Tag Archives: UK

A Right Royal Race

It is always an uplifting experience returning to the homeland – experiencing that which is is all too familiar and yet being able to appreciate even the little things through a new set of eyes. I landed back in London on Friday, promptly picked up my tiny little (manual) hire car and headed off for Maidenhead, my base for the weekend, along the tiny, weany, slow little roads that were apparently both the M25 and M4. For anyone who has not had the pleasure(?!) of driving in the UAE, once you have then both of these major UK highways will simply remind you of the suburban ‘side roads’ that lead to most residential areas in Dubai. And the driving will seem like the most civilised ever!

With the Windsor Triathlon this weekend, Maidenhead, which is a hop, skip and jump over the M4 from Windsor, was to be the base for the weekend, with new favourite website, Air BNB coming to the aid, enabling me to easily hire a townhouse with room enough for the family to venture down to hang out and provide moral support on race day. It was a great chance to spend some quality time with my energetic little nephew, meet my cute-as-hell new niece for the first time, and catch up with mum, dad and sister, whilst also getting to celebrate Fathers Day in a stunning setting.

British Bike HireSaturday was all about registration and bike racking, with the decision to make life easy by renting a bike for the race yet again being a simple one to make. No hassle with dragging a bike box through airports or using all of my luggage allowance on an item that ultimately I will get to use for one day, maybe two during the trip back. Given that the bike course at Windsor was relatively flat, as I recalled from last year, I thought it would be fun to treat myself by renting a TT bike, especially as I have never actually ridden one before. Now I know that race day is not the time to ‘test’ new kit, especially a bike, but I figured that given this was an Olympic Distance race and not my A race of the year, why not just have a bit of fun and try it out. I must admit that I wasn’t quite prepared for the aggressiveness of the position and was glad that it was only 42km and not the full 180km of September’s Ironman. Still, when it came to it I was able to seriously turn on the power, get down and aero and just fly!

Bike racked and ready nice and early, I had the chance to catch up with some good friends who joined the family and I for lunch in Windsor before opting to don the tourist hat and take the obligatory trip up to Windsor Castle. Needless to say it is one impressive place and we even had the pleasure of being present for the return of the Queen herself, with the Union Jack being replaced by the Royal Standard flying high above the keep and letting everyone know Her Majesty was officially in residence. Sadly our paths did not cross on this occasion. I was, after all, far too busy 😉

Race Day

All laid out ready for Race Day
All laid out ready for Race Day

With less sleep than was either ideal or intended, the alarm sounded to signal race day had arrived. I have been on a high fat, low carb diet now for a few weeks and so my usual race day breakfast was out the window in favour of a lovely fruit and avocado smoothie, and gels on the bike being replaced with dates. Thanks to being a bit OCD all my kit was laid out and ready to go, complete with my Tri Dubai suit, meaning we were out the door nice and early, just in time to sit in traffic for an age en route to the venue!

With the usual pre-race rituals adhered to – I don’t need to elaborate on this I am sure – it was time to don the wetsuit, get in the zone and  promptly panic that I was missing my swim start on account of suddenly seeing a load of pink caps already bobbing in the water. The benefit of rushing down to the start just in time was that there was no time to dwell on the fact that the River Thames is both a disgusting colour and pretty darned cold, as I hastily donned my own cap, goggles and simply leapt in, jostling for position as it became immediately apparent how strong the current was today. Incidentally I soon realised that I had in fact joined an earlier wave instead and so was actually early instead of late. The main confirmation came when I arrived in T1 to see that I was apparently the first from my wave to pick up my bike, which seemed odd considering I knew for a fact that I had not been first out of the water!

Against the Current

The Windsor Tri swim sees athletes head up river before turning and swimming back again, with the current particularly strong today, meaning that the first leg was a slow slog whilst the difference on the turn was immediately apparent as I literally felt as though my suit had been fitted with jet packs. Swimming that fast with such little effort was a crazy experience, although with the exit around a reverse hairpin bend, the ten metres to the pontoon was a tough and energetic affair – actually quite good for ensuring blood was moved to the legs ready for the run to transition and the bike leg.

