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


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