Tuesday, October 31, 2006

Happy Hallowe'en...

As they say in many parts of the world. Even here now. We even had trick-or-treaters tonight.

You know what? I AM SICK, SICK AND THRICE SICK!!!!


Sick of the situation.


It's time for ACTION!

I am sick and fecking tired of feeling and being and looking fecking SICK and TIRED!

It has finally hit home.

Please tell me it's true...

Oh, it has. Big style.

Well, thank God for that...

Well, let's be honest. It can't go on like this for much longer. The start of this epiphany, this particular wake-up call was on Saturday after I had the free health check at Ibn Battuta. A blood pressure of 170/110 was recorded, and the nurse said, quite casually, that it was high. I put it down to the stresses of shopping (which the WIFE and kids will testify is my least favourite weekend activity, closely followed by sticking pins in my eyes whilst listening to Toploader). Having done some research (Oh no, not the cyberchondria again...) and talked to a couple of people, it seems that such a reading is really quite high. I should really get a couple more readings to be sure, but I think it's obvious what I am doing to myself. So enough is enough.

I've spent the last decade blaming everyone but myself. I've got a knackered hip, following a bout of Perthes Disease as a kid. I used that as an excuse to do no exercise, especially when the Orthopeadic Surgeon at a now-closed Military hospital in North Yorkshire told me that I shouldn't be playing football on a hip like mine back in 1993 or so. Oh, OK. I will continue to eat fast food, confectionary and drink alcohol, but I won't do anything in place of the football. Come on, everyone knows that swimming and cycling and the like are incredibly boring. Team sport (even when you're completely shite) is where it's at. There's camaraderie, banter, unexpected hat-tricks and a chance to injure people you dislike under the guise of hard tackles (sorry about the knee-cap, Yamamoto). These solo sports are utter bobbins. Isn't there a song about the loneliness of the Long Distance Runner? I always thought of these marathon-runner types as a bit strange. You must be mental to want to run a marathon in the first place, and then all that solitude...26 miles of it. I'd go mad. der.

So, I put on a lot of weight over the next few years. By 1999 I was knocking on for 20 stone. That's 280lbs for our American audience, or 127kgs for the metric-minded. Somehow, I managed to get the WIFE pregnant. No, really, the BOY is mine. Anyway, in the year 2000, about 4 months before he was born I had another moment of awakening and decided to go to Weight Watchers, and promptly lost nearly 5 stone on the Points system. Quite an acheivement, and by the time the BOY was in the big, wide world, he clapped eyes on a relatively slim father.

About a month after the BOY came into the world, I had my first episode of Atrial Fibrillation. This was brought on by excessive caffeine consumption in the form of Red Bull and Pro Plus and coffee by the gallon, all taken to keep me awake due to chronic sleep deprevation caused by a cholicky baby. The AF had probably been there all the time, and the combination of caffeine-abuse and extreme, short-term weight-loss probably contributed to the onset of the arrhythmia. The first time only lasted half an hour. Then I had an episode once every six months for a couple of years, usually after a drinking binge. One was brought on by a rather boozy night in a Chinese restaurant just before Christmas. MSG, alcohol and caffeine are all triggers for it. Not too wise, as Confuscious might have said. Then I went for a 9-month stint in Taiwan, and even with all the decauchery that involved, I only had 2 episodes. With most of these episodes I just stayed in bed for the day and they always stopped by the evening or the next day. I would wake up in AF after a blow-out, then lie in bed all day, then wake up the next day in Normal Sinus Rhythm again. Cool. Just like a hangover with knobs on, really.

Hey, is this going anywhere? It's turning into a life story...

Yeah, yeah. I'm going somewhere with this. It's all important, the background to where I am now. Anyway, after Taiwan I managed to go over a year without having an episode. I forgot about it. I became complacent. The weight I had lost was coming back, pound by pound. It ALWAYS does with these kind of diets. I had a couple of goes at Slimming World, but didn't have the will-power this time. Then the GIRL came along in mid-2004. About a month or two later we drove to the Channel Tunnel, making our way to a holiday on the Continent. It was Friday 13th. The traffic was absolutely atrocious, making our journey 3 hours longer than it should have been and leaving us tired and stressed when we got to the hotel just before the tunnel. I had a bar of chocolate before retiring. Snickers or something. Not a Marathon. Big mistake. The beast (as AF sufferers ALL call it) knocked on the door, and despite my protestations, I couldn't keep it out, and I went into an episode. Bugger. Fear gripped me. I was in a strange place and it happened at a strange time, for me. So we rang 999 and I got taken to a hospital in Ashford where they poked and prodded and stuck me full of needles before deciding to give me a drug to help the heart get back to normal. It worked like a dream.

