Ladies Only

Move over Mary Poppins – meet the Granny Aupairs!

Worried about leaving your kids with the housemaid? An older nanny with wisdom and a sense of adventure could be just what you need

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Granny Bobby couldn’t imagine just staying at home after retiring

Bobby’s dream was always – should she be alone after retirement – to spend time abroad with a family as a ‘temporary Granny’. Thanks to an award-winning nanny agency that places women aged 45+ in households all over the world, her dream came true, and a family in Dubai has benefitted enormously from her life experience.

“I was always working between the age of 16 and 65 and couldn’t imagine just spending time at home with my various hobbies,” says Granny Bobby. “Some of my friends could not believe I would do this, others were really supportive. I kept my flat and my car, leaving them in the care of my best friend and neighbour so I could always return if it didn’t work out.”

Granny Bobby’s first placement was in Bangkok with a German/Filipino family, initially for six months which turned into three years. This was followed by six months with a German/French family in Paris with two small girls. “From the beginning of 2016, with a few breaks, I’ve been in Dubai with an expat German family, who have a six-year-old boy, Joel,” she says.

Joel had just started school, with quite a heavy workload already. “After he returns home in the afternoon, I cook for him, read and do homework, and then play outside or go to baseball. When his mother comes home we eat dinner together before Joel goes to bed. At the weekends, we go on trips to the zoo, the beach, or go shopping or travel.”

Granny Bobby says she finds it extremely rewarding that she can support the family, and has built a very friendly relationship with the mother. “Her husband works in Riyadh and is only home irregularly for the weekend, so the three of us spend quite a lot of time together.”

Older women are usually better than younger aupairs because they have more experience of life, says Michaela Hansen, founder of Hamburg’s Granny Aupair agency. “Families like to take them on because they are reliable, serious and know how to be strict.”

Aged between 45 and 75, the women registered with the agency have brought up families of their own and are now keen to travel or learn another language. Many are former teachers, child care workers, secretaries, flight attendants or nurses. The idea of an aupair is based on mutual help. The granny helps with housekeeping and children, and gets free board and lodging in return.

Following a period with a German/Italian family of five in South Korea, Granny Anni travelled to Dubai last year. “The mother (German) is a single mother with an 18-month-old daughter. On arrival, I got to know the month of Ramadan and the heat (45 degrees!), as it was the start of summer,” she says.

“I am up early in the morning to prepare breakfast, and am also responsible for lunch while Mum is at work. I quickly realised that my presence was really needed which was a good experience for me. At the weekend, we do the food shopping for the week. I also went on a trip to Abu Dhabi, which I found to be a different world altogether.”

Granny Anni says she also has a “wonderful relationship with the Mama”. After her initial stay in 2016, she returned to Dubai in January and is currently finding the heat “not so suffering”.

Hansen points out that lots of mothers stay in contact with their Granny following the aupair stay. “Often she becomes a motherly friend and is a ‘replacement’ if their own family lives far away.”

Another benefit, she says, is that the Grannies often share their secret recipes. “How lovely is it to arrive home with the whole place smelling of freshly baked cake? Many of our Grannies are true masters of the stove.”

Granny Bobby believes her years as a Granny Aupair with small children or adolescent boys have changed her views enormously, above all with regard to dealing with young children. “I was often brought to my limit, as I had to learn to scale back my needs to respond to the needs and wishes of the youngsters, which was not always easy. But it’s worth it when the kids say they love you and want to be taken into your arms. I am getting so much back and will certainly be visiting other countries as a Granny Aupair.”

Find out more about Granny Aupair here.

Ladies Only

The big shop (kill me now!)

Catherine the Great presents me with a list on a square sheet of paper. She’s really good at writing out the shopping list and giving it to me with a hopeful look on her face. “We’re running out of everything,” she says regretfully.

But I only went shopping five days ago. How can this be? I think. I know the answer: it’s living with boys, who storm through the kitchen leaving it as though a plague of locusts have passed through.

Son 2 pipes up, “Mummy, don’t forget the hot dogs and the strawberry milk.”

