Happy New Year to All - EXCEPT SPAMMERS

It's not important in the grand scheme of things. But within the frame of reference of the microcosm that is the Paranormal Hotel Blog, there is room for humour, friendliness, triviality, occasional seriousness, routine urbanity and much else that scarce merits mention. In particular, there is always a welcome for guests' comments, almost all of which recognise and respect the prevailing local ethos of tongue in cheek commentary and observation. Keep coming, folks, and have a great New Year!
Now, to the spammers: dull-minded and pathetic you may be, equally low in neurons, imagination and decency, unloved and unenviable, wasteful of space and even of the air that you breathe: what are we to do with you?
Well, you might be surprised to learn that on March 27th, 2011, at precisely 1520 GMT, as a necessary and sufficient precursor to the End of the Universe, as predicted by the Mayan Calendar, Nostradamus and Gary Glitter himself, all spammers, together with their computers, will spontaneously implode. It is further predicted that those who happen to be standing up at that moment will collapse in on themselves and fall vertically about their shoes, as happens in all the best controlled demolitions.

Season's Greetings to all

It had to be done!

Merry Christmas and Happy New Year to all Paranormal readers. See you next year, if not before!

Buskers in Brick Lane - Lewis Floyd Henry

Last week, on a flying visit to London, I was passing time pleasantly in Brick Lane, enjoying the sights sounds and smells of the Sunday morning street market, when I came across these buskers. The first group were semi-official, in that they were playing a prearranged slot in a provided venue. A ukelele band, just out for a good time, they certainly cheered the small crowd of passers-by.
The second was a loner, a maverick. A one-man-band complete with a mini drum kit to back his pretty wild guitar playing. He was actually quite impressive, in a Hendrix throw-back kind of way.

I was able to to grab a short video recording of both. Mobile phone quality of course, but good enough to give an impression of how they sounded. Here they are:

I wonder how well he'd go down in the Souq?

Postscript: Since posting this I've discovered that this guy's quite a regular in Brick Lane. His name is Lewis Floyd Henry. He pops up in a few youtube videos, some much better than mine. Maybe I'll buy a decent camera!

Goodbye Musheireb, it's been a ball...

Just two of the dozens of closed shop fronts in Musheireb (and one of them a King!) The demolition continues apace, sacrificing the present to a promised future. Compulsory purchase compensates the owners of the buildings who are, of course, local people and for the most part absentee landlords. Certainly they don't live above their shop units. But for the tenant shopkeepers it's a different story. Short term eviction notices, possibly with the offer of a new tenancy in a remote place at triple the rent. Good deal. To ensure compliance with the eviction orders, the Authorities have simply cut off the electricity and water supplies to the condemned area. Many of the shopkeepers have rigged up small petrol generators to power a few lights so that they can try to sell off the last of their stock.
Last night I took a couple of photos from the roof of Sofitel (see below). The extent of the blackout is impressive, and sad. Goodbye, Musheireb. I'll miss you.

the blackout that was musheireb

must unto dust be brought

Qatar 2022 - Expect Amazing, or, Money's Coming Home

What you do, it seems, on learning that Qatar has been awarded the 2022 FIFA World Cup, is start up your Land Cruisers, open the windows and sun roof, turn the radios on at full volume, and drive up and down the Corniche in convoy, beating a tattoo on the horn. But then, you also do this to mark the start of each Eid and on National Day, so you've had plenty of practice. And you keep it going till about 3 a.m.
And what you'll do for the next twelve years is build and build. Solar cooled stadiums, roads, hotels, apartment blocks for the professionals, labour camps for the faceless ones. A football city will rise from the desert.
The FIFA guys are not stupid. Russia (2018) and Qatar (2022) were the only two bidding countries that could reasonably be expected to come through the coming financial meltdown intact. (2008 was merely a rehearsal). Money follows money and it's a long time since football was about sport.
My guess is that you'll be ready in time. The 2006 Asia Games should have taught you that lesson. But what will you do with the hordes of fans in the hours between breakfast and the first match of the day? You know, the rampaging thousands looking for beer and every entertainment that goes with it, which doesn't mean shopping malls. Then there's the tattooed loons who think they can take the sun because they've been once to Ibiza. You're going to need a stadium-sized casualty and burns unit to cope with that lot. And an army of police. Good luck guys!
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Who knew that Qatar has a Pipe Band?

