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A slightly tongue in cheek look at life in Abu Dhabi

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Abu Dhabi week 124

Severe weather warning – or, as Gary put it, Armageddon is upon us. I was somewhat surprised earlier in the week to receive an email from the school Health and Safety Officer warning us a severe weather for this weekend. Now ok, it is cold in the mornings, ie 15degC, and it has been windy but the tone of the email was slightly alarming. However, when we received almost the same email from the compound facilities management company, we realised that it must be standard authority issue. I quote:
Dear Valued Resident,
Rain predicted for the coming days as per National Center of Meteorology and Seismology (NCMS):
Friday to Sunday (15 to 17 December 2017) – unstable weather condition, cloud amounts will increase with convective thundery clouds accompanied with different intensity and heavy at times over scattered areas especially over Northern and Eastern areas from time to time.
Wind – Southeasterly to Northeasterly moderate to fresh at times causing blowing dust, with speed 30 – 35 km/h reaching 50 km/h with convective clouds.
Sea – rough to very rough at times in convective clouds in the Arabian Gulf and Oman sea.
Safety Tips:
 Check weather update www.ncms.ae before departure / journey;
 Drive Safely! Slow down and should be extra careful.
 Double the distance you leave between your car and the car in front of you, as stopping distances are increased by wet roads.
 Make sure your headlights are on – Be Visible Be Seen! Obey all road and traffic signs – Safety authorities post this information with good reason.
 Be prepared for the road conditions to change over relatively short distances. Allow yourself enough time and space to react to a sudden emergency and move from harm’s way or to come to a stop safely.
 Increase your following distance – Remain well behind the road user in front as stopping distances can be ten times greater than on dry roads.
 Be aware that in reduced visibility conditions, drivers tend to follow the tail lights of vehicles in front of them. Avoid unnecessary lane changes – Stay in one lane as much as possible.
 Keep two hands firmly on the wheel and two eyes on the road at all times;
 Restrict outdoor pesticides application / spray / fogging;
 Ensure all equipment’s / materials are secured.
 Ensure to wear appropriate personal protective equipment’s (PPE’s).

A dedicated stand by team with all needed equipment’s will be available around the hour (Friday – Sunday) for any emergency.
For any in house emergency, please call the Tafawuq maintenance team
Thank you!
Healthy Regards

Brunch – We had a Brunch booking for today. I say had, it’s been a bit tricky from beginning to end. Last month Gary won a ‘Family Brunch for four’ in a competition. As we’d arranged to do something with some friends this weekend, a brunch seemed a great idea. It took over a week for the prize voucher to arrive, the driver didn’t arrive when he said he would, it was for two adults and free kids (apparently that is brunch for four) when it did, the restaurant didn’t reply to Gary’s request to book a table, the voucher is only valid for four weeks, the list of niggles goes on. Earlier in the week the restaurant rang to say the brunch would now be a barbecue. Which was fine until we were informed that the package was soft drinks only. After much discussion and three phones calls and two emails on Gary’s part, they agreed we could have complimentary drinks for two adults, and the additional charge for our two guests was acceptable. Then came the weather warning. So Gary rang again to ask how Armageddon was going to affect an outdoor barbecue lunch. ‘We don’t anticipate any problems sir, the rain isn’t expected until after 5pm.’ And the wind? ‘It will be fine.’ Needless to say, we are no longer attending a barbecue brunch, but are going Mexican instead. Así es la vida.

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Abu Dhabi week 123

Customer service(1) – one of the things we have just about got used to in the UAE is the level of excellent (but sometimes eccentric) customer service that we get. You know, things like taxis that turn up within 10 minutes of them being ordered, couriers that will actually ring you to arrange to deliver when you are in rather than just dumping a box on your doorstep, shops that only charge you £3 to replace stones in a Pandora charm and, with the exception of Khalifa City Pizza Hut who are on our blacklist (2 hrs when they promised 40 mins), restaurants who will deliver when they say they will.
This week has been another example, and from a telecoms company at that (this is where everyone in the UK, who are used to the likes of BT, Sky, Virgin etc. will have to believe that we are not writing fantasy stories).
A couple of weeks ago Gary realised that the TV box thingy wasn’t working. We use it so rarely that, to be honest, it could have been broken for ages. Anyway it is only this week that he got round to speaking to Etisalat about having it sorted. So on Tuesday he engaged someone on the online chat who did some “line tests”, asked some questions about what happens when we turn it on (nothing, hence the assumption that it is kaput) and proceeded to tell him that it will need an engineer to call. ‘When?’ Gary asked, well, he has only been here nearly 3 years so, with memories of trying to get BT to fix a problem in the Worcester house still relatively fresh, he was expecting the worst. ‘All of our service calls will be addressed within 24 hrs,’ came the reply. ‘Oh,’ replied Gary, ‘that’s not really going to work for me, can I actually book an engineer for Thursday morning as I know someone will be in?’ ‘Not a problem,’ came the reply. So there we were, no TV, not missing the TV, but very happy that it was going to be fixed just so Will can occasionally watch Teen Titans Go, Phineas and Ferb and Scooby Doo.
And here is the fun bit; since he booked the call he has been plagued by Etisalat engineers wanting to visit the house. One particularly persistent soul rang no less than 5 times while we were at Will’s end of term concert on Tuesday night and twice afterwards. (I will add at this point that the phone was on silent and unlike half the audience, we didn’t spend the entire performance either on our phones, checking our Facebook or running up and down the steps in the auditorium.) All have been told to come on Thursday morning but our service call seems to be have been passed on from shift to shift without this vital piece of information – on Wednesday he had calls from 3 different engineers all wanting to come and solve our problem for us. Which would have been fine if there was someone at home. Anyway the engineer duly arrived on Thursday and had our TV box up and running within 5 minutes. Mind you, he did say that it was out of date and tried to sell Gary a new one for £140!!

Customer Service (2) – Gary also witnessed one of the worst examples of taking advantage of good customer service this week in the local Spinneys. At the checkout in front of him was a woman who only had 3 small items. They went through the till, the bag packer put them in the bag and then she told the bag packer to pick up the bag and follow her out to the car (with Gary mouthing ‘lazy cow’ at her back as she walked out, being trailed by a man with her shopping bag). The worst thing about this is that the car park is less than 10 metres from the door of the supermarket. Some people!!!!

Oh Christmas Tree – I was quite impressed with our Christmas tree this year, despite it being artificial and not having a ‘real’ smell, but having been to Emirates Palace last night for their tree lighting, I feel like the poor relation 1f641.png😦

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Abu Dhabi week 122

Parking fines – this weekend is a busy one, with Commemoration Day, National Day and the Prophet’s Birthday all occurring in the space of three days. As usual, this has resulted in a long weekend, and also free parking for the four days – http://gulfnews.com/…/free-parking-for-abu-dhabi-residents-…. One colleague was hoping that, as in previous years, parking fines would be reduced by 50% over the holiday weekend as well, allowing residents to clear their fines at a reduced cost. As we’ve mentioned before, in order to re-register your car, you need to clear all your fines and as her registration ran out last month and she has racked up in the region of 4000AED of fines this year, she could do with a helping hand. Mind, so could another colleague who has been fined twice in the last fortnight for parking outside the building he lives in, though admittedly not in his designated spot. To say nothing of Mr K, who managed to collect our first fine in over 12 months last weekend on the way to the pit walk.

