Category Archives: Home life

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.

Tagged , , , , , , ,

161. Internet

In life there are many things that happen to a lot of people every single day. People get new phones, new jobs, buy new cars, and of course, move house. It is therefore perfectly reasonable to assume that the professionals who deal with these types of things have procedures in place to make them as quick and as simple as possible. But since when was life reasonable?

My wife and I, as a couple, are perfectly balanced. We have about our relationship a degree of equilibrium; she cooks, I wash up. She leaves the living room in a state, I tidy up. I crash the car into a pillar in the underground car park and knock the fog light out, she takes the blame: perfectly balanced. Whereas I will usually be the one who goes off on mad ranting tangents, she will calm me down by telling me that I’m being a pillock. It works.

However, over the last couple of weeks the mad ranting seems to have shifted from Mr. Fullard to Mrs. Fullard, and, frankly, I just can’t let this carry on. Since we have moved apartment, Mrs. Fullard has been trying to get the home internet sorted. This, it turns out, is a near-impossible thing to achieve. Never have I heard her spit such venomous slurs.

We have moved from our old apartment in Al Ain, where we have internet, to our new apartment in Abu Dhabi, where we want internet. Are you still with me? Is it as simple as just transferring the package over to a new address? No. Is it as simple as cancelling the Al Ain package and starting a new one in Abu Dhabi? No. Would it be easier for family Fullard to invent their own internet? Yes, much so.

If I were to find a book called “Build Your Own Internet” then I genuinely believe that I’d have a fair chance, and that the time taken to chuck it together would be quicker than dealing with the pros. Allow me to illustrate just how hard the network provider has made my wife’s life recently.

First, she went to Internet HQ in Al Ain to ask what the correct procedure is. She sat and waited with her ticket for over an hour before being told that it was home time and everybody’s shift had to come to an end. Down but not out, she returned the following morning and waited for over 90 minutes, only to be told that she had to go to Abu Dhabi, and that transferring the package from A to B would take but a minute.

Earth to Mars communication, job done. Al Ain to Abu Dhabi... The fevered dream of a mad man.

Earth to Mars communication, job done. Al Ain to Abu Dhabi… The fevered dream of a mad man.

That weekend we both paid a visit to an office in Marina Mall, where we were both told that transferring our package across to the new apartment was “not possible.” My wife, incensed with rage, highlighted her displeasure, leaving me sitting there feeling rather awkward, and even, may I add, a touch sorry for the poor guy. The helpless man said that we had to call a random man who, as it turned out, was just a random man who knew nothing of anything. Internet man then said that we could fill out a new application form for an internet to be delivered to our new home…once we had cancelled our package in Al Ain.

So, back to the Al Ain office my wife went. After being made to wait a mere 45 minutes, she met another person whose sole purpose in life seemed to be to occupy space and little more. My wife was told that cancelling the package was not allowed, because she had already submitted a new application in Abu Dhabi. In order for us to get internet in our new home, we had to cancel the new application that we had submitted, call the random man who had no idea who we were for no reason, then cancel the Al Ain package, drive back to Abu Dhabi to re-submit a new application, and then each donate a leg to medical science.

How can all this be so? I am genuinely at a loss to understand how this procedure is allowed to carry on. I can only surmise that the network provider is in bed with the local petroleum merchant and all the driving hither and thither is part of the plan… This is the 21st century, according to experts we’re supposed to start colonising Mars soon. How can we be sure that that will go well if we can’t even move house and take our internets with us?

All I can say is thank you to “bootyman1,” whoever you are, for not password protecting your Wi-Fi… Without you, the masses wouldn’t be able to heed my warning:

…Don’t, under any circumstances, move house if you want internet.

Tagged , , , , , , , ,

155. Problems

I was going to come before you all today and complain, vehemently, about the latest proposal to drop speed limits by 10kp/h in Dubai. This, they say, will double the population by next year as even the raciest of drivers finally heed the instructions of the speed limits and stay planted at a gentleman’s 110.

But the situation has changed. Sometimes a genuine situation arises that requires immediate attention. More often than not, if something can be classified as a situation, then it invariably means it is bad. How do we deal with uncomfortable personal situations from over here on the Arabian Peninsula?

If in need of a smile, always click on the puppy

If in need of a smile, always click on the puppy

We all have stuff going on, but it is always that much harder to do ones duty when we are 2000, 4000, or 12,000 miles away from home. How do you assist with a feud over the phone? How do you try to get people talking again over Twitter when you are not there to witness the true actions? How do you break bad news to someone who – despite assuring you of the contrary – will likely fall apart the minute you put down the phone?

Well, and please cover your eyes if you don’t want to know the truth: you can’t. You are helpless. You can’t protect people from themselves. You’ve got to man up, do your duty and let them make their own choices. Sometimes people just need to be told the truth.

