Tag Archives: British Empire

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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158. Red tape

Have you ever wondered where things went so wrong in Britain? I mean once upon a time we literally ruled the waves; we were unbeatable on the water as we saw off the French and the Spanish Armadas with ease before sailing off to tame the world. Britain used to have it all under control. At times it was inhuman and evil, and at others it was charitable and kind, but we were a nation of doers; we always got the job done.

During The Great War, we and the Allies saw off the Axis powers and 21 years later we did it again. Many of our Grandparents gave their lives so that we could be free; and so too could the multitude of colonies under British mandate. Fast forward to 2013 and take a look around. If an aggressor decided that he – or she in Argentina’s case – wanted a foothold on our territory, do you think we would be able to put up much of a fight?

I have been kidding myself about this for a long time, and I am saddened to report that I don’t think Britain would last very long. Our Navy fleet are now floating museums, and our submarines are crashing into Scotland. The RAF now only works with paper planes, and, of course, the solitary Vulcan that was saved this week by some men from a pub. Then we have our brave boys and girls in the Army, who have been stretched further than Kim Kardashian’s pregnancy pants.

But, oddly, it is not the laughable Navy, rusted Sopwith Camels or the 18 soldiers that we have left that makes me fear us losing in a spot of international pugilism, but the fact that everything you ever need takes so bloody long.

This week I took my friend to the Al Ain licensing section so that we could get him his UAE driving license. It sounds simple enough and sure enough it was. We went in with the required documents, were handed a ticket, sat next to a man who smelled of vegetables and within 23 minutes we were out. Task completed. It was amazingly efficient and I’ll be honest, I had to eat my hat.

I know I come before you frequently and moan about this and that, and certainly the UAE has a long way to go in certain areas; like sorting a working visa. But the process of getting a driving licence was so astonishingly quick and easy it has technically made UAE Uncut null, void, and as credible as an Alistair Campbell WMD dossier.

I'm telling you. Two minutes I was in and out. New licence: job done my son.

I’m telling you. Two minutes I was in and out. New licence: job done my son.

When did you last try to renew your driving licence back home? Does the DVLA website allow you to do it online? Not without a qualification in astrophysics. No, you have to post off this and that and wait 3-4 weeks for your metro-sexual, EU-embossed, recycled, pink card to arrive through the letter box. It is so dated and useless. Why can they simply not set up offices around the country and employ 5-6 ex-coal miners and bankers to simply print you a new card?

The same is true with your passport. Another friend of mine has recently tried to renew her passport, complete with Queen’s message, from over here. After completing the form, scribing down the card details, getting the photograph lined up and so on she is now 104 years old. Still, 4-6 weeks is how long she was told that she would have to wait. Passport templates are all the same, the only page that needs printing is the photo page, and how in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Ghost can that take between 4-6 weeks?

What are they doing over there in Liverpool? A background check takes five minutes, and the useless courier that will be charged with its safe delivery will only take two or so days to get it back to you. How can 4-6 weeks be justified?

The UAE has Britain crucified on this one; thankfully we’re allies so maybe they can teach us a thing or two. But what if it only takes President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad 30 minutes to renew his passport? Or, worse still, what if Mrs. De Kirchner is able to sort out a new driving license for one of her cabinet while on her lunch break? Do you think that they will then hang around? No. Whereas you can imagine what would happen in Blighty; as the four minute warning sounds, the fighter pilots tasked with defending us wouldn’t be allowed to take off because they won’t have the right piece of paper, and the new one will be stuck in the sorting office.

Once, the world hated Britain. Today, they just laugh.

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153. Dubai GDP

The question on everyone’s mind right now is: is Dubai back? What a lovely question. The question is a simple one, and if you were to replace the noun with, say, David, then it would be far easier to answer. David is either here or not. Dubai, on the other hand, never really went away. Its Star Trek skyline has been there all the while, peppered with cranes and heras fencing. Of course, when the Lehman Brothers jumped out of their 100th floor office window, they left Dubai with a nasty scar, a wound that will never really heal.

But that was in 2008 and in my experience if you just go ahead and pretend that the problem has gone away then, really, nothing can go wrong. It seems that I am not the only one with this idea. Dubai has left the troubles behind them and is now powering into the next decade with its big guns out.

