Archive for January 2011
There are a few basic things we expats forget how to do once we move to Dubai. One is how to wash the car – in Dubai, someone always has to be paid to do it for you – and others that spring to mind are mopping the floors, ironing, indicating when driving, and packing our own bags in the supermarket. The most common one, however, has to be filing our nails.
I’m pleased to say that, even after nearly 13 years here, I still indicate – even when turning into my own driveway and even when no-one’s watching. And that, while I don’t know where the iron’s kept and haven’t a clue how to turn on the vacuum cleaner, I still pack my own bags in the supermarket and do my own nails. Not that there’s much point: with children, you’re never more than two minutes from a chipped manicure.
But then I read about this new “shellac” manicure, which is said to last two weeks. That’d be worth the mind-numbing boredom of sitting in a nail salon, I thought: half an hour to bung it on, and perfect – unchippable – polish for a fortnight.
So I called up Numpties Anon, the local nail salon and asked for a shellac manicure.
“We call it gel-ish,” said the helpful lady on reception.
I hung up quickly. With nails that are in pretty good shape, the last thing I want is those fake gel nails, and calling it “gel-ish” made it sound like it wasn’t even the real deal. A sort of cheap adaptation invented by the brainboxes at the salon. No thanks.
But then I researched it and found she actually meant Jellish – a long-lasting gel-based polish that has glowing reports on the internet and is seemingly indestructible. I booked my appointment and succumbed to what every other housewife does on a weekly basis ie having a Filipina fawn over my extremities with the sole intention of beautifying them.
So, how was it?
I’ve had the Jellish on for two weeks and one day. If my nails didn’t grow quite so damn fast, it would last even longer. My dark plum “Jellish” has been grated, sliced and banged, yet is still immaculate – if it wasn’t for the hulking great gap where my nails have grown.
And the verdict? Ultimately, I’d recommend it, but only in conjunction with a nutritiously restrictive diet (say, G&T and chips all the time) to slow down nail growth. Otherwise, the Jellish will grow out before you have a chance to ruin it on the cheese grater – and who needs that kind of stress?
Recently it came to my notice that I needed a new wallet and, being the lover of leather goods that I am, I plunged myself wholly into sourcing the replacement for the tired black Tod’s that has accompanied me on every outing of my life for the past 10 years.
After much joyful searching, I narrowed it down to a to-die-for Prada Vitello Shine Zip wallet and a gorgeous Julia Leather Accordion Zip from Coach, plumping ultimately for the Coach because it was half the price of the Prada (and I felt Prada is a little, shall we say, too much imitated over here).
And then it struck me: If I bought the Coach wallet online in the States, it would cost about half what it costs over here, plus Dhs 41 to ship it over using Aramex, saving me a hefty wallop of cash that could be spent on other leather goods, wine, reflexology or even Patchi chocolates.
So I ordered it from the States. Only there was a problem: I fell for the oldest trick in the book.
Thinking I could save a few more $$, I picked a website that looked, to me, like an authentic Coach wholesale site. I know Coach has outlet shops across North America and Canada so it didn’t surprise me to see one online but … how stupid do I feel with the benefit of hindsight?
Alarm bells rang the moment the confirmation email pinged in my inbox: It was from *Chinesenamefirstname.lastname@example.org. Realising my credit card details were now in the hands of a dodgy fake outfit in China, I got on the phone to the bank asap, and cancelled the card.
“We’ll need the principal card holder to confirm the re-issue of any new card,” said the (un)friendly girl at the call centre.
“I’d really rather he didn’t find out about this,” I whispered into the phone, imagining the mileage DH was going to get from my sorry tale.
So, to cut a long story short, DH found out. And he teased me mercilessly about reissuing the credit card; then he teased me mercilessly about the transaction. In the past two weeks, as my fake wallet flew from China to New York to Dubai, I’ve had to endure jokes along the lines of:
“They probably have a Hall of Fame: ‘Mug’ shots of the idiots that order from them.”