Although the water running through Windsor isn’t the clearest or cleanest looking, and it is generally recommended to avoid swallowing much of it if at all possible, the swim is a great experience as there are very few times when you’d get the opportunity to see somewhere like Windsor from such a novel vantage point. Coming from the current summer heat of Dubai the cool waters of the Thames were, in fact, fantastically refreshing and despite a few slightly freaky moments involving stray river debris which I initially imagined might be jellyfish, the swim was an enjoyable experience. Maybe not as fast as I had been hoping for at 29 minutes, but given the strength of the current up river I was still happy with it.

Aero and Away

TT bike_Windsor TriT1 was by my standards a fairly speedy affair and with new TT bike in hand, it was off to the mount line and a 42km foray into the Berkshire countryside. I did let my warm weather softness shine through however as I donned gloves once on the bike, feeling swiftly glad that I had and opting to keep them on for the remainder of the race. However, the significant difference in temperature between that which I am used to training in and today’s race meant that keeping my core cool was simple, and I barely had to touch my bottle, only really taking on fluids to help with eating my on-bike dates. The TT bike was fast but I can’t say comfortable and I was pretty glad to hop off and get the run ticked off.

Royal Run

I remember the run being tougher last year, especially with the first of three steep climbs up to Windsor Castle being foisted upon athletes almost straight out of transition, so I guess it is simply testament to the value of training that I really enjoyed the 10km, with a real emphasis being placed on keeping good form and maintaining a respectable, steady pace. The route is great, with a climb through the centre of town to the Castle, before turning and heading back down the hill – a welcome respite for burning legs – before a short section heading out of town, looping back and taking us over the river into Eton and up the high street before turning at the college and returning back to the turnaround just outside transition.

Windsor’s run route is one of the best on account of the picturesque nature of the landmarks that it takes runners past and through, and also by virtue of the fact that the support from the crowd is pretty consistent, and fantastic, along most of the route. The final stretch which takes runners towards the turnaround and then eventually the finish is simply electric and it is almost impossible not to feel like a conquering elite storming home to claim the World Championship title with the level of ear splitting and raucous support that every athlete gets during these final seconds – worth the sign up alone!

Windsor Triathlon
Celebrating with the rest of the family after crossing the line

With another decently weighty medal in possession and post-race photos taken, it was time to return the bike (sadly), dump everything in the car and find somewhere to get down to some serious eating!

This was the second year of running this race and I definitely felt stronger and more confident this time around, with my Tri Dubai suit being worn with pride and the benefits of training in such a fantastic place shining through on the day. Anyone looking for a fun, picturesque Olympic distance race will do well to sign up for Windsor, with 2015 being the 25th anniversary, and the fact that it is consistently voted the best race of the UK calendar is testament to how much fun it is.

Charlie with Iron VetRemember, you can support my Iron Vet challenge for veterinary charity WVS (Worldwide Veterinary Service) at www.ironvet.net.

A World of Differences

This week saw me land back in Dubai after a whistle-stop trip back to my home of the UK, primarily for the wedding of two very close friends. Its amazing how quickly the visit swept by – always the case with holidays I guess – although I did manage to pack in it, so it was to be expected. One thing the trip back, after nearly five months living and working in the UAE, allowed me to do was reflect on some of the key differences between Dubai and the UK. Some are obvious whereas others seemed less so until I was actually faced with them. So, in no particular order….

Roads & Driving

I opted to hire a car during my stay back in the UK, much as I currently do in Dubai, and so booked one online with a well known car hire firm. The first difference was obvious the minute I climbed in to the little car I had rented – standards of cleanliness. In summary, whoever had been tasked with the job of cleaning the interior hadn’t done a great job, with sticky marks over the dashboard where I assume someone had spilt some kind of sugary drink or set up a family of jelly babies or the like, and general crud just sitting in the drink wells and other nooks and crannies. I had never really thought about it before but the cars I have picked up in Dubai have always been spotlessly clean, inside and out. So, Dubai scored highly on that front for starters.

