Thirty-eight days. Thirty-eight days I've been on this rig: that's longer than some people have been alive. If days were steps, I'd be one away from a Buchan novel. But this buccaneering lifestyle is no far-fetched yarn: it is endless days of grit and dirt, blood and toil, sweat and filth, pain and suffering; in short, reality in in barest, rawest, truest form. "But what is reality?" angsty fans of "The Matrix" ask, and I reply: "This is, prick."
But my days are numbered, in lifespan certainly though I know not of the number, but in terms of days remaining on this rig I know I can only have another four. I was permitted an extra 50% of the supposed maximum of twenty-eight days, which those with sharpened mathematical skills will know to be forty-two, which those also with sharpened Douglas Adam skills should know also is the answer to the ultimate question of life. It's certainly the ultimate answer to my life for now, as it will mark my reunion with beloved dry land once more, and perhaps too a reunion with some dry gin.
Oddly though, as I watch the calendar month of April slide by, along with it the merry festival of Easter, the emergence of friends' babies, the announcement of Varwell's engagement to some poor girl, and my mother declaring she has bought a new house and will sell the home I lived in since age 5, I find myself growing strangely attached to my surroundings. This, surely, is institutionalisation. My usual progression with rig life is to cope pretty well for the first twenty-one days; yes, for three weeks, I am a veritable bouncing beacon of happiness, all but hugging the roughnecks and making cute eyes at the roustabouts. But after twenty-one days, the wind appears to change and my mood sours. I've usually finished my books, communicate with only scowls to my colleagues, I find myself getting increasingly restless with my restrictions to freedom, and I begin to find it hard to focus so well. On some occasions, notably an endless hitch in Brazil in 2007, I begin to find myself peering into the abyss. I stop shaving, stop caring, and a sincere form of doom hovers over me.
Thus, my expectation for being offshore for double my preferred duration was that I'd be slitting either my wrists or the wrists of others by now. Thirty-one days was my previous maximum, but this hitch has shattered this record. And most curiously of all, I found that since Day 34, I've actually started to really get into the job. Right now, I'm enjoying a moment of calm, but the last four days have seen immense amounts of work. Dismantling tools, assembling tools, seeing big chunks of pipe pulled out of hole and run into hole and nodding thoughtfully as they do so, replacing suspect tools at the last moment, packing away masses of boxes to ever-changing specifications, downloading data, procressing data, dealing with a load of logistics, and emails pinging to and fro: the last four days have seen 12-hour shifts that didn't relent in pace. It should have been horrific. But for some reason, I really quite enjoyed it. As I flung myself down V-doors, up derricks and through mouseholes, and dashed off convincing-looking data on Microsoft Paint, I found the whole experience quite exhilerating. Perhaps this is what happens after I beat the post-twenty-one-day depression. Upon arriving at the thirty-fourth day, a new life and focus enters into me, likely coinciding (I strongly suspect) with the day my subconscious abandons joy and free will and accepts this mechanised life of an automaton, in a world where all men and machines are mere tools.
So, the fate that awaits when I alight to real life, on Tuesday, in Baku, I can't say. I've heard it said that after prolonged spells offshore the initial return to normality sees one behave like a "social retard". My delight at freedom may be tempered by my fear of all these strange people, all these different directions I can move, and having to pay for and cook my own meals... oh, wait, Green does that for me. Phew. It looks like I'll have a couple of days in Baku, fresh from a university shooting killing eight that seems to have been deemed less important than American or German shootings of the same nature by the world's media. There's some bits of pipe to look at in the Schlumberger yard, so I'm eagerly awaiting this onshore assignment, as you may imagine.
And then home, to the loving embrace of my friends and family, who no doubt will gather round, and poke me to make sure I'm real and not some strange creature. So no change there then.