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Archive for the ‘Dubai’ Category

A new record

So I was noodling around on Facebook one evening looking at dancing gerbils and photos of weirdos in Walmart and trying to resist the quick quiz to determine which celebrity is my soul mate – when up popped a message from one of my favourite engineers of all time:

Tony> Hey Niamh, when are you coming over for a visit to Beirut 🙂 Tony

And I thought, ‘Wow! Gosh, I haven’t heard from Tony in a while’. And of course I immediately stopped what I was doing (browsing artistic representations of electrical appliances rendered in fruit) and messaged him back:-

Me> Hahaha! Hi Tony – great to hear from you! No plans to pass through Beirut any time soon 😀 two kids sort of put the brakes on any international jetsetting. How you doing? What you up to? x

Tony> Haha Niamh you made my day 🙂 It is great to hear from you

Tony> I have two kids as well and I am doing great, still within Company as usual

Tony> But the message you responded to was sent to you 5 years ago 🙂

Something fungible

The airport reared out of the tarmac like a mullioned concrete and glass stallion.

He stared through the windscreen, fingers clenched on the wheel like snails sprinkled with salt. She wondered what lay behind his asperous facade. Capillaries and the exposed bones that are teeth – or something more? Something . . . fungible?

“Want to come in?” he asked.

“You mean park?” Her hangnail tasted like old, dry chewing gum. “What are the rates?”

“$6 an hour.”

“What a total rip-off. Ok.”


The entrance to the covered parking opened wide like the gaping mouth of some great prehistoric beast with halitosis. She shivered in its dank embrace as a chill wracked her gorgeous, slender body.

After they parked, they walked towards Departures: travellers through time and space. Yet different times. And different space. A sob caught in her throat, like choking on a bitter peanut.

Inside the airport, outside the sweep of window, the sky was a patchwork of pure blue slivers stitched together with invisible stitches.

“Guess this is it,” he said. He checked his fly, a railway line of miniature sleepers down the front of his jeans. It was up not down which might have revealed a blooming flower of cotton.

“Guess so,” she said, her eyes fluttering like a moth captured in a glass.

“So long.”

And then he was gone, like the mist before dawn.

Surreally freaky

Exiting Dubai Airport was like walking into warm, oxygenated pea soup. The place looked a bit like it too, with all the smog.

Now, I’m conflicted about Dubai. On the one hand, I met Husband there 12 years ago and we have incredibly happy memories. We met remarkable people, many of whom became remarkable friends. We would not be able to live the life we do now without the financial foundation laid over ten years working in the Middle East.

On the other hand, I abhor and detest the place and all it stands for.

Apart from a two day stopover on the way to Róisín’s wedding, this was my first real visit in Dubai since we emigrated at the end of 2007. Originally I was only scheduled for a two day stopover, but extended it to four days. 

Although being back was surreally freaky, I actually had a marvellous time. Much of this can be attributed to my joy at being reunited with Husband, and the naked hospitality of Solartap and his gorgeous partner, The Mollusc.

None of it can be attributed to the trip to ME Bank, to close down the bank account I was unable to access until I was physically present in the UAE. Or the afternoon at DEWA where I waited three quarters of an hour for my ticket to be called, before being rerouted to Abdullah, returning to the original counter, then being sent to Accounting for another ticket. They really don’t like returning deposits.

On my penultimate day, Andrew and I went to Al Maha – or ‘the deep tapestry of ancient and modern Arabia’ if you prefer – for a night. We love Al Maha – how can you not love a place which offers a pillow menu? With five options? And brings them to your Bedouin Suite for a feel?

Al Maha offers two activities as part of their package, so I talked Husband into going horse-riding the following morning. He was completely unimpressed at getting up at 05:00hrs.

In my mind, I ride thoroughbred Arabian stallions bareback: my thighs rippling, hair streaming behind me, galloping over stuff. Hillocks, probably.

It is nothing short of tragic how divorced from reality that vision is.

About five minutes out from the stables, our field officer asked if we’d like to try a trot. It was ghastly. There was about three feet between my arse and the saddle at any given point.

“Next time someone asks if you can ride,” said the field officer, “say NO!”

Husband wasn’t much better, but gave the illusion of competence by slapping his mount’s neck while asking the field officer whether the horse was ’15 or 16 hands’.

Planet Deadlyjelly: love = straight hair

The National Express coach left Cambridge at 04:00. Raff, Carol and I agreed to leave the house at 03:15, for the half hour drive from Huntingden.

I got up at 02:45 to shower, dress and straighten my hair. Because I KNEW the first thing Husband would say when he met me in Dubai would be: “Wow! Your hair is really straight!”

In fact what he said was, “What took you so long?”

Close enough.

Demonstration of sweaty palms

So I nearly didn’t make it to Dubai, which is another story entirely that is NOT EVEN FUNNY although it appears to crack up anyone who’s heard. It’s possible that any hilarity runoff derives from the subject’s stupidity rather than my witty narration underlined by dramatic hand gestures and a sock puppet.

Unfortunately it’ll have to wait until I return to The Zealand on Thursday, since I have a plane to catch. My palms are sweaty alreadgy.

As illustratred.

Demonstration of sweaty palms

So I nearly didn’t make it to Dubai, which is another story entirely that is NOT EVEN FUNNY although it appears to crack up anyone who’s heard. It’s possible that any hilarity runoff derives from the subject’s stupidity rather than my witty narration underlined by dramatic hand gestures and a sock puppet.

Unfortunately it’ll have to wait until I return to The Zealand on Thursday, since I have a plane to catch. My palms are sweaty alreadgy.

As illustratred.

Arabian Sands

Wilfred Thesiger 1948

Wilfred Thesiger 1948

Here, to be alone was to feel at once the weight of fear, for the nakedness of this land was more terrifying than the darkest forest at dead of night. In the pitiless light of day we were as insignificant as the beetles I watched labouring across the sand. Only in the kindly darkness could we borrow a few square feet of desert and find homeliness within the radius of the firelight, while overhead the familiar pattern of the stars screened the awful mystery of space.

