Sunday, March 29, 2009

Four noises I can't stand

  1. Crying babies.
  2. Someone reading a magazine or newspaper and rubbing the pages together with their fingers to separate them. Just lick your damn fingers!
  3. Rustling sounds made by people, e.g. rummaging in a carrier bag. Rustling sounds made by trees or animals are fine.
  4. Eaty sounds made by people. Lip-licking, chewing, swallowing. This is why I have to have the TV or some other sound going on whilst eating. Again, animal eaty sounds are fine.

The instant I hear any of these sounds I can feel the stress hormones flooding my body. I wonder why?

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Desert camping FTW!

The weekend just gone we went camping at Brouq. It's off-roady to get there but not as off-roady as the weekend before. This time there were 4 cars, 8 people and 5 tents. Nothing at all went wrong, which was quite surprising considering it was our turn to be tour leader. We managed to get everyone there safely, though not without having to do a couple of u-turns when we followed the wrong set of tyre marks. On the way we saw wild camels, ostriches and flamingoes.

Our favoured camping spot is on a beach in a little cove, backed with a small cliff. Here's our camping spot and the view from our tent:

That's our tentA room with a view
We swam, ate lunch. and relaxed in the sun. Then when the sun started to go down we fired up the barbie and the camp fire. Later we toasted mashmallows over the fire.

Round the fire
Toilet facilities are non-existant. A large spider was spotted in the rocks by the toilet spot. Here's Rob going round the headland with a shovel. It was not for protection from spiders.

I might be some timeWe stayed up til the firewood ran out around midnight. As we were getting ready for bed, one of the party heard something moving behind her tent. I assumed it was a fennec fox as you can see their little foxy footprints everywhere, but when we shone the torch it turned out to be a cat. It looked like a domestic cat, not a sand cat, though how it got to be so far from human habitation I dread to think. So I left a piece of meat out for it. The meat was gone by the morning.

The next day we were awake bright and early for a swim. The sea was flat calm and perfect for swimming. We saw what we thought might be an osprey sitting on the next headland. They should be migrating this time of the year so she might've been on her way to Scotland. Turned out to be quite a good weekend for wildlife.

On the way back we stopped for a look at the weird rock formations and the film set. The rock formation is real; the little stone hut on top is part of the film set.

Hut on a rock

Then we safely got everyone out again with no mishaps. I drove, and of course did a superb job.

It's easy to forget when we're slaving away at work all week that this is what living here is all about.

Saturday, March 14, 2009

Friday 13th Expedition

Ready to hit the sand

Yesterday we went in a six-car convoy to the Inland Sea. You can’t get there without four-wheel drive. We hadn’t been there before in our own car and we were a little bit worried about how the LR3 would perform in proper, deep sand.

Letting out air

I was determined to get over my nervousness about driving off-road so I forced myself to drive. We stopped at Sealine to let air out of the tyres for driving on sand, then off we went. The road to Inland sea is mostly hard-packed salt, but in many places the dunes have drifted across the track. Also, if you choose, you can take a route through the dunes themselves. Our tour leader took us by a route that was mainly on the track but detoured in a few places through some ‘gentle’ dunes.

I did great. I put the transmission into sand mode and let the car do the work. I followed Rob’s instructions. And I repeat – I did great. It was brilliant fun.

Then we realised that the last in our convoy, driving a Ford Explorer, was missing. Tour Leader had a phone call. They were stuck in deep sand a couple of kilometres behind. Three of our party went back to pull them out. Me and Rob, sans tow-rope, waited behind with the other group.

I had a certain amount of schadenfreude. The stuck car was the only other car driven by a woman. I was glad it wasn’t me.

Time passed. Another phone call informed us that all three were now stuck. More time passed. We contemplated setting up the BBQ right where we were. Another phone call: two cars were now free but the original stick-ee might have a mechanical problem. More time passed. Another phone call: they were all out, and on their way. They’d got free with the help of some young Qatari men in Land Cruisers. Phew. We regrouped and off we went again.

