Notes by Nectar

Your destiny lies in your own hands

London: October 2013 (Part 2)

I met one of my cousins for lunch on Wednesday – we were meeting at Raoul’s and the weather was still amazing so I walked through the park to Lancaster Gate and then took a bus to Clifton Road. I decided to have the pasta with asparagus and truffles instead of my usual eggs. I went home after lunch and did some work.

That evening a friend took me to Restaurant Story in London Bridge. It was a small place but every table was full. There were two set menus: one for six courses and the other for ten courses.

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We decided to go for the six courses but wanted to try the scallops on the ten-course menu, and our waiter said that they were quite flexible that way and added the scallops to our order.

The waiter then placed a candle on our table. It reminded me of the nursery rhyme ‘Wee Willy Winkie’. He also brought over some starters which weren’t included on the menu, such as these flowers with herbs:

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Our waiter told us they were best eaten whole, so that’s what we did. They tasted like… flowers. With a little bit of flavour but mostly they tasted like flowers.

He then brought us grilled corn with butter and ‘rabbit sandwiches’ (yes, real rabbit):

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We were then given a basket of fresh bread. He told us that while we were eating our starters the wax from the candle was dripping into the plate below and we could dip our bread into it and eat it. The candle wasn’t made from real wax, it was made with beef dripping!

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It’s not something I would normally eat, but I tried it.

The portions that followed were small. The scallop dish was really small:

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The main course (wild duck) was a ‘regular’ portion. They brought the uncooked pot to us before they started preparing it so we could see what it looked like.

Before our almond and dill dessert, our waiter brought over some Brie with truffles – it wasn’t on the menu but I had to have it.

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We then had our almond and dill dessert:

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It doesn’t look like much but it was fantastic!

So by the end of our six courses (which turned into eight courses) we were very full.

The weather turned on Thursday – there was a definite nip in the air. That morning I went to meet a friend of mine who was getting her hair done at Aveda on Westbourne Grove. Everyone in London is so busy that I told her I would just sit with her while she had her hair coloured and cut. We were there for about three hours and by then it was lunchtime so we went for sushi. We went to Suzu on Hammersmith Road, close to her place. I’d been there with her before and the food is always excellent. By the time we finished lunch it was time to pick the kids up from school. I went with her, met the kids and then went home to do some work. It was 4pm by this time!

That evening I met up with a friend for a drink. We met at Selfridges and then went to one of the pubs in St Christopher’s Place. I had two glasses of red wine and was home in time for dinner. My first night in! My cousin and I had spaghetti and watched ‘Friends’.

It rained all day on Friday so I decided I’d stay in and catch up on some work. The thought of venturing out didn’t appeal to me at all! I pottered around, did some work, watched some TV. It was just what I needed.

That night I went to stay at a friend’s place. I went over, had a drink, and then we went to Pizza Pomodoro for dinner! I hadn’t been there since 2010 (or maybe even 2009) and the place has not changed at all. We had the garlic bread and garlic mushrooms, and then I ordered an American Hot pizza (or whatever they call the equivalent). The pizzas were smaller than I remember but still tasted great! And the live music was as good as ever… After dinner we decided we’d have dessert and a drink at the Lanesborough. We ordered the cheese platter and the cheesecake! It was a chilled out fun evening and wasn’t too late.

The next morning we woke up and decided we’d go for breakfast. We walked down South Audley Street and into Mount Street Gardens. I didn’t even know this place existed! There was also a beautiful sculpture which reminded me a bit of The Godfather.

'Fire' by Nic Fiddian-Green

‘Fire’ by Nic Fiddian-Green

We also passed a beautiful church.

Church of the Immaculate Conception

Church of the Immaculate Conception

Church of the Immaculate Conception

Church of the Immaculate Conception

We walked to Bourdon House in Duke Street, home of Dunhill. Again, I didn’t know this place existed – it’s a Dunhill store and retreat for men: barber, spa, private cinema, bar/lounge, cafe, humidor. Another hidden gem (well, not anymore)! We ordered some coffee and the Eggs Benedict. As my friend doesn’t eat meat, he asked them whether they could do the Eggs Benedict with Cheddar cheese rather than ham – it was the best Eggs Benedict I’ve ever had.

After our late breakfast I went to Raoul’s to meet one of the girls for lunch. Of course I couldn’t eat (initially) so sat with her while she had her eggs. For dessert we decided to share the French toast and then moved on to Baker and Spice for another coffee.

We had a big night planned on Saturday – me, my cousins and some friends were going to Brasserie Chavot in Conduit Street for dinner and then to Annabel’s for some dancing. I loved the atmosphere at Brasserie Chavot but the service was really slow. For starters I ordered the crab mayonnaise with avocado, and for my main course I had the beef ribeye.

