Monday, August 23, 2010

Les Mis

Cruise control is brilliant. Simply get the vehicle up to speed and hit ‘set’, and with hooves off the throttle, the Goatmobile maintains that speed up hill and down dale. Of course, the Goat needs to keep both eyes open in case he catches up with a slow-moving Echo or a Sunnyman, and naturally there remains the obligation to keep his wits: both halves.

The technique for not getting speeding tickets on the daily commute whilst, as they say in the Institute of Advanced Motorists, ‘maintaining adequate progress’ appears to be to set the cruise at just a trace under the speed limit plus 20kph. And a two-tonne Goatmobile at 139.9kph is a lot of metal at a lot of velocity. The system seems to work. Both the Every Emirate Except Dubai and the Dubai (because Dubai is Special) traffic fines websites confirm no outstanding violations up to today.

Speeding tickets seem to be attracted to the Yaris like wasps to a jam pot. With no cruise control, the threat of a BMW-shaped dent in the blunt end encourages ever increasing speeds. Maybe the Goat should watch for the cameras rather than obsessing about that radiator grille filling his rear-view mirror. Or else dawdle along in the second lane at a sedate pace with the wobbly-wheeled pickups.

Why, incidentally, do the slowest drivers pick Lane 2? The Goat’s theory is that it’s because trucks are limited to 80kph and restricted to Lane 1, where they drive in convoy at that speed limit. The ancient van driver either can’t or won’t exceed 65kph, neither does he want a Mitsubishi Canter in his load bed, so he drives in Lane 2 and allows the trucks illegally to undertake. A side effect is that, in the absence of trucks, it’s theoretically possible to drive in a completely empty Lane 1 at R17 (which, as any fan of Douglas Adams will realise, is ‘no fixed velocity, but clearly far too fast.’)

Upon crossing the border into Abu Dhabi, it’s possible to go faster. Local legend has it that the cameras are set at 160kph, notwithstanding the 120kph advertised speed limit. The Goat was amused recently to read a letter in 7DAYS, the gist of which was a whinge that someone had been busted for 161kph whereas he’d allegedly been doing not a trace over 159. In the posted 120 limit; can you hear the high-pitched strains of the world’s tiniest violin?

Having calibrated his speedo through Clarissa the GPS, the Goat is confident that his oversized tyres don’t make the actual speed any less than that indicated by the instrument.

Picture the scene: Motoring at 135kph, not daring to go faster owing to the cameras, there regularly remains the very real danger of getting a three pointed star up the arse. In order to get out of the Merc’s way involves slowing to 90kph and moving into the slower traffic to the right. And the slowing is interpreted as a deliberate snub. Cue wild flashing of headlights, horn hooting and gestures that might get the Goat deported if he did them back.

So this morning the Goat experimented. The Goatmobile looks aggressive from the front, so today it was driven from Ghantoot to Shahama at exactly 159kph.

Initially the effect was startling, with the fast lane traffic parting like the Red Sea in front of a bunch of folk being pursued by Egyptians. Yet presently a black Pathfinder appeared in the Goatmobile’s mirror, and the usual tailgating and headlight flashing started. How many speeding tickets did you earn while catching up?

It did strike the Goat as amusing that a Land Cruiser with a vanity plate, for whom he vacated the left lane, was apparently being assertively piloted by Jean Valjean.

“Men like you can never change,
Men like you can never change,
No, 24601...”


Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Because we can

What are the requirements for buying a car? Hand over the money and, assuming you want to drive it on the road, ensure you have a driving licence and some motor insurance. Simples.

Not in Dubai it isn’t. At least, not when other emirates are involved.

Stage 1: Find out the rules.
    The very nice Big Cheese in Tasjeel advises that if you have an Abu Dhabi residence visa, normal procedure would be to register the vehicle in Abu Dhabi. But if you live in Dubai (because Abu Dhabi is way too expensive) there’s a workaround.

    Produce proof of a Dubai residential address. A tenancy contract is good. Then registering a vehicle in Dubai will be no problem.

Stage 2: Find a suitable vehicle.
    Enter Dubizzle, the small ads, the Goat who knows about cars, and a lot of weeding wheat from chaff. Eventually find one and agree a price, with terms and conditions. “The vendor ensures it passes inspection, and pays for any work needed to achieve this.” etc.

Stage 3: Check with the Goat who knows about cars that you have everything.
    The Goat suggests that, in addition to your UAE driving licence and a copy of the tenancy contract, the buyer should also bring his passport and visa copy (because his Emirates ID card won’t be acceptable), a letter of no objection from the Company confirming the buyer’s employment status, another letter asserting that he actually does live where he says he lives, and that it’s OK to buy a Dubai-registered car and re-register it in Dubai. All letters must be originals on headed notepaper with the stamp of a major, multinational Company that’s been trading in the UAE for 30 years.

