The Empire Strikes Back. With Ice Cream.

I’d interviewed the Desert Chill team last August while I was interning with Time Out Dubai. I re-wrote the piece and added the British element to it as part of my module submission for my MA Magazine Journalism course.

 

An integral part of British culture is an ice cream van cruising the streets playing its tunes and selling its chilly wares. When British expats in the United Arab Emirates noticed the lack of ice cream vans in a country that’s known for hitting 50 degrees on the thermometer, they decided to take a little bit of Britain with them.

There’s not a cloud in the sky. The breezeless streets are empty. Surrounded by cream houses and royal Poinciana trees on either side of the narrow street, we want something, anything, to relieve us from this heat. Then we hear ‘Greensleeves’ in the distance. An ice cream van. We’re home.

Or not.

Contrary to what you might think, we’re not in a street in Britain over the summer months. We are in Dubai, where the temperature can cross the 50 degrees mark in the summer. And we have just spotted their first ever ice cream van.

One would imagine that a city like Dubai needs ice cream the way Britain needs wellies. But they didn’t have a single ice cream van in the whole country. Not until a year ago.

When Dan Furlong left Essex to visit his parents in Dubai last year, he noticed something: Malls? Check. Beaches? Check. Skyscrapers? Check. Ice cream vans? Not one.

As we scramble into the back of the van – which is expectedly cooler than the sauna outside – Dan says, ‘You often see ice cream vans in the UK. I asked a few friends if they’d ever seen one in Dubai and they said, funnily enough, they hadn’t.’

Indeed, the English would find it odd that a country as hot, dry and humid as U.A.E. did not have an ice cream van when their wet and chilly country did. It’s almost a ritual when growing up in England – to buy ice cream from a van.

Dan was used to having ice cream vans in the street in Essex, especially during the summer. Dan consulted Google and did some research. “I saw a niche in the market and since I’ve always wanted a family business, me and my brother, Nathen, decided to go ahead with this plan.”

Fast forward nine months of the setting up process which included getting necessary permits from authorities, finding the right van, pimping it up and selling their concept. Finally, Desert Chill was born.

The only stumbling block they faced was explaining their concept to people who had only ever seen ice cream vans in British movies and read about them in Enid Blyton books.

Now, with 8 months of experience under their (air-conditioned) belt, they have an established customer base in the areas that they serve. 

Although the very concept of ice cream vans is alien in the country, Dan informs us that their customer base is very wide. Not only do the British, perhaps longing for a touch of home, flock to the van, other expatriates and Emirati nationals have taken to Desert Chill like a camel to sand.

Speaking of camels, their official logo is an image of a camel licking an ice cream cone. Dan, who eventually wants to produce their own ice cream, explains the logo, “I wanted to create a brand that was culturally sensitive. Also, I wanted to create something I could take across the Middle East. Anywhere there are camels and deserts, the van is going to go.”

Months have passed since their launch in Dubai, yet they still encounter shocked and incredulous looks.

Dan says, “There is definitely an initial shock factor. We often get people who approach the van and ask what we’re doing. We explain Desert Chill to them and they’re fascinated by it.”

People are also curious about the tune that blares out from the van’s speakers as it cruises on the green, leafy streets of the Meadows and the Springs – the gated complexes meant to mimic the suburbs of Wisteria Lane. It is the inherently English tune ‘Greensleeves’, which so many people from England identify with.

Apart from the Furlong’s homage to tradition – or psychotic, gouty kings, as the case may be – Desert Chill also has a host of other music.

“The van is stocked with over 60 tunes. We even have a happy birthday tune, so when we go to children’s parties the van plays the happy birthday music. That’s a good surprise for the children!”

The brothers love catering for parties. “We do a lot of parties – it’s one part of the business we really enjoy. We provide ice cream cake, play music and serve all the children ice cream from our regular menu.”

One wonders if the extreme heat conditions of the desert city pose problems to their business, the very core of which is centred on being cold. Dan says, “No, it’s not a problem at all. Obviously we’ve got everything in place to deal with heat in terms of van conversion. And as you said, it’s hot; it’s the perfect treat for someone to cool down.”

What’s next for the young entrepreneurs? Desert Chill currently services all the EMAAR and Nakheel properties and are now moving into the streets of the capital – Abu Dhabi. 

