x Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 17 January 2018

Pleasures and pitfalls of the great outdoors

Shut up in houses, apartments, malls and cars, not many people in Dubai are often in touch with the great outdoors.

Shut up in houses, apartments, malls and cars, not many in Dubai are often in touch with the great outdoors.

Teens do step outside frequently, but this is mostly because they have been terrorised out into the field by frightening PE teachers. Not because they want to, say, sit under a tree enjoying the breeze and admiring the moon. A few days ago, though, I found it was actually quite nice to do exactly that - sit under a tree, take in the breeze from the sea and gaze at the moon.

Peace and stillness isn't something you get much of in our house, especially with the arguments over who gets charge of the remote control after dinner. That evening, however, we had gone to a picnic dinner with a couple of other families in Umm Suqueim park.

There's much less of a picnic culture here than there is in other parts of the world, probably because it's searingly hot and very few houses are walking distance from a park. If you can make the effort to pack a meal and dig out mats and baskets and things, though, it's as rewarding as concentrated retail therapy when there are sales on.

Packing for a picnic is easier said than done, though. We had all been told to bring along some snacks, and slapping some strawberry jam on slices of toasted bread seemed like the easiest, safest idea. One jammy kitchen floor, broken plate, bits of crust everywhere except in the dustbin and a bandaged thumb later, the sandwiches were finally ready. I was also feeling immensely proud of a jelly I had stuck in the fridge to set: apart from some spilt powder and my hair almost catching fire, I had managed it pretty well. But then, with excellent timing, I was told that we couldn't possibly transport the thing to the park, so I drank a large part of the still-liquid jelly and convinced myself that it counted as fruit juice.

On arrival, I thought it was extremely funny when one of the younger children dropped an enormous crate full of Coca-Cola cans on his foot. Unfortunately, nobody else laughed and they looked at me like it was my fault. We left the adults to talk about the ever-so-intriguing topics of acquiring companies and which concerto an expectant mum in their midst should play her stomach. Meanwhile, the normal people among us engaged in a lively game of football.

The main part of the picnic - the eating - was like something from Winnie the Pooh: we opened our baskets to find a battalion of ants glaring at us crossly for interrupting them mid-feast. While a dad sped off and returned with a few chicken wraps, we made the more easily led children brush off the ants and eat large quantities of the original victuals. After all, you shouldn't let good food go to waste, right?

As we stretched out on the turf, too full to attempt moving, the children we'd made to eat the ant-infested sandwiches were now asked to clear up. I did my bit too, though, calling out, "There's a wrapper over there" or "You should collect those cake crumbs" or "There'll be more ants here soon". One fellow teenager, Ryan, helpfully pointed out the importance of keeping natural environments clean and tidy to prevent camels choking on plastic and so on. I've yet to see any camels in Umm Suqueim park, but if it meant someone was willing to put my empty ketchup sachets and plastic plates into the rubbish bag, then that was fine by me.

I really think that relaxing in a park or on the beach for a day, taking a break from homework, is something we could do quite a bit now that the weather's cooling off. Excusing the odd mishap, there's a lot to be said for the tranquility of the great outdoors, especially if you can recruit some willing little helper to do the cooking and cleaning up for you.

The writer is a 15-year-old student in Dubai.