Tuesday, November 06, 2007

Hmmm, How Long has it Been?

Well let us see, August, September and October oops . Three months and not a peep, well we do have a small excuse going by the name of Oscar.
So what has been happening I hear you say, not a lot I reply!
The summer was hot and after a couple of anxious months the insurance company graciously coughed up the cash on both cars. (Being a man means I naturally talk about cars first), as was previously pointed out I have bought a little jeep which has had some modifications over the last couple of months to get it the way I want it.
Bigger wheels, better suspension, soft top to name a few and perfect for those off road adventures.

Becky got herself a 2006 Ford Exploder (Sorry, Explorer) in her favorite colour, Red, which to both our surprise is an absolutely fantastic car. The only change was that I ‘pimped’ her ride with a 7” touch screen dash mounted dvd player for the added in car entertainment experience. Boys and their toys!! Next job is some air jacker suspension so she can bunny hop the car ‘round the Hood, Man!! Just kidding
Becky has recovered well and has started up tennis again, aerobics and pilates classes were endured but boy did she feel the pain. Along with Oscar and her busy social calendar there is barely any time for shopping!
Much to all the expat mum’s relief the new wing of Muscat City Centre finally opened with shops like the White Company, Zara, Gap etc etc etc, and a full size Boarders book shop!!! This is certainly going to change the face of shopping in Oman and whilst it is nice to finally have some choice, I do wonder whether the change is really a good thing. Shopping here has never been a joy, but hey…… its……well…..Oman!
I have heard rumors of a Mall of the Emirates style shopping centre (Massive) coming soon, and with all the developments such as Blue City, Yitti and the wave the face of Oman will be unrecognizable to when I arrived two short years ago.
Time marches on I guess and rather than bemoaning what has been lost I am intent on enjoying what we have for as long as we have it.
As such, Jacob and I have taken up the gauntlet and gone off exploring all that Oman has to offer. The first test of this was a trip with friend to the small village of Yasab, it was more about the journey than the place itself as I am sure you will agree

Spot the Car Competition

Then whilst my mum was over for a sort visit Jacob and I took here for a trip to Wadi Diyqah which was a real experience. There was only one heart stopping moment when I turned the wheel and the jeep carried on going straight, I don’t think my mum appreciated the view at that point but fortunately the brakes worked.

Jacob has taken up Rugby with varying degrees of commitment but especially enjoys charging down the bag.

During Ramadan my working day finished at 4pm so I was really lucky to be able to take him and watch him play for four weeks, being at work all week you miss so much.
It is really good for him after being cooped up over the summer to get out and burn off some energy. He is also looking far leaner and meaner as the year progresses.
Once Ramadan was in full swing, we decided to have a party to say thank you to all the friends that had helped us recover from Gonu. We arranged with the Curry House in Ruwi to provide outside catering and then raided the drinks cabinet. The evening was loosely billed as a cocktail evening, which was fine as long as gin and vodka were your thing, but fortunately beer and wine were also available. Keeping in tune with the evenings food I mixed up a cocktail by the name of a Madras which I found on the Gin & Vodka Association website (I would never had guessed there was such an organization). 1 1/4 oz vodka, 2 oz orange juice, 2 oz cranberry juice ……yummy.
Everyone had a lovely time and the best bit was no washing up!

So the next event was the Rugby World Cup, whilst we missed the first round due to lack of interest and poor performance from the England team, we were invited to an antipodean household to watch Australia thrash England in a humiliating fashion. Ho Hum we won, sorry about that. Our hosts had the good grace to invite us back for the finals where South Africa played a great game and were rewarded with a much deserved win, Congratulations Springboks.
Oscar Photo
Eid was a welcome break, with the weekend and four days off work. Three were spent with the family, whilst the other three were off with Jacob exploring again.
Friends had invited us to join then camping at Bar Al Hackman, near the island of Masirah, a five hour drive from Muscat. Pretty tough but Jacob and I shared the driving (Joking), however the last part of the journey was the best bit. According to our directions you had to leave the road just outside Hijj where three trees were growing and head South. So for 45km Jacob and I drove through nothing with only the GPS to guide us. Fortunately I had plotted a path using Google Earth as a reference, but even so it was very unnerving to be the only car and nothing in sight what ever way you looked.

