Sunday, 30 December 2007

Tired

I'm more tired than you.

Tuesday, 25 December 2007

Christmas

Merry Christmas from the world of insomnia. It's 7.30am as I write, though I've been up for hours. It's been lovely being back for the last few days, but my bodyclock is still screwed up over my three weeks of nightshift. Hence I passed out in total exhaustion at 9pm last night, woke at midnight before managing about three more hours of patchy sleep.

I took an early morning festive walk through the quiet streets and calm but bitter cold. I wandered to my fourth flat where my cold, dead van is parked, and tried and failed to jumpstart it. Then I bought some muffins, and am now enjoying them with coffee, some whimsical music, and will soon commence on throwing my money away on online poker.

This is my first Christmas home since 2002. The standard, traditional Christmas would be spent home in Dingwall, but on this occasion my mother is up in Aberdeen, and with my sister and grandfather we'll be having Christmas lunch with my mother's cousin and her two daughters (my second cousins?). My great aunt will also be there, which apparently makes the Queen's Speech a compulsory item on the itinery.

So, an actual, proper Christmas for once. Last year was spent in Nigeria, drinking the hotel bar dry of cognac, making our Boxing Day chopper flight less than fun. The three years before were all in Korea, which although cranked up to a neon level over Christmas that has to be seen to be believed, isn't a very festive place. One year I spent rolling around in my dark, one-room apartment, next to an 8-lane road feeling very hungover, another I spent saving orphans before going to a deluxe beach-side hotel, and the other I spent in a revolving restaurant with my then-girlfriend. All were memorable in their own way, but none quite match the feeling of a Christmas at home with family.

It's not to last long though, as tomorrow I'm away again. This time to Trinidad, leaving the evening of Boxing Day.

Anyway, Merry Christmas everyone, and of course, please take some time to remember the real reason for Christmas: to punctuate our bloated existence. Merry Christmas!

Saturday, 22 December 2007

Three Weeks

I arrived back yesterday from my stint in the North Sea. The job went well, and the timing was good as it seems as though I'll get Christmas at home for once. On the rig, however, there was no internet access, due to the secretive nature of it being a "tight hole" (trust me, I've heard all the jokes). So, I kept by day account of my time offshore in one of the bleakest places ever devised.

Warning: The following is a gritty and powerful account of the toils of an offshore worker that may shock or offend some.

Day 1: The North Sea is every bit as miserable as anticipated.

Day 2: Pelted by a furious assault of horizontal hailstones that emerged suddenly from the freezing blackness of beyond. A poor sleep meant that by the last few hours of my 6pm-6am shift I was simply unable to stay awake when seated. But the shock of going outside sure woke me.

Day 3: A rig's no place for ambiguity.

Day 4: I’ve eaten over eight cream buns in the last 36 hours.

Day 5: Outside the wind is over 60mph, which is pretty extreme on an exposed rig, so all crane operations are suspended, which effectively means the rig has stopped everything. The main deck is quiet, save for the flapping of some loose tied-off tape. I clutch my hardhat whenever making the dash from unit to accommodation – it blew off a couple of days earlier, bouncing along a walkway and almost over the side: this sort of thing is frowned upon. In the galley, the kitchen radio continues to play endless anonymous MOR rock from an anonymous bland radio station. I’m still waiting to hear Toploader’s classic. The food is piled on my plate as though my last meal. There’s only a few others in the galley with me, also wrapped in layers of clothing; we eat alone, it’s quiet, all of us lost in some blank reflection. The time is some forgotten hour stranded in the night and I have a sudden sense of being a trucker in an American diner, driving a neverending long haul. With nothing else to do, I brave the weather and return to my unit, to pass the time playing Football Manager, until the day beckons and my shift ends, and I can sleep.

Day 6: Progress. Wind calmed and operations can proceed. Samplers and lower gauge carrier run-in-hole, the other tools to follow. Phoned home. My first flat is now rented to a Polish bus driver.

Day 7: This rig is very mean-spirited. GlobalSantaFe, recently taken over by Transocean, it’s a global company, yet for a can of coke you have to put 50p into a machine. Worse still, to phone home you have to use a payphone! I’m surprised we don’t have to pay a daily rate for our bed and food.

Day 8: 6am. Cold, dark, raining. Fitting clamp to tubing on drill floor. Stressed. Well hole is open – anything dropped here would be absolute catastophe. Pipe is jerking about violently as rig heaves back and fore. Glance up and get showered in brine. Fun in the North Sea.

Day 9: Killing time offshore.

Day 10: I’m drinking far too much coffee.

Day 11:
Day 12: Four men down to two, thus I am the lead (and only) nightshift engineer. Fortunately, all this means is that I get to watch a flat line of pressure data come in alone.

Day 13: I’ve been monitoring data for days and days. Monitoring three flat lines, 12 hours a day, in a unit all alone. It’s alright (music, games, books, coffee, muttering) except for the phone. My unit has the same number as another’s, and the phone keeps ringing for the other. I’ve stopped answering it, but it really disturbs my peace.

Day 14: Yesterday: boring.


Today: exciting!

Day 15: My colleague, KD, kicked off his dayshift at 6am with a giant bag of Opal Fruits.

Day 16: I now haven’t seen daylight – at all – for over two weeks.

Day 17: Slade's "Merry Christmas" is playing, loudly, on the rig floor.

Days 18 and 19: Mud, grease, sweat, pain, graft, heave, ache, strain. All done.

Day 20: Fly home!

Saturday, 1 December 2007

Freedom Ends

And so tomorrow, that elusive creature that's worth fighting wars over and remains a distant dream for mankind's majority, for me, ends. November has been a month of freedom, delicious and rich with succulence; December, alas, promises not to be: it will be rotten to the very festering core.

November has been wonderful. The first full calender month of being home for 14 months, and it's been a packed old fandragon of a month. What have I salubriously squeezed into all five parts (Tabasco, Soy, Brown, Mayo and a petite Honey) of our beloved eleventh month? Well, I've lived in three different flats, and possibly against the odds have got two of these now ready to rent. I only just finished Justin's old flat today, at 8pm. The only flat not ready to rent is my Market Street one, which is my long term project and the new love of my life. I moved in there a couple of weeks ago and have set up camp in the attic. Every time I am there, which is only really to sleep, I am filled with a sweet sense of happiness.

Market Street isn't the only contender for the new love in my life though: Van Nev is a grunting, rumbling brute that has transformed my life so marvellously I can no longer imagine how I coped without. Having a van makes life so easy. It may not be much of a speed pony, but it's a workhorse, grinding away like a filthy rutting stallion. It's currently packed solid with all kinds of random items. Off the top of my head, these include: a single mattress, cognac, books about popular Chinese premier Zhou Enlai, two radiators, a large plastic owl, and some blue carpet.

So, flats and Van Nev have been the dominating headline stories of my Month Of Glorious Freedom, but there's been plenty of other moments to savour and relish, like a dirty dog enjoying a warm sudridden bath of soapishness. I've been privy to the company of the ever-enchanting foreigners about town, Kitchen Mark and French Claire (who, unbelievably, continues to grow ever more beautiful... oh, baby, baby!), and enjoyed foie-gras and red wine with them. Of course, when it comes to matters of food, I am not only kept alive but kept unstintingly stimulated by Green's culinary marvels. Apart from pouring water into a Pot Noodle, I have not cooked for myself once this month, but am fortunate enough that Justin has better kitchen awareness. I've also been adapting to evening life in his new flat (as that is where I spend most evenings) in the upmarket West End of the city. "If I'd never seen such riches, I could live with being poor." That's how it feels when I have to skulk off home to one of my many properties in the grotty East End.

I've seen my family, had many drinks with my sister, viewed a house with my mother as she's hoping to relocate after 25 years in the house I grew up in, taken my (Aberdeen) grandfather for lunch and tried not to get involved in the saga of him trying to get Broadband, and eaten vast curries with my brother. I've phoned friends, been phoned by friends, been visited by Emily and her allegedy Marxist boyfriend and stumbled into a pumping club of live hard-edged ska music with them. I've met the Cheesmans (Cheesmen?) and discussed matters of grave importance with Mr Cheesman. I've even spent time in the company of the mullet-maniac Varwell, despite the fact he deletes almost every comment I ever put on his blog.

I have a rather amusing tale involving a repellant small dog that is unfortunately not fit for public consumption. I've electrocuted myself. I've played poker well and lost, and badly and won. I've become 29. I've squeezed a king-size mattress through a small attic hatch all by myself, a feat I still believe is impossible. I've DJed like a spastic. I've drunk plenty of beer, red wine, coffee, and three flavours of Aids/Adez, but strangely, no gin. I've argued with furniture delivery men, and then tried to get them sacked. I've been to Banchory - and back. And how can I possibly forget buying the entire contents of someone's flat for £450 and getting him to take it all to two of my flats - and having him thank me profusely for it?

I've only been to work twice. Once for about an hour, to sort out my wages, and the other time yesterday, for some essential training. For it is work, naturally, that is the cause of my imminently ending freedom. It is 11pm, Saturday, as I write. By 11am Sunday I will be in a helicopter to my next prison rig, in the worst imaginable place on God's dear Earth: The North Sea.

