So in what has been a whirlwind week and a bit I have now graduated into the world of politics. I’ve been leafleting.

Last week I had dinner with the Rutland and Melton Liberal Democrats and took a few thousand (or so it seems) leaflets off their hands along with a list of streets in my town. You may remember how I turned down the opportunity to buy a device which seamlessly gets your leaflet through a letterbox without fear of hedgehog crumpling or indeed quadruped abuse. I say quadruped because from experience of owning a cat it would be very unfair to blame all mangled flyers dripping in animal slobber waiting to be stepped on in bare feet on a dog. My cat relishes the opportunity to attack naïve fingers as they peek through the letterbox and chew on the corners of kebab shop flyers, then make a nest out of them and then lose interest and go for unsuspecting pondlife/moths etc. Anyway – I wish I’d bought one now.

So I set off yesterday afternoon in the glorious sunshine wearing a plastic yellow beaded necklace I haven’t worn since I was 19 and an undergraduate for want of a rosette (only I don’t want a rosette because I’m not interested in looking like an overgrown member of the Ponyclub). I had a green canvas bag slung over my shoulder piled full of carefully folded leaflets all of whom needed a home.

My first leaflet was a triumph. Straight through the letterbox in one fell swoop before floating gently down to land on the doormat. It looked ethereal and magical through the frosted glass door panel. I was literally gushing with pride. By this point I had been watching through some poor biddy’s front door lower glass panel and if they were at home, I probably looked rather menacing which is entirely the opposite effect I was going for.

The next one was less of a success because I had to encounter The Hedgehog. Now, a hedgehog is the name for one of those brush things people inexplicably affix to their letterboxes. Why? Nobody knows. It is one of those weird truths that is taken as a given… like the monks who each have a piece of the recipe for buckfast not being allowed to fly on the same plane.

Anyway, the hedgehog was sufficiently stiff and unyielding to completely squash my leaflet. Unfortunately it was so far through, I considered for a moment that on the other side of the door some cruel person was sitting waiting for hapless marketers such as myself to have their plans for pristine leaflet distribution ruined like so many car bonnets under a popular tree branch. There’s probably a website full of home videos of poor little hands wriggling through inhospitable letterboxes while the cameraman chuckles evilly.

Needless to say, I thrust it through and ran away. I felt very ashamed and could hear the voices behind the door saying;

Well! If that’s how the Liberal Democrats post their leaflets they’re certainly not getting my vote.

The rest of the council estate carried on as normal. A lot of curtain-twitchers. I chose to counteract their curtain-twitching with a broad smile and a wave. My tactic in all honestly could go one of two ways. Either they think I’m mental and don’t even bother to look at what I’ve posted… or they think I’m mental and reigniting the Monster Raving Looney Party (RIP Lord Such).

Or they could just look at the leaflet but I know how unappealing flyers can be having had so many of them thrust down various openings in clothing and into facial orifices outside Manchester’s Arndale Centre. I really do hope they read it though.

By this point my knuckles are beginning to resemble a Bond villain’s face after the big scuffle and car chase and the hedgehogs are goading me with every lift of a little bronze flap. So rather than struggle, I’m just shoving my hand through to make the best of what will inevitably be a bad job. Remember I have literally THOUSANDS to deliver and so artisan care cannot be administered to every single delivery. I know the intelligent, fair, democratic electorate will believe me.

So I get into a new habit of posting my hand each time and not just the paper (obviously I retract my hand each time after releasing the leaflet). So I come to a very ordinary house and a very ordinary door. I push my hand through and think to myself;

Mmm, what a warm, moist house.

Wait….

BARK BARK BARK!

What I considered to be a warm, moist house was in fact warm, moist dog breath. So now I’m not only having to worry about exfoliating several layers of skin off my right hand, but I also have to worry about the lack of skin being the least of my worries after being beaten to the post by lack of limbs.

The scariest of all the houses I delivered to was not one of the ones which had BEWARE OF BULL TERRIER plastered on the frosted glass panel. Nor was it one of the ones with an actual Bull Terrior in the front garden snarling at me with those beady black eyes. The scariest house had a squeaky gate, drawn curtains and dusty windows plus piles of rubbish in the front garden including some very unwell looking Santa Clauses with various missing appendages. The letterbox was very stiff and stuffed with kebab shop flyers. Nobody had used the door in a very long time. I thought I’d better make a move before a zombie answered the door (and believe me, there are enough of the living dead in Rutland already without me having to make acquaintances with another).

I only met two actual people even though I saw a lot of people in their front rooms on a beautiful Sunday afternoon watching television. The first was a woman who was seemingly sweeping her gravel driveway. I offered her a leaflet and she accepted it with the sort of smile akin to a world-weary primary school teacher being given yet another worm from the playground (I know that withering look so well).

The second was a man who had watched me leaflet most of his little street. I could feel him watching me so strode up and gave him a leaflet, feeling rather proud of being the standard bearer for a cause I agree to whole-heartedly with.

Aye. So who do you want me to vote for then?

Uhhh! Shit! Quick! Look at the paper. The Liberal Democrats. That looked verrrry unconvincing.

The man have me a shifty look and I steeled myself for the inevitable barrage of disapproval.

Hmmm. Nice one, ducky! I’m quite keen on them.

Hurray! Although it doesn’t look very good if I don’t remember what they are called, does it. I mean… OF COURSE I know who the Liberal Democrats are, I’m not completely stupid. I’m handing out election material on their behalf because I want them to get elected, I am just extraordinarily daft and struggle under questioning. This is why I am a journalist. I am very good at asking questions but give me a question to answer and I’m easily flummoxed.

In all, a good haul. Rutland has thusfar been extremely obliging to me on my little quest to promote our Lib Dem candidate Grahame Hudson and it is cheering to see so much support. If you see a 20-something black-haired girl looking stupidly cheerful with a big green bag of leaflets crunching up your drive then please don’t throw anything at me. And please have the foresight to trim your hedgehogs. My hands are killing me today.


It is such a cliché to begin a piece with the sentence ‘with the election in full swing’ or ‘campaigning began in earnest’ – so I am going to use words to that effect.

No I’m not, I’m just going to bite the bullet and jump on the bandwagon. 

