Tuesday, November 30, 2010

He shoots, he scores!

As I have mentioned on previous blogs, A. is mad keen on footy. I received a call (from his Mother's mobile phone) during a meeting today in which A. proudly announced that not only had he scored a goal but that his team had drawn 2 - 2 - this a considerable improvement on the previous results where they had lost 8 - 0 and 6 - 1. He was a little bit hazy on the detail of the goal but from what I could gather it sounded like the goalie managed to dive over the ball and then turned to watch it rolling over the line - I wish I had been there to see it!

In the far distant days of my own playing career I can just about remember my early performances for Holy Family under 8s although unlike A. my early appearances were as substitute albeit as a centre-forward (I think all little boys in those far off days wanted to be the glory hunting striker although wow betide any "goal-hangars" who skulked around the penalty area while play was down field in the hope that some one would boot it to them from defence). Now it appears that the 'midfield general' is in vogue. I cannot really remember my own first goal but having recorded it on the internet hopefully A.s first one will live in memory and I hope this is the first of many goals from A.

Sunday, November 28, 2010

Back Home

One of the problems of the Dubai/HK flight is that it is just too short to allow a decent night's sleep. We left about half an hour late last night on the Emirates overnight flight which gets in at around 7am local time. However, the flight itself is only around 6 - 6 1/2 hours so by the time you have eaten you meal and finished watching the film there is only really time for around 4 hours sleep. I was like a zombie when I woke up on landing.

With the London - HK flight(c.12 hours)there was plenty of time to catch a few films and (if you could get comfortable) a decent 6 hours sleep - the timings coming from HK also worked well - most flights leaving in a period between 11pm and 1am local time which got you in first thing London time.

Having said all of that, the 12 hour flight time (not to mention the 7/8 hour time difference) was very hard work and when we used to take the kids back for Christmas it used to ake us pretty much the whole of the trip just to get over the jet-lag. Our present 3/4 time difference and shorter journey time is a walk in the park by comparison.

Its a sad, sad situation

Force of circumstances that I have missed out the last few days blogging but here is something I composed on Thursday of last week while in London.

It is around 3.30pm and I am in one of the interior offices far away from natural light. However, even if I crane my neck around and look outside I can see that it is rapidly getting dark and this reminds me of one of the reasons I left the UK - the long winter nights. Don't get me wrong, as my post from earlier this week shows there is nothing that I like better than a crisp, bright November day. Equally, however, there is very few things that I dislike more than a cold, drizzly overcast winter's day with the wind whipping straight through you. Unfortunately, no guesses for which of these we get more of in the UK (and it is not as if it is even remotely evenly balanced - cold, crisp, November days are far from frequent).

When I first arrived in Hong Kong I did wonder whether I had jumped out of the frying pan into the fire - it was June/July 2004 and the middle of HK's typhoon season. A "black rainstorm" signal had been put up and - quite literally - day turned to night as the most ferocious deluge was unleashed over HK Harbour. From my office in Wanchai all I could hear was the mournful moans of the foghorns from ships in the harbour and this carried on for the best part of three days. No wonder HK was so green! Fortunately such prolonged downpours were (relatively) rare although during the Summer months HK certainly had it fair share of rain although not often for days on end and during the Winter months (and the summer months - subject to the high humidity which I did not really mind anyway) the climate in HK was excellent.

Rain is not an issue in the desert although we did have a couple of rain storms at the beginning of this year (putting the place under water due to the absence of any drainage). Like HK, one of the great things about living in the Middle East is that you can wake up with the sun shining and the sky blue the majority of days. Yes, it gets extraordinarily hot in the Summer here (110 degrees F was far from usual even towards the end of Summer) but at least the sun shined. In Mud Island, when the sun shines, it is beautiful. Unfortunately this is all too rare (at least whenever I am around!) but on its good days UK is beautiful.

Thursday, November 25, 2010

Boozin' in the Smoke

I am supposed to meeting up with an old mate this evening somewhere in central London for a drink. Time was when I would have been able to name at least two or three possibilities without really having to think too hard. However, as a result of being away for the best part of the last 6 years, I am completely bereft of ideas. I will also be transporting around various bags so am reluctant to suggest an achingly trendy bar in Hoxton or Peckham (or wherever is regarded as being achingly trendy these days).

Part of me feels that I ought to take full advantage of being in old London Town and to choose a pub redolent in history and interest. Another part of me looks at the rapidly darkening skies, the plummeting mercury, and remembers that a lot of these "olde worlde" places have bags of character but poor draught exclusion. My walk up to the office this morning through the biting wind (straight off the Urals I suspect) was not my most pleasant experience since arriving back in UK so in the interests of keeping my extremities reasonably warm I will probably plump for something that has a blazing fire combined with a little bit of historical charm. Any ideas?

In former times my stamping grounds tended towards the City of London/Fleet Street/Covent Garden side of things. I have always fancied a visit to the Lamb and Flag in Covent Garden (which apparently was rather better known by its customers as the "bucket of blood") but have always rather suspected that it is more of a tourist trap than a quaint London boozer. The same could not be said about the 8 (or possibly 10) Bells in Spitalfileds which is notorious as being one of the pubs visited by one Jack the Ripper's victims shortly prior to her ill-fated meeting with him. When I was working around Liverpool Street Station this place was still an absolute dive and probably the last place any one looking for a quiet beer would wish to visit.

