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.


Mme Cyn said...

Why on earth are you still stuck in Doha? Surely even the Qataris can get a visa sorted out in less than two weeks?

Anonymous said...

And of course it is not the same since Diana died! Where have you been????????

littejimmy said...

You are right; it hasn't been the same. Now Britain is a country addicted to public displays of cosmetic grief, with teddy bears and flowers at every road-side and a minutes silence at every other football game.

Grumpy Goat said...

If you're bored in Doha, you need to check out a couple of the local clubs. Doha Rugby Club is one, located just off Decoration Roundabout on Salwa Road. Another is Doha Sub-Aqua Club, and a third is the Doha Players.

I was pretty much never bored in my six years in Doha, being involved with two of these.

Grumpy Goat said...

With reference to Mme Cyn's comment, back in 1996 it took the Qataris nealy five months to sort out my Residence Permit, during all of which time they had my passport.

The only direction the Department of Irritation can possibly have gone since 1996 is to improve.