Thursday, February 26, 2009

More Job Cuts....

Another round of job losses announced today - this time at a big publication house out here. Last week we heard that Middle East Dentist was being axed, this week Security Fire and Safety. What will I read at the weekends? I do know this is a very serious issue. Just trying to keep positive in these tough times.

Where Did Winter Go?!

We appear to be in the middle of an unseasonable heatwave here in Dubai. After just one month of colder weather (during which it never dropped below 20 in the day time) it has suddenly cranked up to over 30 each day. Blazing sunshine, bright blue skies. This comes as great news to me, who loves the sunshine.
Yesterday, after attending a conference on food safety (not as dull as it sounds, actually) I couldn't get a cab outside the World Trade Centre, so I decided to walk to the nearest hotel. In typical Dubai fashion, it looked incredibly close, but wasn't. And it also wasn't completely simple to get to as there weren't pavements along the entire route.

But it was a very pleasant walk: balmy sunshine, a light breeze, gorgeous gardens and greenery to walk through, and the most amazing skyline glinting in the sunlight. Even a 20 minute queue for a taxi didn't dent my good mood. It's moments like that which replay in my mind when I'm having a particularly bad day.
Anyway, the weather is set to continue but friends and colleagues assure me that it is never usually this hot, this early in the year. I'll enjoy it whilst it lasts.

Monday, February 23, 2009


I went to Qatar for the first time last week for a meeting. It’s only an hour away by plane, but it felt like going much further. Living in Dubai you can forget that you are in the Middle East – it’s just so westernized. But in Qatar you definitely feel it. After work we went for dinner in an authentic (not man made!) souk, with real shops and cafes, and nearly everyone was in national dress, which I love.

Just to keep up the contrast though we did stop for a g&t at a rooftop bar on the way to the airport that would not look out of place in Manhattan. All bean bags, moody lighting, and a view to die for.

I liked Qatar. It has an interesting feel to it – apparently reminiscent of Dubai 10 years ago – ie not as crazy and a slightly slower pace. That said, the traffic was diabolical, worse than Dubai, and I never thought I’d say that of anywhere in the world! I’m enjoying these travels, reminiscent of trips around the UK when working on clients like the Co-Op (happy days!) only with much more sand, heat and planes. If I could have imagined then that life would take me here – well. That’s the beauty of it all, I guess.

What to Do?

As we head towards March, and warmer weather (it’s already steadily climbing up to 28 during the day) we find ourselves in visitor season here in Dubai. Ever the gallant hostess, this means compiling various ‘Visitor Guides’ and itineraries to entertain the troops.

Dubai is an odd place in some ways. You have to pre-plan a lot of what you want to do, partly because you cannot really walk anywhere. Not as in Manchester, where you can wake up, step out of the house/apartment, and in my case, straight into the hustle and bustle of the city – and just see where the day takes you. Here, you inevitably have to drive or take a taxi, so some planning is required.

Everyone wants to see the Burj, of course, thanks to it being such a global landmark and there’s no denying, it is a visual spectacle, and has to be experienced to be believed. What else to do with guests? Well, there’s the Open Top Bus Tour – those who know me know that I make it a priority to go on these wherever I am in the world – I’ve even been on the Manchester one at least twice. Apart from all the fascinating facts that you learn (yes, I am a geek) you are high up enough to be able to have a good neb into people’s houses (or enormous villas here) and also construction sites, to see what on earth they are attempting to build.

And what else to do? Well I don’t want to ruin the surprise for those who are Dubai-bound in the next few months. You’ll have to have faith in the tried and trusted Harvarde “caring and leadership” qualities!

How High?

Back in Manchester one of my favourite haunts was Cloud 23, a bar on the 23rd floor (see what they did there) of the Hilton hotel on Deansgate. There’s a hotel within spitting distance of us which has a bar on the…….63rd floor. Now I used to think that Cloud 23 was high, but this takes the biscuit….almost 3 times over. I have to confess I felt a bit peculiar when in there (never been one for heights) and could only manage one glass of wine before having to make my way down to terra firma. Definitely one to take visitors to, if they can stand it!

