Tuesday, November 28, 2006

Maneki Neko

Isn't the internet a wonderful thing? I picked up this gizmo in Bangkok and all I could find out there is that it is a Japanese good luck mascot known as a "Treasure-beckoning Cat". Kind of funny that a Japanese mascot is made in China and sold in Thailand. A later Google search told me that the cat is called Maneki Neko, and that the left arm waving is to attract customers, and if you get one with the right arm waving then that's the one that brings good luck to its owner. Needless to say I got the customer-attracting one and not the treasure-beckoning one!

Check out the video anyway. One AA battery will keep the arm a-beckoning for weeks!

Click To Play
Get one of these cute kitties and they will tirelessly beckon good luck your way (as long as the battery lasts anyway)

Here's a photo of the instructions on the back of the box: a prime candidate for the "Lost in Translation" files:

Other cool Maneki Neko sites on the web:

Monday, November 27, 2006


:-) I'm published!
A few weeks ago I submitted six images to the British Journal of Photography's website, for the Reader's Gallery, and the other day I received an email telling me they'd been accepted for publication! I'm chuffed to bits at having some of my photos published on their site. Here are the links:

Barcelona sculpture
Wedding Chapel
Fishing Boats
Long-tailed boats
Fasting Buddha

:-( Close, but no cigar
I also entered the BJP Anual Photographic Award competition at around the same time. You had to submit a body of 20 - 30 photographs that could be considered a single body of work; in other words there had to be some kind of linking theme. The prize was a cash award plus having your work displayed in an exhibition in London., My photos were good but I took them from my existing collection rather than shooting something specially for the competition, so I didn't really throw my all into it, whereas there must have been hundreds of entries from professionals too. Needless to say, I didn't win.

Blog Holiday

:-) A welcome break
Just got back from my week in Dubai to attend the GITEX trade show, and an enforced few days off from blogging. I really enjoy blogging (once I decide what the heck to write about) so was dubious about how it would feel to leave it alone for a few days. It turned out to be a very busy week and I didn't get time to think about it much, but I have to admit it was nice to have a few days off from the pressure -- self-imposed I know, but pressure nonetheless -- to write something witty, wise, or both every day.
So now I'm back with my blogging batteries recharged, and with a bunch of topics queueing up. Right, back to my typing finger exercises...

:-( Borrowed time
Of course, the risk of not blogging for a few days is that my readers will get fed up of waiting for something new and will go surfing off somewhere else for their entertainment. If truth be told I don't know exactly how many readers I have; it could be hundreds or it could be just a handful of die-hards, but whatever the number I feel a sense of duty to keep posting new stuff to keep you interested. Probably just as well I was too busy to think about it the last week, because if I had I would probably have started fretting about my dwindling audience.
Well I'm back now, and I'll try not to leave you alone for so long again. Please don't leave me! (sob)

Friday, November 17, 2006


Off to GITEX later today for a week. Back near the end of the month

Tuesday, November 14, 2006

Happy Birthday / Sad Launch

:-) Karen's 40th
I'd like to wish my lovely wife Karen a very happy 40th birthday today. She opened all her presents a couple of hours ago and is thrilled with them all, including three pieces of Tiffany jewellery and a new mobile phone. Now relaxing in front of the TV after a dinner of Roast Beef and Yorkshire Pudding, so you'll excuse me if I nod off in a mo...zzzzz

:-( Microsoft's attempt to muscle in on digital music
Today also marks the launch of the Zune digital media player by Microsoft; a device that many people in the consumer electronics press are dubbing the "iPod killer".

Microsoft and I do not get on, as most people who know me will tell you; I do like to rant on about their monopolistic practices, and reliance on advertising dollars and marketing muscle to shore up a mediocre product. I am concerned that, with Zune, Microsoft may be in a position to hurt Apple's position as leader in the digital music player market, and I do not think they deserve to succeed in that endeavour. Now, the Zune may well be a great new product; I haven't bothered to research it well enough to judge, but that's not the point. If any company other than Microsoft brought out a music player to rival the iPod I would be all in favour of letting market forces do their job, and may the best man win. When the rival is Microsoft, however, the game changes. All of a sudden, the new contender does not necessarily have to win on features, design aesthetic or usability; just because it's a Microsoft product it gets a leg-up on the ladder to success, much like the spoilt brat kids of well-to-do families have an automatic advantage over "the rest of us".
You may be thinking of buying a digital music player for Christmas; either for yourself or for a loved one. All I would ask is that you do not buy Zune JUST because it is from Microsoft. That is how they've got to the undeserved position they hold in the market today. Instead, compare products feature by feature, compare design, compare usability and overall user experience. If the Zune still wins after all that, then I have lost my argument and would stand aside while you go and buy one, but I don't think I'll lose. Apple's iPods have iconic status in the design world, they are reliable, good value for money, and the iTunes Music Store provides a fair, customer-friendly way to buy music on-line.

