I called home shortly after hearing the breaking news that Her Majesty the Queen had passed away. The good lady wife, Kathryn, who is caring for her aging father in a village just a short drive from the northern English city of Hull was too choked up to speak to me.
The following day, I touched base with Al Hilal’s managing director Ronnie Middleton who was visiting family back in the UK and he said that his wife, Joyce, was in tears too.
We were all rocked, at home and those of us Brits living and working abroad.
We loved the Queen and we will remember her.
Fortunately, I had the pleasure of meeting Her Majesty on two occasions.
One of the joys of being a journalist is that I have been blessed with the opportunity of mixing in circles I would never have dreamt of as a child growing up on a council estate in the East End of London.
During my time as community and campaigns editor of the Hull Daily Mail I was involved in the organising committee for the royal visit to celebrate the 700th anniversary of the city becoming a ‘kings-town’ … its actual title is Kingston upon Hull.
It was 1999 and as the world prepared to celebrate the upcoming new century, Hull decided to have its party a year early.
My job was to accompany the Duke of Edinburgh around the offices of the historic publication, it has been circulated in various guises since 1885.
It was a simple task and to make it easy for me, carpet panels had been lifted and replaced with bright red ones on the route we had to take.
The rehearsal went well but on the day my profoundly bad sense of direction got the better of me.
The late Duke had a tough persona, did not suffer fools gladly and had a reputation of not being a great fan of the media, so I was understandably nervous. The rumours were nonsense, we got on like a house on fire as soon as he spotted one of our rugby action images on the wall.
Hull FC had played arch-rivals Hull Kingston Rovers in the Challenge Cup Final at Wembley. Legend has it that one of the bridges leading out of the city sported a message requesting the last person out the city to switch off the lights.
As we chatted about sport we wandered off towards the office canteen and the Duke stopped me suddenly and said: “Stanley, do you think we should be following the red carpet?”
Later, at a special reception at the city council offices, I was introduced to Her Majesty the Queen. She asked me who I was and what I did for a living and I explained that today my job was to look after her husband and that I’d almost messed up doing that.
I explained that I had been worried about the Duke’s reputation but had found him absolutely charming and kind.
She laughed, sympathised with my red carpet mix-up and told me, with a smile, that the Duke ‘was not all bad’.
She knew, she loved him and now joins him in heaven.
A few years later, Kathryn and I were invited by Her Majesty to a Garden Party at Buckingham Palace.
The cucumber sandwiches were sensational. The Royal Family members were warm and welcoming and the memory of the occasion will live in our hearts forever.
At that time, I was deputy editor of the Bristol Evening Post, later launched my own weekly publication The Clifton Chronicle and my business dealings and community endeavours in the city resulted in several meetings with His Highness The Prince of Wales.
He was charming and invited me to a reception at The Orchard Room, Highgrove House.
It is the family residence of King Charles III and Camilla, Queen Consort of the United Kingdom.
We talked about families, communities, the environment and business matters. He was visionary, well informed and truly inspiring.
God Save the King.
It’s only a little island, there are only a few highways, it won’t take long to find your way around, or so you would think.
That depends, of course, if you have a good sense of direction and you’re quick-witted enough to take that turn in 200 metres as instructed by the lady on your Google Map app … no, not that right, the one after … as you end up on a busy back street in Um Al’ Hassam, or worse still, on the edge of Manama souq.
I was lucky when I first arrived in the Kingdom of Bahrain in 2007 because there was a towering florescent light proudly sitting on top of the Gulf Hotel. If I could make my way from Hoora in the direction of Adliya and the shiny sign I could find my way home, otherwise I got lost.
It appeared that every sign – north, south, east and west – pointed either to the Bahrain International Circuit or Saudi Arabia and for many months I took the long way home to Saar, terrified of the driving habits of locals, crazed fellow expats and the weekend visitors.
The roundabouts were a fun experience too … Burgerland, in particular, was a case of a quick prayer and hoping you’d get in the right lane without a prang.
I used to marvel at the policemen who swung their arms magnificently conducting the traffic and introducing calm to the chaos … but now I’m getting nostalgic as the police are no longer needed, most of the roundabouts are now junctions with helpful blinking green lights indicating in advance when it’s time to stop.
