And they all lived happily ever after

I’ve just finished watching the season one finale of ‘Once Upon a Time’, which turned out to be surprisingly good in the end. I suppose given it’s by the same people that made ‘Lost’, that I should have expected an awesome pilot episode to hook me in, some fairly random and dramatic twists and turns during the early part of the season, a few ‘album fillers’, followed by a blinding ending; it would appear that’s exactly what was delivered. Here’s hoping that, unlike Lost: a) the second series is as good as the first, b) it continues to make some sort of sense and c) it doesn’t limp on aimlessly and draws to a neat and comprehendible conclusion by the end of the third season.

A classic fairy with a wand

I wish for…a perfect place to live  (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Anyway, it got me thinking about Dubai vs London, and how it’s often kind of like living in Fairytale land vs. Storybrooke (for those people who haven’t seen it – which I’m guessing by the audience figures reported on Wikipedia, is the majority of you – Storybrooke is the town full of fairytale characters who live under a curse of unhappiness in a land with no magic i.e Maine, USA). And like these places, Dubai and London are worlds apart, one’s glitter to the other’s grime – but sometimes there are parallels. Usually about stuff that irritates me. In fact, the things we most often moan about in the UK are quite often startlingly similar to the ones we complain about the most in Dubai, too. Here are my top three ‘mirror, mirror’ moments, that bug me just as badly in both places:

1. Driving

It takes HOURS to get anywhere in a car in London. It never ceases to amaze me how bloody long it takes to get out of London as well. It has been known on a bank holiday weekend to take me three hours to reach the M25. The traffic officially moves slower than it did when horse and cart was the only thing available. And yet ironically there are cameras and speed humps everywhere, to catch you out when you are finally moving faster than 20mph and riding a wave of euphoria. White van man with his abusive and cavalier driving is the scourge of society and everyone hates anyone in a flashy car. You can never find a place to park and traffic wardens are evil. As are cyclists, pedestrians and buses.


It never takes very long to get anywhere in Dubai unless you are a) headed towards Sharjah or b) you get into an accident with a fundamentally stupid person and die on the way to your destination. The traffic officially moves faster than the speed of light, except when there is a hidden camera in which case everyone will jam their brakes on really, really hard just as they reach it and cause even more accidents. White toyota truck man is the scourge of society because they drive at about 30km/hr everywhere and use the indicator stick to hang their lunch bag on, and everyone hates people in flashy cars, even other people driving flashy cars. Everyone except you is terrible at driving and it’s each man for himself AT ALL TIMES. There are no pedestrians or cyclists because you would have to be certifiably insane to be either and expect to live.

2. The Weather

London is wet, windy, dark and cold for about 13 months of the year. It seems to take everyone by surprise each March that spring does not produce daffodils, farmers markets and glorious sun-filled Easter egg hunts in Hyde park, but instead is just a slightly less dark version of winter. Summer yields about 2 weeks of glorious weather which everyone gets very excited about and when, it’s true, it is the best city in the world to be in. (Luckily that’s the bit I’m normally there for). Outside of these precious 14 days, Londoners experience soggy tennis, Shakespeare in the park shivering under umbrellas, and endless rained-out BBQs. The saviour of all this atrocious weather is The Pub, which can be relied on in all situations to be warm and sell alcohol. Two things which Londoners value above all else.


Dubai is hot, all the time, and when it isn’t hot it’s hotter – or alternatively, hotter than Hell. It seems to take everyone by surprise each May that it’s time to decamp until October. Although a few silly people insist it’s ‘mild for the time of year’ as they boil in 110 degree heat to eat their dinner, mostly everyone just sits inside and moans about how hot it is. Air conditioning is a way of life, and for four months a year most people do not breathe fresh air or see the sun unless they can absolutely help it. Everyone gets sick as a result and with pasty sallow skin and dark circles from too much partying to make up for the lack of fresh air (well that’s my excuse) they mainly look like they live at the North Pole, not in the desert. In the winter season, which is glorious, it usually rains for about 2 days, torrentially, in localised patches. Everyone calls their friends and people get jealous if they miss it.

