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The sands of time

Today, Jan looks back fondly at his time in the desert

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To celebrate principal engineer, Jan Kojro’s glorious half century at Royal Mail, we’re serialising his work memoirs.

Last week, we charted Jan’s career during the 1970s. Today, we bring you the 80s.

‘The 1980s started with more of the same but somehow the euphoria and enthusiasm began to fade along with the investment funds to upgrade and renew equipment. The world had moved on and so would I. 

‘All internal Post Office jobs were advertised in the official Post Office Gazette, which was published and distributed widely throughout the organisation. I didn’t see the ad myself, but my boss at the time pointed out a job that he thought I might be interested in with the British Postal Consultancy Service, (BPCS). He was obviously trying to tell me something! 

‘After a series of interviews and with just two weeks’ notice, I was packing my bags and jetting off to Qatar for the adventure of a lifetime! I, along with much of the population, wasn’t as worldly travelled in those days. Spain was still an aspirational holiday destination for most, so I must admit, I had to get the atlas out and find out exactly where I was going!

‘The initial contract involved testing and commissioning automated bulk mail handling systems, sorting machines and security systems in a brand-new feature building, Doha GPO. This was followed by a period of staff training and then a handover to locally recruited maintenance teams. No problem there, or so I thought.

‘I’ve always welcomed change; the appeal of not quite knowing what’s around the corner has always attracted my curiosity, but this was change on a unique level. A new continent, a different culture and religion, together with the unfamiliar world of international contract management, not to mention the climate and moving my family to a home in the desert. These were all things I was ill prepared for. It’s an episode of my life and career that I could probably write a book on, but I’ll have to save that one for when I retire.

‘First impressions are always the strongest. And as I stepped off the plane in Doha I genuinely thought the plane’s engines were on fire. This was a late evening in August and as I had just discovered, the temperature rarely drops below 45C with 100% humidity. I was on my own for the first three months, which wasn’t a bad thing as I was on site 24/7, but once things settled down and I’d found a villa to rent, my wife and then three-year-old joined me and we immersed ourselves in the ex-pat life.

‘My contractual responsibilities changed over time as I initially started working for the British architectural practice that won the design award before working for the automation contractor, a consortium of specialist contractors headed by the Sumitomo Corporation of Japan. I then worked for the Qatar Ministry of the Interior and finally, the Department of Posts as chief engineer. 

‘It wasn’t all work and no play though. On most Fridays (the day off) we drove the four-wheel drive across the desert to some remote beach for days with friends. All entertainment took place within the home; we didn’t have bars or clubs, but the ex-pat community is nothing if not inventive as there were always so many private clubs and groups to join with interests varying from rugby, football and running clubs to model railway and Morris dancing societies. 

‘To sum up my time in the Middle East I’d have to say that it isn’t the technology or engineering challenges that come to mind, but the people I met and worked with. There’s a theme developing here! Living as we did, we needed each other, not just for friendship and company, but more simply to get things done as Qatar could be a frustrating place to work and live.

‘There was obviously no internet or mobile phones then. And as satellite linked calls out of the country were so eye wateringly expensive, for news, we relied on letters from home, the World Service on shortwave radio and word of mouth through our network of friends and acquaintances. I still have many friends from that period and to this day, we still meet up regularly and reminisce about our time in the desert.