Saturday, 30 May 2009

Art Galley

As you may know, I am very much a man of culture and urbane sophistication (as I believe was proved by my discourse on housecoats last year). Therefore, one may well imagine the hardships I have to go through offshore. I can live with the fact that oil rigs are dirty, noisy, brutal places, populated by burly men of the same nature, but what is most difficult to tolerate is the lack of the arts. Music taste has not moved beyond 80s soft rock or insanely inane local hyper-pop: there is no place for the sonata or German minimal here. The same is the case with visual art. On a rig, most usually, my taste for the fine is as isolated as the remote platform I am inhabiting. Here, the masses gather round photos of scantily clad femmes contorting improbably - that is their art. A Jackson Pollock is derided as a scribble: "Give me some tins of paint and I'll do that after a night out," is one of the wittier resumes.

So one may imagine my delight to be on a rig with real, high quality art. I’m still enjoying my “independence” on the Istiglal, where I’ve been for over seventeen months now, and daily I enjoy my meals of gristle in a galley teeming with original paintings. I know that you, dear reader, are keen to cast your critical eye on some original art, so without further ado I’ll begin my short tour.

We begin with this neutral, but pretty scene, of a little stream. Isn’t it pretty? And isn’t it frightfully neutral? I can barely think of anything to say about it.

But this little gem has more going on. A horse (you can just see its head) and cart, a woman and child, and a big 2D fortress. The textures in the real thing need to be seen to be believed.

I call this one “Golf Course”. It’s not a golf course, but it might as well be. I promise you, they get more exciting after this.

Into this majestic beauty: “Horses At Sunset!” An inspirational picture of freedom and the theme of the platform, independence. Look at these horses gallop! Perhaps it’s a sunrise, not a sunset: all the best pictures have ambiguity. And I am intrigued by the two horses on the edge. Fainter and more ethereal than the central trio, could they be ghosts or echoes of the reality? The implications are significant.

This also hangs in the galley and is more typical of rig art. When on a rig, look at pictures of rigs... Can you see the mentality I am dealing with here?

Mystery and magic, with just a hint of menace. Any further analysis, I feel, would just detract.

This picture is just rubbish. It doesn’t even hang in the main galley, instead being in the kitchen serving area. Look, the artist hasn’t even tried: he’s drawn a dull scene badly. Why they’ve given it a fancy frame, I don’t know. I apologise for subjecting you, faithful reader, to this, but imagine the horror of having this brute glare at you every day.

And finally, possibly my favourite and continuing the horse theme, is this sweet peach of a picture. Horse and foal in the misty, mountainous outdoors, possibly standing in a small pond. The second picture – “2D Fortress” – featured a horse certainly not enjoying independence; “Horses At Sunset” explodes with independence: what then for this evocative enigma? The picture here seems to be just one small part of a longer, maybe epic, story. The horses sure appear to be free, but they also seem surrounded, and overwhelmed by the scene around them.

Bidding starts on June 1st; if anyone gets past the reserve price then I’ll smuggle the pictures back in my bag.

Friday, 22 May 2009

Independence In Azerbaijan

Istiglal: the name of the rig I am welded to, and the Azeri word for "independence". I need not spell out the irony for you, but needless to say my thoughts, will and ambitions are now collectively gathered as part of the hivemind that is sixty men and one massive machine. I wonder what is the Azeri for "assimilation".

In between now and the last entry, have no fear, I did get home. I endured my forty-two days offshore, popped home for ten, and arrived back on this rig about four days ago. My time at home was mostly spent drinking, or feeling somewhat lethargic, with little else of note. After about seven days, the humanity for so long repressed began again to blossom in my soul, and my naturally beautiful nature began to glow, like a beacon of honey. Work must have got word of this, and so I was thrust once again into the Caspian Sea, back into the world of surly ex-Soviets, unsubtle grinding cranes, and chocolate Cornettos.

I did manage a day in Baku this time, and I can confirm that Baku is dusty and with lots of cars. Despite being very dry and warm (Spring is progressing, but isn't yet in the realms of hot) I managed to find a small puddle of mud to step into. The city centre, next to the sea, was quite pretty, and pedestrianised, and looked to be worth further exploration, but my colleagues and I opted to drink instead. While I have been home, drinking heavily, my colleagues had spent the last week in Baku, drinking heavily. Indeed, upon arriving offshore, back to "Independence", all of us seemed to breath a quiet sigh of relief that we might be able to relax a little. My three colleagues have taken to the gym. I, of course, have not been so rash.

And that, really, is all.

Friday, 1 May 2009


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.