Ladies Only

What the tech happened? If the password inventor thinks his creation is a nightmare, what hope is there for the rest of us!

I was determined today to video chat with my BF in London, who has been seriously ill and is recuperating at home. Now, I should say upfront that I’m hopeless with all these video-calling apps. Maybe it’s just me, but it takes me so long to get them working that I might as well just jump on a plane and turn up in person.

I had a go with FaceTime – which now seems to be called FaceTap. But no matter how much tap- tap- tapping I did, it wasn’t going to work – I’d forgotten that it’s blocked in the UAE.

So I turned to Whatsapp. There was a brief moment of elation in the UAE a few months ago when the voice and video-calling features on Whatsapp were unblocked. I remember the day well: we did a happy dance at work and, around the UAE, millions of expatriates called friends and family back home on Whatsapp – rendering the network so overloaded that it became unresponsive.

Holding my breath, I tapped my BF’s contact and then the Whatsapp video icon – it half worked! I could see and hear her, the inside of her London apartment filling the screen, blurred at first, and wonky, then coming into clear focus.

“I can only see your photo! I can’t hear you!” said my BF. Her lovely face, out of sync with the sound, assumed a puzzled expression as she peered at her screen.

After a minute or two of me sending ‘I can see you!’ messages, like some kind of breathy, deep-throated dirty caller, I had to give up on Whatsapp too.

So Skype. This was the answer, I decided. I knew it worked in the UAE as I’ve used it before – there was just the small problem of the app apparently vanishing from my devices and not being able to download it again as my Apple password wasn’t working. Here’s how it went:

Enters password

wrong

wrong

wrong

I cycle through all my other passwords, try out the obvious, attempt to recall what was going on in my life at the time I made the password. Make sure I’m typing correctly. I even try meditating.

I mean really? To avoid having your identity stolen, use long passwords that contain digits, punctuation and no recognisable words. Make up a different password for every website –and change all of your passwords every 30 days. HAVE THESE SECURITY PUNDITS EVER LISTENED TO THEMSELVES? Apparently the inventor of passwords has even publicly said his creation is a ‘nightmare’.

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The Geeks  *want one*

My mind wanders to a press release I’d received about a new service in the UAE called Geeks. They promise to come and sort out all your technical problems, from setting up a cloud backup to installing a nanny cam (!) If Catherine the Great ever leaves us, I’m so going to hire a Geek to live in her room and never have any technical problems ever again!

The meditating failing, I get annoyed and want to throw my iPad out the window. I’m so sure one of the passwords I’m trying is the right one.

Eventually, I go about resetting my Apple password, using ‘my trusted phone number’, a combination of digits and the last of my will power.

And a message flashes up: ‘New password can’t be old password”

Sets fire to computer.

Ladies Only

Marriage with altitude: A big fat Lebanese wedding

Minimalists the Lebanese are not, and so when my pilot brother-in-law got married this weekend (previously a confirmed bachelor – we’ve been waiting a looooong time for this!) it was a HUGE and spectacular extravaganza, held in a picturesque village set amid olive groves some 700 metres above the city of Beirut.

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In Beirut, there is no such thing as less is more – it’s a case of the bigger the bolder, and the grander the better! Lebanese weddings are a true celebration of two families becoming one. Here are a few highlights from a crazy, magical night in the Lebanese mountains:

Fireworks: The Lebanese love fireworks. They’ll use any excuse to set them off! It’s traditional to have fireworks at Lebanese weddings and we watched mesmerised as bursts of fiery colour flashed into the clear night. Bright sparks of emerald green, magenta and sapphire blue pirouetted above my in-laws’ home, glittering the darkness like a paint palette exploding into the sky. After all, nothing says extravaganza quite like some good old fashioned fire crackers.

Romance: James and his beautiful Danish bride Theresa said their vows just as the sun was setting in an orangey-pink haze over Beirut. The city, laid out below, stretched alluringly across a headland jutting into the azure-blue, east Mediterranean sea. From above, the capital looks peaceful, almost sleepy. It’s anything but – on the ground, Beirut pulses with life, glamour and hedonism. The full-throated growl of a motorbike revving on the mountain road intruded like a profanity during the sermon, but somehow even this seemed fitting – welcome to Lebanon baby!

The feast: Middle Eastern culture places great emphasis on food, and nowhere is this more apparent than at weddings. The meal was Mezza style, with multiple platters of plentiful delicious food: shawarma on a rotisserie spit, falafel, kebabs, tabbouleh, fattoush, hummus and more, followed by baklava (sweet dessert pastries), ice cream and cake.

