The one where I cook locust for dinner

a Desert Locust (Schistocerca gregaria) in a b...

Dinner’s ready! (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Oh. My. God. I just served a locust with our roast chicken.

Those of you who are regular readers will know that nature and me are not on the best of terms. There have been camel spiders, queen cockroaches, and giant moths in abundance, all of it unwanted and all of it leaving me emotionally the worse for wear. But right up there on the list of ‘lasting memories of living in Dubai that I would rather not have’, has to be tonight, finding a chuffing cooked locust in my dinner.

Let’s dial back a bit. The supermarket have been stocking kale of late, which may sound like a normal everyday occurrence to those living back in the west, but to us out in the desert, a green vegetable that isn’t broccoli or cabbage has been a long time coming. So when I saw it on the shelf this morning, I decided a bunch of kale would make the perfect accompaniment to our Sunday roast.

I grabbed the best looking of the bunch, popped it in a bag, and there it remained until this evening when I took it out of the fridge to chop up for dinner. Lazy cow that I am, I figured the boiling water would probably wash the leaves better than chucking it under the cold tap ever could, so I took the bunch, sliced it off the stems (and possibly a leg or two), gathered it up in my BARE HANDS and threw it in the pot.

Ten minutes later (and a quick taste test to make sure it was cooked…oh I’m so glad I did that) and voila! Beautiful green kale. I carved the chicken, placed the roast potatoes, stuffing and carrots on the plates, and proceeded to serve up the kale. Reaching the bottom of the pan, what do you know, but gathered on my fork next to the last of the leaves was a three inch long locust, boiled and perfectly preserved, ready and waiting to garnish the meal.

A locust. A friggin’ LOCUST. As my husband commented, lucky he was there to witness it this time or he’d never have believed the size of it, or indeed, that it was there at all. Needless to say dinner was a slightly less pleasurable experience than I had planned, as I gagged on my carrots and stared at the green veg portion-sized gap on my plate, imagining what might have been had the revolting creature not sunk to the bottom of the pan and instead been dished out onto a plate. It was one of the most horrific moments of my culinary life, as I retraced my steps and visualised over and over again, the awful moment when we nearly had biblical plague pest for dinner.

I’d like to point out to anyone that I’ve entertained at home in the past present or future, that I usually wash my food. It was a mere moment of madness that made me skip the process this time around, call it karma if you will that it just happened to be the time a giant insect was nested inside to reveal my slack housewifery. My mother will be delighted to hear I will be washing my vegetables meticulously from now on. And I will not be buying kale again this side of repatriation. I bet I put a fair few of you off it too.

A word about home

As part of my studies this week I was asked to make a list of words that I associated with the word ‘Home’, to include personal, concrete examples that might include names, places, objects, feelings, sensory experiences, and so on. Here’s what I came up with in a five minute brainstorm:

family – Dubai – sun – city – heat – happy – sad – homesickness – London – childhood home – childhood friends – sadness – missing out – friends – irrelevant – unknown – secret – packing – saying goodbye – depressed – lonely – guilt – grandparents – parenthood – love – phones – skype – email – travel – holidays – visitors – achievement – intensity – strength – coping mechanisms – girlfriends – hobbies – time difference – sausages & mash – green – seasons – trees – walking – the pub – tube train smell – summer nights – cold – Friday club – music – independent shops – carpet beneath my feet – heating – fires – touch – hugs – absence – laughter – eccentricities – familiarity – forgiveness – joy – being together

It made me nostalgic and warm for the vague fuzzy definition of ‘home’ I keep tucked away most days.  I honestly haven’t given it much thought since we got back after the summer, but instead of sinking into a funk, I sat and mused about my friends, and wondered how they were all getting on, how their kids were doing in school, how their jobs were going, what they were doing for Halloween, Guy Fawkes, Thanksgiving, Christmas….I miss them in much more of an abstract way these days; the desperate homesickness I got used to over the years seems to be replaced lately by acceptance that time passes so quickly, it probably won’t be long in the grand scheme of things before I am back in the fold and living life alongside them. (Hey, what’s eight years or so between friends?) But still, it would be nice to feel counted a thousand miles away, to say I love you and hear it back – and to know what they’re up to this very minute. And that’s why this post is so short. Because I’m off to find out.

What’s on your list of ‘home’?

An open letter to Ahlan…don’t get ME started…

Dear Ahlan

What an interesting article you published recently, on the agony of flying on planes that have – gasp – children on them.

