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.

Monday, April 21, 2008

Good news, bad news

The good news: finally, after about 5 weeks of hoop-jumping and the usual 2-steps-forward-1-step-back, we picked up our new car last night. It's only new to us as it's second-hand, but it's still the best car we've ever had. It's a 2005 new shape Land Rover Discovery, or LR3 as they're called here. It's amazing how much safer Doha's streets feel in a big 4x4. And the roads round our block are in such bad shape we've already off-roaded.

I went to do a bit more hoop-jumping at the traffic department this morning. Rob forgot (or didn't realise) that his letter giving me permission to drive(!) had to be in Arabic. Luckily there was a little office where we could get it retyped. Unfortunately it then needed his signature. So we now have a car but I still don't have a license. As I said, 2 steps forward...

The bad news is that Zinge has FIV (cat AIDS). Luckily as he's an indoor cat he won't pass it on to to other cats, but it does mean he won't be accepted by boarding catteries and we won't be able to export him to the UK. He also won't live as long as a cat with a healthy immune system. Poor Zinjibeel. He's feeling very sorry for himself today after his hernia operation yesterday. We just need to make sure we give him lots of love.

Friday, April 11, 2008

The naming of cats...

... is a difficult matter, according to TS Eliot, and crikey was he right. We've had the Ginger Bastard for three weeks and every name we tried on him just didn't fit. it was looking like he'd be called the Ginger Bastard forever.

But I think we finally have it. His name is (drumroll) Zinjibeel. It's Arabic for (wait for it) ...

... Ginger.

Sunday, April 06, 2008

Holy crap!

What on earth is going on here? Rain? I hope so.

Thursday, February 21, 2008

I spun! Or span, or spinned

Last night I had my very first spinning lesson from one of the ladies in my knitting group. She was a very patient teacher and I really enjoyed my lesson. Check out my handspun yarn:

And here it is next to my hair. There are some similarities:

It's lumpy, greasy, overspun in places and barely spun at all in others, but it's mine and I love it. The yarn, that is, although it could also apply to my hair.

So, spinning. Yet another addiction in the making.

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Anxiety dreams

I had an anxiety dream about the move to Qatar last night. I woke up in a sweating panic. Then I had that slow sense of dawning relief as I realised it was all a dream, and I hadn't been forced to fly there in economy after all.

I think I'm going to fit right in to our new lifestyle.

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

O hai Halifacks

We want to let our house while we’re away. Rob, being the scrupulously honest person he is, wrote to the Halifax to tell them. About a week after he’d gone, I got a letter saying I had to fill in a consent form and go into my local branch to renegotiate the mortgage.

So I phoned to make an appointment for a Saturday so I didn’t have to take time off work. Then a couple of days before the appointment was due I had a phone call to say the mortgage advisor was off sick. So I rebooked the appointment. They cancelled it again. I rebooked for last Friday.

When I arrived there was no record of my appointment and the mortgage advisor was off sick anyway. I was about to throw my toys out of the pram big-style when one of the other ladies offered to help. I don’t think she wanted me to kick off in a branch full of people. She was very helpful and managed to find out (after about 4 phone calls) that it was OK to have Rob’s signature on the form by fax. But she couldn’t answer any of my other questions. She made another appointment for me, this time to talk to the mortgage advisor by phone.

So much for the boring background. I’ve just got off the phone and I’m spitting coal blocks, as my friend Paula would say. This is the score:

  • we have to come off our fixed rate and go onto the standard variable rate. This puts our monthly payment up by about £100.

  • we’re meant to be tied in to the fixed rate mortgage til July. If we end it earlier, we get charged £3000. That still stands, even though we’re no longer on the fixed rate.

  • but we can’t charge Halifax £3000 for ending the fixed rate period early.

  • the fixed rate period ends in July as I said. So, Halifax, ask yourselves: do you want to keep our business until we come home from abroad, or do you want us to remortgage in July? Hmmmmm.

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

Cursed Pomatomi

After my Pomatomus frogging disaster on Monday, I cast on again using the second ball of yarn, as the first still resembles the Gordian Knot. I decided to use a size larger needle, so I fished out my 3mm green aluminium DPNs. These used to belong to my great-grandmother. I liberated them from her house after she died, along with a few antique bone crochet hooks. It’s good to have something to remember her by which has both practical and sentimental value. This is the first time I’ve used them.

