The Sound of Silence

This is supposed to be a country of endless blue skies, but I had brought the weather with me. My first day was cold and grey. The afternoon’s excitement was being taken to the Carrefour supermarket in a large mall and I needn’t have worried about not being able to get stuff here. They sold everything from cheese to Christmas trees. I want to say that I was a little disappointed but it was nice to know that some creature comforts were available.

It wasn’t long before the sun was back and I was able to explore where I am staying. Falayah was the summer residence of the ruling Quwasim family built in the 18th century and surrounded by palm gardens. In 1820 a peace treaty was signed here between the Sheikhs of the Gulf Coast and the British Government which marks the foundation of the UAE. Today all that remains of the lush palm gardens are tall stumps (a disagreement a few years ago between the current landowner and the past Sheikh resulted in the landowner cutting off the water supply). Of the important site there are three buildings: a mosque to the west, a main building where they would have lived in the east and a stone tower in the centre of the complex.

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Window of the Majlis (reception room)
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Falayah residence from the east. The minaret of the modern mosque is peeking up above the central tower in the left of the picture.

As with everywhere of archaeological importance here, the Department of Antiquities and Museums have surrounded it by a metal fence to protect it. They have chavs here too. Not exactly welcoming but a necessary evil. Their plan is to eventually turn these archaeological sites into tourist attractions. This was the original location of the National Museum which was started in 1976. The houses were built for the staff, the museum building was started and then they ran out of money. It fell into disrepair and was finally removed three weeks ago. It is in these houses that the staff of the Department of Antiquities and Museums still reside.

The compound is rather lovely, despite the constant drone from RAK’s M25. The gate used to keep out the goats and camels but since the palm garden died, there is sadly not the same wildlife problem. There are many birds and also a few cats which keep the snakes and scorpions at bay. Thankfully, I’ve yet to see either. The gate is now used to keep out the locals who come in to steal the honeycombs from the trees! At night the compound comes to life with the sound of stridulation accompanied by the motorised orchestra. Ear plugs just don’t cut the mustard and I go to bed dreaming of the sound of silence.

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House 1. My room is top right. The fence, separating the house from the road, can be seen on the right.

The Bare Necessities

I’ve been rather tardy with this blog of late – much of that is down to feeling better and having too much to do before I left. Tax return. Turns out (when reading the small print) that rather than being able to shove 30kg in the hold and carry on a suitcase with everything but the kitchen sink, I only have a one 7kg cabin bag option. Bugger. Let that be a lesson to anyone reading this. Always double check well in advance! My carefully selected summer wardrobe filled with both work and casual clothes (which I had been putting off packing until the last minute to reduce creasing) took three days to whittle down into something that would happily fit into big bird (the name I’d given to my shiny new yellow suitcase). Now, I’m not known for travelling light so this was a real problem. Several headaches later, and the night before I was due to leave, after I had cried in frustration and repacked for the umpteenth time, I decided that if I needed anything else I would just have to send for it!

It turned out that my case was not too heavy. Phew. The machine gobbled it up and for the first time in days I could relax. I can see why people are asked to only bring the essentials into the cabin. The overhead lockers are the size of a shoe box, although big enough to stuff in the small child that was kicking the back of my seat.

I flew Emirates and, although I wasn’t sitting near Jennifer Aniston, nor was I offered a Bellini from a silver tray whilst everyone boarded, I was given a hot towel about twenty minutes after we took off.  Menus were handed out around at 11 and the food was better than your average economy fare: smoked salmon starter (which I left) followed by lamb cutlets and couscous and then a chocolate brownie with salted caramel sauce. There was also proper cutlery no less! I watched my way through several awful films and then gazed at the scenery below from the plane cam. It was thrilling to be able to see something other than a half-obscured view over the wing.

