Thursday, 21 December 2017

New Year? AGAIN?

Well... I am back. 

Let me tell you...This job thing gets in the way of everything! Especially if you have not worked for years. 

I can’t believe how long it has been since I blogged. Perhaps it is time to stop altogether. Maybe I will stop in the New Year. Because New Year is a good time for changes. And also because I just have to blog about the New Year. I noticed that I never failed to write something about it this time of year. And the one about a duck is still one of the very favourite blogs of mine. So I can't stop now, can I.

What is it about New Year that makes it so ridiculously important? It is like money, everyone keeps claiming it doesn’t matter but of course they all know it does. 

A girl at work asked me today what was my ideal New Year. 

 “Where” was the exact word she used, and I explained to her that honestly? what I am beginning to realize is that it is not the location but the people you celebrate with that makes it good or bad. I know it might sound a little cliche, but it is true.

The most important ingredient in that Happy New Year recipe you should be adding is the people who matter to you the most. ( +duck + champagne) And it doesn’t really make much of a difference where you happen to be. Have the people you love with you. It could be a quiet night at home in front of the TV, or in bed; or it could be in a big circle of friends, if you have that many that you actually like. 

We say back home that those who you have with you on New Year ’s Eve will be the people you will spend the following year with. So hey, no pressure, guys. 

I tried all sorts of celebrations to figure this one out. One year I was in Edinburgh, listening to live music and getting crushed in the 2,000+ crowd on the Princes street, Another time, husband and I decided to travel to Belize, where friends of ours had a diving school. And then, there was the year with the duck. And there was a year here, in Doha, with Venezuelan friends who made the most delicious fish soup at 5am, and I walked back to my villa in the compound around 6am, as the sun was rising. See, I tried all sorts of celebrations. And yet?....I can’t help but feel a little melancholic on New Year’s eve. Always, whatever I am doing. 

There is something about that night that makes me feel a bit funny.

And I am not talking about this pressure on you to stay awake! Be excited! Be popular! that particular night. Like in this joke I quite like about Valentine’s Day:

So, no. It is also something else. 

Maybe it is the unwelcome, uninvited focus the night brings on to the fact that time flies. It is watching your children turn into teenagers, wanting to escape to celebrate with their friends, and not you. It is about saying goodbyes. It is about missing people who are not with you on that night, whether because they are somewhere else, or had passed away. It is the time you somehow involuntarily take to reflect on the whole year gone, and things you did or didn’t do. It is about the past, about remembering your childhood, which will never return, your grandmother’s hugs, the lightness of being. 

So yes, to me, New Year is inevitably nostalgic, whatever I may be doing that night.  

And yet, I love it.  I love Christmas, even though I grew up without celebrating it, and the New Year; I love this time of  year-with the tree, and the lights, and the kindness and the gifts and the smiles of everyone around you.

I wanted to take this time to wish you all, whoever and wherever you are a very Happy New Year. It is the year of Earth Dog, and according to Chinese calendar, it is the year of changes- good and bad. Here’s to yours to turn out to be good. Good luck and don’t be too sad on New Year’s eve. If you feeling lonely, please refer to my personal guide on how to turn your new year into a happy night. 

And remember! According to chemistry, alcohol is a solution. 

Keep cool, my friends.

Saturday, 23 September 2017

Life is too short to be pretending

A friend of mine was telling me about this funny TV series she is enjoying at the moment, Grace and Frankie. So funny, she said. Husbands announced they were in love for years! Hilarious situation! 

It reminded me straight away of a real life story that I heard while on holidays in England last summer.

I was staying at a girlfriend's place and we got chatting one night. A childhood friend of mine is going through a nasty divorce. He had an affair for many years and was finally separating from his wife, and the whole thing was very unpleasant for him. I was telling my girlfriend about it when she got annoyed. Well, he is an asshole! She exclaimed.

I guessed she felt quite strongly about the whole thing and decided not to discuss any further. 