I will also be heading over to Docklands this evening which will be my first visit for ages (in fact probably since I visited the ill-fated Millennium Exhibition at was is now the O2 arena. I am not sure quite what to expect but hopefully the transportation will have improved since my last visit.

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Maidstone Calling

Now back in my old stamping grounds in the UK for the a few days. Lovely day today - blue skies and a crisp bright day. As usual Emirates provided a very smooth ride and the Limo service door to door certainly helped. Had a very pleasant day with Dad and my Sister and her children J and N. There is something quintessentially English about visiting a garden centre - even in the late Autumn and after a visit to the cemetery to see Mum's grave (and transporting half the mud of the Kent countryside back into the car!!) we went to a place called Highgrove which I had passed numerous times but had always thought was a plant research centre. In fact it had pots, plants, vegetables and a small cafe and made a great lunch venue.

Thereafter we had a drive through the Kentish countryside trying to discover the village green in Hunton (no success but Hunton itself has some beatuiful houses).

When I arrive yesterday I was confronted by around half a dozen boxes of stuff E. had ordered over the internet so have just spend the last couple of hours trying to fit everything into the various suitcases I have brought with me. You will also be relieved to here that I tracked down some Match Attax cards (although the main supermarket was sold out so I bought up pretty much the entire sock of a corner shop newsagents!). Up to London tomorrow so will report further then.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Time Flies

When I was in HK - particularly in the last 2/3 years we were living there - I tended to do a farr amount of travel for work - towards the end around once or twice a month on average. Whilst the novelty of this soon wore off, one of the great advantages was that my packing skills became sufficiently honed to the extent that I could get pretty much all I needed for a 3 day trip into a carry on bag. This included swimming trunks in case the hotel had a pool (but not a towel), casual clothes and enough work clothes for three days of meetings. It has to be said that the bag (one of Samsonite's finest) occasionally groaned at the seams and I was generally forced to take full advantage of the dispensation that allowed a briefcase/laptop bag as well as a carry on bag into the cabin.

In practice this also meant that I could indulge my penchant for arriving "just in time" for my various flights and meetings as I avoided the need to queue to deposit luggage for the hold (which generally requires an earlier arrival time at the airport and obviously delays departure at the other end).

Here in the desert the airport is if anything even easier to get to than in HK (where my record was to make a flight while leaving our office in Wanchai 75 minutes before the flight time - which is definitely cutting things fine). The airport here is less predictable but since investing in an E- Gate card (which bypasses the passport control queue for non-emiraties), I can generally budget on leaving the office 90 minutes before departure as a bare minimum.

Obviously if the traffic is bad this can considerably increase the stress levels of the trip. However, this is nothing compared to the stress I used to suffer when travelling with a colleague in the Far East who was notorious for insisting, regardless of the time we arrived at the airport or how proximate the flight departure was, in visiting the business lounge to take advantage of the facilities.

On occasions I was forced to leave him to it - and as usual he would literally be the last person on board as the doors closed - he seemed to take a perverse pride in this all he did tell me of the (admittedly surprisingly few) occasions when he in fact missed the flight as they wouldn't let him past the boarding gate!

For today's journey, however, I will need to leave myself a bit of time given the 2 huge bags (as well as carry on luggage) that I am transporting back to England.

Monday, November 22, 2010

Place your orders please

As usual my return trips to Blighty generally involve me doing an impersonation of a pack mule with ferrying of used clothes(for my Sister's children), Christmas/Birthday presents and sundry other packages that cannot for some reason be sent by mail. The return trip is usually as bad if not worse with presents coming the other way and various parcels arriving courtesy of Amazon and computer based retailers as E. feeds her on-line shopping habit.

This time I am going back with a carry on bag and two large suitcases for the various presents. A. has also put in a special request for as many packets of Match Attax cards as I can carry (I have had to tell him that like bringing duty free into the Country Match Attax are strictly rationed).

I have written about these cards previously and A. remains an aficionado - there are apparent 460 cards to collect and they are sold in 5 card packs - however there is no guarantee that you will get the cards you need and often you will get 2 or more of the same players. Fortunately (or unfortunately depending on your perspective) there has been a shortage of Match Attax in the desert (the shop keepers must be doing their collective nuts given the number of small boys who must be continually pestering them about the next delivery). This of course gives us the ideal opportunity to reduce our outlay on cards (at AED5 per pack they are not cheap) and my return to UK gives me an opportunity to stock up for Christmas (they are around half the price in UK and seem to be in plentiful supply). Judicious rationing means that we will have "bribes" for A. for a least a month after I return and enough left over for a Christmas present!

As a non-parent I suspect the bribery aspect would have filled me with distaste. As a parent of a football obsessed son it is manna from heaven particularly when it comes to incentivize him for school and home work. It has also some unexpected side benefits - A. has developed an encyclopedic knowledge of premiership players which drives E mad but I find quite endearing. Also it prompted him to write in his neatest and clearest handwriting a note spelling out precisely which cards he would like (indeed it prompted a couple of fairly lengthy list identifying the particular player cards he wants - this from a boy who is generally reluctant to committ pen to paper unless it is absolutely necessary).

Weather in UK is a bit on the chilly side so I will go back to packing (should there be any space left) some warm clothes for my sojourn in the Docklands and in Kent.

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Final Weekend round-up

A feast of sporting entertainment at the Red Lion last night kicking off with the England/Samoa (I remember when we only used to play Western Samoa) rugby union game. Unfortunately not such a triumph as the win against Australia last weekend but a reasonably convincing victory nevertheless.

