Dubai Blog

It’s my last day today of being under 50. As of 9.15 tomorrow morning, I am eligible to join up into the great Saga infrastructure. Given that the last club I joined was the Airfix Modellers Club in 1974, I am slightly bemused at the indecent haste with which this latest eligibility has come around. In fact, I’d say that it feels very much like the time which elapsed from birth to joining the AMC and then the time elapsed between AMC and Saga eligibility are more or less the same. I was born on Broadway, me. It was Mill Hill Broadway, but Broadway nonetheless. To be specific, it was in the flat above the Midland Bank, or HSBC as it is now. Inexplicably, a drive past there the other day revealed that there is still no blue plaque- I’ll swing by next week and see if the heritage commission has sorted this out.

One of my earliest memories is being the little kid sat on my own slightly out of the main group of bigger kids in a neighbour’s back garden in Mill Hill in about 1968. Although much of my life has in some way resembled this dynamic, the salient point about this particular episode was that I was observing the lads in the main group who were having a game of “My Dad’s Older Than Your Dad”. Gradually, from around the group, the paternal age crept up from an ancient 26 to a positively archaic 35! Then the hammer blow fell. Big Scott McKintyre, the eight-year old alpha male of the group, Scott, who owned the first racing bike I ever saw, had his own football boots and knew some seriously rude words along with some of their extraordinary meanings, Scott, who, to borrow from Clive James, had no pointy back to his head, and was therefore a man, went nuclear on us. “Well, My Dad’s Fifty”, he declared. Even though we all knew that this was impossible, because in our Eloi-like existence, nobody was Fifty. Grandparents were older, but there was an age vacuum between Dad and Grandma. Fifty didn’t exist. Equally, no-one wanted to risk a dead leg from Scott, so we all gave the obligatory “Wow” and listened intently to Scott, who’s dad was in the American Air Force thus bestowing extra other worldly authority on his nipper, explain to us that the F-word meant to put your hand on a lady’s tummy. You can only guess at the frosty reception I got from Mum that night during the bedtime cuddle before lights out. Bloody Scott McKintyre. He probably works for Barings Bloody Bank or something like that now. And He’ll be fifty-five. Ha!

And now, here I stand, at the very age Scott virtually invented for the purposes of bragging. Substantially older than my own dad, if you get my drift, and older than most of the “Old Boys” were when I started operating musical instruments for money. The first inkling I got that I was into a whole different era came a few years ago, when I started going down to the University of London to coach the big band there. I was having a pint of Woodpecker in the customary plastic pint pot with young Tom the bass player, and I remember telling him that when I was at college, we’d be able to go to the University Of London and use the facilities, mainly, as it turned out, as we were musicians, the bar. In fact, I don’t remember the gym at all, now I think about it. Up to this point, I’d always seen myself when in these circumstances as a sort of slightly older chum figure, or just as the chap amongst equals whose job it is to get the band going. This all went out of the window when the conversation revealed that in the time which had elapsed between the last pint of Woodpecker in the customary plastic pint pot and this current pint of Woodpecker in the customary plastic pint pot, young Tom’s parents had met, settled down, given birth to Tom, brought him up, and had him trained on the Double Bass to the extent that he could now keep pretty good time in a big band. All between rounds. This made me at least as old as Tom’s mum and dad, and I realised that I was no longer a member of the youth front line, and in order to survive, I’d have to embrace a degree of old gitdom.

