x Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 21 January 2018

Summer bachelors: a ready-made man

Our final home-alone husband confesses that he can barely boil a kettle.

Doug Macaskill prepares his dinner at his home in Abu Dhabi, but he says he would rather put pins in his eyes than cook.
Doug Macaskill prepares his dinner at his home in Abu Dhabi, but he says he would rather put pins in his eyes than cook.

There is an alarming note taped to all the lifts in Doug Macaskill's Abu Dhabi apartment building. "Important Notice," it says. "Kindly be informed that some of the tenants are leaving the cooker burning even after cooking. This leads to fire incidents in the kitchen and the flats? such incident [sic] happened in the last few days."

Could this be a premonition about the culinary abilities of our fifth and final summer bachelor, I wonder, knocking on his door. Doug, a cheery Scotsman, answers and beckons me in. The kitchen is pristine, a single tea-towel hanging neatly on the oven door, children's paintings on the wall. There is no sign of any recent incendiary disaster. "So tidy!" I exclaim. "I don't normally spend much time in here, that's why," he says, laughing.

Doug was temporarily deserted by his South African wife, Bronwyn, and their two small children at the beginning of the month. How has he fared? "Well, the thing is," he begins, a tad sheepishly, "I can barely boil a kettle." "You're lucky to get that," he adds, pointing to the cup of tea he has just handed me. And a very good cup of tea it is too, I tell him. But man cannot live on cups of tea alone. So what else has Doug been rustling up?

"Beans on toast?" he says hopefully. "But Marks and Spencer is just over the road, and they do Indian foods, and lots of fish. Stuff like that. I just whack it in the oven." I tell him that last week's bachelor had an entire cupboard devoted to beans. Doug reaches over and flicks open a cupboard door. "I think I've got that here," he says. "Yes, look. Plus a few tuna tins." "And some Jamie Oliver pesto," I point out brightly.

"Yes but the Jamie Oliver jars are my wife's. None of it's mine." Ah. Some of his mates, he says, are in the same boat, summer bachelor-wise. And so The British Club has been operating as something of a refuge. "I eat out a lot," Doug says. "The Club is a cheap place to eat and it's a cracking social spot." And if he had to choose his favourite cuisine? Doug pauses for a second. "I had some vegetarian kievs the other day from M&S."

"That's what was there!" he exclaims, laughing at my surprise. "And it's a bit of a cliché but I love haggis, neeps and tatties, and The Club does a fantastic one." It may consequently come as no surprise to you that Doug's fridge is pretty spartan, housing a few yoghurts, a couple of bags of lettuce and some milk. "I hardly use it apart from the milk," he says. In the freezer is a bunch of completely black bananas.

"For smoothies?" I query, slightly baffled. "I don't know," he chuckles. And yet, on top of the fridge sits a pasta-maker and behind the kettle is a bread-maker, so he's clearly pretty well looked after when his family are at home. "We sort of go through phases with this," he says of the bread-maker. "It makes the best foccacia. Bron makes it in there and then bakes it in the oven." I explain that my father became deeply obsessed with his own bread-maker once, and used to experiment with it as if some kind of mad scientist, setting the timers in time for breakfast.

"It's very easy to set, and then at seven or eight in the morning you wake to the smell of fresh bread. It's fantastic," Doug agrees. So he does enjoy food then, I ask, emboldened by this enthusiasm. "I enjoy eating it, yes. But I tell you what, I think people make too much out of food. It's nice, but it's overdone. I much prefer to go out to eat for the social side of things. There's nothing about cooking I enjoy. I would like it if that was exciting for me, but to be honest I'd rather put pins in my eyes."

These are feelings shared by most of the other summer bachelors I've encountered, and I tell him not to worry. On the way back out of the apartment, Doug bends down to pick up a takeaway menu that has been slipped under the door and I ask what he's intending to do for supper. It's a decision that is still to be made apparently, but he mentions that M&S does particularly good Belgian choc-ices. Of course.

I get back in the lift and realise I forgot to ask about the note telling residents to ensure their cookers are off, so I e-mail Doug the next day, partly in jest. Could that be him? "It might well be me," he says in reply. "I did leave it on once for about half an hour but unlit. Had a slight scary moment when I had to open all the windows and doors in the flat and not touch anything that might cause a spark."

Wives, hurry back. Your summer bachelors need you.