Some folk have all the luck – a couple of weeks ago a work colleague said she’d been to a restaurant on the Corniche for lunch. She and her other half had been out running (mad fools!) and decided to stop for food. Sweaty and dishevelled, they tried their luck at a couple of restaurants and were turned away. Until a waiter came running out after them to say that although the restaurant was closed for a private function, she and her partner were very welcome to come in for lunch. But only them, no one else. Ten minutes later the place filled up with local dignitaries and VVIPs (as an aside, the nanny of one of the children I teach told me last week that anywhere they went, they went as VVIPs. I said if they went anywhere with me, it would be as ordinary people.), and when I say VVIPS, I mean VVIPs. You know, the type who live in a palace. Anyway, they ate a very enjoyable lunch and asked for the bill. ‘Oh sir, ma’am, it’s complimentary to compensate for any inconvenience we have caused you.’ Right, that will be the inconvenience of allowing me into your restaurant, in my gym kit, on a day you were closed for a private function. Please, inconvenience me again!

Christmas – is in the building. The cakes are baked, the (artificial) tree is up and decorated, and the elves delivered Will’s Lego Advent calendar this morning. Though I’m not sure where mine is. The Molton Brown Advent calendar I ‘shared’ on Facebook a few weeks ago seems to have been delivered to my sister in law’s, rather than to me in Abu Dhabi. Gary’s reaction when I asked where mine was? ‘Catch yourself on, the postage would be more than the calendar!’ Maybe the gin baubles – https://shop.pickeringsgin.com/produ…/pickerings-gin-baubles – are on their way instead.

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Abu Dhabi week 121

VAT refund – at last! When we were in the UK in the summer I filled in several forms for VAT refunds (you may remember the palaver we had in Fenwick when the woman wanted to see my brand new, never used British passport as proof that I was entitled to a VAT refund) and posted them in the box at Newcastle Airport. I’d heard many a tale about this magic box in Newcastle Airport – it was a black hole from which the forms were never retrieved and no one had ever had any money back after posting the forms in this box for a start. I was a bit worried as everyone else I knew who had made a claim had flown out through Heathrow where you have your forms stamped upon entering the airport and collect your cash airside, but there wasn’t really any other option. Weirdly, the postal box is after check in, passport control and security, making it really quite difficult to ‘provide the customs official with sight of the purchased goods before the form is stamped’. Anyway, weeks (and months) passed and to be honest we’d given up. Then a couple of weeks ago I happened to notice two payments into the bank and I am now the proud recipient of a VAT refund. The only downside is that as part of the terms and conditions, I have to reside outside the UK for 12 months from the date I left. It’s a hard life.

Grand Prix – speaking of a hard life, the season finale is this weekend and whilst I’ve not really followed the racing this year (blame the time difference, and the absence of JB) except to know that Lewis has already won, the GP weekend is always a good one. I’ve had my nails done in the obligatory Yas turquoise and we’re in the front row of the South Stand, near the turn, as usual. The only problem we’ve encountered so far is the absence of a decent ice cream van, the only options on offer being Nutella or Biscoffi. No, I didn’t bother either. Nor did this seem to be an issue for the car park supervisor. When we left this evening, he was having his tea. Though probably not in a fashion any of you have experienced before. As they say, if you can’t get to your Majlis, your Majlis must come to you. And it had. He was laid on a rug on the grass with his spirit burner, kettle, coffee pot and tureens of hot food. It’s a hard life!

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Abu Dhabi week 120

Christmas is coming – as evidenced by the amount of Christmas trees already on show, and the Christmas displays in the shops. I went to Carrefour last week and their Christmas section is a fair size, particularly bearing in mind that as a country, all its citizens are Islamic and don’t celebrate. I could sort of understand the tree in the hairdressers (I’m red and straight again today) as people will now be having their last appointment before Christmas and looking for stocking fillers (that’s ‘stocking fillers’ as in ‘something that fits into a stocking’ rather than ‘cheap tat to keep the kids occupied’), but Will and I were slightly perturbed by the tree in the window of someone’s house as we walked to Spinneys on Thursday evening. It is, after all, only the middle of November.
We’re having an artificial tree this year as opposed to a real one, mainly because just after Christmas last year, someone offered me a 7’ artificial tree. After I’d squeezed it into the boot of the car (bear in mind we have a Mitsubishi Pajero, the ME version of a Shogun, and it only just fitted in and you’ll get some idea of the size of the bag) I realised I had to pick up Will, my parents and three sets of golf clubs from the golf club. I did consider putting them in a taxi, but my dad was adamant that everything would fit in the car. Anyway, Gary came home and relegated the tree to the maid’s room where it stayed for 10 months before we took it out to have a look a couple of weeks ago so I could decide if it was usable or if we needed to order a fresh one. It’s actually quite a decent tree, and I’ve loads of decorations, but I think I might miss the smell of the real one. But never fear, Bath&BodyWorks had candles on offer a couple of weeks ago – 35AED each – so I’ve stocked up on ‘Christmassy’ smelling ones.

It’s a small world – we had a great night last night at the Poppy Ball Abu Dhabi. The Band of the Royal Marines was, as always, on top form and the trumpeter had the most magnificent moustache. Thanks Iain and Erica, Ruth and Craig for coming with us. We hope you enjoyed it too, and bearing in mind the state Gary was in at midnight, I’m not certain how he’s in such good condition today. Of course, when a group of ex-pat ex-servicemen get together, you’re bound to know more people than you think. As Hennie put it, it was the who’s who of anybody who’s anybody in Abu Dhabi. We’d seen a chap a couple of times at events before and Gary knew he knew him. As it happened, he and his wife were seated on our table, and he and Gary have several mutual friends and acquaintances, though as Tony (as we discovered he was called) said, ‘Who? I can neither confirm nor deny that I know that man.’ But the funniest moment was Gary meeting someone he last saw 20 years ago. Elly-from-choir-who-also-lives-on-our-compound told me that her-lovely-friend-Claire-from-work’s-husband-is-also-ex-Navy. Oh, that would be Claire-from-choir? Yes, Claire-from-choir. So I relayed to Gary that Claire-from-choir-that-Elly-works-with’s-husband was also ex-Navy. Claire had done the same and later in the evening we introduced them. You could tell they were both thinking ‘I have to meet a random ex-matelot who I might (but probably don’t) know as there were 40 thousand others, not quite literally, in the same boat at the time.’ I say introduced them; they took one look at each other from a distance of about 5 metres and fell into a typical ex-matelot-type hug, yelling their pleasure at being re-acquainted. Those of you married to ex-Servicemen will understand when I say that I’m just glad they avoided a full blown snog!

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Abu Dhabi week 119

Thursday evening – we were invited to a barbecue last night; ‘come any time after 6,’ the hostess said. ‘Mind, the barbie’s not built yet. I’ve that to do when I get back.’ I don’t think Gary quite believed me, but when we rocked up, at about 6.15, having spent 10 minutes trying to find the underpass to take us to the apartment block which we drive past at least once a week but had never been in, Gary and Will were presented with a barbecue, still in the box. But you know them, never one to shy away from a challenge, the thing was built and lit in less than half an hour. Carrefour please note, the instructions were rubbish. At one point in the evening someone opened the door to let in what they thought would be more guests, only to be greeted by two maintenance men. ‘You have pictures ma’am?’ ‘Er, yes, I have two pictures which need putting up on the wall. But we’re having a party.’ ‘No problem ma’am, it will only take 10 minutes.’ And in true Abu Dhabi style they proceeded to drill a hole in the wall, insert rawl plugs and picture hooks, and hang the pictures while 20 people carried on having a party around them. Just when you think you’ve seen it all!
We left at about 8.30, as the ‘youngsters’ were getting into their stride. A message from the hostess this morning: ‘Thanks for coming. Appreciate you making the bbq. So… after you left, we took the kitchen door off to play ping pong, the balcony door fell off, and the aircon (you can tell she’s new, once you’re a true expat you call it the ‘a/c’) leaked. All fun in this house!’
I’m just amazed that the barbecue, which was held together with a wing and a prayer, was still standing on the balcony when we drove past this morning!

