Beirut. Capital of Lebanon. A fuzzy, laughing, pock-marked electric oasis, ensconced in the Arabian wedge of the Meditteranean. Garlic, booze, concrete, olives, amorous eyes, hormones on steroids and cigarettes in every hand, cornered between angry nations pointing rockets and fingers at each other.
Seven Brits – alcoholism, nihilism, Borat & Partridge quotes, mutual piss-taking, self deprecation, limited understanding of exchange rates, cheerful and willing abandon at regular intervals.
Three Aussies – construction, management & mining consultants with a vent for hedonism, females and the pursuit of happiness.
Two Filipinas, immaculately turned out, all-seeing, all observing, not about to take any shit. Off anybody.
One Palestinian/Lebanese – the only member to actually understand often less-than-favourable comments from locals. Tolerant, thoughtful counterbalance to everyone else. Loveable.
One South African – Ladykiller, ladles of charm and no problem being the butt of jokes because he always gets the girl (although he doesn’t know what Savoury means or who Bill Murray is).
One Scottish-Indian, bright-eyed, loved up, up for everything, owner of the most inimitable accent I will ever hear.
The ensemble headed to Beirut last weekend for a 30th bash. Memory loss. Fearlessness. Intermittent Aspergers. Regular premature Alzheimers. Puke. Bidets. Abused curtains. Lots of laughing.
Flydubai took us to the city where the Arabs go to party, where Roman ruins dance between the ghosts of old wars and potentially imminent ones on streets peppered with smiles, stares, shwarmas, cigarettes, hugs, handshakes and a smoky warmth wherever you end up.
Biblical stone broods beside bullet-addled bricks, and 70s highrises cuddle up to Maronite churches, while Byzantine columns sleep between cacaphonic pylons. Decent Graffiti frames Hesbollah posters. 60s Mercs cut up brand new Porches. And men, men everywhere – soldiers on corners, old men on chairs, flatcaps and leather jackets, on steps, in doorways, outside shops, fifteen for every lady, with unabashed stares at unchaperoned women, hands forever scratching itchy bollocks (apparently it’s because it’s common to shave your pubes in Lebanon, but the ladies didn’t seem to have the same problem).
One street is old Berlin in summer, the next is Havana in Winter. The manic roads and crumbling history are Athens, with streetfaces of downtown Memphis or Barcelona. Plenty feels like downtown Marseille or Lille in the mid 80s, or like the 80s in general, only everyone’s off their faces, wants to be your friend, to show you the very best of their country and drives like a complete mental. Rear view mirrors are for ornamental purposes, as are lanes, pavements, traffic lights and zebra crossings.
Ha. Not really. Started with good intentions, but there were no illusions that the plot was going to be devised or found on this trip.
At 5am, 1.5 hours before the flight, I met my roomie for the first time, a stunner a long way from the home counties with a clever media job, in a pile of drunken bags and stuffs on the roadside. We’d both separately decided that as it wasn’t a school night, it was fine to travel to Lebanon on NO sleep and extended inebriation. On the plane, one of the Aussies thoughtfully warned a Lebanese man that we might be doing “terrible things to your country”. He was wrong. As much as Brits and Aussies are a royal pain in the arse on a global scale, anything we thought was unacceptable or just plain silly was fine with Lebanon. The locals’ primary concern was that we love the place, and we did.
We hired a coach and saw some sites. A million years of stalactites, (or an incredible, drippy Jim Henson/Terry Gilliam set at Jeitta’s Grotto), the serenely chilled RomanChristian Byblos, with fishermen chilling in the sunset on a 4000 year old port, giant angry marshmallows or rocky fingers swearing out of the bay at the Corniche, electric bars and happy drunks staggering across Jemayze. But mostly we ate, drank, ran, danced, wobbled, sang, questioned scam artists, lather-rinse-repeat as needed.
We met Hamdan, the checker player with the most incredible moustache any of us will ever see, the scamster arsewipes at BO18 who took a chunk of our money for a table guarded by overweight overzealous bouncers in bad suits & attitudes, then charged the entire bill again to the Aussie Birthday Boy’s card once we’d left. The larger than life ponytailed soulsinger Alex Nashef in Bar Louis. The kind taxi driver who didn’t get offended when we observed the thickness of Rafik Hariri’s eyebrows. Reem, the barmaid who kept pouring us ‘surprise’ shots and cocktails. Local ladies with lashings of eyeliner, piles of cleavage and plenty of soul. The Finnish girls who scammed us into paying their Bar tab. Wolf whistling soldiers. Bemused hotel staff. Amused pizza boys who could see a chunky profit a mile off. Everyone you looked at was looking back.
