On the road…again…

It’s a funny thing, this expat life. We are 4 weeks into our world tour and have just under 3 weeks to go, now (mainly) staying put in the same beds, and although I’m happy to be here, and the sun is shining, and my little boy is content, I’m a teeny, tiny bit homesick. For Dubai. Ironic? Rather. Here, in no particular order, is why:

1. I miss routine. School, work, social: I miss it all, for a variety of reasons but mainly because routine gives purpose and order and a kind of contentedness to life you don’t seem to get from living out of a suitcase for 2 months

2. I miss my quiet time. The bit where I come home from drop off, put the kettle on, and go upstairs to write for two glorious, uninterrupted hours. Or sit watching TV with a glass of wine when I’m home alone and the boy is in bed. It is a serious situation. I’ve even taken to doing the ironing just so I can get half an hour of time to tune out.

3. I miss my friends. I haven’t spoken to an actual peer, i.e. a person who shares my day to day existence for a month  except via the odd Facebook comment. It’s tough, not talking to the people you usually share the minutiae of life with. They are either sighing with relief or miss me too. (It’s debatable which).

4. I miss my bed. My glorious, comfortable bed. My bed in my bedroom, with my bathroom, and my wardrobe with all my stuff in it, with floors that don’t creak and walls that block out anything quieter than a fighter jet and air conditioning and occasionally containing a husband.

5. I miss exercise. Not that I ever do a lot of it, but I miss the idea that I could just pop to the gym whenever I wanted. I seem to lurch from one mealtime to the next while we’re away, so much so that I’m starting to feel absolutely sick of food. And as a result of relying on eating to fill my days, the relatively svelte bikini body I’d accidentally acquired due to stress appears to be disappearing amongst lunchtimes out, afternoon ice cream and mid morning muffins at the coffee shop as a substitute for any other kind of ‘routine’.

6. I miss pedicures. This is admittedly not going to win me any sympathy, but I would really, really like to get the dead skin filed off my feet and for someone to make my toes pretty again and give my feet a nice rub. If they could see about doing my hands and thread my eyebrows as well, that would be brilliant.

7. I miss my son. He’s here, with me, but he’s not the same little boy we have at home. He’s spent a lot of time feeling unsettled, disgruntled, and fed up with the lack of normality in his life. We expect so much of him with all this travelling and it’s really not very fair. I feel so horribly guilty for putting him through this upheaval every year. It’s the worst bit about living away.

8. I miss my kitchen. I want to flick through a recipe book, to shop and cook and serve a meal without getting halfway through and wondering if there is a can opener, or not being able to work the grill. I want to not eat lunch if I don’t feel like it, or eat 4 chocolate digestives with a cup of tea because they’re mine and I can if I want to.

9. I miss privacy. I’m surrounded at all times. I love everyone, they are my family; but I miss having precious hours of my day to sit and muse in silence in front of my computer, or to wander the shopping mall deep in my own thoughts, or sit in a car by myself singing, or not to have to put a bra on as soon as I get up in the morning for fear of running into a male relative on the stairs.

10. I miss myself. I’m on the road. I have no time to write, no chance of getting on stage and worst of all, I left my hairdryer in Dubai. I love seeing everyone, but I don’t feel truly like ‘me’ while I’m away from my home. Ironically this is exactly how I will feel all over again when I leave the UK and return to Dubai in three weeks.

And let’s be honest: I’ve got all year to enjoy my life in Dubai, but only a few weeks to make the most of this one. As a result, I’m enjoying every second of being home, before I go back there. I hope you are all having a great summer too.

Ruby x

Making up history

This weekend sees the UAE’s first ever Theatresports show, being held in the wonderful newly opened Courtyard Playhouse, a performing arts centre focussed entirely on producing grassroots theatre using ‘homegrown’ talent, and the only official theatresports venue in the Middle East. I am so excited to be part of this – improv is addictive, funny, (occasionally) intellectual and really, really good for the soul, whether you’re in it, or watching it. I’d love to see you there. Go on…do something different this weekend. Have a laugh. Be part of Dubai history.

