Wednesday, December 3, 2008

Dish dash day

On December 2nd, Dubai and the rest of the United Arab Emirates celebrate National Day. It's officially described as "an occasion for the residents of the UAE community to reflect and take pride in the many developments and achievements reached within their country over the last thirty seven years."

Thirty seven years, that is, since they gained independence from British colonials. Still that part isn't mentioned much to allow all the Brit expats to join in.

And we are not talking a couple of national flags stuck on cars. The place is awash with the national colours: houses, restaurants, people, boats...

The children's school...

And some brilliant looking cars...

Incidentally, don't get the impression that people only plaster pictures of the Sheikh over the cars on National Day. His Highness Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum is a regular on spare tyres and car windows, and very handsome he is too in a hawkish Mills and Boon hero kind of way.

However, because we are still driving hire cars, we couldn't really do much to customise them. So, we decided to decorate our only remaining large accessories - the children - after the school sent a letter home, encouraging the kids to come in National Dress.
Unfortunately, whereas the local men always manage to look extremely crisp and regal in their dashing Dish Dashes... Dylan looked more like an escapee from a nativity play.

Jody, on the other hand, loved her abaya.

But, while the local women look highly proper, and very glamorous in thier abayas...

And while the local children looked completely charming in their outfits, there was something about the sight of the Western teachers and kids in their flowing black robes that bought Hogwarts to mind.
Still everyone seemed to have a great day - although Dylan got the hump (no pun intended) when Rachel refused to let him push in the queue to ride on a very tired-looking camel.

At home in the UK there's always a huge debate about whether St George deserves a day off, here, one day off is never enough. The kids are now off school for the next two weeks! Admittedly, this also incorporates next week's Eid, but it has to be said, life as a child in Dubai is one long holiday.

Monday, November 24, 2008

Fireworks, Hamilton Style

Last Thursday, the Dubai Atlantis Resort officially opened its doors with a $20 million grand party full of A-list celebrities, including Charlize Theron, Robert de Niro, Lindsay Lohan, Shirley Bassey, Janet Jackson and Michael Jordan.

Then, after Kylie performed on stage, the sky lit up with the world’s largest fireworks display, reportedly seven times greater than the Beijing Olympic’s opening ceremony, and extravagant enough to be seen from outer space.

A couple of people have sent messages to ask if we saw them. Well….

Mark went to the beach to watch the display, but didn’t realise that that he was in completely the wrong place, so he only saw one frond of the palm and said the fireworks looked “a bit crap”. Plus, by the time the fireworks came on (half past midnight) he had drunk so much that he probably wouldn’t have noticed them anyway if his friends hadn’t pointed him in the right direction.

Rachel did one better. She got the timing of the firework display so completely wrong that by the time she came out of the bar at 1am to watch them they were all over.

Still, we hear they were pretty impressive and the babysitter got to watch them on the TV.

Monday, November 17, 2008

Incy Wincy Redback Spider

Mark is scared of spiders. Mark is scared of lots of things. Truth be told, Mark is a great big scaredy-pants.

As a result, Rachel has put a lot of effort into preventing the children turning into mini scaredy-pants.

So, they have always been encouraged to pick up spiders and to view insects as nice, friendly, if slightly unattractive planet-sharers.

Except ants. Ants have been officially designated bad-insects and are the only living things the children are allowed to "hate" and stamp on at will. Indeed, last year, following a mass ant- massacre featuring a kettle of boiling water, Jody and Rachel had the following conversation...

JODY: "Mummy, I'm not sure I want to go to heaven."

RACHEL: "Okay, but don't tell granny."

JODY: "Huh?"

RACHEL: "Sorry, I mean, Why? Why don't you want to go to heaven?"

JODY: "Because it will be full of ants."

This wasn't long after the death of Jody's favourite fish. Following Freddy's demise, Jody had been very quiet all day. Rachel put it down to grief, perhaps exacerbated by the fact that human-Freddy - dead fish-Freddy's namesake - had been present at the time of death.

But at bed time Jody revealed the real reason for her pensiveness:

JODY: "Mummy, when I die, will you flush me down the toilet?"

RACHEL: "No. Definitely not."

JODY: "Why did you flush Freddy down the toilet?"

RACHEL: "Freddy is smaller and he likes water."

JODY: "So if I was smaller....?"

RACHEL: "No. No. I won't flush you down the toilet, no matter how small you get, or how much you like water."

JODY: "So, is fish heaven down the toilet?"

RACHEL: "Um, not exactly."

JODY: "You don't know, do you?"

RACHEL: "Er, no, not really."

JODY: "Granny will know. I'll ask granny in the morning. Thanks, mummy. Na night"

Anyway, back to the present day and spiders...

