Desert dunes at sunset…

Traversing the dunes, off-road somewhere between Riyadh and Dammam…

Hello and welcome to another day of sun in Riyadh!

Following on with the theme of getting out and about again post the lockdown restrictions, I recently joined some friends to watch the sunset over the desert.

So far, during our time in the Kingdom I hadn’t had the opportunity to visit the desert’s iconic red sand dunes – those mystical, other-worldly landscapes which have inspired many tales of Arabian derring-do and romantic heroes.

Prior to our outing the only desert I had seen was rough and stony, dotted with scraggy bushes and stumpy trees, not the sweeping red mounds of majestic sand Lawrence of Arabia would have travelled over by camel!!

Jackson Bentley: What is it Major Lawrence that attracts you personally to the desert?

T.E. Lawrence: It’s clean.

Lawrence of Arabia

My friends and I set off late afternoon and drove around two hours due east of Riyadh towards the city of Dammam. It’s a very busy road with bumper to bumper trucks traveling both ways transporting goods between Riyadh and the Gulf city port. Two hours is about half way to Dammam and it’s also around here that the red sand dunes begin. The road was built through them and they had to be flatten the dunes on either side to prevent them creeping back and reclaiming the highway. I would imagine after a sandstorm parts of the road would probably still completely disappear under sand.

Anyway, after about two hours of driving we doubled back and pulled in off the highway. Driving over sand dunes is a skill. The car tyres have to be deflated, as reduced pressure provides more traction and disperses the weight of the vehicle preventing sinking.

The golden rules for driving over sand dunes are: drive straight up or down, keep momentum going and don’t stop on an incline.

Thankfully we had an experienced driver and I wasn’t in the hot seat!!

We drove just a couple of kilometres in from the highway and arrived just ahead of the sunset. The golden light illuminated the dunes, making the red sand glow with warmth, while in contrast the side away from the sun cast long dark shadows.

The view was stunning. The sand is powder soft and the dunes are molded by the shifting winds. There is nothing but sand, no other form of life to be seen, serene in their stillness and beauty.

We had a picnic as we enjoyed the view then grabbed some photos and packed up as the last lingering light was fading – we didn’t want to have to make our way back to the highway across the dunes in the dark!

We pulled out of the dunes to the side of the road just as the sun, in a blazing firey ball dipped below the horizon. We increased the tyre pressure and pulled back out into the crazy traffic racing back to Riyadh on Saturday night. First, but hopefully not last, visit to the desert done!

Until next time,

Stay safe,

Anne :0)

Sunset over
the road to Riyadh

The top 5 podcasts I’m currently listening to …

Greetings from Riyadh where it’s another day of sun! So this is the last of my ‘What I’ve been reading/watching/listening to’ series and follows hot off the heels of TV and film viewing and top book recommendations.

I’ve always been a big fan of radio – ever since I discovered the Gerry Ryan Show on RTE 2fm one long school summer holiday. His programs were an absolute riot – back than he had two roving reporters (both called Barbara) and he sent them off on all sorts of madcaps adventures across Ireland. It was like nothing I had heard before – they were all having one big party on the airwaves – and growing up back then in Northern Ireland BBC Radio Ulster certainly had nothing like it!! Gerry was an incomparable broadcaster. When you heard his daily introduction ‘It’s Gerry Ryan with you on the radio ’till midday’ you buckled up for three hours of pure entertainment.

The other radio program I really loved was many years later when Richard Bacon presented a late night chat show on BBC Radio 5 Live. The half hour between 12.30 and 1am was called the Secret Half Hour (SHH) and you only knew about it, if you knew! Again it was like being the member of an exclusive club.

I was also lucky enough to work in radio for a number of years, working in newsrooms and also briefly presented my own show . It was supposed to be a ‘behind the scenes’ look at news stories, talking to journalists about their experience of reporting a story, or people with interesting stories or life experiences to tell but which didn’t really fit the news agenda, all interspersed with poppy indy music – think Travis, The La’s, Texas and The Divine Comedy etc… Sadly it didn’t last that long, I think if there had been more than just me working on it I might have enjoyed it more, but I found it quite stressful producing and presenting with no one to bounce ideas off. It had the potential to be good but it never quite got there… Maybe someday it will return!

Anyway, my love of radio has grown to encompass my love of podcasts.There is a podcast about every subject under the sun. What makes them so appealing is they can do a deep dive into a subject or an interview and there is no pressure of time because they don’t have to fit into a pre-determined time slot and of course you listen at a time that suits you.

The first podcast I listened to back in 2014 was Series One of Serial which investigated the murder of a high school pupil in Baltimore, US, 1999. It’s a typical ‘Who done it’? with episodes being edited weekly as new information came to light. It was a trailblazer and introduced a new form of innovative storytelling. To date has been downloaded over 100 million times worldwide.

I’m still a big fan of true crime podcasts and if you’re interested I would also recommend West Cork on Audible – the story of an unsolved murder in West Cork, (Ireland), and Teacher’s Pet – the unsolved disappearance of a young mum in the Sydney suburbs in the 1980s. Both are examples of strong investigative journalism which really immerse the listener in the local community, with the reporters (in some cases) having spent years researching and interviewing key witnesses. Serial and Teacher’s Pet are available from Apple Podcasts, Stitcher, Acast etc – wherever you get your podcasts from…

But the podcasts I have been most enjoying more recently and especially during lockdown are:

So, briefly, Grounded with Louis Theroux is a series of 10 interviews recorded during lockdown with people Louis has always wanted to meet. They range from comedian Lenny Henry to actress Helena Bonham-Carter and footballer Troy Deeney. I’ve always enjoyed Louis’s TV programs and these intimate interviews have the sense of eavesdropping on a conversation between friends.

The High Low is a weekly podcast presented by friends and writers Dolly Alderton and Pandora Sykes which covers high and low brow culture. They discuss pop culture and news stories which have been trending over the past week and recommend articles books, TV and podcasts. They also do one-off “meet the author’ interviews. Lots of breezy fun and keeps you in the loop so you know what’s been going on! (Only problem is it can be difficult to tell them apart – I still struggle and I have been listening since 2017!)

Today in Focus is a weekday 30 min podcast presented by Anushka Asthana from The Guardian newspaper. It provides analysis of the big news stories and hosts discussions with Guardian journalists on their exclusive features – giving a behind the scenes feel.

Queenie by Candice Carty-Williams is an adaptation of Radio 4’s Book of the Week and the British Book Awards, Book of the Year. A funny and heartbreaking debut novel dealing with the relationships and racial justice issues faced by a young woman living in contemporary London. Available on BBC Sounds.

The Happiness Lab is a spin off from The Science of Well-Being , a course hosted by Yale Professor Dr Laurie Santos which investigates what really make us happy – and it’s not what you might think! The 10 week course has become the most popular class in the 317 year history of Yale University and is now available free online offering video lectures, quizzes, recommended readings and rewirement activities – so far 2.7million people worldwide have enrolled (including me!) It was really fascinating and the podcast, which is also hosted by Laurie Santos, shares stories and discusses the latest scientific research into the psychology of happiness. It’s a really good accompaniment to the course, or can easily be listened to without doing the class.

And that brings to a close this little mini series of ‘What I’ve been enjoying during lockdown’. I hope I’ve provided some inspiration, whether it’s something to read/watch or listen to.

I’ll be back with another blog in a week or two,

Until then stay safe (and if you’re in Riyadh stay cool!)

Anne :0)