Wednesday, 9 November 2011

Dear Smudge

Dear Smudge,

I write on behalf of 'De Management' who wish to call attention to some recent, and flagrant, disregard of 'the household rules'. It is incumbent upon me to outline that said rules are to ensure the mutual enjoyment of our surroundings and/or each other's company. I therefore, draw your attention to the following matters and ask you for your support in making our family life one of mutual respect and admiration:

1. 5am is NOT breakfast time. No amount of licking of faces, pouncing on a noisy toy or jumping up and down on the bed will induce the mother and father to get up and provide you with nourishment at this ungodly hour.
2. Underneath the duvet is NOT a place for pussy-cats. You sleep ON TOP of the duvet.
3. Yes, we are aware that the bedside lights can be turned on or off by touching them. There is no need for a nighly demonstration of such effects, particularly before 6am.
4. The four poster bed is not a climbing frame for pussy-cats. There is no need therefore, for you to climb the curtains, launch yourself onto the top of the frame and run around it as if it were the Formula 1 race track.
5. Pussy-cats go OUTSIDE in the daytime: ones natural processes can be best served in someone else's garden rather than the litter tray which 'De Management' have to clean out.
6. Toys which squeak, groan, whir or include attachments with bells do NOT need to be ignored all evening and then become an object of fascination once everyone has gone to bed.
7. Anything that goes into the litter tray, STAYS in the litter tray and does not need to be removed from said tray and played with on the kitchen floor.
8. It is with regret that we must confirm, after the recent munching of bread items on top of the toaster, that the breakfast bar is out of bounds.
9. Persons walking around the house with no socks or shoes on are not inviting you to bite their ankles.
10. Finally, what goes up, must come down and therefore, if you manage to climb into next door's garden you must ensure that you are able to climb back. Step ladders, the fire brigade or the RSPCA will no longer be deployed in rescuing adventurous pussy-cats.

I thank you in advance for your careful observance of these rules from now on.


De Management.

Sunday, 6 November 2011

Peeping Tom

My neighbours think that I'm a peeping tom. Well, I have been peering over the wall into their garden of late but I have a genuine reason. Really I do.

Smudge, previously mentioned kitten of magnanimous cuteness, has recently discovered how to climb onto the six foot wall that divides our garden from next door's. And so he has ventured into their garden. This however, is where his genius fails him. You see, from our side of the garden he can jump onto the window sill, then onto one part of the wall and meander, at his leisurely pace, onto the dividing wall and jump down into next door's garden. Unfortunately, in true pussy cat style he has not sussed out his escape route. He cannot jump high enough to get back onto the wall and get out of their garden and into ours.

So, this morning saw witness to my husband employing a step ladder (after some diligent ringing of next door's doorbell to ask permission, to no avail) and climbing over said wall to rescue cute and naughty kitten. To say the kitten was ungrateful would be an understatement.

So, I have just let said naughty kitten into the garden again and guess where I can hear him crying from now? Well, tough love is called for and he will be applying his masterly precision in acrobatics and figuring out how to get back over that wall before I get arrested for being a peeping tom!

Tuesday, 1 November 2011


‎I came across this quotation recently:

 'The only thing that makes life possible is permanent, intolerable uncertainty: not knowing what comes next' (The Left Hand of Darkness, Ursula Le Guin).

I was reading the book for my reading group - well, when I say reading, I mean wading through it as one would wade through a swimming pool full of chicken soup: you might like chicken soup but immersing yourself in it is another thing altogether. The English language I love, science fiction, not so much.

Anyway, is that really true, that it's the uncertainty that keeps us going? We surround ourselves with routine and habit: is this our attempt to make sense or create some order out of the uncertainty? I have had a week of goodbyes, and I can tell you that all of that comes with just about as much uncertainty as I can take. The first goodbye was to a member of staff at work, who, for personal reasons decided it was time to go. It was, in my opinion, just a crying shame. Will I see her again? And then, Jimmy Saville died. I mean, aren't your childhood heroes supposed to live forever. No uncertainty about that, surely. Who will be next - Rolf Harris? That just doesn't bear thinking about, does it?

And then my parents, who had been staying with me for a week, returned home. Goodbye, again. Dickens was right about goodbyes:

'Why is it that we can better bear to part in spirit than in body, and whilst we have the fortitude to act farewell, have not the nerve to say it? (The Old Curiosity Shop, Charles Dickens)

Those routines, going through the motions, that's what he means. We can act it out, but to say it removes the uncertainty and makes it permanent. Goodbye not au revoir. So, what comes from the uncertainty, Le Guin, is hope. Hope that, yes, we will see these people again, the only uncertain part, the difficult bit, is when, but the hope is what makes the uncertainty tolerable.

Saturday, 22 October 2011

To MRI or not to MRI, that is the question.

I'm in hiding. No, really I am. Not 'I'm in the witness protection programme' type hiding, but 'my neurologist wants to send me for another MRI' type hiding. I am not going. My mum says I don't have to, and I can get a note and everything. I'm not going.

Don't you ever feel like you're just a guinea pig? I'm sure it must be fascinating for the neurologists: MS. Let's face it, it's an enigma. For each individual, it's different. It manifests itself in so many different ways that the lab rats working on a cure just can't keep up. The first case of MS was diagnosed in the 1400s and we still don't have a cure. TB, syphillis, smallpox, the plague. We've got it covered. The person who finds the cure for MS is likely to be canonised, never mind celebrated.

But I draw the line at medical procedures (and associated costs to the insurance industry) that are simply carried out as a result of my neurologist's curiosity. Don't get me wrong: I like my neurologist a lot: he's one of the good guys. But an MRI is only going to tell me what I already know. The reason he wants me to go is because (a) I haven't had an MRI for a year and (b) the new hospital here has one of those all-singing-all-dancing-power-of-the-space-shuttle-launcher fancy MRIs that will give  a fantastically clear picture of the bright lights inside my head. Apparently, there are only three of these superpower MRIs in the world. So, I guess Dr Neurology is all excited: a child with a new toy.

Is this simply a case of, I don't want to ask the question because I don't want to hear the answer? I admit, it's a possibility. Ignorance is bliss, after all. And, eventually I'll put my toys back into the pram and I'll go for the MRI. I'll contribute to the growing body of knowledge about MS and I will be grateful for the advances that are being made in medical technology that allow me to have one of the most powerful MRIs in the world.

But, for now, I need to sulk just a little bit longer.

Friday, 21 October 2011

OCD, me? Really?

Most people get excited about social events, family gatherings, birthdays and holidays. Me: I am no more excited than when I am about to embark on a new course of study. New opportunities, new horizons open up within the vista. And I have that feeling again. Here I stand on the precipice of new learning. I am so excited I can barely breathe. I bought six textbooks this morning. I love to soak up the aroma of new paper; examine the glossy covers and read the blurb on the back several times.

The thesis topic festers and formulates in my mind until it bursts onto the paper, fully formed and screaming like a newborn infant. And then the hard work begins. The long hours; the tedium of reading and re-reading the textbooks to accumulate their worth and redistribute it in a new and original work, applying the theory in innovative ways. My mind is on fire.

But, lest we get carried away, we must start with baby steps. One must begin with what one knows. As a category A person with OCD tendencies, there was no other place to start than with the organisation skills that will carry me through the next five years of intense concentration: I must reorganise the bookshelves. Alphabetically? No, this would be indulging one's OCD a little too far. All necessary texts within reaching distance of the desk? Certainly. One shelf for primary works, one for secondary? No, cross referencing would be required. No, no, no. Get a grip. And so, a happy morning of PhD related activities ensued. I am organised. I feel righteous.