It turns out I was also suffering from a virus, so the combination of the stress of the journey and the virus had caused the AF to rear its ugly head again. The hospital let me go the next day, giving me a prescription for an anti-arrhythmic drug that I've been on pretty much ever since. Attempts to come off it have failed. It does control it in the main, but I have ectopic (missed) heart beats on a regular basis. Some days are worse than others, depending on how I feel. And at the moment, I'm feeling pretty crappy, if truth be told.

I know why this is: I'm back up to 20 stone again. I've been creeping up and up to that dreaded milestone again, and the last 3 months of over-eating here in Dubai have just made matters worse. I've brought this on myself. And now my blood-pressure is high as well.

Oh, woe is me!

See this? It's the smallest violin in the world...

Aye. Very good. So over the last few days I've been looking into things again, and through Hans Larsen's fantastic website about AF, I've formulated a plan. On the message boards and forums and conference sessions there have been a lot of discussions about The Paleo Diet, or Caveman diet. There are a few books about it knocking around. I've had an inkling for some time that this was the way to go. I even bought the Loren Cordain book back in the UK but never got round to starting it. It's like it's been staring me in the face: I'm making myself ill by eating CRAP. Not brain science, or even rocket surgery, I know, but all my many ailments - the feeling crappy, the obesity, the insomnia, the fibromyalgia, maybe even the AF itself - are down to what I've been putting in my mouth.

The theory behind the Paleo diet is that we aren't designed to eat what we now eat, and our bodies are reacting to this by treating these "foodstuffs" as foreign invaders, and essentially producing an extreme allergic reaction, but at the same time, we crave what makes us ill, because we get a rush from eating high glycemic index foods that give us quick fixes of energy. Agriculture, a relatively recent innovation for mankind, has been a curse (in more ways than one, and I don't mean grumpy farmers), because for the first million or two years as human beings we ate as hunter-gatherers. We ate what we could hunt and gather, not what we farmed and mass-produced. All these grains and starchy vegetables that we have to process are poison to our systems. Millions of people are waking up to it, and realising that the modern carb-rich, processed diet is slowly eating away at us and making us ill. Diabetes, heart disease, obesity - these are modern conditions caused by the way we eat. I know some will say it's another version of Atkins, but there are essential differences - namely eating lean meat and avoiding dairy as well as being able to eat fruit for the carbs we do need.

Bloody hell, I've convinced myself. I'll be getting called a shill if I'm not careful. Anyway, I'm going to give it a go. A real go. I've tried so many things, and have chased my tail hither and thither looking for the Holy Grail. It seems to make more sense the more I look into it. I don't want to carry on the way I am and end up dying early and missing out on what could be a great life with a great family.

It's time to get a life. My life.


Off with the horns, on with the show. This is about Dubai. And bloating. And beer, which I'll have to knock on the head now....

Sunday, October 29, 2006

Rain, Rain......COME BACK!!!

We nearly, NEARLY saw rain on Friday. It's strange how you start to miss these kind of things. I'll be missing cheeky-chappy chavs standing outside the shops asking politely for a cigarette next. OK, maybe not. The point being, we haven't seen any since we arrived here. For me, that is 3 months without a hint of precipitation, which is something totally alien to someone hailing from the United Kingdom's verdant, lush, frequently-irrigated-from-the-sky pastures.

Anyway, to make a short story long, we headed to the border with Oman on Friday with the express purpose of getting our visit visas renewed. They run out after 60 days, which meant we had to leave the UAE and come back again, so we drove out through the desert and past loads of camels towards Hatta, carrying straight on over the fort roundabout and between the mountains towards the border, which is about another 10km along the road.

As we approached the mountains, we noticed that there were big cloud formations just beyond. They looked like rain clouds - big, bright and bulbous with a menacing grey under-belly. Excitement grew in the family unit. We were actually looking forward to seeing some rain, maybe even going outside in it and dancing like madmen. As it was, we missed the rain. We arrived at the Omani passport checkpoint facility about 20 minutes late, I reckon. The ground was wet all around from a recent downpour, and the clouds were busy making their way into Oman. Ho-hum.

The border crossing and visa renewal process was, well...frustrating. We passed through three seperate border control points on the way to Oman, and the same three on the way back. There was a UAE passport point, followed by an Omani customs point and then the Omani passport checkpoint, about 5 kilometres after the customs point. We weren't actually sure if we could drive into Oman, because our car hire company had completely bamboozled us by trying to sell us insurance to drive there then telling us we couldn't drive in Oman with UK licences. The border points themselves had very little in the way of visible information about what to do and where to go, so there was a lot of guesswork, stupid-question-asking, and gesticulation from heavily-armed border guards, whose presence is a blessing to parents with fidgety, whiny kids. "See the man with the gun? If you don't shut up...."

