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Wednesday, 18 August 2010

The One With Anna Ryder-Richardson

The thing with seeing a celebrity is that no matter how grounded you may think you are, you cannot help but get a little googly eyed and star struck when you encounter first hand one of these people which is why I am writing this.
Anna Ryder-Richardson moved to Pembrokeshire a couple of years ago and bought Manor House wildlife park, which at the time had been left to ruin and had closed down, with the animals locked in there. Now for anyone knows Pembrokeshire or any small town come to that will realise the magnitude of this event. I knew very little of it at the time as our attentions were focussed elsewhere, but had promised the kids a visit when we went back.

Now to me, people are people, no matter who they are, I would offer them a seat next to me and would buy their kids ice creams along with my kids when playing together. But how does a celebrity see other people and themselves come to that? How would they see the actions of us mere mortals, knowing who they are and knowing that we know who they are? Knowing that when you meet a person they already know more about you than you do about them? To be honest it must be hard, which is why it was an even braver decision for Anna Ryder-Richardson to buy and then re-open this park.

My first Anna encounter was at Tenby harbour, where she stood right behind Jason looking for a place to sit; this was the moment I knew I would get stupidly star struck if I spoke to her! I didn’t speak to her on this occasion, I felt kind of bad that she was out with her family, enjoying an evening, yet obviously being asked for pictures etc. It must be a difficult decision when you are famous to go out; you’d have to be in the right mood and frame of mind and prepared for the public. I have to say though, she was stood a few feet from us that evening and she dealt with people wonderfully, smiled and was generous with her time to every person who asked for a picture or who approached her.

My second ‘Anna encounter’ was at Manor House. I saw her go by in the morning. Celebrities always seem to look animated compared to their surroundings, maybe it is because we notice them more that the lady with the buggy, or the dad with his two kids in tow. It always seems strange that they carry on the same as us, not sure why it seems strange it just does! So we had a fabulous day at Manor House, we met some friends of ours there, kids had loads of fun, you can really tell that it is run by a mother – the picnic area is covered with toys, space hopper and bikes and wicker tepees and there is a park or play area around every corner its great! At the end of the day we popped into the gift shop for our mandatory souvenirs. When we came out Grace wanted to play on a wooden rocking horse type thing??!?! So we sat there whilst she played and out came Anna Ryder-Richardson. Jason pointed out that this was the lady who owned the zoo at which point joey marches up and taps her ‘excuse me’ ‘Yes?’ ‘I really like your zoo!’ to which Anna replies ‘Awww and I really like you!’ – She looked over and smiled saying how cute, we got into a brief mother type conversation about swapping children etc. Jason, knowing I was far too embarrassed asked her if she wouldn’t mind having a picture taken with me, she of course obliged without question. Grace went into full blown tantrum mode, which made her worry she had done something, which I suppose if you didn’t know Grace you would wonder if you’d done something to cause such an outburst, I gently reassured her that it wasn’t her and we went on our way!

Anna Ryder-Richardson was refreshingly normal to meet, and made me realise that actually celebrities are not a completely different species; she for example is another mother, working hard to raise her kids and run a business. She has done a fabulous job, the park was lovely, a lot of thought and hard work went in it and I hope it continues to grow. However she is still a celebrity and I had my picture taken with her, and yes I did feel a little googly eyed and star struck for a moment there, with all the people she meets every day it is unlikely she will remember us, but we will! And I thank her for taking the time, and adding to an already very lovely day!

The One That Came Back By Popular Demand!

So there was me thinking that I obliviously typed away at this blog for the basis of a future record, yet unbeknown to me, other people actually read it! Not only that they enjoy it too! So whilst I have been preoccupied for the last few months, believing it didn’t matter too much that hadn’t updated this, it in fact did matter to some people. So here I am, condensing the last few months into one little, not so neat, package!
Once we had recovered from our coming of age into the next decades of our lives, it was time to move on, and get on with life! It was strange having such a celebrations with restrictions, such as no alcohol, no big liberating party and even more so as this is our first time away. Attention was to focus on our trip back to the UK in the summer where we could spend three whole months indulging in such debaucheries!

Most things in life ticked along as normal, Jason continued with his job, still enjoying it, Joey continued to excel in school and Grace and me slowly learnt that you can have too much of a good thing, staying at home and playing with mum isn’t all it’s cracked up to be, tempers flared, personalities clashed, makes me really look forward to the teenage years in our house!!!!!? In time I began to count down the days until we were going back to the UK, arduously crossing off days on the calendar, planning our trip in every detail (which by the way didn’t exactly go to plan, but more about that later!)

However, during this time, we did mark some achievements, I managed to lose weight, which I then successfully put straight back on, we embarked a mission to get Jason’s driving license, with success after 4 very long days! Which led us into our battle around the Saudi banking system in order to buy a car, which after 4 even longer weeks we finally had! Most of the above being a struggle with the language barrier which Jason has gallantly fought and is well on his way to winning!

So back to the new car! Well what can I say? Big and lush!!! An 8 seater, GMC Acadia, brand new, straight from the showroom. This was a momentous occasion for us. Never before have we had anything so big, shiny and new! Maybe some think we should be sensible and buy a second hand car and save our money. But after much deliberation we realised that actually it would be a false economy. We would spend approx 4000 GBP on a 10 year old car, which would have a million miles on the clock and has no doubt been hammered by the heat and the sand. For 20,000 GBP we could have a car with a warranty, that’s new, we know exactly what it has done and can do. A far safer and in the long term more economical choice for us!