I really can’t be bothered to go on any more. What I will say is that when you are feeling a little bit down because you have had to deal with an unsavoury situation with someone of personal importance, just make sure you have a couple of friends over here to talk to. Luckily, I have one such person, and in eight weeks she will be my wife. And thanks to the nasty last 30 minutes of my day, our wedding day will be completely perfect.

Oh, and one more thought on the speed limits thing; law abiding citizens who drive at 120kph don’t hurt anyone. It’s the morons who peg it at 200kph while talking on their phones whom you should be after.

Tagged , , , , , , , ,

108. Environment

Fullard is his name eh? Eliminate him. But be sure to dispose of the body in an environmentally friendly fashion…

The planet is a moody thing.  No matter what we seem to do we are always being accused of polluting lakes, killing Arctic wildlife and leaving massive carbon footprints behind once we die.  Really, the planet is pathetically weak and if it can’t deal with a teeny tiny amount of carbon dioxide then we may as well move to a planet that can, like Mars.

Seriously, Earth is so temperamental.  I am getting increasingly cross with being made to feel like the bad guy every time I turn on a light or put an empty yoghurt pot in the bin.  Who do you think I am, Ming the Merciless?  Those of a left-wing persuasion love nothing more than a good moan about the environment, none more so than the prominent and highly regarded George Monbiot.  But every time I read his column I can’t help but feel like I’m being bullied or spat on, its mean, and in essence, hypocritical too.

I hate being told that just because I like cars I am the spawn of Satan and that because I also enjoy having lights on at night-time I should be hung, drawn and quartered without trial.  In the 1990’s the term “Global warming” was retracted and replaced with the term “Climate change” instead.  This was in response to the light-of-day fact that the planet wasn’t getting any hotter at all, it was simply fluctuating.  The science that alleges that mankind is to blame is highly flawed in my opinion, for one simple fact:  the planet is billions of years old and records only began in 1850.

Over the course of time the planet has undergone massive changes, it is only inevitable then that there will be cold years and hot years.  In fact, it is believed (not proved of course, because it can’t be) that the planet has enjoyed the most stable climate it has ever known over the last 14,000 years or so.  This in turn has made it far easier for the human race to develop into the supreme super-species that it is today.  I’m sure that over those 14,000 years there were 100 year long spells where it was a bit damp and other long periods where it was t-shirt weather for Johnny Caveman.

Since 1850 the technology for monitoring the weather and climate has improved drastically.  In those days a man would simply stand outside and look up, these days there are 1000’s of satellites orbiting the Earth letting us all know what’s going on not just at home, but in North Korea too.

Anyway, the Western powers have been barking on about this for some time, thanks Al, and as a result everyone in Europe has 5 different bins in their kitchens: one for food scraps, one for paper, one for glass, one for baby mess and one for goldfish.  What a disaster and perish the thought of accidentally dropping a tea bag in the goldfish bin by mistake.  And what do you do with half eaten food in plastic packages?  Scrape it all out and then realise you can’t throw the plastic tub away because you can’t remember which bin to use?  It’s a veritable nightmare.

The crusade of extremist environmentalism has finally hit the Middle East, with the UAE being noted as the big pushers.  I don’t mind recycling, in fact I feel quite smug when I use the paper bin, but I don’t like to brag about it, I just get on with it quietly without causing a fuss.  But the whole recycling issue in the UAE is biblically flawed, chiefly because it is as convenient as not having a head.

The way to get people recycling is to make it as easy and as convenient as possible.  I promise that only a tiny minority of people will make the effort to drive out to the outskirts of town to visit the massive recycling centre, and then only those that have cars will do so.  80% of the UAE population don’t or can’t drive so what do you think they are going to do with all the aluminium cans and stool ridden nappies?

No, this won’t do at all.  You can’t have a big place in the middle of nowhere and expect people to make the effort to take their bin fodder there in person.  There are two options as far as I can see to really get people recycling here and to do our bit to make Al Gore and George Monbiot wealthy and smug: either people are employed to go picking through the waste sifting all the recyclables or we just give up and hope for the best.

I know that sounds dreadfully crass but a plan aimed to achieve recycling has to be realistic and enforceable.  How in gods name can an offender who put a nappy in the paper bin be traced from the dump site?  We all live in blocks over here so how can the rubbish men determine who threw out what?  And would they even care?  It can’t be done.

But that’s recycling, what about energy conservation?  Air conditioning units are alleged to be “exceptionally harmful to the environment” and as such have been put in the same category as the atom bomb.  Ok, I’m sure we can save a little bit of localised air pollution by turning the air conditioner off, but then we would all be too hot and thirsty, so we would need to buy more water and then we’d be stuck with the plastic bottles and no way of getting rid of them.  Yes we could turn the lights off but then we would stub our toes on the table in the dark and require the use of plasters and that won’t help because there isn’t a bin dedicated to medical waste.

