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.


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.


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


Emirates first-class: My shower phobia (at 40,000ft)

“Have you flown in this cabin before?” The flight attendant smiled and handed me a glass of bubbly.

“No, I haven’t,” I said. “First time.”

“Well, let me give you a tour,” she replied, flashing another megawatt smile. I suddenly wished I had more make-up on, and imagined her applying her curvy, crimson pout, mushing her lips together to press the lipstick in, and blotting the excess with a tissue. The result – a sharply angled Cupid’s bow and bold pop of Emirates red that matched her shoes and the details on her creaseless uniform.

She leaned towards me and began her tour of the armchair of a seat, pointing out the panel of buttons, vanity table, sliding privacy door and personal mini-bar.

I nodded enthusiastically at everything, gripping the thin stem of the champagne glass a little too tightly in case it was all a dream. The details, the fresh flowers, leather chair that reclined to a bed and acres of walnut trim, almost felt unreal.

“And would you like to take a shower before landing?” she asked. “You know we have a spa on board.”

Ever wondered how celebs get off planes looking as fresh as a daisy? Here's how …
Ever wondered how celebs get off planes looking as fresh as a daisy? Here’s how …

I’d taken a peek inside after climbing the stairs to the A380’s top deck with my roller-luggage banging against my leg. My eyes had widened as I took in the enormous teak-and-marble shower suite, bigger than your average bathroom with two dedicated attendants, shiny taps and no shortage of rolled, fluffy, white towels and bottles of sweet-smelling lotions. The scent of Bvlgari perfume hung in the air. I knew I wouldn’t be taking a shower, though – however inviting the clever back-lighting and full-size window on the world were.

“That’s okay,” I said, a hint of regret in my voice.

She raised a thin, finely arched eyebrow.

I decided not to explain, thinking my fear of hitting turbulence – or, worse, an emergency – while wet and naked in the shower might sound silly.

“Well, just let me know if you need anything. It’s dine on-demand,” she said, passing over a menu and bestowing on me a final red-lippy beam that didn’t quite stretch to her eyes but lit up her young, dewy-skinned face in a flourish.

Left to my own devices, I wanted to giggle uncontrollably that I was sitting in first-class, after ten years of hollow-eyed travelling with young children in economy. I drained my champagne, feeling the bubbles hitting my bloodstream in an effervescent rush, took my shoes off, and got comfy, which wasn’t difficult in the expansive seat. After take-off, I was offered pyjamas to change into. Pyjamas! Flying really didn’t get any better than this.

I decided to try to see who else was in the cabin. My husband has told me of all kinds of celebs who have been on his plane in first – some of whose names/films/music he even remembers (he doesn’t get to meet them). I peered out of my cabin, but it was impossible to see who my companions were – Emirates first-class is all about privacy, peace and quiet. You’d be forgiven for thinking you were on a private jet. Determined not to waste a moment of this precious seven-hour flight by sleeping, I slid my door shut and watched movies on the huge, flat-screen TV.

Knowing exactly how lucky I was to experience first (and feeling rather out of place!), I was a model passenger. I didn’t bother the flight attendants once. If truth be told, I hadn’t quite ‘got’ the dine-on demand thing. I was expecting meals to be brought round on a trolley and didn’t think to ask for food. The staff leave you alone; responding to passengers’ whims via call buttons; privacy, as I mentioned, being king.

With about 35 minutes to go, I opened my door, and a flight attendant asked with surprise, “Did you want anything?”

“No, thank you,” I lied.

“You sure? Tea, coffee, a croissant?” (I’d missed the caviar!)

My stomach betrayed me with a growl so loud I thought she might have heard over the sound of the engines. A passenger – the only one I’d seen all flight – got up to change out of his pyjamas, and my hunger got the better of me.

“Oh, okay! A croissant please.”

(“That’s all you had?” my husband asked, incredulously, afterwards!)

