Monday, April 19, 2010


Ήφαιστος, the Greek god of fire, volcanoes and technology, is having fun at an awful lot of people's expense. Trying to get back to the Lands of the Sand is proving to be an exercise in frustration. Why? Well, apart from UK airports being closed, airlines aren't answering their phones. Too busy with their inflatable dartboards, perhaps. More likely busily selling seats to new passengers instead of putting existing customers whose flights were cancelled on them.

Of course I realise the problem, and also how even once the ash cloud eventually disperses there will be thousands of aircraft in the wrong place and getting back to normal will take weeks or months.

I've been examining other options. How about travel to a less-affected airport, such as Rome, Barcelona, Madrid, Athens or Istanbul? An InterRail international train ticket would set me back the order of £500, and this assumes that I'd be able to get a seat on a train anyway.

So I checked Hertz car rental. Seemingly, there are numerous foreign-registered cars in various locations in the UK that resulted from one-way car hire. The website says to Ring this number and...etc, etc... So I did, and got a recorded message to the effect that no-one can be arsed to answer the phone. Checking with Hertz's main number, I learned that a one-way hire to Rome would set me back £1200 - that's over AED6000 - in addition to the normal hire charges, ferry or Channel Tunnel fares, fuel and hotels. And this is to do Hertz a favour by returning one of their vehicles to its country of origin. In keeping with Hertz's apparent policy of extracting micturation, I was charged over £50 per day for the additional two days I had the Group 1 billy-basic car, and yes I did inform them in advance. The vehicle is now back at Gatwick where it can gather dust and ash.

So I've concluded that the only realistic option is to wait it out in Blighty. Checking the Met Office map, if everything went even more pear-shaped I'd be in a foreign country where I don't speak the language (Italy, Spain, Greece, Turkey) and stuck at an airport just as the ash cloud parked itself directly overhead. See how close the cloud currently is to Istanbul and Rome.

I can't even work remotely. None of my employer's UK offices are anywhere nearby, and I object to adding to my frustration by living in a hotel in order to work. Not that I'd be able to function without my computer, books and files. It will come as no surprise to learn that I did not take my office computer with me on holiday. Consequently even working from 'home' fails to be an option.

Looks like I'll simply have to have a holiday, punctuated by frequent reference to the news websites and - joy and delight - listening to Qatar Airways' telephone tree.

Edited 23 April to add:

The skies were reopened to traffic on Wednesday 21st April, and I eventually got through to Qatar Airways to book on to Thursday's flight. Amazingly, there were scores of empty seats on the aircraft. I'm relieved to be back.

And I even have five days of annual leave remaining.


Saturday, April 17, 2010

Goat versus the Volcano

Stuck in the UK for the foreseeable future, here goes with something to let my regular readers know that I haven't actually dropped off the planet.

Since the Eyjafjallajoekull volcano erupted last Wednesday, all flights in and out of UK airspace have ceased, and my return to the Lands of the Sand scheduled for Saturday has been delayed. I do not for one moment blame the airlines for this, nor the UK's Air Traffic Controllers; I was previously aware of the experience on board BA009 back in June 1982, when Captain Eric Moody ended up piloting a Boeing 747 glider.

It's a bit of a shame that when I tried to talk to my airline, Qatar Airways proved impossible to contact. This can only be the airline's fault: there isn't even a recorded message to say that there are no flights until Monday. Passengers, including members of the frequent non-flyers' club, get no info at all at any time of the day or night. I suspect that the phones have simply been left off the hook. None of the London numbers were answered, which is exactly what used to happen a few years ago when Qatar Airways required passengers to reconfirm 72 hours prior to flying. The international phone number gleaned off the airline's website went straight through to hold music. This is not useful when ringing Muscat from England, and is even less useful as a source of flight information.

Oh, and a website that says that there is no information, and for further information to log on to the website is right up there with inflatable dartboards and chocolate teapots.

I eventually managed to talk to someone in Doha, who told me that there were no QA flights out of Gatwick until Monday 19 April. I reconfirmed my seat for Monday, and put in a request that if there were any further cancellations or rescheduling, that I be contacted by phone or email.

You gotta laugh, haven't you?

Then to extend the car rental. The national help desk phone number's robot woman took all my details and then cut me off. Twice. Finally I got through on a different phone number to a nice Irish woman who dealt with extending the rental. She congratulated me for having a Hertz car on hire before amending the details.

