Archive for July 2011
It’s a fact of life that I put on weight when I’m in England. Usually about 2kgs in a month and, for me, someone who cares about her weight, that’s just awful.
It’s most likely due to the high sugar content of the marmalade, I think, and nothing at all to do with the 250ml glasses of sauvignon I have with lunch every day and the fries that seems to company everything in Cafe Rouge (I go there for the sticker kits for the children, you know, not at all for the Croque au Sauman Fumé avec Frîtes).
So this year I’ve been going out for a “power walk” in those few minutes after the kids are bathed and before they’ll go to bed given it’s light so goddamned LATE in this country and the air’s so cool and clean.
But my mum calls my “walk” a “run” so I thought I may as well try a bit of a run (it’s a quiet street) and now I run 100 steps (downhill, if you must know) till my lungs are bursting and my thighs exploding, then I walk for a bit, looking at the property and trying to value it in my head (how small must those bedrooms be?), then I run another 100 steps, then I go home and drink half a bottle of Rioja and eat a calorific dinner.
Much as I don’t like England, there are certain consolations to being here.
Have you ever had one of those moments when you make a tiny mistake and then realise, with a thump of your heart, just how catastrophic the results may be? I had one last Saturday.
As you may remember, I wasn’t looking forward to flying to the UK alone with two small children, though I was armed with a gorgeous handbag bag stuffed with snacks, toys and my ultimate weapon: a brand new iPad loaded with age-appropriate games for DS.
The journey didn’t start well. We boarded the plane, I settled the children into their seats and then a lovely cabin crew boy offered me a glass of champagne.
But then DS wanted something from his hand luggage and, in getting it down and opening it, I managed to knock my champagne glass flying.
On further guilty investigation, I realised that two thirds of the glass had poured down a grille that said “Do not cover” and it is to my disadvantage that I realised I watch too many episodes of National Geographic’s “Air Crash Investigation”.
As I peered at the grille, mourning the loss of my bubbly, I heard the Nat Geo narrator’s voice in my head:
“As passengers boarded the plane at Dubai International Airport, a careless passenger unknowingly triggered what was to become a fatal chain of events for Virgin Flight 401 to Heathrow. As the champagne trickled slowly down onto the loose wiring in the hold, it short-circuited, causing sparks that ignited the fuel line. Within minutes after take-off, the London-bound jet was a flaming inferno. 30 seconds later it plummeted into the Arabian Sea. Bodies, debris and Prada handbags washed up on Palm Jumeirah for months to come.”
“Excuse me?” I asked the cabin crew boy timidly. “I spilled my champagne down this grille. Does it matter?”
“Uh,” he said, disapprovingly (and I can’t blame him) but within seconds there was a ground staff engineer peering down the grille next to a vacant seat and a blonde cabin crew explaining what had happened.
“DOES IT MATTER?” she was asking the Indian ground crew. “CHAMPAGNE? WENT DOWN THIS GRILLE? IT SAYS ’DO NOT COVER’. Is it IMPORTANT?”
I shrank a little lower in my seat, visions of the whole jet having to be emptied, the flight delayed for hours while they waited for my champagne to dry, the passengers furious.
“No, it goes into the cargo hold,” he said, and that was it: doors armed and cross-checked, cabin crew prepare for take-off. Passengers in row 5, prepare for crash landing, I was thinking, as I kept a nervous eye on the engines.
A little later in the flight, the blonde cabin crew lady who’d spoken to the ground crew came over.
“It’s absolutely fine, by the way,” she said. “I double-checked with another engineer as well, because of the language barrier. I’m sure it happens ALL the time – you’re just the first one to tell us.”
Needless to say, I’ll be limiting my exposure to “Air Crash Investigation” from now.
It’s with mixed feelings that I’m preparing for my annual trip to England. The last two days, for example, have been brilliant here. It’s been 38 degrees, a dry heat with no humidity. The car parks and shops are empty, the kids are at summer school and it’s perfect sunbathing weather. In a nutshell, I’m thinking “Why am I leaving? I love it here.”
Sure, some of the trepidation is tied up with the knowledge that I’ll be taking a seven-hour daytime flight with two small children, one of whom is too young to enjoy television for long, but I’m far more worried about England itself. Here’s what I’m not looking forward to:
- The propensity of people in my home town to dress for “comfort” not style.
- Primark on every street corner.
- The rain.
- People saying it’s “balmy” when it’s 17 degrees.
- Wearing a fleece when everyone else is in a bikini.
