Monday, 27 April 2009

Dubaiski, no I rented them....

As close as we got to the 7 star "Burj Al Arab". Probably just as well, our paltry 5 star hotel was already charging £5 for a Pepsi and with the current credit crunch I'm not sure we could arrange a mortgage extension to cover the cost of a 7 star breakfast.....

With Mrs B being worked to the bone recently we swapped our normal March/April ski trip for a trip to the sun of Dubai, for some much needed rest and relaxation. The fact that we then managed to ruin this by filling our time with balloon trips, desert safaris and city tours, which resulted in early starts (3am for one of them) and late nights may have scuppered the rest bit of the holiday, but at least we had a good time.

We had the normal interesting fun at the airport. Usually it is our main luggage that causes a problem as we take far too much with us (most of which is invariably never used) but having trimmed down the main luggage for once it was my new camera and equipment that let me down. The problem with high-end photo equipment is that it is heavy and since I was not going to risk putting it in the hold it made my hand luggage twice the permitted allowance for Virgin Airlines. Not a problem unless they insist on weighing the hand luggage……..which of course they did. Doh!

When I explained that I was concerned about putting the camera equipment in the hold the lady running the check-in desk called her supervisor. For once we came across someone in a bit of authority who was prepared to be reasonable:

Virgin Supervisor - “Is this for professional use Sir?”

Me – Looking quizzical

Virgin Supervisor - “Because if it was then I’m sure we could resolve this” (I’m not sure but I think she might have said it with a big wink)

Me – “Oh yes” I said rather robotically “It is for professional use”

Rather ironically when we visited Wild Wadi (Dubai’s water world park) I was asked by Security if it was a professional camera. Fortunately I played the modesty card and said “No” which was just as well as they threatened to throw me out if they thought it was for professional use. Just as well they don't cross check their information with Virgin airways

Having safely made it to Dubai we were surprised to discover a few things:

• It currently appears to be one huge building site.
- The oil is running out and is expected to be gone in 10 years. So in an attempt to salvage a future for them the Emirates are trying to build a kind of Vegas of Arabia. They certainly have the weather for it but even as a non-drinker myself I can see that not serving alcohol outside of the very expensive Western hotels may cause them a few problems attracting 90% of European holiday makers.

- The scale of the place is so large that even the world’s tallest building often manages to get lost.

• We have never seen so many Russians in our lives.
- True we have never been to Russia but I have a feeling that if we did visit there now there are not many at home at the moment, most of them are either staying in our hotel or on the various trips we signed up for.

• You can actually ski in Dubai.
- OK so it’s indoor skiing but it is on real snow. Having missed out on a ski trip we thought we would take advantage. Besides how many people can say they have skied in the Middle East? If by chance you find yourself skiing in Dubai and end up on a chairlift with an elderly Australian gentleman in a powder blue ski suit, try and avoid saying that you were bored after the second run when he asks you if you are enjoying the skiing and if you do, don’t ask him what he is doing in Dubai. It makes it very embarrassing when he says that he manages the ski slope.

- Not only do they sell time on the slopes but they also sell “Flights” on the chair lift – watching people going round and round on a chairlift some of them in full Arab dress is hilarious.

- We had never seen a Russian ski before and if the example we came across in Dubaiski is anything to go by we never want to meet one again. The style, if it could be described as such, was “demented” with windmill arms and jerky hip movement. All very unpleasant and unnecessary.

• Tinted car windows.
- Non UAE residents are allowed to have blacked out windows up to around 30%. While Emirate nationals seem to be able to have a tint of 100% on their car windows. If you want to survive for any length of time in the UAE try and avoid stepping in front of the cars with Labradors fixed to the bonnets and never except lifts from them after dark.....

• The Emirates claim that there is no crime in UAE.
- Have they not seen some of the clothes the Russians are wearing? Total crime against fashion and that was just the men……

• Although we have seen the Burka before, never in such numbers, which got me thinking about the clothes that many Arab women wear …….

- Why do so many Arab men wear western dress, including tight swimming trunks, yet seem to force their wives to cover up everything except their eyes? Are they that ashamed of their choices? Personally having seen some of the men draped around our hotel swimming pool I think some of them should be forced to cover up from head to toe themselves.

