Sunday, February 28, 2010

Wine Time

We had a religious holiday here in Dubai on Friday, and as is customary on such occasions, this meant that the night prior is a ‘dry night’. This lasts from sundown on that night so sunset 24 hours later. It always provokes a flurry of questions about when exactly you can and can’t drink, and a burst of moaning from the moral brigade on Expatwoman about people who can’t go one night without booze.

Call me old-fashioned, call me an old soak, but it is important to know when this booze black-out falls, especially if you have a night out planned. I’m hardly going to throw myself around the dance floor at Chi stone cold sober (and to be fair, they also recognize this, as they actually close the club, completely, whenever there is a dry night). Nor, from that matter, would I be mad keen to go out for dinner without a bottle of wine sat at my side.

When we headed to the local hostelrie for drinks on Friday night, we were too early for alcohol by half an hour. No problem. We sat at the bar. I nursed a lime and soda. We chatted, all the usual things. But there was no denying it; we all had our eye on the clock. By the time we’d moved to a table for dinner, it was 6.59 pm. We were saved! Vino was ordered, and all was right with the world. We didn’t drink excessively, and were actually out of there by 10 pm. But it just wouldn’t have been the same with alcohol. Sad? I’m not sure. But this week I’m making a concerted effort not to drink on weeknights. Apart from tomorrow when I have a friend visiting from the UK. Whoops….

Hot Rod!

One of the things I've missed whilst living in Dubai is music; and more specifically, concerts. I may have mentioned this before, but living in Manchester (and a stone's throw from the Manchester Evening News Arena) meant easy access to the many, many acts who came to that fair city.  And of course, there are a myriad of other concert locations in dear old Manc, ideal for gritty hip-hop acts, which are my first love.

Don't get me wrong, since I've been to Dubai I've had the pleasure of seeing: George Michael (amazing), The Backstreet Boys (brilliant, despite me being far, far too old to go to see them), and the Happy Mondays (brilliant and hilarious in equal measure).  But it's not the same as the UK, and there definitely isn't enough choice (or hip-hop, but that's my personal opinion getting in the way.)

Imagine my excitement then when none other than the legend that is ROD STEWART announced a Dubai date!  Not only that, but he's supported by Spandeau Ballet!  Yes, I do have eclectic music tastes, dear reader.  My parents brought me up on a diet of Motown and, well, Rod, so I'm all over this.  I actually flew my parents over to Manchester from Jersey to see Rod a few years ago, and he was on top form.  I may well have been the youngest person in the audience at the time (makes a change!).  The concert is at the purpose-built Rugby 7's stadium out in the desert and a 20 minute drive away.  The one small issue is the date...May 7th.  The weather will be truly scorchio by that stage so it's going to be a sweaty night....


I realize I am way behind the times on this, but I finally went to see Avatar last night. The usual work diary horrors had conspired against us getting there, made more tricky by the fact that we wanted to see it in 3-D, which is only on one screen, a couple of times a day.

We were all excited about going to see it; I had zero expectations and didn’t really know much about the plotline. “If all else fails, it’s in 3D, which is always a brilliant experience”, we chirped, as we took our seats and sat down in anticipation. How wrong we were. The film is absolute, utter dross. A script so cheesy even a seven year-old would be insulted, a plot which is a rip-off of Pocahontas, all at a pace so slow I wanted to scream at the screen: HURRY UP!!!!

Granted, the 3D element did keep me interested for about, oh, ten minutes. After that it was 2 hours 50 minutes of KILL ME NOW. That’s three hours of my life that I will never get back. Avatar Off!


Those that know me well will know that sleep has never been easy for me. How I envy people who can sleep at the drop of a hat, wherever they are. It’s the one ability that I would love to have. (Ok, ok, not the only one. Being able to play the piano, properly, would be another. Or to have some actual useful worthwhile skill, like being a surgeon, would be another.) For years I’ve struggled to sleep and can only drop off with the aid of ear plugs and a sleep mask. So a couple of weeks ago I decided to try to wean myself off the ear plugs. The building site outside my bedroom window has quietened down considerably, and I always have a nagging worry about not hearing the fire alarm, so it seemed a good time to start.

How wrong I was. For the last two weeks I haven’t had one night of unbroken sleep (apart from one but as that was a result of a vatful of champagne so I’m not sure that counts). This morning, as I was woken up by the mother of all thunderstorms, I conceded defeat. Popped in the earplugs and….slept like a baby until my alarm clock rudely awoke me. If it works, why fight it

Counting Blessings

Fresh back into work after a wonderful weekend. Didn’t do anything too unusual or exciting: Thursday night despite wrestling with a huge hangover after our office party we all managed to head round to J’s for more wine, and Wagas. Thankfully they deliver here in Dubai – what a treat. Cue much gossiping, laughing and general good times on J’s new bar stools, bought especially for this purpose.

