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Who put the PRO in procrastination? It was me!

It feels very surreal to think that my first academic year in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia is coming to an end. Holy shit, what a journey it’s been. It’s funny, I’ve been putting off writing a new post for ages now because of utter laziness, and now I’m writing this post because I’m putting off packing. Lol. WHEN WILL I CHANGE?!

The last few weeks have seen me crawling towards this week with so much anticipation. I’ve missed home so much that at times, I’m sure I felt a physical pain. But now that I’m a few days away, I’m feeling an odd kind of sadness. This year has been intensely educational for me, and in the time that I’ve been here, every day has been some kind of an obstacle, a revelation, a test, a lesson or a journey. There hasn’t been a dull moment and even if there had, my mind was sure to whip something up to stop that. I’m living in a most bizarre part of the world – a place where a lot of people will never visit, a place where a lot of people wouldn’t want to visit, but most of all, a place where I now believe that everyone should. The reason why I started this blog was because before I moved here, I tried to read as much as I could about this place and when I got here, I felt so deceived! I hadn’t seen a single expat blog that spoke honestly about what living in Saudi Arabia is really like. I felt like everything was so sugar coated, so censored and just a bit shit. I started writing because I knew that sugar coating isn’t in my nature and really, I wanted to paint as accurate description of my experience here as I could.

That being said, people who have read my blog and who know me will know that I’m dramatic as fuck and I do love a scandal so I often post about the shocking things that I’ve experienced here. But I also wrote about the good times, and I guess it’s because it’s usually in the shocking moments where my mind goes “I HAVE to tell everyone about this”. I guess I don’t really feel that when I’m having a good time. I think I keep those things a little private, although it’s not really intentional. It’s like when you have an amazing night out and then the next day you realised that there were hardly any photos taken and you get annoyed but then you’re like, “that’s how sick the night was, we were having way too much fun to stop for selfies”. Yeah, it’s kinda like that. So I hope I haven’t painted a negative portrayal of Saudi Arabia entirely. Just check my Instagram 😉

So to round off my first stint living and working in the ancient Arabian Kingdom, I thought I’d write a little about some of the things that I love about Saudi Arabia

Things I love about Saudi

  • The SUN! This country has glorious weather all year round, it’s magical. And although it’s not really enjoyed much, there are parks, beaches and compounds (think resorts, where you can relax in the sun, go for a swim and lounge around tanning in a bikini) where you can definitely enjoy the 40 degree heat
  • The amazingly low cost of living – Coming from London, I had several heart attacks and near death experiences when I first moved here and realised that I could quite easily survive on about £200 a month. I mean, I don’t, because I’m a reckless spender and because you know, holidays. But the point is that people do.
  • The hospitality – I can’t lie to you, some Saudi’s are complete wankers but most of them are so friendly, welcoming and inviting. When you meet someone, it’s very common to be invited to someones house almost instantly for food, coffee, shisha and general banter. Again, coming from the UK, it is natural to assume that one is about to be murdered and disembowelled, but you get used to it!
  • FOOD FOOD FOOD – Being vegan, this one doesn’t really apply to me but for all my meat loving babes, this place will fatten you the fuck up and you will be so pleased about it. The portion sizes are generous and because food is a way of socialising here, you will get ALOT of it. My students are always bringing in food from home to put at the front of the class, that’s just normal here. Food, sweets, cakes and coffee are plentiful here and it’s wonderful
  • Special treatment for the ladies – you would think that women get the shit end of the stick here, and whilst they do in a bunch of ways, we’re also kind of revered here. The entire time I’ve been here I swear I haven’t carried a shopping bag myself, picked up anything heavy or stood in a queue. It’s like like “A WOMAN has arrived, move out of the way and let this fine maiden proceed”. I mean, I kinda dig it. I don’t like waiting around and I don’t like carrying heavy things unless I’m in a gym so this works for me. You’ll never have to wait for anything or do anything yourself basically. If your lazy like me, you’ll dig this too.
  • The hustle and bustle of the many markets – From traditional clothes to Arabian spices, these little gems are so precious. Always busy, always alive, this is where you’d go to buy all things Arabian. Gold, jewellery, perfumes, incense, traditional dress and more. And FOOD. Women will cook massive, massive pots of traditional Saudi food and line them all up to sell. A medium sized bowl (stuffed to the brim) costs 10 riyals, which is around £1.70. It’s one of my favourite places!
  • The big chill – If anyone remembers when I first came here, I had such a hard time getting used to the relaxed manner in which the entire country operates, and I used to rant a lot about it but believe it or not, I’ve grown to love it. Sure, it can be frustrating when you really want to get something done, but on the flip side, deadlines are such a loose term and it means that you don’t really stress too much about, well, anything because the motto here might as well just be “don’t worry, it will get sorted”. Works for me.
  • Best till last – BEAUTY – I don’t think anyone really gets it. When I say the women are beautiful, I mean if these chicks were in London you would CHASE them down the street and beg them for their number. Hot DAYUM. For real, this place will turn a straight girl gay. I guess nobody needs to be told twice that Arab women are a treat for the eyes, so yeah. GIRLS.

