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Posts tagged ‘middle east’

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’.

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

Desert.

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

Dendrophiliacs

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.

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

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

My Precious

I lost my wedding ring on Sunday.

Six years ago, when Husband presented me with my engagement ring, he said:-

“Will you marry me? Oh, good. You’re going to lose this, aren’t you?”

I was sure I wouldn’t, because it was so pretty my very life force depended on the ongoing presence of this thing in my life. I can be impressed for minutes at a time by sunrises or ladybirds or a storm at sea or Husband’s cheeks when he’s eating lamb chops, but I can stare at a 0.55 carat H colour VSII Princess cut conflict diamond for HOURS.

Shortly after we married, I nearly lost my wedding rings at Ex-Employer’s office in Dubai Internet City. I went to the bathroom and removed both rings to wash my hands. Back in the office, I resumed compiling a nail bitingly tedious document on change request procedure, then paused to reread a paragraph. As I clasped my hands together to better aid concentration, I became aware at a subliminal level there was something very wrong in the world in addition to evil dictators and global poverty. Then I realized:-

“AAAAAAAAAaaaaaaaagh!”

Much to the bemusement of my three colleagues, I catapulted out of my chair, hurdled the desk, and ripped out the door screaming all the way to the bathroom where my rings glittered reprovingly in the soap dish. I’m not sure whether anyone had been there in the twenty minute interim – in Dubai, many people are too lazy to go to the toilet – but still.

After that, I resolved never to remove my wedding rings; I even wore them swimming in the sea.

My engagement ring is currently out of action, having split after a period of intense digit expansion, but I always wear my wedding band. On Sunday morning, I was pottering around the kitchen cleaning up before the guys woke. The Bro had stayed over the evening before, so there were beer bottle tops all over the place. I have ranted about bottle tops before, so I will spare you- ok, no, I won’t. THERE’S A RUBBISH BIN! RIGHT THERE! WHAT IS SO COMPLEX ABOUT FLIPPING BOTTLE TOPS INTO IT, HMM?

Sorry. So, my wedding ring was irritating me for some reason – although not as much as the mess DO YOU NEED TO BE A WORLD CLASS ARCHER OR TIDDLYWINKS CHAMPION TO GET A BOTTLE TOP INTO A BIN?! IT’S LIKE HITTING A HIPPO WITH A SHOE! – so I transferred it to the little finger of my right hand. Even as I did, I thought, ‘Hmm. That’s not going to stay there,’ and then ignored myself.

It was after The Bro left that I noticed my wedding ring – gone. My ring finger looked plainly wrong without it. There is a pale groove worn around the base of the finger where the skin is puckered and defenceless looking.

I alerted Husband as to the situation.

“Will you look for it?”

Husband nearly choked on a gigantic sigh, but he performed a sweep of the living and kitchen sectors while I repeatedly checked that I hadn’t misplaced the ring on my finger. There was no sign of it – on my finger or anywhere else.

“I’m sure it will turn up,” said Husband and shuffled off to not obsess about where the ring might be.

Throughout the day, I looked in all the obvious places: the kitchen bench, the key hanger, under the sofa, in the microwave. I kept visualising the ring in different places, with the result that I checked the cutlery drawer and kitchen windowsill several times (maybe THIS TIME it will be there). In the evening, I turned the rubbish out onto the garage floor and picked through it with a fork.

On Monday morning, I put Husband at Defcon 3, increasing to Defcon 2 as the day wore on. We tore the house apart. I moved everything out of the pantry; we checked the drains; Husband squeezed the fingers on my rubber gloves; we crawled around the floor with torches.

I had a vague recollection of leaving the wedding ring on the hallway banister. Late last night, Husband revealed that he had vacuumed the stairs on Sunday morning. There had been debris on the treads after he had knocked a couple of holes in the wall. No idea why. Because he could? Maybe? But really, you’d have to ask him.

He offered to go through the vacuum bag this morning in daylight. I knew that’s what had happened to my ring; in fact, I was so sure I actually slept last night.

It wasn’t in the vacuum bag.

Then Husband went through the week-old rubbish. We’ve been together over 10 years now and Husband drives me up the wall on a frequent to full time basis. However, there are rare, brilliant moments when I understand exactly why I am with Husband. Watching him sift coffee grounds, turn over greasy chop bones and wipe rotten spinach off mouldy lemons without complaint, I had one of those epiphanies.

On the other hand, I’m not sure I was his favourite wife at that point.

It wasn’t in the rubbish either.

Back upstairs, I got a bit teary:-

“Tell me you love me and the wedding ring is just a symbol in no way indicative of the future of our marriage and it’s not as if you even wear yours and the fact that I’ve lost something that’s blessed won’t curse us for the rest of time forever and ever amen.”

“Er, yes. All that,” said Husband. “Look, we’ll get another ring and get your father to bless it.”

“Yeah, but he’ll give me a lecture on how he can’t go around blessing every time I lose my wedding ring,” I muttered darkly, “and how I should be more careful-”

“Well-”

“Are you sure you want to go there?”

“Absolutely not. No.”

Then I found the ring in the plastic bag drawer

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!”

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

Wadi Beh

Men, cycling. Lucas dismounted his bike for the photo

 

Danny pulls a wheelie and a face

 

Husband hasn’t the puff to pull anything

 

David, Lucas and Danny striding manfully towards food

 

Danny can’t face a camera without pointing. Not sure why Husband is joining him

 

Rare image of David without his hand in front of his face

 

Goat contemplating lunch

 

End of the road

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?”

“Yes.”

“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?”

“<silence>”

“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.”

I have, we go, come

Over the years, the Yukon attracted a certain amount of interest. In a way, it was like a mobile landmark – after all, you couldn’t miss it. Practically speaking and on the surface, you could interpret as insanity the fact that a car the size of a jumbo jet featured only two doors, but I considered it quirkily eccentric.

I wasn’t the only one, because strangers would knock on my window at 120kph on Sheikh Zayed Road to ask whether it was for sale and for how much and did I have a husband?

I should have known better than to place the car in Gulf News Classifieds for sale at Dhs 32000, BECAUSE THAT’S HOW MUCH I WANTED. If you’ve ever lived in the Middle East, you will understand my error.

For the first week, I fielded many calls, all following the same basic script:

“Salam a’ Linkum. Walla yallah <lots of throat clearing>”

“Hello, Niamh speaking.”

“<silence>”

“Hello, can I help you?”

“You have carrr.”

“That’s right.”

“Yukon G-M-C.”

“Yes.”

“How many cylinder?”

“Eight cylinders.”

“Very good, very good. How many wheel?”

“Four wheels plus spare.”

“Very good, very good. What is colour?”

“Gun metal grey.”

“Bad colour.”

“No, it’s a good colour.”

“Ah! Good colour, very good.”

“That’s right.”

“<silence>”

“Was there anything else?”

“I give you Dhs 10000.”

“No thanks. Bye now!”

“Wait! Wait! How much you want?”

“Dhs 32000.”

“Ok. I give Dhs 15000. Good price for this carrr. Very good.”

“I don’t think so. Seriously, good bye.”

“Wait! I give Dhs 12000-”

“<click>”

Every couple of days, I went out and gave the Yukon a Brazilian Wash (due to the V-shaped swathe of dust extending from the roof down the centre of the windscreen according to my reach). This was for the few people who came to view the car and absently readjust their dishdash before offering Dhs 10000.

Although I wanted to sell the Yukon – knew I had to – I was secretly glad when negotiations failed. It was like Sophie’s Choice: the tragic decision between my car and a wad of cash. (Before you denounce me as shallow, do remember that Sophie and her children were FICTITIOUS CHARACTERS.)

After one close encounter, wherein a caller flirted with the asking price, I put down the phone and burst into tears.

“He- he offered thirty thousand!” I blubbed, throwing my body on Husband.

“Ah-” said poor Husband.

“The Yu-yu-yukon! It was a serious oooffeeer!”

“Well- that’s great! Isn’t it?”

“I suppooose!”

“Niamhie,” said Husband with perplexing patience as I prowled miserably around his lap. “You don’t have to sell the Yukon if you don’t want to. Hey- we can get a 40 foot container and just- bring it with us! I know – we could live in it! We’ll put what we save on rent towards petrol. What d’you think?”

“Boo hoooo!”