After getting stamped out of the UAE, which involved getting out of the car and queueing at the window of a little white hut, we just sort of muddled our way past customs, buying insurance at the little office over on the wrong side of the road, then driving onwards not knowing what to do next. We finally came across the passport control checkpoint, which is a large, brand-new building in the middle of nowhere. Again, there were no signs telling us what to do, so we parked the car in the puddles created by the recent rain and entered the building to find a large gaggle of confused-looking people queueing at various windows. Most of these people were expats doing the same thing as us. There were more border guards, with even bigger guns, milling around, keeping an eye out for naughty children.

After standing in one queue for a couple of minutes I struck up a conversation with the British chap in front of me, and learned that I had to queue at a different window to get some forms and pay the visa fees, then fill in the forms and queue at another window for the stamps, then get in the car and queue up to get into Oman. This is a common feature of this part of the world; nothing can be done in one place or in one go.You invariably end up queueing at three seperate locations to get anything official done. It was the same when I had to go and open an account with DEWA for the electricity and water, and it's the same for a driving licence, or so I've been told. I'm surprised I haven't had to queue at four different windows and fill in a dozen forms in triplicate just to get some baked beans with pork sausages.

Eventually we got our forms, paying 240 dirhams for the pleasure (the man did say 120 to begin with, then sort of changed his mind), filled them in, queued for the stamps, got back in the car and then drove to the wrong window. They let us through anyway, and we did a quick u-turn through the car park on the Oman side and queued again to get the exit stamps. That was the easy bit, and we were back in no-man's land after our shortest visit ever to any country - all of 2 minutes.

There was more standing and queueing at the UAE border, but the actual process was fairly painless. The man behind the window at the very basic checkpoint stamped us back in without any searching questions, and we finally re-entered the United Arab Emirates nearly 2 hours after leaving. We were ready to drop, so I'm glad that we had had the foresight to book ourselves in for the night at the Hatta Fort Hotel, which I've mentioned before. 5 minutes back into the UAE we pulled into the Hotel grounds. A smiling, short man called Maxwell brought us delicious and refreshing fruit punch drinks while we checked in, before showing us to our chalet-style room with a great view of the mountains. The WIFE and the kids took the opportunity to go for a ride on a huge camel that happened to be at the hotel, and we spent the rest of the day at the swimming pool, splashing each other and enjoying the cooling of the day with sunset approaching before eating a pleasant meal and retiring to bed for an early night. The kids went out like lights, even in strange beds in a strange room. They have their moments.

The next day, we ate a hearty breakfast (missing the real pork bacon that was hidden around the corner at the hot buffet), played a game of mini-golf in remarkably hot morning conditions, then headed back to Dubai city. Of course, we still had to do the weekly food shop, so we headed to Geant at Ibn Battuta and on the way out I spotted a stand for a local hospital offering free health checks. The inner hypocondriac couldn't resist, so I went and asked for a check, which was basically just a blood-pressure test. Surprise of surprises - it was high. Shopping with kids? Well, duh.

Monday, October 23, 2006


As they say in these parts.

It means Happy Eid, and I think everyone is happy that Ramadan is over. The locals are happy because they can stop the fasting, the early mornings and the late nights, and the rest of us are happy because we can get a coffee or a sandwich while we're out and about during the day. Oh, we are such shallow, desperate beings.

It's been a strange experience, and very educational. Without wanting to sound trite, I think a lot of people could learn from being in a place like this during Ramadan. In most cases (not all, it has to be said), concessions and allowances are made, mutal respect is shown, and we all muddle through. Of course, people still find things to bicker about, and it's a shame that the bickering seems to be getting quite nasty back in the UK. The whole veil issue is highlighting the divisions and the intolerance that can bubble away beneath the surface of any multi-cultural society. Point-scoring and oneupmanship is rife, on ALL sides. Sometimes I think there's no hope for us, because try as we might, a lot of us just can't accept differences or see things from other people's perspectives. But at other times I see great kindness and togetherness, and think that we aren't so bad after all. I know..I'm going off on one again. I try to keep this kind of thing out of this blog, but it's part of my life here, however much I try to avoid it.

Today we had a little drive out, and after remarking on the quietness of the roads, we noticed that there were sub-continental chaps dressed up to the nines all over the place. They seemed to be at every major junction of every major road, even when we were out in the middle of nowhere on the Emirates Road, and almost every single one of them were in their Sunday best (or is it Friday best here?). We wondered who they were and what they were doing out there. Were they the labourers finally getting some time off and heading out for the day? If so, how did they get to these places in the relative wilderness? For what purpose? And where were they going now? As we passed the huge Chinese discount mall called Dragon Mart (which was closed at the time), we saw a group of several dozen of these smartly-dressed men standing around near the entrance. There were no women or children there, or none that I saw.

