Wednesday, August 29, 2007

Children's Last Day in Riyadh

We're flying to London overnight tonight, so today I'm busy packing and getting together all the paperwork we need to take with us for the new school. Abigail is at home with me and already packed, and Karen and Elliot are working at the Embassy (Elliot determined to earn that last bit of extra cash before he leaves).

Last night they had a farewell get-together with a few friends, kindly hosted by their best friends Alix & Josh (well, by their parents to be accurate).

Elliot & Abigail saying 'Au revoir' to their mates

It is actually 'Au revoir' rather than 'Goodbye', because they'll be back to visit at half-term, but then that really will be it for Saudi as far as they're concerned.

Got to go now, the case won't pack itself unfortunately. Will send updates from my travels.

Monday, August 27, 2007

Eight days and counting

Another major life change is looming in our near future. On Tuesday next week Elliot & Abigail will move into their new school in the UK, as full boarders. It sounds strange to me even as I write the words, it's so hard to imagine day-to-day life without them.

It is undoubtedly the best thing for them: a very good, private school in England that will not only give them the best education but will also give them some more consistency in their social lives. It will mean that, wherever Karen and I are sent to next, they can continue their education and network of friends uninterrupted. I also think it will be great for their self-confidence; not that our two were ever wanting in that area.

No, the people who will be hit hardest are Karen and me. It feels like I'm getting old before my time. The offspring shouldn't be flying the nest this early. I suppose they're not really, but it will feel like it. What will we do left on our own all of a sudden, after sixteen years of having kids in the house? Perhaps we'll grow to enjoy our new-found freedom: partying til the wee small hours, playing loud music, crawling out of bed at 11am with a hangover... Hold on, we do that already!

I just know the next eight days are going to fly by. We travel to London on Thursday so before then we'll be busy with preparations: packing, trying to stop them taking too much with them, dealing with school paperwork, planning a uniform-shopping frenzy, opening bank accounts, buying mobile phone sim cards, arranging to meet up with friends when we get there.

They'll be taking their own laptops with them, and will have to get used to the school's regulated internet access: no more MSN Messenger for example. Elliot has SUSE Linux on his, and Windows XP in a VMware virtual machine (sorry to get technical). I wish both him and the Systems Administrator the best of luck trying to troubleshoot that lot. He keeps me busy and I do that stuff for a living.

The other slight pothole in the road is that, days after taking delivery of Elliot's new, dry-clean-only suits from Sapphire Tailors, we receive a letter from the school saying the all items of clothing must be machine-washable and tumble-dryable.


Sunday, August 26, 2007

Hot Fiction

Have you ever read a book so good the action seems to leap out of the page? Well with all my recent reads the pages have leapt out of the book. This has less to do with heart-stopping action, carefully-rounded characters or twisting plot than it has to do with the good old Saudi weather.

In short, it's so hot here you can't take a book to the pool without the intense heat melting the glue that holds the spine of the book together. This has happened to me with the last four books I've read. There I am, lying back with a cool drink by my side as I dry off from my last dip, losing myself in a good book (and I've read some good books lately), when, all of a sudden, a page loosens itself and does that zigzaggy float down to a soft landing on my not insignificant stomach. There is very little in life less irritating than that, believe me.

Has this ever happened to you, or is it just me? I must be doing something wrong because it hasn't happened to Karen and she's usually there next to me. Maybe I open my books in a funny way. Maybe I spend too long on each page. Maybe I don't fidget enough, causing the weakest part of the spine to be exposed to a particular ray of sunshine for too long.

I'm at a loss what to do. Reading by the pool is one of my main reasons for going, but I hate it when a book I really like starts coming apart in my hands. When, two-and-a-bit years ago, we found out we were going to be living in Riyadh for two years, I never once thought that this would be one of the principal hardships. Threat of terrorism, yes. Absence of cinemas, yes. Prohibition of alcohol, of course. But never disintegrating books.