I yearn for simpler times I really do.  But the whole environmentalism issue needs urgent review and reform.  The mad West has already gone too far down an insane path with its EU legislation and taxation, but the UAE has an opportunity to do it right.  What that is I don’t know, but it must be convenient, free and enforceable.  I have no interest in spending my own money on it, nor do I want to make any effort.  It should be as simple as throwing something in the bin.

Now, I have 63 empty wine bottles on the living room floor, does anyone know what I can do with them?

Tagged , , , , , , , , , ,

105. Teenagers

Do you remember being aged around 15-17?  I do, vividly.  They were some of the best years of my life yet also some of the worst.  You’re at that age when you’re old enough to go out by yourself and pretend to be a cool adult, but too young to actually do anything or go anywhere.  My friend’s and I would spend all week at school planning our Friday and Saturday nights.  We’d get a smart pair of jeans ready, a decent shirt, get some polish on the shoes, spray the Lynx, a splash of Joop and head out to town in the same direction as all the lovely girls.  Within 8 minutes our hope had been neutered by a big man in a doorway asking for a form of ID other than a library card.

It was a hopeless time, there was only one pub in the whole of Kingston-upon-Thames that would serve us; The Albion.  The reason being, I suspect, was that it was so crap and inhospitable that the owners just didn’t care.  And there were never any girls there.  Girls don’t need ID at that age anyway.  Sexist bouncers.

ID please. Says ‘ere that you’re name is Colonel Mustard and you were born in 1954. Where would you like to land, sir?

Usually what would happen is that we would go to one of our houses and deplete a father’s beer supply or take a bottle of mixed death to a park, sit on a bench and pretend to be vagabonds.  Upon turning 18 however, that was it, victory.  You would march up to the same bouncer who had been turning you away for a year with a smug grin, show him your driving licence and you’d be in, alone, because you’re friends don’t turn 18 for another 8 months.  Pathetic days, they really were.

Not much has changed; there is nothing to do for mid-teenagers anywhere in the world.  They are old enough to be pitching woo to the opposite sex, old enough to wish to adopt a lifestyle of partying, DJ-ing, dancing and drinking but too old to be stuck inside on a Friday night playing Cluedo with Grandma or watching Jim Davidsons Generation Game, if that’s still on.  Here in the UAE however the problem of occupation is ten time’s worse.

Growing up in hopeless Kingston there was always a chance you could get in somewhere, particularly at the end of the month if the brewery needed to push for its target income.  The worst that could happen is that you would get kicked out, no matter; you’d simply try somewhere else.  Here, can you imagine what would happen if an underage reveller was caught stumbling out of Barasti at 3am?  Worse still, the legal age for drinking is different.  You have to be 18 to drink in Abu Dhabi and 21 in Dubai.  I always thought that 21 is too old an age but that’s for another day.

Now then, as I wrote last week, the UAE has a tendency to come across as a confusing place for tourists and even expatriates.  Is it the country that will send you to jail for vomiting in the back of a taxi that you read about in The Daily Mail or is it that hedonistic party land where everyone wears swimwear and drinks Campari that you saw on TV last week?  It’s a nightmare to know what to expect.

The UAE, as we know, is an Islamic country and that’s great, their rules apply and we all abide by that.  We expats and tourists are allowed to quaff lager so long as we don’t create a pubic disturbance.  But we’re all old enough to do things and go places, think of the poor teenagers at home with Grandma and Colonel Mustard and his candlestick.  Well, an enthusiastic Irishman called Westleigh Flynn has come up with a solution.

He has started running teenagers only nights at his hotel, The Grand Midwest, and it all sounds great.  The ethos behind the move is to “treat teenagers like adults” and as such the strict, Blue Peter like motto is “No kids.  No adults.”  I confess I did snigger when I read this. It all sounds so dreadfully tedious.  I’ve had the misfortune to go to an under 18’s disco before an honestly, it is the worst thing in the world.  The music, the attitude, the suspicious looking DJ in a shell suit, the lack of booze…

Anyway the point of the whole thing is that it is supposed to be a place for “teeny-boppers” (cringe) to go and hang out and get a taster experience of what it is like to be an adult.  Stop right there, that is false advertising.  How does going to a nightclub where all you can drink are Banana Smoothies and 7-Up and play Fifa simulate adult life?  Where is the debt?  Where is the anxiety?  Where is the disdain for ones job?  Where is the fear that your wife will run off with the postman?  Where is the dread of the inability to deal with the hangover?  The car registration is up for renewal too.

