Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Bill Stickers is guilty

Unfortunately, it seems that Dubai is one place where the Goat's particular incarnation of Mr William Stickers is not going to be prosecuted.

Not a day goes past without unsolicited crap being hung on the gate of the Crumbling Villa. The cast alimininium curlicues all over the outside of the gate seem to encourage the practice. The Goat isn't particularly interested in the new pizza joint, nursery school, hair salon or dental clinic; he has little use for a borehole in the garden (which is apparently illegal anyway), and always gets his cooking gas from the same outfit. So it's futile hanging the garbage on the garage.

One thing is certain. The Goat always removes the paperwork and stacks it unread on the footway for collection. If that constitutes littering, then address the cause and not the effect. If you prevent everyone from plastering the Crumbling Villa with junk, the Goat won't dump it in the street. Simples.

Just lately, things have got worse. Cars parked outside get additional copies of the same handbills stuffed in the door handles and under the windscreen wipers. These blow off eventually, but the Goat will certainly not read them, nor avail himself of the product or service advertised. The purveyors of cooking gas and of satellite TV rather unfortunately have self-adhesive stickers that get plastered by the elusive Mr Stickers all over the Goat's electricity meter cabinet. They get removed and dumped.

The Goat made the mistake of leaving the gate open the other day. He found yet more junk, left all over his parked motorbike and even shoved under the BACK door of the Crumbling Villa.

He's tried complaining. The Municipality seems to do nothing, and calling the number advertised on the junk results in somewhere between: "The manager isn't available, and will return your call" (which he doesn't, of course), to "Neanderthal grunt."

On the rare occasions when the Goat catches Bill Stickers in flagrante lectaro, on the footway on his motorbike, and asks him to refrain from littering, the relief is extremely short-lived. About ten minutes. Then it's back to paper and plastic waste being stuck to the wall, attached to the car, shoved in the gate, hurled over the wall into the front yard, and even hand-delivered under the Crumbling Villa's door.


Sunday, December 16, 2012

Wet winter weekend

The rain, it raineth every day
Upon the just and unjust fella;
But mostly on the just, because
The unjust has the just's umbrella.

Beloved Wife and Goat headed off to Istanbul for the UAE National Day long weekend. Despite dire warnings from the Authorities that over-decorating cars and engaging in impromptu parades would be regarded with a very dim view, it was generally considered over at the Crumbling Villa that simply avoiding the mayhem was a more acceptable option.

The Goat hopes that everyone enjoyed the UAE's 41st birthday celebrations.

The wonderful thing that is the internet revealed that going away for the weekend was also an excellent choice for anyone who didn't fancy experiencing torrential downpours and the flooding that followed. Facebook was briefly full of photo stories of blocked drains, flooded houses, surfing in the streets. Yes, really: there was a video of a Toyota Land Cruiser driving down the road with someone water-skiing on a surfboard behind. The Crumbling Villa remains mercifully waterproof, except for one small area in the bathroom that the landlord has failed to fix for over two years and counting.

Not that escaping to Istanbul involved an escape from wet weather. It always rains in Istanbul when the Goat visits. At least because wet weather is more common in Turkey, the infrastructure is better able to cope with a deluge than the UAE where rain is regular but very rare.

The Goat took his waterproof motorbike jacket and a flat cap, and spendthrift Beloved Wife lashed out around Dh5 on an umbrella. Most of the walking was timed to miss the showers, and when it rained, there were indoor things to do.

It does seem bizarre to think that one sunny morning, for the rain wasn't constant, Goat and Beloved Wife hid in the Cistern, an underground water tank with no sunlight and constant drips from the vaulted roof. The "No Big Cameras or Tripods Without Paying an Additional Fee" was not enforced, and the Goat's gorilla pod was great for wrapping around handrails during long-exposure shots.

Over at Hagia Sofiya, once a church, then a mosque, now a museum, tripods were absolutely forbidden, and had to be surrendered to Security. This is when a very steady hand, VR (vibration reduction) lenses, and ISO Auto comes in very useful. It's the first time the Goat has been in Hagia Sofiya and it's not been full of scaffolding.
The nave of Hagia Sofiya: Part church, part mosque, part museum
Beloved Wife wanted to see the mosaics at Chora museum, which turned out to be a long taxi ride away. As usual, mosaic details were stunning. Curiously, the taxi ride back was a lot shorter. Other public transport, the trams, were cheap and easy to use, and obviously very crowded because of the wet weather.

Madonna and Child, Chora Museum

Istanbul's Grand Bazaar and Egyptian Bazaar were both open, and extremely crowded owing to the wet weather. Beloved Wife engaged in Christmas shopping, and also compared rug prices with what had been quoted elsewhere. One of her colleagues has worked as a rugmonger in Istanbul, and that was the shop that offered the best value by an order of magnitude. Guess what the Crumbling Villa household got for Christmas.

Meershaum pipes in the Egyptian Bazaar
Lights for sale in the Grand Bazaar
Carpet detail
Apart from spices, rugs, genuine fake designer handbags, and coloured lamps, Istanbul is famous for meerschaum pipes. But the Goat could't find one anywhere where the face on the front had a beard and horns. Plenty of stunning dragons, grizzled old men, buffalo and horses, and even a unicorn for the pipe smoker who's very secure in his sexuality. But no goats, at least, not in Istanbul.
Neither hide nor hair in Istanbul


Wednesday, December 05, 2012

Wheelie becoming a problem

The pile that is "Too Difficult"
Something that has – literally – been getting up the Goat’s nose of late is the lamentable state of local refuse collection. The wheelie bin on the corner of Crumbling Villa Crescent has until recently been regularly emptied by the Municipality. But the bin on the corner has become broken; someone has even gone to the effort of wiring it shut. Sadly, the local residents do not go to the effort of taking their domestic trash to one of the other bins. It is much easier simply to pile the trash up against the empty - but sealed shut - wheelie bin on the corner. Apparently the bin is all distorted and won’t fit on the machinery that empties it into the back of the truck, and that is why it’s been sealed shut.

