Sunday, November 30, 2008

Egg Chasing

This weekend saw the Rugby 7’s take over Dubai. The event is massively popular, with rugby fans from all over the world flying in. I’ve watched 7’s before, at the Commonwealth Games, and loved it – so much faster and more interesting than ‘normal’ rugby.

The Dubai Rugby 7’s is slightly different – in that it is one enormous party. And I mean, PARTY.
The event was held in a purpose built stadium about half an hour out into the desert. And it was pretty impressive, a vast thing with lots of activities, food, and of course booze.

We arrived with a group of friends from work, and also met up with the lovely Roz, who was over for the event. It seems obligatory for everyone to wear fancy dress – there were male Baywatch lifeguards (“my eyes are up here love” one of them said to me – well, if you will put it all out there…), sumo wrestlers, and nuns. My favourite outfits? The large group of bananas sat in the stand next to us…..

I was surprised by how little attention people paid to the actual rugby, with a lot of singing, dancing and general revelry in between and during the games. The atmosphere was amazing – even when South Africa beat us in the final it didn’t dampen anyone’s spirits.

Thankfully we’d had the foresight to arrange a driver to take us home – I didn’t fancy a 4 hour queue for a taxi – and we made it home tired but happy by about 10.30. That was over 9 hours of partying. Well, you have to let your hair down once in a while.

Thursday, November 27, 2008

Are We Surprised?

I’ve made no secret of my love of Gordon Ramsey. He might not be conventionally attractive but the combination of his terse demeanor, sense of humour, and lest we forget: cooking ability, meant I have long harboured a crush on him.

So there was a loud squeak from on Sunday when I logged onto News of the World to read details of his alleged 7 year affair. Am I surprised? Not really. He has a definite twinkle in his eye – when I met him at a Manchester book signing (yes I did take the afternoon off work to queue up like a loser, and I am not ashamed of this!) he was incredibly flirtatious, and invited me out for a drink. Well, he’s only human….

But it’s still disappointing to read news like this. I’m still reeling over the Becks/Loos story from yesteryear. I mean, we all know men (and women) are not perfect, and sometimes stray. Especially celebs who have everything quite literally laid out on a plate for them. But sometimes, even though I work in PR for god’s sake and shouldn’t believe a word of the gumph I read in Hello/Ok et al, I just want to believe…..thanks Gordon for letting the side down so spectacularly.

Feeling Festive…?

I keep looking at the calendar and getting a bit of a surprise – it’s November (of course) but it doesn’t feel like it at all here. My brain is in a state of perpetual Summer as the sun is always shining and it’s always warm here. There has been the odd evening recently when I’ve felt a little wintery, but that’s usually down to the fact that it goes dark really early here – 5.30-6 ish.

I nipped to a large hypermarket for some provisions the other evening and was surprised by the huge Christmas onslaught that I saw – trees and decorations for sale, cards, wrapping paper – all the usual. It just felt unusual as the sunshine had lulled me into a false sense of non-Christmas security!

As I’m heading home in just over a week, I snaffled up wrapping paper and spent a few happy hours sorting all the presents that have been stuffed into kitchen cupboards for the last few weeks. See you at the German Markets!

Sunday, November 23, 2008

A Listers

For the nine hundredth time: NO, I DID NOT ATTEND THE ATLANTIS OPENING PARTY!! Sadly, I was not one of the select 2, 000 people who slurped champers and were entertained by Le Kylie.

Security was in total overdrive – friends and clients who actually live on the Palm had special passes to allow them into their homes on the opening day – and had strict instructions to be back home by 4 pm. They were also forbidden from swimming or sitting on their own private beaches – having seen the fireworks display which came from each frond, I’m presuming this is because if they had done, they might have found a rocket in their bikinis!

The guest list was leaked (no, really) and such stellar stars as Richard Branson, Mary-Kate Olsen, Nathalie Imbruglia and Charlize Theron were in attendance. I was most excited about Janet Jackson and Oprah, but apparently Oprah was a no-show. How rude!

Some friends were lucky enough to watch the fireworks from a specially chartered yacht (5 grand for four hours, if you please) and it does sound like a spectacular show. Me? I was far too busy at my regular wine and cheese night to be watching 13.5 million quid quite literally, go up in smoke. Champagne corks were the only loud noises I heard that night. Still, this being Dubai, there will no doubt be another ‘party of the decade’ just around the corner….

