Death and no taxes

There’s been quigrim-reaper-funny-pictureste a bit of death on the agenda recently; the sad and very untimely passing of my rock-star Uncle Jimmy, an acquaintance at my bi-annual lunch club and the anniversary of my Father’s death.

That got me thinking about the famous Marc Twain quote “There’s only two things certain in life, death and taxes.” Very clever Mr Twain, but what if you live in Dubai and don’t pay taxes? (Allegedly.) Does that mean that the only certain thing you’ve got in life is death? Not sure I like that concept.

 

Passing of a legend

Jimmy’s death, which was six weeks after he went to see his doctor with stomach pain, came as a huge shock given, 1. his age – mid 50’s, and 2. his indefatigable nature. This guy was running marathons and chucking himself out of perfectly serviceable aeroplanes mid-flight long before it became fashionable. He was the cool Uncle that actually made family get-togethers fun and something to look forward to.

In fact, such a shock was his passing that when Mrs H used it as the launch pad for her regular “you should go and get the annual health check you’re entitled to” speech, I actually booked it on the spot.

Take a deep breath

The process for booking the medical with Metlife was as farcical as you’d expect in this part of the world. Take a deep breath and… call Metlife, choose wrong option on IVR, speak to wrong person, who transfers you to the right person, though they don’t actually do anything except give you another number, which the first person could have done, and the number turns out to be a generic number, and they have to transfer you to the right branch and then the woman tries to put you through to a doctor for a reason you can’t work out, then you work out she thinks you’re buying insurance, which you’re not, and when you’ve told her you’re not (twice) she finally says “oh – you want the Metlife annual check-up?! I can help you with that” (Hurray!!) because a check-up, apparently, is totally different to a medical, though how are you supposed to know that and before you know it, and as easy and quick as you can say “There’s no place like Kansas.” your appointment is booked! Phew!!

Final comment from the receptionist; “Sir, fast for 10 – 12 hours, before you come ok?” me, “Fine.” “10 -12 hours sir, no eating, you need to fast.” “OK”. “So no eating sir.” “Er, yeah, ok. Think I’ve got it.”

This may feel like Groundhog day. Then again, it may feel like Groundhog day

So the morning of the medical arrived, and inevitably the first question at reception was …. “when was the last time you ate?” “10 -12 hours ago”. “Very good, please go and see my colleague.”

‘My colleague’ was a very brusque but highly efficient Indian nurse who, after asking if I’d fasted, told me to take off my shirt, lie on the bed and put my hands in my pockets. Okaaay. Seems that this is a pre-requisite for an ECG in these parts. Whether some chaps go for a cheeky feel when the nurse is leaning over to stick on the pads I’ll probably never know, but she looked in no mood to piss about, so deep into my pockets the hands went.

After the ECG, and with fewer chest hairs than I arrived with, I was sent for a cursory prod by the Doc and blood samples, Lab nurse – “Sir, have you fasted?” me, sighing, “Yes.” I was then told to go and get a good breakfast and come back in two hours. Breakfast as part of a medical – brilliant! No wonder people here are so fat.

Back after brfunny-grim-reaper-death-kenny-south-park-again-pics (2)ekky, receptionist – “Sir, have you had breakfast?”, “Yes”, go and see my colleague who will take more blood. Lab nurse – “Have you had breakfast?” “Yes.” “Good. Roll up your other sleeve.”

I was then despatched from the med centre and told to await the results the next day…

 

You’ll live son

Med centre called the next day. (Anyone who tells you there isn’t some apprehension when you get that call is a downright liar.) ‘Put your hands in your pockets’ nurse tells me all is OK and I’m fit to continue fighting the good fight for middle aged expats in Dubai. Cool. Let’s book a brunch – quick.

And what did you learn?

· Not the most comprehensive medical I’ve had, but worth doing and I commit to doing it on a more regular basis. 150 Dhs with a complimentary chest wax is a bargain.

· Get an exit plan should the worst happen to you over here – getting money released here is a nightmare, even worse than changing your autopay credit card at Etisalat. Mrs H was given a full debrief of what to do in the event of my unfortunate and untimely demise. Basically, where our meagre money stash is hidden and how to cash-out. She will of course forget and I will have the repeat the briefing on a regular basis.