Of course, we started descending all too soon, and, of course, I wanted to do that Jennifer Aniston thing and ask the pilot (DH) to ‘fly this thing around for a bit longer’.


The green-eyed monster


“Enjoy Sydney,” I said tersely, and I did mean it; it’s just that I wished I was going too. Like I do nearly every time my DH goes on a trip.

Yes, I can be a jealous wife – and it’s a horrid, energy-sapping emotion that I wish I could banish. And, I’m going to be completely uncensored here: it gets worse when you have children. And they’re dangling off you like deranged Christmas ornaments and depending on you for everything.

It was probably just a bad day, but my boys were awful today. AWFUL. I woke up with a small knot of dread in my stomach. I knew the morning would bring with it dark forces: the battle over homework. Getting my youngest to sit down at his wordlist is like trying to trap a will-o’-the-wisp. The older one is in cahoots and just as bad.

But, actually, the homework went OK; it was later in the day that I plummeted into the doldrums. Son2 bailed on a class he’d previously begged me to pay up-front for by screaming all the way there. His punishment – not being allowed to see a friend he’d already spent all morning with – caused his tantrums to crescendo, becoming a punishment for us too, and my equally strong-headed Son1 made a big scene about something else.

By dinnertime, my nerves were frayed, and the work I was meant to be completing still wasn’t done. When DH, nervously, asked what we were doing for dinner, I lost it. “They won’t eat anything I make anyway,” I raged, referring to a lasagna I’d cooked the other night (containing mushrooms) that had actually made Son1 vomit at the table. “Food I’ve spent ages preparing just gets thrown back at me!”

So I wasn’t in the best frame of mind when I wished my beloved (who does so much for us at home) a good trip as he went to bed at 6pm. I might even have told him he was lucky, and that I wished I could get away. If I’m honest, it’s not the layover in Sydney I’m jealous of (although it is one of my favourite cities); it’s the minutiae of everyday life and the juggling I want a break from.

“Have you seen the state of our cat?” DH asked the other day. “She really needs a bath.” “Look at Son1’s fingernails. You really need to cut them.” Then get the nail clippers. I’m pretty sure you can cut nails too.

Then there’s the Rasputin ants in the kitchen; the two-tonne grocery runs to feed ravenous boys on top of full-time work in media; the fact they’re getting up at 5.30am to play on the Xbox and are like grisly, overtired bears when I put them to bed – not to mention the never-ending logistics of the car pool I’m indebted to because I can’t get Son2 home from school when I’m at the office.

And don’t get me started about the school projects my older son can’t do himself, that last week saw me up until midnight making a beard for an Ernest Shackleton costume. (When do the costumes end?) I can’t be the only working mum who spends lunchtimes sneakily printing pages off the office printer when the bosses aren’t looking?

If there are any men reading this who want to know what a woman’s mind is like, imagine a browser with 2,671 tabs open.

I’ll feel better in the morning, when I’ve laid the green-eye monster to rest and am getting on with everything – because all this stuff, it’s just life, isn’t it? And it’s nearly the end of term.


A very special flight

I can’t let our homecoming pass without saying a few words about our flight back: DH was ‘driving’, and while I’ve been his passenger a few times now, it was the first time he’s flown our fledglings in a commercial airliner.

And, yes, it was a great flight, not least because the bribe potential in telling the children that if they didn’t behave, Daddy would ‘land this plane right now’ or put them ‘outside on the wing’ was HUGE. (Sipping celebratory Champagne and nibbling on Godiva chocolates helped too, of course.)

But, if the truth be told, the boys were as good as gold. At the gate, they squished their noses against the terminal window, trying to see through the darkened glass of the cockpit. They (and about 10 other little boys also lined up) were rewarded when DH stuck a sun-tanned arm out his window to wave.

You could tell each awe-struck boy thought the wave was directed at him and when I got talking to an Australia-bound Dad on the full flight later on, we agreed not to burst his son’s bubble. Pilots should wave more, they really should. It makes people so happy.