Well, all this set my little mind ticking! This car is so comfy and nice; why not drive it as much as we can, as in back to the UK for summer? So at first everyone laughed and thought we were mad. But I researched every detail. The countries, Jordan, Syria, Turkey, Bulgaria, Romania, Hungary, Austria, Germany then France. It was doable. I set about my little folder, all sectioned in perfect order, of hotels and campsites, places of interest, Embassy numbers and addresses for each country, currency, traffic rules and regulations, Visas – it was a project to be proud of! Now just one thing, taking the car out of the country. Most things are a battle over here if they are unusual. And this certainly was unusual. We were told by most people at the bank that we could take the car to Europe no problem. When it actually came to the fact it was a different ball game. Only neighbouring Arab countries, then only to Bahrain. We need the paper work in order to get a Carnet. We were backed into a corner of making a decision quick. We could fight it and hope to be able to take the car or give in and guarantee our flights. We had to take the flights as didn’t want to risk wasting any of our summer. Simple you would think – mmmmmm – not so! Whilst trying to pay for our flights Saudi Airlines kindly cancelled me and the kids off the booking, refusing to rectify it making us re book – for an extra 2000 GBP!!!!!!! I don’t think so, so after many days of angry emails, to which there was no reply, I had to rebook me and the kids to leave before Jason – 2 weeks before.

By this point culture shock was really getting me down and just wanted to see my family and friends again, on top of that the thought of flying half way across the world with the kids on my own was slightly disconcerting and even more that we would be apart as a family for almost two weeks! This will never happen again – next year we will be doing our Europe trip and driving back, after all, I made a folder and everything!

So the flight…………………..

Jason drove us to Abha airport which was far nicer than relying on the hospital transport which is inevitably always running late and being on my own I would not have been given any help! So all was good we got to the airport by 7pm, Jason got us checked in and linked our flights etc. and then we sat and had a drink together. Knowing that I couldn’t show too much physical affection to him made me want to snog his face off more than ever! But we embraced in a dignified peck on the cheek, whilst having a family hug, no one can complain at that surely! I had hoped and prayed that joey was still that little bit too young to get upset about being taken away from daddy, oh how wrong I was!!! The heartbroken little boy understood enough to be devastated about leaving daddy but not quite old enough to get the reason as to why this was the only way. Jason tried in vain to hold back the tears, to not much avail I must add! I got to the point where I couldn’t watch and Grace carried on in her own little world in true Grace Style!

The first flight was great kids were fabulous, we got to Jeddah and got ourselves sorted in the airport café, where I am pleases to say is one place people can still smoke! We had some food from the café and a mooch around the shops and the kids were fabulous. Our plane boarded about 1am and the kids were asleep before we even taxied round!! I thought marvellous, I can have my little meal and watch a movie and still have time for a little sleep before we land! How wrong can one mommy be! Movies weren’t available until over an hour into the journey, food seemed to take almost as long, and then just as I got to sleep all hell broke loose!!! Grace woke making sure that she wasn’t the only one, screaming and crying the plane down in the most indiscreet way, to the point I had to lock us both in the toilet just to give everyone else the chance of peace and to give her the stern telling off that was required – it was the airplane equivalent of the shop doorway! Once I had her calmed, I drifted off again, for joey to wake! His requests were far simpler, or so I thought, he wanted his meal, so off I went to get it. Only to be told that there were no child meals left. Now at 5am and 35 thousand feet the final straw for an overtired and emotionally battered 5 year old is quite understandably his lack of child meal. OMG, he cried, but a truly devastating cry that not even mommy could sooth. I then got told off by the steward for not ordering the meal and that it was my fault (let the record state I did in fact order the meal!) To which my final response after 20 mins of emotional battering was ‘Do NOT under any circumstances speak to me for the rest of the journey. You obviously have no idea how to speak to mothers because if you did you would realise we are the last people you’d would want to piss off at 35,000 feet!’ Not surprisingly the manager popped over to say hi!!! By this time I was seriously not amused and crying myself and counting the seconds for the flight to end!!

Finally the flight did end!

Through customs, through the luggage lounge and into arrivals, where the kids dived towards granddad and aunty Val and I welled up with even more tears happy to be back on solid ground!

We paid our ticket, packed the car and went to leave Heathrow, only to be told that if we wanted to leave we had to pay another 2.50 GBP!!!! We had taken too long to get out – are you serious????!??!?!?!? I then experienced culture shock, (which is a recognised medical complaint you know!). But this time in my own country, surely that’s a first.

2 hours later up the motorway and we were back at Dad and Val’s – where I quickly relaxed and got some sleep, probably something to do with the bacon sandwich and half a bottle of wine I had at 9.30 am that morning………………………..

Thursday, 18 February 2010

The One That Wasn't Supposed To Be So Waffley!!!!

I have always wanted an adventure, always enjoyed holidays, road trips, going to new places and meeting new people. When I was younger I used to go for walks, with part of me hoping to get a little lost, so I could enjoy the adventure of finding my way home. I used to play make believe when even younger about being washed up onto a beach, in a new land, discovering my surroundings, how to make a home or camp to survive!! So it has always been in my soul to do the very thing I am doing now. But getting here wasn't an easy road, without even knowing it I have learnt a lot, and since arriving here I have had an awareness of learning even more, a journey of self discovery and an appreciation of life and it's meaning.

The world is a bog place, and I am always thirsty to know more, what's around the next corner? what kind of people live there? The landscape, the sky, the way places all look differently at night, even though we are all always looking at the same moon. Around each corner there are different people, cultures and religions. They are more often than not different to us, to how we have been raised, conditioned in our individual societies. With this it seems to be the human nature to reject things that we don't understand or know. But when we fight this urge and open our minds to these new experiences, people, cultures and religions it greets us with a feeling of liberation. For the first time you will have an overwhelming urge to learn even more, to discover more places, meet even more people. To have your life touched, moved, marked by all these new people you never even dreamt of meeting.

