Friday, December 31, 2004

Channel 33 Is No More

You really need to know about television in the UAE. Yes, you do!

It's pretty much crap. Mind you, I'm biased, having been brought up in the UK where television programming of the highest quality used to fall out of the sky and into your viewing-box virtually for free (well, you had to buy an annual licence to be allowed to watch BBC, but looking back on it that was an absolute bargain).

We left quality TV behind when we came to the Emirates. When we arrived, 2 or 3 satellite-based subscription services were just starting up, but they cost way too much, so we made do with the free-to-air stuff that came out through the socket in the wall. We had: BBC World (until they moved it to a satellite), Sky TV (India-based English language channels, fairly good until Rupee Murdoch moved it to subscription-based satellite - pay for Star? You jest, surely!), and Channel 33 (local government-owned station with no budget for original production, a couple of people who would read the news they'd nicked from CNN, and an annual budget of about $500 to buy in old programmes from the US, UK and Oztralia).

Right now we get Channel 33 (very fuzzy), CNN International, and MBC 2. MBC is interesting - they broadcast from the building next to my office and show some good comedy shows and movies. An aside, one of their phone numbers is very similar to my office number, because I sometimes get a dozen phone calls or messages from puzzled Saudis who just shout 'alloo? MBC?' at me or the answerphone. Sometimes they sing in Arabic.

I've never really fancied any of the satellite packages. From what I've seen, everything except news gets recycled several times at different times of the month, and none these channels have any kind of personal or local identity. And I've never been swayed by the idea of a 'sports channel' or a 'shopping channel' or a 'natural history channel'. How sad do you have to be to just watch a non-stop diet of the same thing? So, we don't get the big sporting events on the box in our house. If I'm up for it, I can just go down to my local club, where they will have it on various 96-inch plasma tellies scattered around the place, 300 other people, and as much beer as you want to drink. Suits me.

What used to happen back in the UK was that you had four channels, each of which had designed a balanced evening of stuff that you could sit down and watch. And because you only had four channels you could understand the listings, and decide that you wanted to watch programme X on channel Z at this time. It was easy to understand, it was entertaining, and I watched TV a hell of a lot more than I do now.

I understand that TV watching is in a bit of decline anyway because people now play with computers a lot more - this distracts the eyes and (sometimes) the brain. They are playing games - FreeCell beats any soap everytime, for me. They are interacting with online friends. They could even be blogging.

But, wait! Back to the original point of this story. Channel 33 was relaunched as TV One (or One TV, can't quite figure it out) a week ago. It has some very nice station graphics, but the signal we have coming out of the wall is exactly as fuzzy as Channel 33 was, so I haven't bothered looking at it yet. And I know that's not their fault, we need to get a digital receiver - but these are hard to come by without subscribing for a package of 100-channels-of-shite from Showtime or Orbit or E-vision. But hey, they have some new programmes, and one them is 'The Naked Chef' - Jamie Oliver with his clothes on. When TV One was Channel 33 that would abolutely not have been allowed - they might have re-titled it 'The Chef Who Tells You Everything' or something, but 'Naked' in the title of a programme? Get outta here!

So, I'm just an Old Fogey, aren't I. I'm not remotely interested in paying about 40 quid a month for satellite shite. Even when I've tried watching TV on trips back to the UK I have not been impressed - I sat there watching 'Big Brother' for a few hours, I'd read a lot about it before my last trip back, but for the life of me I cannot see the appeal. Maybe I'm too clever. Yes, that's it.

I know that the communications industry is hurtling into a period of fragmentation (other pundits might call it 'convergence'). Twenty years ago you had a TV market in most territories that had two or three channels/networks, and that would account for most of the audience. If you wanted to advertise on these networks, you could have a pretty good idea of who was watching. It's not like that anymore. People could be watching any one of a hundred channels. Or they could be arsing about on their computer. Or, having broken the TV habit, they could even be reading a book!

So, wappnin? I think that people are ignoring TV more and more, because all it offers is a diet of pap (are you listening Rupee Murdoch - we don't want your shite). There will always be a lot of people who don't mind/actively enjoy that pap. But a lot of people are going to realise that staring at the box every night is not only not good for you, but you can have a more fulfilling life if you don't do it. You can always buy DVDs/videos, go to the movies, and see the World Cup Final somewhere much more exciting than from your couch.

Nuff said. Telly is dead, I reckon.

When it Snows in the Desert

I'll pay you... when it snows in the desert.

Well, it happened two days ago. Snow was reported on the peak of a mountain in Ras Al Khaimah (one of the Northern Emirates). There was a bit of snow, and the Ruler of RAK went up the mountain to check. The temperature was apparently -2 Celsius, which is just extraordinary.

