A lovely quiet weekend day here in the Sandlands; our friend The Teacher came in from her self-imposed exile out in a remote community a couple of hours from the capital. She makes good use of our capacious guest quarters, and who can blame her? When the biggest attractions of the community in which you live are the proximity of the border with Saudi Arabia and the even closer proximity of the vast barrenness known as the Empty Quarter, you deserve the more-than-occasional trip to the Big City (or what passes for it).
She had some shopping that needed taking care of, and so even though we had done our marketing yesterday (on the first day of our long weekend), we took her to the supermarket. When it comes to groceries out here, there are several kinds of choices. At the top are the glossy markets that cater principally to Western expats; these tend to have a British gloss, to carry a wide range of oddities like horseradish sauce and fresh raspberries, and to be wildly expensive. Then there are the mall hypermarkets, which run to the vast, chaotic, and Subcontinental. Smaller, if equally chaotic and frequently even more Subcontinental, are the myriad little corner stores, which have been the subject of some controversy locally (in a nutshell, the government wanted them closed as potential health hazards that also don't adhere to the carefully groomed overall appearance of the metropolis; they tried closing them en masse at the new year, after which there was a mass outcry, because suddenly there was nowhere to go to get that late night liter of milk or to have a loaf of bread delivered, and most have reopened).
Occupying a middle ground between the mall marts and the corner mom-n-pops (or mamaji-n-daddyjis, I suppose) are the Cooperative stores, which are aimed firmly at local nationals and those seeking a shopping experience less expensive than the Britemporia, less enormous than the malls, and more comprehensive than the corner shops. Like the mall shops, they offer everything from boots to butter, but in reasonable quantities and in styles and sizes of both appropriate for large Arab families. We tend to get to one every few weeks, as they offer some things, especially really good chicken, that can be hard to find elsewhere.
So there we are, introducing The Teacher to the glories of Coop chicken, when I notice that they've recently enlarged their book and magazine section, adding several racks of children's books. Now, that's a very good thing, as literacy (in any language) is a real concern here, as is a nearly total lack of a reading culture at any age, but especially for children.
A quick look at the rack, though, showed me why children might want to shy off from the products on offer.
First we had this puzzling book, which appears from the cover illustration to be a manga-style retelling of Saturday Night Fever, but which bears the wholly enigmatic title Serenity (leading all three of us to immediately bellow "Serenity now!"). The subhead ("Rant and Rave") only adds to the general confusion.
A quick whirl of the rack, however, really set us off...
Yes, this exists. Tinkle, a primer for young readers in double digest periodical form. Where learning meets fun, indeed. We only managed to snap two of the covers before a wary staffer descended, but I think you'll agree they hardly look appropriate for young audiences. I don't know what these three gentleman are up to, but the last time I saw that pose in a magazine, I was standing in a shop at 44th and Eighth Avenue at 2:00 in the morning in 1996.
As for this one, what can I say? I don't know why the monkey looks so pleased, nor what the irate gentleman has been up to with his index finger. All I know is that it's on the cover of a publication called Tinkle, which is ostensibly aimed at children.
And yes, I have been brave enough to try and check out the website. I shudder to think what anyone looking through my search history would think of "www.tinkleonline.com", but now I have plenty of time to find out. It's still under construction, but it doesn't disappoint when it comes to the (possibly) inadvertent double-entendres that are apparently Tinkle's speciality.
After that, as you can imagine, the rest of the day has seemed something of an anticlimax...