All the time I lived in the Middle East, I resisted explorer Wilfred Thesiger’s books. One reason for this was that generally, although I am an avid reader, I am not a big fan of autobiography. I prefer to have Experiences of my own, instead of reading about other peoples’.

Despite the photo below, I was never about to jump into a head-dress and wander across the Empty Quarter fighting off camel raiders with a second world war rifle; but the OTHER reason I didn’t read Thesiger’s account of his travels is because I feared it would be a bit ex-colonial pip pip jolly good tally ho old cock, what?

Eid 2003: Intrepid explorer. That thing you see in my hand? A mug of sea breeze. The insistent knocking sound you hear? Wilfred Thesiger turning in his grave.

Two weeks ago, I came across a copy of ‘Arabian Sands’ at the Blenheim Friday Market for $1 and felt it would be churlish bordering on ill-mannered to leave it on the stand.

This would normally be one of those books that would sit worthily on my bedside table for a while before being relegated to the top of my Stack Of Worthy Books, gradually making its way down as the pile collects additional Worthy Books, but never quite reaching the bottom which is reserved for ‘Heart of Darkness’ and anything by Paulo Coelho.

Instead, I started reading Arabian Sands, and was surprised to find it – ‘gripping’ is not entirely accurate, but I wouldn’t balk at – ‘unputdownable’.

The book is an account of Thesiger’s expeditions from 1945-1950 in the Empty Quarter of Arabia, one of the largest sand deserts in the world covering around 650,000 square kilometres.

Slightly more recent satellite image of The Empty Quarter

At the time, obtaining permission to travel the area was problematic even for an upstanding member of the Middle East Anti-Locust Unit. Thesiger and his Bedu guides faced constant threats: being massacred by warring tribes, plotting a course through the barren terrain, locating the sparse wells, leaking water skins, gnawing hunger, grinding thirst, starving camels, and testicle-hunters:-

The Danakil country, where the people were head-hunters who collected testicles instead of heads. Among them a man’s standing depended to a very large extent on his reputation as a warrior, which was judged by the number of men he had killed and mutilated. There was no need to kill another man in fair fight; all that was required to establish a reputation was to collect the necessary number of severed genitals. I found it disconcerting to be stared at by a Danakil, feeling that he was probably assessing my value as a trophy.

Thesiger spends little time on analysis or introspection, but his factual, astringent prose beautifully describes the desert environment. The book also features some gorgeous black and white plates.

Wilfred Thesiger

The Empty Quarter 1948, Wilfred Thesiger.

Wilfred Thesiger

Dubai Creek, undated.

The Empty Quarter, Wilfred Thesiger


Arabian Sands is a little sparse on plot, and any suspense is tempered by the author’s evidently surviving to write several books. But there is no shortage of baddies, trial, tribulation; and it is a startling snapshot of the Arab people and a vanished way of life.

The Qarra, a tribe that lived near Salala, had a unique technique for milking cows:

Before a man milked a cow – women were forbidden even to touch the udders – he would sometimes put his lips to the cow’s vagina and blow into it to induce the cow to lower her milk.

And a remedy for your camel refusing to give milk: 

. . . an ugly grey, which we had bought in the Raidat because she was in milk. At first she refused to give us any, although her calf had already been weaned, but Amai sewed up her anus, saying he would not undo it until she let down her milk. After that she gave us about a quart a day.

Arab place name conventions are evidently more – let’s call it – imaginative than New Zealand:

Two days later we were camped near a well with the uninviting name of Faswat at Ajuz, or ‘the Hag’s C*ough!*’.

And let me tell you, the Tihama know how to really rock a circumcision.

A fish eye view

When we lived in Dubai, I used to swim 2000m along the shore of the Gulf in the early morning. It is one of the few things about the Middle East that I recall with warm nostalgia (as opposed to rising gorge).

The first time I ever went for a power swim, thick mist shrouded the beach. I accompanied a group of gnarly triathletes, undeterred by being unable to see anything beyond the length of their arms. It was an extraordinary experience. In contrast to the world above, the rippling sand below the surface was clearly visible. The water was colorless, clear as gin. On the return leg, I paused for a break, treading water. I lifted my head and saw the tip of the Burj Al Arab emerge from the dissipating mist.

I started going to the beach two or three times a week, often before work. It was the only real time I spent outdoors during summer. Next to three liters of coffee, it was the best way to kick-start the day.

One morning, I was tucking my hair into a cap at Jumeirah Beach, when two girls asked if I would look after their bags. Vivienne was covered in Vaseline, so I guessed they were swimmers. (I sincerely hoped they were, anyway.)

They were planning to swim around the Burj Al Arab, so I joined them. That’s how I met Helen and Viv and – later – Chantal, who had never swum before and whose style initially focused on vertical rather than lateral propulsion

Great lunch queue massacre

I am delighted to report that Husband has returned – only a week late. The excuses get more and more elaborate; I can hardly WAIT to hear what he will come up with next time. To maintain his current form, he will need to introduce an alien abduction or a great lunch queue massacre.

Husband’s UAE residency visa expired before he flew to Dubai. When he applied for a new one, Immigration informed him he was in the country illegally. His expired visa should have been cancelled upon arrival at the airport, and a visit visa issued. So what could he do? Shrug. Nothing to do with them. Although it was, in fact, everything to do with them, since it was Airport Immigration which failed to properly process him.

For a few days, Husband pinged between Immigration Bur Dubai and the airport, getting nowhere very fast – perhaps because he wasn’t allowed go anywhere.

The experience allowed Husband to refine his theory on UAE government department hierarchy, which is: the higher the rank, the better the standard of spoken English and the greater the willingness to assist.

So, inversely correlated to the characteristics of Western style management.

