Friday, December 16, 2011

Happy Birthday Qatar

When I last lived in Qatar, the annual public holiday was 3rd September: Qatar Independence Day, celebrating becoming an independent sovereign state in 1971. Nowadays that celebration has been replaced by 18th December: Qatar National Day, which celebrates the creation of the State of Qatar in 1878.

So this weekend is a long weekend. Sunday 18th is a public holiday. For the past couple of weeks, maroon and white flags have been appearing all over town, all over buildings, fences and even cars. Even the English fashion for miniature flags on plastic poles cranked into car windows has been adopted, although not with the cross of St George, obviously.

Anticipating craziness, I think I'll be avoiding the town centre and the Corniche. On a drive up to a meeting last Thursday, I noticed public seating, refreshment marquees and public-address systems being erected all along the Corniche. The piles of temporary barriers, inevitably resplendent in the Qatari flag, suggest that the road's going to be closed for the celebrations. There will surely be traffic chaos.

This year there's apparently an edict that cars shall not be decorated. The ruling has been roundly ignored. Yesterday I saw several Land Cruisers and Cayennes covered completely in images of the flag, national emblem, and the royal family. By completely, I don't mean the chassis (probably), but I do include all the windows. One of these vehicles was parked on the roadside near the TV station, and the driver was explaining himself to a police officer.

Imagine a similar thing in the UK: Fervent patriot bedecks his British car in red and white and then gets busted by a uniformed policeman of Sudanese origin because it's impossible to see clearly out of any of the car windows. Outraged letters to the Daily Mail ensue.

There are going to be exuberant celebrations, I'm sure. I hope that everyone has a great time and, in the inevitable motorised celebrations, that nobody gets hurt.

Have fun, everyone!


Wednesday, December 07, 2011

Forgive me; I was drunk

In 2011 England, it’s not actually OK to get pissed up and then attack someone in the street, but the offence is a lesser one that being rude on a tram.

Four Somali Muslim women get drunk and repeatedly kick someone in the head. The judge decrees that shouting, “kill the white slag” is insufficient evidence to prove that the attack was racially motivated. The attackers get six months suspended and community service for actual bodily harm.

The lenient sentence is because these Muslims are forbidden by their religion from boozing, and were thus not used to alcohol.

Now I may be wrong, but if I committed a violent offence while drunk, wouldn’t my punishment be increased? Claiming that “I was in my cups, m’lud. I didn’t know what I was doing” isn’t likely to help my case. Yet here it reduced a possible five-year sentence for ABH to a non-custodial one.

Meanwhile, the alleged perpetrator of a foul-mouthed racist rant on public transport gets remanded in custody until January. She gets to spend Christmas in the slammer for an allegedly racist verbal attack. No matter how obscene the language and sentiments in the YouTube video may be, nobody was actually physically harmed, were they?

I do not care for street violence I have a particular hatred of drunken street violence, having been a victim. And of course, I only get what the papers choose to print rather than the full court transcripts. However, There must surely be something wrong with a legal system that allows one criminal gang to walk free after kicking someone in the head, yet incarcerates another for a month without trial for a verbal assault.

Daily Telegraph article
Another Daily Telegraph article
Something from This Is Croydon Today


Saturday, December 03, 2011

Dumb as a box

Loyalty to a bank or, specifically to this post, a credit card company, is evidently misplaced. I’ve had a Barclaycard for over thirty years, and I choose to maintain the account because it’s useful to buy stuff from organisations who choose to regard Middle East credit cards as somehow dodgy and untrustworthy.

What is also useful is for Barclaycard to have my correct and up-to-date postal address. How else is Barclaycard to send me a new card, advise me of my PIN, and mail my statements of account?

So I logged on and attempted to change my address. First problem: No UK postcode, so I had to phone Barclaycard in the UK and change my contact details over the phone. Everything went well, right up to the point where I went to change my address. According to the call centre drone in Mumbai, a PO Box is no longer an acceptable address. And no, I could not now revert to my previous address (a PO Box in Dubai that worked just fine up to yesterday). PhonePeon™ told me that I would have to provide a physical mailing address. I am, I was told, the first and only time this problem has ever occurred. No UK citizen has ever before moved to Qatar and tried to maintain he UK Barclaycard account.

This is demonstrable nonsense: something I told PhonePeon in no uncertain terms. Anyone who has any awareness of the Middle East will quickly appreciate that normal post is ONLY delivered to a PO Box. There are no mail deliveries except to a PO Box.

Perhaps Barclaycard could send me my stuff by courier? No, that is also not possible. It has to go to a mailing address. Thank you PhonePeon. You’re so co-operative.

So I have temporarily resolved the issue. Despite my having seen forty-something summers, my Barclaycard correspondence is now being mailed to the UK care of my mummy, for Chrissakes. And the greatest irony of them all? In order to write to the company that refuses to accept a PO Box as a valid address, here is where I should write:

Barclaycard Customer Relations Department
PO BOX 9131
51 Saffron Way
LE18 9DE

Edited on 24th January 2012 to add that when I checked my Barclaycard accounts on line, I discovered that credit has been added to my account for "Telephone and Mail/Courier charges", plus an extra for "Goodwill". I imagine that the explanatory letter will have been sent c/o Nanny Goat, but thank you Barclaycard for taking my complaint seriously.


Sunday, November 27, 2011

Pigs do fly

There is only one place for a resident of Qatar to obtain intoxicating beverages to enjoy in the comfort and privacy of his own home. This is through the auspices of the Qatar Distribution Company, a kind of cross between an off-licence and a members-only club. It will come as no surprise at all to learn that, in accordance with the law of the land, Muslims are not allowed to be members.

Back in the olden days, Cable and Wireless somehow managed to obtain permission to import booze for sale to C&W employees. Other thirsty expatriates wondered why they weren’t allowed to avail themselves of this largesse and, to cut a long story short, the booze permit system was extended to all non-Muslim expatriates and administered by the British embassy. With an allocated weekday and a fixed maximum QAR500 allowance, going up to the C&W Syndicate once a month became something of an institution.

It has always been the case that the liquor permit system allows the bearer to acquire beverages up to a cost limit, and then to transport it directly to his residence for his sole consumption. Selling it, giving it away, or taking an Eski of refreshing hop-flavoured thirst-quencher to the beach are all strictly forbidden.

In due course, the Syndicate was taken over by the new Qatar Distribution Company, a branch of Doha Duty Free and therefore ultimately part of Qatar Airways. Allowances were doubled overnight, as were prices, so that the cost of alcoholic liquor aligned broadly with UK high street prices. The monthly allowance is now based on an individual’s salary.

Last week, the QDC quietly introduced an additional line of products that would not interest Muslims. Bacon and sausages. Proper ones, made of flat-nosed, curly-tailed haraminal. Apparently, plans are afoot to increase the range to hams and proper pork joints once the freezer space is available. And as a hog-gobbling infidel I say huzzah to this! Up until now, Qatar has been a pig-free zone, apart from the occasional pack of “Egyptian Veal” or “Turkey Burgers” flown in from Dubai or further afield. Now the bacon and sausages are flying in courtesy of Qatar Airways. I’m quite happy to purchase the products supplied by the State of Qatar, and then to take home and enjoy those same products.

Within a day of the news breaking, the Qatar Living website had multiple pages of forum comments, getting progressively more extreme. Such as:

“You shall not eat the flesh of swine.”

“But that only applies to Muslims, and my having a bacon butty doesn’t affect your beliefs.”

“But this is a Muslim country.”

“Then take it up with the Emir and his state airline.”

By the time I got to QDC this evening, the speciality sausages and all the bacon had vanished, and the freezers were resplendent with hundreds of identical packets of ordinary, bog-standard bangers. This is exactly as predicted by pretty much everyone. I like billy-basic bangers, so this isn’t actually a hardship, but a delight.

Being able to buy pork and booze in the UAE has not caused the complete collapse of civilization, as far as I know. It surely shouldn’t be any different in Qatar. I feel that the situation is a little like the idea of gay marriage. You may or may not approve, but if you don’t want one, don’t have one.


Sunday, November 13, 2011

Up diddly-up-up

I know that modern commercial aviation is a truly wonderful thing, and this post is rather unfairly written to highlight its recent shortfalls rather than its benefits. It's a bit of a cathartic rant. I basically agree with the sentiments of Ford Prefect, who “...always found the actual travelling-through-space part of space travel rather trying.”

Indeed. Air travel is similarly afflicted, being the several rather expensive hours of discomfort between where I am and where I wish to be. I lack the wherewithal to fly Business class, and I don't fly enough to earn sufficient air miles for upgrades.

I swore off Emirates, Dubai’s flagship airline, way back in 1997 after a disastrous Eid trip to the Maldives where the said airline contrived to bump me and two fellow passengers off our flights three times in 24 hours and then mislaid our luggage. How wonderful to arrive on a diving holiday with nothing but the clothes on our backs. My letter of complaint made shortly thereafter received a curt “it’s our airline and we’ll snub who we want to” response.

