Tuesday, 28 December 2010

The foot of our stairs

There was a phrase popular when I was at school: 'Steps back in amazement' indicating one's surprise at something. My favourite, however, has always been 'well, I'll go to the foot of our stairs', meaning the same thing. It is with these phrases in mind that I contemplate the emergence of ebooks.

For someone who loves books with the fervency usually reserved for lovers, chocolate or small children, I am surprised at how much I love ebooks. I have always loved walking into a book store and savouring the aroma of new paper; better still, the musty smell found only in those sanctuaries of ancient books, the second hand bookstore. But yesterday I walked into Borders and didn't pick up a single book. My daughter enquires incredulously, 'aren't you buying anything?' and I can only reply, 'I don't need to, I have Kindle on my ipad'. It's as if I have visited one of those Victorian spas and 'taken the waters'. 'I am cured' I want to shout, I am now immune to the wiles of Borders, Magrudys, Waterstones.

One of the chief attractions, of course, is the price. I recently bought the paper copy of the booker prize winner, The Finkler Question and it cost about 80 aed (15GBP); the ebook is 3.49GBP on amazon! Furthermore, there is the seduction of being able to  'have it now'. Anyone reading this will know that I am not the most patient of people, so waiting three weeks for Amazon to post a book out to me leaves me wandering the house in my dressing gown, growling at anyone who comes near me and repeatedly re-reading The Secret Diary of Adrian Mole in an effort to remain calm.

So, I thank you wholeheartedly, Father Christmas, for introducing this ameliorative to an addict. I may now hold my head a little higher in polite society, safe in the knowledge that I am cured of my addiction to the paperback.

Wednesday, 22 December 2010

A helping Hand for Menfolk

I thought it would only to be fair to give the husbands/boyfriends a helping hand this Christmas and demystify some of the urban myths when it comes to buying a Christmas gift for a wife or girlfriend. So, in the true spirit of the season, here are a few helpful hints.

1. Lingerie, for which YOU will receive the benefit, is not a Christmas present
2. Never, never, ask your mother to advise on a Christmas present for your wife/girlfriend
3.  For your own personal safety, never buy household equipment as a gift (especially knives if you were thinking of fathering any children)
4. Gift vouchers, chocolates and perfume say 'I couldn't be bothered to think of anything else' so don't go there
5. A woman likes to choose her own clothes (remember at all times, that your taste in clothes is flawed and your opinion, uncalled for)
6. DVDs of action films that YOU want to watch are not Christmas presents
7. Weekends away which include a round of golf, tickets to the local football match or an exotic holiday that just happens to coincide with the location of the World Cup, are not suitable.
8.No, your wife/girlfriend does not want a copy of the Kama Sutra (because this suggests that either she, or indeed you, need instructions)
9.Don't listen to the three wise men: Gold is Ok so long as it is accompanied by number 10: Frankinsence is perfume (see 4 above) and Myrr is used in mouth wash (nice!)
10. And one final hint: they don't say DIAMONDS are a girl's best friend for nothing!

Merry Christmas!

Friday, 17 December 2010

The Art of Grandparenting

Grandparents (affectionately referred to as 'the Elderlies') have a tendency to believe that grandchildren are always 8 years old and never grow any older. This leads to the belief that zoos, pantomines and trips to feed the ducks will always fascinate. Hmm. The unfortunate thing for the Elderlies is that reality hits them hard when the grandchildren come to stay and what arrives is a surly, uncommunicative, teenage angst ridden individual with odd clothes and an even odder manner.

So, when we pitched up at the grandparents for a long stay this summer, I thought it best to prepare them in advance with a 'few rules to live by' when dealing with the older grandchild.

1. The grandchild, hereafter known as 'the evil one', communicates only through the interpreter (the mother).
2. Under no circumstances should you try to communicate with the evil one in the morning. The evil one doesn't do mornings.
3. Any communication with the evil one will illicit a response of 'uh' or if you are lucky: 'whatever'. This does not represent any failing on your part, nor indicate a lack of affection toward you.
4. Anything that you suggest doing, eating or wearing will be ignored or will illicit a response of 'no way'. Best to keep your ideas to yourself.
5. You should remember at all times that you know nothing: never have and never will.
6. Watching television all day long is normal behaviour for the evil one. Any attempt to break said routine will result in heavy sighing, stamping of feet and a retreat to the evil one's lair: the bedroom.
7. The evil one has selected hearing (if the grandchild is male then this extends into adulthood). All instructions or important information must be conveyed several times, preferably in writing.
8. An Ipod, attached to the ears by earphones at all times, is standard attire for the evil one.
9. Common vocabulary used by the evil one is translated as follows: Random (this means 'startling'), standard (again, an expression of surprise), Whatever (this reponse is used for pretty much everything), awesome ( an adjective describing anything good, this will, of course, never be used in reference to the elderlies, the mother, or any other member of the immediate family).
10. And lastly for your own personal safety, or to make sure that you don't wake tomorrow morning with your eyebrows shaved off, the evil one goes to bed when she/he decides, not when you decide.

Following these simple rules will enable you to continue to enjoy the company of your grandchild. Have fun!

Wednesday, 15 December 2010


This is the time of year when many people leave the UAE, either to visit their home Country, or for good. Repatriation is an issue for many, bearing in mind that the lifestyle here is vastly different from the one we have been used to living in our home Country. Here in the UAE for example, it is commonplace to work extremely long hours or to be available to your employer over the weekend. But this hard work is rewarded with benefits like employing live in servants, having the money to indulge your hobbies like scuba diving, flying or eating out in very expensive restaurants. There is of course, constant debate here about people who take the lifestyle too seriously, gaining delusions of grandeur which need to be shaken off before repatriating and returning to former lifestyles.

In this vein, I propose a repatriation course for those returning to their home Country, who wish to be prepared. Modules will include but will not be restricted to the following:

1. Supermarket shopping, covering:
  • What is a supermarket and how to shop
  • Parking in an empty parking space that is a short distance away, instead of hovering for 20 minutes, blocking the traffic, until the person parked nearest the door leaves
  • Packing your own shopping and loading it into your car yourself
  • Locating the 'pork section' amongst the normal aisles
  • Putting shopping into cupboards at home
2. Home Duties, covering:
  • Identification of household equipment and its uses
  • Vacuuming, polishing and washing - why bother?
  • The iron and ironing board - what are they used for?
  • How to converse with your own children
  • How to walk your own dog
3. Courtesy and how to use it, covering:
  • Please and thank you - what do they mean?
  • why all people in your home Country are treated equally
  • Queuing
  • And (if returning to the UK) advanced queuing
4. Driving (this is a compulsory module for men but optional for women):
  • the rude hand gesture and how to use it to enhance the driving experience
  • Indicators and what they are used for
  • Roundabouts - WTF?
  • Actually stopping at a junction
  • Changing lanes without causing the death of other drivers
  • Why driving on two wheels on a motorway is illegal
The course is in the preparatory stages and any suggestions for additional modules are welcomed.

