Friday, May 28, 2010

Two wheels on my wagon

The much-publicised case of two-wheeled driving and burnouts on Sheikh Zayed Road has mushroomed. The story has gone beyond local blogs and forums, into the UAE’s national newspapers, and even finding its way into the pages of the UK’s Daily Telegraph.

Apart from a few comments along the lines of it being “ country and if you don’t like it you know where the airport is...”, most amateur and professional commentators seem to take the position that the perpetrators should have their cars/licences/goolies confiscated. Delete as applicable.

What is perhaps a little less well known is that this motorised overexuberance, captured on video and distributed on YouTube, was part of an organised convoy in celebration of a local football club’s victory. Al Wasl Football Club apparently won the Gulf Club Champions Cup. I don’t possess a football gene, so have no further information.

Anyway, the convoy was apparently approved by Dubai Police, who were handling traffic control. Unfortunately, it seems that Plod was at the back of the convoy and the hooning was taking place at the front...

Here’s the contentious bit. Local lads partaking in a celebratory cavalcade apparently believed that Sheikh Zayed Road was closed with a rolling roadblock. They were only having fun in a modern local style. As recently as last week, I think it was Gulf News’ weekend ‘Xpress’ paper that published a picture of a Nissan Patrol on its right-hand wheels and a kandoura-clad gentleman balancing himself on the driver’s door. “Fun, until someone gets hurt” was the gist of the caption, but there was no unequivocal condemnation. And who remembers Jeremy Clarkson's Motor World? UAE, 1996. It's on YouTube at the end of this clip.

The Sheikh Zayed Road video only actually became a problem when it went on general release, and a wider audience inferred that this sort of thing goes on all the time and everywhere, with the authorities powerless to prevent it. How embarrassing. If the camcorder hadn’t been there, no evidence would have been available, and any misbehavin’ would have gone undetected. All those cameras along Sheikh Zayed Road, and all powerless to detect any traffic violations that do not involve more than 100kph.

In reaction to the public outpouring of outrage, the villains of the piece have now been ‘arrested’ and their vehicles ‘impounded’. Presumably once the heat has died down there’ll be some minor wrist-slapping.

A brief aside. Earlier this year I was involved in an organised motorbike ‘Thunder Parade’ in aid of Dubai Autism Center. This was also a police-controlled cavalcade along Sheikh Zayed Road. Whilst it is true that there was little or no hooning in evidence on the bike procession, I’d have been less than impressed to receive unwelcome personal attention from the constabulary afterwards.

I cannot and do not condone two-wheeled driving – except on motorcycles, of course – on the public highway, any more than wheelies up Jumeirah Beach Road, and burnouts and handbrake turns at the traffic lights. These activities ought to be limited to closed roads, fenced areas and race tracks. Much practice is required, and plenty of broken machinery. YouTube carries multitudinous examples of stunt drivers who aren’t quite as good as they thought they were. Public roads are an entirely inappropriate place for stunt driving.

There are legal outlets for motorised exuberance: track days over at Dubai Autodrome, where petrolheads can go and drive as fast as they like, in the sole company of consenting adults. And how about the desert, where there’s loads of empty space?

If it’s possible to be arrested for misbehaving on what you thought was a temporarily closed road, then there’s the dangerous possibility of a sudden clampdown on any and all motoring offences. And I bet nobody, no-one at all, drives perfectly 100% of the time.

I’d remind those demanding punitive action to be meted out on the football fans that there’s a story about a man a few years back who said, “Let he who is without sin cast the first stone.”

Be careful what you wish for.


Saturday, May 22, 2010

Toyota Yaris Drivers' Club

What it thinks it is

I have joined the masses who pound the E11 highway twice a day between Dubai and Abu Dhabi. Taking advice from this blog, friends and family, I'm now renting a car so that the Goatmobile doesn't collect too many excessive kilometres. The best deal I found was through Hertz, for unlimited kilometres. Cheaper deals generally involved limited annual mileage (am I allowed to call it 'mileage' when only the US and UK measure road distances in those units?) that would jack the total cost beyond what I'm willing to pay.

