Almost everything is now in place to ensure that apartment 603 is totally ship shape and ready to invite guests, but one vital ingredient is missing and that is any form of alcoholic beverage – Yes, this is a strange place, it’s possible to obtain a beer or gin and tonic in a hotel bar but without a very important piece of paper wondrously called a’ liquor licence’, it is impossible to obtain anything for home consumption.
Yes, another little conundrum, we were told that once all the necessary work permits had been processed then Mike would be issued with said licence, all quite mysterious. Technically not being in the possession of this wondrous piece of paper meant that it was illegal to have any alcohol in your possession, i.e. a ‘gift’ of a bottle from a chum!!
These licences were issued and stamped by the Chief of Police who, in fact, was British. In this way it meant that no Muslim had to be involved with anything relating to dreaded alcohol, consequently the teachings of the Koran were not being compromised and everyone could go on their merry way both literally and metaphorically This special piece of paper once in Mike’s sticky fingers would enable us to go on our merry way too!! But now where did one go to procure said ‘contraband’ how much could one buy and at what cost!!!
It transpired that there were one or two ‘liquor shops’ in Dubai both run by British Trading Companies but they were difficult to find at first because they were literally in disguise as all the outside walls were bricked up and there was no sign on the door. I suppose it could almost have been compared to hunting the famous Grouse on distant shores but this Famous Grouse just happened to be in a bottle and to the uninitiated could be equally as elusive.
As far as I can remember there were no windows in these establishments, or if there were they were protected by steel bars, this was to prevent the other 99% of Dubai’s inhabitants entering, who would possibly have liked a nice cold beer on a very hot day.
Once inside a veritable Aladdin’s Cave presented itself, a party goer’s paradise, surely there was nothing that one could not buy from the best French Champagnes to Malt whiskies and a myriad of different makes of beer. In one’s wildest dreams this first visit to a Dubai Liquor Store could never have been imagined, just mind blowingly amazing and to think it is just down the road from the apartment!! How wonderfully convenient!! Compared with the UK the prices were extremely low which made the whole buying experience even better and a little bit naughty, possibly one shouldn’t really be doing this in a Muslin country! There was only one criteria and that was you couldn’t exceed the amount, in money, you were allotted which, I think, was based on a percentage of one’s salary, we quickly got the hang of this buying procedure and after that first visit the ‘ship never ran dry’!
Life was now settling into a pattern with Mike leaving at 6.3Oam and returning at about 2.3Opm six days a week, these were the usual working hours in the Gulf in those days especially during the summer when it was very hot. We then used to partake of a light lunch, as was our custom in the UK, but gradually realized that this was a little daft as Ali was not being totally utilized as his duties finished after lunch. I was then attempting to cook Dinner and would you believe there was no air conditioning in the kitchen, we were also starting to receive invitations to Cocktail parties which always started at 7.p.m. We then found that we never had time for dinner, oh what a muddle we got into! As you will be aware cocktail nibbles are no substitute for dinner and, with the size of the gin and tonics that were poured and consumed, these evenings took on a very rosy hue indeed, and dinner often fell by the wayside, don’t tell Mother!!!!!
Hey, that was a small price to pay as we were slowly meeting people although as it was still high summer it was mostly ‘bachelors’ with the wives still being in the UK or elsewhere, possibly up some mountain cooling off , but it was a start and I now knew that if I could be patient for a little while longer things should look up. As we still didn’t have a telephone it would have been incredibly difficult even making contact but we were getting to know the lie of the land, such as every Thursday evening at the Bustan Hotel there was a gathering. The hotel bar was the designated ‘watering hole’ for most of the ex-pats at a loose end, and was where they congregated to enjoy a beer or two and catch up on the week’s happenings, which no doubt wasn’t a lot.
Being such a very small community nearly all these people knew of our existence which was a little unnerving but that was the way things were and something we were going to have to get used too until we were superseded by another unsuspecting couple who would undergo exactly the same initiation procedure. Like it or loathe it that was how things were.
After this we were scooped up and encouraged to join in the various activities that were on offer, mostly it was using the hotel swimming pool and playing tennis but, oh it was so hot, thank goodness we were both sporty and game for anything otherwise we would really have been up a gum tree – confined to barracks and possibly feeling very sorry for ourselves!!
Dubai was no place for book worms, not too sure if you could even buy a book worth reading! But surprise, surprise you could purchase English newspapers two days out of date but what the hell we had no other means of communication with the outside world so what was a couple of days between friends. Now, I wonder who has ever heard of anybody so desperate for news that they were prepared to trudge across a sand patch to collect an out of date English paper, which incidentally cost a fortune, in temperatures of 4Oc, you would possibly have said it must be a madman!! – Maybe you are right.
Please your comments would be appreciated
Essay 8 will be published next Tuesday