‘Agua Azul’ by Tenderhooks

Hands up who felt like they were sunning it up in an exotic location, whilst listening to ‘Tenderhooks’ latest masterpiece? If you didn’t, I expect you haven’t listened to it yet, so check it out on Bandcamp.

‘Agua Azul’ provides perfect tropical beats that make palm trees pop into your mind, along with sultry summer nights at beach bars that happen to have one of those fun, jazzy bands playing while you sip a cocktail from a coconut.

With a multitude of instruments to rival an orchestra, it’s a musical treat. Talented Markus Leinweber plays the piano as well as providing very listenable vocals, instructing you to ‘get yourself down to Southern Mexico’ (although the sunny vibe already does that!).

The sax makes it a bit calypso; some of the chords make it a bit mambo and the result is a slick, cheery offering that will make you smile. Play it twice and you’ll be singing along.

Lisa O’Connor 02/09/21

A Beautiful Thing

Breezing down Sultan Kaboos (Street), one typically sultry evening in Oman, sometime in 2018, my charismatic date (one whom I would, in time, consider The One, despite my lack of current relationship with him), remarked that I had said ‘a beautiful thing’.

Muscat from the mountains. At any given time, around 50% of the cars on that mountain road are there because they took a wrong turning. You have to go all the way to the top before coming back down …

We had just survived a minor skirmish which involved some shoes. I forget exactly what part the shoes played, but they were an incidental element of the argument and were entirely blameless. However, we liked each other a great deal (The One and I – not the shoes and I) – despite the occasional fiery episode – and so relations returned to warmth and heartiness within seconds. (And he had the warmest, heartiest voice I have ever heard at close range.) Also, we had a booking at an acclaimed Thai restaurant and we were both very hungry. The ‘beautiful thing’ that I said, was that I had, thus far, done everything I wanted to do in my life. Please don’t let me be misunderstood (apologies to ‘The Animals’ and Regina Spektor); I was not announcing ‘mission accomplished’. Moreover, I was feeling at peace with my past and even basking a little, in the warm glow of my own reflections as I pictured myself trailblazing through the diverse jungle of my own life, sometimes planning, sometimes winging it, embracing all of its twists and turns, even when they weren’t in the game plan, with wide-eyed anticipation for the rest of the adventure. This is not said in arrogance, but gratitude – I am not suggesting I am a trailblazer for anyone’s life but my own. My life suits me and not necessarily anyone else. But I am grateful that at some point in my life I learnt that mostly, ‘doing’ is better than ‘doing nothing’.

Salalah Land

As the youngest in my family, I am fortunate to have learnt to ride at a very young age. I cannot remember the first time I rode, as I rode (I believe) from around the age of three. On the one hand, I do not recall any intense emotions of excitement or anticipation; but on the other hand, I do not recall any fear, which is just as well, as I fell off a lot. It never occurred to me to not remount my feisty steed, because I was young and obedient. Despite the lack of emotional intensity within these recollections, I certainly enjoyed riding and I suspect that my acceptance of the whole shebang – with or without any real understanding of why I was sitting atop an almighty beast that seemed to me have his own agenda – has played some part in my approach to general stuff throughout my life. Given my shyness when my age was still in single figures (and some way into the ‘double-figure’ years), I am grateful for the lessons that riding taught me. That, and my mother’s persuasion to ‘do’ rather than ‘not do’. Also, my father’s assertion that ‘you’re halfway along the road to success once you’ve decided to do it’.

Pleased I haven’t fallen off yet

Fast forward a little and we leave the horses’ field and enter the theatre. (The horses remained in our lives, in fact, but I thought that flowed well.) I have three sisters and all four of us attended ballet and tap dancing lessons. Tap was great. Ballet was not. When you’re three years old, expectations are low. In fact, if you screw up in a show, the audience will adore you (unlike our dancing teacher). But as you grow up, ballet becomes less fun and more of a discipline and eventually, I was allowed to give it up, because I wasn’t that good at it anyway and just tap, which I loved to do. It turned out that a deal had been struck, when I was around three years old, that we could have horses if we all attended ballet lessons. It seems a lot happened when I was three and whereas I had no voice in this deal, I’m happy about all those lessons and shows – yes, the ballet as well! – because without a good portion of my childhood being spent in the theatre, my head would never have been turned towards those dazzling stage lights. Plus – along with my new passion for piano-playing – it was a distraction from schoolwork, which was burdensome, on account of attending an academic yet progressive establishment and being required to read an impossible amount of books every term that not only weighed heavy in my school bag, at any given time, but also on my conscience.

A childhood dream fulfilled. I had longed to be a drum majorette for so long. Technically, I am a pom-pom majorette here, but I figured it would do. (Show nerds: it is ‘Before the Parade Passes By’ from ‘Hello Dolly’, The Dome, Brighton.)

Despite my family being seven-strong, we holidayed regularly in Wales, Cornwall, Devon … I recall bouncing over the Yorkshire Dales once, feeling like I might see James Herriot at any moment! Holidays became more exotic as we grew up and our parents introduced us to Provence, the French Riviera and I think I remember nipping over the border to Italy on one occasion.

Eyeing up the yachts in Monte Carlo. Got my bag packed and everything.

‘You should go back to acting!’ people say.

‘Why should I?’ I reply.

I discovered I had a bit of a knack for acting when I was a teenager. Hitherto, my theatrical experiences had involved dancing and some singing, but here was something that not only did I enjoy, but also attracted praise. And a lifetime (ok, several years) of Latin tutelage and therefore learning Latin poetry by heart, had equipped me with transferable skills for learning whopping big parts. From plays in local village halls, my sister and I moved onto big musicals in town and from there, I moved onto a scaled-down version of a complete theatre, staging high-quality productions. *CLICHÉ ALERT* The theatre became my life. (Sorry.) While I was studying for my degree, at any given time I was usually rehearsing for multiple productions, or maybe hosting a big event as well as working in a bar to fund my student life, which had started to include annual trips to snowy peaks on which to ski. This always happened in the French Alps, although I couldn’t help getting a kick out of skiing up to the Swiss or Italian border wherever possible. I think it gave me a strange Julie Andrews moment, but not once did I feel the urge to belt out an instruction to ‘Climb Ev’ry Mountain’. (Yes, I know ‘The Sound of Music’ was set in Austria and not France; it’s about borders … )

The Accrington Pals

My acting continued with some earnest for another couple of decades, alongside my career as an English teacher, but my two favourite achievements during this time (and during every time, in fact) were, of course, (and still are) my children. As any fellow parent would concur, one’s children are one’s priority, especially during their formative years and I especially wanted my children to have the opportunity to experience an abundance of pursuits, from karate to playing the harp and many other random hobbies along the way. (The only pursuit I insisted they undertook was swimming and I wonder whether their adult psyches now appreciate this insistence!) I even gave my services to their school as a peripatetic Latin teacher, so that they would gain some understanding of the subject. Their dad and I took them on winter skiing holidays and summer beach holidays in S. Wales, from where my family hails. Then hubby’s job took him around the globe and we visited him accordingly, from the Middle East to the shores of Scotland or the sand dunes of Lytham St Anne’s. Sometimes, I visited him alone, for example, when he was working in New York and in those pre-9/11 times, it’s a surreal thought that we stayed in a hotel in-between the Twin Towers. Then the invites dwindled … but really it was our relationship that was dwindling and the dwindle became a long, procrastinated divorce.