Of course, that is only the beginning. A friend has suggested that the next step is, inevitably, to purchase and arrange one's stationery. Coloured highlighters, notebooks of varying colours (co-ordinated with said highlighters of course), folder dividers, post it notes (in a variety of sizes and shapes, coloured coded of course), printer paper, pencils and a nice writing pen that I will never use because I type everything, but it looks nice on the desk.

So, there you have it. The PhD is begun. All I have to do now is to write a research proposal, find a university, find a tutor, fill out an application form, get three references, locate and send a piece of my writing 5000 words long, re-write said research proposal in light of said tutor's comments, re-send application form, get permission from current university employer to do course with other university, write big fat cheque...What was I going to write about again?

Thursday, 29 September 2011

Bollywood Masterchef

I had some friends over for dinner last night. My friends are from a variety of cultures and nations: some don't eat pork, some don't eat what could I cook that would be tasty for everyone. I know, I'll make curry!

Now, my experience with curry has largely involved picking up the telephone and calling the local takeaway. But, oh no, I couldn't possibly do that when my friends come round - I have to cook. So, I freed the afternoon, cracked open the recipe books and got down to it. Hmmm. Six hours later I manage to grab a 2 minute shower before the guests arrived! OMG, Indian cooking takes all day!

So, just for the uninitiated (because now, of course, I feel that I have immersed myself in the Indian culture and am guru of Indian cooking) here is the guide to cooking Indian food the Indian way and the British way:

Indian Way (for guests arriving at about 7pm)

1. Early start shopping: Buy a large truck and back it up to the loading bay of the local supermarket. Purchase every spice they have.
2. Don't forget you also need lamb and chicken by the truck load.
3. Breads: Purchase large clay oven known as a Tandoor and place in garden, in which to cook the roti. Employ Indian servant to make the breads and cook them in said large clay oven
4. Ok, so that takes us up to 6am. Now you can begin the preparation.
5. Finely chop a basketful of onions, layer on copious amounts of salt and leave for hours so that they lose their excess water.
6. Now, squeeze out excess water and deep fry the onions in batches. Breathe in the gorgeous aromatic smell because this is as good as its going to get today.
7. Divide said fried onions into two batches, reserve one and puree the other with water.
8. Spices: These are best kept in a large container, otherwise all the neighbours will be round wondering if you are running an Indian restaurant from your home.
9. You will have been advised by expert recipe to purchase spices whole (not ready ground) but now you will be required to grind them to a powder. Hmm.
10. Marinate meat in spices, pureed onion mixture and yoghurt for next two hours.
11. Panic because that definitely doesn't smell right and you can't remember whether you put in a teaspoon of garum marsala or a tablespoon.
12. Now, heat meat in marinade, adding more spices as you go, for 45 minutes.
13. Check on little man on tandoor duty.
14. Mix lethal cocktails so that guests will get drunk quickly and won't notice that food is awful.
15. Finally, put dish in the oven for final 45 minutes and spend half an hour re-reading recipe and wondering what you were supposed to do with the saved deep fried onion mixture.
16. Rice: soak genuine Basmati rice in water for 30 minutes. Now cook in boiling water watching it for every second so that you can remove it from hot water after only 5 minutes so that it is just cooked and not stodgy and sticky.
17. Now taste everything. Drink heavily from hip flask (or lethal cocktails made earlier) add salt to everything and hope that no-one notices that it definitely doesn't look like the picture in the recipe book.
18. Get guests drunk before serving and laugh off your culinary incompetence. What are friends for?

The British Way (for guests arriving at 7pm)

1. Go to supermarket and purchase jars labelled 'homepride curry sauce' or if you are really pushing the boat out anything made by 'Pataks'.
2. Begin cooking half an hour before guests arrive. Put chicken in pot, pour over sauce, put in oven for 45 minutes.
3. Put Uncle Ben's boil-in-the-bag rice into saucepan and cover with boiling water.
4, Drain rice and pour cooked chicken and sauce over it.
5. Voila!
6. Next Morning: take two immodium tablets with water. Lie down for rest of day.

Monday, 26 September 2011

Will all those with MS please stand up

Years ago, I worked for Social Services. I had an admin type role but worked alongside Social workers. What I remember most notably about that time, was the diversity of personality types that were attracted to Social Work as a profession. Entering the social work office, you were met with people from all walks of life; all with a unique and diverse outlook. Of course, looking back on it now, I realise that that is as it should be. Social workers have the unique task of meeting people often when they are at their lowest ebb, and need help. And all of those people (or punters, as one of the more colourful social workers used to call them) come from different backgrounds and have different expectations and needs. It is only fitting that the team of people who help to satisfy those needs should to be equally heterogeneous.

Now, when I look around me at the people I know who have MS, the same multiplicity is what I see. The longer I live with the beast, the more I come to realise that he stalks his way between us and his pathway is indiscriminate. The stereotypical image of an MS sufferer as a wheelchair user no longer applies. I have met mums with young children, grannies, fitness instructors, yummy mummies, men with stressful jobs and a penchant for speedboats: all of whom have met, and are on first name terms with, the beast.

We each deal with him in our unique ways, with a little help from the neurologists and the ever growing pharmaceutical industry. And at some point, it will be our turn to accept the assistance of the social workers, and we will be comforted by their individuality and the fact that when you open that door to the social work office, the diversity of personality is as extensive as the reach of the beast.

Sunday, 4 September 2011

Tooth Fairy in Training

Yesterday, one of my daughter's remaining baby teeth felt out. At this event, my daughter is always ecstatic, not least because it means a visit from the tooth fairy. At nine years old she still expects the tooth fairy's visit, although she teeters on the brink of disbelief. Father Christmas was abandoned some time ago, but the heavenly creature who swaps teeth for money, remains a firm friend for now.

So, at bedtime, my daughter carefully places the tooth under her pillow, wrapped in a tissue and I wait for the moment when she is deeply asleep, to sneak into her room, steal it and leave the agreed monetary renumeration. Now, don't go imagining at this point, that I don a pair of wings, halo and a sparkly skirt to complete the effect. When one thinks of the tooth fairy, one can conjure up the image of Tinkerbell from Disney's Peter Pan or Ariel from Shakespeare's The Tempest but in my house its more like the scene from Fantasia with the ballet dancing elephants (or were they rhinos???).

Anyway, I manage to sneak into her room. I delicately slide my hand under the pillow and feel the tissue parcel tucked away there. My daughter stirs and in my haste I knock the tissue and it slides down the gap between the mattress and the headboard! I deposit the money just as my daughter awakens and announces that she wants to go to the bathroom. Ok, this is it. I have about two minutes to retrieve the tissue parcel before she comes back. I prostrate myself on the floor, fumbling under the bed in the dark, amongst the dust and debris but the darn thing isn't there. Oh, heck. It must have lodged itself between the headboard and the wall! Great, I can't get it now without pulling the bed out and making a racquet as it slides on the hard floor! I decide to abandon it as a lost cause and hope that in the light of the morning, my daughter won't notice it - perhaps she will be too distracted by the reward!

My plan worked, thank goodness, and this morning I managed to retrieve the offending article and deposit it in the treasure box with the other spoils from tooth fairy visits. I almost have enough now for a full set of dentures for when I'm an elderly woman. Just a couple more visits from the tooth fairy and I'm there!

Wednesday, 24 August 2011

To my children...

I know that this is hard for you, as it is for me. To see the people you love, and be a part of their lives, for only a moment and then to walk away. It feels like you are a visitor on their journey, a holidaymaker as someone else. The familiarity, and ease, is overwhelming.

I know that this is hard for you, as it is for me. Wondering when you will see them next; when you will be here again. Forcing yourself to take that flight back to normality; to school and work; to routine and a culture you might have immersed yourself in, but to which you will never belong.

I know that this is hard for you, as it is for me. But I can promise you that it is worth it. The skills you are learning, the life that you are leading, will present you with opportunities that I dream of for you. Your exposure to other cultures will, hopefully, develop in you the ability to be tolerant, to adapt and to accept that not everyone is the same. Difference is not something to be afraid of.

