I recall how embarrassed I was as a Brit abroad when Heathrow Airport’s new Terminal 5 opened in 2008 with much fanfare only to descend into chaos, with its new baggage handling system suspended and dozens of flights cancelled.
What was supposed to be a day of glory for British Airways, sole occupant of the mammoth terminal, built at a cost of $8.6 billion, turned into a shambles as problems worsened. The airline was finally forced to restrict passengers at the terminal to hand-luggage only.
At one point, a British Airways flight left without any of its baggage in the hold, embarrassed airline officials conceded, making a mockery of an earlier claim that the new state-of-the-art baggage system would work well from Day 1.
Things are a lot slicker nowadays and the technology worked a treat when I checked in after a festive break with the family for my return flight back to Bahrain.
I did feel slightly uncomfortable having to put my own bag on the conveyer belt, print out the label and attach it myself. Perhaps I’m just lazy and like someone-else doing it. But I managed it OK although I couldn’t help feeling that aging parents of expats planning a visit might find it a tad intimidating.
I enjoyed the couple of hours before boarding in the Inspire Lounge for a hearty breakfast and refreshments until the time to head on down to the gate was highlighted on the big screen. There was a longer than usual wait, probably around 40- minutes, before we were invited to jump on the bus to take us to the aircraft.
The post-Christmas flight was jam-packed and I spotted more than a few acquaintances and their families lining up patiently with their families in the queue.
As soon as we climbed on board and settled in our seats the captain informed us that they’d been a repair carried out on a cargo bay seal, hence the delay in boarding, and the work had been carried out to his satisfaction and take-off would commence shortly once the paperwork was sorted.
For the next three-and-a-half hours the embarrassed crew profusely apologised for the continuing delay explaining how the said paperwork apparently had to travel from BA HQ to the Civil Aviation Authority, back to base and on to Heathrow.
I can just imagine the scenario.
The chief seal repair director who needed to sign the form had left for lunch and would be back in an hour. Unfortunately, the CAA’s executive seal repair authoriser had popped to the shops to exchange her New Year party dress because her stupid husband had bought her the wrong size skimpy frock for Christmas (she’s no longer aged 23 or a Size 8) and no-one else had the authority, or wanted, the responsibility of signing it.
In reality, it was probably much more boring … just bureaucracy.
We sat on the plane and waited. I received several texts from BAeServices, one offering light refreshment vouchers which could be collected from the customer service desk, another advising me that the engineering repairs had been completed sooner than anticipated so we were going to stay onboard and another apologising for the delay.
One would have thought that in this high tech world of instant communication – I regularly transfer funds across the globe and even signed mortgage agreements using my mobile device – surely the airline and the government entity responsible could do likewise.
On the upside, I am told the delay may bring some compensation, which will go towards my son Stan Jnr’s flight to Bahrain in February to celebrate his 17th birthday. Hopefully he’ll arrive in time for the party.
I blame Michael Jackson. When I was a child ‘bad’ meant, well, bad. Suddenly, in the 1980s, the former Bahrain resident and late pop icon released an album called Bad and everyone started using the term as if it meant good.
The same goes for ‘dog’s life’. Originally the term referred to the hard life of the working dog sleeping outside in a damp shed and living on scraps. Today, however, it has acquired the completely opposite meaning, the ultimate description of a pampered existence.
I’ll let you to decide which connotation should be used after reading my sorry festive tale.
When I first came to Bahrain 13 years ago, the good lady wife, Kathryn, and I decided to leave Daizy, the cocker spaniel behind. The decision became ‘dad’s’ and whenever our children, Imogen and Stan Jnr, are angry with me, they’ll bring up the time I ‘abandoned’ their beloved pet.
It didn’t help matters that my sister, who had kindly said she would look after Daizy for the ‘two years’ we were away, moved house and placed Daizy in the care of a friend.
The friend and his family fell in love with Daizy and before we knew it she had a new home and we were even banned from seeing her on our annual trip back to the UK in case we ‘upset and unsettled her’.
To ease the heartache in the Szecowka household, after spotting a couple of small pooches advertised on a shop noticeboard on Budaiya Highway, I brought Millie and Lillie home to our villa in Saar.
But small mutts are not cool. I used to take them for walkies late at night so none of my friends from the Dilmum Cub would spot me. Then one evening two young lads on bikes came tearing down the road with a puppy tied by a rope round its neck.
The stray desert dog collapsed and the boys cycled off. I thought he was dead but after a while he got up and followed me home … and Lucky joined the family.
When Kathryn and the children returned back to the UK during the summer for educational reasons, the dogs, of course, had to go too.
One of my Bahraini friends shook his head in disbelief when I told him how much it was going to cost.
I’ve just flown back to Bristol for a very short trip to spend today with the family and to celebrate granddaughter Eliza’s first Christmas.
