Wednesday, 27 June 2012

Rainbow Nation

In a weekly meeting with "the customer" yesterday there were about forty people from service companies, twenty engineers from "the customer" and at the head of the table, three senior "customer" scaremongers.
I lost the will to live after ninety minutes of listening to what could mostly be described as b*llocks. The following gives a gist of how the service company people are treated:

Customer: We want your ideas so we can drill faster, save money and not have to pay you for them.
Service Co.: Here are our ideas, for free, these will improve efficiency and save you money
Customer: Why didn't you give us these before ? You've been wasting our money. Your competitors are much better than you. You do not deserve the crumbs off our table.

I kept myself amused by thinking about which one of the puppet cast of Rainbow,  each of the three scary men most resembled.

Firstly there was Zippy, he was the youngest of the three. Eager to impress his bosses and show them he was worthy of sitting at the head of the table. He wouldn't shut up, had an opinion on everything, a point that had to be made but contributed absolutely nothing and was a pain in the @rse.
Then there was Bungle, a more senior guy. Always had a bright idea but liked to play the peace maker in the meeting. Also he's a bit chunky, like a cuddly bear. Most likely of the three to break into a song and get everyone to do "the meeting dance" with Rod , Jane & Freddy.
Finally, there was George. The oldest and most senior of the managers in there. Doesn't usually come to the meetings, isn't missed and is the least popular. Somehow fails to grasp the point of anything being said and is the main reason the meeting took nearly 2 hours instead of the usual 40 minutes.

Further analysis on the long drive back from the prison camp, lead me to identify the same three Rainbow characters within the management of my office.

My boss - Zippy
The performance & development coordinator - Bungle
The business development guy - George

All for pretty much the same reasons.  (The PDC looks like a cuddly bear too)

Which means that in any group of three or more people, it should be possible to identify the Zippy, Bungle or George amongst us. I don't care which one I am, as long as I'm not Geoffrey. There was something not quite right about him.

Thursday, 21 June 2012

Mr Fluffy

Temperatures and tempers are rising as we go into the Saudi summer. Last year they recorded over 60 deg c offshore on the rig, which would be uncomfortable even on a deckchair with a beer, so operating a very large diesel driven pump and dragging heavy equipment around for 12 hours at a time really can't be nice.

One of my supervisors has had a particularly problematic hitch, four weeks of mechanical breakdowns with some of our less able locals on his supporting crew. The co ordinator in town is not known for his eloquence and his management style is more punchy, feisty than touchy feely.

A brief exchange of e mails between them this week, quickly escalated a minor problem into this e mail from the supervisor offshore (let's call him Cuddles) and the co ordinator in town (let's call him Mr Fluffy):

From: Cuddles [mailto:Cuddles@yah00.c0m]
Sent: Tuesday, June 19, 2012 3:59 PM
To: Mr Fluffy; Person 2; Customer Engineer; Ed Walford; Person 3,
Cc: Everyman and his dog
Subject: RAM IT

Mr Fluffy,
you talk about sarcasm......every rig has to put up with your sh*t every day and your sarcasm in eat it up...
you know something Mr Fluffy ur the problem down here the way you talk to people on the phone and ur sh*tty e-mails...every guys has no respect for you 
 i phoned you twice and got a mouth full of your cr@p also.....
but no more for me, you can shove your job up your f*king hoop
get me off of here now or i go to a first e-mail was reject because of the contents, so this is the nice 1 .....ok

A few fires for me to sort out then:
  • Cuddles is actually a very good guy, who I want to keep
  • Mr Fluffy needs some coaching on his interpersonal skills
  • Cuddles included one of the customer's engineers in the mail list....

I contacted Cuddles, did my best to calm him down and told him that whilst I wouldn't accept his resignation, he'd demonstrated the sort of communication skills that would make him a good co ordinator one day.

Wednesday, 20 June 2012

International Diplomacy 101

You can always count on the Argentinians to rock the diplomatic boat:

Exhibit A: Invading Falklands
Predictably: Don't Cry For Me.....

Exhibit B: Marradona's Hand of God

Exhibit C: Po faced Argie PM stirs it up at UN

Exhibit D: Newly arrived member of staff at my company

I wasn't there to witness the incident, but the person who defused it told me the story and it was confirmed by a rather shocked HR person today....

