Monthly Archives: May 2012

42. Birds

I’m telling you, love, the blasted bird just came out of nowhere!

Different cultures all have different ways of signalling the changing of the seasons.  Nature generally dictates such things, such as we know autumn has arrived because all the leaves turn brown fall to their deaths.  To let us know that spring has arrived sheep generally start flirting with each other and soon enough lots of cute little lambs are launched.  If you are a mad Druid called Merlin then to recognise the coming of summer you go to Stonehenge and dance like an idiot during the solstice.

Here in the UAE there is no spring or autumn, we jump straight from winter into summer.  But how do we know when summer is coming?  What are the early warning signs?  Ok, forget the fact that the thermometer shoots up and you crank the air conditioning to 18 Celsius for 8 solid months, the real tell-tale sign are the birds.  Yep, birds are the summer giveaway.

Think back to the harsh UAE winter, when you were driving to work did you ever notice any birds flying around?  Probably yes, but where were they?  They were in the parks, or around your house and at the very riskiest, near the side of the road.  Generally they were keeping themselves out of trouble.  But now, 6 weeks into summer have you noticed anything different?  What is Johnny Sparrow up to now?  I’ll tell you what: he’s playing chicken with your windscreen, Toro with your car’s grille, Russian roulette with your front wheels.  He has gone mad.

Yep, you know the UAE’s summer is here when the birds all become crazed suicidal maniacs, dehydrated and with nothing left to lose.  I have just returned home from a spot of lunch, and on my 7 minute drive back no less than 6 birds tried to fly into my windscreen.  I’m noticing this more and more often, every day I go to work they are all trying to kill themselves on my time.

They are a true menace.  It is simply not fair to ruin someone’s day by killing yourself on their car.  My girlfriend got her first kill last month and has been grief stricken ever since.  My tally numbers by the scores, many birds have died in front of me.  They say that everything happens for a reason but I scoff with arrogance at such foolish remarks…until recently.

Johnny Sparrow is a hero.  The other day whilst driving home from work I killed another one.  It flew out of nowhere and now resides in birdy heaven.  The incident made me sad.  I slowed and continued to drive home under the speed limit.  Turning into my block I proceeded quite slowly, thinking how I would break the news to my girlfriend that I had taken another aviary life.  Out of nowhere a child ran across the road right in front of me.  He was about 6.  6 is his lucky number because if I was even driving at the speed limit, he would be dead.  Because I was only running at 20kph I was able to avoid him.

The useless nanny who was obviously doing a great job of minding him didn’t seem too bothered.  But I was startled.  I know how fast I have driven around there before and…well.  I’d rather not think about it.  What makes me think though is that the anonymous sparrow, in death, had inadvertently saved a young child’s life.

So the next time you kill a bird, don’t be sad, and just think how much worse it could have been.

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41. Plugs

Logic is a key aspect for any society to grow and prosper.  All over the world there are examples of things making sense.  For example, the English Dictionary is full of English words, not Egyptian Hieroglyphs.  Match of the Day is all about football – or soccer to our Trans-Atlantic cousins – and not about gardening.  Mr. Spock was very much into logic and it served him well at work.

Jim, I’m sorry. The guy in the shop said the new warp drive came with a 3-pin plug…this is how many it really had…

On a smaller scale we see logic in the homestead, and I can prove as much.  Now to those of you back home – or anywhere else in the world that isn’t the UAE – I want you to quickly walk around your dwelling and make a note of what plugs are on all of your domestic electrical appliances.  Hairdryers, kettles, toasters, TV’s, phone chargers and so on.  I want you to confirm that the plug on the end of the cable matches that of the socket on the wall…go on take your time, I’ll be right here.

Done?  Good.  If you’re reading in the Un-united Kingdom I assume that all of your appliances had the traditional BS 1363 3-pin plug on the end to slot nicely into your 3-pin socket.  Over there in the New World Colonies you have a smaller version of the 3-pin plug…I bet it fits the one on your wall. And finally, Europeans?  Well if the lunatics in Brussels haven’t turned your power off to help save the Euro I am confident that your 2-pin affairs slot neatly into their matching sockets also.  It’s a tiny detail that we all take for granted, you buy something that requires plugging, and you expect it to fit…here?  Well obviously there’s a problem otherwise I wouldn’t be writing about it.