Sunday, February 22, 2009

Four Legs Good, Two Legs.....

I had the absolute pleasure of visiting the Dubai Pet Show yesterday. Crufts it was not. A much more laid back affair, with competitions such as 'Best Dressed Dog' and a general village fair vibe (book sales, food) and even mutts walking around with signs saying: "I need a good home, please adopt me"....thankfully I left without an additional four legs.
I was tempted to enter the 'Dog that Looks Most Like It's Owner" but couldn't find an afghan hound.....there were a LOT of pugs (hurrah!) and I also met a gorgeous miniature terrier (think slightly over sized chiahuaua) called.....Gary. Amazing.

Thursday, February 19, 2009

Jet Set...?

What a week that was. Dubai to Amsterdam, Amsterdam to Barcelona, Barcelona to Paris, Paris to Dubai. I'm now sat at the airport about to board another flight, this time to Doha in Qatar. Make it stop!

Thankfully the main bulk of my travelling has been in business class. Now without wishing to be a travel snob, there is business class, and there is Emirates Business class. It beats the rest hands down! Amazing new planes, food to die for, and the comfiest hugest seats. KLM and Air France are trying but they just don't cut the mustard. And the Emirates Business Class lounge at Dubai's new terminal 3 has to be seen to be believed. It is enormous! And the food and drink (all complimentary of course) is reminiscent of a huge medieval banquet (in terms of size, not minging pig's heads etc.)

The highlight of what felt like a never ending journey back to Dubai from Barcelona (please can someone create a direct flight) was stopping off at Charles de Gaulle. Not for the French a boring wait for your flight. They have not only the usual yawn clothes shops, but fabulous food shops. I spent a very pleasant half an hour sniffing round a fine food establishment, and had rinsed over 100 quid before you could say 'gourmet'. Still, there are just no shops like that in Dubai so I really felt I had to take advantage of it. And of course, the champagne. Even Moet is over 100 quid here in Dubai!

One more day of travelling and then I'm home for a week. I've started fantasising about curling up in my own bed (scottie dog pyjamas on, of course.) Hopefully by then my eyes won't feel like they have permanent pieces of grit in them. Jet set? It doesn't feel like it!

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Off Again

Flying to Barcelona this Friday (don't mention the fact that it's another weekend, please!) for a client event. As ever, these trips are rarely fun if you're working, but I'm looking forward to being back in Europe.

Bizarrely you canot fly direct to Barcelona from Dubai, you have to connect in either Paris, Amsterdam, or London. A 12 hour trip! We're doing Paris on the way there and Amsterdam on the way back. Or is it the other way around?! Who knows.

I fly back into Dubai next Wednesday, have a few hours to catch my breath, then fly out to Qatar for a pitch. Make it stop!

Hard Times

It’s worrying times here in Dubai. Forget Piers Morgan’s overblown and inflated picture of Dubai, the reality is: the recession is biting.

It’s hard to get a true picture of what is going on as the media is so relentlessly censored, and there are conflicting reports of thousands of visas getting cancelled each month, then new visas being started, then thousands of cars getting dumped at the airport as ex-pats abandon their 4 wheels of debt and flee the country.

From my own personal experience yes, there are swathes of people being made redundant. They tend to work in the property or construction sectors, unsurprisingly. Whilst I think it’s fair to say that in many parts of the world, no-one really saw this coming, it’s hard to see how Dubai didn’t. When you see the scale of construction, and the ridiculous prices (buying and renting) that I saw when I first arrived, it’s clear this could never be sustainable. I may have mentioned that we pay over 2000 english pounds a month for our one bedroom apartment – and you have to pay the full year’s rent up front! I shudder when I think what that would get me in Manchester. A penthouse in Number One Deansgate…?!

Anyway, I digress. My point is, it’s worrying here. The rent is paid up until the end of June so there isn’t that to worry about (one advantage of the ludicrous rental system). At that point I’d have to seriously question stumping up two checks for 12.5k each. I shall keep you posted….

