Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Britney's Guide to Happiness...

Rituals make me...
I’m a big fan of rituals. Not the sacrificial or religious types, more the little habits that you build into your life to give it stability and happiness.

 A very inspirational man taught me all about them earlier this year, and showed me how these little joyful things create foundation, bedrock, a strong tree trunk if you will, from which the rest of your life grows like branches. 

This clever person also revolutionized my life...
So what are my rituals I hear you cry? (Honestly, I'm sure someone did?!) Well dear reader, I'm not going to reveal all my secrets, but I'll tell you some.
Once a week, I go to a scruffy pub in Satwa, drink white wine (under the stars when it's cool enough to sit outside) and then head to Ravi's for a street curry. Aside from the wine the meal costs about 5 English pounds and it's honestly the best food you'll ever eat. This usually happens on a Saturday and it feels like a huge injection of joy before what is very often, a hideously stressful week at work. It's credits in the happiness bank, the calm before the storm.
Another ritual is a day at the park. Obviously this is weather dependent, but when the weather is perfect, my oh my it's a beautiful way to spend a day. I've blogged about this so many times I'm practically listed in the tourist guides as Dubai's major park expert.
One more which is very important to me, which, perhaps shows my 'only child/lived on my own for a hundred years' history, is coming home from work and enjoying an evening of peace, quiet and a good book, sitting on my (purple velvet) chaise longue. This location has since changed slightly in recent weeks to the large sofa bed in the garden. The twinkling city lights, warm breeze and stars up above as I plough through my latest book are complete and utter bliss.
There's definitely a theme here. None of these things cost thousands of dirhams. They're all simple, easy, uncomplicated pleasures.
One of the biggest rituals of all happens when I finally fall through the front door after what is often an 11 or 12 hour day. There's a few key things that I HAVE to do to transition from work Britney to home Britney.
Don't get me wrong, I'm not one of these women who transforms into Godzilla when I get to work, but there are certain things I have to do to make myself ready for battle each day. And these must be removed when I get home or I just simply couldn't function. Not sure what I mean? Let me explain:

  • Jewellery: This is first to come off. Simple, bold, large, statement pieces, that I only ever wear to work.
  • Make-Up: This is next off. A full face, foundation, eyes, lips. I wear very little make up at the weekends. (Unless I'm hitting a dance floor - that's another story).
  • Clothes: Then these are off (sssh now). They're bright, colorful, expensive, tailored. At the weekends I'm happiest in cut-off jeans and a bikini.
Then I jump straight into the shower. It doesn't JUST wash away the sand, the perfume (I wear a very specific perfume to work: bold, strong, potent, that I would never wear at the weekend) it washes away the whole day. The stress, the tightness in my chest, the unpleasant dealings, the compromising of my personal all heads down the plughole as I stand under the water.
After all of this, I change into a vest, cut off denim shorts, and relax. Then, and only then, can I pad around the villa, feel at home, be home Britney again.
AJ runs his own business ( very successfully I might add). He more or less gets to pick and choose his clients, and quite rightfully so. This means that most people that he deals with are by default, lovely.
Last week he'd had a particularly stressful run in with an unpleasant client. When we caught up at the end of the day he looked like a broken man. "I never understood why you head straight through the front door to the bathroom before," he said. "Now I do. today has made me feel dirty. And I can't wait to wash it off."
So why am I rambling and telling you all of this?
Rituals are important. They anchor you and can transform you in the melee of life and all it throws at you.
If you're not sure, try a day in the park this weekend. After 5 hours of sunshine, laughter, kite flying, egg sandwiches, grass between your toes, I'm pretty sure you'll have a new ritual in your life….and you'll be as full of joy and happiness as a banana.

Tuesday, October 09, 2012

Date Time!

They're everywhere!
September and October mean lots of things: humidity so fierce my hair can be seen from the moon, the start of event season (soooo many exhibitions and client launches), but most importantly: it's date time!

Not the 'pour yourself into a sexy outfit, talk nicely to someone, make a good impression on them and try not to get too drunk' date, silly... I mean the juicy Arab treat that grows on trees!

If you drive around any of the Emirates, and especially Al Ain where you can enter the date palm oases, you'll see palm trees brimming with juicy dates.  And it's around this time that they start to be harvested. 

Now, if like me, you grew up in the UK, your experience of dates might be limited to those white oblong boxes that appeared at Christmas. There was usually a camel illustration on the box. I HATED them. Slimy, disgusting, plastic things they were, and only my mum used to indulge.

Since living in the Middle East, I've realised that fresh dates are a completely different story. I'm still not their number one fan, but I do confess to being rather partial to the variety that come stuffed with orange at Bateel. It's reminiscent of a Terry's Chocolate Orange..without the chocolate.

Like beautiful apricots! They're not...
And the absolute best? Those picked straight from the tree in Al Ain, of course.

