“Travel makes one modest. You see what a tiny place you occupy in the world.”

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On the sad occasion that we embarked upon our journey to dear old England, it was decided that the opportunity should not pass us by and we should do something touristy to cheer ourselves up.

What could be more touristy than the greatest of Capital Cities: LONDON.

Actually, if you’ve lived and worked in the city for most of your life, going there for a day out might seem a little mundane. But, if you are entertaining younger ones, then it’ll be everything that you make it. Why, we had a couple of young ones in tow so the expectation was fun, fun, fun. First stop, The Tower of London and the Crown Jewels.

You cannot get more touristy than The Tower but the herding of tourists around a circuit to view the history of the place takes something away from the experience. Remember, here in Oman there is no herding, or ropes, or barriers of beefy men to keep you out or any safety ropes keeping you in. In fact, it’s do as you darn well like here. So, to be restricted in our tourist type viewing pleasures, it all felt a little stifled and uncomfortable. Ah well! The kids knew no better and enjoyed all that was placed before and presented to them. The Crown Jewels were a wonder to behold and even more of a wonder when you consider how much wealth was in that one room, held by one household, but how much poverty lay beyond it. Something didn’t seem quite right, especially as we are not the ones holding all that lovely, shiny, sparkly stuff. If nothing else, we added it to our list of things done and enjoyed that day. We took Christopher Robin and Alice (not their real names, of course) to Buckingham Palace to stand outside and, well, look at it. We spotted guards guarding and crowds crowding. We took a photo having moved swiftly across Green Park and then up to Trafalgar Square We took another obligatory photo of a small child in front of one of the lions that guard Nelson’s Column. As my father did to me, and his father before him and possibly his father before him, so on and so forth; we shoved our small child onto the plinth and snapped the shot that shows another generation doing the thing tourists do in London’s Trafalgar Square. A pleasant dinner in Leicester Square then it was back home with the train taking all the strain. As days go, it was none too shabby and in case you have yet to enjoy such a day in London, well you can now enjoy ours.

London Town

London Town

London Life

London Life

No one we know either!

We had, in quite a different place, the most appalling lunch at the most expensive price. Personally, my drink was rather nice and the objects D’art dangling about the flower vase was quite attractive but apart from that, we don’t expect to be giving our patronage to this particular establishment any time soon.

My Bevvy

My drink and some charms on a vase

We visited a cafe in a village and had a wonderful lunch. We had a large ‘family’ gathering lunch and even fish and chips. We took the opportunity to visit a Roald Dahl museum which was, it must be said but only a personal opinion, a complete waste of money and jolly expensive too. If you want to know why then have a look on Trip Advisor which explains so much more of the displeasure we encountered there. Suffice to say, lots of pictures which are stuck to a wall and a mock up of a shed with a few models dotted about, do not an interesting place make. Have a look at this museum model and you tell me if you just had a good time?

Interesting?

Clever? Yes, but interesting?

Granted, a nice model but having looked at it for a moment or two, you simply move along. It’s a scene from a story, apparently. For the little ‘uns, there’s not too much to enthral, entertain, amuse or astound. For adults, even less. Ah! But what about the grave? Yes, you can have a pleasant hike up a hill to the local church and see the last resting place of the author himself. Sure as we can be that he was probably a nice enough bloke, we took to taking arty pictures of the church instead.

If it's Black and White, it must be art, right?

If it’s Black and White it must be art, right?

We went to a park, had a picnic (in a different place), threw stale bread at ducks and other water fowl, ambled about, window shopped and did all things touristy before returning to the luxury of desert living and heat that has managed to top 51 degrees C so far this year.

All in all, we did what we could to enjoy ourselves on what was, sadly, a somewhat sombre occasion.

And some things, as mentioned, never seem to change…

2015

2015

circa 1959

circa 1959

“Every life deserves a certain amount of dignity, no matter how poor or damaged the shell that carries it.”

