The sky is a clear azure blue. The breeze is a mild caress of warm, not hot, air. In England this would be a belter of a very pleasant summer day. Not one of your heatwave days, just one of the days when you start thinking of a chilled glass of white wine, or a cold beer with a trickle of water forming on the outside, and cucumber sandwiches watching the village cricket from the comfort of your deckchair. If you are a cricket fan, you would have Radio 4 test match special quietly on the radio while you listen to the occasional cry for an LBW and the gentle ‘chock’ of willow on leather. A gentle applause would ripple across the meadows while swallows danced low above the grass. You might even hear ‘well played sir’, this being an English village cricket green rather than the Kop at Anfield. Ladies would float about in summer frocks and wide brimmed hats, children (if allowed) would be quietly playing with their screens oblivious to the tableau opening up before them as they pour their precious lives into Tik Tok, Instagram or some such. This being the quintessential summer scene in the shires, we would be spared the sight of the insanity of self imposed selfie pouty madness some people indulge in, to up their online profile.
But this is not England. This is not cricket. This is Bahrain. This is the hotel’s sun lounge at lunch time. But the warmth is English.
Five palm trees, festooned with tight spirals of fairy lights around their trunks, stand in a row in their solitary planters, overlooking the pool as if on guard. The diamond rippled pool shines and beckons. There are heaters dotted about the place, the type that pipes gas into a clear tube at night so that you get a pillar of flame to not only warm, but to provide that extra ambience. At dinner last night the waitress asked if I would like it lit. I explained that as I am English it was already plenty warm enough. At that, a smile of recognition creased her face as if to provide a bit of sympathy towards those that live in the cold, dark, wet north. On the way to the airport yesterday, the taxi driver says he sees rain about once or twice per year.
I am ‘imprisoned’ in the hotel until the Covid test result comes through. I will have to endure these conditions for another 2 weeks, unless the rules change again. The result will be sent to me via the App that Bahrain insists I have to have downloaded and should be with me by today. Except it wasn’t. This was due to the finger trouble engaged in by the chap at the airport who inputted the wrong mobile phone number and date of birth. Apparently I was born in 1985 just before my son Jacob was born. Don’t ask about how I got the result in the end, except to say one needs to engage in lateral thinking and prayer.
So, lunch is a shrimp caesar salad and glass of crisp chilled Sauvignon Blanc. The menu looks very cheap for a 5 star hotel until I realise that the exchange rate between the Bahraini Dinar and Pound is about 2:1 in the Dinar’s favour.
That explains the misinterpretation at check in. After having been picked up by chauffeur at the airport, well two of the chaps in crisp white uniform and peak caps, I was dropped off at reception. The charge for the airport pick up, I thought was reasonable at 11 dinars. Which, because I had computed that sum into Emirati Dirham and then into pounds, I believed was about £11. The distance was about 3 miles.
I was asked to pay up front for the room and the sum asked for was 600 dinars.
“Roger me backwards with a spiky pineapple, thats cheap!”
I inwardly thought.
“That’s a good deal” is what I actually said and was met with a convoluted explanation about why it was, indeed, such a good deal. This involved the anniversary of the hotel, post covid issues and something about the sale of children found wandering dirty and alone in the local souk being rounded up sold to slave traders from across the border, thus subsidising the lifestyles of the rich westerners of which I am one. In the room, and having a niggly feeling about all of this, I checked the exchange rate.
Ah, £1200 pounds. And that £4 bottle of Amstel was more like £8, and the short rib steak….!
These are London prices. Tiz a bleddy good job the company are picking up the tab. Denzil Penberthy and ‘Boy’ Trevaskis (who was eighty if he was a day) wouldn’t stand for it. “Tiddin’t proper, tiddn’t fitty”.
They’d both pale at the price of the ‘cakey tea’, served at it is without the clotted cream. Or the jam. There’s no scone to be honest either. As for cake, I think the Bahrainis have both had it, and eaten it.
The clientele sat around the pool are few in number. One overweight, middle aged chap insists in parading around the edge of the pool in his crack showing swimming trunks which are a few inches too tight so that his belly flops over in front. The black hair on his chest is so long it waves over his nipples in the breeze like a horse tosses its mane. In his head he is Cristiano Ronaldo…all ripped abs and arrogance. In reality he is a fat Borat. Thank god he is not in a mankini.
At a nearby table are three Russians. Two chaps and a woman. All about in their 30’s I’d guess. The chaps have the short side shaven modern haircuts beloved of premier league footballers and lads on the piss in Leeds. The woman is all sunglasses, shocking white teeth and tits. They are dressed just as anyone from the rich western world dresses at lunchtime in the sunshine, i.e. casually in shorts and T shirts. If I had an eye for designer clothes I could tell you what they wore, as I have not you just have to imagine trendy magazine model types. The sort you’d see in big colour posters in menswear shops in Oxford Street. I assume they are Russian. I did not go and ask in case they got uppity and got their chum Putin to put in an order for another Novichok hit. The give-away was the Russian sounding language they used. In fairness they could have come from London or Prague.
A curious thing was that every now and then their chatter was interspersed with English words and phrases. It seems English is better for profanity and swearing. “No Shit” was commonly used. However, I did not hear a ‘bum, bugger or bastard’. Perhaps the Russian word for ‘bum’ is a better sounding word, although somehow I doubt it. There is a certain simplistic beauty to words like ‘bum and bugger’ notwithstanding what they actually refer to. They just sound nice. One can go a long way with just those words in English. Said in the correct manner, they can accomplish a lot of linguistic work. But you probably don’t want to hear your surgeon say them during a particularly tricky bit of the operation you are undergoing under a local anaesthetic. They have a bigger cousin, of course, that is ubiquitous around the world. As Mr Billy Connolly reliably informs us, the F word does most of the heavy lifting in conveying meaning from Alice Springs to Aberdeen. If the Russians are using it, I don’t pick it up. Perhaps because they can’t be fucking buggered to bother with it.
The background noise to our lunch…oh, the ‘music’. Well I say music. It is sound of some sorts. When the rave scene hit the warehouses in the late 80’s, followed by house and trance, what became known generically as dance music spread around the globe. There is a certain use of snare and beat and to those who know, a common dynamic structure ideally suited to being off one’s tits on vodka and ecstasy on the dance floor. Tragically the phenomenal success of the genre has now transmogrified into what the Russians next to me might refer to as ‘shit’. Indeed because that is what it is. At first you don’t notice, as it plays in the background as ‘muzak’. However, each ‘tune’ is very much like the last and of such poor quality that anything like melody and harmony have left the room leaving you with the banality of rhythm without any joy in it. The vocals are an homogenised gloop constructed by a computer; the production is done by pre programmed monkeys to a formula designed by bored tech nerds who are (badly) using music production software such as Ableton in their bedrooms before masturbating themselves into oblivion in their parent’s house. It is tragic. And relentless. It does not stop.
I am going to have to say something.
Bear in mind the clientele here is mostly over 50 and would not know a disco biscuit munching rave if it burst into their bedrooms in a dayglo bikini, waving its collective arms in the air while throwing glow sticks at your cat.
No one is dancing.
If I could, I’d throw the speakers into the pool, I don’t care how many Dinar they cost.