Sunday, January 30, 2005

Mega-Project Overload

If you've been following this blog for a few months, you will have noticed me reporting new mega-projects as they are announced. We got another one today, and it is stupendous. It's called 'Dubai Waterfront', and is another bunch of artificial islands. These are in the shape of a circle to the west of The Palm Jebel Ali. They are saying that this will become home to 750,00 people! It will include 'Al Burj' which I mentioned in an earlier blog (it was known as 'The Pinnacle' then). Dubai Waterfront will extend to the Abu Dhabi border.

As if that wasn't enough, the project includes the world's longest canal, which will extend maybe 15-20 km inland from Waterfront, then head east, parallel to the coast, before returning to the sea near The Palm Jumeirah. There will be all sorts of developments on the banks of this canal.

It's all a bit much to take in. Sheikh Mohammed keeps saying 'you ain't seen nothing yet' - actually what he says is 'what has been announced now is only about 10% of what we are planning'.

And now I am off to the 4th Birthday Party for Dubai Media City, where we are promised another major announcement.

Thursday, January 27, 2005

Mission Accomplished

We did the webcast of the World Endurance Championship today. A very early start, followed by hours and hours of intense work. But lots of people tuned in, there were lots of people at the site, and the whole thing went off very well.

Time for an early night, methinks.

The Webcast Again

One great thing that has come out of this project is that it forced me to buy a 17" LCD monitor. The price of these things has dropped incredibly over the last year, and they are no longer a luxury item.

LCD monitors take up a lot less desk space, and they really don't weigh a lot. But the reason why this webcast prompted me to get one was that last time I did it, after the gig I was lifting a CRT monitor over a wall (about a metre high) and I thought I'd cracked a rib where I leant on the top of the wall. X-rays showed that I had only strained the intercostal muscle, but it hurt like buggery for several weeks.

So, a flashy, lightweight monitor, no problemmo.

Wednesday, January 26, 2005

The Webcast

Egads, what a day!

We are webcasting the World Endurance Championships from Dubai Endurance City tomorrow. I went to the site at midday today. I hadn't wanted to go until about 3 pm because I knew that was the time when people I needed to help me would have finished their essential tasks for the day and would then be able to give me the things I wanted. But my client was panicking and needed placating.

So, first job on arrival is get a Press Pass. This involves a horrible drive up a very bumpy road to a nearby hotel. I'm not thrilled by this because I have a carfull of fairly delicate computer-type gear. So it takes a while. When I get there I find that I am supposed to have been given a form to complete. They don't have any at the accreditation office, I should have been given one by my client. I get my client to eventually fax me one. Then I have to get photographs. There's a man with a 4-lens Polaroid camera, and after a while I manage to get him to point it at me. Then I go back to the accreditation office, which is jammed to the gunwhales. I give my form and photos to someone who appears to be in charge, who then gets a series of calls on his mobile that take about half an hour, during which time he is not doing any actual 'work'. I pass my boredom threshold, grab my form and photos off him and give them to a guy who is actually working. He types an approximation of my name, a total fabrication of my profession ('journalist'!) and country (England) onto a card. He gives this to another guy who puts little colour-coded stickers on it that indicate which areas I'm allowed into, and then he gives it to another bloke who laminates it and nails on a neck-strap. As I leave, I catch the eye of the head honcho, who is finally off the phone and apologising because he seems to have lost my documents.

Back at the ranch - actually a Portakabin that we are sharing with a load of techies from the TV company and about a million quid's worth of equipment - and I discover that our allotted space does not include a table or chairs. I call my client, who says that she has requested these items from somewhere. Goddam it, I knew I shouldn't have shown up until later. I mooch around for about an hour, and start setting up the PCs on the floor. I've just finished this when a table arrives. So I disconnect everything, put it on the table and plug everything in again.

I have a go at setting up an Interweb connection, but can't do it because I do not have the requisite information. I ask some of the TV guys if I could get a video and audio feed from the OB vehicle, and they say 'after 3 o'clock'. Dang. The site IT guy will show up at 3.30. It's all a bit frustrating. I wander around the site for an hour or two, discover that there is no food to be had (there's a gazillion people working there and nobody thought they might get hungry - banquets are promised for tomorrow).

I leave the site at 5pm, pick up BetterArf, and go to the office for a wee while. The boys are still finishing off some coding for the site, but one of the PCs keeps mysteriously crashing. Just what you need when you have a deadline to meet. Aaargh!

Up at 3.30 tomorrow morning. Better get some sleep!

Monday, January 24, 2005

Big Brother

I've been reading a few Brit Blogs this evening, and most of them have at least a passing reference to the antics on Celebrity Big Brother. I watched a few episodes of Normal Big Brother last year when I was in England, and I have to admit it was
a) Crap.
b) Rivetting.
I manage to keep up with most of the goings-on in the real world via the interweb, and was quite interested to see that Germaine Greer had been evicted from the Big Bruvver house and to read her subsquent comments in the Grauniad Online or sommat like that. And then I thought 'Germaine Greer, author of The Female Eunuch' (I read that book even before I knew what a eunuch was). And then I thought 'Kenny Everett, host of Nice Time, featuring Germaine Greer'. A little checking on the Interweb proved me right - GG had indeed participated in an early Kenny Everett TV series called 'Nice Time'. As I recall (I was probably only 14 at the time), the show had lots of bikini-clad young ladies on it, and for the life of me I cannot remember anything that GG did on the show - I just remember the name because it's a bit odd.

