Illogical Logistics

“Your parcel will be delivered today between 13:45 and 14:45, your driver, Jason, will call you with an update. Not in? Please arrange an alternative delivery date”.

This is an automatic message no doubt generated by software that knows everything about you, because it is listening to your innermost secrets, dreams and peccadilloes. The ruthless efficiency in which companies like Amazon (ok, just Amazon) get the stuffed elephant’s foot from Tanzania to Trewellard in a day, is a modern day wonder. It is frightening to think what would have happened if that gold medal winning logistical process was available to earlier civilisations.  

Giza would have been a glittering city of a dozen white marble pyramids, rather than the poxy pile of rubble that passes for a museum exhibit that it is. Jesus would have added pizza and tinnies to the bread and fishes, and at Waterloo, Napoleon would have been having an early lunch of foie gras and quail’s eggs washed down by a crisp Chablis in Brussels while pissing in Wellington’s boots.

Planning and executing complex processes takes time and energy…and thought. The Moon landings took rather more planning than that undertaken by a spotty teen-ager in his bedroom caught wanking by his mum because he forgot she always came upstairs to call him for dinner as predictably as the crushing disappointment of his exam results came to snuff out his future.  

The complex systems that get your parcels from all over the world, and Rotherham, rely on an interconnected and interdependent system of information and physical infrastructure. Snags and FUBARs are considered and planned for. Contingencies and back ups are built into the system. Amazon knows that a chain is only as good as its weakest link…which is probably Brian. 

An involuntary celibate, who failed to get into his local FE college to train as a hairdresser because he accidentally stabbed the interviewer with a scissors demonstrating his back combing ninja moves, and who is easily distracted by the latest edition of Grand Theft Auto, Brian still lives with his mum and the cat called Eric. He eats the same breakfast of salted porridge every morning, and a microwaved ready meal for dinner because it relieves him of tricky decision making. Brian is the sort you would put in the front line as cannon fodder to get the enemy to use up their excess bullets before sending in the elite. His knitted rainbow tank top under his khaki tunic would be no match for the multiple rounds of 7.62 mm ripping into him. He is not to be trusted with anything more dangerous than a toothbrush or given a task any more complicated than wearing underpants. 

Amazon knows all of this, and they know he could be placed anywhere in the long complicated logistical chain just waiting to go off and bring the whole of western civilisation crashing down into the depths of an apocalyptic nightmare. That is why they build in ‘fail safe’ systems. In the technical jargon this is known as ‘Error Wisdom’ and ‘Human Factors’. The human capacity for snatching a cartful of bollocks from the jaws of victory, is well documented: 

In all the fields of human endeavour,

When precision must all prevail,

When stakes are high and costly error, 

Perfection is the grail.

The grander projects aim to be,

Of time, of gold, of import vast

So proper preparation runs, 

With planning, never to be last

If man is to rely on man, know this, 

Sure as Sun do don his hat,

And moon, the hunters’ way he lights,

There will always be a twat.

(Lord Byron 1776, during his drinking phase).

This brings me to the logistics required to ensure a second PCR test is undertaken so that I can be released from the cell that passes for a Hotel room. Now let me be clear, Richard (my colleague upstairs in another cell) and I are experiencing a ‘first world problem’. If you are a child in the Yemen whose clothes are on fire as a result of an air strike, or if your belly is distended through lack of nourishment or if you are suffering from some tropical disease involving worms and a barely functioning lower orifice, feel free to scoff at our plight. Being in lockdown in a hotel in a scruffy urban district of Jeddah, with traffic for company and with the air quality of the inside of a unemptied hoover bag, is something children in war torn countries can only dream of. People in Redruth might be able to empathise; with me and Richard that is but not with the children in the Yemen. 

As many of us can testify, a PCR is not a complex process. It is uncomfortable, akin to having a stuffed toy rabbit pushed into your nose followed by a gagging only certain girls adept at certain practices willing to explore the full range of human interaction at close quarters would understand. Complex it is not. Getting a swab stuffed into your septum and around the bend into your sinus cavities is merely a matter of telling someone to come and do it. All they need is your name, address and passport number…and a swab. 

The supply chain between lab and swab insertion is short. In fact it is non existent as there is no need to stop off and pick up supplies. The lab was given our names, addresses and passport numbers before we left Bahrain. On the very first night we turned up, and within a couple of hours so did the swab. So the system works.  This is an early indication that they have this process down. They know what they are doing. They can read a list and turn up. That was day 1. All we have to do is wait for day 6 for the second test. 

Today is day 7. 

I wonder if Brian has been transferred to Jeddah? I call the hotel reception only to be told ‘Que?’ but in Arabic. Further the hotel informs us rather unhelpfully that PCR tests, as part of the quarantine package they supply, in their hotel, is nothing to do with them. 

“So who is to do with then? Do you have a list of guests who are in quarantine who require PCR? 


I sense that further information is going to have to be dragged out of him like a one drags a child out of a sweetshop. 

“So, you have no idea who needs to be tested, whether they have been tested, and therefore whether they can leave your hotel?”


“So, who does?”

“Please wait, I’ll ask my colleague…” and with that I’m put on hold and some scary loud music blasts into my ears causing a trickle of blood to run down my cheek. 

“….sir?…..the booking agent deal with the PCR, you have to talk to them…” and I sense the phone is going to be put down because as far as they are concerned there is nothing more to be said. On a previous call a few days ago, the booking agent had already informed us that the PCR is nothing to do with them and the hotel should handle things. 

“Can you tell me if the PCR ‘doctor’ has been today”.

“Oh yes, and he came yesterday as well”. 

I want to shout “then why the flying fuck did he not come to see us yesterday or today” but I refrain because I am nice. 

“…I don’t have his number…I’ll ask a colleague…(scary loud music)…….no, he doesn’t know either”. 

The hotel is using no initiative or problem solving skills at all, despite having quite a number of people quarantined here. 

It is as if they are reading from script that tells them what answer they should give to certain enquiries. There is I think only a few responses available: 

  1. Yes.
  2. No.
  3. I don’t know.
  4. I’ll ask a colleague followed by a variant of answers 2 and 3.

It is becoming clear that delivering the second PCR is getting as complicated a logistical process as building the Space Shuttle, but without the explosions. The lines of communication are not broken, they just don’t exist. My life flashes before my eyes and I can see a news item on BBC Spotlight: ’Local man found dead in a Hotel in Saudi Arabia, there was no sign of a struggle and the hotel reports they had no idea he was there. Police are not treating the death as suspicious. It has been classified as a result of the ‘inshalla’ process. We know it as ‘drekly’. Over to our reporter, Brian, in Jeddah for the latest update……Brian. Brian?’

Published by Lance Goodman

Freelance writer, bon vivant and all-round good oeuf.

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