Tuesday, 2 December 2014

Call me Lawrence..

lawrence of arabia remake otoole Roland Emmerich Developing Lawrence of Arabia Miniseries
Peter O'Toole, the most widely known image for T.E. Lawrence - Lawrence of Arabia, my role model for our time in the Middle East.  Well you have to aim high..
I recently had the opportunity to experience flying out of our local airport using a regional low cost airline.  Nothing dramatic there, thousand of people do that every day. However it did provide an unexpected insight in to an aspect of life here.

Airport check in queues, often so long.  Why are the airlines not prepared for the number of passengers?  Do they not know how many tickets they sold or do they just think 'ah, no-one is going to turn up..'.  Or is it they know you have no choice?  You decide.. 

It's well documented that there are a lot of expatriates here, or expats as the shortened version goes. You often hear the figure of 80% when it comes to Dubai, that's right, 80% of the people that live there are expats.  Up here in the north it's considered that around 70% of the population are local and us strangers only make up the remaining 30%.  

But what or rather who do you think of as an expat? Pictures spring to mind of bloated land owners during the last days of the Raj, sipping a G & T before riding an elephant around the tea plantation to make sure the locals are putting in a full days work for their tuppence pay.  Or do you have a more up to date vision of the comfortably off businessman in Dubai, sipping G & T before touring the building sites where impoverished workers are putting the finishing touches to the latest additions to his portfolio of building investments, hang on, meet the new boss, same as the old boss?

They were probably caricatures that I used to have in mind, but not any more.  There is a huge expat community here who are not from the western Hemisphere or eastern Europe, they are from the Indian sub-continent, the Philippines and smaller countries like Nepal. They do a whole range of jobs including IT, teaching, construction, engineering, shop work, cleaning, you name it.  They are the crucial links that keep the place running and they are economic migrants, but then maybe we're all economic migrants in some respects?  The difference is that some of us could have stayed at home and still had a pretty comfortable life style, not a choice that everyone has.

Most of this cohort is male and they've left their families at home, normally for two year stints, in order to provide for them and often an extended collection of relatives.  Ironic isn't it, in order to support your family you have to move away from them?  For many from the ISC (Indian Sub Continent) there are fewer options. Work at home for them is sporadic and very poorly paid or non-existent and if they don't work, they don't eat let alone find a comfortable place to live.

So they look for work abroad, many working outdoors for long periods in the summer heat.  These men often travel en-masse sponsored by a single employer.  They share the same accommodation, eat together - it's cheaper that way, play cricket, send money home, repeat for two years.  When you see them out and about they don't have the demeanour of an under class, quite the contrary, they have the posture of quiet confidence, emitting the air of someone is getting on with a job and earning money which is making a real difference to people thousands of miles away.  This is not a single gender effort, there are countless women doing the same thing.

This is what I've observed since we moved here, but it was bought to front and centre by what I saw at the airport.  I hadn't realised it was a hub for men arriving from Bangladesh before they take connecting flights all over the region.  On my outward journey I saw a large group, some of whom were clearly excited about their journey, others more reflective but all with a palpable sense of expectation.

On the return it was a different story.  Most were pushing trolleys laden with their belongings and packages which contained everything they had accumulated over their working stay.  Unfortunately virtually everybody had more than the one item of hold baggage and they all looked heavier than 20kg.  This is partly what was causing the traffic jam at check in and therefore the huge queues that were building up behind us.  Every time one of the passengers arrived at the check in desk there ensued an animated discussion with the staff, which I can only guess was centred around the amazing amount of packages they were trying to force across the scales.  These contained, amongst other things, gifts for the loved ones at home;  sunglasses, mobile phones and perfume seemed to be popular.  'Forget gold, frankincense and myrrh, they're so anno domini.  Bring us Ray Bans, Samsung and Chanel, real or fake we don't care, no-one can tell the difference these days'..  Some were being turned away to re-pack their loads or get rid of some weighty items, which they were trying to give to their friends who were already loaded to the gunwales themselves thus moving the problem further down the queue rather than away from it altogether.

As I wasn't in a rush - I couldn't go anywhere after all - I was just an interested observer in all this, all be it one that stood out like a sore thumb.  Apart from a dozen or so Emiratis trying to get on to the flight there was me and then the entire working male population of Dakar, although that may be an exaggeration.  It was one of my fairly regular Lawrence of Arabia moments where I definitely am not blending in with my surroundings no matter how hard I try.  Just as well I wasn't rushing, because the second reason behind the painfully long check in process was becoming apparent.  Whilst there was a semblance of a queue in the lead up to the desks, it disintegrated in to a melee at the head.  Other than the amount of luggage quandary, this was also partly due to people's enthusiasm to check in with their friends, particularly when their mate had made it to the front and they were still #32 in the other line. However the handling agent's staff were made of stern stuff and promptly sent them away, but place #32 had now been taken by someone else so they had to go to the back of the line again, consternation ensued.

When driving in England I was always surprised by the ill manners of the Company Representative, often in an Audi, who would skip down a line of cars who patiently queuing for roadworks or whatever, then try and cut in with an air of innocence that didn't quite whitewash what was clearly part of a premeditated 'I'm more important than you' endeavour.  I often mused as to what would happen if people did the same thing in a supermarket queue?  You know, walk down the side of it then edge in without making eye contact.  Now I know what happens, they get told to go away.  But with my co-travellers at the airport it wasn't bad manners, it was just the way they rolled.  There was no 'my journey is more important than yours' attitude, it was just 'ooh you've left a centimetre between you and the person in front, that's just enough space for me and my luggage'..

Then again, how many other nationalities are as obsessed with a queue as the British? Have you ever been in the line for a ski lift in France or Italy or at a bus stop in Holland? It's all elbows and survival of the fittest rather than 'after you madam'.  I'm sure some Brits would rather miss the train than throw themselves in to a wall of humanity and squeeze in to such close proximity with strangers.

Since when have Polaroid made TV's anyway?  Is it actually a television or just an enormous camera where the photos come out immediately on A3 paper, imagine the disappointment..
I say 'some' because I've just seen footage from the black Friday events in the UK.  I've never seen such a collective lack of dignity or decorum, all for a cut price big TV to watch the EastEnders Christmas special on, really??  How do people allow themselves to be slavishly influenced by big store marketing and the desire for pointless upgrading of something that I'm sure they already have?  Then to top it all, you have some of the customers filming their escapades on Go Pro's or mobile phones.  I'd like to see Go Pro use that in their marketing.  Normally their posters have surfers catching a perfect ride through the blue-green tube of a huge wave.  If instead it was a bloke in a puffa jacket falling as he leaps over four stumbling, avarice motivated sale seekers to get to a pile of boxed up electrical goods I'm not sure they would be so cool?

