A Photo for Thursday: The Smart Palm

This is the first of a new breed of palm tree sprouting in Dubai: the Smart Palm station offers free Wi-Fi, eight phone and tablet charging points, two information screens (with weather info, news, etc), and a selfie camera! You’ll find this one at Zabeel Park, with more to follow at other Dubai parks.

This is the first of a new breed of palm tree sprouting in Dubai: the solar-powered Smart Palm offers free Wi-Fi, eight phone and tablet charging points, two information screens (with weather info, news, etc), and a selfie camera! You’ll find this one at Zabeel Park, with more to follow at other Dubai parks.

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Days of our remote-controlled lives

Son1 peered at a picture of a typewriter the other day. “What’s that?” he asked, tilting his head to see it from a different angle, screwing his eyes up a bit … “it doesn’t look like a MacBook.”

In fact, barely a day goes past when my children don’t remind me that lots of the things I grew up with amount to ancient history in their eyes. This weekend was a prime example – another reminder that time is like a rubber band, shooting us out into the unknown.

A leap of the imagination: 'Yes, you had to plod over there and turn a dial!"

A leap of the imagination: ‘Yes, you had to plod over there and turn a dial!”

Saturday morning is homework morning in our household and definitely not a highlight of the week. If there’s one time I’d love to go running off into the desert, far, far away from the sounds of my son protesting loudly and scraping his chair back as he disappears on yet another unexplained errand, it’s Saturday morning.

This weekend, Son1 had to research three inventions. I was thinking toasters, lightbulbs, the telephone. I started telling him about Alexander Bell. Turned out he was thinking TVs, iPads and the X-Box.

We settled on TVs, helicopters and cars, and he set about finding out three facts for each.

For TVs, he learnt that images used to be broadcast in black and white (quick aside: remember how the picture on old TV sets used to shrink to a dot before turning off?). Warming to the theme, I told him that, when I was a baby, my own mother watched the moon landings on a small monochrome screen.

“Wow!” he exclaimed, rabbit-eyed in wonder. “Black and white!” (Never mind that they got to the moon and back with as much computing power as you’d find in a mobile phone.)

The next fact he found out was that remote controls became available in the 1980s, heralding a whole new lifestyle of motionless.

He hesitated, collecting his thoughts in the sponge-like part of the brain with which children soak up information. “But how, mummy,” he said, scratching his head, “did you change channels before remote controls?”

“Well,” I replied, my facial muscles twitching, “how do you think we did it?”

“Did you have …” There’s a pause … “buttons on the TV?”

“Yes! We had to get up … imagine THAT!”

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Welcome to budget travel kiddos

We’re on a little getaway right now, and so this post is coming from sunny England – and I’m not joking, it’s so sunny that the whole country and his dog appeared to be out walking in the forest today.

We took a bit of a winding route to get here, spending a few days with the in-laws in Cyprus first – which gave me the opportunity to introduce the children to something they’ve escaped until now: the delights of budget travel.

Spring has definitely sprung in Cyprus

Spring flowers: Cyprus was in bloom

Yes, it’s no secret that the children of airline pilots are rather spoilt when it comes to air travel. It was high time they went on easyJet, an airline I remember fondly for its mysterious delays and the strangest noise on arrival at Gatwick, like someone’s sawing off a wing. (Happy to report that both these things still apply.) I even managed to throw in a flight on Ryan Air too, out of Athens. What could possibly go wrong?

I always knew the lack of TVs would come as a shock to the boys – and sure enough, to my amusement, Son2 starts looking everywhere for his screen. In the arm rest, under the seat. “It’s got to be somewhere,” he’s thinking. He even tries tapping the safety picture nailed to the back of the seat to see if that would make it change channel. “No really, there’s no TV,” I say.

What I hadn’t bargained on was the rapturous applause and loud cheer that erupted spontaneously, like a Mexican wave, when we landed in Cyprus; it was a stormy, low cloud sort of evening, and the rain was spitting meanly against the windows. It was a good touch down in bad conditions, following what I can only describe as a mile-high shopping experience (scratch cards, drinks, microwave meals, duty free). But someone told me the passengers always clap on landing, whatever the weather. Very funny.

The thing I’ll remember most about our travels, though, was coming through immigration at Gatwick, and meeting Mr Nice Passport Man (a rare creature indeed). I’m dragging the children behind me, and he starts tapping away at his computer. “Let’s just see if you’re on the Easter Bunny’s naughty or nice list,” he tells my younger son. Son2’s eyes widen like saucers – he’s REALLY worried! “It’s ok – you’re on the good list,” says the official and in we skip.

A welcome like that really does put the spring in your step.

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Liquid Sunshine: The spray tan

I never thought I’d say this, but today I was a body model. I’d always thought there was more chance that camels might fly, but this morning, I found myself standing semi-naked in a tent, being sprayed with a liquid I can only describe as the colour of black coffee.

