Thursday, 26 August 2010

Sleeping In A Bed Of Dead Puppies

Sleeping in a bed of dead puppies. That’s how The Mountie described our situation right now. The precise breakdown of the analogy or metaphor I’m not sure of, but I know it instinctively feels right. These puppies have been dead a few days, there’s a fair bit of mush, and God they stink. Sleeping at night is peculiarly comfortable, but certainly not desirable.

We’re now approaching five weeks in Nigeria and from today are officially further behind than when we first arrived. The rig and the job has been plagued with problems. The fatality last month is naturally the most significant, and was all wrapped up with the catastrophic crane failure. But since then, other problems have followed, all of a technical nature but all with the result that we’re still here, still on the rig, and still waiting. Waiting to work, or just waiting to go home and remember that life takes place in an actual vast world and not just on a floating boat in the anonymous Bight of Benin.

It’s of great frustration. We only have a couple of days of work to do really, but operations just cannot seem to get to that point. Our equipment is working well and we’ve successfully demonstrated our system is ticking away nicely, and rig operations were at the brink – a day away! – of being far enough along so that we could wrap everything up, smile, high five each other with a “job done” holla, and go home. But operations have gone into reverse, equipment is returning from the seabed back to the rig, and we’ve got to start it all over again. It’ll take at least a week to properly being again.

I could bore you with rig operation chat, but it’s all just a bunch of acronyms, pieces of yellow-painted metal, gaskets, valves and all of the aforementioned failing in creative ways. For most of the time, The Mountie and I are just innocent bystanders anyway. We’re set up and ready to go, and have been for some weeks, but even when the starting pistol finally went it turned out to be a false start. And so we mooch around in accommodation, stare blankly at walls, and malign the fact that we are grown men sleeping with dead dogs.

The Mountie has hope, however, even if he doesn’t feel too hopeful. His holidays are approaching and he gets swapped out next week. My own hopes have been gathered together, crushed into a small box the size of a little acorn, and put aside in the back of brain for use at a future date. There are murmurs that I may be swapped in a period of time larger than a week, but I know that if this happens then I’ll be punched hard in the face and sent packing to America, for another job. It’s a more appealing prospect, I’ll admit, than continuing in the Groundhog Day that offshore Nigeria seems to have entered, but it’s not quite the same as arriving back at my sun-kissed cottage in the countryside to be met by my beaming wife and my two lovely children – Rufus aged 4 and Mooshella aged just 2 1/2 , and my haven’t they grown? – rushing up to and embracing me, or whatever it is that normal life is (I forget the precise details now).

But let’s not upset ourselves with vague visions of the future, and concentrate on the plus points of the here and now. Such as my nightly helideck walks, on a helideck that rates very high on my comprehensive helideck index. Or the cakes, which have occasionally been quite nice – the Danishes were spectacular (though they’ve been absent for some
time now...). Or the excitement of getting back laundry and wondering what else has gone missing – I’ve only two pairs of socks now, and The Mountie lost 80% of his wardrobe but went on the warpath and got it all back (except the socks). Or the stairway banisters, which have just the right amount of friction to them. I think that’s all.

Yes, that’s all.

Monday, 16 August 2010

My Two Lives

I have two lives and two careers right now: my life offshore in the
oil business, and my intense career as a football manager of a lower
league English club. It testifies to the state my head is in right now
that I’m not sure which one is real and which one isn’t.

I strongly suspect that the oil career may be a figment of my
imagination. According to that, I’m still in Nigeria but haven’t done
anything at all in weeks, which oddly seems to be the case every time
I go to Nigeria. A couple of weeks ago there was the fatality
offshore, resulting from the sudden and catastrophic failure of the
crane. Myself and The Mountie were downmanned and sent back to the
Novotel in Port Harcourt, where we spent a week drinking gin, playing
a Nigerian card game involving Swiss flags, Star of Davids and latent
psychic abilities, and lamenting our Groundhog Day existence that
seems to have been going on since March. I’ve worked out that so far
this year I’ve been away 150 days, which is 67% of the year, but about
110 of these days have been in Nigeria, overwhelmingly hanging around
in the bland Novotel. It occurs to me, at the back of my mind, that I
once lived in Edinburgh, and had friends and family, but that’s dimmed
to a mere dream within a dream.

Fortunately, unlike the darkness of the Novotel in late May, myself
and the Mountie kept ourselves psychologically healthy with the
aforementioned gin and card games, but the Novotel wasn’t to last
long, as last week we returned offshore. We had great hopes that this
would herald the recommencement of operations, which for us are only a
few days worth of work before we’re finished and can go home. But this
was a somewhat foolish hope, as a week has gone by now with absolutely
nothing whatsoever happening.

A couple of years ago, on this same rig, a different crane failed
suddenly, dropping a gigantic piece of equipment on a guy, killing him
instantly. With that and the more recent crane accident, people have
become understandably jittery, so for the last two weeks very
extensive ongoing checks and tests have been undergone on the
remaining three cranes. These are very, very nearly complete and very
soon – so we believe – a decision will be made as to whether we can
carry on.

In the meantime, myself and The Mountie have only had the most minimal
amount of work to do, and otherwise have had a lot of time to kill.
Table tennis has killed a small amount, as has eating Danish pastries.
But there’s still a lot more time in a day.

The last couple of days have seen helideck pacing kill an hour, after
most of the week was rendered non-viable by weather and “random”
incidents. The most concerning of these was a few days ago, at about
9pm, when I’d ventured up onto the quiet helideck on a peaceful, calm
evening. After doing only a few circuits, I was greatly alarmed when a
fire hose – fixed in position and aimed at the centre of the helideck
in the event of a helicopter fire – suddenly spluttered into life and
became spraying foam and water. A few paces more and it would have
sprayed over me. As this was spluttering, the hose at the far end
exploded into life with much more force, ejaculating a forceful blast
of foam across the entire helideck, and only my far distance from it
prevented me getting soaked or even knocked off my feet. The far one
soon stopped, but the close one continued, sluggishly. I left the
scene and returned half an hour later with the hoses again dormant,
but couldn’t get into a rhythm as I was in too much fear the hoses
could go off again at any moment.

They’ve behaved since then, but the helideck only kills at most two
hours a day. Meals maybe another hour. Washing, coffee, meetings, and
checking very slow internet another hour or so. But there’s still a
lot of time in the day. So what do I do?

I have become a Football Manager. My greatest addiction has returned.

As a young lad, many years of my life were lost to a game called
Championship Manager, in which I could take the helm of a football
club and take it to glory or ignominious failure. It was a game that
could suck a day, then a week, and suddenly a year from a life without
you even noticing. All engrossing, I lived many lives as the manager
of teams such as Manchester Utd (I deliberately got them relegated by
playing Ryan Giggs in goals and fining him every week), Italian
minnows Casale, Wycombe Wanderers, AC Milan, Portugal, Ivory Coast and
tiny Kettering. But recognising that I was growing up without social
skills and with the knowledge only of obscure winning tactics in a
fictional universe, I kicked the habit. It was tough, but I kicked it.
And for years I’ve been clean, with a mere tiny relapse a few years
ago when bored in the North Sea.

It struck again. It only took The Mountie to say, “You want a go of
this?” and offer me Football Manager 09/10 (the modern incarnation of
Championship Manager) and suddenly my life has been sucked from this
world and replanted me in another.

In this new – real, it seems – world I am inhabiting, my name is R.
Russell de Russell (I’ll let you guess what the R stands for), born in
1964 from Belgium, and I am the manager of the Blue Square South side
Thurrock, average attendance 200. The year however is now 2017 (with
Cameroon and then – oh no – England winning the World Cups) and after
five years coming 15th every season, I managed to get promoted to the
Blue Square Premier – which, for unfamiliar readers, is just four
leagues below the top division. I have achieved the heights, such as
being voted Blue Square South Manager of the Year and signing 38 year
old Jimmy Bullard, but also seen lows, such as my debt-ridden club
almost being bought by a consortium who threatened to replace me.

It’s tough, being the manager of a poor, barely supported football
team with a yellow home strip and light blue and purple away strip,
trying to motivate a bunch of players being paid about £100 a week,
but I’m thriving on it. Many lower division Belgian clubs have tried
to prize me away from Thurrock but I have remained resolute and stuck
with my little team, who now command crowds of up to 900.

Of course, being a full-time manager is a demanding and full-time job,
and so I am utterly immersed in it, with no time for outside thoughts,
such a friends, family, sleeping or working on an oil rig. Thus I am
dedicated to my profession and my football management lifestyle,
blocking out the distracting world around me as I stare at a laptop
screen that has become my real world. My career has become my life and
everything I am.

Thus, I now have two lives. My real life and my imaginary life. And as
the scenario of sitting in a room on a giant boat in the Atlantic
Ocean south of Nigeria and getting paid to do nothing there is clearly
a nonsense one, I can only conclude that my football management career
is my real life, and lose myself forever in this most immersing of

Wednesday, 4 August 2010

Fatality Offshore

It's been a pretty dark time over the last few days. Myself and The Mountie went offshore with the full expectation that we'd be done in no time, as for once matters were fair cracking on and moving speedily. But things went wrong.

There was a fatality, plus two serious injuries, on board during a crane accident. A crane was load-testing, which basically involves dunking a large bag in the water, and the calculated extra weight tests the crane. Except this time it failed catastrophically. The crane basically snapped and threw three men in the water. Two were saved and flown to Johannesberg for treatment, the other wasn't found.

For myself and The Mountie, it started literally with a jolt. We were in our cabin, on our laptops, when we felt the drillship jerk slightly. I dismissed it rather casually as a large wave, The Mountie thought something large might have been dropped. A few minutes later the rig alarm went off, saying "Man Overboard" and informing us all to muster. This very simply involves going to the lifeboat and standing next to it. A straightforward operation, but the most chaotic muster I've ever been part of, as it took over 45 minutes to get even a remotely accurate headcount. It was only after this period, and after some increasingly plaintive PAs requesting the guy phoned the bridge, that it transpired that there was a man missing. It was thought only two men had gone overboard. In fact, there had been three. Despite boat and helicopter search-and-rescue operations, he hasn't been found, and I presume was dead within minutes of hitting the water.

As far as my own safety went, I was never in any danger, and the work I do offshore doesn't really expose me to too much. Nonetheless, it's very sobering to be on a rig when there's such an accident. I saw the guy who died at the morning meeting, and by the afternoon he was dead. I'm sure he just expected it to be a routine day, just as I had, and just as we all do most days.

The upshot of it all is that operations have been suspended. The crane is hanging off the side of the rig and needs to be recovered before they can recommence. There has to be a full investigation into the entire incident. Also, separate to all this, another piece of equipment needs repaired that could take some time. This means that after a few days offshore, myself and The Mountie are back in the Novotel, waiting indefinitely for things to restart. We are occupying our time with football, Football Manager, gin and chess, cards, anticipation of the "day's special", and occasional dips in the pool. But no table tennis - the table is still broken, and bats missing.

I've deliberately kept all names of the rig, rig operator and oil company out of this blog, as I don't want people accidentally stumbling upon it. Everything I've said here is unofficial, as there were no rig meetings about it, and therefore only rig rumour to go by, but I think it was mostly reliable. From the internet I've found the following:

and also (copy and pasted):

Hay lads

the rig i am on in Nigeria the xxxx xxxx today just had a major disaster i was watching as it happened, they were load testing the port aft crane when the fu..... crane boom snapped!!!!!!! also ripping the crane cab to bits throwing the crane op and the ET around a 100ft to the sea below seen the poor buggers falling they were lucky it wasnt the deck cause it was close............also the lad who was supervising the load testing is missing i.e dead, the ET is in a serious state the crane op is hurt but looks like he will make it. IT TOOK xxxxxxxxxxxx 15 MIN TO LAUNCH THE FRC BOAT THE SMALL CRANE/HOIST WAS SPEWING OIL AND WOULDNT LOWER!!!!!!WTF!!!! AND OVER AN HOUR TO GET A FULL MUSTER....................... be safe lads cause disaster is never far away offshore specialy down here