It was even picked up by the BBC!

This is the first reported snow in the UAE since records began, 33 years ago. Remember that the UAE was only established formally in 1971. Before that it was a British Protectorate known as The Trucial States, and there are no reports of snow from that era.

Wishing you all a very Happy New Year.

Tuesday, December 28, 2004

Reading Matter

I was given the latest Pterry Pratchett, 'Going Postal' for Christmas. I read it in a couple of days and I'm pleased to report it's one of the better ones.

Up until Christmas I had been plodding through book 4 of Steven King's Dark Tower series. It's over 800 pages, not action-packed, and took a lot of will power to get through (guess I didn't enjoy it much).

On the vision side, Santa brought us a DVD of the BBC TV series 'The Office'. I'd never seen any of this before, but I'd heard of it and it has received tons of acclaim. We watched the entire 6-episode series in one sitting, and loved it to bits.

More Weather

This is probably fallout from the S.E. Asia tsunami disaster, but we've been having lots of rain the last couple of days. And what do you do when you live in the desert and it rains? You goes out in it, that's what you do.

So yesterday morning I awoke at 4 a.m., having been comprehensively bitten by mosquitos, couldn't get back to sleep, and so went for a long walk in the rain until about 6 a.m. By the way, a bit of local folklore. When you get a mozzie bite, press salt into the wound. It gives immediate relief. And this morning (it's almost 3 a.m. now), we had some thunder and lightning at 1a.m., so BetterArf and I decided to go for a trudge. It was raining pretty heavily by the time we got back, and we were soaked to the skin despite our waterproof gear.


Saturday, December 25, 2004

Merry Christmas Everybody


As predicted, I awoke with a bit of a hangover this morning, but very happy to see that our baby has returned safe and well from EnglandLand. He says he had a great time and thought the snow was pretty cool.

So, all the presents are unwrapped (BetterArf got me the DVD of Amelie, which I am really thrilled about). Santa got us a set of speakers to go with the cheap DVD player we got a few months ago. I had a shot at wiring everything up, but needless to say it didn't work. BetterArf trotted down to the shop to get the inevitable batteries. Offspring unwired and rewired everything and got it working. He had bought us DVDs of Shrek and Shrek2, so we've watched a bit of that.

Then I made the stuffing for the turkey, stuffed it, wrapped it and slapped it in the oven. I absolutely lurve cooking the monster Christmas meal, and I always do the obligatory Brussels sprouts and roast parsnips, even though I don't like them.

And we're having a spot of weather - there's a shamal blowing. A shamal is just a bit of a strong wind, but it can get exciting as it whips up a lot of sand and dust and reduces visibility.

Anyhoo, gotta go, got things to stir and stuff to chop.

Merry Christmas!

Friday, December 24, 2004

Christmas Eve Update

Christmas Eve at last. It has been a wee bit chilly today (low 20s Celsius), with a bit of a breeze.

We went to see Christmas With The Kranks yesterday - moderately entertaining Christmas fun (can somebody tell me if the can of Hickory Honey Ham is real?!). I found the fillum just a tad too long, could have done with 15-20 minutes being consigned to the cutting-room floor. Although I loved the Botox sequence, good bit of slapstick that was.

This evening we are dining with some buddies - should be good, Cheryll is an ace cook and Billy keeps a good cellar (in the utility room of their apartment). And tomorrow morning is the return of the offspring. He's scheduled to arrive at Dubai Airport at 5.30. Ante meridian. I'm sorry, but I've declined to attempt to pick him up at that time, I'll still be pissed from tonight's escapade. But the poor little lambkin has been travelling since about 8 a.m. (GMT) this morning. He has to get a choo-choo train from Birmingham to Manchester, check-in and wait for 2-3 hours, then fly to Istanbul, wait there for four hours, and then get the last bit to Dubai. And then a half-hour taxi ride home. Offspring hasn't been in England in winter-time since he was about 6, so he can't remember snow and generally crap weather. But they obliged with a bit o' snow a few days ago, so that's good.

Thursday, December 23, 2004

My Building's Bigger Than Yours

Newspaper reports today are talking about proposals to build the world's tallest building on The Palm Jumeirah. Hang on a minute, isn't that supposed to be Burj Dubai in Downtown Dubai? Well, yes, it was. Burj Dubai is being developed by Emaar (a privately-owned property company), and while they have not officially confirmed the height of it, it is expected to be a little over 700 metres. Possibly the architects are now back at their drawing boards trying to tack on another 100 metres after this morning's news.

