Thursday, December 10, 2015

Shakespearean Christmas

I found this on the internet, here.

Not to be outdone, here are a couple of my own efforts...

O come, king of Naples,
Shipwrecked on this island 
Along with your brother, son, and others besides 
Because of a Tempest conjured by me, Prospero. 
Ariel will stop slaughter; 
Your son will wed my daughter; 
And Caliban will get plastered with Stephano.


Away with the fairies, 
The mischievous Puck
Bewitches two couples
In the woods where they... 're stuck.
And meanwhile, a rehearsal
Ends in chaos and dread
When Bottom develops
An asinine head.


"Emperor is Saturninus."
So says Titus Andronicus.
Queen Tamora loves a Moor. A 
Tale of revenge goes thus:
Human sacrifice and rape;
Murder; hands to mutilate.
Romans willing; Goths for killing.
Baked in pies Tamora ate.


Friday, November 27, 2015

Wednesday, November 25, 2015

What it says on the tin

I set every, and I mean every, setting on my computer to print the document in Portrait because it’s a document and not a picture. The printer chooses to cut every page in half and churn out the entire document with every page chopped in half. Landscape. I did not ask for landscape. I tried again. I tried every conceivable setting. 

Landscape, landscape, landscape.

Eventually I emailed the document to a colleague who printed it to the same printer on the same network with the same settings, and it came out just perfect.

But this is a minor issue. What is more, yea, much more irritating is a “Low-risk, low but steady growth” investment. It performed faultlessly for two years and I could, with a year’s notice, take my money without penalty. That was what I was sold. That is what is in the contract.

After two years, it all went wrong. The company froze the fund to prevent any withdrawals and progressively devalued it. Now that it is available for withdrawal, I’m told that I can’t take anything out without incurring massive early redemption penalties. The money must, apparently, sit and earn no interest for three more years.

Hang on, you said…

“I am altering the deal. Pray I don’t alter anything further.”

So much for offshore investments. I’d have been better off sticking the money under the mattress. As I stand today, it has cost me a year working the Job From Hell just to break even. I am angrier than a tiger with a red-hot poker up its arse.

I’m not asking for the moon on a stick. I don’t want unrealistic returns. I specifically chose low risk to avoid all that crap. All I want is what was advertised. But, it seems, Financial Typhoid Mary here can’t get anything right when it comes to savings.

So my advice? Regarding offshore investments with any of the multitudinous firms offering these services? Don’t…

Just don’t.


Sunday, November 15, 2015

You had one job

Another weekend aviation experience. The economy FlyDubai was just fine and relatively inexpensive. I booked another flight for Thanksgiving weekend at an astonishing QAR382 return including 20kg checked baggage allowance.

But that’s in a fortnight’s time. Here is what happened when I attempted to board last Saturday’s flight.

We all piled on to the airport bus and were driven lumberingly out towards the row of parked FlyDubai aircraft. The bus driver swung to the left and stopped at the steps, and the self-loading cargo waited for the door to open. The bus went forwards, and backwards, and forwards again. It would appear that the bus driver had taken a wrong turn and arrived at the wrong aircraft. That is in itself a big bag of oops. Then the driver tried to drive his ponderous bus around the front of this aircraft.

Here was the problem. There was a sign pole and a safety fence in the way to the left, and a pushback to the right, attached to the nosewheel of the aforementioned aircraft. Instead of realizing that an airport bus wouldn’t fit through this tiny gap, the driver jammed the bus between these two obstacles and stopped. He may have realised his error, but didn’t immediately reverse. Meanwhile, other ground crew rolled the boarding ladder away from the aircraft and blocked the bus from reversing.

Was this a prank being played on Nobby Newbloke?

We waited. Time passed. Thorin sat down and started singing about gold. At last somebody noticed the problem and moved the steps. The bus reversed, unblocked the road, and ten minutes’ worth of airport vehicles were released like Formula 1 cars when the safety car returns to the pits.

And once this queue had dispersed, the bus driver had another run up. This time the pushback actually moved out of the way, pushing the aircraft. Twenty minutes. Twenty minutes!

But it still wasn’t over. The bus eventually pulled up alongside the correct aircraft. Were we allowed out? Oh no! The bus had to reverse so that the passengers could be directed to either the front or the back of the aircraft. This is all fine and sensible, and yet apparently not in “Airport Bus Driver: Rules. For the Reading and Understanding and Compliance Of.”

It gets better: there was a second bus following this one’s every move.

Friday, November 06, 2015


Technical rehearsal at Qatar National Covention Centre. The Doha Players' production or Shakepeare's 'The Tempest' is opening on Saturday evening for four performances.

The Goat would have liked to be in it, but back in July he thought his one-year contract would be over in September. So he decided not to audition.

Then in October, he figured that even if he got his statutory one month notice, he'd still be in Doha in early November, and volunteered to do backstage stuff.

In the Players' previous production, the Goat drove the lighting board, so it might seem sensible for him to do something similar this time around. However, he can't actually do anything until the QNCC techies have programmed the lights in accordance with the director's wishes and whims, and as at 11.45 that's not yet started.

Friday, and the crew turned up at 9am. The cast will show up for a dress rehearsal at noon, and it's going to be a long afternoon. Tomorrow will also start at 9am, and it'll be the same until 7pm when the show opens to a full house. Saturday will be an even longer day, where 'long' is 14 hours.

The things the Goat does for Art... and it's a tiny fraction of what everyone else has been putting in since August.


Thursday, October 29, 2015

Like a Rocket

Another motorcycle post.