Vintage – a child asked me this week why my watch was like it was. You know, a ‘proper’ watch with a face that tells the time and without any bells or whistles. I explained that in England it’s traditional that you receive a watch for your 21st birthday, and that this was my watch, bought by my dad, from my 21st birthday. ‘Oh,’ he said, ‘it’s vintage.’ ‘Yes,’ I said, ‘I suppose it is. Does that make me vintage too?’ He looked at me as if I was mad. ‘People can’t be vintage Mrs Kelly. They are old.’

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Abu Dhabi week 118

Long post warning!! – It’s been a bit of a sporty week this week. As you might have seen, last Saturday Will came 2nd in the HSBC Future Falcons golf par 3 competition that he entered and also qualified for the final in January where he will be playing at the Abu Dhabi Invitational.

Then on Wednesday he and two golfing team mates from Brighton College AD competed against other International schools from across Abu Dhabi and won the School Golf Skills Challenge held as part of the Fatima Bint Mubarak Ladies Open Golf Competition (where we will probably be by the time the UK people read this).

And we though the highlight of the week was going to be the cricket last Friday night!

Cricket (by Gary) – Growing up in Yorkshire in the 70’s and 80, unless you were a hooligan who attended football matches just for a fight, the only real sports that anyone really followed were Rugby League or Cricket. 22 years in the Royal Navy changed my Rugby code for me (although I still do watch the occasional League game) and, although I used to watch cricket on the TV and went to the very occasional match, they always seemed to go on for ever and I’ve had no real interest since. Bear in mind that these were the days when David Gower still had blond hair (albeit in a very 80s style!!) and Geoff Boycott was still playing rather than being a controversial commentator.

Anyway, roll forward 35 years or so, the advent of T20 games, the fact that we live 5 minutes’ drive from Abu Dhabi’s only major cricket stadium (It’s such a prominent landmark we actually use it as part of our address and, after a terrorist attack on the Sri Lankan team bus in 2009 in Lahore, has become the “home” ground for the Pakistan Cricket team), Pakistan (ranked 2nd in T20) were playing Sri Lanka (ranked 8th) in a night time T20 game, the cheapest tickets were only the equivalent of £2.50, and me, Will, and some friends were definitely up for a night out. (We did have the more expensive tickets as sitting on a sand dune didn’t really appeal!!)

Don’t worry, I’m not going to go bore you to death by writing a ball by ball commentary but the evening was amazing, and not as my brother, Bob, said to me “like watching paint dry” when I told him we were going. As fairly neutral Europeans we obviously had a tiny representation, with the majority of supporters being Pakistani and the minority Sri Lankans making up, with the volume of their drum beating, cheering, singing and dancing, what they lacked in numbers.

There was even the presence of HE Sheikh Nahyan bin Mubarak Al Nahyan, Minister of Culture and Knowledge Development, who, as Kathryn has commented before, seems to go to all the same events as the Kellys. We couldn’t match his arrival by helicopter though.

Always ones to support the underdogs, the boys decided to cheer for Sri Lanka (because, in Will’s words, “I’ve been there and its’s really nice”, and what better reason could you want!) which was fine until near the end, when, with just the last few overs to go, Pakistan in to bat, and it looking certain that Sri Lanka would win, the boys decided to be very vocal at every Pakistan wicket, mistake or failure to get a run.

Now if you are an impala on the African plain, surrounded by ten thousand lions, the last thing you do is stand up and shout “all lions are rubbish”. As I jokingly said to Iain, one of the other Dads, we might need to bring our best escape and evasion techniques into play in order to get the boys out unscathed! But in the end, with 3 balls to go, Pakistan being 7 runs down, and a Sri Lankan victory looking certain, a fantastic Pakistan 6 followed by a 2 meant that the stadium erupted into an enormous wall of sound, with music, cheering, jumping and dancing by the Pakistan supporters, and we felt a bit safer. Congratulations to the Cornered Tigers for a fantastic come back from the jaws of defeat and thank you to both teams and the staff at Abu Dhabi Cricket for a great night out.

The real test for the value of these sorts of events: from Will a definite “we need to go to the next one” and the fact that despite being up since 6am for a golf lesson and flatly refusing a little nap in the afternoon (I wasn’t so silly) he was totally transfixed all the way through, and never even realised that the match didn’t finish until 11.30pm. Result! Abu Dhabi Cricket, more T20 in Abu Dhabi please.

Thanks to Iain, Oli, Dan and Hugh for being such good company!

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Abu Dhabi week 117

You can take the boy out of Wakefield – but you can’t take Wakefield out of the boy. The proof of this? Gary and Will’s choice of dinner tonight is corned beef pie, chips, and, er, curried beans. Heathens!

Ants – as expected we get a lot of creepy crawlies out here and often will have a trail of ants across the floor. Sometimes it’s obvious what they are after – a dead cockroach, some flour spilt on the floor, but this week, a box of Weetabix. Somehow or other a whole colony of ants had found their way into a brand new, unopened box. Yuck.

Half a half term – I hope everyone who has had a week off for half term is feeling well, rested and ready for the run up to Christmas. We’ve also been off for what is being referred to as ‘half a half a term’, or a long weekend. Because this term is so full of other holidays – Islamic New Year, National Day, Commemoration Day – and started late due to Eid Al Adha, there’s only time for a two day half term. Which has been nice, and it was lovely to see Sara and Jonny this week, but not the same as a full week. Still, only four weeks til the next long weekend, and only 7 weeks to the Christmas holiday. Speaking of which…

Christmas is coming – as witnessed by ads for ‘adult beverage’, ‘beauty’ and Advent calendars in the UK and sales of ‘Winter Celebration’ cards here. But the real sign that Christmas is coming is the smell of Christmas cake cooking, which will be happening soon in the Kelly household. Just as soon as we’ve eaten the cake I’ve found, left over from last year.

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Abu Dhabi week 116

Running out of things to say – Apologies for the lateness of this week’s transmission, but I’m a bit worried that I’ve run out of things to write.
Despite trawling the papers every lunchtime, Gary hasn’t found anything particularly extreme this week, and the best I could do was a report that ‘Big cats continue to be sold in UAE via social media despite federal law’ (https://www.thenational.ae/…/big-cats-continue-to-be-sold-i…). This was only in my mind because this time last year – week 64 (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kp3QGlt-nQA ) – I reported that wild animals were being removed from private homes and the owners were being fined if they didn’t have the appropriate permit. Which reminds me of a colleague who, at her previous school, asked a child from a very influential family if it was true that her father owned a family of tigers which wandered round their gardens. ‘No, of course not,’ was the reply, ‘that’s my uncle.’

Travelling in style – I’m sure I’ve mentioned this one before, but a child in my class announced they were going on holiday next week (half term is Wednesday and Thursday but they are away for the week) and it ‘just isn’t fair. My parents are travelling in First. I have to travel in Business with my nanny.’