· Always, always, always fast for 10-12 hours before going for a medical.

 

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Window-Gate

Hostilities Commence

“That’s the area I’ve been told I’m getting and I’m very happy with it”. In another time and another place this would be an innocuous statement, but it wasn’t. Ikohlberg-cigar-factory-1915t was a meeting to talk about our upcoming office reconfiguration and this, of course, was a declaration of war.

You can’t walk into an office-move discussion and tell people you are sorted. You just can’t. You need to go through the pretence that you don’t mind where you sit and that the entire subject is far too trivial for a Captain Of Industry like you to fret over. This, of course, is all bollocks and anyone who has spent any time working in an office knows it. You’ve got to do the dance. You need to go through the charade. It’s all part of the game, and everyone knows it.

The impact of my colleague’s assumptive statement, and the suggestion that the planning process was over before it even started, was only going to have one outcome. Civil war. It may not have made Sky News, or even 7 Days, but believe me, it was a bitter and bloody affair, in which there were no winners.

Three into Two won’t go

The crux of the issue came down to window seats. Pathetic really, but in these days of commune workplaces, with no walls, just flat open plan savannah-like plains of desks stretching as far as the eye can see, there is only one position that infers any kind of ascendancy in the pecking order. A window seat. They are few in number and consequently highly prized assets and a telling indictment of what corporate life has reduced us to. A window seat. Whose simple elegance bestows upon the owner a modicum of privacy and the opportunity to wistfully gaze, imagining what might have been if you’d never joined the company in the first place.

Our issue was that there was only two window seats, for three individuals. A desperate situation and one that required some strategic thinking.

Dodgy deals and dodgy arguments

First move was to make an alliance with one of my competing colleagues. Tough call, with him being a Man Utd supporter and all, but I figured that difficult situations require difficult choices. Second was to come up with some spurious business reasons why it was so important for us to get the window seats. Third was to discredit the opposition. Weeks watching House of Cards has proved invaluable, and Frank Underwood would be very proud of me.

Our boss had wisely delegated sorting the mess out to his second in command (2IC), who knew he was screwed as he has neither the authority nor the stupidity to try and impose a solution. Instead, all he could do was attempt to broker a deal and try to keep a straight face as the arguments got more heated and the rationale got more preposterous.

At our second meeting I openedlector-at-cigar-factory-1929 with a discourse on the symbiotic benefit of product teams sitting together and that a linear seating arrangement was less conducive to effective communication than a tight cluster. This may have been both pompous and weak, but it was certainly more robust than the pitch from our colleague, who needed the area as “I have a lot of boxes and my plant needs the sunlight”.

The “my plant needs the sunlight” line was met with my withering sarcasm and my partner’s disclosure that he has a vitamin D deficiency and a window seat was “doctor’s orders”. Brilliant. The introduction of a medical condition and an independent expert witness was a masterstroke and made our position look impregnable.

2IC offered a solution to break the deadlock. Using the acumen and insight that made him top of his MBA class he cut right to the heart of the issue. “Let’s draw straws.” I felt cornered by the naked logic, the random simplicity of the solution, and agreed. However, my Man Utd colleague again excelled himself, refusing to participate in a draw, which he stated was gambling and therefore Haram. First medical opinion, now religious grounds. Genius. (The fact that I know he’s prone to have a flutter on the football results at the weekend was, of course, not mentioned.)

After thirty minutes of circular discussion we adjourned, arguments made, agreement unlikely.

I went to the car park that evening anxious, expecting a blow to the head or my tyres slashed. Or both.

Have faith – and friends in high places

Perhaps eliciting ‘Higher Powers’ had helped, as arriving next morning I was told a win-win-win solution had magically been brokered to everyone’s satisfaction. Out of desperation, 2IC had managed to get the Facilities department (who are of course, Higher Powers) to rejig the entire floor-plan to create a third window seat. Hurray! Ceasefire agreed and normal relations returned. Why this wasn’t done in the first place is a mystery, but hey, large corporations do work in mysterious ways.

What did I learn from Window-Gate? The power of alliances? That will-power can bend reality to your desired outcome?  That religion, medical opinion and business bullshit can co-exist in the same sentence? Yes, all of that, but above all else I learned to never, never, never be an office move co-ordinator.

