Waiter, there's a Mouse in my System

a five-star mouse
Idling away an hour or so this afternoon, waiting in a bar for someone who had already left, I spotted a mouse running around on the cables at the back of the sound system. S/he (for who am I to presume to sex a mouse on sight?) seemed quite proprietorial towards the rig, darting in and out of sight among the various modules but never venturing down to the floor and the wider World beyond.
I drew the barman's attention to his non-paying lodger and in so doing triggered a performance of extrication and capture that involved no fewer than three deputy managers, two waitresses, the barman himself, a box of tissues, a hand towel and a long spoon. Performance over and calm restored, I was on the point of asking for my bill when I was approached by yet another deputy manager, this one a supermodel, or could have been, with a first class honours degree in Charm. She apologised profusely for the 'unfortunate event', expressed the hope that it hadn't spoiled my experience, and insisted that my drinks were complimentary. Out of respect for this wholly unnecessary gesture, I'll refrain from publishing the name of the hotel. I just hope they set the mouse free outside, but have my doubts.

Mr Mustard in the Living Room with the Lead Pipe

Paraglider's 60th birthday celebration was nothing if not an international affair. The party of sixteen included representatives from: China (North and South), Singapore, Cyprus, UK (Scotland and England), Lebanon, USA, Canada and Japan. The restaurant (Oasis Beach Club) was Italian and Chinese, the music was courtesy of a Filipino duo and most of the remaining clientèle were local Qataris in national dress.
For reasons I can't quite remember, it became necessary at one stage to establish the correct Japanese rendering of the Cluedo phrase: Mr. Mustard, in the Living Room, with the Lead Pipe. You may want to keep this handy, for the next time you find yourself playing board games in Tokyo. It goes like this, complete with phonetic transcription:

Boat Roundabout sans Boat

the boat, no more
Another of Doha's landmarks has disappeared, possibly temporarily but time will tell. This excavation site is Boat Roundabout which, as you can see, has been levelled to the ground and the boat (an old Dhow) removed.
Another missing landmark is the old red fire engine (built on a bull-nosed Mercedes truck chassis). For years it sat outside the Civil Defence building by Defence Roundabout. This week I was disappointed to find an empty plinth where the fire engine had been. I hope it turns up again as I was planning to photograph it to add to my bull-nosed Mercedes collection. Doha life engenders odd hobbies like that!

If you knows of a better 'ole. . .

"Well, If you knows of a better 'ole, go to it"
What you do, of course, is scramble over the mound of rubble, picking your precarious way until you can go no further, leap across the trench grabbing the red boom to stop yourself slipping back and into the hole, then squeeze out between the red and the white booms to the relative safety of the road beyond. You do this on average three times a day if you're a Doha walker. You do it in Musheireb, in Muntazah, in Mansoura. You do it because the alternative is usually to retrace your steps for up to a hundred metres and walk round the outside of the barriers, cheek by jowl with the crazy traffic. You do it because, second only to demolition, Qatar's national pastime is digging up the roads and pavements. And unlike most other cities, in Doha they generally make no provision for alternative walkways, probably because if you are insignificant enough not to be driving a Land Cruiser you don't really merit 'normal' consideration.

My caption, "Well, If you knows of a better 'ole, go to it" in case you were wondering, was first used by the World War One cartoonist Captain Bruce Bairnsfather. If you've not come across his work, check it out. Nearly a hundred years on, we're still blowing ourselves to bits. Only the weapons change. The inhumanity is constant.

You too can have a Smile like Mine

There's a delightful innocence in unsophisticated advertising that takes you right back to the fifties. The little snippets from domestic bliss: the smiling wife, the preening husband. "It's like a new suit, Jack, thanks to Castlebank Dry Cleaners". Such happy tableaux have long disappeared from Western advertising, but are alive and well in the Middle East.
This cheery couple, let's call them Khalid and Noorh, are in every way the perfect role models. Khalid is traditionally attired and, though he sports the beard and moustache, he is extremely well groomed. Nothing swarthy here. And Noorh, though modestly robed in black with her hair completely covered, is a modern young woman, confident to show her face, at least while in her husband's company. And of course, both have perfect teeth, almost too perfect, which is only to be expected of patrons of Alkharashy Dental Center. Inevitably, they have two children, one boy, one girl, with whom they share and perpetuate their wholesome delight in good dental hygiene.

