Sunday, March 27, 2011


We were sat just to the left...
This weekend I spent most of the two days in therapy.  I don't mean the sofa and childhood questioning sort, I mean two of my absolute favourite things, which just happen to make my soul sing: the beach and the park.

It's been a while since I've felt the sand between my toes, mainly because it's been just too damned cold to be stripping off to a bikini. Ok, it's been 25 degrees, which in Manchester would have people reaching for the hotpants/boob tube combo immediately, but my resilience levels to temperatures has changed massively after three years in Dubai.

On Friday we headed off to beach club for a traditional day of: reading celebrity trash, inane chats and musings, and hard-core troughing.  All whilst being gently caressed by the near-perfect heat of the sun and gentle breeze.  Ok, I lied on that one: it was boiling. I'm clearly out of practice in the sunbathing department as I managed to get burnt for the first time in years...anyway, I had honestly forgotten just how blissful it is to spend the day doing pretty much nothing.

Saturday was park.  I've always loved a trip to a park, whether walking the two steps to the gorgeous city oasis in front of my Manchester apartment (hello Angel Meadows!), or meeting up with the girls to take Gorgeous George for a forage and walk around Prestwich.  I've waxed lyrical about parks in Dubai before: suffice to say, they're gorgeous, and extremely popular amongst residents.

My favourite is Creek Park; as the name suggests  it runs along the banks of the creek,which means that if yo pick your spot carefully you get the benefits of green gorgeousness combined with a view of the water (and sometimes, beach!).  I don't know what it is that makes me feel so relaxed; it's probably a combination of the grass beneath my feet, the blue sky above, and the gently wafting trees which wash birdsong over you.  It's also such a simple pleasure, and so clearly being enjoyed by so many people, from all walks of life.

And I think that's the key: you don't see many miserable looking people on the beach, or in the park. It's hard to feel downcast when surrounded by such loveliness.  The beach joy will carry on throughout the summer, regardless of the heat.  The park however, is on limited to get involved as much as possible over the next few weeks....

Sofa, So Good

Looks like this, but l-shaped...
It's a dangerous game, being a woman.  You never know when the urge to shop might strike nip out for a pint of milk, you come back with two pairs of shoes and a bag full of miracle creams. 

This happened to me over the weekend.  A simple trip out resulted in me purchasing....a new sofa!  Look, this may not seem like the most fascinating topic in the world (although I know this blogger will understand where I'm coming from!) but this is significant for a number of reasons....
  • My current sofa (l-shaped) is super comfy and perfect for watching The Good Life/E.R/Cougar Town, but it was bought in haste and brown has never been my favourite colour, clothes or interior wise.
  • The new sofa could have been designed just for's BRIGHT PURPLE/PINK (more Heal's than Barbie, I promise), and a kind of crushed velvet/gorgeous textured material.  As a woman who had a grey corduroy sofa in Manchester, I'm all over something a bit different.  You're probably dry-heaving as you read this, but I promise, it's divine.
  • The fact that I'm buying significant items of large furniture represents a commitment to Dubai that I don't often make.  I have no intention of doing a moonlight flit, and will probably be dragged out of Dubai by my fingernails, but psychologically there's always been something holding me back from accumulating too much 'stuff' whilst I'm here. 
The new sofa will be arriving on Saturday.  My giddiness levels are at full strength as you can imagine.  My only worry is that it may take some time to adjust to the new support/comfort levels, and I don't want anything to impede with the E.R to follow.

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

In Case of Emergency...Break Glass

If it all goes wrong, can my funeral be this glamorous?
Ok, I'm a typical woman: I watched Sex and the City throughout my twenties, and really felt like it was hidden cameras recording our lives. From bad dates and bad sex to good friendships and great cities, we regularly identified with the storylines and experiences. 

And yesterday one exact story happened to me.  Almost.  Whilst registering with a new doctor, I filled in the usual Middle East registration form (is it any of your business whether I'm married or not?! Oh, well, if I was pregnant, it would actually).  All the usual info required, and then I got to the 'In Case of Emergency' section.  I wasn't exactly going in for life-threatening surgery, but they encouraged me to fill it in regardless. 