Monday, 13 December 2010

All this talk of ennui...

All this talk of ennui had me thinking that I need to read more. I read, but the effort tends to be sporadic. I can read a book in an afternoon and then not read anything for three weeks. I should also broaden my horizons...read more textbooks instead of picking up that latest Ruth Rendell and proclaiming after half and hour that I am bored with formulaic literature. So, I have decided to set myself a challenge. 52 weeks in a year: 52 books. All books will count - from the pile of six study skills textbooks on my desk to the beautifully bound classics on my arabian bookshelf at home.

So here we go, join me if you wish. This week's book is Teaching Study Skills and Supporting Learning by the lovely Stella Cottrell. Onwards and upwards...

Sunday, 12 December 2010


One of the most memorable novels from my English degree was Madame Bovary by Flaubert. It follows the exploits (and tragedy) of a woman educated above her status and condemned to a life of boredom and ennui, married to a country doctor. Flaubert's writing style sticks in the mind because he suffuses the novel with the ennui and claustrophobia felt by Emma Bovary. Many late Victorian novels and short stories deal with the issue of ennui: a cloying and choking kind of boredom that envelopes its victim in desperation and despair. Virginia Woolf, when being treated for depression, gave her doctor a copy of The Yellow Wallpaper by Charlotte Perkins Gilman, in an effort to point out that more isolation and boredom was not the path to enlightenment in the treatment of depression. The Victorian woman's predicament was lack of opportunity; the prohibition from the working world. But sitting here at my desk at work, I have to ask myself whether the Victorian woman really holds the monopoly on ennui, or whether it is felt equally by the modern woman of the 21st century?

How many of us still feel this all encompassing boredom but put it down, not to lack of opportunity, but to the very nature of the choices now forced upon women as a result of modernity? How many women get up in the morning, get the kids up, drop them off at school or the childminders, go to work and do everything in the reverse order on the way home, fitting in a couple of after school activities on the way? Unlike our Victorian counterparts, we have the opportunity to work but nevertheless, cannot escape the ennui of the habitual routines of everyday living in the 21st century. It is the choices we have to make that become the harbringers of our ennui. Our boredom is entrenched in the work we do, not the lack of it.

So, when you're rushing about with the kids or working hard at that boring job, spare a thought for the Victorian lady of leisure and sigh a little in the knowledge that nothing ever really changes.

Tuesday, 7 December 2010

Sod's Law

So, I'm writing this having had only 4 hours sleep. Why? Was I partying the night away? No. Do I have young children to keep me awake? No. Have I spent the night in a passionate embrace? Don't be ridiculous, I'm married, remember? No, I have been kept awake by Sod's law (or is it Murphy's Law?).

Just as I was drifting into oblivion at about 11.45pm, there is an almighty crash from downstairs. Why is it that sounds are intensified in the middle of the night? I thought the SAS had arrived, crashing through the patio doors! My husband of course, is on a business trip, so I wait five minutes until the terror freezing my every muscle has worn off and I stalk gingerly down the stairs. I discover that the huge picture frame hung over the dresser in the dining room decided to make a bid for freedom, launch itself at all of the china ornaments on the top of the dresser and land, ceremoniously, on the hard tiled floor in a cacophony of smashing and crashing. I manage to locate the dustpan and brush and collect the shattered pieces of handpainted biscuit jars, vases and what not, collected from numerous trips with the children to cafe ceramique, and decide that in view of the fact that I have to get up and go to work in about 5 hours, this is best left until the morning to be dealt with.

What is it with night time occurences of this kind? What, the picture couldn't fall off the wall at 7pm when I'm sitting watching the TV? Oh no, these things only take place in the dead of night when the fuck-up fairy is at her most mischevious. So, the event is right up there with the phone ringing just as you step into the bath, and getting home from the supermarket (that you have rushed to after a long day at work) to find that you have forgotten the item that you actually went in for, but now have a newly advertised brand of shampoo, two bars of chocolate (well one is NEVER enough), a novel you don't have time to read and several items that you already have in the cupboard but bought them 'just in case'.

So, here's to Murphy. Next person who sees him would you give him a slap from me!

Friday, 3 December 2010

Darkness Falling

The darkness is here. He's usually here at this time of year. And he is swiftly followed by his friend insomnia. You'd think that by the age of 40 I could see them both coming; that I would smell it in the air and move out of their way. They sit on the end of my bed at night, chatting triumphantly. You can feel the extent of their ingenuity when you wake up and realise you have been crying in your sleep.

The festive season is always accompanied by the darkness. This prompts a flurry of emails, phone calls and letters home to try and purge it, but it is to no avail. Accept, wait it out: that's all there is to be done. By January, the holiday will see them both off. Time out you see.

The trigger of course was fear: the invitation I sent to them both. I shouldn't go delving around in the past. I was looking for something and I read my journal. And there it was: something I had forgotten (Freud would say repressed, of course) a forgotten illness which, with hindsight, I can say was a MS episode. At the time of course, it was just a baffling few days of numbness. But only now does the significance of that event reveal itself. It means that the episode that put me in hospital last year was by no means the first episode, or even the second, but the third. It's as if the MS was testing itself out; practicing for the battle ahead.

So you see, it's a bit like building a snowman (an apt metaphor at the moment). You begin with something small, a minor annoyance, and then you add a little more, and you build and build until it's bigger than you.

People often describe me as a confident person; independent. So why is it that I'm certain that the drakness could be chased away by a hug from my dad. The irony would make me laugh, if I wasn't feeling quite so dark.

Thursday, 25 November 2010

The Joy of new Hobbies

So, the latest investment is represented by a 5 foot marine fish tank. Now, as hobbies go, fish keeping is relatively low maintenance. Or so I thought.

My esteemed husband has spent the last week regailing me with the facts, figures and details of this fascinating hobby and has spent some considerable time tatting and messing, filling and refilling the tank. The thing with marine fish is that, unlike the tropical fish we have kept in the past, they require the water to be salinated. A simple task one might think. Hmm. Apparently not.

So, this evening we have puzzled over maths equations reminiscent of GCSE exams, to work out how much salt is too much. Is it 34g per litre or 25g?  If we have added 39g per litre how do we know, and what do we do about it? We argue of course, that's what we do. And then we empty our calculated amount of water out of the tank and refill it with freshwater. And then, we do the calculation again and remove a couple of litres more for good measure. And then we argue and I open a bottle of wine. Things always look better when there is a bottle of wine open.

So, I think we've got it covered. Covered in salt anyway. Goodness knows what will happen when we actually put some fish in the darned thing. Watch this space!

Sunday, 21 November 2010

Time flies when you're...

