Tuesday, January 27, 2015

Cold, Colder, Coldest

Obv, I look JUST like this at home....
Winter in Dubai is a funny old time. Residents reach near hysterical conditions at the sight of rainfall, gird their loins for the drop in temperature and suddenly, convector heaters magically appear in the shops.

A quick stroll to the local supermarket and you will walk past people dressed as if they are on a mission to climb Mount Everest: puffa coats, wooly hats, gloves.

In truth, the mercury rarely drops below 15 degrees, and that's extremely early in the morning. Yet somehow, it feels cold. Really cold. All the time. I've been driven to buying not one, not two, but three pairs of pyjamas, plus bedsocks. (Next Directory, if you're interested. They now deliver to Dubai. Treat!) And I'm still cold! 

Perhaps after 7 years my blood has thinned and I feel the cold in a different way. 

Perhaps it genuinely is colder than it ever has been. 

Either way, I'm honestly not moaning - all too soon it will be fiercely hot again and this will seem like a distant, chilly memory. Until then, pass the jumper, please!

Sunday, January 25, 2015


Ho ho!
It's happened, hasn't it. 

I've neglected my blog terribly. And when I do write, I appear to have turned into a *whispers* mummy blogger. I can only apologise. In my defence I was so deluged with questions about what it's like having a baby that I felt compelled to tell you. 

Plus, in my experience, very few people tell you the truth about what it's REALLY like when you have a child. And I wanted to do that. Be truthful. Be honest. In the hope that women will feel less like a failure if they don't breeze through pregnancy and a new born (who ARE these women that do?!). Because it's perfectly normal to reel from the shock of it all. However prepared you think you are.

Anyway, there's SO much happening here in Dubai right now. We won the Expo2020, it's been non-stop events season: food festivals, the Emirates Literature Festival (where last year I met Richard and Judy!) concerts galore (hello Lionel, hello Justin! hello Gary Barlow!) and the city is full of verve, vigour and palpable energy. Love it.

We survived another Summer, which meant heat as hot as hell and humidity to make your eyebrows swell. It meant Ramadan, which is a favourite time of year chez Britney. It meant lazy afternoons and evenings in the pool and boxed sets on the sofa in the cool AC.

Now the Winter is firmly here and I'm sure it's the coldest I've encountered in 7 years. I've bitten the bullet and purchased several pairs of pyjamas and....bed socks. Yes, it is rock and roll here chez Britney, let me tell you.

So there you go. I promise, in future: less baby, more life. Which to be fair is not a bad motto for life, as well as blogging.

Monday, November 17, 2014

Born Too Soon

A hospital intensive care unit is not a place you'd choose to spend time in. But if you do need expert medical care, I'm sure you'd be hard pressed to beat the City Hospital in Dubai. 

Their NICU, for tiny newborn babies needing help, is as you would expect: state of the art, modern, with amazingly supportive staff who exhibit patience, kindness and control in equal measure, just when you need them.

As our baby rushed into the world a month early, we knew she would need a bit of help. She arrived perfect in every way, but a lot tinier than your average bear. After cuddles she was whisked away to NICU to be monitored. I was wheeled off to my room.

It's a very strange sensation having a baby, then having it taken away from you. Throw in the huge amount of morphine and hormones coursing through your veins and it makes for quite the experience. I spent the next few hours in my calm, quiet private room in a daze..wondering: "did that really happen?" The agony that kicked in when the spinal block wore off told me that something definitely had happened. But did I really have a baby or had I just been hit by a truck?

DH popped down to see Baby Britney every few hours and reported back with photos and videos. They were the only proof I had that she was real, that she actually existed. I waited eagerly for them every time he disappeared and made him play the videos over and over again.

The next day I was cleared to visit her. I've never been in a NICU before, and I hope I never need to go again. As I was wheeled in past the other babies needing help, I held my breath. They were all undoubtedly in the best place, getting great care, and hopefully looking forward to a happy life after their initial stumbling blocks were overcome. But it was one of the most overwhelmingly emotional places I have ever experienced.