- Putting the children into their car seats with the rain dripping off my hair and down the back of my neck.
- Standing around in a cold, graffitti’d playground, after having wiped the slide clear of rain with kitchen roll, and making sure the children don’t step in (or pick) up the dog pooh while diverting them from the sight of the 15 year-olds shooting up behind the bushes.
But, after last year, when I ended up in tears after just two and a half weeks, I’m trying to view everything in a positive light, despite the weather forecast being for rain for at least the next 10 days.
So, here’s what I’m looking forward to:
- The M&S food halls – where you can buy wine by the glass, delicious sandwiches and ready meals, as well as fabulous kids’ ready meals.
- Late-night sunsets after sunny days. (Ha ha. I should be so lucky.)
- Shopping at Bicester Village. Let’s be honest, I’ve booked our entire family into a farmhouse in Oxfordshire for five nights just so I can shop at Bicester.
- Buying quality children’s clothes that don’t cost a fortune.
- Tesco! How excited am I that I’ll be shopping in Tesco on Sunday? (“It’s only open 10 till 4,” mum reminded me – quaint, no?).
- Fresh air. I’m even taking my trainers in the hope that…. I just might manage a brisk walk around the block of an evening.
- Pub lunches.
- Children’s menus that come with colouring and sticker kits (Cafe Rouge), are brilliant and cost just £4.99 (Dhs 30).
For a few minutes today, I relived my career. I had a meeting in Dubai Media City (DMC), where I worked from 2004 to 2007. So I walked into the buzzing hub of DMC for the first time in years, and the first thing that hit me was the smell. I don’t think they’ve changed the cleaning fluid since 2004. Instant recognition. Instant memories.
The next thing I noticed was how young, slim and gorgeous everyone was. Living in a world populated with pregnant ladies, new mothers, housewives and absolutely no men, you tend to forget that there’s a whole army of gorgeous young things out there with snake-hips and cute tushes wrapped in bandage dresses, tossing their silken curly hair as they clop the halls of offices in their skinny little stilettos with not a thread vein in sight. And as for the men – wow, they may not know how to change a nappy but boy were they looking moody and media-y in their slick suits and hair gel.
Then there were the offices. I don’t know what it is about media in the UAE (perhaps everywhere) that they feel they have to install laminate on the floors but every open door through which I peered had the same stuff and I’d forgotten how long it’d taken me to grow used to the harsh and incessant crashing of high-heeled shoe on cheap laminate. BANG-BANG-BANG-BANG – ouch, here comes my assistant.
No wonder I initiated “flip-flops-day” on Thursdays.
So, while I was sitting in the company’s reception waiting for my meeting, I sighed a little sigh of, “Maybe one day I’ll go back to it”. But, no sooner was the sigh sighed-out when the tableau was ruined by some sort of manager type who came storming into the office full of Red Bull energy, his suit jacket slung over his shoulder, his Audi TT no doubt in a “no parking” zone and a fawning assistant chasing at his heels while he talked at the top of his affected voice about who-knows-what shit.
I looked at him and I thought: You are media today. You’re probably not even 25 and you probably run this place. If I worked in media again, I would be dealing with twats like you every day. You might even be my boss.
Let me tell you: The mummy mafia never looked so attractive.
The lady who usually cuts my hair – not my lovely Hani, who only does my colour and blow-dry – disappeared off for the summer in what feels like about April, leaving me with a rather shaggy “do” so today I was forced to find a new stylist to chop it into shape prior to my annual trip home.
Last year, you may remember, when faced with the same situation, I ended up with a disastrous cut from a teenager fresh out of Coventry, so I tried to be a little more discerning in choosing a stylist this time, and picked a lady who recently made one of my friends look very glamorous.
Indications were good. The salon was clean and spacious, and the stylist friendly in a professional way. The lady who washed my hair did an amazing head massage. The stylist knew what she was doing and got on with it while I read trashy magazines. The salon was pretty quiet so, afterwards, I thought I’d kill two birds with one stone and see if anyone was free to thread my eyebrows rather than make a separate trip to my usual salon later in the week.
I was lead upstairs to the beauty cubicles, where a lady whose name I’ve heard bandied about at coffee mornings (in a good way) set to work on creating the perfect arch. As she sawed away with the thread, I heard the distant whir of an electrical machine. Given that the salon often offers cutting-edge beauty treatments, I wondered what it was. Was it some new anti-cellulite machine? A fat-busting ultrasound cavitation machine? An anti-aging laser treatment? Something that gives you gleaming white teeth, young skin and a cup of tea on the side?