The Script. (Names *****ed)
“I knew it was time to go when I asked that man to drag me around the floor by my feet”
“Reception said they’ve run out of beer – they didn’t sound very apologetic about it”
“I think I’ve got chocolate cake in my ear”
“Promise you won’t make me leave this room or do anything today or I’ll have a panic attack”
“What’s the conversion for dollars into Lebo thingies again?”
5pm on BBM “Is anyone up yet?”
“A good midget porn title? ‘It’s alright, they’re not children'”
“He is genuine ********* face” (Borat quote in response to very Borat-sounding coach driver)
“If nothing else my kids’ll have good manners.” – “J****’s kids’ll probably have ***** ********”
“Who’s that dude staggering across the street down there? Oh, it’s D***. D***! We’re here!”
My big sister Jessica got married to Graham Simpson last week in the Lake District. She is now Jessica Simpson. Here are some Wedding Learnings.
If the bride is a badass businesswoman flying high on the crest of a going-global entrepreneurial tidal wave, and not very ‘weddingy’, it helps to have a Mum who is a badass events-organising behemoth. While this entails power-struggles between two bright, assertive ladies, it also means Brilliant Wedding on the cards, and that’s what we got.
Family Weddings are a novel way to find new ways of infuriating your mother. One is to move to Dubai 6 months beforehand.
Another is to get ‘relatively tipsy’ the night before, and tread a stiletto-heel-shaped hole in the 300-quid veil, which is then discovered 3 hours before the wedding
Fixing the hole by sewing heart-shaped lace on it does not necessarily fix it but does make a ‘funnee story’ the entire congregation knows about before the service thanks to a blaspheming mother
My brother Ben is exceptionally good at chauffeuring over 30 international guests around the Lake District without grumbling, and generally being a charming optimist throughout
Optimism pays off, because the gods of Lakeland Weather smile on Jess and Graham. Which helps in a landscape like this:
My mother is exceptionally good at decorating small Lakeland churches
Hanging a painting of one notable absentee in the church is highly effective as both a perfect finishing touch and source of waterworks
The best man forgetting the rings is still not as bad as stomping a hole in the wedding veil. And he got them in time for the service.
Auntie Mary is an exceptional trooper for driving up the country by herself and partying hard, albeit terrifying a few of the younger single males
It is ill-advised to tell lots of people to meet the bridal party at the Queens Head pub the night before, when there are 6 Queens Head pubs in neighbouring towns and villages, and you’ve booked the wrong one
It is ill-advised as a guest to corner the bride the night before the wedding to tell her you’re disappointed with the accommodation/setting, and the bride’s mother may be restrained from giving you a piece of her mind
Everyone knows the culprit of the exceptional clouds of flatulence throughout the reception. And no it wasn’t me or Ben.
My sister is exceptionally good at making speeches, picking excellent husbands and not getting upset about holes in her wedding veil
During the speeches, the biggest laugh can be caused by a six year old who raises her glass “To Toast!”
The bridesmaid is not only best friend of both bride and groom, but the reason they met, and therefore has quite a substantially positive impact on a few folk’s lives. She’s also a bloody good poet.
Uncle Geoff wins a gold star for realising he forgot his suit upon arrival in Ambleside, then driving down to Preston with a very tolerant wife to buy a brand new suit
The Dukan diet removed a cumulative 24 stone (estimate) from wedding guests – this is equal to approximately 2.5 guests
Uncle Duncan (not a dietitian) retains an exceptional capacity to frighten small children by playing with his dentures at the dining table
Don’t be offended when Uncle Ken comments on your boobs
It takes a noble best man in a kilt to not retaliate when the fellow-Scottish kilt-wearing groom lifts up his tartan in the middle of the dancefloor to prove he really is a Scot
Don’t be offended if the DJ hastily takes back his microphone after your ‘rendition’ of the start of “I like to move it”.
