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

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, lunchtime 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 lunchtime 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 heatwaves – 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 the 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 been 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.

***

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.

***

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 

The Weekend Diary – Of Trains and Stolen Things

edinburghtrain

I realise the reservation ‘gods’ have dealt me a dubious hand within five minutes of coming aboard the 11.03 to Edinburgh Waverley. That is all the time it takes for me to spot the trio of old geezers parked in the pair of seats immediately to my right and be swarmed by the posse of loud, giggling women who breeze past on their way to the seats they have reserved a few seats behind me. Between them, they kick up a racket whilst the train loads up, from which I overhear that the men are offshore workers returning home – somewhere beyond Edinburgh – after three weeks offshore, and the women are headed to Edinburgh for a hen do.

Across from me, separated by the table I was so keen to get for my laptop, a lone man sits, head phones in, reading a book, a cup of Costa coffee at his side from which he swigs intermittently – between looking quizzically at the developing ruckus and peering into his book. I nod a greeting when I catch his eye and move the bags in the overhead locker to create space for my knapsack from which I extract my laptop and settle in to my seat.

By the time the train begins to roll towards the next stop, Stonehaven, things have quietened down a little, not before the (seemingly) oldest of the trio has offered one of the ladies a swig from his bottle of whisky. She demurs, insisting that 11.15am is a early, even for her, to kick off on whisky. She does drop herself into the seat next to the men for a quick natter – they talk about the football game which Aberdeen apparently won 5-2 on aggregate and she points out the bride to be – the wee lassie with red hair – is how she describes her, pointing.

I keep my gaze fully focused on my laptop screen – a good way to avoid unnecessary conversation I think, given these seem a particularly boisterous lot – and make a few updates to the spreadsheet I had been tinkering with before I left work, only glancing up when a blast of sunshine hits just past Montrose. The view is breathtaking – cliffs, beaches and lush greenery – one of the reasons why train journeys are my preferred mode of getting about in Scotland – and I inwardly congratulate myself on having chosen to take a forward facing, window side seat.

That ruse is not enough to save me from all contact – in the 2 and a quarter hours between Stonehaven and Edinburgh Waverley, I get called brother by the most gregarious of the bunch, get asked what I’m doing on my laptop, get offered a swig of whisky three times and get my head rubbed by him, all far too chummy and matey than I care for – but given the close quarters and the fact that we are cooped together for all that time for better or worse, I shrug it off, choosing to continue with what I am doing than make a big fuss.

Once through the barriers at Edinburgh Waverley, and into the bright sunshine that bathes the surroundings at Edinburgh’s Waverley station, that sense of returning recognition hits me. The last time I was here it was 2012, M was interviewing for a role up in Aberdeen at the time and had been on the phone a lot with me for insights into the personality of the hiring manager and tips to handle the interview. I had slightly more romantic interests. She got the job, my interests – misguided in retrospect –  didn’t quite pan out, to my lingering regret. All that comes rushing back to my mind as I navigate the steps from the station onto Princes Street and on to the test centre where my result sheet is to be amended, the main reason for this trip. That takes all of twenty minutes to complete, leaving me with a load of time on my hands and not even planned to do. I end up at Starbucks, with a large latte and carrot cake to clear my head, charge up my phone and plot my next move.

starbucks

It turns out I’m in luck, it is the final weekend of the Edinburgh Jazz and Blues Festival. Crucially also, one of the Friday night sessions holds at The Jazz Bar which is a few hundred feet from the hostel I have booked for my overnight stay, as is a Nandos and a Tesco between which toiletries and dinner are sorted rather quickly.

The line at the Jazz bar when I arrive at a quarter to eight for an 8pm start is lengthening rapidly. Those who have been smart enough to pre purchase tickets are waved through whilst the rest of us who have left things till late wait to be ushered in in batches of five for standing room only. The band for the day – a Thelonious Monk tribute act of sorts – starts off slow, but eventually get the evening off with a passable if pleasing performance. In the end I enjoy it enough to make a mental note to drag one of my friends to the Blue Lamp when I return home.

I return and promptly fall asleep till woken up by the shrill shriek of the fire alarm at 3.00am. We never quite know what precipitated it but the fire service shows up in full fire fighting mode. An hour later with no real action taken – visible to me at least – we get the all clear and are ushered back in to the building. I fail to fall asleep so I read instead, taking the opportunity to catch up on the book I currently have on the go, the Cheryl Strayed edited The Best American Essays 2013. I find Marcia Aldrich’s The Art of Being Born, Walter Kirn’s Confessions of An Ex-Mormon and William Kelley’s Breeds of America particularly engaging.

