I ♥ Contributors pages

I love Contributor pages. I love reading about the people who put magazines together. It’s always the first bit I flick to, if the editor has seen fit to include one. So, in the hope that you’re as nosy as I am, here’s my little appearance on Bespoke‘s Contributor page this issue, alongside some other interesting characters.

(PS: ‘musuem’ would be spelt that way – if it was a museum about people called ‘Sue’.)



Review: Poetry slammin’ in NW1

Last night I went to see my first dose of live poetry in London at slam tour Hammer & Tongue‘s Camden leg, encouraged by host Michelle Madsen (who, did I mention, has a new book out?). As daunting as this Monday night jaunt may sound, the standard was impressively (and, I’ll be honest, unexpectedly) high – especially for those who had never ‘slammed’ before. Particular highlights were BBC Radio 4 Slam Champion Ben Mellor‘s piece about smashing up his late father’s old piano (surprisingly tear-jerking) and manic Chris Parkinson’s poem about the rise of the Grammar Nazis (“They started with the grocers”, a fabulous first line). Mutton-chopped Parkinson is also the man behind a certain Gumtree ad hunting for flatmates willing to dress up and impersonate a walrus for two hours a day in exchange for free rent – now the inspiration behind Kevin Smith’s next Hollywood film, out this ‘fall’.

And then there was the slam-dunking winner of the night’s new poet contest, whose name I don’t remember yet but will (she’s the lady in the image below – with the specs), and her romantic rhyme about lovers ‘S’ and ‘T’ who scratched their names onto Bournemouth pier, and without whom ‘R’ would never reach ‘U’. No faux rap-star accent or hand gestures, no glib subject matter; just a compulsive little story, hinting at the sort of pillow talk everyone can tap into.
It almost inspired me to write some rhymes myself.
(But did I mention my friend Michelle Madsen has a book out?)


The Telegraph: Tales of the unexpected – becoming an ex-expat

An article for The Telegraph about the trials and tribulations of settling back into London living after seven years away. Has the city gone mad, or have I?

It’s just over four months since I moved home. Following seven years in Dubai, I uprooted my comfortable, sunshine-filled expat life, packed it into boxes and sent if off on a ship back to London.

It was time to move back, be nearer my family and oldest friends and put an end to the constant limbo that hangs over one in a place so endlessly transient.

Once I had, I found I’d inherited a new and somewhat strange skill: the ability to look at my own country through sparklingly clear eyes. UK life differs sharply from that in the UAE, and there have been extra, unexpected difficulties involved in repatriating myself.

My personal speed and space boundaries had to be recalibrated first. London’s faster tempo was thrust upon me as soon as I touched ground, as hundreds of my fellow passengers marched off the plane and near-sprinted to border control.

For once I couldn’t overtake everyone; I struggled to even keep up. Clearly, living in a city of merely 2.1 million had readjusted my pace and parameters. But it isn’t just the fact I’ve come from somewhere less densely inhabited that makes me feel like London is overflowing. It’s because it is: back in 2006 the population here was 7.5 million – now it’s 8.3. The presence and pressure of those extra 800,000 residents is palpable.

Next up: my immune system needed a service. The minute the freakishly long summer ended (the best in seven years – talk about good timing), and I stepped into an office, I got a cold, cough, eye infection and my wisdom teeth flared up – all previous health issues that had laid dormant for years.

My body had gone soft, incapable of dealing with temperatures less than 25 degrees, or an office without air conditioning or a fleet of housekeeping staff. Thankfully, it only took my white blood cells a fortnight to catch up with me – which was almost as quick as HM Revenue and Customs.

But not everything has been a stinging slap-in-the-face sort of surprise. On the whole, it’s been a process of realising how much I’ve truly missed, without realising. By now my phone is stuffed with scenery shots: green fields, glistening lakes, pink sunsets, purple heather. The British countryside is stunning – it just took me seven years in an arid desert to notice. The smell of grass, the scattering leaves, the clearer light are all magical, truly. All that lush life feels so soothing and rehydrating for my wandering soul.

Similarly cheering has been my readjustment to London city life. At first, I’ll be honest, I felt frightened just walking down the street. I jumped out of my skin when a salesman asked if he could bother me for a moment. “No!” I impulse-barked at his raised eyebrows. Dubai doesn’t have much of a pedestrian culture; you hop in a cab to go anywhere, even cross the road at times, so you don’t actually come close to crowds of other human beings as often as here.

The UAE is also, comparatively, an incredibly safe place to live. Case in point: I once lost my debit card in a club, only to discover that a stranger had found it and cancelled it for me. So, initially, I felt like rather a babe in the wood walking about Hackney and Camden; as though I had “newcomer” etched in my eyes and “Dubai savings” on the watch on my wrist.

