New Year? Bah! Humbug!

As my final day of drinking alcohol, eating chocolate and refusing to exercise begins, I have been reflecting on how dull New Year’s Eve really is. Not only because you only have a few hours to do a lot of things you like doing such as sipping champagne and eating Bendick’s Bittermints, but the actual ritual of it is just SO tedious.
When I was a teenager I often spent Christmas and New year in Rimini with my father and grandmother. Mainly as she was very old and every year, for about 15 years, we thought it might be her last Christmas.
One New Year’s Eve, as I hotfooted it off to the local nightclub (an amazing place called Il Paradiso, I think it’s still there), my father was getting ready for bed.
“Are you mad?” I asked him. “It’s 9 o’clock. It’s New Year’s Eve! You can’t go to bed!”
He looked at me in my pink satin hot-pants and glittery T-shirt. “You’re the one who’s mad. Nothing is quite such a waste of time as partying.”imgres
Last night I had a similar conversation with my teenage daughter, who is also utterly astounded that I plan to spend this evening at home. She asked me what time she has to be back. I suggested around 1am, which I thought was incredibly generous.
“What?? That only gives me an hour to party after midnight?” she screeched. “The party finishes at 3am.”
I have spent far too many New Year’s Eves looking longingly at the clock on the wall, feeling like I’m in a double maths lesson as the hands inch agonisingly slowly towards midnight. And then once midnight has happened you can’t just get up and leave, that would be rude. No, you have to stay around and chat about the coming year, but without a drink because obviously your resolutions have just kicked in.
Yesterday I spoke to a friend who is also planning to go get an early night tonight. “I mean I can see the point if there’s someone you’re trying to snog at midnight, but otherwise why stay up?” she said.
I agree. So at least three people will be in bed before the clock strikes midnight tonight; my friend Jemma, my father and me.
Whatever you chose to do, have a lovely evening. And don’t feel guilty for saying no to copious New Year’s Eve celebrations. You will be in good company.

Admin chores (yawn)

One of the best things about living here is that there are people to do most things for you. When you go to the petrol station, a nice man (yes, it is always a man) fills up your car. At the supermarket, there is a packer to do your packing, at home you have a housemaid, or la bonne as the French call them, and possibly a cook as well as a driver.
The driver will deal with everything to do with your car, from taking it to be serviced to washing it. La Bonne does all the washing, ironing and cleaning. The cook shops for food and cooks. And between them all they run around doing errands such as collecting dry cleaning and depositing children around town.
But there are some chores it seems you can never leave behind: admin chores. I am inundated at the moment with pesky paperwork relating to our house purchase in France, as well as sorting out the children’s visas now that Rupert has changed jobs. I am not allowed to put them on my visa (being a mere woman), but I am of course still allowed to do the paperwork.

Not only do I have about a million forms to fill in for the French house, but we have to come up with all sorts of bits of paper from bank statements to salary slips and even our marriage certificate. This place is notoriously bad on the admin front, but I have to say it has nothing on the French system. Just looking at the list of admin chores ahead of me made me almost want to give up on buying la belle maison and never go to France again. But not quite.

Copyright: Helena Frith Powell 2012


The new Lampard?

Last week, in fact most weeks, was dominated by sport. First Leo became a class rep at school and proudly shared with us the suggestions he is going to make to improve the life of his classmates.

First up, change the astro-turf pitch to grass. Second, create a cover over the football pitch so you can play during the hot summer months.

“Do any of your suggestions,” I asked him, “not involve football?”

He thought for a moment and then said: “Good point.” I’m sure we will see some rugby and cricket suggestions too.

Last night we watched Chelsea v Bolton. Frank Lampard scored a hat-trick. There are few things that make Leo and I happier than Lampard playing well. For Leo he is an integral part of the Chelsea team he first fell in love with a few years ago, along with John Terry and Didier Drogba. For me, he represents a side of football that I love and that you rarely see nowadays.

Lampard, who played his 350th game for Chelsea last night, comes from footballing stock – his father played for West Ham. His best friend is John Terry, the Chelsea and England captain. When he scored his hat-trick, he held up three fingers and looked to the sky, a gesture he has taken to since the sad death of his mother a couple of years ago. He is what I would call a proper bloke and you get the impression that his team is like his family, not just a place he earns lots of cash.

On the other end of the scale you have spoilt brats like Tevez, the Man City player who refused to play last week. Boys who are paid more than the GDP of some small countries and behave like divas. They take the soul out of the game and their teams.  Say what you like about Abramovich, but he has kept the spirit of Chelsea alive, even if he has pumped millions into it.