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Both courses were excellent. I was too full for dessert.

As I mentioned, the service was so slow that by the time we finished our meal it was 11pm. Our plans for dancing at Annabel’s were thrown out the window as the two married couples decided it was ‘too late’ and that they needed to get home. That left three of us – we ended up at the Polo Bar next to the restaurant and we had a bottle of wine. The bar shut at 1am but it took us ages to find a cab (it was raining again)!

On Sunday I had lunch with a schoolfriend at ASK Italian next to Gloucester Road Station – a steaming bowl of creamy pasta and glass of red wine was in order. We caught up over a couple of hours and I walked back home (after buying an umbrella). I was home the rest of the day.

That evening my cousin and I went to Stick & Bowl in Kensington High Street for dinner. I thought we’d walk there as it’s not even ten minutes away but my cousin wanted to drive. We got there, spent fifteen minutes looking for parking, dropped the car back home and then walked back! It’s a cheap, quick Chinese restaurant and I’ve been going there for almost thirty years. My mum used to take me when I was younger, and I used to take my brother. I hadn’t been there in ages. Hot and sour soup, black bean chicken and rice – perfect for a cold Sunday evening. And we were home in time to watch ‘Downton Abbey’!

I love my life.

To read more about London, click here.

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London: October 2013 (Part 1)

I left Dubai on Friday, 4th October and was going to be away for almost four weeks. As I was packing I just didn’t feel like travelling – four weeks is a long time to be away from home! I was also dreading the weather. As we touched down at Heathrow, the captain announced that it was 21C outside and it was expected to stay that way for a few days. I was going to boil! I’d packed jumpers and had my coat with me.

Every time I go to London I end up coming home absolutely exhausted. I hoped this time would be different because surely four weeks is enough time to catch up with everyone? Apparently not…

I was spending the first ten days at my cousin’s place in Kensington and then moving to St John’s Wood after that. I got home at about 6pm and needed to sort out a few things including my new SIM card. My cousin had informed me she had a work thing on that evening and wouldn’t be home so I made plans of my own. I met up with a friend at his place in Park Lane and had a drink with him and another friend. They asked me what I fancied eating – I don’t know why but travelling always makes me ravenous! I told them at that point I’d settle for a pack of ham from Marks and Spencer. We walked to Pizza Express in Bruton Place, off Berkeley Square. It was just what I was in the mood for – a drink and an American Hot pizza with jalapenos. Every time I go back to London I’m shocked at how cheap alcohol is and how expensive cigarettes are!

After dinner we went to the bar at Claridge’s for dessert and a couple more drinks. We ordered three desserts but I found them disappointing. Surprisingly the best one was the ice cream! After another vodka we walked back to Park Lane and I got a cab home. I was exhausted.

The following morning I went to see my cousin in Maida Vale and her twin girls who had just turned a year old in September. I spent about an hour with them and then went to meet one of the girls for brunch at Raoul’s (the other was away for the weekend). We shared the crab and avocado salad to start with and then I had scrambled eggs and sausages. Wow – I’d missed that! I didn’t go totally overboard and have French toast for dessert because I had four Saturdays to enjoy with them…

That night a friend was having her 40th birthday at the Haymarket Hotel. She had a sit-down dinner for 60 people – we started with drinks in the Library and then moved into the Shooting Gallery for dinner. The food and service were excellent – and it was nice to see so many people in one go! After dinner there was a live band and some dancing, and then a few of us went to Morton’s in Berkeley Square for a few more drinks. It was a heavy night and I got home after 3am.

Sunday was a crazy busy day! A friend was running the Royal Parks Half Marathon and I’d told his wife I’d meet her for breakfast while he was running. For some reason my phone wasn’t working so I didn’t get any of her messages and was running very late! We met at the Sheraton Park Tower in Knightsbridge where they have a breakfast buffet. When I got back to the table she looked at my plate and then looked at me: ‘You have got to be kidding.’ Nope, no joke: sausages, salami, mortadella, Parma ham and a ham and cheese omelette. I guess I really missed pork! The breakfast is fantastic – I’d recommend it. Our waiter also told us that the table we were sitting at was his favourite. ‘Why?’ I asked. ‘Because George Clooney and Leonardo di Caprio sat there! Wow – I started wondering how I could walk out with one of their chairs…

Once I’d finished eating we walked back to Hyde Park hoping to catch her husband at the finish line. The weather was amazing and I wished I’d taken my camera with me. We saw him running in at 2 hours and 14 minutes – amazing! And he didn’t even look like he’d broken a sweat. When we caught up with him, and he’d caught his breath, we asked him what he wanted to do. ‘I want a pint,’ was his reply. So we crossed the road and went to The Paxton’s Head on Knightsbridge. I was feeling a bit rough from the night before and asked for a half pint – of course, nobody listened to me and I was handed a whole one. The pub was full of other people who had completed the half marathon. We had our drinks and left (I really couldn’t finish mine). We went back to their house and relaxed for a while.