Saturday, August 25, 2007

GCSE Results

After much email-checking yesterday we finally got the second half of Elliot's GCSE results:

Maths B
French B
Music B
Geography C
English Lit. C

So, combine that with the first half:

Physics A
Biology B
English Lang. B
Chemistry C

...and he has two A's, five B's and three C's.

Considering Elliot has a slight learning difficulty, requiring extra time in some exams and some individual attention in the classroom, we think these results are excellent and really show how hard he worked on his preparation since the mocks.

The C in Geography has helped decide on Physics as his last A Level subject, so at the new school he will be studying Maths, Physics, Information Technology, Media Studies, and Religious Studies for A Level.

Well done Elliot!

Thursday, August 23, 2007

No News Yet

Been nursing my Blackberry all day today, waiting for the school to email the second half of Elliot's GCSE results, but nothing.

The results were released today in the UK, and Elliot has been instant messaging some of his UK buddies to find out how they got on. They have received their results all in one go, so Elliot has a slight advantage in having received the first half of his results a couple of weeks ago.

It looks like the school is following the same pattern as they did last time, which suggests that the email will come on tomorrow, late morning.

What we're feeling is more excited anticipation more than worry; we're pretty sure his second set are going to be similar to the first, but it's never for sure until you see it in black & white is it?

More news tomorrow, I hope.

Wednesday, August 22, 2007

Mmm, Cake!

Refusing to be upstaged by Elliot's GCSE results, Abigail's star shone stickily yesterday in the shape of a scrumptious Blueberry Cake that she baked all by herself (with Karen supervising).

She chose the Blueberry Cake from a little book of cake recipes that came with BBC Good Food magazine, and baked it yesterday afternoon once we'd got back from the supermarket with all the ingredients.

My memories of the bringings-home of primary school cookery lessons made me a bit apprehensive as the plate was extracted ceremonially from the fridge, but I needn't have worried. This was the big-girl Abigail at work, times have changed. So, instead of the tupperware container full of unrecognisable brown sludge I was expecting, out came a very professional-looking Blueberry sponge cake.

The picture of the perfect result lays down the challenge...

...but Abigail meets it head on and produces an exact likeness

You think it looks good? You should taste it! The sponge was light and fluffy, there were just the right amount of blueberries both inside and on the top, and the icing was to die for: a kind of cheesecake flavour icing containing Philadelphia and sour cream, believe it or not. It may not sound very appetising but it is absolutely delicious.


There's only one word for it: Yum!

We all had our first slices together yesterday evening, and as I write I'm tucking into my second, Elevenses slice, accompanied by a Starbucks triple latte. I can feel the top button of my jeans straining under renewed pressure, but my soul's in a nice place so that's OK.

Want your own? Here's the recipe.

Tuesday, August 21, 2007

That's My Boy!

Dear Reader, I owe you -- and Elliot -- an apology.

Several family members have reprimanded me for forgetting something very important. There I was, reminiscing about the -- to quote The Beano -- slap up nosh we enjoyed at the Movenpick Brunch, and I forgot to tell you about the news we received only the day before.

The first half of Elliot's GCSE results arrived.

Yes, his results are coming to us in two chunks because the British School spreads its subjects over two examination boards: half of the ten subjects are handled by Cambridge (iGCSE), and the other half by EdExcel. I like to think it was the prospect of waiting until they were all in that stopped me mentioning it before, but to be honest I probably just forgot: my bad.

So, without any further ado, here is Part One of Elliot's results:
Physics A
Information Technology A
English Language B
Biology B
Chemistry C

We're all very pleased with these, and congratulations to Elliot for working so hard to get the best grades he could. He certainly earned his new guitar.

The second half: Maths, Geography, English Literature, Music, French, should be with us in the next few days. Elliot's chosen A Level subjects are IT, Maths, Physics or Geography and Media Studies (he can't do both Physics and Geography because of the school's timetable). So, good results so far and we're keeping everything crossed for Maths and Geography in the next batch.

