Saturday, December 31, 2005

From Blackpool to Riyadh

While watching Flog It on BBC today (a ghastly programme where pikey people flog their relatives' prized possessions, usually "for a bit o' cash to spend on a five day break in Tenerife") the commentator started talking about the Blackpool illuminations. The illuminations are a 6 mile visual assault of flashing lights and fairground attractions, peppered with dodgy nightclubs - tacky but fabulous.

Apparently, the illuminations are much sought-after for resale purposes. According to the nice man they were interviewing: "We sell loads to Skegness. And even to Saudi Arabia. One year, Colonel Gaddafi tried to buy the whole lot!" Apparently, the market value for 6 miles of flashing lights is more than £9 million... glad to see that's what is catching the eye of Arab leaders these days.

Wednesday, December 21, 2005

Falling foul of the census

I had a call from Newman yesterday, to say that Dubai Municipality had come to my apartment and wanted to ask me some questions about the census. Why is it that mention of the census brings out the guilty schoolkid in all of us? When asked if I lived alone, I had to say yes, even though I have been harbouring fugitives - both friends and family - all year.

Unfortunately, Newman and I forgot to get the story straight on why he was in my apartment. I told the Municipality man on the phone that it was my cousin; Newman said he was a friend. Oops. Needless to say, they're coming back again (and Newman's hiding behind the curtains).

After all, unmarried men and women living together is technically illegal here, yet of course, loads of people do it, whether as couples, or house share enforced by exorbitant rents. And yes, they have been known to enforce this - two couples I know were jailed for cohabiting.

Tuesday, December 20, 2005

The Lion, the Witch and the WTO

Newshound Tim has sent me a story that ran on a financial news wire in Asia today, AFX. It's staggeringly good, though I have no idea how it got through the editorial radar) ....

WTO MEETING - Narnia walks out of talks; says tired of EU, US 'bullying'
HONG KONG - The independent state of Narnia has walked out of trade negotiations here, citing pressure from the European Union and the US to enforce liberalization of its garment-related sector.

Narnian spokeswoman Susan Aslan said in a statement that delegates "were tired of bullying by EU and US delegations and would be returning immediately to their state capital at Cair Parvel."

Having said that, it's about as plausible as half the news announcements in Dubai this year - who remembers Rotating City? Or even Chess City, where you could in theory live in Pawn Tower?

Monday, December 19, 2005

Great Expectations

Amber and Chip have taken the idea of a modern marriage to extreme. Chip has taken to reading What to Expect When You're Expecting in the vain hope his wife will get the message (at least, Amber hopes it's a hint and not a sign of something altogether stranger). And, at Chip's office party, he was chatting away with three mothers, pumping them for info, while Amber kept sneaking off to watch the football.

When asked if Chip had any insights to share on their hopefully-impending family expansion, Amber mumbles: "Dunno. It's a massive book, so I'm hoping he'll just give me the edited version to save me reading it. I'm contemplating using it for a door stop or for weight training, but he reads it every night till I drag it off him."

Sunday, December 18, 2005

Monkey business

After what seems like forever, King Kong has arrived in Dubai cinemas. Newman and I trekked across to Grand Cineplex to see it, and were disappointed. Yes, it is the finest film to star a monkey in the last 20 years, but that doesn't say much - remember Marky Mark Wahlberg's shockingly bad remake of Planet of the Apes, or even the kids' movie VIP (Very Important Primate?), and Spanking the Monkey.

The CGI was far less believable than in the director's fantasy epic Lord of the Rings, and there were just too many dinosaurs. But, what is truly unforgiveable, is that King Kong changed size several times. When the waifly screamer Ann Darrow (Naomi Watts) was sitting in his palm, she was dwarfed. Yet when he was lying prostrate at the end, the bystanders were about the same size as his forearm.

But few cinematic experiences in Dubai are able to warm the cockles of my heart - thanks to the management's habit of turning the AC down to arctic. Even Grand Cineplex by Wafi (my preferred haunt as it used to be the warmest) has now graduated to two-pashmina status. Ibn Battuta and Mercato have one-sweater and pashmina ratings, but the worst offender is Metroplex on Sheikh Zayed Road, which demands full thermals, socks, gloves and a balaclava.

Saturday, December 17, 2005

Changing values for Al Wasel

Why has Etisalat changed its Al Wasel cards to Dhs25 from Dhs30? It's bad enough having to have a pikey top-up pay-as-you-go phone, without having to scrape more cards for the same credit. But as long as a Dhs5 change in value justified the move for Etisalat ....

Monday, December 12, 2005, The World's Blog Aggregator

The real DIFF - Swoony Clooney in Arabia

Syriana, the movie shot partly on location in Dubai, is about to open in America. The film's writer-director Stephen Gaghan claims the film will help moviegoers understand some of the intricacies of Middle East politics.

According to the New York Daily News, Gaghan said: "To see people sacrifice their personal ethical systems in the face of money and power isn't unique to Persian Gulf kingdoms. It happens in Hollywood every day."

