The Egypt Trade: long protesters, short tourists

This article was written on 14/02/11 but put on hold for publication on http://life.hereisthecity.com/2011/02/27/the-egypt-trade-long-protesters-short-tourists/ on 27/02/11.

Like a reverse commute while the rest of civilised (sane) society was conducting a mass exodus last week, we were making a beeline for the country currently most touted on the news for its chaos.

On checking in at The Four Seasons in Sharm el Sheikh, we were greeted by a prominently placed portrait of Mubarak in the hotel lobby. Barely a week later at checkout, it had been discretely removed and the wall seamlessly painted over without a trace. Notwithstanding the fact of his having allegedly retreated, since his newly unemployed status, from Cairo to his holiday retreat down the road in this very Red Sea resort.

It wasn’t a decision lightly taken to embark on this long-planned trip to a country now mobbed with civil unrest. Indeed it was with much trepidation and foolhardy trust in the foreign office advice (as well as BA’s resolute refusal to offer even a partial refund) that we set off rather reluctantly at the height of the protests.

In a sense of foreboding, Gatwick was eerily empty (we were the penultimate flight of the day) with a post armageddon atmosphere. We made it from taxi door, through departure gates, security and check-in in under 15 minutes and, no, we weren’t ushered through priority check-in. Note also we were walking at funereal pace to cater to the speed of the lowest common denominator of our party: a toddler towing a Trunki.

On boarding, it transpired that bar a portly man and his equally portly other half, we were the only travellers in our cabin. Like an empty restaurant, this has to ring alarm bells. On the positive side, we had limited audience for extending apologies after hours of crying from the overtired 9 month old.

Five bleary-eyed hours of pacing the aisles with the fretful 9 month old; the 2 year old sleeping like a seasoned pro-traveller replete with eye mask, we touched down in the country that felt as familiar as our own given the compulsive viewing of everything Egypt related on the BBC news over the past week. With the exception that all was quiet and calm. Bar the local cab drivers squabbling over the fresh batch of tourists, there wasn’t a riot in sight.

Echoing the capacity of the flight, the resort was equally as sparsely occupied. For the large part the pool was a private affair and it was with much indignant harumphing if on the odd occasion we had to share it with anyone else. The breakfast buffet was a bursting banquet enough to feed the biblical five thousand but in reality only needed to feed about fifty.

The Egyptian people were warm, welcoming and gracious. Service was affable, efficient and the epitome of the term ‘family friendly’. Our room was equipped with nappies, wipes, cot, baby bath, toddler step stool, bottle steriliser, bottles, bottle warmer, an array of baby toiletries, jars of baby food as well as a microwave to warm them up in. The suite even came complete with washing machine, tumble dryer and dishwasher but there is a line to be drawn at full-on domestic drudgery while on holiday.

There was also a kids club where the 2 year old made pasta necklaces and a huge cardboard rocket that she insisted we bring home on a seat of its own on the plane.

At one point I gazed longingly at a Russian family who had brought along their own maid to deal with their toddler. Now, if the hotel could provide one of those then I would most definitely make a return visit regardless of any revolution. At dinner one evening I did attempt to palm off the 9 month old onto the willing Maitre D but, unlike the 2 year old who worryingly accepts M&Ms from strangers, the 9 month old just clung to me limpet-like glowering. It seems he too has learnt the power of protestation.

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That’s not my house… it’s too quirky

Meeting the woman who now lives in the house you almost bought is like meeting the wife of the man you almost married. One must tread a fine line between being complimentary but not to the point of being still obsessed. One must also refrain from casting aspersions no matter the force of temptation.

We may still be no closer to finding our dream home but better this than to buy in haste and repent at leisure in an abode euphemistically described by one estate agent as ‘a quirky compromise’ (neither in a cute nor quaint way) – need i say more?

Three Words

Feisty, fun, brave – these are the three words I would choose to describe my friend Amanda, whose funeral is tomorrow. After an arduous, painful and brave battle against cancer she passed away last week, leaving behind a supportive and loving husband and her five year old boy. He is the one I am thinking of today: the deserted survivor; with barely enough years behind him to comprehend the breadth and depth of his own sadness.

Not long ago, she had said that one of her greatest gifts from the big C was its generosity in allowing her at least the time to see her little boy start school. She recognised that in that most precious and depreciating commodity of time, we should value the high points and simply let go of the low.

In life, we are divided into two camps: those who fight for what they want and those who follow what they’re given. Amanda was the contender who put complacent resignation to shame.

I will remember you in your hairdresser’s convertible, roof down, sunglasses on and driving with your perfectly pedicured feet in pink flip flops. And of course, I will remember you for your strength of character, optimism, energy and not least of all, our shared love of clothes.

Handbags at Dawn

This article was first published on http://life.hereisthecity.com/2011/02/16/handbags-at-dawn/ on 16 February 2011.

In the bygone era of my banking days, I was once hailed as the Imelda Marcos of handbags.
Today, while walking past the local Waitrose, furiously conducting an internal debate over this evening’s  dinner options (is spagbol twice in a week too much?), I glanced in the window to spot a familiar face. She was looking a tad bedraggled with a hint of the disorganised madwoman about her and she was carrying a rather limp looking nylon handbag of Le Sportsac variety. Then I realised it was me.
It strikes me that I am a long way (geographically, mentally and most evidently, sartorially) from the Birkin-toting self of yore. My footwear is a rotating cycle of Ugg boots/ FitFlop Mukluks/ trainers – a good three inches lower than the de rigeur uniform of towering heels, scaling the corporate ladder. Rosa Klebb dagger was optional but useful in disposing of the opposition especially during bonus season.
Recent years have seen my arm candy of choice reduced to the hideous Le Sportsac (which doubles as a nappy bag) and a wipe clean PVC Cath Kidston number. Suddenly I am pining for my 2.55 (aka Chanel, for the handbag heathens out there). Notwithstanding the fear of a small child defacing a bag worth more than a small car.
I practically run home, almost mowing down a couple of pensioners in the process, sprint up the stairs to the attic where, gathering dust, resides a box marked ‘handbags’. Tearing it open, I discover they are nestled alongside two other long lost friends I haven’t seen in far too long; namely, freedom and independence.
So I have vowed to sling on an impractical but beautiful bag and strap on some killer heels the next time I am not doing the nursery run/ performing a supermarket sweep/ chasing children round a playground. As for my dear friends, freedom and independence, they have been lovingly laid back to rest in the attic for another few years.

Sleeping with the Elephant

This article was first published on 1 Feb 2011 on http://life.hereisthecity.com/2011/02/01/sleeping-with-the-elephant/

Some use alcohol as an emotional crutch; others use food; and more still use religion. As for my son, his crutch comes in the form of a decapitated elephant head attached to a scrap of, admittedly very tactile, blue fabric.

More specifically, the ears of said elephant – he cannot enter the land of nod without having one clamped firmly in the gummy grip of his mouth.

An unsuspecting newborn gift from the far-flung reaches of across the pond has unwittingly become the dreaded ‘lovie’ (Baby Whisperer lingo) a.k.a. comforter/ blankie/ security blanket. It appears my 8 month old is Linus reincarnate.

The problem is that half a dozen months of sucking on said elephant’s ears has left it looking rather lacklustre and fearing the day he awakes to Dumbo with downright disintegrated ears, the quest began for some sneaky substitution. Mr A recommended a bout of cold turkey but I’m yet to find a life occasion worthy of veering from the path of least resistance.

Many hours of (much interrupted) cyber surfing later, it transpires that my son has been inconsiderate enough to develop an addiction to something nigh on impossible to get his grubby hands on outside the US . Amazon (.com not .co.uk) will sell and send for the price of the GDP of a small nation with delivery anywhere up to a month. Cold turkey wouldn’t even take that long. Then, eureka, Google uncovers some obscure luxury baby goods retailer here in Blighty who actually stock them. The euphoria can only be likened to Mr Newton’s apple on head moment. No matter that the cost leaves barely enough change for a skinny latte from a fifty (GBP not JPY).

The elephants (yes, plural – shame it wasn’t 3 for 2 or BOGOF)  arrived yesterday to much whooping and smugness. Evening rolled on and a box-fresh elephant was placed in the cot while his bordering on unhygienic relation, was flung on the precariously close to a landslide of a laundry mountain. But all elephants are NOT created equal. The 8 month old cast it aside like poo from his shoe and as punishment for my efforts to deceive him, promptly engaged in a 90 minute screaming session.

So here’s hoping the course of cold turkey doesn’t last as long as that left over from the Christmas dinner. As for the exorbitantly priced elephants (ears intact), they are waiting patiently for friends (or foe) to have new babies. At which point, the cycle of desperate parents hunting down substitutes will restart (it beggars belief what parents will pay for the promise of a good night’s sleep). And as for me, I will be first in line if that company ever floats.

 

The Good, The Bad and The Short

In a bid to squeeze in some warm Waltons-family type of weekend activity, I booked tickets for us all to see Snow White (the panto) at the local theatre. Pantomimes have never been my viewing of choice. Even when within the target age group, the garish getups and cross dressing characters made me cringe rather than laugh. German mum of one thought that a pantomime was a silent theatre show (a ‘mime’) – if only. The idea of the quintessentially English panto is so diametrically opposed to the restrained, stiff upper lip English reserve that it’s almost like the  Mr Hyde alter ego.
Actually, despite the very amateurish performance and the man a few seats along from us with VERY dubious personal hygiene issues, oh, and the fact there was no chocolate icecream available in the interval, it was, dare I admit it, most enjoyable.
Tinkerbell is now an aspiring dancer (preferably more Black Swan standard). Mr A is now experienced in dealing with the wrath of fellow audience members seated in the row in front when Golden Boy gleefully grabs handfuls of their hair (useful for our impending holiday flight). And I (just about) managed to explain (a) why it’s okay to be a dwarf and (b) why the Queen (Snow White’s mummy) wanted to kill her daughter without engendering any paranoia in my own two year old.
Two and a half hours later, Golden Boy was officially getting restless and Mr A was late for a conference call (yes, on Sunday evening – boo hiss – sorry!) so our Waltons–esque family outing was officially over.
Today, after I confiscated her new 10 colours-in-one Hello Kitty pen as punishment for defacing my favourite White Company duvet cover, Tinkerbell now believes I am the ‘mean Queen’ personified.

(Thirty) Seven Year Itch

My parents have been married for 37 years. It has recently become apparent to my father that his itch has now reached such insurmountable levels that it can no longer go unscratched. Who better to provide said scratching than someone only a handful of years my senior with no child bearing scars, stretch-marks or indeed any familial duties that make so many of us only a shadow of our former fun selves.
My mother is distraught; my father dismissive of the depth of his betrayal; my siblings and I are wedged firmly in the unenviable position of choosing a side.
Apparently we are to view our situation as fortunate – we could have faced the prospect of single parent syndrome while we were still dependents. Instead, we all now have our very own set of dependents. The family unit is knitted together to tightly yet so precariously – like a precious winter woollie: one snag could potentially unravel its entire existence.
But every hurdle is a life-lesson. As I one-knit, one-purl through my own relationship, I am ever more vigilant about its tenacity.