On bribing your children

We all do this – don’t we? “If you eat your greens, you can have a cookie.” “If you do your homework without whining, you can have your iPad back.”

But what about cash bribes?

As a non-parent, it never crossed my mind that a mum might resort to offering an AED 10  kickback for, say, reading a whole chapter of a book. I think I just ignorantly assumed primary school children were motivated by an innate drive to achieve (yes really, bahaha) and a thirst for knowledge. Obviously, I hadn’t thought this through. And have had my eyes opened to the litany of dubious promises that really motivate a child.

Early yesterday morning, I was attempting to drill Son2 on his spelling words. He shook his head, shrugged and rolled his eyes simultaneously.


Our community centre: Stuffed to the rafters with Halloween decorations

“C’mon – you need to do better than one out of seven – which is what you got last week, AND the week before,” I said, growing irritated.

He glowered at me. I turned to DH for help, and before we knew it, we’d outlined a sliding scale of enticements.

Son2 is nuts about Halloween. His excitement starts right after his birthday on October 2nd, and he then spends all month talking about Halloween, trying on his costume, and asking us, every morning in the car, “How many more days until Halloween Day?” So the incentive was money for Halloween decorations: AED 100 for ten out of ten spelling words; AED 50 for nine out of 10; and AED 20 for eight out of ten.

I blame the enormous display of spooky merchandise that’s appeared in our community centre – outside the shop as there’s not enough room inside Choitrams itself.

All of a sudden, Son2 was interested. He sat up straighter, practised his words, and I swear I could see AED stretched across the spherical surface of his eyes. (We were very confident we wouldn’t end up shelling out the big bucks.)

On the way home, I asked how he did. He started bouncing in his seat, puffed out his chest a little. He didn’t know his score, but appeared to be mentally spending the money.

In the cool air-conditioning of our house, he ripped open his bag, pulled the spelling book out, and …

Seven out of ten.

Oh the disappointment! To say he broke down is an understatement. He threw himself onto the floor in a heap, and when the sobs came – huge hiccupping sobs with fat tears – he also gulped for air.

I was still standing over a quivering Son2 a few minutes later when DH walked in, adjudicated the situation, and came to the joint decision that there was a small plastic prize for seven out of ten.

“We shouldn’t have done that,” DH said to me later. “It’s a life lesson – you fail at something and learn from it.”

“I know, I know,” I said, thinking, today at the tender age of just turned seven he wants dirhams for decorations, but he could grow to want a Lexus. I sighed. “At least he tried – even if it was for all the wrong reasons, and he did do so much better than the last few weeks.”

Parenting, eh – who knew raising kids was so hard on your wallet and your heart.

Now how much did I owe Raptor for reading?

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Magazines: Do you still read them?

There must have been about 40 people huddled around the glow of the video conference screen – I was head-down at my desk, a little buried with a busy workload due to two magazines going to press. But I got caught up in the razzmatazz from London about our company’s restructuring. The words on everyone’s lips, Have we been sold?

No, we hadn’t. Far from it, things were going to be digital-tastic. The digital future was bright – so bright, they played the video presentation again, in case we’d missed anything the first time about our journey to Planet Digital.

For anyone still not sure, there was also an article on the Guardian website, in which the chief exec spelt out that, over the next 12 to 18 months, all of our titles would become digital only.

I looked down at the proofs on my desk with an unblinking gaze. A pile of magazine supplements stared back at me from my in-tray. I swallowed hard. I’m adaptable, I told myself. I already do some work on the company’s digital side. I run a blog, I thought! A Circles in the Sand Facebook page. I even occasionally Tweet. I can do digital (right?)

Except I kind of like our print editions.

Without giving away the name of the company I work for, it’s been going for a long time. In fact, it wouldn’t be over-egging it to say it’s been a publishing institution for more than 70 years.


Surely print can’t be dead until you can safely take hundreds of pounds of electronics into the bath?

I took my first job with them 20 years ago, worked on and off for various titles for years, then, by chance, got hired by the Dubai office here. For a girl who loves magazines so much, I even took a post-grad diploma in them, it’s been the only thing I’ve ever really wanted to do – other than write books, but that’s a whole new kettle of fish.

I sort-of knew this was coming. Across the company’s portfolio, 67 per cent of revenues are from digital and events. Digital subscriptions are apparently the format customers want to engage with. Newsweek went ‘digital only’ after 79 years in print in early 2013, and commentators say almost all magazines will eventually go purely electronic. The message for publishing is clear – paper products have had their day.