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I remember a time when things were not as good as they are today. I remember those times with a fondness that unjustifiably gives it a worthy place in my happy memories. Why do I mention this?

A smell, a song, a word or maybe just a thought that takes me back to a time when the future was golden and very promising. Being poor was not so bad. Mainly because we did not know we were so. Sure, kids up the street had stuff that we didn’t but by the same token, I recall having things that other kids did not. It was definitely a hierarchy of the ‘haves’ and the ‘have nots’ and we all knew our place. There were many things that one could do to either drag yourself out of the poverty rut or appear to the world around you that you were wealthier than you actually were. One way was to own and race a greyhound.

My father did just that; raced a grey hound at a ‘flapper track,’ which was a sprint over one hundred yards or so in pursuit of a stuff rabbit being whizzed along tied to the end of a rope which was towed by a big wheel spinning jolly fast. Now greyhound racing doesn’t come cheap, as you can imagine. In order to keep, train and race said greyhound something, somewhere had to give. The easy option for any parent is to skimp on the food given to the kids because the little blighters don’t know any better and here is how it was presented to us for the duration of the greyhound’s keep (before it was kicked out for losing too many races). Feeding a racing greyhound wasn’t as simple as throwing down a tin of Pedigree chum. Oh no! Specially prepared food had to be conjured up from fresh ingredients, only the very best as it was an investment – an investment in your greyhound with hopes for a return as winner’s cash (not to mention the gambling) that went with it.

Recipe of the day, for the dog mind you, was Corned Beef, Potatoes and Cabbage. I cannot say for sure why this combination was fit for a racing greyhound but I was never in a position to question it. Carbs, protein, iron, who knows? Now the dog got first pickings and, quite frankly, what the dog couldn’t eat was given to us kids as leftovers. Absolutely true I tell you and in memory of those days, I conjured up that most familiar meal just now. It looks jolly appetising to me, but maybe from the comfort of your cucumber sandwich, middle class perspective,  it doesn’t to you…

Pre- mashed serving

Pre- mashed serving

In keeping with my food, beverage and cookery aspect of the blog, I present the culinary delight (chef has certainly excelled himself this evening) that is ‘Greyhound Food.’

Now the trick is, because you don’t eat it like that, silly-billy, to mash it all up and fashion it into something that looks like a cake – “Go on kids, get it down ya, yum, yum!” I can her the old fella now, like it was yesterday. ” Eat up or the dog will have seconds!” Once it took on the appearance of a cake, slightly, just slightly, it would trick us kids into believing that it was something delicious to eat. I mean, the dog scoffed it up like no one’s business so it must be yummy, right? Eating it in that state would be downright ridiculous, of course, so mash, mash, mash…

Good enough to eat, right?

Good enough to eat, right? The dog thought so!

So it was, today I took a trip down memory lane, remembering my siblings, a certain poverty, magical times that now seem full of woe and all the other ‘fond memories.’ of an era probably best forgotten.  And the ‘greyhound food?’ Well, it was blooming delicious and boy can I run fast now!

Go on the six dog!

Go on the six dog!

As for the greyhound… It never won a race. No, I tell a lie because one Saturday lunchtime it jumped up on the kitchen table and ate my beef-burger (cheap, processed rubbish, wafer thin, barely containing any beef – or even meat for that matter). Father was livid; why it would never run fast now, having scoffed that crap food (Oh, but it was okay to feed it to us kids though!). Well, down at the flapper track old Streaky came flying in to beat all contenders but because of the burger theft, it was the one and only time dear father didn’t have a bet. Doh!! He later told me he had Streaky to a new, caring owner. I fully believe he smashed it’s head in with a spade, but I can’t prove anything.

And to prove a point, here he is (or was it a she, I can’t remember). Circa sometime in the swinging sixties when everything was groovy and anoraks were hip.

Streaky - or not as the case was.

Streaky – or not as the case was.