Modelling cutting edge C&A skiwear in the French Alps

But I had become accustomed to keeping my passport valid, which was useful for the burgeoning need to take students abroad for residential trips: France, Belgium, Poland … My temporary dalliance with the teaching of history broadened the scope for interesting school trips! Plus a trip to Finland with the children, as the divorce progressed, to look for Santa. We found him, along with huskies and reindeer and warming Finnish food. Light relief from the Somme, Ypres, Auschwitz and Birkenau (actually, the last two I visited completely alone, to check them out for school trips. I’m sure there is more to Poland, but that’s all the school paid for). Now the random interchange about returning to acting becomes relevant. At this time, my interest waned. I was single and working long hours at a boarding school and alongside English I was teaching Drama, with associated responsibilities such as Speech & Drama exams and school productions. Ergo, it follows that when I was not working, I wanted to be with my children who were hurtling towards their teen years at a ridiculous rate. The last time I acted, it was paid work for a large well-known company and it was lucrative, enjoyable and short. I have no desire to ‘smear my face with paint’ and I would not enjoy a ‘demi-mondy role’ (apologies to Oscar Hammerstein). I do not feel sad; conversely, I rejoice in the many years of exploring different personalities, situations and emotions, who have, undoubtedly, helped to shape the person I am. Furthermore, making people laugh, cry, recoil (or shocked at how little you’re wearing) gives you a buzz that you can live on for days, as well as the depth of camaraderie one feels with one’s fellow thespians. And where would I be without my healthy obsession with Tennessee Williams?

The Menin Gate

Firmly settled in teenland, my children hoofed it to a variety of wonderful destinations on school trips. Hence trips abroad en famille lessened, as there was not an infinite amount of holiday money. We managed a trip to Australia (with a pit-stop at Singapore) to visit friends and similarly, trips to France, also to visit friends, in the mountains above Nice and also the breathtaking beauty of the sunflower fields and lakes of central France. Scotland beckoned once more and by now, I had remarried. I don’t know why this is important to me – but for some reason it is – that I have walked along the shores of Loch Lomond with two different husbands! In fact, walking and general tree-hugging had become a common past-time for us whilst the children pursued teenage things like doing exams, going out and other such hobbies like drumming, singing and bashing out the South Downs Way. But while I was catching my breath after the onset of their teen years, they were preparing to go to university. Travelling abroad with me and the children was not an activity that second hubby particularly welcomed, so I booked a week in the Canary Isles as a send-off for my eldest child before waving him off for three years of academia. In a year, I perused, I’ll be waving off my youngest child.

No really, it was terrifying. We spent 10 hours trying to leave that forest and I was chased by 2 slavering beasts of dogs.

This I did. But six weeks later, I waved off second hubby also, who decided that he would like to leave home too. This is where my blog started. January 2016 – just over a year after he left – I wrote my first blog post: ‘Life’. If I was the Queen, I would have named the ensuing year my ‘annus horribilis’, but I’m not the Queen, so I’ll settle for telling you that it was dramatic and tumultuous. Much happened: a failed Ofsted; a lingering chest infection; two health scares; a broken arm and surgery; debts; a destructive relationship; a crisis-ridden trip to Amsterdam and the threat of redundancy. However, I also had a great skiing holiday with the children, some hilarious Tinder experiences, a foray into the live music scene in Brighton (as both spectator and performer!), a whole new friendship group, the beginning of a wonderful relationship (even if it was the one that eventually sent me running for the sands of Arabia for two years!), my permanent status within a fantasy roleplay group, my return to writing, the start of my sideline in editing and proofreading and the beginning of my li’l film appreciation society (complete with big screen for weekly viewings). **Followers of my film reviews, they have a new home on this glitzy website: https://www.cultjer.com/LisaOConnor4 **

‘It wouldn’t be make-believe if you believed in me’

And then there was Oman. It began with a 12h drive down to Yemen with the fab four (well, up to the border! And technically the fab three, unless I include myself, as the fifth female flew there) and ended with a 5h drive to Dubai. And lots of driving in-between. (Turns out I love driving. Especially alone. Actually I knew this already.) But I can’t put two years of another life into a blog post. My stories of deserts, mountains, boats, singing and my incredible Arabian life with all the peaks, troughs and hilarious/terrifying stories in-between will have to wait. I returned to the UK in time for COVID (!) and recently overheard a friend of around 40 years say to a new, mutual (and incidentally, very lovely) friend of ours:

‘Lisa isn’t like us. She settled down young. She never travelled.’

Firstly, use of the word ‘us’ in the first sentence is exclusive and especially cruel because of the nature of the statement. The expression ‘settled down’ is archaic, patronising and smacks of misogyny. However, given that the term is intended to mean that someone has married and had children, then yes, I did do those things at a young age. I decry use of the expression ‘settled down’, however, as I imagine a person sitting in an armchair to eat biscuits for the rest of their life whilst wearing American Tan tights, sensible shoes and a twin-set (female) or sensible shoes and a tweed suit (male). The concluding statement, ‘She never travelled,’ is stated as if it is a result of the preceding statement, yet why is travel seen as off-limits if you have married and had your children at a young age? I have travelled. I haven’t travelled like my friend of 40 years has travelled, because his job has taken him abroad regularly. But given that I don’t have one of those jobs, I think I’ve managed to pack in (no pun intended) a fair amount of travel, including moving abroad for two years, as a single white female in an Arab country. But what if I hadn’t? What difference would it make? Are people to be judged on how much they have travelled? I have many experiences from my travels worthy of regaling: a mash-up of beautiful, astounding, hilarious, petrifying and life-changing. I also have a similar mash-up of phenomenal life experiences from right here, on the shores of my homeland. Obviously, they aren’t all here; I may not be famous, but like most people, were I to write my memoirs, it would become a hefty tome.

Love this pic I took on the last leg of one of my journeys from the UK to Oman. Made up for the 7h layover at Dubai, which is literally 1h from Muscat by plane. Could have driven there and back in 7 hours …

I stand by what I said to The One in Oman … I’m living in the moment, whilst remaining in love with my past and excited for my future. And The One is the kind of person I want in my life: someone who listens to me, who sees my attributes, who builds me up. Someone asked me what was on my bucket list. Apologies for being a pedant, but ‘bucket list’ is crass, negative and devoid of originality. It’s down there with the likes of ‘settling down’. (Friend of 40 years, there would be a teacher-student conversation about this, if I caught such idioms skulking around an exercise book.) I replied that I don’t have one, just vague ideas swilling round my head about things I’d like to do and places I’d like to visit. I prefer it like that. I’ve done ok, thanks, so far without one and anyway, as Robert Burns said:

‘The best laid schemes o’ mice an’ men

Gang aft a-gley,

An’ lea’e us nought but grief an’ pain’.

