Monday, May 30, 2005

Dubai Metro

Yeehaa! GoD (Government of Dubai) has announced the winner of the tender phase for building the Dubai Metro system. AND THE WINNER IS a consortium led by Mitsubishi Heavy Industries. Their bid was Dhs 12.45 billion. The other 3 bidders were very close, with bids between 18.26 and 19.29 billions dirhams. Which is a bit worrying.

When I was involved in the construction industry, prevailing wisdom said that you should never accept the lowest bid. With such a big disparity between the lowest and the rest, my instinct tells me that Mitsubishi are in the shite and are doing this purely for turnover. I have no doubt that they can deliver the project, if the parent company lasts the distance. Completion is scheduled for 2009.

Enough cynicism, this is a magnificent and desperately-needed addition to Dubai's infrastructure. We are going to get two lines, a shortish one that runs from Dubai Airport, almost up to Al Ras, under the Creek to Shindagha, and on down to Dubai HealthCare City. The other line runs from near Jebel Ali Free Zone, all the way into Old Dubai, under the Creek, and ends up in Rashidiya. No doubt the project will grow as these first two phases are built. There will be a need for a line parallel to Emirates Road, to service Dubailand, the Meadows, The Autodrome, Sports City and all of that stuff. And there has been talk of a separate, bonded cargo corridor between Dubai International Airport and Jebel Ali Airport Planet. (This bonded corridor could be a combination of road and rail, but what it means is that both airports are considered as one airside space where anything in that space is not actually in the UAE but is in a tax-free area.)

The driverless trains will carry up to 500 people, and will run at intervals of between 90 and 180 seconds, according to the time of day.

The majority of the track will be elevated, with underground sections in the city centre. This will be the making of Dubai, and no mistake.

France Tells Chirac to Take a Hike

I think it's wonderful that the French pipple have rejected the proposed EU Constitution in a referendum held yesterday. I believe that Chirac was the brain cell behind the Constitution, and had crafted it so that France or any of the other big, old countries, could never be outmanoeuvred (Ithink that's French for 'throw the eggs away, man!') by any smaller or newer member country. Don't know, and don't much care.

It's a shame really. Spikking as a Brit, I support our membership of the EU 100%. Folks often talk about a 'United States of Europe' but I cannot see that ever happening - there's way too much history, national pride and just plain sovereignty for all of those EU members to allow themselves to be utterly subsumed into the bureaucratic nightmare that is the administration of the EU.

Anyhoo, the EU Constitution seems to be a dead thing, and Tony Blur has just announced that we Brits might have a referendum on it next Spring if the process is still dragging on. I thought they had to get 100% ratification from all 396 EU members for the Constitution to happen, which would make it DOA right now. I could be wrong, I frequently am.

It actually amazes me that France, of all places, opted to have a plebiscite (I love that word) on the issue. From what I'm hearing on the Beeb, people were not actually voting on the issue, they just wanted to give Chirac a well-deserved kick in the teeth. Democracy eh? Crazy stuff. Over to you Duffy.

Oh, and Chirac looks to be set to fire Prime Minister Raffarin! Ridiculous.

Real Ale in Dubai

That's an oxymoronical title isn't it? At least it has been for as long as I've lived here. The only beers you could get, either in pubs or at MMI or A&E shops used to be every lager ever invented, brown stuff with widgets (John Smith's, Boddies, Murphy's and Guinness), bottled brown stuff without widgets (Newcy Brown), and Strongbow Cider (and the occassional Blackthorn). You never got actual 'real ale' because allegedly it doesn't travel, and everybody hates the stuff.

So I was planning to visit MMI on my way home from work today, desultorily wondering whether to buy a case of boring Heineken in poxy 33cl cans, or splash out on something like John Smith's. I was not really excited by either option, so imagine my surprise when I got into MMI and they had bottles of Old Speckled Hen and Abbott Ale on the counter.

I have to tell you, Greene King's Abbott Ale is my absolute number one topmost favourite beer on the planet. I quite like it. Old Spotty Hen comes a close second. I was so happy last June when I spent a couple of weeks in England and found that all J. D. Wetherspoon's pubs now sell Abbott. There's at least one JDW boozer in all the towns I visited on that trip (except Camberley, southern pansy town). When I first encountered Abbott, while doing a student summer job as a Kitchen Hygiene Assistant at Butlin's in Clacton, Essex, you could only get itf at a few boozers in East Angular.

So, back to MMI. The price for a case is, unsurprisingly, outrageous, even more than the price for big cans with widgets in 'em. But I absolutely could not buy a case of Heineken, while knowing that for only about twice as much money, I could get a case of beer that I actually love. I got the Abbott Ale.

I apologise for this post being a little bit non-inclusive. If you're not a Brit or a beer drinker you'll probably have no idea what most of the above was about, so leave a comment if you need any clarification.

