Monthly Archives: October 2013

166. Road Names

What is the most annoying thing in the world? Vevuzelas? Bluebottle flies? Kardashians? The answer is none of these; it is in fact the bureaucratic mentality that prevents anything from happening within a reasonable timeframe.

It seems that wherever you go, local councils and governments want to spend as long on any given project as possible, seemingly to do nothing more than justify their existence. Take for example a very British conundrum; do you have any idea how much red tape you need to tear through to get a new park bench installed? No, neither do I. But only because when I stumbled across the procedure online I fell asleep after page 74. It is horrendous. Why does it need to take so long to put a bench in a park? You buy a bench, engrave the brass plaque with the name of a locally renowned goose, and place it in situ. A bench needs planning permission. Why? Put it there, and if enough Guardian readers complain about it then pick it up and move it somewhere else.

This type of mindless bureaucracy, it seems, is a global pandemic. Even those whom reside in the most remote outback wastelands of Mongolia need permission to paint pots. Why can’t those running the show just get things done? Why wait? Alex Salmond wants his vote on Scottish independence, why keep with him waiting until 2015 or whenever it is, just let him do it so we can all get back to work.

Cock-A-Dobby, Jumeriah Lake Towers, please.

Cock-A-Dobby, Jumeriah Lake Towers, please.

It therefore came as no surprise to me yesterday that it is to take five years to rename all the roads in Dubai. Allow me to explain the situation: The road naming system in the UAE is, by its own admission, a joke. There are snippets of sense, such as the main motorways being given numbers like E11, E22, E66 and so on, and of course we have the big landmark roads like Shiekh Zayed Road which are easy to identify. But everything else is a mish-mash of incomprehensible balderdash.

In order to understand the incumbent numbering system you need a mind of such ability that you would be able to crucify Stephen Hawking on Countdown, in the same way that a ferret could outsmart Kim Karsdashian in a game of Battleships. It is all so dreadfully hateful.

Along with the numbers there are also roads named after Sheikhs and prominent Emiratis, and that is normal. It’s no different from road names like Victoria Avenue, Kings Road, Albert Road, Elizabeth Street, and so on. But it can get confusing sometimes. If I’m navigating the Dubai traffic looking for Khaled Bin Khalifa Street, invariably I will get confused and end up on Khalifa Bin Khaled Street.

The new system means that every single road in Dubai is to be renamed, and in keeping with global tradition, the names are to reflect the local district and its history. Take the coastal area, Jumierah. Roads along the coast are to take their names from fish, famous boats, and an array of other nautical paraphernalia. Great, it will be like Portsmouth; Fish Street. Cod Cresent. HMS Ark Royal Avenue. Navy Mews.

The Trade Centre area is to be named after various currencies, which sounds fine, but there are only a finite amount of currencies in the world, so expansion of the Trade Centre would be halted should the limit be reached. Unless they build more roads off Dollar Drive, in which case they can raise the debt ceiling to whatever fictional level they like…

The thing is, this renaming programme is going to take five years, and for the life of me I can’t fathom why. How hard can it be? You break the city up into zones, as they have done, and just go nuts. Honestly, if they were to get in touch with me then I could rename the whole city in a day. Just give me a copy of the Viz Profanisaurus and immunity from prosecution and before you know it you’ll be driving through Uphill Gardens and Bell End, past Busty View and before you know it you’ll be back home on Penistone Road.

Problem solved.

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165. Youths

As I like to mention a lot of the time, I have lived in the UAE for a considerable while. Well, I like to think that nigh-on six years is a healthy crack. In that time I have, in all honesty, barely done anything. My former employment commanded that I work every weekend, and that prevented me from “doing something” interesting. Resultantly, I was only able to go out and drink my spare time away to the milieu ambience of atrocious hotel bands who couldn’t find a key in a locksmith’s and some overpaid Premier League footballers falling over on TV. It was an uninspiring existence.

I have worked continuously since the age of 15, and that meant that I also spent the vast majority of my weekends working and seemingly missing out on what life had to offer. But now life is different. Now I am a free agent, a man whose daily tasks extend to little more than stockpiling the kitchen with crisps. I am therefore unaware of what the world, and more specifically the UAE, has to offer.

So to find out what the life of Riley is really all about, I went to the latest instalment of the Sandance franchise on the Palm Jumierah, which if you live on Mars, or in Milton Keynes, is off the coast of Dubai. The day didn’t start well. Our party awoke the morning of the event with a collective headache that, if measured, would very likely shift the galaxy from its axis. No matter, with heavy heads and oscillating stomachs we hailed a taxi and set sail for Atlantis.

This is Dubai

This is Dubai

A friend had suggested previously that to avoid the traffic, congestion, and damn-right hassle of everything involved in the journey, that we do a brunch at Saffron. My first worry was to fathom whether to use the term “brunch” as a noun or a verb. Do you “do” brunch or go for “a” brunch? Before I could get my head around it, we were whisked through to our table and pointed in the direction of wriggling crowd.

