Follow In The Tigerman's Footsteps
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Follow In the Tigerman\'s Footsteps

Chapter 3

Spoonful of danger in Saudi Arabia

“Well Mr. Guest, tell me how you came to be here?”

It all started with my lying helpless on my back on a mattress in the lounge, when there was a knock on the front door. My wife, who like me had been anxiously waiting for this, went and opened the door. The next minute she returned leading a man who we hoped would prove a solution to my dilemma. Since putting my back out a few months ago and losing my job, putting it mildly, it had left my wife two young daughters and I in a serious financial situation.

On entering the room the man looked down smiling as he greeted me. I had explained how while at work I hurt my back, and had gone to see my doctor. I told him how I was lying on the couch and about to say what the doctor did, when he stopped me.

“Now I will tell you what he did.”

I was amazed, when he then described exactly what the doctor had done. To my immense relief, he went on to say that he thought he could cure me. Although neither my wife nor I knew any thing about Chiropractic treatment, I was more than ready to try anything to get me back on my feet. It was only thanks to our local postmistress that we heard about a Chiropractor. As a result of his visit, to the annoyance of both my doctor and surgeon who came to the house to examine me, within a month, I was miraculously cured.

Shortly before I was signed off from being sick, I said to my wife, “I am going to try and obtain a job abroad, as by doing so; I can earn far more money than in England.

Although we both knew it would mean my being away from home and the girls for long periods of time, we agreed it was our best chance to get ourselves out of debt and back on our feet.

I then sent my CV to a company that carried out overseas contracts. To my delight, two weeks later I received a letter informing me I had an appointment to see the Overseas Managing Director. This was great news. I was also excited at seeing the company required someone re a position in Saudi Arabia.

A few days later, my wife received a phone call from a man asking to speak to me. On explaining I would not be home until later, the man asked. “Is that Jen?”

“Yes it is.”

“Hi Jen! It’s Arnie.”

My wife who knew Arnie from years ago when he and I worked for the same company asked.

“Oh, hi Arnie, how and where are you?”

“I am in Saudi Arabia.”

“No, tell me the truth Arnie, where are you?”

“Honestly Jen, I am in Saudi Arabia.”

“That’s a coincidence; Colin just received a letter re an interview about a job in Saudi.”

“Yes, I know, that’s why I’m calling. The person Colin will be seeing is my boss and I want to tell him what salary he should ask for when they meet.”

Later, I was amazed when he told me the figure. Never in my wildest dreams had I imagined I would be able to earn that kind of money.

During an interview in London the following week, I met Ian, my future boss, who explained everything about the position, including salary, which was as Arnie had suggested. After a good discussion and a general chat, I accepted a one-year renewable contract, as a Projects Supervisor, based in Riyadh.

When Ian told me I would be working on a palace for the Royal Family, I was delighted. I had never worked on one, so it was with much apprehension I later boarded a plane to Riyadh. By going there, I would earn far more money than I had ever earned, enabling us to get back on a secure financial footing. However, on the downside, I would not see my family for six months, being when I would be due two weeks leave. Although not happy about this part of my contract, I had to grin and put up with it. In life you can never have all you want; as sometimes there are sacrifices to be made along the way.

On my arrival at Riyadh airport, I was pleased to find Arnie waiting to meet me. Although he looked the same as when I saw him some four years ago, instead of wearing trousers and an open necked shirt, he wore a suit and tie. He gave me a firm handshake and a warm embrace as his brown eyes twinkled with delight.

“Hi Col, you’re looking good. It’s great to see you after all these years.”

“You to,” I exclaimed. “You’re looking very smart.”

Arnie laughed saying, “Yes, in my job I have to be.”

As we walked out to where he had parked his car, the heat hit me, and sweat immediately broke out on my back. I mentioned this to Arnie,

As he laughed saying, “You will soon get used to it.” He explained he had been in Saudi since leaving our old company four years ago.

“If I had known earlier you were here and I could have been earning a salary like I’m on now, I would have been out here like a shot.”

“Sorry Col, but after you left Benbows I never knew where you lived, so couldn’t contact you.”

Arnie’s car was a new-looking Toyota. As I climbed in I laughed. “Well, this is certainly better than the old Morris you used to drive in England.”

He laughed. “You will find everything here is better than in England.”