“Darling, I had an email from someone in Nigeria asking me to deposit $47 million in his account – what do you think? Shall we do it?”
But, all the while, I had a little glimmer of hope that my fake Coach – much as I disagree with fakes – might be quite nice.
It arrived yesterday.
It was not nice. It came in a shabby box made out of recycled toilet paper. It was made of polyurethane and looked like it would fall apart if you put Dhs 5 in it. It was the wrong colour and the wrong style. DH nearly wet himself laughing.
I couldn’t stand to look at it. I left it on the kitchen counter, but the worst jibe was yet to come.
“Oh!” said Gerlie, on seeing it there. “You’ve been to Carrefour? I bought same wallet at the weekend! Dhs 12 (£2)! Identical!” She even got hers out to prove it.
My fake Coach is now, most likely, winging its way to a loving home in the Philippines. Internet shoppers: be wary.
It’s a question that’s been weighing on my mind for some time. Clearly, I drink more than I feel I should, or I wouldn’t be thinking about it. I don’t have a problem, but I’m definitely close to the upper safe limit of two to three units a night. That’s two to three large glasses of wine, right?
This week I took the step of logging on to the UK’s Drink Aware website, not because I’m a wino who suffers the shakes at 9am, you understand, but because, as my friend told me, I’m “trying to hone an almost perfectly healthy lifestyle just a little more.” (Thanks, A). After all, alcohol is my only vice – unless you count handbag-shopping.
So I started using the online drinks calculator, dutifully (and honestly) keying in the drinks I enjoy each evening. And what a shock I got.
Take the other night, for example. I’d had a busy day and had a bit of a stress headache. After getting up at six, working, grocery shopping, doing three school runs, supervising the garden contractors laying the new artificial grass (backwards, I kid you not) and cooking two different dinners, I was faced with coercing an unwilling Year One student (DD) through her homework and spellings.
I needed a glass of wine.
So I had a nice glass of rosé (it’s practically fruit juice) as a little aperitif to get me through the tedious homework-dinner-bath-bedtime segment of the day. Then, with dinner, I had an average-sized glass of red wine (175ml). Not unreasonable, no?
So, after dinner, I nipped over to the computer to key in my guilty secrets – and found that, instead of the two units I thought I’d drunk, I was guilty of 5.4 units! My total since Sunday is already over the week’s allowance for women. The problem, it seems, is my penchant for New World wines, which pack the heavy alcoholic punch of 13.5% proof.
So far, the knowledge of how much I’m drinking hasn’t stopped me but I’m going to persevere with the online drink diary. Even if the only thing it does is make me more aware of my excesses, I think that’s a valuable lesson. But I do have one question about it: When you log on to fill in your diary, it asks “What did you drink last night?”
Does that mean lunchtime drinks don’t count?
Do you remember your parents telling you stories about how bananas were a rarity in the post-war years? How they had to have 10 weeks’ worth of rationing coupons in order to get half a banana?
Well, it feels a bit like that over here at the moment with fromage frais. I’m not talking about the locally produced radioactive “dairy desserts”, which are widely available, cheap as chips and full of sugar and E-numbers, but about the little pots of goodness one might give to a baby. A Petit Filou, for example; a Wildlife tube; a Froob; a Danone pot. You know: real fromage frais, flavoured with real fruit.
So here we are, not in times of rationing, and I find myself driving between three far-flung and different supermarkets to try and spend £10 on a few pots of fromage frais – and it’s just not happening. Everywhere I’ve been, the fridges are bare. DS has finished his last pot; Gerlie can’t comprehend why I haven’t bought more.
“The shops don’t have them,” I explained this morning. “Le Marche and Spinneys are both out of stock. Empty.”
“You try Le Marche?”
“Yes. And Spinneys. Nowhere has them.”
“Oh, Spinneys has them?” she asked, deadpan. Sometimes, the language barrier really bugs me.
The conversation could have gone on all morning; meantime, I’m getting yoghurt angst. Seriously, if I could get away with it, I would swipe a six-pack out of another woman’s trolley.
