Archive for December 2011
Every now and then I’m overcome with a desperate need to force my materialistic, mall-rat children to spend some time outdoors in the fresh air, inhaling the scent of freshly cut grass while scooting about on cheap plastic toys.
Today was one of those days, so off we trotted to Safa Park.
And, if Dubai does one thing well, it’s public parks. Safa Park has a boating lake; numerous children’s playgrounds; a display of orange and yellow flowers that would definitely win bronze at Chelsea Flower Show; plentiful, clean public toilets; an outlet of Malik Burger that I’ve never seen open in 13 years; a mini Ferris wheel; and even some rides (that I’ve also never seen open) – a merry-go-round and bumper cars to be precise.
My favourite, though, is the “Jumping Tram Poling” (aka trampolining), where the list of rules is so long it took me two frames to capture them in all their glory (see below). At the bottom, under rules such as “Do not jump with tongue between the teeth” it says, “Legal action will be taken for not complying with the above instructions.”
Read the rules, and then remember that, along with bouncing a cheque, drinking in alcohol without a licence and murdering someone, you could also be jailed for “turning a somersault without your legs rather stretched on the carpet.”
Don’t say you haven’t been warned.
On seeing the empty bottles after our annual Christmas party, friends who know me well have asked, “How many of you were there? Did you have any guests at all?”
Let’s just say, it went well.
So what is it about Christmas that makes me come over all Blue Peter? I couldn’t stand that show when I was a child. The phrases “cornflakes packet”, “yoghurt pot” and “double-sided sticky tape” still make me come out in hives. To me, from age five to 16, Blue Peter was even more torturous that John Craven’s Newsround.
You know how it kind of filled that tedious 5.05pm slot before Grange Hill? Sometimes I actually chose to do piano practice instead of watch it. With toothpicks inserted under my nails.
Anyway, I digress. To recap: I hate arts and crafts. Always have, always will. But there’s something about Christmas – maybe the lovely photographs in the Christmas issues of Easy Living and Good Housekeeping ME – that makes me want to start being all creative with my hands.
For a start, I’m planning to make a stunning, beribboned bauble decoration to hang on our front door in place of the cheap, plastic wreath I bought in our local supermarket (where in Dubai can you buy a bushy, lush wreath in Dubai? Do you really have to nick it off your neighbour’s door in the dead of night?)
And, after I’ve tied the last piece of wired golden ribbon into an elegant Kirsty-Allsop-ish bow , I’m planning to move into the kitchen, drink half a bottle of sherry with a straw, dance around the kitchen to “Edge of Glory” by Lady Gaga, then roast some nuts in mixed spices and honey.
When they’re done, I’m going to package them in an air-tight jar, tie with a red silk ribbon and gift to all the friends I’m visiting this Christmas, the scent of honey-roasted nuts and all-spice lingering in my festively blow-dried hair.
Other friends are also going to receive a glass jar, this one layered with the ingredients to make a batch of delicious chocolate cupcakes, complete with little cellophane baggies of sprinkles and chocolate balls to decorate. A nattily written luggage tag will outline the baking instructions for the lucky recipients.
The only problem is, I’m not very good at all this Nigella-y action. If you’re on the receiving end of my roasted nuts, humour me: Feel honoured. Feel very honoured.
But I wouldn’t advise actually eating them.
I realise in writing this I’m going to sound terribly spoilt, but here goes anyway.
I’ve been quite stressed lately. Not stressed in the way you’d be when you’re working 85 hours a week in a difficult job with incompetent muppets (I think we’ve all been there), but stressed in the low-key way a working housewife can be stressed in the run up to Christmas.
Stressed in a sort of “there’s just not enough hours in the day / days in the week to get everything done” sort of stressed. And in a “why the hell does school finish on December 15?” kind of way. And in a “what am I going to give 50 guests at our party on Thursday?” kind of way.
And when life’s going on like that, the first thing to go is my shoulders. Up they go – up, up and away like hot-air balloons. After a few days of holding them clenched at that height, they become quite painful so I decided to sneak in a little 30-minute shoulder massage at the nail salon before a long overdue night out with a bunch of girlfriends.
“Please don’t get oil in my hair,” I begged the therapist, as I snuggled down on the treatment bed. (to be honest, 30 minutes horizontal with no children around was treat enough – you could almost forget the massage). “I’ve just washed it and I’m going out for dinner (with my über-glam girlfriends).”
“No problem,” she said, covering my head with a towel lest she forget.
The massage was bliss. The therapist found the epicentre of my shoulder and neck pain and firmly erased it while I tried not to moan out loud with relief.