For those non-UAE readers, you must have heard about the famous Dubai brunches. You pay about 500 Dirhams, which is about 100 Disney Dollars, sorry, Euros, and it is all you can eat and drink within a specified timeframe. Inevitably, the halls are usually decked with quivering wrecks and dribbling drunks fairly quickly.

With my stomach going up and down like an elevator, I headed for the counter with the smallest gathering and set about piling my plate with two pieces of salami, some steamed rice, and a piece of bread that had very recently been on the floor. While negotiating through the masses I couldn’t help but pass judgement on the clientele in attendance. It was like The Only Way Is Northumberland’s Christmas party. There were fake tans, earrings the size of banquet tables, shirts with strategically undone buttons, cleavage, vajazzle, facial henna tattoos, the lot. Most seemed to be British.

We tackled our way through the – delicious – food and gave the alcohol a good go, well, my friends did. And before we knew it, it was time to mosey down the road to the beach concert. The sweaty walk helped as booze from the night before oozed gracelessly from every pore. Once the ladies in our group had had their handbags poked with a stick we were in. After six years of living in the UAE I was at my first ever Sandance. We made a beeline for a spot on the beach and got the ciders in, and it was then that it hit me: where was I?

No, really. If you were to be teleported into Sandance from anywhere else in the world then you would be unable to work out which part of the world you were in. One of my childhood friends came to visit the other week, and before his trip had asked a whole manner of reasonable questions about Dubai, such as “am I allowed to drink?” Or “is it ok to hold hands with my girlfriend?” I’m not surprised, we read in the British media all the time about how Dubai operates with an iron fist like the USSR did in the good old days of communism. But the penchant for modesty couldn’t be further from the truth.

At the Sandance music extravaganza there were haircuts, bottoms, men in sleeveless vests (no, by the way, just no, it’s an appalling style), puddles of what I assumed to be custard with carrots in them, and bikinis of such minute proportions that you could be forgiven for thinking it was a nudist colony. It was like the last days of Rome versus 1965.

Such wild hedonism was occasionally interrupted by some live performances. There were The Wailers, minus Bob Marley who had been signed off ill, Of Monsters And Men, whom I have never heard of before but were actually quite good, and then The Killers. Who were f****** brilliant.

All the while I was looking around at the sprightly youths that surrounded me, getting increasingly envious over their perfect complexions and very wealthy parents. It must be nice not having to worry about much. Living in the UAE, and Dubai of all places, not needing to work and being able to enjoy all it has to offer whenever you like. You have no idea what the real world is like. I wish I didn’t need to go to work, and that I could go out every weekend and definitely get served, and that I could hang out by the beach all day.

…Hang on, wait a minute…

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164. Warning lights

"Britishisation... Now there's a vote winner with the middle classes..."

“Britishisation… Now there’s a vote winner with the middle classes…”

Next week is the Islamic holiday of Eid Al Adha, and to mark the occasion everyone has been given some time off. This doesn’t make too much difference to me since I currently spend most of my time sitting down watching TV and eating crisps.

Those who work in the public sector, such as teachers and government employees, have the entire week off. Coupled with the two weekends at either end, that is nine whole days. That is a superb result. However, those who work in the private sector will only get three working days off – Monday to Wednesday. This means that they will work Sunday and Thursday.

On the face of it that doesn’t seem like such a big deal, but it does kind of underline the fact that things aren’t very balanced. There are many things I admire about the UAE, chief of which is the Emiratisation project that is currently being championed. If such a thing were to ever happen in the UK then we would all be calling Nigel Farage the Prime Minister…

For those who may not be aware, Emiratisation is a drive to get more Emiratis working in the private sector. As you will all know, we expatriates are all here to earn a decent wage and to give something back to the former British protectorate. The UAE population is vastly outnumbered, making up only 10% of the overall population. As such the government is keen to ensure that their own people are not lost in the wilderness, and that they will lead the country to international glory.

Sadly, there does seem to be one small flaw in the plan. Gun against your head, if you had to choose between a cushty government job that paid a handsome salary and offered you shorter working hours and more time off, and a private sector job on a quarter of the money, longer hours, and less holiday, which would you take?

No prizes for answering correctly, I know what I would do. And why not? The drawback is that the parameters between the two sectors cannot be balanced. In the private sector, what you earn is a reflection of how well your company performs. If your business is tanking then your money and subsequent job security is in jeopardy. You are sheltered from this in the public sector to an extent.

You cannot place someone in a private firm and pay them a government-akin wage, unless it was some faceless multinational corporation. If you want to bring balance to the sectors, then conversely you cannot cut every government employee’s wage by 75%; that would have a crippling effect on the economy. I presume.

If you want to devise a balance and make the private sector more appealing you are kind of stuck. The only thing that I can suggest is to keep the salaries as they are, but switch the holiday allowances around. Why not? Make the public servants work longer and those who work for private companies get more time off during special celebrations.

Of course, that wouldn’t work either. Nothing works. Ultimately you just have to leave it be and hope that it all kind of sorts itself out in the end, like Tulisa’s recent drug misdemeanour. But it does, at last, bring me to the point of today’s missive: aviation warning lights.

