Saturday, 15 February 2014

'I don't like cricket, I love it'..

In true EAL teacher style, have a look at this photo and tell me what you see.

You may have thought that it's a group of people on scrub-land in an industrial area, and you're right.  But look more closely and you'll see that it's actually two games of cricket, one in the foreground and one in background, slightly obscured by the white cars.  If you look at the nearest wicket, the group on the right are the crowd or waiting batsmen and the dark coloured car is in short mid on.

In the game that's furthest away, the collection of white vehicles are parked in the slips and gulley and a good shot to deep mid-on would leave the ball amongst the lorries.  Just to the left of the trucks are some blokes using the back of a van as a makeshift stand.  The wickets themselves are on a road so when a taxi comes down it this happens:

and play has to stop while it passes.  Either that or a batsman has just hit the ball and jumped in the cab to grab a sneaky run.  Whether it then reversed up for the second I don't know.  In this picture you can also see food delivery van parked in forward square leg, don't all cricket pitches have that?!  I would like to thank Wikipedia for the names of various cricket fielding positions, which has saved my Dad and my friend Simon's embarrassment at my lack of knowledge in that area..

What I'm ambling towards here are my observations on sport out here.  Cricket is an obsession with men from the Indian sub-continent, although obsession is probably an understatement.  You don't realise how much they like it until you live, work and teach amongst them.  So every Friday morning pieces of what you thought were scrub land turn themselves in to cricket pitches.  Some of them have hardened wickets so the batting surface is relatively flat, whilst the out fields are always rubble strewn.  None of the pampered lush green cricket grounds that you get in the UK.  This next picture gives you an idea of the terrain we are talking about:

The fielders closest to us are on the boundary and there is a ring of slightly larger rocks that mark it. We've seen at least a dozen grounds like this in the town, which must make cricket the most popular sport for participation here, although the local lads do play a lot of football.  I am full of admiration for people that play and enjoy sport in less than ideal conditions.  It seems to fit in with the concept that you should enjoy it for what it is rather than what you wear or the kudos of where you do it.

I'm not sure where the UAE sits on this.  As a county it gives the appearance of being sport mad, there are numerous prestigious golf and tennis events out here, not to mention the Formula 1 grand prix races.  The headquarters of the ICC (International Cricket Council) are in Sharjah and again there are spectacular cricket matches played in the area.  On a local level in RAK, there are two golf courses, which are reasonably priced for those in the region but prohibitively expensive for ordinary folk.  Tennis is virtually non existent, as far as I know there are only six courts in the town perimeter and none of these are covered so playing in the summer is a no-no.

This weekend was the RAK half marathon and it was superbly organised and well supported by runners from all over region, so clearly running is a popular past-time but from what I could see, mainly with the expat community from around the world.  So I think it's fair to say that sport has a high profile and the grander spectacles have a lot of investment passed their way.  What remains to be seen is when or how much of this money finds it's way to grass roots level, where it can foster participation from local participants and produce professional sports people from the region.  From my experience with the LTA in the UK, this can take quite a while!

Whilst on a sports theme, I have watched about ten minutes of the winter Olympics.  What I saw was the relay skeleton bob, or it may have been the luge, I'm not sure of the difference?  'Relay' I hear you say, 'how does that work'?  Well I'm glad you asked.  First up a lady in Lycra laying flat on her back on tiny tray with blades on.  She thunders down the track and at the end slaps/punches a flap hanging over the run which activates a green light at the top and voilá, the next person on the team starts their descent.  This was a bloke on a tray and when he gets to the flap the last team members go, a two-up tray.  Yes tray, not a bullet shaped bob sleigh where they sit in tandem, just a tray with one guy laying on his back atop it and another laying on top of him, like a Lycra sandwich.  Suffice to say the homophobic element who insisted that the Olympics had to be 'gay free'  must have been have been livid.  Not that I'm suggesting anything about the sexuality of the Olympians, I'm just saying that it's as camp as having the Village People in the event, although that would be good viewing and for me it would liven up what is a fairly dull sporting spectacle.  Imagine the commentator saying 'that's the Czechoslovakian Native American finishing in a good time but not enough to beat the Romanian dressed as leather bondage guy.  The builder is languishing in last place but happy to give a quote for re-roofing the commentary box'...

