A window on the world

Dubai's 6am cricketers, a hostelry full of Irish, people from the west glued to the extreme east, and don't forget all the swimmers.

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Six-twenty on Friday morning in the cluster of roads behind Mall of the Emirates, and there they are, five guys making a sight hardly unusual and yet reasonably startling.

With the sun barely up, and the innards feeling like revolting, and the body wondering why it cannot just pivot and go back to the pillow, these guys find an open field of packed sand and bowl away.

Even if the hour might be hostile and the world around them might be still, their muscle fibres have demanded they simply must play some cricket, so they're the liveliest beings around Al Barsha just past dawn, a sight to see, undeterred by time and toil.

Ten-twenty on Saturday morning near Jumeirah Lakes Towers, and here they are, more people than you ever see at 10.20am unless it's some sort of big, somniferous work convention.

If this were four years ago, this first Rugby World Cup quarter-final would come from France at an hour going on midnight, but now it's coming from way, way in the other direction in Wellington, so the English breakfasts go by on the trays of waiters even as the tension suggests night-time.

From outside on quiet pavements in the sun, you can hear the broadcasters blaring from nine time zones away. Inside the Bonnington Hotel, it's hard to move, and sometimes it's hard even to shift weight, and it's possible to take persistent jabs in the side from a chichi handbag hanging off a shoulder.

Some people have dressed incredibly presentably for such wee-hours rugby viewing, but flip-flops abound as Wales lead Ireland 15-10, wreaking some worried faces gazing forth while some other patrons just chit-chat which, at 15-10 and at 60 minutes in a World Cup quarter-final, is mind-boggling.

From a makeshift cricket pitch at dawn to an unmistakable Irish gathering at mid-morning, it's a snapshot of a weekend in the middle of the world and a reminder of how we live given our big jets and big screens. With people up in the air and mingled as never before all over the planet, sometimes it's hard to tell just where you are.

Six sharp on Friday night, way out on the Dubai Bypass at a stunning facility taxi drivers strain to find, and the Chlorine People have descended to the Hamdan bin Mohammed bin Rashid Sports Complex for Fina's Swimming World Cup. From five continents they have come, so a good crowd materialises and the participants remark on the state-of-the-artness.

"If we had this in South Africa, we would be over the moon," said Chad le Clos, the 19 year old who won in Dubai both last December and this weekend, and who loved it last December at the Short Course World Championships when, in a feat of razzmatazz, they introduced the winners surrounded in smoke.

Eleven-thirty on Saturday morning near Ibn Battuta, and in not many hotel lobbies on Saturday mornings can you hear both God Save The Queen and La Marseillaise back-to-back.

But there they go, beside the indoor palm trees and the gorgeous Arabian giant hanging lamps, and, if I may be so impartial, both songs come through from Auckland as thoroughly stirring, and garnished with one of the world's better sights, that of burly rugby players who could turn you into a pretzel or a matchstick, crooning with relish their national anthems.

The second quarter-final begins, and we all see which French team has showed up, and it's the version that delights the smattering of fans in the corner with the Tricolour.

Wales-Ireland has finished back at McGettigan's in the Bonnington Hotel after one moment when Sean O'Brien ran loose and the frenzy in the voices gave a glimpse of how a real comeback might sound in there. Wales prevailed, 22-10, and there has been a gentlemen's applause for the young Wales squad even as Ireland's big hope halts. Now, down the line toward Jebel Ali in another hotel, English fans groan.

Tally it all up for merely one weekend, and that's 6am cricketers from the subcontinent, a hotel hostelry full of Irish, dotted with some Welsh and English, God Save The Queen, La Marseillaise, people from the west in the middle while glued to the extreme east, and don't forget all the swimmers from South Africa and Russia and America and China and Japan and the UAE.

If it's hard to tell where you are sometimes, here at this crossroads of the planet the answer might be just simple and comprehensive: Earth.


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