Tuesday, 31 December 2013

Sing along now, 'do they know it's Christmas time at all'.....

Whenever you talk to anyone about living abroad and in particular somewhere with a warmer climate, they tend to ask what it's like at Christmas, well now we know.

As you would expect, it is close to a non event up here.  Dubai gets a little bit more festive probably due to their higher percentage of expats but in the malls here you have to look hard to find reminders that it is the 'season to be jolly'.

Fortunately we live in a region where thousands of people come on holiday so there are several large hotels happy to cater for their guests' inclinations to put on a Santa hat and rock around the Christmas tree (but I've never understood what the 'new old fashioned way' is..?).  Hence we have been to three parties laid on by the biggest hotels and have been treated to trees, decorations, Santa, (who we've actually seen five times now, shouldn't he have been concentrating on getting ready for the big day?!) carols, mulled wine, mince pies, pretty much everything that we would have had at home really.

But it doesn't feel Christmassy.  For that I think you have to have the winter weather, dark evenings arriving early, chestnuts roasting on an open fire, being crushed in the shops, endless seasonal TV shows and films, Christmas songs being played on a loop on the radio, and we haven't had any of that.  It does make you realise how much pressure the media and business put on you to have a good time, and in their time frame.  As everything is open here right through the season, there is no obligation to cram in your Christmas shopping.  Domi sorted out the footwear for her Christmas day outfit on Christmas day itself!

New Year is a different matter, that is celebrated and we've noticed an increase in activity in the Malls as everyone gets ready to see it in.  Inevitably when you get to these bench mark dates you reflect on the past twelve months and consider what might happen in the next twelve, maybe even make a resolution or two.

I've never been one for resolutions but I do like to look back and remember what was going on this time last year.  At that time we had two meetings planned early in 2013, one in January and one in February, which we hoped were going to provide us with opportunities to have an adventure abroad.  Both fell as flat as pancakes and in ways that left us in no doubt that we were not going anywhere else this year.  So we moved on to plan B and began putting things in place to resurrect our plans for 2014.  Then out of the blue Domi received an email, had a Skype interview which was sketchy, as Skype often is, and then received a job offer.  So by August we were here, something we could not have predicted in February!

Maybe that's why I like to look back as much as forward, the future is so unpredictable that you may as well relax and enjoy it.  I do believe in giving yourself every chance to achieve your goals, affecting things that you can to put you in the right place at the right time as much as possible.  But that doesn't mean your wishes are going to come true, just don't give up.  I like to think it through, make a plan then do my best to make it happen.  If it does, it does and if it doesn't tant pis, keep moving forward!

Happy new year to you all from the Ras al Khaimah crew! xxx

Monday, 16 December 2013

It's the little things that count.

One of the things you expect when you move to a different climate, especially a more temperate one, is to be attacked by things that nature seems to have created specifically to annoy you.  Mosquitoes, midges, gnats for example.

I remember having many conversations with my older children about nature's purpose for a wasp, other than to annoy you at picnics.  We came to the conclusion that it must have a crucial part in the food chain, providing sustenance for other, probably bigger, creatures that under the Butterfly Effect form part of the intricate web that makes up life on earth.

Right now, if I was asked what living thing I'd like to go in to Room 101 I would vote for mosquitoes, or whatever it is that's been feeding on my wife and I, to go straight in, not to pass Go, and definitely not collecting £200 for their extinction.  As with wasps, my virtual vacuum of knowledge of the biology of these creatures means that I don't know what good they do?  On the negative side, as far as I'm concerned they are responsible for malaria and my discomfort, and that's enough to see them extinct.  If they are doing good to the world they need to change their PR company as it's a mystery to me.  Maybe they pollinate like bees or provide vital medicine for rare diseases, but I'm not convinced I'd swop either of those benefits for the sheer discomfort that the numerous bites or stings are causing us.

Hopefully we are now getting the medication we need to alleviate the symptoms, but it's been blooming awful, and when you speak to people who've been out here a while they all have similar stories.  'Ah yes, I had that and wanted to cut my limbs off with a knife it was so itchy'....  Great..  Suffice to say, once bitten... thirty times bitten, thirty first time shy.  We're going to carry around an arsenal of repellent, anti-histamine tables and creams from now on, and when we see something smaller than a sparrow we're going straight to DEFCON 4 and put up a barrage equal to a bad night over Berlin.  If DEFCON 5 is needed we leap in to a small tent and roll towards the car..

