Sunday, 29 July 2007

On The Rig With Nothing To Do

It’s been a strange fact so far, that my two weeks onshore in Brazil have been among the hardest two weeks I’ve had with work since I’ve started, yet finally when I go offshore I suddenly – and to my relief – find there’s nothing to do whatsoever.

Within my company, Brazil occupies a somewhat special place in the heart. It was there for the hard times – the national petroleum company, Petrobras, continuing to contract us when we were deemed too “luxury” for other oil companies. We have our own small base here, nestled covertly within the much-larger base of a much-larger oil service company. Brazil is legend for engineers going wild, with tales of bad behaviour too numerous (and inappropriate for my genteel audience) to describe. But is also legend for the terrible onshore bonus, only rectified this year, and for the hard hours done in Macae, preparing kits, dealing with the language barrier and the stifling summer heat, making slow progress in thankless tasks. This holiday and party destination also happens to be the nation that means the hardest work for our engineers involved.

Until we get offshore. You see, also legend within Brazil is the terrible inefficiency of its offshore operations. Petrobras is the national oil company, therefore run by the government, and as government operations inevitably are, it does a smooth, well-oiled operation. Tales abound of the epic stints our engineers have spent on Petrobras rigs – 54 days is the record, to my knowledge, but I’ve heard of a number into their 40s. One of my colleagues spent an entire month without ever putting on his coveralls. Another, to his delight, watched every game of the World Cup. Engineers get lot and forgotten about in Brazil. It is an irony that all our hard preparatory work onshore is for nothing, offshore.

Thus, suddenly, after two weeks of a helpless routine of work and dinner (I’ve not once set foot on a beach yet) I’ve suddenly time to kill. The rig I’m on is weathered and battered, and has never been loved, and performs a function rather than playing generous host, yet it has just enough space to avoid feeling trapped. The four man rooms have no bathroom, so showers have to be taken in the communal changing rooms. There are only three showers, but fortunately Brazilians don’t appear to wash. What Brazilians do is watch TV, continuously. The bane of my life right now is the TV in my four man room. Except at night, when I switch it off and turn off the lights, it is an ever-flickering presence. I’ll walk into the room to find it blaring, but without anyone there to watch it. During the day it blares, with a Brazilian sleeping soundly, and probably very happily, in his bunk. One time, when alone in the room, one of my room-mates walked into the room, turned the TV on, noticed that I was there, then smiled and turned the volume down a little before walking out of the room. I am told by my colleague on this rig – “Len” – that there is a rig somewhere in Brazil with a porn channel, and that he would wake daily to the sound and sight of yet another blowjob. Mercifully, this channel is not here, though I did yesterday walk into my room to find three Brazilians gathered round a computer, appreciating a cultured collection. The Shrek characters engaged in vivid acts most entranced them.

Currently I am clinging on to a small unit Len and I have commandeered. It has that precious of things, an internet connection, and I’m treading a fine line between making our presence felt here, but remaining discreet enough so the OIM (the rig manager) doesn’t think we’re hogging the connection from others. If I go too far either way, then all could be lost, but as long as we stand firm in that we need this unit to programme our gauges we should be ok. It is a constant saviour that nobody else seems to really understand what we do, so we can bamboozle them with talk of our needs for specific conditions to set up our very specific, yet mysterious, tools.

I’m trying to start a gym routine now I’ve got time, and a semi-decent gym is stuck in a shack just out from the main building. It hasn’t a rowing machine, but in tribute to the drug-addled Tour de France (“French Tour” for my American readers) I’m having a go on the cycling machine. I managed 4.3km in 25 minutes along a pre-set bumpy route. Is that good? The food here is unpretentious canteen fare, but is varied and tasty. The creme caramel I can particularly recommend.

As for the other key staple of rig life, the helideck, my experience is as yet limited, due to the windy, wet conditions since yesterday. However, it is not set to be a classic helideck. Inset into the rig, it has a rope mesh across its face, thus hindering easy walking. But it has a non-slippy surface, and there doesn’t appear to be much competition for space.

There won’t be any great deal of work to do till Monday at the earliest, and possibly much later. As I have holidays in three weeks, I don’t really mind what happens, and would be quite happy to stay here rather than go back to the slog of Macae. It’s a strange feeling when you prefer being on a rig than next to the beach in a relaxed little town in Brazil. Maybe this is institutionalisation. Here I am isolated and safe from the concerns of the real world, of which there are many currently. A nice little routine of meals, gym, internet and strolling on the helideck. But the big, bad world is still waiting out there, just beyond the horizon.