Welcome to InterNations

If you've arrived here from InterNations - Welcome to PARAPLEXED, formerly The Paranormal Hotel and originally Helga's Chickens, arguably the longest-titled blog in the Middle East. It's always nice to be recognised so I'm grateful to InterNations for featuring my humble efforts here. (In fact, it is the second time we've been 'discovered', the first being by The Chimaera, a bona fide literary e-zine). But that was a long time ago, in the days of Helga's Chickens.

So, thank you for visiting. What will you find here? Nothing too serious, not a lot of politics, for example, but plenty of social commentary, mostly from street level. I'm a walker. I like the detail of city life, the things that don't make it into the papers, the stuff you don't see from a car window: the quirky shop signs and odd juxtapositions, the weird rules and regulations, the characters and eccentricities that constitute local colour and flavour, the human vibrancy that can't be destroyed by mere demolition and reconstruction (Qatar's national sport).

And please feel free to comment on anything that takes your fancy. I like comments, provided they don't try to sell me time-shares in Ibiza...

Arithmetic is Alive and Well in Doha

Doha Intercontinental Hotel Oktoberfest tickets cost QAR 170 each. I was buying two, from hotel reception, for which I handed over QAR 350, not having the exact change. The receptionist, as upright and smart-suited a young man as one would expect in a five-star establishment, placed my money and tickets carefully out of reach below the counter and proceeded to walk the considerable length of reception to borrow a calculator from the cashier. On returning, he entered the following calculation: 170 x 2 = 340. So far, so good. He then took a notepad and pen and wrote down the number 340. Next, he cleared the calculator display and performed a new calculation, 350 - 340 = 10. Returning to his note pad, he wrote the number 10. He looked up at last and explained to me: "You have purchased two tickets at 170 each. That totals 340. You have given me 350, so your change will be 10 Riyals. Please step this way to the Cashier desk to complete the transaction".
And when the cashier's electronic till reconfirmed the complicated figures, the upright, smart-suited young man's face palpably shone with pride and no little relief.

Qatar - 5% Withholding Tax

As I am still based in Dubai while servicing a company contract in Qatar, I invoice monthly from Dubai. With effect from August 1st, the client has started to withhold 5% of the invoiced amount, apparently in line with a new Qatari law. It appears that all expats working in Qatar without Qatari residency are to be taxed at 5%, from now on. Qatar introduced this before, a couple of years ago, and withdrew it when all the major international companies simply put their rates up to compensate, and by more than the 5%. It's not obvious why Qatar thinks it will be any different this time around, but time will tell. Anyone else being affected by this?

Working in the Fresh Air

finishing the roof
finishing the roof - muntazah, doha
Spare a thought for these guys. I'm on a level with them, literally, because my Muntazah apartment is on the seventh floor. Their building is also seven storeys. The main difference is, mine is finished, with roof, windows and air conditioning. Theirs is still an empty shell: columns, slabs and block-work. And the half finished 'feature' on top which the eight of them are working to complete, probably by yesterday.

Another difference is: I can afford to live in mine; they can only work on theirs, outdoors, in searing heat and sandstorms (yes, that's why the sky is pink) until the end of the shift. Then it's the clapped out American school bus, back to the labour camp.

Once upon a time, the British Labour Party Constitution aspired, in Clause Four:
"To secure for the workers by hand or by brain the full fruits of their industry and the most equitable distribution thereof that may be possible upon the basis of the common ownership of the means of production, distribution and exchange, and the best obtainable system of popular administration and control of each industry or service".

But Tony kicked that into touch, preferring something not far removed from:
The rich man in his castle
The poor man at his gate
God made them, high or lowly
And ordered their estate.

But as this isn't a political blog, I'll shut up. Pretty photo Nice back light.

Just a Wall in Muntazah

I've no idea why this odd piece of wall painting is where it is, tucked away in the middle of Muntazah amid small local shops and old apartment blocks.

What you're seeing is a flat rendered wall. The LG split unit is real and is sitting on the real pavement, flat against the wall. Everything else is painted. There's no step, no pillar and certainly no coffee pot.

