Friday, February 24, 2012

Yes we can

I recently read that the sale of tinned Pepsi and Coca-Cola is now banned in the UAE. Over the next month, cans of this popular cola-flavoured beverage are, by law to be removed from the shelves, on pain of 'strict penalties'. I don't generally drink the stuff, except to disguise the nasty taste of the rum, ha ha.

What has bought about this sudden move by the Ministry of Economy? Positive action against obesity, diabetes, rotten teeth, or littering? An effort to force the general populace to switch to OwnBrand(TM) Cola, perhaps? Or are the plastic bottles that ultimately come from oil somehow more environmentally sustainable than alumininium, aluminium, aluminum or alumium?

Once we get past the 'Read me! Read me!' headline that suggests that the UAE has chosen its sledgehammer to crack the proverbial nut and has banned soft drinks, we find that the truth makes a lot more sense.

The reason given in this news article is that the cans are breaking the regulations by not having the price or ingredients displayed in Arabic.

I see. Putting aside the semantic issue about the naughty and disobedient cans, it's not exactly rocket surgery to stick a printed paper label on the product, is it? That's what happens to other imported prepacked goods, much to the irritation of those of us who would like to read what's invariably obscured by the label. What is Arabic for 'sugar', 'high-fructose corn syrup' and 'aspartame', by the way?

What is actually happening is made clearer in this news article. The drinks are on sale in both 300ml and 330ml for Coke and 355ml for Pepsi, and they're all up for sale at the same price. The news articles do note that it's only the 300ml cans that are being withdrawn from sale. Apparently, Joe Public cannot tell that the big cans on sale at Dh1.50 offer better value than small cans at Dh1.50, and he and has to be protected. The cost to manufacture, market and transport any can size has got to be virtually identical: what's wrong with "...and up to 55ml free!"? This difference is worth Dh0.275 (less than a shilling in UK old money) to Mr Public, and is for less than four level tablespoons of the actual product.

As the stuff is made locally in the UAE, it surely cannot be beyond the wit of man to print the ingredients list in Arabic, can it? Even some of my beer has Arabic ingredients.

My other canned drink of choice is best served with juniper-berry flavoured beverage and a dash of lemon. I wonder if the curious mixture of 300ml and 330ml packaging will affect tonic water and other products, or be limited to cola?


Sunday, February 12, 2012

The hole truth

The Goat hasn’t needed an alarm clock for several weeks. New electricity cables have been being installed in the street outside his flat since the summer, and the inexorable progress down the road is now having a direct impact on the Goat’s lifestyle.

Every day at exactly 6am, the contractor’s diesel engines are all started, and gently warmed up by revving them to the red line. The compressor powers pneumatic tools, so at 6:05 the jackhammers start. At least the contractor waits until spot on 6:30 before starting with the pecker attached to the excavator. VroomVroom! DinkDinkDinkDinkDinkDink! DinkDinkDinkDink! There isn’t even any respite by going to the office: there’s a vast hole in the plot next door to the Goat’s office block and, six floors down, three excavators spend all day pecking away at the native limestone, as they create space for a third basement level for a new building. VroomVroom! DinkDinkDinkDinkDinkDink!

To the Goat’s delight, he noticed last week that some lines had been spray-painted across the frontage of his apartment block. Clearly, digging a trench on the other side of the road wasn’t going to be sufficient, and the contractor had plans for works on both sides.

Getting home after dark has for many months involved weaving down the street and avoiding potholes, plastic barriers, road cones, and flashing orange lights. Last Thursday morning the situation became worse, because a bloke in a hard hat and carrying a red flag was standing guard at the end of the street and only letting motorists out.

It seemed obvious what would shortly come to pass, so the Goat didn’t drive home after work on Thursday and then take a taxi to the airport. Instead, he parked at the airport so that he could drive home after his weekend in Dubai with Beloved Wife.

This turned out to be a staggeringly astute decision. At 3am on Sunday, he arrived back at the flat to discover a huge, barriered trench all the way across the frontage of the apartment block. There is no way in or out for a vehicle, and all the tenants are parking over the road on the open ground behind the buildings opposite. A different decision would surely have resulted in Rio being trapped in the car park under the apartments, and leaving the Goat with no reasonable means of getting to work.

There is a piece of boiler plate over the trench, so at least pedestrian access to the building is possible. But it’s awkwardly located and not very wide, so the Goat’s motorbike might be trapped until further notice. Given that this is a good time of year for riding a motorbike, the Goat is not best pleased.


Wednesday, February 08, 2012


Back in Doha, I find that I keep running into people from my previous life in Qatar. Surprisingly, I get recognised in the street and in shops by apparent strangers. Perhaps the weirdest example was when I walked into a car accessories shop where I’d not been for about eight years, and the proprietor recognised me, instantly remembering that I used to be involved with the Doha Players. It wasn’t as if he’d used any clues either. For the first time, I’d rolled up at the shop on a motorbike rather than in a Nissan Patrol, and the shopkeeper recognised me despite my bike gear and helmet.

A total stranger recognised me in the Kawasaki showroom. He correctly identified me as the Goat who’d bought the aforementioned Nissan Patrol off him in 1999.

And then last Saturday it happened again.