Friday, 27 July 2007

Meat

I've been eating out for lunch and dinner every day for the last two weeks. I'm sick of it, I tell you. I keep ordering massive portions for two, accidently, and then trying to eat them; either that or I'm going to all-you-can-eat venues and packing my damn face full of all sorts of crap. My belt notch setting - which used to be on 2 just 18 months ago, now wavers between 4 and 5. My belly is hard and round. Even worse, I've split one of only two pairs of trousers I have with me, right down the crotch. You don't notice it until I sit down, and then it all spills out. You can get arrested for this is many countries, but fortunately this is Brazil, and everyone walks around hald-naked.

But presuming the chopper isn't cancelled again, as it was today, I'll be offshore tomorrow, for a couple of weeks of very little work (I hope). Thus, I can begin eating sensibly and commence a rigorous gym routine. I might even wear my good trousers.

Thursday, 26 July 2007

Macae End 1

Ten days of base work suddenly ends: I go to Vitoria in 4 hours (04:00): escape from perpetual preparation, enter into standby: tomorrow I will deeplyregret the beer and cachaca I enjoyed tonight.

Tuesday, 24 July 2007

We Hate The French

The bloody French pulled out at the last moment. At least it means I won't have to wring the urine out of all the carpets after they leave.

Sunday, 22 July 2007

The French

Indians vs The Polish vs The French. That was the pitched battle for my recently refurbished flat. In the end, the French won, due to their quick and good references. It is a couple, both studying for their pHd, PHd, PhD... it's the third one, isn't it?

This is good, because I wanted a nice, respectable, mature couple in this flat, after the fiasco of the Indian students in the other flat who crammed up to thirteen other friends into the place and covered it in smoke and grime. That place is currently undergoing a quick upheaval, hopefully to be finished when I return to Aberdeen.

However, already two people have warned me about the sanitary habits of the French, especially their free and easy approach to urination, so I may have to put up a sign on the bathroom door saying "Le toilette est ici, seulement".

Friday, 20 July 2007

Facts About Brazil

I've been in Brazil for a weeek now, so obviously know a hell of a lot about the place, despite having spent most of my time on base hitting big pipes with hammers. It looks like I won't be going offshore for another week, giving me ample time for further exploration of the base, which I look forward to immensely. But despite my busy schedule I though I would impart some of my new-found knowledge about the world's biggest country (if you exclude Russia, Canada, China and probably Australia and the USA).

Fact no.1 - Brazil has lot of pretty girls wearing only bikinis.

Fact no.2 - Brazil is nice.

Fact no.3 - Brazil's national spirit is called cachaca, and is made from sugar cane. Like all good spirits, it ranges in quality, but I would highly recommend one called "Germana", which is smooth and sweet, and with that hint of luxury.

Fact no.4 - There's quite a lot of mosquitos in Brazil, and they are seriously disturbing my sleep.

Fiction no.1 - Soup was invented in Brazil.

Fact no.5 - Brazil is the second country I've been to that includes the letter "z" in its name.

Fact no.6 - I shouldn't have to do any work here. I'd far rather be on the beach, or dancing in some ongoing street party in Rio, or even getting mugged in a favella.

Now - it is time for me to eat.

Wednesday, 18 July 2007

Sao Paulo Plane Crash

Brazil is somewhat shocked by the plane crash in Sao Paulo, when wet conditions and an inferior runways combined to have a domestic plane skid out of control upon landing. I travelled through Sao Paulo, though not that airport, when arriving from London and connecting for Rio. The airport I went through - the international rather than domestic - was notable for having the slowest, longest queue I've ever been part of, even beating one particularly gargantuan one at the useless Charles de Gaulle a few months back. The queue was a result of having an entire airport full of people having to pass through one laid-back security scanner.

As circumstances now make it seem likely I won't be going offshore till the weekend after next and from Monday onwards I might be on standby in Rio, I was hoping to take a couple of days in Rio, as that's where a friend - the delightfully idiosyncratic Roxana, whom I've not seen in years - currently stays. But I suspect that delays might now be monumental, so we'll have to see.

So yeah, I might have the tough luck of having about five days in Rio, on expenses. Rio? What on earth is there to do in Rio?

Tuesday, 17 July 2007

Sushi

I've just crammed my filthy gob full of sushi - all you can eat for £9. Macae has a vast array of beachfront restaurants offering massive amounts of food for fairly little money. I once used to be a svelte young man, lean and limber, but this gross business I have found myself in is corrupting me into a bloated, capitalist porker.

Some useful Portuguese:

mais, por favor - more, please.
mais, agora - more, now.
Quero mais cognac a mais mulhers - I want more cognac and more women.
Oi! - Hi! (this one still confuses me)

Frustratingly, I've had to work for the last couple of days, and will have to for the next three. But it looks like I won't be going offshore until at least Monday.