Or have they? Aren’t there still people out there who’d prefer to read printed words rather than look at a screen? Aren’t there tonnes of avid readers, like me, who love magazines and book stores? Buying a magazine with a beautiful cover feels like treating myself to a present, every time – is that really so old fashioned?

I decided to ask around at work. Holding my pile of proofs, I rubbed the tips of my fingers against the edge of the pages, and asked one of the young, whippersnapper journalists: “But what about reading magazines on the loo?”

He looked at me, bemused, as though seeing me for the first time. “You can read your iPad on the loo, you know.”

“The bath, then?” I ventured. I hate taking my iPad into the bath as it really doesn’t enjoy getting wet.

“And how about the psychological satisfaction of not only starting to read a magazine, but finishing it? Of putting it down knowing you’ve got through it, without hundreds of seductive hyperlinks that take you down the internet garden path.”

Of course, when I got home and asked my children which format they preferred, the answer was a no-brainer for them. “The iPad,” chorused my screenagers. Their eyes went round and they crinkled their noses at my suggestion they could read more books.

So how about you? How do you read magazines? Are they still relevant in an age of free online content, social media and 24/7 news – or has print been trumped?

Postscript: So a little later, I find myself troubleshooting the boys’ X-box – a chore that always makes me feel like someone’s jumping on my chest. Once fixed, Raptor asks me to turn the volume up. “It’s the button on the side, Mummy!” He waggles his eyebrows. His confidence in my digital future is etched all over his face. “… It says V on it.” Oh the faith…!

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Blond(ish) mum and son seek new friends

“I’ve got some great news Mum!”

“What’s that?” I asked, raising my eyebrows a fraction.

“Zaid and Ryan say they’re going to stay at school until Year 12.” Raptor smiled.


Friends come and go like buses

“That’s good,” I said, and thought, “we’ll see about that.” Not because I’m expecting Zaid and Ryan to flunk out before Year 12, but because there’s a high chance their fathers will get posted to Singapore or some other far-flung corner of the world well before then. Either that, or the family will decide to repatriate – or switch to a new school offering an astronaut cadet programme.

It’s a big problem in expat schools – your kids make friends, and then their friends pack up and leave. Sometimes overnight. “Noel never even told anyone he was leaving,” Raptor said to me. “He went back to Finland … And then there was Horace. He went to Germany forever. And Hanna went to … erm,” His eyebrows snapped together. “I can’t remember.”

“Hungary,” I prompted.

“D’you remember Corner?” he asked. “Who always used to sit in the corner?”

I nodded.

“Well he left.”

Then his face softened. “And Morgan went to a different school.” His girl crush, now in a nearer, American school. And Eva and Omar – the list went on.

We haven’t got to the point yet where a school friend is off sick with a cough and all their classmates assume they’ve left, but it is something that, as a parent, you think about: Will they assume all relationships are transient? How much are they really affected by these lost friendships? Or, worse, perhaps they’re so used to it they barely notice?

Screen Shot 2015-09-30 at 21.55.25Adults, of course, are equally as likely to lose friends in expat societies. I sat on a small, hard chair recently at Raptor’s back-to-school night, and realised I didn’t know anyone. At a school we’ve attended for five years. (Each year, they mix up the classes and so Raptor started the term in a class filled with different and new faces.)

A group of ladies were listening to a mum whose eyes looked a little too wide awake. She ran her hand through her hair, bracelets jangling, holding court. A new girl feeling swept over me like a cloak, transporting me back to the awkward, pimply, teenaged me on my first day of big school.

The start of the meeting was delayed as the head finished his speech downstairs, and after 10 minutes of shifting in my seat, someone I knew finally walked in. An Italian mum who’s been at the school almost as long as us.

She strode over and gathered me into a hug. She smelt like a posh department store, her earring pressed hard into my cheek. “How was your summer?” she trilled. We swapped very brief highlights. Me: Isle of Wight. Her: Los Angeles.

And, by the way we greeted each other like long-lost friends, I wondered if she had that fish-out-of-water feeling too.

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On trying to raise global children

Warning: You won't BELIEVE what lies beneath (readers with a faint-hearted disposition, look away now!)

Warning: You won’t BELIEVE what lies beneath (readers with a faint-hearted disposition, look away now!)