DH in his office
Airbus A380: DH in his office

On board, we waited patiently for DH to make an announcement (it sounded nothing like him!), and, while I’d instructed Son1 not to go telling everyone, his excitement bubbled over every now and then. “My Daddy’s flying this plane,” he told a flight attendant, *beaming with pride*.

We arrived in Dubai (nice landing, DH!) and were invited to come forward to see what to me looks like the Starship Enterprise. “Just don’t touch anything,” I urged them, as we climbed the stairs to the flight deck. “If you feel like you want to press something, JUST DON’T,” I pleaded, paranoid that they’d set off the emergency slides or a million-dollar fire-hydrant system.

I needn’t have worried; they were awed into silence by the countless screens and switches, and could barely breathe they were so impressed. (Too bad my work doesn’t have the same effect; I swear they think my sole purpose in life is to fetch them things from the supermarket.)

All too soon, it was time to deplane and make our way into Dubai’s cavernous, gleaming airport, where taking the new train triggered fresh excitement. It was well past midnight when the children and I joined the taxi queue. “We don’t want a pink taxi. We want a red one,” they chanted, in unison, demonstrating to me once again that, while my boys will never be interested in any of the girlie things that make me tick, I adore their transport-mad ways.


Travel widow: The five-day trip

Guess who?
Guess who?

I’m often asked: “Is your husband away a lot?” The truth is, he’s home a lot more than most husbands who work 9-6 plus over-time and weekends. But, of course, the nature of his job means that every time he does leave, it’s for an overseas trip of varying lengths.

His favourite jollies jaunts are to Europe – about seven hours there and back, two days away in total and a European city, such as Munich or Paris, at his disposal (what’s not to like?). I think he rather enjoys Bangkok too (not too much I hope) and, naturally, he loves returning to his home country, the States.

This week, he’s on a five-day trip to Australia and New Zealand. I’ve been with him on this one, and so I know the 14-hour journey to Sydney, the onward flight to Auckland and the jet lag are tough. But, the hardest thing, in my opinion, is the distance: it honestly feels like he’s dropped off the end of the world.

Before he left, he said to me: “Y’know, when I’m away, especially when I’m gone so far, the children just get better and better in my mind.”

“YOU WHAT?” I retorted, not sure if I’d heard him properly. I looked at him quizzically, through disbelieving eyes – but he meant it. He misses them so much that, to him, they become little angels, and not the whirling dervishes that seem to visit every time he’s gone.

So, I can’t resist, this is a day-by-day summary of not just our children’s angelic ways, but the household frustrations that he’s missing this week.

Day 1:
All is calm. This isn’t so bad, I think. The boys and I really bond when DH is away and we eat boiled eggs for dinner.

Day 2:
BB develops an ear infection, complicated by whining and exacerbated ten-fold by his noisy brother, who starts shouting erratically as though he’s got Tourette’s. We see the doctor and start antibiotics.

Day 3:
BB’s well enough for school and is all ready at 7.15am, but the bus doesn’t turn up. I phone the mum in charge and find out there’s no school. Teacher training. Sigh. (I swear, they have so many days off here that mums might as well tell themselves there’s no school, and then be pleasantly surprised when there is.)

Day 4:
The gas runs out in the middle of cooking dinner – time to call a gas delivery company (such as ‘Al Boom’ – yes, that’s its name, really!). TV stops working.

Day 5:
The boys are fighting like gerbils. They’re desperately trying to get their hands on our electronic devices. I eventually hide the iPad, and they go for my iPhone, and when I take that away too, LB grabs my Kindle like an addict and starts tapping it furiously in the hope it might have Minecraft on it (this can only end in tears). At bedtime, he tells me petulantly, “I’m not closing my eyes, I’m NOT!”

Happy days! Hurry home DH (and by way of a full disclosure, I actually wouldn’t swap roles in a million years.)

PS: If your husband is on the road a lot, do check out this article, in which Gulf ‘Travel Widows’ (including me!) reveal how they cope with the lifestyle.


