A while back I took some affirmative action to restore my body to its former, slender glory. After a few weeks back in London however and having stocked up on plenty of rock & chips and beer, and having told some of the most elaborate excuses ever, I stopped going to the gym. As a result the scales have recently been taking a bit of a pounding so I have dragged my sorry self back in there to finish the job and cut the gut for good. This morning, whilst jogging like a recently electrocuted drunkard on the treadmill, I was hit by a freight train of boredom. Where was I running to? Well, if there was a problem with the machine I’d be heading straight into the wall… But really, all I was doing was moving my legs and not covering any distance.
It got me thinking, what are the alternatives? In the old days before the Martin Fullard’s of the world were living in the UAE I would go and play 5-a-side football with my friends. It was ideal, two halves of 20 minutes, in a league with some decent, if occasionally thuggish, competition. It was all you could ever want, healthy fun with friends once a week doing a sport that we loved. Of course when we weren’t at Goals we were playing football in the park; jumpers for goal posts, hangovers for ill-placed senses of footballing brilliance and dog poo for boot soles. The English dream. The park, in Britain, is indeed king.
Ok, there are some parks and commons where you don’t dare traverse after nightfall, but the night time is for the pub. The park is somewhere to enjoy during the sunlight hours. The only thing you need to worry is about is canine stool, not men in long coats with curious downloading habits…
Why is it then that I cannot enjoy the park in the UAE? Nor can anyone for that matter. In Britain the only rules we have are no murdering and no dog fouling, otherwise you can kick a ball, ride a bike, play on the swings and climb trees and so on. Have you, as a single male, ever been to a UAE park? What a horrid experience. There are signs, actual signs, that say no single men allowed. Not only are lone men not allowed to walk through the parks, no one is allowed to use a ball for any purpose whatsoever, even if you imagine a ball you face jail. Skateboards and other such wheel-based entertainment apparatus are also forbidden. Are you allowed to climb trees? Nope, but you are, alarmingly, allowed to have a barbeque directly under a palm tree that could set ablaze easily since you are using kerosene to grill your mutton chops and the nearest fire extinguisher is way over there, in Khartoum.
Are there concessions made for males from certain countries? Well thankfully there are. If you are a western man like me then you are permitted into a park if you are willing to pay. I attempted to walk through a park in Abu Dhabi’s tourist club area and was charged AED 2, that’s £0.34p to walk through. Not a bank breaker I admit, but still mind boggling.
I get it, I know why. The parks in the UAE are like the lifeboats on the RMS Titanic: not enough, plenty of left over space and meant strictly for women and children only. To counter this, the men of the world are having to seek refuge on any patch of municipal grass that can be found. There you are driving home and they are sitting on roundabouts, on central reservations, on intersections and by the side of very, very busy roads.
Of course on Thursday nights those families that wish to play with a ball or a skateboard also seek out municipal grass that is not classified as a park and that does not have a massive sign full of rules. Its quite a loophole this, since young children who still have no idea what a safety belt is are allowed to run wild with a football right next to a road where the speed limit is 80 Kommunists Per Hour.
In Al Ain this is none so obvious than the stretch of road between the Danat and Hilton Hotels. There you are bombing down the road at 80 when all of a sudden either a ball or clueless child rolls out in front of you. If you hit a football at 80 kph, and it makes contact with your wheel at the right time it could very well cause you to flip over and roll. If you hit the child then he or she shall be killed and the family barbeque will be ruined. Your life too will also be tainted.
The parents and other grass goers are no better. They park on the side of the road next to the grass and I am forever clenching my buttocks that someone will one day open their door without looking and I shall kill them. It would have been their fault but you can bet I would get the blame.
It’s all well and good applying a set of regulations to keep unruly people out of the park. But to have them exclusively for anyone who isn’t a human being with a liberal will and you are forcing them into areas where they could quite easily be killed. So my proposal is that the signs are removed from the parks and planted at the municipal grassy patches instead. Everyone has a right to enjoy the park, and if you’re worried about strange men salivating at burnt mutton then employ some security guards for AED 1000 per month. No wonder the UAE has an obesity problem, you’re not allowed to do anything outside, and the gym is boring.
Oh, and whilst we’re at it, a bit of air conditioning in the parks wouldn’t go amiss either. Think about it.