The Goat telephoned the Municipality. It seemed odd that a Public Cleanliness Foreman of the Waste Management Department found it necessary to make an appointment to meet the Goat to have the problem pointed out to him in Small Words and Big Letters.

The foreman advised that the bin in question was privately owned and nothing to do with the Municipality. This is a bin on a public street, not within a private compound. It does have ‘V-49 A-E’ spray-painted on the side, and Villas 49a to 49e are indeed just over the road. However, unless the Crumbling Villa’s landlord also owns Villas 49a to 49e, it’s not the Goat’s landlord’s responsibility or problem. Nevertheless, the Environmental Health foreman insisted on obtaining contact details for the Goat’s landlord.

The Goat argued that vermin attracted by miasmic piles of festering refuse was surely an Environmental Health issue, and it mattered not one jot who owned the broken bin. This got the response that the Municipality would lean on the landlord and a new wheelie bin would be procured. The Goat should call the Municipality in a few days if this didn’t happen.

It will come as no surprise to the reader to learn that the Goat is disappointed to see that the broken wheelie bin and its attendant odious festering pile of mephitic trash remains on the corner of Crumbling Villa Crescent a month after making the complaint.

Meanwhile, attempts to call Environmental Health now go unanswered. Welcome to the “Too Difficult” pile. The Goat rather hopes that this particular health hazard gets dealt with before the summer...


Monday, November 19, 2012

Sound the alarm

“My husband tried to use the fire hose but there was no water. Not even one drop came from it…It is just there for decoration.”

So said one of the residents of Tamweel Tower in Jumeira Lake Towers, as reported in 7DAYS.

It’s a miracle then that no-one died or was injured in the fire early on 18th November. Over six hundred residents, but according to news reports everyone got out safely.

Questions will inevitably be asked about how a building made of steel, concrete and glass managed to burn so comprehensively. One resident cited the cladding, which “…is cheap fibreglass and it just erupts into flames…”

Well done to the ‘amazing’ Dubai Civil Defence for dealing with the fire and then helping to search the building for people and recoverable belongings.  

It’s incidents such as this that make me realise how fortunate I’ve been when living in various apartments. My first place was in a 12-storey block on Al Wahda Street in Sharjah. I noticed that the fire extinguishers on my floor and elsewhere had pressure gauges pointing at ‘Empty’, and I expressed my concerns regularly to the building management on the Mezzanine floor of the same building. Nothing was done. I went and complained to Sharjah Civil Defence (which is the Fire Brigade) but was told it was the building owner’s responsibility. I also complained that the fire escape stairways were completely blocked at ground level by old mattresses and moribund bicycles. Again, nothing was done. I moved out.

The next place, Grumpy Goat Tower in Sharjah was much newer and much better appointed in the Department of Fire and Life Safety, with smoke detectors on each landing, sprinkler systems and a fire alarm. Not that the alarm was ever tested in the three years I was there, but at least the hose reels and fire extinguishers had stickers showing that they’d been signed off as operational. Here, the problem was limited to blocked fire escapes. There seems to be a habit of parking supermarket trolleys, stepladders, bicycles at the bottom of the stairs. This might be OK from day to day, but what if everyone in the building comes piling down the stairs in the dark following a fire alarm at 2am? People will die in the crush.

My place in Doha was extremely well appointed with smoke alarms in every kitchen, a sprinkler system that extended into every apartment as well as the common areas and under-building parking, and even a fire main. I guess that the Qatar authorities mandated comprehensive fire protection in all new builds.

What about fire alarms? I used to work in a building where the alarm was tested for a few seconds every Thursday at precisely 10am. If the bells rang at any other time, or if the 10am bell didn’t shut up after a few seconds, it was to be treated as a full evacuation. The firm even had appointed fire marshals whose job was to drag people from their computers (“Leave me alone; it’s only a drill”) and force them down the fire escape.

What should we do, in the aftermath of the Tamweel Tower fire? Get a smoke alarm. Check that fire hoses and fire extinguishers are signed off as in date. Insist on regular fire alarm tests. Consider a fire safe for the really valuable documents such as passports and certificates.


Wednesday, November 07, 2012

Fly me to the moon

Someone suggested that if I wished to move away from Project Management, and all the financial crystal-ball-gazing that that entails, perhaps I should divert my energies in the direction of a more technical and less managerial role. I can already drive AutoCAD, and I'm also a dab-hand at Excel and PowerPoint. I even taught myself how to use MicroDrainage and SYNCHRO. Perhaps I could learn Civil 3D?

Some of these might be a bit of a mystery to anyone who lives beyond the borders of Civil Engineering, but shall I say that they're technical software packages.

I have a copy of AutoCAD 14 on my little laptop. This is a very old version of the program, and was probably the release used by Noah in the preliminary designs of his ark. Newer versions of AutoCAD and the increasingly popular Civil 3D won't run on my little laptop, a device that has enormous difficulty with Photoshop Elephants (version 2 - how quaint!) because the disk drive is nearly full and the machine is approaching a decade old.

I checked online for Civil 3D and AutoCAD, and was very alarmed at the cost, and also the rather demanding specification of a machine that would run them. Further alarm, then, when I saw how much a suitable computer would cost.

At this point, I had an epiphany: AirMiles.

I've been slavishly presenting my AirMiles card at every possible transaction for many years. In fact, because I started with AirMiles Qatar, it must be over ten years, and those miles have piled up. Beloved Wife has been contributing to the same account, and by using credit cards for everything except petrol, I had managed to amass approaching a million of the things. AirMiles wrote to say that in 2013 there would be a session of "Use 'em or Lose 'em" so there was now some pressure to buy something expensive.

