Monday, 30 June 2008

The Mystery Of The Scallion

And so I'm sitting back, on a quiet nightshift, all alone... all alone? Hang on, what's happened to The Scallion?

Well, we'll have to wind back 18 hours.

It was about 5.40am yesterday when the first signs of a disturbance appeared. It had been an extremely quiet shift, I'd already been down for my "breakfast" at 5am, and there was little reason to hang around. Talisker would be taking over in 20 minutes, and I'd probably see him in the accommodation for what little handover was required. "Goodnight," I said to The Scallion.

"No. You'd better stay to handover to Talisker," The Scallion quickly said. I explained there really was no need, but The Scallion was having none of this. "No," he said, "I'd prefer if you wait here. I don't want you going down there and telling him anything."

Telling him anything? "What do you mean?" I asked.

"I think you know what I mean," The Scallion said, quite firmly and with a trace of simmering anger.

I searched for a moment. What could he mean? We'd just been sitting in a small unit together for almost six hours, playing online poker, with small conversational exchanges. Absolute normality, until now.

"I have no idea what you're talking about."

"I'm not interested in your and Talisker's games," The Scallion curtly explained, but upon further queries would reveal no more, and just reiterated that he'd prefer if I stay until Talisker arrived, and then I'd understand. It was pretty clear that he believed I already understood, however: my games were continuing.

A few minutes of a pretty tense silence ensued before I launched into a further series of "What the hell are you on about?" These were all firmly deflected with a "Wait and see," except for a brief allusion to his computer screen. On it was an open folder with the contents of his memory stick. A little earlier he'd asked about some files on it. I'd taken a cursory look at them and just told him to delete them. The Scallion, over the past week, has displayed even less computer literacy than myself, and these files looked like junk: some .rar files, with an icon demonstrating Windows couldn't open them.

It appears these files may be the heart of the matter. Maybe. Because it seems that The Scallion interpreted my suggestion of deletion, followed by my leaving for bed, as an admission of guilt; evidently I was going to sneak down and tip Talisker off after having deleted the vital evidence. As I'd said before, "What?"

Anyway, after some more tense silence, Talisker arrived, I had a friendly exchange with him, and The Scallion then said I didn't have to hang around. I wish I had. But it was 6.15am, I was tired, and just presumed I'd query him about this strangeness the next day.

So, I got some sleep and woke to another day. I got up, stretched, took a shower, and watched a little tennis. I didn't have a coffee for the first time this hitch. I popped into the galley and exchanged a few words to Baracus, who seemed a little subdued. I went to the evening meeting, mercifully brief, then headed out to the unit, where Talisker was seeing in the end of his dayshift.

Just about the first thing he said to me was, "Oh well, that's The Scallion on the chopper..."

It seems whatever game The Scallion perceived myself and Talisker as playing, he wasn't willing to play along. Perhaps. The details are still vague, and Talisker only went so far as to explaining them. That wasn't to say he really knew what was going on either, but he definitely had information he wasn't willing to reveal. But by mutual agreement, it seems, it had been decided as best that The Scallion got the first possible chopper off this rig and back to Aberdeen.

Analysis could be spouted, and certainly was between myself and Baracus, as to what on earth had gone on, but I'll save it for here. All I can really come up with is that The Scallion was very unhappy with the offshore life. This was his first trip, after all. However, for me it's been just about the easiest job I've done - if he can't hack this, he's done for when he's dumped in Brazil for months, or has to fester in some West African snakepit. The accustion of playing "games" and a variety of other retrospective circumstantial evidence suggests there was some brewing of paranoia in The Scallion's mind. Some covert plotting between myself and Talisker? Doubting my good nature? But I'd given him a can of Irn Bru just hours earlier!

It's all a bit weird, anyway, and certainly sudden. The upshot of it is we're now down to three men just as we're about to start getting busy again, so the timing isn't ideal. But of significantly better timing is July 4th. American Independence Day and my own day of liberation as, barring bad weather (in the North Sea?) I'll be escaping this demonic metal asylum in the sea back to my beloved home and joyfully weeping friends and family.

But for now, alone in the unit suddenly, I'll just pump up the music and dance around like a caged retard.


You wouldn't believe how long my toenails are right now.

Saturday, 28 June 2008

Trickling On

Well, the days trickle by steadily and anonymously. 6pm to 6am nightshifts, sometimes with bursts of work, often with hours of online poker. Everything went tits up, not with our equipment, mercifully, but with a bunch of other stuff. Just as everything was in-hole and ready to go, it all went wrong, and the whole lot had to be pulled out again. The result being that the first of two tests has been abandoned, and by about Wednesday we should be ready to run back in for the second test. And so, aside from a few hours work tonight, the days ahead will be very quiet. Looks like I'll be losing a lot of money on the poker.

The good news - I think - is that I may be returning home by Thursday/Friday next week. This is due to some loosely adhered to rules about only being in the North Sea three weeks at a time, but some murmurs from base suggest that this could be the case. As I have holidays booked at the start of August, this either means: I joyously have all of July free and savour some much-needed time off; or I'm pumped straight onto some other damn job right up until the day of my holiday.

We'll see. For now, my focus is on the current passing of days, which promises to be gentle. There has been a shift in dynamic however: job leader, Mr Vinegar has been replaced by rival property tycoon Talisker. Mr Vinegar was as lethargic as me when starting this, still on the wind-down from the Herculean EG mission. But Talisker has arrived with sets of to-do lists and a can-do attitude. I'm not averse to the odd to-do list, but my can-do approach to them depends on time of day and how far away the next coffee break is (answer: not far).

I'm also in fierce competition with Talisker with regard to flat-owning. In my company there are a couple of guys with two flats, and one may have three, but both myself and Talisker are setting the pace with five. We both have a van too, though inside Talisker's van are a few Polish people and a tiling business, so he maybe wins on points.

I see more of the other two guys, with six hours a day apiece. Baracus continues to confound, entertain and infuriate. His Bollywood music, whether on computer on from his voice, has to be quelled immediately. I'm still recovering from his wedding slideshow.

And so it goes. Tonight I'll pressure up two carriers to 10,000 PSI, and if I survive will have the luxury of empty time for a few days. And hopefully, before my limbs atrophy and my wages disappear into poker oblivion, I can be set free and back into a world of wine binges and renewed insomnia.

Monday, 23 June 2008

Coming On Through

The safety guy is an important part of the fabric of each rig. Often they're an all-powerful force, chairing daily meetings and inspiring fear; usually they strut about a bit, and show safety videos to rig newcomers. Sometimes the weaker ones skulk around in the shadows, a defeated force but still with menacing potential. On this rig, the safety guy appears to serve the purpose of unintentional comedy.

With his round, bobbing head and inane grin, he resembles a cartoon character of yesteryear, or perhaps a toy dog. His speech and mannerisms appear lifted directly from a 1970s children's TV presenter handbook: he'd be a smash hit on Jackanory. He is ginger, of course. But above all, above everything, and something that everyone on the rig is obviously hyper-aware of, is his penchant for using the phrase, "coming on through".

He cannot go a speech, announcement or conversation without using it. Not once, but frequently, all the time. Usually he chucks it in at the end of a paragraph, like a kind of meaningless denouement, but he also slips it into the middle of a sentence, and really it can appear at any given moment. Very rarely does it make sense in the context of what he's saying: it is overwhelmingly used without any point, and the more I try and think of one the more senseless it becomes. He like to use it with another little phrase of his, "that one there" (also with plural or subjective variations, "those ones there", "this one here" etc). Both used so liberally, his conversations becomes heavily bolstered with filler, and filler that once you're aware of entirely overwhelms the point of what he's actually trying to say.

We've begun to count how many times he can drop into one "session". At one safety meeting, he dropped it in fifteen times, Baracus counted twenty-five during the second part of his induction, and Scallion counted twenty-six at yesterday's safety meeting. This equates to roughly once every thirty seconds, something backed up by the much shorter announcements during the daily evening meeting in which he averages three or four for a two minute talk. I overheard someone today claiming they'd heard him "double-dunt", i.e. say "coming on through" twice in succession, and that they'd lost count after twenty-two, suggesting we're not the only people to have found a grim fascination in this man's conversational tic.

Undoubtedly, as some of the regular crew of this rig have murmured, it becomes pretty annoying after a while, but for now, for us, it's still got a high novelty value. Baracus especially delights in shouting it at any opportunity. And hopefully by the time it does begin to grate, I'll be coming on through onto a helicopter, and safely back home. But that one there's still a few weeks away. Coming on through then...

Friday, 20 June 2008


Leonard Cohen played a fantastic gig to a sold out crowd in Dublin last Friday. At least that's what I gather from a few reviews on the internet, because among that awestruck crowd were two empty seats. Many miles away, incarcerated aboard my latest floating prison, I was warming the seat in my two-man room, watching the football on a tiny television and finding it hard to conceive that, but for a convergence of chance events, I would have been watching Cohen by the side of a dark-haired Irish beauty.

Eight-and-a-half months ago, fresh from his 21st birthday spent offshore Brazil with me, the wrung-out Spinxy returned from the land of samba to Arbroath and impregnated his girlfriend before lighting up another cigarette. Then, last month, young Mutton Balloon injured his hand in some vague incident, as yet undetermined. And finally, at about the same time, down in Angola, a little error of calculation by Mr Calm let to unmitigated disaster offshore as several large chunks of metal were lost, gnarled and broken, kilometers underground during a large oil well test. This latter incident has so far cost about $15,000,000 and has somewhat overshadowed my own recent effort (merely $30,000 - $50,000) and cost the job of the guy in charge (of the contracting oil company), and has meant a re-test is required. Thus four extra personnel are needed, and together with the aforementioned out-of-action colleagues, suddenly nobody of my experience was available for a job in the North Sea... except me. Thus, last Thursday was spent packing my bag for offshore, rather than for Ireland, and was spent in numerous phonecalls cancelling various plans. I had time to briefly wish Green a happy 30th birthday, but couldn't even go out to eat as I had to sort stuff out. And due to the short notice, I wasn't even able to send the Cohen tickets to Ireland, so that at least someone might enjoy them. Last Thursday and Friday weren't much fun.

We'll not even mention that my first few days offshore were spent doing virtually nothing, as delays have put things back several days, and that I could have gone to Ireland after all. No, let's not mention that.

My initial fury has since evolved into mere grumpiness, then apathetic lethargy, and has finally settled upon a kind of faux-contented resignation as to my cirumstances. Cohen has come and gone, as has most thoughts of the outside world. Instead, my focus has slowly shifted to the task in hand, and the situation that surrounds me. Which, as far as the offshore world goes, is actually pretty comfortable.

The rig is one of the better ones I've been on. No, one of the best, in fact. The two-man rooms are good, and after the insomnia of Aberdeen (I don't have curtains yet) I've been sleeping very soundly. I've been able to watch all the football so far. The food is unquestionably the best I've ever had offshore: massive, hearty, tasty, varied, and always eagerly anticipated. A few days ago I had to lay down the law and ban myself from second helpings, as I was practically eating my bodyweight daily. Our workspace is great - a new unit to ourselves, with speedy internet. And unlike the mania of Equatorial Guinea - 24 hours to rig up seven large pieces of equipment - we've had tons of time to rig up very little equipment. It has been very leisurely. A good thing too, as myself and the first man, Mr Vinegar, who was also in Equatorial Guinea with me, have really not been firing on all cylinders.

The team I'm with are good as well. This is my third job with Mr Vinegar this year, so we're pretty familiar with how we operate. Joining us are the livewire "Baracus", a cheeky and hilarious Dubai operator from India, and a new boy, "Scallion", who is charmingly obedient. I worked with Baracus only once before, a week on base in Malaysia last year, and he brings great entertainment to the jaded leadership. He's had four-and-a-half months off this year (!) and so is keen and motivated, and chatters incessantly. He spent ten minutes yesterday, during pressure testing, eagerly rehearsing his PA announcement, "Attention all personnel. Pressure testing on the pipe deck is now complete. Thank-you very much!", which involved much gesticulation and oratory booming. He's been taught to speak "Scottish", and so frequently comes out with, "Aye min," and "Fit like loon?" as well as many other unpublishable comments, all of which seem amusingly out of place with his Indian accent.

I've just started to go on nightshift from yesterday, and expect a little bit of action in the next day or two, but then a week of further insouciance. Then home? No. Because we're currently still rigging up just the first test of two, so I can expect at least another three weeks here. Three weeks of good food, fast internet, crazy Indians and a diminishing concept of home and reality.

But hopefully back for July 16th. Why? Because I've got more Leonard Cohen tickets, this time for Edinburgh. Lightning, surely, can't strike twice. Cohen, you don't escape me that easily.

Wednesday, 11 June 2008

Nev In Bad Mood

It's been a good week at home so far. There was a very grand wedding, between Lamb and some milk magnates, I've started getting my new flat ready, my beloved Market Street flat is coming on well, Van Nev has been a rutting stallion and has even gone up to 70mph, my new PA/flatmate has been most useful, I've enjoyed some good beer and have rarely ended the night sober, I have a drinks globe in my house, a pretty girl smiled at me in the street, the weather has been absolutely lovely, and there's been lots of football on the TV. Even the funeral of a great-aunt wasn't so bad, as I got to see a number of family members.

So why am I in a foul, stinking, dirty dog of a mood? Because I popped into the office today and was told I might be going offshore on Friday. Meaning my weekend trip to Ireland, to reunite with the lovely Rebecca and see Leonard Cohen in concert, would be cancelled. And meaning that I have had just one week at home. That makes six this year.

I like my job, but I like my life too. And don't believe in sacrificing the latter for the former.

Thursday, 5 June 2008

Domestic Intruder

I'm back. After an overnight flight and prolonged wait in a new terminal of the apparently toiletless Charles de Gaulle airport, I arrived to a refreshingly cold and wet Aberdeen. Hauling my bags up the many hundreds of stairs up to my flat, I unlocked the door and entered. But what's this?

The hallway is clean. Cleared of rubble and mopped of sawdust. The living room is likewise - plus some recent Sunday papers. The bathroom is spotless! And there's a new shower curtain, bathmats and an abundance of toilet roll. In the kitchen... my God, there's food in the fridge: vegetables and stuff. All the dishes are clean and actually put away in cupboards. In my attic bedroom, my bed has been stripped and the bedsheets washed. And in the main bedroom, mounds of clothes, and probably a hairdrier. Only the snooker room seems left untouched.

This can only mean one thing: I have acquired a flatmate. And it's a girl!