Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Nempnett Thrubwell

One of the side-effects of middle-aged spread is traditionally mid-life crisis. Personally I don’t believe a word of it. The desire to own a motorcycle is far more deep-rooted than that.

“A motorbike? In Dubai? Are you insane?”

Maybe. The climate mitigates against motorcycles for half the year, and the local driving style for all of it. I’ve been looking at 21st century protective gear rather than the oh-so-last-millennium effective but heavy traditional leathers.

I’ve found a jacket with armour for shoulders, elbows and spine, and so many ventilation holes that it resembles a cheese grater. The trousers are lined with Kevlar. Boots and gloves are traditional and mostly leather. The whole front of the full-face helmet swings up to keep me cool at the traffic lights. The helmet is also peppered with ventilation holes to keep my brain cool. I own a waterproof overall too, but as it’s unlikely I’ll ever ride the bike in the rain (q.v.), that is only going to be used on winter boat dives.

As for the driving style, twenty years of riding in the UK taught me that bikes are completely invisible to other road users. I believe the fundamental difference here is that this level of inattentiveness is extended to all road users. It would be unfair to restrict it only to motorbikes.

Another thing is conspicuity. The new beast is a monster, weighing in at the thick end of 280kg excluding a great lardy Goat on board. It has Presence. It also cranks out an unfeasible quantity of Pferdestärke and loads and loads of torques, so there’s plenty of squirt.

I’m not new to this motorcycling thing. Having ridden bikes regularly since my 16th birthday up until 1996 I reckon I gained a fair whack of experience. Of course, I’m out of practice now, so I’ll certainly be taking it very, very carefully. Big bikes are hugely expensive to drop.

As for the bike itself, it’s a Kawasaki Concours. At least, that’s what they call it in the States and mainland Europe. The monicker in the UAE and indeed the UK is ‘GTR’. The original 1000GTR came out in 1985, I bought a used one in 1989, and I rode it regularly - and occasionally all over Europe. The model remained in production with only teeny changes, until at last in 2006 Kawasaki ceased production of the 1000GTR. The replacement, introduced in 2007, is the 1400GTR. Fourteen hundred? Gordon H. Bennett! In the words of the man who introduces American Chopper on the Discovery channel: “Biggah! Fattah! Chunkiah!”

So why Kawasaki? Well, a big comfy bike with shaft drive and hard luggage is what I want. I’ve had various Kawasakis since 1984. I considered a Honda Pan European ST1300 (as ridden by the local Traffic Police), and I even saw a herd/clutch/gang of ST1300s in Al Futtaim’s Dubai showroom. Alas, the sales manager failed to send me any details or follow up my enquiry as we had discussed. Compare this with Liberty in both Sharjah and Dubai, where I was greeted as a long-lost friend by enthusiastic and helpful staff. I mentioned the ‘H’ word to the General Manager and 12% immediately dropped off the asking price of the Kawasaki, and a whole host of free (not actually ‘free’, but included in the price) accessories were added to the package.

Sorry Honda; you lose.

Various of my motorbiking buddies have congratulated me on my choice of brand. I hope to have made the right decision. My usual response to the question of why I didn’t choose a Harley Davidson is that there is already a Fat Boy resident in the Crumbling Villa.

All the paperwork is now in order, and I’m picking the machine up after work on Thursday. Anyone out and about on 29th January in Dubai in the afternoon might like to consider Murphy’s Law and carry an umbrella.

Meanwhile, Beloved Wife has been exceptionally supportive after recovering from her initial shock. She absolutely refuses to ride pillion. The deal appears to be that if I’m allowed a motorbike, then in due course I’m not permitted to object when she buys a hot-air balloon.


Thursday, January 22, 2009

The Goat is landed

The Goat’s silence on the blogosphere of late has been caused by a week’s vacation in Cyprus. What, Cyprus again? Well yes, actually. Beloved Wife and I visited in August and then again in October. This time was to experience winter and, with any luck, to select an appropriate plot of land for our dream home.