Sunday, May 29, 2005

Phew What a Scorcher!

I love living in the Emirates, except for the summer. We only have two seasons here, spring and autumn just do not exist.

It seems to me that this year's winter went on for longer than usual - summer usually starts with a vengeance at the beginning of May. Anyway, here we are at the end of May, and kaboom! summer is here. What it means for us mere mortals is first of all, it is very hot (probably about 45° C today), and in the hours around sunrise and sunset the humidity shoots up. When the humidity is high, your specs will steam up when you leave an air-conditioned building - exactly what happens in the frozen north when you enter a warm building in winter. And these are the ideal conditions for catching a cold.

I remember when I lived in England, and the temperature might be approaching 30° C. Tabloid newspapers would be full of headlines like 'Whew What a Scorcher!'. Hah! And foolishly, I used to long to live in a place that was warmer than that on a regular basis. Well, now I do, and I spend a lot of time running between air-conditioned buildings and the air-conditioned motorcar, because if you spend more than a couple of minutes in the sun when it is this hot, your brains boil and spill out of your ears, and it can make an awful mess of your suit.

One strange (and useful) by-product of the climate is that in summer everybody uses their hot taps to get cold water out of, and the cold taps deliver very hot water. All you do is switch off your water heaters. Your hot water tank is inside your air-conditioned dwelling where it cools down and stays cold, while your uninsulated cold water tank lives outside on the roof, where you do not need any special equipment to heat up the contents - the blazing sun does it all for you.

At the beginning of every summer you can guarantee that a Dubai newbie (maybe that's a dewbie), will write to the Gulf News imploring the concerned authorities to do something about this state of affairs. Nobody has told them that they should just forget about using their water heaters, and enjoy the benefits of free hot water.

Friday, May 27, 2005

Come On You Reds!

The first real job of my career was working as an interior designer for a company in Liverpool UK. That company was owned by a great man, Sir John Moores. Mr John (as he was known by us plebs), pretty much owned Liverpool FC. He also had a holding in Everton. None of this was Malcolm Glazer-ish, it was just supporting the community that had helped you become a gazillionaire (Sir John was the richest bloke in Britain at that time, but not affected by it).

One day, I got into the lift to hit the twelfth floor where I worked. I was wearing a grey business suit and (because I am a designer carrying a full artistic licence) a pair of red patent leather shoes.

Mr John entered the lift. Looked at my shoes. Shit, I thought, gonna get fired!

Mr John just said 'Liverpool fan, eh?' To which I had to reply 'no sir, Donny Rovers sir!'.
As I left the lift, he said 'I love the shoes'.

Littlewoods was a very interesting company. Deliberately not smart and not stylish, it appealed to the 'lower classes', and didn't make them feel uncomfortable. Their main cash earner was football pools, then mail order catalogues, and then the chain stores. There was always a feeling that the High Street stores were there to lose a bit of money for the group to reduce its tax bill. Well maybe, but it was real work for us folks involved in it.

Littlewoods was nominally a PLC (Public Liability Company, shares supposedly traded on the open market), but you could only buy or sell shares if you were a member of the Moores family. Mr John was getting on, and was trying to figure out his succession. Various sons were tried out as Managing Director, and all failed. The company then went through a succession of MDs brought in fom outside, none of whom lasted a year.

In the background, I had first come to Liverpool through various community schemes. One of the great supporters of community activity in Liverpool was John Junior (son of Mr John). He had been tried as MD and failed. But he used to host a monthly lunch for community groups on the executive floor of the HQ building. I got invited to one of these. I don't think JJ knew that I was actually working for the enemy company.

And the guys in my department (Gordon, Clive, where are you now?) were most interested in knowing where I'd been that day when I disappeared for two or three hours. I was only upstairs.

I've kind of lost track of where Littlewoods is at now - I suspect that it's all been (or is being) sold off. But it was good fun while it lasted, you could wear red patent leather shoes and get away with it!


Red Always Wins

A fascinating bit of research last week (sorry, can't find a link) showed that the team, individual or baboon wearing red was more likely to win a game, a tournament, or a fight.

Examples in the footie world this week seem to bear this out. In the FA Cup Final, Arse wore red and Man U were all in black. Arse won.

In the Euro Cup Final, Liverpool in red overcame AirConditioning Milan in white.
Fascinating really, in the context of these two games. Arse had no right to win the FA Cup, and yet they did. AC Milan slaughtered Liverpool in the first half, but the Reds, playing in red were able to pull back the deficit early in the second half and ultimately win on the hated penalties.

Thursday, May 26, 2005

Now Showing at a Cinema Near You

The 21-screen Grand Megaplex opened at Ibn Buttuta Mall yesterday.

We've just been to check it out. It's cool.

