Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Leaving It All Behind

Becky went for a girl’s trip to Dubai, shopping at the weekend. Twenty three Rials each way with Fly Dubai (But hey, Oman Air will be undercutting that to the staggeringly low price of RO 22!)
I’ll leave Becky to tell you how well it went, but suffice to say that she won’t need any exercise classes for a week or two.

I on the other hand had the boys to myself, and the weekend began with a trip to the ABA Food Fair.
The Food Fair started back in 1995 as part of the UN Day Celebrations and it has been one of the highlights on the school’s calendar every year since. All the food, service and decorations are donated by volunteers, a great deal of the work is done by parents (I helped in my own little way by eating as much as I could), and many staff members get involved as well.
It was great fun, very noisy and exceedingly busy. Food from forty nations was available to taste, covering pretty much all of the planet from as far afield as Fiji, New Zealand, a large proportion of South America, a fair few African nations, European and of course the good old Sultanate of Oman.
I was impressed that Jacob willingly tried a real variety of food, starting with sushi and then some Venezuelan dishes of which I have no idea of their names. Everyone was doing their bit to fly the flag for their respective nations and it was a very colourful spectacle, a special mention goes out to the ladies of Nigeria who were without doubt the most colourful of the evening.
I don’t know why I should be surprised, but I was astounded by the variety and diversity of the nationalities residing in Muscat. I guess we all live in our own little worlds to some extent.
Well done to everyone for all the hard work and delicious food, I can’t wait for next year and in the mean time I will have to do some culinary research to track down the tastiest dishes out there.

It was on Friday that we went up to the pool early for a swim. It started quietly, but after a while there were plenty of other children for Jacob to play with, allowing me to keep a beady eye on Oscar.
Over the winter we rarely went swimming, but for the last month or so, as the temperatures have risen, we have been going more regularly. It was therefore with some surprise that Oscar announced he couldn’t swim. Given his exploits in Bali last summer I have struggled to understand why he hs lost confidence.
Resigned to a morning in the shallow end, I joined Oscar in a game with his Power Ranger action figures. There is only so much Power Ranger role playing a grown man can take and I quickly struck on the idea of the figures doing dive bombs off the side. Would you believe it, that canny little Red Power Ranger got talking to Oscar, and soon enough he too was doing dive bombs off the side! It was a small step, but with a little more persuasion from Red, Oscar was swimming again!!!

Three Cheers for Oscar and Three Cheers for the Power Rangers!!!

Something for the weekend, Sir?

Now I'll appologise straight off for the poor photo quality, but but it was hastily taken with a camera phone.
Oman Oil seem to have a Ying and Yang thing going with men's aftershave at the moment......

I'd love to see the marketing for these products, it must be hilarious. I'm thinking maybe something with a 70's theme, big hair, big flares and bad taste!

Saturday, March 13, 2010

Wahiba Challenged (or how to loose yourself in a great big sand box)

This must be the year of living dangerously, what with a return to diving, dog ownership, learning Arabic and Becky’s knitting, I thought that the Wahiba challenge sounded like a good idea.
Now I have done a fair few desert camps in my time with dune bashing thrown in as you know, but that’s hardly a challenge.
So when a friend asked if I would like to join him and a few others on a trip through the Wahiba, I thought ‘Why Not??’. I then went and asked Becky for permission. (I should make it clear at this point, that this was not the Wahiba Challenge, merely a weekend away experiencing serious desert driving with seasoned desert drivers).

So the day quickly arrived and I packed up my Jeep and set off to work, knowing that I had forgotten something (This time it was my Crocs). That afternoon I would jump ship early and meet up with my friend Simon before heading down to the Al Areesh desert camp for our first night.
Arriving just after nightfall, we met up with two other members of our party before having some dinner, and a chat before crawling away to our beds for an early night.

So the next morning the rest of the group arrived, a motley crew comprising seven Jeeps and nine people harking from Indonesia, the Netherland, Italy and England. We ‘aired down’ our tyres, put up our sand flags and discussed (with a little trepidation on my part) our journey.
For those of you that don’t know, taking the air out of your tyres is crucial to driving on the sand and as little as 2psi can be the difference between moving or getting completely bogged down. On average we took the pressure down to 9psi and went through the process again once the tyres had warmed up, on the down side at low pressure you run the risk of having the tyre come off the rim.
The other important bit of kit is the sand flag, in my case a red head scarf on the end of a long fishing rod. Before you start taking the mickey, the idea behind them is to see whether there is a car on the other side of the dune, before you come over the top and land on top of it.