The scene: meeting room full of men, discussing some tediously dull project. The only woman present is one of the drilling engineers; very clever, western educated, Saudi girl - covers her hair but not her face. She's lovely.

At the end of the meeting there's all the usual shaking of hands between particpants. The protocol with a Saudi woman is you only shake their hand if they offer theirs first, you don't attempt to offer your hand. And you certainly don't go up to her, give her a big hug and say "what a beautiful lady".

Unless you're the new engineer, freshly arrived from Argentinia.

The poor girl runs off, visibly shocked,  the offender is left saying "but eet wassa supposter to bea compliment" (in a Manuel type accent) and has to be stopped from running after her to apologise.

My friend goes to see if she's OK and to explain about the new arrival, he finds her in her office , almost shaking. Being hugged by a fat, sweaty male stranger when you're used to absolutely zero physical contact with men can't be nice.

The land grabbing, world cup cheating, sex pest was lucky to learn about Saudi culture in the safe surroundings of the office. Approaching a woman in a public place, even to talk to her would bring him to the attention of the Muttawa (god cops) for a light beating and deportation - if he was lucky.

Monday, 4 June 2012


A Call From The Rig ? Oh FFS What Now ?
We got an urgent call from one of the rigs today. One of our local workers, let's call him Hussain , to preserve his anonymity, was refusing to start his shift this morning. Bear in mind, he's on an offshore oil rig, it's not like just deciding not to goto the office. He's "done his two weeks" and now he wants to go home. He was due to come off tomorrow, but his replacement has got "a family emergency" and so can't make it. We'd asked Hussain to do an extra week. I say , an extra week, it's not extra as his contract does not state he works 2/2 - but in his head he does.

So that's him fired, I'd stopped his salary by midday and by 1600hrs he was officially off the system. Nice to see HR can be efficient when they try.

He's not made things easy for himself, the company man has thrown him off the rig onto a boat. He wasn't going to let him wait for tomorrow's chopper. Poor Hussain gets sea sick on a jack up rig, so I think the long boat ride won't be too nice, especially as the sea is very rough right now - the boats haven't been running for the last four days. So he gets a long boat ride but is already off the payroll. And because he's still on his 3 month probation, I can fire him instantly for no reason. Although, refusal to follow orders is usually good enough to get rid of most people, no matter who your father is.

What none of us can understand is how anyone could have that sort of attitude, if you tried that on a rig in the North Sea you'd get a boot up the backside, although you'd most probably be lynched by the rest of the crew for making their lives harder.

Meanwhile on another rig, one of previously more reliable local hands has got "a family emergency" and wants to go home.....

Saturday, 2 June 2012

A Suniday Top 5

Back, by no demand

Top 5 Things To Miss About Saudi

Everybody's gone surfing KSA

  1. Counting drivers using their phones while you wait at traffic lights
  2. Keeping the engine running while filling with petrol & paying about £5 to fill up a 4x4 with unleaded
  3. Not being able to recognise female co workers until they're about 6ft in front of you
  4. Having to sit in the 'male only' section of a coffee shop or restaurant
  5. Sand.

Thursday, 31 May 2012

United Nations

Currently I employ about 60-70 people from a few different countries and am about to employ another 20 (CVs from suitable candidates more than welcome). For fact fans everywhere, here are some approximate statistics that in no way reflect stereotypes:

Nationality   No. Staff  % Family Probs  %Gen. Whining  %Time off-illness  % Visa Probs
UK                       19               0                            30                       40                           40
Saudi                    28            100                           70*                     55                           0
Russia                     1              0                             0                         0                            20
India                       5               0                             0                        5**                        0
Pakistan                  1               0                             0                        0                            0
Philippines              3               0                             0***                  0                           20
Australia                 1               0                             0                        0                            20****
Bahraini                  1               0                             0                        0                            0
Indonesian              3               0                             0                        0                             0

* Amazing, tired in the heat after 2 weeks ? Boo hoo, the guy who has worked in Sakhalin in winter hasn't complained once
** swollen testicle. We felt his pain. But enjoyed sending a lot of e mails using the word testicle.
*** And they never will. If I could employ 100% Filipinos I would.
***** 6 months sitting at home, trying to get a visa. Probably a problem with the criminal record check.

