Middle East

I’ve spent the past week around 7,000 km away from my family, firstly in Abu Dhabi (work) and then a couple of days in Dubai (play).

It was an eye-opening experience – largely because the UAE is a huge departure from the UK culturally – but also partly because it’s the longest (and furthest) I’ve been away since Marley was born.

I know, I know, it was only a week. Some people go away for months at a time. And in some ways the time went by very quickly. But (especially with restrictions placed on things like FaceTime & WhatsApp calling) it can still be tough being away from the little guy.

I was over in Abu Dhabi for an education conference, with the focus very much on the future; how to equip the next generation (i.e. Marley and co) with the right skills to help them maximise their potential.

Then in Dubai, I was staying with good friends who are expecting a baby at the end of March, so I found myself talking at length about Marley and our experiences: the birth, the early weeks, the different stages, the challenges and the joys.

I tend to talk a lot anyway – I mean, I barely ever stop – but when it comes to Marley I’m even more relentless. So although I was away from him, he was never far from the conversation.

And of course, he is also a talker.

In fact the only slight change I noticed in him when I got back on Saturday is that his sentences are getting even longer.

So instead of: “Look daddy, a car” it’s now more like: “I don’t want a camel, daddy, I said I want a car!”

No prizes for guessing what I brought him back as a souvenir from the Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque……

Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque, the brightest place on Earth

As you can see, some of the sights over there are just incredible. And I don’t just mean the guy in the white shirt…

I packed a lot in to the week, so as well as visiting the blindingly beautiful Grand Mosque you can see I also managed to take a stroll along Abu Dhabi’s Corniche, sneaked a quick look at the Burj Khalifa’s light show in Dubai and even squeezed in some dune bashing in the Dubai desert.

The Corniche in Abu Dhabi
The Burj Khalifa……almost 3x the height of The Shard
The desert

And despite being pretty brave when it comes to food, and given the riches of different cuisines one can try in that part of the world, I think I became one of the few people in history whose first ever meal in the Middle East consisted of pork and beer.

Well, you can take the man out of the UK…..

Friends of Craig Sargent

I received an email today containing some terribly sad news about a former colleague of mine, Craig Sargent.

Throughout the five years I worked for Kaplan, Craig was the Principal of the school in Leicester Square. And in the final two years I spent working for them here in London, I worked closely with Craig on many occasions.

I would arrange trips for international clients to come and visit the schools, and we would always have a great time with Craig in London. We’d turn up (usually late….he didn’t mind) and we’d chat, have a laugh together, discuss sports. Sometimes he’d tell me a little about some of his experiences as an actor.

I have a vivid memory of talking to him about his injured Achilles as we stood in a blisteringly hot pod on the London Eye one summer.

Craig, fourth from left, with some of our international visitors

I always really enjoyed seeing Craig, he was incredibly friendly and helpful but above all, he was genuine. We both left the organisation at the same time in November 2017 and I’m gutted to say I hadn’t spoken to him since.

So I was shocked and deeply saddened to read that – at the age of just 42 – Craig passed away on Tuesday 15th January after a very short battle with cancer. I already knew he had two young sons, but that made it no less heartbreaking to read that he leaves behind his wife Jo and their two beautiful boys Joshy (8 years old) and Sammy (5).

Craig will be missed terribly by all who knew him, but for his family this is an unimaginable loss. And one made even more difficult by the fact that his family’s financial situation is now under serious strain as a result of having no life cover.

Craig’s friends have set up a funding page where anyone can leave a message and/or make a donation for his family, so I wanted to share that with you. All help would be most gratefully appreciated.

https://www.gofundme.com/friends-of-craig-sargent

Note: Craig’s friends gave me permission to post this. Our thoughts are with them, as well as his family.

Tradition

I know, I know. Christmas was ages ago, and everyone has already moved on.

Well, everyone except me….

I love Christmas; I was always that kid who would bug his parents to get a tree as early as possible (and i’m pretty sure they took pleasure in leaving it as late as possible every year!)

And every single New Year I struggle to let it go.

No, not the tree…..the whole thing.

I clung on so tight this year that I only just finished the Christmas Baileys last night (I love Baileys) and there is still a chocolate Santa kicking about somewhere in our living room.

So I hope everyone had a wonderful Christmas period like we did, and the happiest of Happy New Years to you all!

The last few weeks have been a bit of a whirlwind for us, as i’m sure they have for you. Christmas, New Year and a Belfast wedding were all sandwiched in between two very long train journeys (London to Edinburgh, and back) and a multitude of 5k runs in all conditions. And that’s not to mention the million different catch-ups with friends and family that come along at this time.

The weirdest thing is, I think what I love the most about the festive period is the sheer repetition of it all. It should be completely unbearable, when you think about it.

The same old Christmas songs.

The same ridiculous amount of money spent on socks, chocolate oranges and copious amounts of booze.

And the same old family traditions, year after year after year.

It’s all about tradition after all. And the best thing about tradition is that, while it’s all supposed to be age-old and steeped in history, it’s also totally fine to just go ahead and make up your own ones.

For example, every year from now on, we have decided to have our own mini Christmas dinner for just the three of us.

(Side note – if any more little ones do happen to come along at any point, they will also be welcome to our Xmas Dinner….but just don’t tell my wife I said that)

And since Marley played the role of the Gruffalo’s Child in his nursery nativity play (nothing at all to do with the nativity) we now have a new tradition of watching the video of that every year.

(Don’t worry, Dad, it won’t take the place of The Snowman….we can still watch that too)

But then there’s the old tradition stuff. For instance, in my family, Christmas doesn’t really begin until I have put the angel – which I made when I was about five years old – on top of the tree.

All the other decorations can be put up by anyone, but that particular work of art must be placed on top of the tree by me.

And now, in true family tradition, I have passed on that mantle to Marley. So it is now he, and his tiny little hands, who must place the sacred angel on top of the tree to announce Christmas officially open. As shown…

Tradition and family are the real meaning of Christmas for me; maybe that’s why I find it so hard to let it go each year. I saw the look in Marley’s Great Granny’s (my wife’s Granny’s) eye’s when she had all of her family together in one place; Grandad and Grandma, their kids, their kids’ offspring all running around…..and Great Granny overseeing it all.

If only you could bottle that…..wait, maybe that’s what Baileys actually is!

Happy New Year!