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Posts tagged ‘uae’

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’.

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

Proximity to Satan on the family tree

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

So everyone’s happy.

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.

How to lid your wody of toxins

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I figured I had a number of open options:-

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A lesbian with a nose fetish, even.

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

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

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

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

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

*Name changed to protect the innocent

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

Still on married terms

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

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

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

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

Just hyperventilating

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

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

“Husband. We’re leaving in December.”

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

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

“Niamhie?”

“Just hyperventilating.”

“You should breathe more.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Recognise anyone?

http://www.dubaiinternetcity.com/press_centre/press_releases/

Andrew spotted this while browsing the DIC website this evening 😀

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’

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

 

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!

Charred sausages

I am delighted to report that we have had two days of torrential rain and flooding. Ok, it wasn’t torrential as not really that torrential at all much. Although for this part of the world and comparatively speaking, one could argue that without much flexing of imagination it could be described as ‘hosing it’. There was definitely flooding; the city always looks like it’s been cast adrift when it rains.

 

On Sunday, Andrew got up all excited about frying up a big breakfast on his new barbie, but it was raining so hard he had to erect an umbrella over the grill. I had visions of the brolly going up in a raging explosion of flame but thankfully all he charred were the sausages.

 

Andrew accuses me of simply making up large swathes of my emails, but that is a vicious fabrication and completely untrue. He just doesn’t understand Imagination – but then again it takes a while to learn the language. However, the rain brought out Andrew’s creative, expressive side. We were driving across the city to pick up David for lunch. Somehow Andrew got on to rain-themed names for perfumes (we were very bored).

 

“How about: ‘Splatter’?” proposed Andrew. “Maybe better for an aftershave?” he said upon seeing my look. “What about Drizzle?”

 

“Maybe more appropriate for an olive oil.”

 

“How about Drench?”

 

“Isn’t that a worm treatment for cattle?”

 

“Right. How about: Rain. Rain: You’re All Wet. That’s the byline: ‘You’re All Wet’. Get it?”

 

“Yes. There’s probably a very good reason Giorgio never went for that.”

 

We picked up David and went to mOre’s, where we all sat around a bit soggy and gently steaming. We were rather stuck as to what to do with ourselves, so ended up going to see Casino Royale for the second time. What a movie though. Ok I’ll admit it, I have no idea what the plot is about but am most taken with Daniel Craig’s clenching jaw in a swimsuit.

 

Tell the truth, we weren’t really up for much, since we were still recovering from Thursday night. It was the Christina Noble Ball, the only real opportunity we have to get poshed up and glam all year.

 

Generally my makeup is limited to stabbing my eyes with a mascara wand and a quick suck on a stick of Lobello. In honour of the special occasion, I cracked out the powder (literally – it looked like a scaled down version of the Bonneville Flats), concealer, blusher, eye shadow and lip-gloss. Having spent about half an hour on my eyes, I was concerned that it was a little on the dark side. That’s the shade, not The Force as applied by the Siths.

 

When Husband came in from work, he was sitting on the bed taking off his socks and I sashayed out of the bathroom, issued a sultry pout, and said: “Andrew, what do you think of my eye shadow? Is it ok? Not a bit heavy, is it?”

 

Andrew said . . .

 

Sorry to hold you in suspense, but this deserves a moment for dramatic effect.

 

Andrew said:

 

“You look like a drug addict.”

 

Carole said the eye shadow was very subtle, but I’m not sure whether she was just being nice.  

 

“You look gorgeous,” said My Beloved as I drove us to the ball.

 

“Asshole!” I muttered.

 

At the hotel, only valet parking was available. There were vehicles everywhere but in the middle of general mayhem I discerned two loose lines of cars. Behind me were cars flashing their lights and blaring the horns and I had the valet parker waving me to the left. Just to clarify the situation, Andrew said: “Left. Left. Left, left, Left, LEFT, LEFTLEFTLEFT!”

 

“Shut up!” I roared.

 

When we sat down for dinner I was still sulking with him.

 

“Don’t even dream of being charming,” I snapped at him, snapping out my napkin in a way that underscored the sentiment. “Put away those hound dog eyes of yours immediately. I’m sulking really very hard with you at the moment.”

 

(It was a little distressing that he hadn’t noticed up until that point; and even then it had to be communicated via megaphone. I’ve lost much of my pouting ability due to lack of practice.)

 

“Baby!” exclaimed Andrew, who at this point had snorted two pints of Fosters. “But whyee?”

 

“Why? Well, first of all, you call me a drug addict. Then you play with your PDA all the way to the hotel,” – (because he’d played with his PDA all the way to the hotel) – “THEN, you’re all leftleftleft! And now with the big googly eyes. It’s not going to work.”

 

But then he tried to wink, which is such a cheat – he knows it always cracks me up. It’s about the only thing I am aware of that Andrew can’t do. Hack into computer systems? Check. Fix broken cars? No problem. Navigate across Mongolia by the stars? Just point him in the right direction. But close one eyelid while keeping the other open? He’s pure rubbish.

