Simon Calder: Our man in Oman is driven to distraction

Mr Meticulous was halfway around the car when his phone rang. Given our location, deep inside in the Terminal 1 car park at Dubai airport, I was surprised it worked. And startled when he said "It's for you."

I never found his real name, but Mr Meticulous will do: he was well dressed, fastidiously polite, and painstaking about leading me around the car. He was not explaining how it works, but pointing out several minor imperfections on the surface of the blue Chevrolet. The implication: if I were to add to the tally of about six tiny dents and scratches on the bodywork, the cost of my rental would increase sharply.

He smiled as he handed his mobile across. It was the woman I had spoken to just a few minutes earlier at the rental desk. "I just wanted to check that you are not taking the car into Oman."

On the shifting sands of the Arabian peninsula, frontiers can be hard to identify. The border between Yemen and Saudi Arabia, for example, comprises a jagged clutter of straight lines that are meaningless except for the purposes of "my square mileage is bigger than yours" debates; the Empty Quarter of the Arabian Peninsula is a valueless void. But as the north-east tip of the Arabian peninsula curves around to point menacingly at Iran, there is no mistaking the boundary between the UAE and my destination, the Musandam Peninsula of Oman.

This exclave of Oman makes a fascinating target for travellers in Dubai who are anxious to reconnect with real life for a day or two. But when I asked the lady at the car-rental desk if I could pay a levy to take the Chevy across the line, she looked as though I had casually mentioned I was driving to Afghanistan. The subtext: dragons, demons and damage await north of the border. I promised I would not stray across, and signed the contract for an implausibly cheap day's hire for £25, including everything except new blemishes.

I had evidently looked shifty, which explained her follow-up call via Mr M. Even so, I unreservedly endorse her company, United Car Rentals (00 971 4 285 7777).

At the arrivals hall of Terminal 1 at Dubai airport, the technique I used to choose from the array of desks was to pick the car-hire company I had not heard of. "Walk-up" rental rates at airports are normally lousy; so I surmised that if I chose a firm without an international reputation, it might be cheap and nasty but would also undercut the majors.

Cheap, undoubtedly; nasty, not at all. Indeed, it was easiest car pick-up I have experienced. Because United has no stable at the airport, you are invited to sit and wait 10 minutes while Mr Meticulous arrives with your car. The arrangements for returning it are equally undemanding: "Ten minutes before you reach the airport, call us and we will meet you at Departures."

Two hours after bidding farewell to my scrupulous new friend, I arrived unscathed at the frontier with Oman, asked the friendly border guards if I might leave the car there for the day, and sighed with relief.

On the long, winding and these days very bumpy road through life, you are either a driver or a passenger. And with a few uncomfortable exceptions I have happily spent my time away from the wheel. Perhaps I could blame the vehicle I learned on, in the late 1970s: an Austin Allegro with a square steering wheel.

Against all laws of nature and motoring, I passed a driving test, but did not drive for another six months later, when I got a job working for a car-rental company at Gatwick. Considering my career lasted only three days, it was eventful: on day one I drove on a motorway for the first time, and received my first tip: 50p, from the American customer who probably suspected that I had never tackled a motorway before as I drove him to the terminal. And I also had my first prang, in a car with just 32 miles on the clock, which I managed to reverse into another vehicle in the parking lot.

At the border, after a baffling amount of border bureaucracy, involving quite a lot of cash in two different currencies for a selection of documents and passport stamps, I entered a land harsh in gradient and desolation, but kind to the hitcher. A man named Abdul provided a ride down the road to the fort at Bukha.

It must be a full-time job looking after Oman's many forts, I mused as I waited for another vehicle to appear. As luck would have it, it belonged to the man with that very job, Mr Hassan of the Omani Ministry of Heritage, who came along right on time after his inspection visit and ordered the chauffeur of his immaculate Toyota Land Cruiser to stop. As I sprinted towards the air-conditioned 4x4, I briefly inspected its immaculate exterior. Mr Meticulous would have approved.

Suggested Topics
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Life and Style
Passing on: George Washington died alert, aware and in his own bed. This is the kind of of death most people would like to have
health
Life and Style
fashion

News
Jeremy Paxman has admitted he is a 'one-nation Tory' and complained that Newsnight is made by idealistic '13-year-olds' who foolishly think they can 'change the world'.
peopleFormer Newsnight presenter is being touted for a brand new role
Arts and Entertainment
Stella Gibson is getting closer to catching her killer
tv
News
Brazilian football legend Pele pictured in 2011
peopleFans had feared the worst when it was announced the Brazil legand was in a 'special care' unit
News
i100(More than you think)
Sport
Brendan Rodgers seems more stressed than ever before as Liverpool manager
FOOTBALLI like Brendan Rodgers as a manager, writes Paul Scholes
Travel
ebookHow to enjoy the perfect short break in 20 great cities
News
The Magna Carta
archaeologyContemporary account of historic signing discovered
Extras
indybest

