Monthly Archives: June 2012

53. Loneliness

The blog returns from shore leave today.  Sometimes the real world demands my attention and one has to do the things that normal people do.  But I’m back now, so let’s carry on…

To be left alone with an overactive imagination can be a scary thing.  In your mind there are no physics, there are no rules and there is always the possibility of anything happening.  Of course we know it not to be real.  We know that the asteroid made of marshmallows hurtling towards the planet isn’t a real threat.  We also know that we are not going to be chased by giant pistachio nuts with legs and we certainly know that England are never going to lift a trophy again no matter how much we kid ourselves.  They’re all just dreams.

Most of us moved out to the UAE alone.  We boarded the plane with bravery, accepting a new life, whether it was to be for 1 year, or for several years.  We all packed our bags, said goodbye to our friends and families and set sail for the promise land.  Yes the adventure is exciting at first and we have sifted through the surrounding people to decide who our friends are going to be but soon enough routine sets in, the novelty of being abroad begins to fade and life can become dull, or “normal” to put it another way.

I’m not one for stories – he sniggers – but for an array of reasons ranging from unsocial work hours to smelly feet I have found it difficult to meet new friends out here.  Yes there are my colleagues and flat mates; I value them like I value my family.  Four years ago I only had 3 friends in the entire country.

“You ok Jim? How do you feel?” “I feel…young” Man alive Shatner always has an answer. Genius.

Routine for me bred boredom.  Boredom is intolerable and resulted in me going to the pub a lot, 90% of the time alone, 7 days a week.  It was in the hope that I would meet someone, either a prospective partner or a new friend.  Invariably it never happened, so instead of people for company I had lots of pint glasses.  This dynamic continued for some time.  Each night, without fail, I would traverse to the bar; sit alone in silence, watching whatever sport was on TV and thinking.  Thinking about how lonely I felt, about how I had become a social leper, dwelling over my past mistakes and so on.  Loneliness is a dangerous accomplice and soon enough darker thoughts start to enter your mind, what am I dong here? What is this lump on my leg?  What if all of my teeth fall out?  What if I never meet anyone and I end up alone?

Over time these thoughts build up, you lose focus at work, you become unhappy and you become afraid, although you don’t really know what you’re afraid of.  You develop a chronic case of facebook syndrome whereby you look at all the pictures of your friends back home enjoying themselves, partying, happy, contented.  You yearn to be back where you feel you belong.  Eventually, like an active volcano, the pressure becomes too much and you burst.  It could be a small puff of ash or a full blown lava outburst…eventually it all comes out in some way.

This dangerous way of thinking cannot last forever, and 4 years ago last week it erupted for me as I suffered a nervous breakdown, not a moment of anxiety, not an isolated panic, it was a complete failure of my nervous system.  Unless you have gone through it, it is difficult to understand.  I had no idea what was happening to me.  It took me a month to finally be told what had happened.  Some people blamed the alcohol, and that was certainly a factor, but more of a symptom than a cause.  Lonely thoughts for a lonely person are a poisonous combination.

At first it felt like I was having a heart attack, and then a stroke.  Within hours I was convinced I had skin cancer, and also a brain tumour.  Talk about a bad day.  I was in and out of the hospital 3 times in 24 hours convinced that the doctors were wrong when they said that there was nothing wrong with me physically.  Those around me weren’t too sure what was going on, how could they be when I didn’t know myself?  It took a distressing phone call to my sister and dad to establish at first that I was having a panic attack.  I collapsed in what would signal the beginning of an agonising recovery that would take over a year.

I’ll talk about nervous breakdown recovery another day.  We all experience fear at some point in our lives.  We may be faced with a life-changing situation at some point.  It is likely to be scary, and to think that you’re thousands of miles from home can amplify that.  But it doesn’t matter if you only have 1 friend or 100 friends; they are worth their weight in gold when they’re needed.  You may also be surprised at how strong you really are, and I guarantee this, whatever has happened, you will be 10 times stronger afterwards.

You are never truly lonely, never, never, never.

 

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52. Hot car

Damn you Fullard! The gloves did nothing… NOTHING!!!

In order to be respected in life, particularly when writing, one must do some research.  It’s no use flying off on mad tangents assuming everything because all you’re really doing is lying.  This of course means that the people reading your silly words will believe you, and more often than not that will make them do or say something that will be wrong or get them in trouble.

