Wednesday, May 30, 2007

Lost in Translation

Still having a bit of an identity crisis between my two blogs: this one and Bloody Marvellous! The difficulty comes when I find one of those funny shop signs while out and about in town and snap it with my camera. It is part of life in Riyadh, so it belongs in a "Riyadhcam" entry (and thus here), but it's also something that makes me smile and say, "Bloody Marvellous!", so it also qualifies as "Lost in Translation" (on Bloody Marvellous!). I get confused so it must be even worse for you.

Anyway, I'll leave the L.I.T. files on B.M! for now, in the hope that I get my reader numbers up a bit. For clarification, anything that includes funny Arabic - English translations will go on B.M! under L.I.T., and all other RiyadhCam funnies will go here. There: glad that's been cleared up!

For those of you who are not up to date with all my L.I.T. episodes, here they are. They still make me smile now, sometimes months later, so they're good for a laugh:-

Episode 1
Episode 2 - (You'll have to search this out by yourselves. It's in there somewhere but I can't remember the name)
Episode 3
Special - Lost & Found
Episode 4
Episode 5
Episode 6 - NEW!

Sunday, May 27, 2007

New Header

Look up!

Just found out that Blogger has added a feature to let you have an image as your blog's header at the top of the page, so I knocked this one up with a photo from my extensive collection of sand pictures. This'll be my new blog masthead from now on, at least until we leave here and I have to think of something new.

What do you think?

Something Fishy For The Weekend?

Just got back from an excellent weekend in Bahrain: the short-break getaway of choice for anyone who needs to get out of Saudi for a bit. It seemed like half the Riyadh expat community was there with us: we went with friends from the Embassy, there was another Embassy couple there too, and several other friends, some of whom were there just for a break like us, and some who were there to perform in a concert by The Manama Singers and The Bahrain Concert Sinfonia.

The concert was on Friday night and the centrepiece was a superb performance of Carl Orff's Carmina Burana, complete with professional soloists, a junior school choir, and dancers.

The highlight of the weekend -- for me and Elliot at least -- was Thursday's fishing trip organised by Adrian, a friend of ours at the Embassy. Adrian is a keen fisherman and had been trying to organise sea fishing trips for a while, but in the past there had always been something last minute to scupper his plans: bad weather, technical problems with the boat's engine, that sort of thing. Nothing of the sort this time though. The hotel's new Beach Club Manager had made an investment in their fishing package, including nearly-new outboard motors for the boat and some new rods and reels, so when we arrived on Thursday morning everything was ship-shape, Bristol fashion and raring to go.

"All aboard Shipmates!" Oops, I'm lapsing into Pirate again.

We boarded the boat and were introduced to our crew -- Ali and Rahman -- before casting off and setting out to sea.

Adrian and Tom speculating about who's going to catch the most, as we speed away from the Manama coastline.

We were heading about twenty miles offshore to a couple of likely spots the crew had saved in their SatNav system. Apparently you have to go this far out from Bahrain to find good fishing, because the waters around the coastline have all been dredged for landfill projects, rendering the seabed flat and lifeless.

There we were, bombing along, when there came a high-pitched whistle from the cockpit: one of the engines had set off an alarm.

Rahman doing some outboard troubleshooting

We stopped straight away so the crew could investigate the cause of the alarm. They inspected the engine for propeller fouling, air, fuel and oil leaks, but found nothing wrong, so we started off again. This went on for around 45 minutes. We'd just get up to speed when the alarm would sound and cut the engine, then they'd look for trouble, find none, and we'd get going again. We never did find out what was causing the alarm and were delayed getting back because of the frequent stops, but the boat got us there and back in one piece so no harm done.

"Look Tom -- another boat."

We passed a couple of these traditional Dhows on the way.

After over an hour we came to the first likely spot for fish, and started getting the tackle prepared.

Adrian and Ray getting ready for action.

Adrian and Ray were both experts, and Adrian went through the operation of the tackle with Elliot and me. I used to fish as a kid, but that was on the River Thames near Windsor and a very long time ago, so I was glad of the training session. We all cast our lines into the water and waited with baited (sorry!) breath for our first bite. Five minutes went by, then ten, then twenty, and after half an hour we'd still not had a single bite between us.

