When you watch as many movies as I have over the past five years and three months (1915 afternoons and evenings to be exact) it really is quite astonishing just how many American films involve violence – guns, bombs, explosions, knives, fisticuffs, torture, car crashes, blood, gore, pain, death, etc - and it gets incredibly tedious. A rough guess would say that 90% show at least one shooting. Come on! Give peace a chance, baby!
This obsession with bloodshed is not only exported from Hollywood to the rest of the world but also travels via the US military complex that sends weaponry and soldiers overseas as if a titanic and demonic take-away martial pizza, which incidentally makes up a major slice of the US economy, under the farcical premise that they are keeping the peace. What really concerns me now is what is going to happen when every Tom, Igor and Jihadi have their own drones to drop mayhem on random targets as and when they please.
And what’s with this craze of using American in so many movie titles: American Beauty, American Sniper, American Hustle, American Werewolf in London, American Muscle, Captain America, American Gigolo, American Graffiti, American Loser, American Idiots, American Gun, American Pie, American Psycho, American Virgin, or simply The American, which is a good one. In fact there are over 100 of them and can be checked out here.
But back to the sandy movies. Pretty much long gone are the innocent halcyon days of Stan and Ollie, the Marx Brothers, Jimmy Stewart, Marilyn Monroe, Cary Grant and Audrey Hepburn bringing fun, brio and romance to an evening in front of the silver screen or living room telly. Feel Good movies replaced by Fuck You films. Jokes? Humanity? No no no, here’s a gun in your face, buddy boy. Don’t leave home without one.
Just the other night I was unfortunate to watch a film of truly top class dross called The Interview, which so irked North Korea that it threatened nuclear retaliation, eventually settling on hacking Sony Pictures web server instead. For sure the film had guns and tanks and shooting but on top of that it was marketed as a comedy except the totally humourless humour turned out to be base vulgarity, which was not funny in the slightest.
Thankfully a few great movies did find their way out here and so some dull days on the sofa were enlivened by a glow to my hardened heart and a smile to my face, resonating for a long time afterwards. Some of them I’ve viewed over and over again like my niece who has watched all 236 episodes of Friends three times. There’s even an English guy somewhere who watches Zulu every day.
Here is a list of the high points. Click on the orange title for a more in-depth lowdown:-
The Wire: Creme de la Creme. Not a movie but five TV seasons stretching from 2002-08.
Guns galore but highly realistic and important in highlighting the insanity of a country that prevents women getting their tits out on the beach but where you can easily buy a pistol and shoot your neighbour, and, with a good lawyer, get away with it.
Violence Rating: Guns and death galore. Welcome to America.
Grand Budapest Hotel: A visual feast of colour, amazing scenery, comedy and a fast-paced script that makes the story run. Two hours has never felt shorter.
Violence Rating: One slapstick shoot-out. No blood visible.
American Gangster: The sort of film you don’t want to end. Fascinating true story, brilliantly acted, set against a soundtrack of Motown’s best.
Violence Rating: A lot of guns and violence.
The Jane Austen Book Club: The perfect film to demonstrate that you don’t need death and destruction to entertain and that America can be a sane, witty place, if they took away the weapons.
Violence Rating: Peace in the Sacramento suburbs.
Nb. One of THE hottest chicks I've ever met came from Sacramento. She worked as a strip-tease artiste in Reno, of all places.
Rock ‘n Rolla: A satire on modern day London with criminals viewing themselves as ordinary working people earning a crust. "All in a day's work, Guvner." Understated humour and great music. Mark Strong and Tom Wilkinson are hilarious.
Violence Rating: A lot of guns and death and violence.
In The Mood For Love: Set in Hong Kong, one of my favourite destinations, and brilliantly photographed, perfectly capturing the ambience. Director Kar Wai Wong displays Maggie Cheung's talent and porcelain beauty and allows Tony Chiu to act while barely uttering a word. Genius.
Violence Rating: Zero guns or death.
No Country For Old Men: One of those rare films that lives up to the excellence of the book. Made Josh Brolin one of my favourite actors while Javier Bardem plays weird like no other.
Violence Rating: So much shooting that even a dog bites the bullet.
New York I Love You: An eclectic mix, vaguely connected, of ten eight-minute scenes each shot by different directors. The film is a collection of snapshots from everyday life in the Big Apple. Impressively captures the city’s vibe and self-absorption.
Violence Rating: No guns; one death by heart attack.
Kindly spare a thought for the beautiful people of Nepal who are in the midst of suffering an earthquake and its after-effects. In all my travels I've never come across a more consistently positive, decent and honest nationality, and this in the face of extreme hardship and appalling government.
