That one time I couldn’t find anywhere decent to live in Dubai…

Deira Clocktower, Dubai

Every proud millennial has at least one old blog drifting about in the digital ether. A long-forgotten relic from a former life, ready to be stumbled upon and bring with it a heavy dose of nostalgia (or regret, depending).

I recently discovered one blog, which I’m still convinced I’d deleted many moons ago. How big IS my online footprint??

On this dusty old site, full of food photos and constant references to my love of pizza (still very true by the way), I did find one post I remember fondly. ‘Fondly’ because I enjoyed writing it and even enjoy reading it back now, definitely not because it was about fond memories.

In fact, it describes a tough time when I’d not long lived in Dubai, UAE and was having a ridiculously hard time finding someone decent to live. I decided the best way to deal with all my housing misfortune was to laugh at it – that’s healthy, right…? – and that’s basically where this blog post came from.

Anyway I thought it’s be fun to repost it on this, my latest blog incarnation, as a healthy reminder that perspective does a LOT to make the grass seem greener.

Finding Somewhere To Live.
Posted: August 05, 2014

I’m going to try my best to keep this from being a self-pitying rant fest but, in terms of finding somewhere to live, I’ve had a spot of bad luck since moving to Dubai – several spots in fact! I never quite appreciated just how important a steady and happy home is when trying to settle into a new country, nor did I know how blooming difficult an achievement this would be in the UAE.

In the nine months since moving here I have lived in eight different places, including five flats, one hotel, a room in a (very kind) colleague’s home, and the floor of a friend’s (spacious) store cupboard.

Burj Al Arab, Dubai

Now, there are numerous reasons why I’ve been hopping from flat to flat like a frantic kangaroo with an apartment fetish and no, none of those reasons are because I’m difficult to live with – how very dare you!

That is, unless your definition of ‘difficult’ is not being happy to find multiple prostitutes in your living room (and shower…), or kindly asking someone not to smoke 20-a-day in what was advertised as a non-smoking flat, then yes, I’m near impossible to live with!

I think the main reason for all the home-jumping is that often I’ve only had about a week or so to find a new place to call home and I’ve learnt that the key to finding somewhere to live in Dubai is having plenty of time to look. Having only a few days massively restricted my ability to say ‘no’ and meant I was flat-hunting in a state of desperate panic.

“I’ve been hopping from flat to flat like a frantic kangaroo
with an apartment fetish…”

Also, and I mean this in the kindest way possible, Dubai is home to some rather colourful characters (aka odd-balls and sociopaths) so you need even more time if you intend on sharing your home.

When scoping out potential flatmates never make assumptions about what you may think is common flatmate courtesy. Never assume that flatmates will lock the front door when everyone’s out; never assume they won’t come into your room and look through your stuff; never assume they’ll think twice before carrying out loud sexual antics on the sofa; and never assume they’ll wear underwear in communal areas (I’m all for the post-work bra removal, but keep the knickers on while you’re wearing a skimpy dress, please!).

Dubai Creek

Fortunately this list doesn’t consist entirely of personal experiences, but rather an accumulation of tales that I’ve gathered from talking to other people here. That’s one silver lining to all this housing drama, apparently it’s all part of the Dubai expat experience (they don’t put that in travel guides).

Ask a group of twenty-something expats about where they lived on first arriving in the city and you’ll unearth no-end of shocking, tragic, and often hilarious housing stories.

“Never assume flatmates will wear underwear
in communal areas…”

In fact, I recently found myself in a conversation where we were both essentially competing on how many places we had lived in over the shortest amount of time, (it was reminiscent of the my-dad-is-stronger-than-your-dad style debates that are so popular with primary-school children everywhere).

Of course, I won and I was strangely proud of that. And why not? Like that not-so common saying goes: If life gives you crap lemons, then get competitive, enter a crap lemon competition and show off just how many crap lemons life has dealt you!

Good craic in Krakow, Poland

To quote every dating app profile out there: I love travelling! While studying for my recent MA had many positive elements, enough income to warrant a holiday was not one of them. So, I was pretty darn excited when I could viably book an impromptu trip to Krakow, Poland for the Easter weekend!

History. Short flight. Low budget. Krakow ticked enough of boxes to warrant a trip, but really as the plane took off I was more focused on escaping the London chaos for a few days than I was on what was waiting for me as we touched down. “I’m just such a spontaneous free spirit, you know?”

Fortunately, Krakow was a pleasant surprise – the pleasantest! Question: is Poland, or at least Krakow, the most hidden-in-plain-sight hidden gem of Europe? Or, am I just clueless? Both are feasible options.

Krakow is the ancient capital of what became modern Poland and is packed to the rafters with exciting history – too much really, it’s like ‘Okay, Krakow, we get it, you’re old!’. The centre of medieval monarchy, it’s a city built on centuries of legends, marauding invaders, controversy, the odd dragon, and kings with an eye for design.