Son 1 says, “And the rice cakes. You forgot them last time.”

“Cereal bars!” yells Son2.

DH has just left for Thailand, but I picture him opening the fridge door, the fridge light coming on, and his disappointed face as he finds nothing tempting. He’ll do this a few times, as though something might magically appear – but all that happens is the fridge motor starts purring louder as it cranks up after the door shuts.

My eyes scan the list. It’s long, but not as bad as a few months ago when Catherine the Great was annoyed about having to move house to a compound with no shop and set me really complicated lists, requesting items like ‘square-shaped laundry basket’ and ‘bitter gourd’ (a very bitter-tasting vegetable-fruit that looks like a cucumber with a bad case of warts). She’s added a few branded toiletries to the list, even though we give her money for this, but I always turn a blind eye to these and buy them anyway. And there’s a section for the pets, plus items to make ten lunch boxes. There’s no putting it off. I’ve left it too late to order online. I have to go to the supermarket on a Saturday.

“Anyone want to come with me to help?” I ask the boys.

“Naaah.”

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To the woman of today, the grocery store is not a challenge but a relaxing place to spend an hour.” May 1955 issue of Better Living Magazine. As Envisioning the American Dream points out, gosh, why go to the spa when you could just as easily melt those tensions away by pushing a shopping cart down the aisle of a supermarket.

The store is super-busy, of course. Perhaps because I’m trying to get out of there as quickly as possible, there are people and trolleys everywhere I turn. The fluorescent-lit aisles seem brighter and noisier than usual. The pumped-out smell of baked bread wafts over and I remember the special hot dog rolls Son2 likes. In the closed-off pork section, I find some German ham that looks tasty and DH might like.

With gritted teeth (I really wish I was one of those people who enjoy supermarket shopping), I lug the same old groceries from shelf to check-out to car to kitchen, occasionally going off-liste to make it less tedious.

I don’t manage to get everything as my overloaded trolley, which seems to want to veer right all the time, gets too heavy to push. I’ll order the rest online, I decide.

At home, the boys circle the mountain of shopping like hungry scavengers.

“Where’s the long cheese, mummy?” asks Son2. He starts scrabbling through bags. “Where IS IT? And the rice cakes?”

“Did you bring me a sandwich?” says Son1.

“Here,” I say to Son2, and ‘Yes, I got you a sandwich Son1.” He eats it in a flash and asks for another one. And I’m thinking, ““ARGHHHHH! NO, I DIDN’T BUY YOU TWO EXPENSIVE SANDWICHES. MAYBE IF YOU’D COME WITH ME TO HELP, I’D HAVE GOT THE CRISPS. WHY DOES EVERYONE ASSUME MY SOLE PURPOSE IN LIFE NOW IS TO RUN A 24/7 RESTAURANT AND FULLY STOCKED KITCHEN, IN BETWEEN OTHER FUN TASKS LIKE BROW BEATING YOU INTO DOING HOMEWORK LATER TODAY!”

“Are you alright, mummy?” asks Son1. I might have turned a puce colour. The result of all that carrying and the knowledge it’ll soon all be gone and the weekend’s nearly over as the big shop always seems to TAKE HALF A DAY.

“Oh but, mummy,” says Son2. “YOU FORGOT THE CEREAL BARS! Can you go back?”

Ladies Only

Dubai set to go Orlando-tastic!

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It’s hoped the park will help Dubai achieve its aim of rivalling Orlando, Florida

For a while now, I’ve been aware of some goings-on down the road: the construction of a massive building with mosaic walls; an escaped dinosaur on the loose; signs that the race to open a whole raft of theme parks in the emirate is about to be won.

And we all know Dubai doesn’t do things by half.

This August will see the opening of Dubai’s $1bn IMG Worlds of Adventure, followed by – two months later – an even bigger offering in the form of three linked theme parks (the Hollywood-inspired theme park Motiongate, Dubai Bollywood Parks and Legoland).

Move over Ferrari World (and Global Village!).