As a result of her ongoing hug-a-spider campaign, Rachel was a tad concerned by the letter that came home from the kids' school yesterday. Here are a few favourite extracts:

"Like any garden, play area or park in Dubai, we do occasionally find Redback spiders within the school grounds."

"Redback spiders are particularly prevalent at this time of year ..."

"It is not our intention to frighten the children... Spiders and scorpions are a part of life in Dubai, as much as camels and ‘unconventional’ driving."

"I seek to reassure you that the staff and in particular, our nurses are fully trained as to the action to take should an insect bite take place."

Unfortunately, parents aren't. So, while Mark lazed on the sofa, refusing to put his feet on the floor and gloating that he had been right all along, Rachel googled redback spiders.

RACHEL: "Hey, they're not all bad. These redback spiders eat ants."

MARK: "Yeah, but I haven't seen any ants in the house for a while."

RACHEL: "Says here that they have even been known to eat crickets." ... evil chuckle ... "Hey, Mark, if the ants have gone, and we haven't heard the cricket this evening...."

MARK: ...whimper...

Saturday, November 15, 2008

Handsome Pilot Jonny Wallace

Living in Budapest, Rachel and Mark used to see quite a bit of Jonny Wallace, when he owned the skies of Eastern Europe in his British Airways shorthaul plane. Then we returned to England, and since we all lived in the same country we didn't see each other once.

So, when we moved 3,500 miles away to live in Dubai, we were delighted to hear that one of the side-benefits was that we would be able to resume our friendship with Handsome Pilot Jonny Wallace, as we were back on his route map.

We tempted him away from his BA Hotel, with promises of fine wine, fine dining and fine swimming pools. And then served him fine Heineken and fine local takeaway. We also forgot to take the towels out of the washing machine - but, luckily, the kids towel ponchos had escaped the wash.

He was the perfect guest - sleeping until after lunch and then spending the afternoon eating McDonalds and playing on the dodgem cars with Rachel and the kids.

Here's hoping Jonny's jumbo flies this way again soon.

(Apologies to any BA pilots out there if the London/Dubai flight is not a jumbo, but sometimes alliteration is more important than accuracy.)

Friday, November 14, 2008

We are family. I got all my sisters (well, one of them) and me.

Rachel's sister, Katy, and her husband, Rick, like exotic holidays. Rachel's sister, Katy, and her husband, Rick, are blessed with an abnormally well behaved child, so they are still able to have exotic holidays.

One of the great things about Dubai is its location half-way-there to lots of exotic places. So Katy, Rick and Harriet got off their Maldives-bound plane at our stop, to spend a week chez Hamilton.

On the way to pick them up from the airport, Mark and Rachel's conversation went something like this:

Mark: "Look, the cars are moving much faster on the other side of the traffic island."
Rachel: "Mmm."
Mark: "Shall I just drive over the traffic island?"
Rachel: "Wouldn't bother. It's illegal."
Mark: "Yeah, but shall I just drive over the traffic island? It'd save loads of time."
Rachel: "We're actually early."
Mark: "Yeah, but shall I just drive over the traffic island?"
Rachel: "The roads join in a couple of minutes anyway."
Mark: "Yeah, but shall I just drive over the traffic island?"
Rachel: "No."
Mark: "I think I'm going to drive over the traffic island."
Rachel: "I wouldn't."
Mark: "Don't be boring..."
Tyres: "Squeeeeeeeal"
Police car: "Nee nah nee nah"

Half an hour later we were not early any more, the tyres were not squealing any more, and Mark was not calling Rachel boring any more. He was too busy staring miserably at his charge sheet -written in Arabic to stop him understanding how big the fine was for each of his many offences: illegal overtaking; driving on prohibited land; travelling without identification; failing to transfer his UK licence to a UAE licence; and ignoring his infinitely more intelligent wife. Disappointingly, it later transpired that there was no punishment for the last one (but six points on his nice new licence and a pretty hefty fine for the rest of them).

Anyway, after a slight detour round the wrong Terminal - because we weren't late enough already - we found Katy, Rick and Harriet.

In preparation for their luxurious stay in the Maldives, we had decided that Katy and Rick should sleep in our maid's room and Harriet could sleep in the toilet. Well, beside it. Most Dubai villas have a maid's room next to, or as part of, the utility room. We're lucky with the size of ours - if you don't want to open the door you can fit a small double bed in it. The special bonus is the en-suite, which is easily transformed into a small child's bedroom by sticking the travel cot in the shower cubicle and adding an Upsy-daisy doll. We thoughtfully put the shower head on the floor to stop it dripping on Harriet during the night.

For a one-year-old, Harriet adapted quickly to the gruelling daily grind of life with the Hamiltons. She was soon swimming...


and playing wii with the best of them.

Of course, all visitors to Dubai must be taken to the iconic Burj Al Arab hotel. The Burj is known as the world's only 7 star hotel. Possibly because it invented its own classification.

