Saturday, 28 November 2009

What's This Dubai Lark All About, Then?

I could get very bitter and twisted in this post: if I do, please forgive me. I lived in Dubai for thirteen years before moving to Spain a couple of years ago. We knew, about eight years ago, that Dubai was committing financial suicide. Nary a month went by without some new and totally barmy mega-project being announced. The Emirate had opened itself up a bit so that foreigners could buy property there, but only in Government-approved developments - principally those being built by Nakheel (Government-owned), Emaar (semi-Govt) and Damac (private and quite probably bankrupt by now). Many of our friends bought houses on some of these developments: a few of them made shitloads of money by speculatively buying and selling. I dare say the rest of them are now sitting on a mountain of negative equity, and praying five times a day to the deity of their choice that they will still have a job in the morning.

There's no get-out, you see. The United Arab Emirates (of which Dubai is a constituent Emirate) doesn't have a proper bankruptcy procedure for individuals or companies. If you default on a loan, the only legal recourse for the lender is to have you thrown in jail until such time as you can pay what you owe. You think I'm joking, don't you? I wish I was - you can even be jailed for issuing a cheque that subsequently bounces (and the country is very much cheque-driven: if you rent a flat for a year, you either have to pay the whole year's rent upfront, or give them three or four post-dated cheques). I know many people whose only way out was to run.

The attitude of Dubai (and, let's be fair, the rest of the Arabian/Persian Gulf region) to non-fulfilment of financial obligations opens up the fascinating possibility of Dubai World being jailed in its entirety for planning to delay a massive bond repayment. Or, at least, you might think, its owners / top management / shareholders would be held responsible. These would mostly turn out to be members of Dubai's Ruling family, the Maktoums, with Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum at the pinnacle of that posse.

I was intrigued / fascinated / pissed off throughout my years in the Middle East by the attitude of my paymasters towards putting money in my pocket. The direct employers that I worked for usually had a policy of keeping foreign workers a few months behind with their salaries so they wouldn't run away (I don't know if it ever occurred to them that if they treated their employees decently, they wouldn't want to run away). Running my own business, I rarely had problems getting paid by Western or Asian clients, but Arabs could be hard work and Government agencies were fucking impossible. In the end, I declined any approaches from the Government because I just couldn't afford to finance them.

And now, with a breathtaking display of utterly crap timing (close of business the day before a 10-day Government holiday), Dubai World announces it has no chance of paying the next installment of its bond repayments, and suggests its investors should wait six months. Yeah, right. Meanwhile, Abu Dhabi will be picking off Dubai's prized assets for fire-sale prices, and there's still little possibility of Dubai being able to pay for any of the stupid stuff it has left.



Monday, 23 November 2009

Madrid Tour Guide In English

Weird title, eh? But for the last four-ish days, that's what I've been (also fairly expert cook and bottle-washer). We've had visitors from England. The lady visitor (we'll call her V) was our very bestest buddy for our first two or three years in Do-Buy, but, as often happens, got screwed by her employer and had to leave in a bit of a hurry. She visited us a couple of years later in Dubai, but that was ten years ago. We haven't seen her since. But she turned up on FaceBook, and we invited her and her boyfriend (let's call him S) of eight years to come visit. So last Thursday they arrived. Damn fine timing, because it was MamaDuck's birthday on Saturday. We've had a wonderful, wonderful time. V & S got MamaDuck some luvverly prezzies, and as a bonus, V demolished the ironing mountain while the Duck was at work. Meanwhile I was busy making Death By Chocolate v2.0.

It looks much better than v1.0, but the flavour was a bit crap because I managed to burn the chocolate while trying to melt it in the microwave. I expect that, just like software and rock albums, version 3.0 will be pretty much perfect.

Today was their final day in Madrid, so we spent the morning in town, having first made the pilgrimage for S to Estadio Santiago Bernabéu. You can see V & S crossing the road in this picture.

When I'm cooking for guests, I'm always careful to ask if there's anything they don't like / just don't eat / are allergic to. No declarations were forthcoming, so it was a bit worrying when V didn't feel too well after eating the steak and mushroom pie that I made on their first evening. The next day we discovered she doesn't do very well with celery. Damn. I had used mirepoix (finely chopped onion, carrot and celery) as a base for the gravy. I made a paella on the second day: fortunately V & S went to the market with me, and V declared that she couldn't eat bell peppers. So that got cooked separately. The next day we were talking about offal, the eating thereof. I discovered that V was no fan of kidneys either, and explained what a stroke of luck it had been that I couldn't find any at the market, otherwise the steak and mushroom pie would have been a steak and kidney pie.

And tomorrow I've got to get back to work.

Thursday, 12 November 2009

Senior Moment?

All I know is, I was building a paella. I hadn't managed to buy a red pepper, because the supermarket I went to (yes, I know, I shoulda gone to the market, but it was the middle of the afternoon, so they were siesta-ing) would only sell me a bag of five, and we can't eat that many before they rot. So I bought a jar of pickled peppers.

I was struggling to open this jar when my phone rang. It was the boss telling me her ETA. No problem. I returned to the kitchen. Couldn't find the jar of peppers anywhere. Looked in the bin, all the cupboards, the oven, the fridge. Gone. Abducted by space aliens, more than likely. So I started writing this and then remembered: I'd put it in the freezer, because that sometimes makes things easier to open.

So I've got it now. Still can't get the fucker open though.

Tuesday, 10 November 2009

How Green Is My Baggie?

My shopping bag is this green:

Okay, maybe you think it's orange, but the printing on it says 'this bag is green'.

Yes, this Guardian-reading, tree-hugging, eco-minded person now does not leave the house without this thing stuffed in his pocket. And when he gets to Dia, he smirks at their offer of advertising material at 3 centimos apiece. If he goes to Carrefour, they are welcome to keep their undersized, underpowered biodegradable bag-ettes at 5 centimos each.

But now we have a slight problem: we need plastic bags to stick in the kitchen waste bin. So now I occasionally go to Caprabo and stuff my pockets with their free, but ecologically-sound* bags.

*About six months ago they had notices around their shops explaining how they were no longer printing a white background on their bags: this was being done to save white ink and therefore made their bags environmentally friendly**.

**Now they give you credit on their loyalty card every time you don't use their bags***.

***Obviously the next step is to charge for the bloody bags, and then I'll have to buy waste-bin liners. Or just chuck the stuff out the window, like we used to in the olden days.