It’s all part of the Dubai government’s aim to increase tourist numbers to 20 million visitors a year by the end of the decade, up from 13.2 million in 2015. At a press conference today, featuring life-size comic characters, IMG said it expected to attract 4.5 million people in the first year of opening alone.

So what can we expect? Here’s a sneak peak at just a few of the attractions at IMG, which, when it opens on 15 August, will be the largest indoor theme park in the world – roughly the size of 28 football fields.

MARVEL ZONE

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Marvel and Cartoon Network-themed rides are the main pull

Avengers Battle of Ultron: Join Iron Man, Thor, Black Widow, Hawkeye, Captain America and the Hulk as they take to the skies in the Quinjet to battle the evil villain Ultron.

Hulk Epsilon Base 3D: Hold the motion sickness. Enjoy being virtually propelled through a battle scene in which Hulk takes on his deadliest foe, The Leader.

Spider-Man Doc Ock’s Revenge: Save New York from the sinister Doctor Octopus on this 400-metre spinning coaster.

Thor Thunder Spin: Free skin-firming on this one. You’ll be pinned to your seat on this dizzying top-spin experience as Thor attempts to rescue adventurous riders from the clutches of Loki, God of Mischief.

LOST VALLEY – DINOSAUR ADVENTURE ZONE

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Hand-carved dinosaurs: Take a spin with the friendlier inhabitants of the Lost Valley

• The Velociraptor: Hit 100 kilometres an hour in 2.5 seconds on this thrilling 1.1 km rollercoaster, taking riders from the deep dark prehistoric jungles of the Lost Valley out into the Dubai desert and back.

• Forbidden Territory: Go on safari and spot 70 prehistoric, life-sized animatronic dinosaurs.

• Predator: Calling all adrenaline junkies. The sharpest drop track in the region, with a heart-stopping ‘beyond-vertical’ plummet to Earth.

Dino Carousel: The first dinosaur-themed carousel in the world.

CARTOON NETWORK ZONE

The Powerpuff Girls – Mojo Jojo’s Robot Rampage: Save the world before bedtime.

Adventure Time – The Ride of OOO with Finn & Jake: Soar across the sky with Finn and Jake through retail and themed F&B outlets in the magical land of Ooo.

The Amazing Ride of Gumball: Visit the town of Elmore where Gumball and Darwin’s school science project has gone out of control.

There’s loads more – an adventure fortress, LazyTown Playground and live stage show, street entertainers – too many things to list here. Tickets go on sale online tomorrow at www.IMGworlds.com, costing AED 300 for adults and AED 250 for children.

IMG Worlds Of Adventure Exterior Full park image
Open all year: The park is set inside a temperature-controlled environment
Ladies Only

House-hunting in Dubai (not for the faint hearted)

So, we’re trekking round Dubai looking at homes – not because we want to (see previous post), but because we’re being evicted and thought we’d better check out all the options. Secretly, I absolutely love noseying around other people’s villas and I’m not averse to a bit of property porn – so off we go. Google Maps at the ready.

Town Square
Town Square on Al Qudra – some imagination required for this one

First stop – Al Furjan. I’ve heard good things, and Son1’s school isn’t too far away. We pass lines of giant electricity pylons whose wires stretch for as far as the eye can see in each direction, and I spot the enormous, curvaceous satellite dish that must surely pick up some interesting TV shows (always reminds me of the James Bond movie, Golden Eye). We’re close – but that doesn’t mean anything in Dubai. After several attempts, we find the entrance.

My husband winds down the car window and politely asks if we can see the show villa.

The security guard shakes his head. “No,” he says, deadpan.

“We’re Emirates,” we say, trying again. You think they’d make this easy, right?

Sunlight streams through the window and I squint at the guard through narrowed eyes. He smiles back. A smile that comes out like a newborn foal – its legs buckle straight away. “You need to contact the company to get key,” he says, and no matter how much we argue our case (“the company sent us here”), he won’t relent. He lets us in, however, to drive around.