In a few days, via the same girlfriend, I met a very cool gay couple.

It was a beautiful warm summer evening and a group of us sat in the garden. Prosecco was flowing, the sun was setting slowly behind those beautiful trees… A perfect evening for a pleasant chat with a handsome gay man sitting next to me.

He was in his late fifties, with a fabulous career behind him, and he was a great person to talk this whole-you know?- life shit with. Intelligent, witty and just very pleasant overall.

I asked him about his son he had mentioned earlier. 'Oh yes' he said, 'I was married to a woman before. And I have two children. Because, I tried! I tried very hard to be straight! For 13 years!'

Wow, I said. That’s a long time to be pretending to be someone you are not. That must have been awfully difficult. (And WOW?!- the size of the balls on that guy?! To come out like that after thirteen years!?)

On an assignment somewhere in Asia, he met his English partner. The rest is history.

Life is too short, he said, to keep pretending.

Later, when everybody left and I was helping my girlfriend to tidy up, I asked her about the gay friends of hers. Oh yes, she said, aren’t they adorable?

I waited for her to add that the friend was also an asshole for making his wife believe he was straight (and quite successfully so, judging by the fact that they had two children together) for such a long time but, interestingly enough, she seemed fine with that story.

So, listen! I asked, getting excited. How come you don’t think he was an asshole? Is it just because he is gay? Is it better then? If you husband leaves you for a man rather than a woman-is it not so painful?

Hmm, she thought about it. 'I guess so? I guess if you find out he is actually gay, that makes it a little easier to accept. Because he can’t help it, can he?'

But isn’t it the same thing, in the end? I asked. If you are fundamentally unhappy in your relationship, if you meet someone else, if you fall in love- does it make any difference whether it is male or female? Making a decision to leave your spouse can’t be easy, whether you do it for another person, Salsa dancing, a cult or a newly-found love for Jesus; and surely, the very same set of difficult issues would have to be dealt with? So isn’t it a little strange that your reaction should be so dramatically different?

Isn’t it peculiar, I said to my friend, that we live in such a world, where being gay actually makes you look better in the eyes of the society, should you decide to make such a big change in your life? Both of us, not just my girlfriend who might have been a little biased since the guys were friends of hers, but myself too, were impressed by their love story. So brave! So cool! So romantic!

But what about the ex wife, I wondered. Would she have been just as accepting and understanding?

-Sorry darling, I am leaving you after all these years, but hey, don’t be too upset I am not going to be with another woman, I am in love with a man!

-Oh, honey I am so proud of you! Kids will understand! We can be friends with your boyfriend and have sophisticated dinner parties together!

It made me think though. Every relationship, every story, however banal and predictable it might appear at first, has its own nuances and circumstances. And who are we to judge without knowing the people involved? And even if we think we know, do we really? Yes, pretending to be straight when you are not cannot be easy. I can't even imagine living such a life. Making a decision to suddenly come out as gay and announce it to everyone- your parents, your wife, your children must be seriously gut-wrenchingly terrifying, and very brave. But so is admitting that your marriage is lacking something important, when you had invested years in expensive wine glasses, mortgages and cute babies, and having the balls to change things. In the end- theoretically- it is the honesty that should win, however difficult and painful it might be, however judged and hated you would be, whether you are gay or straight. Because yes, life is too short to waste it pretending to be someone you are not. And everyone deserves a shot at happiness: You, your partner, and your gay lover.

Friday, 25 August 2017

The day I discovered I was just like Frodo.

It is official. My summer is over. I am back in Doha after a lot of eating and drinking and relaxing first in the UK and then, in Azerbaijan. The usual. A friend has noticed the lack of Facebook activity on my part and commented to my husband that I was probably so fat these days after all the eating that I no longer posted any photos of myself. I sent him this latest picture to reassure him I was still alive and well in shape.