But for the most recent trip to the Philippines, Emirates represented the only realistic combination of schedule and price that would get both me and Beloved Wife from Doha and Dubai respectively to Manila and back again. Maybe Emirates had improved after 14 years.

Credit where credit is due. Our bags were not mishandled and we got where we needed to be, eventually. All cabin crews were polite and accommodating where they could be. You can’t blame the airline for bawling brats.

But four flights, and not one of them took off less than 45 minutes later than advertised. After an hour queuing to check in, trying to get me and Beloved Wife into adjacent seats was “sorted” in Doha, but by the time we had rendezvoused in Dubai it had become “impossible” and the best the airline could manage was placing us on opposite sides of the cabin in nearby rows.

At least the entertainment system worked. Sleep was impossible in the packed cabin, as was movement.

I must agree with the website (for the more frugal traveller!): Manila's Ninoy Aquino Airport is a dreadful place to wait. Having negotiated check-in and immigration, the possibilities for entertainment are limited to a modest selection of duty-free shops and an even more modest choice in food and beverage outlets. We bought our instant noodles and then tried to find a quiet corner of floor where we could sit down and eat. The concept of a restaurant providing seating for patrons seems an alien one.

With over three hours to go before take-off, there were announcements that passengers for the Emirates flight to Dubai should make their way to the departure gate. It was very clear through the glass that there was a big empty space where our Boeing 777 should have been. It finally trundled into position about twenty minutes before the scheduled departure, at which point we were advised that departure would be delayed. Duh.

In other airports, there might be a business case to keep passengers on delayed flights in the terminal, where they’d buy food and drink, but not so in Manila. Perhaps the policy is to prevent the terminal from becoming totally clogged with people by removing travellers to the departure gate sheep-pen as early as possible and holding them there with nothing to do. And no, you can’t use the lavatory. Why not? Because we say so.

Many hours later, the Emirates flight touched down in Dubai but didn’t park at the Emirates terminal. Such is the case with Dubai, where the weary traveller arrives at his destination and then spends half an hour in ever-increasing circles, looking for a parking space. The airport bus trundled the length of the airport, depositing all passengers at Terminal 3 where Beloved Wife and I parted company. I underwent airport security yet again: the authorities clearly need to check that we transit passengers haven’t sneaked any contraband into our personal effects on the trip between aircraft and terminal. And then the 1km walk to Terminal 1 for the Emirates flight to Doha. Why not the Emirates terminal for an Emirates flight?

The lateness of the Manila to Dubai flight meant that my three hour stopover was now only two hours. I decided not to avail myself of the “SnoozeCube” at Dh65 per hour, but instead crashed out on the floor between one of the travelators and some airport seats for a fitful few minutes of kip. My carry-on wheeled suitcase does not make a particularly effective pillow.

And the Doha flight was delayed by half an hour, which actually turned into 45 minutes before the doors were finally closed and we were on our way.

I look forward with no little trepidation to my next long-haul trip. The idea of being able to cross a third of the planet or more by simply paying money and then showing up at an airport is a truly marvellous one. It seems such a pity that the actual experience always leaves me feeling as if I’ve gone several rounds against Manny Pacquiato.


Tuesday, November 01, 2011

Her name is Rio, and she dances on the sand

Largely thanks to the efforts of Mohammed, the Daihatsu salesman over at Taleb Trading in Doha, I got my test drive. Adonis Car Rental must have been abundantly aware of what I intended to do with their black Terios, my having previously explained that I specifically wanted the 4WD version for a weekend. But they let me have one regardless.

The vehicle shuffling started on Thursday evening, as I parked the Jazz in a quiet corner near Terii-Я-Us and picked up the Daihatsu. I gassed it up and then filled it with diving kit in preparation for Friday’s boat dive.

Test 1 passed: a Terios easily swallows all my dive kit with room to spare. I wouldn’t want to carry five human adults and all their luggage, though. There are limits to friendliness!

On Saturday morning, I met Gadget Boy in his Nissan Patrol, with his snorkel, lift kit, big tyres, and – crucially – tow rope and air compressor, and we headed off south in search of a quiet area of desert where we could hoon in the dunes. After deflating our tyres, no-one was more surprised than I at quite how well the little Daihatsu tear-arsed over the sand, including successfully tackling some quite steep slopes without incident. Of course, the tiny engine had to be revved hard to extract all 103 ponies. This is to be expected if that’s all there are, and ten of them were pedalling the air conditioning.

Test 2 passed: a Terios is fully capable of getting to the Inland Sea and back, over the sand. Following tyre re-inflation, Gadget Boy went off and got on with his life, and I drove back to Doha at a respectable speed.

Test 3 passed: a Terios can sustain the speed limit with ease without excessive noise, despite being a thrashy little beast. And it’s comfortable enough, and has excellent lights, an adequate stereo, keyless entry, central locking, trip computer, full-size spare wheel, whistles, bells, yadda, yadda.

I put the Terios through a car wash to remove the worst of the, erm, evidence, and off-hired it. Then I off-hired the Honda Jazz. I figure that I can use just the bike until Eid, and following the holiday I’ll pick up my new Japanese miniature SUV. I’ll put occasional updates on the blog as to how Rio (and now I’ve got to call her ‘Rio’) performs long-term.

Incidentally, full marks to Axa insurance in Doha for checking with Axa in Sharjah and obtaining an instant five-year no-claims discount. I’ll be fully insured, including against off-road risks, and with agency repairs, GCC cover and a free rental car if Rio ever ends up in the body shop. And I still had change from a farthing.

Now, without a car pro tem, how am I going to get those aqualung cylinders back to the dive club…?


Friday, October 21, 2011

Tried and not tested

The Goat is mobile in Doha either on his motorcycle or in the rented Honda Jazz. As the latter of these is a member of the Rice-Pudding-Skin Preservation Society, and both vehicles are equally useless off asphalt, the Goat has been on the lookout for a four-wheel-drive for desert driving and hauling diving and camping gear.

As has been previously lamented, the Goatmobile languishes unsold in Dubai. It can’t be exported to Qatar because it’s more than five years old, so a different vehicle will have to be procured. Naturally, all available used vehicles are some combination of thrashed to death, never seen an oil change, crash-damaged or over-priced; most are some combination, and one or two hit the jackpot.

So a safer option is to buy a new one. Most decent 4x4s are stupidly expensive, so the likes of the Nissan Patrol at QR210,000 or more must be rejected outright. Even such delights as Toyota’s FJ Cruiser or Prado are prohibitively expensive. One possibility, now that expatriates are allowed to own certain commercial vehicles, is a crew-cab pickup. The Chevy Silverado with a ten-inch lift and a five-litre V8 is simply too large, too expensive and anyway the Goat doesn’t live in West Virginia. The Nissan Navara that is on offer is extremely basic, and the local dealer can’t or won’t supply one with higher spec. The indestructible Hilux is probably too expensive, and for the next few months is Not Coming In Doha.

So the Goat has found himself looking at Daihatsu’s Terios. Basically a 1500cc 4x4 Yaris, the Tear-Arse seems to tick most of the boxes. But will it perform off road? Published reviews range from: “The only one of us never to get stuck on an overland trip from Namibia to Mozambique,” through, “Being so light, it simply skips over the sand while heavy 4x4s sink in,” to “It was unremittingly awful in every respect. Avoid.” Jeremy Clarkson seemed to like it in Top Gear’s “Let’s pretend it’s a fox” but that was on mud and wet grass rather than power-sapping sand dunes.

The Goat concluded that the solution would be to borrow or rent a Tear-Arse for a weekend (and take it for a comprehensive thrashing to the Inland Sea). Having failed to find a car rental company with one that was available, he asked the Daihatsu dealer to provide a solution that involved a borrowed or rented vehicle. There followed a complicated series of phone calls and car shuffling between the dealer, Adonis car rental, and a customer who had been talked into relinquishing her Terios for the weekend. The salesman put in an inordinate effort to get the Goat his test drive. Full marks for that.

And then disaster! It was the two-wheel-drive version. Back to square one.


Monday, October 17, 2011

Water weekend

It was when writing up my dive log that I noticed I last dived the Daymaniyat Islands off Muscat four years previously to the day. Four years? I was astonished.

On this recent trip, all the dive sites were different, so everything was new. To be fair, all the sites are broadly similar tropical wall dives with prolific hard and soft corals and uncountable reef fish. Others in the party from Doha were lucky enough to see, and in some cases photograph, rays and turtles; Muggins wasn’t that fortunate.

The weekend away was organised by one of the guys in Doha Sub-Aqua Club to provide a change from the dubious delights of the silt and jellyfish of Old Club Reef. We flew to Muscat on Thursday night, dived intensively on Friday and Saturday morning, and then chilled out at the Al Sawadi Beach Resort before taking the Fun Bus back to Seeb airport in Muscat at obscenely early hours of Sunday morning. Thus, a very early flight got me back in Doha and at my desk by around 6:30am instead of the customary 8am.

Beloved Wife simply drove over to Muscat from Dubai, picked me up from the airport on Thursday night, and we drove to the dive centre on Friday morning.

