My first experience of working overseas started with a simple phone call. When I answered the phone, I never knew it would result in an incredible new life for me. It was from my old company, enquiring if I would be interested in a job in Iran. If so, my position would be a joint superintendent, along with my best friend, Ozzer.
The contact involved the interior fit-out to the Royal Hyatt Hotel in Tehran. Up until this time, I had not given a thought about working overseas. However, by accepting this assignment, it would be both an exciting and significant step up in my career. It would also enhance my CV.
On talking it over wife my wife Jen, she too thought it a good idea. Especially after explaining that it would mean my being able to spend more time with her and the children. Although this might sound strange, at the time I worked all around England. As such, I only received a weekend off every three weeks. By accepting the Iran contract, I would receive ten days leave every three months. It being far better than I was presently getting.
Although nervous about my working abroad, Jen could see the benefits. As for me, I thought it an excellent opportunity. The extra money would not only benefit my family but would enable me to buy the car of my dreams, A 1969-1972 Ford Mustang, six-cylinder convertible.
At the time, I was employed as a supervisor with a London shopfitting company and drove round in a brand new company car. However, due to my company not paying me the full salary promised, I had little money in my pocket. When I talked to my boss about the amazing job offer, he said he would bring this up at a forthcoming management meeting. My doubts this would achieve anything were proven correct. Instead of an increase in my salary, Peter, my fellow supervisor, was made up to be my boss. A further surprise occurred a short time later when, without reason, Peter sacked me.
After taking my case to the Industrial Tribunal for unfair dismissal, I won my case. As a result, the company had to pay me compensation.
In the meantime, I phoned my old company and agreed to go to Iran. Unfortunately, due to them not accepting the salary I requested, instead of going as a joint superintendent, I took an area foreman position.
In 1978, at the start of my contract, the Shah of Iran sat on the Peacock Throne. Although all seemed to be quiet and peaceful in Iran, later events would prove this scene not as it appeared.
As I left the house to start my journey out to Iran, a wave of sadness swept over me. I would not see my wife and children for three long months. Compared to my regular three weeks away, it would seem like a lifetime. However, as it would result in my family, and I enjoy a better life on my return, it made me feel a little better.
My trip out to Tehran started when I met up with around fourteen shopfitters in a hotel near Heathrow Airport. We had been booked in here for the night and would fly out the next morning.
During dinner in the hotel restaurant, things became somewhat out of hand. It happened after I, the senior person present, said the lads could have a drink with their meal. Although the company said they could, I should have known better. One bottle of wine led to another, to another and another. I later heard our drinks bill was somewhat excessive.
The next morning, with great apprehension, we boarded the plane on our way to Iran. Whatever adventures lay ahead would be a new experience for all of us. However, never in my wildest dreams could I have predicted the severity of the danger that awaited us.
The flight was long and tiring, as we had to change planes at Amman, the capital city of Jordan.
When we came to land at Tehran airport, the darkness of the night was lit up by thousands of streetlights. These Chris crossed the city and seemed to go on forever. To my surprise, as the plane swooped lower, I could see masses of houses and shops. I had mistakenly thought Tehran would be rather small, with only a few large government buildings.
On our arrival, as we walked out into the busy arrival hall, we found some of our fellow workers waiting to meet us. Ongoing outside, I found it was freezing, so glad I wore a thick parka.
Once all were aboard a waiting mini-bus, the driver set off. We first stopped at the Rainbow Hotel, where our shopfitters would be staying. A short distance on, we came to the Marmara Hotel. It was where I would be staying along with the other area foremen.
Once checked in, along with Ray, another foreman I would be sharing with, we went to our room. Within minutes I was fast asleep.
The next morning, excitement and anticipation ran through me. It would be the start of a new chapter in my working life.
To my surprise, I found an English breakfast was available. Once finished, along with the other foremen, we boarded a waiting coach. After collecting the lads from the Rainbow Hotel, we set off. The road up towards the mountains where the Hyatt hotel was located being wide and well surfaced.
Around thirty minutes later, the hotel appeared in sight. At twenty-six stories’ high, it stood out like a lonely sentinel on the rocky hillside. After turning off the highway and down a short driveway, we stopped. This would be my workplace for the foreseeable future.
While unloading our toolboxes from the coach, Ozzer came out and introduced himself to those he had not met before.
After shaking my hand, he said, “Welcome to Iran, Col. I hope you brought warm clothing, as you’re going to need it.”
I grinned. “Yes, I did. Jim said I would need them,” I replied.
Ozzer then took us on a tour of the hotel, which included a walk up to the roof level. By the time we reached it, we were all gasping for breath. With Tehran at 7000ft above sea level, and the hotel considerably higher, the lack of oxygen made it hard to breathe. As I looked back down the hillside, far below, I could just make out the faint outlines of the city.
I am sure that like me, all were shocked when Jeff, one of our labourers, climbed up onto the parapet. With hands in his pockets, he then proceeded to walk around the top of the building. As we were twenty-six stories up, this was sheer madness. Ozzer shouted at him to get down, which he did, as calmly as though climbing off a chair.
Ozzer pointed out that behind the hotel, was the Evin prison. It took up the whole hillside and was mostly underground. All one could see were a few observation posts set in a high-security fence. A bit nearer we could see what looked like a parade ground. The Evin prison later became known in the international news, as the largest political prison in Iran.
None of us men had worked overseas before, or with Laboure’s from other countries. Therefore, Iran promised to be a strange, exciting and challenging experience.
Although bitterly cold, with quite a bit of snow up at the site, thanks to Jim’s advice, I had brought long johns and thermal vests. Although I didn’t require the long johns, the thermal vests proved ideal.
During a walk around the site, I was shocked to learn the Iranian labourers slept outside in the open. They were, in fact, living in cardboard boxes that once contained the guest room wardrobes. It was not until sometime later that tents were provided for them.