Lovin’ it at Sifah

20-20 Vision by Tenderhooks

2020 Vision Album Cover

This seventh album for the eternally talented ‘alt rock pop blues’ (and a few more genres too) band, ‘Tenderhooks’, is as slick and diverse as every other one I have been fortunate enough to review.

Opening with the alluring ‘Prelude’, purely instrumental with initially just a solo piano, before being joined by a sax, one certainly feels drawn in to listen on, as it seamlessly drifts into ‘Bright Lights City’, a chilled number reminiscent of ‘80s disco sounds, with a hint of soul.

The title track of the album follows. Unlike the usual Tenderhooks fare, which tends towards ‘feelgood’ or narrative, ‘20-20 Vision’ hovers on the periphery of politics. Referencing environmental concerns, hats off to singer/songwriter Markus Leinweber for the musical reminder that the onus is on us for the well-being of our majestic planet.

‘This’n’That’, with its bassy reggae/ska feel throughout, will bring you back to a wonderfully mellow mood, especially if – like me – you were a fan of ‘The Specials’ back in the day. Another charming piano intro heralds ‘Run into the Sun’ next; with some beautifully clear vocals from Markus and some rousing guitar solos into the mix, this gentle rock song earns its place as one of my favourites.

Changing the tempo considerably is the lively ‘Thinking Cap’, followed by ‘Cell Number 9’. The latter is dominated by skilled piano playing and tells the dark story of a wrongly convicted inmate. The minor key and choir of humming backing singers adds a powerful poignancy to the song. If you like show tunes, this is for you; it definitely feels like a song from a score for a gritty modern musical.

‘Smash It’ is another lively offering, displaying the vast array of instruments skillfully played by the Tenderhooks musicians. ‘No-one Gives a Monkies’ – definite blast from an ‘80s past with a bouncy ska/Britpop mix – precedes ‘Mermaids’, which is a gentle and quirky mermaid story to wrap up this energetic album.

Lucky me – I attended the launch party AND I have the album. But the fabulous news for you, is that it is now available on many digital platforms, including Spotify.

Tenderhooks band pic

Tenderhooks’ seventh album is available on many digital platforms, including Spotify.

Lisa O’Connor.

‘Tenderhooks’ launch ’20-20 Vision’ @’The Brunswick’

20-20

Little did I know, when I popped along to one of my favourite Brighton (well, Hove actually) venues on March 7th, to an album launch party, it would be my last night out for … well – who knows when? I’m glad because firstly, it was at ‘The Brunswick’ which looks like a fairy-tale castle on the outside and is so classically timeless, with sturdy wooden tables, real people and good beer, that it could pass for a castle on the inside too. I’m also glad because it was to see the eternally talented ‘Tenderhooks’, so obviously, it was a rocking night watching this ‘alt rock pop blues’ (and dare I say a few more genres too) band, launch their 7th album: ’20-20 Vision’.

‘The Brunswick’ houses two venues: one on the right as you walk in and another downstairs (‘The Cellar Bar’). Readers of my blog of old will know the former as ‘The Cabaret Bar’, as this is what I named it when first I wandered in one summer night for Open Mic, on account of there being a stage and little tables with cloths and pretty candles burning. ‘Tenderhooks’ performed in this bar but not before whetting our party spirit with the delightful ‘Across the Sea’: a duo comprising a female powerhouse of a singer and a perfectionist of a male guitarist who also boasted some enviable locks. Well-placed, just before the main event, were ‘The DBs’ who evoked the same carefree vibe as ‘Tenderhooks’ themselves. Personally loved the folkiness of the fiddle and the jazziness of the sax.

The party started aptly with Tenderhooks’ ‘Bright Lights City’: ’80s disco with a hint of soul, before the title track itself of the album: ‘20-20 Vision’. Unlike the usual Tenderhooks fare, which tends to either be ‘feelgood’ or narrative, this song hovers on the periphery of politics. Referencing environmental concerns, (baseball) hats off to singer/songwriter Markus for the musical reminder that the onus is on us for the well-being of our majestic planet.

A charming piano intro, courtesy of Markus, heralded ‘Run into the Sun’ next; with some beautifully clear vocals from Markus also and some rousing guitar solos into the mix, this mellow rock song earned its place as my favourite.

Continuing with the buoyant mood was ‘Thinking Cap’, followed by ‘Smash It!’, both putting on show the unending array of instruments being energetically bashed and plucked for our entertainment.

‘No-one Gives a Monkies’ – definite blast from an ‘80s past with a bouncy ska/Britpop mix – preceded ‘Mermaids’: a quirky and gentle story about mermaids, which, as we all know, exist ‘at the bottom of the sea’.

And thus ended the album launch … I’m lucky to be in possession of Tenderhooks’ latest offering, but the good news for you is that it is now available on many digital platforms, including Spotify.

Actually, it didn’t end there … we were treated to a few more favourites from this happy, slick band because Markus is the ultimate showman, in the best possible sense of the word.

20-20 2

20-20 Vision’ is Tenderhooks’ 7th album and is now available on many digital platforms, including Spotify.

Lisa O’Connor 7th March 2020 @The Brunswick, Hove.

‘Markus and the Tenderhooks’ at Parkstock

Parkstock

When Markus Napier of ‘Tenderhooks’ fame invited me along to Parkstock, a local music festival, shamefully, I had to admit that this was a new ‘stock’ to my ears. He gave me an address on whose door I was to knock in order to gain entry to this clandestine event and so early in the evening on the 7th of September, I found myself on the doorstep of a grand looking abode in the centre of town. Ten minutes later I was joined by more potential festival-goers, to whom I explained that no-one seemed to be answering. Fortunately, they knew all the right people and after a phone call or two, I gained access to the portal (aka someone’s house) which would transport me to Parkstock. I felt a little like Alice in Wonderland … or Lucy finding Narnia through a wardrobe, as I walked through a fairly regular house in order to gain entry to the magnificently lush gardens which are normally exclusive to the residents within the surrounding houses.

‘Tenderhooks’ had just begun their set and as I took in the view of this little pocket of countryside in the middle of the city, frontman Markus greeted me warmly over the mic and so my evening began. In-between buying seven sweets for a pound and nosing around the vegan food stall, I was fortunate to be serenaded, along with the other festival-goers, by some of Tenderhooks’ finest musical fare. One of my favourites – the narrative song ‘Yolena’, with its catchy chorus and Britpop story-telling – was one of the first; followed by the rock ‘n’ roll ‘Russell You Up’; then the rousing anthem ‘Rule the World’. Reminding us of the power over our own destiny, it also reminded me how diverse ‘Tenderhooks’ are, with their shifting genres, tempos and topics.