Doctor, Doctor

I had to visit a doctor this week. I won’t bore you with the details suffice to say for a few hours I had a foot the size of an elephant’s (so much for wearing flat shoes my whole life) caused by inflamed tendons. A treat!

All healthcare is private here – in fact it’s a legal requirement that your employer provides you with as part of your package. I duly found a doctor about half an hour away from home (this is super convenient here in Dubai) actually named ‘The French Clinic (receptionists were French, doctor was not.)

I had a straightforward chat with the doctor – but the main difference from the UK was this: there was no rushing me out of the door as there would have been in the UK. The doctor was very chatty – we had along talk about his daughter and her career choices, but the piece de resistance was this: at the end of my appointment (half an hour) he took out his business card, wrote his mobile number on it, and handed it over to me. “Please, call me in five days and let me know how you are,” he said. And he meant it.

He was quite bemused as I chuckled away, and I had to explain that getting into see a doctor in the UK required James Bond like skills and persistence. And you certainly don’t have the mobile phone number of the doctor at the end of it! I guess the old adage is true: you get what you pay for. Oh, and my foot has returned to a normal size. But I still have to wear trainers to work. The glamour never ends.

Saturday, November 22, 2008

A Woman’s Work……

A new advertising campaign has launched in Saudi. It aims to highlight the abuse that domestic workers suffer at the hands of their employers. Domestic help is prevalent here as it is so cheap. Many families have live in maids – the bigger apartments and all villas have a maid’s room and bathroom.

You see maids everywhere you go – they tend to help out looking after the children. And they don’t look happy much of the time. Quite often I’ve seen them trailing along behind a family, carrying bags at the mall, or trying to control unruly children. Sometimes they bring children down to our pool or take them into the play areas.

For the first time in my life we have a cleaner – I’ve always felt slightly guilty about this and never had great feedback from friends who have them in terms of then doing a very good job. Also I always have a strange urge to tidy up before she comes! But I love her now – when you don’t get home before 8 pm each night, cleaning really isn’t top of the agenda. And as the boy only gets one day off a week, it definitely isn’t the way to spend that precious time.

Ours is allegedly called Eileen – which I am skeptical about as it is such an English name (who next – Edna?!) and she leaves notes for me along the lines of: “Ma’am, I need: Jif cream cleaner and a BRUSH FOR THE TOILET.” This last part was actually written in capitals! Last week she left a letter from the agency she comes from asking that we don’t give her gifts (!) as the maids on their book sonly have small lockers and can’t fit much into them……nice touch. Thankfully we tip her in cash. I am truly grateful every Tuesday when I come home and can smell the Dettol before I open the front door.

Sunday, November 16, 2008

Not that I’m pampered or anything…

I don’t want you to think it’s all a complete life of riley here. But I had to share this with you. One of the best inventions ever when on the beach has to be the chilled, lemon scented towels that they hand out mid-morning. When you discover that by popping these in the ice bucket they stay cold for ages longer, it really is a happy moment.
Then when you’re having a (particularly brutal, by the way, but thankfully a bargain at 8 quid) back massage, they whip a boiling hot towel out from what looked like a bread bin, and incorporate it in the massage. I tried to squeak but at this point the therapist was virtually sat on me and i was rendered speechless.
From one towel extreme to the other. Yes, it’s all go here.

It’s Raining!

Well, I suppose some of you could look on this as punishment for me regaling you with stories of fabulous weather and endless sunshine. But that’s why I moved to Dubai! So you can imagine my horror when I got to work today to find the office discussing the ‘torrential downpour’ that had taken place at 4.30 am!

Friday was glorious – another perfect day. We spent the day at the beach club – all expenses paid for by the hotel – one of the boy’s very useful contacts. Crab claws, oysters and wine – and someone else footing the bill – perfect.

Saturday the weather was perfect in the morning, and then, quite literally in the space of 5 minutes, it changed. Howling wind – which inevitably means a huge sandstorm here, the poor pool guy was in a right old tizz piling up the sunloungers, chasing comically after umbrellas etc. I was at home at the time so watched all this unfolding from the comfort of the lounge: outside it was a different, and dangerous story. A couple of construction workers died on a site at the marina, and friends had to pull their cars over on the main highway because they couldn’t see anything.