By the time the sign from the Gulf Hotel came down after a major refurbishment I was fortunately more knowledgeable and starting to complain – even taking the direct route – about how far it was to Amwaj Islands or Sakhir in the other direction!
Shocking really, this was a man who used to be regularly stuck in a queue for two hours or more to travel15 miles from north to south of an English city and not think anything of it.
That’s progress and that’s one thing Bahrain can be proud of … this tiny country continues to invest in its infrastructure and, for someone who has only witnessed around a decade and a half of change, the roads network has improved immensely and still the investment continues apace.
It’s been a privilege to witness the changes and to play a part in reporting on and recording the country’s progress in print, online and on social media.
Thankfully, I’ve been able to draw on 40 years of journalistic experience to help me navigate a new environment and a country I now call home.
It’s been a place which my youngest children still consider as their favourite place of residence having ridden horses, played football, gone to school and lived a privileged life in a safe and secure environment.
I happily boast to my friends back in the UK that I could confidently walk with my family through any neighbourhood – city, town or village – at any time of day or night in the Kingdom of Bahrain in the full knowledge that not even the thought of danger would enter my head.
You couldn’t say the same about London, Bristol or Hull – cities I know extremely well - and having spoken to many American expatriate acquaintances, you’d need to book an appointment with a psychiatrist for even considering stepping into some districts in their home country.
No doubt I’ve ruffled a few feathers over the years, but then any journalist worth his salt is bound to do that at times, however, I like to think that the GDN has been able to be not only ‘the voice of Bahrain’ but its champion.
If it’s good for Bahrain, it’s good for the GDN and if it’s good for the GDN, it’s good for my team of journalists.
My working philosophy hasn’t changed from the first time I professionally picked up a pen on my first working day at the office of a small town newspaper as a raw, keen and eager trainee reporter in 1976.
It’s simple; always be willing to come face-to-face with the person you’ve written about the next day.
It made sense. If you upset someone not only would the complainant lambast your editor … he’d also call your mum!
That’s not what many scribes on national newspapers in the UK or other Western countries need to think about. They can publish and be damned and roll on to the next community to disrupt, cause havoc and leave a trail of tears.
Bahrain, although a thriving, dynamic country, also has a unique family-focussed small town feel it must, forever, embrace. It’s what makes it the number one destination for expatriate workers and keeps its young nationals fully focussed and determined to achieve great things in the future.
You may not know everyone you pass in a mall, coffee shop, hotel restaurant or office elevator but you’re sure to know someone, who knows someone, who does.
This came home to me recently when covering an incident on the runway of a Gulf Air flight to Kuwait. It made an emergency stop and its passengers had to evacuate the aircraft down the emergency slides.
There were only 62 passengers onboard but, of course, a friend of a friend, knew one of them. I called him at his hotel room and the 49-year-old banker was happy to talk about his experience to the GDN, because it was a newspaper he could trust and a newspaper that had been a part of his life since his childhood.
We’re going to meet face-to-face for a coffee shortly. That’s what you do in Bahrain.
Bahrainis have been warm and welcoming to the Szecowka family both personally and professionally.
The joys of working and living in this country are world-renowned. It’s a melting pot of cultures and people of all colours and creeds work together to make this country shine.
Fifty years of independence, 50 years of stunning developments and achievements as this book so clearly outlines.
What a keepsake and what a country.
Congratulations and thank you, Bahrain.
WITH the hospitality sector globally reeling from measures introduced to help fight the pandemic, few people would relish stepping in to take over the reins of a property, no matter how distinguished its name or desirable its setting.
Add that to taking on an additional expansive regional role and you might be concerned about the man’s sanity.
But Rami Sayess, who celebrated his 53rd birthday on Wednesday, is crazy about his latest appointment, crazy about being back in Bahrain and crazy about the career he loves and the prospects unfolding.
Unsurprisingly, little should faze the hospitality hotshot after the year he has had coping with civil unrest, revolution, Covid-19, currency devaluation and culminating with the tragic August 4 port blast causing his property to close down for restoration.