I certainly didn't. But there they were, large as life, and marching purposefully along the Corniche, to the delight and bemusement of the crowds gathered to watch the power boat racing. They were good too, striking up in perfect synchronism and in tune (not easy on the Highland bagpipe) and backed by a very tight drum team. The power boats were quite impressive too, in their way, though I'm not sure why anyone would want to put themselves through the pain of piloting one. And for the cost of owning one, you could probably support a whole regiment of Highland bagpipers for a lifetime - surely a worthier cause!
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KGB - still watching you

So I'm sitting outside the cafe enjoying the Tbilisi sunshine (no, that's not me; I'm the one taking the photos!) and letting the World go by. I've finished my work here and have a few hours left to enjoy the ancient city before heading to the airport and back to Qatar. And it really is an ancient city, with the pride of culture that goes with it; that much I've learned in a few short days. This is no mere Soviet satellite.
Speaking of which, the sun blind above my head looks like this:

Or, from in front, like this:

The cafe is called KGB. Black humour at its best, but it lends a chill to the Autumn sun.

Hope springs eternal in the human breast...

yet there are limits. And the guy who parked this huge yellow sewage water tanker (5,700 gallons, good area, best vintage) with 'for sale' signs stuck to it was surely pushing his luck.
OK, on closer inspection the tanker turns out to be brand new, fresh from the factory. And no doubt sewage water tankers are bought and sold like everything else. But surely not by casual roadside advertisement, like some clapped out Ford Cortina (MOT failure, £150). It's hard to imagine someone, say, walking to the mosque, prayer mat under his oxter, happening to spot the yellow monster with its sale signs and thinking: Hey, only this morning I was saying to my wife over breakfast, what we really need is a decent new sewage truck. It's not going to happen, is it?
Thinking about it, some readers might be unfamiliar with sewage water trucks. They're not something you see too often in most cities. But Doha does a special line in isolated buildings, not connected to mains water or sewerage systems. It has something to do with planning, or the lack of it. Such buildings are serviced regularly by drinking water delivery trucks and sewage water removal trucks. Ideally not on the same day, and not with the same tanker.
I suppose it could be presumptuous of me to assume none of my readers is interested in making an offer. It is quite a beautiful machine, in its way and might very well appeal to a collector somewhere. If so, the number, which is already public domain and so can be repeated here, is +974 55022771.

You've got to love the Magic Mushroom

Another of the wonders of the Gulf has to be Abu Dhabi's old Airport Terminal Building, the magic mushroom to its friends. Someone was telling me its days are numbered. I don't know how true that is. But before it goes the way of the dodo, let's be grateful for the eccentricity that produced one of the weirdest inner spaces in the region.
This is, by the way, the 200th post in the Paranormal Hotel blog. Perhaps not an Earth shattering achievement, but it's been a lot of fun along the way. Thanks for reading my ramblings!

Guns and Roses in Qatar

First the guns. Even from a distance, something looked wrong. The unnaturally tapered barrel, the wholly impractical wheel pattern: surely these couldn't be real?
guns, of sorts
And real they are not, fashioned entirely out of fibreglass and as useful as a chocolate fireplace. But I suppose not out of place in a town that builds Venice's Grand Canal inside a shopping mall.

roses, posing
And these are the two singers and one keyboard man who constitute the replacement for Boggs & the girls. They're trying hard, but its not an improvement. The phrase keyboard karaoke comes to mind.
All is not lost on the music scene, however. Ramada's Orion bar is now hosting a Sri Lankan trio of piano (real piano), acoustic guitar and female vocalist. Career musicians, and no youngsters, this outfit uses no synthetic or recorded backing of any kind. If they stop playing, the music stops! Salon music, not too loud, well played and sung, and eminently listenable.

The Curse of Mundane Uniformity posing as Sophistication

You know the history. Some sixth sense had told me that the unique mural and decor of Doha Ramada Library Bar might be under threat in the name of Ramadan refurbishment. To preserve its memory for posterity, I photographed and blogged it.

A couple of nights ago, I went to check for myself. My worst fears have been realised. The Library has not yet re-opened for service but the door was unlocked so I stepped inside. The end wall that featured God, Adam, cave-dwellers, the Sphinx and the Pyramids is no more. It has been knocked into the adjoining suite to make space for a larger toilet. The long wall and corner that traced the history of the written word from ancient Rome to the Information Age are entirely obscured by a new plain surface. Even the book-backed bar stools are gone and as for the creeping painted vines that festooned the ceiling, well you know the rest.

