Recently, hundreds of these mysterious little huts have appeared on our beaches. They are, as you can see, white, about eight feet tall and roofed with a sort of parasol. All along the Dubai coastline they are now dotted along the sand in neat little his-and-hers pairs, situated about every hundred yards or so. I am fascinated by them. Mysterious huts

At first glance they appear to be changing huts for bathers – and this would indeed be a practical and innovative idea (and thus somewhat out of character for this part of the world, one might say if one were in a cynical mood, which one invariably is these days) – but so far the little metal doors have been permanently locked and it would be a hell of an ungainly squeeze to cram one’s fat British head underneath the thin metal wall (not that I tried to. Obviously. Ahem).

Some of the huts are covered in advertisements, which makes me think that they might simply be small cylindrical bill-boards – an ingenious scheme to make money out of thin air and to prevent us from feeling deprived of the usual onslaught of aggressive consumerism, even while relaxing on the beach.

They are vaguely reminiscent of traditional French urinals, don’t you think? I am basing this on my encyclopaedic knowledge of French history and culture gleaned entirely from Allo Allo, of course… One half expects to see the faces of Rene Artois and Michelle of the Resistance (hers adorned with an unconvincing false moustache) peering over the top of the wall, while the awful English spy disguised as a policeman sidles up with his beach-towel and says loudly, “I am just pissing by the bitch for a quick swom in the soo…” and Rene looks into the camera and rolls his eyes theatrically to the sound of canned laughter…

It is possible that they are in fact alien space-craft. Certainly the way in which they appeared, almost overnight, in such vast numbers is suggestive of some sort of well-orchestrated incursion. If this were an episode of Doctor Who they would no doubt turn out to be Genesis Arks for the Daleks, a new model of the TARDIS manufactured by the Master, or Cybermen teleporters. Or something. Though why the Doctor’s various nemeses would stage an invasion on this part of the planet is beyond me. Unless they were after the oil. Or a bit of winter sunshine and a nice cocktail.

Bathing machines on Dover Beach. It looks a bit different these days...The huts remind me of the bathing machines beloved by the Victorians: a ludicrously cumbersome way of getting in and out of the sea without anyone glimpsing you in your comedy stripy swimwear. I have always loved the concept of bathing machines, if only because the word ‘machine’ suggests something much more exciting and hi-tech than a shed on wheels. They did at least save people from the humiliation of an indecorous changing incident – a terror that haunts the British in their darkest nightmares.

While it is important to respect the local culture here and to be appropriately dressed at all times when in public, in many other parts of the world, people will gaily strip off their damp swimwear and parade around totally starkers. Not so much the British, though… British women are natural experts at changing clothes discreetly on beaches that lack appropriate facilities – even in the face of a typhoon, or an unexpected seagull attack. We instinctively know all sorts of Houdini-esque tricks with knickers and bra-straps that mean the swift and dignified change into a bikini is nothing short of an unfathomable magic trick. British men, on the other hand, tend to wobble about on one leg whilst clutching two ends of a towel between their teeth, inevitably swearing, falling face-first in the sand and shrieking to their wives in panic, “The arse is out!”

Enigmatic huts. What could they possibly be?

Do you think these enigmatic huts might indeed be changing facilities? I do hope so! Or perhaps they will be emergency first aid depots. Or dovecotes. Or ice-cream stands. Or tin tents for people who can sleep standing up. Or nesting boxes for flamingos?

All suggestions would be most gratefully received…


  1. I like the doctor who theory best. is that a minaret in the background? there is probably always one somewhere in Saudi.

    I am afraid this British women gave up modesty years ago and although I can still manage to do the silly routine, I just get my clothes off these days.

    Although one topless day I was a bit surprised when a spaniard (half my age?) asked to come to lunch with me. I then became very British and said, sorry, I was having lunch with my husband.

    • Yes – that’s the mosque next to our favourite bit of beach. I do admire your bravery, although I expect it helps when you live in the Med and are surrounded by others with very relaxed attitudes to that sort of thing!

  2. perhaps they are indeed changing contraptions and are just waiting for d-day, there is a guy in a room somewhere watching a large LED countdown and they will all miraculously open once it reaches zero.

