x Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 24 January 2018

And another thing: Time to get real

Stella McCartney beats herself up over a posh school, Dubai police clamp down on fake disabled parking and Botox massage

Alasdhair Willis and Stella McCartney are sending their children to a private school.
Alasdhair Willis and Stella McCartney are sending their children to a private school.

Stella McCartney is worried that her kids will become too posh. The 38-year-old designer of ridiculously expensive clothes has enrolled her eldest children - five-year-old Miller and three-year-old Bailey - at a very upmarket private nursery school and now she's beating herself up about it in an outpouring of jittery middle-class angst.

"It's one of my biggest internal struggles - the whole schooling system in London and the fact that my kids are going to a posh school. It freaks me out," says the highly privileged daughter of the billionaire Beatle Sir Paul McCartney. Sir Paul and his late wife Linda sent their brood to the local comprehensive near their fabulous country estate in rural Sussex, something that Stella has always maintained was "the best thing that could have happened to me".

But that's about as close as she ever got to a "normal" upbringing. Not for her the endless round of letter writing and phone calls begging to be allowed to do some work experience. She sailed right in to Christian Lacroix at the tender age of 15 and went on to be a world-famous designer with friends such as the supermodel Kate Moss stepping out in her dresses and daddy sitting adoringly in the front row at every collection, guaranteeing photos in every magazine and newspaper next day.

This is not meant to sound jealous or snippy - I don't blame her for using her father's contacts and she's certainly a successful designer. I just wish she'd get real and get over herself. Ordinary parents who want to give their children a better start in life knock themselves out to put them into private schools such as the one McCartney has chosen, where Prince William was once a pupil. Sir Paul's grandchildren will rub shoulders with the offspring of London's movers and shakers. They'll go to their birthday parties, holiday on their parents' yachts and receive invitations to Gstaad and St Moritz to go skiing, and lets hope they appreciate it.

McCartney, who is married to the magazine publisher Alasdhair Willis, moans that it's not realistic to live in the country when she has a business to run in town but insists that as soon as they rush in saying "Hello Mummy" in posh voices like miniature Hooray Henrys, then she'll reconsider her decision. Oh yes. Does she really believe that she would actually whisk them out of the life she has chosen for them at the first "Okay yah!" and pack them off to the local comprehensive? By that time it will be far too late and she'll have a couple of rebellious teenagers on her hands.

She seems anxious that they will get a distorted view of life but she's fooling herself if she really believes they won't be influenced by their surroundings and the lifestyles of their equally privileged friends. Along with a decent education, isn't that the point of sending your kids to private schools? Would she prefer to see them at a rough inner-city school where they'd risk being mugged and bullied on a daily basis because of their famous mother and grandfather? McCartney might think that because she drops her "aitches" and her father came from a terraced house in Liverpool and sent her to a village school that she's working class, but I've got news for her: she ain't - or should I say, she jolly well isn't, don't you know.

People who use fake disabled parking permits to park in reserved bays think they're being very clever, but I personally think it's despicable and welcome a big police crackdown in Dubai announced this week.

Some prefer to borrow the permits from disabled friends rather than walk a little further from a car park. Others are out and out cheats who buy fake cards on the black market. Either way, it shows a distinct lack of respect for the genuinely disabled. I was once advised to "park there and limp a little" by an acquaintance who was impatient to get on with her shopping but I didn't and wouldn't because I know how difficult life is for people in wheelchairs or with a condition that means they can't walk very far.

My 92-year-old mother-in-law is frail and genuinely needs to be dropped close to the shops but often says we should leave the empty disabled bay for someone "who really needs it". A civilised society needs to take care of the elderly and infirm and it really shouldn't be necessary for police to patrol the city, trying to catch violators. I may stop short of challenging someone who was obviously not disabled using a reserved parking bay but I'd be very tempted to report them. I hope that the new campaign makes people like that aware of exactly what they are doing.

I never realised that there were so many different types of dates in the world and while the smell and taste of the delicious fruit is one reason to make the long journey to Liwa over the next couple of weeks, another is the incredibly beautiful hand-made arts and crafts. As the Liwa Date Festival started this week it was fascinating to read about the beautiful items such as camel bags, carpets and baskets that used to be woven by Emirati women, skills that have begun to die out over the past 30 years. One of my most treasured possessions is a richly woven red, blue and black camel bag that I was given for my birthday. I hope it will be handed down through generations by my daughters and their children and grandchildren, even if it never touched the back of a camel.

For expats living here, it is an obvious way of supporting the rural economies and helping women in areas where jobs are scarce. For me, a basket woven from natural materials is 10 times more beautiful than the same old machine-made stuff you get in any high-street chain. And how lovely to be able to use a piece of scented soap infused with musk or oud at bathtime. The charm of these handicrafts is partly in their ability to transport you to a simpler time when every woman was able to turn her hand to making them. It's ironic that, with so-called progress, these arts began to die, but thankfully people are beginning to value them once more.

I received my first iftar invitation this week and wonder where on earth the time has gone since the beginning of the year. I've only just cleaned and put away the barbecue, got in the DVDs to tide me over the hot summer nights and already it's almost Ramadan. On a recent trip to the UK I discovered that the famous Oxford Street stores are actually preparing to open their festive departments. Selfridges is opening its Christmas shop on August 2, which is 145 days before Christmas Day. It seems to me that we're all wishing our lives away. Perhaps we should all pause a little and take time to smell the roses.

If anything were able to put me off considering Botox, it's hearing that women whose faces have become frozen with too many injections are now turning to "power massages" to liven them up again. Could there be anything more crazy? The whole point of Botox injections is to paralyse the muscles so that the skin doesn't wrinkle up and the face looks as smooth as a baby's bottom. You only have to look at once-lovely Botox-addicted stars to see how expressionless their faces have become. The new treatments involve the masseur literally pummelling the facial muscles, sometimes putting their fingers inside a client's mouth to massage the cheeks from the inside. It all seems like an enormous waste of time. Why have the Botox injections in the first place? As one plastic surgeon remarked: "It's like hitting the brake at the same time as the accelerator." It sounds like the end result is going to be a bit of a car crash.

Billy No Mates, dry your eyes. Help is at hand. You may not have any friends of your own but now you can rent them by the hour. It's a concept that has been thriving in the US, Canada and Japan for a few years but now it's spreading and this week the website www.rentafriend.com opened up for business in London.

According to its founder, Scott Rosenbaum, a 30-year-old entrepreneur who hails from New Jersey, there is a need for the service, that is very strictly for friendship only and not to be confused with dating services. He already has a database of more than 200,000 would-be pals who will turn up for $10 (Dh37) an hour and go shopping with you or take you to a show or just go for a walk with you. In fact, if you want to hang out with a whole new group of people your new Rent-a-Friend can round up the gang, presumably at a price.

They'll even chat on the phone for hours listening to your problems and offering friendly advice. Selling friendship sounds like a contradiction in terms. Perhaps it should be marketed as friendliness rather than friendship. Should I ever decide to learn the tango or the salsa it might be very handy, as neither my husband nor any of my male friends would be seen dead in a dance studio. It's worth remembering, however, the wise words of Aristotle who said: "A friend to all is a friend to none."

And at $10 an hour I guess you get what you pay for.