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Published: November 22nd 2018
Here I am sat on the balcony on the first morning of my much anticipated trip to the Middle East. This is my second visit to this area of the world having done a quick stop into Dubai on route to New Zealand 15 years ago. This time I would be stepping out of the airport and entering a culture and diverse region that I am totally alien to. Why I would leave my wife and kids for this trip one month before Christmas is a personal one. For years I worked within Motorsports having worked at Britain’s newest race track (at the time) Rockingham in Corby. It was here, working 15 hour days, that I met a family that would become as close to me as my blood one. Sheena Macdonald was working in the ticket centre at the track and we formed a strong bond with our dark sense of humour. Her and her husband Donald have become very close friends to my family and even my kids refer to them as Nannie Sheena and Grandad Don. Sheena’s family have become like brothers and sisters to me and we are always welcomed warmly into their life events (good and bad) as one of their own. It is this family that invited me to balcony I am now sitting on. Lisa (Sheena’s daughter) emigrated to the Middle East for a well paid job opportunity in Nursing at the newly built hospital of which I am now looking out on to. Whenever I met up with Lisa on her visits back to Corby she always stated that I should bring Yuliya and Kids to visit her. At the start of this year I received a phone call from Sheena who said that Lisa’s son Nick was heading out in November and I should should join him for the trip. Spur of the moment madness took hold and within an hour I had bought my flight tickets and the trip was planned. This however would not just be a family visit, this would be a trip to a bucket list event that I had wanted to do for a number of years. This weekend would be about the Formula One world Championship and it’s last race of the 2018 season. This event would be held at the Yas Marina Circuit in Lisa’s home city of Abu Dhabi.
The trip started early yesterday kissing my wife goodbye. She smiled with her eyes puffy and sleepy due to the 4am wake up, and wished me a safe trip. I jumped into the taxi and headed to the airport. Having checked in the previous day, it took minutes to check my bag in and once through passport control I settled down for some eggs on toast and a pint of Stella ( why not it was 5am after all). The time passed quickly and after a quick video call to Yuliya and the kids I boarded the Etihad plane awaiting departure. I found my window seat next to a couple. I settled down in my seat and my stomach lurched. Now I know this blog is a public read so my description of said couple will have some anonymity but I would just like to put this out there. If you are going to go on a 6 hour trip, with the very high possibility of sitting within a mile of other people, you should, and I say this in the the most respectful way, not arrive with a smell that could only be described as a thrushy tramp whom had run the London Marathon the previous week. The air was thick with the smell (taste) of this lady. Now I work within Mental Health services and we have clients with whom personal hygiene skills are lacking but I was struggling with the hygiene habits of my fellow passenger. On a positive I could fart with impunity for the entire flight (to be honest I could have shit myself and no one would have noticed).
Once I had meditated the smell away I settled into a very pleasant flight. The service was second to none. The food and beverages were handed out at regular intervals and the inflight entertainment was great with our own personal wide screen televisions showing films, tv and the inflight information. I was very interested that we would be flying over Iraq and close to Baghdad. I nodded off to sleep on a couple of occasions. Nodding so aggressively on one occasion that I head butted the seat in front which would have been amusing to watch . Day turned to night, with a stunning sunset over the sandy desert below, and a moonlit starry blanket covered us as we started our descent into Abu Dhabi. Once we pulled into the main terminal we disembarked from the flight and I drew my first none lethal breath of the day inside the air conditioned terminal building. Passport control awaited me. I stood behind two ladies and watched as they one by one proceeded to the desk. Granted a short term visa on arrival you have to be photographed by an image recognition system. The First Lady was asked if she was wearing contacts she said she was. “Take them out” she was told. She stated her supplies were in her suitcase and she was escorted away by a security officer. My contact supplies were also in my suitcase as well. I approached the desk and the officers demeanour was entirely different than with my fellow female passenger. I was quickly ushered through without issue and without contact lens extraction. A short wait for my bag and then I entered the main welcoming hall and literally tripped over my Sister from another mother Lisa. We hugged and she met me with a warm smile. Her dark sense of humour immediately apparent I knew I was in good hands for my stay. We jumped into a taxi and started our journey into the centre of AbuDhabi ( a 30 minute ride). Along the journey Lisa pointed out areas and local sites that were quite difficult to see in the night. I would look forward to seeing them in the light of the following day. I had heard the Grand Mosque was a sight to behold and passing close to the centre it was visible across the water. It was breathtaking and I hope we have the opportunity of visiting whilst I am here. The high rise inner city comes into few and we arrive at Lisa’s apartment building. Marble floors and Pillars welcome us and we get the lift up to her her 3 floor apartment. It is a beautiful spacious 2 bedroom flat on the corner of the block. Lisa’s room is bigger than the top floor of my house at home. With Nick and his girlfriend to have the other spacious room I have the “maids” bedroom at the back of the apartment. Lisa has gone to so much effort with chocolates, shaving kit and welcome gifts. I am humbled by her generosity. The maids room did not have a maid in it ( probably best being away from the wife….. she would not understand!!) It would be absolutely perfect for my stay, only really expecting to have a blanket on the sofa, so to have my own space was great.