Driving out of Heathrow and on towards Guildford I kept thinking to myself that I would “be on the M25 – that behemoth of a UK road and one which I had always been a little intimidated by – shortly. When I spied the junction for the M3, however, it suddenly dawned on me that I had in fact been on the M25 already although I had been casually feeling as if I was still on one of the small, provincial roads leaving the airport. Wow! The fact is that the road leading up to where I live is a three lane highway, with the actual motorways all being six lane monsters. As such, the M25 actually felt, effectively, like my driveway! Add to that the fact that the driving was significantly less stressful, almost verging on relaxing, given that people tend to adhere to the Highway Code on UK roads, and what used to be a bit of a stressful experience pre-move now felt like a pleasant amble.

One very clear motoring difference between the two countries is petrol prices. How much for petrol in the UK?! Its insane that it costs me in dirhams what it did in sterling to fill the tank of my little hire car and considering that the last time I checked the exchange rate it was about 5 dirhams to the pound, this means it costs five times – yes, FIVE TIMES – what it does here in Dubai to be a motorist. No wonder people have to think long and hard before grabbing their car keys in the UK. And you have to fill up your petrol tank yourself! What hardships! That last point was quite funny actually as it was quite surreal having to yet again step out of my car to fill my own tank before venturing in to the petrol station to pay. Here in Dubai we are afforded the rather lazy luxury of being able to simply pull up, get the tank filled and pay without ever having to leave the driver’s seat. See, told you, I am being spoilt 🙂

Size and Spreading Out

It’s perhaps no major surprise that in a city that is ever expanding and where one can simply build on more undeveloped land (ie the desert), the sense of space is palpable in Dubai. The houses are bigger, the rooms are bigger, the roads are definitely bigger, everything, in fact, is just bigger. Consequently much of what I experienced back in the UK felt smaller, more snug, comfortable, like a homely hug, including the cities that I found myself in. Given the fact that most of the major cities and towns in the UK have medieval roots their centres have this sense of intense density which I quite enjoy, in contrast to Dubai, which a) doesn’t really have a city centre per se and b) is just so, well, big. Single lane 1-way systems are just something you don’t see here in Dubai and the idea of being able to walk from one side of the “city centre” to the other is simply laughable, not least because you’d probably collapse from heat exhaustion before reaching your destination.

Green & Pleasant

Shropshire, Country, UKEveryone that has lived in a hot, arid environment mentions that the first thing they notice about home is how green and lush it is, something that I know we often take for granted when actually living in the UK. And so it was for me, as I couldn’t help luxuriate in the fact that everywhere you looked in the UK there was a wonderful palette of greens and yellows, with fields of arable crops contributing to the latter. The air also felt less heavy, less oppressive, as it is starting to in Dubai with the intense heat and humidity of summer rapidly building. One of my favourite moments of the trip was stopping to take in the stunning rolling hills, pastures and picture-postcard perfection of the Shropshire countryside during a run when I was in the county for my friends’ wedding. Don’t get me wrong…. I love the fact that I get to look at stunning beaches, enchanting dunes and futuristic landscapes, but nothing can quite match the breathtaking beauty of rolling English countryside on a sunny summers day. In fact it is this fact that I am sure temporarily offsets many peoples’ vocal intentions to emigrate, usually forged during the dark, wet winter months. If only we saw a little more of the sun in the UK then with scenery like we have it truly would be glorious.

Still, on the one hand we have rolling green pastures in the UK, Dubai rules supreme when it comes to stunning beaches. I visited the North Norfolk coast during the trip home to see my folks and although it is always great to venture to the coast, I rather fear I have been spoilt when it comes to what I now expect from a beach. The shingle peppered damp sand and murky grey-brown waters of the beach and sea, coupled with the dated and somewhat delapidated appearance of the town itself just cannot compete in my mind with the soft golden sands, azure warm waters and picture-postcard beachside paradise that Dubai represents. Although parts of the UK coastline can boast incredible sands and holiday brochure-esque waters, the fact that Dubai can throw in almost year-round guaranteed perfect beach weather means that it wins hands down on the seaside front.