Its name: St Tropez – something you’d think you wouldn’t need in Dubai. But, as I’ve discovered, the winter (and middle of summer) here can actually leave you maybe not exactly waxy-white, but definitely on the pasty side.

Work has gone really slow, and so when I was offered a free professional fake tan as part of a training session, I said yes immediately, and had visions of turning nut brown while having all my knots massaged away by warm, enveloping hands.

And fire …

And fire …

At least that’s how I remembered it from the only other time I’ve had a fake tan done, just before my wedding 11 years ago.

This morning, while striking various poses in the polythene, pop-up tent – as a lady took aim at me with a fully loaded spray gun – I realised that technology has moved on since then. “Eyes closed,” she ordered, before blitzing my face with a mist of fake tan. ‘Turn … and turn again. Arms up … Elbows out … Face the other way.” (Is this how they spray-paint cars? I wondered.)

“Now lunge …”

She looked so disappointed with my lunge, she did a quick demonstration, and I tried again – only to step back off the towel onto the slippy bit and nearly go flying. It wasn’t the lying down experience I’d envisioned, let me tell you.

Feeling as though I was being trussed up and basted like a turkey, I let her do a second coat and, afterwards, emerged from the cavern – the colour of mahogany!

DH came to pick me up. I’d warned him I’d taken on the appearance of a cigar. And how he laughed when he saw me! “You look like a really well done chicken,” he chortled, clearly worried about the car seat. “Mum, what’s that smell?” asked my oldest, inhaling the distinctive scent. “I really did prefer you when you looked like a peach.” (!)

Given that Catherine the Great spends her whole life trying to look whiter, I have no idea what she must have thought, but she was definitely amused too.

But, I’m happy to report that, after 8 hours and a good shower, it’s now toned down nicely (in fact, it’s great! I glow!), with not an orange patch in sight. I’d even do it again.

Not a sponsored post, but the spray tan took place at Locks By Lou Lou in JLT

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A note on school remember lists

It could be because it’s the last week of term, but I feel like I have a mild form of dementia this week. I’m forgetting all sorts of school-related things. And, boy, do the kids let me know about this!

“Mum, you forgot everything today!” my oldest told me, as he burst through the door yesterday afternoon, the indignance chipping away at the edges of his voice. “My reading book … the zumbathon … money for Tanzania Day.” Never mind the equally long list of things I did remember.

“Well, you are nine now, big boy. It might be time you started remembering some of these things for yourself?” I suggested hopefully. He looked at me aghast, as though I’d proposed chopping him into little bits for dinner. DH glanced up from his chair in the corner, enjoying the distraction from his airplane manuals, and raised an amused eyebrow.

Last week of term and nothing is sticking in my memory

Last week of term and nothing is sticking in my memory

The thing is, there’s just so much to remember, isn’t there? Your child will need: an iPad for Arabic; an oversized white shirt for science; a costume for Book Character Day; a 3D model of the Ruler’s Court (okay, I made the last one up, but I know any mums reading this will relate!).

My friend A, who is frantically busy setting up her own company at the moment, told me she had a chicken bone soaking in vinegar in the kitchen for a science experiment on calcium deficiency, and had just bought plastic juice bottles to make lungs. “Tomorrow he needs recyclable materials to create artwork for the theme ‘a sustainable and happy society’ … and that’s just for the little one. Don’t get me started on the older brother.”

I gave her a wobbly, sympathetic smile, knowing that this is what I’m in for next year.

In our household, having two completely different schools makes the remember list even longer. I’d go so far as to say it adds a bi-polar element to our school situation (the result of a waiting list as long as your arm) – and this morning I found myself cursing my inability to stay on top of things.

Raising money for children with genetic disorders

Raising money for children with genetic disorders

It was Jeans for Genes Day at Son2’s school, necessitating the wearing of denim and a 10dhs donation (which had to be in 10 dirham coins, not a note, as they were going to use the coins to fill the outline of a pair of jeans). A great cause, and I was all for it. We picked out his coolest jeans. He pulled them on, and buttoned up his blue and white stripy school shirt at 7am this morning.

Big mistake – when we get to school, all the other kids are wearing T-shirts with their jeans.

Son2 bursts into noisy, guffawing sobs and runs away. I’m feeling mildy annoyed that he’s having such a dramatic reaction. But then, the teacher goes off to see if there’s a spare T-shirt, and half the class pours out the door like flood water, to stare at my son, who’s hiding round the corner. “A-ha, you’re not meant to be wearing that,” trills one classmate, pointing.

My words, “It doesn’t matter!” fall like rocks in the morning air.

And I feel so bad – so horribly bad – that I go straight home, pick up a T-shirt (his brother’s, another brain freeze) and drive it back to school.

