Sunday, December 07, 2008

Aren’t You a Little Short for a Storm Trooper?

Well second Eid is upon us and it is time to reflect on the past couple of turbulent weeks.
Speaking of turbulence my hope for a Eid dive trip has been cancelled due to the ongoing presence of a red tide. Red What?
"Red tide" is a common name for a phenomenon known as an algal bloom, an event in which marine algae accumulate rapidly in the water column, or "bloom". These algae, form dense, visible patches near the water's surface. Some red tides are associated with the production of natural toxins, depletion of dissolved oxygen or other harmful impacts, and are generally described as harmful algal blooms.
The impact all along the coast of Oman has been enormous with dead sea life washed up and an all pervasive stench, and whilst it is generally thought to be a natural occurrence, no one as yet has manage to explain why it has lasted so many weeks this year. I can’t say that I agree with the idea of eating fish as reported on in the Oman Daily Observer

So the main talk around town is the global credit crisis, those that thought the middle east was immune were sadly mistaken as Dubai developments have all but ceased operations as their cash flow has dried up overnight. Even though Dubai appears affluent, the emirate has little of its own wedge, the real money is next door in Abu Dhabi. As a result, the ruling family of AD has been buying up huge chunks of its neighbour’s real estate, essentially bailing out Dubai. And the resultant effect of all of this, is the loss of many peoples savings and investments and a lot of unemployed expatriates. Oman has also seen some retrenchment, though nowhere near that of Dubai and everyone is hunkering down hoping to weather the storm. Hopefully, the first quarter of next year we will see things calming down.

So what’s with the title for this post???? Well given that Eid and end of term have pretty much coincided, we had to hold Jacob’s birthday party a little early this year to ensure that his school friends were available.
Jacob is a big fan of all things Star Wars especially Lego Star Wars and this year the party piƱata was the Death Star. Jacob and I had made it the weekend prior, and due to our building prowess I hastily weakened it with a razor blade just before the planned assault. Much to my relief, everyone got to have a bash and some substantial damage was done in the process, even Oscar joined in.

The final catastrophic damage was of my own making, although my targeting skills clearly need work with my first two tries completely missing the mark, much to my chagrin.
We had loosely planned to do party games, but true to form and based on our previous experience, none were actually required. The children were far to happy running around playing with toys and just generally enjoying themselves to be bothered with adults trying to organize and boss them around.

We reached the end of the party and suddenly realized that we had forgotten to bring out the birthday cake!!!! All exits were blocked and cake was produced, dissected and eaten before anyone was allowed to leave. Disaster averted.

So it won’t be long before Christmas is upon us. We put the tree(s) up the day after Jacob’s party but it just didn’t feel right. However, with the coming of a week off work I am definitely feeling more in the holiday spirit.

Sunday, November 23, 2008

Where is everybody????

I got an odd phone call the other week from my mother.
“Hi James, how are you? Are you up to anything this weekend?”
This was not general chit chat, but a leading question which kind of threw me. So I said nothing planned and double checked with Becky before asking “Why???”
“Oh, we thought we might pop over to see you all for a few days……”

This would not normally be a strange statement for parents to make, but when they live nearly six thousand kilometers away it makes you stop and think.
So this conversation was on the Sunday night and the following Tuesday night I met them in the arrivals hall of Seeb international airport, all I might add thanks to airmiles points!
Wow, what a lovely and unexpected surprise, we hadn’t seen them since last Christmas and our boys have been growing up fast.
No big trips were on the cards, as they were here to wind down from the stresses of life in the UK and problems with a house conversion, but at least they were able to spend quality time with Jacob and Oscar.

One trip out was for adults only….dinner at the Edge. This is a beautifully placed ‘restaurant’ at the Crown Plaza Hotel in Qurum, not really a restaurant but rather a small collection of tables and chairs perched on the edge of the cliff. The menu is limited, maybe simple, delicious none the less and the ambience and views are second to none. Sitting there at night you are treated to the uninterrupted view of the coast and city all the way from Qurum to Seeb, spectacular!!

We all went out to the park one morning so that Jacob could show “NuNu” and “Grumps” how well he was getting on with learning to ride his bicycle. He was so excited prior to getting on the bike that it came as a shock when he had a complete meltdown, with floods of tears, declaring he couldn’t do it!!!! Both Becky and myself pushed him hard, out of frustration, and he did actually achieve what he originally set out to do, with the promise of an ice-cream at the end of it.
The following day all was made clear, when we found out that he had an ear infection, oops! Queue two guilty parents!!!
So with Jacob on a weeks course of anti-biotics, Oscar with a temperature and a cold and, me recovering from a sinus infection, my parents had walked into an epidemic!