Roadworks – delighted to inform you that the road outside the house has now been repaired. It took 7 men a total of 90 minutes to dig it up and relay the tarmac on Thursday afternoon. That’s 1 man to operate the pneumatic drill and six to check he’s doing it correctly.

Choir – I’ve joined a choir! I’ve always fancied myself as a bit of a singer (though fortunately it’s a choir that welcomes allcomers as Gary’s response to the question ‘can Kathryn sing?’ was ‘not as well as she thinks she can’!) so I’ve joined the Sand of Music. Nice play on words there. Anyway, we’ve released a video in the hope Pink will invite us to sing with her at her F1 concert. We’d love to ‘go viral’ so if you could share it we would be very grateful. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kp3QGlt-nQA

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Abu Dhabi week 115

Roadworks – a couple of weeks ago Gary went out to wash the car on a Saturday morning to find a notice stuck to the front door saying a maintenance team would be arriving at 8am that day to repair the road outside the house and could we make sure our car was out of the garage if we wished to use it over the next three days. Well, we waited. And we waited. But no one turned up to repair the road. Until last Monday when, at around 3pm Gary heard a banging outside the villa and went to investigate. He was greeted by two cars, a pick up, seven men and a jackhammer right outside the garage. ‘Good afternoon gents, can I ask what you are doing?’ ‘Good afternoon Sir, we are here to repair the road.’ ‘Oh? Don’t you think it would have been a good idea to inform me first so that I can move my car out of the garage before you start?’ ‘We’re not here to dig Sir.’ ‘So why does that man have a jackhammer, which incidentally I notice you’ve got plugged in to next door’s electric socket, in his hand?’ ‘I mean we’re not here to do the repair Sir, just to remove this area of road here.’ ‘And when will you be coming to fill it back in?’ ‘Ah, that will be a different team Sir and I do not know when they will be available.’ ‘Then you are not digging up this piece of road.’ ‘But we have been told we couldn’t dig where we were scheduled to work today Sir so we’ve come here instead.’ ‘You were supposed to be here 10 days ago and you didn’t turn up. You can’t dig here today. Please assure me you will not dig up this road today and that when you are coming you will tell me in advance so I can move my car.’ Realising that no digging was taking place outside our villa that day, the reply was ‘yes sir, we’ll not dig here today’, at which point Gary left them to it and went back indoors. I fear we may have missed our ‘window’ and the road will never be repaired. The upside is that our garage isn’t out of action for the foreseeable future.

greggsBad news – Lakeland has closed down. Where am I going to get clingfilm?

Good news – Souk Planet (a rather upmarket supermarket) is stocking Greggs products. (photo courtesy of fellow Geordie, Karen Hammond)

Bad news (2) – There are sausage rolls, steak bakes and cheese and onion bakes. But no corned beef. Philistines.

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Abu Dhabi week 114

Taxes – I like to think that our weekly blog is a tongue in cheek view of the everyday life in the UAE, and in the main we’re happy with our lot. We live in a nice villa on a compound with decent facilities, we can go swimming every day of the year, never have to wear a jumper in daylight hours and have met some lovely people and made some great friends. OK, the roads are, in general, a nightmare and friendships are more transient than at home, but these things are character building. One of the big perceived advantages of living in the Middle East is that income is tax free at source. But that’s not to say that your income is all ‘yours’. Housing in Abu Dhabi is still outrageously expensive (in the region of £800 a week to rent a villa or apartment for a family of four), electricity and water prices, though still subsidised, are creeping up and the latest tax is on cigarettes and sugary drinks. Cigarettes are ridiculously cheap here, I was behind someone in the supermarket last week who paid 10AED for 20 cigarettes. Can anyone remember when cigarettes on the UK were 10p each? I think I was still at school! But as of last weekend ‘The United Arab Emirates has instituted a hefty tax on sugary drinks and cigarettes: 50% on soda and 100% on energy drinks and tobacco products.’ But no one was quite sure what 50 (or 100)% will look like. Is it half the selling price? Half the manufacturer’s costs? Half the current level of tax (whatever that may be)? One article I read said that the cost of a can of Coke, an item on the Government’s set price list, will rise from 1.5AED to 2.25AED so it looks like it’s 50% of the selling price, or for cigarettes the cost to the consumer will double. How it’s going to affect prices in hotels and restaurants is anyone’s guess. Last week I paid 16AED for a can of Coke (with a glass and a straw) at the Golf Club. I’m not sure I’ll be buying it if the price goes up to 24AED, or a whopping £5!!!

Driving – great news last week that Saudi Arabia has lifted the ban on women drivers and by this time next year woman will be allowed to drive on the roads.

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Abu Dhabi week 113

Pandora – a shout out for great customer service this week. I’d lost a crystal in one of the charms on my bracelet so took it to the Pandora shop in Yas Mall to be repaired. ‘Can you tell me roughly how much it will be?’ ‘Around 15 dirhams ma’am.’ ‘Fifteen, or fifty?’ ‘Fifteen ma’am, maybe 20.’ I wasn’t really convinced – £3.50? but it needed repairing so I left it. Last Friday we went to collect it and it was, indeed, 15AED. That can’t have covered the time it took to log the charm in and out of the system and transport it to the workshop. Bargain!

Medical Insurance – Gary thinks I might have written about this one already, but I can’t find it. Apologies if you’ve heard it before. Whilst we were in Oman back in July, Gary had a text on his phone to say that a charge had been made against our medical insurance. He googled the company mentioned and it was a pharmacy. He emailed the insurer who said that yes, a prescription had been made in a pharmacy in Sharjah. Sharjah? Sharjah is on the other side of Dubai and besides, I was in Oman on that date. How could I possibly have cashed a prescription in Sharjah? Do not worry Mr Gary, came the reply, we have investigated and your wife made this transaction. We have closed this issue as the complaint is resolved. Now hang on a minute, this issue is far from resolved, and I quote Gary’s reply:
Please don’t close this
My wife was with me in Oman at that time. It was a family holiday – 6th to 10th July as stated below
It bothers me that someone is using my medical insurance to obtain items from a pharmacy. It most definitely wasn’t anyone on our policy. I’m not sure how we would have reason to go to a pharmacy in Sharjah anyway. We live in Abu Dhabi.
Do you know what the prescription was for, who issued the prescription and what the drug is used to treat – is there a signed receipt for the drug.
If we had a prescription issued by a doctor surely I would have been claiming the doctors’ fees as well. That would have been a larger value claim than a prescription.
At the very least please remove this claim from my records.
The reply:
Dear Mr Gary,
We will investigate and revert with an update.
Best regards,’
So Gary rang them. It would appear that a pharmacist in Sharjah ‘accidentally’ typed in the incorrect policy number, but cancelled the request later, after they realised it was incorrect. Would that be ‘later’, or ‘later after they’d been caught out’? Hmm.

Gin – I’m delighted that last weekend we found 6 gin balloons in Home Centre for the princely sum of 79AED (£18). I’m sure the gin will taste even better, particularly as we’ve stocked up on Fever Tree tonic, which is only available from the bottle shop. Gary must have been the only customer that week who went to the ‘speak easy’ for 2 dozen bottles of tonic water.

Warning – http://gulfnews.com/…/briton-questioned-for-flashing-middle…  Any friends visiting Dubai in the near future had better watch out!

Birthdays – happy birthday to my little brother Al who hits the ‘big’ one tomorrow. Love you.

