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WELCOME, FRIEND!

Welcome to PARAPLEXED, formerly 'The Paranormal Hotel' and originally 'Helga's Chickens'

Which is, of course, a ridiculous title for a blog. Some history, none of it important (but it is the week between Christmas and New Year): Helga's Chickens was my first Dubai blog. Well, more of a Bur Dubai blog and one that never ventured far beyond Mankhool Road. When all's said and done, chickens don't stray far from the nest, or the yard, more like (unless offered a lift in a quality motor). After a year which saw Helga's slow eclipse by the Moon of China (great stuff this Chivas!) the name changed to The Paranormal Hotel, at once less personal yet more geographically specific. Jings. There was a time (three years ago) when a second blog arose from Helga's ashes, this time called 'Paraplexed'. But it proved too difficult to keep two going in parallel, so Paraplexed was killed off within a year.
And now it's back. It was time for a change. I hope my regular followers will not desert the enterprise. Because whatever else it may be, it is not a sinking ship. It's barely a coracle. Happy New Year, everyone - especially you :)

Origami and the Shape of Things to come

A couple of nights ago, we ended up making paper artefacts from pages torn from a small notepad graciously provided, free of charge, by the Ramada Library bar staff. The word origami was being loosely tossed around, but it's doubtful if any of our offerings really merited the description. We had two sampans, one of which more resembled a soap dish, a suit of clothes (or was it a headless dwarf?), an inflated water bomb and a free-form rose (rolled, not folded, if you please). This was a truly international outburst of creativity, with contributions from Australia, China, Scotland, Wales and Tenerife. Apparently the Library is to close early in the New Year while they replace the opaque windows with a novel see-through variety, and overhaul the air handling system. I'll keep you posted. And not just the Library. The Paranormal Hotel blog will complete December in its present form but start the new year wholly transformed, into. . .

Doha Poster Campaign - Stop Junk Food

The poster campaign to promote healthy eating is a good idea. Some of the children's paintings are quite imaginative (assuming they were painted by children). The only problem is that where they are sited, only walkers are going to see them. Walkers are probably already fairly health conscious. It's the Land Cruiser class we should really be targeting.

Le Club at Doha Mercure né Sofitel

A couple of years ago, I used to feature this place regularly on the Paranormal blog. But that was when Boggs and the Girls were performing nightly. He was a fine guitarist by any standards and all of his girls could really sing, (especially Ringlets). Bands here are contracted for eleven months, from one Ramadan to the next. The band that took over from Boggs, after Ramadan 2010, could only be described as dismal so for a whole year I hardly ever ventured in. Following Ramadan 2011, there was something of a hiatus as this year's band had some visa problems and missed their first few weeks, but they are here now and getting into the swing of things. The news is good and bad though. Philip (who preceded Boggs) is the player, on guitar, keyboards and the inevitable midi laptop. He's good and also sings well. But (there had to be a but) he has come with two new girl singers who- let's give them the benefit of the doubt- haven't quite warmed up yet. In fact, they haven't quite located concert pitch, except occasionally, and that more by luck than technique. Still it's early days yet; they've got all year.

This was Musheireb

The last block is now demolished and the whole of Musheireb has gone. All the way from Boat Roundabout to Qtel Intersection runs a fence with nothing standing behind it. Nothing, that is, except the new construction work that will become Dohaland, in time. The video is taken from my usual vantage point, the roof of Sofitel Mercure.

The Robber Barons are Alive and Well

Last week I had occasion to transfer a sum of money to Malaysia from my bank in Dubai. Because of a small inaccuracy in the beneficiary's details, that transaction was cancelled and my account was re-credited, minus AED 1,500. That's more than 250 quid in real money! I've complained of course but so far had no response. I'd expect to be charged something for a failed transaction, maybe as much as 150 Dirhams, but 1,500? Surely that's taking the P by any standards? It's not as if an intrepid motorbike dispatch rider had carried my money all the way to Kuala Lumpur only to be foiled by a locked and bolted door with a painted sign- Gone Away. No, all that happened was a couple of numbers changed on a spreadsheet, an electronic handshake failed and the numbers were changed back. But not all the way back. I wish I could make money that easily.

Don't ask me where I am

I remember when people used to start a phone call with- hello, how are you? But that was in the days of static telephones. No-one ever thought of asking- where are you? They already knew; you were at home, answering the phone. And if you weren't, they just had to wait until you were. I liked that. I liked that when I was out, I was out of reach. To today's generation, this is incomprehensible. We are all expected to be instantly available. Of course I carry a mobile all the time and wouldn't want to turn the clock back. But I'd very much like to uninvent the question- where are you? It always sounds accusatory, as in- why aren't you somewhere else? But I think I've finally settled on the best response- I'm just by my phone. How about you?

Possible Peremptory Paranormal Privation?

A friend tells me by email that the Paranormal Jockey's Pub is temporarily(?) closed. He too is out of the country and has no more information available. As this is an Important Matter, I thought I'd conduct my own investigation, by texting a couple of numbers that happened to be lodged in my mobile. My first respondent, from China, seemed a little vague: hello darling i do not bar when time open i miss u x x. Nevertheless, it appears to confirm bar closure. My second, from Kyrgyzstan, was a little more informative: hi honey yes closed 1 week ago. too much problems with the girl and the drunk man bollox. I should point out that Carina frequently appends bollox as an expletive, so a comma after drunk man may be safely assumed.
So, it would appear that the Para is under some form of closure order, but of what duration, I still don't know. If anyone on the spot can fill in the details, please post a comment.