This is the time of year for being ill, it must have something to do with the temperature change, but as soon as you switch off the AC’s the nasty bugs seem to strike. So with all of us being ill at one time or other over the last few weeks we managed to miss the Melbourne Cup and several other social invites that had us feeling we were all alone. We even managed to miss the National(Renaisance)Day fireworks at Bausher Stadium, given that we normally feel the effects inside the house, it was with some surprise when we realised they had somehow completely passed us by!

To remedy this we had friends over for dinner last weekend and a trip to Qurum park the following day, but this coming weekend is the Dubai Rugby 7’s, and with a lot of our friends going to that I think it might be another lonely weekend.

Sunday, November 09, 2008

Spot the Difference

So a post almost totally dedicated to Oscar.
He is sixteen months old now and a real handful. It must be something about having an older brother that drives him to do things so early in life. He is such a happy boy and loves to dance when music is playing. His walking (forwards/backwards/spinning around and around) is so controlled it is just amazing to watch, and he loves to talk, well jabber at least. He will have full blown conversations with anyone who will listen, unfortunately even though his words are well defined, no one has a clue what he is saying. I would love to know what he is going on about because he talks with so much enthusiasm.

So why is he a menace? Well he can comprehend what you are telling him, but he chooses to ignore you. He has taken up the hobby of emptying the kitchen cupboards, fortunately we have restricted it to the one full of Tupperware, but he goes in guns blazing, throwing pots and tubs over his shoulders with aplomb.
The coffee table is another regular target, where he has decided that every thing on it belongs on the floor with the exception of himself. No matter how many times you tell him not to climb up, he will still try it on. His other foible, is that he doesn’t like anyone using laptops in his presence, regularly closing down the screens whilst you are attempting to type, so that most of the time you just have to give up what you were doing.
One thing he has shown a similarity in taste with Jacob is reading. He has already taken to choosing a book and sitting down on the sofa in Jacob’s room to leaf though it

Going back to an earlier post, where I mentioned that Jacob was on the mend, I should have kept my big mouth shut. He actually ended up having the whole week off school due to a stomach bug, the poor little sole couldn’t keep anything down and it was coming out both ends, so a trip to the Doctors at Muscat Private Hospital was organized. Dr Suri is just what you want in a pediatrician, calm, friendly and able to put the child immediately at ease. Jacob was reassured that no needles were necessary and only some yucky medicine required. As suspected the bug is doing the rounds in Muscat, and the biggest problem is to keep the children hydrated.
Unfortunately, Dr Suri will be put to the test at the end of this week when Jacob has his MMR booster and Oscar gets his first MMR. Becky is dreading it and I expect a lot of tears…..roll on Wednesday.

Saturday, November 08, 2008


So I was doing a little thing over on my knitting blog - where you had to answer all sorts of silly questions, plug the answers into Flickr and then make a mosaic out of them and then I thought that Jacob might like to do one as well.

So here are the questions with Jacob's answers and then the mosaic that he made - it was good fun !!!

1. What is your first name? - Jacob
2. What is your favorite food? - cucumber
3. What high school did you attend? - American British Academy
4. What is your favorite color? - red
5. Who is your celebrity crush? - Ben 10
6. Favorite drink? - Mango juice
7. Dream vacation? - England
8. Favorite dessert? - Home made muffins
9. What do you want to be when you grow up? - A Spaceman
10. What do you love most in life? - My baby brother
11. One word to describe you. - Happy
12. Your Flickr name. (I did this one and I put Jake)

Have a go if you get a chance it's a laugh.

Becky xxx

Monday, November 03, 2008

If The World Could Vote

Some people that have known me for some time will remember when I read the Economist religiously (Most likely with some dispair ;) ).Well I am afraid to say that after some time I am now back at it.
So I would like to share this with you all as an interesting aside....
The Economist ran a poll, to let the world vote on the US elections and this, with one day left, is what the world said (Or at least the readers of the Economist worldwide said)

In a couple of days we should find out if America listened....

Oh and another thing, I have this wonderful thing called Google Analytics that tells me all manner of interesting things about who, when and where is visiting the blog, nothing sinister, just interesting. The other fun thing is Feedjit (The map with red dots on the right) click on it and you see where our readers are from. Given that I know you are reading........WHY AREN'T ANY OF YOU COMMENTING??????????????????????

ps. if anyone on Antartica wants to read the blog it would realy make my day :)

Ghosts and Goblins and Ghouls…Oh My!!!

Well, it has been a busy week or so, socially in the Smith household but not that much of interest to report on.
Halloween was the main event for the boys with a certain Star Wars feel to the day…..

