Sunday, November 30, 2014

Summer Holidays (part 3)

After the excitements of Northern Ireland we were back in Bristol for a couple of days before we set off for Spain with P. and T. We had decided to have a slightly longer trip this year and so spent a couple of days in L'Escala in M's place (they were due to arrive at the weekend) before heading up to Barcelona (we had hired a car for the holiday although had forgotten to print out the voucher so when we got to Girona we had to try all the car hire places to locate which one we had booked through - in fact the one we had used (which was obviously the furthest away from the terminal) disclaimed all knowledge of us and it was only when I finally located the email voucher courtesy of my PA back in Dubai that I ran into the guy at the car hire - he had re-checked his system and realised we did have a booking and was on his way to find me - at least he tried I guess. So that was a rather stressful 1 1/2 hours at the start of our holiday..... of. At least we did not end up by having to book another car - although ironically it wold have been cheaper if we had done when compared to the booked cost as demand was apparently down due to the unseasonably poor weather.

In any event, we had our car and we had a couple of days in L'Escala where we managed to have a look at the Roman ruins for the first time and then headed up to Barcelona where we parked the car at the airport and caught a bus into the Placa Catalunya where we were staying. The hotel was ideally located and we managed to explore most of the City including the Nou Camp where I took A. around on the stadium tour (they were introducing a new signing so there were quite a few people around the place). We also did the bus tour and wandered around the old fishing port warehouse (now a very good interactive Museum). The Sagrada Familias was heaving so we gave that a miss but did visit the roof top chimney display designed by Gaudi which was excellent.The food was great and we even had some torrential rain (the rental company guy said that it was one of the rainiest summers they have had). A. and I also had a walk down the Ramblas to the fish market which I think he enjoyed.

Back in L'Escala we met up with M. B and the kids - the villa was literally a two minute walk from our place so we managed to see them pretty much every day. We picked up dad from the airport on the following day (he stayed at Ms) and so there was 11 of us in total - ideal for some great set piece BBQs and also a lovely meal for Vs birthday. The kid had a great time with each other (including filming various videos etc.) and B and I experimented with various different types of wine including a very nice sparkling wine which was on special offer at the local Bodega. The mornings mainly consisted of fresh croissants and bread at alternately one of the villas. The afternoon's was reserved for the beach and the evenings was generally BBQ or Roasted chicken from the town. It was excellent. We also managed some fishing which unfortunately was not so successful - not even an octopus this year so next time w are going to have to get a boat!
The Villa was not as modern as last years but it was well put together although quite a lot of ants which the children were not wildly enthusiastic about. After a fairly hectic Summer it was very pleasant to relax, have a swim, read some books and cook and eat) some great food. Really enjoyable.

The return to Bristol was marked by the most enormous thunderstorm directly over the airport. E. is not a very good flyer at the best of times and as we approached the airport the glowering skies had a very negative impact on her demeanour. I suspect if she had been left to her own devices she would have gone back another day. Our wait for the flight to be called was accompanied by lightning flashes and rolling thunder. The heaven's opened dead on the departure time and the airport was soon almost literally under water. Ryanair are not great believers in delayed flights and as soon as the rain eased we were out on the tarmac (which was still under water so we all had sopping wet sandals and feet for the journey home). The flight itself was uneventful and we were soon back in Bristol after a great 10 days. The following day I was in the air again on the way back to Dubai with E. and the kids to follow at the end of August

The finish line is in sight

The last day of November and I am not sure that this will count as one of my more productive post a day periods. On the other hand the moustache for Movember is coming a long quite nicely - there is something almost Tom Selleckesque about it at present and I am almost inclined to keep it for a little longer. This weekend was slightly less frenetic then last weekend which is probably just as well as I have been struggling with a cold all week. Dad and I managed to get down to the beach on Friday (the kids joined us later) and we then had a great BBQ (- the spicy prawn went down very well) and I skivvied off footy on the Saturday morning. I also had a crack at Gambas al Ajilio in the evening - it was OK but will try it without butter next time as it was too creamy. In between times we had a couple of hours at V's school fayre which was fun although the lady on the microphone was very noisy. We have just got back from the Fibber's Sunday lunch so I will spend the rest of the afternoon struggling against sleep!