Proximity to Satan on the family tree

Even in NZ, we heard rumours of expats stampeding out of Dubai: abandoning their cars at the airport, trampling over fallen bodies at the check-in. Depending which reports you listen to, Dubai is an apocalyptic landscape of anarchy, looting, rioting and burning, home only to broken dreams.

In fact, the only thing thriving in the city appears to be the expat grapevine, fuelled by a bottomless supply of media suppression and cheap petrol.

I was therefore nervous about the likelihood of re-renting our property. Assuming we could find new tenants – you know, stake out Dubai airport – the timing was critical. Ideally, Husband would prepare the villa, then assess potential viewers for quality tenancy. Or, depending on the state of the warzone, at least ensure they weren’t anarchists, looters, rioters or pyromaniacs.

Two years after leaving Dubai, I still receive more spam from UAE based Real Estate Agents than from Juicygirls. I spent a couple of weeks trying to rate RE Agents according to a/ quantity of spam b/ quality of spam c/ proximity to Satan on the family tree.

Eventually, Husband suggested listing it on Dubizzle, a UAE based classifieds website.

Within a day of listing the ad, I had 15 responses.

Most were Real Estate Agents, but several were from people who had obviously been lured by my tag line: ‘DIRECT FROM OWNER! NO AGENCY FEES!’

Some were undoubtedly attracted by not having to fork out Dhs 20000 (NZ$ 8500) to a RE Agent for downloading a copy of the standard tenancy agreement and rejecting phonecalls while waving a clipboard around. However, most just appeared pathetically grateful to deal with someone who returned their phone calls/emails and – bonus – spoke semi-literate English.

Before Husband left for Dubai, I had whittled the short list down to five applicants. I agonised about how to let four of them down, since they all seemed quite lovely. In the end, the bottleneck sorted itself out.

I called one applicant – UK long distance – at 11am his time one Sunday morning, and he said, ‘Could you call back later? Rough night.’ At least, that’s what I thought he said, because it SOUNDED like ‘Moumph wall grankle arwar whumph’. I think he was belching at the time. Bless him, he actually sent an email later, asking whether the villa was still available. I decided he lacked certain qualities I looked for in a model tenant, and let him down gently.

One couple viewed the place and decided it was too small; another woman’s husband was made redundant and they stayed in their current accommodation; the fourth couple looted and pillaged the villa before trying to set Husband on fire.

In the end, it went to the couple Husband was most taken with – who also happened to be the most proactive, responsive and friendly.

So everyone’s happy.


The main reason Husband returned to Dubai so soon after his last trip was to prepare our property for re-renting. He asked if I would like to accompany him. Optimistically, he presented it as a mini-vacation. He went for the beaches and palm trees angle.

I was more focussed on the 22-hour flight with two stopovers, the skin melting temperatures of the UAE hitting summer, and sleeping on the floor of an empty villa without even an espresso machine. Fairly quickly – you might say spontaneously – I realised there was nothing I would like to do less, except maybe hack off my lower limbs with a blunt axe. Even then, it would depend on how blunt said axe was, and whether I had ready access to Tequila.

Compared to the above, my contribution to the whole process was meagre. I sourced potential tenants, arranged finances, retained a maintenance company and collated paperwork. I was so delighted NOT going to the UAE that staying here with my dog was like a vacation in itself (if you disregard the guilt).

I was particularly glad when Husband described the state in which Tenants had left the villa. Thankfully most of it was cosmetic damage: gashes and chips out of the plaster, nails all over the show, double sided sticky tape festooning three walls, bolts in the master bedroom wall from a badly mounted TV. Husband also said it looked like someone had hit the trunk of the tree with the edge of a spade (who? Who does that to a poor, innocent, defenceless tree? Sickening dendrophile).

Ah, the bitter ruins of a formerly loving relationship.

But then, how was I to know they were dendrophiles?

Tenants had left without cleaning the house. This particularly distressed me, since I spent three days scouring the place before they moved in. I recall Mrs Tenant calling unexpectedly to discover me straddling a kitchen cupboard. She said:-

“Oh, you’re- are you cleaning?” And before I could say, NO THE RUBBER GLOVES ARE MY OWN DISTINCTIVE FASHION STATEMENT AND I ALWAYS PUT JIFF IN MY <EXPLETIVE DELETED> HAIR, she continued, “It’s not on our account, is it?”

I unclenched my tongue from between my teeth to say, “Well, yes-”

“Oh, don’t worry about that,” she said. “We’re only going to clean it again after our stuff arrives.”

“Well ok, but, you know, we’re talking about two and a half years worth of Husband’s and my dead skin cells,” I said with an involuntary wince. To be honest, I couldn’t imagine leaving an abode other than spotlessly glistening (in a totally non-mucous context); I mean, I would be pure MORTIFIED. I guarantee that, when the time comes, we will leave our current rental accommodation cleaner than it has been at any point during our occupancy.

“Oh,” she said. “Um, yes, well. Carry on then.”

I suppose I had been warned. Tenants had no compunction about leaving 18 months of their dead skin cells cluttering up the place.

Husband spent hours plastering, cleaning and fixing. Yet apparently, Mr Tenant got terribly upset when Husband pointed out the condition the house was in. There were Words.

Bad ones.

At least this atones for Husband stinging me for cleaning the villa the week before we left Dubai.

Nah only messing; nothing makes up for that. I will carry that grudge to my deathbed AND BEYOND.

However, he has earned himself several nag-free months featuring kinky sex on demand.

I am so overwhelmed by his input I might even provide the sex myself.

The Unsolved Desire


Her heart was breaking, but she would not give him the satisfaction of knowing it. Her resolve faltered as he took her face in his hands.

“My darling,” he rasped harshly. “I can hardly bear to leave you-”

“Then don’t,” she sobbed.

“You know I have no choice.” A look of pain fleetingly distorted his stern features. “I must go – but I will count the seconds until we are reunited once more.”

“How much counting is that?”