I was hailed by a complete stranger in the Harley-Davidson shop in Wakrah, who had instantly recognised me as the scuba diver who bought loads of stuff from his shop between 1996 and 2002. (I’d only dropped in, on my way back from taking Rio for a dance across the sand, to see if they had any motorbike boots that I might like; I’m not about to spend QAR97,000 on a Fat Boy.) Actually, the last time I saw him wasn’t 2002; I ran into him on a flight back from the Philippines in early 2006. Nevertheless, he instantly recognised me out of context after six years.

Is this uncanny ability to recognise people by face alone a normal skill possessed by almost everyone on the planet, or a special ability possessed only by politicians, policemen and proprietors in the retail trade? I can’t do it at all. I have an atrocious memory for faces, or so it seems. I can remember other stuff in immense detail, such as the above flight from the Philippines where Beloved Wife and Goat paid for Business Class, the in-flight entertainment didn’t work in our seats, the food was inedible, the Doha to Dubai flight was delayed and we were bumped, and I totally failed to recognise Samir who was on the same flight.

So I was fascinated to learn that there’s actually a name for it. Prosopagnosia (from the Classical Greek πρόσωπον and αγνωσία, meaning “face” and “non-knowledge”) is the inability to see faces. If I have this, it’s very mild because I don’t see a blank where a face should be, and a possibly more likely condition is the related neuropsychological deficit prosopamnesia, in which the sufferer sees faces OK but can’t remember them.

I’ve always had it. A great terror at school was being handed a pile of exercise books by the teacher to distribute around the class. Two years in the same class of over thirty teenagers, and I couldn’t hand the books to the correct people. Much hilarity and ridicule always followed. Teenagers are merciless.

Similarly television and films. I seldom find myself thinking that Kunta Kinte and Geordi LaForge are the same person. I completely failed to recognise Patrick Stewart in I, CLAVDIVS, because he was wearing a wig, and drama with large casts I find immensely confusing. Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy? I don’t have the first idea what’s going on.

I deal with it by using clues that aren’t face-related. On a desert drive, I use the car as the identifier: Prasad is in that white Land Cruiser with two spare wheels on the roof. At the dinner dance, Steve is the one in the loudest waistcoat. In the office, I depend on people being in their allocated cubicles, until I can sneak a look at their ID cards. Please don’t be surprised if I don’t recognise you if you change your hairstyle, grow a beard, switch from glasses to contacts, or have your wonky teeth fixed.

Trouble is, being recognised is such an important social ability. According to a news article I was reading on the subject, people generally expect to be recognised in about 0.2 seconds, and if they’re not they feel insulted and I feel acutely embarrassed. So I cheat, pretending to know who I’m talking to until they let slip some clue: that they were in such-and-such a play, or they have a daughter who plays the violin, or they bought a boat off my friend.

And please, don’t ever ask me to pick a villain out of a line-up or a page of mug shots.


Thursday, February 02, 2012

Oh no I didn't!

It’s time to raise the curtain.
It’s time to light to lights..

It’s time to put on make-up
It’s time to dress up right…

The Doha Players’ annual pantomime is over for another year, and the Goat now gets his life back.

The English pantomime, for anyone not familiar with this particular art form, is a comedy musical stage play. The plot is usually based on a well-known traditional story, usually a fairy tale, but the plot invariably heads off on tangents that don’t appear in the Brothers Grimm version. Peppered with local and topical references, the script is also loaded with corny jokes and slapstick. A very important aspect is that the Leading Lady, a matriarchal ‘Dame’ figure, must be played by a bloke. And everyone understands that ‘she’ is a bloke, except for the other characters. A ‘Principal Boy’, on the other hand, is played by a hot babe in tights. Unlike most stage shows, audience participation is actively encouraged. Children of all ages should warn that “He’s behind you!” while the hero is being stalked by a villain. Cheer the good guys; boo the bad.

On reflection, the Goat’s life seems to be irregularly punctuated by pantomime. He arrived in Doha in 1996 and quite by accident ran into a member of the Doha Players in about October. Having found out about the theatre in general and the forthcoming panto in particular, off the Goat trotted, landing a principal role. Other plays followed, including musicals, comedies and dramas and, of course, a traditional pantomime at the end of the year.

Then in 2002, the Goat found himself seconded to Dubai. Here he ran into the Dubai Drama Group and landed a part in a panto. He also met his future beloved Wife. She removed clothing on stage to Patricia The Stripper while he appeared in a selection of foul frocks and garish wigs and make-up.

“Oh no he didn’t!”

“Oh yes he did!”

Several years later and back in Doha, the Goat re-acquainted himself with the Players and it was déjà-vu all over again. Getting a part and wearing ghastly clothes, that is; not meeting one’s wife. Although she did fly over for the weekend to see her husband, meet the Doha Players, see the show, and even to help out.

With any show, the number of people on stage is minimal compared with the legions of back-stage volunteers. Pantomime typically has a huge cast plus a chorus, so the director relies on wranglers to get people on and off the stage. It really is teamwork, and this is why amateur dramatics appears at the bottom of the Goat’s curriculum vitae. There’s no other evidence of being a team player in the absence of membership of a foopball club.

Thanks must go to the other actors and singers, director, producer, musical director, band, lights and sound, set building, scenery shifting, costume, make-up, stage management and props. Someone kindly cleaned up after the slapstick scene every performance, so muchas gracias there. Also rehearsal and interval refreshments, ticket sales, programme, front-of-house, rehearsal space, performance space, and of course the fee-paying punters who came to the show and made it all worthwhile. Thank you; thank you all.


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