So far this year 33 millimetres of rain have fallen on the sand – not enough to quench a camel’s thirst. As a result, not much survives and I wake up each morning amazed I’ve lasted five years.
To make up for this liquid deficiency, seawater is boiled in a process known as desalination (oil-rich states only) which extracts the salt thus making the water drinkable and usable for cooking, cleaning and nonsensically irrigating acres of turfed lawns set on the sand’s surface with the sole purpose of looking pretty. The irony is that the desalination plants require vast quantities of oil burned to keep the water at a sustained boiling point: not only a disaster for the environment but bad news for an ever-expanding population when the oil wells eventually run dry followed by bathroom taps reduced to a drip, then all you have is zilch. Stench whichever way you look at it.
Catastrophic news has now arrived that the natural springs in al-Ahsa (my favourite Saudi city) have dried up. The name 'Ahsa' means ‘the sound of underground water’ and is (soon to be was) the site of one of the world’s biggest oases which some cretin once nominated as one the Seven Wonders of the World, neglecting the fact that roads, dust, concrete pre-fabs and electricity pylons don’t exactly exude beauty or wonder.
The water in the Ahsa wells has drained down into empty spaces (see above diagram) left by oil extracted from the massive Ghawar oilfield sitting below the sand - a huge sea of the black stuff measuring 280 by 30 km and accounting for more than half of cumulative Saudi oil production. Five million barrels of oil are pumped out of it every day - 6% of global production. The 10 million palm trees in the oasis are wilting as the water – source of all life - disappears down black holes while an insatiable thirst for black gold sees it frantically pumped up from below. Additionally, average water consumption in the Kingdom is double the world's average, thus highlighting the truth in the sandy adage: Screw the water, we want cars!
Despite these calamities one creature that does survive in the sand is the thub, a chubby, slow moving lizard that doesn’t appear to do much other than lie around eating and sleeping: a highly popular pastime in these parts not exclusive to lizards. A thub can grow up to two feet long and weigh more than 10 pounds and an American hunter commented with great poignancy, “These guys are feisty if disturbed and trying to sneak up on a thub for a photo is a real challenge. I’ve got one on a wall back home in Spearman, Texas.”
However, like water, thubs too are now an endangered species thanks to locals who kill and eat them or Texans who nail them to walls. In fact al-Ahsa has a Thub Restaurant called Chez Mustafa’s Reptilian Bistro and from the menu diners can choose from Thub burger, Thub cheeseburger, Thub pizza, Thub rice with raisins (or without), Thub sandwich, Thub dog, Thub kebab, Thub nuggets and Thub pie with gherkins and/or ice cream.
“The meat of the lizard becomes delicious in the spring season,” bon viveur and lizard hunter, Hammad Al-Fawaz, informs us, for want of anything else to eat. “The lizard feeds itself from spring plants and therefore its taste changes. This is the period during which it becomes delicious.” Doctors warn against over indulging as it is high in cholesterol and protein.
On reptile.com, or some such weird shit, a local aficionado, Mr al-Matrudi, said, “There are several ways to hunt the dabb (Ahsa vernacular) lizard. One is by pouring water into the hole and forcing it to come out.” Thus demonstrating an additional insane manner by which water is completely wasted. But this doesn’t deter his thub-lust because he adds enthusiastically, “Another is by chasing and hunting it - especially if it is far from the hole - using a firearm.’’ As a result, numbers are now dwindling, just like the water.
This reminds me of the time at primary school when Kentwood Brooks brought in a lizard in a shoe box. His uncle had smuggled it home from a job in the Gulf and Mr Rouch, the grouchy headmaster, got him to show it to everyone at assembly (Wendy Goldthorpe ran out screaming and had to be taken home). Then at lunchtime the lizard escaped and Mr Collard the caretaker whacked it on the head with his broom and killed it, after travelling all that way. Kentwood Brooks, a hefty child, then punched the vigilant janitor in the face and the police were called.
Alongside the dopey thub is the malicious scorpion, a different creature altogether. A cunning and nasty inhabitant of the sand that is difficult to spot and will go behind your back and attempt to eliminate you with its venom. An entirely untrustworthy little bugger, in much the same way as a wasp, in it has no value in the whole scheme of things other than being (often literally) a pain in the backside that attacks for no obvious reason other than spite. They’ve been around for 430 million years, way longer than early man who appeared between about two million and four million years ago, with the ability to walk upright and climb trees, a useful attribute when escaping tigers. The Homo group (snigger) — including our own species, Homo Sapiens — began to evolve about 2 million years ago and has been ravaging the planet ever since.