J&T wedding1What a cake knife! Another Lebanese tradition common in Middle Eastern cultures is to cut the wedding cake with a sword. Here’s James and Theresa slicing their cake with the sword given as a gift to my mother-in-law at her own wedding.

Dancing: It’s not a Lebanese wedding if there’s no dancing. There was so much dancing on an outdoor patio lit with fairy lights that high heels had to be jettisoned. The bride and groom were lifted onto the shoulders of the stronger guests amid much whooping and pulsing of music; my youngest son, meanwhile, had earlier hid under the table, terrified at the sight of the belly dancer who seductively pulled guests onto the dance floor for a colourful and jiggly whirl around the twinkling terrace.

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Pre-wedding party: A certain degree of stamina was required! Lebanese weddings can go on for a looooong time. The festivities commenced long before the actual wedding, with a pre-wedding party the night before attended by at least 30 guests. The actual wedding went on until 4am, and I believe that, four days later, some of the guests are still staying at the house!

The wedding was a cosmopolitan melting pot of friends and family from all round the world (California, Denmark, Dubai, Kenya, to name just a few), and a remarkable feat that only my mother- and father-in-law-extraordinaire could pull off!

All my congrats to the love birds xxx

Ladies Only

The school uniform shop

So back to school – it’s complicated.

On the one hand, you’re reminded how fast time is passing and feel nostalgic about years gone by when your kids wore pint-sized uniforms and looked so cute and small in their back-to-school Facebook photos.

On the other hand, you’re doing a happy dance and ready to pop some bottles because, HALLELUJAH, the summer is almost OVER.

But first, there’s all the organising to do – the buying of supplies and uniforms, the labeling of clothes, the food shopping for snacks and lunch boxes, the fitting of school shoes, and the brow-beating of your children to get them to finally do their holiday homework.

I saw a Tweet the other day that made me smile – Real American Dadass wrote: “Back to school shopping is kinda like Christmas shopping. It’s an expensive pain in the ass but it leads to a great celebration.”

How true this is, especially when the school uniform shop is as packed as the malls just before Christmas. Of course, we could have gone weeks ago, but that would have been too sensible and anyway my boys – who are shooting up like beanstalks – might have outgrown everything.

Screen Shot 2017-09-04 at 02.06.34Son1, fast approaching his teens, was barely speaking to us as we drove to the store; Son2 wanted to know what reward he’d get for coming with us. I’d persuaded DH to come too, and he looked grim, the memory of being dragged to school uniform stores and made to try on countless items of clothes by his own mother still fresh in his mind.

The queue to park was the first sign of the upcoming chaos, then there was the look on the other parents’ faces: a sort of hollow-eyed, tense, almost defiant refusal to engage: I know we’re all in this together, I know it’s hell, but I’ve been waiting for 25 minutes so just let me hog this poor salesgirl for a bit longer, ok?

I joined the throng at a desk serving uniforms for our school, and tried to block out the soundtrack of impatient exclamations: “You’ve given me the wrong size!” “Do you have this in a 12?” “Don’t you have intermediate sizes?” “There’s threads coming out of this!” (Ironic that the store is called Threads.)

My children were jostling with each other like hamsters, and when made to try items on they pulled faces like they’d eaten a lemon.

“It fits fine Mum,” huffed Son1, even though the trousers were so tight they’d have cut off the blood supply to his lower body. He pulled a face again. “Can we go now?”

“Try these!” I handed him a larger size and he eyed me like I was giving him explosives.

In all fairness, the lady who helped us was fast and efficient, but then in the queue to pay, our escape plan came to a juddering halt. The dad in front was on a mission to organise tailoring. Our school requires blazers and the kids have to be measured so they fit properly. I’d accepted my fate that the tailor wasn’t available until Saturday, but not so this Dad. He wasn’t here on Sat. The woman on the only cash register began making phone calls – all round Dubai to track down another tailor.

Why I thought we’d get out of the shop anytime soon, I don’t know (Open more than one cash register? How ridiculous! That would be … customer service!)

“Excuse me, is there another till?” I ventured after a while. I tried to be polite.

“We’ve been waiting a long time too,” growled Frustrated Dad, deep lines burrowing their way across his forehead as though his kid had drawn them with a pencil. We glared at each other – unwittingly pitted against one another in a who’s been waiting the longest? contest.

But it worked. All of a sudden, a young salesboy woke up and noticed the queue snaking round the shop. We got out … just. Thank God that’s nearly (there’s still Saturday to go) over.

Ladies Only

Longest zip line in the world coming to the UAE

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Ras al-Khaimah may not have all the immense, shiny, glass-and-steel spires of polished, tourist-ready Dubai, but as the UAE’s mountainous northern outpost it makes up for this with an abundance of rock.