In a similar vein (literally) when you go to the well organised zoo in Sharjah, they go to great lengths to inform you of the various snakes, spiders and scorpions (not the East German rock band..) that lurk in the desert.  Apparently the moment you set foot just a meter inside the sand dunes these creatures leap out at you and bite/sting you to an early grave.  Maybe I'm exaggerating a little, as a snake-wise friend who was with us re-assured me that they all run away (run?  Slither, I meant)  as soon as they sense your approach.  Apart from the Spitting Cobra, who has no fear of you at all but just stands it's ground so that it can get some target practice.  

Spitting Cobra, it will kill you..  Maybe it had a bad childhood....

There is then an information panel which tells you what to do in the event of a snake bite, although it also says that as there is only one hospital in the region with anti-venom so it's barely worth the effort of first aid really as you'd never get to help in time...  Thanks..

Mosquito, this will annoy you to the extent you want to kill.... anything....

To counter this we have met numerous people who walk and mountain bike in the mountains, camp out there, run around barefoot, OK maybe that's an exaggeration, but none the less regularly visit the habitat of these animals and have never seen anything toxic let alone had to fend it off with a stick.  

Still, makes us sound a bit more like Steve Irwin and less like Mary Portas..

Saturday, 7 December 2013

National day and other celebrations (just don't mention the 'C' word)

I'm fascinated by the different things my ex CELTA colleagues are now doing.  Not since I left college back in the 1970s have I spent so much time with people and then when the course finishes, seen them disappear off to pursue their dreams.  The difference is that today we have Facebook and blogs to help us keep in touch so those that want to can easily keep in touch.  As far as I know, from our group of eleven we now have people working in Africa, Jakarta, Italy and the UAE with another travelling in North America.  It's fantastic when you have a conversation with someone in Chichester, then six months later they're living their dream.  The same thing goes for my eldest daughter Lily and her boyfriend Dan.  I remember her telling us about their plans to go travelling and watching their exploits on Facebook is very satisfying, as is the pleasure they are obviously getting from the experience.

We've just been a tiny part of the biggest annual celebration here, National Day.  It's a one day event that is planned for about three months, so a bit like Christmas really, but as it's not a religious festival everyone gets involved.  Along with the things that you'd expect, days off, fireworks etc., there are the twists that the Emirates put on their special day.  For a start there is an obsession with Silly String, you know, the stuff in an aerosol tin.  They go crazy with it along with spray snow, spray sparkles, anything in a tin with a propellent really.  There are also the massive banners they put up on the side of buildings, or the enormous flag pole they built to take a proportionately huge flag.  It's patriotism in the extreme.  And no, the building in this picture is not leaning backwards, but clearly I was..

For me the most interesting aspect is what they do to their cars.  Now you need to understand, Emirates love their vehicles, so when they want to show their support for their country decorating their cars is an obvious route for them to take.  However we are not talking about a sticker on the bumper or a flag stuck on the side, oh no, we're talking about a temporary new paint job which may include portraits of the founding fathers of the union or existing sheiks.  Take a look:

And these weren't unusual, these were taken over a ten minute period from our balcony!  On the nights around National Day these cars parade up and down the Corniche, making a road that normally takes five minutes to drive down a virtual car park where you could spend over an hour to get from one end to the other.

So we come to the 'C' word.  Christmas is not taboo over here, the local supermarkets have an aisle each (a small one though) with decorations, cards and other associated merchandise.  Some people call it the 'Winter Festival' and shops will have 'Seasons Greetings' banners rather than 'Merry Christmas', but it's not completely underground.  We are fortunate to live in a very liberal environment.  The Sheik recently invited a floating bookshop to visit the port even though it is operated by a Christian charity, however I don't think we'll be seeing dioramas of the stable in Bethlehem in our shopping centres!

Thursday, 28 November 2013

'We're the teachers, and you're nicked.....'

I would like to apologise in advance to anyone who is reading this and wasn't living in the UK during the 70s and 80s. For you much of this will just seem like a nostalgic trip through the dust of  memory lane wearing rose tinted spectacles, but it's my blog, my rules, please bear with me to the end.

Back then we had proper TV shows, one of the biggest being The Sweeney, a firm (subtle pun there for Sweeney aficionados) favorite with our family.  The Sweeney were the hard punching, harder drinking, womanising, gun toting, rule breaking department within the Metropolitan Police who specialised in the fight against armed robbers.  It featured John Thaw as DI Regan, the leader and talisman of the outfit, and his sidekick DS Carter, played by Dennis Waterman.  Carter provided an aspect of the programme that I never personally understood.  I'm sure Dennis is a lovely chap, but he was never Brad Pitt, or Paul Newman, or Justin Beeber, if you see what I mean?  However he was a perennial hit with the ladies (or 'birds' as they used to say..) in the series, and they were normally beauty queens or glamour models.  I was always convinced he was giving the script writers a bung in order to steer the beauties in his direction.  Although  he was later married to the saucy Rula Lenska, she of the infamous 'George Galloway thinks he's a cat' incident, so maybe my opinion is skewed, or maybe she believed the hype?!  (Carter is on the left, nuff said....)