The legends of Daedalus and Icarus and Eilmer of Malmesbury, an 11th century monk who, as a young man, tried to fly from the tower of Malmesbury Abbey and spent the rest of his life a cripple after breaking both of his legs when he crash landed, not only show early contenders for the Darwin Awards but also prove that from the earliest times humans have craved the ability to soar like the birds. It wasn’t until 1903 that the Wright brothers piloted the first plane and the rest, as they say, is history.

What I hadn’t expected was that it gets dark around 5ish so for stretches there was nothing to see. Then the lights of Dubai began to twinkle in the inky blackness and there really was no turning back.

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Dubai International Airport is pretty much like any other. I’m not sure what I was expecting, but being Dubai, I think I expected something outlandish. Or the occasional cheetah. I picked up my original visa, had my eyes scanned, collected Big Bird and it was about 10pm before I finally met my new colleague and midnight by the time we arrived at the compound. I knew it was beside a busy road but I hadn’t anticipated it being a stone’s throw from one of the busiest roads in RAK. This is apparently quiet now that the truck road has been built so there is no longer a constant stream of lorries juddering past day and night (there is now just one every other minute).

I had imagined that the houses in the compound would be around a small central paved courtyard but it couldn’t have been further from reality. The houses were set in a row on the right-hand side of the dirt drive, behind a large gate that at first glance looked like it was leading into a building site although it was really too dark to see anything other than from the sweep of the headlights.

That night I crawled into bed and had to throw back the covers to make sure that they’d not forgotten the mattress. I pulled the blanket over my head and waited for the roar of traffic to lull me off to sleep. I may have managed to pack the bare necessities, but tonight I sure as hell wasn’t going to rest at ease. All together now…

The Wonky Parsnip

Well, now that I’m not due to fly out until the start of December, I thought I’d go back into work for the remaining two weeks. But, I’ve found myself with the most horrideous (yes, I know, but I like it) sore throat and chesty cough combo which has floored me for a week. As a teenager, when I would wander about with my friends in the bleakest of Scottish winters with nothing more than a midnight blue velvet jacket to keep me warm, fashion daahling, I was plagued with chest infections. As an adult, every time I think I’m getting a cold, it usually turns into laryngitis. Nothing a bit of honey and rest won’t cure and my nearest and dearest are even given a bit of respite from my Katesong as it was once described!

This time, just when I thought I was getting better, I started sneezing and along came a runny nose too. I know it’s still November but I could pull off a cracking Rudolph! What has this got to do with anything? Well, unable to move from my bed since last Friday without incurring a pounding headache and dizziness, I’ve managed to watch the first series of Black Books, the last three seasons of 24 and numerous I’m a Werido Look at Me type programmes on my laptop. Just when I thought I was scraping the bottom of the barrel, I discovered Hugh’s War on Waste.

It was a great series but what a shame it was only two episodes- although  it made for some uncomfortable viewing. I’m not sure whether it was because I am guilty of some of this too or whether it was just watching the sheer volume of food that is being wasted by the supermarkets – sometimes before they even reached the shelves, but I urge you all to watch and then sign up to #wastenot. I couldn’t help but feel for the Norfolk family who, after more than thirty years of growing parsnips for Morrisons, have downed tools for the last time because cosmetic standards for produce, yes that is an actual thing, means that any oddly-shaped, slightly bruised, wrongly sized or “wonky” parsnips have to be discarded or the supermarket will return them. It is criminal that so much food, and it’s not just parsnips, are being turned back into the ground before they reach the shelves because according to the supermarket we, the consumers, only want food that looks “perfect”. When there are so many starving people in the world it is scandalous that millions of tonnes of surplus, still edible, food is being binned by supermarkets each year. But why has it come to this that farmers are going out of business due to the supermarkets?

Once upon a time,  England was a green and pleasant land- or so writes Blake in his poem which has become the unofficial National Anthem. Back in the day, this country was a nation of farmers with roughly 75% of the population making their living off the land at the turn of the 18th century. Cottage industries sprung up which enabled families, or individuals, to make things at home such as weaving cloth, making pottery or lace to tide them over the harsh winter months. Then along came industrialisation and the dark satanic mills and boom! many cottage industries couldn’t compete with the big boys and they closed down.

Apparently, just a short leap from Blake’s home, the ‘Albion Flour Mills was the first mill to be opened in London and, being steam-powered, could produce 6000 bushels of flour per week which would make about 438,000 1lb loaves of bread, if I’ve done my maths correctly. Opponents to this mill called it “satanic” and accused the owners of using cheap imports at the expense of the British producers. This mill could quite easily have put the traditional millers out of business, except for the fire which destroyed it in 1791.

Now, I’m not advocating burning the supermarkets, but their rise since rationing ended in the 1950s have slowly killed off the high streets and are killing off the farmers too. Supermarkets wield enormous power and there is something seriously wrong when it costs more for a bottle of water than four pints of milk. Trends come and go, but the recession has seen a resurgence in recent years of the Make Do and Mend type attitudes and allotments have once again become quite fashionable as more people see the benefits of growing their own produce.

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Donald on his croft

My great-grandfather was a crofter. I was once a member of the Young Farmers club. I was also once married to an agricultural engineer, whose parents bred highland cattle- in East Anglia. Most of us can trace our ancestors to farmers. But farming is so far-removed from the majority of us these days that some people don’t even know where our food comes from! Our farming heritage is slowly suffocating and most of us don’t seem to care.

Milton Keynes Museum is currently attempting to address this. Sited on five acres in a former Victorian Model Farm, as part of the Expansion Project, it is exploring the ways the museum can show just how important farming was to the people of Milton Keynes in the past and how farming is still relevant to the community today. It’s a tall order when many agricultural museums have closed down, but the Director is determined that we can find a way to make this important story fun and exciting. Farming heritage is just as important in Ras Al Khaimah. Many people there are still employed in the traditional occupations of pearl fishing and agriculture and the National Museum is just as keen to promote and preserve this important part of its heritage.

The internet is a good source of information regarding the variety of supermarkets RAK has to offer and it seems like I shall be trading my Sainsbury’s for a Spinneys. I wonder if cosmetic standards for produce has found its way over there? I really hope not because a misshapen vegetable is always good for a laugh!

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Up on the Roof

Ras Al Khaimah means “top of the tent”. Whilst clearing the clutter, I came across this little photographic gem. IMG_1015It’s quite apt really, in light of the recent storms Abigail and Barney which have been battering parts of the UK. Taken circa 1993 after a storm (before they were named) had blown some tiles off the roof and before my father bothered with such things as health and safety, it shows me just hanging out on top of the roof as one does on possibly Scotland’s only sunny day that year. My father was outside fixing said roof and, without thought, I just climbed out of my bedroom window and joined him; like it was the most normal thing in the world for a twelve-year old to be sitting on the ridge of a roof reading a book. But thinking about it, at high school, as the only person in the school taking the subject in an attic classroom the size of a shoebox, I did manage to persuade my Classics teacher on nice days to move our lessons outside onto the fire escape on the school’s roof. We used to read Aristophanes and Sophocles in the sunshine whilst we munched fudge or the Geography teacher’s home-made tablet and he drank tea, so clearly reading at height became something I was rather partial to. As an aside, I once named a cat Antigone (after Sophocles’ play) when I was a receptionist for Cats Protection. That cat, Anti-gone. Does it mean it’s still here?

