From Birkenhead to Bandar Siri Bagawan and Bishkek
(The Ramblings of a Wanderlust Builder)
Chapter 11; Kilts and Kaftans.
Chapter 11; Kilts and Kaftans
By any standards, my return to Das Island towards the end of my 2 year contract with the oil company, became a Eureka moments, with all the ingredients to direct me onto a life changing path.
I had been seconded to the post in the oil company’s Engineering Department to look after several projects that followed on from the building of the new LNG gas plant. These were jobs that had been held over until the vast temporary contractor’s workforce had departed and revolved essentially around the decommissioning of temporary facilities, upgrading others and various preliminary tasks to set the stage for new larger projects due for commencement.
I had already enquired about a post elsewhere, while on my home leave at Christmas, in the understanding that I had a little less than 6 weeks left before I would say goodbye to Das and would need a new job. My workload in the oil company had overlapped into supporting its sister company ADGAS, as they had no internal Civil & Building section to call upon. They were obviously aware of my impending departure and perhaps rationalised that my familiarity with the installation and my experience there had some merit and so stepped in with an offer of a long-term contract with ADGAS/BP. This allowed me to seamlessly move companies without leaving location and I of course accepted the post without hesitation. Subsequently, I was given a brief to recruit personnel and form a dedicated Civil & Building department.
I had barely come down from walking on cloud nine, when it was announced that the leave schedules were to be revised again to encompass a 42/28 day work/leave cycle. This was the second time in two years that operational requirements had driven such a beneficial change. At that moment, I could not imagine that things just could get any better.
Dasites needed very little encouragement to organise an evening of celebration, many of which developed into much anticipated annual events. Probably the most memorable for most of us was the Burns Night dinners, served to laud the memory of the much loved Scots poet. It was scheduled for the nearest Thursday night to this traditional Scottish celebration on 25th January.
By far, the greatest contingent of senior staff were Scotsmen, who brought their vast professional expertise in oil and gas engineering from BP plants at Bowness, Grangemouth and Aberdeen, as well as the huge off-shore operations in the North Sea. It was little wonder that they were well organised and capable, in providing a stylish and much looked forward to a gentleman’s dinner and evening of witty entertainment on Burns Night.
Addressing the Haggis
No detail was considered too small to contribute to enhancing the evening, from tartan table linen to salmon especially imported from Scotland. Clan kilts, sporrans and dirks adorned all Scots diners and a Highland Piper escorted the formal entry of that “Great chieftain o’ the puddin’ race,” the haggis and naturally, the finest mellow Scotch was in abundance.
Burns poems like “Holy Willies Prayer” and “To a Mouse” were recited with great gusto and appreciation and such was the depth of talent on the island. We had brilliant baritone renditions of Burn’s songs, supported by the resident Das band, who happily were all Scotsmen.
In a gesture to Burns egalitarian spirit, the event was organised so each Scotsman could invite a Sassenach (Englishman or Low-lander). The highlight of the evening for me were the sometimes poignant, but always humorous and entertaining, after-dinner speeches delivered by designated eager Scotsmen. There was one speech however saved for a non-Scot, as a gesture to the “Auld Enemy”.
The phrase Auld Enemy was created out of the historical enmity between the established Scottish Church and the austere Calvinist Kirks. In the more enlightened atmosphere on Das, the Auld Enemy was a lighthearted reference to the English and I was granted the great honour of the last speech of the evening, as the response on behalf of the Auld Enemy.
To enable me to respond to my very knowledgeable Scots protagonists, I studied Scots history in pretty great depth to prepare my speech. The expectation was to counter and undermine Scots achievements and depreciate their hero’s in a humorous deconstruction of history and myths, with banter that was irreverent, but not overly insulting.
Relying on little, lesser known snippets of historical facts punctuated with subjective rearrangements of history from a strictly English perspective of course and gags about Scots alleged meanness, proved to be a formula that saw me through successfully for half an hour.
In the 12 years I spent on Das Island, I was honored to be invited to provide the response on behalf of the Auld Enemy on 8 of the Burn’s Night annual dinners and learned, among many other things that Scotsmen have a generosity of spirit that completely belies common belief.
One of the work duties I really enjoyed was the routine maintenance checks, which required me to walk the length of the LNG loading jetty, running a kilometer into the pristine waters of the Gulf. Being perched 4 or 5 metres above the clear water gave a great view of the sea life that proliferated below. The mass movement of shoals of exotic colourful fish I had not seen previously was a fascinating distraction on the otherwise boring walk to the moorings facility. The substantial jetty structure was also a roost for transiting birds and a nesting haven for the large flocks that fed off the plentiful fish. The single danger in this walk was in the breeding season of the Terns, when they became very aggressive and even attacked anyone approaching the area near their chicks. After a colleague was seriously hurt when pecked below his eye, we avoided similar incidents by swinging a belt, over our head to fend off the bird’s close attention.
Many airlines, when made aware of the change in the leave cycle, quickly calculated the potential benefits of 400+ men traveling 5 or 6 times a year, back and forth, mainly between Europe and Abu Dhabi. They competed by marketing flights and stop-over deals which promoted a plethora of discounted flight tickets, sometimes married with free hotel accommodation. This prompted me to diversify my routes and consider stop overs, especially when my wife could meet me by taking a short flight from Manchester.
On one of these airline promotions, I took advantage of a weekend in Paris, offered with a complimentary hotel, courtesy of Air France. The flight was relatively empty and stopped in Kuwait to take on a few more passengers. A short time after taking off from Kuwait, the flamboyant and very hirsute Greek singer Demis Roussos, beaming a toothy smile through his trademark beard, came through the curtains from the business class section and slowly walked down the aisle of the plane. Demis was then, very popular internationally and known not least for his ability to sing in many languages, including in Arabic, which had accrued him a huge following in the Middle East.
Being diminutive and rotund, his flowing colourful kaftan, worn with high boots and what would pass today as yoga pants, was typical of his theatrical presentation, derived it seemed, from a Hollywood perception of what passes as Middle East haut couture.
Demis strode slowly down the single aisle, pointedly looking at each seated passenger in the sparsely loaded plane, smiling and nodding in an attempt to extract a spark of recognition from fellow travellers. I was sitting over the wing area with three seats to myself and gave him a glance as he neared my seat row. Perhaps I have the sort of face that attracts strangers to speak to me, but I believe he took my flicker of curiosity as an invitation and immediately sat next to me, shook my hand, asked my name and ordered champagne for both of us, before regaling me with the details of his concert in Kuwait.
The concert apparently was requested by the ruling family of Kuwait and culminated with the audience following him back to his hotel, in the early hours of the morning, where he had to give a further impromptu performance in the lobby, before they would allow him to go to bed. He obviously was still having a huge rush of adrenaline, after such a good fan reaction and he continued to milk the experience as he gushed over the hospitality he had received and further invitations bestowed on him.
His champagne gesture, however, was appreciated and a good start to a very agreeable weekend in Paris.
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.