Stage 4: Hit a brick wall.
    Confront the Official behind the counter who says that the paperwork is not in order.

    “Don’t blame me; I’m only a minor peon, flexing my minuscule muscles by blindly applying invented rules because I can.”

    The NOCs from the Company are essentially not good enough. The Official requires a DEWA bill in order to prove that the buyer lives where he says he lives. With a DEWA bill, or an original rubber stamp from the Real Estate Regulatory Authority (that is closed at 8pm, obviously), there will be no problem getting the car registered. It would be possible to deal with the problem today, but the Big Cheese is off sick and is therefore unable to waive this Official’s recently-invented requirement.

Stage 5: More brickwork.
    The following morning, the lady behind the counter says that it’s impossible to register a car in Dubai if the buyer’s visa is Abu Dhabi. It will shortly turn out that this assertion is in fact a lie. She initially suggests that the buyer and seller return at 3pm (when, because it’s Ramadan, the office will be shut). Then she says that if the buyer can produce a telephone landline bill in his name, it will be no problem.

    Returning with a phone bill, ...and a DEWA bill, ...and an NOC, ...and the tenancy contract, ...and the passport, ...and the visa, ...and the driving licence, another seat-polisher spends a good five minutes apparently scrutinizing every character on every sheet of every document before he starts to mistype the details into his computer terminal.

    Payment is made, and the buyer is now the proud owner of a Land Rover Discory. [sic]

As anticipated, each stage of the car-buying process is subject to many variations of the rules, regulations and requirements that are interpretations of the real rules, and occasionally made up on the spot. And having made something up, no matter how ridiculous or unreasonable, it’s impossible for Officialdom to back down again.

The Goat had explained that a one-stop shop where the vehicle is inspected, tested, and checked for ownership, insurance and any outstanding traffic violations is basically a very good idea. How embarrassing that in practice such a simple procedure required four separate visits to Tasjeel and about twenty separate sheets of paper.

The reason for this frustraneous experience is easily explained by Hanlon’s Razor: “Never attribute to malice what can adequately be explained by stupidity.”


Saturday, August 07, 2010


The local climate is hellish on tyres. Off-roaders deflate for sand driving, and this stresses and cracks the sidewalls, as well as heats up the air within. So it’s hardly surprising that we as drivers are encouraged to check the pressures and inspect our tyres regularly for damage and deterioration.

Supposedly, if the tyres are over four years old, when a vehicle is presented for inspection it will fail. The rule seems to be “no tyres over five years old”, and obviously if it’s over four at this year’s inspection, it’ll become a mobile traffic offence within a year.

How much of this actually happens in the Real World - or even here? Tyres have a date stamp on the sidewall that typically reads something like “1809” which means that it was manufactured in Week 18 of 2009, and it’s from this date that the five-year clock starts ticking. Did you check the date of manufacture when you last bought tyres? I did, and insisted that one of them be replaced with a newer version before it was even fitted. “Three summers” is the recommended life for tyres in the UAE, so says the manager over at Renaissance Tires. I wish my motorbike tyres would last three summers. Ten thousand kilometres maximum, if I’m lucky!

Tyres suffer an inordinate amount of abuse, and car tyres are usually cracked and knackered well before they’re down to the treadwear indicators. Yet we can still find tyres that are as bald as an American eagle. Apart from the legal aspect, worn-out treadless tyres have zero grip in wet conditions and can pop without warning. Check out the shredded rubber all over the Abu Dhabi – Dubai highway. Each one tells a scary story.

It’s also worth checking the speed and temperature grades stamped on the sidewalls. There’s some dodgy 4x4 rubber out there that’s only rated for 100kph, and because it’s mostly plastic it grips in the wet like a fried egg in a Teflon pan.

So it doesn’t rain in the UAE? Well, mostly true, but you often get spillages from irrigated landscaping flowing on to the roundabouts. Unexpected loss of grip on a sharp bend? Thrilling moment.

Making the unreasonable but inevitable comparison with the UK:-

    A lot of British roads are narrow, bendy, often damp, frequently covered with trees and lined with ditches and walls. Compare with the ram-rod straight Emirates roads, where running off the highway should merely involve a bumpy ride down a 1:6 gravel slope into the adjacent desert.

    Defective tyres contributed to 1% of all reported UK accidents in 2008. Defective tyres contribute to “more than half of road traffic accidents” according to Dubai RTA as reported in last Thursday’s 7DAYS.

    Dubai Police 2002 statistics say 13% of all accidents involved an overturned vehicle; in 2005 it was 7%. Compare with UK where in 2008, 3.8% of car accidents involved an overturn.