At least the men I was observing in the airport had a good excuse for their behaviour, it's just the way it is where they're from.  What are your excuses Black Friday shoppers or I guess you don't need one, perhaps it's just your view of society these days?  As Blur once commented 'Modern Life is Rubbish', I'd rather hoped that we still followed Sting's advice ' an Englishman should walk and never run', obviously not.

Maybe that's one reason why I like living in the Emirates?  In government offices ladies don't need to queue, that's just for men, women can go straight to the front of the line and if they need to wait they do so in their own, more comfortable area.  How civilised. If you want a big TV, a man from the shop will carry it out to the car for you, no need for any Kung Fu.  If it costs £20 more so what, it's not a deal breaker and your stress levels remain at Antarctic rather than volcanic, a heart attack would definitely be more expensive.

Chill out people, 'tis the season to be jolly, you don't need a new kitchen to cook a turkey (a food you don't eat any of the other 364 days of a year..), you will be able to buy a cheap sofa in January, the Vicar of Dibley looks the same on a 42" screen than it does on a 50" whopper.  This doesn't have to be 'the best Christmas ever' it can just be a really nice Christmas, much the same as last year and probably similar to the next one.

Thursday, 16 October 2014

A whiter shade of pale.

Like most blokes these days, I'm a sucker for creams and lotions that promise to keep me from cracking up under the strain of the sun and other natural phenomenon, collectively determined to reduce my body to the appearance of dried corn flakes stuck to a an over-weight skeleton.  Don't get me wrong I've not gone down the whole 'Metro-sexual' route, I can still get in and out of the bathroom in fifteen minutes, but if you look at the shelf in there it does look like a research centre for the Laboratoires Garnier.

Naturally you have the shaving gel (not foam, it has to be gel), face cream, hand lotion, foot softener, hair gel (not really a cream), after shave (again, not really a cream..), sun cream (x2, winter and summer) and toothpaste.  Not too indulgent really?  I put it down to living in the middle east and the Baz Luhrmann song from 1999 Everybody's free (to wear sunscreen).  There is no doubt that sun + wind = dryness, hence the desert, so I feel obliged to protect myself at every opportunity.

Seeing I was running low on the face cream recently, my wife kindly offered to pick some up during a shopping trip.  I'm no slave to a brand, unless the brand is called 'Special offer' or 'Buy one get one free', I'm not even convinced that these various lotions are any different to each other, so she had free reign with regard to choice.

Upon her return I was initially confused as to why she had bought a diminutive tube of toothpaste?  Not wishing to complain, as let's be honest, if someone does you favour and buys something for you, saying 'it's not the right thing?' is a quick way of wearing the entire contents on your head, with immediate effect.  So I took a closer look, '10x whitening effect', must be toothpaste?  But no, it is face cream, designed to protect and lighten the skin, an entirely new concept to me.  

It does exactly what it says on the tin..
I should mention that when I'm filling out a form and I get to the bit at the end which asks 'This is not a compulsory question, but where are you from and what colour are you?', I tick 'White European'.  Becoming whiter was not on my to do list, in fact I'm aiming for the opposite.  Let me give you an example.  When we first got here we had to produce a bundle of passport style photos for various I.D. cards.  My wife was called in to the office and asked if she could get more photos of me looking 'a bit darker', as my white face was blending in with the white background?  You see my problem?

Moreover, we visit the beach most weekends and every time we see a host of tourists trying their hardest to change their white skin to brown, it had never occurred to me that some people may want to go the other way?  I always thought that whole Michael Jackson thing was a modern myth?  I appreciate that there is a host of products available to change the colour of your hair, but your face??

But fair (get it?!) enough, whatever floats your boat, but now a moral dilemma, do I use it, throw it away or give it to someone else?  It has been said that I am careful with money, I'm paraphrasing, I think the actual words were 'tighter than a duck's chuff', so throwing it away is not an option.  Difficult to give it to someone else without seeing the sub-text of 'he thinks I'm too brown, what a racist'..  So I'm using it, which explains my current translucent state.  A friend (you know who you are JK..) suggested that I use it on only one half of my face, so we can see a before and after effect, I say friend..

Besides, I'm not in possession of a colour chart showing me the different shades of white?   How would I know if I was 10x lighter, how does anyone know?  I've been using toothpaste which promises to make my teeth whiter in 15 days, but I've never checked to see if it's worked.  So I think I'm going to have to take it on the chin (oh there's another!) and buy some ordinary cream, or soon I'm going to be rocking the Elizabeth I look.  

Besides my skin is getting confused, 'whitening during the week, sunning himself at the weekend?  Make your mind up mate!'.

Friday, 10 October 2014

In search of the elusive unicorn..

We've just got back from a visit to a zoo, which is quite a common occurrence in our household.  Our five year old is animal crazy, so a visit to see some in a zoo is always high on her 'to do' list, which leaves me with a dilemma.  I've always been a bit of a conservationist so zoos give me a conundrum.  Having said that I can't claim to have any detailed knowledge of conservation.  For example it's beyond me how a country (no names, no pack drill) can have a whole fleet of ships for whaling, purely for scientific research?  What are they researching?  Other than '101 uses for blubber' it's difficult for an ignoramus like me to comprehend the scope of their studies?  If they want to find out how whales communicate or navigate the oceans with such accuracy I would have thought it best to do that while they're alive?  Ah, my naivety..

Giraffes, nature's way of pruning the top half of a tree.
Most zoos these days will have part of their website dedicated to telling you how much of a conscience they have, how they are the guardians of the world's species and the fact that the public is admitted to have a peek at the animals under their protection is a positive educational side effect on their conservation.  I see their point, there is no doubt that since mankind came to dominate the globe its ceaseless persecution of every other species has been shocking.  So much so that the only way to preserve some animals is to take them in to protective custody as such.  We have visited some zoos that do this very well and create an environment that is as near as realistically possible to the breed's natural habitat.  I say 'as near as possible' because there is only so much you can do to twin Cheshire with the jungles of Borneo.

However we have also visited some which fell more toward the cash cow option rather than towards the preservation aspect.  Rows of small cages containing primates that would far rather be swinging from tree to tree and terrariums that are devoid of any greenery, and in fact are of lesser length than the snake they contain, are not an edifying sight.  It's more reminiscent of Stalag Luft III from The Great Escape rather than the plains of the Serengeti from Born Free.  From the point of view of the customer, I can appreciate that if you've paid to see animals it's animals you want to see, not areas of greenery with rustling leaves where they move around freely out of your line of sight.  But small cages and the absence of any aspect of a habitat that facilitates natural behaviour seems so, well I guess Victorian.  Showing us a cheetah and saying how it can run at speeds up to 75mph is great, but they forget to add that in its compound, which is 20 meters square, it can only get to 15mph.  I would far rather they built it a home in the shape of a greyhound track and feed it by attaching lunch to the electric hare, now that would pull in a crowd. Ah, there speaks the Victorian in me.

