At the end of 1962 my tour of duty in Lebanon came to and end. On the three hundred and sixty fifth day I flew to London, enjoyed a few days leave and spent ten days in London Headquarters being briefed for my new assignment.
I was taking up a different type of post. For the next ten years I would be engaged in the personnel area of operations dealing primarily with the training and retraining of Arab personnel on the company payroll in Qatar.
I needed a car. I had no money in Qatar. It would take some time for my bank balance in Lebanon to be released and so I arranged for an overdraft on the second day I arrived and went along and bought an Austin A60 from my old ‘friends’, the Darwish brothers. The Gulf was alive with cars made in Britain. Although not brilliant they were sturdy and fairly well made even if the paintwork and finish was poor quality. During the three years I kept it the A60 gave me sterling service. It was a short sighted move on the part of Austin Motors firstly to merge so fully into British Leyland and then become mixed up in the argument of selling to Israel and thus, in the end losing the markets in the Arabian Gulf to Peugeot and the Japanese. Had a new company been formed with a distinctive and different name selling the same vehicles under another badge name then the outcome may have been very different. It is easy to be wise after so many years yet looking back. One cannot but despair of our rigid and plodding approach to industrial selling and our blind faith in the almost divine right of selling anything we made to our long standing customers of the colonial and connected markets and expecting them to buy willy-nilly. It took two decades for this truth to sink in and in that time we lost out disastrously.
In the early sixties Qatar was open desert, it is now mostly a large urban sprawl. One could drive over empty desert for miles and during those first three years not only did I retrace all the journeys I had made in the late forties and early fifties I explored most of the peninsular. The car was serviced regularly at the Doha garage and it never let me down except on one occasion and that was in unusual circumstances. During the rainy season, a matter of only several days each year when the sky would open and water fall in Niagara quantities; pockets of water sometimes forded lakes several feet deep that persisted for days before they drained away.
The day I arranged to take a friend to the airport some twenty odd miles away it rained heavily the night before. Half way to the airport the road disappeared into the centre of a lake. There was no knowing how deep it was, one could see the road reappearing on a small incline some two hundred yards distant. The sensible course to take was to engage a low gear, keep going, hope one kept the car on the oiled road surface, for we still did not have ‘proper’ roads at that time, and no matter what, keep the engine going to stop water reaching the exhaust pipe. This worked until we were two thirds of the way across and then disaster struck. The engine splurted to a stop.
Later I found that a tiny hole in the exhaust pipe let in much water. But all was not lost. My passenger, muttering through his teeth. He took off his best shoes and socks, rolled up his trousers and, taking his bags from the boot set off softly cursing his way through the sandy water. Meanwhile I was wrestling with the starter when I had an idea. I had the car in low gear and inched it from the flood on the strength of the battery. My passenger was delivered to the airport wet and grumpy but he did catch his plane.
When the children came out for their holidays I arranged for the Mother of a lady friend to come out from London and keep an eye on them. Of course she had the full use of the A 60 and although she found the steering very heavy she drove merrily all over the place. Indeed one day Ma drove over the large irregular stones that lined the roads in the ‘camp’ much as they did in the old Army camps. This didn’t do any good to the near front wheel in fact it sheared off the suspension. The metal used for the wheels left a great deal to be desired. Soon after I bought the car I realised something was amiss with one of the front wheels. I had it stripped of the tyre and tube and took it around to the mechanical workshop. One side of the brake drum housing was more than twice the thickness of the opposite side. They trued it up and from then on it gave no trouble. Well, that is until the day of the puncture. Going into Doha one Thursday morning the front wheel on the drivers side had a punctured inner tube. I was near to the Darwish garage and they soon put in a replacement tube. Meanwhile I was enjoying a coffee in the manager’s office. I asked the mechanic standing idly by the car if all was ready, to which he nodded and, as I was driving away in the car, his friend the other mechanic waved goodbye. I drove down the main street into the Suq and swung the car smartly round a newly sited roundabout that were mushrooming all over town. The car developed a little wobble.
As there was a scheme whereby I could lease my car to the company during working hours or at such time when I used it on duty and charge up the mileage I was able to run my car for little or no cost, actually making a slight profit in the third year.Good grief I thought, another puncture. I prepared to draw into the side when suddenly the car fell onto the brake drum and the left side front wheel rolled down the street scattering people and thankfully ended up against a high pavement. As I sat in the car transfixed, watching it roll away I imagined it smashing through the expensive shop window of the jeweller’s shop. The Darwish breakdown truck arrived in double quick time as though it had been shadowing me. The manager was most apologetic. It turned out that the mechanic had nipped away and I had asked my question “is it ready?” of his colleague who was standing there but had nothing to do with my repair job. The nuts had not been fully tightened they supplied a new wheel as the bolt holes in the wheel had become large ovals.
During the time I had the Austin I also bought a Gypsy Austin four-wheel drive. In this I was persuaded by one of my more enterprising students who missed no opportunity to improve his position. He was so persuasive I only once drove the Gypsy. The idea was that it could be used over rough desert and thus take the strain off the A 60. In fact the student used it for his own safaris and stripped the gear box and talked me into swapping it for an old Cadillac which was kept in Doha and used by me only twice as I found it too ostentatious.
