Sunday, May 27, 2007

The Heat Is On

Summer is well and truly on its way, and the opportunity to partake in outdoor pursuits is diminishing. It is still possible to sit outside in the shade at lunchtime or go for a walk on an evening, but it invariably results in sweat pooling in unheard of bodily regions. Not really pleasant.

But there we go. Summer is the Winter of the Gulf, when the weather forces long spells inside. Everything is the wrong way round. We wear as little as is decently possible, and drink the coldest drinks available, but then for a break from the cruel, indefatigable heat, we can go to Ski Dubai and scrape our hands on the sled runs. I still have the scar from New Year's Eve.

So I've been back in Dubai for over a week now, and have just about recovered my sanity after my incarceration in the 26-floor prison they call the Movenpick Towers hotel in Doha. No more buffets for breakfast, lunch and dinner (or dinner and tea, depending on your class). No more cloying attention from grinning hotel workers who pretend to worship the ground you walk on, but secretly harbour murderous feelings to the pampered, corpulent westerners who just want to be left alone. Instead, I actually have to make my own breakfast and load the dishwasher and wipe my own bum. It's taken some getting used to, but I think I'll be OK.

The best bit of my first week back was the peace and quiet at work. The BOSS was on holiday, and the client decided he had badgered me enough during my last week in Doha, so I was able to work at a leisurely pace and get on top of my work for once, instead of vice versa. Lunch hours were taken without worry, even though most of the conversation was about how bad our company was and who was going to leave next. The rest of the time I spent pondering my future, whether that is here in the Middle East, or elsewhere. Even though it was relatively quiet, the week still went quickly.

On Thursday afternoon I was invited to go for a drink by a chap who I chat to on an internet messageboard for expatriates. I have met him before through a mutual friend, so I went along to Aprés at the Mall of the Emirates to meet him and another messageboard contributor who had been giving me some stick for my musical tastes. We had a few relaxed drinks (raspberry mojitos - very, very nice) and talked about the crazy world of Dubai and the crazier world of virtual Dubai, and before I knew it, 2 hours had disappeared, and it was time for everyone to go. It had been a nice way to round off the week, and I wouldn't mind making it a regular fixture.

As it is, I had to disappoint another friend by going to Aprés. When I got his text message, I was already on my way there. He knows who he is. He probably thinks I'm trying to avoid him at the moment with everything that has happened recently, and I will admit that I have needed some time to reflect on certain new information that has come to light, but I'm not ignoring him. There will be a time and a place, I'm sure. I hope he understands.

And then, the weekend. I had been looking forward to Friday, because there was a Star Wars marathon, showing all 6 films in sequence, on one of the movie channels. So we went shopping early on Friday to get it out of the way, and rushed back to the villa to get the TV on. I would have missed about 10 minutes of the start of Episode 1, but I could live with that. Episode 1 is the weak link, as I'm sure most people know. I didn't reckon for the weak link in my expectations. It turns out that I don't have the movie channel in question in my package. I just naturally thought we would have it, but after several flicks through all 247 channels of utter pap, the movie channel in question was not to be found. I was gutted. I rang the TV provider and asked if they could turn it on, and was told that I could, as long as I filled in 13 different forms, took them in person to 13 different offices, then travelled by foot to Al Ain to milk a goat called Colin, and finally getting the channel activated in 45 working days. Forget it. The Farce is strong in this one.

Saturday, May 19, 2007

Home is where the heart sort of flutters and jumps about

Back in Dubai. Finally. Thank the maker.

My last day in Doha consisted of waiting around a lot and seeing the reality of how Qatar's curious and archaic administration systems work. My residence visa was stamped into my passport in the morning, but then there was the issue of gaining an exit permit, which invariably involves chasing the local sponsor (someone enigmatically named The DOCTOR) around town, trying to get him to sign a piece of paper giving you dispensation to leave the country. If you're lucky, you might catch him before he leaves town for the weekend, in between doing whatever it is he does, which is often in another country. What happens in the case of an emergency is something I daren't ponder upon for too long.

In between these events, I had to sort out the hotel bill, and the boss in Doha came along with me when I checked out and tried to settle said bill using his credit card. The bill, being for a stay of almost 4 weeks, was an impressive one. It was over 30,000 Riyals. My boss had a credit card with a huge limit - more than twice that amount, but on swiping, the dreaded instruction "REFER TO BANK" flashed up on the machine. So, the boss rang the bank, getting through to a human being quite quickly, for once. Then the fun started. Firstly, they told him his limit wasn't as much as he believed it to be (even though it was still enough), then they told him that the maximum single transaction was 10,000 Riyals, and any transactions over this amount had to be authorised following a request in writing. It was all for reasons of security, said the bank, even though they had verified the ID of the person trying to pay the bill.

