Ramadan – Fascinating First Experiences

One of the truly wonderful aspects of traveling to and living in a country outside of your home is to have the opportunity to explore and experience first hand some of the culture of the place where you find yourself. There is a danger whenever anyone moves to Dubai of never actually really having any contact with the culture or the traditions of the local Emirati population. Sure, we see and hear the mosques each and every day and are aware of the fact that some people dress differently but a large swathe of us ex-pats limit our experiences of Dubai to somewhat self-indulgent and holiday-esque activities, such as brunches or adrenaline sports, and never take a peek under the hood of this fascinating region of the world.

Centre for Cultural Understanding, DubaiOne cultural event that there is no escaping from is Ramadan, which we are currently a about 2 weeks into. This annual month of daylight fasting observed by followers of Islam has a big impact on anyone calling Dubai their home. For one month there are no brunches, no live music, no night clubs or even the option of popping into a cafe for a quick coffee and bite to eat during a day off. The fast is publically enforced and so if you do choose to eat and drink whilst the sun is up – which is a large majority of the resident population – then it has to be done subtely and behind closed doors.

Arabian coffee, Bedouin
Arabic coffee served by a very tuneful Bedouin

When a friend and colleague suggested we attend one of the Iftar meals held regularly at the Sheikh Mohammed Centre for Cultural Understanding here in Dubai it was with a sense of intrigue that several of us headed down last Friday to learn something about both Ramadan and the Emirates. The evening started at six in the evening, as we entered the traditional central courtyard of the centre, which is set in a traditional Emirati house, and whilst we waited with grumbling tummies (and we hadn’t even fasted!) for sunset, which was scheduled to be 7.14pm exactly, we were treated to some vocal entertainment from a friendly Bedouin who sung and ground traditional Arabic coffee in the corner. Sat around on comfortable cushions with plush carpet beneath our bare feet and the smell of some incredible food set out in front of us, it was hard not to be instantly seduced by the charm of the Middle East. Our hosts for the evening were the head of the centre, a kandoora-clad gentleman by the name of Nisaf, who was a truly entertaining and enlightening speaker, and a number of young ladies, all dressed in traditional black abayas, a garment which I personally think looks very stylish and flattering. Most of the young locals who spoke and dined with us were volunteers with a keen interest in promoting the culture of their country and educating the likes of us who were keen to learn more about Dubai.

Iftar mealSo, as the sun set and the call to prayer was heard emanating from the local mosque we were all given a date and some water, which is the traditional way to break one’s fast and marks the start of Iftar. Before we dived in and ate, our hosts prayed, which we were permitted to observe, before everyone was invited to descend on the veritable feast laid out before us on the carpet. The traditional method of eating is basically dive in and load your plate up before returning to sit on the soft cushions lining the courtyard and enjoy eating, drinking and talking with friends and family, reflecting on the challenges faced during the day’s fast and generally catching up. I didn’t realise, for example, that part of Ramadan is not only an abstinence from food, water and romantic contact, but also from negative actions or thoughts, which when feeling hungry and thirsty and, I daresay, a bit cranky, must be very tricky!

Iftar Meal 3Following a superb meal comprising of a variety of dishes the names of which I am afraid allude me but which are making me salivate just writing this, we were served Arabic coffee and listened to some more interesting information about the Emirati culture. The next activity on the evening’s schedule was a visit to the local mosque, which was located just behind the centre itself. The ladies in our group were invited to wear abayas and we all removed our shoes before entering the mosque itself. The first thing that struck me was how luxuriously soft the carpet was and how truly relaxing, quiet, reflective and comfortable it was simply sitting in the main room of the mosque where worshipers congregate to pray together. Following a very inspiring talk from Nisaf, which had all of us hanging off his every word, we had the opportunity to witness the call to prayer before quietly filing out and back to the centre for desert before everyone arrived for prayers.

Iftar Meal 2Desert was as epically delicious as the main meal, with the highlight for me definitely being the fried doughballs with syrup that were literally so moresome that one could be in serious danger of getting overweight very very quickly! I can only imagine how even more amazing such food must taste after a fast of over 12 hours and I must say I have a lot of respect for anyone who is actually able to see their fast through. Kudos indeed.

Before the evening came to a close and we all headed back to our ex-pat lives in Dubai, we had the opportunity to ask any burning questions that we had relating to Dubai, the Emirates, the culture…. anything. My question, and something that I had been pondering and unsure of since arriving here, was whether it was considered acceptable for non-Emiratis to wear the kandoora, a garment which is so much better suited to the stifling summer heat of the desert than clothes such as jeans. I had been told, or heard, before that it was considered unacceptable and insulting for anyone non-local to wear one. Not so it would seem. In fact, it was positively encouraged by our hosts and the girls all exclaimed that they love it when they see non-locals wearing one. Nisaf even told me where to go to buy one and how much I should expect to pay for one. So…… watch this space as you may see me rocking the kandoora at some point soon 🙂

My verdict on the evening was glowing and it is definitely something that I urge each and every visitor and new resident in Dubai to do. Learning even a little about what makes Dubai and the Middle East what it is really did add to the magic of living here.