Upon my arrival in 2008 I obviously needed to get myself set up.  I needed things like kettles, DVD players and drills.  My first experience was a bed-side lamp.  I went to the home store and picked the one I liked.  I got home to plug it in but immediately stumbled across a problem.  The socket in my room was British – hurrah – but the plug on the end of my new lamp was clearly European.  Hmmmm…seems an odd thing to sell.

Over the course of time further examples came to the fore, at work I ordered several identical computers all from the same company and to the same specification.  Out of what turned up, 2 had British plugs, 2 had American plugs, 3 of them had European plugs and 1 that was plainly Martian.  I bought a matching TV and DVD set.  The TV has a US plug on it and the DVD came with a European one.  Yet both are Japanese products.  My extension cable looks like something stolen from Space Shuttle Discovery.  Am I going mad or does this annoy you too?  I mean how can you standardise the plug sockets but not the plugs?

Yes you can buy those stupid adapters that have been designed to accommodate every shape and type of plug imaginable.  But nothing stays in because it looks as if a badger with very unsteady hand drunk on Glenfiddich has been let loose with a 14,000rpm drill.  And ultimately it is what it is, a solution to a problem that should never have existed in the first place.

I mean I understand how this problem has come to be.  The UAE doesn’t make anything.  There isn’t really a manufacturing industry, everything is imported.  So when you import a toaster from Detroit it is going to come with an American plug just as if you import a lamp from Athens it is going to come with a Greek plug on it…and a lot of tax.

A while back I read that an effort was to be made to standardise things, and that the British Standard 1363 plug – which has served Blighty and her colonies well since 1947 – is to be adopted as the national plug of the Emirates, so all retailers have to supply you with an adapter.  Codswallop, I am yet to see this.  Plus it means we will have to pay more and in these trying economic times that is not acceptable.  So, for a small gamble I can help you…

Only the other day I purchased a new drill with a Martian plug on it…the solution?  See below.  You may not live long, but you will prosper…

Nah, it will be fi……BOOM

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40. Perspective

Once upon time, in the days before Robbie Williams had left Take That and when John Major was still calling the shots from Number 10, the only things that used to make me angry were when my sisters used my bike without authorisation or when I didn’t get the toy I oh so wanted for Christmas.  As I got older I started to add more to the list, things like having to study Religious Education at school, and homework.  Nowadays pretty much everything gets on my nerves.  It’s uncontrollable.  If I hear or read someone coming out with what I believe to be utter guff then my blood starts to boil through my eye sockets.

But m’ lady, all I am saying is that if I want to study The Only Way Is Essex at University for 3 years, the tax-payer should fund it…

Over the past few years there have been several high-profile current affairs that have tested my last nerve; the raising of student fees in England-land for one.  The fees needed to go up, the United Kingdom had – has – no money.  Its all well and good crying and throwing eggs at Camilla Parker-Bowles but all you’re really doing is highlighting the fact that you don’t understand how the world works.

The British economy is also sore spot.  Dave and George of Downing Street (and their little friend Nick) really don’t have too many options on the table when it comes to austerity.  They inherited a treasury that contained a desk, a half-used biro and a mousetrap.  And of course lots of receipts for things like Millennium Domes and Libyan petrol stations.  The funny thing is that both Ed Millibrain and Ed Balls (no name tampering required) have openly said that their policies wouldn’t be that different to that of the Coalition.  I know I’ll upset people of a Guardian disposition but the fact remains.  Dole cheats, MP’s expenses, Footballers, the Trade Union Chiefs…these are all areas that keep me awake at night with rage as I struggle to sift through the sanctimonious hypocrisy.

