Archive for the ‘Personal Bloggers’ Category

A Dabble At The Dhaid Date Festival

Posted on the July 23rd, 2017 under Personal Bloggers by

Sharjah’s inland town of Dhaid has an annual date festival. Who knew? We were wending (actually, waddling or wobbling might be more accurate) our way home after a particularly pleasant stay at the Hatta Fort Hotel and caught an overhead billboard advertising the Dhaid Date Festival. And we thought, ‘Why not?’We’d been promising ourselves a stay at the newly revamped JA Hatta Fort Hotel since we played chicken there a few weeks ago. I can only report that we had a fabulous time. Quirky, independent and offering service standards and food quality that I would argue go beyond any other hotel in the UAE, the hotel’s facelift has preserved the retro charm of the place and yet brought it up to date. It’s all rather chic and we went large for the weekend. Hence the waddling.Part of the reason why Hatta made us fatta…Dhaid is an oasis, fed by water from aquifers and the man-made network of aflaj irrigation tunnels running down from the nearby Hajar Mountains. It has long been so, reports from ancient Gazetteers such as old ‘mutton chops’ Lorimer put Dhaid as an important centre for agriculture and the coming together of the inland and coastal tribes. Even today, it’s a notable agricultural centre. So the idea of a Date Festival not only makes sense, it quite tickled us. Anticipating a mixture of Killinascully meets Craggy Island’s Funland, we made tracks Dhaidwards.This is the second year of the Festival, which takes place in the Dhaid Cultural Centre. The hall is decked out in shell-scheme and carpets, with a stage and seating as well as a raised diwan area. The stalls are a wonderful mixture and we wandered, wide-eyed around them chatting to a wildly eclectic mix of people. There were date traders, farmers, agriculturalists and, gloriously, apiarists aplenty.You’d be amazed at the sheer variety of dates grown in the UAE (one of the world’s leading producers of dates, if you but knew it) and they were all on display at the festival, from pick and mix stands selling loose varieties through to enormous weighed bunches some ranging above 50 kilos.We chatted about date palm propagation (as one does) and sampled dates from farms all over the UAE, learning our klas from our medjoul. Everyone was very shy but very friendly and we got the feeling that foreigners taking an interest was a rare and welcome surprise. But the high point for us wasn’t the dates, but the honey. Sarah’s dad keeps bees and bottles his own honey and we had already come across the bee keepers of Dhaid, but the date festival had brought a handful of colourful figures from further afield. One chap was selling wild honey from the RAK mountains, eye-wateringly expensive, black as night and gloopy.Then we came across Mr Honey. A bee-keeper with 500 hives in Al Ain and RAK, Ahmed Al Mazrouei cut a genial figure as he showed us the different qualities of honey he’d spun out the combs he’d lifted from his hives, from his black mountain honey through single flower varieties. Dipping little plastic spoons into the jars, he took us on a tour around some of the most amazingly flavoured honey we’d ever encountered.He had started the whole thing with six hives. Now his two sons work with him and he runs a delivery service through Whatsapp (you can find him on Instagram, too!)Ahmed Al MazroueiEntranced, we bought a little jar of the black stuff for Da back home – honey so thick it piles up when it’s dropped from a spoon back into the pot, tasting darkly of liquorice, molasses and deep caramel. I wish we’d bought another jar for ourselves, but now we’ve got contacts, baba…A final whirl through perfumes, palm frond weaving and organic herbs and we found ourselves back out in the sunshine, blinking and very, very glad indeed that we’d taken the opportunity to drop in and say ‘Hi’…It’ll be on again this time next year. I’d heartily commend a visit, too!