Oh and the directions were wrong, as you should be heading South West and not south.
We had a lovely time camping and swimming in the sea and the nights were gloriously clear though not very late. The real pleasure was staring up at the night sky and seeing with the utmost clarity the Milky Way in all its glory.
So as a farewell for now, I leave you with the fact that Jacob is doing well at school (Reception Year at the British School Muscat), Oscar is now rolling over on to his tummy and Becky and I are off to the races tonight (The Melbourne Cup at the Grand Hyaat).

Tuesday, July 24, 2007


James’ Mum and Dad arrived at the end of March for a 10 day visit, just before James went into surgery to have his gall bladder removed. This happened on April Fools Day and, other than having a cup of tea first thing in the morning because he forgot that he was going into surgery, the whole thing passed off thankfully without mishap. James woke from his drug induced stupor late that afternoon, with a bottle full of gall stones and a video of the proceedings to show for the day. The whole thing had been filmed via a camera inserted through his belly button and he is desperate to show off the dvd to anyone willing – so far there have been minimal takers – bah humbug.

James was released the following day and had to spend a few days in bed and then the rest of the week recovering – men and their illness – it’s never a pretty sight ! Shortly after his return home – Kate, Mark, Ella and Seb arrived for a two week holiday which was quiet and uneventful as neither of us were in any fit state to do any major activities. Still trips to the pool, the souk and the beach were had and even a spell dolphin watching on the glass bottom boat, which proved to be a very successful day out indeed, even though it was quite an expensive activity.

The rest of April passed very uneventfully as doing an impression of a beached whale proved to be quite difficult in the increasing summer heat. Swollen ankles are just so attractive. April was followed by May of which we have no recollection which is probably due to events in early June.

As with many small multi racial communities rumours often get out of hand in Muscat and, are then often dismissed as pure fiction – so it was at the beginning of June. A cyclone named Gonu was rumoured to be heading towards Oman – oh yes, thought I as I sat playing Mexican train ridiculing those who were over reacting, evacuating their homes and generally panicking – how much worse than a typhoon could it really be if it even got this far – how mad to go and collect your children early from school and insist that your husband come home from work – sadly not so. James had set off merrily to Sur that morning to check on his site – gradually the rumours got worse – Ras Al Hadd had been hit and it was heading up the coast. I called James to suggest he come home – he reassured me that all would be well and then five minutes later called back to say he was indeed heading home as he had been reliably informed that Sur was being hammered and all the hospitals in Muscat were on disaster watch. He turned the car around and got home mid afternoon, whereupon we had a lovely time watching tv and drinking tea whilst marvelling over what a fuss people could make about a drop of rain – they should try living in England after all !

The next day all seemed normal, but a little wet and windy, with very little damage to be seen – Cyclone – what Cyclone ! James set off to work as normal. Gradually as the day progressed the weather got a little worse as did the rumours – the ODC had been hit badly and it was only a matter of hours until it was upon us, etc etc. After giving James a little bit of grief about going in to work, he reappeared at the front door, to say that the weather was worsening. We spent the rest of the day mopping up the rain from all our lovely leaky windows, which as everyone in Muscat knows is a fundamental part of living here. And still we wondered – Cyclone, what Cyclone ?!