As Greenpeace so eloquently put it, ‘If we condense this inconceivable time-span into an understandable concept,we can liken Earth to a person of 46years of age. Nothing is known about the first seven years of this person's life, and whilst only scattered information exists about the middle span, we know that only at the age of 42 did the Earth begin to flower.
Dinosaurs and the great reptiles did not appear until one year ago, when the planet was 45. Mammals arrived only 8 months ago; in the middle of last week man-like apes evolved into ape-like men, and at the weekend the last ice age enveloped the Earth. Modern Man has been around for four hours. During the last hour, Man discovered agriculture. The industrial revolution began a minute ago.
During those 60 seconds of biological time, Modern Man has made a rubbish pit of paradise. He has multiplied his numbers to plague proportions, caused the extinction of 500 species of animals, ransacked the planet for fuels and now stands like a brutish infant, gloating over his meteoric rise to ascendancy.'
All this goes to show that people need nature. Nature doesn't need people.
A storm ripped through the sand the other night, wind thrashing at windows, dust seeping in under door, sky brown, all rendering the flat a jail cell albeit with key in my pocket and nowhere to escape to.
So on just such an evening all I can say is thank God for the BBC and what at first looked like a game show complete with that witch who is rude to the contestants. It turned out to be a debate among British party political leaders vying to win next month’s general election. Five minutes in and it still looked like a game show.
After Little Johnny a clever-clogs from a posh school got up and asked a question about the National Health Service, UKIP chief Fuhrer Farage, standing out like the jovial fool who crops up in middle-class sit-coms, blustered, “I’m passionate about it as I've had more scrapes than most.” Pub fights? He did appear to be gagging for a pint and gasping for a fag, in need of a good night’s sleep.
Then he’s on to health tourism and his bête noire - immigrants – specifically immigrants going on the dole and getting free medical access, which “costs a lot”, i.e. they’re scrounging tax-payers money. “60% of AIDS sufferers (in UK hospitals) are foreigners,” he explains, i.e. foreigners scrounging drugs and hospital beds. He hates foreigners, but that’s not a trait exclusive to British bigots. You should get out into the big wide world, Nige, and you’ll find more racism there than you can shake a stethoscope at or buy a drink for.
By now he’s broken into a sweat and it pours from his brow at the mention of the European Union and the other bee in his party’s bonnet: Mrs. Merkel, who “is the real boss of Europe.” Meaning: she’s a kraut with clout. On other party leaders he scoffs, “Most of them haven’t had a real job in their lives”, i.e. more scroungers and spongers, and loses his rag when everyone turns on him after he gets in a bit of Scot-bashing, “English taxpayers are a bit peed off with money going over Hadrian’s Wall.”
Ed Milliband, a 40-something-year-old looking like a schoolboy in the debating society and jolly keen to win the grand prize – five years vacation in 10 Downing Street - desperately tries to look prime ministerial and can’t stop talking about it. Each sentence begins with “If I were Prime Minister …” while staring pleadingly into the camera, but his tongue is too big for his mouth so he sticks his index finger out instead and jabs it about like a drunken vet attempting to induce a calf’s birth. He talks woodenly and unconvincingly and at times sounds like he’s about to cry. Now he has his hand in the shape of a gun. With fantastic economic foresight he announces, “If I’m PM I’m going to get a load of cash from smokers to turn the NHS round ” as if the current 80% tax on cigarettes isn’t enough. Farage splutters convincingly.
Cameroon, a windbag and general nasty piece of work with the appearance of a smarmy North London landlord, pipes up that he is going to build 200,000 houses. The audience is non-plussed and a pause ensues … build them by himself? Not only is he superman of the construction trade but, like Clint Eastwood going after villains, he’s also going to sort out tax evaders - I know one, Dave, he’s well dodgy, you’d like him - then he gets down to his specialty of waffling his way around accusations of spending cuts in the well-practised manner of a seasoned bullshitter. Heard it all before.
Nicola Sturgeon, a Scottish lady, is easily the most eloquent and level-headed of the seven, which is all good training for talking a majority of Scots out of the UK in the next referendum. In one sentence she sizes up the beast in the room, “There’s nothing Nigel Farage won’t blame on foreigners”. CUT TO Nige doing an impression of Frankie Howard miming “I won’t deny it.” He follows this buffoonery by shouting out, “If you have to build a house every seven minutes to keep up with immigrants then we’ve got a problem!” Don't worry Nige! Cameroon can do it all by himself.
A Welsh lady for Plaid Cymru (bloody daft name), Leanne Wood, in a lovely red dress says she comes from the Rhonda valley and therefore speaks in a wonderfully mellifluous voice telling us, “It wasn’t Lithuanian barmen who caused the economic crisis, it was the bankers.” Bravo Mrs. Taff! Mr. Farage perks up at the mention of barmen.