Apple deserves top slot in this market -- Microsoft does not.

Thursday, November 09, 2006

Travels / Knackered

Read on for my sort-of valid reasons why I haven't been blogging lately

:-) Off again
Went to a birthday party last night and didn't get home 'til 3am, woke up this morning feeling a bit fragile, AND we're flying to Bangkok this afternoon, so I'm tapping this out while the family is whizzing around me packing and tidying up, and glaring angrily at me for not pulling my weight.
I may post something from Bangkok or may wait 'til we get back Monday.

:-( Tired
I've been feeling very drowsy the last few days; almost like jet-lag only it's all lag and no jet! It's probably down to a mixture of partying and bad diet, so totally self-inflicted, so I'm not looking for sympathy (although I'll gratefully accept any that might be available!), just really trying to explain the recent lack of blogging.

I need a holiday... Oh, I'm about to have one!

Tuesday, November 07, 2006

Head full of nothing

Sorry everyone, my blogging head seems to have deserted me the last couple of days. It could be a side-effect of my torn calf muscle (which is feeling much better, thanks for asking), or it could be pressure of work, or it could be just plain laziness: I have been feeling pretty tired lately.
Anyhow, I've got lots of things I want to write about but right now I can't summon up the time and/or the energy. There are important things I want to write about at length, but they're in the "blocked" category right now, and there are also day-to-day happenings that I could write about quite quickly, but I don't think they'd be very interesting or entertaining, hence this placeholder/apology.

Will definitely write something of substance tomorrow, because on Thursday we're off on our "free" trip to Thailand, so tomorrow's post will the the last for a few days.

Sunday, November 05, 2006

Retail Joy / Pet Problem

:-) "Can I help you?"
Something rare and lovely happened to me yesterday: I had a pleasant exchange with a Saudi shop assistant. This happens so rarely I feel like celebrating. Normally the Saudi men (women are not allowed to work in Saudi, with only very few exceptions) standing behind the counter have a look of miffed resignation on their faces, like they've been forced to get jobs by their Dads or something (The same is not true of immigrant shop staff by the way; Indian, Filipino or Pakistani staff are generally more happy to be there).
Today however, I visited a music shop to buy a set of guitar strings for Elliot, and I met a very nice young man who greeted me with a smile, spoke very good English, and most importatnly actually knew something about what he was selling. The early part of my career was in retail so I'm a bit of a stickler for customer service. This shop will definitely be getting more of my business.

:-( Naughty Bunny
Dougie the rabbit bit Abigail this morning. I'm sure he was just playing; he gets very excited when he sees her each morning, because he knows it means he's about to get fed. She wasn't badly hurt, but he's in our bad books at the moment nevertheless.

Now... where's that recipe for Rabbit Stew & Dumplings?

Saturday, November 04, 2006

"White House My Arse!" / No Charge

:-) Evening in
Got a quiet evening in planned tonight. Nothing to do but sit in my comfy IKEA chair and watch some quality TV with my feet up. If truth be told I spend a lot evenings in my comfy IKEA chair watching TV with my feet up, but tonight I've got an excuse because of my torn calf muscle.
Because the TV's such rubbish here we spend most of our viewing time on DVDs, and fortunately the Embassy DVD library is well stocked with box sets of popular series. A situation like this is great for catching up on those TV series you didn't have time to get into when they first came on, or to enjoy again those classics that you loved first time around.

At the moment for example we're splitting time between The Royle Family box set (all three series): a great comedy series that we're watching again (and that I'm copying onto my Archos PVR), and The West Wing: a superb political drama series about the President's senior staff in the West Wing of The White House. We missed this completely when it was first aired on British TV, so since we've been here we've been going through it right from the beginning of series one. We're now just a few episodes into series five. The writing and performances are superb -- but then, you've probably all known that for a long time.

:-( Car Trouble
Car wouldn't start this afternoon. It turned out to be simply a battery discharge (Elliot hadn't closed the door properly yesterday so the interior lights had been on for 24hrs). Quickly and easily solved by a friendly driver with jump leads, but nevertheless it made me feel uneasy. It's the first bit of car trouble I've had in years, and while today it happened in our own driveway I couldn't help worrying what about what would happen if we had a similar problem while on one of our desert trips: no AA here!

But then, that's why we always go in convoy.

Spoke to the Embassy's mechanic today also for advice on getting the car serviced, and he says the oil and oil filter should be changed every 5,000km! Can't believe that.

Friday, November 03, 2006

Oh Behave! / Oh My Leg!

:-) Wadi Club Ball
Went to the first ball of the season last night, on an Austin Powers theme. Everyone had a great time and we didn't get home til 4am. Full story and pictures on Neal Of Arabia tomorrow.