So we headed to a little theme park inside the Creekside Park just over the Garhoud Bridge on the south side of the creek. This was closed as well, and again there was a small group of these men milling around. We finally landed at the Wafi City mall, which was open, and had a spot of lunch and a little play in the amusement area. There weren't any of these smartly-dressed sub-con men in here. I've heard that they don't let them in the malls. Elitist? Racist? Who knows? Who decides? There were plenty of Emiratis there, also dressed in their best finery. The mens' dish-dashes were whiter and brighter than ever, and almost all of them were in a chipper mood - two smiling young men played chess at one of the now-open coffee shops, laughing and joking to themselves all the while, some younger men ran amok in the amusement areas, and large groups of women in their bejewelled, black robes and designer sunglasses browsed in the high-end fashion joints of the mall.

We headed home after the mall - the roads weren't much busier - and decided to go for a swim at the Springs 8 pool. It was largely deserted when we arrived, but a few more people joined us later. We had a good splash around in the warm afternoon sunshine, until the flies started emerging in large numbers with sunset approaching, and then headed home for tea.

Now I'm nicely tired again, and I've somehow managed to write a long entry again. Maybe not the most interesting or exciting one, but I hope it conveys something of the first day of Eid. Back to work tomorrow, but only 3 days till the weekend comes round again.

Sunday, October 22, 2006

(It's today)

Yup. They boys in charge have decided, in their wisdom, that today is the last day of Ramadan. Tomorrow is that start of Eid Al Fitr, so the fasting ends and the partying begins. Phew. They declared Ramadan early this year, so it was actually one day longer than normal, or so I believe.
So yesterday we had a day out. We went to the water park called Wild Wadi, which is right next to the Burj Al Arab and the Jumeirah Beach Hotel.

We didn't tell the kids about it until we got there. The BOY was convinced we were destined for another half-empty shopping mall. We even sneaked the swimming bags into the car while he had his attention elsewhere. As we got closer to the park he started to suspect the truth, and the relief and excitement in his voice was nice to hear.

We had a good time. There are plenty of rides and slides for young and old. Gentle ones and wild ones. The photo above shows the view from the top of the Jumeirah Sceirah (sic). I did start the arduous climb towards the top, but when I caught sight of the queue winding all the way down the tower and out onto the terrace at the bottom, I changed my mind and went for the ride that goes all the way round the park, with the rider sitting in a large rubber ring. It goes up, down, left, right, over bridges and through long, dark tunnels. They use really powerful water jets to propel you on the upward sections - which is pretty impressive when you're nearly 20 stone. The only problem with this is the jets had a habit of catching my shorts and pushing them forwards and off my backside. I'm glad that none of the slide sections were see-through, for the sake of those below me. It was pretty cool, anyway. I liked the way you could choose different routes of varying scariness on the way and have a different journey every time.

The BOY was a bit shy with some of the bigger things, but was eventually encouraged to go into the wave pool, and had to be literally dragged out of it when we left. The GIRL was her usual Jekyll and Hyde mix of giggling fun and gibbering hysteria. I don't think she should have tried the Sceirah...

As the sun started to set, we made our way out. As we neared the changing rooms, the Wadi show was gearing up. They have built this large artificial cliff-face with a little wadi at the bottom. As we were walking past, thunder crashed from the speakers at ear-splitting levels, and the kids weren't too happy about that, I can tell you. Then the water started spilling from the top of the cliff, and soon a torrent of water was rushing down the cliff and flooding the wadi. I suppose it's meant to mimic what happens in real wadis. When I told the BOY this, he asked me in a shaky voice if there were any near our house. In my best fatherly tone, I reassured him that the only real ones existed out in the desert near the mountains. This didn't really convince him to stay and watch, especially with the noise, so we quickly entered the changing rooms and got ready to leave. The WIFE and the GIRL had long gone.

Overall, a pretty good place to go, I would say, especially as a family or in big groups. I especially like the little innovation of the wristbands that get you in and out of the park, open and lock the lockers, and store credit on them which can be spent around the park so you don't have to carry money around. You get any unused money back at the end. There are some good rides, loads of catering outlets (slightly expensive, as is the norm, I suppose - but not outrageously so) and plenty of places with loungers and parasols to sit and relax if that's what you want to do. And I didn't get stuck in any tubes.

After the wildness of the wadi, we headed for a burger at Hardees (they should bring this chain to the UK - a superior burger restuarant in every way), then thought we'd go for a coffee and a shisha. We went to the Madinat, which was the closest place I thought we could find some, and after a bit of a trek around the Madinat souk, we found out that they had a Shisha terrace at the Mina A'Salam hotel, which is one of two five-star hotels at either end of the complex. So we wandered in to the plush reception, slightly bedraggled from our soggy adventures, and were lead to the terrace, without any hint of haughtiness. We ordered a strawberry shisha and some drinks and sat under a gazebo on large comfy chairs. The shisha man fixed up the big bong-like contraption and set it going, bringing it over and puffing at the end of the pipe to make sure it was lit. Then he stuck another plastic pipe in the end and handed it to us.