But I have noticed something a little bit worrying. It would seem that over the course of time, Dubai’s prosperity has mirrored that of regional events. Whenever there has been an episode, all of a sudden the coffers start to fill up. Take the first Gulf War, the one when Saddam Hussein invaded Kuwait. Bang, straight away the Dubai spin-doctors were advertising it as a logistics hub for the assisting parties.

Then there was the second Gulf War. Dubai instantly became recognised as the base for Iraq-focussed companies. The same is true of the war in Afghanistan and the daily conflicts that plague Pakistan and Lebanon. And what of the Iranian lot over the water? Dubai, more so than Abu Dhabi, likes to be thought of as the regional go-to-guy, the big kid in the playground who will look after you in exchange for protection money.

After Dubai’s economy went south at the end of 2008, the treasury was all but closed down and the money stayed firmly under lock and key. Growth was slow and at times it looked as if Dubai was dead in the water. Then, in early 2011, a Tunisian market trader set himself on fire and the Arab Spring began.

Civil unrest swept across the Middle East, felling dictators like Hosni Mubarak and Colonel “definitely not mental” Gaddaffi. Forgive me if it sounds crass – as the movement is still in action and tens of thousands have lost their lives – but the instability of the region has allowed Dubai’s growth to accelerate. Business that once was headed for Egypt, for example, is now here.

Egypt has long been the preferred tourist destination in the Arab World, with its tolerance of all things western in the tourism hotspots and such mind-blowing attractions like the pyramids. But the uprisings have all but obliterated one of the world’s most desirable destinations. Airport traffic has increased 16% year on year. Dubai, really, has been one lucky son of a gun.

Trading off the maxim of being the “safe haven of the Middle East”, however, does leave Dubai in a bit of a pickle. How long can it rely on the conflicts elsewhere in the region to effectively bail it out? Had it not made millions from selling use of its ports in the Gulf Wars or lucked into diverted tourism and international commerce from the recent uprisings, where would it be?

Dubai doesn’t have oil; that was all finished years ago. Abu Dhabi takes care of selling the black gold. How will Dubai stand on its own two feet when world peace happens? It is no secret that the Emirate has been looking to diversify from natural resources for some time. Primarily it has looked to develop tourism and international finance. But without a sizable export portfolio that will only get them so far. Beyond petroleum and natural gas, Dubai’s primary exports are fish and dates. Err…we may need to think of a few more.

Thankfully, Dubai has a new ally in the shape of UAE Uncut and today I have come up with an idea. In order to boost export revenue, why not start selling sand? No, really. Sand has many uses and is in more or less infinite supply. Bricks, aquariums, mortar, concrete, paint, kitchen counters, low quality glass; the list is endless. Ultimately the desert is a barren waste land, so scooping up a few bucket loads and selling them to Autoglass is a winner; surely? The infrastructure already exists; the old oil tankers can be used to transport sand to Europe, and there are plenty of diggers and dumpers knocking around.

Now, Mr. Willy Wonka, I want exclusive rights to your sand...

Now, Mr. Willy Wonka, I want exclusive rights to your sand…

Nature will be on Dubai’s side, too. When the shamal (wind) picks up and half of Saudi Arabia is blown across the UAE then the sand coffers will be replenished and they can continue to sell it on to men in Ford Transits. Think of the fortune they could make. This “deal in the desert” will be far better than the one Blair did…

Well, I’m no trade envoy, but surely my half-cock idea of selling sand to manufacturing industries all over the world is better than relying on international finance, investment and regional unrest. Conversely, if you can put it in a box and sell it, you can trust it; its existence cannot be denied. If you can only see it as a long number on an accountant’s computer then trust it in the same way that you would trust your genitals in the hands of a lunatic with a pair of scissors.

So, is Dubai back? Yes. And watch out.

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149. Expats

Precisely at some unconfirmed moment last year I wrote a blog about the hypocrisy in the UAE. In order to really get the gist of it you had to read between the lines. There were many reasons for my subterfuge, chiefly related to words like “jail”, “blogger” and “cavity search.” Today, however, there is no such masquerade and the views expressed will be as obvious as Kim Jong-Uns’ feelings towards NATO.

Since moving to the UAE I have learnt to control and align my thoughts, and really, it has been very difficult. I have had to change my views on this world to suit the reality of it, and that has been most inspiring. Let us look at British immigration as a case study. These days it is very easy to be racist. Well, it’s not; a joke can be joke to one man, but an insult to another. But the fact that immigration has run riot over the last decade causes a lot of fist thumping and inspired debate in the Fox & Socialist every Friday evening.

