It’s all a bit Ozymandias…

It’s funny really. I potter along out here, making the best of things, trying to immerse myself in this new life, but every now and then I recognise the truth of my situation, in much the same way that a short-sighted pigeon might encounter the truth of a French window. Here it is: basically I live on a building site in the middle of a desert. In one way or another, every day is a struggle for sanity. I am becoming a bit like Mad Max in Cath Kidston pyjamas.

It’s not that I don’t like it here – there are plenty of things to like… it’s more that I get cross that this place even exists – that there is even an option for human beings to live here. It’s just so illogical. In a desert, the natural state of most living things is death. The tap water here is desalinated; the palm trees are artificially irrigated; the grass is strangely sparse and springy – as if each patch of turf is in a state of shock, having been transplanted from its cosy, moist poly-tunnel onto a scorching hot square of sand, like a skin-graft onto a fresh burn. It all feels like a bit of a trick, as if we are merely creating an illusion of ‘normal’ life, whilst fighting a brutal war of attrition with nature.

Last week, while I was heading inland, out of the city, there was a beautiful sunset. The juxtaposition between this and the bleak, parched landscape around me was heart-breaking. It wouldn’t be so bad if it was just desert – despite the cruel heat, the desert dunes are quite beautiful (and the glossy tower blocks of downtown have a certain glamorous charm too) – it’s the scrubby, rubbly mess of so many abandoned building projects, date-palm graveyards, improvised rubbish dumps, dilapidated petrol stations, desiccated ghost towns and half-finished highways.

And somehow it doesn’t seem to have the remote, road-trip romance of other such barren landscapes like Texas or Arizona. It just feels dry, dead and empty. There are creatures adapted to this sort of environment of course – the Arabian Red Fox, the wonderfully named Fringe-Toed Sand Lizard and Saw-Scaled Viper… But as for other (larger, pinker, sweatier) life forms, we are reliant upon air-conditioning, cars, refrigerators, aerosol Evian and small, hand-held, battery-operated handbag-sized fans. I think this might be part of my problem with living here: some atavistic creature deep within me knows that I could not survive here without the aid of technology (whereas, apparently, it would be more than happy for me to forage for roots and berries in the damp chill of a British winter…). It feels like it is only a matter of time until nature wins the battle out here, and mankind is punished for its arrogance. When the power fails, when the oil dries up, it feels inevitable that this city will cook and crumble, the sun’s intense heat magnified and refracted by so many glassy, glittering skyscrapers.

Several miles outside the city there is the entrance gate to a theme park that was never actually built. It is intrinsically sad. The twisted skeleton of a rollercoaster and a huge formula one car have been welded together in one massive, grotesque, dusty monument, long since forgotten. It just sits there tragically, in the middle of the desert, like Shelley’s Ozymandias – a stark symbol of lost riches, faded power and failed ambition.

Life here seems so fundamentally unsustainable that it is easy to imagine the whole city in a thousand – or even a few hundred years – reduced to nothing more than rubble in the sand. Perhaps just the tallest building, our single, iconic obelisk, would remain defiantly amongst the dust and dunes…

“…`My name is Ozymandias, King of Kings:

Look on my works, ye mighty, and despair!’

Nothing beside remains. Round the decay

Of that colossal wreck, boundless and bare,

The lone and level sands stretch far away.”


  1. Rick

    Entropy………as you say Lu will always win out in the end………..another thoughtful, beautifully written piece……’s getting to the point where I eagerly wait for Friday to read the next instalment……..

  2. Thank you!! 🙂 The last pic is from our desert drive return journey when you were here! xxx

  3. One of my favourite poems, and from your description, a perfect match to your surroundings. The never-built theme park makes me 😦 – an attempt to bring the wrong sort of life to that environment, essentially doomed.

    But your writing . . . that’s anything but a desert. Beautifully done – thank you!


    • Thanks for reading, Barbara – blogging has become something of an oasis for me out here 🙂

      • I imagine it has – again, from the way you describe it. But poetry always helps make sense of life, I’ve found. 🙂

  4. Bina

    A neat little poem of a blog, Lucy: your best yet. And timely reading for me, as Fizz and I have been playing with Ozymandias this week. Surrounded by Egyptology, it feels like a failure of a poem; pretty much everything beside remains. Transposed to your desert, it’s moving.

    • Glad you like it, Bina. Interesting point about how much of a great civilization can endure beyond its demise… Love that Fizz is an enthusiastic Egyptologist already; home schooling is clearly an amazing thing. I wonder if I’ll be brave enough to try it…

  5. Louise

    Odd I should read your blog post today having just returned from a visit to the Dubailand complex. If you drive through the gates, you can park up, there are model animals, and if you ask security, they have no problem letting you inside. Inside is a huge scale model of the plans they had(have?) for Dubailand. Its interesting.

    • Crumbs – I find that a bit spooky actually. Maybe it’s all just indefinitely paused then and someone sitting in an office far far away still believes it’s all going to happen one day… Or maybe the model IS Dubailand and the designers got the scale wrong, like in Spinal Tap… ooooh…

      • Louise

        It was a bit bizarre really, it was all manicured, tidy, there were staff, music playing, all the lights are on, its worth seeing just for the huge model alone. There was also a lot of building work/activity going on the land next to it – I know the ‘Taj Mahal’ plans (recently in the press) are part of the same development, so perhaps it is picking up again.

  6. Hi Louise – the Taj Mahal project is extraordinary, isn’t it! A one billion dollar gigantic replica of the Taj Mahal in the desert: the ultimate monument of love reborn as a massive hotel and shopping mall…

  7. Very thought provoking! Thinking of all the civilizations who have come and gone to dust…. in these days of floods it makes you wonder about the UK…. seems sooooo permanent but…..who knows? Thanks Lucy. Wonderfully written as ever:-)

    • Cheers, Diana. We’re just another evolutionary phase like the dinosaurs… The human race, that is, not writers! Although… 🙂

  8. Well said. I feel like this ALL the time!

  9. Cheers, Longhorns – I really enjoyed looking at your blog – loads of interesting UAE pieces.

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