I’m a competitive chap. Not for me the thrill of mere attendance and the much-overused adage ‘it’s the taking part that counts’. No, for me life is but a very simple one-two equation: line up the challenge, smash it to smithereens. I just cannot tolerate being beaten. At anything. There is no such thing as ‘just for fun’, and I abhor all suggestions otherwise.
It’s not a new thing, either. As a rugby-playing schoolboy, I remember running another team clean off the pitch. They had been bragging about their imminent victory all winter and suddenly, after the beating of a lifetime, they transformed into textbook sportsmen, congratulating us on our victory, with the captain (this was a rather posh school) going so far as to quote American sports columnist Grantland Rice: ‘And when the One Great Scorer comes to write against your name, he marks not that you won or lost, but how you played the game.’ Yes, I pointed out, but you still lost by a 32-point margin and your dad wears flares.
I’m not proud of this competitive streak. I simply cannot help it. It’s ingrained; a robust attitude that’s ensured I’ve enjoyed a fairly healthy career as a magazine editor (you have no idea how long I spend in shops staring at the competition) and a fairly average career as ‘enjoyable person to be around’. Because no matter what the occasion – card games, Trivial Pursuit, who is carrying the heaviest bag back from the shops – I want to win. No, I need to win. Which, in case you’re wondering where all this is leading, is why Dubai freaks me out. Everyone it seems, is like me.
You can’t order a normal pizza here. The owner will bristle with indignation at the mere suggestion, informing you that this is authentic dough, imported from Italy, made to a recipe known only by his mother. You can’t buy an average ice-cream: it’s always freshly made from the creamiest cream of the creamiest cows. Chocolate arrives adorned with gold, smoothies are hand-smoothed with the finest, freshest fruit, and even the Christmas tree down the road in Abu Dhabi had roughly US$11 million of sparkle on it. It’s alpha male (and female) mayhem. You row, he dragon boats; you dragon boat, he powerboats; you powerboat, he has rockets in his legs and flies to work (you can laugh, it’s but days away from becoming a reality).
For the first time in my life, I’m struggling to keep up. Even my dad, who has been in Dubai much longer than me, is at it. I get in from celebrating New Year’s Eve at 3.30am, he strolls in at 4.30am. I’m not conceding defeat here, you understand, I’m just suggesting that we all slow down a bit. Perhaps there’s no shame in coming second after all. Just remember, I did it first. And better.