Finally, Mosabeh and Mohammed came all the way from Dhaid to see the Yukon, and adhered to the standard procedure for viewing the vehicle, as follows:-

(1) Circle car kicking tyres

(2) Circle car checking stubble growth

(3) Circle car knocking randomly on the body while doubled over

(4) Open bonnet and peer intently at engine

(5) Unscrew radiator cap

(6) Replace

(7) Tweak spark plugs

(8) Check how much pressure can be applied to the running fan belt to draw blood

(9) Test-drive car, preferably off-road

(10) Ignore all potentially major trouble spots in a car this age and obsess at length about some minor and happily fully functional feature

(11) Haggle Jihad

Mohammed checked out the 4-wheel drive function at 100kph and hurled it over some lorry ruts to assess median bounce tolerance, while Mosabeh turned the interior light on and off, on and off: ‘Hey! Light works. Hey! It still works. Hey! What d’you know? . . .’

Back in the carpark, I tried to persuade my legs to stop trembling.

“Very nice car,” pronounced Mohammed.

“Oh!” I said in some surprise. “Yes, it’s in great condition-”

“But,” said Mohammed holding aloft a doleful finger, “there is scrrratch. Here. You see.”

“Well yes, the car is eight years old. Look: here’s another one.”

“It have only six cup holders.”

“The car only seats five!”

“But, what if someone, he have two drinks?”

“Yeah, that would need six holders-”

“Ah! You see! What if TWO person, have two drinks?”

“Hmm, I see the problem.”

“Ok. You will give us good price?”

“Absolutely. Dhs 32000 is a fabulous price for this classic car featuring six cup holders which, let’s face it, is excessive by a factor of about four.”

“I give you Dhs 20000. Final offer.”

“No thanks. Sorry you wasted your time, I hope you find another car-”

“Wait! Final offer. I give you Dhs 21000. Very good price.”

“Mohammed, I’ve been offered Dhs 30000.”

“I give you twenty two. Final offer.”

“Did you miss my saying I’ve been offered thirty? Or do you think you’ll persuade me via the powerful magnetism of your personality?”

“Twenty three. Cash. We go now to police. I have, we go. Come.”

“<putting the Yukon in gear>”

“You will call?”

“It’s looking unlikely, but bear in mind I am occasionally given to exaggeration.”

“Wait! I give you-”

“<Drives away with excessive revving>”

Later that evening, I received the following text message: I offer 25k it is good price for YOUR CAR mosabeh

My response was phenomenally polite under the circumstances. Which is probably why Mosabeh called me two days later offering thirty.

“No.”

“How much you want?”

“I will take thirty one if you stop arguing with me for the love of margharita.”

“Yallah.”

We arranged to meet at the Police Station the following evening to conduct the transfer. Dan had just sold his Range Rover and emerged from the experience uncharacteristically bitter. “Make sure the git has thirteen months insurance,” he hissed, “and brings a copy of his passport. And don’t bother going to the Police Station until they tell you they’re already there. And then tell them you’re two minutes away and instead have some lunch.”

Upon Danny’s advice, I sent Mosabeh three text messages instructing him to bring his passport and thirteen months insurance – which made it all the more embarrassing when, after two hours of car tests and paperwork and teaching Mosabeh and his cousin dirty English words, the police refused to complete the transfer due to a HSBC car loan listed on my registration card.

Four days later, after a daring mission (Codename: Operation Muppetation) to extract a clearance letter out of HSBC, I returned to the police station and transferred ownership of the Yukon to Mosabeh.

Despite the increasingly frequent squalls of tears leading up to the event, I was not prepared for the devastation accompanying the sale of the car. I couldn’t understand it. After six years of ownership, I was always pleasantly surprised when the Yukon started which, considering it’s a core functionality, is hardly a selling point. The car featured spongy brakes, soggy suspension and an oil leak on the right hand side.

Yet after handing over my car, I wept all the way home – much to the consternation of the taxi driver, who spent far too much time looking under his seat for a box of tissues considering he was slaloming past speed cameras on Chicago Beach Village Road. At least by the end of the journey my tears were inspired more by terror than loss

Nostalgic Middle Eastern snapshot #22

For the first time in ages, we went to the beach with Danny today and he brought his kite. Dan’s kite is no shabby paper box with bows on its tail. NO, it is a Man Toy: a three-tiered miracle of lightweight aerodynamics.

Within a short while, a group of children gathered beneath the kite, shrieking and jumping as the kite swooped and glided just above their heads. It was a beautiful, misty tableaux: the kite dancing against the perfect blue of the sky, the minarets of a mosque in the background, the children’s laughter. If you strained your ears, it was almost possible to hear a heartbreaking soundtrack swelling to a magnificent crescendo.

Right up to the moment Dan crash-landed the kite on a kid’s head.

He was showing off, executing loop-the-loops and playing the kite inches above the beach. He put it into a nose-dive, a manoeuvre he had been practicing earlier, whipping up the kite a millisecond before it seemed it must plough into the sand. However, this time he took out a six year old.

Dan put down the controls and sprinted over to the child, who appeared more bemused than hurt. When we saw the parents jogging purposefully towards Dan, Husband and I pretended we didn’t know him – we even considered moving our towels a few yards down the beach. I’m wondering whether Husband and I should ever have children, since we couldn’t stop laughing.

There followed a discussion with surprisingly little parental shouting, arm-waving or kite-vandalism involving smashing it repeatedly against Dan’s torso before dismantling the spars for use as a weapon.

“What happened?” asked Husband upon Dan’s return.

“I accused the kid of trying to sabotage the kite.”

“You what?” said Husband.

“He was very apologetic.”

“What did you say to the parents?” I wanted to know.

“Told them they should keep a closer eye on their children.”

Mussandam

Sunset in Mussandam

 

Belle

 

You can see why I fell for him

 

Rock formation

Signs of co-dependency

Being vaguely middle-aged and definitely married, we don’t venture out much any more – apart from down to the wheelie bin at the end of the garage.

 

In the last few weeks we have had a few big events (I mean relative to putting out the rubbish).

 

On 20 June it was our anniversary and Andrew took me to the Ritz Carlton for dinner. We had gone to this restaurant the previous year and there were rose petals strewn across the table; we had great fun sticking them up each other’s noses and blowing them into peoples’ wineglasses. So you can appreciate my disappointment when we were shown to our table and there were no petals.

 

“Where the frig are the rose petals?” I hissed. “Did you not tell them it was our anniversary?”

 

“Yes!”

 

“Did you ask them for rose petals?”

 

“No, but I didn’t ask for them last year – they just put them there.”

 

“Hmph.”

 

We were shown to our table by a waiter.

 

“My name is Henry and I’ll be waiting on you this evening,” he said, before providing a summary of his resume including hobbies and interests, political views and medical history.

 

After showing us recent bank statements, he moved onto the menu: “. . . here we have deep fried coconut encrusted prawns, which are prawns with a crust of coconut plunged into boiling fat; and the mushroom risotto is Arborio rice cooked with mushrooms and a little Parmigiano . . .”

 

Henry hovered anxiously, checking our wine glasses every thirty seconds and realigning Andrew’s steak knife whenever he jogged it with his elbow. He was terribly needy and displaying signs of co-dependency.

 

When our food arrived, Henry demonstrated what Job Satisfaction is all about: “. . . Madam, this is a white plate manufactured out of bone china, and here we have vegetable terrine, garnished with parsley – those are the green bits on the top, Madam – and here we have the polenta cake with leek, and this is potato au fondant . . .”

 

I felt like saying: “So, it’s what I ordered from the menu, then? Bonus. By the way, I can identify food, you know. I often EAT THE STUFF.”

 

But I couldn’t get a word in edgeways: “. . . and you can use a knife and fork – these implements here – the knife’s the one with the serrated edge – be careful, Madam, it’s quite sharp – or a spoon . . .

 

By the end of the evening, I had talked to Henry more than I had Andrew.

 

I was quite worn out with all this upmarket attention, so for my birthday Andrew caved under the pressure and brought me to see Die Hard 4: Live Free and Die Harder. I know I should make an effort with the high-maintenance so that Andrew will appreciate me more. I’m thinking of getting annual pedicures and I could take a lover, but the only guy I know is John down the GMC Workshop . . . well, I can always put the word around.

 

Anyway, what a movie. Bruce Willis is The Man. Around about the time he was balancing on the wing of a F-35 Lightening II fighter jet in a tail spin, I was convinced it couldn’t get any better (although if he’d been sucked into one of the jet engines and blown out the other side alive – THAT would have been way cool), but then when the baddie has him around the neck with the gun pressed against Bruce’s shoulder and Bruce shoots him through his own shoulder – awesome. Oh give me a break – if you haven’t seen it by now you weren’t about to.

 

It was one of the best nights I’ve had for ages – probably because Andrew and I were not required to talk to each other. It’s not that we don’t communicate, but we’d got through the daily quotient of words:

 

“How was your day, dear?”

 

“Meh. Yours?”

 

“Meh squared.”

 

<silence>

 

On the rare occasions we did talk, Andrew agreed with everything I said, so in many ways it was the perfect evening.