Pinky, Lucky, Latta and Khan

Posted on the July 6th, 2017 under Personal Bloggers by

They sound like a subcontinental Trumpton fire brigade, but they’re not. They’re the rocks of Sharjah’s ‘antique’ trade, those four. Latta’s has always been upstairs in the Blue Souk, but Pinky’s has moved around a bit since we first came across it in Sharjah’s unrestored old central souk area, now known as the ‘Heart of Sharjah’.Named after the owner’s daughter Pinky, the shop was a treasure trove of Indian furniture and assorted knick-knacks, from battered water jugs through to carved wooden textile printing blocks.Our first visit to Pinky Furniture had us stumbling wide-eyed around the stacked jumble. An Indian bench caught our eye. ‘Is this old?’ Sarah asked the proprietor as we made our way between piled cupboards and dressers.’Oh, absolutely,’ he replied. ‘Made just last week.’How could you not warm to that as a response? We got talking. Mr Mukri had a ‘godown’ where there was more furniture, Omani doors and the like. And there, baking slowly in the ambient heat, was a wonderful collection of dusty things, some new but many ‘original’ pieces nestled in the tottering piles of furniture.There was some sort of family fall-out (to be honest I can’t recall any details), resulting in Pinky’s spawning a rival – Lucky’s. We visited Lucky’s once or twice, but it was always Pinky what had ‘the good stuff’. The other game in town was Mr Khan, located at the back of the street the Post Office is on, who tended to stock the ‘new style’ of Indian furniture – the iron-banded browny stuff which made Marina Trading’s fortune. We started to see this sort of thing popping up in London, in Lewis’ and ‘funky’ furniture places. The basic rule of thumb on pricing seemed to be what cost a rupee in India cost a dirham in Sharjah and a quid in London.We were furnishing our first villa, filling the vast yawning white spaces, so we bought benches and other stuff from Pinky, visiting regularly as his stock was topped up by containers coming in from India.A while later, we’d fallen off the ‘antique’ furniture buying bandwagon and tended to look to Ikea rather than the furniture warehouses. We visited the brand new Souk Madinat Jumeirah, wandering around the alleyways of the fake new souk and realising that we were among old friends. Sure enough, all the traders were the boyos from upstairs at the Sharjah Blue Souk. After the third or fourth encounter it started to get surreal. ‘Why are you here?’ I asked one of the familiar faces.He beamed back at me. ‘Here it is fixed price! No haggle!’It was indeed – the outrageous starting prices of Sharjah had become the fixed prices of Dubai and the tourists were, get this lads, paying them without so much a murmur, let alone a howl of ‘Are you telling me that’s not worth twenty shekels?‘And so, a while later, when I saw a shop close by Mall of the Emirates labelled ‘Pinky Furniture & Novelties’ I knew the exodus was complete. Pinky’s, too, had clearly fallen for the bright lights and the allure of ‘fixed prices’.Only, as it turns out, they didn’t. These days Pinky’s is still to be found in Sharjah’s industrial estate, run after his death by Mr Mukri’s son and daughter, the eponymous Pinky. The Dubai adventure was brought to an end by outrageous rent increases (I mean, would you believe that? Really?) and the realisation that, actually, Pinky’s customers are happy to make the journey and also that these days, Facebook is a vastly more powerful shop front.We went for a visit and a wander down memory lane over Eid and walked away with two cupboards. It was just like old times – and I remembered (too late) how hard it always was to leave Pinky’s without buying something.Here’s a pin. You’re quite welcome.

