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 …


Travel with Kids: The Bad and the Worse


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.


Throwback Tuesday: Underhand school run tips

Mothers across Dubai are either breathing a huge sigh of relief or sobbing into their hankies this week as they drop their children at school for the start of the new term.

But rather than simply depositing your offspring into the classroom roughly on time, it seems there are plenty of tactics you can use (some of them underhand) if you want to achieve a flawless drop off. Much is doubtless universal, but there are certainly some skills that are specific to Dubai schools.
Tips and tricks:

– Pay special attention to your chosen outfit. Currently trending is gym wear, preferably black. Whether or not you actually go straight to the gym from the drop off is entirely irrelevant.

– Make sure you and your children are perfectly laundered. Even the slightest trace of toothpaste, breakfast cereal, chocolate, snot, vom or poo will make itself glaringly apparent at the worst moment.

Creating the illusion of a six-hour workout is a useful skill
Creating the illusion of a six-hour workout is a useful skill

– Although a huge pair of sunglasses will hide a plethora of cosmetic tardiness, make sure your nails are perfect and your hair is pristine.

– Prepare to race other parents from the red light, bully your way round the roundabout and take every opportunity to jump the queue.

– Even if you only drop off one child, make sure you drive your seven-seater SUV right up to the school gates.

– Ignore the car parking attendants and remember to cut up your best friend to get that prime parking spot.

– When alighting from your car, greet your friend with a cheery smile and a wave.

– Do not rush or run. Do not push or drag your child. Irrespective of what is actually happening, glide serenely through the school with a relaxed and happy expression.

– Greet each member of staff and wish them good morning. Train your children to do the same.

– When engaging in small talk with other parents keep to the following subjects: how charming the children are, how much the children are growing, how lovely everyone looks, the weather.

– Never admit to another mother any homework not done, lost library books, tantrums endured either at home or in the car, diarrhoea or head lice.

– Of course, all of the above also applies during pick up – although you must ensure that whatever you wear is entirely different from the outfit you were sporting only a few hours earlier.

– The only possible exception to this rule is you may return in the same gym wear, creating the aura of a potential six-hour work out. Sweat patches, however, are not acceptable.

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The sauna relay (mums win gold)

It’s the last week of term here, and despite searing heat and 85 per cent humidity, desert mummies are flinging themselves around attending end-of-term concerts, classroom parties and parent meetings.

To get an idea of what this is like, imagine what a giant sauna might feel like, and picture yourself jumping in and out of it fully clothed. Imagine the backs of your knees sweating and your hair plastered to your head. Then, add some extra diary dates to an already-jam-packed schedule, a couple of hot, quarrelling children and a car that burns you every time you climb back in it.

dubai-meme-03-hot-tap-waterAs you pick your way over a sandy car park, while mopping your brow and wiping your shades (they steam up the moment you step into the outside air, so heavy today it was almost too thick to breathe), you think to yourself, “’”

Although why it surprises us each year, I’m really not sure, because it’s no hotter than it usually is in late June. I think we just tend to forget over the 6-8 months of glorious weather.

We’ve reversed our taps – in summer, you can turn your water heaters off and get all the warm water you need from the cold tap (due to cold-water storage tanks getting microwaved by the sun).

And if one of the children opens a window in the car, I’ve noticed I’ll snap it shut immediately, even if it means little fingers get severed, so the AC air doesn’t escape.

It definitely gets to the stage here where everyone is ready for their summer leave, the boys included.

Son1 was looking at something on the iPad the other day and remarked: “Will we see these in England?” We glanced at the screen to see what he was talking about, and saw white, fluffy clouds. A rarity in the dusty, desert summer skies.

Not long now, kids!

on the upside, the lack of cloud cover made for a fabulous super-moon yesterday. Photo via The National
On the upside, the lack of cloud cover made for a fabulous super-moon yesterday.                              Photo via The National