I love how the author of the column assumed that every child who ever flew on a plane is by default loud and annoying, that all babies scream, and that they, as a childless passenger, were entitled to make us parents sound like the most inconsiderate, incompetent set of people ever to travel the earth. Talk about alienating half your readership, right there. The suggestion that all families could be given a section at the back of the plane was particularly generous. Personally I would prefer the upper deck, if that’s okay, and you can go and sit at the back and inhale 350 people’s farts and bad breath. I also love the assumption that all parents would want to sit together…”somewhere they can sit with other sympathetic parents who understand what it’s like to have a small child, and who won’t tut or glare when the kid goes into siren mode”. Ah yes, you’ve really got the measure of parents there. We don’t just love our own kids and forgive them anything, we love all children. Especially the small ones that cry all the time, or the little gits that run around during a night flight like they own the joint. This is just a suggestion: you might want to observe parents a little better next time you’re on a flight. You might just see that if someone else’s child is screaming, or kicking, or being loud, we don’t generally do much except look smug and thank our lucky stars it’s not ours. How ridiculous, to think we’re all going to club together at the back of the plane, shrug our shoulders, and mutter ‘kids, eh?’ to each other while they run riot on sugar highs and boredom.

You mention that top airlines have created bar areas, massage rooms, and showers on board, so why not soundproofed zones for kids? Great plan. Maybe we should have sections for the business travellers who lie snoring like juggernauts the whole flight too. And one for the people that don’t seem to be able to walk down an aisle in the middle of the night without hugging the backs of all the seats on the way to and from the bathroom. Maybe all the fat people could go in one section in the middle so that the rest of us still have space for our elbows. Ooo, and maybe there could be another part of the plane for people who smell bad. Really?

Flying is a necessary part of life for many people; everyone is different, none of them are perfect, and it is generally annoying for us all, no matter our personal circumstances. That’s what happens when you stick 350 strangers in a tin can and throw them through the air in order to get from A to B. If you don’t like it, take the car, or hire a private jet. But leave us parents out of it. My son has been commuting with me from Dubai to London and the US since he was four months old. Never once has he screamed, never once has anyone had cause to complain about him. I’m not saying there aren’t some horrors out there, but don’t tar us all with the same brush. How about considering that most parents dread long haul flying beyond anything you can possibly imagine, but that many of us have no choice in the matter – and that most of us do our best to make it as pleasurable as possible for everyone – the kids, us, and you included. If you’re going to attempt to take a stand, maybe publish something that offers your opinion on what civil behaviour and parental responsibility should look like on planes to those that need a kick up the backside. It would certainly offer a more positive message than encouraging persecution and segregation based on lifestyle choices. Making the world a better place and all that, don’t you think?

Yours,

Ruby Slippers.

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

Where are you from?

In most situations here it’s standard, along with ‘how long have you been in Dubai?’, to ask the question ‘where are you from?’ when you first meet someone. I’m starting a personal campaign to get this particular question banned from all social events, and it’s not just because I don’t like answering it. (Although, when you are an Essex girl, it’s fairly easy to see why you might want to avoid the subject).  Aside from the fact I think it’s the second most boring question on earth to ask someone at a Dubai dinner party, I don’t think it captures the information a person is looking for when they ask it. What will it tell you about me, to know where I spent my childhood? It allows you to put me in a box, sure – to think you know me, my ‘type’. Except it’s more likely to provide you with a stereotypical idea of me than anything real about who I am or how I grew up. I prefer the more cryptic ‘Where were you before?’; it encourages people to open up a bit, tell you something of their personal history, allow you to understand their ‘now’ a little better.  ‘Where are you from?’ doesn’t really have much bearing on who I am right now. And with four decades of life behind me, where am I really from, anyway?

