I was lucky in one job I did as a tour guide trainer to go out to Dubai every so often and train up new guides for The Big Bus Company.
They’ve been operating out there for a few years now with open top double-decker buses. It’s an ideal set up. The place is buzzing as the world’s number one holiday resort, the weather is perfect all year round and their tours are the best way to see the place.
The scenario was usually the same. I got the word from my bosses in London to get out there; it was usually last minute and has even been given at one day’s notice. I then flew out and would be met by St John Cooper, the Big Bus man in Dubai.
The weekend in Dubai starts on a Thursday. I had spent a busy week training 20 Tour Guides (see some of them in photo above) and was looking forward to a relaxing two days off.
St John had other ideas. He suggested we went sailing. I foolishly said what a great idea and so began an extraordinary sequence of events.
We met down at one of the marinas that look out over the Arabian Gulf. St John’s best friend Dan decided to come too.
Life-jackets on, we then hired a catamaran and sailed out into the turquoise waters of the gulf. When we were a fair way out to sea, St John suddenly dived overboard and swam around us. I then learnt from my new sea-faring partners that this was what you did. As long as at least one of us was on board it was OK for the other two to be swimming around. I was not particularly keen on this idea. Surely when you go sailing, you go sailing? So I opted to keep my hand on the tiller as the other two slipped in and out of the water.
At one stage St John pulled himself out of the water and grabbed the tiller. He immediately “went about” just as the wind changed direction resulting in a spectacular capsize.
Suddenly all three of us were now in the sea bobbing around the upturned boat. We tried to right the craft but with a twin-keeled catamaran this was difficult. The three of us kept trying to stand on the upturned hulls but we just couldn’t get the boat to right herself.
It was a disaster as we tried again and again. Eventually we climbed up on to the upturned hull and sat there trying to decide what to do.
And all the time we were drifting further and further out into the gulf.
But through all this drama St John couldn’t stop laughing. It was like a “laughing gas” scene from an old Carry On film. He found the whole incident highly amusing. And the more he laughed the more concerned I got for our safety.
At this moment a man on a jet-ski appeared from nowhere and started circling us. He called out in a strong Black Country accent “Do you need any help?” Thinking that maybe we couldn’t speak English he then added “Can you understand me, I’m English. I come from Dudley…”
Dan yelled back “What?”
The man circled us again, this time slightly closer. “It’s not far from West Bromwich…”
The laughing St John couldn’t believe his ears. “West Bromwich???” he guffawed before slipping off the upturned hull and landing back in the sea.
This time I thought I’d take over the conversation. All I wanted to do was to get back to land and if this Jasper Carrot sounding clown wearing Speedos was my ticket then I desperately wanted to hitch a ride.
“Can you give me a lift back to the shore?” I cried.
“No problem mate. I’ll come alongside.”
The jet-skier then did his best to get up close so that I could easily transfer from the catamaran’s hull to the back of his jet-ski.
Whilst I was in the process of attempting this tricky manoeuvre the man kept blabbering on about where Dudley was. “You’ve probably heard of Wolverhampton, well just a few miles south if you take the A4123...”
I finally managed to get one foot on to the back of his jet-ski and with Dan holding my arm for balance I then transferred all my body weight onto the craft.
At that moment I slipped and instinctively grabbed the arm of the Black Country watersports nut. The result being that I dragged him and Dan into the sea behind me.
And at the same time his jet-ski overturned!
And still St John was bobbing up and down in the sea laughing like a drowning hyena.
As the four of us attempted to right the jet-ski we suddenly saw a high-powered life-boat coming to our rescue. It later turned out that one of the managers of the Burj Al Arab Hotel and been watching the whole incident through some binoculars from his office and had alerted the authorities to our plight.
Never had I been so pleased to see two men with Freddie Mercury moustaches wearing DayGlo rubber suits.
Dan shouted to the two-man crew to fish me out of the water first and get me back to land.
The lifeboat came alongside and one of the men lent over and tried to pull me aboard. Unfortunately, despite three attempts, he just wasn’t strong enough to haul me up.
At one stage he looked down at me and said, “I’m sorry, there’s nothing I can do. I can’t get you out of the water. You’re too heavy.”
Too heavy?? This is not what you want to hear a professional lifeguard say.
“Well you can’t just leave me here,” I spluttered, spitting out another mouthful of sea-water. “Can you please make one more effort?”
He reluctantly tried one more time and with one super-human effort he heaved me out of the sea. I collapsed inside the boat landing on the sharp end of a heavy iron anchor. For some reason this gave me an instant migraine headache.
It was like a Laurel and Hardy short!
I looked back at the others. St John was still bobbing around in the sea laughing like Basil Brush. The two-man crew said they would take me back to the safety of the shore and return for the others.
I have never been so pleased to set foot on dry land again. Eventually Dan and St John joined me (the jet-skier could still be heard extolling the virtues of Dudley to one of the lifeboatmen “We’ve got our own zoo you know…”) and we piled into Dan’s car and made for StJohn’s apartment off the Sheikh Zayed Road where I was staying.
On the way, we popped into a nearby hospital and asked for some strong painkillers for my aching head. The doctor came back with two enormous tablets. “Take these, they should fix it”, he said confidently as I swallowed the horse-sized pills. They practically knocked me out!
Back in familiar surroundings I collapsed on the lounge sofa but Florence Nightingale stuff was not on StJohn’s agenda.
“Look mate, the thing is I’ve got football practice”, he explained as he went looking for his boots. “Will you be alright for a couple of hours?”
He then buggered off and left me sitting in a dark room in front of the TV. “Just put something on to watch and go to sleep” were his final words as he slammed the door.
With my head pounding, I grabbed the remote and put on a channel. It was The Flintstones. I started to watch in my semi-comatose state and suddenly saw Barney Rubble leave the television screen and float across the ceiling. It was a most alarming hallucination made worse when a psychedelic Fred Flintstone wielding a bowling ball followed him!
Fortunately I then fell asleep.
Two days later I was back training the tour guides and I swear that as the bus drove by the Old Souk market in Bur Dubai I heard a voice say to a stall holder “Have you heard of Lenny Henry? Well he’s from my town Dudley...”