Lisa showed me around the local area as we walked to get a bite to eat in the nearby shopping mall. We chatted about her time in Abu Dhabi whilst enjoying a Chinese meal. We sat laughing and conversing and made me appreciate the relationship that we had formed over the past decade. I always wanted to get closer to Lisa as she shares a lot of humour (very dark) and she is a fellow nurse so we have similar interests. After finishing we head back to the apartment and Lisa heads off to bed having to be up for work in the morning. I settle into my room and text Maia and Yuliya some goodnight messages and settle down for some sleep. I hear Nick and Beth arrive after 1 am and Lisa get up for work at 5am and get myself up at 8am. Jump in the shower and this is where you find me now drinking coffee on the balcony in the shaded light overlooking Lisa high rise hospital with helicopters carrying people to the race track on the other side of the city. Nick and Beth having a lie in we will be heading to the track later for a pit lane walk about .
I wouldn’t say that I was much interested in motorsport throughout my younger life. My father was always a football fan having been a life long Manchester City fan. During my early years he spend a lot of time living away from home and living away in London with his job we never really had a close relationship. My mother supported me during my youth with my endeavours and watched me become a successful swimmer going on to win national championships. During the later stages of my schooling I took up rugby and my father grew closer to me especially with the drinking culture that the following fathers would have. Touring with the team meant a weekend away from the wives whilst drinking excessively. F1 was occasionally on in the background on a Sunday afternoon. I remember 1st May 2004 vividly. A lot of people ask “where were you when 9/11 happened? Where were you when Kennedy was shot ( although obviously not to me). But if someone asked me where I was when Ayrton Senna died? I would be able to tell them. Eating Roast Beef at my grandparents house. We watched the crash unfold and then we interrupted the coverage to go into my grandparents dining room for our dinner. Upon our return it was apparent that Senna was gravely injured. It was later in the day that we discovered Senna had succumbed to his injuries. I became quite an avid viewer of the F1 although a tedium ensued with the dominance of Schumacher.
When I first met Yuliya I was doing several jobs and upon her return to Belarus, following her placement, I was invited to come and work with my Father at Rockingham in Corby where he was the main facilities manager, having been M and E co-ordinator during its construction. I started off from the bottom of the workforce and worked my way up into a managerial role in charge of the facilitation of the corporate set up, event set up and music infrastructure. Through this job I was invited to work at Silverstone. Paul Goodall, whom was in charge of the audio and visual infrastructure at Rockingham worked for a company called ARB whom also had the same contract at Silverstone. It was here that I had my first face to face experience of Formula One. With my access all areas pass I watched the start of the race from metres away from the start line standing next to the Marshall’s. The noise and the power of the event was breathtaking and totally spellbinding. The sweet smell of the cars and the chest rattling power of these beasts with their gladiators behind their wheels was amazing. I was hooked. I worked at Silverstone wiring speakers, installing screens and running the sound for the Becketts complex for several years. Even after being made redundant from Rockingham and moving to Manchester to complete my nurse training I continued to work at Silverstone for the British Grand Prix. Sadly my ties to Paul and ARB have stooped (although he remains a good Facebook friend who likes my blogs) and my final F1 experience was in 2016. I have continued watching from afar with my subscription of SkyF1 much to the dismay of Yuliya. I offset her disgust with the hours of Tv viewing during an F1 weekend by ignoring her obsession with reality TV shows. So when the opportunity of visiting the season finale in 2018 I could not refuse.
I have my third coffee before Nick and Bethany emerge from their room. After a quick shower Nick and Me jump into a taxi and head off to the Yas Marina. The journey to the circuit is a stark reminder where in the world I was. In between high balconied hotels and offices and lush green park land there are isolated communities nestled in sandy desolate areas. The sandy emptiness was visable for miles on all sides. The main area of Abu Dhabi is made up of several large islands on the Persian Gulf. Yas Marina is one of these islands and is about a 25 minute taxi ride from Lisa and her city centre flat. As we approached the circuit the famous towers and the outline of the Yas viceroy hotel is a welcoming sight. The taxi dropped us off and we made our way into the inner circuit. The site (as with all of Abu Dhabi) was pristine and spotless. The staff were welcoming and went out of their way to help us. The next couple of hours was spent walking up and down the pit lane watching the teams prepare for the weekend activities. It was unusual, as usually this unique view of the pit lane is reserved for the rich and privileged, at Abu Dhabi anyone with a weekend pass can experience it. We walked out onto the main race track on the Pit straight and stood where the F1 gladiators would soon be fighting. We hoped we would see some famous faces but they were all out of sight and after our third venture along the pit lane we hailed a taxi and headed back to the flat.
Lisa’s cousin Viv and her son Sam joined us at the flat, as Sam would be joining us for the evening concert at the track. After some catching up and chatting we again hailed a cab and made our way to the concert arena to watch Post Malone. Now I am quite tolerant of any type of music but this was by far the worst concert I have ever been to. The crowd consisted of 12 year olds having the time of their lives and me. I just didn’t get it. I had to endure it with the mortgage costing beer and had 4 pints that cost be £50 and prayed that the horror would soon be over. To be fair Bethany (nicks girlfriend) is a lovely girl and seeing my discomfort at the whole affair kept me entertained and we had a really good laugh but let me tell you I was glad to jump into an Uber and head back to the main land. And this is is where you find me now glowing from the not sun creamed effect of the day. We are up at 8am to again make our way to the circuit to see the boys hitting the track in anger. More later xx Steve
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