The North Sea. Where weather and Scots combine to generate pure misery. Grey, dour, bitter, without joy or hope. There Will Be Only Pain.

It's a big job, a full four man affair - the first time I've done something on this scale since my very first job. And with samplers too, the details of which I might bore you with on a later date. Fortunately, it's a good team - Mr Calm, KD and some new boy who I've not yet met, but for now we'll just arbitrarily call Mutton Balloon until a more appropriate nom de guerre becomes available.

So, November has ended, but left me with good memories and with a definite sense of achievement. After months before stranded in Brazil, I feel I've caught up with my life a little, and am refreshed for future excursions after being thoroughly worn out and concerned for my sanity towards the end of October. Freedom ends therefore, regrettably, but leaves with a sweet kiss that will linger on and keep me going until her fresh face again brightens up my doorstep.

Friday, 30 November 2007

Punishment

I am going... to hell.

Tuesday, 27 November 2007

Forgotten Stories

I was out for a few drinks with my wayward sister recently, and she told me an interesting story about my grandfather.

Jimmy, as he was known to everyone, died in August, after a long and notable life, surrounded by his family. He was simply the perfect grandfather. Living in a huge house on a hill, each weekend as children, my brother, sister and I, plus whatever friends might be around, would be taken up to visit him. Ever amiable, he would look gently bemused as we tore about the place, making all kinds of mess. He would never reproach us for anything, not as I recall, and visiting Jimmy meant for an afternoon of complete freedom, with sweets. It is one of the highights of my childhood, and that of a number of friends.

In this huge house of his, which he had owned for almost 60 years before selling it in 2004, were all kinds of rooms with all kinds of defunct functions. The pantry, for example, seemed only to hold food of 20 years ago. One person doesn’t strictly need two living rooms. The snooker room was good fun though, as was the “crazy” room – a room filled with spare furniture and nonsense, that allowed for all kinds of deconstruction and chaos. In these rooms, as you might imagine, was furniture and items decades old, as with the decor. Since his wife died young, a year after I was born in 1979, nothing had been changed. Not a conscious effort, you realise, more of an unconscious lack of effort. Why change anything? He was happy with his big old house, once full of family and children.

One of these ancient artefacts was a kind of chest of drawers in one of his living rooms. I remember this throughout my childhood, but never took any particular interest in it. The top section, as I can just recall, and as my sister reminded me, was just packed full of papers, for what I don’t know. The contents of the lower drawers never occurred to me.

But they did to my sister. One day, many years ago and surely when I’d stopped going to his on the weekends, she asked him what was in these drawers. He showed her. It was packed full of photos, old photos, many of his years serving in the war and the years after. If I know Grandpa, these photos would have been in absolutely no order whatsoever (I may have inherited this trait). My sister started looking through them, asking questions about what has going on in each. Jimmy would answer.

Very typical of that generation, Jimmy was not one to eulogise about himself or his past. Unlike today’s media generation, he had a natural reserve. But although he wouldn’t volunteer information about his past, he would always honestly answer as fully as required. He was a Major during the war, serving as a dentist in the Middle East, especially in Palestine/Israel. As I’ve travelled through there, latterly we would sometimes discuss some of the places we’d both been. He seemed to have quite enjoyed it, in the sense of finding it a terrifically interesting experience, in a way that is scarcely conceivable now.

Among the photos, my sister came across an oddity. Jimmy was ever amiable and seemingly ever unchanging. Every photo you’ve ever seen of him, unposed at any rate, is identical – tall and thin, he seems faintly bemused, and relaxed. Timeless, he barely seems to age; maybe the hair thins and some wrinkles appear, but he looks just the same, with the same expression, at home, at work, at war. Except this one photo. Wearing his military uniform, obviously somewhere in the Middle East, he looks stressed. My sister has never seen this expression in him before. “What’s happening here?” she asks, “Why do you look worried?” He tells her: “Oh, that was the day of my court martial.”

During the war, he had two bags. One was for his personal items and the other was for military, in particular his gun, which had to be guarded closely and kept in good working order. One day he had his military bag – his gun – stolen. How exactly this happened I don’t know, but it was regarded as a grevious failing in duty and responsibility, and a serious military offence. In fact, it could possibly be interpreted as one of six military offences then punishable by death! “Aiding the Enemy or Furnishing Supplies”, along with its five compatriots, was only formally abolished as punishable by death in 1998, but during the Second World War still occurred (although last officially occurred in 1942). The morning of the photo was the morning that, as far as my grandfather knew then, in a worst case scenario, might have him sentenced to death by firing squad! Hence this young man in his 20s was not feeling his usual self.

And so the day of this photo, the day of this serious court martial, what happened? Well, the day of his court martial, as it turned out, was the day of the Armistice! He went to his hearing and was told, “War’s over, you’re free.” We’ll never know what the verdict might have been, because Germany had surrendered and everybody could relax and go home.

In fact, it seems my grandfather stayed on a bit longer, for reasons I’m not quite sure of, and then soon after returning home, got a car and drove around war-torn Europe for several months. This was way before foreign travel became even remotely mainstream and was seriously adventurous for its day, and was something I only learnt about after his death. He eventually settled in the Highlands, becoming the first ever dentist for the region, and became a well known figure in the community. The rest – the family, the house, the golf and the whisky – is history, ending just a few months ago but leaving quite a legacy.

It’s curious, the things you don’t know about people you grow up with and take for granted, and with Grandpa I’m sure there’s a bit more. Fortunately, I think my uncle probably knows a fair bit, so I’ll question him next time I see him. With luck too, these old photos may be around too.

Friday, 23 November 2007

King Street Completed

Like some kind of crazy blessed miracle, I'm now into my fourth week at home. In that time, I popped into work very quickly to get my expenses, but otherwise have completely ignored it and enjoyed a rare spell in my adopted home city of Aberdeen, savouring the glorious seasonal weather. I was told by the boss that loads of jobs were just coming up, but as yet "the phonecall" hasn't come. It even appears that I’ll be here for my birthday tomorrow, the first time in Scotland since 2003.

In a perfect world, my time at home would have been entirely spent drinking red wine, playing techno on my decks really badly, gambling online, and with my trousers round my ankles. But as wiser men than me have observed, the world is not perfect. No, it is a filthy dog of despair, ever yapping and biting, and never allowing for rest or relaxation. Thus responsibilities have kept me from my vices.

These responsibilililities, as my beloved regular readers are no doubt aware, take the form of my flats. I have four now, and I arrived back from my eternity in Brazil with three of them empty. This is still the case, but one is now on the rental market and should be occupied soon, and one is in a later stage of development, and should be done in about 5-8 working days. I've just started living in the final flat, and have well and truly fallen in love with it. I checked out, incidentally, the one flat I am renting, and was truly delighted to find the girls have kept it in immaculate condition, and was so pleased I left them a bottle of wine.

More on all of this another time; for now my desire is to discuss the history and transformation of my first flat, that is, the flat recently re-done and now awaiting tenants. I bought this flat, on King Street, in September of 2002, while washing dishes part-time and getting drunk all the time, and the same time too I moved into the mythical castle, where dreams and reality were all too often blurred into total confusion.

Photos, alas, of the early days of this property, don't seem to exist, but for the first few years of its existence it had one bright orange bedroom, one dark purple, and a yellow living room/kitchen with a floor made up of ghastly warping squares of wood strips. Back then, my renting approach was casual to the point of gross unprofessionalism, so I let the place out to a couple of friends and forgot about it, and eventually went to Korea.

It all went a bit wrong then, as some long-planned serious renovation on the entire block took place, which transformed the communal area from a dump into a charming and elegant hallway, double-glazed my windows, and made the whole building structurally sound. All good, but this process and the delays leading up to it left my flat empty for years, and uninhabitable due to the serious mess left by the builders. I returned from Korea to find the place in ruins.

In all the flat was empty for almost two years before I redecorated and rented it out again. In retrospect, my attempts to fix the place up were fairly amateur - it was the first ever time I'd attempted something like this, and with mixed results. Nonetheless, this doesn't excuse the horrendous treatment of it by my tenants. All carpets were left ruined by dirt, grime and ash, walls were filthy, the sofas had lines slashed in them and the kitchen area was a disgusting, sticky mess. Their bedsheets had to be chucked out - after a year unwashed, covering some revolting individuals, there was no hope. After my mammoth effort in the complete upheaval of my second flat, on Nelson Street (as seen on an earlier entry) I really didn’t want to have to immediately start again on a flat done up only the year before, but there was no choice.

I managed two weeks in late June, and was agonisingly close to having it finished, before being sent to Brazil for about four months. Hence only now, during my first week or so back home, have I been able to finish. And so, some photos.

The bathroom was the biggest job, and one left to the professionals. In fairness, this was a long standing problem and not directly the tenants' fault, although I suspect their contribution was less than helpful. Basically, long ago, before my time, tiles had been put up over some kind of incorrect timber, resulting in water amassing between the tiles and timber over time. The first I heard of this was last year, when the neighbour below – a convicted paedophile policeman (incidentally) – complained of water dripping. As seen in the photo, the bathroom tiles “fell” off, surely without any help from my wonderful tenants. The entire bathroom needed to be ripped out, a wall partly reconstructed, and the whole room redone. It didn’t come cheap, but I was very pleased with the results.

