Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Planes, Trains and Automobiles

I travel on business a lot and I tend to use planes and rental cars almost exclusively. In the 18 years I was out of the UK as an expat, I hardly ever used the train. Now, I find I favour them when travel is not compulsory. I'm lucky enough to be able to afford an advanced 1st class most trips, which allows me the luxury of a relaxed journey, with a guaranteed reserved seat and great views of the countryside passing by.

Compare that with air travel, which is full of checks and security, rude airline staff, delays and cancellations at the drop of a hat and cramped seats on short haul flights. Sure, long haul trips are the strict preserve of the airliner, but give me the train any day when it comes to travelling in style!

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

A Family Christmas

Nothing beats a family Christmas. No amount of socialising with friends beats having a quiet evening in with loved ones, reminiscing, laughing, catching up on news etc. No amount of partying beats seeing an aged relative and seeing the smile on their face as you turn up unexpectedly and wish them a Merry Christmas. No warm climate, sandy beach or two-for-one special at the Al-Ghazal bar can come close to home cooking, mince pies and that little tipple before hitting the road on your way home.

I've tried the social Christmas and God alone knows how many I have spent away from home. I now understand that the spirit of Christmas is truly alive in the eyes of your loved ones.

Merry Christmas everyone.

Friday, December 17, 2010

A Winter's Tale

So looking forward to the Christmas and New Year festivities? Perhaps it's a day at the beach at A'Sifah? Or further afield stargazing in Wahiba Sands? Whatever you're doing out there in Oman-land, spare a thought for all of us poorer cousins back here where the snow falls, the temperatures dip and the cost of heating goes up!

It's bloody cold here, and snowy. Part of me loves it (I'd much prefer this sort of winter to the damp, mild rubbish Britain normally gets) but it is perishingly cold and I am getting older....and I don't like it for the most part.

When I lived in Oman, although not an official holiday at work, my boss would let me go for the afternoon on Christmas Day, so off I'd pop to the beach for a bit of festive sunbathing. How long ago those days seem to be now (they stopped only 5 years ago).

Next winter, I'm back in Muscat for a holiday - so I can relive the good times again.

Mind you, I can also pick my way through the trash left by locals who think the world turns only on the cheap labour of TCNs and that they can cause mayhem and destruction safe in the knowledge that someone will be along in the dead of night to make everything better.

One day...soon...that life will come to a shuddering halt. Reality will hit. Guest workers will disappear. Oman will fall of a cliff, the likes of which it has not done since the 19th century. Life will become hard; harder than anyone there has experienced in living memory.

One day soon, locals will have to clean up their own mess. No-one will be there to do it for them.

A winter's tale?

Monday, November 22, 2010

Doing that downhill thing again....wooooosh!.....thump!!

Yes, it's that time of year when all of us who are not blessed with perfect winter weather (yes, I remember the sepia tinted halcyon days in Oman) turn our thoughts to winter pursuits other than heading to the beach for a top-up sun tan. For me and my partner, this means hurtling down a ski slope faster than I care to go and hoping that either I remember how to stop or there's some nice soft snow at the bottom.

Skiing is great. I'll say that again....skiing is GREAT!! For all of you out there who haven't tried so soon! For all of you out there who haven't seen snow yet, I suggest you start with a gentle game of snowballs, make a snow angel or build a snowman and progress from there. Snow is slippery, tricky stuff to get to know.

We're going to Italy this year. Last year was the big trip to Whistler, Canada, just before the Winter Olympics. I'm not sure Italy will live up to that because I was virtually in paradise last year! Forget your 70 virgins and rivers running with wine - I had so many pistes to choose from I don't think I unintentionally skied down any one piste more than once. The village was sublime and the food was excellent - especially Araxi restaurant. Fine dining indeed!!

We're off skiing in January, so wish me luck! Don't say "break a leg" - I may just do that!!

Monday, November 8, 2010

The 'X' Factor et. al.

Do any of you out there know about the 'X' Factor? How about Britain's/America's Got Talent? I was blissfully ignorant of them when I lived abroad, but now I'm back living in the UK, they're all pervasive on TV. You just can't avoid them, short of switching off the box for good. No time of year is 'reality TV' free. Football has its season, as does rugby, tennis, golf, cricket etc. Even the Proms don't go on forever. But reality TV is a never-ending irritation. It's all fixed, even though it professes to involve the audience through paid voting etc. The papers are full of it and, alas, a few greedy, self-centered, egotistical people are the ones to profit.

Thursday, November 4, 2010

The Sands of Time

This last weekend was quite a sad time for me.

My Mum, who's nearing 90 and in failing health, has gone into a Care Home (Old Folks Home for those of you who are old enough to remember when we called a spade a spade). It was a hard decision for my siblings and myself to make, but we had to do it in my Mum's best interests as she wasn't coping at home and none of us could devote nearly enough time to become an 'unofficial' carer.