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Abu Dhabi week 112

Drafted by Gary Kelly

Happy New Year – as you may know, the UAE runs on the Gregorian calendar for business purposes, but for religious occasions uses the Islamic calendar. This week saw the start of the Islamic year and hence a national holiday. (Well we have been back at school for two weeks!) As always the actual day is dependent on the phase of the moon and the holiday is not usually declared until the moon is sighted the night before, so it leaves any plans hanging in the air (or in space, whichever way you want to look at it). There has been much consternation and debate, especially in the national press and school Facebook page, about when this day will be. Would it be Thursday (bonus holiday), or would it be Friday? The idea of Friday was filling people with dread as this would mean the ‘dry’ night (ie no alcohol) would be 6pm Thursday to 7.30pm Friday – no brunching. Imagine, New Year’s Eve with no alcohol and on Monday Abu Dhabi declared Wednesday asd the provisional ‘dry’ night. Dubai , not to be outdone, chose Thursday. Anyway we’re glad to say that in this case the national government took decisive action and late on Tuesday declared that Thursday would, indeed, be a holiday and the moon did, in fact, make a guest appearance on Wednesday night, so it just leaves me to say كل عام وانتم بخير Happy New Hijri Year and welcome to 1439.

Abandoned house – as you drive in through the gate of our compound (or gated community darling as my mother insists in calling it when she speaks to the ladies at the golf club) there is a house that has had Municipality (Council) enforcement notices attached to the Jeep, the Porsche and Harley Davidson motor bike that are parked outside it. The house looks like it is still lived in; curtains at the windows and furniture in the house, but we haven’t seen anyone around it for weeks and the cars and bike, that were usually pristine, haven’t moved, are covered in dust, and look as though they haven’t been washed in ages (remember that it is offence to have a dirty car in the UAE). It seems the occupants of the house may have done a bunk.
I’ve mentioned before about people leaving the UAE either of their own free will, because their contracts were finished, or because they were made redundant (as happened to a friend of Gary’s on Sunday – completely out of the blue and in the second week at school for the children) but everyone we know who has had to leave within a short time period has managed to execute their exit plan, planning shippers, selling cars and clearing any debts – I think if everyone in the UAE was totally honest with themselves they do have a plan in the back of their minds and 30 days to leave after visa cancellation is usually enough time, albeit stressful, to pack up and bugger off. I can’t even consider how bad your situation must be to just leave your house, furniture, cars and motorbike, and, potentially with only aircraft baggage allowance, get on a plane and not come back. There is no way we could do what used to be known in the UK as a ‘midnight flit’ as we moved out here lock, stock and barrel. 20 years of accumulated memories, cake making equipment, fabric, ukuleles and ‘stuff’ all came with us. Even, as you may remember, a Christmas pudding, a 3.5” floppy disc drive and the wellies.

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Abu Dhabi week 111

It’s a funny old world – at the end of last term I was told that this year there wouldn’t be any cover work (supply to those in the UK) available as, well, there just wouldn’t. Because of ‘local regulations’ I can’t have a permanent job – primary teachers must have a BEd and middle/secondary teachers must have a degree in the subject they teach so my Engineering degree and Primary PGCE don’t fit either category – so I do supply. Pretty much on a permanent basis. Everyone looked at me as if I was mad; how were schools going to function without a pool of people like me to call upon? And what do you know? They were right. I’m back at school. Until Christmas. Teaching Maths to Years 6 to 8. It’s a funny old world.

School – speaking of school Will’s got off to a good start. He’s already auditioned for the Prep School Orchestra – the Brass section is him on his horn and two trumpets – and tried out for the Swim Squad. I’m now trying to arrange a schedule to accommodate these activities as his golf lesson is on the same day as Swim Squad. Not that he’s too bothered about being in the actual Squad, I think it’s too much like hard work and one of the training sessions is at 6.30am, and really he wants to be in the Development Squad. Which is on the same day as Prep School Choir. You see the problem?

Gin – after last week’s introduction to the various gins we bought in the holiday, this evening we will be moving to more exotic combinations. Mango and chilli for example. Watch this space!

Hair – it’s still red, but it’s no longer straight. I’m considering buying a hairbrush and blowdrying it. Will’s still not convinced.

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Abu Dhabi week 110

Water – it never ceases to amaze me how much water some families use here. Our water bill is about 50AED (£10) a month and we use about 7000 litres. Other folks say that their bill is nearer 500AED a month, meaning they are using 70000 litres. Assuming a bath or shower uses 100litres, that’s the equivalent of 700 baths a month! Much of it seems to go on watering gardens, hence the popularity of astroturf, but that’s a ridiculous amount of water in a country where all water has to be manufactured. Mind, we had a near miss last week. The day we got back from the UK I was in the kitchen when I heard a hissing sound, as if the washing machine was filling up, followed by a pool of water coming from below the machine, then a spray of water coming from round the sides. Fortunately Gary was in and he came and pulled out the machine, and I had opened the drain in the floor allowing the water to drain away. The hose had split. It’s a good job we were in the house, imagine if this had happened the day after we’d left for the UK and the water had continued to flow for a fortnight!

Deodorant – a bit of an odd topic I know, but disaster has struck and Gary’s favourite Body Shop deodorant has been discontinued. It’s happened once before and in the end the Body Shop saw sense and brought it back, so we live in hope. In the meantime, Gary had been stocking up every time there was a sale so he’s got two dozen bottles in stock and we’ve been into every Body Shop we’ve seen in the vague hope that they might have some stock left. No luck in the UK but we hit lucky in Jordan. Until we saw the price. It was £5 a bottle in the UK and an eye watering 45 AED (£10) in the UAE. But Jordan made the UAE price pale into insignificance. 12JD a bottle. £1 currently buys 0.93JD making a bottle of Body Shop deodorant £12.88. It’s no wonder they had stock left!

Speaking of Jordan, it was amazing and definitely one to put on your bucket list. We really did float in the Dead Sea. As you walk in, you can feel the water pressing against you and it’s a bit like lying in a hammock. The strangest thing, though, was the security. The other side of the Dead Sea is Israel and the West Bank, and at one point I was connected to Israeli telecom on my UK sim, and Palestine on my UAE one. But every time we entered a hotel we had to walk through an airport style metal detector and have our bags scanned. Weird. I would recommend getting a large car if you visit. Our hire car was only 6 months old but was covered in so much damage it looked 6 years. The roads were, well, primitive is probably the best word and at one point the ‘King’s Highway’ was a single lane road. We were up hill and down dale, travelling on single track cart roads with no barrier on the outer edge. I’m only pleased it was a holiday weekend and not very busy as no one seemed to look before pulling out (at least in the UAE you know they’ve seen you, they just choose to ignore you) and the cars we did see were obviously designed like the Tardis as despite being saloons they seemed to be carrying seven or eight passengers. Hey ho, one of life’s experiences.

Fame at last – as I write, Gary and Will are searching for music on Amazon. As a joke (I think!) Gary searched for Worcester Uke Club, and bizarrely, they are there. So there you are, Gary Kelly is freely available on Amazon. You heard it here first.