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Running thing update

Here’s the list of the Km I’ve covered so far and the times where I’ve been injured. The big block of red in August & September is where I took some time off in an attempt to recuperate before the programme officially commenced in October. Once it was clear that wasn’t working, I learned how to strap myself up and hobbled on from there!

Picture11

Week 6 and 10 was where I had half marathons booked, one in Abu Dhabi, the other on Dubai creek. As you can see, being injured for 4 days prior to Abu Dhabi was hardly ideal preparation, but damn it, I’d paid 150 dhs, so I was going to run that race no matter what. I did however decide that I wouldn’t monitor my time during the race as my goal of finishing under 2 hours was unachievable due to my injuries.

Abu Dhabi

Man it was hot. That’s all I remember. It was hot. Oh, and I totally got my pacing wrong and nearly died with about 6km to go. What a laugh that was. Did I mention it was hot? Man that last 6k was hot, with no shade.

Anyway, despite, the heat, the lack of shade, the inadequate training and totally blowing my beads from a timing point of view, I surprised myself to come in at 2 hours 2 mins. My GPS watch reckoned the course was 300m short, but who trusts those things anyway?

 

Majestically crossing the finishing line in Abu Dhabi

Majestically crossing the finishing line in Abu Dhabi
(The yellow ladies behind me are finishing the 10k. Honest!)

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The running thing. An update.

The running thing has been progressing reasonably well, all things considered. The “all things considered” is of course that I’m too old, too short and too knackered to be on the road in the first place. The main issue this year has been injuries, nothing major, but plenty of disruption and I guess a strong indication that I’m soon destined for the rigours of crown green bowling.

The injury problems started back in summer, with ligament damage to an ankle sustained during my annual game of suicide squash with Kinski. Not a big deal I thought at the time, but in the end it’s taken months to get it back to something resembling normal. The dodgy ankle was followed by a small calf tear, then a strained hamstring and finally ‘runners knee’. I could mention the massive bruise on the thigh after a collision with a concrete plant pot, but that was so stupid and self inflicted I can’t bring myself to include it. I’m a total wreck.

However, help has been at hand in the form of ‘Thor’, my physio from the excellent Ortho Sports Clinic on Jumeirah Beach road. Thor has pushed, pulled, stuck needles and strapped up all the bits that have been on the point of falling off, and somehow kept me on the road. A gentleman, a legend and a viking warrior practicing physiotherapy in Dubai. Who’d have thought?

Big, blond and carrying a device to hurt people.  Yup, that's my physio.

Big, blond and carrying a device to hurt people. Yup, that’s my physio.

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Perfect Wife’s birthday brunch at Le Traiteur.

Apart from having one of the more unpronounceable names amongst its peer group, Le Traiteur also has the distinction of being a Time Out ‘Best Brunch’ multiple winner. High praise indeed, or as the French may say “Formidable!’

Armed with this intel and motivated by an invitation from Captain Pugwash’s other half, (AKA Perfect Wife) which said something like, “it’s my birthday, we’re going to Le Traiteur, do not disobey”, off we set with high hopes and, as the French may say, “anticipation”.

With its marina position, elegant clientele and ample supply of Veuve Clicquot, La Trait commands a premium, with a variety of packages on offer;

· Non-alcoholic Package: AED 450 per person, including food and non-alcoholic beverages. The Halal option.

· Sparkling Wine Package: AED 550 per person, including food, beer, wine and sparkling wine. The regular package.

· Champagne Package: AED 670 per person, including food, beer, wine and Veuve Clicquot champagne. The Banker/Consultant option.

· Dom Perignon Package: AED 2,998 per person, including pick-up and drop-off in a hotel limousine, food, Dom Perignon champagne, and premium selected spirits, beer and wine, as well as a gift from Pistache, Park Hyatt Dubai’s chic boutique patisserie. Also known as the Investment Banker package.

Decision, decisions…. Halal package – clearly not an option. Investment Banker package? Ha! – in another life, maybe. Some quick mental arithmetic led me to conclude that I could easily drink significantly more than 120 worth of champers, so with that demented justification in mind, the Banker/Consultant package it was. Was it worth it? In a word, no, but you live and learn.

