The driver/maid combo

Drivers in Dubai come with all kinds of wheels: And I don't mean regular drivers. I mean the paid kind who ferry kids back and forth. Pic credit: The National

Drivers in Dubai come with all kinds of wheels: And I don’t mean regular drivers. I mean the paid kind who ferry kids back and forth. Pic credit: The National

After much raucous excitement (go-karting, lasertag, pizza and ice cream x 15 kids), I let out a long, slow, deep breath – Son1’s birthday was OVER. Thank God! Everyone had gone home.

At least I thought they had … until DH piped up, “Oh wait, someone’s still here.”

A boy. Let’s call him H. He was inside the building, standing around quietly, waiting for someone to pick him up.

I told DH to head off with our two. H and I stood on the kerb outside, in the dark – the moon was full, the sky full of stars. We chatted – he was a nice kid, grown-up for his age. He was also getting worried about the fact no one had come for him. “I’m sure your mum will be here any minute,” I said kindly, stifling a yawn (end of the work/school week, blimin’ knackered).

“Can I use your phone?” he asked.

“Of course,” I said. “Do you know your mum’s number?”

He nodded, and I handed my mobile over.

A few seconds later, I heard a small voice – much more plaintiff than the polite tone he’d been using to chat with me. “Mummy!” he squeaked. A few more words were exchanged as he scuffed his foot against the pavement. “But there’s no-one here.”

When he got off the phone, I asked (and I’ll admit I was more than a little hopeful myself as I REALLY wanted to go home), “So is she coming?”

H shrugged. “My driver’s coming.”

Now, this in itself isn’t at all surprising in Dubai, but what did surprise me is we sat on the kerb for another 20+ minutes without so much as a message (or apology) from his parents, and when a car eventually screeched to a halt (a driver-maid combo), the darkened windows meant there was no eye contact. I walked round to make sure he was getting in the right vehicle, but they were clearly in a hurry. After a quick “sorreeee” and “goodbye”, the car door slammed and they were off in a puff of smoke.

I listened to the crunching of gravel as they veered across the car park, and thought, “Thank Gawd, now I can go home – half an hour late. Just in time to clear up all the shredded pieces of wrapping paper I’m sure will be strewn all over the floor by now.”

A little odd, I decided. Madam can’t have known her driver was running so late, or she would have texted. Wouldn’t she? Or am I too English and hung up on manners?

Either way, it takes all sorts to make Dubai go round, doesn’t it?

Posted in Children, Dubai, Expat, Family, Parenting | Tagged , , , | 6 Comments

WhatsApp, mum? … The class chat group

Proactive parents will all know about the class mums’ WhatsApp group – the 24/7 group ‘chat’ on the ubiquitous phone messaging system, in which mums discuss anything from homework to lost items and how much to give kids for the bake sale.

I’m all for it (mostly) – it helps me stay on top of things, and any questions you post on the group are usually answered within seconds. I’m now included in four motherhood WhatsApp groups: two school groups and two groups for the baseball teams my sons play on.

"Just a quick reminder that tomorrow is Florence Nightingale Day – don't forget the kids' costumes!"

“Just a quick reminder that tomorrow is Florence Nightingale Day – don’t forget the kids’ costumes!”

The corners of my mouth did twitch upwards, though, when I found myself discussing these memberships with the working mums at my office – because, if I’m perfectly honest, there’s nothing quite like coming out of a meeting to a phone screen full of 26 messages about head lice.

Or getting home, tired, and hearing…

Ding, ding, ding, ding!

… As messages download about all the homework you haven’t had time to do with your children as you’ve been at work.

I’ve also come to the realisation that it’s an incredibly powerful medium. Just as social media has been at the core of some of the world’s biggest protests, WhatsApp brings parents together in a way that can actually overthrow teachers.

I was talking to V, full-time at my office, and the mother of a little girl. She was looking harassed – a slight flush to her cheeks so I asked her what was wrong.

Her eyebrows snapped together. “It’s the mums in H’s class,” she said. “I’ve got all these messages on my phone about the replacement teacher – they want someone other than the person who’s been chosen.”

She gave a half shrug. “I just think the woman should be given a chance.”

See what I mean? The mums in her WhatsApp group were planning a COUP.

Then there was my chat with A, mother of two boys and currently juggling a new job with a mad dash out of the office at midday to do the school run followed by a full afternoon back at her desk.

“There’s this WhatsApp group,” she told me.

I gave her a knowing smile. I could tell by the way her face had contorted that she was getting a little frustrated with the nature of some of the messages (“My son always forgets to bring things home from school!” “Yeah? Mine too!”; “I’m the first one to arrive for parents-teachers day!” *picture of empty school hall* “Reserve a seat for me!”).