But what goes up, must come down and the bravado that made me climb out onto the roof in the first place deserted me when it came to climbing back down the steep pitch to the window. My father left me for what seemed like hours and then reappeared with a rope which, like something out of the Westerns he is fond of watching, he lassoed around the chimney in one swift flick of his wrist. Not quite, but it adds a bit of drama to an otherwise dull struggle with a knot. Then he tied the other end around my waist and somehow supported the rope as he made me abseil off the roof. I’m sure a normal parent wouldn’t allow it and my mother, having come out to see what was going on, gave him the look and then went back indoors. It really could have gone hideously wrong, but after about ten minutes of me throwing a mini wobbly I either eventually trusted him and so made the leap of faith, or he got fed up waiting and just threw me off. Either way, it was actually rather fun. I would have done it again but my mother then gave me the look as well. I don’t think that there is much abseiling to be done in RAK, however there are a myriad other activities from camel racing to water sports and everything in-between.

The National Museum, where I’ll be working,  is situated in the old Fort, once home to the ruling family. It’s close to the sea and, like the other traditional houses in RAK, it’s mostly built out of coral stone a light-weight, yet insulating material. This means that buildings are kept cool in the summer and warm in the winter, although I understand that their winters  are still hotter than a British summer! A number of stark two-storey buildings which gleam brightly in the Arabian sunshine join to surround a courtyard filled with lush vegetation. There are also two look-out towers on opposite corners and a wind tower. The latter was ye olde air-conditioning unit, designed to catch the wind from all directions and channel it into the room below. When the weather turned chilly or it began to rain, the sides could be covered with matting.

Unlike in the UK where flat roofs are just asking for trouble- especially when it rains, in RAK, the roofs are flat and the levels are serviced by a series of stairs. Add a few scatter cushions and a nice glass of iced tea and I could see myself enjoying a balmy evening with a book up there. When I’m done, I could abseil off the tower, but for the sake of my dignity, I think I’ll just take the stairs.

 

 

Excuse Me While I Just Walk My Cheetah

I love cats, but I’m not a crazy cat lady- yet. I have two, which I hand-reared from two weeks old, and ever since the first moment when I held them in the palm of my hand and felt their tiny needle-like claws pricking my skin as they clung to me whilst suckling from the bottle, I have run the gamut of emotions like any parent who loves their child. But I am well aware that they are still cats. I often come across comments on websites where owners mention their pet(s) by name, as if that is relevant to the article about the costs of transporting pets abroad. Who even cares that they are called Cosmic Creepers or Bruiser? (They’re not, by the way). Thankfully, my wonderful boyfriend will still be here to look after them but I will miss them.  So, a friend suggested that I whilst I’m away I could always keep myself company with a pet cheetah. At first I thought he was pulling my leg, but no. It seems that for the super-rich, or stupid, big cats are the accessory for the aspiring Emirati millionaire. Now, working in museums, even in the Emirates, I might be about to rub shoulders with the Royal family and some millionaires, but I doubt I’ll have a spare £6000 to purchase one in the first place and quite frankly, even if I did, I’m not sure flats and cheetahs really go together. Think of the size of the litter tray!

It turns out that an hour’s drive from Ras Al Khaimah (RAK) there is a Natural History Museum in the emirate of Sharjah. I visited over 50 museums whilst undertaking research for the Milton Keynes Museum Expansion Project and despite millions of pounds being spent on sexy new galleries that ticked all the worthy boxes, they were empty in favour of those filled with stuffed animals. Now, I must confess to loving a nice bit of taxidermy. I really don’t know why. I love animals, abhor hunting, but find it rather pleasing to be able to look at the fur and feathers close up. They really are an art-form in themselves. I had always assumed that, a bit like with mummification, they were preserved, their organs scooped out and replaced with sawdust, add a couple of googly eyes and voila! Not so. There is a bit more to it than that.

1454580_10155194829320434_7318083326519356019_nTaxidermy became popular in the early 19th century and the Victorians loved to anthropomorphise their stuffed animals. The taxidermist Walter Potter’s creations have to be seen to be believed (kitten croquet and a squirrel tea party are just a couple of gems) and I wonder if that’s where the idea of Sylvanian Families came from? But there is something rather beautiful about the way he has captured the animals, albeit dressed like humans and not quite resembling the animals that they once were. It’s absurd and yet compelling. Just like the Victorian penchant for wearing a stuffed animal on their head and passing it off as a hat. My, what ever is that you are wearing, Constance? Winifred, it is my new squirrel fascinator. Is it not just marvellous! 

