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Some you win, some you lose

A longer than usual gap between blog posts this time. I have been incredibly busy at work, having to lead the re-licensing processes for not one, but three different railways over the last few months. First up was the Al Mashaaer Al Mugadassah metro (the Hajj metro in Makkah) as described in the previous blog. After that it was the automated people mover system in Jeddah King Abdulaziz International Airport, Jeddah (KAIA); and then the Haramain high speed railway linking Makkah, Jeddah, KAIA and Madinah. Three completely different railways in three months. However, the process is thankfully complete and the numerous trips out to inspect them over and done with.

Meanwhile, Elaine has spent the summer at home in Biggar, catching up on some much-needed domestic tasks, and completing some medical treatment which we wouldn’t trust to the Saudi system.

I have also had a long weekend away to Lausanne, attending the World Curling Federation’s annual Congress. Previously Elaine has attended these with me, but on this occasion I was alone representing KSA. This was an amazing event, and curling as a sport was honoured to be able to use the Olympic Museum function room for a gala dinner, preceded by a private tour of the museum itself. The hour-and-a-bit we had for that served as an appetizer, this is something I’d love to return to and see properly. In the museum grounds there are statues or sculptures of every Olympic sport, and this included one of a generic female curler in white marble. Very nice. At the start of the meal I was presented with my long overdue Representative medal by the outgoing President, Kate Caithness. I couldn’t pick up Elaine’s, as apparently you have to attend in person. Maybe next year, if we are spared, in Gangneong, South Korea. The WCF annual general meeting was dominated by the retirement celebrations of President Kate, and the voting in of her successor, Beau Welling, a gentleman from South Carolina, USA. This was a retirement event like no other – Kate has been President for 3 terms (12 years), and is known throughout the sporting world hierarchy, having been one of only two women presidents of Olympic sport, and the only one of a winter sport. There was a huge surprise when President of the International Olympic Committee, Dr Thomas Bach, joined the meeting, ostensibly to be introduced to the new WCF President, but in fact to award Kate with the Olympic Order, a huge honour for her, and by reflection for curling too. It was a truly emotional moment, not only for a speechless Kate, but for all the curling representatives from all over the world.


President Kate and Thomas Bach - about to announce her award.

And yet more travel, as I was able to attend the the biennial railway trade exhibition Innotrans in Berlin . I flew to Frankfurt via Bahrain and onwards by train. I stayed in Magdeburg which is about an hours commute to Berlin Messe as hotel prices in Berlin were exhorbitant. 

One major cock-up on my next journey from Berlin to Edinburgh via Amsterdam, when I missed the flight through stupidity. I read the departure gate as A08, when in fact it was A03. By the time I realised my mistake and found the correct gate, the doors were closed and my bag had been offloaded. Long story short, I had to buy another flight, this time via Dublin and had to sleep overnight in the airport waiting area. Not fun, and an expensive lesson to learn. This reduced the time I had with Elaine on our anniversary weekend, but we still had some good family time and a nice meal out together.

With Elaine away from Riyadh, and me travelling frequently, our wee dog Belle is making regular trips to the kennels, where fortunately she is well known and cared for. The couple who run them know her so well that I don’t have to enquire about space or make a reservation, I just let them know she is coming and they take her in as an additional house dog. The pattern was broken during August when I learned of a young lady called Jenny, a recently-arrived English teacher in Riyadh who although living elsewhere in the city was doing some holiday dog/house sitting for a fellow resident on our compound. We were introduced, and when I was away Jenny came round to our apartment three or four times a day to feed, walk and spend time with Belle. Jenny is clearly a dog lover (waiting for her own Labrador to be imported), and Belle, who is very selective of who she will tolerate turned out to be fond of Jenny. On the subject of importing dogs, I learned that one cannot import pets into Saudi, they will only allow working dogs in. So Jenny will have to get her Labrador identified or possibly registered in some way as an assistance or guard dog. And when the time comes for Belle to go to live in the UK, she won’t be allowed to return. But that will no doubt be a story for another day.

Amongst all the travelling that I do, usually in the region of 40-50 flights per year, I get the very occasional upgrade from economy to something better. Never on a Saudi domestic flight, or on a Saudia or BA to or from the UK. So when I was flying from Riyadh to Geneva (via Abu Dhabi) on my way to Lausanne, I was very pleased to have my boarding card swapped at boarding for a business class seat, which converted into a 6-foot horizontal surface I was grateful to Etihad. On the other hand, flying to Innotrans in Germany on the Bahrain – Frankfurt leg, the small child in the seat next to me on the Gulf Air flight decided that my lap was the right place to plonk her tiny feet on at some point during the night. Some you win, some you lose!


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