Amongst other things that we youngsters learned from the series (apart from how to act in a big fight, how to drive through stacks of empty boxes when being chased by the police, how to wear tights on your head if you're going to rob an armoured car, the list continues...) was an entirely new vocabulary.  Starting with some cockney rhyming slang, The Sweeney - Sweeney Todd/Flying Squad, they introduced in to our lexis:  shooter - gun, drum - home, manor - the area where you live, blag - robbery, bird - young lady, motor - car, firm - criminal gang,  I'm sure my brother and sister will remember more?

As previously mentioned, there was always a big fight between the coppers and the villains, which the bluebottles (more slang) always won.  Always a car chase between the fuzz (slang) and the crooks, the former in a Ford Granada and the latter in a MKII Jaguar (Jag).  This chase always ended in a goods yard, which every week was piled with empty boxes to drive through and always lead to the big group fight, at the end of which Regan would snarl 'we're The Sweeney, you're nicked'...  Brilliant.  What we didn't appreciate at the time was that the Ford had a lower top speed than Mark Cavendish and the handling characteristics of a super tanker.  If you were being chased by one now all you'd need is a Fiat 500 and you'd leave them for dead.

What made me think of this was watching the recent film re-incarnation of the programme. I appreciate the dilemma that movie makers have when presented with the idea of using a tried and tested franchise.  Do you make one set in the original era of the series or do you update it?  They chose to update it and for the hard drinking, fighting, ladies man role of Regan they selected Julian Clary, not really, it's Ray Winstone.  I mean who else is there in the Cockney geezer stable?  Maybe Jason Statham, but he was off filming Transporter 9 where he drives a Tuctuc around the M25 carrying an alarm clock attached to a firework.  For Carter they chose Plan B, he of the 'I know I'm not really singing but this is wot the kidz wont' music genre.  For the Granada they gave the rozzers (police) a Ford as a nod to the original.  Not a flame spitting, wheel spinning behemoth but a Fiesta, Thaw will be turning in his grave.  The bad guys had a modern Jag, so crime doesn't pay then...  I'm not going to review the film, but suffice to say I wouldn't watch it again whereas I would watch the originals.

My only brush with law enforcement  was when working for a recruitment company.  They had a large national client and a dedicated member of staff to run the payroll for the 500 or so temporary staff that were working in a call centre.  The staff paid in to a fund which they could draw on for their holiday entitlement.  Each week the payroll consisted of wages for the hours worked and lump sum cheques for those on leave.  So the regular guy goes on holiday and I cover for him and one day I notice a discrepancy in the vacation payments.  Cheques were being raised for people who were not on the regular payroll at all.  It transpired our employee had created fictitious temporary staff who all shared his bank account and were taking lots of holidays, oh dear...  We handed the file over to the local CID and despite their best efforts to do nothing, a conviction was made and the bloke did stir (went to prison).

What makes this memorable is the light bulb moment when I was staring at some figures and names and suddenly it morphed in to the crime of the century. Not quite an epiphany but definitely heading up the road to Damascus.

So to square the circle.  I was marking some exam papers this week and begin to notice striking similarities between some of the answers.  Digging out the relevant submissions I begin to cross check them and lo, here comes that feeling again.  I cannot tell you how excited I am to go back to school next week and growl 'I'm a teacher, and you're nicked'.. 

Friday, 22 November 2013

Rain rain, go away..

Strange though it may sound, we've been having a bit of inclement weather lately.  In the last couple of weeks we've had some rainy spells and even one very impressive evening of thunder and lightning.  At the moment we're benefiting from the equivalent of a 'snow day', school was closed at 10am in order to allow children to get home before a severe storm hits us apparently.  This leads to every child reaching for their mobile phone so they could call their drivers and get a lift home as soon as possible, and that doesn't seem strange to them, the fact they have drivers to take them home and maids waiting to take care of them.  I'm sure a lot of these families would watch Downton Abbey and think that it was a 'fly on the wall' documentary.  Suffice to say it's now 3pm, what would have been home time, and there has been no rain at all..

The problem is that when it rains we get floods, for two reasons.  One is that it tends to rain for a short period of time but very intensely, the second is that the roads have no drainage whatsoever, other than gravity.  So you soon get to know where the puddles (and I'm talking over your flip flops and up to your ankles puddles) appear and where is dry.  A side effect of the rain is the panic it puts in to some of the local drivers.  Unused to wet conditions, some tend to panic and drive at 5mph with their hazard lights on at the first sign of a drizzle.