Sound lovely? I think it does 🙂 I’m really hoping that I’ll somehow bring some of that Arabian heat with me when I come back to the UK because I genuinely don’t think I can cope in anything under 30 degrees right now. Summer, come to me! I guess this will be my last post for a while – at least until I come back anyway. I hope you’ve liked one thing or another about my blog and I hope it was fun to read too. I noticed that my views decreased loads whenever I posted something about being happy/grateful/having fun etc and they rocket whenever I post about something depressing or shocking. I guess misery really does loves company, you depressed bastards.

Anyway, until next time then. Next stop: LONDON! xoxo

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Who knew?

Its taken a while for me to realise that there’s no graduation ceremony for life. I wish there was. I wish there someone at the end of all of this to present me with a certificate of some kind or a badge of honour. Maybe a handshake too. Just an acknowledgement like “hey, well done. You did it”.

Its also taken me a long time to realise that I can be anyone I want to be. It sounds cliche and a little bit mechanic but its true. I can get on a plan to Italy and live life there as a struggling artist with an eye for brush strokes and colour palettes. I could go to Paris and live out my days as a fashion enthusiast, spending my days drinking the best Shiraz that money can buy and wearing the most chic dresses, tiptoeing through Parisian cobble stones searching for love in the belly of the beast! I could go to New York and be a path-searching twenty something year old with a group of comrades who are always free for a drink. I could move to Thailand or Australia and live the hippie chic lifestyle and learn how to surf. I could go to the Netherlands and open up my own little café, selling homemade vegan foods and organic juices. Hell, I could find a rainforest, grow some dreadlocks and spend my days singing UB40s Red Wine whilst dancing naked. I could do any of it, and who says I have to choose one? Well I won’t.

Its taken me such a long time but I’ve figured it all out. I can do whatever the fuck I want.

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All inclusive life guide and mentor needed – competitive salary!

I’ve accepted that I will never be the person who will maintain a blog at regular, consistent intervals. That’s just how it has to be. I’m really trying to work on my organisational skills though as I think I’ve finally fully understood how easier and less stressful my life would be if I started to prioritize. Is there someone I can pay to do that for me? There must be some kind of job out there like a “life manager” or “finance organizer” or what I really need – “all-inclusive life guide and mentor”. Just thinking about makes me feel fuzzy and light. I’m going to look into this now, I’ve decided it’s absolutely mandatory. Anyway, good morning from the Arabian Kingdom! I recently got back from a mini vacay in Bahrain and it was so wonderful. It was bizarre to remember how close it is to Saudi Arabia and yet so remarkably different (it’s an hour flight). Women were dressed however they pleased (although it was still all very modest), men and women were co-existing in a normal fashion, women were driving and there was alcohol. My mind was temporarily blown, I thought I had died and gone to heaven. This was the first thing I did:

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There are fewer things in life finer than champagne on a hot day 🙂

Then there was lots of this:

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And most evenings ended like this:

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It was so nice to get away from the limits of Riyadh and just feel normal again for a few days. Bahraini’s are such friendly people too, which was a massive change from the people in Riyadh who are rude and never seem to get tired from the chip they’re always carrying on their shoulders. Very refreshing to say the least. They’re also very much about grandour and making an impression, with their rooftop city view bars, their big, shiny cars, their perfectly blowdried hair and their magnificent restaurants. I felt right at home 🙂 And the food. Oh, the food! From Mediterranean to Japanese, they did not wrong. Just look at this yumtasticness:

Turkish food never fails!