Although there's lots of noise - machines beeping and buzzing, it's also a very still place. Parents sit quietly next to incubators, touching tiny babies. They hang onto the medical staff's every word. I felt I had to whisper in case I disturbed anything, intruded into anyone's time with their precious, tiny babies.

Most were smaller than our girl. One, surrounded by UV light, was a 24 weeker weighing just 500 grams. He was the exact cut off weight for resuscitation. Any smaller than 500 grams and the hospital lets them slip away. This 500 gram mite looked like a tiny, helpless mouse. His skin transparent, his little arms up by his head, his eyes shielded with the tiniest eye mask I've ever seen. He took my breath away with his size, with his sheer vulnerability.
His mother stood over him. Helpless yet stoic. I tried to smile at her. I tried to look relaxed, not terrified, as I was wheeled past. I didn't want her to see my terror. That was the hardest poker face I've ever had to hold.
I felt like a fraud visiting my healthy, if tiny, baby from just steps away. The baby on the other side of us was being diagnosed with leukaemia as I held Baby Britney for the first time. 

The enormity of what we'd narrowly escaped, how poorly our tiny baby could have been, crept over me and squeezed my chest like a vice. I couldn't breathe. I could barely squeak out the words:" Get me out of here. Fast." I cried silently all the way back to my room: sadness, relief, guilt washing over me.

We were lucky. So very, very lucky.  Some parents and babies face the NICU for days, weeks and months.

14 months on, I still think about that tiny mouse baby. What happened to him? At bedtime each night when I'm cuddling my peachy-headed, healthy baby, I say a tiny prayer for him. And for all the babies born too soon. Some of us get lucky. But some don't make it. 

Footnote: If you have a baby born too soon, Bliss is the most amazing UK charity who offer support and help. I recommend them wholeheartedly.


Sunday, October 19, 2014

Falling Apart

I've been feeling more Skoda than Roller....bring on the Celergen!
I've been a huge fan of supplements for years. It started when I became vegetarian aged 13: my mum didnt' want to take any chances of me missing out on vital nutrients from dead flesh and so I dutifully chowed down on a variety of vitamins each morning. 

It continued from there, even when I switched back to meat eating. I always took a good multi-vitamin, a fish oil, an evening primrose. And a few months ago I got involved with CelergenBilled as "the one and only Swiss Anti-aging Marine Oral Cell Therapy Supplement in the world,' the good people at Celergen asked me to try their product for two months, and report back on how it went. I hadn't heard of the product before, but a quick look online revealed it as "The Anti-Ageing Secret of the Rich and Famous". I was instantly hooked. Shallow, moi?

Well here's a confession: I stopped taking it a few weeks ago. I usually take my vitamins first thing in the morning at my desk. I'd been so busy at work that I was hardly ever at my desk, plus I ran out of tablets and didn't seem to have time to contact the Celergen team to get more. Would you like to know what happened? Honestly, all of this is true:
  • I got an eye infection in my right eye
  • I got an eye infection in my left eye
  • I developed a twitch above my left eye (I only ever ger this when chronically tired, which brings me onto my next point)
  • I became so chronically tired I could barely get out of bed in the morning
  • As a result of this I couldn't face the gym
  • The skin on my face became so dry and flaky I resembled a lizard (last night I resorted to putting oil on my face in desperation.)
  • I developed a sore throat and have been fighting a cold for a week (Note: I haven't had a cold since 2008)

Say what you like, but this list is way too long to be purely coincidental. If there was any small part of me that still needing convinving about Celergen, that small part has been well and truly silenced. I'm practically breaking my fingers logging on to order online

Oh dear Celergen friends, how I've missed you! I shall of  course report back when I'm back to my full, fabulous self.

Hard Graft

PR: It ain't like this, kids
Many years ago, in the days when dinosaurs roamed the earth, I started my career in PR. 

I was fortunate enough to cut my teeth at one of the UK's best agenciesWe romped through awards ceremonies like rumbunctious toddlers, drunk on our own fabulosity and success, collecting awards like sweets, for hundreds of campaigns, for Agency of the Year, hell, we even won Agency of the Decade. 

We were young, we were hungry, we were ambitious, we were the epitome of work hard play hard. We were out every other night of the week, but always in the office first thing the next day. Sometimes we'd go in at the weekend, just to get a steal on the (inevitably) crazy week ahead. We knew that there were hundreds of people who wanted our jobs, and they were good. So we had to be better.

