WIN! Flowers to give away

28 09 2014

Today, I came home to a lovely surprise: these beautiful, fragrant blooms from! I can honestly say that their sweet scent has made the whole room smell like a florist. And there’s a gorgeous bouquet for one (UAE-based) reader too!

Entry is easy: Just leave your name, email address and a few words saying why you’d love to receive flowers in a comment below. The deadline for entries is midnight, Thursday 2nd October, and the person with the best reason will be treated to a delivery shortly after. You could also leave a response on my Facebook page here, if that’s quicker. Good luck! (and sorry it’s only open to UAE readers!)

Go on, drop me a line! I’d love to make you smile this Eid.

Go on, drop me a line! I’d love to make you smile this Eid.

Thank you to for running this giveaway through the blog. The online florist’s arrangements contain fresh-cut, hand-tied flowers, with a bouquet for every occasion and delivery throughout the UAE and worldwide.

The (elusive) part-time job in Dubai

27 09 2014

I recently read on one of my favourite websites – Expat Telegraph – that serious part-time jobs in Dubai (which pay pro-rata) are rarer than a lion in a Landcruiser – that is, you do see them from time to time, but you’ll have to really look.

Before I went back to work, I attended a coffee morning for the mums in Son1’s class. As we took turns telling everyone a little bit about ourselves, including what we ‘used to be’, I learnt that among our very chatty group – who’d moved to Dubai from places such as Germany, Australia, Jordan and South Africa – there was a lawyer, a banker, a child-protection officer and a social worker.

Not one of them was working, because they’d all given up their careers to become a ‘trailing spouse’ (husband gets well-paid job overseas, wife and family pack their bags to follow). I dislike the term, imagining myself trailing after DH with a multi-tentacled, octopus-like grip. Instead, the mothers I met were setting up home in an alien environment, caring for children full-time and protecting their young like tigresses.

I nodded in agreement when everyone promised to not outdo each other when it comes to our children’s birthday parties; entered a debate about what kind of cupcakes to send in for the bake sales; discussed organising a BBQ, a Christmas party, fundraisers and playdates for younger siblings, and found myself thinking, “I don’t know how she does it!” Life in an office sounded less complicated, and not long after, my fledgling writing/editing business was born.

Hats off to mums trying this!

Hats off to mums trying this!

But, as all those who’ve been alarmed by the ‘housewife’ status stamped on our visas (along with the words Not allowed to work) know, it’s not that easy to ‘have it all’ in the Middle East.

For a start, a quick scan of job websites reveals that advertised part-time opportunities are limited (it’s all, or nothing). The unspoken rule many workplaces abide by is “If you don’t have a maid, don’t bother applying”. There are few full-time nurseries; the school day finishes early; and then there’s the elephant in the room: the Dubai summer – those long, impossibly hot months with no school, when most families leave. A good friend of mine in full-time employment tells me she always feels down when the summer rolls around and her children leave for cooler climes while she continues to work.

But moving out here doesn’t have to be professional hari-kari. I advertised myself on Dubizzle, and, by complete coincidence, got hired by the Dubai office of a company I used to work for in London. Four years later, I’m still there – mostly happily, but now wishing I could back-pedal to fewer hours, having been sucked into an almost full-time work vortex (I do, however, get the whole summer off, and know not to look a gift horse in the mouth).

There are so many new schools opening here, and if you click on you’ll find numerous ads for jobs with palatable hours, and holidays.

Then there are the limitless chances to reinvent yourself. I’ve watched in admiration as friends of mine have done this: the nurse, who couldn’t take a hospital job as the pay was too low and became a chocolate taster; the (female) pilot who now works for a radio station and photography studio; the toxicologist who last year helped pull off a fabulous ball for the school parents; and the blogger who gave up a management career and has transformed herself twice in eight years into a Montessori teacher and then a writer and actress.

Even if the job you used to do doesn’t exist here, the UAE is the land of opportunity, especially now the economy is booming again. Career chameleon is a much better term than trailing spouse, don’t you think?