“Following three-and-a-half extremely successful years in Beirut during which the hotel achieved record results, the past 15 months were beyond challenging due to the reasons mentioned,” he admitted.
“The hardest part to deal with was having to say goodbye to so many amazing colleagues which was a huge loss not only for Four Seasons but the destination as a whole. Our people are our greatest asset and because of them I managed to cope with the sequence of crisis that Lebanon went through, they were my backbone and without them I wouldn’t be where I am today!
“I’ve always been very clear about my objectives: take one step at a time, do your best in whatever position you are in and enjoy whatever it is you are doing.”
His latest role is regional vice-president and general manager at Four Seasons Hotel Bahrain Bay, taking over the reins from Richard Raab who has been sent to Russia with love, transferred to Four Seasons Hotel Lion Palace St Petersburg as GM after three years driving the successful launch of the hotel’s private beach, waterpark and additional leisure facilities.
With a proven track record in the hospitality industry, specifically with Four Seasons over the past 15 years, Mr Sayess will be based in Bahrain with regional responsibilities overseeing several Four Seasons hotels and resorts in Europe, the Middle East and Africa (EMEA) region.
“I have been in this position (regional vice-president and GM) for the past 10 years,” he said. “Initially in Bangkok overseeing our four hotels and resort in Thailand, then Qatar before moving to Lebanon and now Bahrain.
“Since I moved back to the Middle East in 2013 I have been overseeing a number of Four Seasons Hotels & Resorts within the EMEA region and this will continue to be the case while based in Bahrain. In addition, to my position as GM at Four Seasons Hotel Bahrain Bay, my regional responsibility currently covers the following countries: Mauritius Island, Tunis, Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Qatar, Lebanon as well as several hotels in the pipeline within the region.”
He is also in charge of recruiting graduates from hotel schools in Europe to be placed at the group’s hotels and resorts around the world, identifying the ‘leaders of the future’.
His own potential was spotted early ... by his late father. “His name was Zaki which means intelligent in Arabic, and he certainly was!” Mr Sayess said.
“A self-made man who introduced the travel industry in the South of Lebanon by opening the very first travel agency there in the early 1960s.
“Through our travels during the years, my dad always noticed how much I enjoyed staying in hotels around the world and the questions I used to ask about how hotels operate, hence his instinct of guiding me towards this profession.”
His younger years were certainly full of travel. He spent his first 17 years mostly in Lebanon with a few stints abroad in Syria, Cyprus, Czech Republic and the UK – moving four times during the war in Lebanon.
“What was that like? I didn’t know anything different and we had no choice of moving each time the war broke close to home,” he said.
“I guess this made me more intrigued to travel even more and learn new cultures whenever an opportunity presented itself. Of course, this comes at a cost, getting used to new surroundings, making new friends, proving yourself again, changing schools etc., ... but at the same time this was an advantage of preparing me for the future that I had no idea about then!”
He was recently interviewed by Les Roches, the famed private hospitality school located in Switzerland, for a student article, and the class of 1990 graduate was described as the ‘hotelier’s hotelier’.
Asked who had made the biggest impact on his professional career, he replied: “My dad for sure. He suggested the idea of ‘hotel management’ to me and followed my career step-by-step until he passed away in 2005, the year I joined Four Seasons. That was a poignant moment, since it was a goal he had set for me back in 1987 when I started at Les Roches.”
Although Lebanese born he is also a British citizen and is married to Brit Mary Brown, who he describes as ‘forever young at heart and a role model to three lovely children’.
Love was in the air from the moment they met. As the box office film title suggests ‘There’s Something About Mary!’
“I took the right flight from London to Dubai and was lucky to sit next to this gorgeous lady who eventually became my wife,” he said. “Since then I never talk to ladies on flights ... too dangerous!”
The frequent traveller lifestyle of the sector has given their children a taste of the world too. Maher, 22, will be graduating this summer from City University in London (Mechanical Engineering). Mazen, 19, is following in his dad’s footsteps and is in his first year at Les Roches. Mazen was born in Bahrain while dad was working at Le Royal Meridien Hotel, now the arch-rival Ritz-Carlton, Bahrain, as hotel manager between 2000 and 2002. Daughter Lara, turning 16 this summer, has joined Grade 10 at Riffa Views International School.