I like what I see and spot a man I decide to ask a question of. Unfortunately he’s up a ladder. He’s standing on the uppermost rung doing something to the carport roof, and all I can see are the bottoms of his legs above white trainers. I wait. Once he’s safely down, I ask one or two questions, which he helpfully answers and then we’re on our way.

To Jumeriah. By now, we’re getting hungry and the car’s running low on gas. Just a quick stop, says my husband – it’s such a fabulous location close to the beach, and it’s a jewel of day, as bright and shiny as a new-minted dirham. I’d love to live this close to the sea, I think. But the reality is our schools are nowhere near, and we find ourselves lost and struggling with the dual numbering system on the villas.

Jumeriah numbers
Hmmm … helpful. We’re lost

My husband isn’t one to give up easily, and so we do see one villa – which we disagree on due to me not wanting to spend all day on the school run.

Onwards we go, and to cut a long story short, I’ll fast forward straight to our viewing at Mudon, where – if we won the lottery – we could possibly buy a villa or townhome. We’re immediately seduced by a sign to the 5-bed showhome. “Let’s just look,” I say, hopefully, and we drive deeper into Mudon, following more signs laid out like breadcrumbs. Arriving, I climb out the car, and stare at my dream home. I walk round with my eyes on stalks. It’s incredible, exhilarating. I’m almost breathless with excitement. It’s property porn. And it’s totally beyond our reach.

Sigh.

“Well, let’s look at the smaller ones,” I suggest.

We walk into an office and a woman greets us.

“Could we have some information please?” I ask.

“What sort of information?” she says. A puzzled look flickers across her face. Then she looks blank.

District 11
Meydan South: Where we’ll likely end up, even if the well-known book series/movie reference is a little disconcerting! (“District 11: A large district in the south… The punishment system is much harsher in this district” – The Hunger Games)

“Erm, about your villas?”

She’s still looking confused.

“What you have available, prices,” I suggest, trying to help her out. I begin to wonder if they are actually trying to sell villas here. Maybe it’s all a big ruse for displaced expats.

“Sorry,” she says, shaking her head. She points to a number. “You need to call.”

“Could you tell us about the facilities?” asks DH after we’ve looked round the townhome she said we could see.

The quizzical look returns. She doesn’t have a clue, and we leave wondering what on earth her actual job was. Dubai can be a funny old place, you know.

secret of change

Ladies Only

The eviction email

After months of rumours that wouldn’t go away, my husband’s company hit several hundred staff members with an eviction notice on Thursday. It’s always a Thursday, the last day of the week here. And it’s always a shock when it comes.

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Clouds: I’ll miss this room!

I cried! Yes, hands up, I’m happy to admit it – I felt like I’d been punched in the gut. Angry tears streamed down my face. I love our house. Over the past seven years, the frustrated interior designer in me has painted each room in a rainbow of bright colours. The family room ceiling is a skyscape, with white fluffy clouds and airplanes, and on the garden wall I painted a fairytale castle. It amused the kids for all of five minutes, but I think we’ve all blossomed from the love that’s been put into this house and garden.

I knew where we were headed (for those in the know, Meydan South, and for readers wondering, a massive, identikit housing development in the desert, where the company wants to accommodate all crew). I closed my eyes for a moment and saw several images: the huge highways I’d have to drive on, for miles each day, to get my kids to their respective, now further-away schools. Twelve tarmacked lanes of traffic and stress, with idiot drivers who care not a bit about a mum on a school run with small children dragged out of bed far too early, her knuckles white from gripping the steering wheel and teeth clenched.

I also imagined endless construction, the hammering of machines and the high-pitched whine of drills as the developers work on road access to the community and build the compound’s facilities (community centre, shop, pool, etc). Amenities like these won’t be ready until this time 2017. Yes, they open these places in Dubai before these things are built. I thought about all this, and held my head in my hands. How could they do this to us?

Coronation Street

Three days on from the eviction email and I’m in a much more positive frame of mind. It’s a free house, with bills paid, and inside it’s lovely. While a sandpit now, residents will, in time, get a small garden growing which will green up (heartbreaking, though, that our current spacious gardens will be ripped up).

