Man-o-man

Back to Oman this week after a gap of a few years, after finally managing to persuade the boss that the department travel budget isn’t actually his money.

It’s a place that I’ve visited a lot since moving to the region and on my last trip I stayed over and ran the very excellent Muscat Marathon, clocking a personal best (though suspect the course was short!). For that a few other reasons it’s a place I’m quite fond of.

One of the reasons I like it is the difference between it and Dubai, everything from the slightly scabby airport to the fact the locals have regular jobs and – shock, horror – even drive taxis! Whilst the Omanis have regular jobs (and unlike the UAE about 70-80% of the population are locals) they approach work with a ‘pro-active approach to work-life-balance’, so that after the 4pm the office is deserted. It’s a nice change from the hustle and bustle of Dubai, but I must admit it’s too quiet for me and couldn’t imagine working over there.

Like everywhere in the Gulf, there is still a massive difference between the have and the have-nots and it was interesting to visit a couple of construction sites and realise the guys live and work on site. Catching a few z’s between shifts. Not a lot of privacy.Fitting the ceiling.

I’m not about to enter the debate about the working conditions of builders in the region as I can see both sides of the argument, but suffice to say, its a pretty tough way to carve out a living and I do feel for them. When we’re bitching about the slightest bump in our five-star privileged lifestyles, we should think about these guys and get a bit of perspective.

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Lucky Voice

If you’re fed up of sumptuous spreads of gourmet food, fine wines and stimulating conversation, Lucky Voice is the place for you. None of the aforementioned items is on offer, as Lucky Voice knows it’s target audience and beats them senseless with a barrage of cheap ale, watery shots and all you can eat finger food.

I’m not saying this is a bad thing at all, but if your usual brunch has more Michelin Stars than Gordon Ramsey, just know what you’re letting yourself in for.

Mrs H and I spent last Friday there, and increased the average age by about 12 years. Not that stopped us joining in the fun including the karaoke, held in one of the private and, mercifully, sound-proof booths.

Do go if you want a rowdy afternoon’s entertainment, and don’t mind standing for most of the time.

Don’t go if you’re hungry or suffer from tinnitus.

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Back on the Road

Nice run this morning, Mrs H finally getting her running mojo back, with sights set for a race later in the year. 11km comfortably in the bag, my thoughts of going further dispelled by the prospect of a toasted croissant.

Great to see so many people out and about so early, the 30/30 thang announced by the Crown Prince presumably providing the extra motivation. Most of the large groups were of course Filipinos, who are brilliant at mobilising for social activities.

Also spotted a birthday party, complete with cake at 06:45 hrs. If that was in the UK a call to Child Line would quickly follow, as getting any kids up before 11:00 hrs on a weekend is classified as psychological cruelty.

Brunch later at Lucky Voice, (or as it should be known, ‘Unlucky Ears’) as a recce for Perfect Wife’s birthday bash. Joy.

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World’s worst blogger

Pretty sure that’s me right now. Just haven’t had the get up and…..

Despite this, rather implausibly it seems that I have hit someone’s radar as I keep getting random phone calls and e-mails from PR companies about upcoming exciting events in Dubai. Thinking of setting up a ‘What’s On’ page to accommodate them all. If I can be bothered of course.

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Movin’ On Up

Moving house in Dubai is a minefield. Desperate agents, greedy landlords, rent inflation, and the possibility that your new place is in the path of the next “Worlds Biggest” construction to name but a few.

Rather than live on the building site our compound was rapidly becoming, we decided to cut our losses and move.   Cue the standard soul-destroying trawl round the Dubai rental market.   I think we looked at every property for rent in Dubai. No stone was left unturned, every neighbourhood cruised, no estate agent’s number uncalled.

A brief summary of our go-around of the usual suspects;

  • Meadows, (too pricey)
  • The Springs (too small)
  • Jumeirah Village Triangle, Circle, and Village (none of which is actually anywhere near Jumeirah, though all of which are too much like a building site)
  • Jumeirah 2 and 3, (too big, too expensive, and/or too much digging. Though at least Jumeirahs 2 and 3 are actually in Jumeirah)
  • Um Suquiem (as per Jumeirah 2 & 3)
  • Arabian Ranches (too remote).

So, after all this we finally end up moving one block away, much to the confusion of the cats, who can’t quite work out why they can see their old house, but aren’t supposed to go there.

We’ve always been lucky with our landlords, at least till the last one served us an eviction notice on New Years Day, so getting a new place in this town is always a bit of a gamble.

Our new landlord has been smart enough to divorce himself from the entire mucky process and instead outsource all communications and dealings to an agency, who take polite incompetence and obfuscation to a whole new, ‘Worlds Biggest’ level.