This – somehow – brings me on to the UAE.  The other week I read in the national media that a twitter campaign has been started aimed at getting women to dress respectably whilst out in public in the UAE.  For those of you that aren’t aware, the UAE’s Islamic principles require women – and men – to dress modestly whilst out and about.  Women are encouraged to cover their knees and shoulders.  I agree.  When in Rome and all that.  The UAE is our host nation and we must follow the rules.  I would expect the same anywhere.  I was spooling through some of the reader’s comments on the article and some of the people babbling on about it made me put my fist through my lap-top.  We get it, but seriously, it is a bit extreme to wish death upon the offenders.  People really were taking it beyond seriously and all have harked claim that it is disrespectful to mankind.  Ok it is in a manner of speaking, but where is the perspective?  You flag that up but what about the other stuff that is going on under your noses?

So I wonder how many of these comment leavers have ever been to a labourer’s camp over here.  Not many are my bet.  I have.  They are generally located 1-2 hours out of town, out of sight from us.  The labourers will work 12-14 hour days and are ferried in un-air conditioned buses.  They live with 5 other men in a 10x10ft windowless room and share a bathroom with 40 others.  There is an over-riding stench of sewage in the air and the body odour is horrendous.  There are more labourers here than anyone else, they make up 60% of the population.  Without them there would be no Burj Khalifa, no Jumeriah Towers, no litter-free public spaces, no nothing.  You feel guilty because you know that there is nothing you can do to help them.

So then, twitter campaign, let’s gather some perspective before we define what “disrespectful” actually means…

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39. Tourism

The blog returns today after a week’s hiatus with a question: what does the average tourist make of the UAE?  Well, this week my family have been visiting so I got a first hand chance to experience this place from the other side of the fence.

Our – well, their – holiday was broken into three sections: leg 1 was held in Dubai, leg 2 in the party capital itself; Al Ain and leg 3 in Abu Dhabi.  Across these three destinations appears to lay a common denominator: Malls.  It seems to be the corner stone of the UAE tourism industry. Dubais the worst for such things.  We began our Malling in Mall of the Emirates.  My sisters – both aged 25 – were in awe.  It had a Virgin Mega-store that somehow still exists despite being closed down everywhere else in the world, an Adidas shop and some Penguins.  It was a wonderful 3 hours of my life, walking aimlessly from shop entrance to shop entrance.

The following day it was decided that we would go to Dubai Mall.  For those foreign readers who don’t know, this Mall is the largest in the world.  And sure enough the distance you cover on foot is probably the same distance you would cover if you decided to walk to Saturn.  There was a Virgin Mega-store, an Adidas shop and a fish tank.

On the third day we were in Al Ain, my adopted home.  We began proceedings by discussing what should be done.  Before a spot of light pooling it was agreed that we would go to Al Ain Mall.  The new extension is a must-see.  There is no Virgin Mega-store but there is a Mega Mart; and an Adidas shop and the world’s smallest Ice-Skating rink.

Day 4 and it was off to Abu Dhabi.  After checking in at a very nice hotel we did some brain storming and deduced that it was a good idea to experience Marina Mall.  I have to say it’s my personal favourite.  We arrived and entered.  We enjoyed looking at Carrefour.  We paid a visit to the Adidas shop and the world’s even smaller Ice-Skating rink.

The last day of the tour saw the Fullard family pay a visit to Abu Dhabi Mall.  It’s not the most impressive but it is air-conditioned.  There was plenty to see.  There was a Virgin Mega-store, and an Adidas shop and…a Starbucks…

Ask anyone who has visited the UAE as a tourist what they did and I guarantee you that they will have spent most of their time Mall

Press the button again then…alright give it a minute

hopping, trying desperately to avoid the cruel summer heat.  See, I actually had a brilliant week with my family and I did get to do some stuff that I had never done previously.  For example I paid AED 120 (£20) to go up in a lift to look out of a window for 2 minutes before feeling dizzy.  I also paid the same figure to sit on a vulgar diesel-powered bus for several hours and catch deep vein thrombosis just for the pleasure of being charged further money to ride a crappy ill-maintained quad-bike and hold a bird.  I did consider killing myself at one point but thankfully I was surrounded by my loved ones who told me not to cause a scene.

