Monday, 31 March 2008

Photo Archive Volume 3

It’s time, once more, to immerse yourself in a world of photographic marvel!

Korean time

Way back last February, if you can remember that far back, I happened to bump into Aberdeen’s petite Korean-town underbelly, and was invited to the Korean New Year celebrations. It was both fun and intense, but I only managed to take one single photo of the occasion. This was it. It was during some traditional game (Korean have traditional games for every possible occasion) involving playing keepy-up with some kind of cloth-like ball. I managed one keepy-up.

Before And After

During my final month of Brazil, in 2007, stuck on the NS-16 for all of October, mostly by myself, and with absolutely nothing to do, I began to shimmy around the edges of sanity and if not peered, at least glimpsed the abyss. For that entire month I didn’t shave, and this picture accurately captures my mental state near the end of the month.

Fortunately, I escaped to freedom. Look at this handsome chap!

The Storm

It’s back to Nigeria again. After my time offshore in April, I had to spend a couple of weeks in Port Harcourt, to sort out kit on base. This was a woefully slow and inefficient operation, with every possible step encountering delays, not least the various shut-downs where foreigners weren’t allowed out because of political upheaval and perceived danger. Thus my time was spent in the Presidential Hotel, playing tennis and drinking cognac. With my cognac colleague, one afternoon, we ventured out for a spot of tennis. The sky was distinctly gloomy and the air ominous, but we thought we might squeeze a quick game in. We started the warm up and suddenly I noticed a couple of drops of rain: only a couple, but very heavy, wet drops. My colleague didn’t notice anything. The warm up continued and I got hit by a few more drops, then a few more. My colleague still hadn’t been hit, but now the large splashes were quite evident on the court. We discussed whether we should continue, but by now the frequency of drops had increased and we think it best to call it a day. So we began to wander back inside...

...and suddenly we heard a noise. A rushing, a howling, an unholy screaming – and movement. I yelled “run!” and we both ran for cover. But it was too late. A solid grey wall of water slammed into us, and just the one second before finding cover and I was soaked. My colleague was a little behind me and was utterly drenched head-to-toe. Rain was crashing down in blocks, swirling about and noisily rampaging. Tennis was off for the rest of the day. Instead we had a show.

That storm in Nigeria is unquestionably the craziest I’ve ever seen. For the next ten hours, the rain never let up, the the thunder and lightning was incredible. I was sometimes worried my windows might shatter with the noise. For a few hours, the lightning came every couple of seconds, ranging from evil looking dagger sticking straight into the ground, to enormous eruptions of light that illuminated the sky for seconds at a time. Sadly, my camera and ability are not well equipped to capture these things well, so you’ll have to make do with a photo of some rain.


This is the chess board I bought in Kuala Lumpur. Though quite expensive, I fell in love with it the moment I saw it. The perfect chess board should both look beautiful but still be playable – a lot of ornate chess pieces are so fancy that the pieces aren’t easily distinguishable, thus making the playing of the game difficult. But this board is just right.

Equatorial Guinea

I was in Equatorial Guinea for a few weeks in June, though most of the time was offshore. However, there were a few days in the capital, Malabo, upon finishing the job. The first of these days was most notable. Myself and my colleague, Mr Calm, were very relieved to be back onshore and, as is always required, got stuck into the beers. This took place in our unnecessarily heavily-guarded guesthouse. We ploughed through a fair number of beer cans before deciding to go off for a walk. It was just a random ambling, roughly in the direction of the centre, and the main road. Equatorial Guinea is, per head of population, the third richest country on earth; however, all of it is owned by the corrupt military dictator while the rest live in squalor and die in middle age. This is what we saw on our walk, pretty much. The city suburbs were just a pile of mud, with dirt tracks for roads, and no facilities. It was a very interesting walk though, and the people we passed seemed very friendly.

