Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Tyred of this

Large and virile motorcycles destroy tyres. Getting 10,000km out of the rear rubber can be quite an achievement, and the weight of the Goatcycle causes the front one to wear out at an alarming rate too. The local Pirelli agent carries a tiny selection of very expensive bike tyres. Part of the reason for the expense is that they’re actually street-legal racing rubber: exceptionally grippy and incredibly soft. I don’t want racing tyres on a sports-tourer. Being the Stig’s slow, fat cousin, I’ve little need for excessive grip. I only want enough so that the bike won’t go slideways on roundabouts. Tyres that don’t immediately wear down to the cords after riding in a straight line would be good too; Qatar doesn’t have very many bendy roads. The perfect solution is a multiple-compound tyre, which is rock hard in the middle and soft and sticky at the edges.

The local Continental Tyres dealer carries such tyres, but not in my sizes, and no he doesn’t know when he’s going to get some Road Attacks. “Maybe April. Insha’Allah.”

Kawasaki does have some original equipment Bridgestones, but I don’t want those. I know from experience that they are less than confidence-inspiring, and are the only tyres I’ve ever encountered where the front wears out faster than the rear. It must take some extra special design expertise to achieve this, at the same time delivering soft rubber that doesn’t grip very well. Either Pirelli or Metzeler suit me and the bike very well, but suitable sizes are Not Coming In Doha™.

The Michelin agent promised that he’d call me. Much as anticipated, he hasn’t, so the apparently wonderful dual-compound Pilot Road 2s aren’t going to happen to a bike near me any time soon.

So it seems as if I’m unable to give my free money to the local agents, and instead eBay and Aramex Shop-n-Schlepp will get the business. Now probably in the autumn because I’ll not do much riding over the summer months, and the current tyres still have some realistic life.

It’s not just motorcycle tyres. I’m trying and failing to locate replacement rubber for Rio, the Tear-Arse. I’d like something slightly more knobbly than the stock tyres, and maybe just a teeny bit bigger. Naturally, nobody has my size in stock, especially the alleged purveyor of my favourites, Cooper Discoverer ATRs. “Maybe April. Insha’Allah.”

Actually, I did find one. I need five. Unfortunately the teeny bit oversize would prevent me from using the hard spare-wheel cover, which is a bit disappointing. And I’m not paying QAR3,900 after discount (which is £650 in old money). The Goatmobile cost no more than QAR2,500 to re-boot, and those were much, much bigger. After the man in the tyre shop removed the QAR850 sticky label and discovered a QAR625 label underneath, he still wouldn’t go below QAR2,900.

Part of the tyre supply problem is that a newish law in Qatar forbids anyone from selling tyres that are more than a specified age, which may be three years. After that, new stock has to be destroyed. Surprise, surprise: dealers minimise their stock levels and only carry the fast-moving lines. There’s also a rule that all after-market tyres must be rated Temperature A. This is sensible, given the ludicrously high temperatures the region attains during the summer. Yet vehicles are imported and sold as merchantable with Temperature B tyres fitted. Might it not be a good idea to legislate for the higher rating to be supplied to consumers when they buy new cars? And while we’re obsessing with rules to protect us from dodgy tyres, how about doing something about the appalling state of truck tyres on most HGVs? The legal minimum tread depth is not “It’s OK if it stays inflated.”

Why am I looking to replace car tyres already? Well, my new Daihatsu has been standing in the showroom since 2009 and the tyres have all developed flat spots. This was very obvious when I had the wheels balanced. I’ve argued the toss with the Daihatsu workshop, citing words like “merchantable quality” and “warranty”, but the manager sent me away and suggested that the flat spots would go away by 5,000km. I suspect the only true bit is the sending away. There is precisely zero evidence so far that the flat spots are disappearing.


Sunday, March 18, 2012

Mid-life crisis

I’ve managed to avoid the desire for a two-seater open-top sports car. The bike doesn’t count because I’ve owned large motorcycles since I was a teenager.

The other thing I’ve been doing since my teenage years is engineering. First, science O and A levels, then a civil engineering degree. After graduating with a Desmond (Gaudeamus igitur), I spent six months as a motorcycle courier before finding a proper job in the civil engineering profession. And I’ve been more-or-less continually employed ever since. Twenty-six years: you don’t get that for murder.

Regrettably, this is now how I feel about it. Instead of actual engineering, which a colleague described as “an industry which needs a couple of big buckets of common sense,” I find myself being inexorably tractor-beamed into the Death Star of Financial Management and Quality Assurance. There seem to be ever-increasing layers and layers of Business Bollocks between me and actually Getting Things Done.

I’m driven to wonder how anything ever got built before the post-war introduction of Gantt charts and Quality Plans; before Construction Design Management. Are all those Victorian and older structures merely figments of my diseased imagination? Was the universe created yesterday, complete with false memories? The oldest bridge in the world is the Pons Fabricius in Rome, which was built in 62BC. How did the Romans build that?

