Archive for October 2009
This is a big weekend in Dubai. The finale of Dubai Fashion Week will closely be followed by the UAE’s first ever Formula One race tomorrow – this has turned from just a car race into a complete weekend of festivities with concerts by Beyonce, Kings of Leon and Jamiroquai. It’s quite possibly the biggest, most international event the UAE has hosted, ever.
But, for every parent, far more important than the F1, Jamiroquai and Beyonce is of course Hallowe’en. I don’t remember it being such a big thing when I was growing up in London but, over here, the whole dressing-up and trick-or-treating thing is massive.
And it’s not just the kids – even the parents squeeze themselves into witches costumes and catsuits either to accompany the kids out roaming the streets, or to stay at home and scare the wits out of five-year-olds desperate for a candy fix, but it doesn’t stop there – today we saw loads of adults out front, doing up their houses ready for the evening’s merriment. Hung witches, beheaded Barbies, ferocious notices, skeletons, spiders’ webs, vampires, crime scene tape – these people take it seriously (would it be un-PC to blame it on the amount of Americans who live here?).
Anyway, the gated community where I live has some rules about trick-or-treating. This morning we all received a letter saying this: if we’re happy to participate, we must leave the outside lights on from 6-8pm and display a trick-or-treat poster. If we’re not, leave the exterior in darkness. Fair play.
I stocked up on fun-size Flakes, put out the poster and turned on the lights. The doorbell rang; DD and I were terrified by a bunch of tiddly ghouls (and a cowboy) accompanied by their Filipina housemaids – we screamed, we handed out the chocolate… then DS went to bed, so…
When DD wasn’t looking, DH snuck out the front, turned off the lights and whipped down the poster. Once DD has gone to bed, we have plans for those fun-size Flakes. I’m salivating already.
We went to the beach today. It was our first time on a public beach in years. For the last five years we paid an arm, a leg and two kidneys for membership to a fancy beach club, but we left last year.
The price went up 800 per cent over the years, while the service level went down by about the same amount. So we quit and spent one year’s membership fee designing and building our own pool at home and relandscaping the garden instead.
So, it was a cool 34 degrees today and there we were at the public beach. This is a place where everyone drives their four-wheel-drives down onto the sand right by the water’s edge and spends the afternoon eating, drinking, swimming and building sandcastles for free.
You’ve got chic Italians and Brazilians in itsy-bitsy bikinis, Arabs smoking sheehsa on Iranian carpets, Brits drinking sneaky beers, Aussies slip-slop-slapping, Russians swimming in their D&G jeans (why?), Lebanese playing volleyball, Filipino housemaids cradling their boss’s babies – it’s an absolute smorgasbord of nationalities.
It was DS’s first time at the beach and, as I lifted him out of the car and plonked him on the camel blanket on the sand, I realised it was also the first time he’s been subjected to much in the way of fresh air, let alone a sea breeze.
DS was born in late March – we had about two weeks of reasonable weather and then the summer kicked in with temperatures in excess of 43˚C and we were marooned indoors in the air-conditioning for the next six months. Apart from a 13-day sabbatical in Cyprus, and the last couple of weeks of early-morning walks, DS has never had the chance to fill his brand-new little lungs with fresh air.
I saw his bemused look as the sea breeze buffeted his eyelashes; his eyes half closed at the alien feel of wind on his face. Still, he had a marvellous time watching his sister and her friends rushing about, splashing each other in the sea and building a sandcastle but the best bit was this: when it came to bedtime, he crashed out before I could even zip up his sleeping bag. In the words of Arnie Schwarzenegger: we’ll be back.
I tried on a black lycra jumpsuit today. You may wonder, what on earth possessed a 38-year-old mother of two – whose baby weight is still much in evidence around the hips – to do such an inane thing, and the answer would be: Dubai Fashion Week.
Not that I’ve been inspired by a week of high fashion on the catwalks; rather, that I’m petrified at the thought of attending Dubai Fashion Week’s Grand Finale tomorrow looking like a slightly jaded 38-year-old mother of two.
A lovely PR kindly invited me to attend the whole week of couture shows. Clearly I haven’t done so, or you would have heard about it by now, but I was intending to pop along tomorrow night for a couple of shows and the Grand Finale – the Barbie Show (I know: the mind boggles).
The only thing stopping me is my wardrobe. I’d like to be a bit fashion-forward but I’m just not. Really, I’m fashion- backward. Maybe even fashion-prehistoric.
I read Grazia; I know what’s ‘in’. I just don’t buy it. I read about zips and studs and spray-on leggings, treggings and jeggings; about jumpsuits, leather jackets and fierce rock-chick heels, then I go to Banana Republic or Gap and buy another pair of white jeans and another fawn-coloured top (very flattering for a blonde) and some chunky wedges and that’s me done.
