During the summer of 2001 my agency sent me on a pipe lay job in Iran. The job was touchdown monitoring for a barge being operated by and Indian company whose name I cannot recall, but the ROV-with which I would be working – was operated by CCC in Dubai.
To get to the hotel in question, which was not in the most salubrious part of Dubai, I had to endure a day in the blazing heat of the CCC yard.
Despite its less than salubrious locale, it was a good hotel. Actually Dubai wasn’t a terribly salubrious destination in those days.
There were a lot of empty skyscrapers, some with gigantic ‘For Let’ notices, strung down their sides, covered in dust and fluttering forlornly, in the desert heat.
Not the image that the future worship of vulgar, and ostentatious wealth, cared to foster I am sure.
It seemed to me, that someone had decided to build a lot of, office blocks out of steel and glass.
They marched out defiantly into the desert surrounding the city state, confident that tenants would be found.
‘Build them and they will come’.
I had been in Dubai, a few years earlier, when the pretensions of the future were not all that obvious. There were souqs then, and it was an incredible experience to take a walk through these marketplaces, where literally, the wares of the orient were on display.
I arrived from Paris in the middle of the night, the agent failed to show so it was necessary for me to make several , very expensive phone calls, from my wonderfully modern (at the time) Nokia mobile phone, to my agent in England, who eventually managed to rouse someone to come and collect me.
Even so, I was left waiting, three hours in the arrivals of Dubai airport, a place that you do not want to be, if you are not in the market, for grossly overpriced jewellery, handbags, watches, fountain pens, belts and myriad other expensive gee-gaws.
Even a bottle of water cost me five dollars because the shop assistant didn’t have any change.
After waiting all that time, my agent, a Filipino man, one of the millions I am sure who do the majority of the work in Arab countries, informed me that I would have to wait in his car, so that he could collect more people arriving from London in an hour.
I got the impression that I had been sacrificed so that the agent could have a reasonable night’s sleep. I can’t say that I blamed him.
He very kindly got me some regularly priced water, and I made myself as comfortable as possible in his pickup truck, while he sat in the driver’s seat smoking until shortly after the London flight arrived, and then he disappeared into the terminal.
Lack of sleep overcame me once he had left, and I fell into a deep slumber which was rudely interrupted after what seemed to me, a few minutes, by three noisy Brits throwing their bags in the back and scrambling over me.
But it was no longer night-time, an orange ball hung in the still grey sky, I had been asleep for over an hour.
Dawn and dusk at these latitudes do not last long like at home. As the earth turns, the sun seems to pop up from behind the horizon without much of a palaver. There was a silvery patina to the light, but it was light, and I could see the other cars in the car park clearly.
After some water I felt like a cigarette, but all of a sudden agent man was in a desperate hurry to get to where ever it was that he was bringing us.
He waited, a little impatiently while I smoked.
We drove through Dubai in the rapidly brightening morning light. Those somewhat forlorn looking skyscrapers mentioned earlier, flanked us, row after row, as we drove to our destination.
By the time we got to the office and yard, of CCC Underwater Contractors, the sun’s intensity had increased, it was no longer orange but yellow, and it was rapidly racing up the heat scale towards fearsome by noon.
We were dropped with our bags in the waiting room, where at last and at least, I could get a cup of coffee, from a vending machine, but it had a vague coffee taste. We were ordered by our driver to wait there until our boss arrived. It appeared that we weren’t going to the hotel as I had hoped.
After an hour or so, this boss person arrived and told us that we would have to work on their stock of ROV’s for the day. I was very disappointed and very tired, but I was on pay, so I had no choice.
By listening to my three colleagues while we waited, I had determined that none of them had any underwater experience whatsoever. They had just recently attended an ROV course in Plymouth, and this was to be their first job.
Not so long ago that had been me, and Tom Brown had taken me under his wing in Mexico and taught me a lot. Maybe I could help these guys the way Tom helped me.
I was the only one who had coveralls and boots, suitably worn looking, even though laundered before I came away. So I recovered them from my bag and got ready for work. The other three were taken away to get the necessary PPE.
An old man with a cane and a limp came in, and gruffly told me to follow, which I did after getting a last cup of coffee from the machine. He wasn’t travelling very fast so I had time to light a cigarette also in air-conditioned luxury, while easily able to keep my guide in sight.
When I stepped outside the heat hit me, it was just after 9 AM and the temperature was probably around 30°. I walked slowly after the old man carrying my coffee, smoking my cigarette and beginning to sweat.
He brought me to a corrugated iron roofed open sided shed, where surrounded by workbenches and tools, there were two Seaeye Surveyor machines up on sleepers, neither of which were anywhere near ready for work. There was a water cooler and a coffee machine the same as the one in reception.
The old guy gestured to one of the ROV’s with his cane, and said “you can tinker with that”, and that’s exactly what I did, l tinkered away until my three trainees showed up about forty-five minutes later. They were now fully kitted out In red heavy CCC, stiff as boards, new coveralls, hard-hats, glasses, riggers gloves and shiny new boots, the extortionate cost of which would be taken from their pay, as they later found out.
I watched as they crossed the 20 m or so of open ground, that disbelieving look on their faces under the full ferocity of the sun.
Even Spanish holidaymakers, who have baked themselves in the Mediterranean, have no idea how much the summer Middle Eastern sun weighs, for it is like a weight upon your head. Non-local people have a tendency to bend under it.