“I don’t know,” he husked. A frown crossed his noble features. “I have not booked my return flight. I may be deceptively unfeeling and ridiculously passionate bordering on volatile, but I am totally disorganized. Do you-” His voice faltered momentarily. “Do you hate me for that?”

Her heart melted in the face of his despair. “How could I hate you when I- I love you?” she breathed helplessly.

“Fair enough,” he muttered thickly. With an inaudible groan, he drew her savagely into his arms and crushed his lips against hers in a bruising kiss.

He thrust her from him abruptly, roughly. As she watched him walk away, she pressed her trembling fingers to her mouth in a futile attempt to keep from crying aloud.

He stubbed out his cigarette with the sole of his shoe. How had he ended up in a crime noir? He must have taken a wrong turn along the way. Just the latest in a long line of goddamn wrong turns.

Last thing he remembered, he was in a romance. He vaguely recalled some broad with heaving breasts. Unsettling effect.

He missed his ripped six-pack and savage, cruel good looks. Apart from that, this genre suited him better, he thought. For one thing, the clothes were more comfortable. Those goddamn breeches were tight as hell. Cut off circulation. He had not felt his legs in months.

For another thing, all that husking and rasping played hell with his throat. He lit another cigarette, narrowing his eyes against the smoke.

Something stunk worse than a barrel of dead hoods. If someone had given him a nickel for every barrel of dead hoods he’d seen – wait. It WAS a barrel of dead hoods. His hand reached for his revolver. Crouching, he surveyed the scene of carnage.

Oh, swell.

It was only a pineapple.

Returning his gun to its holster, he thought of the broad with the heaving breasts, felt a pang of regret. He stubbed that out with the sole of his shoe too. Dames like that were a dime a dozen. Any other guy would have smacked her into next Tuesday. If naked emotion was illegal, he’d bust that lousy broad faster than she could say ‘gimme a nickel for the jukebox, Slick’.

He could tell you something for nothing: he would show her his revolver soon as look at her – and use it if he had to.

Essay: How did you become a writer? – Discuss

When I was a little girl, I knew exactly what I wanted to be when I grew up:-

A long-distance lorry driver.

That was until I decided to follow a glamorous career as a princess. Then, at the age of 9, I realised my skill set was more suited to professional figure-skating. Unfortunately I never found the right doubles partner, so I set my heart on international espionage specialising in the termination of shady, highly placed political figures. I would have liked to have been a rock star, but I always knew that was more a sideline than a full-time career.

At no point did I consider writing as a way of life – and even less so when reality caught up with me. At school, English was not my best subject – although in fairness, neither was anything else. My annual reports gloomily chronicled my ongoing failure to achieve my potential (NB or anyone else’s). Even though teachers pronounced themselves ‘satisfied’ with my work, they never made that sound like a positive thing.

In college, I studied Applied Maths and Computing, mainly because with mathematics the answer is either right or wrong and doesn’t involve a ten page essay discussing the importance of the motive of revenge in calculating an answer.

When my application to the Irish Secret Service was rejected, I became a project manager (or if you don’t mind, I prefer frustrated rock goddess).

I moved to London in 1996 and graduated from letter writing to email, my preferred method for notifying my parents I was still alive. Occasionally I included heavily censored accounts of my life. It seemed pretty action-packed at the time, mainly because I was spectacularly self-centered. (My father had just been ordained as a priest, so it was inevitable bordering on cliche that I would hit a kind of delayed puberty at full throttle, which I celebrated by drinking inhuman amounts of alcohol.)

Two years later, I started sending friends 4000 word accounts of my experiences settling in the Middle East. Many responded suggesting that, if I had never considered writing, I really should. They might have been biased and/or delusional, but I was touched.

It was another year or two before I started taking it seriously.

In 2000, I took some time off between jobs to write. I wasn’t sure WHAT, but I had romantic notions of sitting at an antique desk in a sun-dappled room crafting a great literary work containing inspiring words like ‘shinsplints’ and ‘ficus’.

There were a number of reasons my 9 month sabbatical was a dismal failure. Mainly, it was because my writing desk was modern. But also, I underestimated how much I defined myself by my career and earning potential. I struggled with peoples’ assumption that I was dependent on Pre-Husband for financial support, and that I lay around all day snorting grapes and flirting with my muse.

It took another 7 years to complete Smart/Casual

Bizarrely random and inexplicable emotional response

It is so good to be home. As we drove up Taranaki Road, Husband said, “Isn’t it funny how this house feels more like home than our place in The Springs ever did?” The sentiment did not make me spontaneously chortle aloud, but I gave him a sympathy laugh. Personally, I would be more inclined to call it ‘weird’ or ‘a bizarrely random and inexplicable emotional response’.

Perhaps ‘funny’ has that covered.

In Dubai, we performed a drive-by on our house. We had attempted to make physical contact with our tenants, but they quite actively didn’t want to see us. Maybe they were nervous about what comprised physical contact. I was referring to a handshake; maybe fingertips brushing around a cup of tea. Certainly not full coitus. I don’t know, maybe they were confused.

As we drove in the security gate of Springs 2, I braced myself for a bitter tide of nostalgia, with eddies of longing and perhaps a vicious crosscurrent of regret.

We had trouble finding the house. Husband couldn’t remember the street number, although he knew how to get there. We used to recognize our villa by the neighbour’s full-size Indian flag hanging over his garage, mounted on an iron brace to deter thieves armed with industrial impact wrenches and a jackhammer. Said neighbour must have suffered a crisis of patriotism in the meantime, because the flag was gone.

The only other thing distinguishing our house from the rest used to be our cars parked in the drive: my GMC Yukon and/or Husband’s Chevy Lumina. Number 66 currently features a Nissan Patrol and a blue car.