I have the 2002 and 2005 reports as hard copies, but the UK stats came from here.

Where is all this leading? Last week I was leaving Abu Dhabi and a car passed me, blew a tyre, and came to a steady halt on the verge. I stopped to see that the driver was alright, and offered assistance, which was much appreciated by the driver who would otherwise have had to wait to be rescued by her husband who was in Dubai. Hence the “Goat in Shining Armour” cliché. The spare was good, and all tools were available. The tyre was complete trash, shredded to rubberised string. I was relieved to note that the rotation direction was OK. It would have been twice the work to put the spare on the left and the left on the right.

When I had a tyre blowout a couple of years ago I wrestled the car to the roadside and changed the wheel without fuss, apart from whinging about the rain and the dark and having to find the wheel nuts by Braille.

So why did the truck that blew out a tyre in front of Beloved Wife on the Emirates Road spin through 540 degrees before stopping in the middle lane? Why do so many drivers seem to lose control after a blowout and put the car on its roof? Why did a minibus that had a puncture swerve into the concrete barrier and shower Beloved Wife’s car with loose gravel? Just as well there was a barrier between the main line and the service road...

And why does a “Tyre blowout in race for red light...” cause an utterly appalling fatal, multi-vehicle pile-up and fire on Al Sufouh Road?

I’m glad that’s sorted out: It was the tyre wot dunnit. Not racing on the highway; not driving without due care; not driving like a buffoon. Bad tyre! Doubtless the police and the courts will throw the book at it.


Sunday, August 01, 2010

Frantic corybantic antics

The Goat has been busy. Too busy, in fact, to put in writing those delightful little quirks of Life in the Lands of the Sand. The latest ignominies perpetrated by that old faithful Red Triangles Bank shall, for the time being, go unblogged. So too shall the Goat's most recent experiences with Itisalot.

Most of the Goat's frantic lifestyle derives from living in the Crumbling Villa and working in Abu Dhabi. This eats up about 14 hours a day, leaving six for sleeping and the remaining five for shopping, eating, cleaning, blogging and shoring up the Villa's most urgent crumbles. Yes, that does add up to more than 24, which illustrates the point.

Since commenting on a previous blog post about how the commute was made marginally more tolerable by having the BBC World Service on the radio, the Goat was astonished one evening to encounter classical music on 87.9MHz instead of 'Outlook'. He actually phoned the radio station broadcasting this music to be told that "We've stolen the frequency from the BBC. Shhh!"

It turns out that without notice, Auntie Beeb - or at least the Foreign Office, which apparently is the entity that funds the World Service - stopped renting the VHF band in the UAE, and listeners are obliged to use Short Wave on a variety of frequencies that change throughout the day. Meanwhile, Abu Dhabi Classic FM broadcasts on 87.9MHz in Dubai, 91.6MHz in Abu Dhabi and 105.2MHz in Al Ain. Although until last week the Abu Dhabi signal was so feeble it was amost inaudible even in the Capital.

Classic FM in the UK was once described by one of the presenters as "A rock-music station that plays classical rather than rock music." Is Abu Dhabi Classic FM essentially the same station? Certainly the station's theme tune is the same, and the playlist generally comprises bite-size chunks of mostly well-known pieces of music composed mainly by dead guys in wigs. Cue Monty Python's "Decomposing Composers" song.

Not that the Goat is complaining. It beats the pants off boom-tsch boom-tsch boom-tsch boom-tsch and tech-tech-tech-techno pop, and takes some of the sting out of the daily commute. Longer tunes mean a lower deejay/music ratio, and this is generally a Good Thing.

Some observations. Three-in-a-row plays take about 20 minutes, and then there's a distinct lack of back-announcing by the deejay. What was that tune? It sounded like Mozart, or one of that crowd (thank you Tom Lehrer), but from which five-act opera that he wrote when he was nine? It is immensely irritating to get to the end of a long series of pieces, only then to cut to the news or other public announcement.

And to the presenters: please, please, please note: Playing classical guitar is not something John Williams does while he's not conducting the Boston Pops. John Towner Williams wrote the music for Indiana Jones, Star Wars, Schlindler's List, ET, Harry Potter and Superman; John Christopher Williams is the guitarist and former member of Sky.

Finally, the cacophone is a theoretical musical instrument that should not be given any air time. Its name is derived from either of two origins; possibly both. Experimental music, including playing all the black notes at the same time, torturing tuneless scratching out of a violin, and beating a trombone with a hockey stick, have no place in the Goat's music collection.

Oh, and the Goat's musical taste is somewhat eclectic. Look at the screenshot from his Facebook page.


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.