With the election in full swing, it is hard not to lapse into serious political ponderment in rare quiet moments during the day. As a channel-hopper between GMTV and BBC my day starts with Bill Turnbull or John Stapleton followed by radio news bulletins summarising the current political events in Shreddies sized digestible portions delivered in such a way that it will tide me over until mid-morning coffee and a scan of the Guardian website Comment is Free page and the BBC news. At lunch I sit at my desk like a complete saddo and vent my journalism spleen at like-minded CiF readers (that is if I can find an article that I feel confident enough to write about without feeling under qualified) and then have scan of the front pages in the cafeteria. These are mostly the sorts of tabloids that show busty women wearing very little clothing sneering out at girls who will never get paid for their looks such as myself so it doesn’t take long for me to lose interest and avoid being lectured by the cashier who harangues me for never buying anything and stealing stirrers, sugar packets and plastic cutlery. In the afternoon I’m usually trying to meet deadlines so very little time for news unless I have no deadlines in which case there is always a news website window open for me to catch a glance at.

When I get home, I am exhausted. I catch the news before the One Show while I do a puzzle or make dinner (it’s quite easy to ignore the One Show and I like the background noise) and then I usually call it a day news-wise until the next morning. These days I can’t sit through a whole Question Time or Newsnight anyway.

Tonight, however will be an exception.  

Tonight is one of those rare things like ‘that’ Question Time last autumn, where normal people like you and I will tune in to watch politics reach another media milestone. Will it be like the QT circus? I hope not, but let’s find out when at 20.30 ITV will be hosting the first of three election debates between the leaders of the three main parties.  

I’ll be Tweeting along like last time however my microblogging will not be one of the 500 selected to monitor the temperature of the general public in an attempt to ascertain how the public feel.

I learned last night that out of the voting population, very few of them are on Twitter and so I doubt that these results will accurately reflect the way the British public will swing.

Last night I attended my first ever Liberal Democrats meeting. How did I end up there in the first place is interesting enough. Lets start from the beginning. 

Last Friday (6 days ago), I was feeling very down in the dumps about the election. I live in a Tory stronghold with Expenses Scandal poster-boy Alan Duncan at the helm. The propaganda had just started to creep up as Duncy is chums with all the wealthy landowners who are only too happy to channel some of their Life and Liberty venom into a little bit of corrugated plastic-stapling. Duncy is likely to get in again despite his forehead-slappingly bad media appearances of late because… well… it’s Middle England, isn’t it.

So what does a frustrated young voter do? She turns to the internet for help. I joined the Lib Dems and filled in the little tick-box questionnaire on their website declaring I want to help (careful not to tick the box that says ‘I’m interested in becoming a candidate’).

Saturday morning and I’m still in bed. Dad’s chatting loudly to somebody. Can’t quite tell if he’s talking animatedly and enthusiastically or if he’s really upset. Find out at breakfast that it’s my local Lib Dem agent bringing round a poster, bumper sticker and leaflet. The poster went up immediately (primarily to annoy the neighbours as we live in a cul-de-sac so it’s not going to have much political sway with the greater populous. I got into a dialogue with the agent and his wife via the internet and before I know it I’m having dinner with the whole gang five days later!

The Rutland and Melton Lib Dems have their informal dinners at a nice bistro in the little village of Whissendine. I took my dad with me as he used to canvass in Edinburgh and I knew he’d help break the ice. I was gathered in by the cheery group and enjoyed bouncing from conversation to conversation and was put at a table with an ex agent and his wife, an ex independent candidate who sided with the Lib Dems after a nasty Tory-led smear campaign scuppered her chances at local government level, the political candidate Grahame Hudson and his wife Bernadette, and my father. Dinner, small-talk and then some rousing speeches where Les, the ever-cheerful agent bolstered everybody’s optimism before handing over to Grahame who spoke of his warm feelings towards the group as well as the changes that are being made and the efforts that are being carried out.

In both speeches my name was read out because seemingly nobody has ever applied to help a campaign for the Rutland and Melton LibDems through the internet. The fact that I am an avid Tweeter, Facebooker and blogger only added to the novelty.

Out of all of those people, I was the only one who had anything to say about using the wonders of the world wide web. And the polls tonight are going to be based on, quite frankly, students, political bloggers, bored graduates (such as myself) and social-networking nerds. Hardly a good cross-section of the general public, is it?

We are talking a group of 18 – 35 year olds who have a university degree and are most likely living a middle-class lifestyle. In short, they read the Guardian and order Corona with lime at the pub to go with their kettle chips.

I should be pleased that the demographic will most likely lean towards Clegg but it will all stack up and stack up before the mighty destruction that will be the anticlimax on election night given the current gaping hole between voting demographics.

As far as I can see, there are two ends of the electorate spectrum and each side seems to miss the other like ships in the night where campaigning and innovation is concerned. There’s the older generation, the hard-bitten, loyal, bald-knuckled-from-pushing-leaflets-through-letterboxes type people who do not use the internet. This is the grey vote, the single largest voting demographic in the country. The graduate vote is online, blogging, Tweeting, putting their views on Facebook. A fast-growing and marginal demographic that are keen to feel involved in politics, however they are moving through technology faster than the grey vote.

The polls taken from tonight’s TV debate Twitter-scale are from the latter group only and I doubt we will get a clear picture from that alone. 

Please follow me as Rosebiscuit on Twitter. I will be following each of the three election debates on Twitter live. The first is tonight at 8.30pm on ITV.


A favourite Friday afternoon discussion at the office happens at around 2pm, after everybody has had lunch and the boss returns with our lottery syndicate numbers. Seven rows a week plus seven rows on the Euromillions if the motion is carried by a general consensus.

The discussion is an orgy of greed, aspiration and gluttony. That of the possibilities open to us if we won the lottery jackpot. Or even just a couple of hundred thousand… that would do nicely.

Obviously enough, the first thing people tend to go for is a holiday. After all, we do work in the business of writing about them. So a holiday in the Caribbean or the Indian Ocean, sometimes a cruise. These things all seem to vary only slightly from person to person. According to the National Lottery website, a holiday is indeed one of the first things a jackpot winner will buy. Probably to get away from home and work and enjoy the cash before all the serious stuff happens. And the serious stuff follows on very quickly after that. People camping outside winners’ homes and writing them letters, approaching them doing the weekly shop. Not something to look forward to but certainly a symptom of being given all that money so quickly.