Next up was Chelsea -v- Birmingham in the Premiership footy. Again rather unfortunate as Chelsea suffered their second defeat in as many matches - Chelsea and United now locked together at the top of the league with Chelsea ahead on goal difference. Finally the Liverpool v- 'appy 'ammers who were not so happy at losing 3 - 0. At the same time I watched Ireland get hammered by the All Blacks (who said men could not multi-task!

Back to work today and mostly planning the trip to London later in the week and trying to ensure everything is done (it never is but here's hoping!). E. has as usual made sure that my luggage allowance will be used to the maximum so I will be taking two suitcases back with me to collect all the stuff ordered from Amazon etc. Poor old Dad is already complaining about the amount of books etc. that have been delivered home for me to pick up and there are still two deliveries to be made.

In addition to work will try to catch up with some old friends while I am back in London although as I will be based in Docklands I am not sure how easy that will be.

Saturday, November 20, 2010


Just back from our stay at the Sheraton on Jumeira Beach - opposite our old stamping ground at the Shams towers in the Jumeirah Beach Residences. Having spent a disproportionate amount of my time ensconced on my own at the Four Points SZR last year I am taking full advantage of my "Starwood" points that were racked up and my platinum preferred status (just short of a place on the board of directors which shows just how much time I was spending with that organisation ...) which usually provides a room upgrade.

The hotel was completely booked during the Eid holidays as we tried to get in a little earlier and our "Junior Executive Suite" was not ready when we arrived just after Midday. We therefore dumped our stuff and made our way up the "Walk" to look for some lunch (eventually going to Bob's Diner by way of the "Covent Garden Market" - obviously a long way from home!).

The rest of the day was spent variously swimming and trying to surf (me and A), playing in the Pirates Children's Club (V.) and relaxing on the beach (E.). A. and I ended up the day by playing a great game of footy with another father, his sons and various hangers on in which Alex scored a hat-trick (including a well struck penalty) and Daddy scored a peach from around 6 yards.

We repaired to the Walk for dinner having Italian at Napoletena and picking up some Starbucks on the way home. After the kids had gone to bed with E. I went to Moods bar to watch the footy - in this case "the great Story of Inter Milan" - naturally enough in Italian with Arabic subtitles.

Today was terrific. After breakfast on the 9th floor executive lounge (again courtesy of my platinum status - as I said if I had stayed any longer last year I would probably be a board director). Thereafter, the kids spent pretty much the whole morning on the beach playing in the sea or building sand castles. After lunch the kids went to the Kids Club and we cleared the room eventually returning home at apart 4:30pm.

In contrast to our last visit(just before the end of Ramadan), the weather was perfect - the water was a little cooler and the air temperature was certainly a lot more bearable - hopefully this will continue until Christmas as Christmas Day on the beach would definitely be an attractive proposition.

Friday, November 19, 2010


I have always enjoyed Barbies. The English climate does not really lend itself to them save for a small number of days in the Summer but here in the desert we have just complete a run of three on consecutive evenings with last night's being especially successful - Indian tiger prawns with chorizo sausage on skewers. The prawns were from Spinneys where they clean and gut them for you - it was based on something we had last week at our next door neighbour's BBQ ad I simply cut up some chorizo and smoothered the whole lot in garlic butter. Tasted great.

In HK our balcony was so small that, even if the building regulations had permitted a BBQ, there was insufficient space to allow a BBQ and the cook to be on the balcony at the same time (unless the cook was actually standing on the BBQ). We did however manage a couple of excellent seafood barbies with friends at Sai Kung (which are described at ). Spinneys is not quite Sai Kung wet fish market (on one occasion we memorably bought some frogs to cook following an extensive bit of haggling in cantonese). However, it does have a very good selection of prawns and other shellfish.

Going further back in time, my BBQ habit was formed during Summer holidays in my twenties to various camp sites around South and South West France where we took full advantage of the range of food products that the French used to indulge their own BBQ habit.

The key with all these things is having the right climate. There is nothing better than sitting outside on a balmy Summer's evening with a nice glass of wine or cool beer soaking up the aromas of freshly cooked food.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

A land full of Malls

This particular part of the desert is well served by shopping malls. Mall of the Emirates and Dubai Mall are the largest - both around the size of Blue Water in England (with MoE boasting its own ski slope!). However there are a large number of slightly smaller malls including the one we visited earlier today call Mirdiff.

Mirdiff is actually a place - along the Emirates Road past the Airport and Festival City (another mall). It was only recently completed and one has to ask - given the plethora of shopping opportunities that already exist - why it was thought that another shopping centre would be a good idea? Having said that it has also the usual benefits of shopping in this neck of the woods - good play areas for kids, restaurants, and of course numerous shops including a large Debenhams a la UK.

The Kids area included a "soccer circus" that had various games which you could improve your footy technique and where it automatically tallied your points and gave you a read out at the end. A and I had a go and it was great fun. The last "game" was set in a stadium where you tried to knock over as many players as possible by kicking the ball at them - we ended up scoring over 26,000 points. We could also check our technique with the video replay and also compare our scores with various "proper" footballers (Kevin Keegan and the Dutch World Cup team from a few years ago). Not by any means cheap (we had been lured their with discount vouchers but as is the way with these things you cannot use them on public holiday) but good fun nevertheless if you are into your football.

