And then some lifetime ambitions are a little more down-to-earth. Like buying a tailor-made suit for example.
I had no intention of ordering myself a suit as we set out on Thursday morning. We were going in search of an economical (I dislike the word 'cheap') tailor to make a couple of black suits for Elliot, to serve as his uniform at the new school. The lower years have a strict uniform requirement but the 6th form boys need only wear a dark suit, white shirt and school tie, so we figured it would make sense to get a couple of inexpensive suits made up while we're in Riyadh, and asked a couple of friends if they knew any good tailors.
There are two distinct choices here: one is to use a tailor in one of the western compounds. Most compounds have a small number of shops, and several of these include a tailor. You'd be able to transact your business in air-conditioned comfort and relative quiet, but you'd also have to phone ahead and make an appointment so that you have a legitimate reason for the security guards to let you onto the compound in the first place. You can't just turn up at places like this. We had tried and failed at this earlier in the week. I took Elliot to get his hair cut at a compound hair salon, choosing it because I remembered there being a tailors there too. But when we arrived we found the tailor had closed down and moved elsewhere weeks previously. The second choice you have is to go to Bat'aa, sometimes written Batha or Al Batha, but in any case pronounced Battar. Bat'aa is an area in the south of the city renowned for its souks (markets), and there are distinct ethnic areas: Indian market, Philipino market, etc. This area is always busy, but at night the word 'busy' just doesn't cut it (so I'm told). Here you can just roll up, there will (should) be loads of tailors to choose from, and they'll be cheaper than the more official compound variety.
We set off then on Thursday morning, which is traditionally a quiet time for shopping. With vague directions given to us by a friend: "Raymond Showroom, in Indian Market, close to Al Batha Hotel". We had no idea where the Indian Market was, nor the hotel. In fact this was only our second venture into Bat'aa since we've been here. Luckily my SatNav unit knew of "Al Batha Hotel" so we found that and parked up. We decided I would go for a little reccy on my own to try and find Raymond Showroom, since the environment didn't look very inviting. The place was teeming with cars, taxis, buses, and people, there were hardly any women around and no other westerners at all. In fact the entire human throng around us seemed to consist of Indian and Pakistani men. After about ten fruitless minutes of searching I returned to the family in the car, very sweaty (me, not the family in the car), and suggested moving to another souk across the dual carriageway. The side we were on seemed to specialise in mobile phone repair shops, but I had been able to spy some clothes shops across the river of traffic. On reaching the other side we found it to be quieter, and drove up and down a couple of side streets until we found a shop with the word "Tailor" in the window.
The place we'd found was called Sapphire Tailor, and on the sign beneath the name was a string of brand names like Van Heusen, and Raymond. RAYMOND! Perhaps we had, by pure fluke, stumbled across "Raymond Showroom"? We went in. They had the kind of air-conditioning that didn't work very well, but it was better than nothing. There were two Indian men working there: the tailor and the assistant tailor going by their behaviour. The place looked the part too: the floor was piled high with shirts in boxes, the kind of boxes that gave nothing away about their contents, no pictures, not cut-away windows. You had to open each box to see what the shirt inside was like. There was the tailor behind a wide counter covered in green baize, with a brass ruler along one side, and another even longer counter in front of a wall of rolls of cloth. We told the assistant what we wanted (the tailor was busy with another customer) and he began deftly plucking rolls of black cloth from behind him and plonking them on the counter in front of us, giving each a little twist as they span through the air, with the effect that they landed with the first half metre or so unrolled for our inspection. He looked Elliot up and down and declared that we would need three metres of material for each suit. We said we wanted two suits both the same, so that he wouldn't have to worry which jacket and which trousers, and I negotiated a price of SR850, or just over £110.
It was at that point, and honestly not until that point, that I suddenly decided that I would have a tailor-made suit too. It was one of those things on my things-to-do-before-you-die list. Not a burning ambition as such, but something I'd always promised myself. And here we were standing in front of an enthusiastic assistant tailor whose prices I liked. I chose a lightweight, dark grey cloth and he started giving me the same appraisal he'd just given Elliot. Karen whispered in my ear, "What do you reckon? five metres? six?" Bloody cheek. I beamed as the assistant declared my suit would need three and a quarter metres. Much less than I'd feared, but then we all knew where the extra quarter of a metre would be employed, and it wouldn't be the length.
Final price was SR1350 (£180) for three tailor-made suits. We both got the full measurement treatment from the tailor (I suspect a faulty tape measure: he said my waist was 39 1/2 inches. That can't be right!), and specified what we wanted: lapel width, number and type of trouser pockets, single vs double vent etc. We go back next week for a trial fitting, and this time I'll try to remember to take some photos.