The Doha boss was aghast. After an hour of phone calls to and from the bank's call centre, in addition to phone calls from the hotel manangement to the bank, the bank agreed to allow the transaction through if a faxed request was sent through. So the fax was sent. I had a feeling about what was going to happen next, and I was right. The bank were called again to confirm that the fax had been received, and the bank said that everyone had gone home for the day, and the transaction would have to wait until Sunday. Luckily, the hotel management were sympathetic and understanding, and allowed the boss and me to leave on this basis.

This whole episode really stretched the Doha boss. He is a laid back character usually, but I could see the anger building up inside him as the ordeal wore on. The final straw for him was getting another phone call from the bank as we headed back to the office, saying that he had given an incorrect credit card number. It turned out they had misread a hand writen digit. On hanging up, the boss shouted an obscenity, which took me by surprise.

So, I got back to the office, and the company Mr. Fixit took me straight back out, chasing the DOCTOR for his prized autograph. On the way, Mr. Fixit told me that it was a good job he had a close relationship with the DOCTOR's driver, or things would be much harder. I just shook my head.

With the signature secured, I thought I was on my way, and phoned the WIFE to tell her. She cheered loudly at the news, and Mr. Fixit heard the cheer, his face breaking into a broad grin. Then he told me we had to go and take the signed exit permit to the visa office near the airport to get it stamped and entered into the system. Oh, come on! What else was there to do to get out of this place? Luckily there was only a short queue, and the process was quick, and I made it to the airport in time for my flight home.

The pilot lied again. They always do. He said it was fine weather for the flight, but most of it was pretty bumpy, which was more annoying than terrifying. Finally, finally, FINALLY, the lights of Dubai appeared under us and we performed a sharp turn before landing nice and smoothly at DXB. We were kept on the plane for 15 minutes or so, but then I managed to breeze through immigration and out of the airport, and got home less than an hour after we landed.

The drive along SZR was strange. I was glad to see the familiar sights; the colourful Fairmont hotel, the tower of white pin-prick lights of the growing Burj Dubai, and the iconic form of the Burj Al Arab. This city is so much more vibrant than Doha. So much more alive. Oh, I know, I know. I've changed my mind AGAIN. What am I to do? I am confused. Some things about Dubai drive me mad, but having spent 4 long, lonely, boring weeks in Doha, and seeing the way the place works, I realise that I might have been hasty in dismissing the option of remaining here out of hand. The cost of living situation is still a major issue, of course, and the family will almost definitely have to go back (unless someone has a 3-bed villa for 90k going spare), but I could stay here and earn a good wage and at least not be so bored that I turn to eating and drinking excessively. And in terms of problems with moving, it would be the easiest option of all the ones I've considered.

And now the weekend is almost over again, and it's back to work in the Dubai office tomorrow to face whatever music might lie in wake for me. I don't know if it's going to be a Funeral March or a Victory Serenade. We shall see.

Sunday, May 13, 2007

Party on...

Summer is returning. The sun is getting hotter. The air is starting to feel thick with heat and moisture, and the vicious, unrelenting glare of the sky, sand and light-coloured buildings is getting brighter and brighter. The glass windows of buildings feel warm from the inside, rather than cold now, and you really notice the difference when you enter or exit a building. The air conditioning makes you shiver monentarily as you enter, and on the flip-side, getting into a car - especially when it has been parked out of the shade - is like entering a sauna - fully clothed, with a red hot steering wheel to hold.

My third weekend in Doha has been and gone. On Thursday, I spent the day recoiling from a barrage of sardonic and annoying e-mails from one person who seemed to have it in for me that day. I was glad of the opportunity to take a bit of a flier and drive down to the site on the Corniche for a little party they were holding to celebrate the end of a particular phase of work in the Big Hole in the Ground.