Postscript: The closure was short-lived. Normal service was restored after a week. I do wonder, however, if a certain silver haired Scottish gentleman who hasn't missed a day's Paranormal attendance in living memory will have been irrevocably traumatised by these tragic events.

The Pantheon has stood for Two Thousand Years

A few of us were talking the other night about Qatar's long term game plan and the conclusion we came to was that it's certainly not obvious what it is. The city reconstruction goes on apace and for the next few years we'll all be putting up with the dust and noise that goes with it. But thinking ahead to when it is finished, who is it all for? Who's going to live here? The 180 thousand locals don't need a city big enough for 2 million. And the huge numbers of ex-pats won't be hanging around when the work is finished. They're not trying for Dubai-style tourism (or if they are, they need to try harder!) and no amount of museums and sports events will bring people in sufficient numbers. One almost wonders if the game plan is simply permanent demolition and reconstruction on a twenty year cycle. If so, it could just about work but the prospect could hardly be more depressing. I wonder if anyone knows what's really going on? Either way, one real Pantheon knocks spots off twenty glass malls.

Stating the obvious...

Nothing profound here, just another in my occasional series of slightly odd signs. This one's OK, but hardly in the same league as 'Ice cube available', 'Decent Uniform Works', or the Never Titi Abayat. I know, simple things...
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Eid Mubarak

According to my moon phase gizmo we've made it to the end of Ramadan comparatively unscathed. Will the festive Land Cruiser traffic jam be held tonight or tomorrow? We'll see. Either way I'm sure it will live up to expectations. My local corner shop grocer will notice a drop in sales of apple juice and baking yeast. My place of work is closed all this week so I'll be working at home which is tolerable, quite pleasant even, for a few days. That's until the idea sets in that if home working in Qatar is practical, when all that's needed is an Internet connection, wouldn't remote working from, say, the Mull of Galloway or the Trossachs work just as well? Something to think about there. But not today. I've got work to do.
Eid Mubarak, everyone!

Come buy, come buy (it used to be free)

As part of Doha Museum area beautification project, the authorities erected several drinking fountains, in the shape of miniature fortresses, and several drinks vending machines, similarly disguised. In their wisdom, they have since removed the drinking fountains (that's what the twisted pipework on the plinth on the left used to be), leaving only the vending machines. Compared with the continuing atrocities in Bahrain (lest we forget) this is a minor matter, but it's an irritation none the less. Where before you used to be able to take a refreshing couple of swallows every few hundred yards, now it's 500 mls in a plastic bottle or nothing. The bottles are dispensed ice-cold, the last thing you should be drinking in really hot weather. That's if they are dispensed at all. In Dubai, where you have one dirham coins, these machines more or less work. In Doha, they take one riyal notes. Sometimes. Maybe one time in four. Because these are fickle contraptions. They sulk unless the note is brand new and presented exactly in the correct orientation. It helps if you go down on one knee and bow three times first. They positively brindle and snarl at anything remotely soiled, crumpled, softened or torn, in other words, at ninety percent of the single riyals in circulation.
Not an improvement.

Would you like some Music with your Girl?

The mid-Ramadan escape to Dubai went well, though I'd have to say that Doha's climate, this year at least, is far kinder. What's with this humidity game? Even the short walk from CityMax to the Paranormal was something of an ordeal. Once inside Jockey's though, all was good. Prices (of the beer!) have gone up a bit but, at 23 dirhams, are still two thirds of Doha's cheapest. Not a lot else was different. Nothing, in fact. Silent Ten Sports cricket in visual competition with silent Sky News. The girls in mutual competition for attention; the waitresses in mutual competition to avoid it. I seem to remember it's in the Imperial Suites where the bar waitresses are on commission, so they positively hover at your elbow when your glass is approaching the low tide mark. Unnerving, until you realise why they are doing it, when it becomes almost Pavlovian in its potential for harmless devilment.
But back to Jockey's. Its token gesture to Ramadan, apart from the mandatory reduced opening hours, is the total lack of music. There has to be some logic behind this, but it escapes me. If so inclined, you can have a drink, smoke, chat up and even take home a bar girl. You just can't do it to music in the holy month. Odd, that.

On pots and kettles

So Bahrain has withdrawn its ambassador from Syria in protest against heavy handed tactics by the regime in dealing with protesters.
What's Arabic for 'irony', please?

Iftar or lump it

Last night, I had some business to attend to near le Mercure, né & aka Sofitel. The kind of business that required queuing, or more accurately crowding and jostling, for nearly an hour, to ask a question at a desk, to which the answer was 'no'. Usual stuff. While crowding, I was consoling myself with the thought of the meal I was going to have later, in Sofitel's 'La Villa' Mediterranean restaurant. I know the menu well and was swithering between Couscous Royale and the grilled tuna steak. The tuna was winning through; I could almost smell the distant melted butter, lemon and parsley over the top of the manikchand gutka by my left shoulder.
For the past few years, I've treated myself once or twice each Ramadan to a good dinner in La Villa. OK, there's no wine in the Holy Month, but if you steer clear of beef and lamb (which demand a robust red and will take industrial action if denied) you can still enjoy a thoroughly good dinner with a bottle of San Pellegrino.
But it was not to be. This year, the Sofitel appears to have forgotten that it is an International Hotel. Even as I was summoning the lift, a Fresh-Faced Young Duty Manager informed me that the bar was closed for Ramadan. "I know. I'm going to La Villa for dinner". FFYDM went on to explain that this year La Villa was only open for Suhoor (around 3 a.m.) but I was welcome to take Iftar now in the Brasserie. Sorry, not in my game plan.
Just behind Sofitel. there's a cheap and cheerful Indian restaurant called Desman. One masala poppadom, one channa masala, two tandoori roti, one jug of filtered tap water, one fresh salad thrown in for free. Half an hour and 13 Riyals later, I'm well set up for the hot walk home. Your loss, Sofitel.