My time here has been touched in so many different ways already. I have been touched by kindness of people who hardly knew me and my family. They have embraced us into their lives and surroundings, helped us make our home here. Your home can be just about anywhere. There is always a way of making a home, it is about immersing yourself with your family, allowing your new friends in each place into your lives, a few memories and of course the internet from time to time!

I have learnt a lot about life an myself since being here. I have had space in my head to think, grow and understand. And to learn from others. I have learnt we are all good people, we just need the right environment to see it and for others to see it. I have spent much of my teenage and adult life uncomfortable, unhappy, for many reasons, little of which i don't fully understand my self, I know what triggered it but what I don't understand is why i let things affect me so much. now, however I know that I am good person. I now know that it is OK to acknowledge this in yourself. It isn't a case of over confidence, its simply a case of allowing yourself to be liked and loved by at least one person and once that person, you, has established that friendship, more friendships will grow. It is OK to take on board compliments from people, to accept to yourself what they are saying is in fact true, and when you return home and mull over said compliment, you can see that if you yourself saw this in somebody else, you would have also paid the same compliment with the same intentions.

Another thing I have learnt is we all have a past. We all have vices, pain, history and bad points. we should never be ashamed of them. It is part of who we are, of what we are made of. We need to be true to ourselves and realise that we change and grow everyday, so how we may have acted, behaved or responded to things 10 years ago aren't necessarily how we would be today, and the way we respond today is not necessarily how we would respond tomorrow! We have all done wrongs in our lives, maybe it is just that we didn't deal with a situation or relationship how we should have or maybe wanted to. I have learnt to understand now that i cant control what people think of me, the only thing I can control is how I deal with how the perceive me and how I think about myself. I know who I am and that's what matters.

We are all looking for something in our lives. Aand once we have found what it is we are looking for, no matter what it is, I know anyone can achieve pretty much anything. We only let ourselves stand in our way. there are so many things I would love to do and be - a doctor, an actress/singer and win the x factor, a writer, a chef............... - the things in my way of attaining any of these things are controlled by me - I could dedicate all my time to studying, I am open to learning and if I was determined and wanted it enough I am sure I could maybe eventually become a doctor!!! but it is my choice not to sacrifice my family time, the money, our current life (and sleep), that would be required to reach that goal! the same kind of pattern is true for any of the above, if I trained and learnt I could be almost anything I want to be. But if I am honest right now I am happy, truly happy, the happiest i have ever been, and I am content with riding this wave and enjoying the gift of my family. my family comes first, that is my destiny right now in my life and that is an adventure, after all that's what I have always been looking for! i am proud to be a mum and a wife, whatever job I undertake I commit to 100% and it's no different with this job! I do the best I can.

The most important lesson I have learnt is about change. Once we accept change in our lives we can ease that transisiton, allowing to take control of those changes, which gives us control of our lives, end result = making us happy. I have always been a person that when things begin to go 'wrong' I need to take control. usually I result in not taking control of the actual problem. When having our children I had no control, firstly in becoming pregnant, then the pregnancy, and the births are where I lost complete control. After having them I suffered pnd, re affirming my lack of control, I desperately needed to get some control back, for me this took hold in an eating disorder. After loosing over 6 stone in a matter of months, I had gained control of something. It isn't until now I realise that I had gone about it in the wrong way. It wasn't something else I needed to control, it was recover from my original illness of pnd that would have given me the control, eased the transition of recovery. Things hadn't exactly gone to plan. What I needed to do was to accept the changes in our plans and our lives and taken control of those changes and then maybe I would have spent that time happier. But, it has played a huge part in making me who I am now, and strangely I wouldn't change it, I would only change the hurt and upset it caused to people. I was happier when I was thin, happier in that respect than I am now, however at what Price? The difference now is I control how I feel, I control how I perceive myself and I control what I do about how I feel. The thing with my eating disorder, it was actually out of my control, it wasn't me taking control of anything. What I did take control of if recovering, making changes i my life, and that was the best thing I did. The effect it has had has been monumental, I am happy but most importantly my actions have made my family happy. My life had changed, at the time for the worse, but I took control of those changes, it eased the transition, allowed me to take genuine control and has made us all happy.

This leads me back to my adventure, our adventure, for my family. It has taken me to move all this way and to embark on this journey to learn all these things. And what I think about now is if I have managed to realise all these things in this short time, imagine what I can learn to understand in the future.

I have a wonderful life, it gets better every day, soon all my demons will disappear, and with everything new I learn and every new person that enters my life I will become even happier and in turn this will make the people around me happier. I love our children and I love my husband. It has taken a lot to get here, but we have made it, I couldn't have got here without my family and friends.

Sunday, 14 February 2010

The One With The Big Bithdays!

Well we succumbed to the landmark birthdays, with dignity, style, fun and laughter!! The big 3 0 and the big 4 0 was anticipated, by me at least, like a ticking time bomb! How on earth were we to celebrate properly over here. We had envisaged being able to have a party with friends, get dressed up and have fun and maybe even a glass or two of Champagne! Well the latter certainly wasn't going to happen in Saudi!

However, this is part of what is changing us as people. Allowing us to grow and develop as human beings. No longer are our expectations what they used to be. In fact we have very few expectations. This led to a wonderful time for our birthdays.

Still trying to get completely even with money, as the first year is always the most expensive and with flying back to the UK so soon after arriving there wasn't going to be a fancy Rolex for the 40th and dazzling diamonds for the 30th, instead we used our imagination and created something far more special for each other.

