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.

Springing… Bloom

Bang on time for the start of spring, the trees behind my house have sprouted flowers; a welcome change from the bare, gaunt visage which has greeted my eyes over the last few months. In its place is a splash of colour – bright pink – which is always welcome in our neck of the woods, known more for the ubiquity of grey granite and grey weather than anything else.

New lights at work also speak to this season of change, the new brightness being so disconcerting that for the first few seconds I thought I had come off on the wrong floor. Speaking to the Facilities folks suggests these may be SAD lights, a bit late in the day given the changing of the season, but welcome nonetheless. It feels like this will take a while to get used to, fingers crossed.

Times, seasons, the fleeting nature of life and the speed with which the year has sped by so far are all things which stumbling on trees in bloom force me to reflect on; particularly because in a few days time I will have spent six years working in the same building.

Settled, or in a rut? The jury is still out on that I suspect.

 

22. (Not) Crying Wolf

Source

There is a lot I enjoy about my work, not least being a purveyor of the somewhat esoteric knowledge of materials and how they perform in a variety of service environments.

Most of the time I am advising, providing insights into what types of degradation can occur, how likely it is to progress and what actions we should be taking to assure ourselves of the future integrity of the kit we look after.

Once in a while bad news strikes, a failure or an inspection finding that requires significant (and often expensive) action surfaces. My job in those circumstances then morphs into one in which I become the bearer of bad news.

I suppose it is the same way — in a manner of speaking — that a doctor who has to break the news of the diagnosis of a terminal illness feels; the need to get a job done been tempered by the tension between providing clarity around the seriousness of a situation and softening the blow. Different consequences of course….

On My Return To the Middle of Nowhere

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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.

About Town: Weird gifts, names and Children on Trains

 

mirror_mirror

Sometime ago, not without some misgivings I must add, I moved desks at work, all part of the new re-stacking policy designed around optimising our use of space. Following the move, I went from a desk which looked on into the central corridor with my computer facing away from the door to one where my view was the bus station across the road. The view was decidedly an upgrade, what came with it though was a sense of being blinded to people milling about behind me and coming in to meet me, particularly on the occasions when I have my head phones plugged in to maximise my concentration.

Enter the weirdest – but most useful gift  – I’ve ever been given; a mirror which stuck to the top of my monitor resolves the blind spot around the things behind me. Given to me by the previous occupant of my desk, it now means I have the best of both worlds, a decent view and a significantly lower risk of being blindsided by people door stepping me from behind. Bliss.

***

S and I share an inside joke from time to time, centred around ageing – gracefully or otherwise,  depending on which of us the joke is on. Things like falling asleep in the middle of a conversation, emoji related faux pas, or particularly weird and wonderful auto correct generated communication mishaps bring the joke up; mostly at my expense given my penchant for WhatsApp typos. The latest instalment of this long running joke was precipitated by a typo in a long string of text I sent, Dear somehow becoming Deer. To her credit she waited all day till the evening to point it out, the conversation which ensued  taking a different tenor, one which went down the lines of pondering the etymology of names lovebirds call themselves rather than focusing on my latest foible.

It is an interesting subject, I think, given what the range of the literal meanings  to the ones I pick up from conversations around friends and their significant others can be: defenceless objects which need protection (baby, doll?), unhealthy sweet things (honey, sugar, candy?) and objects of worth (gold, diamond, precious).

In the end, I dig myself out of that hole by referring S to the Songs of Solomon; that provides validation of deer, and the parts thereof as a metaphor for love. 🙂

***

They board at West Silvertown, they being a little girl and someone I assume must be her older brother. She is dressed in what looks like her school uniform, and has a bright pink backpack with some child super hero of some description on it. He on the other hand has huge beats headphones on, and an iPhone in his hand, clearly listening to something. Once aboard and settled in – it is standing room only – she tries to peer into whatever it is on his phone, an act he prevents by moving his phone outside her reach. That attempt at playful, sibling bonding on her part, and an insistent aloofness on his part is a pattern that repeats itself as we chug along towards Ilford where we all disembark. My tired, cynical mind – work, a flight up from the ‘Deen to London City and then this train ride have taken their toll – goes to work analysing the situation, the conclusion being that he has been tasked with getting his little sister home, a task he considers an intrusion on his own plans and space. Not quite content with that, she being the energetic, doting little sister wants his attention but his phone and whoever is on the other end are more important in the moment.

With time, I suspect that he will learn that family trumps the heady heights of young love, and that in ten, fifteen or twenty years time she will still be kicking about in his life, the person on the other end, most likely not.

Nine Fridays of Summer: All Good Things Come To An End

 

ninefridaysofsummer_wrap

It feels like only like yesterday when the prospect of free Fridays had me all excited, wondering what I would do with myself. Somehow, nine Fridays have come and gone since then, with proper 5 day work weeks left to look forward to till the offices shut for Christmas in late December. These Summer Fridays were especially important to me being the very first ones I was entitled to, even though I had worked in the same team for almost five years.

If I had to reflect on the high points of these Fridays, places and people would very quickly rise to the fore – Vienna for how long in the making it was, the London trips for the potential opportunities they have thrown up and  the movies I managed to throw in.

It’s a wrap for this year; here’s hoping the oil price recovers and we’re still making a big fuss about rust this time next year.

– – –
Currently listening to All Good Things Come To An End – Nelly Furtado

 

Nine Fridays of Summer: Of Heat Waves, Vienna and A Perfect Month of Sorts

02_Travel

In what can only be incontrovertible evidence of Sod’s law, the air-conditioning at work chooses the worst week possible to break down in; a week of unseasonably warm August weather. Loads of meetings to attend, lunch time walks and endless cups of water help ensure that I don’t end up too listless; not that broken air-conditioning ranks high on the list of life threatening things humans have to deal with, or should be an excuse for reduced productivity.

Thankfully, that First World ordeal is mitigated by the fact that it is a 3.5 day work week for me; a half day tacked on to this week’s summer Friday meaning that by lunch time Thursday I am putting finishing touches to all the things I have been chased on during the week in preparation for heading out into the sunshine. What follows shortly is a brisk walk back home to grab my bag and then a quick dash to the airport for my flight to London. Not until I am settled into my seat, flying away to London, does the tiredness hit me, the low similar to what I imagine users of psychoactive substances must feel after the effects wear out.

London, I find, is not much better- heat wise at least; the hour and thirty minutes I spend to get to my hotel on the DLR and then the Underground the perfect illustration of all that is bad about heat waves – people in varying stages of undress, a heightened sense of smell and the feeling of being tightly packed.  When I think my ordeal has ended, I find I have somehow mixed Hounslow Central up with Heathrow Central, which adds another forty five minutes to my commute from airport to hotel. The front desk manager at the hotel does a magnificent job of defusing my frustrations, her wry smile when she announces I have not being the first to make that same mistake on the day notwithstanding. Food, sleep and a quick phone call are all I manage before sleep sucks me in.

The next morning passes in a blur, the highlights being making the airport shuttle bus with seconds to spare, whizzing through security and ending up on the flight to Vienna with only a few minutes to spare, very much by the skin of my teeth.

***

01_Run

This has been as close to a perfect month as I have had all year. Thanks to continued pressure focused attention from the friends who keep me accountable, I managed to run three times each week this month, pushing the envelope each Sunday until by the last Sunday I was up to 5 km. Besides now being able to (barely) fit into my size 34 jeans which I was on the verge of giving away, the beautiful sunrises I catch each morning that I run make it all worthwhile.

The  intent is to keep these  runs going, slowly making up the distances until I am at 5 km for each run. 10 km three times a week has been mooted by said friends as a target for year end, I think that is more a next not-quite-a-milestone-birthday target though. Fingers crossed. The most important thing is to keep walking running I guess.

In books and reading, I finally managed to finish Gretchen Rubin’s Better Than Before as well as starting off on Faithfully Feminist, an anthology of essays on being feminist whilst maintaining spiritual practice within the context of the Abrahamic faiths – Judaism, Christianity and Islam. I am only four essays in, but I suspect there will be a lot to both agree with and disagree with for me. The upside I guess is that I am reading, again.

***

00_Vienna

As I write this, I am looking out from my hotel window onto the sun bathed train station across the road and an old church a name for which a search on google and google maps failed to turn up. In a round about way, this is the culmination of four years of pondering; Vienna as a destination first being mentioned to me by an Opera-loving, Birmingham-bred English man who I happened to share office space with offshore for two weeks in 2012.

It is still too early to form any strong opinions but I am already beginning to get a vague understanding for why Vienna is considered one of the more liveable cities out there. The rest of today is to rest and fine-tune my plans for the weekend.

After today, there is only one more Summer Friday left. Oh bummer!

– – –
Currently listening to the Gil Joe single – Mayo