  3. J B

    Air ducts for some nefarious subterranean industry…

    • Genius! Yes – it’ll be a Bond villain of some sort, hell-bent on world domination…

  4. They look like two little Moomins in the bottom photo. Very cute. The fact that there are two of them next to each other does suggest a ‘his ‘n’ hers’ aspect allowing, I would imagine, for a quick change from burqa to burquini… (her), djellaba to Speedo (him)…

    • They are cute, I agree. Fingers crossed for his ‘n’ hers changing then. And not anything Dalek or flamingo related…

  5. Our Adventure in Croatia

    yep my vote goes to changing facilities. Let us know when you discover it

  6. Or is it an attempt to join the space race….I have visions of them lifting off in a cloud of gas and sand…

    I can remember the changing on the beach contortions all too well….and your description of the lack of ability of British men in that respect had me hooting at its accuracy.

    I am sorry I missed a spectacle yesterday.
    My husband’s siesta was disturbed by our friend and lawyer bringing half a dozen of her girl friends in for a look round the house he is working on…he apparently had to dress himself under a sheet while they oohed and aahed at the renovations.
    Must have resembled ectoplasm….

    • Brilliant! What a rude awakening – the poor chap! – that must take a fair bit of athleticism though! I like your theory – yes, they certainly could be little rockets, couldn’t they…

  7. Could they be intergalactical toilet rolls left on the beach by passing (ur-hum…) aliens? The split door is curious, strange system for loos or changing cubicles. I’d go for booths for selling beach stuff. I like Sarah’s allusion to Moomins, though 🙂

  8. My theory is that these huts are specially designed holding cells for peeps that are either inappropriately dressed on the beach or have been behaving badly on the beach. I will get down to the beach this evening and investigate for myself by stealing a small child from a friend and using said child as forced labour to crawl under the shack for a better look. Hummmm. Maybe the thing to do would be to snaffle a periscope off a submarine, would look so much better than being done for child labour.

    • This is a genius suggestion, Penny, and I thoroughly approve of the chimney-sweep-esque child labour in order to investigate. Please report back on findings. Over and out.

    • I like Penny’s idea best!
      Great post, enjoyed reading it and pondering as well.

      • Thank you, Rachelle 🙂 And Penny’s theory is possibly the most plausible!

  9. porta-potties? They’re really very scary to me actually….I would not enter one of those…uh uh, no way!

    • Oh God I hope they’re not porta-potties… They look a bit too – public somehow… *veryBritishshudder* I shall investigate further…

      • please do – b/c if we can’t identify what they are much less who owns them, they really do need to go! ::secondthat”veryBritishshudder”::

  10. Such precision with the blue and white posts! I love the Allo Allo sketch. Gave me a few giggles. look forward to the unveiling of the truth!

    • I shall keep you posted, Diana! The more I look at them, the more sinister they seem…

  11. Kaye

    Have you discovered what they are yet? My friend and I were wondering about them last week. I thought they may be for changing and pray they are not toilets!

    • No news as yet – I’ll keep you updated! I really hope they’re for changing too… Let me know if you find one that’s unlocked! 🙂

  12. Rick

    I thunk that the mest pissable thory is that they are bitch hats fur parsons to chunge in whin they go fur a swam in the soo.

    • Brilliant!! Your French is particularly good these days – you must have been practising! ;-D

  13. Congrats on being Freshly Pressed!!

  14. Perhaps they are beach chairs for people who suffer from Xeroderma pigmentosum. 😉

  15. Hahaha! I laughed coffee through my nose reading this! I’m not British, but here in Canada we are of the Commonwealth and perhaps have integrated into our cultural archetype some of your beach-related skills. Namely, changing on a bit of beach without showing any unnecessary skin – and training for future careers as contortionists or gymnasts, now that I think about it. Anyway, thanks for this. I needed the laugh!