Fully awake at 10.0am and checked out of my hostel, I have a wander about Chambers Street, finally settling on a tour of the National Museum of Scotland. Whilst waiting for the start of the free guided tour I have elected to partake in, I fall into conversation with a duo of girls from Spain (where it is apparently 40 degrees C that morning), an old couple from Texas, a father and son from Canada and someone from Alaska. When the tour guide hands out maps, she asks if I’m ok with an English one (there are other languages, apparently). I want to ask her if she’s got one in Yoruba for the heck of it but hold my tongue. That I have my jacket on in 18 degree weather probably has deceived her into thinking I am not from these parts.

The tour is an instructive one, I end up returning to the Millennium Clock, browsing the natural sciences section and coming up close to a stuffed African Elephant and end up in the World Cultures section where I’m particularly intrigued to see a commemorative Oba’s head. That the object sits in a Scottish Museum rather than in its rightful place in an altar in the Oba’s Palace is one of those artefacts of history I suppose – bitter sweet because its being here has probably allowed me see it, and means it will be better preserved than if it was in a Nigerian museum. Stolen goods then or taken for the greater good?

After the museum, there is just enough time to grab a bite at F&B and catch my train for the return trip home. Again the Waverley station is bathed in bright sunlight as I walk back in. Outside, the weather progressively gets worse – as stark a contrast to my outbound one as there could be. I arrive just past 5.30pm, to life and reality, the mist, settling in as we go past Montrose has become a thick, dense fog, like a noose around the sun’s neck that the passage of time as we speed along towards Aberdeen has drawn tighter till it has been extinguished.

Some things are what they are – chief of which is that I am reluctantly coming to accept that for consistently non-grey weather, one must look further south.

A Week’s Worth…

Monday
starbucks_
Driving into work on Monday morning, the sense is one of wonder at where the weekend went. Not so long ago – my knackered brain thinks – it was Friday afternoon, and thoughts of a restful weekend filled my mind but here, tottering on the verge of a return to work, the memory of the weekend already seems like a blur. Looking back, the two things that stand out are a cringe worthy gaffe, one occasioned by a particularly blatant reading of a certain situation on my part, and a head scratching conversation with S.

Later this week, the team at work has an away day pencilled in, one which it must be said the vast majority of us are not overly keen on. I suspect our collective irritation has not been helped by the instruction to come with two objects that symbolise the team for us – one for how it has been and one for how we would like it to be in the future. All sort of Zen-ish, feely, metaphorical stuff, but not being one for exercising my brain unduly over the weekend, I find myself fretting over what to take by the time Monday rolls in. One part of me wants to take a rotten banana in as my now object, given how dysfunctional I feel the team is at the moment. In the end I decide to leave the decision for another day, opting to buy a golf ball as my future object; in my mind a sphere and its surface to volume ratio is the closest thing to an efficient object I can grab at short notice.

By the time night comes around, that sense of disquiet has eased off slightly; an extended conversation with Sister #1 helps. Later as I lie in bed mulling over the events of the day and my conversation with S, what ifs and maybes loop continuously through my mind, not helped by the fact that the conversation with S goes far better than I could have hoped for, historical antecedents notwithstanding. Sometime between sheep number 4,597 and infinity, I fall asleep to a mercifully dreamless sleep.

Tuesday
meeting
I choose to walk into work on Tuesday, the nip in the day notwithstanding. Invigorated by the fresh air – or perhaps the copious amounts of green tea I down – I’m down to inbox zero by 10am. After that it’s a meeting with a service provider keen to sell some new-fangled technology to the team. That meeting, which ends just after lunch, goes like a breeze; the usefulness of the tech being pretty much self-evident for the application we require it for.

After lunch I am half way through some paper work when I get an email from the gaffer. It transpires that I have been volunteered for a trip offshore the next day; I am assured it will be a quick night’s trip only, and that a requirement for a slightly above average materials knowledge is the reason why I have been volunteered. The rest of the day passes quickly – briefings to come up to speed on the scope of the trip, check-in details and a quick chat with the chaps more familiar with the specifics of the situation. I finally manage to extricate myself from the mad house at 5.45pm, by which time I am rueing my decision to not drive into work. The silver lining is that the team away day which I was worrying about is canned, ostensibly to allow us focus on the pressing issues at hand.

At home, I debate the merits of driving the next day to the airport, decide it is safest to call a cab instead – traffic on the way to the airport in the morning can be a nightmare – and get it all set up with the City’s taxi rank. Such is my intense focus that is only at 11pm, in the middle of my night time catch up with B that I realise my passport is still down in London.

Wednesday
offshore_room
I wake up just before my alarm, set for 5.30am, goes off. Last night’s dishes are the first order of business. I battle a dense layer of charred rice for the better part of fifteen minutes before a semblance of cleanliness comes to my pot. I rush through my washing up, final checks to confirm I have packed all I need and a response to my email from last night about my passport. From the looks of it, I will need a dispensation to fly – better than nothing I guess. I drop my old passport in my bag just in case.