...well when you are doing just about anything! Especially as you get older. I seem to be always planning ahead, almost wishing the time away. There's always something that we are looking forward to, isn't there? The weekend, the next pay packet, the next holiday. And this just makes time go even faster. I want to put the brakes on...just slow down a minute will you; I need to catch up, catch my breath. Five minutes ago I was just finishing my A levels, buying my first house, having a baby...and now that baby is almost 12 years old. Whoa there, slow down! I looked at my youngest daughter the other day and wondered how much longer she would be a little girl, it seems that in the blink of an eye I'll be packing her off to university, and then what will I do?

So, the only way I can see to overcome this is to stop planning. Stop looking forward to that next holiday or pay packet and start enjoying today. This calls for a bit of 'getting my act together' I believe. What is it that I want to be doing with this time that I don't have enough of? Having goals isn't planning. I am not saying when I want to achieve things by, just that I want to achieve them. And so to the lists. I'm good with lists. I like them, in fact, I live for them.

So here's the first living in the infintessimal present list:

I must not:
1. keep glancing at the calendar and working out how many days until pay day
2. Fantasise about attending my daughters' Phd graduation ceremonies (or indeed, my own)
3. Fantasise about the death and subsequent funerals of people I hate
4. Keep working out how many weeks there are until our holiday to Singapore
5. Have suicidal thoughts about having to return to the UK in 18 months time
6. (And just because I shouldn't, even though this has nothing to do with the passing of time) walk up to fat people in the shopping mall food court with a homemade warrant card and say 'Weight watchers police, portion control,put the fork down and  step away from the plate sir'

I should:
1. Stop moaning about being bored and actually do one or all of the following:
           - research for my Phd
           - revise my spanish using all the computer packages/books I have bought
           - learn arabic
           - practice my piano
2. Actually go to work to fill my day with activity because when I am 'working from home' I am bored off my cake
3. Live by the Japenese proverb that 'time spent laughing is time spent with the Gods'

Wednesday, 10 November 2010

Erm...is this 1953?

So, I have to go food shopping today. I hate it. With a passion. So, the only possible way to make this tolerable is to entice a friend along with the offer of breakfast so we can chat whilst we are shopping. So, an hour into this exciting and stimulating activity I get a text message: 'Breakfast at Paul's eh - very nice'. It would appear that not only is our bank sending my husband text messages when I draw cash out of our JOINT bank account (note the word JOINT - an account into which MY salary is paid), but the bank are now sending him a text message every time I buy something!!! Would all those persons who have not heard of the sexual revolution please raise their hand???? I mean what is this, 1953?

The whole episode reminded me of an article I read in the newspaper (and kept for posterity) just after we moved here. It was entitled 'Recommendations Family Guidance and Reformation Dept at the Dubai courts gives to newly married couples'. Now these may be for newly married couples but I think, in the choicest parts of this, there is a message for old timers as well.  I repeat those parts here for your perusal:

Recommendations to Wives:

1. Men are different from women (no shit Sherlock!)
2. Men are not talkative, so don't nag
3. Men like to be the focus of a woman's attention so don't ignore them or make them feel unwanted
4. Men, by nature hate failure, so don't criticise them
5. Men are capable of solving problems, so don't impose your thoughts on them
6. Men don't shop that much and they like a contented woman, so don't be too demanding
7. Men like a woman who can satisfy their desires, so shower them with love and care as well as appreciation

Recommendations to Husbands:

1. Women are different from men (you don't say!)
2. Women like a man who flirts with them and satisfies them sexually
3. Women like shopping and spending money, so don't be a miser. try to offer her gifts and invite her out frequently.
4. Don't think of committing adultery because it is very harsh on a woman's feelings.
5. Women's moods and attitudes change during pregnancy and menstruation so take this into consideration
6. Women need a man to trust and rely on, so don't disappoint her.
7. Women like to talk about themselves, so don't criticise them.

Please be assured that this is a genuine article from a 2008 newspaper- I have not made this up. There are sooo many things wrong with this, I don't know where to begin! Is it any wonder that the divorce courts are so busy here???

Monday, 8 November 2010

The Lost Art of Letter Writing

Years ago, I bought a second-hand book and inside it was a postcard. The postcard dated from the 1920s and was written in lovely copperplate writing. It was just a note from one friend to another, but to me it was a treasure. It rests in my mum-in-law's attic at the moment (along with a large amount of other stuff, which my father-in-law constantly reminds me of: 'Well, we would buy more Christmas presents, if we had somewhere to store them' - you know the kind of thing!).

But, I wonder whether the art of letter writing has been lost. I have kept up a long term correspondence with a friend - proper letter writing, not emails or postcards, but full on, several pages long, lots of gossip and news, kind of letter writing. I love it. There's nothing like receiving a letter from a friend because it represents something that an email doesn't. It signals that that person cares about you: cares enough to spend an hour or so thinking carefully about words on a page, sentiments, feelings, thoughts. As Katrina once said, 'every time I go for the mailbox, I gotta hold myself down, cos I just wait til you write me you're comin' around'. These days, she'd get a text wouldn't she? Not quite the same thing is it?

Letters from the past are prized. If you search on ebay for letters, even those written as late as the 1960s, they are expensive and you'll have a fight on your hands if you bid. All of those letters that scholars have pored over for generations, written by famous writers, politicians, royalty, have given us clues to the past. How will future scholars unlock the same archives, when the archives were only available for a short time in cyberspace. An email is quickly written, quickly deleted and quickly forgotten.

So, get out your pens and paper. Send a friend a note; a real note, not an email or a text, but something hand written and personal, for their sake and for the scholars of the future, give them something to study and ponder over.

Wednesday, 3 November 2010

Blind Panic

When Madeline McGann went missing I was furious. How could two well educated, to all intents and purposes, sensible people, think that it was OK to leave a 3 year old in a hotel bedroom on her own? I couldn't watch the news reports because I was so enraged with them. And then, something happened to me that changed my view. When I took my children to a swimming lesson one afternoon, I left the viewing gallery to get my youngest daughter changed. When I returned, my eldest daughter was nowhere to be seen. I panicked. Completely. The staff at the leisure centre were lovely and we combed the building until we found her. Her lesson had been moved to another pool, one that I couldn't see from the viewing gallery I was in. At that moment all of the anger I felt towards Madeline's parents dissipated. If they were going to spend the rest of their lives feeling what I had felt for only a few moments then who was I to judge them? Simply continuing to live was going to be a daily struggle for them.