And, anyway, for many, the decision to move out here is a lifestyle one. The chance to stay at home with the children, while the husband works his socks off. With year-round sunshine, so many travel destinations within easy reach, and the fact that both parents working can make life feel like a wobbling Jenga tower, one extracted brick away from toppling over, and you might decide not to rush jumping back into a job. After all, when you look back on your expat experience, you’ll never wish you’d worked more.

Good luck, either way. Circles x

Living near the Middle East’s hot spots

23 09 2014

I’m sure I’m not the only person who was taken aback by the recent news that the UAE (along with Egypt) had secretly bombed Libyan militias. There we were settling back in from the summer, dusting off the Lilo after six weeks in cooler climes, when it hit the press that the two countries were responsible for airstrikes against Libya.

Every now and then, someone back home asks me if it’s safe where we live. And I always reply: Yes! Absolutely. Apart from the roads, I feel safer in Dubai than I ever did in London. But, I’ll admit, the UAE’s decision to deploy its air force in Libya left me wondering if the intervention would escalate hostilities in the region.

The air strikes were hugely significant in heralding a more muscular foreign policy out of Abu Dhabi (which has traditionally always taken a conciliatory, mediating role). It was a new, more assertive – and as yet untested – position for the UAE.

Then I got sidetracked by the children starting school and forgot all about it.
Until the other night, when, at precisely 4.40am, it sounded like World War 3 was breaking out right above us.


Fright in the night: Buzzed (into oblivion, it felt)

Stirred from a deep slumber, I heard the most almighty noise – the deafening drone of jet engines surely heading straight for the house. DH was away, there was no one to grab in terror. All I could do was listen to the crazy loud noise and wonder if I was about to hear (or experience) a terrible crash.

The next day, there was a thread about the low-flying plane on our community’s forum, and I learned that the disturbance had woken hundreds of people up. One mum, who was feeding her baby, said she held on to her infant for dear life; another described her baby as wide-eyed with fear. A two-year-old woke up screaming. (See! To all those who slept right through it, I’m not exaggerating – it really did sound like a plane about to screech into the ground.)

Or was it a fighter jet? On a mission? Of course, the speculation started: “The Australian air force is now based at the military airfield behind our compound. They’re flying to north Iraq to attack Isis,” one post declared.

I carried on reading with baited breath. And finally got to the bottom of it: it was an old Russian cargo aircraft. We hear them frequently in our patch of the desert, but this one sounded even louder than usual because it was becoming airborne very cumbersomely in our direction.

Just the Russians rattling our villas, then. Phew!

A growing boy’s insatiable appetite

18 09 2014

Screen Shot 2014-09-18 at 17.04.54






It happens almost overnight. One day, he’s licking pureed food off a plastic spoon; the next he’s wolfing down the contents of the fridge, and gnawing at the fridge door if you momentarily take your eye off the grocery shopping.

And quite frankly, it’s terrifying. Not to mention expensive. While I watch what I eat and try to be healthy, my eldest son has developed an appetite so huge, I feel as though I’m responsible for feeding the ten thousand. It’s been the equivalent of watching a picky lapdog reinvent itself into a hungry elephant with hollow legs.

This afternoon, I unexpectedly finished work early, and had rose-tinted visions of happily spending the afternoon with the children, while catching up on some chores. Son 1’s school bus pulls up outside, the front door bursts open, and a ravenous Great Dane bounds into the house.

And that's just breakfast: Does it cost £12,000 more to bring up a boy than a girl because they eat more?

And that’s just breakfast! Does it cost £12,000 more to bring up a boy than a girl because they eat more?

“MUM, I’m HUNGRY!” Son 1 yells. This, I expected. And I’m ready. Those after-school hunger pangs require an immediate carb-injection or we all suffer. But, then, less than an hour later:

“Mum, can we have dinner now? I’m soooo hungry!” It was 4.30pm, and while I did try to tell him to wait (and provided fresh fruit in addition to the after-school snack), it was clear our household wouldn’t be a happy place until he was drip-fed more calories.