Such as a new computer. The eMax shop does direct exchange of AirMiles. I was expecting to have to apply for vouchers, await their eventual arrival by mail, and then go into the shop to be told that there were terms, conditions, restrictions, and all that other stuff in the small print.

I was really over the moon to learn that eMax exchanges AirMiles for toys at the face value of 14000 miles to AED100, which is the same rate as for gift vouchers.

So it was extremely gratifying to come away from eMax last evening with boxes containing a new and powerful laptop and a second monitor, all for an outlay of less than AED50. And I even have enough AirMiles left over for a bean-grinding espresso machine (but I don't actually want one of those because I'm a fan of the moka pot). Hilariously, no-one in the shop really seemed to believe that I wanted a home computer for work-type stuff; they all seemed to think I want it to play Gears of War or Skyrim. Hey, I don't even play Solitaire or Minesweeper. Honest.

The delight fell over once I got home, when I discovered that AutoCAD 14 won't run on a Windows 7 64-bit system. At least Photoshop does. And I fortuitously remembered that my Office 2010 had one remaining licence, so I'm up and running with a full version of Office too. Apparently AutoDesk doesn't support their software running under the all-singing, all-dancing Windows 8, so I think I'll stay away from Microsoft's latest operating system pro tempore.

Now, Civil 3D and AutoCAD 2012 remain an expensive proposition. I wonder if the nice people at AutoDesk would let me have them on the extremely cheap? It is only for training and non-commercial use. I have a demo version, but that's only good for a month.

The plan, then, is to devote time at home with a powerful computer and a big book of "AutoCAD and Civil 3D For Dummies" until I'm an expert. I may be some time.


Wednesday, October 31, 2012


The Goat was mildly surprised when, over sixteen years ago, he arrived in the middle east and was told about the Post Office Box. The essential detail was that there were no door-to-door mail deliveries in Doha, and all incoming mail had to be addressed to a PO box. In keeping with tradition, the Goat adopted his employer’s PO box as his own mailing address. This was highly convenient, because the Goat’s employer had a driver whose duties included taking outgoing mail to Doha’s central post office and collecting all incoming mail. A change of employer and country in 2002 led to a change of address, and new PO boxes in Dubai and later Sharjah were easy to arrange.

Further changes in the Goat’s employer forced further amendments to the Goat’s postal address, despite living in the same Crumbling Villa. Eventually the Goat got Beloved Wife to arrange a personal PO box address; something that in retrospect he should have done years previously. Naturally, frequent trips to the post office are necessary, but this is a more reliable source of incoming mail than the vagaries of promises from former employers to forward anything that came from someone accidentally left off the “My New Address” round robin.

Unfortunately, we now live in a less innocent world than that of the 1990s. Barclaycard, for example, now won’t accept anything addressed to a PO box in the middle east. And because doorstep postal deliveries don’t happen, this means that the Goat has to use Nanny Goat’s home address in the UK for Barclaycard correspondence. Apparently it’s for “security reasons,” which might mean that PO box addresses are perceived as only being used by drug barons, money launderers and other ne’er-do-wells who don’t want mail items ending up at their homes.

Please: the situation with regard to postal deliveries in the middle east (and possibly elsewhere) is this:-
  • Normal mail does not get delivered door-to-door.
  • Everybody has a Post Office Box, and all mail goes there.
  • PO boxes are not solely for dodgy dealers.
  • Home deliveries are by courier, which is more expensive and needs someone to sign for the goods.

More recently, one of the Goat’s invest managers kicked up a major stink regarding the change of address when the Goat moved back from Doha to Dubai. The change in mailing address was just fine, but the confirmation letter from the Isle of Man was very heavy-handed, threatening that without a proof of residential address, the firm would be unable to manage the Goat’s portfolio. A long email exchange followed, wherein it became apparent that the Goat was seemingly the firm’s only middle-east client, and the absence of door-to-door postal deliveries was clearly a fiction invented by the Goat in order to be awkward. No amount of “The Crumbling Villa is in Beloved Wife’s name, and all bills and bank statements point at the PO box” would be believed. “Your only client in the middle east? Either you’re lying, or everybody else has found a secret work-around that doesn’t involve a post office box.”

Remember, this is simply to establish the Goat’s residence; his correspondence address was already clear and a matter of written record.

Eventually the Goat managed to convince the Isle of Man-With-Tiny-Brain, and all was fine and dandy. For a month. Then the Goat received an email complaining that official investment correspondence addressed to The Crumbling Villa had been returned undelivered. It seems that the obsession with obtaining a residential address (to where it would be impossible to mail anything) had taken precedence over the correspondence address. The Goat had to fill out the Change of Correspondence Address – again – to finally sort out the matter. No naming and shaming, because they did write and apologise about their screw-up.

And now, according to Emirates Post, there is a new “My Home” service that includes doorstep delivery of mail. Dh750 a year for three deliveries a week; Dh1250 for six deliveries a week. That’s subject to the target address being a villa and not an apartment, and further subject to it being located in one of the “selected areas.” The new service does include SMS alerts when registered mail arrives, and a 10% discount on Emirates Post courier service, so it could work for some, even if it doesn’t look like particular good value for the Goat. If the picture on the flyer is to be believed, Emirates Post will stick a mailbox on the outside of the villa and deposit letters from home in it.

Glory hallelujah! Does this mean that, at last, “The Crumbling Villa, Dubai” could become a real address that banks and financial institutions could use without fear of it being a front for money laundering? Of course not: the service consists fundamentally of emptying the PO box periodically and dumping its contents at a target address.


Friday, October 19, 2012


In my defence, I should first note that there are a couple of reasons for not hanging the clean laundry outside to dry. The first is that it makes the towels all rough and scratchy which annoys Beloved Wife. The second is that nobody likes having their freshly washed linen befouled with guano. It's bad enough that a freshly laundered motor vehicle is immediately spotted with pigeon poo and cat pawprints, but at least these wipe off.