But time and time again I’ve been uplifted by the kindness of strangers: the man who lifted my stupidly heavy suitcase up three flights of stairs at Highbury and Islington station; the taxi driver who stopped the meter after a lengthy road diversion, then drove on and made sure I got safely to my front door; the older lady who shared my pain as we waited for an hour at Turnpike Lane for that mystical “replacement bus” one Sunday afternoon. Don’t get me started on my reacquaintance with cancelled/delayed/disappearing tubes, trains and buses: why can’t engineering works be done overnight when all motion stops anyway?

But yes, I’m happy to tell you, London remains, essentially, a friendly place. And that’s even amid the high street loons, like Kentish Town’s Cardboard Box Head Man, Lady Who Paints Her Face Bright Red and Man Who Wears Clown Make-Up. Honest.

I’m sure the shocks will keep on coming. In the past five days alone I’ve spotted an entire range of vibrators in Boots and a man with a pierced eyelid. I’ve drunk vodka shots with colleagues in the office. On top of that, a strange man, standing far too close at a pedestrian crossing, informed me that he uses the same brand of toilet roll as me, while looking intently at my transparent Sainsbury’s shopping bag. I must remember to buy a thick reusable one next time …

Yes, no doubt these cultural jolts will keep on striking as I immerse myself back fully into the swing of British life – until they suddenly, imperceptibly, stop.

For now? I’m just marvelling at them as they hit.

The Guardian: The monkey that went clubbing in Dubai

My latest piece in G2, about monkeys in clubs, tigers in offices and cheetahs on leads…

It’s a zoo out there: quite literally in the case of Dubai. Last week, one of the city’s nightclub-goers took a monkey to a club and – from the looks of one photograph – tried to get it drunk on vodka.

The small animal, wrapped around a man’s sizeable waist, made it past front-of-house staff at the five-month-old Vanity club long enough to be snapped in several photos, before being swiftly ejected and barred – along with its chaperone and his other, human, guests.

Shortly after, images of the monkey’s night out appeared on Facebook, apparently sporting the logo of the club night’s independent promoter. The resulting furore ran on Facebook and Twitter for days.

Dubai residents posted hundreds of comments, the vast majority expressing sympathy for the animal. Some called for the monkey’s owner to be deported, others for clubbers to boycott the venue in protest. (The club, meanwhile, swiftly distanced itself from the event, severing ties with the promoter, sacking the doormen and donating around £2,500 to local animal charities.)

But the big question is why this incident has come as such a shock to Dubai’s system. Monkeys are regularly seen around town. I am a former United Arab Emirates resident myself, and I once witnessed a shivering monkey, clothed in a baby’s nappy, being held out of a car window before a papping crowd. I was also once invited to see some tigers that were kept in the office HQ of a large well-known company. I declined, although a friend who was working with the business saw the captive big cats first-hand.

The sightings and stories are endless. In 2012, a shot of a tiger peering out of a car caused a minor Twitter storm. A cheetah on a lead was seen in 2011, and another was found dead in Al Ain in 2012 after escaping from a cage in a private villa, while a baboon made a break for it the same year.

So exactly how difficult is it to adopt an exotic pet in the UAE? A quick search leads to multiple sites offering marmoset monkeys and, among others, cheetah, tiger, leopard, cougar and jaguar cubs. An hour later, I’ve been emailed details of a 10-week-old cheetah cub I can welcome into my family from Cameroon for $1,700 (£1,042) – no questions regarding my prior cat-handling experience asked.

Gulf News, one of the UAE’s most-read newspapers, achieved a similar feat last year, showing that it was possible to acquire a black-market baby crocodile for less than £200 (the trader warned them to “take care” if it “grew big”).

In February 2013, it became illegal to import such animals into the UAE, but captive breeding is not so tightly regulated. The offending clubber has unwittingly increased support for Dubai’s fight against exotic pet ownership, and brought better regulation one step closer. Which makes for a fairly uplifting answer to the question: what happens when you get a monkey drunk?

Time Out: NYE aboard the QE2 in Dubai

On Saturday night I boarded the QE2, berthed in Dubai and closed to the public since 2008. Was it worth the wait? Did all the A-list celebs that were being flung around Twitter as potential attendees actually turn up?

Check out my review here – or read it below.

Of the dozens of NYE parties that took place on Saturday night, it seems the event people are most curious about is the last-minute knees-up organised on board the internationally famous cruise ship: the Queen Elizabeth II.

Bought by Dubai World subsidiary Isthithmar World for US$100m in 2008, most of us remember the 60-strong yacht flotilla that brought the 43-year-old British icon to its retirement home in Port Rashid.

Shortly afterwards news flew around that the liner would be moved to a spot alongside the Palm Jumeirah, once it had been renovated into a floating hotel housing various exciting restaurants and bars. Then this was followed by headlines stating that it was actually to be shipped to South Africa instead. Fortunately, three years on and she’s still where we last saw her: yet now finally ready for her first public airing.