Dubai can be a bit confusing when it comes to certain rules, with those pertaining to alcohol being one such. Technically the consumption of alcohol is, as I understand it, illegal, and yet there are literally hundreds of venues at which you can get served a drink, or five, not to mention the option to indulge in a booze-fueled brunch each week. Although you can basically get hammered with what seems like the blessing of the authorities, you have to be careful when out of these licensed premises as simply having alcohol in your system breaks UAE law. As such, the trip home in the taxi can feel like a gamble – say the wrong thing or otherwise piss your driver off and they are well within their rights to drive you to the nearest police station whereby you will be promptly arrested, charged and subsequently face the penalties, including likely deportation. Now it is no secret that I am a massive lightweight – I have often admitted as much – and so I have generally given alcohol a swerve whilst living here. Being able to order and enjoy a drink in the UK without worrying that you’re a law-breaker was refreshing and although I did have a few drinks whilst home, including obviously at my friends’ wedding, I didn’t really find myself thinking, “Wow! I have really missed this!” In fact, I would have happily remained totally off the plonk but its amazing how much of an important aspect of social interaction “having a drink” is, meaning that saying no often feels hard to do, which sounds really silly I know. What I was very aware of, however, is that my overall consumption was very low and even at the wedding, normally an excuse to really let your guard down and indulge, I drank very little. The result was I always woke feeling refreshed and not dreading the day – a feeling that I enjoy far more than the ones invoked by alcohol at the time. The other thing that is, however, unfortunately evident in the UK and not really seen here in the UAE, and related to the rules governing drinking, is the presence of drunken, unruly behaviour in town centres and other such areas. You simply won’t see groups of drunk people getting lairy and causing problems out on the streets. If anyone did dare to then they would very swiftly find themselves sobering up in a cell with further repercussions to look forward to.

The Weather. Obviously.

Last but by no means least, one of the main big differences between the two countries is clearly the weather. Whilst you are guaranteed year round sunshine and scorching temperatures year round here in Dubai, the climatic game of lucky dip that symbolises our summers in the UK mean that it is inevitable that we love to talk about the weather. I actually really enjoyed the refreshing change that having an active, unpredictable sky, complete with the occasional downpour, provided and compared to current scorching heat and sticky humidity that we are currently enduring here in Dubai, the UK ‘summer’ was very agreeable indeed. Having said that, knowing that I was returning to a hot, sunny ‘holiday resort’ at the end of my stay did make dealing with the less than summery conditions all the more bearable, and even enjoyable. I generally felt differently, of course, when I lived in the UK.



Practicing in Dubai

Burj al Arab, DubaiAs many of you may know, I have recently made the big move from the UK to the Middle East, where I am now practicing as a small animal vet in Dubai, part of the United Arab Emirates. It is a move that has been many months in the making, with a lot of paperwork and organisation involved before being able to finally get on the plane and head over to a new life here in the sun and heat. In terms of Vet School Success, I intend to continue my work on the subject of vet school applications and careers from over here, such is the wonder of the world wide web 🙂

I thought it might be of some interest to you to offer an insight into the work of vets over here, compared to the UK where most of you will be seeing practice, either as a point of interest alone or because you might one day see yourself packing your bags to work and travel in far flung lands. Either way, I hope you find the following interesting. If you want to read more about this new Middle Eastern adventure ‘Dune Under’ then feel free to head on over to my personal blog (The Nerdy Vet), where you can get the whole exciting story as it unfolds, chapter by chapter.

So, what are the main differences between doing the work of a small animal vet in the UK and here in Dubai? Well, there are a number of differences, spread across a number of specific catagories. These are:


In order to work as a vet here I have had to provide a lot of paperwork, from notarised, legalised and equivalised copies of my GCSE, A-level and degree certificates, to signed and similarly legalised accounts of my employment for the past five years. In order to work as a vet here you have to show evidence of a minimum of 5 years of work experience, so it is not currently an option for someone fresh out of university.