3. People

People are quite rude in London. And pretty selfish. When I was pregnant and travelling on the underground, even though I had a badge that said ‘I’m up the duff, give me a seat please’ (yes, there are official badges) no bastard gave me a seat. No-one looks where they are going in London. No-one says ‘excuse me’, or ‘sorry’, or ‘good morning’. In fact eye contact alone can count as a human rights infringement. The only time this is not true is if you are queuing for something, when good manners abound for some reason, and everyone gets really mad if someone tries to cheat. If there’s one thing we Brits can do right, it’s form a line. But other than that, most of the time, Londoners could learn a few manners and it would be a nicer place for it.


People can be pretty rude in Dubai too. Except if you are pregnant or have a small child, or are paying for something, in which case no-one can do enough for you. Except if they are having a bad day or are terribly important with a small penis, in which case they will still be a complete a-hole. Queues, like car indicators, are an urban myth. They ignore the laws of physics, refuse to go from first to last person in a line, instead they generally form a sort of seething mass of humanity grouped from front to back in roughly the following order: Local, Female, Western, Regional, Female & Filipino, Other. If you are female and western, lets face it, this is an excellent system – but I imagine it pisses off large portions of the expat population no end. Hence system B of queuing which goes like this: Bunfight.

Yes, two cities… different yet the same. I’ve not even started on tourists or the cost of living. But I guess there are things that are annoying wherever we live. My husband and I once conducted research on where would be the best place in the world for us to live, with the intention that we would be there by 2005. We took into account weather, education, work, housing, ability to travel, potential to die from a natural disaster, political climate, taxes, and distance away from our families. The place we came up with was San Diego, CA. We went there on holiday to check it out, so serious were we that this was ‘our place’. It was crap. We just didn’t feel the love at all. A year later we ended up in Dubai. Which I guess just goes to show that magic isn’t always where you expect it, and true love is a city you can bitch about and still want to live in, happily ever after.

Or at least for another few years.

There’s no place like it

English: Illuminatable Earth globe, Columbus, ...

Pick a spot, any spot

Home. As usual our time in London has flown past in a blur of rainy days, sunny days, drinking, late nights, laughter and love, this year with a bit of Olympic excitement thrown in for good measure. We are physically exhausted but emotionally refreshed, and for a brief shining moment our Camelot-on-Thames has been the centre of my world once more.

With each passing year I get more used to the hellos and goodbyes, but this year as the faint whiff of hope surrounds me that one day we may come back, I have started to really think about what it would mean to return to London for more than just a holiday. There will be many good things about coming back that would have been lost on me had I never left. Staying in London as a comparitive tourist rather than living and working here has opened my eyes once more to what an incredible city we have at our feet. Walking the streets (walking! An unimaginable pastime for the average citizen of Dubai) and enjoying the weather, the people watching, the architecture, the noise – it is something of a musical dance whose moving parts make up the sum that is this city, full with life in a way that Dubai cannot possibly hope to master. The wonderful parks, museums, galleries and theatres that we have enjoyed the past ten days would never again be taken for granted or left unvisited by the repatriated version of me. Neither would the myriad of bars and restaurants and coffee shops that decorate the streets, or the boutiques and nick nack shops that nest amongst them. But have I been gone so long that I can’t see my city through anything but my sunglasses? And rose tinted ones at that?

With all the thoughts of registering with schools and so on, to plan for this hopeful but currently unsecured comeback, it occurred to me that I may have left a Londoner, but I will return as one third of an international family, a repatriated trailing spouse with an american husband and a third culture kid in tow. It is not going to be as easy as I think to become ‘English’ again, if ever.