The scran

The food was great, but the selection was pretty limited. I like to show my worldly ways at brunch. Appetiser – Arabic. Starter- Japanese. Main courses – Indian, Chinese. Dessert – British. Cheese – French. This free and easy culinary attitude isn’t really possible at Le Trait. When I asked where the sushi was, I was greeted with a stereo-typical French “pah!” I guess I should have expected that in a French restaurant, the remarkable thing was the sneer was delivered by a chap who looked and sounded like a Filipino. The cultural training is clearly working at Le Trait. It was also slightly strange having to venture into the kitchen for much of the food, trying to squeeze past the customers and chefs in a co-existence that seems like a health and safety law-suit in the making.

Lovely dovey and not an oyster in sight.

Lovely dovey and not an oyster in sight.

Not my cup of tea, but I’m reliably informed by Kinski and Captain Pugwash that the oysters were fantastic, their approval demonstrated by the vast quantities consumed. As the oyster feeding frenzy went on, Mrs Mama and Perfect Wife looked more and more nervous, concerned about the likely consequences that evening, with Kinski and Captain Pugwash keen to demonstrate how ‘strong like bull’ the oysters had made them.

The drink

Fair play to Le Trait, decent champers and excellent Pimms and Mojitos, so no complaints in this department.

The service

Not too bad, albeit a bit slow at times. This usually doesn’t bother me, but my 120 AED break-even model was contingent on lightning fast top-ups, which didn’t really materialise and left me feeling I did not choose wisely. Naïve? Optimistic? Dumb? Yes, all of the above, but what can I say. I’m one of life’s eternal dreamers.

The other thing that irritated was the refusal to honour the 15% discount courtesy of the Time Out card and/or Infinite Visa card. Apparently, the discounts promoted by both the cards and restaurant aren’t applicable on ‘special occasions’, a category in which brunch is deemed to sit. Voucher Man attempted to negotiate this point vigorously, but to no avail, so forlornly we handed over our generic credit cards and felt the full force of the bill. What happens when it really is a special occasion, i.e. an anniversary or birthday, rather than 52-weeks-a-year-brunch, remains a mystery. Perhaps you have to pay more.

Overall

Merde? Non. Formidable? Non. More accurate would be, as the French may say, “Acceptable!”.

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Keep On Runnin’

Long term readers (often called sufferers) of this blog, will know that I’m a runner. I started running many years ago when I was in the military, (motivated/pursued by a rather large training sergeant), and sort of stuck with it ever since.

Those that know me will confirm that I’m not one of those tall, sleek gazelles you see gliding round Safa Park. No, I’m another type. The short, middle-aged plodder whose legs and arms are swinging furiously but doesn’t appear to be going anywhere. At least anywhere fast. Probably won’t be at the back of the field, but certainly nowhere near the front. A walking testament that a bit of training, a tube of Deep Heat and a lot of elasticated bandage, can go a long way.

The highlight of my running calendar is the Dubai Marathon. No, my friend, not the 10k, (for that is NOT a marathon, it IS a 10k), I train for what is often called in these parts ‘the full 42′. It’s a major commitment, it probably makes no sense, but running half and/or full marathons is actually quite addictive.

So, to prove to other middle-aged plodders out there, be they male or female, that long distance running is not only achievable, it’s also really rewarding, I’m going to post some info about my programme, my progress and a few words of wisdom on the subject.

Training Programme.

If you’re training for an event you need a programme, and the programme must be obeyed. Stick to this mantra and you’ll not go far wrong.

I say this as someone who hates routine and recognises that for some people, the idea of committing to a programme makes their naughty rebellious side come out. The side of them that sticks two fingers up at anything that looks like authority. If this sounds familiar and you’d prefer something a bit more freestyle, that’s fine too, though you’re at greater risk of failing on race-day because you didn’t prepare properly.

For me, a programme sets a weekly goal which is aligned to my race objective and keeps me motivated when I’m totally pissed off and want to jack it in. It all comes down to breaking a big scary objective into small bite size chunks.

Structure.

The structure of my typical programme keeps a few principles in mind:

1. Run four times a week. I’ve seen programmes for beginners that mandate training six times a week. I think this is absolute nonsense. You will get bored, you are far more likely to get injured and where the hell are you going to find the time? For beginners and intermediate runners, four days a week is fine.