Most of our laundry therefore comes out of the spin dryer and goes straight into a tumble dryer for a couple of hours of treatment. The faster the spin, the less tumbling is required.

There's a lint catcher so that fluff, lint, dirham coins and keys that come out of the laundry don't go into the works of the drying machine, nor down the exhaust pipe. And the lint is always the same colour as the majority of the most recent load. Obviously the drying process removes some of the fabric from the clothes that are being dried.

My question is this: does line-drying the laundry produce the same amount of lint? You can't tell, because it would blow away never to be seen again. Is it wearing clothes that causes them to wear out, or washing them?

One for the long winter evenings: it is theoretically possible to gather up all the lint and fluff from the dryer, spin it into yarn, and knit some socks or a sweater.


Saturday, October 06, 2012

The heat is on

Crested, somewhere near Camel Rock
The cooler weather is now approaching, even if it's not yet actually upon us. Beloved Wife now removes the roof from her car on the drive into work, and the water heaters in the Crumbling Villa are starting to see some action following a summer when, as usual, hot water comes out of the cold tap.

The Goat missed the ME4x4 club's annual September Shakedown desert drive and camp out because of an important brunch appointment. So he was pleased to see a separate, smaller Shakedown drive had been organised a few days ago.

Unfortunately, this drive involved the Goat getting on to his hind legs at the exceptionally ungodly 5am in order to be at Tawi Nizwa by six. Five cars; five drivers, and a plan to drive across the sands to Pink Rock.

Naturally there was a little laughing up sleeves at what the Goat had rolled up in. JT referred to Rio as 'the Baby Goat', seeing as she was dwarfed by the other vehicles.

Toyota, Toyota, Daihatsu, Nissan, Dodge
He also expressed concern about the lack of a front recovery point, which is something that the Goat has been scratching his head about: there must be some way to attach a secure front recovery hook to a Terios that doesn't rely on it being screwed into the tinfoil framework under the front bumper.

The drive to Pink Rock was fun. Easy in some parts and a little challenging in others, there were a couple of refusals and the Patrol got crested on a ridge. Attempts to tow it off with a Terios were unsuccessful (possibly to the relief of the Patrol owner), and it took several tries with the Durango to achieve a result.

Approaching Pink Rock from the west involves a long drive up a steep sandy ramp. Everyone eventually made it to the top. Unfortunately for the Goat's credibility, the Terios simply ran out of welly about 30 metres from the top every time. Maybe turning the aircon off and lowering the tyre pressures to 12psi might have helped, but the Goat simply cheated and went around the rock and appeared from the east side. Fundamentally, 105bhp simply isn't enough to get up the steep slope with over 1200kg and no low-range gearbox. Such are the limits of softroaders, but it's good to discover those limits without breaking something.

There were a couple of additional crestings, including Rio the 'Baby Goat' on the way from Pink Rock to Camel Rock, before the party emerged unscathed at Maliha. The lightness of the Daihatsu which was such a disadvantage when attempting to recover a stuck Nissan Patrol, became an advantage with the roles reversed: she's very easy to pull off the ridge of a dune. There's an after-market towbar fitted with a receiver hitch, so a rear recovery point is in no way a problem.

The Goat has been a tad concerned about the engine temperature of his miniature 4x4. The Terios comes from the factory with a blue/green idiot light on the dashboard to say that the engine is stone cold and should not be thrashed. A red light supposedly comes on when (hopefully before) the engine has cooked itself to death. So the Goat bought an Engine Watchdog mail order from Australia. He'd not had time to fit it before the Shakedown and overheating was not apparently a problem, although Rio did smell a bit hot after repeated runs at Pink Rock.

Camera phone: dodgy focus
The device is now fitted and working. Piece of mind in a box. It sounds a warning buzzer if the engine temperature exceeds a pre-set value, so there's no need to keep gawping at the red LED display of degrees Celsius.

A remaining task is to figure out a front recovery point that won't bend out of shape and that won't upset the inspector at registration time. Another less urgent task is to think up and install some suitable accessories to go in those two switch blanks on the dashboard.


Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Do it yours elf

Kreacher feature
Beloved Wife's Volkswagen is now five years old. When it was under warranty, the window winder motors needed to be replaced and Al Naboodah did so with a minimum of fuss. But shortly thereafter I noticed a bolt occasionally poked out of the passenger door drain hole. Clearly someone had dropped a bolt into the door's innards, or something had come loose.

So next service, I mentioned it and asked that the loose bolt be found, removed and, if it had fallen out of part of the door, replaced. No such thing happened.

A single bolt rattling around is of no real consequence and both Beloved Wife and I simply ignored the problem. However, over the last year or so the rattling got worse. I noticed it particularly after returning from a year in Qatar. According to Beloved Wife, the mechanics at Al Naboodah recognised that there was rattling as of loose mechanicals in the passenger side door, but either could not or would not do anything about it.

As I'm "resting between jobs" as out-of-work actors say, I currently have the time to deal with matters domestic. Beloved Wife insists that I'm not her house-elf.

I took the car door to bits this morning. As soon as I'd prised the inner skin away, three M6 bolts fell on to the ground. Further dismantling revealed that the dozen or so M6 bolts that are supposed to attach the frame holding the window motor to the door chassis were either missing, on the ground, or loose. I was able to retrieve all sorts of metal fastenings from inside the door, including all of the missing bolts.

I reattached the innards and tightened the bolts; something that a qualified VW mechanic had evidently failed to do. I also replaced the broken window winder switch, which was the original reason for pulling the door to bits.

And now everything works and nothing rattles. Why this relatively minor task was so impossible over at Dubai's Volkswagen agency remains a mystery.