You have to know the facts and take most eventualities into consideration.  In some cases this is not easy, if you’re investigating a murder that goes right to the heart of government then there are going to be a couple of obstacles along the way.  But if you’re just writing a warm and fuzzy cut-out-and-keep guide to help people, then it’s imperative that you get it right.

This brings me neatly onto what I read in the paper today.  The publication was giving some top notch hints and tips on how to keep your car cool when parked during the summer.  My honest opinion?  Codswallop.  And here’s why…

The first point it makes is true, you shouldn’t enter the car straight away.  You want to turn it on for a minute first to get the air conditioning cracking.  But, in the next line it explains why you shouldn’t enter, and that reason is to let all the poisonous gasses and carbon dioxide out.  Poisonous gasses?  What poisonous gasses?  Hydrogen cyanide?  Our atmosphere contains 0.04% CO2 as standard, you can’t make it go away or the atmosphere will explode.  The real reason why you don’t get in is because it’s hotter than the fires of hell.

The next point that is made is encouraging you to break the law.  We are told that we should tint our windows to a minimum of 30%.  I see, so what about the UAE traffic law that clearly states that 30% is the maximum tint percentage allowed?  It goes further to say that you shouldn’t only tint the back windows, but the front ones as well as the windscreen… (!)  The plot thickens; most people in the UAE drive either hire cars or company cars.  The law specifically states that company registered cars may not have tinted windows at all, and you can’t exactly go modifying a hire car can you?  So instantly the article does not apply to 85% of the driving population.

We are also told that leather seats take 2 hours to cool down to room temperature.  Right, I disagree.  The car I primarily drive has leather seats, and even once I take the shade down and leave the air conditioning running for a moment it’s all fine.  I don’t intend on standing outside in the midday sun for 2 hours with the cars engine running to enjoy the luxury of a room temperature bottom.  It’s fine honestly.

The last tip is one I have – as your servant – just experimented with.  We are advised that when our cars are parked we should keep our windows wound down by 6 centimetres.  I tried this and when I went back 30 minutes later it was hotter than ever.  Invariably the warm outside air goes into one window, and…well it made it worse.  I also noticed that not only had the horrible hot air gone inside my car, but so to had half a dozen flies and a deserts worth of sand.  This is infuriating.  The fly is the most irritating pest on the face of the Earth, even more so then Kim Kardashian or one of those stupid Essex-show people, and the dust?  It was everywhere.  So now I have an even hotter car with a swarm of flies and a sand dune in it.

It may be noted that my experiment was conducted at home, with the car on the driveway.  What if I was parked in Dubai Harlem or Abu Dhabi Downtown Miami?  I’d have gained some Celsius’s and some flies, but would have lost my car radio, my CD’s, my phone charger, my laptop and probably the car altogether…  So I think we safely call that option “Plan B”.

So I’ve obliterated all the silly tips provided to you, but do I have an alternative?  Yes.  Just keep a pair of gloves in the glove-box to deal with the hot steering wheel.  And, most importantly, we’re in the UAE, expect it.

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51. Addresses

I generally join fads quite late.  I’m not a technophobe nor am I a technofan; iPads, Apple Mac’s, Xbox’s and whatever other mad must-have gadget that comes out next,  I’m not bothered at all.  Getting with the times has never really interested me, nor can I justify spending the money on such things.  Why would I want to spend AED 3500 on an iPad (£600) which does what my second hand lap-top already does?  I don’t understand.  I was still using cassette walkmans when the CD Discman was the standard issue young person’s device, and then stole my sisters Discman the day the iPod came out.  I only got a Blackberry 12 months ago, and that was second hand from my friend before it broke and then I started using my girlfriends old Blackberry instead…

All in all I don’t mind being a few steps behind the pace when it comes to getting with the times.  In fact I prefer it, let everyone else make the mistakes and let’s see how long your new SuperMagicPadThatConnectsToTheInternetLikeYourPhoneAndLaptop actually lasts.  You could say, then, that I am the complete opposite to the UAE.  The UAE loves being first.  The UAE is like a young twenty-something post grad fresh out of university, ready to take on the world in a whirlwind of ignorance and missed details.  Off he goes and gets all the tall buildings built and installs his new metro before putting up his indoor ski slope and Ferrari World.  Sadly, whilst building all the wonderful money spinners he has forgotten some basics, like a postal address system.

So, it came as no surprise today then when I opened the paper to see an article about a new website that has started up called www.localsearch.ae.  From what I understand it is basically run by the Yellow Pages.  How it works is very simple, each and every building and business in the UAE has been assigned a unique 6 digit code, and somehow that does something.  You go to the website, type in the name of the building or business you want to find and if you’re lucky it will then show you a map.