We men soon settled into a routine with work going well. At times too well, for then we would run out of materials. When this happened, we then had to wait for our containers to arrive with more supplies. These came on huge Mack trucks, which struggled to climb the long hill up from the city. On their arrival, we greeted them like a bunch of excited kids waiting to receive a present. To unload the crates from the containers, we used a large forklift truck. While unloading one of them, one of our Iranian labourers uttered a piercing scream. The forklift had driven onto his foot. His cry alerted the driver, who immediately stopped the machine. Unfortunately, the man’s foot was trapped underneath one of the huge tires. With him moaning in pain, the wheel was jacked up, and still-in-shock, the man was driven to the hospital.
As it was an accident, I couldn’t understand why the Iranian forklift driver seemed so panic-stricken. The labourer foreman then explained. “Under the local law; the driver is liable to support the injured man’s family until the man was able to work again.” Given this, both the forklift driver and victim were fortunate. The man’s foot was not broken, merely severely bruised.
Arnie, another area foreman, was in charge of installing the main lobby ceiling. It consisted of a series of octagonal boxes with mirrors fixed inside them. For a joke, Arnie grabbed hold of one of the labourers and pushed his head down inside one of the boxes. In that position, the man was looking at the mirrored bottom, which gave the impression you were upside down. The poor man was petrified and screamed aloud until Arnie released him.
Like Ozzer, Arnie and I also used to work together. As Arnie was known for playing practical jokes, his action was not out of character.
One big problem on the site were the sandwiches we had for our lunch. They were prepared at the Rainbow Hotel and consisted of green-looking meat, topped with a piece of stale cheese. Not only that, come lunchtime, the bread rolls containing this mixture had dried up. What made the situation even worse, this was all we had to eat from breakfast until our return to the hotel in the evening.
The first group of men on-site had made several complaints about them to no avail. Those who had previously worked with me knew I was fussy about what I ate. They hoped I would succeed in my complaint, where they had failed.
I first complained to Ozzer about this. However, as he was known to eat almost anything, it proved a waste of time. I then talked to Jim, our admin guy, about them. He told me he had tried to get better sandwiches but was unable to get the hotel to supply them.
Things came to a head when the lads decided to hold a meeting to discuss what action they could take to change things. The men refused to allow any foremen to attend the meeting, except myself, as they knew I was on their side.
It was generally accepted that if the owner of our company knew of our problem, he would sort it out. As a result, after some discussion, we decided to write him a letter. I stated that I would write it, but would not send it unless everyone first signed it. After all, had agreed, I duly wrote an official letter of complaint. Once all the lads had signed it, I sent it to my wife. I explained our problem and asked her to post the enclosed letter on to our head office.
A reply was not long in coming. The company agreed to pay us the equivalent amount of money they paid for our sandwiches. It meant we could buy whatever we wanted to eat for lunch. This was great news and boosted both our morale and takings in the local supermarket. Shortly afterwards we received more good news. Instead of paying for dinner in our hotels, the company would give us cash instead. I am sure this was the result of complaints from the men staying at the Rainbow Hotel. They had complained many times about the quality of meals they received.
This new deal allowed some of our men to save a lot of money. Instead of buying sufficient food to eat, they ate little and kept the rest of their allowance. One of our men was rumoured to live on tins of beans. One look at him was proof he saved most of his allowance. In only a few weeks, he had to tighten his belt by at least four inches.
One day, our boss came out from the UK, and while on-site, he called me aside. To my surprise, he said, “Colin, I have a letter for you from your wife.” Before I could speak, he said, “Don’t worry, she’s okay. However, before giving you the letter, I have to talk to you.”
He then explained that my wife had called him after a visit to her doctor. He had noticed a large black mole on her neck, which a biopsy revealed was cancerous; and had to be removed. I was pleased when my boss said I could phone my wife at the company’s expense to discuss the situation. Even better, if I thought it necessary to return home, he would arrange it ASAP.
That evening, I called Jen. She explained she had sorted everything regarding the children, and that she could manage okay. Instead of returning home now, she said I should stay until my next scheduled leave. As I knew Jen was sensible and could cope without me, I agreed. However, if she changed her mind, to phone, and I would fly straight home.
After laying and fitting the carpet in the Banquet Hall, it looked fabulous. However, the following morning, we were shocked to find it lose and uneven. After some discussion, the fitters decided they had not given the carpet enough time to breathe after it was unrolled. Given this, they re-stretched and refitted the carpet. To their astonishment, the next morning, it was again found loose and uneven. The men then thought the problem was due to the air-conditioning not working. Although it sounds incredible, once it was operating, we had no further problem with the carpet.
Another problem concerning carpets arose in the octagonal-shaped Roof Top Restaurant. The carpet was delivered in sections that required sewing together on site. Unfortunately, once done, the shape was found incorrect. I first heard of this problem when informed; the restaurant was flooded. On investigation, it turned out the carpet fitters had caused this. In an attempt to solve the problem, they had turned on a fire hose to soak the carpet. As it slowly dried out, it miraculously shrunk to the correct size and shape.
Another funny incident occurred re the Roof Top Restaurant. To paint the ceiling, would involve many hours of bending over backwards to apply the various decorative finishes. Ray, however, one of our painters, came up with a novel idea to do this job. He had a small mobile scaffold set up with a mattress on top to form a kind of hammock. Ray then laid down in it and proceeded to paint the ceiling.
When we later had over sixty men on-site, we used a 44 seater coach, plus a minibus to ferry them to and fro to the site. Our coach driver Carlos was excellent, whereas the driver of the minibus was a total lunatic. If you were a bit nervous, you never went on his minibus, at least not twice. At one time, our coach was following him as he sped down a side road with deep water channels on each side. I could not believe my eyes when at the bottom of the road, he turned sharply into the main road. Allah must have been with him, for how he managed this without hitting anyone, was nothing short of a miracle.