Now, the words ‘Poland’ and ‘History’ usually bring dark imagery of World War Two and the Holocaust to mind. And understandably so. Poland felt the full force of the Second World War – 90 per cent of its capital Warsaw was obliterated by the bombings – as well as the Holocaust. Add to this the subsequent Soviet occupation and it’s an understatement to say that Poland has a dark modern history.

However, Krakow reveals the little-known, (to me anyway), history of a medieval Poland; a history of kings, invading mongols, and a booming cloth trade. Well, that, along with some clearly ex-Soviet vibes, seen in the occasional looming, stark accommodation block.

Saying that, this is from someone who only ever strayed from the Old Town to visit the city’s historic Jewish district, Kazimierz. What I saw was very much the ‘tourist Krakow’ and touristy it most certainly was! Slightly overwhelming numbers of tourists (and pigeons!) would gather in the Old Town’s ridiculously photogenic main square, Rynek Glowny, from where we could explore the historic arcades, towers, and churches, most hailing from around the 13th and 14th centuries.

The 13th-century Holy Trinity Basilica dominates the skyline and, just to grab your attention even more, a bugler blasts out a tune from one of its mighty towers on the hour every hour. The ceremony, while rooted in history, certainly feels more for the tourists than the locals.

As any of my poor friends who saw my Instagram Stories will know, I was particularly taken with the food. History and food, my two biggest priorities in life. Ignoring all the meat, the food in Krakow reminded me very much of my own diet: beautifully beige with an ill-advised amount of sugar. It was fantastic, but I did find myself actively seeking greens by the second day.

To avoid this blog post reaching epic proportions I will now sum up my time in Krakow with a series of unconnected and totally unexplained individual words, (what a fantastic writer I am!): medieval, churches, patriotic, vodka, underground, bread, towers, pierogi, street art, donuts, cheese, surprisingly good coffee, tourists, more cheese, decent beer, sauerkraut, doilies, ice cream, culture, pickles, the Pope, pigeons, fried cheese, more churches, students, parks, did I say cheese?

You’re welcome. Where’s my Pulitzer?

Anyway, this excursion also gave me a good excuse to dust off the ol’ camera. I’ve whittled down my hundreds of photos to these select favourites. What do you think?

Event: Join me to chat vegetarianism and voting rights

As anyone who has shared even the briefest conversation with me recently will know, my summer has been dominated by vegetarian suffragettes.

By which I mean my MA Dissertation Project ‘Suffrage Eats’, an online series of cookery videos highlighting the little-known fact that many of those brilliant British women who fought for suffrage were also vegetarians!

I’ve ranted about it in a previous blog post (check that out here), and am now jolly excited to announce I will be ranting about it in person at the brilliant ‘How The Vote Was Won’ event at the Twickenham Exchange on 26 September.

Alongside the headline acts – a touring pop-up exhibition celebrating the amazing suffrage campaigners and a launch of a reissued edition of ‘The Original Suffrage Cookbook’ – you’ll also find me giving a talk about the prominence of vegetarianism within the historic movement!

The cookbook was originally published in the US in 1915 in order to raise funds for the suffrage cause, and includes British contributors such as Suffragette Lady Constance Lytton. You can see what The Guardian had to say about it here.

Plus, I’ve been told there will be cake! Why else do people study food history if not to have one big excuse to snack and call it research?

Anyway, find out more and book your tickets hereWish me luck!

Suffrage Eats: Vegetarian dishes from a suffrage kitchen

Confession: after almost a year of my MA in Public History, I still struggle to give a confident answer when asked, ‘What is public history?’. While attempting to explain, people usually look on with an expression that reads: ‘Why couldn’t you just be studying biology?’

While I may not be able to give a concise, crowd-pleasing definition for public history, I’m much happier talking about the history project that has been dominating my life these last few summer months.

Suffrage Eats: Vegetarian recipes from a suffragist kitchen’. It’s a four-part series of online cookery videos, recreating recipes from genuine Victorian and Edwardian vegetarian cookbooks. The purpose is to highlight the little-known fact that many of the awesome individuals who fought for women’s voting rights were also keen vegetarians.

As everyone everywhere has likely noticed, the women’s suffrage movement has been getting a lot of coverage recently. While that may be down to the fact that Meryl Streep graced cinema screens as Emmeline Pankhurst in 2015’s Suffragette, it’s also importantly because 100 years ago, in 1918, the first British women were granted the right to vote.

The revolutionary Representation of the People Act granted women over 30, with particular land qualifications, voting rights. (Misogyny Moment: This is also the act that finally gave all men over 21, regardless of land ownership, the right to vote. #NotAllMen). It wasn’t until 1928, with the Equal Franchise Act, that women were granted equal voting rights to men.