But please, can someone tell me who Bez is? It seems he's survived to the end and is therefore the winner. Hmm.

The Joy of Driving in Dubai

I've touched on this topic before, but I have a few more observations to make.

It was reported recently that the third most frequent cause of death for UAE national males (ie those who were born and raised here, as opposed to expats) under the age of 40 is Road Traffic Accidents. This is pretty shocking, and the general death / injury rate for UAE nationals far outstrips those of any other nationality in this country. And the reason? They have very fast cars and they drive them like maniacs. That's a horrible generalisation, but it is rare for me to drive on ant highway for half an hour without seeing 2 or 3 guys with black windows doing high-speed lane-weaving.

Black windows? You can get stick-on tints for your car that reduce your visibility by anything up to 90%. The locals absolutely love this idea, they say it protects the privacy of ladies inside the car, and stops it getting too hot inside if it's parked in the sun. A year or two ago, the authorities realised that it probably isn't very safe for people to be unable to see what's happening outside their vehicle, so they imposed a ban on tints of more than 30%. But what happens is that the Police never stop anyone because their windows look a bit dark, and the only time they really get checked is when you do your annual car registration. So before you go for that you strip off the tint film, and as soon as your vehicle has passed the test you go back to Satwa and they apply a fresh set of films. And it costs almost nothing.

The most dangerous stretch of road in the entire UAE is the Sheikh Zayed Highway in Dubai. This connects Dubai to Abu Dhabi, and is currently having all of its old roundabout junctions replaced by massive interchanges. At any one time for the last three years there have been at least two interchanges being built, so the road is in a permanent state of roadworkery, diversions, etc. In the course of building these interchanges, the road is also being widened from 3 or 4 lanes in each direction to 6. The road itself is not inherently dangerous - it is well-maintained and almost perfectly straight. But this leads some young fools to think that it is actually some kind of racetrack. And they are not remotely bothered by the dozens of speed cameras that litter the central divide.

Another hazard on the highway are people who tootle along in the third lane at 92 kph. The speed limit on the highways is 120 kilometers per hour for normal vehicles. But the inside two lanes also carry a sign that indicates trucks may use these lanes (not any of the others), and may not go faster than 80 kph. Now, some idiots of this parish interpret that to mean that cars are not allowed to use the inside two lanes. These particular idiots also suffer from over-cautiousness, so they never drive at anything like the speed limit. The result is that you will encounter these people driving dangerously slowly in the third lane. You can flash your lights at them, but they will not move because they think they are right and you know they're wrong. Having finally managed to get around them you look in your rear-view mirror and notice that they have been rammed by a boy-racer doing 200 kph - the boy-racer is ok, the other guy is roadkill.

There was a recent flurry of letters in Gulf News recently wondering if there is actually a law against overtaking on the inside. There were plenty of replies, all of them sarcastic, but none actually answering the question. This is a shame, because I would really like to know what the answer is. The problem is that there does not seem to be much in the way of actual rules about driving, and nothing like the British Highway Code. As a British driving licence holder (in common with most of Europe and North America), when I came here all I had to do was pass an eye test and pay some money to get a UAE driving licence. Other nationalities (especially Asian and African) have to learn to drive all over again. So I've never had a driving lesson here and therefore I don't know what the instructors would reckon the rules are.

Anyhoo, you have to pass on the inside, otherwise you would never get anywhere.

And a final piece of road madness. In the Emirate of Abu Dhabi, they have a rule that heavy trucks may only use the inside lane, and may not overtake anything. So in theory this means that if you have a road that is 50 kms long, and there is a truck on it travelling at 10 kph, then every other truck using that road will be forced to travel at the same speed. The truck drivers are very obedient of this rule, but those in very slow vehicles do seem to break down a lot and frequently need to have a little rest on the hard shoulder.

Sunday, January 23, 2005

Dubai Update

Sorry, I haven't been keeping you updated the way you expect. I have forgotten to mention a few crucial things.

thing1) The weather. For about the last five days it has been overcast, rainy and windy. This was a storm passing over on its way to Pakistan. Seems to have cleared up now. I miss it.

thing 2) Dubai Shopping Festival. AKA TrafficFest. The ShopFest was inuagerated 10 years ago. It has grown and grown and grown. As a shopping agnostic, I find the whole thing astonishing. But gazillions of people really do come here every year, just to buy stuff. They think they're getting bargains, and who am I to argue? And while they're here they spend lots of money on peripheral stuff. There's lots of street entertainment and things going on, and it's a bit of a carnival-type thang. One of the big attractions has always been the Global Village (see, not even a city!). The venue for this has shifted several times since the inception of the Festival, and this year, for the first time, it has a new location beside the Emirates Road. This should ease the traffic congestion in town, but actually it just moves it elsewhere.