We quickly moved into the dunes playing follow the leader, cutting our teeth on the odd steep incline and slowly building up confidence. It was then our fearless leader decided that there had been enough pussy footing around and promptly launched himself up an impressively high dune, power sliding sideways to the top.
I remember the words ‘No #$%#^*&* Way??’ left my mouth followed shortly afterwards with ‘He doesn’t expect us to follow, does he?’
Sure enough one by one we followed, but try as I might I just couldn’t reach the top, despite helpful hints from my companions. It was then that one of our party took a more direct approach, simply blasting straight up at full throttle until he reached the top and following his lead I found myself, to my great relief, sitting on top of the dune, no longer playing tail end charlie.

It was also with great relief that I was not the first or the second person to get stuck, being the new kid on the block I had no desire to upset the others, but sure enough my time came sooner rather that later, and again, and again and again……but hey, that’s all part of the fun.
A small note of caution when placing your cool box in the car, DON’T position it with the lid facing forward. After going over the top of one dune, my cool box opened and proceeded to deposit melted ice water over me and the passenger seat, squelch!

We stopped for lunch short of our intended site due to a squeaky drive shaft. No such thing as a service centre in the desert, it was a case of repairs on the hoof and in no time at all, a badly damaged U joint had been replaced with a new one, it’s amazing what you can find at the bottom of a handbag (or a glove box in this instance). Speak to a Jeep owner and you’ll hear of the joys of parts breaking and how easy it is to fix them, simply because they are so basic. It is not for nothing that a common motto of Jeep owners is “It’s a Jeep thing, you wouldn’t understand”.

For me there were two notable incidents to the afternoon and fortunately for me the first one came before the other and not vica versa.

It’s not all that clear from the photo, but I breached (went over the top) of the dune slightly faster than I had intended. Coupled with a slightly steeper than normal back side, the front wheels of my Jeep dug in deep, whilst the rear wheels did their level best to overtake (Over the top!!).
It was at this point that there was severe clenching of certain parts of my anatomy and I repeatedly chanted “Please Don’t Flip Over!” whilst simultaneously and somewhat pointlessly using my body weight to force the car back down on to four wheels. Suffice to say that someone up there was looking out for me at that particular point in time.

The second event of the afternoon revolved around something (I know not what) I had eaten earlier. Stomach cramps and numerous pit stops later, it was with the utmost relief when we stopped , set up camp and for me, went straight to bed.
Everyone else had dinner (No curry for me ) and chatted around the camp fire. However, I’m sure you’ll agree that the order of the afternoons incidents was the best outcome for everyone, most especially me.

The next morning we slowly emerged from our cocoons and prepared ourselves and our vehicles for the rest of the journey. I was still somewhat crook, so my much anticipated fry up was replaced with a banana and a cup of tea.
We drove off experiencing more of the wide expanse of nothingness that is the desert before finally reaching our intended target, a sand mountain.
Now, being a gormless newbie, I was blindly playing follow the leader and only casually noting that we were not making the same headway as the previous day and, that the dunes were tightly packed and only seemed to be going in one direction, UP!
It wasn’t until we reached the top that our fearless leader remarked with surprise (his) to the two newcomers (myself included) with the now infamous words “Not a lot of first timers would have attempted that climb, that was quite brave of you”
Brave my arse, I was just following you!!!! (I don’t remember if anyone was wearing an ‘I’m with Stupid’ T shirt)

I will say that the view and experience was well worth it.

In the two days we had travelled one hundred and twenty five kilometers from the Al Areesh camp at the beginning of the Wahiba to Falaj Al Mashayek, close to Sur.

During our journey I had practiced my Arabic on some poor unsuspecting Bedouins, learnt how to repair a drive shaft, as well as remount a tyre that had come off its rim, and most importantly how to really drive in the sand. Not bad, Hey??

Now, how can I persaud Becky to let me go again…………

********** Update **********
********* 28/03/10 *********

Here is the video of the trip kindly filmed and edited by Danielle

And I have a pass for this coming weekend, should be hot!!!

Dragon Blocked Again

Ho Hum,
I suppose it is not so much what was said/shown, but who it is about this time

Suffice to say that if you are in Oman and see the above message, go to google and search for the site of interest

Now just after the description can you see the address? and after that the word "Cached"
Yep you got it, click on "Cached"

That is the end of this Public Service Announcement

In an aside to Surburban, shit happens. It is not pleasant or fair and you are going to have to deal with it for a long time to come through no fault of your own.

To everyone else:

Swimming pools are dangerous places and if you have children it is your responsibility to make sure your children are safe, every second of every minuet that they are in or around the water, no one elses.
That being said, maybe the Government would think about imposing professional lifeguards at public pools? At the very least there should be a designated First Aid person.
If you want to read more I suggest you check out the link to Other Oman on the right.

