Gerry Dowden

My first posting out of Cosford was to RAF Stanbridge at Leighton Buzzard, it was one of the major relays, huge place with tape everywhere! At that age everything was a great experience especially in the sixties.. Sitting around on the NAAFI floor with roses behind our ears (nicked from the bushes in front of the WRAF block) singing pacifist songs… very strange. After Stanbridge I was sent off to RAF Muharraq in Bahrain where only after a couple of months I moved to RAF Masirah to join 22TSU; there I joined up again with Steve Atha and Ginger Clegg. 22TSU was relocated from Masirah to RAF Sharjah, so the whole unit, portable communications centers, Land Rovers the lot had to be air lifted out. Once set up in Sharjah I had a great time, we used to spend a lot of the time out in the desert supporting joint exercises and support communications for the SAS desert ops. For fun I used do a couple of programs a week on the radio station in Sharjah (when around) and a couple of times did a disco in the Bustan Hotel just outside the airport at Dubai, I still have a picture taken in my pink paisley shirt…. the only saving grace is the picture is in black and white!

After the Middle East I was sent to Strike Command at High Wycombe. High Wycombe was pretty uneventful; the only thing that comes to mind was my 850cc mini that had brakes that never worked, getting down the hill into town was always an experience.

Time for the next posting, I cannot remember now where I applied for, but I know I didn't try Singapore as that was where everyone wanted to go… Typical RAF… off to Changi I go, that was in 1969. What a life, that is where I really got into Water Skiing, needless to say I was on shift, so everyday I had a chance at sometime to be a beach bum, a sport I kept up until about 5 years ago (generally an age problem! And a bit of extra weight!). In those days Singapore was a wild place, anything and everything was available and at 21 I guess that is where I really grew up. When the RAF left Singapore I remained with the ANZUK force and moved over to the Naval base by the causeway (cannot remember the name in full, but Wood.. something) and worked on flight watch, there we worked voice with military and civil aircraft between air traffic control centers as they came across from the Indian Ocean, this initiated many great piss ups with the BOAC crews in the Hilton Orchard Road.

From there it was to RAF Marham, although stationed at Marham I worked at RAF Feltham on the early warning system. By now I was getting itchy feet, the RAF sent me for aptitude tests for Russian at North Lufthnam, which went well and was offered the opportunity to take a years course and then it would have been moving between GCHQ and Germany. I decided in the end to take a buy-out and to try and establish a career outside of the RAF. I headed for London; found a bedsit around the Manor House/Finsbury Park area. The scope of work was pretty limited. I started working for NYK Shipping line in the City as a telex op. That was slave labour and really boring, lucky for me an ex RAF friend was working around the corner at one of the large ship broking houses H. Clarkson, and he called to say they had a vacancy and they used light readers for the tapes… technology at last! Clarksons was much more civilized and I enjoyed the more relaxed work environment. They had a fax machine! It was on a dedicated line between Clarksons and Exxon in NY, it only took about half an hour to send one page! I was still pretty frustrated. It was mid seventies not long after the Oil Crisis, and Clarksons had found that a number of their clients instead of just buying the fuel for their ships under contracts with the Major Oil Companies were now looking at other options. They set up a Marine Fuel broking department with one person to start it up. After about six months it had taken off and I found out they were looking to take another broker into the department. I managed to get an interview and at the end of the day ended up with the job. From jeans to pinstriped suits overnight and a company credit card, boy, did I think I had arrived! That has been my line of business now for the last 24 years. I stayed with Clarksons until 1981 when I was asked to open a London office for a Dutch fuel trader, we were doing fine until sex and politics came on to the scene. I won't go into details but I was only involved in the politics. I quit and set up my own trading company in Brook Street in the West End in the offices of our American Pakistani backer. This again went really well we were filling a niche in the market, however our backer turned out the be the biggest creditor of Johnson Mathey Bank, who ended up being investigated by the Bank of England, in a nutshell the bank had over stretched itself and they went for my guy in a big way. We lost our backing and were maneuvered into liquidation by the banks.

I then worked for a while for a French management consultancy company in the UK sorting out other peoples companies, but after a couple of years, problems getting expenses out of them and missing the oil business I went to another ship brokers office (Lamberts) as a consultant on their fuel side, I stayed on for a year or so when Clarksons asked if I would go back and develop their trading due to the experience that I had acquired (mistake… don't go back, never the same). I opened up the Mexican market for them with contacts I had picked up, just at the time of the Panama invasion which shut down the Panama Canal for a time.. Mexico was suddenly in demand for fueling, we were the only game in town, I know roughly how much money was made, a very substantial sum, but all the Directors did was to bitch about the amount of money they were funding for the purchases in Mexico… back to politics… time to move on.

At the time I had set up my own trading company a friend of mine in the business at another Broking house was also going on his own, he was having better luck… they asked me to join them to look at projects, this was in 91. In 93 I suggested we opened an office in the Americas, preferably Central or South, to compliment the offices they had in London and Singapore, so since 1993 I have been living in the Republic of Panama, developing business here, we now have apart from our trading activities, a ship agency company we handle ships for clients going through the Canal, a truck transportation company for fuel and more recently a joint venture company operating our own 2300 ton ship for supplying ships needing fuel at the anchorages. But it is not over yet. The market, with the latest developments in the Middle East and Venezuela is deteriorating, so like everyone else we now have to look at downsizing… so the saga continues.

Since joining the RAF I have been lucky enough to travel almost worldwide in the course of my work, it has taken me back to some of those places I visited all those years ago, Sharjah is now a bustling city with refineries, luxury hotels. No longer just a part tarmaced road, a market and desert. Singapore has lost a lot of its fun, well from what it was, I guess it is just different; it is now more like a theme park where everything is in its place and is controlled, squeaky clean nothing left of it's old traditions and vibrancy…sad, (what was RAF Changi is now the international airport) for that go to Hong Kong. Since being in Panama I have married for the second time to a wonderful Lady, Cristina, (the first time at the age of 20 was short and sweet!) proof that all good things come to he who waits.

Gerry Dowden
May 2002