Poster change - just the start?

As predicted, two posts ago, the Drink water, Summer is coming posters have been taken down in time for Ramadan. They have been replaced with posters raising awareness of the famine in Somalia.
Ban Ki-moon apparently personally called Qatar's Prime Minister to ask for a substantial aid package for the affected region. I have every confidence that the result of his call will be something far more substantial than a poster campaign. Let's hope so.

What do Wendi Deng Murdoch and John Prescott have in common?

a) a fine sense of decorum and occasion
b) a calm, unflappable demeanour
c) a healthy spontaneity coupled with quick reactions
d) good hair and a nice slim figure
e) a sinister old twit for a husband

Wendi - your performance on the day was head and shoulders above that of your craven husband and his wee boy. Good on you, lass!

(John Prescott, Tony Blair's deputy PM, famously swung round and landed a creditable straight left on a protester who had flung an egg at him - end of history lesson for today!)

Drink Water - Summer is coming!

I think it was in May when QMedia put up these public service posters advising us to keep the body hydrated through the hot summer ahead. I like the message. It is not advertising; in fact the label has been removed from the bottle, making it completely generic. Also, the model is wearing her hair out and looks like a modern, sporty young woman. All in all, a positive contribution to public health and well-being and a good use of presumably unsold advertising space. Well done, QMedia!
But now I'm wondering if they will be replaced in the next couple of weeks with a Ramadan-friendly version? Perhaps a more demure lady, black veiled of course, and preferably accompanied by her husband. And the caption: Don't drink Water, Ramadan is coming! After all, spiritual health must take precedence over common sense. Here's to a cool refreshing August!

The Gorilla, by Jake Thackray, resuscitated by Paraglider

We can't all be too young to remember the late Jake Thackray.
Mr G, Paraglider's occasional partner in song, was good enough last night to make available his home studio, expertise and tolerance, for the hour or so that it took yours truly to knock out a few Jake revivals, before repairing to Sofitel, in which august establishment, in accordance with its prevailing regulations, the guitar remained firmly locked in its case. Changed days.

Urban Development, Doha Style

Sometimes I wonder who's reading this blog. Recently, I wrote that the black plastic sheeting had been ripped from the Muntazah Park railings, exposing the deplorable state of neglect within. Now, I'm pleased to report that the matter has been addressed. Not the park itself of course. Once a desert, always a desert. But the authorities have upgraded the black plastic sheeting with tasteful yellow webbing. The wind can blow through this without ripping it down. Great job guys! Pity we can see through it to the vandalism behind.
Speaking of urban development, the power has now been switched off to the National area of Musheireb, to encourage the remaining traders to make way for the bulldozers. Boogie on down any night this week and you'll see clearance sales of remaining stock on the pavements outside the pitch black shops. As the street lighting is also down, the shopkeepers have to display their wares by moonlight, but that's fine too as the second quarter is almost upon us.
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On stair wells, fires and mattresses

Now that it is seriously hot here and starting to get humid too, my regular regime of walking either round Muntazah Park or the length of the Corniche is becoming more of a chore than a pleasure. So I've substituted a daily stair climb instead. My apartment is 7th floor and exactly 135 steps up from the entry lobby. It's a good staircase too, wrapping round a square stair well, with no landings, so it's a continuous climb. The first few times, I found I had to slow down around the fifth floor, but now I'm able to keep my starting speed all the way to the top, so it must be doing me some good.
It did occur to me to wonder, though, how it is possible to get planning permission for a building with seven residential floors and only a single staircase. A half decent fire could easily take out the lifts and make the staircase inaccessible. I would have thought a second escape route would be mandatory in any modern building.
Especially a building with four mattresses strategically placed on the staircase between floors four and five, poised to catch fire on receipt of the first errant cigarette end dropped from the floors above. Only in Doha...
Note to self: ask landlord to have mattresses removed immediately.

Slowing down for Ramadan

Ramadan is already a palpable presence in the Doha ambiance. Three weeks away it may be, but instead of everyone pushing to achieve minor milestones before it arrives, the opposite seems to be the case. One can almost feel the brakes being applied, slowing everything down in order to effect a seamless transition from a sleepy July to an even sleepier August.
Ramadan always brings changes in its wake. Last year's Ramadan saw the disappearance from Ramada Library Bar of Muriel Terzano Lamy's enormous and quirky mural, and from Sofitel's Le Club of one of our very few decent live bands. So far this year, I've heard no rumours of impending changes. I expect none at Sofitel as this will probably be its last Ramadan before demolition. The change I would most like to see is a rescinding of the invasive policy of scanning IDs and/or passports as a condition of entry to a bar. The fact that no other country in the World requires this would seem to suggest that it is unnecessary.
Relaxing the licensing laws to reintroduce afternoon opening also wouldn't go amiss, especially on the long hot Fridays. For the authorities, such catering for diversity could be justified as practice for hosting Septic Splatter's 2022 beano.