We now have a proper, professionally-done bathroom, will nice walls and even tiling. The bath screen works particularly well. I still wonder at the lino, cut perfectly, which seems like nothing less than a miracle in light of my recent efforts to lino the bathroom in my fourth flat.

Here’s the other view. The sink, along with the rest of the suite, is old. Originally, they were going to replace it, but the cost of this was astronomical (£8000 altogether instead of £4000) and the old suite was perfectly good. Except for the sink taps – they’re rubbish. I put in all the units myself. I always go for a pine look to my bathrooms, mainly because B & Q sell a cheap range.

Moving onto the small bedroom now. I don’t have any photos of how my tenants left it, but it was the room that needed less work. Just a new carpet really, as seen here still not properly cut. The wall needed a few dabs of paint, and the curtain rail replaced.

Here are the finished results (minus a new pine chest of drawers and wardrobe that hadn’t been delivered at the time of this photo). The bed needed a bit of fixing, and new bedsheets of course, but this was straightforward and cheap. I’ve always liked the fireplace feature in this room, and think the gloss black is to good effect. The bedside table was actually made by my grandfather, years ago. Also not in this photo is the touch-sensitive lamp, with pastel blue shade, giving that much sought after glimpse of nouveau-countryside luxury chic.

Now, the big bedroom – what a mess. My tenants left the walls and carpet grimy and black. By the time this photo had been taken the walls had been wallpapered and painted, and a new carpet put in. I’m usually diabolical at wallpapering, but was quite pleased by my efforts this time. Of course, having done this, I then made a comprehensive mess of the room as I stayed there while fixing the rest of the flat up. To the left, you can see a few cartons, once containing baked potatoes from “The Tasty Tattie”. Some pizza crust was also left sitting during my entire stint in Brazil. The double bed was covered in my paperwork, a system for which I’m still to find, with me finding what space I could each night to sleep. The piece of crap wardrobe you can see is from Argos, and only a year old. What an absolute piece of total crap. Never buy furniture from Argos. My tenants surely didn’t help, but of all the furniture they lived with, only the Argos stuff didn’t make it out alive (an Argos chest of drawers had a similar fate).

What a difference a clean can make. The bed needed a little fixing, but otherwise is coping well after being bought from new in 2002. The bedside table is also from that year, though second hand I think, and spent most of its earlier life in the kitchen. The two-seat sofa came with the three-seat, in the living room/kitchen, and I’ll tell you about that later. The blue chair, like the one in the small bedroom, used to belong to Justin. For many months I coveted his four blue chairs, knowing they’d work well in my King Street flat, and would hint frequently to him. In the end, of course, the only way I could get hold of them was to buy his entire damn flat. Finally, the orange shelves – this is perhaps just about the only thing, barring the hallway, that had remained untouched over the years.

Here’s the other view of the big bedroom. It’s a very spacious room, hence comfortably fitting in a sofa and large wardrobe. It can alternatively be used simply as a living room, as it was when I bought the flat, but for rental purposes it’s obviously better to use it as a bedroom, especially as the living room/kitchen is of a very sufficient size.

The Three Ages Of Radiator. On the left is the blue-painted version by me when I repainted the whole room last year, and lazily just painted over the orange, as seen centre. This meant that over the year, with my awful tenants, the paint was scratched and peeled off all too easily. Hence I stripped the whole radiator, as seen on the right, before painting it white again, good as new. This radiator could also double as a national flag for some middle-European nation.

The hall just needed a new carpet, plus being cleared of all the crap I managed to fill it with. How do I manage this? Every time I redecorate, I fill every room with clutter. For weeks I had to squeeze past the various items of furniture and bags of rubbish I’d crammed into this small space.

That’s better.

Finally, the biggie – the living room/kitchen. This room was the selling point of the flat for me, as the very spacious room allows more than adequately for a living area, with sofa, as well as the kitchen. I’ve only got one photo of the horrendous state the tenants left this room in, as you can see above. No selling point. The whole room was like this, and worse, with thick ash and grime, and ruined walls and carpet. The cooker too was ruined, but it was on its last legs anyway.

Here is the kitchen after having been mostly redone, and just needing rescuing from myself. A new cooker had come in, the walls repainted and a new carpet installed, and an owl thoughtfully placed next to the microwave.

Here’s the sofa. It’s in this stupid position as I’d taken it from the recess so I could fit and cut the carpet. Both sofas were acquired rather fortuitously last year, for free, from the neighbour or a friend of the exceedingly lovely Rosie (who, incidentally, will be staying in the Market Street flat if she ever returns from Egypt). This neighbour was hilarious. He was registered disabled, legitimately so, and took great delight in exploiting this for parking. Parking outside my King Street flat isn’t necessarily easy, especially when driving with a trailer, as he did the day he took these sofas round, but he found a way – by parking his Volvo and trailer along the pavement, and blocking any poor pedestrians. He just pointed at his disabled badge and laughed. Sometimes I wish I was disabled too.

Now, this is much nicer. The sofa is again nestled perfectly in that fortunately-sized recess, a good quality shelf has been attached (better than last year’s shambolic effort), and some new furniture in place, courtesy of my £450 acquisition of an entire flatful of furniture earlier in the month. The wall light, one of three, is from last year, and was the cheapest from Argos. By a stroke of luck, it is the same shade as the wall, and with the main light on gives the room a soothing, sultry ambience.

And here’s the view of the kitchen area. I’m rather pleased with how it’s turned out. The kitchen unit surface was in a horrible way, so I made my own with some wood and tiles, and hopefully it will be durable. A good new shelf has replaced the ghastly white slab of years earlier, and a table salvaged from Justin’s old flat, together with the enchanting blue chairs, makes a cute little dining area. The stools, quite rickety things if truth be told, are from way back in 2002. I don’t think they’re very useful these days, in light of this new dining area, but they look quite nice. All the cups, glasses, plates, crockery and cutlery came from Asda. I used to think Asda was a place for the underclass, but they do a superb range of budget kitchenware, so I’ve revised my opinion. I’m also told they do quite good food now as well, but who cares about that?

There we are, my King Street flat, after its second revamping. Hopefully too, the last for some time, as it would be nice to get tenants of the calibre of Nelson Street’s. Overall, I’m pleased with how King Street turned out, although I don’t believe it is done overall quite as well as Nelson Street (despite being a nicer flat). It really needs the kitchen wallpaper stripped and repapered, a new boiler, a new shower, and one day I hope to do something major with the attic. But all that is for another day, way in the future.

Wednesday, 21 November 2007

Water Dilemma

Four flats and no working shower...

Wednesday, 7 November 2007

Van/Flats/Power/Whitbread etc

Well, I got back last week, and hasn't it been lovely? Once again surrounded by Aberdeen's grey palour and its bricklike women, and watching the dim light go completely dark by about 4pm. But after months away, all this is very welcome. Absence makes the heart grow fonder, so they say, and thus Aberdeen is my City Of Dreams.

Lots of activity and lack of internet mean I have not had time to write in lurid detail each of my delightful adventures that have taken place over the last week, but I should hopefully be getting internet in my flat soon - and hopefully actually moving into my first proper home in years. For the time-being, some bullet points can describe my Week Of Joy.

- My car has been taken away by the council/police. So I have bought a van. I christen it Van Nev. It doesn't start yet.

- I bought the entire contents of someone's flat for £450. And he helped me move it all.

- I am adjusting to Justin's new flat, and adjusting his old flat. For those that don't know, I generously visit Justin most free evenings to taste and judge his food, and drink his beer. But while he was away he bought a new a flat! And it's miles away! What was he thinking? I bought his old flat off him and currently use it to shower in, because I'm too scared to turn the gas on in my King Street flat (where I'm temporarily residing).

- I almost electrocuted myself today. I don't recommend it. To avoid such incidents, I advise turning off the mains power before grabbing hold of a live wire.

- After about three months of owning it, I finally got power in my Market Street flat. Thanks to my flat-raiding activities mentioned above, I now have a bed too. On Friday I'll have a landline and later internet access. One day I might even consider heating.

- I have met and drank beer with all kinds of wonderful friends, such as the aforementioned Justin, the lovely Kitchen Mark, the enchanting French Claire, the sensational SV, the magnificent Cheesman and a special visit from the incomparable Miss Falconer. Not to mention my sister, Dr Christie, who has provided live-saving medical tips over the phone (i.e. turn off the power).

- I have a very slight cold.

- I have not contacted my work since I got back, and intend ignoring them for as long as possible. I've set myself the wild goal of still being here for my birthday on the 26th.

- Fatima Whitbread MBE (born 3 March 1961) is an English former javelin thrower and multi medal-winner. Abandoned in a north London flat as a baby by her Turkish Cypriot mother, Whitbread spent many unloving years in and out of children's homes before finally meeting her mother again.

Saturday, 27 October 2007

Shattered

We hurt those we love the most.

This is my room, and my home for the last month.



As you can see, it’s not hotel-deluxe, but for a rig (or drill ship) it’s not bad at all. A bit of space, only two beds, a sofa, desk, and the mixed blessing of the TV. But the chief factor in favour of this room is the window. Almost every other rig room I’ve been in is windowless, and therefore either a dark cell or artificially-lit hell. But with a window comes natural light, a view of outside, and a considerably fresher life to the space I spend over 80% of my time.