A huge sandstorm meant that the beach was out of the question on Friday (we did head down there to investigate but the Mary Poppins scene of flying sunloungers and piles of sand put us right off) so we headed to one of the many gorgeous pools in the Old Town and hunkered down for the day. Amazingly, despite the force ten hurricane winds out on the streets, the Old Town is completely sheltered. The pool we chose was an oasis of complete and utter calm, and actually heated up, a lot, during the day. Is winter over we cried? After schnuffling through a pile of celebrity gossip magazines the size of Burj Khalifa, it was time for home, change and then down to Nez for more wine and more catching up. There’s a theme developing here, non?

Saturday was gym, relaxation and…yes more time with the gang. No wine this time, we headed to the flicks to see Avatar (more on this later). We headed home narrowly missing getting caught in the most enormous thunderstorm: lightning and so much torrential rain that my balcony is still under two inches of water this morning.

Despite the rain, and as my balcony is quite sheltered, I sat out with a glass of wine at ten o’clock and reflected on how blessed I am. I’m so lucky to have some truly wonderful friends. We’ve all been through our fair share of traumas: break-ups, divorce, near death experiences, and the general stresses and strains that come with living away from home, and family. So after almost two years here together it’s safe to say we’re incredibly close and we’ve been through the full range of emotions and experiences in our adopted home.

I’ve met people here in Dubai who say it’s a false place, that it’s hard to make friends, and that they felt isolated. Nothing could be further from the truth for me. I’ve said it before but it does bear repeating: I’m incredibly blessed and lucky to have wonderful people in my life. Thank you, universe!

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Roller Girl!

Ok, so I finally made it onto the streets of Dubai last night. One word: hilarious!  The last time I roller-skated properly I was about 14 - there was that time I got the girls together for a roller disco for a birthday but that was only an hour so doesn't really count.  Not only was 14 a long-ish (ahem) time ago, a lot of water has gone under the bridge since then.  Including a skiing holiday where I spent most of my time on the ground and on blue runs..any I digress.  The point is, it's been a while since I was a carefree teenager scooting around the roller disco rink at high-speed. 

Given that much of the downtown area is a building site we had to pick our starting spot carefully.  And then we were off!  D hadn't revealed to me that she's actually a dab hand on wheels (she chose rollerblades) the result of many summers roller-blading between friends' houses in LA, apparently.  The first few minutes were a bit hairy (watch out for drains, joggers, and errant bits of gravel getting stuck in your wheels) and culminated in me falling flat on my backside in spectacular fashion.  I had a full audience consisting of: construction workers, a queue of cars waiting to do a u-turn, and one very hot male jogger who was right behind me when it happened.  D finally stopped laughing enough to help me up and then we were off again.

The verdict: great fun but not as easy as being inside on a  rink - lots of dodgy terrain to navigate in Dubai.  But if we'd been inside then there would have been no warm breeze, no gazing up at the world's tallest building, and no taking a rest whilst watching the world's largest fountains.  Yet another "this is why I live in Dubai" moment.  Downtown pedestrians: watch out!

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

A Perfect Dubai weekend...

Apologies for the sporadic updates. Numerous client events plus an internal launch have really conspired against me this week. So, the weekend….started brilliantly and continued that way! First stop straight from work on Thursday: Meydan. You may remember that I visited it a few weeks ago whilst the builders were in..this time was swish corporate hospitality all the way. Fabulous is probably the best word to describe the whole experience…from start to finish. From the moment you arrive and are greeted, and escorted to the gorgeous terrace, to the moment you leave, it’s all about quality. The terrace (naturally) looks out onto the stunning course, so we ensconced ourselves onto a comfy white leather sofa, availed ourselves of the free flowing Taittinger and sumptuous food, and settled down for a catch-up, interspersed with gossip. A balmy evening, a warm breeze, a band, you really couldn’t get much better than that. A real: ‘this is why I live in Dubai moment.

Despite a sore head on Friday morning I dragged my sorry self to the pool and caught up with J. He’s given up pretending that he doesn’t love celebrity magazines and actually wrestles them off me now. Then it was spa, followed by a evening in Souk Al Bahar. Much fun.

