x Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 20 January 2018

Dubai families make an inspiring show for Haiti victims

And another thing... Haiti might have moved off the front pages but it's reassuring to see that the plight of people there has not been forgotten here in the UAE.

Many families took part in Saturday's charity event at The Els Golf Club in Dubai Sports City despite the windy weather.
Many families took part in Saturday's charity event at The Els Golf Club in Dubai Sports City despite the windy weather.

Haiti might have moved off the front pages, especially in the light of the earthquake in Chile, but it's reassuring to see that the plight of people there has not been forgotten here in the UAE. There have been many commendable fundraisers but I mention the one held on Saturday at The Els Club in Dubai because it represents an incredible effort by such a committed team of young people at Dubai Sports City and because it created a real community spirit locally.

It could so easily have been wrecked by the weather and by the last-minute news that their star attraction, Andrew Flintoff, had pulled out, but in the end it was a lovely family day for those who turned up and sat around on beanbags, enjoying some late afternoon sunshine. There is every chance that the target of raising $100,000 (Dh67,000) to help victims of the disaster will be surpassed. All profits will go to the UAE Red Crescent.

At the fundraiser, children raced around barefoot, leaping excitedly on to bouncy castles, kicking footballs and tucking into a delicious barbecue supper, although the numbers were considerably lower than expected. Hundreds of families who had planned to support the charity day clearly took one look out the window and stayed away, although there was strong support from the new Victory Heights development and other nearby areas.

One mother said her children learnt about the Haiti earthquake at school and wanted to help other children. Another said she was determined to support such a committed local effort. Several said their offspring were hoping to meet Flintoff, whose picture adorned 10-foot-high billboards all over the surrounding area. There was much disappointment from excited youngsters, but it was too late to organise a replacement. Staff were told at 11pm the night before that he wasn't coming.

Flintoff's wife, Rachael, later apologised profusely on her husband's behalf and explained that doctors monitoring his recovery from injury insisted that he stay in the UK for an extra week in order to undergo the first part of his rehabilitation under careful supervision. "I can only apologise on Andrew's behalf and reiterate that he remains totally committed to charity across the board and regrets any disappointment he may have caused to anyone who attended Saturday's event at The Els Club," she said.

Two young lads from Wellington School filled in with some expert football coaching and goal scoring practice, and soon had a game going. A harpist played in the background and, later, a live band took over. Everyone gave their services for nothing and every last dirham, including the golfers' green fees, is going to the UAE Red Crescent charity. I was among 70 golfers with an unearthly 7am tee time who gamely struggled through the worst of the sandstorm to have a pretty enjoyable game in the end. Who needs skin peels in weather like that?

Local businesses supported the day, donating money and items for auction. The UAE-based artist Mark Robinson created an acrylic portrait of Ernie Els in a matter of days, and other golfers with connections to Dubai and Abu Dhabi, such as Rory McIlroy and Lee Westwood, sent signed items for the auction. Darren King, the organiser and sales and marketing manager at The Els Club, put on a terrifically brave face about the setbacks, and praised his team, who had been out at 4am putting up directional signs and posters and making sure the day ran smoothly. "We've had tremendous support from everyone," he said. "In fact, nobody we asked for help refused. They all said 'what do you want' and 'how much do you need'." To make up for the lack of numbers, the auction will continue online for a month supported by Channel 4 and Coast radio.

I'm writing this from the comfort of my living room, having been up most of the night watching the spectacular thunder and lightning. Men in yellow rain jackets are frantically pumping water from the flooded roads around my house in Jumeirah, as drains have once again been unable to cope with the torrents.

This morning I made a half-hearted attempt to reach my office on Sheikh Zayed Road but turned back when a large wave - caused by a 4x4 in a hurry sploshed - into my radiator. Some people don't seem to make any allowances for the flooding and just plough on at the same speed with complete disregard for other people's safety. The television reception went off in the middle of CSI yesterday evening, and my internet connection fluttered and died temporarily at the height of the storm. So it was early to bed with a good book, but I got very little sleep as the forked lightning crashed around the house. With one daughter enjoying a birthday treat in snow-clad New York and the other shivering in icy London, it feels as if everyone is having a conversation about the terrible weather. Finally I have something interesting to contribute from this part of the world other than blinding sunshine.