For me, however, I still hadn't learned my lesson. A couple of nights ago my eldest daughter went home from school with a friend so that they could go to a halloween party together, organised by the local guide troop. I go trick or treating with my youngest, return home, thinking that I have two hours to wait until the party is over and I have to drive over and pick up my eldest. After about an hour at home I hear my phone ring. When I finally find it in the bottom of my bag, I have 5 missed calls from the school hosting the halloween party. I call them back and the security guard puts my daughter on the phone who relates,in a very subdued and upset voice, that the party is in fact next week and can I come and fetch her. Now, at this point I am imagining that my daughter is sat in a school she's never been to before, a 20 minute drive away, with a security guard. Hmmm. Blind panic ensues.

On the drive there, I am imagining the conversation I am going to have with the mum who dropped her off and left her there, and how I am going to have to try not to scream at her on the phone. I tell myself, it's not her fault, it's mine. I didn't hear my phone ringing. I should have had it close by me all the time.

When I finally arrive at the school, however, all is well. The guides were having their usual meeting so my daughter had simply sat watching their activities for the past hour whilst the security guard had tried, repeatedly to contact me. The other mum was blissfully unaware of any of this. Thank goodness I hadn't phoned her and ranted at her! The relief I felt was immense. I wanted to hold my daughter and never let her go. Needless to say, the mobile phone on the desk in front of me has not been out of my sight since.

Thursday, 28 October 2010

Cultural Diversity

It's been a bit of a strange week. Culturally speaking.

My husband had cause to travel to Saudi Arabia this week, which just happens to coincide with half the rest of the world who travel there to attend the Hajj (no he hasn't converted to Islam - not yet anyway). So, I try to check him in for his emirates flight and it is 'temporarily suspended'. Hmm. So I call Emirates who tell me that everyone just needs to check in at the airport. At the airport it is discovered that the A380 has a headache and can't fly today and is being replaced by its older brother the 777 which means that 150 passengers won't be travelling to SA today. Hmm. The ensuing crush around the Emirates check in desk says a lot about Middle Eastern and Far Eastern culture. In the Uk you get signs in such places which ask you to queue this way or that. Here, you imagine that if there were a sign, it would simply say 'queuing strictly prohibited'.

My husband apologises to his 'not-experienced-in -the-middle-east' travelling companion for the rudeness he will now embark upon in order to ensure they get a seat on the plane. By the time they get on the plane, the travelling companion is well versed, and indeed able to engage in, the kind of rudeness expected on such occasions.

So, the plane now consists of a handful of business travellers and 298 hajj attendees. This becomes evident as soon as the plane takes off and five Imams walk up and down the aisle chanting from the Quran. It is reminiscent of that song we used to sing as children, 'you can't get to heaven in a biscuit tin', as all of the passengers repeat the chant after the Imam. All we need now is a guitar and a quick round of Kum-By-Ah and the nightmare will be complete. The cabin crew adopt the necessary glazed expression, as almost every passenger presses the call button repeatedly to ask for food or a drink, or an extra pillow, or...

You see in my culture we queue, we form orderly lines, we communicate in hushed tones using terms of endearment and polite words. We have manners. Out here, these things just don't exist. And what's horrifying is how quickly the manners you are accustomed to dissipate like smoke in the wind. Before you know it you are as rude as everyone else. But isn't this part of the integration into another culture? The ability to blend in - a bit like switching from speaking one language to another. The dialogue of cultural expression in our body language and mannerisms becomes attuned to those around us.

Cultural diversity makes for an interesting life (and interesting blog entries) and these things are chalked up to experience, good or bad. Living out here enriches those experiences, and I'm grateful that I have been given this opportunity. Let's hope that the journey continues for sometime to come.

Friday, 22 October 2010

Reading Emotions

I have always been emotionally affected by what I'm reading. Perhaps this is because reading is a way of life for me. I hate that 'just finished one book and haven't yet chosen the next one' feeling. If I'm not reading a piece of good fiction, I feel completely bored and really don't know what to do with myself.

Over the past week or so I have been trying to read Freedom by Jonathan Franzen. It was shortlisted for the booker prize (didn't win though) and it's possibly one of the most depressing books I've ever read. So, I've been in a bad mood for the past week: as if I've been forced to watch a bad American movie. The novel follows an American family - particularly focusing on the mother: Patty. She's one of those people who Dante confines to the first circle of Hell: the apathetic. Throughout her life she settles for second best and so the narrative follows her not-very-interesting-or fulfilling life for 600 pages. I made it to page 268 and thought that MY life is too short to be reading this.

So, I thought I would suggest a few books to read when your emotions call for them. When we need to laugh, cry, get nostalgic about the past, or think of home here are some books you might want to consider:

For insomnia: Clarissa by Samuel Richardson (undoubtedly, the best novel ever written, but in terms of racey plots, its a sleep inducer)
For a good cry: The Story of Lucy Gault by William Trevor (heart rendering, get a box of tissues before you start)
Need to remind yourself of the Green and Pleasant Land: The House at Riverton by Kate Morton (or any of her three novels: lovely, Daphne Du Maurier type stuff)
A Good Murder: A Cure for all Diseases by Reginald Hill (or any of the Daiziel and Pascoe books)
A blast from the past: The Woman in White by Wilkie Collins (Victorian deceit at its best)
Something to read with a cup of tea: The No 1 Ladies Detective Agency (heart warming, lovely stories)
And just when you think you are nostalgic for a bygone era think again and read Fingersmith by Sarah Waters.

And finally, for a good laugh, my favourite book of all time: The Secret Diary of Adrian Mole by Sue Townsend. This is a panacea - whatever you are feeling this will cheer you up. This is the book I read to cheer myself up, to remind myself that I was a teenager once or just because I love it! With this to hand, my reading emotions are always in check.

Wednesday, 20 October 2010

Life's Equations

When I got in from work yesterday my daughter asked me to help her with her maths homework. It was algebra. Now, I love algebra but it's been a while since I took GCSE Maths, so all I can say is thank the Lord for Google (oh and the BBC website Bitesize). so, we got there in the end.

But the whole equation maths thing got me thinking about how you can write equations for pretty much anything. I have been feeling really tired lately: lay-your-head-down-on-your-desk-and-fall-instantly-asleep tired. But I am not sure what the cause is. It could be the MS (but unlikely in view of the recent MRI scan), it could be PMT, it could be working full time, it could be that I still haven't recovered from getting shitfaced at the girls night out last week, or it could just be that I am getting old. How do I know? Well, let's write an equation. This is how tired I am feeling:

 n - ( x + y)  = t

N being no of hours sleep I've had
x being the effects of working full time
y being the effects of getting old.
t being tiredness

Ok, so in mitigation of said equation we have vitamins, medication and of course alcohol. So, the equation can be revised thus:

n - ( x + y)       
      (v + m )    + a   = t

So, where does it leave us? Well, the answer to the equation is that my husband might not be getting any entertainment this evening as n needs to be kept as high as possible except of course where a is involved. Now, where did I put the corkscrew?