I got there just in time. The portacabin meeting room was full of people standing with their arms folded, looking longingly at the Arabic-syle feast laid out on the tables in the middle, with kebabs, pickles, hummous and breads waiting to be consumed. Two large plates took centre stage, but foil concealed the delights upon them. The Project Managers made their little speeches, the staff appluaded politely, then everyone eagerly tucked in. Foil was ripped away from the two large plates to reveal the almost complete roasted carcasses of lambs laying on beds of yellow rice. I waited a moment to see what would happen, and watched as the others around me started ripping the meat from the carcasses with their bare hands. Well, their right hands, to be precise. No-one uses their left hand to touch food here, for reasons of hygiene. Left hands are for dealing with sanitary matters, shall we say.

So I dived in as well, feeling like some early hominid without a spear or a loin cloth as I tore cooked flesh from the bones of the dead beast in front of me, piled it onto my plastic plate, and stuffed it into my mouth. It felt good, and it tasted even better. I wouldn't like to hazard a guess as to when this animal had been gamboling around in a field, completely unaware of its final destination, but I imagine it wasn't long ago. This thought, along with the sight of the lamb's body with leg bones and ribs protruding from it might have put some people off, but there weren't many around me that showed any signs of being so. Within ten minutes, there wasn't much meat left at all, just bones and gristle and skin, as if a pack of ravenous hyenas had just taken its fill, before washing it down with a can of Coke.

Greasy hands and faces were wiped clean and Arabic sweets were passed round. They were sweets which I hadn't seen before; a kind of sticky orange, crispy cigar filled with custardy cream. One was more than enough for me, and then the party seemed to disband, and everyone began to shuffle away from the meeting room, wiping their mouths clean as they went back to their desks, or straight out of the door towards home. A few of the big cheeses were meeting for a cup of tea in another room, but I decided against joining them - not that I'm a big cheese, more of a half-pack of Dairylea, if I'm honest - and slipped back to my car and started driving towards my hotel.

With the sun on its way down and the air cooling a bit, I decided to park up on the Corniche front and take in a little fresh air. I didn't walk very far, deciding to sit on the thick, white, sectioned wall at the water's edge and watch the world go by. Joggers, families and random single people passed by, the odd one greeting me with the traditional, "A Salaam alaykum" as they passed. I still haven't got the hang of answering straight away in Arabic, favouring the silent nod or the quick, "Hi" in reply. I hope they aren't offended.

After 15 minutes of peaceful reflection, I went back to the car and completed my journey to the hotel, wondering what I was going to do for the weekend, since it was upon me again, and I was alone again. I ended up ringing a chap I know who works for one of the companies I deal with and we agreed to meet at the Australian bar in Rydges. We'd both had hard days, so a quick drink was definitely on the cards.

We met and chatted and drank, and I was introduced to a handful of people from various places and various companies - mostly construction related - and had a thoroughly pleasant evening, drinking the black stuff and smoking other people's cigarettes, which is a filthy habit, especially when you take one without asking. Oh well, they're only 90p a packet here. So maybe I should buy my own. But if I did that, I would smoke more, and I really shouldn't smoke, even on this ad-hoc, "only when I drink" basis. It's asking for trouble with this ticker of mine on top of the alcohol.

The bar was pretty busy by 10pm. The music gradually got louder, and so did the people, and when I decided to leave at 11.30, there was a small group of people waiting to get in, standing impatiently in front of the velvet rope manned by gargantuan, glowering bouncers. I smiled to myself as I walked past them all and into the waiting lift. I've been there before, and I'm sure I'll be there again. Everyone wants to get in somewhere, and everyone wants to keep everyone out. Unless you're a VIP, of course.

Friday was lie-in day. Though I miss my children, the one advantage of being away from them is not having them jumping all over me at 6.30 in the morning on a weekend. So I had a nice long sleep, before ordering room service for breakfast and watching old movies on the TV, sitting there in a hotel-issue bath robe that just about fitted.

Boredom got the better of me by early afternoon, so I decided to ring another chap, this time an ex-colleague, who had suggested earlier last week that we visit the (in)famous Garvey's for a drink and some food. Their roast dinners are legendary. Especially in their own lunchtime. The suggestion had been made on Wednesday night when we had met up with other ex-colleagues and current incumbents over a curry at a very impressive and cheap Indian restuarant next to the tennis stadium.

So we drove out of central Doha, towards the Sports City area, and eventually arrived at a complex tucked away from view behind some shops and villas. The complex calls itself The European Families Club, and has a collection of low buildings, including villas and fitted-out cabins which they rent out to expats. Garvey's is the bar, and lies behind a solid, dark wooden door near the swimming pool area. Even on this hot day, the pool area was busy with lobster-skinned Brits sitting in the midday sun supping cold beers. Unfortunately, there were no canines in need of therapy to be seen anywhere.