I mean it really is a good earner over here.  The Malls are just there and I am certain that the starting capital for each has long since been made back.  The Burj Khalifa isn’t short of a few quid.  It takes 120 people every half hour.  AED 120 per person, 120 people per session and 36 sessions each day, every day and is always fully booked.  The desert safari is just an unorganised blob that somehow remains popular…

So returning to the formative question, what do regular tourists make of the UAE?  Lots of tall shiny buildings yes, but the majority of these are offices or are the homes of people who don’t know you.  Hot?  Yes.  So the tourists are forced to take refuge in the nearest Mall, to shield the MasterCard from the sun…  Burj Khalifa?  Your hotel probably has a lift and a window that can be used in much the same way for free.  So my guess is that if tourists spend most of their vacation time in the UAE they think one word: expensive.

So what did I make of it as a tourist?  Its’ brilliant, but damned if I’ll ever do another desert safari.

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38. Football

I love Football.  It is the sport of the people, open to everyone on every level of all ability.  Like both my Dad and Granddad I support Wimbledon.  We beat Liverpool 1-0 to win the FA Cup in 1988 which is still to this day one of best remembered games of all time.  Well, it was Wimbledon FC from 1889 until 2002 when the team was callously franchised off to Milton Keynes and became MK Dons so we the fans started our own club:  AFC Wimbledon.  That’s right, we are a fans owned club.  You buy an equal share, you own it.  Since our inception in 2002 we have gone from the 9th tier of the English football pyramid to the 4th: Football League 2, or Division 4 as my Dad and I still call it.  Wimbledon (the old Wimbledon) was once a Premier League team, not a very good one, but one all the same.  For 14 years we were in the top flight, scalping the big boys, but the financial gulf between us and the big clubs eventually became too great.  Then, after we were relegated to the old Division 1, which used to be called Division 2, we went into decline with shoddy owners, careless management and still no home ground.  See, we had to leave our ground – Plough Lane –  in 1991 because it was too small to re-develop (we were told) into an all seater, as they all had to be after the Hillsborough disaster of 1989, so we moved in with our then-enemies, Crystal Palace FC at Selhurst Park, and it was from there that we eventually died…

The iconic Dave Beasant. Football in the good old days

See.  I know my club back-to-front; my passion for them is matched only by my passion to keep breathing.  Whenever anyone asks me who I support I have to explain all of the above so people know about both the injustice and the glory.  You know what I get back in response?  “Ok, so which Premier League team do you support?”  Stop it!  You know nothing.  I just told you who I support.  I support Wimbledon.  Not United, not Chelsea, not Arsenal, not Liverpool, not Spurs and certainly not Manchester City.

Obviously being an old Wimbledon fan as a kid I could never be accused of being a glory-hunter, but I grew up around them.  I went to school in south-west London surrounded by Manchester United fans. Manchester?  That’s 267 miles away.  “Yeah but my uncle’s best mate’s dog lives there”.  Oh, I see.  How loyal of you.

You may all now be beginning to wonder how on earth any of this is relevant to living in UAE.  Well, in case you have been living in a box, on Sunday Manchester City won the Premier League in dramatic style. Manchester City is owned – as of September 2008 – by Abu Dhabi.  And that makes it relevant.

What make’s me laugh is the people I see in my local bars.  I kid ye not they all once used to wear Manchester United shirts, Real Madrid Shirts or Barcelona Shirts.  Occasionally you would get an Arsenal shirt.  “Yeah I have supported Barca for years, I love them” they would say with gusto.  But now they are all wearing “Citeh” shirts.  “Yeah I have supported Manchester Citeh for years, I love them” they say with a hollow pride.  The hypocrisy burns like the fires of hell of damnation.  On the terraces in the old days crowds used to chant at each other “WHERE WERE YOU WHEN YOU WERE S#@T!!!??!” We used to sing that to Chelsea quite a lot as they hammered us 3-0 and I hear Citeh fans receiving the same treatment now…

I don’t understand how some people can be so fickle about the beautiful game.  I mean Manchester City isn’t even a real team anymore.  It’s a load of supposedly best players in the world fused together in the vain hope that they will gel as a team.  Do you have any idea how much money has been invested in Man City since 2008?  $1 billion.  No hyperbole.  $1 billion.  Yes.  On a football team that only won the league by goal difference.

