Archive for July 2010
Okay, I know I’ve lived in Dubai since time itself began (at least in Dubai) and I moved here chiefly because I didn’t much like England in the first place, but there are a few things I miss about it, especially at this time of year, when many of my friends are filling Facebook with blissful little updates about life in Blighty.
So, here goes – this is what I miss:
- Light summer evenings, when the last orangey hues of the sunset finally, finally leave the sky long after 9pm.
- Big, juicy roses that grow on bushes not in cellophane packets, and the smell of them on a long summer evening (see above).
- Fish & chips with ‘real’ chips and ‘English curry’ take-aways.
- The buzz in the air on a warm Friday evening in London, when everyone spills out of the pub and onto the streets with their drinks and everybody likes everybody else.
- ‘M…m…m…m…m….m….m…m…More Milkshake’ on Channel 5. A saviour when your kids wake far too early because they’re still on Dubai time.
- Pubs. Pubs that have kids’ menus, colouring and really good grub.
- Shopping in Tesco, where everything’s in stock and cheap as chips, too.
- Licensed cafes in shopping malls. A glass of wine and a sandwich after a spin around GAP? How civilised is that!
- Customer service in shops. These guys seem genuinely happy to help you!
- Fresh air and sky that, when it’s blue, is really truly sparkly blue.
- Marks & Spencers food section.
And, linked to that, here are pictures of two things I’m not going to miss in Dubai.
DD sat with me on the sofa this morning.
‘Sometimes,’ she said very seriously, ‘when I think about things before they happen, and then they actually happen, they’re different to how I thought they would be.’
I nodded. When your five-year-old’s getting philosophical, you don’t want to interrupt the flow.
‘Like the Seychelles,’ she said. ‘That was very different to how I thought it would be.’
Another nod. DD headed towards her point.
‘So, will the Barney brunch today be indoors or outdoors?’ she asked. ‘I want to try to imagine it right, before we actually go.’
Well, I hope she imagined it better than I did because I couldn’t have been more surprised when we arrived at a five-star hotel for the brunch with the real, the one and only, the original purple dinosaur, shipped from the USA.
I suppose there was a clue in the fact that adult tickets cost half the price of children’s tickets, but still there was a part of me that responded more to the word ‘brunch’ than to the word ‘Barney’.
I suppose ‘brunch’ to me means a stunning Dubai-style spread: platters of salads, exquisite sushi, several live cooking stations, the full breakfast works, a carvery with roast potatoes and Yorkshire puds (not that I eat any of that stuff but I like it to be there), fresh tempura, and a dessert table groaning with mini morsels of chocolate loveliness.
I thought that when Barney (the real, the one and only, the original purple dinosaur, shipped from the USA) did his show, the kids would be siphoned off into a sound-proofed annexe while the adults continued listening to the tinkle of a live jazz band, poured another glass of chilled Chardonnay and slid a little further under the table.
I couldn’t have been more wrong. As I said, the clue was in the pricing.
There was a buffet – kiddie-sized – and don’t get me wrong, it was ideal for the kids and perfectly executed. Pasta, mini fish and chips, mini burgers, hot dogs, chicken yuckits, chocolate-spread sandwiches in green and purple bread, and a dessert table that took my breath away: a purple chocolate fountain with fresh cookies for dipping; cupcakes, pink doughnuts with pink chocolate shavings, an ice cream station, candy floss, and more candies than DD has seen in her life.
But the adult brunch? There was no adult brunch. It didn’t matter; that’s not my point – I’m writing about expectations.
So Barney came on and did two shows. Was he really the real Barney (the real, the one and only, the original purple dinosaur, shipped from the USA)? According to insider information, he really, truly was (and was more demanding than Paris Hilton) – and a discerning mummy friend of mine said you could tell he was from the chubbiness of the purple hip – but most people wouldn’t have known, as he mimed along to a pre-recorded show. Twice.
Yes, the same show, twice. I’d never have imagined that, either.
I don’t know what madness made me think a 20-year-old hairdresser straight out of the Midlands would be able to give me the kind of glossy, million-dollar hairdo that fits my idea of who I’d like to be.