Wednesday, November 26, 2014

Summer Holidays Part 2

Having returned to Dubai for a couple of weeks I then flew back to London and then down to Maidstone with E. and the kids for just under a week where we caught up with Dad and the rest of the family and spent some time down on the coast (including our usual trip to Hastings) as well as putting on our annual BBQ which apart from a brief shower passed without a hitch (and allowed us to catch up with R. A, S. K and A, C and etc.) and involved substantial amounts of food and drink.

We then travelled down to Bristol to E's parents - they have settled into the new house (now been there over a year!) and the development is close to completion. We had a couple of days around Bristol and then flew from Bristol Airport with the kids to Belfast for a short trip to N. Ireland for P. and L's wedding (friends from HK days). It was an early flight so after picking up the car we had time to see the Titanic exhibition which was excellent - and included a recreation of the shipyard which you travelled through on a gondola and the inside of the Titanic as well as a description of everything else that was being done at the Harland and Wolff ship yard. After a brief diversion around some of the estates of Belfast following a wrong turn including a brief flirtation with an area near the Falls Road (perhaps not as problematic as it might have been a few years ago...)we headed in the afternoon to Armagh where the wedding was being held. Armagh was surprisingly small (like a lot of the famous towns and villages whose names we recognised from the news reports from the 70s and 80s) and A. and I popped out to the local shopping centre for some swimmers as the Hotel had a pool. We were really impressed by how well presented and generally clean and tidy the various towns and villages looked - it gave a real impression of money have been spent (a good example was Portadown rail way station which looked brand new) although it was marching season so the large numbers of Union flags fluttering in the breeze and hung from buildings certainly made the vista very colourful. The Armagh Hotel was very well appointed - nice big rooms and V. A and I enjoyed our swim and the evening meal in the bar.

The following day we went to P.+ L's wedding in a little village church a few miles outside Armagh and then on to the reception in a marquee in P's family farm - a really lovely event with family and friends and great food, wine and views over the very green landscape (no rain, and fireworks at the end).

The following day we drove down to the coast and stayed in a 5* B&B in the countryside close to the Giant's Causeway. Despite the pouring rain in the morning, we went to the rope bridge which was close to the B&B the following morning and V and I braved the walk over it - in fact by the time we got onto the island, the sun was out and the views over to Scotland and along the coast were terrific and the water was unusually clear. The Giant's Causeway was also very good - the kids particularly enjoying playing on the giant's discarded "boot" (a sort of boot shaped rock) and it was very interesting to read about the hotels and businesses that grew up around this attraction at the turn of the century.

The following day we made our way back to Belfast for our flight back to Bristol stopping off at one of the Loughs just outside and having a walk around it (and listening to a brass band entertaining the crowds). Then it was back to Bristol. Stand by for Part 3

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Summer Holidays recap (Part 1)

I have just realized that I have not said anything about this years holidays and - given my need for posting material- I thought this would be a good time to detail our adventures. We started off early as I needed to be in London on business at the end of June so we all went together and stayed in one of the office apartments just off Bishopsgate - actually a really good location as we were right next to Spitalfields and the now buzzing Hoxton/Eastern City area. The apartment was a little cramped and had bars on the window (so it will forever be known by V. as the prison) but was right next door to an excellent restaurant which did a terrific breakfast - the best sausages I think I have ever tasted. Whilst I was at work the kids and E explored London - including the Globe Theatre and the Monument. The proximity to the office did however cause a slightly embarrassing moment when I had popped out to Brick Lane to pick up a curry for the evening meal and bumped into a couple of colleagues out for a quiet drink - it would not have been so bad had I not been wearing my (pink) work shirt, blue shorts and some flip flops - looking like a refugee from some kind of preppie advertising agency. In any event, it proved to be a good base to get to the office and to explore London. We had intended to go to the Imperial War Museum at Elephant and Castle (in fact I did go there) but it was unfortunately closed so we went instead to the Sir John Soane Museum - a perennial favorite of mine but the first time the kids had been in and I think they were suitably impressed (if a little unnerved by the sepulchral light in the lower floors illuminating the ancient Egyptian artifacts).