Dubai Radio Ads

Posted on the June 15th, 2017 under Personal Bloggers by

This is not a radio ad, but only marginally less annoying.This is Cynthia Dreamy Whingy Breathy Voice. Come to extravagant opulence, indulge in timeless elegance and experience sumptuous flavours from the mystical past of a bygone age. Be the person you always knew you could be, share the finest things the world can present to you on a golden platter bedecked in shinies. Otiose effulgence, pastoral impedance and acrostic tintinnabulation await your very fulfilment in a symphony of exotic flavours and oubliette laden senescence. While away the evening and taste asparagus as you’ve never tasted it before at Pinglies, the new signature destination from the Wawawoo Resort and Spa in Satwa, the new face of Jumeirah One.Dynamic Simon? Hi, it’s Drippy Pete. How are you?Hey! I’m Great Pete! Good to see you! And, yes! I’m Dynamic Simon Alright!I was wondering, Simon. What makes you so much more dynamic than me?Well, Pete! Good Question! I’m Dynamic because I Brush with Sploid!Brush? With Sploid? What’s that?It’s the New Minty Fresh Breath Oral Health Solution From Organon Labs! Here!What’s this?Your Own Tube of Sploid to Try Free of Charge!Free of charge?Yes! Free Samples are Available From Branches of Plaster Pharmacy!Wow! I can’t wait to try it!You’ll Love It, Pete. Or my Name’s not Dynamic Simon!this ad is regulated by the ministry of health and a baby racoon called dennis and contains no promise of future investments going up or down all situations portrayed are purely hypothetical and do not reflect reality perceived or promised. terms and conditions applyWEEOOOSCREEEE! GNAAAAARRRRR! WOPWOPWOPWOP! WYEOW WYEOW! SHNIIIIISSSSTTTTTTOOOOO! WOOOOOARRRRGH! SNEET! SNEET! SNEET! SNEET!Did you hear that? That’s the sound your back makes when you sit at your laptop every day. Did you know your desk could be killing you? Avoid splayed prostate syndrome and the awful bone crushing side effects of bad posture by sitting on Dr Foster’s Orthopedic Cushions. Sweat absorbing, hygienic and available in a range of coruscating colours including Windows 10 wait state blue.Sorry. I forgot to turn the radio off after the news this morning and ran into the ad break. It was almost over before I realised and switched off.

The Hatta Fort Hotel Makeover. And Chickens.

