On hanging up the ice skates (for good)

20 10 2014

It’s a little known fact that I’d love to be an ice dancer. Years ago, I wanted nothing more than to be Jayne Torvill – the trouble was, I was a terrible ice skater.

Then, we moved to Minnesota – which, for at least four months of the year, turned into a magical, winter wonderland. Fresh, fluffy snow would burst through the clouds, and the lakes would freeze so deeply that you could even drive cars on them. The sky was nearly always sailor blue, and when a blizzard started, the snowflakes would lightly touch your face, attaching to your lashes and tickling your nose. (Sigh, I still miss it – or am I forgetting shovelling my way out of a six-foot snowdrift?)

I finally learnt to skate in Minnesota. I had lessons at our local ice rink, and practised outdoors whenever I could – even on a huge frozen puddle outside our home. I loved it, but before you start thinking I was any good, I should add that, despite learning to swizzle and being able to get round the ponds and canals at Centennial Lakes Park, I wasn’t a natural, by any means. Then I got pregnant, and that was pretty much it.

Fast forward nearly 10 years, and I find myself looking at my ice skates longingly. “Let’s go skating at the Dubai Mall,” I tell my family, admiring the gleaming silver blades on my still new-looking, lace-up, white skates. (“Let’s take gloves,” I add, imagining the serrated toe pick going over someone’s little fingers.)

My boots, my dream. Lovely, but eye-wateringly painful.

My boots, my dream. Lovely, but eye-wateringly painful.

So, on Friday morning, we head to Dubai’s Olympic-size arena, before the mall gets too busy and the rink becomes like Sheikh Zayed Road on ice. We get the children booted up, lug two huge Penguin Pals onto the ice (utterly wonderful, sturdy inventions that kids can cling onto to learn to skate), and we’re off …

Except it wasn’t as easy as that (what was I thinking?). It felt nerve-wracking, and slippy; my feet skidded unsteadily in different directions, and just balancing was tricky. While the boys shuffled off with their penguins, DH took my hand and guided me round (he’s pretty good, having grown up in Kuwait, where he ice skated during the hot summers). Until finally I got my confidence back, and could glide – cautiously – by myself.

A few laps later, and I realised I couldn’t feel my feet. Not because of the cold (the rink felt pretty warm). But because they’d started tingling. My boots, which fit perfectly well a decade ago, were clearly too tight, and as pins and needles started spreading from my toes to my heels, I had to concede (sniff) that it was time to hang up my skates. (Darn it! How is it that 10 years and two children can not only make your hips, waist and tummy expand, but also cause your feet to get bigger?)

I’ll be back though – the hired boots felt much better, and while I’ll never be able to spin or jump like Jayne Torvill, I’m actually really pleased I was able to stay upright. One-two-three-gliiiiide.





Overheard in the car

15 10 2014

For the past two years, we’ve been car-pooling with a French family to get Son2 home from school. Our son, and their son – let’s call him M – quickly became firm friends, and despite not being in the same class anymore, the boys’ friendship remains as strong as ever.

This makes for some loud banter in the car – which I tune in and out of, depending on what the subject matter is, like you would when listening to incessant chatter on the radio. Today, the boys were discussing their dads, who both fly the same aircraft (the A380 superjumbo), and I noticed some rather competitive one-upmanship going on.

Son2 picks up a toy plane lying on the back seat. “My daddy flies a big airplane, “ he says, proudly.

“My daddy’s airplane’s bigger,” counters M, raising the stakes considerably.

“Well, my daddy flies a double-decker airplane, that goes fast. Like this….WHOOOOOOSH,” says Son2, whizzing the toy jet through the air.

The monster-plane – overweight but fast!

The monster-plane – overweight but fast!

“My daddy’s airplane is super-big, and it goes super-fast!” replies M, injecting as much ‘wow’ factor into his voice as possible. “Faster than your daddy’s.”

Remember, they’re talking about the same aircraft here.

I glance in the mirror and see that Son2’s face is a study in not-to-be-outdone affrontedness. It isn’t one of his normal faces; it’s like he’s picked it up from somewhere and is trying it on for size.