“Our children have travelled around the world and Bahrain is Lara’s sixth move!” said dad.
With the family settled in the kingdom, Mr Sayess can now concentrate on the task at hand and relish the opportunity. The Four Seasons Hotel Bahrain Bay has just been recognised on Condé Nast Traveller Middle East’s 2021 Gold List, one of the hospitality industry’s most esteemed awards that honours the best hotel and resort properties around the world. The Gold List provides inspiration and authoritative critiques for discerning travellers on where to stay.
As one of only nine properties in the Middle East and the only hotel in Bahrain to be featured, the recognition serves as a ‘fantastic achievement, attributed to the support of the hotel’s ownership together with the kingdom’s long-term vision of building upon its unique strengths to unlock its great potential in becoming a leisure and cultural destination of distinction’.
“In the midst of an incredibly challenging time for our industry, we are humbled to be included in this esteemed list of the world’s best hotels,” said Mr Sayess. “The incredible accomplishment is a result of the collective hard work, dedication, and innovation the team continues to deliver to elevate each guest experience.
“As we collectively respond to the Covid-19 pandemic, Four Seasons Hotel Bahrain Bay continues to ensure that guest, member and employee health and safety remains our top priority.
“Lead With Care, our enhanced global health and safety programme which is being implemented at Four Seasons properties worldwide, leverages on world-class medical expertise through collaborations with international experts to strengthen our already stringent health and safety policies and procedures.
“While the Four Seasons experience may look different, our dedicated team members are committed to delivering the same intuitive service and personalised care for which we are known and trusted for the world over.
“The ones who make the difference are the people who interact with each and every guest day-in-day-out. My job is to lead, guide and support my team members to ensure they are empowered enough to give their best. Sometimes people don’t even know what potential they actually have until someone gets the best out of them, and this is my number one goal.”
But will the hospitality sector ever fully recover?
“We are still in the ‘learning phase’ of what the new normal might look like,” he admitted.
“I personally believe that going back to how things used to be is far-fetched as, through the experiences of this past year, we discovered new ways of doing business and many cases proved even more efficient than before.
“Having said that, when it comes to hospitality, nothing can replace the ‘human touch’ and personal interactions, hence, I do hope that some of what we used to do in the past will resume sooner than later.
“Given the current circumstances around the world, I couldn’t think of a better place to be than Bahrain. Having two sons studying in Europe, family and friends in the US, GCC and other parts of the world, I can safely say that Bahrain would be our preferred home given the way this pandemic has been handled at the outset, thanks to the wise leadership at the top.
“In addition, the renowned hospitality of the Bahraini people speaks for itself making me and my family feel right at home since our arrival in the kingdom.
“I urge everyone to follow the guidelines provided by the authorities so we can protect each other and hopefully get back to our normal lives.
“And, I look forward to meeting my colleagues around the city, as well as all our guests who are missing us as much as we miss them!”
And, he has a few tricks up his sleeve to attract old customers back and entice new ones to visit.
“We have numerous exciting additions to the property coming up which we look forward to soon announcing,” he teased.
“re/ASIAN CUISINE, celebrity chef Wolfgang Puck’s restaurant on the 50th floor, is currently undergoing a transformation which is set to showcase a brand new sushi lounge serving an innovative menu in a lively setting.
“Also in the pipeline is the Beach Club: a family-focused entertainment space to complement the recent addition of our kids’ waterpark and private white-sand beach. The Beach Club is a place where families can play, laugh and relax together, encapsulating the warm and convivial vibe at the heart of our hotel.”
Meanwhile, old friends will soon be heading the hotel’s way. The F1 bandwagon will be arriving shortly with the new season kicking off in the kingdom with the opening race of 2021 at the end of March.
The hotel is a favourite with some of the drivers and teams. The keen table tennis player and Manchester United fan is ready and waiting for Bahrain International Circuit’s sporting bonanza. “I’m looking forward to it,” he said. “The team is ready to welcome our guests back soon.”
