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'...