The Goat is still suffering from Parked Motorcycle Syndrome. He gets to ride his Kawasaki once in a blue moon, assuming sufficient time in Dubai to install the battery, pump up the tyres, dust off the machine, and then pull out the battery a day later. He’s going to have to replace the tyres sometime soon simply because they’ve been cooking in the heat, not having the rubber worn away at high speed.

Some luminary once noted that “If you really want to, you’ll find a way. If you don’t, you’ll find an excuse.”

And here is a selection of the Goat’s excuses.

First, it is the Goat's personal experience that importing a motor vehicle into Qatar is a stressful and expensive experience. Shipping the machine was impossible anyway because it was, and indeed is, more than five years old. And this time last year the Goat didn’t have a Qatar Residence Permit and was thus forbidden by law from driving anything other than a rental car. So any move towards riding a motorbike in Qatar were completely stymied pending a Residence Permit.

Much to the Goat’s surprise, he got his RP in January 2015. At this point, the project was scheduled to finish in April; perhaps May or June… What would be the point of buying a bike in Qatar only to have to sell or export it in four or five months? It did look a bit self-indulgent, to say the least.

And then summer happened. The May or June finish didn’t, but by now it was for practical purposes too hot to ride anyway. Why would a Goat buy a motorbike that he had almost no opportunity to ride?

So the Goat finds himself in October. It is déjà vu all over again, with the only difference being this time the Goat has his Residence Permit at the start of the Middle-East biking season. Furthermore, there’s an 18-month old 3000km Triumph Rocket III Roadster for sale at 75% of the price of a new one. The Goat even knows and used to ride with its former owner, who traded it for a new Limited Edition version of the same model. But when will this job end? Current estimates suggest the end of December, but if the rate of receiving design approvals continues as it has done for the past year, the Goat will be in Qatar until the end of Time.

What to do? The machine is affordable, and because there are few ‘interesting’ roads in Qatar the case for a sportsbike is weak. The size of the country also rather contraindicates the need for a tourer. But a cruiser? Arguably more practical, at least for a given value of ‘practical’ that involves a motorbike with a 2300cc engine. And when the Goat’s job finally fizzles out, if it did so when this putative motorbike was still a valuable piece of engineering, would he sell it or export it? Standby for massive money loss because nobody would want to buy it, or a repeat of the grief of the export process followed by owning a surfeit of large motorbikes.

The Goat is tempted, nevertheless. More money than sense, obviously.


Thursday, October 15, 2015

You know nothing

So much for the Goat’s PhD. In the previous blog post he noted that it wasn’t a thesis, which is just as well because it was easily demolished by an Anonymous commentator. The basic population Dubai figures are so wide of the mark that they might as well be a Michael Fish weather forecast.

Referring to the Expatriates in the UAE Wikipedia page is a useful, or lazy, shortcut to a summary of populations. Of significance is a reference to 240,000 Brits in the UAE, which is extremely wide of the 11,000 in Dubai previously cited. And there are doubtless others. And measuring the consequences of traffic collisions as a ‘per population’ requires accurate population figures if there’s any hope of producing meaningful data.

Another point is the Dubai Police figures for Accidents by Nationality of Accused Driver. Those 2013 figures show Britain scoring 4 fatals out of 20 total. Further down the same table, UK scored one slight injury. A bit of a difference. Who knows how many other errors there may be in the same form. Conceivably Britain may be a misprint for Bahrain, but this is speculation solely based on Bahrain not appearing elsewhere on the page. 

Anyway, the Goat reworked the Fatal per 100,000 population, making the assumption that 60% of the UAE population lives in Dubai unless actual Dubai figures were available. Looking at 30% and 80% as alternatives actually produces very little change in the overall results, and obviously the relative values don’t change at all:- 
  • The “High” scores are Angola, Brazil, Khazakhstan, Saudi Arabia, Morocco, New Zealand, Oman, and Pakistan with 20 to 250. 
  • India, Jordan, Kenya, Lebanon, Russia, USA, UAE, Yemen get “Medium” scores of between 4.5 and 12. 
  • Everybody else manages less than 4.5 and counts as “Low”. 
So, a few corrections; an apology to everyone the Goat may have misled, especially the British who score around 4.8 and not over 36 as stated before; and a note to self that Goats and PhDs are probably incompatible.

Oh, and naturally these new figures are also subject to the Goat's incompetence, so E&OE.


Thursday, October 08, 2015

Let he who is without sin...

Dubai Police periodically publish statistics for traffic accidents in Dubai. The latest figures available are for 2013. Leaving aside that ‘accidents happen’ whereas ‘vehicle collisions are caused’, which is why the preferred term in the UK is ‘collision’, (although the Goat prefers ‘crash’ or even ‘prang’), let’s not get buried in semantics here. Local law requires that the police attend every vehicle incident however minor; the data collected should be comprehensive and reasonably accurate.

One of the tables is appallingly racist: a list of the numbers of accidents by 68 different nationalities of the accused driver. What we find is that in 2013, Pakistanis caused 373 accidents, Indians 315, and Emiratis 298. Further down the scale we learn that British drivers caused 20, Filipinos 18, and Canadians a mere six. So south Asians and locals apparently can’t drive. QED.

“But,” the Goat hears you protest, “There are so many more Indians in Dubai, therefore…”

Fair comment. The Goat actually found some figures for the demographics of nationalities in Dubai. Various uncited sources, because this is a blog and not a thesis, come up with several conflicting sets of figures, all broadly showing similar things:-

Dubai’s population in 2013 was around 2.11 million.
Around 340,000 are south Asians living in labour camps, and probably don’t drive.
Around 260,000 Emiratis.
Approximately 740,000; 340,000; 190,000 Indians, Pakistanis, Bangladeshis respectively.
Filipinos make up some 61,000 of the population and “Britishers [sic]” a mere 11,000.
The “Others” comprise the remaining 168,000.

