Dusk always comes early in Manama being closer to the equator than other countries.
We expatriates who live in the villas by Adliya in the restaurant area draw down our blinds at six and offer ourselves large measures of Indian manufactured gin called London Bridge and whiskey named after that famous and well known Scottish King, The King John. These are accompanied by flat tonic and ginger ale respectively and their manufacture is also in some doubt.
The business weekend had started in the morning and the hangover from Thursdays activities was abating. Yesterday’s lunch at Cico was the usual event for the bankers and brokers who continued working in the Gulf to perpetuate the myth that Bahrain existed to bridge the financial gap between Asia and Europe. No one was going to spoil that party. After all it was a hardship posting with the tax-free salary we all had.
The restaurant called Cico offered us a blurred memory and looked like the Italian cheap joints we had enjoyed in the Fulham Road in the seventies. Plastic flowers, checked tablecloths and basic Italian food was all presided over by Cico himself. The walls were covered in photographs of clients and awards for good service from their sponsors Willis Faber and American Express Bank. There was one table in the corner said to be reserved for the Crown Prince, though I never saw him there. No one knew Cico by his name, especially me as I was too junior, but I was allowed and encouraged out for lunch by my boss to develop my banking contacts, deplete my bank account and dull myself for the weekend. My boss was often there on a more senior table which was probably louder keeping an eye on his junior staff from time to time.
The menu was always the same; bacon and prawns followed by liver and more bacon and real at that. Pork was available in the supermarkets and was re-packaged as veal for the Saudi expatriates returning home to Riyadh after their R and R in Bahrain. We were living in the fun-fair at the end of the pier. This retail prank would confuse the border guards on the causeway. It was even said that one enterprising fellow even took a pig over to Dhahran on a lead, stating that it was a type of dog.
The staff at Cico were polite and decent Indians. They were tall and clean and had seen it all before. Our names, the nick-names, the banter, teasing and continued requests for more to drink. It flowed over them. They took our orders as if by rote as we all asked for the same, as if we cared. The longer we stayed the better their tips but they deserved it all.
The wine at Cico was a Barolo but what did we know at this stage, as it could have been anything. The wine list had been photocopied from a much smarter establishment. It was priced at a steady twenty pounds a bottle or was that twenty dinars. Either way the liquid made little difference to the outcome. We staggered out rather drunk into the evening and continued onto the bars in the Ramada or Intercontinental Hotel. The conversation by now was one of banking stories like the fish we never caught became more extravagant as the night crept over us.
Dealers, and I had managed to slip into Bahrain to be one, used a private terminology like ‘yours’ or ‘mine’ in order to denote selling and buying of currency. Many was the time that I became confused and what was mine became yours and so my story developed that I had once mixed up a large deal with Belgium Franc Convertible or Financial, again another trap laid by a bank in Brussels.
Eventually we had to go home. The bachelors went to Adliya and the married ones to Budeiya or as it was known, Nappy Valley. I can not remember calling a taxi. In fact we had to drive. I was in a rather old and rusty Alfa Romeo purchased for a few pounds from our local Dell Boys in Sitra. It had been admired by the Emir once but I kept it. However the police were only on the look out for Saudi Arabian plated cars as we weaved towards home.
Friday evening, the early night is brought by the heavy heat, street noises and the calls to prayer. The buzz of mopeds swish up the narrow roads scattering thin scratchy, feral cats and announce the arrival of home deliveries of our take-out curry and kebabs for those of us who really can’t be bothered to cook.
The weekend is half-way through and as my head clears I manage to make it to Classic Video to get the latest VHS tape of Howard’s Way.
Another bottle of Jacobs Creek to go with the ‘prawn ruby’ would do nicely.