2. A hard session is followed by a day off.

3. Mix shorter intervals and longer interval sessions with steady runs and longer endurance building runs.

4. Weekly distance and long runs increase gradually, with a few ‘step back’ weeks to motivate and help recuperation.

5. 50% of weekly distance covered in the long weekend run.

Programme Adherence.

Sticking to a schedule as closely as you can is important, but it’s also pretty important to have a life as well. There will be weeks where you just can’t squeeze your sessions in; don’t sweat it too much, the most important thing is to hit the long weekend runs and at least one session during the week.

If you miss a couple of weeks training because you’re ill or injured, no worries, you can always catch up. If you miss two weeks because you can’t be bothered, honestly, you may as well jack it in now – it’s probably not for you.

Here’s one I prepared earlier.

Here’s my schedule for the marathon which is at the end of January. As you can (hopefully) see, it contains all the elements described above. I’ve also adjusted it a little to do a couple of half marathons on the way, one in Abu Dhabi and one in Al Ain.

Spreadsheet geek?  Guilty!

Spreadsheet geek? Guilty!

 

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Summer 2013 synopsis

Summer Synopsis

Now summer is just about over and we’re back to the joys of life in Dubai, I thought it might be good to reflect on the last couple of months.

In the Middle East, from mid-June onwards it’s stupid hot all the time.  So how do you know that summer has well and truly arrived?  Well, I’m sure you’re all familiar with the one about the cold tap delivering hot water and vice versa?  True of course, but a bit unimaginative.

So, here’s my thoughts on the topic, based entirely on that special time of the year when the schools are closed and your wife and kids are several thousand miles away.

Nine signs that it’s summer in Dubai

1. You can get a parking space at the big Spinney’s on Al Wasl Road. Even on a Friday.

2. Your commute to work is reduced by 90%.

3. Finding and eating the stuff in the back of the freezer marked “Best before August 2011″.

4. Alphabetising your DVD collection is your main plan for the weekend.

5. Weekend socialising with your work colleagues seems like a good idea.

6. You make a big list of all the DIY jobs you’ve managed to avoid for the preceding 11 months.

7. You actually complete some of the jobs on the list.

8. You get through an entire season of ‘24 hours’, in 24 hours

9. Every time you walk into a restaurant you’re greeted with ‘Table for one Sir?’

Summer in Dubai can be fun – yay!

Summer this year had all the potential to be devastatingly dull, with Ramadan and the infamous WANKER period neatly overlapping. Showing the kind of thought leadership that is usually the preserve of Mrs H, I decided it would be a good time to complete my PADI Advanced Scuba diving course. An inspired idea as it turned out, with the long dreary weekends filled with trips to the bottom of the Indian Ocean off Fujairah. Wonderful, and if you were ever thinking of taking up scuba, both Pavilion Dive Centre and Al Boom Diving Club are great places to learn.

Jelly Fish Alert – Killer Jellyfish off Jumeirah

First Friday into the course, my fellow divers and I had an encounter with a flock/spawn/bloom/collective noun of jellyfish off Russian Beach. Five out six of us were stung, of course mine was by far the worst, even (I think) topping the guy that got a face full of tentacles.

DPP_3001

Don’t pee here.

Looking for sympathy I posted a picture of the aforementioned sting to Facebook, only to learn that my FB buddies are all obsessed with wee. Did I wee on the sting? Did I ask anyone else to wee on it? Numerous discussions about whether people would or wouldn’t wee on it. Every weeing combination was debated at length on the World Wide Web.

 

 

All slightly British and bonkers, but sympathy? No chance. Not a sausage. For the record, let me tell you three things about being on the wrong end of an encounter with a jellyfish;

1. It bloody hurts.

2. Nobody takes it seriously.

3. Weeing on it does not help.

Cats and poo.

Unfortunately, for me at least, whilst I was Home Alone, Shobna had returned to Sri Lanka on vacation, leaving me with the daily task of feeding and poop scooping for our two cats, Fat Bob and Tommy Reid.  During week 2, as if to exact revenge for my no-nonsense approach to animal husbandry, 0ne or both of them got diarrhoea.  It was messy and usually wide of the litter tray. Pretty gross, but at least the ants were loving it.