But here’s my rendition of At Last for Jess and Graham’s first dance:
Do be in awe of the rendition of Sugar Hill Gang by the ladies from Charleston, South Carolina
Do be amused by a very british, very camp rendition of Hey Ya.
The popular South Carolinan dance ‘The Shag’ provides an infinite supply of jokes unrelated to technique or style when demonstrated on the dance floor
Ceilidhs are profoundly confusing
The evillest cat that has ever lived likes to slowly chew the feet off mice for hours next to groups of people outside the Langdale Chase hotel
Fireworks are the definitive way to make sure your wedding goes off with a bang. Yes I went there.
Picking Kenyan & Rwandan honeymoon destinations that are “Not massively kidnappy” does little to ease tensions of family members
All in all a brilliant wedding. Well done Jess and Graham, and mum, and the Simpsons, and Christine, and Ben, and Vic, and all the people that flew a long way for a perfect weekend, and the ones that didn’t, but gave it their all. And to Jess and Graham again – for the start of a very happy life together.
In response to the well-received Dubai Learnings Part 1, here’s the next edition>
It is illadvised to invite the chinese weapons salesmen to your friend’s houseparty
A tablespoon of Ghee is not worth eating for 100 Emirati Dirhams.
Sludgy drinks puddle + heels + free bar = Wrist support which makes you look like an IDIOT
If I live on the 26th floor, and work on the 40th floor, and there are 11 feet per story, my median average altitude at any given hour of the day in one month (or Maddiyan height) is 308 feet.
There is a speed bump for every head of the population. Dubai Ladies’ wardrobes do not lend themselves to sports bras. Therefore, 3+ years in Dubai = Saggy boobage due to bumpage.
Dubai is 12 towns on top of one anther like a layered cake, based on nationality, income, profession and religion. Everyone mixes with their tier, with differing opinions about how high or low it tier is. All expats are sociable and confident, soon get to know enough of their lot and then call it a ‘small world’.
Breast Punching is not universally hilarious.
Arabs LOVE Vimto. Not just a little bit.
Do not expect U-turn opportunities. If you need to go left, go straight for 2 miles and back. Then you can turn right. Stupid.
There are no Mosquitoes in Dubai. Or if there are, there are about 11. This is great.
There are no pigeons. This is also great.
750 quid to fly back for your sister’s hen for 4 days is entirely worth it, providing your mother doesn’t have a sulk for 2 of them
DO NOT GET IN DEBT IN DUBAI. DEBT = JAIL.
Youtube parties get a lot more competitive when there are 5 professional DJs in the room.
It is illadvised to put TV presenters in head locks (observed not perpetrated)
Living out of a suitcase gets irritating after 6 months
Serious pillow fights in hotel rooms with 8 multi-award-winning creatives at 5.30 am + 8 bottles of champagne = a world of pain at the desk 4 hours later.
Dubai is not going to get finished. But it’s good enough.
Someone willing to kiss you after an extreme allergic reaction and exorcist-style vomitousness may have questionable standards
Seeing the British riots through the eyes of Indians, Lebanese, Australians and French was profoundly humiliating and frustrating.
A bidet is not for puking in.
Ramadan – a chance to understand the culture you are in, and be more respectful to everyone and everything. And also go to lots of lovely houseparties and make some lovely friends.
It’s fun to see some of these friends on the telly.
Local film channels are brilliant and beautiful in their random selections. But whoever decides when to cut the films for the advert breaks is TERRIBLE AT HIS JOB.
Prawn Tempura is an acceptable breakfast
If the shop in your work knows you as Oranamin C Lady, this is probably not great.
DishDashes and Abayas – symbols of identity & pride, worn with class, not any form of extremism. Far from it.
Badass cars are not driven by Badasses.
International professional Stand-Up Comics can still be genuinely afraid of your mother.
Filipinos – the hardest working, most courteous, astute nationality I’ve come across in the USA, Dubai, Australia or anywhere – it confounds me that they work so damn hard around the world when such uncharacteristic corruption is in charge at home.
Having a glass of champagne passed to you by an acrobat hanging from the ceiling is very cool but also a bit weird.
Peanuts and Japanese Rice Crackers does not a well balanced diet make.
Rain is a lovely thing.
