Directorate of Telecommunications PERSONAL RECOLLECTIONS Qatar - Two Years in Doha and a week in London By: Roy Tichelli IEng MIET
This account of a two year secondment from the then HO Directorate of Telecommunications to the Qatar State Police is intended to be historically accurate. Views expressed are those of the author and are not necessarily endorsed by the Home Office, Foreign Office, Qatar Government Agencies, commercial companies mentioned, or individuals named in the article:- Roy Tichelli
The Chief of Police announced Major Fuad’s appointment with a statement that he would be responsible for operations and staff and that I would retain responsibility for all technical affairs. Though helpful it was not a definitive statement of working relations. Our working arrangements were soon to be tested. I had acquired a lot of knowledge in respect of the supply chain such as raising letters of credit, air freight, & customs clearance. This situation had arisen due to the autonomous and some what secretive way the Force purchased telecommunications equipment and services. It seemed improbable that I could extricate myself from this overnight. When Alan arrived I made his first priority completing the High Band scheme. However priorities again changed. Before Alan had time to settle both Fuad and I were dispatched to London leaving Alan to deal with the day to day activities.
In 1976 Qatar was scheduled to host a major pan Arab football event. The tournament best described as an Arab world cup. Construction of the stadium and its complex was seriously behind schedule and below quality standards. The Emir dismissed the Iraqi contractors and appointed Turriff Taylor Construction Company to meet the impossible challenge of completing on time. I had planned a UHF pocket phone scheme covering the entire stadium complex, a control room with links into HQ. The control room area was one of the sections actually finished within the plan. However I had other concerns. I was aware of a large number of new police vehicles were on order and that some new BMW Motorcycles were due for delivery but no one firmed up on actual communications requirements for this major event. Every government department and commercial enterprise seemed to have an involvement with the Stadium complex. The high profile project didn’t escape the attention of the British tabloid press either. They managed to offend both the Qatar government & British expatriates alike. A red top referred to the Emir as “ a soccer mad sheik “ and claimed that British construction workers employed were so well paid that they wore gold Rolex watches as they mixed concrete.
I was called to the Chiefs office to learn that a CCTV surveillance system was required at the stadium with a micro wave link back to HQ. This was a one to one meeting with no input from any operations personal. . I left the office some considerable time later having managed to persuade him that the links back to HQ were unnecessary and that I would have to use contractors to meet the time line. I knew that this project would be a challenge. The General Manager of Turriff Taylor was a Canadian with the persona of a John Wayne movie character. He made things happen and exceptional powers granted by the Emir. Although the CCTV project would be turn key executed by Police approved contractors, I knew that variation orders for electrical & civil works would be required and need a solid justification. A variation order could only be approved by John Wayne. I had already made myself unpopular with him over a difference of opinion on the priority of a telephone cable duct for the control room.
I did my home work and invited myself to the daily progress meeting at the Stadium. Much to my surprise the proposal was minuted and given an all important work order number. However my problems were far from solved. In absence of local operations input I sought the help of Supt Ken Evans who was a seconded from the West Midlands Force to rationalise vehicle deployment and administration practices. He was in Qatar in an advisory role but his role was already suffering mission creep. Once he appeared at the complex with me John Wayne adopted him to advise on the Khalifa Stadium crowd control barriers. The procurement & installation phase of the CCTV went smoothly and the commissioning commenced.
Anne and the children had settled well and were enjoying the experience of living the expatriate life. We liked our house and we had acquired a dog, a half saluki named Wadi. My early start in the mornings enabled us to spend afternoons at the Beach Club or visit the souk or shops. Shops ranged from hole in the wall premises to more opulent stores that sold the expensive brand names from London, Paris, New York & Milan. The hole in the wall offered Chinese toys, colourful plastic utensils, mops & buckets, mouse traps, blankets, cigarette lighters, batteries & tea shirts. They didn’t seem to have a core business. One place in the souk even had a range of old USAF uniforms and great coats complete with badges of rank and medal ribbons. How they finished up in Doha was as much of a curiosity as to what their appeal was in a country where temperatures reached 45c in summer and rarely fell below 10C. The day off was Fridays & was usually spent at beaches away from the capital area and often rounded with an early evening dinner at the Gulf Hotel coffee shop. The Gulf Hotel was the best in town during that era and popular as both a business and social centre. My wife and I re-visited Doha in 2004 and stayed at the Gulf Hotel out of nostalgia despite a confusing choice of plush new hotels. The city had grown to the extent that we could no longer find our way round it easily. In 1975 we lived in Monsura off the C Ring round. My colleagues at the Fort referred to our location as out in the desert. By 2004 the area known as Monsura had become quite developed. The C ring road was lined with large prestigious houses, & mature palms trees growing in the central reservation. Development had flattened our old house to make way for an apartment block. During the cooler weather we occasionally visited the town of Khor less than an hours drive from the capital. In Khor we watched friendly local fisherman land their catch from Dhows, traditional wood constructed boats. Close by we watched boat construction and were intrigued by the shipwrights skill in constructing sea going boats without the use metal nails. Some afternoons we took a short ride to Wakarah just beyond the Airport to walk along the jetty and the beach. An additional attraction for the children were the juice stalls that sold enjoyable soft drinks blended from Nido Milk Powder and fresh fruit and crushed ice.