However, we only got back half an hour after darkness, little realising the panic our wander had caused. Although Equatorial Guinea isn’t terribly dangerous, the security was paranoid and ramped up, and operations were run by the very pleasant and frightfully efficient Bill, who used to be in charge of security for the President of Afghanistan. He’d found our guesthouse empty, except for about twenty empty cans of beer, and began to panic when we didn’t return after sunset. So in his jeep he’d been careering about the city’s bars to look for us. Fortunately, we didn’t get in trouble for this venture, as he blamed himself for not telling us to inform guesthouse security when and where we were going. Just a few months later a couple of our guys were chucked out the country for doing something similar. Anyway, the photos.

A view of the suburbs.

Me, holding a pear, in a beaten-up old car, with a confused boy.

The Cheesman Wedding

My old friend Edward “Ed” Cheesman (he prefers people to call him “Ed” but I’ll never get used to it) got married in August. The wedding was fabulous, and so good in fact that I completely forgot to take more than ten photos.

The five ushers.

I became quite aggressive with those not on the guestlist.

Sunday, 30 March 2008

Photo Archive Volume 2

Welcome to my second installment of the archive, where dreams become reality.

This is a photo of me next to an owl on a ladder.

The Rig In Nigeria

These are just a few more photos of my stint offshore Nigeria in April.

During operations offshore, there was never quite enough bedspace on the rig due to the numbers of personnel involved. Therefore, sometimes they had to move people to the boat. The means to move people from rig to boat are pretty straightforward – a crane and a basket. It amuses me that in these days of paranoid health and safety offshore, where you can’t walk up steps without clutching the handrail, that this method is still used. The basket is open and exposed, and no safety harness is worn: you simply have to hold on tight. It’s both scary and fun, and the sort of thing people pay money for.

It really goes quite high.

Here’s a shot of the rig during flaring operations, taken from the boat.


I enjoyed Mauritania, though my own photos were woefully bad (“Goats At Night” being a particular classic). Fortunately, some guy I met at the bar gave me all the photos he took.

This is a beaten up old car. Mauritania has lots of these: most of them are still being driven.

This photo, obviously, is a personal favourite. A framed copy for my living room will surely eventuate. No, I don’t know who either of these gentlemen are.

A main road in Nouakchott.

Big Girl

My friend Justin/Green/The Swish Fish is very unlike a girl in most respects; indeed I can’t and don’t want to think of a scenario where there could be confusion. However, when it comes to photos, he’s a big girl, saying he doesn’t like people taking photos of him. Hence, he always glowers. This photo happens to be the very first ever taken on my camera.

Photo Archive Volume 1

As those close to me will know, I am a keen and expert photographer. In fact, that’s simply not true. While others frame and craft, compose and artfully shoot, I point, click and create a series of blurs that even the inebriated couldn’t mistake for art. But over time, memories become blurred, so in that respect my collection holds up well – life being a whole lot of random things, slightly blurred.

I bought my first digital camera last year, but the advent of this future technology has not improved my skills;if anything it has substantially subtracted from them. For now, instead of taking even a little time to take a picture, I just take three rubbish ones in quick succession. Hence the collection of around a thousand photos stored on my hard drive is mostly obscure repeats of the same failures. But among the rubble, the tons and tons of rubble, a few gems do lurk, or at least rocks of perhaps little value but a certain sparkle, that capture the eye and maybe have a little story to tell.

What the above analogy is trying to get at is that I have a few photos of note. Most have already been posted somewhere on this blog, for the blog is the same age as my camera, but there are a few I never quite got round to putting up. So in four installments, and in no particular order, I’m going to go through some of these pictures, which also happen to capture moments of the year that eluded my blog at the time of writing.

Views of Rio

Of course, I posted a few views of Rio de Janeiro taken from my jaunt up to the Cristo Redentor statue, but during a later trip to the city I had the chance to have a wander up the Sugerloaf Mountain, or whatever the Portuguese name is. I believe this wander was described: what I couldn’t be bothered doing then uploading the photos. But finally, here we are.