The WIFE was curious - I've done shisha before in Taiwan (of all places), and so she had a few little drags on it. After a couple of splutters and coughs she admitted it was quite pleasant - and it is. The smoke is thick, but cool, tasty and very smooth; nothing like a cigarette or cigar. After about five minutes I had a mild buzz, but tobacco alway does that to me. The WIFE had nearly as much as me of it, but the best bit was her comical expression when she smoked. The eyebrows went up and the eyes widened, and she turned her head quickly to one side before exhaling. The drinks were really nice as well. I had a Kiwi Cooler mocktail which was cool, refreshing and bursting with real fruit flavours. The kids were happy to wander around our gazebo, sipping their drinks and looking out over the balcony at the abras (water taxis) coming and going from the station below us. The BOY even had a try at the shisha, but we couldn't get him to suck instead of blow, so all he did was make smoke come out of the other end. I don't think the shisha man was impressed.

We finished our drinks, paid our bill and went down to the abra station. The Madinat has artificial waterways all around it, with little abras to transport guests around the complex. The boats are meant to be for hotel guests only, but they weren't to know, and I doubt we're the first to buck the system, so we jumped on one and glided smoothly past the waterfront promenades full of people dining under the Arabian skies, gentle mood lighting and ethnic music adding to the holiday atmosphere. A gentle breeze caught our faces, and, "Oh, this is the life," is the thought that probably went through all our minds right then. Or in the case of the GIRL, perhaps, "Oh, good. Dora the Explorer will be on TV when I get home".

Saturday, October 21, 2006

On the last day of Ramadan....?

Which is....when, exactly?

It's a bit of a guessing game, it seems. The country is getting all geared up for Eid Al Fitr and the long weekend, but the lack of announcements in the press (no 7 Days newspaper today) means we are in limbo. We don't know if Ramadan is over or not, especially as they allegedly started it early. I told the WIFE that she should run down to Spinneys at the Town Centre to see if Starbucks was open - that would tell us for sure. She told me to Bog Off.

We went to another shopping mall yesterday - the Burjuman Centre in Bur Dubai. It was dead - and I mean dead. More than half the shops were closed, along with all the food outlets and the kiddies play areas. The shops that were open were mostly empty, with bored-looking assistants sitting at their counters. Is this what happens at the end of Ramadan? My lack of knowledge on these matters is frustrating, but it seems that it's the way of the world round here. Holidays are based on the movements and sightings of the moon, so they can be announced with very little notice at all. I've been told several tales of people going to work and finding out they shouldn't have bothered.

Anyway....we're going to Wild Wadi today, which is a water park. Should be fun, as long as I don't end up getting stuck in one of the slide tubes like Homer Simpson once did. I've rung ahead and they told me that the Ramadan restrictions aren't enforced in the park, and all the concession areas are open for business, which makes sense really. You couldn't expect people to visit an outdoor amusement park without access to at least drinks.

Will report back later.

Tuesday, October 17, 2006

56 years ago...

Dubai looked like this...

It looks like this now:

And it's still growing...

Anyway, I heard something a bit sad yesterday. Apparently, there is a local company that runs a particular petrol station (there are only 3 or 4 companies in the UAE) which not only pays their pump attendants a pittance (like most service providers), it also takes their tips away from them. These guys stand in the heat all day, filling our cars and washing our windscreens, and are pretty much treated like dirt by most of the people here. They do get tips, though. If the tank of petrol costs, say 67 dirhams, you give them 70 and let them keep the 3. It's not much, I know, but you think they must make a little bit of money to supplement their meagre wages. Not so, if the reports are true. One company makes them give the tips to the company. They have no pockets in their uniform trousers and it has been known for the company to search these guys before they go home at the end of their shifts. If it's true, it's disgusting and vile and utterly greedy, and I won't be using this companies filling stations again.

You see? This place ain't perfect.

Friday, October 13, 2006

Ha-Ha in Hatta

I read a label on a bottle of disinfectant today. It said, in that commanding manner that these things all seem to have, "KEEP AWAY FROM CHILDREN"

Good advice, I thought. Problem is, I've spawned two of them and so I can't really keep away from them that much. Ho-hum.

Of course, I love them really. There's the BOY - an inquisitive, sulky, boisterous, completely bonkers 6-year-old who is inclined of late to impersonate Nelson Muntz from the Simpsons should anything unfortunate occur to anyone - particularly me. In the supermarket today I managed to knock a large bag of crisps onto the floor in my normal clumsy way.


Then I picked them up and dropped them just as I was about to replace them.


I just had to laugh as well, because the crab sandwich in my basket wasn't big enough to hurt him with.