“I got home the other night,” my work colleague A told me, “and there were 58 messages from the class mums – trending tennis coaching.”

Facepalm – but then again, as I’ve come to realise, the Mummies’ WhatsApp group is also incredibly useful, and who wants to be the only mum who has to be sent separate text messages from the virtual motherhood circle (that is, if they remember – I mean, do you live under a rock?).

Peer pressure, I’d say, and the fear you’ll get everything wrong are enough to make most of us get with the programme.

Posted in Children, Dubai, Dubai schools, Expat, Family, Parenting, Social media | Tagged , , , , | 3 Comments

Travel post: Doha in a Day

The Qatari capital is a dazzling city in the making

Posing in the bath

Posing in the bathtub

As I looked around at my fellow bloggers turned conference-goers, their beaming smiles made it hard to believe we’d only just met. We were gathered in a regally furnished, luxurious state suite in Doha’s Four Seasons hotel, dressed in personalised, fluffy white dressing gowns – gifted to us by the hotel.

The noise levels rose as photo opportunities were snapped up (two people, it turned out, could pose in the giant bathtub, all shiny marble with gold taps), and it was only a matter of time before everyone jumped on the huge double bed for a group picture.

Props all provided

Props all provided

It wasn’t just any old bed, you see. It was the four-poster that British footballer David Beckham had recently stayed in, when he visited Doha for the tennis. I could have moved into the suite there and then; it was enormous, and the impressive views made it feel like a swanky New York penthouse apartment, complete with a grand piano, butler and walk-in wardrobe.

I’d stayed in many faceless hotels on work trips in my life before kids, but the BloggingME workshop at the Four Seasons in Doha took hospitality to a new league altogether. They’d thought of everything, from the amazing canapés to the sundown reception on the terrace with champagne and chefs at live cooking stations. Doha, I discovered, knows how to conduct business, be it in a local coffeehouse or at a five-star hotel with bells on.

Building boom
There can’t be many places in the world that are changing as radically as Qatar. Doha, which began as a small fishing village, is now the capital of one of the fastest-growing countries on the planet.

Qatar's economy used to be dependent on pearl fishing on the Arabian Gulf until the discovery it was on top of 15% of the world's proven gas reserves. Credit: The Telegraph

Qatar’s economy used to be dependent on pearl fishing on the Arabian Gulf until the discovery it was on top of 15% of the world’s proven gas reserves. Credit: The Telegraph

A massive spending plan is part of the government’s National Vision 2030, which envisages a highly diversified economy with a focus on education and culture. What’s more, as Qatar gears up to host the 2022 Fifa football World Cup, Doha is investing more than $200bn in the development of essential infrastructure such as a metro to transport fans, stadiums to host matches and accommodation.

But while there are cranes and heavy equipment all over the city, visitors will find both history and modernity, often on the same city block, along with a generous smattering of authentic souqs and wide-open green spaces.


History meets modernity

Sparkling skyline
I was struck by the uniqueness of Doha’s buildings, and still have one particular view etched on my mind. While promenading the corniche, you can admire Doha’s sparkling skyline, rising up behind the old wooden dhows bobbing on the cobalt-blue bay. The corniche is without a doubt the highlight of the capital – together with the city’s geometric Museum of Islamic Art, which sits on the water’s edge like a gigantic broken Rubik Cube.

Museum of Islamic Art

Museum of Islamic Art

Inside the free museum, there’s a fine collection of Islamic metalwork, ceramics, jewellery, woodwork, textiles and glass, spanning a period of 1,400 years and mostly from Turkey, Syria, Iran and Iraq. The building, with its symmetry and lineal architecture, is just as impressive, with stunning views over the water and downtown Doha across the bay. A popular photo is taken from the terrace on the left side of the building, where you’ll find water fountains and three arched open windows, which frame the city centre buildings beautifully.

Social heart
It’s then just a short walk to Souq Waqif, the social heart of Doha and a great place to explore, shop, have dinner or people-watch from one of the cafes. Tourists and locals mingle here, and the alleyways and architecture are wonderfully atmospheric. I found myself surrounded by colourful birds and rabbits (in dresses!), then angled myself in a different direction and soaked up the aromas coming from the numerous shops selling spices, perfumes and oud (an exotic incense made from agarwood).

Doha selfieGiven a day in Doha, you can also fit in the cultural village of Katara, and by way of contrast, The Pearl, the glamorous address for some 12,000 residents as of January 2015. Once fully completed, The Pearl will create over 32 kilometres of new coastline. Love or hate it, it’s a distinctive sight, and otherwise known as Doha’s ‘Riviera Arabia’.