Photo: Staff Sergeant Yusef
Photo: Yusef with New Recruits
One Saturday morning after one good week end I arrived early at my office in the Fort and was met by an excited Staff /Sgt Yusef. ” You must go to Sheik Hamad’s office now. Yusef was the communications divisions Chief Clerk and often my life line as he spoke and typed English. He also helped me to acquire a smattering of spoken Arabic. I went to the Chiefs office and was immediately ushered in by the office manager. It had to be important as we usually sat outside in the reception being plied with endless cups qwawa (Coffee) poured from a traditional brass Arab coffee pot into a small cup the size of an egg cup by the Farash employed solely to provide hospitality to the Chiefs office suite. I entered the vast office Maj. Fuad was already seated with the Sheik. We exchanged greetings and quickly got down to business. The Chief announced.” Fuad has explained to me that we need a lot of equipment for cars and motorcycles. I want you to go to London with Fuad to buy everything. If you can’t get it in London go to Germany or USA. You must get it. “
Fuad produced my shopping list and explained that he planned to go that evening. I reasoned that arriving on Sunday would serve no purpose. A Sunday departure would be more practical and my suggestion was taken up. I was to focus on technical aspects and sourcing and Fuad would work with the Qatar Embassy who would provide logistical support. I was well aware that mobile radios were not purchased off the shelf & felt that I should point this out, but I had no option but to try. I felt quite pessimistic. As we left the office the Chief of Police shook my hand ,wished me luck and added “Do not come back unless you get them “ . He appeared to be serious. I thought it best to assume that he was.
I spent the rest of the morning assembling a package of specifications, and drawings, & telephone numbers in UK and Qatar. I was aware that even the few options available to me held little prospect meeting time line. At lunch time I went home to break the news to my family.
On Sunday morning Fuad announced that we also had business in Bahrain on route. Early on Monday morning we finally reached the Grosvenor Park Lane, London which was to be our base due its proximity with Qatar Embassy in Reeves Mews. It was too early to start business and too late to sleep. We planned to fly out on Friday afternoon hopefully to Doha. It was an agonising wait for offices to open. Being used to starting work at 6 am it seemed that England didn’t come to life until half the day had passed. My first priority was to obtain Pye Westminster motor cycle sets. I managed to get my first call to Pye of Cambridge at about 9 am to be told that my contact there would not be in that day. I was told that his boss would call me back. He called me back but didn’t appear overjoyed with the prospect of a sizeable order without having done any marketing. “Can you come up and see us on Friday? “ He asked.” We are going back on Friday.” I replied wondering what my next move would be. “We are rather busy this week “However I made a provisional appointment for Friday as a fall back plan.
I knew that my options for vehicle mobiles were also limited but got a more positive response from Dymar and arranged to Telex full details of what I needed and was assured that quotations would be ready by Wednesday and was invited up to Watford to review them. I was joined by Fuad who did not immediately buy into my plan to engage the help of the Directorate. He favoured widening our commercial search but I reasoned that we needed Home Office help in obtaining helmets with built in headsets. I had pushed this idea before we left the Middle East. I had been involved with the development of this concept while working for Ted Morgan in my previous post in Technical Writing at CCE.
Although I had never actually met the Director Bill Nicol I contacted his p.a Carol and outlined the dilemma that I was in. She returned my call quickly saying that Mr Nicol would see us soon we could get over to Rochester Row. This was an opportunity not to be lost and agreed to there in half an hour. We had a Qatar embassy car driven by an Englishman with the expertise of a London cabbie at our disposal. He was able to go anywhere I mentioned with the vaguest instructions. We were soon seated in the Directors office. He retraced my steps by calling Pye & was visibly displeased with the same “Come and see us on Friday.” response.