The new building, which has not been officially announced yet, is being developed by Nakheel, and it will be 750 metres tall. For comparison, the current world's tallest buildings are Taipei101, Taiwan (spire 508m/roof 448m); Petronas Towers, Kuala Lumpur (452m) and Sears Tower, Chicago (442m). Interestingly, the Empire State Building is still in the Top 10 at number 9. Visit this site for more info.

When we arrived in Dubai, the tallest building was the World Trade Centre, and there was an urban myth that said no-one was allowed to build anything taller than that because it would be disrespectful to the late Ruler, Sheikh Rashid. It was one of his sons, Sheikh Mohammed, who blew that myth to bits by building the Burj Al Arab and then the Emirates Towers. Now, it seems, anything goes.

And while we're on the subject of development, a new project called Business Bay was announced last week. This development will fill a large gap between Ras Al Khor (the end of Dubai Creek) and Sheikh Zayed Road. It will be built around an artificial 'creek'. The publicity suggests that this will actually be connected to the existing creek, but I think that's a bit dubious myself.

Wednesday, December 22, 2004

Get Stuffed

Just been and bought a wee turkey for the big day, 7.6 kilos should be big enough for the three of us. And they gave me a free chicken! Maybe I'll stuff the turkey with it. And I can stuff the chicken with a pigeon, and the pigeon with a quail. This reminds me of a (made-up?) recipe for stuffed camel. If I remember right, it goes something like this;

1 camel, gutted and skinned
1 large sheep
1 dog
10 chickens
10 small hammour (local fish)

Stuff one fish into each chicken. Stuff the chickens into the dog. Stuff the dog into the sheep. Stuff the sheep into the camel. Spit roast until tender (probably about 24 hours).

I've only ever eaten camel once. It was about 12 years ago when my wife and son had come to visit me during my horrible year in Riyadh. You could buy hunks of camel at the local supermarket. We just had to try it, but sadly, Delia Smith's 'How to Cook Everything' was a bit short on recipes for camel, so I just pretended it was beef. It was OK, but probably needed longer, slower roasting.

Labels: , ,

Monday, December 20, 2004

The Christmas Cuckoo's Cooking

Christmas wouldn't be Christmas without a good old thigh-slapping panto. Well, it would actually, but you have to go along with these myths. The Drama Group's Panto was cancelled this year, but we went to the other one this afternoon (daytime theatre, how bizarre!).

The show was called The Christmas Cuckoo's Cooking, produced by Torch Theatre from somewhere in Wales. It's been brought to Dubai by Streetwise Fringe, and was staged at the Crowne Plaza Auditorium. Honestly, since our littlun became a biggun, I have not seen so many small kids gathered together in one place and misbehaving enjoying themselves on such a grand scale.

Some of the tiny kids were bawling and wailing during the first half, and there was a fair bit of chatter during the second. But it was a good show, well-acted, original, good set/props and effective moody lighting (well done Billy!).

After the show (6 p.m. already!) we went to wagamamma, a new-ish noodle bar at the Crowne Plaza. Tasteful interior, excellent food and friendly helpful staff. We'll be back.


Sunday, December 19, 2004

Old Six-Eyes

I had a call from the opticians this morning to inform me that my new specs are ready, so I whizzed over to pick them up. They are so weird! Remember, these are progressive lenses, like bifocals but without the join. The thing that's gonna take a bit of getting used to is that as you turn your head stuff moves into and out of focus along the bottom edge of the lens. So if you are looking at the edge of a table or desk, the centre part of it seems to advance, and the ends recede. If you look from left to right along the table edge, it really looks a though the thing is bending!

Very disconcerting, but I guess I'll get used to it. Eventually.

OK, BetterArf's gone out, time to wrap some prezzies.

Friday, December 17, 2004

Welcome to Britain

Just spoken to our baby, who has arrived safely in England.

Anyhoo, Offspring seems to be in shock, having paid five pounds for a sandwich on a train, and also having had to figure out the railway system all by himself. But he arrived at his destination safe and well (possibly with a sore arse), he hasn't been mugged yet, and I'm sure he'll come back aulder and wiser. And a bit poorer of course. Oh, and he probably has hypothermia, it's damn cold.


Eeeh, I don't know. I'm taking a complete day off (well, it is Friday, the official day of rest in this 'ere parish), and what do I do? Bloody blog all day! How sad is that?

Anyhoo, writing one of my earlier posts I mentioned an A & E booze shop that I found this morning (and it's much closer than the one I usually use), and realised that booze shops and alcohol in general are something that my global readership need to know about.

