Monday, 22 March 2010

Off On Some Travels

Tuesday afternoon (23 March) I'm leaving hubby and jetting off to Oman. Two flights later I'll be in Salalah on the southern coast in the Dhofar region where I am told the hills are green and lush. After just a month in Bahrain I'm looking forward to seeing trees that aren't dusty date palms! White sandy beaches and coconut palms seem a perfectly acceptable alternative. In Salalah I am meeting up with our friends Pat and Tony on their sailing boat Full Flight, a 40 foot Wauquiez Centurion, to be the crew for the next leg of their voyage from Turkey to India.


From Oman we cross the Indian Ocean to Mumbai - a straight line distance of 1080 nautical miles. However I expect it'll not be so simple as that so there'll be no new posts from me until after Easter but I'll endeavour to keep a log en-voyage and update everyone on my return.

So long for now and fair winds
Susie

Food Shopping

Most of Bahrain's many malls include a supermarket, there are even a few hypermarkets. I can't claim to have visted them all yet (although Kevin would say I'm working on it) but I thought I'd share my impressions so far. Geant (Casino) and Carrefour are two large French brands familiar to any Brit who has shopped for food across the Channel. Both have large stores in Manama, one on each side of the highway that runs across the north of the city. They are just like their counterparts back home in France with a mix of hardware, electrical, clothes and household goods together with a range of food items, veg, fruit, bakery, fish and meat, in fact the only thing missing is the extensive wine section! I love French cheese  and it  was a pleasant suprise to find it on the shelves here and one we quickly made use of. The addition of shelves of spices and rice together with many brands familiar from the UK including Dorset cereals, Tetley tea and Nestle's Alta Rica Coffee make Geant one of my favourites.

The other hypermarket in this part of the city is Lulu. The first time we shopped there was on a weekday evening and it was heaving. Most of the customers appeared to be from the Indian sub-continent with Kevin & I the only Europeans wandering round. I love this store - the veg seem fresher, there seems to be a wider choice (I don't think I have seen so many dinner services or type of processed, sliced cheese for sale in one place) and there is a huge range of more exotic food stuffs making it a bit of a curry or indo-chinese food-lover's paradise. The only downside is the meat counter which has beef, lamb, mutton, goat and camel on offer but not many cuts of each. Mince or steak are about it unless you want it pre-marinated (a pet hate of mine) although one day I think we might try making a camel curry!

Locally in Juffair we have Megastore at the end of "American Alley", a one way street full of fast food outlets.  Megastore is cheap and cheerful and seems to mostly be catering for the local US Navy Base. And closer still there is Al Jazira, this relatively small store packs in an awful lot and as the fruit, veg and meat seem to be good quality it makes a great "corner shop" for us. We love the rye bread from the Korean bakery they sell here. It also is unique in that they have a pork butchery. Pork has to be kept totally separate in this Muslim country so has its own dedicated area in a corner of the shop separated by glass from the rest of the butchery area. Kevin was delighted to find there is even frozen pork bacon on offer, most cafes use beef bacon which he tells me is not the same (I am no fan of bacon of whatever source, it smells mouthwatering whilst cooking but mostly its like eating cardboard).

With the hot climate and tap water that has a distinctly chloriney tang, fruit juice is a great alternative. All the supermarkets have chiller cabinets full of lurid coloured liquids in plastic bottles. Guava, carrot, orange, kiwi, lemon, lime, pineapple, mango either singly or in some sort of "cocktail" are on offer. Mostly made from concentrate, water and sugar together with E numbers long since removed from Britian's diet these have replaced our habitual glass of wine with supper and are probably about as unhealthy.

One culture shock for the average Brit used to draconian local authority bin regimes (Elmbridge provided a slightly reasonable two wheely-bins plus foodwaste system) is that there is little recycling here; cardboard, plastic, glass all go into the rubbish bin. Packaging is of a quality unheard of in recent years in Europe - lots of good quality plastic bottles, outer cardboard wrappings etc remind me of when I was a kid. All that juice comes is rigid plastic bottles that it seems a shame to throw away but I haven't a clue what else they could be used for.