I have not written here for so long not because I had nothing to say. Quite the opposite: My head is full of thoughts, memories and experiences that I would love to share, I simply don't know where to start. I want to tell you how I met a wonderful gay couple and what philosophical thoughts that meeting raised in my head. I want to tell you about my almost trip to Georgia, my almost staying there forever when I realized I had no return visa for Azerbaijan, and almost not drinking at all while in Baku.
Yes, so lots of thoughts. But, I will start with the most domineering of them all. The one that rules them all, so to speak. The one to bring them all and in the darkness bind them…got carried away a little here.
I would like to name this particular funny feeling the Frodo syndrome.
You see I was on the airplane going to England when, admittedly under the influence of a couple of extremely strong G&T’s the pretty stewardess prepared for me (she did apologise in advance, saying she was new, and asking if they were any good and I, having watched her fill the plastic cup half full with gin, assured her it was just perfect) and having realized, as usual that there was nothing decent to watch, decided I actually quite fancied the Lord of the Rings, the very last one, you know? I just love the battle scene where Legolas jumps on the oliphaunt, and when the dead dudes emerge from the ship from behind Aragorn...



Sorry. Anyway. So, I thought I would fast forward the film to my favourite parts and enjoy them again. But, as I continued to the end of the movie, to my astonishment and embarrassment, I realized I was extremely affected by it all. I felt Frodo’s pain and confusion as he described returning to his beloved shire. Fuck, Frodo… I thought. We are the same! We are of one blood, Frodo (like Kaa said to Mowgli) you and I.
Yes. I am just like Frodo.
That thought almost sent me to tears. I only resisted crying because nobody seriously cries at LOTR do they? OK, I also got all teary at that moment when what’s her face? Princess Eowyn tears her helmet off to face the black rider on Nazgรปl and says I am no man! And stabs the shit out of him. 
That was amazing with my strong G&T, let me tell you. Sent shivers down my spine.
But, still. Seriously. Nobody cries at LOTR. Especially not at the end when all the painful stuff is over, everything ended well, the world has been saved, the best looking people all alive and Aragorn marries the elf princess? You will of course say I was just being silly, but listen. You just don’t know how it feels to suddenly realise you don’t actually have a home where you belong anymore. I felt Frodo’s pain when he, having spent all that time missing the lovely shire, returns to it only to discover that, having experienced everything he had experienced, he cannot ever possibly be the same. The shire, the normal hobbits, with their normal hobbit business would never seem the same to Frodo.
Okay, I appreciate that living in Qatar as a western expat is not quite the same as going through all the shit poor Frodo had to go through. Me, going to Aspire to work out in my air conditioned car in the mornings is not quite the same as Frodo barely surviving in Shelob’s cave, even on a very bad driving day. Still, I am a writer, so allow me some allegoric connection here. Frodo said, and he definitely knew what he was talking about, that he could not really stay in the shire, not after everything he had lived through, not after what he had seen in the world. And I realised, as I was looking forward to seeing my lovely Hertford-shire that I could never really return there and settle back into my previous suburban life. Not after I Iived as an expat for all these years.
I don’t know how others do it. I have met people who spent years here only to suddenly announce they are going back, to the same little village they came from. I just want to wear shorts again, they say, cook dinner for my kids and walk to the local pub. Well, really if you want to bring normality to your life in Doha, I thought, just fire your maid and do all the cleaning and cooking yourself, as well as go to work and then, if you still have any energy left, get a raincoat and wellies on, not shorts, and walk to that pub. Where you could probably afford one pint of beer since you probably wont have much money.
But that is a personal choice, and we, expats are all very different.
I myself am just like Frodo when it comes to returning to the shire. I have definitely changed and there is no going back to the old suburban myself.
Yes,visiting felt nice. I love it, don’t take me wrong. I miss those enormous green trees and the smell of rain in the air, wearing warm clothes and the normality of it all. But, as I sat in my friend’s car on the way from the airport, I kept thinking this feels wonderful but it is not my home anymore. It is a peculiar feeling, let me tell you. Because, you know that place. It is familiar. It is comforting and relaxing. But, knowing myself, I know that I no longer could fit right back in. It wouldn’t be easy.
Now, perhaps it is more obvious for someone like me for whom England was already a second home. I know all about emigrating, I had been there before. Still, having lived as an expat, how do you go back and continue your old life?
My friends…I missed them so much. I loved seeing them but I also noticed how by now, they had moved on with their lives. They were excited about me visiting, of course, but they were also very busy with their own schedules. Schools, events to attend, paperwork to fill in, family routines. I was grateful they still found time to see me.
If, after just a year or two of being abroad it all felt temporary, now after this many years it was different. They probably realized I was no longer going to be a proper part of their circle. They mostly stopped asking when I was coming back. I was someone who used to live there, who used to have the same concerns and issues. Now I was just a visitor from abroad, someone with a completely different life, whose visits they enjoy but there are more important things going on. I am different. I wear different clothes, I talk about different politics. I definitely drive differently. I worry about different future. The topics I come up with to discuss and my jokes are all different now…Well, those were always different, some might correct me here, but hey, at least I tried to control them a little better before, trying to fit in, adjusting the volume to the level of appropriateness of the English suburbs. Nowadays, I have moved on, too.
Which brings us of course to a question where to next? But, as Scarlett O’Hara would say…
I can’t think about that right now. If I do, I’ll go crazy. I’ll think about that tomorrow.
So yes, Frodo. I know exactly how you felt.