At about 3pm I thought I’d leave them to nap and walk around for a while. I walked up to Selfridges and just as I was thinking about going home my cousin called suggesting we meet at Yauatcha for a late lunch. So I started walking back towards Oxford Circus. By the time we sat down to eat it was about 4pm. I didn’t think I could eat anything after my breakfast, but clearly I was wrong! The food at Yauatcha is excellent – but I thought the service was terrible. Aside from all the usual dim sum, we had a bottle of wine to go with our meal. Yes, drinking again! We’d finished by 6pm, my cousin was heading out elsewhere and I decided to walk for a while – it’s one of the things I miss about London when I’m in Dubai. The sun was setting at the other end of Oxford Street and I managed to take this photo. I took a bus to Kensington and got home at 7pm.

At this point my feet felt like they were on fire. I wasn’t used to walking, and certainly not in heels or my regular day shoes. A friend told me he’d pick me up for dinner at about 8pm and I was so relieved because I thought he’d bring his car and we’d go out for dinner. At 8pm he called me asking me to meet him at the end of the street – he’d walked and wasn’t driving! I met him and we hadn’t really decided where to go – we were just walking around trying to find somewhere. We eventually decided to walk to The Churchill Arms in Kensington Church Street. Even though it was a long walk, and I felt like I was walking on hot coals, it was a nice evening and we talked all the way there and back. I was most surprised that we didn’t even have to wait for a table. I know you’re wondering how I could have possibly eaten any more that day but we only ordered one portion of spring rolls as starters, one green curry with prawns and one pad thai – to share between us. And all the walking I did helped! I was home by 10pm and had an early night. I was exhausted!

On Monday I had a couple of check-ups I wanted to get out of the way (mammogram, etc.) and everything was fine. As I was around the corner from a friend’s place I popped in for a casual lunch – we had soup and quiche. I then walked to John Lewis to meet a friend who was browsing there – I just wanted to say a quick hello. We walked around for about 15 minutes and then I went back to Kensington. I tried to do some work but just couldn’t stay awake so I had a nap!

That evening, my cousin and I went to XO in Belsize Park for dinner with a couple of friends. I hadn’t been there in years and really enjoyed it. It wasn’t too late a night and we were back home by 10.30.

On Tuesday morning I met a friend for coffee in Starbucks in Kensington High Street. I decided I couldn’t bear to wear my slip-on shoes any longer and wore my trainers instead. I also decided I’d go to Kensington Gardens after coffee and walk around and take some photos with my camera. I got to Starbucks and my friend asks, ‘Why do you look like a complete tourist?’ ‘Because I feel like one!’ I told her that in the 20 years I lived in London, I’d never really walked around Hyde Park and Kensington Gardens. I wanted to make the most of the weather too. Ever since I’d been in London I hadn’t needed my coat and in the evenings I’d only used a shawl – amazing for October! After coffee, I walked back towards the park and went in.

Walking around Hyde Park was almost like summertime, but without the hayfever.
Kensington Palace

Kensington Palace

Queen Victoria

Queen Victoria

The Round Pond

The Round Pond

North Silver Thimble Shelter

North Silver Thimble Shelter

Autumn

Autumn

Speke Monument

Speke Monument

Two Bears Fountain

Two Bears Fountain

The Pump House in the Italian Gardens

The Pump House in the Italian Gardens

The Pump House

The Pump House

The Italian Gardens

The Italian Gardens

The Tazza Fountain

The Tazza Fountain

Peter Pan

Peter Pan

Peter Pan Statue

Peter Pan Statue

Henry Moore's 'The Arch'

Henry Moore’s ‘The Arch’

Diana Memorial Fountain

Diana Memorial Fountain

America - The Albert Memorial

America – The Albert Memorial

The Albert Memorial

The Albert Memorial

The Albert Memorial

The Albert Memorial

The Albert Memorial

The Albert Memorial

I went home after my walk in the park and had some lunch. Once again I sat down to do some work but ended up having a nap!

That evening I had dinner with the girls at Michael Nadra in Primrose Hill. I’d heard mixed things about the restaurant but I thought the food was fantastic.

Whitebait tempura

Whitebait tempura

Scottish salmon ceviche with chilli, red onions, sweet potato puree and garden radishes

Scottish salmon ceviche with chilli, red onions, sweet potato puree and garden radishes

Scotch fillet steak with shitake puree, glazed onion, triple cooked chips, baby spinach and madeira jus

Scotch fillet steak with shitake puree, glazed onion, triple cooked chips, baby spinach and madeira jus

I had the cheese platter for dessert. Amazing. Again, it wasn’t a very late night and I was home by 11pm.