There's also no signature. I wonder if it might have been painted by Muriel Terzano Lamy? The style and quirkiness is not dissimilar. I suppose we'll never know,

Soon, of course, there will be no wall either as everything old and lo-rise will inevitably be swept away, for the bright new city of 2022.

Doha Ramada is History

Anyone planning to book into Doha Ramada or Ramada Plaza might find it a bit tricky. They are no more, since Sunday 1st July. Their disappearance from the scene was less dramatic than the blowing up of Rydges. In fact they were simply bought out and rebranded by Radisson Blu. Hardly anything has changed. The courtesy matchboxes on the bar no longer carry the Ramada logo, nor do the staff's name badges. And that's about it, apart from an abortive attempt to light up the gold facade of the building with blue light. Not possible, chaps; blue and gold makes brown.
But, given that the Sofitel changed its name to Mercure seven or eight years ago without anyone noticing (least of all the taxi drivers who still meet requests for the Mercure with blank looks), what are the chances of the 'Ramada' word dropping forever out of the Doha lexicon? Are we all supposed to to start talking about Radisson Junction? Unlikely.
All in all, it looks like business as usual.

Qatar's Kings, Past and Present

Paraglider proudly presents a veritable Royal Pageant from the streets of Doha. Sadly, the first two of these Kings are no longer with us, having met their demise in the Musheireb Clearances. The King of Shoes suffered the same fate, without even a photograph to preserve the memory.
king of fashion - who needs versace?

note the inverted i - true sophistication

wait a sec, who's that in the window?

rather a modest kingly palace, on the whole

who knew that frames were subjects?

and shouldn't this be a prince?

If you know of any I've missed, please let me know and I'll add them to the collection. I've a vague recollection of a King of Chicken restaurant, but its location escapes me.

From Saudi, with Love

You've got to hand it to the Saudis. OK, they don't get everything right. They're fond of the occasional public execution or amputation. There have been reported instances of death by stoning. Not so long ago, they sent troops into Bahrain to support the regime against its own people. Then of course there's the ongoing oppression of women and the persecution of all manner of minorities.

But hey, they make a great drain cover. A country that does that can't be all bad. Maybe they just need more time. . .

Alan A and the SoundSations at Doha Krossroads

In an earlier post I mentioned that Alan A and at least some of his band had moved from Dubai to Qatar following the closure of the Rattlesnake and were soon to take up a residency in a new Doha venue. The venue in question, as I found out last night, is the Krossroads club in the Horizon Manor hotel. Alan has brought the entire SoundSations band with him. The club and especially the stage is really not big enough for seven musicians (drums, bass, keyboard, guitar, Alan and two girl singers) but this is apparently an interim measure as the hotel is creating a much bigger nightspot on the 14th floor. In spite of the cramped conditions, the guys delivered their usual high standard through four sets (of which I heard two). Certainly they have raised the bar well beyond the reach of any band I've seen in Doha since Boggs and the girls left three years ago. Krossroads is a members' club, but as a year's membership costs all of thirty riyals this is no major barrier to a good night out. Give it a go?

Don't consider the environment - Print the receipt!

Yesterday, I gave a total stranger 500 Riyals. It was an accident of course. I was trying to send 500 Riyals from my credit card to my mobile phone, using a Qtel ATM. Perhaps it was too early in the morning, but I made a single digit error in entering my mobile number. Worse, I 'considered the environment' as requested on screen and opted not to print a record of the transaction. Big mistake. Half an hour later, when my credit balance was still in single figures, the truth began to dawn on me.
Fortunately, I was fairly sure I knew what wrong number I'd credited. It hadn't been a finger slip; I'd deliberately entered and visually checked a number that I often think is mine, which ends in a 2 instead of a 7. I misremembered it that way years ago, and can't get it out of my head.
So, I texted the right wrong number and asked him/her to check if s/he had a richer phone than expected. No answer. I called the number. Still no answer. I resigned myself to my loss and sent myself another 500, this time to the correct number. And I took a receipt!
This morning, I received a surprise call, from my 'wrong' number. The caller confirmed he'd received an unexpected credit at the correct time and reassured me that he would return it. But, to protect himself, probably in case I was some kind of scam merchant, he wants to see the unprinted transaction receipt first. Tricky. He's agreed to settle for a glimpse of my online credit card statement instead. That will take a couple of days to register, after which, with luck, he'll transfer back the balance, giving me an unprecedented 1,000 Riyals total credit. That should keep me talking for a while.