We saw Ridley Scott's magnificent Kingdom of Heaven. Stunning stuff.

Tuesday, May 24, 2005

How to Cure the Speeding Problem

Authorities in Abu Dhabi have announced a scheme to eradicate speeding on two major highways in the Emirate. They're going to raise the speed limit from 120 kph (74.5 mph) to 160 kph (99.4 mph).

This will be for a 6-month trial period, and I'm pretty glad I never have to use the roads in question.

Sunday, May 22, 2005

It's a Gas!

One of the things you might find a bit strange if you ever come here to live, is that there is no mains gas (except in Sharjah, and I don't know how prevalent that is - it's a fairly new innovation). What we do have is fleets of highly-explosive red trucks whizzing around the place delivering bottles of the stuff.

We only use gas for the cooker, and we used to get through 3 medium-sized bottles a year. Since we got the rocket-science microwave/grill/convection oven last year, the gas oven is seldom used. There was a tradition in our house that the gas would run out halfway through cooking the world's biggest turkey, but it was OK because the deliverers weren't celebrating Christmas.

Anyhoo, the gas finally expired yesterday, 4 months later than expected. And I completely forgot to do anything about it until just now when I started trying to cook dinner. I've phoned a gas supplier and it will be delivered within half an hour. The amazing thing about this is the price - it's maybe Dhs 50 for a medium-sized bottle that will last us at least six months. My only point of comparison on this is living in England 12 years ago where we had a gas oven and gas central heating, and we were paying several hundred pounds a quarter for gas.

Probably the gas is so much cheaper because they don't have to maintain a massive piped distribution system, and the delivery guys get paid almost nothing.

Saturday, May 21, 2005

We Woz Robbed

Well, I say 'we', I'm not actually a Man Utd fan, but will always prefer to see a Northern team beat a Southern one.

So, watching today's marathon F.A. Cup Final between Man U and Arsenal, was a labour of lurve. How can a team try so hard, have almost all of the possession, dozens of shots on goal, and still lose?!

If ever a team did not deserve to win a major tournament, it was Arsenal.


I expect Malcolm Glazer will be selling the club tomorrow.

Cinema Etiquette

While we are used to the (lack of) phone etiquette in cinemas, our visit to Mercato yesterday to see Star Wars was marred by something completely different.

BetterArf had entered the cinema somewhat earlier than me (I needed a toilet break). She found her seat occupied by a kid, asked him to move, and was told that he was waiting for his mother and didn't know where he was supposed to sit. After a while the mother turned up, berated BetterArf for harrassing her son ('he's only ten!'), and took their proper seats.

Sometime into the movie, after taking a few phone calls on her high-intensity phone, the mother started yelling at the guy sitting behind her son. I couldn't hear what it was about, but she left the cinema for a while and came back with some security guys. They spoke to the guy in the row behind us, he left the room for a few minutes and then came back.

As we left the auditorium, we saw him, and he showed us his free tickets for another movie and explained that the mad woman had accused him of touching her kid's hair. It seems the management are up to speed on this particular lady, and deem it easier to give out free tickets to her victims than to stop her patronising their establishment altogether.


Friday, May 20, 2005

Another UAE Blog!

Eeek, just found another Dubai blog! This one takes comments!

Is Our Food Killing Us?

BetterArf stumbled across this article on the Interweb. It's a bit scary (even for ducks). Basically what it's saying is that due to intensive farming methods and selective breeding of fruit, vegetables and animals for human consumption, the food we eat today is significantly lower in essential nutrients (especially the bizarre things like copper, selenium and other trace elements) than it was 50 years ago. Chicken and other meat has a much higher fat content than previously. This is based on research in the UK, and is dealing with food in its 'native' state.

The report is assuming that people buy fresh veg and meat from their local supermarket, and cook it themselves. I think this still happens in some households. But in other households, the pattern might be to buy heavily-processed food in the form of 'ready meals' from the supermarket, supplemented by grease-soaked take-aways from the likes of MuckDonalds, KFC etc.

Things are probably different here. We get stuff from all over the world, but I will usually buy locally-grown vegetables. And eggs. The eggs you get here are just 'eggier' than English eggs.

Horse Auction Update

The Auction of the fibreglass Arabian Horses went off exceedingly well. We crashed into the couple responsible for the entire gig in the supermarket today, and they said they had raised well over one million dollars at the sale.

The auctioneers themselves were splendidly entertaining. No less than the Chairman of Christie's South Kensington and the President of Christie's Europe, they were like very posh car salesmen. They had arrived in Dubai at 10 o'clock that morning and were due to leave at 3am after the gig

My tux was quite entertaining also. The trousers had no belt loops and I had no braces, so I had to be a little bit careful when walking around, because the girth of the trousers was about a half-inch more than the girth of me. So it was quite useful that I had this adjustable cummerbund (oh what wonderful things they are) to hold everything together!