My birthday began at 6am with me crying buckets in bed! But happy tears I must add! Jason had made for me a photo album. It was about our journey here so far. With all the pictures having captions and questions about our experiences so far, this coupled with an amazing choice of photos of us, the children, things we had done. It was truly beautiful, on many levels! With some lovely jewelery from the kids and a nice cup of tea in bed, Jason had to promptly leave for school! Taking Joey into school, I felt like a million dollars with the children in the playground singing happy birthday to me, the kids here are so nice!

I had a lovely day, peaceful and relaxing and yet still had the weekend to come!

Next came the BBQ - never have we Had a BBQ on our birthdays before, not with them being in February. Last year it had snowed on my birthday, and yet this year is was 25 degrees, very surreal!

WE had our BBQ in true British style, the wind was really getting up that weekend, but like Brits we were determined to cook outside! We had all our new friends with us, from South Africa, Pakistan, India, UK, Egypt. It was wonderful, to be surrounded by all these people who we have really only recently met, yet they came to our house to be with us, for this I was touched! Oh and of course, some FAB presents!!!

The wind finally did beat us for dessert, after the head mistresses food flying onto my neighbours plate! So for the birthday cake, which I had made for Jason, chocolate with chocolate frosting, with flake and maltesers and galaxy chocolate! We went inside, enjoying the rest of our party!

We didn't need alcohol, late nights and loud music to have fun, this in itself is somewhat liberating! We had all we needed, good food, good friends and fairly good weather!

Next came Jason's 40th!!! Being his birthday he has to take food/cakes into work with him. Well the least I could do would be to bake them for him!!! So another late night, making 20 carrot cake muffins and 2 loaves of banana nut bread, and up again at 5am to put the fresh frosting on them and make them pretty!

My gifts to Jason were about the day I would make for him. Staring with his tea and pressies in bed! At 6am I wake the kids, who promptly run and jump on daddy ordering him to open his presents, and he had better be quick or the kids are going to get them! For him I had taken a photo of the kids, turned it to black and white and had it enlarged and framed. Also a picture that I had taken in the UK at Christmas of the snow, where the snow lay on the branches of the bare trees, he had commented on that journey how pretty it had looked. So he now had a reminder of the UK and a reminder of one of the biggest achievements in his life, our babies! This was banded together with some youthful clothes and surfer jewellery, and chocolates and his favourite biscuits to comfort eat through any forthcoming pain of turning 40! Poor guy then had to go off to work!

He had some wonderful gifts at school, perfectly chosen from the staff and some really touching gifts and messages in cards from his pupils. This I know meant the world to him. Not only to be in a workplace where he was happy and with friends but also from the children. To be liked an respected by the children to the point where they would make him cards, choose gifts for him, not from the materialistic point of view but from the view that these children care and took the time for him! I can imagine for a teacher this must feel quite emotional and special, knowing that what you do affects people in such a positive way.

I spent much of this day cooking! I have been nagged since I arrived to cook rice! Now this is daunting experience for a Brit, where the only cooked rice know of is either in an orange, microwavable Uncle Ben's packet or it comes in a foil tray from the takeaway! But I set my mind to it and cooked him a Pakistani dish with chicken and potato cutlets, with home made mint and coriander dip and of course, his favourite, a home made cheesecake, Jamie Oliver 'stylee'!

The dinner was nice, slightly late, not because of my timing I should add, but because of upset caused by someone else, which Jason boldly sorted in defence of his wife and children, but this I shall not go into!

By this point we were both so shattered, from all our celebrations, preparations and the fat that poor Jason Had been suffering an awful cold the whole time! So a bit of TV and an early ish night!

Our birthdays were not quite as expected, not how we had planned we would have celebrated them, but then we aren't exactly where we had planned to be either. This is definitely not a negative thing. We are the happiest we have been for as long as we can remember, and isn't that what birthdays are about. Who needs lavish gifts, booze filled parties, it's all for show. We had true gifts for our birthdays, we had happiness, reflection, a sense of achievement and adventure, and most importantly we had friends (and cake!)

For everyone who helped make our birthdays so special this year, thank you, it is these friendships that we are making now that will shape us forever, and that's the best gift we could ever wish for.

Monday, 11 January 2010

The One With All The Advice!

As I discovered the other from a friend that my blog actually came up on a google search I thought I would post for anyone, like I did, who uses google to find advice on moving to Saudi - so to cover all the words in case I don't get them in, I will include bits about visa application for Saudi, Khamis Mushayt, what to expect, what to pack, Saudi Airlines, moving to Saudi. OK that should just about cover what people may search!

When I was searching information on the net I came across very little for a family moving all together to Saudi, it IS possible to do this, we did it! (without me having a work visa!)

So hello or rather Salaam, if you are looking at my blog and you don't know me, I hope to give you some good advice and info about coming here!

Firstly let me warn you things work slowly around here, although there are ways around it! More so if you are from the UK.

OK, so you have your job secured, most likely you are a guy and you want to take your family. Now you may have been told or looked at information that you will have to be here for three months, or until your get your Iqama, before you family can come. This isn't strictly true. If , like us, you are determined to take you wife and children at the same time then there are ways around this!

It is very much down to your sponsor. Now my husband is on a single contract, but they have accommodated us. You may have been offered a family contract, which would most likely include your flights etc. Negotiation is key. Your sponsor can allow your wife and children to apply for a residence visa, they just have to give that authority as they apply for the visa in the first instance (more about that later!). They may be reluctant to do this as you will be on probation until you have your Iqama. You may be able to negotiate with them in some way:

1) Offer to pay for your families flights yourself, that way they aren't at any loss financially
2) If you are very sought after, then this is great, you will have a little more persuasion your side - but don't be too pushy, especially if you are dealing with Saudi people, remember this is their country and they don't want to employ arrogant people!

