Friday, June 23, 2006

Role Playing Games

As most of my friends are aware I am a keen roleplayer. I do enjoy the improvisation and mental acrobatics of playing a very free form game in the persona of an aged wizard, or devious dwarf or whatever the genre requires.

I have been playing since the early seventies and recently used to play weekly in a group in the UK before I was seduced away by the ex-pat lifestyle (mostly the no income tax bit). I also played on the computer using a game called Neverwinter Nights. This particular game has the singular advantage that you can create your own module and has the capacity for the game to be moderated by a referee over the internet or local area network.

There is a definite lack of RPGs (Role Playing Games, not Rocket Propelled Grenades, there are plenty of those) out here in the Gulf, so I was delighted to find a module that was available on the internet through the game itself which was designed, scripted and inhabited in a way that suited me really well. A lot of online RPGs suffer from mass participation by teenagers, especially pubescent boys, and this strongly affects the content and style of play. Those games I find best avoided.

Not so The Crescent Coast. The players here have an inteligent and mature style of play, roleplay much more often than just go slaying creatures, characterisation is generally of a very high standard and the module itself is beautifully crafted.

I have been playing this game for some time so you can imagine my dismay when earlier this year I could no longer access the game at all. Heroic fantasy role playing games are apparently not compatible with Islamic Cultural Ideals so all of the sites are now blocked. My other favourite leisure time occupation, amateur dramatics, came to an abrupt end on 19th March of last year when the theatre was destroyed during a terorist attack. See the website here for details;

I am looking forward to getting back into the game, even if only briefly while I am in the Philippines next month, just so long as I can secure a broadband connection.

For those of you out there who play Neverwinter Nights the module is "The Crescent Coast" and is hosted by "Eclipse develpoment". It does require a few extra downloads to the standard game but these do add to the game and are worthwhile. The forum which goes with the game is here: and the downloads are all available there.

I am wondering if I can persuade my new school to allow me to host it on their LAN, and run the game as an extra-curricular activity. Who can tell?


Tuesday, June 20, 2006


More of the wedding photos are now available in the "Our pictures" link


Students today

About a month ago the changes of staffing were announced in my school's newsletter. Since then I have had a great many students, in ones and two and threes, approach me with good wishes for my new job, to express their regret at my leaving and gratitude for the work I have done with them. For example at the end of the second lesson today, a young lad of about 13 came up to me and said "it's my last day here Mr Gnomad and I justed wanted to say Good luck in your new job and thank you for being my teacher". I thanked him, we shook hands and he left.

When it became known that my wife had been taken ill a good many students offered their good wishes and have continued to enquire after her health. Quite a few, both Christian and Muslim, offered to remember her in their prayers and we even had get-well-soon cards from a couple of the students.

I felt touched by their concern and genuine interest in my family's well being.

It is students like this that make it worthwhile being a teacher.


Sunday, June 18, 2006

Banquo travels

I have had a very interesting day to day. Guess how long it takes to cash a cheque drawn on (Gulf State) National Bank in the City Centre Branch of (Gulf State) National Bank in the capitol city of (Gulf State)?

4 hours and 44 minutes. No really, 4 hours and 44 minutes, and it involved three trips to the bank. I had gone in last Thursday to make the first attempt, but even though that branch is open 08h00 to 22h00, they only provide "full banking services" 08h00 to 13h00. I dont count this first visit in the timing though, as I wasnt expecting much, the timing is just how long it took me today. They assured me last Thursday that so long as I came back before 13h00 on a working day I could cash my cheque.

Today I arrived at the bank and took my little ticket for the queue at 10h33. I waited 44 minutes to be served by the teller. The teller couldn't cash the cheque even though it was made out to me personally, to be paid in cash and I had proof of identity with me. His supervisor wouldnt cash it and advised me to go to head office. By 11h45 the assistant manager was involved and he was actually trying to get authority to cash the cheque. It was now 12h05 and I had to leave, I had a class to take only ten minutes later and still had no money. I had expected to be able to cash a cheque in less than two hours, Oh silly me! I told the assistant manager I would be back later. I returned at 15h15 to be told that all was ready, the return fax had just arrived. It had taken the assistant manager faxing head office and telephoning them repeatedly to get clearance to cash the cheque... because "the only signatures book is held at head office"! I actually got the cash at 15h17. The amount? slightly less than 300UKP (600USD).