Of course, you’ll also want to take the obligatory Doha selfie on a mosque visit – my last photo I’ll leave you with, just as a thumbnail!

Posted in Parenting | Tagged , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

8 ways to confuse trick-or-treaters

My favourite quotes from Halloweens-past have got to be:

Could I have money instead?

And, “I don’t like those sweets. Have you got any other ones?”

[I mean, seriously, do I look like a pick’n’mix store?]

Then this morning, my overexcited youngest son and his best mate sung a little ditty to me:

Trick-or-treat, trick-or-treat
Give me all your yummy sweets! (repeat)

I really hope they’re politer than that when they go knocking on doors tonight, seeking their annual candy windfall.

Screen Shot 2015-10-31 at 15.16.42So, in a tongue-in-cheek spirit, here are 10 ways to turn the tables on the trick-or-treaters:

– Give away something other than candy (bags of sand, empty water bottles, golf balls, packs of oatmeal).

– Get everyone who comes to the door to come in and see if they can figure out what’s wrong with your washing machine. Tell them it makes a strange banging noise and your maid’s away.

– Stick a ‘Beware of the Lion’ sign on your door.

– Install a motion sensor that turns off the porch light every time a festively dressed child approaches.

– Hand out menus to the trick-or-treaters with pencils and let them order their candy by candlelight. Give them a bill at the end. Any complaints – throw your hands in the air, shrug and say, inshallah.

– Answer the door dressed as a dentist and give out toothbrushes. Treat them to a lecture about tooth decay.

– Get about 30 people to wait in your living room. When older kids come trick-or-treating in their normal clothes, say, “Come in.” When they do, have everyone yell, “Surprise!!!” Act like it’s a surprise party.

Happy Halloween everyone!

Posted in Parenting | Tagged , , , | 2 Comments

Halloween for grown-ups

Every year I do a Halloween post. All about how much fun the kids have trick-or-treating in Dubai. Since this weekend has unofficially been dubbed Halloween weekend here, I’m publishing this post early – and, this year, it’s not about all the fun stuff laid on for the children.

It’s about Halloween at work, for fully grown adults.

So, this morning, I walk out the elevator and see bloody handprints on the linoleum. My eyes follow the scarlet trail to the door and, lo and behold, through the glass I see a body, lying inside the entrance foyer – a wild-haired killer clown (who I later find out is one of the editors) sprawled out on the floor. He’s twitching like a beheaded chicken.


Stony silence: Sales? Subscriptions?

I, myself, am clutching an axe, borrowed from Son2. Shoving my own hair into a ponytail, I don my mask and brandish my axe, the bones of my knuckles showing white.

I hear the sound of a knife-like instrument on glass.

Scrape, scrape.

(A little bit like fingernails on a blackboard).

Then a blood-curdling scream.

The door opens and the full candle-lit Halloween horror scene is revealed, complete with a knife-wielding intergalactic alien, cackling witches and a (rather sexy) pirate.

Another shriek.

Followed by laughter (heh-heh-heh).

This is clearly going to be no ordinary day at work.

In the kitchen, where I always go first to make tea, there’s a severed hand in the fridge – and though I know it’s not real, I push the fridge door shut firmly, smiling to myself that our workplace has become just like The Office TV show with Halloween gags and pranks.

A few minutes later, the procession of zombies and ghouls filtering into work is joined by a slightly tubby gravestone, who saunters around the office for, oooh, at least half an hour. No-one knows who he is (sales, perhaps?). He does a jolly good job sneaking up behind me, his hands enveloping my neck in a chilling grip as I’m caught unawares.

“But who on earth is he?” I say to my friend afterwards. “Is he going to walk round all day, d’you think?”

(After 30 minutes, it’s becoming quite amusing that he’s in no hurry at all to sit down and do any work.)

He comes back round with treats, and I take a shortbread dismembered finger – still none the wiser as to his identity.

The mystery was only solved later in the day, when we found out he’d been hired as entertainment – a tombstone-o-gram!

Who says the annual revelry is all about the kids?


Posted in Parenting | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment

“Las Vegas on the Persian Gulf”

So The Telegraph put the cat among the pigeons yesterday with this controversial column entitled: Who in their right mind would want to visit Dubai?

For those who haven’t seen it, here’s a small taster:

“For starters, it has an awful climate. It’s horrendously hot and humid for nine months of the year. It has close to zero real culture unless you count its unique take on Sharia Shopping ‘n’ Starbucks. It is an environmental Chernobyl filled with SUVs and air-conditioning up to and including an indoor ski slope. And it has some of the worst upscale architecture in the world. Bigger, better, higher, glitzier, nastier: it’s like an entire city designed by Donald Trump.”