Bring on the Easter holidays! (Now, if someone could just tell me where I put my car keys … )

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Is there anything else I can help you with?

If you live here, you’ll know there are only two phone companies – Etisalat and Du. Which means if you’re not satisfied with one, there’s only one other provider. And after that … well, you’re back where you started.

You might also know that Dubai has plans to become one of the world’s smartest cities. We’re talking wi-fi on the beach, smart taxis, smart buses, smart rail, smart parking and, at DSO Smart City, even smart lighting that gets brighter when pedestrians are passing, and solar-powered, motorised smart shading for open areas.

All well and good. Except when it doesn’t work, and the technology leaves you scratching your head and reaching for the gin (like when the SMS parking system doesn’t let you pay; or the ticketing system for the shiny new $1.1bn tram spits your credit card out in disgust and won’t give change).

Dear Du, My recent interaction with you left the hairs on the back of my neck standing up as though they were about to march off and do battle somewhere

Dear Du, My recent interaction with you left the hairs on the back of my neck standing up as though they were about to march off and do battle

So, back to my phone. I get an ominous sounding message, among the million other ‘special offer’ SMSs from the phone company. The text says I need to visit one of their shops immediately to avoid disconnection.

But I’m at work. I can’t take a whole morning off to queue up at the Du store. So I do what any other hopeful, time-pressed mother might do – I assume they’re just joking.

Until two days later, when I wake up to find the number I’ve had for six years no longer works. And I end up at the Du office, in their queuing system, with 33 customers to be served ahead of me.

And, two hours later, the man tells me that the documents I’d re-registered with a year or so ago (my passport/ID card) had expired, and, without actually being told, I was meant to somehow know to bring my new documents in to re-register for a second time. Who needs telecommunications when they can use telepathy, after all?

I hand over my passport, chew the inside of my mouth, and ask when I’ll be reconnected: “In 24-48 hours Ma’am.”

“Is there anything else I can help you with?”

At this point, his face has become an oval with two vacant, expressionless eyes and just a slit for a mouth, and I leave, flashing him my best dissatisfied look and knowing there’s an apocalyptic pile-up of customers behind me and making a fuss won’t help.

But you know what: something strange happens over the next 24 … 48 … yes 72 hours. I love not having my phone. I quit a freelance job that’s making me wait months for payment, knowing that the boss won’t get on the phone to talk me into continuing. I spend a day with my bestie from the UK, safe in the knowledge that the school, my car pool, etc, will have to get hold of DH instead.

Then after 72 hours, DH casually mentions: “Have you rebooted your phone?” No, Du never mentioned that, I think to myself – and it turns out to be another telepathy fail because as soon as I reboot, the network springs back to life.

Anyway, rant over. The moral of this post being: if the phone company threatens to cut you off, they’re not joking. Far from it … then they’ll ask what else they can help you with.

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The school lockdown drill

“Mummy! There’s going to be actors playing terrorists in school tomorrow!” said my older son, the excitement chipping away at the edges of his voice.

Goodness, I said, my brows knitting together. I knew there was a travelling theatre coming to school soon (I’d sent the money in), but this sounded far too dramatic for a class of imaginative eight and nine year olds.

Further questioning revealed that the school had planned a lockdown drill – something all UAE schools are doing this year, most for the first time. Kind of like a fire drill in reverse: the warning sounds and everyone stays inside.

Today on the curriculum: Hiding practice

Today on the curriculum: Hiding practice

Explaining this to children can be tricky, and you end up mumbling something like, “It’s safest to be outside a building if it’s on fire, and sometimes it’s safest to be inside the building instead.” Pushed into it … “If we were in America there might be a man with a gun.” [their eyes expand like saucers] “But not here …” (lest they suddenly decide they never want to go to school again).

Well, it turned out there were no play-terrorists (over-enthusiastic primary school kids really know how to spin it, don’t they?). And, to be honest, it sounded more like hiding practice as it’s not like they were allowed to pile tables and chairs up against the door or anything. But the novelty factor certainly meant Son1 told me far more about his school day than he usually does – and went to town on the sound effects.

The alarm sounded, he said, demonstrating it loudly with siren-like wailing. And all the children had to huddle in the corner of their classroom, with the lights off. “The head then came round banging on all the doors, kind of pretending he was trying to get in.

I’m trying to imagine all the children and teachers hunkering silently in darkened classrooms away from closed blinds and locked doors, while the headmaster prowled through the hallways decorated with student art and jiggled doorhandles.

“We made two mistakes,” said Son1. “Ms B forgot to turn the smart board off, and left her phone on her desk.”

“But Ms T’s class made the worst mistake,” he added, the corners of his mouth twitching into a smile.

“What was that?” I asked.

“They forgot to lock the door.”

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