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Abu Dhabi week 109

The Bank – I have two bank books at my parents’ house, one for TSB and one for Northern Rock, and periodically my dad takes them to be updated. The last time he took the TSB one he was told that the account was dormant, no interest was being added and the best thing to do was for me to go, with ID, and close it. So last week, complete with brand new passport and a copy of our marriage certificate, off we went to the bank…
‘Hello, can I close this account please?’
‘This account is for TSB, this is Lloyds, you will have to go TSB.’
‘Oh? My dad always brings it here to be updated and was told I could come here to close it, it’s an old account from before TSB and Lloyds merged. It’s probably older than you.’ (At which point Gary and I couldn’t resist a wry grin as the account was from 1976 and the cashier was probably about 25.) ‘Could you have a look please?’
And she did, and the account was there. Great! But no.
‘There is no name on the account’. (I reached for my passport.) ‘No, there is no name on the account, I don’t know who it belongs to.’
‘Is the balance the same as the passbook? And is the account number correct?’
‘Excellent, it must be mine.’
‘I will have to get someone to look at this.’
And off she went to consult with what appeared to be the entire staff. Eventually, and by this time the queue was out the door, she came back with someone else. Who appeared to know what to do. Great!
‘Do you have ID?
‘Yes.’ (I handed over passport and marriage certificate.)
‘I don’t need that,’ pushing the marriage certificate back.
The cashier then had to recreate the account using the details from the passbook, my parents’ new address and the details from my passport. At which point she realised I’d changed my name.
‘Yes, I’ve brought you a copy of my marriage certificate’. (I’d even taken my husband as further proof.)
‘Hmm, it’s not the original. But it is a certified copy. That’ll be fine, can I keep it?’
‘Yes, we brought that one for you.’
This was going well, though we had been in the bank for half an hour and the queue had gone. After some faffing between various systems, the money was in an account that could be accessed and she handed over my £27.81 cash. Result!
Now, let’s imagine 1% of the population of the UK has an account like this, that’s 656,000 people. And let’s imagine each of those people have a dormant account holding £10. That’s £6.56 million, which is not to be sniffed at, and if everyone in the country has £10 in an account, that’s £656 million, which is definitely not to be sniffed at. And, according to MSE (http://www.moneysavingexpert.com/r…/reclaim-lost-assets-free), is closer to the £850 million thought to be sitting in banks and building societies. Makes you think, doesn’t it?

Heard on the bus –
‘Buying a coffee in a café is very expensive; you’re far better getting it in a paper cup to take away.’
‘Oh yes, my granddaughter’s just graduated, from the University, you know. She’s working in Primark, but it’s not her proper job. No, it’s not her proper job.’ (Note: It’ll not be paying proper money either then.)
Conversation between two women in their late 20s, early 30s.
1: So how many do you have? Two?
2: No, just the one. (Note: Will and I thought they were talking about children at this point.)
1: Oh that’s nice.
2: Yes, I keep her in a cage, covered over, when Dave’s not in. (A dog?)
1: Oh.
2: Mmm, she is very noisy. (By this point Will is giggling uncontrollably.)
1: Yes, I can see that.
2: Yes, and I don’t like her flying round the room when he’s not in. Do you have a parrot as well?
Let’s face it, who would bother with a car when little gems like this are available free of charge on the bus?

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Abu Dhabi week 108

Hi honey, we’re home! – It’s a bit of an odd one, but where is ‘home’? Everyone went ‘home’ for the summer, but coming back to Abu Dhabi is ‘going home’. In the UK, we do feel as if we’re at home, but coming back to our house (even if it is 38deg inside), I can honestly say we’re ‘home’. It was lovely to catch up with so many friends – same time next year?

Tax free shopping – as Will was having some golf clubs and we needed some bedding, I was determined to shop ‘tax free’ this year. We’d had three good experiences, though in the first shop no-one really knew what to do so I’m hoping we’ve got the right paperwork! And then we went to a very well known department store in Newcastle. We had to go to the Bureau to get the correct form and I have to say they were complete and utter jobs worth. You would have thought the money was coming out of their pockets! Basically, the shop either fills in a form or they give you an extra till receipt detailing your purchases. ‘Can I see your passport please?’ ‘Passport? No one else has asked for my passport. Why do you need my passport?’ ‘I need to see your passport.’ ‘But why?’ ‘I need to see you are entitled to the tax refund.’ ‘How will my brand new UK passport prove this?’ ‘We’re just the agent and I need to see your passport.’ After 5 minutes going round in circles, we left, minus the required receipt. So I rang the company and asked how a UK passport would prove that I was entitled to the tax back on my purchases. After five minutes on the phone to them (fortunately we had moved on to John Lewis for a scone and a cup of tea so it wasn’t too much of a hardship), the person on the other end agreed that another form of ID (like an Emirates ID card) proving I resided in another country would suffice. So back we went. Gary was quite disappointed that the woman we’d spoken to wasn’t there but the next woman was equally awkward, saying she’d do it ‘just this once’ but she really needed sight of my passport to prove I was entitled to the refund. Again, she had no idea how a UK passport would prove this, but the instructions from Global Blue said they must see a passport. The first woman reappeared at some point and was obviously not happy that we were getting the required receipt. The golf shop where we bought Will’s clubs use the same refund company and they were not bothered in the slightest who I was, or where I was exporting the golf clubs to. To be honest, why would you bother asking for something you weren’t entitled to? Fenwick, improve your customer service please.

Shopping – speaking of shopping, I’m not sure what we bought, but we were on the absolute limit for luggage, four bags of 23kg each plus a set of golf clubs. Even now we’ve unpacked, I’m not sure what took up all the space, or all the weight. Let’s face it, you wouldn’t think two sets of bedding, Will’s shoes, 24 bottles of Body Shop deodorant (it has been discontinued), 500 Tetley teabags and a couple of bottles of gin would weight 92kg.

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Abu Dhabi week 107

Hiring a car – we’ve had a range of experiences hiring cars in the past. When we were leaving the UK and had sold both our cars we were told by the hire company that we needed to take out the additional insurance as cars never came back from a month long hire without some damage on them. We didn’t, and it was fine. The following year the same company wanted to do an Experian check which turned out to be for UK residents who were non-UK licence holders. That wasn’t me. Last year in Italy the hire company didn’t want to accept Gary’s licence. The criteria on the booking was that an international driving permit was needed if the licence wasn’t in English, which it was. Unfortunately, as it was also in Arabic it apparently wasn’t acceptable. After much toing and froing, they decided that as we were EU citizens they would do us a favour and give us the car anyway. This time, once we’d booked and pre-paid, we received a list as long as your arm of required documents, as follows; driving licence (held for at least 12 months), International Driving Permit, photographic ID and two proofs of address, one of which was to be a credit card statement dated within the last 8 weeks for the credit card with which the booking was made and neither of which could be a Council Tax bill. Off we went to the Post Office in Khalifa City for the International Driving Permit which was issued in five minutes for the very reasonable cost of 140AED (cash) and in true UAE style was stamped, counter-stamped and counter-counter-stamped. The proof of address was a bit trickier. Everything in the UAE is done via email or text message and as we were using the UK credit card which is set to online statements, I didn’t have one. Add to that that as a ‘dependent’ I’m not allowed to have anything more than a savings account and all official documentation is in Gary’s name, you can see we had a potential problem. So armed with my bank statement from my UK account which comes to our PO Box, a Council Tax bill (probably useless but with an address on it because we were between tenants), my passport, the IDP and my UAE licence, I set off to collect the car. I handed over my licence and the pre pay voucher, and that was it. No further documentation was required, just an address to send any accrued fines to. I didn’t know whether to be relieved or disappointed.