All its doing is making these young teenagers believe that when they turn 18 in Abu Dhabi or 21 in Dubai their life is going to be one great big party.  Furthermore, when you go out to Barasti Bar or the 360 place there will not be Fifa X-Box games, there won’t be a piñata nor will there be pass the parcel.  No, there will be pretentious morons that you will want to hit, there will be people who will look at you like filth and there will be tequila to consume, and believe me that will likely put you off ever wanting to drink again.  There will be rejection, there will be self-loathing, there will be incurable hangovers and carrot chunks and you just wait until you see your bill at the end of the night.  You talk to a pretty girl about how good you are at Fifa on the X-Box and I promise you that you will be given the wrong number…

No, there is nothing to do for teenagers for a good reason.  Fluffy nightclubs with their computer games, lemon squash and CCTV do not prepare you for a real night out.  It all sounds like a paradise, and in essence it is.  You will be disappointed when you reach 18 in Abu Dhabi or 21 in Dubai when you go out, get laughed at by the regulars because you can’t neck a pint, get laughed at by the barman because you can’t afford the round and get laughed at by the girls because you’re wearing black shoes and they’re covered in sick.  No, the teenage years of hopelessness and failure prepare you for the day you’re old enough to hit the ground running and can learn for yourself.

Enjoy being a teenager and don’t waste time pretending to be an adult because honestly, it’s overrated.

Tagged , , , , , , ,

78. Commuting

Sometimes you have to look really deep at something to see the reasons behind it and nothing gets the bar stool classes jabbering quite like a new law.  Unless you have been living at the bottom of the sea for the past week you may have noticed that there has been a lot of brouhaha about Abu Dhabi government employees having to move to their city of work.

To begin with let’s go back through the reported facts so we can all broach this subject in a clear, level-headed manner.  First of all, Abu Dhabi government employees must now live within the borders of the emirate.  Secondly, you have a year to do it.

Right, that’s the facts done with, now let’s move onto the thoughts.  My first query is to ask for clarification of what a government employee actually is.  Is it just the folks working in the Ministries?  Does it include expatriates?  What about those who work for companies that are funded by the government?  What if you have a branch in a different city and you have to deliver some headed paper?  Is that illegal?  It seems that everyone works for a government entity somewhere along the line.  So really, is it all of us?

One of the main factors for this seemingly bizarre movement is that the government wants to cut down on traffic between other emirates.  That basically means the Abu Dhabi-Dubai road only.  This raises many problems.  What if you live in Dubai and commute to Abu Dhabi each morning because Dubai is your home?  What if your wife works in Dubai, she will then need to commute from Abu Dhabi to Dubai as opposed to you doing it the other way around.  What if Dubai brings in the same law?   All you’re doing is, well, nothing to curb the traffic and lining up a few divorce cases in the courts instead.  And that will require more driving.

Rents in both Dubai and Abu Dhabi are much cheaper than they used to be a few years ago, and lets be honest, commuting isn’t very expensive.  Fuel here is so cheap that it will hardly dent your debit card.  If you work in Abu Dhabi but live in Dubai then the odds are you have chosen it to be that way because it is more economical for you.  Yes they say that commuting is one of the most stressful things in the world, and that was true in the days of brown flared trousers, beards and un-air conditioned Austin Allegro’s.  But these days even the cheapest Kia is a comfortable place to be.  Stick on a bit of Kenny and Accalia’s Breakfast Show and – try – to enjoy The Eagles.

This road safety rhetoric that is being championed as the primary reason is highly flawed and, in all honesty, a poor excuse.  The new law means that you could still live in Al Ain and commute to Abu Dhabi and that makes no sense at all since it is a longer drive than that from Dubai.   During the rush hour the E22 is just as busy as the E11.

This inevitably leads us to the conspiracy theory.  Have you seen how many brand new developments there are in Abu Dhabi?  No, well there are many.  Have you ever driven through any of them?  They are like ghost towns in some cases, totally void of life because I can only assume they are too far out of the city or too expensive to buy or rent.  For as long as they all sit there merely taking up space they are not making any money so it stands to reason that the investors of such places are going to want action.  The bottom line is that they need filling, and there’s no time to waste.

See honey, I told you it was worth it. Ok I know that we’re 458 kilometres from the nearest Lulu Hypermarket but at least we won’t go to jail

I mean the places on Saadiyat Island and Yas Island actually look great, but they are very far out of the city.  Yes ok in 10 years the city may have reached out to them but you won’t be here then.  The villas opposite Ferrari World, despite looking like the town in Edward Scissorhands, are too far from the hustle and bustle of civilisation.  Taxis only come by on a Tuesday morning so if you want to pop out for a beer you’re looking at AED 240 there and back in taxi fares.

