It’s always fascinating being back in Dubai; the pace of life here is fast and changes mount up at an extraordinary rate so I’m always forced to spend my first few days scanning the horizon for new towers, making certain our favourite restaurants haven’t been replaced and asking the same old questions of why anyone with a modicum of commercial acumen would open a shop that sells only decorative dried fruit and flower petals.
We’ve been sandwiched between the Islamic New Year holiday and the 41st National Day celebrations – JLo has just strutted her stuff and we are enduring the world skydiving championships, which will be warbled to a close by Katy Perry. Dubai is feeling good about itself if a bit too glitzy but thankfully, from a personal point of view at least, we have an evening with Al Jarreau later this week.
The Government has just confirmed that the recession is over – officially. A new city is to be built on the outskirts that will include just what Dubai needs – the biggest shopping mall on the planet; Universal Studios will headline a new leisure park and the Dubai Mall, currently the biggest mall on the planet, will be expanded. No one in this den of iniquity needs further encouragement; new villa projects are being purchased off-plan within 48 hours in a repeat of the mayhem we experienced in 2008 and a planned extension to an estate called Arabian Ranches is already 80% sold. That’s before a put-upon labourer from Kerala has even stuck a shovel in the ground.
How times move on. Back in the day it was pleasant to return to a country that hadn’t changed while you were away and where consistency was held as a virtue. Life was filled with the same old friends and the same old haunts and there existed a reassuring sameness. These days I experience an increasingly pervasive feeling that most people alongside me in the queue at the traffic lights are simply mad or three-quarters of the way to it.
A popular song then was Back in Dubai, sung by a guy called Sal Davies. On one occasion after returning from London I was at dinner in the Dubai Country Club, where he was playing. What I didn’t know was that my friend and host, a significant Pakistani businessman, was an old friend of Sal. After starting his set he moved on to tell the audience that he’d had a request for an old favourite and, as the lights went down the spotlight came up on our table, and Back in Dubai was sung to us as I wriggled uneasily in excruciating embarrassment. The tune isn’t memorable for much more than that evening at the Country Club, but as I hear about another US$1 trillion being committed to new projects I get a little nostalgic and miss the way it used to be. Here’s Sal in a recording made a few years later.