 A lot of skill is required to create a stuffed, sorry, mounted animal if it is not to resemble Milton Keynes Museum’s Angry Badger, whose face has been contorted in such a way that it looks so far removed from an actual badger as to be almost another species. Some people do this on purpose, but mostly it’s just the work of a rubbish taxidermist. Anyway, so while I have to explore the ways to increase visitors to the RAK National Museum, introducing some taxidermy seems like the obvious way forward. I could begin it by stuffing the cheetah shot for mauling its owner in the car park of the Dubai Mall. Well, it’s bound to happen sooner or later, isn’t it? I’m sure there are plenty of DIY taxidermy videos on youtube. In the meantime, this is as close to a cheetah as I’m going to get.

Face to face with a cheetah at Oxford’s Natural History Museum

Living Life in Limbo

Since that phone call in August, my life has been a bit of a whirlwind. Work, PhD, performing as a rather psychotic dancer, Judy Turner, with Company MK’s production of A Chorus Line and seeking permission for the sabbatical. As far as the UAE were concerned, they wanted me to sort everything- yesterday. So, somehow, I managed to seek permission from everyone in record time. But everything happens bukra insh’Allah as they say there, “tomorrow, God willing” and so now, I wait.

It’s a bit like sitting immobile in a room with a ticking clock the only sound. The world is going on around me and yet I’m powerless to do anything except watch others getting on with their lives. I was due to fly out at the start of November, once the visa was sorted, and everything would be taken care of for me; I just had to turn up at the airport. So, it was agreed that my last day of work would be the 31st October. I said my goodbyes and threw a dust sheet over my life here. No more rehearsals, no more work, no physical contact with my friends in the outside world. I would go cold turkey as I wasn’t going to have a support network for the next four months. But come on, this is life, nothing ever goes according to plan!

The Department of Antiquities and Museums were still waiting for the visa to be issued but could I come on, say, the 15th? At least I had a date now. Oh, and can you sort out your own airfare which would then be reimbursed. You’re only telling me this NOW? Fine. So, I thought I would use my time constructively and finish the little jobs that I keep putting off. One of which was to sort through all of my clothes. Now, I have a lot of clothes. I aspire to be a minimalist. People have laughed in my face when I have said that. Why? Because I have too much stuff. I am a hoarder. I have kept every birthday card that was ever sent to me, every ticket stub from the concerts I’ve been to and every newspaper clipping that featured my friends. Mementos of my life’s journey.Why? I could blame my parents. Growing up with their mentality that nothing should be thrown away as it may come in handy – even though it rarely does (I still carefully open presents so that I can reuse the wrapping paper). But the real reason is that I’m a Social Historian. Everything that I cling on to has some sentimental value but in the future these things will help to shape the picture of everyday life.

It makes sense, I suppose, that I have found myself in my line of work. I recently co-curated an exhibition entitled How Extraordinary the Ordinary: Exploring How Everyday Life has Changed. The exhibition was about one family spanning three generations and over a century living in one town. They threw nothing away from accounts and receipts to diaries and wedding dresses. I’m not that bad. But what struck me was that everyone’s stories are unique and yet strangely similar. Every visitor to that exhibition could relate to aspects of that family’s life. Maybe one day someone will be examining my life in the same way. “Look, her Primary 3 report card says Kate has a sunny disposition.” I’d always equated that with Mary Poppins and so I would spend many an hour trying to click my fingers at my bedroom in the vein attempt that it would tidy itself.