- When walking around a shopping centre I often struggle to spot Mrs B in the crowd - how do the Arabs spot their wife? Which also begs the question how often do they accidentally take the wrong wife home? Perhaps that’s an idea that I could pitch in the Dragons Den - a personalised wife locator for Arabs….

- The number of times I can’t remember what Mrs B is wearing (in my defence I often couldn’t tell you what I’m wearing without looking) maybe then Arabs have it right. It would certainly save the problems of getting the “What was I wearing?” question wrong “Hmmm, was it that all over black number?” leaving just the equally tricky “Does my bum look big in this?” statement to deal with.

- Do Arab women get embarrassed when they turn up to a function wearing the same dress as each other? Perhaps that’s why they use the veil so people can’t tell……

I'm still not 100% sure I brought the correct
Mrs B home from the "Mall of the Emirates"

A big thank you to our friends Kirsty and Joe for not only looking after McG and Mischief while we were away but also for dropping us off and picking us up from the airport, much appreciated.

A letter to a houseguest -The do’s and don'ts of being a perfect guest
Dear house guest, believe it or not we do like seeing you and your company, these points are made to avoid your friends feeling that they are being taken for granted and hope that while this allows them to vent their feelings rather than letting them fester, it does not cause a rift in a good friendship.

- If you are staying at someone’s house for an extended period, do remember to give your hostess a small gift, nothing over the top just some flowers will do, especially if your hostesses birthday falls during your stay….

- If your hosts have given over the use of a car for you, it would be a good idea to return it with a full tank of petrol and clean - especially when it was handed over full and clean in the first place. If you have forgotten try and take the hint when your host fills up on the way to dropping you off at the airport.

- If you borrow a mutual friend’s bike during your stay it is a good idea to return it, not spend two weeks saying I must return that bike and then leave it in your hosts’ garage…

- By all means offer to cook your hosts a thank you meal but avoid forgetting to do it, especially when you make the kind offer in the morning with the result that your hosts don’t get anything in for dinner that evening.

- If you have borrowed a book on a previous visit, bringing it back with you and then taking it away again is just cruel especially when your host has not read it and was looking forward to taking it with them on their trip to Dubai.

on the positive side

- Entertaining your hosts by falling off the borrowed bike in a comical fashion is always going to be a winner. If you can manage to do it more than once in the same ride, all the better.

- Offering to and actually installing some new electrical sockets, was very much appreciated, especially when your host is not a big fan of D.I .Y – Check out the shed drain pipe which still lies horizontal and unlike the British economy has not taken a down turn since the shed was installed over two years later.

That’s it for another BlackLOG I thought I would leave you with some more shots of Dubai

Mrs B shows how it should be done. I unfortunatly
managed to get stuck halfway down, most embarressing

Our hotel swimming pool, hardly overlooked at all...

The only let down on the Desert Safari was
the tyres before we drove onto the dunes

Sadly we didn't get the oppertunity
to write-off drive the 4X4's

They do like their gold in the UAE, in vast quantities

Sunset on the beach

There is nothing like a relaxing Balloon
trip, apart from having to get up at 3am that is.

We saw very few pets on the trip, this was
the closest we came. I certainly didn't
order any strange named meat off restaurant menus,
the thought of eating roast Fido or grilled fluffy was a bit much.

Friday, 17 April 2009

A day out in the wilds, or how to get out of the office with out the aid of a Doctors certificate?

It was care in the community day, which meant work let out a number of its high risk inmates from the office on day release scheme. The idea being that we help the local community and are integrated back into society in return. The task selected for the out-mates was to help an underprivileged local school, (The last time I looked, junior schools with a swimming pool were not underprivileged, even if it was only an out door one) to create a woodland paradise for its pupils to destroy, as only small children can. All out-mates were issued with regulation work T-shirts, presumably to help spot anyone attempting to do a runner.

Braving the wild animals in un-chartered woods (including badgers, foxes, slow worms and vegetarians) we were split into working parties. At this point you had to seriously question the sanity of the organisers, have they not seen horror/slash movies?. Anyone with half an ounce of sense would realise, dividing a lot of helpful volunteers (aside 1) into small groups, is a bit like cutting up prey and serving directly to a predator, with none of the "will they, won't they, get away" uncertainty of an actual hunt taking place. Through some sort of miracle we failed to lose anyone, including me, and each of the bite sized group were allotted particular tasks for the day. These included

Cutting and hacking - Nature comes along and grows nice pretty green areas, until a party is sent in to hack bits out of it, using garden shears and any other garden implement that came to hand, not pretty and fairly ineffective. If this lot had been tasked with dealing with earths pesky rainforest's the planet would be safe for thousands of years to come.