Each checkout usually has a man who carefully packs your bags for you so once the trolley hads been emptied onto the belt all you have to do is pay. However the checkout staff don't really understand the concept of packing shopping into bags you bring with you. Of the supermarkets only Lulu seems to offer re-usable bags, although Geant's extraordinarily thick plastic carrier bags would probably out last many a Waitrose bag-for-life! I suppose all this plastic is because oil is locally produced and therefore a cheap raw material.

Food miles don't seem to be an issue here either but then again I supppose if you live on an island in the desert and want a wide and varied diet including brands from home it can't be. So far we've had delicious grapes from India, although as in the UK much of the fruit seems to be from South Africa. The meat onsale is mainly from New Zealand, Australia and India with some local lamd and mutton, butter from France, Denmark and New Zealand and milk mostly from Saudi.

Veg is either local or imported with produce like green peppers coming from the glasshouses of Holland as it does in the UK. The local cucumbers are great - no more buying halves of the huge Dutch or English ones as they come in a handy 6 inch size! In addition to shelves of "Herbs and Leaves" there are colourful mounds of Asian veggies on offer. Some I recognise for example okra and white radish and others are completely alien; long green spikey things, yellowing "green beans", and something Kevin assures me is durian which he won't have in the house. I plan to try cooking with as many of them as I can over the coming months except perhaps the durian.

Friday, 19 March 2010

You Lose Some, You Win Some

Some Things Just Try Us
Our lovely flat has high ceilings, tiled floor, an expanse of living space combining kitchen, dining and lounging with little in the way of soft furnishings, the result is that every sound echoes around whether its the washing machine or the TV. And I'm sure it sounds like we're in a vast cave when we speak on the phone.
 

For the past week or so hubby has been stuck in Bahrain whilst his passport is trying to obtain a visa for Saudi. His serviced office here has just two parking spaces and three desks but not alot else apart from dreadful traffic trying to reach to it as the location is smack bang in the middle of the Diplomatic Area. This is the main office area in Manama and parking is a premium. Around 9am it takes 5 mins to drive to the turning off the highway from home and then 30 mins or more to drop him off and extricate the car again due to the car park queues, double parking and people just stopping outside where they need to run their errand. Mostly his colleagues are away working in other Gulf States so the only reason to go to the office is if a printer or courier service is needed.
 

Why am I telling you all this? Well the net result of small, empty office and heavy traffic is that he has decided to Work-From-Home (WFH). I've no problem with the principle as he's used to it and works diligently with little distraction. The issue is that without a study, the dining table has become the desk meaning that living area echoes with techie conversations about connecting servers all day long!  And the post phone call analysis is conducted with me not that I can add anything meaningful beyond nodding. My peaceful afternoon read or slob-TV viewing goes by the wayside and I'm frequently being told that "I have to make a call", meaning “can I turn off the…” music, internet radio, TV etc.  I'm looking forward to that Saudi visa or my trip sailing the Indian Ocean whichever comes first!



But Other Things Delight
As Ratty so famously said there is nothing half so much worth doing as simply messing about in boats and with a fair and following wind we will shortly have a little boat of our own here. Mole's said of Ratty's neat little boat "It was painted blue outside and white within, and was just the size for two animals" which fits
our potential new craft quite well except ours has a mast and sails rather than oars. It’s all been a bit serendipitous. A week or so ago as I mentioned in an earlier post hubby met a man in the YC car park who knew someone selling a boat, in fact the boat had once been his. However we realised that we couldn't easily fund a boat and help our daughter & son-in-law raise the deposit they need for their new home in South Africa. The cash flow situation could according to the Micawber Principle, be "result misery". Then the phone rang; not only has our Molesey house been rented out but the first year's rent will be paid up front! Problem solved.
 

