Frequently asked questions

22 08 2014

“Your ticket is upgradable,” the nice lady at the check-in informed me. “Do you wish to upgrade?”

“Thank you, but no,” I replied, shaking my head (thinking yes, YES please. Do I want to upgrade? Of course I do! Who wouldn’t?)

But, no matter how tempted I was by the free-flowing wine, champers, gourmet cuisine, canapés, flat-bed and acres of legroom on offer in the A380’s upper deck, it was never going to happen. There was no upgrade for the boys, and they’re too young to sit by themselves (there’s always next year!).


Bye, bye England! (s0b)

So, instead, I leapt on Son2’s conversational freight train for the 7-hour journey from London to Dubai:

“Mummy, what country are we flying over? What’s the smallest country, Mummy? … Is Dubai bigger than England? … Are we in space? If we’re not in space, is the upstairs in space? When are we there?” …

[The moment my eyes closed] MUMMY! WHEN.are.we.THERE? [Bringing me back to earth, or at least 37,000 feet above it, in a snap.] Is it nighttime in Dubai? I’m hungry Mummy! (Me: “They just served you a kids’ meal, and you didn’t want it!’ said through gritted teeth.) Is there wifi? Can I watch YouTube? How fast is the wind, Mummy? Is England still bigger than Dubai?”

Until I could see his mouth moving, but couldn’t really hear what he was saying and could do nothing but nod at whatever his moving lips were trying to assault me with.

Whereas Son1 plugged himself into the in-flight entertainment and watched back-to-back movies, with a couple of iPad breaks. Oh the difference being nearly three years older makes.

Fashion advice from a 5 year old

20 08 2014

I thought that having boys would mean I’d be spared from repeatedly hearing the Frozen soundtrack Let It Go.

But like the snow in the part Norway, part Narnia Disney movie, the song is everywhere: in the car, on the TV, on the YouTube clips my boys devour. It’s their new life anthem, and they can’t seem to get enough of the animated movie this summer.

[Lowers voice] I think because they’ve developed soft spots for the two resourceful heroines – Elsa and Anna (carefully pronounced: “It’s ‘Ah-nah’ Mummy!”).

But it’s not the remodelled princess stereotype, or the way proactive Ah-nah rescues guys from danger by setting things on fire and throwing them at wolves that they like. It’s Elsa’s hair.

"Can I have an 'Elsa' please!"

“Can I have an ‘Elsa’ please!”

“Mummy?” said Son2 yesterday. “Can you have your hair done like Elsa?”

“Erm … I could try,” I replied. “It might be impossible,” I warned. I didn’t want to disappoint him. I could just imagine the look on his face as I came out of the salon without Elsa’s long ice-blonde hair, huge glassy eyes and sparkly gown.

“Not her queen hair, Mummy,” said Son2. “Her ponytail.”

“I know,” I said. “You mean her loose, flowing plait – after her makeover.”

I hesitated. “But I wouldn’t look like Elsa,” I warned again.

Son2 thought for a moment. And, because anything’s possible when you’re 5, came up with a solution: “Just take the DVD box into the hairdressers and show them what Elsa’s hair looks like.”

With dark roots an inch long, dried-up split ends and general neglect due to 7 weeks away, I can almost hear my hairstylist attempting to suppress her laughter.

When old friends become famous

19 08 2014

My parents have lived in the same town for more than 40 years, so when I visit, it’s hard to go anywhere without bumping into a memory.

My first school, middle school, secondary school, bus stop, sweet shop, houses where friends lived, even the field where I met DH (don’t ask!) all still exist. But although the places are still here, the people are not. Most moved on years ago, with the exception of a few who I know through social media are still in the vicinity somewhere.

I think I spotted one at the station the other day, but what do you do? Can you go bounding up to a total stranger and say: “Hello, we did Biology together 30 years ago! Blimey, look how much older you’ve got!” (Like you tell children how much bigger they’ve got.)?

Looking up old friends is much more fun than googling symptoms, which never ends well

Searching for old friends is much more fun than googling symptoms, which never ends well

Far better to go home and look them up on Facebook, or Google – and get the low-down in just a few clicks. More fun is doing this with a mutual pal, especially after a couple of glasses of vino.