Saturday, 16 October 2010

Publishing Trash

Borders, the book store, had an enormous sale on yesterday. Entering the shop was a bit like stepping onto the film set of Shadow of the Wind: a room full of forgotten books. There were literally thousands of books that you have never heard of, most of which are probably already out of print. It raised some interesting questions for me about publishing.

Someone once told me that there are more people writing books than there are reading them. Looking around Borders yesterday, I can believe it. If you add into these piles (of what can only be described as trash) the downloading of books, we should ask ourselves whether the literary world is slowly and inevitably going to the dogs.

I can think of nothing more abhorrent than becoming famous, albeit briefly, for publishing a trashy book that very quickly goes out of print: a fleeting celebration of mediocrity. With people setting up their own publishing companies to get published, and now the downloading of books, will this mean that even more drivel will find itself onto the literary market? If I worked in publishing, I'd be afraid, very afraid. Nowadays who really needs to go through a publishing company (or agent) at all? It's only a matter of time before you can sell your not-really-very-good novel to Amazon who will publish it only as a download.

It's difficult enough at the moment to find something decent to read, even though when you enter Borders or Magrudys, you are surrounded by an attractive looking plethora of books. If the public are subjected to the download book as well, how will we be able to sift through the rubbish to find the good stuff? How many of these so called authors will be remembered in 10 years time (or by the end of next week?). Is this the end of the era of Literary Greats?

Could this be a good thing, though, in that we will have to return to the distinguished books of the early 20th Century and before to seek out the A level text book? Will it mean that all that trash will remain under the dominion of the downloaded book, and the literary elite will be the only ones published as printed text? I can see, however, that in modern society, where cyberspace dominates, the downloading of books is possibly one of the few ways in which children and teenagers can be attracted to reading. But it nevertheless makes me sad that, what was once the priviledge of the literary adept is fast becoming the domain of the quotidien.

Thursday, 14 October 2010

Village Life

I have read two books this week. The first was called The Boy Who Harnessed the Wind and it charts the rise to fame of a young boy who grew up in Malawi and overcame adversity, and lack of education, to build a windmill and bring electricity to his village. The village he lives in is small and harbours a close knit community, which clings to the traditions of the past. The members of the community have no choice but to get along and carry some responsibility for one another. In the face of famine, the needy are assisted by those better off. Faced with insufficient funds to attend ssecondary school, the boy continues his education through the local library. His determination is fueled only by his enthusiasm for science and his altruistic intentions of dragging this remote community into the 21st Century.

The second book is Alexander McCall Smith's latest Edinburgh yarn. In the novel, Isabel (the main protagonist) refers constantly to Edinburgh, not as a city, but as a village. The story is woven in such a way as to present many coincidences, but these seem real when you consider that in reality we all live in villages. The circles that we move in are relatively small. Even if we move, the community we inhabit becomes our village.

Many people see Dubai as a huge metropolis of glittering skyscrapers but, just like everywhere else, it's just a village. You'll be talking to someone who you've never met before, and as you mention someone else, they already know that person. I interviewed someone last year (a maid) and she was lovely. I wanted to employ her but her current employer wouldn't release her soon enough. When complaining about this to a colleague at work, I realised that my colleague knew the employer of this maid.

In the small village I moved from, it was perfectly acceptable to walk into the newsagents to cancel your papers; then visit the doctors for some intimate procedure with the nurse, to find that the woman in the newsagent and the nurse at the doctors is the same person! In a small village in rural England this is to be expected but in a city inhabited by 1.7 million people it comes as a bit of a shock. A metropolis it may be, but every day I am struck by how small a community it is.

The difference between the village in Malawi and Edinburgh or Dubai is not in the size of the community, the advancement of technology or indeed even the setting. It's the sense of community that matters. In Malawi, you could rely on the other members of the village. In the 'village' you inhabit, could you say the same thing?

Sunday, 10 October 2010

Dental enforcement of Healthy Regimes

I have been trying to be more healthy. I mean all round more healthy - eating and exercise, yoga. You know the kind of thing. But somehow, quite often, I seem to be sitting on the sofa watching a dvd of Waking the Dead, eating homemade toad in the hole or a bar of chocolate. I have lots of 'Healthy eating' cookbooks but I still gravitate towards those familiar comfort food type receipes. The 'Dubai Stone' is not going to come off if I don't implement some sort of healthy food regime in my family cooking.

But I have found the perfect solution: arrange for one of your children to have a brace fitted! It goes like this: you take the child to see the dentist for a check up. The dentist refers you to the orthodontist who explains that said child needs a brace. She ensures that you are seated before explaining the cost of said procedures, and after you awaken from the fainting fit, you sign on the dotted line, and a series of lengthy dental appointments ensue. At no point does anyone mention that your entire family will be spending the next 18 months taking part in an episode of You are What you Eat!

It would appear that persons wearing braces are not permitted to eat anything that requires biting into hard foodstuffs. So, no crusty bread, including pizza crusts, no nuts, popcorn, hard vegetables (raw, that is), toast, anything very sweet, or just about anything that isn't baby-food soft. Ok, so that just about rules out every take away I can summon up in my very-experienced-with-takeaway imagination!

So, foods allowed are: soups, mashed potatoes, pasta, rice, steamed vegetables and anything that can be broken into small pieces, mashed, squashed or pureed. Oh, goodey! So, from now on my house will become a shrine to healthy eating - steamed veg with rice, pasta with sauce, soups (no croutons or crusty bread, of course). You will, literally beable to see the weight loss from where you are sitting. So, watch this space!

Saturday, 9 October 2010

Cyber-holics Anonymous

It starts with something fairly innocuous like an ipod. Then you get a mobile phone, nothing flash, just a cheap one. 'I'm only going to have it for emergencies' you tell yourself. But you can't help yourself, you think 'Ok, maybe I'll just send one or two texts'. This gambols and before you know it, you're a '100 texts' a day man. Then it starts to get really serious and you are dreaming about phones that have access to emails and the internet and before you know it, you're out, trying to score an iphone 3 or an iphone 4! The world offers you no help for your addiction, the world is indifferent to you. And, to add insult to injury there's now the ipad to dream about.

Sound familiar? My better half (a confirmed addict) has had a new phone - an iphone 4, and suddenly he's a little boy at Christmas with a new toy. He's uploading and downloading, transferring and connecting. One of the characteristics of these addicts is, of course, their need to discuss the technology; it's like a catharsis. You can imagine how long a meeting of cyberholics anonymous lasts can't you? So, whilst I find the cyberworld infintessimally interesting, I have had my fill of 'look it can do this' for this week.  So I'm forming a support group for cyber-widows. Nothing too heavy, just a few friends getting together to offer support for the loneliness and the constant need to say 'really, show me how that works then' in an enthusisatic and interested way. You can contact us at our website www .put-the-fecking-phone-away. com

Wednesday, 6 October 2010

5/10 for effort - please see me...

