Dubai Diaries: The Rock'n Bubble generation

When these playing cards came along, there was a ripple of excitement in our sandy Karama playground.


Enid Grace Parker

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Published: Tue 16 Nov 2021, 9:37 AM

Those of you who grew up in Dubai in the ‘80s may recall Rock’n Bubble — a packet of bubble gum that included a playing card featuring a famous singer or band — names that come to mind include Billy Idol, Bruce Springsteen and Whitney Houston, among many others.

As kids we were fond of collecting stickers, stamps, posters and other random stuff (one friend even used to cut out pictures of his favourite actors from magazines and newspapers and stick them in a scrap-book — it was, he said, very time-consuming but oddly satisfying).

So when Rock’n Bubble came along, there was a ripple of anticipation in our sandy Karama playground almost every evening as we traded cards and tried our best to get our hands on the rarer ones, which if I remember correctly included a member of English reggae band UB40 and Smooth Operator singer Sade.

It was funny how I knew almost nothing about the older singers featured in this series of cards, but upon coming across their names so often began to pay closer attention to their tracks that played on Dubai 92, and in the process learning a great deal about music that didn’t belong solely to my generation.

I don’t think anyone from my chilhood group of playground friends managed to collect all the cards (or if they did, it was kept a great big secret), and after a while the fad died out (or perhaps, the cards just weren’t part of the gum anymore). Looking back, more than the cards themselves, I think it was the excitement of having a new ‘project’ that inspired us to gather up our pocket money and invest in Rock’n Bubble.

Serious pre-teen discussions around pop stars and bands (and their often outlandish fashion and hairstyles at the time) were another outcome of this collecting spree, which in a small way prompted my genre-spanning love for music that has endured till date.

While strolling down memory lane for this column, an interesting bit of trivia popped up about the company that used to manufacture the gum that gave us Rock’n Bubble. Dandy chewing gum corporation — now defunct — was founded in the town of Vejle, Denmark, over a hundred years ago.

I wonder if the founders ever imagined that one day, coveted pop star memorabilia drawn from their products would spawn a new and enticing hobby for kids in a small Middle Eastern desert town?

In the days before hypermarkets existed and when fancy malls were only a distant dream in Dubai, a raggle-taggle bunch of children would scour the grocery shops of Karama with pockets full of small change and coins, hoping the playing card that turned up in a pack of gum would make our day. It was a simple pastime, but an undeniably great one. Thank you, Dandy.

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