All conversations conform to the same 5 step process:

  1. Cheery opening; “Hello Sir, sorry to bother Sir.”
  2. Apology for previous failure; “Very sorry about this one Sir.”
  3. Mangled justification for previous failure; “Sir, for this one, we have emailed landlord,
    and once have received back, we will take care of this one, which is no problem Sir, as he is coming into town, next week itself.”
  4. New promise (which will be broken); “We will get this one today or tomorrow itself, no problem, and come to you first thing tomorrow Sir.”
  5. Cheery sign-off “Thank you Sir, thank you Sir, goodbye Sir.”

We are getting there. All our teething issues are ‘high quality problems’, but it’s slow, draining and at times a sheer test of patience and resolve. In that respect I guess it’s like many things in this place.

p.s. Please come back ‘New-Years’s-Day-Eviction-Giving-Landlord’, all is forgiven!

p.p.s. Our move was handled by MackPack, great outfit owned and run by a lovely Kiwi guy called Rick. You can find them at http://www.macpackdubai.com. Highly recommended, and no, I’m not getting a kick-back for the plug!

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Happy New Year, pack your bags.

On New Years Day we were rather rudely shaken from our vegetative state by
a ding dong on the front door. “That’ll be the new tenancy contract”, Mrs
H states confidently, powers of telepathy keen as ever.

I open the door to a slightly sheepish looking security guard, who hands me
a letter, the contents of which can be summarised as “kindly pack up your
stuff and move out, we’d like to upgrade the kitchen cupboards as a pretext to jack up
the rent.”

Close but no cigar Mrs H, right subject, wrong outcome.

Well, Happy New year and f*ck you too, what a way to start 2015.  On reflection, I think this is actually a good example of life in Dubai, the kind of roller-coaster ride that the Expat Guides don’t care to mention. New Year’s Eve you’re watching fireworks over the Burj Al Arab, twelve hours later you’ve got an eviction notice in one hand, downloading
the Property Finder App with the other.  Living the dream indeed.

Of course what the landlord is doing is quite illegal, but they don’t really care, rules and regulations are for ordinary people who don’t have the wasta.  So what to do? Run down the clock on the official 12 months notice period, or get out of Dodge before it turns into a building site? Decisions, decisions.

The landlord “kindly” (as they like to say in these parts) offered us a third option. Move into one of the newly refurbished villas, which will be offering out with a mere 59% increase in rent.  Er, let me think about that…..hang on…..piss off.  Kindly.

If in doubt, blame Health & Safety

 

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And then there were six.

And then there were six.

One of the things you need to get used to in this place is people leaving. Back in the real world people hardly ever move away, (which is sometimes good and sometimes bad), but here, it’s all part and parcel of the expat experience. At some point, either your mates are going to leave, or you’re going to leave, or both. This is a transient place, so the only real variable is how long you and your pals all be together in the same Dubai-universe. We’ve had a decent run, with our group having been in town and together for five years, so as time moved on it became more inevitable that someone was going to move out.

The smart money was on Kinski and Mrs Momma, so it was with some surprise, and not to mention huge sadness, when Father Ted and Mrs Doyle announced they were heading back to the Emerald Isle.

In line with their ethereal approach to life, they had no jobs, no schools for the kids and no concrete plans, just a small army of packers and five one way tickets. Absolute madness (at least from my perspective), but I’d have been disappointed with anything else.

The sad reality is that for all the good friends you make, and good times you share, life in Dubai always ends with a 40 foot trailer parked outside your house and feeling robbed after selling your car for a pittance the day before you’re due to fly out. Father Ted’s and Mrs Doyle’s departure was no different.

Father Ted’s extensive range of one liners (I’ll never look at Barney the same way) and Mrs Doyle’s transformation from sedentary 40 a day dragster to Boot Camp queen/10k runner, is the stuff of legends.

They have been, and are, truly missed.

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Will yer have a cup of tea Father? Ya will. ya will.

IPAD 14th August 2014 1120

Father Ted always went to places twice. The second time to apologise.

 

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Mish Mushkila, yani.

Work have saw fit to let me out of the office for a few days with an instruction to “get face time with key stakeholders and internal partners to ensure alignment and improve engagement”. I don’t know what that means either, but being ex-military, I know all about blindly obeying orders without actually understanding them.

So here I am, in Cairo, fourth visit, but first one since the Arab Spring. I’d forgotten how insane a place this is, big, dirty and congested, the relentless, mind-numbing tooting of horns ever present. It’s like Mumbai on a cocaine speedball, minus the wobbling heads of course. It does however give me the chance to say “Mish Mushkila” a lot, which is my favourite (and actually only) Arabic colloquialism.

On the way from the airport and with time to pass in the ever present traffic jams, I started thinking that Cairo might be able to challenge World-record-busting-Dubai with a few records of its own. Perhaps not the records you’d find in Guinness, but no less reasonable than ‘World’s Biggest Audi Showroom’ or ‘World’s only [self appointed] seven star hotel’.