Clearing paths - A fairly easy task, although not when certain members of the team failed to realise the concept of using a rake, spending most of the morning using it upside down. I'll not embarrass them by naming names, I will say however that she is Blond and her name sake appears in Peanuts, although it is not Peppermint Patty, Marcia or Sally. She also shared the same trait and did an excellent job bossing people around.

Classroom manufacture - Similar to clearing paths, only you stick a couple of logs around a dead end path and get to call it an "environmental learning centre" saves the school a fortune as they don't have to provide heating and light.
Co-Coordinators - employed to swan around all day, avoiding anything remotely to do with work and then grabbed the best sandwiches at lunch time, true management potential

Post boys - Through skill and ingenuity the intrepid adventurers who volunteered for post duties (aside 2) managed to make a difficult task appear almost impossible.

Construction project - i.e. building houses for lazy birds - not content with letting the birds get on with building their own nests, some sort of social housing plan was developed. I didn't get the full details of the scheme but I suspect it works on a shared ownerships basis i.e the bird gets to live in a high rise wooden box and in return shares it's shit with any one in the vicinity. Possibly condemning many a small child to a lonely life at school, wondering friendless through the playground with the nickname "Poo head". This may account for the later life crimes of the likes of Hitler, Stalin and Michael Schumacher.

About 12.15 we were marched unceremoniously across to the school canteen. I actually found myself looking forward to chips and pies followed by spotted dick and pink custard (probably illegal these days) that I remembered from my youth. Sadly Jamie Oliver had got to the kitchen first, so there was no interesting food to be had. I was also rather alarmed to see a microwave oven large enough to hold a sizable child (lunch time punishment have evidently evolved from the days when you had to stand holding a dinner ladies hand for the duration of the break). A quick game of football, reminiscent of the Germans versus the Tommie's during the first world war (only with out the awful Paul McCartney song, "Pipes of Peace" playing in the background) and it was back on the Chain Gang.

The afternoon session passed in a blur and when time was called and tools were dropped from weary hands, three trails had been hacked out of the living jungle that was Nascot Wood, two out door learning centres had materialised as if by magic and umpteen shared ownership opportunities for lazy birds now littered the wood like council houses blighting a pretty village. To compliment these there were some rather nice crooked signs telling the kids the name of each walk, if memory serves me right it, they were something like "Squashed Badger Parade" ,"Splattered Fox Run" and "Blasted to Smithereens Quail Way". At least the kids would be getting an education in real life rather then some sad Disneyesk version where all the animals live happily ever after.

A good day was had by all, despite the lack of power tools, which could be heard alluringly in the background, but like a Readers Digest guaranteed prize always tantalisingly out of reach.

--------------So ends another BlackLOG---------

(1) I was safe though as I didn't qualify as a helpful volunteer, having been dragged kicking and screaming to the school gates. Going through those gates took me back to those "happy" days of shiny toilet paper, warm milk and shorts that guaranteed frostbite in winter and severe sunburn in summer.

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(2) I bet they thought it was going to involve a cushy little number delivering messages between the various teams when there eager little hands shot up.

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Monday, 13 April 2009

The one where Nicolas Cage proves that a turkey is not just for Christmas.

Noticing that our local cinema has a £3.89 a ticket policy on Tuesdays I have set up "Cheap as Chips Tuesday". This is very much likeOrange Wednesday , without a huge advertising campaign (I do like the adverts, better than some of the films I've seen recently), or the hassle of having to get a code, you can even use it with an odd number of participants.

So far it has been a mixed success, the first film I selected was "The Young Victoria", The potential members stayed away in droves, including Mrs B. It was only Lorna my Yoga torturer teacher, who eventually saved me from sitting on my own. Since we both enjoyed the film and Lorna's only complaint was her toe ring hurting, hardly my fault, I considered this a minor success. Driven on by this I decided to open up the club to democracy and managed to get nine friends interested for the second C.A.C.T. simply by giving them a number of options and allowing them to vote. Never again, this unfortunately served to highlight the short comings of democracy. You end up having to live with other peoples mistakes choices. As the organiser I don't see it as my role to blame anyone for the second choice of film, even if my friend Mala did launch a huge and ultimately successful campaign to have "Knowing" adopted for the evening. If I ever run for office I'm selecting Mala as my Campaign manager, if she can get "Knowing" elected.....