And pleased with my success, I'm to spend this afternoon assembling Swedish furniture.


Thursday, September 20, 2012

From caprine to cervine

My Blog List includes a web diary set on a tiny goat farm in Washington State. I’ve been following this charming, sometimes hilarious and occasionally poignant blog for a couple of years, and Beloved Wife suggested that perhaps we should visit. "You know you want to." 

It was one of those ‘chance of a lifetime’ opportunities. We were already on the Pacific coast of the United States and heading north towards Seattle.

An evening of on-line research zoomed in on more-or-less the area, and Google Street View gave me a pretty good idea of what the ZIP code actually looked like. The alleged location was given to Clarissa, and we set off.

A bonus was to cross the Tacoma Narrows. There are now two bridges there. This is the site of the famous “Gallopin’Gertie”, the first suspension bridge constructed over the Narrows. Its fame, or rather, infamy comes from the way in which the bridge deck behaved in windy conditions, and ultimately brought about the structure’s collapse in November 1940, barely four months after completion. Salutory lesson for civil engineers 101.

The new bridges are wider and were designed to resist aerofoil effects.

Tacoma Narrows: Westbound is free; Eastbound costs around five  bucks.
Anyway, the Key Peninsula is a beautiful as I’d anticipated. The geography of the area is a complex layout of peninsulas and islands, and if I lived here I’d own a boat in a heartbeat. There are so many inlets and coves to explore without having to venture into the Big Wide Ocean.

Waterfront properties on the Key Peninsula 
Clarissa, clever black box that she is, led us directly to Herron Hill Dairy. The sign on the gate was a bit of a giveaway. We drove into the yard and I introduced us to the Goatfarmer. She’s the one who types “This Goat’s Life” because the actual author has keyboard/cloven hoof interface trouble. After friendly introductions and chat, Beloved Wife and I were introduced to the herd. Everyone was hiding languidly in the shade. Apparently, this part of Washington hadn’t seen a spot of rain in over a month and the high temperatures were becoming irksome. The goats seemed pleased to see us, even though we had quite by accident failed to bring any ginger biscuits – apparently a caprine favourite.

No ginger biscuits, I'm afraid.
Beloved Wife is now convinced that goats do not necessarily stink to high heaven. The small ones at least are wonderfully cute. Check out the minuscule Crumpet, the Most Famous Goat in the World. I have, in front of witnesses including the Goatfarmer, been granted full and irrevocable permission to keep “three small goats” when we finally get to Cyprus. This always was the plan, but Beloved Wife’s concerns regarding the delicate aroma of capric acid have now been proved unfounded.

La Manchas have only vestigial ears
The minuscule Crumpet, the Most Famous Goat in the World
A big thank you to the Goatfarmer for her hospitality, and also for the great honking slab of goat halloumi that we fried in butter and lemon juice a couple of days later. It was most excellent. And thanks to the herd for not misbehaving in a manner that would have put Beloved Wife off goats for all eternity. I was relying on you!

At Herron Hill, all the goats are de-horned. But they still headbutt.
Just for grins
After we’d wasted enough of the Goatfarmer’s time, we said our thanks and goodbyes and headed off towards Seattle. Clarissa mysteriously sent us further north than I’d been expecting. As we rolled up to the kiosk to pay our ferry fare, the woman taking the money remarked, “Navigating with GPS, eh?”

How did she guess? We didn’t care; an hour or so taking in the sea air made a refreshing change from being cooped up in an air-conditioned box.

Car ferry. Seattle is behind that ridge.
It’s always useful to have a target, and my target was the Utilikilts shop in Seattle. According to the website, this would be found at 620 First Avenue. But there was a huge gap in the numbering and the target area was full of Seattle Mariners’ stadium. Worse, there was a match on, and all parking was from $30 and upwards. No, there wasn’t any discount for visitors from out of town who weren’t interested in baseball. (I had to look that up, having no idea which ball game to mention). After an unscheduled exploration of the hills of Seattle, we discovered that the rounders pitch was on First Avenue South, and we’d been looking in the wrong place. Thereafter, things started looking up, starting with covered parking for $5 only two blocks away from the kilt shop.

Gentlemen's outfitter, with free beer if you ask nicely.
I only wanted to grab some more business cards and possibly a new belt, but the shop staff and mostly Beloved Wife rather encouraged me in the direction of a new kilt. Happy Birthday, Mr Goat. Seems my existing one has stretched with wear somewhat, and I needed to get a slightly bigger version. I got my new belt too. Very fortunately, I remembered something from the website about sharing a beer. When I invoked the offer, they had one beer left, so we shared it. 

The afternoon was wearing on, and Beloved Wife wanted to visit Pike Place Market which was about six blocks up the road. By the time we got there most of the market stalls were clearing up for the day, which was an unfortunate side-effect of driving all over Creation, visiting goats and looking at kilts. Ah, but a small shop selling kitchen porn was able to supply the doughnut cookie cutters that Beloved Wife had been searching for.

Pike Place.
Seattle: The docks and the stadium.
The allure of Japanese food beckoned us into the world’s seediest-looking café. The guy behind the counter, who could have been George Takei’s twin brother, welcomed us in and we were served flame-grilled meat in Japanese teryaki sauce on a bed of rice for almost no money. It was possibly the best meal we had in the States, in the nastiest café with the most primaeval toilets.

Seattle: Old and new.
Seattle street. Everyone must have gone to the ball game,
We recovered the car from the now locked underground parking by visiting a nearby bar as advised by the sign, and obtaining the passcode. Then we made our escape from Seattle before the ball game finished and 100,000 sports-fan motorists vomited forth on to the highway. Heading east along the I-90 through the picturesque Cascade mountain range, we enjoyed the breathtaking scenery. In the winter, of course, the road would impassable without all wheel drive and snow chains. 