Ramadan has just about come to and end here. The fasting will shortly give way to Eid and the ritual slaughter of a vast number of animals will begin. Traditionally, this is done at home, the slitting of the animal’s throat that is. The government has kindly provided 571 disposal sites for carcasses, which suggest that it is a very, very popular thing to do. Not as popular as Corned Beef, Potatoes and Cabbage, I bet? And not half as tasty either…

Eid Mubarak!

1955 – DMS – 2015

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“My sister will die over and over again for the rest of my life. Grief is forever. It doesn’t go away; it becomes a part of you, step for step, breath for breath. I will never stop grieving because I will never stop loving her. That’s just how it is. Grief and love are conjoined, you don’t get one without the other. All I can do is love her, and love the world, emulate her by living with daring and spirit and joy.”

“Ask not what you can do for your country. Ask what’s for lunch.”

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Marhaba!

There are a number of exciting food items to try every day, if you are the adventurous type. Some of these delicious items you have already seen here, unfamiliar fish along with fruit and vegetables that get you wondering which part, exactly, should be eaten or thrown away. With the summer-time heat blazing away and the inside walls of the villa radiating heat like a tandoori oven, energy levels sap and there is not much to do other than to meddle with eatables that are often strange.

Custard Apple

Custard Apple

This little beauty is a ‘Custard Apple’ however, it neither resembles custard nor does it look anything like an apple. It does have the taste of both when you eat the soft, white fleshy part and spit out the black pip but it is a subtle taste and it could easily be mistaken for wallpaper paste. It is said to have healing properties for certain diseases, it’s expensive and fun to try in a messy sort of finger-food way.

One of the great additions to our range of electrical items is a juicer. When we find we are not quite sure what to do with our fruit and veg, we blitz it all and drink the juice. It is a messy business to prepare, involves a fair bit of cleaning up afterwards and produces a frothy liquid that can be difficult to swallow but we are told it is good for us and who are we to buck the trend. Oranges are always readily available so they are a regular item in the smashing, slicing, dicing , blitzing game that is our juicer.

sweet

sweet

A word of warning! Juicers are fine for immediate consumption. The juice will NOT keep. It immediately begins to separate into froth at the top and clearer juice at the bottom and even though it is chilled and kept in a glass container, the taste will quickly mar and a certain bitterness will set in. It is pointless keeping it in plastic containers as the deterioration is even quicker. Had we known this, we would have gone for the more expensive ‘PRESS’ system, shunning the centrifugal job we have now. Pressed fruit and veg will keep a day or so in the fridge so you can enjoy that healthy drink in the mornings without the work to prepare it. Unfortunately, we can’t be bothered with it all that fuss in the morning so it is a weekend fiasco for us.

Having spent a lifetime thinking that dates only came in a long, thin wooden box with ‘EAT ME’ labelled on the front, I for one was surprised to learn that dates are not only a Christmas delicacy but an all year staple food item in these parts. The varieties are plentiful with many unpronounceable names. They are stuffed with nuts or fruit, covered in chocolate or sprinkled with herbs and spices. You can even pick them from the tree and eat them fresh, which is very often done and encouraged as a way to feed the poor. There are specific roadside trees planted exactly for the purpose of subsidising the needy in terms of food. Why give them money when you can plant their food for them. Brilliant! One of the best varieties are called Khallus (sic) and covered in cardamom – they are a real treat. For so many years these things were despised but now they are revered but too often the cause of a runny bottom due to over indulgence. There’s always a drawback!

Mmmmm!

Mmmmm!

They may not look too appetising but by goodness they are sweet (with a hint of cardamom in this instance).

That’s it for today, because it’s eight-thirty in the morning and already 42 degrees C. outside and too hot to venture further than the front door – from the land of the pomegranate where they grow on tress in the mountains and can be bought for less than loose change; the secret to getting the lush red seeds out without having to eat the bitter pith is finally revealed. No need for a pin and patience. With this method you can shovel the juicy nutlets into your mouth by the spoonful – or stick them in your juicer for some interesting sound effects!

easy when you know how!