I handed the driving over to Rob for the next section. It was hard, fast packed salt. The iPod shuffled to Charlie Says by the Prodigy. I turned it up LOUD. We drove along laughing our stupid heads off. We decided that ‘Charlie says always tell your mummy before you go off somewhere’ was good advice for desert driving.

Another few Ks and we realised another car was missing. We stopped again. This time, it really was a mechanical problem. One of the cars had developed a radiator leak and had ground to a halt, overheated. This time, me and Rob went back with Tour Leader, because Rob is a mechanic. When we got there, the car was fucked. Not going anywhere. Water poured in to the radiator pissed straight out the bottom. Luckily, I had the number for the Raha recovery service in my phone. The driver of the broken-down car called them and arranged a recovery. Then we piled all the beach stuff and people (5!) from his car to ours and off we went again.

That's Saudi Arabia over there

Eventually we reached the beach. It was worth it. The water was gorgeous – just cold enough to make it difficult to get in, but perfect for swimming once in. We swam, ate BBQ and chilled out. I knit some of my Pomatomus sock.

Knitting on the beach

Meanwhile, back at the broken-down car, things weren’t going so well. The driver and Tour Leader both went to go meet the recovery vehicle at Sealine. As they drove back to the car, the recovery vehicle got stuck. So help had to be summoned from Sealine. Cash changed hands. Tour Leader didn’t get back to the beach til it was nearly time to leave. The broken car’s driver accompanied his vehicle back to Doha.

We really thought nothing else could go wrong. On the way back we had to stop again at Sealine to re-inflate the tyres. We joined the orderly queue at the little garage. Only the queue was not orderly. People kept crossing the sandy area in front of the garage to push in. Tempers began to get heated. It all came to a head when half of our group were actually at the air stations, and half were not. A woman in a black Pajero tried to push in. Events got a bit confused. A French woman stood in front of the Pajero to stop it pushing in. The driver kept going. The French woman called the police. We heard her saying ‘A woman is trying to kill me with her car. The number is...’ A large crowd gathered. There was shouting. I was kind of glad to get out of there.

So that was it. The rest of the journey back was uneventful. I was left with a good impression of the day, overall, because it was laugh. But I won’t do it on Friday 13th again.

Rob's Commentary –
Kirsty was really nervous and sweating heavily, she screamed every time we went over a bump and she nearly got the car stuck so many times I lost count! I’m not letting her drive in sand again!!!!

The above is not true. I did great.

Monday, December 08, 2008

Five ways in which living in Doha is like being on the Starship Enterprise

  1. There is a constant low hum in the background
  2. Arabic and Klingon sound remarkably alike
  3. We encounter new races every day
  4. We spend a lot of time a long way above the ground
  5. It's life, Jim, but not as we know it.
This is why our motto is 'What would Picard do?' It works in most situations. Rob has already told staff to 'make it so'. I suggested he try 'resistance is futile' next, but he says they know that already.

Rain and other things

This weekend just gone I got my new camera set up and working. I am very pleased with it. It's my first digital SLR and I think (fingers crossed) I can use the lenses from my 35mm SLR with it, although I'll have to wait til we go back to the UK to test that theory. I bought it online from the UK because with the pound being weak things are much cheaper. Despite the lack of purchase tax in Qatar, decent electronics (rather than knock-offs from the souk) are expensive.

I took photos of my recently completed socks (basic ribbed socks using MiddleEarthKnitter's sock yarn in Captain Jack):

Basic ribbed socks
my on-the-needles socks (Roza's Socks from Interweave Knits using 100% cashmere from Knitting Goddess in Brown Owl):

my on-the-needles stole (Matryoshka Stole from Knitscene using Rowan Calmer in Coffee Bean. This is my first time knitting with beads and it's actually easier than it looks):

and the incredible light after a massive rainstorm with thunder and lightning:

It was so good to see and hear and feel rain. I had some laundry hanging on the roof to dry and in the time it took me to bring in 4 towels and a mat, I was absolutely drenched and had to change my clothes. It was television rain -- the kind of huge drops at high density they use on TV to make sure they show up on camera. We spent most of Saturday doing housework so the rain didn't adversely affect our day. When we weren't busy sweeping up tumbleweeds of cat hair, we leant out of the window and watched the storm. The traffic was at a standstill out on the C-Ring road because many people here aren't used to driving in the rain.