Steve McQueen escaping from Stalag Luft III circa 1945, dressed as a resident from Malibu beach and riding a bike that wasn't built until 16 years after the event.  Still, accuracy isn't everything.  (I'm being sarcastic, obviously it is..)
But there are other dilemmas that visits to the zoo bring.  Our daughter's favourite animal is a unicorn, so we get the inevitable question while we are walking round, 'where are the unicorns'?  Naturally we do what any good parent does when confronted with a tricky question, we work out which lie is going to give us the least amount of grief later (after all good parenting is all about sincerity, if you can fake that you've got it made).  For example if we respond 'they have the day off',  then she'll suggest we come back tomorrow.  So rather than tell the truth and rain on her parade, we just explain that they don't like living in zoos.  She looks at the other animals and you can tell she's thinking 'I don't blame them'..

Saturday, 4 October 2014

Eid mubarak.

I was going to write a light hearted piece about shopping, but events in the news made this seem very light-hearted and trivial, so I'm changing tack.

We are fortunate to live in a very interesting place among people from a variety of nations and with an indigenous population who seem happy to share their space with the world.  I understand that there is a quid pro quo, but on the whole it seems to work, a win-win situation.  

However if an alien were to land and read the paper or watch the news they may think that the majority of the world is not like that.  They could think that most people are doing their utmost to ruin the lives of anybody who doesn't see things the same way as them and that it is the norm to act with great savagery and prejudice.  But to go away with that impression would be shame, as I believe the opposite is true.

I'm currently struggling to come up with one word to describe a group of people who are smaller than the smallest of minorities, is microcosm sufficient?  A group whose actions push them to the forefront of the news ahead of any features which concern work which is for the general good of mankind or encourages bonhomie, two areas that encapsulate the vast majority of human endeavour.

So my good news report is about a day of joy, as today is one of the Eid celebrations.  I'm not going to explain in detail the origins of the festival, mainly because I don't know much about it and I'm not about to re-cycle a load of information from Wikipedia, that you can look up yourself if you feel so inclined.  All I'm going to do is outline what I've gleaned from discussing it with people who celebrate the occasion.

In that respect it seems the same format as special days throughout the world, including time spent with family, special food and a day off work/school.  More recently it would appear that consumerism has begun to creep in but that is inevitable I guess?  If the big loser at Christmas time is the humble turkey, an animal that is left alone by the majority of people for the rest of the year yet eaten with abandon for one day only, the beast of choice over Eid is the sheep or goat, depending on who you ask.  As we live in a rural area, many local families still raise and despatch their own animals so there is still a direct connection with the source of their meal.

The turkey, in the wrong place at the wrong time.  Big, slow and tasty, it's never forgiven the Founding Fathers or whoever it was who first sought out a regular supply of meat for a celebration in North America.

A great deal of emphasis is placed on looking good at the family gathering so new clothes are an important part of the preparation.  Elaborate collections of sweets are prepared by the local stores, sometimes to be given as gifts but always it seems shared with family and friends. Street decorations are evident but subtle and there are no noisy outdoor manifestations of celebration like we see on National Day.

It seems like an understated day of private gathering, sharing and of goodwill, messages which in my opinion should be on the front page of every newspaper and on every TV station.

I finish with a profound reflection from one of my students who is of the wise old age of 12 years:

Me:  'What do you think of Eid'?

Him:  'I don't like it, lots of old ladies come round the house and talk all day.  I have no-where to sit as they take all the chairs'.

Me:  'Who are these old ladies'?

Him:  'I have no idea'..

Well everyone is entitled to their opinion.

Tuesday, 16 September 2014

Leap and the net will appear!: Picking up my boots, it's all about my roots, yeah...

Leap and the net will appear!: Picking up my boots, it's all about my roots, yeah...: We've recently returned from our first trip back in a year to the countries from whence we came, France and England.  For me in particul...

Picking up my boots, it's all about my roots, yeah..

We've recently returned from our first trip back in a year to the countries from whence we came, France and England.  For me in particular, who had never lived outside of the UK before, it was an event that I couldn't mentally prepare myself for, it being the first time and all.

When we first came to the Middle East I had quite a strong idea of where I was moving from, a small village in West Sussex, and how I felt about the project of living abroad.  It was a sojourn, a temporary move all be it for some years perhaps, but there was not much doubt that before I knew it we would be back.  When you are doing something completely new and unknown you can only guess as to how it's going to make you feel or act.  Time spent playing out your new life can quickly change your point of view.

East Preston, a jolly nice place.
The first thought provoking moments about my roots came when we met new people out here, who invariably were from different parts of the world and all four corners of the UK, or if you're reading this after the Scottish referendum, perhaps all three corners.  I found myself explaining where our previous home was as no-one has ever heard of the village, then describing life there in a nutshell.  However it soon dawned on me that I wasn't satisfied with that answer.  It was where I was from most recently but I wasn't born there.  I didn't consider myself an adopted son of the county nor an outsider, it just happened to be where I had ended up living and a very pleasant place it is too.

It dawned on me that when you consider where you're from the only thing you have absolutely no choice in is where you are born, although there are probably not many five year olds who get to choose either.  So my answer changed to the city where it all started for me, 'I'm from London', if pushed I could list the places where I've lived since leaving there, but that's the essential truth.  It's also an answer that needs less explanation as to its' geographical location.  If further detail was required, I could reveal that I'd lived in the cheapest place on a Monopoly board, thanks Parker Bros., still traumatised by that.

Luv a duck, it's Laaandon, cor blimey guv'nor.  As Dick Van Dyke may have said..
The next epiphany (are you allowed more than one?) was when we were back in England and people would ask 'how does it feel to be back home'?  My first thought was 'I'll need to let you know when I'm back there'.  Sub-consciously our life and existence here has become more than just a base for a couple of years, it's actually where we call 'home'.  Strange to think when you consider that people of my age are often beginning to plan for their retirement and create an environment that they hope to settle in to ad infinitum. But this affinity to what will always be a non-permanent place to live doesn't make me feel insecure.  I'm happy that I still feel comfortable in East Preston as well as a small village in France where my in-law family live.  Instead of feeling isolated my thoughts are more of how lucky we are to have the opportunity of spending our time in several places, although obviously not at the same time.