Garvey's itself has been described as having the feel of a working men's club, and this assessment is spot on. It has undergone a recent revamp, with fancy wooden venetian blinds being added to the windows, and dark blue paint slapped on the walls, but it can't betray its roots. The tables and chairs are old and wobbly, and the once-white ceiling tiles now resemble a heavy smoker's teeth; yellowy-brown and quite unpleasant. Newer, cleaner tiles fitted with recessed lights have been fitted, obviously to provide some light, but they just serve to highlight the griminess of their older neighbours. In the corner, a TV shows sport on a permanent loop, interspersed with information about forthcoming Karaoke and Quiz nights, and messages imploring people not to drink and drive. The obligatory pool table and large screen telly hide round a corner at one end.

The clientele all seemed jolly enough when we entered. There was a mix of middle-aged, shaven-headed men in long shorts and football shirts, younger men in long shorts and football shirts with designer sunglasses and Crocodile Dundee hats, women in short skirts and cropped tops trying to ignore their young, boisterous children, and a few older, red-bonced men in long shorts and football shirts with faded tattoos extoling the virtues of female parents on every spare scrap of bare skin. My colleague informed me it was still early, and it was reasonably quiet for now, but most of these people would spend all day in this one place. Fights, he told me, were quite a regular occurence in the darker hours.

But before I come across as some sort of insufferable snob (moi?), I have to point out that the food in Garvey's is superb. I plumped for leek and potato soup and roast beef with all the trimmings, and was not disappointed. In fact, it was excellent, and really cheap. The soup was as good as anything I've ever made myself, the roast potatoes were crunchy and moist without being greasy and the beef was just a little bit pink in the middle, covered in dark, thick gravy. Oh yes. The only slight let-down was the Yorkshire pudding, which was a little on the soggy side, but it didn't ruin the whole experience of eating a home-made roast dinner again. When I'd eaten everything on my plate (except the cauliflower), I sent my wife a rather cheeky text message telling her what I'd just eaten. Her reply was short, sweet and effective: BOG OFF.

After a couple of non-alcoholic drinks (don't let the halo slip, now), my colleague and I headed off into the cooling late afternoon. It had certainly been an experience, that's for sure. It's like a real, authentic piece of UK culture has been lifted from a Northern industrial town and transplanted into the middle of this Middle Eastern city. The only hint that you're not in the UK is the high percentage of Asian staff behind the bar. It serves its primary purpose, which is to give people a home from home while they are overseas, and it keeps people happy. And drunk. Of course, I could go on about cultural integration and the criticism immigrants to the UK suffer because of their lack of integration, but that would be remiss of me. The point is made, and will be made again.

Friday night was a lazy night. I watched Mission Impossible 3 on the hotel pay-per-view system, and it passed the time well. When will that Tom Cruise fella start showing his age?

If Friday was a lazy night, Saturday was a lazy day. I spent it almost entirely in the hotel, only leaving it to get some lunch across the road in the neighbouring hotel, and having a little wander around the grounds to look at their impressive multi-level, lagoon-style swimming pool. The rest of the day I spent watching TV or playing the PSP, in between contemplating my future. I have two solid job offers for other work on the table now. One is in Doha, the other in Russia, and I keep changing my mind as to which would be the better one to take. I have pretty much decided to leave the company I'm with now.

The last film I watched last night was Luc Besson's take on the Joan of Arc story. It came across as a sort of Braveheart with a French woman, with maybe a little more historical accuracy, and wasn't TOO damning on the English for once. The ending, where a 19-year-old Joan is burnt at the stake, made me squirm a bit, serving as a reminder of humankind's propensity to savage brutality. I had to watch a little bit of the comedy channel to take my mind away from the images of Joan being consumed by the flames.

And here we are. The start of another week. I should get home this week. Home being Dubai, of course. Strange how I see it like that now. But home is where the heart is, and my heart is with 3 people who I miss. I miss them a lot.

Monday, May 07, 2007

A Life of Goodbyes

I'm still in Doha.

Over 2 weeks staying in a hotel alone is not really my idea of fun. Especially in a hotel that is completely disorganised and still finding its feet. The fact that the staff are in your face all the time, bowing and scraping and grinning like simpletons makes it even more annoying. I've taken to staring at the floor as I walk about just to avoid them. It doesn't work. I suppose they are only doing their job, but come on guys, stop laying it on so thick. If I want something from you, I will talk to you.