I see old gitdom encroaching on some of the chaps now,as and when they draw nearer to 40. The first thing you notice is that Brad Mehldau, Tom Harrell and Til Bronner are replaced at the car stereo by Radio 4. Then, on overnight stays, outbursts going to bed with a cup of tea rather than staying up in the bar drinking pints of Woodpecker out of the customary tin from the bar fridge until 4am can be noted. Groaning in armchairs can also be a feature here, and I guess that these are the things encountered on the starter slopes of old gitdom. As a card carrying member of the club, I am wondering what will happen in the decade coming up. I’m hoping that a small brown envelope from the council will plop through the letterbox here at The Gables on Monday, together with half a telegram from Her Majesty, with practical government guidelines for the intermediate old git (50-50 years) on such crucial matters as cardigans, back pain, incompatibility with technology, irritable everything syndrome and golf. Hopefully there will be a tear off form for entering the Saga universe as well. During the final weeks of my late forties, it fell on Her Indoors and I to go to Dubai to present a couple of Benny Duke & Peggy shows (CD’s available through this site, xmas is coming up etc etc etc). As I am something of a luxury commodity, I’ve not been out there since 2008, before Big Scott McKintyre and his chums engineered the credit crunch. Back then Dubai looked like an odd mix of an Oil refinery, Moonbase Alpha, Ice Cold In Alex, and Cecil B. DeMille-like depictions of pyramid construction. A lot of the construction is finished now, so it still looks a bit like an oil refinery, but it also looks like Disneyworld, with a hint of Ice Cold In Alex. Regular readers here know that two of my favourite things are tube trains and curry, and if, like me, those are your criteria for a good time, Dubai really delivers. In 2008, the Dubai metro largely consisted of big concrete poles poking out of dusty roadside building sites. Now the dusty roads are twelve-lane carriageways and the concrete poles carry a state of the art air conditioned fully automated low-noise driverless urban rail system. As there’s no drivers, you can look out of the front of the train. You get views like this-

Any kid at primary school in the late 60’s and early 70’s will immediately recognise this. Of course! It’s an Artists Impression of Hull as it may look in the year 2000. Mind you, the metro planners have missed a trick, in that the train is running conventionally on two tracks and not on the rather groovier monorail. Even Dan Dare, back in the 1950’s had monorails. We were promised monorails! Mind you, the flip side of this is that we were also all going to be wearing foil catsuits, so maybe some sort of deal was done by our ever loving ruling David Icke lizard aristocracy. Maybe all the foil had to be used making the extra rails? Who knows. Indications that the great building of Dubai is not quite done exist on their tube map. A popular destination is the old creek, where there are such attractions as a spice souk, boats, and for the old git, nice lavs and comfy places to sit in the shade. We went to the station marked “Creek”. It comes out here-

In case you can’t work it out from the photo, this is a magnificent state of the art air conditioned station in the middle of a load of sand, by a lake in the middle of nowhere. My guess is that the town planners have it in mind to build a replica, Disneyed-up Dubai creek here. For now, there is a twang of the hotel in ElsBels in “Carry On Abroad”. If you do want to get to the old creek on the tube there, you need to get off at Al Ghubaiba station, on the green line.

On the way out, I cleverly lost my mobile phone at Heathrow, and was thus telephonically incommunicado for the following week. It was bliss, by the way. It made the old git in me wish we could go back to a more genteel age of the answerphone and notepad. I know we can’t though. There will be a more detailed rant about this in a future plog. I put a notice on Facebook that I’d lost the phone, and was in Dubai, all enquiries please to the FB message centre. I did get loads of messages, largely telling me to go to Ravi’s. One of the great things about going to Dubai is the opportunity to have the finest curry on the planet, which emanates from a cafe in the Pakistani working quarter that looks like this-

Ask your cabbie to take you to the Al-Satwa roundabout, and you’re there. At our band outing, Bass Player Joe said he’s got a book written by the great chefs of the world, in which various eating houses around the globe are cited as the apex of their particular cuisine. For the curry side of things, they recommend that the student goes to Ravi’s to get the curry truth. It’s so much better than anything we’ve got over here that it’s quite difficult to describe. I reckon their garlic and chilli grows differently out there, for a start. It has a fragrance which just isn’t present in a western curry, and that same fragrance permeates many of the indigenous Arabic dishes too. Oddly, the signature dish is the cheapest, which is the Dhall. At around 45p a portion, you are presented with such a bewildering harmony of flavour that I’ll go right out on a limb and say that it represents the best clean fun you’re ever going to have. The potato naan, which is a magnificent spiced gooey amalgamation of Pakistani mashed spuds encased in crispy bread and sesame seeds, should be on everyone’s bucket list. The best time to get in is after 6pm and before 7, as that is when they will have the mutton chops on the go. These are amazing, and run out quickly.

So, tomorrow, I really have to start being a grown-up. I’m not sure if I can. Yesterday, Her Indoors and I were in Marks And Sparks buying scran, and by the easter egg selection was a chocolate Darth Vader Head. It made me remark that I wish I was nine instead of fifty, because I really wanted one! The lad stacking the shelves, and the feller with the trolley next to us both said simultaneously “I’ve already got one”. There’s hope yet.