Here's the deal, the UAE is an officially Islamic country, and that means that access to alcohol is fairly tightly controlled. Muslims are not supposed to drink alcohol. In the UAE the policy on the supply of alcohol is decided by the individual emirates. Sharjah is dry (I think this happened about 20 years ago - although there were some holes-in-wall at Sharjah Port until about five years ago). The other emirates are fairly wet. In Dubai and Abu Dhabi you have to buy an annual licence to be able to buy the stuff in certain shops. You can only get this licence if you have a residence permit and are not a muslim.

The prices of beer and wine in MMI (Maritime & Mercantile International) and A & E (African & Eastern) are fairly high, but spirits are much cheaper than in the UK because there isn't the excessive customs duty. However, in Dubai, there is a 30% tax to be added to all purchases. Ouch.

Folk with a bit of time on their hands can take a drive up to the Northern Emirates (Ajman, Umm Al Quwain, Ras Al Khaimah and Fujairah) where you will find several excellent booze shops. In these emirates there is no requirement for a licence, no tax, the basic prices are lower and in some cases the range is better. These outlets all used to be 'holes in the wall' - literally, there were no signs, you went up to a hatch in a wall, told them what you wanted and paid for it. Over the last few years, most of them have opened proper shops where you pick what you want from the shelves.

There's two downsides to using the holes in the wall.
1) They're a long way away - from where we live now, it's an hour and a quarter to the nearest one.
2) It is technically illegal to transport alcohol through the emirate of Sharjah, and you cannot get to any of the Northern Emirates from Dubai or Abu Dhabi without going through Sharjah, unless you fly or take your boat. I have never ever heard of anyone having a problem with this, but I guess if you had an accident while doing it, or they just didn't like your face, you could be in trouble. I think they would only take action if you were carrying more than was reasonable for your own personal use, but otherwise a blind eye seems to be turned.

All the above applies only to expat residents in the emirates. For visitors on holiday or business, the situation is slightly different. Alcohol is available in restaurants at most hotels. In theory you may only use facilities in the hotel that you are staying in. In practice you can drink anywhere you like, and as long as you don't cause trouble you will not have a problem.

Residence-visa holders drinking in these bars are supposed to have a booze licence (and carry it with them) but I've never heard of this being enforced in any way. In actual fact there is a very large proportion of the eligible population who have never bothered to get a licence. Some eligible people cannot get a licence because their employer will not give a no-objection letter (I had an employer of that ilk when I first arrived here).

And finally, the question of bars themselves. These are supposed to be located within hotels for the benefit of hotel patrons only. Private members clubs can also be licensed. But what you will never find is a bar or licensed restaurant that you can walk into off the street. There have been examples in the past of some fairly loosely-defined private clubs and hotels. There was one very successful venue that allegedly had 4 lettable rooms and therefore qualified as an hotel, but I never heard of anyone staying there.

I suspect that Dubai would dearly love to allow standalone restaurants and bars to be licensed. We now have a very interesting development at Madinat Jumeirah. This is a beautiful mini-town next to the Burj Al Arab. There are two hotels, a conference centre and a soukh on the site. There are fake canals running through the property with traditional abras (water-taxis) whizzing about. The soukh contains a whole bunch of bars and licensed restaurants, and you can get into them without going anywhere near either of the hotels, but it's all owned by Jumeirah International so I guess that's OK.

Reasonable Force

OK, this post isn't about Dubai - it's about proposed changes in UK legislation regarding the rights of burglars and their victims. I was prompted to write it after reading 'Hot Burglaries' from the blog of a UK copper.

The problem is that UK law seems to be heavily biased towards those doing the burgling. The victim has the right to use 'reasonable force' to protect himself and his property, but not to shoot the thieving toe-rag in the back as Tony Martin did.

Under the new law, Tony Martin would still go to jail. I'm not advocating that people should keep guns in their homes, in fact I think the traditional Brit approach of tightly controlling gun use and ownership is the right one. But I do think that if some scumbag has broken into your home, intent on nicking your stuff, then anything (absolutely anything) that happens to them while on that mission is entirely their own responsibility.

The Policeman's Blog mentions that 'hot' burglaries (where the victim is in residence at the time) account for 13% of all burglaries in the US against 50% in the UK. And the reason for the much lower rate in the US is that the likelihood of the victim being armed is much higher, coupled with the fact that US courts are never going to sympathise with anyone getting hurt or even killed while trying to steal the property of others.