 

Last weekend we went to Dubai Offshore Sailing Club for Mark’s 40th birthday. It was outside. After about half an hour, I camped in front of an outdoor A/C and defended my position with a broken bottle. I’m claiming heat sickness was the cause; I hadn’t had enough gin to explain it away with drunkenness.

 

The food arrived and I tore myself off the A/C. We were at a table when Andrew, evidently bored with the company, stuck his finger in an electric socket running up the side of a support beam.

 

Bless him, he didn’t make a sound, but leapt about two feet in the air and then sat there looking vaguely surprised, his eyes swivelling left and right.

 

“Did you get a shock?” asked Sharon – as if the wisps of smoke curling off his cranium weren’t a giveaway.

 

“Ah, a bit.”

 

“What were you doing sticking your finger in an electric socket?” I asked.

 

“Er, it looked like there was a loose wire-“

 

“And?”

 

“There was, yes.”

 

I’m only pleased we don’t come across falling pianos that often, because there’s a fair likelihood my husband would hurl himself under them. As it is, we should really get our last will and testament sorted out.

 

By about 10:30 Andrew had a headache, possibly heat induced – we weren’t sure whether from the elements or the element – so we went home

Under the weather

For the last couple of weeks, Husband and I have been struggling with the concept of thriving and surviving (or general existence).

Last weekend I took to my boudoir with a grippy stomach. Thankfully, I made a full recovery after a couple of hours lying around looking beautifully wan and tragic – this effect sadly diminished by the ferocious burping. The following Wednesday I was sick, and on Friday I once again involuntarily considered that course of action. Not sure what’s going on with my capricious tum but am reviewing my diet.

Last week, Husband returned from work with an elbow the size of an alien birthing pod or a kiwifruit – whichever is easier to visualise. It was right gnarly.

Husband needs to be spurting blood all over the Pearly Gates on a slow afternoon before he’ll consult a doctor, so I stuffed him full of Brufen. That drug makes me seriously question the purpose of the medical profession. Sore arm? 400mg. Gangrenous leg? 600mg. Brain tumour? Hey, take the whole bottle, no really I’ll get another.

For the next couple of days, Husband’s pulsating elbow created its own sound waves. Husband bore his gammy arm stoically, apart from the occasional sharp intake of breath which sounded a bit like he was trying to suck a raw egg through his front teeth. Although I’ve never heard Husband trying to suck a raw egg through his front teeth, my Imagination has reliably informed me that if he did, that’s exactly what it would sound like – although why in the name of goodness he’d wantonly risk salmonella like that, my Imagination has no idea.

Over the weekend, the swelling retreated before the rampaging swarms of Brufen but his elbow and surrounding areas remained a savage shade of thermonuclear liver. He finally announced that he would pay a visit to the doctor. I suspect it was more a PR stunt than a statement of intent, designed to (a) stimulate my sympathy gene; (b) illustrate the severity of the elbow situation; and (c) make me stop unwittingly jogging his elbow.

“I need a doctor,” he announced dramatically. It would have been more successful had he woken me at 03:00hrs covered in green sweat, rather than waiting until Saturday morning after he had stuffed his face full of breakfast and enjoyed a leisurely coffee.

“Good idea.”

“I don’t know a doctor.”

“How about Dr Fowler in the Dubai London Clinic?”

“He left.”

“I think the Clinic has more than one doctor.”

“I don’t have their number.”

“It’s on my mobile.”

“I can’t find it,” he said, flopping his head against the passenger window in an agony of frustration.

“My phone’s in the centre console.”

“No, I mean the number.”

“It’s under: ‘Dubai London Clinic’.”

“But I need an appointment today.”

“Ok.”

“They probably won’t have anything free.”

“Hmm. Would you like me to psychically access their appointments database? RING THEM!”

“Rumble grumble mumble. Yeh, hi, is that the Dubai London Clinic? Yes. I know this is late notice, don’t suppose there is a slot available, but . . . oh there is? Now? Er-“

I drove him to DLC and while Husband saw the doctor, I amused myself imagining what the other patients were in for. At the DLC, the nurses like to share the results of urine samples and sperm tests with everyone in the waiting room. You’ll be looking at someone thinking, “Yep, definitely congenital afibrinogenemia, or maybe low motility. Oh, rete tubular ectasia. Who’d have guessed?”

When Husband reappeared, I said – relatively sympathetically for me: “Syphilis?”

But according to the doctor, it was a build-up of fluid in the joint.

“She said she’d NEVER SEEN an elbow so SEVERELY INFLAMED,” said Husband proudly. “She even took a blood test.”

The bill came to US$ 250 – roughly two thirds of which was the charge for the blood test. At least the experience has given Husband something new to complain about – he is still jamming on about how he paid US$ 250 for a doctor to tell him to take anti-inflammatories which was exactly what he was doing anyway. (Technically, I paid the doctor US$ 250 to tell him to take anti-inflammatories, since Husband had forgotten his wallet – but I haven’t pointed that out.)

Husband also likes to rant about how the doctor only arranged blood tests because she thought his medical insurance covered it. After she recommended the tests, she gave him a BUPA form and he said, “That’s ok. My insurance only covers in-patient treatment.”

Apparently she looked at the request form she had just filled out – which recommended that Husband’s blood be tested for just about everything including rabies and pregnancy – and charged accordingly – and said, “Oh. Right. Really? Ok. Well, let me give you some drugs.”

After she gave him a lifetime supply of Voltarin anti-inflammatory ointment, she said: “Any stomach problems?”!

Husband passed up on scoring quality drugs – I rather resent the fact that he didn’t wangle me some decent antacids

Husband shows his claws

Under normal conditions – ie average humidity, light westerly, minimal spore extrapolation – Husband’s public persona is mild to agreeable. His character could be likened to a koala bear choosing between tucking into another eucalyptus tree or a nap.

(You might not agree with that description, and I should point out that Husband is not happy – not happy at all – about being compared to a koala bear. He says they are nasty, smelly, vicious creatures and that the appellation ‘Hounds of Hell’, whilst charmingly alliterative, is in fact mistaken; they should actually be Koala Bears of Hell.)

In other words: apart from the occasional pout and a lot of dormant rumbling, it’s not often that Husband displays pure, distilled rage. These days, you really need to detain him for eight hours and refuse to release him unless he turns over his passport. Even that time I pointed at the policeman and got him pulled over, he was very laid back about the whole affair. He didn’t call me names once – not even in his head.

When we first dated, I used to be able to induce Husband to such extremes of wrath that he would storm out of the room slamming doors in his wake. He was much more emotional back then – or maybe I was more irritating, take your pick. I kinda miss those days. Maybe when I’m finished this post, I’ll see if I can goad him into a flash fury, just for old times’ sake.

I’m starting to realise the payoff to this story is not going to live up to its introduction. Sorry about that.

Given his cuddly, consonant character, it was somewhat startling when Husband arrived home from work last week in – while not full-blown rage – a state of advanced irritation.

As you know, in Dubai it is customary to fork out for a paid parking space and return half an hour later to find someone parked directly behind you: hazard lights on, driver MIA. When they finally wander back, they douse you in exhaust fumes and screech off with a high-pitched cackle.

Whenever it happens to me, I glower a lot and think really hard about letting the air out of the offending vehicle’s tyres. Once, when the missing driver returned, I said, “Yeah well, don’t do it again!” before jumping in my car and locking all the doors.

Once, when someone left the keys in the truck blocking my exit, I moved it. I’m not sure I’d try that these days: I’ve lost a lot of the cutesy feminine charm over the years. Nowadays my giggle sounds a bit musty.

Well, Husband has finally taken a stand for the common man. Late one afternoon, he popped into the bank and when he came out, some clown had parked behind his car. (I don’t mean a clown with floppy shoes and a rubber chicken; I imagine it would be difficult giving out to a real clown, you’d keep wanting to laugh. Also, you could stand into their car and just walk it over to another location).

When the man came back, he’s all: “Terribly sorry, terribly sorry.”

Husband said: “I don’t accept your apology!”

“What?” says yer man.

“I don’t accept your apology! What are you going to do about THAT then?”

“I said I was sorry.”

“Well, that’s not acceptable! You say you’re sorry, but you’re obviously NOT sorry, because if you WERE sorry, you wouldn’t have parked behind my CAR!”

God, we get more expattish every day

A spank of jellyfish

I have not entirely given up swimming, but this is not a good time to stage the grand aquatic comeback: it is the dread jellyfish season. They swarm just off the beach, fluorescent blue blobs up to 16” in diameter with short, stubby tentacles.

Husband has formulated an effective response to jellyfish attack, which is: throw your wife at them. Apparently, it’s an inverted variation on the ‘Flee! Save yourself!’ method of heroism.