In the 80s and 90s the Butchers went through a series of dodgy haircuts, very many Doc Martens and a couple of Yorkshire Terriers. John, or ‘Butch’,was not fond of the Terriers. They were ‘Pointless’. Butch walked around the house barefoot, and regularly trod in daily doormat ‘deposits’. One of his more coherent responses to this was; “That’s not a real dog. Can you see that thing ever hunting in a pack?”
In my first ten years the Butchers got through four hamsters, an African snail with rude words written on & Lego men glued to his shell, two terrapins, a humanity-hating cat, a kingdom of newts and a colony of stick insects getting jiggy with it. At 11, I started pleading for a puppy. Butch was not amused. He went to the Malt Shovel in Barston for a well-earned pint, and came back with Jake. Jake was not a puppy.
Everyone has a story about how their dog/cat/rabbit is better than any other dog/cat/rabbit – it’s so intelligent, so human, no, seriously – you would not believe what it does that makes it so much better than normal dogs/cats etc.
Our species loves to build an affinity with something that’s not human, but whose idiosyncrasies give it a personality definable in human terms. A creature that depends on you to be alive and happy, and preferably communicates it. Sometimes, you get a character that inspires Garfield, or Gromit. I’m putting Jake up with the greats. He was a Butcher’s dog, and one worth telling folks about.
Found tied to a stick on a patch of ‘garden’ on the Chelmsley Wood Council Estate, Jake had a rough start. His neck had grown around the rope, and he was speckled with dents where estate residents had thrown things at him. In this time he developed a very rational lifelong hatred towards teenage boys in baseball caps.
An anonymous hero in a neighbouring high-rise saw the puppy, tied to a post with an empty food bowl and climbed into the garden one night. He drove the puppy to a dog lover called Sue Love. If our hero hadn’t made either the rescue or known Sue, and if Sue’s husband hadn’t been a fan of the same pubs as Butch, we could have missed out on seventeen years with a legendary mutt.
Sue was a Pedigree Chum. Crufts regular, breeder and assault-course lieutenant, she paraded hounds up ladders and seesaws, weaving poles and racing down tunnels. She cleaned up the mongrel from the estate and confiscated his manhood, but the mix-&-match hound wouldn’t cut it for Crufts. Jake was fine with that. He did the entire course himself, immaculately, without escort, strutting his shaggy flairs with pride, a bit like a like a skinny, black, brummy Legolas.
And Sue made a mistake we’ll always be thankful for. Jake didn’t get on with her Greyhound. 17 years of observation gives us a good guess – Jake was not a bum-sniffer or turd-muncher, and didn’t have much time for them. And the eunuch didn’t take kindly to over-affectionate mutts. Never a fighter, any reaction had to be well provoked, and Sue’s amorous turd-eating greyhound had been in the family longer, so Jake was touted in the pub.
He arrived with a pink matted rug, plastic yellow bowl and two despondent looking squeakies. Afraid and unsure, the whites of his eyes were straight out of the ‘Baby of Mine’ scene in Dumbo. That night mum and dad went for a curry, and the two of us sat, tentatively, deciding whether to be friends. After an hour, the big shaggy black dog with the bright orange eyebrows, long nose and white triangle of fur on his chest sat by me, and so it was.
Butchers are a gregarious bunch, but he managed to suit each one of us perfectly. He was calm enough for mum, noble enough for dad, affectionate enough for me, clever enough for Jess, and cool enough for Ben. A week later, when Sue saw her error, mum was having none of it.
In the next 17 years Jake met football managers and politicians, millionaires and musicians, with discerning eyes after rudely announcing their arrivals. He won Best Pet in the Ullswater Country show. He befriended an entire pub of locals in the Lake District while also serving as pub Vacuum cleaner. He was Butch’s mountain pal, who admired the views from over a hundred peaks with a look of genuine pride and satisfaction. Fox chaser, squirrel worrier, burglar alarm, ping-pong ballboy, lover of sardines, hater of postmen, personal trainer, therapist, Eurovision Song Contest Celebrator, ice-breaker, pillow, flatulence champion, doorstop, babysitter, companion. You had a good innings, old chap, and you won’t be beat.
Week 8. Before we get into the more comprehensive analytics, some basics learned so far, or things I wish I’d known before I came. Mum, I’m OK.