Once a problem with no obvious fix is in situ, you are kind of stuck with it. One such problem is the luck of living in a tower block and there, right outside your window, is the red warning light that flashes morning, noon, and night, protecting you from stray helicopters and para-gliders.

Can you imagine how annoying that would be? Sitting in your living room watching TV and there, outside your window on the 50th floor, is a red beacon constantly flashing and lighting up your apartment like some dodgy Dutch nightclub. Not even Blitz-standard black-out curtains could stop the incessant red flashing.

Much like the disparity between the employment sectors, there is no solution for such a thing. Those warning lights are a legal requirement, and if a Hughes MD530F did pop in through your window during the middle of X Factor then you’d be up in arms wanting to know why there weren’t any warning lights to remind the pilot.

In fact there it is; the epiphany! I think I have cracked the case and found a benefit of moving into the private sector: you won’t be at home often enough to go insane with the constant flashing.

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163. Windows

Batman, Ironman, Captain Kirk, and The Tracy family. These are some of the finest heroes that I can recall from my childhood. They are all strong individuals who would all give their lives in the name of triumph. Whether they were trying to stop The Joker from general frolicking, or attempting to prevent the Klingons from laying siege to a planet full of men in pyjamas, I marveled at their courage and selflessness.

Sadly, none of these characters are real, despite what Fathers for Justice would have you believe. So to get our hero fix in the real world we have to turn the television off and go in search. Obviously the first stop is Google. There are hundreds of examples of so-called have-a-go-heroes out there on public record to enjoy: man saves boy from burning car, man saves boy from burning building, man saves burning building from fire. But for all the heroism and altruism, none of these examples quite capture the imagination.

As you all know I have recently moved to Abu Dhabi where, nestled between all the roads and palm trees, are hundreds upon hundreds of buildings; “So what? Every city in the world has buildings” I hear you cry. And true enough. Abu Dhabi shares much in common with cities such as Dubai, London, New York, Shanghai, Tokyo…the list is endless. The one common feature among them all is that a lot of the buildings are jolly high and made completely out of glass.

One of the fundamental features of glass is that it is transparent. It is intended for dual purpose; so that the occupants can see out, and so that light can get in. However, glass must be maintained, it must be cleaned regularly. Having dirty windows is akin to having poor personal hygiene; people will judge. In older cities, such as London, this is not such a big issue (minus the Shard, or the Gherkin, or One Canada Square, or that concave one that sets bicycle seats on fire). Firstly, it rains a lot, and secondly, older buildings are made of bricks and stone, and windows are generally very accessible. By comparison anyway.

Today I walked from Marina Square on Al Reem Island to the Sun Tower about one kilometer away. While on my saunter I found myself gazing at all the mad buildings either occupied, or in the process of going up. Upon staring at the Shams Towers I stopped to sagely stroke my chin and nod my head appreciatively.

I then noticed atop the roof, under the massive vanity parapet, that there were half a dozen men all standing on the edge looking down. This building is 400 metres high, that is half the height of the Burj Khalifa. There, standing halfway to heaven, were six men all wiring themselves into harnesses and about to make a true leap of faith; they were the window cleaners (cue The A-Team theme).

When I still lived at home in London, we used to have a window cleaner who would come round in a Ford Escort panel van with a step ladder and a squeegee. He’d prop his ladder against the guttering and get to work, and within 6-8 weeks he’d be done. He would charge more if my sisters window on the second floor needed doing, since that exceeded his desired height. What a pansy.

Would you?

Would you?

Obviously, this is not the first time I have seen window cleaners in the UAE. Why, I have seen the lunatics that spend their days swinging around Burj Khalifa like a maypole before. But in essence – forget the sheer height of it for a minute – it is a simple design and relatively easy to clean. Shams Tower is slightly different, as you can see in the picture. When cleaning the parapet you are literally dangling like a worm on a hook, and I kid you not, all the money in the world would not convince me to give it a go myself. I’d rather vote for the Labour party.

The UAE’s two major cities are just mazes of glass towers, and cleaning the windows is an industry in itself. You couldn’t just ask any old Tom, Dick, or Harry to strap in and jump overboard armed with nothing other than a chamois leather and a bottle of Windex. Surely these hardy souls must be trained at the Royal Institute of F****** High-up Windows by only the most chisel jawed of professionals.

But where are things going? Architecture is becoming more and more ambitious, and inherently the windows are becoming harder and harder to clean, I mean just look at that weird twisty tower on Al Sufouh Road in Dubai. How the hell are they going to clean that?

Yes, for real heroes you need look no further than your nearest skyscraper. They are braver than you, me, or any fictional character that you can imagine. Even Ironman needed weapons and armour. No, the window cleaners of the UAE are armed with nothing but a bucket and squeegee, with their only protection from a harness failure and subsequent terrifying demise being a simple 25 Dirham hard hat.

Quite what that will do to protect them I don’t know, but then again I’m not the hero, but I wouldn’t be surprised if they could fly.

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