Sunday, 22 May 2011

Pie On A Mountain

As already mentioned, it's my final job.

I've been in Ghana since March 31st, a total of 52 days now - that's longer than some people have been alive. Two people specifically: a baby called Ella and a baby called Isaac. Ella - named, perhaps, after Ella Fitzgerald - is a mere three days old (meaning I have been in Ghana over 17 times longer than she has existed) is the daughter of my brother and his wife, thus making her my niece; Isaac - named, perhaps, after Isaac Asimov - is now thirty days old (meaning I have been in Ghana a mere 1.7 times his existence) is the son of my cousin and her husband, thus making him my... second-nephew? Cousinson? Sub-nephew? I bet the Koreans have a proper word for this.

So it's been more than a lifetime here in Ghana, and it's not over yet. The last five weeks have been spent offshore, aboard a 10-year-old drillship that already acts like an unsteady pensioner. Really, I've never been on a rig or drillship that seems so uncertain in the water. Aboard a floating vessel a bit of movement is to be expected, even on one of oil rig proportions, but on here the rocking motion is taken to distracting levels. Crane lifts are the most disturbing - 10,000kg objects turn into giant wrecking balls as the crane desperately fights to control the movement, sending personnel sometimes literally diving for cover as they flail around, slamming into anything in its path. Even without a load the crane is hazardous; standing, supposedly safely, in a bay yesterday, the large lifting hook swung quite violently into the bay and would have smashed my head way beyond concussion had I been standing a few steps differently.

Likely, I have another week or two here, before I go home, finally and once-and-for-all. Job over and, well, the whole actual job over. No more oil rigs, nightshifts, helicopter rides, helideck strolling, or misanthropic 50-year-olds who view all women as prostitutes but whom I have to appear friendly towards because they are the client and pay our wages. Five years of this alternative world will be over. For better and for worse, in many sincere and different ways.

In many ways I'll be very sad to go: this job has been quite, quite different from a 9-5 office job (I presume - I've never held a 9-5 office job, but have seen them depicted on TV). I've been to a total of fifteen countries, excluding the North Sea, with them, and although perhaps not all holidays destinations, even the more challenging were interesting experiences. I would be in no hurry to go back to Nigeria or, especially, the grim Angola, but places like Mauritania and Ghana have had an unexpected charm. And then, of course, some of the places I've been to were like holiday destinations. I stayed at a beach resort hotel for a week in Malaysia before the job was cancelled. Brazil may have seen ups and downs, but I got weeks on the beach there, most notably sight-seeing in Rio de Janeiro and visiting the holiday town of Buzios. Trinidad saw days of sitting by the outside pool, drinking gin. On my first ever job, in Egypt, I stayed in a two-storey multi-roomed apartment hotel, alone, and watched the sun set over the pyramids. Baku, in Azerbaijan, was an onshore bombardment of pub crawl alcoholism.

Then there's the work. Despite all the above, not all my working day is filled with leisure activities or damaging my long-term health. The work might sometimes have been relentless, or stressful, or filled with bawling Americans or bitter Scots, or seen me soaked in brine during a North Sea winter or just soaked in sweat during another of Africa's everlasting summers, but above all that it has been interesting work. Not the sort of work that makes for entertaining reading for anyone outside my precise profession - unless you want me to regale tales of splicing cable on the rig floor, forcing APDM to get beyond the seabed, or that time I welded an AH-38 to an MDL to achieve wireline SRO - no, not always for its specialist anecdotal qualities, but because once inside this alternative world of tool assembly and data acquisition, all improbably set kilometres underground, there was something deeply satisfying when it all came together, when data appeared onscreen like magic, and I could sit back with a coffee and tweak data messages and make nice charts. Like a mountain, it was a challenge, and while not always "fun" at the exact time, there was a satisfaction at the summit, not just of the clear view but of the struggle that had gone into getting there.

Rig life too was not always so bad, and could even be quite refreshing, like a retreat away from normal life. A good rig with a gym, a decent helideck, good internet and TV, and perhaps even "bippy-bap", i.e. table tennis, could be quite enjoyable on a quiet job, for a couple of weeks at least. No booze allowed, so there was a vague healthiness to the whole thing too.

Of course, my job wasn't always sunset strolls on the helideck or smooth data acquisition and smiling, helpful drillers sitting side-by-side with company men who became like brothers. Like all jobs, there was a dark side. Yes, I know you might be surprised - "the oil industry has a dark side?" - but even this noble profession has moments that aren't always butterfluff and candy.

The worst aspect, to get it out of the way, is the one I fully embraced when I first joined the company, and that is the absolutely uncertain schedule. Unlike many offshore personnel who work set rotations, I have always been on-call. It's a mixed deal, because in many aspects I rather like it. Rather than the feeling of being in a loop that I imagine a set rotation would bring, I always felt a sense of progression, of going on individual "missions", of having an uncertain future in which a phone call could come at any moment and the next day I could be in any country in the world. It was quite exciting, at first anyway. In the last couple of years I realised how much my life was affected by never being able to reliably plan anything. Sure, I might be home for months at a time (which was obviously very nice) but hardly ever during that time would I be able to plan a week or two ahead. Arranging to visit anyone not living nearby would have to be last minute - unless I booked one of my four weeks of holiday off to do so.

(I have cheekily visited both Germany and Ireland while technically available for work, but please don't tell anyone.)

Maintaining relationships, of any ilk, are pretty difficult when living at such a random schedule, and I suppose eventually this overtook the excitement the randomness would bring. Because it's the only real negative of the job in the end. I can handle the sweat, blood and tears, the angry middle-aged men, the long shifts, the cakeless rigs and the sometimes numbing stretches of boredom offshore, because when all bundled together and baked in to a gigantic omnifarious pie comprising the many ingredients of my job, it was a juicy pie worth eating, albeit with some gritty bits. But pour on the sauce of randomness, and taste is spoiled a little. Oh, I do like pie metaphors.

Of course, none of the above is the reason I am leaving, it is just the musings on a job I am poised to leave. Because short of being in a job that involved watching football at my leisure, assessing new brands of pie around the world, or getting girls drunk, my desire to travel matched up with my ability to travel means that I am ready to travel.

I'll miss the job, no doubt. Right now, sitting into my sixth week offshore Ghana, on what has been a job of very hard graft at times, I am only thinking of being onshore, in Edinburgh, with a pint of Theakston Old Peculiar in the Barony, enjoying it alongside a massive sense of relief, and looking forward to a summer free, a guaranteed summer of leisure, where I can make plans and not fear the phone. But once the pint is down me, and a few weeks or perhaps a bit longer pass by, and the novelty of being home without responsibilities has faded, I'll start to miss the job, or certain elements of it. Because there was a definite strong camaraderie with those I worked with, a general job satisfaction in a small company that was great to work for, and of course the money wasn't bad either.

Like eating that multifarious pie up a mountain, it might have been messy and tough work, the sauce might have soured and the ground underfoot slippy, and the pie may have been baked inconsistently making for the pastry being burnt a little much on one side, but after you've eaten a pie on a mountain, despite the wind and rain and cloud cover, how can pie in the suburbs ever compare? How good can a crushed biscuit or flat sandwich or flaky Cadbury's Flake ever taste on a mountaintop again? The answer is... probably not as good. Do you understand what I'm saying? Pie On A Mountain.

1 comment:

niceonecheersthanks said...

Good luck Nev look forward to reading your next adventures.