For those of you unfamiliar with Team Voodoo Unicycles, we are the UK's only Extreme Unicycling display team and our mission statement has always been to promote alternative, urban styles of Unicycling to mainstream audiences, globally. So it was a pleasure and a huge step for the team, the sport and each of us on a personal level, to be invited to provide entertainment for the World Endurance Championships in Bahrain.
What can you say about Bahrain off the top?
"Lads, we've been invited to demo in Bahrain"
"Is it safe?"
"Will we be rich?"
"Do I need to cover up? "
"Will they be offended by our name's suggestion of Christian theology shaped by African tribal traditions?"
"Should I pack shorts?"
Unfortunately, Simon never asked the final question and where all of us assumed the desert heat would be suffocating, he elected to pack exclusively black jeans.
The questions raised a good point though. Even to those who claim to be well read and up to date with current affairs, Bahrain is a mysterious floating palace in the Persian Gulf. It has a yearly Formula One Grand Prix so we expected the glamour associated with Lewis Hamilton, recklessly brandishing champagne and soaking his Pussy Cat Doll mistress but we'd also heard about attempted revolution, the lack of a free press and an unelected, hereditary ruler. Don't worry, this isn't going to get too heavy or controversial, how much political enlightenment can an Extreme Unicycling team bestow upon you? I merely mention it for one reason. Unicycling has helped us all grow as people, overcome challenges and spread joy. Despite a conflicting set of cliches, we were ultimately excited about the opportunity to take our sport, and our volatile, quirky yet lovable personalities, to a nation who may have never experienced anything like it.
After covering up my tattoos in order to avoid any awkward, Pious questions at Immigration. We jumped on the bus to Hotel Diva, the place we were staying for 4 days, where else?
"You're staying in Hotel Diva?!"
Locals would snigger with a worrying grin, like they knew something we didn't. It turned out, they did. The hotel had 4 bars/clubs spread across it's 20 floors which left Rob wondering, in the early hours of the morning, whether he was having a bizarre, retro, urban dream or whether he really could hear Gangsta's Paradise by Coolio on repeat.
There were other entertainers there and it was a pleasure to work with them. All incredibly talented performers but above all, interesting, dynamic and kind natured people. Along with stilt walkers and bike riders, we shared a dressing room with some lovely theatre types, performing a Disney Show for the kids in attendance. Let me tell you, when you've seen the Genie from Aladdin, battle roaring engines in an attempt to sing "Let it Go" from Frozen in a Blackpool accent, you've seen it all.
In our down time, we managed to take a trip to the market, every bit as mystical and magical as the pages of Arabian Nights; Pop Up stalls with Arabic scribings dancing across fine materials, dusty alley ways littered with moustaches and mangy cats. Dream shatteringly, turns out it's more like Wembley Market, with a host of Arab Del Boys flirtatiously trying to flock their "genuine fakes" to any mug who'll buy them. One boy must have put his kids through college when he hustled Simon Berry for some sunglasses.
"6 quid!" spat the Blackpool Genie, like we'd bullied him into giving us a fourth wish and asked for something childish and dirty.
"I paid 1, must have seen you coming son".
That's the problem when you're white, blonde and 7ft tall in Bahrain. They always see you coming.
We embraced the "Selfie Culture" while we were there. Golf club like aids, swung around in an effort to tee up a face in the foreground of a hilarious, unusual or breath taking background. I like to think we obliged and many Bahraini teens will have been baffled to find 4 white guys with only 4 wheels between them, in a picture with their friend, with a mere 4 seconds to appreciate the spectacle. It was mad. We've signed autographs, taken pictures, left hilarious answer phone messages featuring our popular catchphrases and kissed babies before (the latter two have never happened) but I've always hated it. I've never understood why anyone coveted a signature, if not to use it for the practical yet highly illegal practice of fraudulently signing over money to yourself. We all have signatures and most of us can't even read our signatures cause they're big squiggles. That being said, we lapped it up. It's nice to be appreciated, made to feel special for what you do, even if it is in a totally vapid and impersonal manner from strangers who'll no doubt forget who that picture is of in a year's time, at best, possibly mistake us for One Direction before make up and airbrushing.
We headed home after 4 days with a clear aim, to drink the plane dry, having made the nieve yet respectful mistake that the Islamic airline might be a dry airline.
It was an amazing experience and a real honour for of us to take this sport, that we all love and cherish, to a place it had never been before, to people who maybe couldn't even conceptualise the common stereotypes that we have in the UK of Unicyclists. The Middle East, since the damn of humanity, has been a cradle for wisdom, creativity and cultural development. Perhaps it can do it again and be the part of the world to embrace and promote our esoteric sport. If not, it'll be back to Sunday mornings in a car par in Coventry for Team Voodoo. Here's to many more visits!
All in Bahrain Streets - Voodoo Vlog