“It was the Cadillac which caused me to be interested in American automobiles. These old American cars could be picked up quite cheaply. They were good fun and my budget was very little dented. H. Y. H. now a student of promise proved useful. He progressed in his studies sufficient for him to be considered for training as a clerk in the air-movements office. He had a cousin who was the leading second hand car dealer in town, from whom I learnt quite a lot. He also introduced me to many local merchants who I had only nodding acquaintance way back in the fifties. With him, I visited many palaces and houses that would never have been so freely open to me a foreigner working inside an oil company compound. The financial transaction for the Cadillac was confused. I was never sure if I owned it. I drove it for short period but it was too flashy for me and we decided to sell it.
It was part exchanged for a Karmen Ghia Volkswagen soft top that H. Y. H. used exclusively, considering it his own. There was a vague understanding that, at a time expressed in the future I would be reimbursed, which I realised would always be vague and lost in time.
The Austin A 60 was proving useful but battered with so much service across the desert roads and frequently on the dirt itself. The condition of the bodywork was quite presentable. Despite all the hard work it had been given to do it showed only small signs of wear. The chassis was in good condition but the car has lost its crispness. I had no difficulty in selling it and let it go for a good price for a three-year-old car. I had three years good motoring for nothing; in fact, I may have made a small profit, taking into account the mileage rent I received from the Company.
Despite my interest in American fun cars I had a great respect for the German Mercedes. They were fast becoming popular in the little oil state and already one member of staff had bought a 230 model Saloon. One of the sheikhs had a 230 he wanted to change for a newer model and the head German technician at the Mercedes garage put me on to it. The wheels were larger than usual and the tyres were fatter too. It had been used on the desert quite a bit but in no way did it look anything but new. I bought it. The Mercedes 230 had a different feel to an American car. The Americans were making cars with huge ornamental bodies. Ornamental in the sense they carried too much chromium strip on oversized bodies and the suspension was so bad they rocked and rolled like the pop stars to follow. The seating capacity was usual for four although some of the Arab families used to ride eight or ten in them at times. The Germans made a different kind of car.
The gauge of the metal used on the body was heavier; the car was better sprung, better designed, better in performance in every way. It was so far ahead of any American car available and I drove it with care and pride. There is no denying I drove that car with more care that any other car. It had plenty of power, there was no need to drive madly about town to impress. The more slowly one drove the more impressive it was. But the brakes didn’t seem strong enough for so heavy a car. After two weeks I took it into the garage and had new brake pads fitted all round. I felt more confident with sharp brakes and I began to enjoy the power of the engine and the feel of the car.
Arrived in Qatar in early December; went to Umm Said. Took up my appointment under the guise of “Divisional Training Superintendent”.
Purchased a new Austin A60 within ten days of being there with an overdraft from BBME.
Lodged in the Staff Mess(stone building) later to be made redundant. Made my office in the Supalite Building next to the Training Centre. Bruno Campos acted a clerk although I had to share him with Lebanese training co—ordinator. Larry Harrison who had arrived three weeks before me who was organising the training centre on sensible lines. Also took over Bruno, who also always kept me informed of the local intrigues of the ever sensitive staff consisting of Alan Monsey, Jack Sandy, Peter Watkins, Frank Horbury, John Wilson (trade Tester), Derik Dankworth DTS, (Techinical), John Gilespie DTS (Electrical), John Palfreman Senior Training Co—ordinator. The obvious overtsaffing had soon to be sorted out
Met Hassan Yacoub Hussain later known as Hassan Al Ansari. With him was his long time friend Ahmed Sherbat and through them Ahmed Malki who used to be a driver in Dukhan in my early days there in 1948 – he had, by 1963, become high in the police force.
Met H. H. Hamoud.
About this time moved along with with the rest of the inhabitents to the Supalite Mess and endured several changes of rooms and house boy servants. Ahmed the Shiite was one of my first more lasting servants at that time , then his cousin appeared whilst Ahmed went to work for a
Paid my first visit with Hassan to V. and G’s. They lived almost a stone throw from the old Company House in Doha and had a baby son Wael.
Elaine Croxford moved down to Bahrein from Lebanon as Secretary to GM ADPC. Moved my personal office to Main Building.
Met Morgan L. Miranda f rom Santa Cruz, Bombay.
Time for re—organisation. Three new areas: Doha as HQ, Duhkan – Oilfield, Umm Said – Terminal. The consequence of re-organisation and slimming exercises & reduction of staff meant redsigning titles. Mine now to be Training Supervisor ( Commercial).
Rented my first, tiny, off duty house in Doha – in “Mugluwainah” or “Gwalaina” depending how much “mug” one gives to the first part of the word. Hassan acted as rent collector for (he said) hiis old auntie who owned the tumbledown mud dwelling. It was at this little house that I would pass quiet moments in Doha away from the whirl of oil company social life and meet local people. Some, I supsect, met me for the odd drink they surreptiously supped. I was always discreet for I knew the consequences of allowing drink to reach Moslem lips if ’twere alcoholic. Only the favoured few I knew well managed to get a drink of whisky. Even so, one night the boot of my A6O was opened (without damage) and searched, obviously for whisky. The jack and odd tools were taken either to make it look like theft or from sheer Arab habit. Hassan suspected Sheik Mubarak who knew of the whisky and who had a great thirst it.