“We’ve got quite a big footprint,” Dan says. With three vans, the brothers still drive a few times a week and plan to keep doing so when they expand their business. “My brother and I have always taken an active role in the business and it’s also very good to keep in touch with our customers.”

Desert Chill is also launching a home delivery service. Customers can order packs of ice cream, ice cream cakes, normal cakes and desserts to be sent to them at their convenience. “Instead of them melting when you buy ice cream at a supermarket, we send it in a freezer truck right to your door,” says Dan.

It’s time for us to descend from the cold heaven to the bath-tub of sweat outside. Perhaps seeing the sheen of sweat already forming on our brow, Dan takes pity on us. As the van drives off with its welcome treats, we stand there watching it go with music blaring from its speakers, clutching our Magnum Classic.

SIDEBAR:

Britishers Reminisce

Amy McNichol, 23, from Wakefield, says that she was about 3 years old when she first bought ice cream from an ice cream van. “There used to be an orange one on my street called ‘Johnny’s ice cream’ and was run by an Italian woman,” says Amy, with a touch of nostalgia. Amy, who is currently based in Sheffield, said it would be odd for her to go somewhere in the UK that didn’t have ice cream vans. “I wouldn’t like to go, for example to the seaside, and not see an ice cream van. It would be a bit weird.” 

Khadijah Rawat, 21, from Preston, says her father used to take her to the local park every weekend, at the end of which he would buy her and her sister ice cream from a van passing by. She says that every single day in the summer months, the same ice cream van with the same driver passes her house. “I still buy ice cream from him: a 99 – with nuts, chocolate sprinkles, some blue sherbet and strawberry sauce!” Khadijah admits though, that she buys less from ice cream vans as she’s grown older. “The sparkle you have as a kid – it’s just not there anymore.”

Aadil Kazi, 24, from Leicester, says, “I think I was about 6 or 7 – I remember hearing the music and running out to buy a 99. If I go to the park, I always have ice cream from a van. Now, my nephews are doing the same thing I used to do many years ago – run out to catch the ice cream van.”

Yet another bane: Child Marriage

I know people who got married when they were 18 or 19 years old. And I considered that too young. But getting married at 18 or 19 is absolutely nothing comparison to children as young as 10 or 11 being thrust into a state of wedlock.

When I read this article in the Global Post a while ago, it just brought back to the forefront that child marriage is still very much a problem in Indian society.

“I thought marriage was a game,” Hasina says as she sits in a bamboo home in her husband’s village. She fidgets with her orange, black and green sari that covers her head and falls over her breasts, unusually big for her tiny frame. Hasina is now 15 and five months pregnant.

Whilre you’re at it, watch this report from NDTV on India being a hub of child marriage. 

UNICEF has a piece on their website on the same issue:

Married at 13, Shanti got pregnant immediately afterwards and subsequently lost her underweight, prematurely delivered baby. She is pregnant again. “This time, we hope she pulls it off,” says her mother-in-law.

Apart from this practice being morally wrong and unhealthy for the girls in question, it also imposes the problem of maternal mortality. Young girls are simply more susceptible to problems with birthing, and contribute to the higher rates of mortality during childbirth.

Again, this problem is inherently tied to – in my opinion – illiteracy, customs deemed to be religious in nature, and the patriarchal nature of society, more so in rural areas of the vast country. Despite the presence of  the Child Marriage Restraint Act of 1929 and The Prohibition of Child Marriage Act 2006, this problem has survived. Can educating these people work when they’re sunk in so deep into the misleading and false mores of society?

It does seem a vicious cycle, doesn’t it? The uneducated think it’s best for children to get married. Perhaps a girl as young as 12 is married to a boy either her age or even older. Obviously sex is expected. Pregnancy is inevitable; who uses condoms? The girls gives birth at a young age and might or might not survive. If she survives, it’s the only kind of life she knows and believes that that is how it is meant to be. And she teaches that to her children. And so it goes on.

I paint a bleak picture. Perhaps that is because I can see no discerning change in the practice. But does that mean we should stop trying to change this status quo? No.

Pandora gave us Hope. And so I succumb to it, as many of us do.

What I Thought of Sex and the City 2

I’d watch this movie for Liza Minelli’s rendition of Beyoncé’s “All the Single Ladies”. And maybe to see the white camel.

Four women who haven’t aged very well running helter-skelter around New York City (with one of them who humps anything that moves) then jet-setting to “Abu Dhabi” to unleash their “modern” views – that is what Sex and the City 2 is all about.