On the surface, it’s easy enough to answer. England. Yes, alright – Essex, to be precise. Go on, get it out of your system….you can take the girl out of Essex….hahaha….it’s part of me, I’ll give you that. But deeper beneath the surface, it’s not quite so straightforward. I didn’t grow up, get married and have kids all within the same five mile radius as my parents. Some people do, but not me. It was never for me. At the age of eight I remember driving through London with my mum and dad, falling in love with the huge Victorian mansions of South Kensington and announcing I would live there one day. Of course, South Ken was a pipe dream; I ended up in Catford. Hardly the stuff fairytales are made of, but at least it was away. That’s all I ever wanted to be, was away. Not because my life was so awful (although my family were, and still are, a little above average in terms of strange behaviour), but because I always wanted something different. Specifically, to begin with, I wanted to be in London. Drama school in New Cross seemed like a good place to start, instead of going to get a BA in Communications from Leicester university like I was supposed to – and somewhere between shutting the front door to my parent’s home and opening the one at Dallinger Road SE12, my nomadic days began. For a decade, I went through more houses than most people do in a lifetime. If I drew you a line between all the places I’ve lived in London, from Eltham to Richmond, you’d get the south circular in glorious technicolor. I didn’t stint on career changes either. Or career breaks, taken in order to get on a plane and see the world. It’s become clear to me over the years that I have the attention span of a toddler and the staying power of a chicken caught in a tornado. I am easily swayed by the prospect of adventure until the moment I get what I want and then I’m bored all over again. Shall we move to Surrey? Australia? California? Dubai? Sure. Oh, I’ve changed my mind. And back again. And once more for luck…

But all these places I have been, every house I have stayed in, they have all been home, they have all been where I’m from – a reflection of my life in that moment: the grimy flat on the Loughborough estate in Brixton where I’d stagger back to after a night of clubbing; our first purchase, a little wooden house on the river Wey, where we pottered around the garden and watched swans lay their eggs by our door; the Dubai villa we wake up in every day, filled with the gentle roar of family life. Each and every one held my hopes and dreams and shaped me, and whether for six months or four years, each place, each street, each walk home from the bus stop kept my secrets, saw my tears, heard my laughter and allowed me to feel like I belonged. So where am I from? A small village in Essex, where I grew up. London, where I studied and worked, lived, laughed and loved, for over a decade of wonderful life. The US, where we have a home, family; where a piece of my heart rests, waiting for me to return. Dubai, where I have spent my married life, given birth to my son, where I’ve finally grown up and learned so much, and had a ball doing it. Destination unknown, wherever the next adventure takes me, where I know I will make a place for myself once more.

What will my son say when people ask him the same thing? Will they even ask? Or, in a globalised world full of third culture kids, international marriages and long distance friendships, will the question finally cease to be relevant? I do hope so. I’m getting so tired of Essex girl jokes.

The one about the house next door

In hindsight, buying a house off plan, in a record-breaking property boom, in the middle of the desert, weeks before the global economy came crashing down, was not the best move. To add insult to injury, the completion date moved no less than seven times and by nearly two years, with many assurances along the way that it would be ‘finished soon, inshallah, madam, please don’t worry’ turning out to be – for want of a better phrase – a crock of sh*t. Instead of moving into our new home when I was was three months’ pregnant, which was ‘the absolute final completion date madam, we promise you’, we finally made it into our house when our son was eight weeks old. By then I had shouted myself hoarse on the phone to the management company, been in floods of tears every day for weeks and we had 24 hours left on our old lease before we were rendered completely homeless. It was not the best start to family life. Our only clue as to the progress of our home during the time it took to finish it was gleaned by gazing at the building site from the distant golf club terrace, and several photos taken by a heavily pregnant, desperate, hormonal crazy lady (that would be me) who gatecrashed onto the site by way of driving through the security gate as fast as possible and taking as many shots as she could before the guards caught up with her.

But, eventually,  we moved in. And to have our own home these past four years has been worth the pain, for the most part. I don’t miss the days of wondering if the rent is going to double or if the landlord is going to sell the house from underneath us. I got to decorate my bedroom and design my garden. We gave our son security and familiarity in an environment where it’s easy to forget the importance or significance of either.

But smug home ownership comes at a price. Let’s ignore the horrific effect of the financial crisis on the value of our villa, because (inshallah) we seem to have nearly recovered from that. The more in-our-faces issue blighting our happiness from nearly day one was our neighbour. Shortly after all the houses in our street had been finished and occupied, she began dismantling her brand new villa in order to make it bigger. Why she didn’t just buy a bigger villa is, to this day, somewhat of a mystery. But the contractors came armed with jackhammers, and the next thing we knew from 8am to 6pm, six days a week, the sound of reinforced concrete being smashed up filled our house, along with large amounts of dust vibrating gently onto our belongings and into our lungs. Our beautiful brand-new garden became a haven of hell, filled with noise, dirt and the added attraction of several workmen staring down from the roof of next door’s house at any given time. It took them four months to tear down the back half of the villa. We figured they’d be done rebuilding within a year.

