I was watching the most surreal, psychedelic performance on TV last night. At first I thought I was drunk. I was not. Then, as a never-ending parade of people holding flags from countries I am still not convinced actually exist walked by I became fairly certain that I had been drugged. One minute 007 was in BuckinghamPalace and then the Queen was jumping out of a helicopter, then Mr. Bean was on his iPhone. There were a load of people doing an impression of Clement Atlee’s National Health Service then some clouds. There were some weird dancers dancing to a sun and then, after the parade of made up countries had finished, David Beckham set fire to Sir Steve Redgrave whilst His Royal Highness The Lord Sir Sebastian Coe was talking about something before another man started talking about the same thing. After the Nazi salute that made Boris Johnson laugh some children ran around the place and set fire to some sticks that moved and made a bigger fire. Then there were more fireworks and a Beatle.
All the bewildering frolics were too much, even Salvador Dali would have had to take a time out. I decided to pop out for some fresh air. Back home in London I used to like going for a nice walk. The clear air, the trees, the greenery, knock the UK all you like it has some of the most breathtaking places on Earth. A walk is invigorating. It clears the head and paves the way for calculated, rational thought. It is something that is so simple and so therapeutic. It is the only thing in the entire world that you can do for free, no matter who you are or where you are.
But of course the location or route of your walk is the most crucial thing. You will enjoy a vigorous constitutional so much more if you are walking through the Surrey Downs than you will if you are walking along Streatham High Street late on a Friday night. The surroundings of trees, tweeting birds and grass are all you need. Not sirens, stabbings and sewage.
So I left the apartment late last night for a stroll to try and understand what it was I had just witnessed. After about 74 yards I decided that I was too hot. It was 1am and still 42 Celsius. But I traversed despite my moist pits. About 10 minutes in, as the sweat began to saturate my clothing, I realised that – with all due respect – there aren’t many pleasant walking surroundings in Al Ain. Yes there are parks, but single men aren’t allowed in those, and at 1am I am in agreement. The only trees are palm trees, but they are all in the central reservations of the roads. There is no change in gradient, unless you want to walk the 30km to Jebel Hafeet, a mountain that sits alone like a beached whale and rises some 4000 feet. All you have are square grid blocks cornered by 4 roundabouts, with sandy linings where nothing is happening, a few really nice big houses and few a hovels. There is no surrounding beauty to marvel at.
I continued around the block passing the occasional working street lamp and open sewage works and thought to myself what may be done? There are some nice places in Al Ain, like the Green Mubazzarah, and the summit of Jebel Hafeet. There is also that road that runs to Al Ain Airport where they filmed Top Gear that gives you a superb view of the desert. But the problem is they are not within walking distance, you have to drive there. Then, to fully appreciate them you have to go in the day time when it’s 3 million degrees outside. You can’t just go for a walk around the block and get lost in the local splendour.
Let’s be honest, Abu Dhabi and Dubai don’t fair much better. Ok you have Dubai’s beaches and Abu Dhabi’s corniche, nice places but again, you have to get there via a mode of transport, and that defeat’s the purpose. They will also be crowded and full of people you don’t want to talk to.
I used to walk to school, walk to the shops, walk to the park with my friends, walk into town and of course walk to the pub. In London this simple pleasure is taken for granted. Once you come to the UAE, particularly in the summer months, the concept of walking is as surreal and as psychedelic as that weird opening ceremony business last night. There is no quick fix solution to this matter, but I have found myself asking some questions. If recession-battered Britain can afford to pay £35 million for a 3 hour show, or indeed £9.3 billion for a 2 week egg and spoon race, then surely the flush UAE can afford to tidy up the local streets in areas where not just the rich and famous live. What we do about the heat at 1am however will require a more scientific solution. Sadly, I arrived home after my walk last night even more confused and spaced out than when I left. And I was also in grave need of a shower.
So there we have it, the cause of Dubai Stone and the UAE being the 5th most obese country in the world has been discovered…