Archive for June 2011
I love the group-shopping craze that’s sweeping Dubai right now. As a mum with barely any chance to get to the shops without children hanging off my extremities and a pushchair to drag as I chase a runaway toddler through the food court, I really enjoy turning on my BlackBerry and seeing the group-shopping offers of the day.
Groupon, Cobone, GoNabit and the others – buzz, buzz, buzz, into my inbox drop offers of massages, facials, microdermabrasion, tooth-whitening, Lasik eye surgery, photo books, canvas prints, too many deep-sea fishing trips, hotel stays, holidays, personal training, boot camps and Botox. It’s like remote retail therapy without any effort.
I’ve bought a few (not the Botox). Most have been good, but I’ve had a couple of surprises. Three private yoga lessons with Lifestyle Yoga turned out to be better than I could ever have imagined; I had all our mattresses intensively cleaned, which “felt” good whether or not it actually achieved anything; and, while the spa itself was brilliant, the massage I blogged about here was a bit of a shock.
Yesterday I had another weird experience via Cobone. It was for a Thai massage at a reputed spa, not one of those dodgy “saloons” where the nail technician doubles up as the masseuse and you have to lie on the leg-waxing table listening to Celine Dion while you get 50 treatments for Dhs 50. I thought I’d squeeze the massage in as my last little treat before 10 weeks of school holidays started today and, given DS’s recent bout of illness, I felt it was well deserved.
Anyway when I got there for my scheduled appointment, it turned out that my therapist was the only person in the entire spa. She shut the front door “so no-one come in” and started the treatment. It was really good – a proper Thai massage where I got to wear the pyjamas and choose whether or not to use oil (I can’t bear squelching to the car covered in sticky oil when it’s 43 degrees outside).
But every now and then she had to rush to the front door to speak to people and, in the last half hour, the phone rang off the hook. She didn’t answer it, but it did kind of get in the way of my relaxed state of mind.
Afterwards I asked her where everyone was –the state-of-the-art spa was like the Marie Celeste.
“We not open till 12 o’clock,” she said. “Everyone come then.”
So why do you book appointments for 9.30am? Bizarre, no?
No doubt you’ll read plenty of “proper” reviews of The Ivy Dubai written by foodies, real restaurant reviewers and perhaps even some sycophants, but I thought you might like to hear what I have to say about it simply as someone who goes out to eat now and then, and doesn’t mind paying for nice food, a bit of atmosphere and a hassle-free evening.
Really, I’m not that hard to impress.
So, The Ivy. Walked in to a smell of leather and meat, presumably because it’s so newly fitted out the dark-green leather is still settling in. It looked a bit like a gentleman’s club what with that and all the signature oak-panelling. Still, no worries; we told the maitre d’ that we were one short of the four for which we’d booked and she showed us to our table.
Within minutes menus arrived and our drinks order was taken and supplied. But then there was a gap of almost half an hour before I felt I had to call the waitress over to take our food order. “Oh? You’re not waiting for one more person?” she asked, sounding surprised.
We all ordered the salmon fishcakes with sorrel sauce, which came on a baby cot (to say a “bed” would be too generous) of sautéed spinach. The spinach tasted and felt more like cabbage to me, but who am I to argue – I’m not a foodie and it was simply green and quite nice. Actually, I wished there were a bit more of it because the colour, crunch and flavour were a good foil to the fishcake, which was the perfect balance of potato and fish (not too fishy).
We ordered sides of medium-cut chips, skinny chips and the Parmesan-fried courgettes. They were delicious – crispy and tasting mostly of Parmesan. Out of the two types of chip, go for the medium-cut – they were divine, all crispy on the outside and fluffy inside while the skinny version, which had a posh French name that escapes me, were nothing to write home about.
For dessert, we had one of the signature Scandinavian iced berries with hot white chocolate sauce and one tarty thing which isn’t on the online menu so I can’t give you its real name. It involved, I think pears and maybe plum and some flaky pastry and some flaked almonds. There may have been some vanilla sauce and ice cream but I didn’t pay that much attention, to be honest. The friend who ordered it looked like she’d died and gone to heaven such was the eye-rolling and whimpering. I tried it, but it wasn’t my cup of tea.