What of the 'cervine' bit in the title? Hadn't we had enough of cloven-hoofed ruminants for one day? Apparently not: seventy or so miles east, and in the dark, Muggins hit a deer. Our best guess is that it was standing in the middle of the road looking at the oncoming headlights and didn’t see or hear the Dad Car sneaking up behind at 25 miles per hour. Bambi ran into the Toyota, left a dent, and then scampered off into the woods. Dang!


Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Good news, everyone*

Original artwork: Carlos Lopez
Traffic violations earn both fines and Black Points in the UAE, with the number of Black Points dependent on the severity of the offence. For extreme offences such as racing on the highway or having a loud exhaust, vehicle impounding is an available weapon in the Police's armoury in the constant war on bad driving.

Today's 7DAYS newspaper carries a headline story that the head of Dubai Police has proposed a scheme involving White Points that can be used to clear Black Points. A carrot as well as the traditional stick.

What a marvellous thing! The Goat will collect a White Point for every month he manages not to get caught committing a traffic offence, and at the end of a year these twelve White Points may be used to pay a traffic fine, or release an impounded vehicle, or wipe away up to 12 Black Points. (These disappear after six months anyway, as far as the Goat knows. He once received a couple of Black Points for making an illegal U-turn in Sharjah, but by the time the Goatmobile was next up for registration those points had vanished.)

The Points Make Prizes bit is that the White Points may be exchanged for shopping vouchers, and drivers who manage five years without [being convicted of] a single traffic offence will be entered into a raffle to win a new car. The Goat idly speculates on how many drivers will keep their noses clean all year and then go on a single annual speedathon. None, of course; they'll all be wanting those vouchers. The newspaper doesn't say what the vouchers will be worth, but to make it financially worthwhile they should exceed AED600: the cost of a basic speeding ticket.

* The bad news is that the rewards scheme only applies to Dubai licence holders owning vehicles registered in Dubai.


Tuesday, September 04, 2012

Go west, young Goat!

I promise that this is the last blog post about motorbikes for a while. We did plenty of other stuff on our road trip, and I’ll be writing about that in the next few posts. But for now, it’s motorbikes and things that might be of interest to bikers.

One of my ongoing quests has been to obtain some motorbike leathers. My first foray into this minefield of futility started and finished in December 2011 when I discovered that, at least in the south-eastern USA, what I want is apparently Not Coming In America.

However, despite most of the bikes we encountered in and around Deal’s Gap being cruisers, there were plenty of sporty rice burners too, and even some folk wearing the sort of stuff that I’ve been trying to obtain. So it must be available somewhere.

And so it was that after crossing the Mississippi into Arkansas and then into Oklahoma, our plans to get to Santa Fe by nightfall were thwarted first by the Oklahoma City Outlet Mall for Beloved Wife’s benefit, and then by the local Kawasaki agent for mine. Both visits were ultimately unsuccessful, unless you count a small packet of re-usable push pins to replace the ones that I lose into my bike’s innards every time I take the plastic off. We also missed Little Rock and its famous attraction, according to the guide book: “Alligator Farm and Petting Zoo.”

We hit the very famous US-66 near Clinton, Oklahoma, and stopped off at the Route 66 Museum for interest’s sake, nostalgia, souvenirs, and to pick up a route map so that we could locate what remains of the Mother Road.

Museum, just as the sign says
One of the original pioneers
Most of the original Route 66 has been covered by the interstate, but a bit of clever navigation, Clarissa the GPS, maps and pure dumb luck enabled us to find and drive on several sections. Route 66 is more of an idea than merely a road. Many people went west to California, including Beloved Wife’s grandparents, because of the Oklahoma dustbowl of the 1930s, and it seems all guidebooks follow the route from Chicago to Los Angeles rather than the other direction.

Ghost town
Parts of Route 66 remain, passing through virtual ghost towns now bypassed by the I-40, other sections have been downgraded to service roads parallel to the I-40, and there are sections that have completely disappeared. It all gets a bit scary when there are no gas stations for many, many miles on the interstate, and only derelict and long-forgotten stations in these ghost towns. Dead petrol pumps stare out like sentries, waiting silently for customers who will never return. The only sound is that of sheet-metal signs banging in the wind.

Old gas station, but no gas
No gas here either
Nor here
Huge sighs of relief all around when we finally found a real, live gas station in McLean, Texas.

Route 66 used to loop north to Santa Fe and back south again to the I-40. That section, the Historic Route 66 was bypassed way back in 1937.

I’ll come back to Santa Fe, but for now, I’m moving west to Cambria in California and turning north on to the US-1 Pacific Coast Highway. I’ve never even seen the Pacific Ocean before. Paddling in it was going to have to wait, because of cliffs and fences, but we did get to stop and photograph some elephant seals. Eventually I got my paddle in Monterey Bay. It was freezing cold and the beach stank of rotting kelp. But that’s OK: there’s a lot more to the US Pacific coast than a bit of beach.

Elephant seals
The Pacific Ocean is freezing cold
The guidebook notes that there’s no way off the US-1 except at the ends and, as a result, gas stations are few and are expensive. This would have been a problem on a motorbike with a tiny teardrop tank; less so in the Dad Car that we’d just filled to the brim. Temperatures dropped suddenly as we hit the coast road, from around 25C in the San Fernando Valley to around 15C. Hence the fog rolling in from the sea, ruining the visibility. At least it didn’t make the roads wet. I observed repeatedly to Beloved Wife how the Pacific Coast Highway would be more fun on a motorbike or in an open-top car. There were plenty of both, and at one point we encountered an organised group of classic Volkswagens heading south to a VW rally in San Diego

Classic Volkswagens heading south
We stopped for an expensive and over-rated lunch and were relieved not to have to pay nearly $7 for a gallon of fuel.
Pit stop on Big Sur
Part of the highway is named Big Sur, and is hailed as one of the most interesting drivers’ roads in the country. I’m not going to argue with that point. But next time, I really do want to do it on a motorbike.