Ultimately it’s a start, and a good one at that.  But there are flaws.  There are lots of big well known businesses on there like Yas Marina Circuit and Burj Khalifa and so on, but what about the small shops, the very ones we can never find, the ones we stress about being in some sort of parallel universe?

Ello ello ello… What do we ‘ave ‘ere then? Using your iPad to find a key cutter whilst driving? You’re coming with me son…

There is a place near my home called Kings Keys, a key cutter who is as far as I’m concerned the best in the world.  He can cut 4 keys for you in – and I’m not making this up – 40 seconds.  He is indeed the King of the keys.  But his business isn’t listed on localsearch.ae.  In order for his tiny shop to be registered on this system he has to go online and enter the details, including the address of the shop…

Now we’re back to square one.  What is he to type?  Go straight along Khaled Bin Sultan Al Awwal Street, then do a U-turn at the traffic lights and take the third right turn into the un-signposted road?  This was the very thing Localsearch was trying to cut out.

Furthermore, how are we to find our friends houses in residential areas?  I know someone who lives in Mohammed Bin Zayed City in Abu Dhabi, a suburban residential complex, nope, can’t find it either.

Ok, maybe I’m asking too much too soon.  I mean the UAE is only 40 years old, and it took the Un-United Kingdom from the year 1066 to the year 1857 to implement its first postal code… so we may have to wait another 800 years or so for all the creases to be completely ironed out.  Localsearch is definitely a step in the right direction and they seem to have one market in the UAE nailed, as you can download the application onto your iPad and iPhone.  This will come in handy when you’re driving around looking for a shop name during the Dubai rush hour…

The next article I read this morning was about how the Police are going to start cracking down on those who use iPhones and iPads whilst driving…  I knew it’d be a waste of money…

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50. Car park

Design inspiration is taken from anything, anything at all.  For example the Sydney Opera house was inspired by slices of orange peel.  The Audi badge of 4 connecting rings was a result of coffee stains on the designers work bench.  I have spent many a long afternoon traipsing around Ikea in my polo neck and thin frame spectacles wondering why my girlfriend is buying a garlic crusher made to look like a working replica of Stephensons rocket. The Swedes do love their mad design.  My sister is a designer and perplexes me beyond comprehension when she says “guess where I got this idea from…”  It’s remarkable.

The UAE is actually a good case in point, there are plenty of things built to look like other things, and inspiration comes from all directions.

Follow the arrows… they’ll point you to Ukraine’s airport…

You of course have the Burj Al Arab, designed to look like a sail.  The neighbouring Jumeriah Hotel is a wave.  Then of course you have the various palm islands inspired by, shockingly, a palm tree.  Other buildings are more or less just imitations of other global landmarks, like the twin tower buildings near Media City, they are basically New Yorks Chrysler building.  Then you have that homage toLondon’sWestminsterPalaceclock tower – incorrectly referred to as Big Ben (that’s the bell inside).

So today I had an adventure.  I – foolishly – drove to Dubai Mall, and upon arrival at Fashion Parking was alarmed to see how long the queue to get in was.  I was essentially trapped so just had to grin and bear it.  According to the meaningless green LED board there were hundred’s of spaces available, thousands even.  Eventually we got in and remained a part of the snake; at first it was plain to see that there were no spaces on the lower levels.  I continued on level 3 hoping to get lucky.

Nothing was going on; I went up to the next level but still, all full.  Carrying on I was confused at level 5 when the actual car parking spaces were inaccessible, trapped in what would seem like some sort of parking paradox.  Carrying on further I reached level 9, nothing, and was pointed to go up to the next level by the weirdo in the high-viz jacket.  On level 10 I followed the sign that said “more parking” and found myself driving down a spiral ramp and emerged on level 3…?

I ended up back outside and proceeded into Grand Parking.  There were hundreds of empty spaces…all blocked off for valet customers.  I traversed further and things became heated.  There were still no spaces.  I wanted to travel further down the car park but the arrows on the ground wouldn’t allow me.  I followed them and literally went around in circles.  I made a bold move and drove the wrong way, ignoring the stupid arrows and low and behold, I stumbled across an oil reserve of parking spaces.  Deliverance at last…  Forty.  Seven.  Damned.  Minutes…

So, my question to the board is who in the name of all that is holy designed this catastrophe and what on earth was the inspiration behind it?  There are a few possibilities.  Did the designer travel to Hampton Court Maze?  I’m not so sure, that has a route.  Did perhaps the design team open the bonnet on Space Shuttle Atlantis and copy the pattern made by the 4000 miles of cables and wires?  Was the designer inspired by a bowl of spaghetti bolognaise per chance?  Was it perhaps the result of a school competition, who can build the wackiest car park out of Lego?  Will we ever know?

