For the first few days, all it is a mesh panel fence, one which cordons off the central area of Castlegate. Given my path to work takes me past it everyday, what it is or is not intrigues me to no end. By the time I am heading into work on Wednesday morning, its purpose becomes clear. It is a tent for staging Aberdeen’s version of Oktoberfest, the all out celebration of all things German beer related, which is back in the city between the 12th and the 16th. As I make my way back home just past 6.30 on Wednesday evening, I can just make out the silhouettes of people milling about inside it, music and the sounds of people having a good craik. For what it is worth, despite not being a beer person – my choice of beverage is a gin and tonic – the sneak preview tempts me a wee bit, but the need to keep a clear head for work the next day keeps me straight. I make a mental note to check again on Friday evening, if it still catches my fancy.
I suppose the timing is fortuitous; the Scottish Autumn school holidays mean that perhaps parents and grand parents can afford a longer lie in the next day rather than worry about getting kids prepped for school. Scores of people have clearly taken advantage of all that, judging by the distinct lack of cover at work due to holidays and Union Square being filled with folk milling about. The situation with bodies milling about only worsens on Thursday evening when O and I meet up for our monthly catch up – even he has three days off work. In a sense it falls us on us wife-less, kid-less folks to keep things ticking, until a sense of normalcy returns. O does have an interesting theory about the timing of the holidays – it is a relic from the days when Scotland predominantly farmed, and all hands were required to pull in the harvests, young child or not. How much truth there is in that I do not know enough to tell, make of that what you will.
Of all the known and unknown things, none is perhaps more certain than that Summer 2016 is well and truly gone. As a consequence of my fairly steady morning routine, I cross Palmerston Road on the way to work at about the same time as a gaggle of people, disgorged by the trains bringing them into work. What has intrigued me is seeing how the light windbreakers of spring which morphed into slim fitted shirts and the odd tank top have come full circle, now being replaced by proper winter jackets. Highs of 11 deg C, wet weather and the attendant bone chilling wind will do that to any sane person, even though all that is a matter of degree I suspect. For what its worth, I have held off on the heating at home, even though wearing a jumper into work does have its advantages, chief of which has to be the ability to hide a crumpled shirt (and save on precious morning prep time). The downside though is that my running streak has come to an abrupt end, not helped by the break imposed by being offshore a short while ago. I’d like to think I can find a way to work around that, unless as my friends insist it has all been an elaborate search for a big excuse.
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.