Have you ever been sure that something wasn’t right, or good for you, yet wanted it anyway? Have you ever left a destructive relationship or habit behind and then longed to have it back? Have you ever been delighted to say goodbye to something and then felt dirty for later missing it?
This is how I am beginning to feel about the little idiosyncrasies that made up life in Dubai. I miss little things that I never thought I would. Incredibly, one of them is Sheikh Zayed Road.
The first time I drove on Sheik Zayed it was 4 weeks after I had passed my driving test in the UK, where I had learnt to handle an automobile on sleepy village roads mainly populated by overly cautious pensioners. Although in both cases cars, driving and roads were involved, going from England to Dubai was the automotive equivalent of having your small, sweet, perfectly trained Jack Russell replaced with a rabid wolf – same species but a different beast entirely.
As I approached the Marina exit to join Sheiky Z, I gulped, mumbled a little prayer to myself and felt my bowels tighten. 8 lanes of frenetic, kinetic, lawless madness stretched out in front of me like the mind of a schizophrenic made manifest in lanes, lights and asphalt. I joined the traffic. I looked out of my rear view mirror; what I saw looked like the final throes of some horrific post-apocalyptic death race, a car chase plucked out of The Fast and the Furious transposed upon the landscape of The Matrix. Lights all over the place, gargantuan 4x4s, illegal overtaking, illegal undertaking, wet dream sports cars, children without seatbelts hanging out of windows and crawling across dashboards, people on mobile phones, millions of hands hitting horns, dramatic lane changes, camels in the back of pick-up trucks, cutting up and daredevil-breakneck speeding.
It sounds like hell. It was hell. And I never thought I’d say this. But. I miss it.
You heard right. I miss it.
Since being back in Europe I trundle around idle country lanes, with gear changes every 3 seconds, speed limits changing every 5 seconds and give way signs every 7 seconds. Other drivers are civil, courteous and sensible. There is a system, and rules, rules that must be abided. It is sterile and formulaic; if Dubai is your lunatic cousin egging you on to do all of the ridiculous things that you always wanted to do but never dared, then European driving is sitting down to play a turgid board game with your uncle who insists that following the rules is the most fun you could ever have. I hate it.
I long for the Sheikh Zayed fast lane, for the electrifying entertainment of knowing that no matter how fast you are flooring it, pedal to the metal, an Emirati in a Hummer big enough to win a war is still going to overtake you doing 280km\h with one hand on the wheel and the other on a solid gold iPhone.
I reminisce wistfully about the bizarre compendium of cars that filled the lanes, from Ferraris to Fiestas, from Lamborghinis to Lancers. I yearn for the giddy certainty that the battered pick-up trucks that just say ‘Great Wall’ on the back of them will have 9 Pakistanis crammed into the front, and will drive with the anarchistic, carefree abandon of lemmings heading for the cliff-side. I miss the giant billboards, and seeing if there was any product in existence that Lionel Messi wouldn’t whore himself out to advertise (Possibly tampons, but I’m not ruling it out). I lament the fact that the police in Germany drive Mercedes but the police in Dubai drive McLarens and Bugattis.
Perhaps most of all, I pine for the chaos, the madness, the unpredictability. The need to have your wits about you at all times on that chess board of pieces moving at break neck speed, defying the rules of the game, guided by the shaking hand of a drugged up anarchist. I need to feel the blood-boiling infuriation of a taxi driver tailgating so far up your arse that he could use your digestive system as an underpass for the Dubai Mall exit. I need the flickering warning shot of epileptically blinking headlights telling me that a guy in a Maserati is doing 300 km/h and if I don’t get out of the fast lane then he is going to torpedo through me like a military-grade weapon. I want, maybe just one final time and probably just for a few seconds, to see the armies of Saudi number plates speeding the wrong way down the highway like a biblical plague after Eid has been called, and to hear the collective sigh of the entire ex-pat community when they see them them coming.
Sheikh Zayed Road was the personification of the cliché ‘poetry in motion’. It didn’t matter that the poem didn’t rhyme, wasn’t organised into lines or that the words had been chopped out, jumbled up in a hat and then thrown back on the page into whatever order they happened to fall in; it was still poetry. And so next time I am sat at a traffic light in Portsmouth, or giving way in Heilbronn, I’ll look to my left and then look to my right and imagine that on either side there is an Irishman in a Jeep, a Yorkshireman in a Porsche, an Indian in a Polo and an Emirati policewoman in an Aston Martin cop-car, and I’ll imagine that contrary to what I know, I’ll have know idea what is coming next.