Of course you can’t really argue with a law and if you work for the government and are told that you must move to Abu Dhabi then that’s what you have to do.  But that means Johnny Landlord will smell you coming and spend hours of his free time adding extra 0’s to all the rent figures before he flees to Lebanon.  He can afford to do that because he knows you have no choice.  Sadly it means that all you will be able to afford is a wheelie bin, without a lid.

This is a lot to take in and if you’re a high flying Gordon Gekko type person then I’m sure spending AED 14 trillion on a new penthouse in the capital isn’t going to be a problem, but what about regular Joe’s who don’t earn as much?  If the government is willing to fund homes in the capital for its lesser paid employees then hurrah, victory dance, but how long can that dynamic last?  He’s paid to build them, now he’s paying for you to live there.  Does the money even exist?

Ultimately you should be weighing up the cost of a 90 minute commute against living in a wheelie bin without a lid.  If it’s cheaper for you to live in Dubai and drive to and from Abu Dhabi then that makes sense.  Otherwise quit your job and get a new one closer to home.

Alternatively, just don’t tell your boss your address, because addresses don’t exist anyway.

Tagged , , , , , ,

71. Happiness

What is happiness?  No, really.  Can it be defined?  When I was a youth, happiness was playing with my Lego, and then my Nintendo.  Before the callous franchising of the old Wimbledon FC to Milton Keynes, I was happy to leave Old Trafford with a draw, and then ecstatic when we knocked the Red Devils out of the F.A. Cup in 1997.  I was happy when AFC Wimbledon gained promotion to the football league in 2011.  I was also happy to see Damon Hill win the Formula 1 Drivers World Championship in 1996, as I was for Jenson Button in 2009.  I was happy when I passed my driving test 10 years ago, happy when Gordon Brown lost the last general election and happy the day that my Dad got rid of that awful British Leyland monstrosity; the Austin Maestro .

These are all circumstances, one off events that made me happy.  They happen, make me joyful, fade away, and then I’m back to reality.  It begs the question, is happiness a long term thing and can it be achieved?  I am forever hearing and reading about people who yearn for happiness, “I just want to be happy” they chant as they sink another cocktail and put their head in their hands.  Well, what’s stopping you being happy?  Seriously what will it take?

The first step is to slap yourself repeatedly and vigorously.  If you start bleeding from the cheeks then you have gone too far.  So slap in moderation.  You must drill it into yourself that you will never be happy if you keep telling everyone that you want to be happy.  This is pointless.  In the time you spent rambling on about what you do and do not want, you could have taken some affirmative action to find some of this elation that so eludes you.

Well, as luck would have it, I am here today to let you all in on a big secret…are you sitting down?  Happiness is not a destination, it’s a journey.  I know that scores quite highly on the blog-o-vomit scale but its true.  If you are sitting around waiting to shit a golden egg then you are going to be grey and old before you realise that your life has whizzed past in a whirlwind of chance and missed opportunities.  Happiness is not so much a choice but a perception.  You may not be happy about going to the same pub with the same people all the time, but for someone else that may be their idea of heaven.  You can’t pretend to be happy when you’re not.  You have to do whatever it takes since only you can make the changes, if not directly, then you have the power to manipulate circumstance in your favour.

So where does the UAE fit in to all of this?  Well when I first moved over here many moons ago I was a little scared.  It’s a strange place to get used to and I was primarily focussed on my work.  I plodded along for quite some time, then had a breakdown, then recovered, I was never unhappy, but nor was I overly happy either…I was just normal, mildly warm somewhere in the middle.  I was a bit lonely yes, but not unhappy.

You see, the UAE is a curious place that receives very mixed reviews.  Some people – like me (despite how I come across on this web-page) – love it.  Some people give it a far more negative appraisal and in all fairness their perception can be justified.  The UAE offers a lot to expatriates like you and I, but, and I’m sure that I’m not alone when I say this, sometimes you can’t help but feel that everything you do is a legal faux pas.  Drinking a beer, holding hands, running nude along Sheikh Zayed Road, you always feel that you could get into trouble.  And it’s this kind of attitude that can hinder the whole happiness matter and put people off taking a shot, or even coming here to begin with.  Think what these missers are potentially missing out on.

It’s these negative perceptions – spearheaded by Rupert Murdoch and his mindlessly immoral empire – that drive people away.  Had I believed all I had heard and read about the UAE without having seen it for myself then I would never have come here in the first place.  And that is scary.  Scary because had I not taken a gamble and boarded that Etihad Airways flight in 2008 then I would not have met a very special someone last summer.  I therefore would not have been able to start my journey through – not to – happiness, and this journey makes me very happy indeed.  Who would have thought I would find the route through happiness in a pretend English Pub in a small town called Al Ain on the tip of the Arabian Peninsula? The Lord does indeed work in very mysterious ways.