BetterArf went there this evening with a work colleague. They planned to get there at 6pm, have a mooch around and then go to see a modern circus show called 'Aga Boom' at 9 o'clock. 2 hour show. So at 11.30, she called to say she was in the car on the way out. Half an hour later, they'd moved 500 meters. It's now 1.15 and I've just called her - she's about 10 minutes away. Unbelievable! It's not as if it's a long way away - in normal conditions you could get there from here in 15 minutes.

But at least the Global Village now has a permanent site, and hopefully in years to come the rail system will have a station there. When that happens, I might be up for a visit!

Long live the TrafficFest!

Shopfest organisers have announced that the Global Village had 250,000 visitors yesterday and 200,000 the day before. Gulf News reported a 10km tailback on the Emirates Road from about 8 pm until midnight. The Global Village closes at 1am. Victims of their own success, methinks.

Saturday, January 22, 2005


I don't normally blog much about work things, but we have a really interesting project coming up, and the world needs to know about it!

As you may or may not know, we (that's the royal we and my employees) spend our lives designing websites and multimedia CD-ROMs. On the whole, it's pretty good fun, but we do spend most of our time chained to the desk and the PC. So it's nice to get out in the fresh air for a change.

The upcoming project is a webcast of the FEI World Equestrain Endurance Championships from Dubai Endurance City* this coming Thursday. This involves us setting up our gear and testing on-site on Wednesday afternoon. On Thursday morning we have to rise at 4am, go to the site and be ready for kick-off at 5.30. The event will last anything from 6 to 8 hours, and we'll be squirting the video all over the worldwide interweb for the entire period.

We have done this several times before for Endurance races from Abu Dhabi, and we know that there is a small but dedicated global audience for this. The last few times we've done it we've had emails from people as far afield as Australia, North and South America and Europe.

For the uninitiated, equestrian endurance racing is a real test of horse and rider. They have to complete a 160 km course in the fastest time possible. The races are split into 5 or 6 'loops', with a half-hour rest and veterinary checks in between. Typically more than half of the starters will be 'retired' before the end. Endurance racing is a fairly new sport, but the UAE has always been very keen on it. The climate is particularly punishing for both horse and rider, which is why they start at the crack of dawn.

*Pretty much everything that gets built in Dubai now is a 'city'. We have Media City, Internet City, Healthcare City, Academic City, International City and many more. We also have Knowledge Village (sic), and DubaiLand. I'm just waiting for the next thing to come up - maybe Cookery Continent or Plasticine Planet. And I'm sure Hamster Hamlet can't be too far away. I think all of this 'clustering' of similar things has evolved from the soukhs (open markets). Historically we've had the Gold Soukh, the Spice Soukh etc. Since we've been here we have named several other areas as soukhs - the Plant Soukh in Satwa, the Wood Soukh, the Paint Soukh, the Computer Soukh, and of course the Bank Soukh (where else but 'Bank Street'). And we mustn't forget the Second-Hand Air-Conditioner Soukh in Deira.

Friday, January 21, 2005

New-look Blog

Wotcha fans,

A week ago I promised you a new look for my blog. I finally solved my problem, and no, I haven't been working on it all week, I've had a ton of real work to do. But today being Friday, our day of 'rest', I've been fiddling with it again.

The main problem that I had was that I wanted my fixed-width content to be centred on the screen. Now, Blogger templates are very politically-correct, and use only CSS (Cascading Style Sheets) for layout. This is how things are meant to be in this brave new world of web design. But it turns out to be virtually impossible to achieve what I wanted.

So I've just done the most obvious thing, which is to slap the entire page content inside a table with a 'center' attribute. And, as you see it works.

I have to say, CSS can do some wonderful things, but the contortions you have to go through to get there are just beyond belief, and the network of interactions that various classes can have on apparently unrelated elements can take an awful long time to sort out. That's what you get when you let engineers loose on designing things. One of these days I'm going to tell you about how to operate our combi microwave/convection/grill machine, but I promise not to do the same expose on our VCR because I simply cannot understand that at all.

If the above is all Greek to you, don't worry about it, but do leave a comment and let me know what you think of the new look. Here's a hint - I think it's bland but very easy on the eyeballs.

PS I'm still fiddling with it - having published the entire thing, the font size for body text has decided to be 'microscopic' - bloddy hell.

PPS I think I've fixed the font size problem, but I've just checked it in Mozilla Firefox and there's something bizarre going on. Y'know, ever since I've been a Web designer, any browser produced by Netscape and its successor Mozilla always gives problems. They get all righteous and holier-than-though about this, claiming strict adherence to standards, but you know what? They lie.

The Great OXO Shortage

We get a pretty amazing range of foodstuffs here in this town, from all over the world. But for probably the last six months it has been pretty hard to find Beef OXO stock cubes from England.

I'm prompted to write about this earth-shattering topic because BetterArf was speaking to an auld friend on the telephonic communication device yesterday. Auld friend had just had a row with Auld friend's husband. These two have been married for hundreds of years, and arguing does not generally feature in their daily lives. So what brought this on? Auld friend's husband sat down to eat his dinner, pronounced it crap, and went off to the pub.

The reason for its crapness? No OXO!

I must admit I've been hoarding the stuff - whenever I do see it in the shops I'll buy 5 or 6 boxes, and if everyone else does the same that would probably explain why there is always a shortage. But hey, if you ain't got your OXO then you'd have to buy the hideous salt-packed equivalents from Knorr or Maggi.

