Sunday, October 26, 2008
In Manchester I was forever carrying around fold up flat shoes in my handbag (no, really) for when I had to hot foot it home from a work or evening event. Living in the city centre was great for my exercise programme. I even teamed trainers with smart work outfits, just for the walk to work, you understand. Yes, I looked ridiculous, but you can pick up quite a bit of speed when you have those bad boys on!
Here the complete lack of walking, anywhere, has meant I have really smartened up my act in the footwear department. Fascinating, I'm sure you'll agree!
Then there was my dad and his amazing 'boat-digging' skills. Yes, he used to draw out a boat in the sand, and then dig it out for me. I would then spend many a happy hour pretending to sail it. I have the photos to prove this, but no I'm not sharing them.
And of course there were the days we spent trying to fly kites (I think this was more for my dad's benefit than mine) I don't remember much about this other than sand dunes may have been involved.
Anyway, the point I am getting to is that in these credit crunch, belt-tightening times, it's good to know that there are stil some pleasures in life which don't break the bank. You do have to pay a small fee to get access to some beaches in Dubai - and for a large fee you can visit the private beaches of some of the top hotels.
But there are some beaches which are completely free. And we discovered a new one this weekend. It was busy, but fabulous. You can drive the car right onto the beach (helpful when carrying an over-sized beach bag stuffed with books and magazines) althought this did elicit much squealing at one point when we thought the car was going to get stuck in the sand.
So anyway, we're on the beach. The weather is perfect (36 degrees). I'm sipping an iced mocchiato whilst catching up on news, celebrity gossip, Radio 2 podcasts and Cherie Blair's autobiography. The rain, wind and cold of a UK Winter seemed very far away. Call me shallow, but that's why I live in Dubai.
Thursday, October 23, 2008
This one goes without saying: my gorgeous and wonderful friends and family. Your daily texts, emails, calls and instant messages mean the world to me. Thank god for technology.
Marks and Spencer’s Food Hall.
Yes, we do have M&S stores here, but they are dire. The food sections barely run to a few packets of crisps. I miss all of their food, particularly the Tuna Nicoise Salad, their pink fizz, Percy Pigs, mashed potato and crunchy Combo crisps. I shall be beating my way down Market Street to stock up when I get home in December.
You cannot find this stuff anywhere here! Shelf upon shelf of skin whitening products (event he big brands like Clinique and Clarins have whole ranges devoted to this – which I have never even been aware of before) but not a whiff of fake tan anywhere. And believe me, I have searched for it. You know what I am asking you to bring with you when you visit!
Nipping to pick up a bottle of wine on your way home from work. Nipping to get a bottle of wine at any time.
Here you have to have a licence, and go through all sorts of faffing to get a bottle of vino.
The British sense of humour.
As you know kids, I am a hoot! And bless my team at work, they are trying to get my sense of humour, but so very much of it is lost on them. I have another Manc colleague who sometimes visits my office for some morning banter. The team literally stares dumbfounded. They maintain they cannot understand us. Sigh.
I warn you: Never take Sky for granted. And never complain about the state of the tv in England. Yes, some of my viewing choices may have been a bit, well un-challenging. But if there is a better way to spend an hour with the girls than discussing: Katie and Peter/Kerry Katona – Crazy in Love/Pride of Britain awards/Lost/Ugly Betty/Heroes, I have yet to discover it.
Maybe because I’m not ‘hitting the club scene’ here, but I really miss hip hop. You couldn’t swing a cat in Manchester without hitting a fab club or night that we wanted to go to. I think Dubai likes its clubbing a bit more ‘handbag and heels’ than ‘sneakers and hoodies.’ Shame.
A Decent Hairdresser
Read my previous posts, and weep. I need say no more.
Here it is customary to do the same, with the added twist that most hotels will not only make your lunch for you, but also deliver it to your door (thanks for the tip Alice!).
I opted for the out of home experience, and have a table booked at the gorgeous Ritz-Carlton on the beach. Our table is on the terrace, if you please. I’ve always wanted a warm Christmas (sand over snow any day for me) so I’m really looking forward to it.
Journeys to Abu Dhabi are now taking up to two hours. And last week it took 3 hours to get back. For a 95 mile journey, I think that’s a bit rough.
This makes you think twice about venturing out of the house when you finally arrive home after a long day at work. There’s not much incentive to drag yourself back into a car or taxi at 8 or 9 o’clock when you know it will take you another hour to get anywhere.
I’m lucky because the apartment is next to a myriad of hotels and restaurants, but seriously, I have eaten nearly everything from every single menu. A girl needs some variety! I am determined to get out more in the next few weeks. Watch this space!