Here is a closer shot of my window, and my sea view.



Better still, as well as providing light and a view, the window opens also. As the air conditioning is usually a bit on the cool side, and the Brazilian springtime is pretty warm, this often has the counter-intuitive effect (for the Scottish mindset) of warming up the room. A pleasing breeze can be relief on most days.

So it is unfortunate, that a few days ago, when opening my window, there was a small accident – and my window broke. Not just broke, but shattered, into thousands of pieces. The nature of the fracture though meant that it didn’t explode, rather remained shattered within its frame.

Here we can see:



Thus, I now have a window I can’t see out of, and only lets through half the light of before. My room is darker, my life is darker. Everything takes one step closer towards total darkness.

Have no fear, however, light is at the end of the tunnel. Progress has been made, and this week I’ve actually done about 8-10 hours of work. But even better, on Monday I’m due to be swapped out, so will be off this rig and on my way home. Reports must have filtered through from drill ship to my Aberdeen base of me curled up in dark corners, shaking back and fore, howling.

So freedom, finally, beckons. And so too the bright, shining lights of Aberdeen.

Saturday, 20 October 2007

What Can We Fit In My Hole?

What can we fit inside Nev’s hole?

Not too long ago, you may or may not recall, I wrote on here about the expanding hole in my trousers. One little tear quickly became a brute of a hole, torn right across a buttock and unnervingly near the crotch (especially unnerving for anyone so unwise to be looking there when I sit down). The hole is big, and pretty much puts an end to the life of these trousers come the day I eventually get off this drillship (estimated Jun 2008). And it occurred to me – just how big is my hole?

So I put it to the test. Please, read on, and see if you can guess what will and what won’t fit inside the gaping hole in my trousers.

Here, first of all, is the hole itself.



We begin.

Number 1: The Pen. Does a pen fit through the hole in my trousers?

Verdict: Yes, very easily.

Number 2: The remote control. Does a remote control fit through the hole in my trousers?

Verdict: Yes, very easily. I’m still trying to think of a way I might put this to practical use.

Number 3: The cup. Does a cup (plastic) fit through the hole in my trousers?

Verdict: Yes, without problems.

Number 4: The 1.5 litre bottle of water. Does a 1.5 litre bottle of water fit through the hole in my trousers?

Verdict: Yes, easily. This will likely also apply to 1.5 l bottles of other liquids.

Number 5: The kettle. Does a kettle fit through the hole in my trousers?

No! Well, not quite, but that’s because of a few strands of thread just holding it back.
Verdict: A moral victory, but a no for now.

Number 6: The hardhat. Does my hardhat fit through the hole in my trousers?

Hmm, again the threads hold it back. Would it pass through without them?
Verdict: Not yet, but one for the future.

Number 7: The pillow. Does a pillow fit through the hole in my trousers?

Verdict: Yes, but it needs to be rolled up tight.

Number 8: The laptop. Does my work laptop fit through the hole in my trousers?

Verdict: No.

Number 9: My own leg. Does my own leg fit through the hole in my trousers?

Verdict: Yes, up to just above the knee. Not quite thigh-size yet, and we can see by this that there’s no way I could fit my entire person through the hole so I’m not even going to try.

Number 10: The chair. Does a chair fit through the hole in my trousers?

Verdict: No, of course not. Don’t be stupid.

There we go then, my hole is safely bottle-sized, likely hardhat-sized, pillow-sized with some effort, but definitely not laptop-sized.

Further game suggestions welcome.

Please.

( 22 days on this rig now, the last 19 without work, and still no work for the foreseeable future. “The Smiler” was downmanned yesteray, so I am now alone)

Wednesday, 17 October 2007

What Time Is It?

"The Smiler" and I, over lunch-time conversation yesterday, stumbled upon what we realised is a curious inconsistency with temporal nomenclature. That is, that in the English language, we give the days and months names, but the minutes, hours and weeks none at all. Minutes and hours, at least, have numbers allocated, but the weeks are just abstract clumps of septua-days with hardly any identity whatsoever (nobody ever says "Oh, it's week 34 now already!"). We feel this must change.

Hence, we have formulated a plan to replace the numbers with names. Once finished, time will be referred to on a name basis, rather than by a series of numbers. And let's face it, girls are terrible with numbers (that's why they're always late), so it can only make things easier for all.

Much thought has gone into this, of course, and as to what our naming systems will be. The old systems were something like Norse, Germanic and Roman gods for the days, and the months are Roman inspired, with Roman gods, emperors and numbers (all given a bit of a "remix") to make the names. All this is very nice, and very highbrow, but of course only highbrow because it's ancient culture and language. Way back then, I have no doubt, people were saying "You're calling it December? 'Month Ten?' What a boring name. And it's the twelfth month anyway!" or "Augustus? I think 'Clive' sounds nicer." Everything becomes cultured given a couple of thousand years, and so The Smiler and I have opted to go for a contemporary nomenclature that we have no doubt will mature and ripen with the years, until one day be referred to as Scotia-classical.

This is what we have come up with so far (please note, this is as yet unfinished):

Weeks, first of all. In order to give the poor weeks some identity, we've decided to refer to them in the context of a month. To consider them in an annual context would involve an unnecessary change of thinking that we don't feel is beneficial. But in a monthly context, the names are easy to remember, and very helpful indeed to framing the progress of a month. Thus, only five names are required, as there are only four weeks in a month, plus a few days left over. We have decided to name them after popular sauces.

The first week of every month will be called "Tabasco". As in, "It's January, Tabasco".
The second week of every month will be called "Soy". As in, "It's March, Soy".
The third week of every month will be called "Brown". As in, "It's July, Brown".
The fourth week of every month will be called "Mayo". As in, "It's September, Mayo".
And the remaining few days of each month will be called "Honey". As in, "Well, it's already December, Honey".

Trust me, you'll get used to it.

Next, we moved onto the hours of the day. As we know, there are 24 hours in every single day (except when the clocks move forward or back - what is all that about, really?) Right now, we just think of it as being 03:00 or 3am, or 20:00 or 8pm. Very cold and scientific - the product of sterile mathematics rather than joyous, artistic amour. But our naming system pumps the goddamn passion back into the hours. We have decided to name each hour after a 70s, 80s or 90s popular TV show, in most cases a globally recognised one. To inject a little order into it, as there are 24 hours in a day and 26 letters in the alphabet, it seems sensible that each hour has a TV show beginning with the corresponding position of the letter in the alphabet (i.e. A=1, B=2 etc). For Hour 24 (i.e. midnight, or 00:00) X is used, with Y and Z sadly being lopped off, unless time itself is reformed.

We haven't completed this list yet, but it's making good progress. A few tasters for you.

2am (02:00) will from, hereon in be known as "Baywatch". As in, "I'm knackered. What time is it?", "It's half past Baywatch - no wonder!"
11am (11:00) will be called "Knightrider". As in "I´m starving, is it lunch yet? Damn, it's only Half Knightrider."
1pm (13:00) will be called "Monkey". As in "Ok, lunch at Monkey!"
9pm (21:00) will be called "Tales of the Unexpected" though we expect this to be commonly shortened to "Unexpected". As in "That's Unexpected! Doesn't time fly?"

We've got plenty more, but I'll save them for later.

Finally, the minutes. 60 minutes in an hour, always referred to by mere number (except for quarter- and half-past and quarter-to, which of course we would never change). We might say, "It's 4.13pm" or "It's 11.19am". Not very exciting. But our new minute nomenclature injects some excitement into determining the time within the hour. For this we're going to use contemporary, living celebrity names, determined by the age of the celebrity on 1st January 2008. Thus, if a given celebrity is 45 on that date, they would replace the 45th minute. Here are some examples.

The 7th minute will be replaced by Phoenix Chi Brown (Mel B's daughter). So 1.07am would be "It's 1 - Phoenix Chi (Brown)", or even better, "It's A-Team Phoenix Chi".
The 53rd minute will be replaced by Oprah Winfrey. So 4.53am would be "It's 4 - Oprah (Winfrey)", or even better, "It's Dallas Oprah".
The 59th minute will, of course, be replaced by Noel Edmonds. So 5.59pm would be "It's 5 - Noel (Edmonds) pm", or even better, "It's Quincy Noel - almost time for dinner".

There we have it then, a full and complete naming system for time that we have no doubt will considerably reduce the confusion of compound mathematics. Try it! With some of the names I've already given, how would we say the following time: the first Monday of February, at 1.53pm.

...

...

...

...

...

...

Yes, correct. It would be February, Tabasco Monday, at Monkey Oprah. Now tell me that's not an improvement.

(I've been on this rig 19 days now, with not a spot of work or thing to do for the last 17, and without any for the foreseeable future)

Sunday, 14 October 2007

Saturday, 13 October 2007

Não fazer nada

In order to help pass the time, I've decided to start walking really, really slowly.

Friday, 12 October 2007

Flat 4

As from today, I am now the proud owner of four flats.