I love my life.

To read more about London, click here.

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Moon Reflections

A couple of weeks ago, a friend of mine from Lagos and I were walking through the Dubai Mall when we stumbled upon a calligraphy sculpture.

Moon Reflections

Moon Reflections (ignore the missing apostrophe!)

I took a couple of photos with my Samsung phone but decided I’d go back and take some more with my Canon DSLR. I went back this afternoon and took these:

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I love the one I chose for my Silent Sunday!

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Dubai 2013: Week 20

Another busy week, but nowhere near as busy as the week before.

I had my usual Sunday session with Randy. That afternoon I had a follow-up appointment with Dr Sharbek for my eye. She said it looked fine and I could stop using the eye cream in another week. It looks so much better than before.

I had my second Arabic lesson on Monday afternoon. We learned how to say:

  • Good morning/good evening
  • What’s your news?
  • How’s work?
  • Pronouns
  • Some other basic vocabulary – happy, present (as in ‘here’), absent
  • Two new letters (in addition to the first six in the first lesson)

That evening was the final Islamic Art talk at Art Sawa. It focused on modern art in the Islamic World (modern art starting before the end of the Ottoman period [1880-1960s]) and contemporary art. We covered:

The speaker said she had many photographs of nudes but wasn’t allowed to show them in her Art History classes!

I had a piano lesson on Tuesday – I’m still struggling with Michael Bublé’s ‘Just Haven’t Met You Yet’. I always feel happy after my piano lessons. I think it’s because I focus on just one thing for that 1 hour – it’s almost like meditation – and it clears my mind of everything else. I need to practise more.

Wednesday was busy as usual. I had a session with Randy followed by my Arabic class. In our third session we learned:

  • Adjectives and how they need to be masculine/feminine/plural according to the noun they’re describing
  • Possessive pronouns
  • How to ask (and respond to): What country are you from?
  • Numbers and how to ask ‘What’s your phone number?’
  • More random vocabulary – tomorrow, book, late, busy, boy, girl, car

I think having learnt French and Spanish is definitely helping, especially when it comes to following grammatical rules.

That evening I had my last meditation class. We went over some meditation techniques and talked about whether meditation had helped us at all, and so on. I’m glad I did the course but I haven’t done as much practice as I’d like since then.

I was working all of Thursday and had dinner at The Ivy that night. It was Jumeirah Restaurant Week and several restaurants were offering special deals. We had a three-course meal: I opted for the lobster bisque to start with, the sea bass as my main course, and the cheese for dessert. Everything was delicious but my main course was tiny. Of course we also had wine with our dinner and then hung out at the bar for a few more drinks after dinner.

I was home all day on Friday and most of Saturday. On Saturday evening I went to a seminar called ‘Phone-ography 101’ at Gulf Photo Plus in Al Serkal Avenue. It was all about taking photos with your phone and I was amazed at all the things you can do with it! I thought it would be about how to get good shots, but it was a lot more technical than that. There was a panel of three photographers who take most of their photos with their phones. They talked about apps, postprocessing and gave us some good tips. Did you know that you could:

  • Swipe the camera from the lock screen for easy access?
  • Release the shutter with the volume buttons on your earphones?
  • Lock exposure and focus by touching the screen?

Useful tips!

For panorama shots there’s an app called ‘360’ – it lets you create 360-degree images – and it’s free.

To get the effect of streaked backgrounds (panning) – tap the screen where your moving subject is and hold your finger on the screen as you move your phone along with it. The subject stays in focus while the background turns into streaming colours. Genius!

For shooting – there are so many apps available and most of them are free downloads:

  • ThirtySix – this takes 36 photos and then develops them as a contact sheet.
  • Pro Camera – can control white balance, ISO, focus and exposure.
  • Hipstamatic – I was fascinated by this. You can download it for free, but you can buy add-ons depending on what you want. You can buy different virtual lenses, virtual film – and the app will even show you what your image will look like depending on what you’ve selected. One warning though – we were told that it uses up battery life pretty quickly.
  • Gorilla Cam – this has a self-timer, can take up to 60 pictures in burst mode, and has a time-lapse function.
  • Camera + – you can light your scene using the camera flash light, has a self-timer and stabiliser
  • KitCam – similar to Hipstamatic for various lens simulations.
  • Fast Camera – similar to Gorilla Cam and good for discretion in street photography (it takes photos while your screen remains dark)!
  • Slow Shutter Cam – this also takes photos with the screen remaining dark and is good for night photography.

We were shown how to attach your phone to a tripod using a Glif, how you can buy actual lenses for your phone, and even underwater cases.