I remember many years ago in Liverpool, we were just married, we'd just got our first house and were struggling to turn it into a home. One day, BetterArf was in the upstairs back bedroom when she spotted a youth climbing over the backyard wall (it was a six-foot-high wall, so it wasn't like he just fell over it). He spotted her, and beat a hasty retreat. She called the cops, and they sent a 'Crime Prevention Officer', who told us to stick a load of broken glass on the top of the wall. And then he said 'but I never told you that.' I asked him why, and he said because an aspiring buglar might injure themselves on it, and then he might sue me.

For God's sake.


Marina Walk

Funny how you can live and work in a place for a long time and not know about things that are practically on your doorstep. For example, there is a gigantic development area called Dubai Marina. It is right next door to Media City, where I am based.

The Marina itself is a huge water-filled hole in the ground, with wiggly concrete edges, and two 'canals' that link it to the sea. Around this hole they are building literally hundreds of residential towers. There are several developers working side by side on this, but the biggest single development is Jumeirah Beach Residence (36 residential towers and 4 hotels). So I've known about the Marina for a long time, but I've never really ventured inside until this morning.

The point of this story is that today we discovered a new 'thing' at the Marina. I don't know what you would call it - it's like a food-court but with proper furniture and service and without the mall attached. Basically it's an indoor walk that houses about a dozen restaurants, some of whom have seating that spills over onto the outdoor bits beside the water. There is a small Spinneys supermarket, and an A & E (booze shop).

And the most enchanting fountain I have ever seen. It comprises a low-walled central area that generates pulses of foam-capped water (like when waves hit a beach). This is surrounded by two concentric rings of water jets set into the pavement, and these squirt water into the air in various carefully synchronised sequences. Honestly, we stood there watching it for about ten minutes. And of course assorted kiddiewinkles were playing in it, trying not very hard to avoid being soaked.

Little Shop of Horrors

We went to see Little Shop of Horrors at Dubai College yesterday.

It was very nearly a perfect production. Set, costumes, acting, singing, sound and lighting were all as close to flawless as makes no difference. And this show was done by 16-18 year-old students.

An absolute knockout! Feed me now.

Thursday, December 16, 2004

Too Busy to Blog

Nay lad, I'm never too busy to blog. Sometimes I just forget.

The last week has been particularly hectic though - BetterArf's school show has been on. She directed it and supplied most of the props. I always know that when there's a show on, if I can't find a certain thing at home I'll probably see it on stage somewhere.

Yesterday we saw Offspring off on his solo trip to England, did a spot of Christmas shopping at Deira City Centre ( a huge and very busy mall), then went to see the school choir doing a short concert. Then we were supposed to go see Tap Dogs in Creekside Park. But by 7 p.m. we were both too knackered to move, so we went home. We have a Tap Dogs video so I know what we missed.

Tonight we are going to see the Dubai College production of 'Little Shop of Horrors'. BetterArf has this idea that she wants to go see Joaquin Cortes (fusion flamenco dancer) at Media City after that, but I've got this other notion that it costs too much and we'll both be too knackered to move.

There are various events scheduled for the next week, one of which is a mince-pies, mulled-wine and carol-singing evening at our place if you want to come. Offspring returns to Dubai at 5.30 a.m. on Christmas Day, so he might see Santa as he flies over Europe (but then again, he's 17, so he probably won't be able to).

And of course, I've had to do a bit of work in between times. I've also been doing my company renewal, which involves me filling in millions of legal forms and giving massive amounts of money to Media City. And because this is the third anniversary of my business in Media City, my residence visa has expired and nobody realised until a few days ago. So I've had to pay overstay fines (25 dirhams a day) and other fees that weren't in the budget. Aaargh!

Tuesday, December 14, 2004


People overseas are often surprised to hear that you can catch the good old common cold here in the middle east. But you can. It's actually more common in summer, when you have the environmental situation of repeatedly moving between a hot place and a cold one. In temperate climes you get that when you leave a heated building and enter the unheated and very cold outdoors. Here, in summer, we leave our air-conditioned houses and cars, and make a dash through the stonkingly hot outdoors to reach the sanctuary of another air-conditioned fridge.

But hey, guess what! I developed a cold this morning, and it's a stormer. I am so pleased. I might have picked it up at the hospital yesterday. I hate going to hospitals and clinics, they're full of sick people and you could catch anything. But I had to go the hospital to give them a bit of my precious blood because my residence visa is up for renewal (damn things only last three years) and the Government wants to know if I have HIV/AIDS before I can get a new visa. If I am infected, I will be deported faster than you can say a really fast thing, so watch this space. Result due tomorrow morning...sniff.

Sunday, December 12, 2004


I've finally given in and admitted that I need a new pair of specs, and these have to be bi-focals. Not that I mind wearing specs, can't see a dang thing without them, but bifocals are definitely a sign of an aging, decrepit person (only joking, haha).