So like most of the other UAE rent boys, I'm piloting a Yaris. It always happens: you acquire a new vehicle and then notice everyone else has one too. There are dozens of Yarii - or possibly Yares - on Sheikh Zayed Road every day. Mine came new-ish with about 1000km on it, and I'm sticking the thick end of 1600km on it every week, so of course it needs gassing up virtually every day. Ah, the dubious delights of minuscule fuel tanks. Good gas mileage though: around 7 litres/100km whilst thrashing along at an overall average door-to-door speed of above 100kph.

To my surprise, I'm actually quite enjoying driving the car. I estimate that I'll get a new one in six months or so, before my colossal kilometres makes the Yaris impossible for Hertz to sell at a reasonable price.

It wasn't worth an extra Dh1000 a month just for cruise control, so I've had to re-learn holding the throttle at a constant opening for an hour at a time. I have been surprised at how well the 1300cc engine and auto box perform once the vehicle is wound up to over 100kph. For the first couple of days I used Clarissa the GPS to calibrate the Yaris' speedo. Now I know precisely how fast I can go without triggering the legions of speed cameras. This is of course not nearly fast enough to avoid being flashed out of the fast lane by the pilots of 160kph (and the rest) missiles.

The Yaris is apparently rated at five stars for crash safety, which is some comfort for someone who's used to being surrounded by a couple of tonnes of Goatmobile. Not that I'm planning on testing this claim any time soon.

Parking in Abu Dhabi is unbelievable. The only way I've found to get a space is to leave Dubai before the crack of sparrow-fart. Still learning the route options, I have resolved never, ever again to use the Eastern Ring Road. Wednesday last week it added nearly an hour to the journey for the same distance, which inevitably meant that by the time I'd arrived all parking spaces, aisles and footways were already full of parked cars.


Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Do you love the commute? Err...

The Goatmobile costs around Dh1.50 per kilometre to run. That includes everything spent to date, but does not allow for any money back when it’s traded in. It is assumed that there’ll be little if any residual value once I’ve finished abusing the vehicle on and off road. Perhaps I can get the odometer right around the clock and then sell it as low mileage but a bit tatty for 2004. More than a million kilometres. One careful caprine owner.

Perhaps the equivalent of a return trip to the Moon is starting to look faintly possible. As regular readers of this little corner of cyberspace will doubtless be aware, Muggins was made redundant a week or so ago, five days after bending over backwards to return from the UK, dodging airborne ash particles and generally cashing in favours with friends and family.

The boot up my jacksie happened on Thursday 29th April. I went into the office the following week to clear my desk, return the company laptop, deal with outstanding issues and leave my former boss with the world’s most comprehensive handover notes. So comprehensive were they that he did not find it necessary to ask any questions at all.

Later that same Thursday, one of my colleagues tried to give me some work to do and I apologised that as I no longer worked for the Firm, he would have to find one of the few remaining engineers to deal with his technical queries. The long story short is that my colleague passed my name and phone number to an employment agency on Thursday, the agent phoned me on Friday, I sent him my latest CV on Saturday, and on Wednesday 5th May I had an interview that was immediately followed by a job offer. I started the new job on Sunday 9th May, five working days after being told Sayonara, habibi.

Having been removed from the old sausage machine, this particular cog is now part of a different machine.

This proves that I have marketable skills; that there is demand for what I do. Unfortunately, my previous employer has clients who appear not to want those skills. More specifically, they want them but are unwilling to pay for them.

A further discussion of the new job brings me back to the subject of driving. I now work in Abu Dhabi, and am thus the latest applicant for the post of Driver who Incurs 1500km per Week at his Own Expense. Running the arithmetic reveals that renting a car and thrashing that into the ground would be marginally cheaper than running the Goatmobile, and there would be no inconvenience every seven weeks of getting the vehicle serviced. My motorbike would chew through a back tyre in typically one month because almost the entire journey is bolt upright on a motorway, and it would need to be serviced at the same time. Big bikes need a lot of servicing. However, a rented car would be a Yaris, Tiida or similar. Ugh. I’m on the horns of a trilemma. Bike; rented Yaris; Goatmobile.

