Eric's dance was a long time coming. Maybe half a dozen double whiskies and fourteen tentative approaches from all nations East of Turkey. He seemed impervious, even to the wiles of Kyrgyz Carina who retired gracefully, knowing herself rebuffed, albeit in barely comprehensible slurred County. Enter Stella from Eritrea, beaming her beam as only she can. Eric's dance began, all elbows, knees and wire-rimmed glasses. Snake-charmer par excellence, you'd almost think he didn't know he didn't have to try. From her corner stool, Carina said something like "Blyatt!"
The Indian bicycle keeps left, even in Dubai, the better to avoid onrushing lorries. For minimum efficiency, it is pedalled with the heels, bare or sandalled. The trapezoidal stand is fitted with a broken retaining spring which helps it to trail along the road. The rear pannier rack is perfectly adapted to carry forty flattened cardboard boxes or a serene wife whose flowing saree just knows to keep clear of the spokes. However bumpy the road, she never drops the baby. The bell works. If you graduate to a small truck, you can hang it all round with painted chains and festoon the cab with tassels and tapestries.
It's all about proving I've been here longer than you, as if anybody cares. Even the Paranormal is not immune. Paraglider was blethering to a guy in Qatar recently and the talk came round to Chalky's Bar. Do you remember before they put in that bendy mirror thing? Yes. Before they put down the weird pink lino stuff? Yes. Before they moved the bar to the back wall? No. Well, it was better then. Of course it was. Golden Age, QED. Stranger, 1 - Paraglider 0. The chances are, Helga was younger too.
The Cardigan Man explained, "We don't operate a racist door policy. Chalky's is a member's club. Who are the members? That varies from day to day and is at the discretion of Duty Security. If we let everyone in, it would destroy the Club. Be grateful we protect you like this". Some days later, Paraglider was passing the Astonishing, near to afternoon chucking out time. The street outside was thronged with, well, with whom? With precisely the people who would be inside if allowed, spending no money, leering unpleasantly and missing no opportunity to grope. Cardigan Man's exclusion policy begins to make sense. Elitist, maybe, though the bar is not set high; racist, maybe not after all, especially as so many of these unfortunates are from Cardigan's own home country. Bur Dubai is not London. Enough said.
One of the Truly Great Things about the Paranormal is their refusal to ruin Mondays by introducing Quiz Nights. Long may Chalky's Bar remain a peaceful haven from self-promoting quizmasters and 'teams' devoted to acquiring and disgorging trivia on demand. Paraglider, forgetting the ghastly Monday ritual, went for a beer in Four Pints only to find Reserved signs on all the tables and even on the bar stools. Since when, and where else in the world, can one reserve a bar stool? For a quizz?? Still, it was a perfect excuse, if any were needed, for a swift change of venue, and not to Old Vets either. Hi Helga!
It is conceivable, just, that a casual visitor to Paranormal might be unimpressed. This is most likely to be a matter of unfortunate timing. For the first half hour or so after opening time, sensitive souls might complain about a smell of disinfectant and extremely cold AC. In such circumstances, the best advice is to go somewhere else and come back later. And where better than the nearby Four Points Sheraton? There, you'll find the most comfortable bar stools in town, very fine bar food, friendly service and a complete lack of everything you went to Paranormal in search of. Nowhere's perfect.
Paraglider was suitably delighted this morning to find two comments added to the Paranormal blog. Real comments, from a real person who also appreciates the wonders of the UAE's weirdest hotel. Welcome, Malgani - your reward, this small photograph of one of the regulars. Notice where she keeps her mobile.
On behalf of all their regular, irregular, occasional and future customers, Paraglider takes this opportunity to wish all of Paranormal's Chinese ladies a happy and prosperous New Year of the Golden Pig. This is supposed to be a most auspicious year. Who knows - maybe the Paranormal is destined to model, in miniature, greater movements in the wider world. China in the ascendancy; FSE (Former Soviet Empire) in decline. Over to you Helga! Let's see if your finest Stans can rise to the challenge.
The Chinese girls are back. On the Full Moon festival they gather in each other's apartments and celebrate with moon cakes and endless games of mahjong. They play for money, winning or losing hundreds of dirhams in a night, but as there is no bank, only friends together, things even out over time. As Lily says, "Tonight no go Palanoma. Tonight pray. All night pray. Pray mahjong".
Helga's taller chickens take up a corner position and concentrate on looking devastating, safe in the knowledge that they can see and be seen by everyone. They are the Paranormal's lighthouses. Their smaller colleagues compensate by moving around more. Lavatory trips are useful (in groups of course) to polish the make-up and enhance re-entry opportunities. Dancing works too, for the less wooden.
Of course, the true stars of the Paranormal are not Helga's Chickens or the other business ladies, but the real working girls. Meaning the girls who work there. They almost run from customer to customer, carrying trays, giving change, remembering orders, humouring drunks and smiling, always smiling. But not in an American have-a-nice-day way. These girls are as genuine as they are Romanian. And they are completely Romanian, every one.
Then there's the Scottish table. A group of regulars who like to recreate the ambience of a bar back home. This seems to involve a lot of shouting, swearing and belly laughter. Some evenings they manage to dominate until maybe 7:30, but the disco always wins in the end. That, and the impossibility of imagining Helga's Chickens decorating even a Soho nightclub, never mind a grot-hole in Wishaw. Still, they try.
Football is bad news, for a Chicken. When Man U and Arsenal are on the big screen you might as well accept that you're invisible. Not even crossing and uncrossing the legs on a high bar stool has any effect. Sulking is pointless, tantrums get you barred and questions about the game are just unwelcome, especially meaningless ones, "What countries are playing? Who is your favourite?" Rugby isn't so bad. It's over sooner and besides, you can enjoy the man-fest. Cricket? No challenge. Most of us only watch the action replays after a big shout. Howzzaaat? Drop-dead gorgeous.
Stepping out of the Paranormal, it's usually not too hard to find a taxi within a few minutes. Better still, there's a fair chance the driver will know where you want to go, and how to get there, even if you're a bit vague on that yourself, or rendered speechless by Happy Hour. Be glad you're not in Doha! There, the fleet of unroadworthy orange taxis has been decommissioned, and with them has gone the knowledge of Where Places Are. Yes, they had no AC, and yes, many of the drivers were, shall we say, ancient and pungent, but they knew where they were going. The new, official, green taxi fleet is a repository for monumental geographical innocence. It's not the drivers' fault. You bring fifty guys from Kerala, sack the ten who have never driven in their lives, and put the remaining forty into shiny new Toyota Camrys. And that's it. On your way, boys - drive. Then there's the language problem. In a country where Arabic and English are the business languages, it's not especially helpful only to speak Malayalam.
Some carry a notebook with useful phrases. "You take lady? Your friend take lady?" But the phrases are written in Russian, with the English translation rendered phonetically in the Russian alphabet. This makes it hard to suggest improvements. One red-haired girl has an unusual line of patter. "Do not talk to your friend. He is going to kill you." Clairvoyant? Or perhaps someone doctored the notebook.
Where the Paranormal scores over, say, the York International or the Astoria, is in the girls' adherence to an unwritten rule outlawing serious hassle of the customers. Most of the girls, that is. You get the occasional Cling-on who won't take a hint, but she's the exception. In the Astoria in particular, you won't reach the bar ungroped, and leaving alone means physical unhooking of tentacles. Window shoppers beware.
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