Frequency Illusion

In which you get an audio version of this blog, and I get to recapture my youth. Everyone’s a winner…

The Face of Radio

The full effect of this post will only be felt by anyone old enough to recognise this object

In our family, we call it a ‘dutcha’.

That’s our made up word for the experience of having never heard of something, and then hearing about it twice in quick succession.

(I recently discovered that it is very much a real thing – known as a frequency illusion – with a real name, the Baader-Meinhof phenomenon. But since explaining that to junior members of the family would require bringing them up to speed on German terror groups from the 1970s, I’m going to stick with dutcha for the time being.)

I had a recent example of the phenomenon a couple of weeks ago when, on an otherwise quiet Sunday afternoon, I received a tweet from a guy I was at University with way, way back when. “Is this you?” it said cryptically (and in full), adding a link to a YouTube video.

Nervously, I clicked the link and watched in horror as a local TV news story from 1993 creaked into life… Continue reading

X Marks the Spot

I passed a new expat milestone this week.

I’ve now been away from the UK long enough for there to have been a general election and for the first time ever – at the age of 40-plus-one, as my kids charmingly refer to it – I didn’t vote in it.

CMC candidate billboard

In the running: a candidate’s billboard for next week’s Central Municipal Council elections

Worse, the cause of my disenfranchisement isn’t some protest at the state of politics in the UK, or the venality of politicians (although there’s plenty of arguments in favour of either stance) the actual reason was far more prosaic: I didn’t register to vote in time.

Now I’m kicking myself, because if I had voted, I would still have (in my mind, at least) the right to complain about the outcome of the election, the new government, their policies, their priorities and the impact they’re going to have on my family and friends back in the UK over the next five years.

Because they do have an impact.

Continue reading

Tailor Made Itinerary

Street vendors

Street vendors plying their trade in Hoi An

We did, saw and ate, so many fantastic things on our recent trip to Hanoi and Hoi An in Vietnam that I thought I’d share a few recommendations – and a bonus slideshow – with you

We hadn’t really planned much beyond booking internal flights and accommodation. But who needs plans when you can fire up Trip Advisor, ask the locals for recommendations, and follow the advice of your friendly neighbourhood bloggers (because they always have the best advice, right?) Continue reading

Mission: Possible

I have both physically and mentally returned to the Little City after more than three weeks of back-to-back travel. Is there a word for something that’s both tiring and restorative at the same time?

Hoi An commuters

Commuters heading home in Hoi An, Vietnam

Without wishing to sound like one of the best things about life in Qatar is getting away from Qatar…well, you can guess what I’m going to say.

The trick, given Qatar Airways’ exorbitant monopoly over so many direct routes, is to wait for one of their occasional sales and book way ahead.

It might suck a bit of spontaneity out of life, but with kids and jobs (let alone Qatar’s bureaucratic anomaly of having to request an exit permit from your employer) who’s got time to be spontaneous?

(A: people in between contracts can be spontaneous. I’ve just returned from a surprise visit to the UK where in between assorted check ups and dentist’s appointments, I surprised one of our best friends at his 40th birthday party.

The following day one of his daughters, none of whom had been at the party, asked me, in that blunt way that kids do, what I was doing in the UK. I came over for the look on your dad’s face, I told her. She just nodded blithely and, spotting an adult with some time on his hands, asked me to read her some Harry Potter, which I was more than happy to do.) Continue reading

The Show Must Go On

This week, British culture has united pre-teen girls and petrolheads around the world in shock; here in Qatar, it’s responsible for our Ambassador reading the breakfast show weather report…

One Direction poster

We’ll still be there, even if you won’t, Zayn

Britain is no longer the economic powerhouse it once was. You can mock us for everything from our cuisine, to being rubbish at not just all the sports we invented, but all the other ones too. Our culture, however, is one of our strongest and most significant exports – and has been for more than 500 years.

When you live in the UK, this is a concept you’re dimly aware of, like nuclear physics, or the possibility of sentient life on other planets.

But when you move abroad, its impact is there for all to see – and never more so than this week, when within hours of each other, not one, but two, founding members of made-in-Britain-recognised-everywhere supergroups headed off to pastures new.

On the one hand, Zayn Malik hit the eject button on his time in the planet’s biggest boy band One Direction, while in what is surely a world first, I temporarily have something in common with Top Gear’s Jeremy Clarkson, in that we are both currently “in between opportunities”. Continue reading