The Equestrian Alcoholic

I've been in Brazil for four days now, and therefore am fully able to make a considered and thorough judgement of the place, and so I can say with security this: Brazil lives up, magnificently, to its cliches. Brazil is a nation of beaches, parties, skimpily-dressed beach babes, football and lazy lunch siestas, all swathed in that distinctive green, yellow and blue flag with the motto, "Ordre e Progresso", which my firm grasp of Portuguese tells me means "Order and Progression" - a motto with about as much relevance as "Sunshine and Smiles" would have to Aberdeen.

Brazil is fun, that's for sure. And I've not even dipped my toe into the fun fully, as yet, but I can sense already the swirling ocean of fun that exists here. It's winter, but it's still a lovely 25C, and cafes and bars fill with pretty people eating, drinking and gesticulating, and old men in tiny shorts power-walk up and down the beach. Everybody seems relaxed, people are helpful and friendly, and there always seems to be one eye on the next party.

I'm in Macae, a fairly small oil town about three hours drive north of Rio de Janeiro. This is where my company are based, through Halliburton, and where much of Brazil's oil industry is focused. It's nothing special, and it doesn't even rate a mention in the Lonely Planet, but it still boasts a lovely, long beach front with fine sand, and loads of decent bars and cafes overlooking the sea. The job I was supposed to be going on has been delayed to at least Saturday, thus giving me plenty of time to settle in, although most of the coming week will be spent on base. However, the work here will be light, and I did have the opportunity to have a bit of sight-seeing over the weekend, when I visited a place called Buzios.

Buzios is a small town on the coast, about an hour south of Macae. It was made famous by B. Bardot in the 1960s - which is about forty years ago. Bardot, it would seem, had some Brazilian boyfriend who acquainted her with the place, and thus granted its fame (a fame which I'd not been familiar with before the weekend, but then my knowledge of Bardot or Brazil was not extensive). Buzious is also noticeable for sounding a little similar to "Boosy Horse". I've never met a boozy horse, but I did kind of once know a boozy cow. This was a girl called Bozica I met while travelling through Croatia. Her name is actually pronounced Bo-zheet-sa, but I only got to terms with this some time later. Bozica was a girl I tried to instigate a cheap romance with, but she was having none of it and deftly deflected my manouevres and instead used me for several meetings which in retrospect I realise were excuses for practicising her English. But she was very pretty, so I forgive her for using me like this.

Anyway, that has little to do with Buzios - nothing, in fact - and has unfortunately completely shaken my train of thought. I was going to speak at great length about Buzios, perhaps describing the bays of beauty, and the beaches of brilliance, and the bars and Bardots, but you can probably just do a search on the internet and get all this stuff. Basically, I went there, had some drinks, went on a boat, ate some food, and watched with sad envy all the young, happy couples enjoying their youth in this peaceful, sunny resort. I took some photos too, which I'll end with.





Thursday, 12 July 2007

Onde esta le Nev 360?

Where shall I go today? Let's see... I think I'll go to Brazil!

Tuesday, 10 July 2007

The Nelson Street Flat Upgraded

A while ago, you may recall, I shocked a few girls by posting up my living conditions, which were less than hospital sterile. In fairness, lots of factors worked in my defence, however there was little defence for aging, rotting food in my living room, and less defence for some of the greater horrors in my bathroom.

But, times change, and last week, after much effort, I finally finished the flat. Not just cleaning it, but the extensive repairs and upgrading that have been ongoing for over a year. The feeling of finishing this long-term project was a mixture of extreme satisfaction and paternal proudness, and also a little empty sadness. For finishing it meant moving out and moving on. The flat is now on the rental market - a market very buoyant in Aberdeen - and I expect "others" to be living there by next week, paying me an extortionate £650 a month.

But one word = just one word, but a picture equals a thousand. So here is the photographic evidence of the final changed state of my flat.

We enter the living room first. Clean, relaxed, and with an apricot finish, this light and airy room overlooks Aberdeen's popular King Street. We observe the lack of decaying pies or fungal growths, and instead observe the tied-back curtains maximising the light, and the quaint coffee table packed with oaky character (bought for £5 from the Thrift Store, which is where everything else you can see was bought - £50 for the 3-piece suite, and a fiver for the little tables).

Another view of the living room, these comfortable armchairs face the window and the TV, despite there being no TV connection points as yet (although my agent is on the case). Time should be taken to study the carpet, which is fresh and new, and (kind of) professionally cut. It also lacks any trace if glass, after a light-bulb spontaneously and dramatically exploded the day before.