And then, last night: rain! I’m not being funny, but this is exactly why I left the UK! I can’t bear rain! Anyway, I am assured that rain isn’t that common, but to expect more wind and sandstorms in coming months. Maybe I should have packed my fashion wellies after all?! I’ll keep you posted.

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Financial Woes

Dubai: it’s a cosmopolitan city which is more forward thinking than any city in the world, right?

Ok, so explain this to me regarding banking in Dubai:

Direct debits do not exist. Yes, you heard me. A colleague just bought a car, and had to HAND WRITE 36 cheques. Yes, 36 cheques.
The bank cannot activate my cashpoint (sorry, ATM) card. They tell me every day that they have done it. Two weeks later, it still won’t work.
The bank mixes my signature on the system WITH A COMPLETE STRANGER’S. To be fair to them, the entire staff at my local branch went white as sheets, and pronounced this as a ‘disaster’, so they did understand the severity of the situation.
That said, it took another TWO WEEKS to sort it out. Meaning that every time I went into the branch to withdraw money (because, duh, they can’t get my ATM card to work) they challenged who I was as my signature didn’t match. Err that’s because you have it wrong, dunces!

I don’t mean to moan. I have come to expect mediocrity and stupidity from the service industries here, so I am actually remarkably relaxed about issues such as this. How will I cope when I return to a normal country? I may die of shock to encounter someone that knows what they are doing!

Wednesday, November 05, 2008

A Living Legend

No, not Obama (although how fantastic that he is in! Good to have Americans in the office to discuss this with – genuine air of excitement in the air this morning), I mean the legend that is …..George Michael.

He announced his plans to play a gig in Abu Dhabi a few weeks ago, and yesterday I sorted tickets. I missed is Manchester concert last year, and had to experience it vicariously through Julie and Aimee the morning after.

You really can’t beat a bit of Club Tropicana, Freedom, or Outside. More than just his music I admire his honesty and spirit. Very excited about December 1st. And the next day is a public holiday! Perfect timing.

The World’s Biggest Mall

It’s not every day a mall the size of Greater Manchester opens on your doorstep, and yesterday the day finally came for the doors to open at Dubai Mall. It has been dogged by delays, with the opening date put back by a couple of months, then a few more days.

I hadn’t actually intended to go in – I can take or leave the malls here – in my opinion they’re overpriced, vacuous places. But in I went – twice! In my defence, the fist time was necessity – the traffic situation was so bad at our offices that I had to abandon my car and walk home. Now I LOVE walking, but this is starting to get a bit arduous in the evening heat and humidity.

I set off home from work with a couple of colleagues – and it dawned on us that rather than running the gamut of crazy drivers on the highway, we could cut through the Mall. This was easier than it sounds, as, despite being open, it is far from finished.

We meandered down into the bowels of its parking, which is like another world. It reminded me a bit of Mad Max – lots of dust, noise, cars horns, traffic going the wrong way – general pandemonium. Eventually we found our way into the actual mall itself, and by this stage the air con was a major relief.

My verdict on the mall? Well it’s much like any other mall in Dubai – with only 30% of the shops actually being open. There’s the usual Kurt Geiger, Reiss, Zara, Mango (all at about 30% more expensive than the UK), there’s a Nivea spa (because Dubai just doesn’t have enough of these).

The big attractions are Hamleys, Bloomingdales (opening in 2010), and Galleries Layfayette.

The other huge attraction is the world’s biggest aquarium. In the mall. This area was packed. Being Dubai, nothing comes for free, and although you can walk around and get a general view, if you want to get up close and personal to the fish, you have to queue up and pay for the privilege to walk through an enclosed tunnel. The queue for this was huge. I smiled smugly as I walked past – regular readers will know that I visited the mall for a sneak preview and have already done the tunnel!

I was genuinely surprised by the amount of people in the mall – I ended up going back in a few hours later as I met a friend who wanted to have a look – at 9 pm it was packed. I left wondering what it said about Dubai – try and find an art gallery and you’ll probably have to drive for hours into the middle of nowhere. Open a mall – that isn’t finished – and within two hours it will be rammed to the rafters.

There is no getting away from the fact that it is ridiculously handy to have this beast so nearby – it’s about ten minutes on foot door to door- but I’m a bit concerned about the amount of traffic that we’re now going to have roaring past. A high price to pay for Zara on your doorstep? Only time will tell.

Sunday, November 02, 2008

Why God, Why?!