Wednesday, 31 May 2017

Baku? Why not?

A friend complained the other night that I had been too lazy and had not blogged for too long. He made that comment straight after a discussion about people's intimate parts and what was considered ugly… or simply different, perhaps, as I really do think it is a matter of personal opinion (and thank goodness for that). I had, you see, once asked my Filipino waxing lady beautician, as you do, and she had shared some fascinating info with me, which I thought was hilarious. I mean, when I asked her if she had seen really ugly…parts...I did not quite expect her to give me an analysis by nationalities.So look, I said to this friend, sometimes what I want to talk or joke about is probably- well, most definitely!- is going to get me in trouble if I put it on the blog. So I am, sadly, a little limited in what I can publish these days. And I strongly dislike being limited when it comes to writing. It smothers my mojo!

Anyhow, he had a good point. I have been very lazy and distracted. But, I did promise to blog about my recent trip to Baku, which is a totally acceptable, as in is not about intimate body parts, and is a good, decent topic so here we are. I can totally talk about this.

So… guess what?I went to Baku! A few weeks ago. With six other girls. The fact itself is nothing unusual of course, but what you have to understand is that going to your home country with people who had never been there before is a totally different experience. In addition to that, going with someone who has a lot more money than you and is used to having things done her own, princess way, is also a totally different- and pretty awesome! - experience.

I have a girlfriend here, in Doha, who loves to celebrate her birthdays abroad. It is just something she always does, and can afford to, so why the hell not, right? She loves to celebrate it somewhere like London or Dubai, in style and with best girlfriends around. This year, she decided she wanted to go somewhere more exotic and different. Why not Baku, she exclaimed? Why not indeed!

When you fly with Princess, which is what I am going to refer to the birthday girl from now on, you learn how princesses live. You and your suitcases get picked up by her driver and taken straight to the separate, VIP building at the airport in advance. You in the meantime relax at her house with an early dinner. You then get driven to that VIP building (which I never even knew existed until then) where you relax in a private room, while everything gets done for you and then, like movie stars, you get taken right to the air plane in a BMW. (Yeah, take that, all you common lot!)

In Baku, we jumped in a white minibus provided by the hotel and the fun started immediately. Baku air is wild. It intoxicates you. With the windows wide open, no seat belts, wide roads empty in the night, Lambada (Really? Lambada?) blasting from the car radio, we get driven fast into town, cackling loudly like a bunch of witches.