I finally escaped from the airport so late on Thursday that it was almost Friday. Over 90 minutes I stood in a queue to have my passport stamped. It was Visa On Arrival, and paying was the easy bit. Why is Muscat’s immigration so unbelievably slow? How long does it take to find an empty page in someone’s passport and hit it with a rubber stamp? I pity the poor hapless fools who had purchased their visas in advance. They had to stand in a different queue to get their visas before joining the back of the passport-stamping queue. Even having a visa in advance was no help. The queue for visa holders was even longer.

How is it that when one of those alumininium tubes with wings pulls up outside the terminal building - exactly as forecast in the flight schedules - and disgorges several hundred people, that the authorities seem completely unprepared for the sudden influx? Once again, it’s Karma Sutra Passport Control: Loads of positions, but most of them don’t work. Beloved Wife rang me to find out if she’d missed me at Meet and Greet. No, I was still queuing.

Having at last got my visa stamp (on yet another empty page), I spent the next half an hour looking for my luggage. All bags had been removed from the baggage carousels and piled in unwieldy heaps. Was there any clue as to which carousel the Doha flight had used? Is the Pope a Buddhist?

I was certainly a relief to get to our friend TGL’s flat and become horizontal for a few hours. Beloved Wife handed me a small pie at the airport to cheer me up. Good show!

Friday’s breakfast consisted of an Egg McMuffin in lieu of food, and we headed off in Beloved Wife’s car to the resort. I drove and BW fiddled with her new GPS.

The diving was, on the whole, excellent. There are some additional photos in this gallery.

Having washed the kit after finishing on Saturday, we killed time allowing it to dry, and awaiting 6pm and Happy Hour. It would not do to pack our dive kit wet; paying excess baggage for water is extremely undesirable.

A beery and sleepless evening followed, and at 2:30am we boarded the fun bus back to Muscat and the airport. Here, I discovered a colossal cock-up with my ticketing. For reasons unknown, I was booked to fly a week later, and the only way to get aboard today was to buy a new ticket. A single Muscat to Doha cost an appalling OMR150, or some $400. My original ticket had been obtained through Qatar Airways’ Frequent flyer Air Miles, and should be changeable for a $25 fee. But of course, nobody’s available at 3am, and I couldn’t wait until office hours owing to the need for me to present myself in my office. Oh, and the website to obtain a refund on the unused return ticket simply crashes, perhaps because it’s allergic to giving anything back. It's not a total loss, however. Qatar Airways have now cancelled my erroneous booking for 23rd October, and I can apparently pay $25 to reroute it Dubai to Doha any time before September next year.

Not true, I have learned (November 2011). It's $25 to change the date, plus $25 to change from MCT-DOH to DXB-DOH, plus the difference in airport taxes. In other words, "$25" is nearer $100.

It took a while, but I eventually found myself airside. I went looking for breakfast. The only place that was open and offering solid food was a Dairy Queen. I stood at the entrance and checked my Omani cash, the menu, and the employee poised expectantly at the counter. Decision made, I asked for that thing on the menu, only to be advised that Dairy Queen was closed until 6am. So why the bloody hell didn’t he say so while I was planning my breakfast? Why wasn’t he simply asleep in his bed? What is the point of creating an illusion of being open for business when the shop is in fact closed?

On the whole, the diving and chilling part of the weekend was excellent, albeit unnecessarily expensive owing to the ticketing screw-up. Such a pity that I find myself exhausted and irritated by the trials of air travel, and immediately in need of a holiday to recover.


Wednesday, October 12, 2011


Oh noes! The Goat is suffering from Blogger's Block. Or, more accurately, currently lacks the time necessary to put in the effort to produce a post. So apologies to those readers who return and learn that the Goat is Too Busy To Blog.

The change in weather has allowed the Goat to commute by motorbike, at least a couple of days a week. His Kawasaki doesn't really enjoy heavy traffic, lane-splitting and getting caught at every red traffic light, and it expresses its displeasure through ghastly fuel consumption. However, being able to get across Doha during the rush hour in about 15 minutes rather than a more customary hour or more is certainly a benefit. And being able to find a parking space in the shade next to the office without being shooed away by Security, and not on the far side of a six-lane highway is another benefit.

It's amost as if someone throws a awitch on or about 15th October and the sticky, humid heat almost instantly disappears. That same person will throw the switch again on or about 15th April, or is it May?

Outside work, a subject definitely beyond the scope of this blog, weekends and evenings are also busy. Regular return trips to Dubai destroy any weekend social life in Doha. Beloved Wife clearly takes precedence. Unfortunately, potential purchasers of the Goatmobile (now reduced to Dh65,000, by the way), fail to turn up at the weekend as they promised, which is vexatious at best.

At least there's no immediate need to sell the Goatmobile, so silly offers in the style of "I'll do you a favour and take it off your hands for Dh30,000" can be and are spurned as one might spurn a rabid dog.

Beloved Wife and Goat have decided what to do for Eid al Adha, but where to go for Christmas and BW's Very Important Birthday in January remain undecided. Flights to America or Antipodea cost around the same - lots - unless somebody is silly pecunious enough to fly Cathay Pacific and pay double the lowest fare.

And that appears to be that. Normal service will be restored once the Goat has time and something to rant about.


Saturday, October 01, 2011

A goat track-riding

That's a typo, of course. It should be 'a go at', and anyway it's not going to happen immediately. If it happens at all, it's contingent on the Goat finding some proper motorcycle leathers to cover his rather unorthodox shape.

There's been something of a development in track days in recent years. Instead of risking life and limb among the rest of the traffic, the potholes, the manhole covers and pedestrians, drivers and riders can now turn up at a proper race circuit and ride or drive as fast as they can/like/dare in the company of other consenting adults, all of whom are doing the same thing in the same direction. Added to this are the wide run-off areas in case of an, erm, excursion, and marshals and medical facilities are on standby in case of a major incident.

Rules are basically simple. Proper gear, a decent machine and the willingness to stick to some simple regulations.

The Goat found out about where bikers meet in Doha on Friday mornings purely by accident on Thursday night. And then, having turned up for breakfast at Starbucks, he learned that there was a track day at Lusail International Circuit that very evening. Bikes from 6pm to 9pm, then cars from 9pm to midnight.

He arrived at Lusail by car just before sunset, and eventually got the details of when, how and how much.

One of the riders pointed out that QR400 (around £70) for three hours on an international-quality racetrack was astonishingly good value, compared with the UK where, apparently, £300 buys three 20-minute sessions. Daytime sessions don't require floodlights and are a mere QR200 for three hours.

Most of the bikes are, of course, race replicas, crotch-rockets, or whatever you call them, so if the Goat ever happens to venture on to the track aboard his sports-tourer he'll be horribly outclassed by everybody. Must remember to remove the hero blobs and panniers, and tape up the mirrors. "The first rule of Italian driving: What's-a behind is not important." 

In the absence of leathers and indeed a motorcycle, the Goat simply satisfied himself last evening with taking photographs under the floodlighting. Any reader who is interested may care to check out the album of 139 pictures of high-speed antics.

The Goat has, incidentally, migrated to Picasa. This is after learning that Flickr ceases to be free once more than 200 images have been uploaded.


Sunday, September 25, 2011

Ducks, ducks! Kwak-kwak, Kwak-kwak!

Having checked with Classic Motorcycles that I had every piece of paper in order, I dropped off the bike and all the paperwork on Saturday 3rd September. I was promised that a carpenter would come the following day and build a crate for the bike, and it would be shipped on Monday to arrive in Doha the following Thursday, 8th September.

So much for the theory.

The first thing to go wrong was that the usual courier had ‘temporarily’ ceased to do overland shipping, and Classic Motorcycles was soliciting alternative quotes. Mr P. Staker’s Dh4500 (plus packing materials, insurance and service charge) was rejected before I even heard about it, so full marks to Nelson there. Mr Staker’s friend, Allied Pickfords, wanted over Dh6500. The next problem was that the carpenter desired over Dh600 to build a crate. Nelson acquired a metal pallet from Harley-Davidson down the road for a fraction of that, and as it’s designed for a Hog, it’s surely strong enough for a Kwak. More brownie points for Nelson. And DHL eventually came up with a much less unacceptable quote for overland transport that was merely twice the original estimate.

A further obstacle then appeared. It came in the form of a Certificate of Origin, an esoteric document that is only obtainable from the Dubai Chamber of Commerce and Industry, and then will only be delivered to a bona fide member. DHL told me that shipping to Qatar overland without a COO would incur a fine starting at QAR1000. Apparently, the COO is only required for overland transport but travel by sea would take several weeks and cost a fortune, so said Pickfords.

When Nelson returned from his travels in India on Saturday 17th September, he obtained the COO and the bike was picked up by DHL on Sunday. I was promised delivery by Wednesday 21st September, presumably 2011. According to the on-line tracking, the bike got to Abu Dhabi on Sunday night, and by Monday lunchtime was in a state of ‘Clearance delay’. Conferring with DHL in Doha, I learned that they needed a copy of my Qatar ID card, my passport and Qatar residence permit. These are documents that DHL in Abu Dhabi already has (and were required before they’d pick up the bike from Dubai), but it appears beyond the wit of Man for Abu Dhabi to email copies to Doha. Neither is it possible to pick up the phone and ask me; Muggins chased it up by telephone after noticing the delay reported by on-line tracking, and emailed further copies.