I’m very much hoping that my eldest son, Louis, will join us tomorrow but he’s just become the proud owner of a Cocker-Doodle called Walter.
Louis is a theatre executive in London and he is allowed to take the dog with him to work each day.
My eldest daughter, Charmaine, having spent the past couple of days with us and my other two grandchildren, Kai and Esme, is spending Christmas Day with him.
I thought I had it all planned. Fearing Lucky might eat Walter if he came along too, Charmaine volunteered to babysit the puppy, allowing Louis to come and see me.
But nothing is that simple.
According to Louis, his big sister spends too long on her smart phone and won’t pay enough attention to Walter, who he believes will ‘stress’ without him close by.
So D Day is Boxing Day. Will his love of dad or dog prevail?
Either way, one of us will be in the dog house when I fly back to Bahrain on Friday.
In recent days I’ve been on a whirlwind of festive fun. I very much doubt any place on earth puts on a brighter or better celebration of togetherness and happiness than the Kingdom of Bahrain.
It started with the Manama Singers carol singing at the Dilmun Club and then the five star properties joined the party in what appears to be quite a competitive round of dazzling displays.
It’s fabulous to watch as staff members from each hotel pull out all the stops with carol singing, dancing and musicianship, watched and supported by senior management, and fully appreciated by enthusiastic crowds of onlookers.
I love ‘people watching’ and it’s an absolute joy to study the faces of families, of all races and religions, gathering together in a spirit of harmony so unique to this kingdom.
And why not? Who doesn’t love a fat man, with a white beard, pot belly and a cheerful ho, ho, ho?
I recall the first time I stepped on to Bahraini soil, exactly 13 years ago at this time of year, for that all important recce before starting the job proper in the New Year.
Like most Europeans, I had little true understanding of the Arab world apart from the research I had done for the first interview and the decades of misconceived stereotypical prejudices I had soaked up by being brought up in the West.
I was nervous and it didn’t help matters that Heathrow Airport was soulless, horrible and nasty (it’s a lot better now that Terminal 5 has opened). The people working there, from the coffee shop assistants to the security personnel, were miserable and unwelcoming.
As I joined a queue of passengers herded towards the luggage check-in I spotted only one skinny, pathetic-looking excuse for a Christmas tree on display, hidden round one of the corners. There was nothing to mark the season of goodwill on the roads leading up to the airport or at its entrance.
The bright lights of Bahrain were breathtaking in comparison. OK, they might have been put up to mark National Day, but who cares. I remember thinking, ‘wow, what a place!’
I stayed at the Gulf Hotel and also visited the Ritz-Carlton and could not believe my eyes. I still can’t when I attend the annual lights switching on ceremonies at these properties and all the others I have recently been invited to.
When I set off from Bahrain International Airport (and I hope it keeps its friendly intimacy when the big expanded facility opens next year) there was also a stunning display in Departures, with a Father Christmas on a train and delightful displays of festive fun.
I couldn’t wait to come back.
And, although I’ll soon be making a flying visit home to embrace family and friends in the UK, I know a piece of my heart will remain here in Bahrain, even for the few days I’m away … and it will forever more.
Santa Claus is the epitome of a good person. Even if everything about him is unrealistic, there's something about Santa that we would like to see in every person. His kindness and generosity knows no bounds, and let's not forget that he lives in the happiest place there is … Bahrain.
I know, I’ve personally seen him on at least a dozen occasions in recent days.
May Christmas warm your heart the whole year long and to quote award-winning author Louis Sachar: ‘Whenever you give someone a present or sing a holiday song, you're helping Santa Claus. To me, that's what Christmas is all about. Helping Santa Claus!’
GDNonline's ace videographer Ahmed Jaber Fardan had a double celebration ... he completed his first ever Ironman and then raced to the hospital after being told on the finishing line that his pregnant wife, Eman Sabah AlHaddad, was about to give birth.
Ahmed, 29, from Bani Jamra, completed the run, swim and cycle challenge in eight hours, 10 minutes and 22 seconds and despite being exhausted he managed to perform a baby swinging jiggle before collecting his medal and setting off to Salmaniya Medical Complex still wearing his sweaty tri-suit.
"I was so excited," he said. "As soon as I crossed the finishing line I got the call from my mother-in-law to hot-foot it to the hospital as Eman was just being taken into the delivery suite."
The couple's beautiful baby daughter, Sara, weighing 2.7kilos, was born on Saturday at 5.47pm, a brother to two-year-old, Adam, around three hours after the race finish.
"Mother and baby are doing just fine and Adam loves having a little sister," added Ahmed.
As for dad, he says he just needs a rest ... in between rocking the newborn!
