Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Got to stop

All UAE school buses have for the past couple of years been yellow, in the style of North American school buses, even Toyota Hiace minibuses. 

Some ravening bureaucrat decreed that the four-way hazards and brake lights should flash whenever the brakes were applied, which was a ludicrous idea because you couldn’t tell if a braking bus was slowing to enter a bus stop or to turn left or right. Thankfully, this ridiculousness seems to have been addressed, and the flashing lights that come on with the brakes are now additional to the normal brake lights and indicators.

Something else borrowed from North America is the swing-out STOP sign. Whenever a school bus stops and the door is opened to let passengers on or off, a red, octagonal STOP sign swings out and red lights flash. As far as I can ascertain from the internet and my American friends and family, when the sign is deployed, it’s illegal to pass the bus. On a single carriageway, that’s in both directions. The basic idea is that children can cross the road to and from a school bus without being hit by cars overtaking the bus.

I was going to have a rant about this a couple of years ago, but decided not to because it seems the legality of and penalty for passing one of these bus-mounted STOP signs depends on which US state you’re in.

The inevitable tragedy recently happened. Reported in 7DAYS, it seems a seventeen-year-old got off her school bus in Dibba Fujairah and was hit by a car. What a senseless waste. My understanding from the newspaper story, inferred from the bus driver being detained and questioned by the police, is that the bus was at the roadside when the collision occurred. Did the student cross the road when the STOP sign was deployed? The newspaper doesn’t say. 

Here is the problem. It’s very easy for the police and the courts to come down on the driver who hit a pedestrian crossing the road with a “You passed a school bus showing its STOP sign. That is forbidden. You are culpable.” But where is the requirement to stop enshrined in law? Certainly I’ve never seen it written. Is it a legal requirement in the UAE to stop behind one of these buses? My personal experience of stopping on Street 71 in Mirdif when the school bus deploys its STOP sign is that I get hooted at by the driver tailgating me, and everyone else razzes past the bus in the fast lane.

Legal issues aside, what possesses someone to hurtle past a stopped school bus or ice-cream van? These are both child magnets. Not UAE law, but the UK Highway Code (Rule 209) says to: “Drive carefully and slowly when passing a stationary bus showing a ‘School Bus’ sign,” and Rule 206 includes the note that “…children are more interested in ice cream than traffic…”

We’re back to the same old mantra that I’ve talked about before. Local highway authorities cherry-pick ideas from international design standards, and similarly cherry-pick the rules for road users. Drivers from any of 150 or more different nationalities apply their own versions of what is right (and what they can get away with), or have learned from driving instructors who apply their own opinions from their own training and experience. And no, it isn’t “obvious” that you don’t cross an unbroken centreline, that parking is forbidden on double yellow lines, or you’re not allowed to drive on the breakdown lane. Normal custom and practice, perhaps, but unless It Is Written, it isn’t the Law.

What is desperately needed is a federal rule book; a Highway Code, if you will. With all the rules written down and publicly available, there’s much less scope for wild interpretation. And no, printing up a list of traffic offences in the local paper does not constitute publishing a Highway Code.


Monday, December 09, 2013

Invoice in the wilderness

NOT a Business Centre
“That’s curious: this month, Itisalot’s online billing system seems to have gone wrong.”

The Crumbling Villa typically generates about AED50 a month in international phone calls made on the land line. Other calls are made, but these are on pre-paid mobile accounts. Why is an unprecedented five-fold increase in IDD calls this month coupled with an inability of Itisalot to itemise the bill?

Is it the housemaid making long calls to Sri Lanka? Probably not. Is it Beloved Wife liaising at length with retailers in the USA who are incapable of understanding that 95% of their potential customer base doesn’t have a US ZIP code? More likely.

I phoned Itisalot’s Helpless Desk on 101 and explained that this month, and this month only, the International Direct Dialled phone calls were not itemised. After a long waste of oxygen, electricity, and everyone’s time, the guy on the Helpless Desk agreed to email the call breakdown to me. He then chose instead to email a form to fill in to apply for an itemised bill, which would have to be taken to an Itisalot Business Centre with copies of Passport, Visa, ID card, National Cycling Proficiency Certificate, and Little Orphan Annie Decoder Ring. I’m disinclined to do this, primarily because the service has already been applied for and, up until last month, works.

