Sunday, January 06, 2008

The End

And so, after two years, it is time to put Neal Of Arabia to bed. I am no longer living in Riyadh, and no longer a Diplomatic Spouse, so it's off to blogging pastures new. Our two years in Riyadh were a great adventure and we made friends with some lovely people. This blog will remain available for anyone who wants to catch up on our adventures during 2006/7, and I hope you enjoy reading it as much as I enjoyed writing it.

So where next for my typing fingers? Well, it's a new version of Bloody Marvellous! : the other blog I started while in Riyadh, but had to stop updating because it all got a bit much. The "new and improved" version is at I do hope you will join me there.


Wednesday, January 02, 2008

Back To The Grind

With Christmas and the New Year holiday over it's time for us -- as I'm sure it is for you -- to get back into work mode and return to regular routines. Today is also Karen's first day in her new job in London, so I guess it's also the day I officially cease being a Diplomatic Spouse and resume my previous life as Nobody In Particular.

So I'm sitting here in our rented flat, catching up with emails and writing a To-Do list, while also trying to think of a name for the new blog and managing the childrens' activities, namely making sure Elliot does some revision for the exams he has waiting for him when he goes back to school, and getting Abigail out of bed.

I'm also looking forward to moving into our new home in London next week, and starting to think that there are probably another hundred things I should be doing in preparation for that, but as yet unidentified.

Still, I have my new Slingbox firing on all cylinders and I can access it from anywhere on the internet, so I'm happy on a geek level at least. Take a look at the videos on their website if you want to be cheered up; they're very funny.

Damn! I just noticed that my header graphic has moved several pixels to the right for no apparent reason, and is now sticking out from its background area. I'll make a note on my To-Do list:

  1. Do some work.
  2. Get Elliot to revise.
  3. Wake Abigail up.
  4. Think up name for new blog.
  5. Identify the hundred things I need to do about the move between now and next Friday.
  6. Fix the blog header.
Happy New Year!

Sunday, December 30, 2007

Moving On

I had a great Christmas break, and I hope you did too (if you celebrate it). My favourite present was -- needless to say -- a gadget. The Slingbox is a smart little box that you connect up to form a link between your TV content (Satellite receiver, cable box etc.) and your broadband internet connection. This, in effect, "posts" your TV on the internet, enabling you to watch your own TV or recorded programmes from any internet-connected computer. Pretty cool for those who travel on business and have to endure hours of American TV in hotel rooms. Now instead, you can boot up your laptop and watch Coronation St, or the big Premiership match.

Anyway, time to get to the point. Since Christmas I've been thinking about what to do with the blog. It seems incongruous to me to continue with a blog called "Neal of Arabia: Life as a Diplomatic Spouse..." when I am no longer in Saudi, and actually no longer a Diplomatic Spouse either, since Karen's Diplomatic status is only in effect when she's serving overseas. All of which suggests that it's time to move on, blog-wise.

It is with mixed feelings, then, that I announce that I will soon be writing the end of NoA and starting a new blog. I don't yet know what it will be called or what it will be about, but it will be more general and, I hope, better written and funnier than before. I will of course post full details here once it's up and running, and I sincerely hope you will follow me. NoA will stay on-line in archive form, for anyone who wants to go back over old ground or catch up on entries they missed.

I'm really struggling not to sign off with "Watch this space!". New Year's resolution: stop using clich├ęs.

Sunday, December 23, 2007


I'm not in the habit of paying to park my car. In Riyadh you could park pretty much anywhere you can find a space -- even it it meant blocking another car in sometimes -- and even the shopping mall's multi-storey car parks were free. Here I have received two parking tickets in as many visits. Last time when I got one outside Karen's Mum's house I appealed against it, and WON! Last week we went to Highgate to finalise the paperwork for our move next month, and I got a second ticket. This time it was for going over the paid-for time by five minutes. Five Minutes! Bit spiteful if you ask me. On the way home we listened to a news item on the radio that said it was well worth appealing against parking tickets, because you usually win. I think I'll be appealing the second one too.

Having an appeal succeed is satisfying, but whether you end up paying the ticket or not, you have still spent a considerable part of your life worrying/writing/waiting to hear, and that's time you can't get back. I'm not saying there shouldn't be parking rules in the UK, but a little more latitude for those re-orienting themselves to the UK way of life might be in order.

Riyadh/WindsorCam Back Online

Finally managed to sort out my two phone/email/camera dilemma, by accidentally dropping my old Blackberry, thus necessitating an upgrade to the new model, so now I have a single phone/email/camera device, and can once again snap away when I'm on my travels around town.

Can't call it RiyadhCam any more, and WindsorCam would be only temporary. Maybe I'll just call in NealCam, or maybe I'll just drop the whole name thing altogether.

Anyway here are a few snippets of what we've been up to in the run up to Christmas:

A typical family gathering

Abigail, jet-lagged from the trip from Hertfordshire!

Abigail, Lucas and Elliot at Langley train station, on the way to a Christmas Carol Singalong at the Albert Hall

Either Lucas is wearing his Santa hat at a funny angle or someone's just covered his head in shaving foam.

Ice rink at the Natural History Museum in South Kensington.

BP in his hospital room. He's over the worst of his MRSA infection now but will be staying in until the New Year.

