“One Man’s Destiny”An excerpt from James A Bresco’s autobiography.
There are changes that come in a man’s life, opportunities that should not be missed, and yet, when presented with a new opening we tend to dither at destinies door, filled with uncertainty. Unless, that is, you are young, impulsive and, head over heels in love.
It was the night of our engagement party; Jeannie’s parents had flown over to Bahrain the day before, the same day in fact, that I had arrived back in Bahrain for a well deserved rest after ending my second tour of duty on “Das Island.” We had invited a few close friends for dinner and, after the dessert, Nick prepared the famous “Barmen” Irish coffees for us all and we moved into the lounge to relax.
Jeannie’s Mum was, understandably, emotional, as mothers are at the prospect of their daughters engagement, which heralded the eventual flight from the family nest and, occasionally she would shed a tear or two, moreover, from time to time she would look at me with a quizzical, almost suspicious look in her eyes. Bert, Jeannie’s father, had become physically attached to the now almost empty bottle of Irish, single malt whiskey, and the girls fussed and cooed enviously, as they examined closely the diamond ring on Jeannie’s finger. “Well you’ve done it now mate,” said my friend Bruce . “Take no notice of him, James,” said Bruce’s wife, Penny. “It hasn’t done him any harm,” and laughed. I was considering this when the phone in the hallway rang.
“Bresco, is that you?” My heart sank; it was Fortiscue-Smythe, from the London office. “Yes I’m here.” I replied.
“Look old chap, sorry to be the bearer of bad news so late in the day, but we need you back here, the day after tomorrow……..”
“Would you mind telling me why? I’m on leave you know,” I said.
“Yes, pity about that, but you’ve been seconded to Aramco, Saudi, and we need to brief you here in the Mall, before you go. After that, you’re booked on a Pan Am flight to Riyadh, adding, tented accommodation I’m afraid and, a one year contact, you’ll be following the oil pipeline in the desert.” You could have knocked me down with a feather. “Are you still there… Bresco…?”
“Yes, I’m still here,’ I replied .Look, I should tell you that I was engaged to be married today… couldn’t you put it off for a while or find someone else to stand in”, adding, I’m really not rested enough for one of your “Lawrence of Arabia” campaigns, in any case, I’m entitled to two months leave; according to my contract, and it’s been barley two days.”
“It also states in your contract, that your leave may be cancelled without notice, Bresco.” He sounded cold and dispassionate.
“Yes, I’m sure it does,” I was wretchedly tired and couldn’t believe this was happening to me.. “Look its very late here, would you mind calling me back tomorrow lunch time, local time, and I’ll give you my decision.” I could faintly hear the man spluttering with indignation at being cut short, as I replaced the receiver.
Later that evening, our guests having departed and Jeannie’s parents fast asleep in bed, I told her of the call from London.
“What about the editor you met last week, at the Hilton Bar, the one who bought some of your photographs, she said, Steve, something?”
“Winslow, I added, Steve Winslow.”
“Shouldn’t you call him to see if there’s an opening for you at the newspaper.”
“No need, I replied, we have a dinner invitation from him, for this evening at the Hilton.”
The dinner went well, Steve’s wife, Pamela, and Jeannie, got along famously and, towards the end of the evening Steve offered me a job as Staff Photographer at the Newspaper.
And so, destiny had cast a card once more and, it was down to me to pick it up and play, even though there were moments of dark uncertainty to begin with… play it I did.
The first two years at the newspaper, my feet hardly touched the ground; one day I might find myself in Doha, photographing an important OPEC meeting, and then, jumping on the next available flight back to Bahrain, to develop the film and make prints before the front page was laid down that night. The following day would begin for me around five am to enable me to catch a flight to Dubai for a new Japanese bank opening and, subsequent cocktail party the same evening, fortunately, as these events weren’t front page news, I would stay over in a hotel that night, returning to base the following morning where, on arrival at the office I would find my schedule for the next few days, carefully mapped out for me.
It wasn’t all domestic stuff either.
During my time with the Newspaper, I made several trips into war torn Beirut, traveled to Thessaloniki in Northern Greece, to take pictures of the head of the local mafia there, thankfully, accompanied by a nervous, yet experience joint editor and, later that night, having returned to the hotel after a extremely tense interview, only to find a Telex from the Editor in Bahrain informing us that the Paper had finally been granted an interview with Singapore’s, Lee Kuan Yew and, how soon could we be there?
There were to be many more adventures during my time as a press photographer in the Gulf, never knowing where I might find myself next or, which particular celebrity, be they famous or infamous, I would be pointing my lens at, but there was one particular assignment that will stick in my mind forever…
The Middle East Airways flight from Bahrain, touched down at Beirut International Airport on schedule. From there, our group of three; Joint editor of the Newspaper, a reporter and me, were met by two tough looking airlines officials who, bundled us into a black, dark windowed limo, like so much shopping, then whisked us off to a certain Hotel in the center of Beirut’s war torn city, within site of the bullet and shell scarred “Holiday Inn’ as it happens. Rooms had been booked for us and we decided to unpack, take a shower and meet back down in the Bar in one hour.
By the time I got there, the editor and reporter were stood at the bar and talking to a couple of journalists, one in particular, an Irishman, I recognised. We had met when I was covering the Bahrain leg of the Queen and Prince Phillip’s Royal tour of the Gulf.
“Jimmy”, he cried out. “I heard they’d locked you up and thrown the key away, good to see you.” he said in his broad Irish brogue. He wasn’t wrong; I had managed to cross swords with the security forces back in Bahrain and it had cost me 24 hours in “The Dungeon”, a medieval prison in the grounds of the Old Portuguese Fort. “All in a day’s work, Breandan,” I replied, trying to laugh it off. Turning to the editor I said. “So what happens now, Ian?” “All I can tell you is that we are to wait here until someone makes contact with us, more than that, James, I don’t know, I don’t even know which group were dealing with here, only that we have been offered an exclusive before they go public with it. His lordship seems to think it’s big, whatever it is, and here we are.”
Contact, was eventually made on the evening of the second day.
I was about to retire for the night when I was startled by a very loud knocking upon the door to my room. When I opened it, I found myself looking at a pair of armed, unshaven, stern looking men dressed in military fatigues. “You come now” said the larger of the two, and when I looked questioningly at Ian, he just rolled his eyes and nodded saying, “Grab your camera’s James, I think were on.” When we reached the lobby, Ian and I were blindfolded, then roughly manhandled out of the hotel and pushed into a waiting car, the reporter having been told, in no uncertain terms, to stay put and not to go outside. We drove along in silence for what seemed to me to be an hour or so, our journey finally ending with a screech of tires as the car came to an abrupt, shuddering halt. Outside the car I could hear a great deal of shouting and cursing going on in Arabic. Suddenly, the door on my side flew open and we were hauled out and the blindfolds removed. The scene that lay before me was, to say the least, shocking and, was burnt into my mind forever….
James A Bresco