My son will be homesick for a place neither me nor my husband call home. And yet, Dubai is our home, and by the time we return it will have most likely been so for nearly a decade. We are long time expats now, and even for me, the only true brit in the family, calling London home again will take time. I struggle with the basics of contemporary London life already, like how to charge my oyster card, and what can I recycle in those orange bags, and do I turn right at the lights if there is no oncoming traffic? And that’s just the start. I have no idea about tv (there were 5 channels or sky when we left), I’m a nervous wreck getting on the tube with my son in case we both magically leap off the platform or get split up by a closing door, and pretty much everything I have in my wardrobe is too white/shiny/expensive to be trotting round cobbled streets in the rain. To repatriate will be a difficult journey, I see now. I will not just simply slot back in, and pick up where I left off. I think it is good to be aware of this now, to start accepting that things will feel different, and that we may not always like it.

We are lucky to have a relatively international set of friends, full of expats and repats and hailing from around the world. They all call London their home and the city is such a melting pot that it hardly matters we’ve been away in that sense. But as I pack our bags and leave behind my beloved city to travel across the pond, I realise I am, these days, just as excited about returning to the US – I get that same familiar, easy feeling from the cities of Boston and New York as I do from London, and with the other 66.6% of the family unit holding a US passport, I am finding it increasingly important to promote American culture in the house and feel as comfortable with it as I do my own.

I wonder had we not lived abroad if I would have found it as easy to bring two cultures under one roof. I wonder if it would not have seemed so important, that my son who belongs to two countries and was born and raised in a third, should have the best experiences of them all and be truly international in his identity, rather than coming ‘from somewhere’. I wonder if coming ‘from somewhere’ has actually ceased to be as important to me. I certainly feel distinctly foreign when people talk about the jubilee, or the Olympics, or David Cameron. Well not foreign, just remote. I can’t relate to these things that people feel so passionately about, and yet I feel like a I should because I am ‘from here’.

But I fear I am not, anymore. Part of me is sad about that, that I have accepted a slightly nomadic existence that will no doubt continue to affect the way I live for a long time to come. That other part of me embraces the fact that I am living this incredible life that spans continents and oceans, that I have learnt and adopted new and different ways of doing things because of who I married and where we live and all the things we have seen along the way. I am daunted and yet excited by the prospect of raising my TCK to appreciate his place in this world. To belong ‘everywhere’ instead of ‘somewhere’, which must surely mean there are more places in this world to call home. To feel connected in these huge cities but undaunted by change. I hope this for him, but for myself as well, that the lessons I have learnt through moving away will stand me in good stead for moving back. To say ‘home’ to me now it means so many different places and I love each one for different reasons. So, from one home to another, we fly off on the next part of our summer journey. Tell you what, if Dorothy lived my life she would have been hard pushed to end up in the right place even with those ruby slippers…

Summer, summer, summertime

English: Suitcase made with cloth material.

Interesting fact: I searched for an image of a suitcase and all these weird piercings of ladies’ whoopsies came up. Who knew? (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I’ve tried really hard not to mention it, but it’s no use…I’M GETTING OUT OF HERE IN THREE DAYS!! The travel logistics are all in place, the social diary is sorted and the countdown has officially begun.

The summer has well and truly kicked in here, the streets are deserted, the heat and humidity are out of control and the only good thing about the fact that EVERYONE has left already is that the supermarket car park is empty and there is no queue for the till.

I started packing on Saturday – this process will take a week to get right in terms of luggage allowance vs. content as I battle with trying to create a capsule wardrobe that will take us from swanky city restaurants in London and New York to the beaches of Cape Ann. Not forgetting of course the potential rain-infested swamp that is my parents’ back garden if Britain continues its currently undefeated claim to the title of ‘Wettest Country in the World’. However, with three days to go and a comprehensive pack list I am confident I will succeed, although no doubt get irritated at what has become an annual cull on the nine pairs of shoes I believe you should be able to get in a suitcase.

Now I just have to get the family on the plane, try not to argue with my husband about anything on the way (here’s a hint: let me make all the decisions and don’t question any of them) and remember to charge the ipad and the portable dvd player so as to distract the little man from the fact I’m making him sit still for seven hours in a flying tin can.

Piece of cake. Happy summer to you all.