Ultimately what this has re-enforced in me is a belief that life is not so much about the place where you reside at a given time but more about the people you're spending your time with, at work or on holiday.  If you're fortunate to have support from people who care about you and who you care about, location is just a formality.  I would never have really appreciated that without experiencing the adventure we've enjoyed for the last year.

Vive la difference..

Saturday, 13 September 2014

It's all a question of perspective.

Please forgive me repeatedly writing about similar subjects, but sometimes you find such a rich vein of interesting material you can't help but mine it again and again!  And so it is that I once more report on driving in the Middle East!  I say Middle East but to be fair I've not carried out an exhaustive survey and when we discuss this topic with colleagues from all over the world they say 'if you think it's bad here, you should see they way they drive in ...(insert name here, you could choose from, Egypt, Jordan, India, Bangladesh, the Philippines, England, France..)'.  That's my  point really, we think it's a crazy place to drive, but maybe there is another perspective and maybe it's not that unusual?

We live in the northern Emirates which are a lot more tranquil than the throbbing metropolis that is Dubai or Abu Dhabi.  I was reading another blog, written by someone who was living in Dubai at the time and who had started carrying around a camera so he/she could photograph misdemeanours when they saw them happen.  The photos included snaps of the usual things we see on a daily basis;  cars going the wrong way round a roundabout to queue jump, people driving at breakneck speed along the hard shoulder of a motorway as the other lanes are moving slowly, cars cutting across four lanes of traffic to make an exit they had suddenly remembered they needed to take, no-one using indicators, drivers drinking coffee or on the mobile phone, or maybe doing both at the same time, all of the usual suspects.
Dubai traffic, no cycle lanes yet..
The bee in his/her bonnet (no pun etc..) was the hard shoulder racers.  When the motorways  grind to a halt in Dubai, the hard shoulder becomes the lane de choix for the driver in a hurry.  But instead of driving cautiously, giving them time to react to any unexpected intrusions in to the lane, they go at Formula 1 speed.  The local papers often have reports from horrific accidents where someone has ploughed in to the back of a broken down car they simply didn't see when carrying out this hard shoulder game of chicken.  The blogger was saying how irresponsible it was and how you wouldn't see it in Australia, where they were from, and I was quietly agreeing with this view when I started to read some of the comments made by other readers.

On the whole it seemed that his expat community agreed, but there was a diametrically opposite response from other writers.  They were incensed that he (we'll assume it was a bloke) had the temerity to criticize their actions.  In fact they called him a downright sissy as he didn't have, and I quote, 'the courage or the skill to drive they they do'..  You see, just when you think there couldn't possibly be a reasonable explanation, there it is. So if you happened to get a puncture and needed to pull on to the hard shoulder, only to get tail ended by a bloke using it as a short cut and exceeding the speed limit while talking on the phone, it's clearly your fault for not being skilful enough..  Silly you.

There is another regular topic in the letters page of the local newspapers.  A correspondent had written how she had the wing of her car taken off by someone doing a three lane sideways dive in theirs as they needed to turn left but somehow had managed to be in the right hand lane.  The aggressor's first instinct (in fact only instinct)  was to blame the person who got hit for not allowing him to cut across, even though he was coming from her blind side.  Thankfully the police sympathised with her view.

This is a very common occurrence.  If you're used to driving in much of the world, including the UK, when you approach a three lane traffic light junction you normally make you choice of position based on which was you want to go.  The left lane if you're going left, middle for straight on etc.  Here there are some drivers with a different view, they always choose the lane that has the least amount of cars in it, It's how water would drive, always following the line of least resistance.  Then when the lights turn to green they make their move, hence it is an everyday sight to see a car aggressively carving across the traffic causing chaos and anger, which you're not allowed to vent as any sort of road rage is verboten.

As it gets warmer, other letters to the editor ask whether it's the adverse effect that the heat has on tyres and brakes that is causing accidents.  No-one asks if it's the 'drive it like it's stolen' Grand Theft Auto style of driving that may possibly at the root?  The old adage that 'I must be a great driver as I never have accidents, see a lot in my rear view mirror though..' springs to mind.

If you're thinking of driving in the area there is another thing you need to look out for, the red light crashers.  For some, traffic lights are just there for advice, so it's not uncommon to find yourself moving forward as the ones facing you have changed to green only to find a car crossing the junction in front of you like a meteor having just ignored their red.  It certainly makes you pay attention when behind the wheel.

Then there is tailgating.  Another letter in a local paper asked what readers' thought was the correct distance to be following someone on the free-way.  One response was 'close enough so you can't see the number plate of the car in front'..  They were being serious. Think about it, not only did they consider themselves correct, they were so convinced about the sensibility of their actions that they emailed their thoughts in to a newspaper. Another said 'drive as near to me as you like, if I think you're too close I'll slam on the brakes and you'll drive in to my reinforced tow bar', touché..

Abu Dhabi seem to be making inroads (no pun blah, blah, blah..)  in to traffic management.  They have far more cameras and seem to enforce the data they get from them so generally speeds seem to be lower and the standard of driving higher.  Although I do love the signs on their motorways which tell you the maximum speed is 120 kph but you can go up to 140 kph if you like.

Having said all of this, I don't mind driving here.  There is a predictability in the mayhem, if you assume everyone is going to lane change without indicating, when they do it's no surprise.  I think there is an organic, shoal like quality to the experience.  When was the last time you saw two herring collide?  Outside of the main cities it's not unusual to find yourself alone on the motorway, a driving experience of extremes.

A shoal of herring, compare and contrast with the picture above of traffic.

Finally, a true story.  On the way to visit a friend who lives on the 25th floor of a block of flats in a busy part of Dubai, we ring to get directions.  'Turn left now', he said 'I can see you'.  'How do you know it's us amongst the thousands of cars on the intersection?' we replied, 'you're the only car using indicators, figured it must be an Englishman'...

Thursday, 21 August 2014

Boules to that..

 Let me tell you about the time I played in my first (and probably last) boules tournament.

We were on holiday in France, staying in a small village in the Haute Loire département.   It is the annual 'vogue', a four day fête where you can enjoy such delights as a fun fair, travelling circus, car boot sale and several music events.  But the highlight for the more competitive residents are the two tournoi de boules.

Hats were compulsory until 1959, then the Beatles came along and changed all of that..
Now you may think that boules is just a jolly pastime that you've dabbled at while on holiday and that you've seen locals play over a pastis and Gauloise, but that simplification would be like saying all football is about a bunch of blokes kicking a ball around with jumpers for goalposts (which is in effect what it is..), what you are really seeing is France's national obsession, their beautiful game.  Have a look at French TV, they regularly have televised games and many towns will have a Bouleodrome, a boules centre which often includes indoor facilities to allow year round enjoyment.  Suffice to say some people take this very seriously and travel around their region in the summer months making a few tax free euros, if they're good enough.

