Archive for July 2012
I’ve been trying to teach DD about Ramadan since she was about two. Although babies and small children are allowed to eat during daylight hours in Ramadan, I’ve never felt comfortable giving her snacks in front of those who may be fasting, so, without starving her, I use a “no snacks out” policy as a way to teach her about the Holy month – why Muslims fast and what the point of it is.
For a few years now, she’s understood that she can’t eat out, have snacks, or stop off for lunch in the mall, when it’s Ramadan, and I think she may have some flicker of sympathy with starving people the world over when she feels those pangs of hunger in the car.
But today her education went one step further when she surprised me with the question, “Mummy, where’s Iftar?”
I explained it was the meal with which Muslims break their fast during Ramadan – traditionally dates and water – and that it could be anywhere, really: At home, at a friend’s house or in a restaurant.
She looked stunned.
“Oh!” she said. “It’s just that my friend M said he was going to Iftar with his family tonight, and I thought it was another country.”
We’ve all been to a posh hotel where they try to impress you by turning your towels into rose-petal-strewn swans, dinosaurs or elephants. But, on the cruise ship, as the week progressed, they took it to new levels.
I was pestering my mum to come with me to Bluewater mall this week. For those who don’t know it, it’s one of the UK’s bigger (better?) malls, and is reasonably close to my mum’s house.
“Why do you want to go there?” she sighed. “You live in Dubai. You have it all in terms of malls – and more!”
It’s an illusion, though, that the shopping in Dubai is great. It’s probably quite good for electronics and possibly for high-end designer wear from the US, and it’s probably quite good for those who don’t have a lot of money to spend either, in as much as there are a few good places to buy things very, very cheaply.
But for those of us looking for a sort of high-end High Street experience, there are very slim pickings. What shops there are in Dubai pile on the prices so what should be affordable becomes exorbitant for what it is (think LK Bennett and its 40% mark-up); the shops rarely get the full collections; the customer service is pants with bells on; and we don’t even have a John Lewis.
So, come the summer sales, I love to potter around a British mall like Bluewater, sifting through the sale rails of brands such as Joules, Ghost, Jigsaw, Whistles, Jones The Bootmaker and Russell & Bromley, as well as shops such as DVF, MaxMara and Caroline Herrera, the latter of which, on sale, become as affordable as buying something bog standard in Debenhams in Dubai.
Not to mention a lot more stylish.
But it doesn’t stop there. British malls are now getting the hang of being a one-stop shop for the glamour puss. They may not all have the doctor’s surgeries, ice rinks and ski slopes of Dubai’s malls, but not only can you get your eyebrows shaped, eyelash extensions fitted and your teeth whitened on the spot (£99), but you can get a glass of wine and have an on-the-hop massage, too.
So I did.
It was a beautiful day in London today. The high was maybe 30 degrees, which, without a/c, feels, honestly, quite hot.
So I decided to wear shorts for my shopping trip by bus to Bromley. White denim shorts – mid-thigh, not too tight, respectable, with a navy vest and flip-flops. They were shorts I’d worn all around Europe on the cruise, in front of my father-in-law, for goodness sake. I love that I’m not in Dubai. That I can wear shorts to a mall. Honestly, with #DressCodeDubai – and even before that – I would never wear shorts to a mall in Dubai.
I wouldn’t even wear them to my living room in Dubai lest the gardener see.
“Are you wearing those? … Out?” my mum asked, as I rubbed volumising dust into my (now black, but that’s another blog) hair.
“The diamonds?” I wondered, fingering the earrings I’ve worn all summer.
“No. The shorts. Are you wearing them? To Bromley?”
“Oh,” she said. “It’s just…”
My mum really has mastered the art of not saying what she means.
“What? It’s just what?”
“Well… it’s Bromley?” The implication and intonation being that Bromley was the equivalent of tea at Kensington Palace.
Bromley Saaf London? I wanted to ask. Bromley in the Western hemisphere? Or Bromley, Saudi Arabia? Surely I can wear mid-thigh shorts to a mall in Bromley, Saaf London, on the hottest day of the decade? The cellulite was well-covered – the shorts were actually pretty flattering! It was 30 degrees – the whole of England would be in shorts! At least I have a tan!
But I’m not an argumentative type. I don’t want to upset my mum and, honestly, I’m also quite modest. I put on a pair of full-length white linen trousers and off we went.
Fast-forward two hours: We’re sitting in Joe’s Kitchen, people-watching while we’re eating lunch and finally I get it. There are some things children should never see on an escalator – and there are days when I’m truly grateful for #DressCodeDubai.
“I see what you meant now, mum,” I said. “My shorts, they just weren’t short enough.”
I’d love to tell you that I’ve spent the past week stalking London’s swankiest shopping streets, burning up the credit card as I buy my new season’s wardrobe.
Sadly, shopping in London when you have two bored children hanging off your hemline is an entirely different experience to the one about which I dream, so my take-to-Dubai shopping has to be done very quickly. As trying things on is not really an option, I end up buying “other stuff”. Cosmetics feature highly, as you will see. Probably because they’re quick to buy and easy to carry.
Here’s what I’ll be packing for my return:
- L’Oreal Revitalift Laser Renew – serum, moisturiser, eye cream. Trying to wean myself off that ruinous Rodial.
- Rodial – Night cream, cleanser. Just in case the L’Oreal doesn’t work.
- Nanoblur Optical Skin Cream (have you tried this stuff? OMG it’s air-brushing in a tube though, sadly, it wears off after a couple of hours).
- Revlon Just Bitten Lip Balm Stain – A nice mix between gloss and lippie. I can’t wait for it to come to Dubai.
- Sure deodorant (Cotton). 10 cans. I know Dubai’s Rexona is supposed to be the same stuff, but it’s just not, is it?