All Change at Doha Ramada Orion Bar

Regulars at Doha Ramada's Orion bar will have noticed a changed climate over the past few weeks. First was the diminutive but smiley manageress Julietta's transfer to the Library bar (where she was an instant hit). Next was the changing of the band. The Sri Lankan trio's contract came to an end and they returned home, to be replaced by a Filipino outfit. Piano and two singers. The quality of piano playing is technically better, but less raunchy and less fun. But the singers are both balladeers and their choice of music is very restricted: wall to wall slow numbers, the more sentimental the better, it seems. The unsolved mystery is how they managed to find a Filipino singer who doesn't play guitar? Maybe he had a protected childhood. Of course, endless ballads and anthems are the stuff of Filipino parties and karaoke nights, so it's no surprise that the audience in the comfy chair end is becoming more Filipino by the night.
The other noticeable change is the growing number of Chinese girls decorating the bar area. Mercifully not in Sheraton numbers, but just enough to make the place look and feel less sterile. Whether or not this is a new leniency policy by management, I couldn't say, but anything that goes some way to redress the male/female imbalance has got to be welcomed. Maybe it's all part of the run up to the 2022 FIFA World Cup.

The Barber's Wife


Sometimes she leans on the windowsill, looking down into the alleyway. Probably she'd like a better view, ideally from a better house in another country. But that's why she's here, after all. And even if it never happens, at least she is with her husband, making both of them luckier than most of the workers who keep Qatar ticking over.
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I see trees of green...

If my recent posts have all had an aerial slant, it's only because after a few years at first floor level, my relocation to a seventh floor apartment has afforded me the chance to look down (only literally of course) on the old city.
I see trees of green... And I think to myself...


OK, roll over Satchmo. But about these trees: Trees in Doha fall into three categories: naturally established deciduous trees that have found a source of water, planted palms that require constant irrigation to survive, and dead palms where the irrigation has dried up.
Of the three classes, only the first, the natural deciduous trees are worth their salt. And these, for the most part, grow in the slum and semi-slum parts of the city. Such areas are well provided with cracked and leaking sewerage, dripping stand-pipes and outdoor ablution tanks that drain into the gutters. Though not conducive to human well-being, such conditions are ideal for germinating and nurturing the saplings grown from seeds dropped by birds. And of these saplings, though most don't survive their first summer, a few establish root systems deep enough to access the water table and are then made for life.
All of which makes me wonder why the civic planners insist on prettifying their new developments with eco-unfriendly palms and lawns, requiring endless watering, when the viable natural option of proper trees is clearly available. Another local mystery, I suppose.

Friday Prayers in Muntazah

Taken from my window this morning, Friday prayer time at the local Muntazah mosque attracts numbers far in excess of the capacity of the old building. My best estimate would be around five hundred worshipers, braving the sun on their backs and the hot tarmac under their prayer mats. I think I'm right in saying that praying in the street is discouraged in Dubai, except in certain designated areas, but it's still the norm in Doha, especially in the older quarters.
Mostly, the men turn up on foot, latecomers at a jog or flat out run. The few who drive just abandon their cars as close as they can get and finish the journey with their pedestrian neighbours. Through traffic just has to wait or find another route. When it's over, mats are rolled up and tucked under arms and the crowd disperses as quickly as it formed. But not in search of a cool beer.
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Cock-a-Doodle-Do(ha)

At first I thought I was dreaming. Not unreasonably, as it was still short of 5 a.m. and I was lying in bed at the time. But there was no denying it. I was awake. I had in fact just been wakened, by that most traditional of alarm clocks, a crowing rooster who was still giving it big licks somewhere outside my window. In the countryside this would be unremarkable but in the middle of Doha Muntazah? A quick walk to the window and I soon located the proud cockadoodler, six floors below, on the roof of one of the nearby old houses. I went back to bed, but needn't have bothered, as the call to prayer started up just five minutes later. Normally I sleep through it, but not if preheralded by a surprise cock crow. I suppose I'll get used to it. I'll have to, because it wasn't a one-off. The guy who lives in the old house has a hen-house on the roof and a whole brood of chickens. Almost rural, in an inner city sort of way.
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Bluetoothing in the Paranormal - What's the point?

Using Bluetooth, I'd been uploading a few pictures from mobile to laptop and had neglected to switch the service off, when done. Now, no Dubai trip is complete without a visit to the Paranormal, so Friday lunchtime finds me bar-stooled against the central pillar with a switched-on Bluetooth mobile in my pocket. Halfway through my first beer and third 'Whey you flom?' conversation, the mobile starts buzzing for attention. But not a call or sms. This is a Bluetooth approach: 'accept connection from Tiger?' On balance, no. I have it on good authority that tigers can be male or female and there are some avenues I don't need to explore. But my curiosity is aroused. A quick scan of active devices yields at least fifteen, of which twelve are clearly deliberate, meaning that the name is personalised from the default LG GX300 style (mine) to something user-friendly, like li-li, talkme, and even hello.
But why resort to Bluetoothing in Jockey's? In Doha, where clandestinity is clandestine and propriety is paramount (sorry, I'm in one of these moods) hook(er)ing up by Bluetooth in cafes, malls and even on the Corniche is commonplace. But in the Dubai Paranormal, where even the bluntest approach in un-eyelash-battable, why introduce an extra layer of complexity? Unless, of course, it is the modern equivalent of lighthousing.