Saturday was all about house hunting. I’m not due a move just yet but there’s been a recent plethora of new properties in the downtown area and my inherent nosiness meant I’ve been dying to see them for some time. Also a good friend of mine is looking so it was a good opportunity to scout round them. If you’re interested: The Lofts are gorgeous. Similar to other Emaar properties in terms of finish, but the one main difference? The view. Right across to Jumeirah, the sea, the Burj Al Arab, Jumeirah beach Hotel, and even the marina. Divine…..

Sun-downers and dinner and goodbye to the weekend. Perfect. FYI: it’s warming up nicely during the daytime. Beach club next weekend, for sure.

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

The Things You Miss...

It has come to my attention that today is a) Pancake Day (well, Shrove Tuesday if you're religious) and b) The Brits.....Just discovered that the girls are all getting together for pancakes and Brit watching.  I'm homesick...

Still, I can't really complain, tonight am off to one of Dubai's plushest golf clubs for scran and vino...

Horsing Around

I went to have a behind the scenes tour of Meydan last week. In case you didn’t know, Meydan is the new horse-racing track here in Dubai. Horse racing is HUGE here, and it’s a particular favourite of Sheikh Mo’s. He can regularly be seen running shoulders with our dear old Queen at Ascot each year.

Hence calling it a track is a bit of an understatement, think Chester Races multiplied by about 15 in size. It’s mammoth. You can see it from miles away (and interestingly, from my balcony!) As ever, it’s one of those places where one minute you’re driving through sand as far as the eye can see, and the next minute you’re greeted with a beautiful vision. The fact that the actual race track is, by its very nature, made of grass, means that the contrast between brown and green is incredible when you first walk in….

It isn’t properly functioning at the moment, just opening at the weekend for racing. I was having a nosy round as we were considering using it for a launch event – suffice to say that the price for a corporate hospitality suite for one evening was just a little out of our price range (75,000 quid if you’re interested…). Thanks to the lovely Liberty I’m heading there this Thursday for a bit of a schmooze….previously mentioned slinky blue dress may get an airing. Well, there will be royalty in attendance….full report to follow!

Monday, February 15, 2010

Mad Men

Ok, I'll admit it. I do have a tendency to get around to watching certain tv shows a little late....err hello Entourage (Sian and Phil had been telling me for ages to watch it) and The Wire (the entire western world watched this before me, I think).

My latest nightly fix after work, wine or bootcamp is Mad Men.  Again, I'd been meaning to watch it for ages but hadn't got round to it.  If you're not familiar with it, it's pretty simple: an advertising agency in 1960's New York.

Whilst the premise is simple it's utterly compelling and fascinating to watch, moreso, I'm sure, because I work in a creative agency myself and have done for years.  It's very male-orientated (the women, with one exception, exist only as typists or opportunities for the men to cheat on their wives) and everyone drinks, and smokes, a lot, in the office.  Like I said, fascinating.

In addition it's highly stylised, the men, and women, look stunning, day in, day out.  This was the decade where women were women (think Marilyn Monroe) and the men dressed like men - you were no-one if you didn't wear a hat. 

I'm about to start on season 3 and I can't wait.  I'm not ashamed to say it's not only made me think about my professional life, but also my personal one - I don't think it's a coincidence that I've been rocking out some pencil skirts+heels in the office and even running the straighteners through my hair first thing in the morning!  The sooner I watch the rest of it the better, this could start getting exhausting...

I'm Not being Funny, But...

Dubai, playground of the rich and famous...non?  Well, apparently yes, but I never see any celebs!  As a woman who likes nothing more than reclining on a  sun-lounger with a copy of OK magazine at the weekends, you can imagine how galling this is for me.  At the moment we have not only John Terry and family at the Royal Meridien, but also Charlotte Church and family at Atlantis.  I'm keeping my eyes peeled, but I'm not getting my hopes up....

Comfort Over Style?

Call me shallow, call me image-obsessed, but there’s nothing that motivates me to exercise more than a new gym outfit. Well, a cute instructor certainly helps too…as does having a good friend with me to laugh and spur me on…I digress. After all the bootcamping and walking to work recently my trainers (sorry, sneakers) are looking extremely dog-eared, and aren’t that comfy any more. Thankfully we’re in the middle of a shopping festival here in Dubai (other countries have cultural events, we focus on malls) and whilst this doesn’t usually float my boat – too many old sale items dredged up from the last time they had a sale, this time round there’s bargains to be had.

So it was with a song in my heart and a literal spring in my step that I muntered over to Dubai Mall with the lovely Vikki at the weekend and found a huge sale in Reebok. We kept the sales staff and security guard entertained and on their toes as we tried on no less than fifteen pairs each. Question: are you officially old when you buy trainers based on comfort and not fashion?!