And then the hour came. James was upstairs at about 6.00pm looking out of the window and then he saw it – the water came gushing like a huge torrent from between two houses further down our road and then to add to that – the water started gushing into the road from behind the house opposite. It rose and, it rose and, it rose and it just did not stop – so we started moving our possessions upstairs. I was minimal use given the size of my stomach, but managed a couple of cushions and some pictures – Jacob brought a few of his toys upstairs but just did not grasp the urgency of the situation. James and Jenny did an absolutely amazing job managing to bring anything of value upstairs with the waters rising around them and in darkness, no power, no ac, no lights, no nothing, just the sound of gushing water pouring into the house. At one point Jenny got stuck in the kitchen and James just could not open the door to get her out, but luckily the water evened out and he managed to get the door open. We decamped upstairs, where Jenny sat on the landing and prayed and James sat in the spare room drinking wine! We waited and waited to see how high the water would get – friends were texting us the numbers of the emergency services in case the water go so high that we needed a boat to get us out and indeed it was looking that way for a while. Then at about 10 O’clock – the water started to recede and we could all breathe a sigh of relief. The water had got up to about a metre high inside the house and even higher than that outside, up to about two meters in places. I had managed not to go into labour, Jacob had managed to stay calm, once he saw that his toys had been rescued and James and Jenny had managed not to get drowned – it all seemed like such a major achievement – we were still alive and that was definitely what we had to be grateful for. Jenny and James had managed to salvage some food from the fridge whilst it had been floating on its back and Jacob chose that night to have a major surge in appetite and eat us out of house and peanut butter! We managed to get a little sleep that night altogether in the spare room, with no ac or fans – but honestly much of the time was spent on the balcony watching the water just to make sure that it was still heading in the right direction. By morning the road was kind of passable in a 4wd and several sets of friends turned up to get us out of there. Jacob and I ended up going to stay with our friends Andy and Mandy who live literally two minutes away, but had not had the water inside the house due to a back gate that proved to be an invaluable exit route for the rising waters, lucky them.

The whole area resembled a war zone, destroyed cars, rubble, furniture littered the street and so began the clean up operation.

Jenny and James spent the day squeegying liquid mud from inside the house before it started to dry, but without power or water the whole day was unbearable. The two cars had been lost – James’ Hummer had been flooded up over the dashboard as had my Durrango which had also sunk into a massive hole that had opened up outside our living room window. The Hummer had been knocked into by a Mercedes from down the road as it floated on by and round the corner never to be seen again. It was all really quite unbelievable. People said we must be devastated by everything but really, we weren’t, we were just so grateful to be alive and that was enough. We ended up loosing very little indeed, some bookcases from Jacob’s play room and our tv cabinet. The dining room table needs a new top and the antique chest in there needs some attention, but nothing like as bad as it could have been – oh and we had to get a new washing machine, but James managed to save all of our fridges, which was a bit of a shame as I had already earmarked a lovely shiny new fridge that would have been fabulous – ho hum !

With a lot of help from friends, a water truck or two and some assistance from work acquaintances the house was liveable after just over a week. James had had to stay overnight at the house every night of that dreadful week as there was just so many reports of looting going on, we could not risk surviving Gonu only to loose everything to thieves – but with no ac, no water, no power it was an awful thing to have to do and it certainly took it’s toll on him – by the end of the week he looked just dreadful. Fortunately after that first week he went back to work for a well earned rest! So with the house in a right old state – all the floors on the ground floor collapsed and you could not get in the front door, not only because it had swollen up and could not be opened, but also because the front steps had totally gone and the ground between the front gate and the front door had disappeared, we needed to get things sorted quickly – we had a baby on they way and we needed a house we could bring him home to. Our landlady was absolutely stellar. She got the insurance people around straight away even though they had been badly hit themselves. They assessed the situation and work started within a week, with a 10 day deadline for completion – and they did it – unfortunately the baby couldn’t wait quite that long – but that is another story ! They relaid and retiled the whole of the ground floor – which was a nightmare as we had to have all the doors and windows open downstairs, with no ac’s on and they were basically mixing concrete in the middle of the living room – it was worth it – the work was done so quickly and looks really great. The downstairs was repainted in just about a day and a new front door is now up and running with lovely new steps outside – so we are just about back to normal – a few little issues still to sort out, but pretty much all is well again. Ah apart from the CAR ISSUE !