Brown and beige, beige and brown - who gives a toss for art or originality? Patently not the Ramada management.

The Burj Paranormal - Spot the Difference?

Or what man is there of you, whom if his son ask bread, will he give him a stone? - Matthew 7:9

According to my Feedjit gadget, yesterday, a visitor from Brunei arrived from google.com.bn on "The Paranormal Hotel" by searching for "burj khalifa". Well done Google! The guy's looking for the World's tallest building and you send him to Dubai's lowest dive. Just as well it's all virtual, or he'd have been very disappointed. Or maybe not...

Qatar News Agency bites the dust.

all things... must have an end...
Recognise this building? Qatar News Agency and the several fairly new apartment blocks behind it are just the latest victims of the city-wide orgy of destruction from which the new Doha will rise, Phoenix like, to delight the privileged few who will be able to enjoy it. It's arguable that city reconstruction on this scale has not been seen since Napoleon's Paris. But most of what Napoleon cleared away would probably have fallen down of its own accord, left to its own devices. You can't say the same of these apartments (below). Even the little substation looks fresh out of the box. One can only guess how many smaller dreams, plans and ambitions were dashed by the round of eviction orders that preceded the onslaught. Uncounted small sacrifices for the greater good, perhaps.
...must unto dust be brought

A modest family house

a modest dwelling
I pass this villa most mornings. It is abandoned now, the boundary wall is breached and, like so many of its kind, it is waiting for the bulldozers to move in. It sits on the C-Ring Road, at White Palace Junction. For all I know, it might even be the White Palace.
For this much is certain. There was a time, not so long ago, when even a Qatari citizen would have been proud and contented to raise a family in a villa like this. Not huge, but spacious, not imposing, but proportioned, with its high ceilings and slender-columned verandah. A wrap-around garden for the children and adequate parking for a family car. It's only blemish is the painfully cramped maid's annexe, (that little lean-to appendage back-left), but that could easily be rebuilt to humane proportions.
Sadly, the era of moderation represented by villas such as this is over. It is now de rigeur to flaunt riches, with fleets of Land Cruisers parked in the grounds of bloated mansions. And to feed this appetite, the demolition continues apace. Soon, there will be nothing to remind us of healthier times.
Except, of course, the painfully cramped maids' annexes. Some things don't change.

Forget those faded jeans, because...

Decent Uniform Works. And don't forget it. This latest in my occasional collection of soon to disappear Doha shop fronts has a certain appeal in its stark confidence. Bold upper case, black on white, the very epitome of formality. And above, one pressed grey trouser, one starched pastel blue shirt hung with a hint of movement - is this a small concession to modernity? And a window clean enough to reflect Paraglider's woefully informal shorts and yellow polo shirt. But in fairness, it was 43 Celsius at the time.
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Boggs & the Girls - thank you and good luck!

Boggs & Girls, last night at Le Club, Sofitel
It was a shame really. Last night was the last night in Stufital for Boggs and the Band. Ramadan is traditionally when the clubs change their band and do whatever other refurbishments are planned for the month of closure. So with two sets played and one to go, the guys were just getting ready for their final set when security switched on the lights and ordered everyone out. It was only ten o'clock or a little after, and an early closing was scheduled anyway, for the eve of Ramadan, but everyone was expecting another hour, and the band had a special last set prepared. Oh well, these things happen.
Boggs & co - thank you for your music and fun over the last year. You gave your best night after night to a place made dismal by the ridiculous door policy. I enjoyed your music and will miss you all, especially ... but it would be ungallant to name a favourite! Have a great trip home to the Philippines, and maybe we'll meet again some day.

A planned act of iconoclasm approaches

The bad news is that Doha Ramada Library Bar is definitely planning to refurbish during Ramadan. Some of the changes will be for the good. They say they are going to knock the two small toilets together to make one of a decent size, while building a completely new second toilet. Unfortunately, this requires additional space, which in turn means knocking through the end wall. It's hard to see how they can do this without destroying the mural, so it would appear that my recent forebodings on this theme were not misplaced. I'll keep you posted on progress. Or regress, more likely.

Paraglider in the Paranormal - a flying visit

a very green tree, by contrast
It seems every time I'm back in Dubai that the Paranormal exterior has been recently repainted, and each time in a rosier hue. The salmon pink is gradually giving way to a red mullet. Fair enough.

paranormal interior, reflected, paraglider far right, reflecting
If the place looks surprisingly empty, it was only 12:30, half an hour after opening. I wasn't stopping, just having a quick cooling beer and four identical conversations. Nothing changes!

