Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Bearing it all

This week I’ve gone topless.
It’s so liberating running around Muscat with no top on. The weather is beautiful, the temperature just right, the sun is shining and not a cloud is to be seen in the sky. Occasionally you get the odd look from people in the street, but it is worth it.
The only down side are the midges first thing in the morning.
Hopefully I won’t have to put my top back on until April next year (unless it rains of course)!

This is the perfect time for a soft top on your car……….Huh? what did you think I was talking about??????

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Hot pursuit

Just a short one today.
Driving in the vicinity of The Wave this morning on my way to work, I spotted Muscat’s finest in a brand new blue and white Dodge Charger!

Quite a change from the boring old fords; were the police lying in wait to pounce upon some wide boy avoiding the traffice jams by using the hard shoulder as his own personal lane? or simply waiting for Dunkin’ Donuts to open up in the Al Bahja complex?? We may never know….

But if the Royal Oman Police are considering changing their fleet of vehicles, maybe they should wait for Ford’s purpose built police car (Codenamed E7) to be launched.

A little note to Sythe, sorry we didn’t manage to continue with our conversation last night, you went to answer the door and I went to bed, those are the results of incompatible time zones I guess. Still I’d be interested to hear who thinks I’ve left Oman. We will be offline for a short while soon, as we are moving house this weekend and I have yet to deal with Omantel, but don't worry, we haven't left town.

Oh, and if you happen to be looking for Dunkin Donuts in Markus Al Bahja, I'm not sure there is one yet, I was only trying to 'enforce' an old stereotype, so don't shoot me ;-)

Monday, October 19, 2009


There's a story in our family about the exploits of my Great Aunt Helen (My Grandfather's Sister in Law) and as my parents have been visiting for the last two weeks it came up in conversation one night.

The story was this: Helen and Bill were flying out of Sydney Australia by flying boat, when one of the planes floats fell off. The captain, wanting to avoid a disaster asked for volunteers to climb out inside the opposite wing in order to counter balance the aircraft. The first people out into the wing were the co-pilot, Helen and Bill at which point an argument ensued. It would appear that volunteers were expected to be men only and Helen was politely asked to return to the cabin with the other ladies, Helen refused in her own particular way and stayed put much to the consternation of the flight crew.
Well they made it back safely, went on their trip to Hobart and, upon their return to Sydney, Helen to her great embarrasement, was met with a ceremony where the Captain of the stricken flying boat presented her with the aircraft's log book.

Given that this was all we knew, which in itself may have been embellished over time and countless tellings, I decided to do a quick search on google and typed in "helen smith flying boat sydney".
You can imagine our surprise when at the top of the results was this article from the Melborne news paper "The Age" dated March 8th 1955.

The internet is a wonderous invention and hats off to the guys and girls at Google for allowing us all to make the most of it.

Sunday, October 04, 2009

Here Be Dragons

So it has been a pretty quiet Ramadan for the family this year. Once Becky and the boy’s had returned from Bali, the focus was on finding a new house and general day to day chores before the arrival of Eid.
Ramadan is a tricky time to get anything done, the Omani’s fast from sun up to sun down and as a result have very little energy, even though everyone works reduced hours! One unusual result of one month worth of fasting is that a lot of people put on weight.
Mostly this is attributed to eating a lot of sweets, carbohydrates etc., binge eating and completely screwed up body-clocks.
So if we have any Omani readers, who have put on a few pounds over the holy month, have a look at the following link to see how not to put on the weight next year….maybe!

After almost four (mostly happy) years in the same house, we have decided to move, predominately due to two small boys and a distinct lack of outside space. As the boys have grown it has become obvious that they need to be playing outside far more. However, with a garden table and chairs, trampoline, paddling pool and climbing frame there is not enough room to swing a cat (and I have tried on a couple of occasions).
So we, ahem! Becky mainly, have been scouring Muscat for a house with a garden (or paved area) of a not too significant size for the right price. This is no easy task, as the general rule of construction is to fill your plot of land to the brim, leaving only just enough room to park your car on it’s side!

Given the Ramadan go slow issues, it has been a somewhat frustrating experience. As we have had to give three months notice to the current landlord, we have had to place ourselves in the unenviable position of being potentially homeless….eeek!
Fingers crossed that we can find ourselves a good home and just as importantly a good landlord in the time allotted. And a big ‘Shukran’ (Thank You) to Ali and Zuanna for being such good landlords.

Speaking of troubles during Ramadan, I had to re-register Becky’s car with the Royal Oman Police (ROP) which is a bit like paying road tax in the UK only cheaper. In years gone by, this has been a trial at the best of times, let alone throwing Ramadan into the mix. Now that I work in Al Khoud, it was easier for me to go to the new ROP offices at Seeb, opposite the airport, than brave the traditional bun fight at death valley road.
Wow!!!! What a pleasant experience, the police officers were efficient, informative an good humored, and not a hint of a bundle or queue jump to be seen. I was in and out within twenty minutes, a personal best and if I am not mistaken a new world record!!! The only downside was having to pay Becky’s two speeding tickets.

Their website is quite useful for keeping track of your tickets, especially when you want to point out where and when the offence was committed.....possibly leading to questions from your spouse such as "Just what were you doing at 3am in Ruwi???"