Postscript: He was good as his word and duly refunded my 500 riyals on a sighting of a screen grab of my credit card statement (with sensitive numbers obscured, of course).

From Rattlesnake to Doha, Alan A.

A rare spot of good news for live music fans in Doha: following the closure of Dubai Metropolitan Hotel and the Rattlesnake, Alan A, resident lead singer there for ten years, is taking up a residency in Doha, in a new venue. I bumped into him a few nights ago in Ramada with a couple of his girl singers. We didn't have much of a chance to talk, so I'm not sure if he's bringing the full four-piece band or if it will just be himself and the girls with midi backing from a laptop. We can live in hope, but even if it is only the latter, at least we can be sure of some quality performances from someone who really knows how to work an audience (and can sing well into the bargain). I think he'll be starting in about a week from now, in the Horizon, but that's subject to confirmation when I find out for sure. Watch this space...

Tiger Balm and Leffe Blonde

I blame the cockroach for the specific incident, though the deeper blame lies with the antisocial 'neighbour' whose predilection for leaving rubbish in the shared landing instead of taking it straight outside is the ultimate cause of the cockroach invasion. Friday morning, I'd rigorously sprayed Pif-Paf in all the corners, nooks and crannies and was just settling down to watch the news, when, bold as you please, a half-inch roach appeared from nowhere and paraded jauntily across the middle of the lounge. I wasn't quick enough off my mark, so he dodged my attack and scuttled behind the Stupidly Heavy Sideboard, unscathed, or so he thought. No doubt I should have lifted the Stupidly Heavy Terrapin Tank off the top of the S.H.S. instead of trying to heave the whole lot away from the wall in one go, but I didn't want to lose the element of surprise. Anyway, in a single glorious second, S.H.S. moved, cockroach was duly stamped  and something went click in my lower back.
One can't let a crocked back disturb one's routine, though it will certainly cramp one's style. So it was that walking awkwardly home from Ramada on Friday night, protecting my back, the normally negotiable smashed-up gutter was sufficient to cause a second accident in the form of a badly sprained ankle which, by Saturday morning resembled an incandescent tennis ball just below the skin.
Nor can one let accumulated injuries ruin one's day, though my regular Saturday afternoon walk was out of the question. What to do? A short limp to the local corner shop to buy five riyals worth of Tiger Balm, followed by a taxi ride to the Inter-Continental. Five minutes in the privacy of a cubicle, to massage Tiger Balm into the flaming tennis ball and the base of the spine, then straight to the Belgian Café to further treat the inner man with a few pints of Leffe Blonde, Belgium's finest offering, and a plate of sausages with mustard.
The miraculous Tiger Balm reduced the tennis ball to a golf ball within the hour and greatly relieved the lower back, though at the expense of raising its local temperature to a dull red heat. After a while, the pungency of its essential oils wears off, or more likely the wearer ceases to notice it. We are change detectors, after all. It could have been coincidence that all the seats around me remained vacant. Be that as it may, the further miracle of Leffe Blonde came in the form of a very good night's sleep.
Today, I'm almost human again.

Dr Susan, hero of the hour!

I like the way dentists work here. Back home, you have to sign up with a dental practice (if you can find one) and subject yourself to their regime of six-monthly check-ups and subsequent 'mandatory' and expensive treatments. Somehow, they've managed to take control of what should be a personal choice. Because if you don't fall in line, you'll find yourself struck off from the panel, deregistered, and entirely on your own if something does go wrong.

Here, it's more akin to having a haircut. There are proper dental hospitals of course, if you need serious work done, but for routine, lo-tech intervention, there are lots of small private dental clinics, usually on the first floor above a shop, staffed by one dentist and a dental nurse who doubles as receptionist and cleaner. Or maybe it's the other way round.
Last night, mine was called Dr Susan BDS, from India, carefully selected from the competition by her proximity to Sofitel. (The second closest, of course; you have to do things properly). No need for an appointment, just show some ID and take a seat in the waiting room. When called through, Dr Susan pointed me at the chair and said, 'What do you want done?' I said 'This one, very loose, some pain, has to come out'. And that's exactly what she did. no check-up, scaling, polishing, faffing about. Just a surface anesthetic that smelt like olbas oil, followed by a local injection then a quick pliers job. All over in five minutes.