Slice into quarters and separate the peel and inner pith from the juicy red seeds in a bowl  UNDER WATER. Keep it under the water’s surface whilst working and this prevents any squirting, splashing, staining red juice on your best pinny. The seeds sink and the pith floats. AMAZING! Skim off the pith then rinse the seeds whilst gently rubbing between the hands to separate any stubborn pith and ENJOY! I recommend the juicer again as the seeds can be a bit chewy and, after all, it is only the juice that we are interested in; right? Don’t suffer the expense of the commercial ‘Pommejuice’. Make your own with no added chemicals. As you can see, there are some cheeky Lychees here just waiting to be peeled. Oh, the anticipation!

Live lobsters are readily available so having mastered the art of crab cooking (see previous posts) I thought it was time to despatch one of these sea crustaceans and advance my knowledge of seafood preparation and cooking. Rude not to in this land of plenty. There is a plethora of squid and cuttle fish here too but I really do have to draw the line somewhere, at least for the moment.

Hoping to keep it all down…

Ramadam approaches fast!

“I will prepare and some day my chance will come.”

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It is so good to be back but, then again, we haven’t really been anywhere. The odd day out, the local hotel/resort, new and old shopping malls, all the usual, mundane matters of life, bog-standard everyday activities I suppose. Oh! And work of course. Every so often, sometimes, just once in a lifetime, an opportunity comes along and it is so darn tempting that you already know that if you don’t jump at the chance then regret may follow you all your days. On the other hand, there may be even more regret in taking the opportunity. With this conundrum in mind, full consideration is now being given to a most fascinating, new career opportunity. Oh yes, it is absolutely real and genuine and just there for the taking. The pay is immaterial but the kudos, being the centre of attention down the pub, the stories you could tell your mates and the photos you could show the grand-kiddies. Well, what say you..?

Muscat-Daily-Press

 

 

 

 

May 21, 2015

Muscat 40 °C

Saudi advertises for swordsmen as execution rate soars

 

 

 

 

 

Riyadh –

Saudi Arabia advertised vacancies for eight executioners Tuesday after beheading nearly as many people since the start of the year as it did in the whole of 2014.

The civil service ministry said that no qualifications were necessary and that applicants would be exempted from the usual entrance exams.

It said that as well as beheadings, the successful candidates would be expected to carry out amputations ordered by the courts.

Amputation of one or both hands is a routine penalty for theft. Drug trafficking, rape, murder, apostasy and armed robbery are all punishable by death.

Most executions are carried out by beheading, but a few are carried out by firing squad, stoning or crucifixion.

All are carried out in public and video footage sometimes appears on the Internet despite a ban on filming.

In January, gruesome footage was posted of a Myanmarese woman protesting her innocence before being beheaded by a swordsman on a public street in Mecca.

Ignoring her screams, the white-robed executioner forces her to lie down on the ground, near a pedestrian crossing, then severs her head with a curved sword. The official Saudi Press Agency (SPA) said that Layla bint Abdul Mutaleb Bassim had been sentenced to death for killing her husband’s six year old daughter.

The vacancies were advertised on the ministry’s website in the ‘religious jobs’ section.

Last year, Saudi Arabia executed 87 people, according to an AFP tally, ranking it third in the world for use of the death penalty.

Already this year, it has put 85 people to death in what human rights group Amnesty International has described as a ‘macabre spike’.

On Tuesday, a convicted serial rapist of young girls was beheaded in Riyadh, SPA reported.

The Interior Ministry says the death penalty is an important deterrent. But on a visit to Riyadh this month, French President Francois Hollande said capital punishment ‘should be banned’.

AFP

 

Now, where’s that CV and covering letter?