Nigel Clegg gets asked a question … but he seems forgotten … and proves why by painting a picture of a dull but well-meaning middle-class sit-com husband, sounding just like Cameroon voice-wise, and therefore entirely untrustworthy. He’s going to invest in the NHS just like his promise before the last election when he said he would not put up university tuition fees then did.
For some reason during the Green Party leader’s speech (Natalie Bennett, an Ozzie … must be lost) the picture cuts to a green fuzz when she’s in full flow – perhaps a subliminal party political broadcast – telling us that we have to stop trashing our planet. She’s right of course and no doubt has the most logical manifesto out there. Problem is that when money and the resultant greed are the name of the game, environmentalism takes a back seat, ignored entirely by the majority and most importantly doesn’t make money. In fact it costs money! Next!
As a finale, a heckler jumps to her feet in a fluffy jumper and starts screeching about the plight of the homeless. Unfortunately she isn't given a microphone so we don’t hear the details but she’s probably giving Dave Cameroon notice to get his spade out and start shoveling: they’re dying on the streets drinking meths. Mr. Farage looks on approvingly.
Victoria Prosser, the interloper, later told The Guardian, “I can’t vote for anyone who I know is lying or omitting facts. That means I couldn’t vote for any of the people that I saw tonight. Even though some of them had good ideas, I know that they are all out for the same cause.”
“David Cameron mentioned giving a fair deal to everybody in this country, including people such as our fine military service people. Yes, they are fine. But they are not treated fine after they have left the army, when they are in poverty and destitution, homeless on the streets and no hope of getting housed. He is using their name just to garner votes, because it might be a vote winner.”
The report added: Prosser was escorted from the studio by seven security guards. “They didn’t say hardly anything. They just moved me,” she said. “When we got around to the back, I said ‘am I in trouble now?’ and they said ‘no, it’s alright’. It was all fine.”
A fine two hours entertainment sent me chuckling off to bed and next morning the dust had settled. An opinion poll concluded that the Scottish lady’s common sense won it and Nige Farage came second, either for comic value or more worryingly that 23% of UK citizens agree with him.
You can either go this way ...
Or you can forget greed and GO GREEN!
The original Bahrain Bitch post written last summer still receives thousands of views and the keywords people type into the search engine to reach this site show up on my mainframe and make for some amusing reading. Here are some examples: topless Czech waitresses Bahrain; friendly Russian prostituters (sic) Bahrain; number phone of a prostitute in Bahrain; Moroccan bitches Manama; posh jerk me off, etc. Hehe, now that’s what the web was invented for! And that last one is truly weird.
So in the interests of surfers everywhere I took my remaining 3 days of emergency leave (we get 5 a year) and headed out of the sand onto the causeway for a final hurrah in Manama, debauchery central, and where, quite amazingly, it was raining, windy and cold.
My current job began in Bahrain in January 2010 when my soon-to-be employer told me not to get a work visa in London but to go to this tiny island state because "we have a man in the embassy". Unfortunately the man in the embassy wasn't in the embassy (probably down the pub with a couple of Chinese sheilas) and so I spent 4 weeks in the two star al-Yamamah Plaza Hotel, swimming, reading, walking around, drinking and chatting to Thai and Ethiopian working girls who rang my room morning, noon and and night. When the man in the embassy did finally show up I had to have a full medical check and I decided that my soon-to-be employer wouldn't look too favourably on the new guy turning up with Galloping Knob-rot, a well-known medical condition, and so I resisted their ample charms, offering a cup of tea instead..
Back then the Bahraini government had decided that 1 and 2 star hotels could not serve alcohol; sober hookers only. Five years later I find they've changed that law to include 3 star hotels so my current accommodation of choice is on the black list and I have to walk down the road to get a beer. Highly annoying I've gotta say as it's very convenient to stagger as drunk as a skunk into a lift, delivered to the room like an item of post, and collapse onto a comfy bed.
On this week's trip I took a nostalgic tour around some old haunts from that 4 week hiatus waiting for 'our man in the embassy' and was disappointed to find the al-Yamama boarded up and out of business (see above). Whatever happened to the ancient Sikh bell-hop and his orange turban, ecstatic when my criminal record check arrived by mail at the hotel reception? However I was pleased to be recognised by the Indian in the grocery store at the end of the road who greeted me like a long lost friend, "Are you coming for a can of Sweat?" The Ethiopian big mommas in the coffee shop on Exhibition Road were as sweet as ever with their sing-song voices and sincere smiles and I sat back under a rain-spattered umbrella and spent an enjoyable afternoon observing people engaged in the regional sport of smashing cars into other cars while I perused the Daily Tribune newspaper. Bad week for school children it seems:-
"The students of Sanabis Girls’ School can now get rid of pesky rats from their worst nightmare … Students often get jitters thanks to innumerable rats which have made the school into their home."