Each morning, before setting off, a check was made to see who was missing from the coaches. It was necessary, as it was typical to be informed that Fred, Harry or somebody was in the hospital on a drip. By the end of our stay in Iran, most of us had gone down with varying degrees of dysentery.
On walking into our site canteen one day, I found Mike, one of our guys slumped there. He looked rough and said he felt terrible. I said he should return to his hotel and go to bed, to which Mike agreed. While outside and waiting for a taxi with him; Mike suddenly collapsed unconscious. To my immense relief, he soon came to, but a few minutes later passed out again. I felt concerned about Mike, so had someone call the hotel nurse. After taking his temperature, she said he should go to the hospital for a check-up.
During another half hour of waiting for a taxi, I thought Mike was going to die on me. He kept saying, “Don’t leave me,” as he held a vice-like grip on my hand. Fortunately, after being checked out in the hospital, Mike was found to be okay.
On the social side, life in Tehran was excellent, with bars, clubs, cinemas and everything available. I was disturbed, however, on seeing posters advertising films that showed pictures of people being cut and hacked up. It made me wonder what kind of people these Iranians were. Given this, when I first I went with Ozzer to the post office, downtown, I carried my open penknife balanced on the end of my finger. However, once I became used to walking around downtown, it was just like going out for the evening back home.
Before flying out to Iran, a colleague advised us to buy half a gallon of whisky at the duty-free shop in Heathrow. He said we could exchange it for far more than its cost in the local shops. I found he was right, and did this several times until the price of whisky dropped to the same price as in the UK.
I found shopping in Tehran most unusual. When buying anything except from supermarkets, you bartered down the asking price. It seemed this was not only normal but expected.
Downtown, was an enormous Souk (bazaar), which I later found to be one of, if not the largest in the world. It sold a massive range of goods, from cheap household ware to gold shops full of dazzling jewellery. It was awesome to see so much gold in one area. Plus, there was no 9ct, quality here; everything was 18-24ct.
In one section of the Souk was a large footwear section. To our amazement, after buying what type of soles you wanted, you then went to another part to pick out the uppers. These you then took to yet another section, where they were made into shoes.
As clothing in Iran was expensive, it gave a couple of our men an idea of making some extra money. During their next home leave, they collected a large suitcase of cast-off clothing. They brought it back to Tehran, and on their next day off, took it to the Souk to sell the contents. They later told us that when people found out what they were charging, crowds gathered. Despite nervous about everyone pushing and shoving, in no time at all, they sold everything they had.
After finishing work, on returning to our hotel, some evenings, we foreman would go straight to the lobby bar. One night, five of us walked in, sat at a table and ordered five beers. As the waiter turned to walk away after delivering them, I ordered five more. It may seem strange, but we did this each time he brought our beers. Our table became so full of glasses; we had to put some on the floor. The two Iranians who sat at our table could not believe their eyes. They kept looking and muttering at the array of glasses. This situation only ended when our waiter refused to serve us anymore.
I smiled at him and said. “If you don't serve us, we’ll go upstairs and order from room service.”
This, of course, did not go down well with the waiter, but after a few words, we reached a compromise: He would serve us one more round of drinks, and in return, we would call it a day.
Apart from drinking in the bar, we usually kept a supply of vodka (which was cheap to buy) in our rooms. This went down well with a small bottle of soda that we bought by the crate full. We later found out why the staff never complained about taking away the empties. To our surprise, there was a 50% deposit return on the bottles.
On one of our trips back from leave in England, we were, as usual flying to Amman on Jordanian Airways. From here we would then take an Iran Airways flight on to Tehran. Shortly after boarding our plane in Amman, an announcement said everyone had to get off the plane. After disembarking, we later re-boarded after going through another security check. This time, unlike before, they carefully checked the weight of all hand luggage. The amount taken off people and put in the hold was enormous. It showed the lack of adequate control the first time we passed through security. However, this was not the real reason for our having to leave. A shocked crew member had seen an Arab woman preparing to light a gas bottle. She intended to boil water to make tea. It seems she carried the gas bottle onto the plane under her burka (dress). The consequences of what could have happened had she lit up the gas bottle during the flight, was genuinely frightening.
While in one of the local banks one day, I noticed two staff members carrying large silver trays loaded with banknotes. To my astonishment, they were taking them through the crowded bank to whichever teller required them. As some Iranian notes were of high denomination, the value on the plates must have been extremely high. Without a doubt, things like this would never be seen in a UK bank.
While talking to one of the office staff at our hotel one day, he explained why he looked so depressed.
“I’ve sold my scooter,” he said.
“That’s good,” I replied, as it meant the man had some money.
“No, it’s not good.,” he said. “The man paid me by cheque, but the bank says there is no money in his account.”
“Well, take the scooter back from him.”
“He won’t give it to me.”
“Why don’t you go to the police?”
“If I do, they will put him in prison.”
“No! It’s bad. Very bad for me if they put him in prison.”
“Why?” I asked in frustration, “I don’t understand the problem.”
“If I get him put into prison, I have to look after his family until he gets out again.”
“What! But that’s crazy,” I said.
“Yes, it is, but it’s the law here.”
On another occasion, one of the local staff advised us about driving in Iran. He said if we were out driving and knocked someone down, if they looked dead, to reverse and make sure they were. On seeing our shocked expressions, he then explained why. “The law states that if you knocked down and injured someone, you had to look after their family until the injured person can work again. However, if you killed them, you could pay what is called “Blood Money.” This usually works out less than what one would pay if someone had to be in the hospital for any length of time. Fortunately, as none of us drove in Iran, this problem did not arise.
On the way back from the site one day, Carlos, our driver, took a different route back to our hotel. As we passed under a low flyover, there was a loud bang followed by a scraping sound. The next minute, a car behind us started blasting his horn. It seems the roof rack on the coach had been knocked off and hit the car. Unbelievably, despite our yells and the blasts from the vehicle behind, Carlos seemed oblivious. He continued until stopped by a set of traffic lights. The driver of the car behind came up and started yelling at Carlos. Given the commotion, a policeman standing at the junction came to investigate. On hearing the problem, it seems he told Carlos to pull over when the lights changed. However, when they did, Carlos carried on until pulling up outside our hotel. Although we could not believe what he had done, Carlos seemed unconcerned. It did not seem to bother him at all.