You pay cash on the way out. There has to be a table of charges displayed in reception, so you can shop around for the best price, if so inclined. Extraction: 150 Riyals, it said. But the nurse only asked me for 100. Being an honest soul, I asked, 'Should it not be 150?' 'No' she said, 'It was already very loose!' I'd thought maybe it was happy hour.

FlyDubai, eventually. . .

Paraglider's weekend break in Dubai was shortened for him by FlyDubai on Friday. Turning up in good time on Friday morning, he found the 08:55 flight to Dubai was cancelled. The earlier 08:20 flight was still open but was flagged as 'delayed'. 08:55 passengers were first herded to a transfer desk then shooed back to the gate, where each was issued a new boarding pass, merging their flight with the delayed 08:20. We were ushered through to the gate where nothing happened for half an hour or so. Then came an unbelievable story about runway maintenance and a new departure time of 11:30. We were then ordered back out of the gate as no flight was imminent. Odd that runway maintenance should only delay FlyDubai's flights while Qatar Air and Emirates were landing and taking off like there was no tomorrow. Odder still that the story was changed at around 10:15 to an even less likely tale of fog in Dubai. Paraglider was, of course too charitable to entertain the notion that FlyDubai didn't want to fly three half empty planes, preferring to merge three flights into one full one. Because that would imply a calculated disregard for customer service and a disproportionate focus on the bottom line. They might at least have offered us lunch, or even a biscuit.

Bosherston Lily Ponds - no, really...

By way of complete contrast from Doha and the desert, here is a pic of the seven arch bridge that crosses Bosherston Lily Ponds, Monmouthshire, South Wales. I had occasion to be there for two days hill and cliff-top walking earlier this month, in an all too short 'home' visit in which I never actually made it home. Quite a peaceful scene, I think; it certainly knocks spots of the Jaidah Flyover.

The Bar at City Centre

When a new bar opens in Doha it's always a noteworthy event because we're still hardly spoiled for choice. The Marriott Courtyard hotel with its Champions sports bar isn't exactly new; it probably opened about six months ago. But lots of people still haven't cottoned on to its most appealing feature: it connects directly with City Centre shopping mall, without having to step outside. That's almost a bar in a mall, a first for Doha.
And it's not a bad bar. I'm not a sports bar fan, for which read: I don't like football. But the place is fresh and clean, if a bit garish, and the happy hour prices good (five till seven). The staff are friendly and the choice and quality of bar food is above average. Best of all, it's an escape from wall to wall overpriced 'designer' tat.
To find this haven, walk to the food court area and follow the overhead signs to 'Courtyard'. No of course there are no signs to 'Bar'. This is Doha, remember?

Qatar's Rough Beaches

It can be a bit of a sweat to reach them, but Qatar does have quite a few wholly undeveloped and barely frequented beaches. To get to this one, for example, you drive up the North Road until bored stiff with the monotony of it, then turn right, proceed along a track for a while, then along no track for a while longer, abandon the car before getting stuck in sand, climb to the top of the coastal ridge and down the other side to the sea.
Once there, you have to make your own judgement about the safety of swimming in petrochemically polluted brine. Personally, I have no qualms though I try not to drink too much of it. The more immediate danger comes in the form of jellyfish (which can be harvested using a hijacked toy wheelbarrow, taken home, flash cooked, sliced thinly and served in a salad with fresh chillies) or worse, stepping on one of these highly poisonous black spiny things that can cause your whole leg to swell up like a watermelon.
That's no fun at all.

Drinking, Dreaming, Other Men Working

One of life's greatest pleasures is taking time out to sit, to contemplate, to enjoy a quiet beer, and most of all, to watch other folk working. You deserve it. I deserve it, and just occasionally, I'll take the opportunity. Join me. Pull up a bar stool, here, by the window. This bar is old enough to have seen the road outside made and remade maybe ten times. It's seen its share of picks and shovels, smoking tar boilers, fierce hissing steam-rollers. Gangs of Irish navvies in cloth caps and dungarees, filling and heaving buckets, tamping the hot tar or fetching galvanised watering cans brimming with boiling pitch, raking mounds of gravel in front of the roller, and all the time sucking on the stub of a Woodbine.