A widespread measure of risk is “per 100,000 population.” It’s generally perceived by the luminaries who keeps such scores that low scores represent better, or at least safer, drivers. Numbers of road deaths in the range of 5/100,000 population tend to be scored in the over-regulated and over-policed northern Europe, whereas across equatorial Africa scores of around 20 are more common. The worst one on the Goat’s list is Eritrea at 48.4/100,000.

Smeed’s Law (1949, based originally on 1938 data) relates traffic death rate to numbers of vehicles and population, and predicts around 24 for UK, which is almost the same result as Dubai in 2013. As the current figure of less than 4/100,000 it is possible to infer that British roads are safer than they were in the 1930s. Given seat belts, drink-drive legislation, decent brakes, headlights that actually work, tyres that grip, and frankly better roads, this isn’t rocket surgery, is it?

Anyhoo, by the measure of accidents per 100,000 population we learn that:-
  • The best drivers in Dubai are Filipinos, scoring 30;
  • Indians and Bangladeshis are next, with scores in the 40 to 45 range;
  • Emiratis and Pakistanis score a less impressive 110-115;
  • The British manage an atrocious 182;
  • The very worst drivers of all are these mysterious Others with a horrifyingly spectacular score of 270. 
Many countries don't require police attendance at damage-only crashes, and a lot of these can go unrecorded. International figures, Smeed's Law, and that stuff all concentrate on fatal accidents only. This morbid measure of deaths per 100,000 population shows us that:-
  • The best drivers in Dubai are Indians, Filipinos and Bangladeshis, scoring 2.6 to 3.8;
  • Emiratis and Pakistanis score a less impressive 9.5 to 12.0;
  • These mysterious Others have a horrifyingly spectacular score of 34.5...
And what of the British, we who cockily consider ourselves some of the best drivers in the world? The sun must get to us, because in Dubai we score an appalling 36.4: Brits drive ten times worse in Dubai than we do at home.

The elephant in the room is of course the absolute magnitude of the figures. Scoring 36 in Dubai when at home you score lower than four is rather like picking up the cleaner end of a turd. Unlike equatorial Africa, the Dubai fleet consists largely of new, modern vehicles with the latest in safety technology. Vehicles are subject to annual roadworthiness tests. Roads are of exceptionally high quality with road budgets far exceeding those of comparable UK highway authorities, and policing – especially through the use of red-light and speed enforcement cameras – is widespread.

The Goat will leave it to commentators and the Letters page of 7DAYS to come up with how this little corner of the world should be put to rights.


Wednesday, October 07, 2015

The abbreviated versions

Picked up in part from my lustrious career with the Norfolke Trayned Bandes, here is an incomplete list of some songs that are perhaps shorter than anticipated...

Red, Red Robin

When the red, red robin
Comes bob-bob-bobbin' along,
Shoot the bastard!
Shoot the bastard!
Shoot! Shoot! Shoot!

Widecombe Fair

Tom Pearce, Tom Pearce,
Lend me you grey mare.
All along, down along, out along lea.
For I want to go to Widecombe Fair
With Bill Brewer, Jan Stewer,
Peter Gurney, Peter Davey,
Daniel Whitton, Harry Hawke,
And Uncle Tom Cobbley and all,
And Uncle Tom Cobbley and all.

Green Grow The Rushes, O

I'll sing you one, oh!
Oh, no you won't, you know!


There are some things
Man was not meant to know,
And songs man was not meant to sing,
And this is one of them.


Sunday, September 27, 2015

Festival of the Sacrifice

I’m sitting in Sharjah airport as I write this, awaiting my Saturday afternoon flight. After booking flights for an Eid holiday week in Dubai and screwing up the flight times, I found that I'd not be flying out on Saturday evening, but instead would spend all afternoon devoting myself to air travel.

After booking my non-refundable, non-changeable-without-enormous fees flights, the official Eid holiday dates were all postponed by a day, resulting in the glorious prospect of spending all Sunday in Cloud City because everything in Doha will be shut.

