Don’t let the sun go down on me

The sun has but a couple of hours left to share its warming light while the sea breeze accompanies its setting glow. Ripples along the sea shore are gently caressed into wavelets that break gently upon the rocky shoreline singing the soothing song that we all know. One is bathed in light, life and love from the elements. It is truly life affirming. Palm leaves rustle overhead. The black headed, sharp winged Terns dance just above the sea’s silvan surface looking for the tiny fish that the elegant long legged white egrets may have missed. Every fifty metres or so along the waters edge, the long stiletto billed kings of fishers stand deadly still on duty ever watchful for the foolish to come close to the surface. The only thing that moves is their crest as the wind catches. Mynah birds hop and search for everything that might resemble food. They are as common as jackdaws and seem to gather in small flocks of five or six. They are distinctively coloured with a black head, a vivid yellow eye stripe, a light brown back, black wings with a striking white bar on each. They chatter and cackle and forage, and seems to care not for the scrawny cats that lounge about. There are no blackbirds, blue tits or magpies. The herring gulls are replaced by a different browner species of gull that behave in a similar way but with a lesser harsh call and not quite so much cheeky bared faced aggression for your food. It is probably the lack of pasties and the tourist chips on offer that force them to act more naturally like the sea scouring fish eating birds they are.

The Corniche paved walk is perhaps a foot higher than the water, and the tide’s reach measures in inches rather than metres. All along a stainless steel railing provides perches for gulls and the resting ice cream holding arms of the families that come out after work.

After about thirty minutes inhaling the Red Sea breezes I turn inland back towards the hotel. This part of the walk takes me through the city’s blocks of residential homes in the now classic grid pattern of modern cities. What strikes me about this part of the city is of course that it is modern Jeddah, even the mosques are no more than 70 years old. There are no 16th or 17th century street patterns or buildings anywhere near that age. There are numerous plots of land within the blocks that by the looks of them had been buildings, but now have been completely demolished leaving rubble and brown dust blown squares, some the size of football pitches. They are of course litter strewn. The cats do not come down this way, they stay at the Corniche. There are no dogs either. Come to think of it, I don’t think I have seen or heard a dog since I arrived. Even when passing the houses, there are no dogs barking as you pass the gates. I think they have all been eaten or died in the summer sun.

Cars. There are three colours. Mostly white, some grey and a few black. They all look the same, and appear to come with mandatory damage. Rare is the car without a tell tale scratch or dent. The reason is very clear to see.

Whatever else the Jedi are, they are not good drivers. I’ve no idea why, but they just seem to take the attitude that when driving, everyone else should do the looking out. They drive in a bubble of imagined impunity, an impunity which the evidence all around clearly demonstrates is a complete chimera. They drive fast, they drive close and they seem to think that looking at a mobile phone is just fine because everyone else will take evasive action should they stray into another lane. This attitude towards other road users even seems to apply to those in front of you, and especially when you are also driving in their blind spot. A quick toot on the horn is all that is seemingly required to announce one’s presence before moving forward and across in any case.

The gap between theory and practice could not be more stark. Everyone thinks everyone else will take evasive action. They don’t. They just don’t. If you drove like this in London, you would be dragged from your car, beaten senseless and sent to France in a veal crate. Perhaps because a prang is so common they don’t think much about it?

Hence the scratches, dints and dents. As I stopped to cross the road I heard a scrape and mild thump that you just know means metal upon metal. A driver wants to join traffic from the side of road, and of course adopting the Jedi attitude that others had better watch out for the pull out, backwards into oncoming traffic, and after a cursory glance (if a glance there had been), front offside wing meets front drivers side wing. It is not a proper bang, not one big enough to result in the call for an ambulance. The two drivers just stop and sit as with no more passion used than if they had just farted. It seems all such a common experience to rank alongside breathing in.

A colleague at work, who just happens to be English, earlier in the day told me about his driving test in Jeddah a short while ago. This was in order to get a Saudi driving licence. Mind, I’d no sooner wish to drive here than I would risk clipping my pubic hair with an old rusty chain saw. The ‘test’ took place in one of those dusty rubble strewn squares right next to the Saudi Aramco oil installation. The tester armed with a clipboard and an over casual insouciance towards road safety, bid the testee to drive around in a circle. This he did without getting out of first gear, because the car did not like second. After a round or two of swirling up the dust he was told to stop and was presented with the fact that he qualified for a licence.

The next day a missile hit the oil dump, severely damaging the storage tank. It matters not a jot because worrying about being hit by a missile while sitting in Jeddah’s traffic is akin to worrying about your haircut while parading your scrawny scrotum in a nudist colony. It is misplaced worry to say the least. The missile actually enhanced the driving test centre, providing a new layer of dirt.

Anyway, it is getting late and dinner calls.

The dust settled after the coming together of metal against metal. A mynah bird quipped ‘Kahlil Gibran’ and a prayer was said for the sons and daughters of the road. I carried on through the streets back to the hotel and caught the orange ball of the sun just as it lowered towards the horizon.

Time for a 0% beer methinks.

Published by Lance Goodman

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

2 thoughts on “Don’t let the sun go down on me

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