Scaling New Heights

climbing equipment, shoes, harness, chalkSitting in the Times Square Mall in Dubai, diners on the second floor have a view out over the Adventure HQ climbing wall and high wire course, a really fun attraction to have in a mall in my opinion. Watching a group of kids all scale the climbing tower just drove home to me in a sort of epiphany moment just how incredibly rewarding climbing is and how it’s such an incredible activity for both a healthy body and mind.

It is that perfect combination of an activity that not only exercises the body – and it is a full body workout – but also engages the mind in such a complete manner, with no room for distraction or dwelling on the day’s trials and tribulations. It requires laser focus to do it well and, most importantly, safely, and as such offers the mind a much needed break which I am convinced allows your sub conscious to then do its thing and make sense of those issues or questions you may have been puzzling over. It is, in essence, a form of vertical, active meditation.

As an activity for kids it is perfect, offering the ideal combination of exercise, fun, mental challenge and providing valuable returns in terms of feelings of achievement when a move goes well and the chance to think, appraise and reform ideas in the event that a move does not work out as initially planned. These are all essential skills for children to acquire, and definitely ones that adults alike should continue to cultivate and improve on.

Of course, the other wonderful aspect of climbing is the social nature of it. Both a solo sport and yet one that actively promotes close cooperation and interaction with others. What closer social experience is there than carefully looking out for someone’s welfare whilst they tackle a wall by acting as their belay partner? A solo activity that can then be discussed, critiqued, reviewed and enjoyed by friends. Perfect combination in my opinion.

Pampering is Compulsory

What do you tend to do to mark your birthdays? I made a vow to myself back when I turned sixteen that I would spend each birthday either “doing something different or be somewhere different,” and I am pleased to say that to date I have managed to stick to this informal plan. To date the experiences have included enjoying chips and champagne with investment bankers at a rooftop bar in the Square Mile, London; diving in Turkey; exploring Florence and Pisa in Italy; and getting my skydiving license.

This year as I turn 21 again (amazing how one can do that, isn’t it?!) I find myself kicking back and relaxing with a very agreeable view over the Yas Marina and the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix circuit, as I sit writing in my room at the rather fancy Yas Viceroy hotel. When deciding what to do to mark my ‘annual addition of 1’ I figured why not just take advantage of the fact I live close to some of the very best hotels in the world, and the Yas Viceroy certainly fits that category.

The hotel is actually the only one to be built pretty much on top of the F1 racetrack, and the room that I am staying in is located in the Marina Building, connected to the main part of the hotel by a really funky skybridge, which literally takes you over the track – a great viewpoint I am sure come race day.

The first thing you notice about the hotel is the crazy web-style shell that it has covering the entire hotel, which makes it look as though it is encased within a pure white exoskeleton – a great way to smooth out and curve what would otherwise be a typically straight edged building. It has the effect of making the place look quite space-age, which I daresay was the intention, especially when you see inside the rooms, all of which are very modern, clean and, well, I guess I would say minimalist.

birthday cake at Yas ViceroyFirst thing was first upon arriving…. order food! There is something very indulgent about ordering room service, even when it is just soup that you request, although the hotel went and did a fantastic job of adding some “WOW factor” to this simple transaction, by including a lovely handwritten note and a birthday cake – yes, a birthday cake – with my order. Nice move Viceroy! Nice move indeed 🙂 Thoughts of cake thus spurred me on to seek out the hotel gym, which I indulgently had all to my self and so could pretend that I did indeed live here in my own, big, expensive millionaire pad!

Before too long the place has seen my bags metaphorically explode and in spite of having only been here for about 12 hours, the room looks like I moved in days ago and have no intention to leave 🙂

yas viceroy, pool
Not a bad way to kick start a birthday stay

Last night saw me suit it and boot it before enjoying the delicious culinary wonders of the hotel’s Indian restaurant, Angars, with so much food that I simply couldn’t force it all down. It certainly meant that I slept like a log and had the pleasure of waking without the assistance of an alarm, to remotely open the curtains (silly, simple but a giddy joy) on a stunning Abu Dhabi morning. What does any self-respecting hotel guest do of a morning? Check out the pool is what. No day is a bad day when it starts with a swim and when the pool is as calm, quiet and, well, awesome as the one here then who can fail to feel rejuvenated and ready to take the day by the horns?!

So I have a couple more hours to enjoy the hotel before checking out and heading off for some wakeboarding at Al Forsan resort. I may just have to make this a bit of a birthday tradition….. Oh, and I guess I had better munch my way through the cake 🙂

cake eating at Yas Viceroy


Made to Measure – 3D Printing

Originally published in the VN Times (Veterinary Nursing Times) – VN Times Technology Column – Made to Measure (3D Printing)

Made to Measure – 3D Printing

Will 3D Printing Revolutionise the Veterinary Industry?