My heartfelt condolences to everyone directly or indirectly involved.

Saturday, March 06, 2010

Rednecks in Muscat

I drove to work this morning, much the same as any other working day.
Thirty minutes at mostly highway speeds.
Parked up, went inside, went out on site and then came back.
It was then I noticed my front bumper, well I noticed what was on my front bumper, you can see if you look carefully……..

Yes, Oscar had left his toy rifle on my bumper and it had made it all the way to work, I’m happy the ROP didn’t spot it, or I might have had some explaining to do ;o)

Speaking of Oscar and the Jeep, I know that it is just a big boy’s Tonka toy and Oscar treats it that way too. However, I was hunting for my keys the other day and Jacob mentioned that Oscar had been messing around with them. I looked under the sofa, lifted cushions, and all the other places I could think of without joy (Asking a two and a half year old doesn’t work).
Finally I gave up and went to the jeep and found then in the ignition………………………………That boy is going to be trouble, I just know it!!!!

Tomorrow I plan on strapping a dead Elk to my jeep’s bonnet to see if anyone notices.

Tuesday, March 02, 2010

Law samaHt

I am ashamed to say that it has taken this long for me to seek professional help, but as they say, admitting you have a problem is the first step on the road to recovery.

I have known for a long time that this is what I wanted, but trying to do it on my own has always ended in failure (and sometimes mild embarrassment).
Ok, maybe not complete failure, I have picked up the odd pointer on the way, but it is not what you’d call a resounding success.

I don’t want to blame others for my failings but, when ever I have tried to demonstrate my progress, people have looked at me as though I have a pair of antlers on my head (or something equally bizarre), or else given me a sympathetic, pitying smile. Hardly encouraging I think you’d agree.

So as a group we are spending two hours each week talking at or to each other and generally helping our fellow attendees when they slip, whilst doing our best not to laugh.

Last night was the sixth session in a twelve week programme and I think I’m making good progress, but only time will tell.

So I will be eternally grateful to Said, under whose patient guidance, I butcher his language and ear drums in the hope that someday soon I’ll be talking Arabic like a native (ok, maybe not like a native but maybe well enough not to cause offence).

Maa assalaama

Oscar the Ant

I came downstairs the other day and realised my son had been reading Kafka.

In years to come he'll regret this I'm sure. ;o)

Service with a Smile

Apologies for the interruption, normal services shall resume shortly.
This post is one I have been meaning to write for some time, but had not got around to it for one reason (excuse) or another and, is dedicated to Suburban, because she asked so nicely.

Has anyone been to Al Ain Airshow? I have,.................twice.
Originally I thought it would be pretty cool to take the boys to the Dubai Air Show extravaganza, but then I found out it was trade only – How stupid is that???
Well, last year without knowing anything about it, I took Jacob (Oscar was too small) and was pleasantly surprised. It wasn’t big or glitzy by any stretch of the imagination, there was precious little on the ground to keep you interested (kind of reminded me of the farmer’s market in my home town), but the pilots put on some wonderful displays and there was a decent play area available for when the children got bored or restless.
Well, one year had past and Oscar, being a confirmed petrol head and wannabee fly boy, was in need of his first real fix, so I decided to take the boys up to Al Ain for the day. We were joined by one of Jacob’s friends (Will) and his father for a decidedly boy’s day out and by eight o’clock we were on our way.
It takes about two and a half hours from Muscat to reach the border at Buraymi, nothing interesting to report with the boys plugged in to their respective gadgets and the normal antics of taxi drivers and driving instructors raising the occasional eyebrow, that is until we reached the border crossing.
For the first time ever, we were directed to park up and go inside the building, I have been so used to breezing through without getting out of the car I was taken somewhat by surprise. The Royal Omani Police were as gracious, warm and friendly as ever, and other than pointing out that their computers said Jacob was Irish (I checked, he's not), there was nothing to report and we were soon on our way.
We quickly crossed no-mans land and pulled up at the appropriate UAE border post window (Insert metaphorical screeching of brakes), when we were asked to park up and go into a second building. Here we had a retina scan and were then directed to go back to the first building to get our passports stamped with an entry visa.
On arrival at the first building we were informed that he couldn’t stamp our passports (???) and we needed to proceed to a third building.
On arrival at the third building the guard told us to go back to the first building.
On arrival at the first building we waited for ten minutes until one of the guards decided that he would rather not have three bored boys anywhere near him and took me back to the third building. Here, he kicked the guy out from behind his computer and did the whole immigration thingameejigg himself.
Having now got appropriately stamped passports, we bundled ourselves back into the car and headed off to the customs building…….but that’s another story.
So FINALLY, we arrived at Al Ain airport just in time to see the first display of model aircraft. Now, before you ask I’m not talking about the little things that you get from LuLu’s or Toys’R’Us , but really BIG boys toys (The sort of thing that would ensure you had a really bad day if it hit you).
I remember the previous year walking in from a distance and seeing these aircraft perform all manner of aerobatic tricks, knowing that something was not quite right, but not knowing quite what. It wasn’t until I saw concord fly past in a slow nose up maneuver that I relised I was watching models…………….Doh!
So we had a walk around and the good new is that the air show is maturing. There is still the farmer’s market feel, but way more to see than the previous year.
There was a Ferrari F1 car on display with Etihad, a Citroen rally car, a UAE F16 Falcon, Apache Helicopter and a Dassault Mirage, oh and a certain Oscar who was beside himself with excitement.