Following the dubious delights of the fleapit hotels that I picked last time and the time before, I suggested that Beloved Wife might like to try her hand at on-line hotels. We have therefore ended up in a ‘four-star’ establishment on the west coast. Breakfast is both vast and excellent, apart from the fried zucchini that look exactly like mushrooms until they’re no longer under monochrome heating lamps. It’s a huge improvement over two bread rolls and a limp piece of Spam. Actually, the hotel would still have been prohibitively expensive, were it not for a 40% discount for booking seven low-season nights. The indoor pool, sauna and steam room are also marvellous. I haven’t dared to try the torture chamber fitness machines. Winter is very much low season. The “Tomb of the Kings” Road has turned into the “Tomb” of the King’s Road.

I took Beloved Wife for a Teppenyaki meal for her birthday. Apart from the food being filling, fresh and fabulous, we had the full cutlery-juggling show from our chef. We also nearly lost eyebrows to the flames. Apart from that evening, we’ve mostly eaten at the local chippy. I like steak and kidney pie, and Beloved Wife likes pork chops by the square foot.

We’ve also been shopping for stuff that’s either Not Coming In Dubai or else is ridiculously overpriced. Lace tablecloths and motorcycle gear, since you ask. More on the latter in a later post.

Several land agents have given us guided tours around the island to view miscellaneous pieces of real estate for sale. A curious thing is that almost all of those parcels of land that we were shown were around 25% to 30% higher in price than our stated budget. I wonder which particular part of: “This is the maximum that we can afford” is so difficult to understand? Ah, the allure of 25% to 30% extra commission. Of course. There seems to be a general failure to realise that 25% to 30% of buggerall isn’t very much.

We managed to whittle down three visits’ worth of sites from over twenty to merely two. All of the others were rejected on the grounds of horrible or non-existent access tracks, the plot being flat but on a 45-degree slope, the ground being ghastly clay, the asking price being prohibitively above our budget, the plot being 30 miles up a bendy road into the sticks, and in some cases all of the above. Mind you, the roads to and from Salamiou are a scratcher’s paradise...

Of the remaining two sites, one turned out to be half the advertised size. The agent’s subterfuge was easily exposed by a Goat wielding a scale rule. We put in a low bid of around 70% of the asking price for the other one. With a global recession in progress and the Pound Sterling competing with Zimbabwe for worthlessness, our offer was accepted.

Having secured the land - inshallah - and instructed a lawyer, it’s time to save furiously in order to stick a highly insulated, solar powered, recycled grey-water, organic-tofu-knitting house on it.


Tuesday, January 06, 2009


The Grumpy Goat doesn’t normally do requests. However, an impassioned plea from one ‘Shishkabob’ for a take on what one might euphemistically describe as the economic downturn has inspired this ill-informed piece.

Loads of traditional alchemists have over the centuries wasted an appalling amount of time, effort and money trying to transmute metals. In their ultimately futile attempts to get something for nothing, all the medieval alchemists achieved - apart from inventing a science that would become chemistry - was to turn gold into less gold. Meanwhile, the manufacturers of crucibles and esoteric glassware made a packet. The Philosopher’s Stone was supposedly able to turn base material into gold: it certainly worked for J. K. Rowling.

I am indebted to those luminaries of the financial services industry who seem to be a modern parallel to those medieval alchemists. Taking my gold, they promise returns that will outstrip bank interest and insist that this is the only way to beat inflation. If the bank’s paying 4% and inflation is 5%, the result is Mr Micawber’s ‘misery.’

When these allegedly high-yield, tax-free, low-risk investments all go pear-shaped, those same alchemists say that such a downturn was unprecedented and completely unpredictable. My own funds, managed by paid professionals in that industry because I’m a complete duffer, have an unerring habit of creeping slowly up during the good times, yet at the merest hint of a downturn they get sucked down like someone who realises where the Titanic is going but can’t find a lifeboat. Sure enough, gold turns into less gold. In recent weeks, scary news of 50% drops will of course require 100% rises just to get back to where they were. I would have been better off ignoring those ‘this is the only way to beat inflation’ pundits and instead spending the last decade piling up cash in old socks under the mattress. I would have been a lot better off sticking my savings in a bank deposit account. The current arrangement has all the disadvantages of a long-term deposit account - no immediate access to the money - without the benefit of fund growth.