"Wot, no fish??"

Nothing for it but pack up and move on to another spot.

No joy so far, but spirits remained high as we went in search of richer pickings.

We sped on for another twenty minutes before stopping once more, at another likely spot. Out came the gear again and we settled in for the long haul. It was about 40c and the sun was beating down on our heads, but we were drinking plenty of water and covered in sun cream, and after a while Ali unfurled the canvas sunshade so that we could get out of the sun and fish at the same time. My hands, however, were holding the rod out the side of the boat, so shade or no shade I got a bit burned on my wrist and lower arms.

This turned out to be a much better spot however, and the first catch of the day came to Ray after only about five minutes.

Ray reeling in his first fish.

It's a Catfish, about 5lbs.

After this the action was non-stop, with one of us shouting, "I've got one!" every few minutes.

Tom was next to hook a fish, and Dad Adrian had to help him bring it in, it was fighting so hard.

Another Catfish...

...bigger than Ray's! Well done Tom!

About ten minutes later it was Elliot's turn.

He puffed and panted but managed to bring his first fish in unaided.

Another Catfish, and another whopper!

Not wanting to feel left out I was glad when, a couple of minutes later, I felt a sharp quiver on my rod and struck, feeling a strong tugging force on the line. My turn: "I've got one!"

This place is "Catfish City", or "City Catfish" as Ali called it.

I was starting to feel a bit sorry for Adrian. After all he is the keenest fisherman in the group but had had little chance to do any real fishing of his own because he'd spent all the time helping us newbies and Tom. But all was soon well, as he pulled in his first catch.

The haul was mostly Catfish, but we did get a couple of other types too, including a Red Hammour and a nice browny-gold fish I can't name (not because it's a secret -- I just can't remember it).

Ali and Rahman caught a couple of nice Catfish too, only they didn't need fancy gear like rods and reels, they just used a hand-line. Show-offs!

Most unusual catch of the day went to Yours Truly!

This is a Remora, also known as a Suckerfish.

It has a flat suction cup area on top of its head, which it uses to attach itself to the underbelly of larger fish like sharks and Manta Rays.

Here's another view of the Remora's peculiar dorsal feature (courtesy Wikipedia)

We started back about four hours after we'd set off. The sun was getting to us a bit and we needed to get back to meet up with families. Our catch totalled about 25 fish in all, a really good day.

"Home James, and don't spare the horses!"

Elliot and Tom feeling pleased with themselves.

Elliot reflecting on his first real fishing experience (the Trout farm in Norfolk when he was eight didn't count. I was leading that expedition and we caught bugger-all.)

Bit of an arty shot to finish up with.

As we neared the city we noticed dozens of white blobs floating in the water. They were Jellyfish, and the water was full of them.

...Even in the Marina.

A really enjoyable day out. Elliot keeps asking when we can go again!

Wednesday, May 23, 2007

Mama Weer All Crazee Now!

You know it's amazing what you can find in the shops here. I took Karen and Abigail to the mall yesterday afternoon and did my usual thing of browsing in the DVD/CD shop while they went clothes shopping. Imagine my surprise to find these two CDs on the shelf:

Naturally I bought them both. This may mean little to my readers from outside the UK, but these two bands were huge in Britain in the mid '70s, and just looking at the album covers brought back a flood of happy memories of "the decade that taste forgot".

All the favourites are here: Sweet's BlockBuster, Ballroom Blitz, Wig Wam Bam, and Teenage Rampage. Slade's hits include Mama Weer All Crazee Now, Coz I Luv You, and Cum On Feel The Noize. I was so glad to have stumbled across these that I went straight home and spent the evening downloading more '70s classics from iTunes, and I now have a kickin' '70s playlist on my iPod that I fully intend to drive the family mad with! You can check out the list in more detail here.

Going to Bahrain for the weekend this afternoon (Yes! three hours in the car with my new '70s playlist. Karen will be pleased!). We're going with some good friends from the Embassy and we have a sea fishing trip and a live performance of Carmina Burana planned (watching, not performing). Tell you all about it when I get back.

