Monthly Archives: March 2013

144. Driving age

Tonight I am sitting here in my 128th floor office at UAE Uncut Towers with the air conditioning on. I have traded the snow and the bitter cold of the UK for the relentless inferno that is the UAE. Yes, I have returneth. Being back in London last week was, in all honesty, a rather large eye-opener for yours truly. Oh sure it was wonderful to catch up with my friends and family, but as I sat there in The Victoria one afternoon listening to a table of elderly men discuss the proportional differences between their wedding vegetables, I was hit by startling revelation: I am an idiot.

No, really, I am as beef-witted as your out-of-the-box Kardashian. I normally come to this little corner of the internet, rant and rave about the UAE and how the UK is this and that, and then go ahead and contradict myself the following day. But as I sat there eavesdropping on unquestionably the most disturbing conversation held since Charles Manson’s initial get-together, I asked myself what the hell did I see in that place? The old men with mismatched genitals, their ailments, the dinosaur attitude towards busty barmaids; Jesus, where was I? The following day I was back in the same pub and wept a tear from my eye about how much I loved it and how brilliant it was.

Last week I sang the praises of London Transport, but since that time I had to ride the District Line during the rush hour. Standing there with my nose in a stranger’s armpit and a copy of The Metro up my bottom I turned on my own sentiments like a flash. And therein lies the problem; I change opinions like I change underpants (which to put your mind at ease, is a daily routine). Seriously, I cannot keep an opinion for more than a minute without swapping it for a shiny new one whenever the mood takes me. How, then, will I ever be taken seriously as a writer? What use would I be coming before you one day saying that George Osbourne is about as effective a Chancellor as a carrot, and then the next day preach his recession-combating magnificence? I’d be jeered, booed, ridiculed and most likely, shot.

So, is this the end of UAE Uncut? Has my unswerving integrity finally been exposed as nothing more than a charade? Am I just another internet thug with brainwashing intent? Probably, but that won’t stop me telling you what I think about the latest idea of lowering the driving age in the UAE.

Here in the UAE you have to be 18 to learn how to drive; in the UK it is 17. I know a few 17 year olds and the thought of getting into a car with any of them makes we want to set myself alight and jump out of a window. My friends and former colleagues will tell you that I go everywhere flat out, and when I was 17 I was what you would describe as a “little shit.” I passed my test when I was 17 years and 4 months old and on my first day waking up a man I offered to drive my sisters to school. A 1992 1.4 litre Vauxhall Astra estate is a beast that great men still struggle to tame to this day, so when I returned home some 15 minutes after setting off, the bonnet, grille and headlights had gone.

An old family photo of me aged 17 in my old Astra.

An old family photo of me aged 17 in my old Astra.

Yep, I crashed. Into a parked BMW, and drove off. Yikes. By the grace of God my Dad managed to get me off Scott free, but since that time the slow motion replay of me sliding into the back of that navy Beemer forever burns in my mind. Had I not had that crash who knows what may have happened later on, it was, in hindsight, a right of passage. I had discovered the limits early on and that instantly made me a better driver. I was, as a matter of fact, Steve McQueen in my Astra Mustang.

But, and despite next weeks blog that says the total opposite, the driving in the UK is inherently good. We have had 3-4 generations that have dealt with the wheeled beasts and the perils are well-known. Here in the UAE the situation is very different and I doubt very much that people younger than 18 will be of much use. The idea behind the whole thing, apparently, is to relieve the burden from poor old mum and dad. Johnny Teenager would be able to drive a car, with a chaperone, to run errands for his parents. He could do the groceries, pick up the dry cleaning, take little sister to dance practice or cruise around the streets at 3am, sideways, and on fire.

But who would the chaperone be, exactly? Mum or dad? Doesn’t that negate the whole thing in the first place? Will a special man with a moustache have to be employed solely as a watchman? Surely it wouldn’t be Jimmy Land Cruiser from over the road? That lunatic is always getting into pickles.

No matter, each car will be fitted with a speed control device that limits the cars capability. Such technology is very simple. You have a device that cuts the spark to the spark plugs, therefore lowering the speed of the engine. But the pistons keep pumping and fuel keeps pouring into the cylinder, so it carbons up and the engine, before too long, will need an expensive overhaul. The reality though is that Johnny Teenager will simply go and borrow his mates Skyline GTR instead.

Where I think we should cut the youths some slack is on the statistics front. I love it when people don’t think about what they’re publishing, and when it was said that 53% of all road accidents are caused by people aged between 18 and 40, it openly implies that 47% of accidents are caused by people aged 41-70. That seems fairly even to me, 100% of people are attributed to road accidents…

Of course the insurance companies won’t want to know. I had to pay £1600 in 2002 for my first full-years insurance; for a 1.4 litre Vauxhall Astra. What would a UAE premium be for a 15 year old in a Lamborghini Gallardo? Seven trillion dirhams?

Mum and dad, I’m afraid, will have to rely on the servants and personal drivers to continue to carry out the errands for now. Johnny Teenager needs to study and reach puberty before he is given the keys to the Ferrari 430. I can kind of see the idea behind this scheme, but then, I really can’t put it into words, either. Everyone has a crash at some point in their lives, and to get it over and done with early on may not be such a bad thing. I am, however, fairly sure that lowering the age below 18 in the UAE would be a disaster and I think back to when I was 17…

…Thank God I crashed on day one, otherwise who knows how dangerous I could have been?

Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

143. Public Transport

Mankind is a remarkable species. We have created and invented so much that, really, we have wiped the floor with the animal kingdom; lions, elephants, badgers, foxes, what have they ever done for mother Earth? Us? Well we have harnessed electricity, sent men into space, and created the microwave meal. Man has achieved an awful lot and throughout history has always had a common aspiration; to push the limits and to improve them.

But what else is there? Everest is conquered, the poles have been walked, and the land and seas have been explored. At the expense of millions of lives we have mapped each and every corner of this world. So now, surely, we must shift the ambition from a sense of challenge to one of convenience. When Everest was conquered it was an achievement of grandeur, but jolly inconvenient. How many explorers never returned? If I was asked if I would like to climb up a hill but was told that I would very likely die, then I would probably decline. If, however, I was asked if I would like to visit the top in a helicopter then I would certainly mull it over.

Strides have been made over the last few years to make our lives slightly more convenient. There are things today on tap that only 30 years ago were merely the dreams of mad men. Take your phone for example. I was from the first generation of youths who used mobile phones. When I was 14 I was given an Ericsson something-or-other that had the same aesthetic qualities as a worn-out brogue. From that day on I no longer had to worry about pay-phones or waiting to use the land line at home. I had the power to call or be called whenever.

Convenience is the key to mankind’s prosperity and future hope; for as long as things are hard to come by or awkward we will not develop as a species. Last week I decided that I would go out for a beer and watch some football in Al Ain. The task required me to exit my front door and make my way to the side of the road. Things were going well until I looked at my watch and realised that I had been standing by the side of that road for 35 minutes. In that time not a single taxi presented itself. I was seething with rage and when one did eventually arrive I made my feelings quite clear.

I am a man of the world who works hard at both home and work. So when I decide it is time for me to go out and indulge in a spot of beer drinking and football watching then I expect no interruptions and no hassle. Being home in London this week has re-kindled my love affair with London Transport; the very cornerstone of convenience.

Now for those foreign, non-Londoner readers, I feel I should point out that we (Londoners) are a curious breed. We do seem to complain an awful lot, often with no real cause or need. Nothing is ever any good, everything is the fault of “that bleeding lot in Westminster” and “it wasn’t like this is my day.” It’s dreadfully tiresome. One of the key targets for out general moaning is our transport system. It seems it can never catch a break.

Everyone is always complaining that the tube is overcrowded, and so too are the mainline trains. The buses, too, are always packed and, apparently, overpriced. The question I always ask is: what the hell do you want? I have been up to the city twice this week and there is a tube train literally every 3-4 minutes. I was sat in Pizza Express opposite Charing Cross station on the Strand on Monday and over the course of an hour there was never a time when there was less than five buses at the stop. The flow of red-double-deckers was as constant as the Thames.

Walk around London and you are never more than a ten minute walk from the nearest Underground station and there are buses everywhere. The main terminals for the mainline networks are also never more than 15 minutes away. Want a taxi? No problem, there’s 6000 of them queuing from Nelson’s Column to Marble Arch.

A symbol of freedom

A symbol of freedom

There is nothing wrong with public transport. The real problem with London is the amount of people there. If public transport could only be used by those wishing to commute to a place of work then there wouldn’t be a problem. You would always have a seat and there would be copies of the Metro for all. But the tourists, with their unfathomable desire to stimulate our ailing economy with their wealth, are clogging up the system. If you are of a brainless or xenophobic persuasion then you could ask them to leave, but London would collapse and burn just like Dubai did in 2008.

Anyway, I’m getting side-tracked; tackling the overcrowding issue isn’t my burden to bear. That’s what Boris is paid for. The spurious point of the today’s missive is that Londoners have it easy. Hush! Yes you do. There is barely a city in the world with such a fabulous public transport system. Buses and trains to all corners of this great city are always there, always constant and always busy. Honestly, I have spent most of this week walking around London wearing a plastic policeman’s hat saluting the roundel wherever I see it. How would you cope if we filled the Bakerloo Line with concrete or flooded the Northern Line with the Thames? What if we got rid of all the buses and black cabs? Would that improve the situation?

Man achieved greatness with his endeavours and he is now in the process of achieving the holy grail of civilisation: convenience. So stop whinging about the District Line being crowded and get the one afterwards in three minutes. You honestly have no idea how lucky you are.

Would you prefer to be standing in the middle of an uninhabited road waiting 35 minutes for a taxi that, once having collected you, will try to kill you? Thought not…

Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

142. UK Uncut

Greetings from the United Kingdom. Yes, that’s right; this week’s edition of UAE Uncut comes from the south western corner of London in Kingston-Upon-Thames; home to me since birth. I have returned to this grey little island for a week to attend my best friends wedding and so far the experience has left me somewhat scratching my head. I spent the weekend in Bristol with all my friends for the stag party, and when the poor groom wasn’t being rescued from toilet cubicles or from the clutches of the Bristol mob, which blog topic I would be broaching this week was frequently raised. So, what the hell am I writing about?

As you may be aware, I enjoy garnishing most things with some scorn as opposed to praise. Praise is boring and weak. The poor UAE certainly can appear battered and bruised at times through the eyes of the typical UAE Uncut reader, but so too can the UK. Readers will know that I was not very fond of the previous Labour government, or any Labour government for that matter. But I can hardly sit here and say that the coalition has been wonderful, either. No, here in the UK there is too much nonsense, too much needless legislation that seems to be designed simply to make peoples lives as miserable and as uncomfortable as possible. Why, then, do I moan about the UAE all the time and some of its mad laws when the UK is 100 times worse?

In the kitchen here at home there are three bins’ one for food scraps, one for papery things and another for everything else. Then there are bottle bins, can bins, cat bins… pah! The UAE wouldn’t waste its time on such things. You know what the UAE would do to separate all the various waste items don’t you? They’d employ a few hundred workers who didn’t mind the occasional whiff, therefore creating job opportunities, not really a desirable one, but hey. Here? No, we’re expected to manually sift our waste so that the council doesn’t have to bother. Have you ever tried stumbling home drunk one night and making a sandwich only to throw most of it away in the paper bin by mistake? I stand before a Magistrate next week!

Unemployment could be reduced if, no wait, sod unemployment, I have a better idea. Why don’t convicts serving time get rounded up and sent into to the landfill site to separate all the cabbage from the copies of The Daily Mail? It would give their eyes a rest from the Playstation and 42” plasma.

We will be great again

We will be great again

I also have a complaint about taxis. Now, those readers who actually live in the UAE will stand with me when I say that the majority of taxi drivers aren’t exactly what you would call competent. There are some that have good knowledge and a keen sense of awareness and we are sure to keep their numbers and use them as much as we can. But most are terrible. They don’t know where they’re going, they don’t know how to drive and they make little effort to keep you safe. I always look back at the UK with fondness when I ride in a UAE taxi. I think of the black cabs and how the drivers have knowledge of such brilliance that I find it amazing that they do not work for NASA. But black cabs are incredibly expensive, so we use minicabs where we can.

