In April 1970, a small group of Britons assembled just outside the walled gates of the city of Muscat in the Sultanate of Oman; a city where at sunset they closed the main gate (Bab al Kabir). To enter thereafter, you could only go on foot through the Bab as Saghir (the “small gate”) and needed to be in possession of a fanoos (sometimes called a "butty"), a hand held lantern so that your face could be seen.
The foreigners were on a mission, and took up residence in a small local house built next to a nearby wadi. It was a mission carried out under the direction of the Sultan with the full cooperation of the military forces. The start of the exercise depended on the sighting of the new moon.
But before I get totally carried away by the opening remarks of this potential spy thriller, I should perhaps wind the clock back a little and tell you what this is all about.
I have just attended a reunion in London of some former colleagues, one of whom recently wrote and published a book about his professional life, which started back in the 1950s. When I first met him he had two jobs – Heavy Plant Driver. He was a bulldozer driver on a building site in Oxfordshire, drove a motor bike and spoke and dressed appropriately to his role. His part time role on his tax form? Financial Advisor to the Sultan of Muscat and Oman – in which position he also spoke and dressed appropriately! He was the leader of the team in Oman in 1970. The mission? To go around the whole country, one the size of Britain excluding Northern Ireland, in two weeks gathering in the local currency – Indian Rupees, known as Gulf Rupees and the last country using them – in exchange for the new currency – the Riyal Saidi, named after the Sultan, Said bin Taimur. [Of course the name of the currency was changed just a few months later when HH Sultan Qaboos, the current Ruler and Said's son, took over the running of the country.]
I was the youngest in the team, and was given the easiest route, which was up the Batinah coast in the company of five clerical staff, all Indians imported from other countries around the Gulf, one local interpreter, 25 troops mainly of Baluchi origin (and glad to have them on my side), one British army Major under contract, five landrovers, three 3 ton trucks – and tins full of cash!
We would stop in various pre-determined villages and towns and set up "shop" either in a date grove, or an old mud fort, or in an army base. It's a long story, really, and while it was tough going at times, the memories are all good.
(Yes, I'm there!!)
But fun story though this is, the whole thing just set me to thinking.
If Greece is going to leave the Euro, as it might, then maybe closing the borders for two weeks to collect in all the Euros in existence there because they are no longer legal currency and handing out the New Drachmas would be the answer.
And if so, there is an old team around somewhere with all the relevant experience - indeed possibly the only people left with any experience - but payment in healthcare costs please!!