Tenderhooks

As the sun dipped down, the fairy lights throughout the gardens came into their own and the mood settled into that of a Saturday night vibe; people started to dance on the grass in front of the band who were housed under pretty canvas. I couldn’t resist wandering along paths and around trees to take in the natural environment, so I did just that, swinging by the bar en route to collect a beer. But on my travels I could still hear the upbeat tunes from Tenderhooks with their quirky stories: ‘Mermaid’, ‘Never Stop Chasing Your Dreams’ and ‘No-one Gives a Monkeys’ to name a few.

Having watched this infintely talented band quite a few times now, I know to expect a great standard of entertainment at their gigs. Always they have new songs on offer, healthily mixed up with some of the familiar ones. Tenderhooks’ genre-hopping, from rock to jazz, classical to ska and even more, means that there’s certainly something for everyone to like … and judging by the audience reaction, everyone did like them – a lot!

Park Crescent

Skeleton Dance

8A28BCD5-15AD-44D5-86E4-F2B24AC818B2.jpeg

To call ‘Tenderhooks’ latest album ‘Skeleton Dance’, a feelgood album of the highest order, would be an understatement. Even the opening track ‘Stardust Memories’, where frontman Markus Napier bemoans the news making him ‘feel so blue’, gets you in the mood. For anything, really. Tenderhooks are one of the most creative bands I have encountered; all of their work is original, but Markus’s interest in music spanning decades is clearly manifest in the diversity of genres represented and on a deeper level, occasional subtle influences by specific musicians will fleetingly bounce off your eardrums. Poignant references to a musician who has transcended to that rocking gig on high, against a backdrop of nostalgic beats make ‘Stardust Memories’ a great first track. When the enjoyment of a cultural experience is reliant on prior knowledge, it is enjoyed all the more … and Markus is smart enough to realise this.

But just in case all of that made you ask yourself (all over again) WHY we had to lose all that talent … ‘Cheers Cheers Cheers’, will make you want to join the cast of Riverdance. Even if you can’t dance. With its expert fiddle-playing and some rousing drumming, it ticks all the Irish jig boxes. Fast-paced lyrics with a Gaelic vibe abound and there are even background pub noises to make you feel like you’re downing a Guinness in the Emerald Isle itself.

A twangy strings intro to ‘Skeleton Dance’ promises country but delivers rock. And whilst listening to Markus’s versatile tones, I was reminded of Billy Bragg’s uniquely clear voice; definitely a similarity there. Who would have thought that a song about skeletons would be such fun? But it really is.

‘Rise and Shine’ conjures up a black tie event in a jazz club with a grand piano so shiny you could do your make-up in the reflection. Dominated by the sounds of that grand piano, this is not just feelgood, it’s ‘feelbest’.

‘Black Rain’ might be my favourite; delicate pizzicato at the start captures the subtle beginnings of what could be a biblical downfall. The piano joins in to create a crescendo and the vocals start to reveal a story, which is characteristic of Tenderhooks songs. The main protagonist of this story is a nightclub singer who – to continue the rain metaphor – provides ‘shelter’ to her clientele from their woes and worries. Attention to detail within the lyrics create superb imagery for this track and the ending, as you would expect, tails off as the ‘storm’ draws to a close.

‘Cosmic Disco’ kicks off with some synthetic cosmic sounds and references to ‘Space Invaders’, along with that archaic word ‘disco’ in the title, throws you right back to late ‘70s/early ‘80s. Fun. Just like a disco!

With a wind instrument intro reminiscent of ‘The Specials’, ‘Sandy Dunes’ might be my second favourite. Any song sporting the word ‘jalopy’ is going to make you want to pack a picnic and soak up some sun. So the song is aptly named; like a modern day version of ‘Sur la Plage’ from Sandy Wilson’s ‘The Boyfriend’. Percussion and piano dominate, reflecting the perfection and simplicity of a day at a beach.

‘Bird on Fire’ changes the vibe; a slightly Latino intro with some synthetic sounds create an atmosphere of mystery. A minor key and dramatic lyrics fuel the mystery until the story unfolds, again, with attention to detail in the words which create powerful imagery.

‘Son of a Gun’ will rescue you from any prolonged melancholy though, as it tells the story of – well, the son of a gun. Background bar noise, honky tonk keys and a drum beat reflect this snapshot of a gangster character brilliantly, complete with his ‘beautiful wife’.

Another Latino style intro for ‘Running Man’ who could be ‘Son of a Gun’s’ quieter brother. A bit of a geezer, we hear about his online dating experiences to some very speedy piano and percussion and definite shades of britpop.

‘Rule the World’ is an anthem. A motivational speech put to music, it is a reminder of our own power over our own destiny.

Penultimate track, ‘Teenage Crush’, has some fast-paced strings and an ‘80s feel … certainly one that must be relevant to everyone’s teen years!

And finally, the beautiful  ‘Tumbling’ is a love story for our planet. Piano and wind instruments make it a bluesy number and its thoughtful lyrics make it a wonderfully reflective piece to round off an album stuffed with talent and diversity.

I messaged Markus Napier himself halfway through writing this to tell him I was having a blast writing this review. Go have a blast folks – get your hands and your ears on this banquet of music. Enjoy.

 

‘The Baluchi Boys’ Part III: The Musicmaker

‘I am the music man. I come from far away and I can play. (What can you play?)

I play the Spanish guitar … but also ladies’ hearts …’

‘I think that you have been treated badly by Omani men.’

Now, I am not one to generalise, but this was an Omani man making the generalisation and arguably, it wasn’t a generalisation yet. It was a statement. A generalisation would be the deduction that all Omani men behaved this way, based on two experiences.

‘This is what they do.’

Ah ok … there it is. Well, just to reiterate, it wasn’t me talking; it was the Omani.

‘But I will prove to you that some are not like that,’ he continued, ‘because I am not like that.’

This was a fluent, serious and intelligent chap and I believed him. The intelligence was reflected in his cavalier attitude towards his fellow Omanis. To hold an unpopular view and to announce it so boldly, is a sign of intelligence. It is a sign of integrity, of conviction, of commitment to a cause … all very attractive traits. But the intelligence lay in the fact that he knew this would impress. I believe that he believed in his judgement; but was he different? Was the real intelligence that he knew he was the same, so all he could do was pretend he would be the hero, the odd-bod, the one who bucked the trend? Let’s see …

I had met the Musicmaker at a Karaoke night. It was at one of my favourite haunts for dancing, drinking and singing (only on Wednesdays) and he started chatting to me on the balcony overlooking the beach, a swimming pool and a scattering of people enjoying a drink al fresco with perhaps a shisha or two, with the obligatory palm trees to remind us all that we were in a hot country.