And so the new term begins and the university is buzzing with students. I have already managed to mix up the timetables and send all of the students to the wrong classes, so the term is starting well. I love the beginning of term and I get very excited about meeting all of the new students. I love the challenges they give me in the classroom from their inquiring minds, as well as their enthusiasm. This age group is lovely to teach. They are desperate to be independent and yet they are still vulnerable  They rely on you to coax and provide the positive reinforcement they seek.

Inevitably, the term brings with it that dirty word: assessment. I can only look forward to the marking of 140 persectives on a single subject with the enthusiam I usually reserve for colonic irrigation, or the funeral of a close family member. So, to maintain my levels of motivation for the long days ahead, plowing through the drivel that is the modern essay, I have developed my own language to be used on students essays. Below is a small example, along with translations:

Phrased Used
Academic Translation
This is an interesting piece
This is a load of drivel
You have made good use of sources
Most of this has been copied from text books so that you don’t get caught out on the plagiarism software by copying off the internet
You should try to write in paragraphs at all times
How long have I been teaching you and you still can’t write in paragraphs??
I have given you a bare pass for this essay....
I would really like to fail you but I can’t think of a good enough reason to...
You need to pay close attention to the essay question...
I don’t know which question you are answering but it is not the one you were asked
Seriously! Can’t you read!

Saturday, 2 October 2010

The stuff of Nightmares

Insomnia and I are long acquainted. He sat, perched on the edge of my bed until after 1am this morning. 'So, too much coffee today honey?' he asks. 'I don't think so', I reply, 'I only had a couple of cups and that was over 12 hours ago'. 'Must be an overactive mind, would you like to talk about it?' he enquires. And so, for the next few hours we discuss my worries, and my excited expectations for the beginning of term today. Despite his soothing approach, and its catharthic effect, sleep is afraid to intrude and so I have no choice but to resort to chemicals. Two paracetamol and a little light reading later, and I'm finally drifting into oblivion.

Insomnia is an adult domain. Nightmares, I have always believed, belong to childhood. But as usual, I am wrong. The thing with adult nightmares is that they don't feature monsters or serial killers but confusion, loneliness, abandonment and crisis. Freud would have a field day with my imagination. In these filmlike narratives, I have been to hell (where in fact, I was a child and had to survive for 9 days in order to be allowed to enter whatever the alternative to hell was), I have faced death (my own and that of those I love), isolation or disruption in my work environment, and my particular favourite, revisits to my childhood with a distinctly Tim Burton feel to them. In literature, sleep represents peace, the place to which we can escape the day's troubles. But when nightmares intrude, we are stuck in that overheated room in Sartre's disturbing play 'Huis Clos'.

And, what prompts these disturbances in my psyche? Well, as I've got older I have discovered that very little at all is needed. An argument, a worry over something small, a particularly nasty television programme or movie. With age comes experience, but also the ready ability to return to places of darkness in an instant. What twenty years ago I would have brushed off definantly, now hovers around me like a bad smell. Meditation and yoga take on a new appreciative air as a defence against these 'dark arts'. Eventually, the nightmares will retreat, as will the insomnia, and my equilibrium will be restored. For now.

Thursday, 30 September 2010


I have never been that good at making friends really. I can do the chit chat that you do when you meet someone for the first time, the starting of a conversation with a stranger, but after that I get a bit lost. I'm not very good at inviting people over for dinner, or organising play dates for the kids. I envy those people who seem to have reams of good friends, and manage to keep up with them all despite the chaos of their own lives. Having a large circle of friends has always begged the question for me, of how you define a friend.

The advent of social networking sites adds to this inquisition. Some people claim to have hundreds of friends; but these are just people you know. To me, that's not a friend. A friend is someone close, someone you don't mind telling your secrets to, someone you can call at 2am and ask them to fetch you from A&E. A friend is someone you want to call when it feels like your world is falling apart; or when you have the most unbelievably good news. Think about it for a minute: count up how many people you would call if you just found out your partner has been having an affair; or if you just got made redundant. Who would you call if you just won 50000 pounds?

The other night I went to the first meeting of a reading group that I have just set up. It was lovely: there were people there I knew from work, and a few people who I haven't met before. My best friend came with me and afterwards she said, 'you work with some lovely people'. And it struck me that these aren't just people I work with, these are my friends. I like these people, and they like me: they like me enough to come out on a hot and sticky night and drive to a cafe to support a reading group I have set up. Perhaps, we are often surrounded by friends without quite realising it, and those 140 people we have as friends on facebook, we should keep in touch with, cultivate their friendship - you never know - you may want to ring them next week with some news!

Monday, 27 September 2010


Uncertain: indefinite, indeterminate, untrustworthy, dubious, doubtful

These are not words I want in my life. I don't want my diagnosis to be dubious; or the doctors word that Lasek surgery is safe, to be untrustworthy, or the length of a stay overseas to be indeterminate. I don't like uncertainty.

Life as an expat is uncertain. We came out here knowing that the contract was initially for three years; that the effort of getting to know a new country, a new culture, new people and their rules would be worth it. We knew that it would end. The uncertainty arises about when it will end, and whether we will want it to end. I thought that the uncertainty, the indeterminacy of not knowing what the future holds would be exciting; like reading a novel for the first time and being surprised by the direction the author takes. Life is only exciting when it is unpredictable, or is it? Unpredictable lifestyles are what we read about, what we watch in films but as I said in a previous post, life isn't like its portrayal in the media.

I am reading a novel called Eat, Pray, Love at the moment (it's just been made into a film). It's a true account of a journalist who throws off her predictable lifestyle to travel; first to Italy, then to India and finally to Indonesia. She floats freely amongst the people of these countries, learning their ways, and learning more about herself. But even in this freewheeling lifestyle, there is certainty. She plans the amount of time she spends in each country, knowing that she will move onto the next at a fixed time.

Uncertain: indefinite, indeterminate, untrustworthy, dubious, doubtful

For some people these words are synonymous with freedom, excitement, liberation, independence, and I can see their point, but for me these words also bring anxiety, worry, agitation and uneasiness. Does it then follow, that if planning for the future is uncertain, I should simply live for today? In today, I can either maintain a level of predictability I am comfortable with or inject spontaneity and unpredictaility at will. So, here begineth today...

Saturday, 25 September 2010

Teenage Poetry

We tidied my daughter's bedroom today and I discovered that she is a budding poet. Here is one her contributions:

I hate You

I hate the way you laugh at me,
I hate it when you stare,
I hate the way you kick me,
I hate it when you pull my hair.

I hate the way you talk about me,
When I'm not around,
I hate the way you laugh at me,
When I'm looking for something I haven't found.

I hate the way you fight with me
Then make me apologise,
I hate the way you laugh at me
Because everyone's on your side.