Mmmm the CAR ISSUE. Long story short – both cars should have been insured – same policy, same insurance company – same old same old – lesson learnt: READ YOUR POLICY. The Hummer was covered – the Durrango apparently not – wrangling ensues and we have now managed to get satisfactory resolution on both cars – it’s taken a while and the loan of a car from a very generous friend – who is also in insurance!! We hope to buy a car in the next week or so for me – James has already got a nice little Jeep Wrangler to see him right – I’m hoping to get a Ford Explorer – watch this space.

So Mum and Dad arrived for a visit on 29 June – Dad was due to stay a week and Mum two – I was hoping and praying that the baby would decide to put in an appearance whilst they were here – I needn’t have worried. I had been having contractions on a regular basis for a week or so – nothing to worry about – nothing too serious, but they were there – all my friends were desperate for the baby to arrive whilst they were still here – only so that they could call him some ridiculous name like Hurricane or Gonu – I assure you ! The wee one was to disappoint. I woke up at 5.00am on the morning on 01 July with some contractions going on – nothing worse than I’d had before so I went back to sleep. James went off to work with a warning that I was having some contractions and I’d call him if they got any worse. They didn’t seem to get much worse, but they didn’t go away either. Mum gave me a nice foot massage and I just pottered about taking it easy. I decided that going to the hospital would be a waste of time as the contractions were not getting any worse and they would just send me home again and I would have dragged James away from work for no good reason. No I’d just ride it out at home until the contractions got worse and really started doing something – MISTAKE ! About 11.00am Mum decided to have a shower so I thought I’d go and have a nice lay down on her bed – the ac is nice and cool in there. I laid down and thought – ah there we go – the contractions are going away now – I knew it. Mum had her shower and suddenly I had two really large contractions and my waters broke at 11.45 – oh lordy I knew about the contractions then I can tell you. We called James and told him to get home pronto, which he did, a few misunderstandings not withstanding – well, trying to talk on the phone whilst having contractions is not easy you know. Anyway he got to the house and between him and Mum they managed to drag me past the builders and into the car – where the pain became almost unbearable. James did a Starsky and Hutch drive to the hospital – driving between two lanes of traffic with his hand on the horn and a screaming wife and almost screaming mother in law in the back of the car! Well done James! We got there and went to the emergency dept, where they all thought I was a first time Mum who was making a big old fuss about nothing – they brought out a wheelchair which I tried to sit on – twice – to no avail – that was not happening – then they brought out a bed for me which was so high I couldn’t get up on it, so they had to go and find a stool – what a farce. Anyway we got to the labour ward and once they prised my hands from the bed the consultant examined me, her face fell as she told us that the baby’s leg was already out. She examined me further, which felt like she was trying to push him back in! Whereupon she proclaimed that there was no way the baby was coming out like that and I was whisked off for an emergency c section. Oscar Theodore Smith was born nine minutes later at 12.49pm, weighing in at 9lb and 52cm long – very healthy indeed. The Doctor did a little light liposuction, a mini tummy tuck and then closed me up – you don’t get that on the NHS – if only you could tell !

So I stayed in hospital for 4 nights as per the c section package – private room – private bathroom – cleaners in twice a day – room service and nurses that offer to take the baby away whenever you want so that you can sleep ! Pembury Hospital it certainly wasn’t – Jacob’s birth at that dreadful place seems like the dark ages in comparison – the sooner they knock it down the better. Mum and Dad were happy to look after Jacob and, he had a fab time – going swimming, doing experiments and all sorts of lovely activities. He was so fabulous with little Oscar – desperate to come and see him and give him lots of hugs and kisses it really was lovely to see – so far, this has continued in the real world – we’ll see how long it lasts – I think he’s going to be a wonderful older brother – he loves Oscar – or Strudel as he insists on calling him. Apparently when my Dad told Jacob that the baby had been born and was called Oscar – he burst into tears and said “but I wanted to call him Strudel”!

So we are home, I am still recovering from the C section (Oh how women complain about their illness’ ;) ) – I feel so much better than I did, but it’s hard not to overdo it and not being able to drive is just plain frustrating – but it’s not for ever. James is currently having two weeks off work and it’s lovely to all be together as a family. I’m looking forward to all my friends coming back from their hols so I can show off my new bundle and frankly have some female conversation ! I can’t wait to get back to Starbucks – oh how I miss you so.