But you are surely responsible for doing some good with your money? Surely the holiday should be the reward for divvying up the loot and sorting your family out first? I couldn’t relax properly knowing I still had to do all that when I came home. And even if you did want a holiday, there are too many amazing places in the world to choose from to have just one dream holiday!

So all things considered, if I were to be entreated to a little windfall of my own then here is what I would personally spend it on.

Firstly, I would hoik myself out of the mountainous debt that I am buried under thanks to two degrees and a greedy compulsion to buy things. Although I have never had a credit card, so I can’t be as bad as some (Sophie Kinsella’s Shopaholic series comforts me every so often in that fact).

So, after doing that I would help my parents out. Pay off the house, get the contractors in and if need be, move them to another house in the style of the old movie stars who, unable to commit to a spring clean, would up sticks and move a block away.

Then I would have to give some to my partner’s family and to him, of course… Same sort of thing.

Then I would pay for my brothers’ university fees (prospectively) and buy my partner a new car.

Then I would take a proportionate amount and give it to Christie’s Hospital in Manchester, Leicester Royal Infirmary, Barnardos and the Brooke trust (the one that helps beasts of burden in sub-Saharan Africa that always makes me cry) – all charities I care very much for and in some cases have a personal attachment to so as to dilute the feeling of wretchedness knowing it would be impossible to help everybody.

Is that all the boring stuff done yet? No, first I have to buy my way out of my contract at work and find a nice little place where myself and my partner can call home. Perhaps somewhere in Manchester near Spinningfields and all the new finance offices? A view of the Irwell perhaps? In any case, a three-bedroom with underground parking, a brand new kitchen, a sauna and a big bathtub. Then I would kit it out with John Lewis furniture and fabrics from Liberties and bits and bobs from Heels and maybe the odd indulgence of some Armani or Zara Egyptian cotton bedding. I could get the interiors of the Madinat hotel in Dubai if I wanted. All Le Creuset kitchen things. In cobalt, not burnt orange. Including the miniature heart-shaped ramekins with little lids with button-sized knobs.

Then I would buy an iPhone. I always put off upgrading my technology because there is no need with my lifestyle. I know girls my age with Blackberries who work as bar staff and don’t even use Twitter. I mean, come on.

Finally, after all my affairs were in order with work and I had a clear run knowing I could spend the next couple of years working on my book before I could plan a holiday.

Now this is where I would go (and working on holidays all day certainly does make it easy to plan where to go if money were no object).

Fly first class to Dubai on Emirates and book a private car to take us to Atlantis, The Palm for seven nights and the Madinat for another seven. There we would eat at Nobu, drink at Neo’s in town, spend a day at Sega Republic, spend a day buying stuff for the apartment, tour Dubai and the Heritage Village and all the museums and spend the rest of the time at leisure.

Then we would fly home and after another couple of months, fly out to New York, business class on Virgin Atlantic, staying at the Waldorf Astoria for five days doing all the cheesy tourist stuff including taking a whole day (perhaps longer) to explore the Met. We’d eat at the Four Seasons and go ice skating, shopping, take a limo to the Empire State Building. I’d get some diamon stud e Then home again for a short respite before the big holiday.

We’d fly ten of our friends out to Vegas for five nights and do all the amazing stuff I did when I went last. We’d stay at The Wynn Hotel and eat in all the restaurants. We’d go on the roller coaster at New York New York and go on a helicopter ride to the Grand Canyon. Drink at Dick’s Last Resort in the Excalibur and throw soggy tissues at customers (as is the custom – not because we are socially inept). Go out dancing and drinking and generally make fools of ourselves in all the casinos. Bliss. With friends, with cocktails, fancy frocks and a bit of luxury thrown in.

And then, if we had enough money left to last us a few years and keep us happy and in our luxury apartment comfortably for at least ten years then we would go to India. The one place on my list that I haven’t been to yet. We’d stay somewhere beautiful near Delhi and eat the amazing food, see the sights and bring back loads of spices, material and cooking pots for making curries at home. A culinary pilgrimage if ever there was one.

So, that is all I can think of. I feel rather like I have been binging on boutique chocolates after that. Now for some much needed frugality and a brief check of my bank statement.


Dubai Familiarity Trip 26th Feb – 03 Mar 2010

Courtesy of DTCM, we were invited as guests of the Dubai Government, Arabian Explorers and Virgin Atlantic to spend four full days on familiarity visits in hopes to enhance our understanding Dubai as a holiday destination, in particular for families. Here is my rather long account (with funny bits) of what I got up to.

Friday 26th Feb

I left the office and made my way down to Heathrow after spending a morning drinking tea with great difficulty as my hands were shaking so much. I arrived at Heathrow two hours before the proposed meeting time at 6.15pm.

I met the group, a 15 strong herd of UK-wide travel agents including two of our Thomas Cook cohorts from London and South Wales, and we proceeded to check-in. Our two leaders from DTCM, Ian Scott and Kevin Vaghela were tasked with steering us through all the formalities and had the unpleasant and stressful job of waiting for late-comers. Unfortunately, as it is the busy season the flight was booked to capacity and we were not upgraded. My disappointment was assuaged, however, as we were given the chance to spend our pre-flight time in the Virgin Atlantic Executive Lounge where I cashed in on my experience by indulging in two glasses of wine, a plate of seared salmon, a copy of Hello, the Indie and Heat and all the sweets my carry-on could take courtesy of Mr Branson. This is where my affectionate nick-name of Light-Fingers may have begun to take root.

The flight was not the most pleasant, delayed by an hour and as two infants were seated behind us, one would switch manically between hysterical laughter and piercing shrieks of displeasure, the other vomited at every turbulent shudder. Still, one plate of sweaty pasta and half a film later I managed to sneak in two hours of sleep on the seven hour flight.

Saturday 27th Feb

Off the plane and onto our Arabian Explorers minibus for a short drive through Dubai to the beach. We were greeted onto the coach with the first of many yoghurt-pots of tepid water which were sipped carefully as the favoured style of driving in Dubai is one of a mentalist in a hurry. Still, this gave us a good first taste of the sprawling metropolis and traditional, flat-roofed houses were replaced by towering skyscrapers and great billboards depicting the Sheikh Mohammed in various poses. The developing metro line sweeps over the highways and the newly constructed metro stations fit in well with the otherwise sci-fi styled conurbation.