If your sponsor agrees then fantastic! If not remember three months doesn't have to be a long time, this could be a decision that changes your life forever!

So congratulations on the first hurdle, no my dear you need to get that all important visa, you cannot get on the plane without one, now this is the bit where you will be bombarded with far too much information, people will try and get more money out of you, and you will quite likely tear your hair out! Although, hopefully I can help prevent these things from happening and tell you how we got ours!


1 - Your sponsor needs to apply to the Saudi Embassy in Riyadh for your visa authorisation, for this they will need from you - a copy of all your passports, copy of your education certificates, a photo of yourself, a letter from current employer stating length of employment etc, a reference from current employer, a signed offer letter. You may or may not be asked for a copy of your medical at this time too. But I advise you get started on this for you AND your wife.

2 - After approx a week maybe less your sponsor will send you a copy of your visa authorisation, this is when you will find anyone you ask for advice wanting money! You will find a lot of visa information stating that you need to go through a visa agency - THIS IS NOT THE CASE! They charge a fortune for a job that tbh anyone half intelligent enough can do themselves! If you don't mind about the money then by all means go through a visa agency you will find information about ones approved by the Saudi embassy on their website (I will list useful websites at the end for you!) If not here's what you do!

3 - Print off your visa application form from the website - a work one for you and residence/family ones for your wife and children - one for every passport. It may seem daunting at first but trust me it's easy! Complete the forms.

4 - register your application online, this will cost you about 6 pound - a massive reduction in what visa agencies will tell you it is! You pay that money online, remember to note down the number it will give you before you leave the page as there is no way of getting this afterwards!

5 - Hopefully now you will have you completed medicals. You need to get some of your documents attested at the Foreign Commonwealth office in Milton Keynes. Medicals and education certificates - nothing more! This also costs, about 30 pound a document.

6 - So now you are almost there - now you can either post ot go in person to the Saudi Embassy in London - we went to them, they were extremely helpful and the guy checked our forms over before he took them in, posting them could delay things. You need to take with you the following - Visa authorisation, Visa applications and the reference numbers, 2 photos each (check this it can change), all the passports, letter of offer, medicals, marriage certificate, birth certificates, education certificates. These can change so always double check with the embassy website, but this was the case for us. It then costs 10 pound per passport, again a lot less than the visa agencies can charge! We handed in the documents - BEFORE 11.30 and we were able to collect our visas three days later after 3.30 pm.

The visa application can seem like allot but really if you take it step by step it's not too difficult, if a visa agency is going to do ALL of the above for you, it can take a lot longer, due to posting things back and forth for signing etc and with some can cost in excess of 200 quid per person! The total cost of doing ours was - 24 online, 40 at the embassy and 90 at the FC office - bearing in mind these charges will still be applied on top of the agency fee anyway! It took us less than a week to get ours from applying online!

Congratulations you now have your visas! Book your flights, Saudi Airlines are great when they are good! We have had the odd problem with them, but this was on one journey, they have good food, great leg room, they are good with kids and if you register yourself as an Alfursan member you get an extra 10 kg of luggage too! As far as airlines go nowadays I would say these are one of the better ones! (also the cheapest!)

So what do you pack?! This obviously depends on where you are going! We are in the mountains so the climate is a lot more temperate that places like Jeddah. We packed mostly summer clothes and just a few warm things to keep us going in the beginning. Clothes are amazingly cheap here, so you can always pick up a few things once you are here.

Remember NO alcohol, pork or porn!!! They won't just take it you will spend the night in jail and be sent back home! LOL!

Useful things we have bought back with us that we wished we had bought before - gravy granules, Hp sauce and oxo cubes - stock cubes here are quite salty - stuffing, some home comforts, pictures and things, remember you wife is probably going to be at home with the kids all day and won't know anyone at first - she WILL nest! Those nesting instincts that kick in at the end of pregnancy well expect the same sort of behaviour! She needs to feel at home, make her mark on your new home in whatever way possible. Bring some DVD's, for the kids especially, and a few for yourselves. Remember it will take you a week or so to settle in and get your bearings, finding out where to get the good food, the nice decorations for the house and the cheap DVD copies!

Once you land you will go through immigration - if you land during Salah it could take a little bit longer. You will need to fill out a white immigration card you get these from the desk as you enter. Don't be intimidated, people here are really nice, especially when you have children with you ask them where they want you to queue. At immigration they will just check your visas, and take a picture of the adults and finger prints. Once at the desk it takes about 10 mins. Make sure any female of about 13 or over wears an Abaya, for you wife she may feel more comfortable wearing a head scarf, I had one just loosely covering my head, I still have no idea how to wear it properly! In the UK I would suggest EBay for getting an Abaya, they really do have some nice ones, make sure it is black, but it is OK to have some detail on it, I have ones with beading and sequins etc, makes you feel a little more feminine! Also when you collect your luggage you may have a guy come to you with a trolley - the general rule seems to be about 10 - 20 SAR per trolley if they are taking it for you, but don;'t feel obliged if you don;t want them to then don't but 10 SAR is less than 2quid and you may be tired by this point!

Then that's it guys you are in Saudi Arabia - Welcome!

Presumably you will have arranged with your new employer to be collected from the airport etc. You will get to your compound. Now remember EVERYONE who is there has once been in exactly the same position as you! When we first arrived we were so bloody tired and were in temporary accommodation we could have cried, after a good sleep and a grocery shop things were much better!

Ask someone to help you to get to a grocery store, people here were amazing, they told us to call them when we were ready and they would take us. Maybe it's a mum thing but if i have a fridge and cupboard full I feel much happier and secure! This is a huge change for you guys, it's great but there will always be a period of adjustment. Ask about the compound, get information about where things are, what you can use and when, all compounds are different. We are on a Western compound, small but charming, with very few westerners! But western rules apply! Eg. dress etc.