Then there's the GIRL. She's also bonkers, even more so, and has the biggest case of split personality I've ever seen in a 2-year-old. She will be making you laugh with her silly faces and voices and sounds one minute, then the next she will be screaming blue murder at some perceived injustice. This can cause some tense moments in restaurants and supermarkets, mainly because we often let her get on with it, since asking her to calm her down is about as effective as using cream cheese as a tile adhesive. The only really effective way of ending the tantrums and screaming is to threaten her with an AK-47. But since this is frowned upon by do-gooding types and the public at large, we end up distracting her by acting like fools. So we leave the public space with our reputations as good parents and normal, balanced people completely in tatters.

Anyway, I'm digressing. We had a good day today, as it was. Well, apart from the shouting match I had with the WIFE when I mistakenly sent her the wrong way driving out of the Mall of the Emirates. It's an easy thing to do when the signs all point the wrong bloody way. Apart from that - a good day. We did our food shop at Carréfour, had lunch, then decided to head for Hatta. Hatta is a small town near the Omani border, about 100km from Dubai city. Getting there involves driving through the desert, albeit on a proper dual carriageway, and we fancied exploring a bit more of the country, so off we went.

As we left Dubai, we passed loads of developments and upcoming developments. We saw the fake (but full-sized) space shuttle and roller coaster near where they are building Dubailand, which is apparently going to be bigger than Disneyland. We saw the Sports City site, which will basically be an Olympic city. They haven't bid for the Olympics yet, but watch this space. We saw a hoarding with a picture of the replica Eiffel tower. We saw the Autodrome - a Formula One-standard motor racing circuit. It just keeps going and going, and you realise that this place will still be growing in 10 years.

Finally, we started leaving the city and the development behind us. The landscape changed gradually as we got further into the wilds of the UAE. The plant life became more and more scarce, the sand darkened in colour, and about 45 minutes after setting off, we were surrounded by undulating orange dunes and not much else really. A game of I Spy would have lasted about 4 rounds. The traffic was non-existent, and every way we looked there was just sand and sky.

This continued for a while, and then we spotted the mountain range coming into view on the horizon. These mountains are real desert mountains - grey, harsh, inhospitable and impressive in scale. They look like the mountains in Lord Of The Rings. Bilbo Bobbins is coming!

As I was taking in this view, an SMS came through to my mobile telling me I could use my Etisalat account on a roaming basis. Which is all well and good, but I thought I was still in the UAE. Wrong-o! It seems that you actually go into Oman and then out again on the way to Hatta, which is part in the Emirate of Dubai. My phone was now telling me that my network was Etisalat Oman. Crazy shit, man. There were no border controls or any signs saying WELCOME TO OMAN or anything. They have different petrol stations, though. I saw a Shell garage for the first time in 3 months. I was nearly overcome with excitement.

We had read about the carpet shops along the road to Hatta, and lo and behold, there is a long stretch of just that as you approach Hatta. The WIFE was keen to find a nice rug for the living room, so we pulled in at one and after a quick look around and the obilgatory haggle (you've gotta haggle), we drove away with a nice colourful rug.

Then we arrived in Hatta. You know you've got to Hatta because you come to a roundabout with a big mock fort thing right in the middle of it.

Hatta itself is pretty unimpressive. There are lots of shabby buildings and they have the biggest speed bumps in the world. There is a heritage site there as well, but it looked closed, so we headed to the Hatta Fort Hotel, which is raved about in various publications. It's more like a resort than a hotel, with sporting facilities galore and chalet style rooms. We had a play in the kiddies' park, a quick gurn at the beautiful people in the inviting pools, then as we walked around the hotel grounds, we luckily turned round and caught sight of the view that is behind you as you enter the main hotel building.

Then we went for tea in the hotel coffee shop. Or dinner, whatever you wanna call it. It was getting late, and there was an hour and a half's drive ahead. The meal was OK. Not over-expensive and not really flash. Adequate is the word I'm looking for. What made it for us was having a really good view of the sun setting behind the mountains as we ate. The BOY was particularly impressed as he saw the last sliver of burning orange disappear behind the mountain.

To be fair, the banana and coconut pie was nice as well.

So, we left Hatta in the dark. I was quite excited about this, because I fully expected to drive back to Dubai through the desert and see the starry, unpolluted sky above me, which is supposedly a really amazing sight to behold. Sadly, this wasn't to be, because the oh-so-safety conscious people running this country decided to put great big, bright orange street lights along the entire length of the Dubai-Hatta road, so all we saw above our heads on the drive back was a load of street lights. It didn't even feel slightly dangerous or anything, because it was like driving along an urban motorway. They can do thousands and thousands of street lights - oh yes. But can they stop people driving like maniacs? I think you know the answer.

As for the the starry sky - our time will come. A desert safari trip is going to have to be squeezed in at some point. I can't wait.

Wednesday, October 11, 2006

Never again...