No-one is being forced – families can take the money and find their own accommodation if they wish, either to buy or rent. Meydan South will eventually have great facilities, and as for the driving, well there’s the option to change schools. There are safe pathways for the kids to explore, on foot or bike; there will literally be hundreds of children living in the community, who can all call on each other and go off to play, like in 1950s England. Or, dare I say it, Butlins holiday camp.

See you at Meydan South!

Postscript: Perhaps the best news for Mums is that a friend has found a great pub/watering hole just ten minutes away, with good food and prices (Qube Bar at Meydan – which might just make the move totally worthwhile!)

Ladies Only

Fascinating glimpse of a Dubai school in the 1970s

Jess under construction
Son2’s school is turning 40, which in Dubai time is quite ancient! Anyone who lives here will know this age is impressive and deserves to be marked, especially as four decades ago the school was just a small huddle of buildings in the middle of the desert, with staff and pupils trekking across the sand to the nearest shop during break-time.

Intrigued by all things ‘old’ in the UAE, I helped out at the most wonderful exhibition commemorating JESS’s big birthday this morning, and learnt so much I’ve been inspired to put together a blog post on what school life was like in the desert all those years ago.

Doesn't it look a little bit like they're playing on the moon?
Doesn’t it look a little bit like they’re playing on the moon?

The facility was planned when Dubai English Speaking School, the first British curriculum school in the emirate, could no longer cope with the rapid increase in the expatriate population.

JESS quote 2The school’s story began in a small flat in Deira, before its relocation to a villa in Jumeirah, which was generously gifted by his Royal Highness Sheikh Rashid bin Saeed al-Maktoum, Ruler of Dubai. The school moved to its present Jumeirah site in 1977, where it consisted of one villa, 75 pupils, six staff and three portacabins. The size of the classes depended on the size of the bedrooms.

Desert surrounded the school for miles; there were no villas in sight, and the buildings which now line Sheikh Zayed Road had not yet been constructed. Safa Park didn’t exist. The only thing that could be seen in the distance was the newly completed Metropolitan Hotel.

The track leading to the school from Al Wasl Road was just a dirt road and on foggy days it was easy to drift off course. Flooding was a problem and after heavy rain the entrance area would be completely under water.

These days there are 169 private schools open in Dubai. JESS was the second British curriculum school in the emirate.
JESS Jumeirah in the deserted desert. These days there are 169 private schools in Dubai.

“In those early days, one had to be very flexible and unflappable and able to take things in one’s stride,” says JESS’s original headmistress Rita Biro. “When we first occupied the site, the electrical connection had not been completed and the power was produced by a massive generator. My first daily task was to make my way across the sand to this great beast and use all my strength to throw the switch and I still have the muscles to prove it!”

Children joined JESS when they reached 4.08 months
Children joined JESS when they reached 4.08 months

Paul Austin, currently director of PE at JESS Ranches, arrived in a very barren Dubai in 1976. “All I remember being able to see was the desert and the Trade Centre. Sheikh Zayed Road was the Abu Dhabi Road and there were still camels walking around everywhere.”

He started at JESS in 1977, just before his sixth birthday. There were no sports facilities at the time, and he remembers doing a football club on the sand outside the school, the area now used for parking. He recalls just one fixture during his five terms at JESS, against the only other international school at the time. “I was the goal keeper, and although I’m told I played well, we lost 0-10.”

1975-1976
1975-1976

Academically, he remembers trying to make himself invisible during maths class. “In fact, my maths was so bad that when asked what my tables were like during an interview for Prep School, I confidently replied that we had desks at JESS so I wasn’t sure.” Like many of the children at JESS at the time, he went on to boarding school.

Since its humble beginnings, JESS has stood strong through two regional wars (with contingency plans for evacuation via Fujairah in the Gulf War) and the global economic crisis of the 00s.

A second branch opened in Arabian Ranches in 2005. Memories of this new development include travelling to the under-construction Ranches site and wondering why they were driving out to the middle of nowhere; having to use the toilets in the shopping centre; no playgrounds to start with; repeated closures due to water pipes bursting; and Costa Coffee deliveries.