I had taken Jacob to a birthday party earlier in the day, which was fancy dress, and very noisy, (what is it with little girls and screaming?). Plenty of party games ensued, which haven’t changed since before I was Jacob’s age, but the big hit was the trampoline. Being the working father of the household, I see the fact that most parties are held during the week as a perk of the job and, the once in a blue moon attendance as a small price to pay.
Trampolines are common place in Oman, it is just one of those things that get the children out of the house during the cooler winter months and tires them out. Just the day before I spent an hour or so sweating away whilst putting Jacob’s one back together.
We take our one down for the summer in order to minimise the damage caused but the sun, which literally destroys plastic products. The padding to the upright poles and the spring protection lasted less than a year and a half before disintegrating in my hands as I dismantled the trampoline last May. It is quite shocking to see how quickly so much damage can be done by the intense sunlight here.

After the party we went over to the Dolphin Centre to meet up with Becky and Oscar for a Halloween parade and an evening of ‘Trick or Treat’.

This is one of our most fun ‘holidays’ in the West, it has lost its religious significance for most people and we celebrate it simply because it is enjoyable to do so.

Falling on the 31st October, Halloween is only the herald of the holiday that medieval Christian Europeans were intended to celebrate, All Saints' Day, on the 1st November.
The story behind the term itself, which is short for "the eve before All Hallows' Day," refers to the fact that saints of Christianity were "hallowed" individuals. It is thought that the Church decided All Saints' Day should fall on the 1st November (in A.D. 834) to make it coincide with its precursor, a Celtic festival of the harvest. By "overwriting" the pagan origins of Halloween, perhaps the ‘new’ Christian religion could steal some thunder from the lingering Celtic influence in Europe. But if this was the Church's intention, the strategy backfired to some degree as people had much more interest in honouring dead ancestors than in honouring dead Christian saints.
Whilst ‘Trick or Treating’ was not prevalent during my childhood in the UK, everyone looked forward to scary stories and maybe a Halloween party to go to with the chance to dress up.
This year, the school did not have its annual Halloween fair as, I believe, some people had previously complained that they were celebrating a ‘pagan’ ritual. This annoys me somewhat and, whilst I believe everyone is entitled to their opinion, they should be comfortable enough in their beliefs, not to feel threatened by it.
Given that our current image of Father Christmas was painted by Haddon Sundblom for Coca Cola’s advertising in the 1930’s and Santa has his origins in pagan rituals, will these same people object to Christmas festivities? PuurLeaseee………..

Since the weekend Becky has had to deal with Men’s flu….It started with Oscar having a cough and a fever, to Jacob having a stomach bug with a night of vomit and diarrhoea, to me suffering from dizziness and aches and pains. Fortunately, all of us are on the mend now, but a little more sympathy wouldn’t go amiss.

Oh, and if anyone is interested in some prime real estate in London, I suggest you take a look at the following link ;)
The Telegraph online

Saturday, October 25, 2008

Drains, Bicycles and Balls

So what have Sino Hydro got against the residents of Muscat? Or am I being too personal and yes they are totally incompetent…. The later is what I believe to be true.
For those of you not residing here, I will provide you with a little background information.
Sino Hydro are a Chinese civil engineering contractor employed on the Muscat waste water project (Mains sewers for all of us, good idea yeah?). This has been going on for some time now, and has been a roller coaster of a contract (read between the lines, a complete and unmitigated balls up) why no one questioned how a contractor could do the job for $78,000,000 less (yes that is seventy eight million!!!!) than the nearest competition is beyond me. And lo and behold ….they can’t.
So the residents of Muscat are being subjected to the roads being dug up, back filled, dug up, backfilled, dug up and forgotten about.

Whilst our road is relatively unscathed, with trenches at the beginning, end and just outside our house, the rest of the area resembles a war zone, I KID YOU NOT!!!
I am at least thankful that we have 4wd cars, because the lack of proper road surface will wreak havoc on the average saloon and demolish the sports cars out there. Just returning to the trench outside our house, this would make a very effective speed hump, if only people could see it. Suffice to say, if you speed past our house you run the very real risk of separating your wheels and axels (or what remains of them) from the rest of your car. On the other hand when a truck passes over it the whole house vibrates.