Still, the league title has always been bought, that’s nothing new.  The team with the biggest budget generally wins.  Take something that already exists, throw money at it and reap the rewards.  Where’s the graft?  Where’s the magic?  Where’s the soul?  But I don’t care. Wimbledon may only get an average attendance of 4,500 in League 2 but supporting them has a magic about it like no other.  Stick your millions and your Premier League titles.  We don’t rely on outside investors.  I enjoy explaining to the gormless no-hopers all about my team.  I’m a Womble till I die.

Sigh…ask me one thing I miss about home.  You may guess the answer quite easily…

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37. Seatbelts

The automotive equivalent of Joey Buttafuoco’s pants

In 1967 Labours most successful Prime Minister [citation needed] – The Right Honourable Harold Wilson – introduced a law that made the fitting of front seat belts in British cars compulsory.  The idea was that in the highly unlikely event of an accident, the belt could be used to stop the driver and front passenger exiting the car through the windscreen like a javelin pole.  But it wasn’t obligatory for the vehicles occupants to actually fasten the seatbelt until Margaret Thatcher’s Tory government enforced it in 1983.  Strangely it wasn’t until 1987 when car manufacturers were told it was now a legal requirement to fit seatbelts in the back, and even more strangely it wasn’t until 1991 that the wearing of them was the law too.  So, it took from the first production cars in the late 19th Century to 1991 for seatbelts to become a standard legal requirement and ever since things have improved considerably.

I like seatbelts.  Whenever I get into a car I put mine on.  They’re comfortable and they also offer me a security that I wouldn’t have if I wasn’t wearing one.  I know that if I was involved in an accident I would stand a better chance of surviving.  Sadly though, here in the UAE wearing a seatbelt is social death.  I was once given a lift by a friend.  I got in the passenger seat and clipped my belt it.  He turned to me in disgust and asked “what are you doing?”  I explained in simple terms that I was fastening my seatbelt as we were about to move off.  He asked me why. I repeated myself.

This has happened several times.  I have mentioned taxis before and they’re general lack of seatbelts…they don’t see it as a problem.  I have several friends from this part of the world and they all look at the seatbelt in the same way we would look at a Milton Keynes Dons fan; sheer disgust.  Further reasons why they aren’t worn is that they are not comfortable.  A girl I know hates wearing them because she claims that they are too uncomfortable.  I always ask her what she would prefer…to wear the belt or spend the rest of time in a coffin.  She promptly buckles up…

To wear a seatbelt is to apparently bet against yourself in a crash.  I’m sorry but I just don’t understand.  Bet against yourself?  How?  Surely if you crash at 100kph and end up flying through the windscreen then you have lost the bet?  Wearing a seatbelt would likely prevent you being catapulted so you could go and collect your winnings.

Road fatalities in the UAE are on the decrease, we’re told.  And that’s obviously good.  But people are still being killed on the roads, and the common denominator is that they were not wearing seatbelts.  Here’s where things get sad, a lot of them are children.

If you don’t want to wear a seatbelt, fine.  Putting your life at risk is your business, you’re old enough.  But what about your kids?  Everyday I see kids literally roaming around cars.  Commonly they are standing between the front 2 seats or sitting on the front passenger’s lap or even the drivers lap.  Some ride in the boots of bigger cars, banging on the windows.  Some have their heads poking out of windows and some even have their heads out of the sunroof.  They rely on their parents for education in such matters, yet the parents or drivers do not know themselves and are up in arms in distress if something goes wrong.

Today I saw the aftermath of a big shunt.  The windscreen was smashed.  Someone had gone through it…

…But for the click of a buckle…

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36. Chevrons

There are many laws in our backwards world; a lot of them can trace their routes back to religious texts and others trace their routes to the libidos of  previous ruling monarchs.  And then of course there are those that are made up out of nowhere by some turnip who is simply attempting to justify a days work.  The Kingdom of Isles has many stupid laws, some so laughable that to this day most of us are convinced that they are actually a joke.