Tuesday, January 18, 2005

Eid Mubarak!

In about half an hour, when the sun sets, it will be Eid Al-Adha. This Muslim religious holiday celebrates the sacrifice that Abraham was prepared to make to prove his faith in Allah (God). It is also known as the Eid of Sacrifice, and many Muslims will slaughter a goat, sheep or camel during this Eid.

This holiday is supposed to be four days long, and if you are fortunate enough to work for the Government it will be. But for the private sector, only two days' holiday are given. This is an ongoing cause for complaint among private sector workers in the UAE - the public sector always gets tons of holidays, and the private sector always gets less. The dates mentioned for private sector holidays are meant to be for guidance only, but no-one running a business is likely to give employees more time off than the competition, and so everyone gets the least possible.

There's also the issue of time off in lieu if the holiday coincides with the weekend. Put simply, this never happens.

The other peculiarity with these religious festivals is that the pubs close from sunset on the first day until sunset on the second. So we don't lose a whole days drinking time - just a bit of it!


Just returned from a wonderful classical gig in Dubai. It was half-a-dozen finalists from the BBC's 'Young Musicians of the Year'. With ages ranging from 16 to 20, each musician played 3 or 4 short pieces. The auditorium was jammed to the rafters - they had to bring in extra seats, people were standing at the back, and some of the more flexible members of the audience were invited to sit on the stage.

Memorable performances included Daniel De Gruchy Lambert (aka Dan The Crunchy Biscuit) on trumpet and Adam Clifford on percussion. Adam played a few things on the marimba - including a very intricate piece by Vivaldi - and concluded with a hand-clapping piece where he and Harvey Davies both clapped the same short sequence. But here's the thing; Harvey would do his bit exactly the same over and over, while with each bar (and these bars have 12 beats in them), Adam would skip one beat and then start over. So his clapping gradually moved out of phase with Harvey's, producing some amazing syncopated rhythms, until finally coming to rest in the 13th bar with both performers back in synch again. Great fun.

But I reckon the star of the show was violinist Sijie Chen. Born in China and living in England for the last 10 years, she coaxed beautiful music out of the instrument clenched under her chin, despite the fact that it was 300 years old!

Saturday, January 15, 2005

Watch This Space

I've been totally fed up with my Blogger template for a while now - especially since I found out how many people use the same one!

So, coming soon to an Interweb near you - my cool new page design. Actually it would have arrived today, but I have a CSS problem that I need to solve before I can go live with it. It's too late in the day to be thinking about CSS, so I'll hopefully solve it tomorrow.

Friday, January 14, 2005

The Not-So Incredibles

We went to see The Incredibles yesterday. From all the hype and trailers and everything, we were really quite wound up about seeing this latest animated opus from Pixar, expecting it to be the greatest thing ever. Sadly, it wasn't. It was about a half-hour too long. Bits of it were brilliant (especially the scenes with Edna). But on the whole, a mere 7/10 methinks.

I finally got around to reading the DaVinci Code, though, and am enjoying that immensely.

Wednesday, January 12, 2005

Working in Dubai

This article was prompted by an email I received from one of my fans this morning, wanting to know how to get a job in Dubai.

Basically I would say that the golden rule is to be here. Come for a visit, knock on doors and be persistent. Plan to stay for a month if you can. Very few organisations will respond to speculative applications from overseas. Obviously if you do see a job advertised here in the press in your country, then apply for it.

Once you're here you'll see lots of jobs advertised in the press. There are also several recruitment agencies. These might work for you, but remember that most jobs are never advertised - if you approach a company that you think you might want to work for, and they like you, the chances are they'll at least interview you and possibly hire you.

The legal situation for working here is a bit weird. I'm just going to talk about the employer-employee scenario here (if you're setting up your own business then things are somewhat different - maybe another article). Legally, you cannot work in this country unless you are sponsored by the company that you work for, although ladies can sometimes get a Labour Card if they are sponsored by their husband or father. A Labour Card is basically your work permit. Once you have your Labour Card you can apply for a Residence Visa that allows you to stay in the country for three years.

Remuneration. Be aware that there is a huge amount of racism and sexism in this country. And it is not illegal. So, for example, a teacher from the subcontinent might be paid Dhs 2,000 a month (the Dirham is tied to the US$ - 3.67 dirhams is 1 dollar). That's an appallingly low salary, but the logic of this is that it's about 10 times what they could earn in India. Westerners generally will get the same as they would in their home country, but there is no income tax here, so theoretically you might be better off. Married ladies can expect to be paid substantially less than they are worth because they are not the main breadwinner, and it is assumed by some companies that they are only working for a laff.

And then we come to 'the package'. Traditionally, the status of an expat has been 'guest worker', you can only stay as long as your job lasts. You could not buy property here until two years ago, and you would certainly have to send your kids to an expensive private school, or 'public' school as we Brits like to call them to confuse everyone else. Employment packages usually include; big fat salary (hah!); free accommodation or rent allowance; car; medical expenses; annual flights home for you and your family; school fees (less common these days).