While I tend to steer clear of political history – or anything that requires memorising endless acts and dates – I’m a real nerd for social history and am always hungry for some food history (pun definitely intended). The vague notion that vegetarianism was popular with Suffragettes and Suffragists had been lodged in a corner of my mind for a while and my MA offered the perfect opportunity to explore it; to see whether it was true or a load of baloney (food pun #2).

Fortunately, turns out it’s absolutely true. Good thing too because, honestly, once I had the title ‘Suffrage Eats’ I was determined to create a project around it. All good MA dissertations start with a catchy headline, right?

The main course is the series of online cookery videos (food pun #3). There’s also a blog on the site, giving some extra fun historical info on vegetarianism and the movement, as well as Twitter and Instagram accounts. The Instagram has some fun behind the scenes footage, meanwhile I thought it’d be a fun idea to start Tweeting from the perspective of an Edwardian Suffragette so – yep – check that out.

After many dedicated months I am somewhat proud of the project, especially considering it’s my first foray into filming and editing, so am finding any excuse to invite people to check it out, (even through my own blog!).

Take a gander, get in touch on Twitter and maybe make your own Suffrage Eats dish (or two?).

Discovering Andalucia, Spain

Call me a snob, but I didn’t have the highest of expectations when I found myself travelling to Marbella last month. I was under the impression that this corner of Spain was all Brits, booze and… (sun)burn. Granted, my only real frame of reference was a girls holiday that I and 11 friends took when we were 18, (DorsetGirlsOnTour2008 4eva, am I right?!)

Also, as an aside, as a vegetarian Spain has never been my friend. It is a country where waiters have referred to mincemeat as cheese and picked pepperoni off a pizza – at the table! – and called it veggie-friendly. I admire your confidence, Spain (just not your meaty pizzas).

Anyway, mincemeat-cheese or not, the history nerd in me was overjoyed to discover Andalucia, a region packed with beautiful landscapes, centuries of epic history, and sangria!

Hop in a car and historic places like the picturesque Ronda and the somewhat bizarre, but also monkey-filled, Gibraltar are just up the road. Set your sights a little further afield and the city of Seville is within reach. Even with everyone’s recommendations setting our expectations sky-high, Seville didn’t come close to disappointing. That beautiful city is packed with as much history as it is tapas restaurants!

All in all – *deep breath* – we scrambled beneath an epic 18th century bridge, climbed the peaks of a mighty Jurassic rock overlooking the Mediterranean, explored wartime tunnels, admired the arches of the world’s largest Gothic cathedral, (while scowling sceptically at the gaudy tomb of Christopher Columbus),  dozed in the shade of a Moorish palace garden, and drank a lot of local Spanish beer – it’s important to respect local customs, you know?

In conclusion: I was wrong, it was beautiful, all history nerds should go. Plus, I only accidentally ate meat once. That I know of.

From the 600 or so photos I snapped, I whittled them down to a small collection, now on my Flickr, and below are just a handful of my favourites. What do you reckon?

Smuggler chat on BBC Radio Solent

The sad thing about most university work is that for all the hours (days, weeks!) of effort you put into an assignment, once it’s handed in for marking it rarely sees the light of day again. The journalist in me doesn’t like this one bit, which is why I’ve made a point of turning assignments into feature articles or blog posts (see my History Bombs review and Dior feature) and it’s also how I ended up on BBC Radio Solent chatting about Dorset’s smuggling history last week.

As part of my Public History MA, I produced a radio documentary all about a smuggling legend, Isaac Gulliver, who lived and died in my hometown of Wimborne, Dorset. (Find out more here). As such I was invited onto the Breakfast In Dorset show on BBC Radio Solent by Steve Harris to chat a bit more about him – Isaac Gulliver, not Steve.

 

A big positive about radio over TV, which I learnt, is that you can sound semi-confident even while your face is glowing red and your hands are shaking violently through nerves. Have a listen and let me know what you think – do I sound as stomach-churningly nervous as I felt?

Alternatively, click here to hear the original (the Isaac Gulliver interview starts at about 02:10:20).

Check out the documentary in question in full below:

Snowy weekends in Devon

Not to encourage stereotypes and all, but British people love some good weather. You know, the type of real, substantial weather that gives us some handy small talk fodder to use throughout the day. And we’ve been in luck recently – snow, in March? I know! Can you believe it?

While most of us are itching to fling our winter hats, coats and scarves to the back of the cupboard for a few months and soak up some springtime sun, there’s no doubt that last weekend’s ‘Mini Beast From The East’ gave us some beautiful snowy views.

Fortunately, I was visiting a quaint countryside spot in Devon and managed to capture a few snaps. My camera hasn’t had much use this winter, sadly, and my fear of rogue flying snowballs (being flung by my friends) meant I only took a few and I’m not sure they really capture how beautiful it all looked.

Below are a few of my favourite and all the shots can be found on my Flickr page. What do you think?

Hope you all got out and romped around in the snow this weekend. Now, bring on spring (please)!