I know that this is hard for you, as it is for me. To walk away from them. But be assured that it is Ok to make your own path. Be independent. Be extraordinary. Be different.

Thursday, 18 August 2011

Culture Vulture

Introspection and reflection are the cornerstones of good teaching. At least, that's the mantra one repeats after a two year, part time PGCE. The trouble with being introspective, is that you have a tendency to apply it not only in the work place, but throughout your own personal life. And so, this recent trip to the UK has me apply those very skills to the idea of belonging to a Country's culture.

We all joke about Expat Brats: the breed of children we are raising in someone else's Country. But there's more to being an expat brat than having difficulty picking a vacuum cleaner out of a line up of household equipment. There's the lack of identifiable culture to which you belong.

I used to belong here. I used to be able to identify my values, my manners and my culture amongst the debris of British society. But I am struggling. I have to ask myself whether it is society in my own Country that has changed, or is it me? Am I now such an outsider that I see the UK with new eyes? There's no doubt that, even if I had stayed, I would be lamenting the evils of looting and rioting in the Country's major cities but as an outsider, these actions become representative of society as a whole. What I see is a fragmented society; one in which there is no sense of community because that sense has been removed. 'We owe each other nothing' rather than 'united we stand, united we fall'. And I am saddened and a little ashamed. Sheepishly will I walk back into immigration in Dubai, with my British passport in my hand.

I want to slap Blighty about the face and say 'come on, stop sulking and get that sense of culture back'. When my own expat brats ask me to which culture they belong, I want to be able to list what's great about the UK, so pull your socks up and give me something to tell them.  

Sunday, 31 July 2011

Hey Honey I'm home...

And so the journey begins. The airport is throbbing, even the Mahaba lounge is full of tired travellers jostling for a seat and the free buffet. The fun part is people watching, guessing people's stories. Take the guy over there, sharing a table with a woman he has never met before. My goodness, he could bore for England; giving her his sales pitch, his 'hey, look at me, I'm a really interesting person'. I'll bet she can't wait for the gate to open to take her flight. You watch the tourists, the only ones stupid enough to be in the not-so-duty-free shop. The MTMs (married the maid) men on their first trip to the Phillipines, wondering if the novelty of the nocturnal incentives is starting to wear off.

The best bit is getting on the plane first and watching all of the muppets who just don't seem to be able to work out the seating plan. Here's a clue for you: it's in numerical order. And then of course there's the overhead locker to contend with and there is always one passenger who gets on last with two or three large suitcases and delays the take off trying to find somewhere to put them. The exasperated air stewardess grimacing whilst trying to maintain her polite demeanour, grappling around trying to find a space in the already crammed lockers.

At last the doors close and you can take off. You think you're safe to relax and begin watching the movies and then you are interuppted by the safety video and a film entitled 'short history of Emirates' that is not so short.

Seven hours of films you've seen before, mediocre food, cramped conditions and the tedium of wanting to be somewhere five minutes ago. But when you step off that plane and take your first lungful of British fresh air, it's all suddenly worth it. The land of hope and glory lies before you, so open your umbrella, put on your cardigan and rush into the arms of the relatives you haven't seen for a year. Seven hour flight? Washed away by the first welcome home kiss.

Sunday, 24 July 2011

Traumatic Day

The phrase 'curiosity killed the cat' is true. No really it is. Well, I suppose it might be 'curiosity got the cat into a lot of trouble'. Smudge is very, very curious and this has led to a rather traumatic day for him. He is into everything. It's a bit like having a toddler who wants to get into every cupboard. There are carrier bags stuffed into the gap between the dishwasher and the cupboard because yesterday this was the primary area of investigation. Underneath the cooker is also a favourite. And the fact that he is not allowed into the utility room to explore the washing machine, Smudge takes as a personal affront.

So, today, he decides that the inside of the fridge MUST be scrutinised: just as my 9 year old decides to get out something for her lunch and as she closes the door (without looking down)... Needless to say, I think the curiosity to interrogate the nether regions of the fridge are now not at the top of Smudge's agenda.

This is all followed by a trip to the vet. Hmm. The cat box comes out and Smudge is asleep in his bed so I gently place him inside the cat box and...he goes berserk. He was really upset. We manage to make it to the vet, get him checked over, get the worming formula (and confirmation that Smudge is only 4 to 5 weeks old) and I have to carry him home on my lap in the car to calm him down. Methinks that perhaps when Smudge and his brothers and sisters were abandoned, they were driven to the dumping ground in a cat box. So, on the advice of a friend, the cat box has been left out, to reduce its traumatic symbolism.

Anyway, on an up note, the children are now on their best behaviour. This is in view of a recent policy decision that punishment for any infringements is now to clean out the litter box!

Friday, 22 July 2011

Bringing up Baby

Ok, so we could stand it no longer. A house without a cat, for me, is like a room without any books. Dull, dull, dull. So, yesterday we adopted a kitten. He had been rescued, along with his two brothers and sisters, by a kind lady who took him in until homes could be found. So, this tiny bundle of black and white fluff is now an integral part of our household. (That's a saucer in the picture by the way, not a dinner plate, so you can see how tiny he is!).

Cats are majestic and elegant creatures. They have poise and grace. This one is very Egyptian looking, with large ears and a tiny face. He looks as if he just stepped off a panel of hieroglyphs on the wall of Tutankamum's tomb. In terms of a name I'm thinking about something noble like Osiris or Byron. So, what did my children think fit to call this magnificent, regal creature? Smudge. Hmmm.

Smudge is only about 5 weeks old. He was abandonded, like so many kittens here in Dubai so he requires special treatment. He has special baby cat food that smells pretty much the same going in, as it does coming out. I also bought him special baby creature milk that actually came with a bottle with teets on it! Smudge didn't have a clue what the teets were, but he drinks it comfortably from a saucer. Today, methinks I need to buy him something to chew, judging by the scratches on my hands, arms and earlobes from him play-biting.

This morning when I got up, I couldn't find him. Of course, in true pussy-cat style he couldn't possibly sleep in the bed I bought for him, or in the little hidey-hole in the scratching post, oh no, he had settled underneath the sofa in the kitchen!

So, he's loved already and most definitely here to stay.

Saturday, 9 July 2011


So, I'm writing this paper at the moment about Digital Natives. For the uninitiated, this does not describe you. To qualify to be a Digital Native you need to have been born after about 1985 and have grown up with web 2.0 technology. Digital Natives are fluent in all things, well, digital, and are characterised (some would say) by a need for instant gratification and reward, and are proficient multitaskers (yes, even the boys) (Prensky, 2001). Anyone who doesn't fall into this category is called a Digital Immigrant - that's you and me. We have to learn the technology and the language of the age, in order to keep up: we are not native to it but are indoctrinated with other forms of communication and use digital technology as a secondary, rather than a primary, channel. Hmm.