As for the sub-prime meltdown, who in his right mind lends money to someone who demonstrably can’t make the repayments? Perhaps the type who realises exactly what he’s mis-sold, takes his big bonus and then does a runner before the borrower defaults and leaves taxpayers to sort out the unholy yet wholly predictable mess. It is unreasonable to expect that property prices will increase for ever to cover the debt. House prices cannot outstrip salaries ad infinitum. Eventually property becomes prohibitively expensive and the real-estate market goes pop experiences a correction.

Clearly the Goat has a PhD in Applied Hindsight.

I do not pretend to understand how the oil price is affected by all these machinations. It is however obvious that fluctuations in oil will have a major effect on the local Middle East hydrocarbon-based economies. I have an article from BusinessWeek, 13 March 2006. In it, there is a discussion to the effect that with oil at around $50 a barrel for the foreseeable future, Gulf states have never had it so good. They’re all flushed with cash and are able to invest at levels never before seen:
    ‘This year, with oil prices stuck in the $55-to-$65-per-barrel range, perhaps half a trillion dollars will land in OPEC coffers -- more than at any time since the boom of the 1970s and 1980s. The Mideast oil states alone will gather in $320 billion in oil and gas export revenues.’
Yet in January 2009, with oil at around that same $50 a barrel, those same Gulf states have joined the Greek chorus of financial hand-wringing. It’s amazing how quickly everyone forgets that $140 a barrel was a temporary spike, preferring to imagine that this has been the prevailing price since the dawn of Time.

My understanding is that budgets were previously based on anticipated income from flogging oil at say $30 a barrel. And then the 2009 budgets were set assuming an unending rise past $200 ‘to infinity and beyond.’ Hence the curtailing of spending plans once it became apparent that oil revenue would be lower and income wouldn’t keep pace with expenditure.

This is rather like me looking at my regular salary and working out that I can afford to make the payments on a Toyota Camry. Then, after receiving a one-off annual bonus, I extrapolate that as if I’ll get the same bonus every month for ever. So I go and buy a Bugatti Veyron. It all ends in tears, of course. Having reverted to my previous ‘real’ salary, I can barely keep up with the speeding fines let alone the bank repayments.

No-one can actually predict numbers accurately. If I could, there’s no way I’d be fiddling about with stocks, shares, equities, precious metals, real-estate or bank interest. I’d make my million every week by predicting the lottery results.


Friday, January 02, 2009


Christmas was a modest, quiet affair at the Crumbling Villa. Just the two of us, with Yours Truly handling the dinner while Beloved Wife discharged her contractual obligations by working until mid afternoon. We opened presents and then ate, before settling down to the traditional post-Christmas bloat in front of the telly. One of the gifts I received was the extremely practical flag - hand embroidered appliqué, no less - for attaching to the Goatmobile when desert driving. Other stuff included a book on how to deal with an architect and a “Teach Yourself Greek” computer program suite. As we’re heading down the self-build route for a house in Cyprus, these will be most welcome. You can tell if the software is effective if blogs start appearing by possibly some variant of Ο Τράγος Γκρινιάρης.

The Goat and his Beloved Wife decided weeks ago that seeing in the New Year would certainly not involve expensive tickets to a noisy bar or nightclub. Notwithstanding the dubious allure of ‘free selected beverages all night’ or a ‘glass of bubbly at midnight’, there are many more satisfactory ways to celebrate the annual December to January rollover.

We decided to go camping. The Yellow Box of Doom and his co-pilot would be joining us, as would various diving buddies, work associates and friends of friends. The guest list, including the ‘probably’ and ‘maybe’ brigades started to become long. At the actual event, it’d dwindled down to four cars: the Goatmobile, the YBOD, Louise with toddler offspring and two friends and, joining us after dark because he had to work until late, Louise’s hubby.