My friend with the beautiful headscarves crept up behind me and snatched my mobile from my hand. There was a momentary standoff while I smiled at her and she smiled right back … but her smile said why aren’t you fighting me for it? While mine said I’ve already given him my number … weeks later she would reveal to me that she didn’t want to see me get hurt yet again. Some weeks after that, I would realise that this was a bit of a stretch, but we’ll save that for another post …

We met the following night and this was a man who knew how to soften a woman with romance. We drove into the mountains with food, drink and his Spanish guitar. We stopped where we could look out over the lights of Muscat from a serene vantage point nestled amidst millennia-old rocks. There was something comforting about the contrasting environments; the shooshing of distant cars was hushed by the flawless plucking sounds of Musicmaker’s guitar, accompanied by his unusual, if slightly nasal (in a strangely appealing way) voice. In addition to how impressive this private concert was, I was also struck by Musicmaker’s confidence. Many hide their lights under bushels until the truth is revealed by removing the wrapping paper of pretence that no-one must know; others openly boast; but this perfect-looking man presented his talent at the opportune moment. I felt suitably serenaded, seduced and also shown that he had talent.

To be fair, Musicmaker was very complimentary towards me about my singing voice.

“Lisa has a beautiful singing voice,” he announced to a musical friend one night.

In the early days we camped and barbecued on the beach, went out to lunch, watched TV shows in my apartment and went out dancing and drinking with his friends. He brought his guitar round … hang on. Yep … it is all sounding a little familiar, isn’t it? He surpassed Batman easily with the guitar, though. He wrote his own songs and was keen for me to learn one of them. (I wish that I could erase the melody from my mind. It happened in a film, didn’t it? Come on someone … mimic fiction and invent the darned thing already and make my mind spotless and full of eternal sunshine again.)

https://drive.google.com/file/d/1j6cAApyGxCWkWe3srri4s9TJQ__lujbk/view?usp=drivesdk

The honeymoon period was brief. Around a week. But it only took a week to fall for Musicmaker. Batman needed longer to make me fall for him, ergo it was vital that the honeymoon period lasted longer. Musicmaker was clever, smooth and wore a facade of sincerity, rather like Rusty when he can see a treat in my hand. Enough said.

So week two was unremarkable. I had to wait till the weekend to see my potential new accompanist and love.

Week three and even WhatsApp messages couldn’t be bothered to crawl out of his phone and into mine.

Yet still I hoped.

“I am not spending enough time with you,” he said, whilst looking directly into my eyes and holding my hands firmly, after a spontaneous visit one Thursday night.

“No,” I replied, “You’re not,” I agreed.

He was blunt so I felt I could indulge my equivocal bluntness.

“I have so many problems,” he continued.

Yes, it really was that similar … to be fair, Musicmaker’s problems were grim. He had suffered two major traumas in his life in the space of a year and like all Omani men (it seemed) he was building a house and had parents.

“Are you in a position to be in a relationship with me?” I asked, fairly and nicely.

“Yes,” he replied with a steely determination, “and the next time my mother invites me for lunch, I am going to tell her that I bringing someone!”

This wasn’t just a big deal – this was a deal with proportions similar to The Rock – it was so huge I couldn’t process it. Which is just as well really, seeing as it never happened. Sorry for the spoiler, but you know that only the failed relationships reach my blog!

I had stopped expecting to see Musicmaker at weekends and was, frankly, allowing the union to fade into obscurity and experience (and eventually my blog). He had told me that he was busy with his house and his mother that weekend and so I ventured to a rooftop venue complete with a swimming pool and palm trees as well as a bar, a dance floor and a DJ. I went with three female friends and – forgive the cliche – we were dressed to kill.

“You’ll see him tonight,” said my closest friend out of the three, in between taking selfies in a very cramped car (but it was a lift so we were just grateful).

We blagged free entry, only to have large amounts of money extorted from us in return for drinks which would not last and eventually danced to the very repetitive (and slightly disappointing, given the wondrousness of the venue) dance music. The youngest of my friends leaned into me …

“He’s here,”

Instinctively I looked around.

“Don’t go to him!” ordered the third friend who had two moods: ecstatically fun and angrily difficult.

I didn’t. I couldn’t even see him and I didn’t look for him. But at some point I needed to venture beyond the two points between which we were moving (our spot on the dance floor and one of those tall tables where you can place your glass and lean, when you’re a bit bored) to visit the bathroom and/or get a drink. I forget the purpose for my journey but I made it all the same and on my return I spotted him, dancing alone. I smiled as I walked past and he extended his arm to me, to invite me to join him. We danced well together and anyway, I wanted to dance with him. So we danced. And talked. I said nothing about the lie but he broached the subject, explaining it away by saying that his friends dragged him out because he was sad … etc … etc …

I let the matter go because I didn’t care. I adored this man, but his lack of reliability was causing me to withdraw and therefore to become less vulnerable to any hurt.

Our last date was at a music festival. This was a relatively hushed-up affair … only made known to those on the music scene so, thanks to my involvement in this area, I made the hour and a half journey in my humble hire car one weekend to a remote beach with a backdrop of a mountain range. The journey was eventful … it began with six people rammed into my car which was all too much for it, because after five minutes it had a sulk and conked out. A kind man fixed it, after Youngest Friend asked him to and for various reasons the rest of the journey was made with just two of us, which I was keen to complete before sundown as I had lost a contact lens. After getting slightly mislaid en route, Fun But Difficult and I arrived (after sundown).

After the stresses of the journey had been laid to rest, we drank, danced and generally had the sort of fun you expect to have at a music festival.

Then Musicmaker arrived. I was surprised about many things concerning the Musicmaker and this festival. I was surprised that he knew nothing of it until I told him about it. Then I was surprised he agreed to come along. Then I was surprised he actually came. It preyed on my mind however, that he had told me that his ex would probably be there. How did he know this? And why would he go to something so far away that potentially would upset him? Especially as he intended driving home the same night. Was he going there to see his ex … ?

Then it all happened. He saw her. She was dancing with her new boyfriend. At this point I realised that my boyfriend was slightly unhinged. He had a tantrum and dragged me into it. Aggressively, he introduced me to her. Then he left.

I chased after him and tried to take his hand, yet he shook me off. Enough, I thought.

“I have done nothing wrong!” I announced.

He stopped and turned.

“She lied to me!” he replied, as if this somehow excused his poor treatment of me.

“So?” I questioned, boldly, continuing with she’s your ex!

“She told me she wasn’t seeing anyone!”

“Again,” I squared up to him. “she’s your ex!”

“I still have feelings for her,” he softened and put his arms around me.

“I’m sorry.”

And he left.

As I predicted, the relationship petered out and I accepted this. I saw him around a month later and he apologised for many things and told me what a wonderful person I was.

“You told me you were different,” I complained, “but you were the worst of the lot.”

“Well I was different then, wasn’t I?” he smiled.

And that was it.

‘The Baluchi Boys’ Part II: Batman

Shortly after The Playboy had silently slithered out of my life, I found myself returning to the UK, after just a few months of living it up in the sunny utopia of Oman.

I was there for just a week; the Playboy of the Persian Gulf was a mere memory (ok, he was writing material too) and I was struggling with the inner turmoil of being at home unexpectedly, whilst knowing I would be returning in a week to the chalk face in Muscat.

Then one day a message bounced into my What’sApp app on my phone.

‘Hi,’ it said.

‘Do I know you?’ I questioned.

Then one of those audio messages appeared … turned out that it was the Playboy’s cousin and he had contacted the Playboy about meeting up.

