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!)

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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 …
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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.





My day in (cracking) news stories

10 09 2014

Working in media, I get to hear all sorts of interesting snippets about new things launching in Dubai. So I wasn’t surprised when I read a fellow journalist’s Facebook update this morning:

“I have just been sent a press release about the launch of a twerk class in Dubai … this is not a joke.”

Even funnier is that it’s my friend’s job to review such things.

Then there are the news stories in the local media that keep us amused in the office, like Lady Gaga arriving in Dubai dressed in a ball gown, ready for her first (tamed down) Middle East concert; and this (perhaps not surprising) nip and tuck story from 7Days:

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Sparkle Towers: Like living in a giant chandelier

UAE has highest ratio of plastic surgeons in the world” – with breast reduction the most requested procedure by men; liposuction or rhinoplasty the treatments of choice for women; and, worryingly, 15 per cent of patients going under the knife under the age of 23.

Twerking little monsters going gaga and plastic surgery aside, my job is, in fact, on a business magazine, with far more serious, industry-related news. But, increasingly, we’re coming across stories that confirm the era of fanciful projects is well and truly back now that Dubai is booming again – such as the news today that the crystal giant Swarovski plans to build ‘Sparkle Towers’ at Dubai Marina.

I did check that it wasn’t April 1st.

For style-sensitive residents, the ultra-luxurious residential project will feature “exquisite crystal-themed innovations” including sparkling lighting solutions and crystal interiors [their words, not mine].

Seriously, you can’t make this stuff up.

And finally, the headline of the day award goes to the Khaleej Times:

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Back to school: The Most Confusing and Complicated Time of the Year

9 09 2014

I always find the start of the new school year really perplexing. It’s like everything I knew about their classmates, routines, PE and swimming days and library sessions has suddenly become obsolete, and must be pieced back together again like a giant, 3D puzzle.

It’s as though there’s a software update for the hard-drive in my head, and downloading the update not only mysteriously erases useful data like pick-up times, early finish time and the teacher’s name, but also makes the desktop in my brain look different. Nothing is intuitive anymore. Do I click here for homework? What days do I send PE kit in? Or does he wear it to school? Which class is my car pool mum’s child in now? And where the hell is the new classroom anyway?

"Updates are installing. Do not turn off your brain"

“Updates are installing. Do not turn off your brain”

It doesn’t help that we’ve got two schools following different curriculums on the go, so it all feels a bit bi-polar, and I haven’t had time to study all the emails and newsletters coming out of both schools in detail.

Then there’s the mixed-up emotional side – and this one has really hit me this year. I used to be one of those women who, on the first day back, would skip down the supermarket aisle celebrating my freedom. Now, to my amazement, I’ve turned into someone who wishes it could be summer f-o-r-e-v-e-r, and is even at risk of shedding tears at the school gate. Although which camp I’m in depends on the day.

My DH tells me I’m no good at change, but I’d correct that to say transitions. I’m fine once I get into the new routine, but that unsettled period before it’s established bothers me, and the worry comes out in odd ways. At the grocery store the other day, I couldn’t find the pâté. They’d either moved it again, or it hadn’t arrived on the boat this week. I was talking to the nice man in the pork section, who showed me where it was. “Why isn’t it where it always is,” I asked. He shot me a sympathetic, pitiful look. I think he knew I wasn’t talking about the pâté.





Travel post: Redefining the Scenic Route

8 09 2014

Perched high above the Shenandoah Valley, in America’s dreamy Blue Ridge Mountains, Skyline Drive offers impressive views at every bend, with plenty of outdoorsy activities along the way.
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If there’s one thing Son2 is scared of it’s bears. So you can imagine that a little teasing went on this summer, when we visited Virginia’s Shenandoah National Park, for the much-needed relaxing part of our US trip.

And, quite honestly, I could have moved into the mountain cabin we rented and embarked on a new career as a park ranger, wandering around the forests and hollows of the vast, almost whimsical park. According to local lore, Shenandoah was named for a Native American word meaning ‘Daughter of the Stars.’ Whether or not this is true, there’s no doubt it’s one of the prettiest places in the US.

Shenandoah National Park’s scenic roadway, Skyline Drive, follows the crest of the Blue Ridge Mountains for 105 miles, and it was this main artery that we intended to drive. Slowly. The speed limit is 35 mph, and people stick to it. Shaking off our UAE driving habits, we rolled down the windows, felt the breeze and experienced every curve and turn of the spectacular drive.

