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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

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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

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!

Bristle rating: low

In an effort to generate more festive spirit, Husband and I always buy a real Christmas tree which usually prevails until April against Husband’s protestations. Last week, Husband and I went to Spinneys to purchase a tree in a high state of excitement (to be entirely honest, Husband was in more of a high state of weary resignation.)

We got home and while I brewed up some mulled wine to lubricate the occasion, Husband unsheathed the tree. Well, we could have draped some tinsel around an upended brush for better effect – there would certainly have been more bristles on it.

The emotion quotient was now registered at a medium state of excitement, yet still sufficient to press on with decorating the tree.

An hour later, I switched on the fairy lights. Raff and Carole made encouraging comments like: “It’s very minimalist. I hear that’s all the rage for Christmas trees this year,” and “Well at least there will be less pine needles to sweep up,” and “Perhaps it will look better after another mulled wine. Or several.”

Husband said very little, but he was probably feeling guilty about the fact that he had chosen the tree. He tried to make out later that he had warned me, but I have no recollection of his hissing ‘Get down!’ then pushing me to the floor and shielding me with his body.

The following day in the sobering morning light, I sat on our sofa and glared at our tree. Without benefit of mood lighting and mulled wine, it looked scrawny and frankly geriatric. A tree not so much in the twilight of its years as the darkest, deepest night.

“I’m very unhappy with that tree,” I announced.

“Mm-hmm,” said Husband.

“Very unhappy.”

“‘S fine,” mumbled Husband.

“I think it’s outrageous that Spinneys can charge US$ 150 for a crappy yoke like that,” I persisted. “I’m really not happy. On a scale of 1 to 10, I’m not pleased at all, AT ALL.”

Husband finally realized he was not about to get to read his motorcycle magazine in peace. (The giveaway was my prodding him with my toe.)

“Look Niamhie, we BOUGHT it-”

“It was covered with plastic at the time-”

“Well we can’t take it back-”

“Hey! That’s a great idea! We’ll demand a refund. After all, Spinneys sold us faulty goods-”

“It’s a TREE! What’s faulty about it?”

“It doesn’t have any branches, so technically it’s not a tree as much as a very large twig.”

“Niamhie, they won’t take it back-”

“They will if we turn up with it and wave it threateningly at them.”

Husband dredged up a great sigh from the bottom of his diaphragm.

“Ok look. If you really REALLY don’t like it, we’ll take it back.”

I would like to invite you to reread the sentence above.

I bet you’re thinking, ‘Gosh, what a lovely man. Look how far he’s willing to go to keep his wife happy. WHAT A TREASURE.’

You would not be mistaken on the treasure bit; however I’m sorry to say the rest is a lapse of judgment. Don’t feel bad about it; he has everyone fooled. Husband is a master of reverse psychology. His guilt trips come complete with complimentary truffles. Allow me to offer a direct interpretation:

“Woman, when I pledged to spend the rest of my life with you, I didn’t realize you were crazed. I trust my demonstration of logic and good sense highlights and contrasts your unreasonableness, thereby putting an end to the matter.”

“Great,” I said. “I’ll take off the decorations. See if you can find the plastic cover in the bin, will you? It should be about a third of the way down, under the fish heads.”

Husband made me call Spinneys before scrounging through the bin, in the vain hope that Spinneys would refuse to take back the tree and suggest some alternative storage places for it. However, upon hearing my tragic tale of woe, the Duty Manager offered to refund the full amount complete with interest, and apologized profusely for any mental trauma inflicted. He even offered to send someone around to pick up the twig, but I graciously agreed to return it in person.

Fully refunded, we went to the Garden Centre and procured a tree for US$ 35 less.

The Spinneys tree had been so spindly that we had been able to press our outdoor umbrella stand into service for the presentation of the tree (that particular brainwave attributable to Carole). The Garden Centre tree was so BEEFY that the trunk would not fit into the umbrella stand. Husband and Raff spent a lot of time competing over who could come up with the most colourful swearword as they tried to prop up the tree in a bucket, but it remained stubbornly lopsided.

I left them to it – after all, erecting the Christmas tree is Man Work, there’s no doubt about it.

Returning half an hour later, our tree was proudly perpendicular in the corner. I was engrossed in decorating it, when I noticed what looked like a brush handle nudging the star at the top of the tree. Ever practical, Husband had upended a rake handle in the umbrella stand, lashed the tree to it and swaddled the base in tin foil.

Our tree is positively bristling with pine needles and emits a wonderful foresty aroma in the living room. I am now happy . . . and I would even venture out on one of its sturdy limbs to suggest that Husband is too

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