As it turned out, all of Dubai’s New Year celebrations were reported cancelled in the 31st December newspapers. To show solidarity, we’re told. I imagine a lot of very upset people. Not just the punters with their now worthless admission tickets, but the events organisers whose venues would spend all night impersonating an English seaside resort on a wet winter Wednesday. Quite how cancelling all New Year revelling in Dubai serves to benefit Palestine’s stand against the Zionist menace seems unclear...

I’d previously located a spot that would be easy 4x4 access for inexperienced drivers to negotiate in the dark. It was off the E77 near The Tiger Woods sandpit golf course and far enough out of town to avoid light pollution and traffic roar. Co-pilot brought along a couple of packs of Cyalume glow sticks. The idea was that the route to the camp site would be signposted with these to augment the sketch map and directions. In the event, only one vehicle would be arriving late, so I simply drove back to the road and escorted Colin to the camp site.

The Box o’Doom is now proudly adorned with a roof tent. [SMUGMODE] No sand in the bed for that couple, we were repeatedly assured. [/SMUGMODE] I’ve only recently come away from the Desert Challenge, so can unpack and erect my dome tent, pneumatic mattress et al in not very much time at all. This leaves more time for the serious business of Hogmanay: the beverages. Meanwhile Louise’s team struggled with an enormous double dome Pleasure Palace with entry hall, separate majlis and snooker room, which would have blotted out the sun had this not already retreated below the western horizon.

With fire pit dug, tiki torches lit and barbecue poised for sacrifice of meat products, I realised that we were actually closer to the road than I’d previously imagined. We could just see the street lights and could hear the constant low rumble of heavy trucks. Nevertheless, suggestions that we relocate further into the desert were met with howls of derision and anguish.

As the crescent moon and Venus both set, we’d have an excellent view of the canopy of stars. But alas, this was not to be. The stars vanished, as did the street lights. Fog had rolled in making visibility probably twenty metres or less. I’ve had dives with better viz. And it didn't arrive on little cat feet either. This sort of fog stomped in wearing wellies: the damp, cloying, soggy, wet stuff of Charles Dickens or Sherlock Holmes, leaving the cars, tents and camping gear all dripping with water. We huddled closer to the campfire, ate our barbecued food, drank, and chatted until midnight. Alcohol-induced wit, jokes and confessions whiled away the damp couple of hours until midnight.

Immediately after the Witching Hour, despite the crescent moon having set some hours previously, a display of full moons inexplicably occurred. There are positively no photos of that rather debauched spectacle.

My al cheabo tent was more or less waterproof. I suspect the little dampness within may have been condensation. Bearing in mind it was bought yonks ago at an Ace Hardware sale, I still think it represents excellent value. I would not attempt to use the same tent in a UK environment; not even in August. That said, with mattress and feather quilt and pillows, Beloved Wife and I had a comfortable and warm night, only occasionally punctuated by my phone bleating every time a new text message arrived.

What a splendid start to 2009! Bright, sunny and warm. No trace remained of last night’s fog apart from dew on all surfaces. All the happy and/or hungover campers assembled and fired up their gas stoves for a monstrous fry-up predominantly comprising haraaminal washed down with steaming mugs of tea, coffee or chocolate. During breakfast we were visited by an enormous herd of camels, which fascinated the toddler. When you’re two, camels must appear enormous; not that this dissuaded him from chasing them. By the time breakfast was complete the sun had pretty much dried the tents, so these could be struck and packed. We swept the campsite for trash to bag and remove, before making biodegradable tracks back to the highway and splitting up to go home.

To our annoyance it turns out that our broadband internet connection has failed. Surfing, blogging and Amazon will be on Ye Olde Dialle-Uppe until we carry out our New Year Resolution and get Itisalot to restore a decent connection. Hope springs eternal.


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