Thursday, November 29, 2012

Rugby 7s

Off to the 7evens Stadium tomorrow for the annual rugbyfest. It is always an enjoyable event so looking forward to catching up with some friends and being entertained on the pitch. The Dubai leg of the 7s tour is a real family event - probably more so than Hong Kong as the main pitch is surrounded by smaller pitches outside the main seating areas and you can watch the local clubs battling it out from the grassy banks and the kids can run around and play on the bouncy castles or have their faces painted. Whilst there are plenty of kids at Hong Kong stadium, the main thrust of the event is more focussd on their parents having a bit of a party and the younger attendees to dress up and get riotuosly drunk in the South Stand (which is not to say that ther is quite a party at the Duabi 7s)!

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

I wanna tell you a story....

Over the years, “the Three Caterpillars” have been a regular feature of both kids ”literary” diet. It started off as a bed time story for A. when he was very little (probably around 3 years) and featured Alex, Mia and Joe as three caterpillars in constant battle with “Captain Stubble – the naughtiest pirate on the Spanish Maine”. The idea for a Caterpillar to star in the story possibly came from the “hungry Caterpillar” story which was a favourite with the kids or a project that A. had been doing at kindergarten.

I think one of the earliest stories was the tale of Alex the Caterpillar going out into the snow and getting lost with his parents only being able to tell where he was by the little ridge of snow that marked his progress as he walked around the garden. I think this may have been inspired by a Tom and Jerry cartoon and certainly in the early days, the stories mainly involved Alex the Caterpillar’s adventures around the Enchanted Forest where the caterpillars lived in a treehouse on a branch at the top of a huge Oak tree. In the early years Alex was the main character and generally he shared his adventures with Mia and Joe (Mia named after a real life friend of A’s in Hong Kong at the time who was moving to Singapore so I guess it was a way of remembering her ). I am not sure where Joe came from but by coincidence a couple of years later A. and V.’s cousin was born and was named Joseph so the name has stuck. Captain Stubble made his appearance a short time after we started to tell the stories and there were various other pirate characters including Captain Bluebeard who was a friend of the three Caterpillars (and a “good” pirate) and Captain Pink (sometimes Captain Bubble) who made an appearance after V. was born so that we had a new female character.

Most of the early stories involved the Three Caterpillars helping injured animals (usually a tiger or lion with a thorn in its foot) or thwarting Captain Stubble’s plans (usually after he had stolen something or kidnapped one of the Caterpillars). The locations for the stories were usually the Enchanted Forest, “The Harbour” in Harbour town in the Enchanted Forest where Captain Stubble (and Captain Bluebeard) kept their pirate ships or Dinosaur Island where Captain Stumble had his secret hideout. Dinosaur Island as might be expected usually contained some dinosaurs who were either trying to chase/eat the Caterpillars or had injured themselves (usually a thorn in the foot again which the Caterpillars extracted thereby earning everlasting friendship with the injured dinosaur).

Over the years the number of characters gradually expanded to included a baby caterpillar called Verity and included a number of incidental characters. Among the regulars we had Professor Branestrawn, Alex and Verity Caterpillar’s old school teacher who was an inventor (generally time machines or paint that made you invisible). He would usually send his new inventions wrapped in brown paper (and normally delivered to the Oak tree by the Jolly Postman) to the caterpillars to try out , leading to much adventure; Pete the Pilot who flew a helicopter which generally proved useful when the Three Caterpillars had to chase someone or search for a hideout; PC Plod (catch phrases “Mornin’ all” and “You’re nicked my son!”) who general appeared on the scene to take Captain Stubble off to prison once he had been captured by the Three Caterpillars after his latest outrage; Eric the Sea Horse (which I think was inspired by a visit to Ocean Park when were living in HK where there was a seahorse exhibition at one time) who was the star attraction in a Zoo and did tricks (and was therefore an attractive kidnapping target for Captain Stubble). These characters might occasionally be supplemented from “real life” characters like Tom and Jerry from the cartoons, Cousin Nell who would visit from England and we normally had an array of characters “borrowed” for particular parts eg “Trigger and Del Boy” were sometimes part of Captain Stubble’s gang of bad guys.

Generally the stories followed the same formula – Captain Stubble committed some outrage (stealing the FA Cup in one memorable story) and the Three Caterpillars either on their own or in combination with some friends bring him to justice or the story would be based on an adapted version of a book story or film that they had recently watched – we had a series of stories about a magic cushion that Alex the Caterpillar had found in an old junk shop which would transport the Caterpillars to any where they wanted as long as you said the magic words (this sometimes varied but would usually be based on Abracadabra!). Over the years, there have been many stories and (slightly) different plots and the challenge is always to find something that maintained the kids (and the parents!) interest hence the “borrowing” of story lines. More recently, A. has obviously started reading his own stories (and of course V. is now doing the same) but they still occasionally ask for a Three Caterpillar story so it is probably a good idea that I am writing this down so I don’t forget all the characters!