In addition to the curry from Brick Lane (excellent), we also had a great crab meal at one of the restaurants in the old Spitalfields fruit market and it was also nice to be able to stroll among the shops and boutiques - it has certainly changed since I used to work at Liverpool Street over 15 years ago! As E. went shopping, I also took the kids to St Paul's Cathedral and persuaded them to accompany to the balcony all the way to the top despite the pouring rain - notwithstanding the overcast day (the only one we had) the views were great although I think A. was not that happy about how high we were. In all we had 5 days in London and on the Saturday afternoon (after St Paul's)we went down to Maidstone for a BBQ with C and D - the rest of the family I think we were a little surprised to see us and although it rained a good time was had by all (and since we were inside it was also a chance to catch up with some World Cup footy). We returned to the "Prison" that evening and on Sunday I returned to Dubai and E and the kids carried on down to the West Country to start their holiday proper. Stand by for Part 2.

Monday, November 24, 2014

The Sporting Weekend

UAE was certain (almost) centre of the sporting world over the weekend with the last golf tournament in the Race to Dubai held at the Earth Course (and won by Henrik Stenson with Rory tied 2nd) and Lewis Hamilton wining the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix (and the World title). We are also looking forward to the Rugby 7s over the net couple of weeks as well as various cricket games (NZ v. Pakistan) so there is no shortage of world class sport on offer in addition to the usual wall to wall coverage of Rugby (The Autumn Internationals in the UK and Ireland) and EPL football. The weather at this time of year in Dubai particularly ends itself to watching sport. Football at Safa Park on Saturday mornings is also very pleasant (particularly if we actually manage to start at 8:30am, although it does get a bit sweaty as the morning progresses) so it is hardly surprising that this time of year is particularly popular with visitors to the Emirates - at the Golf at the weekend the chatter among the crowd was dominated by German and Dutch speakers at least where I was. The only shame is that it cannot be like this all year round(but then I guess it would be like California and would have rather more people living here!).

Sunday, November 23, 2014

All about A.

Having done a post on V, I now turn to No. 1 son A. He is still a very charming lad who loves his sport (mainly football now that cricket has stopped in Safa park) and Minecraft. He start big school this year and seems to have made a good transition from primary (where he was in all the sports teams and tended to be among the best in the year for athletics and sport) to Secondary where he is one of a large number of talented students (both sporting and academic). A. is stillvery engaging when he wants to be and it always up for a chat about the days events (unless he is buried in a book or the PC). He always participates whole heartedly in the latest trends - so Match Attax cards were replaced by the plastic bands/bracelets that were all the rage until the summer and Minecraft as previously mentioned still features heavily in leisure activities. He remains an avid reader - a lot of fantasy novels (mainly about warrior cats and HP) but also some Michael Morpugo. He still enjoys Science (doing an ECA at School on a Thursday) and is still playing the piano (although we could perhaps be seeing a little more practice....). Unlike his Sister, A seems to be taking after his Mother's side of the family in terms of size - he is not exactly short but he is not particularly tall which I guess will assist him if he ever wants to be a long distance runner! He still kicks with either his left or right foot in football which will definitely remain an asset. All in all he is a jolly good chap and a real pleasure to have around.

Oh Dear!

So I have not posted since last Tuesday and the prospect of achieving 30 Posts (even if they are not necessarily every day) is fast receding. Still I can do an update e of what has been occurring over the last few days. The Quiz with Dad and E was as difficult as predicted but surprisingly we managed a very creditable 6th place achieving exactly 50% in terms of correct answer (although only 1/10 on the first round which was on logos and brands - sample question: Who's logo is "Nation shall speak peace unto Nation"? It transpires that this is the BBC. We were therefore very pleased not to disgrace ourselves.

Wednesday saw our annual marketing event to clients so I was full-on preparing my presentation for most of that morning. It all seemed to go reasonably well but was another late evening as was Thursday where I attended a big do at the Armani Hotel - very well organized with a spectacular backdrop on both sides of the dining area in front of the hotel (the Burg Khalifa on one side and the Dubai fountains on the other). The entertainment was great - singing and dancing as well as a sand drawer - a light-box projecting someone drawing pictures using their hands and fingers using sand - very clever.