A friend of mine has posted on social media about his plans to get his first tattoo before his 60th birthday. It's on his bucket list, the same as me.
For my last birthday I planned four fab things.
However, I still have it in my mind to tattoo the words SLICK (the initials of my children and good lady wife: Stan Jnr, Louis (my sons) Imogen, Charmaine (my daughters) and Kathryn (the Mrs) placed somewhere on my body.
I thought it might be a nice reminder as they're all in the UK and I'm here alone in Bahrain.
I mentioned this to a friend in Bristol and he innocently asked: 'Is that because you live in the Middle East?' (oil slick, gettit?)
But ... I'm still not sure.
One of our acquaintances, Del, has a devious plan to have his name tattooed too with strict instructions to his family to have 'eted' added on his deathbed.
Now that is class.
I picked up the GDN this morning and whilst flicking through the sports pages suddenly spotted a short story headlined Ex-Athletico coach Antic dies.
I knew Raddy Antic.
He wasn't the easiest man to interview as his English was dreadful but he was one of the many characters who welcomed me into the crazy world of football reporting.
I worked as a young journalist on the Milton Keynes Mirror and Mirror on Sunday, a 'newly-created English 'city' in Buckinghamshire, and was assigned the task of covering Luton Town, one of the nearest professional football teams, 20 miles down the M1 heading south.
The alternative was covering Northampton Town, heading north up the M1, and at first I was worried I'd picked the short straw (or straw hat, I'll explain later).
Luton were in the second tier of English football and the first home game I covered they were thrashed 3-0. It looked like it was going to be a long season.
In those early 1980s, footballers weren't multi-million superstars with flash agents. I interviewed the players in the dressing room after the game, played pool with them after they had showered and changed, regularly called into goalie Jake Findlay's home for coffee and a chat as he lived in Milton Keynes, and coach David Pleat was warm and welcoming and always made a bee-line to say hello, especially when I travelled to away games.
The only 'special one' was Raddy Antic. He drove a really flash executive limo to the training ground, much better than the ones owned by the other players and probably the board of directors too. There were rumours he was 'well connected' with certain families from Eastern Europe with a nod and a wink.
After that first loss, the Hatters, as they were nicknamed because of the town's historical connection with the hat making trade and a variant on the now rarely seen straw-plaiters, rarely lost a game again.
An incredible run of victories saw them promoted to the top league. It was an amazing footballing journey.
And the Serbian, who played for Yugoslavia internationally, famously kept Luton Town in the top flight with a goal against Manchester City back in 1982/83, the last game I covered before my career in journalism took me on to daily newspapers.
The goal sparked scenes of utter elation as Pleat danced jubilantly on the pitch, one of football's most endearing moments.
Man City only had to win or draw the game to stay safe. The loss saw them relegated instead of the Hatters. Hard to imagine that happening nowadays!
Antic joined the Hatters in 1980, playing more than 100 games for the club.
Incredibly, he later went on to coach Spanish giants Real Madrid, Barcelona and Atletico Madrid.
Luton tweeted: "We are devastated to learn of the passing of a Town legend".
RIP Radomir 'Raddy' Antic, thanks for the memories.
Since moving offices to Sanad, I must say how impressed I’ve been with the amount of people exercising along the Al Istiqlal Walkway.
It appears that many have taken notice of the growing concerns highlighted on GDNonline about the obesity crisis in the country (big news, if you pardon the pun, before Covid-19 took up all the news space).
However, in recent weeks a plethora of food trucks, if that’s the correct collective term for such entities, has appeared within a short trot of the track.
You can now tuck into Dutch-style French fries (work that one out!) or find out how life is 'better with burger' ... and should you suffer a heart attack from all that fast food, just across the road is a hospital and health centre!
Must run ...
Most people born on Leap Day - that's February 29, on years that are divisible by 4 - call themselves leaplings. They've also been referred to as Leapers, Leapsters, and Leap Day babies. The odds of being born on February 29th are 1 in 1,461, or . 068 per cent.
If you're a leapling please share your birthday photographs on your own social media platform GDNlife so that the whole of Bahrain can join in your celebrations on Saturday!