Monday, November 26, 2012

Mercury dropping

After temperatures well in to the 80s and 90s over the Summer and October, we are finally getting some cooler weather. Last week we had little bit of cloud and even some rain although this seemed to be confined to a very localised area as we did not see any of it at Al Safa towers. The day time temperatures (out of direct sunshine) have been around the mid 70s and the evenings are (relativily) cool. This is the best time of year in Dubai as generallly speaking the sun still shines and it is more like a Summer's day in the UK. This has all coincided with the visit of an old friend, A. which is rather unfortunate timing after I had assured him of blazing sunshine! There are also rumours that we should be expecting more prolonged rain this coming weekend at the Rugby 7s. This seems a little unlikely since we have not really experienced anything more than a (very) ocasional downpour all the time we have lived here but we shall see.

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Unaccustomed as I am.....

A hectic few days as I was tied up in preparing a presentation so managed to miss a (week) day blogging. Its quite interesting to see the differences in audience reaction when delivering speeches in different parts of the world. In Hong Kong/China/Singapore there was usually at least one person (and sometimes more) who would be fast asleep which I found a little disconcerting until I realised that it was not simply me boring them to death but that it was a regular occurrence at all conferences I attended. They are also very reluctant to ask questions or indeed to engage in any kind of audience participation. In the Middle East generally the audience is able to keep awake but occasionally get distracted by Blackberrys/Iphones (although I guess this is pretty common wherever you are) whereas in the UK generally speaking audiences are more likely to volunteer questions or participate in some way. I missed out on the Dhow and Anchor quiz as a consequence of the presentation although there was a mini-quiz at the conference which proved to be pretty much impossible – I think I will stick to pub quizzes.

Monday, November 19, 2012

I fought the lawn

We have now laid 4 new lawns since arriving at our home in the sandpit and each one has succumbed (I guess unsurprisingly) to the process of desertification. Ali the gardener assures me tht the present lawn previously graced the nurseries of a local sheik (I am assuming that he had no further need for it..) and that the grass is hardy enough to outlive us all. To date it has struggled - so much so that it now seems to be buried under half a ton of sand - presumably in an effort to inspire growth (or perhaps as reminder of its likley fate if it does not grow). It also seems to have seen off the palm tree which grew in the middle of the lawn but which apparantly fell victim to some kind of insect. Whilst our garden is now less decorative this might in fact be a good thing as there will be less competition for what little water resource is available in our back garden. I will keep you posted on progress.

Sunday, November 18, 2012

Fun in the Sun

The three day weekend for the Islamic new year was just what the Doctor ordered with lovely weather and a feast of cultural and recreational activities. On Thursday we had a lazy day catching up with things around the house and piano practice/lessons etc. after a visit to Soccer Circus in Mirdiff City Centre (A. managed to beat me on one of the activities which pleased him no end). Friday was the St Francis parish festival with various activities (Housey! anyone?) and a selection of foods to keep us all entertained (including a dish claiming to be a Chicken Korma which almost blew my head off – where I come from a chicken korma is a mild curry so goodness knows what the stronger curries tasted like). In the afternoon we went to the ballet at Ductac (my second visit in a week having gone with dad to see the Elizabeth Meister recital on Monday) for Sleeping Beauty by the Moscow City Ballet – very good with perhaps the tallest ballerina (playing the good fairy) I have ever seen – I thought that they all had to be roughly the same height? Afterwards we had some friends around for a BBQ so a pretty packed day. On Saturday we had cricket (V. on her own as A. is still struggling with a bad cough) and football for me (where I managed to hurt my neck – still painful and my head is slight cocked to one side giving me a somewhat quizzical air). V. won the golden bat with 17 runs! I watched the beginning of her innings as she smacked her first two balls for 4 – not bad for a 6 year old and better than her Father achieved at that age. In the afternoon we went to the Teddy’s bears play area for lunch and in the evening I watched (with R) a rather disappointing England lose to Australia. On the plus side Man U lost to Norwich. Back to the grindstone today after a visit this morning to the Doctors because of A.’s lost voice and my bad neck.