DHL was supposed to present the paperwork to someone down at the Ministry of Rubber Stamps for pre-approval, prior to schlepping the bike across the UAE/KSA and KSA/Qatar borders. This happened the day after I emailed my papers to DHL Doha. I was told that from clearance of this latest layer of bureaucracy to delivery would take four days, but when I rang on Tuesday I was advised that the bike would be on its way later that day.

On Wednesday, the bike was still in Abu Dhabi. This was because there was yet another problem: it didn’t have an export plate. Not that DHL contacted me about it. So much more appropriate that they allow my machine to gather dust in Abu Dhabi until I shout.

The Ministry of Rubber Stamps, the Directorate of Paperclips, and DHL all seem blissfully unaware that motorbikes can’t get export plates; at least, not from the UAE authorities. The official line of non-joined-up thinking: “You can’t transport the bike to Qatar unless you provide something that is impossible to obtain.”

The promised four days would be working days, of course, so the estimate of Wednesday 21st would become Sunday 25th September. As the bike was actually delivered on Saturday, I feels as though I should be grateful. But I’m not. Relieved, yes, but not grateful.

Fundamentally, what I object to is paying people considerable sums for the privilege of running around and doing their jobs for them. Every time there’s another flaming hoop, an additional misaligned duck, or some unsolvable problem, it is incumbent upon Muggins to notice the delay, ask what the problem is, and then to provide a solution. Whatever is so wrong with the principle of handing over my cargo, my written requirements, and my money to a professional firm, and simply instructing, “Make it so.”?

Perhaps what I should have done is obtained a Saudi transit visa, then got the bike inspected for export. Then ridden it to Qatar “for a vacation”, removed the number plate and flown back with the plate in my luggage. After that, I’d have got the export certificate from Tasjeel Sharjah and returned by air to Qatar with all the paperwork. Presenting the bike for registration, I would only then have learned why this procedure was impossible, for it must surely be impossible.

The struggle still isn’t over. I arranged insurance today, so the bike could be registered. When I checked through the paperwork, I discovered that Classic Motorcycles has typed up an official invoice in the sum of the bike’s value when it was new. This is despite my providing a priced inventory at current estimated values, as Nelson instructed. I’m told that Classic Motorcycles had to create an invoice to the same value as Liberty Automobiles’ original invoice otherwise Dubai Chamber of Commerce and Industry wouldn’t issue the vital Certificate of Origin, and export would become impossible. How very exasperating.

At the border, the machine was imported with paperwork that may require 5% duty to be paid. I object, to paying import duty when it was previously paid by me when I originally bought the bike. I object to paying again after providing all the required paperwork that proves I already paid it.

But most of all, I object to paying 5% of the new value when the machine’s now worth half that. It remains to be seen if Officialdom will see reason and fairness, or if I have to pay import duty at effectively 10% in addition to what I paid two years ago when I bought the bike.

Edited on 30th September to add a footnote...

My bike was finally road legal the morning of Wednesday 28th September, after I'd been to the Traffic Police, shown my ID card, signed here and paid this bill. Perhaps it had all been a massive wind-up, or maybe I got lucky, but I didn’t have to pay any import duty. This was no small relief.

Took the bike to work on Thursday, and out for a bimble on Friday morning. Huzzah!


Friday, September 23, 2011

Simples! Just for a change

The Goat can confirm that a UAE non-resident can obtain an E-Gate card at Dubai airport. It's only worth doing for those who travel in and out of Dubai frequently, but the procedure is very, very simple when compared with everything else the Goat has been subjected to of late.

It is unclear what brands of passport merit E-Gate cards for non-residents; presumably those that are permitted Visa On Arrival.

At the top of the stairs upon arrival in Dubai Terminal 1 passport hall, there's a small desk on the right. Other Terminals doubtless have different arrangement. YMMV. The Man In White confirmed that the Goat could indeed obtain an E-Gate card, but would first have to arrive and have his passport stamped at the desk around the corner (on yet another fresh page, as usual). The queue at this desk, which is adjacent to the E-Gate terminals, was mercifully short, unlike the rest of the arrivals hall that was standing room only and breathing by numbers.

With passport stamped, the Goat was directed over to the National Bank of Dubai booth, there to hand over Dh220 and get a receipt.

Now back to the E-Gate desk, where the Man In White took a digital mugshot and scans of the Goat's hoofprints. In exchange for the NBD receipt, the Goat received his E-Gate card.

Easy peasy, lemming squeezy.


Saturday, September 17, 2011

It's that maritime of the year

A gentle reminder that Monday 19th September is International Talk Like A Pirate Day.

So, gulls and buoys, make ready with your curses and wannions, i'faith; be prepared to splice the mainbrace; sink the scurvy dogs with the bilge-rats that they are, or I'll wager a dubloon that there shall be a-walking of the plank. Et cetera.

And remember that when someone calls you "My Treasure", they think you should be locked in a box and buried on a tropical island.



Sunday, September 04, 2011

The pwnographers

It was around April when a pregnant cat decided to hole up in the Crumbling Villa’s back garden behind the water tank. She appeared to be a healthy house-cat rather than one of the scraggy feral strays that are more commonplace. Beloved Wife is of the opinion that Mother Cat got herself thrown out after Getting Herself Into Trouble.

Three kittens duly appeared in the back garden, and we studiously ignored them, figuring that they’d be weaned and then they’d clear off. And indeed this is what Mother and one of her kittens did. The other two have been hanging around ever since. The garden is enclosed, quiet, and behind the water tank is very safe.

Beloved Wife, who is allergic to both cat fur and litter boxes, and therefore “can’t have house cats”, gave these two balls of fluff names.

A gem of wisdom from Monsters, inc.: “You're not supposed to name it. Once you name it, you start getting attached to it!”

And sure enough, we have both grown a little bit attached to Bouncer and Tux.

Beloved Wife has been completely pwned by the pair of them, especially Bouncer. “We’ll only feed them occasionally so they hang around until they can be caught and neutered” has become “They are so thin; they need food every day.” Now, “They’re outdoor cats” has mutated into “...but only in the kitchen, and then only under supervision.”

Bouncer has discovered the delights of air conditioning, and appears to be angling to become a domestic pet. Why not, with food, attention and balls of alumininium foil to play with? Even her much more timid brother Tux came in through the kitchen window last weekend. Little do they realise what’s in store.

The plan is to get both cats snipped, inoculated, de-wormed and released once they’re old enough. Dubai has no shortage of Felis catus domesticus and needs no additional supply. But this can’t happen for at least another month.

I suspect that there is another plan out there: to make oneself part of the household, and never again be hungry, thirsty, hot or cold.


Saturday, September 03, 2011

Biking UAE: The last huzzah

It wasn’t quite as painful as I’d first imagined to ship my motorcycle to Qatar. This wasn’t the favourite option; better would have been to sell the old one in the Emirates and then start again in Qatar with a new machine. But nobody likes big sports-tourers in the Gulf. Presumably the big-bike fraternity all prefer either crotch rockets or cruisers. Once I’d learned that a new 1400GTR was for sale for less than I’d want to get for my two year old example, it started to look like shipping it was a better option.

At one point I was looking into riding the bike back to the UK, but that plan foundered on the rocks of regular employment. No new employer was going to let me have a month off, and this assumes that obtaining the multiple import and export paperwork would be possible. Actually, I know that it is possible: witness Mike's trip a couple of years ago.

But would it be possible to obtain the paperwork from the UAE after my Residence Visa had been cancelled? You gotta laugh.

Back to shipping. It seems that moving the bike from the UAE to Qatar under its own power would be impossible. The machine has to be de-registered in the UAE before it can be registered in Qatar. In order to deregister it, I would have to hand over the licence plate, and it’s completely illegal to ride on the road without a licence plate. So I’d have to pay a man with a truck. DHL comes to mind. Export plates are not available for motorcycles for some unfathomable reason. If they were, I’d ride the thing to Doha.

The procedure is as follows:-

1. Obtain a Qatar Residence Permit and ID card.
Without this, I would not be allowed to import a vehicle.

The remainder of the steps can be completed in one day. I rather enjoyed the excuse to stick a couple of hundred kilometres on the bike, as I went back and forth obtaining the various bits of paper and all in the correct order. Once this was completed, I wouldn’t be able to ride the bike again until after it had become road-legal in Qatar.

2. Obtain copies of the original Bill of Lading and Customs Clearance.
Eventually I resorted to a personal visit to Liberty Automobiles in Sharjah, the place where I originally bought the bike. A very helpful gentleman rummaged through his computer and paper filing system, eventually unearthing the relevant sheet of paper. He photocopied it. The value of this document is that it proves that GCC import duties were paid when the bike first arrived from Japan, and I don’t have to pay 5% of the value new when I import a two year old motorbike. Full marks to Liberty for effort.