I tasted the iced berries thing and it was surprisingly yummy but, personally, I couldn’t get past ordering a plate of berries for dessert. Myself, I chose a saucer of chocolates, which were matchstick-shaped and coated in bitter, dark cocoa powder that segued to a sweeter, squishier inside, and an Irish coffee. Both were lovely when they eventually came – there was some sort of problem where the order didn’t get communicated to the kitchen so it took some time.
And then the manager came over. Devastatingly handsome and very charming, he asked us how the service could have been better. We couldn’t think of anything – despite the delays, the evening had been lovely, the food great and we were just finishing our coffees and about to go home, so we told him how pleased we were.
“I’d love to invite you lovely ladies to experience the lounge,” he said. “Have some cocktails compliments of the house.”
“Well, thank you very much,” we said, assuming it was some sort of opening PR exercise. “We’re just finishing here. We’ll be over in five minutes.”
I slugged the last of my Irish coffee and we looked for a waitress to bring the bill. Suddenly the manager appeared again.
“Please come to the lounge area,” he said.
“Yep, we’re just getting the bill…”
“No,” he said. “I need you to leave the table RIGHT NOW,” and maybe I imagined it, but it felt like he was practically pulling my friend’s chair out from under her.
“Oh! You need the table?” I asked.
“YES!” he said. “NOW!”
And, with that, he ruined our night. We went to the lounge area, he produced champagne cocktails but, by then, we were annoyed at the ungraciousness of his behaviour. We’d arrived at 8pm and this was 10.15pm. Given the half-hour delay to begin with, we’d been given just over 90 minutes to order and eat two courses plus coffee. If you need the table at a certain time, tell us up-front (like The Riv does) or be honest about it and we’d be happy to help you out.
The food was excellent but the office-tower location is weird and, because of the table-bumping, I won’t be hurrying back. There are plenty enough good restaurants in Dubai not to have to. Meh.
The children don’t know that I’m going out. I try not to let on. We get through dinner without a major hitch – unless you count them both refusing to eat the “oaty banana crunch” I made (standing over a hot pan while I toasted the oats in honey, made the custard and mixed it carefully with natural yoghurt and sliced banana to make a layered dessert served with a long spoon in a tall glass) – yes, unless you count the rejection of that, which I didn’t take personally, we get through dinner okay and are heading calmly upstairs for bath time when it all goes wrong.
DS takes a handful of Cheerios upstairs in a bowl. He drops it. DD swoops in and scoffs the Cheerios off the floor. DS goes ballistic. Ballistic in the way only a two-year-old can manage. It’s the stiff body, “please breathe” type of screaming. I – thinking of my taxi arriving at the door in just 45 minutes – feel my temper – already ragged through sleep deprivation – snap.
“WHY did you do it? WHY? Can’t you SEE he’s only two? Don’t you UNDERSTAND that he’ll go crazy if you eat his Cheerios? Why don’t you just ASK ME for some? WHY do you upset your brother SO MUCH? Do you LIKE seeing him scream like this? Look at him! He can’t even BREATHE!”
I kick a toy bus across the room. It feels good. I kick another one out of my way, realising only as it launches that I really don’t want to damage the plantation shutters.
DD looks horrified. She’s never seen me this angry. DS is screaming in the bathroom.
“GET IN THE BATH!” I yell. “BOTH OF YOU! NOW!”
And I’m thinking: What happened to those evenings when preparing for a night out involved a candlelit bath, a glass of champagne, a layering of perfumed products and a delicate application of my newest makeup? How come I’m reduced to screaming at the kids when I should be touching up my makeup and teasing my hair? I haven’t even thought what I want to wear beyond the fact that I don’t want to wear what I thought I would wear.
DS won’t get in the bath. I strip him and dump him in it. He won’t sit down. He stands up screaming hysterically so I wash him standing up. He screams louder. My head’s pounding; I feel like it’s going to burst a blood vessel. DS still looks horrified. She cooperates silently, with big eyes.
“Sit down!” I bark at DS.
“Get-out-get-out,” he yells. “Wanna get ooooouuuuut!” He lifts his little leg over the side of the bath.
“Sit DOWN!” I snap. “You are NOT getting out till you’ve SAT DOWN!”
I pass him a cup of water and he places it to his lips and sips through his sobs. The screaming stops. I lie on the bed, drained, and listen to them. DS has recovered. The tantrum’s over as quickly as it started. All’s forgotten. DD is teaching DS a song and dance routine. I peek in the bathroom mirror – they’re both dancing in the bath like nothing happened.