Much was achieved during my week in Dubai:
  • Beloved Wife and I selected a new dishwasher to replace the dead one. Carrefour sold us one for Dh1800 and phoned a day later to say that it was out of stock, they wouldn’t have any more, no we couldn’t have the display item, and would we like to come back and select a more expensive one? This blatant attempt at bait-and-switch resulted in a refund and our money being directed to a different store. The man came to install the new machine, but the van broke down and he was three hours late. He contrived to drop some hardware down the outlet, and I insisted that we get it out. He wanted me to call a plumber at my expense, but I was having none of this. Eventually we managed to wash the thing down to the floor gully and recover it through use of a garden hose and water pressure. As this is how I unblocked the pipe before; déjà vu all over again. 
  • We got Beloved Wife's car in for service. It turns out that the appalling shrieking noises were not coming from the belt tensioner pulley bearing after all, but the PCV. This is a piece of cheap plastic shit that is notorious for becoming broken on VW engines, but the Sharjah branch of Volkswagen lacked the wit or inclination either to stock the part or phone the Dubai branch. Earlier today I phoned Dubai, collected new PCV, and had the mechanic install it in about ten minutes. All shrieking has now gone and the Eos can safely be presented next week for its annual inspection and registration. 
  • I installed the new battery in the bike, started it on the first prod of the button, and went off first to get the thing washed and then inspected and registered. Beloved Wife had sorted out the insurance, so all I had to do was phone AXA to get a new certificate that stated Oman was an included territory; not just the UAE. 
  • The runaround for my new UAE residence was likely to take all day. It had to be accomplished entirely before Eid, so the Executive Service had to be invoked. A trip to Al Wasl clinic and Dh790 got me a blood test, then across town and a further Dh370 for a new ID card application and Dh555 for a new residence permit. Then back to Al Wasl to collect my blood test result. My blood group hasn’t changed, as eny fule kno. I am so glad I took the bike for this running around town in the traffic. No problem parking, see? Also few issued with traffic congestion. Everything was done by 1330, and I handed in my passport to Beloved Wife’s PRO. I got it back with the new visa the following morning. I now await the delivery of my new Emirates ID card in due course. 
  • I went to the airport to renew my UAE e-gate card. As there is exactly zero free parking at DXB, even for motorbikes, I parked for nuppence at Rashidiya and took the metro two stops. 
  • Other errands included getting de-worming pills for the cats in order to stop the vet from bombarding me with reminder emails, Beloved Wife and me obtaining lacerations while inserting said pills into said cats, more pills for me which are not for removing parasites, and a new button battery for the bike's keyless start system. Any and all attempts to purchase additional pairs of Vibram™ hobbit feet failed. They're all knocked down to about 25% of the normal retail price, and of course my size has completely sold out. 
  • I braved IKEA, then spent a couple of hours balancing on a stepladder – it isn’t a real ladder – replacing burned-out lightbulbs all over the Crumbling Villa including the one at the top of the stairs that involved standing on the very top rung. It doesn’t matter that the halogens are rated for thousands of hours. I suspect wobbly voltage kills them. Anyhoo, IKEA only had LED globes, which have dropped remarkably in price over the last year or so. It remains to be seen if they last longer. 
  • There was shopping and cooking, epic binge-watching of Game of Thrones, and consumption of moderate quantities of special beverage and flat-nosed, curly-tailed haraminal. There was nothing on at any Dubai cinema that appealed, so that was a bust. 
  • On Friday, I slipped into my old paths of wrongtiousness with a high-speed ride over to Kalba for an egg sandwich. I rode alone, noted the presence of new speed cameras near Wadi Hilo, chatted with members of the Ducati club in Kalba, and then got comprehensively blown into the weeds on the way back to Dubai. Call me slow and old-fashioned if you like, but if the speed limit is 120km/h and I'm just below the speed camera trigger of 140, the guys who whizzed past me at perhaps 200 must have plenty of disposable income. I am a bit out of practice; I frightened myself a couple of times on some very, very bendy road between Hatta and Munay. Must. Not. Brake. In. Corners. Next time I’m back in Dubai I should replace the bike’s tyres. The Pirellis still have reasonable tread, but they’ve been cooking outdoors all summer. I have some new Michelins poised and ready. 
  • Finally, I accompanied Beloved Wife to a dead posh dinner out at the Dusit Thani in Dubai (the hotel near Defence Roundabout that looks like a clothes peg), and very fine it was too. 
Putting the events into writing, it doesn’t seem like I achieved much, but I kept busy and my mood has lifted somewhat. I might even be able to face another week back at work.


Monday, September 07, 2015

Magnificent men

Just for a change, I find I have to make one choice from a collection of relevant popular culture. There’s Captain Blackadder’s comment concerning aviators: “I don’t care how many times they go up diddly-up up; they’re still gits.” There’s Fascinating Aida’s now infamous Cheap Flights song, and there’s also Dastardly and Muttley in their Flying Machines.

I got the email from Air Arabia: “Lock in your seat at lower fares: return from AED399 all inclusive!” As I’d booked the Eid leave but not the flights, it was obviously time to secure a cheap flight to Dubai before the world and his wife, children, and animals all decided that Doha was not the place to be. Not being daft, I checked other airlines too.

Hmmm… Qatar Airways bargain basement AED850.
How about Fly Dubai? Not the usual sub-600 cheapness, but AED800.
Obviously AED399 wins.

The Air Arabia website decided to be a recalcitrant beast, failing entirely to do anything on the desktop machine. It would talk to my tablet, though. So through the booking process I went, carefully skirting around and deselecting special meals, special seats, and massive quantities of luggage. Great. Card details…Click…Ping…Job done!

Oh, but in my fervour I’d forgotten to select which flight I wanted. There’s a choice of four, and the booking system had allocated a 9am flight and I wanted the 7pm. To be unfair, I think the website didn’t prompt me to select which flight; what is more likely is that the pop-up keyboard obscured that option. So I had to call Air Arabia to get the flight changed rather than take Thursday off and incur Thursday, Friday, Saturday as additional annual leave.

I don’t know what happened to the putative AED399. I was charged AED577. This included a charge for using Visa (which was drastic, ‘cos how the feck you s’posed to pay if not with fecking plastic?) Still a lot less than the other airlines, until I tried to change the flight. They wanted nearly AED500 to change both directions, so I dealt only with the outbound, at a mere AED369 including yet another charge for using Visa.

So that’s now AED946 of the alleged AED399 for Billy-basic cheapskate-no-frills, and around AED100 more than Qatar Airways. Had I gone expensive early, I’d have saved a bit of cash, got into the Business Lounge and priority access through Immigration, and even collected some air miles.

Edited 8th September to note that within 24 hours of booking and paying for these expensive tickets, Fly Dubai emailed me with a "Book today for 30% discount."