3. Visit Tasjeel in Sharjah.
I explained that the reason for the visit was to export the bike, and Dh100 later I had a document and rubber stamp that would make this possible.

4. Visit Classic Motorcycles in Dubai.
This is the Royal Enfield dealer in Dubai. Nelson had previously mentioned to me that he shipped bikes overseas, and could crate up my bike and arrange its transport. I removed the licence plate and awaited the arrival of Beloved Wife and my alternative transportation. That’s it, then. No more motorcycling for a little while.

5. Visit Tasjeel in Sharjah.
In addition to the old licence plate, the export test certificate and payment of Dh210, I was told I needed to produce copies of my passport and visa page (not my Emirates ID card, as per flamin’ usual), and my UAE driving licence. Why they need these latter two items was unclear. I obviously don’t have a valid UAE Residence Visa because I can’t export the bike to Qatar without Qatar residence, and I’ve just removed the licence plate so I can’t ride the bike anyway.

It turns out that what they actually need is some form of photo ID. Anything will do provided it’s got my mugshot on it. I was given two pieces of paper. One was an export certificate, complete with a dire warning that the machine has to leave the UAE within 96 hours, and the other was a certificate that should enable me to obtain a refund of unused motor insurance.

6. Visit Classic Motorcycles in Dubai.
I handed over the all-important Export Certificate and the Bill of Lading. Nelson queried why I needed the latter. “Of course the import duty has been paid. The export certificate proves that the bike’s leaving the UAE, and it would never have got in without the duty being paid.”

He’s right, of course, but I don’t fancy trying to argue that one with a recalcitrant non-English speaker in a week or so’s time.

7. Write a personal invoice.
I had to provide a typed, signed document that recorded the bike and accessories, plus anything in the hard luggage, all itemised and valued.

The bike now gets crated up and driven to Doha via Abu Dhabi and a small section of Saudi. It should arrive by next weekend.

Once it reaches its destination, the machine will need to be inspected in Doha’s Industrial Area and then registered at Madinat Khalifa, several kilometres away. And of course, because it’s illegal to ride it without a licence plate, the bike has to be moved across town on a trailer. I shall let you know, dear reader, if my meticulous planning that has worked impeccably so far continues to do so.


Thursday, August 25, 2011

Eee, great!

I have previously blogged about the inevitable half-hour queue to enter Qatar after arriving by air. More recently, I noted the tendency of Immigration officials to find a fresh page in my passport every time they want to apply a stamp. The way to avoid both of these is to have an E-Gate card, a magic piece of plastic that speeds the bearer’s way through immigration and avoids a passport stamp.

Given that immediately after the Eid Al Fitr holiday, the entire population of Qatar will attempt to enter Doha through the same passport control and the queue will be out of the door and halfway to Wakrah, I really wanted to deal with this before my next international trip. And the government will be shut all next week, so today was the last available day.

According to the Firm’s Human Resources department, the procedure for obtaining an E-Gate card “is easy, and takes about five minutes,” so off I naïvely trotted.

1. Go to Doha International Airport
I parked, then asked the security guard at the door to Departures. He directed me down there to the right where, sure enough, was a door and a large bilingual sign: “E-Gate Card Issuing Office”. Bingo. The door was locked, so I asked someone in uniform when the office opened. “Eight o’clock, but it’s Ramadan, so...”

At a quarter to nine, having observed several other would-be applicants knocking on the door like cats stuck outside in the rain, I asked another man in uniform.

“They don’t do E-Gate cards here. You have to go to the Ministry of the Interior Immigration Department.”

It is beyond the wit of Man to erect a sign to that effect, or at least to remove the existing misleading sign.

2. Immigration Department – Door No. 1
Having paid the ludicrous parking charges for my stay in the airport parking, I headed off to Madinat Khalifa to look for the elusive parking space. Traffic signs direct Immigration customers through the forecourt of a petrol station, and the adjacent roads are emblazoned with “No Waiting” signs, even where there is marked on-street parking. One road is signposted as a one-way street, but it’s a cul-de-sac. So crazy, it’s like living in a Monty Python sketch.

Behind Door No. 1 was a seething mass of humanity. There was nobody at Reception, so I queued at the nearby desk and eventually got to ask for an E-Gate card. “Typing,” said the man behind the counter. “Outside.”

3. Typing
Outside was, of course, devoid of typists. I spotted a sign advertising “Typing, Cafeteria & Studio” and headed over there. Again, it was a zoo, but I finally found the one bloke behind a desk who, when he wasn’t busy doing the male equivalent of the shayla dance, checked my ID card, called up my details, printed these on to a form, and charged me QR8.

4. Door No. 1
Back to Mr Outside. This time he directed me to another desk. It seems Mr Outside works for a bank, and undertakes cashier services only. But he couldn’t tell me that the first time, could he?

5. The Business End
At the actual Reception I eventually made my way to the front of a Middle East queue (50 ft wide, 2 people deep) and explained that I wanted an E-Gate card. I was issued with a number and directed to sit and wait.

6. Biometric Data
My number came up, but it then turned out that I first needed to get mugshots, iris scans and fingerprints done. This is exactly as was clearly not explained to me by the bloke at Reception. Over to the booths where a very nice bint in black inspected my ID card, called up my details, and then directed me to stand and provide exactly the same set of biometric data that is already on the system. Why? For crying out loud, why? What is the point of collecting a duplicate set of iris scans?

7. The Business End – again
After going back to Reception, getting a second ticket, waiting, and finally approaching the desk with my form, I had almost finished. The man in white behind the counter needed to see my ID card; the same thing that I’d already shown at Typing and Biometric. Now he charged me QR300.

“Just a minute, it’s QR200 for the E-Gate card. I don’t want anything else.”

“But we will upgrade your ID card with a chip in it, and that’s an extra QR100. Next year the ID card will be combined with the E-Gate card, driving licence, and health card.”

I see: an Ident-I-Eze card.

Then 20 minutes into the “five-minute wait”, I was handed my new ID card which now incorporates the E-Gate information, and instructed to activate it at the machine “over there.”

Job done. Three and three-quarter hours, this “five-minute” job took. I have had to pay an additional QR100 to replace an ID card only two weeks after it was originally issued. The general roll-out of ID/E-Gate combined is scheduled for next year, so I get it early. But if chipped smart cards are available, why didn’t I get one a fortnight ago?

Summary: How to do it right.
1. Immigration Dept, Madinat Khalifa.
2. Go to Typing.
3. Show ID card and get a printed form.
4. Go to Door No 1.
5. Show ID card at booth. Mugshots, dabs and iris scans.
6. Go to Reception and get a number.
7. Show ID card, pay the money, get the new ID/E-Gate card.
8. Activate the E-Gate part at the machine by the door.
9. Get back to your life.


Sunday, August 21, 2011


The original version is brilliant. Now comes mine.

After being made redundant unexpectedly one day,
I needed a new passport, so flew back to the UK.
I crossed the River Severn, and then all day I spent
A-waiting for my passport in the town of Newport, Gwent.
Cheap flights, cheap flights,
What a fantasy!
There’s no such thing when flying
To UK from DXB.

A new job in the UAE did not materialise.
“There’s loads of jobs,” the Agent says. Regrettably, he lies.
New Zealand and the Gulf I tried, then hearing from the latter:
An interview and job offer came from the State of Qatar.
Cheap flights, cheap flights,
They wanted to meet me.
An early morning Fly Dubai
That turned out to be free.

Beloved Wife stays in Dubai, pursuing her career.
I s'pose four hundred kilometres counts as fairly near.
So every other weekend, to my chagrin and rage,
Official immigration stamps another empty page.
Short flights, short flights:
Doha - DXB.
My ten-year passport isn’t going
To last much more than three.

Now Ramadan draws to a close, and we of course all know how
The world, his wife, his kids, his dog all want to exit Doha.
The airlines take advantage: they don’t have any trouble
With elevating normal fares to make them more than double.
Eid flights, Eid flights
To the UAE:
At fourteen hundred riyals,
This is how to take the pee.


Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Pie and a pint

It was a quiet birthday. Beloved Wife is visiting her side of the family on her side of the Pond, it’s Ramadan so all pubs and bars are shut, and I’m new in town. Friday will be our fourth wedding anniversary. I look forward to the anniversary phone conversation in lieu of presents and a meal out somewhere posh.

As I’m not a great lover of cake, I have made myself a Birthday Pie, complete with several candles. The number of candles bears no relation to the number of years; it’s simply several arranged in a quincunx.

Please note the healthy vegetables. There are leeks and sparrow-grass, both lightly steamed, and served without great lashings of salt or butter. As it turned out, the pie was full of chicken and more vegetables, so add carrots, sweetcorn and broccoli to the list. There’s my five a day.

And because eye yam what eye yam, I added chips and lashings of gravy. Oh, look: Potato. Another healthy vegetable.

The beer was Fuller’s London Pride. It was from a tin rather than hand-pulled, but nevertheless an approximation to proper English Bitter Ale.