Turkish food never fails!

I will definitely be back there soon, perhaps indefinitely. Watch this space! xoxo

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It’s time for a KitKat.

Hi wonderful people. I haven’t posted for a little bit, mostly because I’ve been hibernating in my apartment, but more because I’ve been an absolute misery the last week or so, so I thought I would return to normal pleasantness before I bombard this blog with posts of distress and madness. Gosh, I am so homesick. I am so homesick that I almost feel a physical pain in my stomach – usually at around 8.25am. The other day I was feeling so low and my four year old darling of a brother sent a voice note on Whatsapp saying “We miss you so much” and I just wailed. I’m sort of in a place where I genuinely feel like I have reached the end of my tether. I’ve been laughing at all of the absurdities that comes with working and living in Saudi Arabia, because that’s really all you can do, but now I’m crying. No, screaming!

And it’s mostly the university that bleeds my soul dry, not necessarily the country. Like I have mentioned many many times before, there’s a lot I can and am willing to deal with and accept and most of the time I’ll just take it all with a pinch of salt, but the university is just wow. I’ve never in my life been in an environment that is so micro-managed. It’s suffocating. But here is what really grinds my gears. As I’m sure you’re aware, the working life in Saudi Arabia is worlds apart from the UK or any Western country for that matter. It is very, very, relaxed, meeting times are just a mere guideline and “come at 9am” could mean anything between “come sometime before noon” and “you can come at 9 but I probably won’t see you till about 1pm”. Nothing gets done when it’s supposed to be done and the response to almost everything is ‘inshallah’. If you are not Muslim and you do not care for this word, it will make you eventually rip your hair out. But that’s not what gets to me, that I can handle, that I can learn to love if I bloody have to.

What really stings is that despite the management at the university being almost entirely Western, they still somehow uphold these Saudi ways. Like, I can accept this kind of ridiculous behavior from Saudi’s who are completely and totally accustomed to this lack of professionalism but seriously? You’ve just come from the UK or USA, you know how you’re supposed to act, why are you adapting to this bizarre situation? And to act as though as it’s completely normal too. It’s scary. At least acknowledge that these new ways in the workplace and odd and inefficient, don’t act as though it’s normal. It’s incredibly frustrating.

That’s a lot of what makes it so miserable. That, and the intense micromanagement. It always feels like the staff are under such intense scrutiny all the damn time. It makes me feel like a teenager, always worried that I’m going to get called to the headteacher’s office. It just takes all the fun out of teaching too, because you’re always so paranoid about attendance and grades and messing something up because apparently even breathing is a sin here. It really stresses me out. Funnily enough though, you hardly get told anything, what with the rules changing more often than I change clothes. You only know how not to do something until you royally fuck something up. That’s how I learned and that’s how it was when I started. I wasn’t trained or prepped or anything like that and I had to teach myself the rules and customs of the university because nobody else was going to.

The last couple of weeks have just been very dreary. The days are dragging on, work is getting intense and I’m just getting more tired. Maybe when this week is out things will look brighter. It also doesn’t help that my thighs and bum are in so much pain from yesterdays workout so even sitting down isn’t relaxing anymore. Ah!

Anyway, I’m really trying hard to not spiral into negativity and to just take each day as it comes because I know what I’m like. Once I get it into my head that I don’t want to be here, there’s no going back. I’m not usually this miserable, I’m just missing home and missing my friends and family. I realized that it’s so easy to feel alone here. Saudi Arabia is a shining example of the feeling of being surrounded by so many people but feeling incredibly lonely. I’m trying to shake off that feeling but it’s hard. I need another holiday. I think I may need holidays every two months. It’s only fair.

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Reality check: I am NOT invincible.

It feels weird writing on this blog in my living room when only a few days ago I was enjoying a two week long booze filled escapade in London (which I am very much paying for now). Back to the grind I guess! Having spent a bit of time in London doing the things that I do best, I’ve been smacked with a massive reality check. The first is that despite all of my efforts to convince myself so, I am not invincible. I am not above the law, I can quite easily be in danger, I can be hurt and I’m not an exception. That was VERY tough for me to realise. The second is that no matter how much I might get used to the normal ways of England, I’ve just got to change my attitude like a light switch whenever I come back here. Or I might die. Literally.