Hence there are two boules events at the vogue, one strictly for people from the village and another more serious event for all comers.  So my beau père and I enter the village event after clarifying that I qualify due to my close association with the place and more importantly that as an Englishman I offered little threat of appearing in the latter rounds and therefore stealing the prize money.

We duly turn up at the registration time, casually eyeing up our competitions, wishing them a friendly 'bonjour' with an undertone of 'I hope you lose'.  Most seemed to be family pairings, father and son, mother and daughter, nothing to dent our belief that we would at least give a good account of ourselves if nothing else.  The organisers took our entry fee then noted our names on a flattened out crisp carton, adding to the ad-hoc 'it's just for a laugh' ambience.  Then as time moved on, the more serious players began to arrive, noticeable by their natty little 'Obut' ball carriers and their sporty trainer/white socks sports combo, as opposed to my flip flops.  Please note I didn't use the word 'bag' in describing the ball carriers.  I'm trying to avoid any double entendres so you don't descend in to Sid James style sniggers at every turn, so get it over with now and we can move on, matron..  This was beginning to look like a serious competition, for a start these guys had their own kit, always an ominous sign, and it looked as if they had used it fairly recently. We hadn't played for a couple of years and the boules we had in the garage were turning a nice shade of rust.  I've had this feeling of impending doom before when I was the holder of the annual tennis club 10 pin bowling championship.  The following year a guy from the club turned up with his own ball, shoes and hammock like ball polisher.  Suffice to say he won.  After a delay of about an hour, waiting for the bandits to turn up, we started our first round match and I began to learn what this game is really all about.

Like most casual players, I had assumed the idea of the game is to get your ball nearer to the jack, or cochonnet as it's known in France, than your oppenents',  and indeed that is the concept but it's not quite the same as green bowling in the UK.  In that game, if you want to remove one of the opposition's balls (really, come on..) you have to fire it out along the ground, whereas in boules you have the third dimension of aerial attack. Although while watching some green bowling in England lately I noticed that some of the more mature players were using a sky-borne Barnes-Wallace approach, forced on them by arthritis or general maladies in the back/leg department.  I can imagine the banter over tea later about the validity of Earthquake Ethel's 617 squadron approach on the last end of the game..

We won the toss, which was about all we did win on the day, so the honour of throwing the cochonnete and taking the first shot was mine.  Thankfully I managed to get my boule to within about 4 inches of the target and stepped back, comfortable in the thought that this end was as good as won, rule Brittania.  Now please take the time to visualise a news clip released by the RAF of a target, a warehouse perhaps, being used for some nefarious purpose by an unseen enemy.  Next thing you know it's obliterated by a smart bomb, launched from thirty thousand feet, the warehouse is gone but the surrounding play school, hospital, pet sanctuary and old aged person home are untouched, not a tea cup displaced. Hooray for lasers.  

Now picture a grainy black and white picture of my boule, resting smugly in it's place next to a little white ball..  Boom, now it's gone but the white ball remains.  'That's a lucky shot' I'm thinking as I step up to try again.  Once more I am close to the target and once again Dead Eye Dick, as I am calling my opponent, launches another 'smart ball' to violently move mine away and so a pattern is established.  It transpires that this forcible removal of other people's shots is what the game is about, rather than the accurate placement in the first place, which is beginning to look like the easier bit.  We were therefore being given a boules lesson and resigned ourselves to a quick defeat.

It's fair to say our opponents were not overly chatty, but did reveal that they were not from the village but a large town some 30 miles away.  Ha!  But this event is for local people, maybe we can get them with a technical knock-out.  However the conversation with a rules official then played out in my head - 'Excuse me Monsieur, I do believe these players are not from round 'ere, I expect you'll want to disqualify them under rule 5 subsection 'C' regarding the lack of proximity of their abode?'.  'Bien sur Monsieur Rôti de Beouf, just remind moi of your address?  The Middle East you say, ah, tant pis...´.

So we retire to the bar area for a drink and to await the draw for the next round, and it became apparent that this was also part of the event, the drinking that is.  In fact, if golf is a good walk spoilt, boules must be a good boozing session interrupted by flinging a ball or two.  The break went on for the best part of an hour and seemed to be of an interminable time.  Some players who we're sitting next to us seemed to suggest we could go and have a practise while we were waiting which after our first match seemed like a good idea.  They were also from out of the area, I'm beginning to see a pattern here..

They won the toss and in time put their first ball close to the cochonnet. I thought this would be a good opportunity to get some training in so I attempted to fire it out, with great success.  In hindsight, this was the only time during the whole afternoon I managed this feat but from small acorns..  The rest of the game went their way, with me trying out a variety of shots in the hope that I found a technique that worked and generally not paying too much attention.  Game over, we strolled back to the bar in order to find our second round opponents, only for me to be told they had been those players and we had just been defeated again, lost in translation.

I should say that I do speak reasonably good French, but family and friends make allowances for my short comings by speaking more slowly and clearly.  I have often found than when engaged by random people the nature of a casual conversation without knowing the context and often including slang is often unfathomable.  Hence when asked a two word question by our second opponents I was completely flummoxed.  All I could hear was 'more balls?'.  Did this mean he wanted to carry on playing or was it an observation on the poor standard or our play?  It transpires he meant 'do you have any more balls to play in this end?', but the complete lack of any grammar and virtual lack of vocabulary just didn't give me enough to work on.  It's not unfair for me to add that the chap asking me this question was probably not France's answer to Stephen Fry, but a man who seemed to think that he'd only been given a limited amount of words to use during his lifetime and didn't want to waste too many on me.  Add to that the fact he didn't move his lips while speaking and you can understand why I was confused.

Another immense wait for the third round and then then draw, where we get a father and son combo and a closer, more enjoyable game.  Still lost, but the manner of losing was more agreeable.

So what did I learn about boules?  Well you need a laser guided smart ball and eye to go with it, we were the equivalent of a Roman siege machine, the only guaranteed thing our balls were going to hit was the floor. 
OK, it's not accurate, but whatever we hit will have a big hole in it..
Secondly, mark your balls (hang on in there with the sniggers, we're nearly at the end..). Ours came in a value set from Carrefour some had markings and others were plain.  I played with the latter on the assumption that everyone else would have lines on theirs. Not so fast Mr Bond.  I would estimate that 75% we're plain like the ones I had so at any given time I had not the foggiest idea of what was going on.  The only way I could pick them up with any certainty was to wait until everyone else had taken theirs and assume the remaining three were mine.  Even now I'm not sure I bought the same set back that I'd taken out.