As it turned out, I had picked up a packet of those hilarious comedy candles that refuse to stay extinguished once blown out. The problem was lighting them in the first place. My apartment is all electric, and because I don’t smoke I have up to now had no need for naked flames. So suddenly this evening I discovered that I had no source of ignition. However, an electric ring up on full blast eventually got a candle to light.

Remaining on the subject of candles, I was wandering around one of those tourist tat shops a few days ago, wondering if there really is a market for dozens of rotary-dial Bakelite telephones beyond theatrical props, when I came across this caprine sculpture. I have no idea what it is supposed to be; possibly an ash-tray, maybe a plant-pot holder or even perchance somewhere for business cards. I have assigned its function as Candle Stick.

Q-tel’s promised birthday visit came to pass. I shall have to continue to wait for my broadband to be installed, and the flat continues with an inertweb connection rather than the interweb that I would prefer. I’m sitting at work after everyone else has gone home, pumping this post up into the blogosphere with my MiFi device that steadfastly refuses to work at home.


Sunday, August 07, 2011

The mouse problem

Dubai follows Abu Dhabi’s lead, and is, according to this article in the Gulf News, going to offer discounts on traffic fines.

Think about the purpose of a traffic fine for a moment. Officially at least, it is punishment. The money that you were saving up for your holiday, new fridge, school fees or beer is instead directed into central government coffers. That’ll learn ya! A more cynical Goat might believe that traffic fines, especially those incurred after being detected by a speed camera, are simply a means of raising revenue.

Look how easy it is to pay most traffic fines. Go on-line and quote your credit card number. Visit a shopping mall and stand at one of those fine Fine-Payment machines. Wait until the end of the year and simply add the payment on to the inspection and registration fees.

If the intention were punitive, the perpetrator would have to take time off work, attend court, and then be given a right royal runaround across town, collecting rubber stamps on official forms in order to obtain permission to pay. In truth, this punishment is reserved for those attempting to recover their security deposits before leaving the country. It is true that some traffic offences incur a version of the time-wasting palaver. According to the Goat’s spies, driving on the breakdown lane (for example) can involve an invitation to stand in front of the Police Captain to receive a dressing down and then to apologise. (Fifth Amendment inserted here for the avoidance of doubt.)

What can possibly be the reasoning behind reducing traffic fines, then? Previously they were increased: speeding now starts at Dh600, whereas it used to be Dh200. That ‘zero tolerance yields zero crashes’ no-messin’ attitude seems to have had minimal effect.

The Goat reckons that the increased fines simply cause more and more cases of non-payment. Either can’t pay or won’t pay. It’s impossible to register a motor vehicle without paying the fines, so logically the non-payers are punished by not being able to use their vehicles, right? Of course not! The number of unregistered and consequently uninsured vehicles on the road increases. By reducing the fines, they become easier to pay. Result: fewer unregistered and uninsured vehicles. A further benefit for the government is that 50% of some income is better than 100% of buggerall.

Abu Dhabi, and soon Dubai seem to be following advice from Monty Python’s The Mouse Problem sketch. “The only way to bring the crime figures down is to reduce the number of offences.”


Sunday, July 31, 2011

Rich with creases

The Goat’s new residence is full of – appropriately – LG appliances, including a dishwasher, fridge-freezer and even a television. There was no DVD player, but there is now and, purely by coincidence, this is also by LG. Rather usefully, the magic wand that works the DVD machine also works the telly. The Goat has avoided that irritating spawning of remote controllers that afflicts so many households.

The Goat has been struggling with domesticity in the kitchen. At last, he’s worked out how to persuade the LG Direct Drive washer-dryer with 1200 rpm spin speed, inverter and “10 year Warrnaty for Motor” [sic] (according to a sticker on the unit) not only to turn soiled garments into clean ones, but also into dry ones. The said washing machine has numerous displays, and it bleeps, pings and flashes like a computer from a 1970s sci-fi film.

The one thing that this wonderful machine doesn’t do is the ironing. The Goat hates ironing and would normally spurn it as he would a rabid dog. But ‘business attire’ dictates that turning up at the office looking like he’s been sleeping fully-clothed under a hedge is completely unacceptable. Also unacceptable to the Goat are drip-dry bri-nylon shirts. It’s cotton, or polyester/cotton in an emergency.

And yet, despite putting much effort into wielding a steam iron, most of the Goat’s shirts remain obstinately rich with creases. A great problem is that clothing, although made from flat cloth, is made up of odd shapes so that it’ll go around a three-dimensional body, and therefore refuses to lie flat and be tortured with hot irons. So removal of creases from one area invariably introduces new ones to another.

Some shirts and trousers are better behaved than others. The Goat’s yellow shirt that is made of some pinstriped ridged material is 100% resistant to being ironed, except by someone skilled in the art. A standard test of someone’s skill with a steam iron is the Goat’s kilt, which has loads of separate panels. Nanny Goat can do a splendid job in about five minutes; it takes the Goat up to half an hour to yield an inferior result, and the part-time maid back at the Crumbling Villa made such a hash of it that she’s never going to do it again.

The solution to the Goat’s abject hatred of ironing is obvious. There is a laundry at the other end of the road. They might do an ironing-only service, and they might even undertake home delivery.


Friday, July 22, 2011

Staple diet

The Goat retrieved his passport, which is currently being passed around government departments as part of Qatar's Residence Permit process, so that he could spend a weekend in Dubai with his Beloved Wife. There's also the Goatmobile to re-register and insure for another year, because that still remains to be sold.

The Goat should like to thank whichever bright spark nailed staples through his new, electronic, machine-readable passport.

The said staples have now been carefully removed. It remains to be seen how much damage may have been done to the passport's delicate electronics.


Thursday, July 21, 2011

WiFi? Fie, MiFi!

So the MiFi of which I blogged earlier works just fine in my former apartment. It also works brilliantly in the Vodafone shop, just to prove that my complaints about dysfunctionality are completely wrong. And this morning I discover that it works in the office.

The only place I can't get a meaningful connection is in my apartment. This renders the device completely pointless, because the apartment is the only place on the surface of the planet where I actually want to use it. There's a good, strong phone signal; it's just the 3G bit that I can't access.

Vodafone's excuse was that "We are upgrading, and there are some occasional periods of outage or low signal." I suspect from the loquacity with which this was spouted that it's a standard tape-recording that gets played to every dissatisfied customer.


Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Permit me to exist

If you don’t have a Residence Permit, you don’t really exist.

I have already reported how the moment an expatriate in Qatar obtains a Work visa, he forgets how to drive until he gets a local driving licence. But not a permanent one. Those are reserved for proud holders of the RP.

I’m moving house on Friday. Unlike my temporary accommodation, the new place doesn’t have a phone line. So no internet until after I have an RP and ID card. You see, non-residents aren’t allowed to have land-lines. In Qatar, the ID card is irrevocably connected to the RP, and it’s impossible to do almost anything official without flashing the ID card. My old ID (with a hilarious 1996 mugshot, and a 2002 expiry date) has been invaluable, but it isn’t good enough for Q-Tel.

The medical examination and hoofprints aren’t going to happen until the end of July, after which it’ll take around a fortnight to get the RP stamp in my passport. But even this isn’t good enough. One to two weeks after the RP, I get my Qatar ID card. Only then may I apply for a telephone in the new apartment. And installation (which is the onerous task of switching it on at the exchange, because the wires are already in place) will take “up to 15 days”.

Now add Ramadan into the mix, and it becomes obvious that I’ll be on the internot until September. Unacceptable.

Enter Mobile Broadband. Ouch, the expense!

Q-Tel offers QAR80 per month for up to 2Gb of data, apparently on a use-it-or-lose-it basis. Going over 2Gb costs QAR10 per 1Mb, which seems a lot of cash. Is 2Gb a lot, assuming email, Facebook, blogging and some Google Talk? I know to avoid downloading movies and spending protracted hours gazing at YouTube. Unfortunately, this QAR80 option is only available to RP holders. If I had an RP I’d have ADSL and wouldn’t be asking about mobile broadband!

Or there’s QAR250 for ten days of ‘unlimited’ broadband; QAR450 for 30 days. And this is plus another QAR300 for the USB dongle. ‘Unlimited’, as defined by Q-Tel, is 15Gb per month. An unlimited package with a limit. Freedom is slavery.

I went into Vodafone Qatar, about four doors down and for QAR150 I got myself a MiFi. Essentially, this is a mobile phone without a display, keypad, speaker or microphone. Alright, it’s a box; a musical box, wound up and ready to play. It connects to the interwebs through the 3G mobile phone network and behaves as my own portable, private WiFi hotspot. Of course, it’s really expensive for heavy use, but crucially because it’s Pay-As-You-Goat, I didn’t need to produce my non-existent ID card in order to buy one.

To my delight, I discovered that it runs at an actual 3Mbps, which is over four times the speed of the 1Mbps ADSL. If connectivity turns out to be pants in the new place, I’ve invested only QAR150 and not QAR750.