Desperately trying to avoid a kings ransom/vets bill, I took to Google, the fountain of all wisdom and found an article that suggested a change of food can help.  To the delight of the cats, Frisky Biscuits were out, Whiskers Tuna in.  Big mistake.

The next day there was poo. Man oh man, there was poo. A. Lot. Of. Poo. After a bit of CSI work, I decided the problem was mainly with Tommy Reid, so off to the vet we went. After some rather intrusive testing, the vet announced Tommy had some kind of bug before presenting me with a big bag of meds and an even bigger bill.

The next six days was spent wresting medicine down the throat of an angry and flexible cat, who, despite being held by the scruff of the neck, can simultaneously bite, scratch and spit out meds.  Still got the physical and emotional scars from that week.

 Guest Blog;  Tommy Reid – letter to Mrs H.

Dear Mrs H, and boy and girl

Help!

This morning the Shouty Man who feeds me and Bob put me into a cage!!  He then took me in a loud metal box with wheels to a house.  Inside the house was a TORTURE CHAMBER! Inside the TORTURE CHAMBER a strange European man with a funny shaped furry thing above his lip was mean to me.

He stuck a plastic thing up my ‘you know what’.  I was struggling and struggling.  He then went and got his friend who called the Shouty Man ‘Hello Mam Sir”.  The second man then helped the strange European Man put the plastic thingy back up my ‘you know what’. I was just getting over that when they put a wooden thingy called a swab up my ‘you know what’.  Those men have got a problem – and I’m the one the Shouty Man said was sick!

The strange European Man said I had a nasty bug living in my tummy making my poo squidgy. Then he and the ‘Hello Mam Sir’ man grabbed me again and tried to make me eat a yucky white tablet and some disgusting cream out of a tube.  I spat it right out on the table! YUK!!

The Shouty Man then put me back in my nice, safe cage, and took me to a nice lady. I heard him shout ‘it’s how much?!!!’at the nice lady.  He then brought me back home in the loud metal box with wheels. Phew!

I think he felt that he’d been mean to me, cos he bought me a fabby new toy to play with, which is now stuck under the sofa.

Purrs and meows

Tommy Reid (your kitten)

images

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Count your blessings.

Typical moaning here is about rising rents and light-fingered maids. Certainly irritating but fairly and squarely in the category of ‘High Quality Problem’. On the other hand, you could be living in Detroit City, which, like Dubai a few years back, has just told its creditors that it can’t pay them.

Some of Detroit’s issues* include;

• Population has shrunk from a peak of 2 million in the 1950s to 713,000 today

• Highest violent crime rate of any major US city, with 15,245 reported incidents in 2011

• Some 78,000 abandoned and blighted buildings

• 40% of street lights do not work

• Only a third of the city’s ambulances are in service

• Just 53% of owners paid their 2011 property taxes

So, next time you’re having a whinge about life in Dubai, remember this post then ask the person to your left to slap you in the face.

*Source: City of Detroit Proposal for Creditors

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Happy Holidays in Sri Lanka

Easter

Like the Griswalds, the MyDubaiOnline household like to have an Easter vacation. Last year was Hong Kong, which despite the construction work, the appalling weather and the roller coaster flights, was fab and one of the high points of 2012. This year we thought we’d try something a bit closer to home. Keeping with our theme of preferring to visit places either pre or post internal conflict (Egypt and Bahrain to name but two), we opted for formally war-torn Sri Lanka.

As Sri Lanka is still on the UK Foreign Office travel advisory list we decided to take some back-up in the form of our good mates the Gillanjons, who; 1). live in war-torn Bahrain, and 2). come from war-torn Newcastle. This means they are ‘dead ard’ and can help out if things get nasty.

As it turns out, the place didn’t seem that war-torn after all, the greatest threat to life comes in a different form, and one we’re used to in the Middle East. No it’s not the prospect of an Iranian invasion, it’s driving. Or being a passenger. Or even being near a road.

That’s because something happens when a friendly, mild mannered Sri Lankan gets behind the wheel of a car or tuc-tuc. He suddenly becomes a human weapon of mass destruction, a destroyer of nations, a lethal weapon that even Mel Gibson in his wild-eyed heyday would be proud of.