“Sorry I shouted, darling,” I whisper to DD as I get her out. She hugs me. “It’s okay. Sorry I took his Cheerios.”
We have some cuddles downstairs before the hurdle of tooth-cleaning, then it’s bedtime. DS likes a story or six. We cuddle on the sofa in his bedroom and I read him Hide & Seek. Then Spot Makes A Cake and Spot at the Park. I’m so aware of the time I’m having palpitations.
“Okay, bedtime,” I say, but he wants “Christmas” – a book about Santa. And then he wants The Hungry Caterpillar. It’s 7.15pm. I’ve still got to say good night to DD and get ready, and the taxi’s booked for 7.30 – though I know he’ll be here at 7.20.
You’ve never heard anyone read The Hungry Caterpillar faster. Light of the moon, egg, sun, caterpillar, hungry, one apple, two plums, three whatever, four strawberries, five oranges, ice cream, cake, pickle, cheese, sausage, whatever, cupcake, melon, tummyache! Not hungry, not tiny anymore – biiig – biiig cocoon, and out popped a butterfly. THE End.” Butterfly is probably the only word I read at a normal speed.
DS gets another hug and I creep out before going to say goodnight to DD. She hugs me tight and I walk into my bedroom and open the wardrobe.
The phone rings. The taxi’s outside. I’m in shorts, a vest, flip-flops and melted makeup, and I have humidity-hair that smells of the salmon fishcakes I made for the children’s dinner. “I’ll be out in five minutes,” I tell the driver.
“Muuu-mmeeeee!” DD calls me loudly enough to disturb DH. Her neck hurts. She “can’t lie down” it hurts so much.
“You HAVE to lie down, “I say, thinking – why me? “You can’t sleep sitting up. You’re not a horse. Choose the way it’s most comfy and PLEASE lie down.” Please? I check her forehead for a fever, thinking meningitis. No fever. “There. Is it better now?” She nods, I give her one last hug, throw on jeans and a silk blouse, swirl some blusher round my face, slap on some lip gloss, brush my hair, squirt some perfume, throw the baby monitor at Gerlie and run out of the front door in heels the wrong colour for my bag.
The Ivy? Was it worth it? I’ll tell you tomorrow.
I was going to write a proper post tonight but DS just snuck past my chair while evading homemade salmon burgers and switched off the computer at the mains, losing everything I’d been working on. Little pickle.
And I’m going to The Ivy tonight – as in, in two hours, I will have bathed the children, done their teeth and got them to bed, done my hair and makeup, decided what to wear, put it on and got into the taxi looking drop-dead gorgeous (snort).
So instead I’m just going to tell you about a funny conversation I had with DD this morning. I was telling her what her mental maths challenge was for this week – it involves multiplication and I used the word “multiply” instead of “times”.
“Oh, so, like if I’m struggling, it would be multi-try?” she asked. “And if I get it wrong, it would be multi-cry?”
Maybe you had to be there, but I thought it was funny.
DH is away again. Really, he never used to go away much, but suddenly we now have two trips in two months. Obviously, I miss him, but I can cope with dinner-for-one – the ones who take it hard are the children. And, while DD is old enough for me to explain / cajole / bribe, DS doesn’t really know what to make of his daddy being away.
Last time DH went away (you may remember) I lied to DS: I managed to get through most of the week simply by pretending that DH was at work but my smoke-and-mirrors plan went spectacularly wrong by the end of the week when DS realised he’d been duped and took to the screaming heebie-jeebies in the middle of the night.
So this time I went for honesty. DH’s suitcase was in full view as he packed. DS pushed the cabin bag around the house; we explained that daddy was going away. Then DH said good night and disappeared off to the airport, leaving me with two children in various stages of troubled slumber.
DD woke up just as I was turning in for the night at 10.30pm, and remained so until 12.30am. Once I got her back to sleep with a bribe of stickers, DS started waking up shouting “Daddy! My daddy! I want daddy!” That happened about 10 times between 11pm and 5am, when he finally woke up for good, screaming once more for daddy, and running into the bedroom to find daddy (or not as the case may be).
