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After our return from the project at Bukit Assam, in Sumatra, we visited Aage and Mercia living in our new Tom Knudsensvej home in Lohals, on the Island of Langeland in Denmark. Our son Christopher and his girlfriend Beth Ann had both finished studying Russian at Manchester University and had arrived before us with Toby, our grandson.
Cubby with Christopher and grandson Toby.
We walked in the garden and Cubby, wishing to inspect some Almond trees, stepped over a low wire fence onto uneven ground - suddenly her right knee dislocated. Her left knee had dislocated years earlier in South Africa and had been operated on when she was 12 years old. Since then for the next 36 years, she, while careful, had taken part in all normal activities including hockey, swimming, dancing and hiking. We covered Cubby, lying on the ground, protesting the pain if her leg was touched, with a blanket. The doctor, who we called, decided that he could not reset it, gave a pain relieving injection, and rang for an ambulance.
The ambulance attendants loaded her onto a stretcher and took her to nearby Rudkøbing hospital. A surgeon saw her and disregarding her protests, skilfully reset the knee in an instant, and then told me how to do it. Thankfully over the past 18 years I have not had the need, as he operated that night successfully shortening ligaments. Cubby with her leg immobilised in removable splints went back to Lohals to recuperate in the care of her parents.
A few days afterwards I returned to Paris alone. In Paris, although the construction industry seemed to be in recession, Spie Batignolles had something for me to do. They had not succeeded in their financial claims on the Pasir Gudang Power Plant in Johore, Malaysia where I had worked in 1981/82. Further, the Consulting Engineers, more than 4 years after the work had been completed, had apparently in retaliation to our claims, persuaded the Client to apply ‘liquidated damages’ for completion date over run. They illogically ignored their own concurrent late design provision. Spie now wished to draft a legal appeal. I was an obvious source of information to help them do this.
Spie agreed to pay for my apartment costs and I found a studio on the Left Bank in a tall modern concrete block ‘Tour Totem’ which overlooked the river Seine with it’s passing barges and bateaux mouche (tourist sight seeing boats). Many wealthy Arabs stayed in Tour Totem; veiled women, only eyes uncovered, moved out of elevators if I, a male, had the temerity to enter at the same time. In the parking basement large automobiles covered in dust awaited owners from the oil fields taking holidays in Paris.
At the office I started sorting out the mail into possible claims topics and was surprised at how vividly details from years earlier were recalled. Besides identifying overall ‘time’ claims mainly based on late information supply often given through hand scrawled site notes, we also assessed the effects of disrupted ‘stop/start’ working, but found calculating the related costs more difficult.
Once a week, on Fridays after work, I met and dined with Cubby’s Danish cousin Mette who was living in her Paris apartment at the time pending joining her diplomat husband in Iran. We tried out good but cheap restaurants with set menus keeping the cost with wine included below £15 per person.
A few months earlier, Spie had also submitted a tender for the construction of the Civil Works of the Guangdong Nuclear Power Plant (NPP) at Daya Bay in South China. The Client was still considering all the tenders and I was asked to go to Spie’s Hong Kong office for a few weeks to assist in drafting some revised schedules clarifying our tender. During a visit to the site close to the border in China I saw our main competitor, another French Civil Work’s company Campenon Bernard already established on site. They had been awarded a series of ‘pre contracts’ assuring that the job would not be delayed by late awarding of the main civil works contract. As changing Civil Works contractor would have been costly, and caused delays. I suspected that the ‘competitive tendering’ for the rest of the civil work was probably being used by the Client as a lever to see Campenon’s tender price was not too high.
Chinese New Year came and I took a break flying to South Korea with a basket of French cheeses bought in Hong Kong for colleagues still working on the Uljin NPP’s mechanical and electrical installations. I did not get further than Seoul. It had snowed and the road over the pass below Mt Odoe to the site on the east coast was impassable. I stayed with a friend, Peter who was still based in Seoul. I travelled on the underground metro commissioned since my departure, again enjoyed spicy Kimchi and saw the film of Karen Blixen’s book ‘Out of Africa’.
After my weekend break, I went from Hong Kong into Southern China to see a large Chinese contractor who wished to work in partnership with a western contractor possibly in China, Hong Kong or elsewhere. I travelled with a Hong Kong Chinese engineer as interpreter. We seemed to travel for miles by car, I do not recall exactly where we went but I remember passing through unmemorable dusty single/double storied modern towns and staying overnight in basic accommodation. On the access road leading up a narrow valley to the massive concrete buttress dam they had almost completed building, we saw an upside down mobile crane on the edge of the road about to topple in the river. Both we, and the contractor, did not mention this accident – ‘face’ was preserved.
Our hosts threw a banquet. Some exotic Chinese food was served which I did not recognise and enjoyed in ignorance unaware of what animal was being eaten. Apparently Chinese contractors, on large domestic projects lasting for years, built whole communities with housing, hospitals and schools for workers, women and children. If they could, they moved everybody to the next project. This practise, with increasing competition and private industry in China, was now apparently changing. On return to Hong Kong I reported on the visit and the fine meal. The HK branch office’s English manager and his French assistant then told me they were thankful they had not gone in person as neither enjoyed Chinese food!
Back in Paris, I was joined by Cubby who had recovered and travelled down by train with son Benjamin, on holiday from boarding school. As it seemed that Paris was as good a base as any in Europe, we decided to purchase a small apartment where we could leave our belongings. Cubby set to reading the small ads and surveying what was available. Meanwhile Campenon Bernard obtained the full civil works contract for the NPP at Daya Bay, but entered into an agreement with Spie Batignolles for them to supply some experienced staff. My name was put forward as Sub Contract Manager and for some weeks I moved across Paris to Campenon Bernard’s offices north of the Peripherique (the circular road around Paris) to familiarise myself with the project and people involved.
Cubby found a ‘deux piece’ apartment (lounge plus one bedroom) near a bustling street market on rue de Levi in the 17th arrondissement. We moved in on 5th September 1987, furnished it with items mainly from IKEA, disposed of our rusting car all within ten days, and I left for China. Cubby joined me some months later.
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