The Transformation is Complete

It's official. The transformation is complete. Muntazah Park, Doha's erstwhile popular ladies' and children's park, is now a desert. The park, which has been 'closed for maintenance' for about five years is no longer behind wraps. The black plastic sheeting has been removed from the perimeter fence, most likely by the wind, to reveal the full extent of the maintenance programme, which apparently comprised turning off the irrigation and waiting. I hope no-one got paid for that. Now it seems inevitable that the bulldozers will move in soon. But what will it become? A half empty residential complex? A festive filling station with a drive-through pharmacy and a branch of Subway? Yet another shopping mall? What's the betting it won't be a theatre complex with maybe a bookshop and a cozy bar?
I could get annoyed about it. But I won't. Not while persecution continues apace in Bahrain.
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Muntazah beckons - one more week

Close readers of the Paranormal blog might recall that Paraglider moved, a little over a year ago, from Muntazah Park to Bin Mahmoud. The reasons for the move had little to do with the respective areas; Muntazah, in fact, has a lot more to offer in the way of small shops and supermarkets and even a little triangle of green open space. The move was occasioned then, not by environs but by plumbing, or more specifically sewerage. One can only exist so long in an apartment building where the ill-designed sewerage system regularly backs up. (Don't ask what that means- you'll know it if it ever happens to you). But enough of that. Bin Mahmoud also begun to pall after a while. My building there is small and quite old, and almost certainly earmarked for demolition, like its small, quite old neighbours, all of which have been razed to the ground in the past six months. Borrowed time aside, the constant noise and dust from the demolition, earth works and pile driving has become unbearable.
So, counting the days now, back to Muntazah next weekend, and looking forward to some nice seventh floor views over the Park. I'm reasonably confident too that the new building has a serviceable sewerage system. But even if it hasn't, seven floors is a long way for sewage to back up. I think I'm safe.

Kate & William's Honeymoon Venue, revealed!

There are two well established ways to avoid the glare of publicity. One is to go exclusive, and expensive, in some barely inhabited, luxuriously appointed, and thoroughly protected super-rich hideaway, possibly in the Caribbean. But this runs counter to the quiet and informal nature of this family wedding (it was not, after all, a State Occasion). The other approach is to go down market and anonymous, to blend in with the hoi polloi, in short, to slum it. So it came as no surprise to learn that Room 409 in the Paranormal has been booked out to a Mr & Mrs W Windsor for four weeks commencing April 30, 2011. It's a good choice. Security is tight- only hotel guests are allowed upstairs. Breakfasts are wholesome- masala paratha with pickles and cucumber raita. Kate can spend many happy hours browsing the shelves of Shoe City, while William picks up a few bargains across the road in Al Ain Computer Centre. And as long as they stick close together, they'll be left well alone in Jockeys, to enjoy Sky TV's endless re-runs of their big day.
Remember- when the story breaks, you heard it first here!

Popular Posts - a self-fulfilling prophecy

The trouble with putting a 'popular posts' gadget in a blog sidebar is that after a few weeks it stops changing and becomes static. This is because, by its very existence, it is promoting the posts that are already popular, making it ever less likely that any unfeatured items will ever break into the top ten.
For that reason, I've replaced it with a 'random posts' selection. So far so good. It means that on every visit there's something new on offer. Much more fun and far more in the spirit of the Paranormal. Just imagine if Jockey's girls were the same couple of dozen, day after day, forever. That would soon drive you to the Rattlesnake or Seaview.
I rest my case, again...

Paraglider rests his Case (in Central London)

Renaissance
In my usual fashion, I've left it to the last minute. The London train's leaving in half an hour and I haven't packed a bag. No problem. Clean shirt, socks, underwear, toothbrush. Chuck them in the bag and - whoops - what bag? The case I brought back from Qatar is far too big for an overnight. The one I need is three thousand miles away. Plastic bags look wrong in meetings. Inspiration! My old brief case, still tucked away under the stairs. Blow the dust off, bin the contents (anything I've not needed in eight years can't be important) replace with aforementioned essentials and set off at a moderate jog to the station.

Reminiscence
Off-peak train travel to London through the Cotswolds and the upper Thames Valley bears no resemblance to the frantic commuter scramble suffered by so many. A couple of hours of peace, comfort and gently rolling countryside, grey-white with frost, sometimes sparkling to a low slanted sunbeam. Time to relax, contemplate and remember.

Remember Ken? He was given to surprising gestures. The annual haircut and beard trim, the extended quotes from Edgar Allen Poe, the occasional three-day benders. And the gift of a brief case when you got that management job and everyone else was either muttering congratulations or sulking. This was no ordinary brief case. Sturdy, it was, with a marine plywood frame, best brass piano hinges, corner strengtheners and spring-loaded combination hasps. And all covered in thick black sofa-quality leatherene. It's possible that he made it himself; it's certain he didn't buy it in Evesham.

Reconnaissance
The next morning should have been easier. All that was needed was to get up, shower, dress (courtesy of the fresh contents of the brief case), have breakfast, check out of the London Cardiff Hotel (cheap & cheerful), cross the road to the Internet Cafe, log in, check Gmail for precise time and location of meeting. Some would say I should carry an organiser with such information, but where's the fun in that?

First snag - Internet Cafe is closed and from the large pile of mail under the letterbox all the signs are that it will not be opening today. Second snag - the handle falls off the brief case. Or, more accurately, vice versa, as I'm left with a handle in my hand and a heavy case on my foot. Knowing I'm never going to make-do-and-mend this monstrosity, I chuck the handle in the nearest bin, hoist the leatherene slab under an arm and set off for Paddington Tube Station.

Plan B, you see, is to get somewhere near the venue, which I know is somewhere near Tottenham Court Road, then, once there, find another Internet Cafe. Somewhere the size of London must have more than one.

Already, in Paddington Station, I'm becoming heartily sick of the handleless briefcase. To use the ticket machine, I have to set it down, but as it's about the size and weight of a large breeze-block with nothing to grab hold of, this is a two hand job. As is picking it up again. Mind you, it was quite serviceable as a battering ram when it came to forcing my way onto the overcrowded tube train. OK. I've surfaced at Tottenham Court Road and have already found two Internet Cafes. Both still closed (it's only nine fifteen) but looking hopeful. My new concern is frostbite. It's freezing cold and my right hand, cramped and bloodless from the pressure of the sharp leatherene edging, is fast becoming a study in blue and white. Plan C is slowly forming in the back of my head. Details are still sketchy but the main thrust is to get shot of the bloody brief case. For good.