It gets even spikier … (Visitors, apparently, are a certain brassy subset of the middle-classes, who love expensive mock-Georgian new-builds … and probably don’t have many books on their shelves.)

What's not to love?

What’s not to love?

But, actually, after I got over my initial outrage at the fact the journalist had only ever spent three hours at the airport (I never left the airport, he admitted), I made my peace with him. The column was designed to shock, to provoke debate – and judging by the massive response, it succeeded in ruffling some two million feathers.

What’s more, many of the 844 comments are hilarious – strangers literally going hammer and tong at each other, and revealing just how little some particularly vocal people know about Dubai. With buttons for voting on comments, and new slanging matches erupting all evening, it was the best entertainment I could hope for without even leaving the sofa. Here’s my favourite exchange:

Inthesun: Well the beach was mighty fine today, water was very warn and just a slight breeze.
 A few beers and some salad and now going back to the pool. How is the UK today? :-)

Damian: Yes, so laying on the beach where you can do in hundreds of places in the world is fine as long as the oppression isn’t in front of you?

Inthesun: How is your mobile? Computer and all the other rubbish goods that you buy. Made by kids in china when the suicide shift starts.
 Kettle, pot, Black.

Aussieinswitzerland: Where did you hide while having the beer?

Inthesun: In the bar on the beach. It is called Barasti. Look it up on google.
 Great food as well.

Aussieinswitzerland: But it’s not actually on the beach is it?
 That would be illegal.
You have to hide in the international hotel with your beer.
 Not quite the same thing.

Nynx: Listen jackass…stop commenting on things you know nothing about. YES, you can order beer and YES, you can consume it on select beaches in Dubai.

Ah: Clearly, you have never been to Dubai.

Inthesun: Er, yeah. It is on the beach and you can order to your sun bed.

14 more reasons NOT to live in Dubai

Posted in alcohol in Dubai, Alex Proud on Dubai, British press criticising Dubai, comments on Alex Proud Dubai Telegraph column, drinking on beach in Dubai, misconceptions about Dubai, Telegraph article bashing Dubai | Tagged | 2 Comments

Little America: Baseball in Dubai

Screen Shot 2015-10-18 at 00.29.37

At 9am this morning, I found myself looking out over a self-contained quad of baseball diamonds on a green plot of land in clear view of the Burj Khalifa.

There were hundreds of kids, all trying out for the upcoming baseball season. My two were giving it a go for the first time – all part of our mission to get the boys playing sports. (To date this has included dabbling with karate, diving, golf, football, ski-ing and boxing. I say dabbling – because it seems that as soon as you’ve bought all the kit/equipment, and signed up for at least AED1,000-worth of lessons, they go off the whole idea.)

Anyway, what I really wanted to say is: if you’re American, and don’t already know about Dubai Little League, you really should check it out. I’m seriously impressed by the dedicated group of parents and volunteer coaches who enable more than 450 players ages 4-17 to enjoy baseball and softball in Dubai. It’s strangely comforting to hear so many American accents and positively uplifting to be surrounded by the ‘can do’ attitude I came to love while living in the States. The hot dogs are great too.

I came to the realisation, though, that I have a lot to learn before I can even think of qualifying as a baseball mom.

With temperatures in the high 30s and not even a hint of a breeze coming off the neighbouring manmade lake, it was incredibly hot. I got talking to a veteran mom, wearing – very sensibly – a wide-brimmed hat so her face looked as fresh as a flower on a dewy morning. She pointed out her boys’  baseball shoes while a trickle of sweat made a slow, tingly descent down my back. I wiped my brow with a sweaty hand and I’m sure she told me they had baseball socks too.

I’m making a mental note of where to get all this kit from, while trying to watch out for my boys, melting on the other side of the field, and wondering how the game works.

The sun was beating down relentlessly as the coach raised his arm and threw the ball towards Raptor. He connected: thwock! And I inwardly cheered. He’s hit the ball! He’ll want to come again.

DH’s practice session the day before was paying off.

And so I allowed myself to feel a little bit pleased – mostly that I’d got them there on time, because 9am on a weekend did feel rather early. Well, let’s just say, I quickly had the satisfaction wiped off my face.

The second lady I spoke to told me she’d been at the baseball fields all morning the day before too, with her older son. “And we were at hockey at six this morning,” she said.

“Six!” I replied, in awe, “this morning?”

“Yes, before the ice rink opened.”

I’m pretty sure she told me they had a third activity that day too – but by then the heat had done something funny to my hearing.

Click here for more info. And on Facebook.

Posted in American family in Dubai, baseball field Dubai, baseball in Dubai, baseball mom in Dubai, Dubai Little League, Little America in Dubai, raising boys in Dubai, sports in Dubai | Leave a comment