Raptor (formerly known as Son1) pulled his first all-nighter on us last night. I’d felt sure he’d fall fast asleep as soon as we took off from Vienna. The signs were all there as we waited at the gate after our Eid getaway – glassy eyes, voice raised in an over-tired fight with Son2, a whiny tone, his face waxy-white as though it had been lightly dusted with flour. I glanced at my watch: it was past midnight Dubai time.

As soon as we were airbourne, I put my seat back. I’d only been staring at the luggage bins for half a minute when I succumbed to sleep.

The next thing I was aware of was the plane juddering.


Over the sound of seatbelts being buckled up came the captain’s voice. “Good news,” he said, “we’ve just started our descent into Dubai. We should have you on the ground in about 25 minutes.”

DH leaned over from the row behind. “Good luck waking him up,” he said, nodding to Raptor, “he’s only just dropped off.”

Astonished, I prodded and poked him, then finally managed to jostle him awake – he had indeed spent the whole five hours watching movies in the dark. Happy that such a night of uninterrupted viewing actually existed.

Arriving back into the brilliant early-morning light must then have told his brain to stay awake. At home, sun streamed through the patio door. The effect was warm, a homely glow falling over the furniture. Raptor blinked and reached for some electronic stimulation. I’ll admit I was already half way up the stairs to catch a nap.

Later, we sat around chatting about the trip. “What was your best bit?” DH asked me.

Hello Mozart!

Hello Mozart!

I thought for a few moments. I loved Vienna. From the imperial grandeur of this once powerful centre of the Hapsburg monarchy to the opulence of the Schönbrunn Palace, the Austrian capital is an unforgettable city, steeped in history and the birthplace of too many great musicians to shake a baton at. “All of it,” I said. “I loved it all.”

“And what was your best bit?” DH asked Raptor.

I felt sure he’d say the bones. We’d pushed the boat out, you see, to make sure – as you do – that the kids had a memorable time.

I thought we’d surely trumped ourselves on the tour of the cathedral’s catacombs. Shocking doesn’t even begin to describe it. First, you visit the old catacombs where the internal organs of members of the royal family are stored in urns. Then, in the ‘new’ catacombs you see the skeletons of thousands of plague victims. Most chilling were the brick caverns stacked high with neatly arranged bones – a 17th century space-saving concept, illuminated, for the benefit of modern visitors, by dim, yellowish electric lights. It was a dark highlight, if ever I’ve seen one. My sons had been stunned into silence.

I waited. Maybe I was wrong. Perhaps his most memorable moment had been when we’d raced down a platform to catch a glimpse of his favourite European train. Or ridden a tram to tick that box. Surely all this had been more interesting than the movies on the plane? Well, you’d think so, wouldn’t you?

“Erm,” he said, crinkling his forehead. A deep perplexed line appeared between his eyes as though someone had drawn it there with a pencil. “Can you just remind me what we did again?”

Gah! I guess you just have to assume that when you travel with kids, it all sinks in on some level … right?

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WANTED: 12 metres long, yellow eyes

I can safely say we’re in the middle of a dinosaur phase in our household. It started with the movie Jurassic World, which the boys saw three times at the cinema; we now have plastic dinosaurs all over the house; and there’s really no knowing when it will all end now that Son1 goes by the name of Raptor.

For little boys, it all makes perfect sense – dinosaurs are huge and powerful; they’re monsters, but dead monsters, so not scary; and when my boys get into character they can growl and fight and chase each other.

The fact that dinosaurs are MILLIONS of years old (yes, older than mummy and daddy) fascinates my kids. And, really, what’s not to dig? It’s an entire alien world that actually existed, with endless weird information that they can rattle off and long complicated words grownups can’t pronounce.

Of course, every time we go through these phases, it influences how we spend our time as a family – which would explain why a trip to the UK’s Isle of Wight this summer turned into DH and I spinning a yarn about visiting Dinosaur Isle (actually not far from the truth – they’ve found tonnes of fossils there). While on the island, we braved rain and fog (in July!) to attend a dinosaur night at a theme park. When T-rex glances down from a height of 20 feet in swirling mist and flicks his tail it’s surprisingly effective.