Tuesday, January 11, 2005

Weather Report

We've been having weather all day long. We've had 100% cloud-cover the whole day, quite strong winds and a little bit of rain this morning. I happened to be in Jumeirah around lunchtime, and thought I'd wander over to the Public Beach to see how many mad Russians were trying to sunbathe in this weather. The answer was 'none'. I was a bit puzzled to see part of the car park under about 4 inches of water, and a Municipality truck pumping the water back into the sea.

As I approached the beach, all became clear. The sea level was about a metre higher than normal. The bottom end of the beach appeared to have been washed away, and there were large puddles of water on the beach and even on the road in places. The sea was still pounding away with very large waves.

On the radio news on the way home, they were saying that five workers had been washed off the Jumeirah Palm Island, and one of them is missing, presumed dead. There was also a fishing boat missing at sea.

I can't help but wonder if this is a kind of aftershock from the tsunami disaster. And I have to admit that after that terrible tragedy I was wondering what the effect would be if a tsunami happened in the Arabian Gulf. I was talking to an engineer about this, who had heard a theory that when the massive natural gas field off Qatar goes into production, there is a possibility that the hugely porous rock that contains the gas could collapse, and this would trigger a tsunami. It's a bit scary.

Monday, January 10, 2005


MinInf? Ministry of Information, aka Ministry of Censorship. Gulf countries have traditionally had these things, ostensibly to make sure that published material does not offend Islamic and cultural values.

In this modern age, the wise leaders have realised that this is a complete waste of time. The Interweb means that anyone with a computer and a web connection can say anything they like. Jordan and Qatar have already done away with their info ministries. Possibly they think that grown-ups should be free to make their own decisions in these matters.

Kuwait's Minister of Information resigned in high dudgeon (I love that phrase, and one day might try to find out what it means - maybe I'll ask the Min of Inf) a few days ago ahead of a grilling by Islamists in the Government who thought he wasn't doing enough to stop people having fun. On a side issue, all New Year celebrations were cancelled by the government at very short notice. I really do not like the way Kuwait is going these days, and I suspect most Kuwaitis don't either. Reading Kuwaiti blogs, they feel they are being Talibanised. Yekk.

Anyhoo, big media conference on here in Dubai. Sheikh Mohammed's keynote speech imploring journos et al to do their job, and report what is happening, good or bad. There was a time, not so long ago, when doing just that could get you deported. And it's a hard habit to break out of - you do not want to be the person that pushes the envelope just that bit too far. I don't know if the Ministry of Information has a Blogging Division, but, again, I don't want to be the person that finds out about it first!

Censorship in the Gulf has always driven me a bit nutty. When I served my one-year bachelor sentence in Riyadh, I was stunned by the amount of censorship going on. If you ventured into a record shop (you had to be a male-type person to do this - femmes were actually not allowed), you might see CDs on display. The cover might feature a good-lookin' person of the female persuasion. And whatever she was wearing would be invisible because the censors would have blacked it out up to the neck. And luscious red lips were a no-no also, they would be given a black moustache treatment. You were supposed to be happy to pay good money for this!

Really, I thought Saudi was obscene. You might think that's an odd word to describe a country that seems to think it is the sole upholder of the moral values of the planet. But really, I was utterly mortified by the entire place the whole time I was there - can you describe a country as a moral pervert? I worked in an architect's office, and my colleagues were worried when I designed a free-standing spiral staircase with glass balustrading. Why? Because local men will gather at the bottom of the stairs and try to look up the skirts of ladies walking up them. For Heaven's sake. The Muttawah ('religious' police) thought they were doing a grand old job, but actually they just drag the country into disrepute.

We've never had Muttawah in the UAE, but we do still have a bit of censorship. Nipples and bum-cracks get blacked out in magazines. Etisalat, our monopoly Interweb Service Provider, still feels the need to pump everything through a proxy server that blocks a few million websites. Essex University? Nah.

PS Para about Saudi toned down a bit to protect the innocent (that's me!).

Labels: , ,

Sunday, January 09, 2005

Polar Express

We went to see Polar Express, the computer-animated Christmas movie. Pretty amazing stuff, especially the action sequences. I was on the edge of my seat during these roller-coaster rides. Apparently, there is a 3D IMAX version, which would be absolutely sensational.

The whole movie had a slightly surreal look to it - one step removed from the clean perfection that computer graphics achieves by default. It's kind of hard to describe, but the film looks like hand-painted hyper-realistic illustrations. Weirdly interesting.

I must admit I never had any intention of seeing this movie on the strength of the trailer which really didn't grab me at all. And that's probably down to the train Conductor's moustache, which is a bit too perfectly-trimmed and plastic-looking. But BetterArf went to see it yesterday, and dragged me along to see it today. It's definitely a movie that will bear repeated watching. This a good thing because it will most certainly become a Christmas fixture on TV.

Go see it.

Saturday, January 08, 2005


TOGWT - may or may not mean something to you. To me it means The Old Grey Whistle Test. TOGWT was the music program when I was in my late teens. It was on BBC2 at 11pm on Tuesdays. Clearly not good timing for folk who had to be up early to go to school in the morning. But somehow I managed to persuade my parents to let me stay up and watch it. And there are bits of it that are forever engraved upon my memory. One of them is the time when The New York Dolls made an appearance, and when they'd done murdering their song, the presenter Whispering Bob Harris does a little sneer and just says 'mock rock'.