We arrived at the Oasis Beach Tower, or OBT, and were given two hours to power-nap, unpack, wash and recharge. I shared my luxurious apartment with three other girls from various small travel operators. The apartments covered a huge amount of floor space. Cool, tiled floors, squashy sofas, long dining table, a massive plasma in each room and a very complicated coffee machine (plus a kitchen that I now enviously covet) made up our little apartment. My room boasted a beautifully tiled bathroom with Elemis toiletries and the most enormous bed I have ever seen with two double beds pushed together to make a sleeping den fit for a queen. Too excited to sleep, I showered, pulled on my waffle dressing gown and sat on the balcony with a pot of Earl Grey and some plums from the welcome basket and watched the Gulf. Then I came back inside as the sand storm was ruining my little picnic somewhat.

We were given a tour round the 45 storey OBT by Jennifer Frank, a German expat who works for the Jebel Ali chain. We were given the opportunity to inspect all the facilities however, owing to a lack of sleep I find it hard to recall any of the tour so it is a good thing I actually stayed there for two nights. The tour was then followed by a hosted buffet lunch at the hotel, the first of many. After lunch we had free time before our tour and hosted dinner at the Ritz-Carlton and so a group of us girls got some towels from the pool and made our way down to the beach where we all promptly fell asleep for 2 hours.

That evening we made our way through Dubai, down the twinkly-lit palm tree-lined marina boulevards towards the Ritz Carlton, however we made a detour to the Sheraton where Ian Scott bought us a round of drinks. They do excellent cocktails at the Sheraton (mine was a gin fizz) and their bar nuts are very tasty, however the indoor route to the terrace is not for the faint-hearted as you get a bit hot-boxed by the shisha smokers en route. At the Ritz-Carlton next door to our OBT which dwarfs the four-storey traditional-styled hotel. We were greeted with a glass of fruit juice and sugared dates. The impressive lobby was decorated with marble carvings and boasted a beautiful petal-filled fountain. We inspected all the different room types including the luxurious suites and then made our way down to the Splendido restaurant for our à la carte dinner. Our banquet was incredible, delicious wine (my glass was never empty as the waiters kept on giving me surreptitious refills) and a selection of canapés followed by delicious grilled octopus with celeriac purée to start, the main dish was a rare fillet of beef cooked to absolute juicy perfection and accompanied by frois gras and a medley of diced apricot brioche and portobello mushrooms. The desert could have killed me – a glossy chocolate cake with a tart pomegranate sorbet and a little pile of juicy poached strawberries. After lots of wine and a great deal of laughter (a running gag about what a Bath Butler may be that degenerated into a manifestation of a man in a Borat mankini with a KFC chicken drumstick between his teeth with a cigar and whisky on a tray) we all stumbled back to the OBT for a very good night’s sleep.

Sunday 28th Feb

Sunday began with a long shower in my OBT bathroom which could have happily housed several people quite comfortably. After some lazing about in my waffle bathrobe I joined the rest of the girls for breakfast. Owing to the lack of pork in Dubai (being a Muslim nation) I sampled the delights of their kind attempts at an English Breakfast including beef bacon and veal sausages. Also on offer were many different kinds of curry, aromatic vegetable stews and a lovely cake display. I opted for fruit and a light grilled breakfast followed by some cake and tea.

Then it was onto the bus again to meet Jennifer Frank at the Jebel Ali Golf Resort and Spa outside of the town equidistant between Dubai and Abu Dhabi. We were met by a friendly peacock who, much to the amusement of the team, proceeded to follow me around the vast, marble entrance (I think he liked my skirt) until Jennifer took us inside to inspect the hotel. As Dubai’s only All Inclusive property the hotel cut a fine figure as a family resort enjoying beach and desert views and encompassing all the needs of an active family. The rooms were beautifully decorated with a large number of adjoining rooms for families. The rest of our tour was conducted via golf buggy. The Jebel Ali is famed for its golf course, marina and of course the spa whose flag-rock exterior and patio was occupied by a gaggle of peahens. The animal sightings continued as we made our way to the stables where the beautiful Arab horses lived. Tall, muscular and calm, I couldn’t help but stroke their long noses and hope I’d be offered the chance to ride one. I haven’t ridden a horse since I was a teenager but the urge was most definitely there. Being led towards the stables were two beige camels with the longest eyelashes I have ever seen. They were polo camels and so very well behaved.

Even though it was at full capacity during the most popular time of year, the resort never felt crowded, in particular by the poolside where there was plenty of space and plenty of free sun loungers. The inspection was rounded off with a sea-side three-course meal on a beautiful shaded terrace (not before I induged in a spot of falconry, naturally). We had a salad to start followed by fish and chips (where the fish was in fact the delicacy, John Dory and not chippy’s frozen haddock). We managed a little fruit then drove back into Dubai to get ready for the Desert Safari.

After a quick clothes-change we boarded three 4X4 vehicles and set off for the desert. After wrestling with the traffic out of the city (jam apparently caused my one random police officer stopping vehicles arbitrarily) we parked outside a tiny shop on the edge of the vast, red desert. After waiting for the other cars to rejoin the group we were off and hurtling up and down the steep dunes at break-neck speed only stopping at certain points to take pictures of the sunset.

Mohammed stopped me to inform me that a scorpion had climbed up my trouser leg. After screaming for help and frantically shaking and slapping my legs I realised it was a mean joke that they played regularly on gullible-looking travellers.

I won’t lie. I was quite fond of Mohammed, it was hard not to find a little place in your heart for him. Sadly it was never to be. Plus, it would have confirmed all of my partner’s suspicions that I would run off with a devilishly handsome Arab, and I was never going to give him the satisfaction of being right about that insulting and utterly unfounded presumption…

By nightfall we were parked outside the Bedouin camp in the heart of the desert. We were greeted by two camels and a delicious plate of dates. We found low seats and cushions under one of the tented areas and helped ourselves to more yogurt water. Mohammed took me to get some henna done and I am now the proud canvas for a very beautiful flowing pattern of roses and thorns from my left index finger up to the middle of my arm. Food was served, a massive barbecue of kofti lamb, chicken kababs and beef skewers (all variations on the common shish kebab) and mountains of salad, tabbouleh and flatbread. I found this part tricky as my henna was still drying.