Restitution
In Oxford Street, I find an open Starbucks, buy a double espresso and a plain croissant (I refuse to call it a butter croissant - you might as well talk about oat-meal porridge) and sit down. Open the brief case and take stock: house keys, toothbrush, toothpaste, a couple of photographs and a few business cards - these are easily distributed around my jacket pockets. One tired pair of jeans, one faded yellow T-shirt - sorry guys, but I'm not rescuing you. One adhesive label with my name address and phone number - I make short work of that with my fingernails. I don't want to leave a homing trail. Job done, I close the lid, snap the hasps shut and, irrationally, spin the combination locks, immediately realising that I have long ago forgotten the combination. Well, it hardly matters now. I finish my coffee and croissant and once more brave the London January morning.

Disposal
This part of London has large cast iron waste bins on the streets, to swallow up used bus tickets, handbills and free newspapers, mostly. They are big enough to take my brief case, if presented end on. But suddenly I'm feeling very conspicuous. CCTV stares from every lamp standard and shop door. I'm being watched, about to perform a suspicious act. Who in their senses drops a shiny black brief case in a waste bin? In Oxford Street? Bomb scares are made of this. Already I can see the red and white tape, the diversion signs, a bomb disposal officer minutely examining the combination locks... Maybe the thing to do is find a policeman - Excuse me Officer, I want to throw out this case - handle's broken - nothing valuable in it - no sorry, I've forgotten the combination... Sounds likely, doesn't it? By this time, I've performed two circuits of the block comprising Oxford Street, Charing Cross Road and Soho Square, furtively eyeing up every waste bin, back alley and telephone box for a suitable drop-off point. If I wasn't being watched before, I'm sure as hell being watched now. This is Big Brother country. Right. Let's make an end of it. I dump the case in a bin just by the Tube entrance on Tottenham Court Road North and carry on walking, expecting the hand on my shoulder with every step. Nothing. Glancing back, I see a London vagrant (their name is legion) heaving the case from the bin. He starts to fiddle with the combination locks.

Suddenly I have a flashback. I'm sitting in my new office with a new briefcase on my new desk. My new extension is printed on my new phone. I decide to use it as the combination...

- Hi mate, try 229, OK?
- Nice one, Guv. Cheers!


I hope he liked the jeans.

On Rainbows and Light Railways

Great Malvern Priory, with rainbow, from my window
Paraglider is enjoying a short break back in UK, where it is still possible to see the occasional rainbow, as above. Other delights include unaffordable petrol (which troubles me not a bit, as a confirmed walker) and affordable real ale with names like Doom Bar, Kinver Light Railway, Black Pear and Bishop's Finger. Offsetting these are the frequent appearances on TV of some Cameron bloke telling us that everything's gonna be all right. When I want to hear that message, I'll listen to Cap'n Bob. No more believable, but at least he's in tune.
Normal service (from Qatar) will be resumed on Sunday...

Standing in the Heart of Doha

just another friday night, for the men who are building a new doha
It has all the appearance of a muster point. Why else would several hundred people gather in a condemned cul-de-sac in the heart of Doha, except to stage a march or demonstration? But no, this is just another Friday night. The same crowd gathers every weekend, and for no better reason than Eccles' excuse - everybody's got to be somewhere! They don't march. They don't protest. And at the end of the night they melt back into invisibility. These are just some of the men who are building the bright new Doha, not the Engineers and Architects, but no less vital in the grand scheme of things.
But why choose the demolition site as a hangout, especially when the Corniche is less than a kilometre away and the fashionable Souq Waqif a mere three hundred metres? Could it be that this is one of the few places from which they won't be 'moved along' by the police? The simple rule here is that rich people should not have to see poor people.
So they stand. Or sit. Or squat. They smoke. They pass around little sachets of gutra or manikchand. They chew. They spit red gobbets in the gutter. They talk. Then they go back to their 'bachelor quarters'. And next week they'll do it again. And weekly thereafter, until the Heart of Doha is finished.

Meanwhile:
"Dohaland celebrates 2nd anniversary with a host of achievements and milestones. Over 5 million man hours completed on company's signature project Musheireb".

Just sayin'...

"Tooking for a Lowel" - remembering Patrick Campbell

Patrick Campbell, BBC TV, 1970
Lying awake to the cacophonous accompaniment of nightlong rubble clearance from the demolition site below my balcony, my sleep deprived mind came briefly, if randomly, to rest on a reminiscence of an old-style Irish columnist, raconteur and 'personality' (we had these in the days before celebrities) called Patrick Campbell. 
It occurred to me that if he were alive today he'd have made a perfect blogger, with his unfailing ability to weave something from nothing. For example, long before Douglas Adams wrote Hitch Hiker's Guide, Patrick Campbell had penned a short story called Tooking for a Lowel, possibly the first literary exploration of the effects of separation from one's bath towel. Did Adams plagiarise it? Almost certainly not, but it's not important.
The reason for Campbell's night visitation was another of his stories in which he describes, in excruciating detail, trying to write his column while a road gang were giving it big licks with pneumatic drills just outside his window. As he observed, it's not the drill noise itself that destroys the nerves. The brain can shut out almost any constant noise. It's the sudden silences punctated by the gasping compressor, the sudden restart of the next salvo. It's the anticipation that murders sleep. The dread. 
Campbell had his drills. I have my JCB. Pity the poor souls in Libya whose current 'irritation' is heavy ordnance.