Apart from getting lost on the way back and nearly ending up in Sharjar, it was a highly satisfactory day out. Tomorrow we head off to the St Francis Anniversary Mass at Jebel Ali and then to the Sheraton Jumeirah Beach for a short "holiday" - hopefully it will be as good as our last one.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Chip off the old block

As a youngster, I was pretty obsessed with playing football. Every spare moment was taken up with pursuing opportunities for a kick around and I was fortunate to live opposite another boy who was equally keen. Indeed he was good enough to play in the Gillingham squad in later years (and believe me when you come from small town Maidstone, playing for Gillingham - the only Kent team regularly playing in the league (albeit in the old third division) - one cannot count Maidstone United's ill-fated few years - was about as good as it gets). He had a friend who often came around who was also pretty good - playing Striker for Tonbridge Angels for a few years and so during the long hot Summers we played alternately cricket and football in the back garden. Cricket was if anything a bigger obsession in my younger days - I even used my Father's heavy roller to flatten the "wicket" at the bottom of the garden. The three of us used to play for a local junior side called "South Celtic" (sporting the famous green hoops on our jerseys) and also for our local village cricket team (with the unfortunate name of Loose)so sport was very much part of my early years - my Father was also a keen cricketer although his main game was rugby union.

Fast forward 40 years and A. is equally keen on football. He has an encyclopedic knowledge of premiership players as a result of his own obsession with Match Attax (the modern day equivalent of "Top Trumps" from my early youth), and this afternoon we played football in the bright sunshine at the Lakes Club. Apart from being quick, he has at the moment an ability to kick with both feet without apparent preference as well as a desire to "play football for a top premiership club when I grow up". He has promised to take me and E. to the Burg al Arab (a la Wayne Rooney)for a holiday if this happens so obviously we are very keen that he carries on playing!

Hong Kong did not really lend itself to playing casual football due to the lack of grass, space and the high humidity. The desert (certainly at this time of year) makes football very much more accessible - the local park has a great little area to use as a pitch and Al Safa park has acres of grass in which to play - all in pristine condition so whilst he is obviously going to need a lot of luck (and talent) at least he has the opportunity to enjoy and play the game.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Such a Perfect day

Another rather old musical reference but Lou Reed certainly knew a thing or two about what constitutes a satisfactory day out. Today is a public holiday and it started very well with a lie in as D. took the kids to Al Safa Park. I went over to pick them up at about 11am and the place was buzzing with activity - I had to join a quesu of around 40/50 to get in. The sun was shining, the sky was blue, it was not too hot and the grass in the park was a vivid green, everyone was having a good time cooking their BBQs, laying football, playing cricket or simply shooting the breeze so it wa very pleasant walk over to the BBQ area where they were waiting.

A. had been playing footy and V. had made some new friends(dressed in a very stylish pink dress donated by her cousin N).

Brunch at Shakespeare next to Park n Shop followed and after we had bought some food for our own BBQ we went to Times Square to get various articles for Alex footballing activities.

Next stop was the beach - very pleasant indeed and then home to a BBQ. Perfect.

Monday, November 15, 2010

Leaping the Sound Barrier

So my first F1 race, what was it like? Well, the day was a lot more fun than might have first been expected and, fortunately the somewhat pessimistic weather forecast was completely incorrect with clear skies throughout the race. The circuit at Yas Marina is architecturally very striking with the Yas Hotel (with a roof rather like an unruly birds nest) dominating the arena. We were in the West Grandstand and were sitting just before the end of one of the longest straights on the course - apparently cars can reach up to 320kph on this part.

We arrived to the sound of helicopters clattering overhead and the growl of the Porsche racing cars as they came to the end of their race - we saw some quite nifty driving apart from one chap who tried to undertake another car coming into the bend near us and realising he had left it too late to break simply carried on off the circuit and rejoined slightly further down.

In truth this was one of the few overtaking manoeuvres that we saw. The cars in the main formula one race were truly impressive, screaming down the straight next to us at speeds that you thought would make it impossible to stop but somehow (with ear-splitting honks) they did indeed slow down and then accelerate away out of the bend. The earplugs came in very useful. Nevertheless, there was little real action. Apart from a crash at the beginning that nearly decapitated Micheal Shumacher (he spun round and a following car nearly drove over his head as it collided), the race lacked major incident. By the half way stage it was very unclear who was actually leading as a result of the various pit stops (we had a screen nearly opposite us and the writing was difficult to read).

The key decisions seemed to be made in the pits as the race leaders only changed when tyres were changed and the driver who started on pole position (Sebastian Vettel) eventually won the race and at the same time the driver's championship. If I go again I will need to bone up a bit in advance about who the teams and drivers are and perhaps invest in a radio which apparently allowed easy access to the race commentary (it was broadcast over the stadium speakers but was impossible to hear over the engine noise and the effects of the ear plugs).

The post race concert by Prince was excellent. He played pretty much all his well known songs (1999, Little Red Corvette, Raspberry Beret, Kiss, Purple Rain, Nothing compares to U etc.) and was very entertaining - a real showman and almost worth the price of the tickets on his own.

It was very interesting to see the demographics of the concert crowd (you could only gain entrance to the concert if you had race tickets I think). Mostly 20 or 30 something western expats formed the majority of what looked to be a very large audience (held at one of the stadium behind one of the stands). Given the location and the fact that it was a school night I was expecting to see more locals and a slightly older crowd.

I am not sure I would necessarily go to the racing again. However, the concert venue was good and I saw that Guns 'n' Roses were playing later in the year so I may be making a return visit soon.