Scenery on Big Sur
We mistimed our arrival at San Francisco to coincide with the rush hour, and got trapped for an hour in the traffic queuing to get over the immense Oakland Bay Bridge. Having met up with one of Beloved Wife’s friends and former colleagues, we grabbed dinner in a busy burger joint on the San Francisco Embarcadero and then headed over the bridge to Emeryville where the hotels are allegedly cheaper. San Francisco does not appear to have a nightlife. By 8pm all the footways had been rolled up and put away.

But San Francisco does have a decent public transport system, so after a non-existent breakfast at the hotel, we rode into town by Bay Area Rapid Transit (BART), found breakfast, and then went shopping. The “Largest Dainese Showroom in the World”, according to the advert, looked to be a promising source of motorcycle gear, but once again this was a disappointment. There was some progress, as they had the style of leathers that’s I’ve been seeking, but nothing that would come close to fitting me. I’d been planning to wear the leather jacket I was going to buy to protect against the freezing cold San Francisco summer. So much for that wonderful idea. It really looks as if I’m going to have any leathers custom made, and that’s phenomenally expensive and takes months.

Nob Hill really is that steep
Another thing that was almost impossible to obtain was a place on the cable car. Only tourists use it, we were told, and there was a queue at least a couple of hours long. So we walked – slowly – up the unnecessarily steep Nob Hill, and down again for lunch in Chinatown. The walk and refreshing breeze had stimulated our appetites and dinner just kept coming. There was masses of it. 

Postprandially, we went for a walk along the Embarcadero to be assailed by a variety of miscellaneous panhandlers and weirdos. One of them took a liking to my goatee: I warned him that I was in fact my own evil twin.
The immense Oakland Bay Bridge
At Pier 39 I managed to get a couple of photos of Alcatraz Island. Visits were out of the question: all trips are fully booked many days in advance. It was pointless trying to photograph the Golden Gate Bridge because of the sea fog. Here’s something else that will have to wait for a subsequent trip. We failed to miss the evening rush hour, and by the time the BART had delivered us back to the hotel and the car, we were in the thick of heavy traffic heading north through Berkeley and Richmond. Clarissa went nuts trying to avoid the $5 toll at the Richmond-San Rafael Bridge, so I shut her off until we were safely on the US-101 north of San Rafael.

Owing to the enormous expense of last night, tonight’s hotel would have to be El Cheapo. The first attempt yielded high cost and no internet; a second try in Willits resulted in success with lower cost, aircon, fridge, TV and free WiFi. The place was a little bit Batesian, but that’s part of the fun.

Less fun was the extremely cheeky Chevron petrol station that refused my credit card because I don’t have a ZIP code and nevertheless charged a ludicrous $126 to my account. A brief Google search revealed that this particular machine makes a bit of a habit of authorising $126. I wrote to Chevron, and eventually received a response to the effect that it’s not Chevron but my own bank that’s making the high charge. In other words, lies. I shall not by purchasing fuel from Chevron in Cloverdale, California any time soon.

An early start the following morning. There was no breakfast at the motel, and fortunately we spotted a roadside diner exactly opposite the MacDonalds, so a lucky escape there.

After breakfast, we headed north into the Forest Moon of Endor. The Avenue of the Giants runs parallel to the US-101. This is the old road; it twists and turns between enormous sequoia trees in a manner so beloved of motorcyclists. The gargantuan arboreal organisms tower way, way above the road. The size is difficult to comprehend, and only becomes apparent later, when driving through deciduous woods where ‘normal’ trees are so very much smaller. Some of the redwoods are thousands of years old. There were no ewoks in evidence.

We followed the US-101 north and into Oregon, sometimes following more scenic alternatives so that we could enjoy the trees. Again, the route is a super biking road. In Oregon, the route segues into a coast road with a town every thirty miles or so. Fog rolled in, and temperatures were around 12C. This was a bit of a shock when we stopped to refuel and Muggins got out of the car to clean the windscreen. In Oregon, all gas stations have attended service. Pumping your own gas is apparently not allowed.

The coast road is very pretty. Oregonians have suggested that it’s better than Big Sur further south, but I’m afraid I disagree. The drive is nevertheless excellent and the scenery magnificent even given the sea fog. Port Orford, Oregon N 42 44.74 W124 29.8 is as far west as I have now ever been.

At Reedsport we turned inland and followed yet another great biking road east to the interstate. The I-5 runs pretty much the length of the USA’s Pacific coast, and we followed it north through Eugene, Salem, Portland, and into Washington state. Having clocked something like 589 miles, we sought a motel and found the cheapest one in Woodland, WA that had internet.

Another jump here. I’ll come back to Seattle later, and for now move towards Wyoming and South Dakota.

We rolled into a tiny place called Big Timber, Montana some 650 miles east of where Bambi left a dent in the front left wing of the Dad Car, and just north of Yellowstone Park There was one available motel room and one parking space. Everywhere else was full of motorcycles and motorcyclists. Interestingly, “Bikers Welcome” signs were everywhere too, including at the rather disappointing Mom & Pop diner recommended to us by the motel management. At breakfast, we noted the “Sturgis or Bust” cardboard sign in the motel reception, and were told that this week was the annual Sturgis Motorcycle Rally, the largest of its kind in the USA and in its 72nd year. So we’d have to go, obviously. Being previously unaware of the event, I did check that it was Sturgis, South Dakota and not Sturgis, Michigan.