In Bristol this weekend I thought I was back in the UAE. We required the services of the taxis frequently and each time relied on the concierge to make the arrangements. Being 12 of us, we required two six-seaters and a speedy drive. Never have I encountered a taxi company like it. To describe them as terrible is a masterpiece of understatement. By UAE standards even they were diabolical. Who in the name of God employs someone to drive a taxi that has as much knowledge of the Bristol road network as a tribesman from some undiscovered South American jungle? No, really. Each time we met them to go to a different activity we had to fanny about on iPhones looking for maps and postcodes to help the drivers out. And they still got lost.

This isn’t the country that I remember. I don’t understand how some things can be so stupid, I really don’t. We are the only nation in the world that has the prefix “Great” before its name and that perhaps gives a false impression. We cannot live off our previous imperial laurels anymore. But, then again, find me a paradise and I’ll find you a six by two foot box buried six feet under the ground; nowhere is perfect.

So now it’s raining outside and the temperature is barely 10 Celsius, but I don’t mind. I need to go and fill my car up in a few minutes and that will bankrupt me and again, I don’t mind. Tonight I am going to walk into town to meet my friends for a few beers, it will be wet, cold and arguably overpriced, and I don’t mind.

But this is my country, this is my home, and I love it regardless.

Tagged , , , , , ,

141. Parenting

As we know, you cannot generalise. Not all men are sexist, bigoted pigs and not all women are seductive secretaries with a penchant for dropping pencils at inopportune moments. Children, too, come in all variety of sorts. There are some who are athletic, some prefer to be overweight and play video games, some relish education and some prefer pugilism and truancy. Each of us has the right to forge our own path in this world; we can be whatever we want, kind of. I mean I wanted to be a Formula 1 driver but that didn’t work out.

Kids don’t like it when parents interfere, unless the interaction is the gift of money, then the promise of raked leaves and completed homework sounds through the hallways for minutes. No, young teens like to get on with things, they want to hang out with friends, go to the mall, play hoop and of course, pitch woo. But there is a fine line, for all their independence craving, mum and dad still need to ensure that Johnny and Betty Teenager are raised correctly. I don’t have children, but that sounds like a tough job.

It is indeed unfair, Kevin. Don't worry, mum and dad did it too when they were your age...

It is indeed unfair, Kevin. Don’t worry, mum and dad did it too when they were your age…

I guess, and parents correct me if I am wrong, that the balancing act is always a fine line between “thanks for the 20 quid, I’ll do anything for you” and “stop ruining my life, I hate you.” Right now, I don’t have the patience for such volatile behaviour, but I do remember being a teenager and I do remember the conflict and frustration of it all. It is a taxing time for young adults, they are old enough to start doing more grown-up things but too young to actually do anything.

When I was 16 or so, my friends and I would always try our luck by sneaking into pubs or nightclubs wearing fake beards. The results were 50/50, sometimes we’d get in and get served, other times we were politely told to “f*** off.” It was funny; it was part of the growing up process. Above all, it was healthy. Just because I wanted to hit a bar when I was 16 didn’t mean that I was a disappointment to my father, nor did it mean that I would burgle people’s houses or go car-jacking.

Socialising is important. Without social skills you end up with the personality of a rock. If you lock your teenager up every weekend like Josef Fritzl then they are being denied the chance to spread their wings and learn the world for themselves.

Now, to the UAE part of the blog at last; last year I passed note on a kids-only nightclub in Dubai. Truth be told, I cannot remember what my opinion on the matter was. I can’t be bothered to go back through the archives to see what I wrote then, so there is every chance that my thoughts have changed, or the integrity of UAE Uncut is about to be severely compromised.

The nightclub that opened in Dubai for children aged 12-20 has been closed down. What a stupid thing to do. Lets recant the facts; the club dedicated one night a week to teenagers so that they would have something to do. There were snacks and soft drinks on hand together with games, both computer and physical. Chiefly, and obviously, alcohol was forbidden, so too was smoking and other narcotic usage. On the face of it, then, this sounded like the perfect environment for groups of teens to spend together once a week.

So why was it closed? Well, some parents, and in these situations it is only ever a small, miserable minority, have been complaining to the police. The minority have been up in arms and coming out with the kind of statements that make me so angry that I want to punch my laptop screen repeatedly until they feel it. One parent was quoted as saying “whoever came up with this idea should be punished” and another said “children who visit such clubs risked ending up as frequent visitors at bars and pubs once they were independent.”