The Blog It Is A-Changing

Well, just a tweak really. I used to have the TrueFresco referrers script on the blog. I've been quite keen to get rid of this because
a) I don't think it is accurate, and
b) they banned my site some time ago, claiming it was an adult site and I should be paying for the service. Their response to my emails was truly offensive (along the lines of 'if you don't like, $#@& off').

I could have written my own referrers script, but really I've just been too busy. So now I have installed a similar script from BlogTricks. If it works I will pay them the $10 to get rid of the little advert that appears under the referrers list.

In case you have no clue what I'm talking about, 'referrers' are the web addresses of people visiting your site. It's very useful for me to have this information.

Sometime soon I think I will move away from Blogger. We are working on a couple of projects that include a custom-made blogging engine for individual clients. We've developed some pretty cool features for this, including a far superior method of posting and viewing messages. When these projects are finished (and if we can find some time), I intend to use this code for my own blog. And if any Blogger execs are reading this, I don't have anything against Blogger, in fact I think it's excellent. But I do think it is suffering from its own success. The server is frequently clogged and inaccessible, meaning that I cannot always blog when I want to, and there are other things missing from the basic offering that should be there.

In fact I've just had a Eureka moment - not gonna tell you what it is yet, but watch this space...

The Merchant of Venice

Movies are a bit like buses - you wait ages for the one you want and then six arrive all at once. So we're packing them in a bit at the moment. Next week we've got HitchHikers Guide to the Galaxy, Kingdom of Heaven is on now, and hopefully will still be around next weekend. This afternoon we saw The Merchant of Venice.

The Merchant of Venice is just sensationally good. Al Pacino as Shylock is outstanding, and the rest of the cast no less so. The lighting and photography were beautiful, and every scene looked like a Rembrandt painting.

Probably a lot of people will miss this film because it's a Shakespeare, and they think the language would be hard to understand. But really there's no need to worry on that score - the text has been quite heavily edited, and the diction of the actors is superb. I've never actually read Merchant of Venice, but I had no trouble at all in following the plot and understanding the meaning.

A brilliant film - catch it if you can.

Telecoms and Tax

A few days ago the head of the new Telecoms Regulation Authority announced that
a) Etisalat would continue to pay 50% of its profits as a 'royalty' to the Government, and
b) Any new entrants to the market would also have to pay this levy.

The royalty was originally introduced as the price that Etisalat had to pay for the privilege of having an officially-protected monopoly on telecommunications service. People assumed (well, I did, at least) that when the monopoly was removed, the royalty would no longer be paid. No monopoly, no royalty. So, it's somewhat surprising to see it continue.

Actually, it boils down to an issue of terminology. The UAE does not impose income tax on individuals or companies (yeehaa!). But the 'royalty' is nothing more or less than a tax on profits. And for Etisalat, these profits have been substantial. I believe they are currently paying about four billion dirhams a year (a little over one billion US dollars) in royalty payments. It's no wonder that the gubmnt is reluctant to let go of this.

There was a bit of a kerfuffle a few years ago when Dubai Municipality decided that it did not like restaurants printing the phrase 'includes / excludes 5% Municipality tax' on their menus. With an astonishing lack of foresight, they announced in the press that henceforth, the word 'tax' must be replaced with the word 'fee', and that this would have to be implemented within two weeks. No restaurants or hotels were informed directly of this decision, and so naturally they dragged their feet and did nothing.

The issue rumbled on for a few days, and I guess the hotels told the Municipality to get stuffed - they might make the change the next time they reprinted their menus, but it would be very expensive to do them all at once, and completely impossible within the two-week timescale.

But back to the semantics - a 'tax' is a percentage-based thing, while a 'fee' is a fixed number. So calling the tax a fee is actually incorrect, and the whole idea was quietly dropped. Menus still bear the orginal wording.

Labels: ,

Thursday, May 19, 2005

Bit of a Let-Down

We went to see the new Star Wars this afternoon, and I have to say I was disappointed. The special effects and production design were of course sensational. But the plot and dialogue were naff. The whole thing was devoid of any fun, and it took itself way too seriously.

Ah well, it'll still make a few gazillion dollars.

Wednesday, May 18, 2005

Big Night Out

So the big day has arrived - tonight is the night when the glorious painted fibreglass horses that have been adorning Dubai's streets for the last six months get sold at auction. I have a serious interest in this project because the company that organises these arty-animal parades is a client of mine. Most of the proceeds from the auction go to deserving local charities and cultural organisations.

Last year's auction (of fibreglass camels) raised Dhs 4.7 million, and this year's event should easily outdo that.

