Sunday, February 22, 2009

Curses! Foiled again

Beloved Wife and her Goat have been looking quite seriously for land in Cyprus for several months now. Yet each time, defeat is snatched away from the very jaws of victory.

On our most recent visit, one of the many places we looked at ticked most of the boxes. A level plot, easy access to a public road, definitely arable, not far from civilisation but private, not on recently levelled clay. There were issues, notably the nearest power being a mile away and water probably a similar distance.

Although initially advertised at way above our original budget, the agent said that there was room for negotiation, so we negotiated. The currency was actually Euro, but seeing as Cypriots seem to prefer to obfuscate financial matters by persisting with the obsolete Cyprus Pound, I’ve chosen to obfuscate further by adopting the entirely fictitious Ankh Morpork Dollar.

The first price, AM$ 80, was clearly ridiculous, and we said so.

Pointing out that it’d probably cost the thick end of AM$ 12 to get electricity to the site and a further AM$ 3 for potable water, we started to negotiate. There was also the matter that the owner was apparently desirous of disposing of the land as soon as possible, and we were standing there virtually with cash. That had to be worth more discount. And the first price had already dropped to AM$ 73.

We offered AM$ 59. This represents a 20% discount on the new asking price, but as land and property in Cyprus has plummeted by 41% over the first ten months of 2008,according to Aristo, in this article, we thought that our offer would not be unreasonable. For cash.

The agent called the owner on the phone, and eventually we closed on AM$ 60. That would give the vendor her target AM$ 58 clear, after paying taxes and agent commission. A little above our budget, but manageable. The agent already knew that our stated maximum budget was AM$ 58, so presumably the vendor would come down to a figure close to this otherwise what would the point have been in showing us the plot? We contacted our lawyer and handed over the letter from the vendor’s agent confirming AM$ 60 for a quick sale. Forty-eight hours later the money was with the lawyer. Not bad, considering that this was over a weekend.

And then the trouble started. The owner turned out to be the husband of the person named on the title deeds as part of some tax dodge, and he wanted AM$ 70. This was quite clearly prohibitive from our point of view, so we left the agent with the deadline of 20 February to accept our offer of AM$ 60 or to come up with a realistic counteroffer for our consideration. On 18 February, we were told that the vendor (the real one, not his wife) wanted AM$ 64, so we split the difference and said we could find AM$ 62.

The agent called us that evening. The vendor absolutely would not accept one gnat’s todger below AM$ 70 and there had never been an offer of AM$ 64. I suspect he spat his dummy out when we failed to come grovelling that would he please accept our AM$ 70. Well, I can also spit my dummy out, and take my ball home too, so I explained fully and frankly to the agent what the owner could do.

Remember, this is in a falling market. No-one is buying anything in Cyprus at the moment, mortgages are like hen’s teeth, so it’s not as if there’s another buyer lined up. I suspect that the landowner has been party to tall taverna tales, where various gentlemen lie to each other about how much they allegedly got for their fields.

I also suspect that the agent is a crook, who may be party to the conspiracy: “If these rich mugs from Dubai can magic AM$ 60 out of nowhere, they’ll be able to find another AM$ 10.”

What evidence for this alleged crookedness?

  • A previous plot advertised at 820sq.m remained at 820sq.m despite my calculations that it was 550sq.m. And now it’s advertised at 550sq.m. And not sold, by the way. Something about a 33% reduction in area and a zero reduction in price.

  • The current plot, advertised at 3300sq.m actually scales at around 2740sq.m on Google Earth.

  • Another plot we looked at was advertised at 2800sq.m, but turned out to be 1900sq.m. When queried, the agent acquiesced; we’d been shown the correct plot but it was the wrong advert.

  • While negotiating, the agent suggested that we bung EUR20,000 under the table as a tax dodge.

  • Several other agents described this one as a ‘crook’. Honour amongst thieves, eh?
One of these other crooks agents was responsible for the previous
deal that fell through
as a direct result of EUR turning into CYP as we went to the airport. On reflection, this was a probably a face-saving mechanism to get us to pull out of a deal that would have left the developer over a legal barrel if we behaved in the same underhand manner as he’d planned to do.

What are we going to do now? I’m tempted to wait until about June and then contact the agent again. I asked the readers to vote on the appropriate response.
    42% picked: “Has that field been sold yet? No? Our offer of AM$ 60 is now AM$ 55.” This one looks favourite, then.

    8% picked: “Is that field still for sale? Will he accept AM$ 60? Well that’s tough, ’cos we bought something else.”

    25% picked: “We’re fed up of your failure to play by your own rules, so bought land in a completely different country. Goodbye for ever.”

    25% picked: “I curse thee and thine offspring, yea even unto the seventh generation.”