Sunday, November 14, 2010

Not a cloud in sight

No sign as yet of the forecast rain today for the F1 racing - although I am still in Dubai and I guess the meteorological conditions may be different 1 1/2 hours down the road in Abu Dhabi. Excellent evenings entertainment last night at the Red Lion - I managed to get there for the second half of the rugby - scintillating performance from England (it has not been often that you can say that over the last few years). The channel then changed for the last 30 odd minutes of Spurs and Blackburn and I then watched Stoke beat Liverpool - a veritable sports-fest!

I sat outside in the outdoor are and it was still a little warm but very pleasant. Hopefully the weather will be as good this afternoon at the Yas Maina circuit.

Saturday, November 13, 2010

Rather disappointing

I had intended to publish a post a day during the month of November but was thwarted yesterday by the fact that the Internet was unavailable at home. It had not been available for a while and it transpired that this was because we had not paid the bills for the last thee months (so hardly surprising). We therefore hunted down an Etisalat payment booth (at Jumeriah Plaza) and managed to pay the bill and get connected to the world again!

In reality yesterday's post (had I been able to make it) would probably have made very little sense as we had spent most of the afternoon with some friends (S and G)at a BBQ. As part of our contribution to the proceedings I had decided to reduce our Pimms Lake (built up over the last couple of months due to me passing through duty free, knowing that I ought to buy something (alcohol is very expensive here)and choosing Pimms only to immediately forget about the purchase so that the next time I passed through duty free I did exactly the same thing. We therefore were the proud possessors of three full litre bottles of Pimms and yesterday's BBQ seemed the perfect opportunity to make some in-roads into it.

A and I therefore went down to Park & Shop and purchased cucumber (pre-chopped as seemed to be cheaper), strawberrys (almost as expensive as the Pimms), apples (Braeburn from New Zealand), oranges, ice, mint and 3 litres of Lemonade. I also purchased a rather groovy jug as receptacle and after E and the kids had helped with the chopping and dicing we made our way around the corner to our friends.

As it transpired the host had also prepared some cocktails so from around 1pm we were drinking Mojitos and/or Pimms - the kids running riot all around us. We finished at around 6pm - fortunately we only had a short stagger back home.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Chasing my Tail

As noted in yesterday’s post, things have been particularly hectic this week. I was making a presentation at one of our major marketing events earlier in the week and was pre-occupied with getting to grips with the subject matter - there is nothing worse than speaking to a roomful of industry contemporaries and having difficult questions lobbed at you without having it least some idea of what the answer may be. However, the main issue pre-occupying me was trying to locate reasonably priced tickets for the F1 this weekend.

I have to say at the outset that I am not a “petrol head” and sitting next to a race track with the scream of high powered engines in my ear for a couple of hours is not at the top of my list of “must dos”. However needs must etc. and as a result of a work commitment, I had to try to source some “reasonably” priced tickets. I only needed one set for the Sunday. However, the tickets were sold as passes for the whole 4 days. There was also a bewildering aray of seating available in various different stands (it would seem that yachts were also available as a viewing base) and the prices from the official suppliers were eye-watering expensive. I therefore adopted plan B which was to see what was available on the “grey” market through Dubizzle and Again the prices were high but there did seem to be pretty good availability although my early enquiries drew a blank in getting tickets for the Sunday only. Having assured various people that the F1 plans were well in train yesterday’s all day meeting prevented finalising arrangements and I had a rather anxious night’s sleep as today was likely to be my last chance to get the tickets organised (the racing starts today). As luck would have it prices were starting to move in the right direction when I logged on to Dubizzle this morning, and I was eventually able to secure front row tickets at cost price from a chap based down in Burjaman who was involved in supplying some of the equipment to the race track – a quick taxi ride and the deal was done (he even provided a receipt and asked for my card!). Hopefully the logistics of actually getting there and sorting out some suitable client hospitality will be as straight-forward and that will be my task going forward.

Having now obtained the tickets and notwithstanding my previous comments, I am now rather looking forward to the event so will keep you posted about how it goes. I did however se anews report earlier today suggesting that there might be "heavy rain" on Sunday - given that we have had (literally) a coupld of drops of rain asince around MArch this would be the hieght of irony - Abu Dhabi apparently usually averages .2mm of rain for the whole of November so I guess it might all fall at once.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Rushed off my feet

I had a meeting today that was supposed to last all morning but in fact did not finish until shortly before 7pm this evening. As a result the carefully crafted post that I had planned for this evening relating to the vagaries of looking for a set of F1 tickets for the forthcoming race in Abu Dhabi this weekend will have to await another day. Hopefully tomorrow will allow me to prepare something a little more interesting......

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

The rain in Spain falls mainly on the Plain

We've had rain! A rather unusual event for us during our time in the desert and certainly worthy of note. I did not actually see it myself although I did notice the sky darkening in the middle of the afternoon yesterday. E. described it as slightly higher than normal humidity with a couple of rain drops mixed in so not the relentless drizzle that we know in Mud Island (UK) or the heavens opening 'caught in a waterfall' deluge that occurred in HK during the typhoon season. Nevertheless, the car is looking respectably mud-splattered and the car-cleaners are no doubt reaping the benefits by way of an upturn in business.

When we first arrived earlier in the year we had a couple of days of rain in January/February. These were slightly more substantial affairs and tended to make a more lasting impression (mainly because of the lack of drainage and the flat terrain which caused significant flooding).

One of the great delights of living here is waking up every morning and opening my curtains to clear blue skies and sunshine so I am rather hoping that our arrival here has not signalled a change in weather patterns.

