Archive for October, 2011

When Biscuit met the Woodpecker


biscuit woodpecker.jpg



This video is in nibbly szcribbly, but if you like watching Patrols bounce around in offroad situations, it’s a good one.

Modern men of Dubtown


The Gulf News has some wonderfully quaint articles sometimes.

This is a classic.

I do my best to help out at home. Mrs Saul does most of the cooking as she is simply better at it than me. Computers and cars are my domain.

Recently I shocked the Philipino lady who sells sandwiches near our office by informing her that I have to do my own laundry and that my wife doesn’t do it for me. (I didn’t simply announce it randomly – it was part of a general conversation we were having whilst my chicken toastie was being toastied). This state of affairs was deemed to be quite shocking, as the wife should do these things for the husband even if she is too much busy, apparently. I was quite surprised at her reaction. I thought she’d say something along the lines of ‘lucky Mrs Saul’, but she seemed genuinely concerned for my plight.

Self indulgent post


I came across this short YouTube video made by someone walking from Pembroke to the Sheldonian to marticulate.

The guy making the video was coming from the opposite end of Oxford to me. When I made the walk we didn’t have mobile phones of video cameras, but the buldings and the clothes were the same.

Coming from Keble, I remember being videoed by Japanese tourists enjoying the scene – hundreds of Oxford students making their way to become official members of the university.

The walk to the Sheldonian, where the ceremony was held, was very exciting, almost exotic. I wasn’t used to ceremony or dressing up or anything like it. I was excited to be with new people and felt strangely at home, as well as completely out of place.

What I remember most is walking back to Keble. The walk only lasts about fifteen minutes, but I made it last about half an hour.

I ended up being separated from my new friends and strolled along slowly, mortarboard in hand, past some more tourists. I remember stopping to be photographed by some Spaniards on holiday.

I felt completely free. The next four years were settled, as I’d be a student, but they held so much promise and nothing was planned in detail – there was just a framework, an outline, for me to fill in and make the most of. I was quite nervous about whether I’d be able to handle the academic side of things and was thoroughly looking forward to the social side of being at Oxford. I had made it, though. A-levels had been passed, interviews conducted, the offer I had hoped against hope for had been made and I was finally there.

We had visited several times when I was younger, seeing St Catherine’s, the college my father had attended. Now, thirty years since he went up, I was there too, studying the same subject. It’s hard to describe the emotion. Pride isn’t quite right, as it sounds too pompous, but it was something like that. Price, excitement, anticipation, nervousness.

This was just over eighteen years ago. For my nineteenth birthday, my parents and sister came up from London to visit me, almost eighteen years to the day. I must dig up the photo of me sitting in my room, beaming, next to my mother and sister.

The last time I have ever felt quite like this was after I had finished my finals. The friends I was due to celebrate with later in the day had their final exam in the afternoon, but I finished at midday.

I sidestepped the people marking the end of exams by throwing eggs and flour over each other and walked back to Keble from the exam halls. I felt completely at ease, relaxed and totally free. I had no idea what I would do, career wise, but I wasn’t overly worried. Something would turn up – at least I knew I wasn’t going to be a teacher, lawyer, accountant or management consultant, like most of my fellow students. I might have vaguely liked the idea of being a diplomat, but I hadn’t got through even the first round of entry tests, so that was ruled out.

My sub-fusc was a bit tatty by then and I think I was wearing a gown that I had pinched one evening from the college bar, after someone had pinched mine and I realised I was gownless, with finals coming up. It was a bit too small and my suit didn’t fit well, but it didn’t matter. I could be a scruffy student for a bit longer.

I remember getting back to my room and lying on the bed for an hour in complete stillness. No work to do, no revision, nothing to hand in the next day. Just a couple of days more in college, a week staying at a friend’s house and the Keble Ball the following weekend. Enough money to cover things. After that there was going home and the small matter of finding a job, but I’d started the process and I knew something would turn up. I was fairly sure I had done all right in my exams.

Both occasions felt wonderful. I’ve never consciously tired to recapture those emotions, as they were tied to such specific circumstances. I do enjoy remembering how I felt on both days, thoughts usually triggered on my birthday, when I’m forced to mark another year and reflect on where life is going.

The housing fee rears its head again


The housing fee topic is back in the news.

This is something that is guaranteed to get my blood boiling.

It beggars belief that the system is still not applied to everyone. It is also baffling as to why it continues to be described as a fee for local services, when huge numbers of people live in communities such as the one I live in, where we pay the developer to handle rubbish collection and other things. At least call it a tax and be honest about what it’s for.