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Nostalgia ain't what it used to was

When I were a lad all this were fields / forest / sand dunes / open ocean (delete as applicable). Doesn’t everyone above a Certain Age remember going out riding bikes all day, building dens on waste ground, and nobody ever needed to phone their parents? Most parents didn’t have a telephone anyway, nor a telly.

And we all lived in t’shoe-box in t’middle o’t’road…etc. Hark! The strains of Sousa.

And what of the kids today? They spend all their time sndg txt msjs 2 thr frnds, or on those interwebs. Hours and hours on Facebook, MySpace, Twitter or World of Warcraft. And when they’re not chatting on line to that 13-year-old girls-school athletics champion (who’s actually 47 and called Clive), it’s out with the Wii or the PlayStation.

Is it possible that this ‘deplorable’ state of affairs is a direct consequence of over-protective upbringing?

The kids of today aren’t allowed to go and kick a ball around in the street for fear of being run down by a motorist. They can’t go and play in the park either: “No Ball Games”, “Keep Off The Grass”. And anyway, how to get to the park? Ride bikes? What, on the road? Of course not. Some adult will have to helicopter the children to and from the park, and keep a close eye on them. It’s far too dangerous to leave youngsters to their own devices. A lot of playground equipment was torn down in the late seventies after it was deemed unsafe. Adieu to the witch’s hat; farewell to the giant Wicksteed cast-iron slide with a wooden cage at the top and the slippery surface polishable with a Mother’s Pride wrapper. Nowadays everybody knows that playgrounds and parks are hunting grounds for predatory paedophiles.

So what do we find? An entire generation of children who aren’t allowed out unsupervised and whose only connections with the outside world are the telephone and internet. That’s healthy and character-building, I’m sure, as well as waistline-building. Video games also corrupt the yoof, don’t they? Clearly if some adolescent spends all of his on-line time dressed up as a minotaur* and duffing up the Undead Lord of Khazi-Lid, he will surely re-enact these violent fantasies when he goes out and gets a Real Life.

Banished outside, with no money and not allowed to play footie or go bike riding, teenagers congregate beneath the only available shelter. And then get ASBOs for loitering at bus stops.

“But my teenage son/daughter/other is permitted to come and go as he/she/it pleases.” Really? How many youngsters nowadays are allowed out without a mobile phone? And without strict instructions that it is to be switched on at all times, and to phone home regularly? Not very many, I reckon. Far from being an emancipation contraption, the mobile phone is actually an apron-string.

Being able to communicate with friends across the planet, to be able to interact with those friends in real time (instead of the ritual annual exchange of Christmas cards in which everyone says that they really ought to stay more in touch and then don’t) is probably a good thing. It must surely be an improvement over the criticism levelled a few years ago at my generation: that we wasted our childhood sat inertly in front of the magic idiot-box.
    * In World of Warcraft they’re called Tauren, and my understanding, as a non-WoW player, is that they’re Good Guys.

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Sleepers, awake!

I’ve only been doing a little bit of gentle commuting plus one business day-trip to Khor Fakkan, and the bike’s already in for its first service. This will include all those little niggling odds and ends that have come to light since collecting the machine on 29 January. The first problem manifested as I rode away from the shop. The handling was very peculiar. I got home and discovered 19psi in the tyres rather than the correct 42psi. I have since bought a foot-pump and pressure gauge for home use. A second issue is that the magic tyre-pressure-monitoring system, an arrangement whereby the pressures are transmitted wirelessly to an on-board computer display, doesn’t work. Frankly, I think the TPMS is an unnecessary gimmick. It will, I am assured, be fixed under warranty.

I quickly discovered that although riding at night and early in the morning is freezing cold - Man is not designed to be whizzed unprotected through the air five times faster than he can run, and neither is Goat - riding when the sun is near its zenith gets all hot and sweaty even in February. As I will not ride without protective gear, I’ve found a lighter-duty jacket that is essentially a fishing net with some padding for spine, elbows and shoulders. My Kevlar-lined “Draggin’ Jeans” are excellent, but I’ll acquire some knee pads in due course.

A huge advantage of commuting by motorcycle rather than by car is being able to stick the bike where a car cannot go. Straight to the front of the traffic light queue, for example. However, unlike those little couriers’ bikes that can apparently fit between two sheets of paper, the Connie is forty-two inches wide at the mirrors, so any gap between stationary vehicles has to be huge. (There’s a facetious remark here involving ‘stationery’ and the aforementioned ‘two sheets of paper’. Must…resist…). Arriving at the office, parking is a lot easier than with a car. I have found a space beneath a building: one that’s too small for a car and is beyond the guano range of all but the most imaginative pigeons.