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Happy (Islamic) New Year

I have previously remarked about the imbalance between the number of public holidays we were able to enjoy in Hong Kong (17 in a good year) and the more limited number we have in the Middle East. However, this month (if one includes the beginning of December) we will have three – the Eid holiday, the Islamic New Year and then the UAE National Day. Tomorrow is the Islamic New Year holiday and so we are planning on what to do over the long weekend. In Dubai, the entertainment options at this time of year are wide. In addition to the usual Mall/Water Park/cafes etc. options, there is the great outdoors. We live right next door to the fantastic Al Safa Park – a real oasis of green which is more akin to an English Park then anything you would expect to see in the desert. We are also a 5 minute drive to the beach and even at this time of year the water is still warm enough to swim in without any discomfort. We are also seeing the ballet on Friday (Sleeping Beauty) so there is a real juxtaposition of the “Christmassy” events and taking advantage of the winter sun. I am every much looking forward to it.

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

I'm gonna sit right down and post myself a letter

In honour of my Father’s visit I decided to take a day off on Sunday after the excitement of last week so we had a wander around the Bastikiya area (historic old part) of Bur Dubai. We stumbled upon the “Philately House” which was a renovated building housing a stamp museum. Apart from setting out the history of stamps and postal services in UAE (the first post office was opened in 1909 and was run by Indians. Most of the stamps seem to have been developed on the back of the ties the Trucial sates had with UK and India and it was fascinating to see some of the addresses of the old letters displayed as despatched from here – “Post Office, Nicosia”, “Post Master Mallacca”. I was a wonder some of them reached their destination given the spellings of some of the addresses. A lot of the examples seemed to be from military personnel), there was also a collection of old bank notes including a £100 from Syria (which I bought for AED45 for A) and an old green English pound note (only AED25). I bought V. an Iraqi 25 Dinar note so hopefully we can stat a collection of exotic foreign currency! We completed our tour around with a ride on a water taxi from the Old Souk water station up to Baniyas and back again and then a short walk down past the HSBC building.

We don't need no education...

Before heading to AD on Friday I took my regular Friday morning class. This is an entirely new departure for me which I started in September and to honest tends to be something of an exercise in crowd control with around 30/40 9/10 year olds and a couple of assistants (only one on Friday unfortunately). It is hard work particularly keeping their attention for an hour although good fun particular when the kids start to engage with whatever we happen to be discussing. We got onto the subject of favourite pictures and what they might mean. One of the children said that there favourite picture was a the Mona Lisa which sparked quite an interesting debate about why it was so famous – they were all quite taken aback when I mentioned that one of the things it was famous for (apart for the fact that Leonardo Da Vinci painted it and its cost….) was that if you were walking back and forth in front of it when viewing it in the Louvre, its eyes seem to follow you. They loved that idea (one of the children even asking where the gallery was so he could go and see it. Unfortunately Paris does not make an easy day trip but may be when they build the second Louvre in Abu Dhabi may be they will lend it to them..). One of the other favourite pictures was “the Scream”. Again, it was quite interesting to see how many of the other kids were aware of this picture and also what they thought that it meant (mainly that the subject was a bit unhappy…). Anyway, quite a challenging morning so good to relax on a beach in Abu Dhabi for the rest of the weekend.

Does this thing work?

Having twice carefully typed out a post yesterday on our visit to Abu Dhabi and having lost both posts (still not sure what the problem was) I have little appetite for typing it out a third time suffice it to say that we had a good trip. Pros: Great food, good location; friendly staff; well appointed rooms; Cons: Unpredictable AC/electricals (still randomly came on/off during the night even though card was removed from slot); hit and miss service at beach. Given the price would probably have to think twice about going back as still prefer Le Meridien in Fujairah but in a great location next to AD city centre and Saadiyat Island Museum.

Thursday, November 8, 2012

End of Week

At least I am still trying to maintain the post a day sequence for this week but I am afraid that his is likely to be even shorter than yesterday's post as a consequence of a combination of creative exhaustion (having spent most of my waking hours (and sadly some of my allocated sleeping hours) trying to turn the deathless prose of various engineers into expert reports all week and the knowledge that I have to be up early again tomorrow. Nevertheless I will try to report back on our visit to the unfinished Hotel mentioned in earlier posts scheduled for this weekend in Abu Dhabi!

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

Quizzical looks

Just a quick update to say that whilst we certianly did not come first at the Dhow and Anchor quiz last night, nor did we come last whch given recent performances (and the fact that R, G and A were late cancellations), has to be seen as a good result (we came around 7th in fact). This strong (ish) showing may or not have been due to my own tardy arrival due to work committments after most of the questions had been done. In any evnt, we will be looking to build on this performance next week!