SOCIALISM:You have 2 cows and you give one to your neighbour.
COMMUNISM:You have 2 cows; the Government takes both and gives you some milk.
When it became clear that we weren’t going to see any polo ponies practicing we gave up our seats in the afternoon sunshine and headed home. Not before I’d bothered a few members of staff about where the ponies lived, what the ponies ate, how the ponies trained…..I may not be allowed back
It’s divided up into lots of different sections – as varied and diverse as the predictable clothes, bags, etc. Then you go round to electronics, fine. Then you turn a corner and find a load of fork-lift trucks. I’m not joking!
Still, I think this may be the perfect solution to shopping with a boy. I’ve always preferred to shop alone to be honest, I’m very single minded and know quickly what I want or don’t want. There’s nothing worse than a man huffing and puffing over your shoulder as you elbow someone out of the way to get to that perfect pair of shoes. Or face cream, Or…you get my drift.
No chance of this happening at Dragonmart. The boy disappeared off into my idea of hell (the heavy machinery section) for at least an hour, leaving me free to roam the shops. I returned jubilant with a variety of gorgeous dresses (30 dirhams each – that’s just over 4 quid) and presents for the gang when I return to Manchester in December. I hope you’ve been good guys!
Sunday, October 19, 2008
Me, usually (to concierge):
I believe there are some guest suites in the building for people to stay in when they come to visit Dubai. I’d like to book my parents into them in January. The apartment is a bit small for us all to squeeze into! Any idea of prices or booking procedure would be great, please.
Me, in Dubai:
Guest suites. Open? (Accompanied by lifting up of shoulders and hands in air and quizzical expression.)
Me, usually (to laundry man):
Last week when you collected our ironing you took a king sized duvet cover from us. I can’t find it now, do you think you might have forgotten to drop it off? Could you check and let me know as soon as possible, as I don’t have a spare! Many thanks.
Me, in Dubai:
My duvet cover is missing.
Me, usually (to car hire company):
I’d like some prices please for a couple of different options of hiring a car. It’s for a client event. I need an option where I have one car, to seat one person, and a second option, where I have a bigger car, for example a people carrier. I need the cars for a return trip to Abu Dhabi from Dubai, in October and January. Many thanks.
Me, in Dubai, to car hire company:
How much cars to Abu Dhabi?
Get my drift? Really quite exhausting!
It’s one thing resisting the sugary blighters when you occasionally pass by a store in a mall, but another thing entirely when you drive past it twice a day, every day, and can reach it in about 20 steps. Temptation has a face. And it’s round and glazed.
Fast forward to yesterday when I then had to retrieve the car. Broad daylight made the walk a bit easier but as it was about 37 degrees it was a bit of a hotter walk. What was amusing about the whole episode was how bemused people were that I was walking. Three taxis stopped to see if I wanted a lift – and couldn’t believe that I was opting to walk what is probably a 400 metre stroll. The ever-present construction workers sweeping, holding ropes, going past on a tricycle (what DOES that guy do?) were completely fascinated by me walking past. “There she goes, the crazy English lady walking in the heat!”. I’ll concede that it was a tad hot. But my legs really appreciated getting stretched.
Now, I truly couldn’t care less about her impending divorce (‘ordinary’ people go though far worse each day without the luxury of her vast wealth to cushion their pain) but I did think that the comment from Guy Ritchie that going to bed with Madonna was like: “cuddling up to a piece of gristle” a bit rum. I mean, he probably has a point, but come on, do you really have to say it out loud? What a gent.
Thank god for the BBC and their downloadable podcasts. These are the best invention ever – your favourite radio show minus the music, just the chat. Each week I download Chris Evans, Chris Moyles, Jonathan Ross and Russell Brand. I’ve had to stop listening to the Russell Brand ones by the pool as my hyena-like laughter has started to get a bit embarrassing.
I used to listen to these on my daily walks to work through Manchester. Now I catch up with them by the pool or on the beach. Bliss.
The last time I watched 7’s was at the Commonwealth Games in Manchester. Before the stadium was handed over to Manchester City football club, the stadium was covered on three sides only. In typical Manchester form it pixxed it down all day, and in typical form, I was sat in the end without a roof! Still, it was great fun.
Am slightly concerned about horror stories of the weather last year (apparently the rain was torrential last year) and also of tales of 3 hour queues for a taxi home. So (this being Dubai) we’ve sorted a driver for the day. Shame I can’t guarantee the weather!