Rio is a genuinely world-class beautiful city, and this only captures a small part. The Cristo Redentor statue is prominent here, and although not one of the world’s best wonders, as claimed, it’s certainly iconic and visible around most of the central part of Rio when weather and smog allow. To the left, right and behind these mountains, there’s much more city, much more mountains, favellas clinging to the sides of mountains, beaches, ocean and trees.

This is Copacabana beach. Very nice, to be sure, but unfortunately every time I think of it I get that damn Manilow song in my head, which kind of ruins it all.


I was in Nigeria twice last year: all of January (and before), and from late March to early May. Of the latter stint, only about half the time was spent offshore, with the other half fannying around on base and in the hotel, achieving very little. Nigeria has some good qualities – oh hang on, no it doesn’t!

Here’s some burning of excess oil offshore. And you thought rigs were environmentally friendly!

Obviously, in warmer climes, it’s important to avoid dehydration. If you’re even just 10% dehydrated, your brain is 90% less functional, or something along these lines. Saturation = no retards. This poster was strategically placed above a toilet in the rig offshore Nigeria and is a sage warning. It is a little alarmist however. Even if you pass the first test, “Drink Water Immediately!”, and are ok on the second, “Drink More Water”, just when you think you can relax, you find you have to “Keep Drinking Water”. It just never ends.

Here’s some big tools.

In Port Harcourt, going from anywhere to anywhere wasn’t a simple case of hopping in a taxi. An armed escort had to follow or lead the dark-windowed bus I was bundled into. This escort would flash its lights and whoop out a siren, and generally draw a lot of attention to us. Worse, the escort would have four armed guys all in a state of pointless urgency, and this would mean they would try and take all kinds of shortcuts, which in the narrow, congested streets of the city only resulted in massive traffic jams. Then the escorts would jump out their vehicle, wave their guns around, get into loud shouting arguments with other drivers, until eventually, inch by inch, a path was cleared. Sometimes the escorts didn’t have guns, they just had grenades. It goes without saying that during my months in Nigeria, I felt far more threatened by my escorts than I did by the bandits.

Muslim Terrorism

In my first flat, until June, I had a couple of Indian students. They were there for a year and managed to turn the place into a pile of filth and debris. I wasn’t very impressed and they didn’t get their deposit back. They left me a little present, though it was the cleaner who found it. It was pinned up prominently on a door, obviously intended to be found. My cleaner was convinced it was an intimidatory threat from Muslim terrorists, and went on to tell me about the one time she’d cleaned a flat and found a copy of the Koran. However, my Indian students, although tanned gentlemen, weren’t Muslims because they used to drink Tennant’s lager, which is explicitly prohibited in the Koran (and all good society). Nevertheless, I like to dramatise this story into a direct threat upon myself by global extremists.

Smashed Up Cars

The number of wrecked old cars prominently displayed is a marker of any civilisation. Nigeria has lots and lots, Korea doesn’t have any. Apart from cars once belonging to me, Aberdeen has only one, a wreck in the private car park behind my first flat, which has been there for over five years. Brazil didn’t have too many, but did have the above gem left immediately outside my guesthouse.

Monday, 24 March 2008

Nev In The Kitchen

For various reasons, it's been over 13 months since I last cooked for myself. I remember the day well. While over the phone to Kitchen Mark as he patiently went through each step, I managed to make myself fried squid with chilli sauce, with couscous on the side. Remarkably, it was a great success - so I quit while I was ahead and have since subsisted on eating out, eating at Green's, eating on rigs and eating kebabs.

Until today.