Gin – Gary and I thought we were gin aficionados having bought a bottle of Hendricks about 18 months ago. How behind the times are we! Apparently there are now in the region of 300 British gins and gone are the days of ‘ice and a slice’. So on Wednesday evening we were educated, by my brother Al, in the art of gin. I hope I’ve remembered what was what and how it was served. First up was Gin Mare, a savoury gin from Spain which is best served with basil and rosemary. I have to say this was my favourite, but basil is extremely difficult to find in the UAE so I’m not sure this one would be a good buy. Next up was Drumshanbo Gunpowder gin. This was Gary’s favourite, served with grapefruit, but I didn’t like it quite so much. I loved Durham gin, served with celery and pink peppercorns. Gary wasn’t as keen but as celery is quite expensive in the UAE, I’m sure this one is going to get on the shortlist either. Gary also tried Alnwick gin, lovely bottle, and I finished with a gin and rhubarb liqueur which I wasn’t too keen on, though I did enjoy Colin’s homemade rhubarb gin, diluted with some tonic. I’m now reading up on what’s hot and what’s not. The good news is that we can each take 4 litres of spirits back into the UAE. The bad news is that none of our favourites are stocked in Newcastle Airport’s Duty Free.

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Abu Dhabi week 106

The weather – to say it’s been a bit of a shock is an understatement; I went to bed in a pair of socks one night! Though yesterday was lovely and we met Liz at North Shields for fish and chips and a walk along the front. It was lovely to see you Liz and when the weather is like that, you wonder why anyone would live anywhere else. But then in a rainy, gloomy Alnwick today, a big of sun wouldn’t have gone amiss. Our friends definitely got the better weather yesterday. It was ‘magic’ at Alnwick though, look at us flying on our broomsticks.

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Golf – despite the cold, Will’s been golfing several times with Grandad and even played alongside a par 3 competition last week. It’s a shame he doesn’t have a handicap as he’d have won!

Nice to see you – it’s been lovely catching up with friends over the last two weeks; we’ve been to the Hancock with Sara, for tea with Karen and for lunch with Liz. We even managed to squeeze into Al’s busy schedule and had a few gins with him and Nikki before taking the most relaxing taxi I’ve been in for two years back to the parents. We’re off to Wakefield tomorrow to see the outlaws and then down to Worcester where Will and I have an action packed few days. We’re looking forward to tea, cakes and catching up with more friends, while Gary will be mainly checking the house over. Speaking of which….

The house – we’re delighted that we’ve got a new tenant, a couple in their late 30s complete with a dog and a cat. And a larger than usual deposit ‘just in case’. The new agents seem to be on the ball, they found a tenant within 48 hours, and the inventory is comprehensive to say the least. Only two issues – one of the smoke alarms is broken (it had been turned off, make of that what you will) and the kitchen sink is blocked. That’ll be the 4th time it’s been blocked in twelve months. Again, draw your own conclusion. And the issues with the old agent? Well, let’s call that a work in progress.

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Abu Dhabi week 105

Extremes – two new items popped up this week about the Emirates. The first was the tragic story of another building fire in Dubai, this time at Dubai’s Torch Tower and the second, the rather bizarre tale that an iceberg is being towed from the South Pole to the coast of Fujairah in order to make drinking water. Earlier in the year this second story was denied by the UAE government, but hey, it makes a great story.


The Quayside – Will and I went for a walk along the Quayside last Sunday. After the obligatory ice cream, we were lucky enough to arrive at the ‘Blinking Eye’ just as it had opened (or closed, depending on your point of view) so got to see it move.  We also saw a ‘sword swallower’, but as he hasn’t yet got his licence to carry a sword, he swallowed an inflated modelling balloon instead. Yes, it was as bad as it sounds.

Things I have learnt this week:
1. Shopping in Lidl is almost like shopping in Waitrose, but half the price.
2. Supermarket trolleys have specially built platforms at the back for your crate of ale.
3. Nothing changes in Eastenders, except that the cast look older and rougher. And Michelle Fowler is no longer played by Susan Tully.eye2
4. Sitting in the back of a car driving on the ‘wrong’ side of the road can be quite an experience.
5. It is impossible to walk around Primark without a bemused expression on your face. Although they do give out paper bags for your shopping, which may go some way to explaining its popularity.
6. The bus is still the easiest way to travel. We got back from High Spen in less than 10 minutes and for a cost of £2.65, even cheaper than the Westin to Sas Al Nakhl.
7. The weather forecast is unreliable, hence the need to carry a coat and umbrella everywhere ‘just in case’.
8. Lots of museums are free, with a suggested donation of £5.
9. Will and I don’t understand ‘Contemporary Art’, so it’s a good job entry to The Baltic was free. The only things we liked were a black and white picture of birds which when we got closer we realised was made up with the words of a song, the effect when you leaned over the staircase, and the view from the top.

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Abu Dhabi week 104

Things I have learnt this week:

1. The new plasticized £5 note is like something from a third world country.
2. The new £1 coin is like something from a tinpot European dictatorship.
3. No matter how many carrier bags you take to the shops, it will not be enough but will have to do because there is no way you’re paying 5p for one. And you have to pack your bags yourself.
4. Supermarket trolleys take £1 coins. Not 1AED. And even in Waitrose the lock part doesn’t pop out automatically, you have to pull it out yourself.
5. When you walk into a shop no-one greets you with ‘good afternoon sir ma’am’. In fact, in American Golf we had to ask for assistance.
6. VAT free shopping is great. And a learning experience for all the staff who’ve never been asked to fill in the form before.
7. Gary places so many online orders my parents’ house is a ‘favourite’ in the delivery driver’s sat-nav.
8. Despite not being affected by jetlag, Will is waking up at 5.30.
9. Alcohol is freely available in ordinary shops and you get a frisson of excitement getting on a bus with clanking bottles which are not hidden in brown paper bags.
10. Buses are easy to use and run regularly. Though I was surprised to see a woman with a child around Will’s age get on the bus at the stop opposite where my grandparents used to live and get off in Blaydon shopping centre. That’s a distance of less than a mile and a child fare is £1.10. We used to walk it from being about 3 years old.
11. If Newcastle Airport is a microcosm of society we are doomed. Everyone getting off the plane from Mallorca was wearing either a grey tracksuit or a gypsy top (obviously this is an either or and is not the total sum of their clothing). Either the hotels didn’t have mirrors, or they got dressed in the dark.
12. Despite the weather being absolutely freezing (I’ve got my socks on), everyone is walking round in shirt sleeves.
13. The Waterfront makes the best fish and chips.

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Abu Dhabi week 103

Expat life – one aspect of ex-pat life that’s very rarely mentioned is its transient nature. In the back of your mind you know people are going to move on. Most contracts are for two years and most people on arrival say they are here for two years, so the logical conclusion is that every year half of your friends are leaving. Realistically, most people’s two years turns into three, or five, or even ten, but at some point we’re all going to return to our home countries, or move on to a new adventure. Friendships in ex-pat communities are made very quickly (though I’m sure the old adage that, like on the birth of your first child, you spend the first month making friends and the next 12 getting rid of them holds true here too), and we have made some great friends. Everyone is in the same situation; miles away from families and existing friends, trying to find their way around a new culture, and desperate that their children fit in and feel ‘at home’. But the flip side is that friends also move on. Last year we were still relative newbies and as most of our friends were also relatively new, no one moved on.

This year is different. The family we car pool with to Cubs has gone to Bangkok. After six years in the UAE they are ready for a new challenge so Bangkok it is. I don’t think anyone has quite accepted the fact that Team Woodhead have left the building and are due to arrive in Bangkok on August 17th to start the next chapter in their ex-pat lives.