“Sit up,” she said after about 20 minutes, then continued the massage with me vertical. Sure, I was struggling to cover my boobs with a towel that kept slipping, but it was nice. It allowed a degree of movement not possible when horizontal. It was going swimmingly –
… she placed her hand on the top of my head to steady it while she dug her fingers into my neck.
And what do you do when you know you’re getting a great big oily handprint on your freshly washed hair – but you’re enjoying the massage so much you don’t want her to stop? What do you do? Talk about First World Problems.
I let her carry on. And I went out to dinner with an oily great handprint on top of my head.
To be fair, my friends didn’t snigger for long.
With Christmas just around the corner, the annual invasion of the grannies is now well underway. I see them all over the community, creaking out of airport taxis with their Duty Free gin, their sensible travel shoes and their ‘oliday blow-dries.
Every day, I see them fiddling with their bifocal sunglasses and blinking like badgers in the bright Gulf sunlight as they try desperately to keep up with the frenetic pace of their daughters’ lives. I mean, spare a thought for them: The blow-dried grannies in their easy-care slacks have, after all, been plucked from a life of mince pies and sherry under a blanket in front of the telly and dropped headfirst into a blur of champagne brunches, five-star beach clubs, 100-kilometre school runs, Polo Club lunches and visits to malls bigger than the quaint villages in which they live.
It’s no wonder they look confused.
But, as I watch the grannies pat their puffy hair and drop off the littuns at school and nursery with a wiggle of their wonky hips, I always feel a twinge of jealousy because they remind me of my own mum – DD and DS’s super gran – whom we’d dearly like to be here but who doesn’t “do” winter in Dubai because she doesn’t like to leave her house unattended in the depths of a British winter for fear that all sorts of nasty things might happen to it.
Fair point, I guess. But I still wish she was here. Dodgy hip, blow-dried hair, easycare slacks ‘n’ all.
“Okay, don’t eat it, but understand that this is your dinner. Mummy is not cooking when we get home tonight.”
“Don’t cry, big boy – it’s only a clown / Santa / Barney!”
“Have some chicken nuggets first, darling, then a cupcake… [resigned sigh]…ohh… I give up.”
“Please, darling, please join in the games? Or we won’t have Cheeky Monkey next year?”
“I know you’re not hungry. You’re full of cheese balls.”
“What do you mean, you haven’t had any cheese balls? Your face is bright orange!”
And my favourite:
“Hon? Is there any more of that Sauvignon Blanc? It’s going down a treat.”
Chin-chin to the party season!
Given the last conversation I had with DD about the tooth fairy, I’m not encouraging chats about the origins of Santa, as I’m sure you can understand.
Two years ago we negotiated the hurdle of, “Is the Santa I see in the grotto / shopping mall / Polo Club the real Santa?” by agreeing that those were just fake Santas because the real one is far too busy wrapping presents with his elves in Lapland to fanny about in the malls of Dubai.
DD’s question this year was slightly more taxing:
“Mummy, where’s Santa really from?”
“Lapland, darling. It’s very far north, where it’s all cold and snowy.”
“Are you sure?” she asked. “It’s just that the ones we see, well, it’s hard to tell because of the beard, but I’m sure they’re Filippino.”
There are so many levels on which I shouldn’t be telling you this story. But here goes anyway.
Yesterday, DH and I and the children were at a Christmas party at our friends’ house in Emirates Hills. For those of you who don’t know Emirates Hills, it’s a bit like Beverly Hills: Huge, gated mansions in an exclusive community wrapped around the deliciously green Montgomerie Golf Course.
The party, of course, was spectacular. Fully five-star catered, there was also a bar with free-flowing pink champagne, a shawarma stand, scones with clotted cream and jam, and canapés. For the children, there was an arts and crafts corner, party entertainers, a lifeguard for the pool and a full kiddie buffet with a chocolate fountain and a French chef on hand to help the little ones ice and decorate their own cupcakes. Our friends, they don’t do things by halves.
So, we sipped our pink champagne in the sunshine, drank in the heavenly surroundings and unwound to the sounds of mellow jazz. It was heaven on a stick.
And then I noticed DS clutching onto the back of a tiny chair and turning red in the face.
“Do you need a pooh?” I asked him. His panicky eyes said it all. We’re potty-training at the moment so this was quite an emergency. But the pooh, I suspected, had already passed the point of no return.
A peep down the back of his pants confirmed my worst fears. I saw a lurker.