A further grievance on the matter is the use of arrows.  Now, many years ago it was indeed scientifically proven that arrows will always point you in the direction you wish to go.  Dubai Mall somehow defies this science.  The arrows are like global media moguls: lying bastards.  Whoever painted them was either a drunkard or a chimpanzee.

If I ever find out who is responsible for this then I shall insist that a public inquiry is launched forthwith.  The people of the UAE have a right to know who is responsible for causing such heated debate and friction within families and friend groups.

One thing is for certain, the designer was not Swedish.  They couldn’t break the English this weekend, the guy who designed Dubai Mall car park certainly can…

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49. Coins

Now, if you have 2 coins, and I give you another 2 coins, how many coins will you have? “I don’t know, cauz, I’m totally like, an idiot, you know”

Some things in life just don’t make sense, do they?  I mean have you ever seen The Only Way is Essex or Jersey Shore?  What about Keeping up with the Kardashians?  It’s all nonsensical crap that has no relevance.  I honestly struggle to see their appeal, why would you willingly want to watch a family full of hollow, soulless, materialistic buffoons with a combined IQ of 12 doing Miami or whatever other city they have picked out of a hat?  It is beyond me.  I would genuinely love to know what watchers of the show find interesting about it, because I simply cannot work it out.

I also get confused with what a hedge fund is.  Time and time again I read articles on hedge fund managers doing the nasty and so on, but still, I have no idea what a hedge fund actually is, so how do I know if the man accused is breaking the law?  According to Investopedia the definition of a hedge fund is “An aggressively managed portfolio of investments that uses advanced investment strategies such as leveraged, long, short and derivative positions in both domestic and international markets with the goal of generating high returns (either in an absolute sense or over a specified market benchmark). Legally, hedge funds are most often set up as private investment partnerships that are open to a limited number of investors and require a very large initial minimum investment. Investments in hedge funds are illiquid as they often require investors keep their money in the fund for at least one year”.  Complete gibberish.  In fact, there are a couple of words in there that I don’t believe really exist.

So what is it about the UAE that I don’t understand?  There must be something otherwise today’s missive is pointless…well it’s the Dirham.   Dirham coins to be precise.  In the good old days when I lived in Surbiton in the southern-western most corner of London, I would go to the shop with a pound, buy something for 99 pence and wait eagerly for 1 penny change.  This penny coin would then spend the rest of its life underneath my car seat.

The Dirham though has gone for a slightly different flavour, as there are 100 pence to the Pound there are 100 fils to the Dirham.  There are however only 3 coins, the 25 fil, the 50 fil and the 1 Dirham.  When receiving ones change you are often short changed.  My first experience of this was in my first week, I made a purchase and was 12 fils short on the return.  Do I really care about a denomination so small?  No, but a poor man earning only AED 600 a month might.

I seriously don’t get it, why is there no denomination of coin less than 25 fils?  What is the point in the first place?  Most places generally stick to round figures, and that’s great.  But when you go to the supermarket and buy your tin of beans for AED 3.19 a pop, you end up paying AED 3.25, or in most cases AED 4 and losing out on at least 6 fils.  Over the course of the day how much extra money does that amount too?  Over the course of your time in the UAE how much have you lost?

I had the pleasure of standing behind a miserable westerner in the supermarket the other day.  The grilling she gave the poor Filipina girl behind the check-out was extraordinary.  She had been short changed 43 fils and for some reason decided that it was the check-out girls fault.  43 fils equates to 11 US cents.  In the grand scheme of things she was right to be annoyed, but was foolishly directing her grievances at the wrong person.  I can only assume that the reason for her bad mood was that she too had no idea what a hedge fund was, nor could she keep up with the Kardashians.

I did some dot-com digging to see if I could find the answer as to why there is no coin smaller than the 25 fil piece.  My findings were most interesting.  According to the banks higher echelons there are indeed 1, 5 and 10 fil coins in circulation, although when a Gulf News reporter went on an investigative mission he was told by the tellers in several banks that they are no longer available.  Some banks even said that they had never heard of them…  Apparently there is even a hotline you can ring if you are short changed so you can lodge a complaint to the Ministry of Economy… 6005 2225, if you’re interested.  It seems weird though to lodge a complaint with the government and not the business that short changed you…

These bankers that don’t know their own currency are the same bankers that believe they are safe from the Euro crisis (Ref. Blog 48).  You can bet your life that they don’t know what a hedge fund is, they’re probably too busy trying to keep up with Kim Karsdashian.  What hope do we have?

