Monday, June 30, 2008

Sleepless in....Dubai

I’m not sleeping well at the moment. I’ve never been a good sleeper – apart from the weekends when I could possibly enter the Sleeping Olympics – and win gold! I don’t seem to be able to switch my brain off. When my head hits the pillow, my mind goes into overdrive.

Just some of the things it was contending with last night:

Moving into the new apartment – and all that goes with it: re-connecting water, electricity, getting internet/phone/tv /extra car park pass sorted. As each of these items takes about ten years, an office trip, and 85 documents photocopied, passport etc, the combined list is a big undertaking.

Furniture is getting delivered, whilst I’m at work (can I get out to let the delivery men in?) before that the flat needs to be cleaned. Trying to book the cleaning company involves a number of unfruitful calls, each time saying they will call back. They never do.

Need to actually move all of my possessions: one enormous suitcase, two huge boxes which I had shipped, in addition a myriad of house stuff which is under the bed.

I need to hire a car as yes, you cannot walk anywhere in Dubai, and despite the flat being a 15 minute walk from the office, I would either: a) die of heatstroke, b) get mown down by lunatic drivers if I attempted to walk. So I need to arrange to collect the car and get it home. Compounded by the fact that despite reserving a car online, the rental company have no record of my booking, and cannot tell me which car I have reserved. Oh, and I have no clue where they are based. And I’ll need another 85 pieces of paper in order to pick it up.

I have no bank account as I can’t open one until my visa comes through. Which could be another month at least. So I’m having to manage my finances from an envelope! It’s also a complete gamble whether or not my UK debit card is accepted in shops, as they prefer local credit or debit cards – which makes for interesting experiences when stood in the local supermarket.

Oh – if my visa doesn’t come through in the next month I’ll have to do a visa run – where you exit and re-enter the country, either by plane or car – neither option is exactly handy or ideal.

Layer all of the above over the fact that my working day runs from 830 til 730, I’m in week 2 of my first job, working on pitches, new account wins, have a new team to manage, and a long list of existing clients to service, and you can imagine the inside of my head when I lay down to sleep.

Is it any wonder I can’t drop off?!

Sunday, June 29, 2008

More Cheese, Please!

Brunch is, I am learning, an institution in Dubai. Not for Dubai a simple coffee and fry up mid-morning. No, these are lavish all-day affairs with tables laden with food and free-flowing champagne. I’m beginning to understand why everyone warns you about the ‘Dubai Stone’ when you arrive here. A combination of fine food, wine, and not much physical activity (you can’t walk anywhere and you’re too tired to go to the gym when you get in from work at 8 pm!) can lead to a pesky extra stone that’s hard to shift.

Anyway, we had our first brunch experience this weekend. A slightly more restrained affair than some of the all-dayers, this was from 6-9 in the lovely Qamardeen Hotel (incidentally walking distance from our new flat, hurrah!) And, the brunch was themed – around cheese! Unlimited wine and cheese for 3 hour s- my idea of heaven. My arteries’ idea of imminent death.

A very civilised way to spend a day off, and just long enough not to completely ruin your next day off. Which I spent having a back and shoulder massage at the Shangri-la Spa. If this sounds too decadent I did manage to fit in two trips to the gym, and next weekend is likely to be spent doing very dull ‘moving-into-the-new-flat’ type jobs. That’s my justification!

Thursday, June 26, 2008

Under the Sea...

Yesterday I was taken on a top secret mission to see the new Atlantis Hotel on the Palm – two months before it is due to open. If you’re not familiar with the hotel, it’s a half a billion pound project to build an enormous 7 star hotel out in the middle of the sea. Part of the hotel is submerged underwater – you can access it by submarine. I am not joking. You can book into a suite which is partly submerged, and stare at the fish whilst you are in the bath. One of which was double the size of me and came right up to the glass! (See photo) Freaky.

A client of mine has supplied the bathrooms (ah the glamour of PR) so we went in for a sneak peak. It’s on a scale that I have never seen before. It has 1, 500 rooms. Nearly 300 suites. The biggest suites cost 10k a night to stay I them – and they’re booked up from now until December. It will employ 45, 000 people when it There’s a rumour that Madonna will be the star guest on opening night and do a bit of a turn.

The place is still a building site outside and lots of work going on in inside. It is quite literally a military operation, with 20, 000 people working 24 hours a day to finish the hotel.

In typical PR fashion not one of us was appropriately dressed for the visit. To be fair I had asked just how much of a building site the place was before we went but was assured that it was ‘nearly finished’. How I cursed this as I clambered over the site in flip flops and a summer dress, with hard hat for good measure. To be fair my account exec fared worse, she was in a tight skirt and five inch heels! You can imagine the stir we created as we went on our tour....
We walked almost the full length of the hotel, clambered up and down umpteen flights of stairs (the lifts don’t work yet) stepping over painters, joiners, electricians, cleaners, and divers (in the underwater bit.) It felt like ‘Challenge Anneka’ crossed with ‘The Krypton Factor’. Did I mention that yesterday it was 45 degrees and most of the tour was not in air con.

