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The times they are a-changing

Progress marches on in KSA. I have already reported that late last year the announcement was made permitting women to drive from next June, and to allow the existence of cinemas in the Kingdom. Now, further frontiers are to pushed back – further proclamations have been made and amongst these is the permission for women to attend sporting matches.

Never having been to a football match in Saudi, I have no idea if the crowds are similar to those at “professional” matches in the UK where there is a mix of people who watch the action, support their team or take delight in baiting the opposition, their supporters and the match officials. I wonder what difference it will make in having the gentle sex along? The ever-informative “Arab News” was able to report on the momentous first event, a match on 11th January in Jeddah when lady spectators were allowed in for the first time:

“Female fans took advantage of a government directive lifting a ban on entering football stadiums. The directive said that women would be able to attend a second match on January 13th and a third one on January 18th. To prepare for the change, the Kingdom designated “family sections” in the stands for women, separated by barriers from the male-only crowd. The stadium was fitted with female prayer areas, restrooms and smoking areas, as well as separate entrances and parking lots for female spectators. The General Sports Authority prepared the surrounding squares in the King Abdullah Sports City with food trucks and a number of sporting and social events in a bid to create a distinctive atmosphere before the matches.”

So, what else is new? Taxation was introduced from 1st January, with a 5% VAT levy on most goods and services. Exemptions seem to be limited to the following: medicines, medical supplies, gold and silver, banking services, real estate rentals, life insurance premiums and international transport. At the same time some government-controlled commodities and services have had their prices greatly increased. Petrol, for example has almost doubled to 1.28 SR per litre – that’s 26p in UK terms. When I picked up my hire car from the airport after my C*****mas and new year holiday, the rental man was at pains to point out that the tank was ¾ full. Last year, they didn’t bother about the fuel, generally you took the car out with any amount and returned it with whatever you had left.

Taxation is a new concept in KSA, and some people are struggling to get used to it. I was told that one supermarket chain decided to add 15% tax so that they could make more profit! A school that I know of used to sell books, stationery and other useful things direct to the parents but have now stopped because adding 5% VAT was too difficult to administer. One thing that differs from the UK is that VAT is added at every step in the supply chain in KSA, so the more middle-men, the greater the hike at the point of sale.

Coinage used to be quite rare in the Kingdom, most goods were rounded up or down to the nearest riyal. As all currency from 1 SR upwards is notes this meant that money was invariably of the folding variety. With VAT added, the rounding to the nearest riyal has ceased, and everyone is more money conscious. The government seems to have anticipated this and suddenly 50 and 25 halala (cents) coins have appeared in mass numbers. Hopefully Saudis will get used to having coinage, and the SR 1 and 5 notes will be replaced by coins too.

I am sure I have mentioned it before, that at supermarket checkouts there is usually a person at the till and another (invariably an Asian) at the end of the conveyor packing bags haphazardly for the customer. A supermarket nearby to our compound introduced self-service checkouts a couple of months ago, and these have been advertised in the store as “fun and easy”. They certainly are fun, for those of us who understand how they work and watch bewildered Arabs trying to understand the nuances. Phrases such as unexpected item in the bagging area must have lost something in translation because two months later all the self-service tills have been allocated two humans – a barcode-swiper and a packer, both of whom crowd out the smaller area and prevent the shopper self-serving.

We were at home for C*****mas and the new year, and it was lovely to see family and friends. The novelty of drizzle and snow soon wore off, but we were lucky to have some lovely crisp winter days, with snow on the ground and blue skies. Dog-walking whilst fully booted, gloved and hatted was so enjoyable.

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Dog walking by Biggar Burn

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Bizzyberry hill from Biggar pond

Hogmanay was wet and windy, and the traditional Biggar bonfire was looking as it might be a bit of a damp experience, but the weather dried up for the evening and as usual most of the townsfolk came out for the celebrations.

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Torchlit procession up Biggar High St......

IMG-20180101-WA0006 (003).jpg .... to light the Hogmanay bonfire, to burn out the old year and welcome in the new.

And when we arrived back in KSA, the lead item on the news was that a motor company has opened a “Women-only” car showroom in central Riyadh.


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Happy new year to you all!

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