Tuesday, 30 June 2009

Domestic Duties

A 2l bottle of Irn-Bru, a plate of kimchi, and some terrible DJing on my battered decks. Ah, home!

Tuesday, 9 June 2009

Rig Simulation

I'm not infrequently asked what it's like to be on a rig. So for those of you wishing to share in the experience I have devised a litte simulator, so that you too can have your very own offshore experience from the comfort of your own home.

First of all, you need to simulate the unit, i.e. the room you'll be spending 12 hours a day. So take a room in your house and divide it in two (a blanket or some bits of board should do the trick): half a typical room is about the size of a typical unit. Remove anything remotely decorative or comfortable, and turn everything remaining grey. Find yourself a metal desk, perhaps a filing cabinet too, and then a chair. Break the chair and try and fix it: make sure you can't sit back and relax. Set up a laptop and other random bits of electronics, and give yourself an intermittent internet connection. If you're feeling particularly determined, have no internet at all.

We have now our basic workspace, but the ambience is all wrong. Crank up the heat to an unbearable level, and install a gigantic air conditioner/fan in the room. Ensure it doesn't work. Allow it to switch and blast air around very noisily, but make sure it isn't remotely cooling. Just outside of the room/unit, you need to create a source of noise. Perhaps 10-15 hoovers might do the trick. This is mere background noise, to accurately simulate the agonising screech of the crane I'm currently enduring, you may need to borrow a friend's cat and have it tortured at ten minute intervals. Really, really hurt this cat, over and over again. In fact, put it in front of a megaphone as you do so.

You may close the door to soften the noises (a little), but if you do so, you must increase the heat greatly.

To simulate the PA system, simply turn on your radio, find a grainy piece of static, and put the volume to full blast at random intervals. Ensure there is no intelligible content within.

If you choose to simulate dayshift, your hours are 6am to 6pm, with meals at 5.30am, 11am and 6pm: nightshift is the inverse. Meals should consist of very well-done steak (not to be eaten) and chips - or gristle. Do not enjoy. For the foreign rig experience, pour sludge into a vat and add some mystery meats: you are now sampling "culture".

You are perfectly entitled to go outside at any time, but must wear luminous coveralls, a hardhat, gloves and safety glasses, and listen to ugly men swear. All communication must be grumpy. Humour is only allowed in small and very bitter doses. Do not smile. Do not be nice. Do not talk about your emotions. Remind those around you how miserable conditions are. If you have a full blown conversation, ensure it is about mechanics or engineering or bits of pipe, and do not try and understand it.

To accurately simulate sleeping conditions, find a single bed too short to stretch out in. You may turn off some of the hoovers. Every couple of nights, simulate the roomboy by having a friend open and close your door, and sometimes turn the light on. Don't say much to him, or he will talk about about "jiggy jiggy".

Here comes the key part of this simulation: it must last for weeks... no, months. In fact, when you begin, try not to even know how long it will last. Have a friend roll a dice in secret, and then have them tell you an entirely different, lower, number. It is vital you begin your simulation believing it to last three weeks when in fact it will last six.

The good news: when you finish your rig simulation you are allowed - nay, obliged - to drink very heavily for weeks and weeks. DO NOT STOP. And then, just when you've spent your final penny on your final bottle of gin, crank up the hoovers, borrow the cat, and plunge yourself into another month or two of sensory shutdown. You are now fully primed to embrace the offshore existence.

Tuesday, 2 June 2009

One Step Closer

"One step closer to heaven, baby, one step closer to YOU!" So sang the sparkling shimmer of dinky septet S Club 7 to hordes of 9-year-olds, as bright lights and bouncing (with an acceptable amount of gyration) and a whole ton of bombastic colour reminded us that the only emotion is "happy". Happy, stay happy, the song urged.

Well, the immaculate septet may have long since disbanded, with Rachel doing ladsmag softporn, Hannah breaking the states with an appearance in a Chucky film, Jo O'Meara becoming a racist, Tina disappearing on mystery flight 447, and one of the boys doing a mega DJ set at Aberdeen's Tiger Tiger nightclub for Hogmanay 2008, and all the bopping 9-year-olds have all gone and grown up, but the sentiment of the song remains. Every day, we are one step closer: a step closer to heaven, and thus once again being reunited with our lost loved ones. The days blur together, just a dark and indistinct journey, the only clarity being the destination at the end, that glorious white light of oblivion. Cheers S Club.

And so as with real life the days are vanquished one by one on this rig too. If you will recall, I am somewhere on the Caspian Sea, possibly within sight of Azerbaijan's coast or possibly not (who can say?). Each day, in theory, I take one step closer, to the perceived heaven of the normal, adjusted life that is onshore, and therefore take one step closer to you - yes, you, dear reader. Whoever you are, whyever you read, I want to be closer. Step by step, but closer. Baby.

But, ah!, there is a catch. It is this: nothing is happening. For me to get closer, to anything, there needs to be some kind of progression on this rig. But I've been here two weeks (which is almost seven months), and although there have been a couple of short bursts of job progression, there's still a long journey ahead. Things keep breaking. Not my company's stuff, fortunately, but big rig stuff, and each time something breaks many hours and days can get put onto pause.

Thus my days are spent atrophying. I came onto this rig muscle-bound and with pumped-up guns, but by awesome lack of motion I am becoming spindly. Two rooms are my life: a grey container, or a dark, coffin-like bunk. My life feels like a music video whereby the subject remains still in the centre of shot while the sun and clouds zoom by in fast-motion. The highlight off my last few days was creating a formula; for a game between myself and "Bigboy" in which we had to guess the crow-flown distance between two world cities we needed a formula converting each guess into a % accuracy. Due to negative numbers, this was tricker than expected, but in bed it came to me in a flash: in Excel Spreadsheet format, =(1-SQRT(((C1-D1)/C1)^2))*100. I was delighted, genuinely. I hope you can share this. Our current scores as 28-20 to me (I had a late spurt), with my accuracy being 71.32% to Bigboy's 67.89%. My best guess was Moscow to Ulaan Baator: 2900 miles to the reality of 2878 - 99.24% accuracy.

It is such matters, the excruciating minutae of life, that fill the vast emptiness of being. Coffee and Cornettos help too. Occasionally, thought it grows more and more rare, an email from a beloved friend or family member appears in my Inbox, just to remind me that once I was part of a normal life.

The most concerning thing about this epic inertia, as myself and Bigboy have discussed, is how comfortable it's becoming. Without any serious activities to concern us, we are forging a daily routine. His involves films, two helideck pacing sessions and one 40-minute gym blast; mine involves meeting him for dinner after the gym. Time slips by effortlessly, daily we are shocked that eight hours have gone and only four remain of our shift. Food and shelter being given to us without struggle, we are becoming like household pets, maybe not pampered but kept slow and docile to a distant master.

But trap a cat in a flat and what do you get? The cat becomes nervy and jumpy over time, crazy and paranoid. And some savage their masters.

But for now, I'm docile, and hope to stay that way. And we return to the teachings of S Club for the final lesson, for myself and for this oil rig itself: "Don't Stop Moving". And with their permission, I've printed their sage words below, and boldified the relevant parts. Think of this as a church sermon.

"Don't Stop Moving"

Don't stop moving to the funky funky beat
Don't stop moving to the funky funky beat
Don't stop moving to the funky funky beat
Don't stop moving to the S Club beat

DJ's got the party started
theres no end in sight
Everybody's moving to the
rhythm that's inside
It's a crazy world

But tonight's the right situation
Don't get left behind

I can feel the music
moving through me everywhere
Ain't no destination baby
We don't even care
There's a place to be
If you need the right education
Let it take you there

Just go with the magic baby
I can see it there in your eyes (I can see it there in your eyes)
Let it flow

Stop the waiting
Right here
on the dance floor
is where
you gotta let it go

Don't stop movin'
Can you feel the music
DJ's got us going around, 'round

Don't stop movin'
find your own way to it

Listen to the music
taking you to places that you've never been before

Don't stop moving
to the funky funky beat
Don't stop moving to the S Club beat

You can touch the moment
Almost feel it in the air

Forget about your fears tonight
Listen to your heart
Let's just touch the sky (listen to your heart)
No need to reason why

Just listen to the sound
Let it make you
come alive

Soon you'll be home, Nev
S Club dancin' in your room!
Everybody will be groovin'
And getting real funky together
Except the three boys - they'll be somewhere else. And Jo too.

One step closer to heaven, Nevvy,
One step closer with you!

Don't stop moving
to the funky funky beat
Don't stop moving to the funky funky beat
Don't stop moving to the funky funky beat
Don't stop moving to the S Club beat