Give yourself time to settle once you arrive. Trust me we did things in such a huge rush we barley caught our breath, but when we got here we settled in quite quickly, but there will always be the odd culture shock! All the shops close for Salah, it is possible to get daytime shopping in one you have settled and got used to it. And one culture shock for the ladies, they don't sell Tampax here! Well no where in our area anyway! Maybe they will in Jeddah etc but down here in the south in the mountains, no where! If it bothers you stock up before you go!

Well guys, I hope tis has been of some help if you are planning on moving here! There is a lot to take in, but once here it is worth it! The way of life is so different. We are loving EVERY minute so far. If you have any questions or your wife wants to talk to another wife over here god I wish I had been able to!) then you can email through fb, and between me and my hubby we will answer anything we can! I will list some websites below! Travel safe and Enjoy, working and living abroad can be the most amazing thing you will ever do in your life, just relax and take it step by step!

Sunday, 10 January 2010

The One With The White Christmas!

Well, as you will all know by now alot of effort went into getting home for Christmas, the question is was it worth it?

Answer, most definitely!

Our Christmas celebrations began in Saudi, this is far easier said than done! Luckily for us they had just celebrated Eid so there was plenty of tinsel and colourful decorations around. After spending very little we got to work on making the house as Christmassy as one can when the sun is blazing outside. Jason 'obtained' some Christmas music from the Internet, we managed to find all of the ingredients for mulled wine, bar the alcohol and we were set!

A few hours later and a lot of nauseating Christmas wailing to Band Aid and suchlike we had our own version of a little grotto!!! If you thought the travelling was a mission then you havent tried to get into the Christmas spirit respectfully in a Muslim country!

We were however still minus a tree. Now that is one thing you are certainly not going to find around here! Not unless you have a rather fantastic South African friend who has a little secret in her closet! A Christmas tree!!! And so graciously lent this to us for the forseable season!

So now we are set with our Christmassy house, we have somehow managed to do the present shopping with the kids, without them actually realising what we were up too, obviously the lack of red suit and sack put them off the scent. But what to do now eh? Normally we would go our for Christmas drinks, maybe the odd meal or party. Mmmmmm, not so much of that going on here, so we created our own.

Yes we had a little Christmas party, complete with mince pies, completely made from scratch, sausage rolls made with beef sausages, which are surprising the same in taste as pork!? We had plenty of mulled wine, non alcoholic of course, a chocolate log, Christmas music and most importantly guests!

It was fabulous! Arranging such a thing in the afternoon in the UK would probably nor be received with as much 'get up and go' as we had here. Maybe it's because we do have to make our own entertainment and are grateful for it and make the very most of it! I was overwhelmed with how it was accepted! We even had pressies, and that is ALWAYS a good thing! People had a nice red glow in their cheeks from the cinnamon and nutmeg and full tummies from the food, aside from falling out the door into a taxi and waking with a hangover it was just like a Christmas do in the UK, only this was better. We were from England, Wales, South Africa and Pakistan, and it was such a wonderful mix, and everyone seemed so relaxed, and as a hostess I was overjoyed!

Once we arrived in England, and more to the point to my Dad's house we had only 2 days to get anything else we wanted for Christmas and with the snow looking like it was going to cripple us any minute we had to go the day that we arrived! Oh yes a busy town centre after arriving at 4 am! I am sure the kids will be angels! LOL! Well all things considered they weren't too bad. First stop get the kids some coats! It was so bloody cold I thought I was going to be reported to social services taking the kids out dressed as they were poor little things! We went through the trauma of choosing a coat, which trust me didn't end at the checkout with Grace, we went back and forth with 3 different coats for her to go back to the first choice! I then continued to go off with the kids and Jason alone to pick up a few things for each other. This was relatively painless. But OMG we were tired! The rest of that day is a blur of exhaustion and wine!

As for the rest of the kid's pressies, well Lego decided to ahve an international shortage, and as our five year old had asked only for the whole Lego city we ahd to at least attempt to get something from his list! Thank God for E-bay and also the speed of the post, bearing in mind I am sure that will be the only time I ever say that! LOL!

Just Tesco's to face now! We wrote a list and did that child free, I was sure it would be traumatic enough going to a big supermarket 2 days before Christmas! At the checkout I nearly fainted at the price of things, I have acclimatised too much to Saudi prices to cope with the UK now I'm sure! but at least we were all done! Oh, that is apart from wrapping ALL the presents! Now you must understand I am a bit of a Monica when it comes to being organised! So for me to wrap this late on was a little traumatic! That's OK, a bottle of wine, or two (I can't remember, suggesting it may have been the two!) an aunt, a niece and a husband, job done!

Christmas Eve the kids were wildly excited we went to visit some very close friends, allowed the kids to trash their house in the midst their excitement and politely left! Exhausted and tired we bathed them, got them into their Christmas Eve pj's (which is always good as they look great for the Christmas photos!) and put them to bed!

So a nice relaxing Christmas Eve with my Aunt and my Dad, the two father Christmas' we had in the house dealt with the drink and mince pies left fro them, lol, and off to bed.

Now it must be a female thing because me and my Aunt were up at 6.30, staring rather impatiently at the presents. We continued to do this for an hour and half!!! The kids finally graced us with their presence at 8 am!!!! Surely this isn't right, I am sure I was tugging at my parent's quilt from 4am at a very early age!

The first thing they looked at was of course the pile of presents - which rather worryingly we were going to have to pack to fly home! Then they noticed the mince pies and beer, it is so magical to see a child's face when they realise that their fantasy of Santa Claus is true!