As a footnote to this episode, the following day the 'open' event took place.  It started at 2pm and finished at 11.30pm, and my wife thinks golf is a time consuming game.  We also learnt from some neighbours that there was a bit of controversy about the number of players in our event who were not village people, that is people from our village rather than members of the disco group.  In our experience two out of our three opponents came in to this category, so if they were disqualified we would move from relegation zone ignominy to top third respectability, result.

Saturday, 19 July 2014

Nice work if you can get it..

Let me preface this entry by saying that these are just my own opinions and musings, please do not rely on anything mentioned here as you would a verified fact.  I'm not making this stuff up but it is purely based on my own perspective and experiences, which as far as I'm concerned are factual..  You can trust me, I'm a teacher..

I'd also like to add that whilst the events that follow have taken place in la belle France, I'm pretty sure it would be the same in the UK or pretty much anywhere in the 'developed' world, I'll let you decide whether it should be called 'developed' or not?

So to begin at the beginning.  We are on holiday in France and to make the most of our visit we hired a car.  If you've ever hired a vehicle you'll know that this is not as simple as you might think, partly due to the desire of the hire company to make a profit and also because unscrupulous customers try to rip them off.  In between these two opposing forces are the ordinary folk that just want to drive around a bit and end up paying the cost associated with these two self interested camps.

I guess the best story I have to illustrate what clients can get up to is the one about a guy in the Middle East who hired a Bentley then took it dune bashing.  You may not know exactly what a Bentley is but let's just say it's not an off roader.

Like I said, not suitable for off road use.  Please be aware this is just a stock photo picked at random from the internet so if you are the proud owner of  DK57 CXV fret not, you won't be finding sand in the glove box.  Also I'd like add this was not our hire car..

Then there are my personal experiences of rental cars which include one occasion where the previous user had obviously used the back seat as a mobile dog grooming parlour, or another time where they had left enough vapour in the petrol tank to get me 200 yards away from the hire office.  From his perspective an excellent piece of planning, from mine enough to go and see a witch to get a spell put on him.  I hope he enjoys his time as the cuddly toy on the front of a dust cart..  Mind you the phone call to the office was priceless - 'I've run out of petrol in the car you've just loaned me!', 'where are you?', 'look out the window..'..

So I can appreciate why car hire companies like to dot the i's and cross the t's, but it does make a simple transaction in to something akin to writing the Magna Carta.  Much of this paperwork is based around insurance.  Insurance to cover you should you not being the car back with a full tank of petrol (this is a western thing..), 'extra' insurance should you have an accident - 'what do you mean 'extra' insurance?!  What do I need 'extra' for?  Collisions that include royal personages?  A no fault bump with a dragon?'.  Then at the end of these discussions you're asked to sign a four page contract in triplicate that would take a team of lawyers no less than a week to interpret.  I mean really, has anyone ever read the terms and conditions before ticking the box?

I'm a cynic about insurance, I've always believed it is a way for insurers to make money rather than a safety net for the insured.  This outlook is supported by my experience that if you ever need to claim on it by the time you've taken in to account the caveats and excess payment, you normally end up with about a tenth of what you thought you'd have.

Where was I?  So we hired a car and had a marvellous time in Provence, which was going to be the subject of my blog until we were cruising back down the motorway and bang, something had clearly made an impact on the underside of the car, and it didn't sound helpful.  I don't know if you've ever been on the autoroute doing 130 kph and wondered what would happen if your tyre had a sudden and calamitous deflation? No?  Just me then..  In my mind there was going to be an explosion and then Jason Statham like I was going to steer the car around the school bus, past the minivan full of nuns and park it safely on the hard shoulder. Later, when collecting my OBE I was going to modestly wonder what all the fuss was about, I'm just an ordinary guy with an inbuilt ability to be at one with motorised transport. But every bloke has probably had that daydream. No? Still just me then.. 

I can reassure you that thanks to the marvellous engineers in companies like Hankook (for instance) nothing much happens right away.  However over the next two seconds or so you get the idea that it would be better if you pulled over.  Thank you unsung heroes that are tyre scientists.

It became immediately obvious that this was a dead tyre, it had shuffled off it's mortal coil, it was now an ex-pneu.  But dreadnought, this is a hire car from a national company, surely they will have contingency plans for this sort of common occurrence? And they did, just not the sort I had in mind.

This is when I learned a lot about spare tyres in a very short space of time.  Mainly that modern cars don't have one.  This is one of the genius side effects of the global warming con.  It's given companies the opportunity to offer you less and claim the moral high ground at the same time.  You can imagine their reasoning - 'you see if we don't give you a spare the car is lighter and uses less fuel, manufacturing costs are lower, you pay less road fund licence and the environment is saved, hooray for us!'. Brilliant, unless you get a puncture, in which case the whole scheme falls apart.  You need to have a less fuel efficient truck drive twenty miles to pick you up and take you the twenty miles back to their base, which means you are  now further away from your destination than you were when you started, take that environment..  They do supply a puncture repair product designed to get you to the nearest garage, but it doesn't work in the event of a tyre  being deformed in a high speed blow out on a motorway, they've not really thought that through have they?

However their recovery insurance got us off the motorway curtesy of a breakdown truck - tip #1 definitely get insurance to cover this, I think their minimum charge was 122 euros.

Now we could relax, the hire companies emergency strategy would swing in to action.  We called them, 'l have a puncture in one of your cars', 'that's down to you mate..', 'surely you have an agreement with a supplier?', 'nope', 'what do recommend we do?', 'sort it out yourself.'. Wow, those hours spent on the customer service course weren't wasted..  

This is where we had our crash course in how the system works. The following information was given to us with the headshake, shrug and intake of breath through teeth that only true professionals can manage.  'You see you can't change one tyre as the pair have to match and guess what we, don't have one that matches', so we're now looking at two new tyres. 'Oh and we may struggle to get one that size and type'.. Hang on, we're driving a Citroën in France and you don't think you can find a tyre for it?  Would you rather we bought something more common place next time? Maybe a £1.5m Bugatti Veyron or a 1923 Rolls Royce Silver Ghost?!  Either way it was now 12pm and the garage was closing for two hours so nothing was going to happen soon.  They dropped the Jolly Roger and sauntered off for a leisurely lunch.

After the break, it transpires they could get hold of two tyres, what luck.  Bad news was the whole business was going to cost roughly twice the normal price, why, because it just does if you want to be on your way.  Stand and deliver.. 'What if we shop around?' we thought. 'Good luck with that, feel free to ring my mates in local garages who will tell you the same thing..'.  How did he read my mind?!

