‘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.

Advertisements

‘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.

Getting There

“Hmm … you need to see an optometrist. Potentially it’s more serious than just an eye infection.”

This was not in the game plan of my last day in the UK for four months.

“OK! Thank you!”

I smiled and left my local chemist with a cheery outlook, as she was just doing her job. My pending flight 4,000 miles away in just a few hours was neither her responsibility nor her concern.

I took Rusty back home, as I needed to seek medical help and as it was a hot day (in time my judgment concerning outdoor temperatures would change somewhat drastically) I did not want him cooking in my VW.

The nearby optometrist was as helpful as possible, given that he was not running a clinic and I was on a serious time constraint by now.

“Do you take anything for your hay fever?” he asked.

“I took some cetrizine last night but that was so I could have a curry. And then my eye started hurting.”

“Good grief! What sort of curry was this that you had to take medication and it gave you a bad eye?!”

I realised how much like a mad woman I sounded until I explained about my ‘spontaneous urticaria’. No, I still sounded mad.

“How long will you be away?”

“Till Christmas.”

“Oh – probably best not to wait till you get back then.”

And this lovely optometrist gave me some free medicated wipes and a recommendation for curry and off I went to the airport.

It was as Singing Sister approached Heathrow that I remembered about the four memory sticks containing years of resources, which I knew were sitting atop the piano at home.

The last month had been a month of goodbyes and my final ones were that day. To the children in the morning… the dog in the afternoon and to my mother and sister in the evening at the airport. I got through it by detaching myself. I couldn’t fully embrace my feelings or I don’t imagine I would have boarded the plane. So potentially, I had far stronger emotions than those attached to my memory sticks abounding within me; but as I had shut those down, I became preoccupied with those four little sticks which were in the wrong place. More of those later …

Any emotions whirling around my psyche would have been shoved into a metaphorical abyss at customs however, as soon as I began dealing with staff.

“This is the first time I see this,” accused the immaculate lady at ‘bag drop’ with her exotic accent, as she waved my temporary visa in what I considered to be a rather cavalier manner, given that it was a Very Important Piece Of Paper. Then she spoke to her colleague, still waving my Very Important Piece of Paper around and even crumpling it slightly in her perfectly manicured (yet strangely large) hand. My concern dissipated when I considered the worst outcome: that I would not be allowed to board the plane. As I was having doubts of a grave nature, this would have felt like a blessing at the time.

“Take it,” she proffered the now crumpled document and gave me a new one to accompany the crumpled one, concerning potential collection of luggage in Dubai en route to Oman.

“You stop at Dubai,” she instructed, “but your luggage will go straight through.” This made no sense to me, as the new document stated that I would have to collect my luggage en route. But I chose to ignore it. As I chose to ignore her concern over my visa.

Next stop security …I had ensured that there were no liquids lurking in my hand luggage and I had removed all electronic devices. For once, I was spared the brutal frisking procedure and I sailed through, confident that I could collect my bag and continue on my way. But no. I was told to wait to one side, which I did for around 5 minutes until I was told, despite standing exactly where I had been placed, that I should move away to protect the privacy of those whose bags were being searched. I still did not have my bag and presumed a search was imminent, but others seemed to have priority. Eventually the man at security who had asked me to move, approached me whilst carrying my bag. I moved towards him, thinking (wrongly) that I might be reunited with my bag but instead he beckoned me to follow him and passed me on to the biggest man I have ever seen, wearing the most purple suit I have ever seen. He took me to yet a third man, who was dwarfed by the giant purple man, but he made up for his lack of inches in self-importance. In a taciturn manner he emptied my bag whilst fixing his gaze on me, by way of intimidation. Silently, he drew my attention to a screen which showed the offending articles. There, on the screen, was the negative of one of those tiny tins of Vaseline. Oops. Guilty as charged … Caught smuggling a gram of lipsalve. But that was not all …

‘Snow globe,’ he accused.

And there was a tiny tiny snow globe on the screen, a memento of Brighton from a friend, packed at the last minute.

He stared at me.

I stared back, feeling the mirth rising up from my chest to my mouth.

Rarely have I been subject to melodrama of such extremes, by one who managed to contain his laughter.

After I repacked my gaudy ‘CabinMax’ rucksack, having turned down Self-Important Taciturn Man’s offer to repack it for me, I walked away for a few seconds, then swiftly glanced back, expecting to see Self-Important Taciturn Man and the Purple Giant convulsing with laughter, clinging onto each other helplessly.

But no.

I guess it was a quiet day at Airport Security.

The flight, I am glad to report, was uneventful. I ate, slept, watched a movie, was asked by an airline stewardess to stop lolling sleepily into the aisle, witnessed an argument between a family in front and the airline staff over meals (‘she is model’ were the most spoken words of the argument, by a middle-aged lady about her daughter and her weird eating habits) and disembarked at Dubai. Remembering the confusion over baggage collection, I asked an airline stewardess if I would have to collect my luggage at Dubai. She laughed and replied that I would not – there would be no time anyway. I re-embarked for the transfer to Oman and finally arrived at my destination and wearily followed the herd of passengers into Muscat airport.