Bikes at Devil's Tower
A detour to Sturgis wasn’t really a detour at all. I’d already plotted a route to visit Devil’s Tower in the top right-hand corner of Wyoming and Mount Rushmore just over the state line in South Dakota

Eagles at Devil's Tower
Sturgis is halfway between the two. Inevitably, we saw more and more bikes. Almost all were cruisers and, excepting the occasional Honda Gold Wing, almost all were Harley-Davidsons. I found the lack of protective gear disturbing. Virtually no-one was wearing a helmet, and many riders and pillions were bare-shouldered and bare-legged. Each to his own, of course, but what may be appropriate for cruising slowly along Sturgis Main Street doesn’t seem especially bright on the fast twisty roads or the interstates. You can tell I’m the ATGATT type, can’t you?

Welcome to Sturgis
All life is here
As for Sturgis itself, many of the locals rent their front yards to stallholders and their back yards for camping. The main street was a constant flow of bikes and trikes in both directions. Side roads were the same, except for bike parking down the middle of the road. Bikes, chrome, denim, leather, tattoos were everywhere. Also beer, hotdogs and wet T-shirt contests. At one bar, the waitresses were so poor they could barely afford clothes, and had to dance on the tables in the hope that some kind gentlemen would put dollar bills in their bikini bottoms.

As Beloved Wife said: “… we were in the thick of it. Wall to wall sunburned, leather/denim clad bikers and farkle* mongers. We spent three hours in Harley hell, and I was such a fish out of water -- white linen trousers, silk scarf 'round my pony tail, no tats on my skin nor silicone in my tits -- but it was a slice of America and we ARE in search of America.

* Fancy Accessory. Real Kool. Likely Expensive.

Not today, thank you
The only car parking was $10 in the local cemetery. Actually, it was the only available parking space at all. I bought the T-shirt but was, as per flamin’ usual, unable to find the sort of bike gear that I’d now failed to locate despite travelling across three quarters of America. I still don’t want any chaps or a leather waistcoat, thanks. We bought enormous corn dogs and were offered discount vouchers at the International House of Tattoos by a young lady with bright red contact lenses.

“I like your eyes.”

“I love your accent.”

There may come a day when I get a tattoo, but it was not this day.

Too many bikes arrived at Sturgis like this
But presumably not this guy's
Even Santa comes to Sturgis (in disguise, obviously)
All types; all ages
What a magic helmet! Kill da wabbit! Kill da wabbit!
Mood lighting
After dark, the parade of cruising motorbikes showed no sign of letting up, but we needed to find somewhere to stay. We headed to Rapid City and Mount Rushmore. The story was the same everywhere: no room at the inn, despite “Rooms from $49.99” depicted in neon. It was easy to spot any of these places, because anywhere that looked like an inn or motel had a parking area completely full of shiny chrome two-wheelers. Choice eventually boiled down to that of Mr Hobson, where there was one room available, but no functional internet. Next morning was a Breakfast of Podium Finish. We had absolutely no chance of missing that: the 6:30am dawn chorus of 300 Harley-Davidsons got everyone awake and raring to go. And with good reason. All the roads around Mount Rushmore make for fun biking.

We stopped at a roadside layby on the way up to Rushmore. It’s a popular stop, and there was even a Porta-Potti in the layby. It proved an excellent vantage point to see the monument of Washington, Jefferson, Roosevelt and Lincoln. It occurred to me that the $11 admission to a car park to see the same view wasn’t good value. Neither was $20 to see the enormous Crazy Horse monument down the road. We’ll come back and see that one when it’s finished.
Unfinished business with Crazy Horse
Onwards and eastwards. We turned into Sage Creek Road, an access to the Badlands National Park that consisted of gravel tracks across fields of sunflowers. We saw a buffalo herd, prairie dogs, bighorn sheep, and even a few other tourists. I stopped and asked a guy on a full-dress Harley if he was OK, which he was. It would be a terrible place to collect a puncture or run out of fuel. There were many more bikers at the eastern end of the Badlands, not least because this was where roads are paved in asphalt. Clearly I’m not the only biker who doesn’t enjoy gravel pavement. Advice given by Beloved Wife to one group of bikers was that there was a herd of buffalo right by the roadside, but it was about thirty miles down that gravel track.

More Badlands
Rather a lot of Badlands
I saw so many bikes ride past with the pillion passenger clearly briefed as Official Vacation Photographer. Given the scenery, I can see why.

Photo of the world's largest Bakewell tart

Just before crossing back to the east bank of the Mississippi, we had a snack in the “world famous throughout South Dakota” Al’s Oasis. If you’re reading this and you’re not in South Dakota, Al’s Oasis really is world famous. Coffee is a nickel, as it has been since 1919. Regrettably, over 250 miles out, and we were still suffering the Sturgis Effect with motels charging hundreds of dollars a night. Oh, for $30 in No-Frills New Mexico.

Another break in the narrative here for a non-bike section in Chicago and Michigan, to be blogged later. You rejoin the motorcycle stuff in rolling green farmland of Pennsylvania, where there were several big motorbike retail warehouses selling little or nothing in bike apparel. I had by now given up on finding leathers, but I could certainly use a new mesh jacket to replace the rather too small one that I’ve been using since 2009.

In fact, Beloved Wife and I were sitting in a diner in Falls Church, Virginia having successfully retrieved our marriage documentation from the UAE embassy, and I discovered a strong free Wi-Fi connection. The Google elves told us that there was a decent bike shop only a couple of miles away with lots of gear. And they were correct. The Accessories Department manager was a large, bearded gentleman who was sure he had something suitable for me in stock. The sales assistant was envious of my kilt, claiming that he wasn’t allowed to wear his while at work. I put his boss on the spot, and it may be that a kilt is now acceptable attire for sales staff.

Anyway, the choice of three mesh jackets produced a clear favourite once I’d tried them all on and sat astride a Kawasaki Concours 14. It’s a Joe Rocket jacket, with a removable waterproof liner and built-in spine, shoulder and elbow armour, and I even got a discount. I also got advice as to whom to approach for made-to-measure leathers from the interwebs. Well done to Coleman PowerSports in Falls Church, Virginia


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