At our hotel, one of our waiters did not seem to like Ray and me. He also had a bad habit of reaching across our faces whenever putting down or clearing away our dishes. During dinner one evening, Ray said, “I’ll stop him from doing that.”
The next time the waiter reached across Ray, he grabbed his arm and pretended to bite it. Rays’ action worked, as the waiter never did it again.
On another occasion, the same waiter served a fish dish Ray had ordered. After a few minutes, I could smell the fish was off, so told Ray. He sniffed it, then said, “No, it’s not,” and resumed eating. I again told him the fish was off. This time, after having a good sniff, Ray agreed. He called the waiter over and said, “The fish is off, would you please change it?”
The waiter glowered at him, then replied, “It’s not off; it’s fresh.”
“It’s off;” I said. “You can smell it from my side of the table.”
The waiter had a quick sniff, then said, “It’s okay.”
I chuckled. “If you think so, then you eat it,” I said.
The waiter declined, and still protesting the fish was fresh, took it away.
While out one night, we met up with some American schoolteachers who worked at an International school. After having a great evening with them, we arranged to go to their school the following day for a game of football. While out drinking, this sounded a great idea, but not come the morning when nursing hangovers. Unfortunately, one of their guys came to our hotel to take us down to the school. Given this, we had no choice but to go.
After buying a couple of crates of beer, we slowly weaved our way down to the school. This involved walking alongside the “Dube.” It was an open water channel that brought water down from the mountains. At the top of town, the water was clean and drinkable. However, by the time it reached the Souk at the bottom, it was full of rubbish and undrinkable.
At one point, someone decided to cross the channel while holding their end of a crate of beer. Their idea was to pull the guy holding the other end into the Dube. This incident became known as “Dube Wrestling,” which became a usual occurrence on our later trips back and forth to the American school.
On our arrival, the Americans made us welcome, and after a livener of beer, we went out onto the pitch. To my surprise, it was a bone-dry earth surface. It was a hot, rough game with the Americans complaining about the hard-tackling by some of our guys. As they could not compete with the speed of some Americans, they used this tactic to get possession of the ball. As for me, I played out on the wing. Here I kept cool by staying under a tree and soaking myself with a nearby hosepipe. Although a good game, due to heat and exhaustion, we frequently had to change players.
Sometime later, the Americans invited us to the school for a funfair, organised to collect money for charity. On arrival, we found two camels, which for a small fee one could ride. This, of course, we had to try. I found it a spectacular experience when the camel raised itself off its knees. While sitting astride the saddle, our camel kept turning its head to try to bite the feet of the person sitting in front. Fortunately, it never managed to do so. Had it been able, its huge teeth would have caused severe injury.
One night, Ray, Arnie, George, Frank and I called in at ‘The German Restaurant’ for a drink. It was set up in the open around a dance floor, with an orchestra playing soft music. Although busy, we were lucky. A waiter led us to a table near the back, where over the next hour we drank 4-5 bottles of wine. Suddenly, George and Frank, known to us as Fred Astaire and Ginger Rodgers, stood up. They then started to dance around our table. For us, this was nothing unusual, but the staff, however, did not appreciate their actions.
When a short time later, I saw four waiters converging on us, I exclaimed, “Look out!”
One waiter said, “You’re not allowed to dance together here! If you want to dance, you have to dance with a woman.”
“We would love to,” George said. “However, your women are all accompanied by men. I don’t think they would like us to ask their women for a dance.”
One of the waiters nodded. “You’re right,” he replied. “But you cannot dance here; you must leave.”
“Leave!” I exclaimed. “We are excellent customers for you. Just look at the amount of wine we have bought.”
After a sideways glance, the water said, “okay! You can stay, but please stay sitting down.”
A short while later, a group of men and women came in and sat at a nearby table. They were sat talking when Ray suddenly stood up. “I’m going to ask one of the girls for a dance,” he said.
“I bet you don’t get one,” Frank said, as Ray walked over to their table.
Ray spoke to the group, then to our astonishment, he sat down and started talking with them. We could not believe our eyes when, a short time later, Ray and one of the girls stood up. They walked onto the dance floor and started to dance. After the music finished, Ray took the girl back to her table. He then came back to our table, picked up his drink, and without a word, returned to sit with the group.
We all agreed we would not see him again that night. It was therefore with much surprise, when, a short time later, Ray came back to sit with us.
“What are you doing here?” I asked. “We thought you were set up there.”
Ray shrugged. “Oh! I was,” he said. “The guy said I could go home with them.”
“So, why aren’t you still with them? You could have been all right there.”
“You’re right! However, the dirty S.O.B. made it clear I could go with his wife, as long as he could watch.” Ray shrugged. “No way I’m into that sort of thing, so here I am.”
On the site, the general attitude of the local workers was indifferent. One incident occurred when a German worker was laying a latex screed in the Banquet Hall. While doing so, two workers came in and started to grind off some metal steps with an angle grinder.
The German called out, “Stop doing that; this is a dangerous material.”
The two men stopped, then walked away. However, a few minutes later, they returned and started grinding once more. Suddenly, a spark from their grinding landed on the latex screed. There was a puff of smoke, and the whole floor went up in flames. As everyone nearby started towards the fire to help put it out, someone yelled, “Look out, there’s a gas bottle in the middle of the floor, it’s liable to explode.”
In an instant, everyone made a mad dash for the exit doors. Arnie ran to one of the doors leading into the kitchen. I watched as he frantically tried to push it open. Although a dangerous situation, I found it comical to see him desperately struggling to open the door.