We also watched Spiderman 3 and while I enjoyed it, I was disappointed that they still haven't broached the subject of how he gets out of the bath.

In other news: I saw on the TV that John Barrowman got his cock out live on BBC Radio 2. Apparently they had one complaint, presumably from someone complaining that they couldn't see it.

Monday, December 01, 2008

Archy and Mehitabel (almost)

At work yesterday there was a cockroach the size of a Shetland pony (well, at least as long as my thumb) in the wash bay. I set Captain Jack the Workplace Cat onto it. I thought he would be glad of the exercise but he was very reluctant to pursue it. He half-heartedly followed it around until it went to ground under the weighing scale.

It occurred to me that maybe, like Archy and Mehitabel, they were friends. And then when I got to work this morning I found Word open on my PC and this on the screen:

jack the stowaway arrives in doha

i got here in a box of spare parts
it looked interesting
and smelled of work
how was i to know where i would end up
i suppose boss that everyone
gets to doha the same way

With apologies to Don Marquis :-)

Buying beads from the Taliban

On Saturday I got together for a coffee with a friend from knitting group. We sat in the rocking chairs outside the Coffee Beanery at Cholesterol Corner (a.k.a. Ramada Signal) and knitted socks for a while. The weather was just right for outdoor knitting – not too hot and not too cold, although there were rather a lot of flies. We knitted until the sun started to go down, then we went to the Taliban Store.

The Taliban Store sells buttons, beads, fabrics, threads, ribbons, edgings and anything else you can think of connected with tailoring. From the outside it’s just a normal Doha shop front with faded samples, dead flies and a leaky air conditioner in the window. Inside it’s like Ali Baba’s cave for crafters. It’s dark and stuffy and so crammed with goods you have to flatten yourself against the wall if someone wants to come by. There are reels of ribbon hanging from the ceiling with the ends dangling like vines. They catch on your clothes so you walk around the shop trailing ribbon. There is a room whose walls are lined with spool after spool of sewing thread in every colour imaginable. There is a wall of buttons that look like sweets in an old-fashioned sweet-shop. We rummaged around for ages. I had set myself the challenge of buying the beads I need for my next project (the Matryoshka Stole from Knitscene) in Doha, instead of using the internet, even if it meant using plastic ones. But I managed to find exactly what I needed in real wood which was great. Natural materials are quite hard to find here.

On the way back to the car we passed a laundry where a man was sitting cross-legged in the window operating a steam press. A pipe directed the steam out onto the street, carrying with it the smell of freshly-laundered cotton. It was refreshing after the somewhat fuggy atmosphere in the Taliban Store.

Things I learned from experience no. 1387

Avoid any restaurant that has a badly-drawn cartoon chef as its logo (yes, I’m looking at you, Italian Job).

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Feeling a bit homesick

I’ve been feeling a bit homesick lately. It all started when I read a post on Ravelry about Guy Fawkes. I’d forgotten the date completely. I thought about standing in a dark, muddy field, waving a sparkler, drinking warm lager out of a plastic glass. The smell of hot dogs, gunpowder and woodsmoke. The anticipation: will it be a total washout like the year when smoke hugged the ground and no-one could see the fireworks; or will it be the spectacular display we’ve been promised? The ‘Oohs’ and ‘Aahs’ from the crowd, irony giving way to delight. Then after the display, walking back to the car, squashing spent sparklers and the empty tubes of rockets into the mud, and waiting half an hour for the person who blocked us in to come and move their car.

