In October 1978, we were commissioned to make film in and about Bahrain.
I could not raise my regular crew, Tony Mander was occupied elsewhere. I spoke to the Australian John Barnard who was, temporarily, resident in London. He was a first class cameraman. He had his own assistant whose name I cannot recall. The assistant had been on the one of the recent expeditions with Thor Hayerdahl.
I also took along my colleague Derek Shepherd as production manager. We flew in to Bahrain together and made our way to the appointed hotel – La Vendome. It was quite old, but was clean and run by Lebanese management and staff. We noticed from the outside that there was evidence of water leaking between the bricks at the top of the building and running down almost to the first floor.
The interior was clean, but quite old and in need of re-decoration. The bill for the hotel was being paid for by the Bahrain Government and the young man sent to us as liaison announced that, being an Islamic country, they would not be paying for alcoholic drinks.
I tried to get him to agree to pay for the mixers, the sodas and tonics etc., but he said that as he could not take the time to estimate the value of the mixers from the overall price of the drink, he would have to decline.
The hypocrisy of all this was shown by the fact that fifty yards from the hotel, there was a drinks store that specialised in Scotch and various Gins as well as Rums and Vodkas.
We bought our beers there when we knew that we would be away from the hotel for the day.
We went to sea to film the prawn fishermen at work. Back on shore, we went into the processing plant where the prawns were shelled, packed and frozen.
Derek Shepherd came away with a two pound back of prawns. These went straight into the refrigerator at the hotel.
We had been eating well at the hotel where the cuisine was a mixture of Arab and French. The waiters were all from the Lebanon.
After a week, we had sampled the whole menu with various lunches and dinners. On the eighth day, we went to lunch and all started to stare at the menu. It became obvious that no-one could make up their mind what to have. There was a formidable list of starters. I thought, “what if we have a serving of each starter on the table?”.
Everyone agreed and then we told the waiter to bring us one of most of the dishes and two or three of others that we know would be popular. There were six of us at the table.
I do not think there is anything to match the display of Arab starters, and when one adds the Greek starters that were on offer at La Vendome, there was a feast fit for kings.
There was Mutabbal, aubergine and tahini sauce with garlic and lemon juice.
Hummos bil tahini, mashed chick peas with tahini (sesame seed paste), garlic and lemon juice. This is served in a bowl, we had one each, which had olive oil floated on top and a black olive as a garnish.
Majroush – a lentil and rice dip. It consists of mashed cooked lentils with rice and sautéed onion. Wow !
Labnah – a yoghurt dip. The yoghurt is mixed with dried mint or fresh dill, a clove of garlic and some lemon juice.
Waraq Ainab – Dolmades – stuffed vine leaves as offered in Greek restaurants.
Falafel – a deep-fried ball consisting of chickpeas, broad beans, spring onions, garlic and herbs, all mashed together and fried. This is obtainable in most Arab countries as a fast food.
Bastirma or Pastrami – a dried meat mixture that, when prepared, is sliced for serving.
Mumbar – lamb sausage – tasty.
Libnah Makliya – or fried cheese with olives. The fried cheese is normally Greek feta.
Kibbah Makliya or stuffed meat balls. The meat is finely minced lamb with burgul, or cracked wheat, mixed with spices and placed in a hollow ball of similar ingredients before deep frying.
On top of all that, we were offered Taramasalata.
There was a load of Pitta bread to go with it.
This was one of the great meals of all time.
The next day, we were in our “mad dogs” mode again. Without transport, we were walking through villages towards the centre of the island. The temperature was 95 degrees Fahrenheit, the humidity was 95 %. At lunchtime, it was getting rather hot and damp and we were hungry. Walking through a small village, we came across an Arab bakery. The open oven faced on to the street.
A huge fire heated the clay oven and the bakers were kneading the dough, flattening it and then throwing it up on to the roof of the oven where is stuck until it cooked. When they fell down, they were ready. We ordered one each. They were more like a large Naan bread rather that a Pitta. The baker handed them over to us and would not take any money for them. What nice people. We walked off down the road feeding ourselves on the delicious bread straight from the oven. It was almost as good as our meal on the previous day.
We completed shooting in Bahrain and went home. When we boarded the aircraft for the return journey, Derek handed over his bag of prawns to the cabin staff to put into their refrigerator. By the time we reached London, he had forgotten all about them. Next day, they were delivered to the office by taxi with the compliments of Gulf Air.
Next chapter: Chapter 78: Lunch at the Cosmas