I also downloaded BitMeter, which enables me to monitor how much bandwidth I’m actually using.

What might be useful is to avail myself of Q-Tel’s QAR80 per month once I have my ID card, and to stick this into the Vodafone MiFi device. The Universal Law of Sod suggests that the MiFi will only work with Vodafone. An experiment for later, perhaps.


Sunday, July 10, 2011

Do you 'ave a leecence?

Today I discovered that I’d been breaking the law for the past week. Purely by chance, I discovered that I’m only allowed to use my UAE driving licence for seven days (not three months as previously asserted by my employer), after which I completely forget how to drive in Qatar, my motor insurance ceases to be valid, and if some idiot decides to drive into the back of my rental car when I stop at a red traffic light, I’ll collect some Black Points, a massive fine, and also a very short haircut and some time in Al Slammah.

The actual rules seem to vary, dependent on who you ask. Also the phase of the moon and your grandfather’s inside-leg measurement may have some effect. But in summary:-
    GCC nationals can drive ad infinitum in Qatar with impunity.

    Expatriate holders of GCC licences may drive in Qatar for up to either two weeks or three months, depending on who you ask.

    Holders of International Driving Permits may drive in Qatar for up to six months.

    Holders of various brands of foreign driving licence may drive in Qatar for up to one week.

    BUT the moment an expatriate’s visa turns into a ‘Work’ visa, as opposed to a ‘Visit’ or ‘Business’ visa, the said expat has to obtain a Qatar driving licence.

So there I was, happily driving a rental car. But last week my visa was converted from ‘Business’ to ‘Work’ as part of the slow process of obtaining a Residence Permit, and so I came over all driving unlicensed and uninsured. The rental company was indifferent. As far as they were concerned, if I drove without insurance I’d be trapped in the country until I bought them a new car to replace the one I’d pranged. Hardly a responsible attitude, I think.

I made several phone calls and emails, explaining that there was no way I was getting into the car again until I was legal. I do not relish the prospect of attempting to explain from the comfort of a Qatar gaol cell how I’d been misled by my employer. Anyway, ignorantia legis non excusat.

So at 3pm I was given a lift up to the driver and vehicle licensing centre, where an eye-test and QAR150 later I had a temporary Qatar driving licence. Another QR150 for the motorcycle licence, because the nice lady behind the counter seemed incapable of ticking two boxes on the same form. The temporary licence is valid for three months. Once I have my Residence Permit I can upgrade to a full Qatar licence for an additional fee. I think the technical term is ‘tax’.

In summary, the licensing process was easy. But it was fraught with unnecessary concern and risk on my part, all because of the vagaries of the rules and a lackadaisical attitude of others to keeping me on the correct side of the law.


Tuesday, July 05, 2011

Nefarious practices

How much does it cost to move money across international borders? More than you might imagine, once Red Triangles Bank gets involved. I read the Schedule of Services and Tariffs before punting money across the Gulf, and it appears that Bank will charge Dh50 to move my money from my Red Triangle in Sharjah to my Red Triangle in Doha. This is provided that I tell a computer to do it rather than a person.

So it was to my dismay and annoyance that Dh100 was deducted from my account about two seconds after the money was moved. As is entirely predictable, I complained. Less predictably, someone from the bank actually called me as promised, and explained what was going on.

  • Essentially, if the Dh50 charge is paid by the receiving bank, the price you see is the price you pay.

  • However, if the Dh50 charge is paid by the transmitting bank, there’s an additional Dh50 fee.

At the bottom of the page of tariffs, there’s another entry that states:

    “Additional charge to send payment in full within [Red Triangles] Group (Charges “OUR”) - Electronic / Manual" AED50”

I put it to the Bank that arranging the Schedule of Services and Tariffs in this way constitutes devious practice. Most people would look down a table to the item they’re interested in, and then across to the fee. There’s no indication to a customer that, having found the fee, he should refer elsewhere for additional fees. Be aware that Red Triangles’ customers should read the entire ten-page document in case there’s an additional fee buried elsewhere.

Of course, the Bank hides behind “It’s on the form in black and white”, so there’s no chance of a refund. At least they didn’t make any money out of the transaction. Sorting out my complaint cost the Bank Dh77: the cost of a 36-minute international phone call.


Monday, July 04, 2011

Electric string

The thing about my luxurious temporary accommodation is its luxury and also how temporary it is. Despite my only being in a one-bed flat in West Bay (there’s posh!) for up to a month, I nevertheless was disappointed to discover that the internet wasn’t working. I complained to HR, who told the computer geeks.
Then IT told the Alderney,
And he told the Dairymaid,
Until I was advised
To make a formal fault report.

I phoned Q-Tel.

As promised, Q-Tel contacted me within 48 hours, and I was obliged to drop everything and rush to the other end of town to let the technician fiddle with my router. The verdict was that there was a problem with the electric string connecting the telephone to the wall, and I would need a different cable. So as the technician left, I had a working internet but was missing the correct phone cable.

I know precisely zero about the inner workings of telecommunications equipment. How naïve of me to imagine that, if I bought a phone cable in Qatar that had the right plug on each end and was labelled as being suitable for telephones in Qatar, that it would be the correct cable. Once plugged in, the phone remained as dead as flared corduroy trousers, and so I logged another fault complaint with Q-Tel.

Sure enough, within 48 hours a technician phoned me. “No, actually I’m not sitting at home on the off-chance that you might happen by. I am in fact at the other end of town working and earning the money that enables me to stay here. Yes, of course I’ll drop everything and head straight home to let you in. For the second time this week.”

It turns out that the cable I’d bought was the wrong type. It looks identical to the correct type, but has four internal wires instead of two. And Q-Tel is allegedly special: unique in the Gulf in using the two-wire system. So much for “fully compatible with the Gulf” as it says on the box.

I wasn’t going to let the technician escape without leaving a working land-line. He snipped off the wrong plug from the original cable and crimped the correct plug on to the end. Everything now works. Why, I ask myself, did the first technician not do that? Changing the plug took approximately 20 seconds.


Tuesday, June 28, 2011

The Big Tree

Everyone wanted the Goat to start in Qatar as soon as possible. At the approval interview, the Client suggested “1st July, or sooner if possible,” and was thus over the moon to learn that the Goat could be available on 26th June.

And so it was that the Goat was sent a ticket to Fly Dubai on Saturday evening. Such a pity that the 45-minute flight took rather longer than that to get off the ground.

First, all passengers were bussed out to the aircraft and left waiting for ten minutes. Then a nice man with a fluorescent waistcoat told us that we’d “have to be returned to the terminal for a few minutes for technical reasons.”

Ah, yes. Good old “technical reasons.” What non-technical reasons might prevent a scheduled flight?

We all had to pass through Security again, so it was once more off with shoes, belts, watches, phones... What exactly is Security looking for? We were marshalled under supervision from the terminal to the bus, then from the bus into the terminal. There are very few opportunities to acquire guns, explosives, drugs or sharp objects on an airport shuttle bus. Perhaps someone was spotted sharpening a pencil with his nostril.

“A few minutes” is difficult to define, other than “more than one.” It turned out to be 50 before once more we queued fragrantly to board the bus.

Once aboard, the Captain apologised profusely. He explained that he was not happy with one of the aircraft tyres, and it had been quicker to change aircraft than to drive over to Quik-Fit.

Then Engine No. 2 refused to start. More apologies from the pointy end. Eventually, the Captain explained that the starter motor was being changed, and would everyone kindly bear with us? Like we had any choice, what with the steps having been removed from the doors.

Nevertheless, full marks for the captain for telling his self-loading cargo what the problem had been (instead of hiding behind the vagueness and obfuscation of “technical reasons”), that it had been resolved, and of course, he apologised.

And so, three hours later than advertised, Fly Dubai got airborne.

There was, of course, an enormous queue at Doha Arrivals. It took over half an hour to clear Immigration. This is normal in Doha International Airport on Friday and Saturday nights. The Goat speculates on how the authorities who have been unable to speed up Passport Control since 1996 are planning to deal with thousands of footie fans who’ll inevitably descent on Doha en masse in 2022. There appears to be an elephant in the room.

At least the company-provided temporary accommodation proved acceptable. It’s a one-bed apartment with an excellent sea view and allocated parking. The Goat wasted no time in obtaining a rental car, this being rather more preferable to waiting interminably for company drivers.

And the job started in earnest on the first day, and is utterly exhausting. No slow start for this Goat!


Thursday, June 23, 2011

Take this tablet every day

It was coming up to that time of the month when the Goat needed a visa run. For those not in the know, British passport holders without Residence Visas are allowed to enter the UAE and stay for up to thirty days. It’s possible to leave the country and then re-enter for a further month.

Following the Goat’s redundancy and subsequent cancellation of his UAE Residence Visa, the first visa run was to Bahrain. Instead of simply arriving and flying straight back, Beloved Wife accompanied the Goat, and both enjoyed a splendid weekend with friends.