Tuesday, November 6, 2012

Let's get quizzical

As mentioned in an earlier post, we have over the last few year participated in a number of pub quizzes in Dubai. Although we have on occasion won various prizes at the Fibber McGhee quiz ("Easy Tiger")this has mainly been as a consequence of pure luck (on the play your cards right competition at the end of each competition) and on being able to come up with a reasonably humourous team name which the Judges would award prizes for ("Arnie's Lovechildren" being a topical favourite from a while back).

In terms of interest (and prospects of winning anything) the Fibber's Easy Tiger quiz is a particualr favourite although the best we have managed is 2nd - generally we have performed best when we have sufficient numbers (and range of abilities) in the team ie those who specialise in the "famous faces" round and that do well at the observation round (requiring a review of a video and answering various questions) and those who are good at the "Creative" round (usually moulding plasticine into something interesting or colouring designs on a T Shirt). Generally if we have our friends R and V and occassionally A. and G with me and E (and sometimes Dad if he is out in Duabi) we do OK. If we had anybody who could do the music round (almost always intros from the last 2/3 years whch tends to rule all of us out) we woud proably win it!

The disadvantage of the Fibber's quiz is that it usually finishes at around 10:45 - 11pm which for a school night is quite late so we have started to experiment with the Dhow and Anchor quiz at the Jumeirah Beach Hotel. This is a lot more user frinedly in terms of time(starts at 7 and finishes at 8.45pm) but is a great deal harder - we are normally in the bottom half of the list of teams at final results time and on the last two occasions have been in the bottom two. We are planning on going tonight so hopefully with a full team, we will improve on this position!

Monday, November 5, 2012

Holidays in the Sun (reprise)

One of the advantages of living in Dubai is the opportunity to explore the beaches and resorts around the various Emirates and over the last couple of years we have been lucky enough to visit RAK (staying at the Cove Rotana, Hilton resort), Abu Dhabi (Al Raha Beach, the Hyatt Gate as well as the Hilton at Al Ain), Fujairah (Le Meridien - probably my favourite Hotel), Um al Quaine and Dubai itself (Sheraton JBR and Habtoor Grand). As Dad is in town we thought we would try the new St Regius resort in Abu Dhabi. Of course no sooner had I booked it then various colleagues were suggesting that it has not yet been finished! (I thought that is seemed rather cheap considering it apparantly includes Butler Service...). In any event, we are keeping our fingers crossed that at least the roof is on when we arrive on Friday. Wish us luck.

Sunday, November 4, 2012

Super Sunday (or, in memorium for the Red Lion)

As with Hong Kong, watching live sport is very easy in the Desert. Generally speaking the pubs and bars (and indeed some of the restuarants) will have the English premiership on during Saturday and Sunday afternoons and on Monday night. Due to the time differences, European Cup footbal is less easy to see on a "school night"(although I was of course able to watch Chelsea's triumph in Munich in May!).

When I first arrived here, the closest bar to our villa where the footy was shown regulaly was the Red Lion (5 minutes by Taxi) in the Metropolitan Hotel. It was a fairly rough and ready place (although not as rough and ready as the Rattlesnake night club next door...) and was in fact one of the oldest pubs in Dubai around which the Metropolitan had apparantly been built in the late 70s/early 80s. The Hotel also had a garden where there were large screens showing the sport. When the weather cooled down in the winter, watching the footy outside was a very pleasant way of getting some fresh (ish) air and catching up on the premiership (or the 6 Nations or indeed any major sporting event including the World Cup). I also met R. here for the first time when dad and I watched the F A Cup final in 2010 (missing the first half due to a mix up over the time differences).

After R. moved down to JBR we used to alternate between the Hilton on JBR and the Red Lion during the football season although for the big matches we generally ended up at the Red Lion.

The pub itself was very much in the mould of a traditional English boozer with a bar in the centre, and very dark and smoky, with a dart board in one corner (which was usually dominated by enthusiastic locals). There was also a pub quiz on the Tuesday evening (which included a killer "flags" round which generally ended with us getting nil points so we eventually started going to the Fibber McGhee quiz - a post all of its own).

Apart from the garden (which also had a number of bars), there was also a very good (albeit rather expensive) Indian restaurant (which Dad took my Uncle Kevin to with some success during his visit a year or so ago) and "Al Capone's" Italian Restauarnt which E and I went to a couple of times. There was also a cinema next door (although we never actually went to it), so all in all a very good facility to have pretty much on our door step. However, all good things must come to an end and earlier this year a wrecking ball was taken to the Metropolitan Hotel and the Red Lion as the owners decided to raze it to the ground and build three new hotels in its place.