Unable to tell, I asked the eyebrow girl what it was I could hear rumbling through the partitioned wall.
“The washing machine,” she said.
I remember the days when packing for a trip was a leisurely event, a day or half a day spent trying out outfits, bikinis and sarongs, unpacking new shoes and bags and leisurely putting together a holiday wardrobe – complete with lip gloss, perfumes and jewellery – in pleasant anticipation of the trip ahead.
Needless to say, today’s been nothing like that.
Packing – not just for myself, but for two little ones (one of whom’s still in nappies and requires various baby paraphernalia) – in the presence of two excited, small children, is an exercise in frustration. Not only do I want to get it done quickly, but I’m working around the times the children will be asleep i.e. getting stuff from their rooms before naps and bedtime.
But every time I think I’ve gathered the DVDs, books, toys, cars, pens and teddies that we need, a little pair of hands has whisked them off and I have to start again. Every time I think I’ve sorted out DD’s “plane” outfit, she changes her mind. Just as I finish her pile of clothes, she tries something on and gets juice down it.
The children, of course, are beyond excited. DD has been hyper all day, skipping about the house, knocking her brother over and singing at the top of her voice. DS, unfortunately, has been running a fever, which I hope will be gone tomorrow. Gerlie, who’s coming with us, is trying to pretend she doesn’t have a cold. Meantime, it’s 8pm and I haven’t even started on my own packing. I’m thinking I’ll be lucky if I get there with a bikini, a sarong, a dress and some flip-flops.
Back on Thursday.
I may not have been kissing Valentino by a crystal-blue Italian stream but I was having a really good dream, the topic of which escapes me now, when I heard it:
“Muuuu – meeeee!”
It wasn’t even loud but somehow a child’s voice can get her mother from deep sleep to half way across the landing before her brain’s even processed the call so, without thought, I found myself loitering at DD’s door at some ungodly hour of the morning, my eyes still glued shut, and the remnants of a good dream hanging in my head. (Fathers, I’ve noticed, have the ability to remain oblivious in sleep, even to the sound of their newborn screaming.)
“Did you call?” I whispered. Sometimes I only dream that she calls and the last thing I want to do is wake her up if she didn’t.
“I had a bad dream,” said a small, petrified voice from the depths of the pink bedroom, so I padded over, ready to hear tales of witches, wizards and big, scary dogs. (We’d had a play date that day with a friend who owns a ridgeback about three times the size of DS.)
What I got was:
“I dreamed I did something wrong and I went to jail and they threw away the key and you and daddy couldn’t see me anymore. Do they put you in jail if you do something wrong in Dubai?” she asked.
“Oh yes, darling, they put you away for anything over here. Holding hands, kissing, someone else saying you made a rude gesture – they don’t even need proof if a UAE national accuses you. Guilty until proven innocent!” is what I wanted to say, but I realised that would earn me a sleepless night. I was going to have to come up with something sunnier.
“They don’t put children in jail, darling,” I said. “So you’ve nothing to worry about.”
“Oh okay,” she said, cuddling Burj Khalifa bear tight (Dhs 65 well spent). “Sorry to wake you up, mummy, but I was scared I’d never see you again.”
And with that she went back to sleep.
I, however, lay awake for another two hours thinking about all the ways in which our life here could go wrong in a heartbeat. How we think we own our house here and have a good life, but how just one tiny thing could bring everything crashing down – DH gets sick, loses his job, gets thrown in jail over a misunderstanding – even if the government just changes its mind about its expat policy and chucks a load of us out. What then of the house we call home and the only life DD knows? Our life here really is built on sand, I concluded miserably somewhere around 4.30am.
Beginning to wish I’d bought myself a Burj Khalifa bear to hug.
It occurred to me today that I’m going on holiday (Oman, baby!) on Sunday, and I need to buy a few bits for myself and the children before we leave. Today was the last day I’d have a chance to make it to the shops, so I seized it with both hands in a two-pronged attack on Mirdiff City Centre.
Carpe diem and all that.
So, the first wave started at 10am with me loitering with intent outside Debenhams, waiting for it to open while hoping no-one I knew saw me. I needed Debenhams because, for some reason, the shorts I bought yesterday for DD were three sizes too big (duh!) so I wanted to exchange them for a more appropriate size. Managed it, then span around the mall looking for:
- A strapless bikini that doesn’t make my boobs look like pancakes.