Wacky Races in Sri Lanka

Wacky Races in Sri Lanka

Yes, my friend, I can confirm that the roads in Sri Lanka are officially the worlds craziest. And I say with some authority as a man who has driven (ok, been driven) in Riyadh, Cairo, Bombay and Kingston. By comparison, Dubai seems positively pedestrian.

Our destination in Sri Lanka was a place called Benthota, which is about 80k or three hours (yes, three hours to cover 80k!) south of Colombo, on the west coast of the island. The place we stayed was a privately owned holiday home called Sri Villas, which consists of three beach side properties with communal gardens and pool.

Needless to say it was an improvement on the accommodation I’d sourced in Hong Kong, the complete polar opposite in fact. Well appointed, tranquil and not a jack-hammer to be seen. Or heard.

Sri Villas

Sri Villas

The other unique thing about Sri Villas that makes for a complete chillax-fest, is the house boys and chef that are on site. They shop, cook, clean and generally take care of you from dawn to dusk. All you have to do is roll out of bed for breakfast or slide out of the pool for lunch. It’s the height of decadence, but what the hell, you’re on holiday. And let’s be honest, you deserve it after surviving the drive from the airport and knowing you’ve still got to do it again.

Trips out

We had great intentions to do lots of trips out. The elephant orphanage was discussed at length, blue whale watching was seriously contemplated. However, confronted with a four hour drive to do either, we decided to increase our life expectancy and mainly chill by the pool.

We did however visit Galle, which is a historic Portuguese, then Dutch, then British port and defensive site. Whether the Portuguese, Dutch or Brits were gearing up ready for an invasion by orphaned elephants or blue whales is not too clear, but they were well prepared either way.

Galle Lighthouse

Galle Lighthouse

The unique thing about the town is it’s walled, a feature which has survived largely intact for the last 400 years or so. The town within the walls is quaint and fantastically preserved, with lots of museums, shops and restaurants. A miracle in some ways, as the town outside of the walls was largely destroyed by the 2004 tsunami, the city walls, built so many years earlier by the Portuguese, finally coming to the rescue of the fortunate townsfolk behind them.

 

 

 

Tsunami Memorial

Tsunami Memorial

My general level of ignorance meant that I hadn’t realised that the west coast of Sri-Lanka was severely battered by the tsunami. I always thought it was only the East coast. As it turns out, just 10k south of Sri Villas, one of the worst individual losses took place, as the train from Colombo to Galle was slammed by two walls of water, with the loss of two thousand lives.

 

The Sri Lankans in the area seem deeply affected by the event and talk frequently about it, though in a dignified, matter of fact way. The destroyed houses and gravestones long the road from Benthota to Galle tell their own sobering story.

Turtles!

On the way back from Galle, the kids got word that we might be able to get to one of the local turtle sanctuaries before the 6.30 cut off, but only if we drove like maniacs and ignored all traffic lights. As they say “When in Rome”. Sri Lanka has its fair a share of green turtles, so sanctuaries, (which offer the locals lads more cash for the eggs than the restaurants do), have sprung up all over the place, funded by donations from tourists. Practical eco-tourism in action, I guess.

The sanctuary was well organised, with labelled mounds of eggs, pools for turtles at various stages of development, and separate tanks for those with injuries meaning their sea faring days are behind them. As luck would have it, or perhaps helped by a quick phone call and a bucket and spade, some turtles were ready to come out of the sand at the precise moment we arrived. What luck! Who cares, the kids and adults alike were delighted to dig out the cute baby turtles and put them in a water tank. Doubtless the same tank they were in five minutes earlier, but let’s not get picky about the details.

Run little turtle, run!

Run little turtle, run!

As it had gone dark we were able to release a number of turtles into the sea. After making a small contribution of course – but no complaints, these guys are doing good work and it was a great experience. That said, those crazy turtles just kept running the wrong way and it took a lot of shooing and redirection to get them past the breakwater. My idea to skim them out to sea like pebbles didn’t get a lot of support, so the process was rather inefficient and took ages.