I'll tell you why you have no idea what you're talking about...

I’ll tell you why you have no idea what you’re talking about…

You see, when Britain first decided that it wanted to rule a quarter of the globe, it was always inevitable that those whom we civilised/conquered – delete as applicable – were going to join our family. Of course the Indian community in the UK is huge, and that is due in part to the Mau Mau Uprisings in Kenya in the late 50’s. I’ll let Jeremy Paxman give you the details, but in essence the British, together with the Indians who were there under the imperial banner, were expelled from Kenya. Since generations of Indians had grown up in the African nation, they were effectively made homeless and where better to move to than the country that had sworn to protect them, and who took them to Africa in the first place? (Historical correction: It was in fact nothing to do with the Mau Mau lot and all to do with some guy call Idi Amin from Uganda, who basically had the bollock-ache and sent everyone packing.)

Of course over time more and more people wanted to move to the UK and that, really, should be taken as a compliment. I despise the Labour Party and most of their policies, but even I find it laughable that “immigration” (in the out-of-control sense) can be attributed to Blair’s Barmy Army between 1997 and 2010. Maggie filled a labour gap, so to did Wilson and Heath. How many times have you been sat in the Fox & Socialist and heard mad Jim the taxi driver talk to equally mad Bob the plumber about “all these foreigners comin’ over ‘ere takin’ all our jobs!”? Plenty, I’d imagine. But to whom are they referring, the British born Indian who has worked hard and led an honest life as a Doctor or the hard working Lithuanian who would happily work seven days a week cleaning up your shit?

I am forever reading about people on benefits who purposely have 28 children just so they don’t have to work. Then there are those of an “I’d rather stay in bed” disposition who enjoy telling everyone on Facebook what they think the government could be doing better. But tell them to go and get a job and the retort is “there isn’t any work.” Nonsense, there is work out there, just not as a TV star. Would Anatolij the plucky ex-solider from Lithuania do that? Or would he be of the mindset of “if I don’t go to work today then I won’t have a bed from which to get out of.”?

Oh don’t get me wrong, there are crazed lunatics from Birmingham with fetching beards and who want to blow people up and there are Romanian gypsies who want to eat your dog, but there are also Mick Philpotts and Jimmy Savilles.

But returning to my point, if there was one, I can’t remember. If I sat here saying that British immigration was out of control (in reference to legal immigration, not the Albanians who cling to the landing gear of EasyJets) then I would be a massive hypocrite. Because here I am, in the heart of the Middle East, living in a foreign country, earning a salary in Dirhams and ordering beef bacon and labneh for breakfast. I am employed by an Emirati company therefore I am an immigrant. I’ve never fully understood the difference between an “immigrant” and an “expatriate.” As far as I can tell, it is a terminology used solely to make me feel more important than those who wear blue jump suits and who are ferried to and fro in un-air-conditioned death traps.

Back home in Surbiton, I can walk up the high street and the last language I will hear will likely be English. If I want to buy an Arabic newspaper from a Romanian in an Indian shop then I’m sorted. What, really, makes the UAE any different? Why is immigration a problem in the UK but not in the UAE? The Emiratis’ only make up 10% of the population; that’s 800,000.

If I go to a petrol station in London and the man behind counter can only speak Urdu then I tut, wag my finger and say “Ah! English!” But the other day I went to a shop in Al Ain to buy some hardware and discovered much to my chagrin that I couldn’t speak Arabic.

The rubbish that some of my fellow expats – or “immigrants” – come out with is nonsensical. They sit there in a hotel bar criticising the UK’s immigration policies when there they are; an immigrant in the UAE who can’t speak Arabic.

Just like me. Damn.

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146. Language

Beef-witted zaftys'

Beef-witted zaftys’

I am deeply fond of the English language. Out of all the languages in the world it is the one I speak, like, the most bestest. The English language has endured for millennia and one principle reason why is that it has evolved with its users. As man has grown and developed, his discourse has shadowed every move.

I studied English language at college and it really is fascinating. Even the most TOWIE of modern society can indentify differences between the 1950’s and today. During the war, when a Dambuster successfully busted a dam with one of his bombs, he would shout “wizard!” in exultation. Today, the same man would shout “f*****g ‘av it!” The dynamic of our language has changed, and that is one reason it is still globally dominant, and why French is not. French is a closed shop and as such in 200 years time may not be spoken at all, like Latin. English grows with each generation.