Ruby Slippers x

Hair today, gone tomorrow

As any woman will know, finding a decent hairdresser is like searching for a needle in a haystack; and when you find the one that can tame your curly/straight/long/short/thin/thick/flyaway hair you will move heaven and earth to keep them. I have short hair that requires a regular 6 week crop and colour to maintain its precision cut and keep away the wavy 80s Princess Diana/Farah Fawcett style it would otherwise morph into if left to its own devices. I am incredibly particular about who cuts my hair and insist that they gaze at old photos of me with longer locks and bad styling before they make the first incision in order to fully understand the horror that awaits if I do not keep it short and in tip top condition.

Princess Diana on a royal visit for the offici...

I am only ever eight weeks and some hair lacquer away from Princess Diana c.1987 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Imagine then, if you will, my dilemma when my hairdressers move away from Dubai nearly as often as my friends do.

In the time I have lived here I have had no less than eight hairdressers. The first time I needed a cut I went to a local salon in the Marina where we lived and he sheared the whole thing with a razor blade and refused to let me look in a mirror until he was finished. And the end result looked…well, like I had sheared my hair with a razor blade and no mirror. After that experience I timed my trips back to the UK often enough to ensure my old stylist could do my cut and colour and when it got too unruly inbetween times I stuck a scarf on my head. Eventually (and it must have been a good year or so later) I decided that commuting back to the UK for a haircut was a little ridiculous and decided to brave the salons of Dubai once more.

I found my next salon from recommendations on the forum of a local website. After a single false start involving a junior stylist and six weeks of sporting a mullet only a Premier League footballer could be proud of, I was booked with a more experienced hairdresser in the same salon who mastered my hair at almost the first cut. She lasted for precisely 8 months until she got pregnant, and as it was unplanned and she was unmarried she had to leave Dubai. Something the manager of the salon failed to inform me of until I arrived one day for my appointment. She offered to do the cut and colour for me instead, so I hesitantly agreed, laid back and thought of England. Literally, because when I looked in the mirror again that’s precisely where I wished I was so that I wouldn’t be staring at my PURPLE hair. Yes, this ‘highly experienced’ manager had managed to use so much toner on my dye job that she’d given me a blue rinse. I spent 2 months using special shampoo and an awful lot of product to try and hide my ultra violet fringe.

Are you keeping score? So far that’s a tally of five. Number six saw a radical rethink. No longer a big fan of trying yet another tinpot outfit in a random high rise on the Sheikh Zayed Road just because a few Jumeirah Janes had had their uniform pencil-straight highlighted long bobs trimmed there, I decided to go with the safe but expensive option and hit Tony and Guy. Amy, my stylist, strolled in looking hip and laid back, kicked off her Loubs before snipping and sculpting the funkiest hair I’d ever had. I finally felt like I’d found my hair mecca.

Of course, this isn’t the end of the story because – guess what – Amy decided that she was going back to London. I was seven months pregnant at the time, extremely hormonal and somewhat devastated. (I may have even cried about it but don’t tell anyone.) I stuck with Tony and Guy, but unfortunately due to circumstance the next hairdresser in line didn’t really stand a chance and she lasted a mere two cuts – one before my son was born and one soon after – before I was swallowed into the world of parenthood where six-weekly trips to the other side of town to sit in a chair and do nothing for two hours were nothing but a dream. I was on the hunt again, and this time my friend came to the rescue and gave me the number for her hairdresser who did home cuts.

Enter Luca. Luca was – is – perfect. Italian, male and straight he is exactly who every woman should want to do her hair. I have always had a theory actually, that the best hairdressers are straight men. Call me hideously politically incorrect, but I think a trip to the salon should be a bit like walking past a building site. I mean, you can pretend to ignore the comments but a bit of attention never hurt anyone, right? Anyway, back to the point. Luca has been my stylist now for three years, and has restyled and resculpted my hair to the point where I am barely recognisable from when he first clapped scissors on me. I absolutely love my hair these days. Love it. So when he announced last month he was leaving Dubai and I threatened to hunt him down, bunny boiler stylie, there is a good chance I meant it.