Yesterday I thought it was a grand idea to get a cab home at 5am. It was sort of like an uber service, which you would think to be legit. Sigh. I guess any car you call at 5am here is going to be on the dark side of legitimate. Anyway, the driver wasn’t the one who I called. Any normal person would probably get out of the car upon realising this, but no not me. You see, I was yet to have my realisation that I am not invincible. Anyway, the driver, a young and rather sleezy looking Saudi man was making painful conversation with me; I think he was trying to be charming, I don’t know. I ignored his ridiculous attempts at flattery or flirtation. So anyway, I gave him a wrong turn by mistake, and when I corrected him, these words actually happened:

Driver: *laughs* “oh, you don’t know the way to your house?”

Me: “I do”

Driver: “Well I know the way to my house, how’s that?”

Me: *dying inside* “No, my house would be fine, thanks”

Driver: “Do you smoke hashish?”

Me: “No.”

Driver: “Do you drink alcohol?”

Me: “No.”

Driver: “I have hashish and alcohol at my house, all of my friends are there, I’ll take you”

Me: *crying and dying inside* “Oh, no thanks. Just take me home please”

Driver: “No.”

Me: *heart palpitations*

Driver: “How are you looking like that and just going home?”

Me: “I don’t speak Arabic”

Driver: “But you’re speaking Arabic now, what do you mean?”

Me: “What’s wrong with you?”

Driver: “You. You’re killing me”

Yeah. Yeah. That’s what was up. Anyway, this guy actually started driving in a different direction to a place where I can only assume was going to end badly for me. “I have hashish and alcohol come to my house all my boys are there”?! He might as well have said: “A bunch of my sexually oppressed horny friends who haven’t had female interaction in so long are all at my house drinking and smoking hash, come so that we can physically and sexually abuse you because you know, oppressive country.”

Proper soz if I didn’t jump at the chance to get gang raped by horrible smelly horny boys. At this point, I genuinely felt fear. In this country, none of the girls that I know ever get into cabs alone, even when they’re licensed. Everyone is always weary of travelling late and it’s avoided at all costs. For some reason, I seemed to have missed it because since I came here six months ago, I’ve been getting taxi’s alone all the time, licensed or unlicensed. I get into taxi’s late at night alone regularly. Granted, I’ve had some dodgy experiences and met a few weirdo’s and everyone keeps telling me to stop but I’ve never actually felt scared or too uncomfortable. This time was different though. For the first time, I genuinely felt unsafe and in danger, and I didn’t really know what to do. He had actually said ‘no’ when I politely requested that he just take me home and started driving off somewhere else. For a moment I thought, shit. My mind literally was like: ‘Shit, this isn’t good. Okay, this is interesting. Oh good, he’s driving off to an unknown location. Okay this is not ideal. Oh fuck. Faaaaack. Yeah, I’m going to die tonight.’

I even asked him to stop the car. I didn’t know what I had planned to do once out of the car, but at that moment, anything was better than play time with suppressed sex-deprived drunken boys. Eventually he drove back to an area I recognised so I told him that that was where I lived, so he could let me out now. Thank god he didn’t actually drive to my house because when he stopped the car he was like “Oooh, so this is where you live huh?” Ugh, for god sake, get out!!

I was just so relieved at this point, I asked him how much it was going to cost. I just wanted to dash the money in his face but then I realised that I only had a 500 riyal note (around 90pounds) SOZ, not about that life. Anyway, he wouldn’t let me pay! I asked him a few times, how much, how much, and this sad man actually allowed these poetic words to exit his mouth: “the only payment I needed tonight was seeing you”. Alright mate. I’m not going to beg you to take my money. And off I trotted, having narrowly escaped gang rapeage or murder. This probably sounds ridiculous and dramatic and exaggerated but a man in London asking you if you want to go back to his place for a spliff and a drink is just a typical Friday night (for some..), here it is literally the equivalent of “I’m going to rape you. And then my friends will rape you”. It’s fucking terrifying. The worst thing is that if (god forbid) something like that were to happen to you, there is literally nothing that you could do about it. Never mind during it, you wouldn’t have a leg to stand on if you tried to report it after. In fact, you’d probably get charged for adultery and be whipped. And if you had the audacity to accuse a Saudi national of raping you, you’d just get into more trouble; Saudi’s are quite literally above the law here and Saudi men rule alongside God. That’s what makes these situations so terrifying, it’s the fact that if something happened, there’d be nothing you could do about it, literally nothing.