Who the dickens are you? The idea mooted was to give children somewhere to go once a week. Being a mid-teen is a hard time of life. You want to spread your wings but more often than not there is nothing to do. I despise the expressions “arts and crafts” and “do something cultural”; teenagers don’t want to go to a museum on Thursday night. They need to interact with their friends, but where to go? No really, you tell me.

The character who asked for the founders of the nightclub to be punished must be so far detached from reality that the pink elephant that sleeps under their bed must be looking for alternative accommodation. And then there is the person who states that the idea risked people hanging out in bars and pubs when they reach independence! Are they trying to suggest that once their offspring has turned 21 they will still be under parental duress? Going to a bar is a normal activity. You have a few drinks, you have a chat, you meet new people; what’s the problem? Shut it and let people get on with their lives. Not everyone is a raging drunk who goes round beating people up.

The key factor here is alcohol. We are in the UAE, an Islamic country that has very strict rules about alcohol consumption. That is a plus point, but at no point has alcohol been a factor in this case. No kids have been reported to have drank any and the club had very strict rules about that. What more do you want?  You’re worried about the future of your young? It’s not fair to blame delicious beer.

Nope, someone had a masterstroke of genius by providing teenagers with somewhere to go at the weekend where they could enhance their social skills. But thanks to a handful of narrow-minded, dogmatic elders the plug has been pulled and the kids are to be forced back onto the streets and into the abandoned villas to have illegal parties.

I’m not here to tell people how to act, that would contradict the preceding 950 words, but try to be rational before you start closing peoples businesses. If you have a wayward teen then really, blame yourself before you start blaming everyone and everything else. Don’t stop them having fun at the weekends. And if you do stop them going out to have fun and they get the hump, try to recall what it was like when you were that age.

I doubt very much that you spent every weekend at home watching TV in silence waiting to be old enough to go to a bar…

Tagged , , , , , , ,

140. Headlights

Today I have been in Dubai buying wedding rings. For the best part of my life I have envisaged this day being a nightmare. I have imagined spending hour upon hour sifting through thousands of seemingly identical objects while waiting to die. My beliefs could not have been further from reality. I was marched into one shop, found one that I liked for a price that ensured my jaw remained firmly attached to my face, paid a deposit and bang, five minutes later my fiancé took her turn. She tried a few on, saw one she liked and bang, ten minutes later we were both sorted. Mission complete.

It took no more than 15 minutes but no one can say we rushed it. We both had very accurate ideas of what we wanted. Mrs. Fullard-to-be wanted a thin band with a few diamonds on the top to match the kidney-valued engagement ring that she is terrified to remove. Me, I wanted a brushed white gold affair with a solitary stripe on one side. I like the matt look, I don’t like shiny things. Shiny things reflect too much light and distract your attention from more important matters.

The thought of having a shiny wedding ring does not appeal. I would be sitting at my laptop typing out guff, as I so often do, but would constantly be drawn to my wedding finger. So as opposed to typing out my thoughts on the keyboard, I would be dribbling on it instead.

When I sit here in my office at UAE Uncut Towers I like to have dim mood lighting. I have a desk lamp that gives just the right amount of light so whenever I go for a sip of red wine, I reach for the wine glass and not the flower vase. I hate bright lights, and I hate things that reflect bright lights. I like my lights like I like my pubs, dark and quiet.

Once Operation What Savings? was complete it was time to speed back to Al Ain, and man alive, did I moan. I want you to be honest, put your hands up in the air if you don’t know the headlight high beam or fog light switches look like in your car. Go on. Right, if you put your hand up then shame on you, I can’t see you so why did you do it? That tells me you’re not so smart.

By turning this on when behind another vehicle, you are in the same category as Charles Manson

By turning this on when behind another vehicle, you are in the same category as Charles Manson

If you have ever driven with the high beams on when there are other cars on the road or you have driven on the road with your fog lights on when it is not foggy then you are the enemy. If you think that you are a good driver, i.e. drive within the speed limits and always indicate whenever you change direction, then good on you. If however you do drive thusly but do so with the high beams on or the fog light on then you are a thousand times more dangerous than any speeding lunatic in a Land Cruiser.