Currently we're trying to get visas for Filipinos and Russians. Visa problems I can live with, but once they're here, they're gold.

Monday, 28 May 2012

Viva El Presidente

I'm lovin' it.
The president visited today. El Presidente, the big dog, the Mac Daddy and his posse rolled into town for their yearly visit. A huge tent was erected in the car park, meaning we've been short of parking spaces for the last week. I say tent, but I've stayed in worse hotels, a/c, carpets, lights and seating for 2000 people. Fortunately the speeches were as short as they were unintelligible (which is more to do with a crappy PA than me being as deaf as a post) and soon we were feasting like a pack of famished velociraptors who've stumbled across an over weight limping mammoth.
The other benefits of the visit are: newly painted road markings all around the compound, newly cut grass and lots of plants, a plethora of framed motivational pictures around the admin building and best of all, a really nice leather sofa right outside my office*, which looks great for a kip at the weekends.
Good to know that shareholders' profits are being sensibly re-invested.
I know, it's so easy to be cynical. I've not even broken a sweat.

* I admit I had to ask 3 people **if it was a new sofa. I was out of the office yesterday and couldn't remember what sofa had been there before. I knew there had been one. I remembered it was soft, comfy and I'd dozed on it at weekends.....

** 2 out of 3 people couldn't remember either, proving alzheimer's is a corporate condition.***

***2 out of 3 people couldn't remember either, proving alzheimer's is a corporate condition.****

Sunday, 27 May 2012

Fingers & Thumbs

You meet a lot of people in the oilfield, the old hands who've seen it all, done it all and lost various parts of their body in different countries. I would say you get to meet people and shake their hands, but you never know how much of a handful you're getting. I've worked with one guy we called Kit-Kat and worse was the poor sod known as Twix. Mind you, that's better than earning yourself the name of "Mittens".

Hand's Up, who wants to be a welder?
Today was my turn to do a big safety audit at one of our plants, which meant 3.5 hours of walking around a very dusty mill in 40 deg C funshine. I really felt sorry for the poor guys who work there, but then it's always good to see people whose work puts your own joy into perspective.

I managed to find between 30-40 safety issues to bring up, which is about what I'd expected. During the inspection of the welding area, I noticed the welder had on a wedding ring. I explained to him how he needed to remove it and that he didn't want to risk an injury known as "de-gloving" (I'd advise not googling images of that. Seriously, I feel nauseous now.) which can be caused by wearing rings. After all, I asked, he wanted to keep all of his fingers didn't he ? Turns out it was too late for that and he showed me his other hand, or what was left of it. He'd he stuck it in a screw conveyor at the same plant, some ten years previously.
Well, you have to laugh , don't you ?

Thursday, 24 May 2012

Wear In The World

As previously commented upon, oil and gas have a tendency to be produced by countries that would struggle to attract any revenue from the tourism industry. And when an "attractive" destination does receive nature's double blessing/curse, the oil is always in the ugly bits.

Exhibit A: UK- Aberdeen, Dundee, Great Yarmouth
Exhibit B: Indonesia - Balikpapan, Irian Jaya
Exhibit C: Thailand - Sattahip, Songkhla

My opinion is based on first hand experience and I can attest to the fact that although Thailand is my second home and my favourite country, crew changing out of Sattahip at 2 am is the closest thing to CIA extradition that I ever want to experience. It was made much worse by the fact they breathalysed you before they'd let you on the crew boat. And it was the reason why we self administered Xanax, Dormicum and other date rape drugs before we got on the boat for the 8-12 hr trip to the rig. Better to risk drowning due to unconsciousness in the unlikely event of a sinking, than experience the guaranteed group vomiting of 60 Thai workers, infamous for the instability of their sea legs.

So with my imminent departure (69 days, but who's counting ?) from my current location and having heard there are a couple of possible options, of which unemployment is included, I've drawn up a list of  the most likely candidates for my next destination - a sort of sweep stake. Play along at home if you wish...