Maybe it's worth involving the enormous weight a national car hire company could bring to the negotiations?  So we ring our man in their office - 'nothing I can do to help, it's your problem, oh and don't forget if you're late back tonight we'll charge you for another day'.  We were feeling the love..

So we got two tyres when we needed one, at twice the usual price, on a car that we didn't own and were giving back that evening, still we'd had a nice lunch in local restaurant, silver lining anybody?

Tip # 2; next time you buy or rent a car see what sort of spare it has.  Especially if you're buying, as the only thing that will make manufacturers think twice is if they lose sales as a result of heir actions. Like me not buying a car is going to make any difference.

Tip # 3; check with rental companies before you travel and make sure you know what you are liable for.

Tip # 4; you can't help where you break down but if it's on a motorway you may have to brace yourself for a big bill.  

Tip # 5; if you're in garage trade get a contract to pick up motorists from the motorway, it's a licence to print money.  We weren't alone in the two hours that we were waiting in the yard, at least another 5 cars were bought in and we saw another 3 broken down on the hard shoulder later on.

It may sound like I'm being overly critical with the two businesses concerned, so in the interest of fair-play let me summarise by saying the following.

When I drove leased cars you were responsible for paying for punctures, fair enough, however they had national agreements with tyre companies which ensured you got new rubber fast and at a discounted rate.  Would that not seem logical for hire companies too?

I appreciate the breakdown company have a lot of costs in running their super-expensive trucks.  I just didn't realise that when they pick you up you have to buy the wagon..  I remember reading a newspaper article once about why all of the products, including petrol, at motorway service stations are more expensive than in other locations.  The answer given was that it was dearer to get delivery lorries out to the them.  But don't lorries use the motorways every day?  Aren't they passing the outlets that are more expensive? Their argument would be more understandable if you were talking about Land's End or the Mull of Kintyre.

The truth was, of course, that they were more expensive because you have no choice, if you're up a creek, the first paddle that comes along is going to be welcome at any price.

School's out...

for summer, as the song goes, and with it also goes our first year (ten months to be precise, I'm nothing if not a pedant..)  of working and living in the UAE.  It has been a wonderful experience and I'm going to try and summarise how I feel about the whole thing.

I guess the best place to start is at the beginning and that would be the weeks we had in between being offered the job and leaving the UK.  It was hectic, what with making sure all of our affairs in England were sorted out and with the preparations we had to make for our arrival here.  Virtually every logistical task was a first for us so the learning curve was incredible, we had to keep reminding ourselves that we were choosing to do this, we weren't being deported.

There were three standout events during that period:  1.  Our farewell party where many of our friends and family came to say their goodbyes.  2.  The day we say the 21 boxes containing our shipped goods get swallowed up in to a van and drive off.  3.  The trip to the airport, not quite the same feeling as going on holiday! Then the arrival at Dubai airport, 2am and hot as a rattlesnake's bum, as the saying goes.  However we soon met our group and they all seemed to be on their first visit to RAK too so we felt in good company.

Then came the acclimatisation both  to the environment and the culture.  Our collection of cards started:  health card, I.D. card, driving licence, car registration card, hospital number card, health insurance card, Carrefour loyalty card, bank cards, I'm still not sure we have a full set?  As the primary person in this adventure it fell upon my wife to get her admin first before she could facilitate mine.  Her joy at signing the letter allowing/authorising me to have a driving licence will never diminish.

So what have been the highlights?  Firstly the people we have met, they are an amazing bunch and we have learned so much about their backgrounds and home countries, interesting information that you can only get by spending time with indigenous people.  The fact seems to be that whilst people's experiences and up-bringing is so different, their hopes and expectations tend to be the same.

Our wish list of things to see and do in the first year has been pretty much met.  Dolphin watching, dune bashing, going up the Burj Khalifa, marveling at the Sheikh Zayed Mosque, picnics in the mountains, visiting deserted ghost-towns, camel riding, jet-skiing, the list goes on.  And there is more we hope to do or re-visit next year!

What are the downsides?  It's not nice living far away from your family and close friends, but modern communication takes the sting out of it and we've been fortunate in having some visitors, with hopefully more in the future.

I guess that doing this sort of thing is not for everyone, there is not a lot of job security in this line of work as the contracts tend to be for two years.  so if you're looking for work that takes you up to your pension in yen years time this probably isn't for you.  However it does tick the box that says 'have an adventure' along with those that read 'experience a different culture' and 'push out the envelope of your comfort zone', and that seems to suit us.

Sunday, 25 May 2014

Life in a warm climate.

This entry is aimed at my Expat Blog readers or anyone else thinking of making the move to work out here, where it can get warm from time to time.

I know from my own experience the conversations that you'll be having with your partner about whether it's a good idea to try expat life and if so, where do you want to go?  The Middle East is very tempting as it has quite a few opportunities for work, is sufficiently far away to make it intriguing and has a whole different culture to northern Europe.  But the question will arise about how you feel about living in a place where it is often 40C and higher for extended periods of time, especially if you have young children?  Certainly the first thing a lot of people said to us when we told them we were moving here was 'how are you going to cope with the heat?!'.

Most teachers who come to work here tend to arrive at the end of August, a warm time of year.  I can still remember leaving the airport having been in air-conditioned environments for all of that day (airport - aircraft - airport) and walking in to the sultry night air.  It was hot and humid and we were tired, not quite an in at the deep end experience but certainly enough of a difference to make you think!

The next day we wanted to go to the supermarket, a tempting three hundred meters away.  Not worth taking a taxi for that sort of trip, so as advised by the school we put on our hats & sun cream, took some water (overkill we thought - at the time) and off we went.  It is a cliché but opening the doors from the lobby to the outside can only be described as opening the doors to a very hot (very..) oven.  However instead of getting the heated draft on your arms you got it everywhere, and all at once.  Putting our best foot forward we walked round the building to head off for the mall.  So now someone had switched the fan on in the oven..  There was a wind which made the heat even more intense, no wind chill factor here, just a wind heat effect.  Suddenly the three hundred meters looked like three miles.  I had images of the three of us crawling up a sand dune in a Beau Geste moment to be confronted with a mirage depicting an oasis, or at least the refrigerated section of the supermarket.

At last, the shopping mall, but will they have Marmite...?

So you learn from your mistakes.  People have been living in this environment since time immemorial so clearly you can adapt, but if you've been bought up in a colder climate it takes a bit longer.  Suffice to say whoever invented air conditioning becomes your favourite inventor of all time, for me replacing the man/woman who invented the Bounty bar, now that was genius.  You become an a/c expert overnight, likewise you seek shade wherever you can, especially when parking the car.  Once you leave the vehicle you move like an enthusiastic frog, leaping from shady area to shady area until you can find the next artificially cooled environment.

