Sunday, 30 December 2007


I'm more tired than you.

Tuesday, 25 December 2007


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.