Check out www.gdnlife.com
KEEN writers in Bahrain are being offered the chance to publish their work on Bahrain’s sensational new social media platform in an exciting GDNlife prize competition.
Adult wordsmiths will compete for a monthly BD25 prize and one talented child will walk away with a pair of movie tickets. Both winning stories will also be published in print and online, in the GDN and GDNonline respectively.
Winning stories, of no more than 800 words, will then compete for an annual GDNlife Short Story of the Year prize trophy … and even entries that do not win the judges’ approval could still walk away with an accolade - The GDNlife People’s Choice Award - for receiving the most views and likes.
GDNonline editor and GDNlife administrator Stanley Szecowka said: “All writers dream of having their work published and our community platform offers a unique opportunity for them to shine and win prizes!”
Winners will be announced on the first day of every month and the winning entries will be published on the first Saturday following that date (for example, our first winners will be told on April 1 and will see their work published in print and featured online on April 4).
All entries submitted will be considered, so if your entry does not win this month, it may take a prize in the future.
Please choose an image to highlight your words and title your piece Short Story Entry with your name and age.
Get writing … you could be a winner!
For more details email firstname.lastname@example.org
The ‘me too’ movement now has a comic book heroine on the big screen to champion the cause that women will no longer tolerate being put down by men, or are willing to remain a punching bag for testosterone-filled tyrants.
No-one messes with the female warriors of this film who smash, bang and wallop all the dastardly dudes who get in their way with a clear message that if the fairer sex unite they cannot be defeated.
The first reactions to Birds of Prey are in, and it appears many praise the film’s fight sequences, Margot Robbie’s performance as the lead character, and its overall creative flair.
That’s hard to dispute as there are strong performances by all the female characters. But, on the downside there were some unnecessary stomach-churning moments too, one broken leg episode, for example, is particularly sick in the old-fashioned sense.
In the Warner Bros Pictures film, Margot Robbie returns as Harley Quinn, alongside Mary Elizabeth Winstead as Huntress, Jurnee Smollett-Bell as Black Canary, Rosie Perez as Renee Montoya, and Ella Jay Basco also stars as Cassandra ‘Cass’ Cain in her feature film debut with a warming ‘orphan Annie-style’ delivery and she was certainly my favourite character.
Poor Harley, in the midst of an abusive relationship with the Joker, finds herself kicked out on to the streets and a target for all those fellas she’s upset in the past and a few more besides who wouldn’t touch her for fear of her connection with the arch villain.
After growing up as an unwanted child, getting beaten up at school by nasty nuns, hearing tales of the broken-minded as a psychiatrist and falling for a lunatic, it’s not surprising to find that she ends up as a psycho too.
And, perhaps it’s inevitable that she would team up with a cop, songbird and mafia princess, all damaged by men in one way or the other, of course, be it career-wise or through violence, to rescue a child thief who Gotham’s bizarre skin-peeling villain, crime lord Roman ‘Black Mask’ Sionis (Ewan McGregor), and his zealous right-hand, Victor Zsasz (Chris Messina), want to capture.
Some of the plot is hard to swallow though. For example, when Harley, worse for wear after drowning her sorrows, looks about to be molested and is rescued by Black Canary in fearsome style, the scene is ruined by the consequence of the action. After watching her fighting, instead of hiring her as extra muscle, Sionis recruits her as a ‘driver’. I don’t get that.
That’s a poignant moment too when the one man Harley relies on prefers the fast buck than loyalty and she almost slips and puts self before sisterhood, but it’s a comic book drama, so obviously all’s well that ends well.
I thought I’d hate this, and had the tables been turned and it was a gang of men beating up women, I would have walked out of the cinema (I’m waiting for the barrage of abuse now from women, saying, that’s reality not fiction) but I kind of warmed to the entertainment as such.
It’s not going to win any Oscars but I wouldn’t mind nominating the canine that played Harley’s pet hyena, now that’s a character with plenty of bite.
Stanley Louis Szecowka
Editor/Journalist & Blogger, Restaurant & Motors Reviewer, FinTech Writer, Manager, Trainer.
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