Bahrain for a night, mate!

In Bahrain for a meeting first thing tomorrow morning.

I do like Bahrain. It has an ‘old Dubai’ feel, the tail end of which I experienced to some degree when I got to Dubai in 2002. That old Dubai is still there, but isn’t a place I get to see much. Our lives are very much ‘new Dubai’, these days – that sounds pretentious, but it’s not meant to. It just means we live and socialise in the parts of town that have gone up during the last few years.

Bahrain has lots of beigey buildings, hotels with English pubs and live bands, ancient decor, cigarettes in the mini bar and dodgy discos with a mix of local, expat and Saudi patrons.

On arrival I was pleased to see a London taxi, but I couldn’t get into it as the London taxis are for ladies ladies travelling sir. I jumped into a Camry driven by an elderly local who greeted me with a cheery ‘all right mate!’. It tuns out he worked for the British Navy up until 1971, when the UK pulled out. He’d been to London and was also an honorary scouser, thanks to a trip on the ship to Liverpool. He told me he loved chicken and chips and fish and chips and that in the old days beer was very cheap.

It was nice to talk to someone with direct experience of the Brits and their time in the Gulf. ‘All what we learned we learned from the British, mate, and that’s why we keep our streets so tidy’. I wonder what he’d make of Britain today?

Most of the older Gulf Nationals I’ve spoken to about the time the British were here are overwhelmingly positive. Granted, they’re unlikely to be negative so as not to insult me, but that said, their enthusiasm comes across as very genuine. They don’t have to say nice things. None of them say that they wish ‘we’ were still here in the way we were, but all of them acknowledge numerous positive aspects of British presence. It wasn’t a colonial presence in the same mould as, for example, the French in Algeria, or the Belgians in the Congo. More of a strange mix of co-operation and colonialism. I need to read more about it – any good books anyone would recommend?

It seems to be British journalists, like Johann Hari, who paint a different picture of that period. I prefer to believe the people who were actually there at the time. ‘Cheers, mate!’


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