“Is Lisa free?’ he had (allegedly) asked the Playboy, when the latter announced his inability to meet up for a drink, due to other commitments.

‘Call her and find out,’ replied the Playboy, glibly giving my number to his cousin.

I had met him one night when the Playboy had taken me to an American-style bar, complete with pool tables and a weird glass smoking room in the corner. He had introduced him to me as his cousin and we had got along well. Despite having played pool many times in my life, I am still fairly inept at potting any of the balls, let alone ones of the correct colour and the Playboy’s cousin was very attentive to my tuition in this area. At this point, I had wondered if the Playboy had lied about his age, as he became increasingly stroppy at my growing expertise with the pool cue and actually left our company and danced, alone, on the vacuous dance floor, in true toddler-tantrum style. His cousin joined him and proved that he was something of a twinkle-toes, which seemed to ignite the Playboy’s ire further. The gradual realisation that these were two peacocks vying for the peahen’s attention took me to the bar to order some drinks, whilst enjoying a silent chuckle on the way.

The arrival of vastly overpriced beer pleased the competitors and once more we were reunited and enjoyed the refreshing beverages, complete with the usual Omani accompaniment of peanuts.

We left as soon as the beers had been supped and the Playboy was driving his own car that night, which was a first, but I was also struck by the fact that he had had a considerable amount of alcohol. I, too, had drunk and driven in my early days in Oman, before realising that there was zero tolerance for drinking and driving. Upon learning this fact I had taken it upon myself to never drink and drive, lest I found myself languishing in an Omani prison for an indefinite amount of time. (This was also the night I realised that the Playboy shaved his legs, as he was wearing knee length shorts.) I had much to learn: I think the zero tolerance regarding drinking and driving actually encourages the phenomenon, which is what happens when you set the standard as impossibly high.

Back to the story: the Playboy’s cousin seemed a decent sort, so I temporarily overlooked the Playboy’s political incorrectness of giving out ladies’ phone numbers without their permission (this argument had its day in due course) and arranged to meet up on my return.

We met at The Beach Club in the PDO camp; again, a nostalgic experience, reminiscent of bygone days with ex-hubby No 1 and thus began a two month romance with one who would be named Batman.

Batman liked Batman … in fact, he sported a Batman pendant and his job smacked of more than a slight obsession with the very human super-hero. His job was to climb the Telecom towers in PDO to fix them. Coincidence? Nah … I have come to realise that very little just happens. Batman liked to take risks. Life had disappointed him thus far and one indulgence – a liking for Batman – could be played out every day if he wished, by climbing the Telecom towers and being Batman for a bit. (And those who are suffering from terminal disappointment, sadly, take very risky risks.)

Initially, it was a fine romance. The honeymoon period was .. well, present. There was no such thing with his cousin; that debacle was just a week or two of mismanaged meetings and stress. But Batman couldn’t get enough of me … he visited me often, bringing roses, alcohol, even complete dinners at times. He brought his guitar; he serenaded me; we lunched out at the weekend; we had barbecues on the beach … and by the way, a sparkly shoreline of phosphorescence with a blazing supermoon setting fire to the sea, to Dan Seals’ ‘If I Had Only One Friend Left’, scores an easy 10/10 for romantic value.

Then the weekday visits stopped and our relationship became one of weekend drinking and dancing into the small hours. This was satisfactory for a while, until I became dissatisfied with the same formula every weekend: ie, always going out with Best Friend plus girlfriend and not playing out any of our plans – rewatching ‘Game of Thrones’ for one thing – or continuing with all the lovely, little, normal things we used to do, like lunching out or chilling at home with him plus guitar. So the weekend shenanigans ended and our relationship became a weekday only affair. This was not satisfactory either, as the evening would sometimes start at 10pm, giving little time for anything more than a short conversation over a fairly rapidly drunk alcoholic beverage.

So the weekday visits stopped and I wondered if I had a boyfriend.

“I never see you,” I complained.

“I have so many problems,” he replied, “like the house I am building … and I have to see my parents … and my children,” (he was a divorcee with four children).

So I ended it.

“But I have all these problems!” he cried.

“So you don’t have time for me,” I shrugged.

But I gave him one last chance.

“Be ready by 9pm,” he instructed, one Thursday afternoon, “and we will go out dancing.”

I was ready.

But he was not.

I waited till midnight and by then I wasn’t really feeling the love anymore, neither for him nor dancing, as this was the umpteenth time that I had wasted precious hours of my life waiting in my apartment. There was a reason, of course: there was always a reason. This one involved Best Friend’s family … lifts to Seeb … what could be done … etc … etc … If it just happened once, then maybe I could tolerate it. But this happened a lot and I began to realise that I had only just made it onto the very end of the priority list. Batman blamed Best Friend, on whom he was reliant for a lift, but over the period of three hours, I felt certain that an alternative method of transport could have been arranged to deliver him to me. But that would mean letting Best Friend down, was the argument. What about letting me down? I argued. This was the crux of the matter … extended families (parents, grandparents, siblings, cousins) came first. Friends came second. Children came third. Girlfriends were bringing up the rear in a poor last place. During the honeymoon period, children and girlfriends temporarily swapped places, to be fair. I would never expect to usurp children – I would have been content with second place to Batman’s children – but the irony is, that they were the only category that Batman would shortchange in favour of me, even forgetting his eldest child’s birthday on one occasion because he was whiling away the hours in my company.

But anyway, back to the story: he sent Best Friend to my apartment and I tried to send him packing. But Best Friend was persistent and I found myself in the confines of his car, with Batman in the front, en route to the local hop, which was always a small Irish bar/club in the basement of a hotel.

Batman was not talking to me, with which I struggled. I had become angry in an audio message but after three hours of waiting, I think that is fair.

On arrival at the club, or ‘disco’ as they still call it in Oman, Batman broke his silence and bought me a drink by way of apology. We had the obligatory argument, after which we danced and things were good. Then he sloped off outside and I didn’t see him again until I attempted to leave. He brought me back from the taxi which was about to transport me home and seemed baffled as to the cause of my incandescence.

“If this is you trying to make things up to me, it’s poor,” I stated, “because I have hardly seen you all evening.”

“But this is my only chance to see my friends!” he argued.

I don’t need to explain my position on this, as you are all decent people who can see how flawed his argument was.

Best Friend’s girlfriend, a sweet Filipino girl with straight, black, waist-length hair which she kept off her face with an Alice band, insisted that I remained with them. Considering her child-like appearance, she was surprisingly strong and also determined to protect me from the perils of travelling home alone. There is an irony to this, which is coming up … I found myself in Best Friend’s car once again (strangely without Best Friend) and when we stopped, a short drive away, outside Best Friend’s girlfriend’s house, so she could collect her belongings with a view to staying at Best Friend’s house (wherever he was – his absence was strangely unnoticed by all but me), I attempted to talk to Batman.

He ignored me.

I left the car and walked.

I didn’t know where I was.

I had no credit on my phone.