There is also perhaps a lack of forethought in how some buildings are designed.  A friend of ours has a villa with an open verandah along it's longest side.  Unfortunately this slopes towards the house so water just pools against the walls until she opens the front door.  She has taken the decision to avoid any surprises when this happens, so opens the front and back doors and has a little river running through the place.  Fortunately the floors are tiled.  Our local mall has the same problem.

As you can see it has quite a large roof, rain goes from here, down concealed drainpipes and out of holes at the bottom which are horizontal to the road, normally at about 150 PSI, enough force to knock a small person over!  You can also see the large car park which slopes towards the Mall, this means a wave of water runs towards the shops before being parted and flowing past the building.  This often leaves the car park under about four inches of water while the drainage is taking place!

The building site on the left by the way is shown on Google maps as the Radisson Hotel, don't book a room yet....

I guess the overall response over here to these observations about rain would be similar to comments about why we don't have anti-avalanche strips on roofs in England.  It's simply not a problem often enough to warrant any further thought or investment, you build to the norm not the exception.

Tomorrow is our three month celebration of making the move out here, and we both agree the time has flown by.  We still get flashbacks about the preparations that we made before we made the move and our first few days & weeks here.  There has been a lot of water under the bridge (no pun intended..) and tomorrow we pick up our biggest purchase to date, a car!  After only two months of research (beating my normal time by ten months) we can say goodbye to our rented Yaris, we'll miss you little fella!

When you reach these milestones you often tend to reflect on what you've been through, and I been doing just that.  It's amazing to me that I've been sharing these anecdotes with you for just twelve weeks, so much seems to have happened!  For me the most amazing thing is the people we have met, something which my daughter Lily who is traveling around the world at the moment also found out.  Whether it is at the Hilton, at school or just in the town,  we've had the good fortune to make some new friends.  Domi has lived in a multi-cultural environment before but for me this has been a new experience, and so far it has been amazing to meet so many nice people.  I've always thought that deep down the vast majority of us want the same things, a safe environment to live with their family and a chance to earn some money.  We meet people every day, some local and some who have traveled from across the globe to realise these ambitions and more often than not, they are polite and kind.  For example, when I ran out of petrol in a hire care within sight of the hire company's office, it was an Emirate who stopped to see if he could help.

 'There is no them and us, it's just us.'

Next week is National Day so there will be two days (?!) of celebrations.  Everywhere is bedecked with flags and slogans so I'll report back on what happens next blog.


Friday, 15 November 2013

Tudor nudity? History has never been so much fun.

So here I am, new to my role as a history teacher, charged with the responsibility of awakening the concept of connectivity with the past in my classes of year 8 and 10 students (who are about 13 and 15 years old respectively, I only mention that as some of the people reading this who don't work in schools may need help in visualising the sort of children we're talking about here!). 

Thankfully I have a scheme of work and trusty reference book from those stalwart people in Oxford to work with so what could possibly go wrong?  Let's start with the sense of humour that these authors have.  They know as well as we do that the first thing any school boy does when he gets a new book is to have a look through for any suggestive or lewd pictures, along with any text that may prove hilarious hidden in the more sober messages about the Tudors or Stuarts.  Not that I ever did that..

Alarm bells should have been ringing when it was highlighted that Henry VIII employed someone specifically to wipe the Royal personage after he had been to the toilet.  Clearly put in to bring some levity to the subject of the much married one and it worked very well.  Suffice to say I resisted adding the comment 'the money was good but it was a bit of a s**t job..'. (Sorry Mum..)  That was then followed up with a chapter on Bloody Mary, bloody great..  I've never heard so much 'bloody'ing' going on in my life.  Why couldn't they just call her Very Dangerous Mary, or Vicious Mary?

Then I was approached by a colleague who whispered in hushed tones 'whatever you do, don't teach Tudor Crime on page 41'.  Now, we live in a conservative environment, school trips are single sex to avoid any hanky panky on the bus to the water de-salination works or wherever it is they go.  Suffice to say saucy pictures are a no go area.  So what part of Tudor criminality do the authors choose to focus on?  Highway men, smugglers, child pick pockets, no they chose criminal gangs who lure men to secluded spots then rob them.  What is the bait?  Topless women.  You have to be kidding me..

Yes, unknown to me as my school omitted this from the curriculum when I were a lad, in Tudor times there were gangs of semi naked women roaming the streets acting as lures for footpads.  Not happy in telling us about it, the publishers thankfully included a Tudor pen and ink drawing of these women in action in an alehouse, with their upper bodies completely uncovered to illustrate how the trap worked.  Thanks guys..  Needless to say that is the most thumbed page in all the books that belong to boys, who think it is the most incredible piece of publishing they have even seen, mind you they're not fishing in a big pond.  Almost worth learning to read so that they could enjoy such riské delights, definitely worth getting your glasses changed.