The rugged Hajar Mountains, sweeping down to the blue waters of the Indian Ocean, are a well-known destination for thrill-seekers in the UAE looking to partake in rock-climbing, mountain biking and trekking. There are all sorts of companies that take groups of adults, children and families on adventure activities or camping trips. Team-building events amid the rocky terrain are also popular.

Full disclosure: We’ve only ever driven through the mountain range, on the way to hotels in Fujairah on the UAE’s east coast. But something just caught my eye that even I might be persuaded to try when it opens in December: the longest zip line in the world.

The zip line is set to be more than 28 soccer fields in length, with those experiencing the hair-raising journey expected to travel at speeds of between 90 to 130 kph. The cable itself will weigh in at seven tonnes and will consist of two lines, allowing friends and family to take part in the bucket list flight together.

Jebel Jais – the UAE’s tallest peak at 1,934 metres above sea level – will play host to the zip line. Its exact length is being kept a closely guarded secret until the multimillion-dollar adventure tourism project opens at the end of the year. Then it will be certified by Guinness World Records; the zip line is also expected to be named as the world’s highest.

I can see it now: me harnessed to the wire in a flying Superman position, the wind whistling past my ears, my cheeks sucked inwards against the acceleration … my eyes shut tight until the end.

Ladies Only

The dog days of a Dubai summer

This post was going to be about reaching THAT time of the school summer holiday, when you’re so over it and have become a twitchy, cranky mess, breaking out in zits and clawing at your skin because it’s been TEN weeks and the kids are STILL out of school.

You know how it is – they’re fighting and bored and so so loud – not to mention the fact they’ve been talking to you non-stop for ten weeks until it’s got to the point where you can see their mouths opening and closing but can’t really hear what they’re saying and you can do nothing but nod at whatever their moving lips are trying to assault you with.


And while I’m at it, I’m sure I’m not the only mum who has totally run out of things to do with them, having already ticked off two continents, nearly 40,000 kilometres of air travel and, as well as planes, taken them on a cruise ship, a boat, buses, scooters, bikes and trains.

Screen Shot 2017-08-27 at 22.31.27But … that might come across as whining when I am truly grateful to have had this time with my boys.

Instead, it occurred to me that there are a few factors that make these last couple of weeks before school starts again quite unique (read: challenging) in Dubai.

Let’s start with the heat. It’s still as hot as Hades out there. Much of the compound’s communal greenery has been singed to within an inch of being set alight under the hottest sun on earth; large areas of plant life have sadly died. Where there were green, bushy shrubs, there are now dried up, tangly bush-skeletons shedding brown, curled-up, dead leaves onto the dusty paths. On my dog walks past these summer casualties, it all feels very post-apocalyptic – the burnt-out fag-end of a Dubai summer.

Not only that, but while the buildings are still standing, it’s as though the people have all gone. Some of them are still there, of course. They’re just indoors as it’s too hot to come out. They won’t properly resurface until school starts. But many are still away, not wanting the holiday bubble to burst just yet.

Our compound feels like a ghost town. The children who are back from their hols are climbing the walls cooped up at home, and, up the road at the Premier Inn, there are still lots of single-for-the-summer dads staring into their pints, indulging in the restaurant’s 50% off meal deals.

But in just a few more days, a week at the most, all the wives and families will be back. I’ll no longer have to twitchily scour the compound looking for familiar faces, searching hopefully for friends for my bored sons to play with. The compound will be back in business, the hammering on doors non-stop again as the children call for each other.

And then school will start. Followed, a month or so later, by the halcyon days of cooler temperatures and some of the best weather in the world. Bring it on!

Hang in there peeps …

Ladies Only

The lingerie tycoon’s house

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Downsize Abbey

There’s nothing quite like finding out your parents have moved into a house built by a lingerie tycoon.

I blogged last year about the 8 things that happen when your parents sell up.

Well, it happened –they sold up (finally!) and six months ago moved about 200 metres up the hill. I call the place Downsize Abbey as it’s a rather fine, Grade II-listed building, converted into apartments and packed with the decorative details beloved of the Arts and Crafts movement, including oak panelling, ornate plasterwork ceilings and ceramic-tiled fireplaces with brass canopies.

You can imagine the hazards of bringing two young boys home, one of whom is a human fidget spinner. He simply cannot, will not, sit still.

In the bathroom, there’s a framed, old yellowed newspaper advert for scientific lingerie. The corset ‘secured’ the wearer with a magnetic ribcage and was the brainchild of the man who commissioned the house as his family’s home. (The Derry family moved into their mansion, complete with mullioned windows and diamond-patterned brickwork under steeply pitched roofs, in 1929.)

