Stats that won’t end up in your PowerPoint presentation. They may, or may not be true. I’ll let you be the judge of that.
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.