Hehe, I can just see crowds of terrified, screeching schoolgirls running up and down the corridors pursued by rodents. Kind of a symbol for things to come later in life. Meanwhile ...
"Private school suspended: the school was home to a labourers’ camp comprising 25 workers."
Much of Bahrain's population is made up of Indians and they're not happy ....
"Indian community irked by shilly-shallying embassy. Delay in processing passport, extra cost and poor staffing among major issues."
I can sympathise here, having tried to get a visa for India with similiar results. The final straw in my attempts came when an agent's fees were higher than the cost of a return flight.
In the Entertainment section ...
"Disco With 12-Year Old, Jail With Security Guard. A woman who took a 12-year-old girl to a disco in Manama was jailed for two years. “The mother of the child left her with me as she traveled to Saudi. I had a date with my boyfriend and we had booked a room in the hotel.”
In international news: Panda bite victim gets $80,000 in Gansu.
I was once holed up in a remote Gansu hotel room (surprisingly hookerless ... maybe they were all in Bahrain) for 48 hours while a storm raged outside and I wasn't offered any compensation for that ordeal or for being propositioned by a couple of German poofs. Luckily I had some waccy-baccy with me.
That evening, after a London Curry down by the American Naval Base - pimply teenage male and female recruits galore plus a jaw-dropping variety of food - I watched Arsenal get kicked out of the Champions League in a bar that was a taxi ride away from the hotel and have no recollection whatsoever of the journey home although I do remember parts of the game as well as the result and a Danish bloke who worked for a mega-rich Kuwaiti and a guy called Ali from Jeddah who claimed to be a gun-runner, proving his profession by photos on his phone alongside his cute little daughters flicking V signs at the camera, AK47s at their side. The evening's final memory was chatting to some cute Filipino waitresses and telling the drummer from the house band to learn Whole Lotta Love because his "career will depend on it."
Seeking sustenance on the morning after, I went over to Manama's infamous Diggers Bar - a perpetual twilight world of iniquity - where even at lunchtime the Chinese hookers outnumber patrons by four to one (now there's a tip for all you perverts out there in cyberspace! Wink, wink) begging the question whether there are any women left in China, cf. Gansu? Within seconds of taking a seat, looking forward to a full English breakfast (with bacon!), a made-up chick was instantaneously occupying the next chair and offering to cook me Beijing Duck back at her place. Like Jeddah Ali and pictures of his guns, she had photos on her phone of dishes laden with Chinese grub. I think that's known in the trade as a 'sales pitch'.
Suffering from Bahrain burn-out, I took a taxi back 'home'. At the border in the middle of the sea we picked up a very polite family from Yemen (mother in black sack), drove them through the check-point and dropped them off on the Saudi side by McDonald's. Christ knows why and I couldn't be bothered to ask. Initiating the recovery process on the sofa in front of the TV an advert came on CNN for 'Business Friendly Bahrain'. Yep, I thought, it's still all systems go for birds and booze. Don't you worry about that.
Out on my bike today in clement weather and just before I got a puncture, limping home on one and a half wheels, I was scanning the skies when the blades of a big grey helicopter thudded overhead, low enough for the downdraft to ruffle my hair, so I stuck out a thumb in forlorn hope of a lift, except the chopper wasn't powerful enough to get me where I want to go and I doubt it would even get me to the Iraqi border, although who in their right mind wants to go to that ever blood-soaked land anyway?
As my sandy departure date looms nearer – less than three months and counting – my feet get itchier and I've been scanning the skies a lot of late. In fact I should have left already but through some sad and sorry quirk of fate my contract had an extra three months tacked onto it and so I now feel like a vehicle stuck in the sand, back wheels revving and roaring, going nowhere, spewing dust into the atmosphere, impatient to escape yet unable to move.
Somehow avenues keep getting blocked. Pavements - my bike lanes - roped in by plastic fencing, have suddenly and randomly been dug up leaving a sandy underbed and A flower festival has rendered much of the corniche out of bounds while my most favoured cycling route out on a curved peninsular, where the sea is so shallow that huge sand banks appear at low tide, is a spot to chain my bike to the post of a No Swimming sign, walking/wading a good mile into the sea, like Moses, where a tiny sandy island allows me to perch my butt and sit and contemplate in perfect peace, free from traffic and people and camels, gentle waves lapping my hot feet.