What is 3D printing? Not “printing” in the true sense, but the building up of layers of material as directed by a 3D design, or template, crafted by a designer using computer software. The ‘printer’ merely provides a gantry for the movement, placing in space and deposition of the materials, which results in the object being built up. At present, they can only use one type of material at a time (plastic, resin or metal), but this will change in time as the technology develops. The main commercial uses at present for 3D printing are in both personalised retail and precision components, with unique items being created cheaply and without the need for investment in heniously expensive specialist equipment.

Veterinary Applications?

There are several areas in veterinary practice where this technology could theoretically be applied. Before we start exploring these, it may be worth agreeing to limit the scope of our future predictions, keeping initially to those that are more realistic in terms of being achievable in the foreseeable future, with some time given at the end to “go crazy” and really think beyond the box. Deal? Excellent.

Two main areas in which 3D printing may make an impact in clinics:


Prosthetics & implants. The most obvious application. Need an individually tailored plate for Barney’s TTO procedure, with no need to wait for a next-day special delivery and no requirement to bend the damned thing into the precise shape required? Well Barney will have been CT scanned as a routine, with his specific, personalised body mapping data fed into the CAD (Computer Aided Design) software that will be used, at the press of a button, to design any type of plate, implant or prosthesis required for his surgery. The printer will kick into gear and before you have even finished scrubbing you will have before you a perfect tool for the job at hand. If you drop it then it really doesn’t matter as you can just hit ‘print’ again and produce another.

Remote surgical tool production & inventory reduction. One of the issues for any business using physical products is stock control and storage. The balance between keeping enough of what you may need in stock versus taking up valuable space and representing tied up capital is an age-old problem. Imagine just being able to keep in one of the most common items required and ‘printing’ any extras that you may need when you specifically need them. Quick, simple and elegant. The value for large animal vets on visits is also clear, as taking out a small, mobile 3D printer will enable them to manufacture on-site the specific materials needed for the job. This will reduce the need to take out everything-but-the-kitchen-sink that most large animal vets currently have to do, and help reduce the costs associated with transporting and keeping all of this equipment. The cost savings may even be able to be passed on to clients, making them happier in the process.

Off the Wall Idea

At home prescription ‘printing.’ Keeping drugs in stock is another ‘stock management’ issue faced by many clinics, especially ensuring that they are able to satisfy the requirements of daily clinic use and repeat prescriptions. The latter has, to some extent, been relieved by the online pharmacies who fulfill written prescriptions and thus have the hassles of keeping stock in, albeit at the extent of profit walking away from you. The future may be for clients to pay for an ‘e-prescription,’ which is essentially a highly specialised CAD file that they can get their at-home molecular 3D printer to act on, effectively “printing” their pet’s prescription at home, limited automatically to the strength, size, formulation and amount that you, as their vet, have specified. The client is happy because they get the prescription without even having to leave their homes, their pet is happy because they’re getting the right medication when they should, without any fears of sourcing counterfeit medications, and you’re happy as you know what your patient is getting and may well be able to charge a premium for this ‘value added’ service.

Clearly, the latter example is a little more radical than the first two but with the advances being constantly made in this truly exciting and revolutionary area, I wouldn’t bet on it being a reality before too long. Truly an exciting future.

Smart Phones, Smart Practice

Originally published in VN Times (Vet Nursing Times) – VN Times Technology Column – Smart Phones, Smart Practice

Smart Phones, Smart Practice

If someone had told us ten years ago that we would, one day, all keep a small supercomputer in our pockets, they may have been dismissed as some crazy, science fiction obsessed oddbod. How smug do we imagine them feeling today as that is pretty much what has happened, with a very high number of us all owning either iPhones or other such all-singing, all-dancing smartphones.

They have become so much more than just a simple means of making calls or sending text messages, with the ability to do virtually anything that we could imagine wanting to do with a small electronic device. They are information providers, email and chat platforms, games consoles, cameras, even tickets for everything from concerts to flights! Do they have a place in the veterinary clinic though? I personally think the answer to that is yes, they do, and I can see them becoming ever more useful to both vets and nurses.

One obvious use of smartphones in the clinic is as a portable, easily accessed source of information, from the Veterinary Formulary for rapid medication checks, to a video tutorial on placing a feeding tube, or lining up a dental radiograph for the best view. Being able to access information at our patient’s sides is only ever going to improve the quality of our service to them.

With the invention of apps, which will likely be heralded as one of the 21st Century’s Great Innovations, we now have some great clinically relevant tools at our finger-tips, for everything from calculating dose rates of medications and drip rates, such as the VetPDA Calcs app on iPhone, to more specialised apps and portable gadgetry like the AliveCor, which is an awesome instant ECG monitor that runs via the iPhone and a funky case, which houses the skin contacts and works wirelessly. All very cool technology and, even better for us in practice, all portable.

So where will the future take us? What will we be using our smartphones for in the clinic of tomorrow? It is likely that every one of us will use a portable device at work, through which we will have access to our patients’ notes, be able to easily design treatment plans, monitor everything from heart rate and rhythm to temperature, and even take payments from clients for in clinic purchases. The future is bright; the future is mobile.