So what is going on with the schools and swine flu? Jacob went back to the ABA at the end of August, but Oscar’s nursery only managed to open for a week before being ordered to shut by the government. They will be lucky to open in November and it is rumoured that some schools may stay shut until the new year!!!
Not trying to criticise, but what is better, send children into a learning environment where continued monitoring of their health is easily achieved, or giving them an extended holiday so that they can mix with everyone and their dog at shopping malls, cinemas, playgrounds etc. or even better, go back abroad, with absolutely no way of controlling the situation?
Whilst the ABA have reported a few cases, one of them in Jacob’s class, the situations has been contained and the school has kept all the parents informed. Unfortunately, Oscar has been bored out of his mind and cannot understand why he can’t go to school each morning like his big brother. And then you have the schools and nursery’s who are not able to operate, therefore not charge fees, and as a result not pay their staff! Not such a fun holiday after all, is it?

It has been during this time that Oscar has become fixated with planes, along with cars, motorbikes and anything else mechanical. He recently drove Becky mad, asking to see clips of airplanes on the computer, after I showed her a video of the big Russian transport planes that have been taking off out of Muscat recently. That and requests for trips out to Seeb airport to watch passenger jets taking off, he knows what he likes that boy.
On trips in the car, we will have running commentaries of “look, mummy car!” and “mummy, car!” for long periods as well as the occasional “Digger, Wow!”. Given the quantity of cars and diggers in Muscat, this can get rather old hat very quickly.

Since the weather has cooled Jacob has got out his bicycle, and Oscar has been desperately trying to pick it up and ride off into the sunset. As a result we have had to get him a bike of his own and now he only has to work out how to pedal. Being responsible parents, the use of a cycle helmet has been well and truly instilled into his subconscious and he will not go near the bike unless it is properly buckled up.

The ‘boys’ went out for our first cycling trip the other weekend in order to test the weather. Oscar was none too pleased at having to be a passenger on daddy’s bike, rather than ride his own, but we could have been out all weekend if we had let him have his way.
Jacob had a slight spill, no damage done other than his pride and was soon away again without a backwards glance. The outing showed how much he had grown, as his knees are up around his ears whilst pedaling. Note to self, must raise his saddle, I’ll have to do it on the quiet or he might have a melt down akin to the time that I adjusted his stabilizers!

Another first for Oscar was a trip to the cinema at Shatti, we kept quiet that he was below the minimum age of three and bought tickets to see ‘Slightly Cloudy with a chance of Meatballs’, which was a great laugh for children and adults alike.
Oscar was totally engrossed ensconced in his seat with a beaker of apple juice and quietly munching his way though a packet of M&M’s. I had control of the popcorn, and it was quiet amusing to watch him raise his head with mouth open and eyes firmly fixed on the movie, all the while emitting a low ‘ahhh’ indicating another mouthful of popcorn was required. Occasionally, I would delay acquiescing to his ‘requests’ purely to see the indignant look he would give me as a result of having to take his eyes off the movie….priceless!

So with the arrival of Eid the government and therefore the company, gave me four days off and some serious family time.
Normally, Muscat is mobbed by visitors from the other Gulf States, mainly Abu Dhabi and Dubai, but this year it was noticeably quiet, presumably as a result of press reports that Muscat was a hot bed of swine flu cases.
We had several trips to the pool, a trip to the cinema and a day diving for me.
I went off with our friend Andrew for a dive on the wreck just south of Bandar Koran, and for me it was special as I reached my 100th logged dive. It has taken long enough, but there you go, I finally made it, next job is to finish my dive leader training.
We descended down to the deck of the ship and switching on our torches, I led Andrew into the inky blackness of the ship’s hold. I love it, the only way you know that you are actually moving is to shine your torch on the side of the hull. A little over half way, depending on visibility and you can see the faint glow of the exit ahead. Even though he had done it before, in his own words Andrew was ‘freaked out’ by the experience, a better torch is definitely on his Christmas list.

As ever, I played around with the camera trying different setting etc and I especially enjoyed being circled by an inquisitive young turtle on the second dive.

Our last day’s holiday was spent driving up Jebel Shams to the highest point of Oman.
Given that we have lived here for four years, it is a pretty poor show to admit that this was the first time we have gone to this ‘must see’ part of Oman. I believe that the canyon is the second largest in the world (Not sure what it is second to, as the Grand Canyon in the US is not technically a canyon, whereas King’s Canyon in Australia is).
It is a three hour drive from Muscat to the top, with some suitable spectacular sights on the way.

Whilst I agree that the road was steep in places, I would question whether the incline on sign was a little exaggerated!
To keep Oscar occupied and engrossed in the journey we told him (and continually reminded him) that we were heading to Dragon Mountain (Dora the Explorer), which he really enjoyed. Looking down into the canyon he would animatedly point out the location of the dragon's cave! Far down below us we could see a group of hikers making their way up the side of the canyon on foot, rather them than me, and I offer you the chance to play ‘Where’s Wally’ in the photo below.

A short lunch near the village at the top, a chat with the locals and a small attempt at helping them with their cottage industry and then it was time to head home. A really good way to finish off the hols, must try harder to explore the rest of Oman.