Some common examples of British legal stupidity are that it is illegal to die in the Houses of Parliament.  It is also well-known that if a dead whale washes up on one of our silver-sand beaches then its head becomes the property of the King and the tail is given to the Queen.  Staying with the realm for a moment, it is an act of treason to put a stamp featuring the head of a monarch upside down on an envelope.  It is somehow legal to kill a Scotsman in York if he is armed with a bow and arrow and also legal to shoot a Welshman in Hereford with a longbow on a Sunday in the grounds of a Cathedral.  It’s all mad.

Things don’t get much better elsewhere I’m afraid.  In the state of Ohio it is illegal to get a fish drunk.  Up the road in Vermont, women must obtain written permission from their husbands to wear false teeth.  In France it is illegal to name a pig Napoleon and most worryingly of all in Indonesia, the penalty for – something you don’t want to know – is beheading… (Look that one up; I won’t bring the blog standards down).

These are some of the most curious examples in my research.  I have read them all over and over and it is plain that at some point in history someone must have acted in a certain way that meant that the law had to be passed.  How you get a fish drunk or how it is illegal to die in Westminster though I do not know…

Anyway, chisel-jawed veterans of the blog may have noticed that I am constantly bemused by the small details in life.  Living in the UAE has opened my eyes in many ways and one attribute that I have developed is the understanding of why certain things are the way they are.  Laws are obviously one thing I look at and I try to find reason when needed, but occasionally I find myself stumped.

The primary laws are all Islamic, and that makes sense.  If you commit a crime you are tried and punished.  But there are a couple of laws that I find ridiculous, ones that I simply cannot fathom.  The main one that perplexes me so is Article 107 of the traffic code: all commercial trucks have to have yellow and black chevron stickers on them.  This can be an articulated leviathan or just a Hilux.  The fine for non-compliance is AED 200.

Sorry Tom, it turns out it is in fact most unusual…

I really don’t get it.  I asked our company driver the other day “why do all these pick-up trucks have these stickers on them?  Look, there are three on the back, two on each side and even one covering the number plate”.  He simply responded “it’s the law”.  Yes, but why?  He went on to say “so that people can see the truck”.  I snorted in disgust.  “So why don’t we have them on our cars then?  What about private cars?  The principle of driving is identical” He said again that it wasn’t needed on private vehicles.  “I know!” I shouted, “That’s the point!”

I then asked a friend of mine who claims to know everything and he tried to convince me that it is for the safety of the truck driver’s families and then somehow juxtaposed that to braking distances.  I waited for the punch-line but it never came.  I’m sorry but if you can’t see a truck ahead of you on the road then you are not fit to drive and certainly not fit to raise a family.  It seems that no one has even a half-clue and this conundrum is literally keeping me awake at night.

But, like it being legal to murder Tom Jones with a longbow, it isn’t going to change.  If they are going to insist on putting these pointless stickers on vehicles, then put them on something we all need to be weary of, the real menace…

…The Land Cruiser.

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35. Revenge

As the blog continues to reach out to all 4 corners of the globe – now up to 43 countries – it is inevitable that some people in some quarters are going to get upset with some of the material that I talk about.  It was only going to be a matter of time before someone cottoned on to what I was up to, and then retaliated…

I’ll chase him around Jumbo electronics, around Dunkin’ donuts and around Ted Baker before I give him up!

Over the course of time we have seen many rivalries, with goodies on one side questing for justice and badies on the other looking to steal all the gold.  Sherlock Holmes was pitted against Professor Moriarty, Superman was constantly getting into scrapes with Lex Luthor, Captain Kirk didn’t get on very well with Khan Noonian Singh and George W. Bush had just about everyone else…

The idea of the one-on-one adversary is, to be honest, a bit out-dated.  You don’t get too many of them these days…well maybe Sky News’ Adam Boulton and Labour’s Alistair Campbell. The best kind of modern enemy is a common enemy, maybe even a franchise, someone or something with whom a team can unite against.  What better way for a team to improve and learn to come together?  Well this week the penny dropped…I am that common enemy – or franchise.