Watch this space.

Sunday, August 19, 2007

Suited & Booted

Elliot and I are now the proud owners of our new tailor-made suits. Picked them up yesterday from Sapphire Tailors after a brief try-on just to make sure everything was OK.

Elliot's two identical suits (for his 6th form school uniform) cost SR425 each (£57), and my considerably larger suit was slightly more at SR500 (£67).

Elliot looking smart and pleased with himself

We put them on when we got home to show Karen & Abigail, then went out to the garden for some photos. This was supposed to be a mock mail-order catalogue shoot with us in various fake poses for a laugh, but the chairs were so dusty we couldn't sit down, and we were no good at doing the fake posing anyway.

...and these are the better shots. Imagine the ones I'm not showing you.

"Your name's not down, you're not coming in."

Still, you get to see what the suits are like. We're very pleased with them..

Thursday, August 16, 2007

Riyadh(& Bahrain)Cam

A collection of interesting and amusing pics taken with my mobile phone while out and about...

Prayer time in Riyadh. Some go to the mosque, but others just pray for the shops to re-open.

Not sure what a 'Prodcast' is, but this phone can do it.

This sign on the Bahrain causeway is just over the border and says, 'The fun starts here.' We were so desperate for the fun we sped past so the photo is a bit of a blur.

The souk in Bahrain, and a rival for Sapphire Tailors: Suitings Corner.

'Super Mario Trading'. I wish I'd gone in and asked if they had any drainpipe trousers.

Many more Movenpick brunches and I'll be in the market for one of these.

Hmm, been feeling a bit weedy lately. Maybe some of this Ginseng drink will give me the Charles Atlas body I've always wanted.

'Lost in Translation' classic. Click to enlarge, but the slogan is:
"Super top king hip hop game, best come on boys star, get your own crypt and live forever King Boys".

Wednesday, August 15, 2007

Suit Fitting

No sooner had we got home from Bahrain than it was time for Elliot and me to return to Sapphire Tailor's in Batha to have a trial fitting of our new suits, and this time I took RiyadhCam along.

Finding the shop again was a breeze thanks to my having saved the location in my SatNav system, and we arrived precisely at the appointed time. Elliot was clearly looking forward to the fitting: two tailor-made suits at age 16... why wouldn't he be pleased? I was feeling a little more apathetic I have to say. At this price I'm not expecting Saville Row quality, so although I'm expecting the thing to fit I have an open mind about the quality of the finished article and how long it will last.

We go in to be met by... I'm ashamed to say even though I asked him his name twice I can't remember it. I know it was similar to Abdulrahman but wasn't. Anyway, our Indian tailor met us and escorted us up the stairs in the middle of the shop to the single fitting room.

I went first and changed into my new trousers, which fitted perfectly although they were clearly not finished cosmetically. I then tried on the jacket, which was part-made: no lining yet, no collar, no buttons or other stitching. Again it was a pretty good fit and the tailor marked where the two halves should meet at the front when buttoned with a series of chalk lines.

Next it was Elliot's turn. His trousers were a bit tight around the waist, and also looked a little short.

We agreed that once the waist was the right fit they would 'sit' better and the length would probably sort itself out. His jacket was a little short in the sleeve and a bit tight around the body: made him look even slimmer than he really is. The tailor made the necessary notes and adjustments, and we were in and out in only around 15 minutes.

We go back on Saturday to collect our finished suits, and if we like them enough we'll pose for RiyadhCam so you can see for yourselves how sartorially elegant we look. If not, well... I'd rather not think about that at the moment.

Monday, August 13, 2007

Full Up

I'm feeling full up. In fact I don't think I'll ever eat again. Well, that's perhaps a BIT of an exaggeration, but it'll be at least two hours before I ever eat again anyway.

