An individual’s attitude towards risk can make or break them financially, of that there is no doubt. Those that rely on their ability to make money solely from gambling or similar (stock markets for example) simply cannot afford to throw caution to the wind on a whim and bet the farm in a bid to increase their wealth. That would be dumb because the risk so much outweighs the reward it’s unthinkable. However, when you add drink into the equation things change. There are others who may be not so cautious after a drink or two and decide it’s a great idea to lump on over 3.5 in an Argie B footy game at 4 in the morning only to face ruin 90 minutes later when the game finishes 0-0. And then there are others still who, tanked up on the the equivalent of racing alcohol (Google it), will risk their mind body and soul and not give a flying fuck for the outcome when they are pissed up, especially when holding a one way ticket to Heathrow linked to an exit visa from the Middle East. Cue another war story…
In 1988 I was seconded from the RAF to British Aerospace in Dhahran to teach Saudi Air Force chaps the finer points of loading assorted weaponry to their shiny new Hawk T65 jet trainer aircraft…except we had no trainees to teach. The year I spent there was one of the best I ever had during my time in the RAF. Here I was doing a job I loved but with no trainees for the whole time I was there. It was like being back on the flight line at rain sodden RAF Brawdy in S Wales only with brilliant sunshine the whole year round. That, plus the fact that everything we as Westerners held sacred was banned…so getting pissed up and going partying was so much more enjoyable because we were getting away with it…in spades.
All good things come to an end eventually, and all too soon, my year in Saudi came to a close. I could have stayed on for another year and had I been single at the time I would have signed on the dotted line in a heartbeat but alas I was married and staying out there a second longer would only have got me a decree nisi which in hindsight would have made 1993 a much better year than it turned out to be as that was the year that, for other reasons, my wife and I divorced.
Weeks prior to my scheduled exit date I had shipped all of my worldly goods back to the UK and only had enough kit to basically go to work and go out on a weekend so packing for my flight home was a breeze…all I had was a sports bag which I intended to carry onto the aircraft rather than stow it in the belly…travelling light was the plan all along.
My flight was scheduled for a ‘weekend’ so it fell on a Thursday as I recall (Thursday and Friday are the Saudi equivalent of Saturday and Sunday). I spent most of the day flitting from villa to villa (some converted into pubs) saying my goodbyes to the many very good friends I had the pleasure of working drinking and socialising with. The local hooch, affectionately known as ‘Sid’ (short for Siddiqi, ‘my friend’ in Arabic, because after drinking it everybody is your friend), was the order of the day and let me tell you it takes a fierce hold of you when you least expect it.
During the course of my day of goodbyes several people handed me VHS tapes that they had borrowed from me at some point in the past, all of which were crammed end to end with porn. Porn, much like booze, was a kind of currency over there. If you had either in sufficient quantity you could move mountains. My own personal porn stash, which numbered in the hundreds of tapes, had already been shipped and these few tapes made up the remainder. Waving away the words of those wiser than me “You don’t want to get caught in Saudi customs with THAT.” my Sid addled brain decided that it wouldn’t be a problem and bunged them into my sports bag as there was ample room. Eventually my afternoon of drinking and handshaking and address swapping came to a close and I was on my way.
Cut to the queue at Dhahran International airport and there I was waiting for my ticket to be checked to board the shuttle flight over to Bahrain and my main concern was whether or not they would allow me to board the flight due to being extremely drunk rather than what they might find in my bag if they searched it. No such worries…the exit visa that accompanied my ticket saw to it that the Saudi official stamped it promptly (no doubt glad to see the back of another debauched Westerner) and onwards I went to the departure gate.
The hop over to Bahrain is short, so much so that just as soon as the aircraft starts to climb it then begins it’s descent…all over in a very short space of time. So now I’m in Bahrain with around 6 hours to kill before my BA flight whisks me back to Blighty. The obvious thing to do is to get out of the airport and go bar hopping in the many hotel bars that are in close proximity (Bahrain is an independent state with no stupid drinking laws like Saudi has). Making my way to exit the airport I must have gone through 4 or 5 different security checkpoints, some manned, some electronic, until I arrived at the final one which appeared to be unmanned. I could see the taxis outside queueing up to take people to wherever they wanted to go. I placed my bag on the rollers and walked through yet another electronic doorway and just as I was about to collect my bag an airport official appeared as if from nowhere and began to quiz me. Where was I going?, where had I come from?, WHAT WAS IN MY BAG ?