Just to finish up – some good friends of ours and Jacob’s recently left Oman to relocate back to the UK – Julie, Michael, Will and Francesca – we will miss you lots – hope you have a lovely time in the UK and we really hope to see you at Christmas. Lots and lots of love.

Oh just thought – we had better change the name of this blog now – we are no longer the Oman three – we are the Oman four !!!

Monday, March 19, 2007

Of Ultrasounds and MRI’s…

Well stories from February and March, where do I begin?......I suppose the first event was the arrival of our friends from the UK. Sam and Bruce and their two children came over for a two week holiday and by all accounts had a lovely time. True to my word I took them both out to the sand dunes in the Hummer for an introduction to dune driving, resulting in ear to ear grins and high blood pressure. Sam proved to be a natural, (only getting stuck once) and gave a constant running commentary of whoa wohoa whooooa.

The main trip was back to Wahiba for a night in the desert camp, which was just as lovely as the first trip. This family run business http://www.nomadicdesertcamp.com/start.htm is very relaxed, friendly and always accommodating. Camel rides ensued, as did the obligatory climb to the top of the nearest dune for sunset and a bit of sand boarding for those more adventurous. As we left the camp the following day for a spot of desert dune driving Bruce was at the wheel of the Durango following me in the Hummer. As the rear end of my car pointed skywards and disappeared from sight for the first time I could hear the conversation going on in the car behind as if I was really there… “They don’t expect me to follow do they????” This is self made roller coasting at its best, hearts in mouths everyone was wide eyed and laughing their heads off as we went up and over dune after dune.

Muscat souk has really come on in the last year, and has smartened it self up somewhat, in order to appeal to the cruise ship tourists now arriving. It is best to avoid when a ship is in town, not just for the crowds but also the prices. Haggling is far harder on the days.

Jewelry and nicnacks abound and calls from pashmina sellers at every corner, there is always something of interest, though not necessarily the old world charm that some might expect.

We spent an easy day down at the Marina, beside the pool soaking up the sun and recovering from our previous exploits, when shortly after lunch I doubled up in pain and had to be driven home by Becky unable to function and feeling very, very ill.

The following day I had recovered but Becky wasn’t feeling up to much after an exerting few days so we left her at home and went off to Seefa for a windy day at the beach. Unfortunately, most of us were more tired than we realized and the sea cold so the day was foreshortened but at the very least our guests saw some of the mountainous beauty that is Oman.

The next day I was back at work, well for a couple of hours at least. I was feeling a little under the weather and not looking too pink either (Distinctive shade of yellow) so took my self off to see the doctor. A blood test followed, and shortly after the results came in, I was hospitalized with suspected hepatitis. A week in hospital, lots more blood tests, an ultrasound scan, a MRI and several visits from a specialist and I was none the wiser. Finally, after all the tests came back it was confirmed that there was no hepatitis and I had gall stones, one of which had blocked my innards and caused an awful lot of pain and turned me yellow! The upshot is that I will have my gall bladder removed at Muscat Private Hospital on the first of April, no April fools I’m afraid.

The down side of this was that I missed Becky’s twenty week scan….can you guess what it is yet????

Fortunately everything is good and the baby actively participated in the scan.

Before Becky reached the twenty six week watershed on flying, she took her self of to Dubai for a whistle stop baby shopping spree with her friends. A slight panic was caused by airport staff demanding a medical certificate stating when the baby was due. The hospital faxed one through in time for Becky to make the flight, but an interesting lesson for all those mums to be.

After a couple of weeks recovery, I felt well enough to socialise, Becky was going a little stir crazy and suggested that we should really go to a friend’s fancy dress cum Karaoke party, the theme… pop stars. But what to go as? We only had a couple of days in which to find a character, source the costume and get to the party. The make or break components proved to be a pair of long white socks and a long black wig….

Luckily Becky found me a wig and I found her long white socks.