I had no money in my purse.

As soon as I had taken the decision to leave his company, I felt a mixture of relief and panic, as I knew how vulnerable I was.

I walked … and walked … and walked … until I found an open petrol station. I didn’t know what I would do at this petrol station, but as luck would have it, a taxi was at a pump and I requested a ride to a cash point and then to my home.

Batman contacted me hours later, wanting to know if I was ok.

Too little, too late.

‘The Baluchi Boys’ Part I: Playboy of the Persian Gulf

I met The Playboy of the Persian Gulf one Saturday afternoon, after another sunny day in paradise. I had been residing in Muscat for around a month and continuing with my mission to drive to a new place every weekend, I had taken myself to a beach which was only accessible by clambering over rocks. It occurred to me that I needed to start building up a tan, as that was one of the trade-offs associated with tearing oneself away from all that one holds dear in one’s homeland. I had been shown the way by a colleague, but I challenged myself to find it on my own and feeling pleased with my small victory, I stopped on my return journey to take pictures of the view of the PDO (Petroleum Development Oman) camp.

After around five minutes of taking in the view, reflecting on the time when ex-hubby No 1 worked there and therefore also reflecting on bygone days, when Joseph and Rhiannon were about a quarter of the size they are now, a sparkly 4X4 pulled up next to me. The tinted passenger window slowly and smoothly disappeared into the door to reveal a ridiculously pretty face wearing a welcoming smile. The ridiculously pretty face belonged to a young man and he greeted me warmly before disembarking from the car. He was wearing formal Omani dress – a white dish dasha and a kuma – and was not much taller than me.

He asked me how long I had been living in Oman – in time I would become accustomed to this question – and upon learning that I was a newcomer, he told me that he worked for a tourism company and he would be happy to show me around.

Ah … touting for business, I thought. This was not the first time a chatty cheery Omani man had given me his business card showing him to be some sort of tour guide.

I thanked him and said that I had a car and so I was quite keen to find my own way around, thank you very much. (And felt a renewed resolve to tan my skin, whose paleness was bellowing ‘newcomer!’ without my permission, to all and sundry.)

“Join us now!” he invited, but I declined, on the grounds that I had work to do, but in reality, because I was not about to allow myself to be driven around by strangers.

“Let me at least take you out for a drink,” he continued with his line of suggestions which would put me in his company for a period of time.

I laughed and pointed out that he was a little young for me.

He laughed back and asked that heart-sinking question: how old did I think he was?

“Twenty-something,” I guessed.

“Thirty-eight,” he replied.

That wasn’t so bad, I thought … same age as ex-hubby No 2, so after mulling it over whilst chatting, I agreed to meet for a drink.

*************************************

I should have realised after half an hour of waiting outside a hotel bar, that this was not going to end well.

We had agreed to meet at a designated place at a particular time, but this seemed problematic for The Playboy.

“Take a picture of what is right next to you,” he requested.

I did so and sent it via What’sApp and only after sending it, did I realise the inappropriateness of my view. Part of it included a bridal shop. Oops.

img_5575

But it worked; within five minutes my date had arrived.

If I thought that half an hour was an inexcusable amount of time to keep someone waiting, I had much to learn.

We dated for two weeks. Well, one week really, seeing as I did not see him the second week. Some evenings were just a little strange; everything about him smacked of poor little rich kid. His car was chauffeur-driven, every in-built container contained chocolate and the back seat sported a permanent box of beer. I am not sure that I ever witnessed him sober. Some dates consisted of driving around and taking in the sights whilst drinking beer. But ‘strange’ was acceptable in comparison with other evenings when I would wait an hour … two hours … three hours even for him to arrive to pick me up from my apartment. Some evenings went well; he would arrive on time and we would go to a bar or a club – his favourite being a small, slightly sterile venue within a large hotel. Or, he would impress me with a moonlit walk along a private beach and we would sit in the perfect night-time temperatures of the September weather, with just the hushed sounds of palm leaves rustling in the balmy breeze and the occasional wave splashing, apologetically, on the sand.

There was something slightly surreal about his chauffeur always sitting a little away from us … I felt like I was being chaperoned … or, worse, that he was being chaperoned … but in time I became accustomed to his presence and he did a remarkable job of blending in with the environment and only speaking when addressed. A little like a butler. (Some time after my brief friendship with The Playboy had ended, I would learn that the chauffeur’s presence was entirely due to The Playboy’s lack of driving licence.)

But this was a man whose being was rammed with empty promises. The words of a friend before I left the UK rang in my ears … Beware of men who will promise you everything and give you nothing …

“I have a vegetable stall in a market,” he announced one day via WhatsApp, “so I will bring you some fresh vegetables today.”

“You sing?” he questioned, on another day, “Then I will come to Copper to hear you sing!”

“Cancel your car hire,” he instructed, boldly, “because I can get you a better deal.”

Let us reflect on this last one.

It was bad manners of him to ‘forget’ to bring me the vegetables as promised and insensitive of him to display false interest in my singing. It was frustrating when he arrived late for a night out – or not at all. But this last, worthless pledge nearly cost me the convenience of my car

This was not a course of action I would take lightly. There was much discussion about this and so when I was certain that this was genuine – and why would he lie about this – I cancelled my car hire. Then he began to ignore my messages. I became desperate to speak to him, just so I would not be without a car, never mind about any future relationship.

My car hire company were very understanding and allowed me to keep my car. But I was not understanding and I did not allow The Playboy to keep me as a potential girlfriend. I’m not sure how I feel about a man who shaves his legs anyway.

And So It Begins …

Sunday August 20th … first day of term.

The latest we could arrive at school was 7.30, so I intended to arrive even earlier at 7am, knowing that in time this may change. I decided to leave at around 6.30 – it was a fifteen minute drive but I had not encountered rush hour traffic yet and it was easy to imagine all six lanes of the Expressway rammed at every interchange. So I was up at 5.30, my alarm having gently eased me into the waking world from 5am onwards.

Confident that I could find my way, yet nervous at the prospect of meeting the students (I don’t know why this should be so concerning, but it is) I made my way down to the parking lot to my humble Hyundai steed. On the one hand, I liked that it was a pale blue hatchback, whereas all the other hire cars were white saloon cars; on the other hand, I felt it reflected my obstinacy over the price (I knocked them down by OMR 20 – or rather, Helpful Head did when I raised an eyebrow over the price). My hunch that I had, indeed, been fobbed off with an inferior car, was affirmed when I tried to open the driver’s door and the handle parted company from the door and I found myself standing in the parking lot, holding a car door handle and staring at my door which looked strangely naked without its handle.

Another thing that was not in the game plan.

So I climbed across from the passenger side and worried less about meeting the students on my journey to work and more about finding my way back to the car hire place. I was wishing that I had taken more notice of the journey there, as a passenger in Helpful Head’s car; I should have foreseen something falling off this slightly ropey car.