As Muttley so eloquently puts it: “Sassa frassa rassum dassum…


Sunday, August 30, 2015

Barrett's Engineers

O, the year was AD 2012.
(How I wish that I’d stayed far away)
They needed one with competence;
Profess’nal; with experience.
I tell you now: I was told
Untruths. A dummy I was sold.
A job from hell, it was clear…
I was a broken Goat with a wrecked career:
A burned-out civil engineer.

The fees had almost all been spent.
(How I wish that I’d stayed far away)
For the job had been won at a loss
And I had a slippy-shouldered boss.
So many things were in a mess,
Or hadn’t even been addressed.
I tried to fix it all. Oh dear…!
With no help, I became, I fear,
A bitter, twisted engineer.

Too many things lay incomplete.
(How I wish that I’d stayed far away)
With no time for anticipation
I fought the latest conflagration.
Assistance? Always refused
Which left me cross and unamused.
“If you resign, be sure we’re…
Gonna get you banned from working here.”
Unemployable engineer.

Two years have passed, and I am back
(How I wish that I’d stayed far away)
Now everything that I submit
Is rejected by some shining wit.
Co-operate? Not a chance!
Instead, a complicated dance.
Delay things for at least a year…
I am a waste of space while I work here;
Oxygen-stealing engineer.

No, the Goat can’t stand much more of this. 
(How I wish that I’d stayed far away)
But there’s nothing else that he can do 
‘Cept driving vans, or shovelling poo. 
Old Goat; new tricks? Does it seem 
That he has run right out of steam? 
What can he make from this sow’s ear…?
It’s time to start a new career;
Eschew the title ‘engineer’.

Sunday, August 23, 2015


Again, Beloved  Wife and her Goat were in different countries for their wedding anniversary. Still, the Goat found a cheap flight, for a given value of cheap, and spent the weekend in Dubai.

Beloved Wife promised that there would not be a massive list of DIY tasks for the Goat to perform. The FUBAR dishawasher appears to have a broken pump impeller, according to an NVQ in Googlomics. It's a fifteen-minute fix following the inevitable Not Coming In Dubaitis and subsequent Amazon. Maybe Beloved Wife can find a suitably-qualified repairman to come to her house while her husband's away...

After Flying Dubai and consuming ale and pork pie, the Goat retired to his pit, and was only disturbed a few times by Los Kittehs and their gifts of - mercifully - artificial butterflies and not lizards and putrefying rodents.

Everything pertaining to vehicle insurance and maintenance is closed on Friday, so after a huge English breakfast, BW and Goat headed off to the cinema to see either Minions or Mr Holmes. They picked the latter; being a talky film with little in the way of explosions, gunfire, or car chases unless you count a thermonuclear event in Hiroshima, it'll doubtless have gone by close of play next Wednesday.

A four-course haute-cuisine on board Bateaux Dubai followed that evening. Happy Eighth Anniversary, Beloved Wife.

Owing to construction works on the waterfront outside the British Embassy, Bateaux Dubai has moved to the other side of the creek. Bear this in mind before your own dinner cruise.

Nobody got the Merlot team hangover and, after Saturday's full English, the errands started. Shisha first, then jump-starting Kermit the VW Polo, moving an irreducibly complex table across town in a small 4x4, buying a motorcycle battery and some teaching supplies, and gassing up the car with newly-expensive UAE petrol.

Let's see... low oil price -> reduced gubmint income -> increased fuel tax.
High oil price -> high raw material cost -> increased fuel price.

Yup. Makes perfect sense.

Yes, yes. Compare with Europe. Know where the airport is, yadda, yadda.

The bike battery will sit dry until the Goat is ready to get his motorcycle re-registered, at which point he'll return to Dubai, add the H2SO4, and install the thing. One imagines that in other parts of the world the Goat might have been confronted with "Oh, no, you can't be trusted with sulphuric acid despite your Chemistry A-level and the fact that you're a grownup." But this was - huzzah - also Not Coming In Dubai.

And all too soon, the spell of Goat Banishment was invoked, and off to the airport he trotted to his day job that has now become little more than repeated rebuttals of orchilalia.


Thursday, August 13, 2015

Showers, Bath, Looe

Somewhat ridiculously, renting a car for a fortnight worked out significantly cheaper than The Goat and Beloved Wife attempting to use public transport, even though the car was left parked up for a week in Droitwich. Further advantages of car rental were convenience, not having to schlepp large orange suitcases in and out of buses or trains, and being able to fly in and out of the better-located Bristol airport rather than Heathrow.

Neither would there be a need to borrow Nanny Goat’s Aygo this time. The Goat made himself useful chez Nanny Goat. As he is now the new expert in domestic waste water plumbing, Nanny Goat asked him to unblock a drain. Unlike the Crumbling Villa over Eid, the blockage this time turned out to be solidified detergent rather than chip fat. It was shifted using the traditional method of opening a manhole, getting a garden hose, and giving the waste pipe an enema. “They don’t like it up ‘em, Mr Mainwaring!” The Goat also had two goes at replacing the washing line so that all the seventeenth-century kit could be put on display to the neighbours. The first attempt involved el cheapo raffia; the second, a much more serious plastic-coated steel wire.

The Goat’s sister and brother-in-law have recently moved into a converted stone barn somewhere in the Devon boondocks. The building is probably over a century old, and stands in over an acre of land. They have ducks and chickens, and have now befriended their horse-owning neighbours and have taken up riding. They have so far completely missed the obvious opportunity for caprine companions. The entire horde, or possibly herd, trooped over one afternoon for barbecue, buffet, and beer. Plus, of course, the obligatory guided tour of the house and grounds. 