This gets me thinking about the language of these Digital Natives, with their shortened words and acronyms. U no the kinda thng. When I worked in the UK, we had an acronym we used for odd students: FLKs. Funny Looking Kids. So, I thought it would be fun, as a Digital Immigrant, to come up with a few new acronymns particular to us: a Digital Immigrant language. Here are a few examples (and please feel free to add any that you can think of):

For those of the Digital Immigrant Generation:

UBH: unwanted body hair. Hmmm.
PMSL: Pissing myself whilst laughing
MILF - Mother in law from Hell - doesn't apply to me but I know some of us are familially challenged
DBILF - Daughter's boyfriend I'll like to....
BTW - Back to work
HOW - Hungover at work
SILT - student I'd like to Throttle
MTS - Mum's taxi service
ASAP - Always spending a penny (for those members of the tiny bladder club)
LCT - Last Chance Trendy (Middle aged guy driving a Ferrari)

And those specific to Dubai:
JJ: Jumeriah Jane - for anyone living outside Dubai, this is the name given to the Designered-up housewives who spend all day shopping and getting their nails done. They couldn't spell the word career
BDJJ: Badly dressed Jumeriah Jane - I'll leave that up to your imagination
EB: Expat Brat - name given to most of my students. Kids who can't pack their own bags or wipe their own noses/arses, because the maid usually does it
MWM: Mum with maid - these are the mums you see in the malls and in restaurants, who can't go anywhere without the maid for fear that they may have to communicate with, or indeed look after, their own children
MTM: Married the maid - sad, middle aged men who are too lazy/stupid to look for a wife and so marry the hired help. The malls are crawling with them.
SSD: Slow Speedbump Driver: these are the guys who buy a 4x4, which incidentally is meant to be driven over rugged terrain, and drive over speedbumps as if the car is extremely fragile

I'll kp u psted if i thnk of any mre. TTFN.

Wednesday, 22 June 2011

Summer's Here

Shhh, you have to be quiet. Crouch down and you might just be able to spot one. They're rare, and most often only seen at this time of year. They are timid creatures, and getting near one can be tricky. Yes, there's one: it's a lesser spotted removals van.

Yes, it's that time of year again. The humidity's up; the daily joggers and power walkers have been replaced by the lesser spotted removals companies. Yes, it's time to move house or leave Dubai. You see them every where - like termites crawling out of the woodwork when it's raining. Schools out, University is finished and people flock to the airport like bees to a honeypot. Summer is officially here.

I always feel a bit sad at this point in the year: it's weeks until I go home for a UK fix and my students are gone. Scattered to the four corners of the earth until October. Many of these won't return to Dubai but take the opportunity to study in London and transfer there over the summer. I try to dissuade them, tell them it's cold, miserable and dangerous, but they don't listen. So, in true educator style I thought a training session may be in order for those brave souls giving up the beach and the sunshine for the rain and dirt of the UK. Sessions begin next week and will cover the following topics:

1. Security in the supermarket: What is a stab vest and why must I wear it at all times?
2. Child in a sweetie shop:  Yes, the pubs are open all day but that doesn't mean you need to spend all day in them
3. Pickpockets: No she wasn't feeling your bum, she was nicking your wallet
4. Cardigans: what they are, where to buy them and discussion of the probability of the temperature ever rising above 20 degrees
5. Car theft: why I can't park my Ferrari in Asda car park and expect it still to be there tomorrow
6.  Alternatives to the Pub: Cannabis, Skunk, or E: your options
7. What is a part time job and why do I need one?
8. No Abaya here: why a woman in a short skirt and crop top is not necessarily a prostitute

Classes begin next week. Enrolments at

Wednesday, 15 June 2011

Please explain it to my husband, I only understand rocket science!

So, my plan for the summer is to put a Phd proposal together. I am the Queen of studying, I love it. A Phd is not to be sniffed at; it's a big commitment, but in my educated opinion, is far less scary than the paradigm known in the business world as the Blackberry phone package.

My daughter wanted a Blackberry - not an iphone, not a Nokia E72, a Blackberry. It's the phone of the moment (if you are 12) and being able to BBM is every girl's dream (apparently) Well, let's face it, this is infinitely preferable to her coming home saying she'd like a gram of cocaine to snort off her boyfriend's butt. So, we charge off to the mobile phone shop.

As we enter, I am greeted by a boy who I am convinced is missing school for this, who explains the various options available, in what appears to be a language I have never spoken before. Oh, he's speaking in English, it's just the order of the words I am not getting. He hands us a contract to sign. I glance across at my husband who looks like he's just been asked to seal the deal to sell his soul. 'I am not sure I want to sign up to a contract', he says, looking at me pityingly. I catch a glimpse of the look of panic on my daughter's face and almost reach for the hankies. 'Ok', I say to the small boy, 'could we just go over the plans again please, I only understand rocket science'.

 'You get six months free of this package (he points to a card on the desk) if you pay 120 dirhams a month',  he explains for the third or fourth time, sighing.
'But why is it 120 dirhams a month if it's free for the first six months?' I enquire
'Well, you have to pay the first month, plus 25 dirhams, and then it's free for six months, then you go onto the 120 dirhams a month package, unless you pay 75 dirhams plus one month and then it's 75 dirhams a month but you don't get six months free you only get three'. What??????? Ahhhhhhhhh!

Eventually, I manage to grasp that we can purchase the phone without the soul selling contract, if we buy a sim card from another telecommunications company. This we manage to achieve and the equilibrium of my daughter's street cred is restored.

Wednesday, 8 June 2011

What did you say? Can't hear you over the snoring...

If snoring were a competitive sport, my husband would be reigning Olympic gold medalist. I am not talking amateur snoring here - the occasional snort - I am talking ear splitting decibels of championship grunts, groans, snorts and whines. I am a snoring widow. And with this prestigious position in mind, the summer, and the annual trek to the Uk looms.

Now, we have an olympic sized bed. You know the ones: you get them in hotels. You lie on one side of the vast landscape of fluffy pillows and starched cotton sheets, and you have to telephone your husband on the other side to arrange any...well, I'll leave that up to your imagination.

But, the annual trek to the Uk involves sleeping in a minature bed (my mum in law's spare room double). Closeness abounds. And with closeness comes the inevitable cacophany of not-so-tuneful racket that is my husband's nightly audition for the X Factor. So, what's a girl to do?

Well, for the other millions of snoring-widows out there, here's my 'sleeping an inch from my somniferous-soloist of a husband' survival guide:

1. The key to a good night's sleep is to fall asleep first. The most effective comatose inducing drug I know of, is alcohol. So, at least two glasses of wine and you've got it covered.
2. A little note about earplugs: industrial strength, 'standing on the shop floor whilst they are testing the world's largest jet engine and you can't hear a thing' strength earplugs. Most chemists have them.
3. No sex. The myth that everyone falls asleep afterwards, basking in the afterglow of their glory, is exactly that...a myth. men fall asleep; women lie awake listening to men snoring in the afterglow of their glory. Reserve the horizontal shuffle for earlier on in the evening.
4. And finally, when it all gets too much, I find a pillow over the face solves the issue perfectly. But then, I am writing this from my prison cell.

Thursday, 2 June 2011

Procrastination Perfection

When I tell someone that we actually finish teaching at Easter, they often say 'what do you do all day?' and to be honest, it's a bit difficult to say. By mid June however, I have become the Queen of wasting time; the perfect procrastinator. I can spend all day doing literally, nothing. So, for those uninitiated in this fine art I thought I would pass on some helpful hints. Here's a description of the perfectly procrastinated day at work:

10am. Optimal arrival time at work because you can immediately see which of your co-workers are equally lazy buggers by the number of cars in the car park. The boss's car is unlikely to be here by now.
10.05am Say good morning to everyone who is in, stopping to chat with as many as possible.
10.20am Log onto computer and whilst it whirls and groans, make first cup of tea, stopping to chat with any member of staff already in the kitchen.
10.45am Take out numerous papers, journal articles and half written papers and place them, strewn across your desk. This is sure to make you look extremely busy and intellectual. (For anyone struggling with this, see 'Professor Yaffel' in our building - he has this down to a fine art)
11am Log on to Facebook. Play Cityville. Log off and then login to your child's Facebook page to spend half an hour playing their Cityville and sending yourself stuff to your own Cityville account.
11.30am Log back onto your Facebook account to check new wall postings and finish game of scrabble.
11.45am Time for a cup of coffee from Starbucks. Remember to go round the office first, asking everyone if they want a Starbucks and write down orders. Walk to Starbucks to buy searing hot coffee in the 40 degree heat.
12.15pm. Log onto work emails, read them slowly, swear a lot. Send a few rude replies.
12.45pm Log onto Linkedin and read updates from all the other saddos on there.
1pm Lunch. Don't bring your own packed lunch because you can waste half an hour wandering round the food court trying to decide what to have.
1.30pm Bring lunch back to desk and eat it surrounded by your strewn papers so that it looks like you are just 'squeezing lunch in, in an already very busy day'
2pm. Log onto personal emails. I have four accounts so this takes a while. Reply to anyone who has bothered to share the details of their life with you today.
3pm. Coffee break.
3.15pm. Log onto work emails again. Swear more, send more rude replies.
3.45pm. Time for a blog entry I think.
4pm. Pick up a number of the strewn papers, pack them into your laptop bag, with your laptop, in the pretence that is called 'I'm going to just finish up with this at home' and leave for the day.