We set off one morning and swam about 1000 metres with not a blob in sight when, just beyond the crow’s nest, we hit a spank of jellyfish. Yes, you read that correctly: ‘spank’ is the correct collective noun for Catostylus Mosaicus and shame on you for doubting me. After all, this is what I do for a living.

(Write, that is. Not necessarily research.) (And technically I’m not making much of a living out of it right at the moment.)

WARNING: artistic licence alert.

I was thrashing along when I heard a noise like a submarine generator. It seemed to be coming from all around; the water was thrumming. And then I headbutted one. It was more solid than you might imagine, but I’m happy to report that in this particular battle of wills the jellyfish came off worse than I did.

The wounded jellyfish retreated, only to return with reinforcements. Millions of them.

I alerted Husband to the danger by stating clearly:

“WARK!”

Considering he might have water in his ears, I sketched a little pantomime for him, involving lots of gasping and spitting and splashing around waving my feet in the air.

“What? Agh!” said Husband, getting to know a jellyfish in the Biblical sense.

We were surrounded by, on average, one jellyfish per square metre of water. There followed quite a lot of swearing (us, not the jellyfish) which seemed as effective a solution as any under the circumstances. You know, maybe at a specific pitch and resonance the jellyfish would start vibrating and possibly explode.

After a while, we realised this tactic was less effective than it might come across above.

“Don’t move!” I instructed Husband.

“Right,” said Husband.

I should have known better. Husband’s response to direct orders is to fulsomely agree before wilfully doing his own thing (which is normally the precise opposite). So I shouldn’t have been at all surprised when he picked me up and fired me at the biggest jellyfish.

Then Husband escaped The Swarm using my body as a human shield, while I tried to extract my foot from the jellyfish’s bowels. You might be interested to note that the consistency of the tentacles was that of hard plastic embedded in slime. Eventually, I managed to give it a good kick up the chuff, freeing myself of the deadly jelly grip.

“You are so bloody unchivalrous!” I roared at Husband as I scrabbled for a foothold in the shallows. “Ow, my foot’s stinging. OW!”

“Awww, Baby! Would you like me to wee on you?” he enquired solicitously.

“Get AWAY from me!”

By the way, you might be interested to learn that applying urine to a jellyfish sting has no basis in scientific fact; you should use vinegar or salt water on the affected area. Also that jellyfish procreate by releasing sperm into the water around hot jellyfemales – so the sea is probably a whole pile of jellyspunk at the moment.

Swim, anyone?

Modern Cain and Abel parable

Husband’s brother, The Bro, started as he meant to go on, eating his way through the house like a giant locust (there are no walls left, and only a portion of the roof). His 24 year old metabolism, at the peak of its processing powers, is an awesome thing to behold.


Two days after he arrived, Husbandoffered to take The Bro dirt biking. Cue great excitement and lots of manly flexing of muscles using bungee cords. Since The Bro had never been astride a motorbike before, I thought I might tag along for the entertainment.


We drove out to the desert and parked at the lip of an oval of hard-packed sand. After unloading the bikes, Husband commenced the tutorial with a brief demonstration. Clenching his buttocks for effect, he was still strapping on his helmet as he roared off on one wheel in a spray of sand.


Husband is not normally the flashiest of characters, but he turns into something of a showman on a bike. He performed a few aerial somersaults before careering back to us, braking at the last moment so that the front tyre nudged my shin as the bike skidded to a stop. I was only disappointed he didn’t produce two doves from the petrol tank.


Then it was The Bro’s turn. Husband’s instruction was – let’s call it spare:


“Right, here’s the brake. Here’s the clutch. Anything else? Oh yes. Here’s a push.”


Throwing his shoulder into it, he launched The Bro over a dune. The Bro gave the bike maximum throttle, released the clutch, and careered off in a wild yawing effect. For a couple of seconds I was sure it was all going to end in tears – or, more accurately: spurting blood, broken bones and ruptured spleens – but somehow The Bro managed to gain control of the bike. He completed a wobbly circuit of the desert bowl in first gear.


“Right,” said Husband briskly upon his return. By his tone, I could tell he was proud of his protégé’s progress. “To change gear, you tip this lever with your toe. Up to change up. Down to change down. Am I missing anything? Oh yes . . .”


*PUSH!*


Watching The Bro’s erratic takeoff, this time with an inadvertent wheelie thrown in, I thought perhaps Husband should spend a bit more time on the basics – like stopping, starting, staying upright; stuff like that. I was taking him to task when The Bro disappeared behind a sand-dune.


“Where’s he gone?” I fretted.


“He’s fine.”


“That terrain is pretty choppy.”


“No worries! Woman.”


Off in the far distance, we could hear the bike engine shrieking at maximum rev.


“Has he got it out of first yet?” I asked.


“No. Oh hang on, yes, he has now.”


Suddenly there was a sharp blast of rev and then . . . silence.


Husband and I looked at each other.


Find him!” I squawked, doing a little panic shuffle. This, in case you were wondering, is where I trot back and forth on the spot, bumping into as many proximate objects as possible.


Husband slewed off on the second bike while I prepared my speech to his parents in the event that The Bro had broken a leg. I didn’t want to consider what else he might have broken (Husband always scoffs at the notion that he might break a neck or a cranium. “It’s only sand!” he says whenever I raise the issue, as if hurtling head-first into a dune at 60kph is equivalent to settling gently into a mass of goose-down).


Husband returned ten minutes later without his t-shirt. No doubt he had proffered it to stanch the blood – but from where? Nicked finger? Broken nose?


Severed arm?


“Is he ok?”


“I’m not sure.”


We unhitched the bike trailer and drove the Yukon to The Bro. Although he looked all right – well, no spurting blood – he was making sound effects like a punctured accordion. I was encouraged when he correctly identified how many fingers I held up – although I’ve never been sure what the purpose of the test is, apart from confirming the subject is roughly sober.


We got The Bro home and stuffed him full of Brufen. Thereafter there was more moaning than pain (admittedly The Bro might not agree with that diagnosis). (In fairness, I was only able to accurately measure the moaning.) (But surely he couldn’t have been in THAT much pain?) Over time, The Bro perfected a gorgeous, breathy little gasp which somehow managed to simultaneously convey his stoic agony, his ongoing despair over starving children in the third world, and all the wasted opportunity squandered in his young life.

In between complaining about the lack of sympathy and how the hunger was killing him, The Bro maintained he had broken his tailbone.


“Which is worse: the hunger or the pain?” I’d ask.


“That is such an unfair question.”


Looking on the bright side, his injury gave him the perfect excuse not to get spanked at squash. He also managed to bravely stuff his broken tailbone into a rubber ring and fire himself up a water chute at Wild Wadi.


Apart from the lack of clucking and my ongoing refusal to dress up in a nurses’ uniform, The Bro would find it hard to deny the fact that I was an unwavering source of practical support. I sang to him to take his mind off the pain and regularly dosed him with Margharita, which he claimed was more effective than Brufen. And at least I didn’t try to make it worse – UNLIKE SOME.


The Tuesday after the biking incident (‘accident’ implies nobody is to blame), The Bro being relatively confident that his broken tailbone had limited impact on his ability to pose, he and Husband were set for a Lad’s Night Out. They swept out the door on an exuberant tsunami of aftershave.


Five minutes later Husband called. He’d had a car crash up the Springs Drive; yes, he and The Bro were ok; no, he wasn’t sure what the damage to the Lumina was; no, the other guy’s car was totalled; oh and could I come and collect The Bro while he waited for the police? He’d also be grateful if I brought the insurance papers, thanks.


When Husband had slowed for a speed bump, an Aramex car had driven right up the Lumina’s arse. The Aramex driver admitted that he had dropped his electronic orders device on the floor . . . and bent down to pick it up. The bonnet of Aramex Guy’s Toyota was a crumpled mess and his airbags had deployed.


From a distance the Lumina looked sound, but the boot wouldn’t close properly, and the frame was shunted in under the back doors. (For the next couple of days, whenever Husband drove the Lumina, drivers on the Sheikh Zayed road would slow to 120kph in the next lane, knock on the passenger window and shout at him that the back door was open while helpfully pointing at it.)


Poor The Bro had recommenced moaning with renewed vigour, so I got him installed on the sofa with 600mg of Brufen and a bucket of margharita. I went back to the scene with a cup of coffee for Husband, but the police had arrived so I drove on and pretended I didn’t know him. Hey, I love the guy, but there is nothing on earth that will induce me to spend time with the UAE Fuzz.