Diving and Questionable Employment Policies

Number 1 son and I went scuba diving at the Poseidon dive centre, in the wonderfully named village of Hikkaduwa, completing two dives, one wreck and one reef. Swimming through the cabin of the submerged ship wreck 20m below was quite an experience, though coming face to face with a 2m moray eel was the highlight for me.

The two dives and all equipment for me and Number 1 son came to about £50 all in. Bargain! It did cross my mind I’d been undercharged, so being a man of great integrity, I hightailed it out of there pronto.

Kids hard at work 'down pit.'

Kids hard at work ‘down pit.’

The namby-pamby non-divers (i.e. everyone else), went to visit a couple of tourist honey-traps, the mask museum and the moon stone mine. The latter is a working mine, or rather hole in the ground, at the bottom of which is a couple of scrawny kids digging in the mud for the grey semi-precious rocks. The guys were assured that this wasn’t child exploitation, the kids actually enjoy spending all day wet and doubled up at the bottom of a 20ft hole. Also, if they worked hard, and kept out of trouble, they could progress to becoming a stone polisher.

With a career path established and a clear conscience restored, Mrs Gillanjon bought some of the aforementioned stones, but not before extracting a promise from the mine owners that they would at invest in some wellington boots for the boys.

Final Day Wash-out

Our final day was pretty much washed out, thunderstorms, tea and cards were the order of the day, as well as getting packed psyched for the drive to the airport the next morning.

The Gillanjons had told us about a new super-duper highway that their driver took from the airport, so we thought we’d give that a go on the way back. Turns out this fantastic 6 lane highway, which runs from Colombo to Galle is hardly used because the locals object to the toll and the slight detour they need to make to use it. Or so we’re led to believe. I personally think it’s because it doesn’t give them the same adrenaline rush as the coast road, but I’ve got no way to prove that. Our driver initially said he’d rather take the coast road, but one stern look from Mrs H quickly persuaded him to comply with our request.

Good news – the highway is fab, so if you ever visit Sri Lanka and are heading south, do insist on using it. The bad news – we arrived at the airport in half the allotted time and had to hang around the slightly limited airport for hours and hours and hours and hours and hours……

Sri Villas

Sri Villas

So, Sri Lanka, good value for money, friendly locals and in Sri Villas, a wonderful location.

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January and February catch-up

January

January has now become known as ‘It’s All About Me Month’, as I spend most of it training for the marathon, talking about the marathon, obsessing about the marathon, eating for the marathon and, finally, running the marathon. I’ve even managed to establish a tradition of having an ‘after the race party’, which provides another opportunity for me to reflect on all of the above, and bask in the glory for another few hours.

The SCB Race day is one of the best events of the year and I salute all that take part in the 3k fun run and the 10k. You are all legends and I love the fact that so many people get off the arses and participate. I also love the fact that, as someone running ‘the full 42′, I can feel slightly superior to most other competitors, well at least before and after the race. During the race I just feel like a short, middle aged idiot, who still thinks he’s 25 and really should know better.

Like last year, another triumph of logistical planning meant I received fantastic roadside support from Mrs H (who had earlier ran the 10k) and the kids. Mrs Mamma’s Mom and Pops were over from the States and also provided superb support to me and the other runners in my vicinity. Big Ron’s finest moment was bellowing encouragement at a flagging runner, “Keep going man, you’re looking great!”, then turning to Mrs H and saying with deadpan insight, “He’s not gonna make it.”

The race was ran in interesting conditions, thick fog in the morning, giving way to bright sunshine later. Seeing the Ethiopians and Kenyans sprint past on the return leg is an amazing and slightly depressing site – those boys and girls are sooo fast, you’ve really got to see it to believe it. I definitely improved this year, as unlike last I wasn’t overtaken by anyone pushing a pram. Hopefully I’ll be back for the 2014, if the old legs are still up to it. Inshallah, as they say in these parts.

As a footnote – people of Dubai – the marathon only has one distance, it’s 26 miles, or 42k. There is no such thing as a “10k marathon”. Yes, I know you may have a T Shirt that says “Dubai Marathon”, but if you ran the 10k as part of the SCB Marathon event, you did NOT run the marathon. You ran the 10k. Just thought I’d clear that up.

February

Nothing happened in February. It was rubbish.

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