I can't remember what they call the flavour of crap eyesight I have. I can see close things pretty well, but it all goes fuzzy if it's more than 5 or 6 metres away. Up until recently I could also see close-up stuff while wearing my specs. But for the last six months or so, I have not been able to clearly read anything up close while wearing them. I can walk around the supermarket OK, but can't read a label on a can - it's a bit of a problem when you have a basket of shopping in one hand, your mobile phone in the other, and you absolutely have to know what's in the can you just picked up. You need a fourth hand, you see, so that you can remove your specs.

So I trudged along to the eye-doctor this morning, chose some fairly ordinary frames, and then went into the little back room where they point some very expensive machinery at your eyes. This technology always amazes me. I remember the olden days when you put a hand over one eye and tried to read a chart with letters on it, then did the same with the other eye. How do they test people who can't read? I always wondered.

And getting speccytuckles in the olden days was such a palaver! They cost the earth, they looked like poo (especially if you were poor and had to get the National Health ones), and they took about six months to make.

Anyway, my new lenses are going to be made by rocket-scientists in Germany, which is hardly surprising given the price. I have to wait two weeks for them. And they're not bifocals anymore, they are progressives - there's no line dividing the main bit from the bottom bit.

So, decent eyesight by Christmas!

Friday, December 10, 2004

More Weather

Well, it's been cloudy all day, and it's finally started to rain. Only gentle plip-plops, but it might get torrential.

Dang, I had the car washed yesterday. So what, you're thinking, the rain will wash it again. Well, it will, but raindrops round here are about 80% water and 20% sand. Once the rain stops and dries up, anything it has touched is left with a layer of sand on it.

I have such a hard life.

7 Days a Week

About a year ago, a little tabloid newspaper started arriving on our doorstep every Friday morning. It felt like a breath of fresh air - it covered local stories that were too 'political' for the mainstream papers, but its style of 'journalism' was pretty close to the gutter. Even the most trivial thing was sensationalised out of all recognition. But it was a bit of a laff to spend 10 minutes reading it on a Friday morning.

During Ramadan, Eid and Sheikh Zayed's Mourning, it disappeared completely. But a week ago, it returned, announcing that henceforth it would be a daily publication.

So now, every morning, we have to pick it up off the threshold and dispose of it, or leave it lying around cluttering up the hallways of our apartment block. We picked it up and threw it away, unread, during the first week. Now we are checking what happens if we just leave it there - will the boy who delivers the next one take away the old one (for recycling haha)? Or will the piles of unwanted newsprint simply accumulate until they become a health and fire hazard?

Only time will tell, but it looks like everyone on our corridor has arrived at the same conclusion - none of them have picked up the latest issue of this rag. What a waste of newsprint!

Tuesday, December 07, 2004

English, How She Is Wrote

Greetings Fans.

Just been trawling through my CV file in case I've had any job applications that might be worth following up (we're pretty keen to hire a good Web developer if you're interested). I always save random CVs that come in, because you never know what might happen in the future.

Anyway, most of these items are from people of Indian or Pakistani origin, and they got me thinking that the English language might be an amusing topic to write about (it certainly worked for Bill Bryson).

For the sake of my typing finger, I'm going to talk about 'Indian' English (although it also includes other subcontinental flavours such as Pakistani, Bangladeshi and Sri Lankan). CVs from Indians always include a flowery opening phrase like 'my dear sir, I humbly submit my biodata (yes really) for your kind perusal. Seeking a position of Web Designer in a reputed company and put in my utmost efforts in an organization and reach the top of the pyramid through integrity, sincerity and effectiveness thus prove my worth to self and others.' (This is a real one, honest!).

Guys and gals, we are not a 'reputed' company, we are real, and we might even be 'reputable'.

The CVs then go on to explain about the dozens of 'degrees' the applicant has acquired, and the many years of work experience he has accumulated. It is not uncommon for these things to add up to something close to the age of the applicant - maybe they did go to University when they were three years old, but hey. If you receive 'biodata' by fax, they will also be accompanied by copies of all of the certificates that the applicant has collected.

It's all a bit sad, and it is very hard to cut through all of this trash and find a person who might be able to do the job. Ho hum.

As owners of the English language patent (what do you mean we never patented it?!), us Brits can get very irritated at what we perceive to be abuse of the language. Well some of us anyway. (NB the previous 'sentence' has no subject and therefore cannot be considered to be a sentence, but I'm leaving it in). I do get a bit irritated when our glorious language gets mangled, but I think I'm fairly tolerant. You have to realise that English really is the most dynamic language on the planet, new words are being coined all the time, and usage and grandma are in a constant state of flux (I think that's somewhere near Nevada).

