Tuesday, 18 May 2010

Memory freshers

I wrote a few days about my sometimes on sometimes off memory. I was browsing today with my Spotify playlist in the
background w
when this song came on. This was definitely a memory that had stuck.

Just before Christmas 1979 the Libyans set fire to the US Embassy in Tripoli, I was working for Occidental, a US oil company and based in London as the Office Services manager. About 2 am I received a call from my VP who was in America on a Conference. I was told that we were evacuating all the women and children from our Libyan operation and I had the the job of getting them from Tripoli to London ad then dispersing them to their chosen location anywhere but Libya. We had to cater for about 100 souls. The wonderful phrase "Throw money at it John" was uttered.

I hit the phone for the night staff at our travel contractor and told them what was wanted. By the time I had driven to the London office I had a aircraft chartered for the next three days and a block booking at a Gatwick airport hotel for a week. I decamped there with my head travel girl, a large bag of cash - pounds and dollars and no real idea of what was ahead. Our contractor met me there with a couple of his girls and the ticket blanks and endorsing machine.

Initially, the Libyans refused to accept the incoming flight but I was able to suggest what might change their minds. More throwing of money! We had a few spare seats and offered these to people at a US school and a church that did not have our resources. I arranged for a detective officer from the local force to hang about the room where the cashier would be paying out allowances to the incomers. Then off to meet the flight. I had arranged a full hospitality package and nurses on the flight. This, combined with the nearness of Christmas, had engendered a party spirit amongst the 'good ole girls' on the aircraft. More money throwing got us the services of every porter. They whisked us straight past Immigration and we never even saw the Customs Hall as luggage went straight from plane to coach.

We set up next morning to start fixing onward travel but the visitors had the wind under their tails and a majority wanted to hit London after the limited shopping experience of SPLAJ. No problem - we laid on a small fleet of cars and off they went clutching their envelopes with what was meant to be a month's subsistence allowances. Night-time was party time. One of the songs played again and again was the Okie song. It's country so didn't bother me. My crew worked like heroes. I drifted about 'managing' and sustained them with fresh squeezed orange - livened up with prime vodka.

We got down to just a couple of families - some wanted India and other exotic onward journeys. I went to the ticket office so see the end of things. The absolute last woman in was a very tall woman of about 27. I had noticed her much earlier as being very very attractive (I noted such things back then!) The booking girl asked her where she wanted to go? "Muskogee" Knock me down etc.. I insisted on doing that one my very own self. Flight, hotel, car and meeter and greeter telexes.

All that - and more - about the Tripoli Evacuation has passed through my mind as clear and as fresh as if it were just yesterday and not over 30 years back. All from something that lasted less than three minutes. Just as an experiment, I have thought back to the last 'big shop' of 12 days back. Yes - I remember we did it and had lunch out. More? Hardly anything. It is just so damned annoying but - overall - I am glad that I could do a Sam Tyler. There are a lot of things in my past life I would wish to forget or otherwise evade but it seems this is denied me. I still cannot talk to black Labrador dogs.

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