I try to bring my children up not to be materialistic.
Yes, in Dubai.
We do public beaches and pools, not malls. But still, the materialism permeates like soggy rain: the children want things their friends have. They want things they see on TV.
(I’m a child of wartime parents. My children don’t often get what they want.)
So DS today writes a Christmas wish list.
‘There’s only six things on it,’ he tells me.
I read the list:
Guinness Book of World Records – 2016.
Guinness Book of World Records – 2015 (why?).
Lego City Police sets (‘But DS, you have the police station?’ ‘I know, but there’s loads more I could still get!’)
Laptop (he is six).
Phone (I repeat: he is six).
Now it’s at this point that I start to get embarrassed, for I am the mum who Googled ‘toymaker’; only to realise two minutes later that there is no such thing. It is not something he’s seen on Disney Channel. It’s not something he’s seen on the ads on Channel 5; it’s something out of his imagination.
‘If I get that, Mummy, I’ll be able to make every toy I ever want and never ask you for anything again,’ he says. ‘Please?’
‘Sure,’ I say. ‘Just tell me where to buy it…’
It’s clear as soon as we reach the supermarket that something’s wrong. People are wandering around looking dazed and confused. By the kitchen roll, there’s a woman in tears, her shopping list hanging useless from her hand. A man dashes past. His eyes are panicky and his gaze sweeps left and right, searching – searching for what? Has there been an atrocity at the butcher’s counter; a cereal killer in the breakfast aisle?
I’m just about to call the children and suggest we leave, but then I realise what’s happened: the supermarket’s changed its shelves around. Not only is nothing where it used to be, but even the aisles themselves have moved, and nothing in the new regime makes sense.
You come out from cleaning products and go straight into cereal bars. There are lentils in the biscuits aisle, tinned tuna alongside breakfast cereal. It’s as if the shop staff threw everything in the air and let it fall randomly onto the shelves.
Heaven forbid they actually intended to shelve the goods like this. I can just imagine the planning meeting:
‘Where shall we put the tinned tomatoes? With the ketchup, pizza sauce and tomato paste?’
A burst of laughter. ‘Where’s the fun in that?’
I hate it. I’m a creature of habit. I write my shopping list in the order in which I’ll find the stuff around the shop; now, I just wander around feeling lost and go home with 50% of my list. But there have been benefits to the new layout: 1) My step count’s gone through the roof, and 2) It’s been three weeks and I still haven’t found the chocolate.
So, despite knowing better and despite trying my best not to let it happen, I managed – somehow – to put on 3kgs during the summer holidays. To be fair, the holidays were 10 weeks long and I spent four of those weeks in England eating pies, plus two weeks in the States. Yes, two weeks in the States – come to think of it, it’s actually a wonder that I only put on 3kgs.
So this September, as I do every September, I weighed myself, tried on my benchmark white skinny jeans and cried silently into my skinny black coffee, then drew up a plan to shed the extra kgs.
I never do classes. If there’s one thing I hate more than the gym, it’s classes. I drew up a schedule. Four classes a week.
So today was the first class. Bounce Fit. Says the website: ‘The opposite of a gruelling ordeal, our classes are all about high spirits and awesome soundtracks. Most of all, it makes you smile, laugh and is great FUN!’
Sounds okay, no? Especially the bit where it says you can burn up to 1,000 calories a class!
There were five of us there today. That threw me. Having looked at the pix on the website, I’d imagined there might be 30 people and I could hide at the back, panting quietly into my baggy T-shirt and maybe even sneaking out for a doughnut half way through, but today there was no place to hide.
So we started. We bounced, we jumped, we leapt about till my heart was pounding out of my chest and my sweat was decorating the trampoline beneath my feet. I stopped for a breather.
‘Ahem,’ said the instructor, a guy who looked like he’d competed in the last Olympics. ‘We haven’t started yet. This is just the warm-up.’ I laughed. ‘We’ve been here eight minutes,’ he said. ‘The class is 60 minutes.’
Had I have been on a trampoline nearest the exit, I would have left. Really, I would.
The class then started in earnest. Bouncing boot camp is all I can say. I’ve never worked so hard in my life and the instructor took no prisoners. If someone faltered, we started the set again. There’s a fine line between feeling motivated and vowing never to go back, and I bounced that line for the whole hour (usually on the side of ‘never again’).
‘Remember! We’re aiming to burn 800 to 1,000 calories!’ shouted the instructor.
‘I think I’m going to be sick,’ I whispered to my squats partner 40 minutes in. Having bounced on our knees, our tummies and our arms, done sit-ups, press-ups, mountain runs and all sort of other nasties, we were holding hands facing each other and doing bouncing squats for 20 before dropping down to plank for 10. Three sets of each. Plus some more because someone dropped their knees in plank. My partner didn’t answer but I didn’t blame her: she looked like she was about to pass out herself.
But I did it. It was close, but I got to the end without dropping dead. The instructor high-fived me.
‘How was it?’ he asked, bouncing about on his endorphin high.
‘Great,’ I wheezed. Then I went home and had a lie-down.
This is not a sponsored post.
We often get messages from the property developer that originally built and now maintains our community.
Ramadan Mubarak. Eid Mubarak. Merry Christmas. Happy New Year. Happy Diwali. It’s sweet how inclusive it tries to be.
But today, for the first time in 10 years, I saw a post-summer message. And it made me smile. It’s good to be back.