I'm prompted to write about this because BetterArf went shopping after work and came home with a double-DVD of TOGWT. All I can say is, stick it on! There's some amazing stuff on here - it used to be the show of choice for breaking bands - if you got a spot on TOGWT you definitely had a chance of selling a few records thereafter. It certainly worked on me, I remember rushing out to buy an album by a Dutch band called Focus, who had a lead singer who did surreal yodelling. Focus are on the DVD. And there's a track by the Sensational Alex Harvey Band, who were truly amazing but never made it big. I saw them live 3 or 4 times and they really were something else - as it happens, their signature tune was 'Delilah'. Yow, the memories come flooding back. There's also Lynyrd Skynyrd doing 'Freebird'.

The fascinating thing, for me, is that the early years (this DVD covers 1971-1983) are shot in a tiny studio with no set whatsoever - as a backdrop you have a bare studio wall with electrical junction boxes, no room for anyone to move, and the camera is right up your nose. The performances are breathtaking.

Anyhoo, I'm reading the contents of the DVD and I see that NY Dolls are coming up. I say to BetterArf, "if Bob Harris says 'mock rock' at the end of their song, you have to give me one million dollars". OK, she says. Up till this point, the presenters haven't been saying anything except as intros to some of the pieces. The NY Dolls come on, and do a complete parody of the Stones. Cut to Whispering Bob. 'Sneer, Mock Rock'. Result!

And I kid you not, it really was exactly as I remembered it after more than 30 years. I'm doing well if I can remember anything that happened last week, but your youthful memories really do get stuck in your brain. Now to get BetterArf to gimme that million dollars.

Welcome to the Blogosphere

Evening fans. I keep reading things about bloggers and blogging (ABC News says bloggers are the 'People of the Year' - when do I get my medal?), and it seems to be a seriously growing, y'know, thing. Important, like. Y'know. All these semi-articulate, like, ppl all over the planet. Ex. Pressing themself. Yeah. Kewl.

Sorry, bit o' drivel there. I'm feeling a bit lonely as a blogger in Dubai. I don't have much company. Sure there's Amrit(Raj), but he only does about two posts a month. There used to be Dave Crane (actually the first blog I ever read on a regular basis) but he seems to have given up blogging. Probably a wise move, it was full of stuff we didn't really need to know about his alcohol consumption and trouble with his pets.

I did a search on Globe of Blogs for UAE bloggers, and it came up with 21! Mind you, Saudi Arabia only has 2, Bahrain has 5. Oman has 3. Half of the listed UAE blogs have given up. Some of them are completely incoherent. But I did find a new one that shows lots of promise. It's called Maafi Mushkilla, which is Arabic for 'No Problem'. It's a phrase you here a lot round here, as things are going wrong for whatever reason.

And I've just realised that I have a link to a thing called Blog Search Engine on my pages. Clicking on it, I see that it is nothing of the kind - it'll be getting deleted pretty darn soon.

Friday, January 07, 2005

15 minutes of fame - My Corel Story

Well, possibly not 15 minutes, and not 'fame', but certainly not to be sneered at.

Here's the story. When I bought my very first PC back in 1988-ish, I also bought CorelDraw v2.00. The PC was a 386 SX with 1Mb RAM, and cost about as much as a small house in Yorkshire. I got CorelDraw because I was interested in graphics and illustration, and this seemed like the baby for the job. I messed around with it somewhat, and became quite proficient. After using the PC for about 10 minutes it became clear that I really needed 2Mb RAM, so I bought that almost immediately.

At that time, Corel were running the 'World Design Contest'. No, you didn't have to design a world, you just had to submit designs that you had made using their software. The contest ran for ten months, and each month they would select winners in about 10 different categories. Everybody who was placed first in a category for a particular month not only got a wunnerful prize, but also qualified to attend (at Corel's expense) the Grand Final in Ottowa, Canada.

I began entering the contest on a monthly basis, and one month I got lucky, was placed 2nd in a particular category, and won a thing called a CD-ROM drive. These things were in their infancy at the time, and when it arrived I had no idea what to do with it. But I was keen to win more stuff - one of the big prizes was a 486, oh how I yearned for it! The months went by, nothing, nada, zilch.

A Blog Story

I've just been reading up on advice from Blogger on how to make a successful blog. They make an interesting point. Keep 'em short, sharp and to the point. If you're telling a long story, do it in bits. So, I've noticed that some of my blogicles of late have been quite long. I can't change that now. But I have a longish story that I want to share, so I'm writing it in Worm, and will split it into bite-sized chunks that I will publish every two or three days if I remember.

Thursday, January 06, 2005

Compare and Contrast

I'm reading Pete McCarthy's 'McCarthy's Bar', for the second or third time. In case you are not familiar with this wonderful book, it's a travelogue describing the experiences of a half-Irish English guy trying to 'find himself' in Ireland. About halfway through the book, he gets involved in somebody's birthday party at a pub, a restaurant and a pub again. Being English, he is very concerned because it is almost midnight and the pub appears to be still open. This would be illegal in England because of the strict licencing laws - pubs always have to close at 11 p.m. unless they have been granted an extension for a special occasion.

