Monday, January 11, 2016

Best selling show

So RIP David Bowie. That was quite a surprise even by DB standards. He was one of my main musical heroes from my youth and I remember when I received my first "proper" radio/cassette player that I borrowed Bowies Greatest hits from the school record library and taped it so that I could listen to it at night. I still recall the frisson of anticipation and excitement as the opening bars of Space Oddity (closely followed by Starman and Life on Mars) came on in my darkened room. That was truly atmospheric stuff for someone trying to expand his musical interests.

A few years later I went to see him in concert at the Milton Keynes Bowl (with John L and Richard W from school having bunked off early from a history A level mock exam). It was a beautiful Summer's day and I seem to recall that Ice House (absolutely rubbish) and the Beat (not bad) were the support act. It was part of his Serious Moonlight tour promoting his Let's Dance album and I can remember it being pretty much a continuous stream of hits including perhaps my favourite Bowie track "Heroes". I had previously been to see Madness at the Hammersmith Odeon but this was my first proper open air concert and I remember being mesmerised by the spectacle - he certainly knew how to put on a show with a bit of acting, a fantastic light show, Carlos Alomar and Earl Slick on guitar and of course a series of fantastic songs - Cracked Actor, Golden Years and of course Heroes being particularly stand outs even at a distance of 32 years! We had taken the train to Milton Keynes from Maidstone and by the time we got back to Victoria the last train back to Maidstone had left and we were forced to sleep on the platform until the first train in the morning left - a very uncomfortable but nevertheless character-forming experience (apart from some platform sleeping when I went inter-railing, I have managed to avoid the experience in my subsequent years).

By the time of the Milton Keynes concert I had become an avid Bowie fan and had collected most of his albums (he was quite incredibly prolific) including the various German and French versions of Heroes and was able to pick out a couple of songs (Queenbitch, Bewlay Brothers) on the guitar and of course Life on Mars on the piano. I saw him a few years later at Wembley on the Glass Spider tour but that first concert at MKB stands out most vividly in my memory and it does seem almost unbelievable that he is no longer with us

Sunday, January 10, 2016

2015: A Year in Review - March/April

So moving on slowly to part 2 of the 2015 round up we have now reached the months of March and April.

March was notable for a couple of concerts – Ed Sheeren (a little unexpected that one – very much E’s idea as I was not particularly familiar with his oeuvre but we had a cracking time and the venue was great (Media City arena which is where we had earlier gone to see Sting who incidentally was also excellent) and then on St Patrick’s Day, Bob Geldorf at the Irish Village. My Cousin K and his wife A were staying and were very keen to sample some traditional Paddy’s Day fayre – Dubai style so we went to the most Irish place we could think of and were treated to a nostalgic return to the late 70s/early 80s with Rat Trap/Don’t like Monday’s/Banana Republic. He may be getting on a bit but it was a good concert and as an added bonus we were able to sit down and watch it reasonably close to the stage! We also treated my notoriously cricket-hating Cousin to a trip to the Yorkshire CC benefit evening which was being run by a colleague at a Downtown hotel (excellent views of the Burg). It was a good evening, made memorable by the fact that I was able to meet and have a chat with England’s cricket captain Alistair Cook who was delivering the main address (his demotion from the England one day squad for the World Cup still something of an exposed nerve it seems).

At the end of March we also went on one of our more adventurous holidays – a trip to Granada, Spain to learn Spanish! This was preceded by a visit to Madrid where we spent three days touring the main sights – including the Prado, Reina Sofia and Thyseen (where we saw an excellent Dufy retrospective). E had chosen an excellent location for the Hotel – close to the museums and galleries and right next door to an excellent park – the Buen Retiro which had a boating lake (which the kids loved), various cafes and statues (with oversized necks – presumably to stop the heads falling off!). We had a lovely few days in Madrid and then set off in our hire car for the c.4/5 hour drive to Granada.

We were staying at a little pensione in a village called Viznar high up in the hills surrounding Granada and with fantastic views both towards the snow-capped Sierra Nevada and the plains upon which Granada had been built by the Moors/Muslims and developed further in the 12/13th Century before the Catholic Kings took it back in 1492. Viznar was formerly the centre of baking in the local area and provided the bread that fed Granada. Even today there are a number of bakeries and we were lucky enough to sample some of the bread while we were there.