Tuesday, September 25, 2012


Very stressed by the move, yeah?!
I’ve blogged before about the bundle of furry goodness that was the famous (!) cat, Molly, who lived in the Rydges Plaza Hotel in Dubai. 
When the hotel changed hands (it’s now the Chelsea Plaza, in case you didn’t know) the new owners, not being feline fans, ousted her. It was a sad evening when we popped in for a drink and realized that she’d been given the boot. The kindly F and B manager took her in as a short-term rescue solution but it couldn’t ever be permanent.
‘Molly-Gate’ became a frequent topic of conversation amongst the Rydges Plaza locals…and I’m sure that you can tell where this conversation is going! Yes, Molly is now living out her retirement years chez moi!
Despite only moving in a week ago, she’s already striding around the house like she owns the place. She’s remarkably chilled out and has thus far spent a large proportion of her time sleeping. To the point where I’ve actually asked: “Is she still breathing?!”
She’s staying indoors for a month until she gets used to the place, then and only then will she be allowed out. Dubai has very strict rules about pets – not only is she micro-chipped, but she also needs to wear a tag at all times with a municipality number on it. This is a sign to any cat catchers (yes, they do exist) not to scoop her up off the street and take her into their lair.
It’s been a while since I’ve had a furry, purring cushion next to me on the sofa. An absolute treat!

Monday, September 24, 2012

Youth is Wasted on The.....

Such high hopes...
As a woman who likes to take care of herself, I'm open to anything that will make me look and feel good,with minimum effort. 

Ok, I will put in some effort (Hello, I RUN three times a week! Ok, twice...) but I think all busy women are looking for  a short cut. Throw in the fact that I'm hurtling towards the end of my twenties (ahem!) and I'm sniffing out beauty secrets like a pig that's trotter-deep in truffles.

When I was back in the UK I snapped up the new YSL 'Wonder-Serum'. It was featured on a high-brow TV show (Horizon...Newsnight?) so it really works, dontcha know. I clung to this thought as the Boots sales assistant prised the 68 GBP that it cost from my hand. The verdict: definitely doing something.

For the last 21 days I've also been trialling this stuff, for a magazine here in Dubai. I'm not massively convinced I've seen any changes, although it claims to make you look: "glowing, radiant, and younger." Be sure to point this out, the next time you see me, yes?!

Thursday, September 20, 2012

What Can Change in 4 Years..?

Six lanes of traffic. Not moving. Ah, 2008....
One of my favourite Dubai bloggers recently wrote about what life was like in Dubai in 2008. You should read her post here, it's great.

It prompted me to have a quick look through some of my photos from 2008.

When I first arrived I lived in a tower right next to Sheikh Zayed Road.

It was a stone's throw from the Metropolitan Hotel. That's since been knocked down, of course.

They were building the huge pillars which were to hold up the Dubai Metro, right outside the front door. The Dubai Metro is up and running now, of course.

The traffic used to tailback outside the apartment from 5 pm up until 10 pm. I actually blogged about it back then, wondering how anyone ever got home on time!

Whilst traffic is still heavy, it's nothing in comparison to now.

How things change.....

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Run Forest, Run!

Don't scrutinize the technique, hey?
I can't believe it. I've been running for almost a year. My first post about it is here.

From my first limping staggers where running for three minutes seemed like climbing Mount Everest, in heels, I've improved massively. I can run comfortably for around an hour now, after which, boredom sets in.

You might say that in a year, one should really be reaching the heady echelons of Marathon running. I say: bore off. Perhaps if I lived in a country where it wasn't pushing 40 degrees AT NIGHT for six months of the year, I'd be inclined to set myself more stringent goals.

But to be honest, 10k is enough for me. That's an hour of my life, which, after a a 12 hour working day, is manageable. Anyone who has the time to run for 4 hours a night has my admiration, but not my commitment.

I'm now registered for not one, but TWO 10k runs. The first is November 9th. This is a little challenging as at the moment the temperature makes any outdoor run a sweaty hideous mess (I hate to run on a treadmill).

That sad, I'm still running outside at least twice a week. See you at the finish line!

Thursday, September 13, 2012

What's The Weather Like?

When I lived in the UK, the weather was a perpetual topic of conversation. I thought that might change once I lived in a country where the sun shines (almost) every day, but no.

Perhaps one of the reasons is that the weather in Dubai isn't EXACTLY the same every day. And us Dubai dwellers have our antannae finely tuned to any nuances or changes, however minimal, that the weather brings. Each morning as I leave the villa my senses are on high alert for humidity, breezes, clouds...

ESPECIALLY as we start heading into September, which, despite being the most humid month of the year, signals that the Winter is approaching...Yay, Winter!

Soon, these temperatures will drop...
 Here are some Dubai weather types which we get excited about:

The Day When It Isn't QUITE as Hot
Even in the height of Summer, when the mercury is hitting 45 and higher, you can suddenly experience a day when it drops a little - which can feel like a lot. This happened on the last day of Ramadan. 

I was visiting a friend and popped out onto her balcony to check out her view. "OOH!!" we exclaimed. "It's BEAUTIFUL OUT HERE!"

I then skipped down the walk at JBR  to meet friends for a drink. It felt positively cool and breezy. It was 36 degrees.

