Innovation is not a new thing. My dad invented it. And sustainable energy.
The neighbours used to call him “Nutty Nev” whenever he stood next to his wind generator, which stood probably 100 metres tall in the back yard and didn’t move much. They called him that from over the fence, because he was 6’5’’ and occasionally driven to loudly sing Mary Hopkins tunes. Nature has its warnings.
Among his other projects was a marine-board fishing boat that did work, and a pool table made of masonite, which stood on its side in the garage until nature took its course. In the end, it warped to such an extent that the cue ball wouldn’t go anywhere near the bottom right-hand pocket without a harness and a sturdy pair of boots.
But some of his enterprising spirit must have rubbed off.
A few years ago outside our villa in Abu Dhabi, our only set of car keys made a plonky sound. That was preceded by a scrapey sound as they fell through the slits of the stormwater drain. They would, we were told, cost thousands of dirhams to replace.
It was a chance for the son to measure himself against the ultimate standard – his father.
A visit to several local toy shops in search of magnets yielded zip. But about five minutes up the road was an “electronics shop”, which was really a dingy, grimy charnel house for car radios and carburetors.
A small pair of speakers were bought, taken home and stripped of their magnets. After an impassioned, “greater good” speech, a new pair of stockings were surrendered, and the magnets dropped in. About four metres of fishing line finished the rig.
Now, a middle-aged man sitting on a kerb jiggling a fishing line into a drain was always going to attract some attention. And so it did.
After about 30 minutes, “Mahmoud”, an Emirati who lived across the road, could take it no more.
“What are you doing?”
“I’m trying to fish out the car keys.”
“Car keys are alloy.”
“The screws aren’t.”
“This will never work.”
But of course, despite knowing the impossibility of the task, Mahmoud – in dazzling white kandura and ghutra – sat down on the kerb. He had to have a go. He was compelled. In such a situation, most men are. (It probably goes a long way to explaining the gap in longevity between the genders.)
And he was dead right. It didn’t work.
But he knew a locksmith who could fix us up with a new key for the highly unfashionable Hyundai Matrix (the designer of which now hopefully buys his pharmaceutical needs from a chemist IN A SHOP) for a fraction of the price.
He gave the man a call and insisted I wait with him at his family’s villa, to enjoy coffee and shisha and meet and chat with his brothers and cousins.
Three hours later, the locksmith arrived and soon we had a set of keys, but not before Mahmoud had persuaded him to drop the price even further.
We ended up paying 10 per cent of the quote, with another two keys thrown in for free.
It was, I believe, another win for the innovators.
Last December, Jane and the kids had been driving through the countryside in the Australian state of Victoria when the little bloke yelled, “Look, a mirage.”
His mum had to point out that what he had seen was a real puddle of water stretching across a hollow in the road.
It’s not really so remarkable that in his experience, the illusion of water is more common than the stuff itself. Dinny was one year and 19 days old when we moved to the United Arab Emirates.
But it’s funny. For some reason a part of me still expects him and his sister to be intrinsically “Australian”, with memories of Australian childhood – Hill’s hoist and Pope sprinkler – as if even though they have been deprived of that culture it will come to surface through our own recollections.
So why does he announce that he’s decided to support Paris-Saint Germain, then change to Manchester City? Surely his genetic make-up would have him jumping from the Western Bulldogs one week to anyone but Adelaide (if he wants to keep his pocket money) the next.
And fair go, he’s only 8, but why does he pronounce “G’day, mate” like an over-enthusiastic American tourist? There’s got to be at least one strand of DNA to stop that.
He and Bella do have some idea of their heritage. Bella ate damper at an Australian campout at her school in Abu Dhabi, and they’ve both passed wallabies at Al Bahia zoo, just off the Island, on their way to laugh at the Syrian goats (as soon as I learn how to add photos, it will be obvious. Until then, Google them for yourself).
They know Australian tunes. Waltzing Matilda, Home Among the Gum Trees, Redback on the Toilet Seat, songs from The Adventures of Barry McKenzie. One of their favourites is the politically charged Tony Abbott is a Duffer (I wrote that).
But there’s one facet of the picture Australians like to paint of themselves – as selective as it all too obviously is – that our kids have in spades. It’s the automatic acceptance that everyone is their equal. Even if some of them are “meanies”.
The population of the UAE is 80 to 85 per cent expatriate. Sleepovers in Arab, Filipino and Indian households have brought our kids to the understanding that different ways of living are part of what makes life interesting. And friends are friends.
They don’t eat or drink in front of kids who are fasting for Ramadan; they don’t talk of pork in front of Muslim friends, or beef in front of Hindu mates. And they don’t carry on as if this brings them any suffering.
We hope that when we do take them back to Australia – or “home” – they will bring that with them; that they will see through the mean-minded push to kick up every time a group of Muslim women ask for a couple of hours of privacy at a public swimming pool, and feel at least distaste whenever some elected knob-throttler bangs on about being forced to live under “Sharia law”.
Then, after indoctrinating them – by force, if necessary – into the Bulldogs fold, we’ll know we’ve done at least two things right as parents.