Apparently the Lumina’s chassis is bent. Although it can be repaired, it is expensive and is unlikely to pass its next registration. Therefore, we’re going to have to try and persuade Aramex Guy’s insurance company to write the car off

Finnegan’s rocks

Last night, my friend Emma and I went to Finnegan’s. We usually play squash, but Em had toppled over snowboarding in Ski Dubai and damaged both her wrists (our friendship is anchored by mutual premature midlife crises).

 

Outside of The Cyclone, Finnegan’s is possibly the sleaziest pub in town: viscous fog of cigarette smoke, women of ill-repute, men of worse repute. There is always at least one beer marinated hound slumped on the bar, serenading his pint with a medley of Irish classics and weeping bitter tears for Ireland down his dishdash. Well, it IS an Irish pub. Even though most of the clientele are locals, they really get into the Irish spirit – heck, they don’t limit themselves to just the one.

 

On the plus side, Finnegan’s is just across Interchange 5 and boasts three underused pool tables. The peanuts are an instant boost to the immune system. And there is an entertainingly appalling band, fronted by a singer who wears trousers so tight she has a front bottom (affectionately known as ‘Camel Toe’).

 

Although I blend chameleon-like into Finnegan’s, my friend . . . well, Em looked a little out of place. Em is slender and delicate with flawless skin. Apologies for the clichéd description; normally I would be the first to point out that skin is never ‘flawless’ after the age of nineteen. But trust me when I say that there were times Em materialised out of a cloud of smoke and if the woman had been carrying a harp I would have opened my mind and seriously re-evaluated religion.

 

Although Finnegan’s was bustling, we were the only women in the place apart from Camel Toe and a waitress. Due to a miscommunication with the barman, we had a pint glass full to the top with dirham coins for the pool tables. However, there were none free. We charmed a pair of be-dishdashed men into giving up their pool table by hinting we might be prostitutes.

 

While Em and I played, the group of blokes mentally grasped our bottoms and chatted us up. Every time one of us took our turn, they chorused: “I think YOU’LL win,” and winked lasciviously. One of them winked so slowly, the manoeuvre took a full ten seconds from the initial eyelid twitch through full corneal coverage and back. They really were a winsome couple and we were almost disappointed when their prostitutes turned up.

 

Camel Toe finished flaying ‘Love Me Tender’ and came around brandishing sheets of paper and pencils.

 

“Pub quiz!” she chirped. I don’t know about Em, but I was desperately trying to keep my eyes fixed on her face. I’m sure Camel Toe thought I was very intense.

 

“It’s free,” she said over our polite rebuttals. “I’ll leave these with you just in case,” – her sudden movement as she gave me the paper seriously tested my resolve not to look at her crotch – “there are great prizes.”

 

I assumed that meant a garden hoe without the handle, rather than an all-expenses paid weekend for two in the Bahamas.

 

Two pool games and one tussle over the third prize Finnegan’s T-shirt later, Camel Toe announced: “And the winners are . . . THE BIRDS!”

 

Well, I hadn’t seen that coming. I mean, one of the four categories had been ‘Geography’ – not my strong point as you know. Mind you, even I know what the capital of Spain is (well now I do, although at the time Em and I had to flip a coin between Barcelona and Juventus).

 

“Come up here . . . THE BIRDS!”

 

I gave Em a push in the direction of the stage, but she hauled me up after her. I was mortified.

 

“What’s your name?” asked Camel Toe and stuck a mic in my gob.

 

“Er, Niamh,” I muttered.

 

“Emma!”

 

“You look pretty surprised to be here. How surprised are you, on a scale of 1 to 10?”

 

“Er, twenty.” That was me again. Then all of a sudden it hit me: the microphone, the captive audience (albeit only half of them conscious), the snore of the crowd, the smell of the greasepaint (or it might have been Camel Toe’s deodorant).

 

“So, will we be seeing you back here again?” Camel Toe said, the last words trailing away as I grabbed the mike.

 

“DEFINITELY!” I beamed, waving at the cheering fans. “I think this place is GREAT! I LOVE it here! FINNEGAN’S ROCKS!”

 

Camel Toe tugged the microphone, but I had my teeth embedded in it.

 

“You have won-” she managed, before I got the mike back again.

 

“We’ll DEFINITELY be back here next Tuesday, won’t we Em?”

 

Emma’s reply was lost in the acoustic screech as I grimly wrestled Camel Toe for possession of the microphone.

 

“Get off-” she panted, but my grasping fingers had good purchase.

 

“You can have your microphone back now, PAHAHAHA!” I roared.

 

Camel Toe – with what I felt was unnecessary aggression – snatched the microphone and held it out of my reach. I swiped at it.

 

“Can I?” I pointed, but she shook her head firmly.

 

“Just a-”

 

“No.”

 

We won a bottle of Smirnoff’s vodka and a hair set, blow dry, manicure and pedicure at Juan’s Salon. When we checked our quiz form, it appeared Camel Toe had erased some of our answers and pencilled in the correct ones. Turns out the capital of Spain is Madrid – who’d have known? Hey, she only amended four of our answers – we conclusively outplayed the Arab clientele in the Popular Music section.

 

At the end of the evening, going through the hotel lobby:

 

“Look!”

 

Em pointed. It was Juan’s Salon! A faded poster with curling corners featured pouting models with bubble perms and shoulder pads.

 

Shame our winning voucher was only valid for two days

Goosed by the long arm of the law

I’m not sure what is going on with our Chi, but over the last month we have been soundly goosed by the long arm of the law. Honestly, I have no idea what is going on. We are far too middle class – not to mention middle aged – to be embarking on a life of crime. However, we need to seriously consider that it is our destiny.

One evening, we were driving home when Husband pulled out of a slip-road and into the fast lane on the motorway. Up ahead, we saw a police car negotiate the line of trucks crawling down the slow lane. The policeman drifted across the road, spent a little time contemplating the middle lane, then straddled the fast and middle lanes. Husband had to slam on the brakes to avoid giving him a bumper up the exhaust.

“OH. MY. GOD! Will you LOOK at that feckin’ EEJIT? WHAT does he think he’s DOING?” I said (and I’m sure as you read that line you could visualise the accompanying gesticulations.)

“Niamhie, please don’t point,” said My Beloved, wincing.

Finally deciding on the middle lane, the policeman drew level with us. He flashed the blue, issued an impressive blast of siren and pointed to the side of the road.

Husband pulled up behind the Fuzz in the lay-by. I considered getting out to apologise for ridiculing him – because that was obviously the reason he had pulled us over – but we decided it was probably unwise given that I was suffering chronic repetitive eyeroll. Also my arm was still twitching. And I’m a coward.

After Husband produced his driving licence and registration card, the Fuzz said that Husband was driving too fast. Now I would like to stick up for Husband (hey, it’s the least I can do after getting him pulled over), and state that for once Husband wasn’t trying to break the sound barrier: he was doing about 90kph in a 120kph zone.

“Yes, I’m terribly sorry,” said my poor husband. “I don’t know what I was thinking. You are so right. You are quite the hero and oh my, what a big penis you have. No problem, I can stand here for another five minutes while you wave it around.”

And oh my, what a stupid wife I have, he could have added – and I admire his loyalty/restraint in omitting that.

We were let off with a warning.

But the hits, they just keep on coming. This Saturday, Danny invited us out in his dinghy to catch a few rays, maybe do a bit of diving.

We were about 100 metres offshore – barely 5 minutes out of port – when we were apprehended by the Coastguard. Danny had not been aware that his boat – little more than a US$ 250 upended tub with an outboard motor – should be registered.

Our twin-turbined friend was adamant that we sail down to Port Rashid to get a serious dressing-down (personally, I’m not sure whether we could have been any more dressed down without being indecent). He failed to appreciate that, at a top speed of half a knot, his plan was neither safe nor practical. We suggested returning to port, loading the boat onto the trailer and driving down to Port Rashid, but I don’t think his brain was capable of processing common sense.

He radioed a couple of his buddies and they spent two hours towing Danny’s boat to Port Rashid where we woke up the man in charge. He came out to greet us in a vest and a pair of really exceptionally skimpy shorts. The tedium must have been getting to him, because we were the highlight of his day: he devoted three hours to making inane conversation and waving his fat, hairy legs at us.

Apparently it is law in the UAE that all seagoing vessels (the Coastguard was particularly stuttery when it came to what constituted a seagoing vessel. A surf-ski? No, no, of course not. A kayak? No, no, of course not. A ten-foot dinghy? No- yes- no- hmm) are registered. Not only that, but you must request permission of the Coastguard every time you put to sea. Oh, and neither Danny, Husband nor I had any identification on us, having left our wallets at the beach.

Just when we thought he was going to produce the nipple clamps, he tired of toying with us and called the police.

“They might want to press charges,” he said.