So, if you’ve been reading the blog of late you would have seen that the temperature is beginning to drop, true to form I removed the sides and back of the jeep’s soft top and the very next day the temperature went up…. Darn it!!
Fortunately, I had left the top up because someone said it was going to rain at the weekend (Thur/Fri). Unfortunately no such luck on the rain front, but at least the temperature rise seems to be short lived. You know, I’m we haven’t had a decent downfall since Gonu.
Still, now that it is getting cooler we are getting out more and, this weekend we had decided to get Jacob riding his bike without stabilizers. Given that he had the screaming ad dabs after I raised them a couple of centimeters last April, we were under no illusions as to how difficult a task this would be. So Friday morning we set of with picnic and bicycle (sans stabilizers/training wheels) in hand to Qurum park, only to be chased out by the park warden as no bikes or ball games are allowed in the park. This is somewhat reminiscent of the UK, as the local councils there couldn’t understand why children would want to play in a park, with all that grass…let alone have fun and exercise.
Fortunately, I had a back up plan and a short while later we had located a quiet flat grassy area where Oscar could run around safely with a ball and Jacob could learn to ride his bike. After a little cajoling, plenty of reassurance and some failed renegotiation of terms on Jacob’s part, we set off on two wheels

There is a lot to be said for instilling confidence before attempting the task at hand and, I had made sure that Jacob felt safe in the knowledge that I wouldn’t let him fall. But it was still with great surprise that after an hour of running, bent double, with one hand gripping the bike seat, I let go…. just for short periods. At first Jacob couldn’t believe he was riding by himself, but each time we tried the louder his laughing got.

Hopefully, after a few more excursion he’ll be able to ride without me and then he’ll reap his reward, a new bike, there’s nothing like a good incentive is there?

To finish off a good weekend, the family trotted off to the rugby club to watch a game of Australian Rules Football. Whilst I will readily agree that my knowledge of the game is not the best (In fact I know nothing about it) we still had a lovely time and I got to experiment with the new camera.Oscar got down and dirty, maybe a star in the making?

The club has had numerous trials and tribulations over the last eighteen months, of which I won’t go in to. However, when a game is on, no matter what sport, there is a real community feel to it and it is a pleasure to see people enjoying themselves. Some of the ladies had organized refreshments and sausage sandwiches and the temptation was just too much, both Jacob and I succumbed but Becky was steadfast (Well done!).

At the end of the match, Muscat v Abu Dhabi, the local boys reigned supreme, at least I think they did, but I could be wrong, haven’t got a clue to be honest but it did look fun, but hard work, I should really stop now shouldn’t I? We done all of you!

On the downside to Oman, we are all subject to the whims and directives of the Government, tourists included.
I am sorry for all those people planning on holidaying here over Christmas, as the hotels will be given over to the conference. And for those expats living here, well if you were planning on taking a boat trip down the coast, good luck. I don’t think the ROP will take too kindly to any water traffic trying to get past the Al Bustan Palace Hotel,
and since the Marina and Yacht Club are right next door you might find it difficult to drive down there!

Saturday, October 18, 2008

Winter’s on its Way…..Whoopeee!!!!!

Now most of us in the Northern Hemisphere look upon the passing of Summer and the coming of winter with dread. In Oman, closer to the equator, the opposite is true, the cooler weather means we get to go out so much more and as a result we stumbled upon this little gem (Oi!!! Not so much of the little thank you very much)

As part of Muscat Municipality's initiative to improve play facilities for children in Oman, Assarain Concrete Products (ACP) commissioned mega state-of-the-art, high quality HAGS play equipment at Qurum Natural Park and Al Sahwa Park.
Given that play facilities were pretty much non existent (or poorly designed for the environment which we live in) this is a monumental leap forward for Oman. I would like to say a really big THANK YOU to whoever it was that made this happen.
It is sad to think that such facilities would not be available in the UK, if a local council saw fit to spend money in the first place, it would be vandalized within days, occupied by underage smokers/drinkers/drug addicts, and at the first wiff of a potential accident subject to spurious law suits due to the no win no fee vultures in the legal profession.
Fortunately, we in Oman hopefully live in gentler times and I pray that this country does not suffer a similar fate as that of the UK.
It was wonderful to be out in the open air and see the boys play, and they had a whale of a time exhausting all their energies just having fun.
Oscar is doing his best to catch up with Jacob and appears to have no fear……

If you look carefully, you’ll realize that our friend Chris is not supporting Oscar at all, he was actually pulling himself up on the bar!!! Not bad for a fifteen month old toddler.

Considering that, just over a year ago the park was totally destroyed by Cyclone Gonu, a lot of hard work has been put into rebuilding it. Now all we need is an indoor version for those hot summer months……any offers???

Services, or Lack Of….

Omantel (Telephone)
Well it has been an interesting week for Oman’s bloggers, as Omantel somehow managed to block our ability to login (within Oman). Normally you would hear conspiracy theories about censorship and freedom of speech. However, it appears to be the general consensus of opinion that Omantel are too incompetent to have done it deliberately. Moreover, it is more likely that they hadn’t notice they had blocked the login and, even more likely that they haven’t noticed it is now unblocked!!!
For all our gripes about how useless they are, occasionally they surprise you. A couple of weeks ago we were left with internet but no land line, if I had thought about it a little more, I would have realized that it was a broken connection within the house but, since Omantel have such a sterling record I chose to jump to the conclusion that they had mucked it up. I called (on my mobile) to log a fault, the following day an engineer was dispatched and he quickly diagnosed and repaired the fault, AT NO COST TO ME. Show me a BT engineering call out where the bill payer wasn’t charged!!!!
However, true to form, the engineer’s repair broke within a couple of days but, at least this time I didn’t jump to any conclusion and carried out the repair myself the way it should be done (PROPERLY).