I felt nothing. Although this is mainly a relief, it also makes me feel a bit sad

Practically airborne

Flying out this morning. It’s been a crazy few days in Dubai. Think sanity still intact, but dented in a couple of spots. Back to normal front line reporting from Monday x


For those concerned about my global whereabouts, I caught my flight on Friday due to a cosmic miracle involving planning, timekeeping and pure luck. I arrived in Dubai Airport at the antisocial-bordering-on-criminal hour of 06:30 hrs, where Husband collected me.

Over years of business travel, I have developed a method I call ‘break on through to the other side’. This involves staying awake and preferably alert – especially if there are wild animals, explosive devices or mustachioed people present – until bedtime at the country-in-residence.

This worked a treat right up to 22:00hrs. Ambitiously, Husband and I went out for dinner with Wayne, Keren and Keren’s friend Elena, where I fell asleep with my head in a teacup.

Yesterday, I hit The Wall. I got up with Husband and accompanied him to Garhoud, where I sat in mOre for six hours. The plan had been to write, but I simply could not stay awake unless I propped pencils up either nostril, which is not pleasant for anyone concerned.

I had offered to cook dinner for our hosts, way back on Saturday when it was far enough into the sunlight-dappled future to seem like a terrific idea. Yesterday, the mere thought of it was enough to induce a coma, but when I came around I hauled myself off to the supermarket to procure ingredients.

Standing at the checkout till:-

Me: How much?

Operator: Dhs 113.50, madam

Me: Ok. Right. Um. Here <hands him Dhs 100 note>. And wait! <rummages around back pocket of jeans and drops Dhs 3.50 into his hand>

Operator: Madam. It is Dhs 113.50

Me: Yes. I just gave you . . . oh! Gosh, sorry. Wait a sec <opens wallet, extracts a note, hands it to operator>

Operator: This is Dhs 5

Me: That’s right. Just give me back Dhs 2

Operator: . . . What?

Me: You owe me Dhs 2

Operator: <speaking slowly in manner designed not to alarm to crazy lady> Madam, it is Dhs 113.50

Me: Ye-es, that’s what it says on the register. Oh! I’ve just given you . . . ok, I can’t add at the moment. So . . . that’s not Dhs 113.50?

Operator: No <returns my money>

Me: Ok, sorry. <back to the wallet> Here’s er. Ah-

Operator: Dhs 50

Me: Is it? Yes, that should do it. Oh, and the Dhs 3.50 – here you go

Operator: This is still not enough

Me: You’re kidding. Oh wait a moment – you gave the Dhs 100 back to me, didn’t you?

Operator: <hands twitching with effort not to leap across the conveyor and batter me to a bloody pulp with a can of tuna> Yes, madam

Me: Shit. Here you go. Sorry about that

Stale hand towels

Am on my way to Heathrow. When I say ‘on my way’, technically I’m charging around Roisin and Tim‘s house swearing at my suitcase (it appears to have shrunk – most likely all the Irish rain). When not unleashing invective at inert pieces of luggage, I’m updating my blog and fretting about whether I’ll catch my flight to Dubai. Personally, I consider catching flights to be a concept similar to lotto scratch cards, although with marginally better odds.

Can’t wait to see Husband again. I will test his devotion by arriving in Dubai at silly o’clock tomorrow morning, smelling like stale hand towels and featuring a bad case of cabin fever – although happily, rather less exploding snot since the last update

How to lid your wody of toxins

Three weeks ago, completely by chance, I bumped into an old friend. That is, somebody I have known for many years, as opposed to an ancient liver-spotted fossil who tells you repeatedly about her colostomy bag. In contrast, Jill* is young and lovely, and does not have a colostomy bag.

Today I met Jill again and she gave me a pile of cards, letters and emails I sent her, dating from around – ooh – 1986. The early correspondence illustrates how far up your own arse it is possible to venture (the answer: really surprisingly far).

However, the collection is also an extraordinary account of a friendship. About seven years ago, Jill and I lost touch for reasons that are not worth getting into. There are so many things I had forgotten. Jill, if you read this, I am so pleased we are back in contact again.

Before I completely surrender to sentimentality, I thought I’d share a piece for old times’ sake. I recall writing this, but my computer ate it and I haven’t seen it since 1999. Warning: this excerpt features excessive nudity. Here you go:-

My friend Sharon decided we needed some intense relaxation, so booked us both into Cleopatra’s Spa, an OTT-to-the-point-of-indescribable-naffness health club. I mean, there are 20m high plaster statues of pharoahs flanking the entrance to this place.

We were shown to the ladies’ changing rooms where heated bathrobes and fluffy slippers awaited. A wholesome looking Chinese lady met us outside. She looked fresh and crispy in her natty outfit. Officious navy uniform. Sparkly white pinafore. Comforting picture of fresh innocence.

She said, “Herro marram, my mame Mimi.”

I volunteered for the full body seaweed wrap first and was conveyed to the ‘sunrise room’ where Mimi shut the door and dimmed the lights.

“Marram, you take off srimsuit and rie down om taywell,” she announced, gesturing to an uninviting looking table adorned with rubber mat and what looked like a giant paper napkin.

“I’m not sure I can handle this level of nudity,” I thought, srimsuit in a pool around my ankles. Thinking I would feel less exposed face down on the taywell, I attempted to mount it a little too enthusiastically and, entangled in my togs, landed face down on the floor instead.

“Are you okaye, rady?” asked my solicitous attendant, helping me to my feet by way of hauling at my armpits. She deposited me on the table.

“I wir now appry the seareed,” said Mimi with a flourish.

After several minutes persuading myself that being plastered with warm seaweed was actually quite fun, I was just beginning to relax when Mimi said, “Prease marram, you roll ower.”

Given that Mimi was struggling with her l’s, I was trying to translate: ‘Please madam you loll over’, when I realised she wanted me on my back, but I was . . . well, you know . . . a bit naked. I wasn’t at all sure about this progression of events. Perhaps this sort of carry on is acceptable in select brothels in other regions of the globe, but I wasn’t expecting it of Cleopatra’s Spa, Dubai, UAE.

“Don’t panic,” I told myself in a panic.