Yet, yesterday we were down to our last two pots. With love, and not a little ceremony, I handed them over to the children. DS wiped his spectacularly around his face, hands and bib; I fear not much was ingested.
DD, meanwhile, brought hers, warm and unopened, back from school that night. “Oh, I don’t like the apricot ones,” she said, as I tossed the precious pot in the bin and stifled a sob.
Sometimes, I wonder, is it worth the effort?
I don’t really believe horoscopes, though I like to read the odd one and, if it suits me, I sometimes like to re-read it while smiling. Sometimes – if a horoscope’s particularly positive (“A publisher is actively looking for your book manuscript, Mrs Dubai” kind of thing, or, “You’re about to be offered your ideal job for wads of cash”) I cut it out and keep it on my desk (till Gerlie [Capricorn] mistakes it for rubbish and throws it away).
Anyway, I’ve been thrown into a bit of a tizzy about this whole astrological realignment business. Because the earth’s alignment has shifted in the past 2,000 years, it seems I’m no longer an Aquarian. While I don’t really do the horoscopes thing, I live and breathe the fact that I’m an airy, idealist, independent Aquarian (likes: fame, dreams, eccentricity, surprises), who doesn’t give a flying fig what others think, because I’m a genius. Right?
Suddenly I’m a Capricorn. A “practical and prudent” Capricorn (likes: antiques, responsibility, history – say what?). Apart from Gerlie, I don’t even know any Capricorns – all my friends are free-spirit Aquarians (we blue-eyed creatives are naturally drawn to each other), balanced Librans, headstrong Aries, organised Virgos or dashingly exciting Leos.
Furthermore, my house, which is stuffed with giddy Aries (likes: challenges, excitement fast cars) – DD, DS and DH were all born headstrong, loyal rams – is now flooded with wishy-washy, arty-farty Pisces types (likes: romance, music, poetry).
When I first mentioned the situation to DH, he didn’t have much time for it. But, today, he must have heard more about the realignment of the Zodiac because he brought up the topic himself.
“Our children aren’t Aries anymore,” he said sadly (he is now the lone Aries of the house).
“And I’m a CAPRICORN!” I sobbed. “Prudent and practical!”
DH pulled such a funny face I had to hide behind a sofa cushion not to get the giggles.
“Prudent?” he asked, raising an authentic Aries brow. “Really, darling, you’ve nothing to worry about there.”
Last week, I was invited to the opening of a swanky Dubai hotel. It’s the kind of event that, “back in the day”, I would have judged unnecessary and skipped in favour of beans on toast and a night on the sofa. After all, it would have been about my 10th invite of the week.
But, my, how things change.
With no invitations for swanky cocktail parties since, ooh, 1908, I jumped at the chance to attend this one.
And then I started to worry about what to wear. It was all well and good when I ran with the in-crowd but this time around I was almost 40 and no longer a skinny-minny media type with skinny pants, distressed hair and a boyfriend jacket to show for it.
I hmm-ed and ha-ed over my outfit. I wondered whether to get a blow-dry. I thought about evening dresses, suits, cocktail frocks, smart-casual. I worried about looking out of touch (my default uniform these days, far from being a Prada frock and Loubs, tends to involve a pair of GAP shorts and some flip-flops [sometimes even matching]).
But, in the end, when I got there, I realised that the 50-something businessmen and the 40-something career women – the people with the money to spend in a hotel like that – far outweighed the skinny-minny media crowd, and that my new peers didn’t care a hoot what anyone was wearing.
As I sipped my champagne and networked my socks off sporting glossy hair, diamonds and what I hoped was a discreet “luxe” look, I spied the media luvvies looking scruffy and undernourished as they got drunk in the corner, and, instead of feeling a pang of longing to be a part of their scene, I thought, “Crumbs, is this it? Have I finally grown up?”