It was a whirl of hard work, hysteria and happiness. 

Let's be clear: it was extremely tough too. It wasn't nicknamed the 'House of Pain' for nothing: there were regular tears in the toilets and throwing up in the car park due to the pressure. But some of my best and most enduring friendships were forged there as we bonded through the grind. And I can honestly say the leadership and the talent that I met, worked with and learned from, was the best in the business. It is no surprise that everyone who worked there has gone on to be successful in their careers, and we all attribute that in part, to the time we spent there.

So when I first arrived in the Middle East I was truly knocked for six by what I encountered. Apparently, it was perfectly acceptable to send a text informing your director that you couldn't make it into work because you suffered period pains, a headache, or (my personal favourite) 'my eyes feel funny'. It was also a normal occurrence to be late for work. Every day. With excuses more weird and wonderful each week.

Six years on and I'm happy to say that standards have improved massively and we've (mostly) moved beyond this. But I'm still gobsmacked by the people that I interview. They frequently come with a list of demands: not just salary and package, but what they will and won't do (mainly won't), whch areas/sectors they want to work on, which clients they want to dedicate their time to....the list is endless.

Sometimes at the end of a hard day I ponder what would happen to these precious little darlings if they were dropped into a UK PR agency. Better still, if I put them in front of some of my ex-employers for interview. I think I know the answer. And it isn't pretty....

Britney's Top Tips for Travelling with a Baby

Snakes on a plane:
marginally less frightening than babies on a plane
It's been a while since I boarded a plane and flew to foreign climes. 18 months to be precise. 

I had a travel ban from my consultant when pregnant so was effectively grounded. Then the fear of travelling with a small tiny tyrant rendered me uninterested in any sort of plane situation. I know many some people trill merrily that: "Babies are just so portable" and that child travel is "So easy! Just wait until they are walking!". I didn't subscribe to this.  When you've spent 6 months living on zero sleep the thought of negotiating a busy airport with a baby that eats every hour is not a pleasant one.

For the woman who never spent longer than 8 weeks on Dubai turf, this travel ban was a total killer. Every time I walked past my (spectacular if I do say so myself) framed world map in the hallway, I sighed despondently. So much of the world still left to see! 

Would I ever quaff fizz in the airport bar whilst waiting to board again? 

Would I ever go wild in the Mac Duty Free aisles again? 
Would I ever sachay through the Dubai E-Gates again? Well - that's actually a tricky one with a child as they still need their passports stamped...humph.

I've blogged before about travel and shared my top tips. Here's an amended version for travelling avec Baby Britney (BB).

Divide and Conquer
If you're travelling with someone else, anticipate the worst case scenario. I'm lucky enough to have never lost my luggage....BUT......just in case: When you're packing, split the absolute necessities across cases. Eg one tub of formula in each, a stack of nappies in each, a handful of food pouches in each. Bless my husband for taking this on the chin and accepting his share of BB's frilly bikini bottoms.

Pick Your Airline Wisely
We paid a bit more to fly Emirates. They have bassinet seats which are a godsend. Even if your baby is too big for the bassinet (BB only just fitted), even if they don't sleep in it (ha!) you can use the bassinet for keeping baby stuff in. Or in our case, wine and gin.

Emirates also go a long way to making the flight more bearable. Mini baby packs with toys, wipes. Infant meals. Generous sevings of wine. Oh and my absolute favourite: they come round with a polaroid camera and take a photo of you as a family! Genius.

Fly During the Day
This will vary by child, but for us, it was a no brainer. BB is mainly awake during the day, so if she misses a daytime nap, it's really not the hugest deal. If she just cat naps in your arms for 40 minutes, this will get her through the rest of the flight.

But at night, in her normal life, she sleeps. When 6.30 pm rolls around, she's begging for bed. She practically cheers as she gets lowered into her cot and goes down like a stone. If, at 6.30 pm, you're experiencing mid-air turbulence and holding her, with bright cabin lights in her face, she isn't going to sleep. And she's going to protest, loudly, about this.