Imagine that you are driving your car at 120 Kommunists per hour on the motorway, and you overtake another motorist in the correct fashion. Once you are ahead you indicate right and move back in front of the driver you have just negotiated. You are then blinded from three angles. First, the rear view mirror; you look back at your fellow road-goer and are blinded by the headlights. You can manually dip the rear view mirror so that is what you do. But the game is afoot; you are now being blinded from the wing mirrors. You could adjust them but is that wise? By this stage you have no way of seeing what is happening behind.

Either way, you cannot see behind you. Your mirrors are reflecting the tarmac, your eyeballs are on fire, and you are screaming as if you have just been marinated in sulphuric acid, what to do? Well the usual protocol is to crash horribly into the central reservation, pirouette across the road and wipe out as many cars as you can in the process. If this does not appeal to you then you should pull alongside the offending motorist and then nudge him – or her – slowly off the road and into a ravine.

If this also is outside of your comfort zone then may I suggest you pull back in behind the inconsiderate, ignorant, dangerous individual and flash your lights manically at them and scream in a panicked terror. If nothing else they may pull over thinking that they have a problem. Follow them and politely inform then that by flicking the stalk behind the steering wheel, the blue light on the dashboard goes away and they, as a result, will cease being a murderer.

Between Dubai and Al Ain this evening I encountered thirty (yes, I did actually count) vehicles that either had their high beams or fog lights on. In one such instance I was left blinded for several seconds, had a road surprise presented itself then I would have been 60ft in the air before I would have realised that there was a problem.

Speed won’t kill unless you lose control, changing lanes without looking in your mirrors won’t kill unless there is another car there and talking on your phone certainly won’t kill unless you’re using Skype. These are all poor driving habits and the authorities are acting upon them. But what of lights? Those who drive with high beams or fogs on are the most lethal of them all. They should be peeled and hurled into a vat of salt.

Driving home tonight made me rethink my wedding ring choice. If I had gone for a shiny one then if I had the angle right I could perhaps aim it at the drivers behind me. They would surely be blinded instantly and perhaps realise where I am coming from. Or, more likely, they would crash and it would be my fault. Typical.

So there we are, then. Buying wedding rings: piece of cake. Driving home afterwards: a horrid nightmare that has left my eyes on fire.

Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

139. Bills

Think back to when you were born, if you can. Can you remember how much you knew about trigonometry, or Latin? I’d wager that you knew very little. In fact, I am fairly sure you knew nothing at all. What about running? Could you do that straight out of the blocks? Again, I’d guess not. I bet you walked before you ran, and crawled even before that. Think back to your first swimming lesson; were you as good as Mark Spitz when trying to get your Frog Club 10 metre badge or did you look more like a struggling ox? What about driving? What about working? What about this, what about that? So that you could develop properly, you had to start with the basics and move up.

You can’t just do something straight away; you have to work towards it. You have to toil and trouble, try, fail, try again and so on. It is a right of passage. On an industrial scale, countries have to learn to develop in the right way, too. You can’t just build massive skyscrapers, wild theme parks and malls with the same air conditioning properties of an Antarctic gale and forget to install a basic address system or an ample sewage network. No, you put your pants on first, then your trousers.

Or do you?

Human civilisation wasted its time for 1000’s of years. But over the last 200 years or so we have made monumental strides. The Victorian era in particular presented the world with pretty much everything, chiefly the safe and successful harnessing of electricity. Once electricity had been harnessed there was no stopping us. It wasn’t until the late 20th Century, just about the time when we stopped using monarchs as era classifications, that the internet was born. And that was a real game changer.

I remember being a young boy and accompanying my beloved grandmother to the post office to pay her TV rental bill. After that we would go to visit another office and pay a water bill, and then go somewhere else to pay a phone bill. All we had at our disposal was a number 93 Route Master, an umbrella and the promise of some chips from that famous place in Wimbledon that I cannot remember the name of. An entire day was dedicated to paying the bills. It wasn’t an inconvenience, it was the norm. This was only 1989, and such practices continued up to the late 1990’s.