There are also several editing apps which we were introduced to:

  • VSCO Cam
  • Cross Process
  • Square Ready (free)
  • Hipstamatic (again)
  • AfterLight
  • FilterStorm – similar to Photoshop
  • Wood Camera
  • Krop Circle (free) – this enables you to crop photos into shapes
  • SnapSeed (free)
  • Instagram
  • Diptic
  • Pic Stitch
  • Image Blender
  • Average Camera Pro
  • Synth Cam (free) – useful for night photography

I was actually blown away by all the things you can do with just a phone. All three photographers worked with iPhones but many of these apps are available for Android phones too.

One of the most useful tips I got was that I could set up my phone to transfer my photos to Dropbox automatically. Now as soon as I’m connected to a wireless network, my Dropbox is updated with any photos I’d taken since the previous syncing. It’s always best to connect with wifi as files can be large and exceed data limits rather quickly! No more emailing photos to myself and saving them on my computer (or plugging in my phone to my laptop and transferring them).

There were no surprises with the sharing apps available:

  • Instagram
  • Flickr
  • Google+
  • tumblr

And where can you get these photos printed? Well…

  • Printstagr.am – based in California.
  • Blurb – to create books and albums.
  • InstaCanvas – to print on canvas (you think?).
  • Coastermatic – to print on coasters.
  • Hipstamatic

Some other general tips?

  • Take as many photos as you can but don’t share them all.
  • Experiment with apps.
  • Find your own style.
  • Follow photographers who inspire you.
  • Learn how to use light to your advantage.
  • Charge your phone on the go when using Hipstamatic.
  • Be ready!

I learned a lot in those 2 hours – things I never even knew existed!

I went home and had a relaxing evening…

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Images of London

Just a selection of photos taken while I was in London… 

Reunited with the girls for brunch at Raoul’s:

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I must have walked past this so many times but had just never seen it:

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Somewhere in Primrose Hill (but I’m not sure exactly where):

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St John’s Wood High Street:

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A night at Escortikov Novikov:

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Brunch at Cut:

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Regent Street:

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Baker & Spice:

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St Paul’s Cathedral:

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Dinner at Riding House Cafe:

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Cappuccino at Raoul’s:

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Drinks at the Soho Hotel:

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A walk through Regent’s Park:

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I’m definitely taking my DSLR next time!

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Dubai: Week 11

It started off as a quiet week. I had a session with Rama on Sunday morning, yoga on Monday morning, a cardio session on my own on Tuesday, and was home the rest of the time.

I had another session with Rama on Wednesday. That afternoon I went to the Fairmont to get my hair done – I wanted it coloured and blow-dried. From the time I got to the salon to the time I left an hour and a half later, I was asked six times whether I wanted a manicure and pedicure. By six different women. They asked me: when I got there, when I sat down, when I had the colour in my hair, when my hair was being washed, when my hair was being dried, and when I was paying my bill. Jesus, if I wanted it I’d ask for it.

After that, I met my cousin for a coffee in the lobby. It was my first coffee in almost a week!

On Wednesday evening I went to the Intercontinental Hotel at Festival City – the Emirates Airline Festival of Literature was on and there was a talk by David Nicholls (author of One Day, Starter for Ten and The Understudy). I’d booked my ticket back in January and had been looking forward to it since then. The venue for the evening was the new Heritage Centre on the waterfront. It was a chilly evening and I’m glad I had my shawl.

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I got there early enough to get a good seat.

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He was ‘in conversation’ with Rosie Goldsmith.

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He talked about his acting ‘career’ – how every time his friends saw him in a play they’d say ‘Well done! Have you thought about being a writer?’ He talked about how he *almost* went on stage as the understudy in Tom Stoppard’s Arcadia and that it took him ten years to realise he wasn’t a very good actor.

When discussing One Day, he said he’s often asked whether he’s more like Dexter or Emma but he feels he’s more like Ian, the failed stand-up comedian. Why do writers always suffer from intense self-loathing and the feeling they’re never good enough? He’s thinking about a fourth novel, but worries that it will always be compared to One Day and won’t be as good and it’ll be all downhill from there. What I didn’t know is that the date used in the book (15th July) is St Swithin’s Day – if it rains on St Swithin’s Day it’ll be a wet summer, if it’s sunny it’ll be a warm summer. You learn something new every day.

The one piece of writing advice he did give away is that whenever he’s editing/re-writing a finished novel, he prints the whole novel and re-types it. It’s easy to gloss over things when you’re on-screen editing and re-typing it adds more weight to the words. He said One Day took him two years to finish (well, no wonder if he was constantly re-typing it).

There were a few questions at the end, and then he signed copies of his book for people who had brought their own copies. Unfortunately the two books of his I do have are both on my Kindle. If I bought books on the offchance I’d meet their authors, I would need another 6 x 6 foot bookcase. At least.

