What I Did In My Summer Holiday
by Kapitano, Age 41 and 3 Quarters.
Working for a failed business is a kind of working holiday.
Working for a failed business in the holiday season is therefore a working holiday inside another one. Like taking a snack between courses of a meal, or tweeting while blogging.
So, what is it when you take a long weekend break from work, in the holiday season...while working for a failed business?
In my case it's spending Eid (the climax to and end of Ramadan), in Riyadh (the capital city of Saudi Arabia), in bed (the place where you put all the things and people most important to you, including yourself, when you're not using them).
It's a law of nature that every holiday begins with something going wrong.
In my case that means arranging a taxi to the airport, then having to arrange another one because the first one can't make it, then getting an unexpected offer of a free lift at the last minute...which turns up late.
And promptly runs out of petrol, to be replaced with a borrowed car, which promptly bursts a tyre halfway to the airport and nearly flips over, requiring us to flag down a friendly car going the other way back into town, so we can borrow another car to get me to the terminal.
For the plane which is also conveniently late.
Two hours later I'm riding from Riyadh airport in another car. The driver is my guide and host, a man I've met once before. I'll call him "B".
If you want an idea of Riyadh, think of the biggest shopping district of New York, or the central five miles of London. Think of a place with the widest, longest highways, lined with enormous, expensive shops that each sells every concievable variation of one product. These rows intersperced with headqurters of companies with the vaguest of names and the most baroque, pointlessly perverse architecture.
Then make it go on for mile after mile. And then a load more miles.
Populate it with fifteen million men - and the occasional woman - two thirds of who only work there, all dressed in identical and immaculate white nightshirts and headscarves. Put them in absurdly large SUVs and people carriers, and out those in traffic jams.
I say I've met B once - it would be truer to say we discussed comparative theology and culture for a few hours over sweet mint drinks...and then fell into bed together.
Now, months later he's invited me to spend Eid in Riyadh, arranged a hotel suite, showed me around the metropolis by car, bought us breakfast and lunch, and generally been embarassingly generous.
In the evening we discussed comparative linguistics and personal history for a few hours over strong ethanol-enhanced drinks, and fell into...love, together.
Two things you need to know about me. One, I have zero aptitude and zero interest in romance. And two, I go all soppy when drunk - emotional barriers come crashing down, but I still have zero aptitude. I get...affectionate, and open, and vulnurable, and uncertain. But in an annoying way, as opposed to a cute way.
So yes, there is a place in Kapitano's heart for relationships, but most of the time love is just too much hassle, with too many risks and too many sacrifices.
Next morning, no hangover, no regrets...lots of hugs, a little soreness, and the memory of an understanding reached after much tentative discussion. Whatever happens over these few days, neither of us has any claim on the other, but keeping in contact would be nice, and future visits would be welcome.
Did I mention, B is more emotionally secure than me - and, rather irritatingly, more intelligent too.
Saudi culture is still struggling to find ways to encourge intelligence and creativity for work, while remaining stolidly unimaginative and unthinking everywhere else.
So I've become a little complacent about being the smartest guy in the room. And also the least romantic, of course. But my friend B is at the far end of the curve.
My boss is on his own working holiday in Sydney, Australia - having been sent to learn the arcane mysteries of 'Quality Control' in universities.
The arabic word for 'arse' is, rather wonderfully, pronounced the same as the english 'tease'. So the next morning I took my sore 'tease' into the 'douche', put on my 'britanni tourist' clothes, and we went off to explore the many subtly different types of american fast food in Riyadh.
Herfy, McDonnalds, Dairy Queen, Dunkin' Donuts, KFC, and their various knock-offs. My only rule: Try a new brand, or a meal choice I haven't tried for a while
I think our respective 'teases' both expanded a little each day.
I have English Teacher's Disease, the main symptom of which is a compulsion to look for language mistakes, and point them out.
In a city where most of the signs are in arabic plus english translation, there are many mistake waiting for my symptom. Like a restaurant called "Wooden Grill", or many little offices called "Rent Car".
In a bookshop we looked at some book-and-CD courses on learning arabic for english speakers. The one with the fewest mistakes on the front cover had two.
Here for your delectation is the back cover blurb of another one, punctuation preserved:
THE ARABIC LANGUAGE
The language that was chosen by Allah the All-Mighty to be the language of revelation that was given to his Trusted Prophet (P.U.U.H) the seal of the Prophets Muhammed (P. B. U. H) Learning it , is worship nd communicating by it, is Sunnah and speaking it,is a must on every Muslim that enters Islam and worshipping his Lord. It's an honor for Turath Center to present to the English- speaking Muslim's and to all who have interest in learning the Arabic language through this interesting program.
* One of the first programs that teaches the Arabic language based on a step-by- step curriculum that was prepared by the research supervisor based on his expertise in teaching the Arabic language to the non - speaking population (Year 1962).
* The program solves two major problems that other than Arabs have difficulties with while learning the Arabic language, (1) the many formations of each Arabic letter depending on where it lays in the word.
Observe the letter [ta] in these words:
[Examples of the various shapes of Ta]
* The many short and long vowels and (tanween) which makes for each Arabic letter ten different examples such as:
* The program contains a curriculum of step-by-step series.
* It can be used in schools as a complete curriculum to the English-speaking or even Arabs.
* The curriculum is divided into various different lessons enabling the user to highlight the lesson that he learnt and finished.
We ate too much ice cream, browsed netbooks and computer stuff, decided not to buy a phone, and drove back to the hotel - his hand in my hand, or sometimes resting on my leg.
In the apartment: crisps, cheese sandwiches and cocktail experiments with scotch and mixers. On the plasma TV...the romantic comedy "Resident Evil". On the couch: hand-holding, kissing, cuddling, and "I Love You"-ing.
The next morning...it's my last day. B has a long lie-in on his side of the bed, and I potter about in the kitchen - drinking 'teas' (with lemon) - and taking time to watch him sleep.
We shower, clean up the apartment, pack, and hug for a long time before we're due to check out. Which is slightly delayed when we fall into bed again.
A last fast-food late breakfast in "DQ", a drive to the airport with clasped hands, a browse around the gift shops - he wants to buy something for me, but I think 1000 SAR (166 GBP) for a pair of plastic sunglasses is far too much.
And suddenly we've said goodbye.
I'm in the waiting lounge, then on the plane where a grumpy stewerdess is barking "Sandwich or cake?" to each passenger in turn, a girl behind is playing the noisiest iPhone game in the world, and a man in front has a wet hacking cough that would suit an elephant.
An hour later in Arar airport there are no taxis. But a cute young man is visiting from america to see his family, and he offers me a lift...with his wife. He says if there's anything I want, he can help me get it. Turns out he's trying to sell me alcohol - I politely decline.
And I'm back in my own apartment. It smells bad and the wi-fi isn't working. I go to the shops to get some bleach and teabags, throw the bleach around the bathroom and fill the kettle. As it's boiling I try to fix the wi-fi...
... so I can write an email to B.