The fire fighting services had a display but was unfortunately unmanned (Fireman Sam would have gone down a storm) and a Bedu tent complete with falcons for the children to get up close and personal with.

The real winner though, were the three (real) cockpits brought over by a couple from Yorkshire in which visitors and more importantly boys could sit. I’m sure Oscar would have spent the whole day there given half a chance.

There was a English Electric Lightning, a Harrier Jump Jet and a Hawker Hunter to choose from and at one point, whilst I was helping Jacob and his friend Will clamber in and out of the Lightning, Oscar took himself off, circumvented the security, climbed the ladder and managed to get himself half way into the Hunter before I or anyone else had spotted him.

The show itself was great fun with jets, single prop aerobatic planes, pylon racers, bi planes and parachutists all doing their bit to thrill the crowds. Many Ooo’s and Aah’s ensued, culminating with a wide eyed WOW!!!! When a Buccaneer proceeded to do a bombing and strafing run on the airfield (Courtesy of some discreetly placed pyrotechnics, shsss!......don’t tell the children!

Soon enough it was time to head home, and with the boys all in commemorative T-shirts we drove back to the UAE border.
On arrival at the first building our passports were withheld and we were asked to park up. We duly did so and collected our passports and returned to the third building. On completing five sets of exit forms, I proceeded to hand over our passports at the very desk that our entry had be recorded five hours earlier.
Everything went swimmingly until they got to the last passport, mine.

Guard: Where have you been?
Me: Al Ain Air Show
Guard: No, since 2009
Me: ????? and ? eh, Oman
Me: I came for the air show with my children, my entry was approved at this very desk five hours ago.
Me: I live in Oman and my children can’t drive yet!
Guard: The computer says you didn’t leave the UAE in 2009, do you speak Arabic?
Me: Yes I did and no I don’t

At this point a kindly Omani gentleman decided to intervene on my behalf and listen to the conversation between the Guard and his colleague.
I am convinced that the question as to my knowledge of Arabic was for no ones benefit, but solely to allow the guards to verbally abuse me without my knowledge, for in the words of my new found Omani friend, “They are not saying very nice things about you.”, the look on his face told me so much more.
I can honestly say, with my hand on my heart that the UAE border guards come second only to the USA for being miserable SoB’s. A great first impression for visitors to your country, way to go guys!
Word of advice, if you are planning to bad mouth a person in the belief that they won’t understand you, make sure there are no translators on hand. Better still STFU (excuse the profanity) and then no one gets upset.

The only other comment to be made about the day is the arrival of a strategically placed service station on the Muscat side of Sohar.
I think it is a shell petrol station, which is only important in identifying the location from a distance. Attached to it is a building with a Khimji’s Mart at one end and a pizzeria on the other. On entering the building, one finds themselves in a quadrangle of eateries, with a couple of enclosed play areas for the children.
Given that we usually pass this way early evening (ie. the boys tea time), it makes for the perfect opportunity to stretch ones legs and feed the family before embarking on the final leg of the journey home. Well done to whoever thought of building it!!

Oh, and one other thing whilst I am on the subject of service stations, am I the only one that compares Muscat service station convenience stores to the Cold War??
What is it with the Al Maha ‘Souk’???
On one side we have Oman Oil and Shell convenience stores, well lit, clean and well stocked shelves (everything you would expect of a ‘convenience’ store), whilst on the other we have the Al Maha Souk with untidy, grubby, ‘new’ inconvenience stores, shelves predominately empty and, the goods available appealing to the desperate only.
I half expect to see a bread queue of ancient eastern European women patiently waiting outside.

Come on guys, why are you even bothering?