When you only have a weekend to show your friends your hometown, where do you go? What will they like? I took them to the Icheri Sheher. I really wanted to show them the Shirvanshakhs Palace but the place was closed that day for a ‘function’. So, instead, we just wandered around the old cobbled streets and drank an awful lot of chai. The girls messed with sheep wool hats and bought strange, completely not ethnic? enormous bead necklaces, which I of course, made rude comments about.  An old owner of a carpet shop was not impressed by our silliness and told us to get losted. The knowledge of English is definitely improving in Baku.

For our first dinner I took them to the good old Mugham club. It was just as I remembered it. The music, the little courtyard with the old trees, the food…Just beautiful. Of course, we had to struggle to get to it on high heels, since our van was not allowed to drive up to the restaurant. Even Princess with her whole powerful presence and attitude could not influence the policemen guarding the old city.  But isn’t all this just part of the local charm?

The next day, I took them to a Georgian restaurant to eat khingeli and drink Tarkhun- a bright green, most likely carcinogenic, lemonade of my childhood. One of us really wanted some whiskey. Yes, I know, it was a lunchtime but hey, we were witches on a holiday, so why not? As we walked in the Georgian place, I saw a selection of impressive drinks displayed on top of a large wooden cabinet. Right in the middle, a bottle of J&B stood tall and proud. Look, I said to the friend, you can actually have it here! Check it out! We have everything in Baku now!

Sorry, the waiter explained, those bottles are for decoration only. I know, it is difficult to understand but you are somewhere different, just remember that. File the decorative whiskey under the local charm, too.

The most disappointing thing, and surprisingly so, was the nightlife. I remembered it being pretty good, in my young Baku days, but perhaps my standards and my understanding of what was cool were somewhat different. I thought clubbing would be better now, or the same but not worse. We were told that Energi was good. But Energi was just wrong, and if you asked me why I would not be able to really explain. The music was good, and the venue was impressive. However something was lacking and that something was significant. I think it was the crowd. When we eventually ended up on the Saturday night in Buddha-Bar it was a totally different story. The people were like I wanted them to be- that bit more sophisticated. Even the hookers looked classier somehow.

What amused me the most from this trip was that waiters (and I don’t know why I am so surprised) simply smelled money on my friend. She would walk in a crowded bar, like Buddha-bar that Saturday night when the girl on the phone had already told me there were absolutely NO tables available, not even at the bar…and request a table, nicely, politely, yet in a tone that made it clear that this lady was not used to being told 'no'. Look honey, she said, what is your name? Irina! What a pretty name. Please, Irina we so need your help here.. My friends and I…My name is (and here she tells you her name in a way that immediately fills you with a terrifying thought that she is someone very famous, and you are just a major uneducated idiot for not recognising her)…and we need you to find us a nice table straight away please darling. And of course, a table (‘no, I don’t like this one Irina, darling, please can we have a better one?’) appears almost immediately.

And on the last night, when we sat in a beautiful garden of Channaq Gala, one of my favourite local places, I laughed and pointed out to my mother that only last summer we had struggled to get a waiter to not only order anything but even to pay the bill! However, as we sat there with my friend, there were, I swear, possibly about twelve people constantly waiting around in case we needed something. It was truly an amazing experience.

It might sound like we focused our trip around food, and well, that is very true. And the food is so good, so why wouldn’t we? My friends all loved Marivanna, one of my personal favourites, as well as Narsharab, the seafront restaurant where we drank a lot of beer and ate sturgeon fish kebab.

We ate and we drank and we danced and we ate some more. The weather was beautiful, the people were friendly, and small children dancing national dances on the stage at the Bulevard almost made me cry.

All in all, it was a fantastic trip and made me feel all proud of my hometown, which was an unusual kind of feeling for me, really. All those years ago all I wanted to do was to run away from there, and now I go back regularly and take friends to show them just how nice it is? Madness. True madness.