The school used to run an overseas trip to France, imagine taking these teenage lads who have had a sheltered upbringing like this to Europe.  First stop Carrefour for a baguette and Coke, but hang on what's this on the top shelf....  Boom, fifteen boys simultaneously faint and have to be immersed in the local fountain to contain their ardor sufficiently to get them back on the coach.  What if they had gone to Amsterdam?  Imagine the scene, 'Ooh look, there's Anne Frank's house, what the blazes is that! Splash...'.  Those trips have now been cancelled, or at least they're teaching them how to swim before they go.

As if that wasn't enough, in bypassing Tudor Crime we skip straight to Tudor Torture, surely no nudity here, just stocks, pillories, the rack, that sort of thing?  I hadn't realised how much time torturers spent devising ways of battering a man's private parts..  Why didn't they just call them Gooly Bashers instead of Torturers? (I'd like to take the credit for resurrecting the word gooly, last used in 1977.)  Two of the six methods shown were specifically designed to focus on this area, surely that can't be representative?  Whatever happened to thumb screws or the Iron Maiden (please, no comments about 'oh they're still touring and have a new single coming out..')?  Clearly another cruel joke from the publishers, and why did they have to show diagrams??  This also meant that I had the same question from every class that read the text,  'Sir, what are genitals?'.  Oh how we laughed...

Next week it's the Treaty of Versailles, which should be safer ground unless Clemenceau, Wilson and Lloyd George had a bunga bunga party that no-one's told me about?

Come back English, all is forgiven...

Friday, 8 November 2013

Fings aint wot they used to be..

So I've finished my second week teaching at the secondary school, and my initial impression is that schools over here are pretty similar to the ones I experienced in the UK.  This may suggest that children and parents are the same the world over, which is probably true.  The adults want their little ones to exceed their expectations, children want to do as little as possible and socialise with their friends, so where do teachers fit in?  Somewhere in the middle I guess, but I would bet our mortgage on one thing, the majority of people go in to teaching to teach, not manage the classroom environment.  Each lesson can turn in to a game of cat and mouse between the pupils and the teachers, the former trying to achieve their goal which could be to spend some time chatting with their mates, and the educators trying to get through their lesson plan!

For example when I was teaching adult learners in the UK, I noticed that some of them were spending an inordinate amount of time staring at the space between the table and their legs, where their hands were also resting.  It  didn't take long to work out they were busy texting or sending messages on Facebook.  They were concentrating so much on this activity that they never noticed when I stopped the class and drew everyone's attention to them.  Then guess what, the same people would do the same thing again and again, even when mobile phones were banned from the class, it was like an addiction.

Every now and again we take the secondary students in to the computer room where they can work on their own initiative on a website that we choose.  They can then print off their work, constructive use of IT, what a good idea.  But the temptation for them to go onto other websites is too much for some children, who are then surprised when you catch them, 'how did you know?' says their quizzical look.  It's not too difficult, the students on the correct website were a picture of seriousness and concentration, the others were smiling, that's the give away!  You also know because as you walk around the class the ones doing a little illicit browsing panic and try to close down the window, which often refuses to go away no matter how many times they click on the little red x!

One thing that has often struck me when in schools was how the minority of children took the majority of the teacher's time and not usually in support for the work they are doing.  That's the problem with cliches, they are so often true.

Regular readers will know that I like to share my experiences of ordinary elements of life out here that take on a curious twist, and so it was with my latest haircut.  The first time I had it done out here it cost me AED 10, or £1.60, so I thought I'd go a bit more up-market this time and spend AED 20..

So I end up at 'Handsome' barbers, I mean with a name like that surely it was created for guys like me..  The very nice Filipino man was delighted to have an Englishman in his salon, as he is an avid fan of the Queen, not the pop group, Queen Elizabeth II.  'What's she like?' he asked.  Well although I have lived all of my life to date in England, I am not close friends with her majesty, so I tactfully replied 'she seems very nice'.  What else could I say?  'Is she rich?' was the next question.  'Yes, very', I said. 'How did she get her money?' he continued.  Well here was the opportunity for me to launch in to my 'well her ancestors pillaged their way in to power and wealth over the souls of the masses..' speech, but as he was holding the scissors I instead said 'I think she inherited it...'.  Already we had reached the end of my knowledge on the Royal Family.  Could we talk about World War I or II, I know a lot more about them??