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Rock climbers: Life on the edge

Along the route, there are 75 overlooks offering stunning views of the Shenandoah Valley to the west or the rolling hills of the Piedmont to the east. Each stop is a visual feast, and beckons you to park. Mountaintops have always appealed to me, and to see as far as the eye allows (not to mention witness rock climbers bravely hanging off the cliff-edges) is an awe-inspiring and humbling experience all at once.

The park staff deliberately leave the roadsides unmowed so wildflowers put on a show all year long. June’s display of azaleas is said to be spectacular, and cardinal flowers, black-eyed Susans and goldenrod keep the colour blooming right into autumn.

We visited in summer, when the ridge wears its mantle of deep greens. Birds were nesting, and we kept our eyes open for the resident wildlife, including deer, black bear, wild turkey and a host of other woodland animals that call Shenandoah home and regularly cross Skyline Drive in their daily travels (hence the low speed limit).

We were also told to look out for white-tailed deer fawns and bear cubs, which can be spotted in summer as they investigate their leafy environment. Although much to Son2’s relief, the bears stayed away.

Road to the top
Easily accessible from Washington DC, Skyline Drive was built by President Franklin Roosevelt’s three million-strong ‘Tree Army’ of unemployed young men during the Great Depression of the 1930s, and is today traversed by RVs, camping trailers, horse trailers and daytrippers, as well as holidaymakers such as ourselves looking for easy hiking trails to do with our boys (there are more than 500 miles of trails to choose from in total, catering to all standards).

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Luray Caverns: My big boy and moi (being careful not to stand underneath those pointy stalactites)

If we’re lucky enough to visit again, I’d choose autumn, to see the brilliant fall leaves as Virginia’s mountains turn a kaleidoscope of colours and migratory birds fly southwards down the ridge. Or maybe I’d pick winter, to view the frozen sculptures created by tumbling waterfalls.

Other than a couple of short hikes, we unfortunately didn’t have time to partake in any fishing, horseback riding or canoeing, but we did spend a day at the town of Luray, famous for its world-class caverns. Containing amazing natural formations, such as the ‘Throne Room’, ‘Giant’s Hall’, and ‘Fried Eggs’, the caverns are breathtaking. After all those fabulous bird’s-eye views, I highly recommend going underground – not least because you hear the sound of a ‘Stalacpipe Organ’, hyped as the biggest musical instrument in the world. Beat that Dubai!

The forest cabin with a view: Complete with fairies and woodland sprites at the bottom of the garden

The forest cabin with a stunning view from the two-storey deck at the back: Complete with fairies and woodland sprites at the bottom of the garden (to keep an eye on the boys!)





A maid interview overheard

6 09 2014

As anyone who lives in Dubai will know, timing is everything when visiting a mall on a Friday. Get there in the morning, and you’ll have a pleasant experience; arrive later – anytime after about 3 – and you might as well be committing retail hara–kiri.

It was around lunchtime, and you could see the mall population visibly swelling. I popped into Café Nero and, while queuing, realised that an interview was taking place at a nearby table.

The interviewer was blonde, and wore a pea green summer dress. She looked polished and shiny, with eloquent eyebrows and oversized earrings. Across her nose, I noticed the faintest sprinkling of freckles. She had a kind smile, and was leaning attentively towards her interviewee.

“Do you cook,” she asked.

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So when can you start?

The replies were more softly spoken. But the answer must have been yes.

“You can cook Arabic food too, that’s great!” she said, her hand fluttering upwards to push a strand of hair behind her ear.

On the other side of the table sat a petite, dark-haired Filipina lady who you could tell from her body language was nervous, but was being put at ease by the friendly potential Madame.

There was a pause. There are always pauses in these interviews, what with the language difference and the awkwardness you feel when you’re not used to hiring domestic help.

“Can you iron?” she asked next, again perfectly politely.

I could see that they were sizing each other up. The blonde thinking: Will she fit in? Could she make the myriad of tiny logistical manoeuvres that make up my life run a little smoother? Would I feel comfortable having her watch my kids while I’m working, or would I feel strangely untethered? Could she run the household while I’m gone like a Swiss watch?

And her potential employee thinking: Have I got the job? What are the hours, pay? She’s an expat so more time off! Cable TV? A laptop? My own room? I really hope they don’t have pets!

As much as I wanted to hear the outcome of this interview (especially the words You’re hired!), I had to leave before they’d finished chatting. I walked by and heard a shared giggle – a genuine bubble of laughter that floated above the table. And I found myself thinking, I really hope it works out for both of them.








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