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Santa and God could see us, all of us, all the time. They knew if we were being good or bad. Jesus's job was to watch us sleeping and make sure we were OK till the morning. Then, I suppose, he handed back to God and Santa. Santa was the best of the three because he was really nice to us at Christmas. The other two didn't seem to do anything practical, but they were still OK. So of course we talked mainly about Santa. We knew he had helpers to make all the toys. We knew all about his sleigh and reindeer. We knew that the Santa in the department store wasn't the real one - we weren't stupid - he was just there for little kids. The real Santa you never got to see, same as God. He came down the chimney in the small hours of Christmas morning, left presents, drank his sherry and took the carrot back for Rudolph. God must have been OK with that, because of course He could have stopped him if He'd wanted.
We knew a couple of older lads who told us there was no Santa, but they were lying because Mum and Dad believed in him.
Then, one day, we didn't believe in him any more and the strangest thing happened - continued here
So, apart from sofas, what else are our random visitors looking for? By far the commonest search string turns out to be gay doha, not something I was pitching for, but hey, if they spend their money...
But events took a new turn last night when a Paranormal regular, Rank Badjin, was wakened at 3 a.m. by a weird pulsing sound. Crawling out of the fountain, he was just in time to catch a glimpse of the last of these scuttling beasties before it boarded a greenish landing pod, which then took off without delay. Almost silently, said Badjin.
What's best about living abroad is the range and change of people we meet. It's a truism that every lost soul at the bar has a story to tell. That applies every bit as much in the local back home as it does in Sofitel or Paranormal. The difference is in the stories, which tend to be more extreme, adventurous or simply bizarre among ex-pats. I suppose it's to be expected that people who have deliberately exchanged the familiar for the unknown might typically rank higher on the eccentricity scale.
Only last night, I overheard an attempted conversation between a Spanish expert on English porcelain and an English authority on the history of Flamenco. The English aficionado spoke no Spanish save for the names of cantaores and tocadores (singers and guitarists). The limit of the Spanish antiquarian's English seemed to be a few well-connected towns: Royal Worcester, Royal Doulton, Crown Derby. West Ham and Fulham never got a look-in! It's just conceivable that a similar conversation could break out spontaneously somewhere in the Vale of Evesham, but I wouldn't bet on it. Not where the norm is:
'Ave you seen Jeff? - Jeff? - Jeff, ar. - Old Jeff? - Old Jeff, ar. - A'nt he passed away? - Passed away? - Passed away, ar.
There is, unfortunately a down side to the crazy parade that is ex-pat life. And that is when people who have become good friends disappear from our lives. With or without warning, it's equally tough when you're having that last pint together.
And you say- safe journey then.
And you say- we'll meet for a beer when this contract's over.
And you know you won't.
And you don't.
Now, seven years on, to the day, my vantage point is considerably lower - a first floor apartment in Muntazah, Doha, and suddenly I'm struck with another thought. Under Qatari employment law, if I choose to stay here, I've got exactly three years left, and given the rate at which my seven years in the Gulf have shot past, these three years are going to feel like half an hour.
And then what? Fifteen days retirement, of course. Because as we all know, the World is going to end on December 21, 2012. My life savings might just cover 15 days.
The best-laid schemes o' mice an' men
Gang aft a-gley
An' lea'e us nought but grief an' pain
For promis'd joy.
But spare a thought for the Paranormal's girls, arguably the most innocent parties of all in the Great National Hiccup. The poor mice are left wandering around a half empty Jockey's Pub wondering, who moved my cheese? Oh well, there's always Sky Sports...