Plus there are the added delights of navigating around the capital to find the elusive parking space. Roadworks on Salam Street are confusing and disruptive to bucolic yokels such as I: yesterday I was completely flummoxed and was unable to find my way out of the city via the new Yas Island highway. Twenty minutes after setting sail for home I was still within spitting distance of the office. This situation will, however, improve as I learn my way around Abu Dhabi.

Beloved Wife has agreed in principle that we should move house to somewhere closer to Abu Dhabi than the Crumbling Villa, yet within a sensible commute to her Dubai job. Assuming, of course, that we can find somewhere at a reasonable rent that is large enough for all our stuff.

Finally, as for EoD and Alexander’s suggestion of commiseratory or even celebratory drinkies, I should be at Dubai’s Oirish Village on Friday night after eightish. Dead easy to identify: I’m the one with the beard. And the horns. All welcome. RSVP in the comments.


Tuesday, May 04, 2010

It's that time of year

I'm not sure if it's Luke Skywalker Day, Jedi Day, or Star Wars Day.

But have a happy one.


Saturday, May 01, 2010

May Day m'aidez!

The plan was to live relatively modestly, build up some savings, and then retire in about 2018 to 2020 to the dream house in Cyprus. The best-laid plans of goats and men, together with a load of half-baked fantasy ideas, are now thrown into disarray following an unexpected meeting in the boss’ office on Thursday afternoon.

The Goat has been in continuous employment since January 1986. He spent three years in Guildfordshire, seven years in t’English midlands where he survived a major company buy-out, and then in 1996 he jumped on to an aircraft. Six years in Qatar and nearly eight more in the Emirates. That’s a total of just over 24 years working in the construction industry and only four different employers. Three, if working in the English midlands and in Qatar are recognised as being for the same company. This is a level of company loyalty that might be considered rare in this day and age. The Goat must presumably have been doing something right.

What happened last Thursday?

Owing to the global downturn, UAE governments cancelling any and all projects at a whim, and bills not being paid, the Goat’s job is now redundant. Rather urinating on the Goat’s pyrotechnics, this is the third wielding of the scythe across the office. It is for the Goat a new and not altogether pleasant experience, and follows a statement from the CEO that the company had cut deep and hard, was now out of the woods, and sought to start building business up again.

Unfortunately, it appears that the engineering company wishes to eliminate engineering and technical staff and build up numbers with accountants. Not that the Goat has anything against accountants, who deserve a career as much as everyone else. But the company seems to be viewed from the stratospheric heights of the executive office as some kind of sausage machine. Payroll is dropped into the top, someone winds a handle, and fee income comes out. There are also by-products that are emitted somewhere out the back. These are engineering designs for roads, bridges, tunnels, sewers, buildings, marinas, but these by-products simply happen automatically. It appears that the really important stuff is comparing what goes in the top with forecasts of what is coming out of the front, and the accounts executives can spend their days gleefully comparing financial forecasts.

A practical experiment is also under way: How may parts of the sausage machine can be removed whilst allowing it to continue to function?

Yes, the Goat does realise that salaries and rent are paid for with money, not engineering designs. He also notes what a design consultant actually produces, and wishes that the people who asked for this stuff would now pay for it.

Evidently, the Goat is currently feeling rather bitter, twisted and worthless. He was concerned that a late return to work last week would result in a termination of employment, but has been assured that his unexpected extra week in the UK had nothing to do with the redundancy decision. However, the ultimate effect remains much the same. Redundancy payment is a month’s salary plus what the Ministry of Labour decrees is the level of End of Service benefit. Not a lot, then.

Job seeking will commence in earnest early next week with an up-to-date curriculum vitae. Preference is for the Goat to remain in the same country as his Beloved Wife, but que sera sera. There are presumably other options.


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.