 

(Andrew: “There! There! Look! I’m winking!”

 

Me: “Technically you’re blinking.”)

 

He gets quite annoyed about this fundamental inability (look, even a foetus can WINK). I forgave him when the tears were running down his face after he sprained his eyeball.

 

It was just as well because the guy next to me was putting on some serious moves. It’s only the second time in my life that someone has used the word ‘horny’ in direct conversation with me – I have to say, it’s quite a turnoff. Or am I just a prude? Perhaps it might have been flattering had he not been quite evidently desperate, not to mention sousled and sporting a layer of charcoal on his upper lip (oh please, it’s better if you just don’t ask).

 

According to Belle, Andrew also had an admirer but he flatly denied it under questioning, perhaps because she was a bit chubby.

 

A quantity surveyor showed me a picture of him with two topless women.

 

We got well plastered. Andrew – and this will give you an inkling of how sauced-up he was – hauled me onto the dance floor and started squirming around. Sorry, there’s just no other way to put it. Once he’s had a few drinks he fancies himself as quite the sex god. When Andrew feels moved to express himself via the medium of dance, you might be surprised at the amount of pelvic grinding involved. He also likes to twirl, which is kind of . . . er well, I was going to say ‘attractive’, but in the interests of accuracy I’ll have to go with ‘rotational’.

 

We managed to stumble home around 03:30hrs. When drunk, Andrew likes to nibble my hair and then snores very loudly. What with that and the rattling windows, I don’t generally enjoy much restful slumber post alcohol abuse

Raff’s new Harley

Hear those revs, see that face

 

Carol works up an impressive amount of enthusiasm considering her headgear

Relationship, for want of a better word

Just before Christmas, Salmiya invited us to lunch at her house. Salmiya was originally a friend of Andrew’s – she was at the party where we first met – but over the years we lost touch.

Some of this was due to her marriage to Ulf about four years ago. At the time, Salmiya and I were fairly close and she called to break the happy news. I had no idea she was even going out with someone. She had been acquainted with Ulf for roughly three months, give or take a day.

I knew she was bound to marry him regardless of anything I said, so I wished her all the best and pounded a steady percussion on Andrew’s eardrum about ‘what is she THINKING?’ (During these one-sided conversations I often referred to her as ‘the girl’, so there you have an idea how much I disapproved.)

Salmiya took to confiding really rather salient details about her and Ulf’s sex life. I’m not used to discussing length, girth, stamina, flexibility and centiliters, so I found it all very stressful. Going around to their place for a barbie was particularly difficult; it was near impossible to maintain polite conversation while Ulf handed around the sausages.

Occasionally I would complain to Andrew about Salmiya’s X-rating, and he used to say things like, “Look, Niamhie, she’s a nice person.”

As if that closed the matter.

One day I phoned Andrew at work:

“Hi honey, it’s me. Just been chatting with Salmiya and I thought you might like to know, she and Ulf had sex last night. Apparently, he came home from work a bit frisky so he groped her for a while beside the fridge and one thing led to another and they moved on to the bedroom. Then Ulf suffered a spot of – I believe the correct term is ‘erectile dysfunction’ – so Salmiya did a sexy dance for him using the bed post as a prop. They opted for the missionary position, but Salmiya went on top for the grand finale.”

There was silence for a moment, then:

“Why are you telling me this?”

“Well, if I have to put up with it, I really don’t see WHY YOU SHOULDN’T TOO.”

Interestingly, Andrew never exhorted me to call her again. No doubt he was worried about the psychological trauma of subsequent barbeques.

About two years ago, I bumped into Salmiya again. She had broken up with Ulf. It transpired he was an alcoholic, which explained why much of their sex life featured erectile dysfunction and sexy dancing. He had also had numerous affairs DESPITE the erectile dysfunction and sexy dancing.

Thereafter Salmiya and I met up sporadically. One night she mentioned an Aussie bloke she’d met the previous weekend. Seemed he was quite keen, but she was not so sure. He also lived in Oman, so the relationship – for want of a better word – was already emitting acrid smoke and what sounded suspiciously like a fizzle.

A couple of months later, I received a text message from Salmiya which read: ‘Am pregnant with Oman guy’s baby and getting married next month’.

I called her to clarify that it was at least the father of her baby she was marrying. I don’t know whether this helps explain anything whatsoever, but unmarried mothers are not allowed to remain in the UAE.

The girl did not use a condom. Obviously, neither did The Boy – but then he didn’t end up incubating a foetus.

Sorry, do I sound prim?

Well, good for me.

So she married Dave (she learned his name when she went to sign the marriage certificate).

Shortly afterwards, we had a hilarious conversation – well it made me laugh – where Salmiya was talking about purchasing a house in preparation for the arrival of the baby. Dave wanted to go halves with her. She said to me, 

“But I’m not sure. I mean, I hardly know him.”

I said: “Salmiya, you’re MARRIED to The Man.”

So ANYHOW, we were invited around to their place for lunch.

But it wasn’t really that interesting

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