After 2 hours in the heat I actually thought I was going to die, and scrambled back into the site office looking like I’d had a bucket of water thrown over me. Never again will I complain about the air con being too cold!

My verdict: outrageous, unbelievable hotel. Too Disney for me personally, and the carpets were vile, but as a visual spectacle, it really does have to be seen to be believed.

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

You Can Take the Girl Out of Manchester

I had a whole evening to myself last night, for the first time since I arrived in Dubai two weeks ago. For those with live in lovers/flatmates , this may not seem like anything to write home about. But as someone who has lived on their own for the best part of 11 years (and yes I did have a cat, but no spinster jokes, please) and loved every minute of it, a night in, alone, is the ultimate treat for me.

After a godawful hour getting home from work (despite the actual distance from home to office being half a mile at most) I wasn’t really ready for anything too crazy - had a very pleasant dinner on the balcony, caught up on world news on the internet, and then began my most favourite SSB (Secret Single Behavior), Fake Tanning.

Yes, I may be in one of the most cospopolitan cities on earth – where they actually sell skin bleaching kits next to the fake tan in the shops – but nothing was going to stop me from applying my Manchester Sunshine.

Jordan once described herself and Peter when in bed as:”looking like a couple of hotdogs” due to their excessive application of fake tan. Well I went to bed one very happy hotdog! You can’t buy class. But you can buy fake tan. (4.99 a can from M and S.)

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

A Day in the Life of...

Well dear readers, you are probably wondering how I am getting on day to day in the crazy world of work. I thought I would try to summarise this in a tried and tested PR format: A Day in the Life of…Please note that some incidents have been amalgamated into one day for dramatic effect. I don’t want you getting bored!

7.30 – 8. am. Wake up, snuggly and warm underneath my duvet. Yes, DUVET. The air con is a little fierce at times so a duvet is completely necessary. To paint the picture more for you, I am also wearing winter pyjamas at this point too. Sometimes, not always, cashmere bed socks.

Open the curtains. As yet the excitement of looking out over Dubai hasn’t yet faded. As we’re on the 27th floor, it’s a pretty good view. It’s actually been really hazy since I arrived, but the last few days have been much clearer, today I could see the Burj Al Arab in the distance (see photo!), and also the ‘World Islands’. Amazing.

Get ready for work – won’t bore you with these details but it does involve getting dressed quite quickly. (Fierce air con). If you’re interested, the business dress code is much the same as the UK. I wear the same clothes as I did in Manchester. Smarter if anything. That said as I’m working in an ad agency the dress code can be very casual on the creative side. Someone has just walked past me in a one-shoulder lycra top, another with wrap-around aviators (inside).

As I get ready I keep one eye on the view from window to see if any taxis are approaching the apartment. When I see one in the distance, I scamper off downstairs. Being so high up means I have time to apply lipstick in the lift on the way down.

8.30 – 8.35 am. Exit building. Take deep intake of breath as hit by wall of heat and sunshine. Clamp sunglasses firmly onto face. Hail cab from outside building. Depending on the traffic this can take anything from 1-5 minutes. After 5 minutes you really feel the heat and I’m already starting to flag.

Enter cab. Explain to taxi driver where I need to go. 95% of the time they a) cannot understand me b) have no idea where I mean. Through the time honoured Brits Abroad tradition of waving hands, smiling and talking loudly, we manage to navigate.

8.40 am. Arrive at work. Yes it is really that close to the apartment. Run inside through the heat, saying hello to the army of Indian men who are outside the building. I’m not sure exactly what they all do. Some are valet parking, some directing the traffic, some seem to be there just to greet us. There is a plethora of people throughout the building, cleaning, tidying, delivering mail and making drinks – generally looking after us. We’re very lucky! I have yet to enter the toilet without finding someone cleaning, polishing, and folding the toilet roll into a point.

My office is very space age/James Bond. I’ve been in a lot of advertising and creative agencies over the years and this is definitely the coolest. To enter reception you have to walk through a steel tunnel! Lots of primary colors, pop art, a basketball court (no, really) a brainstorming area with grass (no, really) and of course, table football and a pool table.

Then follows the usual working day, taking briefs, coming up with strategy, ideas, writing, speaking to the media. I won’t bore you with it all!

11.30 am It normally takes me until mid-morning to become extremely cold. The air con is fierce here too (see a pattern emerging), so I spend much of the day sitting on my hands trying to warm them up. sometiems my nose runs!