Anyway, they were all so cheap (20 quid) that I bought two pairs. There’s a simple rule in Dubai: if you see something that you lie in a shop, buy it. You may never see the like of it again. Which is why I also snaffled up a gorgeous inky blue slinky dress – not sure when I’m going to wear it, but when an occasion does present itself, I won’t have to go hunting round the shops. Anyway, I’ve already worn one pair of trainers on the daily walk to work yesterday, and tonight I’ll be road-testing the second pair at bootcamp. When I say comfort over style, let’s be clear: they’re still gorgeous looking pink and silver things. Which co-ordinate rather nicely with the pink vest I snapped up. Did someone say shallow? Now if only I could pay attention to the rest of my appearance when exercising…I think that's a step too far...

Thursday, February 11, 2010

Random Acts of Kindness

A lot of communication here in Dubai is either via word of mouth or the internet. I'm not ashamed to say I met a couple of my closest friends here through a brilliant site designed just for women. So when I needed to get rid of some rollerblades (completely ill-thought through unwanted gift – less said about it the better!) my first port of call was aforementioned website.

No sooner had I posted a message (literally about four minutes later) offering the blades free to a good home than a lovely lady called Miriam got in touch. Her husband works in the Burj and she collects him from the office each night. She could be at my office to collect them that evening (two hours later). The power of the internet!

And collect them she did. We did a quick handover outside my office. She was thrilled to receive them (she’d wanted some for ages but they are stupidly over-priced here) and I was thrilled to be rid of them – they’ve been taking up space in my office cupboard for the last fourteen months and have only been worn once. She was so thrilled that she nearly cried. So I nearly did too. All in a day’s work!

A Weighty Issue

I need to preface this post by saying that I’m not weight obsessed, and never have been. I’ve always been more interested in how I feel, and whether or not my clothes fit, and I've never owned a set of scales. In Manchester I walked to and from work (an hour in total) and was always pootling around the city centre by foot. Yes, I went to the gym, but to be honest even when I slacked off I didn’t notice a huge difference as I was so active in my day to day life.

Then I moved to Dubai, and the issue became a lot more pressing. A combination of 12 hour days and 40 plus degree temperatures means that for much of the year ‘pootling about’ is completely impossible, so life is much more sedentary. I’ve noticed that some of my clothes are a bit tighter, and the scales in my gym tell me I’m about 4 kilos heavier. Yikes! Anyway on a recent doctor’s visit, where they weigh you before you even get your foot in the door of the doctor’s office (double yikes), the scales revealed me to be the exact weight that I was when I arrived in Dubai. Who to believe? The doctor’s scales are electronic, and surely of the highest standards..until I know who to trust, I'm keeping up the bootcamp, walking to work and....roller-skating! Yes, roller-skating! More to follow....


Regular readers will know that for some time now I’ve been torturing myself at boxing bootcamp. I ummed and ahhed about signing up for ages, mainly because it’s twice a week (on school nights) and starts at 7.30 pm – ridiculous as this might sound I frequently leave work much later than that so getting there can be a chore. Two nights a week does rather eat into your social life too – given that I’ll work late on at least one night of the week, it really only leaves one free night in the week for friends/dates etc. Not easy!
And sure enough it’s been hard to get there recently. Obviously in December I abandoned it (very hard to fit it in around mince pie eating and carol singing!) and then January was a bit of a nightmare due to working late and work trips. Anyway this week I’ve been back on board, and very quickly learnt a harsh lesson; don’t ever stop exercising. Because when you start again, you will want to die.

Bootcamp in itself is brilliant; it’s outside, with the city’s twinkling skyline as a backdrop. Beats the tedium of the gym any day. But after an intermittent exercise routine it is harsh, to say the least. We always start with a run, then a 15 minute warm-up, which last night consisted of interval training – two minutes of shuttle runs, sit-up with a medicine ball, push-ups, squats, the list goes on. And we had to do the whole thing twice. Then it was the boxing, two minute sets of hideous pain. I’m not a cryer and I’ve never been sick when exercising, but I came close to both last night. When finally were allowed to sit down the pleasure turned to pain when we realized we were doing a minute each of crunches, push-ups and planks. Eurgh.

We limped out of the park broken women, vowing to hit the gym at the weekend. That said, it is brilliant. Quote of the evening from James (the delightful 24 year old trainer, and reason enough to attend, really): “Kelly, I know you don’t hate me, it’s just the exercise talking.” Bless.

Sunday, February 07, 2010


One highlight of my flying visit home was getting to meet the newest addition to the Sumner family: a young man called Fox. He’s not a brand new baby any more but he’s still utterly adorable. Everything a baby should be: chubby, cuddly, and unbelievably chirpy and happy. He spent most of his time giggling and grinning at me and was very entertaining.