So – the jumpsuit. I’d already nipped into Monsoon to see if they had a fluttery scrap of jewelled silk that might dress up a pair of skinny jeans and heels (no) and then I was in Zara. Autumn collections always make my heart sink: the whole shop was full of dark colours and heavy fabrics the complete antithesis to a sunny Gulf winter. Still, I flirted with a pair of studded grey suede stilettos and then the jumpsuit appeared in front of me and I just thought ‘Mmmm…..?’
I am five foot nine. I have long legs. It could work. A statement necklace, a studded clutch, ferocious heels and I’d be there?
I swear the assistant did a double-take as I took it into the changing room. ‘You? That? A-hahaha-ha.’
As I looked in the mirror at my booty-licious curves I did wonder about wearing the jumpsuit in a sort of ironic fashion way – sort of like the Emperor’s New Clothes (would anyone DARE to say how terrible it looked, or just notice how fashionable it was?) But no. Not even that. It’s back to the drawing board for this fat mama.
I like cars. I’ve always liked cars. Luckily, DH and I have that in common. And now I have a case of Range Rover envy.
Why is it that almost everyone I know – including my own DH – drives a black Range Rover? At DD’s school you really have to know your number plate because there’s quite often a line of 10 of them outside the gates, plus another 300 in the car park. Honest to god, I’m not joking: you’d never get lost driving to DD’s school – for 20kms you could just follow the string of black Range Rovers driven by bottle blondes.
So, for the past two and a half years, I’ve been driving a nice, medium-sized SUV. It’s a Mercedes – it’s lovely. Until a week ago, it didn’t really bother me. But then DH went away and I drove his Range Rover Sport for the week, ostensibly to keep the battery ticking over – in reality because my eyes widened with pleasure and my pulse quickened every time I climbed into its ivory leather and walnut interior and heard the roar of that supercharged engine. Vrrm!
I didn’t want to give it back.
‘I need a new car,’ I told DH on his return. ‘Now the baby’s in a proper baby seat rather than the infant carrier thing, I need space for two kiddie seats (for DD and her friends who we’re often picking up from school) and the baby seat, and mine’s just not wide enough.’
We tried, a little, to fit the three seats in, to no avail. DH is a good sport. He went to the Range Rover dealer and picked up the brochure. Together, we looked through it; I chose exterior and interior colours (black / ivory leather of course). He even got a quote (very reasonable, it’s a good time to buy).
Today we tried one more time to fit the three car seats onto the backseat of my Merc and – I still can’t quite believe this happened – with the baby seat in the middle, they FIT! AND I could do up the seatbelts. I may have to take my chunky Bvlgari ring off to scrape my hand in to fasten DD’s seatbelt, and she may have to lean sideways and breathe in, but THEY FIT!
‘Sorry about the Range Rover,’ said DH, giving me a hug and trying not to laugh.
I’ll have to come up with a better excuse.
I’d just poured a glass of Merlot and was putting the finishing touches on dinner when we heard it: the sound of a thousand mice running in the ceiling above us. Mystified, we looked upwards.
‘It’s water,’ said DH ominously.
Within seconds, a damp mark appeared on the ceiling; it turned into a drip, then a cascade. The ceiling opened up, water gushed down the walls, through the cabinets, onto the floor. Inches fell in minutes.
It wasn’t a good moment to remember that our preventative maintenance contract had expired and I hadn’t bothered renewing it. Not through cheapness, you understand, nor through laziness. Just because nothing ever went wrong with our house in the three years that we’d had a contract, so I didn’t think it was worth it. In Dubai, there is massive pressure to take out an annual preventative maintenance contract with one of the handyman companies. If you do, they’ll come on emergency call-outs. If you don’t, many won’t.
‘We used to have a contract with you,’ I shouted over the sound of the water gushing (it really was that loud) as DH ran around shoving buckets, bins and saucepans in as many strategic places as he could. ‘If you come tonight – NOW! – I will renew it IN THE MORNING!’
They agreed to come, but couldn’t promise when. ‘Maybe tonight. Maybe tomorrow, Inshallah,’ said the operator.
‘Listen to this,’ I said, shoving the phone into the deluge so he could hear it. ‘It’s an emergency!’
‘Oh yes, I see,’ said the operator.
I moved my new Cole Haan handbag to higher ground and unplugged the electrical things. Within 10 minutes, the emergency call-out team was ringing the doorbell. My goodness, that contract is worth it.