As he drove out from the car park, he explained I would be sharing an apartment with him and another couple of our guys. On the ride into town, I noticed the roads were wide, well surfaced and lit up by modern buildings lining the streets. From first impressions, I thought Riyadh looked a prosperous city. For sure it was a big improvement on either Iran or Qatar. Thirty minutes later, Arnie turned off the road and parked in a large underground car park. We rode an elevator up to the company apartment, where Arnie knocked as he unlocked the door. Inside he introduced me to Mike and Mac, two colleagues I would be sharing the apartment with. Due to feeling tired from all my traveling, after a brief chat I turned in for the night.

The next morning, a driver came to take me to the head office of our Saudi partner. Here I was introduced to everyone, and made to feel welcome. I felt disappointed when Ian, my new boss, told me there had been a change of plans. The Palace had informed him that as they did not know me, they wanted Arnie (who they knew from previous projects) to be the Project Manager.

Instead, Ian said, I would be in-charge of re-fitting out works at the Hyatt Hotel in Riyadh. A short time later, Ian and Arnie took me to the hotel, where Ian introduced me to Sa-ard, our Thai supervisor in charge of our Thai and Filipino workers. I was pleased when Sa-ard who could speak broken English shook my hand, welcoming me to the site.

Ian then gave me a tour, explaining what works had to be carried in the various sections. One area was the main lobby, which had a high ceiling.

“Here,” Ian said, “Due to the hotel remaining open during our works, we need to install scaffolding so we can work overhead while the hotel guests walk safely underneath. I will arrange for a specialist scaffolding company to visit the site and discuss our requirements.”

A few days after doing so, they delivered and erected the scaffold. They also provided enough scaffolding boards for our men to install, which I instructed Sa-ard to have taken up to deck out the scaffolding. However, when later checking, I was annoyed to see only a few boards placed on top of the scaffold. Even more astonishing, some of our Thais were walking around on them.

“What’s going on Sa ard?” I said, pointing up at the scaffolding. “Why have you not done as I asked?”

His big round face lit up with a smile as he replied, “It’s OK, Mr. Colin. We are used to working on scaffolding like this.”

“You might be,” I replied with a grim smile. “However, I have to go up there as well, so get it fully decked out, as I won’t be going up there until it is.”

After laughing at my obvious discomfort, he gave orders for the boards to be taken up and laid out to cover the scaffolding.

As I had never worked with foreign workers before, I was dubious as to their capabilities. However, to my surprise, I soon found the work they did was of high quality.

Once I knew my way around Riyadh, the company issued me with a Mazda 323 car. Although small, I was relieved to find it had air-conditioning fitted as standard. With the temperature being around 40 degrees, this made driving comfortable.

Traveling to the office one day, I noticed deep trenches being dug alongside the roads in several areas. These Arnie informed me were storm drains, and although Riyadh was in the middle of the desert, there were periods of heavy rainfall, which sometimes resulted in major flooding in some areas. Another thing I noticed was rows of empty high rise apartment blocks. Arnie said the King had them built to accommodate Bedouins, who had no permanent homes. However, they had rejected living in them, as they much preferred their traditional life style.

As the roads in Riyadh were wide and in good condition, cars were driven at high speed. However, I observed with some surprise, speeding cars slowed to allow women wearing national dress to cross a busy dual carriageway. I was surprised when Arnie said this was normal.

He explained. “In Saudi Arabia, if your found guilty of causing the death of someone, you can pay what is known as blood money. If this is acceptable to the relatives of the deceased, you pay them a sum of money in lieu of going to prison.

A humorous incident occurred one night on the way home to our apartment. At the time, I was in Mac’s Mazda along with a couple other guys, following Ian in his large American car. While waiting behind Ian’s car for a set of traffic lights to change, Mac thought he would play a joke on Ian. He slowly drove his car up against Ian’s and nudged it forward. As quick as a flash, Ian responded. Putting his car in reverse, with screaming tires, he started to push our car backwards. As Mac panicked and jumped out of the car in alarm, Ian stopped pushing our car. He got out of his car and laughed as Mac, embarrassed by his action, hung his head and climbed back behind the wheel of our car. Ian bent down to Mac's open window.

Laughing loudly, he said, “Next time you decide to play a trick like that, make sure you’re driving the bigger car.”