The only snag is that the invitation says 'black tie or national dress'. Since I own neither a tuxedo nor a Beefeater outfit, and my dishdasha's in the wash, I had to go to Satwa and rent a tux. Seems a bit weird going out to a posh do wearing somebody else's clothes.

Monday, May 16, 2005

Risking Death to Get a Job

Sheesh. We watched Richard Branson's reality TV show last night. It's called something like 'I Would Die For This Job'. I don't know if you've seen it, but some of the things the punters had to do were just insane.

The first challenge, apart from the taxi drive to get to The Manor, was to walk a 3 inch wide plank connecting two hot-air balloons at 10,000 feet above the ground. If you screwed up by touching the safety rope twice, you had to go back to the first balloon and then climb a rope ladder to the top of it, where you would have fictitious tea with Sir R.

It's entertaining stuff, and the prize offered is a high-powered job in the Virgin empire. I wonder how many of Branson's existing execs could or would do some of the stunts these wannabes are doing?

Friday, May 13, 2005


We went to see Robots today. An utterly incredible movie. It's funny, I will always go to see a 3D computer graphic film, but need a bit of persuading to go see one with humans in it. The reason being, I think, that CG movies try harder to deliver a result that stands up to the human competition.

End of lecture, Robots is utterly brilliant, go see it NOW!

Thursday, May 12, 2005

Dark Tower 6 - finished!

Cry your pardon, but bejasus, what a chore that was. Thanks to Duffy for letting me know that it would get going about halfway through. It did, but I still hated it. I think it's the Susannah/Odetta/Mia character that I really don't like. And the episode where Roland and Eddie turn up at Stephen King's house, well, I don't know.

Apparently the final book is wunnerful, and after having read the first six I have to read the last one. Aargh!

Exercise is Bad For You

I've really been in the wars this last week. First of all the stuff with the abscess. Then a horrible problem with a totally dysfunctional newly-hired employee (now an ex-employee). I'd put him on a project that has a very tight production schedule. After four days he had produced nothing at all. In order to meet the schedule by the next milestone meeting, I had to do four days' work in one (long) day. Made it though, and the client is very happy.

And then, a couple of days ago, I'd been kind of relaxing on the balcony. Coming back into the apartment to get yet another beer, I tripped over my exercise bike which lives beside the balcony door. One of my toes was really upset by this, but I thought nothing of it until the next morning when I spotted this deep purple digit where my toe used to be. And oh man, it hurt!

So I've been limping around because of the abscess problem, and now I'm limping on the other foot because of the toe. I'm a complete wreck really.

Call me Hopalong.


Coincidence or what? A few days ago I had a meeting with a financial advisor about a retirement investment plan. Halfway through the meeting my mobile rang and it was a guy from Citibank inviting me to apply for a credit card. I declined. Mr Citibank said 'but it's free!' 'Ain't no such thing as a free credit card', I told him (big thumbs-up from financial advisor). 'Good day to you'.

This morning I met the finance guy again, and no sooner had we sat down than my mobile rang again. A gentleman from American Express. 'Are you trying to sell me a credit card?' I ask. Yes, he says. 'Good day to you'.

Amazing. Actually, I wouldn't mind a credit card for emergencies and Interweb purchases, but the banks here won't give me one because I own a small business, and they consider this too much of a risk. Ironically my employees can get cards, because they are paid a regular salary. Bizarre.

Monday, May 09, 2005

Getting Old

Met a magician this morning who told me that I could be a sterling millionaire within 18 years. All I have to do is invest 300 quid a month with his financial services company, and they'll take care of it. Cool. Apparently, with that amount of money, I could live off the interest and not have to die a pauper after all!

See, I'm getting on a bit, and have always assumed that I would be a dead person by now. So it's a bit disturbing to find that there's no real reason why I shouldn't live for another hundred years or so. The situation needs to be taken care of!

And speaking of old geezers, my dad had a couple of surprise visitors yesterday. As you know, Offspring is now living with his uncle and aunt in London. Offspring, uncle and two other uncles had journeyed Oop North (actually one of them had journeyed Over West, 'cos he lives in the Netherlands), for a bit of a fambly get-together (BetterArf's side). I was surprised yesterday to get a phone call from one of the uncles asking me where my dad lived. Because they (uncle and Offspring) were outside the Top Club, it wasn't opening for another half-hour, and they didn't want to be hanging around in the cold. I sent them somewhere else where my dad might be, because it's just impossible to describe how to find his house.

Meanwhile I phoned the old Popsicle, and told him to get his ass down to t'Top Club and see a grand kid that he hasn't seen for a reet long time. He really thought I was winding him up.

Anyway, they had a good time and all is well. I spoke to Offspring on the webcam earlier - he says the Top Club is facing a crisis - they need 3 trustees and they've only got one. The trustees are essentially financial guarantors for the club, and can lose their assets if the club goes bust. As if! The place is a goldmine! It makes a fortune. Even in a village full of poor ex-coalminers, it's just a total cash-magnet. Cripes, if they can't find two more trustees, I'll buy it. Change nothing, just keep it going and probably retire on the proceeds in five years' time.