‘Collection of Pre-Paid Visas’ said a sign.

I was struck by the lack of popularity for this particular offering at the airport, but paid the kiosk a visit anyway. There was a lady on her mobile phone, a long way behind the desk – she was almost in a back room in fact – but I awaited her attention nonetheless. Briefly, I looked away, as the view of the partition and the distant lady were both becoming tedious. As I turned back, she swiftly looked back down at her phone, clearly not keen for me to realise that my presence had been acknowledged.

‘Excuse me,’ I called.

Nothing.

‘Excuse me,’ I repeated my plea, ‘I need to collect my visa.’

She waved me away with her hand and returned to her phone. ‘Crush Candy’ must have reached a crucial stage.

I visibly grumped as I left, the emotion of leaving my home city and all that it contained which was all that I held dear, deciding to present itself and course through every vessel in my body. I had been angry but now I was distressed and wanted to go home. I had a strong suspicion that this was just the first time I would feel a sudden urge to sob and sob until I had no sobs left and in time my suspicion would be proved right.

A man in a security uniform stopped me and enquired as to the problem.

‘She won’t give me my visa!’ I replied, a little louder than intended.

‘Ma’am – you need to go over there,’ he gestured towards a sign which read ‘All Other Visas’ and I explained that mine was pre-paid.

‘They are all the same,’ he smiled … and he was right. My mood relaxed but Candy Crush Lady had caused me a considerable amount of distress and I was still feeling this as I queued.

There was a young man ahead of me in the queue who evidently did not know how to silence his phone. In the 15 minutes we stood far too close together in that queue, the number of times his phone pinged must have reached triple figures. He spoke to his presumed girlfriend in that time too. And when a woman on the other side of a barrier began gesturing frantically to him and I realised that she was responsible for the plethora of pings, I wanted to do terrible things to that iPhone 6.

But all too soon the next instalment awaited me at Baggage Reclaim. I waited. And waited … and waited. Nothing. Eventually, as I began to feel human again, I noticed a baggage inquiry desk. The gentleman who dealt with me had a poor grasp of English but I remembered about the chit of paper that the lady with the strangely large hands at Heathrow had given me. Apparently this gave me access to my luggage and he smiled gratefully and assured me that he would ‘get bag’. But he didn’t ‘get bag’ and his face was as forlorn as I was, when he returned empty-handed.

‘At Dubai,’ he said and followed it up with, ‘come back later.’

That brink on which I wobbled was becoming more and more unsteady as I felt myself falling, catatonically into every negative emotion imaginable.

The man with the poor English was replaced by a more fluent gentleman who assured me that my bag would be delivered to me that night. All I had to do was tell him where I lived.

‘I don’t know,’ I said.

‘Ok. I take your number and I call you when it arrives.’

My phone had already told me that it would charge me big, fat sums of money for calls and texts so I wasn’t keen.

‘I’ll call you later,’ I offered, hoping that i could borrow a phone from someone later, ‘by then I’ll know where I live.’

And I wandered off, slightly aimlessly, wanting to cry which made my infected eye hurt, wondering if I would see my luggage or my memory sticks again.

I walked through Customs and quite honestly, was clueless as to what I would find. I knew the face of the man (the headteacher) who interviewed me and … that was it. I doubted that he would be the person to meet me. Would it just be me? Would there be other teachers arriving simultaneously? I noticed a man wearing a dishdasha – well, there were many men wearing dishdashas – but this man stood out. I didn’t really know why he stood out, but later on I would realise that it was because he was clean-shaven, whereas – it would seem – many Omani men are not and also, his eyes were lighter than most. I was surprised to hear the words ‘Miss Lisa’ being spoken by this light-eyed clean-shaven man and noticed a card he was holding on which was written the name of the school. I was also surprised to see that he held out his hand and we had been warned that most Omanis of the opposite gender would not shake our hands. But he offered, so I accepted. His hands were soft.

‘You are the last,’ he stated, with a smile and a sense of inner peace.

I explained about my luggage and he was sorry to hear about the situation but reassured me that all would be well. I apologised for my tardiness and secretly came to realise that at no point during my mammoth journey, had I considered what would happen when I arrived in Muscat. I had not given any thought to the people meeting me – I could not have contacted them anyway – but it did not occur to me that I should look out for someone as I walked through Customs. I had a vague recollection of an email that mentioned meeting at a cafe; which is where I spotted a gathering of people with the headteacher in the midst of it all.

‘We thought you’d changed your mind!’ greeted the head and I laughed and explained about my luggage, but kept the thought that I had changed my mind to myself.

He devoted a considerable amount of time and effort to the luggage situation, the outcome of which was that he would bring me back to the airport that evening to collect it. He then devoted yet more time and effort towards my phone situation, explaining that I needed to buy a SIM card at the airport to avoid the big, fat charges from O2. This was proceeding well, until it transpired that I hadn’t unlocked my phone.

‘Argh! I told you do that – I put it in an email!’ he exclaimed.

It was true. He had. The truth was, I hadn’t really understood, so I had paid O2 a visit, explained about my pending job and asked what I should do to prepare for going abroad, regarding my phone.

