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First week done

I can't believe that's my first week working in KSA completed already. The work aspects are fine, developing and manning the rail regulator's responsibilities. We had a long meeting with the deputy Minister and explained the role of the SRC and he outlined how he envisaged it fitting into the Public Transport Authority. All very different from UK politics, no consultation process, and the policy objectives are not for us consultants to concern ourselves with. We are here to deliver the outputs and interface with the various railway systems. 

Getting to grips with the culture is fascinating. All public life is segregated into "singles" ie men, and "families" ie women, children and any accompanying men. All ladies and teenage girls have to wear the full abaya (black robe) with the niqab (face veil) in public. You do see occasional ladies without niqabs, usually in indoor malls. I have heard that the muttawa (Committee for promotion of virtue and prevention of vice) actively encourage conformity, but I personally haven't come across this. For me, long trousers are a must, even on days off. Just as well I didn't pack my kilt! 

I am starting to look for accommodation to rent in a western compound. These range greatly in price, which is dependant on the district and the facilities. For example a simple place on the edge of the city is cheaper than those adjacent to the diplomatic or financial quarters. One thing they all have in common is a very high level of perimeter security. Social media is a great thing and I have been able to share reports of compound visits with Elaine and hear her views. This includes sending pictures via Whatsapp and discussing  details on regular Skype calls. 

My company mobile phone and laptop have not materialised yet. I have bought a KSA SIM card for use in my UK phone, so can make local calls cheaply. Virgin media have outlets here and I got a pay as you go SIM. The vendor was at pains to point out that this was a "very good British company".  He asked if I had heard of "Mr Richard". I wonder what his reaction would have been if I'd let him know that I had met RB and been to his house! (OK, it was one of his staff open days in the 1990s when I worked at Eurostar).

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* Call Alastair Fyfe directly on 07785 370074 (UK) or +966 503095212