Today the garden looks washed and clean. All the dust has vanished from the trees and apart from one smashed flower pot, we've been luckier than people in other areas whose houses were flooded. And it has to be said that storms such as the ones we've been experiencing beat anything on television for sheer excitement and spectacle.

Alice in Wonderland is in cinemas and I can't wait to see it. More than any other children's story, Alice's adventures bring back memories of childhood for me. First there was the battered and very old fashioned copy of the Lewis Carroll classic, given to me by an aunt. In those days, children's books were nothing like the brightly illustrated volumes in the shops today. Being read to by a parent was utter bliss at the end of an energetic day, and the words sent my imagination soaring, despite the unimaginative black-and-white line drawings. The grown-up references and jokes in the text sailed straight over my head. I just loved the story and longed for a best friend like the Mad Hatter

End-of-term school plays were often adaptations of Alice's adventures. I so wanted to be Alice, with her beautiful waist-length blond hair and pale blue dress, but with my dark curly hair and boyish, athletic figure, I never had a chance of playing the slender heroine. I was so jealous of the girl who was chosen and did my best to upstage her, making silly faces as the Cheshire Cat, perched on a chair with just my head poking through the backdrop curtains.

After watching clips of Tim Burton's dark and different production, I've fallen in love with the Mad Hatter all over again. I wonder why Carroll devotees have so much antipathy about such an imaginative interpretation. One columnist, the irascible Peter Hitchens, with whom I once shared an office, describes it as "Willy Wonka meets The Lord of the Rings" and asks: "Who needs this? Does anyone really want to see it?" I just don't understand the fuss. "Curiouser and curiouser," I thought to myself as I read that, quite forgetting how to speak good English.

Sitting in the stands at the Barclays Dubai Tennis Championships, I counted people of at least seven nationalities enjoying a balmy evening at the Aviation Club. It was a full house in the early stages of the tournament. People were dashing in from work, carrying their supper in plastic boxes to watch one of the floodlit matches.

Mothers comforted sleepy toddlers as their husbands struggled out of their jackets. Young people in ripped jeans and T-shirts had half an eye on the tennis and half on their iPhones and BlackBerries. Now and then there would be an outburst of excited encouragement in what sounded like a Russian dialect, but in general there was no particularly partisan cheering, except when a strangely lacklustre Andrew Murray played.

European visitors in shirtsleeves soaked up what felt like warmth to them as I wrapped my pashmina round my shoulders, feeling a typical Dubai evening chill. What struck me was how much tennis had changed since my days covering the antics of John McEnroe and Jimmy Connors in the 1980s at Wimbledon, where tennis whites were (and, as far as I know, still are) compulsory and where McEnroe would yell at linesmen and referees, disputing calls. Today, with computerised cameras trained on every line, there is no room for doubt when there is a challenge from a player.

While one large screen flashes pictures, another measures the speed of serves. A disembodied voice gives regular updates and interesting bits and pieces of information before each match and during the breaks. Best of all was the lack of pretension and little evidence of the great class divide that can be found at such events elsewhere in the world. It was just a mixed bag of people from all walks of life watching top-class tennis in comfortable surroundings and united by their love of sport.

Newspapers from The New York Times to the Daily Telegraph are littered with mouth-watering mentions of recipes created by Rose Gray. Tuscan bread soup, guinea fowl with lemon, grilled polenta and the immortal chocolate nemesis cake - all made with fresh seasonal ingredients which brought her simple style of cooking to even the most challenged housewife.

Gray, who died on Sunday aged 71, introduced real Italian peasant cooking to Britain at the River Cafe in London. Along with her fellow chef Ruth Rogers, she put hackneyed trattoria staples such as lasagne and spaghetti bolognaise onto a metaphorical back burner. I have an open copy of River Cafe Cookbook Easy on a stand on my kitchen table, and every morning over breakfast I turn a page for inspiration, often nipping into Spinneys on the way home from work to recreate one of the recipes for supper. It's no-frills cooking, clearly and simply presented, although I fear the chocolate cake will be the death of me.