Thursday, December 30, 2010

Two little ducks

Registration number obscured to protect the guilty

The story is very familiar. Tailgated on the Emirates Road by the flashing 4x4, I move out of the left lane. The 4x4 pulls level and down goes the dark window to reveal two unbelted young male occupants. They hurl verbal abuse and make obscene gestures.

One of the disadvantages of having a easy-to-remember vanity plate on your car is that it’s, well, easy to remember. And that is how I was able to check on the Dubai police website that this particular 4x4 does not have the best record in the world. Fifty-two traffic offences since March 2010, over Dh30,000 in fines, and now the car is wanted for impounding. Yet curiously, there are no black points! Despite UAE law imposing 12 points plus a Dh1000 fine plus a 30-day confiscation for speeding at more than 60kph above the posted limit, no points have seen fit to appear. Frankly, anyone who continues to drive this offensively and doesn’t get any penalty points at all is a miracle of modern wasta. Insufficient, however, to prevent the list of offences from appearing on the internet at all.

Assuming a wave of the wasta wand doesn’t cause the fines to vanish at registration time, is the prospect of forking out Dh30,000 really going to worry someone who’s happy to spend millions on a Very Special number plate?

It is high time the traffic authorities - the RTA and traffic police - got all their ducks in a row so that “zero traffic fatalities by 2020” is even remotely achievable. May I helpfully suggest a couple of new year resolutions...?


    I’ve been unable to obtain any form of Highway Code for the UAE despite trying. There is clearly a need to devise and issue a rule book. This ought to be done at a federal level to ensure consistent traffic laws across the entire country. With 150 or so different nationalities all with their own ideas of what constitutes ‘correct’, different opinions inevitably cause a bunfight. All drivers should be issued with the rules when they take driver training, when they get their licences, and when they get their cars registered. Then ignorance of the law really will be no excuse.

    2. Meaningful enforcement

    Sticking cameras all over the highways can only detect speeds in excess of a posted limit or red light violations. It might provide the easiest and most lucrative solution, but almost by definition, the easiest method is the least effective. Perhaps more pullings over to discuss tailgating, speeding, driving on the breakdown lane, mobile phone use, lane discipline and seatbelts are needed, along with inspections of tyres, lights and window tints.

    3. Effective penalty points

    It occurs to me that it’s quite difficult to collect black points except by driving spectacularly badly. A driving ban only occurs after accruing 24 points, and anyway they disappear after a mere six months. I am therefore amazed to read in the news that some drivers even then somehow manage to get themselves disqualified.

    How about linking the points to the motor insurance? Someone who collects plenty of points obviously has a proven inability to stay within the rules and is therefore presumably a higher risk.

    4. Disqualification

    It’s simple really. Having driven so badly that you got yourself banned, if you’re caught behind the wheel you go to jail. Go directly to jail, do not pass ‘Go’, do not collect £200. If you can’t be trusted to stay off the road, the State can provide some assistance.

The alternative approach is to continue to permit mayhem and destruction on the Emirates’ roads. Use automated means to detect speeding and don’t chase up on the fines for up to a year. Don’t bother enforcing the wearing of seat belts; ignore drivers’ mobile phone use; disregard excessive window tints. Pay no heed to driving on the breakdown lane; overlook bald tyres and defective lights. Turn a blind eye to non-existent lane discipline; be oblivious to illegal parking. Rather like what seems to occur most of the time anyway.

And having completely removed all functions of the traffic police, it’s logical to abandon having the Force at all. Instead, the huge budget savings can be reallocated to ambulances, hospitals and funeral directors.


Friday, December 24, 2010

Merry Christmas!

Put the turkey
In the oven,
Mummified in tinfoil,
With an onion
Stuffed up
Its behind.

Sage and onion,
Roast potatoes;
Put the sprouts on to boil.
Friends arrive,
And ply them
With red wine.

Ten-thousand calories later...
I’m a man;
I’ve a plan:
Snore through the film on TV.


Sunday, December 19, 2010

Less than ID-al

The Pythonesque attempts to introduce an Identity Card in the UAE seem to have entered a new and even more frustraneous phase.

In the good old days, the Punter downloaded an interactive application form from the Emirates Identity Authority website (the ‘application application’ as Mr McNabb calls it over at Fake Plastic Souks). Then the Punter filled in the form and printed it off. All the data was coded on the printout as a 2D barcode. Then the Punter, if he had any sense, turned up at the EIDA office in Umm Al Quwain at the crack of sparrow-fart and landed at the front of the queue.

The nice lady behind the counter would read the barcode into the System, ask the Punter to clarify anything that wasn’t 100% obvious from his application form, and then send the Punter for his mugshots and dabs. The ID card would then arrive by EmPost and remain unused for all eternity.