One of my class is going home to the UK for good this summer. They’ve been in Abu Dhabi for most of her life; Abu Dhabi is her home, her brother and sister were born here. She’s never really known life in the UK. To be fair, she’s never known life without a live in housekeeper! When we moved here, it was a big deal at school. Except for the Year 7 Leavers, maybe half a dozen children were leaving. And most of them were going less than 20 miles. Here, someone leaves from every class. We all know someone who has gone, and we all know someone who is already planning to leave next year. But as people leave, people arrive (though due to the crash in the oil price, maybe not in the numbers they were arriving five years ago). Will has made two new close friends this year; one is Australian (though mum is Canadian so they aren’t unused to travel) and one is a Brit – who arrived from Singapore after Easter. In some ways ex-pat children are less worldly wise than their UK counterparts; everyone is ferried to and from school, to and from activities, and to and from friends’ houses. (It’s a bit of a novelty that Will’s two friends on our compound arrive at our house on their bikes!) But in other ways they are more worldly. They are true ‘global citizens’; we have visited places that are long haul from the UK but a short hop from the UAE, we’ve seen New Zealand, Bali and Paris this summer through other people’s photos, and we’ve learnt about other countries from people who’ve lived there. Hopefully these experiences will lead to greater understanding and tolerance in the future as people are judged, to paraphrase Martin Luther King, on the content of their character rather than the colour of their skin.

Maybe living abroad isn’t for everyone but to everyone who says ‘I couldn’t do it’, I’d say ‘give it a go’. At worst you can come home and laugh at your experiences, at best it’ll change your life.

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Abu Dhabi week 102

Oman – week 49’s post popped up in my feed last weekend. The one where I explained in great detail getting in and out the UAE, and where Gary tried to swap me for a pair of camels. We decided to forgo the visit to the camels this time and head straight from Abu Dhabi to Muscat, leaving the house at 7.30am. We had read that the entry visa for Oman (you pay to get out of the UAE and into Oman which is a bit strange) had gone up to 20 OMR, approx. £40, but fortunately that’s only for visitors (like my parents). We residents still qualify for the discounted rate of 5 OMR. For the first time ever our car insurance document was checked; in the past a wave of the paper in the officer’s general direction has been sufficient.

Friday morning we headed out to sea, dolphin watching. Slightly disappointing that it wasn’t a private tour – a young couple had decided that morning to join us – but we just about managed. We’d been before but it was a new one for my parents and the dolphins obliged, chasing the boat, leaping and spinning around us. Or so Will told me. I was too busy feeling ill; it was rough.
As my parents were with us, we headed into Muscat on Saturday morning to visit the souk. Mutrah is a traditional (ie old) souk with a tiled floor and stained glass roof. Needless to say, the parents loved it and as everything was 1 Rial (2 quid) they came away with piles of tat; an Aladdin’s lamp, a decorated pill box, a pair of (gold) earrings, and an Oman pin to add to the collection on my dad’s hat. To be frank, a new hat would be more useful, I’ve thrown better in the bin! They were in every shop, shack and cubbyhole. A great morning’s entertainment! There were bargains to be had though as I bought six lengths of fabric for the grand total of 9 Rials, approx. £18. As each one is 4 metres long with an additional two metres of matching chiffon thrown in, I thought they were quite good value. My dad could have wandered round all day, except it was a little bit hot and no one was making silk shirts while you waited.
From the sublime to the ridiculous though, we then headed off to the gold souk in the shopping mall. There is a gold souk next to Mutrah Souk but the style is more Asian, and the gold is very yellow – probably because it’s 22K. Mam hadn’t really set out to buy anything (but was still harking back to the chain she didn’t buy at Christmas and the fact that the Christmas before my dad had upgraded his to 18 carat), she just wanted a look. I wandered off and when I came back, there were two chains on the counter. I didn’t like either so she looked again and chose a very nice white and yellow gold one. We left Gary to haggle (Best price? Cash sir? Yes. I’ll see what I can do.) and went off to count our cash. Well, it’s not a holiday without a bit of gold, is it?

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Abu Dhabi week 101

A short post this week as we’re in Oman on a long weekend to celebrate Will’s birthday. We arrived yesterday and met up with my parents who arrived on Tuesday. Again, the Shangri-La is fabulous, but a bit different to last year when this weekend was Eid and the place was packed out. There can’t be more than 100 guests this time. We’d arranged to go dolphin watching this morning and I’d love to say I enjoyed it, but the sea was, well, rough, and I spent the second half of the trip feeling seasick. Fortunately this was after we’d seen the dolphins so I didn’t feel too seen off.

I’m struggling to believe that Will is 10 – where does the time go? He’ll be a teenager before we know it!

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Abu Dhabi week 100

And though it’s a little late, Eid Mubarak to you all.

Sales shopping – taking a leaf from the West, Yas Mall opened on Sunday, the first day of Eid, with a ’24 hour mega sale’. Now anyone who has been to visit us will know that nowhere in Abu Dhabi is busy before around 7pm. Oh boy, did this prove the exception to the rule! At 10am we were queuing to get into the car park. And some of the so-called ‘sales’ would probably have been in breach of the trades descriptions act anywhere else. Still, I got a dress from Desigual, and some hand towels from Zara, but I did pass on the strimmer in Ace.



Letting Agents – following on from our post a few weeks back, we have sacked the letting agent in the UK. The final straw was the Area Manager’s response to Gary’s detailed and comprehensive formal complaint about the way with which we, and our tenants, were being dealt (after he had read through over 200 emails to refresh his memory of the whole sorry tale). The letter back, termed their ‘final response’, was inaccurate, didn’t address our concerns and just waffled on about how they had had some problems when they merged with other companies. Despite offering to reduce the letting fees by a 1/3rd for the next 12 months they just had to go; they were rubbish when we paid their full fee, how can we have any confidence that they will improve when we are paying them less?

They are a national chain and I’m not going to name them on here but send me a PM if you want an anti-recommendation for ‘the person at the front of the line’.
So that means that our tenants are moving out today and by the time I post this Gary will have landed at Heathrow and will be driving up to Worcester in order to check on the house to see if any work needs doing, and have meetings with a couple of prospective replacement letting agents. It’s a bit of a pain as he’s having to come back on Saturday night (arriving Sunday morning); that’s a 7000 mile round trip for 36 hrs in the UK. It’s a good job we have lots of Etihad points otherwise it would have been an expensive trip. We can’t say thank you enough to Colin and Lynne Box for opening ‘Hotel Box’ for the weekend, for acting as our courier delivery point for the (more than a few) bits and pieces that we have had delivered to their house, and for the trombone (more on that later in the year). It makes a painful trip a lot less so.

MOT – I’m glad to say that after handing over 275AED and a total time of 6 minutes in the test centre the Volvo has passed its annual inspection again. Obviously the very broken fog light wasn’t noticed by the inspector. We had a bit of a mad rush to get it serviced and presented for inspection as it needed some work doing to it and, as of the 1st July, the fines for not having the annual inspection are increasing. Unlike the UK where if you drive without an MOT you will get taken to court, here you can drive for as long as you like without having the vehicle inspected; you just rack up fines that must be paid. The ‘must be paid’ part of this usually catches up with you when you go to the airport to leave the country and as Gary was flying this weekend……………. An ex colleague of Gary’s had to pay 6500AED (about £1400) in speeding and other motoring related fines when he went to fly back to the UK last week. And it’s a case of no payment, no exit from the country.
Finally, talking of things motoring, after the UAE police car fleet went from super cars to camel looking golf carts, we now have Police mini robot cars – watch the video, how cute!

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