For an insomniac, such nocturnal interruptions are not good, not to mention the fact that starting the day drained and prickly-eyed as the sun comes up, with a hysterical toddler in my arms wouldn’t be high on my list of life’s joys, so let’s just say I wore lots of makeup today and the sunglasses didn’t come off in public.
The whole thing was made worse by the fact that it was, of course, Father’s Day. Both children brought handmade cards home from school and then found they had no daddy to whom they could present them. DS – usually the calmest two-year-old you’ve ever met – is having non-stop tantrums and won’t eat; DD is sad. Me, I’m just hoping we all get to sleep through the night.
I get insomnia because I can’t stop thinking. Or, if I wake up at night and my brain realises it could get in some bonus thinking time, it goes full-speed ahead. But what exactly do you think about in the middle of the night?
Here’s a sample of what goes through my mind:
- Oh god, Twitter has a private message function and I’ve never checked my inbox. What if someone’s messaged me?
- Should I go back to work?
- A salary would be nice. What would I do with a salary? Mmm…
- Thank god I never bought that Jimmy Choo bag. I really don’t like it now.
- Can we squeeze in another holiday before autumn? Mauritius would be good.
- Ooh, I must check out that villa in Koh Samui so-and-so was telling me about.
- What if the Twitter messages were important?
- Should we try and buy a bigger house? Or would the mortgage plus the upkeep be too crippling?
- I wonder if my car’ll be fixed by school pick-up tomorrow.
- As I’m not sleeping, should I check Twitter now? Or would it wake me up more? I could do it on my BlackBerry. But that’s downstairs.
- How am I going to get three children in the Yaris if my car’s not fixed?
- If I put one on a booster would it be okay in the front? Or not?
- Should I have some camomile tea? Or decaf coffee and whisky? Water? Should I get up and walk about for a bit?
- I’ve got some good magazines. Should I read for a bit?
- Let’s try counting sheep. 1-2-3. No. Counting backwards. 100-99-98-97. God this is boring.
- Let’s try some yoga breathing. In-out-in-out-in-out. Was it in through the nose and out through the mouth or the other way round? Does it matter?
- Shit, I feel bad I haven’t done any yoga. I even paid for the classes upfront. And that yoga mat. And those harem pants.
- Would pilates be any better? I don’t really understand what they do with those machines.
- Would I look great if I did pilates?
- How am I going to keep my weight down in England this summer? I won’t be exercising and I’m bound to drink at lunchtimes.
- Should I work tomorrow, or take DS to a play area as there’s no nursery?
- If I take DS out, when will I get my work done? What if I need to pick up the car, too?
- Why do I never find time to write my book? It’s never going to be published if I don’t write it.
- Why am I so lazy? Was I always like this?
- Am I ever going to get to sleep? If I get to sleep now, I might get four hours. That’s okay, I can get by on four hours.
- Three hours.
- Oh GOD just go to sleep! In-out-in-out. Let’s try meditation. Hung-saaah-hung-saaah. Or was it haar-sung? It’s been six years since I did that meditation course. Wow, that was a nice holiday in Thailand.
- Oh yes, I must look up that villa in Koh Samui.
- I wonder if we can squeeze in a holiday at autumn half term. Must tell DH the dates. Maybe Thailand?
- Or is the time difference too difficult for DS? I’m such a wimp. Mauritius?
- Maybe we could look at property in Mauritius while we were there.
- But it’s an 8-hour flight.
- One and a half hours. But I probably got two hours before I woke up, so if I got to sleep now, I’d have had three and a half hours. At least I’m not drunk so I won’t have a hang-over. I’ll feel better than I did when I used to stay out partying.
- Maybe I can get a quick nap before the school run. I’ll be fine. Really. I’ll just pretend I’m fine and have an extra coffee today.
- Was that a bird? No! It can’t be. Shit, it’s getting light. Oh god, the alarm’s going off in 45 minutes.
Not your run of the mill “I can’t get to sleep” insomnia, but “wake up at 2am and never get back to sleep” insomnia. And I can tell you there’s nothing more depressing than watching the first rays of weak morning sun ooze through the shutters and hearing that first blighter of a bird open its squawky mouth at 5am when you’ve been wide awake since 2am and you know you’ve got at least another 15 hours of childcare, school runs, homework, cooking and work to get through before you can have another bash at the going-to-sleep thing.