I’m missing watching the leaves change colour (actually, scratch that: I’m missing leaves). I’m missing hunting for the last few wild mushrooms in the woods. I’m missing a cosy pub at the end of a long walk. I’m missing a log fire and roast parsnips. I’m missing crunchy frost and the sun struggling to shine through November’s low cloud on a workday morning. I’m missing being able to see my breath. I’m missing wearing a coat, for crying out loud.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m still enjoying life in Qatar. But it took something as uniquely British as Bonfire Night to make me think about what it’s like to live not just away from my home but also away from my culture. Rob had a similarly thought-provoking experience. Gordon Brown visited Doha last week and Rob saw his aircraft land. One of his Indian co-workers asked why Mr Brown and his colleagues were all wearing red paper flowers, so Rob explained about Remembrance Day and what it meant.
I suppose it gives us a new angle on things we take for granted. Explaining things makes you think about what they really mean. That said, when we had the first dead parrots at work, I didn’t even begin to explain to my staff why I was laughing.

An incomplete list of other things I’m really missing, in addition to those mentioned above:

Composting and recycling. I cringe every time I throw potato peelings or a bottle in the rubbish bin.
A postal service
Doorstep milk delivery
Seasonal veggies
Polite drivers
Proper trees with branches
Grass, especially if it’s got dew on it
Country lanes
Channel 4 News
Bookshops and yarn shops

In case it seems like I’m painting a very chocolate-box view of life in Britain, here are some things I’m really not missing:

Jeremy Clarkson
High tax, fuel prices etc.
The Daily Mail

Note to non-British readers: Bonfire or Guy Fawkes night is celebrated on 5th November and commemorates the capture of the Catholic Guy Fawkes (or Guido Ffoukes, etc) and his cohorts as they attempted to blow up the Anglican King and his Parliament in 16-something-or-other. (My history is a little hazy. 1605 rings a bell.) Anyway they were caught and executed which is why an effigy of Mr Fawkes (the ‘guy’) is burnt on the bonfire. Harry Potter fans will recognise the inspiration for the name of Dumbledore’s phoenix. I think Bonfire Night is the reason that Hallowe’en isn’t such a big deal in the UK as it is elsewhere. There’s a rhyme: Remember, remember the Fifth of November / Gunpowder, treason and plot / I see no reason why gunpowder treason / Should ever be forgot. Hear hear.

Remembrance Day is celebrated on 11th November (the date of the signing of the Armistice which ended WWI) or the closest Sunday. It’s co-ordinated by the British Legion who sell red paper poppies to raise money for ex-servicemen and women and their families. It’s a day to remember the sacrifice made by members of the forces in the Great War and subsequent wars. Services of remembrance are held in every town and village around the country, and the Queen lays a wreath of poppies at the Cenotaph in London. It’s very moving to watch, especially to see the last few living servicemen who survived WWI and are now in their very late 90s or early 100s.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008


Omar (l) and Petal (r)

I know I haven’t blogged for ages. Looking back, I see I reported that Zinjibeel had cat AIDS. Well, sadly we discovered that poor old Zinge had a lot of other stuff wrong with him as well. At some point in his short life, his rear end had been subjected to a massive trauma, probably a car. Both his back legs had been broken and had set by themselves all crooked. His tail was broken where it met his spine and all his intestines shoved forward. He was in pain all the time and increasingly aggressive because of it. We talked to Dr Dominic about the possibility of pain management (there was nothing else that we could do) but he said it never really works too well in cats – something to do with ‘enzyme pathways’. So we made the difficult decision to euthanize him. We went to say goodbye and cried like babies.

We decided not to even think about another cat until after we’d come back from the UK in August. But I still had to visit the veterinary clinic for work… and there I found out about a one-year-old black cat who’d been in for an injury to his tail and who needed a home. I reluctantly allowed them to pass my phone number on to his foster-mum. When she called me it turned out that she didn’t just have Fahad (the black cat) but all his brothers and sisters too. She wanted to find homes for as many of them as possible. I said we’d think about taking two.