At this stage we were a sadly salt-encrusted and bedraggled trio: Danny in his panama hat with streaks of suncream down his cheeks; me trying to pull my Speedo top down over my midriff; Husband shiny and red in a singlet with his hair all stuck up on one side. The policeman arrived and took a statement from Danny and, for just a moment, we caught a whiff of – was it freedom? – no, just bullshit; we were to be escorted to the Rashid Police Station.

And so we spent what was left of the afternoon with our buddies The Fuzz. Nobody was willing to make any sort of decision and the art of covering your arse may not be subtle but it is time consuming.

Most of the police I have come across in my life tend to be so stupid they could throw themselves on the ground and miss. Well ok, I haven’t come across that many (please refer to the note above re middle classness): in fact, until I arrived in the Middle East my only brush with the law was more a gentle dusting. When I was about 15, I was stopped in Limerick by the Garda Síochána for cycling the wrong way up a one-way street with no lights.

“Don’t you have better things to be doing than harassing citizens for cycling without lights? I mean, shouldn’t you be off catching rapists and murderers and the like?” (I was fearless as a teenager. And impertinent).

“Get outta dere before I call the . . . ,” he puzzled for a moment, before finishing: “your mother.”

“Thanks Inspector Sergeant Major.”

“It’s Garda.”

“Congratulations.”

“Tanks. Go wan now.”

The police in this country don’t seem to be much brighter, although they are possibly the most pleasant collective you could ever hope to come across. However, polite and all as they are, I am still far from inclined to voluntarily spend an afternoon in their company.

There was a lot of shrugging and, “What can we do? The Coastguard wants to press charges.”

In total, we spent 8 hours detained by the coastguard and police. At 5:30pm Husband was finally released to collect the car and our IDs. The police wanted us all to submit our passports as guarantee that we would return the following morning for an interview with The Major.

I told them Husband’s passport and mine were in the wash. “What the <expletive deleted> do they <extreme expletive deleted> want with our <expletive deleted> passports?” demanded Husband when I called him.

Husband’s patience threshold is generally pretty high and it is a rare and spectacular event when it is breached. “This is getting <expletive deleted> ridiculous.”

Upon his return, Husband disregarded Danny’s strategy of exquisite public-school manners laced with sycophantic apology and morphed into full-frontal Diva mode: “You want us all to come back? For WHAT? If a driver breaks the law, are all his passengers at fault too, HMM? I DON’T THINK SO. Alright, alright, ALRIGHT! We’ll be here. What time? Well, is it 8:30 or 9:00? WHATEVER! *HUFF!*”

The following morning we presented ourselves at the station and, while I sat in Reception reading Emirates Today, Husband and Danny went for a chat with The Major. Of course, The Major had no idea why his time was being wasted on these clowns, time that could have been better spent picking his nose and texting his mistresses.

Although there are no charges, Danny’s passport is being held until he registers his boat

The Great Escape

So this is the year we finally leave Dubai. In the same way that a cross-dressing 70s swingers Tupperware party seems like a splendid idea three weeks in advance, the time to make good on the lip service now approaches like a swarm of killer termites.

For so long I’ve talked about leaving the Middle East ‘in 2007’, but you know, it was YEARS away. I would say: ‘I’m not spending a decade in this place,’ but then I’d only been here a couple of years. Maybe three, or was it four and a bit?

Now 2007 is upon us; our departure is imminent; and I’m absolutely terrified.

It’s hard to believe that nine years ago a 25 year old Me rocked up in the UAE toting a family sized bottle of SPF 370, a rucksack and a truckload of enthusiasm. I was so green about the gills people occasionally thought I was afflicted with mould. The world was my oyster.

In fairness, I totally underestimated the effort it would take to digest said oyster. People tried to warn me. They said, ‘but you’re leaving all your friends!’ I’d respond, ‘Meh. Friends come and go. I’ll make new ones. People are interchangeable.’ [Of course, I was wrong: people AREN’T interchangeable, as I discovered when I tried to find another hairdresser.]

The loneliness nearly killed me – seriously, one day I actually had to run away from The Light. I’d failed to anticipate the sheer exhaustion of setting up home in a new country: making friends, settling into a new job with 6-day working week, buying a car, finding and furnishing an apartment. It was a phenomenal shock to the system.

So in theory, moving to NZ should be easy. After all, I’ve had two practice runs (three, if you count the time I moved to Dublin to live with the nuns). Since I’m not doing it alone, there is not the same imperative to bribe strangers to be my friend. Husband will share the workload of wrapping up our life and tying up the loose ends. Should I be crushed in a freak accident involving a van, a leather sofa and a burly mover called Hamish, Husband can alert the ambulance services (i.e. less risk).

Yet it doesn’t matter how many pep talks I give myself in the bathroom mirror: I’m still dreading it.

Much as I despise the place, I have lived in Dubai for over a quarter of my life. As I get older I find that I like routine (next I’ll be preceding sentences with ‘in my day’ and taking up gardening) (last week I changed my computer accessibility options to ‘disabled’ for the bigger fonts) (at least give me credit for knowing where to locate the Accessibility tab). I like knowing exactly where to find pickled peanuts in Spinneys, cycling to The Lime Tree for my soy latte, playing tennis with Husband in the evening, or cooking dinner in my kitchen. Also, this is where Husband and I met and, for better or worse, it is our home. We have been so happy here.

But whereas before, moving halfway around the world was a madcap screwball adventure, now it is a tedious chore fraught with anxiety. When I think of the preparation that needs to be done – getting our affairs in order (and I’d like to know: exactly when did we become equipped with AFFAIRS? We’re too young to have affairs!) – I feel quite panicky.

There is not much I will miss about this city, but those things include: the beach in the mornings, swimming in The Gulf, the muezzin call to prayer, barbeques in the garden, sunshine in winter, and most importantly (not to make the same mistake again) our friends.

And yet I will not miss the smog, the roads, Ramadan, the transient nature of this place, the casual discrimination that passes as normal, the disregard for human life, the hypocrisy, the summer, the cockroaches, the way every little bit of emotion and kindness is censored while gore-smeared violence is presented in all its glory.

According to weight, the bad far outweighs the good. I am sure we will settle into NZ and wonder why we waited so long. But I’ll be sure to spend the interim fretting about it

Doing my bit for the aged

The other night, Wayne and Keren invited us out to meet Keren’s father, who was passing through Dubai.

We all met up outside Le Royal Mirage, and I thought it might be a nice gesture to kiss the old boy in greeting. I was going for his left cheek, but as I zoomed in it appeared that he was going for my right. So I corrected – unfortunately in the split second that he did also. We were heading right for each other, dead centre, bang on target; we were both committed and there was no backing out of the deal and it all went a bit slo-mo and well, I smooched the man.

In the past I have been known to misjudge the social kiss. Occasionally I’ve inadvertently headbutted my target and once I licked someone’s nose. On this occasion, I am sorry to report that it was a xxx-rated full-frontal snog. Well, there were no tongues involved, so maybe it was xx. But I think I displaced his dentures, which would elevate it to xx›. I was so caught up in the moment I only just stopped myself squeezing his arse (it was a close thing), but as I disengaged there was a glorious suction sound effect with a slurpy bass.

Of course, I was MORTIFIED. I’ve always assumed there is a natural force field surrounding my obicularis oris which automatically repels everything venturing within 1cm of it with the exception of Husband, Ceara and a variety of foodstuffs.

It appeared to have failed.

“Oh my god!” I said to Keren. “I’ve just snogged your father!”

“I hate to think what she gets up to when I’m not STANDING RIGHT BESIDE HER,” said Husband.

We went into the restaurant and when I sat down, there was a big kerfuffle between Husband and Frank (hey, I snogged the man; we’re on first name terms) as to who should sit beside me. Frank was closest to the available seat, but he was obviously worried his daughter’s nymphomaniac friend might grope him under the table or try to feed him bite-sized portions of hammour off her fork. He pushed Husband at me and sat at the other side of the table.

I dreaded taking leave at the end of the evening. Should I attempt another kiss? Try a hug? Go for full coitus in the lobby? I mean, after that start we couldn’t revert to shaking hands.

“How about I go for that cheek?” I said, pointing with some trepidation. So he presented the cheek indicated, which I chastely kissed. Then the other – daring man.

Probably the most action the old boy has seen in years

Rain

Dubai puts on another spectacular show: rain shower, picture taken at Chinese Court in Ibn Battuta Mall

Boys/toys

Last Saturday, Abu Dhabi hosted a Formula 1 Festival and Husband and Danny decided to attend. I was allowed to tag along as honorary totty, despite flatly refusing to wash Husband’s car in lip-gloss and a bikini while pressing my soapy body up against the windscreen.