I'll ask my financial advisor about it next time I see him.

Nearly Free

So the good news today is that Tracy Lewis, the codeine lady, has been acquitted. The bad news is that she may have to hang around for a fortnight while the Public Prosecution decide whether they want to appeal the verdict. Given the sensitivity of this case, they may make their decision very quickly, in which case she will be free to go.

What a shambles. I am disgusted and totally ashamed by this case. The lady has had to spend eight weeks in jail for nothing! I know that the UK legal system is capable of similar cock-ups and miscarriages of justice, but not generally over an issue of such doubtful criminality. By which I mean that in this case what she did is nothing like a crime in most of the rest of world, it is only made a crime because for some obscure reason codiene is a controlled drug in this country.

Another interesting, possibly related article in today's Gulf News . Four doctors have been deported for alledgedly selling prescriptions for (unspecified) narcotic drugs to anyone who wanted them.

A psychiatrist commented to Gulf News:
"As a medical professional I am outraged at such conduct but some of these arrests are set up by the police. Drug enforcement agencies send a patient who falsely claims he is sick. We, as doctors, are sometimes duped by the informants and write them prescriptions. How are we supposed to know they are making up these symptoms?"

How often do you see reports on criminal activity in this parish that include the phrase 'the suspect was arrested in a sting operation'? It seems to me that CID spend more time turning innocent people into 'criminals' than they do in chasing the actual wicked perps that are running loose out there. It ticks me off, so it do.

Labels: ,

Saturday, May 07, 2005

Big Golf Balls!

Couple of interesting things about Etisalat (Big Golf Balls, apologies to SecretDubai), our beloved telecoms company here in the Emirates.

BGB the other day was responding to questions about the blocking of PC VOIP services such as Skype. Etisalat's head of public relations, Ahmad Bin Ali, denied using VOIP was ever legal. "Internet telephony up until now is illegal to use in the UAE. Etisalat can't make these laws. There's no law." I think he just shot himself in the foot there. The law says nothing about VOIP (as it never said anything about the InterWeb). But his presumption is that that must mean it is illegal!

Front page news on today's Gulf News - a Dhs 4 billion rival to Etisalat has just got an operating licence. Probably a year ago, it was announced that Etisalat would no longer have a monopoly on telecoms services. The Telecoms Regulation Authority was established, and its very first press release said that new entrants must give 51% shareholding to the Gubmnt. Hence the absolute lack of interest from foreign telecoms operators. Etisalat-2 seems to be owned by various Gubmnt agencies, and is likely therefore to be no more than a palliative to the WTO rather than a genuine competitor who would drive down prices.

I'm waiting to be proved wrong.

The World's Wackiest Coastline

Fed up of your boring old almost-straight coastline? Well change it! Here's a composite satellite pic of what Dubai's coast will look like in about five years from now. As far as land reclamation goes, The Palm Jumeirah is complete, Jebel Ali Palm is not far off, and The World is about half-done. Palm Deira has started and I think the Waterfront will start in about a year from now. Cartographers must love this place!

Tuesday, May 03, 2005


Didn't know I was ill didya? Well, I wasn't ill exactly, but I was suffering from a bit of a problem.

Three nights ago as I was getting ready for bed, I discovered the sudden appearance of what could well have been a third testicle (or a tumour of course - I'm not one to look on the bright side generally). I went to the doctor's the next morning and he said he reckoned it was an abscess. He said it would grow rapidly for a few days, probably hurt like hell and then explode. If I was lucky I would be able to get to the doctor when it had ripened, and he would lance it.

I was told to visit the clinic daily to have a magnesium dressing applied. This morning, the nurse said that the doc wanted to inspect the progress of my new toy, but he was working the evening shift so could I come back later. Okey dokey. I trotted down there at about five pee emm, and the doc was disappointed that the thing wasn't bigger and more painful. He said he still thought it was definitely an abscess, but wanted to get a second opinion. He tried to phone a specialist at Rashid Hospital's Emergency Department to see what could be done. Nobody was answering the phone though, so my doc asked me to come back or phone in an hour or two. I gave the doc my number just in case he felt inclined to use it, and retired to Jebel Ali Club (which is conveniently located next door to the clinic), for a pint and some food.

I was just starting on my second pint when the doc called. He'd spoken to the specialist, who was willing to have a look at the thing this evening, and possibly drain it tomorrow morning. I started to protest a little bit about the timing of it (I didn't tell him that I wanted to watch Liverpool v Chelski later that night), and the doc said fine, I could wait 28 days for an outpatient appointment, but I might be seriously unwell by then.

