Pith Helmets and SIM cards

Being a fully paid up member of the master race can be embarrassing.

I don’t mean riding at full speed in a panzer tank across the Northern plains of Europe is a cause for blushing. I don’t think Rommel in North Africa cared much about the effects on his ‘social media likes’ as he crushed the nearest Arab and his flea bitten camel under the steel heel of his jackboots. The Stuka pilot probably never uttered “oh, sorry” as he rammed a bomb into the mouths of Polish children. Eichmann’s cheeks never reddened when ordering the extra cans of Zyklon B. These and other peccadilloes never cost Hitler a single nights sleep nor sent him scurrying to a New York based PR firm to cover his discomfiture after being found out waving his dick in the faces of 6 million jews while shouting “whose ze daddy now?”. Having only one testicle never held him back in the embarrassment stakes. It should have. If I woke up and found out I had only one ball, embarrassment would be the least of it. I’d have given up hope of a proper ‘tea bagging’ then and there and scurried off to hide under a bush in Northampton.

But, we are not all the same. Shame and embarrassment come in all sizes, and of course are both dissolvable in alcohol. Who among us has not got our tits out after a sherry and not only boasted about it, but took pictures to upload to our social media accounts only to be reminded the next day that the Whats App group was not the ‘Helen’s Horny Hen Night in Newquay’ but your firm’s internal HR group which includes the CEO who just happens to be a teetotal born again Christian who never “sups satan’s syrup”.

I’ve done embarrassment. Once in the back of a taxi in Cyprus, and a couple of times at a student nurse party involving a bottle of Rioja, a card game, over confidence and a degree of willy waving nudity. At no time did I think I might be shot, taken behind a skip and beaten to death with a dead cat or deported to a Premier Inn at Heathrow. However.

As I walk the streets of Jeddah in the hot sun, I observe the local populace at close quarters. This divides into two groups. The Saudis and the Non Saudis. The latter group outnumber the Saudis by about 10 to 1. There is a third group: Me. The Saudis are conspicuous by the almost uniform adoption of their culture’s dress. The non Saudi’s appear to be mainly from the Indian subcontinent and South East Asia. They also have a similar form of dress. You might have seen them in films like ‘Carry On up the Khyber’, the ‘Best Marigold Hotel’ or in the ‘The Ganges’ curry house in Bethnal Green.

What they don’t look like is me. I kind of stand out in white shirt and shorts. The hat and sunglasses give me that ‘windswept and interesting’ look, a bit like a lost Micheal Palin whose film crew has disappeared into a bar leaving him wandering the streets talking to a non existent camera. As I pass little children, they can’t help themselves. They are too polite, or shocked, to point at me but I can feel the incredulity boring into the back of my skull. In St Ives, I’m just another local blending into the background. Here, my white face and hat stand out like the newly delivered sperm stain on an intern’s black dress in the Oval Office.

I’m thinking this as I stand in the queue at the local mobile phone shop.

I’m here to buy a Saudi SIM card. I have one already ready, issued by a firm called STC. I think that stands for ‘Shitty Telecommunications Company’ as the coverage is, well…shitty. We take for granted our phone coverage in a city, especially when you are trying to book an Uber or when using Google Maps to find out which pub you have just been thrown out of after showing your mates your half empty Adolphian scrotum. Mobile roaming, being what it is, does not ensure you can use the phone when you might need it the most. This does not matter in Camborne. I can find my way from the White Hart to the Kebab shop at midnight without using google maps or a compass. There do not seem to be many wifi hotspots in Jeddah either. So, if you should find yourself upside down in a dumpster without your trousers and a falafel sticking out of your arse, you need a decent signal to extract yourself from this minor inconvenience.

So. I’m outside the ‘Mobily’ shop to buy a ‘Mobily’ SIM card. Now, there’s a ‘Friday afternoon’ name if ever I saw one. Correction, over here its a ‘Thursday Afternoon’ as this is when the weekend starts. If I started a new phone company I’d search the thesaurus or Greek mythology for a suitably classic name. I’d avoid ‘Cornwall’s Unlimited New Telecoms’ though. Might cause embarrassment. Don’t think of the logo.

It is a pleasant 26 degrees in the direct sun. I am nearly in the middle of a small crowd outside the shop. Two security guards are busy herding everyone into a two metre distanced queue. This is a concept familiar at home, but to this lot is obviously a very difficult thing to work out. They mill about doing an impression of a swarm of termites high on the fermented juices of fallen fruit. There is shouting and a line kind of forms but then drifts into a free form dance routine. They all seem to come from India, or the Khyber Pass. I am the only white man in the city. It feels that way. Eventually after much waving of hands, sticks and Arabic shouting at men who speak Hindi and Urdu…and one Englishman, a line does start to hold. I am number 12 in a queue outside the shop.

It is not moving quickly. Tectonic plates shift faster. The evolution of the mammalian eye was quicker than this, so I resign myself to standing in the sun slowly beginning to fry. There is commotion and talking and a general buzz but as to actual action, sweet Fanny Adams. Occasionally the shop door would open and a man falls out clutching his precious SIM card. The bastard.

I have time to watch the birds and count the leaves on a nearby tree. I’m using so much time, I discover I’m slowly learning the language. I think I know Saudi for “whose that twat in the hat?”, for a security guard starts pointing at me to a Saudi Mobily shop assistant. I sense something is up. They both walk over to me. What have I done? I’ve not uttered ‘come on you bastards’ even if I have thought it. There is a long snaking queue of malodorous ingratitude in front of me. I’m not going anywhere soon.

Except I am. The Saudi chap comes over, points and says ‘Come this way’. I am being bumped up the queue and go straight into the shop to be served ahead of the whole of Calcutta* waiting behind me.

This is the embarrassing bit. Obviously the only white chap in the crowd, it’s as if my Imperial privilege still has some clout among the fuzzy wuzzies and spear carriers. I might as well have a red coat, a pith helmet and a Union Jack. I am escorted past the great unwashed and ushered into the air conditioned interior. Surely, the natives will revolt when I step back outside. I wish I knew what the Hindi word for ‘cunt’ is, for I swear that is what will be muttered. We British may have colonised many countries, nicked their wealth and fettled their women but say what you like, we have manners, we are not queue jumpers. Imagine pushing to the front in your local chippie or the post office. We even queued going over the top in 1914! I felt like apologising to the mass of humanity gathered outside for queue jumping for no good reason.

Thing is, I didn’t get a SIM card after all that. Apparently as a foreign visitor I’m only allowed one at a time, and as I had a valid STC card that was it, shitty as it is. The Germans wouldn’t have stood for it.

*Yes, I know its Kolkata know…

Published by Lance Goodman

Freelance writer, bon vivant and all-round good oeuf.

4 thoughts on “Pith Helmets and SIM cards

  1. SIM cards make good detonators, so in the land of the Saud, as you “not from ‘round these parts” you are the one to worry about. Top tip, avoid Ariane Grande concerts.


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