Okay, so last night I nipped over to Golf Club for dinner with a girlfriend who lives close to me. We both wanted a drink, but were being slack about booking a taxi as it seems an extreme solution when the club is so close by. My friend had heard, though, that the police have taken to waiting outside the Golf Club at night to catch drink-drivers. And we all know that there’s zero tolerance here, so…
“It’s not worth going to jail for driving 2kms on a private compound after a glass of wine, is it?” my friend asked. Then she had a brainwave: “Let’s cycle!”
Although slightly daunted, I could think of no reason not to (apart from the fact I had cycled 9.4kms into a heavy wind that morning, which is the equivalent of cycling the Tour de France for me), so a plan was hatched.
DH nearly fell off the sofa laughing when I appeared in the living room, ready for my big night out. Along with diamonds and lip gloss, I was wearing jeans, boots, a fleece and an across-the-body bag containing wallet, keys, comb (just in case) and BlackBerry. I must have looked hilarious.
“Let me get this straight,” he said. “You’re cycling to the Golf Club?”
“It’s freezing outside. I can take you.”
But I’d kind of got into the idea of cycling there – and I’m really glad I did. It was a moody night with a blustery wind and a bright moon playing peekaboo behind clouds that scudded across the sky. Pedalling along in the fresh air, I felt a freedom I rarely experience these days: just me and my bike, and a bottle of wine and a good friend waiting.
When I got home (strangely sober) I told DH about the joys of my trip.
“I felt like a student,” I said, “cycling off to the pub to meet my friends!”
But DH, whom I met at university, had to ruin the moment.
“But you never had a bike at uni,” he said. “You drove everywhere in my Golf GTi.” Oh, sweet memories.
I’ve heard that it’s quite common for mums of young children to snack on the left-overs of their children’s dinner. In fact didn’t Tory Spelling, who must weigh about 10kgs, once famously admit that she exists only on the odd French fry and crumb of hot dog left over by her children?
Obviously I never do that.
So today I sent the children off to school with little boxes of home-made popcorn in their snack bags. There were a few bits left over – along with the crunchy kernels, which I lovingly and rather short-sightedly extracted from both boxes at 6am this morning – and, for some reason, I thought it would be a good idea for me to nibble on them while waiting for my lunchtime soup to heat.
Crunch, crunch… yummy. No wonder the children like it.
And then there was a bigger crunch, and a bit of popcorn stuck in my tooth. You know that horrible feeling when the tooth’s all sharp and raspy and feels the wrong shape?
Only further investigation revealed that my molar had in fact broken in half and… I had swallowed the other half along with the popcorn. Ugh!
There’s no dental appointment available till Sunday, so I’ve got to live with the result of my gluttony till then but, oh my, next time the children’s left-overs are winking at me, you can bet I’ll be pouring a nice glass of wine and looking the other way.
I’ve made a few personal resolutions for the New Year but, as they’re pretty boring (drink less, cycle more, meditate, do something about finishing my novel) I thought I’d tell you about my resolutions for our home.
We live in a standard Emaar house. It came fitted out with cherry wood. “But madam, it is our highest spec. Everyone wants it,” said the salesman. That would be everyone except me. Well, me and my friend A. And T. And J. And the other J. And F. And… you get the picture.
In 2009 we put in a swimming pool and made an entertainment deck. In 2010 we revamped the kitchen (twice – god bless that particular contractor for stuffing it up the first time). 2011 is the year I vow to:
1) Spray-paint all the cherry wood white. Every last devilish little bit of it.
2) Remove the Ikea beech-effect shelves in the family room and replace them with white toy cupboards so, when I’m sipping my Sauvignon in the evening, I can’t see a single plastic toy.
3) Change the Prisoner Cell Block H stairs (grey iron railings – um, why?) to something more attractive for a family home. Even if that just means carpeting the stairs and replacing the banisters.
4) Lay artificial grass in the garden. The real grass costs a fortune to maintain and, since the gardener killed it last summer, it has never looked the same.
5) Replace the flooring throughout the house. Really, after five years of vomit-coloured ceramic tiles, I’ve had enough.
DH and I reckon we’ve got another 10 years in this house, so it’s probably worth the effort. I’ve started on the artificial grass already… I’ll keep you posted.