I think we can all agree, that after 2008, we can never trust the banks…         

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48. Economics

The other day after meeting a blog reader in a local bar I was accused of being an academic.  “You’re so smart” she said.  It was very touching but I spoke up and told her that my educational background was actually quite embarrassing.  I never went to University and had an up and down time at sixth-form college.  Seemingly shocked she asked how I knew so much.  Again I told her that I don’t know very much at all, I just talk a good talk when I need to and give the impression that I may just have half a clue what I’m talking about.

I enjoy talking and I enjoy talking about things that matter.  When I meet people I like to talk about the world, its problems, its good points (yes, there are some) and sport and so on.  I don’t like to talk about Kim Kardashian and her made up world (whose life, as it transpires, some believe to be real) or some stupid TV program where everyone lives in a house and shows off their genitals for attention.  These are the hallmarks of an idiot.  However there is one topic of conversation that I have to be weary of, one that I never thought I would be interested in nor know anything about: global economics.

Global economics does not go a day without making headline news.  Ever since the collapse of Lehman Brothers the world – including the

Hammer-time! It was an early warning sign that was callously overlooked…

UAE – has been thrown into fiscal turmoil.  I understand the principles; I know the Euro is in dire peril, the UK economy is in tatters, the US dollar is mathematically certain to fail and so on.  The IMF is running around trying to plug leaks with their fingers whilst all the while Greek civilians are in tears wondering how they are going to feed their families for the next decade.

These are scary times, and no matter where you go in the world the troubles with the economy will find you.  The world’s largest economies are starting to sweat. China are worried that their biggest customer for raw materials, Europe, are going to stop buying from them.  This in turn is making Australia sweat as they are the ones who are selling all the raw materials to China in the first place. Brazil is also in a tiff because 20% of their export and import market is with Europe.  The Eurozone is South Africa’s biggest trading partner and over the last year or so their economy has fallen 20% against the dollar.

Then we have the UAE who have time and time again stated that they will not be affected by any Euro crisis nor will they provide any money to help with a bailout.  Hmm…I’m not sure they have that right.  First of all the UAE has $130 billion worth of debt financed by European and British banks.  A collapse would cause huge damage to the UAE’s economy.  In fact it would be one stop short of bringing it into complete financial ruin.  Secondly business development and tourism largely comes from Europe.  Any issues over there and there will be fewer businesses to develop and less tourists boarding the plane…the results will be plain to see.

If things do go belly up in Europe – or gulp, the USA – then you will notice and you will be affected.  For those of you that were not here in 2008 when Lehman brothers collapsed, over $100 billion was wiped off the value of the UAE stock markets pretty much overnight.  When it happened the cranes stopped moving, the builders hung up their hard-hats and nearly 5000 cars were abandoned at Dubai Airport, a result of the poor American, British, Canadian, French, Italian, South African, Australian, Irish architects and contractors who all lost their jobs, houses and money.

Look around now, especially in Dubai, how many half-built or half-started buildings have you seen lay dormant for the past few years?  Burj Khalifa was going to be called Burj Dubai, but takes its name from His Highness Sheikh Khalifa Bin Zayed Al Nahyan after Abu Dhabi bailed Dubai out to the tune of over $40 billion.  The remnants are there to serve as a reminder that nowhere is safe.

So here’s me worried about not knowing enough about it.  But then you take a step back and think that the banks, the governments, the economists, the IMF couldn’t see this coming nor have they even got an answer.  There are still governments out there that still don’t have a clue what is going on now.  What chance do I have of grasping the details?

All it took to know the above was little bit of reading and I still don’t fully understand…I suggest the powers that be get down the library.

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47. Phones

In the 1980’s there was a lot of brouhaha in Britain about nationalising this and privatising that: Water, gas, electricity, telecommunications blah blah blah.  With nationalisation you run the risk of using up too much tax-payer money in a rudderless regime, and with privatisation you chance the fat cats exploiting the market to make more money.  So which is better, and really, when you follow the personnel pathway to the director’s office is there really any difference?  Either way you’re paying for the service.

