The Diary: Notes From The Northern Isles

 

37.Shetlands

What could have been. Image Source

It is in the middle of shovelling rice and chicken down my throat that just how similar to prison these cubby holes I pop into from time to time are. For one, there are a number of hoops to jump through to get here – in my case a 5.30am check-in followed by a fixed wing flight up to Scatsta in the Shetlands and then a further helicopter flight out to the platform – and the overwhelmingly maleness of everything, tattoos and all. There are also the shared rooms, the strict meal times and the restricted choices there tends to be for meals. The one statistic which goes against the prison narrative is perhaps the proportion of ethnic minorities in prison vis-a-vis the general population, but that is neither here nor there. And of course, we’re all out here by choice, getting paid a premium of sorts for the joy of being out here.

On this occasion I am on one of the bigger cubby holes – floated out in the late 70’s – with the claim to fame of being the world’s largest movable man-made object at the time. These days the Polarcus Armani  and Shell’s Floating LNG Plant the Prelude have stronger claims to that crown, a symbol perhaps of the changed fortunes of the UK sector of the North Sea vis-a-vis the rest of the world. To get here, this behemoth of the Northern North sea, we had to brave inclement weather at Scatsta, the clouds so thick and winds so strong that the pilots decided against going through with two landing attempts thirty minutes apart. In the end, we had to wing it to the southern end of the island to Sumburgh for a landing and then a bus back up to our original destination. The glimpses of the road that were visible through the windows in the pouring rain suggested that there would be some mileage in coming back here for leisure, but on this occasion the rough, rugged terrain – roads that wrapped themselves around hills and valleys and small streams fuelled by the torrential rains leaving their marks on the hills that lined our route – seemed more a trigger for memories of the past than anything else; St John’s, Newfoundland which I visited two years ago and the distant corner of Edo State to which I trace my heritage being the two main ones. One wonders where all that time went, not least the years since I last went home. My plan is to spend a total of three days out here – not since in my early years in February of 2014 have I had to spend more than a week at a time offshore – but for the regulars, a three week stint looms, which is why perhaps they seem less perturbed by the detour we have had to take.

The last few years have seen free wi-fi access hit these haunts, one more positive to everything. Back in the day, staying in touch with folk back home depended on finding access to a desk phone with the ability to dial out; access is a lot better out here than I recall from my offshore Nigeria days. Once offshore, I settle into the room I have been assigned, before heading out to the offices, to get stuck into the reasons why I am out here. A detailed chat with the platform manager to set the scene for why I’m out is followed by the first of what will be several meetings with the folk who I work with directly on a daily basis, and then a walk in the plant to eye-ball a number of areas which have piqued my interest.

With time I have come to realise that the routine is what keeps me sane – regular / restricted meal times, periodic review meetings, and the late night trip to the bund to stock up on sweets and bottled water have become things I look forward to on these trips, symbols of the passage of time, and with meetings, things checked off the to-do list.

There is joy and salvation in the mundane and routine after all, that much is not in doubt.

Weekly Photo Challenge – Evanescent

For the WordPress Weekly Photo Challenge Prompt, Evanescent:

A curious combination of events – somehow in my early thirties becoming an insomniac and flexible start times at work – is how I manage to get the entire floor at work to myself for an hour on week days.  Rather than stay awake in bed waiting for 8.00am, I figure it makes a lot more sense to use the morning hours up at work and free up my evenings.

Coming in early feeds a sense of quiet control and productivity; time to gather my thoughts and work to a plan of my own choosing. On most days by the time 8.00 am comes along, that feeling is as far removed from reality as can be,  a consequence of having one fire or the other to put out on assets that demand 100% uptime.

I am learning to treasure the quiet moments, fleeting as they may be. They afford me the chance to catch my breath and stay sane.

On My Return To the Middle of Nowhere

middleofnowhere

Back at the heliport for a trip offshore – the first time since March – it feels like a lifetime ago. The last time there was the pressure of my counterpart from the government regulator looking over my shoulder to deal with, this time the roles are reversed as I am the one asking questions of others. Waiting to be checked in, what strikes me is how empty the terminal looks. Spending one’s days in an office which was only recently re-stacked has somehow shielded me from the reality of just how much more reduced offshore activity has been over the last year.

We go through the usual things – waiting, getting checked in, watching the safety brief and then more waiting – a monotony broken only by the joy of people watching. This time only a few things catch my eye, chief of which is a bit of banter between a group of men and a woman who appear to all be going to the same rig as I am. In sitting amongst them, she almost misses her seat, spilling a bit of her coffee. This leads to her being asked if she is sober. Only later, as I overhear another conversation whilst we’re offshore does that bit of banter make sense; she does have a reputation for being a lively, paint the town red kind of person, one which the latest escapades she regales the group with only cements.

Before all that, there is the small matter of an hour and some of flying time, whilst kitted out in one of these, not exactly the most comfortable of feelings. I do manage to fall asleep during the flight, the rhythmic chugging of the helicopter and having woken up at just past 4.00am all contributing, in my defence. Besides the boiler suit, I get the added ignominy of having to wear a green arm band, this being my first time out to the particular rig since the back end of 2014.

The series of meetings I am offshore for go very well, there being enough time over the course of the three days I am out to catch up with folk I haven’t seen in awhile. These offshore trips can sometimes be an exercise in politicking dealing with people, the overwhelming objectives being to not come across as an onshore boffin who is ramming things down people’s throats without thinking of the impact of the added work. This fine line of balance is never more obvious than when the subject of ongoing pay cuts come up. Word around town is that most of the folk I deal with directly have had to stomach a 22% pay cut over the last eighteen months with a few of the perks being pulled, like the option of an extra bacon roll at morning tea time. Not exactly the stuff morale boosting conversations are made of but I do my best we’re all in this together impression, a truthful one this time because the only reason why I am making slightly more money than this time last year is I have chosen to accept a contribution in lieu of a city centre parking spot.

Running into people I have met on other rigs in the four years and some since I began these trips is a recurring theme on this one. On arrival, I find out that the installation manager is a control room lead operator from a different asset I used to support who has risen through the ranks  – by way of a job elsewhere. The inspection team also includes two people who I have worked with in the past.  As we exchange life jackets ahead of hopping on to the helicopter for the flight out on Thursday, I run into another two folk from a past life. This all leaves me wondering if there is a wider meaning to all of these – have I spent too much time around these parts or is this just an indicator that one has done a good enough job, and stayed long enough to survive the impact of one’s decisions? I suspect it is a little bit of both.

Nine Fridays of Summer: Coming Up For Air

friday_window

It feels much longer than 12 days since I was last in London, mixing it with the young, free and saved at the Hillsong Europe conference but I suppose life and adulting can do that to you, particularly when that sometimes indecipherable line between work and life is crossed. Shed loads of emails and the cumulative effect of multiple weekends away finally caught up with me both in my work and personal lives, leaving me wondering if it was all worth it after all. All told, the amount of time I have spent scouring YouTube for snippets of the songs I heard, and the satisfaction going over pictures from that weekend still brings, suggests that there is still some lingering benefit.

Added to all of that controlled chaos is perhaps the fact that this period – bookended by the 21st of July and the 15th of August – is a deeply emotive one; not least for all the mementos to loss, the search for a new normal and a looming not-quite milestone birthday embedded therein.

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I am slowly realising that managing controlled chaos is something I will have to deal with, given the phase of life that I am. For one, gradually becoming one of the older heads around at work has meant that there is more of a recognition of one’s knowledge from peers and younger colleagues. That means that one gets volunteered for non-routine tasks more often, ones which require a lot more thought and reflection on how solutions to increasingly complex problems can be found. That these non-routine tasks are often highly visible, of a time-sensitive nature and transcend multiple timezones multiplies the pressure they place one under.

The looming not-quite milestone birthday adds several layers of complexity to everything else too. The passage of time places certain expectations, desires and long held aspirational goals in context, eroding the comforts the illusion of time once provided. Each year, with the lengthening of one’s chronological age, the room for error – and the time left to achieve said objectives – becomes ostensibly shorter. That adds a pressure of its own to everything else.

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This state of living on the edge, juggling multiple balls and straining every sinew to stay ahead of the burgeoning task lists is one that does have its thrills. The joys of checking things off the to do list and coming to the end of the week having delivered tangible solutions does feed a sense of accomplishment and heightened purpose. How sustainable that state is over the long run is one question I am not sure I have the answer to, particularly given my natural predisposition is to take my time to try to unravel thorny, convoluted issues rather than bludgeon my way through them.  On a simplistic level, the solution is to find a balance between work and life that works, one that does not prioritise one over the other so much that it effectively starves one of focus.  Sadly, finding that balance isn’t something I have historically managed very well, the events of just over a year ago being a case in point.

For today, the pressing need to get a report out ahead of a deadline has dictated my actions, requiring me to spend pretty much all day in at work, Summer Friday or not. With that deadline just met, there is finally space to catch my breath and breathe a little, until the next big one comes due…

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Currently listening to: When the Fight Calls (from the Hillsong Young & Free Album, Youth Revival)

Nine Fridays of Summer

aberdeen summer

For the first time in a very long time,  I have four day work weeks to look forward to. The theory behind getting these nine Fridays off is that they have been earned by working an extra thirty minutes each work day. How productive those extra minutes have been remains to be seen, but I suspect their value to our employer lies more in promoting a sense of being cared for in us than anything more tangible. The first of these was spent down south, catching up with friends and reacquainting myself with Stratford and the Olympic park.

Being a creature of routine has its perks – one wakes up, does the needful and shows up at work to deal with whatever is thrown one’s way that day – but without the requirement to go into work, I suddenly have the hassle of trying to find stuff to do. The big rocks are in place already – a trip to London to catch Erwin McManus and Carl Lentz amongst others at the Hillsong Conference Europe is all planned up and good to go, as is an extended weekend in Vienna in August. It is what to do with the rest of these summer Fridays that is the problem. Of course summers in Scotland have a reputation for being wet and windy with dry, sunny spells the exception.

Doing a lot of traveling comes to mind as something to do, particularly given getting to know the West Coast of Scotland is something I’ve wanted to do for a while.  Besides the time spent in train stations and airport waiting areas this requires, it is also likely to require a significant outlay in cash. A lot needs to be worked out from a logistical perspective to make this happen but I suspect the dividends – pretty interesting pictures and pretend travelouges – might make this a compelling option.

Another option is to spend the time catching up on all that reading I’ve failed dismally at this year. In addition to the books I have on the go, Teju Cole has an eagerly anticipated collection of essays out in August which I am sure I would be keen to read. Laziness though is the greatest obstacle to this objective, one will have to see how this pans out.

I have toyed with the idea of spending my Fridays cranking out a podcast about nothing especially important. The working title for this – which is likely to only be a spoken version of the things I whine about on here – is A Bloke’s Life. Although I do have a penchant for waffling on things of interest only to me, I also happen to know a number of interesting gentlemen who – logistics permitting – I might be able to convince to come on such a show. Don’t hold your breaths on this one though. What is more likely is a return to the online radio station I’ve previously appeared on.

Movies appear to be the easiest, safest option, particularly as I still have a stash of discounted Cineworld tickets to hand, and the beach cinema is less than 10 minutes away from my house by foot. The significantly reduced movie time since May does  lend its support to this argument, not least because a rash of movies are due out in the next few weeks.

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Star Trek Beyond – which I managed to see after a couple of hours at work – was the first of these, after habit had drawn me into work for a couple of hours first. Simon Pegg’s performances in these Star Trek movies have always intrigued me – given his attempts at affecting a ‘Scottish’ accent, and his English heritage. To his credit, he manages to throw enough Scottish colloquialisms in to make his parody recognisable. My ears have however not evolved enough to be able to say definitively that he has it nailed down. I suppose the nod to Scotland on the big screen – spot on or not – has to be celebrated and accepted?

#100 – How Do You Make Jeans in Jesus Name?

From this Louie Giglio message which I find myself returning to over and over again.

… You make the best jeans that can possibly be made. You don’t do any half hearted jeans. You don’t do any we’re-Christians-and-we-do-a-lot-of-stuff-half-hearted-jeans.  You go make the most excellent jeans that you personally can muster, asking God to inspire this passion, inspire this vision, to awaken in you by the life of Jesus Christ amazing creativity. You work hard, you are diligent. If you are in fashion school you are in class; you’re paying attention, you’re absorbing. In your internship you’re humble not proud, you’re learning, not teaching, you’re absorbing everything you can. You’re serving in every way you can, taking every opportunity to get trained; to hone your skill, to develop your passion to get more experience so that you can do the very, very very best thing possible when you make your jeans.

#LifeGoals #WrapUp #100DaysOfBeing