At first I felt quite sad, but only until I realised that I could give myself an awesome alias or alter-ego…The BloggerThe EnglishmanMad Dog Marty…  What fun it would be to choose.  Where would my fiendish hideout be?  Would I have to carve my face into the side of Jebel Hafeet?  Would I have a henchman?  What would his characteristics be?  I sat there alone in a café brooding over all the details, and even produced some quite corking sketches of my costume.

“So” I hear you all ask, who? What? Where? When?  How did I become public enemy number one?  Well the other day I went to that weird kitsch café in Al Ain Mall for my breakfast pizza.  As usual I ordered my Americano coffee to kick off proceedings.  It turned up with milk on side, hot, as per usual…but the little tea cake and jammy dodger biscuit where missing.  Good old English reserve meant that I wasn’t going to cause a fuss, I simply assumed that they had ran out, which was no problem.  The following day I went back and again ordered a coffee and for the second the day in a row the cakes and biscuits weren’t there.

Day 3 and everything started to become clear.  I happened to notice that the people sitting around me were eating the tea cakes and jammy dodgers…everyone was, everyone but me.  It was then that I whipped out the Blackberry and delved to this very website.  I spooled through the topics and sure enough…blog 24: Waiters.  I read through it again and deduced that one of the staff in that very cafe had been monitoring my online activity.  Clearly my comments had caused quite a stir and as an act of vengeance I was being denied my tea cakes and jammy dodgers.

Is it a total loss?  Actually no, quite the opposite in fact, I can buy the same ones from Lulu Hypermarket or Carrefour.  It is quite obvious to see that – despite the fact they are probably spitting in my coffee and sneezing on my pizza – the service has improved considerably.  I have been there 5 times since I noticed something was afoot and not once have I encountered a single error.  So for the greater good being disliked by the waiting staff has provided an all round better experience for its patrons.  And if all it takes for people to improve is read what I write, even if I have to deal with the fact that they won’t like me, then so be it.  I will take the bullet.



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34. Tables & Chairs

Anthropometry is the concept of all things being designed to suit the size of man.  For example, mobile phones are built to the size that they are and not the size of barn doors so that they can fit inside pockets and actually be mobile.  Pens are the size of pens so they can be used by the individual; they are not the size of a Rhinoceros.

I have been to many countries in my life.  I’ve been to the USA, Czech Republic, France, Italy, Greece, Turkey, Belgium, Spain, Oman…and more…and the one thing all these places have in common is that when I sit down for dinner in a restaurant, the chair matches the ratio of the table.  But here in the UAE I constantly find myself snookered.

I don’t understand this little niggling issue with the UAE, I seldom find myself sitting down to dinner in a restaurant or café and find that I am able to fit comfortably.  I like to go to some weird, semi-kitsch themed café place with my girlfriend once or twice a week for some lunch or coffee.  The first challenge is to find a table big enough for 2 plates.  This is a lot harder than it sounds but sometimes we are just about successful.  If we both want a drink with our food however, then a second table is needed.

Insufficient table size is one thing, but the killer point is that the table is often too low for the chair…or the chair is too high for the table, whatever.  So there you are with the table resting on your knees…it’s a stance that can only last for so long.  I’m 6ft tall so I suffer more so when I move back to allow the blood flow to return to my legs.  But then I find that I’m miles away from the table and have to borrow a shovel so I can reach over with it and ferry my food from the plate to my mouth.

It’s not just there.  My local bars in Al Ain also suffer from this phenomenon.  The chairs in one place are sturdy wooden beasts with arms…but these arms act as buffers so you can’t move your chair in closer to the table so most of your steak and potatoes ends up on your lap.

Another place I frequent has several high tables with bar stools around them.  The stools are actually ok, for the taller person.  But the tables – and I’m not making this up – are so high I can just about rest my chin on them.  My poor girlfriend – who is just over 5ft tall – says

Excuse me…hello. Hi. Yeah have you got a beer mat I can use? This chair wobbles slightly…

she feels like she is walking through a forest.  This makes both eating and drinking very difficult indeed.