I tried to consider the advantages of the situation: at least she wouldn’t be able to see my arse.

That was the only advantage I could think of on the spur of the moment.

Prostrate on my back, Mimi briskly slathered on seaweed from the feet up. After progressing up the legs, she cleared any doubts there may have been about it being a ‘full body’ seaweed wrap, by busying herself building a little seaweed castle on my groin.

When she started on my chest, I was presented with a bit of a dilemma. I’m generally reasonably particular about whom massages my bosoms, and given the option I’m not sure Mimi would have been amongst my first choice of masseuse.

All sorts of thoughts ran through my feverish mind as Mimi fiddled around with a big glob of seaweed and my left tit, including: whether her technique could possibly be described as lascivious; whether in some cultures the amount ot time she was devoting to my chest would be considered socially acceptable; and whether the element of seaweed in the equation reduced the import of the fact that Mimi was fumbling around my norks. HOWEVER, my main concern was: where should I look?

I figured I had a number of open options:-

1) Close my eyes
ADVANTAGE: Minimal eye contact
DISADVANTAGE: Mimi might interpret this as intense pleasure in the experience and think I was a lesbian and who knows where that might lead?

2) Keep my eyes open, but firmly fixed on the ceiling
ADVANTAGE: Reduced eye contact but with the option of instantly reviewing any shenanigans
DISADVANTAGE: Mimi might interpret this as intense pleasure in the experience and think I was a lesbian and who knows where that might lead?

3) Eyeball her throughout
ADVANTAGE: Intimidate the woman
DISADVANTAGE: Mimi would definitely interpret this as intense pleasure in the experience and think I was a lesbian and who knows where that might lead?

In the end, I opted for a combination of all three, with say 20% of option 1, 70% option 2 and 10 option 3, but I found it all intensely wearing.

After Mimi exhausted two tubs of seaweed, she announced: “I am now going to rap you”. Jesus, I thought; what now. All this involved however, was being firmly trussed up in the giant paper napkin and rubber mat. It occurred to me that Mimi would prepare a mean roast chicken.

Once engulfed in paper and rubber, spiky head sticking out the top, my attendant flicked a switch at the bottom of the table and the rubber mat, with a noise like King Kong expelling a touch of excessive flatulence, began to engorge with warm water.

“Marram, this rawter tleatment. You will fear rike you froating in waaarm rake.”

It pains me to have to admit that the salient highlights of this experience were so freakily unpleasant, given that I was paying Dhs 250 for it, but at this juncture I feel obliged to report that the water treatment did not make me feel like I was floating in a warm lake. It made me feel hot, sticky and itchy. In fact, I was swiftly getting very itchy indeed. I was wondering if maybe the previous seaweed victim had suffered a bad case of nits, when my nose was painfully afflicted.

Well, my arms were pinioned to my sides and, even had I not had several layers of rubber, water, seaweed and paper holding them firmly in place, I was so dazed that I’m not sure I would have been psychologically capable of scratching my nose anyway. I was afraid to ask Mimi to itch my nose for me, in case she thought I was a lesbian.

A lesbian with a nose fetish, even.

Fifteen minutes later, I had decided that this was an exquisite form of torture and that I would happily give my whole complement of limbs for one free and mobile digit, when Mimi relented and unwrapped me, and pointed out the shower. She insisted on helping me up off the table and my nerves were so frayed that had she strayed anywhere within three yards of my wiggly bits, I would have slapped her one.

“Thank you marram. Prease you leturn again marram,” cried Mimi, waving me off down the corridor.

I was surprised that Sharon had not given me some measure of warning as to what was in store. After all, not everyone is as liberal as I, and I thought she might have prepared some sort of brief summary. However, one look at Sharon’s startingly puce-hued face informed me that she had been similarly unprepared.

“How was it?” I asked, affecting nonchalance.

“Fine! Yes, fine. Quite, quite fine, fine really.”

*Name changed to protect the innocent

Trip down sandy lane

Being back in Dubai felt entirely surreal. It was unsettling arriving at the airport and not having a place of our own to go to. Raff and Carole donated their apartment on The Palm, which was tremendously comforting since we stayed there before leaving Dubai last year. The only thing missing was Raff and Carole.

Our flight landed at 05:30hrs. Carole had left the keys with Liz, but I felt it would be antisocial to collect them before 07:00. Liz seemed entirely dubious about our credentials. She gave me a personality test and I had to fill in a questionnaire, and even then she wasn’t convinced. Eventually, Husband distracted her while I robbed the house-keys.

Helen came around on Friday morning for a swim along the beach, and Em on Saturday. We also caught up with David, Wayne and Keren, and Mark and Sarah. There’s not much I miss about this place, but our friends top the list. Even though there are only two other things on that list (swimming in the Gulf and shower hoses on the toilets, in case you were wondering), friends represent about 99% on a weighted basis. It was fabulous seeing everyone again.

As bodily by-products go, I am a big fan of vomit and particularly like to bring it up over dinner. Not often literally, because that doesn’t go down well. However, my friends reminded me of a rare wee related experience.

Some years ago, Husband and I were on a desert drive with a group of friends. When the convoy paused for refreshment, I experienced a compelling urge to externally process some earlier refreshment. So I set off to find a private spot.

I tramped over dunes until I was out of earshot; then I hiked until I was beyond visual range; and then, because I am prudish, I trudged another few kilometers. I stumbled across the desert, under sand banks, over Wadis and through sandstorms. Eventually I found the perfect place in a dip between two sand dunes, shielded from gusty squalls and/or rogue camels.

Seconds later, I was busy composing a comprehensive response to the call of nature, when I heard a noise. I’m thinking:-

“What the-? That sounds like – no, it can’t be – but if I were pressed, I would have to say that sounded suspiciously like a car booting along at 180kph.”

I would have continued to assume it was the aural equivalent of a mirage, except that it seemed to be getting louder.