Turns out the hot water tank had given up the ghost – just kind of gone, ‘uhhhh’ and released its contents through the ceiling. Apparently the same thing had happened a few houses up the street today as well. Given all the houses in this gated community are the same ancient age (about four years old – prehistoric in Dubai terms), does that mean there’ll be a run on water tanks in the morning? Better get my order in early.
A baby-singing class is not my natural habitat. In fact, I feel as uncomfortable in one as a polar bear might feel ordering piňa coladas in a five-star hotel in the desert. I pay a nursery to do singing with DS.
Yet, there I was today, sitting awkwardly in a circle on the floor of a dear friend’s house with a bunch of (very lovely, of course, they may be reading this) women singing wildly out of tune while a random assortment of toddlers stamped on our hands and various babies puked up all over the rugs.
Now, despite the toddler-stamping and baby-vomiting, there are two things that really bother me about this. One is the floor. I don’t ‘do’ floor – I do deep and squishy sofas and, even better, tall stools in elegant champagne bars. I’ve never been one to sit in the lotus position for an hour with a straight spine, let alone now that I’m approaching 40 and my joints aren’t as supple as they should be.
The other thing that bothers me is the circle. A circle on the floor is always too ‘Kumbaya’ for me and immediately gets my hackles up. It takes me straight back to the misery that was Brownies in a drafty church hall in the 70s. All that dib-dib, dob-dob and leaping over toadstools – ugh.
Still, baby-singing was being held by a good friend of mine who has a heart of gold, so I went along and manoeuvred my creaky bones onto the floor as instructed. But, once there, we weren’t allowed to stay there! It was like these women had drunk rocket fuel for breakfast – every other song had them leaping up, jigging around with their babies (we’re talking about a 10kg lump of lard in DS’s case) on their hips, then sitting down again – up and down like yoyos they were while DS and I sat there looking bemused.
The best bit for me was when one of the mums talked about going back to work in marketing. I sat next to her for a bit in the hope that something might rub off on me; a faint hope that I might remember a little of that feeling of career-fuelled self-worth, even if just for five seconds between schmaltzy Barney songs.
Will I be going again next week? Let’s see.
DD went on her first sleep-over last night. I don’t remember having sleep-overs as a child. When did they become so popular?
Till last week my life was normal. Then the other mum muttered the dreaded invitation and I was plummeted into the social minefield that is the 21st century extended play date.
If you don’t get invited on any, it’s because you’ve got horrible kids that no-one wants to keep overnight. If you do get invited but say no, you’re too up-tight, too precious about your darling offspring, and will undoubtedly be the subject of school-gate gossip.
Could I lay down ground rules with the other mum? No chewing gum, no cups of tea, no cola (you’d be surprised), please clean her teeth, bed by 7.30pm latest. It didn’t help that two other little girls were also invited. Their mums were so excited and happy about the whole thing. Was I the only one thinking, ‘She’s only four!’ ?
It didn’t help that we live a 20-minute motorway drive from the other mum’s house. An emergency pick-up late at night would be a pain in the arse.
DD is quite a rational child so, last week, when we were stuck in a particularly snarly traffic jam, I opened the topic with her. I presented all the possible negatives I could think of. As she listened, I got increasingly desperate. ‘You might be lonely; you might be hungry in the night; you might want to cry and mummy won’t be there. No-one will tuck you into bed; the others may want to stay up long after you’re tired and you know how horrible that is?’
‘I still want to go,’ she said.
‘If you want to go, I won’t stop you,’ I said, bringing out my ace card: ‘But X (the other child’s live-in nanny) will probably be bathing you and putting you to bed and you don’t like her.’
‘Okay,’ said DD after a thoughtful silence. ‘I’ll change my mind.’
‘Oh darling, you made the right decision. I’m so proud of you.’ My relief knew no bounds.
‘Yes, I’ll start liking X,’ (the nanny). I could almost hear her smiling in the back seat.
She went on the sleep-over. She, who goes to bed at 7pm and has only ever spent one night apart from me in four and a half years, slept in a double bed with three other girls and went to sleep at 10.30pm. When I picked her up in the morning she was snappy with tiredness, and slept all afternoon.
‘Given how it went, and how tired you are, would you want do another sleep-over?’ I asked at an opportune moment.
‘Yes! When? Tonight?’ she said.
Why is it that, in the past four weeks, I’ve had three haircuts with three different hairdressers yet still look like I’ve been styled by a one-armed, blind monkey? What is it about Dubai’s hairdressers that they just can’t get it right? Are they all just dreaming about the next champagne brunch, sex on the beach or a night out with a rich guy in a stetson at the annual Oil Baron’s Ball?
