trip

dubai

by day

Once you see one Palestinian flag, you start to see them all. From my window I can see eight without even looking too hard, stretched across buildings finished and unfinished. I am too far distanced from that situation to comment, but their presence strikes me. I did not notice them six months previously. There’s no flag on the world’s tallest building. The Burj Khalifa, like an iPhone X alongside older models, sends everything around it into crashing obsolescence. And yet it’s funny how the world’s most celebrated building is the one that looks most likely to leave us for outer space. I guess we all aspire to the stars, because we’ve already conquered everything on Earth. There is nothing very far away anymore, nothing too crazy: weekend trips to Dubai are, for some, perfectly normal. Building high-rise and ski slopes in the desert, perfectly normal. Sixteen-lane motorways, perfectly normal.
So of course, when that’s all so mundane, we need a new fix. 

by night

The city’s highways never sleep, its high-rise never stops winking. There is no city closer to the pinnacle of human ingenuity, no city further removed from human roots. Why was this necessary? For what it demonstrates is that progress can only come with consumerism, with waste, with haves and have-nots. A city so at the cutting edge of our prowess as a species that it blunts everything else – a candy-cane of a city that nowhere else can live up to, because other cities have to be grounded in reality, at least sometimes. Except maybe Vegas and Cancun, there’s no cities with its head in the clouds and feet off the ground as much as Dubai.

And yet, it’s cool. People wouldn’t entertain the dream if it wasn’t. The opulence, the theatre, the improbability, the incredulity – that’s cool. The lights, the architecture, the fact anything is possible if you have enough money, even that’s cool. But the whole place is sprinting – to stay shiny, to stay hyper-relevant, to stay candy-sweet. 

And you can cover a huge distance in a short time if you sprint. But how long can you keep it up?

Going back to London feels like stepping off a cloud, pressing the Home button to leave the Instagram feed and go back into the real world: colours duller, buildings smaller, everything altogether less opulent. But at least it’s real. 

thoughts on a journey

Around Lewknor, finally, the thick trees parted and the green opened up ahead of us. Cows grazed the rapeseed fields beside the road. 

Around Oxford, trees crowded the road again. A wild boar lay squashing the daisies. We pull off the A road and turn onto a cycle path. “Keep to the roads,” the sat nav reminds us. In the suburbs of Oxford I smell England again. 

Nowhere in Oxford has money. When we finally got change, none of the meters worked. I sat on a bench and sipped black coffee. 

Around Burford we saw what we’d come to see. Green stretching and punctuated by dots of villages. A single church stuck above the tree line. Entering the village we realised we were not alone. Cars stretched down the high street as flags fluttered from lamp posts.

Stow on the Wold. Passed through.

Approaching Chipping Campden I smell woodsmoke on pine breeze. The hills rolled up, broken by age-old dry walls. Sheep picked their way along grassy cliffs, their bleats echoing across the valley. Wool clung in smoky clumps to barbed wire. I watched Joost, tiny against the vast landscape. Chipping Campden was beige. The sandstone of Oxford had followed us here.

A dropped plate was the day’s biggest disturbance for a sleepy town. We stopped in a pub garden for lunch. I ate too much beef and too many potatoes. I washed it down with too much beer. Then I felt drowsy.

First drops of rain on the car.

Stroud is a forgotten suburb of inner London, sprawling grey and unlovely. We spend 10 minutes driving round, then looked for where to go next. Three inns were full. Each recommended two further fully booked.

We fell on our feet and found the Egypt Mill. It had roaring fires and lakes, good beer and hot food. So I sit, beer in hand, fire on my back, listening to the birds. We drank ale as ducks swam nonchalantly in the rain. The Cotswolds could be a different world. The rain that was forecast was droplets and had minimal effect on our plans.

I dreamed that night of an underground city, a blaze of life in disused sewers. I lay underneath the world and looked up at it through those little squares of glass in the pavements. A film played on a projector. I met Keith Richards and a face-shifting man. 

A single bird on a telegraph wire waits for a message in nameless countryside. The distance is thick with drizzle. Fields extend to hills over the horizon. 

The serenity of green squares. Along a damp path by the church. Clouds hang like sheep’s wool in the valley.

Road trip dip.