Has anyone ever just popped into Ikea?

“I’m feeling really sick!” DH even put his hand to his chest. My eyes widened – he couldn’t be having a heart attack. Not on the road. Not turning off the highway into Festival Centre. Not when he has stringent medicals every six months with EKGs and all sorts of tests.

“I think I’ve got …” He coughed. A hand rose to wipe his brow. “… Ikea-itis.”

“Ah-ha,” I said, giving him a sideways glance. I should add that I was feeling a little guilty as I’d sort-of tricked him into coming. A casual, “Well since we’re over this side of town, we might as well pop into Ikea for those curtains.” I said it brightly as though I’d suggested a trip to the pub. We’d locked eyes. He drew a deep breath and blew it out slowly through his cheeks. Let’s just say, I promised him I’d make it worth his while.

As the cheery blue-and-yellow logo came into sight, I ran through my list in my mind.

“Just curtains,” said DH.

“Sure,” I replied.

I grabbed a bright yellow bag from the smiling man standing by the entrance. DH raised an eyebrow: “You really need that?” He sounded worried.

“Just in case,” I shrugged.

We agreed DH would wait in the food court while I looked at bookcases. Then we’d meet by the curtains. Well, I took a bit longer than I meant to – but that always happens in Ikea, doesn’t it? It has a way of sucking you in so that 45 minutes later you’re still lapping bedrooms and office furniture.

My phone rang. DH.

“Where are you?” He knew a short-cut, he said. He’s worked out all the short-cuts in Ikea – doors that look like fire-escapes; doors barricaded with trolleys piled high with boxes. He’s been through them all. I sighed. “Okay, straight to curtains. No looking round.”

The haberdashery section was relatively quiet – just an Emirati woman buying drapes for a 10-bedroom villa, and a harassed mum with a stroller, who gave up when her child started screaming. I told DH he didn’t have to stay. I could handle this. How difficult could it be? (and, anyway, as he pulled out a twill-weave curtain in battleship grey – a colour I saw too much of staring out of my bedroom window in London – I realised we’d never agree.).

I spent a happy 15 minutes browsing. Wool-blends, chiffon, cotton duck, velveteen, non-sheer silk (with “great drapability”) – I was spoilt for choice. Until it came time to order. At least four times, Sanjay shook his head: “No Maam, not in stock.” “Ran out yesterday, sorry!” “Maybe in two weeks.” I began to think they didn’t actually sell curtains – maybe the pretty fabrics were just decoration.

On the way out: Noooooo – it's August!

On the way out: Noooooo – it’s August!

Finally I settled on two designs they actually had material for. I gave Sanjay my measurements (the windows, not mine). I nervously pointed out a scribbled number that could easily have resulted in drapes 60cm too short (who knew curtain assistants have handwriting that’s as indecipherable as doctors’?) They were going to get it right first time. I wasn’t coming back, other than to pick them up.

Sanjay did something on his computer and told me he’d get me a trolley. Odd, I thought. I’d naively assumed he’d keep the material to turn it into curtains. “Oh no, Maam. After check out, you take it to customer services, aisle 5.” By now, my phone was ringing again.

After making it through the check-out queue, I pushed the trolley to customer services. DH looked longingly at the exit and glanced at his watch. Of course, there was nobody manning aisle 5.

It was a funny old corner: cardboard boxes in all shapes and sizes, Ikea workers scuttling in an out of a warehouse like ants, customers languishing on seats. And, of course, to hand my would-be-curtains in for tailoring I had to take a ticket from the machine and wait for my number to flash up on the screen.

Nearly three hours after walking into the store, ‘just to buy curtains’, we made it out … still speaking!

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Murdering Your Darlings

In magazine publishing, we call it ‘murdering your babies’ – I’ve just found out that in book publishing, the term is ‘murdering your darlings’, and if you’re wondering what it means, it refers to cutting words from a piece of work.

Stephen King is much more descriptive on the subject: “Kill your darlings, kill your darlings, even when it breaks your egocentric little scribbler’s heart, kill your darlings.”

091206ablogwritersI’ve a feeling I might be doing rather a lot of this over the next six months: I’m doing an online course called ‘Write Your Novel’, via a writers’ centre in Australia, and it’s opened up a whole new world to me – of online classrooms, workshopping; and downloadable audio programmes. Not to mention fellow students who pop up as little gravatars and chat in the ‘water cooler’ section of the website.

I had no idea learning had moved into such a brave new world (remembering like it was yesterday the moment in the mid-90s when my magazine journalism course presented us with desktop publishing lessons, and we knew that all the cutting, gluing and sticking we’d been learning up till that moment should have been left behind in playschool).

Anyway, if the blog goes quiet, it’s because, in the cracks between work and family, I’m concentrating on the book –a project I’m 40,000 words in to and determined to finish. In six months’ time, there will be a manuscript, which I can then start to murder. I’m hoping that all my time at work spent topping and tailing features like they’re runner beans might come in useful!

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Dark Fiction: Coming Home

If you love books, you’ve probably noticed that a popular genre recently has been dark fiction. Call it psychological suspense or ‘suburban noir’, the trendsetter was the brilliant ‘Gone Girl’, a novel that spawned a raft of books about conflicted families in peril.

I’d been eagerly awaiting the release of Coming Home – the debut domestic thriller by Expat Telegraph blogger and journalist Annabel Kantaria – and I wasn’t disappointed: the tag line, ‘The darker the secrets, the closer they lie’ rang true the whole way through, and I was kept guessing right until the very end by the ambiguous characters.


A must-read for anyone who thinks their family is dysfunctional

I’m not going to give away too much about the plot, suffice to say it’s about 28-year-old Evie, who lives in Dubai and gets the phone call every expat dreads: her father has died unexpectedly and she must return home, to the web of lies spun by her family. The first clue is that her mother is acting strangely. Then, as one secret after another is revealed in quick succession, like a hail of stones, Evie realises that everything she thought she knew about her parents is a manipulation of the truth.

I caught Annabel at the Emirates Airline Festival of Literature in March, and the thing that struck me was the dedication it takes to write a novel that actually ends up on bookshelves. “I can’t quite believe it’s my book,” she said, revealing that it was two years in the making, with the idea first forming five years before that.

Everything changed for Annabel when she won the festival’s Montegrappa First Fiction competition in 2013. Her submission, the first chapter of ‘The Marmalade Murders’, caught the eye of literary agent Luigi Bonomi. Six weeks later, she had a 60,000-word first draft ready for him; two more drafts followed, then came the book deal, with Harlequin Mira – and more edits, which Annabel worked on while her two children were off school for the summer holidays. “I must have written 200,000 words in total, of which 90,000 made it into the finished book.”

Dubai as Evie’s expat location was edited in and out, and her character went through various guises. “At first, she had children, but as she had to go away for five weeks, they got in the way,” said Annabel. “Then she was a divorcee, but got too bitter, so that didn’t work either.”

The hard work was all worth it though – at the literary festival, Annabel enjoyed a proud moment signing a copy of her book for Graeme Simsion, author of The Rosie Project, and her gripping novel is already being well received. She’s currently working on her second book, with a third in the pipeline.

“I’m very fortunate that my children go to school,” she told us. “They leave the house at 7am, and I’m at my computer at 7.10am, in my pyjamas – writing in two-hour blocks until 2pm.”

Her next shift takes place at 2.30am, when her husband frequently hears the sound of a pencil scratching in the dark. “Some of my best ideas and dialogue come to me in the middle of the night,” she said.

Coming Home is available in Dubai already and launches in the UK tomorrow – buy it here (listed as one of Amazon’s Rising Stars 2015)

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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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