After dinner, a quick trip to the shisha tent where after some considerable peer pressure I had one go and ended up spluttering toasted marshmallow-flavoured smoke all over myself. The smoke smelled so lovely but I was left with a hacking cough for the rest of the night. Asthmatics and non-smokers beware – shisha isn’t the key to looking cool and exotic in the desert although watching the locals and regulars puff little smoke rings and look all dreamy and relaxed was nice to be involved in.

After coughing up a lung and pretty much destroying my image of being a well-spoken, elegant British girl to all within the camp, Mohammed included, I decided to redeem myself by going on a camel ride. She was beautiful. I couldn’t stop myself, I had heard all the horror stories about camels smelling bad and spitting but I didn’t care, I was stroking her nose and neck and wrapping my arms around her because she was the most lovely thing on four legs that I had ever seen. She must be used to having people around because she was very receptive to me giving her a little cuddle before I jumped aboard. She stood up quite quickly which gave me a shock! I never thought they were so tall but you certainly feel high up when they reach their full height. After a short trot around the camp (and one sudden moment where she decided to sit down again) it was over and I went to find my next challenge – sandboarding.

Basically, sandboarding is snowboarding except easier and warmer. After a cardiac-arrest-inducing climb to the top of a very steep dune I decided to wimp out and sit on the board which then ground very slowly to a halt about a quarter way from the bottom. Much to the hilarity of my audience. After that I stood up and went much faster. I recommend it to everybody.

We drove back to the Barasti Bar in the Marina for a quick tipple courtesy of DTCM which then developed into gatecrashing Buddah Bar at the Grosvenor (residents only and black-tie preferred) fully aware that there was more sand in our hair than in the desert and our rough-and-ready clothing was a little scruffy compared to the collection of Armani suits and Balenciaga purses we elbowed past to get in. A late night taxi-ride later and we were home and having our last night at the Oasis Beach Tower.

Monday 1st Mar

An early start with a brisk check-out followed by another beef bacon breakfast, then into the minivan for a ride down the Marina to Atlantis the Palm. Dubai is not a town that accommodates the avid pedestrian or cyclist well as the only route to the Palm seems to be that of a suspended highway not dissimilar to Spaghetti Junction. Passing rows and rows of mansions and beautiful flat-topped homes, we veered into the massive grounds of Atlantis and got a sense of the true scale of the building with its famous Arabic archway.

Luckily we were allowed in through the lobby which is normally a residents-only area, where we awaited our guide. We then were whisked up to the famous Bridge Suite which encompasses the entire archway connecting the two halves of the striking building and featured on last year’s X-Factor. I have never seen such a beautiful suite. Each room was like a cathedral in size, massive ceilings, beautiful decoration, ornate sculpture and towering doors. You could actually smuggle yourself in there and never have to leave even if there are guests in residence as there are so many rooms you need never come across one another and live blissfully as ships in the night.

After that, the standard rooms should have been a bit less impressive however I was equally taken aback by the care taken into the décor as well as the size and fabulous views overlooking the Palm and its many fronds as well as Aquaventure and the vast Gulf.

The Lost Chambers were to follow and after laughing hysterically at the scuba cleaner inside the huge aquarium who was pulling faces while he scrubbed the windows, we were led inside the aquarium and viewed the different tanks of fish. I was not a fan of the jellyfish. I have had a fear of them since I was a girl but for the sake of taking a decent photograph I braved the glass only to shriek and scamper away as one billowed itself up onto the glass by my face. Call me a wimp. I am.

After the Lost Chambers we toured Aquaventure and the fantastic vertical drop flume carved into a replica Aztec pyramid. We watched several children plummet like falling stalactites all stremlined and swift – then they were followed by a gangly man who proceeded to scream with terror as he plunged with arms and legs flailing only to come out of the other side of the tunnel at the bottom (through the shark aquarium) with his head and feet and the wrong ends.

After a short trip to the gift shop we piled back intot he minivan and drove a short way down the beach to the Jumeirah Beach passing the Sheikh’s wives’ palaces in different themes as well as the Black Prince’s palace (completely black marble, obviously).

At Jumeriah Beach we were met by Mohamad and Maricon (Mohamad being Jennifer from Jebel Ali’s husband) who took us around the family hotel’s lovely rooms and suites. The grounds are undoubtedly very beautiful and the atmosphere was extremely playful with the executive children’s lounge making a particularly impressive impression. We were led into the beautiful buffet for a high-piled fest of hoummus and flatbread, salad, sushi, curry, grilled meat and topped off with a selection of dainty little puddings, I myself partook in the dolly’s tea party apple cake, two scoops of ice cream and a little chocolate truffle.

Then it was back on the battle bus to the luxurious Madinaz where we were treated to a guided tour around the unique, luxurious tiled interiors and the amazing suites. After deciding to live in one of the suites’ sunken bathtubs, I was removed from the building and put onto an Abra, a water taxi and we chugged along the turquoise creek past bars and houses to the Al Qasr villas on the water’s edge with private jetties.

After an abra ride back to the Madinaz, we said our farewells to Mohamad and Maricon and bundled back on the bus to the Burj Al Arab. Here is where Light-Fingers did her best work. After having our hands sprinkled with fragrant rosewater and watching the playful water display on the fish-scale staggered fountain, we were greeted by the hotel’s spokeswoman who gave us a brisk tour of one of the suites. A shower big enough for a rugby team, mirrors over the bed and enough gold to make Solomon blush (to paraphrase a great comedian). I couldn’t help myself but take the opportunity to swipe some freebies – a Hermes shoeshine sponge and a Burj Al Arab emblazoned bar of soap and a couple of branded pencils to name but some of my bounty. And after a whistlestop tour and a brisk ushering into another cosy lift, we were back to the Qamardeen to dress for The Palace, Old Town.

