Thursday, January 04, 2007

All is quiet.

On New Year's Day, or so the song goes.

New Year in Dubai was different. We treated the kids to a trip to Ski Dubai at the Mall of the Emirates on New Year's Eve. Well, it was as much a treat for us, actually. The chance to see real snow and feel cold was too enticing for us after being in a permanent summer - at best autumn - since August.

So we paid our money, bought gloves and hats, then went to the clothing counters to be issued with snow boots, socks, trousers and jackets to wear in the snow park. We went quite early and it wasn't too busy, and before long we were all kitted out like Eskimos. We ventured through the entry gate to the snow park, then through the first set of sliding doors, which act like an airlock, then through the next set of sliding doors and a blast of arctic air hit us full in the face, making us shiver. "It's bloody freezing!" was the only thing I could say at this point, stating the bleeding obvious, as always.

And the fun began. We charged around the snow park with its ice mazes, igloos, sledging hills and toboggan runs. We spotted crowds of people watching us from behind the glass in the main mall, like people watching animals in the zoo. I fought the urge to pee my name in the snow We climed up to a small wooden tower and looked up at the incredible sight of people skiing down an enormous 400m long, 60m high slope that dog-legged and disappeared into the distance.

I went down the tobaggan run without gloves on and managed to scrape my left hand on the hard ice on the wall of the run. I think I left at least half an inch of skin there. Then I had a shot on the rubber ring run and ended up with two blocks of ice for hands after having to shove them in snow at the bottom of the run to prevent myself sliding through a queue of waiting people. It was at that point when I remembered that snow is nice in small doses. It was nice to be able to leave the cold behind whenever we wanted.

The kids enjoyed it all though, which was the main aim. After we left and got changed back into "normal" clothes, we headed to the Alpine-themed St. Moritz café, situated just next to the exit and had lunch. As we sat there next to a roaring fire (on a TV screen embedded into a fireplace), eating hearty food and drinking hot drinks, we looked through the windows back into the snow park, and it all felt slightly surreal. The mind boggles when you think about how much energy they must use to keep the place cooled to freezing point and even lower when the whole thing closes at night and the snow blowers come on. It sums up what Dubai is about: Surreal excess.

New Year's Eve night was a quiet affair in the main. We let the BOY stay up till midnight, and we played Junior Monopoly about half a dozen times. At 11pm a party started in a house to the back of ours, and loud Middle-Eastern-influenced dance music filled the night air with its enchanting, hypnotic rhythm. The time came - midnight passed - and it was eerily quiet for just a moment, and I suddenly pined for the sound of Big Ben's chimes to tell us it was here. But there was nothing except a bit of cheering from the party at the back and the sound of distant fireworks at the Burj Al Arab. I bet they looked good.

So we had a mini Auld Lang Syne session, hugged and kissed, put the tired BOY to bed and started sending text messages and e-mails and message-board messages to friends and family back in the UK. And then we went to bed, and the music from the back didn't really keep us awake. I think it stopped at about 2am or something.

On New Year's Day we decided to have a big roast chicken dinner with stuffing and Yorkshire puddings and gravy and all that other stuff that we would have at home. But before that we went to Safa park for a little stroll and some fresh air. I wasn't sure what to expect, and was surprised by the size and scale of the place. There are little gardens, statues, water features and play-parks scattered all over. There is a central area with a boating lake and a fairground and barbeque areas. At first I was impressed. The green spaces were large and pleasant and mostly clean. Then we came across the artificial river that runs from the boating lake to a small pond and waterfall and I noticed that the water there was chock-full of plastic carrier bags and other trash. A couple of pissed-off looking ducks sat forlonly in the murky, stagnant water nearby. I wondered how it could have got so bad, and why it hadn't been cleaned up, but I soon got my answer.

We eventually came to a sand-covered play-park and settled down on a wooden bench while the kids had a play. As I sat there, my attention was caught by a child who came up to the edge of the park, holding a packet of mini-Pringles. I watched in disbelief as the child took the crisps in one hand and dropped the packet with the other, without the slightest compunction, before wandering off. The child's mother, who was sat on the grasss behind her, didn't bat an eyelid. Not surprisingly, she was surrounded by half-empty carrier bags. I turned and shook my head and watched another child in the play-park drop an empty drink carton on the sand as he climbed a ladder. I looked round some more and saw pieces of litter everywhere. In the middle of the play-ground there was a bin, so I stood up, picked up the discarded Pringles packet and made a point of placing it in the bin. People around me watched me impassively, unimpressed by my actions.

Cultural differences aside, I find myself wondering about the mentality of some people. They just don't seem to care a jot about litter. Doesn't the sight of rubbish all over the place sadden them? Do they think that someone else will just come along and sweep it up? The rubbish in the pond was a real shocker for me. I'd always thought that we had a bad attitude to litter in the UK, and that other places were invariably cleaner. It might be true of some parts of continental Europe, but it seems that it's actually even worse here. I've been in plenty of parks back home, but I've never seen a sight like I saw in that pond. A bit of litter, yes, but this was really, really bad, and the whole blasé attitude to the dropping of rubbish on the floor amazed me as well.

Different places have different value and different attitudes, and I understand that this is the case, but sometimes I find myself being surprised by how utterly alien some people's values are to me. How do you reconcile this? Do you just let them get on with it, or do you say something? Is it our right to impose our value system on others, or is it their right to live as they see fit, and how they have lived all their lives, without our interference? When does the line get crossed? When others get hurt or offended? We all know that some people are more easily offended than others, and that different things offend different people, and that right and wrong are not black and white. Oh, it's a moral minefield. And I'm rabbling. And preaching. Again. I should have written a letter to 7 Days.

Anyway, after the park we went on a boat ride on the lake, and hired a little replica ferry for the four of us, which I took charge of, naturally. I didn't think it was going to take my bulk as it pitched and wobbled precariously as I boarded it, but we managed to stay afloat and spent a dizzying 20 minutes going round in circles, chasing seagulls and avoiding the locals who sped round in circular hovercraft-style vessels. They drive boats like they drive cars, is all I will say.

On the way out of the park, I remembered hearing Chris Evans talking about the pleasures of walking barefoot on grass on Radio 2 some time ago, so I took my shoes and socks off, before strolling across the cool, lush grass. It was marvellous. I was just glad that they don't allow dogs in the park. The BOY challenged me to a race, and I found myself sprinting across the grass after him, and actually catching him. This was a new experience for me, because I haven't ran that fast for a long, long time. I haven't been able to keep up with the BOY for a while, but on New Year's Day, I was running, maybe not like the wind, more like a stiff breeze, and it felt good. The weight loss and exercise HAS made a difference. It's a shame my leg won't tolerate much real running, because I could get myself fit in no time at all. Ah well, maybe when I get my bionic leg, eh?

Oh, yeah. The roast chicken dinner was fabulous.

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