To commemorate Katy and Rick's stay, Rachel demonstrated her photographic talents by taking a picture of Katy and Rick standing in front of the Burj. At night.

Come on, it's the curvy shadow next to Rick's right ear.

Well, let it never be said that we don't know how to show our visitors a good time. We got a babysitter and whisked them out on the town. Unfortunately Mark thought Rachel was booking somewhere and Rachel thought Mark was booking somewhere. Still, we only had to wait an hour for a table, and we got a fantastic spot between the gents and ladies toilets.

And the boys got to finish the evening off with their hookahs. (Alas, not so funny written down)...

All in all, I think that Katy, Rick and Harriet had a jolly old time in the world's only self-designated 7 star villa.

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Goodbye Amy

Rachel was sad that the time had come to take Amy to the airport - and not just because it meant another nasty drive at yuck o'clock in the morning.

Rachel wasn't the only sad person up horribly early. The first miserable face to appear was Jody's: "Mummy, I don't want to say goodbye to Amy yet. Can I come to the airport?"

Then Dylan came limping through, declaring grumpily: 'I'm sad. I'm coming with Amy."

Finally, even Mark climbed into the back seat of the Barbie car - although his red eyes were due to yesterday's night out at Nobu.

If we were in a film, Madonna's "So far away" would have been playing on the radio. But, as it was, we got Britney's "Womaniser". Still, it was very sad watching Amy walk away in the rear view mirror while we dodged speeding taxis.

Rachel had thought she would miss Amy helping out with the cleaning. But at 2pm, while Rachel was waving a j-cloth towards the toilet, there was a knock at the door. Behind the door stood a wonderful woman named Sunita offering to do the cleaning. With obvious reluctance, Rachel handed over the j-cloth.

Rachel had thought she would miss Amy helping out with the children. Particularly with Jody's 'make-a-piece-of-transport' homework. But both kids were a joy all day - Jody even helped with the cleaning before the arrival of super-Sunita - and we made a lovely pink Barbie car for a real Barbie.

It was at 9.30pm, with Mark still at work and with no one to talk to about how crap the TV was, Rachel realised that she missed Amy for Amy.


Monday, October 20, 2008

Missing Matthew

Amy's boyfriend, Matthew, has been staying with us for the last two weeks, but he flew home this morning, and all that is left to remind us of him is a fridge full of Pizza Hut leftovers and a slightly strange smell of feet.

It has been great having him around - although he and Amy have had to be told off for arguing more often than Jody and Dylan, and he did sulk when Middlesbrough lost the football. Five nil.

Sleeping Beauty and Scooby Doo will certainly miss him. And not just because he buys them nice fancy dress outfits.

Never mind though, the never-ending lollies that Matthew's mum and dad sent over are very useful for stuffing in their mouths if they make too much fuss.

Rachel will also miss him. A bit. Although she won't miss the strange looks she got from her new ladies-who-lunch friends before she explained he was Amy's boyfriend rather than her toyboy.

But she did get up at 6am this morning to take him to the airport.

And after waving goodbye, she drove off, sadly, into the sunrise.

Then swerved sharply because the glare made it impossible to read the road signs in time to avoid ploughing through a couple of cones to get on to the flyover.

Still, there were always the Pizza Hut leftovers to polish off before anyone else woke up.

Sunday, October 19, 2008

Oooh, heaven is a place on earth.

If the road to hell is paved with good intentions, the road to heaven was paved with camels and cock ups.
A while back, Mark and his friends made provisional reservations for a group trip to Fujairah over the Eid holiday. Sadly, everyone else in the UAE seemed to have made similar plans for Eid, and what sounded like a nice idea turned out to be hugely expensive. So, they decided to cancel the reservation.

Unfortunately, while everyone else actually cancelled their bookings. Mark remained at the decision stage.

Since hotel receptionists are not psychic, we were left with a very expensive, very "non-transferrable, non-refundable" booking we couldn't even use because Rachel had organised Dylan's birthday party over the Eid weekend, labouring under the false impression that Mark was not a muppet.


Forgetful Jones

Fortunately, despite being extremely foolish, Mark can also be rather charming. So he got back on the phone and used his Irish accent to not only transfer the non-transferrable booking, but also to get the price reduced by 50% as we were going outside the Eid holiday.

So off we drove, last weekend, from Dubai to Fujairah - the only one of the seven Emirates on the East coast (Gulf of Oman) rather than the West Coast (Persian Gulf)

It was a strange drive through the desert, with only camels and large cement lorries for company.

But the place itself was amazing. Too good for words - so here are a few pictures...

We had such a great time, that Dylan - who is renowned for spending every family holiday chanting, 'I want to go home' - turned round with a big grin and declared, for the first time ever:

'I don't want to go home'

In fact, the only way we got the kids out of the resort without a complete meltdown was by getting a golf buggy to take us...