“Come on,” I said quietly. “Not a problem, darling. Let’s get you to the bathroom and clean you up.”
So off we walked, him stepping somewhat gingerly through the bar, down the corridor and into the first bathroom we came across. I pulled DS’s trousers down, then his pants, but I couldn’t find the pooh. Must be in his trouser leg, I thought, wincing. I cleaned his bum, picked up his trousers and shook them over the loo.
Oh my. That feeling of your heart dropping through your stomach? I was there. How many elegant guests sipping champagne outside and… and what? Sipping champagne and stepping into DS’s pooh? Uh.
We retraced our steps and, when we got to the bar, I saw it. Lying there on the slate floor like a giant, festering slug. The elephant in the room. As my jaw dropped in horror, DH approached from outside, a cheery Christmas napkin in his hand.
“Don’t worry, darling. I got all the bits outside,” he said, passing me the pooey napkin. “No-one trod in it.”
Let’s just say: Me, hands and knees, baby wipes, swift exit.
We may not be invited next year.
I don’t know about you, but I see them all the time. They’re people so familiar in their faces, their hair, their clothes and their “being” that, as you approach each other, you think you know them. They look just like all your other favourite friends.
Sometimes, as we pass women in the mall, the familiarity is so strong that even DH says to me, “Did you know her? She looked like you should.”
I always give my “should-be” friends a half-smile. Sometimes I’ve even been caught out saying “Hey,” (that Dubai cross between “hi” and “how are you?”) to strangers as we pass in Mall of the Emirates, Mirdiff City Centre or Le Marche. Sometimes the “friends that should be” respond and I know that they’re thinking the same thing too: “Do we know each other? Why don’t we know each other? She looks nice [normal / like me].”
[If she’s thinking, “Haven’t I seen her on a ‘WANTED’ list?” that’s a whole new blog.]
Take the other day, for instance. I was surreptitiously looking at a couple of ladies who were standing talking at an event. They were all slim, blonde and wearing beautifully cut linen shift dresses with heels. They all had nice leather goods (you know me and a good handbag), discretely lovely jewellery and excellent highlights. “I feel like I should know them,” I was thinking, when my best friend rocked up and started talking to them. She was friends with them – we’re the same clan – and it’s visually recognisable.
So what do you do when you see people you “should” know? Do you introduce yourself and make a new friend – or pass politely by and wait till you’re next at a party together to get chatting? At least you know, with the one-and-a-half degrees of separation we all have in Dubai, you will bump into them again.
Further to my sartorial use-it-or-lose-it campaign, I held a garage sale at the weekend. Gerlie – a self-proclaimed expert on the subject – took on the role of campaign manager, advising me on marketing, pricing, sales strategy and product placement.
As sale day approached, and as the pile of discarded items stacked in the living room grew ever more Kilimanjaro-esque, she could barely hide her excitement.
“Madam, I ask you something?” she said three days before the sale. “I can reserve things for my friends? Some children’s toys, some clothes, handbags, necklace?”
I agreed, and then the activity stepped up another six notches. As I hung the clothes on the sale rail, Gerlie circled, checking out each and every item as she pretended to swish the mop around the floor. At lunchtimes and after work, her room echoed with the sound of frantic, staccato Tagalog – I could only guess she was doing deals with her friends over who should have which items at which price.
“Madam, I can choose things for myself, too?” she asked. Now, before you think I’m mean, I have to tell you that Gerlie gets so much stuff from me that the walls of her room are actually surplus to requirement – if they crumbled in the night, the roof would stay supported by the compressed piles of Banana Republic, DKNY and GAP she’s inherited.
“Yes, of course,” I said and, the night before the sale, six neat bags of stuff were lined up in the living room. “Three for me and three for my friends who work on Fridays,” she said, rushing off to bed ready for the Grand Opening at 8.30am the next day.
By 7.30 in the morning, I could hear the crowd outside. I felt like Michael Jackson about to play Wembley as I pottered about indoors with my coffee, psyching myself up for the onslaught. At 8.30am prompt (I am British, after all), I clicked the garage door open and, I kid you not, about 40 people ran – yes ran – into my garage, squealing with excitement.
The activity was frantic, but Gerlie came into her own, totting up people’s bills, upselling items as fast as I discounted them, packing stuff in bags and sorting out fights in Tagalog. After one hour, 90 per cent of the stuff had gone, and I had Dhs 2,200 in my pocket – even after paying Gerlie for her time.
“What a success!” I said to DH as I flopped exhausted onto the sofa.
“You should do it full-time,” he said, deadpan. “It pays more than your job.”