The kids were pretty badly behaved but nothing too shocking. What did make me do a complete double-take though, was this: when it was time to pay, the eldest of the two children (who I estimated to be 5 years old, at the most) reached into her pocked, and handed over a credit card.
The assistant swiped the card, printed out the slip – and PASSED IT TO THE CHILD TO SIGN. Which she did. He accepted this.
I obviously did a huge double take, as did the woman in the queue behind me.
I mean, I know we’re in Dubai, which is like nowhere else on earth. And having a parent’s credit card is pretty standard behaviour here. But surely NOT when you are 5 years old and can barely even write. What is wrong with people here???!!
Wednesday, October 15, 2008
It was the one where the girls head out of town to a baby shower. They've rented a car for this journey, and as they prepare to set off, climb into the back seat, and the passenger seat, but no-one gets into the driver's seat. They're all so used to walking and cabbing everywhere in New York that they forget someone needs to drive.
Chance would be a fine thing here!
Sunday, October 12, 2008
Glorious sunshine? Yes.
Amazing hotels and restaurants? Hmm hmm.
White sandy beaches and crystal blue sea? Well, no actually, quite the opposite.
Dubai has been having a small crisis recently, in the shape of raw sewage being dumped straight into the sea. Why? Well Dubai has no sewage system (no, really) instead sewage is collected by large tankers and taken to a sewage plant on the outskirts of the city. Unfortunately Dubai has grown at such a pace that this plant is well over capacity, and tankers can queue for up to 12 hours to discharge their waste. And tanker drivers are paid according to how many loads they take. Or dump down drains, as the case would seem.
This has led to sewage making its way onto the beaches, and the situation is very serious. Raw sewage, as you can imagine, carries all sorts of nasty bacteria and creatures, which at best might give you a bit of a dodgy tummy, at worse could leave you with full-blown e-coli or even make you go blind. Nice!
It’s meant that we haven’t been to the beach in a few weeks (they actually closed one of them last week), but this isn’t supposed to be a moan about how this infringes on my bikini time, more a concern that this can happen. I’m truly amazed that the international press hasn't got a whiff of the story. (Couldn't resist that pun, sorry.)
Combine this with the fact that it is so hard to combine any physical activity into your day – walking is impossible (heat, fear of being mown down by erratic drivers, no pavements) and I am reminded of the warning I was given before I came here: watch out for the ‘Dubai Stone’. This is, at it sounds, the depressing fact that most people chunk on the pounds when they get here.
Weirdly, I don’t actually weigh any more than I did when I arrived, but my body does feel different, and let’s just say that some of my clothes seem to have, ahem, ‘shrunk in the wash’.
I try to swim a couple of nights a week and I usually make it to the gym on a Saturday. But it is hard to get motivated for anything more than that – if I finish work at 8 then there is no chance of me throwing myself into any physical activity that doesn’t involve uncorking a bottle.
So, I’m not a bloater – yet. But watch this space.
It’s cooled down enough to walk up to the bars, hotels and restaurants near our apartment – a very pleasant 10 minute walk. The novelty of walking anywhere in Dubai is not to be under-estimated!
So now my thoughts have turned to this: just how cold is it going to get? My number one favourite thing about Dubai is the weather, and if this goes too far downhill, well, there will be trouble!
Everyone from friends to colleagues to clients has a different view on the weather. Some people say it gets very cold – cold enough for tights, knee high boots and a winter coat, if this is the case, I am not going to be happy. Others say this is complete balderdash and it won’t get below 23 at the lowest in the day.
A colleague says that children walk to school wearing hats and gloves, and some construction workers wear balaclavas! It should be interesting anyway, especially as our apartment is completely devoid of any heating whatsoever.
Anyway, today is blue sky and sunshine, for a change. How can I ever face English weather again?
So, imagine my excitement when I discovered that the classic film: “Muppets from Space” was on last night! As far as Mupppets films go it was nowhere near as good as “Muppet Treasure Island”, or my all time favourite “Muppets take Manhattan”, but it was the Muppets, and that was good enough for me.
I’m not ashamed to say that I shed a small tear at the end when Gonzo chose to stay with his friends rather than leave in a spaceship. Maybe I should keep this sort of information to myself?!
A colleague came into the office last week most upset. She’d woken up in the morning to find that someone had tied a puppy to her gate, and abandoned it there. Why did they choose her house? She thinks it’s because they already own a dog (he is a big fella but very cute) so someone figured that they would keep this little guy.
This is very common here – abandoning pets that is. There are two charities, one for felines, one for canines, and they are always completely chocka with animals that have been turfed out on the streets.