I may have mentioned five million times that the tv and radio here is dire. So it is with much excitement each week that I plug in my laptop and itunes, and download podcasts and BBC television programmes. These used to include Jonathan Ross and Russell brand’s weekly radio shows.

I know Russell Brand has a marmite effect on many people, and to be honest I detested him as much as the next Daily Mail reader until I started downloading his podcasts each week and listening them on my regular walks to work.

These were utterly hilarious, and I’ve converted numerous friends to them over the last year. Many was the time people used to increase their distance from me when I was listening to them in public, so loud were my burst of hyena-like laughter. It was actually getting embarrassing, especially in confined spaces like shops.

And since I moved to Dubai they’ve provided not only laughs but also a much-needed reality check, with news and stories from home discussed regularly.

So imagine my horror when the recent shennanigans with Andrew Sachs hit the headlines, resulting in both of my favourite radio shows being axed!

I’m not going to get into the rights and wrongs of the gaffe that they made (suffice to say that I bet the Middle-England daily mail readers who are doing most of the complaining have never listened to the show in their lives and should really get a life) but I am going to say this: that’s 2 hours less audio-pleasure I am going to get a week now! You have to hang onto these small things when you live in a culturally barren country!

Rant over. Thanks god Strictly Come Dancing has thus far avoided offending the nation.

Sand, Sand, Sand

From now on, don’t bother asking me what I’ve been up to at the weekend – because I can promise you it will have been spent…on the beach. Yes, the weather has finally abated and is now a gorgeous 35 degrees celcius each day – perfect beach weather, and no need to be hiding under a parasol all day.

So this weekend I combined the posh version of the beach and the free version. The first version involves going to a luxury beach club set in gorgeous grounds, where waiters tend to your every whim. The most exhausting part of the day is getting up for the huge buffet lunch, served on crisp white tablecloths in the shade. The only thing which breaks the calm is the sound of the sea plane landing and taking off each hour or so.

The second version involves driving down to the public beach, via a lesser-known side road which takes you to a slightly quieter part. You have to walk through the sand to get to the beach. No sun loungers, just your towel at the edge of the sea. No waiters, but you can munch on your own snacks (watermelon, yum). The sounds of fellow sunbathers and the odd rubber ring/banana inflatable ring in your ears. The view is: lots of other people, the Atlantis Hotel and the Burj Al Arab.

Opposite ends of the scale but whichever way you look at it, not a bad way to spend a weekend!

Total Gridlock

I haven’t blogged much this week. Partly because I try not to moan too much on my blog, and this week I have felt like having a jolly good whinge.

Why? They’ve changed the roads, again, and it has meant complete gridlock outside my office and the complex where I live.

When I say gridlock, I mean bumper to bumper traffic, that DID NOT MOVE from 4pm until gone 9 pm. And even at 9 pm it crawled.

There was a ‘spirit of the blitz’ in the air. Colleagues abandoned their cars (think England when it snows) and went to nearby bars and hotels. I walked home, yes walked home. This was not a casual stroll, oh no. I had to navigate through about 500 metres of building site (down trenches, past diggers) and then down a 4 lane highway – which I have to say was a bit hairy. There was no pavement. Thankfully I was with two friends from work and we encouraged one another as we trudged along.

By this point it was clocking off time for thousands of Indian construction worked, god love them. We must have looked particularly out of place as we tromped past suited and booted, carrying laptops.

With the world’s biggest mall about to open in two days time, I fear for the traffic situation going forward. Many people cite it as a reason for leaving the city, full-stop. I’m not at that stage, but you have to wonder how a city which has such high aspirations can get the little details so very very wrong. Watch this space.

A Hair-Raising Situation

Hot on the heels of last week’s post, where I watched flabbergasted as a 5 year old paid for her Starbucks with a credit card, roll up roll up for my latest ridiculous kid-spot.

Last weekend, as I was having my huge barnet tamed (think afghan hound in need of trim) I witnessed a girl, no older than 7 years, in the chair next to me. Nothing unusual about that, until I noticed that she was having a FULL HEAD OF HIGHLIGHTS. Ok, so what possesses a parent to allow a load of bleach to be shoved onto their child’s head? And that’s just the physical side of things, never mind the mental implications of 7 year olds thinking it’s completely normal to get a full make over.

It is getting very hard to surprise me these days. What next, Junior Botox?