No it's not a cookery lesson, we have to wear these aprons in the hospital so we don't take BP's bugs home with us.

Thursday, December 20, 2007

Plumbing Problem

We've now been in the Windsor flat for three weeks, and have been without a working shower for the last six days. We noticed a few days before that the temperature of the water was temperamental, and then realised that the water coming from the head was getting colder because the hot water was leaking out of the cylinder fixed to the wall, and so not making it as far as the head at all. After that the leak got worse, to the point where water was gushing out of the cylinder even when the shower was turned off. We had no alternative but to shut the water off at the mains and call the managing agents.

They did send a plumber round within the hour, but he didn't have a replacement cylinder on him so he capped off the two now-bare pipes in the shower cubicle so that we could have the rest of the water on, and said he'd order a new cylinder. That was last Friday. It is now Thursday morning and we haven't seen him since. I did get a phone call yesterday from the managing agents to say the part was in and he was coming to install it, but that didn't happen.

So, we're having baths and I had to go to B&Q and spend £1.98 on a rubber shower head attachment for the bath taps so we can wash our hair. What I hate about situations like this is not that things sometimes take longer than originally promised, but that the person on whom you are relying to fix your problem just seems to disappear off the face of the earth, and you hear nothing unless you keep making phone calls to chase him up. Even when you do get hold of them they are unrepentant, always finding someone or something else to blame for their not having called you to explain what was going on.

In Riyadh this would not have happened. We would have put in a Works Request to the Embassy and the Technical Works Team would have sent somebody round same day. If they had needed to order a part we could always be sure that every effort would be taken to get in ordered and installed as quickly as possible, and we would have returned to normal shower operations within 24 hours typically. Now, I know things are different there, and not in a wholesome way: There is a clear class system with a distinct servant class, so the reason why the service is so good is that the workers know that they must do a good job in order to keep it. I am not comfortable with regarding others as servants or somehow inferior to me, and I believe in equality, but why is it that the price for this equality seems to be the will to provide good service? It's as if the plumber -- now my equal -- resents the dynamic between us: "I'm as good as him, so why should I rush around to make his life easier? He can wait for his shower to be fixed 'til I'm good and ready!" Of course he won't voice any of this, but will instead blame the parts department, the managing agents, or even the other plumber who installed the thing in the first place.

I'd like to find a way to inject tradesmen in the UK with the same service ethic I enjoyed in Riyadh, while maintaining social equality. This experience leaves me depressed at the prospect of dealing with the telephone/TV/electricity/gas companies when we move into the new flat.

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Christmas Greetings

A very Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year to all my readers, with best wishes from me and the rest of the family. Oh, did I tell you we're actually Elves?

Click the image

Sunday, December 16, 2007

Crimbo Limbo

This period feels a little odd. We've been back in the UK for just over two weeks now, and already the sights and sounds of Riyadh are beginning to fade into background memory, but the friends we left behind remain in our thoughts. The four of us are living in a flat made for two, but it's just for a few weeks then we move again. Some of our stuff (too much actually) is with us, making the flat look and feel even smaller, some of it is at Karen's Mum's, and the rest is bobbing along on an ocean somewhere, to be delivered to our new flat in the New Year.

So while we're settling into routines and picking up old habits, it doesn't really feel like home. The weather is wintry, which is bad because I'm cold, but it's also good for the same reason. This has always been my favourite time of year in England: I like the frost and the snow (when we can get it), the dark afternoons, and the need to wrap up in several additional layers before going out makes coming home again all the more comforting.

My wallet seems to be haemorr.... hemmmoorrrag... bleeding money. I think a recalibration of our Spend-O-Meter is definitely on the cards. But after Christmas, eh? The other thing that's a bit of a mess right now is that the more we re-install ourselves in the Rat Race, the more organizations want to know where we live. Lettings agents, motor insurance companies, websites, and so on, but which address to give? The FCO one's no good, because that mail would go to Riyadh. Don't really want to give out the address where we are at the moment because that's only valid for another four weeks, and we can't yet give out our new permanent address because we haven't signed the contract yet. There's always our previous UK address, of the house in Langley that we still own and are renting out (that's another story!). So of course I end up giving each company a different one, depending on what they need it for and whether I care if I get mail from them.

We saw the best and worst of England standing shoulder to shoulder last night. My Dad and the rest of the Royal Free Singers gave a concert of Christmas music in a church in Windsor. It was an enjoyable, civilised evening; we all had a good sing-along and a mince pie, and the choir performed a carol of my Dad's own composition, so that made the evening even more special for us. When we stepped out of the church afterwards our attention was immediately grabbed by the scene across the street. A large bar, whose young crowd had spilled noisily onto the street for a smoke. The lads with their shirts hanging out, and the girls wearing skirts that went higher than their bare legs, the only coats in sight worn by the dozen or so police officers standing watch by their white van, ready to cart troublemakers off to the cells if it "kicks off". We walked briskly past the crowd, trying to minimise the children's exposure to the f***ing expletive-peppered conversations they were all f***ing having.

We got home to a flat so warm my glasses steamed up in the hall, peeled off our scarves, gloves and coats, drew the curtains and bolted the door. Ah, that's better.