And so there I was, taken back to the SATC episode where Miranda has a panic attack and ends up in hospital. Eventually Carrie comes to rescue her and escort her home, but not before a distraught Miranda tells her that she drew a blank at the next of kin box.  As a single woman living away from her family, who should she put down?  A girlfriend is an obvious choice, but as she says to Carrie:"You never answer your phone, you always screen."

I paused at the box.  If I was married, I guess a husband would be the obvious choice.  Instead I went for the girlfriend option.  She doesn't usually screen and has been there for the 3 am panic call in the past.  She's also a fellow E.R watcher which means she's virtually a medical professional.  I'm in safe hands....

Sunday, March 20, 2011

We’re not in Kansas any More….

Not me, honest....
Ok, I’ll just come out and say it, I’ve lived in Dubai for three years, and I expect  a certain standard of living.  Call me pampered, call me a princess: I’m past caring.  For those Dubai dwellers who see fit to leave our fair city and visit Europe, here’s the Britney of Arabia helpful guide to what you can expect:
  • Public toilets: you have to dispense your own soap (It’s not electronic.)  And you have to dry your hands on rough bits of tissue – where are the lovely fluffy hand towels?
  • Pavements: not only do these exist, they are covered in dog shit.  Be very careful where you walk.
  • Taxis: You will be told by the stern taxi driver to put your seat belt on. But by then you may have passed out from heat stroke caused by the excessive heat fans that are blasting at you.
  • Hotel rooms: As above, these will also be excessively hot.  They will also not feature fluffy robes or complimentary slippers.  The complimentary toiletries will be cheap and nasty and make your hair look like a dandelion (not sure what I was thinking using them.) They will not be worth purloining to take home with you.
  • Room service: This will be limited to an A5 sheet of 6 items.  The cheapest salad will be 20 euros (and you thought Dubai was expensive). On the plus side, you can open the windows to let in the bracing fresh air.  The staff will then try to close this every time they enter your room.  Persist in opening them, it’s worth it.
  • Dubai: When people hear that you live in Dubai, they will want to ask you nine million questions about it.  These revolve around: living in expensive houses, going to the beach every weekend, and living the high life. When you confirm that yes, this is all true, and that Dubai is just as fabulous as they think, and then some more, try not to look too smug.  Also, do not gush about the reasons why you left the UK: the shit weather, the pessimism, the 40% tax.  They will look gutted and you will sound like a twat.
  • Visits home: Likewise, people will ask you how often you visit the UK.  Don’t say ‘Once a year, and to be honest after 3 years and only two friends making the effort to visit me, I’m starting to think I won’t bother going back any more.”  They will think you are a sociopath.
  • Airline: If you have to fly on anyone other than Emirates: brace yourself.  They won’t: mist the cabin with lovely smelling perfume before take-off, serve you delicious food, offer a wide variety of free-flowing wine, have decent entertainment systems, or have beautiful stewardesses with perfectly applied make-up.  They will bark at you like rabid dogs and fling inedible mush at you.  The seats will also be so small that you will consider a new job in the circus when you disembark the plane.
 I could go on, but I shan’t. I fear that the European Tourist Board may come after me.  Let’s just say I said a silent prayer of thanks as I flung myself into Dubai Airport….

Memory Lane

No snow, or red hair this time...
I stumbled across this beautiful hotel when I had a spare hour to munter round Amsterdam (bliss). I actually stayed in it when it first opened six years ago, and I chanced upon it by accident when walking into the city centre.  Instant trip down memory lane.

A lot’s changed since I last stayed there: I don’t have red hair, I don’t live in Manchester, I wasn’t on my way to the most debauched night ever at The Supper Club (if you haven’t been, you MUST) and….I don’t have a boyfriend on the verge of a nervous breakdown.  To be fair to R, he actually did have serious mental health problems, which meant that a large part of that trip was spent in tears (him not me).  I rarelyt talk about my personal life on here, but I’m almost 100%  sure he’ll never read this.  Note: if you do ever find yourself on prescription anti-depressants and weekly psychoanalysis, don’t just stop, for the hell of it, without warning. The results are not pretty.  (R, if you are by some strange twist of fate reading this, I sincerely hope you’re better.  And that you’re not cheating on your girlfriend, if you have one, with an ex.  Again.  Miaow!!)