So sometime, during the not so long ago past, the engineer’s carrying out maintenance on our local desalination plant managed to break it (quite badly I believe). Maybe I am being a tad harsh as the official line was that the breakdown coincided with maintenance work, who knows? So a lot of Muscat has suffered from a shortage of water with varying degrees of severity.
Planned maintenance/repairs were announced in the press and our local area was scheduled for Sunday. So I was somewhat taken aback when Becky called on Monday lunch time to tell me we had no water. I made a few ‘helpful’ suggestions and recommended flagging down a water truck and getting them to refill our tank, which then resulted in a heated exchange of words.
So off I went to track down some ‘intelligence’ on the repairs, which consisted of continuous and repetitive calls to the water authority until such time as they had had enough and picked up the phone. “Tuesday 10am” was the swift response which was duly conveyed to my lovely and now somewhat calmed wife. It would appear that the announcement of a lack of water was from our maid Jenny, who had heard it on the grapevine and not the case that our pipes had run dry. As such, by the time I had got home from work we still had half a tank of water and the mains water was back on.
Others were not so lucky, for instance our friend in Al Azaiber were without water for three days and to add insult to injury, charged fifty Omani Rials (75 Pounds Sterling) for one water truck, some ten times what it should have cost!!
This extortion and profiteering by some (and I stress some) of Muscat’s water tanker drivers is nothing new. During Gonu we had a similar situation but a well placed photo of the driver’s license plate and, the promise of a call to the Royal Omani Police sent him scurrying back under the rock he had crawled from.

Monday, October 13, 2008

You Are Not Alone

Just read this on another Blog and thought I'd share

It gives me a warm fuzzy feeling to know that beaureacratic idiosincracies are yours for the taking no matter which country you originate from.

We’re busy doing nothing working the whole day through, trying to find lots of things not to do…..

Before you start reading I have been playing around with links to google maps so click on the links to see the places I have been writing about.

It’s been a weird few weeks and I don’t know what started it but of late we have been exceedingly pro active. Maybe it’s a result of the change in work and school, but it has begun and long may it last.
A ‘life laundry’ was the first exercise, going through the house and getting rid of the junk that somehow we all seem to accumulate. This has now been completed, with the exception of the kitchen and laundry room and, boy does it feel good.
We have gathered together all the baby bits and bobs that are no longer required and have taken photos ready for Becky to do an advert for the Al Fair notice board. However, as this has been on the cards for some weeks, I suspect that I will need to sort that one out.

The notice boards are a great source for those wanting to buy and sell and always attract a lot of attention. However, you have to pick your words carefully or you will have a lot of unwanted callers.
When I advertised that I was selling the hard top to my jeep, all I got was phone calls asking how much I wanted to sell the Jeep for. I unfortunately had a bit of a paddy down the phone to an English caller, as he had no excuse for misreading the notice! Given that the photo only showed the hardtop I was flabbergasted (Good word that!) that so many people could not understand what the advert was for. A friend had exactly the same experience with a set of fender flares, so I know I am not alone.
If you want a new housemaid, second hand car, or the entire contents of a departing expatriates house look no further than the Al fair notice boards, particularly good ones at MQ and Al Sarooj, also an alternative one at the Sultan Centre.
There is another source still in it’s fledgling days and that is , I occasionally have a quick look and can’t say if it actually works, but hats off to whoever set this up I hope it works out for them.

So on with the jobs… Becky has planted a couple of trees, one for out by the cars and the other was to be in the ground out by the front of the house. However, I pointed out that the septic tank was there i.e. there is only concrete under the paving, so it has been planted in a very big and heavy pot instead.

We now have a couple of sun loungers and an umbrella on the first floor balcony so that guests, not that we have had that many of late, can relax in their own space.
Jacob has started earning pocket money, with jobs such as making his bed every morning and tidying up his playroom at the end of the day. Money is a great motivator especially when Ben 10 toys are available at the local department store.