I hate the way you're so unpredictable,
And that I never know what you're going to do
I hate the way you pretend to be so perfect,
I'm so glad that I hate you.

And here's another that is unfinished...

The Wind

Through the tidy streets of London
Past the people who seem to meet,
Rustling leaves as it goes by
Quickly it creeps down through the street.

Busy shoppers strolling by
Lively children in a school
Beeping cars queuing up ahead
Even children in a swimming pool.

I love it! What it is to be young and passionate!

Wednesday, 22 September 2010

Things that Make us frightened

Today I was frightened. I sat in an opthalmologist's chair whilst he explained the merits of LASEK eye surgery, and I wanted to believe in every word he said, but I was frightened. I want to have this surgery, but there is something unnerving about elective surgery, as if you are tempting fate. I have worn glasses since I was 17, so I have contributed to the Britsh economy and to the furtherance of scientific endeavour in opthalmology, by purchasing large quantities of spectacles, contact lenses and associated paraphenalia. I deserve this surgery (I could say 'I'm worth it' but that is far too crass).  So, why am I frightened?

A few months ago, I was invited to an information evening about the Betaferon medication that I inject. I didn't go.  I told myself this was because I couldn't be bothered to drive through heavy traffic to the Intercontinental Hotel, on a Thursday night. I told myself that I have had no problems with the medication, so why did I need an information evening? But, the reason I didn't go was because I was frightened. I was frightened of sitting in a room with other people who have MS, and having to face its possibilities. I don't view the discussion forum on the MS Society website for the same reason. I know it's coming - I don't need to face it now.

So, the LASEK surgery feels like I'm courting disaster. That's why I'm frightened. I have no doubt that it will correct my sight, as it has done for thousands of others, but there's that tiny possibility that I could be worse off. The future isn't all that bright as it is, so is it worth the risk? 

Monday, 20 September 2010

The Loss of a great British Institution

I am in an ecstatic mood today - the meeting with Dr Death yesterday couldn't have gone better. I have no new lesions showing on my MRI, no current activity, and some of the lesions that appeared on the MRI last year have disappeared completely. Couldn't have asked for a better result. It appears that I have beaten the illness into retreat for now. My flight or fight response has always been to fight - so MS, you come and have a go if you think you are hard enough!

But, today, as I drove back from breakfast with a friend, my exuberance was tainted by the lack of one of my favourite of the great British institutions - the rude hand gesture whilst driving. A well positioned middle finger, two fingers, or a gesture resembling the movement a man might make when alone, in the bathroom naked, can be exactly what is called for on the odd occasion. But, in the UAE, any form of rude hand gesture is strictly forbidden. We have an American expat to thank for a recent reminder of said rule. Driving here is hectic, and frustrating and this poor guy clearly couldn't take it anymore and gave the other driver the finger. Unfortunately, he picked the wrong person to gesture to, and for his trouble he got a month in prison and deportation. Hmmm.

I'm not really sure what their motivations are for banning the gesture. Perhaps they think it will distract you from your driving (yeah, right). So for now, the mirror, signal, gesture, manoeuvre has to become mirror-signal-manoeuvre (although of course, if you took your driving test in Dubai, you skip the first two!). Safe driving!

Sunday, 19 September 2010

Reality Check

Some of my friends have been getting very excited about Camp Rock 2. My kids love this stuff. When they watch it though, I have to remind them that there aren't really people like that. In the canteen at secondary school, no-one is suddenly going to break into song; everyone does not turn up to high school dressed to kill with perfect hair and perfect teeth. Life isn't quite like that.

In the same vain, I try to remind my students that Dubai is not typical of the rest of the world; or in fact the rest of the Middle East (as a recent trip to Egypt confirmed for me). The rest of the world doesn't have malls that are cleaner than your home bathroom; for most people the highlight of the week is not getting a manicure and a pedicure at the beach club or attending the 'all you can eat and drink' brunch at the Atlantis Hotel for 70GBP. The rest of the world doesn't make 40000 aed a month and have a maid to clean up after them. Dubai is situated in a bubble - a bit like the Eden project - there is no reality here - a bit like Camp Rock. There is no freedom of the press here either - this is toytown. A good example would be the report that only 83 cars were stolen here in Dubai last year - who are they trying to kid? There are an estimated 3000 cars dumped at Dubai airport, because the outstanding finance on them is more than the value of the car - is that not stealing?

 In a real world like the US, 37 million people can't afford healthcare - 37 million people who can't afford to see a doctor if they are sick. Most people in Dubai spend the equivalent of the healthcare premiums at brunch once a week, or on a hair cut.

Of course, there are places in Dubai that are like the real world: Satwa and Karama. I love them both. They are full of shops that you walk around OUTSIDE. The streets are dirty and the people, normal. They do, however,  try to sell you 'genuine' fake Brietling Watches and D&G handbags which makes you wonder why people bother with the real thing from the designer boutiques in the malls.

Anyway, I can't stop to chat, I'm off to get a mani and pedi before picking up my D&G handbag, and going for brunch.

Wednesday, 15 September 2010

Sexy Yoga

So, in keeping with my comments about getting older, I have decided that I need to keep in shape. I have never been one for those exercise classes where you jump up and down to music, race on a static bicycle or indeed do anything that requires the wearing of 'second-skin' type lycra. I have always preferred a more sedate approach: a bit of stretching and squeezing. So, the other night I attended my very first yoga class.

Now, I would consider the yoga class the domain of the 'woman-of-a-certain-age'. Women close to my mum's age, wearing tracksuits, reaching for their toes or the ceiling. I couldn't have been more wrong. Yoga is like attending a rehersal for a pornographic movie. At one point, I was sitting on my bottom with both legs in the air, hands on my ankles (for those of us who have given birth, think stirrups in the delivery room). There was lots of stick your bum in the air, lift you leg up provocatively, splay your legs etc. It was like the idiots guide to the Karma Sutra!

By the time I got home I was absolutely buzzing, serotonin levels through the roof. I asked my husband if he thought my serotonin levels would be this high every week. His reply of 'I hope so' says it all!

I think they have MRIs in hell

Today was not a good MS day. I had to go for a 45 minute MRI that took three hours. I have to have a blood test to begin with that takes twenty minutes to check. Then I have to have an allergy test, so that I can be injected with a contrast (it makes the inside of my brain light up like a Christmas tree apparently), so this takes another 20 minutes.

As medical tests go the MRI is the endurable, the boring but not painful one. It's scary because you basically lie inside a gigantic magnet that feels like a coffin, and you have to wear ear plugs because it's so loud. But, it's do-able. It certainly beats the lumber-puncture and the steriods by intravenous drip in my book anyway. But today's was horrible. Years ago (and I mean eons ago) I developed a small lump on the back of my head. It's nothing major, its just an extra bit of bone. But it means that if I lie down on anything hard, it hurts. So, lying down on a semi hard MRI table for over an hour today was agony. The nurses are very sympathetic, but there's not a lot they can do when you have to lie completely still for 45 minutes.