This is something I have only experienced in the UAE.  I’d love to meet with the people who made the decisions in these circumstances.  Who thought that having bar stools around a table that measures 45ft high was a good idea?  Who decided that having the arms act as buffers was going to make things more comfortable?  It’s not comfortable when you sit down and have to rely on UPS to ship your food from the table to your face…what are we going to do?

We need to – together – start flagging this issue up with the ground staff; the waiters and waitresses.  If we nag, moan and complain often enough then the matter will eventually be taken to the decision makers.  We must also use our vote: the customer service feedback questionnaire.  Get it down in ink that you are writing on the waiters back right now because the table is too far away…and you’re dotting the “I’s” as gently as you can.  You can’t ignore the cries of the masses forever, just ask Colonel Gaddaffi…

Right then, moan over.  I’m off out for lunch…with a hydraulic jack and a hacksaw…

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33. Water

There are many criteria that define whether a country is either a developed or developing one.  I can’t be bothered to list all the contents of the United Nation’s big book that outlines such things, but I can tell you that one item on the check list is to have clean, safe drinking water.  Like Greece, you don’t drink the tap water over here.  There are many reasons for this, but the one I pick on as the most noticeable is that its temperature is jolly high.

The more attuned expatriate may have noticed that in recent weeks the temperature has increased from an average cool 25 Celsius to a gentleman’s 45 Celsius.  A result of this is that it is much hotter…big deal?  Yes.  And here’s why.

For those of you that aren’t aware, the UAE straddles the Tropic of Cancer, which makes it officially one of the hottest places on Earth.  This causes many problems in the summer months, and the one that makes me weep more than anything is the torment I face when I want to brush my teeth or enjoy a nice shower.

Now, why is this?  The water comes from the Gulf…or Persian Gulf to my Iranian fans.  It goes into big desalination plants, has its salt, plankton and sunken pirate ships removed and is then sent along big pipes to the various distribution centres around the country.  It stays in big tanks before the municipality turns the tap once a day and sends it out there into the town.  People’s water tanks are subsequently filled and running water is the luxurious result.  Sadly, all of our water tanks are on our roofs, with nothing between them and the sun but lots of blue sky and space dust.  The result is unpleasant.

Yeah I’ll be leaving in about 20 minutes, just going to jump in the shower first… OH GOD AAAHHH!!!!!!!!

So you awake after a decent night’s kip, yawn, stretch and limp to the bathroom.  You first go to the sink to give the pearly whites their morning polish.  The toothpaste is squeezed elegantly onto the brush; you turn the cold tap on and stick the brush in your mouth.  At first you think the slight tingling sensation is quite nice, until you look into the mirror and find blood gushing from your mouth as a result of the third degree burns you have just inherited.

After you try to repair the damage with some mouthwash you head north to the shower.  With blood still pouring from your scalded mouth you turn the shower tap on.  Cold tap only of course…Your initial reaction is to scream quite loudly as large amounts of flesh are burnt from your torso.  Once you have scrubbed yourself to the bone and have dried off what’s left your next stop is the kitchen.

With blood still cascading from your mouth and bits of you missing you go to fill the kettle to make the morning tea.  You turn the kettle on for anywhere between 0.2 and 0.3 tenths of a second before it clicks off.  The water was boiled before it even went in there.  So you sip it down and try to recover some of your nerve endings.  The whole experience is insufferable.

So how can I help you with this?  Well I for once have a genuine plan.  Obviously we don’t need to use our boilers anymore, not until the harsh UAE winter comes in.  So turn it off.  The best thing is that it will still fill with water and of course where is your boiler?  Inside, away from the blitzkrieg of our average sized star of course.  So when you turn the hot tap on the cool, refreshing water flows out like Niagra falls, not like Mount Krakatoa.  The problem hence is solved and you no longer need to visit A&E after brushing your teeth each day.

So to recap:  You want a hot shower, use the cold tap.  You want a cold shower, use the hot tap.  Who said the UAE wasn’t a developed country?

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