So here we go, my nominations for Cairo’s list of world records;

– Most confusing airport arrivals area and redundant customs lane – World’s craziest drivers
– Most unfinished construction projects (yes, even more than Dubai) – Highest number of vehicles crammed into three lanes of highway – Most people wedged into a car
– Highest number of donkeys on the motorway
– Most dented cars (per square foot)
– Most unlikely place to have an Ikea store

And this morning, my hotel scooped ‘World’s worst hotel breakfast’, which
they serve in the atrium of an adjoining mall, charging $50 (not Egyptian pounds, I checked) for toast, luke warm coffee and cold pastries.

It’s good to be back, yani.

Extensive breakfast selection

Extensive breakfast selection

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Vertigo inducing brunch at Prime 68

Dodgy Excuses

They say there’s a first time for everything, so this year I got to choose where to do our traditional pre-summer brunch, though decided that actually booking it was way beneath my station and attempted to outsourced it. Of course there was a consequence to my admin avoidance, which was an email from Mrs Mamma claiming my preferred choice, Saffron, was fully booked when she tried to reserve it “three weeks earlier”. Why it took her three weeks to send this message is subject to some debate with a few folks going as far to claim that she forgotton to do it and was telling a little white lie.

From the jaws of defeat

So, it’s Tuesday, and you’re trying to book Friday brunch in Dubai. Good luck with that matey.  That said, this situation could be fairly described as a ‘high quality problem’, in other words, your world has become so shrink wrapped that you actually give a shit where you go to binge-eat and get rat-arsed on a Friday afternoon. Anyway, that’s the world we’re in, so fine – accept it and begin the frantic dash to find a suitable alternative. Mrs H came to the rescue with a proposal to try out Prime 68 at the JW Marriott Marque. I wasn’t that enthusiastic, but given that a) she had a solution and b) I suspected she might have a voucher, I decided to keep my mouth shut and go with it.

Up in the great glass elevator

Prime 68 is located on the 68th floor  of the hotel (there’s a clue in the name), and after a white-knuckle-glass-fronted-elevator-ride that required fingers to be peeled off the handrails when we got the top, we were rearing to go.

jwmm_prime68_arrivalexperience

The minimalist interior of Prime 68.  Not a bread roll in sight.

The interior of Prime 68 is clean and minimalist, and felt like we’d gate-crashed someone’s pad just after the painters have just walked off the job and haven’t yet moved the furniture back or put up the pictures.  The views were impressive, and once we’d got our sea legs after the elevator ride, we went to squeeze our faces against the windows and try to spot our houses.

 

First observation was that there appeared to be no food.  Where was the rows and rows of silver buffet trays and mountains of salad? Nowhere to be seen, and already I’m starting to think this is going to be bobbins.

How many?

After sitting, the waiter came scuttling over and gave us the run down.  Thirty eight courses, yes I said thirty eight, i.e. thirty courses and then eight more, which will be served to us at the table. I speculated it was going to be thirty seven courses of food, followed by a waaafer thin mint so we could all spontaneously explode and complete the paint job.

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Tough call – Regular Joe or Champagne Charlie?

Packages pricing was fairly standard, 295 for the sharia complaint version, 495 for the Regular Joe alcohol and 595 for the Champagne Charlie package, i.e. Mrs Mamma and Perfect Wife.

Captain Pugwash immediately smelt a rat and suggested they were going to fill us with 14 course of bread so we couldn’t fit in the good stuff, and for a period I thought he may be right as inconsequential starter after inconsequential starter was brought out.

We needn’t have worried,  they eventually got onto the good stuff, and the variety and quality of food was top rate. After a slightly bumpy and slow start on the drinks, we soon got the team whipped into shape so the service was good and generally on the ball.

The occasion was also likely to be our last brunch as a complete posse, as Father Ted and Mrs Doyle had decided to sell us out and leave the Dubai bubble for the joys of the Emerald Isle. More of that story on another post.

Attendance was fairly compete, apart of course from Kinski, who has decided to cut down his carbon emissions by taking a job 3,250 miles away.

IMG-20140613-00057

The magician causes much amusement – or perhaps I’d cracked a joke. Hard to tell.

Where did the rabbit come from?

Highlight of the afternoon, and brilliantly timed so the reflexes were somewhat dulled, was a table magician who spirited wedding rings onto his shoelaces and ghosted photos of playing cards into our iphones. Awesome, and what a terrific way to wrap up the afternoon.  Father Ted’s was staring so hard to try and work out the tricks, I thought his eyes going to pop out of his skull.

