Sending for reinforcements

I believe it was in the Spring of '98, a weekend day, and I was working on my PC in the Bahrain penthouse when Stuart called from England. He was very unhappy with the scant rewards of life as a south coast inshore fisherman, he told me. I could tell he was serious. Now with partner Lorraine and their two little girls, even living in that idyllic Carefree Cottage right in the heart of the Dorset woodlands had lost its lustre. Anything you can suggest, dad? I said I'd talk to Dee and call him back. It so happened that Dee was visiting me at the time and was right then sunbathing by our rooftop swimming pool. For an hour I sat with her in the scorching sun - her that is, me under a great beach umbrella . We discussed all the possibilities as we saw them for our thirty five years old son. Clearly if he was going to make a change of career, better now than later, but qualifications? Stuart had suffered more than his fair share of hardship, growing into and through his early teens in the dark shadow of his mother's multipleschlerosis and then his older brother's mental illness. Little wonder he'd rebelled at school and followed Robert's example, running off to Cornwall and a life on the fishing boats. But Stu was a bright, honest, personable man, far more sensitive than his outwards persona might at times have suggested. His wild oats had been well and truly sown. By now he, like his father, had forgotten where he'd cast them!I was already well aware that Dee had had a very soft spot for him. rt ever since. I recall how, ten years back in Hayling Island, when sensing she was feeling down and knowing of her liking for toffee fudge he would quietly slip a few squares of the stuff into her apron pocket.

For some time I had felt myself much overstretched by the multiple pressures of my Bahrain based design and packaging consultancy and Sleeves-Arabia, by now well up and running and producing good volumes of high quality product. I was all over the place, often making five or six flights in a week and/or 'commuting' across the deserts to Riyadh. Although I had good back up in the office and out at the Sleeves Arabia factory and, through Robin and Saeed in the field, I had begun to think about divesting myself of some of the top load.

It is not easy taking decisions that represent a gamble with the lives and prosperity of those near and dear to you. Our Middle East businesses were after all anything but secure. Promising, yes. On an upwards curve, yes. Secure, certainly not!  A dynamic new business active quite suddenly employing ten people can never be that,.especially when situated in foreign fields. At the end of our talk Dee and I looked at each other for a few seconds, weighing up the risks. Then Dee nodded,  Let's do it she said. So I called Stu back. Would he think about coming out to take a look around? If we all gave it the thumbs up, (precisely what 'it' would be by way of a job we could firm up later), then Stuart could bring his family out to live in Bahrain. However, I explained, he and Lorraine would perforce need to get married. Middle Eastern countries had a habit of asking to see the wedding lines of incoming couples! No lines, no entry. I knew this would be a test of their commitment, for neither of them had much time for mere convention!

Stuart came out, liked what he found and I liked the way he conducted himself. Within the month came the wedding, two pretty little girls as bridesmaids, and not long after that I was greeting the whole family at Bahrain airport. Soon they were happily and safely ensconced in a leased villa within a compound with swimming pool, etcetera, and the girls were enrolled in a good Manama school for expatriates. They had a rented company car and friends of their own age outwith the business. Their new life was up and running.  How very adaptable are the young - and the young at heart. Of course Stu had the business executive's L plates up but he very quickly got used to the dreaded necktie and suit - and his daily commute across the Bahrain - Al-Khobar (Saudi) causeway with its double, and doubly infuriating customs posts. Most Saturdays (their Saturday equals our Sunday) I would meet with Stuart, Lorraine, Jadine and Sinead at our favourite breakfast cafe, taking the opportunity to catch up with all the family as opposed to business news. My friend Thomas Kelly was quick to befriend my family as well, which meant they would be invited to the parties and gatherings that are such a feature of expatriate life in Bahrain. If you keep out of any kind of trouble in the Middle East life there can indeed be very good.

The role of the sponsor in Saudi Arabia is a many splendoured thing. Anything and everything from the simple arms length signing off of visa applications to being an active supporter in the often difficult and convoluted world of Arab business. (I am not, in case you're wondering, referring here to corrupt practices. In fact I seldom came across any definite such - or other than by oblique reference to those ultra high level arms deals. In any case the latter are not regarded as corruption by high ranking arabs. More the entitlement of rank. Our British values and laws have absolutely no meaning or force. ) My own sponsor, Faisal, was of course responsible for the lawful correctness of all our activities in The Kingdom but as I have indicted herein he was, I truly and firmly believed, more friend than arms length sponsor. Certainly he had allowed me  to be privy to some of his more unusual social activities. But rule number two for expats in The Kingdom, after 'do not infringe religious Law' is, 'never put your trust in an Arab or believe he is your friend, western style'.

Thinking back, I should have read the coldwater signs even as early as then, in 1997/8. Perhaps it was unfortunate that the advent of my son on the scene coincided with the permanent disability of Faisal's son following his motor car accident and Faisal's incredibly expensive but unavailing medical efforts in Europe and America.  

However Stuart's participation in my business life and the whole family's presence in my personal life proved to be a major help as well as a great comfort. He had all the energy that once I had myself and that was now perhaps slow ebbing, an innovative and enquiring cast of business mind and the adaptablity / resourcefulness so essential to an expatriate. On the other hand he had a long way to go with information technology and had had my own weakness - impatience!



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