All I want is a bob with some choppy layers, and some nice Jennifer Aniston-esque highlights . It’s not rocket science. I want choppy. I don’t want razor-cut, slide-cut, feathered. Yet, invariably, before I can shout ‘stoppit you one-armed monkey!’ the scissors are sliding down the hair shaft and I’m resigned to another to another six weeks looking like Fluffy the kitten.
It’s not even that I’m going to rubbish salons. I’ve tried some of the best international names in Dubai; I’ve tried the most expensive salons in the poshest hotels; I’ve even tried quirky little beauty salons, mobile hairdressers and ladies who work from their own homes. I’ve tried ‘hidden gems’, ‘best-kept secrets’ and ‘beauty editor’s favourites’.
Sometimes the cut is great but, two cuts later, it’s like they stop trying. Or they start double-booking the appointments; or they think they’ll do something ‘great’ and I end up looking like a mop that’s cleaned the pool tiles one time too many. Or maybe they stuff up the colour – too much blonde, too little blonde, the dreaded yellow tinge, visible roots, badger stripes.
Dubai likes to be the biggest-better-best at everything but can anyone – anyone at all? – tell me why there are no good hairdressers here? I’m beginning to think it must be me.
As if I need to prove that it’s not all glam, glam, glam in Mrs Dubai’s household, today we had a domestic day. DD and I dropped DS at nursery (thankfully he has been a lot happier about it this week than he was last week), paid the credit card bill at the mall, then came home to bake some cup cakes to take on a play date this afternoon.
DD likes to think she does the baking but of course all she really does is spread the sieved flour all over the counter tops and into the steriliser and get butter and raw egg up her arms, in her eyebrows and stuck in her hair. Actually, I think that may be libellous: she is very good at putting the paper cases into the cake pans.
She’s also quite good at decorating the iced cakes. I lay out all the sprinkles, winkles and chinkles you can get, and she plops them on the wet icing, trying to put more down than she eats herself. By the end, her tongue is blue but the cakes tend to look lovely, and today was no exception. [They were very well received on the play date].
While DD was decorating the cakes, I made a cauliflower, pea and potato curry and a pile of chappatis for dinner as I knew I wouldn’t get another chance till gone 5pm when it would be too late for DD’s dinner. The last thing I want is to fall into the ‘fish finger trap’ where you end up grilling fish fingers as there’s nothing else for the kids’ tea.
So, by 12pm, I’d made 24 beautifully iced cupcakes, a tasty vegetable curry and a stack of homemade chappatis . Nigella Lawson, watch your back…
Today DD and I took a spontaneous trip on the Dubai Metro. One minute we were pottering around in the mall, having a quick cappuccino and a French pastry; the next minute we were trying our luck on Dubai’s brand new public transport system.
You have to understand, we’re a few weeks behind the crowd with this. The shiny new Dubai Metro opened on 9th September. 09/09/09 at 9:09:09 to be precise – the time that HH Sheikh Mohammed Bin Rashid Al Maktoum swiped his NOL transport card and set the system in motion. The clock at the Mall of the Emirates station was frozen at that moment to commemorate the date – hence becoming not much use to commuters, and even less to those who run the trains, one would imagine.
[Any ideas what NOL may stand for? In my mind, it sounds too much like ‘no luck’.]
Anyway, as the crowds turned up in their millions to try out the brand new Metro and ended up stranded for hours on sweltering platforms as technical glitches paralysed the system, I vowed to stay clear until a) the novelty had worn off and b) the bugs had been ironed out.
But today I lost the battle with DD who has, for the past couple of years, watched the tracks being constructed above our heads. Since she was two years old, we’ve been explaining that those huge concrete tracks high in the sky were going to have trains running along them. She’s a girl who’s grown up in a city without much you could call public transport. Nothing, for her, is more exciting than the idea of a train or a bus. Maserati? Forget it. All she wants is a sliding door and the chance to buy a ticket – and today she got her wish.
Having negotiated the ticketing system, we headed up to the platform to find a train already there, its doors invitingly open. The Londoner in me kicked in and, head down, I rugby-tackled DD down the platform to what I hoped may be an emptier carriage before the doors beeped and closed with a swish.
We sat there for a full 20 minutes before the train moved off. Twenty minutes in a carriage full of 8-year-olds on a school trip. Everyone was disgruntled. There were no announcements. Again, I felt like a Londoner: all I could think was, ‘Who cares? I’ve got a seat.’
The journey was fun. DD squeaked with excitement the entire 15 minutes to the next stop, which was all I’d bought a ticket for as I didn’t want to get stranded too far from the car. I, too, was strangely elated. It really isn’t every day that you get to watch a brand new, high-tech public transit system be constructed and then ride on it within weeks of opening. In fact, I can’t think of a single other city in the world where that’s been possible in my lifetime. Another first for DD’s scrapbook, I guess.