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

Good-bye plastic bags

I’m not turning into an eco-warrior, I promise (with two small boys I’m far too worn out), but a comment from a good friend of mine on my last post is really worth elaborating on.

The nifty stunt she told me about combines two of my favourite things (bags and making lists), and, if you live in the Middle East, is coming to a supermarket near you soon.

As I mentioned, here in the UAE we are, for various reasons, consuming more than our fair share of the world. And when it comes to plastic shopping bags, the statistics are eye-poppingly bad.

The UAE is using more than 20 billion plastic bags annually, a figure that’s sparked such intense debate within the emirates that the Minister for Environment has ordered the country to go cold turkey by 2013: that’s right, by next year the UAE is to be plastic-bag free.

To promote Tide laundry detergent, the creative brains at Dubai advertising agency Leo Burnett came up with this reusable shopping bag that doubles as a grocery list.

Resembling a notepad, you write your list on the bag (fruit & veg, milk, bread, sellotape), then wash it afterwards and it’s ready for the next shopping trip. Elegantly simple, huh? The customers, fashion editors and bloggers who were sent the Tide Smart Bag (along with a marker pen and a box of the detergent) were impressed too, and so the plan is to make the bags available around the region.

If anyone from Tide just happens to be reading this (I’m tagging you now, 5 times), please send me one – I’m in the supermarket practically every other day and would be a great walking advert. Plus I reckon the bag could be a sanity saver too as the kids could doodle on it rather than pestering me for cartoon-character-endorsed junk food at every turn.

Customised and eco-chic, even I might remember to take this bag to the supermarket if it had my list written on it.

Ladies Only

Concrete jungle: A Dubai moment

Over the past year, the car park at our local supermarket has got busier and busier – so that now we have a situation where huge SUVs lie in wait for shoppers and stalk you as you’re pushing your trolley back to your car.

If you are lucky enough to find a space that’s not a 10-minute walk from the store, it’s likely that manoeuvring into it will involve squeezing between a badly parked Land Cruiser and a concrete pillar.

A pet peeve in Dubai: Cramped, British-style parking for enormous American cars

Given that grocery shopping at this particular store entails handing over 200 dhs for some milk, bread and a sausage, the whole experience can be rather frustrating from start to finish.

To make things a little less stressful, I always go to my secret parking spot downstairs – OK, it’s not exactly secret, but I do find that fewer shoppers make the right-angle turn to go down the narrow ramp into the bowels of the car park.

Today, though, I wish I’d stayed upstairs. To cut a long story short, there was a car in the way of the self-important type, I ended up going in a different direction to usual and was looking for the exit rather than what was right in front of me (do these sound like excuses?)

There was the most awful crunching noise – the sound of concrete and metal being welded together – so loud and splintering I saw the faces of two shoppers visibly wince.

When we first arrived in Dubai, before the debt crisis, there was so much development going on it felt like we were living in one big construction site, with a quarter of the world's cranes rumoured to be located in the emirate
“W-t-f was that,” poured out of my mouth as I leapt out of the car – and our nice car too, a Dubai purchase that we splurged DH’s bonus on earlier this year (and being of the sporty variety, very low to the ground – this is relevant, you’ll see why).

The car was stuck, its back wheels spinning – stuck on a divider I should have driven round rather than over. In my defence, it was one of those ‘Dubai moments’ – where else would you find a concrete island in the middle of the road with no distinguishing features (no poles, no stripes, just exactly the same shade of grey as the ground)?

Only the other day I was laughing as a friend told me how she’d walked out of a spa treatment and straight into unset concrete – completely ruining her shoes as well as her relaxed mood.

The two witnesses – who at first shot me a look that said, “Dumb expat blonde in an Infiniti, she should know better” – ended up taking pity on me and helped push the car off – and away I went, trying to retain my dignity behind the tinted windows, but thinking “Oh god, what have I done to the chassis and will I fall out the bottom of the car on Emirates Rd on my way home?”

I’m reliably informed that the planet Mercury is in retrograde at the moment and apparently things always go awry during these periods – I’m not usually superstitious but can't help wondering if this is why I accidentally cut up our bank card this week and stranded the car on a concrete island. Things return to normal, astrologically speaking, on 14 December – or am I just making excuses again?