Tickets are free; yes, FREE! And there are two performances on Friday and two on Saturday, at 7pm and 9pm. You can even pop along to the open day from 1pm to 3pm on Saturday, as part of ‘Quoz Happens‘ – if you’re at the Ripe Market at the Courtyard, or grabbing a coffee and a carrot cake at the Lime Tree – we’re just upstairs. Get involved, cheer us on…play your part in building grassroots theatre in Dubai!

To reserve your seats for the evening shows, click on THIS LINK. Come on…as if you could resist this pretty face….

Theatresports

 

Spare me the drama

Three years ago I was a completely different person. I was lonely, depressed, desperately homesick and, save the odd coffee here or there, completely friendless. I sat at home with my one year old son and tried not to cry quite a lot, wondering how I could make things better and failing to come up with any ideas. It was a very low time in my life and clearly something had to change. With my husband’s support, I revisited an idea I’d had a few years’ previous, and signed up to be part of the Desert Monologues, run by Drama Dubai. An old hand at musical theatre, I’d never done ‘straight’ acting before, and didn’t know what to expect. It was six weeks of workshopping followed by a performance of my very own four minute monologue, playing a knife wielding crazy lady who had murdered her husband for laughing during an argument. I loved it.

Fast forward three years and once a week, sometimes twice, I leave behind my studies, my parental responsibilities, and all the other every day stresses and skip into rehearsals like a very theatrical Bambi. I have been lucky enough to take this exciting journey at a time when the cultural scene in Dubai is really beginning to take off, and as a result, I’ve performed in a play, appeared at the Emirates Literature Festival, the Sikka Art Festival, and Short + Sweet Theatre festival. I am in love with improv’ theatre – from theatresports, to long form, to musical improv (my current squeeze)…anything goes, I can’t get enough. I am surrounded by people who make me laugh – big belly laughing – and they are my kind of people, from all walks of life, who love every aspect of being up on stage just as much as I do.

Six months ago, the owners of Drama Dubai, Kemsley Dickinson and Tiffany Schultz, did something brave and inspiring. They walked us into a boiling hot, dilapidated office space and told us they were going to turn it into a theatre. Into our theatre. The Courtyard Playhouse. I am so proud to have been part of this story, and I’m so excited for what it is about to become – a performing arts space that’s as unique as the people that will fill it.

It’s nearly finished; there are a few things that still need to be done – lights, dressing rooms, and some decent washrooms – and so a crowd funding campaign has been launched to raise the money that’s needed for the project to be completed. Click on the link and watch the video (you will even get to see me in it!) and if the mood takes you, donate what you can to support.

Being an expat often means you are detached, uncommitted, and uninvolved in the society outside of your immediate home, school, and work life. You don’t always get involved like you would at home. I spent a lot of time being that way, and I can say, hand on heart, I wish I hadn’t wasted so much of it. I am immensely grateful to Drama Dubai for handing me a lifeline even if they didn’t know it – and know that I will always carry the most amazing memories with me of this place because of the people I have met by doing all of this, and the experiences it has given me.

If you love theatre, even if you only love watching it, please think about helping enrich our city with something unique and inspiring. Click on the link and grab your wallet, tell your friends, share this post. Be involved – play your part.

That is all.

faye2

I spy

Well, it’s been a busy old week in the Ruby Slippers household. Half term and a hectic array of social events mean that this morning was a welcome return to normality. I celebrated by sitting in Starbucks for a full hour, getting round to doing some of the reading I missed out on this past week in favour of looking after the small boy and trying to find five minutes to converse with the big one.

We went to see ‘Skyfall’ earlier in the week which wasn’t what I was going to write about but feel it might merit a mention after all. It’s important to note that I am not much of a film buff and therefore anything I have to say on the matter should be taken with a large pinch of salt. Indeed, the only other movie I have been to see in the past three years is ‘The Hunger Games’, which I thought was brilliant, and I watched ‘Bridesmaids’ when my husband was away and I’d run out of recorded episodes of Grey’s Anatomy. It was fairly enjoyable but Modern Family is funnier. In the world of celluloid and screen, TV is my first love and films come a very poor second. And since my brief encounter with nearly being cast in one, I can’t fathom what would inspire someone to reach for the stars in this manufactured, artificial world, when there is so much to be gained from performing live in a theatre in front of an actual audience that claps when you are finished. Ah well, each to their own. Let’s face it, they all earn a lot more than I do which means they must be doing something right.