You also need to realise that the way US English speakers speak is not that far removed from the English spoken in England at the time the first waves of immigrants hit the New World. All the dodgy spelling can be blamed on Noah Webster and his Dictionary. The convolutions of Indian English can be largely blamed on blokes like Rudyard Kipling. I don't believe that Brits have an exclusive claim to be the sole arbiter of what is right and what is wrong. Let's face it, the standard of literacy among recent generations of English school-leavers leaves a lot to be desired.

And here's the point (I knew I'd think of one eventually if I rambled on for long enough). The future of English as she is writ and spoke will be largely determined by the USA. Purely because American TV and movies are so pervasive around the world. If it was to do with population, then we could be looking at Indian English as the model. And then we could all enjoy dealing with things like this...

You call a company and ask for Mr So-And-So, and they tell you 'he is not on his seat', or 'he is not in his cabin' (cabin is Indian for office). They might even tell you he is outside. And when you ask when he will be coming inside they might say '2 weeks'. So you ask how far outside he has gone, and they might say 'London' or 'Delhi'. Whether the person you want to speak to is on his seat, in his cabin or orbiting Mars, the receptionist will want to know what your 'goodname' is and the exact details of what you want to speak to Mr X about. Go figure, as the Americans might say.

Sunday, December 05, 2004

Christmas Tunes

About four years ago, I compiled my perfect Christmas CD. I've just dug it out for this festive season, and I'm listening to it now. Man, I have such good taste! Maybe you disagree, and I'd like to hear your suggestions, but this is what's on my original version...

Merry Xmas Everybody - Slade
Do They Know It's Christmas? (No of course not, they're Muslims or Hindus or Buddhists) - Band Aid 1
I Believe in Father Christmas - Greg Lake
A Fairytale of New York - The Pogues & Kirsty McColl
In Dulce Jubilo - Mike Oldfield
All Around My Hat - Steeleye Span
Christmas (W)rapping - The Waitresses
Ring Out, Solstice Bells - Jethro Tull
2000 Miles - The Pretenders
We Belong - Pat Benatar
When A Child is Born - Johnny Mathis
Silent Night - Sinead O'Connor
I Wish it Could be Christmas Every Day - Wizzard

OK, not much of it is particularly religious, a lot of it is pagan, and some of it just gets me in the mood. Whaddya fink?

There's a line in Fairytale of New York that my wunnerful missus once confessed to have completely misunderstood...
'I kept them with me babe' became
'a flat in Whitley Bay' and if you've ever been to Whitley Bay, you'll understand how amusing this is.

And I just love the lines from that song 'you scumbag, you maggot, you cheap lousy faggot' pure poetry, truly romantic!

Friday, December 03, 2004

Our son the superstar

Offspring grinning in foreground, team in background. Nice kit eh!
Well hey, Offspring has been playing rugby at Dubai Exiles for several years. He's always wanted to play in the Rugby 7s, and thought he was in with a really good chance this year. However, because of his age, he is at the lowest end of being eligible for Under-19s, and too old for Under-16s. Hmmm. So at the last minute, he didn't get picked, but was told he might be able to play for any of the visiting teams that needed an extra body. But our baby is not one to give up without a fight, and when we moseyed along to the first day of the 7s, we found him just about to trot out onto the pitch as Captain of a scratch team that he'd got together as Exiles 2 (to replace Doha 2 who hadn't shown up). He'd organised the strip, got full player passes for all the players, and was as pleased as Punch.

They lost in a fairly dignified way in their first match, and got utterly slaughtered in their second one. We only found out later that they were playing a Welsh school team who had 3 Welsh national-team players. Yoww!

Anyway, yesterday Oscar's team won a game. And today they played a team and Offspring accidentally injured their Captain, who had to be whizzed off to hospital. Then they asked Offspring to take that guy's place in their next match.

Incredible, we are a bit proud...

Thursday, December 02, 2004

Big corporations are scared of you...

Maybe not, perhaps they're just shy. But Sony certainly are not encouraging any direct contact with their gazillions of customers. I have wasted an entire afternoon trying to connect a Sony digital Handycam to my laptop so that I can copy the contents of a tape via USB. Should be pretty easy, but no, looks like it cannot be done (see this interesting forum to read comments from a few hundred other frustrated people ).