Son2’s hand then turns into a blur of motion as he illustrates high speed, and out of his sweet mouth comes an effortless – and blatant – lie. “Well, my daddy flies the Blackbird.”

“WHOOOOOOSH,” he adds, for effect.

Little boys – always comparing!





The bikini car wash

13 10 2014

Here in Dubai, we’re accustomed to things being done slightly differently from what we’re used to at home. Where else in the world can you register to lose weight and win gold if you’re successful? Or see sharks in a mall?

This week, while scanning the local press, I’ve noticed a few more examples of Dubai’s unique streak:

– First, there’s the penchant for supercars among Dubai’s emergency services; the latest additions being Dubai Ambulance’s new Lotus and pair of Ford Mustangs, which will soon be scrambled to meet 999 calls.

"Sports cars to speed up paramedics’ response times to emergencies"

Sports cars to speed up paramedics’ response times to emergencies”

– Then today, I awoke to the news that the Dubai government has a question for us: Are you happy? A ‘Happiness Metre’ has been launched that will measure how satisfied the public is with government services. The initiative involves tapping an electronic device that’s connected to a central network, resulting in daily reports being sent to decision makers.

"Happiness index to provide immediate feedback on user's satisfaction with government services"

“Happiness index to provide immediate feedback on users’ satisfaction with government services”

– As part of the above Smart Dubai initiative, Dubai’s parks and beaches are to get free WiFi.

– But perhaps the most surprising story is the bikini car wash being held tomorrow at the hotel next to my office, to raise awareness for breast cancer. Surprising because I can’t believe it hasn’t crossed their minds that this is rather risqué for Dubai.

A quick poll on the blog’s Facebook page came up with several great suggestions for what it might entail: A burkini car wash. The ladies wearing the bikinis over their normal clothes. The men wearing the bikinis. The cars being washed with the bikinis. I can hardly wait!

Screen Shot 2014-10-13 at 23.20.01





Silently stealing luggage space

12 10 2014

My DH took the children away last week. I couldn’t go because of work, so I (rather forlornly) waved them off to Beirut, where their grandparents live.

It was the first time I’d had to ‘let the boys go’, and I felt strangely untethered, as though gravity had disappeared – until I rediscovered how much extra time there is when you’re the only person in the house (things stay exactly where you leave them, it’s crazy!)

Our nanny did the children’s packing, but when I got home from work, DH was doing some pruning.

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Don’t forget their toothbrushes – and the class gorilla! (hehe)

Now, when I pack the cases, I’m pretty thorough. If we got stuck on a desert island, we could be self-sufficient thanks to my packing (which is sometimes, I admit, excessive – but then I’ve got nearly nine years’ of experience of travelling with children who create laundry like nobody’s business).

Men, I’ve realised, view packing quite differently. DH had thrown out several T-shirts; when I tried to put baseball caps in, I had to argue their case; and as for taking suntan lotion, you’d think I was attempting to sneak a brick into the suitcase. (“There’ll be some there,” was DH’s viewpoint. “Just take it, in case,” I replied.)

So I did have to secretly smile when DH’s hand-luggage only plans were stymied by the class bear. The mascot is actually a gorilla – at least a foot tall. As Son2 left school clutching the stuffed toy – hardly able to believe his luck that he was the first to take him away – DH must have groaned inwardly at the gorilla’s surprisingly large size.

At the back to school night, another dad had quipped, “If he’s excess baggage, he’s not going.” But, given the jet set life of a travelling toy in an international school, you just know that the class gorilla has probably scuba-dived in the Maldives; made it to Hong Kong Disneyland; not to mention enjoyed weekend trips to Oman and Turkey.





The birthday party conveyor belt

9 10 2014

Son2 turned six over Eid and, being at the age where he still wants huge birthday parties attended by his whole class, I did what any self-respecting, time-poor mum would do: outsourced the whole thing.

All I had to do was send the invites and manage the guest list, but, of course, when the day dawned, I still felt that sense of trepidation that accompanies hosting a children’s party for 20, especially the first one of the school year when the mums aren’t yet jaded by sugar-fuelled class parties.