In this nation of beaches and sunshine, I'm currently staying in an apartment-style hotel room. This was at my request, because from experience I know that eating out every night can get a little tedious, especially if you're by yourself, and even getting room service can be a hassle when I've got to spend a tortuous few minutes with my mangled Portuguese trying to say the word "sandoiuche!" and end up getting some kind of steak. Thus, I have a room with a little kitchen and a little gas stove. No cutlery, crockery or kitchen utensils, mind you, but a quick trip to the supermarket got me a pan and some forks and knives. For a few days, pot noodles, tuna sandwiches and some horrible sausages were the limits of my culinary adventures, but today I decided a fully fledged meal was in order. And to celebrate my first proper cooking in 13 months, I took photos of each step.

So, first we take a nice big bag of fresh pasta.

We can't go wrong with a nice jar of Uncle Ben's. This time Uncle Ben provides us with his special "Italiano" sauce, which should go nicely with pasta. I hope.

Some slabs of chicken, surely free range - Brazil is big after all.

Finally some olive oil - the good boy of the oil world.

And here's my pan. A little grubby inside after the horrible sausages, but holding up well. Actually, it's a cheap piece of crap.

And the most important ingredient of them all - the chef!

And here we have everything together, a nice happy family.

Oh dear.

Yes, it seemed that I put a little too much oil in the pan and let it get a little too hot. Just as I was peering into my hot pan, it burst into flames. Fortunately, I kept a level head in this dangerous situation and remembered that pouring water into the fire would only make it worse, so I just stood back and watched it a little. Eventually "The Search For Modern China" saved the day.

Until I removed it, and after a little pause the fire burst into life again.

Meanwhile, in the bedroom, my little travel kettle, in which I was boiling the pasta, had overflowed.

"The Search For Modern China" had seen better days.

After all this, a beer was much required.

Fortunately, after all this drama, everything started to go smoothly. The pan didn't catch fire again, the chicken cooked well, and the pasta was nice and soft.

Voila! A tasty meal. Well, it was alright. I might just get room service from now on.

Friday, 21 March 2008

Easter Sneaks Up

It's just occurred to me that it's Easter.

The clues were all there. Varwell's blog stated "Happy Easter", there was an article on the BBC website about pious Filipinos crucifying themselves, and the supermarket here in Vitoria was rampacked full of chocolates, eggs, and chocolate eggs. But only now did I put these sly clues together, and like Holmes (Sherlock, not Eamonn) on a trail, everything suddenly became clear - it's Good Friday. Good grief.

I feel that Easter is a holiday that has got a little lost over the years. Two millennia ago, when the rabbit pushed a rock down a hill and set Jesus free, or something like that, no-one could have imagined that this would transmogrify into a celebration of buns, chocolate eggs and little chickens. We have some giant bunny bounding around, and we paint faces on boiled eggs. What's going on? Whereas Christmas has remained a solemn event free of hype and marketing, Easter - which I'd have thought was the defining period of Christianity - has become a gaudy exercise in surrealism. It's just a few bonus days off work, and nobody, save the very pious (re: the aforementioned Filipinos) seems to take it very seriously. Which I suppose is inevitable when the current celebration resembles some kind of psychadelic kids' cartoon.

Anyway, for me, not being a Christian, not working a job with conventional hours, and not even believing in rabbits, Easter looks to bypass me with minimum of fuss. I got onshore yesterday, and am currently recovering from this in a beach-side hotel. I stuck very much to my plan, formulated excitedly over days doing nothing on the rig, and drank a bottle of wine, four beers, and ranted and raved to myself - all within the confines of my hotel room (I didn't want to be arrested). The music, however, went askew, and shifted from banging techno to Radiohead then Leonard Cohen. This created a morose end to the night, and is likely the blame of my upsetting dream (an old cat sitting on top of a chair meiows, tries to scratch me when I stroke it, then seizes up and tumbles onto the ground! It dies a few moments later and then, when my mother enters the room, it's faded into a mere wisp of fur.)

But a coffee, and maybe a second one soon, looks set to revive me and gear me up for my day of... nothing. Yes, the ennui of existence continues. I've just been two weeks offshore doing nothing, but for a day and an evening of labour, and now I'm onshore in Vitoria to do nothing. Nothing but wait, wait until I'm needed to go offshore again, to pull a few things out of a hole, connect them to my laptop and then let the electronics do the work for me. Then I can go home.

So for now it seems I can relax and enjoy life alone in a hotel room. I reckon I've got at least ten days. A similar thing happened last year, with time to kill alone in Vitoria, though just for five days, and I quickly spiralled into a routine of wild wine drinking in the evenings, and daytimes of surly black coffee drinking followed by an expedition to buy another bottle of wine. I've vowed to be more constructive this time, and use my free days to study Portuguese, explore the city, maybe meet some locals, and be a lovely, wholesome chap.

We'll see how that works out. For now, in celebration of the day and as season dictates, I'm going to nail a rabbit to a cross and chuck it down a hill. Happy Eastermas!

Sunday, 16 March 2008

Daddy By A Mile

It took me less than half an hour to get to over 6km in the rowing machine - all by myself. It's taken about 100 men with tons of heavy machinery two days to stick a bunch of pipe a mere 5km down a pre-existing hole, gravity of course on their side. Who's the daddy?

Thursday, 13 March 2008

Radio Ubiquity

Like people, every rig is a beautiful and unique individual, with so much to give to the world, and with so much we can learn from and be enriched. And, of course, loud and unsubtle, pumping out fumes, and from which we can’t wait to get away from. One of the quirks of the rig I’m on now – which is spacious, clean and with two-man rooms – is the speaker in the ceiling of every room including some corridors blaring out the radio. On the wall somewhere is a volume control, ranging from “silent” to “uncomfortably loud”. This being Brazil, a nation not known for peaceful reflection, “uncomfortably loud” is usually favoured.

Why it is that the Brazilian must live his life surrounded by din and chaos, I’m not sure. Whether I’m eating in the mess room, checking email in the third party office, or pumping heavy iron in the gym, I seem to be followed by this radio cacophony. Mercifully, in rooms with no-one else present I will dive to the volume dial and enjoy some relative silence, but frequently I am forced to endure the constant numbing stimuli of pointless sound. From an extensive study of the last five days, I have discovered that there are two songs currently popular in Brazil.

The first is Spears, i.e. Britney. The song she’s singing goes on about “Do you wanna piece of me?” and has a lot of processed vocals to an edgy rhythm. “Do you wanna piece of me,” her robot voice squeals. After much thinking – five days’ worth in fact – I have to say, “Sorry Spears, not any more.” Spears was quite lovely as a 17-year-old in skimpy schoolgirl’s clothing, but ever since she had two children, shaved her head and went completely crazy, I’ve gone off her a bit. Mind you, after a couple of drinks...

The next song is infinitely more inane than the Spears effort. The Spears effort, to be fair, has some production values and a pertinent message, something about her soul being devoured for the press and public’s gratification, as though a trafficked prostitute crudely exposing herself. But the other song flying high in the Brazilian consciousness is about a rainbow. A rainbow “so high” to be more precise. The singer of the song, if he is to be believed (which I think he is, as he sounds so desperately earnest) wants to fly, to this rainbow so high. Hence the lyrics: “Oh I, wanna fly, to a rainbow, so high.”

These nine words constitute the entire lyrical content to the song, and are heavily repeated, sometimes with urgency, sometimes with anxious reflection, always with great earnestness. The song renders me helpless with astonishment. Astonishment at the painful sincerity of it, and at the strong feeling that in this country of 150 million people I am the first person to actually listen to the words of the song and wonder just quite what the hell is going on. There are no other lyrics, nothing to give context to this earnest and fantastical desire, just the heavy repetiton sing in a variety of tempos.

I was trying to imagine who the target audience for this song is. It’s not clubby enough for clubs, not boyband enough for teen girls and it’s nowhere near “urban” enough for cool kids. But it occured to me: it is precisely inane enough for proles. In Orwell’s 1984, a book that acquires a finer vintage with every passing year, music is generated automatically by a machine and finely balanced to fit and tweak the mind of the proletarian majorty. This song, with its cheerful yet utterly hopeless and inane message, and inoffensively bland Euro bounce, seems safe enough to pump through the favellas that swamp Brazilian cities and keep the inhabitants placated, despite the rampant inequality, sub-standard conditions, drug and gun epidemics and profound hopelessness in the face of police corruption.

I suspect I’ve given more thought than is strictly warranted for this three minute wonder.

Fortunately, the radio in my room appears either not to work or to be deliberately disabled. Unfortunately, my Brazlian room-mate compensates for this by switching the TV on at all possible opportunities. He walks into the room, turns on the TV, and walks straight out again. If he’s in the room at all, for any purpose, the TV will be on, regardless of whether he’s paying any attention to it at all. Usually he seems to be making a pretence of watching it, but I suspect it’s going right through him, as light will travel through a vacuum. It’s just anonymous stimuli to keep the darkness of the mind at bay. He would certainly be sleeping with the TV on, but on the first night, when I heard his curtains draw and the TV still on, I made sure he switched it off, and since then he’s been very well-behaved.

It looks likely I’ll soon be moved from this over-stimulated rig to the sterility of a hotel room anyway. Yesterday was my day of work, and now my job is done for the next week or two. This job is a particularly straightforward affair – easy, you might call it – so there’s no use for me until my equipment returns from whence it came, that is kilometres underground. So, for reasons of bedspace I may be shunted to a beach-side hotel in Vitoria, where my TV and radio will be kept firmly off, and all thought of Spears and rainbows put aside. And in their place? Well, a beer of course!

Sunday, 9 March 2008

Eating And Drinking

It has come to my attention that I am eating and drinking far too much.

Two weeks now in Brazil, no work done, but almost every day two large meals. There is no choice here but to eat out, and when you do eat out the portions are baby-sized, i.e. the size of an actual baby. Then in the evenings, to kill the ennui of my existence, beer must be consumed for hours. It's tricky to judge exactly how much I'm drinking as the Brazilians go for dinky-sized glasses, i.e. a lady's serving. Thus a couple of gulps sees the glass emptied, and another beer ordered.

This fortnight of gluttony does not stand alone in 2008. Rather it is the trend. The month prior I had the good fortune to be allowed some rest at home, in Aberdeen. Alas, I didn't have the good sense to regulate my food and drink intake. While the month was spent productively, bringing order and charm to my beloved Market Street flat, it also included Bacchanalian levels of guzzling. I drank almost every night. When Green was at hand to cook, at least my evening meals had some level of quality, but while he was gallavanting elsewhere I was forced to resort to kebabs and pizza - an all too easy allure as premise selling these sordid items are within twenty steps of my flat.

The upshot of this is that a new belt era looms. Back in the day, before starting this job 16 months ago, I was sitting happy on Belt Setting 2. Sometimes, after a particularly large meal - usually a curry - I might notch up to Setting 3, but this would be a temporary adjustment. But within six months of starting work, or should that be "work", I'd shot up to Setting 4. 4! But it was a 4 that could sometimes manage a 3, and I could still suck my stomach in one beaches to look svelte and macho.

No longer. Belt Setting 5 looms ominously close. Already my belt protests, but I hold out, hoping for a reversal of fortune. But in this Space Year Of ZOOB, there can be no turning back, and expansion seems the only likely future. My belt, I note with worry, has only 7 settings. Should I ever expand beyond 7, I have vowed to kill myself.

But perhaps there is another way. Later today, I go offshore, and may have up to six hours of work to do. Rig food being self-service and usually terrible in Brazil, I can moderate my eating. There'll be a gym, and in my large amount of free time, I can exercise. Beer is unavailable. Some disciple and hard work, and maybe there's a way back. There is hope.

Disciple? Hard work? Oh dear. Nev360, the inflated version, is on his way.