Then three 4x4s thundered past at 180kph, at which point I realised I was crouched next to a stonking great six lane highway waving my arse in the air

Great taste in family

Sorry about the blogpost famine. Husband and I left Auckland for Dubai on Wednesday afternoon. It has been three and a quarter days of intense socialising and administration. I got in some swimming along the beach on Friday and Saturday morning; only 1000m, which was quite enough considering I haven’t swum since leaving Dubai last December, apart from the occasional skinny-dip in the Fairy Falls pools which hardly counts. Seems I’ve forgotten how to float.

I discarded Husband and flew to London solo yesterday. Dinner with Róisín’s fiancé Tim last night, coffee with her dad this morning; I haven’t seen much of Róis, but she has such great taste in fiancés and family it hardly matters.

It’s all go, but I hope to get back in the blog groove tomorrow

Happy Christmas from the Demon Lord


Bloke with a modem

These two months leading up to our triumphant departure from the Middle East have been entirely surreal. Husband got increasingly caught up in work as he and David tried to identify investors/partners for The Company. This involved high summit meetings, gritty discussions, presentations, vats of coffee and what I considered an unnecessary amount of air-chopping.

In my spare time – between interviewing and commissioning shipping agents; dealing with Real Estate Agents to identify tenants; showing people around the house; arranging maintenance; changing mobile numbers; selling my car and anything we couldn’t take with us; arguing with our mortgage company; (etc) – I worked for The Company:

“Husband, are you MANAGING me?”

“Not at all, I’m just suggesting the best way to do it.”

Part of my role was providing feedback and sanity checks to the guys, who were preparing presentations for potential investors. Neither Husband nor David appeared to consider it excessive spending half an hour discussing a single presentation point and whether it should go on slide 3 instead of slide 2 and should they use the word ‘disk’ instead of ‘hard drive’ and did it really encapsulate the essence of The Company’s spirit?

(I’m not sure I ever fully grasped what exactly was the essence of The Company’s spirit; David arguing that it was feisty and daring, not cheeky but a little bit saucy with a spicy, sexy fragrance, and Husband seeming to feel that it was more the timely provision of software solutions.)

The day before a key presentation, we were running through the slide show.

“The third bullet point,” I said, “’The Company has a corporation in the UK’ – do you feel maybe this is overstating a bloke with a modem? I mean, it might give rise to awkward questions if you imply The Company runs a sweatshop in Manchester.”

“Hmm,” said David.

“No,” said Spouse, “Potential Partner never gives us enough credit for the number of employees The Company has and it’s about bloody time they realise we have fourteen employees in Dubai and an office in the UK as well. They act like we have, like, three people in the Dubai office and it really PISSES ME OFF!”

“Em, ok,” I said after a brief pause. “I’m sure tomorrow’s presentation is an ideal opportunity to vent your frustration and tell them what a bunch of assholes they are!”

Packing day

This is Husband on packing day. Yes, that is his laptop

Fitz and Belle at the Montgomerie

Put that tongue away

Pics from Raff and Carol’s Austin Powers party last night.

Raff and Carol



Still on married terms

Only two weeks left – where the hell has the time gone? – to organise maintenance and house painting; coordinate the shippers; close bank, electricity/water and telephone accounts; and the rest of the madness that goes with packing up a life.

Although Husband has had little to do with the leaving preparations, he liked to keep involved by questioning all my decisions: “Why didn’t you draw up the tenancy agreement for 12 months instead of 18?” “Couldn’t you have haggled him down a bit?” “Couldn’t you have talked her up a bit?” “Aw Niamhie, you should have told him a two inch bypass tap instead of three,” “Why the morning instead of afternoon?”

After the last two months, the fact that we’re still on speaking terms – never mind that, MARRIED TERMS – is largely miraculous. I only mentioned divorce eighteen times, sometimes light-heartedly. Husband didn’t mention the ‘D’ word at all, but only because he’s too nice.

Four weeks ago, around about the time I sold my car, I started crying and haven’t really stopped. It rather took me by surprise, since I still talk passionately at length about how I can’t stand Dubai and can’t wait to leave. Foot over the threshold, I appreciate that Dubai has been our home for ten years, with all the good and the bad. And we have been happy

Just hyperventilating

Although we had agreed to leave the Middle East at the end of 2007, realistically we were looking at January, possibly February 2008. When I was in Ireland, Husband rang me one night to give me a pep talk on stress management:

“Niamhie, I know we said the end of the year, but does it matter whether it’s January or February, or even March? Or April?”

“Husband. We’re leaving in December.”

“Yes, but what I’m saying is, you’re going to get all worked up – you know, when things aren’t happening fast enough – and you should relax – take a chill pill! I mean, we know we’re leaving, so it doesn’t matter if the date slips a month or several. Does it?”

“You know what I’m stressed about right now? That my husband obviously does not know me AT ALL.”


“Just hyperventilating.”

“You should breathe more.”

Shortly after Husband’s father was diagnosed with multiple myeloma, we booked one-way flights to Auckland, departing Dubai on 24 December.

Originally, we planned to sell the Springs villa before the end of 2007. However, in early November the resale market was sluggish and we decided to rent the property.

The Tenants were the first people to view the house. Mr and Mrs Tenant were almost more anal than I am, so inevitably I fell instantly in love. When they were noncommittal, it was all I could do to stop myself dropping to my knees and begging them to move in rent-free.

Later the same day, Mr Tenant called and offered to take the house and asked for first option to buy. The deal felt profoundly karmic: The Tenants were being kicked out of their furnished villa on 20/12, which was the precise date Husband and I had agreed the house should be ready for occupancy. Then they bought our BBQ, fridge, oven, washing machine, wireless router and Husband’s motorbike.

The least I could do was invite them around for a barbeque. Mr and Mrs Tenant turned up accessorised with three children. The only tense moment was after the meal, when Mrs Tenant came into the kitchen to help load the dishwasher.