This weekend we took a look and it fits the bill perfectly with a good record in club racing, easy to maintain and berths for weekend cruising. It's not new or smart or high tech just a 22 footer (6.7mt) looking for some TLC and the price is within our budget. The boat itself was built in the UK some 30 or 40 years ago. For the yachties amongst you it's a Galion 22 with a suite of sails including 3 head sails, a cruising chute and spinnie. It draws 1m which is about the maximum you need for shallow seas around Bahrain. There's a small stove for brewing tea and even a head (that’s sailor-speak for a loo) although its not been used in current memory. Oh and she is called "Shawa'al" which is the month after Ramadan.

Sunday, 14 March 2010

Household Gadgets Rant...

What is the point of a washer-drier ? To start with it takes only about half a normal load for washing cycles, which equates to approximately the clothing two people were wearing yesterday in a hot sunny climate. Once its completed the wet cycle the only way to dry the stuff is to take half the wet washing out. Fuel efficient it certainly isn't - I'd rate this particular example as category Z. Tried to wash a kingsized duvet cover today on its own (our fully furnished flat has kingsized furniture). After 60 minutes a warm soggy mass was the result. Now attempting to get two sheets and four pillow cases clean and dry. The outside temperature is over 30 degrees today so I've put the duvet on the clother airer in the spare room with the window open but it still looks like we're sleeping pillowless on the spare bed tonight :-(

PS: Now I understand why there is a laundry on the mezzanine of this block - most tenants do their weekly wash in the huge American toploaders down there and then dry it in the capacious driers perched above them. Clean and dry linen  well before bedtime - yippee!

Saturday, 13 March 2010

Weekending

Trip to the Seaside
Friday morning we packed our gear and headed for the YC down on the other side of Sitra and the oil refinery, through a massive flyover building project. Despite it being GP Race 1 weekend there was little traffic just after 9am which was good as the queues for the junction in the middle of all the concrete shuttering can be horrendous (we've been stuck for 45 mins or more at times). With our new British Club membership we are permitted 6 weekend visits per year to each of the reciprocal clubs on the island so for BHD2 we were in and in possession of application forms.


The scene inside recalled memories of Sunday mornings at Brighton Marina YC with crews milling round waiting for the briefing or ordering breakfast. Racing though had been postponed to another day due to lack of wind so. Usually there is cruiser racing (IRC & PY) every other weekend on a Friday. We ordered coffee and found ourselves a place in the shade outside. Once the melee had died down and various crews departed for a drift in their boats we shifted a few yards to their beach but not before Kevin had discovered that there is a 20 footer for sale and exchanged details with its previous owner!

A lovely cove of curving coral sand with lots of umbrellas, table, chairs and sun loungers. There's a small trimaran propped up on plastic side tables to our left and a row of Hobby Cats on the quayside to the right, at one end of the clubhouse is a large pool with an awning shading the seaward end. Beyond the quay is the marina where a motely mix of motor & sail craft mostly under 30 ft - are tied up to a couple of long pontoons it could be a small marina anywhere. We were given a guided tour.

Families with kids and couples looking for a spot in the sun arrived in a steady stream before lunch. A BBQ was being set up by the catering staff for later in the day but lunch and drinks could be ordered on the beach from the friendly bar staff. After lunch we lazed some more, chatted to various people and then hot and sticky, headed back into town.

Rooftop Oasis
Having cooled down in the flat without the aid of the aircon, the rooftop pool beckoned. Amazingly there were people up on the roof - the first time we'd actually met any of our fellow residents. After a swim in the chilly but slowly warming pool, our newly acquired bottle of Bombay Sapphire (from the duty free in Dubai) was cracked open as we chatted to Mary & Phil from the 7th floor over nibbles & drinks. They've been here a couple of months longer than us but none-the-wiser about many of the things we still puzzle over like when does the cleaner come, do we have to wash our own sheets (we've one set per bed) & towels?