Take Your Routine with You
This is where you'll reap the benefits of your routine and rituals. Babies are malleable little individuals, and if you take all your sleep cues with you and crack them out, you stand a better chance of having a rested time. In our case, bath before bed, bottle, grobag, the white noise app, BB is powerless to resist. Whic brings me onto:

Invest in a Snooze Shade
This genius invention velcros over your pram, creating a lovely, snooze-inducing, dark environment. We cracked out the bedtime routine, popped BB inside the pram with the Snooze Shade covering it, blasted the white noise and voila! Sleeping baby. Ready to be wheeled downstairs to snooze next to us whilst we ate dinner. And drank wine. Best buy ever!

Be Relaxed
Ha! Ha ha ha! Have we met? I can't believe I'm even writing this. Honestly, try to relax. Wine massively helped me onthe plane. Also, baby screaming is surprisingly muffled by the sound of the plane. Who knew? You can barely hear it. I promise you. Which brings me onto:

An Extra Pair of Hands
I am extremely lucky and have a very hands on DH. A whining, teething, crying BB does not phase him one jot. One afternoon I handed her over, scampered down to the pool clutching a bonkbuster and enjoyed two hours on a sunlounger, quaffing wine and losing myself in a Hollywood trash bonkbuster. Imagine! 

I obviously reciprocated when he went to the gym every day, so it worked both ways. But it is worth repeating just how invaluable an extra pair of willing, loving and supportive hands are. When turbulence hits at forty thousand feet and you've been trying to placate the tiny tyrant for an hour, it is bliss to be able to take turns.

So there we go. There's no denying it's a dfferent experience travelling with a baby. And I'd definitely like to supplement this with some weekends away with a girlfriend. But there's something very beautiful about spending relaxed time together with the people that you love most in the whole world. You bond in a way that you don't always have time to when in the daily grind of life.

We went away as three separate people. We came back as a family. I recommend it.

Sunday, August 31, 2014

The Guilt of the Working Mother

I've spent the last few weeks dipping in and out of the notorious Sheryl Sandberg book: Lean In. It courted controversy when it was published and divided opinionShe was criticised for not breaking any new ground, and leaving out issues such as how to overcome patriarchy, race and finances.

You were either for her, or against her. And a lot of people were against her. 

I'll be honest, I'd kind of made my mind up about it before I started and I was in the 'against' camp. What could a billionaire tell me, an ordinary working mother, about how best to run my life, my career? How was Sheryl, with access to the best and most comprehensive support, childcare and even wardrobe, going to relate to the woman on the street?

Well I've finished the book and I'll give you my opinion. 

I was pleasantly surprised. I'm just going to say it: I loved the book. Her style is self-deprecating and her prose is peppered with personal anecdotes which reveal her to be disarmingly human.

She admits that she feels like a fraud. She feels fear. She is unsure. She credits her husband with being crucial to her success. One of my favourite quotes is this:

“When looking for a life partner, my advice to women is date all of them: the bad boys, the cool boys, the commitment-phobic boys, the crazy boys. But do not marry them. The things that make the bad boys sexy do not make them good husbands. When it comes time to settle down, find someone who wants an equal partner. Someone who thinks women should be smart, opinionated and ambitious. Someone who values fairness and expects or, even better, wants to do his share in the home. These men exist and, trust me, over time, nothing is sexier.” 

She also speaks of being wracked with guilt when leaving her children each day. Now this is where my ears pricked up. 

Real maths that I have done in my head, on the way to work in the morning:

  • 8 hours - Total time I'm out of the house on a typical day
  • 2.5 hours - Total time Baby Britney is asleep during this time
  • 5.5 hours - Total time she is awake during this time, and thus with the nanny 
  • 4 hours - Total waking time she spends with me
Which means that the nanny is 90 minutes in credit versus me. I have tortured myself over those 90 minutes. Hoping that the 48 hours at the weekend when the nanny is off-duty make up for it.

Now, I'll take a wild guess here, but I think it's fair to say that no man has ever attempted these mental calculations. And that's not because they don't care, or don't love their children. They just don't feel the guilt that women do. And why should they? Why do we women do it to ouselves? 

