In the start of a new series examining the fridge contents of men left alone over the summer, Sophia Money-Coutts talks to the first of our culinarily challenged males.
The summer home-aloners
The exodus of people fleeing the UAE's summer heat and air-con freeze is one of those strange quirks of life here. As temperatures soar and schools break up for the holidays, the traffic thins, the car parks empty and the airports fill up, often with wives and children, the latter group being carted off to see grandparents in climates more conducive to hyperactive young offspring. But what of the other halves left behind, or "summer bachelors" as they're commonly known. Sure, they might plan on flying out to join their families for a couple of weeks. But how do they cope otherwise, and in particular, how do they fend for themselves when it comes to the kitchen?
Of course, it would be ridiculous to suggest that our towns are now home to an army of lost husbands, aimlessly clogging up the supermarket aisles and rotating the takeout menus with glee. Feminism (and Jamie Oliver) have, of course, put paid to the idea that men are hopeless in the kitchen. Or at least that's the theory. Over the next five weeks, Arts & Life will visit a clutch of summer bachelors, poke into their kitchens, peer inside their fridges and persuade them to share their kitchen nightmares.
Bill Fordyce has already clocked up four weeks of fending for himself in the kitchen. His wife, Lyuda, and their two small children left Dubai for the summer at the beginning of June. "Back to the States and to my wife's home country of the Ukraine. For about three and a half months," he says. "Until after Ramadan." But Bill, who works in advertising, seems to be doing alright. One might expect the home of a summer bachelor to be cluttered after nearly a month; dishes piled in the sink, an overflowing bin, perhaps the odd sock marooned on the floor. But Bill's marina apartment is pin neat. Folded clothes are stacked neatly on the ironing board and there is no washing up at all. A cat pads around the hall, with another apparently closed in another room because it's shy. There is, in fact, little that smacks of a desolate wasteland.
"I actually thought you might look in my refrigerator I was worried," he laughs. A ha. Bingo. The first sign that he is a man currently living solo: the fridge is opened to reveal nothing in the way of food apart from a box of eggs. Has he been living off eggs for a month? He has not. "When I'm alone, what I normally do is eat whatever's left. Cheese and crackers." "On their own?" "Yeah that'll be my dinner," he says, a touch sheepishly. "Maybe with peanut butter and jelly, because those are the things that are still left around."
I suggest that this is depressing. Does he not come home from work depressed about these supper options? He laughs. "Yeah." But then food isn't a big deal for Bill, and he says there is no part of him which is relishing the kitchen challenge this summer. "Unfortunately, I think food to me is consuming calories and the survival aspect. It's not about enjoying what I'm eating." So, given his cracker diet, there has been little opportunity for any kind of poisoning incident thus far.
"But I am eating unhealthily. I'm eating food that I shouldn't. It's, 'What's a vegetable?' I guess by this point," he says. But after a month, supplies of crackers and accompaniments are apparently running low. So recently, Bill was forced to make a visit to the supermarket. "I went a couple of days ago actually," he says brightly, in a manner that suggests such a trip is an unusual occurrence. The fruits of this expedition?
"I steamed some salmon and tried to steam some broccoli." "Tried?" "I've done it twice, but I know I'm going to get sick of the same meal." So, next on the menu is spaghetti Bolognese. "It's easy," he says, with all the confidence of Gordon Ramsay. "I can brown the meat and make the tomato sauce. Then it heats up well." There was a period of Bill's life when he managed on his own quite well. He spent a decade as a bachelor before getting married, so had to fend for himself then. "There are no maids in the States," he laughs.
But marriage put a stop to any kitchen duties because Lyuda is happy being in charge of that side of things. "I never cook at home," he says. "I don't think I've cooked within the three and a half years that I've lived in Dubai. As bad as that sounds, I really don't think I've cooked a legitimate meal. Maybe breakfast for the kids." "Cereal and toast?" "No no, like French toast," he explains. Right. That must be where the eggs come in. It's a skill he inherited from his own father. "In my house, men do breakfast. I think that's a fairly common thing yeah?"
Well, that and barbecuing, which Bill says he also takes charge of. In evidence of this, a barbecue stands outside on his apartment balcony. Although there's no immediate sign of them, Bill adds that he has various Jamie Oliver books, although he's never read any. "And my wife makes me watch Masterchef." "And you like it?" "I do like it but it doesn't inspire me to cook any better." "Too complicated?" I venture.
"Absolutely, and when I come home from work at 7 or 8 o clock it's quite an operation. And to cook for one person, I don't have the economies of scale." But unless he has a business meeting or is going out with friends, he won't eat out alone. "So I eat crackers and my occasional salmon." It's potentially going to feel quite a long summer in the Fordyce household.