Anyway, it’s the most beautiful boutique hotel, a converted Victorian college, all dark colours, fabrics and textures, with numerous nooks and crannies and places to hide away in.  It remains one of the sexiest hotels I’ve ever stayed in.  Think Great John Street in Manchester, The Hudson in New York, Ten Square in Belfast, or The G in Galway.  It’s based around a similar premise to Jamie Oliver’s Fifteen restaurant, and is run by students (catering and hospitality) who get to have a real-life hands-on experience of what it’s really like to run a hotel and deal with the public.

I nipped inside for a drink and it was just as beautiful as I remembered.  I cocooned myself into a nook with a glass of wine, and was hit by a barrage of memories.  It wasn’t painful, or upsetting, it just brought my life now into sharp relief, and I had an instant yearning for Dubai.  I love my life, and the people in it, so very deeply, and I know how blessed I am to feel that way.  I drained my glass, took a deep breath, and left the beautiful hotel.  

It’s a real shame that there aren’t more boutique hotels in Dubai.  The One and Only probably comes the closest, and has that luxe-sexy feel to it, but otherwise our hotels tend to be big, flash and fancy, not intimate and cosy.  A definite gap in the market, Dubai hoteliers….

Language Barrier

Men: do you know what this is?
One of the things I love most about my life and work is the multi-cultural element. Not only do I get to travel and meet interesting people, I’m constantly surrounded by ex-pats from  all over the world, each with a different story and perspective. There’s no doubt that my life is infinitely richer, and my world view wider, as a result of this experience.

I was sat with two extremely interesting individuals last week. One was a global consumer head (female, British) the other was a research professor (male, American).  We were having a good chat about families and children (you can’t talk work all the time), when the lady had to take a call from her husband.  It seemed an animated and rather urgent discussion.  She re-joined us in a fluster.  Her husband, apparently, was having an issue with the children's packed lunches in her absence.  “How hard can it be to make a packed lunch?!” she exclaimed.  The male American looked utterly perplexed.  

“What the hell’s a packed lunch?”  We stared at him. He’s incredibly clever, I thought he was joking.  But he clearly didn’t know. “A packed lunch” she repeated.  “What do you think it is?” He remained perplexed.  “A lunch…that you pack?” he asked, stating the obvious, but clearly not understanding at all.

We burst out laughing; I’m still not clear if it was lost in the English/American translation, or lost in the woman/man translation.  Anyway, one lesson learned here: if you’re a woman, a high powered job and international business travel does not let you off mother/wife/household chores, wherever you are in the world. If you’re a man, you will probably never need to know what a packed lunch it, let alone have to make one after a hard day’s work.  Take note, universe, and please ensure the father of any potential children knows his way around a kitchen....

Grey Hair

Please let me look this fabulous at 60..
I’ve just spent three days with some of the most impressive people that I’ve ever worked with. Senior people from around the world with huge amounts of experience and brains so smart they give you a headache.  We were sharing the issues we’d been facing with a client, when one practice head summed up her major stumbling block.  “The problem is,” she announced, “They’re all just kids.  They know nothing.  There’s no-one older than 26 or 27 in the client team.  They think they know it all, but they don’t know anything.”

As I hurtle towards my next birthday, it has been crossing my mind that I’m getting older.  I’d like to think I’m in pretty good shape for my age, I regularly get mistaken for younger, and body-wise, I’m as thin as I was ten years ago.  (Perhaps not as firm, but we can’t have it all AND work 12 hour days.)

So hearing this disparaging verdict on those in their twenties made me feel so much better.  Yes, I don’t have the trampoline face of a 26 year old (although that can change with a quick trip to Dr Ahmed!), but I have something far more valuable.  Experience, knowledge and wisdom.  Next time a 25 year old tries to tell me how much they know about business, I’ll cast my mind back to that conversation…..

Love in a Cold Climate

The only way to do it...?
I like the Dutch.  They’re a warm and genuinely friendly nation, open and welcoming, and just generally lovely. In my experience of working with them, they’re also efficient, but with a sense of humour – a bit like Germans after a couple of E’s.  On my recent trip to Amsterdam I was reminded of this, none so more than on the flight over. I won’t bore you with the tales of woe in economy (although, once I stumbled onto the film Burlesque, I couldn’t have cared less if the flight was nine hours: a fabulously camp enjoyable romp!) suffice to say, don’t fly KLM. It’s just horrible.  Anyway I was surrounded by lovely Dutch people in their fifties who appeared to either be having a group trip home, or had just been on holiday in Dubai. They were all in high spirits, including a lovely couple across the aisle from me.