Clearly this method was always going to be a problem for the masses of expatriates who did not have access to a computer, a printer, or either English or Arabic written language.

Behold the new system: The Punter now has to go to an approved typing centre and pay a professional typist to deal with the application form. The next step in the challenge is to find a typing centre that is on the official list and actually is processing applications. Good luck with this one.

Unfortunately, (and there is always an ‘unfortunately’ when dealing with the EIDA, isn’t there?), the poor lambs at the EIDA cannot cope with 80,000 erroneous applications. Either the Punter wasn’t clear with the typing centre or else the approved typist who works in the approved typing centre is an incompetent klutz. He and his 79,999 colleagues. Because many errors relate to the Punters’ contact telephone numbers, it’s not possible to summon a Punter to the EIDA to ask for clarifications.

Let’s get this clear. With less than a fortnight to go before the deadline to obtain an ID card, the EIDA announces that it has problems dealing with incorrect applications, most of which have been created by its own agents. Stand by for a further clarification that, although the deadline is not extended, applications made after expiry of the deadline will be accepted. This would be the second time the deadline has not been moved in this way.

And another thing. How is a Punter supposed to renew his ID card when the old one expires because of a change in residence visa?

[IRONY]Replacing the card is simple enough.[/IRONY] According to the EIDA website, the Punter trundles along to an EIDA office with his old ID card, his new passport and visa, and the payment. All the personal data – name, education, religion, political allegiance, inside leg measurement, fingerprints, etc – is already coded and can simply be transferred electronically on to the new card. There’ll be a new mugshot of course, and new residence visa details.

But wait! You have to hand in your old ID card when your previous visa is cancelled! So that means all data is lost and you have to start the whole process from scratch. Unless, that is, you held on to your old ID card which now carries incorrect vital statistics.

The solution to this poster child for bad planning and incompetent mismanagement is blindingly obvious. As the ID card is irrevocably connected to the residence visa, both should be processed in the same, erm, process. “Here is your passport and new visa; here is your ID card.” Simples.

Of course, that would take three years to implement fully. But as residence visas are shortly to expire after two years rather than three, all expats could have ID cards before the end of 2012. Instead, connecting the visa and the ID card is apparently to be phased in after 2012, once everyone is sick to the eye-teeth with the whole fiasco.

Actually, the solution is simpler still. Expats already have acceptable proof of ID. It’s called a passport. Nobody seems to want to regard the ID card as official identification; believe me I’ve tried. A photocopy of passport and visa page solves all the problems other that the fundamental one of needing to create thousands of new jobs in an invented and superfluous Authority.

Edited 23 December to add...
Hilariously, in Thursday’s Gulf News, we learn of an additional requirement to turn up in national costume. The missive, doubtless invented on the spur of the moment by a bored EIDA employee, is probably to get locals to turn up in kandouras.

The letter of the law is much more amusing. Stand by for queues of folk clad in kimonos; shalwa khamees; barongs; lunghis; plaid shirts and ten-gallon hats; lederhosen; hats with corks. I anticipate the sight of native Americans and Norwegians queuing up as if they’re auditioning for the Village People.


Tuesday, December 14, 2010

München Wurst

So what exactly are the official holidays? With UAE National Day falling on the ever-predictable 2nd December, it was reasonably safe to infer well in advance that Thursday would be a day off. Islamic New Year, on the other hand, was going to be a different matter.

As usual, the date of 1st Muharram would be subject to seeing the new moon on the previous evening around sunset. In the UAE, the astronomical new moon was going to occur on Sunday 5th December at 9:36pm. This is well after sunset and moonset as eny fule kno, therefore the new moon would surely be spotted on Monday 6th December and the New Year holiday would be on Tuesday.

Except the gubmint decreed about three days in advance that the public sector would have Sunday for New Year (making a four day weekend – huzzah!) That same gubmint instructed that the private sector would have Saturday off for New Year. Anyone who has a two-day weekend in the UAE will instantly realize that this is a chiz: having your holiday on a normal weekend.

It is high time that public and private sectors had the same official holidays. Come to that, publishing the holidays well in advance so that we can actually plan ahead might be nice. The date and time of the new moon isn’t magic: anyone reading this is surely connected to the Interwebz, small parts of which are dedicated to publishing the dates and times of movements across the celestial sphere.

On with the story, and Beloved Wife gleefully emailed the information regarding her long weekend. Having failed to get a holiday decision out of De Management, the Goat booked Sunday as annual leave and then booked flights and hotels. Goat and Wife were off to Bavaria! Dust off the winter woollies, and in the Goat’s case unearth a pair of chunky boots. These have steel toecaps and therefore go down well through airport security.