    • You’re welcome Desi, so glad you enjoyed it! Yes, I think there is certainly an affinity between Brits and Canadians in this respect. It is on such common ground that international treaties are forged 🙂

  16. Congratulations!

  17. That…. or they need a lot of lifeguards on the beach… they look like miniature lifequard stations to me…lol… most intriguing these…

  18. Maybe they are used by lifeguards to watch out for sharks. They’re shark blinds. Beautiful pictures, btw.

  19. Did you know that the colourful bathing boxes in the Melbourne suburb of Brighton are a tourist icon of the city? What about Dubai’s bathing boxes? Perhaps they too are a tourist icon for their city?

  20. My guess is also that it is a place to change.

  21. I just saw this was Freshly Pressed. Congrats!

  22. Great writing! I especially like your closing descriptions. Let us know if you find anything else out!
    Best, Meri

  23. They seem pretty close to the water. Do they give out modesty towels? Bizarre.

    • Now then, the hypothesis of a Modesty Towel is an excellent one… I might poke my camera under the gap at the bottom and take pictures to see if there are piles of towels in there ready to be strategically deployed…

  24. Congratulations on being Freshly Pressed!!

  25. Reblogged this on Elliot Claire London and commented:
    Nice read especially for those who are homesick..

  26. Hey Lucy, thanks for following my blog. I hope you enjoy it.

    • Looking forward to reading your future posts, Barbara – and catching up on the older ones too! 🙂

  27. Great post, really funny! I want to know what the huts are! Can I re-post this (with links back and acknowledgement) on my blog,

    • Hi Allison and welcome to H&H! Yes, of course you can reblog it – I would be honoured 🙂 I’ll let you know if I ever discover the purpose of the mystery huts…

  28. Just like we used fake cutouts of tanks during WWll to fool the Germans that we had more firepower than we actually did, maybe these are supposed to look like missile silos from outer space….

  29. OyiaBrown

    Reblogged this on Oyia Brown.

  30. Who’s a clever girl and got herself freshly pressed. Congrats and a slice of pizza is on it’s way to you. 🙂

  31. Well, I love this article entirely. This is well written, funny, and full of creative thought. 🙂 Followed. 🙂

    • Thank you!! Your good opinion is hugely appreciated – welcome to H&H! I’ll put the kettle on…

  32. Fun and funny article! I thought for sure I would find the answer to the mystery huts in the comments…I am so curious!

    • Hi Jeanne and welcome to H&H. Glad you liked it! I’ll certainly post when I discover something more… Stay tuned 🙂

  33. I feel your pain. I’m in Saudi. btw your Like button either isn’t working or isn’t activated in your sharing settings. Interesting blog! – Andrea

    • hmmm, interesting. After posting a comment, the Likes appeared. Learned something. Thanks! 🙂

      • 😀 It just seems to be slow to load at the moment… Thank you for your patience!

    • Thanks Andrea! Haven’t been to Saudi yet, but my husband’s heading over there soon… Are you homesick too? For the US? Liked your blog too. I’m having a big career rethink at the moment so I’ll be interested to follow your progress 🙂

      • Hi.. I’m homesick for my home full of my things. For New Mexico green chili stew smothered eggs and bacon. But I can deal, it’s not so bad. Will your husband be working here or just visiting? If he’s never been, well lets just say it’s not Dubai. Thanks for following, hope it helps ! 🙂

      • Cor that New Mexico stew sounds good… He’ll just be visiting Saudi for a day or two on business. I’m looking forward to hearing all about it! 🙂

  34. skavop

    Bedouin besits, perhaps?

  35. Just saw this was freshly pressed – congrats!

  36. They ARE changing huts!! They now have little pink / blue flags on top and have been UNLOCKED. Inside they are like little cylindrical stables – very sandy of course and with no hooks on which to hang a damp costume, but useful nonetheless for preventing indecorous changing incidents… Mystery solved, everyone – CASE CLOSED! 🙂

  37. Thanks for the PingBack!! Love your site – what a great idea 🙂

  38. Thanks so much for the PingBack! Really enjoying having a look around your blog. p.s. The mysterious huts have recently acquired little male and female flags on the top, lending strength to the changing room theory… but they’re still permanently locked! 🙂


  1. Friday Favorites – Best Blog Articles of the Week | The Culture Monk
  2. I concur, dear sir | Librarian for Life

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