I suppose it’s only human to live in hope, though, and my heart was certainly full of that as I let the new girl loose with the scissors. I thought I’d explained my style rather well for once but, needless to say, after a little snip and a painfully slow blow-dry with a toy hairdryer on ‘cold’, followed by a tortuous exercise with the flat-irons, I came out looking like a scruffy 20-something ASBO from the Midlands – who’d been rained on – rather than the sort of honeyed Housewife of Dubai that I like to pretend to be.
When I did my hair myself the next day, I just looked like a sad, long-eared dog: two lumpy puffs of hair hanging listlessly down each side of my face.
And then I thought: I can’t blame her. I’ve lived in the miserable town she’s from, and I can imagine that what she did for me would be quite acceptable over there.
It’s just that here, in Dubai, we have higher expectations of our hair. I blame the super-coiffed Lebanese ladies alongside whom we work and play; they’ve raised my game, that’s for sure.
So today I slipped in an emergency appointment with my famous ‘Hani’ – my Lebanese honey – who surprised me by saying he’d got married – to a woman! – minced off to make me an espresso, showed me his wedding album, painted on a full head of luscious blonde hair, blasted it to sky-high perfection with a scorching hot hairdryer and shaped it by slicing out enough hair to stuff two pillows yet without losing a millimetre of length, then said how beautiful I was.
When I fell on the floor kissing his (shiny) shoes with gratitude, he waved me off with a shrug.
‘Iss my job,’ he said dismissively.
He got a big tip today.
One of the best feelings in the world for me is when I know I’ve fed my children a nutritious home-cooked dinner, and I know that they’ve loved it. When you’re self-catering in a foreign country, however, it can be a bit hit-and-miss.
Rather than stay in a hotel in the Seychelles, we rented a villa (for how many nights can I feed my children the deep-fried offerings of a hotel kids’ menu?). People had told me that it was really expensive to buy groceries over there and that we were daft to try.
And I thought: we live in Dubai. How much more expensive can it be? At least we had the luxury of a four-bedroom house to loaf about in, complete with a private, marina-facing swimming pool, a golf buggy for those essential excursions to the nearby bar, and a motor boat (for water-skiing, natch). Paying a little extra for a loaf of bread seemed a small price.
As it turned out, I didn’t find the prices much higher than Dubai. Perhaps they were even a little lower, although I’m the first to admit that a bit was probably lost in the mental tussle of translating Seychelles Rupees to US dollars and then to UAE Dirhams (divide by 17, add 65 per cent, minus 33 to the power of three and multiply by four. Or something).
The frustration for me was that the supermarkets didn’t have a lot of stock. The kids ate cheese omelettes or pasta four nights running. The restaurants we tried, too, were a little disappointing. However, with a huge South African influence on Mahe, you could at least buy a decent bottle of wine for almost a quarter what you’d pay for it in Dubai – a good enough consolation for me.
Half way through the holiday we discovered the local fruit and vegetable market and the butcher’s shop. I can’t tell you how good it felt to fill my basket with brightly coloured vegetables, freshly baked bread and juicy cuts of chicken breast, which DH tenderised and marinated. We prepared it all with love, inventing dishes to suit the ingredients we’d got, and cooked up a feast on the barbecue, finishing off with piles of freshly cut mango, sweet banana, passion fruit and figs. It’s amazing how good food tastes when you take it back to basics.
Self-catering? I’d do it again in a heartbeat.
We got back from the Seychelles this morning.
The Seychelles are marvellous if you live in Dubai and have little kids. In just four hours, with no vaccinations and no time difference, you’re teleported from the scorching heat of the arid desert to the lush greenery and sweet simplicity of these interesting, tropical islands. There’s even a day flight on the way out, though the night-flight return is a bit of an endurance test (and totally unnecessary if you ask me).
And today, although we were only away for a week, I’ve been flailing around the house like a trout out of water and wondering what on earth it is I have to start doing again tomorrow.
I’m aware that alarm clocks will ring, DH will put on socks and shoes and slide his tanned body into a shirt, a tie and a suit; I will pack snack bags and drop children to summer schools, and then I will… do what?
My brain is made of marshmallow. Grocery shopping, a work deadline, an internet cafe, cooking, a complex drop-off and pick-up arrangement for the kids – vague ideas are circulating in the mental soup but I can’t seem to get a handle on anything. I know there needs to be efficiency – the sort I usually practise every single day – but it all seems beyond me today.
It’s the sign of good holiday, I think.
More on the Seychelles when I get my brain back.