Jacob joined in with the clearing out of the old in his own special way, by smashing a table lamp whilst pummeling me with a cushion during a play fight. He was mortified!!! Given that he is rapidly approaching six years old he has broken surprisingly little however I feel the reverse will be true of young Oscar. This accidental damage gave Becky the excuse of buying new lamps for the livingroom. A hunt round Muscat did not inspire either of us (especially when ID Design have prices in excess of RO150 per lamp, and their not even nice) So it was with some surprise that I returned home from work the other night to find that Gael had come to the rescue with a set of lamps from her new interiors shop called Gekco just off Way 3205 in North Ghubra. (It shares the ground floor of Medan Suites Hotel building with the restaurant Thai Basil).
Gael has hopefully tapped into a niche in the market offering Indonesian and modern furniture and interior bits in a town sorely lacking such up to now. Now before you start questioning my sanity, yes I am a man and as such I in no way advocate the purchase of interior bits, instead a table and chairs, bed and packing case to sit on whilst watching the tv is more than enough for any household, Grrrr and other manly noises just to prove my credentials.

Enough with fluffy cushions and back to more important issues… Tyres (or tires for our American readers). We went off to the desert with friends this weekend to stay at a desert camp and went down to Wahiba in two cars, Becky and Oscar in the Explorer and Jacob and I in the Jeep. This wasn’t due to an argument, but down to me wanting to do a lot of dune driving, (the opposite being true of Becky), and Becky not wanting to be crammed in to a small jeep for the couple of hours drive to the camp. We had a lovely time at the camp, Oscar made it his purpose in life to eat as much sand as possible, and the following day we re-inflated the car tyres and headed back to Muscat. After about forty minutes of driving we stopped at a petrol station to fill up and I went to put some more air in the Explorers tyres as the warning light was still on. I was somewhat confused as the more air I put in the less pressure showed on the gauge, Oh… a puncture. Another forty minutes followed as I changed the wheel in 38 degree heat, although it must be said quite a lot of that was spent trying to get the jack out of the car! As the rest of the tyres were nearing the end, we chose to change them all so that turned out to be a rather expensive end to a lovely weekend.

Wednesday, October 08, 2008

Ramadan a Ding Dong Round Three

So what with all the upheaval of changing jobs, we decided to make life even more difficult by changing schools.
Actually, this decision was taken some time ago as we were unhappy with the British School and chose to place Jacob on the waiting list for the ABA.
To make things clear from the outset I should explain that the British School is an excellent school with fantastic teachers. Jacob was very happy there but found the regimented structure somewhat challenging and as a result his confidence was knocked. Aside from this we were unhappy with the administration of the school, and as such voted with our feet.
Becky had popped up to the ABA to deliver some necessary paperwork, talk about serendipity, two people had just dropped out that morning and Jacob had a place waiting for him!! Instead of ten more days of school holiday, term would start in two days, fortunately this sudden reduction of holiday passed by unnoticed.
So with some trepidation Becky took Jacob to his first day of school expecting a complete meltdown, only to find that Jacob took it all in his stride and made new friends at the drop of a hat.

So one month on and do we feel that we made the right choice? Emphatically YES! Within the first couple of weeks, Jacob had stopped asking the traditional question of “Is it a school day, I don’t want to go” and returned to being an inquisitive little boy absolutely bursting with questions.
We both went to see his first assembly in the auditorium (a fantastic facility that would put some theatres to shame) and thoroughly enjoyed watching all those children performing their songs for the parents.

An added bonus is that some of Jacob’s friends have since joined him at the ABA, so he is one happy bunny.
This year Ramadan came and went with reduced working hours, closed shops and restaurants, crazy driving and dinner parties for entertainment. With so much upheaval it kind of past me by. I left Oman on the 6th September as my visa was cancelled by my old company and I had to apply for a new one. Fortunately Becky and the boys were able to remain due to good will on the part of my former employer.
So off to Dubai I went, which for a lot of people would be a treat, but I can’t stand the place. The taxi driver from the airport refused to follow my directions to the hotel, hence I arrived at the wrong one. In the early hours of the morning, I was not in the mood to be diplomatic and it was with much apologizing that the driver finally delivered me to the right hotel (the only tip he was going to get was “be good to your mother”).
So with an early breakfast, and little sleep I spent a day trawling the Mall of the Emirates, Festival City and Dragon Mall (The home of ‘Made in China’). That evening I was able to break fast with a supersize McD at the airport whilst waiting for my flight home.
In no time at all Eid had arrived and Becky could see the end of having me under her feet for most of the day. I had a days diving planned with our friends Chris and Andrew, whilst Becky was to go for a short trip to Dubai with Jacob and Andrew’s Wife Gael and their son Hamish.
For our days diving we met up at the Marina with Tor Peebles our Dive Master for the day from Oman Charter and headed off to the Lima One wreck south of Bandar Khoran.