So, I decide to quit wasting my time, and to seek help from the manufacturers, who, you might imagine, would be more than willing to bend over backwards to help out a customer. Egads. I go to their website, I search for the product, I search the FAQs and get no answer, I try to initiate a Live Chat session but it does not work (reason: 'daytime off', whatever that means), and finally I fill in an online form that fails to send. I fill it in again, and once more it fails to send. A complete dead end, thank you Mr Sony. You have hidden your faceless corporation pretty well behind several non-functioning 'facilities'.

I try a different tack, by looking for a local / regional support site. I find it, but once again it makes it impossible to get even an email address for a real person. The 'contact us' link just puts you back into the same loop of filling in a stupid form that will not send - their support department must think they are doing a great job, because they never get any complaining emails.

I am so frustrated because I have not even been offered the opportunity of waiting in line for a millennium or two and then speaking to some script-reading nerd at a call centre, and after wasting 2 hours scouring the web for information on this product I am absolutely none the wiser. Gaaaaargh!

Christmas is Coming

Over the ten or so years that we have lived in Dubai, the existence of Christmas has become more and more apparent. When we first came here it was treated as more or less a secret - you could buy Christmassy things in the shops, but they would not be overtly promoted (my wife was in a record shop one year, and the sales guy whispered to her 'you want to buy some Christmas CDs?' - they were stashed under the counter). Radio stations could only talk about 'the Festive Season', and were not allowed to play specifically Christmas music.

But times move on, and since yesterday most of the supermarkets I've been in (except Union Co-op which is about as Islamic as a mosque) have been decorated with banners reminding folks that Christmas is going to be on December 25th this year, and they are stacked with goodies. Radio stations have been playing Christmas toons, and I fully expect it to snow any day now.

I think this is one of the greatest features of the Emirates, and Dubai in particular. At a time when many countries in the region are strangling their economies to death by strict adherence to fundamentalist ideals, these guys here just say 'we'll do our thing, you do yours and let's all concentrate on being happy and making some money'. I spent one year on my own in Riyadh before coming to Dubai. The Saudis do not tolerate the open practice of any religion other than Wahhabi Islam, there are no churches, temples or other places of worship apart from mosques. Here in Dubai, probably the only thing you won't find is a synagogue.

Happy Birthday

Two important birthdays today - one is our baby, who is now 17 (where does the time go!), and the other is the country we live in, which celebrates its 33rd National Day today.

This National Day is meant to be a bit subdued as we are still in the official 40-day mourning period for the late President Sheikh Zayed Bin Sultan Al Nahyan.

Everybody is off work anyway, except, strangely, the banks. For whatever reason, all banks in the UAE will be taking Saturday 4th as a holiday - more than likely they need to catch up on some trading time with the West, having missed so much time recently because of Mourning and Eid.

Wednesday, December 01, 2004

It's All Happening

After what has been a very quiet couple of months - Ramadan and the mourning for Sheikh Zayed - the social scene is picking up dramatically. There's a whole bunch of events going on now and scheduled for the next few weeks...

International footie exhibition, promoted by Duncan Revie, son of the late great Don Revie (I was a fan of Leeds Utd when The Don was in charge - and I only found out recently that he had spent the last few years of his life in Dubai). Loads of famous soccer players around the place.

Three days of rugby mayhem at Dubai Exiles' ground. Our Offspring is probably playing in some capacity, although his birthday falls midway through the festival, so his eligibility for various age groups gets a bit complex.

This is happening right now - there are folks like Alvin Toffler, Jack Welch, Tom Peters and others imparting their wisdom to government dudes and anyone else who wants to pay the fees.

The first-ever DIFF kicks off in a few days, presenting a ton of fillums at various venues. I don't quite know what the point of this is, but knowing Dubai I expect it's going to develop into something like Cannes. One of the most interesting venues (for me at least) is the 'screen on the green'. This will be an open-air venue at Dubai Media City. DMC is where my office is. Here's the scenario - DMC Phase 1 comprises three chunky buildings bordering an artificial lake. Across the lake from the buildings is a grassed amphitheatre where concerts are regularly held throughout the winter months. This area will become an open-air cinema for a week. A very interesting thing about this entire thing is that the films will not be censored (so what, you're thinking, but normally movies in the Middle East are chopped - no snogging, no bonking, no blaspheming - this can shorten some movies dramatically).
Apparently there'll be a few celebs attending - Morgan Freeman, Sarah Michelle Geller, Desmond Tutu(!). All good stuff.

And this morning I turned on the radio in the car to hear the lugubrious and almost unintelligible vocal tones of Prof David Bellamy, the well-known British botanist who is over here for a few days admiring our eco-tourism and raving about the way that all these things we keep building in the sea (Palm Islands, Worlds) are actually benefitting the ecology by creating new habitats for wildlife. Yayy.