So far so good, I had managed to deflect my lamentable knowledge of the Royal Family and keep him on task.  Next he asked 'Lady Di, is she dead?', 'Er I don't know how to break this to you, but yes, in a tunnel in Paris'.  'I don't think so' he replied, 'all a conspiracy to cover up her marriage to Dodi Fayed'.  'And Elvis', he continued 'is he dead?'.  I replied in the affirmative, although I realised this could be a source of disappointment for him.  'No he's not, I know he's been seen alive' said my barber.  At which time he finished my hair so we had no time to discuss the moon landings or any grassy knoll theories.

Suffice to say, I'm looking forward to my next visit..


Saturday, 2 November 2013

Full time work? That'll never catch on..

I have been fortunate enough to have been offered some full time work, yes that's right, I'm back at the coal face of employment.  The secondary school have offered me a temporary contract which means I have sixteen classes of 20 or more children from year eight upwards.  So this seems an opportune moment to consider some of the differences between the school we know out here compared to the ones back home.

As is often the case there are more similarities than things at odds and again, as usual, more questions than answers. I've had quite a bit of experience of children, teaching them tennis and bringing them up, so they are not an unknown quantity to me, understanding  what makes them tick however is still a mystery.

For example, I used to admire younger kids when you would say to a group 'go and get a racquet' and they'd all run off like puppies.  Say the same thing to adults and they would walk sedately, say it to teenagers and they'd whinge 'oh do we have to? It's so unfair that I have to go and get one', then move slower than a sloth on a glacier in the hope the lesson will be over by the time they get there.  However put some teenagers in a school corridor and watch them go, they run like Usain Bolt being chased by a train, so you find yourself shouting out one of the teaching profession's mantras 'no running in the corridors' about ten times per minute.

Then there is the perennial volunteer.  Ask twenty four students a question and although they know the answer they won't put their hand up for the fear of being branded a geek, or even worse, being wrong, which is of course impossible for a teenager (my favorite one liner is 'Entire set of Encyclopedia Britanica for sale, no longer required, we have a teenager in the house', of course everyone under the age of thirty is now asking 'Encyclopedia Britanica???').  So volunteering falls to the two or three eager souls who for some reason missed the 'cool' gene somewhere in their manufacturing process, thank goodness, as every class needs a Mr or Miss Elicitation.  But you do find yourself saying 'OK, does anyone other than Michael know the answer?', another mantra.

The same keen pupils are normally in the 'early finisher' brigade too.  You set a task and before you can monitor the whole class the three keen ones have finished and have their hand up saying 'finished Sir' sooner than the slackers can get their pencil out of their bag and realise it's as blunt as a teacher's response to their parents on school visit day, when they ask 'what's the chance of my little one becoming a Doctor?', 'Slim and none Madam, and Slim's just left town...'.

This is my first experience of a secondary school staff room and that in itself is a curiosity.  You know as a child  you wondered what went on behind the doors with the sign 'teaching staff only, NO STUDENTS'.  Was it like Narnia, a mystical land where teachers had lunch time adventures fighting evil and surmounting seemingly impossible difficulties to achieve fame and fortune?  The answer to the curious student would is of course be 'no, it's where we go to talk about you, Smith minor, and collectively moan about your constant chatting and poor results.  Take out that gum boy'.  Maybe that's what they teach people at University when they are taking a teaching degree, staff room etiquette:  take your own mug, don't sit with anyone who isn't in your department especially Stinky Pete from ICT, and whatever you do if someone comes in and says 'can anyone cover my duty/class' just look down and pretend to read whatever it is you're holding, do not make eye contact..

Up until now my only knowledge about staff rooms came from watching Waterloo Road, so imagine my disappointment when during the first week there were no murders, fires or marital break ups.  Having said that we did have a fire alarm and whilst assembled in thirty six degree sunshine on the field you could spot the more experienced teachers from the newbies, they former all had sunglasses on.  Lesson 1, take your lunettes de soleil in to class with you, just one of the secrets that the old hands don't pass on, after all where would the fun be in that?!

Saturday, 26 October 2013

Crisis, what crisis?

The BBC news website is a constant reminder of the high profile that environmental matters have back home. Whether it's British Gas putting their prices up again, the cost of petrol, or alternative sources of energy, there is no doubt that one way or another everyone is being effected on a daily basis by actual or perceived actions based around guarding natural resources.  So how does the UAE see these issues?

We don't watch the national news over here and the content of bulletins on the radio are very different to what we're used to in Europe ('man drowns in sea while washing camel', tragic but true).  Stories tend to be UAE centered and if the wider world is mentioned it's only in the sense of whatever impact the situation could have on the GCC nations.  So I can only base my impression on what I experience.  From that angle, re-cycling is virtually non-existent. Most public spaces have three coloured wheely bins so people can separate their plastic from paper etc.  But in our block of flats there is no re-cycling possible at all, everything goes in to one bag then in to the rubbish chute, which I can't use as I have developed an aural vertigo from hearing the bag crash to it's final resting place!