A peaceful afternoon, shattered

It had to come sooner or later and today was the day. The Heart of Doha demolition phase is spreading its destruction wider and wider. A couple of days ago, the labourers moved out of their squat, the one right below my balcony, and today the JCB moved in. Here's what it looked (and sounded) like:
In fact it was quite impressive to watch at such close quarters, and in its favour, the demolition noise completely masks the pile driving from Qatar Airways crew city construction site in front of my apartment block. I'm now wondering what will happen next. The footprint of the demolished hovel isn't big enough for the type of high-rise they're putting up around here. Unless, of course, they knock down my block too. It's not unlikely, as it's only on three floors and fairly run down. Oh well, house-hunting time again...

Jazz in Doha Oryx Rotana

Elena Forbes
A good night was had by eight of us yesterday at the Doha Rotana Jazz Club. Many Doha music fans still don't know of the existence of this club, or even of the Oryx Rotana itself, probably because the hotel, located close to airport immigration, is a relatively low rise building not easily seen on the skyline. The band currently resident is called Turning Point, with a back line of drummer (who also sings well), keyboard and bass, interestingly a six-string electric, fronted by an excellent tenor sax man and feature vocalist Elena Forbes. Ms Forbes made quite an impression before singing a single note, by turning up in the lowest cut evening gown Doha has seen for a long time. The one she is wearing in the publicity pic is modest by comparison. But that aside, she could hold her own vocally even dressed in a sack.
The venue itself is very pleasant, and the staff were friendly and attentive. Late in the evening, we were even treated to a spectacular juggling display by one of the bar staff. The only downside in the evening was the extremely loose correlation between drinks consumed and drinks itemised on the final bill. Another time, we might opt for pay as you go.
For serious jazz fans, try to arrive in time for the band's first set around 9 p.m. This was laid-back, cool and very accomplished. Later in the night, the repertoire tended more towards rock/pop standards and show tunes, still very well delivered but for me at least, less interesting.

Laughter Factory - Refugee Night in the Library Bar

It happens every month. The Laughter Factory stand-up comedy show comes to the Shehrazad Sports Bar, displacing a large clutch of regulars, who then turn up as refugees in the normally peaceful Library. Poor lost souls, they stand out like sprained toes in the more civilised environment, shouting at each other from habit (Shehrazad is noisy), chain smoking (Shehrazad is foggy) and in some cases staring vacantly at the walls, unable to comprehend the absence of TV screens showing football. Guys, it's called The Library Bar. Does that not tell you something?

A Change of Scene - Istanbul

Just back from a working visit to Istanbul. Apart from the weather (cold, wet, windy) it was a great trip. There's something nice about normality: equal numbers of men and women on the streets, mixing freely with each other. Cafes and bars where you can sit outside and enjoy whatever you fancy to eat and drink. A complete absence of 'family rooms' and screens. It's just so easy.
Then there's the Bosphorus. What a privilege to stand by one of the World's greatest historical sea straits, especially when someone else is paying. Oh well, back to Doha...

And now Bahrain - more innocents killed

"People were attacked while they were sleeping. There was no warning"..."And when they ran, the police attacked them from the direction they fled to"..."Whoever took the decision to attack the protest was aiming to kill".

The phrase 'disproportionate response', for so long associated with a different regime, has come home to roost even in Bahrain. Let those of us who can do nothing but care, at least take time to remember the dead.

a lone piper still plays at glencoe

"They came in the night, while our men were asleep, this band of Argylls, through snow soft and deep, like murdering foxes, among helpless sheep, they slaughtered the house of MacDonald.

"Some died in their beds, at the hands of the foe, some fled in the night, and were lost in the snow, some lived to accuse him, who struck the first blow, but gone was the house of MacDonald.

"Oh cruel as the snow that sweeps Glencoe, and covers the graves o' Donald, Oh cruel was the foe that raped Glencoe, and murdered the house of MacDonald".

Doha Ferrari Centre - Rock Bottom Prices

Doha Ferrari Centre is going from strength to strength. They have replaced their faded and worn-out banner signboard with a new one, exactly the same, but brash, bright and shiny. I'm not sure a humble car-wash would be allowed to style itself Ferrari Centre in Paris or London; the name would normally be jealously guarded for bona fide Ferrari dealers. But here in Doha such niceties count for little. So, while you might be disappointed if you came here looking to buy a Ferrari, at least you can have your Toyota Corolla hosed down while you wait. And all for less than the price of a pint in Rock Bottom...

For Narcissa, who knows who she is

for narcissa, who knows who she is

even as you say
I must go home you
wonder why

there is a
turned down bed
and a chocolate
to say goodnight

for one less star
a made up bed
and no chocolate

only a minibar
with the sound of bees
in a stump

no trouser press thank god

each padded cell
empty
of narcissa who

does not leave the bar
casually but with
roses aforethought
and the mandatory

soft toy

bought to the band's
last number
in the grey lobby

So what has changed in the Paranormal?

Not a lot. The pink bendy mirror thing has gone, replaced by a structure far more rectilinear and featuring (approx) 25,920 small silvery studs. It's probably an improvement. The impossible girl spent New Year in China and has returned, fattened out, to something possible. Danny is still louring in his corner. One beer and one Bailey's together costs less than just one beer in Doha (mine was the beer). More tomorrow.