It’s not that I mind preparing dinner so early, it’s just that I know he’ll forget he’s already eaten it by 7.30pm, and start circling again in hunt of another meal.

There was a telling prelude years ago, when Son1 was little and one afternoon desperately wanted bananas. He threw a tantrum so bad it left me with little choice but to head straight to the fruit stall at our local market. To my astonishment, he demolished seven bananas. That’s when I realised that feeding boys is all about quantity and planning.

A survey by Halifax bank on the cost of bringing up children showed parents shell out over £12,000 more to raise a boy to the age of 11 than a girl. This difference was put down to extra sports kits, even wear and tear of furniture caused by rambunctious behaviour. But I think the reason for the higher price tag is obvious: the grocery bill.

Since my son’s appetite became so monstrous, I’ve had to take all sorts of extra measures. We have a truck deliver us food. The grocery shopping was becoming too burdensome, too frequent. So, now, I order online and Geant brings everything to the door. If our nanny or I cook pasta, we no longer make enough for one meal. We cook the whole packet and send the leftovers into school (sandwiches weren’t cutting it). Cereals are continually replenished (a small victory being he prefers Weetabix, even Bran Flakes, over the sugar-and-marshmallow-filled varieties). Milk is now bought in 3-litre cartons, and bread restocked nearly daily so I can throw them toast.

Motivating overweight families to lose weight, Dubai style

Motivating families to lose weight, Dubai style

But I worry about it. I had insulin-dependent diabetes during both pregnancies. Could something be wrong? We live in a country where obesity is a big problem – so much so that the government runs weight-loss campaigns in which gold is handed out to successful ‘losers’. Controversially, this year’s initiative, Your Child in Gold, includes all family members, even chubby toddlers. (It’s very Dubai, isn’t it? Register, shed kilos and get gold.)

Friends with boys report a similar unstemmed tide of carbs, calories and cash, so I’m hoping Son1’s appetite is normal for a child growing so fast. DH is tall, and I think Son 1 – who’s already nearly up to my chin – is heading for great heights too. Like a very hungry caterpillar, he appears to fill up on food, grow plumper, then suddenly shoot up two inches. The growing pains, however, are mine.

So how was school? Lethal

15 09 2014

If you know and love the author Liane Moriarty, you’ll be pleased to hear she’s nailed it yet again. I recently finished her latest book, Big Little Lies, and it’s a brilliant story about parents behaving badly. It’s also the funniest book about murder and domestic abuse you’ll ever read.

Moriarty has a knack for creating characters who are so believable they could easily be people you know at the school gates: there’s Madeline, a force to be reckoned with; the beautiful Celeste; and Jane, who’s young, single and struggling to make ends meet. Then we meet the hot-shot mums with high-powered jobs; the yogi mum; and the “Blond Bobs” – the ‘Mum prefects’ who rule the school like it’s their religion.

If this book had been written by Agatha Christie, it would have been called “The Kindergarten Murder”

If this book had been written by Agatha Christie, it would have been called “The Kindergarten Murder”

What all these women have in common is that they drive truck-like cars, and take their mothering very seriously: “Their frantic little faces. Their busy little bottoms strutting into the school in their tight gym gear … Eyes fixed on the mobile phones held in the palms of their hands like compasses.”

The cover art for the book (called Little Lies in the UK) depicts a large, multicoloured lollipop exploding into a thousand pieces, and it illustrates perfectly how the sugar-coated lies that people hide behind are smashed into smithereens.

The story centres around Pirriwee Public, a beautiful little beachside primary school where children are taught that ‘sharing is caring.’ So how has the annual School Trivia Night ended in a full-blown riot? Sirens are wailing. People are screaming. The principal is mortified. And one parent is dead.

But who? And who was responsible for this terrible deed?

The book then jumps back six months and cuts back and forth between the characters, revealing complex family problems and putting friendships and marriage under the microscope. Written with impeccable comic timing, the narrative is peppered with parents’ voices commenting cryptically on the root cause of the ‘tragedy’: the French nanny? An erotic book club? Head lice?

