Born and brought up in Kazakhstan, Yelena Swain always yearned to live in a warm country and realised her dream when she moved to Dubai in 1996. Married to an English expatriate, the corporate sales executive realised another dream in 2004 when she walked into Dubai's AGMC showroom and bought a brand new red Mini Cooper with a black roof. Only three years later, having tired of the red colour and fearful of collecting four years of wear and tear, she sold it before marching back into the same showroom to buy a "sparkly" midnight blue-coloured Mini Cooper convertible.
Yelena explains she finds driving the car an uplifting experience, comparing the general look of the Mini's dashboard to a cockpit: "It gives a constant feeling of taking off - it also has a maximum speed of 230kph on the clock, which is the take-off speed of a light plane, so this adds to my illusion.
"I also like the safety features of the Mini, including six airbags, and feel secure while relaxing to some classical music through its excellent sound system," she says.
And Yelena has been considering some rather bizarre modifications for the traditionally styled charge - claiming she plans to wallpaper the vehicle to stamp her unique personality on the Cooper. "I've always thought of introducing some panelling or adding some Alice in Wonderland wallpaper," she says, "but, unfortunately, I've not been able to find any in the UAE - but I've added black and white mirror caps, making it a little more distinctive."
The Mini's compact size has its benefits, as Yelena discovered during a parking nightmare in Deira. She explains: "A rude person had inconsiderately double parked and blocked my friend and I in against a pavement on a Thursday evening and we had visions of being stuck there all weekend. Eventually, we got out and created a fuss - running around cursing, shouting and pleading until we got tired and returned to the car to decide on a plan of action.
"We were sitting in the car arguing about the situation when the vehicle, which weighs well over a tonne, was suddenly lifted in the air and over the pavement by a group of construction workers waiting for their transportation home after a hard week's work. It was an incredibly impressive feat and a beautiful thing for these men to do, clearly watching everything and taking pity on two upset Russian girls."
Feats of heroism aside, Yelena finds the Mini practical and durable, despite its diminutive nature. "I love the car - it remains almost immaculate after carrying dogs and cats, furniture and plants and I drive it with purpose everywhere. It never skids or loses control, always accelerates quickly and brakes sharply - the perfect vehicle."
The only downside to the Mini for Yelena is that her 20-year-old son is not so impressed with the car's height, as he needs to "fold like a Swiss army knife" in order to get in, ruling him out of being given the Cooper when Yelena eventually buys another new model. "The Mini's a small car for smaller people," she announces, "so my extremely tall son isn't so keen on them, particularly when he has to share the space with four long-legged dogs - Salukis and Greyhounds - and four large cats. Perhaps I should keep it to myself that I'm considering buying a horse," sniggers Yelena.
When asked how the Cooper would be received in her home country she says she hasn't visited Kazakhstan for almost a decade, but the oil wealth has seen most of her old friends upgrade to Maybachs and Porsche Panameras. "I guess people with quirky personalities do live everywhere in the world and I think we suit Minis best. Living in a big city like Dubai, with a huge car population, I like the flexibility of having a car that can fit into tight spaces," she says.
"And yes, I'll always have Minis now, and if I was collector, I'd buy vintage Minis in all colours," she concludes, which once again turns her thoughts to wallpaper.