But workmen with bulldozers and trucks have now moved in and fenced the area off, thus almost obliterating pleasant afternoons from memory. It was there that I once saw a thick black snake, two metres long, slick and slithering across a car park, probably looking for some peace from man and traffic too. The work, whatever it might be, is being carried out by the China Construction Company so that snake no doubt ended up in the dinner pot, blood and bile toasted in shot glasses before hunks of flesh were set upon by gnashing Oriental incisors.
Many moons ago that same place was also the scene of a near death experience when on a steaming evening, on bike, I was crossing the road and a deranged youth came tearing round the bend like a driver on a chicane at Silverstone race track, putting his foot down further when he saw the infidel, missing him by inches, swerving to avoid an oncoming car, skidding and spinning out of control for 100 metres before the trunk of a solid full grown palm put an end to his homicidal tendencies. I went to check if he was dead but when he showed signs of life by staggering from the wreckage, brushing shards of glass from his clothes, I didn’t give him a hand, instead I gave him the finger and went home, shaking slightly. Someone later told me that he would have had to pay for damages, not only to his car but the tree too. That was undoubtedly poetic justice, and I like to think there was some divine intervention too.
So five years on I find myself day-dreaming, pouring over maps, plotting routes, staring at the sky, and making decisions on how to use the flight voucher that KLM gave me to compensate for the flight from hell last September. The original intention had been a three month trip through the USA but that has been scuppered for a variety of reasons, chief of them being the strength of the US dollar which would add quite a few thousand dollars just in the exchange of currencies. It’s also an increasingly dodgy and lawless land where guns are wielded like toys and money scavenged from innocent passers-by with a hint of manic violence behind the “gotta dollar” plea. And besides, they are almost as big anti-smoking Nazis as the Canadians and British.
The second option was India but that’s gone on the back burner because I can’t be bothered with the bureaucratic hassle that comes with getting an expensive visa – petty annoyances before you've even got on a plane or run into 1.2 billion people - although I do hear this may change in the near future. So I smacked my gift voucher down on an Amsterdam to Buenos Aires flight in October and will see how it goes from there. The pampas (and weed!) of Uruguay, the beaches of Brazil, the unknowns of Paraguay and the alpine lakes of the Andes are calling and I’m in just the mood to communicate with them.
Bush, bush, bush and more bloody BUSH! And I’m not talking bush wacker, Kate, weed, Shepherd’s, Australian outback, poontang - which reminds me of a guy in a bar who asks a woman if she’s ever been picked up by the fuzz, and she says no, but I’ve been swung round by the tits - or that blithering cretin George W who somehow, like an unwelcome Motel 6 guest, remained in the White House for 8 years solely to fuel a war industry and pave the way for the rise of yet another enemy to drop more Made-in-America/Go Economy bombs on.
No, sir! I am talking bush as in a stumpy green shrub that doesn’t seem to do much other than disperse sharp-as-nails thorns, about the size of a tack, which when ridden over by a bicycle wheel bursts the inner tube thus incapacitating said bicycle, the cleanest, most long-lasting means of transport man has come up with.
In hindsight I should have bought shares in the Crown King Tube Company, located in Hangzhou, China (what factory isn't?), because over the course of five years I must have bought about 30 inner tubes ... maybe 40.
This particular bush that I’m on about – one of the very few plants to be able to survive in this sapped out, lifeless patch of earth (even nature hates being here) – has been the bane of my sandy life. Despite knowing where they grow, the thorns still crop up everywhere and it has only been stubbornness and lack of alternative outdoor pursuits that I've persisted with my almost daily trips along coastal tracks.
Pre-June 2014, this wasn’t such a problem as an easy two minute walk took me to the Bangladeshi bicycle repairman across the square, chop-chop, housed in the al-Yamama shopping plaza, a veritable treasure trove of amenities providing everything a man needs in life – a 24-hour supermarket, the Abu Ali fish shop, another place looking vaguely like a restaurant (the flies stopped me ever going in), two bakeries (how I’d love some of that Afghani tameez with cheese and fool!), a hardware store, a gents and a ladies tailor, a sports goods shop, a stationers, a taxi office, a laundry, a barber’s shop, a couple of electronic goods stores with attached repair service, a cash machine that didn't often work and, most importantly, a bicycle bloody repair man who spent all day pumping up tyres for the kids and me. It only needed a pub and free-thinking women to be all-encompassing. Yet, in their infinite wisdom, the local council decided to close it down and put all those businesses out of business; countless jobs lost; local residents forced to drive long distances to new, way more expensive shops with far fewer services other than poofy men’s perfume emporiums and Fat Burger.