“Arnie,” I yelled. “It opens in, not out.”
He turned around. With his mouth wide open and eyes bulging with fear, Arnie’s face was a picture of panic. In a flash, he turned back, yanked the door open and shot out through it.
After a few minutes and no explosion, several of us gingerly ventured back to see what had happened. To our surprise, the flames had burned out, and strangely, there was no sign of the gas bottle.
“Where’s the gas bottle gone?” someone asked.
“The German guy went into the fire and dragged it outside,” someone replied.
“He deserves a medal,” I said. “The hotel could easily have gone up in smoke.”
At a project management meeting later that week, the incident was mentioned. The Hotel Project Manager announced, “The local company is being fined $50,000.” Serves them right, I thought. The PM then dropped a bombshell.
“The German company is also fined the same amount.”
Their engineer jumped to his feet. “What!” he said. “If it was not for our guy, we could have had a major fire on our hands.”
“Yes, and that’s why you’re also fined. If your guy had stopped working when the grinding works started, the fire would not have occurred.”
Although obvious the local company’s men were at fault, politics played a part. To save face, the German company was also found to be at fault.
Due to no working lifts, there were problems in getting both materials and workers up to the higher floors. Also, there was no running water on site. Given this, the only toilets available were portable chemical ones. These were located on Level 4, which we used as our material storage floor. Fortunately, we soon had one service lift in operation, with one of our men acting as a lift man.
A lift was more than necessary. Many of our workers suffered from stomach problems and needed to get to the toilet A.S.A.P. It was funny to hear people banging and yelling for the lift to come and take them down to the toilet.
One such incident occurred to Jeff, who was working on the Rooftop Nightclub. Despite his frantic banging and calling down the shaft, it did not arrive in time. By the time it did, Jeff had needed a change of clothing.
As our toilets were portable, they required emptying every so often. Although an unpleasant job, someone had to do it. To assist in this, the management offered extra money to whoever volunteered for this duty. For some reason, Arnie volunteered, with help from one of the labourers. After emptying the toilets one day and returning to the Cocktail Lounge where he was working, Arnie found his team had stopped work. They were all standing around outside talking.
“What’s going on?” he yelled. “Get back to work!”
“Not likely,” someone called back. “You try working in there; the smell is terrible.”
Puzzled, Arnie went inside, but soon reappeared holding his nose. It turned out he had emptied the toilets near the central air intake for the air-conditioning units. These had sucked the strong stench back inside the hotel. As a result, it then took several hours before work could proceed.
Due to personal problems back home, Ozzer returned to the UK. At the same time, John, our site project manager, decided to send the other joint superintendent, back to the UK. After a meeting held with all foremen present, they agreed I should take over as Superintendent in Charge. I now had the position first offered to me.
I soon found myself spending my days going up and down the floors in our service lift, checking how things were going. If I felt some people were not working hard enough, I would try and catch them out. To do this, after leaving them, I would either go up or down one floor in the lift. I would then walk back to the working level using the fire escape stairs. I did this once when I thought the French Polishers were taking too long to complete one floor. As a result, I caught them playing football in the corridor. They were shocked when I reappeared. They thought that once I had gone, I would not be back. I warned them that if I caught them playing around again, I would send them home. As a result, I never had a problem with them or anyone else due to not working hard enough.
All of us who had gone out to Tehran during the winter brought a Parka, it being essential to keep one warm. Once the weather became warmer, they were no longer needed. As a result, the lads started selling them to the Iranian workers. Due to mine being one of the largest coats, and Iranians much smaller, it was more difficult to sell. As it happened, it was a good job; I couldn’t sell it. One day we were laid out sunbathing on the terrace, the next day it was snowing.
Soon, most of the lads were having their lunch sitting outside around a large ornamental fountain. After eating his, Dave would take advantage of the warm sun to sleep on the edge of it. This was fine, but when it was time to return to work, Dave always had to be woken up. As a result, he was always the last back to work.
I decided he needed a sharp cold lesson to ensure he went back to work with everyone else. One lunchtime, Brian and I crept up alongside Dave as he slept. We then leapt up and pushed him into the fountain. Brian then ducked down out of sight, leaving me standing there alone. As Dave jumped back up dripping wet, he was so angry; I thought he was liable to kill me.
“You crazy S.O.B,” he yelled. “I’m soaked, and what about my watch?” he added, shaking the water from it.
I grinned. “Well, you said it was a good one; now, you’ll find out how good,” I said.
After a few minutes, Dave calmed down and went to change his clothes. The trick on him worked, as he was never again late back to work after lunch.
As it happened, Dave later lost his watch. While out one day, he found he did not have enough money for a taxi home. Given this, Dave offered his watch as security of payment to a taxi driver. After accepting it, the driver drove Dave to his hotel. He ran inside to get money to pay the driver, but when he came out again, the taxi and his watch had gone.
On our asking, the company sent a dartsboard out from the UK. We then made up a surround for the dartboard out of some old packing crates. Had we but known the problem this would cause us; we would never have made it. One evening, we put it on our coach as we were leaving the site. On seeing this, the security guard came over and demanded it taken off. We protested it was made from pieces of scrap timber, and not part of the fittings for the hotel. As a result, an intense argument broke out between us when we refused to take it off the coach. Suddenly, the guard put his hand on his gun holster. Seeing this, someone said, “If you want it that bad, you can have it.” With that, we threw it off the coach and drove away, leaving it lying on the ground.
Our darts activities took place in one of the guestrooms at the top of the Rainbow Hotel. Due to our drinking large quantities of beer while playing darts, the manager was more than happy to accept this.
Although the matches we played were serious, it was somewhat difficult to hit the board after drinking a lot of beer. One person who--strange though it seems--was unaffected this way was Ray. When it was his turn to throw, he would stagger up to the line, stand there rocking on his heels, then throw his darts. Unbelievably, somehow, Ray always managed to get a high score.