“You’re not one of those people who washes things before they put them in the dishwasher, are you?” she said.

“What, me?” I said. “NO! GOD no. Do people actually DO THAT? You’re joking. Scary to think there are nutsos like that roaming around in the world. Unsupervised. Must be a real worry when you have kids, is it?”

But later it was hard not to feel resentful as I washed and reloaded the dishes.

Shortly after signing the tenancy contract, with habitually spectacularly impeccable timing, Eid was announced to fall three days before The Tenants moved in on 20/12. As landlords, we were required to paint and clean the house, but we only had one day between the shippers and the Eid holiday. We realised we were going to have to clean the house ourselves.

On 15/12 Husband and I had painters falling over us as we conducted a final sort through our stuff. Husband didn’t take it well and there were Words. At least I didn’t have to go to the trouble of bursting into tears; at that stage I was crying pretty much permanently. On Sunday the shippers came and I wept through the entire ordeal. On Monday I finalised everything with The Tenants, closed our phone and Internet account with Du, went to DEWA (water and electricity) for our final bill, organised New Zealand dollars, picked up Husband’s motorbike engine from KTM, and picked up Husband from work.

As I drove him home, Husband told me he would have to work over some of Eid. Again, I didn’t throw a wobbler so much as simply ramp up the bawling to full-blown panic attack.

“You’re going to lee-hee-heave me with all the clea-hee-heaning!”

“Baby! Of course I won’t,” said Husband solicitously.

Instead, while I spent Tuesday and Wednesday scrubbing the house down, Husband fixed his motorbike in the back garden. It had been broken for six weeks. I’m telling you, THAT will feature in future arguments 🙂


David was a bit plastered when he took this . . .

. . . and when I took this

I have no idea what Husband’s excuse is

Operation Muppetation

Over two years ago, I closed my bank account with HSBC because they were not so much unhelpful as scrupulously useless. You can actually smell the apathy and unfulfilled potential from the street.

I wasn’t looking forward to persuading the bank to give me a clearance letter stating that my car loan of six years prior was closed. However, contrary to expectations, it took only minutes to make the request and sign a form. The document was ready on the appointed day; I paid Dhs 50 and left triumphantly waving my letter. Whilst marginally tedious and failing to qualify as a Kodak Moment, the whole experience was not fulsomely awful.

Until Husband told me it was the wrong letter.

Since I had agreed to transfer the car yesterday evening, there was no option but to return to HSBC. It was mid-day. I had to park the car in a tree and hike three miles on pavements that were melting in the heat. Having already spent the morning at the bank, and had my brain tortured by HSBC’s Customer Neglect Centre for ten LONG minutes, I arrived at the bank in what you might call spicy humour.

The lady who processed me was still in situ.

“My dearrr-”

“Don’t you my dear ME!” I snapped. This, it turns out, is not a prologue to constructive conversation leading to better mutual understanding and personal development.

Ten years in the Middle East has taught me that the louder one shouts, the better one is understood. Within a short period of time, the entire bank understood me pretty well – with the exception of its employees. Eventually, after working my way up the ranks of management to a dizzying level of ineptness, it turned out that the HSBC Bur Dubai branch did not issue clearance letters for car loans. For that, I had to go to a totally different building, which closed in an hour.

“Is there anything else I can assist you with, Madam?” enquired the Branch Manager as he fingered his comb over.

“Yanno, the question implies that you have already assisted me, whereas in fact all you did was charge me Dhs 50 for a useless letter and remind me EXACTLY why I closed my bank account with HSBC in the first place which, although possibly counting as significant personal achievements, did not actually ASSIST me AT ALL.”

“Please do not hesitate to call-”

“Oh like yeah and I’ll have a nice what’s-left-of-the-day, will I?”

In Deira, I arrived at the relevant office 40 minutes before closing time. At this point, I projected the personality of the Incredible Hulk in a pique or, if you prefer, a raging bitch.

“I’m here for a clearance letter. Car loan, six years ago-”

“Six year?”

“That’s correct. Here are the details: model, registration number, chassis number-”

“Sorry Madam, is closed.”

“You’re not. You shut at 3pm. It is currently 2:12pm.”

“Yes, but the letter, it take time-”

“Thirty seconds to access my record on the computer, twenty seconds to print out the letter, five seconds to sign it. I calculate that at less than a minute altogether – now, that’s what I call customer service.”

“But this file, it is old file-”

“So what?” I barked. “It’s on the computer system, isn’t it? Not as if you have to rummage around in a pile of boxes under the stairs-”

“But the man, who get the file, he is in meeting-”

“You’re telling me there’s nobody else IN THE ENTIRE BUILDING who can access my file?”

“Yes but no, the department, they are in meeting-”

“I’ll wait.”

“The meeting, is long meeting.”

“Listen,” I leaned in confidentially – although this proximity came with an inexorable urge to grab the front of his dishdash, scrunch it into a ball and staple it to his face. Repeatedly – “I’m not leaving here until I have a clearance letter clutched in my five sweaty fingers. I’m. Not. Leaving. You see that yucca over there? That’s what I will eat. You see that corner? That’s where I will sleep. You see this stapler? Don’t tempt me. For the moment, I’ll wait here. Ok?”

As I threw myself into a chair, my mobile rang. It was the HSBC Bur Dubai branch.

“Ms Niam? This morning, do you pay Dhs 50 for a clearance letter?”


“There is problem. Our system will not accept this payment.”

“Woah, back up. Just- ok- would you- sorry but- could you remind me exactly why I give a toss?”


“You know I paid cash, don’t you?”

“Yes. But our system, because your account it is closed, it will not take the money.”

“So you want to return it? Great! I accept cheques – with the appropriate amount of interest, of course – let’s say 8%, shall we? I’m feeling generous. You can make it out to Niamh Shaw, and mail it to One, Upyer Bum. That’s U-P-Y-E-R space B-U-M.”

“Maybe I will call you back.”

“Oh, please don’t.”

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