So I abandon the second pint (absolutely unheard of!), whizz round to the clinic to get the reference letter from the doc, grab a cab, pick up BetterArf en route, and head off to Rashid Hospital. Rashid H is in the centre of Dubai, sometimes a 25 minute drive from Jebel Ali, but on this occasion an agonising 40 minutes.

We wander into Accident and Emergency, which was fairly crowded but quiet. Not much like ER or Boston Whatnot - no drunks or junkies, no fighting or abuse. Just calm. And there were 3 or 4 cops around the place (there is actually a mini police station at Rashid Hospital).

I get to see the specialist fairly quickly (within 40 minutes), he has a grope of my lump, declares it to be an abscess and says he will drain it straightaway. I had to wait a wee while until a bed was available in the treatment room, and then it was all systems go. First of all they sprayed vast amounts of a freezing spray onto the scrotum, and then I think they injected a little local anaeasthetic. Then he made a little cut and squeezed all the goo out.

'Khalas' he says 'all done!', pats me on the chest and disappears, leaving another guy to clean up the mess. It was all over in about five minutes. But then I had to hold a gauze pad onto the wound until it stopped bleeding. The other guy kept coming back every five minutes to check if the bleeding had stopped. It hadn't. After about twenty minutes of this, the specialist came back and did something that seemed to stem the flow, and then they tried a few dozen alternative methods of trying to bandage the thing. It's a bit of a tricky location to get anything to grip firmly, as I'm sure you can imagine.

Eventually I'm fixed up, given a prescription for about a hundred painkillers a day (codeine I think), and shuffle off to find BetterArf, who is mightily relieved that I'm not dead.

So I've got rid a lump that didn't hurt, and now I've got a groin that hurts like @#!&.

An aside - I was supposed to be meeting a friend of mine. He's an exiled South African who has lived in Hollywood, is now based in Australia, and spends eleven months of the year travelling the world painting Impressionist paintings. In short, a natural Chelski fan. I called him when I was on the way to the doctor's to say something had cropped up and I had to go somewhere but I would try to get back in time for the match. He was a bit concerned, but it's kinda hard to explain in a brief phone call. As soon as I got out of A & E (the hospital one, not the booze shop), I called him again, explained I'd just had a little operation, and was returning to Jebel Ali ASAP. He said 'oh man, they're not showing it live down there - I'm at Scarlett's in the Emirates Towers - kick off's in ten minutes'.

I could have made it, but both BetterArf and Heroic Self were a bit tired, so we decided to be sensible and head off home. And then stay up till gone midnight writing this silly article.

Labels: , ,

Something Positive

So here's a happy little story about Dubai's excellent Government medical services. I have one or two fairly chronic medical conditions that require a constant supply of prescription drugs (actually you can buy them over the counter, at about three times the price than at the clinic pharmacy).

The concept of repeat prescriptions is unknown here, so until recently I've had to visit the doctor every month. Until I had a bit of a rant and the doc said I could have a three-month script. Result!!!

I had to visit the clinic on another matter the other day, and really did not have time to wait for an hour in a crowded waiting room. So I phoned for an appointment. I turned up ten minutes ahead of time, had my weight, temp and beep checked, and was seen by the doctor within ten minutes. Much to the chagrin of one guy in the waiting room who was muttering loudly about bloody English getting preferential treatment. (He was doing this on Arabic so I couldn't answer back).

Anyhoo, the doctors are good and thorough, the hospitals don't have massive long waiting lists, and the cost is reasonable.

What happens is you pay about Dhs 300 a year for a health card. This entitles you to discounted rates on doctor visits (Dhs 40 per visit as opposed to Dhs 100 if you don't have a health card), and free hospital in-patient treatment.

They recently introduced charges for tests, which is a total bummer if you need an MRI scan - that costs Dhs 400!

And they are talking about replacing the health card system with an insurance-based one. Nobody seems to know how that's supposed to work yet.


Free Press?

I don't actually consider myself to be a member of the Press, but it is fairly obvious that publishing a blog is no different from any other form of publishing, and should be subject to the same laws and regulations that govern what can and cannot be said in a public forum.

Today is International Press Freedom Day, and Gulf News have devoted a fair chunk of articles to that topic. They highlight the fact that since the establishment of Media City four years ago, Sheikh Mohammed (the boss) has made many speeches encouraging the Press to exercise its freedom. But GN points out that the media are still covered by the outdated Press and Publishing Law, and, whatever Sheikh Mohammed says, the law is what counts in court. So there is a huge element of self-censorship.

I must admit I am always on my guard about what I write in this blog. I have had experiences in this country that would astonish you, but I will not write about them until I get a personal letter from Sheikh Mohammed saying it's ok. I frequently find myself in a tizz in the mornings, having published something that may come across as overly-critical or true but not acceptable. I did it yesterday in the piece about the Codeine case . I deleted a paragraph that mentioned human rights, lack thereof. I happen to think that what I said was true, but I have no desire to endanger myself or my family.