1. Algeria (rotational, not a bad deal - they speak two foreign languages, 1 of which is french but they speak it grudgingly not arrogantly)
2. Dubai (live in, £6 a pint!And full of smug gits in flash cars. And no hardship bonus as the only hardship is the price of beer. Good Thai food though.)
3. Angola (rotational. Proper, traditional oil field place. A bit wild west, could be great fun like Azerbaijan was 15 years ago)
4. Libya (rotational. 6 months of Nato bombing might have brought it into the 20th Century)
5. Oman (live in. Apparently a bit Judith Chalmers. You can enjoy yourself, but not in a risky way, like jumping into a bath of cotton wool)
Possibly The Only Reason to watch The Avengers movie
6. Abu Dhabi (live in. Sterile, dull, inconvenient and expensive. Like marrying Scarlett Johansson then finding out she's taken a vow of chastity but has an uncontrollable shopping habit )
7. Iraq (rotational. Not as dangerous as you think and hence not as lucrative as it should be for somewhere that alot of people still want to kill you)
8. West Africa (live in if it's Ghana, Mozambique, you know, the nice bits where they still drink gin in the afternoon)
9. Any country ending in "stan" (rotational. Kate Adie would wear a flak jacket, the women are stunning and their male relatives vengeful)
10. SE Asia / Oceania (who cares, you've won the golden ticket!)

Wednesday, 23 May 2012

Interesting Times

edit: It has been pointed out this reads as a right depressing moan. Try reading it as it was written, with a pint of beer in hand and a big smile on your face.

I've never resigned from a job.  Apart from a paper round, the job in the garden centre, the one in the pizza restaurant, the one in the army barracks kitchens.... which weren't proper "career jobs" anyway.  But like most oil field trash, I've frequently handed in my notice and gone from one company to pastures new, believing that a change in the colour of my coveralls would bring a change in fortune and opportunities. Only then to find out that actually the colour is always brown and it's always stinky.

For reasons far too dull to go into, I tried to resign this week. The prospect of not having a job finally seeming to be far more attractive than remaining in the very secure and financially rewarding position that I currently occupy. It's not been an easy decision to make, but the breaking point was reached this week when I considered which challenge would I prefer :

Like beach volley ball whatever the outcome, it's win:win
a) all of those that I currently face on a 24/7 basis, with the guarantee of a huge increase on the horizon and no end in sight , ever ? Plus a nice salary.

b) wondering what to do next with my life ? No salary guaranteed.

As it happens, I'm in the very fortunate postion to have no dependents (Yay for testicular cancer and divorce! Form a queue ladies.) So apart from an addiction to expensive carbon bikes, my overheads are as low as my financial obligations.

I chose (b) and wondered which Hawaiian island I'd become a perv on.

Unfortunately my boss wouldn't accept (b) and wants more (a).

I'm not completely daft and like carbon fibre and nice watches, so now they have 10 weeks to find somewhere for me to go (or more likely 10 weeks to find some sucker  to take my place). I don't know if I'll be heading for more (a) in another predictably nasty oil field area or lots of (b) in the seedy sort of places the Lonely Planet tells you to avoid.

Either way will probably all end in tears, but at least no illegitimate love children. I really don't know what's going to happen and I'm really happy about it. Interesting times indeed.

Warning: either (a) or (b), I plan to visit UK to make a withdrawal from my wine account & Germany to invest in the local brewing economy in August.

Friday, 27 April 2012


I don't mind shamelessly reposting this, I must use some of these in my appraisals:

"Since my last report, this employee has reached rock bottom and has started to dig." 
"His men would follow him anywhere, but only out of morbid curiosity" 
"I would not allow this employee to breed" 
"This employee is really not so much of a has-been, but more of a definite won't be" 
"Works well when under constant supervision and cornered like a rat in a trap" 
"When she opens her mouth, it seems that it is only to change feet" 
"He would be out of his depth in a parking lot puddle" 
"This young lady has delusions of adequacy" 
"He sets low personal standards and then consistently fails to achieve them" 
"This employee is depriving a village somewhere of an idiot" 
"This employee should go far, and the sooner the better" 
"Got a full 6-pack, but lacks the plastic thing to hold it all together" 
"A gross ignoramus - 144 times worse than an ordinary ignoramus" 
"He certainly takes a long time to make his pointless" 
"He doesn't have ulcers, but he's a carrier" 
"I would like to go hunting with him sometime" 
"He's been working with glue too much" 
"He would argue with a signpost" 
"He has knack for making strangers immediately" 
"He brings a lot of joy whenever he leaves the room" 
"When his IQ reaches 50, he should sell" 
"If you see 2 people talking and one looks bored, he's the other one" 
"A photographic memory but with the cap over the lens" 
"A prime candidate for natural deselection" 
"Donated his brain to science before he was done using it" 
"Gates are down, the lights are flashing, but the train isn't coming" 
"Has 2 brains, one is lost, the other is out looking for it" 
"If he were any more stupid, he'd have to be watered twice a week" 
"If you give him a penny for his thoughts, you'd get change" 
"If you stand close enough to him, you can hear the ocean" 
"It's hard to believe that he beat out 1,000 other sperm" 
"One neuron short of a synapse" 
"Some drink from the fountain of knowledge, he only gargled" 
"Takes him 12 hours to watch 60 Minutes" 
"The wheel is turning, but the hamster is dead"

Thursday, 26 April 2012

Big Hugs

I get a lot of CVs, unfortunately most are unsuitable and are a direct result of the government's Care In The Community programme.

This week I received an e mail, asking about work in our department:

Good morning my name is XXX am writing from Venezuela <<company>> supervisor III in <<dept>> with extensive experience in the control area of solids will be open the possibility to work with you? at the moment? a big hug greetings.

And that was it. So I replied and asked for his CV- after all, how could I resist ? A day or two later I got a reply and a CV (In Spanish).

Sir, Annex sent him good morning cv, which can transladarlo to the English I hope your help and willing to work with you as nesecite for activities to do, I have a valid passport but no visa greetings

I put alot of effort into finding good photos
I'm a bit too busy to translate CVs, so I replied that we employ people from many countries and that for safety reasons everyone has to speak good english. A few days later I got a reply, to round off my week with another hug:

Good morning thanks for your information that I defend myself with the English in drilling operations on oil rigs I work with English speaking staff anyway thank you very much and count on me for anything I wanted you to need me was the opportunity and the rest is for me a big hug from Venezuela Greetings

I don't think we'll be employing him, as I believe every conversation will be like talking to Yoda, but at least he's given us a wee smile in the office this week and we now all give each other Big Hug Greetings in our e mails, which is alot better than just 'Regards'. 

Saturday, 21 April 2012

Fashion Police

I like working in an industry where people happily refer to themselves as "Oil field trash" and in countries where it doesn't matter what you wear to the office,  as just bothering to turn up already marks you as "high potential". Since I left Libya, in somewhat of a hurry, I've never bothered replacing things like trousers, my suit (never worn) or ties. I don't think I actually have a tie now. And I've got more pairs of Speedos (3) than work trousers (1 pair, never worn). So for the last year, I've been happily wearing jeans, a shirt and shoes that are more Futon than Chesterfield. Casually smart I like to think.

Soon to appear on a notice board in my office
But no more, the corporate fashion cops have decreed that we can no longer wear jeans (except on a Wednesday - our Friday), shirts must be "button down" and shoes, hard soled. We represent our company when we're in front of the company and are expected to dress at a level +1 to that of the customer. I wanted to point out that most drilling engineers are extremely badly dressed, except those whose mothers still do it for them. Jeans, trainers and a polo shirt bearing the logo of either a long forgotten drilling campaign or a golf club they once got taken to by a drill bit manufacturer, back in the good old days before Sarbanes-Oxley.

So it looks like I'm going to have to buy some trousers while I'm on vacation. That's not due to a trouser drought situation in Saudi, more to do with the fact if there's one thing I hate more than shopping for clothes, it's shopping for clothes in Saudi. At least in Thailand it will be cheaper and the person measuring my inside leg will be a lovely thai lady or a lady boy,  either is better than a sullen Saudi youth more interested in texting his mates than satisfying his customer.

Today was day one of the new regime, I tried a sneaky pair of black jeans to go with my shirt and shoes.
An e mail to all staff arrived mid morning, with a 'gentle reminder' that no jeans meant no jeans. Bugger.