Tuesday, May 22, 2007

RiyadhCam: Ships of the Desert

This is a common sight on Riyadh's roads, but one that I've never successfully caught on camera... until now!

It's not every day you see a pick-up truck with four camels in the back!

What intrigues me is the block and tackle at the top: do they have to winch the camels on and off? Why can't they just walk down a ramp like cattle? I need to know...

Also saw this lost-in-translation sign in a sports shop today.

Very laudible intensions and I'm sure the Arabic is perfect, but the English translation made me laugh.

Monday, May 21, 2007

Pirates of the Wadi Club

Blisterin' Barnacles! What does I find 'pon me return from a week's voyage to Blighty but the most pox-ridden bunch of scurvy knaves makin' merry with their Jezebels in me own back yard! Tis enough ter make yer wooden leg catch afire! Yaarrr!

Ahoy there Shipmates!

Yes, I landed back in Riyadh last Thursday to find a ball in full swing (Me to Editor: Can I say "balls in full swing?" Ed: Bit late now isn't it!) . "Pirates of the Wadi Club: The Curse of the Black Abbaya" had started at 7.30 but by the time I got there at nine they'd just served the starters -- result! The dress code on the ticket said, "Pirate dress or black tie" so I wore black tie.

A right motley crew. Keelhaul the lot of 'em!

I don't do fancy dress usually (the Elvis transformation for the murder mystery party was an exception, and that only because the outfit was handed to me on a plate -- not literally otherwise it would have to have been a very large plate.) Call me lazy, call me stand-offish, I don't care. I like to see others in fancy dress, and truth be told I don't mind dressing up a bit myself (that's enough of that! -- Ed.), but I just can't be bothered going to the effort of putting a costume together. This policy proved doubly useful on this particular night, as I had to rush back from the airport and jump straight into my dinner jacket so that I could get over to the ball before all the food was gone. I wasn't the only one not dressed up I'm relieved to say. I reckon about two thirds were in pirate gear, with most of the third third in dinner dress but with a few adding the odd pirate accessory or two (thank Allah we've just had that new branch of PirateAccessories'R'Us open up in town).

At least he made an effort

Ah, that's more like it! A fine pair of bilge rats!

The food was good, the weather a relatively pleasant 32 degrees Centrigrade, and although there was no raffle we did have an informal treasure hunt which began by all the guests upending their chairs in the search for the treasure map stuck to the bottom of one of them (the chairs', not the guests').

"Avast behind!"
"Look, when I say 'does my bum look big in this' you're supposed to say 'No'!"

After the meal and the treasure hunt there was nothing left to do but dance the night away under the stars. I'll leave you to enjoy the rest of the photos (courtesy of Embassy Photographer Elliot Neal)

Graham puts on a brave front as he realises Sue's PirateAccessories'R'Us loyalty card is a mixed blessing

With just one sash between them Kevin and Louise had to spend the entire evening together

The 'Walk the Plank' queue in good spirits. It's amazing how giddy some people get on alcohol-free beer and grape juice

Karen getting 'the hook'

Lisa's Swedish so more of a Viking than a pirate really, but she'd never let a technicality like that get in the way of a good time.

Who are you calling a Rear Admiral!?

"Now now Black Jake, that's not the kind of 'booty' we meant, and you know it."

The finest vessel ever to sail the Seven Seas, Yaarrr!

What's a nice bird like you doing in a place like this?

Shiver Me Timbers!

Saturday, May 12, 2007

RiyadhCam latest

This will be my last posting for a few days, as I'm travelling to the UK tonight on a business trip.

Couple of amusing photos taken with my mobile phone while out and about in Riyadh. The first is this one of Pakistani workers travelling home:

click to enlarge

Note there are two men in the passenger seat, one on the other's lap. I wonder how many there are in the back of the van?

Now check out the look of satisfied comfort on this rather chubby underwear model.

"Mmm, I'm sitting down in my new pants... lovely!"

"Pop Winner Max Underwear (4XL). Experience New Level of Comfort"

What were they thinking? Why not use a younger model with a nice physique and just show him in the pants? Who are they trying to impress by using a fat, fully-clothed model? To give him credit though, his face does look like that of a man experiencing "new level of comfort".