A hotel representative met us in the grand lobby area and proceeded to take us upstairs to view their entry-level rooms and suites. The theme of old-style elegance permeated the building and happily, we were led outside to a private balcony to view the fountain show on the water stretching from the Dubai Mall to the Address, the Palace and the Burj Kalifa. Unfortunately, due to a storm warning the fountain show was postponed and we made our way down to the restaurant for another buffet dinner.

I helped myself to hoummus and flatbread to start, delicious grilled jumbo prawns, kofti lamb, curried cauliflower and tasty pilaf as a main and to finish I indulged in two big scoops of pistachio ice cream which, I was told by the head chef as he handed me his card, went excellently with cola bottle gummies. I obliged and was pleasantly surprised and slept exceedingly well to prepare myself for the final full day.

Tuesday 2nd Mar

After opening my curtains to discover that Dubai was experiencing the same weather you would expect from Fort William only 10 or so degrees higher, our trip to Wild Wadi Waterpark at Jumeirah Beach was regrettably cancelled.

We piled into the coach for a trip to the Dubai Mall, the biggest in the world. We rocked up to the side-of-a-Tesco-sized viewing panel of the aquarium opposite a very tempting sweet market and watched the gigantic fish sucker the glass and glide about, trying to quell thoughts of how it made the news last week owing to a tiny crack in the glass. We were met by Oksana, a formidable yet petite spokeswoman for the retail paradise who took us through the aquarium to view the terrifying dead eyes of the sharks in the dark cavern at the beginning to the swirling schools of fish in the lighter areas. Then upstairs to the sealife zoo where we got a tour of the otter and penguin enclosures and got the chance to see the aquarium’s surface. Then we trekked across the huge concourse to Sega Republic, a small theme park and games arcade all under the mall roof. We sampled a lot of the rides free of charge and unfortunately I got the (now wholly undesirable and embarrassing) reputation for being a screamer. I just like screaming, what can I say? Finally we toured Kidzania. I’ll be honest, I didn’t really know what Kidzania was but it starts by checking your child in to a miniature Emirates Airlines check-in desk and following them in to a very respectable plastic mini-world full of real-life shops in miniature where your child can participate in the running of a business or be involved in a little industry all the while earning Kidzania currency and learning thanks to the enthusiastic staff who shuttled them about. Seriously, a miniature television station, hair salon, Waitrose, HSBC and Emirates Airlines were only a few of the many many places your kid could stumble into and have a whale of a time.

After the Dubai Mall we went to Al Manzil, sister of the Qamardeen for a brief tour and lunch, the last hosted lunch of the trip. Hoummus, flatbread, curry and ice cream followed by peppermint tea rounded off my free gourmet dinners and we went back to the Qamardeen to get ready for an afternoon of shopping.

We found ourselves in a funny little market place full of people waiting for you to stop so you could be approached. Now we were warned about this market and apparently it is all kosher (pardon the inappropriate use of Jewish lingo regarding a Muslim custom but the word fits). Basically what happens is this, you are in the market for a good counterfeit Fendi bag, right? So you are approached by a man who has your Fendi bag and leads you behind a curtain, through a locked door, relocks the door and you browse his wares. Scary? No. Weird? Yes. These shops packed to bursting with contraband are labyrinthine in design with book cases on hinges leading to other rooms so as to ensure maximum shelf-space. Staircases down, down and down with no exit besides the way you just came, and full of highly dodgy but very lovable Arab salesmen. I have never seen such a convincing, if slightly dusty, specimens of highly tailored fake goods. I coveted a patent, red and pink floral Chanel clutch however bottled out of making a purchase because the haggling process is a little daunting. Basically the rule is you are told the price. 570dh. No. You go down to 10% so 57dh. Sounds ridiculous but generally you both argue away until you reach between 45 and 60%. If your salesman goes quiet or shows you the door, you have gone too far. As long as he keeps talking you know he’s willing to be pushed. One of our number was given the deathly silent treatment followed by a swift frogmarching to the shop door after a bitter battle over a tea towel. I can’t handle that kind of pressure.

Five postcards, a wall hanging and a stuffed camel later I was in a taxi hurtling back to the Palace for the fountain show. We sat and had a drink and some bar nuts before going back up to the balcony to watch the show (after being showed upstairs by a very smart and adorable Clark Kent lookalike). I think we all wanted to enjoy that fantasy but unfortunately our evening was coming to an end and we all needed to get some food and blitz the mall before the inevitable packing debacle that would follow prior to our 5.30am wake-up the next morning.

Wednesday 3rd Mar

The final morning and after a great deal of squashing, breaking and sitting-on, I got my full suitcase downstairs, checked-out and joined the girls for breakfast.

On the bus to the airport we gave our hosts, Ian and Kevin our present (matching T-shirts emblazoned with the trip title and Bath Butler to commemorate our hilarious dinner at the Ritz-Carlton) and we made our way to the airport.

I returned to Peterborough weighed down with duty-free gin and chocolate at 5.00pm that day where a kind man carried my suitcase all the way from platform three for me. I wept with gratitude.


Another weekend comes around and another week’s events calms down as the sediment kicked up in the big work pond decides to settle.

This time next week I will be in the Middle East. This time last year I thought that if I were to go to the Middle East it would be to write about an insurgency or some kind of diplomatic war of powers… or terrorism. Even this week Israel’s Mossad group and their alleged covert hit squad who assassinated a Hamas leader in a five star hotel in Dubai last month have been making the headlines as their forged passport photos have been plastered over the media.

I am not going to a five star hotel to report on the findings of the Dubai government. I am going to Dubai to review the very hotel the Hamas leader, Mahmoud al-Mabhouh, was murdered in. As a journalist, this is a very weird concept. The afternoon I go to the al-Bustan Rotana hotel will be an odd one. Timely, interesting and will mean more to me than just what the hosted lunch spread will have to offer.

The scene of an assassination. The stage setting for a great media frenzy about secret identities and religious friction. The historic war between two worlds in the cradle of civilization summed up in the western media as a screenplay-like thriller. Needless to say I will be on my guard for the hint of a story, the PLC hasn’t beaten all the news instinct out of me that easily. But won’t it be a bit like going to the Watergate complex in the 1970s and writing about the security system?