The birthday bounce: An adrenaline rush with a soft landing. What not to love?

The birthday bounce: An adrenaline rush with a soft landing. What’s not to love?

The venue was Bounce. The urban, trampoline playground loaded with springs and circus-grade sponge, in Al Quoz. Despite the Eid holiday, it seemed almost everyone could come – after all, what five year old doesn’t jump (excuse the pun) at the chance to don rainbow-coloured gripper socks and bounce off the walls?

As Son2’s classmates turned up, I literally lost count, and with three parties running simultaneously, the place was getting crowded. Fair play to Bounce though, it was organised chaos. A young, energetic bounce master took the children round all the different areas: the freestyle trampolines; the airbag-fitted section; the 45-degree trampolines; and the dodge-ball court. Not that I saw any of this: I was too busy chasing sandwich platters and persuading the venue not to give the kids coca-cola (on top of all the bouncing, ice cream cake and lolly bags, the mums would have killed me!)

Talking of the mums, it’s a new crop this year as the classes have been mixed up, so I also did my best to mingle with the ones who stayed to watch.

Thankfully, there were no injuries, and all the children safely made it to the half-hour-long food and cake part of the party, where they were rushed through a meal of chicken nuggets (I know, the healthy option, for 20, was too expensive), the singing Happy Birthday bit, and the chocolate Baskin Robbins cake.

“We’ve got about five minutes, then everyone will need to vacate,” the party master told me towards the end, eyeing his watch. And you should have seen how fast he got the children to clear the decks in preparation for the next onslaught, and how experienced he was at hurriedly sweeping everything, including the left-over cake, into black bin bags.

“How many of these parties do you have today?” I asked, out of interest, as we were shuffled out.

“22,” he replied. (I’ll repeat that, 22!) Honestly, come up with a cool new idea for children’s parties here in Dubai, and you can make a FORTUNE!

Enjoy it while it lasts kiddos: there's another 21 parties to cram in!

Big business: Enjoy it while it lasts kiddos – there’s another 21 parties to cram in!





LEGOLAND DUBAI: Plastic fantastic

8 10 2014

It’s no secret that Dubai has long wanted to add Florida-style theme parks to its mix of entertainment offerings. There will be many who remember the plans for Dubailand – the emirate’s original scheme to build the biggest collection of theme parks assembled anywhere in the word.

The plans included a Warner Bros Movie World, Legoland Dubai, Tiger Woods Dubai and FalconCity of Wonders, but work on most of the developments was put on hold in 2008 because of the financial crisis, and Dubailand succumbed to the aspirations of real estate developers looking to make a quick buck. I’m reminded of what was meant to be every time I drive to our local supermarket and see the towering space shuttle and roller coaster models that stand as giant monoliths to these flamboyant plans, and my children certainly appreciated the dinosaur heads that peeked out above the hoardings along the highway.

Contractors have started work on Legoland Dubai

Contractors have started work on Legoland Dubai

But while Dubailand may have become the amoeba of real estate, the theme park plans are now back on the table again. The first phase of Meraas Holding’s $2.7bn Dubai Parks & Resorts development in Jebel Ali will comprise three theme parks: Motiongate Dubai; Bollywood Parks Dubai; and Legoland Dubai.

The development will also feature an entrance plaza known as Riverpark and a family-themed hotel known as Lapita.

So, with Legoland Dubai expected to be completed in 2016, what can we expect from this family favourite? Here, my guest columnist, Amanda Reid, gives us some clues, based on her trip to Legoland Windsor this summer. Those of you wanting massive cranes, terrifying loopy-rollers or virtual reality shooting games, look away now.

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London in miniature

The world has six Legolands, beginning of course with the original in Billund, Denmark (the home of Kirk Ole Christiansen, the inventor of Lego in the 1930s). We visited the largest of the Lego parks – Legoland Windsor in the UK. It is so close to Windsor Castle, second home of Queen Elizabeth II, you can stand at the entrance and enjoy a marvellous view of the castle (and Heathrow airport, also surprisingly near).