The following night, I had a bath in lavender oil, read a gentle book ( “I Was Told There Would Be Cake” by Sloane Crosley – it’s quite amusing, check it out), turned the light out at 10pm and slept like a baby.
But last night I got the insomnia fear – which means, of course, that you get insomnia for real. So I decided to tackle it early with some herbal preparation that’s supposed to “calm repetitive thoughts and facilitate a good night’s sleep”.
DH came to bed at midnight and by 12.20am I realised I was in for Another Night of Tossing and Turning followed by That Squawky Bird’s Dawn Chorus. So I took a slightly stronger something.
And did that work? No.
I was too panicky for it to work. I am 40 years old and I have two children to deal with and a Toyota Yaris to drive. I don’t have the time or energy for the luxury of insomnia.
Please let it be better tonight.
I’m currently driving a car that’s about a third the size of my Audi (don’t laugh). Mine’s in the shop getting another broken windscreen fixed. The free hire car that comes on the insurance is a Toyota Yaris. Mind you, given that you can fit at least two adults and three (small) children in it when it looks the size of a toy car from the outside, it might better be called the Toyota Tardis.
Generally, I’m very grateful to have it because it’s a hundred times better than nothing. It’s quite a nippy and smooth little thing, but I do notice some differences from driving my Audi. If you ever find yourself in a position to be driving a 1.2-litre Yaris after a 4.2-litre Q7, here are some pointers to watch out for:
- You have to stop in front of automatic barriers. I never do in the Audi – it has such a long bonnet that the sensors trigger before the windscreen actually gets there, but this doesn’t work with the snub-nosed Yaris. As I discovered today.
- There’s nothing to be gained from standing around by a locked Yaris, waiting for the remote key to work. It doesn’t have one, you’ll get hot, and everyone will laugh at you.
- Gently caressing the steering wheel with your thumb doesn’t set the cruise control, neither does it increase the radio volume. It just looks like you have a nervous twitch.
- Staring at the radio doesn’t tell you what’s behind the car when you’re reversing. You do actually have to turn your head to see out the back.
- You have to slow down for speed bumps. They’re about half the height of the car and each one feels like you’re summiting Mount Everest.
- You may have to start shopping every other day. You’ll be hard-pressed to fit a grocery shop for four into the glove compartment of a boot. And heaven forbid you need the pushchair.
- You’ll have to drive defensively. Not only is a Yaris bottom of the road’s pecking order, falling below even the microscopically larger Nissan Tiida, it’s got the road presence of an ant. Don’t expect people to see you, even if it’s red.
- You’ll have to prioritise between air-conditioning and speed. If you need to accelerate faster than 0-60 in half a day, you’ll have to turn off the a/c to feel the speed. Giggle-giggle.
Audi’s back on Wednesday. Inshallah.
I can always tell when I’m getting enough sleep because I start wanting to do things to the house. There’s something about not being on your knees with exhaustion, your sticky eyes feeling like they’ve been punched onto your face, that makes you look around your home and – sometimes – see it for what it actually is.
And, given that DH and have been married for almost 14 years, what our house really is, in places, is dated.
For heaven’s sake, I bought our key pieces when I was practically penniless and freshly escaped from suburbia. The furniture that my 26-year-old self thought looked classic now looks middle-aged. The touches that I thought looked ethnic (forgive me, I was in the thrall of having married a foreign man) now look naff. There was a time in Dubai when all you could get outside of Home Centre was ethnic wood from Pinky’s, Lucky’s and the fledgling outlet that was Marina. Everyone had the same stuff. My brother paid about 10 times more for the same stuff in John Lewis.
So how do you go about refurbishing a large (suburban) home?
Unless you’re an interior whizz, bit by bit is the only way. Last time I was getting enough sleep I sold all the Persian rugs. Now I’m on a candlesticks and lamps blitz. As soon as I find replacements for my dining table (Watford, 1997), my sideboard, console and bookshelf (Dubai, 1998) they’ll also be hitting Dubizzle. Actually, I’m tempted to sell them even without replacements. (I could live without them; I’m an Aquarian – we don’t notice these things.)
Still, it’s my mission to eliminate every trace of “Lucky-Pinky-Marina” wood from our home by our 14th wedding anniversary in August. If I achieve that, I’ll be one very happy lady.