Another advantage is 47 miles per imperial gallon AND 0-100kph in about three seconds. The bike will allegedly accelerate eventually to a licence-erasing 240kph, although mine is unlikely ever to go anywhere near there. Compared with driving the car, speeds in the 80kph to 120kph range feel astonishingly rapid. It must be the wind. For the time being, the hero blobs on the footrests remain pristine and unsullied. Despite my preference for bendy roads, I’m still out of practice and therefore continue to take corners like a total gurl. Being overtaken by White Van Man on a cloverleaf loop is nothing short of embarrassing.

What of the disadvantages? One obvious one is the total inability to go off road. Gravel tracks are possible, but I absolutely detest riding a motorcycle on a slippery surface. I took the car to work on Sunday because of the rain. I note with alarm the number of oil spills on curves. Does someone go out late at night with a watering can full of diesel?

The main problem is, as anticipated, other motorists. My invisibility is astonishing. Minibuses emerge from side roads and launch into roundabouts. Mind you, they do this in front of everyone. Cars drift from lane to lane into the space occupied by a motorbike. But they do this to other cars too. On single carriageways it’s apparently OK to overtake even if there’s a 350kg projectile incoming at a relative 200kph with 110 watts of unswitchoffable halogen headlights blazing.

What I need is a loud twin-tone horn to alert the Acolytes of Μορφευς. The factory-supplied mouse fart is inconsequential, inaudible and inadequate.

I’m open to suggestions on the next issue. Throughout my motorcycle training all those years ago I was taught that, when riding in a lane of traffic, to position the bike to one side or the other, preferably the outside. This enables the guy in front to see the bike in his driver’s mirror, offers the biker additional forward visibility, and also provides an escape route if the vehicle in front unexpectedly stops for some reason. Never, I was taught, ride directly behind the middle of the vehicle because there’s no escape route and, in the case of a van, truck or bus, the bike is totally invisible from the front. “If you can’t see my mirrors, I can’t see you”, as the bumper sticker says. Guess what happens here. Ride to one side, and some clown behind invariably tries to squeeze past the bike. Next time someone tries to push me into a flowerbed, there might be an incident involving a motorcycle boot and a door panel.

The proper place for a big bike isn’t fighting through heavy traffic. It’s enjoying the freedom of the open road. How apposite then, that the Kawasaki agent glories in the name ‘Liberty’.


Tuesday, February 03, 2009

A box of rocks

The Goatmobile generally only gets abused off-road as a hobby. When trips along wadis are connected with work, I’ll rent a Land Cruiser.

So a little while back that is exactly what I did. Unfortunately, whilst casing one particular joint – a wadi clearly in need of huge embankments, cuttings and a load of asphalt – I heard a horrendous metal-versus-stone graunching sound from beneath. I had hooked one of the cheap (I use the term metaphorically only; they’re actually hugely expensive), thin, alumininium side-steps on a boulder and bent it. Whoops. The side-steps are sometimes called ‘rock-sliders’ for reasons that, if this evidence is to be believed, are unclear.

Back in the metropolis of Khor Fakkan, I telephoned my office administratium and explained that woe had befallen me.

“All right Mr Goat, what woe has befallen you?”

I explained. In the Real World, such a minor incident would result in having to explain oneself to Mr Hertz van Rental who would probably then refuse to refund part or all of the insurance excess. That would be too easy. Everyone knows that It’s Tough In The Gulf, hence the need for some frustraneous rigmarole.

“No problem, Mr Goat. You have to get a police report that we can give to the car rental company, and Robert will be your mother’s brother.”

And that is why I spent the next three hours in Khor Fakkan police station.

My opening gambit was that I’d bent the side-step (Exhibit A) and could I please have a police report?

“OK. Come tomorrow.”

“Sorry, but the car has to go back to the rental company tonight,” I explained. “It’s on a one day hire only, and anyway I can’t afford to take a day off work specifically to travel all the way to the east coast.”

“Why did you move the car? You should call the police when and where the accident occurred.”

I explained that the incident had happened way up some wadi in the mountains. There was no phone signal. Instead, I’d come straight to the police station.

“We must see the stone that did the damage.” (Exhibit B)

“What?! There are millions of stones up there!” I protested. “How am I supposed to remember exactly which one it was?”

The officer didn’t have an answer to this. He eventually suggested that we just go and identify the culprit by picking some random, suspicious-looking rock. One that looked shifty and villainous would be favourite. Clearly he was advocating that I should deliberately tell lies to a police officer.

I called his bluff: “Come on then. My car or yours?”

And then, noting the fading light of dusk, I had a brainwave. “Come to think of it, if I’m only going to accuse a random rock, we don’t actually need to go into the back of beyond to go and look at it, do we? I can point out where the car got bent from the comfort of this office. Look at this map. (Exhibit C). It happened here, just on this bend.”

“You are a very silly Goat. In fact, here is your police report, just to be rid of you and your foolishness.”


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.