Ras Al Khaimah means “top of the tent”. Whilst clearing the clutter, I came across this little photographic gem. It’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.