Donated to the Oman by the Royal Navy, the Al-Munassir (Lima One) was the first of its kind to be sunk to create artificial reef in Omani waters. The Wreck is easily accessible. From the upper deck there are two vertical lift shafts down to the lower deck where most of the rooms to port and starboard are open. The bridge including the wheel house, ops room and communications room can be explored, and explore it we did!!

Unfortunately the visibility was 3m at best, but because of the abundant marine life in Oman waters the Al-Munassir is already fantastic artificial reef and it was great to work our way through all its nooks and crannies teasing out its new residents secrets.

For those of you on the look out for a good dive outfit, I can recommend Tor and his company, a real pleasure to dive with.
The Dubai trip was ostensibly for Jacob and Hamish to go to Wild Wadi, but of course I was in no doubt that an extensive exploration of Mall of the Emirates was on the cards.
Maybe I will leave this for Becky to blog about but suffice to say the boys had a blast at both Wild Wadi and Ski Dubai!!!

Tuesday, October 07, 2008

Ding! Ding! All Change Please

So back off holiday and back to work, but all is not happy in the Smith household.....
My contract was up for renewal and, whilst I felt confident that it would be renewed, I was less happy with the direction my career appeared to be heading in. Throw in to the pot an offer from another company and I had big decisions to make. So within the week I had had my contract review, accepted a post with a new company and quit my job with the old company. It was with mixed feelings that I left the old company, as they introduced me to Oman, but who knows, maybe I will return somewhere down the line.
Shortly before Ramadan, Becky reached the ripe old age of thirty nine, and left me at thirty eight years old (Oh OK I was only 38 for another six days!).
Becky's present was in the form of Jewelry made by the infamous Mr Sadiqi, a name that makes Muscat wives hearts glow and husbands tremble. For those uninitiated husbands out there, pray that your wives never discover his workshop.
I on the other hand had benefited from a case of Becky's camera frustration whilst on holiday. Those of you with small children will know how difficult it is to take photos with a digital camera due to the lag between pushing the button and the camera recording the image. Sam and Bruce had the benefit of a true Digital Nikon SLR and the difference in quality of our pictures was like Night and Day.
Thus I was allowed to hunt down the camera of my choice, which turned out to be a Canon EOS 40D
Now you may be thinking that this is just typical of a man, and oh so boring, but there is a reason specific to Oman and not just with cameras. That is Monopolies rule, especially in the retail industry. Thus I went to the importer of Canon products (as well as the importer of Nikon) and found that the price was considerably higher than Carefour or Emax were selling that same products for. I did ask for an explanation knowing full well I wouldn't get an ineligible one, but I seem to take perverse pleasure in banging my head against brick walls.
In the end I made a considerable saving buying from in the United States, even with having to pay for shipping and duty.
It is wise to remember that when shopping in Oman, the cheapest product is not always the cheapest product, so check your prices carefully. Thus endeth the lesson.

We’re All Going On A Summer Holiday, No More Working For A Week Or Two….

After three years, Becky finally decided enough was enough and that we should go on a proper family holiday. Suggestions of camping somewhere wet and windy were immediately dispatched and the hunt was on for a suitable location.
At first Spain was touted, but a distinct lack of flights put pay to that idea, France followed but was not enthusiastically received and it was decided that Italy would be too expensive. As time was running out we made an executive decision and decided on Northern Cyprus, maybe because we knew absolutely nothing about the place.
Our friends the Kahls were to fly out to join us from the UK, and we would spend two weeks in our own little villa (rented) doing as little as humanly possible.
Due to flight connections we stayed in Dubai for a day, treating Jacob and Oscar to a day at Wild Wadi water park. Jacob had been so disappointed last time that he was too small for the rides, we just had to get him back there. The Tunnel of Doom was a particular hit, with Jacob noting that “Mummy screamed like a girl”.
Oscar proved to be his own attraction with a lot of locals having their picture taken with him.
This is one of those things that can be disconcerting to those people straight out of the UK, were paranoia is the order of the day, but in the Middle East there is an innocence that I hope never disappears. It is the norm for complete strangers to introduce themselves to your children and have a photograph taken especially if the child is blond and blue eyed. Whilst I do not advocate any lack of parental judgment, it is something you get used to (but are constantly bemused by) and in some ways appreciate.
That night was spent at the Meridien hotel which was a lovely way to start the hols had it not been for the fact that Oscar didn’t sleep and I suffered from a bout of projectile vomiting. So the following days' journey to Cyprus was less than pleasant for me and somewhat tiring for Becky.
Soon enough though, the Smiths and the Kahls were firmly ensconced in our villa going about the business of doing as little as possible.

The girls had a day out at an expensive spa for some serious R&R and I got to go diving. Whilst not ranking anywhere near the best dives I have had, I live by the motto “A bad days diving is better than a good day at work.”