- Following a compliment with “Shame about your face” is not universally hilarious.
- Do not expect continuous pavements.
- Do not try to musically analyse the Call to Prayer.
- There’s no good time to tell new flatmates there is a dead baby bird in the freezer, and “Viking Funeral” will not wash.
- If your underpants snap, a windy commando border-crossing will land you in jail. Where possible, purchase childrens’ swimwear and keep a straight face.
- Camels are out of Star Wars and basically dinosaurs with fur.
- Hip Hop Karaoke is For Winning.
- Getting ‘papped’ does not mean you’re important.
- If you’re at a party, and someone has a monkey with a nappy, don’t get too friendly – there’s a reason it’s wearing it.
- Opportunities are to be had in places where people are open to them.
- No I do not want the transparent Belly-Dancer beaded-skirt thing.
- It’s fun to draw smiley faces on the dusty bins in the neighbourhood, and it will not make you famous.
- The Dubai traffic system was designed by either a jaded childrens’ party entertainer, a pasta-maker undergoing psychiatric treatment, a traffic-cone manufacturer or Loki, god of mischief.
- There are some very decent graffiti artists willing to give you cans and show you the ropes. Here they are ON THIS LINK, and THIS LINK.
- It is folly to expect Taxi drivers to know where they’re going, particularly if they say they do.
- Do not let the person filming the entire gig beside you on their blackberry ruin your enjoyment of it. A subsequent rant about this person will not get published.
- A trip to the Mall is more than that – it’s a place to see and be seen. Even if you hate shopping, dress up, watch the people.
- The Dawn patrol – lovely folks sipping G&Ts in the garden at 7.30 am. Until the flies descend and bug the crap out of everybody.
- Old Dubai = everything older than 12 years.
- Staying in a hotel alone for four weeks totally justifies ‘The Shining’.
- If someone asks if you’re “Ruski” it’s not because you look affluent.
- You can teach a parrot a new trick but you will never be its friend.
- Learn to love House music because that’s what you’re getting. Do not suggest putting Chas & Dave on.
- Arabic food is infinitely more varied & flavourful than Kebabs and Falafels.
- Cheapo Silly-Sunglasses are more fun than stupidly expensive ones.
- However snide folks elsewhere in the world may be, you can’t fail to be impressed by what Dubai has achieved and created. Ethos: If you can, do.
- Don’t assume someone giving you HBO episodes on USB means they have a corresponding crush to your impression of a 14 year old.
- A Lunar exclipse is even more dramatic viewed from the top of a massive dune in the actual desert.
- Oranamin C = Hangover cure.
- Sheikh Zayed Road – the city’s aorta: 12 lanes of comedy chaos. Do not expect indication, signage or use of rearview mirrors.
- If someone offers you a job, don’t assume it’s an actual job they’re offering (lather rinse repeat X5).
- If you fall asleep in the Karaoke bar, it’s time to go home. If you are saluted on exiting said Karaoke bar, you did a good job.
- 5 pints of unlimited-refill pepsi puts you right off 7 oz of perfectly decent steak.
- Your hair is not falling out because of stress, it’s salinated water.
- Lebanese popstars are a fusion of Kim Kardashian and Sly Stallone’s mum.
- Handheld-jets in toilet cubicles lead to detailed conversations about how people clean their behinds.
- A Sandstorm is thick sandy fog. Not an actual storm, so you don’t have to take everything in from the balcony.
- Expect a consistent humidity-fro until you can get your hands on extensive/expensive hair products.
- Sand. Damn sand everywhere. Funny, that.
- If someone excessively flirts with you, don’t take it personally when they do the same to fifteen other individuals in as many minutes. It’s what they do, male and female.
- The hard-working labourers will pause to think you are a slut and stare accordingly. That’s helped by the above point, and also because ladies at home cover up and don’t go out drinking or hopping in taxis with men they’ve just met.
- “It’s rude to stare” does not apply in the UAE.
- Indefinite celibacy makes total sense, but you will still be the same demographic as a slut.
- Be nice to passport control people at border crossings – even when they laugh at you while waving your passport around and making your tolerant friend do the Hokey Cokey with her car.
This piece got a great response, warranting a second outing with Dubai Learnings Part 2.