At least the weekend was a bit more interesting. Once it was clear I wasn't going to get away last week, I booked the WIFE and kids on a flight from Dubai on Thursday night. So they arrived at around 5.30pm, and we all trundled towards the hotel. The kids were pleased to see me, or at least they acted well enough to convince me. I was definitely pleased to see all of them, even after just 2 weeks. As we drove along the Corniche, they took in the different surroundings, remarking on the lack of cranes and traffic. 5 minutes into the journey, the boy exclaimed: "this place is much better than Dubai!" Well, thought I, don't judge this book by its cover.

I took the liberty of booking an extra room for the kids, and that meant I had to decamp to the 21st floor, so they could give us 2 adjoining rooms with a door between them. Privacy for Mummy and Daddy was the order of the day. The BOY was impressed with having his own mini-bar and TV to watch, but most of all, he was excited at the prospect of swimming in the 26th floor swimming pool. The GIRL was excited at having a huge bed to sleep in. There might at last be some room for the menagerie of soft toy animals that seem to follow her everywhere.
It was an early night that first night. After a quick bite in the restaurant we pretty much hit the sack straight away. Everyone was whacked. I still found myself listening to the wind whistling around the corners of the building. With the curtains shut, it was hard to tell we were at a height, but when I remembered where I was, I had to swallow the rising terror before it threatened to rise up to more than a nagging, but manageable fear.

So Friday dawned, and we had a leisurely morning eating breakfast, watching telly, playing on the PSP and so on. Then we tried to go swimming, but found out that the pool was closed over the weekend for maintenance. Grrrreat. Two disappointed children, and not a clue what to do. The hotel, in its infinite wisdom, had no alternatives to offer me. The weather was too hot to go outside, so the zoo and the beach were out of the question.

So we drove to the Villagio mall to see something the kids have never seen before - a themed shopping mall. Well, OK, a themed shopping mall with a canal going through it. And they got to see the Asian Games stadium, the Aspire tower and the giant shopping trolley. This is the stuff dreams are made of, people. They will tell their grandchildren about this. When they want to make them go to sleep.

Anyway, on this particular visit to Villagio, I was with other people, so I discovered one of the unique features of the mall. There are two circular plazas with high, domed ceilings. One has a bright blue day-time sky painted on it; the other a starry night-time sky. But if you stand anywhere under the domed ceiling and talk, it echoes all around the plaza. You don't even to have to shout to get an echo. I didn't know this before, because the only voices were in my head last weekend. But now I was with my noisy children. Of course, once this was discovered by the GIRL, she started whooping and screeching and giggling as the echoes of her voice bounced around the plaza.

Most of the shops and restaurants were shut as it was just approaching lunchtime, so we moved to the City Centre mall, which is nearer the hotel. I remembered that they have the ice rink there, and they also have ten-pin bowling, so there was at least some potential for something to do other than walk around malls. So after lunch we headed down to the optimitically-named Winter Wonderland (i.e. an ice rink). But nothing doing there either. You had to buy your own socks for the ice-skating, and the timings were all to pot, with sessions starting every few hours. The bowling alley was taken over by a birthday party.

What a fabulous weekend we were having. If I had been trying to sell Doha as a place to live for the family, I might have been more successful trying to persaude them to eat camel's testicles. We eventually returned to the hotel and the kids watched TV for a couple of hours before boredom got the better of me and I decided we would get out of the hotel and head to Rydges Plaza and eat at their better-than-average Italian restuarant. And that's what we did, before heading home and putting the kids to bed.

Saturday was much the same. A lazy day, without anything much to do. We whiled away the hours in the hotel and here and there, and before long it reached the time for the WIFE and kids to go back to Doha airport and make their way home. I stayed with them for half an hour until it was time to check in, then said goodbye. Again, it was the GIRL who made a fuss, and she cried and wailed as she was lead through the security scanners towards check-in. I waved one last time then returned to the car, alone again.

It sucks, it truly sucks. This refrain ran through my head all the way back along the Corniche towards the hotel. I hate saying goodbye, even though I have said it so many times in my life. My whole life seems to have been one goodbye after another, from the early years of moving every 3 years between different postings with my father's work, to the teenage years at boarding school, to my adult life, spent travelling to different places around the world for work and for life-enriching experience. This is the price to pay - the life of goodbyes. It hurts now as much as it ever has, especially when I've got such a close bond with my wife and children. Worst of all, I know that I am going to have to separate myself from them for longer periods when they go back to the UK and I stay here, or go wherever I go. That is going to be really hard.