The festival was scheduled to kick off at 9am, which meant we had to leave Dubai two hours earlier. Normally it requires a defibrillator to get Husband awake before 8am, but Danny turned up on the cusp of dawn and we were on the road a quarter hour later.

We arrived in Abu Dhabi shortly before 9am and Husband and Dan spent an hour wandering the route scoping the best site and checking out the girls dispensing complimentary ear plugs.

We finally positioned ourselves in front of a giant screen. There was a spectacular aerial display – yay! The UAE football team drove by in an open top lorry – double yay! The Sheikh arrived in the VIP stand – yaaaay! The drivers waved to the crowd from the recently vacated open top lorry – well you know, I wouldn’t be able to pick Fernando Alonso out of a pink McLaren. Bernie Ecclestone demonstrated his mastery of the English language – it wasn’t very good. The Sheikh shook hands with the UAE football team – yawn.

Three hours later I had fully exhausted the entertainment potential of sticking my earplugs up Husband’s nose. Thus far, there had not been even a whiff of engine oil, apart from the golf buggies patrolling the route. So I excused myself and repaired to The Hilton for a late breakfast washed down by Irish coffee.

Three coffees later the guys reappeared looking sweaty and morosely dishevelled. They had missed the stunts (apparently some of the drivers performed doughnuts outside the VIP stand). I didn’t feel like I missed out on anything since Husband routinely pops a doughnut every time he backs out of our garage.

The lads pronounced the event a bit of a wipe out, which was a shame. I had a great time and pronounced the day a ‘roaring shuccesh’

I like to ride my bicycle

Since leaving The Company, I used to drive to the supermarket, the gym and make occasional forays to proximate shopping centres – Ibn Battuta or Mall of the Emirates. However, most of the time the car sat in the garage collecting sand and ‘CLEAN ME’ messages on the windows.

Upon moving to The Springs, Husband and I often discussed getting bicycles, but . . . look, I can’t even think of a decent excuse. To be honest, laziness was a large factor. We agreed that it was such an effort even TALKING about getting bikes, what was the likelihood we’d ever dredge up enough energy to cycle the things?

However, before Christmas Husband brought me shopping and I picked out a mountain bike, which he accessorized with front and rear lights, bell and basket for Christmas. Danny got me an XXXL reflective jacket.

And so I am a familiar figure around the community, carefully cycling along on my bike, basket brimming with toilet rolls and celery sticks.

The other morning I set out to cycle up to Ibn Battuta. Rather than risk my sanity on Sheikh Zayed Road (which would have been, I found out later, illegal), I thought I’d blag my way into the Jumeirah Islands Residential Community adjoining our neighborhood, which lets out the other end at the mall.

As I cycled towards the Jumeirah Islands Security Post, I decided the best course of action would be to charge by at a fast clip. Unfortunately, I am not well practiced with the fast clip, my top speed being more a gravity-defying wobble. The Security Guard, unimpressed with the ‘White European Female’ royal wave which nearly brought me down, shot out of his shed and held up an authoritative hand.

“You can’t pass here,” he said.

“Why not?”

“Jumeirah Islands is a private development.”

“Pleeaase?”

[I’ve noticed that the damsel in distress routine cuts it less and less. I think you need a quivering bosom for full effect, and now that I was stationery my bosom was commensurately immobile.]

“Look,” I said. “If you don’t let me through I’ll have to cycle up Sheikh Zayed Road and I’ll die. You wouldn’t want that on your conscience now, would you?”

I detected a slight hesitation.

“Madam, do you have friends or relatives residing in Jumeirah Islands?”

[Result!]

“Yes! Yes, I have both friends AND relatives living in Jumeirah Islands.”

“Where do they live?”

[So. He was going to make me lie for it – and as you are aware, I am just so very very bad with the porkies, the evidence for which I am about to conclusively demonstrate.]

“Er. On top of the hill. Over there,” I gestured vaguely. “By the er, island.”

“And what is your . . .”

“Friend-who-is-also-a-relative.”

“What is your friend-who-is-also-a-relative’s name?”

“Bob,” I said with authority. Having observed The Master (Husband) for over eight years, I know that successful falsification requires Authority. If there had been a table to hand, I would have thumped it.

“Bob who?”

“Marley,” I said instantly. “No! No! I meant Quealy. Sorry, Quealy. Not Marley.”

“Which is it?” said the Security Guard with no small measure of impatience, although I’m pretty sure that somewhere deep down – or not so deep at all – he was enjoying himself immensely.

“Bob Marley Quealy. With a hyphen. Marley-Quealy. He was formerly a Quealy but married a Marley. No, that’s not right, hang on. No, yes, that was just his name. IS his name, I mean – he’s not dead. He’s very much alive and living in Jumeirah Islands, on top of the hill beside the island in the middle of the desert. Please don’t ask me any more questions. Can I go now?”

No doubt because I had provided more entertainment than the man had seen in WEEKS, the Security Guard waved me on.

Since then I have found a shortcut through the perimeter fence and most days I cycle up to Ibn Battuta to write in peace in The Lime Tree Café.

In the four weeks since, I have become more proficient with the cycling. After days of daring, I finally mastered The Kerb Wheelie, although on two occasions I inadvertently head butted the pavement. The first time, although I successfully popped the front wheel in the air, I misjudged the distance by about a foot, give or take three. The front wheel landed in front of the kerb and I got intimate with the handlebars followed swiftly by the pavement.

The second time, having got the front wheel up the kerb, I was so overwhelmed with my own skill that I paused to give a victory salute, thereby neglecting to pedal. When the back wheel encountered the kerb I promptly toppled over.

Even when trundling around in Tank Central (the Yukon), the road conditions here – ie drivers – are beyond terrifying. When cycling, I stick to the pavement where possible. Even this route is fraught with danger, what with rabid dogs, psychotic toddlers, and uneven paving stones.

I am often required to cross the two x two-lane road in The Springs, which is equipped with the odd pedestrian crossing. The crossings are a bit hit and miss and, lthough I generally aim for ‘miss’, I would probably have better luck betting on the geegees as to whether and which cars might stop at the pedestrian crossings. Most drivers like to speed up for them. Occasionally, when I’m paused at a crossing waiting for both lanes to clear, a misguided driver will pull to a stop, which results in enraged drivers thundering past in the other lane blaring horns and shaving my eyebrows off.

Despite all this, I love getting around under my own steam and being out in the fresh air. By ‘fresh air’ I mean the chemical-laden fug masquerading as oxygen around these parts.

I realize that perhaps I haven’t painted the most idyllic picture of me and my bike, so here is a whole list of perquisites:-

1/ The sand blast/dermabrasion effect that Cleopatra’s Spa would undoubtedly describe as: “Fine sand hand-picked from the Arabian Desert gently massaged into every pore of your body,” for which it would charge Dhs500

2/ The glorious scenery: buttercup strewn fields, country lanes wafting honeysuckle, charming villages with giggling children running after you down the narrow cobblestone streets

3/ Cycling with no hands – which I’m sure will be a big thrill when I master the trick

4/ The daring intrepidness of it all

5/ Ringing my bell. It’s great

6/ There’s got to be another reason. Oh, how about the health benefits? Big thighs: there’s number six

A watery wave

For a while I stopped going to the beach in the mornings: the memory of Raff in a pair of speedos lingered. It was too fresh (the memory as opposed to Raff, who is distinctly more fruity).

 

Just before Christmas, Viv contacted me and asked if I still swam. At the time I had a lot on my mind and, although my gills had closed up from disuse, I thought consorting with sharks and stingrays might provide welcome distraction. Also, although the gym offers much in the way of Melody TV and a Spandex Spectacular, I have recently found the whole experience a little bit lamé.

 

I totally underestimated quite how cold The Gulf gets this time of year. Obviously the effects of plunging into The Gulf in winter are not as extreme as a paddle in The Atlantic at any time at all, but 20 minutes/1000 metres into the swim and my skull was numb (not that I noticed much difference, apart from a headache). I am ashamed to admit that, after being washed up on the beach by a large wave, I took a more solid route back to the car.

 

The following week I came fully equipped with thermal vest, sweatshirt, fleecy jacket, beanie, scarf, mittens, and a flask of hot tea. Have I forgotten anything? Oh yes, woolly socks and a car heater. I got some funny looks driving home. (The rigid purple lips probably don’t help.)

 

The other day Helen told me I’d have to ‘bulk up’ for The Palm swim. She’s done some long-distance swimming and reckons I’ll have to adopt some flobber to cope with the water temperature over a 20 kilometre route.

 

“There’s no way,” growled Husband when I told him about ‘Operation Flobber On’.