The East Wing safari park and petting zoo.

“The Master cannot come to the door at this time, Sir. He is on safari in the East Wing.

Owing to Beloved Wife’s car recently developing a noisy pulley bearing, the Goat went down to a Plymouth purveyor of spare Volkswagen bits and procured a replacement over the counter at about a third the cost and a fraction of the time it usually takes Al Naboodah in Dubai. A Goat suspects that only the bearing needs to be replaced, but a Goat has to buy the entire tensioner assembly.

Off to Tiger Treats of Looe on a sunny day next, taking Nephews #1 and #2. They protested at first when the idea was mooted, but decided to quiet their objections once they’d worked out that a trip to the karting track at Menheniot was contingent on visiting Looe first. 

Looe harbour.
Near the beach at Looe.

The Goat received a new, indestructible leather hat for his birthday from his Beloved, who then procured and enjoyed a cone of Cornish ice cream with clotted cream on top. 

One of the many Looe shitehawks.
Nephew #2 subsequently proceeded to thrash his older brother and his heavier uncle on the race track. Mind you, Nephew #1 only stayed behind his uncle because of some aggressive cornering. Nobody else of the twenty or so karts went past this Triumvirate of Velocity.

Beloved Wife is a culture junkie, and Nanny Goat exhumed a National Trust book from her personal library and suggested venues from the comprehensive list of nearby abbeys, stately homes, and castles. Beloved Wife settled on Saltram House and Buckland Abbey.

Saltram is in Plymouth, and after finding somewhere to park, the Goat and Beloved Wife wandered around the grounds, took tea and cake, and then toured the house itself. “One of the finest examples of…etc.” according to the guidebook. In the traditional way, the first Lord established the house and estate, his son developed it, and the third generation (who had never worked a day in his life and thus had no appreciation of his wealth) pissed away the family fortune on fast women and slow horses. It took many generations plus marrying into money for Saltram to recover.

Front door of Saltram House.
Chapel at Saltram. Nowadays tea rooms.
Who'll be mother?
The only goat in Saltram House.

Recorder-playing cherub in Saltram

Saltram sphinges.
(Yes, that is the plural of sphinx)

By the time the tour was over, rain had set in for the afternoon. The Goat drove over Dartmoor to Sir Francis Drake’s pile: Buckland Abbey. This is not to be confused with the entirely different Buckfast Abbey that can wait for another time. Clarissa helpfully suggested an unorthodox route through some Dingly Dell and then reported that she’d “Lost satellite reception” beneath the trees. The Buckland grounds weren’t actually out of bounds, but even though Goats don’t dissolve in the rain, getting drenched in the gardens really didn’t appeal. Drake’s Drum, which will allegedly beat of its own accord when England is in peril, will struggle because all of its tensioning ropes have been removed.

Buckland Abbey in the rain.
Commemorative etched glass.
Buckland Abbey.

Buckland Abbey stairs by
M.C. Escher.
One of four satyrs (representing
known continents)
holding up a Buckland roof.
Buckland Abbey in the rain.
Buckland Abbey from the barn.
The Goat took a very short cut across Dartmoor back to Nanny Goat’s, partly to show Beloved Wife quite how bleak the moor could be in the rain. Yes, even in August. Drenched sheep looked on forlornly, as they’d recently been shorn and must surely have been freezing cold.

Hot pasties awaited the return of the culture vultures to Plymouth, which is a virtually guaranteed treat chez Nanny Goat. Mmmm: pastiferous delights!

Further culture was to follow. After saying their goodbyes to Nanny Goat, Beloved Wife and Goat set of towards Bristol via Bath. They located the long-stay parking and, in the sun because British weather is fickle like that, walked into the City. Obviously the Roman Baths were first on the itinerary. This is somewhere neither the Goat nor Beloved Wife have visited since the early 1970s. In fact, because archaeology is ongoing there are new exhibits on view that hadn’t been unearthed in the 1970s. As usual the water in the bath itself was completely out of bounds. Because it’s exposed to sunlight and nice and warm, all sorts of eldritch horrors live therein, and even touching the waters will give you squirty botty or worse. Those wishing to partake of the healthy, fresh-from-the-Mendips mineral water can get it from the fountain next door in the Georgian tea rooms.

Statue of Julius Caesar seems to owe a lot
 to Uderzo and Goscinny.
Roman baths and Abbey.

Ubi sunt alba mulierum?
Aquae Sulis.

The Goat had been looked up and down by a Bottom Inspector at admission to the Baths, who made no comment pertaining to the Goat’s attire. The Goat also spoke to and photographed a Roman re-enactor who passed comment regarding his unshod hooves. “It’s a bath. Who wears shoes in the bath?” In fact, she asked Beloved Wife about her mistreatment of her personal slave, and the Goat missed a trick, failing to spend the rest of the day addressing Beloved Wife as "Domina". 

At almost the end of the tour, the Goat was assured by a third member of staff that bare feet were not allowed, and no there were no signs stating this (ergo she’s obviously just made up this ‘rule’). So the Goat had to cover his hooves with his Vibram™ hobbit shoes to give the illusion that he had proper feet.

Next on the agenda was Bath Abbey, which is full of grave memorials all over the walls and floor. The BBC gives an estimate of between 4000 and 6000 bodies buried beneath the Abbey; a lady of ecclesiastical profession actually stated an exact number that the Goat cannot now remember. Audio entertainment was provided by organ practice. At one point the organist turned it up to eleven, engaged the 256-ft Earthquake Pipe, and made the building shake. 