Sunday, 29 May 2011

Oh, grow up Dubai!

Dickens talks about how Mid Victorian society has a veneer (I'm going to suggest that this was in Dombey and Son, but please don't quote me on this because I have just spent the last 40 minutes flicking through the 927 pages and I can't find the quotation - just take my word for it!). He discusses how, if you lift off the rooftops of the middle class houses, and peer closely at those pious, respectable people, you would be shocked by what really goes on behind closed doors. Things in Victorian society were not all they seemed to be. Dubai is very similar. As a tourist what you see is the veneer of glitz and glamour; the architecture, 5 star hotels, exotic restaurants and designer shopping malls. As a resident the view is far more complex: the view that underneath that veneer of sophistication is a nation desperately struggling against western culture whilst trying to appear to be accepting of it.

For example, a multinational city needs rules and laws to live by and there are rules and regulations here, like there are in any city, the difference is, that only a few of them are enforced. There is a smoking ban, but you can smoke pretty much anywhere: you should strap your child into a car seat, but most don't; there is a ministry for everything (I collectively refer to them as 'the Ministry of Magic') but, tell me, what do they do again?  Take consumer rights of any kind. Buy something here at your peril because if anything goes wrong, you have no recourse whatsoever. I have experienced this first hand over the past three months.

We purchased a desktop computer. It doesn't work; it has never worked. The well-known-digital retailer has tried to repair it four times, and although they have admitted they can't fix it, they refuse to replace it. Why? Because they know we can do absolutely nothing about it.

And last week, I laughed out loud to hear the discussion on the radio of the Snoop Dog concert. He pitched up on stage wearing a Kandora and was swearing, apparently. An American rap star swearing, you don't say!? It does beg the question of whether Dubai can cope with Western culture doesn't it? You can't have it both ways. If you invite western culture in, then you have to accept it for what it brings. And this just might mean that Dubai has to lose the adolescent temper tantrums, and just grow up.

Monday, 23 May 2011

Would you like wine with that?

I am in danger of liking cooking. Anyone who knows me is now rolling on the floor laughing. OK, so in the past I may have hinted that (a) cooking is not my favourite pastime (b) it is not a skill I excel in and (c) should only be endured whilst accompanied by wine (which I may occasionally add to the food).

But recently, I have begun to enjoy preparing food for dinner parties. I will concede that the eating, chatting and drinking bit is still more enjoyable than the cooking part but nevertheless, and I am choking on the words here, I like it. And, what is more bizarre, is that my friends like it too - my food I mean. They actually eat it and make those 'hmmm' noises. Perhaps they go home and cry, lamenting the terrible endurance test of eating my food, but they are good actors if they do.

As cooks go, I am messy. I can hear my maid tutting when she hears the pans rattling in the kitchen, wondering what disaster she will find when I have finally exhausted my culinary curiosity. The cat, if I had one, would scurry away in fear of its life. The children, ever stalwart in their innocence, will pop into the kitchen, sniff the pots and pans, dip a finger in and pronounce the verdict.

Is this new found hobby a result of getting older? Am I  in danger of becoming my mother or my mother in law? Or God forbid, Delia Smith???? No, it is the realisation that if I want to eat decent food in my own home, cookery is a skill best mastered!

Thursday, 19 May 2011

The Tail wagging the Dog

The news made me chuckle the other day (as is often the case when living in a Country where the news is censored). In the same breath, the newsreader reported that Peter Werth had gone bankrupt and Boots Pharmacy had made record profits. So, Britain is a nation of badly dressed hypochondriacs then!

The Pharmaceutical industry is huge and powerful, though, isn't it? I went on a training course on Monday and sat next to this lovely Egyptian woman who, despite being a qualified Dentist, was working for a pharmaceutical company, working with people who had HIV or Cancer. She explained that the work was far more challenging, and, I suspect, better paid.

I am beginning to understand just how the pharmaceutical industry drives the medical profession - a bit like the tail wagging the dog. The newly available medication for MS is currently four times the cost of the old one. In what warped, dreamlike scenario can the manufacturing of a tablet be more costly than a small vial of powder, a glass syringe, two alcohol wipes, and the associated equipment needed to adminster said concoction? It isn't, of course, but the medical brains behind the innovation are expensive. And, of course, this marvellous creation emanates from a Country where all medicine is private, and the cost of such will be swallowed up by a multi-million dollar insurance industry.

So, the question is: when an NHS Doctor makes a decision about which medication will best suit his newly diagnosed MS patient, is it the patient's health and welfare he considers, or the strain on his budget?

Thursday, 12 May 2011

Are you free tonight?

Most of the time my life is an episode of that soap "Doctors' but with a lot less sex. Appointments for this, tablets for get the picture. Let's face it, when you've been married for a while, sex is one of those things you do along with everything else: picking the kids up, making the dinner, mowing the lawn and so on. Far be it from me to suggest that it becomes a matter of routine. I can see you, shaking your head, pretending it doesn't apply to you, but I'm sure it does.

At my reading group we recently read The Slap, and the one thing we all agreed on was that the amount of sex the characters had in the novel was far too much. 'Totally unrealistic' was the chorus of the reading group. So, it's not just me then.

So, what do we do when we get to the routine stage? We apply our imagination. Games, roll play, dressing up. A bit of fun so that for a few moments we can pretend that we are young and sprightly, adventurous and carefree. You've seen those films where the characters decide to meet in a hotel, pretending that they've never met. We watched a film recently in which the characters, who were all single executives, joined a group where you dialled a number and simply said 'Are you free tonight?' and a meeting would be arranged for no-strings-attached-casual-sex.

So, in light of this 'humdrum lets have some fun'  and put some spark back into our sex life attitude, I decide to send my husband a text saying simply 'Are you free tonight?' But, instead of a sexy and enthusisatic response, I get a quizzical phonecall 'What are you on about - you know I'm not out tonight!'

Well, there was no harm in trying.

Saturday, 7 May 2011

Starstruck - not!

The woman at Dubai One is stalking me. No, really, she is. I must have one of those faces that just says 'please humilitate me in front of your television viewers'. I was rushing to get to the Youth Festival (I was judging the Fashion section - yeah I know, unbelieveable) and this woman from Dubai One rushes up, sticks a camera in my face and asks 'Do you mind answering a few questions?' and before I have chance to say 'Well, actually I'm in a bit of a hurry...', the camera's rolling and I  transmogrify from the normally articulate, reasonably intelligent person that I am, into a bumbling idiot, giggling like a schoolgirl. And they actually air it!

So, the week before the Royal Wedding, my daughter and I are doing some emergency 'she doesn't have the right clothes to go to Paris' shopping and the woman from Dubai One pops up, as if by magic, and sticks her now very familiar camera in my face and asks me if I will be watching the Royal Wedding, and do I think Kate will make a good Princess? Once again, I stumble through a few phrases, acting as if I have just pitched up from Mars and have never spoken English before. And once again, I am humiliated before the UAE population when the show airs.