Believe it or not but I have to sit an exam in order to be fully registered here. I was due to sit it a couple of days after arriving but ended up missing that one and so am yet to do it. All it means, however, is that I am currently not able to be in the clinic as the sole vet, so its not really something that is impeding my ability to work effectively anyway. The exam itself is a range of short and long answer questions, primarily on UAE guidelines and laws relating to veterinary, and a lot on notifiable diseases, many of which I hadn’t read about since vet school itself.

Health Check

They’re very cautious about who is let in to work in Dubai, and pretty much the first thing I had to do on landing was head to a clinic for a full health screen, involving a blood test and chest X-ray, looking for TB. Needless to say I passed, otherwise i’d have been put straight back a plane for London!

Working Conditions

It is hot – very hot – outside and thankfully we have the luxury, or rather necessity, of air-conditioning, without which it would soon become uncomfortable to work properly. At the time of writing, the average daily temperature is about 30 Celcius, although it is just heading into Spring now, with Summer being the time when the temperature really ramps up. I have been informed by numerous people here that the Summer here is a whole other ball game, with temperatures of 50 Celcius the norm, and humidity approaching 90% plus! Basically, too hot and humid to spend any real time outside, which just seems nuts coming from the UK. We shall see and I will report back on how I am faring. Unless I melt, which by the sounds of it is a distinct possibility!


Not a huge difference in terms of the species I get to see, with most of the clinic’s work being with dogs and cats. However, many of the animals, and especially the cats, have a little more attitude. The cats I have met so far have generally been psychotic and ready and willing to bite and scratch at the slightest chance given. The career-long run of avoiding cat bites that I have been so careful and keen to avoid may, I fear, come to an end at the teeth of a Dubai cat. Antibiotics and swear box at the ready!


Not a comment on the social scene but rather the relative difficulty there is in getting many of the medications that I had taken for granted back home in the UK. Instead of being able to just put in one order with a single supplier, and get stock the next day, here the clinic has a Herculean task of dealing with multiple suppliers, with orders often having to be placed and paid for months in advance. Certain medications, such as opioid painkillers and benzodiazepines, such as diazepam, are simply illegal and so completely unavailable, which has demanded a bit of a rethink on analgesia and seizure management.

One good thing, however, is that without any form of Cascade system in place, we are very free to use whichever drugs we feel would be best for our patients, regardless of whether they are specifically licensed for use in animals or not. That certainly makes treatment options a lot more interesting, and there are some medications which are used here that I personally have no experience of prescribing, meaning that I have some serious learning to do.


Basically, we vaccinate against everything, including rabies, every year. Animals also have to be microchipped and have a new Municipality tag, which is basically a Government registration, each year. This is supposed to be worn on the collar and is issued at the same time as rabies vaccination is boosted.


Given the climate, we see a fair amount of infectious and parasitic disease, with blood infections such as ehrlichiosis and haemobartonella encountered far more than I ever would have seen in an entire career in the UK. Tick borne diseases are common, whereas fleas are fairly rare – quite the opposite to the UK. In terms of skin problems, we see a lot of ringworm and ear mites, and I have already seen a really severe case of psoroptic mange in a bunny, that resulted in it having to be euthanased.


There is very little in the way of options to refer complicated cases here, with the closest decent orthopod down in Abu Dhabi. This means that a lot more of the caseload we see remains in house for us to do the best we can for our patients. As such, there is all likelihood of seeing some very interesting cases, many of which would probably have been referred out the door back home.


Kitesurfing in DubaiThe lifestyle, especially in the winter months when it is nice and pleasantly warm outside, is great, with opportunities to really indulge in the kind of leisure activities that you would normally have to wait until the summer for, or freeze, back home in the UK. These include kitesurfing, which I was doing only yesterday, and skydiving, which I was doing last weekend. We also get some amazing sporting and music events coming to the area too, with big name acts to see and tickets that don’t sell out in five seconds flat.

So, that is just a bit of a potted account of the main differences that I have found as a new small animal vet here in Dubai. If you have any specific questions about any of it then feel free to send them over, or ask away on the Facebook page.

Until next time