Weight

For The Sunday Muse prompt #120,  and B who in (wo)manfully wrestling pain to a standstill reminds us to hope again…

**
Remember, in
the failing light
of falling night,
when the weight
of the world feels
like a thing around
your neck, that
we see you, proud
against the night-
feet planted firmly
in the mushy earth,
unflinching
in the maelstrom.
Like the North Star
sometimes hidden,
sometimes peering out
from behind the clouds,
a beacon showing home
we see you and believe
again.

One

For The Sunday Muse Prompt #119, Artistic Photography Dreamlike Portrait Photography by Damien Casals:

**
You and I
are becoming one,
our unspoken words
a voice, mellow
in its timbre,
its echo light
like a soft hand
yet firm, kneading out
the noise from
the silence that we share.
In that silence
of being and being present,
of returning and reforming,
of holding out against
the pressure of the world,
are broken things
becoming whole again,
each breath a small victory
won by persistence,
a fresh shoot
pushing its way
through the things
that rage has razed.

Breathe

For The Sunday Muse prompt #117:

**
Breathe,
in spite of beauty,
in spite of the frailty
of the blue orb floating free
beneath your feet,
stunning you.

Breathe,
because of beauty
because the earth hugs you
like a mother tethers
her unborn child
fragile in its parts
guiding, calling, growing
feeding.

Breathe,
because home centres you
because wherever you are
times and seasons are locked
in an eternal dance

Breathe,
because.

2020 Reading: #1 – The Practice of The Presence of God

The Practice of The Presence of God (In Modern English) by Brother Lawrence (Author) and Marshall Davis (Translator)

**

A classic which dates back to the late 1600s, this is a book that regularly makes it on to lists of great devotional books. This (newish) translation is by Marshall Davis, who has form for this sort of reimagining. Between this year being my year of delving deeper and plenty of time thanks to COVID-19, I finally got round to reading this!  to read has ended up on my pile for years. The central characters are a French lay brother, born Nicholas Herman but better known as Brother Lawrence, and Father Joseph de Beaufort, the vicar general to the Archbishop of Paris. A perhaps unlikely friendship given their different stations in life, we have it to thank for the letters and conversations recorded here.

A key theme is developing a practice for the presence of God in one’s life, through the mundane and the spiritual, particularly apt given Brother Lawrence served in the kitchen of the Order of Discalced Carmelites. The difficulties of going from normal life to a state of authentic union are not shirked. Rather, several times in the book Brother Lawrence refers to the need for ‘faithfulness in the dry seasons of the spiritual life’, ‘make[ing] a special effort’ and using the will to constrain wandering thoughts.

The path described here is not merely hard, disciplined work though, a love for God, instigated by Him, must be the reason why we go through the process and practice so that ‘after a little care we should find His love inwardly excite us to it without any difficulty’. Elsewhere, ‘All kinds of spiritual disciplines, if they are void of God cannot remove a single sin from our lives.’

My favourite quote:

The spiritual life is neither an art nor a science. To arrive at union with God all one needs is a heart resolutely determined to apply itself to nothing but Him, do nothing but for His sake, and to love Him only

Certainly one to come back to again and again.
Rating 5/5

The Diary: Jacqueville By The Sea

This has been sitting in my drafts for several months, so I thought I’d try to finish it off and post it here as a means to making use of the time I have on my hands.

**

If there is a silver lining to being a terrible sleeper it is that I usually manage to wake up in time for things, typically before my alarm rings. The blips on that record are increasingly regular –  and spectacular – like this past weekend when I slept through multiple alarms. When I finally woke up (having failed to do so to the alarm on my phone and on my watch), it was ten minutes before my taxi was due, cue half-brained rushing about to splash some water on my face, brush my teeth and grab my travel bags. By the time that was done, there were already two missed calls from the taxi driver and the company on my phone. There was, I thought, a hint of irritation on the driver’s face when I finally emerged. All of that disappeared once we were on the way, and speeding, to the airport.  The usual chit-chat revealed he had passed through the corner of West Africa I was headed for many years ago, and that he was Latvian, not that anyone could have guessed from his near-perfect Aberdonian accent. Scrambling for change at the airport, he waived the additional £1.20, helped me with getting my bags out of the car trunk and then promptly disappeared for the next gig. Bag drop and security took ten minutes at that time of the morning, by which time I was barely lucid and grateful for the cup of black coffee I poured myself once I was into the lounge. I was the first of my work party to arrive, which gave me some time to settle in and breathe a little, before the incessant chit-chat and mindless prattle began. It was a good thing I managed to catch my breath because the chit-chat, when it began, focused on the prospect of my leaving for greener pastures – being a traitor to the cause was the good-natured accusation thrown about. In those days before the oil price tanked, there were stirrings of growth and opportunities and I was only the latest in a long line of folk who had either left or were in the process of leaving. To cut costs, we had somehow engineered a tight connection at Charles de Gaulle, our turn around time being a grand total of ninety minutes plane to plane which left us hands full, running almost full pelt through the airport. We made it with some time to spare in the end and were delayed by a further hour for reasons unknown to us, all of which left me internally cursing the necessity of the awfully early start. We found out in the end that the delay was due to a deportation order being served on someone, cue police and immigration and all the malarkey that comes with those.

The flight itself was unremarkable, except perhaps for the opportunity it provided to catch up on some sleep and a small moment of which I am ashamed in which I relocated a very pregnant woman’s bags to ensure I’d have access to mine during the flight. Not my finest hour I’ll admit, though I’d point to my being less than mentally optimal from the loss of sleep. There was food, some movie of some description to pass the time and then podcasts to drown out the noise around. The Bamako pitstop was just that, though it added an extra hour to our travel, meaning we arrived at Abidjan just after 5.30pm local time. Customs was a breeze, the one advantage of arriving on a flight that disgorged the majority of its passengers in Bamako, which meant in just under an hour we were through customs bags in hand searching the gathered crowds for our assigned driver. H and I were at our hotel by 7pm and having dinner by 7.30pm, before turning in for our early morning helicopter flight offshore. That set the tone for the week: early starts, late nights and plenty of helicopter flights, meetings, getting frogged on and off remote platforms, and largely being visible. By the time Thursday came around, the days had begun to blur into each other, the situation not helped by terribly slow internet which was the result of issues with undersea cables off the West African coast.

These trips take me down memory lane, to a time and place in which I was the young, exuberant national engineer with expatriate advisors doling out dollops from their vats of wisdom. Back then, I felt like I was kicking against a glass ceiling and would never really hit the heights I wanted to. There is after all, a perverse incentive structure here; the expatriate is by definition highly paid – better remunerated than in his (and it typically is a he in these parts) own country, waited on hand and foot and holds a lot of power by virtue of his perceived expertise. His approval is thus something of great significance in the local power structure, and when given sparingly can drive behaviours of subservience in the local engineer. There is also the small matter of the expat boys club and the propensity to err on the side of supporting the hegemony in the event of a potential threat to that power. After all, every member of the club benefits, and the more the perceived requirements for their expert service persists, the more the local engineers are made to feel and look incompetent. Nationalisation schemes attempt to address the skills gap by demanding quotas for nationals in these companies – whether they work is a different matter altogether. The irony is not lost on me though, I too am out here because of a perceived superiority of expertise – I too have become part of the White-Saviour industrial complex, to borrow a construct from Teju Cole.  I can only hope that with time, at least some of the bright, young people I meet on these trips can hit the heights their exuberance and energy deserve, and opportunities to grow and learn come their way.

We spend the last day back on land, a day visit to Jacqueville being the objective. It is one of those little outposts big (or medium-sized oil in this case) manages to find, the small pump station on the edge of the town being the most important thing of economic significance in the area. The road there, usually impassable in the heights of the rainy season, has recently been graded and is thus somewhat passable. Graded or not, it is a bumpy ride, our convoy of 4×4’s leaving dust in our wake as we bounce along the final stretch of earth road. Palm trees line the earth road, tricycles dot the roads and in the distance, boats bob about on the sea as fishermen go about their daily business. At our final destination, we carry out an impromptu inspection of some work which is planned for completion in early March with several strong words exchanged at the state of preparedness (or not). Part of it is a manifestation of that industrial complex, and the resultant lack of agency of the national engineer in charge. Lurking beneath the surface for me is that it is my last time out here. Although, I have been involved in this place for all of three years. I’d like to think I’m leaving it in a better state than I met it. Even out here, in the middle of nowhere, plastic shrouds the roots of the trees.

Disappearing


For The Sunday Muse Prompt #116. Image “Seeing Black & White” photography by  Susie Clevenger

**
Yesterday’s ghouls
are slowly disappearing,
fading like the night light
once bright but now dappled,
wisps of grey carried away
in our slipstream,
lingering like the dust
a knight’s steed leaves
in the frenzy of flight.

But the promise is a mirage,
objects in a mirror
are closer than they appear
and though we run
as though the wind bears us,
yesterday’s shadow lurks
in the space between
the things we leave
and the things that
disappear

Where I Am

For the Poetic Asides prompt 530 Where You Are, Photo by Reiseuhu on Unsplash

**
Here the sun
hangs like a weight
its heat like a curtain,
dense, wrapped around itself
like thick clouds
keeping out the light.

Dust clouds swirl
around hardy rocks,
each peak a monument
to defiance, to aeons
of resistance,
to heads held high against
the ravages of earth,
sand and time.

For a season this,
this barren space
which survives
against the odds
is home, reluctant
as it may be

How To Taste Wine

For The Sunday Muse prompt #115:

**
Let the first sniff 
hit you, let the faint
hint of the juice pressed
and aged be like incense
wafting up, a prayer
to Dionysius for a blessing
on this rich red liquid,
chilled, swirled and sipped.

Let the low heat
linger, let its essence
slowly spread, warming
the insides of your mouth
let its heft spread
like a warm embrace
across your tongue.
Let it rise
Let it rise.

Hitting Reset: Some thoughts on adapting for a post-oil world

Photo by Jose Antonio Gallego Vázquez on Unsplash

**
When I reflected on life at the turn of the year, and wondered what the year would be for me, Delve Deeper came to mind. Behind that was the understanding, inspired in part by the Parable of the Wise and Foolish Builders, that everything worth its salt is tested, and only those which had roots sunk deep would survive. I was also on the cusp of quitting my job up north with the prospect of the move of a lifetime looming. Whatever your particular take on COVID-19 is — elaborate hoax, a pretext for instituting a new world order or a symptom of a broken world — what is incontrovertible is that in its wake has come a seismic change to the world and what we know of it. For all the preening, posturing and the facade of strength the world economies have presented, 2020 has shown it all up like an edifice built on shifting sands to use a biblical metaphor. The Emperor’s new clothes, for all we can see, are anything but a covering.

Within the wider context of the shutdown of the world’s systems, the latest iteration of oil’s boom and bust cycle hit close to home, the precipitous dive in the price of oil, particularly the Brent benchmark, from just under $70 to a low of $18 and change the latest trigger in the latest race to trim the fat by companies all along the oil supply and value chain. To be fair, COVID-19, the global shutdowns and the resulting supply glut were only the straw that broke the back of camel increasingly hassled by headwinds such as the continued rise of green energy and their activists, US shale and players (read Russia and Saudi Arabia) only too happy to throw their weight around in an attempt to eke out more market share. A perfect storm perhaps, but all told it is a sequence of events which leaves some (full disclosure like me) who are invested in the industry for their livelihood concerned about the future and what it portends.

With projects no longer economic at current pricing levels, job cuts at majors and their key suppliers are inevitable with BP looking to trim up 10,000 job globally and Saudi Aramco looking to do the same for about 8,000 jobs. Job losses in my old stomping ground in the North Sea were estimated to be in excess of 4,500 in June. Across the pond in America, the first bankruptcies have occurred with surely more to come, all symptoms of the highly leveraged low margin environment the oil patch, at least in the West, has become. Of course, one has to take the good with the bad, and roll with the punches, although it does significantly impact the prospects for attracting future talent into the industry. That, and improving the gender balance and the average age of those in the industry, have been stated objectives for the UK sector of the North Sea with various diversity and inclusion initiatives been fronted as recently as last week. There is also the slight worry that the boom periods between bust (and slash and burn) are getting shorter. Change is afoot in many ways than one.

Change they say is inevitable, it is those who are able to adapt who survive and thrive though, all of which has left me thinking long and hard about the future, and what it portends. The obvious response is to consider a career reinvention, one which untethers me from the tentacles of big oil. Three criteria come to mind in determining what sort of direction such a move might take: the development of domain agnostic skills (to ensure I don’t get stuck in a different version of the big-oil problem), a non-zero entry point( to ensure some or all of my current skills are transferable) and a high ceiling (to ensure there is scope for growth). My oil and gas niche, with some retooling, lends itself to some level of cross-domain application, being relevant across a number of high hazard industries where corrosion and asset integrity is a concern (nuclear, wind, buildings/ infrastructure and even automobiles) as do the quantitative and analytical skills which practising as an engineer have also developed. Risk analysis and management skills are also useful, as are project management and coordination skills.

I am betting on data, as it ticks all three of the criteria above with the added bonus of enabling remote/ flexible working practices and being applicable in my current role. It will take some retooling – for all my flirting with Python, there is a knowledge gap to be plugged there, as well as a time requirement to build the confidence and skills that deliberate practice brings. I may have missed planting this tree 20 years ago, the bigger mistake would be failing to plant it today.