As a consequence, it has been necessary to find a new "local" and after experimenting with various local hostlry's we have more or less settled on the Dhow and Anchor (scene of Chelsea's European triumph) at the Jumeirah Beach Hotel (the "Wave")which, apart from being more or less equidistance between me and R., also has a great outdoor seating area and a (tough) pub quiz which starts at a more user-friendly time than Fibbers. Hopefully this one will not be knocked down in the near future.....

Twice in one day!

As promised, hereith the second post of the day. Having recently described A's progress over the last year, I thought that I would say something about V. She is still the force of nature described in much earlier blogs but is now much more focussed on what she wants to achieve. V still does her ballet but has also been joining in with A's cricket at Al Safa park on Saturday mornings for the last 6 months or so and seems to be enjoying it even though she is the only girl. She has a terrific throw and can certainly put bat to ball. The coach has praised her for her diligence and this is a real feauture of V's approach to cricket, schoolwork, in fact life generally. When she sets her mind to something, she generally achieves it whether it be the series of "books" she has been writing (a story about a Unicorn, and a summary of her cricketing being the most recent), her drawings/pictures, learning the piano (she has just started lessons)and pretty much any competitive sport that she gets involved with (she is very diffiult to beat at Ispy). She seems to be doing very well at school. Last year, she took a real shine to her Grade 1 teacher (a very glamourous Pole) and won the class prize for diligence at the end of that year (probably the first prize any of us have won for a long while...). Whereas her Brother is very sociable, V. is much more reserved and seems to be quite happy doing her own thing. She invents her own little world (with, it appears, its own langauge - a "tinch" we understand is something very small ("Just a tinch") and a "nip" is when you steal something. "He nipped it away".). She loves her fairy stories and, like A. seems to spend a lot of her spare time on the PC or Ipad playing Minecraft. She is still very tall for her age whch comes in handy for her sporting endeavours. Her writing is very good and her reading is coming along well having really cracked it earlier this year. She is not as eloquent as her brother but nobody is left in any doubt what she means when she has an important opnion to express!

Sunday, Sunday (or Friday, Friday to be more accurate....)

Well, that did not last long! So much for one post per day. As is the way with these things, there is not enough hours in the day and Friday was no exception. I will therefore try and do 3 posts today in order to make up for it! Going back to Friday, Dad is in town and we all when to Church. There are two r/c churches in this part of the desert and we go to the one that is literally in the desert along with all the other non-local churches which are all in the same place. The car park is essentially a huge sandy parking lot where there is very little brotherly love when it comes to parking and exiting. Access is basically a single road in (unless you are pepared to go off-road past the labour camps) and whilst there may be some buses, realistically the only way of getting there is by car. As a result, there are few more hectic sights in this neck of the woods (with the possible exception of the Sheik Zayad road during the Thursday evening ruch hour) than everyone piling into Jebel Ali on a Friday morning (which is the equivalant of Sunday here)and then fighting to get out again once the services are over. At the height of Summer (when the temperatures are generally South of 40oC)an innocent bystanders would never suspect thst the car occupants had just been to Church with all the overtaking/undertaking, beeping of horns and general chaos!

Thursday, November 1, 2012

(Nearly) another year has passed and it is once again time for me to see if I can publish one post per day for the month of November. Even to me it seems a little odd that I do not spread my posts a little more evenly through the year. Whilst it has crossed my mind since my last post in November 2011 to blog more often, the moment generally passes with my usual excuse (to myself) being that when November comes the creative juices will start flowing and blogging gold dust will be dispensed (!). In fact, very little has changed over the last year. We are still based in the Desert, work is still vey hectic and the kids continue to get older at an astonishing rate - I cannot believe that A. has just reached double figures! This year however his birthday was more muted mainly because the poor chap was obliged to have an operation on a very sensitive part of his anatomy. There was much wailing and gnashing of teeth (including from his parents) but we now seem to be moving along the road to recovery and he is almost back to his lively, somewhat scatty, good-natured self. It is however unlikely he will be very keen to go anywhere near a Doctor (or a Hospital) for some considerable time. He is still very much into his footbal and cricket although his leisure hours are also filled with visits to Minecraft and similar games on the PC. He still enjoys reading although it is increasingly diffult to find books that avoid any kind of mild peril which he still avoids like the plague. He is enjoing and doing well at school particulaly in Maths and Science. We are still working on the literacy and writing but he is coming along. He will still chat to anyone and is a very sociable chap. He had a table football game for his birthday and whilst he might be able to give me a run for my money in real life football, I still have the edge (for the moment) in respect of the table variety!