 

At the start of January Danny, still flush with New Year resolve, joined The Girls for the bi-weekly morning swim. Over the years Danny has been known to sport a wide range of alternative fabrics, yet I felt it was a particularly audacious move when he turned up to meet The Girls in a rubber suit.

 

“I’m going to tell everyone about your rubber suit,” I thought it only fair to warn him.

 

“It’s not rubber,” protested Danny. “It’s neoprene. People might get the wrong impression if you call it a rubber suit.”

 

“How do you spell neoprene?”

 

“Er- ok, go with rubber. Hang on – why not just: sleeveless wetsuit?”

 

“Sleeveless rubber wetsuit.”

 

“Just WETSUIT! What’s WRONG with you? Do you have some kinky fixation with rubber?”

 

Danny has since ditched the suit, but still swims with The Girls. Brave lad; the oestrogen can reach toxic levels. I’m so proud of Dan – to date, he has partaken in discussions ranging from how alcohol encourages Viv to air her mammaries; how many would volunteer their wombs to carry Wentworth Miller’s baby (all present excepting Dan but only because he is not thus equipped); the correct way to don a brassiere (Helen, demonstrating leaning forward and placing ones bosoms in the cups); and Helen’s colleague who accidentally – not to mention forcibly – sat on a stick necessitating 56 stitches up the hoohoo

 

Mad hole drilling man

Our mad nesting frenzy abated about four months into our new home. Before we moved in, we had many plans for the house: parquet floors, wooden bar, Jacuzzi in the garden, slide from the master bedroom into the Jacuzzi. However, we always intended to sell within two-three years and the market has not matured to the extent that modifications will significantly differentiate our property. Nowadays, the only reason Husband airs his builders bum for the neighbours is pure exhibitionism, nothing more.

However, we still keep a lookout for quality furniture that we really like; family heirlooms that our children will fall out over after we’re gone. The reason we have procured little outside of our sofa set and dining table has more to do with the fact that there is not much choice around here. At least, not if you’re looking for furniture that does not feature (a) gilt (b) marble (c) mythological creatures in aggressive bas relief (d) lions snacking delicately on fruit (e) all of the above.

But we continue to look.

Three weeks ago, we bought a plain wooden stereo cabinet to replace the metal and glass table that had previously served duty whilst clashing violently with the rest of the living room.

We were very excited when it was delivered. The cabinet consists of two large drawers flanking an open front slot. We had done minimal measurement (ie none) and were pleasantly surprised to find that it was a perfect fit for the available space. In unnatural light the wood perfectly matches the dining room table. There was only one problem.

Our ‘entertainment system’ features a DVD player, stereo/surround sound amplifier, media disk drive, PSII station and about ten speakers. Husband has also connected one of his computers to the centre†. Together, all this equipment results in a tangle of power cables, leads and wires and our new cabinet did not feature any outlet holes for cables.

“Not a problem,” said my husband, rummaging around in the cupboard under the stairs and emerging with his Black & Decker. “I’ll just drill a few holes.”

“It’s pretty thick wood.”

“No worries,” said Husband, giving his power drill a few experimental blasts. “How many holes d’you think?”

“Two,” I said firmly.

“You think maybe I should bore a few holes in the drawers as well?”

“HEY! Mad Hole Drilling Man! I don’t think so.”

“Just in case we need them in the future?”

“For WHAT? NO!!”

“All right then,” says Me Bucko and, flexing his muscles, starts into the upended cabinet.

I usually keep an eye on Husband when he cracks out the Black & Decker, since he can get a bit carried away by the artistic licence apparently afforded by a power drill. However, in this instance we had discussed and agreed a straightforward plan with a clear final objective, so I settled back into my computer.

Fifteen minutes of frenzied grinding/whirring later:

“I think the drill is melting,” said Husband.

Sure enough, there was smoke coming out of the back of it.

“Bloody hell,” I said, “that’s a bit extreme for a couple of holes.”

But then I looked at the cabinet, and the underside was like Swiss cheese. Put it this way: the bottom of our new stereo cabinet is now more air than wood.

“What the hell’s THIS?!?”

“Ventilation,” muttered Husband guiltily.

I’ve hidden the deeds for the house in case he sells it from under my feet. I can just imagine our grieving children sorting through our effects, and coming across the cabinet:

“Nice cabinet,” one of them might say.

“Yeah, but look: infested with mice. Tell you what, why don’t you take that?”

You know the scene in ‘A Beautiful Mind’ where the wife goes to the garden shed and finds a demented spider’s web of string chronicling her husband’s descent into madness? Well, a couple of weeks ago I clambered over Husband’s toolbox to access the cupboard under the stairs. Hidden behind the door was a whole wall stacked with computers and modems malevolently blinking and beeping. I was chased away by Husband’s army of trained bats, ‘mwa ha ha’ laughter echoing in my ears

The Christmas wind up

In its usual style, Christmas sneaked up and ambushed us.

For the previous three weeks, we entertained noble notions of getting the Christmas shopping done early. Although we technically ‘shopped’ on three occasions – ie trudged sulkily around a mall – up to yesterday we had failed dismally to actually purchase anything. Thankfully, we now have presents for all our friends and Husband organized a production line last night for the gift wrapping thereof.

Husband wanted to get Danny a set of walkie-talkies but experienced difficulties in the supply thereof. Personally, I can’t understand what Daniel would want to do with a pair of walkie talkies. I asked Husband about it:-

“Doesn’t he have a mobile phone?”

“Yes, but a walkie talkie has different applications.”

“Who d’you think he’s going to be chatting to on his walkie talkie?”

“Hmm. Not sure. I don’t know. But! – he could go down to the beach and pick out a hot girl and slip the walkie talkie into her beach bag!”

“Right. But wouldn’t he have to stay within 500 metres of Hot Girl for the walkie talkie to work?”

“Ah, yes.”

“So why doesn’t he just STALK her?”

“Ok, maybe that’s not the most practical of applications.”

In the end he bought Danny a remote controlled helicopter. Just what every man needs.

Yesterday we threw a Chrismas Eve do and told our guests to arrive any time from 3pm. Four weeks ago, this seemed like a simply fantabulous idea – I mean what else would we be up to on Christmas Eve? I now realize I simply don’t have that enough guff in me for 8+ hours of random sociability and Husband certainly doesn’t.

However, I contrived a Grand Plan, the cornerstone of which was the mulled wine. I figured if I threw enough of it around, everyone would be semi- to totally comatose by 6pm and wouldn’t notice the soggy Brussels sprouts or the turkey which was more in the style of chicken. It worked a treat, given that our crappy gas oven turned itself off halfway through the evening – nobody seemed to notice the fact that dinner was served at 10pm.

After the Great Minced Pie Wars of 2004 which almost resulted in acrimonious divorce (I don’t know about Husband, but I actually consulted a lawyer), we reached an amicable agreement to procure whatever format of minced pie(s) were available in Spinneys. Yesterday morning I finished spackling the Christmas cake with almond paste, formally approved the mulled wine recipe and chose the optimal stuffing for the churckey’s nether regions.

[Just an aside – three weeks ago, I came across an Irish cookbook in the Second Hand Bookshop in Satwa. It’s the second edition of ‘The Ballymaloe Cookbook’, published in 1983. I looked forward to some old-fashioned cooking: serving Hsuband Mussels Stuffed With Pig Trotters, Roast Rabbit with Tripe and making my own vegetable bouillon.

Yesterday I consulted my cookbook for what would no doubt be a tastebud exploding recipe for stuffing which would result in a three day sensory high. I turned eagerly to the recipe for ‘Roast Chicken’.

I suspect I may have missed class 101 in my culinary education. Here is what the recipe states:

Prepare a fresh-herb buttery stuffing. Wash and dry the cavity of the bird, then season and half fill with stuffing. Roast in a good quality dripping. Serve with creamy bread sauce.

I reverted to Paxo’ Sage and Onion Stuffing – comes in a bag. Add water.]

Husband was designated Master of the Fowl. For a man into his huntin’ shootin’ and fishin’, he was surprisingly squeamish when it came to stuffing the chickens. He was heard to say: ‘It goes WHERE?’ and then he pulled faces and squealed like a girl.

This morning we all woke up with headaches, but the excitement of opening Christmas presents chased most of it away (that and Panadol/Brufen depending on the class of drug preferred). Husband got a pair of cufflinks in the form of spirit levels, so he can demonstrate to clients that he’s on the level ha ha ha. David got an 8Gb multi media player and is inexplicably very excited about it. I got a mountain bike – I’ve actually had it for a few days now and cycle around the neighbourhood. I felt like I was eight years old again just without the training wheels. I got some bicycle accessories this morning, including the most irritating bell in the world (the hangovers might have influenced that judgement).

I’m going to go and try it out on the neighbours.

Have a great Christmas!

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