Paper everywhere, 2 very happy children, a happy grandad and aunty Val with their slippers, daddy with his school stationary and slippers of course and me, well loving watching my family and feeling the warmth of that bottle of sherry that is going down rather nicely at this point!

No cooking today either, that's Granddad's job! Wonderful!

I even got a 2 hour sleep in the afternoon! It must be Christmas!

The day was lush!

After Christmas, we visited more friends, going back to Wales was strange but nice, and also visited Nan and Grandad which I was very happy about, relationships are important for children and with our families especially where we have lost important people it is vital that the children get to build these relationships with all of their family!

Christmas for us this year was important, for us to have been so far away from our families and living in a new country we needed to feel the warmth of Christmas spirit.

Even though it was epxensive, it didn't matter, even though the journeys were somewhat traumatic and long, it didn't matter, it was a different kind of Christmas that we had but it didn't matter. What mattered to us most was to be with people we love and we were happy and healthy!

Saturday, 9 January 2010

The One With All the Travelling!

So we want to go home for Christmas, that should be nice! In fact it was absolutely lovely, will talk about that later.

Firstly we need to pack; bearing in mind Father Christmas had done all his Christmas chores here in Saudi. Simple enough one would think just pack all the pressies, all unwrapped of course in case customs want to look, and that should be it, shouldn't it? No of course it wouldn't be that simple! Father Christmas over estimated the size of mommy and daddy's luggage! So we unpack the toys from the packaging, after taking photos of course so we can put it all back together in England, we fold down all the packaging and squish all the plastic down to fit in a case, lets just hope customs don't want to have a look, it will be like a jack in the box! OMG!

All 3 cases packed, hand luggage sorted, tickets, exit visas, all done - and early night and off we shall leave the compound at 5.30 am, or shall we?..............................................erm no! As transport didn't collect us until 6am and then had to collect a load more people oh of course visit hi wife before we left????? Seriously? Is this to be the beginning of a terrible journey of 2 flights and another car journey to get to my dads? Well the flights were great, couldn't have complained at all, hardly a delay, really comfy, kids were angels! Fabulous! Now this kind of traveling I can do!

Landing in Heathrow, the pilot says 'Welcome to Heathrow where the local time is 5pm and the temperature outside is...................' well I can't really remember but it was something stupidly cold! Leaving the plane greeted by some very friendly Londoners, who gently explain that there is no way we are getting home this evening! HUH? ??Oh but we are!!!!! Let’s just get our cases and get outside for a cigarette, I'm sure we will be fine!

Well how I didn’t freeze having that fag is beyond me! The kids and my dad were all overwhelmed with excitement to see each other, so were me and Jason, we decided we would display our excitement once we had replenished our nicotine supplies!

All in the car, heater on full, everyone happy, let’s go!!!!! Only a few miles up the motorway though! Was the nice Londoner right? Would we not get home this evening?!

We came off the motorway as it just wasn't moving , the radio was telling us to get off the roads, don't travel, omg we anted to get home we had been awake 24 hours by now!

After being told we couldn't get back onto a motorway, being redirected onto a housing estate at midnight at the mercy of the local residents who did a superb job of getting everyone out, we realized that nice Londoner was in fact right we wouldn’t get home that evening! But my dad has is a very determined man! And after another four hours of snow, ice, exhaustion and all the rest of us asleep he did get us home - after 10 very long hours we arrived to warmth and BEER!!!!!!

After a wonderful Christmas (a whole other post on its way later!) we then need to do this journey again, only in reverse! Now bearing in mind the UK hardly ever has proper snow does it? But we had it upon arrival, a little during our visit and then it is forecast with a vengeance for our departure! Was I stressed? Maybe a little! The thing is this wasn't the only thing to be stressed about! Joey's passport is soon to run out, our luggage was a little in the excess category, ok so it was VERY overweight! All this and we had to actually get to the airport in the first place!

So I pack the luggage, a total of 5 times. I get it to 5 cases and weighing in at a total of about 135kg - we are only allowed 120kg!!! Eek! This, by the way doesn't even include our hand luggage which is massively overweight oh and far too many pieces! We argued about it, threw things our, left some bits and pieces but in the end decided to risk it!

I called the UK passport office and foreign commonwealth to check about Joey's passport, it should be ok, mmmmmm should is not a great comforter when you could get left at the airport!! But in the end we decided to risk it!

We kept an eye on the weather, it was snowy and icy and bloody cold, but in the end decided to risk it and leave at 4am!

The morning arrived, after 3 hours sleep, with the car packed and half asleep children we braved the temperature of minus 9 and started on our way to Heathrow!

The journey went well, kids weren't too bad, they fell asleep, as did we, thank goodness my dad didn't! We arrived at Heathrow in plenty of time, dad waited while we checked in, the weight of the luggage seem to go un noticed as did Joey’s passport, our luck was on the up! Yeah right! We plan to give our coats to my dad as we don’t really need them anymore, and that’s when it all went wrong! Grace had that most elaborate tantrum known to man; my poor dad didn't even get kisses and left, probably running!

After dragging children through the airport, we had breakfast, things were calmer, we boarded the plane with no problems and up into the air we went! After a short sleep we noticed that the TV screens were not working - well some were, but of course ours weren't! So we asked about this, they re booted the system, nothing, rebooted again, nothing. Could be trade seats, not at this point as people were sleeping across all the empty ones - where the TV screens WERE working! And btw they knew about this problem before we took off! And we had all been on board an hour before we were air bound!

Obviously, a long flight, I am a little bored, the kids are VERY bored. We speak to the cabin crew, the supervisor, we kept being palmed off. Well 2 things can happen if you confine me in a small space, with no nicotine, no fresh air, being tired, with 2 wound up kids! I WILL explode, whether it be with tears or anger I can never be sure, but I will definitely pop!