The votes are in and the Laureus Academy will now choose the winners from the six nominees in each category that you have decided. The winners will be announced at our 20th anniversary Laureus World Sports Awards in Berlin on Monday 17 February 2020.
Thank you so much for taking the time and being part of the Awards – we genuinely couldn’t do it without you. I hope the Academy agrees with your choices! Please keep an eye out for the shortlists which will be announced in January – when once again, we would love you to become an active part of the wider debate around who in the sporting world had a 2019 to remember!
LAUREUS WORLD SPORTS ACADEMY
Thomas Edison's expat mother: 'Of course I'm proud you invented the light bulb, son. Now turn it off, it's costing us a fortune.'
As a man who struggles to put an IKEA single bed frame together, I’ve always had a deep admiration for craftsmen, in fact anyone who can create things with their hands.
On my morning jog around Sanabis I recently watched with great admiration as labourers toiled to lay brick pavements around the area surrounding the exhibition centre.
They were true artisans. It would probably have been quicker just to tarmac the area but placing a single brick at a time in place, sometimes in a neat pattern, was time consuming but pretty effective.
It added a touch of class to the area which attracts thousands of visitors, particularly to big events like Jewellery Arabia, and empty waste land is opened up for the thousands of additional cars that descend on the area. People can simply step out of their cars and walk safely on the nicely paved sidewalks all the way to the centre.
It seemed like a logical and a wise investment by the municipality.
Unfortunately, everyone forgot about the pavement parkers. You’ve probably met them around the malls and in most built-up areas. When they’re not parking on roundabouts or blocking your company entrance, they’re parking on pavements.
Do they care if their 4 x 4 monsters crush the pavements recently laid? Nope.
These people don’t want to walk any distance or bother parking in allocated spaces.
Now is the time for the authorities in Bahrain to wage war on the inconsiderate drivers who simply do not care about the damage they leave behind, or the cost of the repairs that may, if budgets allow, have to be carried out.
Bring in the wheel clamp with a hefty fine for its removal. The fines will fill the coffers to carry out the necessary footpath repairs … and there might be enough left in the kitty to pay a bonus to the workmen getting down on their hands and knees to make good the damage.
THOUSANDS of music fans will once again trek down to the Bahrain Rugby Football Club for another dose of nostalgia at the latest edition of TribFest on Friday.
Lookalike acts flown in from the UK will mimic bands and performers of yesteryear and some more recent chart-toppers to the delight of the young and old alike on the grass pitch at Janabiya.
“This is the tenth edition,” said rugby club GM Derek McKenzie. “It now has a bit of a cult following, an event for people to meet up and soak up the atmosphere. The music is good and it allows people to reminisce the olden days! Each TribFest is getting bigger and bet-ter!”
Side attractions include rides for children, clowns and street entertainers mingling amid the crowds, with food and refreshment stalls, alongside families picnicking on blankets and under erected gazebos during the sunshine hours.
When dusk descends the serious party-goers take over close to the stage and the music gets rockier with acts delivering classics from Queen, the Artic Monkeys and David Bowie.
The rugby club is not the only expat club or five star hotel outlet reaping the rewards of mu-sical trips down memory lane. The recent Friday brunch at the Gulf Hotel & Convention Centre’s Sherlock Holmes featuring Bon Giovi, the ‘most authentic tribute to rock legends Bon Jovi’ sold out.
The venue is experiencing a similar stampede for places for the coming Halloween edition with a concert and brunch next Thursday and Friday featuring Abba tribute act Revival.
And the Dilmun Club in Saar will be staging the much-awaited ‘DilStock - Rock the 80s’ on Friday, November 8, with acts playing U2 and Rolling Stones classics among others.
Jamie Moore, a member of award-winning Madness tribute act Badness, who call them-selves the ‘most entertaining ska revival show’, told GDNonline: “Our success may be down to the ‘tribute’ thing although we prefer to look at it more as a nostalgia trip.
“Most tributes try to look like the act but we don’t and never have. It’s just six blokes from the north of England playing Madness and Bad Manners and ska music as close to the original recordings as we can.
“Our act is a show involving plenty of audience participation and it’s a bit like pantomime where there is room for improvisation, plus the main thing is we are all playing ‘live’, songs can be extended and random stuff can happen, so it keeps it fresh and a laugh on stage.
“What troubles me about the tribute scene is the fact that some acts actually believe they are the real thing! It’s scary ... the ego arrives before they do!
“But for me, very near my 60th birthday, to still be playing and performing in front of sell-out crowds, I feel very lucky. Badness have now been on the road for 25 years. The bottom line is … it’s probably nice to revisit your teenage days, well, so our audiences keep telling us!”
Stanley Louis Szecowka
Editor/Journalist & Blogger, Restaurant & Motors Reviewer, FinTech Writer, Manager, Trainer.
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