So Britney and Ozzy did get to go to the Ball after all, although Britney drove because Ozzy couldn’t see where he was going. A star studded cast were present, from Ziggy Stardust and Sandy (Grease), Abba and Jim Morrison to Britney, Christina, Elvis and Sid Vicious. Plenty of dancing, bad singing and a lot of catching up ensured a good night out for all.

Yesterday we had flash floods which had caught everyone by surprise as nothing had been forecast and it is relatively late in the year for rain. Becky battled through the rain for an hour and a half to get Jacob to school only to find the school closed when she arrived. Unfortunately she slipped in the car park whilst carrying Jacob, grazing her knees and stubbing her toe. Jacob’s umbrella flew off never to be seen again which upset him greatly.

The Journey home proved eventful as Becky had forgotten to fill the car up with fuel, get credit for her phone and was stuck on the highway with the water rising and traffic not moving. Whilst trying to carefully drive through deep water some idiot in a black 4wd charged past and promptly stalled in the middle of the wadi (serves him right) However the bow wave he created forced water up the exhaust of Becky’s car causing it to stall just as she left the water! Becky very calmly controlled the situation and managed to restart the car and get to a petrol station.

Now with the car full of fuel, Jacob and Becky full of chocolate and the phone empty of credit (Shell do sell phone cards you know). They set off to find the driest way home, many roads were completely flooded with water over the bonnets of abandoned cars but, eventually the arrived home some four hours after the had left.

P.S. A replacement umbrella has now been ordered and will hopefully arrive soon.

Tuesday, February 06, 2007

And the Rain, Rain Rain Came Down , Down , Down ……..

Well the last two months have flown by and we are well into 2007, Happy New Year everyone.
December was the beginning of a very busy social season in Muscat. Ours began with the Saint Andrews Ball of the Caledonian Society. A lovely night under the stars in the gardens of the Intercontinental Hotel with the men in black tie and the ladies in evening gowns. The company was enjoyable, the food was lovely, the dancing pretty much non stop and, the same could be said of the supply of wine to our glasses. Even the Royal Omani Air force Pipers turned up and paraded around in their tartan dress uniforms regaling us with a selection of memorable tunes. A very late night was achieved by both Becky and myself, although there is a 30 minute period in the early hours that I appear to have completely lost.
We chose not to attend the ‘premier’ even,t namely the British Embassy’s Crystal Ball, opting for a smaller event at the Dolphin Centre which was organised by a couple of friends, just a bit of fun and a reason to put our glad rags on one more time before Christmas.
So winter was finally upon us and the temperature had plummeted to a chilly 22 degrees, out came the jumpers and thermals and we stared longingly at the pool wishing for the day that it would be warm enough to use again. And just before Christmas we had a spot of rain!
When I say spot, I mean a large spot…

This is our 4wd driving down the road on the way home. The Pizza Hut in Qurm was waist deep in water as was most of the Qurm shopping area. An awful lot of damage was caused in a very short space of time.
So Christmas day was a family and friends affair and Jacob was a very lucky boy with all the pressies that Santa brought him. Given that his birthday was the week before, December proved top be a very lucrative month for this young man. His big successes have been a trampoline and copious amounts of play mobile……one very happy chappy.
New years was spent at a friends house with a quiz that took us through to the early hours, great fun and games with Jacob sleeping over with his best friend Taine.
So 2007, a new year and a quiet month recovering from the excesses of the previous month. Becky has now had a couple of scans and the results are that Mother and Baby are doing fine (Although morning sickness is draging on).
We eventually got to ask our questions at the British Embassy Quiz Night, a little controversy in the opening round, but I think everyone had a good time and didn’t find it too difficult. My personal favourite question was “what is Archibutriaphobia the fear of”…………………..It is the fear of peanut butter sticking to the roof of your mouth……HONEST!!!
Christmas cards are still arriving, I would like to say a big thank you to the unknown member of one postal service who decided that Oman was in Jamaica (I’m not joking!) and some day soon Jacob might see the last of his Christmas presents arrive…….