Walking around the shops in Riyadh one Friday, I noticed several men carrying large wooden sticks. Although puzzled as to why, I soon found out, when the muezzin in the mosques called out at prayer time. On seeing some of the shopkeepers had not covered the goods outside their shops, the men used the sticks to turn everything upside down. These men ensured that when the call to prayers went out, all shops closed, and any goods on display outside were covered. It really was an amazing experience to watch the men in action with their sticks.

At the office one day, I was puzzled when all the office staff, including the Managing Director went downstairs. On following them, I found they had gone to pray. This Arnie informed me was an everyday occurrence, and one quite normal in Saudi Arabia.

I felt disturbed one day on hearing that one of our project managers had been arrested and put in jail, having being caught going through a set of traffic lights on red. Enquiring about this apparent harsh treatment, I was shocked when Arnie informed me this was quite normal.

“If the police see anyone commit this offence, they stop the car with the driver taken straight to jail for three days. Be warned, the driver is given no opportunity to contact anyone to tell of their plight, so make sure you don’t get caught doing this.”

Fortunately, I experienced no problems whilst driving in Saudi Arabia.

After working on the Hyatt project for several weeks, Ian asked me to call in at head office. A problem had arisen with Harold, one of our Project Managers who was looking after a Royal Villa in Jeddah, and a palace type contract on the outside of Jeddah. Due to this problem, he wanted me to take over the Royal Villa project.

A few days later, Arnie and I flew down to Jeddah. As we were in business class, we were at the front of the plane when it landed. To my shock and disbelief, no sooner had the plane’s door been opened when I felt an enormous blast of hot air hit me. It was as though I had taken a shower with all my clothes on. To my amazement, Arnie, although wearing a suit and tie seemed unaffected by the heat.

I exclaimed, “Boy! That sure is some heat.”

Arnie laughed. “Don’t worry, although it’s much hotter here than in Riyadh, you will soon get used to it.”

At the time there were no direct walkways from the planes, so we stepped out of the plane into a special high level bus. Reaching the arrivals entrance, the body of the bus lowered itself to ground level on telescopic legs, which to me, was like a scene in a space film. Stepping out of the bus and entering the arrivals hall, I was amazed to find it enormous. Arnie informed me it was the second largest airport in the world, with Riyadh the largest.

We had no luggage, so passed straight through customs. On stepping into the bright sunshine, it felt as though the air was being sucked out of my lungs. However, to my relief, we were able to climb straight into one of the waiting air-conditioned taxis. Arnie gave the driver directions to the villa and we set off. On the way, I noticed Jeddah was much more western oriented than Riyadh, with the streets lined with numerous well-known branded shops.

Twenty minutes later, we turned down to what Arnie said was the Corniche. This consisted of a wide dual carriageway running alongside the edge of the Red Sea. On the various roundabouts we passed, I was astonished to see huge monuments on them. One, an enormous bicycle, stood at least thirty foot tall. Another was a massive rocket shaped structure, with another a large globe of the world. It was an amazing sight; I had never seen anything as startling.

Placement image 3 Bicycle

A short time after turning off the Corniche, we drove down a narrow road to where the villa was under construction. This proved to be less than a hundred yards from the sandy shore of the sparkling Red Sea. As we climbed out of the taxi, I was surprised at how salty the air was. Even had we arrived at night, I would have immediately known we were next to the sea.

After meeting up with Harold, we attended a long meeting with him and the chief engineer. During this, both became so angry, it ended with them shouting and screaming, with noses just a few inches apart. I was shocked at witnessing such a scene, and thought it would come to blows. Fortunately, Arnie managed to defuse the situation. After calming Harold down, the three of us went for a walk around the site.

I now understood why Ian had to remove Harold from the project. It was obvious he and the site engineer did not get on. After a good chat with Harold while he took Arnie and me around the site, we returned to the airport. Here I was shocked when informed there were no available seats back to Riyadh until the next day.

However, with a knowing smile, Arnie said, “No problem! I have a friend here who will soon sort this out.”

As Arnie walked away, I was left wondering where we would stay the night. I need not have worried, for on his return Arnie wore a big smile.

“No problem,” he said. “Our plane leaves in one hour.”

‘Like the old saying. ‘It’s not what you know; it’s the people you know.’

On my return to Riyadh, it was arranged for me to drive down to Jeddah in my car. I was looking forward to this, as I would pass through a large part of the country on the way. However, I was disappointed, as due to my Ingmar (work permit) not yet issued, and it being the end of Ramadan with many police checks on all roads, our Saudi partner decided it would be best for me to fly down to Jeddah. In the mean time, my driver would drive the car down.

On arriving back at Jeddah Airport the following week, Harold was waiting to meet me. By the time we arrived on the site it was lunchtime, so Harold took me straight to the canteen. Two English guys were having lunch, and one looked up and greeted me with a query.

“Do you have my passport?”

“No, my driver has it; he is driving my car down from Riyadh.”

As he replied I should have brought it, I jokingly said, “Don’t worry, he can only lose it!”

Without any warning he went crazy, jumping up and sending his chair crashing to the floor. The next minute I felt the cold touch of the end of a spoon pressed tight against my throat.

With flared nostrils and eyes blazing, he screamed, “Don’t even joke about it.”

I went icy cold with fright.

I thought he would rip my throat out. After what seemed like a lifetime, he removed the spoon from my throat and stomped out of the canteen. I stood there in total shock. From the surprised look on Harold’s face, this amazing incident shocked him as much as it did me.

A few hours later my driver arrived with the car, and I asked if he had brought a passport with him. After taking it out of his pocket and handing it to me, I gave it to Harold to hand to the man.

The next day, the man came and apologised “Sorry about the other day, but I have been here six months without a break. I need one before I go crazy.”

After the incident with the spoon, I went for a walk around the site. To my surprise and delight, I found Sa-ard and a couple others Thai workers from the Hyatt project in Riyadh were there. This was good news, as in the short time I had known him; I had found Sa-ard helpful and competent. Harold later showed me the various areas of our work, before driving me to a villa where he said I would live until more permanent accommodation could be found.

Once Harold left and returned to the palace contract, I soon settled into a routine. The Thais were doing a great job; things soon started taking shape, with my pleased with the progress. For my meals, I would buy food from a supermarket, which could supply almost anything I wanted. That is except for alcohol, which was strictly forbidden in the country. However, as a foreigner, I could even buy pork, which was kept in a separate section of the supermarket, and clearly marked for foreigners only.

After living in the villa for a few weeks, along with our Thai workers I moved into ‘Poon Camp.’ Here I lived in a Portakabin, which although different accommodation from when I worked in Iran/Qatar, I found it comfortable. As this was only a short five minute drive across the sandy soil from the project, it was an ideal location. The camp provided breakfast and evening dinner, with our lunch coming packed in stainless steel containers. Another bonus was I had my laundry done free of charge. Therefore, I had no bills. This I thought excellent, as unless I wanted to buy something for myself, I did not have to spend any of my own money.

A few days after moving into the camp, Sa-ard came to see me one-lunchtime. As he walked up, I thought it strange to see his usual smiling face was replaced with a frown. He looked decidedly unhappy. I was surprised when he spoke in a serious tone.

“Mr. Colin, can you please help me?”

As he spoke, he opened the food container he was carrying. In one section was a small leg of cooked chicken, consisting mainly of bone. In the other sections was a tiny amount of rice, and a few pieces of cooked vegetables.

“This is all we get to eat all day. It is not enough for us to be able to do a full day's work. Would you please try and get us more food?”

I became angry, as I received far more food than my men. Returning to camp in the evening, I carried the food container Sa-ard had given me, found the camp boss, and showed him the contents of the container.

“This is disgusting,” I said. “I have far more to eat in my lunch container, and I’m only supervising. It is my men who are doing the work, not me. I expect them to be given far more to eat than this.”

He apologised, saying he would instruct the kitchen staff to ensure our men received larger portions of food. From that day on, I was pleased at there being no more complaints about the lack of food.

I later found my company treated its workers far better than those of some other companies. Unlike them, we never allowed more than four beds in one room. Also, the daily cost allowed for our workers was generally higher than other companies. In general, we looked after our workers. They in return appreciated this, caused no problems, and turned out high quality work.

I liked working with the Thais, as I found them a great bunch of guys, who did excellent work without any complaints. It was they who were doing the work, not me, they deserved to be well looked after. As a result of my attitude, I got on well with them.

As I woke one morning, I detected a strong smell of fish. Opening my door, the smell became much stronger, so I investigated. I found the smell coming from a 40-gallon drum, set up over a roaring gas fire. I was puzzled by an assortment of large seashells besides the drum, so asked a man standing next to it what they were doing.

“We are boiling up seashells, which we collect while diving.”

On seeing my puzzled expression, he explained further. “Once the shells are cleaned, we pack them into boxes and send them back to France, where our friends sell them in souvenir shops.”

This must have been quite a profitable sideline, as I later heard they had been doing this for quite some time.

During the weekends, the Corniche would be packed with people and cars, with it seeming as though everyone wanted to be there. Cars would drive up and down and park anywhere they could. It was common to see TV sets plugged into the cars, with families sitting on the ground watching TV while eating and chatting.

While driving around one day, I spotted two Arabs sitting on a rickety looking wooden table smoking Hubble Bubble pipes. I thought this would make a great photo, so stopped and took a photo. However, when later showing Mohammed the PM my photos, I was puzzled when he asked, “Colin, did you ask for their permission?”

He explained that in Saudi Arabia it is against the law to take a person’s photo without first obtaining their permission. If caught doing so, the person whose photo was taken could demand to be given the film. In extreme conditions they could even confiscate the camera.

As I had not known this at the time, I thought it best to reply I had asked for permission.

One Friday, one of our Saudi colleagues took me to watch some falcons being trained. He told me Falcons were very expensive, and only a hobby for the wealthy. I found it an interesting and enlightening experience as I stood watching the different stages of falcons training. I was astonished when informed the falcons were taken out into the desert in air-conditioned trailers, then let out to hunt for whatever they could find. On later returning to their handler, they are put back in their trailers and taken home again. In this respect, the falcons were looked after better than many people.

In general, I had no problem on site. That was until Mohammed, the site Project manager, complained we had installed a row of door frames out of line. Mohammed, a Sudanese, was a big, powerful looking man, standing around six feet, and weighing in the region of 17stone. However, although a big man, he was in nature a soft-spoken gentle giant. Despite my explaining we had installed them to suit the position of his walls, he failed to understand. He kept arguing we had fixed the frames in the wrong position. After some minutes of quietly explaining the situation, and his still refusing to accept his walls were the problem, I flipped.

“It’s your fault, not mine!” I shouted. “If you had built the walls in line, then we could have fixed the frames in line.”

I stormed off, leaving him standing speechless. A short time later, Ahmed the construction manager, came to see me wearing a big smile. He informed me Mohamed had been shocked at my shouting at him.

He laughed as he said, “After Mohamed told me about your argument, I told him he was in the wrong, and what you had been saying was correct.”

Later, Mohamed came to see me. As he walked up his face broke into a big grin.

“Hello, Mr. Colin. I’m sorry for making you shout at me. I now realise what you were saying was correct. I want us to be friends.”

As I reached out and took his offered hand, I smiled. “We are friends.”

He then surprised me, when he pulled me to him and gave me a big hug and a kiss on each cheek.

“Come,” he said, holding my hand. “We will go and have a coffee.”

As we walked off, I expected him to let go my hand, but this he did not do.

He must have sensed my discomfort, as his smiling face turned to a frown as he said, “You don’t mind me holding your hand do you? It’s a sign of friendship.”

Although I thought it strange to be seen walking along holding a big guy like Mohamed’s hand, I replied with a smile, “Of course not, it’s not a problem for me.”

“Good,” he said, as we continued walking off hand in hand.

During a talk with Harold, we decided to obtain a Saudi driving license. As he worked way out of town, I agreed to take care of all the necessary paperwork. However, little did I know what was in store? When I later took all the required papers to the police station dealing with driving license applications, I found long queues waiting in front of several booths. To my disappointment, none of the signs were in English, so had no idea which booth was for what. As I couldn’t see anyone who looked foreign, I joined a queue.

Reaching the front of the queue, I was about to put forward my folder of papers when the man shut the booth window. It was prayer time. I didn’t know how long this would take, so left and returned to the site. The next day, I again found long queues at each booth. After joining one of the queues I slowly inched my way towards the booth, but just when I was next to be served the booth window slammed shut. This time it was not for prayers, it was lunchtime. On returning to the site, I was far from happy at wasting yet more time.

The next time I returned to the police station, I made sure I arrived early to join one of the queues. This time, I was pleased when the booth window remained open when I reached it. I smiled as I gave my folder of papers to the man there. To my amazement, I was left shocked and confused when the man shouted out something as he threw my papers out of the window. After picking up the scattered papers and putting them back in my folder, I stood wondering what on earth was going on. I could not believe it when a man standing nearby informed me my papers were in the wrong coloured folder. I nearly cried out in anger. This had been my third attempt at applying for a license, and until now, no one had mentioned the papers had to be in a certain coloured folder.

The next time I went to hand in our application papers, I made sure they were in the correct coloured folder. This time, I was both pleased and relieved when the man in the booth accepted them.

As I had spent so much time handing in our applications, Harold said he would collect our licenses. However, on checking, he was told he had to collect them from a different police station. On his return from locating the police station, Harold looked glum.

“What’s up?” I asked. “Did you not get our licenses?”

“Sorry Col, I have my license, but they told me you have to collect your license yourself.” Although put out by this, I had no choice but to accept it. As Harold explained where I had to collect my license, he said, “You should not have a problem collecting it.”

The next day I followed Harold’s directions and made my way to the police station. As I approached the counter where Harold had told me to collect my license, I was put out to find no one behind the counter. While standing wondering what to do, a man in an air force uniform came in. On seeing no one was around, he went behind the counter and started rummaging around. As he stepped back out from behind the counter, he noticed me.

“Have you come for your license?” he enquired.

“Yes,” I replied

“What’s your name?”

I told him, and he went back behind the counter and found my license. He was smiling as he handed it to me, saying, “Here you are. This will save you having to wait for the clerk to return.”

Although I could not believe what he had done, he was right in what he said. I thanked the man, left the building, and returned to the site.

When I later met up with Harold and told him how I obtained my license, he smiled broadly, saying, “See, I was right. I said you would have no problem in obtaining your license.” What could I say? Nothing. We did, however, have a good laugh about it later.

I found it hard to believe Harold when he told me how the owner of the palace-like building he was in charge of had a whole village relocated. I was shocked by his reply when on asking why?

He said, “It spoilt his view. Once the move was completed, he had thousands of trees planted in its place.”

One can only imagine the cost of doing such a thing.

The roads in Jeddah were like those in Riyadh, wide and well surfaced, resulting in cars being driven at high speed. This no doubt was the cause of two separate accidents, in which I saw cars left impaled on the safety barrier. I shudder to think what happened to the occupants of these cars.

Despite the fact alcohol is banned in Saudi Arabia, as with most things, where there’s a will, there’s a way. Some of the men staying at Poon Camp were like so many others in Saudi, and manufactured their own booze. This was called Siddiqui, and although I never tasted it, it smelt like aviation fuel. One time I witnessed a guy who had been drinking this fall out of his chair and slump unconscious onto the floor. I later heard he was sent back to the UK after an examination revealed he was suffering from internal problems. No doubt caused from drinking Siddiqui.

While unpacking sections of a large stained glass dome sent out from England, I was disappointed to find two broken. After notifying the company of the breakage, an insurance agent inspected the damage, with a stained glass specialist arriving from England the following week. I was amazed when he worked wonders on repairing the broken sections, which soon looked like new. He then installed the dome over the atrium, which when the lights were switched on in the evening, looked fantastic.

Just as I stepped outside the villa one day, I witnessed a rather barbaric sight. To my horror, on an adjacent villa one of the Pakistani workers slit the throat of a sheep with a large knife. A few minutes later I was further shocked when he started cutting the carcass into pieces.

On another occasion, I noticed the same man had just slaughtered a camel. Although of slight build, the man made it look easy cutting the camel into pieces. As I thought it would make a good photo, I went to my office, picked up my camera, and returned to watch. When he looked up and saw me watching with camera in hand, he bent down and lifted up the detached camel’s head. Although shocked at witnessing such a gruesome sight, as he stood holding the head up wearing a big toothy smile, I took his photo.

I later found this method of slitting the animal's throat while it is still alive is used by Muslims to slaughter animals. For those unaccustomed to such a sight, it can be horrific. I certainly would not recommend allowing young children to see this.

During a conversation with one of our building contractors, he asked if my company would be interested in obtaining a large painting contract. I said if we were offered such a contract, we would of course be interested. I was taken aback when he informed me his fee for arranging us to get this contract would be a BMW car. The specifications of which model he wanted he would give me once talks were underway.

This was a new experience for me, as I had never heard of anyone being given a BMW in return for obtaining a contract. However, on informing Ian, he surprised me when he said, “Colin, if this man can get us the contract, I would be prepared to buy him the car he wants.”

However, as it turned out, the man was unable to obtain the contract.

At one time we had a 40ft container arrive from England, this being how all items for the project were delivered. However, to my surprise, inside was the carpet for the main living area. This turned out to be 44ft long, and been roughly cut to shape and folded, to enable it to fit inside the container. Just getting it out proved a struggle, although this ended up being the easy part, as we then had to get it inside the villa. This took all of our Thais, plus me and the two carpet layers who had come out from England to lay it. With great difficulty, we put thick pieces of wood under the carpet, then, with a man each side, the carpet was lifted up and taken inside.

The next day, while the carpet men were struggling to lay the carpet out, I received a visit from an official representing the villa’s owners. To my surprise, he informed me the carpet should be laid without any joints in it. On pointing out that due to there being two columns in the room this was impossible, to my amazement, the official said they should be removed. He was, I am sure, quite disappointed when I informed him these were concrete support columns, and impossible to remove.

Part of the project involved installing a small fountain under the dome in the atrium, where the builders had left a hole in the concrete foundations for it to fit in. Once we had installed the plumbing bits and pieces, a marble specialist came down from Riyadh to install the marble works, and then returned to Riyadh. After completing the rest of the installation shortly before leaving work one evening, I called Bob, the project coordinator. I informed him the fountain was ready for inspection, and that I would return to site after dinner. Bob, who had been waiting impatiently for this moment, said he would come and take a look.

On returning to site, I expected to meet Bob. However, not only was he not there, to my surprise the fountain was no longer working. I phoned Bob, and was shocked with the news he gave me.

He said, “Looking at the fountain, I was pleased. However, as I sat having a smoke and admiring it, the water stopped running. Investigating why, I found the bottom of the fountain had dropped down, releasing all the water.”

At first I thought he was joking, but on looking, I was shocked to find he was correct. One section of the bottom of the fountain had dropped, leaving a large gap between it and the side. I quickly returned to camp to look for Sa-ard. Like me, he was shocked when I informed him I needed the men back at site ASAP to sort out whatever had happened. Although most had left camp for the evening, he was able to find a few.

After they carefully removed the marble sections inside the fountain, I was amazed to find a large hole underneath. Just how this occurred I had no idea. On looking around, we found a concrete post and some bits of rebar, which we packed tight across the bottom of the hole. After ensuring they could not move, the hole was filled with a strong mix of concrete.

The next morning, I felt embarrassed when I phoned Riyadh to inform them of the fountain problem, and said I needed the marble man back ASAP. On his return, he laughed at hearing what happened. After replacing a few broken pieces and re-fixing the undamaged sections, he again returned to Riyadh. Once the marble was set solid, the fountain was then reinstalled.

I can only think the problem was due to the main foundations not being connected under the fountain area. As the site was close to the sea, for what it’s worth, my explanation is when the tide came in, it caused the ground under the base of the fountain to be washed away.

After completing work on the villa, which both Bob and I were well pleased with, I was in the process of completing all the outstanding paperwork before going home on leave. To my surprise, I received visit from Mick Weavis, the managing director of my company. From one look at his face, I knew there was something wrong. However, I was totally unprepared for his news.

“I’m sorry Colin, but I have bad news for you. The company has no available contracts for you to work on after your leave. In view of this, we have no choice but to make you redundant.”

This came as a terrible shock, I had only been in Saudi Arabia for just over six months of a one year contract. However, my spirits lifted when he continued.

“Although it’s not yet definite, the company might obtain a big palace contract in Brunei. If this comes up, I would like you to work on it.”

Despite hearing this, I felt downcast when a few days later I went to the airport for my flight back to the UK. However, on the bright side, it was only a short time before Christmas, so I would be home with my family for the celebrations.

When I arrived at the airport, I was surprised to find it packed with people. I'd never realised so many people traveled at this time of year. The flight was packed and noisy, with people excited at the prospect of going home for Christmas.

On arriving home, although my wife was overjoyed at seeing me, she was concerned about me finding a job after Christmas. I laughed saying we should forget about that until after the holidays.

Although my contract in Saudi had been a short one, as unbelievable as it sounds, I had been able to save enough money to get us back on a sound financial footing. Also, I was able to buy a brand new car for cash, this being something we could never have afforded to do had I not gone to work abroad. Although Jen had not expected us to buy a brand new car, during a recent M.O.T inspection our old car was found to dangerous to drive.

While enjoying Christmas with my family, little did I know my next overseas contract would result in me working on projects far different from any I had previously worked on.


Street Talk

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