Archive for March, 2008

Do as I say


I was surprised to get an SMS today from our property company, encouraging me to switch my lights off for an hour on March 29 as part of Earth Day.
I think that installing some timer and motion sensitive light switches in our block might make more of a difference to global warming than me switching my lights off for an hour on Saturday evening, when we’ll be out anyway. Currently most lights burn 24/7 and doors don’t shut automatically, so cold air blows out and hot air blows in.

Bienvenue, M. le President


I’ve been enjoying President Sarkozy’s state visit to Britain. It’s good to see some positive messages coming from France – I’m liking what he’s saying about working together, Britain’s economic model, etc.
Watching the highlights on the BBC is hilarious. Sarkozy doesn’t come across as particularly presidential in the clips. He looks more like an excited schoolboy, particularly when sitting next to the Queen at the state banquet.
I was impressed to see how many MPs were managing without a translator during his speech to parliament. I wonder how many of them were actually showing off, pretending they could speak French but not understanding a word?
Carla Bruni looks very elegant, but Sarkozy doesn’t quite seem to know what to do with her – ushering her around, grabbing her arm, etc. I wonder what she and the Duke of Edinburgh spoke about when sitting together at dinner and in the state carriage?
‘Bonjour Carla. Belle journee, n’est-ce pas?’
‘Oui, monsieur le duc’.
‘Hmm, c’est qui le petit Frog dans l’autre carriage avec Liz?’
‘C’est mon mari, le president de la France.’
‘Ah, bien sur! Il est un peu petit pour un president, isn’t he?’
‘Ooh la la!’
‘Pardon, pas d’offense, ce n’est pas sa faute. Alors, dis-moi – ton autre petit-ami, Mick Jagger, est-ce qu’il parle le francais aussi bien que moi?’

Phones on flights


It’ll be interesting to see how Emirates’ new phones on flights service works out.
Personally I quite like the fact that you can legitimately be out of contact, but progress marches on.
I’m always amazed at how many people’s phones ring when they’re switched on after a plane’s landed. I often get a beep, telling me a text message has arrived, but lots of other passengers immediately get a call coming through. Has the caller been redialling frantically for the last few hours, whilst the recipient’s been flying around Iraq, down the side of Iran and down to Dubai? I expect these guys are the ones whose phones will be ringing constantly in the air now. I will have to revamp my range of stern looks.

No fuss please, I’m English


I think Roy Hattersley hits the nail on the head in this column.
I probably feel a bit more British than Mr Hattersley, particularly living outside of the UK, where we all get lumped together anyway and minor national differences become less apparent – unless it comes down to fellow Brits teasing me about my posh English accent. At least my dulcit tones are better understood by ‘foreigners’ when compared to the mumbled grunts of those compatriots of mine who come from regions North Of The Watford Gap. I may sound poncey, but at least I can communicate.
All this oath swearing nonsense baffles me. It’s an effort to make people feel or be British, by making them do something that’s totally alien to the entire nature of being British in the first place.
Here’s an English example that I’m sure I’ve mentioned this in my blog before – a group of friends and I were discussing St George’s day. St Patrick’s Day was being celebrated in London, thanks to London’s Mayor’s bizarre policies, but St George’s Day seemed to be being overlooked in England’s (and Britain’s) capital city. Did we care? Well, sorry, but yes. The conclusion was that we didn’t really feel the need to celebrate St George’s Day – but it would have been nice to have been asked.
Which I think sums things up nicely. Anyone for a cup of tea?

AC’s back


After several months without the constant rumble of fans, we’ve finally had to start switching on the AC, particularly at night. Shame – in our last place the AC was always on but we’d managed to do without out it in the new place over the winter.
I’m mildly peeved with the AC ‘controllers’ the developer’s installed. Instead of the high-tech touchscreen devices on display in the showhome, which promised sophisticated temperature controls and the ability to order pizza, we have ended up with just a thermostat, three fan speeds and an on/off switch. A timer would have been perfect, but at the very least an ‘auto’ setting would have been nice. So, basically it’s either on or off, with apparently little difference between the slow and fast fan speeds. Odd.
I have sneaky suspicion that as soon as the warranty’s over, we’ll be offered all sorts of upgrades, from only one authorised supplier…

Magic Onyx stone saga continues


This story is gettting better and better. Can’t wait for the final installment!

Brits in the Gulf


Obituaries are strange things – it’s fascinating to read about people’s lives, but sad that the person had to die for him or her to come to your attention. I’d loved to have met these three men and heard some of their stories from when they were in this part of the world.
“Sir Donald Hawley, soldier, lawyer, administrator and author but will be best remembered for his accomplishments as a diplomat.”
“John Harris, who laid out the master plan which marked the emergence of Dubai as a modern city.”
“Captain Robert Franks, Commando carrier captain who was on hand to forestall Iraq’s attempt to seize Kuwait in 1961.”

Kuwait Today


Kuwait for one night – my second visit and first time back for four years.
Where Dubai has a more European feel, Kuwait City, like Riyadh, has more of America in its styling. The arrivals hall offers every fast food known to man, with most Westerners I saw being US military or oil worker types. Short, army haircuts mix with long dreads – goatees are in abundance, doublechins common and blue jeans with ice-white trainers near ubiquitous.
Dubai has motorways, Kuwait has freeways – the kerplunk of road sections, the generous turns and the general sprawl of buildings reminds me of my journey from San Francisco airport down 101 to Sun’s Menlo Park campus. But instead of a Somali, Sikh or Russian driver, I have an Egyptian at the wheel for whom the concepts of stopping distance and lane discipline are as alien as wearing a seatbelt.
Four years ago, the Chevrolet Caprice was everywhere, slightly sagging at both ends, bouncing through the beige like a mattress on wheels – but as in Saudi, smaller European and Japanese models now seem to be driving it away from its natural habitat. Larger American species are still out in force. Five child families are shipped around in Suburbans, Tahoes and Escalades, while smaller, nimbler Land Cruisers and Pathfinders edge their way around their heavy, lumbering competition.
The US influence, in terms of cars and appearances and in contrast to other Gulf states, interests me

Monoglot nation


Cambridge is set to drop the requirement for applicants to have studied a foreign language to GCSE level.
I can understand why they have to do this and have no problem with their efforts to get more students from state schools applying. My problem is the way Britain, or rather its Labour government, are destroying language learning in this way. The requirement to take a language after the age of 14 was dropped in 2004. Now, four years on, we see the results – Britain’s second best university forced to accept students who have not studied a foreign language even to basic levels.
Name one other country whose policies actively discourage language learning? This is sheer idiocy.

Sweihan Trip


The Wrangler’s new radiator seems to be doing its job…

Start in low range, third gear, then up to fourth and fifth, down into fourth and third coming back down to let the engine do the braking. When you’re in the bowl it’s quite hard to see where you are exactly – you’re just surrounded by sand! The guys with Nissan Patrols and tiptronic gears found things a little easier. Spend too much time changing from third and up on the Wrangler and you lose power when you need it, spend too much time with the clutch depressed when coming down and you have a tonne and a half of Jeep with no power and control whizzing ever downwards.
An incredible trip, this one. Really pushed me in terms of understanding what the car can do. No major stucks all day, either. The bigger the dunes, the less often people seem to get wedged.
Here’s the view over the edge of the bowl. We didn’t drive down from there – this time at least…

What lies beneath…