The article mentions that the tax is being collected in some areas and not in others. This implies that some areas are all paying the tax efficiently, which is nonsense. I have talked to people who live in my building, who have not paid a dirham since they moved in in 2007.

I have paid 34,992Dhs to the municipality since 2007. That’s nearly $10,000. Some people in the same building have paid nothing. The whole situation is idiotic.

Outside of where I live, some friends pay and some don’t.

I don’t understand how the municipality can let this situation occur – leaving aside the fairness of the tax, they are forfeiting millions of dirhams in revenue!

The latest requests to get people to sign up make no sense either. You either sign up now and start paying up. Or, you can just wait until the municipality sign you up and start paying what might be an incorrect sum – something you can easily rectify anyway. Where is the incentive?

The news article is littered with ‘probably’ and ‘let’s say’, so it seems there is no will to sort things out anytime soon.

I am a psychopath…


…according to The Guardian.

The spirit of Johann Hari’s ‘tell it like it is’ approach to Dubai lives on in this article. To be fair, Tanya did spend longer than Germaine Greer, who famously was able to sum up Dubai after going on the Big Bus Tour during a holiday. Ms Gold seems to have gone shopping there for a couple of days, a couple of years ago.

Just out of interest, where are you allowed to go on holiday, if you are a Guardian reader? Surely the whole world is off limits?

Scandinavia strikes me as being just about the only place that would be possible to visit with a clear conscience.

Surely even living in the UK means you are complicit with a host of evil activities.

One year on


My mother died a year ago today.

My sister is in Oman, I was flying to Barcelona and my father was in London. We were all thinking of her in our own separate ways.

Here’s a photo from what must be 1977, in Richmond Park, when she was thirty eight, my sister not yet one and I was nearly four years old. My father is obviously behind the camera.


This will be fun


I have cracked the bath – by standing up in it.

It seems that whoever fitted the bath did not install the necessary support.

It also seems that whichever enlightened ‘consultant’ designed the bathrooms thought it’d be a good idea to embed bathtubs into their surroundings, so the only way they can be replaced is by smashing the tiling around them.

The tiles are no longer available on the market. Naturally no-one keeps any spares for a development of several hundred apartments.

There was one glimmer of light amongst the general darkness. After half an hour of arguing I managed to get the ‘call out charge’ waived by the people who came to give me a quote for all the fixing fixing that this will involve. It took a while, but eventually they agreed that it was a bit silly to expect me to pay them for a quotation.

The work will involve four days of men tramping around, smashing things up.

In other news, the AC supplier used for the entire development has no local distributor – and doesn’t provide any kind of warranty on the equipment they sell. This means that the clunky whirring sound currently filling the living room after a new motor was fitted is going to be with us for a while, as it’s very difficult to get anyone to take the clearly sub-standard motor back and fit one which works as silently as the one it replaced.


Visa frustrations


If there’s anything that will put me off a holiday destination, it’s having to get a visa arranged up front in order to go there.

Mrs Saul and I are going to Goa for the Eid holiday, which requires an Indian visa to be applied for in advance. Frustrating*.

To be fair, the visa service was very efficient. I hired someone to hand in our passports on Sunday morning and they were delivered to me today, Tuesday, at 1030.

Whilst I am pleased with the speed at which everything was processed, the whole situation baffles me.

I asked for a one year multiple entry visa. I was given a six month multiple entry visa. Why? What’s the likelihood of my going twice in six months? What’s wrong with a yearly visa? Why do I have to fill my passport with pages of Indian visas, effectively one for each likely visit?

India wants people to visit on holiday – so why make the process difficult?

If an in depth security check were being done, it wouldn’t have taken a day to process our passports, so that can’t be the reason. Why not just charge for a visa on arrival? If the person applying looks dodgy, process them at the airport and deport them if need be.

If it’s about money, charge whatever you want.

This seems like a pointless piece of bureaucracy designed to put off the very tourists the country wants to encourage in the first place.

* Yes I know it can be a rigmarole to get a British visa. My understanding though is that the process is, at least, pretty efficient and that once you get a visa it is usually for a four year period. Feel free to correct me.

Good advice for Beirut


I’m in Beirut this week.

Google Maps gave me some good advice for walking from my hotel to another hotel –

‘Use caution – This route may be missing sidewalks or pedestrian paths.’

Wise words.

There was a bomb scare in the office I visited, Lebanese-style. Apparently there was some kind of threat or suspicion of a bomb in the UN office three floors up. Noone thought to tell anyone else in the building though, so we found out later that there had been a bomb scare but no bomb after all, so it was lucky we hadn’t wasted time evacuating. Much laughter all round.