So, film – not my thing. BUT I make three exceptions to this rule – 1. If I think a book was brilliant and hear on the grapevine that they didn’t trash it when they made the movie (e.g. The Hunger Games), 2. anything with John Cusack in it (I know, weird choice in a world that contains Hugh Jackman, George Clooney and Brad ‘I used to be hot but then I met Ange’ Pitt, but JC is my ‘I totally would’ and I make no apologies for that fact), and 3. Bond films.

I LOVE Bond. It’s a super-dooper version of Spooks (which I also loved, particularly before they killed off Rupert Penry-Jones, who was my Chief TV Totty for several years, replaced by Danny from CSI New York until he grew that silly moustache and currently a Situation Vacant).

I’m not sure why I get so fired up about 007. I have never found a Bond sexy so it’s certainly not about that. Daniel Craig might have the body of adonis but his little sticky out ears irritate me and his ‘back to basics’ Bond is boring and not in an ironic way. Piers Brosnan killed any kind of romantic associations I may have harboured for him the day he sung in ‘Mamma Mia’, and any Bond prior to that is so old now it’s just wrong to think of them in that way. Would be like shagging your Grandad. So no. It’s not the sex symbol thing. And let’s face it – it’s not the storyline. I love the ‘chase’ at the start, which always gets me on the edge of my seat (well, not always – for me, Skyfall did not produce the kind of adrenaline rush I was looking forward to) and I enjoy the gadgets (which again, Skyfall managed to score a big old zero for), but I’m not some kind of geek that knows all the films in sequential order or can list the baddies from each one. I just really enjoy watching them. They let me into my imaginary world for a few hours where I can dream about wearing glamorous dresses, jet setting round the world and killing people who really piss me off.

I have long believed I would have made a brilliant spy. I genuinely believe MI6 really missed a trick when they didn’t recruit me. Not so much now I spill my guts on a blog every week, of course, and possibly all that running around might have irritated me after a while, and it’s not the sort of career you can really have if you have a family – but I do think I would have made a very good assassin at the very least. I’m very organised, anally retentive, and have exceptionally good spatial awareness and hand-eye coordination. I don’t like jobs that drag on e.g. filing, but I’m very good with jobs that require (excuse the pun) instant execution. We talked about this at a dinner party once, when the question round the table was of the ‘what do you wish you’d done when you were younger that you didn’t?’. Our guests displayed mild amusement when I said I thought I would have made a great spy and that I’d been wasted as a commercial manager in a graphic design agency, but this quickly turned to mild alarm when my husband agreed that I would have indeed been very good at it, given the right training, and that he didn’t think shooting people would have been a particular problem.

So me + spy films = happy. But I have to say whilst I enjoyed aspects of ‘Skyfall’, I am tiring of the ‘humanising’ of Bond. I don’t agree with the portrayal of him as a vulnerable man whose age is catching up with him. Borrrrring. Bond doesn’t get old, or die. He just gets replaced with a newer, improved version. That’s the point. And I’m not sure there was anything new or improved about this movie. Judy Dench was fantastic though and I thought the new Moneypenny was well cast – full of flirtatious innuendos and sexy enough to get her rocks off with Bond but not so outstandingly attractive that he would fall in love with her to exclusion of all others. And the new Q was a good addition who provided a the humour that was missing a little from the rest of the movie. And I liked the baddie. But the ‘Bond girl’ (if you can call her that) was terrible, the plot was a tad bullet-riddled and the ending was way too soppy for my liking. I feel there must be a balance between Contemporary Bond and Bond a la Fromage. Maybe they will find it in the next one.