So now I wait. Truth be told, there are worse places to wait for my flight than the Gnomads' house. The marble floor of Gatwick Airport's north terminal springs to mind. Truly a Pollyanna moment.

Another Pollyanna moment was amusingly provided by the BBC in a tragic case of non-joined-up thinking. I was watching the magic idiot-box chez Nanny Goat and learned that the total lack of air travel in the UK has apparently resulted in reduced CO2 emissions of some 100,000 tonnes per day. So not flying is good for the environment. So what is pushing all that volcanic ash into the earth's atmosphere then? Polar bears' farts?

It is such a shame that this whole volcano thing is eating into my annual leave. Come September when I'm going nuts after a summer in Dubai, I'll not have enough leave remaining to go abroad, and this is not good.

Edited Sunday 18th April to add:

Qatar Airways' flight out of Gatwick tomorrow morning was cancelled. I rang the ticketing help line, only to be advised by a machine that all the UK employees are enjoying their weekend. The office in Doha advised that the next available seat is on the totally unacceptable Saturday 1st May. How...helpful.


Monday, April 05, 2010

Donkeys and camels and goats. Oh my!

The Crumbling Villa is bursting at the seams. Instead of being populated by The Goat and his Beloved Wife, this week The Goat's howling herd has descended for some sunshine. Apparently it's cold, damp and snowing in Blighty, whereas here in the Lands of the Sand there is more sun that you can sheikh a stick at.

The two adults and their four kids are of course all having a riotous time, and The Goat has taken a week's leave of absence from his job. There was a plan to escape back to the office mid-week, but the savage itinerary set by the rellies who want to see everything and do it all doesn't allow this.

An outstanding and long-standing promise involving a large motorcycle and some nephews has been discharged. After The Goat borrowed a spare helmet, the ten-year-old rode pillion to Sandy Beach and the 13yo rode on the trip back. Yes, yes, Bad Goat... Everybody else went in the Goatmobile. Sandy Beach advertised its wares with a large sign in Reception warning potential punters that there were jellyfish in the sea. Following physical observation, 'a jellyfish' would perhaps have been nearer the mark. There were also sharks and barracuda, much to the delight of the young and not-so-young snorkellers.

We're all off to an aquarium to have a better look at some sharks today. Not Atlantis, though. Visiting Atlantis was limited to driving around the barrier reef and getting splashed by the enthusiastically rough sea. That'll learn Beloved Wife with her open-top car!

We all piled into two cars on another day and did part of the most recent Gulf News Fun Drive across the dunes. Clearly too easy because nobody got even slightly stuck, this trip was deemed a delight by the visitors. Of course, the Fossil Rock steep track was added to the itinerary, to the further delight of all. As well as picking through the dunes, the visitors busied themselves checking out the wildlife. No oryx; no gazelles. But plenty of the usual suspects.

Tomorrow we're off to ride the water flumes up at Dreamland in Umm Al Quwain. The Goat mentioned the availability of fizzy yellow beverage to his brother-in-law, but somehow forgot to note the delicate Low Tide aroma wafting in off the mud flats.

What else? Well Beloved Wife and Goat are packing the other 'dults off to a five star hotel for their wedding anniversary on Wednesday, and then spending the evening in loco parentis (you've gotta be mad to be a parent). Cinema followed by Burger King, we suspect. And there's also the obligatory trip to the gold souq. We've already been to Karama: "Copy watches, genuine fake handbag, etc."

The relatives have had such a wonderful time so far that they're already mumbling about visiting again.


The opinions expressed in this weblog are the works of the Grumpy Goat, and are not necessarily the opinions shared by any person or organisation who may be referenced. Come to that, the opinions may not even be those of the Grumpy Goat, who could just be playing Devil's Advocate. Some posts may be of parody or satyrical [sic] nature. Nothing herein should be taken too seriously. The Grumpy Goat would prefer that offensive language or opinions not be posted in the comments. Offensive comments may be subject to deletion at the Grumpy Goat's sole discretion. The Grumpy Goat is not responsible for the content of other blogs or websites that are linked from this weblog. No goats were harmed in the making of this blog. Any resemblance to individuals or organisations mentioned herein and those that actually exist may or may not be intentional. May contain nuts.