And you're sitting there, safe in your Western country. You might read the Gulf News stories on their website, and notice that there is no mention of any journo's getting into trouble in the UAE. And that's where the self-censorship comes in again. I know of 3 or 4 cases of media people in the UAE who have got themselves into hot water over things they had written or broadcast. Admittedly these are all from more than five years ago, so maybe things really have changed. But we all have nice lives here and we do not want to put them at risk.

So until we get a change in the Federal Law that says 'you can say whatever you want as long as you can prove it is true (in the case of suspected defamation) and it does not contravene the religious and moral traditions of the country', I will, sadly, be self-censoring like crazy.

And sometime soon I'll publish some uplifting articles about how great living in this place is,

Sunday, May 01, 2005

UK Election - Oops, Politics Again


What is Michael Howard on! Accusing The Tony of lying and expecting anyone to give a toss. Howard underestimates the intelligence (and cynicism) of UK voters. We all know that politicians lie when it suits them to do so. There are times when strategic lying, or 'being economical with the truth' is absolutely necessary. And this applies to many other professions - lawyers, actors, marketers, etc.

For Michael Howard to expect the electorate to reject The Tony because he lied about WMD is just plain silly. What we have in the UK right now is a situation where the opposition (yes, you Michael) are quite simply unelectable. And that makes New Labour the best of a bad bunch. People will vote for New Labour even though they don't really want to.

What's in a Name?

The confusion over the name of the lady in the codeine case (Tracy Lewis / Tracy Wilkinson) raises an interesting point. Cultures around the world have different ideas on how to construct a person's name. In Arab countries your name would follow this pattern - Abdullah bin Ahmed al Abdulaziz. The first bit is your given name. 'Bin' (or 'bint' in the case of a female) means 'son of' (or 'daughter of'). The next word is your father's given name. 'Al' in this context means 'of'. And the final word is your family name. Wives generally do not change their names on marriage. Once you get your head round it, it's a pretty neat system.

The Western naming system confuses Easterners. I used to visit one of my buddies when he was in jail. When you do this you have to give the name of the person you want to see to the guard at the gate. He will then announce it over the public address system, and the person will emerge into the visiting area. The first time I went, I gave my friend's first name and last name. The guard insisted that there was no-one there of that name, and refused to announce it. Fortunately one of this guy's other buddies arrived, and he knew the drill. You tell them his first name and his middle name, and that works.

Some subcontinentals seem to call each other by their last name (a la public school or military practice). Remember that my blogname is 'Keef E. Boy'. I would feel pretty upset if someone addressed me as 'Boy'. But it happens all the time. But there are also people who call me 'Mr Keef', and that's charming. And there's one Philippino who calls me 'Sir Keef', which is a practice that I am trying to encourage others to follow.

The Codeine Case

Today's papers are saying that the unfortunate lady in this case has been released on 'bail'. Previous reports of her having been sentenced to four years are, apparently, somewhat inaccurate.

This whole story has acquired something of a surreal quality - almost every aspect of it is surrounded in ambiguity and confusion, and today it was revealed that even her name has been erroneously reported.

It's unusual for 'bail' to be granted in drug-related cases. I put the word in inverted commas because both the name and the nature of this concept are a bit different than what we are familiar with in the West. Suspects can be released from custody if another person surrenders their passport to the Court. This passport must contain a valid residence visa. In the event that the suspect absconds then the person whose passport has been surrendered becomes in effect a stand-in for the suspect and can be arrested and punished as if he was the original perp. I've never heard of anyone posting a financial bond.

So I wonder who has put their passport in to get this lady out?

She complains that there is no presumption of innocence until proven guilty, and indeed this is the case. The one thing that drives me nuts about this country (apart from the other 14,723 things) is just how easy it is to get thrown in jail, and how very difficult it seems to be to get your message across to the Judge. All Court proceedings take place in Arabic. This is fair enough, it is the official language of the country. Defendants are not normally allowed to speak in the court. All communication takes place through your advocate. Your advocate may or may not have a good grasp of English - the law is one profession here where being able to spikka da Inglese does not matter. It's a heavily paper-based exercise. I don't think that witnesses are ever asked to appear in court, but they can submit a written you-know-what. And there is no jury.

I know half-a-dozen people who have spent time in jail here either for fairly trivial offences ('insulting a local' is a good catch-all) or just being held while an investigation is being conducted. In all three of the latter situations the accused were acquitted.

[paragraph deleted]

I guess this is the price we pay for living in a very safe society, but paradoxically I feel more at risk of imprisonment by the legal establishment than I do of being mugged or robbed.

Labels: ,