Novotel Al Dana Resort

Our trip to Bahrain was extended at the last minute, because the Embassy wanted Karen to collect something from the Embassy in Bahrain and bring it back, so we had to stay until it re-opened on Sunday morning. Such hardship! Another 24 hours of shopping, cinema, lounging by the pool and eating out. Oh well, I suppose someone's got to do it.

I did feel a little self-conscious as the family relaxed by the pool, and this time it wasn't for exposing parts of my body to public view that have grown a little more than I'd have like them to. All four of us were reading one of the Harry Potter books: Abigail's was Order Of The Phoenix (because of the movie), mine was Half Blood Prince (which I started immediately after watching the OOTP movie), and Karen and Elliot were both stuck into The Deathly Hallows. We must've looked like a right bunch of saddo's with our four HP books lying on our sun loungers all in a row. Still, don't care! The HP marathon is nearly at an end. The last book has been published and there are only two film adaptations to go. We saw the new movie, "Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix" while here. I was the only one who hasn't read that particular book, so while the other three mumbled, 'not as good as the book' and, 'they missed loads out', I thoroughly enjoyed the film.

We debated long and hard about which film we should choose for our second cinema visit of the trip. From a shortlist of Die Hard 4, Shrek 3, Spiderman 3, Fantastic Four 2, and The Simpsons we elected to see The Simpsons Movie, and only ten minutes in I knew we had made the right choice. If you like The Simpsons you'll love the movie, and if you don't I guess you won't. I loved it. Hilarious. I laughed out loud every few minutes.

Culinary highlight of the trip was Friday Brunch at the Movenpick hotel. If you ever visit Bahrain on a Friday, you must go to the Movenpick for brunch. It is out of this world. We arrived at 12.30 and were seated in the hotel's airy atrium, with high vaulted ceiling and an entire wall of windows letting in streams of sunlight.

After an introductory glass of sparkling wine you wander up to the countless buffet tables for food.

On your marks, get set... go!

I started with freshly-made Sushi, which was among the best I've had. Following that I had Malaysian Laksa soup: a hot, spicy soup not unlike Thailand's Tom Yam Goong. Next I had a small plate of Malaysian Beef Redong curry, with my sparkling wine being automatically topped up all the while. Then it was time to visit the fresh counter. I joined a line of people with my plate and shuffled past two tables groaning with fresh seafood and meat. There were whole crabs, lobster tails, huge shrimp, plus raw beef, chicken, and more. Here you're supp0sed to select the fresh fish or meat you like and put it on your plate. Then as you walk along the line you can see the chefs in the kitchen, cooking the food of those ahead of you. When you get to the end of the line you tell the waitress how you want it cooked: grilled, pan-fried, wok-fried, Thai Curry, etc. Give them your name and table number and go and sit down, then they bring you the finished dish a few minutes later.

Elliot and Abigail having a whale of a time

Another top up of wine and Karen persuades me to try the oysters. I go and get six (they're supposed to be in half-dozens aren't they?). I eat two and Karen has one, but we can't finish them (it is a bit late in the day for this). Another glass of bubbly and it's time for dessert. I start off with chocolate ice cream, followed by a banana and chocolate crepe, made in front of me by the chef. At the same time Abigail visits the chocolate fountain and returns with two skewers of chocolate-covered strawberries, pineapple, and marshmallows.

All the while there is live piano music, face painting, henna tattoos, and a clown making balloon animals for the kids. Abigail then decides to finish off dessert with a candy floss!

"You're mine, all mine!"

After three and a half hours of this we manage to prise ourselves out of the chairs and waddle out to our waiting taxi. Heavenly.

That was just one of several culinary delights, but I think you've had quite enough for the time being. Now do you believe me when I say I'm Full Up?

Wednesday, August 08, 2007

Bahrain Here We Come

My infection/plague/virus/whatever has finally started to abate, thanks to some good old Penicillin, which you can buy over the counter here without prescription. In the last three days I have been taking a mixture of Panadol, Ibuprofen, LemSip, Strepsils, soluble Codeine and now antibiotics too. It's been horrible and I've not been able to sleep much, but at least now I seem to be over the worst and am feeling a lot better today.