It was going to be more practical to fly from Abu Dhabi to Munich than from Dubai via Istanbul, so Etihad became the airline of choice. We were deposited in a sub-zero and snowy Munich at some obscene hour of Thursday morning. Once we’d figured out the cheapest way to get to the hotel by train, an all-day, all-zone family ticket for €18, we rolled into town past Christmassy scenery as the train filled with commuters. At the Novotel München Messe the receptionist was happy to let us have our room immediately rather than wait until mid-afternoon to check in, so we collapsed for a few hours to recover from the red-eye flight.

München Messe is a new, modern development on the site of the former Riem airport. The Novotel is astonishingly close to a metro station, which made travel in and out of town spectacularly easy, as we discovered once we arose at the crack of noon.

The primary purpose of the visit was to explore the famous German Christmas markets that spring up in clusters all over cities in Germany and beyond. It’s not only glass ornaments and wooden mobiles for sale.

One of the Wurst things that can happen

Street food is also very much in evidence, as are hot drinks. We both spent the days and evenings living on Bratwurst, Currywurst mit Pommes Frites, and various flavours of Glühwein and Eierpunsch. The latter is, of course, very similar to eggnog, and all beverages are gratuitously alcoholic. Beware the Kinderpunsch that looks and tastes similar but is disastrously devoid of alcohol.

Beloved Wife advised that there was a very large and famous Christkindlmarkt in Nürnberg (or ‘Nuremberg’ for those who don’t have an umlaut on the keyboard (which is a right pain when writing about Germany)), so one day we took a day trip through the magical snowscape of Bavaria in winter. Nürnberg was indeed very much as advertised, complete with oompah band and sub-zero temperatures. As in München, plenty of locals, expats and tourists were happy to engage in conversations in a mixture of English and German.

Hospice of the Holy Spirit, Nürnberg

From a railway carriage

Listen to the band

Many sausages, beers, Glühweins and Christmas ornaments later, we reeled unsteadily back to the railway station and caught the fast train back to München Hauptbahnhof. Despite the tales of woe on the TV about how this disastrous and unprecedented snow was affecting transport across Europe and completely halting all movement in the UK, our experience was that everything was working to timetable in Bavaria. Unprecedented? It snows every winter, and the only unusual thing about 2010 is that it came a bit early.

Marianplatz, München

The public transport ticketing in and around Munich is very similar to the systems we encountered in Rome and Naples earlier this year. You can buy a single ticket at a machine at the station or on the bus or tram, you frank it yourself, and then it’s good for a couple of hours. Or you buy one of a selection of all-day or all-week passes. There is no need to get yourself to the Hauptbahnhof in order to buy a smart card that you then have to preload with credit before you use public transport. Dubai, take note. The system relies very much on trust; it would be incredibly easy to ride for free. In all our travels only one metro employee produced an ID card and asked for Fahrkarten bitte. I conclude that the fines for getting caught fare-dodging are extremely punitive, or that Germans are incredibly law abiding, or some combination of the above.

It wasn’t all eating and drinking. I did something for the first time in my life: I walked on the natural ice covering Nymphenburger Schloß ornamental canal.

So the Goat can indeed walk on water – something he had hitherto only suspected.

Others were playing ice hockey or a game similar to curling, and in a random walk through Narnia a Munich park, we discovered children tobogganing.



My extolling the virtues of German organisation went awry when I tried to send the Nanny Goat a Christmas card. Could I find a post box anywhere? Eventually the unposted card ended up on the airside of Munich airport. I asked in the shop that sold postcards and souvenirs where I could mail a card, only to be told unhelpfully: “Unmöglich”. If it is indeed impossible, why do you sell the damned postcards? Beloved Wife resolved the problem by smiling sweetly at Etihad ground staff and asking the nice lady to post this envelope when she got off shift. And I’m pleased to report that the card duly arrived chez Nanny Goat less than a week later.

We both slept on the return flight to Abu Dhabi. This was just as well because I drove straight to work. Meanwhile, Beloved Wife had to get back to Dubai before reporting for duty on Monday morning. To my delight, De Management had finally made a decision regarding holidays and decreed that my office would be closed on Tuesday. I spent most of the holiday recovering from the ravages of time zones and tryptophan.


Wednesday, December 01, 2010

Fourth again

I always seem to come fourth. Pub quiz, kart racing, and now the Top Gear Fan of the Month.

The worthy winner for November is Alex from Rio with nearly 11000 votes. Congratulations, Alex, and what a terrific photo too.

Kirsty and Jack tied for second and third places with around 3000 votes each, and I came fourth with 2600 or so.

Many thanks again to everyone who cast a Vote for the Goat.


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.