
And yet again, this time in February 2008:
    Dear Utilities Company,
    We've still not heard from you. Copies of previous letters are enclosed, with yet more copies of the drawings to remind you."
Until at last, in July 2008, seventeen months after the first enquiry, a response. Scrawled on the bottom of a photocopy of my third letter:
    "I refuse to receive because there is only one set of drawings, and we need two sets. Yallah! Imshi!"
Well thank you. Four sets of layouts at A1 size, two CDs with the AutoCAD version and an A3 set. This constitutes, it seems, fewer than two sets. And a government department which doesn't have a Xerox machine? I don't believe it. I don't believe it!

So are there any pipes or cables? No-one knows, least of all the poor sod who has to decide where to put the bridges.

The law requires No Objection Certificates from all services organisations. Digging a hole without a construction NOC is illegal on pain of imprisonment, and hitting a cable with a JCB bucket causes all sorts of legal unhappiness, to say nothing of the big blue flash and all the lights going out. So if one Government department chooses to ignore NOC requests, another Government department doesn't get its road improvement.

Being gratuitously obstructive: the practical alternative to doing your job.


Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Chocolate teapot

Everyone carries around odd facts that are of no use. Please feel free to share some real gem that is impossible to forget, but is of no use whatsoever.

Mnemonics such as "Richard Of York Gave Battle In Vain[1]", or "Many Velvet Elephants Munching Jam Sandwiches Under News[p]aper[2]", or even "Rifles Are Mainly Manufactured In Old And Mucky Towns[3]" might have some practical benefit. Yet I have one that is completely and totally 100% useless:
    "All Hairy Gorillas Have Big Feet. Good For Climbing."
I encountered it during a Maths A-level class nearly thirty years ago. The teacher, one Mr P. J. Otto, assured the class that we'd remember the mnemonic long after forgetting what it was for, or how to use it. And he was completely correct. For the benefit of any mathematicians who might have accidentally blundered across this blog, the third page of this pdf reveals all. And no, I never could do that level of algebra. It's filed under 'Too Difficult' along with partial fractions and skateboarding.

Let's not limit this to mnemonics. How about:-
  • The word "trivia" derives from Latin for "three roads" and means "crossroads". Two minor roads meet a major road at the same spot, where people would meet and talk testicular tosh.
  • The word "tragedy" comes from "tragoidia", Greek for "goat song" and refers to the ghastly wailing in some melodrama by some histrionic harridan.
  • George Washington[4] invented instant coffee.
  • Margaret Thatcher[5] sort of co-invented Mr Whippy ice cream.
I'm not looking for urban legends such as the allegedly non-echoing quack, nor anything involving a JATO booster, a car and a cliff-face. I'm looking only for items of true - but completely useless - information.

[1] Colours of the rainbow.
[2] Planets. Pluto may or may not be included.
[3] Rivers of the Mississippi basin, reading clockwise.
[4] No, not that George Washington.
[5] Yes, that Margaret Thatcher.


Sunday, July 13, 2008

Fire in the hole

This is not a restaurant review. I couldn't possibly compete with the Fat Expats HMHB and Alexander... Mine is merely an observation of a particular stereotype, and in no way targets any specific eatery, not even this one or this Bollywood [Bum] Burner. I bet they come close, though.

Please feel free to blame my muse's inspiration on Irving Berlin and Mel Brooks.

Onion bhajee,
Chicken tikka,
Hot spicy lamb,
And when it hits,
You will get the squits.

Keema naan,
Paratha bread,
Deep-fried mutton,
You'll be well-fed.
Capsicum bits:
Giving you the squits.
    Pick a restaurant that's not too classy.
    Wash it down with half a pint of lassi.
    (Don't be fussy)
Now try the
Gulab jamun,
Or some kulfi
With cold laban
To cool your bits
When you've got the squits.


Sunday, July 06, 2008

Wot MOT?

The Goatmobile is four years old. Consequently I spent half of the morning down at the Tasjeel Auto Village in Sharjah having the registration done. I dropped off the vehicle at the entrance and then retired with my paperwork to air-conditioned comfort to await the verdict and pay the fees.

I wonder why Billy Whizz and his colleagues can't be employed at normal commercial garages? These guys work at such a blistering pace that the car inspection is over in a matter of seconds. I watched my inspector put the Goatmobile up on to a ramp and then, armed with a torch, he inspected all 17 Steering and Suspension items, the chassis, the exhaust system, brake hoses and cables all in under ten seconds. Front and rear lights were flashed so quickly I missed that part of the test, and the exhaust analyser didn't even get taken out of its box. I don't think it's possible to check the brakes on a 4WD vehicle with the brake-testing machine supplied and installed specifically for use in Sharjah.

I suppose I shouldn't complain after getting a Pass certificate. What concerns me, however, is that this level of stringence is inevitably going to let defective vehicles back onto the public roads for a further year. I watched a Nissan Maxima sail through the test with only one functional brake light. Non-functional lights are such an obvious fuzz magnet too, or would be if the said fuzz were appropriately magnetic.

Oh, but according to the form, "Tasjeel will not accept responsibility for any unseen damages on the vehicle". I see: "Although we're the licensing and inspecting authority, it's not our fault if a mechanically unsound car lumbers forth on to the Emirates Road."

In true "Sledgehammer to crack a nut" style, the preferred solution is not to undertake thorough inspections, but to scrap cars over an arbitrary age.

Anyway, armed with a Pass certificate - and Dh100 lighter - I presented at the next desk. Problem. I had my insurance certificate with 13 months insurance to the precise day, which is a new rule in Sharjah, but no passport and visa copy. It was my fault. I should have known better, having lived in the Gulf for a dozen years, than to turn up without such a fundamental piece of paper. I got someone at work to fax me a copy. There's a dedicated fax machine for punters to receive copies of missing paperwork, so clearly this is not an uncommon occurrence. I waited for fifteen minutes, watching miscellaneous forms, permits, passports and visas vomit forth from the fax machine and get taken away. When it was my turn, I was selected to pay the Dh1 White Face Tax. Still, it's cheaper than travelling across town to retrieve my passport.

Then I had to pay my fine. Please note the singular: I've had a relatively lawful year. Observant readers may recall that I did get popped by a camera in Dubai last October, but I'd already paid that fine online and it had disappeared from the record. Now a further Dh220 lighter for making the only illegal U turn in Sharjah (I got busted by an unmarked police car that was itself illegally parked...) and Dh125 for the new registration card, everything was done for another year. I am pleased to note that there is no longer a need to pay an additional Dh10 for a fire extinguisher inspection certificate.

The current cost in Rip-Off Britain for the equivalent annual rigmarole is £50.35 for the MOT and £300 Vehicle Excise Duty (at Band G for 291g/km CO2) for the equivalent of an environmentally-disastrous, CO2 emitting, gas-guzzling, polar-bear-drowning Goatmobile. At the current exchange rate that's around Dh2550, which really does make Dh226 look like a bargain.


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.