Friday and Saturday were a mixture of Church school and parish fete and sport - we went to the golf on both days (watching Rory and Henrik Stenson dueling in the sun) and football at Safa park (which I am still recovering from). So, whilst there is obviously no excuse for failing to keep up with the posting, I was by no means idle.

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Quizzical Exercise

After a long gap between quizzes, we are (in honour of Dad's visit going to the Dhow and A. quiz tonight at the Jumierah Baech Hotel)for the first time since we went in the early Summer with E.'s brother (whose assistance took us to the dizzy hights of third - a result that I am no anticipating tonight...). Wish us luck.

Monday, November 17, 2014

HP sourced

Well I finally fnished the last of the HP adventures last night. I am not quite sure why it took me so long to get around to reading it since it was published around 7 years ago and I seem to recall reading the other ones pretty soon after they came out. It may have been because of the lack of time as it was published in the Summer of 2007 and life was pretty busy in HK around then with V. around a year old and I do recall my reading dropping off whilst I was in HK. In any event, I did enjoy the book. JK Rowling is a good writer and can carry a very good plot. I thought that the echoes of the second world war and the interweaving of the story lines from different generations was clever and whilst complicated, the story line did not really falter. I can certainly understand why the HP series was so incredibly popular. I will now need to see the last 3/4 films!

Sunday, November 16, 2014

RAKing up the miles

Very pleasant trip to RAK over the weekend with the family and Dad who arrived on Thursday (traffic appalling around Dxb - in fact the traffic has been really bad everywhere in Dubai since everyone got back from holiday in September - probably a subject for a separate post). We stayed at the W.aldforf Ast.oria which we visited at the beginning of the year. This time the weather was fine and we managed to spend both days on the beach. Due to a flood we were moved to rooms at the side of the hotel which had the largest balconies I have ever seen in hotel. In fact the hotel itself had a remarkable number of empty "space" areas - in the corridors etc. which suggested that the architect was not particulaly concerned with utilisation of living areas - the three domes which were a distinguishing feature were also rather cathedral-like so the whole impression was one of vast areas of carpet and emptiness. Must have cost a fortune to build.

The food was excellent (although quite expensive). Howevever, every one returned relaxed and ready for the week ahead.

Thursday, November 13, 2014

All about V.

Having talked about the (potential) genesis of V's name I thought that I would do a more general post on how she is getting along. She is as much a force of nature as she ever was although perhaps a little more restrained in her approach to life although still takes no prisoners if she is upset. She has settled in well at her new school and has been doing very well both academically and also in the sporting environment. She is an avid reader (we have had a couple of major discussions about why she is not allowed to read HP Half Blood Prince during my current HP-fest) and is taking after her brother in the speed that she demolishes books. She is very happy in her own company although she and A (mainly) get on very well together - whether in relation to their shared obsession with Minecraft or playing together generally. She seems to be a little reserved at school and does not have any particalr "best" friends and at home (if not reading or playing minecraft) she is happy enough in her own little world dancing around the room day dreaming. Unfortunately the cricket at Safa Park has now stopped as at the end of June this year (possibly because of the canal related works)as she and A used to really enjoy this on a Saturday morning and we still have the various cricket balls that they both won on occasions dotted around the house. She does athletics, cookery and netball as her after school activities and seems to enjoy them all (she is certainly someone who goes a little stir crazy if she does is not running around and burning off some energy). She still prefers pasta, gravy, pork and rice as her main food groups although does not say no to prawn and lobster. She is very tall for her age which stands her in good stead for the competitive sports and she enjoys singing and dancing (she and her cousin N did a great video to Katy Perry's Roar during the Summer). She is very engaging when she is in the mood and currenlty has aspirations to be an author. She still belongs to the nevery explain never apologise school of diplomacy when things are not going her way but generally she is a very engaging and loving daughter and we cold not ask for more.