Emboldened by drink I fronted him out and answered his questions trying not to appear too fussed when he removed the porn tapes from my bag…
“What are these?”, he asked
“Oh, just a bunch of videos”, I replied
With that he told me to wait and then disappeared into a room with my tapes and quickly reappeared and told me to pick up my bag and follow him. I was led to a fairly large hallway with a row of chairs placed up against the wall of an office, the door of which was open and traffic in and out was exclusively made up of people wearing police uniforms. My heart sank.
After what seemed like an age one of the junior coppers came out bearing a tray with a small glass of tea on it and offered it to me. I was slightly bemused…here I was in a Muslim country where they scribble in black marker pen over any and every picture of any female flesh in every copy of every newspaper and I’m carrying a whole bunch of explicit porn yet I’m being offered hospitality instead of being beaten with a rubber hose prior to being gang raped.
So there I sat and every now and then a brown face would appear from the office doorway and cast a glance my way as if to check out the international porn smuggler they had caught. When my gaze caught theirs they smiled sheepishly and ducked back into their sanctum.
Finally I was summoned inside and told to take a seat whereupon the fatter twin of the prison guard in Midnight Express lumbered into the room and sat opposite me. I swear this man had never seen his feet for decades. Brandishing one of my tapes he began his interrogation..
“What is this?”, he asked
“It’s a tape”, I cockily replied
During my spell sitting ‘outside the headmasters office’ the drunker part of me decided that I would take a chance on them not having checked the tapes and would front this out no matter what. What will be will be.
“What is on this tape? Describe it for me.”, came the reply
It was at this point that I noticed they had a whole bank of VHS players sitting on shelves in a room just off the one we were in. It was 1.01 they’d looked at every tape I had.
“I taped it off the TV.”, I offered
Technically it wasn’t a lie. Back in the day that’s what you did. You played the original onto the TV so that you could see what you were pirating.
“What is on the tape?”, he pressed
“Women…”, I answered
“Pornography”, he countered
“Well, yes I suppose so.”, I admitted
I then figured that a change of plan was required and fucking quickly as the deck heavily favoured the house and further gambling on their ineptitude might lead me into trouble, if not the black hole of Calcutta (or it’s equivalent), so I switched my play. I decided to go with my gut and be honest and forthright.
I pointed out that first of all I was on an exit visa back to the UK so there would be no coming back. I pointed out that I had just arrived in from Saudi Arabia which is where I got the smut. The Commandant’s jaw dropped. I then told him of the drink drugs and debauchery that was commonplace in Saudi and he looked like he was about to pass out. I told him that these tapes were my personal property that people had given back to me earlier in the day and if he wanted to take them off me then that was fine. I told him that if he wanted to give them back to me then that would be OK too. I told him that I wasn’t an international porn peddlar and I wasn’t hell bent on trying to corrupt the people of Bahrain…I was just a guy trying to go home after a year away in a foreign country who happened to have a handful of sex tapes in his bag. Big deal. Your call.
I was sent back out to the chairs outside the office to await the verdict. There was another western looking chap occupying one of the seats so I sat next to him to find out his story. He was found with a suitcase full of women’s underwear though he told me (and presumably the cops) that he was a lingerie salesman. More little glasses of tea arrived which we gratefully accepted.
My chat with the other guy was cut short when I was wheeled back into the office once again and sat opposite my fat tormentor. He asked me about my flight home, what time it was due off etc so I showed him my ticket and he asked me what my plans were in the meantime. I told him I was going to go to the hotel bars and waste some time there. He said that was OK but I had to report to his office upon my return to the airport so I said fine and I was escorted ‘sans videos’ to the taxi area.
After an uneventful tour of Manama’s hotels I dutifully made my way back to the airport’s cop shop and was ushered in to see the fat controller. He sat opposite me and produced my porn, all shrink wrapped in a Bahrain customs bag bearing the legend “CUSTOMS CHECKED” in red in both English and Arabic. He pushed the bag across the table to me and basically told me to get out of his sight and had two of his men escort me from his office all the way through every security checkpoint right up to the boarding gate where they remained until I boarded the aircraft. Several hours and one tremendous hangover later I landed at Heathrow and skipped through customs without a care in the world. I was home and I still had my smut.
Of course this tale could have ended very differently depending upon a number of factors but I think it’s safe to say that it wouldn’t have happened at all had I been sober at the time the tapes were offered back to me. No way would I have chanced taking them through customs and risk getting caught. While this particular story has a happy ending the outcome could have been very much the opposite. Don’t drink and gamble folks, you know it makes sense 😉