:-( Another Popped Calf
Remember what I did to my calf muscle back before Summer? If you recall from what happened last time, I was playing 5-a-side football at a Family Fun Day (barefoot) when my calf muscle suddenly went POP!, and it took a month to recover. Well, my other leg (the right this time) did the same thing this afternoon. The swim meet had just finished at the school, and I was walking across the playground to the toilets before heading home and as I stepped up a concrete slope... POP! again.
Sitting here once again alternating between a compression bandage and ice packs: things are not looking good for our trip to Thailand next weekend...

Thursday, November 02, 2006

Winter clothing in hot weather / Mad bloke

:-) Buying coats for winter
We all went out shopping this morning to buy winter coats, for our upcoming Christmas visit to the UK. Some people would be jealous of the almost continuous hot and sunny weather we have here in Saudi, but the English climate is actually one of the things I really miss. I always looked forward to winter more than summer, and love wearing warm and wolly winter clothes, so it was great to go out this morning to try on something other than T-shirts for a change. The air-conditioning in the shops -- and later at home -- made it comfortable to put them on, although at 35 degrees centigrade outside, in the house is the only place we can wear them at the moment.
What's funny is that the stores here, including UK chains like Debenhams and Marks & Spencer, stock a full range of winter clothes: coats, hats, scarves, gloves and boots. Sure, some expats like us buy them for our trips to colder climes, but the main reason they're there is for the Saudis, who start to feel the chill in Riyadh as the temperature falls below 25 centrigrade (how the heck to I type that little "degrees" circle on the keyboard? I keep having to write 'degrees centigrade' longhand!).

Looking forward to going back to the UK for Christmas!

:-( Deathwish
We were driving down Olaya St. this morning, when Karen noticed something frightening as we rolled to a halt at a junction. Pulling up alongside us was a Saudi family in a large white American saloon (or sedan) car; the mother in the passenger seat and three small children in the back seat with not a single seatbelt between them. But even worse, the father in the driving seat had another child -- a three-year-old girl -- on his lap, and she was steering the car!!! We gave them a wide berth as we followed them into the shopping mall's underground car park.

I hope Allah saw fit to get them all home safely...

Wednesday, November 01, 2006

Start of the Festive Season

One of the benefits/sacrifices (depending on your viewpoint) of living in Saudi Arabia is that traditional Western festivals are not observed (well, not officially anyway).

:-) Avoiding Halloween
I hate Halloween, always have done. Actually that's not true; I have a dim recollection of quite liking it as a child, and have fond memories of Halloween parties round at a friend's house where we did all the old-fashioned stuff like bobbing for apples and using tomato ketchup for blood. Since the onset of adulthood though I'd rather switch off all the lights, lock my doors and windows and hide under the bed than take part.

"Ha! Scared of monsters are you Chris?" I hear you scoff.

Well in a way, yes, although not the kind you're probably thinking of. It's the dreaded Trick or Treat isn't it? Well... isn't it? ...or is it just me? My American readers will probably switch off at this point, assuming I'm going off on some mad British rant. After all, they're famous for celebrating Halloween, and Trick or Treat in the U.S. has that "E.T. movie" image associated with it: young children being led up and down the street by Mommy, in costumes they spent months designing, knocking on neighbours' doors to be received by smiling, supportive adults who hand out home-made goodies and reminisce about "their day". What could be wrong with such a wholesome scene?

Well it ain't like that in the UK buddy. My recent Halloween memories are of local gangs of spotty teenagers terrorising the neighbourhood, their costume no more inventive than the Adidas "hoodie" they go shoplifting in, banging on the door to "Trick or Treat" you. The Treat of choice these days being hard cash, and the Trick you get for non-compliance? Eggs thrown at your front windows -- if you're lucky! They should try knocking on Michael Myers' front door; John Carpenter's "Halloween" is one of the best horror films of all time and the one positive thing I can recommend about the festival.

Yesterday was the best Halloween of my adult life: it was just an ordinary day.

:-( Missing Guy Fawkes' night
Hot on the heels of Halloween comes Bonfire Night, on November 5th. This time my fond childhood memories of Bonfire Night parties didn't fade as I grew up. Whether a private get-together in someone's back garden to let off a modest box of shop-bought fireworks, or an organised display with hundreds of paying spectators, sometimes even set to music (the fireworks, not the spectators), Bonfire Night memories are full of the heat from the flames, choosing where to stand so that the wind doesn't blow all the smoke your way (which never works), jacket potatoes, the smell of gunpowder, rain, gloves, sparklers, hot toddies, torches (flashlights), woolly hats & scarves, wellington boots, mud, and the "Ooh"s and "Aah"s of the crowd as rockets explode in the sky.

It looks like we're going to miss this too this year, although I have heard the odd rumour about an underground party being organised; ...not literally... that would be silly (and quite dangerous). You know what I mean.