Our teachers were Julia and Almudena and we had a packed programme of activities – mainly learning as a family in the morning and then going on trips – to the local market in Viznar or to the local Science park/history museum in the afternoon to practice what we had learned. We also managed to explore the City of Granada – including the spectacular Alhambra Palace which rather ironically gave a good insight into an ancient Muslim city (and Muslim architecture and design) in a way we have never encountered all the time we have lived in Dubai.

We were very fortunate with the weather – the previous week it had apparently been snowing in Viznar but we were in shirt sleeves most of the time during the day and were able to explore the area including a guided walk around the old part of Granada and on the last day a hike followed by a family picnic with Julia and Almudena’s families in the Mountains.

It was an eye opening experience and whilst it was actually quite hard work (I was always rubbish at languages) the immersion into local culture was excellent. It also helped that Julia and Almudena spoke good English and were clearly very enthusiastic and the food was excellent – we found a restaurant in the near by village which did excellent prawns and a lovely dish of broad beans. The kids were especially taken by the water drinking fountains on all the streets – very much a novelty of having a free drink whenever they wished.

Our visit coincided with the various Easter parades so we were lucky enough to experience a whole evening of parades by various groups of men and women dressed up mainly in rather sinister looking purple or black robes with pointed hoods carrying huge statues of the Virgin Mary and other icons on pedestals lit with numerous candles and accompanied by bands. The crowds were large and the atmosphere was terrific. We also so a smaller scale version of this in Viznar.

A. and I also managed a visit to the Estadio Bernebau - home of Real Madrid. It gave us a chance to compare it to our visit to the Camp Neu in Barcelona. There was very little to choose between them but I guess with us both being Barca fans, Barcelona FC won out!

Our journey back to Madrid coincided with the return from the Easter holidays of half of Spain so our trip took around twice as along as the drive down which led to a couple of sharp words between the driver and navigator although fortunately we had set off sufficiently early (in the hope of a couple of hours sight-seeing on the way) that there was no risk of missing our flight by to Dubai.

This was very much the highlight of April. I also travelled back for the funeral of my Uncle Tom in the UK – very much a day trip as I got the early flight at 3:30am and was driven to the cemetery in Northampton by my Cousins’s wife L, read the Eulogy with my Sister and then had a couple of hours at the wake before catching the 8:15 flight back to Dubai. It was a sad day although he had a good send off.

Thursday, January 7, 2016

2015: A Year in review - January/February

2015 was a packed year and no mistake. I have covered some of it elsewhere but given some of the gaps, I thought that I would provide a brief month by month run-down.

This time last year we were just arriving back from our Christmas Holiday in UK - the first time we had been back for a while. It was lovely to see everyone for the Christmas holidays and we had some great days out (including a Panto at the Hazlitt Theatre and a steam train ride which I think the adults enjoyed as much as the kids - although it also gave my Sister the opportunity of photographing me looking somewhat Borat-esque (with my Movember tache rather than my choice of swimwear…) atop a merry-go-round horse which was later to be used as the basis of a party invite....). The long nights/short days (and the fact that everyone managed to pick up some kind of bug) also reminded me why we tend to avoid the UK during the Winter!

Back in Dubai, we took the kids to see Mama Mia at the WTC and a good time was had by all (lots of singing along by the parents...). I then embarked on a hectic schedule of business trips that included 4 days in a rather cold Seoul and on the day after my return to Dubai a somewhat ill-timed visit to Abu Dhabi which meant that I was out of the office for nearly a week. At the end of the month I also returned to various meetings in London which at least allowed me to catch up with the family in Maidstone for a very quick return since my last visit at Christmas.

February was less hectic save for our first skiing holiday since our trip with K + W to Sahora, Japan in 2009. No K & W this time as it was just the 4 of us going to Wengen in Switzerland although as with our trip to Japan this was a Club Med holiday. To some extent the resort was dictated by the location of the airport we were flying to. We had decided to try our hand at skiing again the previous September/October but it had proved impossible to get any ski packages originating in UAE (to the extent that there were any, they were madly expensive) so I had checked the cost of flights to Europe from Dubai and the cheapest (by a long shot – although there was not exactly a huge number of airports with direct UAE flights with easy access to snow) were to Zurich. I therefore contacted a couple of ski operators in UK to work out where would be reasonably accessible from Zurich and eventually one of them came back with Wengen and suggested that Club Med was good value since it basically included everything foo/accommodation wise and did a separate package if you travelled separately. There was a train link to Wengen (the resort itself can only be accessed by train in the Winter and is therefore pretty much car free at that time of year which certainly added to the ambience) but it did make getting there a little harder. In the end we plumbed for a taxi transfer which ended up costs a heft E500 but when compared to the train fares etc. worked out at about twice the cost but around ¼ of the hassle so we went with that.