Considering everything that is tackled in this book (bullying, domestic violence, date rape, dealing with ex-husbands and more), the plot should not have worked as well as it does. Moriarty pulls it off brilliantly, and I finished the novel wishing I could instantly forget it so I could immediately read about the misbehaving inhabitants of Pirriwee all over again.

Silent Sunday: The A-Level tutors

14 09 2014

With a double misspelling in the text, I get the feeling these people wouldn’t be the best tutors to call … (Thanks K for spotting this!)


And just when you think you’ve seen all the funny notices you could possible see: Should you decide to get changed on your balcony, be warned…ah, no wait! You’ll be fine …

Lady Gaga toes the line in Dubai

13 09 2014
Lady Gaga arrives in Dubai (pic courtesy of Time Out Dubai)

Lady Gaga arrives in Dubai (pic from Time Out Dubai)

A quick confession – I’m a Lady Gaga fan. There I’ve said it.

So when I heard she was coming to Dubai, for her first ever concert in the Middle East, I told DH we were going.

We don’t always have a lot of luck with this – the last concert we were meant to attend together (Eric Clapton – my taste is eclectic!) was looking good, until DH suddenly got called out to New Zealand at the last minute.

This time, it was all systems go, and we made our way to the venue, the impressive Meydan racecourse – timing our entrance so as to minimise standing around melting in the energy-sapping, hair-curling humidity, but not wanting to miss the fanfare of her arrival on stage.

Well, let’s just say we could have gone out for a four-course meal, thrown a few shapes on the dancefloor, and still made it on time.

9pm came and went. 9.30pm. 10pm (Yawn). 10.15pm. And on a school night, too. By 10.25pm, with beads of sweat making a trickly descent down my forehead, I was getting a bit fed up.

“It wasn’t like this at Jesus Jones,” said DH (he doesn’t get out to many concerts!) I had to laugh, because Jesus Jones must have been performing in the late 80s.

“Well, it is Lady Gaga,” I reminded him. “She can get away with being a diva.”

(And requesting black satin drapes in her hotel room, silver satin sheets, an oxygen tank and peanut butter containing flax seed and no more than 4g of sugar, if the Daily Mirror is to be believed.)

Gaga's wardrobe contains latex, sequins and tentacles (pic from Emirates Woman)

Gaga’s wardrobe contains latex, sequins and tentacles (pic from Emirates Woman)

But you know what, when she did finally come on (at 10.30pm), wearing suitably eccentric golden wings, she was adorable and instantly forgivable. “Marhaba Dubai. My name is Lady Gaga,” she called out, kicking off an hour and a half of high-energy, crowd-pleasing hits, bizarre wig and costume changes, and plenty of emotionally charged audience interaction.

“They used to tell me I was crazy, I would never come to the Middle East … I have waited so long…begged,” she shakily told her legions of fans, one of whom held a sign picturing Gaga in a burqa with the words, “My mum made you a burqa – will you wear it?”

She seemed ridiculously pleased to have made it to the Arab world – repeating messages of gratitude, acceptance and tolerance – and stuck to her word to tone down her performance to respect the UAE’s conservative sensibilities. “I want to speak Arabic so badly but I’m terrible at it,” the 28-year-old pop star giggled, before stammering her way through the Arabic for: “Hello, how are you my little monsters?

There was no nudity, no on-stage costume changes or pole dancing; instead she dazzled with her artistry, panache, glitz, great voice – yes, she can sing – and all-round randomness (her most “way out” costume being a cross between a dalmatian and an octopus).

Shooting laser beams, a colourful and equally eccentric dance troupe, and an extravagant stage added to the mélange. Then all too soon, it was over. Her last song – Swine, complete with pig masks – was perhaps not the best-advised. But she followed this with an enchanting encore – my favourite song, Gypsy, belted out under the stars and bringing an unforgettable show to a climactic end. Lady Gaga beamed and took a final bow, leaving us with one more Arabic word: “Shukran… I love you.”

Come again soon Lady Gaga! It was our pleasure.


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