In England, every other dwelling in our village had photo-electric panels to generate electricity, here in the land of 365 day sunshine, I've yet to see one.  I was reading an English language newspaper yesterday and saw the Dubai is aiming at becoming the conference centre for the Emirates.  To that end it is planning a sustainable transport system including an extension to its light railway and a new tram system.  I applaud that foresight and hope that RAK tries to emulate the lead that Dubai is taking. Here there is a large workforce of foreign labour but no public transport at all.  As a developing Emirate it can only be a matter of time before someone realises the benefit of a integrated bus system that can only help with the country's development.

Casual littering here is as bad as anywhere, with people happy to throw rubbish from cars safe in the knowledge that the cleaning gnomes will come along and pick it up.  Unfortunately, that is exactly what happens.  There is a band of guys in hi-visibility clothing who patrol the roads in all weather picking up the litter.  I don't know what they get paid but I'd guess at not very much and they do an outstanding job.  You could argue that if they stopped picking it up, people would see the results of their selfish littering and stop doing it, but I doubt that.  No different here to anywhere else then I guess?

Enough of the serious stuff, let's talk about driving again!  Friends and family will know of my 'cruise control' game that I used to play on motorways.  Set your cruise control then see how many times you overtake certain cars that firstly overtake you then slow down so you have to overtake them.  How the nine hours driving down to St. Germain-Laparade used to fly by..  Here, there are other games.  The 'I may be in the left hand lane but actually want to turn right' game, or the fun we have with the 'it may look like I have indicators but they're only for decoration, let's see how long I can go before I use them' contest.  It wouldn't surprise me if I looked at a second hand car one day and found the indicator stalk had seized up due to lack of use.

It appears that I may have some full time work coming up and lasting the next month or so.  I will endeavor to keep the blog rolling along if my timetable allows it.

Saturday, 19 October 2013

As camp as a row of tents.

As our shipping has now arrived we have a television set again (when was the last time anyone used 'set' after 'television'?  Probably during the coronation in 1952) having gone for six weeks without it.  As we had been pretty busy, we hadn't missed TV at all, so we didn't bother connecting it up and decided to talk or just read in the evenings...  That's a lie, we immediately bought a programme package from OSN, one of the two suppliers over here.  The next day a team of three engineers arrived and connected up.  It took them three hours and they had to put a new dish on the roof, trace the aeriel cable down 5 floors and similarly connect it to the internet by pulling the wire through the wall cavity.  Amazing service.  This means that like in the UK, we now have about 900 channels, however 850 of these are in languages we don't understand, although they do sometimes offer English subtitles, which sometimes work.

To compete with Eastenders, Coronation Street and Emmerdale, there is a wide choice of Arabic and Indian soaps.  Some are based in a contemporary setting and they really put the drama in dramatic.  You could never complain that there wasn't enough acting going on, they are all giving it everything they've got with an overload in the 'smoldering look' department surpassed only by an excess of 'looking really sad', all to a background of continuous and moving music.  Very little dialogue, which is just as well because you couldn't give it everything in the' staring wistfully in to the distance' shot if you had to concentrate on talking too.  One thing I can't quite understand is that most of the locals here wear traditional dress but in all the soaps the actors dress like they're in London or Paris?!  Imagine watching Eastenders and seeing everyone dressed like a Jean Paul Gaultier model?  As for the period programmes, things you'll never hear on set would include: 'do you think we've overdone the make-up' or 'these costumes are too lavish'.

My favorite is an Arabic series based in the 18th century and centered around a Sultan and his harem, I say favorite but I only watched it once for about five minutes.  Three things sum up this programme:  false beards, big hats, dried grapes.  For the Sultan's women are called Sultanas and every time a minion (not the Despicable Me type)  says 'the Sultana is here to see you sire' I expect to see a velvet cushion with a raisin sitting on top.  If they had made a Carry on up the Middle East this is what it would have looked like, although Kenneth Williams may have struggled a bit as machismo oozes from all the male players.  One character has a stick on Freddie Mercury mustache, how he can resist saying 'it's a kind of magic' or 'I want to break free' whenever he has the chance defeats me, it would be too tempting.

We took a road trip to see the other side of the peninsular in our mighty Toyota Yaris Hertz rental special, yes I am still prevaricating about which car to buy.  Once again the contradiction in the road system out here raised it's head.  The motorway across the mountains was smooth and very well constructed, but at either end the roads were, as usual, unpredictable.  Sometimes they are so rough you think the car is going to disintegrate and you'll end up like the Flintstones, which is why Amélie has taken to wearing a bone in her hair and you can hear me call 'Domiiiiiiii', when I get home.   Japanese cars, especially Toyota and Nissan do very well here for that reason.  A lot of brands just get shaken to bits after a few years but what the Japanese have learned is that if you take an indestructible chassis, like the Toyota that Top Gear famously couldn't destroy, then build a family car around it you have something that will take on the roads and stand a chance of winning.  As a bonus, you get to keep your teeth and not have them shaken out.