“They had massive whips, Rimmer. Massive, massive whips.”

The engineering industry has openings for Planning Engineers and Quality Assurance Specialists. If I wanted an electrical sub-station designing, Id get an electrical engineer. Why then am I expected to be a master of all trades where planning and QA are concerned? 

My point is that I’ve become completely disillusioned with everything I do for a living. It pays well, but I only continue to do it so that one day I’ll have enough saved up so that I don’t have to do it any more. Ten more years. A decade. Not so much a word as a sentence.

So I need a change. Changing employer would only exchange frying pan for fire. And because of employment laws in Qatar I’d need a No Objection Certificate from my current employer or be banned from working in Qatar for two years. NOCs are Not Coming In Doha, Mr Goat.

What else could I do, assuming a career rather than merely a country change? Having done engineering for so long, I have a very narrow set of skills. What I do, I do very well. And I must be good at it; feelings of self-doubt are logically unfounded because if I were a fraud I’d surely have been found out in under 26 years.

·     Barring the vanishingly unlikely chance of making it big on Britain’s Got [not very much] Talent, any alleged ability I may have as an actor or singer isn’t enough to make a living.

·     Writing bestsellers? Read Alexander’s blog about self-publishing and marketing his book. All I need is an original idea, a plot, and some protagonists. “The first in the Phuqinora trilogy from a major new talent.” Yeah, right. I can just see that happening.

·     Driving, perhaps? I can do that, and I even earned some money once for piloting a car in a TV advert. It’s a small and irregular income stream. I don’t need to do motorcycle courier work again, and I don’t have nearly enough tattoos to qualify as a proper White Van Man.

·     Scuba instructing sounds like a great idea, and it’s something I can actually do. Getting paid to dive every day in the tropics? Getting paid a pittance, more like, until my abused middle-aged body gave up in disgust.

·     Retraining as a teacher? Frankly, notwithstanding any ability I may have as a teacher, the mere concept of standing in front of a class in order to put food on the table fills me with abject horror. Full marks for anyone who does it!

So I’m stuffed. I can’t stand doing what I’m doing for much longer; certainly not for ten more years,  and I can’t not do it for fear of never being able to afford to retire.


Saturday, March 03, 2012

Intolerable Acts

This town
Is gonna be like a ghost town.
All the clubs have been closed down.

This place
Is gonna be like a ghost town
Bands don't play no more
(Too much fightin' on da dancefloor)

The presence of intoxicating alcoholic beverage in Qatar has for many years been a touchy subject. On one hand, we have an indigenous society for whom alcohol is forbidden by both religion and the law of the land, and on another there is a majority of residents who regard a drink as a normal part of adult life.

So for many years there has been an arrangement whereby non-Muslim residents have a permit to acquire liquor for personal consumption in private. It’s also possible to buy and consume liquor in certain hotel bars and restaurants. Current practice is that any prospective drinker has to present a valid passport or ID card before being allowed in. Whether this is to shame us into not actually visiting a bar (good luck with that), or to keep track of who drinks, or is merely a way of giving a couple of doormen something to do is unclear.

And then a couple of years ago, everything changed as The Pearl appeared. This man-made development, won from the ocean by reclamation, isn’t technically in Qatar. It’s a gated community on what is almost an island. The normal rule that non-nationals can’t own real estate doesn’t apply, and thus foreigners have purchased apartments and business units. It’s luxury living, with the developments in crescents around marinas full of motor yachts. We all know how waterfront properties command high prices, don’t we? 

Another aspect of the not-quite-in-Qatar-ness of The Pearl is, or more accurately was, the relative freedom to buy drinks.

Until, according to one of my associates who “saw it happen”, there was a punch-up.

A couple of drunks have a fight, and are presumably arrested, fined, given very short haircuts, imprisoned, and deported. Good: most adults are fully capable of imbibing without becoming incoherent or aggressive. Assault, drunken or otherwise, is unacceptable; it is right and proper to punish the guilty.

The Qatar authorities have reacted by shutting down all liquor outlets throughout The Pearl. This appears to be a form of collective punishment. Why should all residents, all visitors, all businesses, and all employees suffer because of the unacceptable behavior of a tiny minority? Restaurants that did a booming trade up until the liquor ban still have to pay their high waterfront rents , but now struggle to find customers. Businesses close down. Employees lose their jobs and have to go home. Their children don’t get educated. Their relatives don’t get medical care.

Incidentally, I await with interest to outcome of the discussions between FIFA and the State of Qatar with regard to the supply of vast quantities of booze to very large numbers of thirsty foopball fans. In Brazil, the 2003 law preventing sale of beer in foopball arenas is in direct conflict with Budweiser being a major sponsor of the tournament. “The selling of beer in stadiums is part of the fan culture and will also be part of the 2014 FIFA World Cup,” said FIFA in January. And what about in 2022?


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