We always say it, but we always end up going back to booze, like we go back to the slightly mad lover who gives us great sex but then beats us up with a large frozen sausage....

I went out with some chaps from work last night, to a very nice bar called Scarlett's, situated in the promenade at the bottom of the Emirates Towers.

(There wasn't actually any fog when I went, but I like the pic)

(And it was dark)

So....I arrived quite early (the WIFE wanted to get home and get the SPROGS to bed) and stood at the bar for about half an hour, drinking a leisurely pint of Guinness and eating the nasty cheesy nuts provided for me by the bar staff. I watched people come and go. People watching can be quite interesting in Dubai - you see people of every nationality, dressed in so many different ways, speaking many different languages. And of course, you imagine what they do and what they are like. Anyone earing a sharp suit and flashing around their blackberry is immediately labelled a complete fucking poser, any group of giggling females are probably trolley dolleys, and any single bloke is a desperate loner. Oh, yeah...I arrived alone, didn't I?

Then my boss turned up, and said Hello to me and the guy stood right behind me, who happened to be from my company, but site-based. He had actually been there when I arrived, and we had stood there at the bar in complete ignorance and silence for 30 minutes. There's some kind of quantum mechanical phenomenon that could describe this situation. Or maybe there isn't.

Anyway, they all started piling in, the boss had his credit card prised from his cold, dead hands, and the tab was up and running. Guinness followed Guinness. I started to lose count. I got talking to the other new guys who have been joining the company in their droves recently. I felt like an old hand with over 2 months under my belt when I talked to the chap who arrived last week. "Oh, yeah," I said, "Dubai this, Doha that...price of formwork - terrible inflation...bibble....really dodgy bars in Bur Dubai....bobble...have you been to Ski Dubai? Yadda yadda..."

After pint 4 or 5 I had an orange juice to pace myself and to prevent what could turn into a next-day Atrial Fibrilation episode if I wasn't careful. The quizzical looks came my way, along with the comical and the condescending. Can't handle your drink, eh? So the next OJ had some vodka in it. Call me an easily-lead weak-minded fool. Obi-Wan would have a field day with me. These aren't the Quantities you're looking for....

Then I had 2 Coronas, not coronarys, and a few snacks ordered in a moment of the munchies. Then I was too drunk and too tired to carry on, but sober enough to know that I should make my way home. So I said my goodbyes, shook everyone's hand, and got a taxi home.

This morning was bad. Two important meetings. Lots of concentration required. The traffic lights failed at the Trade Centre roundabout just as I was approaching them on the way to meeting number one. The client Project Manager went a bit beserk over some of my figures at meeting number two. It was a looooooong old day. So now I'm off to bed.

G'night all.

Sunday, October 08, 2006

Take Me Higher

This is an interesting website.

It's all about the Burj Dubai, which is currently being built just off the Sheik Zayed Road. It will be over 800m tall (half a mile!) and will have 162 floors (maybe more), and will be the tallest building in the world (by a long chalk) when finished in 2 or 3 years' time. Taipei 101, the current highest, at less than 600m high, will be a tiddler in comparison.

I've seen it many times - I pass it on my way to work every day. It's already the bigget building in Dubai, currently standing at 74 floors. They are building it at a rate of a floor a week, which means they should be done in about another 88 weeks. Then there's just(!) the outer cladding and the internal works to do. The thing is, it doesn't really look that big from a distance, but when you get up close, you appreciate what a massive beast it is - and will be. According to the website linked, it's not even close to half-way completed in height terms. I managed to get close last Thursday - eventually - because I had to go and see a man about another tall building (the one in Doha that I'm working on), and he just happens to work in a site office that is situated at the foot of the Burj.

The other staggering thing about it is the development going on all around it. It's like a town in itself, with other towers and malls and parks and Lord only knows what else. The very plush sales area (no small development in its own right) to one side was easy to find, but I managed to get lost trying to find the site office right next to the tower, which sounds ridiculous considering the size of it, but the actual development has one small site entrance which isn't that easy to find if you're a relative Dubai newbie like me. But I think what I'm trying to say is...IT'S HUGE!

But then, you come across this in Wikipedia, which is a list of the tallest buildigs structures in the world. If you look at section 5, you will see some of the proposed new structures that are in the pipeline, and you realise that the Burj Dubai is suddenly looking like a model of Canary Wharf in comparison to what is being planned. They are talking about building one in Kuwait that will be 1,000m high, but that is still dwarfed by the proposed Murjan Tower in Bahrain, which will be 1,022m high, and will have 200 floors. Truly mind-boggling.

Not only do you wonder how they can possibly build something so high (and take your hats off to the Engineers), you wonder about the logistics surrounding such a structure. What would happen to people on the 200th floor if a fire broke out on the 10th? The stairs would take about 2 hours to descend. Or are they planning to provide parachutes or death slides attached to other buildings? Madness. You won't get my up one of them, that's fo sho. I got to the first floor of the Eiffel Tower and wanted to go back down. I don't feel safe unless there is land all around and level with me.