Due to the amount of beer consumed during our darts evening, things were always somewhat rowdy. One night for a joke, Paul decided he would put someone into the adjoining bathroom bathtub. He decided that Brian, who had not yet arrived, would be his victim. After his arrival and drinking copious amounts of beer, Paul started to drag Brian towards the bathroom. On realising what Paul was trying to do, Brian decided not to go quietly and put up quite a struggle. By now, a group of lads had enthusiastically joined in attempting to force Brian into the bathroom. As they were getting him through the doorway, Brian jammed a foot against the doorframe. As he pushed violently backwards, a small table loaded with bottles and glasses crashed to the floor.
Despite the broken glass and general mess, the boys were still trying to force Brian through the door. Suddenly he yelled, “Hold it! I’ve cut my foot.”
On looking, we saw Brian’s foot was streaming with blood from a bad cut. It was a pity that what had started as a joke had ended like this.
“That’s a hospital job,” I said. “You’re going to need stitches.”
With that, a few of us helped Brian downstairs and into a passing taxi.
“Hospital quick,” I told the driver.
On our arrival, all was quiet. As it was about 1-30am in the morning, it was not too surprising. With his blood slowly oozing on the floor, a nurse took Brian’s details. Once finished, she said, “Right, please give me 1,200 Riyals for his treatment?”
We were stunned. Due to the amount of blood Brian was losing, we expected him to be treated before payment. However, with it normal to pay before receiving hospital treatment, we paid the money. There were no doctors on night duty, so we had to wait while the nurse phoned for one to come to the hospital. On his arrival, he took Brian for treatment.
When he returned, Brian looked grim. “We have a problem,” he said. “They want to take X-rays to check if there are any pieces of glass inside the cut.”
“So, what’s the problem?” I asked, “Get one done.”
Brian smiled. “The problem,” he said, “is that they want 4,000 Riyals before taking them.”
Wow! It was a lot of money. Even after emptying all our pockets, we did not have enough. It was hardly surprising; we never needed much money when playing darts.
I asked the nurse if they would take the x-ray first, saying we would pay the bill later. “You have our address,” I said, “so you know you will receive the money.”
However, it was a no go. Only one person had that kind of money; it was Dick, or Dickey Mint as he was known. We knew he had been saving most of his food allowance money.
While we sat waiting, one of the lads went back to the hotel. Although not amused at being woken at around 2-15am, on hearing the problem, Dick handed over the money. Once paid to the nurse, she took Brian off for his x-ray.
A short time later, he returned. Wearing a broad grin, he exclaimed, “It’s OK. There was no glass inside the cut.”
“What! You mean, we paid all that money for nothing?” I said.
“Listen,” Brian snarled. “If it had been your foot, wouldn’t you have wanted to be sure?”
Of course, I had nothing to say.
Another startling event occurred during another of our darts nights. Ray and I decided we had had enough to drink, so left to return to our hotel.
As we passed the boy on reception, Ray reached up and ruffled his hair. “Night, night, sunshine,” he said.
As the boy reached up to fend off Ray’s hand, he said something. We ignored him and carried on out into the street, with the boy shouting after us. As I turned to say something back, I saw he had come after us waving a large stick. Although Ray and I both yelled at him to go away, he took no notice. He continued shouting and threatening us with it.
Opposite the hotel was a Lufthansa Airline Office, with two armed guards outside. I called over to them. “Tell the boy to put down the stick, or he will get hurt.”
One of the guards spoke to the boy, who turned, and still shouting, went back inside the hotel.
It was not until the following evening; that we found out why the boy was so angry with us. It seemed while trying to stop Ray from ruffling his hair; his watch had broken. As one of our lads had given it to him, he was devastated. Ray apologised to the boy and later managed to get the watch repaired.
One serious incident occurred to one of the lads after a darts match. We were shocked the next day when in a trembling voice, he recounted his ordeal.
“On the way back to the hotel, someone stopped and asked for a light. As I reached into my pocket for my lighter, I was grabbed from behind and bundled into a parked car. It then drove off with me in the back, sat on by several men. Although drunk when I left the darts match, I soon sobered up. When the car stopped, and the men dragged me out, I was petrified. A few weeks earlier, I had read an article in the local newspaper. It said about an expatriate worker found tied up with his throat cut. Given this, I thought my time was up.” He chuckled then continued. “Although the men stole my watch and gold chain, they did not get my wallet. By mistake, I had put it in my rolled-up shirt sleeve, thinking it was my pack of cigarettes. Anyway, after beating me up, the men drove off, leaving me lying on the ground. Once they were gone, I got up and looked to see if I recognised where I was, but it was too dark.
As I staggered around trying to find a taxi to take me back to the hotel; I stumbled into a barbed-wire fence. For some reason, I realised it was a military zone, so turned and walked away. As I did, I heard someone shout out. Not knowing what they said, I just called back, ‘It’s okay, I’m going.’
“A few minutes later, a patrol led by an officer who had been called out to investigate, found me. After explaining what had happened, he had me taken back to the hotel. I then had a stiff drink before crashing out in bed and trying not to think about my lucky escape.”
Without a doubt, this was a shocking and disturbing incident. One that made us much more careful when out late, especially after drinking.
One night, Paul chatted up a girl in our hotel bar and later smuggled her upstairs to his room. Management had employed a guard to stop such events occurring, who at first would not allow her to pass. Only after Paul bribed him, did he let her go up? Shortly after Paul and the girl entered his room, there was a knock on the door. It was the manager, who informed Paul girls were not allowed in the rooms. Although Paul said there was no girl in the room, the manager insisted on searching. He found her hiding in the bathroom and sent her downstairs. Paul was annoyed, as it was evident that after taking his money, the guard had informed the manager. No doubt he forgot to mention he had been paid to allow the girl upstairs.
While Ray, Paul, Bobbie and I were out one night, someone suggested a race to see who could drink a litre of beer the quickest. After a short discussion, we agreed Ray and Bobbie would take part. I felt confident Ray would win, so put my money on him.