At Café Rouge last night, while nibbling on a salad Paysanne and fries, a good friend and I caught up. We covered all the usual topics (kids, schools, work, holiday activities); had a few ‘remember when’ moments; and then moved on to ‘Do you remember x? Whatever happened to y? And did you keep in touch with z?’

Not in a gossipy way, you understand, but with a healthy curiosity – and an internet connection.

And that’s when you find out that some of your old friends went on to much bigger and greater things than you were ever encouraged to aspire to in Home Economics.

I looked up S, an old schoolmate, and found her on Facebook. Except hers isn’t exactly an ordinary Facebook page. It’s her international model page, and it’s peppered with gorgeous fashion photos. Her bee-stung lips and exotic beauty radiating glamorously across the internet.

On a roll, we googled a university peer, L – now a famous model and writer (of Richard Gere former girlfriend ilk). “Look, she’s got her own Wikipedia entry,” I exclaimed. Along with a famous film producer husband and her own jewellery label.

Of course, I had to take this a little further and ‘Like’ the lovely S’s Facebook page (she might ‘Like’ Circles in the Sand back!). Which meant that this morning, as I ate cornflakes and listened to my children attacking each other viciously, I received her latest update:

“About to go on set to shoot the party scene with Hollywood actors Matt LeBlanc and David Schwimmer for the American series Episodes.”

Jealous? Moi? Not in the slightest. Although I might have to post a few more pics of us standing on the Burj al-Arab’s helipad.

I do like to be beside the seaside!

17 08 2014

Which beach would you rather be on? Here’s a clue: the rocky one on the left is buffeted by a fierce wind, and strewn with seaweed. The one on the right is lapped by the aquamarine waters of the Gulf, with an ambient temperature at least 20 degrees higher.
Screen Shot 2014-08-16 at 22.22.03
Ask my sand-phobic children which beach they prefer, and they’ll say the one on the left: the Great British Seaside (I know!).

Actually, I’m rather fond of it too (for a day or so each year). There’s something about the bleak weather, the stony terrain, the ice-cream sellers – and the fact you need to wear a jumper, a fleece and the beach rug to keep warm – that’s rather refreshing after the high temperatures of the UAE summer.

Today, everything was just as it should be on the English Riviera: the weather was challenging; the seaweed was stringy and the sea was playful, with crashing rollers and white frothy surf.

We enjoyed 15 minutes of determined sandcastle-building before a fast-moving high tide swallowed up our patch of sand with ravenous greed (the effect of the supermoon, perhaps), and spent a pleasant hour wandering around the seaside mecca that is Littlehampton.

But the thing that sticks in my mind isn’t the windburn, the shingle, my win on the two-penny slot machines, or my boys’ love of rocky, cold beaches over the white sands of Dubai. Nor is it the discovery that crazy snooker is now cooler than crazy golf. Or the reminder that seeing happy, hairy dogs diving headlong into the waves is great fun (public beaches are off limits to dogs in Dubai).

No, the thing I’ll remember is this row of beach huts. Price tag: £12,500 each.

Quite possibly the most expensive garden shed money can buy

Prime real estate: At AED76,650 (or more than $20,000) a hut, these are quite possibly the most expensive garden sheds money can buy

Family vacations: Are you having fun yet?

14 08 2014

Many of us are travelling with a shouty entourage this summer and, if you’re anything like me, you’ll know there’s an initiation parents must go through before you can honestly say family holidays no longer leave you feeling winded.

Here’s my five-step, tongue-in-cheek guide to achieving holiday zen:

Dream on

Dream on

1-2 years [with a health warning]: While friends with older children sip cocktails and watch the sunset, your toddler has more energy than an atomic explosion. He scales the furniture and hurtles round your holiday home like a hurricane (anything breakable, you’ve already moved higher, or hidden – it was either that or develop such a shrill tone through continually shrieking ‘Don’t touch that” that it doesn’t even sound like you). Relaxing is inconceivable so you’re out and about, which means, between your (early) morning latte and lights out, you save his life at least five times. Think of holidays with 1-2 year olds as paying to lead your normal life in a less convenient location.


“Muuuuuum, MUMMY, where are yoooouuuu?”