Yes, while I float around somewhere in south Atlantic, doing absolutely no work whatsoever (and with nothing on the horizon for another week), processes have been in motion back in Aberdeen that today sees me acquire my fourth flat. And in contrast to my purchase of my previous three, this one has been astonishingly hassle-free and smooth. A good thing too, as I’m not really in a position to act if things were to get hairy.

For those familiar with my Aberdeen existence, likely you will be vaguely familiar with this flat, as the previous owner until was Green, aka The Swish Fish. A chance conversation on the way to the pub many months ago led to a mutually beneficial deal being struck, that now sees Green move into a swanky West End premise fit for a young professional with disposable income, while I am lumbered with his old decaying property in the hope of getting some innocent students to pay me money to live there.

In fact, his flat – sorry, my flat – isn’t so bad, as long as you avoid the windows, the boiler, the bathroom and the rotting roof. But this is all par for the course for me now, and I’m mightily relieved that floor and walls won’t need done, as I seem to have spent all my Aberdeen year doing those in my first two flats. Windows and rotting roofs are the preserve of the professional, so just need some phonecalls to get someone, and I may do the bathroom myself, but only if I can be bothered. I quite fancy a break to be honest. I’ve only been home 70 days this year, and these 70 days have been either spent AT THE GODDAMN OFFICE, working full steam on my flats, or visiting family back in Dingwall. When I do eventually return from Brazil (mid-November?) I’ll have about a week getting my first flat finished and then, I pray, I can take a little rest.

That’s wishful thinking, of course. Firstly, that I’ll ever get a week back at home, and secondly that I’ll have time to rest. Because I still have my third flat – where I allegedly live despite not having spent over four hours there since getting the flat on August 1st – to do. It has no power, no furniture, needs new windows, central heating, new walls, new floors... you get the idea. Luckily, I may have help here, as I may be joined by two lovely ladies that I have agreed to give free rent for a year in exchange for daily molesta... um... cooked meals and arranging workmen in my absence.

But today is not for dwelling upon my other flats, today is a celebration of my new flat. Two new bedrooms, a new kitchen, a new living room, a new bathroom, a new horse (or is Justin taking that with him), and four new blue chairs. I just hope the roof hasn’t caved in by the time I get to see it all.

Sunday, 7 October 2007

Holiness

Every day, the rip gets bigger...

About a week ago, it was a mere hole of minuscule proportions, a simple stretch of the fabric around the seat of my trousers. I’d registered the beam of light that could shine through when they were held up to the sun, but I was unconcerned. Although the trousers were on the tight side, they weren’t unduly constrictive, and the blood could flow freely. But a week is a long time in fabric rips, and the picture is now a very different one.

Putting my socks on inflicted the first damage. There was a tremendous tearing sound, and the rush of air. Every movement at that diabolic moment threatened to increase the tear more, and extreme caution had to be exercised in putting my second sock on. But extreme caution is hard to maintain all the time, and as the week has worn on, the wrong bend, splay or means of putting on/removal has contributed to an ever-growing hole. When I am seated I can feel the coldness of the chair below. Now the rip extends and curves along the base of most of my right buttock, and only the aforementioned tightness (of trousers, not buttock) prevents a flap of fabric hanging down and exposing bare flesh to a shocked world.

And these trousers are not a one-off. Another pair, back in Aberdeen, have an obscene hole at the groin – cause for arrest in many countries. The button of a different pair popped off a long time ago. The zip of another (particularly tight) pair had to be repaired by a professional after breaking. An old pair of coveralls had to be binned for the same reason. Two of my T-shirts sport small holes.

All this has happened in the last year. What, I have been pondering, is the cause of all my clothes busting? The answer is simple – foreigners! All my trousers were either bought in Dubai or Korea, and have suffered washing in foreign hotels. The Korean ones have lasted well and paid their dues, I’ll grant, but the Dubai ones have disappointed. Oh, they looked good at first, but failure soon followed.

So, the moral of this story is – don’t shop in Dubai. (and maybe don’t eat as many pies)

Too Much

I’m getting bored of the 24-hour porn channel. It just seems to be repeats.

Thursday, 4 October 2007

BJ Stingers

BJ Stingers: who really wants a BJ Stinger? Not this drillship, it seems, as upon pulling out of hole the BJ Stinger was crushed and bent, with half of it lost deep down hole. Enough to bring tears to a man’s eye.

I arrived here, on the NS-16, a battered old Russian vessel now doing service in the south Atlantic off Rio, a handful of days ago – a Saturday. It took me and my colleague – who I’ll refer to as “The Smiler” – our second attempt to get here, as our first attempt early on Friday morning was rebuffed. Our names were only pencilled in for the chopper, and pencil is not enough, so we were bumped to the following morning. If only it was that simple. Brazil being Brazil and Halliburton being Halliburton meant that schedules are a loose, almost foreign concept, and the Friday involved three hours of hanging around, waiting futilely, and the Saturday had six hours of glorious waiting in a shabby heliport. Both mornings were 5am starts, so neither me nor The Smiler were exuding much joy.

First impressions upon arriving were not good. As blades whirred above our heads, yellow fireproofed figures ushered us along the rim of the helideck and down the usual steep, metal steps. Earplugs muted the racket; nobody spoke. Being a drillship, our position was still lofty, and only the derrick towered above us like an industrial Eiffel Tower, with the rig floor even, along a narrow bridge cluttered with small containers. As ever, length of tubing were being chucked in or yanked out ad infinitum. Our attention was quickly diverted from this thundering machination as a lone figure across the way motioned for us to follow him. With caution, for I was laden with a heavy backpack, a large blue offshore bag slung over a shoulder and a metal case containing equipment clasped in one hand, I ventured down another steep, narrow set of steps. A dirty red hardhat was given to each of us, and we were led on a merry chase.

Most rigs and ships have their accommodation quarters immediately below the helideck: not the NS-16. Down various steps, round tight corners, along claustophobically narrow corridors, having to backpedal sometimes because our passage was blocked, our route to our home for the next month was a winding maze of clanks and screeches. My 5am start and six hour wait did not welcome this trek, which eventually led to a room cast in total blackness. Lights on revealed two Brazilians playing a Playstation game, and a man using the internet. All were turfed out. The shadowy figure who had led us here asked us to be seated, and then said, more or less, “We take pathogens very seriously here.” Forms were quickly signed saying we agreed. The Captain then appeared, sternly searched our bags (I’ve not seen my dildo since) and we were led to our room.

Things then got better. Then they got worse.

The good news was – and still is – that this drillship is pretty damn decent. My only other experience of drillships was of the “Songa Saturn” back in Equatorial Guinea. A groaning hulk of debris, rusting piles of pipe and ancient grease coating every surface, this cramped vessel was barely fit for service, instead only fit for the lizards and cockroaches that scampered the decks. But the NS-16 is much better. The chief point in its favour is the two-man rooms. Not only that, but spacious two-man rooms, with windows to outside, and a TV. While obviously not new, the rooms are clean and well-kept. Likewise, all the accommodation, which is spacious and open. The helideck, being on the aft, is not within commuting distance and thus out of bounds for dedicated circlers such as myself, but on top of the accommodation, above the bridge, is an open space with a great vantage point, and with a few chairs scattered too. The food is unexceptional but edible, though the 3pm and 9pm snacks are delicious. The gym appears excellent, and I’ve considered actually using it. For third party personnel there are three computers with decent internet. And on channel 42 is a 24-hour porn channel.

I’ll repeat that last part – a 24-hour, no holds barred, porn channel. I’ve still not quite come to terms with this.

And so Saturday ended up being spent quite pleasantly. Taking some of our electronics into our cabin, the evening was spent leisurely as we programmed gauges and transmitters, stuck batteries on the ends, O-ringed and greased them up and slid them snugly into housings. Everything seemed to be in order, except for a crappy test coil, which was but a minor inconvenience. Information about run in hole time was vague, but appeared to be the following night, though sometime mid-Monday was also discussed. Therefore we knew we’d have to up early and fresh for a big day.

A big day it was, a gruelling 16 hours of relentless battles, problem solving, and physical exertion. What should have been straightforward, wasn’t. Really, all we had to do was build our carrier and test it with our wireline tool. How difficult can that be? Very – when your container is constantly being craned away to different locations, there is no external power source, your most simple piece of equipment and the backup breaks, and the trek from cabin to carrier involves heavy doors, stairways and repeated use of the claustrophobic corridor used on our ship introduction. The constant shunting around of our container was such a hassle. We’d pop into our quarters to do something, and when we came back out we’d find our container wedged in a corner, unable to be opened. Therefore it was easier to keep everything of importance in our cabin, meaning very soon our room was rammed full of pipes, tools and slabs of electronics alien to anyone outside of my company.

The crisis came with the tool links. Can you believe that? How simple a tool link is, so simple I’ve never before even considered them failing. They just slide into the housing and, as the name suggests, create a physical link between the coils of two other tools. All a tool link is is a hollow metal cylinder with tightly wound copper-plated silver coil round each end with two wires attaching the ends. No electronics, just metal and wire. But our first tool link wouldn’t fit into the housing. And the second one too. We tried both housings, just in case. It was clear both were slightly bent, and the more we forced them the more the wires and the tape holding the wires on the link got scraped. The worst then happened – the coil on one link was nicked. This is irreparable, and the link was now useless. Down to just one, which already had a wire looking very bent and fragile. It still tested ok, so we tried again to wedge it into the housing, involving much force and bending. Finally, it went in – so we screwed in our acoustic transmitter plus our extended coil, rigged it all up to the laptop and pressed go. Failure. The SRO box registered as normal, and the extended coil dumbed fine, but there was no communication with our transmitter. Very evidently our tool link was broken. Bad news.