I hop into my taxi, traffic is not light, but it does move on at a fairly reasonable clip. The driver and I pass the time in light conversation, beginning with the usual suspects – where I am originally from, how long I have been in the country for, how long I’m booked to be offshore for, where I work and such. When I mention I’m due out for a day only, he laughs, unlikely for this time of the year he adds. I agree, not forgetting my luck with the weather (only once on my previous seven trips offshore have I returned as planned, no thanks to the weather.) .

The conversation moves on to other subjects as we head down Great Northern road towards the notorious Haudagain Roundabout. Falling oil prices, North Sea lifting costs per barrel and the potential impact on business in the city also get discussed as we inch along towards the airport. In between, I fire off an email to the gaffer, alerting him to the situation with my passport.

By the time we arrive the wheels have started churning, a flurry of emails ends in my getting a dispensation to fly with a copy of my passport. There is still time for Google Drive to nearly prove my Achilles heel. Having shared a copy of my passport with the lady at the check-in desk via Google Drive, it turns out she can only view it with a goggle account. In the end I have to log on to her machine, download a copy and then send it off to her office printer before I get checked in. Thankfully I am at the end of the queue and don’t hold anyone up. On this evidence, a return to Dropbox as my default cloud storage is required.

I arrive offshore at just past 11.30am, listen to the site induction, get introduced to the high and mighty and hop off to my lodgings. The agreement is for us all to have a huddle after lunch to kick off the program of activities which has dragged me offshore this time. The meeting goes well; short, quick and frank, after which I get asked to provide an ‘expert’ opinion on the subject at hand. I offer as much information as I have and then leave the rest of the team to it. I spend the rest of the evening catching up with the offshore team, given it’s my first time out here.

Thursday
shoes
The plan is to have a wash up meeting with the work party to discuss findings and then break up to prepare for the return trip. Just after the briefing, I hear I’ll have to spend an additional day. It is for a good cause though as the chap who’ll be taking ‘my’ seat has a holiday lined up.

Out here boot covers, ostensibly to ensure dirty boots don’t get worn within the accommodation modules, are the rage and I end up running through quite a few as I walk about the plant. In between, I get more conversation time with the various supervisors, running over data collection for a different project I have on the horizon. The conversations about me that I over hear are good, helped perhaps by the fact that I’ve worked with a couple of the guys on a different platform before; my we’re all in it together spiel also helps I reckon. The chopper eve mind set kicks in at some stage – all I can think about is home.

Friday

Overnight it feels like the platform is rocking a lot more than I have grown accustomed to. The next morning, my suspicions are confirmed when the Planner who seat next to the desk I have commandeered shows me the weather report, with wind speeds in excess of 60 knots. Outside the wind is howling, and the waves at the cellar deck crash with increasing regularity.

We still go through the motions – bags dragged up to the admin office, checked in and safety brief watched – even though it is clear there’ll be no flight given the conditions. I spend the time at the desk catching up on email. The disillusionment is palpable. A couple of the guys are due off on Monday, the potential impacts of my not getting off on schedule are not something they want to consider.

Saturday
cloudreader_lecarre
Morning brings bitter sweet news – the weather has improved enough for a flight to be put on, even though it’s a shared one The slightly bitter news is that a medivac situation is the priority.

We check in, watch the safety brief again,and head back to the offices to get the day started. This time, remembering that I’ve got the Kindle Cloud Reader set up on my portable Chrome version, I fire up John le Carré A Delicate Truth. It’s a good, if cultured read – far more nuanced than the swash buckling Nick Carter/ James Bond-esque sorts I gobbled up growing up. I enjoy it so much that I am up till 11.30pm reading. In between I have lunch – a dubious mix of chips, roast turkey and chili beans; and then dinner – more of the same topped up with a plum and apricot flapjack tart with custard that tastes heavenly.

Sunday
returning
My on-off flight out is back on, apparently. When the heli-admin tells me that, I tell her I’ll believe when I see the helicopter coming in. She laughs. Far more seriously my paltry five day stint is far less critical than a number of people who are nudging the three week mark.

We go through the routine again, this time getting interrupted as we watch the helicopter safety brief by a general platform alarm. We go the full hog – from mustering to getting counted off and then wait whilst the OIM speaks over the tannoy to give us information. About twenty minutes later, we’re stood down and allowed to return to our various endeavours.

Sometime after 11am, the chug of the in bound helicopter rises to a din as it hovers above. We – the three of us joining this flight – drag our bags upstairs and get led into the helicopter for the ninety minute flight back to the ‘Deen. Thankfully, sleep takes over after a few minutes, the rhythm of the rotor blades and the bland monotony of the never ending water all around lulling me to sleep.

Thankfully, the sun is out in Aberdeen when we arrive, small mercies given that out here, summer (and sunshine) lasts for two days only.