It took, I remember, five days to spot a cloud in the sky when I arrived in Dubai for the first time in early November, 2003.
Every morning I would open the curtains in the bedroom of my 16th floor apartment, expecting the worst -- I was born and bred in Wales where the meteorological default setting is wet and windy. So to look up and see the same pristine blue that one might find in a tropical lagoon for almost an entire week – not even the faintest brush-stroke of a cirrus cloud -- was something that struck me as bizarre, if not unwelcome.
Not a drop of rain fell until December, when the heavens finally opened for all of one afternoon, and then that flawless sky returned before the paving stones on the sidewalks had had a chance to dry.
What I loved about the Arabian Gulf weather at first was its iron-clad consistency. It made life so much simpler. In the UK people usually arrange barbecues or any alfresco gathering a day or two before, at the earliest, since the weather is so infuriatingly unpredictable (anyone familiar with the stop-start nature of the Wimbledon tennis tournament will have wondered why they don’t play the damn thing indoors).
In Dubai you can arrange beach volleyball tournaments a year in advance, buy a convertible car without wondering whether you’re ever going to roll back the soft-top. You can host outdoor concerts and festivals without fear of them turning into a Glastonbury-style, mud-splattered quagmire where the crowd ends up looking less like colourful hippy revelers and more like grimy soldiers returning from the trenches of Ypres.
Back in Wales you keep an umbrella in your car, or a raincoat rolled up in your bag, and rarely go out wearing just a T-shirt, even in summer. Contrastingly, in Dubai you never worry about unexpected changes in temperature, or the kind of sudden shower that mother nature can pull out of her hat without the slightest warning.
Here in Dubai there are three temperatures for most of the year: hot, very hot and scorching. And I like it. Even when it hits the high forties in summer and you can’t walk a single yard without your shirt dappling with perspiration, I remind myself that it’s better than the freezing Welsh rain that can numb your face on a gloomy November night. Weather seldom gets more miserable than that.
Now that I’ve spent the best part of ten years in Dubai, however, I am starting to miss the changes that each new season brings. It’s not the change in temperature I miss. Like most people, I don’t crave cold, wet weather. No, it’s the change in scenery. Wales is a verdant country rich in forests and valleys, sheep-filled fields and endless hills to rival the finest landscapes Tuscany has to offer. In summer they are myriad shades of green, while after September everything changes to autumnal golds and browns, and endless fun can be had from stamping through a carpet of crispy dead leaves.
Right now I’m picturing the dense wall of trees behind my parents garden gradually thinning out to reveal the houses and railway tracks behind it, completely hidden from view in spring and summer. My father’s tomato plants that crowd his tiny greenhouse will be relinquishing the last of their fruit, the mass of leaves and stalks retreating from the glass as they wither and die. The forested hill that overlooks our village takes on a more sinister appearance in autumn; gnarled branches are denuded of their foliage by the time Halloween arrives. And then comes winter when any heavy snowfall turns my village into a giant wedding cake.
Seasons are like tailors, outfitting the land in different clothes. Dubai, in contrast, wears the same suit all year round. The only changes I see from my apartment’s balcony throughout the year are the cranes that appear on new building sites. Everything else remains constant. The desert never changes colour, the palm trees never shed their leaves and even the shamal winds that shroud the city in dust last no more than a day or two. Such static weather has its good points, but it can also be tedious to the eye. As can your wardrobe when you live in a perennially hot country. I really miss winter clothes. It’s hard to look remotely dapper when you’re limited to one layer of clothing. A cooler climate allows for pullovers, coats and jackets, scarves and hats. A beautiful crombie coat I bought many years ago in London now gets an airing perhaps once a year on my Christmas vacation, as does a cashmere scarf and Burberry pullover, both of which cost a small fortune. I actually enjoy packing for that trip and relish digging out these rarely worn but cherished items.
Still, the grass is always greener, as they say. And I sometimes imagine a time when I’m living back in the cooler climate of Wales, going through my old, warm-weather Dubai clothes and telling myself, ‘If only the weather here was hot enough to wear all those shorts.’
Originally from Wales, Craig Hawes has spent the past 15 years working as a journalist in London and Dubai, writing for titles including The London Evening Standard, The Sunday Times and Time Out. He is a voracious reader of short stories but not, to his dismay, as prolific a writer of them as he'd like to be. Somehow, however, he has put a collection of Dubai-based stories together, which is being published in 2013 by Parthian Books, an independent publisher in the UK.