For supper we headed to the restaurant area Adliya fancying chinese. It was early (we though it would be simpler with the additional crowds this weekend) even so we managed to get the last parking spot on Osama Bin Zaid Ave. A short walk took us to the pedestrianised area where every building served food of some sort. Despite it being nowhere near 9pm (key time for eating out here) there was a queue at the restaurant. Where else then... a few more steps to next door but one and we found seats at the Thailand. Downstairs is like someones front room, cosy space with pale cane garden furniture and an over-dressed curve of windows in golden drapes at one end. The food was deliciously spicy - seafood and coconut milk soup followed by chicken with asparagus, chilli & garlic beef together with vegetable pad thai. The lemon grass, coconut, ginger and chilli tickled and tingled our taste buds.


Hot Shopping
Saturday dawned promising more searing heat and little breeze in town (another ex-pat of some years told us that the GP weekend is often unusually hot). In Manama Souk Kevin found himself a haircut and serious head massage - to the observer it looked quite painful but he claims he felt better for it. Both of us were made welcome and given a fruit drink, all for a bargain BHD1. We wandered around afterwards taking in the sights, sounds and exotic smells of the busy stalls selling everything from shoes to vegetables, saucepans and mobile phones to gold and spices. Lots more Europeans around than usual. We haggled in various places over the price of a tape measure (so we can confirm the size of our very firm mattress and buy a "topper" to improve our comfort at night), some tiger balm (no we had no need for 3 jars, 1 would suffice) and a pack of playing cards (to help while away our evenings).


Once we were well and truely hot and thirsty it was back in the car to head across the road to the City Centre Mall for some air conditioned comfort. A trip to Debenhams for swimming gear was followed by hallumi panini and salad in the Arabic coffee bar at the heart of the Mall's interpretation of a souk. A circular area with lovely Arabian architectural features - even the escalator up to the prayer rooms has ornate shiney silver panelling. Large lamps hang from the high wooden, painted ceiling and the coffee shop offers low wooden cushioned settees. One of our new favourite beverages is lemon mint juice - fresh lemon juice whizzed up with lots of mint- its so refreshing.

On the way out we were waylaid by the wonderful Bateel date shop. This amazing temptation sells gourmet dates and chocolates packaged in a box or basket of your choosing. Apart from the different fillings we learnt there are many types of date. Agwa (or Ajwa) dates cost BHD25 per kilo - which at around £45 makes them more expensive than steak. Apparently they are suitable for diabetics, whilst eating seven a day is supposed to keep you free from harm and poison that day, though I'd guess your bank balance might suffer. After trying a few samples including the Agwa we left with a smallish selection box of stuffed dates tied up in fancy ribbon for consumption on high days and holidays only! Khidri dates filled with orange peel are highly recommended by both of us.

Credit Card Stress
Back home the in-laws called in their mail forwarding capacity, telling us that my bank had written to say my credit card had been suspended. This caused panic as I'd used it to pay for son Will's airfare from Joburg to London earlier in the week. Called bank, but wasn't able to answer their security questions correctly (I couldn't even remember setting a password on my credit card account let alone what various characters it had) so was transferred to someone else and then again to another employee. Apparently the transaction was suspicious as I don't usually purchase airtickets in rands from Joburg (which is where Virgin's website had tried to conduct it) - nice to think they had my best interests at heart but I wasn't thinking very kind thoughts at the time with Will's flight due ot leave in a few hours! After ten minutes or so the bank agreed to reactivate my card and apologised for the inconvenience. Although apologies won't pay my phone bill. Virgin's office in Joburg it then transpired, closes at noon so tracked down a number in London and after a few minutes they helpfully converted & put through the transaction in sterling for me. Sometime later and Will was in possession of an eTicket and able to check in online before departing for the airport - phew that was close....

Back on the Roof
After all that stress a chillout in the pool seemed in order. With the sun setting and the breeze a little on the chilly side plus water not yet even remotely warm, our dip was limited to a few quick lengths before retreating rapidly and dripping for a warm shower in the flat. Judging by the trail of water across the floor by the lifts we weren't the only ones. Cossies in the machine for a rinse & spin, it took just a few minutes to track down which of the 10 JSC Sports channels would be showing the rugby. First match Ireland vs Wales. A supper of Boerewors and cabbage followed by yet more rugby rounded off our third weekend as ex-pats.