I was able to finesse the whole family into the business lounge at DXB (and on our return from Zurich) which was a good start and the journey itself was fine – around 2 hours from airport to resort including a picturesque train ride up to Wengen and a 10 minute walk through snow covered street s to the Hotel.

In keeping with most of tier Hotels the Club Med Palace Hotel was not particularly palatial but was clean and the we had two adjoining basic rooms. The holiday itself was terrific. E. decided to forego the skiing but spent a relaxing week pottering round the town and watch V’s efforts on the nursery slopes. A. had a challenging couple of days in a higher group but eventually found his level and seemed to enjoy it. I joined a lower intermediate ski group (everything including the skiing (but not the equipment) was laid on) with a British instructor, Mark, whose family had lived in Wengen for over 40 years and who was really excellent – he knew the mountains really well and whilst after the first couple of days skiing morning and afternoon I was completely shattered (I eventually took to skiing just once a day which except for the gourmet dinner on the final day when I weaved my way back down the mountain in the late afternoon sunshine after a couple of glasses of wine) it did show me how much I had forgotten how much I enjoyed skiing. The Jungfrau region itself was spectacularly beautiful – it also helped that there was plenty of snow and the sun shone the whole week apart from the last day when we had enough snow for the kids to build snowmen. We also managed a visit to the “Down Hill Only Club” – founded by some Brits in the 1920s to take advantage of being able to take the train up the Mountain and the first ski club in Alps. We also went to the C0E judge (complete with English vicar and a huge St Bernard who had a leisurely snooze in a pew which it had almost completely to itself.

The food at the Hotel was excellent and we were also able to go tobogganing which the kids absolutely adored. Apart from E. believing she had lost her ring and trekking down the mountain to the police station to file a lost report for insurance purposes (in fact the ring was sitting patiently at home) it was a great holiday and as soon as I got home I booked again for next year!

Wednesday, January 6, 2016

Christmas and Christmas Cooking (part 3)

Apologies for the delay in broadcasting, Dad and I have had the lurgy (Dad in particular with a nasty case of bronchitis)and so we have been taking it easy over the last few days. After the excitement of Christmas Day, it was my turn to have a crack at some cooking for our Boxing Day extravaganza and in particular to get to work on our 6Kg turkey. It was very much a Delia themed meal with her directions for the turkey roasting (around 5 hours cooking time), potatoes roasting (including the application of goose fat), the Brandy butter (very tasty but perhaps not quite enough of it), the bread sauce - quite a lot of effort involving cloves pin-wheeled into half an onion but very tasty and the steaming of the pudding. It was quite an afternoon of cooking but worth it in the end for a traditional Christmas style meal although I suspect the family were a little bit tired of turkey after the last few days.....

Boxing day itself was not much to write home about weather-wise in contrast to Christmas so far with the a windy/stormy day although we did manage a little walk in the afternoon - accordingly for the first time in a while we were forced to eat inside.

I also managed a couple of days off and we had a nice time relaxing around the house and managed a few visits down to the beach before back to work for me between Christmas and the New Year. This was the first time I had worked in this period for a number of years and I had forgotten just how quite it could get and I was able to meet up for lunch on the beach with the family during the week to take advantage of the good weather. Unfortunately Dad's incipient bronchitis (a bad cold to start with) started to take hold towards the end of the week. Whilst this did not prevent him from joining us for our Brunch at the Mina Al Salam - we had been there with him earlier last year (2015) and had also been their with K. A during their visit last February and once again it did not disappoint with some fantastic food and drink and a beautiful afternoon - it did get worse and the poor chap has been hacking away ever since and has also managed to crick his neck. I suspect my own invalidity was in part due to my first game of football for nearly 2 months on Saturday (due to a lack of players rather than my own laziness).

Whilst I managed to score 5 goals (and generally have a very enjoyable game with my new luminous orange football boots doing the trick again for me) nevertheless I felt appalling on the Sunday morning and whilst I made it into work then had to spend the next couple of days in bed - but am back to fitness now. Hopefully Dad will make a similar recovery and will be OK for our forthcoming trip to RAK.