I connect them. In late 1986 I spent three months managing the refurbishment of the cooling tower on the Port Sudan Oil Refinery. I had a team of five Irishmen, two Scotsmen, and dozens of Sudanese and Nigerians. Surrounding the refinery millions of people were living, and dying, in shelters they had made from old oil drums, twigs, and sacks. They had fled the famine that had inspired Bob Geldof to found Band Aid. Next to our camp was the Band Aid camp. Band Aid lorries stretched as far as the eye could see, waiting for diesel. The cooling tower was on the critical path of the refinery shutdown. I knew then that I would never work on anything as important again, and I never did. We worked from dawn till dusk, six and a half days a week, resting on Friday afternoons, while the locals prayed.

The work wasn’t particularly difficult. What made it hard was our state of health. When we ate, we had only a few minutes before needing the toilet. I thought it might be the meat, so just ate the vegetables. That didn’t work, so I tried it the other way around. Nothing worked. I lived on pancakes covered with jam and sprinkled with sugar in the vain hope that I would absorb some calories as it passed through me. One of the Scotsmen, Matt, was suffering even worse. He went to the refinery medical centre. When he returned he told me they had asked him to provide a stool sample. They had given him a cigarette packet to put it in.

Matt was given some tablets, so the rest of us went to the medical centre to get some. It wasn’t the cleanest of medical facilities. There was a line of local people receiving vaccinations. The same syringe and needle was used for all of them. Oh, that’s where Rock Hudson fits in. Before we flew out, he was wasting away from some mystery illness. It was AIDS. The pills helped a bit, but not much. We finished the job. Sitting on the plane, I looked around, counting the toilets. We would have to eat. I needn’t have worried. As soon as the door of the plane closed, it shut out whatever had affected us. I visited my doctor when I got home and she asked me if I had taken any medication. I gave her what was left of the medicine we had taken. A few days later she told me that the tablets we had been given were currently being tested on rats in America. I told her they were being tested on people in Sudan. I had lost 3 stones, that’s 19Kg. Where does The Count of Monte Cristo fit in? I was reading it at the time. I can’t think of any other book that I could tell you where I was when I read it. Do you have a book that you connect with a particular time of your life? Why not tell us about it?