Traditionally when one signs a contract, it binds at least 2 parties to an accord.  Both have a due responsibility to uphold their ends of the bargain so that the contract may not be broken.  When I agreed to join a mobile-network-provider over here I knew I would have to pay my bill each month without fail.  It is my duty to see to it.

Bad company! Go to jail and do not collect £200

From February 2008 until May 2011 I was with the UAE’s primary, government funded provider.  I won’t say who they are but I can tell you that their logo is green.  I set up my contract and after a month waited for a bill to arrive.  It never did.  I rang the good people at XXXXXXXX to quiz them.  I was told that I had to pay my bill immediately or they would cut me off.  I agreed, but returned to my foremost question “Yes I will pay, but can you please send me a bill, or at least tell me how much it is I have to pay?”  The person on the phone told me that he could not tell me how much it was nor could he provide me with a bill for reasons that were never explained.  The mind boggled.

This went on for 9 – yes, 9 – months.  I went to XXXXXXXX several times but they refused to give me a bill unless I provided them with a non-objection letter from my sponsor.  To this day I don’t know what that letter said, as it was in Arabic, nor do I understand why it was needed.  Simultaneously I was being sent harassing text messages telling me that my bill was overdue and if it wasn’t cleared immediately then I would be shot.

Eventually I was given my 9 months worth of bills; a month’s salary down the drain in the blink of an eye.  I stayed with this professional outfit until last year when I decided to join the 21st Century and get a Blueberry.  I was fed up with the green logo’ed firm and joined the UAE’s only other, smaller provider: XX.  The elite 250 package was sensational.  AED 250 per month standard charge and with that you get 250 minutes worth of free national calls, and astonishingly AED 250 worth of free international calls.  I also get 125 free international and 125 national text messages. For an extra AED 130 per month I get all the Strawberry services too.

I make as many calls today as I did 4 years ago and my bills are continually a third of the price than that of the previous provider.  In fact, I go over the free international minutes allowance frequently and then get bonuses of anywhere between AED 50 and AED 800.  It is the contract of dreams.

The network-provider that I used to use is one of the biggest in the world, the 15th apparently.  They are nationalised, a government funded entity that fear no competition.  In fact I’m sure the reason that their service was so poor was that there was little else to turn to.  They control all communications in the UAE apart from mobile phones, where there is only one alternative.

I am a strong believer in the privatisation of certain things, if there is money to be made then the service will be better; there is a sense of personal responsibility.  The network-provider I now use is a private company, of which the government own 40%.  A further 40% is owned by 2 UAE government owned companies and 20% belongs to public shareholders who are all government employees.  They get along by just renting the airwaves from XXXXXXXX.  The actual reception can be a bit dodgy in certain areas but it’s a small price to pay.  I would recommend them to anyone.

Today my phone got cut off for non-payment of bill when I still had a week before the contracted deadline.  Hang on a minute; did I just say that XX are a private company?

Sigh… That’s nationalisation for you.

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46. Driving lessons

As I have said many times before in the blog, driving is always the main go-to conversation starter over here.  In the motherland we bang on about the weather, here it’s about the driving.  In one of my early blogs I explained that we should all show a bit of consideration to those who are, effectively, crap drivers.  The reason being is that they have not got the years of experience nor have a rigid driving curriculum like the rest of us.

Today there is an article in the newspaper about driving schools and who is best.  The headline reads thus: “Driving license: Emiratis are fastest, Asians are slowest”.  My first thought upon reading this was “you can’t say that!  Polly Toynbee will go mad and call you a racist and then Janet Street-Porter will come and eat your head.”  Then I remembered that I was not in Great England and that the headline wasn’t racist at all.  The second thought that entered my mind was when had the UAE stopped being a part of Asia?  Anyway, the article is basically about how long it takes for various people to pass their driving test.

It goes on to say that there was a poor Indian man – now the laughing stock of the nation – who took 192 driving lessons and 20 attempts to

The new proposed “Learner Driver” symbol… What? It has to be good for something…

pass his test.  Now see here, if it takes someone that long then they are clearly incapable of driving with confidence, or even any ability.  They are a lethal hazard.  Of course I have sympathy for the poor man, but I failed my Maths exam at school and as such will never be employed as a Financial Director.  That door is closed to me and I have to accept it.  This man is barely capable of controlling a machine that can travel at speeds of over 100mph in a crowded environment.  He will drive past schools.  He will drive past pedestrians.  He will drive past other vehicles.  He will probably drive on the pavement.  Someone is going to get hurt.