By midday the heat inside the shed was easily in the high 30s, I encouraged the lads to drink lots of water, and I instituted many coffee breaks when we could sit on the ground and smoke cigarettes.
The old guy hid away in a small air-conditioned office, at the back of the building. He was obviously intelligent, and not likely to come out of his cool little hidey-hole for the likes of us.
The two Seaeye Surveyors were little more than frames, with thrusters and buoyancy blocks,
but even so It was obvious that those kids had never seen an ROV, as sophisticated as those machines. I enquired as to the type of ROV they had on their course, and they told me that they didn’t have one, and that the course content was primarily diving and only theoretical ROV.
Without the tether, the electronics pod. the cameras and sonar, I couldn’t really give them a crash course in ROV’s, but I did my best, explaining the bits that were missing, and showing them the maintenance procedure for DC electric thrusters.
Those couple of hours instruction in the searing heat, was probably more informative for those guys than their entire course in Plymouth. I should have charged them
6 000.00 pounds sterling each.
We tinkered and took regular breaks until 1230 when a young Filipino boy, came and told us to break for lunch, which we could take in the CCC canteen across the road.
It was only a hundred and fifty meters or so, but without shade and after four hours in that heat, it would seem like a kilometre.
When we stepped out from under the workshop roof, the weight of that Arab sun came upon us.
My coveralls were already soaked with sweat, but I was faring better than my three companions, who looked completely beaten down, red faced and soaked to the skin.
The canteen was, at least air-conditioned; the food ordinary, Indian curries for the plentitude of Indians partaking of their lunchtime meal, and various types of pasta, fruit for dessert, instant coffee and cold water.
A large plate of pasta, steak, one of those apples, water and coffee constituted my repast, and that of my three colleagues, who were by now copying everything that I did.
We ate and made small talk about where we were from, how long we’d worked at this, how hot it was and then covered that hundred and fifty sun blasted metres, back to the shed as quickly as possible.
Judging by the number of Indian mechanics at lunch, there must have been a lot of smaller workshops on this site. I was not about to go for a walk to find out exactly how many, but at some time during the morning ,a boat had appeared across the compound, so it was a pretty fair bet that that was the Persian Gulf right there.
We fiddled around, drank coffee and smoked cigarettes for the afternoon until at 6 o’clock, our driver from this morning reappeared, to take us to the hotel for the night.
Even though I hadn’t been killing myself; simply as a result of exposure to the heat under that corrugated iron roof, and my sleepless night, I was utterly exhausted and I could not wait to get there, to shower, to eat and to sleep.
The Al Khalej Hotel was not exactly the Burq al Arab, which was only an architect’s dream at that time, but it was fine, modern, familiar.
My room was on the eleventh floor, with a view over the dusty desert of Dubai.
I took out clothes to wear to dinner, but my shirt had become so creased in my kitbag type bag, as to be unwearable in polite society.
There was no iron and I never thought to ask reception to send one up, but what I did do was hang it up in the bathroom, and run the shower on full heat to generate steam, so that the wrinkles would fall out.
I then went in to the bedroom, sat down, put my feet up on the bed and fell into a deep, deep sleep.
Two hours later I was awoken with a start to a loud pounding on my door.
I put my feet down into a couple of inches of tepid water. With horror, I realised immediately what had happened. The shower head had turned, firing its jet of water, into the bathroom rather than the bath. The drain plug in the bathroom floor, which should have been open, was closed, so it flowed out under the bathroom door, into my room and then out under my door into the corridor.
The pounding person, was the maintenance manager, who had been alerted by a passing guest about the flood.
His immediate concern was the lift shaft, and the real possibility that my shower would cause a waterfall down on top of all the electrics contained there.
In my recollection, I seem to have been doing two or three things simultaneously.
Waking up in a blind panic, paddling rapidly towards the door, leaping into the bathroom to turn the shower off, and holding my head in disbelief at the stupidity of what I’d done.
The maintenance manager, who was Indian or Pakistani as I recall, was very cool and took my pleading apologies with equanimity.
He had two of his men with him, fully tooled up to deal with flooded rooms. They had two very large vacuum cleaners purpose-built to hoover up water, and they got to work quickly, sucking the room dry in a very short space of time.
I tried to help, but-and forgive the pun -I was out of my depth-. The maintenance manager ushered me and my bags out of the flooded room, and into a new completely dry one, a couple of doors down the corridor.
The crew drying out my old room were professional and efficient, expertly marshalled by their boss.
I was standing in the doorway of my new accommodation, worriedly watching the action down the hall, when a very nice Filipino lady from reception came up, to find out what happened.
She listened patiently to my explanation and my gushing apologies, looking up at me with a kindly smile on her pretty face. Then she telephoned somebody on her portable phone, spoke Arabic for a moment, and then reassured me that the hotel viewed the incident as an unfortunate accident, and that I would be given this new room, and that there would be no repercussions for me or my company.
My knees almost gave way.
She did say that if I had been drunk, then the police would have been involved and I probably would have ended up in the pokey.
Oh the relief that washed over me (another awful pun) given our desperately precarious financial situation, time in jail plus having to pay damages, would have been an un-mitigated catastrophe for us as a family.
I was just hugely relieved that the hotel were being so kind and understanding, and I think that from their point of view, they were relieved to have found me alive, and not drowned in the bath.
And as for my shirt: the hotel sent up an Iron.