The Flying Fickle Finger of Fashion

Blogger's new 'popular posts' gadget (right) is interesting. For one thing, it shows that readers and writers may have different ideas on what a blog is really about. The Paranormal has one spoof post about a gay bar in Doha and an even less serious one on Doha's lesbian scene. That's two posts out of more than two hundred. But these are the two that top the table for visitors. My challenge now is to write them out of the top spot but that's not going to be easy, given that everyone in the GLB World community who's contemplating a move to Doha inevitably does some research on Google and ends up here. I'm glad of the traffic of course, but it's not the Paranormal's core business.
Similarly, I'd be willing to bet that if BuJ Al Arab were to install the gadget, his hands down winner would be Farah Malhass, the Arab female bodybuilder, yet lady bodybuilders are hardly his core business either. (BuJ - please correct me if I'm wrong!)
The fun of blogging, for me at least, is not having any particular agenda and writing always on a whim. I would hate to be doing this for a living and having to woo the fickle click. But for anyone out there who needs a helping hand, haven't I just told you what to blog about?

Musheireb - now you see it, now you don't

Only a week separates these two pictures, taken from the roof of Doha Mercure (the Sofitel to its friends). That's how fast the old city is disappearing to make way for the new. The whole area from National to Boat Roundabout is now reduced to Rubble City. It's too late now, but somebody should have fitted a time lapse camera to Sofitel roof to record the disappearance of a city. A casual record can be found in the annals of this blog, but intermixed with so much fluff that I doubt it will ever feature in the National Archive.
On a happier note, The Paranormal blog will return to its roots this week, as Paraglider has a couple of days' work scheduled in Dubai.

Reticulated Moleskin Wipes

No, I haven't lost the plot completely. I just wanted to demonstrate to someone how easy it is to hit the top slot in the search engines if you choose a sufficiently obscure search string. As a wipe, natural moleskin is not very effective. Moles, after all, are designed - sorry, evolved - to slip through their tunnels, not to stick to the walls. But this is changed by the reticulation process. A properly reticulated moleskin wipe will remove dirt and grime from any smooth surface. Subsequent removal of said grime from the moleskin wipe is another matter, and one we needn't discuss here.
Now, to all the Chinese girls in the Paranormal and to Doha's Mandarin girls, a very happy New Year of the Rabbit!

Burns' Night in Jimmy's Bar

It takes exactly the right amount of Glenkinchie to trigger a spontaneous but flawed rendering of Holy Willie's Prayer in a corner of a pseudo New Yorkian bar in an international hotel in Doha, to a small select audience of two, one of whom works for 30 seconds occasionally, by releasing a button, while the other writes about it.
In other words, surrealism is alive and well in Qatar. Probably, when it comes down to it, surrealism is the unifying thread in the warp and weft of the expat fabric.
All that remains is to append the imperative, 'Discuss!', to the above to have created the ultimate examination question. But as that is not my intention, I'll resist the temptation.

By Way of Wintery Summary

Nothing much has happened in my first few days back in Doha. The sewage tanker has not been bought after all, but the hopeful vendor has adopted a new policy of moving it to a different location each morning (never more than 400 yards from the old location) and returning it at night. As it is now as dusty as the rest of its environs and bespattered with the season's first muddy rain, the chances of a quick sale seem slimmer than ever, especially as the A4-size for-sale signs are now faded, tattered and all but illegible.
The piddling little rain showers seem to have lent credence to the notion that it is cold, which it isn't, and once again we are treated on all sides to the curious spectacle of gentlemen attired in dish-dash, sports jacket and sandals, grumpily picking their way between the puddles in the mall car park, while struggling under the bulk of new boxed electric heaters. I find myself wondering what hapened to the heaters they bought last year, and the year before that? What the place needs, to restore a sense of proportion, is a decent heavy fall of snow. But it's not about to happen. Not this year...

Forty-Seven-Thousand Girls wanted for Light Duties

I came across an interesting statistic recently, all the more interesting because the source, who will remain nameless, is usually fairly reliable in such matters. We were talking about FIFA 2022 and some of the changes that Qatar will have to make if they are to meet the expectations, not merely of the organisers, management and players, but also of the half-million-or-so fans who are expected to fall like a plague on the innocent city state.
Not to beat about the bush, one of us observed that the extremely male-skewed population wouldn't be much to their liking. But apparently this has already been taken into consideration. It seems the Authorities have made the necessary calculations and agreed that 47,000 highly available ladies would fit the bill. It's not clear whether they are to be phased in gradually over the next few years or delivered by a mass parachute drop just in time for the tournament. Time will tell. More interesting to the mathematician in me is, how do you derive the formula that yields 47,000 girls, rather than say 46 or 48? And how about catering for the 5% of gay fans? Maybe 2,350 specially imported boys? Just another meeting where it would have been great to be a fly on the wall...

The Latin on British Coins

Paraglider returns to Doha next week. Meanwhile, I wonder how many tourists to Britain ever notice the cryptic messages that surround the Queen's head on our coinage? Apart from the coherent Elizabeth II and the date, our pounds bear the legend DG REG FD. Not very informative. The two pound coins, having more space available, expand this to DEI GRA REG FID DEF, which is better, but still a bit cryptic. The unabbreviated form would read DEI GRATIA REGINA (Queen, by the Grace of God) and FIDEI DEFENSOR (Defender of the Faith). The first of these was originally an assertion of the Divine Right of Kings and the second an affirmation of the monarch's role as head of the Church of England (initiated by Henry VIII in defiance of the Pope). Charlie-boy is known to be queasy about Fid Def, wishing to redefine it to mean Defender of Faith, in the spirit of inclusion. It remains to be seen if he'll ever get the chance, of course.
Then there was the Queen's grandfather. Coins were bigger in his day, and had to be, to accommodate a veritable chain of Latin: GEORGIVS V DEI GRA:BRITT:OMN:REX FID:DEF:IND:IMP:, or George V, by the Grace of God, King of All Britons, Defender of the Faith, Emperor of India.
Maybe we should stop moaning about the long titles of the Gulf Royals. It's obviously part and parcel of Kingship!

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