Frank Derry sold his underwear invention as a ‘cure’ for rheumatism, gout, sciatica and lumbago – and much else besides, including “nervous troubles, mind wandering, involuntary blushing, and loss of willpower”.

I can just imagine the kind of lady it might have appealed to: a woman with big hair, a wide lipsticked mouth, a husky laugh and, once she’s donned the garment under big clothes, a waspish waist.

Not only did Frank Derry become a corset king, but he also took over a mail order business that became the largest mail order corset house in the world. Its successor company still exists to this day, selling a wide range of ladies’ fashions.

All rather fascinating, I thought – a predecessor surely to Spanx. Clever man.

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Ladies Only

Travel with Kids: The Bad and the Worse

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Please…Help…Me!

Like many expat mums the world over, every year I take the children on a pilgrimage to the motherland, to reintroduce them to their grandparents, grassy fields and Wellington boots.

Most expat kids are frequent flyers, but I think it’s the hollow-eyed, jet-lagged mums – many of whom have to travel long distances with their overactive offspring solo – who deserve recognition for ensuring that everyone arrives intact.

Now that my two are older, flying with them is so much easier, but I haven’t forgotten what trial by two-year-old is like at 37,000 feet. Without much further ado, here’s my take on the eight steps mothers desperately seeking serenity on board must navigate:

0-8 months
Provided your baby doesn’t cry like a banshee due to earache or colic, you’re relieved to discover that small infants are essentially hand luggage, and can be stored in a wall-mounted bassinet – meaning, in between feeds, you’re left with plenty of hands-free time for other, adult-related pursuits. Enjoy it. Indulge in a glass or two (while you can). This phase is over quicker than you can say pass the earplugs.

9 months-2 years
Now mobile, your infant is classed as a lap child, a burdensome phase that sees the two of you co-joined like Siamese twins and squashed into one seat. Once sleep finally arrives (for your 30lb lead-weight bundle of joy, at least), you find yourself sitting statue-esqe – and needing the loo – as you attempt to inhale a meal and not flinch an inch in case the slightest movement rouses your child.

2-2½ years
Your toddler has progressed to a seat, but the games, toys and books you’ve spent days collecting are dispensed with in minutes. Fun is sought in mischievous ways: Meal tray up/tray down. Light on/light off. Window shutter open/shutter closed. Call the flight attendant. Call the flight attendant again. When all the un-dinging you have to do gets too much, you traipse up and down the aisle – jolting several unsuspecting passengers awake as you go – or visit the bathroom together, where double-jointedness is always a plus when assisting your offspring.

2½-3 years
You’ve reached that murky zone where diversionary tactics are all that stand between you and a mile-high meltdown. Tantrums occur due to the most innocuous of reasons: not being allowed to bring the stroller up the aisle; the seat belt sign coming on. No other passenger makes eye contact – not even the smug mother of two crayon-loving girls opposite.

3-3½ years
By now, you’re travelling with two small children – a whole new world of in-flight angst – which means that if you’re on your own, losing your oldest at the airport or on board must be avoided (if you have more than two, good luck with that). After collecting all the luggage at the other end, you feel like hugging the kind lady who, on seeing that you don’t have a seventh arm to push the stroller, offers to help.

3½-4 years
Someone’s told you stickers are great for keeping children entertained on board, so you’re armed with sticker books. But while in the toilet, your kids stick them all over the TV. Bad idea: the heat from the screen can turn the adhesive into superglue. Imagining the entire aircraft being decommissioned while engineers scrape Lightening McQueen and his friends off 35F’s TV, you start peeling and don’t stop until there isn’t a single trace of sticker left. A happy coincidence is it uses up a good 20 minutes of flight time.

4-5 years
An iPad loaded with games is your saviour and, whilst still arriving disheveled and decorated with orange juice stains, you realise you had more time to relax on board, and even watched half a movie. A basic aviation knowledge – so as to answer questions like How does the wind move? – is extremely useful during this stage.

5 years+
You’ve made it. Long flights with small children no longer fill you with terror. While queuing at security, you see a mum with a seven-month-old infant struggling with all her baby paraphernalia, juggling her little one, taking her belt and shoes off, then, at the other side of the x-ray machine, pulling it all together again like a 100-piece jigsaw puzzle, and you feel like punching the air with joy that you’ve left the aforementioned stages well and truly behind. Well done, you’ve arrived!

Sponsored by: My own personal experiences. Every.single.example.

This is an excerpt from my book Circles in the Sand: Stories about Life in the Big D. Please click on the Books tab above, or on the cover top right, to find out how to get hold of it.