From Birkenhead to Bandar Siri Bagawan and Bishkek
(The Ramblings of a Wanderlust Builder)
Chapter 13: Getting Wet Inside and Outside.
Chapter 11; Kilts and Kaftans
I think it is reasonable to assume that most people who have little experience of the area will visualise the Middle East as a place of hot, arid deserts with endless sweltering heat and where petrol is cheaper than water. The petrol/water cost comparison may have had some basis in truth some years ago, but I experienced the wettest winters imaginable in the Gulf, driven by wild cyclones surging in from the Indian Ocean, that belies popular perceptions.
In one period in the early 1980’s while on Das Island, my desk diary recorded that it rained on 10th October and then unbelievably, continued raining to a greater or lesser degree, on every day until the 4th of April the following year. With no surface drainage, except in a limited part of the LNG Gas Plant, everyone was fully stretched when we were confronted with heavy deluges. Most of my other duties were given only cursory attention as my team was employed on making good buildings, not designed to cope with monsoon rain or pumping out flooded areas.
The greatest problem however was because a large part of the gas plant was constructed on reclaimed land formed by extending the island with tons of huge rocks, in filled and overlaid with smaller solid material and compressed to support the massive foundations required for the vast array of plant and machinery. The now fierce rain fall however, was able to permeate between the irregularly rock substrate and wash out the lighter infill material, which resulted in creating a labyrinth of voids and underground cavities.
This was potentially a quite dangerous situation, as it gave scope for foundations to vessels and pipes, carrying volatile liquid gas, to shift. We formulated a report system which allowed all operators, engineers, safety personnel or anyone in the work area, to log observed rain water draining from paved zones at an unusual rate, or cavities appearing near concrete foundations or supports. We also fixed movement detectors on critical equipment and monitored them daily, while keeping records of every detected deflection.
By mapping all the problem areas, we could categorise and prioritise how and when they could be attended and rectified. This was usually achieved by pumping concrete into cavities, to plug them and stablise the ground. The initial concrete was a thin viscose slurry that would find its way through the smallest cavities, which was then followed by a firmer, but pliable mix and finally a good standard concrete mix plugged the top end of the void. We recorded the amount of concrete we used, so we could ascertain the extent of that particular void and plan how we intended to do a more permanent rectification later. With a frighteningly large amount of concrete injected in some voids, they could have been mistaken for underground caverns.
A winter storm in the Gulf
A few feathers were ruffled when the oil company’s new Senior Procurement Manager made his initial familiarisation visit to Das Island. He enquired as to how the bars were stocked when he could not recall seeing any orders or other documentation related to the import of beer, wine and spirits, when it was very obvious, a substantial amount was being consumed annually, not only in the company club facilities but also at the various satellite bars in the sports clubs.
He almost had an apoplectic fit when informed it was imported directly from the suppliers in Europe and unloaded directly from ships holds to the island stores. Abu Dhabi is of course a Muslim country and although tolerant of non-Muslims drinking, alcohol was restricted to licensed and regulated outlets and controlled via strict customs procedures. The poor guy, who was a non-drinker, had not been briefed on the fact that, for the sake of expediency, the purchasing procedure, standardised by BP, many years before the country was independent, was still in place. He very probably had visions of the being clapped in irons and being held responsible for failure to pay customs duty for 10 years or more.
Of course the Das procedure was known to the relevant government departments and the appropriate dues paid directly to them, simply because the oil company, of which the government was a partner, could not be perceived to be an alcohol trader. The guy must have had a few sleepless nights before he was made fully aware of the arrangement, but he then still insisted on controlling the imports via his office.
The logistic changes he made to take control over the import of beer brought the inevitable price rises caused by the extra administrative costs. A can of beer which had been maintained at a stable 30p (AED1.5)) for many years rose to 35p (AED 1.75) This was not of any real concern to anybody, as we were all well paid, but it did in due course cause a positive knock-on effect.
The mainly unused tiny 25pils coin, given as change from AED 2 offered for a beer, was often just left on the bar, but this habit eventually led to change not even being offered by the staff. This became contentious and a matter of concern to some, who deemed it too presumptuous.
My limited edition Delph porcelain tankard commissioned by Heineken for 400 club members
To resolve this, the spare small change was deposited in large whisky bottles strategically placed in the bars, which was followed up with a letter to the wife of the GM, requesting she nominate an appropriate kids charity in Abu Dhabi, to which the money could be allocated.
The response surprised us and forced a rethink of how we implement our good intentions. We were bluntly advised that there were no recognition of children’s charities in Abu Dhabi and a government license and oversight was required to collect money for distribution to any organisation. Later we understood financial transactions, masked as charity funds, went to support factions in the ongoing Iran/Iraq war in the Gulf and this had precipitated the decision.
Not wanting to digress too much from the concept of supporting children, with our now quite substantial and quickly growing funds, we launched a scheme to cater for children’s needs in our own member’s local communities in UK.
Simply put, members put forward their outline plan to the club for approval and then used their own money to buy whatever was required for their chosen sponsorship project. Cost would be reimbursed immediately upon return against receipts, to the maximum value of one thousand pounds. The only major proviso was that cash was not to be handed over and the member should personally buy all the required material or equipment and provide them directly to the children’s organisation. This was essentially because working with already established organisations, often meant a large percentage of money was absorbed in administration costs and so diminished the available usable funds for the children’s needs.
Funds were such that one or two approvals were made monthly and a list of eager sponsors soon formed. In due course I moved up the queue and was able to sponsor a school for Special Needs Children, not too far from where I lived. A teacher in my home village, made me aware, that the little kids there suffered from a range of incurable disabilities, but responded massively to music more than anything else. Unfortunately, they only had one battered old radio/tape player for use by several classes and absolutely no budget.
After a meeting with the staff and armed with ample funds, I accompany one of the teachers on a shopping spree to select and negotiate for a range of the latest available players and a heap of music cassettes (these were the latest technology in that era) to ensure each class had their own equipment. There was plenty left over to purchase teaching aids and toys for these lovely children and it was such a delight to see their reaction when the music was booming out.
A couple of years later I had another opportunity to use the fund and was able to get books and other aids for the kindergarten class in the village school my own children had attended. Among their requirements was a TV, video player and first level books and films for the winter months when it was too cold to play outside. I finished my leave with a great day, perched on a tiny chair watching Disney’s Snow White, with 20 or so happily mesmerised pre-school tots.
Regardless of the drama emanating from the exceptional winter storms and the daily trials and tribulations at work and beyond, we maintained the annual Das Island Summer Show with in-house talent and I also got the opportunity to do some warm-ups for the professional stars we had the pleasure of seeing that year. These included the hilarious star comedian Mick Miller and the fabulous TV and recording artist, Georgie Fame and his Blue Flame band.
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.