We didn’t take that many trips out, preferring instead to enjoy the quiet relaxed village life, Oscar and I taking early morning constitutionals to the bakers. In fact the baker attempted to engage Oscar in some form of dialogue for the whole two weeks however, Oscar steadfastly refused and would only offer a suspicious glare at best!

One trip we did make was to the village of Bellapais made famous by the author Lawrence Durrell in his book ‘Bitter Lemons of Cyprus’. There stands the ancient abbey in a tranquil setting with a stunning view of the island below. We spent the early evening relaxing on the balcony of the Tree of Idleness restaurant, enjoying good food, great company and beautiful surroundings.

As ever, the holiday was too short and we were left with a hollow feeling in saying goodbye to our friends and heading back to home and life in Oman.
Oscar and Jacob coped really well with the journey home, which for Jacob was really amazing as he didn’t sleep for the whole 24Hrs!!!!!!!!! The only contentious point was when we opened our front door and wouldn’t let him watch TV at five in the morning (we are such disciplinarians!!!) Jacob went into complete meltdown but was fast asleep before his head hit the pillow.

One Year On

On the run up to the first anniversary of Gonu a certain expectant hush fell over Muscat and the rumour mill went into overdrive. We went from claims of Son of Gonu to a new Ice Age and even Tsunamis, at one point some mystical Indian Yogi chipped in to say we were all doomed, somewhat akin to Private Frazer of Dad’s Army

It is amazing to think how many normally sane people actually listened to such tripe and it certainly didn’t help when an online local business news site actually published an article making reference to warnings from an international society (which in reality was completely fictitious).
So the day came and went and nothing happened…………….who would have Adam and Eved it.
Another anniversary soon followed and one of far greater importance, Oscar’s First Birthday….

OOOOOHHHHHHHHHHhhhhhhhh………..hasn’t he grown.

A little family gathering was the order of the day with Oscar being introduced to chocolate cake for the very first time

I’m not altogether sure, but I think he might have liked it…

You're In The Army Now

So 2008 began with a cold and windy snap, but no rain to talk of. Weekends were easy with walks along the beach kicking a ball around and generally trying to work off the excess’ of Christmas.

As far as events on the Social Calendar, we went to the Anzac Ball and the Thin Red Line, company is everything and we had a ‘ball’ at both, but my favorite had to be the ‘Line’. Given that this is a military night out, it is not something that you can just buy tickets to, but fortunately for us we were invited by our friends Olivia and Chris.

Security was tight with soldiers at checkpoints all around the Hotel, but everyone was dressed to the nines for the event and it is somewhat unusual to feel under-dressed when in Black Tie. After the initial gathering and greetings were exchanged we were ‘piped’ to dinner in the hotel’s ballroom. There followed a lovely meal, with great conversation and to top it off we were entertained with the Omani military drummers who could teach the Blue Man Group a few tricks. An absolutely stunning display and a fantastic end to the evening.

At Easter our friends, the Ridley’s, came to visit for the first time. Jacob was beside himself to see Patrick and Liam again and within minutes it seemed that they had never been apart. Unfortunately, being an accountant and Easter being the end of the UK financial year, John could only afford to take a week off, but we fitted in the obligatory trip to the desert. This time I chose to stay with Oscar whilst Becky went on the camel ride as my body had latent memories of the last trip.

The boys tried their hands at snow boarding down the dunes and I had a mild heart failure from having to climb up the dunes so many times.

During the dune driving our guide, Ahmed, took a spell at the wheel of my Jeep, Jo was the first passenger and I’m not sure whether she stopped screaming the whole time. John took his place in the second round and Becky flatly refused (I think she may have threatened Ahmed with physical violence at one point) Finally, it was my turn and I was somewhat alarmed that we headed off in ac completely different direction, I should have remembered that it was Ahmed’s main aim in life to ensure he scared the bejesus out of you, Becky knew better than to watch!

The rest of the time was spent around the pool, with trips to the shops (John’s wallet taking a bashing due to the low cost of gold and precious stones in Oman) and trips to Magic Planet and the bowling alley for the boys.

The time to return home came around all to swiftly, but it was lovely to see them and hopefully it won’t be their only visit.

Monday, October 06, 2008

Annus Horiblus ish

So goodbye 2007 and roll on 2008. For all you back in the cold at New Years, we went camping at Sifa beach with friends for a beautiful New Years eve. Oscar had a very successful night under canvas and even Becky enjoyed her camping experience. What a year 2007 was, to recap....
James in Hospital with suspected hepatitis
James in Hospital to have Gal Bladder removed
Gonu, down two cars and the ground floor of the house
Becky in Hospital with emergency cesarean
Lost third car to flooding.
Goodbye 2007 and thanks for the memories