2-3 years: By now, there’s a sibling on the scene and travelling with two constitutes a whole new level of pain. Expect nightly games of musical beds and heated debates over who slept the less. Do be careful not to let your guard down: your 2-year-old will be irresistibly drawn to dirt, puddles and dog poo, like bees are to honey. (Remember to bring several changes of clothes per day for each family member – expiry through laundry overload isn’t covered by travel insurance.)

3-4 years: Continually ravenous / thirsty / hot / cold / bickering / or in sudden need of the loo, your children are a zillion times more demanding than your most attention-seeking work colleagues, yet on Facebook it’s all smiley faces in front of stunning backdrops. You’ve tried holidaying with friends so the kids can play together while the adults drink wine, but the downside is you can no longer claim their bad behaviour is a temporary blip when it lasts all week long. You’ve also discovered you can take your children to the best zoos and wildlife parks and introduce them to all manner of cute animals, but they’ll never be as happy as when you discover cockroaches in the kitchen.


The heaven, hell and humour of family holidays is the new normal

4-5 years: By now, you’ve resigned yourself to the fact that holidays aren’t what they used to be, and you’ve learnt how to hit the ground running. On arriving in an unfamiliar environment, you can find the supermarket, buy essentials and whip up a supper for four. Hell, you can even cook fish fingers in an Aga. And with the letting go of any notions of late-nights, lazy days reading and uninterrupted sunbathing (pre-child holiday memories that might as well have taken place in Ancient Rome – because there’s no going back) comes the realisation that family vacations can be fun, especially if there’s a kids’ club.

Don’t think family holidays will now be a breeze. It’s not that relaxing is bottom of your children’s priority list. It’s not even on it

Don’t think family holidays will now be a breeze. It’s not that relaxing is bottom of your children’s priority list. It’s not even on it

5-6 years: Showing your offspring new things, new places and new horizons is not only rewarding, it’s like putting a down payment on developing citizens of the world. On good days, your rosie-cheeked kiddos slip little hands in yours, and swing happily on the farm gate. On bad days, there’s always electronic stimulation to fall back on. Life-long memories are made, bonds are strengthened. Your children become your ambassadors, opening doors to new experiences and conversations. While they race their new Italian friends around the Campo in Siena, you can actually enjoy your Campari. As the years roll by, you look back at holiday snaps of your babies with rose-tinted specs on, and marvel at those precious, crazy moments captured in time.

Happy holidays everyone!

The emergency landing

12 08 2014

“Is there a doctor on board?” They’re words you hope never to hear when you’re hurtling through the air 35,000 feet up, but hear them we did on our 13-hour flight to the US from Dubai earlier this summer.

At the point at which a decision had to made whether the airplane would traverse the Atlantic or not, the captain spoke over the intercom to tell us that a passenger was seriously ill (suspected heart attack) and we’d be landing at Manchester airport as soon as possible.

On a beautiful, almost cloudless morning in England, the plane swooped towards the Earth, turning full circles in the sky as it jettisoned fuel. On reaching the correct weight, we were vectored straight in for a priority landing, then trundled along taxi-ways to an ambulance waiting on the tarmac.

A medical drama it was (and my heart went out to the poor lady travelling alone, on oxygen, and being cared for by the doctor who’d stepped forward, a team of specialists in Arizona via a satellite medlink and flight attendants). The paramedics on the ground, who must have seen it all, were chatting to each other calmly as they waited for the steps to be maneuvered into place. Finally, the aircraft door was opened and they boarded the plane with their equipment and a George Clooney-esque air.


All in a day’s work

It was all very surreal – one minute you’re in a sealed tube skimming the upper atmosphere, plugged into the in-flight entertainment and wondering when the next meal is. The next there’s a sort of grave hushed silence as the plane diverts and is met on the ground with flashing lights and medical personnel.

I never did find out whether she was okay, although I was heartened to hear from DH that the medical facilities at Manchester airport are excellent.

Imagine if we’d been flying over the Pacific, or some other desolate part of the world.

Sixteen hours after leaving Dubai, we reached the East Coast of America (refuelling and paperwork took ages to complete, and, no, you’re not allowed off). Understandably enough, everyone was massively relieved to finally disembark the plane – while at the same time hoping the poor fellow passenger we’d left behind (thousands of miles away from her home) was making a recovery.

Kudos to everyone who acted so proficiently during this life-saving mission – and may your flights back home this summer be uneventful!


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