It was 1999 when I got the call… “We wonder if you’d like to work in Saudi Arabia?”.
I asked “who is we?” and the answer was then one of the biggest Telecommunication companies in the world – Marconi under the name GPT Special Project Management (as Marconi wasn’t supposed to be doing military contracts anymore)
The rest is history, but in early 2000 my feet landed on the sun-scorched ground, a place so hot that it makes a mockery of what the Guinness Book of Records claims is the hottest place on earth…
Saudi is unlike any other country in the world. You respect it, or it’ll spit you out in a heartbeat. Even the way people think is different, completely differently to how we think in the western world – and you have to learn this very quickly indeed.
We were based in Riyadh and our office then was a big old house we called the RMO. And staff would come and go frequently – not a surprise when the head of HR’s opening line is “Welcome to Saudi! You WILL go to jail here, get over it – it WILL happen!!”
Some of us were more receptive to the way of life and learning about a nations history and culture. In fact you soon become aware that it is melting pot of culture and extraordinary coincidences. A guy who lived a few villas away went to my very first school, more amazingly he was in the class next to mine when we were no more than six years old. Another time I walked into the next office to mine to walk straight into the father of a mate from Sheffield! (Danny Curran) It was like “errrr…. what are you doing here?”
I met three great people there, people who I know to this day and I regard very highly 1. Abdullah Al Romaizan 2. Ginge (the one and only IT Wizard) and 3. Phil Green. Now apart from Abdullah who is a Saudi national and from one of the most influential families in Saudi (after the Saud family) we lived on a compound, a walled town where inside it was very much western living and also very much like some of the best holiday resorts – Ranco Village… It’s not the best compound in Saudi – but a good one, good enough for us and we called it “home”.
Phil and I worked in the same office as Installation Design Engineers and a major part of our job was site surveys. As our contract was to the Saudi Arabian National Guard, we spent a lot of time in and around and often under military barracks, but the head of the “SANG” was the then crowned prince (now King) Abdullah and as part of the communication system, we had to install direct landline secure communication to any possible location he could be… This meant EVERY royal palace in Riyadh – and while that sounds great and a bit posh, there are over 120 of them…
Phil knew telecommunications very well, he knew far more than most of us, but at the same time, when he didn’t know something, he knew who to ask. Even me when he was building a 8ft concrete retaining wall – he re-engineered what I told him, but it was a strong and interesting job when he had completed it
In our down time we kicked it hard, Phil was into old school rock n roll and the mention of Elvis would have his full attention in a heartbeat, in fact I was doing a simple 12-bar turnaround on the guitar one drunken evening and he came bounding over “which Elvis song was that?” he asked. “All of them” I laughingly replied, “along with every blues tune you’ve ever heard and you could even throw most of Status Quo’s repertoire in there for good measure”.
An irony of sorts; earlier this year I was kicking around Memphis (as yer do) and had a fantastic meal in B.B.King’s restaurant with @Gabsatrucker when we decided to do a drive by of Elvis’s home at Graceland for no other reason than to send a pic to Phil as this is his mecca and Danny Curran who hates the place.
Weekend partying was often hard, for Phil it was his way of numbing how much he missed his family, wife Mel and the kids. For Ginge, a way of life ;-) But it was either on a compound, in the middle of the desert or Bahrain – for which Phil bought this old wreck of a car with the biggest wing mirror in the world welded to the door so that we could drive over to Bahrain.
Life from those days has moved on, Ginge lives in South Africa now, I’m between the UK and USA and Phil worked as a Project Manager in the UK for various companies before recently settling in at BP.
It is funny, Phil and I never really socialized that much over the years, but we kept in touch, we chatted via FB and email just a couple of weeks ago. But more often than not, to me he was often a voice in the darkness, at a time when things were the worst – he’d simply say “hi”… And that I’ll never forget.
On Monday Phil passed away suddenly and without warning, last night his wife emailed me the news.
A man, a father, husband, engineer and a fun lovin rogue, but above all to all that knew him – a mate
Someone I was lucky enough to meet and I’ll never forget