So – enough of that – what else have I been up to this week? Well we had another dinner party on Friday where I didn’t talk about shooting people in cold blood, but did manage to cock up the starter and dessert so royally we ended up having ice cream with Crunchie bar bits and chocolate biscuits after dinner. Not a big deal, thankfully, as despite the pedigree of the guests (one descended from TV royalty, another friends with actual royalty) they were only in their late twenties and thought it was great. Either that or they have been brought up to be incredibly polite. As I am not a spy and therefore cannot read people’s minds with my special psychic spy pen, I will never know.

Next week, we jet off in rather less than Bond-esque fashion via Emirates economy class to Sri Lanka. Despite the lack of casinos I’m rather looking forward to some quality family time exploring a new country (should we get further than the hotel pool of course). So it’s time to tackle the hundred and one things to do before we go. I bet Bond never had to paint the ceiling or get his garden furniture sanded and stained. Although I’ve never had a helicopter shoot down my house either. Fair play. Maybe not being a spy has it’s advantages after all.

Contemplation by the creative mind (or some such poncey nonsense)

I love it when interesting people stumble into my life. After an initial flurry of – ooo – two or three people, whom I met in the first few months of being in Dubai, I then spent a good few years yearning for more of them to cross paths with me and become my friends.

And whilst I bemoaned the fact that I didn’t have much in the way of social stimulation I can honestly say that I didn’t have a whole lot of opportunity. The first year we were in Dubai I was studying, so I had plenty of time in the day to meet people. But it didn’t work like that. I found it very hard to just ‘make friends’ with people, for starters, because I couldn’t find anything in common with most people I met. Because I didn’t have kids, I was dismissed by those that did, and because I didn’t work in an office, I was dismissed by those that did. And I dismissed them too. They weren’t interesting to me, and I started to think I didn’t fit into anyone’s world. I was bored and I was boring.

In my second year here I started work as a teacher. I didn’t have a huge pool of co workers to get to know, nor the time to spend getting to know them. Most of my days were spent in the company of twenty under-5s, and whilst they are interesting in their own way I wasn’t exactly going to be drinking buddies with any of them. After that I gave birth, and I think anyone who has done the same can say, hand on heart, that it saps all the ‘interesting’ out of you for a good chunk of time. Meeting people who make your brain come alive is only relevant if you haven’t had all of your little grey cells burned up by sleep deprivation and shitty nappies. I was irrelevant to my old teacher chums and although I met a few new mums once I had the baby, most fell by the wayside as our kids got older and we found we had less and less in common.

But when my son turned a year old, he wasn’t the only one to take the first baby steps towards independence. Upon realising that my life probably wasn’t anywhere near as awful as I made it out to be, I realised that my angst and anger at being stuck in a foreign land with a small baby and no friends really needed to be channelled into something more positive. So I went back to my roots, and joined a drama class, where I finally found the energy to be me again.

That was two years ago. The people I met in that class went from being a bunch of misfits I vaguely knew the names of, to being my friends who I can count on to have an interesting and entertaining time with whenever we meet. The class gave me confidence in myself and my ability, and has led to more and more involvement performing and learning with an ever expanding group of people who inspire me to be great. It allowed me to think again, and to celebrate the weirdo in me that had got lost in a sea of conformity somewhere along the journey into expatriateworld and mummydom.

Once the juices were flowing, it made me want to do more. I began to write again. And six months ago, I joined twitter to boost my reader numbers (because as any blogger knows, the stats page is the most important one of all, especially if you thrive on being the centre of attention like I do). And now I have friends who I have made through blogging and twitter, because we write, and we like how each other write, and although I don’t know them terribly well, I have begun to put my trust in the theory that if someone can make me ‘feel’ with what they write, or say, or how they act, that they are ‘my kind of person’. They become interesting. They become my friend.

I had assumed a rather old-fashioned definition of ‘friend’ up until this year. I was searching for people to replace the ones I left behind. It took me a long time to realise that they can’t be replaced, nor do I want them replaced. But now when I think of all the interesting people I have met through being a little more creative, and a little less judgemental and proud, I realise my life is the fuller for it. And if I really think about it, all the friends I left behind came from the same place – they too were once a bunch of misfits in a rehearsal room who over the decades, have become my family.

