Thursday, 29 January 2009

Reel Bad

The last seven days have not been much fun.

Friday, 23 January 2009

Lord Of The Flies

Anyone unfortunate enough to have lived with me during my student years would likely be aware of the "TV teen drama" I devised, called "The Creak". Now isn't the time to go into the many convoluted storylines and settings I (and others, namely Green and the deviant himself, H) came up with, but one of the primary features was owls. Over the twelve one-hour episode series, I planned for owls to appear increasingly in the foreground, so that by the second last episode there would be so many owls that it was difficult to keep up with the onscreen events (by now the funeral of the "Dr Nev" character, killed one episode earlier by a jumping blue whale, while on his yacht, all set to music). By the very final episode, owls would be so utterly flooding the screen that absolutely nothing of the story could be seen whatsoever, aside from the occasional briefest of glimpses or snatched sound. Saturation by owls would be complete, and one of the biggest cliffhangers of TV would remain unresolved because of them.

This increasing influx of owls is currently something I'm experiencing, only with flies instead. About a week ago, Glen, the long-haired Rangers-supporter that shares the unit with us started complaining about a "damn fly". I noticed it too, in between bouts of coffee - a little chap, meandering about in the air.

The next day Glen boasted of having killed him, but I noticed the cheeky chap was still there... and with a friend? Still, of no great annoyance, except to Glen, who was getting more perturbed by the pest. He killed another, and then I killed another, and surely there could be no more. One of the advantages of offshore is that flies don't usually stray so far from land.

But now, a week on, our unit is infested. It's as though for each one we kill, another two appear, like the heads of the Greek Hydra. I drink a coffee and they dive into my brew, I set a cake on the desk and they're ready to pounce. I feel my skin randomly itch and I know they're biting me, because when I piledrive one they burst into a bloody splodge. Glen arrived today with an arsenal of weaponry - oils and sprays - but to little effect (if anything, they just pushed the crowd over from his side of the unit to ours). Flies, damn flies, are the bane of my life.

However, let's not pretend life is too accursed right now. Despite some genuine hassles and stresses over the last week, often exacerbated by the blinkered arrogance of the well test engineer in charge, right now things are plodding on without too many bumps. The biggest crinkles and wrinkles have been ironed out, and the biggest worries of last week seem to be over. From my side, at least - the job itself for the rig is going pretty poorly: tons of delays and no end result. For some, the lack of efficiency is driving them crazy, but hey, I've worked for Petrobras in Brazil, so this is nothing.

So, if I can just survive the flies, hopefully the rest of the hitch can be trouble-free. About ten or so days more, I expect.

Friday, 16 January 2009


I've been promoted.

The last few days have been pretty tough. Not bad, just tough. Two 26 hour shifts in a row, with just a few hours sleep in between, much of it on the exposed pipedeck with the seering African sun burning my neck quite painfully. There's been lifting, pulling, torquing, reeling, tying, taping, bipping and bapping, while drenched in sweat that transforms my coveralls into a cold and soggy rag the moment I step into an air-conditioned space. My contact lenses have become hard crusts on my dried-up eyeballs, and somehow I've acquired a massive tear in the thigh of one pair of my coveralls - very fetching, and it allows for a pleasing, cooling breeze. There have been many admiring glances from the roughnecks.

Despite the physical demands - and it has been one of the more physically tough of the jobs I've done - it's turned out quite satisfying. It's the Hamiltonian's first job of this nature in charge, and he's paranoid about any glitch; as a result, we've been quite comprehensively checking and re-checking, and we now have a nicely ticking system in the hole. Our working unit is spacious and I have my kettle rigged up. Biff seems quite keen on learning chess so I get to beat him several times a day. The next few days are clear, except for coffee drinking and watching data lines move about on my computer, and I can rest my weary flesh in preparation for the further punishments that will follow after the weekend.

But best of all is my promotion. Throughout the last week and half, my reward for my sweaty ardures toils has been a bed in a tiny container with seven others, where I can't even stretch out, with an unsubtle air-con, broken lights, leaking windows, and out-of-action bathroom. But today, as I woke from my slumber into a day mostly clear of suffering, I was greeted with the news that myself and the Hamiltonian (Biff is going onshore for a few days) have been shifted into different beds.

And so now I'm in a spacious four-man room, with working lights and a toilet shared only by the neighbouring four-man room. Luxury! Usually I'd not be so excited by such conditions, indeed they'd be at the lower end of what I expect, but after the squeeze I've just gone through, this is now like a hotel. I've even got a UK plug socket next to my bed.

So, the first of two tests is now in-hole and almost ready to go. Depending on who you believe, by next Friday we may have finished both tests, which would be a remarkable change in pace and one I can't see happening. I'd quite like a little more time just to rest and drink coffee to be honest, rather than more hours spent feeding cable into a hole, or chucking spanners about on a pipe deck. But now I've got my promotion and five-star sleeping quarters, I can handle anything.

Saturday, 3 January 2009

Holiday's Over

Just under six months ago, I returned from a job in the North Sea and declared myself "burnt out". It was true. I'd been away for nine months of the previous twelve for the past two years. Even on my time at home, I was busy; when avoiding being dragged into base, I was working hard on any one of my five flats, three of which had been bought in the space of a year, and some of which were requiring a hell of a lot of work. So, at the start of July 2008, I was tired. A month off, what a dream that would be. A month to refresh and regenerate. A glorious, but optimistic, dream.

Little did I know that through a combination of cirumstances, it wouldn't be until the start of 2009 that I'd be called to go away again. Pack my dirty blue bags, make a little prayer to the gods of oil, and be whisked off to another fun-filled, action-packed, glitz-and-glamour, journey-of-a-lifetime boy's own adventure, courtesy of my employers. This time to South Africa and Mozambique, armed only with an illicit penknife and a plastic hardhat, to fight off the natives and plunder their land for all the goddamn oil I can get my hands on. Six months of being idle, and I'm rather looking forward to going away. It's like being an offshore virgin again, eager to dive into this chaotic mechanical mess. But unlike a virgin, of course, my firm hand of experience will guide me smoothly through the coming ordeal, and leave one and all more satisfied for my slick actions.

Though I'm inclined to think my last six months have been quiet, in actuality they have been fairly busy. Fair enough, not as notable as the first half of 2007, which saw jaunts in Trinidad, Brazil and Equatorial Guinea, with all their associated japes and scrapes, but nonetheless with plenty of moments of note. I got four of my five flats finished, and rented out, and my own effectively ready for habitation and fit for a pleasant party.

Some pleasant parties.

I also discovered the joys of my rooftop, and partook in neighbourly barbecues up there. Relations with the neighbours have remained friendly, though their noisy night-time excursions into the middle shared attic have met with furious remonstrations from myself - but I think they've learnt the lesson. My flat has also hosted my 30th birthday, a poker night, a dinner party, lots of cigar and pipe smoking, my first self-cooked meal in many a moon, but most of all, hours and hours of playing pool.

I'm still rubbish.

I've ventured out of my flat on numerous occasions. Not just to scrouge food off Green, or to meet Kitchen Mark and French Claire for a few pints, or even to buy tons of pies and booze from Morrison's, but I've actually ventured out of the Greater Aberdeen Metropolis to distant cities, such as Dingwall, Edinburgh, Glasgow, Durham, Birmingham and even London. Dingwall was usually to see my delightful mother, but also for my cousin's wedding at the end of November. Edinburgh was notably to see Leonard Cohen live - the best live performance I've ever seen. His cover version of X-Factor sensation A. Burke's "Hallelujah" is much better, in my opinion. Glasgow was for all kinds of reasons, a funeral unfortunately the most notable. I've described my Durham visit before, but very soon I'll deliver one of my long-promised photos. Birmingham was for the wedding of my friend Becky, and London was for all kinds of reasons, like seeing friends, my cousin, Leonard Cohen again (he says hi, by the way) and confusing Natural History with Science.

Speaking to a relative at my cousin's wedding. In the foreground, my mother ogles a naked man, or something like that.

My brother and I harass an old lady.


Becky gets married.

In amongst all this inter-city jetting and jiving, I even had time for a lovely girlfriend! But then we broke up. Dear me!

She didn't like getting her photo taken, but she was quite pretty, I promise.

However, lest you think my last demi-year has been one of excess alcohol, daily pool, weddings, jaunts and japes, staring lovingly at my girlfriend, parties, late mornings, boasting to poor people about my property empire and politely declining the hundreds of hookers outside my door, you may be surprised, nay horrified, to learn that I have been forced to do a little work. In December, I went into the office and felt obliged to do several half-days, and in early October I went on a little boat trip off Great Yarmouth. This was quite an interesting job and a bit of a diversion from my usual work, involving hanging around on a boat, chucking a heavy thing overboard and then seeing if this heavy thing could communicate with some crazy device on the seabed by means of magic (yes, actual magic). Remarkably, it all worked, eventually, after some perseverance and a moment of inspiration from a Polish man.

My inspired Polish colleague.

And so that, in a nutshell, has kept me going during my unexpected extended holiday. That's the highlights at least, I don't need to tell you of the hours and days of loneliness, of the tears that have wracked my body and soaked my bed (it was tears, honestly!), of the hardship of having to let a loved one go - yes, I took my van to the scrapyard. But I got £50 for it, which I was pretty delighted about.

So, tomorrow, I wave goodbye to my home and set foot on a mighty airborne monster, destined for South Africa and then Mozambique. By the sound of it, my time will be mostly spent offshore, so I won't have much time onshore to try and catch AIDS from the natives, but regardless, I'm looking quite forward to it. It's a three man job, and my colleagues are The Hamiltonian (formerly known as "Len", but I'm renaming him by the nickname given by my departed Cognac Colleague) and "Biff", making his offshore debut but who has plenty of base experience and seems like a reliable chap. Holiday's over - now let the fun begin.