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

What's in a name

The desire to post a blog every day in November has not exactly disappeared but it is struggling against other demands including a further trip to Abu Dhabi (yesterday) and also , finally, finally, getting through the HP series so that I started the final book (which I have not previously read) last night. The Half Blood Prince was interesting (apart from the actualy plot) in that it gave me a clue as to where E. got the name for our daughter from. V. has quite an unusual name althouh it is less unusual today than it was 8 years ago when E. first suggested it and I have always wondered where the inspiration came from. E. could not remember but I did notice that there is a V. (albeit with a tiny part) in the Half Blood Prince and I also see that it was published the Summer before V. was born and I know for a fact that E. read it (she does not disagree that this might have prompted - albeit unconciously - her to suggest the name) so I have put 2 and 2 together!

Monday, November 10, 2014

(pre) University Challenges

While Dubai is well served with schools, one of the great challenges is trying to get your child into a secondary school/college of your choice. In general terms, key decisions have to be made at the time you put your kids into primary school as the most popular secondary schools - JC, DESC, DBS, etc (all the major schools in Dubai seem to be known by acronyms) - use related primary schools as "feeders" ie children at DESS have priority for entrance at DESC although they all still have to do an entrance exam. If there is no spaces available at the time you want to put your kids into primary you either have to move your child from the school that you have been able to get into at a later date if a space becomes available at the "feeder" school for your preferred secondary or you take your chances that there are spaces left after the feeder school pupils, siblings etc. (all of whom are usually higher up the priority pecking order) have had taken up their places in Year 7 of the target secondary school. In the case of the popular schools (all of the above-mentioned) this is easier said than done given the pressure on places (there is one selective school - Dubai College - which does not have a feeder school but again pressure on places is intense and as there is no sibling priority either there is obviously a risk of families with more than one child ending up with different school runs and non-matching holiday timetables).

When we arrived in the desert finding schools with places for two children in separate years was extremely challenging and in the end we had very few options. As it turned out we were very fortunate as the school where we secured places worked very well for us. However, although the owners (GEMS) had a recently opened a secondary school for which it was a feeder, we were a little concerned about sending A. to it - mainly because of the size of the secondary (something like 4,000 pupils once at full capacity) so we had to take our chances through the entrance exams for are preffered schools which basically started in October last year (with DESC) and lasted until the New Year. It was quite interesting to compare the testing process with the 11+ in some parts of the UK. My Sister's daughter had taken her 11+ at the beginning of Year 6 and there were some similarities between the types of 11+ questione she was being asked and the questions in A.'s entrance tests - quite a lot of non-verbal reasoning and "qualatitive" testing as well as some of the more traditional English and Maths based comprehensions. Moreover, the entrance applications for all the schools were fairly complex affairs (requiring examples of their academic and sporting success and details of the child's personality) so the whole application process was very stressful. Fortunatley A. came through it all with his usual aplomb and seems to have settled into his secondary schoolwell. Having been able to move V. to the "feeder" school to the college A. is now at, hopefully the next time we have to do this will be considerably less stressful!

Sunday, November 9, 2014

Quizzical looks

I think I have previously written (possibly on my old blog pub quizzes. We used to do them very regulaly here - Fibber Maghees and the Dhow and Anchor at the Jumeirah Beach Hotel being particular favourites. However, due to the gradual reduction in availability of fellow quizzes mainly as a consequence of people moving back to the UK (most notably G and A, R and V), Quiz nights have been few and far between over the last 12 months or so (athough hopefuly with Dad's arrival on Thursday that might change for a bit). In any event, E and I unexpectedly had a chance to go to the annual school quiz night last Thursday (at DOSC - which made three visits in less than a week having hardly set foot in the place for almost the whole of the nearly 5 years we have lived here). It was very well organised - a large number of participants, excellent food (the butter chicken was particuallay good) and pretty challenging questions. The other members of our team (mainly mates of E from the shool run) were very good so I managed to avoid embarassing myself too much and was very pleased to have been able to name the makers of the album Random Access Memories (Daft Punk since you ask although goodness knows where I dredged that up from as I cannot claim a great deal of knowlege of their ouevre) and whilst we did not come first (or indeed in the top three) we did not come last. All in all a really good Dubai evening as it was very pleasant to be able to sit outside on a balmy (if a little breezy)evening after the heat of the Summer.


I have been really busy so have not only failed to catch up on my blog per day post but have fallen even further behind. Still at least my Mou' for Movember is coming along reasonably well although after some scathing comments from work colleagues towards the end of last week about letting standards of personal presentation slip forced me to confirm my endeavours as opposed to simply forgetting to shave in the mornings - hopefully might get a little more sponsorship though.