So, to conclude today’s dispatch, I would like to formally announce the engagement of Miss. Melanie Croxon and Mr. Martin Fullard.  Happy now, happy forever, and no Austin Princesses…

The official engagement picture…with thanks to our stunt models Terry Scott and June Whitfield… Mel, we’re not driving anything made by British Leyland…

Tagged , , , , , , , ,

69. Hotline

I remember my Media Studies teacher at college, Mr. Roberts…or Robertson…Rob-something or other, said to us “life only gets harder from here”.  It wasn’t exactly the moral boosting statement one wanted to hear, but in essence he was correct.  That avowal has stuck with me for 10 years and for 10 years I have tried to live by a motto: “let’s keep it simple”.  I see no point in trying to make things complicated when there are easy alternatives available.  What is the point, to impress people with your intellect?  To prove to others that you have a different way of thinking and that you are unique?  I fear so, but, and you won’t like this, you’re wrong.  Simplicity is the key to achieving goals.  The simplest idea is the usually the best one.

The UAE is known to not always do things the easy way.  There are many levels of bureaucratic people trying to justify their existence in the big companies.  There are lots of surplus people working for big multinationals who think that just because they live in the UAE that somehow gives them the right to a high salary for very little product.  So what these desperado’s do is come up with complicated new fangled ideas to prove their so-called worth.  Imagine a child being told to draw a straight line between “A” and “B”, but instead the child draws a never-ending squiggle that does loop-the-loop 147 times.  Do you see?  The extra time, money, effort and human cost is all superficial and un-necessary.

So what I want to know is who is responsible for creating this new centralised call centre that takes our home delivery orders?  The numbers start with 6005 and every takeaway restaurant seems to have one, from high-street names to the small curious ones that I’m sure fall below the recommended Health & Safety standards.  On the surface it sounds like a good idea, but in reality it has undone all my years of hard work.  You may recall 63 blogs ago – 6. Directions – that ordering a pizza was a hellish task.  Since there is no address system over here whenever you order out you have to spend several hours in a look-out post guiding the moped in via the stars with a compass.  The solution I posed was to get the mobile phone number of the driver and contact him directly each time you want to eat something fat and grotty.  Alas no more.

That’s it, yep…now turn left……right… left……that’s it right……

The other week I tried to order a pizza.  I called the usual man but he told me that I had to call the 6005 number.  I did so and spoke to someone in the central office.  I had to explain where I lived all over again before placing my order.  The lady on the phone was in Abu Dhabi and had never even heard of Al Ain, I knew then that I was in for more than I had bargained for.  Then inevitably after a few hours my phone rang, it was the delivery driver asking where I lived.  I guided him in under the northern star and eventually received my stone cold pizza.  Then a few days ago I wanted another pizza.  I called the 6005 number once more and had to give all the coordinates again.  After that the person on the phone spoke up and said that she had those details already; great.  Another few hours passed by and yep, a different delivery driver called to ask for directions.  So I went back up into the crows nest with the binoculars and navigated the moped in once more.

This concept is totally flawed.  Life was so simple when I only had to call the guy who knew where I lived.  I was a happy, satisfied customer but now I am angry.  I don’t order takeaway as much as I used to on account of my shrinking waistline but when you finish work at midnight the last thing you want to do is turn the stove on and start preparing the vegetables.  By the time you’ve laid the table, the sun has risen and its time for breakfast.

The only silver lining with this inconvenient centralised call centre is that it has put me off ever wanting to order takeaway again.  This will please my girlfriend as she will no longer have to make extra holes in my belts.  But, on the flip side, this is going to be detrimental to the local economies.  I’m sure I won’t be alone in the takeaway exodus and as such the business’s involved are going to start losing money.  If their sales strategists and marketing consultants are even half smart they will look back through the figures and notice that things started to slide when they signed up to this 6005 business.

This will hopefully mean that the businesses in question will need to cut back and hopefully the people who signed them up for the call centre in the first place will get the boot and justice will be served.  It’s un-necessarily complicated when the simple solution that existed beforehand worked just fine.

Then maybe, just maybe, the work-shy jobs-worth’s will become a thing of the past and we – the real hard-workers – can prove Mr. Roberts* wrong…

*Fairly sure it was Roberts and not Robertson or Robinson, good teacher.

Tagged , , , , ,

61. Recovery

Hey, if it helps, go for it…

A few blogs back I spoke up and told you all about my nervous breakdown.  One day I was fine and the next day I was a broken man, collapsing in supermarkets and going 3-4 days without sleep.  There were no tin-foil hats and only small amounts of dribble.  It truly was an unpleasant experience.  I’ll be honest with you; I get annoyed when people say they have been through it when they haven’t got a clue or that they understand when quite clearly they don’t.  Just because someone has had a pop at you and you cry because it’s made you upset does not make it a nervous breakdown.  That’s just something that happened.  We all have testing times and it doesn’t take a genius to decipher whether or not you’re just in a funny mood and you’ll be ok in 10 minutes or that your body is letting you down.