‘Nothing really,’ the pallid, bored-looking man in O2 had said, just before yawning.

‘It will be really expensive to use your phone abroad,’ he had continued, ‘so I would buy a new phone out there, if I were you.’

And that had been the extent of O2’s advice to me.

A minibus arrived and took all of us new arrivals to our apartment block. There was Omani coffee on the bus and a delectable sweet dessert called halwa. This went some way towards lifting my spirits away from my new problems concerning luggage and phones, although I panicked when it occurred to me that the head had said he would call me to arrange the journey to the airport to retrieve my luggage, but he had no way of contacting me! There had been an offer to go to a supermarket a little later, so I decided to ensure I took this offer, so that I would see him to tell him this.

However, the gentleman with the serene aura arrived to take us shopping instead: I explained my predicament and he told me not to worry. But I did worry – I felt it was the serenity talking and the practical side may not have been aware of the necessity of being proactive.

But he was right – I need not have worried – the head arrived later on and indeed, my luggage had arrived from Dubai. I had to jump through several metaphorical hoops in order to be allowed to retrieve my own luggage (funny how one is not required to jump through any hoops – metaphorical or otherwise – when one collects one’s luggage straight off the plane) but the outcome was a happy reunion with my luggage. As the head dropped me home, I reflected on the help I had received from him and others that day and felt slightly in awe. Emotionally, I was fragile at that time and plans were going awry but I was not having to face problems alone. I thanked him and tried to impart my appreciation of being scooped up from disasters but I’m not sure I succeeded.

Back at my new apartment (which, by the way, was of a generous size and newly-decorated), I unpacked, at last …

If you have ever experienced the feeling of reaching the last few items of a container, whether it is a suitcase or some other vessel and then gradually realised that something is missing, you will sympathise with my heart-stopping, chilling, nauseous feeling. An important bag of jewellery was missing. For the first time that day I cried. I had wanted to on numerous occasions, but had not. There was nothing else for which to stay composed now though; my streaky face would not be seen by anyone. It’s at Heathrow I thought. Self-Important Taciturn Man is responsible for this.

Then I decided to call home. I knew that O2 would gain big, fat sums of money from me but it was worth the sacrifice, I felt. I felt right; I had left the bag at home. It should have been with me, but at least it wasn’t languishing in a grey tray at security in Heathrow.

Ok … there were problems but they were getting solved. Sleep was needed … and so sleep was had.

Markus and the Tenderhooks

“Is there a pub in Brighton you don’t know?” enquired a friend, upon learning that I was ‘Brighton born and bred’ (whatever the ‘bred’ part actually means, in this context. ‘Born and raised’ would be more apt, but no-one says that).
I laughed and replied that there were plenty, because of Brighton’s dynamic nature; as soon as I think I know them all, I stumble across another crop of them in places that hitherto did not look big enough to house the sign outside, let alone a whole venue.
‘Latest Music Bar’, although not a new venue, was new to me. In a basement in Manchester Street, Kemptown, it is big enough to promise a party yet small enough to elicit an intimate cosiness. Markus was on the door to meet and greet with his trademark trilby and smile to match. With a genuine concern for the wellbeing of his audience, he introduced me to friends lest I should be alone for the evening and so the party began.

Showcase in Musical Craft

Arthur Mills, the first supporting artiste, stepped up first and warmed the audience with the talented sounds of his American style folk music. With topics ranging from poignant moments to burgers, one could call his lyrics delightfully offbeat.
Equally accomplished, Mark Stanley took his turn next and with a more traditional approach, maintained the American style folk theme. With his lilty voice and flawless playing of the acoustic guitar, he continued with the high standard of the evening’s entertainment.
Giving us a change in tempo and genre, Rob Abbott was the last of this showcase in musical craft before the main act. A rock artiste with an old-fashioned vibe, he rounded off this part of the evening with upbeat tunes wrapped up in dulcet tones.

Special mention to Phil Macnamara, an excellent bass player who accompanied all four bands of the evening.

Ska, Blues, Jazz and Rock

Markus Napier is a showman. His onstage (actually, offstage too) charisma engages immediately and his acting prowess is evident from the start. Writer and main protagonist in the ‘Brighton Is Falling’ series (available on YouTube), he introduced his set with an unflinching and dramatic taste of the Brighton drama. A song of the same name appears on their ‘Loving Sword’ album, to which we were treated in his set, plus a few extra songs because this is a man who over-delivers. You cannot limit Tenderhooks to a genre; with a fantastic range of instruments played by the six members of the band (Markus himself shifted between main vocals, sax and guitar), there are shades of ska, blues and jazz in amongst alternative rock. With some beautifully nostalgic lyrics such as ‘I wish I was just ten years older, rest your head upon my shoulder’ mixed in with quirkier lyrics like ‘I ain’t got on any socks, I ain’t got on my shirt’, the diversity between songs is as clever as the diversity of talent within the band.

Powerhouse of Artistic Flair

Markus is the frontman and is a powerhouse of artistic flair and energy, but the whole band is a team of talent and spirit. By the time they were playing an encore, the Latest Music Bar was rocking with a party atmosphere, such is the feelgood effect of the Tenderhooks.