My main problems with the film are :-

- The film contained one too many Nicolas Cages for my liking.

- It was about 2 hours longer then it should have been...Now you may consider this harsh for a film that lasts 121 minutes but if you do, you have clearly not sat through two of the most excruciating dull hours of your life.

- The two kids were so wooden that I kept expecting Jiminy Cricket to appear. If only someone had had taught them to play with matches it would have been far more entertaining.

- The love interests was so annoying that her death was a relief - if only it had been much earlier, like before the film had started.

- Typical of most NC films the plot line had to be spelt out real slow like, for the audience, rather like his Long monotones speeches.

I'm currently not sure if Cheap as Chips can recover from this but have planned this week for the "Boat that Rocks" I just hope it doesn't turn into the Titanic or even
'Marie Celeste' with all hands lost. Surely that would be the end....

Bank Holiday Classic from Mrs B
We decided to visit to Aldeburgh, one of our favourite seaside destinations. Not only has is devoid of "kiss me quick hats", it has chips so good that people are prepared to queue for days. Mrs B and I prefer to opt for the much more civilised booking a restaurant, I can highly recommend 'The Regatta', to sate our potato related cravings.

People have been known to send out orders for takeaways to avoid starving to death.....

As we hit the beach Mrs B mentioned that it was a shame that we had forgotten to bring the binoculars.
So moving along....

New life in the garden
Mrs B had been wanting a water feature in the garden for years. I was always worried about the disruption it would cause. i.e me having to dig out trenches for electrical wires, the inevitable blackout of the entire neighbourhood when against all probability I manage to short the local electrical substation etc.etc.etc Imagine my delight when just before Christmas I spotted a solar powered water fountain. Under the guise of it being good for the environment I managed to sell the idea to Mrs B. It has only taken three months of careful planning and preparation to get it out of the box and into the garden. I even managed to put water in it. For days nothing...... It was only when an uninterrupted burst of sunshine hit the solar panel did the full power of the beast reveal itself. I have to admit it has it's limitations i.e if an ants shadow falls across the solar cell then the fountain immediately stops, but hey it's not as if we purchased it to resolve the problem of global drought, which I guess is just as well really......
Stand back she's going to blow....OK so not the most impressive jet in the world but at least it works

Until next time I'll leave you with some terrible shots of Aldeburgh. I think my new motto is going to have to be "If you can't do something properly then chuck in any old rubbish...."

OK, it's not much of a boat but it's only a small seaside
town, what were you expecting the bl**dy QE II

Posh Bogs, what more can you ask for
in a seaside town

This strange statue looks like a deposit of corrugated iron from a distance, which turns out to be a deposit of corrugated iron close up, brilliant....

After a valiant effort the sun finally broke through just as we were leaving. What do you expect? It was a Bank Holiday......

Friday, 3 April 2009

Under 11 Rugby meets amature photography at its worst.

Big Sis managed to talk Mrs B and me into joining her on our nephew's Rugby Tour. While not an extensive tour, consisting as it did of two matches, one night away from home and a rugby quiz, it was quite probably the event of the year for a bunch of 11 year olds.

I decided to take the opportunity to practice my sports photography skills and discovered the delights of always being at the wrong end of the pitch to the action. This is not as easy as it looks but I perfected it relatively quickly. As valiantly as they may have played, "The Drifters", my nephew's rugby team, were no real match for their hosts "The Heathfield Hurricanes". The match (or in truth matches, as they were broken down into 10 minute segments) were so one-sided that by the time the Drifters managed to find Heathfield's half of the pitch it put me in such a state of shock I squandered the opportunity of photographing their one and only try.

It turns out that Sports Photography is actually quite stressful. Even if you do manage, by some miracle, to be in the right place to take a picture there is always an endless supply of referees, coaches, corner flags, players and supporters willing and able to thrust part of their anatomy in front of your killer-shot. I had to bite down on my tongue on a number of occasions, not to say anything, particularly when people kept coming up and offering unsolicited advice, such as "You would probably be better over there where the action is".