Sheryl actually quotes research that confrms our guilt is unfounded: 

"Exclusive maternal care is not related to better or worse outcomes for children.  There is no reason for mothers to feel as though they are harming their children if they decide to work. Parents who work outside the home are still capable of giving their children a loving and secure childhood. 
Some data even suggests that having two parents working outside the home can be advantageous to a child's development, particularly for girls.” 

So should you read this book? Yes. Yes you should. Even if you're a man.

As Sheryl herself said, she wrote the book: "For any man who wants to understand what a woman - a colleague, wife, mother, or daughter - is up against so that he can do his part to build a more equal world.” 

Amen to that.

Holding Back the The Ravages of Time

My skinspiration. LOVE BLAKE.
There are few words more wonderful than: "You look lovely today. Really young and fresh-faced." 

That's what someone said to me, this weekend. They were followed up by: "Have you been sneaking off to see a plastic surgeon?"

Ha! Ha ha ha ha ha! No comment! Whilst I haven't succumbed to the surgeon's knife (yet), it's no secret that I'm a fan of anything that will keep the ageing wolf from the door.  I'd rather not embrace the Bride of Wildenstein look, but I see nothing wrong with attempting to maintain a level of grooming and facial upkeep that is younger than my years. Just keep within reason, yes?

After I'd hugged the deliverer of this great compliment tightly and managed not to faint right away through shock, I checked the diary: when did I last invest in some 'facial (ahem) rejuvination'? I was pretty surprised to see that it was April. That's five months ago. I'm usually booked in every three months, so that's a pretty good achievement. I've checked the mirror, and although there are a few signs of wear and tear, I'm pleased to confirm that I haven't shrivelled up into an old raisin.

So what have I been doing differently? Well, I've invested in a Nutri-Bullet - but that's a recent purchase. I can't see it will have impacted my skin that much in the seven days that I've been forcing the resulting concotions down.

I've been running twice a week, which definitely helps with circulation and all-round appearance. But it's hardly marathon efforts.

So I can only surmise that the Celergen has been working its magic. You may remember I started on my Celergen journey back in June. It has a whole host of ingredients that claim to help in many different ways and it looks like the Peptide E Collagen is the ingredient that's working its magic. Apparently it’s easily absorbed and rebuilds outer skin layers from the inside out – so helping to improve lines and wrinkles.

I'm still taking it (who wouldn't?!) so I'll keep you posted.

If you want to try it yourself you can order online and they'll deliver it to you, wherever you are, for free.

Disclaimer: This product was given to me for free for the purposes of reviewing, however all opinions were independently formed by little old me.

Sunday, August 24, 2014

What's the Weather Like?

Make it stop!!!
It's a standard joke that Brits are obsessed with the weather. In a country known for its grey, overcast days, it becomes a fallback conversation starter, but also a very real logistical challenge. What, precisely, does one wear on a British summer' day, which could run the full gamut of drizzle, sunshine, wind, rain? But mainly rain.

I'll let you into a secret. Even though I live in a country with blue sky and sunshine 360 days of the year, we are also obsessed with the weather. We talk about it ALL the time. This builds into a frenzy in August, when it feels like the Summer is never going to end.

How hot is it? How humid is it? Is it hotter or cooler than last year? Will the Summer ever end? Is a sandstorm on its way? And most thrilling of all: IS IT RAINING WHERE YOU ARE?!

I'm currently in a frenzy as the humidity has dropped in the past week. This means that although it's so hot (49 degrees today!) you feel like your eye balls are peeling away from your lids, it's somehow more bearable than being drenched with water 30 seconds after leaving the house.

Mid August is a real test. For those of us who've stayed through Ramadan and most of the hottest months of the year, you start to feel like the Summer is going to last until December. Any tiny dip in temperature is embraced, discussed and regarded as a tiny chink of hope in the heat quagmire.

We're now casually throwing around the phrase: "Just one more month to go!" Which, sadly, is a total lie. It doesn't cool down until November. So that'll be another two months. Two months two weeks, really. Oh lord.

Just one more month to go!

Sunday, August 17, 2014

What Does Having a Baby Teach You?

Guess which one I am?!
As Baby Britney approaches her first birthday (yikes!) I'm in a reflective mood.

