Setting off from my house in Barka, near Muscat, at 4am I meet an Indian neighbour sitting in the comfortable dark cool of the morning; we smile and wish each other a good morning. I start the car and note that the temperature is a pleasant 29 degrees C. My drive to the airport takes about 45 minutes and on the way I stop to fill the car with fuel, 50 litres of 'Super' costing, about £11.00. At Muscat airport I park the car in the long stay car park, (£3.20 per day), and walk the 100 metres to the departure terminal where I meet Rashid, my Omani colleague, and we check-in for the flight to London; together we walk through the cheery security checks and into a bright departure lounge. The sun has just risen on another warm sultry morning
Some hours later we arrive at Heathrow, it's grey, cloudy and raining hard. Disembarking we walk the soulless grey corridors of the terminal. We eventually reach passport control where we join separate queues. I shuffle along to meet a grey, unsmiling functionary from the UK Border Agency, she checks my UK passport and admits me to the country without any trace of a welcome. It's not so simple for Rashid, I wait for him at the luggage carousel for almost an hour. He emerges stressed and angry having been detained and rudely questioned by the UKBA despite having a valid visa in his passport; "This wouldn't happen in Oman" he complains and I nod in agreement; "Is it because I'm an Arab, with a beard do you think?", I silently agree again.
We pick up our hire car which with VAT costs almost £100 more than the price quoted on the Internet when my company booked it. Fortunately, the sat nav, (costing an additional £12 per day), directed us to the hotel booked for us in one of those brash south coast resorts without incident. Exhausted, we check into the rooms. My single room being almost large enough to swing a cat in; I could stretch out fully if I laid along the length if the room, but did have to bend my knees if I wanted to lay down along the other axis. The room has a TV which, if I turn up, the volume, almost drowns out the noise from the volcanic central heating boiler behind the wall at the head end of my plank-like bed.
After being woken rudely at 6am by the erupting boiler and taking a shower in the coffin-sized bathroom I ask the receptionist if I could change to a room further from the volcano. The German receptionist is very accommodating and allocates me an alternative room in "The Cottage"; this, it emerges, is a decently sized, damp smelling, room over a garage in the carpark. I unpack my bags and take a shower - the previous bathroom was coffin sized and this bathroom is smaller, (you might describe it as cremation vase sized). The spiders’ webs do add a little gothic atmosphere to the pink 1970s tiles of the shower cubicles
This evening Rashid and I decide to venture out into the town centre for dinner in a very pleasant Lebanese restaurant This being Saturday evening and the town being a university our route back to the hotel was punctuated by pools of vomit and drunken students meandering along sidewalks and roads.
I’m embarrassed and hope that for Rashid, the trip can only get better, after all we merely want to provide some income for small companies trying to do business in the struggling British economy. We could take the opportunity to the USA, Canada, Australia or New Zealand. Do we really want to be in the UK?