There is a group of people who love to go camping here and claim to enjoy it..  Now when I think of camping it's a scene from the New Forest, with a shower block, electrical hook up, and a pub round the corner to save on the cooking on one gas burner routine.  We passed some campsites today, 'this ain't Kansas Toto' is what I thought...  I wasn't sure if it was a campsite or the set for a movie based on an Andy McNab book.  Devotees say 'ooh but it's getting back to basics, living in at one with nature', but forgive me for being modern, as soon as ancient man started walking on two limbs he started building houses so he didn't have to sleep on dirt.  I'm happy for you if that is your idea of communing with the Earth, but I'll stick to the Hilton Beach Club thanks, although that is getting really busy as it is full of tourists at the moment.  A hotel in a hot country being full of guests, whatever next..

So these are pictures of camp sites, the fenced off area is a private pitch and trust me, when the locals camp they fill an area that big.  Tents, 4x4s, cookers, fridges generators, it's a similar logistical exercise to Glastonbury but without the toilets... (I don't know the answer to the question that's in your mind, let's hope they take it home with them....).

It's the same when they have picnics.  China crockery, cooking ranges, cushions to sit on, the kitchen sink. OK, I made the last one up but you get the idea.  I guess you can take the Bedouin out of the desert but you can't stop him taking a fridge full of desserts on a day out.

You'll gather that the photos were taken from a moving car, this is because it is still on the warm side here. When we moved out to the UAE we promised not to talk about the weather to people at home.  We know how tedious it is when expats drone on about how cold it is when they come back to Europe or about how they are feeling the chill because it's gone down to 35 degrees here (but it does feel chilly, honest..).  We have our own scale, the Amélie thermometer.  It's based on how many minutes we can be out of the car before she reaches boiling point and starts to whistle like a kettle.  Today it was about five minutes, faster than most kettles I reckon, so it was stay in the car time.  She's a bit like uranium, if she's out of water she becomes unstable and  can do more harm than a Japanese nuclear power station in meltdown.

Next week, the UAE and the environment, 'crisis, what crisis'?

Sunday, 13 October 2013

It'll be nice when it's finished..

Sorry for the delay in publishing the blog this week, we had the pleasure of visiting our friends in Sharjah which is an Emirate between us and Dubai.  However it's a lot more like Dubai than Ras al Khaimah!

The first thing you hear when you say you're moving to Ras al-Khaimah is 'where?', no-one has heard of the place, so you end up saying 'it's near to Dubai' and most people have heard of that.  The slogan for the RAK (Ras al-Khaimah) tourist agency is 'The rising Emirate', which is absolutely true.  We've been told by people that have lived here a while that there has been a huge amount of development here over the last five years, some of it aimed at people willing to commute to Dubai or Sharjah and other elements targeted at developing the tourist industry.  Suffice to say that there is a long way to go here before it gets as cosmopolitan as Dubai but you can only admire the effort being put in to finding a place for RAK in the world of the Emirates.

Sharjah and Dubai are incredible to the first time visitor.  If you go as a tourist and get transfers in to the hotel then tours around the city, you'll see the landmarks but miss the sense of the places. There are so many skyscrapers that you wonder where all the people work who populate them?  So many shopping malls that you can't envisage there are enough customers to keep the shops in business, and most of it is new.  Our friend who was acting as a tour guide commented on how when he was at school, a mere twenty years ago, there was only one tall building of note and that they used to have school trips there to marvel at it's presence. Now it is dwarfed by the multitude of buildings surround and rise above it.  Any city that has a seven lane motorway running through the middle has ambitions clearly built around the car as a main form of transport, but Dubai also has a bus service and light railway. RAK has neither which is why it feels like a work in progress rather than a mature city.

Our shipment has arrived, roughly two months after seeing it put in the back of a van in East Preston, it came out of a van (not the same one..) here in RAK.  The boxes had obviously had an interesting journey and some were a little battered and bruised, but nothing was broken and nothing missing.  We had packed a couple of candles which had all but melted but that was it!  This means our flat is feeling more like home now, and tomorrow we get our pictures put up and the TV connected, which means we are just about there for phase one of our arrival.

Next week is Eid so there is a four day holiday at the request of the government and no work or school for Domi and Amélie.  We hope to get out and about to explore RAK as well as continue with the things on our to do list including continuing with our project to buy a car, the terms of which change daily!