Sunday, February 08, 2009

Woman in....Pieces

I did something on Friday night that has been sorely lacking in my Dubai life: I went to the theatre. I was lucky enough to live within spitting distance of the Royal Exchange Theatre in Manchester, and as a season ticket holder this meant I made a point of attending each and every play that arrived – which was interesting as it meant that I often went to see performances that I might not have chosen myself. It was a real treat each month and I always looked forward to it.

Dubai is a culturally barren place on many levels, and there is only one theatre that I’m aware of, at the Madinat Jumierah, an odd combination of hotels, restaurants and shops, all designed to look old, despite being about 3 years old. A friend had suggested going to see a thriller: The Woman in Black. I won’t ruin the plot for you: suffice to say, it was absolutely terrifying. I was on the edge of my seat throughout, which is testimony to the quality of the performance. I completely forgot that I was watching a play not a film!

Anyway it reminded me how much I love the theatre, and it would be so nice to go again. Sadly, their next performance is Annie. Not my cup of tea at all. Although I did see an advert for open auditions and think of my dear board treading friend Jayne Leggatt. Jayne, if you fancy some sunshine, there’s bound to be a part for you out here!

Wednesday, February 04, 2009

A Break from the Norm

Did I mention that I've FINALLY booked a holiday? Yes, in 3 weeks time I shall be flying out to Sri Lanka - number one priority: bother baby elephants, number two, three, four and five priority: rest and do absolutely zero.

UAE labour law states that in your first year working in any job, you can't take ANY time off. Yes, you read correctly. Ironic as I can't imagine a time in your life when you are more in need of a break, Dubai's endless work work work culture means that you literally crawl home from work each night on your hands and knees.

I don't mean to sound churlish, I know that I am blessed to even be able to have the option to get away somewhere. But eight months solid work with no time off (and I don't count the UK trip in December as a holiday, it nearly killed me!) will really take it out of you.

Anyway, due to lots of weekend work (I knew it would eventually pay off) I have time to take. Bliss. I literally cannot wait!

For the record: the rumours are not true: yes, Dubai is only 4-5 hours away from the Maldives, but it is definitely NOT cheap to holiday there. One week will cost you approxmately 1.5-2k english pounds PER PERSON - which was more expensive than going from the UK. Ah, those Dubai rumours. Such a shame hardly any of them them are true.

Sunday, February 01, 2009

Piers...who else?

I'll come right out and admit it: I've always quite liked Piers Morgan. Long before he smarmed onto our screens judging dogs that could dance/sing/spin plates, I always liked what he tried to do with the Mirror, and it was at one point my favourite red top.

In the last week I've been inundated with emails and texts from people who watched the programme he presented on Dubai. You know the one: he lurches from expensive town to expensive town (Monaco and Hollywood will also feature) and gives his verdict on it.

I won't go into a long summary of my views on this as I have espoused them many times. There's a very amusing review here which sums up how I feel.

In a nutshell: it was entertaining, if stereotypical. It was also filmed in September last year, long before thousands of people here started losing their jobs and companies started imposing hire freezes. For the record: it bore no resemblance to my life here whatsever, for those taking part it seemed one long champagne-fuelled party.

Big Days

I've had a glut of UK birthdays this week, which are always tricky, what with Dubai having the oldest/most expensive/most unreliable postal system known to man. A colleague just spent the equivalent of 30 uk pounds to send a very small package to the UK.

I decided to send flowers (from the UK) which I know are lovely (well I hope I wouldn't choose duff ones!) but I do miss being able to look for personal gifts and presents for people.

I've decided to get around this with my mum by adopting the same policy as the Queen, who, of course, has a real birthday and an 'official' one. So when mum comes out here in March, we're going to celebrate properly. Again.

Mum, does this mean I can sing the 'camel version' of Happy Birthday to you again?!

A Woman's Work...

There are two members of staff in my office who are ill today. So ill that they cannot come into work. Their ailment? Period pains. Yes, you read correctly. I would have liked to have tried that excuse when I was working in a UK PR agency in my twenties!