After my yoga class on Thursday I went back to the Intercontinental – I had a ticket for a session called ‘Who Am I? Who Are You? A Panel Discussion on Identity’. In the cab on the way there I started thinking about identity – my identity. Who was I? I had images of Anthony Michael Hall in The Breakfast Club – sitting at a desk, chewing on a pen, asking himself ‘Who am I? Who am I?’ Born in London, to Indian parents, childhood in Nigeria, moved back to London, now living in Dubai. Where is home? The place of my birth? My country of origin? The city I currently live in? Who even lives in the same city they were born in these days? Well, actually I used to until last year.

I wanted to go to the session on identity as one of my favourite authors was on the panel of writers. The first time I’d heard of Romesh Gunesekera was in 2004 – I was doing a creative writing course at Birkbeck and he talked to us about writing on a cold Saturday afternoon in November. I found him fascinating and loved listening to him talk about writing (I should really find those notes – I’m sure they’re around somewhere). I ended up buying one of his books (of course) and he signed it for me. After that I bought another of his books (but admittedly haven’t read it yet) – I took the book with me, hoping he’d sign it. I got there about half an hour early, bought a coffee, and browsed the books. And I ended up buying The Prisoner of Paradise, Gunesekera’s latest novel. So much for not buying any more books. I found a seat in the second row and sat down.

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The rest of the panel consisted of Daljit Nagra (a British Asian poet), John O’Sullivan (an Irish poet who now lives in Bali), and Yang Lian (a Chinese poet who now lives in London). Gunesekera is a Sri Lankan who also lives in London. The panel was chaired by Suzanne Radford.

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It started with each of the writers reading a passage of their work or a poem and then talking about how that passage/poem contributed to the Festival’s theme of identity. Gunesekera read a short passage from his novel The Match. I’m not a huge fan of cricket but listening to him read made me want to go and buy the book. Lian then read a poem in Chinese, and Daljit Nagra read the English translation. John O’Sullivan read a poem about Cambodia. It reminded me that I need to read The Killing Fields. Daljit Nagra read a poem about shopping. Well, it was a poem about Sikh Panjabis in Britain who buy all their wedding clothes in Jalandar and then head back to the UK.

I took copious notes (which I won’t reproduce here) and one thing I found interesting was Suzanne asking the writers how their parents figured in their writing. O’Sullivan read a poem about his late mother. Lian said his mother died in the 1970s and never read anything he’d written, yet she breathes in every line he writes (now if that isn’t poetry, I don’t know what is). Nagra said his parents barely spoke English so he could write absolutely anything he wanted about anyone – and he knew they’d never know! Gunesekera said it worked both ways, and that he wondered what his children would think of his writing. He then added that writers worry needlessly about things like this and most people won’t read what you write anyway. I would love to sit down with him for an hour and just talk about writing.

It was an interesting talk – and I’m glad I went. When it was over, the writers had to rush off to somewhere else so I never did get my books signed. I also found out that Gunesekera was giving another talk the following day about his latest novel (the one I’d just bought). Unfortunately it wasn’t in the programme when I bought my tickets – and I’d booked a couple of seminars at Gulf Photo Plus at the other end of town. Dammit.

I stayed in on Thursday night as I had be up and out early on Friday morning.

I left home before 9am and made my way towards Knowledge Village where Gulf Photo Plus was being held. I’d booked two seminars for that morning. The first one was ‘Turning your photos to Profits’ – not that I’m anywhere near good enough for that, but I was just curious. The panel consisted of Chris Hurtt (travel photography), Louis Pang (a Malaysian-based wedding and portrait photographer) and Sascha Weis (business development manager at a stock agency). There were lots of interesting tips and tricks of the trade – and things I’d never have considered. For example, if you took a photo of a building (the building is the main focal point of the image) and you wanted to sell that image for commercial use, you would need a property release for that photo. Who knew??

The second talk was by a photographer called Joe McNally. He’s been in the business for over 30 years and has worked for National Geographic, Time magazine, and many others. He took the audience through several photos in his portfolio, the stories behind them, what he had to do to get certain shots (hanging from helicopters, and so on), and the people he’s met along the way.

It was a shame that the literature festival and Gulf Photo Plus were on in the same week – I’d have liked to spend more time at each one!

I had lunch on Friday with my dad and my cousin and her family. We went back to Sakura for the sushi/teppanyaki offer and ate way too much.

That evening I met up with a friend for a couple of drinks at Trader Vic’s at the Madinat Jumeirah. I had two glasses of wine – my first drinks in just over three weeks! I was home by 10pm as he had a flight to catch that night.