So we went round to the woman’s apartment and met the cats. They were all absolutely lovely and I would have taken them all, had we a villa with a garden. It was difficult to choose, but in the end we took Fahad and the little tabby girl, Pretty. Before too long they had new names: Omar, because he is Arabic and handsome, and Petal because she is so lovely and delicate (although now we’ve had her for a few months, we’ve realised that if she is any kind of flower, it’s a Venus fly-trap).

Yes, that is 2 cats behind 1 toilet

We brought them home and released them into the bathroom with food, water and a litter tray. Petal immediately climbed into the void behind the toilet that we hadn’t even realised was there. At some point Omar got in there with her. After a few hours we opened the bathroom door. Petal stayed behind the lav. Omar went under the bed.

They stayed in their hidey-holes for 2 days. After that they came out and acted as though they’d known us all their lives. They get up to all sorts of mischief: to date they have climbed the curtains (breaking the hooks), knocked over my bedside water glass so I got a cold midnight shower, sharpened their claws on the sofa and flooded the kitchen by detaching the drain hose behind the washing machine. They have a very strong prey urge and love to hunt and eat cockroaches and flies. When we come in from work they throw themselves onto their backs and demand belly strokes. They're great.

What’s on the needles?

Apres Surf hoody

My current jumper is the Apres Surf hoody from Interweave Knits. I’m making it in Artesano 100% Alpaca 4-ply which I bought from Village Crafts in Forest Row, East Sussex on my last visit back to the UK. This is my knitting-at-work project. It’s demanding enough to keep me interested during the long afternoons but simple enough that I can throw it down half-way through a row when the inevitable panic occurs.

I really like the way this jumper is coming along. I just hope I have enough yarn to finish it. I might ask Mum to pop in to the shop to see if they have another ball or two and post them to me, just in case. I hope to have finished it by the time I go to Amsterdam in January, because I shall really need it there.

And probably here too, before long. I had to wear a light cardigan when we went for drinks to Al Sharq on Thursday, and this morning as I was crossing the road to work the breeze was almost cold. The car’s temperature gauge said 21C.


I’m also working on the Hypotenuse wrap from Knitspot. (The photo shows me working on it on the deck at the Sans Souci guesthouse in Mahe, Seychelles a couple of weeks ago. We had a great time.) I’m using Nashua Geologie from Webs in the colourway ‘Agate’. I absolutely love the way it’s coming out. The yarn shades from cream through to lovely deep jewel colours of turquoise, purple and garnet – but all quite muted because they’re plied with the cream. Photos don’t really do it justice. I’ve got 2 pattern repeats of 30 rows each and then the border to do, then I can cast off and block it (gently, because the yarn is 37% acrylic). It’ll be wearable by the weekend, in which case I’ll be able to take it with me on our camping trip in case it gets cold out in the desert.

Once I’ve finished the Hypotenuse I’m going to cast on for the Gossamer Stars scarf, from the same IK as the hoody. I’ve got a lovely silk/wool yarn to use and I’m itching to start. I’m also going to start a pair of bog-standard socks. I haven’t done socks for a while. And I have plans to design a hot-water-bottle cover as a way to use up some of my earlier attempts at hand-spun.

I know a hottie-cover (or indeed a hottie) seems like a weird thing to want in the Middle East. But hotties are useful for all manner of aches and pains, and it will get cold here. The shops are already selling electric heaters in preparation for the winter. I’m just hoping by ‘cold’ they mean 15C, and that I haven’t lost my Northern European tolerance for the cold. And a hot water bottle isn't the only thing to be covered in knitting...


This is Wheelie from in beige cotton. Here's my beloved driving the LR3 along C-Ring with the Wheelie in position. I made it for a bit of fun but it's remarkably effective. Although when a neighbour used our car while we were on holiday, all his friends took the piss.