All this trying to be on best behaviour (I did swear once but I think I got away with it) eventually wore me down and I accidentally managed to insult two onlookers. I was busy clicking away when two of the Drifters banged heads and had to be taken off (Yes I managed to miss that shot as well) when I overheard a conversation:

Mother - "That's why you should wear a scrum cap, stops you getting badly hurt, especially as you are playing hooker....."

Son - "They don't stop nothing, just make you look stupid....."

Without looking around I chirped in "If you are in the pack, they would at least stop you getting cauliflower ears"

I turned to see the kid and mother both sporting huge ears, the sort you would buy in a fancy dress shop, only these hadn't been purchased but looked like they had been grafted on during an horrendous Lab experiment. I managed to turn an embarrassed laugh into a strangled smile and went back to taking pictures while attempting to sidle away up the touchline. In retrospect it's just as well I didn't get onto the subject of gum shields as they had goofy gnashers to die for.

The following day we made our way to Eastbourne. Learning nothing from the first match I stayed up at the opposition's try line. At this point my new-found skill abandoned me and I found myself with loads of opportunities to ruin close up shots of the Drifters' many Try opportunities......

You can now click on the photo's to get a larger image

Howz that?.....sorry, what do
you mean that's the wrong sport

The rest of the herd look on
in frozen fascination as one of their
number is brought down by a predator

The prey become preditors

It's a fix - The Rugby Quiz
Now, I'm happy to admit that my knowledge of rugby boils down to :-

"It's played with an odd shaped ball"
"Any decision for the England Rugby team is correct and any decision against them is an outrage and a gross miscarriage of justice"

So you will agree my knowledge is pretty rounded but possibly a bit limited when it comes to a rugby quiz. Before agreeing to take part I was promised the teams would be split evenly. Imagine my delight to find that my team mates were: a woman (who I'm sure has many fine attributes but rugby knowledge was certainly not one of them);
a five year old, who admittedly answered one of the limited number of general knowledge questions - the answer was Tinkywinky. I didn't have the heart to burst her little bubble and admit that I knew the answer; the rest of the team was made up of two 11 year olds, one of whose specialist subject appeared to be "I know it,I know it, but can't think of it now....." and the other's was "I dunno". Unfortunately neither of these specialist subjects made an appearance in the quiz. With hindsight perhaps I should not have voiced the opinion that I thought football was a better sport than rugby, just as they were dividing the teams "equally".

My first task was to get my team mates to be realistic about the team name. "Winners", "Champions","Dave?" were all rejected, before I managed to convince them that we should perhaps be more realistic about our chances and sold them on "The important thing is taking part". Imagine my delight when we managed a rather creditable 10th, putting aside that there were only 9 other teams, I was almost impressed with our record low score.........

Hanging out with the A list
I found myself within 20 feet of President Obama Yesterday morning. If I had had my wits about me I could have had a brief conversation with him. Unfortunately, as I was doing 70mph (possibly 80mph, although I won't admit to that in court) I could not get my window down in time. Still, since his cavalcade was doing about 60mph, in the opposite direction, I don't suppose we would have had much time for a chat.

Me -"Hellllloooooooooooooooooooooo"

Obama - "Sorry did you say something, Michelle?"

Michelle - "No dear, I think it was that idiot hanging out of the VW Golf......"

It could have been so different if I had not lent ElleGee(1) to Mitch for the day....

Me - "Hellllloooooooooooooooooooooo"

Obalma - "Sorry did you say something, Michelle?"

Michelle - "No dear I think it was that idiot with the roof down on his BMW, I know it's not raining and the temperature is just above freezing but I'm not sure it's appropriate for this time of year......"

(1)For those of you new to the BlackLOG, or with poor/selective memory, Ellegee is our convertible car which spends most of his time with his roof down. As long as it is dry and the temperature at the start of journey is above freezing.

Bishop Stortford with the lens cap on -
Obama's Calvalcade ends up in South street after he made the
mistake of borrowing Nafman(2) to get back to the airport

(2)Our old Car Navigation system that could manage to get lost just getting out of its box

That's it for another BlackLOG Drop in again soon. After this week you never know who you might meet.