Gulam - another of the Embassy's drivers - picks me up at 9.30 this morning to go shopping. I asked for them to send a car capable of transporting a bicycle, so Gulam turns up in an ancient Toyota Landcruiser pickup truck, which is a testament to the reliability and longevity of Japanese automotive engineering. Gulam knows somewhere I can buy both a bike and some in-line skates so we set off, paying a quick visit to the travel agents on the way to pay for some plane tickets (we're planning a holiday and trip home at Easter).
Last weekend we found inexpensive bikes on sale for around £70 at both Saco World and Carrefour, so I'm expecting Gulam to take me to either a superstore like this, or a bike specialist downtown somewhere. But instead he takes me to an old suburb south of the city called Sumesse (spelling?). I ask him why we're ending up in this rather dilapidated part of town and he says he always takes people here for bikes; who am I to argue?
We park on the street and there are three bike shops in a row, each looking decidedly dodgy to a Western city slicker like me, but I take a deep breath and follow Gulam into the first shop. The place is full of bikes, must be around a hundred, and every single one different in some way from all the bikes I've seen for sale in the UK. It turns out that they're all cheap Taiwanese bikes; everything from adult mountain bikes to little kiddy trikes, to a chopper-style bike branded "Harley".
I take out from the display a 21-speed mountain bike and enquire about the price, which is 250 Riyals or about £38. Amazed at the price I deduce that the quality is probably not that great, and start thinking that if the bikes are thrown together in a factory in Taiwan, and returning a faulty bike for service/exchange would require a return trip to this shop in Gulam's boneshaker of an old pickup, so I decide that the fewer gears the bike has, the less there is to go wrong, so I discard the mountain bike and pull a smart-looking red and blue no-gears bike from the display. The brand is, "Super Phillips"; ah yes, that well-known and renowned manufacturer of quality cycles! But it looks servicable enough, has chrome mudguards front & rear and even a little luggage rack above the rear wheel; just the thing for those daily trips up to the corner shop to buy sour milk and bruised fruit.
"How much is this one?" I ask Gulam, who translates my question for the shopkeeper. It's the princely sum of 150 Riyals, or about £22. I didn't know you could buy any new bike this cheaply, let alone a Super Phillips, and I don't want to offend Gulam by asking to go to a nice brightly-lit superstore in a more civilised part of town, so I'm sold.
It's going to take them a few minutes to "prepare" the bike for delivery, which they do on the step outside on the street; tightening nuts, straightening handlebars and so on. While they get on with that I go to the other side of the shop to look at in-line skates for Abigail. They don't have any here so Gulam and I go the next shop down where he has plenty - only one type but a pair in every size. It's 55 Riyals (about £8.50) for a pair of in-line skates in a bag, complete with helmet, knee and elbow pads, and a set of four orange plastic cones that you can use to set up a slalom course. The price is actually 60 Riyals but Gulam manages to negotiate 5 Riyals' "Embassy discount" for me - good lad!
Both deals done, it's time to lash my new bike onto the back of the pick-up and set off for home (via a supermarket to buy some sour milk).
Gulam's from Pakistan and his English isn't great, but on the way back through Riyadh's heavy - and quite scary - traffic, we have a converstation about which car I should buy.
He's a bit of a 4x4 expert, pointing out to me, "there is Land Cruiser", "there is Prado", "there is Mitsubishi Pajero". When I've got all my documents I'll be going out for a day's 4x4 shopping to all the major dealerships (and possibly the Car Souk), and Gulam wants to be my driver that day.
"So Gulam, which 4x4 is the best to get?"
"Depends on money. If you have money, Land Cruiser is best. If no money, Pajero. Pajero is also good"
"Oh, and what car do you have?"
Gulam has a Mitsubishi Pajero (Shogun in the UK), that was already 8 years old when he bought it for 20,000 Riyals (£3000) in 1995. It's now nearly 20 by my reckoning, and he swears blind it's never given him a day's trouble. Good track record, but my last car was a Mitsubishi so I fancy a change, and I think my heart is set on a Land Cruiser.
Gulam drops me off at home and I excitedly rip the bubble wrap off my new Super Phillips and take it for it's inaugural ride. The first thing I notice is that one of the pedals is loose and the two pedals are not opposed in a straight line, then I find that the handlebars move when I pull on them; not good. I paid good (£22) money for this! I can't make any adjustments at home because my tools are still en route here in our Heavy Baggage, so I "get on my bike" and go round to the Embassy to borrow some spanners from the workshop. Once there I meet Bernie, the Embassy's mechanic. Bernie's a really nice chap from the Phillipines who services all the Embassy's cars, and - he tells me - all the staff's bikes in his spare time. Bernie whips both pedals off, diagnoses the problem as a faulty pin, implements a temporary fix with a larger washer and ten minutes later I'm back on the road, thanking Bernie profusely for his help.
The children come home at 3pm and after Abigail has finished her homework she puts on her skates and we go out together; she to try her skates and me to see if I can get to the end of the road and back without something falling off the bike.