- A pair of white shorts that aren’t the style of jeans cut-offs (I’m not 16 anymore, trust me, the child-bearing hips don’t look good in those).
- Small, lightweight toys to amuse DS on the day flight to London. You know, the flight DH will not be on. Just me and the kids. DH is coming, alone in Upper Class, later. He tells me he’d rather be with the children. It’s a whole new blog, that topic.
Anyway, needless to say, in the 90 minutes between mall-opening and school pick-up, I didn’t find my magic bikini, my flattering shorts, nor any toys for DS. So I bombed it back to pick up DS, cooked our lunches, put DS to sleep, cooked our dinners, realised DD’s new shorts still had the security tag on them, then bombed it back to Mirdiff City Centre for stage two of the big shop, DS safely ensconced for the hour in Little Explorers and DD on a play date in Mirdiff.
This time, I had one hour and counting: Little Explorer’s “Shop & Drop” deal is 60 minutes, with a Dhs 30 penalty for being late. (I ask you, who in this country can shop for just one hour?)
So it was back to Debenhams to get the security tag taken off the shorts (after pinging every security alarm from Carolina Herrera and Michael Kors to GAP to H&M) and then I saw the dresses on 50 per cent sale in Debenhams. You know: Coast, Fenn Wright & Manson and the luscious silk Ben de Lisi evening gowns.
And what I have to ask you is this: What is it about a rack of frou-frou silk dresses that makes me think I have a lifestyle in which I can wear them? What is it that makes me think: “Ooh, that strapless silk number would be great for the school run – far better than shorts and flip-flops. Oh look, it’s only Dhs 560 down from Dhs 1,020! I’ll team it with a pair of heels and look fabulous tripping through the sand at midday in the 46-degree heat”??
Is it me? Is it Dubai? Or is Debenhams playing some sort of subliminal “buy-me-frou-frou dress” music disguised as pan pipes? What do you think?
Strangely, given how disgustingly hot and humid it is here in July and August (and even more strangely given that the children are off school), some of my fondest memories of the year take place in the summers. Me, I don’t understand why people disappear off the moment the school gate clangs shut, not returning from the land of expensive petrol, strikes and perpetual drizzle until the day before school starts.
Mind you, I’m not complaining. Their absence is one of the things makes life here a lot more pleasant. Here’s what I like about summer in Dubai:
- No getting up at 6am.
- Leisurely drives home from summer school with DD with Lady Gaga and Train cranked up.
- Spontaneous afternoon trips out without worrying about homework, teatime and bedtime.
- Sunset swims.
- Children learning new skills through fun at summer camps.
- Being able to get a pedicure or foot massage at Tips ‘n’ Toes on the spot.
- No queues in the supermarket.
- Massively less traffic on the roads.
- Being able to park in pole position by the mall doors.
School broke up for the year on Wednesday. Forget the children, I was crawling towards the date on my knees, clawing towards it through a haze of exhaustion from a year of 6am starts. I lost interest in keeping up my end of the school-parent bargain. DD lost interest in her work, caring only about the slew of August birthday parties pre-dated to June, the school trip to KidZania and, of course, the big end-of-term class party. Neither of us bothered with her homework. DS fell sick. We all longed for the end of term.
And so it came, on Wednesday, in a blaze of glory: An early finish, a play date with dinner, a bottle of celebratory white for me and the other mum, and the unbelievable joy of a three-day weekend and no more 6am starts till September. On Thursday morning I woke at 7am with an overwhelming feeling of relief, freedom and well-being, compounded by the fact that the children obligingly woke an hour after I did (utterly unheard of), allowing me a luxurious hour of peaceful reading before I had to dispense Cheerios and pancakes, make coffee and think about the day.
By 10am, all the good feeling had gone.
“I’m booooored,” came the first whine. “What can I dooooo?”
“Mummy! I said I’m bored.”
“Read a book? Play a game? Play with your Moon Dough? Dress your Barbies? Make something with hama beads? Do some colouring? Write a story? Try on all your clothes? Tidy your room?”
“Eeuuur!” I can’t really express the spelling of that irritated, rising crescendo, non-specific whingeing sound. “No! Can I have an ice cream? Ice lolly? Biscuits? Sweets?”
“No! It’s 10 o’clock in the morning!”
“But I’ve got nothing to doooo! I’m booooored!”
“Oh DD, please! You have a houseful of lovely toys, things you’ve begged me to buy. Now take some out and play with them.”
Welcome, fellow mummies, to the patina of the next 10 weeks. Remind me again why I was so keen for term to end.