I still can't believe that this time last year I was pregnant, with all its associated stress, pain and daily woes. I remember it like it was yesterday, but I just somehow can't believe it ever happened. It's hard to equate the rambunctious, squeaking, peachy-headed munchkin in front of me to the 8 months of pregnancy I endured.  Which is quite ridiculous really, but there you go. 

So what have I learned over the last year? What does having a baby teach you? I won't wax lyrical about the capacity for love you realise exists deep within you, blah blah blah. That's a given. Trust me on this one.

I've thought long and hard about this and decided the number one thing I've learned is...patience. 

I'm a fast moving kinda gal. I walk fast, eat fast, talk fast. Speed is integral to my being. (Have you ever sat round a table with a group of PR people? They speak like the wind. A non PR friend likened it to: "Being put through a washing machine. On spin cycle.") 

Some people see this speed, this mercurial tendency, as a negative. They assume that to move so quickly, you must be feeling pressured and stressed. Quite the contrary. I love a bit of vigour, a bit of gumption. I'm at one with the universe when I'm making things happen, organising events/people. It's my version of Zen.

Then along comes a baby. They operate to their own, crazy timetable of insanity. They wake, eat, poop, scream, EXACTLY when they want. They are marching at the beat of their own teeny, tiny, ever so slightly bonkers drum. And there's very little you can do to influence them, in the early months. As they get bigger, sure, you can get them onto a routine. But things still take forever. You can't rush through bathtime. You can try. You can cut corners. But essentially, that baby won't be rushed through the process.

When you're pacing the floor in the dead of the night, sssh-patting for the third hour, for the fourth time that evening, you may wish with every fibre of your being that you can fast-forward through the torture. But you can't. You inch forward on your hands and knees, one second, one minute, one never-ending hour at a time.

Mealtimes are another thing that just cannot be rushed. Have you ever tried to feed a 9 month old baby that isn't interested in food? It takes cunning and wile. In this house we have to allow at least 30 minutes per meal. Often more. No scoffing food, no inhaling a tin of tomatoes and some brown rice, no existing on a banana and a handful of multi vitamins (her mother's staple diet) for Baby Britney.

You have to offer finger foods, which may or may not be eaten. (May not, frequently). When these finger foods are wobbling towards the tiny tyrant's mouth, you go in, like a ninja, with a spoon of lovingly made home cooked food. When this is inevitably rejected, you offer an Ella's pouch. 

You try to spoon feed. This is resisted. Food is flung on the floor. The walls. The ceiling. The cat. You cave, and food is slurped directly from the pouch. The pouch is then rejected. You scramble around inside the fridge for another option. This goes on, in all it's comedic glory, for a period of time that feels long enough for the Beatles to consider re-forming. Throw in the fact that your kitchen now resembles a Jackson Pollock painting and it's enough to give a clean freak like me a slow lingering heart attack.

Tracy Hogg, the Baby Whisperer (say what you like, I love her book) identifies this pretty early on and actually defines SLOW as: Stop, Listen, Observe, What's Up? It really applies to tiny babies who can't easily tell you what's wrong. You know, when they try their best to tell you by screaming for three hours every night from 4-7 pm. But it definitely applies to parenthood in general.

It's going to take you longer to leave the house, get in the car, leave the car. I'll be honest, that bit hasn't bothered me so much. Like I said, I'm a natural organiser, so I'm pretty much ready to leave at a moment's notice anyway. 

The hard bit was surrendering to the  general slow down in pace. Because surrender you must. You'll drive yourself mad trying to speed them up, it just isn't going to happen. The good thing about this? Babies live very much in the moment. Unlike adults, they're not ruminating and dissecting the previous day. Worrying about the past, scared of the future. They're just living their baby lives, one crazy minute at a time. Experiencing every touch, every sensation, every taste. Finding joy in the small things. 

As I type this, Baby Britney is chewing the tail of a toy cat. She's been at it for the last 15 minutes. Every few minutes she stops, inspects the tail, looks at me, and smiles a toothless smile of contentment. I'm telling you, babies have a lot to teach us. Slow down, and you'll hear them more clearly.