After saying, “Ready steady go,” Bobbie lifted his glass and with a few breaks emptied it. Ray, however, just sat there and watched. I was furious.
“Why didn’t you drink?” I said. “You just cost me money.”
Ray grabbed his glass, lifted it, and without stopping downed the litre of beer. I was about to ask why he didn’t drink before, when Ray started to bring the beer back up. Luckily, he somehow managed to deposit it back into his glass. The three of us laughed at the sight of Ray sat slumped over the table. Amidst muttering of utter disgust and baleful eyes, I turned to Paul and Bobbie. “It's okay; I’ll take him home,” I said.
This, however, proved easier said than done. Ray managed to walk downstairs and out of the restaurant. However, once in the fresh air, he all but collapsed. Due to being heavy and a dead weight, I was unable to carry him. Plus, in his state, no taxi driver would accept him. I said, “Ray, listen. We will have to walk home.”
“It's no good,” he blubbered, “I can’t.”
“Shut up and listen,” I said. You love the music of the Floral Dance; well, that’s how we are going to get you home.” I draped one of his arms over my shoulder and one of mine over his. “Right,” I said, “here we go. Da, da, dada da da.”
We then set off back towards our hotel, but even with me holding Ray up, he found it hard work walking. Also, every so often, I had to stop and catch my breath. At last, we arrived at our hotel. As we crashed through the entrance doors; someone called out, “Look at the state of him. He’s even worse than usual.”
While someone was helping me get him into the lift, Ray fell against the doorframe, hitting his head.
I laughed, “No problem,” I said, lifting him up “He won’t feel a thing.”
Between us, we took Ray upstairs to his room and threw him onto his bed to sleep it off.
One night a crowd of us went to one of our local bars, which as usual was busy. While standing looking around, an attractive girl came over and asked if I wanted to dance. This was most unusual. None of us had been asked this before.
On looking at the girl, I said, “Why not?”
“Okay!” she said, “but before we dance, you must first buy me a drink.”
I grinned. “No problem,” I said. “What would you like?” I thought maybe a gin and tonic, or vodka/tonic.
However, I was shocked when she said, “I would like a bottle of vodka, please.”
“You are joking?” I exclaimed. “That’s about 800 Riyals. For that money, I’ll dance on my own.”
Later that evening, a few of us went to the bar upstairs. However, a few minutes later, one of the staff told us to leave, saying we were too noisy.
“Sorry, we’ll go back downstairs,” I said. “They don’t mind us being noisy.”
I later found myself sat at a table with a group of Swedish guys toasting each other for all sorts of silly reasons.
The next morning Arnie came and thanked me for saving him last night.
“What on earth are you talking about?” I said.
“Don’t you remember me telling you about the Swedish guy who kept pestering me, and wouldn’t leave me alone? You said you would go and have a word with him. Well, I don’t know what you said, but he certainly got the right message. He left the club shortly after.”
Arnie might well have remembered this, but for the life of me, I had no idea what he was talking about.
Another funny incident occurred one night at the Gypsy Bar, another late-night bar we frequented. On seeing one of our men with a beer bottle in his jacket pocket, I told him drinks were not allowed outside the bar.
He gave a grim smile. “It’s not for drinking,” he said, “it's empty. I’ve got it for protection. One of the girls told me some guy is going to get me on the way out.”
I grinned. “Well, we can’t have that can we?” I said. “Don’t worry; when you leave, some of the boys will leave with you.”
When we later left, we kept a watchful eye open but saw no one lurking around.
As we walked through the grounds of the bar, we passed a large shallow ornamental pond.
Dave chuckled. “I know who can go in there,” he said.
When Ray came out to join us, Dave tried to push him into the pond. However, as Ray was much heavier and stronger, it was Dave who ended up in the pond.
Laughing at Dave, Ray said, “OK, give me your hand.”
Dave caught hold of Ray’s outstretched hand. As he started to pull himself out of the pond. Ray said, “Oh well, as you’re already wet.” He released Dave’s hand, who then fell backwards into the water. When he climbed out, he was soaked.
As we walked down the road, when Dave took off his shirt to wring it out, someone grabbed it and threw it up a tree.
“Come on,” Dave pleaded as he climbed up to retrieve it. “That’s enough.”
None of us had a girlfriend while working in Iran. I guess we were all too busy drinking to bother much about them. That is apart from John, who said he needed a woman. He solved his problem by getting one of his hotel waiters to take him down to “Pussy City.” It was a walled-in area and full of prostitutes.
John told us of an amusing incident while there one time. “I was taken into a room where I looked through a window as a selection of girls paraded past. After telling the waiter which girl I fancied, he arranged for her to be sent to a bedroom where I was waiting. When she entered the bedroom and saw I was a foreigner, she refused to go with me and walked out. I was not amused, to say the least,” he said, laughing.
While home on leave, a friend I had previously asked to look out for a Ford Mustang, called to say he had found a Mustang convertible. After looking at it, I decided to buy it.
When I told Jen about seeing a Mustang, I was disappointed. She advised me to wait until the completion of my contract. I thought this strange, as before going to Iran, she had wanted me to buy one. As at the time Jen had an MG Midget sports car, I had refused. Given Jen’s statement, with some reluctance, I decided not to buy the Mustang.
When shopping in Iran, we usually didn’t have a problem, the shopkeepers, in general, were honest. This, however, changed, one Friday afternoon. A group of our men were in our hotel lobby bar drinking and showing off what they had bought downtown. When one produced a gold necklace, an Iranian man sitting with them asked to see it.
He looked, then said, “I don’t think its gold.”
“Of course, it’s gold!” the man who bought it snapped back.
The man replied, “Sorry, I think not, but if you want to come with me, I will check it out for you.”