Tuesday, November 4, 2014

Failed Again....

Hmmm. Day 4 of the post a day challange and far from making two posts for failing to get on the score sheet for the first day, I am now 3 posts behind the curve. To be fair yesterday started off with a trip to Abu Dahbi where I had a very interesting trip around one of the newer educational instituations followed by back to back meetings so I have decided to make an early start on this post in the hope that it is completed before the end of today. (I was also somewhat distracted last night by my current trip through the Harry P cannon).

I thought that I would devote the next couple of posts to a general catch for the last 9 months or so since the last major post. We had various visitors in the early part of the year including my Father who was with us in January and Febraury where we managed to watch a good deal of the Dubai Duty Free tennis (also rather unexpectedly joined for a few days coinciding with the tenns with an old school friend AL). The tennis is fast becoming a favourite in Safa Towers household (not least due to the mayhem in actually getting hold of tikcets) and this year was terific with Venus Williams winning the Ladies title (which we took the kids too having widely over provisioned in terms of tickes - E and I separately applied online for tickets given the fact they are like gold dust and there was an unfortuante breakdown in communications which led to sufficient Ladies final tickets for the extended family and friends....not cheap!). I did manange to secure Dad a week pass for the Mens Tennis and joined him for most days including the Semiofinals (where I had a corporate invite from NH which turned into an excellent day with Federer v. Djovovic a highlight) and then Roger the Dodger won the Final - which I also managed to see with Dad having fortuitously picked up a spare ticket while waiting in the queue earlier in the week to pick up the tickets I had managed to get).

Dad and I also managed to get tickets to see Henry Blofeld and Tim Rice at the Dubai Literary Festival (discussing cricket) which was very good. March was also exteremely busy with a trip to Seoul followed by a whistle stop tour to UK on business and then to Rome for the Rugby (England -v- Italy)with the two Richards (had an excellent time as managed to spend pretty much the whole day at the Vatican museums accompnaied only by a audio tour guide).

Sunday, November 2, 2014

Back to the Future

I cannot believe that I have not posted since January! (Actually given my extremely sporadic attendance on this blog I guess it is not so surprising). It is now 2 November and that means the challenge to post every day for a month has come around once again - and I have already missed the first day! I will make up for this by making no fewer than 2 posts today and the focus of this one is the fact that last time I posted it had been raining here in the Sandpit and lo and behold last night we had what appears to be a fairly substantial downpour judging by the puddles around the Villa when I left this morning - the first since before Summer. In fact there had been some talk of rain earlier in the week due to a tropical storm making landfall in Oman - fortunately, as we had taken a couple of days off at the in Ajman as it was half term for the kids, this did not eventuate so we had sunshine all the way for a lovely couple of days (which also included a sighting of a huge crab - or at least its claw as that was all that was visible from its hiding plce in the rocky promontory demarking the edge of the Hotel beach - as well as numerous fish). Nce hotel which we ahve cvisited beofre and whcih is very handy for howm - around an hour's drive dependign on traffic.

Apart from the rain, last night also signalled our delayed Hallowe'een party (BBQ and apple bobbing as well as carving what was a very convincing Harry Pumpkin designed by V and knife handiwork by yours truly). We had been invited to DOSC (Sailing Club) on Friday for a party for one of V's school chums so the festivities in Safa Towers had to be delayed. Yesterday also signalled a return to Al Safa Park footy - after a Summer of inddor football in Al Quoz this was the first outdoor game. It was not a terrific success from my perspective - having not played since the beginning of September after the indoor pitch had casused my knee to start twinging this was my first runaround for a couple of months and boy did it show - some absolutely terrible schoolboy errors (compounded by no contact lenses so not ony was I almost immobile but I could not see the ball properly ..... at my age that is not a great combination although I did manage to score a goal getting on the end of a cross affter breaking from defence so it was not a complete disaster. Must do better at the Partners v Staff gme later this week....).

Apart for the post a day challenge it is also Mou'vember - raising money for charity by growing a moustache which E. challenged me to do yesterday. So two challenges at once - let's see how I do.