But all this was trumped last weekend in our very own neighbourhood when the dinosaurs were delivered to a 1.5 million square ft indoor theme park being built not far from us. Traffic was brought to a halt as a convoy of ferocious dinosaurs made their way to their new home in IMG Worlds of Adventure (opening early 2016). “They were moving around in their cages and roaring at passing cars … well it was either that or our Xanax,” my friend, who saw them coming down the 311, told me.

Roaring through the roads: Thankfully avoiding causing a tyrannosaurus wreck

Roaring through the roads: Thankfully avoiding causing a tyrannosaurus wreck

And then, despite being escorted by police, one went missing, and a hunt to capture the fugitive dinosaur exploded on social media using the hashtag #SpotTheDino. Those clever marketing people … kudos!

Screen Shot 2015-09-21 at 23.15.09

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September’s sticky start

So the new term is underway and taking no prisoners already. After meandering our way through the summer, September always feels like turning onto a highway where all the cars are going faster, and your best chance is riding in someone else’s slipstream until you’ve gained enough speed to keep up.

Just a little bit close out there.

Just a little bit close out there.

Back-to-school nights, school runs, assignments, activities and homework are all back on the agenda – made just that little bit sweatier by the yukky climate at this time of year.

Humidity has hovered around the 75-80 per cent mark and the temperature remains in the high 30s/low 40s. I sat outside my son’s classroom last week with steamed-up sunglasses and sweat stinging my eyes. I wiped my brow, glanced at my watch (they were late out), cursing the fact the school run is at the hottest part of the day. By the time you get back to the car, you’re red in the face and panting.

Woe betide if you forget to tie long hair up – it can feel like you’re in a sauna fully dressed, with hell breathing on the back of your neck. What you also notice about the humidity is not just the fog that can blanket the city in a hazy mist, but that all the windows have massive amounts of condensation dripping down them.

On the upside, it was beautiful at 7.30am this morning. Last night, I even felt a slight breeze – a waft of air that I gasped gratefully. Not long now folks till winter! It’s coming soon to a beach, park, garden near you, and I can’t wait.

Posted in Dubai school run in the heat, Dubai weather, Dubai weather in September, high humidity in UAE, humid fog in Dubai, humidity in Dubai, humidity levels in UAE in September | 1 Comment

14 Reasons Why You Should NOT Move To Dubai

Every now and then, I get a comment on my blog that goes like this (and this is a real example!):

“Everything is soo fake there makes me cringe how the whole city is set in a dessert”

Did you see what they did there with the spelling of desert?

Anyway, moving on … I’m well aware there are people who think Dubai is a concrete jungle with no soul, no culture. And apart from the general barrenness and lack of greenery, don’t you have to wear a veil, cover up on the beach and abstain from alcohol? Most of these people haven’t even visited.

Here are 14 more reasons to NOT even consider moving here:

1. There are no gardens or flowers – it’s a desert, all sand and concrete.

It takes some watering, but this is our garden.

It takes some watering, but this is our garden.

2. Apart from the Burj Khalifa, there are no other buildings worth seeing.

Dubai Marina

3. And lying on the beach is so boring!


4. Surely no wildlife other than camels could live in temperatures that reach 47 degrees?

Screen Shot 2015-09-05 at 23.31.40

5. The locals are really unfriendly – don’t expect to ever talk to any.

Screen Shot 2015-09-05 at 23.54.25

6. Only men are allowed to drive.

(Everyone can drive. Just kidding! But in case you’re wondering, yes – women are allowed.)

(Anyone can drive. Just kidding! But in case you’re wondering, yes – women are allowed.)

7. The view from the Burj is … meh! Nothing you haven’t seen before.

View from top of Burj

8. You spend your whole time indoors, in the air-conditioning.

playing golf in Dubai
9. It’s a very intolerant place. If you’re not Muslim, you’re not welcome.

Christmas tree

10. Get ready to don your burka at all times while in Dubai – and prepare to not let alcohol touch your lips. There’s nothing to celebrate!

My bestie and I!

My bestie and I!

11. After a few days, there’s absolutely nothing to do. Yawn.

Screen Shot 2015-09-05 at 23.47.47

12. Everything’s new – there’s no history!

Dubai Creek: The city’s centuries-old trading traditions

Dubai Creek: The city’s centuries-old trading traditions

13. That food! You wouldn’t want to put any of it in your mouth.

Stop drooling over the chocolate fountain!

Stop drooling over the chocolate fountain!

14. Who would want to live in the desert anyway?

Bab al Shams

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