A few of our men went with the man to a shop, where he tested the necklace with some chemicals. It turned out he was correct. Our guy was furious at being cheated, so took the necklace back to the shop where he bought it. He told the shopkeeper the chain was not gold, and unless he gave his money back, he would go to the police. On hearing this, the shopkeeper became nervous. He then not only handed back the money, but gave extra as well. This case was the only one I heard of where one of us was cheated.
At least, it was until after my final return from Iran. A ring I bought that was supposed to contain rubies and sapphires, turned out to be just pieces of coloured glass.
In our hotel bar one night, Arnie started making eyes at a woman sat nearby. Her husband was not amused and came over and had strong words with Arnie. He and his wife then walked out of the hotel. Shortly after leaving, the man returned. To our amazement, he apologised to Arnie for shouting at him. The man then went, leaving Arnie with his mouth wide open.
We later heard that at the time of the incident, a man from Savak (the much-feared secret police) was present. It seems most likely that the man was told that Arnie was a guest in the country. Therefore, he was not to be insulted. The man must have been incredibly annoyed about having to apologise, but in the circumstances, he had no choice.
After a heavy night drinking, Arnie had a strange habit of not getting into bed. Instead, he would sleep lying on the bathroom floor. The maid had found him like this on more than one occasion.
One night while Arnie was busy pouring beer down his throat, one of our men slipped upstairs. He went into Arnie’s room and poured the gravel from a floor-mounted ashtray into his bed. On finding this when he later went to get into bed, Arnie did his usual and slept on the floor.
The next morning, Arnie said, “While cleaning the gravel from my bed, the maid walked in.” He chuckled. “No doubt, she told the other maids that I sometimes lie on a layer of gravel in my bed.”
Our driver Carlos took a group of us on a trip up into the mountains. To our delight, he stopped at a village where there were chairlifts taking people up the mountain. Most of us thought it would be fun to go up, but Ray was nervous of heights. However, as he wanted to go up to the snow level with us, he had no choice but to get in a chair. It was funny to hear Ray squeal in alarm as the chairs swung back and forth. He was more than happy to get off at the top. To our disappointment, we found only a small patch of snow there. Still, it was good to be up there enjoying the fantastic mountain scenery.
On another trip out with Carlos, he drove a coach load of us to Quom. At the time, none of us knew who was staying there. The journey across the barren landscape was long and tiring. Apart from the odd toilet break and a quick drink, we didn’t stop until arriving.
We walked around, somewhat put out at the poor state of the place. Apart from a beautiful mosque, the town was dirty. All sorts of rubbish covered the open sides of the riverbed adjacent to the city, making it a most unhygienic looking place.
While looking around the few shops, armed troops carrying riot shields suddenly appeared. As it seemed as though things could get dangerous, we returned to our coach, and Carlos drove us back to Tehran.
Although an unsettling experience, it was nothing to what we would later see during our stay in Iran.
Up until our visit to Quom, life had been good. Then one weekend everything changed. Several people spat at us as they walked by, saying, “Go home, Americans.” When we replied we were British, not Americans, they apologised.
I had heard of massive demonstrations in some cities and wondered if their attitude was anything to do with this. I soon found it was when these events spread to Tehran. It turned out to be the start of significant problems in the country. In a short time, the situation deteriorated, with martial law declared, followed by a curfew set a few days later.
The first morning of martial law came as a surprise to us. On the way up to the site, as we rounded a corner, I was shocked. A tank was parked at a strategic road junction. If that was not bad enough, as we entered a large square, I gasped in alarm. There lying on the ground surrounded by sandbags was a soldier nestling behind a machine gun. This type of situation was something one usually saw in films, not in real life. It made me realise just how dangerous things had become.
In the evening, on our drive back to our hotel, I decided to take some pictures of the tanks and soldiers. As our coach approached a parked tank, I stood and prepared to take one. However, one of the heavily armed soldiers standing by it must have had a keen eye. On spotting and taking my action as a possible threat, he raised his automatic rifle. I realised my mistake and threw myself back down in my seat. As I sat huddled up, I fully expected bullets to come flying in through the window. Luckily for my colleagues and me, this never happened.
One of the men sitting near me yelled, “You crazy S.O.B., you could have got us all killed.”
Strange, but after that episode, I never attempted to take any more photos of tanks and soldiers.
During the curfew, everyone was forbidden to go outside after 9 pm. Despite this, Arthur staying in the Rainbow Hotel decided to go and to see what was going on. It was both a stupid and dangerous thing to do, which Arthur soon found out. No sooner had he stepped outside, when he was bundled back in again by armed soldiers. An officer warned the reception manager that if Arthur stepped outside again, he was liable to be shot.
Although this incident should have acted as a warning to everyone, it did not. Geoff, another of our guys at the same hotel, decided to go to the roof and take some photos of the patrolling troops. They were driving around in heavily armed jeeps, fitted with a machine gun and a gunner ready to open fire. As such, Geoff should have known better.
He later told us, “As a patrol approached, I hid on the roof where I thought I couldn’t be seen. I was about to take a photo when I heard a shouted command. The next instant, the troops jumped out of their jeep and took up firing positions towards the roof. I realised I’d been spotted, and they would open fire if I didn’t move. Nevertheless, despite the repeated command, I felt as though frozen in place. Suddenly the roof door burst open, and someone dragged me back inside the building. It was our hotel manager. He had heard the command and realised someone was on the roof.” Jeff shrugged. “Had it not been for his quick action, I would have been shot.”
One morning, a couple of our men found a member of their hotel staff banging his head against the wall. On stopping and asking him what was wrong, they were shocked and saddened at what he said, “Last night, my father was in a mosque when troops surrounded it and demanded everyone come out. When they did, he and everyone else was shot and killed.”
An even more horrifying incident occurred when a cinema, full of people had the doors chained and locked shut. It was then set on fire, resulting in over 300 people burned to death. I found it hard to believe people could do such a terrible thing to other human beings.
Click Follow to receive emails when this author adds content on Bublish