The article goes on further to talk a little bit about the curriculum itself.  It says that those learning to drive must take a minimum of 40 lessons, 8 theory lectures and usually 3 tests.  I had 7 driving lessons, 1 theory test and passed the practical first time.  Most of my friends had between 7-12 lessons and passed either first or second time.  That seems like a lot, especially when the driving standards are still totally abysmal.  Have you seen the learner drivers on the roads?  It’s total bedlam.  “You were a learner once” say the cynics, yes I was, but my God I had a firm grasp of the basics like not stopping on roundabouts or driving on the wrong side of the road.

So the question remains, what on earth is happening across those 40 lessons?  Where’s the substance?  In which language are the 8 theory lectures conducted?  Is who you are and where you’re from a factor for passing quicker?  Is it fair?  Hmmm…I’d like to see a Panorama documentary on this…

I digress.  Let’s go back to the headline for a moment: “Driving license: Emiratis are fastest, Asians are slowest.”  Most Western countries have a license exchange agreement with the UAE.  We Westists simply go to the Traffic Authority, take a ticket, wait for several hours choking on the body odour of the man next to us whilst the system continuously crashes, pay some money and walk out with a UAE driving license.  Really, the only ones who need to do the tests and lessons are Emiratis and Asians.  But does it really matter how fast one acquires ones license?  Wouldn’t it have been more relevant to tell us who are the best drivers, the safest ones?  Oh, it does, third paragraph all by itself.  It says Europeans are the best.

Is Britain still a part of Europe, Dave?  I have a bet on…

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45. Tabloids

Which way will Caesar Murdoch’s thumb swing?

I must confess, sometimes after writing a blog I sit in fear that the helicopters are going to start circling and a SWAT team will drop out on wires and take me down.  I have to work my syntax very carefully.  Yesterday I happened to come cross an article in a national publication with the headline “Blogger is jailed for 10 years”.  I gulped.  I opened the article and began to gingerly read it.  It turns out that the guy – a Kuwaiti in Kuwait- was insulting Islam and of course that is not on, so was punished accordingly.  I breathed a sigh of relief and let my belly hang out over my belt once more.

I like to keep my finger on the pulse so each day I religiously read the Britainish press online.  I like to read the broadsheet papers The Daily Telegraph, to sooth my own views and The Guardian so I can prime my arguments for the leftists and Monbiotists.  For dessert I amuse myself with two highly popular tabloids: The Sun and The Daily Mail.  For those of you that aren’t aware, The Daily Mail is a running joke in the UK.  Between all the pictures of Kim Kardashian it’s full of end of the world this and killer disease that stories and is about as factually accurate as a 2 year old child.  The Sun runs through a similar vein, sucking you in with inaccurate headlines, Imogen Thomas’s and low-brow puns.

The British (well, Murdochian) tabloids enjoy nothing more than a good old fashioned swipe at Dubai.  Whenever one of these articles comes to the fore I am compelled to read it before laughing at it.  Those of you that also read the British papers may have noticed that over the last year or so there has been an increase in stories emanating from Dubai about British people getting into all sorts of jams and scrapes.

Now I am not going to start sifting through the cases and judging the poor bastards that are thrown away over here, the point I wish to make is how factually inaccurate the British papers are.  They refer to Dubai as a “devout, strict Islamic country”.  First of all, Dubai is not a country. Dubai is a state, a member state of the United Arab Emirates.  The word “state” in Arabic translates into “emirate”.  The clue is in the name.  Never trust a paper that cannot differentiate between the two.

Next, when it refers to Dubai (the country…) it calls it a “devout, strict Islamic country”.  Yes, it is an Islamic country state, its people are all proud Muslims.  But it is nowhere near as strict as neighbouring Saudi Arabia.  The late Sheikh Zayed Bin Sultan Al Nahyan, the countries popular founder and first President, wanted tolerance.  Other cultures were welcome to enjoy the UAE on the understanding that they would show a bit of respect to the countries Islamic principles.  You then read the readers comments beneath the red-top header, none of whom have been to the country of Dubai, and they all just repeat what the article says and state the seemingly obvious… “don’t go there”, “why would anyone want to go there”, “it’s your own fault” Waa… Waa… Waa.  The tabloid comments section is the meeting ground of the ignorant and the uneducated.