Wednesday, 10 March 2010

No Nimbies Here

Its weird to think that back in the 1970s the area where we live, Juffair, didn't exist. There were no buildings indeed no land, just water. Land reclamation is big business here with Bahrain's landmass estimated to have grown 11% in the 20 odd years up to 2008 and continuing apace. Although its probably more accurate to call this activity landfill rather than reclamation.

The "coastline"viewed from our window runs in a straightline behind the hospital from left to right about a kilometre in all then it sharply turns 90 degrees north towards the Shk. Khalifa Bin Salman Causeway (this leads across the bridge to Muharraq Island to the north of us). The resultant protected corner is home to 20 or so fishing dories. The land to the left and right of the hospital along the shore is mainly as yet undeveloped. On the right, the shore leading to the road, vast lorries arrive daily with loads of hard core which are added to the mounds across from us. A projecting finger is already well developed; a new quay or road or the start of infilling the corner?

Not just Juffair but Amwaj Islands to the north, Durrat Al Bahrain to the south and close to Manama the Financial Harbour, Bahrain Bay and Marsa Al Seef. A look at the Bahrain Bay
website quickly reveals that global recession has not had much of an impact on the expansion progress.
The sheer scale and speed of the reclamation projects and the subsequent building here is mind boggling to a Brit.

In the UK any major construction project is delayed for years by inquiries and nimby-ism. The Hindhead Tunnel and the 3rd runway at Heathrow spring to mind. Fascinated I started to look into how this expansion is done here as the raw materials have to come from somewhere and in our driving around the island so far we'd not come across any major holes in the ground! Some stats I found (no guarantees for their accuracy):
  • Approx 3 million tons of sand extracted from the sea bed per year (1)
  • In 2007 there were 196 islands of which 133 are natural the rest man made (2)
  • Bahrain has increased in size by 26km2, that’s 11.4%, since land reclamation statistics were recorded in 1981. In 1981 Bahrain was 665.3km2 and in 2007 it increased to 741.4km2 (3)
So the infill mostly comes from the surrounding seabed. The seas around Bahrain are relatively shallow and well protected presumably making extraction and land expansion easy. But even here some groups are not happy - fishermen complain that they are losing ports and that dredging is destroying fish habitats whilst an MP complained recently that Bahrain is losing revenues due to low or zero price charged to the contractors for the sand.

Man has always had an impact on his environment even if we sometimes don't realise that what we see today is the result of past activities. The beautiful river Test in Hampshire owes much of its present day attractiveness as a shallow trout filled stream to its industrial past with silk & corn mills and papermaking all extracting water or exploiting its power. Even today it is a managed river with regular cutting of the weed to keep it flowing and ensure the health of its latest industry, trout fishing.


Large areas of East Anglia were once soggy marshes until land owners realised they could increase their wealth by expanding their acreage bringing in the Dutch to teach them how to drain it. From my teens I recall complaints that the removal of hedging to create enormous fields in Bedfordshire & Cambridgeshire, considered essential for the mechanised farming, had caused soil erosion due to the winds whisking away the bare peaty or sandy soils in late winter or early spring.


It's a balancing act and one which Bahrain will probably still be juggling with for many years to come. Perhaps other countries can learn something from this crazy rush for land; streamlining planning processes, the potential impact of such expansion or the economic benefits it brings to a small state that no longer can rely on an income from oil. For now though I am happy to enjoy living on some new land which whilst not green at least has superb views, that is until someone moves the shore a little further north and builds on it!


References:
1. http://www.ehow.com/about_5381913_information-fishing-bahrain.html

2. http://www.works.gov.bh/default.asp?action=article&id=504

3. http://www.constructionweekonline.com/article-3897-bahrains_reclamation_rules/

Sunday, 7 March 2010

Exploring

One of the fun activities when somewhere unfamiliar, is getting lost. That way we often discover new places and insights into local life. Here in Bahrain this is easily achieved as frequently our map is out of date or has insufficient detail. Land is being reclaimed at such a rapid rate we've been told that getting an apartment by the sea is no guarentee it will still be by the sea in 18 months time.