Monday, November 8, 2010

Holidays in the Sun

Next week is Eid ul-Adha (Feast of the Sacrifice - also known as "Big Eid") - a public holiday in the UAE. As with HK, some of the holidays in the desert are fixed by reference to the appearance of the moon - although in HK there seems to be a little more flexibility as to when the the holiday dates are identified whereas here the actual day has to be identified with precision - for example the Eid-al-Fitri holiday that marks the end of Ramadan can only be declared when the "moon committee" have confirmed the first sighting of the new moon - as a result everyone is kept on tenterhooks until the last possible moment before knowing when the holiday is due to begin.

In HK there were may public holidays - in addition to the Christian or Western holidays of Christmas etc. left over from the British Colonial days, there were also the "local" holidays e.g. Dragonboat day, the Lantern (new moon) festival, the "hungry ghosts". In a good year, when the public holidays fell during the week, this could mean 15, 16 or 17 extra days off. UAE is closer to the UK in terms of days - around 8 - but unlike UK, if the days in question fall on a weekend then, tough luck, they do not automatically move to the nearest working day. This can have unfortunate consequences and of course this being my first full year living and working in the Middle East, we have had a disproportionate number of "holidays" falling on a weekend. I will reserve judgement to see what happens next year before deciding whether the large number of weekend holidays was merely unlucky coincidence or an attempt to ensure that we all worked harder!

Sunday, November 7, 2010

Tell me why I don’t like ..... Sundays

Quite apart from allowing a rather lame pop cultural reference to an old Boomtown Rats song, one of the main issues that encountered in working in the desert is that Sunday is a working day (Friday and Saturday are the formal weekend days here – with Friday being the equivalent of Sunday elsewhere in the world with most people taking a day off work, spending time with their families, going to Mosque/Church etc.). So while your weekend starts earlier, it ends earlier and while friends and family elsewhere in the world are contemplating their Sunday roast, noses here are firmly back on the grindstone. For me I am sure it is a cultural thing – having spend the vast majority of my preceding years associating Sunday’s with the “day of rest” – to go to church , play football/cricket, do homework (School years) steel myself for work (post-school years) and generally take stock of life, it has proved quite difficult to come to terms with the early morning alarm on a Sunday summoning me to work. Since Friday is Sunday this means that Saturday is a bit of a hotch potch. In HK, Saturday was a day for relaxing and, in the evening, going down to the Main Street for the footy. I still try to get down to the footy (although the Red Lion has replaced Main Street) but I always have to be aware that it is in effect a school night (although because of the change in time difference – HK 8 hours ahead, UAE 4 hours ahead of GMT – the sport does tend to finish rather earlier). The other advantage is that Sundays at work are usually free of email interference from the other offices (although this also means that Friday’s can be overtaken by queries and questions from colleagues elsewhere in the World). I am not sure that I will ever truly get used to the idea of working on a Sunday although hopefully I will make a better job of it than a contact working here who told me that whenever he arranged meetings or deadlines for “the beginning of next week” he subconsciously assumed that this would be Monday – not good.

Saturday, November 6, 2010

Getting connected

In HK all our televisual needs were taken care of by NOW Broadband (run by PCCW, HKs main telecoms provider). For around HK$900 (c. GBSterling 80), we received the complete range of sport (including premiership) and movies, pretty much all that was available by way of children's tv globally as well various BBC news and Entertainment stations. In reality, TV at TaiTamTowers was mostly dominated by Boomerang!, a Children's station that specialised in re-running old Scooby-do, Tom and Jerry and Popeye movies (which as you can imagine found great favour with Mum and Dad). As the name suggests we also got broadband connection for our PC (and a landline service at a nominal cost).

In the desert, things are very different. The broadband and TV packages are (generally) supplied by different providers (although some of the more modern developments seem to have combined packages available). The cost is also significantly higher - broadband and landline connection come in at around AED800 per month (c. HK$1,700) and we have just signed up to the minimum cable package which provides us with some children's TV (not Boomarang) and extreme sports (ie tractor racing from the Urals)for the princely sum of AED89 per month. For all its deficiencies (incomprehensible terms and conditions and penchant for cold-calling at 10pm at night anybody?), PCCW's package was pretty good and relatively cheap. Someone could make a fortune putting something as convenient together here.

Friday, November 5, 2010

The drugs aren't working...

The change of seasons, even in the desert, generally heralds the arrival of various colds and ailments and that has certainly been the case at Safa Towers. V. has been struggling with a particularly nasty cold for a couple of weeks and I started to succumb at the end of last week and have been coughing and spluttering my way through meetings for most of this week (much to the delight of colleagues and clients I am sure). I have been using a combination of lemsip and panadol to keep the symptoms at bay but to little avail - tonight I have therefore moved on to the heavier stuff - actifed - which I am assured will fell a charging rhino at 20 paces. Will report back tomorrow as to whether it has been successful.

Thursday, November 4, 2010

Drive me crazy

During our days in Hong Kong, I frequently commented on the standards of driving on the roads of the Big Lychee. It was not as if driving in Hong Kong was particularly dangerous when compared to other Asian countries (given the small number of roads and the large volume of traffic, it was actually quite difficult to go fast enough to do any thing particularly dangerous although the minibus drivers did there best.... By contrast during a visit with my Father to Beijing last Christmas we saw the after effects of 4 recent crashes in the space of a 20 minute cab ride from our Hotel to the Forbidden City). There were however certain local idiosyncrasies that would occasionally cause a road user disquiet – the habit of minibus drivers of stopping dead in the middle of the road with the only outward sign that this was likely to happen was the hazard signs being switched on a millisecond beforehand, the daredevil practices of certain taxi drivers (as described here: and the challenges of driving during a black rain storm. However, moving to UAE has certainly brought the different driving styles between the Middle East and the Far East into sharp focus. For a start, the cars here tend to bigger – 4WD SUVs including various Hummers and Hummer wannabes. There are also more, and longer, roads. The Sheikh Zayad Road (SZR) is a six lane highway that starts near my office in Dubai and ends in Abu Dhabi and driving on it can be likened to a combination of the Wacky Racers and Death Race 2000 – E. refuses to drive on it and we had to choose the location of our home by reference to whether it would be feasible to get the kids to school using the most convenient available alternative route.

The main problems are that (a) their are lots of (big and fast) cars; (b) a number of driver’s are quite prepared to overtake/undertake or tailgate at very high speeds; (c)some of the road users regard any suggestion of deference or caution in their driving style to be a stain on their honour to be avoided at all costs. You quite literally require eyes in the back of your head to make sure that all potential hazards are kept in sight.

I recall when I first arrived here being driven by a taxi in the outside lane and being overtaken on the outside (ie in the small gap between the edge of the outside lane and the metal central reservation barrier) by a motorbike doing at least 160KPH. I also remember standing a the side of SZR near the trade centre roundabout and watching a motorbike doing wheelies in the carriage way towards Abu Dhabi, weaving in and out of cars overtaking them. I would not say that this is par for the course, but it does give a flavour of the Dubai driving experience and explains why, despite its many and manifold problems driving in HK was a piece of cake by comparison!

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Seasons of mist and mellow fruitfulness........?

As noted in an earlier post we have now very much reached the cooler season here in Dubai. Not quite the same as UK (certainly our garden is not looking particularly fruitful - the grass has retreated from its verdant bushiness at the beginning of the Summer to a rather patchy piebald despite our attempts to use some spare rolls of new grass leftover from a neighbours re-turfing to pep things up while my sister was here). However, the days are clear and the sky is definitely blue - during the heat of the Summer the sky was a hazy white presumably due to the heat haze.

As with elsewhere in the world the shops here are turning their thoughts to Christmas and I was unable to resist a toffee nut latte this morning at Starbucks (so sweet that it made my teeth throb). E. pre-Christmas present shopping has also started so it will be interesting to see how the Golden Date celebrates Christmas - we will be staying in Town and will be visited by my Father and the in-laws. Never quite managed a BBQ on the beach at Christmas in HK so fingers crossed that we can manage it here.

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Jazz Hands

A couple of weekends ago we purchased a piano. This has been on the "to do" list for a while and this assumed a sharper focus since my Father promised to contribute some money to the acquisition earlier in the year. We had discussed getting a piano in HK but had decided that apartment living did not really lend itself to a full size "Joanna" and we made do with our little electronic keyboard instead. However, our move to Dubai and the larger space we have in Safa Towers meant that we had the luxury of not only being able to accommodate the piano but also had a number of potential locations where it could be put.

We had already looked at a couple of potential new and second-hand pianos when my Father was over in April/May. A fairly basic new Yamaha is around AED12/13,000 here. Second-hand pianos were being offered on Dubizzle for anything between AED5 -20,000 and we looked at very nice second-hand Yamaha owned by some Canadian school teachers which they were offering from c. AED10,000. Even though the wife confided to us as we were leaving that she thought the husband was asking too much they did not take our offer on it and we gave up the search over the Summer as E. and the kids returned to UK.

The search resumed in earnest after the holidays and E. spotted an advert for a U2 Yamaha located in JBR. I fixed up a viewing and we met by two charming American chaps - the piano player was in fact a trained pianist who specialised in modern Jazz and he regaled us with some fabulous music which captivated the kids and sold the piano (notwithstanding a couple of dents).It was apparently an ex-demo model from a music shop in Ibn Battuta Mall. After some (spectacularly) unsuccessful haggling I agreed to pay the asking price of AED10,000.

The next bit (transporting the piano from the 27th floor apartment in JBR to Safa Towers) was more challenging. I contacted a removals man recommended by our neighbours who turned up with a small pick up truck, a rather fragile looking mate and lots of plastic sheeting. After much grunting and heaving, the piano (surprisingly bulky) was man-handled to the bottom of the block (fortunately it fitted into the lift). Lifting it up onto the back of the truck (a distance of about 2 feet) nearly killed all three of us but ultimately the piano was fixed in position to make its rather unsteady way to its new home.

Removing the Piano from the back of the truck into our home proved (marginally) easier, and our new toy now takes pride of place in the Dining area where A. has been doing his piano practice, V. has been thrashing around on it (doubtless in imitation of its previous owners style of play although with slightly less successful results) and I have been trying to remember how to play my old Grade 5 exam pieces.

Monday, November 1, 2010

October Frenzy

Safa Towers briefly became (even more of) a hotel during the course of October, as we entertained my Father and Uncle (K.), and then after K. had left, my Sister and her family. A house containing 10 people (including 4 children aged 8 or below) is certainly an exciting place to be!

Peace has now returned, so a chance to reflect on October. It started hot (and humid) and remained that way whilst my Father and K were with us (my Father stayed on whilst my Sister was visiting) and they entertained themselves at the pool and at the beach (where they indulged in sunbathing and snorkeling). We also managed a visit to Meat & Co at Souk al Bahar to watch the dancing fountains and some drinks at the Burg Al Arab - surely the last bastion of ostentation in a country which already does a fair amount of ostentatiousness (not sure if that is actually a word!).