All this was only necessary because red triangle bank has frozen my accounts because I am leaving soon, so I couldnt pay it into my usual account if I wanted to actually use any of it. This despite there being a standing arrangement where my employer is guarantor over all staff accounts so the freeze, allegedly, doesn't happen and despite the fact that I went in to the bank personally make sure this arrangement was in place and to fulfil the requirements of the petty bureaucracy that doing anything here entails.

I then went and paid my phone bill at (G)tel [short for (Gulf State) telecommunications] and attempted to cancel future service from the date of the day before I intend to leave. Apparently I can't do that either, I can only cancel the service with 5 or less days notice and I have to have a "letter of no objection" from my employer to be allowed to cancel it at all.

"Please sir, can I have permission not to have a phone any more?"

(G)tel is a state protected monopoly until 2014, with all the arrogance and lack of service that having no competition at all allows. The smart money says that in 2015 (G)tel won't exist at all. Regardless of who the competition is, people willl change just to not have to deal with (G)tel any more

Well you just have to laugh, it is comical, so many self important, condescending people, doing almost nothing with absolutley no authority at all, just stopping anyone else from achieving anything. I should write it up as a comedy show - Monty dish-dash perhaps or Gulfy Python. If you can't cope with the idiosyncracies of third world bureuacray and have a giggle it's probably best to stay at home, so one just grins and bears it and has a bit of a rant now and again.

For the Banquo reference see Grumpy Goat's blog for a very similar experience in (Other Gulf State)


Saturday, June 17, 2006

Swings And Roundabouts, or maybe Slings And Arrows

I started this blog in february with every intention of making regular contributions and it superceding my irregular email newsletter to a few specially chosen chums. I was rather overtaken by events and so the blog has fallen by the wayside recently.

To cut a long story short, I have resigned my job, obtained another, travelled to the Philippines every month this year, got married and brought my new wife to the gulf only to have to take her home again. I am now packing up to start my new life based in the Philippines but working in the Gulf still.

I have been living in "Interesting Times" as the Chinese would have it.

Things started to get "interesting" when I decided to get married. The new Mrs Gnomad is a 20-something, bright, lively and wonderfully sweet Filipina, I am a fairly run of the mill, middle aged , post-graduate Briton. The bureaucracy involved in a non-Filipino marrying a Filipina is quite extra-ordinary. There are about a dozen or so official bodies involved, all of whom have their own vast list of required documents... which change on a seemingly daily basis... and all end with "and any other such documents as may be required"

The upshot of this is that however well you prepare and however many bits of paper you get the official can always ask for another. He could, in theory, ask for your father's tailor's bill for his last suit. You can go into an office on one day and all your papers are in order, and the very next day there is something else you need. At one point I had a situation where the soon to be Mrs Gnomad took a pile of papers into the Local Registry Office to be told they couldn't be accepted unless Mr Gnomad was there too. I was in the Gulf at the time. I had to fly to the Philippines just to stand next to my intended while the paperwork was handed over. My entire interaction in that office was to answer in the affirmative to the question "Are you Mr Gnomad and is this your signature".Well that was worth the airfare, the two days off work (because the weekends are different) and the 34 hours of travelling involved.

I can't really complain though, I am used to the bureaucracy here in the Arabian Gulf, so Filipino bureaucracy was a doddle by comparison.

Once all the paperwork was in place the wedding went swimmingly, just a small family affair with about 150 relatives at the reception! We will have a proper church wedding sometime in 2007 and that will be heaving with people.

We had obtained a visit visa for Mrs Gnomad beforehand and so she was able to come back here with me. After an initial bout of homesickness she setteld in well and started making friends. All was going well until she fell ill. We both spent 4 days in hospital, work was very good about compassionate leave so I could stay with her, but in the end the nature of her illness meant I had to take her home again.

We are both looking forward to July when I will be back in the Philippines for my vacation. i will start my new contract in August and will then be navigating the shoals and shallows of Gulf bureacracy yet again to have my wife join me in my new country of residence.

As soon as I work out how its done, I will be posting the wedding photos, so look out for the link. I may even inculde a few here if i can work round using a non standard browser which complicates the interweb no-end

Aah that wasnt so difficult