Monday, 16 April 2012

Dog Food

To while away the hours on the turbo trainer, I started watching movies and tv with subtitles. This is mainly due to the fact that the turbo makes a lot of noise and also because I'm as deaf as a post.

I discovered a plethora of titles available in the i-Tunes "world cinema" section, this is like wandering around a foreign supermarket, picking up strange cans and hoping you aren't going to get dog food for dinner. I'm quickly becoming a connoisseur of the genre and not just the mucky stuff either or the martial arts pap. Having finished "Braquo" tonight, next up is a whole season of Danish crime caper "Those Who Kill", although at about 90 mins each that means an extra 15-20km of cycling.

Anyway, here's a top five of what I've been cycling too recently.

Ugly French Cops - but the bird has a nice bum
1. Braquo - ugly french cops kill bad guys, 8 x 45min episodes, perfect for 30km. Is it the bad guys or the good guys who wear black? It's everyone. They're all bad and lots of people get hurt. Plus a twist at the very end that nearly made me fall off the bike today. And there's a season 2. Awesome.

2. Troll Hunter - Norwegian students hunt 200ft Trolls in a Blair Witch style. A great comedy, played perfectly straight. Wait for Hollywood to remake it and ruin it with some nonsense about Big Foot being threatened by multinational companies destroying the environment. 

3. The Killing - 20 Episodes, perfect for 30-35km each. Kept me going through Winter and moved along slower than me. Gripping enough for me to get back on the bike and do another 30km, just to see what happened next.

4. Tell No One - French drama: Man's wife is killed, he's the main suspect. 8 yrs later she's back. Or is she ? (yes) And who knew Kristin Scott Thomas could speak french ? Hollywood will ruin this too, probably with Liam Neeson and Kristin Scott Thomas reprising her role.

5. The Silence - German drama: child murdered, killer never found. 13 years later. The killer's back. Or are they?  (yes). A good german movie that has nothing to do with the war, achtung!

Thursday, 12 April 2012

Formula One, burning rubber

Sitra in January 2012
I know Bernie Ecclestone says Bahrain is safe and his stupid circus should come to town, but I was there last Friday night.

This time, I wasn't in Sitra where I had cycled in January. That area is where a lot of the poorer Shia majority live and the demonstrations kick off on a daily basis.

I was in a taxi in Manama going from a slightly dodgy bar to a very dodgy bar. Manama is the "nice" part of town, where a lot of embassies are, along with hotels that house "entertainment complexes". So I was surprised to see the familiar plumes of black smoke rising up from a nearby street. The protestors were risking more than singed eyebrows by starting fires in this part of town. There are enough police/army/security around to deter most people or do serious injury to the rest.

January 2012: Simultaneous fires in different parts of tow
Mr Ecclestone is probably correct in saying that it is safe to have his race in Bahrain this year. Along with the teams, he'll be whisked from the airport, straight to the other side of the island. He probably won't even have to sit and wait for ages at the huge roadworks that skirt the edge of Manama. He'll quickly be safely ensconced in his own little world, but if he comes out of the hospitality lounge and looks towards the East, he should be able to see where the real action is happening and smell the burning rubber.

Wednesday, 11 April 2012

Alan Sugar

Having heard a rumour about one of my new hires, I invited him to my office for a motivational chat yesterday. The gist of which was:

Me: I heard you asked to leave the rig so you could take some papers to another company ?

Mhd: It's a mistake boss, I just have to give them certificates

Me: Why ?

Mhd: I have exam with them before I join you, they call me and ask me to take my papers.

Me: So you're going to work for them ?

Mhd: I wait for them to tell me boss, but no problem, I work for you.

Me: So you work for me, but if they call you, you will leave and work for them ?

Mhd: Yes boss, no problem

Me: You're fired*. 

*any employment lawyers rubbing their hands, please note it was within his 3 month probationary period, so it's all perfectly legal. He also got to choose : door or window.

Monday, 9 April 2012

Some Mothers Do 'Ave 'Em

Saudi mothers must be the most unhealthy and sickly group of people on the planet.

I can't believe how many of my staff can't goto work or need to come back from the rig early because their mother is ill.