Doha Ramada Library Bar - in the Beginning was the Word...

Ramadan is only a week away and all the bars will close. When they re-open in September, it would be a great shame to visit the Ramada Library Bar only to find it redecorated, with the famous mural over-painted in a nice tasteful magnolia. Heaven forbid that this should happen, but just in case, I've preserved it here, for posterity. In best Arabic style, the mural progresses from right to left and begins with:

the hand of God giving Adam a book, or the gift of written language:

Then we have earliest cave markings:

Followed by ancient Egyptian hieroglyphics:

And the reading of a scroll in an amphitheatre:

From monkish scribes to the Printing Press:

To mastery of Music and Navigation:

To the domestic Study, with TV showing Mona Lisa:

To Modernity, with books launching trains, planes, skyscrapers, computers and beyond:

This detail, the Artist, Muriel Terzano Lamy:

Even to the bar stools:
Muriel Terzano Lamy's enormous and exuberant mural gives the Library Bar a completely unique ambience, making it one of Doha's most amenable night spots (though the friendly bar staff help too!) I've let her mural speak for itself, but the low quality of my photos (ambient light, no flash) doesn't do it full justice. There are many more details to be discovered.

The Restaurant on Al Shatee Corner

Yes, of course I know it's pronounced fool, not fowl, and normally I'd pass such places with nothing more than a private chuckle, but this particular juxtaposition of a Foul Restaurant cheek by jowl with Al Shatee Food Supply is surely unfortunate, by any standards.
This is right up there with Kharbash Institute of Driving (Karama) and the Never Titi abayat (Muntazah).

Doha: the Kings, the Roundabout, the Lambs & the Chickens

The King of Fashion was pretty central in Doha, about a hundred yards from Sofitel on the road towards the Royal Palace. It's not there any more of course, having been cleared to make way for Dohaland Phase One, the city centre reconstruction project. King of Shoes has gone as well. We do still have a King of Toys (such names!) in a part of Musheirib that has so far escaped demolition. This makeshift roundabout...
is right in front of where King of Fashion used to stand. It now marks the end of the road, except for Dohaland construction traffic. Everything beyond, excluding the Palace itself, has been flattened. It's hard to mourn the passing of the irremediable slum areas, but we have also lost a richness of small businesses from the city: hardware stores, haberdashers, tailors, juice stalls, barbers. The word community springs to mind. Still standing, but earmarked for demolition in Phase Two, is the locally named Chicken Street:
not named after this particular chicken, but the many thousands of its friends and relatives that have been sold live (or at least, neck drawn at point of sale) from the many chicken shops along the way. And before anyone says cruel, please note that these chickens are on wood shavings, with space to move, and have beaks and feathers, unlike many of their battery brothers. Of course, Chicken Street doesn't only sell chickens:
It's also the place for small local butchers. This is the immaculately clean Kashmiri Butchery where your meat is cut straight from the hung carcasses, in the traditional manner. When such places go, they never return and the city is the poorer for their disappearance.

Chess for Ramadan, and beyond

Ramadan approaches. The moon is full tonight, so unless it changes its habits, it will herald in a new Holy Month of Ramadan in 15 days time. And unless Qatar changes its normal practice, all the bars will close for the month, leaving me with more than a little free time of an evening. That's why I've joined GameKnot, an on-line Chess website.
At GameKnot you play against real people, in real time if you want (and both are logged in), or simply when it suits you, provided you don't exceed the maximum allocated time per move. Games are recorded and analysed (by computer) and each player is assigned a rating based on performance. The default entry rating is 1200, but after a few games you start to move up or down as deserved, until you reach your natural level. The idea is that you then don't have to play against time-wasters or waste the time of Grandmasters - everything is relative!

The graphics and functionality of the GameKnot site are superb, as are some of the features like move by move game analysis (see above, my first completed game).

Paranormal visitors are invited to follow Paraglider's Progress as displayed in the GameKnot widget in the side panel. Or better still, join up and test your chess. All in the spirit of Ramadan, of course!