There used to be two more, almost identical, shopping centres within 2km of my house, offering a similar array of useful stores, but the council closed those down too! Storefronts boarded up, graffiti arriving overnight; ghost ghettos that 6 months ago were thriving commercial centres serving the local community. All gone!
These days, to fix punctures, I have to take a taxi 15km to Little India at a cost of $15, where I buy Crown King inner tubes in bulk at a cost of $10 then transport them back home, refit the tyre, grease on the floor, walls and fridge (it’s thirsty work) before a kilometer or more walk to the mechanics workshop to inflate it. I’ve got through any manner of manual pumps at home but they have all broken – Made in bloody America!
In the bible there is a story about a burning bush from these parts that didn’t burn. Huh? Well, all I can say is that I wish it had, as life would be much easier.
Believe it or not, but it does get quite nippy in the sand around this time of year. Standing at the check-out in Farm supermarket (Panda is its main rival and both sell exactly the same stuff) two little girls were ahead of me dressed as if they were about to step out into a ski resort, pink bobbles bouncing with excitement on woolen hats as their chocolate got scanned by a Filipino cashier in his trench coat. I was in my Amsterdam University t-shirt, though I had put on socks and tracksuit bottoms in deference to the season when chilly breezes whip up the legs of shorts and can lead to a little known medical condition known as frozen bollocks.
At home the air-conditioning does go as high as 30 centigrade but socks are still a necessity and at times the best way to heat the place up is to turn the oven on full blast, open the door and let it do its job for 20 minutes or so, without actually cooking anything. In the dead of night, when I wake up for a leak, the tiled floor is bloody freezing, and bleary-eyed I root out my groovy electric blue extra blanket to put on top of the cosy green one. The five long years that I’ve slept on that bed have flattened the padding and brought the springs to the surface and bedtime ain’t the comfort zone it once was. Four months to go …
At 6am, when the alarm sounds a beep beep beep, I tiptoe out of bed towards the heap of clothes which go straight on; no sitting around in underpants drinking coffee and sparking my lungs up with a fag before work. Long ago I gave up even trying to dress to impress – being surrounded by men ALL the time is absolutely no incentive whatsoever. A warm jumper completes the winter look but by February it will be back in the wardrobe.
Masud the hirsute and mute Bangladeshi morning driver wears gloves and on the 8 minute run to the office he looks shrunken in his heavy coat. An outside bench in the smoking area freezes my butt so I stick down a couple of books to protect it from frostbite. A guy from Kerala comes out to smoke with me, wearing his jacket all day long as he sits in front of a PC screen, and the Saudis shiver in, bodies cocooned in coarse blanket-like gowns down to their feet, headscarves swathe the faces leaving a slit for the eyes, female style, not in black but red and white, Arsenal style, who incidentally had an impressive win last week at Man City, a team that cost a billion quid.
By 8am the sun is doing the things that suns do, at degrees that people pay small fortunes to holiday under. The temperature by afternoon is perfectly clement, and, for less than two months a year, bearable. My bike loves it and infernal punctures aside (two in a week), we ride together along the coast where the tan gets driven deep.
“Quite chilly in places on the Arabian Peninsula,” the BBC weatherman has just informed me as I tuck into a dinner of ‘Mixed Grillo Plate’, before cutting back to the newsreader who talks of ISIS and Charlie Hebdo and churches burning in Africa and Belgian sleeper cells uncovered by cops and critical states of emergency, and then the heat goes straight back up, winter or not.
In Cockney rhyming slang (a vernacular that emerged from working class east London) a dog means a telephone, as in dog and bone - phone. Or, Mutt and Jeff equals deaf. Get it? Pretty weird, huh? Although much of life is. For example that bloke the other day called Barakat who asked if I’d ever eaten a snake, which I had, which was almost as weird as his name, but not as weird as his father who had given him that name in the first place, no doubt christening the next son Kit or some such nonsense.
So my dog died a few weeks ago. I know this because I had made a phone call and the person on the other end couldn’t hear me, as if she was Mutt and Jeff. I tried it again with a colleague in the neighbouring office to test it out, even if he was in the middle of eating a croissant, and he was Mutt and Jeff too, as was I. The dog had certainly died, and due to the length of time we’d spent together – 12 years – it was like losing a best friend, as in a dog is a man’s best friend.
When I’d bought that Nokia – the pioneers of mobile dogs - back in 2002 after losing about six others, mobile phones had only just come onto the market, as in the slip-in-your-pocket type of phone. Before then they had been massive great chunky things (see below) for which you needed a sturdy rucksack to carry it around in; either that or arms like a weightlifter.