After hearing all the terrible reviews, I decided to go see it myself; I was also curious about the portrayal of “Abu Dhabi” (I keep using quotation marks because as you might know, the movie was filmed in Morocco) in the movie.

I left the cinema wondering what the story was all about. However, unlike Avatar, SATC2 had no spectacular imagery or 3D effects to allow me to brush away the faults in the story. Oh I’m sorry, did I say this movie even had a story? Apologies.

The movie starts off with showing us what life is like for the quartet two years after the first movie. All of them are shown to have problems. One has to deal with menopause (so she takes loads of hormones to keep her libido up), one has quit her job (oh no, does this mean she has to stay at home? *gasp*), one has her hands full with two children (her full-time nanny doesn’t count because of her bouncing assets or something) and one complains because her husband doesn’t want to eat out every night (she asks if he hates her because she’s a b**** wife who nags. Uh. Yes.). As you can see, their lives are fraught with problems that real women face. However, a chance at a break appears! Like a mirage (<sarcasm> See how I cleverly threw in a desert reference? </sarcasm>)! They have a chance to go to “Abu Dhabi”! They go there and things are well. Or are they? Watch the movie to find out! Or not. Trust me, I’m saving you your Panadol tablets.

Now, here are some of my random thoughts after watching the movie (Spoilers ahead. But then again, do you care?):

  • Making a character in the movie who is supposed to be an AUH (Abu Dhabi = AUH) Sheikh say “Dubai is over” is not an excellent plan when trying to release the movie in the U.A.E.
  • When Carrie Bradshaw openly stares at a niqabi and saying that watching her eat french fries under a veil is way more important or entertaining than anything else…it was just ridiculous.
  • Excellent move (and here I am being sarcastic) at getting one of the characters arrested for having sex on the beach.
  • Taxis is AUH have been shown to be way more battered than I imagine they are.
  • “How do mothers without hired help do it?” – Uhhhh because they’re more concerned about their family than their cream skirts?
  • Another ridiculous conversation that went something like: “Where do I make reservations tonight?” “How about we eat take out?” “We ate take out twice last week!” “Uhhh…” “I already told you I don’t cook!” This couple spend their entire life going out to eat? And their only choice is reservation or take out? HOW is this woman supposed to be an icon or role model when she can’t do ANYTHING? Look, I’m no amazing cook myself (nor do I like it very much), but I, for the life of me, cannot imagine eating from restaurants every day for the rest of my life. I’d go bonkers.
  • Highly amused to see a group of women wearing abayas and veils suddenly take them off in a dark room in front of the quartet to reveal Louis Vuitton and other glamourous fashion. Not normal clothes mind you, but cocktail dresses. Because women walking around in the souk at mid-day always wear cocktail dresses underneath their abayas. Again, I KNOW that many times, at parties or whatever, when it’s only women, they take off their abayas to reveal glamourous clothes. But really…in the middle of the souk at noon? Really??? Really???
  • “Haanji” is not yes in Arabic.
  • Did Samantha really have to hold packets of condoms and perform a thrusting action in front of the huge crowd in the middle of a souk in “Abu Dhabi” screaming “Women have sex!”?
  • Laughs were forced; humour was flat in most places.

Personally, after seeing the movie, I am quite confident that the scenes or lines in the movie which the makers had to have known would cause an uproar, were there exactly for that reason: to gain publicity for the movie.

It doesn’t work though – when I left the cinema, I just had a headache. Maybe next time (oh, the horror of another movie like this) they might think of an actual story line instead.

Of Graphic Designers and Fonts

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I love fonts. Not surprising though – I feel most journalists, especially magazine journalists, should have an inherent love for them

I was reading We Love Magazines yesterday and I came across the story of David Carson (whom you can read more about if you click the shared image at the top of this post) who applied the font Zapf Dingbats – which consists of symbols only – to what he thought was not a very interesting story and ran it like that in the magazine Ray Gun in 1994.

That is just bloody brilliant!

As it says in the book I was reading yesterday:

And Carson’s legacy also lives on as a valuable lesson to editors: never, ever supply substandard copy to the art director. Or else.

It makes me wonder though – do we now take our designers for granted? Are they treated as puppets of the editorial staff or can they just Dingbat what they think is terrible copy?