A deep hole in the ground

Not sure what is going to be built here in Bin Mahmoud, but from the depth of the excavation, it's probably going to be one tall building. Not tall as in Burj, but bigger than anything in the neighbourhood. I'm always amazed that they dig these deep holes in the middle of the city and protect the public with the flimsiest of corrugated iron fences, the type the wind blows down regularly, a mere two feet from the sheer drop. And the gaps in the fences are easily wide enough for all but the most obese to squeeze through. For the kids, it's a straight invitation.
The suspended walkway (below) doesn't look too safe either, but that's for the workmen so no-one's going to worry.

Mad Dogs, Scotsmen and the Tilley Hat

I am one of those who objects to paying through the nose for what should be everyone's birthright - a reasonable standard of fitness. That's one reason why you'll never find me in any of Qatar's grossly overpriced gyms. The other reason is my mental health. I value it too highly to put it through the tedium of cycling machines and treadmills. I have a perfectly good cycling machine at home. It's called a bicycle and it has taken me thousands of miles in its time. And treadmills are for hamsters.

Instead, I make a point of walking every day, for at least half an hour on weekdays and a couple of hours at weekends. So what if the destination is the bar? It's still exercise and beats sitting in a car.

Sometimes though, the Doha climate can be a bit of a disincentive. Last week, temperatures were recorded in the mid fifties (above 125F, for American readers). Is it still possible to walk in these extremes, and if so, how?

Conventional wisdom says the best time is early morning, just around sunrise, when the humidity and temperature are at their lowest (or should that be their least high). I'd go along with that, except for one small detail - early is far too early! I prefer to surface gradually, enjoy a coffee, check news and emails and generally pootle about until fully human, by which time the sun's up and the chance gone.

Others say wait till the evening, when it's not so hot. But that doesn't work either. In the Gulf, as a general rule, as the sun goes down the humidity ramps up, making walking an extremely sticky experience.

No, the best time, strangely enough, is midday, and here's why. When the sun is directly overhead, it may be strongest, but it's easiest avoided. With a decent hat and your shoulders covered, the sun can't see any part of you. Whereas at 10 a.m. or 3 p.m. it will beat against your whole body without mercy. Also because the midday sun is hottest, the apparent humidity is less. Believe me, I know the ways of the sun. I walk in it more than anyone I know.

A decent hat, of course, doesn't mean a baseball cap. Anyone wearing one of these atrocities from choice deserves sunstroke! Mine is a Canadian Tilley hat. It cost what seemed a small fortune about ten years ago (I bought it for a turn of duty in Mumbai) but is still in pristine condition, hundreds of hot miles later. I wouldn't swap it for anything else.

Now a word of warning. To enjoy walking in extreme heat, you have to acclimatise to it gradually. It's best to start in the winter and let the temperatures grow around you over a few months. And the other thing not to do is drink cold water, however tempting that might be. Stomach spasms will add nothing to your enjoyment. Warm water works wonders when walking. Have fun!

Doha's Lesbian Scene

Ever since I posted Doha's First Gay Club - Created by Mistake, the blog has been getting several hits every day from all over the World, with searches like gay doha, doha gay scene, gay bar doha, etc. These can only be from gay workers considering taking up a contract in Qatar and doing a little advance research. After all, Doha's not Rio. No-one's going to research Doha's gay scene purely from an academic interest. And if they did, it would make a very short paper.

So, purely in the spirit of fairness, I've created this Doha's Lesbian Scene post, so that all the lesbian girls flocking to work in Qatar have at least one web page to land on, albeit one of no possible value to them or anyone else. Sorry, ladies!

Just one small flaw in the idea, though. We barely have enough female contracters here to constitute even a small straight flock, so heavily male-skewed is the immigrant population. So I guess, no flocking lesbians. Oh well, I tried.

Just for the (football) record...

Spain won - Holland didnae! This is a note to me, to remind me of sitting here, in Bin Mahmoud, Doha, watching a World Cup final where the better team triumphed over a cynical, aggressive opposition who disgraced the name of sportsmanship. The Dutch came out to disrupt quality football (which they could never match) and almost succeeded. Knowing that the referee would not wish to send off a player in a World Cup final, they pushed the boundaries of hardness far beyond the norms of decency. Someone whose name I refuse to acknowledge planted his studs in the chest of an opponent in an assault that would attract a Grievous Bodily Harm charge anywhere in Civvy Street.
Regular readers here know my views on football as a flawed game in need of emergency maintenance. Tonight, the better team won. But does anyone think this game is in a healthy state?

The picture, obviously, has nothing to do with the final, but neither does the Paranormal have pretensions as an accurate football blog.

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