Arts and Entertainment
Stik on the crane as he completed the mural
art
Arts and Entertainment
Phyllis Dorothy James on stage during a reading of her book 'Death Comes to Pemberley' last year
peopleJohn Walsh pays tribute to PD James, who died today
Sport
Benjamin Stambouli celebrates his goal for Tottenham last night
FOOTBALL
Independent Travel Videos
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in Amsterdam
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in Giverny
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in St John's
Independent Travel Videos
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs Travel

    Recruitment Genius: Tyre Technician / Mechanic

    £15000 - £16800 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Tyre Technician / Mechanic is...

    Recruitment Genius: Service Receptionist / Warranty Administrator

    Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: Due to expansion the Largest Independent Motor...

    h2 Recruit Ltd: Sales Manager - Holiday Homes - £100,000 OTE

    £40000 - £60000 per annum + £100,000 OTE: h2 Recruit Ltd: Birmingham, Derby, L...

    Investigo: Finance Manager - Global Leisure Business

    £55000 - £65000 per annum: Investigo: My client, a global leader in their fiel...

    Day In a Page

    Homeless Veterans Christmas Appeal: ‘We give them hope. They come to us when no one else can help’

    Christmas Appeal

    Meet the charity giving homeless veterans hope – and who they turn to when no one else can help
    Should doctors and patients learn to plan humane, happier endings rather than trying to prolong life?

    Is it always right to try to prolong life?

    Most of us would prefer to die in our own beds, with our families beside us. But, as a GP, Margaret McCartney sees too many end their days in a medicalised battle
    Thomas Cook's outgoing boss Harriet Green got by on four hours sleep a night - is that what it takes for women to get to the top?

    What does it take for women to get to the top?

    Thomas Cook's outgoing boss Harriet Green got by on four hours sleep a night and told women they had to do more if they wanted to get on
    Christmas jumper craze: Inside the UK factory behind this year's multicultural must-have

    Knitting pretty: British Christmas Jumpers

    Simmy Richman visits Jack Masters, the company behind this year's multicultural must-have
    French chefs have launched a campaign to end violence in kitchens - should British restaurants follow suit?

    French chefs campaign against bullying

    A group of top chefs signed a manifesto against violence in kitchens following the sacking of a chef at a Paris restaurant for scalding his kitchen assistant with a white-hot spoon
    Radio 4 to broadcast 10-hour War and Peace on New Year's Day as Controller warns of cuts

    Just what you need on a New Year hangover...

    Radio 4 to broadcast 10-hour adaptation of War and Peace on first day of 2015
    Cuba set to stage its first US musical in 50 years

    Cuba to stage first US musical in 50 years

    Claire Allfree finds out if the new production of Rent will hit the right note in Havana
    Christmas 2014: 10 best educational toys

    Learn and play: 10 best educational toys

    Of course you want them to have fun, but even better if they can learn at the same time
    Paul Scholes column: I like Brendan Rodgers as a manager but Liverpool seem to be going backwards not forwards this season

    Paul Scholes column

    I like Brendan Rodgers as a manager but Liverpool seem to be going backwards not forwards this season
    Lewis Moody column: Stuart Lancaster has made all the right calls – now England must deliver

    Lewis Moody: Lancaster has made all the right calls – now England must deliver

    So what must the red-rose do differently? They have to take the points on offer 
    Cameron, Miliband and Clegg join forces for Homeless Veterans campaign

    Cameron, Miliband and Clegg join forces for Homeless Veterans campaign

    It's in all our interests to look after servicemen and women who fall on hard times, say party leaders
    Millionaire Sol Campbell wades into wealthy backlash against Labour's mansion tax

    Sol Campbell cries foul at Labour's mansion tax

    The former England defender joins Myleene Klass, Griff Rhys Jones and Melvyn Bragg in criticising proposals
    Nicolas Sarkozy returns: The ex-President is preparing to fight for the leadership of France's main opposition party – but will he win big enough?

    Sarkozy returns

    The ex-President is preparing to fight for the leadership of France's main opposition party – but will he win big enough?
    Is the criticism of Ed Miliband a coded form of anti-Semitism?

    Is the criticism of Miliband anti-Semitic?

    Attacks on the Labour leader have coalesced around a sense that he is different, weird, a man apart. But is the criticism more sinister?
    Ouija boards are the must-have gift this Christmas, fuelled by a schlock horror film

    Ouija boards are the must-have festive gift

    Simon Usborne explores the appeal - and mysteries - of a century-old parlour game