Fortunately, this one was repairable, though not by us. Seeking out the rig electrician, hiding in an obscure corner far on the other side of the boat under the helideck, we pleaded our case. He spoke no English, but fortunately his room was packed with many other swarthy men, one of whom did. He’d try his best. All our hopes were now resting on this man.

In the meantime, there was the matter of everything else. The carrier was built without problems, though not without effort, as housings were lugged along the now very familiar network of steps up and down, and narrow corridors, due to the carrier skid being nowhere near our container. The worst was the R Nipple – a brute of thick metal – that took all my strength under the Brazilian sun to heave along this passage. Two O-rings onto each housing, plus some incredibly fiddly peek backups, as well as oil traps for the gauges. You don’t need me to tell you that after this effort we were black with grease and soaked with sweat.

Back to the tool link, as it was collected from the electrician and taken to our quarters for insertion into housing and testing. As delicately as possible, we rammed it in. Transmitter and extended coil were then gingerly screwed in. All rigged up to the laptop. SRO box – ok. Dumbed coil – ok. Then the moment of truth, would the acoustic transmitter communicate? There was silence as The Smiler and I exchanged nervous, desperate glances. “Do it,” he urged me, as my finger hovered over the “identify” icon on our specialised software. I wiped my damp brow with a hand dark with the filth of hard graft. “May God have mercy on us,” I said, barely a whisper.

I pressed “identify”...

And it worked. The pressures of a day lifted from our shoulders as our last ditch attempt to save our job was successful. Whooping and cheering, both of us lifted into the air in an ecstasy never before experienced, hugging and pressing our bodies together, until we took a sudden check of ourselves, and vowed to stop watching channel 42 so much.

The day certainly wasn’t over though. We still had to test our carrier with our newly built wireline tool, and the rig’s drastic shortage of external power supplies almost scuppered this. The situation was ridiculous. All we needed was a power supply within 40m of our carrier, and we could conduct a quick twenty minute test. Usually we can borrow someone’s unit, but the only unit around was the wireline unit, ages away and without power. A plug outside would do then, but there were only two. One simply didn’t work, and the other had a socket requiring a plug unlike I’ve ever seen, and couldn’t see in the electrician’s workshop. Finally, after considerable searching, a socket near the rig floor was borrowed, but then the toolpusher – a Brazilian with an unnerving Aberdonian twang – became nervous about our equipment. Was it rated? Was it explosion proof? A spark from a laptop might send this entire gas well to kingdom come. The electrician was fetched, a different guy from before, who spoke English but made me deeply uneasy with his dirty beard and lecherous stare. I was taken to his office, and slowly made to fill in forms, as I smelt the digesting food from his stomach as he breathed over me. A Permit To Work was required, basically a Health and Safety waste of everyone’s time, requiring loads of forms to be filled in by loads of people. involving a chase around the rig to find them. The whole process took near two hours. Our whole test, when finally enough pink and yellow papers had been filled in and filed, never to be seen again, took twenty minutes.

Then there was some rest.

Not for long, as I hauled myself up at 8am to immediately be plunged into another frantic day of set-up and tool failures, this time against the clock. Our carrier had to be pressure tested to 7000 PSI, then function tested again to make sure our gauges were still ticking away. A simple process, in theory, but again the terrible power situation on the rig shot us in the foot.

The pressure test went like a dream. There was a fair amount of hauling of stuff, but the test itself was perfect. I was worried that slippage of the peek backups may have resulted in a less-than-perfect seal, but this didn’t transpire. It was now midday, hot under the cloudless sky, and the time was drawing near for our carrier to be run in hole. But a function test was still required, to make sure the tools still worked after having had pressure applied. Here we ran into our next problem.

This problem was a hangover from the previous day’s. Because this job is a MiniFrac, the first time I’ve run such a job, SRO from the wireline will only be focussed on a short space of time, rather than the days and days of data often required from the shut-in period of a DST. Thus, instead of the usual acoustic means of data acquisition used for STO, inductive comms are required. This means that we use the coils of the wireline tools to line up with the beta talkers of the gauges, and an ARL on the end of the wireline tool latches into the R Nipple immediately below the gauge carrier. Needless to say, that the coils must be exactly aligned so that data can be transferred, and alignment of coils is notoriously tricky. But if we were to run our carrier into hole, we would need to have our ARL set for precise alignment prior to this.

But we couldn’t do it. Painstakingly, we adjusted the ARL bolts, but when running the software the gauges simply wouldn’t be found. I’d correctly dumbed the extended coil as a gauge (rather than as a transmitter, as per usual) and run it all as a direct (rather than APS) system, but nothing. What was I doing wrong? It was that question that I’d fired off back to base via email the night before, and had received a number of detailed replies. The heart of which seemed to be: software bug.

Hours of effort, in filthy coveralls, knackered, sweating, all spent for nothing because of faulty software. I phoned back to base (itself a mission, as making foreign phonecalls from this ship is far from straightforward) and explained that if I couldn’t get this inductive system working in just a few hours, then I’d have to go fully acoustic and dump the ARL, as our carrier would be going in hole shortly. I spoke directly to the tech-expert, who assured me a patch would be winging its way via email very soon, though might be in quite a large file, and also explained how I might be able to access an older, working version of the software if mine or The Smiler’s laptop still had an old installer. Time was ticking, and none of this looked to be a quick process.

Then some good, miraculous even, news: inductive comms would not be required. A valve in the Halliburton carrier immediately above ours would be closed for the Frac, making it impossible for our ARL to run through and latch with the R Nipple. Instead, the bullnose of our wireline tool could simply rest on the valve and conduct a standard STO. Suddenly, a massive weight was relieved from us – now all we had to do was conduct a surface SRO test the usual way.

The power situation was again a complicating factor, but we got round it this time by borrowing a Halliburton boy’s cabin and setting up the laptop there, and running a co-ax from there to the tool. A very improvised set-up, certainly not textbook stuff, but the easiest way under the circumstances.

Now, what followed I’m a little embarrassed about. Because there was then a couple of hours – time for running in hole growing ever closer (and ever shifting) – of tool glitches and mysterious lack of communications. I tried everything – via coils, via extended coils, via different acoustic transmitters, changing cables and SRO boxes. What on earth was wrong? I knew our gauges were sound, but why couldn’t my wireline tool get a good signal? I did eventually get enough data to prove everything was operational, but it was only later that I discovered what the glitch was – me. The settings of a program had been accidently and very subtly changed, meaning that things almost worked, but not quite fully. It was as simple as a mouse-click to remedy hours worth of stress.

By this time, the carrier was safely in hole, and suddenly both myself and The Smiler could sit back with a sigh of relief. A lot of hard work, a lot of running around, a lot of frantic problem solving, and it had all come good in the end; now gentle days and days were ahead of us, sitting in the sun, using the internet, religiously attending 3pm and 9pm snack-time, and watching porn on the sly when the other was out of the room. And so, on the most part, it has been.

Some rigs, the time stretches endlessly and painlessly. But not here. In fact, it’s almost a pleasure. I’ve rigged up my iPod speakers in the room, and so can subject The Smiler to repeated assaults of my music (he has no iPod thus no comeback). The rooms are a pleasure to be in, especially with the window to outside, with the lovely view of a calm blue sea, semi-sub rig a couple of miles away, and the occasional passing fishing boat. If I want a change of scenery, I head upstairs to the roof of the bridge, with its open space and chairs, and views over the ocean, including yet another rig, and numerous boats. The sunset the other day caught one rig in silhouette and against the dramatic orange backdrop made this chunk of barbarian steel seem rather pretty. By the looks of it, I may be here for some time, and I can think of many worse rigs I could be staying. In fact, though not technically the best, this may be my favourite rig to date. It’s just open, and I don’t feel like I’m stuck in a hole.

And it does look like I could be here some time. Yesterday, the string should have passed through the packer, but repeated attempts failed. It was theorised that the Stinger, a BJ tool, must be bent, so a replacement would be in order. So, yesterday evening I watched as kilometres of pipe were pulled out, culminating with our carrier and then the Stinger. Or part of the Stinger.

What came out was this thin, twisted piece of metal. I’m not, mercifully, familiar with BJ Stingers, but it transpired that what I was seeing was only half the tool. The rest was somewhere “down there”, i.e. kilometres underground, down a hole. Maybe on the packer, maybe not. It’s too small to be fished out, so instead the packer has to be pulled. Even if this goes perfectly from now, it’ll be a week before I’m running a wireline. Already, the job is two weeks delayed. I would almost bet upon further delays too.

Then – and only then – will the DST part of the run. And as we all know, the DST can be fraught with difficulty. The MiniFrac is supposed to be the easy part!

Here’s to Christmas, then, on the good ship NS-16.