Lately there have been lots of reports of Brits in trouble over here.  There are two sides to every story, and with a little bit of local knowledge you can usually read between the lines and make out what probably happened.  No, I don’t think that the latest victim – who The Sun describes as a “buxom beauty” – was romping in the back of a taxi with an Irishman.  She did however confess to not remembering much and confirmed to having a beer bottle in her hand, and let’s be honest, was probably swearing at the driver as he was several social classes beneath her and therefore not a real person… As such the driver may have hammed up the story a bit to the Police, and we’ll see what happens after the trial…I hope justice is served accordingly.

It’s a shame and I do feel sorry for her.  If the episode had happened back home she would have been branded “a binge drinker” and used as a portrait of “the problem with society today” followed by a modelling contract and an appearance on I’m a Celebrity Jungle.  But no, because she was in the country of Dubai we must sympathise that she wasn’t able to do as she pleases and potentially faces the horrid fate of jail.

I’m not saying that things have been amazingly thought out over here.  I mean why serve alcohol in the first place if you can’t be drunk in public?  Well, business’s in Dubai need to make money too.  We Westerners all have cash on the hip and like to party, so we’re a great market to exploit.  Without us there wouldn’t be as much money for the treasury.  You cannot stop globalisation, it’s inevitable.

Maybe that’s what The Sun is trying to do?  Trying to stop us taking our money east?  I mean I just read the article at http://www.thesun.co.uk for free…jealous much, Rupert?  Or will you send the helicopters?

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44. Hypocrisy

Let’s be honest for a minute, can you look at yourself with your hand on your heart and swear that you are not guilty of being a bit hypocritical on occasions?  Come on look deep.  Don’t feel bad, everyone is really.  In the early 90’s British Prime Minister John Major launched his Back to Basics campaign. It was interpreted as a drive to sort out family life, 2.4 children and summer holidays at the beach.  Yes it was a jolly nice idea but he was in actual fact cheating on his wife with Edwina Currie, why remains a mystery.

Arthur Scargill was another massive hypocrite; in fact there is a picture of him next to the word Hypocrite in the dictionary.  Yes it was all well and good shouting “Coal not dole” at Thatcher, but you have to ask why on earth the miners were paying for him to live a life of luxury in a Thames-view penthouse on the South Bank.  Seems very working class…

Then we have Communism.  It dictates that everyone is equal, earning the same blah blah blah.  But how is it then that it has a ruling

…We didn’t receive any messages, and Captain Blackadder definitely did not shoot this delicious plump-breasted pigeon…

government and high class elite that seem to have Bugatti Veyron’s, private jets and free private dental care?

Further down at the foot of the political ladder we have Martin Fullard, a man who keeps complaining about the abysmal driving standards in the UAE, yet can claim ownership of over 50 speeding fines and 12 points on his driving license…  Hypocrisy is a trait we all carry, but not everyone realises, and that’s when it gets on my nerves.

This whole twitter hash-tag malarkey that’s going around about dressing respectably at the moment is starting to peeve me.  First of all I agree…those from outside of the UAE should respect the customs.  However, don’t force it down our throats until you have walked through a mall.  A mall you say?  Yes.  Have you seen the mannequin’s in the shop windows?  That’s ok is it?  These are perfectly acceptable to display in shop windows are they?

I was in t’pub t’other night and after sitting down on my favourite stool was immediately dragged into a conversation with a man whose first language was certainly not English.  He proceeded to blether at me about lots of things that I would a) rather forget and b) deem unsuitable for easily offended blog readers, he was hammered.  But, after about an hour of talking at my elbow decided it was time to go home so asked the barman/valet to fetch his Land Cruiser…and off he went…

A further example is last year a friend of mine was pulling out on to a roundabout.  Luckily he stopped but from his left appeared a flying car.  It rolled over, hit the guardrail on the exit of the roundabout and one of the passengers was thrown out.  There were beer cans everywhere; the driver was clearly drunk and remarkably unscathed after the crash.  The correct authorities arrived and promptly told my friend to go away, telling him that he “hadn’t seen anything” and that they weren’t interested in his eye-witness account.

If you live here then you don’t need me to provide any more examples.  You all know what you see and, in the main, are better off opting to stay quiet about it.

Sadly there is little that we can do.  Since we are all guilty of it ourselves – and if anyone harps on that they are not, then they are a liar – we just have to accept it.  I read somewhere that “Honest discussions – even and perhaps especially on topics about which we disagree – can help us resist hypocrisy and arrogance. They can also help us live up to the basic ideals, such as liberty and justice for all, on which our country [the USA] was founded.”

Nice idea, but I don’t fancy prison.  I’d rather cop off with Edwina Currie…

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