The evening flight touched down effortlessly to Baku international Airport.
The night ahead i did anticipate it would go smoothly, after all I’ve been out before several times last year.
A weary red eye collection of international Oil and Gas contractors and staff stood up once the flight had stopped and parked. Everyone tired and sweaty from wearing the face masks handed out on the flight.
Jostling for movement and scurrying for bags from overhead lockers, a man beside me with a smokers cough rattled his lungs, dying for a fag, he said in his Yorkshire accent while beating his chest, glasses moving down the bridge of his snout, arms bulging and faded Union Jack Tattoos exposed.
A cavalcade of police of varying ranks and security ushered us into line. Our visas and passports were checked and thoroughly approved and stamped by a sour bake customs man with a funny moustache and a twitch.
Next was the people in white forensic suits, and goggles and masks, again passports checked and cross-referenced.
A medic then recorded my temperature. I was then directed to another corner where a large cotton bud was stuck up my nostril, then it was placed into a test tube. It had number forty wrote on it. I took a gasp thinking my body temperature was 40oc!!
Mercifully it was just the number in line.
A tall man with a blonde goatee who spoke in a staccato of Russian while moving his arms and breaking into English shepherded us across a waiting area past lines of Police and Airport security then directed us to transfer vehicles.
Our luggage was then put into a Ford Transit. After about thirty minutes of waiting on the convoy rolling we took off at a slow 10mph passed huge 747s and four propeller twin fin Russian Antanov transport aircraft with windows underneath the cockpit like a Lancaster Bomber.
We travelled slow past the giant Cargo holding centre with our Police and Ambulance escort hovering and covering us like they were protecting VIPs with their Emergency lights flashing.
At the Cargo security gate men with klashnikovs and side arms with Russian style military hats and long fur trench coats with gold stars indicating rank surrounded us.
They noted and counted the passengers aboard the shuttle bus. A further four times this happened before we allowed to be on our way to the Hotel. Or so we thought for our adventure was just about to begin!
Our journey to our 4star hotel the Pullman with its enormous suites, cold beer friendly barmen and complimentary snacks, Turkish Hamman, Pool and soft cotton robes was annulled.
We stopped about 15 minutes away from the Airport. We took an exit of the main motorway and pulled up at a back entrance to a nondescript collection of high rise buildings.
Like refugees we exited the Transport Buses. I was at the front of the queue when our luggage bus appeared. A scramble occurred and there was a sudden rush for bags.
I managed to get my large duffel bag from the side opening.
The Fuhrer took to the steps like a modern day emperor in the standard coat for Azerbaijan, the black leather jacket. The tall Russian. Him in broken English shouted we must double up. Must double! Not enough bed!
What? Are you fucking serious was one reply in a thick Glaswegian accent.
Get me a fuckin flight home another barrelled.
A chorus of international accents followed, then he was bombarded him with insults and swear words while a platoon of policemen looked on, and a couple of Azeri soldiers stood there arms folded with Hi Vis jackets and long laced Jackboots and desert fatigues staring us down looking mean from their adolescent faces.
Above us the quarantined locals were peering from balconies or behind curtains bemused at these foreign, modern day vikings helping to extract Hydrocarbons and then high tailing it back to their abodes, far and away with princely sums gathered.
The tall Russian disappeared to the side of the courtyard bringing him with him a Posse of Policemen and men in dark suits with trainers.
After much horsetrading and waffling he comes back over.
Standing once more on the plinth of the steps he shouts. I am the representative of BP. There are thirty nine single rooms. You must double!! Who wants to go? Need volunteer. I ended up at the back of the queue.
The night was getting cold and windy. The windy city of Baku was living up to its name, the City of wind and City of fire.
Drowsy and tired from being on the go and the only food I had eaten was a bit of tough beef and over cooked broccolli on the flight and a piece of muffin washed down with black tea.
A game of brinkmanship developed between us and the Russian. Everyone inside he demanded or these people and he outstretched his arm opening his fist will arrest you signalling to the local police.
At this stage the people were snaking forward at a snails pace into the building corridor from the outside.
Again the Russian addressed us. OK I’m off to bed. It has been a long day and I’m tired!
Fucking tired! We have just came from London and travelled most of the previous day I remonstrated.
Then off he went like Dorothy clicking his high heels and jumps into his land cruiser never to be seen again I hoped. Inshallah as they say out here.
With eight of us left we were then informed there was no more beds. Exasperated from our delays and visscissidutes I was looking for somewhere to sleep.
As I looked around the cold marble floor it did not feel appropriate nor appealing. I contemplated lying on top of my black bag but worried I may burst my precious Italian style coffee I got from the local deli and biscuits and rallied against the idea.
I then looked under the staircase to find a suitable place to lay my weary head I looked among paint tins, old Persian carpets and bric a brac. Trying to decipher where would be the best area.
I swore at our company again. Two more swears and I caught myself on.
As they say people that swear alot lack vocabulary besides I looked foolish in front of my peer colleagues.
A tall man with a barrel chest, and a single gold incisor that was glistening of the flickering flourescent luminere and wore a leather addidas baseball cap came downstairs with a notebook and was scribbling his Turkish calligraphy upon it.
OK he said in Good English, I have some rooms available. Shutting closed his book softly. He took a breath and closed his eyes for a moment.
Finally a bed. I thought. But the caveat I was waiting on came. You must share. Go to level 9.
Share I thought? At this stage I was resigned to accept the situation. Its either a marble floor or sharing a room.
So there was 2 single rooms left. Four of our colleagues got in the lift but they kept coming back to the ground floor as they couldn’t find the organiser.
It was like the Benny Hill school of Hospitality. One room each and a pair share. Finally the Co-ordinator came back down. OK who’s next, he said?
I stepped forward. Then another guy joined me. Level nine.
We came to level nine and exited the lift and shown our room for the evening where we were promised it would be just one night and then it would be all good and well almost like valhalla we were laid to believe.
Five hours after landing we actually had a bed each. Two plastic chairs and a table was the furniture. No TV and limited WiFi. Here we were cell block H. A randomer and I. Fourteen days of Penuary coming up. I had a vision of Gruel and water.
I sat there on the edge of the bed, dishellved, exhausted wondering to myself what the actual fuck have I signed up for?
Wondering if I actually had of paid attention in school or followed my heart to what I actually would have done my life would be so much better. Then I says fuck it. Take the positive out of every situation.
With that, my new Cell mate said Sorry what’s your name! Merv I said sitting on the edge of the bed, fumbling my phone. I’m Paul. We couldn’t even offer each other a handshake due to the Coronavirus. Within seconds I completely forgot his name. It was almost 3am and the effect of travelling and covering multiple time zones was having an affect on my mind.
Merv would you like a beer he said?
Would I like a beer i said! You don’t have to ask me twice!! We laughed.
We shared a tin of Stella as he only had one.
Then I crawled into bed and fell asleep.
When I woke up I was hoping it was a bad dream.
But this dystopian dream wasn’t quite finished with me yet.
It had fourteen twenty four hours to play with me before it released me into the care of the Mother’s ship! The Disgraceful Huseynov as we have aptly christened it. One shit hole to another.
An old Russian barge welded together, over forty years old and dilapated with asbestos throughout. I was there last year tossing and turning in my cabin when an explosion ripped through it on the firing line. We lost one colleague and thirteen badly injured and I have volunteered to go back, sit back in your rocking chair and put that in your pipe.. What the actual fuck Swerv I asked myself..