It seems this part of the world has become obsessed with building the biggest of everything now. They've made a heap of money from oil, and want to spend it by playing with life-size mecanno sets, trying to outdo their neighbours. Where will it end?

Take Me To Your Leader

I just did a Which World Leader Are You test. I was expecting to be some bloody do-gooder like Ghandi, but ended up as:

No, not Adolf:

I suppose I get it in a way...

Anyway, to do it yourself, click here: Leader Test

Monday, October 02, 2006

Birthdays, Boredom, Baldness, Blobbiness

I'm officially having my first bad week here in Dubai. I'm getting a cold. I turned 36 just over a week ago, and then I found out that I have put about a stone on in the 2 months that I've been here. Woe, woe and thrice WOE! I suppose that's what happens when you eat stuff like chocolate birthday cakes.


So, yeah. Ramadan's still going on and on. The working days are shorter (well, supposedly - we work till 4.00pm with no lunch break, but I'm often there till 4.30 or 5.00pm - these boss people ain't stupid). The Malls are bizarre. No cigarette smoke. No bustle of cafés and restaurants, just vacant tables and seats, as if you are there in the middle of the night, or as if you're in a zombie flick. Heck, some people here drive like zombies - drooling on their phones as they zoom past you at 180kph to get home for Iftar (the breaking of the fast). I digress...the malls. We went to the Mall of the Emirates on Friday to look for shoes for the BOY. Turned out he didn't need new ones just yet. That was a bonus. Then we went looking for nourishment, which is a difficult task, as you can imagine. We walked past Ski Dubai to the Kempinski Hotel end of the Mall... (BTW, Ski Dubai looks like this:)

...and the mall-level restaurants were all closed, despite Time Out Dubai saying that at least one of them would be open for brunch. Useless gets. I should have realised their info wasn't reliable after their factually questionable review of Foccacia at the Hyatt Regency. Anyway, I remembered that there was this place called Sezzam in the Kempinski, and we found it down on the ground level after another white-knuckle ride with 2 kids and a push-chair down the escalator. It was hidden behind black curtains running the length of the lobby, keeping the gobbling hoardes out of sight, away from those who are fasting. Seems fair, I suppose. I wouldn't like to watch people eat if I wasn't allowed to eat for 14 hours.

The food was pretty good, after all that. The grilled bratwurst wasn't really that good, it wasn't a real bratwurst - far too soft, and lacking flavour, but the lamb chops (more like a half-rack) were heavenly, as was the cheesy mash and the grilled veg. The WIFE had Tandoori chicken, which tasted really nice and fresh and not at all dry (although she said there was too much coriander), and the BOY and the GIRL ate their pizza and nuggets with little complaint. The GIRL's fresh fruit salad also impressed. Blimey, this is turning into a restaurant review. As I'm doing it, I would also say that the service is a bit patchy, but friendly. I will definitely return.

So Saturday came, and we ended up in a bloody shopping mall again. This time it was Ibn Battuta (did he have a massive hooter?), which is actually a very unusual mall, because it has separate themed areas. I took the family for a little wander in there to see the different zones and the things you just don't expect to see in malls, like full-size replicas of Chinese junks and elephants with enormous tusks. We did the weekly shop in Géant, which we seem to have settled upon as the best place. Carréfour in MOE is just too manic, Spinneys is too small, but Géant seems to have it sorted, except they don't have a pork section, so we always end up going to Spinneys or Choithrams for the bacon and ham, etc. I mean shopping for food is always a soul-destroying experience, in my view. Up and down with the trolley and 2 whingeing kids... so you have to make it interesting by throwing surprise items into the trolley - usually nice-tasting, fattening items, it must be said.

Food, food, food. Ah yes. The solution to and cause of all my problems. (c) Homer Simpson, talking about beer. I can't live without it, but I'm living too much through it. I am in that horrible cycle of eating, feeling fat, not sleeping, feeling shite, eating to feel better, feeling fat, and so on.... I need to snap out of it before I break the 20 stone barrier. SNAP OUT OF IT, MAN!
And what did I do? I was looking at exercise bikes, but ended up buying a PS2 because me and the BOY need our PES fix! The WIFE is now resigned to watching us replaying Boro v Sevilla over and over again to avenge the UEFA cup final humiliation. And then she has to listen to the BOY cry and me shout because we got Tekken 4 free with the console, and we're both terrible losers.

Boro! They're depressing me as well! Bloody hell! Losing to Sheffield frigging United (with all due respect). AAAGGGGGHHH!

I think it's cabin fever, actually. I just want this damn weather to cool down enough for us to get outside for a decent length of time!

Whinge over. Thank Allah!