I was happily knitting away on the train when I dropped a needle. It fell under the table and landed by my foot. I could see it. I leant down as far as I could, but because I had someone sitting next to me and the table in front, I couldn’t reach far enough. I brushed the needle with my fingers and only succeeded in pushing it under the heater at the side of the carriage. Then I couldn’t see it at all. So I carried on with 3 needles instead of 4, thinking I’d get it as soon as I could.

Then I dropped another needle so I couldn’t carry on at all. The woman sitting opposite was very sympathetic, but she couldn’t reach them either. I got them both eventually, after everyone had got off the train, but it involved a lot of scrabbling around on all fours on the nasty carpet.

Should I even carry on with these socks, or are the random forces of the universe telling me to stop right now?

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

Life in Cold Blood, or, a visit to the frog pond

Yesterday evening on my commute home, I discovered that I had made a mistake somewhere in the lace pattern in my pink Pomatomus. I was nearly home so rather than try to fix it on the train, I decided to wait and do it at home. So after dinner (bubble and squeak with 2 fried eggs. Not at all healthy but very yummy) I sat down to watch telly and fix my sock.

First of all I carefully tinked a couple of rows, but the pattern was still off. So then I ripped back a couple more. The pattern was still off, and I kept losing yarn overs. Then I lost all patience and frogged the whole damn sock. Then, when I started to rewind the yarn into a hank so I could dunk it in the sink to get the crinkles out, it got into a huge snarl. It’s currently languishing in the knitting basket, waiting for a time when I’m a bit less, um, dyspraxic.

I did all this whilst watching the latest, brilliant David Attenborough series, Life in Cold Blood. Last night’s episode was all about frogs. The irony was not lost on me.

In other news, this morning on the train I was sat opposite Obsessed Football Dad. He was talking to his mate about his son’s junior football prowess, and when I took off my iPod at London Bridge an hour later, he was still talking about it. His friend looked a bit dazed.

Monday, February 04, 2008

Up and down the stairs

Another weekend of loft-clearing, or rather, sorting, as I haven't managed to actually get much out of the loft so far. It's a two-person job getting stuff out of the hatch and down the ladder, and there's only me. Although I think I've got some male muscle booked for next weekend. I shall also hire a van (one with power steering this time, after the seized-up shoulders incident) and see if Mum will lend me Dad's old sack barrow.

I also made quite a lot of progress transferring some of our CD collection onto an external hard drive. What a bloody boring job that is.

Knit'n'natter on Saturday. Managed to destash quite a lot of yarn -- made enough in yarn sales to buy Dodo's Denise interchangeable needles. Everyone was happy.

Friday, February 01, 2008

Knitting blindness (or, facetious builders)

Have just had the following conversation with the Facetious Builder:

FB: What are you knitting?
Me: A cardigan (holding up the completed back section of my Tailored Scallops cardie)
FB: Looks exactly the sam as the one you've got on (my Notre Dame de Grace pullover)
Me: OK... that one's pink; this one's orange. That one's got a wavy pattern; this one's got straight lines. That one's a cardigan; this one is a pullover. I could go on.
FB: oh. Ha ha ha.

Jebus christ almighty but he does my freakin head in.

Monday, January 21, 2008

Leaving, on a jet plane

So it finally happened: Mr S has got a job in Qatar. He's leaving on Friday and I'll be joining him in a couple of months. Yesterday we had a 'goodbye gathering' for him at our local pub. It was fun but I got quite tearful at times, especially when my uncle and his wife showed up. She's been poorly so I wasn't expecting to see them at all.

There are some things I'll miss about the UK and some I most definitely won't:

Will miss Rain
Won't miss Grey, bland, soggy low cloud
Will miss London
Won't miss Commuting
Will miss British TV
Won't miss Jeremy fucking Clarkson on every fucking channel
Will miss Green fields, woodlands and rolling hills
Won't miss Mud

I'm making Mr S some socks to take with him as part of a support package to keep him going until I join him.