DS is 15 months old and a small, yet noticeable, miracle has occurred in our household: he sleeps. Through the whole night. And he doesn’t wake up till at least 6am – something his sister did from 10 weeks of age, although we mustn’t, of course, compare.
It’s amazing how quickly you get used to having sleep again. This week, driving to get DS from summer school in the dangerous post-lunch slump time when I’ve previously been a danger both to myself and other road users, I realised that, for the first time since I fell pregnant with him about two years ago, my eyes weren’t gritty, my head wasn’t aching with exhaustion and I could actually keep my eyes open without a battle. In fact, I was singing along to the radio, like a normal human being.
I no longer feel I’ll die if I don’t get to shut my eyes for five minutes in the afternoon.
A friend came to see me yesterday. She has a six-month-old baby. I haven’t had a good sit-down chat with her for a while.
‘My GOD! You look AMAZING!’ she said. There was a pause while she examined the contours of my face, then it dawned on her.
‘You’re getting sleep, aren’t you?’
She made it sound like crack cocaine.
‘Yes,’ I said, smirking with the smugness of a woman getting something far more illicit than eight hours a night of pure sleep. But, as she admired my glowing complexion and my reduced under-eye bags, there was a little part of me that thought: Could it be more than sleep? Could it actually be the magic of the Glamoxy Snake Serum?
DH, the kids and I are just back from Ras Al Khaimah, where we spent the weekend in honour of a friend’s birthday. We’d taken advantage of the summer offer at the RAK Hilton Beach Resort & Spa to stay in a ‘beach villa’, and it was the first time we’d crammed ourselves into one hotel room in years.
When I say ‘crammed’ though, I don’t really mean it: the hotel room in question was 60 sq. metres and had two queen beds as well as a dark alcove by the wardrobe that was the perfect size for a travel cot; there was also a reasonable-ish sitting area. Space was not an issue.
But it brought to mind the aborted trip to EuroDisney : when I was sourcing somewhere to stay, I looked at a Honeymoon Suite in one of the Disney hotels. The entire suite was a ‘spacious 60 sq. metres’, which included a ‘large’ bedroom and a ‘luxurious separate living room’ AND a kitchen. How?
I’m so glad we’re not going.
So, back to the RAK Hilton. The room was great, and just steps away from the large, chilled and shaded children’s pool.
Getting ready to go out was not so great. DS was in his cot, wedged into his dingy alcove, by 6.50pm. DD was ensconced in one of the queen beds by 7.20pm, leaving DH and I approximately one hour to creep around in the dark trying to have showers, blow-dry and straighten hair and apply makeup (admittedly this was mainly me, not DH) in absolute silence.
I may have ranted a little to the Birthday Girl on the sweaty golf-cart ride to the main building for her birthday dinner.
‘Why these hotel companies don’t come up with a normal bedroom that has an annexe containing two single beds that you can just shove the kids in and shut the door, I don’t know,’ she said. ‘And build in a baby monitor to both rooms.’
She’s so right. I hate having to pay for the Presidential Suite or for a 500 sq. metre two-bedroom villa just so we can eat our room service dinner away from the sleeping children.
‘And while they’re at it, why can’t they devise a mix-and-match menu for children, where you just pick a couple of steamed veggies, a carb and a protein, and make a healthy supper that your kid’s actually going to eat?’ she continued. (This after my two gagged on the knuckles, beaks and carcass-scrapings that came disguised as heart- and star-shaped chicken nuggets – I don’t blame them. I keep thinking of Jamie Oliver showing children what’s in a chicken nugget).
I think my friend’s onto something. Is anyone listening?
So, today, my mum – England’s Desperate Granny – writes me an email, as she does every day, and, in it, she writes that it’s ‘hot and humid’ in London. So hot and humid, in fact, that she’s wiping the sweat off her brow when typing to me.
‘Don’t talk to me about hot and humid,’ I write back. Not until you’ve lived in 40˚C with 98% humidity as we tend to have right now. And the irony is that, by August, when I go home to see my mum, it will have dropped to 18 degrees and raining, and I will come from 45˚C and high humidity and will have to spend the first three days cocooned in a fleece with the heating cranked up in order that I don’t curl up and die of hyperthermia.
And all the Brits will wax lyrical about what a great summer they had back in June, and show off their fading tans in far-too-short hotpants.
I’m dreading it already.