Roads here, even new ones and unsurprisingly there are lots of those, don't follow any sort of Roman grid pattern but simply wind towards their destination. Walking or driving around Juffair where we live, it becomes equally apparent that the roads come after the building and we are sure that there are apartment blocks close by without any access by tarmaced road!
To add to the confusion mostly roads are numbered rather than named but locals will provide you with the original name for a road when asked for directions.

There was a recent complaint in one of the local newspapers that numbering streets and replacing exisiting names was confusing for the locals as well as losing the history of area. Well it's not just the locals who are confused. Our address as provided by the landlord has no street number or block (think UK postcode) mentioned, not even the building name! By the front door of most flats are two numbers - one is the actual address and the other is used by the utility company to identify the apartment as a place with a supply of electricity and water!

On Friday we were heading for Qal`at al-Bahrain (Fort Bahrain), clearly marked on both our maps as being on the coast in the village of Karbabad. Fort and village were signposted off the highway so that bit was easy but a couple of kilometres further on it became apparent we were heading west-ish just inland of the coast towards Budaiya through Jannusan & Barbar Not that any of these places had signs welcoming visitors it was other landmarks mentioned in our tourist guide that gave it away. We had missed our target which was now behind us somewhere.

The village streets were narrow, no pavements with cars & 4x4s parked where they stopped making interesting driving. Buildings & front steps jut into the street making odd angles to negotiate. Being Friday morning everywhere was closed and the few men about stopped what ever they were doing to stare at us with interest as we picked our way through in our dusty hire car. Road humps are a feature of more built up areas and serve their purpose of reducign speed well. Ssometimes marked with fading yellow paint at their extremities, most often its only as you jolt over them that they make their presence known. Once well and truely lost the only thing to do is turn around and retrace your steps unless of course you don't mind where you end up!

Eventually we found a small sign that said something like "Fort and Garden". At the end of this road we joined a coach party and a few other cars at an entrance to the site. We knew we had arrived because there was a small white & blue guard hut which seem to be common near any site of importance here. The guard was not at all bothered that we'd arrived the "back way" but cheerfully waved us through and we strolled along a broad paved path that wove its way up and across the barren sandy soil surrounding the site. Having wandered round the fort (for photos click here) inside and out and spied the white rectanglular museum building lower down on the waters edge we found ourselves at a different exit entirely. This one was a far cry from the tatty steel frame and wire netting affair we'd entered by. Two smart stone gatehouses stood either side of hefty wooden gates, firmly locked. Being Brits we did the done thing and stepped onto the low wall to one side, over the wooden palings and down into the road, it hardly broke our stride. There we saw large notices declaring this to be a World Heritage site.

Walking back to the car via the village street past painted houses we meet a young girl of about 5 in her blue floral pyjamas! All the houses here have faded murals decorating their exterior walls. On the other side of the street to the fort & the houses lay small "fields" with their edges raised to keep the water in, all were green with vegetables. In the shade of the house walls grew various trees and shrubs with their roots being irrigated by the air conditioning unit drains! We could hear a cock crowing - it seemed very rural after the building sites and high rises of Manama, Al Seef & Juffair just to the east.

We fancied a coffee so our next task was to find the museum which we managed with relative ease. We highly recommend the museum, its modern minimalist exterior is reflected in the cool, spacious interior and by the exhibits. It provided a clear insight into the layers of history we had just walked over and around. Fifty years of archaeological excavations have only touched a quarter of the site but what has been found is fascinating. Two or three great periods of occupation over several thousand years (Dilmun, Tylos & the Portuguese amongst others) with blanks in between where no collaborating evidence from other sources can provide any detail on what happened.

It's an amazing story of occupation, invasion, reuse and even a great fire. One civilisation buried the dead under their floors, another buried snakes in jars there. All had in common that they were traders as well as manufacturing their own wares as evidenced by the differing ceramics and coins found here. The traders at one time used clay tablets to record their transactions. If they were temporary, like a modern till receipt, they were later discarded unfired. Its from these and the archives of fired tablets that much of the trading history has been put together.