But not today. Half a dozen professionals, three or four heavy machines and the new road's being extruded, foot by foot, right in front of our Victorian sash window. The guys don't even break sweat. This is progress. Soul-less, unromantic, if you like, but so much more efficient. And impressive. I want a shot on that machine! One thing that hasn't changed - the smell of hot tar. Forty-nine years ago, my friend Roddy said it was the best smell in the world. Rising to the challenge, I said toasted cheese was better, but deep down I knew he was right, and so did he. Now, with no higher thought for the afternoon than a couple of beers and the odd reminiscence, I close my eyes and drift away...

Joe wants to help. The Iraqi widow (we never learned her name) is distraught, wanting to return to a time long gone. A time when she baked fish on a charcoal fire, for her husband and children, for her old father. To look back on loss - a loss so cruel that it eclipses from her view the natural world - this is her burden. It wholly sets her apart from the company. But Joe once read something, somewhere, if he can only find it. He pores over page after page, vainly believing that, in this strange foreign book, there are words of comfort enough, even for this lost soul.

The heavy roller makes the room vibrate. Two glasses on the gantry, just touching each other, ring together like a distant supper bell. With no customers to serve, Fiona sets to polishing the old brass beer handles causing a faint but sharp smell of ammonia to clash with the warm tar aroma. But she's a young lass yet, and doesn't have to understand.

Joe finds his quotation and finds it lacking. Nothing, not even the smell of hot tar, can be resurrected with advantage from a happy childhood. Something is always lost in the reawakening.

Two hours, three beers, and it is done. Outside, we have a new road, if not a new direction. But only for the traffic. For walkers, nothing changes. And that is how it has always been. For those who consume and destroy, there are teams in the wings to repair and replace. For those who walk naturally, there are only dreams. Better, there are dreams. It's a good life, when no-one bombs your village.

You can't park here, at all, at all...

I really don't wander round Doha looking for weird signs, but they do seem to lie in wait for me more and more, recently. This one seems to be telling me that I'm not allowed to park here if I'm not allowed to park here. I think I could have worked that out for myself. And as for those who are allowed, let's hope they know who they are because there's nothing here to tell them. Another of Doha's little mysteries, I suppose.

A space too many

Spacemaker is as Spacemaker does. They make spaces. Shame about the space they've made here though, between the D and the C. I wonder if they've chosen the couch yet?

Doha's Finest Building?

top left, sofitel; bottom right, the hidden gem
Tucked away in Doha's central slum quarter is my favourite building in Qatar. To get there, from Grand Mercure né Sofitel (that's it top left with the blue swimming pool) you can either walk down to Boat Roundabout and take a right, or, you can take a right stepping out of Sofitel then left at Broken Corner, just before the B Ring. Either way, you're aiming for a very small building near the bottom right corner of the Google Earth view. Alternatively, you can plunge straight into the maze of slums and try to negotiate a South-Easterly zig-zag through it. This can be quite an adventure with no guarantee of success.
the gem, from above
You'll end up somewhere but not necessarily anywhere near the goal which is this strange double-D shaped building, hidden from almost everywhere by newer. higher and uglier neighbours. You'll also breathe in a lot of sewer gas and fibrous dust from the many upholstery workshops that somehow eke out a living here, against all the odds. All in all, the most reliable route is via Boat Roundabout. Look up every side street and alleyway on your right, until you see this:
The building shows little sign of occupancy and is probably deserted. It is either two modest villas or one large one, accessed by a central stair. It seems to be on two levels with highly ornate wrap-around balconies at both ends and on both levels. It is no longer possible to walk around it because of the press of later buildings on three sides. In time, probably within a year, the whole area will be fenced off and razed to the ground, like the rest of Musheireb and National.
But in its day, it must have been the finest building in central Doha. Quite simply, there is nothing else remotely like it. Maybe someone knows its history. Maybe someone still cares. At one time, it would have stood alone, home to a successful merchant family perhaps, or a minor Royal, resplendent in its basket-weave plasterwork and bas-relief crests. On borrowed time now, these few photographs may prove its only memorial. Shame.

The Triffid and the Inland Sea

be very afraid
As amateur triffids go, this chap's pretty convincing. He's already ripped the AC units from the house behind and now seems poised to start on the car. But probably not today, as it's the Prophet's birthday, marked by the 24 hour closure of all the bars in Doha. Which reminds me- on no account keep your baking yeast anywhere near your Rauch grape juice, OK? It might cause it to go off.

As promised, I did check to see if the candelabra was still perched on the wall. It wasn't. The wall was gone too. Someone was asking me about surrealism the other day. I suggested he walk the old back streets of Doha, but soon, because there's less of it left standing every day.

And speaking of urban wadis, we have a good one just around the corner from the triffid. For most of the year it's dry but every few months it floods with raw sewage, to the delight of the local shopkeepers. I'm afraid the 'contre jour' picture is the best I can offer. To get the light behind me, I'd have had to wade to the other side. Some things are beyond the call of duty, even for the sake of the Paraplexed blog.
the inland sea, courtesy of doha sewerage maintenance

Still Life with Wheelbarrow, Truck and Candelabra

I have no idea what the candelabra was doing there, perched on a half demolished wall in Muntazah, and judging from its very French shrugging posture, it probably didn't know either. Even within the category of 'things you'd miss if you were driving a car', this little tableau was unexpected, to say the least.

If you have lost a candelabra and suspect this might be it, let me know and I'll take the same walk next weekend. If it's still there, I'll retrieve it for you.

Same goes for the wheelbarrow.

Questioning the Beggar and Raising the Dead

Such is the deplorable degradation of modern-day English that many of us have forgotten all but the simplest formulae for effective communication. Indeed, it has become apparent that few, if any, of the under-93's have enough basic linguistic acumen even to question the beggar correctly.
spare some change?

Take the miserable specimen on the right, a typical sample of modern London's street furniture. Instead of asking pointless closed questions like- are you really hungry? which will inevitably be answered in the affirmative, better by far is to challenge with an open question- if you're so hungry, how come you're fat? or, if you have an eye for detail- if you're on the streets, why are your boots not worn? That's the way we used to do it, when Shakespeare was a boy and language was language.
you poor old sod, you see it's only me

Of course, not all beggars should be questioned in the same way. Should you be fortunate enough to encounter Aqualung himself, the only correct question is- Do you still remember December's foggy freeze when the ice that clings onto your beard was screaming agony? Such a question, I submit, transcends beggary and enters the realm of empathy, seeing the human being through the rags and dirt. That's how to question the deserving beggar and it certainly did all right for Ian Anderson. But reserve such questions for the real article, not the cadgers.

Aqualung is arguably the greatest beggar of modern times, having ousted Gandhi from the number one slot. But we shouldn't knock Gandhi's achievement. He it was, and he alone, who reopened the whole beggary competition which for two thousand years had been deemed closed. Lazarus, you see, had long been considered the beggar supreme. Something similar happened in 1930's body-building with Charles Atlas of the scintillating phrase- you too can have a body like mine. Bollox you can!
a body like mine

The trouble with Lazarus is that there is always some confusion surrounding him. It's not hard really, but there were two of them. Lazarus the beggar died (unquestioned) and somehow alighted on Abraham's bosom which must have been of a size with Atlas's. His beggee (a beggar needs a beggee, ok?) was the rich man, Dives (with two syllables) who went straight to hell for not correctly questioning his personal beggar. And quite right too - what an opportunity missed, your own private beggar on the doorstep.

But the other Lazarus was the friend of Jesus, whom He managed to raise from the dead. Now, I'm not going to tell you how to do this. I think it's probably quite tricky. But you know, if you're setting off to see one of your mates who's sick, and if he pops his clogs before you arrive, well, just give it a go. Why not? Take his hand and ask him to get up and walk. After all, what have you got to lose? The guy's dead!