I have been doing a lot of reading lately, of books and blogs, in preparation for my MA and to improve and invigorate my work onstage.  I find increasingly that these two ‘careers’ of mine overlap, and intertwine, so that my life is slowly becoming fluid again, and instead of wearing many hats in a day to try and fit in with everyone else, I find my world as a mother, wife, friend, and ‘creative person’ is about life fitting in with me. The two things I loved doing in life twenty years ago – writing and theatre – have once again become central to my life today. And life – mine and my family’s – is all the better for it.

People thrive on different things to get them through life. How I keep forgetting, and how I only just figured this out again, is beyond me. I have the attention span of a fly, clearly. But in my life, being busy doing creative things is key. If I am not creative, I am not inspired. If I am not inspired, I am not interested. If I am not interested, then I am bored. If I am bored, then I am thoughtless, and lonely, and sad. And right now, I am horribly, smug-tastically happy with my life, which is full to the brim with busy all of a sudden, doing all the things I love, surrounded by people who make me smile. Which can only mean I’m getting it right.

Bat Cat

My son has been ill and off school for nearly a week now and while he’s definitely on the mend things are moving quickly from mere boredom to full-on hysteria. This morning, in between breakfast and being forced to take a toy dog for a walk around the living room, I finally managed to get 10 minutes of uninterrupted time on my computer and stumbled across this story  tweeted by the breakfast DJ on Dubai 92 FM. I opened up the link to be greeted by a rather sick/amusing (delete as the mood takes you) tale of a man who converted his dead cat into a helicopter. My son happened to pass by as I was reading the story and saw the picture. Instantly renaming the poor pussy ‘BatCat’ he insisted on looking at the photos and laughing hysterically whilst shrieking ‘BatCat’ at the top of his voice. Upon tweeting Catboy the DJ (there are a lot of cats in this story, sorry) to tell him, he then related the story of BatCat on air and dedicated their ‘Topical Tune of the Day’ to my delighted son, who is still amused and excited in equal doses about the stuffed dead cat that flew on the radio.

I am so proud.

Another one bites the dust

And so we bid farewell to another icon of our times, Whitney Houston. Her battles with drink and drugs are well documented, as is her shambolic and difficult relationship with her ex-husband. She joins the ranks of celebrities who lost their lives prematurely in tragic but all too familiar circumstances – Heath Ledger, Amy Winehouse, Michael Jackson, Paula Yatesand her partner Michael Hutchence – and they are just the relatively recent deaths that instantly spring to mind, flanked by many more.

English: Whitney Houston talking to the audien...

The late great Whitney Houston - I never liked her songs much but you can't deny her incredible talent

Is fame the cause of these untimely deaths, or would they have died young anyway? It’s difficult to tell in the 21st century when drink and drugs are readily available to anyone who has the money and the wherewithal to find them. And whilst the cause of a coroner’s verdict of accidental overdose or suicide is very obviously down to a habit gone wrong or a mental illness played out to it’s bitter end, the bigger question might be how that person ended up there in the first place.

A celebrity’s journey to rock bottom is a very different one to the prostitute found dead in her flat from a heroin overdose, even though the result is the same. The ego, the drive, the need for attention, the never ending ambition to be the best – you would have thought the average famous person had more in common with an olympic champion than a penniless hooker. And some do. The superstars that make it through the endless media scrutiny and a million temptations and survive intact, sometimes despite themselves – Madonna, George Clooney, The Beatles.

But for every Madonna there is a Britney, for every Clooney a Charlie Sheen, and for every Macca there is a Cobain. And then you realise how fragile the world of the celebrity can be and how easy it is to succumb to the downward spiral. Broken hearts, tumultuous relationships, eating disorders, nervous breakdowns – they are laid bare in all their un-glory for us to see as the modern day media plays judge and jury. Some stumble back from the brink and recover. It is a small miracle that The Rolling Stones survive intact after so many decades of self abuse, but somehow they realised they had to enjoy the party without destroying themselves in the process. Not an easy task and their aged faces bear the scars. Britney Spears is another survivor. So many feared the worst for her back in 2007 after the famous head shaving incident, but look at her now – a picture of health and happiness and possibly the most successful come-back career in modern times (if, in many people’s opinion, a little undeserved) .