The weather became cooler and clearer just as my Sister arrived and we entered probably the best part of the year weatherwise. The coruscating heat of the Summer has been replaced by the more gentle temperatures of Autumn (which appears to have prompted the Landlord to turn on the chiller in the pool...) and for the last two weeks it has been positively balmy. I managed to take a few days off to entertain our visitors which led to a pleasant trip to Bab al Shams and separately a visit to Aqualand which was great fun (although I think I might be getting a bit old for hurling myself done steep drops protected only by a water ring).

The start of the month was marked by my second visit to Doha (Qatar) for a conference which was interesting and I have some travel back to London to look forward to at the end of this month. But for the time being I am able to savour the delights of a (relatively) quiet house and the comfort of my own bed.

Monday, September 13, 2010


In my commuting days last year, I managed to rack up a huge number of points with Starwood Hotels and we decided to use some of them for an "end of Summer" stay at the Sheraton next to JBR. We had already stayed at JBR - for a week during our "look see" last Autumn and for a month or so following our arrival in Dubai at the end of December last year so we knew the area well.

We had a great time and it was quite interesting how things felt and looked rather different when staying there "on holiday" as opposed to living there!

I had negotiated an early check in and a later check out so we had the best part of two days lazing by the pool and swimming (me for the first time since moving to Dubai) in the sea by the Hotel's part of the beach. The kids loved the children's club and we were upgraded to a suite which meant that we all had a little more space. We visited some of our old haunts along "the Walk" and I also managed to catch England's victory over Bulgaria in the Euro-qualifiers - everyone was happy!

Given that we only live 20 minutes away from the hotel the trip home was also painless and everybody felt ready for the week ahead (including the (temprorary) return to school prior to the Eid holidays. We will be doing this again I hope.

Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Lazy Days of Summer

A second post, no more than a month (sort of...) from my last post! What is the world coming to! I have finally managed to gain access to my last blog so thought I would post the link here so that anyone interested can take a look at what we got up to when we were living in Hong Kong - link is here . We have now got back from our holidays in the UK so at some (hopefully) not too distant point in the future I will provide an update on our adventures back in blighty.

Saturday, July 17, 2010

A new beginning - Chapter IV

Well it is 18 months since the last update and there have been some fairly significant changes since I last put finger to keyboard not least that Tai Tam Tales has been re-christened Al Safa Stories for reasons that will become apparant below.

The most significant change is that we have vacated Tai Tam Towers and have moved from the Big Lychee to the Golden Date (or the Dusty Sandpit as some may prefer). Life in the Middle East began for me mid-way through last year and was originally intended to be for a period of 4 - 6 weeks. This extended (with the benefit of hindsight, rather inevitably) into a 4 month stay involving regular commutes between the Far and Middle East which proved to be very demanding both professionally and personally. Following a fairly lengthy charm offensive I bought the family out for a "look see" in late September, everyone liked what they saw and so we all moved out here to live full time at the end of the year. We have therefore swopped our 3 bed apartment overlooking Tai Tam Bay for a 4 bed villa with garden and a swimming pool shared wih 8 other families.

It is quite a contrast.

The lush vegetation, and spectacular sea and hill views of Stanley have been replaced by the sepia-tinted colouring and flatness of the desert (with the occasional iconic high-rise tower thrown in for variety). The kids and E. have settled in very quickly with the kids in particular enjoying their new school (V. starting off as one of the youngest in the School in FS1 and A is in Grade 2) just around the corner from my office and the huge number of children with which to play courtesy of our new neighbours.

I will at a later stage do a "compare and contrast" between our current and former locations (I know, you have heard that before what with promises to do posts regarding taxi journeys etc. but this time I mean it!). However, I thought that I better do a catch up on what has happened (other than moving from HK) over the last year or so:

1.The Kids have got older (obvs). A. is now doing well at school here having found his International School in HK challenging. CNDIS was a very academic school with very good facilties. However, the large class sizes and the focus on Mandarin and "learning by enquiry" (ie the IB curriculum) did not really suit him and whilst he assured us that he was having a great time at school, the difference between him then and now (having now spent 2 terms in a British Curriculaum School) could not be greater. He is happier than we have seen him for a long time. His teachers have been very positive and his reading and writing have improved no end.

It was around the begining of this year that he suddenly moved from wanting to be read to, to wanting to read on his own - devouring various books on pirates, science and spies (although he still likes to be read to). In addition to reading, A. is currently obseessed with Match Attax - a card collection game and he seems to know the names and teams (and countries played for) for all the current crop of premiership players. He is still into his science stuff and the various "Dangerous Book for Boys", "How to be a Spy" etc. books that I guess would appeal to all 6/7 year olds.

V.caries on being very much a force of nature. She is still very tall for her age. She was going to Sunshine House 5 days a week by the time of our departure from HK and now goes to her Primary School (in the equivalent of Infants) 5 days a week although slightly shorter days (7:30 -12:30) than A. It has however been a transformational experience for her. Although one of (if not the) youngest in the School - she turns 4 at the end of this month just at the end of the school year) she has really developed - having been very shy to start with she is now chatting away with her friends. She is not as outgoing a personality as A (and she obviously has to compete with his chatty personality) but she holds her own and is much more "user-friendly" these days.

More updates soon!