The  lavish five star al-Bustan Rotana hotel in the glittering metropolis of Dubai boasts sumptuous interiors and a unique attention to detail. Every room is designed specifically for the requirements of each guest. There are plenty of electrical sockets for all your needs and all rooms are sound-proofed. There are plenty of facilities available for active guests and there are floodlit tennis courts within walking distance of the main building so you need never miss a practice whether you are visiting for work or leisure purposes.

I think not.

Assassinations don’t usually make good sales where hotel rooms are concerned. Maybe during my hosted lunch I should excuse myself and put on a blonde wig? See if anybody notices.

It just occurred to me that this blog post might get me in a lot of trouble and I may not be permitted to travel to Dubai as a guest of the Dubai government and Virgin Atlantic if I post this before I leave and so, even though I am writing it on 21st February 2010 I will publish it on the day of my return, 3rd March 2010.

I can’t believe I am embargoing my own blog but I can’t risk it.

So I heard more about my trip abroad last week and as if work is giving me even more incentive to dig my way deeper and deeper into the heart of the company and eventually take root, I have been given a sort of sideways promotion. I am now the editor in charge of a newly acquired luxe holiday company’s brochures. Gold Medal package holidays for the rich, famous and holiday-deprived. One of their dolphin-skin bound brochures even features a double page spread of private hire Lear jets.

So being the editor of an esoteric brand bound only for the coffee tables of pampered PAs tasked with booking Lance, Emmeline and their gorgeous children and nanny a month in Zanzibar with space for one of the yachts then I don’t have much of a problem with it. It’s power. No more money but it’s power and something a bit different. At least this way I can’t be accused of selling out because I’m still living on my squeak of a salary.

Still, it is more money than I had this time last year.

Back to Dubai. Even though I am leaving in five days I don’t want to risk publishing this until I get back just in case anything I divulge puts me in hot water. They are very sensitive over there. Swearing alone can get you six months in prison.

I received my formal invitation last week and it began by informing me that because we are guests of Virgin Atlantic (and so subject to being upgraded if capacity allows) for the flight I mustn’t wear trainers or jeans. Call it a culture shock but I was stuttering the sentence aloud to my colleagues in disbelief. To be honest, I probably overreacted. My reaction was more akin to that of being scandalised – like rather than winebar dress policy (to which I love to adhere, never missing the chance to dress up) it was more compulsory nudism and luminous body paint.

They want me to wear what?!?! I have to go butt naked with ‘I heart Richard Branson’ painted onto my tits in day-glo gouache?!?! Well I never!

No. After a minute of panicking about what to wear I did what I usually do in this situation and I logged onto asos.com and bought myself a brand new flight outfit. Black linen trousers, a nautical sweater and a lapis short trench to go with my silk crochet pumps, off-white leather satchel and white bargain bin pashmina. I’m going to look $100. If you don’t believe me then I can show you the receipts.

My days will be filled with hosted lunches and dinners punctuating various inspections. Photography have given me a few tasks and I have to fill out a report when I get back so I’ll be making just as many notes as I would normally but not just for my own use, for the use of an actual company whose job it is to write about these places accurately to win customers. No pressure then. Equally, I need to make friends swiftly because I want lots of pictures of me looking at ease in the lap of luxury for the publishing department newsletter.

My ultimate favourite item on the itinerary is probably the most outlandish (literally) out of all the other relatively high-brow engagements. I am going on a desert safari which also requires new clothes. I am so excited about it. A 4×4 ride over the dunes, crashing over them and down into the troughs between them, followed by camel rides (gotta get a picture of me on a camel looking like an Arabian princess… toe rings and relocating my old nose-peircing hole may be necessary measures), a halal barbecue under canvas and then henna tatoos, belly dancing and hubble bubble (to be honest I’m not interested in that, being asthmatic, the whole smoking thing never really appealed to me).

So this time next week I will be in the Arabian desert itself tucking into some barbecue and drinking something non-alcoholic and it will be unforgettable.

See you when I get back.


Every cloud

06Feb10

At work we have been enjoying what they call ‘down time’. Much like Supernanny’s naughty step, ‘down time’ is when IT take a look at the whole publishing system and what we complain about and screw up and then punish us by putting it offline to tamper with and ‘improve’. Yes, this is very dull. No, I do not expect that to interest you in any way whatsoever however it is important to explain in order to set the scene.

The system is down so what is an editor to do with her day? What ever doesn’t involve IT, basically. So lots of integrity checking previous publications and catching up with some housekeeping, filing, generally the sorts of tasks that could wait five years and still nobody would give a flying funicular whether it was done or now.

Needless to say, after a week of wasting my time and hardly feeling like I was in the beating heart centre of travel writing, I was wondering what it was all about? I couldn’t remember a time when a red, flashing deadline was charging towards me and when chasing a contact seemed like a daily life-or-death challenge. Nope. Boredom really does make you question everything, partly because, I suspect, you have too much time on your hands and so spend your days thinking too much and sliding helplessly into some sort of wretched office-based ennui.

Literally seconds before I was going to make my way over to the store cupboard to find some packing cord to hang myself with, my boss asks to have a word with me and I don’t need my notebook or anything.

SHIT.

She’s spotted that I’ve been pissing and moaning about being bored to anybody who will listen, she’s cottoned on that I’m constantly querying and/or taking the piss out of the systems the corporation takes pride in, she’s got fed up with me and has found some dirt on me to fire me for. After all, I am still in my first six months ‘probation’ and in theory could be booted out without so much as a shoebox with which to gather up the crap I use to de-corporate my desk within the otherwise utterly homogenous supermarket floor-style black-trouser-wearing organisation I call my place of work.

We sit down in full view of everybody on one of the ‘creative’ desks. How humiliating. Given a short, sharp disciplinary for everybody to see and recount with cruel embelishments to all who were absent at the time. I’ll bet this is about the Guardian jobs page. I’m looking for a job for a friend, everybody knows that! I’m not vaguely interested in Arts and Heritage. Or maybe it is about ASOS.com. Shit. They know I’ve used company hours to put in a short little transaction to buy a really nice skirt, some earrings and some camis that were going for nothing on the clearance pages. Damn ASOS.

Just a quick word, Rose. I’ve spoken to **** and to ****** and something has come up.

Shiiiiiiiiiiiiiit. Oh, really? Should I be worried? Oh, crap, way to sound guilty. What the FUCK have I done now?