As most people who know me will testify, I tend to handle babies like bombs, but I wanted to give him a cuddle and allow his mum to quaff her champagne and scoff her club sandwich. So I gamely scooped him and rested him on my hip. Let me tell you: babies are heavy! We had a bit of a walk round and then peered at ourselves in the mirror for a while (Fox wanted to, honest). I waited for any sort of maternal twinge to hit me, but I can honestly report: nothing. He is utterly divine but I still have zero interest in one of my own.

If you believe the dross that the Daily Mail comes out with then I am going to a) live to regret this, bitterly, or b) be hit in the face by my biological clock and spend the rest of my days trying to get up the spout. I’ll keep you posted, but I’m not holding my breath on either of those points….

Home Sweet Home?

Manchester: you can’t beat it. I always marvel when I return (which isn’t nearly as often as I’d like) at how much everything still feels so familiar, and as if I’ve never left. It’s a city with a palpable heartbeat and swagger, and I’m always so happy to be home. Even if it’s only for 48 hours.

And talking of things that are the same…..our favourite waiter at the Lowry still works there – and greeted me with a huge hug and a kiss. Gorgeous. The same girls still work in Superdrug and some of the bars…..bizarre but strangely comforting.

The people have a sense of humour and personality: case in point. I walked into HSBC and the girl in front of me drooped her purse, and money everywhere. As I stopped to help her, she thanked me, adding, in a very broad Northern accent: “I don’t know what happened, me purse has gone BONKERS!” This really tickled me. Anyway. Thanks to Manchester’s most eligible bachelor for putting me up, and to the gorgeous girls and boys who made sure that our usual bases were covered off: champagne, cocktails and catch ups. Love you all.

An unexpected bonus: I managed to pick up a couple of bikinis (not to mention piles and piles of work clothes and cosmetics – par for the course really.) I cannot wait to give them an airing next weekend on a Dubai beach. Manchester: I love you. But you can keep your weather!

Well Hello, Mr President

Where do I start? Five days in Amsterdam with work certainly take it out of a girl. Especially when each day starts at 8 am and ends at midnight when you fall through the door of your hotel. And then have to check your daily 120 emails (average). Anyway, I was there for a global client meeting which meant that representatives from about 15 of our offices from all around the world were gathered in one place. Fascinating. No wonder that I gravitated towards our New York/Latin America/Brazil/Singapore offices (hello international transfer?!) but it was equally interesting meeting my French, Italian, Russian, British and Dutch counterparts.

Stating the obvious here but: Amsterdam is freezing. I mean, really freezing. Like, minus 10. Yep. Not great for the Dubai girl who rocked up hideously ill-equipped for such weather in a fashion jacket (darling little cropped sleeve mac – looks great but serves no purpose). I’d figured that because most of our time was going to be spent in offices and in transit, I’d be ok. How wrong I was. Freezing fog and heaps of snow meant a thoroughly uncomfortable trip. I lost count of how many times my eyes met with those from warmer climes and rolled back in my head as we gritted our teeth and thought about bikinis next weekend.

It was a good trip – and one of the highlights was meeting Barack Obama’s chief communications advisors. Yes, really. He runs a specialized political communications in Washington (natch) and as part of the event was called in to talk to us about how running a presidential election can translate to communications in business. He was an utterly fascinating chap, with bags of presence, and he held a room of 100 people in the palm of his hand as he regaled us with the serious stuff (strategy, messages) and then more fun stuff (Sarah Palin. Hilary Clinton).

He took questions at the end before joining us for dinner. This being a somewhat serious event, the questions were suitably high-brow: strategy, audience/message dissection etc etc. Our speaker, being a heartily engaging fun chap, stopped us after ten minutes or so. “What’s wrong with you guys?” he asked. “People normally ask me: what was Air Force One like? What does he eat. You’re all so serious – where are the fun questions??” Cue peals of laughter.

So you don’t need me to tell you what happened next time the roving mike came in my direction….we asked those questions, and more. Here’s a flavour of them:

Q: What’s Air Force One like?
A: very, very nice.

Q: What does he eat?
A: He’s ridiculously healthy and eats very well. In addition, it doesn’t matter how late he’s been working or how hard, he always exercises in the morning.

Q: Are he and Michelle really in love?
A: Yes, sickeningly so. It was his idea/suggestion to have Beyonce sing ‘At Last’ at the inauguration ceremony. One, two, three: aaah!

Q: Did he ever lose his temper?
A: On occasion, yes. But the main cause of his frustration was always his schedule – he hated being apart from Michelle and the girls.