I've now been home from Doha for two months. It's been a great two months. I think, if I wasn't careful, I could quite grow to like the days where the most stressful decision I have to make is what to cook for dinner.
But alas, that time is ending. I am a worker at heart, and I have to turn my mind to more important things. In other words, making a living.
It's a big change for me, being self-employed. In Doha, every expat is only there because they're working for a company, or belong to the family of someone who's working for a company. You can't live there otherwise. And for those of us going in as highly-paid professionals - the bankers, the oil executives, the journalists, the doctors, the lawyers, the professors - it's a ticket to a lifestyle we wouldn't otherwise have. Big houses, big cars, big salaries, weekends by the pool, evenings at top restaurants like Nobu and Hakkasan, it was undoubtedly the best fun I've ever had. And although we lamented the lack of 'culture' in the early days, even that was a thriving scene by the time I left. Museums, opera, theatre, film festivals, all were on offer. Even Kevin Spacey did a stint here with his Richard III. What's not to like?
There are only two reasons you leave a place like that. Either you get fired, or you start to feel you've got everything you need out of the experience and somehow, 'real life' is passing you by. The first option wasn't so common until recently. I've met people in Doha who've been doing the same job for ten, twenty years. But the plummeting oil prices have taken their toll and Qatar, a country dependent on energy prices for its wealth, has been forced to make cut-backs. Cue a stream of ex-employees heading back home.
For me, it was the second reason, coupled with the fact that I missed my daughter who was going to school in Britain. Yes, there were secondary schools in Doha, but I was fussy. And now, here I am, facing a future where I am my own boss.
So, let me introduce you to the new me. My first and best-known expertise is in the art of reading out loud on the telly, and I'm pretty good at it, even when things are going bat-shit crazy in the studio. But I am now also a Freelance Reporter (or at least, I will be if next week's meeting goes well); a Corporate Video Producer (hey, if you run a business, I can make you a fabulous company promo for a very reasonable price) and a Media Trainer (want to learn how to deal with those pesky journalists? I'm your girl.)
And this, of course, is the key difference with being self-employed - you have to sell yourself in a way you never have to do when someone else is your boss. It's fun, and a little bit scary.
I am also a writer, with aspirations of becoming a published author. My manuscript is still with my agent, who is no doubt putting big red lines through some of it even as we speak. As I wait to hear from him, I have been very disciplined about writing other things. Your creativity is like any other skill - you have to keep it honed. To this end, I have entered four short story competitions this week. I am waiting to hear on three of them, but I am proud to say I came 4th in one of them. It was a 'fast fiction' competition - that is, you go online and are given three titles to choose from (which you haven't seen until that moment) and you have exactly 30 minutes to come up with a story, write it and submit it. If you miss the deadline, tough. It's sort of like an open mic tryout for writers, and takes place every Saturday.
Give it a go: Write-Invite.com.
Here was my 4th placed entry - it was written in around 22 minutes, so please excuse the lack of finesse. I hope you like it.
He stood in front of the ticket desk, checking his watch every five minutes. She said she would be here - she couldn't have changed her mind, could she?
He watched the planes take off and land through the windows, smiling slightly as he remembered last night. She had been like an animal, holding him as if she'd never let him go.
"I'm leaving Richard," she'd breathed. "I'm going to do as you ask. Tomorrow, you and me, on that plane. A new life."
The fact that all this was taking place in Richard's bedroom had made it all the sweeter. He smiled grimly. He'd hated Richard for years, ever since they had been at public school together. Richard had made his life a misery. Now he'd taken Richard's wife, and very soon, Richard's money.
Payback is a bitch, he thought.
He had waited until his lover had finished showering, then helped her pack.
"Got everything?" he asked, as she glanced around the vast marital bedroom for the last time. "Mobile? Passport?"
She nodded. "Go on downstairs then, sweetheart," he told her. "I'll just grab my car keys." He waited till she headed down to the kitchen, then severed the gas pipe into the ornamental fireplace. A little extra present for Richard, he thought. His nemesis would come home that night, to a gas-filled building. He'd flick on the light switch, maybe even light one of his infernal cigarettes.... and when his lovely widow remarried in a few months time, his money would go with her. She really was attractive, the man mused. But she would be doubly so, as a rich widow.
"I have to go to the office to tie up a few loose ends," she told him at the front door. "You go home and grab your suitcase, I'll meet you at the airport. I can't wait, my darling."
But he had been waiting an hour now, and there was no sign of her. His mobile phone rang.
"I'm so sorry I'm late," she said, breathless, as if she'd been running. "I was on my way to the airport when realized I'd left my damn glasses on the bedside table. You know I'm as blind as a bat without them. I'm here now, I won't be a sec...."
He tried to shout down the phone, to stop her, to tell her to forget her glasses. But it was too late. He heard the sound of an explosion, rendered distant and tinny through his phone's speaker. Carefully, he pressed 'end call'. He looked at his mobile thoughtfully.
What a pity, he thought. He'd really quite liked her. Oh well, better luck next time.
He turned to the girl at the ticket desk.
"Just the one flight now, please," he told her, smiling his charming smile. "It seems my girlfriend isn't going to make it after all."