1.00 pm Nip downstairs to café for lunch. The office complex is amazing, think Canary Warf meets Salford Quays. Lots of gardens, fountains, bridges and walkways, and places to eat and drink. At this point I normally go outside and stand in the searing heat for 5 minutes to try to warm up. My colleagues laugh at me!

Continue working. Marvel at the cacophony of different languages that I hear outside my office door. It’s a real cultural melting pot here, colleagues are from a diverse range of countries including: Egypt, Canada, India, Germany, Israel and Lebanon. Oh, and Bournemouth and Manchester too!

6.30 pm. Head outside, either try to hail a taxi, or cadge a lift home. Despite the heat at this point I can usually stand outside for half an hour at least with no problem at all. The air con gets into your bones!

Get home and discuss day with fellow flat mates. We’re sharing with a fab New Yorker and a Scot, I’d like to think the set up is more ‘This Life’ than Big Brother. Either eat out or have dinner on the balcony, with Sheikh Zayed road below. The traffic does not stop until at least 10 pm. How does anyone ever get home?

Fall into bed dreaming of sunshine and camels. No, I really did dream about camels one night!

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Home from Home

Well, it was bound to happen sooner or later. I am officially a Brit Abroad. No, i haven't been scoffing a full English or stomping down the aisles looking for Heinz Baked Beans and HP Sauce. But I have just spent a morning in Marks and Spencer. Kill me now!
In my defence I have a new apartment to kit out, and as my dear colleagues and friends bought me a stack of M and S vouchers as leaving presents, it seemed the ideal place to start. My trolley was piled so high with pots, pans, wine glasses (such excitement) I could barely see my way out of the shop. Thankfully a very sweet man took all my bags from me and took them out to a taxi.
I'm not sure why it felt so odd being in such an English store. Part of me feels that I really should have found a souk and bartered for every household item as part of a more 'authentic' Dubai experience. But there's plenty of time for that. It's 40 degrees, for a start, and if the Open Top Bus Tour taught me anything, it's that I am not willing to be more than 5 minutes away from air con! Picky, me?

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

It's Getting Hot in Here!

So, the end of my first full week in Dubai. One thing which had bothered me massively was the heat - and I have to say, it really hasn't been that bad. BUT I've found out that last week was a complete freak of weather and it was actually really cold!

So, I've been skipping about feeling smug wondering what all the fuss was about, and woke up today to feel like I was melting, at 9 am! Eevn the rooftop pool is hot, and it's windy as hell up there. Anyway, it was bound to catch up with me sooner or later.

I enter the world of work this Sunday (yes, Sunday is the new Monday don't you know) in a strange way it will be good to get into a routine and meet new people, I shall miss my afternoons by the pool though! My working day is (in theory) 9-6.30, and as it gets dark quite early here - 730 ish, that doesn't leave much time for pool visitis after work! Still, there's always the weekend....

Saturday, June 14, 2008

Mall of Exhaustion

As the boy only gets one day off a week (!) I took myself of to the Mall of the Emirates today. Hailed a cab right from the front door and set off. I think the trip was £3. Sorry if I am obsessed by how cheap the cabs are!
The Mall is as you would expect: flash, fast and fun. You could almost be anywhere in the world given the amount of international brands there. Harvey Nichols is divine, huge and has some gorgeous designers (Manchester branch, please take note).
Oh and it has a ski slope! Completely outrageous and I love it.
You're reminded that you're in Dubai by the traditional dress all around you, and at 4,45, a call to prayer rang out! I find it really relaxing and quite hypnotic. It didn't distract me from shopping though.
A minor issue in Carrefour: after muntering around for hours choosing bath towels (well, they have to be just right), and staggering up to the tills, I was told that they wouldn't accept my HSBC card. I had to run to a cashpoint with the nice Indian man who had packed my bags for me. This would have embarrassed me back in England but here I couldn't care less!
I decided to quit whilst I was ahead and caught another taxi home. Just in time to finish a book by the pool before dinner. How will I ever find time to work?!

Friday, June 13, 2008

Jumeirah Means Beautiful... just one of the fascinating facts I learnt today on an open top bus tour of Dubai. Yes, like mad dogs and englishmen we braved 45 degree plus heat and set off to explore our new home. Some other facts:

Madinat means 'city'

Souk means 'market'

Burj means 'tower'

Men get very grumpy when it is hot and they are wearing shorts made of synthetic fibres.
Women get on with things despite the heat, all the while feeling smug that they are wearing a loose-fitting kaftan dress.

We literally left no Dubai stone unturned, from the flash streets of Jumeirah with their luxury villas, to the hustle and bustle and old school vibe of the creek. The most amazing place.
We watched as piles and piles of goods arrived, everything from microwaves to washing machines. These, we were told, can sit for days at the side of the creek waiting to be delivered to new homes. Not one item ever gets stolen. Can you imagine this happening in dear old Manchester? The stuff would be gone before you could say 'scally'.That's one of the most refreshing things about Dubai. I feel completely and utterly safe.