Some things never change!

The exhibition is an incredible illustration of the JESS journey through time. Some things never change, though, and I wanted to highlight several snippets that made me smile:

Springtime in Jumeirah: The British Consul-General in Dubai judges the Best Hat competition
Springtime in Jumeirah: The British Consul-General in Dubai judges the Best Hat competition

Shoes & driving: I’m not sure what year, but during the early days, one of the mums, wearing very high platform-soled shoes and driving a 4×4, pulled in to park, not knowing where her feet began and ended. She accelerated instead of breaking and ploughed into a breeze-block wall, demolishing it.

Demand for places: Waiting lists have been a problem right from the start. When the school reached several hundred students, the headmistress had to call a stop to expansion, citing the difficulty of teaching amid rubble and construction noise.

Parent involvement: This tradition began from the get-go, with parents in Dubai more actively involved in school than in Britain. Parents ran sports clubs during their lunch breaks before returning to work at 4pm; mothers came in with younger children to assist with activities; and it was through an action group that the swimming pool was funded.

Spring in the sunshine: The annual spring fair is a long-running institution, including, back in the day, a decorated Hat Parade with Easter Egg prizes; a display by the Dubai and Sharjah Morris Dancers; an attempt to break the non-stop skipping world record; traditional stalls selling home-made cakes, marmalade, etc; a tombola, lucky dip and Guess Your Weight (!). More British than Britain!

Here’s to the next 40 years!

Ladies Only

What a three-day weekend means to a pilot’s wife

“Mummy, what time is D coming for his sleepover?” Son2 prized my eyes open. It wasn’t even 7am. Ugh! Jumping on top of me, he pulled the duvet off and checked to make sure he’d fully woken me up. “I’m so excited!”

“Yay, no school!” said Raptor when I got downstairs. He was lying on the sofa, smiling with glee. He only had three days at school this week, as they also had a day off for teaching planning. Today it’s the Islamic New Year, the start of a long, three-day weekend.

Three cheers for all you exhausted mums who love children that generally don’t give a second thought to the mental or physical shape we’re in! (That’s okay. They’ll have kids someday.)
Three cheers for all you exhausted mums who love children that generally don’t give a second thought to the mental or physical shape we’re in! (That’s okay. They’ll have kids someday.)

A couple of hours later, I heard DH’s key in the door. His suitcase trundled in and I noticed he looked pale, his face drawn. Little wonder as he’d flown all night. He remarked on the Halloween decorations we’d put up, then went to bed. He leaves again on Saturday.

“So mummy, what can I do?” asked Raptor. “I’m sooo bored.”

“Me too,” chorused Son2. I checked my watch: not even 9am. What activity could I conjure up for them? Swimming, the cinema, a play date? The sleepover wasn’t for another 12 hours. I’ll admit I was yawning as my children’s demands for breakfast, entertainment, a dog, my itunes password ricocheted around my tired brain.

And that’s when the small, unentitled voice started Greek chorusing in my ear. “What about me?” If there’s something the UAE is good at, it’s throwing in these long weekends. I’ve posted about them before. And I’m sure there are many who love the chance for more family time.

But the thing is: for pilot families it doesn’t work out like they’re supposed to. It’s rare for dad to not be flying on weekends like these, which means mum is left grappling with bored children who inevitably start fighting – and that’s on top of doing everything else. The hot and sweaty school runs in 80 per cent humidity; making sure they eat, do their homework, go to bed, and dealing with all the extra admin living in the UAE seems to require. Oh, and the paid job, which actually keeps me ticking over.

Of course, the voice was quickly hushed – Son2 threw a tantrum when his sleepover got postponed, and Raptor needed me to find something for him. If I could take them to see family this weekend, I would, but it’s not really an option when you’re thousands of miles away. Nor is taking them on a mini-break by myself particularly appealing.

So, really, for a pilot’s wife, a three-day weekend is just an extra day when they should be at school and instead I find myself bloomin’ knackered while trying to be ‘fun’.