So, my clothes. Well, for some reason I find them the hardest to deal with. Most of them, I wouldn’t be seen dead wearing. But yet, they have some strange hold over me which compels me to assign them to boxes under the bed, rather than to bags heading to the charity shop. You never know when you might need that turquoise lycra leotard last worn when I was 14. Don’t laugh, it happened recently. As a result, the entire upstairs of the house is taken over by my clothes. My mission in these two weeks was to sort this out once and for all. It would be no exaggeration to say that I have been actively accumulating clothes and shoes since 1998 (it was a passive process prior to that). The vast majority could be items I’d only worn once for high days and holidays. You have to keep these for ‘good’. My Mother would say when I was a child. Well, like tomorrow, ‘good’ rarely comes and so they just don’t get worn. I’ve even got things that belonged to my Mother and Grandmother (although the gold lace shoes my grandmother wore in the company of the Queen in the 1960s still get a regular outing).

Something had to be done. So, I did my research and pulled out all of my clothes and heaped them in the middle of the floor. The entire master bedroom had turned into an ocean of fabric and I felt like I was drowning. I managed to grab onto something solid, a pair of jeans, and from there I sorted into heaps. I spent an entire week washing and drying.  Things I was never going to wear, ever, I put straight into a black bin bag headed for the charity shop and before I knew it I had managed to get rid of six bin bags stuffed with clothes. It felt amazing. Unfortunately, I was now left with the arduous task of ironing and putting everything else away.

The visa didn’t arrive until the 13th- along with an apologetic, I’m afraid I will be in Pakistan for a week then there is national holiday. Can you come for the 5th? Okay, not a problem. At least it would now give me a bit longer to put everything away. “Oh, Mary Poppins…”

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Travelling is in the Blood

Remember, grab your future with both hands and mold it into what you want it to be. It’s the determined who create the life they want, while the idle sit by and watch it fade away into nothingness. The future belongs to the exceptional individuals who can see the light of the future at the end of the tunnel.

James D. Watson

I come from a family of old colonials who have put down roots all around the world. Since I was a child I longed to be part of what felt like a special club. I wanted to share in that experience, not just sit and be enthralled by their stories of living abroad. It feels odd to think that in a matter of weeks something I never expected to happen will become a reality and I will be able to create my own stories to add to the family tome.

My Mother’s family spent twenty years in Africa before returning to Scotland and my Mother always thought of Africa as home. I’ve never been but I grew up surrounded by the remnants of their lives there: the paintings, carvings, Mvuli wood furniture, the ghosts of their past that were so much part of my life that I felt Africa was also a part of me.

My Grandfather was head of Music at the Prince of Wales School (now Nairobi School) in Kenya, my Aunt was born there and my Mother once held the record for the high-jump at Kenya High School (she had a small tarnished silver cup with her name on it that we used to collect dust and stray paperclips or marbles). I heard fabulous stories of summer holidays spent at the house in Mombasa with the white sands, the time 24 dozen eggs on the roof of the car hadn’t been strapped down and the first bump in the road sent them crashing into the dirt and how during the Mau Mau Uprising my Mother was told to clear her school locker in Nairobi and return home as quickly as she could, so she took a short-cut on her bicycle through the lions with her possessions including oboe, hockey and lacrosse sticks banging against her legs as she peddled as fast as she could, “If Gran knew, she would have had a fit!” my Mother would say.

Staff of the Prince of Wales School (now Nairobi School) in 1966. My grandfather is on the front row far right.

My Aunt and Uncle live in a fabulous townhouse in the outskirts of Paris. My gorgeously handsome Cousins are French and so effortlessly cool. There are four years between us and I’m the oldest. I remember the eldest, whom Grandpa used to call Rambo, once remarking when he was about eight, “You look like Barbie!”  That was the only time that I ever looked cool in their eyes. Fast forward fifteen years and he is a jazz pianist and composer making a name for himself with his fiancé, who is an amazing jazz singer, spending time working in Bali and the youngest was in a rock band that supported Iggy Pop. How could I compete with that?

