The Little Mermaid

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 …

The Little Mermaid

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.

The Little Mermaid

Moving to Meydan: The new house rollercoaster

“So what do you think?” I asked, gazing at the lounge walls in our empty new villa. The smell of fresh paint tickled my nostrils as I waited for DH’s response.

I’d gone for three different colours (green, charcoal and beige; it’s a large room!) – a sort of tricolour effect, and he was either going to love it or hate it.

“Very nice.” DH’s eyes flickered from wall to wall. “Three colours … I see.”

So I gave him the spiel I always give him in these situations, which I’d learnt from my mother-in-law: “If you have a creative wife, you just have to say THANK GOD and let her get on with it!” I smiled and hustled him upstairs to see his office, where we’d settled on just two ‘manly’ colours.

Not an accurate depiction of the blogger (I paid a nice man to paint)
Not an accurate depiction of the blogger (I paid a nice man to paint)

I walked back into the spacious living room with its views of the park area outside, and felt far more positive about moving than I did when we got the eviction email four months ago. Something about the blank canvas around me made me feel calmer and more in control of my life than I’d felt in weeks. Left alone in our quiet, cloud-like space, I soaked up the peacefulness.

We moved in over the next two hot and sweaty days. Once all the bulky items had bumped their way into position, a procession of smaller boxes marched in, until finally the packers left and we closed the door. As the last truck rolled away, I stood in the living room and surveyed the now cluttered space. I’d started feeling a little deflated. The dusty scent of cardboard had replaced the smell of fresh paint. There were piles of boxes stacked against the walls, and instead of straight, linear lines and open space, there was mess and bubble wrap strewn around (the boys wanted to keep it to pop).

The day was fading to dusk and I flicked the light switches by the door. So many light switches. It would take days to learn what they all did. I padded around – my flip-flops slapping against the floor – and did some more unpacking, sorting, moving things around, trying to bring some order to the chaos.

The next day I loved the house again, then the day after I fell out with it again. A strange smell was emanating from the bathrooms, and aware of stories from fellow residents about pipes not being connected, things falling off walls, water leaks and even electrical fires, I made our first call (of many) to maintenance.

Let’s just say I’ve got to know maintenance pretty well since then. Fair’s fair, they’re fixing things fast, although the blank stare you get when you’re trying to make yourself understood – followed by the nod which confirms you’re talking at cross purposes – just kills me!

Once our taps, which are currently like mini dancing Dubai fountains with varying water pressures, surges and stoppages, are fixed, I think we’re nearly there …

My verdict: I love the house!

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The Little Mermaid

Summer is over: Time to remember the day of the week

The radio silence over the past week was because we were moving house. We couldn’t have picked a better time really – it’s as hot as Hades (see temperature, according to the car, below!) and as humid as a steam room. Needless to say, it was all rather fatiguing, and that was with packers who did an amazing job carting enormous pieces of furniture out of the house in the furnace-like heat.

Is it humid today?

The movers went by the name Delight – and, quite honestly, they lived up to it.

All my back-to-school chores were promptly forgotten during the chaos of moving, and so when we surfaced from the remaining boxes, it was with some trepidation that I turned my thoughts to the fact Son1 was starting a new school in three days’ time, and had NO UNIFORM whatsoever.

Cue: urgent dash to the Meydan Racecourse, where there was a pop-up shop selling the red-and-grey uniforms.

An odd place to sell such items, you might think. All the horses were gone (beating the heat in Europe), and the shop was located there as the under-construction school was still in a rather unfinished state with hoardings all around it and builders hammering away.

Dubai has a habit of pulling these things off, and today, the school opened! (Read: Thank God). Son1, who we’d pulled from a school he loved due to distance, had a great day, to my relief. And I finally got some peace, after two months of holiday.

I think maybe all boy mums will know what I mean when I say that after a prolonged period of noise so loud and jarring it could even rattle the pans on the shelf in the kitchen (think: stampeding around, crashing and yelling and fighting – not all the time, but enough of it to hurt my head!), it’s just so nice to have some space to think.

Enjoy the quiet mums!

The Little Mermaid

Why must our lush gardens be destroyed?

Soon to be returned to sand as no-one wants to pay for watering after we leave
Soon to be returned to sand as no-one wants to pay for watering after we leave

A sense of calmness usually descends on me when I stand in my garden. There’s something very peaceful about the scent of frangipani and jasmine all around, the birds chirping away in the trees, and the glorious sight of red, pink and orange bougainvillea climbing frothily up the wall. I love my garden – it was planted seven years ago, and transformed what was a fairly sizeable but barren sand lot when we arrived into a green oasis.

The grass was planted in evenly spaced clumps which, over the next few months, spread to form a lawn. Son2’s baby hair was growing at the same time, and I remember wondering which would fill in first: his fine, downy hair or the blades of grass. The irrigated carpet of green won.

Now, when I stand outside, I feel rather sad: we’re required to rip our lovely gardens out before we move. Every tree and plant, no matter the size, must be removed in order to leave our once beautiful gardens as sandpits again. The reason is money: no-one wants to pay for the watering if there’s a gap before the next tenants move in.

Starting over again in a new sandpit
Starting over again in a new sandpit

Appalled by this treatment of nature, those of us who are being relocated to Meydan South have come together to try to negotiate something very special.

We can bring small plants to our new compound, but as per the rules, we are not permitted to plant large or deep-rooted trees. Many of us are leaving gardens behind in which well-established trees are flourishing. Species include Palm trees, Flamboyants and Almond trees, to name just a few. Between us, these trees have accumulated hundreds of years of growth.

Save our trees!
Save our trees!

Many of us hope to donate our big trees to the common areas of Meydan South, and believe this well-supported, community initiative will bring a number of benefits to the new compound. Firstly, it will transform the brand new but arid development into a green neighbourhood, in line with the Sheikh’s promise to preserve the environment and create a green city.

Secondly, green areas help to keep the temperature a little cooler, and, thirdly, in a country where asthma rates are high, there are health benefits to be gained from minimising areas of open sand. Transplanting our trees will help to improve the air quality while also ensuring the compound looks attractive and verdant with vegetation.

Wish us luck as we attempt to persuade the powers that be to transport and replant our trees!

I have everything crossed.