I've never had a day off work due to my mum being ill and that's got nothing to do with wanting to get her back for all the times she sent me to school while I was struggling to keep out the clutches of the Reaper.

The doting sons who work for me now get one chance for a sick relative. Just one. So I advise them to tell their family to take really good care of their health, otherwise someone's out of a job.

Thursday, 29 March 2012

Spy in the cab

The driving in Saudi is notoriously bad, they drive very fast, with no regard to others and usually while smoking or on the phone. After 3 years of driving in Libya, it was no problem for me to adapt and I find it harder to drive in the UK now.
However my current employer is very strict on safety and everyone must pass a defensive driving course before being given a company licence and being allowed to drive here. There's a driving test in a vehicle fitted with cameras to assess your use of mirrors and accelerometers to judge the weight of your right foot. There's a day in the classroom and some written tests to reinforce safety and better driving techniques. Despite my initial scepticism, I do believe it is a better way of driving rather than the slightly aggressive tactics I'd picked up in Libya. I'm now quite happy for the local idiots to squeeze between my car and the concrete barrier at 180kph+ with barely inches to spare on each side. I drive a nice big 4x4 and whilst they may cause some damage to the paint if they ricochet off the wall into me, I have as much faith in the car's air bags as they do in their chosen deity to believe that I will be the one walking away.  
All company vehicles are fitted with a GPS & personal I.D. key thing so that our driving is monitored -  every month they publish the top 10 best/worst drivers. Serious violations and multiple minor infringements will mean you lose your licence and therefore your job. If I speed, my boss gets an e mail before I get to the office to receive my warning.

I'm not sure of everything it measures but believe it includes:

  1. Speeding (110 kph+)
  2. No seat belt
  3. Harsh braking
  4. Aggressive accelerating 
  5. Listening to Shania Twain  
  6. Passengers adjusting the a/c when driver has told them not to touch it unless they want to walk
  7. Dark thoughts
As good a system as it is, it cannot measure:
  1. Driving at the right speed for the conditions
  2. Using your mirrors & indicators
  3. How close the local is behind you, flashing his lights because he's in a hurry to get somewhere to do bugger all

Sunday, 11 March 2012


The latest focus at work is the drive to ensure that 100% of our workers have completed the mandatory on line safety training courses in topics such as “working at heights” and “hearing protection”.
Each course takes about an hour and there’s a quiz at the end of each, requiring a score of 80% or more to pass. As all of the courses are in English, we know that many of the local guys are just clicking through the slides quickly and attempting the quiz so many times that eventually they will pass, although they won’t know why they passed.

I have to do the training as well, so attempted one of the subjects the other night, not really paying attention and hoping I’d be able to work out the answers.
By question 12, I’d got enough wrong to know that I’d fail overall, so there was no point in continuing.
But in my defence, the questions were designed to trip you up and were all along the lines of:

Which of the following is not a false statement ?

(a)    Mechanical guards are not a primary safety barrier
(b)   Isolation of equipment is not the first step in the lock out procedure
(c)    A written permit is always required prior to securing a machine
(d)   None of the above

So now it’s a logic game: a not false statement = a true statement, so  (d) none of the above,  means none of the above are not ‘not false’ and so all are false .

I think.

I still have 10 of these courses to do in the luxury of “my own time”. 
This is the short period of time in the day when I’m not at work, not working at home, not driving to/from work or sleeping. My days remind me of the minister in the program “The Thick Of It”, who looks forwards to his daily ablutions as it’s the only bit of "quality time" he gets to himself.

Luckily the wireless connection works in every room.

Thursday, 23 February 2012


My cloning experiment has been sabotaged. I came home from work last night to find all of my efforts destroyed - all biological material had been removed from my house.
When I first walked in, I thought I'd been burgled. There was the instant feeling that things weren't as I'd left them in the morning. Then I noticed stuff on the table had moved and some of the furniture wasn't in the exact same place. Some of the curtains were half open and the fans were still on in the bathroom. 
The most obvious sign of an intruder was in the kitchen, where there was a large mess of plates and pans that had been cleared up. Washed and dried. 
In the bedroom, someone had gone to great effort to rip the sheets and pillow cases and throw them all into the washing  machine.
The bathrooms and shower room were pretty dirty, no effort had been made to clean them.
Until yesterday, when my the cleaning wallah paid a visit and transformed my bachelor pad back into a family home, smelling of pine, zest and other stuff I had in unopened bottles under the sink.
So after months of painstakingly gathering enough genetic material over all surfaces in my house, an over zealous houseboy has ensured that my clone will never rise from the dust.
And he came again today, I think I've now got a regular cleaner.  I'm putting my laundry out tomorrow to see if the washing & ironing wallah come along too.