The film is about oil, power and politics in the Middle East, and Gaghan gave a real insight into majlis speak. "There are some real similarities in the way that powerful men talk in [Washington] D.C. and the way they talk in Beirut, Damascus or Dubai."

Sadly, I don't know anyone in Dubai that talks like Swoony Clooney, but there you go. For the record, Matt Damon is apparently much smaller in real life than he looks on celluloid "and a bit disappointing" according to one Damon demon stalker friend of mine.

Sunday, December 11, 2005

Slow-mo travel

New record set by moi on the return from Europe. 110 minutes after the plane landed, I finally exited the terminal - somehow, I can't see them mentioning that in the marketing material. It's true, I don't have an e-gate card so have to take some responsibility for this - but every tourist flying in at the same time had the same wait. Marhaba and welcome to our staggeringly long queues for the passport counters, which are never more than half open regardless of how busy it is, and to our extra scanning machines, while we make you rescan all the hand luggage you just scanned two minutes earlier.

Of course I haven't even touched on the new "shuttle bus system" from the plane direct to passport control. Rather fittingly for Dubai, even the airport bus managed to find a traffic jam (near unloading bay number 3 if I recall) and got stuck for ages.

Saturday, December 10, 2005

Pedestrian safety

Driving to the capital last week, a mega accident was narrowly avoided by some swift swerving as a man ran across the Sheikh Zayed road. This used to be very common about six or seven years ago, when there was a spate of fatalities on the highway oppposite the Trade Centre apartments (rumoured to be suicides to claim on life insurance for the families). This led to the wire netting in the central reservation.

Recently, and possibly due to the increasing number of construction sites in Dubai, there seem to be more and more labourers trying to cross the highway at great risk to themselves and to others. In recent months, two acquaintances have been jailed for killing men crossing the highway at night, even though neither driver was driving recklessly (and neither had been drinking).

What's the solution? More rigorous policing of pedestrians trying to cross the road? More foot bridges? Something needs to be done, for sure. In these two cases, two families have been bereaved, and the drivers are mentally scarred for life - needlessly.

Wednesday, December 07, 2005


From the chilly streets of Europe, I've been following Etisalat's commitment to blocking Skype (at least it's showing commitment to something). Just to be tricksy, I've been gleefully purchasing credit for SkypeOut from a (non-blocked) server in the city of culture.

Now, not only can I speak to friends and family for free, I can also call everyone else for 0.017 Euros a minute. Yes, Etisalat, that means I can reduce my home phone bill and save you profiting from my wanton overseas calling. Got it? It's money you aren't making. Of course, this is all academic, and will turn round and bite me when Skype is blocked. So, till then, I'll get maximum usage of my 1960s-style headset and microphone.

Alternatively, Etisalat could invest in buying Skype-esque technology and licensing it to users for a (limited) subscription fee. Another Dhs10 a month on top of the already exorbitant amazingly reasonable ADSL monthly subscription is acceptable to most people, whereas blocking the competition isn't.

Tuesday, December 06, 2005

Bored of the dry season

Mercy claims she's lost her mojo, after a particulary long 'dry season', so the girls are full speed ahead on finding her a long cool drink of water (prepare for some metaphor-tastic prose as they run with this theme).

Sonya texted today: "Just seen a safari driver that is *breathtakingly* gorgeous. And he's a UAE national, so perfect for Mercy - dry season is approaching its end and the rainy season is nigh."

When Mercy protested that her dry season seemed to defy all natural forces, Sonya responded: "We'll find her an oasis, or build her a temporary falaj to quench her thirst."

Amber, in her normal direct fashion, asks: "Forget a sip of water, she'd rather have an oil slick ....."

With writing this poetic, we're all set to write our first slush novel.

Monday, December 05, 2005

Alien invasion

Dubai's taken on a distinctly surreal look of late. First, we had the bright green strobe gobo lights from the Burj Al Arab, which looked like they were guiding alien crafts into land. Then came the oversized upright cartoon pseudo-horses, with Elvis quiffs and better pecs than Brad Pitt.

Bridget reckons they are the modern equivalent of the Trojan Horse, with lots of invading non-Earthlings ready to pounce. Nicely imaginative, just like the anatomy of these comedy horses, but about as relevant .... Put it this way, I can't see them inspiring Steven Spielberg's latest epic.

Secret Agent

Following on from another lunch at the scene of the battery-operated lipstick debacle, sources tell me that the original swanky pants store, Agent Provocateur, may / may not be selling "toys" in its Saks Fifth Avenue concession in BurJuman. I called Amber up to tell her the news, at which point she said: "Three-speed platinum rabbit for me please, wrapped up nice for Christmas."

Thursday, December 01, 2005

Election fever in UAE?

Top newshound Tim has just texted me - "elections coming to UAE"...

Am on the case.

(Of course, it could be Tim's latest wind-up ... last stunt he pulled was to tell me a CEO I know had been fired, and he told me just as I was about to call said CEO).
adopt your own virtual pet!