Monday, May 07, 2007

Question Time: #1

Following my recent posting asking what YOU want to know about life as an expat in Saudi Arabia, the first question has flooded in!

Q: "Chris, is the driving in Riyadh really as bad as you say in earlier blog entries, or are you exaggerating to make us feel sorry for you?"

A: Well Anonymous, funny you should ask that today, as I had a particularly hairy car journey yesterday evening that illustrates the situation perfectly...

I was driving (alone) from home to a meeting of Not The Riyadh Choral Society, and the first incident occurred as I approached the exit from King Khalid Rd. to the Northern Ring Rd. I'm used to Saudis approaching highway exits in the fast lane, then veering off onto the slip road at 160km/h at the last minute, so as I got close to my exit my attention was on my left wing mirror, watching for speeding lunatics about to cut me up. I should have known better. As I turned off to take the exit ramp a Saudi driving a 4x4 in the inside lane, who was already in the mouth of the exit, suddenly decided he wanted to stay on King Khalid Rd. a bit longer and swerved back onto the main highway, right in front of me. He had effectively blocked my exit and I had to jam on my brakes to avoid hitting him. I just managed to still make the exit by driving over the studded markings between the two roads.

About ten minutes later I was driving down the fast lane of the Northern Ring Rd. when another Saudi in front of me started drifting into the next lane (they do this all the time. He could have decided to get out of my way or he could have been beginning his approach to leaving the Ring Rd at the next exit: who knows? Saudis don't know what indicators are for). Anyway, the problem was another Saudi in the lane to our right, driving next to the first car didn't want to let him cut in and was keeping the same speed in order to force Saudi #1 to stay in the outside lane, thus missing his exit or annoying the following vehicle (me), depending on his original intent. So, what did our desperate first Saudi do? That's right, he floored the accelerator, pulled in front of the other car, then swerved into the next lane in front of him and started stabbing at his brakes to intimidate the second driver and punish him for not letting him out earlier. I decided that the safest place was in front of these two rather than behind them so I shot forward as quickly as I could to get out of harm's way.

It's gotten to the point where only extreme manouevres like these are worth commenting on. The rest -- the lane drifting, tail-gating, ignoring traffic lights, creating new lanes where there are none just to get a bit further ahead -- is just routine now.

OK OK, There is no "Anonymous". I wrote the question myself so I could tell you about my driving nightmares. But until you participate and tell me what you want to know I haven't got much choice have I?

Saturday, May 05, 2007

Dead Star

I've been meaning to cover the school talent show ever since it took place at the end of March. Still, better late than never...

I was very proud to see my two children topping and tailing the End of Term Talent Show at their school. Abigail was the first act on the programme with a display of Irish Dancing set to Over The Hills And Far Away by Nightwish. She did very well, and the reason I don't have any photos of her in action is that I was busy holding the video camera.

Here's a clip of Abigail doing her thing. You may have to upgrade your Flash player thingy to get the clip to play -- I did.

It's not easy to stand up and dance on your own in front of the whole school, but she stepped up like it was the most natural thing in the world.

There were lots of other acts: children singing, dancing, playing instruments, some repeated songs from the school's recent production of Oliver! Then at the end of the show came the headliners -- senior school band Dead Star, featuring Elliot Neal on rhythm guitar.

Dead Star waiting their turn, cool as cucumbers

"J.P." and Luke in action

The band performed three covers: Shinobi vs. Dragon Ninja by Lostprophets, Numb by Linkin Park, and Smells Like Teen Spirit by Nirvana. They can really play and seemed very comfortable on stage. The amplification equipment could have been better but they delivered a rockin' set nonetheless.

Elliot demonstrating the Heavy Metal legs-apart stance

...and the crowd goes wild!

"Here we are now,"

"...entertain us!"

The fans mob the stage

Elliot invited the crowd to join them onstage for their encore: Gimme Some Lovin (from the Blues Brothers movie), featuring their teacher on lead guitar and vocals.

All together now!

Dead Star will be performing again before the end of the school year, and since this will be their last performance together (most, including Elliot, are leaving KSA in the Summer) they have some special surprise songs up their sleeve. You can expect a full report on their "farewell gig".