Unlike in Worcester Cathedral, there appeared no requirement for a photography permit, and unlike the Baths, there was no mandatory requirement for footwear. One suspects that the Abbey staff may have assumed that the Goat was a discalced pilgrim. Uncultured oaf that he may be, the Goat does remember to remove his hat in church. Time did not permit taking the hundreds of steps up to the roof, so there’s something else remaining on the To Do list.

Bath Abbey.
Fan vaulting in Bath Abbey. 
Stained Glass in Bath Abbey.
The Goat paused on the way back to the car park to take miscellaneous photographs, and then to enter a Cheese Emporium, notwithstanding Beloved Wife’s protestations about aroma, car, and confined spaces. 

“Tell me, do you have any Stinking Bishop?”

“Of course Sir; it’s a cheese shop, Sir. It’s as runny as you like it.” 

Ancient engineers in Bath.
Why does the one one the left have part of a steam engine?
Finally, off to Bristol via The Crescent and The Circle for pictures of Georgian façades. 

Regency Bath: The Circle.
Regency Bath: The Crescent.
There is a kind of tradition to commemorate one’s dearly departed on the roadside where he or she ran out of talent. Such memorials consist of bunches of flowers, wreaths, Requiescat messages. The Goat was disturbed and alarmed to see Winnie the Pooh among one of these, crucified on a roadside tree. He’s reminded of a Red Dwarf episode in which Dave Lister witnesses Winnie the Pooh being shot by firing squad. 

Anyway: Bristol. The Joys of Rush Hour eventually provoked rat-running away from the ring road. As the flight out was scheduled for 0600 the following morning, arrangements had been made to spend the evening a mere ten miles from the airport. The Goat gassed up the rental car, correctly anticipating that nothing would be open at 3am, and then he and Beloved Wife were fed and entertained by Mr Thrash and Dr England. Stinking Bishop turns out to be a surprisingly mild cheese; something belied by its powerful aroma.

And that is that. Airport. Back to the middle east. Massive pile of work on desk. Huge collection of photos to review, edit, crop, and post.

You have been playing the Total Immersion Roleplaying Game ‘England, My England’. Your score is 2.3%. Welcome back to reality.


Monday, August 10, 2015

Jolly Boating Weather

It’s July; there’s a heatwave in England; anyone from the Gulf might consider wrapping up warm because 30°C might feel a bit chilly. By August the weather in Britain had changed a lot, to sun and showers and comparatively swutting freezing.

The Goat had spoken to Mr Richard and organized a week or so on the good ship NB Great Escape. Richard and his family don’t get to use the boat as much as they’d like, and are happy to lend the vessel to competent friends, of whom the Goat is evidently one. Tentative additional crew members ended up having other stuff to do, and thus the Goat and Beloved Wife were the sole crew for most to the week. Initial plans for the Avon Ring were revised. Up Tardebigge flight then down all the locks of the Stratford Canal would seem unreasonable with a crew of only two. Stratford-on-Avon would have to wait.

Droitwich Spa Marina is a new development at the northeastern end of the newly reopened Droitwich Canal. The marina was built in about 2012, and has all mod cons including fuel, water, power hookup, civilized ablutions, and secure parking for both boats and cars. The Goat picked up the keys from Mr Richard (in the rain) and then, inexplicably, headed off to Norf Landun.

The Goat and Beloved Wife
The thing is, at very late notice it had been revealed that by happy coincidence there was an English Civil War re-enactment at Forty Hall in Enfield slated for the very weekend that the Goat and Beloved Wife arrived in Ingerland. The preceding weekend was Eid, during which the Goat collected a minimal amount of his seventeenth-century clothing from the Crumbling Villa to take with him to the muster. Meanwhile, Beloved Wife scanned the interwebs for 1642 costume patterns, and had a local Dubai tailor run up some wimmin’s costume. As Beloved Wife enjoys camping about as much as drinking bleach, she asked the Goat to sort out a hotel. Holtwhite’s Hotel represented the nearest reasonable option at 1.3km from the campsite, so it’d be possible to stagger back on Saturday night when the beer tent finally closed.

As it happened, the rain stayed off all Saturday. The Goat was not equipped to go into battle, and instead stood innocuously beneath a tree out of sight of the crowd, taking pictures with his secret seventeenth-century digital camera.

The Gentlemen of the Pike.
Pikemen in action.
Give fire!

More musketry.

Muskets on stun, lads. We want them alive.
The big guns.
More artillery.

It seems that Mr Lawful Good of Cowplain took one for the team, awaking on Sunday morning with the regimental hangover. He couldn’t face the second day’s battle because he’s a shandy-swilling southerner. Before the rain started, the Goat suggested that Mr LGoC pack up his still-dry tent. Then after an English myocardial infarction breakfast of podium finish, the Goat and Beloved Wife drove to the campsite, picked up their passenger, and headed off to Cowplain in the driving rain.

More driving followed. At last the setting sun broke through the clouds and the rain had stopped when the car finally rolled into Droitwich. Which was shut on Sunday evening. How unreasonable and inconvenient.

The boat’s food supplies were duly raided, and on Monday morning NB Great Escape cast off and set sail for Droitwich. The Droitwich Canal is something of a baptism of fire for novice boaters, with a narrow exit from the marina, some extremely narrow and low bridges, a staircase lock, locks with side pounds, and locked swing bridges to be de-padlocked to allow boat access. It’s got the lock, er, lot.