Wigs & sticks

after brunch

Seemed like a good idea at the time

Another interesting twist, which we sneered at on entry was a dressing up box and background for photos.  Three hours later, and we couldn’t get those wigs on fast enough.  Results left, which are now framed, three of which are on various mantelpieces in Dubai, one is in a forty foot container somewhere on the Arabian Gulf. Inshallah.

Prime 68 brunch – excellent change of scenery, terrific views, decent value for money.  8/10

"I'm not your wife."  "Doh!"

“I’m not your wife.” “Doh!”

And what did you do this afternoon Mummy?

And what did you do this afternoon Mummy?

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Death and no taxes

There’s been quigrim-reaper-funny-pictureste a bit of death on the agenda recently; the sad and very untimely passing of my rock-star Uncle Jimmy, an acquaintance at my bi-annual lunch club and the anniversary of my Father’s death.

That got me thinking about the famous Marc Twain quote “There’s only two things certain in life, death and taxes.” Very clever Mr Twain, but what if you live in Dubai and don’t pay taxes? (Allegedly.) Does that mean that the only certain thing you’ve got in life is death? Not sure I like that concept.

 

Passing of a legend

Jimmy’s death, which was six weeks after he went to see his doctor with stomach pain, came as a huge shock given, 1. his age – mid 50’s, and 2. his indefatigable nature. This guy was running marathons and chucking himself out of perfectly serviceable aeroplanes mid-flight long before it became fashionable. He was the cool Uncle that actually made family get-togethers fun and something to look forward to.

In fact, such a shock was his passing that when Mrs H used it as the launch pad for her regular “you should go and get the annual health check you’re entitled to” speech, I actually booked it on the spot.

Take a deep breath

The process for booking the medical with Metlife was as farcical as you’d expect in this part of the world. Take a deep breath and… call Metlife, choose wrong option on IVR, speak to wrong person, who transfers you to the right person, though they don’t actually do anything except give you another number, which the first person could have done, and the number turns out to be a generic number, and they have to transfer you to the right branch and then the woman tries to put you through to a doctor for a reason you can’t work out, then you work out she thinks you’re buying insurance, which you’re not, and when you’ve told her you’re not (twice) she finally says “oh – you want the Metlife annual check-up?! I can help you with that” (Hurray!!) because a check-up, apparently, is totally different to a medical, though how are you supposed to know that and before you know it, and as easy and quick as you can say “There’s no place like Kansas.” your appointment is booked! Phew!!

Final comment from the receptionist; “Sir, fast for 10 – 12 hours, before you come ok?” me, “Fine.” “10 -12 hours sir, no eating, you need to fast.” “OK”. “So no eating sir.” “Er, yeah, ok. Think I’ve got it.”

This may feel like Groundhog day. Then again, it may feel like Groundhog day

So the morning of the medical arrived, and inevitably the first question at reception was …. “when was the last time you ate?” “10 -12 hours ago”. “Very good, please go and see my colleague.”

‘My colleague’ was a very brusque but highly efficient Indian nurse who, after asking if I’d fasted, told me to take off my shirt, lie on the bed and put my hands in my pockets. Okaaay. Seems that this is a pre-requisite for an ECG in these parts. Whether some chaps go for a cheeky feel when the nurse is leaning over to stick on the pads I’ll probably never know, but she looked in no mood to piss about, so deep into my pockets the hands went.

After the ECG, and with fewer chest hairs than I arrived with, I was sent for a cursory prod by the Doc and blood samples, Lab nurse – “Sir, have you fasted?” me, sighing, “Yes.” I was then told to go and get a good breakfast and come back in two hours. Breakfast as part of a medical – brilliant! No wonder people here are so fat.

Back after brfunny-grim-reaper-death-kenny-south-park-again-pics (2)ekky, receptionist – “Sir, have you had breakfast?”, “Yes”, go and see my colleague who will take more blood. Lab nurse – “Have you had breakfast?” “Yes.” “Good. Roll up your other sleeve.”

I was then despatched from the med centre and told to await the results the next day…

 

You’ll live son

Med centre called the next day. (Anyone who tells you there isn’t some apprehension when you get that call is a downright liar.) ‘Put your hands in your pockets’ nurse tells me all is OK and I’m fit to continue fighting the good fight for middle aged expats in Dubai. Cool. Let’s book a brunch – quick.

And what did you learn?

· Not the most comprehensive medical I’ve had, but worth doing and I commit to doing it on a more regular basis. 150 Dhs with a complimentary chest wax is a bargain.

· Get an exit plan should the worst happen to you over here – getting money released here is a nightmare, even worse than changing your autopay credit card at Etisalat. Mrs H was given a full debrief of what to do in the event of my unfortunate and untimely demise. Basically, where our meagre money stash is hidden and how to cash-out. She will of course forget and I will have the repeat the briefing on a regular basis.

· Always, always, always fast for 10-12 hours before going for a medical.

 

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