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, 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 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