Beloved Wife had agreed that food supplies should be limited to breakfasts, with lunches and evening meals taken in waterside alehouses. A plan with no drawbacks. Waitrose, conveniently located next to the canal in the middle of Droitwich, was duly raided for haraminal products and breakfast was taken.

Great Escape shared most of the broad locks to the Severn with NB Lilia in order to save both time and water, and clearly with two boats, the manpower working the locks was at least doubled. Lilia went downstream on the Severn; Great Escape turned north and headed upstream until mooring overnight adjacent to The Wharf Inn. Oh, no food on Mondays. No matter; the inn had menus from a couple of local takeaways, and the Goat and Beloved Wife eventually enjoyed the large Chinese meal delivered to the inn and washed down with ‘FUBAR’ Pale Ale.

NB Lilia emerges from a lock and bridge
Circular weir, or "Don't divide by zero!
Lock sharing with Lilia

At last Stourport Basins. Access from the Severn is through two staircase locks that are inexplicably not in line with each other, and thus a long narrowboat may be tricky to align without some gentle percussive manoeuvring. They’re very tricky indeed on the way down with a howling side wind, as the Goat was to discover the following day.

After mooring for water and availing themselves of full-size loos, the Goat and Beloved Wife headed into Stourport for liquid lunch and, in the Goat’s case, a steak and kidney pudding. Stourport appears, incidentally, to have a chip-shop souq. Three of them all in a row, plus various other restaurants and takeaways that doubtless also serve chish and fips.

From the Severn to Stourport
Parked in Stourport Basin

The guidebook says that the Staffordshire & Worcestershire Canal is extremely pretty, and the section to Kidderminster certainly is. Having spotted The Weavers, a canalside public house that promised inter alia no TV, no music, no SKY sports, no lager (and thus, presumably, no yahoos), Great Escape turned around in a nearby winding hole and moored next to a 24-hour Tesco for replenishment of hop-flavoured supplies and use of los facilidad. The ship’s log suggests that local yobs may be troublesome overnight, but the Goat did not find this to be the case. The Weavers looks like a Victorian alehouse that’s been established since forever, but the elves over at Google Street View show that in 2009 the building was empty and To Let.

So back to the Severn, with the Goat rinsing some towpath dogshit off his hoof rather than inadvertently tracking it all over the boat’s carpets. Another brief pause in Stourport for the loo, and then off down the Severn at a heady five knots according to Clarissa the GPS. The plan for a lunchtime stop was thwarted by a gigantic yellow narrowboat being inconveniently moored all over the pub’s landing stage, and there was nothing for it but to continue downstream, sheltering from the occasional rain showers beneath an umbrella, eat ham sandwiches, and drink bottled ale from a pewter tankard that the Goat had accidentally borrowed from Mr LGoC.

Worcester is very pretty from the river, particularly with interesting clouds. Less picturesque was when the said clouds emptied all over poor Beloved Wife as she worked the unnecessarily heavy Diglis Basin lock gates. The Goat could have done it, but as the boat was inaccessible whilst in the locks this sadly wasn’t possible. Of course, the rain stopped the very moment Great Escape was out of the locks and on to the Worcester & Birmingham Canal. So up a couple of locks to Worcester Marina for an overnight stop. Formerly Lowesmoor Basin, half of the marina has been filled in and turned into industrial units sometime since the 1980s, and it’s a bit congested. It’s amazing how being watched by amateur and professional narrowboaters concentrates the Goat’s mind and boat-handling as he executes three separate U-turns to reverse Great Escape into its parking spot. There were power hookups but no showers, and the loos are only open during office hours. However, the marina is behind a locked gate and the boats are therefore inaccessible to stone-throwing yoofs.

The river Severn and Worcester Cathedral

In the three days spent in Worcester – where the sauce comes from - the Goat and Beloved Wife were able to sample many pubs, several of which date back to the sixteenth century. Also there was the Commandery (a complex of buildings dating originally from the medieval period and with oodles of history) to visit, a little shopping, and Worcester Cathedral. In the Commandery, visitors are each issued with audio guides. It is recommended that one does not attempt to listen to the commentary for all six of the highlighted time periods in each room. At the cathedral, a very nice guide was happy to tell anyone who’d care to listen that he was a direct descendent of one of King John’s many illegitimate children by one of John’s dozen or more mistresses. That was King John (he of Magna Carta 800 years ago this year) lying just over there right in the middle of the nave. The Goat started to take photos and was instantly descended upon by a Valkyrie from the Women’s Institute who informed him in no uncertain terms that he should go and buy a photography permit first. Genuine honest mistake.

Worcester cathedral and ruins of the Priory.
Window in the cloister.
Cloister and bells.
Nave and choir.

On the last evening, Mr Thrash and Dr England (the well-known superhero) arrived by car, and this party of four then headed into town for beer, cider, pies, beer, and cider. The plan seems obvious: sleepover party, followed by a morning of lock-winding and sedate travel back to Droitwich. And after refuelling the boat, the Goat drove Mr Thrash and Dr England back to Worcester so that they could pick up their car and drive home. Forty minutes from Droitwich to Worcester and back, including becoming confused by Clarissa’s lack of knowledge of Worcester’s new and improved bus lanes.

Tudor building in The Shambles

The deal from Mr Richard is that his boat be left in a state of readiness: clean, full of fuel and water, all used food replenished, and the chemi-khazi empty. The Goat and Beloved Wife set off by car towards Nanny Goat’s, with a detour to Mr Richard’s in order to drop off the keys and to confess to any breakages, of which there were none except for the boathook that was replaced with a new one.

As for the second week’s holiday…? That can wait for a later blog post.


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