Wednesday, June 28, 2006


Two things this week have left me in pain :-(

Most recently I caused my calf muscle injury to flare up by jumping into the Embassy swimming pool - hurt almost as much as when I first did it. Back to limping!

A day before that I had a minor skating accident - again I think I asked for it. I was skating to the end of the DQ and back, and on the way back there's a road that is currently closed to traffic - as if there are roadworks going on.

I could see that the road wasn't actually dug up - just a stretch about a hundred metres long with plastic barriers at each end. To go around would have meant a long detour so I decided to be a rebel and skate through the "no-go area". I rolled up to the plastic barriers, and on through, since there are gaps in them big enough for a person to get through. However it wasn't until I'd just gone past the barriers that I saw - right in front of me - a chain that was tied to trees on each side of the road - about waist height.

I had no time to stop but at least I saw in time to take some sort of evasive action, otherwise it would have looked like a scene from an old WWII movie, where the escaped prisoners stretch a wire across the road to snare a passing Nazi motorcyclist. But I saw it coming, albeit too late to actually stop in time, so instead I grabbed the chain and attempted to kind of roller-limbo under it, while still gripping it with both hands. This kind of worked I suppose because I didn't get cut in half, but I did fall on the road, managing to twist around on the way down to take most of the impact on my kneepads and wristguards... oh yes, and my ribs!

I'm getting too old for this.

We're off to Bahrain for the weekend, this time driving our own car. At least the sandstorm season is over so I don't need to worry about greasing the car up with Fairy Liquid!

Monday, June 26, 2006

She's a poet and She knows it!

I guess it should come as no surprise that my offspring should display a talent for writing (well, one of them anyway), considering the literary prowess of their father (blush).

We received a letter the other day from Young Writers (a vehicle for Forward Press), informing us that a poem Abigail had submitted in a young writers competition supported by her school has been chosen for inclusion in a new book of children's poetry, A Pocketful Of Rhyme - Little Laureates.

I'm so proud!

I'm sure some of you (well, those related to me at least) will want to get a copy of the book when it is published this August, so I'll post more details about availability when I get them.

In the meantime, here is Abigail's winning poem:-

I Could Become...

I could become a bad teacher
I'd laugh at all the kids
Give bad students housepoints and merits
For smashing pens with no lids

I could become a bad shopkeeper
I'd scan all the items wrong
I'd steal all the customers PIN numbers
And scream, "It's all gone Pete Tong!"

I could become a bad writer
I'd doodle all over my books
I'd lie about World War 3000
Make the characters dangerous cooks

I could become any of these things
Is that for what I'm meant?
But I don't mind what I become
As long as I''m happy and content!

Abigail Neal, Age 11. British School Riyadh

Saturday, June 24, 2006

Chris's Taxi Service

It's a common parent's complaint these days that they spend more time running around after their children than they do living their own lives. Guitar lessons, ballet lessons, boy scouts, swimming club, birthday parties... you know what I mean.

I thought that would ease up a bit when we came out here (there's not much to do in Riyadh), but quite the reverse has happened. The expat community - and the school in particular - puts on a wide array of activities, and when you add those to the usual birthday parties and the fact that the end of the school year is approaching (with many kids jetting off to their home countries for the summer), it all adds up to a bit of a social whirl for the children, and serious taxi duties for me.

Actually I'm exaggerating a bit because we've got some very nice friends with whom we share lifts, and the Embassy drivers do their bit too. In fact, I've got nothing to moan about really, but hey - since when did that stop me?

Anyway, here are a couple of recent photos of said social whirl in progress.

Elliot (right) "jammin'" with the rest of his band - suggestions for a name on a postcard plelase - and showing off the electric guitar he got for his birthday a couple of weeks ago.

Abigail and her best friend Alix dressed to impress before
the School Disco.

Monday, June 19, 2006

I can walk! Now... where's me skates?

Finally, after two weeks of ice packs, support bandages, ibuprofen gel and a footstool with a cushion on it, my leg is on the mend. I can put more weight on it, need to limp less, I'm walking almost normally now so... time to get my rollerblades out of the cupboard under the stairs!

If I can walk with a slight limp and only inflict moderate pain by inadvertently putting too much weight on the wrong muscle, skating should be a similar experience shouldn't it?