Posted on the June 4th, 2017 under Personal Bloggers by

Sheikh Rashid opens the Hatta Fort, 1981We walked into the reception of the Hatta Fort and peered around the transformed area. ‘Good morning,’ smiled the receptionist.’Good morning,’ we replied. ‘We’re here for a chicken.’His smile faltered. ‘Check-in?”Oh, no. Chicken.’You could see him realising that perhaps this was going to be a long, long day…The small and delightful Hatta Fort Hotel nestles way up in the Hajar Mountains, the rocky range that runs down the spine of the UAE and gives rain to the country’s Eastern coastal towns. The hotel’s been there since Dubai’s ruler, Sheikh Rashid bin Saeed Al Maktoum, first declared it open back in 1981 – a weekend treat for romantic couples and a destination for various groups from bikers and wadi bashers to companies organising team building events and conferences.1981 again: the Gazebo restaurant notably absent!Back in the day, it was home to all sorts of expatty events, murder weekends and meetings of the Chaîne des Rôtisseurs (Ah, darling, the quenelles of crustacean were simply divine). We’ve been going there since the  late ’80s to enjoy quick getaways in the tranquility of the mountains, walking in the grounds or driving around and exploring the Hatta tracks. These peregrinatory pleasures are now, thanks to the hardening of the Omani border, no longer possible – and the road to the hotel is no longer the Dubai-Awir-Lahbab-Hatta highway, again because of that border. You have to take the Mileiha road, which snakes around the Omani border. But the Hatta Fort nevertheless still makes for a glorious weekend away from it all.The Hatta Fort was for many, many years managed by the same chap, one Sergio Magnaldi. At one stage he tried to retire but came back again. He ran a small but tight ship, the happiness of the staff was always notable and over the years it became clear that the people who worked at the Hatta Fort tended to stick around.The hotel’s really something of an old friend. The chalet-style rooms with their round ’70s spotlights and tall wooden roofs, the Jeema restaurant with its classical French menu enlivened by some truly glorious curries and, of course, the amazing Roumoul Bar – my favourite bar in the world. I kid you not. The interior of the Roumoul Bar was pure James Bond: a huge, curving leather-sided walnut counter dominated the brown velour-walled room with its rich walnut panelled ceiling home to little glittering brass spotlights. You were instantly transported back in time when you pulled up a chair at the counter. Cocktail shakers would rattle. Home made crisps and – for a while – dishes of canapes would appear. And all was well with the world.The Hatta Fort’s rooms circa 1981. Spot the wall decoration.You can perhaps imagine how we felt when word reached us that the Hatta Fort was being renovated. Clearly the potential to ruin the whole thing was enormous. Sergio’s wife had already had a go at updating the rooms years ago and had made an awful job of it, installing insane tin dogs, huge red bed-heads and utterly inappropriate lighting fixtures, as well as introducing faux-antique ‘Marina Trading’ style chests and strange chaise longues into the rooms. And, for some reason, odd swathes of leopard skin print material draped around. The hotel managed to rise above the whole thing. Would it survive a complete makeover?The room post Mrs Sergio – note the chicken has survived the changes.And if they were going to completely remodel the rooms, what about the brass and enamel chickens that used to hang on the walls? They had been there since the year dot and had even survived Mrs Sergio’s reforms. They were pure ’70s, fantastic dangly things made up of sweeping leaves of brass and bronze with shiny enamel-centred flowers and things. Sarah nagged me for weeks to get in touch with the hotel and see if we could rescue a chicken. Finally, I sent them the email. Did they by any chance save any of the chickens when they’d redone the rooms? Could we buy one?Just before the weekend, the reply came. Yes, they had managed to track down a chicken. Yes, we could have it. They’d be pleased to see us whenever we came next. Sarah couldn’t wait. Nothing would do but that we hoiked off up there tout de suite. And so Saturday saw us noodling through the mountain roads on our chicken rescuing mission.The Hatta Fort Hotel todayWe had made up our minds to be brave. Change is inevitable and you can’t get mired in the past. What to us was a comfortingly familiar, retro delight probably looked to the rest of the world as dated and dowdy. We told each other these things as we pulled up to the hotel. It was something we’d just have to take on the chin.A new pergola outside the reception was the first sign of change. There were ‘on brand’ new burgundy umbrellas around the pool. And the reception area itself was transformed and made funky: slate tiled floors, silver and gold furnishings, a lot more airy and spacious. This time round, someone had brought in a real interior designer. It is different, very different. But it is also very nicely done.We met the older members of staff, one by one. What did we think of it all? The Jeema restaurant and Roumoul were closed by day because of Ramadan, but the chaps took us up for a quick peek around. The restaurant has been rethought totally – airier, lighter and more open. The buffet had been brought into the main dining room. And then, gulp, on to the Roumoul Bar.Oh, my dears, but it’s gone. The new bar is a faint, flickering shadow of former glories. It’s nice, mind – again whites and silvers and blacks, slate and grey. All very modern and even a tad chic. But it’s not the Roumoul Bar As Was. And you know what? We lived through it. We had a shrug, agreed with the chaps that yes, it was a little sad and its loss a shame but we all have to move on.And that was that.We went downstairs and explored one of the rooms – they’ve been done up very nicely, in fact. In place of the chicken on the wall is a framed piece of calligraphy and the dark wood beamed roofs have been painted white – pale ash bedheads and furnishings add to the airiness. They’ve kept the Hatta stone walls and the bathrooms have just been teased a little to lift them to the new style. Had other old regulars been horrified? Yes, a couple, the duty manager smiled. But while a few had found it hard to settle, the vast majority had approved. We knew what he meant – it was a lot of change to a place that had become, for many, something of an institution.The new chalets – beautifully bright, but *gasp* chickenless!But as we drove home and chatted, our Hatta Chicken safely in the back of the car, we realised that what hadn’t changed about the Hatta Fort was the most important thing of all. The staff were still there and were still the same happy, friendly, helpful and smiley bunch. They’re as clearly happy to be there as you are. You rather feel like royalty, wandering the grounds and being recognised with grins and murmurs of ‘Welcome back’ from everyone you encounter.Apart from the outstanding food (including one of the better breakfast buffets to be had in the Emirates) and the whole tranquility of the mountains thing, it’s the staff who always made the Hatta Fort Hotel that little bit more special. And they’re still there, as they always are.And last, and by no means least, we’ve got the chicken!