At the heart of each of the Lego parks is Miniature World, comprising constructions of famous landmarks and landscapes from around the world. They are intricately detailed and impressive in their faithfulness. On France’s Reims cathedral there are buttresses and gargoyles. London’s Tower Bridge is mechanically raised to allow a large Lego clipper to pass through. You can see Amsterdam-style houses, the Leaning Tower of you-know-where, and so much more.

If you’re looking for themed rides, you’ll find them in Pirate Land (you get wet on this one), Land of the Vikings and Adventure Land. The Atlantis submarine ride offers viewing of real-life and Lego sea creatures (likewise a Lego safari).

Driving test
But our children’s favourite area of the park was the Traffic section. It allowed them to drive real little electric cars on roads with stop signs and roundabouts, and no tracks to keep them, well, on track. Ah, the freedom of international children to work out which side of the road they should be on, and how to interpret those funny signs – could they mean Give Way, or maybe Stop?

The Traffic section also has a boating school, a helicopter school and hot-air balloons (pull ropes to raise your Lego balloon on poles) and fire engine racing. All transport tastes are catered for! It’s a busy place – use your Q-Bot here (an expensive extra that allows you to jump queues). Little ones are well catered for, too, with Duplo Valley’s splash park, a gentle hill train and lots to goggle at.

The main entrance to Legoland is a super busy assault course of Lego shops and eating options. They even have Lego-brick-shaped fries! When my six-year-old noticed Lego Star Wars and Angry Birds stuffed toys, I forgot where I was for a moment. But other than Lego and Star Wars having become virtually inseparable brands, Legoland is generally free from cross-promotion. I didn’t see a famous cola brand anywhere.

Legoland holiday
The Legoland Hotel is great fun. The entrance is made from primary coloured blocks with super-sized Lego figurines. Inside there are many sculptures of satisfyingly normal-sized lego. And the odd human dressed as a Lego figure walks by. I even saw a little girl hugging a mum-sized pink Lego brick. I think the padded costume was quite soft. And there were arms and legs sticking out.

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Welcome to the Legoland hotel

The Legoland Hotel has a feature that I commend to all busy resorts – a pit of Lego bricks in the middle of the reception, with coloured shelves for the children to display their creations on. In fact, there were times in the park when our children were heard asking to go back to the hotel for a few hours so they could build, build, build.

The restaurant and bar area is really a big playground. Staffed by cheery teenagers, the hotel is a fun place to be, although it can be slightly chaotic. Need a fork? Best get it yourself. Need advice on your next Lego build? Ask anyone. The solidarity between the parents is great. We enjoyed the weirdness of this Lego world, and seeing our children so happy. Go before the kids are too old, so they never ask ‘Why did we never visit?’.





What I’ll be wearing Wednesday

30 09 2014

When I got home from work tonight, I did the first thing I always do when transitioning from the peaceful buzz of the office to the happy, barely contained chaos of homelife: I went upstairs to get changed.

Usually this is a non-event. I take off whatever smartish outfit I happen to be wearing and throw on my Dubai staples: shorts and a lightweight top. Then I can relax, and lounge on the sofa for a bit, before the homework / reading / bedtime triathalon.

Not an accurate representation of the blogger (i.e., modelled by someone far skinnier than me). But here's the purple dress I had to promise Son2 I'll wear tomorrow

Not an accurate representation of the blogger (i.e., modelled by someone far skinnier than me). But here’s the purple, embroidered shift dress I had to promise Son2 I’ll wear tomorrow – with red lipstick

Tonight, if you’d been standing outside our villa, you’d have heard all hell break loose in our home.

“Mummy, why did you get changed?” demanded Son2, his voice rocketing up several octaves.

“I had to take off my work clothes, sweetie.”

“WHhhhyyyy?? Put your skirt back on!”

Two fat tears slid snail paths down his pink, powdery cheeks and I knew I had approximately 5 seconds to avert an oncoming tantrum.

“Mummy, PUT.A.DRESS.ON, PLEEASE.”

A thought then dropped into his head with a thud: “And red lipstick!”

It took me off guard – he’s 5 and I have no idea how he knows about this stuff. Seriously. I can only imagine the kind of girls he might bring home when he’s 18.








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