So off she went a couple of month ago. Thankfully, she loves it and, suffering from Alzheimers, doesn't even remember or talk about home any more. She lives her life in the present.

That left a problem - the house. Being an unoccupied property, it has gone from being an asset to a liability as getting home and contents insurance has become a nightmare. So we have decided to sell it.

That brings me back to last weekend when I had to rent a van and collect all the stuff I still have at home - all the stuff I accumulated over a childhood and adolescence growing up there - all the stuff I once thought I didn't need in my life but now cling on to so tightly. It was a poignant, funny, sad and happy weekend all at the same time. I lived in that house from 3 years old so knew no other whilst growing up.

When we finally come to sell it, I will shed a tear. I know I will.

Life is brutal sometimes. Things go from being seemingly immovable and timeless to being oh so transient. The sands which we build our lives upon shift and we find ourselves having to face realities we really don't want to face. People who we come to see as rocks in our life, strong and secure, decline and fade.

The focus is now on my Mum. She deserves my attention right now. I'm only too eager to give her this.

Balmy times

I'm sitting here in the good old UK (SE England to be exact) on 4th November when it should be cold and bleak - and it's 21 degC outside and as sunny as you like! Not sure whether this is global warming or any such thing but it is welcome. I like my weather distinct - warm and sunny or cold and snowy. I'm not one for the wishy washy middling stuff we usually get over here. Actually, I could do with an Omani winter right now - that would be VERY nice.

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Where is everybody?

I'm feeling a little lonely. OK, I know I don't post entries onto this blog that often, but I have had no subscribers yet - not a one! I guess it is a classic "chicken and the egg" situation....I don't post often because I feel I'm writing to myself, but if someone followed me I'd feel obliged to be a bit more active. I'm too shy to try and solicit interest in my blog. I have a lot to say, but standing up and telling it to a room full of empty chairs is not really so rewarding. I post comments on others' blogs, together with the link to mine, but no-one has yet joined me in mine.

Oh well....I'll keep going.

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Burger King returns to Oman!

What's this I hear about Burger King returning to Oman? They must have been gone quite some years. I left Oman in 2005 and they'd been gone for 3 or 4 year by then. I heard that they were ousted due to some indiscreet remarks made by someone high up in the company in response to the original US bombing of Afghanistan in 2001. Not sure what the comments were but 9 years out in the wilderness must mean they weren't too complimentary!

I must admit I visited Burger King once or twice during my time living in Muscat, but I haven't been into one for a good few years now. I'm getting older and need to watch what I eat!!

What a difference two months make!

Well, two months after I was in Finland, I'm back again.....and what a difference! Last time it was bitterly cold, snowing and resembled a scene from the high Arctic. Now it is 26 degC, sunny and very Mediterranean. The Finnish climate does seem to rush headlong from winter to summer without so much as a by-your-leave to Spring! I'm not complaining, it is good to get out of the cold and rainy conditions we've been having in the UK for what seems like the last 10 years (really about 3 or 4 weeks). I hope when I get back at the end of this week it has improved!

Monday, March 15, 2010

Back to Winter!

As the UK slowly comes out of winter and into what's turning out to be a wonderful spring, I've had cause to travel to Finland this week to be confronted with....... -12 degC and snow! Talk about a long winter here! When I last came in November it was already below zero with snow on the ground. They must really enjoy summer up here as it is so short!!

Thinking about winters, I really do miss the winters in Oman. Days were comparatively long and the weather glorious. I was lucky enough to live in Oman as Ramadhan and the accompanying Eids Al-Fitr and Al-Adha made their way back around the calendar from March to October, so I had the pleasure getting the 'long' holidays in the good weather of an Omani winter. As Eid holiday entitlement back then wasn't exactly fixed in stone and additions were made at the last moment, being forced to stay in Oman due to lack of other plans wasn't all that bad. The beaches beckoned and the sun shone; the nights were cool and the stars amazing.

Oh how I miss some winters more than others!

Thursday, February 25, 2010


If you've never tried skiing - do it. Soon! It was 17 years since I last went skiing. That was, of course, until last month when myself and my partner headed off to Whistler for a skiing holiday. To say it was one of the most thrilling holidays I have ever had would be quite an understatement. I'm not surprised Whistler is currently hosting the Olympic downhill and sliding events. Sitting here watching the pros go at it reminds me just what a beautiful place Whistler is, what a terrible skier I am, but what fun I had struggling and careering down the slopes. I came away from Whistler exhausted, bruised (I fell...several times) but exhilarated. There's nothing like a sustained adrenaline rush to make you feel alive again! Every day was a new challenge. Every photo a 'screen saver shot' and ever memory a wonderful reminder of just how good life can be sometimes. I will go back there, that is a certainty.