Anyway, the story does have a happy ending. In true pr person style we drafted a very persuasive email highlighting all of the little guy’s best features (cute, playful, well behaved, house-trained, wet nose, waggy tail, etc) and then circulated it to everyone we knew. With obligatory cute photos of course. And he now has a new home! Hurrah.
Saturday, October 11, 2008
I had the pleasure of spending most of the week at the event, and I can honestly say I have never seen anything like it.
For a start, the event brought the entire city to a grinding halt. As usual, the roads haven’t been particularly well thought out around the venue, meaning that it took me 90 minutes to get from my office to the vicinity. This is a journey that should take no more than TEN minutes.
After driving around for hours trying to park, I gave up and parked quite some way away in a dusty carpark. Just getting into it was a challenge in itself but I refused to give up (after arguing with a member of staff and nearly crying. I have been told that this approach often works wonders here but I have yet to use it. I’m saving that for the police when I inevitably have a car crash.)
As I dragged myself through the sand and heat, a helicopter landed 20 metres from me, and a member of the Royal Family disembarked. This is such a normal occurrence that I barely flinched or looked over, and just carried on walking.
The show itself is outrageous. Some stands are the size of a new bar or nightclub, most are two storeys high. God knows what they cost to design and build. I tried to think of the most lavish show that I’d ever visited in the UK, but there is truly nothing that compares to it. It was an exhausting week, and left me confused about the property market here, to be honest. Depending on who you talk to, properties were selling, or they weren’t. All I know for sure is that when faces with such opulence and confidence, the global economic crisis seemed very far away….
Three months after moving into the apartment, I finally have blinds in the lounge. This was not without incident. The apartment complex has an army of security guards (what do they all do??) they are on the gates, at the doors, and each tower has its own concierge and team of staff. This meant that when my blind man came to install the blinds, he was met with a wall of people who didn’t want to let him in.
As with most trades of this nature, the blind man, and his team, were Indian. Despite me telling the concierge to let him into the lift to the apartment, there was a real hoo-ha with security, who refused to let them in. They kept the men waiting for over an hour in a tiny office in the basement, and it wasn’t until I got a call from a very upset blind man that I even realised that anything was wrong.
I had to go and rescue them from the bowels of the building, which was a very unpleasant experience. I don’t think I’ve ever been so embarrassed to be English, and I have been very embarrassed before (see previous posts.) This was the worst.
As soon as I arrived on the scene, things were different. I politely explained the situation (no-one speaks much English so there was a lot of gesturing and smiling on my part) and frog marched the team out of the office, out to their car, round the complex, and into my building. My concierge was most upset by this (as were the security guards) but I felt so bad that I had to get the guys in as quickly as possible.
The entire time they were virtually in tears, apologizing over and over for keeping me waiting (!). Howveer much I told them it was no problem (and it really wasn’t, they were the ones who had been kept prisoner for hours!) they were truly devastated to have kept me waiting.
One of them turned to me in the lift and said: “They don’t listen to us. But you’re English, you have power.” He laughed as he said it, and it was such a matter of fact statement that it made me a little sad. These are people, probably the hardest working that I have seen in my life. But because I’m English, my word is somehow more powerful that theirs. A sobering experience, but sadly, very typical here in Dubai.
I bobbed into one the other day, on my never-ending quest for fake tan (this is worthy of a blog post all of its own.) Now, lest you need reminding, this is a Muslim country. Sex before marriage is a definite no-no, and it is illegal to live together if you’re not married.
So imagine my surprise when I rounded a corner to be greeted by shelves and shelves of the contraceptive pill. Yes, you can buy it straight off the shelf, no questions asked. I didn’t think my eyebrows could get any further back into my head, until I saw that you can also buy the morning after pill too. Welcome to Dubai, country of contradictions……
Thursday, October 09, 2008
You can watch tv on the BBC website. BUT the BBC website doesn’t work outside of the UK.
This has led to me having to purchase a complicated piece of equipment (do not ask me to explain, suffice to say it has taken me 4 long months to work it out) which will allow me to get around this and watch it anyway. I finally got it to work yesterday!
You can imagine my excitement as I sat glued to my laptop for four hours watching the main Strictly shows and also ‘It Takes Two’ from BBC 2. What a treat! I howled with laughter for most of it – WHAT IS WRONG WITH GARY RHODES he is a complete idiot!
A good old fashioned family show, great outfits, make-up and fake tan everywhere. I was genuinely in heaven for an hour and a half.