 

Delicious Ambiguity –

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“I wanted a perfect ending. Now I’ve learned, the hard way, that some poems don’t rhyme, and some stories don’t have a clear beginning, middle, and end. Life is about not knowing, having to change, taking the moment and making the best of it, without knowing what’s going to happen next.”

Gilda Radnor

So we embarked upon a rag-tag of opportunities and spontaneity, filling our free time (of which there doesn’t seem to be much these days) doing things so as to please and satisfy our adventurous spirits. Nothing too taxing or foolhardy, as we might have done in days gone by, merely doing stuff so as not to be sat indoors all the time. The sun is shining and the heat is on the up, up, up so let’s get out there and enjoy it all while it lasts.

It started with a trip to the Royal Opera House to see an unusual version of Tchaikovsky’s ‘The Nutcracker’ where the story had been changed from a Christmas to a birthday. Maybe it was done so as not to offend the predominate religion out here or maybe a clever adaptation to inject some enthusiasm into what can only be considered a well-worn, tried and tested storyline. It appeared to work but left some of us confused as we waited and waited for the appearance of a Christmas tree. It was well into the second half when the penny dropped. Never mind, ballet is ballet and the dancing bit is always a nonsense as far as I’m concerned. Of course, to aspiring ballerinas, such words could be devastating.

As ballets go and I’m certainly no expert, is was okay.

Well aware of how cold and miserable it is in other parts of the world, southern England for example, we try to be thankful for the warming rays that we feel practically every day, throughout the day and also throughout the night as it goes. No aching bones, no chilblains and certainly no frozen toes or faces, the sun never fails to lift our spirits and ward off any depressing thoughts of the economy, a general election or an unequal work/life balance. evening blissIn the cool of the evening, we often take a short journey to the end of the road and walk along the public beach. There are posher beaches close by, where ex-pats hang out with their Pimms, but we prefer the homeliness of the local sands and the local people that go there to relax, wash and race their cars. Yep, it’s probably one of the few places left in the world where there are no restrictions as to where you can drive your car or ride your quad-bike. Golden sands are regularly churned and the peacefulness of the lapping surf broken by revving engines and the spinning of wheels. In some ways it’s a good thing as there are no Big Brother, Nanny State do-gooders telling you what to do and where to do it but on the other hand, it does kind of ruin it for those that are not involved in the mechanical monster thing. Personally, we have to remember who was here first and who it all belongs to; we don’t complain – only to eachother perhaps. We live and let live. Wouldn’t you?

cars, camels and kidsIt’s a case of keep your eyes open, don’t trip over the ruts and enjoy it all as best you can.

beachcomers beware!

Beachcomers beware!

We continue to experiment with any number of new ideas and many of those new things involve food. Continuing with the much lauded and highly acclaimed series ‘Fish I Have Mostly Eaten’ we add to the list to prove our sense of adventure and, well, just for the hell of it really. We still find it odd that not so long ago, in a town somewhere on the south coast of England, we would pay an awful lot of money to view exotic fish swimming around in a tank. Here, we eat them for next to nothing.Parrot Fish

This tasty morsel was fried and believe me it was mouth-wateringly delicious. The large scales were bit of a bugger to deal with but the flesh was nothing less than pure heaven. This pretty Parrot-Fish, exactly the same as you would pay good money to gawp at in a commercial aquarium, was our lunch. Cheap as chips (but we didn’t have chips as it happens) he slipped down a treat and it could only have been improved upon by a drop or two of a chilled, Premier Cru Chablis. Ah well! We live in hope.

At this time, we are sat in the garden planning where to head for next. The glorious return of His Majesty, after a spell in Germany receiving treatment for an illness, has caused an outpouring of emotional loyalty and  we are all expecting a public holiday to be announced. One day, maybe two or even more. Whatever comes our way, we plan to make the most of it because there is still so much more to be seen. So much more to be done.

Why goodness! I haven’t really got time to finish…