I like to use archaic words in speech because I find them amusing. A friend and I recently had an entire conversation using a selection of words that have not been used since the Victorian era; lunting, groak, resistentialism, queerplunger. What fabulous words. Then there are contemporary words that I don’t approve of, especially when their context has been misappropriated; bear safe, as in bear safe. Fat, as in it is good or it is bad depending on your levels of telepathy and blood-cannabis ratio. Allow, as in yes, I approve or sorry, I do not agree. I can’t make head nor hide of it.

Then, of course, there are those who use the wrong words at the wrong time. Nothing gets under my skin more than someone who says that something is “well good” when really it should be “very good” or “really good.” Then there are those who don’t understand the meaning of “them” and say “put them ones in that bag” as the word “those” is sent marching with its bindle. “That” and “which” are frequently swapped around and then there is the incessant and un-necessary overuse of the word “like” at seemingly random intervals. “D’ya know what I mean?” no, moron, I really don’t.

I do not approve of poor syntax and I fight it wherever I find it, normally by throwing knives and sachets of polonium. My case is that if you go ahead and speak to someone from the Indian sub-continent by saying “Hiya, when you finished, put them things in that bag you got. Sweet, cheers m’ dears” then they will adopt similar prose before too long. This will cause a great deal of confusion, especially if I speak to them afterwards and invite them for a spot of lunting.

Herein lies the problem, as English is an ever-evolving animal, it makes it well tough for those wishing to learn it. The problem is no more noticeable than here in the UAE. As we come from all over the world, there are many different English dialects circulating and those whose mother tongue is not English must be scratching their heads and wondering who’s in charge.

Things like spelling, punctuation and grammar no longer seem to matter. There are errors all over the place. No, really, how can that be? There are enough English speaking residents in the UAE to assist with the governance of the language. I’m sure there are Arabic errors, too, but every day when I drive past the “English Spaking School” I feel as if I should crash my car into the sign on purpose to protect the masses. People will see it and think that’s it ok, no more so than the children. And that is not fair.

Of course, miscommunication happens everywhere, it is only natural, but somehow it feels as if the UAE suffers more than most. And it can’t all be pinned on racial classification or stereotype, either. No, if I ring my female staff’s landlord then I know straight away that I am going to have to tone it all down. If I called him and spoke properly, as I would to you, then he would most likely catch fire. “Good morning, Mr. Farook. Now, the family of rats that have moved in with the girls are starting to use an awful lot of hot water. The problems I have with this are two-fold; firstly, the disease in which they bring with them is causing my staff to die. Secondly, words cannot express how unhygienic this is, I mean do they have to share the same bathroom?” He would have exploded by the time I had said his name.

What I have to say instead is “Hello, Mr. Farook. Is Mr. Marty, yes, Marty? Ok, there is rats inside this one. You will make gone?” He will understand and execute. So in order to achieve my goal I have to sell out and modify my English to suit his level. Oh it’s not his fault, I could learn Urdu or whatever the hell he speaks, but there’s no time.

But I can’t speak to the CEO of Mubadala like that; I’d be dropped into the shark tank. I would again have to modify my speech to suit the person to whom I am speaking with. It’s a nightmare. You are therefore forced to judge everyone you meet within a nanosecond and resultantly speak to them in a pre-determined style, whether that is like a pigeon or the Queen.

Nothing can halt this phenomena, it is just another stage in the evolution of the English language. And, if I’m honest, I am quite willing to embrace it. I would far rather speak in pigeon English than speak like a pigeon brained TOWIE cast member. Totes? What the hell is that? But, let it be known that despite my willing embrace, I am far happier being a spermologer who’s tyromancy is as Englishable as the snoutfair that I am.

If English isn’t allowed to grow the result would be catastrophic; it’d go the way of Latin, or worse still, French.

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145. Tourists

Sorry things have been quiet on the UAE’s favourite website this last week; I have been clinically dead with the sniffles. And a cough. The only energy I have had is the energy to moan about how Panadol is utterly useless and that I should be transferred to an intensive care unit post haste. After a week of standing on the precipice of eternal darkness I am pleased to report that I am now back to full fitness and that life can resume.

Gonna make a supersonic man out of you...