Wednesday, October 08, 2008
When you spend a bit more time here you notice another army of people, those in the service industry. Whether you’re in a bar, restaurant, hairdressers or shop, chances are you will be served by someone from another country who has come here to earn more than they could at home, and send money back to their family. They sometimes tell you shocking stories of their lives back home, and how they are trying to make a better life for themselves here.
Sunday, October 05, 2008
The one thing which I wasn’t ready for was the sea. In Dubai the sea is a pretty placid affair, very few waves or spray, and just perfect for lounging in and relaxing. The sea in Fujairah is a beast of a thing, huge swell, massive breakers,and a very strong current which pulls your feet out from under you even when you’re just standing on the shoreline.
All of this makes for much fun and excitement if you’re under the age of ten. There was a variety of children having the time of their lives playing in the waves, being thrown around and shrieking with laughter.
When you’re in the your thirties and the effort that you want to expend on the beach is minimal this poses a slight problem. The heat forced me down to the sea on the first day, and to begin with, the sea seemed to be behaving itself. Then before I realized it, it took a turn for the worse.
My feet were swept out from under me, I was sucked into relentless waves for what felt like an eternity but was actually about five minutes. I couldn’t stand up, and every time I tried I just got sucked under again. It was no doubt, hilarious to onlookers (I had spent a pleasant few hours chortling to myself whilst watching other poor souls suffer the same fate) but it didn’t feel that funny from where I was standing. Or should that be lying?
In all the drama I lost my Marbella sunglasses, but thankfully, not my bikini bottoms (it was at one point a very close call though). My dignity was washed away in the first few seconds as I flailed about on my back like a squealing beetle trying to get up.
I am still finding sand in places, which frankly, no sand should ever get to!
A bigger fireworks display than at the Beijing Olympics opening ceremony? You’ve got it.
A waterfront city bigger than Hong Kong. Coming right up.
The world’s most expensive square kilometer of living and commercial space? Of course.
I live and work in this square kilometer, and there’s no doubt that it’s a great place to be. Whether or not we’ll be able to afford the soaring rents in years to come remains to be seen (did I mention we pay 20k a year, and rents for the same sized apartment have already gone up to 25k since we moved in back in May).
I’ve mentioned living and working in very close proximity to the world’s tallest building – it’s still pretty impressive however many times a day you see it (at least 20 for me, most days). Here’s a couple of links which show you just what a beast it is.
It’s due to open properly next year on the 9th September (09-09-09, see what they did there?)
Now, Dubai is a very liberal place (contrary to what you may think) BUT the one thing that has really been getting my goat recently is the complete lack of respect that tourists have when they come here – in particular, with their choice of dress.
Number One: Clothing, Ladies
Ladies, very few people look good in hot pants and boob tubes. Even Nadine from Girl’s Aloud has been spotted looking less than perfect in this outfit combo.
Layer in the fact that WE ARE IN A MUSLIM COUNTRY and it becomes even more inappropriate to be wearing hot pants with your backside, quite literally falling out, combined with a very low cut boob tube. (I actually saw this very outfit being sported by an English lady in a hotel reception, during Ramadan. Her and her equally chavvy looking partner were, apparently, off to spend the day going ‘going round the souks’. As this is one of the oldest and most conservative parts of Dubai, I can only imagine the reaction that she got when walking around. And she was completely unaware of the inappropriateness of her outfit.)
Number Two: Clothing, Men
Likewise, gents, it may be acceptable to take your top off and stand bare-chested when watching Newcastle United play at St James Park (why do the Geordies do this?!) but it is simply not acceptable to do this when inside a five or six star hotel, and slump onto a sofa, or worse still, walk around with no shoes on either. (I saw this visual treat at the weekend when in a hotel frequented by a lot of local families. They looked horrified and I was truly embarrassed to be English.)
People, please exercise a little modesty and decorum. For the sake of respecting local customs, and also my stomach.
Saturday, October 04, 2008
To be able to buy any alcohol to consumer in your own home you need a licence. getting one of these is a long process, it involves having a visa, work permit, stamp and letter from your employer saying they don't object to it, oh and was there a tenancy agreement too? Can't remember. Suffice to say it wasn't easy - and then you have to wait five weeks for it!
You can only buy alcohol from certain places - they tend to be 'hidden' (used to be called hole in the walls), you don't need a secret handshake to get in, but they are discreet places, and once in you can purchase every alocholic beverage imaginable.
So, if you find yourself in the upsetting situation where the house is dry, it isn't easy to remedy too quickly. Just as well I live 5 mins from three five star hotels which serve wine, then!