Lindsay Lohan, on the other hand, may not be so lucky. Once hailed as a potentially great actress, she lurches from one real-life drama to another like a car crash happening in slow motion. Her gradual slide towards self-destruction has been seen many times throughout Hollywood history. We often think of it as a contemporary issue but the problems go back a lot further. Judy Garland, screen and stage star of the 1940s and 50s  battled with alcohol and drug use during most of her career and was married five times before her death at the age of 47. Marilyn Monroe died aged 36 from an overdose after a life plagued with personal and professional problems. Clearly for many, finding a way out is impossible after a certain point in time – either because their mental anguish is beyond the reach of therapy or because their physical health has deteriorated so far that it becomes impossible to get it back.

So are celebrities more susceptible to addictions, bad relationships and emotional self destruction because they are famous, or do they seek fame and succeed at finding it because they have a more ‘addictive’ personality? Is it nature or nurture? I suspect that like all of us, it is a mix of the two. Having met the odd actor in my time, it’s fair to say that for the most part, famous people – or people that want to be famous enough to eventually achieve it – have enormous egos, they thrive on attention, and they are also incredibly emotionally fragile. All three of these characteristics in proportions we mere mortals can only imagine. They live in a cocoon filled with money, power, other beautiful people and adoring fans. They have a warped concept of right and wrong because the people that surround them do too, usually for different and more selfish reasons. They only have their own inner moral compass to rely on and if that’s not set right then there are a thousand different things that could go wrong.

Musicians, singers, actors – they all start out wanting recognition of their talent, born out of incredible self-belief that they are somehow more amazing than anyone who has gone before and must be applauded. Without them feeling this way we wouldn’t have the Whitney Houstons of this world. Even in today’s reality TV world gone mad, there are, I am sure, still many people out there who will forever remain ‘undiscovered’, not because they aren’t extremely talented, but because they choose not to shout about it. Reality TV has, in fact, bred an even more bizarre celebrity type – one with no talent but the self belief that they deserve ‘fame’ in any case. Being famous for being famous. Or not very famous, in fact. If this little subset fall into the jaws of self destruction it is because they thrive on the publicity that comes from being self destructive. Reality TV ‘stars’, in my opinion, have very little to do with actual ‘stars’ and they certainly share very few traits.

It’s not that I feel sorry for the average superstar. But I think about the person inside the ‘personality’ and wonder what it must be like to be so sure of yourself and yet doubt yourself at the same time, both to such extremes. Even in modern-day times, many women who can command huge fees to appear in a movie become irrelevant to the industry the second they hit 40 or put on some weight. Rock stars who are too easily flattered by all the attention it can garner often don’t have the ability to cope with it and end up in a mess of drink, drugs and unwise sexual exploits. And as well as the inner demons to fight there are the ones with cameras. With the media industry plaguing personal as well as professional lives of the rich and famous 24/7, looking for anything to pounce upon that will sell a paper or a magazine, it’s no wonder celebrities have a conflict of interest when it comes to the press. Of course everyone likes to be the subject of a good story and many would say there’s no such thing as bad publicity. But no-one I know would like their cellulite magnified and splattered across the front cover of a gossip mag, or to be chased down the road by dozens of paparazzi during a traumatic marriage break up, or for their loved ones to know they took too many drugs and died alone in a hotel room. Who starts down the road to fame and fortune wanting that as their epitaph?

So back to my question: would they have died young anyway? I believe the answer is yes. People bandy about the word ‘tragic’ and it is so, that someone with so much potential for greatness dies prematurely. Tragic for us as their audience, tragic for their loved ones, and undeniably tragic for themselves, that they couldn’t fight the demons hard enough to keep them away and enjoy the limelight. But true stars could never have been anything else. Talent cannot be learnt, it can only be discovered, nurtured and celebrated. And these people that we mourn were each in in their own way, undeniably talented. Truly tragic, then, that they cannot be protected from their own bright burning star.