The predatory woman

Even if, pre-children, you had a really active social life and danced on tables until the wee hours, after you give birth, the prospect of climbing onto heels to paint the town red is about as appealing as being slapped with a wet fish.

And, with small children around, it can take years to get your social life back on track.

Something I’ve promised myself I’ll do this year is to be more adventurous socially (and I don’t mean I want to start swinging). I plan to spend less time on the sofa in the evenings, so that my husband and children no longer have a better social life than me.

Lil' Miss Temptress: You are not my friend
Lil’ Miss Temptress: You are not my friend

I honestly wouldn’t want my pilot to just sit in his hotel room when he’s on layovers, but then again, I don’t want him to have too good a time without me – especially as women can be predatory creatures.

We were stopped in our tracks the other day while walking out of our hotel by an attractive lady.

I say ‘we’, but it was DH she was talking to.

“Where do I know you from?” she asked him.

He didn’t instantly recognise her. They ran through some places – Tokyo, Paris, Hong Kong – but were still drawing a blank.

“I remember that we got on really well,” she said, flirtily.

“Just don’t tell my wife,” joked DH, putting his arm round me so she’d at least know I was standing right there (he never did work out who she was).

Her head turned towards me, our eyes met.

Hmm, I thought. I don’t like you.

“Do you live here?” (meaning London) she said, by way of a cursory acknowledgement.

“No,” I replied. “I live in Dubai, with my husband.'”

And then, the word ‘obviously‘ just slipped off my tongue.

Touché. Hands off! He’s mine!


It’s a small world

It’s a bit of a running joke among pilot’s wives that our husbands are never around when you need them to be – like on Christmas Day, New Year’s Eve and New Year’s Day (you could add birthdays to this list too, if you like).

But this isn’t a grumble. It honestly isn’t. It’s the lifestyle I signed up for and I don’t know any other way [slips crew scheduling our last mince pie in the hope DH will be home for Easter].

The upside of being a waif and stray (and unable to get home to family) on such occasions is the lovely friends – two of whom are dear blogging friends (SandboxMoxie and ExPIAtriatewife) – who take you in, offering not only great company but also wonderful food and even childcare.

Stop going away on special occasions DH! Look what happens (last festive pic, I promise!)
Stop going away on special occasions DH! Look what happens (last festive photo, I promise!)

Last night, DH was in London, and the children and I were in Dubai. We celebrated at ExPIAtriatewife’s villa with a fabulous BBQ and, just before midnight, took our traditional walk to the desert right outside our security gate.

Standing in the sand, with a glass of bubbly, we could see in the distance the spectacular fireworks cascading up and down the Burj Khalifa, as well as the bursts of colour exploding into the starry, night sky over the Burj Al Arab and Global Village (AND we were home by 12.30am!).

My husband, 5,000km away, was in a hotel, surrounded by cabin crew. And I really mean surrounded. Five A380 crews stay at this hotel every night. I’ve mentioned before that each crew is made up of some 27 flight attendants, mostly females in their 20s, with bright-red lipstick, fashionable boots and slender silhouettes unblemished by childbirth.

I don’t even want to do the maths to figure out how many there were.

A single friend was coming to meet him – who must surely have thought he’d died and gone to heaven.

Shortly after midnight, DH and I were texting. “Just back from the fireworks,” I wrote, picturing him in his hotel at Heathrow, practically tripping over giggly air hostesses.

“You’ll never guess who’s here,” he texted back.

“LB’s teacher.”

Strict, fair, no-nonsense and by far the best teacher I’ve ever met in Dubai (of whom DH is a little nervous), what are the chances of that?

It’s such a small world, it really is. I trust DH implicitly, but let’s just say, I went to sleep chortling my ears off.

Love this photo, taken by my gorgeous cousin Angela - I miss London!
Love this photo, taken by my gorgeous cousin Angela – how I miss London!