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All dreams must end

At boarding school in Abingdon my reports sometimes mentioned my weakness for dreaming rather than learning. And yes, I suppose I've always been a bit of a dreamer. More imagination than intelligence, you could fairly say. No apologies for that.  That's why I can paint things that are not there, why I can write stuff that is not true (it's called fiction and by the way this blog is not fiction), and why I can create a business that was not there before. Such a business was Sweetheart International in Gosport UK, such was Bibs-industry in Riyadh, then Al-Khobar, then Bahrain, and such, latterly, was the manufacturing company Sleeves Arabia in Al Khobar on the East coast of The Kingdom of Saudi Arabia.


As mentioned in at least one previous episode I set up 'Sleeves Arabia' to make stretch sleeve labelling from reel-stock that I I imported into the KSA from Dubai. The Middle East market for stretch-sleeves didn't exist until I introduced the concept - and the PDC machinery - to Almarai Dairy of Riyadh in the early 90's. Back then I had gone to extraordinary lengths to find a sound supplier of rthe printed reel-stock. Without that I would never have attempted to persuade my friend Bob Barratt of EPS in Leicester, (makers of stretch-sleeving)  to join me in the Saudi joint venture. (At this point I have to confess to having completely forgotten the name of my nemesis - that is, the UAE company I had contracted to supply my Sleeves Arabia. Probably a case of not wanting to confront one's personal demons.) Be that as it may, the main reason for my decision was the general manager of that UAE company, a British expatriate named Darren. In due course Darren got things going nicely for us with good material coming in on time and my guys able to convert same into stretch-sleeving, no problems for my customers which equalled no problems but good money for me. Plan A looking great. Then I made my mistake. I hired Darren to represent Bibs-industry in the Emirates. Suddenly I had no technical / ethical link into my one essential supplier, the Arab owner of which clearly had no love for me (or my sponsor Faisal) and was obviously asking himself why he should not do the whole job himself, thus taking all the profit rather than half of it. Did he really need Bryan Islip's Sleeves-Arabia?

But instead of going ahead with investing in appropriate machinery and developing his own sales relations with my customer friends, the end users, the owner elected, Arab style, to put me out of business! How? Simply by supplying me with large quantities of perfectly useless sleeving reel-stock. Material that would not possibly be stretchable therefore operable on my bottling customers' PDC machines. Pandemonium. In vain I protested that I would no more pay for material not up to specification than I would pay for petrol that not only left my car kangaroo hopping down the road but would quickly burn out its bloody motor altogether! Stuart and Darren and I attended the crunch meeting in Dubai with the supplier's owner and his acolytes. Absolutely no sign of any understanding or sweetness, much less any light! In vain I produced from a world respected UK University laboratory a technical analysis of the Dubai company's defective material. The Arab owner glanced at the report for all of five seconds then tossed it aside, indicating that anyone could bribe a scientist to write anything one wanted! Having paid a lot of money for this report and with my whole  position teetering on the edge, at that point I saw many colours including a most brilliant shade of red! All in vain, naturally.

Soon after this my Saudi sponsor, call him Faisal, asked to see me. Stuart and I sat in his office. He indicated that 'the powers that be' locally had woken up to the fact that a manufacturing business in The Kingdom was not owned by a Saudi national. Surprise, surprise! The solution? He, my 'friend' Faisal, would become the owner of Sleeves-Arabia with myself as managing director and Stuart as something else. By this time I calculated  I had four hundred thousand pounds in the business. I think you could say my response was not entirely positive.  'Come, let us take a walk around the block, Bryan,' he said. And so we did, during which I noticed (a) Faisal had nothing to say and (b) Faisal was sweating profusely. When we returned to the office it was to find Stuart sitting there in stony silence with Faisal's equally silent wheelchair-bound teenager son and a rather scruffy uniformed policeman standing by. Alarm bells clanging all around!

The uncomfortable impasse continued, for some reason unfathomable in the local police station in front of a quite sympathetic senior police official. I have never been more relieved to get out of anywhere and cross over the Causeway border posts into Bahrain. I'm quite sure Stuart ditto. We had been well and truly stitched up. I was still well kippered! It would be thus for me in The Kingdom of Saudi Arabia as far ahead as mind and eye could see. I had two options at that point; either take the dispute into a Saudi  Court or retreat as gracefully as possible to lick my wounds in good old Blighty. That was on Thursday 8th September 2001. My natural instinct was to fight the bastards but on Tuesday 12th September the phone rang in my Bahrain penthouse. It was Dee, speaking from our home in Headbourne Wortyhy, Winchester: Quick, switch on your TV, she urged, America's under attack. I said something akin to What the hell?(as if I hadn't had enough bloody excitement!. I rushed down, crossed over the road to the Irish Harp Bar. That place had a giant screen in front of which the usual expat beer drinkers now sat or stood in shocked silence whilst young Arabs, apparently Saudi, whooped and hollered and blew kisses whilst the twin towers of New York spewed forth smoke and bodies in equal amounts. Then came that awful collapsing.

My collapsed world would never be the same again.

On Saturday 16th September 2001 I landed at a near deserted Heathrow, for the whole world seemed to think Armageddon was at hand. Anyway Dee and the dogs were waiting, the Jeep fully loaded for our long planned fortnight's holiday in a Braeside, Gairloch rental. Before we had passed Manchester I had related our own sorry tale to my wife who was doing all the driving. By then I had made up my mind. I turned to her, told her that I would never return to the Middle East. I had no idea what we could do for a living but that was it. Stuart would stay on out there for so long as it took to clear up.

Dee said, That's good darling. Don't worry, we'll be all right. What a hell of a woman! I could have cried.but didn't. Instead I slept all the way to a Scotland so Bonny it seemed to me that day more like Valhalla.



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First of the many - Me and Billy McGhee (alias Dee Islip)

First of the many - Me and Billy McGhee (alias Dee Islip)
Photograph courtesy of Colin Robertson

How it all started...

Our packaging business was based in Bahrain and Saudi Arabia. On the 11th of September 2001, in a hotel bar, I watched the fall of the twin towers.

Three days later I met my wife, Dee, at Heathrow. We made out way north to a long planned holiday in the north west Highlands of Scotland.

By the end of that holiday our decisions were all made; we would close up our Middle East operations. I would come home to Winchester and in due course we would move up to Wester-Ross.

All my life I had played around with painting pictures and with writing verse and fiction. Now I would do this for our living, and in a place where you only had to lift your eyes to lift your mind.

In September 2002 we moved north; we had come home.

What you see here and at Pictures and Poems is some of the result thus far.

'Come on along o' me, for the best is yet to be.'

Bryan

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