Friday, 28 September 2007

Whiter Than White

Nev in Portuguese means "snow".

Monday, 24 September 2007

No Amazon

I had a very good weekend in Macae. Unfortunately, I can't really tell you much about it.

I was hoping to be heading off deep into the Amazon tomorrow, for a job there, and just some more general indulgence in raping the Earth, but it's been postponed and I'm now apparently going to heading to some trashed-up rustbucket in the ocean. But this means some time in Rio, so I'll take that, and with luck I'll have a good case for going home when the job finishes. However, being Brazil with its legendary delays, this could be anything between three and eight weeks away.

I've decided to try and learn more than ten words of Portuguese.

Saturday, 22 September 2007

A Small Bar

One of the best things about travelling on business, as opposed to travelling for leisure, is the minibar. Whereas this used to be a forbidden temptation that any lapse would send me rushing to a shop the next day to replenish the gorged items, now it is my own private stash of beer and crisps that gets magically replenished every day! And, as far as it seems to me, for not a penny.

Back home in Aberdeen, of course, I call this supply "Justin".

Friday, 21 September 2007

Waiting

One of the big features of my life – sometimes the only feature of my life, it seems – is waiting. Constantly I am waiting.

Right now I am waiting for a helicopter off this rig. Of the many types of waiting, this is among the best – and worst. The best is obvious, for when the wait is over, I’ll be on the helicopter which will take me back to dry land, and freedom. I’ve only been offshore about ten days, a mere baby of a stint, but after even a few days of restricted liberties the outside world seems like a distant dream, a fabled place you hope one day to return. But the actual wait itself is without fun. Prepared for the journey, all my stuff is packed away, so I pace the corridors, the galley, the helideck waiting for the time to come, with little to occupy my time. I’ve finished my current books and am unwilling to start a new one right at the end of a job. This helicopter was supposed to be at 9am, but that time came and went, and then it was lunch. Due to bad weather, which was certainly not apparent from my vantage point (though perhaps an accumulation clouds can be seen as much in Brazil), the helicopter had been cancelled, so it appears, but another one is supposed to be due soon. When? Just soon. So I’m waiting for something I very much desire, but may never come. Not doing anything of consequence, just willing the time to pass. Already I feel it likely that there will be no chopper today, and it will be tomorrow morning I have to again rise on this rig and begin this interminable process. Waiting, and hoping.

So one day more of my life in this claustrophobia, one day less of my life to properly live. But even when onshore the waiting won’t end. For I’m not due yet to go home – home! what a concept! – but up to the little oil town of Macae. I’ll have to wait around Rio for a few hours until the 4pm Halliburton bus of course, but waiting round Rio isn’t so bad. Waiting in Macae is far worse, as that is where I expect to spent a number of days, but hopefully not weeks, waiting to go on my next job. Waiting in Macae is at a great distant from any notions of joy, as it involves having to go on base every day and prepare for jobs that change in their details daily, and thus daily undo the work of the previous day. At any given moment, you can be told you are going on a job the next day, and after a few days working and waiting in Macae, this is something that very much wants to be heard.

I don’t mind being on a job, although even within a job is a whole world of delays and waiting, as at least something is being done, and something usually is happening, even slightly, and with luck progress might even be made. But waiting for a job, especially in Macae, isn’t fun. After this next job, I hope to get to go home, but the longer it takes for this next job to begin, the longer it will take until I’m home. Every day I’m waiting, spinning out time, and willing time to go fast. I don’t really want time to go fast, because that means my life (which I believe ends with an extremely definitive eternal unconscious darkness) is spinning out quicker, which surely isn’t desirable. But enduring time crawling by in unpleasant conditions is not desirable either.

All this may paint a negative picture, and so it should be clear that this is merely one aspect of the job, in focus. My week in Rio, waiting to go offshore, was mostly terrific. Macae isn’t all bad, mostly just a bit boring and pointless. I’m not entirely impatient, but when it comes to hanging around, waiting for the decisions or actions of others, my patience has limits. Those who know me well know not to arrive for than five minutes late for a designated meeting with me, as I can be extremely impatient with latecomers who keep me waiting. And that, perhaps, beings me to the crux of the matter. Waiting for someone to arrive is a process in which my time is wasted, doing nothing that brings an kind of pleasure to me. Waiting in a town I don’t like, going to a base I don’t like, and doing a job I don’t like (i.e. base work, I quite like the rig work) feels like a pointless waste of my time. I don’t mind my life disappearing in a haze of productiveness or pleasure, but to disappear like the fleas of a dead dog being flushed down the drain is not my prime choice of how to live my life.

Of course, delays and waiting can work to my advantaged, as the aforementioned week in Rio demonstrates. Last year I had a month in Dubai due to delays. Likewise, I’ve had a week in Cairo, a great week in Malaysia, a surprisingly enjoyable five days in Nouakchott, and an interesting (at least) few days in Malabo. Even the weeks in Port Harcourt weren’t so bad – hang on, they were that bad actually. Delays, when working abroad, usually give the opportunity to see the country; it’s just unfortunate that this opportunity in Brazil often translates into slogging on a grim, sticky-hot base.

Waiting for transport doesn’t tend to be fun either. The hours and many days I’ve spent waiting in airports I hardly dare think about. Mostly, I am equipped to deal with these hours of hanging around, however. An iPod, a pen, a piece of paper, and a book, and times can fly by. After an hour flying from Aberdeen to Heathrow, I’m still fairly alert, and Heathrow isn’t too bad for killing time (it has, at least some pubs and good beer). But, oh sweet Lord, arriving to Charles de Gaulle Airport (that man should sue the French for slander) after a ten hour flight, and having to wait seven hours in a space is virtually sensory deprivation kills me. Not to mention the epic security waits: one wait there in particular still ranks as the longest queue I have ever witnessed, that made me gasp several times as I realised the line was still going on.

Ultimately I am resigned to spending a good proportion of my life currently waiting. There is no choice, and for all the long spells in transit or waiting to be in transit, there are some worthwhile rewards too (i.e MONEY). And now I have just heard the announcement for my helicopter in twenty, yes just twenty, minutes, so it is time for me to go.

Edit: Turns out the delays were worth it in this case, as we arrived onshore too late for the Macae bus, so I get one extra night in Rio.

Monday, 17 September 2007

Idle

I can't believe they pay me for this.

Tuesday, 11 September 2007

In Rio

Well, hasn't it been a pleasant week's holiday in Rio, all at my company's expenses? It seems that I'll finally be going offshore tomorrow, though likely only for about ten days, and after seven days by the beach I suppose a little light work might do me good.

Most of my week has been very gentle, and a mixture of eating, resting and playing chess. But there have been moments of action, such as the visit to Cristo Redentor as mentioned in the last entry. Here are the other moments of action, the first taking place on Friday, the second yesterday, and the rest today.

Drunkenness

Unusually for me, I got very drunk one night. In fact, this may well have been the most I have drunk in quite some time, as I sincerely felt the entire of the next day. A rare convergence of five operators from our company (not quite a record, as I once was part of six in Nigeria, also a drunken occasion) meant that a few cheeky beers were in order, and as the first of these beers was at 4pm, with the pace not letting up for another thirteen hours, you may imagine the state of us. It was a terrific night, one of those completely unplanned for. From hotel bar to hotel restaurant, then to a bar in an unmarket area called Leblon, then some club with surprisingly good music, barely a moment went by without me scoffing a beer. I estimate I must have had about fifteen pints over the duration. The night was fuelled by the random meeting of some girls from Sao Paulo in the Leblon bar, one of whom was only seventeen (! - don't worry, we didn't abuse her), and one of the outstanding memories of the night are of seven of us stuffed into one of the girl's cars as she careered around, surely illegaly. A very enjoyable and often ridiculous night (especially if you'd seen my strutting-cum-dancing on the dancefloor).

Barra Shopping

In Rio, a city of near infinite charm and quirks, with gorgeous colonial architecture and world class beaches packed with honeys and windsurfers, with remarkable favellas on stilts spilling down improbably steep green mountains, with streetside bars and open revellery, with mayhem and party threatening to burst from every corner, what better to do than visit a big, sterile shopping mall? Because that's what I spent two hours of my Rio experience. I don't recommend it.

Sugarloaf Mountain

Called something like Pao do Acucia in Portuguese, Sugarloaf Mountain is a giant chunk of rock, sheer cliffs all around, at the end of Copacabana beach, giving a truly fantastic view across the city. The only way of access is by two cablecars, the first to a nearby hill and the second to the Sugarloaf itself. Without photos I can only now use superlatives to describe the splendid beauty of the view and the drama of the ride, but fortunately I do have some good photos. Unfortunately, I really can't be bothered putting them on.

Candeleria

While in the Centro do Rio (for non-Portuguese speakers, this means "Rio Centre" - hope that clarifies matters) we stumbled upon the Candeleria cathedral rather inadvertently - we'd been looking for a different one. I was very impressed. I tell you, these Catholics may have some crazy notions but they sure can build nice churches (Protestants - take notes). From the scorching heat outside, the dark and grandly spacious interior was an extremely pleasant cool, and the decor ornate and elaborate and a magnificent work of craftmanship. It was a venue that instilled a genuine sense of awe, and a greater wonder, to my book, than a piece of 1930's concrete in the shape of Christ. I'd never heard of this cathedral before, and only chance had me encounter it, but I would recommend it. If not for my impatient colleague, who is new to the company and adapting very poorly to the non-Scottish conditions, I would have happily sat here for an hour or two.