It’s nothing to worry about, we’ve had something come up.

Lowering the boom. Steel yourself, Rose. Clench buttocks. That usually helps.

Would you be interested in going to Dubai for us?

Nnnnngh! Buttock clenching without making a face uses a lot of concentration. Hang on, what? Huh?

Dubai. Are you interested in going over to Dubai on a familiarity trip?

YES! Uh oh, Sales ladies all turned their heads. Was that a bit Meg Ryan?

Great! It’s going to be from the end of… blah blah blah

Dubai! DUBAI! Shit, what currency do they even use? I’m going to need a new pair of sunglasses. Crap! I’m going to burn so badly. Did I throw away that kaftan I never wore. Will my GHDs work in Dubai? Crap, my hair will look so bad. Oh, wait, won’t I have to wear a head scarf? GHD problem solved! Oh, wait, Dubai is a bit different. I wonder if I’ll be flying business class. I hope I’m not sharing a room with anybody, at least not anybody weird.

… blah blah blah… so that’s about all I know right now. If you’re interested then I can get your details over to them today.

What, crap, I should have listened to all of that. Yes, absolutely.

So it turns out that trips like these do not come round as often as you’d think. The company has reps in all countries so there is really no need to go out there except when there are a lot of new attractions and hotels. Photography and those higher up go a lot more frequently that we lowly publishing types who merely write the copy that wins us customers thus bringing in the dough to pay everybody…

Not long after the meeting, my team mates were already writing lists for me. What they want from the hotels (toilet paper from the Burj seems to be a popular request), what they need me to ask hoteliers, various jobs I am an expert at (apparently this is a familiarity trip for Sales professionals and so have to get accustomed to introducing myself as somebody vaguely good at sales and marketing although I am assured nobody will ask me anything about my job), and of course lists of imaginary things I should do.

Here is the low-down of what I am supposed to be doing. I leave at the end of the month for five days in Dubai along with 15 other travel industry professionals from the UK’s various travel organisations. We will be staying in two hotels each for two nights, one of which has an en suit bathroom which does not have opaque walls… could be an issue if I am sharing a bedroom. There I will have all my meals paid for because they will usually be concurrent with meetings with Dubai’s tourism elite. One meal will be a black-tie event at the Burj, and one meal will be in a specially erected gazebo in the desert after off-roading across the dunes. All expenses paid, 5 days in Dubai all in exchange for some cushy dinners, some CDs of photos of 5 star resorts and a wicked tan.

How, why, huh? Only because a gun dropped out, Sales are hell for leather (it is the busy season), and when the offer went to my boss she thought it’d be bad form to take the first offer that came to the new team and when she offered it to the next best person it turns out they don’t have a passport (???).

So on the pyramid of ‘who gets to go on trips’ I am pretty much making my arse-print alongside the dandelions and yet in a very lucky turn of events I am going to be flown out to one of the shiniest cities in the world and certainly the coolest place to be in the Middle East.

So while the system is down, at least I can be writing out my inventory for what to pack.

Do you know how


I was coming home in the car tonight from work, mum was driving as it is her car, and I thought to myself, ‘my mother is driving me home’. Not only was she driving me home but she was driving me back to the home we share with my brothers, father and cat, and then she would put on dinner and make sure nobody was making any noise after 11pm because my youngest brother is still at school.

I am 23 and I live at home with my parents. I did not expect my 23 year old self to still be living this way.

In all honesty, I don’t know what I expected. A flatshare with friends in London maybe? A window box and a wall hanging from Thailand in an open-plan bedsit I could call my own? A cosy one-bedroom for me and my boyfriend near the bus stop?

I have none of that. I am 23, living at home. Like so many others my age and older.

When I first realised I had to move back home with my parents I was still studying at Salford University and I was actually on the internet after a day of serious flat-hunting with somebody. I jumped the moat of denial, logged onto my bank website and swallowed down the fact that even if I got a job tomorrow I would never be able to pay my way. I called home that night.

I have been back, after living in my little student bedsit in Salford for a year, for seven months. At first it was a welcome vacation but now it is practically a joke. I feel  like the eldest child in the sand pit who has been made to sit there to look after a smaller child and feels really daft. I think it is the feeling of having outgrown something, of having already made the leap and then being reined back in to the pen after having a gallop in the real world.

Had my parents not downsized when I went to study my undergraduate degree, things would have been marginally better. Using their optimistic foresight, my parents moved out of the four-bedroom family home into a two-bedroom bungalow with the intention of extending two extra box rooms and furnishing it for three plus guests. Sadly this meant my parents sleeping in the living room for a year and (when I visited home and for an entire summer) my lodgings being no more than a bunk bed I shared with my youngest brother (other brother doing GCSEs so had own room).

Now, thank Christ, I have my own bedroom however it was designed to be a weekend room slash storage room. Space is limited, walls are thin and bed time is dictated. The only thing missing is a blazer, really.

Sob-story aside, this is a very real issue.  Although I work, it makes more sense for me to be at home even though it is a crippling blow to one’s social, love and independent life. Living away from home would mean higher rent, travel expenses I would struggle with and possibly a flatshare with somebody awful. Home is here, warm, there is always food, the rent is cheap and mum works near my office so I hitch a ride. Right now, I have enough money in the bank for train fares, the odd new work top and to top up my phone. Having recently not been able to afford any of those things, why would I rush away to bean counting after having to do that for five years?

Even while job hunting, my applications were often rejected because my home address was too far away from the job itself – even Manchester jobs cited that as a reason. So if it came to it, would I have to live here in the rural arse of England forever because it is the only place that HR departments think I am local to? Am I destined to live with or near my parents for the rest of my life? Are we going to be one of those weird families who all live on the same road like Gwen and Uncle Bryn? Works for them, I suppose…

My parents want us all to find independence but right now, if it means the load is a bit lighter because I help my brother with his homework, do the ironing in front of Come Dine with Me every Sunday and go out to do the shop plus bring in X amount each month then it isn’t all bad for them either.

But the stagnation of it starts to affect you and right now I’d rather be a church mouse than one in the glass tank at the pet shop. In the cold light of day, however, the depressing list of pros and cons lurches back into view and I come to my senses.