At the point where I was told that I wasn't even allowed to be standing up in a plane was the moment the metaphorical explosion happened, it all ended in tears! So imagine this, I am sat on the row at the back of the plane, sobbing every possible tear my soul can find, holding Joey on my lap whilst he promptly bursts into tears, Jason is at the back of the plane making a coffee to try and calm down and Grace is causing even more mayhem in between everyone’s legs! I may have raised a smile at this picture if only I could have seen it through the waterfall of tears!

Now the man responsible for causing this delightful scene had seen me crying, and being a sensitive man, felt bad, so bad in fact he marched Joey down to the pilot, and the rest of us to first class! Profusely apologized, gave us ice cream and drinks and all the goodies that come with first class whilst our son, I hope, was merely watching the pilot and not actually flying the plane! With a tear stained face I try to be as gracious as possible, explaining I am a woman and am emotional at the best of times, Jason apologizes for his highly strung whilst and jests all his needs now is a cigarette, lol. Lets just say what can be done will be done! And finally calm and tranquility descended on the ranks! Oh and by the way, first class is very nice!

All we had to dread now was immigration and customs and we would be safely in Saudi. Well that was a breeze. Our lay over was to be over 12 hours, the airline is supposed to sort out your accommodation, yeah right, to no avail so we booked into the airport hotel, discounted because of Jason's job, always a bonus! Then we go for some dinner, works our hellishly expensive when it’s for four people but while we were there we were finally reunited with some friendly faces. A drink, some nicotine and a good chat later, we ate and went to sleep.

Up very early for our connecting flight, paid 180 SAR for our breakfast - almost as much as the bloody room! We get to checking in plenty of time for our flight to Abha. Plenty of time that is if you are not going to be messed around! Oh yes, took them over half and hour to check us in because of an error on their system, so we get checked in to try and go through security to be told we can't, to then be escorted back being told we can, to get to the gate and be told they won't let us on the flight! WHAT!!!!!!! We HAVE to get on that flight, we have transport collecting us and the next one isn't for four hours! Nope after an argument we go back to check in, another argument and still nope - although surprisingly they seem to have enough time to get our luggage back off the plane but not us on it? hmmmmmm?!

Needless to say we were not amused. So which metaphorical explosion was on its way this time I wonder? Well my dear friends, you will be pleased to know it was anger!!! Oh yes, this mommy was PISSED! I made a scene, I shouted, I told them exactly what I thought of all the errors of their airline up until now, and then I got a phone call whilst waiting for the supervisor, then I'm afraid I let the side down, my rage once again turned to tears! Oh dear! My poor friend, I'm sure, could barely understand a word I was saying, I'm not sure anyone would have by this point! I was tired, in need of some proper food, a damn good bath and my children home!!!

After much persuasion, we were given food vouchers for the kids, not however put on the next flight, but the one after that, which was then delayed! This time we made sure we were at that gate 2 hours before take off - no one was stopping us getting on this flight, even if I flew the plane myself! The only problem with being at the gate that earl is that you cannot go outside for a cigarette, in these stressful situations I am sure even the non smokers out there would have lit up! So kitted out in my abaya I figure what the hell, I go into the smoking room which, mmmm, un surprisingly was filled with men, during which time I heard a rather musical chorus of tut tut's but what the hell, I am sure these men did not wish to be on the receiving end of my emotional time bomb!

On the plane, OMG, a very tired and trying daughter of mine decided she wanted to let the entire plane and its crew very aware that she also was not happy, I should have stayed in that business class seat I had all to myself!! (although marital guilt just wouldn't allow me to!)

Finally landed in Abha, nearly home, hooray!!!!!!

Our baggage, first off, bloody marvelous!

Outside fresh air, where's the transport to collect us?

Ermm, well all our phone calls have completely drained our phones, I have barely enough to call a friend, and get her number off the phone. Wonderfully her husband calls transport to tell them. to our horror we discover they left the airport only fifteen minutes ago!!! OMG - could this man not read didn’t he not see our flight had been delayed? How exactly did he think we were going to get home? Walk???? Not with our overloaded cases! Which also, may I add, prevented us from being able to get into a taxi even if we were allowed to get one? So a very cross mommy again! I have the driver's number I will bloody speak to him, and that I did! After asking some rather pleasant rent a car men if I could borrow their phone! I did pre warn them that I wasn't particularly lady like when I was angry and they were about to witness and very cross English women in full swing, they seemed Ok with that, so I let rip! And persuasively informed the driver he had better be there in 30 minutes!

it took him 35! Do you think he was mocking me?

Finally we arrived home after 2 days of hard traveling, rather battered and tired.

A wonderful angel had prepared food, with dessert and drinks for us to return to. Although our poor children were so exhausted they didn't even flinch at the mention of food!

Children in bed, half in their clothes, me asleep after 10 minutes of a film, and poor Jason so stressed he won't wake up for work in the morning he can barely sleep!

So what did we learn from this experience?

Well, snow is lovely, when you want to build a snowman, not, however when you want to travel!

Airports are useful, if you want to catch a plane, not so good for a day out!

Make sure you have plenty of charge in your phone!

Bur among the negative, we did meet some very nice people. People who were prepared to help and sympathize with people in need, like lending a phone, one member of staff even gave me his mobile at one point!

But nothing is better than meeting a familiar, friendly face! So a huge thank you to those of you we met for hugs and drinks at the hotel and those of you who made sure we got home ok and kept in contact (or at least kept ringing even though our phone was off, sorry Narien and Phil!!!) and for the delicious food!