It will be a terribly sad day when Frank (now 33) finally retires, but maybe there is a young boy out there watching, who loves Chelsea and longs to be the new Lampard? Just as soon as he’s sorted out the astro-turf issue.

Copyright: Helena Frith Powell 2011

Three in the morning stress

I suppose if you have to be awake at 3am there are worse places to be. I am sitting on a rooftop terrace in Paris with an (albeit limited) view of the Eiffel Tower. Our hotel room is a tiny attic room at the rather oddly named Hotel Wo on the rue de Stockholm close to the Gare St Lazare. I feel like a character in La Boheme. My tiny hand is frozen, even though it is summer. We are almost a week into our holiday.

The Swiss Alps were perfect – totally glorious. If you ever have some (serious) money to spare then go and stay at the Tschuggen Grand Hotel in Arosa. We were there writing a travel piece for the paper and I cannot think of a more charming way to spend four days. I think I even slept through the night at least twice.

This nighttime waking is nothing new of course. But isn’t it extraordinary how annoying it is and the stupid things you lie awake worrying about.

Just now I was worrying about, in no particular order;
how I am going to lose the two kilos I have inexplicably gained since leaving Abu Dhabi
how we will make it to the Eurostar and then on to Wales all in one piece with all our luggage (including Leo’s scooter) intact
how the girls are getting on with my mother, or rather how my mother is coping with their endless energy
why they didn’t eat the sophisticated cheeses my father tells me my aunt was offering them, insisting instead on eating supermarket cheese – is this a terrible defect?
what to wear tomorrow (today)
where to live if we ever leave Abu Dhabi
will I have more snotty emails and calls from the (only) summer tenants we have at Sainte Cecile – it seems the house is rebelling against their presence and keeps shutting down the electricity and/or water supply at regular intervals
if my husband will ever stop snoring
is my book is good enough
will I ever finish it

So it was much better to come out here and enjoy the beautiful view. Amazing how chilly it is. And how peaceful without the sound of my brain whirring. Now I just need some gloves.

Copyright: Helena Frith Powell 2010

Fear of Flying

Not the book by Erica Jong, but real fear. After the Air France crash I have it even worse. And it was pretty bad to begin with. It is just one of those things I have always hated and always dreaded. At one stage (when I was about 19) it got so bad that the thought of getting on a plane would ruin the prospect of anything I had to look forward to once I got to where I was going. In fact when we first thought about moving to Abu Dhabi, one of the things on my ‘disadvantages’ list was the fact that unless I was going to Oman, leaving the country would invariably involve a plane. Unlike France where you can get most places in Europe on a train.
Happily I have got over a lot of my fear. But since this latest crash it has come back, if to a lesser extent. Actually it came back when we flew from Ireland to London on my recent European shopping trip. There was horrendous turbulence. And then when we went to land the plane lurched horribly from side to side before we touched down. I thought I was a gonner. Everyone else in the group was so hungover they didn’t really care. For once I wished I had stayed up drinking all night.


This latest episode has freaked me out. The thought of just dropping from the sky with more than 200 people to a murky death is just too awful. That feeling of total powerlessness and terror would just be my idea of total hell. I mean in a lot of situations there is something you can do, or at least try to do. If you are falling out of the sky your options are limited.
The bad news is we fly to London next week. I am already nervous about the flight, however much I am looking forward to getting there. Maybe I should invest in a copy of Erica Jong’s book (which I first read about a zillion years ago) for the flight and try to think about something else….

Copyright: Helena Frith Powell 2009

A French experience

Yesterday was a busy day. In between checking my amazon rating, I interviewed Christine Ockrent, who is Belgian but one of those women you always think of as French because she made her career there. She was, among other notable things, France’s first female news anchor and also the only journalist to get an interview with Saddam Hussein during the first gulf war.

She was late due to lunch with a Sheikha and so I waited with her entourage of French women in the Business Centre at the Emirates Palace Hotel. There is one thing I had forgotten about French women. They all smoke. I couldn’t believe it. There I was innocently working out what to ask Madame Ockrent when suddenly I was being fumigated.

“Oh, do you mind the smoke?” said one.

“Well, I’m not mad about it, ” I replied.

“Oh, sorry,” she said making a lame attempt to wave her poison in the other direction.

What is the point I wondered, in asking someone if they mind and then carrying on? ‘Oh do you mind if I sleep with your husband?’ ‘You do? Oh well, try not to notice would you?’