I should have learned my lesson in England. I had been decorating and was fed up, so packed my younger daughter into the car and we went to a shopping centre. My younger daughter was about 2 years old at the time and I had just given her a packet of chocolate buttons, which she had decided could best be absorbed through her skin, and had smeared most of it onto her face. Because I was decorating I had paint in my hair and let's just describe my outfit as 'not exactly designered up' and leave it at that. I could see that there was some sort of demonstration going on, with an audience standing around and cameras were rolling. Up pops this immacuately dressed woman, asking me if I wouldn't mind giving my opinion of a new product they were launching. I thought fine, I have 5 minutes, thinking that she meant as part of the audience that had gathered. But oh no. She meant in front of the audience, live on air for the shoping channel! By the time I realised, it was too late to back out. The woman was handing me a disclaimer to sign and I was standing, paint-in-hair and all, toddler covered in chocolate, in front of a TV audience. Great.

So, from now on, I am soooo pro the abaya and full headgear. Perhaps the Dubai One woman won't be able to pick me out of the crowd so easily and what little dignity I have left, will remain in tact. 

Thursday, 5 May 2011

Medication Morons

So, my medication over the past few weeks has become troublesome. Dr Neurology asks me not to use any more of the current batch of meds and order some more. Hmm. This stuff is 1000 GBP a box so I am not too enthusiastic about throwing any of it away. But I do as he says.

Now, we have spoken about morons before, and how being a moron seems to be a requirement for certain professions here in Dubai (taxi drivers, maids, gardeners, etc) but yesterday I came across a new job that requires this special qualification: the medical supplier. So, I order a new box of the medicine and when I get home from work it has arrived. But the box is twice the size of the old one, containing completely unrecognisable contents that I can 't use with the auto -injector I have. I go into a blind panic, thinking that I am going to have to undertake two years of nursing training in one night in order to inject myself manually. Yeah, it ain't gonna happen. I contact said moron medical supplier. 'Oh, yes Madam, the medication has been changed. You need to speak to the medical rep. I will give you his number'. What, so you didn't think it fortuitous to mention to me, before I hand over a very large cheque, that I would need new equipment to administer this new medication????

Anyway, the medical rep is coming over to see me tonight with the new equipment and an apologetic demeanour. So, we'll see.

Sunday, 24 April 2011

From unconsciously incompetent to completely pathetic

For those of us who have a teaching certificate, it will come as no surprise if I mention the Conscious Competence Learning Matrix. This is a scale of learning where we begin as unconsciously incompetent at something and progress through a four scale matrix until we become unconsciously competent. In other words, we progress from not knowing that we are pants at something, to doing it on auto pilot. So, for example when we learn to drive a car, we are not aware of how difficult it is until we begin to learn (we are 'unconsciously incompetent') and when we are able to do it masterfully, we are unconsciously competent (doing it without having to think about it).

And so, I apply this to my game of golf. And, oh boy, am I unconsciously incompetent! Yesterday on the driving range, I think I managed to progress from absolutely abysmal to truly pathetic. I mean, for goodness sake, I am working on a research proposal for a Phd and I can't hit a small ball 150 yards with a stick?

I am however, surrounded by distractions. Firstly, its bloody hot and all I want to do is sit in the shade with a cold glass of sauvignon blanc and a good book. Secondly,  I don't know what it is with golfers but they have the cutest, tightest little bottoms in those shorts! And thirdly, all those guys who hit the ball 350 metres just make it look so easy! I nonchalantly place the golf ball on the tee, stick my bum out, knees bent and raise the golf club in expectation of a good 250mtr shot, only to whack a huge divot out of the turf which flies 5 yards onto the green! I look to left and right to check if anyone saw me. Luckily, one of the great things about golf is that most people are concentraing so hard they don't notice what anyone else on the driving range is doing.

And today, I have aches in my arms and legs in muscles I didn't know I had. Perhaps I should stick with the sauvignon blanc and the book?

Helpful advice from Dr Neurology

Ok, so I emailed the neurologist about discontinuing the steroids in view of the 'speed' effect'. This is my email to him today, responding to his comments:

Dear Dr Neurology,

I thank you for your interesting and informative email, requesting that I continue with the steroid treatment and offering some suggestions on making the most of the 'speed effect'. I respond to your comments as follows:
  • Firstly, your suggestion that I should overcome my lack of sleep by providing 'stimulating noctural activities' for my husband is duly noted.
  • On a similar note, taking advantage of the fact that I have no sense of taste by engaging in additional bedroom activities, those which are usually described in Latin terms, is also noted. As is your comment that if my husband does not wish to partake, you will.
  • Whilst I find neurological disorders absolutely fascinating, I must decline your offer of carrying out research for you, reading large numbers of journals and taking notes, in order to satisfy my current intellectual curiosity.
  • Finally, I take on board your comment that a feeling of euphoria whilst married is untypical and I should cherish it. 
I am certainly looking forward to our next meeting. Being unwell has never been so much fun.

Ok, so maybe not, but I am sure my husband would delight in my neurologist giving me this kind of advice!

Friday, 8 April 2011

From desperate despair to calm

He lifted up his head and look directly at me. If I had expected a blankness or calm malevolence, it wasn't there.
" I know who you are', I told him sternly.
'You know my name?' he enquired.
'Many of them', I retorted, shocked at the confidence in my own voice. 'Your name is mortality'.
This wasn't at all what I had expected. His demeanor was no more than indifferent; calm but nevertheless foreboding. There was no brooding vengeance or malice, just a dull inevitability, almost a boredom. It dawned on me that this was reflexive: what I was seeing was the mirror of my own calm resignation. The ineradicable suggestion of acceptance. And there in that, I saw the answer. The path chosen was to be my own. How I chose to walk it would be up to me: in fear or denial, acquiescence or dissension. The shock of this inner revelation washed over me like a wave of panic and I had to look away.
'You can leave now. I have seen what I need to see.' I mumbled to him.
He vanished like smoke in the wind, leaving only the most delicate hint of a breeze that swept past my shoulder. I stood up and crossed the room to the window. Spring was at last invading the garden and awakening the promise of new hope, new life.

The beast would return, along with his companions, despair and denial, but now I could see that the battle was within my capability; the recovery as inevitable as the attack, and I felt an inner calm.

Friday, 1 April 2011

SPEEDy Recovery

I have always been in favour of drugs. Even in those situations where drugs are frowned upon: like childbirth. Those 'earth-mother' midwives who want you to have the perfect 'natural' birth sitting in an enormous bath surrounded by your nearest and dearest, are stark-staringly unnatural to me. I wanted my 20 hours of hell to be immersed in periods of drug-induced oblivion with the occasional bout of lucidness. So, my recovery from this MS episode is of course, accompanied by a cocktail of drugs, vitamins and essential dietary requirements (mostly alcohol).
The drug of the moment is Predisolone, a steroid. I googled it today, in view of the fact that the complimentary instruction leaflet in the box has clearly been written by someone who has never spoken English before. What I was searching for was the bit under 'side effects' that said 'mimcs the effects of taking speed'. You see, when I take these tablets I feel like I want to leap over tall buildings in a single bound, solve Fermat's Theorum by myself or go for the world speed talking record. My mind is on fire.

My body is exhausted, but I can't rest: I can't sleep. I am completely and totally bored with everything because I want constant intellectual stimulation but am too tired to get it. I walk around in a constant state of euphoria - and this is all legal - seriously, you should get some of these drugs. If everyone were taking these, we'd have the cure for Cancer, Aids and probably MS by the end of next month, Japan would be completely re-built and half a dozen alternative eco-friendly fuels would be available shortly.