Wednesday, 1 February 2012

Safety First

Every month, managers are expected to make a visit to a rig where we have operations and conduct an audit . The aims are to make sure that our field staff are following correct procedures, that the rigs are safe and that a manager still knows what a rig looks like, whilst getting their pristine coveralls dirty. Although it means a long day of travelling and a backlog of e mails to return to, the rig visit allows the manager to achieve their required number of hazard observation cards (HOC).

The Road Side Cafe: Good Nescafe, huge open toilet area
Everyone in the company is required to submit a minimum of 2 HOC  a month, where you report an unsafe condition or act and record any action taken or suggested. For the field guys, this should be easy, but for the office based manager it can be difficult to observe anything that could be classed as unsafe, except maybe a particularly irate Egyptian.

As well as being a chance to increase a personal HOC count, a safety audit is good fun. You wander around a rig and look for ways in which people could get hurt or where rules have been broken, it’s a chance to be a safety detective. Another bonus is that the Company Man, the big boss on the rig, the man who used to make your life hell when you were a field hand, has to be really nice to you, give you coffee and thank you for pointing out all the defects in his operations. And he has to smile while he does it.

I’ve done two rig visits so far and on each one have found 20 things to raise a HOC card for, so even if I submit no more until November, I’m still on target. But I’ll keep going, as one of my engineers submitted 154 last year and we gave him $500, so now it’s a competition.
Play along and spot the hazards from a recent rig visit, (answers at the end, no cheating):

1. An electric lamp on the cement tanks

2. The chemical loading area
3. Electrical cables
4. Wilden Pump

5. One of the water pits

6. A Compressor 

While taking the photos, the Rig Safety Officer came and asked me if I'd got a permit to use the camera, a fair cop, I hadn't. I asked him why he wasn't wearing any safety glasses...

  1. Insulation & armour of cable broken
  2. No safety barrier across lifting area
  3. Cables insulated with plastic bags 
  4. No whipcheck cables
  5. Child's toy substituting for a life belt
  6. A 'guard' you can put your fingers through isn't a safety guard

Saturday, 21 January 2012

All quiet on the Eastern front

I've spent the last 3 days cycling around Bahrain and to be honest, it's a dump. No matter how far you go,  it is non stop highways, wasteland and industrial buildings. Alot of the time was spent going up/down curbs, cutting across dirt & sand, trying to find a route to avoid the 8 lanes of death. The cyclocross bike was perfect for navigating the streets and making tracks where none existed.
Each day I saw plumes of black smoke on the horizon and assumed they were the results of some of the car crashes I passed. Then whilst bimbling around Sitrah today, having a pretty crappy ride and fighting against a head wind, I came across burning tyres in the road. Freshly lit, security personnel only just on the scene, I rode past a short way before taking the photo. If there's one thing trigger happy riot police hate more than having to put out burning tyres, it's camera happy cycling tourists.
About 10 minutes later when I got to the top of a nearby bridge, I could see several plumes of smoke from different parts of town, presumably coordinated to keep the security bods busy.
Syria might be making the headlines, but Bahrain is still on the back burner.....

Tuesday, 17 January 2012

Interview Bingo

Interviewed another batch of 10 locals last week. Played bingo with the other interviewer to keep us awake.

We each had 6 items to spot:

  1. Baseball hat at jaunty angle
  2. Sparkly writing on t-shirt
  3. flared jeans
  4. English so bad he can't understand being asked to leave
  5. too much after shave
  6. slicked back hair
  1. Hat (non baseball)
  2. Sparkly writing on jeans
  3. chain wallet
  4. argues about money
  5. B.O
  6. sunglasses on head
I lost by one point.

Monday, 16 January 2012


78 days until the next proper holiday.
Having a goal helps.