Sunday, July 26, 2009

Show them you're cross

Thinking about buying a new smart phone?
An iPhone or perhaps a BlackBerry?
Itisalot will want to give you software:
A software patch “for switching to 3G.”

That patch is made for spying
And that’s just what it’ll do.
Upload it, and your telco
Will be monitoring you.

It costs too much to rent palatial villas,
At least, if you’re a single family.
But if it’s big enough, perhaps by sharing,
Two live together, independently.

Except that it’s illegal.
Says, “Here’s a clar’fication
Issued since February.”

This evening I’m going to the gold souq
To buy a piece of tasteful jewelry.
In Sharjah I am not allowed to wear it
Because of gold chain’s illegality

If wearing gold’s offensive
Do up your buttons quick!
If you dress like Tom Jones
You will be hauled off to the nick.

Appropriate acknowledgements to Lee Hazlewood who wrote the original, and Nancy Sinatra who made it famous.


Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Eighth Commandment

Poor Keefie and MamaDuck have been victims again. It makes me realise how fortunate I’ve been so far. I was only ever robbed once in Spain. Having been directed by the Law to park in the Back of Beyond in Puerto Banus, my mates and I locked and left the rental car and went sighteeing. The car was of course ripped off in our absence. Plod was completely uninterested, so we carried out our own investigation.

A nearby cinema-cum-disco was surrounded by a kind of dry moat, in which we discovered dozens of opened suitcases, clothing, holiday snaps and empty wallets. Clearly this was where the local sticky-fingered brigade brought tourists’ bags and rifled them for cash, passports and other valuables. And in my case, driving documents, camera, lenses and travellers’ cheques. Policing this obvious den of criminality was clearly beyond the wit of the local Constabulary, who were too busy directing traffic around the car park.

I think there’s a fundamental problem with making rental cars so obvious. The occasional ‘Hertz’ sticker might imply long-term lease rather than tourists, but a system whereby the rental status of the vehicle is advertised to everyone might tempt the weak-willed and easily-tempted. Four obviously sunburned blokes piling out of a Seat Panda (with crappy door locks, as we’d just learned) shouts “Tourists!” almost as much as knotted handkies and Union Flag shorts.

That was Spain. Rental cars in Cyprus have black-on-red number plates. OK, this tells everyone else on the road that the car is full of tourists who probably don’t know where they’re going and will probably stop unexpectedly or drive on the wrong side of the road, but the red plate is also a potential thief magnet. An unattended rental car is probably full of cameras, passports and money.

Similar problem in Bonaire in the Netherlands Antilles. In that ‘diving paradise’, the rental vehicle of choice is a crew-cab pickup with a lockable load bed for the dive kit. Unfortunately the local villains have realised that a parked pickup on the roadside near a dive site is likely to be unattended for up to an hour, and is therefore a very easy target. You can’t take your wallet and passport with you when you go diving. Robbery is such an issue that we were warned of it by the rental company. My friends and I resolved the problem when we were there by diving in two buddy pairs, with the dry pair minding the car and the children.

Bear in mind the above, and then appreciate the relatively low levels of theft here in the UAE. Perhaps low crime is encouraged by a penal system that, for example, earns some thief three months in Al Slammah (plus deportation, plus loss of end-of-service benefits, etc) for nicking a - presumably used - tube of toothpaste. Oh, and a camera handle (whatever that is), a phone and a couple of SIM cards. However, given that I’d want to string up thieves by their gonads perhaps the official legal system is effective enough.

That’s not to say crime doesn’t occur. My car, a rented Lancer at the time, was once broken into at Dibba harbour while I was diving on a Mussandam day trip. The evidence was all over the windows: juvenile paw-prints showed that they’d pried one of the windows down a quarter of an inch, opened a door with a long stick and helped themselves to my car-park change. In a busy fishing harbour, no-one had seen a thing, and reporting the incident to the Royal Oman Police at 7pm on a Friday? Forget it. Put it down to Gringo/Gaijin/Gora tax. As Keefie noted, “…you are rich, so it doesn’t matter to you.” I rather think not!

To end on a happier note, here's a story about a burglar who climbs over a wall with intent to rob a house.

A voice says, “Jesus is watching you.”

The burglar looks around, and notices only a goat in the garden. He sneaks up to the house and starts to jimmy a window.

“Jesus is watching you,” says the goat.

The astonished burglar asks, “Who are you?”

“Clarence,” replies the goat.

“What kind of a moron calls his pet goat Clarence?”

“The same kind who calls his pet rottweiler Jesus.”


Monday, July 13, 2009

Wheel meat again

The trouble with tyres is that they’re expensive and they wear out. In the harsh Arabian climate, tyres don’t last until the tread is down to its last 1.6mm. Heat and abuse see to it that the sidewalls crack or the tread separates from a tyre’s structure well before then. This is one reason why a vehicle presenting for registration with tyres more than four years old will automatically fail. It is, apparently, illegal to drive on the UAE’s roads with tyres more than five years old, so there has to be at least one year’s life remaining on the inspection day. The date of manufacture is embossed on the sidewall, along with other stuff including the size, temperature and speed ratings, plus lots of additional guff about not fitting the tyre on the wrong size of wheel rim.

Gulf News ran this story about the dangers of cheap, low-quality, expired or part-worn tyres. It is probably true that your average punter can’t tell the difference between a decent tyre with partly-worn tread and one that’s about to fall to pieces having been repeatedly run flat or bounced against kerbs. But where do you draw the line? If buying or using pre-owned tyres is illegal or at least inadvisable, then every rental car and certainly every second-hand car must have all its tyres replaced immediately there is a change of driver. And I can see that happening only in my wildest fantasies.