The plan included scuba diving in the gin-clear waters off the Bahrain coast, but soon expanded to include a black-tie dinner dance at the Golf Club. Neither Beloved Wife nor Goat actually play golf (or SwishBugger, as it was more accurately portrayed the following day on the driving range) but that didn’t prevent a hugely entertaining and very liquid evening from taking place. Other weekend entertainments included Nix’s horse, where she rode and Goat, (who’s not been on horseback since 1991 and that was for about half an hour) taking photos, and a slightly naughty drive in a Corvette. Heh, heh, heh!

Almost a month later, and the Goat contacted his prospective future employers to remind them about the Contract of Employment, and a note that the start date really ought to be before his current UAE visa expired. And so it was that the Goat found himself on a day trip to Doha last Wednesday.

Fly Dubai leaves Terminal 2 at 7am, so the alarm went off at an unearthly 4am. Almost unbelievably, there is actually another four o’clock. An alarm clock that rings when the hour hand is on the right-hand side of the clock face is uncivilised.

How is it, the Goat wonders, that so many people who can afford designer luggage, decent clothes and air tickets seem unable to afford soap? One of these fragrant individuals was so desperate to get on board the aircraft that he pushed and shoved the Goat on the steps. As if the Boeing is going to drive off and get airborne leaving irate passengers on the apron.

“Please. Go past me, if you think it’s that important.”

And then the Goat had the delight of standing in the aisle waiting while the said gentleman manhandled his very large designer luggage into the overhead bin.

Whilst on the subject of whinging about people and things, why do people at Immigration seem actively to seek out empty pages in a passport? Perhaps they are in collusion with government agencies who stand to make a tidy profit by selling regular travellers a new ten-year passport every three years. The Goat has also noted that the tin-pottedness of a particular regime appears to be directly proportional to the size of the visa applied to a passport.

The day trip turned into two job interviews with the same firm that had already appointed the Goat, or so he’d been led to believe. But the appointment was confirmed. Huzzah! Starting date is the end of the month.


Thursday, June 09, 2011

I have some good news and some bad news

The title looks like the start of some sort of joke, but it isn’t. Everything that follows is true, for a given value of true.

The good news:

I have a new job. O frabjous day! Calloo callay! And a decent pay rise to boot.

The bad news:

It’s in Qatar.

Actually, the prospect of going back to Qatar doesn’t scare me nearly as much as it might concern some long-term UAE expatriates. I started there on 2nd July 1996, and it looks as if I’ll be starting again almost fifteen years to the day later. Obviously there are now domestic issues to address. Beloved Wife is staying in Dubai pro tem owing to contractual obligations, so I can imagine that between us we’ll spend the rest of 2011 running up an astonishing number of Air Miles.

Another piece of bad news is that the authorities in Qatar do not permit οἱ πολλοί to import private vehicles that are more than five years old. And so the Goatmobile is up for a very reluctant sale. I’m working on figuring how to import the bike.

If you don’t live in Qatar, and you’d like a 2004 Prado that’s been pimped and blinged for desert driving and weekend campouts, drop me an email on
. Its got 157Mm on the clock, full Al Futtaim service history, hasn’t been pranged, and it can be yours for Dh70,000.


Thursday, June 02, 2011

"The trees are strong, my lord. Their roots go deep."

I thought biofuels were supposed to be carbon neutral. Not according to this recent report commissioned by Friends of the Earth. It seems that bio-ethanol and bio-diesel are going to produce more carbon dioxide than the fossil fuels that they’re supposed to replace.

In fossil fuels, CO2 that was photosynthesised into organic matter thousands of millions of years ago is released into the Earth’s atmosphere. Strictly speaking, ‘back into’, but because the planet’s atmosphere has changed since the Carboniferous age, let’s assume that burning fossil fuels creates new CO2 that causes a greenhouse effect, melts the polar ice caps, and generally annoys Ursus maritimus.

Now, what we were previously sold was the idea that biofuels were carbon neutral. You plant a field of, say, sunflowers. They grow, photosysnthesise, and turn sunlight into sunflower seeds. Processing those sunflower seeds, peanuts, oil-seed rape, sugar cane, or whatever, produces a liquid fuel that you burn in your internal combustion engine to produce energy, releasing the CO2 back into the atmosphere. That’s the important bit: ‘back’. If the cultivation and manufacturing processes also use a biofuel energy source, there is zero increase in atmospheric CO2 levels.

But this is wrong, according to Friends of the Earth. The report says that over the next 20 years, converting European land (presumably moors, forests and other non-agricultural land) will produce around a billion tonnes of CO2 as a one-off: equivalent to ‘up to’ an additional 6% of total European Union transport emissions in 2007.

Where is all this extra CO2 going to come from? Destroying the trees? ‘Land-use change’ appears to assume that the trees are all torn down and burned in a vast bonfire.

Therefore we should leave the trees alone, right? What would happen if those trees were not replaced by fields of biofuel crops (that are basically carbon neutral)?

The trees would eventually die and rot away, releasing all their CO2 back into the atmosphere, that's what.

If we cut down the trees and made furniture, what would become of that furniture when it’s old and broken? Landfill? Firewood?

It doesn’t matter if we leave those trees untouched, burn them, or turn them into tables or boats, all the CO2 absorbed by the trees is ultimately headed back into the atmosphere. Pretending that trees absorb CO2 for all time is self-deluding to the point of being disingenuous tosh.

What does the FoE report suggest we do? Lobby to reduce the amount of biofuel in our petrol. Amend biofuel policies and prioritise energy efficiency and renewable electricity. What it doesn’t say is where all this renewable electricity is going to come from without, presumably, turning vast areas of natural wetlands into tidal power stations, putting enormous windmills on every hilltop, or mining the planet for cadmium, indium, gallium, palladium, selenium, silicon and tellurium to make photovoltaic panels. At least silicon is almost literally as common as muck.

Meanwhile, what we really need to do is throw away our gas-guzzling cars and aircraft. Go back to horse-drawn transport. But wait: doesn’t a horse consume biofuel feedstock and turn it into energy and carbon dioxide?

Perhaps Friends of the Earth and their ilk would advocate that we go back to a simpler age when the human population of the planet was a lot smaller. But that’s too politically incorrect to suggest, isn’t it?

Link to FoE website

Link to the report


Sunday, May 22, 2011

Why are we waiting?

The Automatic Teller Machine, also known as the ATM, ATM machine, fruit machine, or even fuloos-o-mat is a wonderful device that can magically dispense real crinkly cash into my hand whilst simultaneously deducting that same sum from my bank account. The wonder is that the machine and the bank might be half a planet apart. Red Triangles bank even sends me a text message when the transaction occurs. Such magic!

The system does upon occasion go wrong. I should like to offer my heartfelt thanks on behalf of Beloved Wife to the staff at Red Triangles for the prompt and courteous manner in which the Bank handled a recent ATM problem.

Unfortunately, I am unable to do so, because of the abominable and egregious customer service provided by RTB, in apparent accordance with normal custom and practice.

When instructing that twenty Omani Rials be dispensed from a RTB machine in Muscat on 7th April, the sum of around Dh190 was immediately deducted from Beloved Wife’s account. Behold the SMS. Cash was not forthcoming; instead merely a receipt stating

    Please contact the Bank


Beloved Wife went immediately into the Bank and brandished the receipt. She was told that RTB (Oman) couldn’t help, and she’d have to take up the matter with RTB (UAE). Pah! So much for allegations that this particular bank is both local and global.

Back in Dubai a couple of days later, and RTB’s telephone helpless desk advised that Beloved Wife should wait three days, after which the bank’s ghastly error would be corrected and all monies automatically refunded. Yeah, right.

On 13th April, the bank’s Business Centre in Mall o’ t’Emirates handed us an ATM Dispute Form. This would have to be faxed to 04-390 6788 because it couldn’t be handled in person by either the Business Centre or the actual branch, the latter being inconveniently located in Sharjah and not open for business except when Beloved Wife is at work.

So the Dispute Form was faxed on 13th April. And again on 24th April. Having had no response by 9th May, a month since the Bank stole the money, it was time for some phone calls. One of the problems was that the RTB fax machine was now permanently off-hook, seemingly at any time of the day or night. The helpless desk now decided, following some irate bleating from an extremely annoyed Goat, that it would be possible to email the Dispute Form (despite the Business Centre minions declaring two weeks earlier that this was not possible), so off it went through the intertubes.

Again, stony silence and tumbleweed. The promised phone call to Beloved Wife to confirm that the complaint had been elevated never happened, exactly as anticipated. Once more, a Bank employee stating: “Yes we will,” actually means, “No we won’t.”

So, on 19th May, another email to
    Gentlemen --

    Yet again I am contacting you about this issue. Yes, is "only" 190.85 dirhams, but it is MY 190.85 dirhams.

    Please rectify this situation and replace this amount in my account immediately.

    My patience with the lack of customer service at [Red Triangles] in the UAE is wearing very thin. I see little point in continuing to do business with institutions that ignore their customers.

And without apology, the money was immediately credited.

Well done, Red Triangles! A Bank error rectified in only 42 days, after two personal visits, three phone calls, two faxes, three attempted but abortive faxes, and two emails.


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.