Which reminded me of two things a couple of years ago.

Thing 1: a business associate from England came to visit us in Dubai. His flight arrived at about midnight. We picked him up from the airport and went straight to the Irish Village. If you are ever in Dubai, you must visit this brilliant boozer. When we got to the Village the night was just getting going. In the area outside the pub were maybe 300 happy people singing and dancing to Degsy (resident musician) doing 'Why Why Why Delilah'. Utterly brilliant and my associate just couldn't believe it.

Thing 2: a few months after the above, I had to visit my associate in England. My flight was due to arrive at Heathrow at 10 p.m., but it was delayed a bit, and I didn't get out of the terminal until a few minutes before 11. 'Let's go for a pint!' I suggest. Mein host gives me a look that implies his doubts about my sanity. At 11 p.m. you cannot get a drink in a pub anywhere near Heathrow Airport! I was gobsmacked. I thought they'd finally got a grip on the licencing laws in the UK so that pubs could open when they wanted. Well, apparently they have, but the pubs in that area just cannot be arsed providing any kind of service to thirsty travellers.

What I really cannot get over is that Dubai is in an Islamic country, and booze is more freely available than in England! Outrageous.

Later on that same visit I went to visit my family in Yorkshire. I went for a drink with my dad at the local British Legion. Not my preferred choice of watering-hole (in fact I might be barred from there after my last visit), but the village that I grew up in is in serious decline and does not offer a whole lot of options. It happened to be a Sunday, and at 2.20 p.m. they rang the bell for last orders. I nearly had a heart attack. Were they seriously proposing to close the bar in ten minutes' time and throw everyone out onto the street 20 minutes later? Apparently they were. But the place was packed with customers who would be very happy to stay there all day and give lots and lots of money to the club, in return for some beer. But no, the Steward wanted his Sunday dinner, and everybody had to go home.

Wednesday, January 05, 2005

Rank Page


I've just noticed that this 'ere blogthingy has a Google Page Rank of 4/10! Last time I looked it was 0/10. Possibly 1% of the people on the planet know what I'm on about here. But I'm in the Search Engine Optimisation biz, so it matters to me. It means that my blog has acquired an amount of weight that Google gives my site when people are searching for something. Because of this 'weight', my blog will appear higher up the list of results if your search terms are looking for things that Google has indexed from my blog.

So, whoop-di-doo! Crack open the Vimto!

Linguistic Confusion

I was somewhat heartened a few months ago when I saw a headline in Gulf News 'National Identity Authority to be formed'. I didn't read the article, but assumed it meant that the Government were planning to get a new National Anthem, Flag and Logo. But no, I was wrong, what they mean is the introduction of electronic Identity Cards for nationals and expats. These will contain a breathtaking array of information that will make the British scheme look like Noddy in Toyland.

On a similar theme, when I first arrived in the Middle East I was quite taken with the notion that even quite small companies employed the services of a Public Relations Officer. Very image-conscious, these Arabs. But no, a PRO is not a spin-doctor, he's a geezer who spends his entire time running around various Government Departments, organising visas, licences, work permits and all the other beaurocratic gubbins that everybody needs here just to stay legal.

Tuesday, January 04, 2005

The World's First Emirate to Charge Entry

The Emirate of Dubai announced yesterday that it will be introducing tolls on all roads into the Emirate. We're not talking about a City Centre Congestion Charge here, you will even have to pay to enter from the Abu Dhabi end, and that is not exactly congested.

It's not a huge amount, 3 - 5 Dirhams (about 50 - 75 British pennies), but todays Gulf News is full of letters from irate people who live in Sharjah and commute to Dubai, who might be discouraged from coming into Dubai for shopping and entertainment, who might have to consider car-pooling or one of the many private bus services that ply between the two Emirates, and other terrible stuff like that.

Honestly, the blindness of some of these people is amazing. Yes, the tolls will discourage people from commuting between Sharjah and Dubai. That is exactly what they are designed for. If you've ever tried getting into Dubai from Sharjah between 6.30 am and 9.30 am, or into Sharjah between 5.30 pm and 8.30 pm, you will know that it is something to be avoided at all costs. There are only 3 or 4 roads between the two emirates, and they are all completely jammed beyond their capacity at peak times. Throw in the ocassional (hah!) accident on any of the roads, and you have almost total gridlock for hours and hours.

Public transport policy is something Dubai is beginning to address. There are serious plans underway to build an emirate-wide light rail system. But it will stop at Sharjah. Dubai has a pretty good public bus network. But it stops at Sharjah. Dubai built an excellent city bypass road (the Emirates Road), but it grinds to a halt, literally, these days, at the National Paints Roundabout on the Sharjah border.

The problem here is basically that Dubai has become so successful that rented accommodation prices have risen sharply, so lots (hundreds of thousands, I guess) of people who work in Dubai cannot afford to live there, and have to stay in Sharjah where the rents are lower. Sharjah has not been spending much on its infrastructure, and will not allow Dubai Municipality buses to operate into Sharjah (this is bizarre because Sharjah does not yet have a public bus system, so they are saying that allowing Dubai Buses into Sharjah would take revenue away from Sharjah taxi drivers - methinks not).