The Day When It's Breezy for No Reason
Sometimes wind is a precursor to a sandstorm (not a treat). Sometimes it's just windy for the sheer wonderfulness of it (complete treat). This can mean the difference between thinking you're going to die when running, and actually managing to limp an extra km or two.

The Day When the Humidity Drops
I love heat. I hate humidity. I hate being drenched two minutes after leaving the house (Not a good look when in a bodycon dress and heading out for dinner. Not a good look any time, to be fair.)

At the moment we're having a few days of low humidity. Granted, your eyeballs feel like they're about to pop out of your head due to the dry air, and your eyelids stick to them (lovely). But I'd take this any day over wet, sticky, slug-like humidity.

The Day When Clouds Appear
Who ever knew that clouds could cause such hysteria?! It's such a pleasant change to look up and see fluffy white things in the sky. And they are fluffy, white, gorgeous things, in the main. Not grey, black or menacing, as in the UK. Love them.

The Day When Two Drops of Rain Fall
Now, THIS is where you will witness real hysteria. And yes, dear readers, I count myself as one of those who becomes CRAZED with excitment at the merest whiff of a raindrop.

When it rains in the UK, there's a good chance it last rained...oh...ten minutes earlier.

When it rains in Dubai, there's a good chance it last rained...360 days earlier.

That's 360 days of dust, sand, humidity, baking, scorching heat, to be washed away.No wonder we get excited!

Now we're into the first week of September, you can almost smell the cooler weather. We're straining towards it like an Olympic athlete at the finishing line. Soon, soon, there will be outdoor dinners, terrace drinks, Fridays in the park. So much Winter joy to come...

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

The Story of Abdul Aziz

Not the most powerful machines...
When you live in Dubai, you can’t help but notice that labour can be cheap.

Those skyscrapers that would take ten years to get out of the ground in the West are up, sparkling and lived-in before you can say ‘UK Planning Permission.’ And it’s not just construction that is affected by these wages: you can have anything delivered here, whether from the local supermarket or an upmarket restaurant.   

Delivery drivers are a common sight, whizzing around, often precariously, along the 12 lane horrorway that is Sheikh Zayed Road, on scooters little more powerful than your average self-respecting woman’s hairdryer.

I recently had the humbling pleasure of getting to know one of these lovely riders. He warmed my heart and his story is worth sharing. He is a courier driver and his name is Abdul Aziz.

Abdul Aziz is from India. 

He rides a moped up and down Dubai, all day long, all year round.

He puts up with temperatures of 50 degrees , and/or humidity of 90% as he goes about his work.

He lives a two hour drive away from the city, so starts his day at the crack of dawn.

He shares his room with five other people.

He earns 3000 dirhams a month (around 600 British pounds).

He has a beautiful three year old daughter who is the apple of his eye. 

His phone is packed with photos of her which he proudly shows you at any and every opportunity.

His wife died in childbirth, leaving him alone with his daughter. She now lives with his sister back in India.

He is entitled to one flight home each year, and can visit his daughter for one month a year. One month.

I have never heard Abdul Aziz complain about anything...his job, his life, anything.

On the contrary. Abdul Aziz is always smiling. He is one of the most cheerful people you could ever hope to meet.

If I’m having a particularly bad day, I think of Abdul Aziz and he makes me happy and thankful. He's a lesson in happiness, gratitude, and peace.

We could all learn something from him.

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Villa Living

Dream House..
There’s so many options when it comes to making a home in Dubai. But the two main choices faced by ex-pats are:  apartment or villa?

I’ve always chosen the apartment route. I liked the brand-spanking glamour of Downtown…the locations, the views, my lovely family were all nearby. 

Occasionally I would visit friends in their villas and hanker after their gardens…their space…their WARDROBES!!! If asked about my ultimate dream home I would think about a white Malibu bungalow close to the beach, with palm trees whispering outside and a lush green garden.

But overall, I loved apartment living and was filled with joy every time I came home after a tough day at work or trip overseas.

And then I stumbled across what I thought existed only in my dreams….a white Malibu beach bungalow…newly renovated with new kitchen, new bathrooms, huge garden and pool. Only this wasn’t in Malibu. It was in Dubai. Satwa, to be exact. 

When the Universe throws your dream home into your direct path, you’d be a fool to ignore it.

Which means that I’m now firmly ensconced in a villa. I won’t dwell on the stresses and strains (finding one year’s rent in advance, utility bills quadrupled, no delivery driver can find the place) and instead I’ll just mention the joys.

The joy of opening my own front gate when I come home and walking into my own walled, private garden. 

The joy of sitting on the (front or back) terrace and looking at the beautiful skyline of Sheikh Zayed Road. 

The joy of feeling grass between my toes as I stroll all around the house with an Amaretto Sour.
The joy of hearing one of the (many) mosques ring out as the sun sets and rises.
The joy of living strolling distance from Rydge's Plaza and Ravi’s, making the Saturday night ritual just that bit sweeter.

And of course, the joy of wardrobe space. Oh, so much wardrobe space. My clothes sparkle out at me, colour co-ordinated jewels that quite often, I’d forgotten that I owned.

It’s safe to say, villa living is very, very good.