My first real skate was on Saturday, two weeks and a day after I tore my left calf muscle playing barefoot 5-a-side football at the Embassy's Family Fun Day. I - perhaps foolishly - choose a time when I'm alone at home; who am I going to call if my leg drops off or something and I'm lying in a heap in the middle of the road, under the 45 degree Sun and with mad arab drivers swerving to try and clip me round the ear with their wing mirrors? But I'm getting carried away... nothing like that's going to happen is it? Although no expert I'm a pretty fair skater now, having graduated from the "Windmill of Death" home correspondence course in proper rollerblading technique, AKA the internet. Yes, I know what I'm doing. I'll take it easy the first time out, paying careful attention to any unusual signals my bruised and overworked nerve endings may care to send brainward. I'll stick to the quiet back roads and stay close to the house so that I can bail out if it starts to hurt.

All of this goes through my mind as I'm strapping on my skates, knee and elbow pads and helmet. I lift myself up to standing position (in the lounge), and bob up and down a bit, testing how it feels to put a little weight on my leg in the usual knees-bent skating stance. I haven't used the muscles in this way for a while and not at all since the injury, so it does feel a little weird but not really painful, so I taxi out of the lounge, turn right into the hall and step out into the courtyard. Leaving the air-conditioned house in Riyadh is a little like entering a sauna. When you open the door a wave of heat hits you in the face, it's intensity taking you by surprise. I also sometimes get that when I open the oven door to check on the roast potatoes, which I don't get very often because I don't cook much, and then usually I don't use the oven, but I digress...

The first challenge - getting to, opening, going out of and finally closing the front gate - goes fairly smoothly, although I did stand up too straight as I approached the gate and my right skate wheels slipped out in front of me, resulting in my giving the gate an underserved good swift kick. Now finally out on my own personal 2.5km-long network of skating track, which the locals have nicknamed, "The Diplomatic Quarter", it's time to put my recuperating left leg - and my memory of how to skate for that matter - to the test.

I start off slowly, gingerly, and there's a little pain in certain positions but it's no worse than when I'm walking. I skate up the hill to the top of our road, then stop to listen to my leg complaining, but it's keeping quiet for now, so we carry on. Like a rower with only one good oar or a supermarket trolley with a dodgy wheel, I'm finding it hard to go in a straight line. I guess my left calf muscles are a little atrophied because I'm pushing equally hard with both feet but skating round corners. This trip may be even shorter than planned if all I can do is skate a big circle.

I'm only going to do about 15 minutes today - half my usual workout. I try some parallel turns, crossovers, and stopping with the heel brake. It's clear that my new-found skating brilliance hasn't deserted me after it's forced fortnight off, but it's also clear that my leg's starting to ache now so I slowly limp-skate back home, my right leg deciding all by itself to give that damn front gate another good kick on the way in, just for good measure.

Wednesday, June 14, 2006

Up 'n' Over

There is a walled courtyard around our house, and the car is kept in a carport that is part of this courtyard, with a wooden trellis roof that is covered with a climbing plant. This does a pretty good job of keeping the sun off the car when it's parked at home. The carport area has an electrically-operated up 'n' over garage door that you can open and close by either pressing a wall-mounted switch in the carport or by using the wireless remote control that I keep in the car.

The other day Karen had just started cooking dinner - Friday Roast, leg of lamb, Yum! - when we realized we had no potatoes. Friday roast wtihout roast potatoes? I don't think so! So I leap up from the sofa, grab my car keys and stride out of the door in search of spuds, to Karen's farewell cry of, "Hurry up!".

I jump into the car press the remote to open the garage door, then start the engine while the door is opening. Into reverse, release the handbrake, and start to edge out into the road when I hear (and feel) a rasping, nerve-jangling screeching sound of metal on metal.

Yes, I've reversed to early, while the door was still raising, and hit the door with the roof of the car. I now have a scratched roof and a manually-operated up 'n' over garage door. :-( the spuds though...

Saturday, June 10, 2006

Do you prefer your Kulfi leaded or unleaded?

A funny thing happened on the way home the other night...

We'd been out at a barbecue at a friend's house on Al Hamra compound, and were on our way back to the DQ at around 11.30pm with Barry and his family in their HUGE Ford Expedition, when Barry realized he was running low on petrol. A couple of minutes later a petrol station came in to view, so Barry swept onto the forecourt and pulled up by a pump. The Indian forecourt attendant received instructions to "fill 'er up", then just as he was putting the nozzle in the tank, another Indian man in overalls ran up to Barry's window waving a piece of card, which on further inspection turned out to be a laminated dessert menu such as you get in lower-budget Indian restaurants, with photos of all the desserts on offer. I was in the passenger seat and had been gazing out of my window so I hadn't noticed the guy approach, and only turned around when I heard the laughter and as I did so Barry handed the menu to me, as if to say, "look, whatever next?". I took one glance at the menu and said, all dead-pan like, "Coconut Surprise please", then returned to my window-gazing. My car-bound audience were highly amused!
It seems like wherever you go and whatever you do here, you're never far from an overall-wearing Indian man offering everything from a car wash to a lemon sorbet.

