The Saudi Stone

What do you do when the temperature reaches 36 on average, so that an ordinary walk to the shops results in rapid dehydration, electrolyte imbalance and heat stroke? Walking at a pace that is above what we would call ‘ambling’ creates the conditions for sweating like a half-naked stoker feeding the coal fired boiler of a steam ship in the Tropics. I’d have lost less water building Pharoah’s tomb, weeding the hanging Gardens of Bablyon, or on day three hanging from the middle cross of a particularly nasty crucifixion at midsummer with only a couple of mozzie bitten thieves as company. So, yes, it is hot here and it is going to get worse. 

The view from the air-conditioned hotel is misleading. It looks beautiful outside. Well-watered lawns and green shrubs, palm trees waving in the onshore breeze, the clearest of clear blue skies and a sea that encourages toe dipping, if not full-on skinny dipping at the full moon midnight. The latter is frowned upon which is a good thing. There are sea snakes in the Red Sea who would no doubt try to mate with your willy in the water if you got too close. A sign at the sea’s edge clearly states: ‘NO SWIMMING’ and then underneath it ‘violators will be punished’. I love it when non-native speakers translate what is clearly a second tongue. I know I mash up French and Spanish, and translating Arabic into English must be tricky, but violators? This word conjures up visions of transgressions so heinous it would make the Devil blush with embarrassment. And ‘Punished’ prefaced by ‘will be’. So, no trial then to establish guilt, no chance to plead mitigation, ask for a lawyer or go to confession. Punished. And in a country which will cut a hand off for masturbation and buggery is a stoning offence (how they catch you is anybody’s guess), ‘punish’ means an experience involving regret, anticipation and a good deal of pain. They are going to get medieval on your ass. 

“Apologies, officer, but I was just dipping my toes in the water’s edge”.

“I understand that, sir, but you were also butt naked and pissed as a parrot…Ahmed, fetch me my favourite baton, the one with the thickest end…and don’t bother with the lubricant, this one’s going in dry, inshallah”. 

I’m going to enjoy this” he thinks.

Saudi justice can be swift and saves the courts millions of Riyals every day. 

So, what do you do when it gets too hot, and you can’t go swimming?


I have heard about the ‘Saudi Stone’ which is a contagious disease easily caught by visitors to the country. Bear in mind that for the best part of nine months of the year, outdoor pursuits is for the professionally backed up athletes with a van supplying ice cold water and first aid equipment that includes defibrillators, endotracheal tubes and cotton buds. This means any calories consumed have to be used in activities such as thinking, sleeping and breathing rather than the running of 10ks and walking to the shops. As I look across the water from the hotel there are no dinghies, canoes, paddle boarders or wind surfers. No one is expending calories in any great rate of knots either on or off the water. There are no peletons of cyclists, no joggers, no brisk walkers with or without dogs, which in any case are ‘haram’ in Saudi culture. Apparently, they consider any animal that habitually licks its own bollocks, routinely seeks out an arsehole to sniff, shits at will anywhere, and which returns to its own vomit, as ‘unclean’. Fancy. That will be why I have seen one dog in 6 weeks here. 

Opportunities for exercise outside are limited. Add to that the fact that petrol is about 40 pence a litre, making not only driving cheap but actively encourages driving everywhere in air-conditioned comfort. 

Opportunities to eat are legion.  England is of course a great example of the obesogenic environment, but here it takes the sport of weight gain to Olympic standards. Saudi Arabia has joined other developed nations as a viable contender for being the land of fat bastards.

Sweet tea, coffee and dates. Now this is a standard offering when visiting a friend’s house, or the office or a meeting, or when coming back from the loo, or anywhere. The dates are small bombs of sugary energy exploding in your mouth providing enough oomph in calories to launch a space shuttle. Of course, they are delicious, absolutely delicious. And ubiquitous. In the foyer of the hotel there is a chap in an embroidered black and gold waistcoat over his long white thawb, a fez like gold and white silk hat, standing with a small trolley serving small cups of sweet Arabic coffee and dates. For free. You have to walk right past him and there is no avoiding the morning greeting of ‘Salaam Alaikum’ and the offer of a coffee and date. The shining golden coffee pot sits upon a silver stand warmed by a tea light. The waft of coffee steam out of its spout calls one forward. I suspect if you rub the pot, a genie will pop out and grant you three wishes, the first of which would be ‘can you make the dates zero calories?’

When I do venture outside, in the relative cool of an early evening, I have to pass what are euphemistically called ‘restaurants.’  I’d call them ‘cardiovascular and type 2 diabetes risk factors.’ They are in reality, biohazards, and should be signposted as such. Instead, they are allowed to flaunt their wares in a brazen display of braggadocio only matched by a ‘pussied up’ Trump high on the approval of a hooting stadium of bourbon drunk rednecks just back from a lynching. The levels of toxicity contained within each ‘restaurant’ makes Chernobyl seem like a Butlins Holiday Camp. They hide the poison in oodles of processed carbs, sugar and fat, and they have pulled off the trick that every successful virus uses – don’t kill the host (immediately). We have to admit that this shit tastes really good, and over here they don’t even need booze to encourage consumption. The kebab shops seem to be doing a roaring trade even without hordes of lager lads pouring out of pubs at midnight hell bent on food, fighting and fisting*. 

On the road into the mountain town of Taif one comes across monkeys. They are to be found on the section of road that climbs 5000 feet in about 5 miles, not unlike Alpe D’Huez or Mont Ventoux. Humans like monkeys. Perhaps it is because they remind us of ourselves shorn of a shame that holds us back from behaving as they do. Perhaps we secretly wish to be as free as a monkey whose sole concern appears to be about finding food, and humping anything that remotely looks or smells like a female monkey even if that turns out to be a tourist’s leg.  A delicacy here is monkey meat. Only in upscale restaurants in Taif can you get it. They serve the brains in a broth and deep fry the big male’s testicles. They do it is such a way that the crisp batter is juxtaposed with the soft jelly inside which explodes as a salty gush of liquid upon the palette in a manner recognised no doubt by the members of a hen party at midnight in Magaluf. 

Just around the corner from the hotel is a Japanese restaurant. Its quality is such that I call it a destination restaurant, you know…a place worth driving across town for. An appetiser of Dynamite Prawns, followed by the sweetest, most succulent raw scallops and a lobster cooked to perfection served with wok fried vegetables in Tonkatsu sauce. The only missing ingredients, apart from my wife of course, is a beer or a decent saki. The scallops are flown in from Japan every day. How is that even possible? Back home Cornish fishermen are going out of business because they can’t sell their catch just across the channel? 

My contract ends at the end of January next year, if I’m still alive. To get there I’ll have to avoid the attentions of the local fuzz, hit the hotel’s gym and suck on a lettuce leaf while dreaming of a pasty and a pint of spingo. 

*fisting: a euphemism for a private ritual carried out in secret between two adults not of a nervous disposition but with a deviant sense of adventure. 

Published by Lance Goodman

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

One thought on “The Saudi Stone

  1. “… they are allowed to flaunt their wares in a brazen display of braggadocio only matched by a ‘pussied up’ Trump high on the approval of a hooting stadium of bourbon drunk rednecks just back from a lynching.” 👏bravo! 😃


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

%d bloggers like this: