From Birkenhead to Bandar Seri Begawan and Bishkek
The Ramblings of a Wanderlust Builder
Chapter 9: In the Trenches and Treading the Boards
Chapter 9: In the Trenches and Treading the Boards
Among the many planned projects to be undertaken on Das Island was the construction of new management offices to supersede the prefabricated timber buildings that had served since the early days of activities there. The modern building was however to be located where the islands football pitch was situated and so I was charged with relocating it to a new designated area.
A flourishing football league with five teams competing shared the pitch over the winter season and having played competitive football since I was eight years old, I happily joined the Das Tavernier’s team within a few weeks of arriving. I was keen to regenerate my interest, which had been put on hold, since work and family had taken priority a few years previous. Consequently, building a new pitch was more a labour of love than a work task.
My return from leave also brought an approach from the chairman of the Oasis Club to ask if I would accept an invitation to be co-opted to the club committee to coordinate entertainment. My stint onstage on St Patrick’s Day had made some sort of impression apparently and now plans were afoot to elevate entertainment standards, including importing professional acts from UK.
Several projects had my attention around that time, included the re-routing of underground services to accommodate planned new buildings. This was normally a straight forward and relatively easy task, however most of the underground services had been installed in an ad hoc and unregulated manner 20 years previously and under primitive conditions and therefore no drawings were available to refer to. The saline ground conditions had corroded old metal pipes and the abrasive coral sand had dangerously eroded power cable wrapping, so just finding services was difficult enough, but making them safe and installing new services, became a far more convoluted task. This was further complicated as temporary lines had also to be laid to keep existing services live, but even these had to be moved several times as they often clashed with old lines as more were uncovered. Old waste storage tanks were exposed, that had long ceased to be used but no one had any knowledge of. The work took on the characteristics of an archeological dig, with hand dug trenches meandering in every direction, like a scene from a WW1 battlefield. With summer heat kicking in and machines being too dangerous to use, it was hard uncomfortable work.
One small but positive return from all the careful excavating activity was the occasional exposing of Geodes. These spherical rock formations, the size of a tennis ball, were formed from the volcanic action that created the island millions of years ago. The rock trapped gasses that formed into semi-precious crystals. When cut in half, they made pretty pieces of artwork.
Things started speeding up when the new state of the art Liquefied Gas plant went on-line and commenced production of this highly valuable commodity. ADGAS the operating company had a 20 year contract to provide the fuel to power all of Tokyo and had commissioned the construction of two special ships designed to carry the liquid gas to Japan. One of the ships, the Hilli, was already on the dedicated berth and was loading, in preparation for its maiden voyage.
After a ceremony, conducted by government ministers and executives of BP and the other main shareholders, the ship departed with its multi-million dollar load. Economically it was a pivotal point for Abu Dhabi, which would soon have long-term beneficial repercussions for me also.
The manning of the gas plant on a 24/7 basis had brought about a huge influx of manpower over the previous 2 years. Many of the operating crews and engineers had arrived while construction was in its infancy, inorder to undergo familiarisation and technical training. The Senior Staff quota expanded by 300% and technical and support workers had swelled by a similar percentage, driving the population up to about 4500 men. The permanent staff was also supplemented periodically by several hundred more contractors, flown in for specific projects. The logistics, catering and housing of such numbers, crammed into a half a square mile island, was a feat to be admired from any prospective. It was little wonder the constant movement of manpower on staggered leave and business trips warranted a fulltime travel officer on the island to coordinate international and local flights.
One tradition that rolled over from the early days was the annual Das Summer Show. This was a showcase for anyone with a modicum of talent (perceived or real) to step up and entertain their fellow Dasites. With the provision of a new 400 seat senior staff theatre with professional lighting and sound systems the event took a step up from the previous simpler efforts confined to the old camp bar. My first task since being co-opted to the club committee was to produce an entertaining show and although I was aware of some of the decent musicians among my colleagues, I was nevertheless pleasantly surprised by the numbers of guys who came forward, to offer to perform or volunteer their time and abilities as lighting and audio technicians or even as scenery painters and stage hands.
I had also the advantage of an intake of company personnel and their wives, based in Abu Dhabi. Women were normally barred from Das Island, as a sop to local sensibilities in that era. However, with the help of an enlightened management, they were accepted for short stays, provided they were accompanied by their husbands. It was under these conditions I met George and Marylyn Haskins, with whom I went on to share a lengthy friendship over many years and who were co-producers in organising and rehearsing the Abu Dhabi contingent.
There were a particular group of guys on Das who all had professional experience in various bands in UK and as session’s players or in radio studio work. Having seen them perform previously on St Patrick’s night, it was clear to me that they were going to be front and centre for a good show. The Mildred Bindweed band became stalwarts for all future shows and great personal friends of mine.
The benefits of maintaining good moral and the boost to the mindset of men in an isolated location, away from their normal environment, were clearly understood and well thought out. Elevated spirits made work less stressful and men were at their best when given the opportunity to use their imaginations and natural skills to fill their time with positive activity.
I was also provided with a budget, commensurate to the company’s commitment in wanting to encourage positive use of non-working time. This happily allowed the overall standard of the presentation to be raised and although it was not going to rival Saturday Night at The London Palladium, it was going to be fun events which everybody involved threw themselves into with gusto and a not unsubstantial amount of talent.
Rehearsals, a prerequisite for everyone involved, were done straight after work or on days off for guys involved in shift crews. I flew to Abu Dhabi a couple of times to coordinate the format with the gang there. Costumes were made, programmes printed and workshops utilised for props. What little spare time I had to myself, was taken up writing scripts to cover the several front of curtain appearances I had to fulfill as the MC for the show. The years I spent watching top club comics around Merseyside and gleaning tips on presentation style, were about to be put under scrutiny it seemed.
The two hour show was very well received, by a full house, which included both the oil and gas companies General Managers, who had flown in with their wives and several other executives for the occasion. Their apparent enjoyment translated into the welcome news that we were to get a budget for recreational use which would allow us to book professional international entertainers and bring them to Das in the near future. Furthermore, the management asked that we organise a similar show in Abu Dhabi, to enable the land based staff and their families to be entertained. It was the start of a numerous invitations for the band and myself to entertain at company sponsored functions and other events in the UAE and beyond over the next several years.
It became obvious that I had arrived on the island at a very fortuitous time in its development. The work was varied and interesting, management were forward thinking and the vast variety of sports and non-working activities, now gave little scope for boredom. For me at least boredom was not even an option.
This is the ninth chapter in a series of blogs narrating the life of an Expat – from childhood years to his ascend as a veteran of the Travel and Construction industry.
Bernard C. Dagnall, CIPM
Bernard is a highly experienced professional Project Manager with credentials earned over a span of 35 years with VVIP Clientele and Blue-Chip brands in Europe, Middle East, Central Asia and the Far East. He is also a creative writer having penned many industry-related articles and blogs.