I feel like I’m being dumped, or worse still let down gently to spare my feelings. He has promised he is keeping on his clients in Dubai and will be back every four to eight weeks, but is this code speak for that throwaway classic ‘let’s stay friends’? Am I keeping a torch burning for him when really I should just find someone new? What if I make a date and he stands me up? Then I will be left desperate and alone, starting all over again with my caveman hair.

I really thought I would make it through to the end of my time here without having to search for yet another hairdresser but now I fear the worst. I am under no illusion that commuting back and forth to Dubai from the UK will be easy to do every month and I suspect the novelty will wear off sometime within the second six months he is gone. But, like all bad breakups, I can’t quite face the thought of moving on and finding someone new just yet. So like a fool, I will do what women have done for time immemorial: I will wait for my hairdresser’s call and if the inevitable happens and he resigns completely I will start the search for someone new and hope that I can find ‘the one’ all over again.

And if not I will be headed back to London SW13 to see if my stylist remembers me from 2006.

Pink ticket weekend

So, last week, if you couldn’t tell by my post, included flying back to London to sit in a pub all day with my newly-turned-40 friend without the trappings of husband or toddler in tow. It was the first time I had left my son overnight since he was born, and despite some angst during the first few hours of the flight (which included me having a paranoid Jodie Foster moment and a quick weep in the toilets) I quickly adapted to my short-lived freedom and had an absolutely fantastic weekend.

You don’t realise how much your life becomes at one with motherhood until you don’t have to do it for a few days. Firstly, I was on time for everything. The only time I was late  it wasn’t because I’d had to make a last minute stop at the toilet, or because my son had the wrong shoes on, or didn’t have his preferred book in the car, or just plain didn’t want to go somewhere – it was mainly because I was having too much of a good time at the previous place to leave. Time takes on different dimensions with a child. As does the whole business of travelling around. I marvelled at just how fast I could get from the plane door to south west London with only hand luggage to think about, and zipping from Clapham to Chelsea to Hammersmith in high heels and with only a handbag to carry was the sort of breeze my dreams are usually made of.

Another revelation: I could do what I wanted, when I wanted. I didn’t have to get home in time for pick-up/lunch/dinner/bath/bed, and I didn’t have to think about the fifteen different meals that needed shopping for, preparing and cooking. I just had to decide what to wear (not difficult, see the ‘hand luggage’ mention for details) and leave the house, eat when I was hungry and come back when I was too drunk, too tired, or both. It doesn’t sound much but it’s a massive thing when you are used to always being on the clock. I managed to see more people in 48 hours than I will in 10 days when I next travel to London ‘en famile’.

Which leads me to the third monumental experience I’ve not had in well over three years and couldn’t possibly consider usually: All day drinking. What a revelation that I can still manage a full day in the pub. Admittedly I probably didn’t drink at the same pace as I did a few years back but I was pretty in awe of my constitution and ability to remain coherent, and better still I didn’t have a hangover the next day. That was probably the sensible mummy bit kicking in though. As well as the wine and the vodka there was a fair bit of water consumed. Let’s face it, you can’t erase that petrified feeling of coping hungover with a toddler in a mere two days.

clapham junction railway station sign

Beware of the pigeons

So it’s fair to say I had a fabulous few days, they were well earned and really needed. My son and husband survived without me and I wouldn’t hesitate to do it again (although jury’s out on just how often my other half will put up with my absentee parenting). I missed them both immensely of course and the smile I got from my little boy when I saw him on Monday morning lit up my world. But the biggest downside was the most unexpected: waiting for the train at Clapham Junction to take me back to the airport, a pigeon unloaded onto me and my suitcase. Disgusted, I reached into my bag to find a wipe, only to realise that I didn’t have any with me. I used my Sunday Times to get rid of what I could and had to suffer the gross-out factor of bird-poo covered hand for the next hour until I was able to wash at the airport. The motto of this story: even if you should leave your child at home, always remember the wipes.