Hassan Yacoub persuaded me to buy him a second hand car, an A55 so that he could start a taxi. We also bought, jointly with my money, n Austin Gypsy with which I could negotiate more of the desert than I could tackle with the A 60. This was not a success as Hassan and Ahmed obviously used it for their own jaunts on to the beach and bitched up the gear box. It was sold and the proceeds used to Cadillac! That’s how it was done. The Cadillac was old one of course. Hassan ran it as his own. I don’t think I ever drove it, it was too old and ostentatious.
Moved to another and larger grander hovse Doha courtyard, again owned by one of Hassan’s relations, but the house was to become too much used by Hassan and his friends that I made a third moved, this time right next door to his sister’s house. If one has to be seen it is better to very obvious and inactive for some months to allay any ideas of suspicious activities.
Regular meeting with HHH every week, usually each Friday, although sometimes late of Thursday evenings, depending on his schedule. HHH began to get a liking for strong drink, even so he was careful to eat something quite strong on his departure either in the desert or, once or twice, from the little common mud house in Doha.
Elaine wrote to say her Mother would like to come out to the I wrote back and said I would like to have the children stay with me. We arranged that Edna would act as “housekeeper”, thus she could have a months holiday in Qatar and the would have a chaperone whilst I was busy in the day. Edna Croxford, who haså been staying with her daughter, Elaine in Bahrain, came across to Umm Said and stayed with me to act as a day guardian to Richard and Julia when they came out for the summer holidays. Elaine came across from Bahrain at the week ends.
I had engaged a Goanese cook and an extra houseboy; Stan Sutcliffe kindly lent me his house at the nomianl rental.
I bought a tiny 850 Fiat (or at least Hassan did with my money) from Mrs. John Bannister (Area Superinteden’ts wife ) to use as a little run about. But it was much too small and Hassan having used it to commute from Doha to Umm Said found it very tiring and he sold it off for a small sum.
About this time I also bought a super Thunderbird from Sheikh Ali’s second slave, Rashid Hammam. Rashid was murdered in 1965 by Sheikh Abdul Aziz son of the then “Ruler” Sheikh Ahmed and grandson of Sheikh Ali who had abdicated in favour or his son Ahmed (quite wrongly in the opinions of the rest of the tribe who thought Sheikh Kalifah his nephew should have succeeded). I kept the Thunderbird car in my rented villa ( an old dilipidated Arab house in M’Ghulama. Because it was so ostentatious it would have caused envy and rumour had I used it in Umm Said. As it was, I was not at ease using it in Doha because it had once belonged to the Sheikh himself.
I still used my Austin A60 for evryday use and I let Edna use it whilst she was looking after the children. She once drove it over the very large stones used as markers at the side of the oiled roads around the camp. It required new supsension on the off side wheel mounting.
A thoroughly good time was had by the children and by Edna and Elaine. We entertained quite a bit, particularly when Elaine came across from Bahrein.
Soon after the children and Edna had gone back to the UK I went to Egypt for a holiday taking Hassan with me. We met Mohammed Eid Abdul bin Turki and Abdullah Fakhroo. The holiday was very eventful. I met several Egyptian whores and their servants (I liked the servant girl of one of them better than the whore and went to bed with the servant girl (who was a damn sight cleaner and less used than the whore!). See cine film for the Cairo holiday – the trip on the river etc.
I made calls in Beruit as I came back from leave. The year before T had used a flat in Ras Beruit, with a Palestinian servant, whilst I was in Lebanon. I also met Robert Jackson, again (after Ain Zaleh) in the Chateau Briand in Rue du Cannon; this is where I met Liban and his friend. The friendly policeman and the lame janitor. All had tales to unfold. The janitor’s was the most informative of them all.
Back from calls in Beruit – time to show some effort at training. Started with Mohammed Sulaiti, a shy giggly, youngish old man of 23 / 28 and taught him maths on a daily two hours session basis. This to go on for a year. He was later to become head of the Computer Room.
Mohanmed Eid a failed (at his own request) cathodic protection technician actually made the grade towards being a cashier in the Accounts Dept. but was later to let down every one who helped him and to cause the early retirement of a young Englsih accountant by pinching 16,000 or more Qatari Riyals in a most elaborate way, but which shoud have been earlier detected had the accountant been more alert and less gullible.
On return from the Cairene holiday I moved into the Guest House taking over the senior staff room. Larry Harrison took over the MD’s flat in the Guest House which I was later to move into when Larry decided he would like it better in the senior staff rooms.
Mohammed Shabani, a Persian boy, 17 and very dapper – he used to carry and umbrella nd wear smart shirts and suits – became my house boy. He was a real toughie, he seemed an Al Capone and I’m sure he ran a racket of protection over the other house boys. He left for Kuwait when things seemed to get too much for him.