Like most parents, I’m trying not to skip about the house singing as we look down the barrel of the new school term. Yes, my lovelies, after 10 weeks off, my little angels go back to school tomorrow.
Are you ready? I am!
I don’t mean mentally. I’ve been mentally ready for school for the last four weeks. What I mean is that I’ve done all the necessary back-to-school prep to get the kids off to their classrooms with suitably stuffed pencil cases and spanking new lunch boxes and water bottles, as well as kitted out in school uniform that’s correct, fits and is labelled.
And please, non-parents, don’t underestimate how much effort that takes, from the tedious “trying on” of old uniform (budget at least half a day if you’ve got an uncooperative wriggler) to the sizing of the new uniform, wherein the sizes printed in the clothes bear absolutely no resemblance to the sizes of the actual clothes meaning your child has to struggle in and out of four different PE shirts labelled anything from age 6 to age 14 in a room with an ambient temperature of about 56C (or maybe that’s just our school’s uniform supplier).
And that’s before we negotiate the social minefield that is admitting on Facebook that you’re ironing in the name labels as opposed to sewing them in tiny backstitch. Yeah. Hands up to that one.
We’ve also come up with a tick-box menu for daily packed lunches; we’ve baked “pizza rolls” for the days when sandwiches are just too “meh”; and we’ve pre-made batches of morning pancakes. We’ve shopped for snacks and agreed that, for one fussy eater (I’m looking at you, DS), school lunch is the only way to go (never mind about that camo-print lunch box I lugged back from the States in my handbag!).
It’s fair to say – it really is – that we’re ready for school.
But then I look in the mirror and realise that, in all the prep, I’ve overlooked one thing.
In the rush of sorting out the children – in the excitement of getting them back to school – I’ve overlooked my pedicure.
My toenails are pale. They are unvarnished. They are in their August resting state. They may be neat, but they are as bare as the day I was born. This, in the circles of Dubai school mothers, is social kamikaze. What woman allows herself to be seen within the school grounds without at least two coats of TITO’s London Calling? DH, my love, my sweet… you’re on drop-off duty.
You get it every now and then if you live in Dubai: the email from the bank that asks you to update your visa and UAE ID paperwork.
I ignore it, of course. Don’t we all?
I ignore it maybe three times – until I read a horror story on Facebook about a friend of a friend whose account was frozen with no notice, leaving sleeping rough in Cambodia with three kids under three all because she didn’t update her paperwork, and I think maybe I ought to, y’know, do it.
So I call up the bank and ask if it’s possible to email scans rather than rock up at the branch with originals.
It’s not possible. Of course it’s not possible. I knew that.
“Just drop by your local branch with the originals,” says dear, sweet Preeti on a crackly line from Andhra Pradesh.
“But Preethi,” I sigh. “The words ‘drop by’ are hardly appropriate in Dubai where your branches are few and far between. The nearest branch of your esteemed institution is 24kms and 30 mins drive (I Googled it) from my house. There is no ‘dropping’ involved.”
Of course Preethi doesn’t care. “Is there anything else I can do for you today, Mrs Dubai?” she asks.
I drive to the bank. Only this is Dubai and in the six weeks I’ve been away, the bank has disappeared. Well, it hasn’t disappeared: I can see it. I can see it through four lanes of roadworks, construction, cranes and concrete barriers. I can see its jolly little logo peeking out at me through the haze of construction dust. But I can’t get to it. It is a tiny island in an ocean of construction.
I drive past the bank in four different directions and in ever-decreasing circles, each time doing elegant U-turns that bring me a few metres closer but never quite close enough to actually access the car park. I consider turning my documents into paper darts and launching them across the Dubai Creek extension and then, about 35kms and 45 minutes after setting off from home, I give up and turn for home.
Let the account be frozen, I think. There are other banks out there.
But glory be, on my way back to the main highway there’s a sign – a yellow sign with the name of my bank on it and an arrow to follow through the construction site.
It’s a post-apocalyptic world out there; a world of dead palm trees, of juddering JCBs, mountains of sand and half-built concrete pylons; a world of ant-like construction workers grey with cement dust – but then, suddenly, there it is among the cranes, no longer separated from me by concrete barriers: the bank. I feel like I’ve completed the final round of The Crystal Maze. I cheer. I park. I update my documents.
And then, dear friends, I start finding my way back out…
- Always push both the UP and DOWN buttons to summon the lift. Sure, the first lift that stops may not be going in your direction but at least you can while away the minutes saying ‘Going up? Oh no. I want down’ to a lift full of (irritated) strangers.
Always remember that there’s no such thing as a full lift. People are squashed in like sardines? Shove a little harder – if they got in, you deserve to be in, too!
- Don’t, whatever you do, wear deodorant.
- When you’re first into a lift with people following, don’t move to the back. You might not be able to get out!
- If you’re standing by the lift door, never ever use the ‘open door’ button to let the people at the back out. Timed lift-exiting is soon to be an Olympic sport.
- After the lift door closes, keep on talking on your Blackberry / iPhone / both at the same time. It’s important that you look important.
- Do utilise the lift’s mirror to apply your makeup / do your hair / inspect your pimples. What else are mirrors for?
- If you’re going above the 15th floor, try to start a conversation. ‘Do you know what material this shirt is made from?… Boyfriend material!’ is always a good line.*
* Hands up, I stole this line from the Laughing Cow cheese ad.