Oh, how wrong we were. The site stood abandoned for six months after that, before some guys suddenly turned up and starting building. They put up new walls, and a roof, and things were starting to look really good…and then one day they were gone. Another three months went by. The garage door gathered dust and some kids drew penis graffiti on it. We waited patiently for our neighbour to restart the work, then not quite so patiently as we threatened to call the authorities and shut her down. Finally, over a year after the project had begun, a car turned up. I was so excited!

I needn’t have been. The jackhammering began again the next day, and the day after that, and so on…until it became clear they were – horror – demolishing the extension. WTF? We discovered our neighbour had ‘changed her mind’, which is code for ‘didn’t get planning permission’. The whole upper balcony and roof was taken down and then…left for another few months in great hunks of concrete all over the site.

Time went by. A new set of workers appeared, and lo! The roof went back on. After a few strained episodes, including ‘the one where they installed an air con generator on the roof facing our garden’ and ‘the one where they illegally demolished the garden wall and got banned from the site for two weeks’, progress was finally made. A few weeks before summer, we watched the floors and electrics go in, then the windows and a few chandeliers, and then suddenly, it was over.

I bumped into the chief contractor the day they were leaving the site.

‘All finshed?’ I asked.

‘All finished, madam,’ he said, smiling and puffing his chest up with pride, ‘beautiful house now.’

‘Yes, and it only took three years,’ I said. I don’t know why I did this, sarcasm was bound to be lost on the guy.

‘Three and a half, madam,’ he replied, clearly revelling in his project management prowess. ‘Very long time.’

There was a pause as we both considered what he had said. Then he turned to me and fished a card from his pocket.

‘You need work on your house?’

Not bloody likely, mate.

Mushrooms and Moles

Gosh, well how do you follow up the blog post that went viral? Carefully, I assume*. I’d like to start by saying thank you to everyone that shared ‘Welcome, newbies‘ on Facebook last week, and a big hello to the new readers out there. I hope I do you proud. Or at the very least entertain you. It’s lovely to have so many people enjoying what I’m writing, it means a lot to an attention seeking ego maniac like myself.

So, while we’re having this virtual group hug, I’d like to indulge in a small moment of over-sharing:

I have fungus growing on my cleavage.

Apparently, according to the dermatologist (who has now been added to my general entourage of hairdresser, colourist, manicurist, pedicurist, doctor, OBGYN, dentist, personal trainer and anyone else that keeps me looking good, feeling good, or generally alive), it’s pretty common out here in desertville. She had one case in fourteen years working in Wales and sees about four a week in Dubai. The good news is the fungus lives on all of us, on our skin (so I’m not alone, or utterly gross), but when you get a little sweaty, it grows and forms pretty little rings which, if you’re paranoid about the time you got so sunburnt you couldn’t dress for three days and then your skin blistered and peeled away in a whole sheet (okay that’s a little gross), you might think were something more serious. They aren’t. They’re fungus, and with a little cream twice a day it will be gone within a couple of weeks. Crisis over. I just have to learn to stop sweating in forty degree heat.

While I was at the dermatologist parting with DHS 1000 of BUPAs money just to be told I was growing mushrooms on my torso, she asked if there was anything else I wanted to know. Well talk about kid in a candy store.  I’d turned 39 three days previous and the only reason I don’t look wrinkly is because of all the fat I gained stuffing my face over the summer.

I thought of the youthful looking woman I’d seen in reception. I noted the doctor’s plumped cheeks and smoothed brow. I looked around the room at all the photos of perfect dewy-faced women, with no bags under their eyes, no blemishes on their skin, and not a wrinkle to be seen. It all looked so tempting. I may have dribbled a bit.

‘Can you get rid of the mole on my nose?’ I asked. It’s not a moley mole, it’s skin coloured and sits in the dimple above my nostril. You can barely see it and it doesn’t particularly bother me, but I thought I’d start with something small and see what she said.

‘Not without a scar’, she replied. Hmmph. That wasn’t the answer I’d hoped for. But then something amazing happened.

‘You have such lovely skin for your age,’ she said, ‘I wouldn’t do anything at the moment.’

The Dermatologist instantly became my new best friend.

‘But we can whip off that mole on your back when you come back for your check up. It should only take about 15 minutes.’

I ummed and ahhed while she explained that they would send it to a lab to be checked and although she was sure it was fine it might become bothersome in the future. And so, like the thousands of women before me who are approaching forty and feel in need of a little ‘help’, I have agreed to my first cosmetic procedure.

On my back.

I don’t think I’ve quite got the hang of this yet.

.

*To hell with that, let’s start with fungus.