Good job too, because this afternoon I'm driving the family the four hours to Bahrain for a long weekend. Regular readers will know that Bahrain is the perfect weekend getaway for people in Saudi. If you're new to the blog just search it for "Bahrain" and you'll see what I mean.

This will be our last Bahrain trip as a family, as the children move to the UK next month to start their new school. Top of the priority list is to see Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix in the cinema. Unlike the rest of the family I haven't yet read past the first four books in the series, so I don't know the story. My plan is to watch this one, thus skipping the book, then read "...Half Blood Prince" before moving on to the new one, "...Deathly Hallows". Nobody has yet finished the new book in our house as we got our copies a bit late, but hopefully one of our two copies will be available to me once I'm ready for it.

More about the trip when we get back, then right after that it'll be time for Elliot and me to have trial fittings of our new suits. Can't wait!

Tuesday, August 07, 2007



Not been very well the last couple of days. I've had both tonsillitis and sinusitis in the past, but what I have at the moment feels like both together. Blocked and dry sinuses make me want to swallow, but when I do it's really painful.

It's getting better slowly. The flu-like fever I had at the beginning has gone now and I'm glad about that, but the foreign body that seems to have taken up residence in the middle of my head is still irritating the hell out of me, so I'm not really in the mood to blog, or anything else for that matter.

I even ducked out of a poker game last night -- unheard of.

I'm thinking of getting one of those steel poles on wheels that let hospital patients go for walk down the corridor without being disconnected from their saline drip, only mine would be providing intravenous LemSip.

Saturday, August 04, 2007

Following Suit

Ah, lifetime ambitions! What are yours? Some of mine are grander than others. For example, someday I would like to drive a tank, experience space travel, write a bestselling novel. Nothing impossible but each would require a considerable amount of dedicated effort to realise (especially the driving a tank one. Pretty easy in England, but damn near impossible in Saudi Arabia, unless it's your job).

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.

Both sides of their business card

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.

Thursday, August 02, 2007

Hot: 2

Two things have dominated today.

First, I went back to the dentist to get a permanent crown cemented (replaing a temporary crown) and to have a couple of old fillings replaced with new tech stuff. When the dentist drilled out the old filling he discovered a crack in my molar that required yet another crown, so I ended up in the chair for 3 1/2 hours. Sore!

Second, it was 50 degrees again today, and Karen had the presence of mind to take a photo of the car thermometer readout:

...just in case you didn't believe me yesterday.

Wednesday, August 01, 2007


The thermometer in my car read 50 degrees centigrade again yesterday. During the day the temperature here fluctuates between 46 and 50, but of course it never "officially" reaches the 50 mark, because that's the limit at which manual labourers working outdoors are allowed to down tools, so (I'm told) it never goes above 49 as far as foremen are concerned. The overnight low is around 38.

Yesterday I walked with Abigail from the house to the embassy compound to return some DVDs. It's a five-minute walk and believe me, you wouldn't want to do anything longer than that in these conditions. You know how the inside of your car feels when you return to it after a day parked under the hot sun? That's how it feels here, outdoors. As we walked I felt my T-shirt, my jeans, and I couldn't keep my hand on them.

During the winter the embassy heats the water in the pool, but in summer it's heated by the Sun. I think this year's worse than last. We went to the pool the other day and the water was very warm, like a Jacuzzi. The water in the pipes to the house is heated underground too. When I take a shower I have to have the tap on the 'cold' setting, and the water is hot. If I had it at the normal 'half-and-half' setting it would be scalding.

So, we spend most of our time in air-conditioning: the house, the car, the shopping mall. But then the dry air plays havoc with my sinuses. Can't win can I?

Some of my UK friends have been moaning about the wet and miserable summer they're having. Wanna swap?