The Metropolitan Cathedral

This is the place I'd been looking for when stumbling by mistake in the Candeleria. Built in the 60s, this conical chimney of worship is an astonishing example of the architectural insanity of that decade. I would describe this 20,000 capacity cathedral as a work of "ugly magnificence". Because, gosh, isn't it ugly? A flat-headed cone with innumerate blocky square windows jutting out from all around, there is no mistaking that this is a work of sheer concrete. Inside, it improves a little. Four colossal stained-glass windows run up the sides of the cone, impressive in size although nothing special in design, and not a patch on the Candelerias. Most of the rest is just simple seats and a pleasant central pulpit area, but surprisingly humble for a large Catholic cathedral. The atmosphere was cool and relaxed though, though not as inspiring as the Candeleria's. My colleague was none too impressed with this venue and spent 80% of his time here in the gift shop buying two big plates.

Santa Maria? Something Maria? Something something?

I visited some other place after the Metropolitan Cathedral, but can't remember the name. It was very nice though, very colonial, very high up, and involved taking a genuinely remarkable wooden tram that bumped, shunted and groaned its way up and down the hill, and had at least a thousand youths hanging off the sides. But what was the name of this area? It's definitely something like Santa Maria, but without either the "Santa" or "Maria" parts. Maybe my colleague would remember.

Anyway, the fun stops here, as I need to get ready (i.e. strip naked and sleep) for a 7.30am helicopter tomorrow. There really is no need for helicopters to be this early.

Friday, 7 September 2007

Irredeemable

Of seven ancient Wonders of the world, only one remains: the Pyramids. Here's a photo of me posing in front of the Pyramids, with a plastic bag in my hand.


Through neglect and general slack maintenance, the other six Wonders have ceased to be (and it's debated whether the Hanging Gardens ever really were), and this pretty miserable record prompted a global rethink. If celestial beings were to arrive and ask for a quick tour of our seven greatest sights, it doesn't look too good to say that we've kind of lost most of them, hence on July 7th of this year - the very cute 7/7/7 - after polling the votes of 100 million people, though not thinking to ask me, seven new Wonders were unveiled. Not just any old seven man-made structures, but seven Wonders, structures that make you gasp, shriek, and, naturally, wonder.

Some you can't really argue with. Macchu Picchu and the Great Wall of China are clearly of great distinction. Impressive, iconic, and inspiring of genuine wonder. Jordan's Petra, the Colloseum and the big Mexican pyramid (despite being a blatant rip-off) are also pretty close, and deserving contenders. The Taj Mahal is probably pretty good too, though it doesn't excite me personally.

None of these I have visited in person, though one day I hope to. I've visited the world's second biggest colloseum, in Pula, Croatia, six years ago, and I was vaguely in the area of Jordan once, and visiting Petra would have been a consideration had I not been under time pressure. But I did visit the final member of the new Wonders today, and (whisper it here) it isn't really that good.





I'm talking about Rio de Janeiro's Cristo Redentor (Christ the Redeemer) statue. About 30m high, placed aloft a steep hill and overlooking all of Rio, as if embracing this beautiful but muddled city, it's a magnificent monument, and a huge icon with increasing worldwide recognition. Impressive, certainly, but a modern Wonder? No.

I don't know what the criteria for being a Wonder is, but I would suggest the following should be key: visually spectacular, astonishing feat of engineering/craftsmanship, world class iconic status, how many tourists can you cram around it. The Redentor looks great, but no greater that its rival, New York's Lady Liberty which I would argue nudges it for iconic status. But perhaps that it overlooks the city is significant. However, letting it down is the whole "wonder" part - I know how this was made, and I don't think it was too severe a test of human effort. It's just a stone statue, made from different blocks, and then pinned into place. All less than 100 years ago. A good job well done, but not something future generations will puzzle over. If they had made it 300m high, then we'd be onto something, but a 30m statue built in the same year as the Empire State Building does not equal a Wonder.

What should be on that list, then? Well, we've just mentioned the Empire State Building - a world class, world famous icon of New York, an engineering feat of its day, and still towering impressively over a mighty city. Cambodia's Angkor Wat temple complex by all accounts is something to behold, though it needs another few decades to build up a truly global repuation. The Eiffel Tower is about iconic as it gets. Less global icon but more genuine engineering miracle is the 6000 year old Stonehenge, that still generates debate as to its assembly. And, a very strong contendor, although I've not put the photos up yet, my new Market Street flat is pretty damn good.

But all this negative talk obscures the fact that today I saw the tremendous Cristo Redentor, and thoroughly enjoyed it, and let's not have some stupid poll by some stupid 100 million people get in the way of that. It began with a very lively taxi driver, who exclaimed "Oh my God" with great frequency and gusto, and declared a deep admiration for chef Nigella Lawson. He dropped off at the small station at the base of the steep, forested hill the statue is perched on. There is an option to drive to the top, or even walk (though you'd have to traverse a favella) but I'd heard that taking the chugging red train was the cutest option, and a tourist prerequisite. So sharing my train with some nasal Americans, Brazilian families and the Kazakh judo team (yes, really), I sat back in my seat as the train somehow dragged itself up a 45 degree angle, through thick mountain forests and past favella shacks, with a curious mix of giant bugs and saints placed at intervals, as if on a Disney tour of Catholicism.

Once the train had arrived, we were almost there, but there was still a small walk to go. Fortunately, lifts were in place to bypass the bulk of this climb, but being the fit young man I am, I opted for the stroll. Plus, I didn't fancy having to wedge myself in with the Kazakh judo team. But after almost five minutes of slightly gradiented climb, I was questioning my choice. Fortunately, the following then appeared:



Escalators at Wonders is clearly a good idea. I went up and down them twice. It reminds me, in fact, of my days back in Daegu, Korea. This modern city is crammed full of escalators, and in my two years there I became quite a conniseur, even though I evidently can't spell the word. My favourites were the dinky little one in the Kyobo bookstore, and the grand one at the train station, even though it was horrendous for electric shocks. I also liked the sloped, flat ones in giant superstores like Carrefour and Wal*Mart. With my good friend and bad influence, the devastatingly handsome Matt, we seriously proposed "Escalator Day" in which we would travel as many escalators as possible, and take photos of each other on them, and then give them various ratings. It would make an excellent book, we thought. Thankfully, none of this ever transpired.

Anyway, if my day had ended here - travelling up and down an escalator on top of a mountain - I would have been happy, but there was more to come. For once up, and at the very base of this faux-Wonder, spectacular views of the city were afforded. Rio is a beautiful city, and though its many details can't possibly be seen from such a distance, the picturesque panorama is something to behold. So, behold:






Up here were throngs of tourists, though most were concentrated on the elongated area in front of the statue, and never seemed to tire of taking photos of each other. How many photos of yourself and a statue does a person need? One is my answer.



It was downhill from here. Literally. And my taxi driver home was a bona fide maniac. I've taken many foreign taxis in my time, but Brazil is up there with Egypt and Korea for the hairiest. And this guy especially. He was clearly in a bad mood, though mercifully not with me who he seemed to not mind, and kept making short, gruff calls on his mobile, which was perpetually in one or other of his hands. He was driving fast, whenever possible, and aggressively darting into unlikely gaps. All this is par for the course. Then, on a gridlocked section of motorway, he started careering down the hard shoulder, which was peppered with speed bumps. However, ahead was a driver who disapproved of this cavalier approach to the hard shoulder, and he'd manouevred part onto the lane, but still at gridlocked speed, thus blocking my taxi's rapid passage. Even though it was slowing me down, I quite admired this car driver's motoring vigilance. My taxi driver didn't see it this way. He started flashing his lights, then hanging out his window shouting, then going bumper to bumper. Eventually, after a few minutes of this, and a few minutes of the taxi driver getting more and more irate, a small gap happened to form, and my taxi jumped in it. The judgement was spectacularly perfect - there could have been no more than an inch either side, between the vigilante car and between the crash barrier. Pulling alongside, my taxi driver yelled obscenities. The gridlocked traffic the vigilante car was adhering to came again to a halt, and my taxi driver pulled free, but then he slammed on his brakes. His temper had gone. A car behind shunted into the back of us, but the taxi driver didn't even notice, as he got out the taxi and stormed to the vigilante car. Shouting furiously, he opened and then slammed the driver's door, and it looked like a full-on fight might kickstart, as both were poised at the brink of hysteria. They were causing a traffic jam now, and cars were beeping and people shouting. My taxi driver came to his sense and returned, still in a mad anger, and drove off. And then he did something that really worried me.

He put his seatbelt on.

Fortunately, the rest of the journey was less eventful, and quicker, and my driver even apologised for the scene he'd caused. And, to be fair, he'd got me back to my hotel in a very fast time.

That was that then. Off to the rig tomorrow, though probably not for long, and then... who knows. Months in Brazil, or will I miraculously get home in time to get the keys for my fourth flat? I wonder.