I dropped into Itisalot’s outlet at Mirdif City Centre to sort out the problem. No, they couldn’t help; I’d have to go to a Business Centre. These, I was assured, are all over the UAE. They’re easily identifiable because they each have an oversized golf ball on the roof. I’d have to take an ID card, official NOC letter, passport and visa copy, attested inside-leg measurement, hoofprints…

This is not entirely true. The golf ball near Trade Centre Roundabout does not surmount a Business Centre, the only place to go is in Deira, and how unreasonable it is of me not to know this. 

So I went into the Deira Business Centre and, after queuing for half an hour, explained my difficulty. Clearly, because Itisalot can total up and invoice the value of last month’s International Call Charges Charges [sic] then Itisalot must have a record of the calls. But no: owing to a problem in upgrading the software, the breakdown is Not Coming In Dubai. More specifically, “No Call Details for the selected Account and period.”

But Itisalot is adamant that the call breakdown is not available. “Definitely within two days,” I was told, with all the confidence of an Itisalot employee who’s heard so much propaganda about how wonderful the organisation she works for is that she believes Itisalot's hubris, and was mortified when her confidence was questioned by a world-weary Goat who has heard such hollow promises repeated before.

Maybe next month I should display the same lackadaisical attitude to payment as Itisalot does to itemised billing.

Edited 10 December to note that the Itisalot website has changed again, and the itemised bill has at last appeared. It was indeed within two days; pity it was ten days late. 


Tuesday, December 03, 2013


At a recent party, I trotted out my usual excuse for not taking my motorbike on to a racetrack: “Dubai Autodrome’s rules require full leathers. I don’t have full leathers; I can’t find any leathers in my size.”

“Ah, but you’re off to Germany for the UAE National Day long weekend, a country where many large gentlemen ride large motorbikes, and rather a lot of them also enjoy beer.”

Beloved Wife wanted to visit the Christmas markets and purchase more glass tree-bling, and she really, really needed a short but total break from work. Now added to the list of Things to Do in Germany was a quest to insert my unorthodox shape into a set of motorcycle leathers. I’ve tried this before: witness my previous futile attempts in the USA.

We previously went to München in 2010 and enjoyed the snow. I was admonished in the blog comments by one of my online motorcycle friends Martín, who writes the ¡Tengo Hambre! (I’m hungry!) blog because we came and went without giving him a chance to meet over a meal of beer and sausages. This time I dropped him a line, and he agreed not only to meet for breakfast and bring a friend and work colleague, but to drive us over to Munich’s motorcycle accessories souq.

Hearty breakfasts and a gallon of coffee later, we arrived and discovered that Hein Gericke had very little in the way of leathers, and certainly nothing in my size. But not to worry, because about three doors down was Spätzünder, emporium of motorcycling clothing and accessories.

I was impressed by the huge display of bike gear, and particularly by everyone’s patience while I tried on almost all the racing and touring suits in the shop. The pile of leather that was too tight across the shoulders, too long in the leg, too heavy to wear except in winter, or the wrong colour soon formed a mountain that my shop assistant Luigi was going to have to deal with once we’d gone. Martín, Simon, and Beloved Wife sat patiently and chewed the fat, while I eventually located a zip-together two-piece that I was happy with. Speaking of ‘fat,’ by some miracle it’s a good fit, with plenty of ventilated panels and is only slightly too long in the limbs. I also picked up an undersuit which is easier to wash my sweat from, and a spine protector. And I discovered that I’d be able to buy a replacement visor for my helmet too.

I am so pleased at the customer service I received from Luigi – which is why this bit reads like an advert for the shop. The story gets better, with about 12% knocked off the final bill, and then paperwork that should enable recovery of the 19% VAT. For unknown reasons, having had the paperwork stamped at the airport, we have to mail it back to Spätzünder to get the VAT credited back to the card. Beloved Wife’s other, non-motorcycle-related purchase had the VAT returned immediately at the airport.

Thank you for your service, Luigi. Thank you for transporting us around Munich, Martín. Thank you everyone for your astonishing display of patience.

There you have it: The Goat went to Bavaria and bought some leather trousers. Now there’s no excuse for not attending a motorcycle track day apart from the usual real one involving cowardice.


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.