The biggest tyre scandal in my opinion is dodgy operators allegedly renting out a set of decent tyres just so that some villain, heedless of his own mortality, can get a vehicle past inspection, after which the old knackers are put back on. Do goods fleet operators keep a spare set of wheels for their trucks solely for registration purposes? Next time you’re at the traffic lights behind an artic, take a look at the treadless racing slicks with canvas or wires poking through, and draw your own conclusions.

“ ’Ello, ’ello, ’ello. Is this your vehicle, sir?”

I don’t appreciate unexpected blow-outs, so I recently replaced all five of the Goatmobile’s boots. After 46,000km of asphalt, gravel tracks and dune driving, there was plenty of tread left on the Cooper Discoverer H/Ts, but running deflated for off-road use had helped to crack the sidewalls. Several puncture repairs in each tyre finally drove me to buy replacements. The previous set, Yokohama Geolandar G901s lasted around 60,000km, but these really were knackered when I finally replaced them. The new boots are a set of Cooper Discoverer ATRs. The tread is a bit more aggressive than the H/Ts, but I didn’t really want anything too gnarly and knobbly. My friend over at the Yellow Box of Doom went out and bought STT tyres, which have so much tread they’d not look amiss on the back of the Mississippi Queen. But aggressive tread is extremely noisy on asphalt.

The standard tyre size for the Goatmobile is 265/65R17. I’ve been using slightly oversize 275/65R17, but I’ve now decided to try 265/70R17. The additional height of the latest tyres increases the circumference by about 3.4%, the practical consequence of which is the speedometer is now accurate instead of being optimistic. I was briefly tempted by the 285/70R17 but I was put off by the prodigious cost.

Speaking of cost, Renaissance Tyres (N25°16'26" E055°20'47") is the Cooper distributor and offers good service and the best price I’ve found. It’s cash only, and fitting and balancing is done for no additional charge at Radial Tyres (N25°16'19" E055°20'00"). About five years ago I gave up on trying to save a couple of additional dirhams by patronising the dodgy Sharjah tyre emporia. I was sold a set of old-stock that were ‘impossible to balance’, and it took a trip to Tyre Express to get the balancing done so that my old Landy didn’t shake to pieces at 80kph.

Concerning the fashion for nitrogen fills, I think the idea of inflating tyres with an inert gas instead of air has its merits, especially for high-performance vehicles like Airbus A340s, but I’m sceptical about the value for a normal, bog-standard street car. The benefits are supposed to include reduced oxidation and destruction of the tyre from the inside, no corrosion of the rim, and reduced temperature effects. Of course, if there’s no oxygen present, it can’t attack the tyre or the rim. Frankly, I suspect most of the benefits come from using processed, dry gas instead of ordinary boring old air, sucked from the humid atmosphere and blown into the tyre along with water vapour, carbon dioxide, bus drivers’ farts and small insects. And as for supposedly not expanding when it gets hot, I wonder which part of the gas law (PV/T = k) does not apply to nitrogen?

I was flicking through a motoring magazine while waiting for my new tyres to be fitted. Hilariously, some luminary stated in writing that, whilst 100% nitrogen wasn’t warranted for most vehicles, 30% nitrogen was recommended. Does he not know that air is already 80% nitrogen? How is he proposing to remove the additional 50%, and what is he going to insert in its place? Does he also not comprehend that the benefits of a nitrogen fill are only realised if oxygen and water are completely eliminated from the fill?

One final thought. In A View to a Kill, James Bond (Roger Moore) evades the Legions of Darkness by hiding underwater in a car wreck, breathing the contents of the spare tyre. I’d not recommend trying this with a nitrogen fill.


Monday, July 06, 2009

Full frontal anonymity

For the first time I can remember, I managed to get through an entire year of motoring in the UAE without so much as a parking ticket. Presenting the Goatmobile for inspection this morning, I feared the worst as usual. The thorough and detailed inspection process took the customary fifteen seconds and cost Dh100. I ensured that the car was spotlessly clean before presenting it. Vehicles have failed inspection in the past for ‘being too dirty’, and with its jacked-up suspension, steel bumpers, wheel spacers, spotlights, stickers on the back and 30% window tint, the Goatmobile is already pushing the envelope of acceptability. It passed without comment. Huzzah!

Sharjah has decided that this year’s money-making scam is to change everybody’s number plates. So in addition to the inspection fee and Dh125 for a new gold-coloured registration card, I was obliged to have two perfectly good registration plates from the Goatmobile untimely ripp’d. The new plates (Dh85 including fitting) dispense with traditional Arabic numerals and instead of being ‘bilingual’, are now solely in Latin characters. The new plates were manufactured while I waited. There was a problem fitting the front one. The feeble drill available to the plate fitters won't touch the steel bumper so the Goatmobile is anonymous until I get it home.

As an aside, I do know that the standard set of Western numerals are actually Arabic, and Arabic numerals are Arabic-Indic…

The reason for the change is presumably a money-making scheme. Aside from Dh80 profit on each set, the new plates are easier to read and less subject to errors when dispensing camera-centric justice.

I therefore wonder why a few years ago the nearby State of Qatar changed from number plates having Western and Arabic numerals the same size to a predominantly Arabic character set and Western numerals much smaller in a forgotten corner of the plate? Over in the Magic Kingdom, combinations of Arabic letters that transliterate into something ‘offensive’ are to be replaced. ‘BAR’, ‘ASS’, ‘SEX’ and curiously ‘USA’ are all deemed unislamic.

Meanwhile, with numerals only, there remains the opportunity to contrive vanity plates reading ٨١١٧٤ ١٥٧٤٢ among others. The dark winter evenings must simply fly by…


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.