Of course these days everything is done online; literally everything. Bills are something that can be arranged at the click of a mouse, and my god, how magnificent is that? Gone are the days when you would sit there in your study, prying open the brown envelopes with your brass letter opener, stroking your chin sagely and cross referencing all your receipts with an abacus before catching the tram to town to pay them all. No, now you log onto the website, reset your password because you’ve forgotten it again, type in the magic numbers, click “ok” and complain that because you now have some spare time you don’t know what to do with it.

It is common knowledge, now, that the typical British High Street is in trouble. People are doing everything online; food shopping, clothes shopping, gift shopping, banking and bill payments. Because people no longer need to go and run errands, it means they won’t pop into the WH Smith in the High Street on a whim. They are sitting in front of a lap top with all they need at their finger tips. The local economies are suffering as a result. But things change, the internet cannot be turned off and it isn’t just the future, it’s the now. Those who don’t embrace it will be left behind with their stone knives and bear skins.

Since the UAE harps a chord of modernisation, how can the seventh richest country in the world still have within its borders companies and organisations that have not joined the online super information highway thing? Why is it that everything is a chore? I have only recently updated my phone account so that I can pay online, and I still can’t do it. I have registered both my debit and credit card to help but every time I am told there is problem and that I need to go to the shop. I do, I see the queue, I kick an innocent bystander and pay my bill manually instead.

My bank, which is very good, really, is let down only by the fact that I cannot pay my credit card bill online. I can see it, but I can’t pay it. I need to go to the branch. Then I have to wait, then if I don’t have the exact correct money I am taken downstairs to the cellar and flogged. What are the odds that my credit card bill will be a round figure to the nearest hundred? What do they expect? 17 fil coins don’t exist.

Water and electricity, can that be done online or by direct debit? My foot it can. Once again you have go to the mall, park, study the map, find the distribution centre kiosk, wait behind the plump woman who doesn’t understand that you cannot be rude to the locals, and then kill yourself to make the headache go away.

Then, the biggest joke of them all: the internet bill. Our provider, and yours too, has a tendency to a) never, ever, ever send a bill, b) cut you off unexpectedly and c) actually refuse to tell you how much you owe. I am not making this up, you call the facetiously named “help centre” and you are told to log in online…how the ****ing hell can I do that when you have disconnected my service? They can recall all your details over the phone, your name, address, inside leg measurement and what grade you got for a piece of maths homework you did in 1992, but not how much money you owe them.

The whole process is exhausting, and I think I have worked out why. The UAE’s economy is driven by oil revenue first, and tourism commerce second. You force people to drive so that they use more petrol. Then, as an act of “convenience” you build kiosks for the water place and phone place in the mall. So, you go and shout at the man behind the counter, pay for someone else’s bill because no one else knows what’s going on and then decide that you want a quick coffee, or a sports bra, or a ghastly three piece suite. You may have only spent an extra 100 Dirhams but that all adds up…Is it a coincidence that they cut your internet before you can log on to pay? My suspicions are aroused…

The UAE is trying to avoid the log-on era. It has spent billions of dollars building malls with Alps in them and they don’t want them to become white elephants, gone the way of Wimbledon Park High Street. The internet is a ruthless, business killing machine and will stop at nothing until it has a grasp on everything. It’s a bit like Lex Luthor. The UAE clearly fancies itself as a bit of a Superman. It thinks it can save the day by resisting the internet, but the reality is that it has put its pants on after its trousers and looks very, very out of date.

Yes, this looks like what really goes on in the 21st Century.

Yes, this looks like what really goes on in the 21st Century.

Tagged , , , , , , , , , , ,

138. Profanity

The human body is fundamentally flawed, and if put into the arena with a cheeseburger would likely lose, badly. Take food as a case in point. In the olden days when everything was black and white, people ate food as they do today. But they didn’t have to worry about E numbers, obesity or anything like that. They would eat whatever they wanted and then eventually die of dysentery. They would be none the wiser until they were given eight minutes to live. Today we are constantly warned, mainly by The Daily Mail, that everything we ingest will kill us and that there is nothing we can do. From toothpaste to home-grown cabbage, the poison of nature will make our hearts fall out and our bottoms fall off. There is no hope.

We enjoy a good beer, a burger, a doner kebab and some chicken nuggets, but all they are is a one way ticket to the bone-yard. Why are all the good things so bad for us? Even the stuff that is apparently good for you is bad for you. Apples rot your teeth, bananas make you explosive and a prime fillet steak upsets the cow community. But put our daily intakes aside for just one minute, what about the stuff that comes out? No, I’m not being lavatorial, I’m talking about profanity.