There is an urban myth at work that someone once left some sunglasses in the specially designed cubby hole in her car, which unfortunately was above the interior mirror.  Upon returning after a day of graft, she found they had melted.  True or false no-one knows, but you'd easily believe it could happen.  You wouldn't believe how quickly cars get incredibly hot once the air conditioning is turned off, hence the habit of leaving the engine running while the vehicle is getting fueled up.  It's a bit unnerving the first time you see it happening but you get used to it and besides, the driver is on the phone so he could easily hang up and call the fire brigade if necessary..

'So how did they survive before electricity?' I hear you ask?  Well a visit to the Ras al Khaimah museum gives you all the answers you need (AED5 entry, open every day except Friday, I love museums..)  
See how the buildings have towers on the roof, which is in effect a big chimney, designed to catch the wind and circulate it in to the living quarters.  They use words like circulate and cool but trust me, there is not always much air to circulate and it ain't cool.  I'm sure these towers were better than nothing and I guess that's enough if it's all that's available.  The walls were also incredibly thick, a type of early cavity insulation, but without the cavity.

You do get used to the temperature and it does have it's benefits.  You don't have to worry about planning a trip to the beach next weekend and then see your plans ruined by inclement weather.  We've been here for nine months and I've only once worn a jumper or any other form of second layer, and that instance was in an evening on the golf course.  And there is virtually no danger of getting rickets.

So I think it's fair to say that the weather is not as big an issue as we maybe feared and the positives definitely outweigh the negatives.  Having written my blog for the week, we are now off to the pool, as if to prove the point..

Saturday, 17 May 2014

'Hey Johnny, what are you rebelling against?', 'Whadda you got?' - Marlon Brando, The Wild One, 1953

One of the things I realised while growing up in England was that every generation needs to rebel against something, normally the status quo, as represented by their parents and elders.  Although that may be a relatively recent phenomenon, starting perhaps after the second world war?  Certainly the iconic images of rebellious youngsters seem to be from that era,  Marlon Brando and James Dean from the silver screen and musicians such as Bill Hayley, Elvis and Cliff Richard (yes, he was considered dangerous at the time..) from the music scene. I put it down to the youth of the day wanting to make their own mark, maybe prove that they are individuals and not just replicas of their parents.  I'm not a social historian so can only apologise if this trait was going on before the 1950s.  It's just that I associate teenage rebellion with Marlon Brando and not someone from the Victorian or any other earlier age, although maybe there was a cohort of youngsters going out without top hats on to 'stick it to the man.'?

Marlon Brando, this was in his later bus driving days judging by the hat..

The obvious manifestation of independence for teenagers is in their clothing.  In my day they would wear anything but the same clothes as their parents, often influenced by the fashion in popular musicians at the time.  For my generation it was the like of David Bowie and Marc Bolan, followed by punk I guess.  I still remember when an older lad came to school with a Bowie-esque lightening strike across his face and another drawn in chalk across the back of his blazer.  You knew he was going to get in a lot of bother for these statements but you also had to acknowledge his chutzpah in expressing his rebelliousness.

No such demonstrations here.  We had a 'dress down' day last week in support of the #bringbackourgirls campaign, a worthy cause if there ever was one.  As always with these special days, some students throw themselves in to the theme, which is to wear red in this case, while others prefer not to participate, as is their right.  But there is a also a large contingent who take the opportunity to wear the clothes of their choice, neither school uniform nor the advised dress down alternative.  For boys it is the traditional white kandora (also available in other colours, notably cream and grey) and maybe a keffiya on their head to finish off the traditional attire.  For girls it's the abaya black robe and shayla on their head, again very traditional.  

As you're gathering, they like to dress the same as their parents, so to the untrained eye it looks like a crowd of diminutive adults coming in to school rather than teenagers.  Being a positive sort of bloke I put this down to them respecting their elders and wanting to carry on the traditions of the past, but can you imagine the same thing happening in the UK on Comic Relief day, 'dress down for £1'?  You'd have the boys rocking up sporting jeans from M&S and a nice comfortable cardigan, the girls in some leggings from Peacocks and an ill fitting fleece with a border collie motif.  Please note these images are from the last time I was in the UK and had time to observe fellow Brits, maybe the parental fashion has changed in the last year?

The closest I came to having an image of any sort was when my friends and I rode motorbikes.  We were all leather jackets and black leather boots on machines with exhaust systems that would make windows fall out at a hundred yards, no consideration for anyone else, just the desire to make your bike sound quicker than it was.  During the late 70's early 80's there was a mod revival, no doubt encouraged by The Jam and other two tone bands.  They were mods and where you have mods you have to have rockers, it's a yin & yang thing.  By default we were rockers, only because we rode motorbikes and not scooters and wore leather rather than parkas.  I couldn't have picked Gene Vincent out of a police line up if my leather jacket had depended on it.

For future reference, this is Gene Vincent.
In those days we went to the cinema a lot, there was no multi channel TV or internet, so you went out with your mates instead, everyone under the age of thirty is now confused, 'what do you mean, no internet.?!'.  I think I'm right in saying the three screen cinema in Worthing, The Odeon,  was knocked down to make way for Laura Ashley, not the Laura Ashley you understand but one of her shops.  We were left with the Dome Picturedrome, a fabulous building dating back to the dawn of moving pictures.  So one weekend my mate and I went to see the film of the week, apparently all about mods and rockers, Quadrophenia.  We arrived late so the Pearl and Dean adverts had already started, the place was dark, we took our seats and removed our leather jackets.

It transpires the film was all about the mods, the only time rockers made an appearance was in a mass fight on Brighton beach.  After it finished the lights went up and we prepared to leave.  However it now appeared that we were the only 'rockers' in the place, everyone else was wearing Fred Perry attire and a parka, oh dear..  We sensibly stayed seated until everyone else had left then put on our leather jackets and left, as inconspicuously as we could.
Mods, looking well moody as they say in London.
Whilst writing this my attention has been drawn to the mini-heatwave that the UK is about to experience, with, and I quote 'a sweltering 24C'.  I have no wish to be a pedant, and I do not want to upset my journalist niece, but I do think the press are once again using hyperbole to exaggerate a modest rise in temperature.  In the Cambridge Dictionary swelter is: 'to feel very hot'.  Now I'm not sure 24C is that hot?!  I guess the headline 'Britain to get a bit warmer for a short time' is simply not eye catching enough, but out here nothing under 50C gets a mention and even then it would need to be a slow news day.  So good luck everyone with your mini heatwave, don't forget your suncream, and it's probably OK to take off the cardigans and border collie motif fleeces, at least around mid-day.