Now, I’m known for being cynical about relationships: I spent the vast part of my twenties going to weddings, and only a small proportion of those couples are still together. There was the one who knew when going down the aisle that it wouldn’t last, the one whose husband told her one month in that he was leaving her for his ex (no, really), and one who actually said to me “well if it doesn’t work out, we’ll just get divorced.”  Surprise surprise, that’s what happened.  

I’ve always been missing the ‘bride gene’: that crazy single-mindedness that seems to grip otherwise perfectly normal women: “I MUST get married, at any cost. Because that’s what I’m SUPPOSED to do.” I’m not anti-marriage, far from it.  Despite knocking back a few tenacious marriage proposals (thank god) I can definitely imagine spending the rest of my life with one person, and saying yes (just not to the txt that last asked me..!)

I think that there’s a more sensible attitude worth adopting, of being a happy single, whose life is fulfilled and fabulous, with or without a man.  If and when you do meet someone worth making time for, then there’s less pressure on both of you to rush into anything: at the end of the day, a wedding is a wedding (and the big white ones have always left me cold – take me to Vegas any day).  A marriage is what you should be thinking about and what you ultimately subscribe to.

Anyway, back to the couple next to me.  They were in their fifties, but clearly deeply in love.  Extremely affectionate (without overdoing the PDA’s) he gazed at her whilst she spoke, their body language mirrored, and they just had CHARISMA.  I hadn’t even had a drink so I promise you I wasn’t drunk.  When we got off the plane, he fetched her things, and touched her so tenderly on the cheek that I almost wept. (Still not drunk, honest.)  Who knows, he might have been having an affair, she might have been his third wife, but equally, they made a lovely couple.  And in a sea of mediocre relationships, infidelity and disposable partners, that’s something to aim for, surely?

Sunday, March 13, 2011

Perpetuating the Stereotypes...

The picture of decorum..honest!
This article is doing the rounds at the moment, and causing quite a stir amongst those living in Dubai.  As usual A.A Gill has come out with some absolute corkers and I'm very happy to say that I don't recognise the Dubai that he rants about.  In the main I eschew the usual ex-pat haunts and activities and try to avoid places where there's a whiff of Wetherspoons in the air.  There are two points that I will give him, and you will see evidence of, if you do stray into an aforementioned ex-pat haunt:

"Young, single, greedy, and insincere. None of them are very clever. So they live lives that revolve around drink and porn sex and pool parties and barbecues with a lot of hysterical laughing and theme nights, karaoke, and slobbery, regretful coupling."

"British, loud and drunk, dressed in their tarty party gear. The girls, raucous and provocative, have fat thighs that wobble in tiny frocks. Cantilevered bosoms lurch. The boys, spiky and gelled, glassy-eyed and leering."

Karaoke.  Check. (Why??!!) Fat Girls in inappropriate outfits.  Check.  Boobs hanging out. Check.  Welcome to Dubai!  Although, to be fair, this could equally apply to any city in the UK.  The problem is, I don't want to live in the UK.

It reminds me of a chat I had with a lovely American man last week in one such ex-pat haunt.  We politely went thorough the usual pleasantries, and then got onto "do you come here often?"  I explained  that I didn't, and had only been 4 times.  Once was a first date (he chose the location) and the subsequent 3 times were again, not my choice. "Really???" he exclaimed.  "My girlfriend (British) loves it in here."  Then I dropped the real bombshell: I brunch but twice a year, and it's only ever at the polo..a civilised affair which is really lunch with horses as far as I'm concerned.  This nearly floored him.  "My girlfriend is always brunching, she loves it.  You're the first person I've ever met in Dubai who doesn't."  I quickly introduced him to the other four people who don't either. He then leaned in towards me conspiratorially: "To be honest, I can't stand brunches and I really don't understand her fascination with them. I only go to keep her happy." (Good man.)

A.A Gill: such a shame you didn't scratch beneath this shallow facade, but then ever since you wrote THAT article about Manchester, I expected nothing more...