But really, the fundamental problem is that transport systems need to be co-ordinated on a nationwide basis. Actually they don't really. There is one highway connecting Dubai and Abu Dhabi, and that works fine. The real problem is that Dubai and Sharjah are practically a conurbation, and they have a symbiotic relationship. Sharjah undoubtedly benefits greatly from being a spillover town for Dubai, and Dubai benefits because lower-paid workers can find somewhere affordable to live. But the price is this horrendous congestion and air pollution caused by the cross-border traffic.

Saturday, January 01, 2005

In Praise of Choity's

I just want to say a few words of praise for our local supermarket, because I get a bit soft in the head around this time of year.

We live in a bit of a non-place called Jebel Ali. Jebel Ali is about 30 kilometers west of Dubai City. It was developed about 25 years ago as a Port and Free Zone. Along with that development, a village was built to provide accommodation for the engineers working on the Port development. It's a cute little place with a primary school, a medical centre and a social club. It also has a bunch of little shops - a travel agency (housed in a Portakabin, and sporting a blue tarpaulin roof after the recent rain), a pharmacy and a little supermarket.

The Village was getting along just fine for many years, when the Dubai Ports Authority (the managers of the village at that time) decided that they had to build a ton of low-cost housing for people working in the Free Zone, and in the newly-announced Dubai Internet City and Dubai Media City. And so Jebel Ali Gardens was born. This is where we have lived for the last three years, and it really is the most astonishing development. It covers a very large area of land, and comprises 126 apartment blocks. They are three storeys high (actually G + 2 in the local construction parlance), with maybe thirty apartments in each block, and a total population upwards of 30,000.

The main point about the Gardens is probably the landscaping. A development like this could have been built as an urban wasteland, but instead it is a fantastically-landscaped park. There are mini-playgrounds for the kiddiewinkles, a full-size cricket oval, a football pitch, volleyball and tennis courts and three swimming pools. It is gorgeous and very safe - you can walk for miles without having to cross a road. And the other main point is that the apartment rents are very low.

But, as in all new developments anywhere on the planet, things like shops and schools and social facilities get left until the end, so we have to use the local supermarket in the Village. This is run by T. Choithram and Sons (Choity's for short), who are one of the big two chains in town that cater to a predominantly Western market. The other big chain is Spinneys. Now, I don't fully understand the market positioning of the big UK supermarket chains any more, but ten years ago you had Sainsbury's who were very much upmarket, and you had Tesco, who had been a bit grotty but had started trying to be more upmarket than Sainsbury's. So, Spinneys is like Sainsbury's used to be, and Choithram's is more like an old-style Tesco.

It doesn't really matter - Choity's is just down the road, the staff are mostly pretty good, friendly and obliging. They will deliver stuff to your house if you're too lazy to go out and get it. And over this festive season it has seemed like I couldn't buy anything there without getting a gift. When I bought the turkey they threw in a small chicken. Buying some last-minute stuff on Christmas Eve, they gave me a rich fruit-cake. I bought something yesterday, and the manager rushed off somewhere and came back with a plum pudding. Brilliant!

So, we have a brand-spanking new and shiny shopping mall opening on site in a few months time, featuring a GĂ©ant Hypermarket. People are saying it will kill Choity's, but I don't think so. Their revenues may drop slightly, but not from us. We might go to a hypermarket to do a big monthly shop, but I hate hypermarkets because they are so crowded and you have to walk miles to get anything. But at least we'll be able to get stuff that Choity's don't do (like seafood). And I'm really excited at having a 21-screen cinema literally within walking distance, that's just going to be so cool (and an IMAX cinema also!). The Gardens Mall itself is gigantic - it's more than a kilometre long, so if you can't park in the right kind of place then it's gonna be hard work.

Anyhoo, rambling a bit.


Flowery Tw*ts

The title is an anagram of Fawlty Towers, one of the funniest TV series ever made. We got the DVD of the second series for Christmas, and have been watching it over the last two nights. Sensationally funny. It is very rare that something can make me laugh out loud, but Fawlty Towers managed it.


Just to demonstrate how sad and boring I am. I wish you a very happy 2005. It is 0045 on Jan 1. BetterArf and I have had an intoxicating New Year's Eve, sitting as high up as we could get on Jebel Ali (a Jebel is a hill, and Jebel Ali is the highest point in the Emirate of Dubai). We could see the spectacular fireworks from the hotels on the Jumeirah Beach Strip, as well as what looked like marine distress flares fairly close to us. These flares went up fast and came down real slow, as if they were on parachutes. BetterArf was intrigued by this, and went to retrieve one as it came down. It did indeed have a parachute attached.

So there you go. We could have spent upwards of 70 quid for a sumptuous buffet and entertainment jobbie at one of the hotels hereabouts. We had an offer to go camping in the desert. But we've done those things before, and fancied a laid-back, quiet time this year. And that's what we got.

And I sincerely hope that 2005 is better for everybody than 2004. My 2004 was possibly the worst year I've ever had, but you don't want to know about that and I don't want to tell you.

Chin up, tiddly pom, life goes in an onward direction. Happy New Year!