My oh my - what a holiday! Where to start, where to start?
(Warning - travelogue with slides is coming).
AL AIN - DUBAI
The holiday was a bit of an epic - starting with a taxi to the free Emirates bus in Al Ain and then the bus trip to Dubai a few days before Christmas.
Jacky can sniff out equine interests much like I have a radar for Beatle products. The building behind her is an entrance to the Dubai metro station.
We had fun riding the Dubai metro (clean, quiet, efficient) from Khalid Bin Al Waheed station to the Burj Khalifa/Dubai Mall station, wandering around the giant Dubai mall, and walking past the Burj Khalifa on the way (it's the world's tallest building - so big it hurt my neck to look all the way up to the top of the building from the bottom).
The light from the sun behind the Burj left a weird surreal kind of shadow in its wake.
The Dubai mall has some amazing features. I believe it's the biggest mall in the world - we spent a whole day in it and didn't see it all; it's, if anything, too big, in that we didn't know where to start and we got ourselves lost quite a lot
There are many specialist malls within the mall: for instance there is a gold souq and a fashion wing with all the swanky brands including a Stella McCartney shop with prices to match the exclusivity. If you want to buy some fine art this is also the place to go (Picasso anyone?).
There are the usual things like children's fun parks (Sega Republic), cinemas, food courts but vast areas are also devoted to various arty installations like the divers going down the waterfall. The photo above shows just part of a massive waterfall wall. It is staggeringly beautiful and effective, in that it induces calm and how's that serenity amid the consumer orgy happening all around it. The mall's bookshop is worth talking about. It's the size of a mall in itself with, it seems, ever book known to mankind. I took Jacky in just to show her the enormity of it. Amazing.
Jacky and I ventured into the aquarium and underwater zoo at the mall - the aquarium is a very impressive fish tank (can you picture a tank holding 10 million litres of water? In a mall??), that contains a huge number of fish (over 33 thousand), including sharks of all varieties, various rays and the odd scuba diver vacuuming its floor.
DUBAI - LONDON
All the while in Dubai we kept an eye on the UK weather. Heathrow was closed and the snowfalls looked like they may put our trip in jeopardy. We crossed our fingers and hopped on the plane to London.
Flying into Heathrow on Dec 23 was no problem in the end - the snow had stopped falling and although the ground was frozen, we landed safely.
HEATHROW - HIGHBURY/ISLINGTON
Phase 2 was the trip to Highbury/Islington station via the underground. By the time we got there it was night time and cold. We had no cell phone reception to ring Patrick nor could we find a taxi so we lugged our cases through the snow and ice to Ferntower Rd (aka The Shire) - Randy and Pat's fantastic home that is minutes away from the Emirates stadium. Thanks so much for allowing us to stay and share your ohfabuloso Christmas with us!!
Breakfast on Christmas morning in the Ferntower kitchen.
Randy and Pat are great social bizzy bees with a large network of friends. The house was buzzing with people for two days and we had a triffic time meeting everyone. Meals were provided by one of their friends - Sean - who is one of London's top chefs. I chatted to him as I cleaned up dishes and peeled potatoes and prepared Brussel Sprouts for him (mmm - you read that right) and was awed to hear him talk about cooking for Kate Moss, Heather Mills and Paul McCartney!!!!! (I'm furiously fanning my face even now). I-stood-next-to-someone-who-stood-next-to-Paul-McCartney!!!
My before and after plate tells its own story.
Of course there were presents aplenty to unpack for Wozza, Randy and Pat and the various guests:
Pat and Randy promised us a fun Christmas and they didn't let us down. It was like no other Christmas I've ever experienced. For one thing our own families were missing (they had already celebrated their day while we slept through Christmas Eve night) and that was weird. We've never had a Christmas away from Keegan, Adam, Samantha, Jade and the inlaws.
Although we were missing them, thanks to Pat and Randy and their fabulous friends we had a great Christmas day anyway.
Pat and friend Presley thrust us all into a sing song around the piano (note the Taranaki landscape in the background) and we sang, laughed, played games and were very merry indeed. Presley is blessed with an amazing voice - Jacky and I loved listening to him.
Later in the evening we repaired to the red lounge to exchange secret Santa gifts (the most stylish/ornate/fascinating secret Santa EVER undertaken) and to then watch a movie chosen by friend Stewart - Mommie Dearest!!
Stewart knows the film reasonably well. After about 40 viewings (by his reckoning) he is able to recite the dialogue along the way (not just some, but ALL the dialogue). As Pat said to me - this has got to be your gayest Christmas ever, to which I replied, "No contest".
Oh BTW - did I mention I won the gay quiz? Seems my knowledge of Bette Midler, Barbara Streisand, Mel Torme, Madonna, Judy Garland and Gloria Gaynor has finally come in handy. Pat reckons I'm only straightened on the gayometer by my love of football and Ted Nugent.
Boxing day was a late breakfast and a trip to Oxford St to check out the sales. There was a tube strike on that day but Oxford St and the buses were jammed! Without having phones Jacky and I got ourselves separated for a few hours which was very unsettling so, when finally reunited, we decided to find a Carphone Warehouse and get some SIM cards. It was then back to Highbury to watch the game. In another first - Jacky watched the whole game with me in the Nobody Inn pub with a noisy crowd of fellow gooners. We won 3-1 and happily spilled out of the pub towards the shire (about 50 yards away!).
Being in London I had to visit FOPP and HMV (the Virgin Megastores have closed up shop) HMV in particular was manic. I had to head to the bottom floor's jazz and classical section to get some quiet thinking time.
We decided to see some shows while we could; and hummed and haaaed before plumping for Priscilla Queen of the Desert and Flashdance (they seemed appropriate and we wanted to keep the theme going). Pat said we'd love Priscilla and so it proved to be - a riot of OTT visuals, music and terrible risque jokes! Flashdance isn't in the same camp - more dancing and an attempt at a dramatic story (which Priscilla doesn't even pretend to have) and excellent in its own way.
After all this excess (and I haven't even mentioned the orgy of mushy peas and cod dinners I got through) we took our last tearful journey on the tube (I LOVE the tube) to Heathrow and home via another stopover in Dubai. We left London at night and not sleeping on the plane meant that I missed a lot of zzzzs.
An awesome holiday and today I'm back at work - feeling a little shattered to be back in the saddle after a surreal trip back to blighty.
Now I have a fresh load of CDs and DVDs to plow through over the next few months (see the music blog for details).
Love and peace and why does Santa have three gardens? (because he needs to ho ho ho) - Wozza
P.S. If you've read this far you deserve a treat: so here's a nude shot of Wozza and Pat and Randy's cat - Tiki - having fun in the bath!