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


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


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.


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.


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


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.

Tuesday, 4 September 2007

Back again

And so I find myself back in Brazil.

The last two and a half weeks have been on the busy side. Almost each day could warrant a lengthy spiel, as a great deal has happened; we will just have to be content, however, with a hastily assembled summary and let the details fade into the mists of time. I'm not going to use a chronological order (chronology is so 2006) and instead use my own, special ordering system, as yet to be named. Suggestions welcome.

Sailing in Croatia

I spent last week - Saturday to Saturday - on a yacht, sailing the Adriatic Sea down the coast of Croatia, and flitting between the islands. My old castlemate, Mike, whom I'd not seen in almost four years, had invited me to join him and some others on this jaunty cruise. Two 45 foot Elan yachts had been chartered, and Mike and his younger brother Matt, both excellent sailors, were qualified to sail them. Sailing a yacht is no mean feat, especially when the yacht is filled with the likes of me, and lazy girls. But despite this massive handicap, a-sailing we did go, and very successfully too.

I'm still trying to make sense of this week, to be honest. So much happened, a mixture of high drama on the seas and idyllic relaxation in peaceful bays, and it's all begun to blur into one giant faux-millionaire haze. The week was truly spent in breathtaking surroundings, sailing past sheer mountains falling into blue seas, with enchanting medieval villages improbably streched along. I've seen a few nice places in my time, but the Croatian coastline must be among the most stunning - an absolutely world-class spectacle. Not just the popular places, such as the picture-perfect towns of Hvar and Korcula, with their antique town centres with narrow streets and delightful clock-towers, but all the locations well beyond the non-sailor: the endless chains of craggy mountains, the church magnificently and mysteriously nestled alone within one of these mountains, the nest of small, forested islands on the way to Dubrovnik, the serene bays with rocky beachs and an old ramshackle fishing cottage crumbling. For entertainment we were given a raging forest fire, with a plucky helicopter scooping water from the sea and chucking it at the flames in a wholly futile gesture of machine vs nature.

All that was the backdrop: each day provided more than its fair share of action and adventure. Of note was "Pirate Day", where the occupants of both yachts dressed as pirates, and chucked water balloons at each other when the yachts were steered close. Other passing yachts seemed to find this behaviour somewhat intriguing, as they saw a bunch of ragtag youths in bandanas and eye-patches, waving plastic cutlasses and hoisting the Jolly Roger. Pirate Day ended, appropriates, with raging drunkenness, injuries and some memorable walking of the plank.

Seafaring dramas didn't end their, as the beginning of the voyage threw at us the double whammy of a yacht losing its anchor and then its engines, only our experienced captains ensuring we avoided the respective disasters of crashing into the rocks and being stranded at sea. There was the night out in Hvar Town, where myself and Mike managed to miss the last taxi-boat back to our yacht (in a different marina) and so had no choice but to drink all night and find alternative accommodation (the back of a different yacht did the trick for me).

But mostly it was just idyllic indolence. Finding a nice little bay, taking a swim, eating, drinking gin, playing chess, reading, strolling over dry twigs, getting sun-burnt, and making inconsequentual chit-chat. Surrounded by beautiful people and scenery, it was a bit like being in a Duran Duran video. Time became entirely irrelevant - nobody ever knew what time of day it was, on the Thursday one whole boatful of people was convinved it was Wednesday, and we celebrated someone's birthday with great gusto until late in the evening someone suddenly realised his birthday had in fact been the day before.

So a great holiday, wedged somewhere between the realm of dream and actual past.

Cheesman's Wedding

The day before I disappeared off to my yacht adventure, I was the usher for my old friend Cheesman's wedding. Giving me such a responsibility can only ever be a great risk, though it was certainly a great honour too, but the whole thing managed to go without a hitch, so to speak. All except for me, after the ceremony, mistakenly directing all the guests away from the the refreshments and instead to the street outside. But even this worked out, as the Aberdeen weather was surprisingly gorgeous, with warm sunshine and that rarest of rare pure blue skies, and all the guests got to watch the happy couple leave, and take lots of photos.

Everything else went swimmingly, for what was a pretty large wedding. Cheesman's bride, the now Mrs Charlene Cheesman (I bet she had some sleepless nights wondering how her life would be with that new surname), had put in a lot of planning, and it all paid off, for a well-prepared and tastefully done event, both formal and fun. The best, of course, was the ceilidh dancing to end the occasion, one of the reasons that make a Scottish wedding truly stand out in the world, as whisky-fuelled kilted gents whirl petite young things around the dancefloor in a chaotic rendition of traditional moves. For once, I managed a strip the willow without hurling my partner to the ground - must try harder.

My Grandfather

Very sadly, my grandfather died just as I returned. It was peaceful, and I'm glad I got to see him before he died (as opposed to hearing the news while stuck on a rig), but these things always feel strange. He was the perfect grandfather, and a keystone of a great childhood, every weekend after lunch taking myself, my brother, my sister and whatever number of friends happened to be around up to his large house in nearby Strathpeffer and letting us run rampant, as he sat back in his porch with a whisky.


With Green's help, I moved all my stuff from his spare bedroom to my new flat on Market Street. Make no mistake, this was not a fun task. My new flat isn't just top floor, it seems to exist somewhere high in the clouds, and lugging all my junk up the many thousands of stairs (I lost count after 15,600) turned us both into sweating, heaving wrecks of men far past the prime of youth. As Green will readily admit, I have a lot of unnecessary stuff; I don't, for intance, strictly need four hi-fis.

However, despite all my stuff now being in this flat, I still haven't got round to getting the power turned on, and haven't spent more than four hours there. I've been too busy to live in my own flat. One day, and it is a distant ambition, I hope to spend the night there. I'll need to buy a bed first.

Ongoing Works

I'm still working on my King Street flat. It's so close to being finished, just days away, but all now on hold while I waste my life in Brazil. In my few days back in Aberdeen, I worked at breakneck pace to fit carpets, paint, cut and tile a new kitchen surface, and make a thorough, thorough mess. What a damn tip the place is.

Also, the pissing around sorting a mortgage out for Flat no.4 (aka Justin's flat) appears to be over, and it should all be in place by the start of October, which is when Justin moves out of his collapsing den into a deluxe new West End mansion. So while I'm moping around in Brazil, I'll gain possession of another flat, which will make three (out of four) empty. So there's no immediate let-up in sight then...


I bought a new camera and have taken lots of lovely photos. But you'll just have to use your imagiation.