The Joys of Heathrow Terminal 5 Departures

Less than halfway through this post, if you read that far, you'll realise that it isn't yet another sarcastic diatribe against the Heathrow experience. Quite the opposite, in fact. I downright like the place. I fly out of LHR T5 three times a year and haven't yet had a bad one. The glass-doored lifts from the Heathrow Express railway concourse to the departure lounge are your first sign of being in a hi-tec building. The massive steel-work and the vast open areas they support are just plain impressive by any standards.
Check-in couldn't be quicker, with plenty of self-service 'daleks' standing by to print your boarding pass. The only delay is the ensuing security check, but even that passes fairly quickly thanks to pretty adequate parallel processing.
Then you have the departure lounge itself, certainly the quietest I've experienced, thanks to the decision to restrict tannoy announcements to emergencies only. It's amazing how much that single innovation lifts the whole ambiance well above the stress threshold. I always make a point of being early. Playing brinkmanship with aeroplanes has always seemed a mug's game to me. So, once through security, more often that not I'll have a good two hours to enjoy the terminal. What's to enjoy? As a shopping precinct, T5 is well above average. Spacious, well lit, good variety, I've never had any problem finding suitable last minute purchases (which I should have bought over the previous week or two at home, of course).
Shopping over, it always seems to be breakfast time, and breakfast clearly has to be a very non-Qatari bacon and tomato sandwich and a large glass of wine (or two) in Huxley's. Wine, because loading up on beer before a long haul flight has obvious drawbacks. Alcoholic breakfasts are not my habit, by the way, but somehow feel perfectly natural before flying.
To further enhance the mood, the walk from Huxley's to the gate takes in two upmarket liquor stores where they habitually offer small tasters to tempt buyers. This time it was JW Black Label (pretty standard) and a MacCallan's 12 year-old. Very pleasant, though I actually prefer their cheaper 10.

And that's Heathrow T5. (But I hate T2, T4, Charles de Gaule, Schipol . . .)

Cartoon Budgies, Posterity, Calvin and Holy Willie

You see, there's nothing in the name 'Paraplexed' that specifically precludes featuring a 42 year-old cartoon of an irate fat budgie. I know it is 42 years old because, on the reverse side, in pencil, one can still read the deathless verse:

This budgie was drawn by me
In nineteen seven-tee

where the 'me' in question was not me, but my brother, who was 21 at the time and just embarking on a teaching career from which he has recently retired. Strange that a throwaway sketch produced merely to lighten a moment should have survived so long (in the bottom of the drawer I was tidying this afternoon) only to be replicated, albeit briefly, on several thousand computer monitors across the world. Stranger still that it might now endure in file format for the remaining duration of human civilisation.
And strangely unfair that this nameless budgie should be singled out for immortality ahead of the hundreds or even thousands of blackboard chalk drawings my brother produced almost daily, to illustrate a lesson, only to rub them out at the bell to make space for the next. Maybe there's something in Calvinistic predestination after all:

"What was I, or my generation,
That I should get such exaltation?
I, wha deserv'd most just damnation,
     For broken laws
Sax thousand years ere my creation,
     Thro' Adam's cause!"

Feet don't travel well

At least, walkers' feet don't. For the most part, this comes down to footwear. In desert climes, sandals are the obvious choice for daytime walking. (They're fine for night walks too, except that they're banned from most bars, limiting your choice of destinations). You may well think that acclimatising your feet to five or ten mile desert hikes would prepare them for anything. You'd be wrong though. The heels and soles may indeed become as tough as shoeleather, but the tops of the toes, the instep, the nameless inner and outer 'flanks' and the back heel, which, sandalled, touch nothing but fresh air and dust, remain as soft as a soft thing of your choice preferably not involving babies. This wouldn't matter if you never ventured to the frozen north and the lands of proper shoes. That's when you are reminded that the only comfortable walking shoes are ones that you've lived in for weeks, ones that have exhausted their repertoire of nipping, pinching, chafing and crushing. The only alternative is to stick with the sandals and put up with the frostbite. On balance, it could be the right thing to do.

The light is flickering...

and I'm not happy about it. I could switch it off, but then I couldn't see the keyboard. I could switch it off and wait till morning, but that would be tempting providence. It would be presumptuous of me to assume the sun will rise; that much at least I learned from David Hume. It will, of course, but let's not push our luck. The light is flickering because the dimmer switch is on its way out. It is very disconcerting. It's also a bit odd, because downstairs the lights on the Christmas tree are flickering too, but they're supposed to, which somehow makes it less annoying. I could switch it off and go out, and if I were in Doha that's probably what I'd do. But somehow wandering out into a late English night in near freezing temperatures doesn't hold much appeal. No, on balance, it's turning into another Chivas Regal in front of the TV night. I am on holiday, after all. Cheers!

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