In the days running up to December 31, the internet was excitedly a-flutter with all the celebrities that might be attending one of the ‘most exclusive NYE parties in the world’, with names such as Lindsay Lohan and Pamela Anderson flung about. Doubts then set in as Li-Lo issued a statement via her lawyer on December 30, informing the events company that she would sue if they kept using her name to promote their gig.

Still, on arrival at 7pm on the big day (in time for the red carpet call, which we found frequented only by promo girls in sailor outfits), the car park was busy with couples in black tie and ball gowns. By 8pm, the ‘sailors’ were ready with wrist bands and we sauntered into another area of the car park that had been spruced up into a ‘VIP holding pen’, where we were served canapes and bubbly, while the UK’s Lovely Laura stood on a roof and played sax along to jazz and pop classics.

By 9.45pm we were growing restless; wondering if we would ever actually make it aboard the famed cruiser – just as the light show began. Neon green flew across the ship’s side, revealing images of its arrival ceremony and various cruise routes, along to a soundtrack of Brit classics from the likes of The Beatles, Coldplay and The Verve.

By the time a covers singer duo began to belt out yet more pop ballads, we’d had enough, and a small portion of the party broke away to march up the red carpet and finally board. What we discovered inside was a very retro interior; the lift still boasting the same floor details (including the whereabouts of an on-board casino).

Led up to the top deck, the event’s VIPs – UK talk show host Vanessa Feltz, Nadine Coyle of Girls Aloud fame and retired cricketer Allan Lamb; no LiLo or PamAn in sight – were shown to their separate dining area, some distance from the main entertainment and, we’re sure, much to their disappointment.

Ourselves and the rest of the Dhs3,000-ticket public quickly tucked into the lacklustre buffet (it was 10pm and we were starving by this point), before the renowned Bootleg Beatles cheered everyone up with a snappy set comprising the band’s early hits, such as ‘She Loves You’. The dancefloor remained full as The Gypsies crowded the stage, going on to play immediately after the fireworks at 12am: as the clock struck the end of 2011 the ship was flanked by both the party’s delegated firecrackers and the spectacular, multi-coloured show of the Burj Khalifa in the distance.

As the French flamenco-flavoured musos kept the dancefloor crammed, we managed to get a sneak peak of the boat’s interior, despite the security guards stationed at every corner. What we found gave us pause for thought: dance halls seemingly left in the exact same condition; a disregarded piano sat silently in a corner; store signs left hanging above empty outlets. While we certainly didn’t check out all the floors: what we saw didn’t suggest that an extensive renovation has been taking place over the last few years.

The QE2 NYE party may not have been the best event Dubai has ever seen, but the cruise ship itself put on a fantastic show. Fingers crossed its life continues with many more special events in future.

Time Out: David Fincher forbids edit of The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo to be shown in UAE

This week I was disappointed to hear rumours that Daniel Craig’s new flick, The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, was likely to be banned here. Especially as we had a great Craig interview all ready to go. So I looked into it a bit more, and discovered… this.

Rumours are currently circulating on various blogs and Twitter regarding whether the much-hyped English-language adaptation of the film version of bestselling novel The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo has been banned in the UAE.

After speaking with Kifah Ghraizi, operations manager at Empire, the UAE distributor of the movie, we can reveal that it actually did make it past the censors here. ‘We were asked to make seven or eight cuts to the film, which amounted to about three or four minutes. All of the removed scenes contained nudity or were of a sexual nature – no material was removed for religious or political reasons,’ Ghraizi explains.

‘However [director] David Fincher himself was not happy with the edits and has forbidden the film to be shown in the new format.’

The US filmmaker is renowned for box office smashes such as The Social Network and Fight Club.

For the record, Ghraizi tells us the film is fantastic.

Which makes me both gain and lose respect for David Fincher at the same time.

Time Out: The Armani Hotel launch – and all-important opening party

Notes from the much-hyped Armani Hotel opening party – celebrating the designer’s first ever hotel, located in the Burj Khalifa. I’d heard rumours Victoria Beckham, Megan Fox and even Beyonce had all been flown in to mark the occasion. Find out who actually made it on to the dancefloor in my article… Continue reading

Time Out: The world’s tallest cover. Ever

In celebration of the opening of the Burj Khalifa, the world’s tallest tower, I thought it would be good if our issue featured the world’s tallest cover. It quickly became our best-selling issue so far.

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Time Out: Kanye West has a go at me

My interview with the biggest ego in pop for Time Out Dubai. For some reason he got really upset when I mentioned guitars.

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Time Out: Sydney – still fun in the rain

In 2009 I flew the new Emirates A380 to Sydney for this travel piece which appeared in Time Out Dubai.

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