Moving - gliding even - into the first bedroom, this photo cannot do justice to the space afforded by this pleasant room of soft edges and muted colours. Overlooking a quiet street and defiantly overgrown garden, this is another light and tasteful room. The most expensive thing you can almost see here is the mattress, at a whopping £70, then the bedsite table at £40, with the duvet and lamp lagging behind at a mere £20. The lamp is expecially pleasing, as it is touch sensitive and has four different brightness levels - simple, but oozing luxury. The chair was a mere £2.50 from the ever-enchanting Thrift Store, the bin a budget £3 from John Lewis, and the bed free, from my brother.

It should be noted that this bedroom is the only room in the house to have been professionally painted and decorated. This is because its original state resembled a scab, and holes had been cut out of the wall, and moudly blinds hung dankly. Also, way back then I was far less confident of my own home improvement abilities; these days I would tackle this kind of problem head-on. Nonetheless, having a room done by a professional does make a difference, and still I wonder how he managed to hang the wallpaper so perfectly than I cannot see the joins. I can barely hang a roll of wallpaper without getting about five giant bubbles forming.

We venture into the second bedroom now, yet another room with a refreshing, airy, invigorating, energising and spiritually uplifting pine feel. "The essence of pine." It is from this window just recently that I observed a nude girl! Yes, really, a real, live naked girl, in a flat opposite. I could hardly miss it - she was standing at her window, doing her hair in the mirror, for ages. This beats the girl-in-a-bra I once saw from my King Street flat. Anyway, I'm not sure if I'll be making this a selling point of the room.

Another study of simplistic elegance, again the touch-sensitive John Lewis lamp, with a soft chocolate lampshade, bringing a rustic but modern style. On the right, you can see a line running up the wall. This is because this room used to have a gargantuan built-in wardrobe, that took up half the room and looked like some clunky beast from some alien industrial planet. So I took a big axe and hacked it to piece - a task I'm sure everyone can appreciate was immensely satisfying. This released black clouds of dirt, just like the attic soot that ruined all my carpets. With the wardrobe gone though, this bedroom has become so much more spacious and versatile, with just a few scars remaining from the built-in wardrobe days (the wall line, a stump of wood on the floor, and an indentation on the ceiling).

Perhaps, of all the rooms, I am most proud of the kitchen. This used to have units down both sides, and little space for manouevre, and certainly no space for dining. But by simply ripping out a few units and moving the oven back, room for table and chairs suddenly became available, thus giving extra function and desirability to this cosy kitchen, plus probably adding about £10,000 to the value of my property. The garish yellow has been repainted a mellow blue, and extra shelves installed for storage. The table and chairs came from that haven for the working class, Argos, which just goes to show that good purchases can still be made from such a place (unlike the crappy wardrobe and chest-of-drawers in my King Street flat, which are already falling apart after a year).

A bit of a pish photo, just of the other view of the kitchen. I should really have opened the cupboard for this, so you could see the fancy-dan combi boiler, and also the shelves I specially made, with cuts to accommodate taller items such as the hoover and the brush.

A simple picture of the hall. On the ceiling I have the attic hatch, with a ladder which folds down, and the attic - which I have part floored and wired for electricity - allow for that much-needed storage space this flat otherwise lacks. It is, however, unspeakably filthy up there.

Finally, the bathroom, with a clean white and fresh pine finish. This is another room utterly transformed from its original state, which didn't even have a shower, and was like being trapped in the cell of a mental patient.

A view of the bath and the sink, and also the bright pink bin. My other flat also has a bright pink bin, for historical reasons, so when I saw this bin in Tesco I couldn't resist. The shower installed is particularly good, with a range of different powers and temperatures than never hesitate or run out.

And for those of you with powerful memories, you will know that last time I specially withheld from putting up a photo of my toilet, for fear of provoking widespread panic and a public ruckus. But times have changed, and here we are - so clean and sparkling white you could eat your dinner off it. I actually broke a toilet brush in half getting it this way, seriously. I am so pleased with the transformation that I may instruct my future tenants never to use it.


There we are then. That was the middle of last week, and now I find myself in my King Street flat, which my previous tenants left in quite a state. It needs new carpets, new paint, and a whole new bathroom (which wasn't their fault). However, I am taking this opportunity to upgrade a number of features, and give this potentially lovely flat an air of sophistication and luxury previously lacking. Of course, the practical upshot of this is that I'm now living like a vagrant again, surrounded by debris and filth. For three nights I slept with only a curtain as cover, on the sofa, but have now progressed to a bed and duvet combo. This flat won't be so long term a project and will be done in a couple of weeks, though I expect to be sent away somewhere before that. Until then, I'll plough on, and see how many remains of pies I can gather in the name of home improvement.

Saturday, 7 July 2007

Intent

I keep meaning to show you my photos.