Sunday, June 04, 2006

Family Fun Day

Karen's now on the committee of the Wadi Club (the Embassy's social side), so was therefore involved in organizing it's latest social event for the expat community.

The Family Fun Day took place last Friday and was a great success; less great for me, but more of that later. Karen and her colleagues had come up with some great ideas for entertaining activities for the children, and we'd spent most of the previous weekend shopping in Toys R Us for the various prizes and games we had on our list; frisbees, water pistols, hula hoops etc.

On the day we had to arrive a couple of hours before the 4pm opening, still a little bleary-eyed from the barbeque we'd hosted at our house the night before for 30 people, including ten children. We spent the two hours helping to get everything installed, working, and ready; bouncy castle, table tennis, giant snakes 'n' ladders, treasure hunt, water polo... you get the idea.

"Where does this bit go?"

Karen provided much of the the creative input, including organizing the treasure hunt - treasure included.

"On your marks..."

4 o'clock and the guests start to arrive. I think we were expecting around 120 people in total, and it didn't take long for the pool area to be bustling with activity and chatter. Two of the P.E. teachers from the British School were there to officiate in the water-based competitions; water polo and (inflatable) dragon races.

I'm not sure why but a voice in my head had told me to wear my swim shorts, "just in case". Good advice as it turned out, because when the water polo was getting set up Karen (not my Karen, another one) came up to me and asked if I would be one of the two parents to volunteer to go in goal. I immediately agreed and "bagsied" the shallow end - who wants to try saving goals while treading water in the deep end for 30 minutes! Well, Barry as it turns out. He was the slower of the two volunteers! :-)

"Now I want a good, clean fight."

The game kicks off and is very exciting, with parents cheering on from the poolside. Barry and I try to make it entertaining by alternately pulling off spectacular saves and letting goals in with pathetic comedy dives. Between the referee and the two of us we "managed" to make it a 6-6 draw, necessitating a climactic penalty shoot-out. This time we played it straight and the scores were still level after five penalties each: Sudden Death! The first couple of penalties were saved, then the opposition's second attempt missed. Next up on our Blue Team was Elliot, facing Barry. A goal now would win us the match. He feinted to the right, then to the left, then shot the ball to the right. Barry lunged, got a hand to the ball but too late to stop it hitting the back of the net - We Are The Champions!

Next, the Dragon Races. Can't remember who won each heat but here are a couple of photos.

"Come on the Yellow!" Karen looks ready to dive in if things go pear-shaped.

Abigail takes the lead

Elliot (dark trunks) with his schoolmates

After our Fish 'n' Chip supper the next organized event is 5-a-side football on the tennis court. I don't play football any more and am in no shape to start - seriously at least - but they're short of players so I step up again (by the way, it's 45 degrees centigrade). We're on an artificial tennis court surface and I'm only wearing flip-flops, which are useless for playing football, so I decide to cast them to the sidelines and play barefoot.

The match gets under way, with one adult and four children on each side. Play goes well for about ten minutes, apart from my lungs being about ready to burst. Then suddenly another player passes to me, I'm in the open and about 20 yards from the goal. I start dribbling the ball towards what I'm certain will be our first goal on the scoreboard when suddenly POP! , someone kicks me in the back of the leg. I turn around, hopping, to see who the culprit is, but there's no-one there. That's when the pain starts. I think I've got cramp in my left calf, but the usual treatment of stretching the muscle makes the pain worse. I then realize that the popping sensation was my calf muscle tearing. By this time the pain is pretty bad and there's a group of people standing over me, then Karen (mine this time) comes over and helps me hop/limp back to the pool to lie down on a sun lounger.
A bag of ice is sourced from the bar and the pain starts to ease, then the Ambassador comes over to find out what's happened, and promptly nips back to the Residence to return with Deep Heat cream and Ibuprofen gel, for which I was very grateful.

Even though the ice pack was doing little to ease my suffering,
I still manage a cheery smile for my concerned fans.

As I write it's Sunday evening, 48 hours later, and I still can't walk properly. But, I'm doing all the right things - ice, compression bandage, keep it rested and eleveted etc., and it's getting better, slowly.

I'm determined to be back on my Rollerblades by the weekend.


This blog posting is just to say that this is my 50th blog posting!

"...And there was much rejoicing."