Roger The Radar Rotter

Posted on the May 18th, 2017 under Personal Bloggers by

Zoom and Bored(Photo credit: Wikipedia)Roger the Radar Rotter generally lurks around the Sharjah University City area. His favourite places are the roads around the AUS campus, the back road that tracks along the landfill from the logistics center to the roundabout by Sharjah English School and the Middle Road from the Mileiha Road up to the 311. Oh! And also on the stretch of Middle Road just beyond the 311 turnoff towards Sharjah City.He’s more Wile E. Coyote than most. He likes to hide his little portable radar behind a lamp post and then drive a few hundred yards up the road and lurk, no doubt giggling softly to himself and drooling, waiting for the flashes to go off.Knowing full well that we skittish victims can sniff he’s around when he parks up, he often hides the car. This means the wary are rewarded with glimpses of cars parked in odd places as more trusting souls trigger the cheery ‘pop’ of the radar followed by the inevitable ‘cherching’ of the Sharjah Police cash register.It’s an expensive game these days: they’ve just put the fines up. So why speed at all? You ask, in all sensibility.Well, the reason Roger has quite so much fun with his sneaky tricks is he likes to pick roads that have insane 60kph limits on them. The roads around the University are, for instance, long and straight and have two lanes. They are nowhere near any crossings or habitation, just long tarmac stretches running along outside the high campus walls. The UAE, very sensibly IMHO, has a ‘grace limit’ of 20kph above the actual speed limit, so you can travel a maximum 80kph on these roads. Nudge it just 1 kilo above it when Roger’s around and POW you’re toast, bub.The wee back road behind Sharjah English is a long straight line of blacktop running along a fence and surrounded by scrubland. The low speed limits make the drive interminably frustrating and the old speedometer does rather tend to sneak up a little. And then you spot, out of the corner of your eye, a glint of something out of place. Slow down, pass by regally and breathe a little sigh of relief as Roger sits in his hidden car, shaking his fists and snarling, ‘Damn you McNabb!’The other day I was driving thusly, overtaking a very slow lorry on the road behind SES. I had spotted Roger’s car on the hard shoulder ahead and was taking things easy, when I get some spotty Herbert in an FJ giving it socks on the flashers and horn behind me. With a resigned sigh I pulled in beyond the front of the lorry and moderated my speed.With satanic glee, I watched my tormentor speed past me, honouring me with a great display of shade thrown sideways as he hit the throttle to let me know one of us was a real man with a real right foot and the other a sissy rated by all and sundry as less than zero.Boom!Tisshhhh…I felt a little like Elric of Melniboné, Michael Moorcock’s anti-hero whose sword feasts on souls and passes a little of the energy to its tragic albino* wielder.For I had given Roger the soul he craved but the benefit, my precioussss, was mine, all mine…*Apparently these days we’re supposed to say ‘person of albinism’ but frankly, my dear…