So there is the story that led to realisation number one: I am not invincible. How sad is that? In all seriousness though, that was the first time since I’ve been there that I’ve genuinely felt scared and unsafe. Six months in and I’ve finally learned my lesson. Do not get into random taxi’s alone and definitely don’t do that at 5am. Sigh. Being back in London for a while seriously messed me up, I came back having gotten used to basic human rights. So audacious of me.

It’s a bit of a painful realisation to be honest, I quite enjoyed walking around telling myself that I was immune to the ridiculousness of this place. Oh well, I’ve got my game face on now and I am READY. Should I start carrying a pistol around with me? Joke. Imagine me bringing out a pistol from underneath my abaya. Ha!

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The 50 books every child should read.

This has nothing to do with Saudi Arabia, working abroad, teaching, travelling etc, but I came across an article this morning that was just lovely.

To celebrate World Book Day, which falls on Thursday, Sainsbury’s has published a list of books every child should read before they turn 16.

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Don’t some of these books just bring back the most glorious of memories?! I might actually read some of these again. Reading some of these books were magical for me, I used to spend hours devouring books in the library, on my walk home from school, under the covers when I was supposed to be asleep. After school, I used to tell my mum that I would be going to the library straight after school and that she should come and get me when it gets dark and I would sit in the library on one of those comfy bean bags for hours getting lost in adventures by Roald Dahl, JK. Rowling, C.S. Lewis and Charles Dickens.

This list makes me so excited to have children so they can do the same! We’ll have story nights and everything and it will be adorable.

How many have you read?

These are the top 50:

  1. Charlie and The Chocolate Factory- Roald Dahl
  2. Alice in Wonderland- Lewis Carroll
  3. The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe- C.S. Lewis
  4. Winnie The Pooh- A.A.Milne
  5. Black Beauty- Anna Sewell
  6. James and The Giant Peach- Roald Dahl
  7. The BFG-Roald Dahl
  8. A Bear Called Paddington- Michael Bond
  9. Treasure Island- Robert Louis Stevenson
  10. Adventures of Huckleberry Finn- Mark Twain
  11. Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone – J.K. Rowling
  12. Matilda- Roald Dahl
  13. The Railway Children- E. Nesbit
  14. Oliver Twist- Charles Dickens
  15. Five on a Treasure Island- Enid Blyton
  16. The Wind in the Willows- Kenneth Grahame
  17. The Very Hungry Caterpillar- Eric Carle
  18. The Jungle Book- Rudyard Kipling
  19. Charlotte’s Web- EB White
  20. The Tale of Peter Rabbit- Beatrix Potter
  21. Watership Down- Richard Adams
  22. The Hobbit -J.R.Tolkien
  23. Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows- J.K. Rowling
  24. Lord of the Flies- William Golding
  25. The Secret Diary of Adrian Mole, aged 13 ¾ Sue Townsend
  26. Great Expectations- Charles Dickens
  27. The Cat in the Hat- Dr Seuss
  28. The Secret Garden- Frances Hodgson-Burnett
  29. The Diary of a Young Girl- Anne Frank
  30. The Twits – Roald Dahl
  31. The Wonderful Wizard of Oz- L. Frank Baum
  32. The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas – John Boyne
  33. Anne of Green Gables- L.M.Montgomery
  34. The Tiger Who Came to Tea- Judith Kerr
  35. Green Eggs and Ham-Dr Seuss
  36. The Day of the Triffids by John Wyndham
  37. Bambi- Felix Selten
  38. Tom’s Midnight Garden- Phillipa Pearce
  39. Little House on the Prairie- Laura Ingalls Wilder
  40. Funny Bones- Janet and Allan Ahlberg
  41. Where The Wild Things Are- Maurice Sendak
  42. Carrie’s War- Nina Bawden
  43. The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time – Mark Haddon
  44. The Magician’s Nephew- C.S. Lewis
  45. The Golden Compass – Philip Pullman
  46. The Story of Doctor Dolittle- Hugh Lofting
  47. The Story of Tracy Beaker – Jacqueline Wilson
  48. The Hunger Games – Suzanne Collins
  49. Curious George- H.A.Ray
  50. Each Peach Pear Plum by Janet and Allan Ahlberg
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Celebrate your workout with cake, the Saudi way.