The human body is very susceptible to reflex actions. When the doctor taps your knee with a hammer, it twitches. If you decide to dip your finger into a pot of boiling hot tea then the common reflex is to remove it post haste and yell profanities until the pain goes away. Even the Pope, especially since he has tendered his resignation, would forgive you if you hit your thumb with a hammer and shouted “f*** it.” And that’s just it; to swear is to be human. Anyone who says that they don’t use curse words on reflex is either a liar or a giraffe.

I am notorious for such things. With me it’s effing this and effing that constantly. Whether its traffic lights being difficult by insisting on remaining red or someone whose face I don’t particularly like, they will be on the receiving end of some f-word fun. It’s nothing personal; it’s just what I am accustomed to. I can’t even describe something as innocently cute as a bunny rabbit without adding an f-inspired prefix.

Of course being from the barely-United Kingdom I am used to such language. It is just something that is done. From Johnny Builders-bum to the Archbishop of Canterbury it is as risqué as it is accepted. But, as was established many moons ago, things in the UAE are quite different.

Swearing, it would seem, is unacceptable. To the do-gooders and Liberal Democrats this may be the sweet sound of music that they have been campaigning for; a land where swearing is not just socially inappropriate, but is also an offence punishable by prison. Of all the crimes; theft, blackmail, kidnapping, murder, how narked would you be if you were sent to jail for saying the f-word? You’d be notably f****d off.

No really, you can get your collar felt for overly-liberal prose. The other day I witnessed a person using the most colourful array of adjectives, nouns and metaphors that you have ever heard. It was fascinating to behold. Clearly unaware of their surroundings, the person sounded off as if they were in soft-touch Britain with an expression that implied that they “didn’t see the f*****g problem.” And why should they of? After all words are words, who decides their meaning?

Sadly, there are some words that are considered taboo and you have to be careful. If you utter the wrong word to the wrong person then they are within their legal right to make a complaint to the police. The police, hot off the roundabout, will put on a bit of blues and twos and lock down the immediate environment. Johnny Wordsmith will ask “what the f*** is happening” as he spends a night in the cells, bemused as to his crime.

You may very well be lucky and indulge in a spot of profanity with someone who doesn’t care too much. But don’t be fooled because that is where the problem lies. If you get too trigger happy with Mr. F then you become more and more accustomed to it. All may be well for a while but one day you will accidentally cross paths with a Sheikh, and when you indecorously tell him to “do one”, your time in the UAE will be over quicker than you can say “err no, wait.”

It is all too easy to forget that we are guests over here in the UAE, not hosts. If swearing can get you put inside for one month then you have no one to blame but yourself if you get caught. It may be a bitter pill to swallow but in the grand scheme of things the law won’t make any exceptions for you. Sometimes I wish that the UK would follow the no-nonsense UAE example.

Of course it’s not really your fault for blurting out the f-word or other such choice phrases, as I said; the human body is fundamentally flawed. Science has proven that human evolution has dictated that our reflexes occur quicker than our brains can transmit brain things. If someone cuts you up on the road then they will get a good effing. If someone has run off with your wife, they too will be barraged with a maelstrom of Vitamin F and if someone thinks that they can rival UAE Uncut’s obvious brilliance then they can f*** right off, too.

I love you now but I know you'll be the end of me.

I love you now but I know you’ll be the end of me.

But there is a fundamental problem: swearing is healthy. I know that Polly Toynbee will cover her ears and “la” loudly and repeatedly, but it is true. I was in the most horrific of traffic jams in all of human history this week and the car ahead of me at the traffic lights failed to move off when they turned green. Had I not vented my thoughts the way I did then I would have very likely exploded. When I poke my finger into a live plug socket I need to let off steam via expletive gibberish to make the frizzing go away. If I didn’t I would just be lying there looking bored.

Swearing is good for you in the sense that it serves short term satisfaction, like a Big Mac or a Meatball Marinara on Italian bread. But too much of a good thing can be bad for you. It will catch up with you in the end, and by then there will be little that you can do about it.

Live by the word, die by the word. See you next Tuesday.

Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,