Saturday was a lazy day – I would have been happy to lump around the flat all day but by the late afternoon Dad was getting a little restless. We ended up going to see ‘John Carter’ at the Dubai Mall. I only agreed to go if we could go a bit earlier and have a coffee at Gloria Jean’s. Just as well, really – because I might have fallen asleep in the first ten minutes of the movie. I had no idea what was going on. What I figured out was this: man in 1890s gets transported to a different planet, captured by aliens, and falls in love with a princess (rolls eyes). It was far too long – just over 2 hours. After that we went to the food court for an Iranian dinner and we were home by 9.30pm.

So what started off as a quiet week actually became quite busy – and the time just flew by… Soon I’ll have been here three months!

For more updates, click here.

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Dubai: Week 7

Not a terribly interesting week!

I woke up on Sunday not feeling very well and had to cancel my session with Rama (which I really didn’t want to do). I went back to sleep for a couple of hours and felt much better when I woke up again. I stayed home most of the day and then met my cousin for a coffee. She was visiting from Bombay and I hadn’t seen her in over a year so we went to Starbucks at the Dubai Mall and sat outside. It was nice and I think the fresh air did me good. 

We were supposed to go out for dinner that evening but when she got home after the mall she wasn’t feeling very well and in the end my parents and I went out for dinner on our own. We went to Thai Chi at Wafi Pyramids. I didn’t take any photos, but the buildings there are in an Ancient Egyptian style – the gym is called the Pharoah’s Club, the coffee shop is Rameses, the beauty salon is Cleopatra’s, and so on. Thai Chi is on the first floor – it’s a huge restaurant but being a Sunday night it was quite empty apart from one or two other tables.

The food was good, the portions are huge. My parents and I shared a tom yum soup – which was supposed to be shared between two people, but there was enough there for four large bowls of soup. We then had one of the salads and some chicken satays. For our main course we had a beef dish and a green chicken curry. It was more than enough for the three of us!

On Monday I had my first yoga class with the new teacher. I was home working for the rest of the day and that evening my cousins came over for dinner. My parents were out with their friends so we had the place to ourselves.

I woke up on Tuesday feeling unwell again – and stayed home all day. I didn’t feel great on Wednesday either but went ahead with my session with Rama.

On Thursday, I met up with a friend at More Cafe at MoE. I’d met her a couple of times since moving to Dubai but it was always with a group of people. This time it was just the two of us and we got to catch up properly. We met at 11.30, had brunch, and when her daughter was done with school, she joined us too. What was supposed to be a quick breakfast/coffee turned into a 3-hour session. I stayed home that night – I had some work to do and I was tired.

On Friday, I met up with the same friend for lunch. We had a mutual friend in town for the day from Bangalore so we went to Wafi Gourmet. The service was atrocious. It seems to get worse each time I go there. After our long lazy outdoor lunch, our friend from Bangalore wanted to go to a supermarket so we ended up at Choithram’s in Jumeirah. We went home after that and she left for the airport.

That night I had dinner at PF Chang with my parents. I felt like I’d spent the whole day at the mall by this point. My cousin joined us as we were finishing and we went to see ‘The Iron Lady’. Dad wasn’t happy when he found out what we were seeing (we hadn’t told him) – basically if a movie doesn’t involve high-speed car chases or people shooting at each other, he’s not interested. As expected he didn’t like the movie. I thought it was a bit slow, but I thought Meryl Streep was amazing. There were times, however, when I felt she looked a little like one of the characters in ‘Little Britain’. I think it was her hair or make-up, possibly both. 

On Saturday, I was home most of the day as my mum was leaving for India. I met up with a friend at Caffe Nero at the mall – I was telling her about my photography course and she suggested I brush up on my skills and start doing sessions for the kids’ play dates. She said they’re always looking for photographers for the kids – and that it would be worth my while. I’m not sure how I feel about spending time with toddlers. In fact, it’s not the kids that worry me, it’s their mothers that might freak me out! But I said I’d think about it (which I am)… Anyway, we spent an hour together and that evening I stayed home as I had an early session with Rama the next day.

So that was week 7 – hardly any exercise, lots of work, and not much else!

For more updates, click here.

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Introduction to Digital Photography: Week 4

Week 4 was our last class of the course. We were told that we’d be doing some editing and to download Adobe Lightroom (the trial version) and to bring our laptops to the class. So I had:

  • my camera
  • tripod
  • laptop
  • handbag

I felt like I was travelling. I felt even worse when I slipped and fell outside Ski Dubai on my way to the class. My first thought was ‘Shit, I hope nobody saw me’ but being a crowded mall I realised that people had seen me, but rather than stop and help they either:

  • laughed,
  • pointed and laughed,
  • pointed, laughed and walked right past me

One woman helped me up and asked me if I was OK. At that point I was more concerned about having dropped my camera and/or my laptop (they both survived). I rushed off to my class and when I sat down I realised my left knee (the already bad one) was aching. Great.