Today I offer advice to everyone, not only to those in the UAE, but world over, on how to deal with breakdown.  First of all, how does it all start?  Well, I hate to sound vague but it could be anything.  A past trauma, the realisation that your life is not as you wanted it, unhappiness or not speaking up and keeping your feelings to yourself.  These thoughts eat away at your background nervous system.  You have 2 by the way.  One of them is the one that makes you aware that your porridge is too hot and the other is the one that works in the engine room, controlling your heart beat, making you blink and keeping you breathing.  You can’t turn it off, it will always be there, but it can get worn out.  That’s basically what kicks the whole thing off.  You start to focus on your breathing, thinking that you control it.  You don’t.  Hold your breath, go on.  You’ll puff and breathe again shortly.  It won’t hurt.

If you are suffering from anxiety, you know that horrible taut feeling in your chest or you feel an overwhelming rising sense of panic then the first thing to do is to…embrace it.  Yep, sounds a bit mad but really, a panic attack cannot hurt you in anyway.  There are 2 options that are well known within in anxious circles, “Fight” or “Flight”.  They stem from natures rawest emotions.  My doctor (in the UK) made me think of it as meeting an equally sized man to myself.  This mirror-me is an assailant, do I stay and fight him? Or do I run away (flight)?  In the mind either way it doesn’t matter because I always win.  This mirror-me simply cannot harm me in any way.

For some, at the onset of a panic attack, sticking it out and ripping the arms off the chair and sweating works just fine.  For others, particularly if they are new to the club, prefer to run out of the room, to just get out.  Either is fine as the whole horrible feeling is temporary anyway.  Afterwards it is common to feel physically drained and to experience an overwhelming sense of relief, it’s not uncommon to cry regardless of how big and macho you think you are.  It’s the release you’ve been waiting for.  Think of the tears as the finish line. Tell those around you so they will be aware if you have a funny turn as opposed to running you through the gossip mill.  Never feel embarrassed by it.

It’s all fairly simple.  The body basically thinks that it is under attack so it releases more adrenalin.  Of course if you were competing in a motor-race this adrenalin would be expected, you’d feel the rush.  Only you’re not in a motor-race, you’re sitting at your desk at work deleting meaningless emails.  The adrenalin rush has come at a dull moment and you are led to believe that you are in trouble.  You’re not, you’re dandy.  It is not uncommon for the adrenalin rush go to your head, as a result you feel light headed, that you are about to start floating off the floor, or that there is a band around your head getting tighter and tighter.  It’s just tensed muscles.  You have to ride it out but don’t worry, you won’t get hurt.

Don’t be a fool and think that you can make it all go away by yourself, you will need help, or a crutch as I like to call it.  You decide what roll your crutch will play.  My crutch was my dad.  I was fortunate in that he went through it too when he was younger so was able to answer the phone from 4000 miles away whenever I needed him.  Whenever I felt that I was having a moment I would call him, just to talk to him.  What he offered was a combination of moral lifting support and – most importantly – distraction.

Distraction is an important element.  A panic attack fuels itself.  The more you think about it, the more you panic, it’s a nasty cycle.  The trick is to distract your mind in the simplest of ways.  Dust down a copy of Jeremy Clarkson from the bookshelf, or stick a DVD in the machine.  Maybe get the cookbook out and throw together some of the weird looking stuff that Gordon Ramsey makes.  You’ll be surprised at what a difference it will make.

At first it isn’t fun.  You feel like you have lost the use of your legs and are confined to bed.  You can’t bear to face the day.  You become agoraphobic (fear of being away from a place of personal safety, not a fear of going outside as is usually thought).  And then you associate places with past attacks and they become triggers.  I was shafted because my three main trigger places were home, work and my favourite bar.  The only 3 places I went to, and Al Ain is a small town and it took a hell of a lot of guts to go back to them.

You will notice that with each wave of panic the intensity lessens and the time between them increases.  It starts off being hours apart, then days, then weeks, then months and finally years.  After 6 months you will deal with it without batting an eyelid.  The recovery period varies person to person; it took me about 6 months to feel half normal again, 9 months before I had a firm control and 14 months before I had all of my confidence back.  So don’t worry about that…it will be ok in the end.  Just remember to refrain from making any big decisions whilst going through a moment, wait for a return to the rational realm.

In the UAE there are places you can go.  I went to my highly rated local hospital and all I was told was that I needed a beer…seriously that’s what the guy said.  I later found (but have never visited) the German Neurology Hospital in Dubai.  On their website they lay it all out and if you are ever in trouble over here, get your ass down there.