I have emailed the neurologist just in case I should stop taking the steroids now - is this how atheletes on steroids feel, I ask myself. The sad thing is that I am really hoping the neurologist tells me to keep taking them - I mean I'm not complaining about these feelings, it's just a bit odd. I ought to get that novel started before I stop taking the drugs and my IQ drops 20 points, hadn't I?

Monday, 28 March 2011

The Modern School Trip

When I was kid, school trips usually meant zoos, parks or if you were lucky, a museum. They would involve agonising coach rides of over two hours to reach London; sick buckets, ten green snotrags, snogging on the back row of the coach (or worse) and the grinding evitability that Class 3C would undoubtedly be banned from any further school trips after such demonstrations of deviant behaviour. They might have been quotidien, but it was a day off school and it was free.

That was then. Now, school trips involve words like 'enrichment', 'self reliance', 'exploration', 'embracing diversity' or 'personal development'. So, that would be no to the snogging then! They also involve handing over a large cheque and packing a bag that could equally be suited to backpacking around Africa for a year.

So, this week sees my nine year old depart for her first 'residential' school trip - a night at an adventure camp somewhere in the middle of the desert. Fun is promised: canoeing, kayaking, climbing, sand boarding - you name it, they'll be doing it. But of course, this is Dubai, and any self respecting school trips wouldn't be complete without those paragons of the education system here: the learning outcomes. Have you checked the learning outcomes for the trip, parents? Will you be giving an appropriate de-briefing on your child's return to ensure that they have mastered the SECRET? This is the latest mumbo-jumbo acronynm which involves the establishment of clear self reliance skills. Self reliance? How many self reliant nine year olds do you know? As far as I can tell, the activity which develops  this essential life skill involves the children doing their own washing up. Hmm, how convenient. A true life lesson learned there for the future: how could we have possibly believed that our nine year olds could get by without that one, eh?

So, the only question I'll be asking my nine year old on her return is 'Did you have fun?' Now, I'm off to pack the Africa backpack for the third time, and try not to think that this is all just a bit too serious.

Saturday, 26 March 2011

MS the Beast

She lifted up the sword above her waist. It was heavy, and she was weak. The beast snarled and edged closer; she could see the steam from his breath and was afraid, but she had had enough and refused to retreat again. It roared in protest at her defiance but she stood her ground. 'Not this time', she spat at it. She stepped forward, raising the sword higher, daring it to make a move. Its ugliness filled the room; the stench of disease and lost hope. She became aware that the protective miasma that she had hoped would defend her this time, had been insufficient; mind over matter was all that she had on her side now. Her mentor had warned her that the protection was only possible, not probable, but she had nevertheless put her faith in it. She became aware of every muscle in her body, heavy and tense, and felt insignificant against this manevolent beast. It stared at her, its black thickness oozing with evil. In a moment of complete clarity and determination she lunged forward: 'leave me', she screamed, putting the full force of every concious hope behind her. The beast took a tentative step back, as if assessing whether the fight was worth it. It snarled, drooling black grease along its torso, turned and retreated. She knew it would be back, but she had triumphed and although weakened by its visit and left with a little less hope than before, she lowered the sword and sheathed it.

A crass metaphor perhaps but this is how I feel about the latest visit from MS.

Wednesday, 9 March 2011

No I.V. Steroids here

Dear MS,

I write to thank you for your recent visit and the dizzy spells this has caused me. I feel it encumbent upon me to write and, whilst thanking you for once again sparing the time to make my life a misery, I should like express a few thoughts upon any future visitations.

Firstly, blood tests, MRIs or visits to Dr Neurology do not scare me and any threats of such will be treated with appropriate disdain. The thought of spending a month off work sitting at home, watching daytime TV is not such a bad one, and apart from the agonising trips to Outpatients for IV steroids, is something to look forward to and cherish.

Secondly, whilst I bow to your superior intellect and initiative in concocting innovative ways to make me sick, in addition to and notwithstanding, the dizzy spells, I can only look forward to these episodes with the same fervour associated with the funerals of close family members.

Thirdly, and finally, you may be a common bacterium able to resist most forms of medication but I have God and therefore, vicariouly, modern medicine, on my side so you can come and have a go if you think you are hard enough.

Yours unapologetically,

MS Survivor

PS. No of days since last MS attack: 0

Thursday, 3 March 2011

Dealing with those horses for courses

You'd think that after three years in Dubai I would have learned my lesson: I would know how to work the system. Usually, you can find a way around red tape once you know the system well enough. But of course, what one forgets in Dubai is that you can only work the system, if the system is the same as it was the last time you encountered it. In Dubai, this never, ever happens because...well, far be it from me to suggest that the rules are made up as we go along.

So, in the past week I have had the misfortune to have contact with the immigration authorities. Or rather my husband has, because, of course I'm a woman, so I couldn't possibly take on the responsibility of standing in a queue, paying for something or organising the employment of household help.  No, no, no, women can't do that, can they? How proposterous!

Just so you can fully appreciate the system in Dubai, below is the procedure, as I see it, for anything you do at immigration:

1. Upon entering immigration, ask which area you should queue in. Wait 40 minutes, wondering why you have not been called to the counter.
2. Ask again where you should sit to wait, to be told that you should have taken a ticket 40 minutes ago (but they forgot to tell you that) and you will now have to start again.
3. Wait another 30 minutes until your number is called.
4. Once at the counter explain to the member of staff (who has never spoken English before) that you need the paperwork to hire household staff. You will be given a piece of official looking paper in English that you are required to get typed in Arabic. Pay the member of staff 200aed for this information and the piece of paper.
5. You will be directed to the typing queue, where once again, you take a ticket and wait a further 45 minutes.
6. When you finally get to the counter, you have the piece of paper typed in Arabic, hand over 500 aed, and return to the previous waiting area, take another ticket, and wait a further 40 minutes.
7. At the counter once again, you watch the member of staff type frantically into his computer, thinking that he is dealing with your request, when in fact he is updating his twitter page. You are now required to pay a deposit of 2000 aed but not at this counter.
8. You head for the cashier counter, take another ticket and wait 35 minutes to pay the deposit and get a receipt.
9. Back to the original waiting area, another ticket and another 45 minute wait.
10. At the counter you show receipt for deposit, wait for long conversation in Arabic with member of staff on the right to end, and ask for the contract.
11. The member of staff now explains that the person you want to employ is on the wrong sort of visa and will have to take a flight out of the Country and come back in with the official piece of paper he now hands to you. You ask him why this wasn't mentioned when you spoke to him over 2 hours ago. He looks at you blankly. You beg him for a fine instead of the hassle of booking a flight. He refuses.
12. You pay him a further 300aed. And so, after almost 4.5 hours you leave, completely exhausted and frustrated, with the most expensive paperwork you have ever purchased and a flight to book. And guess what, once the maid comes back with the correct visa you have to go through this all again!

Wednesday, 2 March 2011

Web of Affinities

In 1871, George Eliot published Middlemarch, frequently heralded as one of the greatest novels ever written. In it, she describes British society in terms of a 'web of affinities', a lasting and integral patterning of human existence. We are all connected, is her message, and I am inclined to agree.

Think about it for a minute. How many times have you picked up the telephone to speak to a close friend about your woes, to find that they are experiencing something similar. You open a novel to find the sentiments are yours; even something as everyday as an American television show, raises issues or questions that you yourself have recently been pondering. When you flick through a recently published journal you find that it is themed. That would suggest that scholars are thinking along the same lines, at the same time: literally, great minds thinking alike.

I have discussed before, how we all live in villages. It doesn't matter how large the community you inhabit, you live in a village. Do we create these villages to maintain the web of affinities?

