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Ray, oilman

At Sharjah in the early 1960s there was a single European-style apartment block. International Aeradio Ltd rented four of the flats for its employees, and while I was there one of them was sub-let to Ray, a representative of an American oil company that was attempting to obtain the oil rights to Sharjah.

Ray's hallmark was to be always dressed in a black suit with a black snap-brimmed hat. He stuck out a mile, which was clearly intentional. Ray descended on Sharjah with an American get-up-and-go that was dizzying to watch.

It became clear where Ray's priorities lay when we were invited to Ray's flat for dinner. Drinks were served, and Ray's houseboy laid the table. We were just settling into our chairs when Ray dropped his bombshell: unfortunately he had to go out on business but we were to stay and carry on with dinner without him. We were so flabberghasted, we did.

Ray had no compunctions about dropping mere aquaintances when there was something to be gained elsewhere. We came to the conclusion that it was the German lady who ran a dress shop in Dubai - the only single European female for hundreds of miles.

But of course Ray managed to do it charmingly. To a more worldly wise person than I was at the time, Ray had the sort of charisma that shouted beware. Ray could steamroller over anybody and smile as he did it, which is presumably the reason the oil company were paying him big bucks to get the oil concession for Sharjah.

He knew how to get results. A party was arranged for the local Sheikhs from Umm Al-Quwain and other small Sheikhdoms along the coast. And they came - an amazing feat considering that until recently they had been more inclined to go to war against each other than hobnob at a function.

A great feast was layed out under canvas, and for most of the night that area of Sharjah was thick with bodyguards and guns. Ray was quite cynical when asked how he had managed it. To him they were petty village heads who would never turn down an opportunity to feast on the oil company's largesse.

At the time there were oil companies prowling that end of the gulf looking for fresh oil fields to exploit. Off shore was a BP oil exploration ship, and as it made its way up the gulf so too did a BP supply officer whose task it was to contact local provision merchants and arrange for the ship to be supplied with fresh produce. He sounded rather weary of the task, complaining that he supplied the best cuts of the finest meat, superb lamb chops and cutlets, fine fish and the highest quality lobsters and crabs, but it all ended up getting thrown into the sea. The red-neck crew just wanted steaks and more steaks. They had steaks three times a day; steaks for breakfast, steaks for lunch, and steaks for the evening meal. According to the supply officer, in the macho world of the oil worker the size of the steaks was a far higher priority than the taste.

Ray seemed in a different league. Unlike BP with its complex hierachy, Ray operated entirely alone, a tough negotiator who used stick and carrot methods to gain his ends. The ruler of Sharjah, Sheikh Saqr ibn Sultan al-Qasimi [SAQR II], was presented with a car, but also had to suffer the indignity of Ray's determination to show him that Sharjah was small beer compared to the might of an American oil company.

On one occasion Ray had invited Sheikh Saqr to his apartment, but unknown to the Sheikh, Ray had also invited us and other Europeans to a drinks party to start one hour after Sheikh Saqr's arrival. It was an embarrasing moment, but not of course for Ray whose chutzpah knew no bounds and who had deliberately set up the confrontation to show who was boss.

We arrived and the door opened to reveal one of Sheikh Saqr's hard-eyed bodyguards barring our way with a sten gun. A heart-stopping moment for us, but no doubt an equal shock for Sheikh Saqr to see his private tête-à-tête with Ray being invaded by a swarm of other guests. But the Sheikh was ever a gentleman and the bodyguard was quickly waved away and we were ushered in to be introduced. As a good Moslem, Sheikh Saqr was drinking orange juice, but Ray insisted on pouring beer for us - and this in an Islamic state with strict laws concerning alcohol.

Sheikh Saqr and his entourage soon left. It must have been extremely embarrassing for him, especially as he had done Ray the honour of breaking with tradition by visiting Ray rather than insisting Ray come to the palace.

As I left Sharjah before any contract was signed, I often wonder if Ray's bullyboy tactics worked. I rather hope not. Sheikh Saqr showed far greater dignity than the American oil company.

For more about Sheik Saqr see:

Sheik Saqr
Assassination of Sheik Kahlid