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.