He also spoke with Dymar which I felt added priority to our case. A meeting at CCE with George Reynolds was arranged for Wednesday morning to help us expedite the purchase of helmets with the built in headset assemblies. Or electric hats as they became known as later in Doha.
After we had drawn a blank from British sources Bill Nicol said that he had a British contact in Motorola. American company Motorola were not big in UK in 1976 but had a presence. He spoke to his contact and it was agreed that a representative would meet me and Fuad at the Grosvenor soon as someone could get from Ascot to London. We returned to the Hotel and Fuad became very uncomfortable with the wait and apparent inactivity. I stressed that we had no other option but we could continue making enquires with other companies while we waited.
A young American sales engineer who had only been in UK only 48 hours arrived ahead of his Sales manager. He had driven from Ascot to Park Lane with a sketch map on his knee. A team of four people were in action by late afternoon. They hit the floor running, turning my room into an office and Fuad’s into an annexe. An inordinate number of calls were made to Schaumberg the corporate HQ of Motorola in USA. At times it was evident that pressure was being heaped on those in the US. I got the hotel to run in an additional phone. By about three in the morning my room looked a tip and smelled strongly of cigarettes and coffee. Room service had just delivered food when the call came announcing that Motorola could meet our target and an official quotation would be sent by Telex. When the quotation was received I was amazed that the company had not exploited our desperation. Prices seemed to be reasonable but there was a raft of caveats & conditions.
They required us to accept their engineers to do the installation. We in turn needed names to enable fast track visas which were a challenge at time do the Stadium project. The biggest obstacle was that Motorola was on the Arab–Israeli Boycott List *3. I knew that exceptions could be granted. I told the Sales Manager that such matters were way outside my remit and that Fuad would deal with the Embassy in the morning. Despite being booked into a prestigious hotel I had not yet slept in the bed and had spent the previous night on an aircraft. I was ready to sleep. I was awoken early next morning by a call from the Chief of Police’s staff officer asking what progress had been made. I assured him that delivery of the motorcycle radios was possible but a lot remained to be done . I explained that we were going to the Embassy to deal with commercial and legal matters. Later that morning we were assured by an Embassy official that all diplomatic and visa requirements would be dealt with. “Go and attend the technical matters and we will do everything else “ the official reassured me. I agreed with my colleague that he would progress matters with the government and I would manage Motorola. The radios were delivered on time, installed, interfaced with the electric hats & successfully used throughout the great occasion of the opening of the Khalifa Stadium.
The rest of the week was much less stressful. I knew many of the people at Dymar and felt assured that they would meet our required delivery dates. They also agreed to send an engineer to oversee installation. We were helped by the HO rescheduling some of its current orders to enable our target date to be assured. Our visit to SG Brown in Watford on Thursday morning was also successful. We were driven back to London & spent the remainder of the afternoon doing personal shopping and agreed to meet up in the Hotel’s French restaurant later.
The next morning we set off to catch the Gulf Air flight direct to Doha. It seemed like I had been away much longer than a week. A lot had happened & much achieved. However while I thought the Qataris would be happy I had another issue to deal with. I had yet to attend the Ambassador’s meeting and tell him that I had been instrumental in sourcing equipment from an American company. While the Qataris were free to trade with anyone. It was part of the Embassy’s raison d’été was to promote British goods. There was always an expectation that British people particularly those seconded would help to make this happens. A review of tenders in the Emirate won by British companies was always held at the meetings and sense of disappointment was evident when big contracts went to the French or Americans. The loss of a sale of a few radios was miniscule in comparison with some of the civil engineering contracts, but I was seconded as one the Ambassador’s Technical Experts, as he was given to introducing me as, and therefore expected to fly the flag. I was personally thanked by the Chief of Police for my part in the procurement but the success of this particular mission contributed significantly to the decline of our influence. Every one was impressed with the very professional way that Motorola delivered on time, trained staff, and even sent an Arabic speaking installation engineer a Lebanese American. We had another telecommunications crisis before the stadium was completed. Rats damaged the underground cables disabling two cameras. The civil & CCTV contractors were in dispute over who was responsible for sealing the ducts but they resolved issue quickly without me knowing who accepted responsibility. I had emphasised that I was rather embarrassed by failure of a camera while I was demonstrating the system to the Chief of Police and his entourage. Everything worked on the day. The football event was judged a success and the city got back to routine business. We took off for a months over due leave in UK.
I left Alan Taylor with the task of reviving the VHF high band site to cover the sparsely populated South of the country and to keep my other projects running.