Roger The Radar Rotter

Posted on the May 18th, 2017 under Personal Bloggers by

Zoom and Bored(Photo credit: Wikipedia)Roger the Radar Rotter generally lurks around the Sharjah University City area. His favourite places are the roads around the AUS campus, the back road that tracks along the landfill from the logistics center to the roundabout by Sharjah English School and the Middle Road from the Mileiha Road up to the 311. Oh! And also on the stretch of Middle Road just beyond the 311 turnoff towards Sharjah City.He’s more Wile E. Coyote than most. He likes to hide his little portable radar behind a lamp post and then drive a few hundred yards up the road and lurk, no doubt giggling softly to himself and drooling, waiting for the flashes to go off.Knowing full well that we skittish victims can sniff he’s around when he parks up, he often hides the car. This means the wary are rewarded with glimpses of cars parked in odd places as more trusting souls trigger the cheery ‘pop’ of the radar followed by the inevitable ‘cherching’ of the Sharjah Police cash register.It’s an expensive game these days: they’ve just put the fines up. So why speed at all? You ask, in all sensibility.Well, the reason Roger has quite so much fun with his sneaky tricks is he likes to pick roads that have insane 60kph limits on them. The roads around the University are, for instance, long and straight and have two lanes. They are nowhere near any crossings or habitation, just long tarmac stretches running along outside the high campus walls. The UAE, very sensibly IMHO, has a ‘grace limit’ of 20kph above the actual speed limit, so you can travel a maximum 80kph on these roads. Nudge it just 1 kilo above it when Roger’s around and POW you’re toast, bub.The wee back road behind Sharjah English is a long straight line of blacktop running along a fence and surrounded by scrubland. The low speed limits make the drive interminably frustrating and the old speedometer does rather tend to sneak up a little. And then you spot, out of the corner of your eye, a glint of something out of place. Slow down, pass by regally and breathe a little sigh of relief as Roger sits in his hidden car, shaking his fists and snarling, ‘Damn you McNabb!’The other day I was driving thusly, overtaking a very slow lorry on the road behind SES. I had spotted Roger’s car on the hard shoulder ahead and was taking things easy, when I get some spotty Herbert in an FJ giving it socks on the flashers and horn behind me. With a resigned sigh I pulled in beyond the front of the lorry and moderated my speed.With satanic glee, I watched my tormentor speed past me, honouring me with a great display of shade thrown sideways as he hit the throttle to let me know one of us was a real man with a real right foot and the other a sissy rated by all and sundry as less than zero.Boom!Tisshhhh…I felt a little like Elric of Melniboné, Michael Moorcock’s anti-hero whose sword feasts on souls and passes a little of the energy to its tragic albino* wielder.For I had given Roger the soul he craved but the benefit, my precioussss, was mine, all mine…*Apparently these days we’re supposed to say ‘person of albinism’ but frankly, my dear…

Alba Car Care: Dubai’s Ultimate Car Detail Shop

Posted on the February 19th, 2016 under Personal Bloggers by

alba-car-careI wanted to get my car detailed for quite some time and, after randomly watching a small billboard of Alba Royal Car Care at Al Quoz Industrial Area 3, I decided to turn the wheels to that direction and try them out. From what I saw while entering the premises, they have a fairly large facility and a sizeable staff wearing a sharp-looking uniform. Proclaiming themselves as the “number 1 car detailing service in Dubai”, they had a nice and quick desk service.

I was given a small form to fill regarding the basic details and also asking for any special instructions I’d like to specify before they begin.  I found their car detailing process to be pretty meticulous and lengthy with the manager constantly briefing me about the specifics such as the use of pH-balanced soap and special microfiber towel while washing the exterior. The next step included careful detailing of dashboard, door panels, console, seat panels, headrests, rubber mats and cargo area. The windows, also, were given a “water-repellent” treatment and I was quite impressed with the shine. While the three guys were detailing the interior, I was shown the exclusive German waxes, cleansers, polishes and conditioners they would use for car polishing after a hand dry finish.  The stuff appeared to be quite expensive and of premium quality.

To sum it up, I was very happy with what I got for only 450 AED and particularly liked the wheel wax treatment which, like everything, lasted quite longer than I had expected. My car interior smelled fresh, pleasant and rejuvenated for various weeks. If you’re looking for a high-quality car detail package in Dubai at a highly economical price, visit Alba Royal Car Care. These guys also provide other services such as window tinting, car wrapping and dent & scratch removal.  Check ’em out and let us know what you think!

Al Nakba

Posted on the May 15th, 2015 under Personal Bloggers by

Nakba 1948 oldman and baby tentNakba 1948 oldman and baby tent (Photo credit: Wikipedia)She talked to the table, her voice low. ‘My father was born on a farm in Palestine in 1946, outside a village called Qaffin. It’s the farm we have today. My grandparents left during the troubles in 1948, what we call the Nakba, the disaster. You know this, right? The Nakba?’ I nodded. ‘When the Zionists threw my people from their land and declared Israel a state. They had a saying, you know, “A land without a people for a people without a land.” But it was a lie.’