I just need to think of how they can liven up the 'skiing a long way on flat ground then shooting some little discs' event.  At the moment I'm considering replacing the little targets with ducks on conveyor belt in a fair ground style?  If you get all five you can have anything off the top shelf or a goldfish in a plastic bag, much better than medals..

Friday, 7 February 2014

Gawd bless the NHS, and all who sail in her.

This week I thought I'd offer some real-time information to anyone reading this with the intention of moving out to the region.

Unless things have changed dramatically since we left the old country (sorry, countries), the NHS is often a hot topic in the news.  I think I'm right in saying there are only three stories about it but they keep on coming round the carousel.

Story 1 - The NHS is underfunded and therefore nurses and junior doctors are working 25 hour days for nothing more than a cup of gruel and a good thrashing should they complain.

Story 2 - The NHS is underfunded and therefore waiting times in A&E are now so long that they recently found the skeleton of King Harold in Hastings Royal Infirmary holding an arrow in one hand and a ticket with number 5956 in the other.  The red electronic display board read 'now serving - 5955'.

Story 3 - The NHS is underfunded however there are now 25 managers for each cleaner and the management structure diagram looks like an inverted pyramid.

In some foreign climes they circumnavigate this thorny problem by following more simple route, they have no free health care at all.  No cash, no doctor.  Fortunately we receive medial insurance via our work, and for the less fortunate the government run hospital here is not too expensive, I think a visit to A & E is about £10, and from our experience it is very good.  I say 'government run' because there are two hospitals, side by side, and the second is part of a Swiss medical group, a visit to A & E here is about £17.50, even with your insurance.

We've visited the private one a few times lately, not for anything serious but just for check ups on minor ailments, so we've had the opportunity to compare and contrast with the UK system.

Your first impression when you get there is that the hospital is actually more like a 5 star hotel.  They have valet parking for goodness sake and if you're going in for a stay, a bell-hop takes your luggage in on a hotel style domed trolly.  You then enter the well appointed reception and the initial thing they ask for is your insurance card.  I don't know what they'd do if you didn't have one?  Whether they would ask for cash up front or gamble on you doing a runner after your treatment?  I guess if you couldn't prove your ability to pay they would send you round the corner to the state hospital and get you to ask for mercy?  

Once you've seen the medical practitioner you pay up, and as the song goes 'the bigger the headache, the bigger the pill.  The bigger the doctor, the bigger the bill'.  His consultation is about £10, but bear in mind with all these costings that they are 20% of the full price as our insurance covers the rest, so the real cost is about £50.  A collection of four blood tests costs us about £17.50, after which you can telephone the physician and if the results require no further investigation or no medication that's it.  If they do need more consideration you have to pay for another consultation.

Here is one big difference.  You see the doctor, he recommends blood tests which you take immediately in a nearby room.  They then test them on site and text you to say they are ready for collection, often the same day or the next morning at the latest, all very quick.  In the UK it used to take a week to get the results of tests, but we weren't paying up front for that, we had been paying since starting work.  Overall the system here seems to work well, just as the NHS seems to work well for most people back home, with the huge difference being in the payment method.  I guess the system in the UK and much of Europe is far more socially inclusive and in the UK being free at source, removes any worries people may have about getting advice on their problems.

The rule of thumb seems to be that if you are thinking of working abroad make sure that your employer is offering medical insurance as part of the deal.  Ours does not cover dental and we are about to visit the dentist for the first time, I'll let you know how that works out!

Next week I thought I'd write a blog based on a 10cc lyric, 'Good morning judge how are you today?', 'Life is a minestrone'?  No, I think I'll go with 'I don't like cricket, I love it'..!