This was the major port on the island until it silted up in modern times. The site is effectively a large mound created by multiple layers of people building on top of their predecessors' homes and fortifications. Sometimes they reused building materials, at others they created afresh. The French & Bahraini archaeologists who have patiently unpicked this tapestry must be congratulated on what they have achieved. They have had the vision to preserve areas untouched so that future generations with improved tools can provide more accurate insights into the people who have lived here as there are many mysteries still to unravel.

Afterwards the coffee shop was a civilised oasis, its patio providing lovely views and cool sea breezes. As we left and headed back to the city, easy to find as we could head for the skyscrapers glimpsed through the dust-fog, we realised that with the building of the museum the entrance route was now from Al Seef and well sign posted all the way!

Wednesday, 3 March 2010

Language is a Wonderful Thing.... Sometimes

The English language provides multiple ways to say the same thing which is absolutely fabulous or even quite wonderful. However it's also really easy to fall down a great big pothole without even trying. My current favourite is a sign seen over a car repair workshop; "Specialist in Every Make".

It's a strange thing that those of us who speak English as a first language can pick up the small nuances that betray the author in even a simple item like a menu. Here in Manama I've noticed that plurals either are or are not used in unexpectedly ways. Something like "Fish and Chips Shop" with "fish and chip" itemised on the menu. Or as seen today "Pets Shop".

Such "errors" don't make me feel superior in my knowledge of my native tongue, rather it makes me want to know more about the language of the writer. What structures in their own tongue make them speak/write English like that? Similarly when learning new words in another language (and before you ask I'm no polyglot, I have a smattering of French lessons in addition to my mother tongue), its fun to explore the alternatives and compare them with various English equivalents. Doing this adds a whole new dimension; not just seeing how certain words are similarly rooted in another language but also learning that just as in English there are lots of ways of saying the same thing with slightly different nuances in other languages too.

And signs continue to fascinate today's gem adorned virtually every car workshop in a street in Isa Town; "Electrical, Mechanical, Denting and Painting"!

Paperwork for a Social Life

Starting to build a new social life when you move to a new town is never easy but here its a real challenge just to meet people in a social setting. The hotel bar was occupied with Saudi's meeting their young female escorts for the weekend and a host of (male) European hotel guests. It was a smoky place, fitted out like a gentleman's club with a band whose collective musical talent was limited. I found myself to be the only female present apart from the escorts and the waiting staff.

Next we tried JJs, an Irish bar of Weatherspoon proportions recommended by one of the rental agents. Here we found ourselves seriously underage. Fishes out of water in a place where the chief aim seemed to be to throw as much alcohol down ones neck as possible after 9pm accompanied by deafening music that precluded any conversation. (Alcohol can only be purchased in specific bars, mostly western hotels or restaurant chains if you don't have a CPR - a residency certificate.)

Kevin has just two colleagues located here, both of whom have kindly invited out to us supper with their families later this week so that at least is a start in the right direction. However outside of work it seems you have to join a club and, like everything else here, to do that you need a CPR which as yet we don't have and we have no inkling of when that process will be completed though HR say they are pursuing it.

The British Club offers one glimmer of light on our social horizon. On Sunday we located it despite the difficulty finding a street not named on our map and wrongly named on Google. Now we have an application form, we couldn't be shown round cos it was the evening. Fortunately they recognise the time it takes to get a CPR so we can submit our application for approval on the strength of a photocopy of the relevant pages of our passport (details page plus entry visa) plus a passport sized photo. And they will find someone to propose and second us as obviously noone knows us here let alone a club member or two. The next committee meeting is on March 8 so lets hope we can sort out the photos and that they approve us. Once members you apparently have access to the other (mainly expat) clubs here for 1 ro 2 BHD a day.

The bright side of all this is that we will probably lose some weight not being able to imbibe several pints of Fuller's finest twice a week. Plus our habit of glass or two of wine with supper will almost certainly be broken by the time our CPR comes through!