Of course I didn’t know about that place at the time.  What I had was a book given to me by my dad.  It is an old orange book published in 1963 and was rented by my dad from Wimbledon library in the 70’s (the late fee for that must be huge).  Self help for your nerves by the late Claire Weekes.  That book will literally cure you; it stopped me doing something very stupid.  It saved my life.

And how am I now?  Alive, well and unquestionably happy.


Tagged , , , ,

60. Weight

Fatty Arbuckle why?

Beanpole.  Lanky.  Skinny.  Scrawny.  These are just a selection of colloquial monikers that I used to get called between the ages of 0 and 23.  I am 6 foot tall and rather under-muscled.  At 23 my waist measured to a desirable 28 inches.  I could eat an extra large pizza glazed with Big Mac’s and sprinkled with lard and still my slender frame cut through the air like Thrust II.  Ah yes, the thin years.  I look back with fondness in the same way that parents of raucous teenagers look back at pictures of their offspring when they were innocent babies; before the rebellion.

I used to walk, run for the school athletics team, play football with a keen but incompetent flare and I used to race karts with 30kg of lead bolted to them.  My skinny stature was my trademark, that and my Gary Lineker ears and Ronald McDonald feet of course.  Then one day I found myself living in the UAE and all of a sudden bending down to pull on my socks started to become a sweat-breaking chore.  The bulging continued over the course of the next few years and now, as I sit here on a stressed and creaking chair I look back and wonder where it all went wrong.

I am, according to a recent poll, one of the worst cooks in the entire world.  No salad goes un-burnt and no meal is free of cheese.  Cooking is something I have had to learn by myself, in the same way that a monkey learns to write bestseller novels.  The best way to get around the whole cooking business is to order out.  The high street names are frequently called upon to provide me with fatty sustenance.  If I don’t fancy high street gluttony I will opt for the expensive, ghee drenched hotel food instead.  I think it is fair to assume then that my diet over the last 4 or so years has been abysmal.  How I have not succumbed to scurvy thus far remains a mystery.

Another cause of this equatorial waist line can be pinned on the absence of exercise.  Back in the glorious towns of Kinston-upon-Thames and Surbiton I would walk to, from, and between pubs.  It was fabulous.  I would leave the house, walk for 9 minutes to the Victoria for a pint, then on to the Coronation Hall for another few.  After that my friends and I would walk towards Kingston via the Grove Tavern, and then on to the Slug and Lettuce before going to the Bishop out of Residence and then onto the now fallen giant; Oceana, and then walk home again.  That was a total of about 8 miles, 12 if you include all the zig-zagging across the pavement and 56 if you were running from a knife wielding drug addict.

Here the concept of walking between bars is absurd.  First of all it’s too hot.  It serves no purpose going into a bar reeking of foul body odour and drenched in sweat.  The bars are also too far apart.  Thirdly if you are caught lurching drunkenly down the street then you’ll be locked up in the cells quicker than an Iranian scotch merchant.  Lastly, taxis are jolly cheap and are usually in vast abundance, so it makes sense to use the service.

Since the turn of the year as I have continued my struggle to find my toes, I have started to make some changes.  I no longer take comfort from the much discussed “Dubai stone”, which is about 6 kg and apparently happens to everyone over here.  I have caught Dubai stone 4 times so I have now said enough is enough.

The first change is the diet.  By the grace of God my girlfriend is a tremendous cook and is very savvy on what can make you look like Mark Wahlberg, and what can make you look like Fatty Arbuckle.  So the white bread is in the bin, the brown bread is served in elegant portions.  Eggs are now poached and not fried.  The cheese has been replaced with lettuce and the Big Mac replaced by Shepherds pie.  Just having eaten well for 2 weeks the difference is amazing.  I have been able to spot my toes, which I previously believed to be as well hidden a myth as Higgs Boson…

I have also, and queue the canned laughter, finally paid to join a gym.  What’s more interesting is that I am actually going there regularly.  What’s even more interesting is that I am still alive.  The blubber in my cheeks is disappearing, my toes and feet have now been rediscovered and I feel the best I have felt in years.  It’s only been a month but already the results are plain to see.  I work hours that don’t really give me the opportunity to get into a set routine and I am always rushing around all over the place.  In the past this would have been a perfect excuse to “miss one day” and eat a pizza instead.  But no, through the packed schedule I find myself making time.

It was reported this week that the UAE has the 5th highest level of obesity in the entire world.  And this is something I spotted a while ago.  But how can that be so?  People over here, well, the offenders, have so much free time on their hands.  At what cost is 1 hour in the gym 5 days a week?

…More expensive than a Big Mac ok, but if you insist on going to McDonalds at least order a Diet Coke instead…

Tagged , , , ,