But ‘first day stress’ replaced ‘detached door handle stress’ on my arrival at work. I clocked in by way of the fingerprint machine and felt like Arnold Schwarzenegger in ‘Total Recall’. I’m sure I am alone in this – the rest of the world has probably been clocking in with fingerprint machines since before the movie even.

In honour of our first day there was a stand set up with mini jars of sweets, scented candles and cute little smiley emoji tins with our names on, which was thoughtful. In honour of the students’ arrival there was a popcorn stand and a candy floss stall. I am fairly certain that no school in the U.K. would consider such a thing for even a moment, on the first day of term. I was tempted by the candy floss but in the absence of any other teacher evidently tempted, I (very maturely I thought) sailed past said stall. As I took my ‘homeroom’ group to my classroom, I spotted one or two teachers chomping away on the heavenly pink stuff …

Homeroom groups are tutor groups. As is the way with secondary teaching, one does not necessarily see a great deal of one’s homeroom/tutor group. The principle task is to register them in the morning. Secondary to that is to act as a mentor for each student within the group and following on from that, one finds oneself ‘carrying the can’ for their conduct and therefore liaising with parents when necessary. Not forgetting those all-important tutor reports; just when you think you’re done with report writing, because you’ve written all your reports of the thousands of students you teach (well, it feels like that) someone says, “Have you done your tutor reports?”

Anyway, I digress. With six Grade 9 boys (13-14 years) in my homeroom group, I think I have the smallest homeroom group in the school. Some homeroom groups are 20+, so I am fortunate, especially as they are all, without exception, wonderful. Boys and girls are separated for lessons and for break-times. There is not the space for the latter, however, so they take their breaks at different times. My school is both a lower and an upper school on the same site and the younger contingency are not separated by gender and so take their breaks together.

On the first day I spent a considerable amount of time with my homeroom group and I met some of my teaching groups. I would be teaching Grade 9 boys, Grade 9 girls, Grade 10 boys and Grade 10 girls, so the two top year groups in the school (GCSEs are taken a year earlier here). We had been warned that students would arrive ‘in dribs and drabs’ for the first few weeks and indeed this was a fair warning. So the pressure was off initially, as no-one wanted to launch into anything that would have to be repeated for the latecomers, of whom there were many.

My classroom transformed from a health and safety nightmare during the week of inset, to an actual classroom by the first day of term. I was relieved that there was a projector and that I was given a laptop, as there was a query over the former. Suspended on a curiously long rod from the ceiling, I was to bang my head on it several times a day for the first week, reducing to maybe once or twice a day for the next two weeks. Now I just bang my head on it very occasionally, as do the students. It is a small classroom, with small desks and small chairs, which is not problematic for my homeroom group, as there are few of them. It is satisfactory for my girls’ groups; there are more of them, but not an intolerable amount and they move gracefully. But for my Grade 10 boys: well, there is a sense of relief if a few are absent. There are sixteen of them and for fifteen year old boys, they are, generally speaking, very mature for their years. Physically, that is; they are prone to the usual scuffles that one associates with teenage boys. And they are not averse to catapulting missiles at one another, of which I am caught in the crossfire from time to time.

But back to my classroom: I was delighted to discover that I had a balcony. I have to climb out of a window to reach it, but the windows are large and low down. However, there is little opportunity to sit on it and in fact, sitting in the sun is not a pastime that people undertake as a rule in these parts.

My classroom also boasts a toilet, which – fellow teachers will understand – is most welcome. Some students will use it; others prefer a toilet that is not actually in the same room as the lesson. I am just grateful for a toilet that is close enough to use in between lessons.

So the first day came and went and as it drew to a close, I turned my attention to my broken car and transferred my stress to my Head of Department, who kindly offered to escort me to Value Plus. I would have to find my way home, but I had been driving for a couple of days by now and was familiar enough with a few places close to Qurm, to be able to muddle my way back to my apartment.

On arrival, I explained my predicament to Candy Crush man, who offered me his trademark chai tea, but instead of fetching it himself, he clicked his fingers at an Indian man, pointed to me and said something in Arabic which was probably along the lines of ‘get her a nice chai tea and take your time about it so we can faff around with this door handle’.

I had left the handle on his desk and after placing my order for chai tea, he took the handle outside to my car. He slotted it back into place with a firm shove and stood back to admire his handiwork. Then he tried to open the door with said handle and looked surprised when it came off in his hand, taking off his kuma* and scratching his head.

He returned, cap in hand (and door handle in the other), replaced the handle on his desk, his kuma on his head and sat back down.

His senior came along, checked the status of the chai tea situation (I assured him that there was one on the way) and also took my car handle to my car … after shoving it back on, wiggling it around and removing it, convinced that it was, indeed, permanently detached from my car, he too replaced it on the desk.

After some time my lovely chai tea arrived and finally, Candy Crush’s senior offered me a new car.

“Would you like a new car?” he asked.

“I think that would be best,” I replied.

And so I drove back to my apartment, looking like every other ex-pat on the road, in a white saloon car, with four handles attached. I had filled my first car with petrol and then swapped it for a car with almost no petrol. But at OMR 7 at the most to fill it, I thought I’d let it go. There are benefits to living in an oil-rich country.

As the week panned out, the school routine became a little clearer.

Assembly is at 7.45 and lessons begin at 8am. There is no homeroom time, so I am fortunate to have a small homeroom group, as I can see at a glance during assembly if all are present. Assembly begins with the National Anthem and all students face the Omani flag. Music is not on the curriculum and this is evident when one is listening to their rendition of the National Anthem! A colleague has since sent me a phonetic version, as I would like to join in with this. The start is identical to the start of the hymn: ‘One More Step Along the World I Go’, which fascinates me, but that is a whole other story …

There are eight lessons in a day, each lesson being forty minutes long. There is a 20 minute break in the morning and a 10 minute break in the afternoon. Lessons finish at 1.50pm and then there are prayers for 20 minutes. The students are free to leave at 2.10pm and we have until 3pm for planning, marking, etc. I supervise girls’ prayers with a female colleague and during said prayers on the last day of the first week, she invited me to join her on the beach straight after school. This sounded like a good idea as I had not yet devoted any time towards topping up my tan. And so it became a Thursday thing; Thursdays are like our Fridays and indeed, on these days we can leave half an hour earlier at 2.30. So it is possible to be prone on the beach by 3pm.

In this first week we lost our deputy (aka the man with the peaceful aura) to another school in the same small group of schools, which was sad. On one of the inset days Scottish Colleague and I, disappointed in the lack of lunch, asked Peaceful Aura man if there was a shop nearby selling food of some description.

“I show you,” he smiled and we followed him to the gate, expecting him to point down the road and impart directions which neither of us would remember (Scottish Colleague and I share a terrible sense of direction, which means we should never travel in convoy, which we have done too many times). Instead he remotely unlocked his car and invited us to travel to a nearby cafe with him. Again, our expectations (grabbing a sandwich and returning to school) did not match the outcome, which was a pleasant lunch, paid for by the man with the Peaceful Aura.

So it was sad to see him leave, not just because he bought us lunch once.

So the first week finished and I survived.

*kuma: