I seem to have the knack for choosing the shittiest days to go offshore. Last November I end up stuck for an extra three days, thanks to Ambisagrus going berserk and my helicopter flight getting cancelled. Speaking to the heli-admin late on Monday as I confirm my booking, I have her take a quick look at the weather forecast; she confirms there are no extraordinary weather events forecast for the rest of the week. Satisfied, I confirm my check-in time and head out to pack my bags and plan.
When I wake up the next morning, it is to gale force winds and rain. Steaming cup of coffee in hand, looking out from my kitchen window, the streets – and Pittodrie in the distance – are a distant haze, shrouded in a fine mist with leaves and twigs tossed and blown around like meat in a giant cooking pot over wood. By the time I get dressed and jump into the cab I have called, it is a little quieter but the aftermath of the storm we have been battered by remains – bin bags floating around King’s and boughs ripped off trees onto the road the least of my worries.
It might be the weather, but the cab driver has the heater on full blast and has the radio tuned to the weather report. He is atypically taciturn; the one thing he does say to me as we hit the long tail backs on the final turn to the airport is ‘You’re nae going anywhere today pal’. Given the weather conditions – I secretly hope he is right. What he doesn’t know then- and what I get to find out eventually – is that by some quirk of nature, the weather’s a whole lot better up in the Shetlands and any doubts about the trip are quickly dispelled when I am called up to check in and screened.
It turns out that the flight up north is actually the smoothest I remember – so much for my having second thoughts about the trip. Safely landed on the platform, glasses off whilst trying to divest myself of my immersion suit, someone taps my shoulder. In the hazy, barely there, seeing men as trees world that is mine without my glasses, I make out the silhouette of the platform’s head honcho. He is a bloke I have previous history with – we once argued opposing ends of a decision a few months into my current role, and our relationship has been frosty at best (at least to me). Sensing my discomfiture, he stretches out his hand for a firm handshake and proceeds to welcome me on to his turf.
– You’ll stop by the office for a wee chat when you’re settled in, aye?
He says it in the manner of a half question, half statement – implied request laced with more than a hint of a threat that my interests might best be served by having the chat. I nod my acceptance, as he moves off, before he tosses over his shoulder almost like an afterthought.
-The galley’s staying open longer, you’d better hurry and grab lunch.
We had arrived around 1.30pm, a full hour after lunch had been served. A skeletal lunch had been laid out, but given the state the motley crew of the new arrivals were in, it was very likely that the food would be gone in next to a flash. By the time I run through the safety video and all, my worst fears are confirmed, the dregs of the food left do not appeal to me and I end up being extra thankful for the bacon roll I grabbed whilst waiting for the second leg of my flight earlier in the day. It is not till 3.30 pm before I get to see the head honcho again. It is the very much more relaxed setting of the coffee table. As per custom, the guys lay out a modest spread of roll and biscuits to go with our tea and coffee during the regular breaks. I find myself seated right next to him to the right. We make small talk, my primary contact is on hand to ease us into conversation, and we hit it off much better than I ever recall. He has a few concerns over the small project I’ve taken a decision to defer to next year and he minces no words in telling me so. Thankfully, I have my ‘we’re all in it together‘ speech at the ready – about how I am as much an underling in the overall scheme of things as he is and merely executing orders. Whether he buys it or not is unclear, but all told we have a much more amiable conversation than we have had in a while.
At dinner, I share a table with a couple of the lads – one is ex Royal Marines, the other is an ex (Music) school teacher who took his chance at reinvention a mere fifteen years ago. Several NDT tickets down the line, he’s now one of the lead techs, earning way more than he would have as a teacher. On the odd occasion he still thinks back wistfully at what might have been had he remained a school teacher, usually when the subject of wives and their shopping sprees comes up, which is often a lot on these trips. The ex Royal Marine, Dusty Dan, named for the extra layer of grime his coveralls tend to pick up regales us between sips of tomato soup and bites of bread of his ordeal at the hands of the wife at an Ikea shop. Dragged out early one Saturday morning ostensibly to shop for furniture for an upcoming baby, he ends up being dragged to each and every corner of the Ikea, criss-crossing every square inch multiple times as his wife meanders her way through the items on display. Three hours later, still no closer to any major purchases and almost dead on his feet, he is allowed the one bit of respite he has grown to look forward to on these interminable trips – 10 meat balls and mash at the Ikea restaurant.
Oh the bliss of married life!