Arabs are fat. That’s just a fact. They are round, and they are fat. Well, Saudi’s are. Well, over here they are anyway. Because of this, gyms, health centers, sports centers or anything of the kind is very uncommon over here. I think that’s just Saudi Arabia in particular, I know other normal Arab countries have gyms just like we do in the Western world. But in Saudi Arabia, they really are scarce. There are a few scattered around the city that women can go to but most of the time they’re not equipped very well, are quite poorly maintained and cost a ridiculous amount.

Regardless of that, in my hunt for a decent women’s gym that wasn’t going to cost a fortune getting there and back (this country has never heard of public transport), I managed to find a pretty decent gym with fully functioning equipment, classes and friendly staff. Yipee! It also costs 500 riyal a month, which is about 85 pounds. I would have no qualms with paying that for a much nicer gym but for a basic gym with basic equipment, it hurts a little. I guess that’s the price (literally) of keeping fit in a country that focuses it’s days around very little movement and plenty of food. Also have a driver who will take me to and from the gym six days a week for a pretty decent price. Everything is good. Everything is working.

ALSO, after months of scouring the streets of Riyadh trying to find almond milk, flaxseed, dried cranberries and various other delicious vegan goodies, I’ve discovered a place that sells ALL of these things and so I am extremely happy because now I can make all the things I haven’t been able to since coming here. Everything is good. Everything is working.

I think this best describes how I feel atm:

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Another thing which I found pretty funny is that in the gym, there’s a small cafe that sells water (nothing weird there), but it also sells soft drinks, chocolates, crisps, pastries and other things. Lol, what the hell. That’s when I came to the conclusion that I don’t think that these women go to the gym to lose weight/get fit/improve fitness or anything like that, it seems to be more of a hobby than anything else, somewhere where women can get together with their friends (or make new friends) outside of the house.

A couple of days ago, I went down to buy water and a group of women who I literally just saw doing an aerobics class were tucking into massive slices of chocolate cake, crisps, coffee and other Arab sweet pastry things. It was quite funny. I think they were celebrating the completion of an aerobics class, I don’t know. It’s kinda nice though, it’s such a no-pressure kind of gym. There are no breathtakingly ripped people running miles on the treadmill or lifting weights bigger than my whole house, making me want to hibernate in said house. None of that. You work out, you have cake. You do a spinning class, you have fun, you have some coffee and pastries. I mean, I wouldn’t dream of doing something so barbaric, but it’s cool that they do. It makes working out just a thing that you do, it’s just a part of your day – no pressure. Just work out with your friends and then have some fucking cake.

In a way, it makes you realize how seriously we take the gym compared to these women. Don’t get me wrong, our way is better, but it’s just so chill here. Another thing is that (and I completely forgot about this until I joined the gym), because music is haram (‘forbidden in the eyes of God”) for all you non-believers and heathens, and so there isn’t any music at the gym, which means no music in the spinning classes. Has anybody ever heard of spinning classes with no music? It’s catastrophic.

No, it’s not that bad – I guess the instructor makes up for it with her enthusiasm. But the absence of music, as crap as it is, is made up for by the loud Saudi women. Yeah, Saudi women are LOUD, my god. So because there’s no music in the gym and any of the classes, it makes it easier for them to be louder but it’s quite cool. Have you noticed that nobody speaks in London gyms? Like, it’s just not okay to talk to people. Everyone is so serious about their lives and about their workouts. Be real now, gyms are awkward as eff and I hate that about them. It’s not like that here at all, all the women just talk to each other, helping each other with their exercises, egging each other on, it’s cool. Something we Brits might consider taking into consideration?! Only joking, we resent any form of change and/or improvement to our behaviour and habits, especially if it comes from foreigners. Sigh.