Gonna make a supersonic man out of you…

When I was back in London two weeks ago I was, as far as I was concerned, a tourist. So being on holiday I opted to do what most tourists like to do when they’re on a break; get drunk. I do enjoy a good drink and to share a pint with friends and some high brow banter is nothing short of holiday perfection. Preferably, I would have liked to do such a thing on the beach, but since the closest alternative I have is the Thames and that it was -1 Celsius outside I was forced into the centrally heated pubs and clubs about town. No matter, dancing and singing, drink I did and drunk I was; burning through the skies, two hundred degrees, that’s why they call me Mr. Fahrenheit…

Once any given evening came to a natural conclusion I found myself needing sustenance, so to either the Royal Fish Bar or Subway I went. I then proceeded to walk home, stumbling across the pavement and sharing opinions with hedges and lamp posts alike. Then, to my hotel, well, my Dad’s house. After very, very quietly opening the door, slamming it, stepping on the cats’ tail, falling up the stairs, falling back down them again and sshhing the bathroom door I made my way to bed peacefully only to arise the following morning with a desire to do it all over again. It was a great holiday. Of course once back in the UAE I had to put my bowler hat back on, fix my tie, jump in the Merc and head to my business meeting.

You may have noticed that lately there has been a lot of brouhaha in the media about tourists here in the UAE getting into trouble. It is common knowledge the there are vast swathes of British media who, in an uneducated fashion, love to pour scorn over the UAE. The tiniest thing goes wrong for one unlucky Brit over here and The Daily Mail goes mad for it. Forget the fact that a poorly written set of words on a page prevents Great Britain from deporting Abu Qatada, a man who vows to destroy us, and that we can’t stop our own people abusing our own welfare state, no, the UAE gets dragged through the mud whenever some mad TOWIE wannabe says “blast” to a policeman.

Recently, two men tried to intervene in what they thought was an attack. One morning, after a heavy night on the beers, the two men witnessed a man tackling a woman and trying to force her into a car. Put yourself in their position, what would you do? Yep, I’d probably do the same as them; get stuck in and wait for the Victoria Cross. So the two lads took the guy out, sat on him and set the young lady free, hero’s they were. Except there was a problem; as it turned out, the lady was a prostitute and the man was an undercover policeman arresting her, well, that’s what he said anyway.

So the two men now find themselves in trouble. They had alcohol in their systems from the night before (and to clarify, that doesn’t necessarily mean that someone is drunk) and they assaulted a police officer. Good luck, lads, I hope common sense prevails.

Elsewhere, a Dutch woman finds herself in a spot of bother after being robbed. She reported the crime to the police and was not offered any help. She became irate and passed comment on the attending officer. It is also alleged (thanks, Leveson) that she spat on the officer, too. The prognosis was that she was drunk, at midday. So she also faces the cells.

Being a tourist here can be a hazard. I mean, in order to consume alcohol legally you have to have an alcohol license. But in order to get one you have to be a resident with a visa and an Emirates ID card, so how in the name of Sweet Mary is a tourist going to get one? It can’t be done; therefore being a tourist in itself is technically illegal. The police are not public servants in the same way that our lot are. Yes they are paid for by the state, but there is no “my tax pays your wages blah blah blah” cobblers. They don’t care about your back story; if you don’t play by the UAE rules then you’re in trouble and it’s your own fault for not doing the research. Don’t you wish that the British police were like that sometimes?

Sadly reading such stories will put a lot of people off coming to the UAE and there is a stable economic future, built on trade and tourism, to be considered. If people see that you can end up inside for having a slice of sherry trifle for dessert then they may opt to go elsewhere. That doesn’t bode well for the future of the Emirates and the situation will need review. However, if you do fall into the bracket of looking for an alternative holiday destination, then may I make a suggestion? Have you considered a holiday in Kingston-upon-Thames, London?

Sure the UK is full of hate preachers, green party supporters, benefits tourists and high visibility jackets, but I was there the other week and I had one of best times of my life. I got battered, was able to stay warm on the premise that I went nowhere near the outside world, there was no tourism taxation, and the police only threatened to arrest me if I used the wrong bin in the kitchen, not for being drunk.

The downside was that I nearly died of hyperthermia and brought the sniffles back to the UAE with me, which meant I couldn’t have a drink all week. But it was well worth it.

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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…

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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.

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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.

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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.

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