My Great Aunt and Uncle lived in India, Iran and Iraq. My favourite story was when they were throwing a dinner party in India and had requested a pig’s head to be brought in on a silver tray with parsley behind its ears and an orange in its mouth. That evening it was carried in with great ceremony and the bearer, in his white top and gloves, proudly wore parsley behind his ears with an orange in his mouth. Their children and grandchildren have lived all over the world including Hong Kong, France, Singapore and Australia.

As for me, well I have always resided in the UK. My biggest adventure was to move from Scotland to England. Compared to my cousins, it always seemed that I was rather boring. I mean, maybe they have heard stories about me and think wow! that sounds amazing, or they’d like to live somewhere else but for me, the idea of living abroad was always shrouded in mystique and I never thought that I would actually be in a position to say that I was soon to be joining the Expat club.

An amazing opportunity has been offered to me; I could play it safe and turn it down, in a similar vein to when I turned down a job at the British Museum as a student (again by some strange coincidence I was there as a result of this same lecturer) in order to pursue an MA. No regrets. And my story could be wistful, I wonder what if?  But life is what you make of it. I don’t want a life of what ifs, so this shy girl is going to step out of her comfort zone. I am going to grab my future with both hands. It’s about time that I stop living with the memories of other people’s lives and start to create my own.

A Blast from the Past

I work in heritage. More precisely, with three Museums and two heritage organisations in Milton Keynes. It was in the centre:mk shopping centre on a Thursday afternoon during the first week of August, in the middle of the chaos that ensues when mounting an exhibition, that I received an email from work asking me to get in touch with someone that I’d not heard from in over a decade: my college tutor and archaeology lecturer. At once my skin began to prickle. What had I done?  Had he discovered that it had been me that had laced his wine with a ¼ bottle of vodka at the third year Tutor-Tutee formal…? I drafted a one-line response:

Hiya, 
Hope all is well! I was just forwarded your email. How can I help?                                                         All the best,

His reply was almost instantaneous. There was a possible job coming up in the Gulf and he wanted to ask my advice about recruitment. Phew. I was off the hook. He would call later to discuss. That call came on Sunday 9th August. Again in the shopping centre, surrounded by piles of wood, archive boxes of artefacts and Notbob, the 6ft papier mache and faux fur mammoth (complete with tusks) that we had just installed in the window for the children’s archaeology exhibition. “Is it convenient to speak now?” Umm, yes.

And so began a conversation that would ultimately find me jokily uttering, “it sounds amazing, when can I start?” Really, would you? You were just who I was looking for but thought you’d be settled and agreeing to meet in Durham to discuss the finer points of how I could help him to find a suitable candidate to run the Ras Al Khaimah National Museum if I was unable to take a year’s sabbatical. I’m not entirely sure why I agreed to it, but opportunities like this don’t always fall in your lap, so before I had time to think, I’d booked a train ticket and was stepping out onto the platform at Durham.

It was a gloriously hot day when he met me off the train and we walked into town past such familiar landmarks that brought back pangs of nostalgia. Durham is beautiful and I am so lucky to have spent four years living there. We spoke about the job over lunch at a cafe on Framwellgate Bridge and then spent the afternoon catching up on a country walk before we went for a curry. I had already asked work about taking a year sabbatical and that idea went down like a lead balloon. What about four months? Write a 10-year strategic plan for the Museum. Will give you a chance to see if you like it over there. If you do, stay. If not, your report can be used by the person that is ultimately appointed. Good idea.  

The four-month sabbatical was given the go-ahead and before I knew it I’d received an email: Congratulations, the Sheikh was impressed by your CV, you’ve been appointed the Director of the National Museum. Gulp. What have I just signed up for? Over the course of a few short weeks a blast from the past had me throwing caution to the wind, fulfilling a life-long ambition and opening up the future to endless possibilities.

From Mammoths to Milton Keynes. Notbob takes pride of place in the finished exhibition in centre:mk.