So, I left after three hours, feeling completely exhausted and fraught. When I was ill last year, I needed all of the prodding and poking with needles and other instruments of torture because that was the only way I was going to get better. But when you have to endure all of that when you feel well, it becomes stressful and well...torturous.

So, I am snuggling on the sofa tonight with a good book and trying not to think about the meeting with the neurologist on Sunday for the results.

Monday, 13 September 2010

Life's Mysteries

I have always considered any sort of literary analysis a kind of detective work. If you are analysing a poem, the meaning is hidden and you have to 'investigate' to be able to uncover its mysteries. For me, this makes this kind of work addictive. I have done with studying for a while (until I am brave enough to actually say aloud that I want to do a Phd) but I have a mystery to solve for a conference paper: my latest detective investigation.

The mystery surrounds a woman named Beatrice Hastings. She was part of Katherine Mansfield's 'set' (which, incidentally, was pretty large by all accounts) as co-editor of The New Age, in which Mansfield's stories were published. Their 'friendship' was brief but what I am investigating is whether the relationship was a symbiotic one. Did they influence each other's work? Hastings' writing (of which not much remains, except that published in The New Age) is caustic and malicious; Mansfield's less 'politically embattled' as one critic put it. Nevertheless, there are common themes. This could be simply that they examined similar key issues of the time, but my instinct tells me there was more than that.

It isn't clear whether their relationship was a sexual one. So, in the spirit of investigative literary analysis I have ordered a pornographic novel entitled 'Beatrice' from abebooks. It is purportedly about Beatrice Hastings, and one of her biographers has suggested that she wrote it herself. Of course, I shan't enjoy reading it one bit, but one must always suffer for one's art!

Needless to say, in my capacity as literary detective, I have arranged for my salary to be paid directly to Amazon.com, in anticipation of the number of books I am going to have to buy. I will report progress of the investigation here, so watch this space.

Sunday, 12 September 2010

Getting Older but not necessarily wiser

As some of you may be aware, I'm going to be 40 next month. And, in view of the previous discussion of not remembering Terry's surname, I thought a bit of meditation on the art of growing older was called for.

Leon Trotsky said, 'Old age is the most unexpected of all things that happen to a man'. I can't decide whether he means to include women in this, in a 'man' represents 'mankind' sort of way, or whether I should ask myself if old age ever comes unexpectedly to a woman? Whether it comes expectedly or not we have no reason to worry. The likes of L'Oreal, Tena Lady, the Wonderbra and Olay have it covered.  The answer to everything lies in creams and treatments, some of which cost more than your first car. We will be forever youthful if we just follow a simple regime: we must wax, colour, inject, spread cream upon, pluck and squeeze. So, where you used to get up every morning and just wash your face and go to work, you now have two and a half hours of your regime to take care of before leaving the house.

Someone once said: 'The past is another country - they do things differently there' - they certainly do. In the past I could touch my toes, sit cross legged for more than 10 minutes and still get up again, I could jump on the trampoline without niagra falls in my underwear, facial hair was what men had and I wasn't even remotely interested in programmes entitled '10 years younger'.

So, despite the wonders of the modern age I am sticking with the ladies of the 19th Century as explained by the lovely Oscar Wilde:

'Thirty-five is a very attractive age. London society is full of women of the very highest birth who have, of their own free choice, remained thirty five for years.'

Thursday, 9 September 2010


In Dubai, certain professions require that you take the 'Moron Test'. This is a test to determine how much of a Moron you are. The higher you score, the more likely you are to get the job. These professions include, but are not restricted to (and I am adding professions to it daily): Taxi Drivers (this requires a very, very high score), shop assistants, Maids, drivers of those small white buses, gardeners, etc.
Yesterday we encountered some very high scoring applicants at Pan Emirates. I bought a curtain pole two days ago. On the box it said that it is extendable to 3 metres. It was not. Now, because I bought it in the sale, the shop assitant had stamped my receipt with 'no refund/no exchanges'. Fair enough if it's in the sale, but not if the item is faulty. So, we spent the best part of an hour in the shop arguing with the morons to get a refund. We had to, in fact, work our way through the hierachy of morons, each one clearly having a higher score then the last one, until we reached the ultimate in Moron qualified staff: the retail store Manager. These are a special breed of Moron requiring a very special version of the test. The inability to aplogise to disgruntled customers being one of the key attributes.
So, we got our refund but beware of this phenomenon, ladies and gentlemen, and watch out for them when you are shopping.

Number of days since last episode: 422

Wednesday, 8 September 2010

365 Days of MS

I have decided to change the title of the blog. Let's face it, this blog is about my MS. I want to record when the shadow, that walks behind me, becomes my enemy and shows itself.
I have to go for an MRI next week. The neurologist (we'll affectionately refer to him as Dr Death from now on) asked me if I have had any problems in the year since I saw him last. I said 'no'. The trouble with MS is that you are never really sure what consitutes a 'problem'. If my arm aches for half a day, is that because I lay on it funny, or because of the MS? If I can't remember someone's name for 10 minutes, is this me getting old or the MS?
The memory thing may be an issue. Last night I couldn't remember a poet's name and this morning I couldn't remember Terry Wogan's surname - I could remember that his name was Terry, but where the hell had the Wogan gone??? You may laugh, but am I losing my mind?
I have just finished writing my MA dissertation and what is ironic is that I chose to write it about a French philosopher named Henri Bergson, whose primary focus was...you guessed it...memory! Bergson states that memory is required to guide any present action: we think before we leap. Memory, he says, is an active not a passive process. We interpret our world through our perceptions, we then recall those memory images from our past which will help us to engage with those perceptions and guide our path of current actions. So memory is the process of moving from the present to the past, and not the other way around. So, if I lose my memory, what will happen then?

No of days since last MS episode: 421

Thursday, 26 August 2010

Out on a limb

So, I have called this out on a limb which is where I am. In between - not quite there but not quite where I was. This is for two reasons. I had a home and a culture and now I don't. I moved away and the culture remains with me: it travels with you wherever you go, but home...does this travel with you too? My students and I discuss the second and third generation expats and wonder whether having no sense of a firm culture makes any difference. Do we need this sense of certainty in our history, this sense of belonging? Does leaving your homeland leave you out on a limb?

The second reason is that I carry with me this illness. It's with me all the time but it hides behind me like a shadow and only shows itself occasionally. So, you never really get to know it. Cures have been offered in the press but the illness would still hide behind me, it wouldn't show itself in order for the doctors to chase it away, so how could we state with any certainty that it's gone for good? So, for the time being it's a friend (or should that be enemy?) that i don't know very well.

So watch this space as I get to know it whilst I'm out on a limb.