Anyway Madame Ockrent was extremely interesting. She is now CEO of France 24 and here to launch the extended Arab version of the channel. She has done pretty much everything I always wanted to; including reading the news on national TV, writing books, working as a foreign correspondent all over the world and getting major scoops.

And, as far as I know, she doesn’t smoke….

Copyright: Helena Frith Powell 2009

Oscar night

There was an Oscar party last night at the Intercontinental Hotel here in Abu Dhabi. Three friends and I decided to go, mainly because the dress code was “red carpet” and I can resist no excuse to wear my full-length sequinned dress which now looks even more glam, paired as it is with my Valentine’s present from Rupert; a purple cashmere fur-lined mini-cape.

“I’m going to an Oscars party, ” I told the children. Leo started crying.

“Why are you going to Oscar’s party? Why aren’t I invited? He’s MY friend,” he sobbed.


I calmed him down and set off to meet the girls. It started well, with pink champagne, flash-photography and canapes. Then it seems the whole room took up smoking. Then David Hasselhoff arrived. Could things get any worse?

“I can’t breathe,” I texted Rupert.

“I’m on the terrace drinking wine,” he texted back. It sounded like a much better option. I headed home, joined him on the terrace and watched the Oscars on YouTube in bed in a smoke-free environment.

Copyright: Helena Frith Powell 2009

Fat attack…..

So this is it. It has finally happened to me.

They say when you move to the UAE you gain what is affectionately known as the ‘Dubai stone’. I won’t be doing that, I thought smugly, sipping my grande latte (full-fat milk, natch). Oh dear. And double dear. Now I have.

Too many lattes...I only noticed it yesterday. We were at the beach. I went to the loo and caught sight of myself in the mirror. “Hmmmm,’ I thought. ‘I look rather large, must be the cut of the bikini or the light or maybe there is something wrong with the mirror.’

Then we got home and it was time to get dressed to go out to a party. I put on an outfit and looked in the mirror. Horror of horrors. Instead of a palm tree, there was a socking great oak. Broad in the beam is putting it mildly.

Rupert confirmed my worst fears. “You look rather….chunky,” he said.  He wouldn’t dare use the ‘f’ word. Oh HELP – how can this have happened?

It gets worse. We went to the party and I chatted to a lovely French woman about how I had to lose some weight. Normally I say this in half-jest just so I can hear those comforting ‘oh don’t be ridiculous, you’re so thin’ kind of remarks. What did I get from the super-slim French lady? A stony silence. And she’s RIGHT, I am now overweight. At least I am not thin by French standards. Or my own.

The irony is I am writing a diet book. Ha! They won’t be using me in the publicity shots. Unless I follow my own advice that is. Or maybe I should just go the Oprah route; surrender and buy bigger clothes?


Copyright: Helena Frith Powell 2008

Cyber panic attack

It was reminiscent of the moment my handbag was stolen at Geneva airport. While we were staying at Atlantis I logged on to my blog. In the manner of Oscar Wilde I often read my own words when I am looking for something entertaining. In fact no one laughs at my jokes quite as much as I do.

I expected to see the familiar page; something I have grown to love and look forward to clicking on to over the past couple of years. What did I get? A picture of a young blonde woman carrying a rucksack with a message saying ‘welcome to’

Immediately I feared the worst; a cyber stalker who had wiped out my entire on-line life. All the pictures of the children, the anecdotes, the silly things they have said, the silly things others have said, my crusade against “honour” killings and the Burmese junta, fashion tips, fashion faux pas and, most crucially, all my jokes.

I ran downstairs to where the children and Rupert were eating.

“How dreadful,” he said. “Do you feel violated?”

“Now you mention it, yes I do,” I replied. “It’s rather like someone going through your handbag and replacing it with things you don’t want. But much worse.”

“Phone him and say ‘look you doughnut, give me back my blog'” suggested Bea.

I started weeping.

“At least she’s pretty,” Olivia tried to console me. “They could have put an ugly one up there.”

“Look on the bright side,” said Rupert. “At least it will make a good blog.”

ExpiredI emailed my lovely web-masters, they started panicking too, which made me even more nervous. Then a few hours later they discovered it was because the hosting of the domain had run out.

So simple but what a stressful few hours. But it did make me realise how much it means to me and how devastated I was when I thought it had gone. Rather fittingly I am giving a speech about blogs on Sunday, the title of my speech is: From print to blog or is it the other way around. Any ideas (and jokes) gratefully received.

Copyright: Helena Frith Powell 2008