- Tea Tree Oil – three bottles. I use it all the time, Superdrug’s one is so much cheaper than buying it in Dubai.
- Fruit Flakes – 25 packs. The children love them. Choitrams stocks them only intermittently.
- Fruit strings – 25. I’ve never seen them in Dubai. The kids love them.
- Mini Jammy Dodgers – Seven snack-packs for kiddie treats.
- Bitsa Wispa – Two bags of tiny little Wispa bars for adult treats. Have you tried them? Ohhhh…..
- BubbleBum car seat – A new one since our three-year-old one popped somewhere in Spain. Well, that’s a risk with inflatable car seats, I guess.
- Boden dress – I ordered a whole stack online so I could try them on at leisure at home. Sadly, only one fitted. I’m not even convinced about that one, but feel I should buy it just because it’s the best of the bunch. Still deliberating.
- Clark’s shoes – Not for me, for the children. School shoes x 2; school trainers x 2, measured and fitted.
- M&S school shorts, socks and pants – For the children, obviously.
- Books. Plenty of books. Too many books. I mean, they’re quick to choose and don’t involve trying on. Why wouldn’t you?
- Magazines – Easy Living, Good Housekeeping, Living Etc, Red.
- A partridge in a pear tree (just kidding).
So I walked to the local station today, to take a train to London. It’s a walk I did countless times over countless years before moving to Dubai and, honestly, it brought back so many memories.
But, as I clopped along the pavement in my cowboy boots, I noticed all the other commuters and pedestrians were giving me a double-take.
I couldn’t think why. Maybe I was at school with them (always a risk when you’re in the town in which you grew up). But no, not that.
Maybe it was my hair. I dyed it “medium brown” yesterday and it actually turned out black – it looks odd to those who know me as a beach blonde, but, really, strangers wouldn’t notice that, I mused, as I marched towards the 9.31 train.
What could it be?
I didn’t think I looked odd at all. I was wearing a very classic outfit: Jeans, a blue and white sweater, a turquoise pashmina, a beige raincoat, cowboy boots, big sunglasses… yeah, my hand bag was particularly nice and I have a bit of a Mediterranean tan – but was that enough for the double-takes? Surely not.
And then, as the fifth person I passed gave me a strange look, I realised what it was.
As I was bundled up for winter, everyone else was wearing shorts, vests and flip-flops. It was 17 degrees. God bless England.
I‘ve long been suspicious of anyone below the age of 60 who says cruises are fun.
Honestly, I’ve never seen what could possibly be fun about living cheek by jowl with 3,000 or more strangers, going to organised stage shows, risking food poisoning in a 24-hour buffet restaurant, crowding around a pool the size of a postage stamp and sleeping for a week in a bedroom smaller than Gerlie’s bathroom.
And that’s before you get to the bit where 3,000 passengers want to disembark at the same time into a town where the locals rub their hands together with glee as yet another boatload of gullible idiots lands.
And now I’m back from my first ever cruise, I’m unsurprised to report that it was pretty much like that. I could write at length about the bad bits, but I’ll try to be balanced. It was at no point unbearable; and there were good bits too.
The bad bits:
- The other passengers. You couldn’t get away from them. They were shuffling about everywhere like lemmings, stuffing their faces on 24-hour free ice cream and cakes and gorging on non-stop pizza. Ugh.
- The eating. You would think my fellow passengers had never seen food before. I’ve never seen such single-minded determination at the buffet. There was pushing, shoving, elbows – one man even stole the last doughnut of the morning from my hand. “Sorry,” he said, unapologetically, as he shoved it in his mouth like he’d won some Darwinian Survival of the Fittest competition.
- The entertainment. From the Eurotrash line-dancing by the pool to the “wear-white” pool party, and from the British pub quiz nights to the lame cabaret and seedy disco bar, this is the kind of entertainment I try hard to avoid. Even the champagne bar, I’m sad to report, was tacky. Vinyl seats – say no more.
- The shopping. Billed as “designer shops”, this consisted of naff watches, polyester clutch bags, diamante brooches, “Diva at Sea” tee-shirts and acrylic-mix shawls, which were discounted further and further as the days wore on, until everything was piled high and sold at $10 a piece on the last day. Shudder.
- The pool loungers: Plastic. They were never going to be anything else, were they?
- The kids’ club. This was supposed to be the all-singing, all-dancing raison d’être of cruising with kids. But DS took one look at nursery-on-sea and begged “Please don’t leave me here.” I have to say, I could see why.
The good points:
- The sleep. The bed was surprisingly big and incredibly comfy. The combination of good bed, fresh sea air, rocking boat, black-out curtains and a policy of avoiding organised entertainment meant I got 10 or 11 hours sleep every single night. That hasn’t happened since before DD was born. The black bags under my eyes actually disappeared.
- The views. I really enjoyed watching the sea slide past. It was terribly romantic to sit on the balcony at night, the full moon glistening on the inky sea, and just enjoy the silence. Sometimes I did some yoga on the balcony at night, and that was very nice, too.
- The dolphins. Sometimes they swam alongside us but, when seen from the top of a floating block of flats, they’re about the size of garden slugs. Sweet, though.
- Travelling by boat. I loved going to bed at sea and waking up in a new country, a five-minute walk from the local market. It’s got to be the easiest way to travel.
- The food. Even for a fussy vegetarian, it was very good, like a non-stop Friday brunch. If you picked quiet times, when the stampeding herds weren’t there, it was alright. I haven’t yet dared weigh myself.
- The organisation. The cruise company was very slick. Getting on and off the boat was never an issue, hats off to the cruise company.
So will we be going cruising again? Let’s just say, I’m sourcing staffed villas in Thailand for next summer.