I have choices, of course, and I have to think it all over. Do I go back to the UK with them and face a massive tax bill? There's my health to worry about as well. When I am on my own, I have lower self-control. I get bored and lonely weaken, and eat and drink to comfort myself. That could be a bad thing for me, with my high blood pressure, high cholesterol and high poundage, as well as an arrhythmia to contend with. My only hope is that I can throw myself fully into work and keep myself occupied and think of the money that I'm earning which will give my family a good life in future.

I'm getting all maudlin again. Let's get back to Saturday night, after I dropped the WIFE and kids off:

I got back to the hotel to find it in near-darkness. The power was down. It seems that there was a cable-strike in a nearby site, and the whole area was affected. One hotel worker told me that the whole of Doha was without power. I looked back along the Corniche and across at the Four Seasons Hotel and all the lights quite obviously working there and wondered about the poor man's sanity. He had probably had several sweaty businessmen spraying spittle in his face already, so I spared him my particular brand of ashen-faced, menacingly monotonic complaint-making. Inside, people milled around like moths without a light to bounce off, staff back-breakingly bowed lower than ever before, and lights blinked and dimmed on and off. The lifts seemed to be working, but I didn't trust them at all.

I was slightly annoyed, as I had some work to do. The problem with being stranded in Doha is that I've struggled to keep in touch with some of the other jobs I work on back in Dubai. I've had several phone-calls from the boss, alternating between sympathetic, best-mate banter to blood-curdling ranting and raving at my lack of omnipotence. So I ended up needing to work, and the power cut was surely the last straw. No access to computers or internet. I gave up waiting for the power to return after nearly an hour, having raided the hotel cafe when offered a complimentary drink, then strode across the road to the Four Seasons. They had also suffered a power cut, but they had a back-up generator that powered the entire hotel, and not just a few deemed-to-be essential systems. It must be some bloody beast to do that, thought I. Luckily for me, the business centre was fully operational, and best of all, it was cheaper than the Movenpick, so I was able to do the work I had to do, before treating myself to a snack and a couple of drinks in the Library bar.

When I returned to my own hotel, there were still no lights on in the windows of the guest floors. I approached the reception desk and asked a grey-suited, smiling man with deep, brown, puppy-dog eyes for any new information. He deflected my queries with a straight bat before embarking on a bizarre and frankly unsettling critique of Great Britain, having spotted my British English speech patterns. Yes, English came from England. I am aware of that. No, it's not a paradise. Nowhere is. It hasn't been the same since Lady Diana died? So very, very sad? What?

When he started with the Diana stuff I had to walk away before I poked him in the eye with the blunt end of a champagne (alcohol-free, naturally) bottle. I think I let a "for fuck's sake" slip out as I turned away. Thinking about it now, it was probably all a ruse to get rid of me. So after more milling about and more shrugging platitudes and little in the way of hard facts from various members of the hotel staff, I ended up sitting at a table on the terrace talking to a couple of Dutch chaps and a Malaysian guy till nearly 11.30pm about Dubai and Doha and anywhere else we could think of. We smoked Marlboro Lights and drank Sprite. We considered moving to a place that sold alcohol, but couldn't really be arsed. It was a pleasant distraction, even if one of the Dutch guys was sarcastic beyond reason, and it was made slightly surreal by the sight of a green Jeep Wrangler going rapidly round a long bend in the nearby road before rising onto 2 wheels, like a stunt car in some ridiculous movie, before disappearing round the corner. If there hadn't been other people there who saw it with me, I might have thought I was hallucinating.

In the end, with no prospect of power returning soon, we all decided to risk the lifts, leaving the increasingly hysterical complainers in reception to their pointless ranting and the increasingly desperate hotel staff to their calming gesticulations and made our way to our darkened bedrooms. They at least provided us with torches, and the electronic locks on the room doors still functioned. Fortunately, the lack of air conditioning hadn't caused the hotel to heat up too much. It's just as well the power cut had happened late in the day, and not in the morning. The place would have been like a greenhouse.

I slept quite well, and was woken up at 5am when the lamp in the corner of the room suddenly came on and the air conditioning began to hum. I went back to sleep and woke up at 7am to an empty, quiet room. The whole power cut episode had done the job of distracting me from the previous evening's goodbyes. Distraction, it seems, is the key.