The cyber world makes the web far more intricate, but far more accessible. The world of difference out there is a little closer than it was 100 years ago. In the cyber world, apparently, we all speak the same language. So, what's the problem? Why, if we have this ubiquitous access to others, is the world unharmonious? Does the web of affinities mean that we are afraid of difference or does it actively seek to erradicate or ameliorate it? Contrary to popular belief, the social networking world doesn't serve as an opportunity to bring us together but on the contrary, simply allows us to maintain the 'web of affinities' with people who are like us. The small communities that Eliot wrote of in 1871 are no bigger. History truly repeats itself.

Wednesday, 2 February 2011

Back to School

Today, I want to clear up a common misconception: that it is only children who go to secondary school. Those 'back to school' signs that you see in the shops; they're not for the kids, they're for you. All that algebra and probability you learnt in school and you wondered when in life you were ever going to use them again, well, that time has come. You were taught those topics simply because your children will be tortured with them, and you will be required to help. Homework at secondary school is for you. Those 'back to school' signs are an indication to you that you need to crack open your old text books and get revising because you are going back to school with your child.

So, the topics I have battled with in the past couple of weeks have included:

  • A structured essay on the topic 'What the Romans Did for us?'. Now, my immediate thought was of course to search for the Life of Brian Monty Python sketch and simply write down what they said, but no. That would be far too simple. An 11 year old is required to research this topic and provide evidence of their sources. They must explain the many innovations of the Romans, choose the most significant and justify their answer. Oh, and it needs to be 300 words. Hmm.
  • A report detailing how a chocolate manufacturer could add a museum to their factory. This must indicate floor layout, design of displays and exact details of the information on the displays, including the science and history of chocolate. The report must contain an annotated bibliography for all sources, including those rejected and why.
  • And lastly, and this is my particular favourite: an analysis of Fur Elise and Ode to Joy by Beethoven, comparing and contrasting the two pieces, paying attention to the tonality, timbre, dynamics, structure and texture of the music. WTF?
So, prepare yourself. Year 7 is the new 1st year of university. So, get studying!

Friday, 21 January 2011

Things to do before you...

So, my girlfriends and I were discussing things that we would like to do if the world was going to end (which one of them assures me is going to happen on 21st December 2012 - don't press me on the date - we were several glass of wine into the girl's night at this point!). So, we began a list of things we would like to see/do before the world is no more. Here's a little preview of what we plan to achieve over the next 18 months:

1. Brunch at the Burj Al Arab for all staff members at MDX paid for by MDX.

2. Snog Johnny Depp

3. See the migration in Kenya

4. Snog Johnny Depp

5. See the Northern Lights (we didn't really mind where from)

6. Snog Johnny Depp

7. Take part in Strictly come dancing (inspired by the amount of weight the contestants seem to shed whilst taking part!)

8. Snog Johnny Depp

9. Meet the Dali Lama

10. Find one of our group a husband (because she's gorgeous and single)

Oh, and I nearly forgot one, I want to snog Johnny Depp. So, take a moment - what dreams you be achieving over the next 18 months?

Tuesday, 18 January 2011

The Dubai Persona

I was chatting with some friends yesterday (lovely, genuine people - a rare find in Dubai) and we were discussing the difficulty of finding 'real' people here. People who move here have a tendency to develop a 'persona'; a new personality to go with their new lifestyle (or to hide the lifestyle they have escaped from in coming here). If you were moving to a new place and could reinvent yourself, what would your new persona be?

So, here are a few tips and hints for those moving to Dubai, to aid them in their quest for the perfect Dubai persona:

1. The minute you get off the plane, go to the nearest bank (chose a local one, they are far more stupid) and take out every credit card option they have, plus the bank account with all the features, benefits, rewards etc. Make sure that the limit on your credit cards collectively is as high as possible. See below for reasons. Oh, and don't give them a genuine forwarding address in your home country.
2. Choice of vehicle: of course you are only going to pretend that you go driving and/or camping in the desert, but it is absolutely essential that you have a 4x4 to go to spinneys, so no other car will do.
3. Purchase of said vehicle: 'maximum cost, minimum downpayment' is the key here. A porsche Cayenne, Q7 or that BMW thing are the best options. Take out the loan over the longest period (let's face it, you haven't got a hope in hell of paying it off) and anyway the interest rate is probably only about 4% so who cares?
4. Notwithstanding that you now have an expensive vehicle (and will shortly have speeding fines to match - see below) you NEED a driver. You can't possibly get by here in Dubai without at least two servants, so both a maid and a driver are essential. The cost is absolutely prohibitive but you NEED them - its a status thing. You won't be able to hold your head up at brunch at the Burj Al Arab without being able to say you have them.
5. Driving: speed limits are for wimps. It is necessary to pay out huge amounts in speeding fines each year when you re-register your car. Remember, nonchalence is the key here - don't baulk when they tell you how much. You are the dog's bollocks after all, in your Porsche Cayenne.
6. Entertainment: The object of your weekend is to remain pissed for most of the time. A quick 9 holes on the golf course (the Montgomery, of course) followed by the all day brunch. Leave the kids with the maid, she only gets one day off a month (I mean, what is she going to do with a day off, she has no money on what you pay her).
7. Wasta: wasta means 'street cred' in Khaleeji. In order to develop your wasta you need to max out the credit cards buying designer gear. Breitling watch, calvin Klein undies, Gucci, Armani, D&G, they're all here, so knock yourself out.
8. The Moonlight flit: of course, the lifestyle can't last for ever and when you finally get the can because you are pissed at work on a Sunday (again) and the bank keep calling you at the office about the amount of debt outstanding on your credit card, it's time to bail out Dubai style. This needs careful planning, after all you don't want people thinking that you are the plonker you really are. So, don't dump the car at the airport - too obvious. Give the insurance company a few days to find it - drive it to a very large supermarket and leave it in their car park.  The bank hasn't got a clue where you're from, or indeed where you're going, so forget the debts on the credit cards. Don't bother telling the school that you're leaving, after all they have been ripping you off royally on their fees, so knickers to them. Just to be on the safe side, book return tickets when you leave - saves any awkwardness with immigration on the way out.

Have a nice life and thanks for flying air misery!

Tuesday, 4 January 2011

Cyber Etiquette

Etiquette: the set of rules or customs which control accepted behaviour in particular social groups or social situations (Cambridge Dictionary)

In 1861, Mrs Beeton published a book of household etiquette, a rule book for the discerning housewife. Although it is something, which now, might as well be from another planet, it nevertheless raises issues over societal etiquette. At the time, Mrs Beeton's Book of Household Management was the be all and end all of household etiquette. If you were struggling with an issue, you turned to her, and the matter would be settled. It was a book borne of, and actively shaping, its time.

Etiquette is indeed shaped by society as it changes. Fifty years ago, it would have been unspeakable if a man did not stand up when a woman sat down at table, or did not remove his hat in a woman's presence. But these gestures are gone, swallowed up by the seeming parity of the sexes in 21st Century society. So, as we bury further into the ubiquitous world of the cyber-age, how will this affect and shape our social etiquette?

Take social networking. Are there really any rules of engagement attached to such interactions? What is the 'accepted social behaviour' of this group? For example, let's say you receive a friend request from someone you work with, but don't particulary like. Do you accept the friendship or ignore it? Do you accept with a limited profile - which is pretty much the same as a rejection? And what if you accept the friendship (to save face) and later simply delete that person (for which he/she receives no notification). Is it acceptable to ask someone why they have deleted you, or is that 'simply not cricket'? Even Mrs Beeton (in one of her prophetic moments) warns us: Friendships should not be hastily formed, nor the heart given, at once, to every new-comer' (

Social networking is as bit of an non sequitur. It's not social at all in the sense of engaging in human interaction. It isn't  networking either, if you can't really be sure of the validity of the information about the person you are 'networking' with. So, how can a set of rules be established for something that is essentially undefinable?

Perhaps that's why we like it so much. It's random, anonymous and has no boundaries. Is this what we can expect from the 21st Century? Let's hope not.