My friend Roger the plumber had bought one. He was very proud of it and saw himself as some sort of yuppie who spends most of his time with his head down a toilet, which he still does, but he would beam with joy as he carefully laid it on the bar top, muscles aching so much he needed another pint even though, due to his new, highly expensive and massive dog, he was “on 24 hour call-out”, maneuvering himself in such a way that the whole pub could see it until everyone took the mickey so incessantly that after a few weeks, his pride savagely dented, we never saw the dog again. It never did ring either. Or even bark. No desperate housewives who needed their pipes unblocking, no sisters super-glued to the loo seat by their brothers, as was the craze at that time. Not a peep. Not even a wrong number. Perhaps that’s why he became a pisshead.
Roger’s dad Harry was a long-distance lorry driver and often on the road, smoking roll-up cigarettes that he could assemble with one hand, all the while swearing a lot and leaving the coast clear for his son to announce at pub closing time on Saturday nights, “Right then! Back to mine!” to where we all trooped in an eager manner.
Not only had Roger bought a massive dog, but he’d also somehow acquired an elaborate water pipe, aka hubbly bubbly or bong, from India I seem to remember, although he’d never been there. He often acquired such items. It did come in handy though as an accessory to smoking the lump of wacky backy he usually kept on his person.
While we watched Platoon for the 37th time (“March man, in Tennessee. Sniff them pines, sniff that cross-mountain pussy, down by the river … wooh hot damn … mother fucker”) Pat Skillett took a copious lungful then inadvertently coughed back down the pipe sending bits and bobs flying everywhere including a good two litres of blackened water blasted like grapeshot from a blunderbuss smack into the wall above the fireplace. How we all howled and rolled about on the carpet and momentarily forgot those places where Roger’s kitten Bomber had pissed on. That same Bomber had once eaten a lump of hashish and spent the next 3 days asleep but that’s by the by because all of a sudden the door flew open and in walked Harry, Roger’s dad, who stood there bemused with a roll-up dangling from bottom lip. Surveying the scene and holding his lunch box he let go the immortal line, “Roger! What the fuck is going on!?” upon which we rolled around some more.
So when my dog died a few weeks back I was upset and sought to relieve that unhappiness by buying a new one, ending up with a new-fangled Sony contraption that I now wish Kim Jong Un had hacked along with Sony Pictures because the darned new dog, according to the salesman a “technological marvel”, is impossible to work out and I am barely able to send a text message despite it having a Sony Player, GPS, maps of the whole world and beyond, Walkman, Album (no idea), Movies (not one to be found although Anwar Hussein the Bangladeshi tea boy at work says I need some other gadget for that), Google (not a website to be found), Sony Select (nobody has any idea what this is, not even Dudu the Bangladeshi cleaner), Play Store (ditto previous), camera which I have in fact worked out how to use and found to be crap, FM radio (nada), Facebook (can’t stand it) and youtube (good if it worked) plus many, many more. All I really need a dog for is to make calls, send texts and the alarm clock to get me out of bed at 6am on the dot, which remarkably it does.
The ringtone doesn’t seem to work either as the dog simply vibrates, rather pleasantly I must say, in my pocket which it did the other day as I was being driven home by Taslim the tubby Bangladeshi taxi driver. On the other end was an Asian sounding female voice asking who I was and why I had phoned her.
“I didn’t phone you,” I said before she launched into a very friendly bout of chit chat enquiring as to who and where I was. When it transpired that she was only 90km down the road she got even friendlier. I was suspicious and deduced that she must be a North Korean spy under orders from Kim Jung On to hack every phone made by Sony who have made a rude and by all accounts none too funny film about him which has resulted in the possibility of nuclear warfare as Barrack Obama is none too happy about it and wants to leave a legacy.
Relating the call with the female spy to Taslim the tubby Bangladeshi taxi driver he assured me that it must be the work of a Nigerian doctor he once knew who procured women to service randy males in various apartments around town.
“So how did she get my number?”
“It’s a mystery, sir,” he replied.
“Do you reckon it’s got something to do with Kim Jung On?”
That baffled him and there was a long silence before he asked the standard question, “You want go Bahrain this weekend?”
Somehow I do still get texts from my bank and conclude there is a conspiracy going on.
FOOD FOR THOUGHT
the Last Tree
Is Cut Down,
The Last Fish Eaten,
And the Last Stream Poisoned, Will Man Realize That Money
Cannot be Eaten
As my sandy adventures draw to a close I have no book on the bedside table. There's only one bookstore here and its choice of Mills and Boon type nonsense and dreary old classics holds no interest so I will have to wait until next month to get reading again.