In the first half of Friday’s class we did portraits. We created a list of adjectives, such as: doubtful, shy, playful, serious, etc. We each had to pick an adjective, split into groups of two or three, and then try and capture that adjective in the portraits. It was harder than it sounds. We had to think about lighting, props, whether it would be more effective to fill the frame or to zoom out, what we wanted our subject to do, and so on. 

What our tutor had forgotten to tell us was that all these photos had to be shot in RAW format, rather than JPEG so that we could edit them in the second half. Just before the end of the break she realised and told us to take some quick photos of each other, it didn’t matter what we were doing! 

The second half of the class was fascinating. I’ve used Adobe Photoshop before, but this photo editing software was amazing. Just in terms of organising your photos into files makes the software worth experimenting with. I’m not sure I’m ready to fork out $300 on the full version just yet, but it is pretty smooth. One of the best things about Adobe Lightroom is that it doesn’t change your original RAW image – it remains in its original state forever. You can go back to the same image over and over again, change different things each time, save it every time, and still have the original version. 

We went through uploading photos, creating folders, renaming files, adding keywords, backing up (very important!). We also went through all the changes you can make – white balance, exposure, saturation, cropping, colour to black and white… I could spend hours playing around with this software.

Before I knew it, it was 6pm and my photography course was over and our certificates were being handed out. I still need a lot of practice with my camera though – I’m nowhere near an expert!

Read about weeks 1, 2 and 3.

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Silent Sunday

2012

Silent Sunday

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Dubai: Week 5

There isn’t that much going on here (for me) to write about each day separately so I think will have to be weeks from now on.

So, week 5. 

Torture session with Rama followed by Sunday brunch at the Shangri-La – my parents, sister, cousin and me. It was nice but the food was different from the last time we went, and the service was pretty rubbish. We waited 20 minutes for our coffees after lunch. I don’t know what’s happened to me but I crave coffee these days. In London I would have one a week, but here it’s every time I go out (but not at night – I’m not quite there yet).

After lunch, my dad had an appointment with his physiotherapist. My mum usually accompanies him but she was helping my sister with her packing so I went with him. My mum had been saying how good-looking this physiotherapist was but I couldn’t really judge because I’d never seen him. So when I met him… Oh. My. God. She was right! I’m sure there must be some part of me that needs physiotherapy? Hmm… Anyway, while my dad had his appointment I sat in the waiting room counting all the spelling mistakes in the magazine I was reading. I thought I might go along with him every week!

Monday was uneventful – I went to the gym for a cardio session and did some work. 

On Tuesday I spent the whole day with my parents. We had to go back to Sharjah to sign our contracts. I decided to take my camera with me as I haven’t been taking enough photos. It’s all about practice, right? We were in Sharjah for about an hour – we signed our contracts and went to see a friend’s furniture store. 

On our way back, my parents decided they wanted to go to IKEA. Again. They were looking at cupboards for their room and my dad finally found something he liked. We ordered it and while they were paying I took some photos.

2012
2012

Instead of going home, we went to BurJuman – a different shopping mall. It was nowhere near as crowded as the Dubai Mall or Mall of the Emirates – it was quite nice to walk around.

2012

My dad was in the mood to buy some shoes and ended up buying five pairs. I’d never seen him like that. It was as if he had the need to fill his new cupboards before they’d even arrived. So while he was trying on shoes, I decided to jump on the bandwagon and chose a pair for myself.

We got home and I was relieved my parents were going out that evening. After dinner, I went out to the balcony and took these:

2012
2012
2012

I think I need to take my tripod out there too – just so the camera doesn’t move as I take the photos. And it might be a good idea to wait until it’s a bit warmer. It was quite windy out there. 

It had been a long day and I was asleep before my parents got home. 

Wednesday was uneventful, apart from the yoga class I had in the morning. 

On Thursday I had a session with Rama in the morning. I then went to the ‘saloon’ (FFS) at the Fairmont and met my cousin for a coffee. 

That evening I went out with a British expat group I joined online. I had never met any of them but it was a fun evening and I paid for it the next day (when I had to spend four hours in my photography class with a stinking hangover). I could not wait to get home and into my pajamas. My parents wanted me to join them for dinner with some of their friends, but there was no way I was going anywhere. 

On Saturday morning, my mum and I went to the gym. My parents had been wanting to take me to an Italian restaurant called Vapiano at the Dubai Mall so we headed to the mall for lunch. The restaurant was so crowded when we got there that we decided to go elsewhere. We ended up at Wafi Gourmet – again, great food but terrible service. I’d never been to the cinema at the mall (there are 22 screens there) and we ended up seeing ‘Haywire’. Not a great movie, but definitely not the worst I’ve ever seen…

And that was week 5!

See more Dubai updates here.

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