Thursday, June 12, 2008

The First Post...

Well, where do I start? My first few days in Dubai have been action-packed to say the least. One day was spent driving around getting my bearings (never again will i curse Manchester drivers for minor incidents like not using indicators, driving here is a real treat!) and yesterday I had a delightful morning meeting some Dubai ladies.

I jumped a cab (these are everywhere, and to give you an idea of prices, a two way journey , 20 mins each way, cost me £7) to Festival Village. It's not a village, more a mall, by the water, with a very swish M and S, and even Ikea!
For some reason it tickles me to see global brands out here, with the Arabic version alongside. Arabic writing is truly beautiful, very graceful and elegant. But bears little relation to the original brand logo. I like the idea of creative directors having sweated for hours over font size, and colour, only to see it completely transformed here.

Anyway: Dubai ladies - very welcoming and friendly and so many top tips that at one point I had to write notes! Followed that up with a lounge by the pool (well, I don't want to completely overdo it.) Building work is everywhere, and I can see how it might be annoying if you had come here for a holiday and then discovered that your hotel was in the midst of it. But as a city girl I remain completely unfazed by building work and noise as I lie by the pool. I mean, it's a pool! On my roof!
If you've ever been to the Gansevort Hotel in New York you'll get what I mean. It was the pool in Sex and the City where Samantha and Richard have a naked swim. Surrounded by traffic and noise - but it's a pool!

First work meeting today, great agency, clients and people. It seemed strange putting on corporate clothes in 35 degree heat - the merest sniff of sunshine back home and everyone strips off immediately! I was channelling Carrie Bradshaw and her pink pinstripe shirt/waistcoat combo, thankfully I hailed a cab within minutes to avoid the drenched look.

Off to use the gym and pool, and then flat hunting tonight. It's the weirdest sensation being here. It feels like home already, only without my home comforts of friends and family. Hurry up and get here people!

Thursday, June 05, 2008

The Last Post

Well, not my last ever, but my last post here as a UK resident! The last day at work today. My new strategy is to pretend that I am going on holiday so that I don't get too sad thinking about not seeing my work chums for a very long while. My leaving gifts have been lovely, and just like my colleagues - very creative. I am now the owner of an otter! I shall miss the general craziness of the place (I have laughed til I cried at least once a week) the roaming canines, and the overall jolly nice people I have met along the way here. I am sure that the wonders of technnology will make keeping in touch a pleasure and not a chore.

Wednesday, June 04, 2008

One Thing I Won't Miss

Another day, another nightmare journey on Virgin Trains. Some poor soul saw fit to throw themselves under a train just outside of Euston, throwing the whole network into disarray and all trains out of London to be cancelled. It took a staggering 6 hours to get back to Manchester. Via Sheffield.
The latter part of the journey saw a delightful family enter our carriage. No older than 16, dressed in matching tracksuits, laden with Elizabeth Duke jewellery, the parents fed the kids fizzy pop and packets of digestive biscuits (using an interesting technique where the biscuit was shoved whole, into the mouth, and then shown to fellow passengers. A delight!) No wonder the little darlings then went completely beserk: screaming, shouting, hanging off the chairs. Sara, thankfully for her, slept through most of the ordeal (how, is she deaf?!)

I shall not shed a tear to say goodbye to Virgin Trains, nor certain members of the great unwashed British public.

Monday, June 02, 2008

The End of a Furry Era

I'd been dreading this weekend for some time, the Big Man was to go to his new home. I packed up all his belongings (quite a lot actually when you inlcude toys, collars, treats, spray on cat nip, etc etc) and set off for Warrington. The lovely Anne-Marie was waiting for him with treats and a gorgeous Alessi cat bowl.

After much skulking around nervously, interspersed with lots of talking and chirruping, he settled down. When I got home the flat felt very empty. No furry face at the door when I got in, no constant companion as I walk about.

My favourite Frank moments:

  • His 'victory runs' - a mad dash up and down the hallway, sometimes coinciding with a litter tray visit. As I have wooden floors there was always much 'cartoon cat' running - legs and feet scrabbling, but not getting anywhere.
  • His 'stealth walking' slowly over the duvet in the middle of the night, trying to get to the comfiest place on my pillow. Like you won't notice 5 kilos of cat stomping over you!
  • Likewise waking up when on my back to find him sat on my chest, staring at me, waiting for me to wake up.
  • His complete exhaustion after any activity, however small. After a weekend of constant playing and company, he would literally be unable to keep his eyes open on a Sunday night. Howvere hard we tried. Hilarious.
  • His love of being picked up and cuddled like a a baby. He liked nothing better than to fall asleep in my arms. Did I mention he weighed 5 kilos....? No wonder I have a back problem.

He has gone to a great home and I know he will be happy. I still miss him though.