Je Ne Regrette Rien

Well, I suppose it was inevitable that it would happen.  I can’t say I wasn’t warned.  So many people told me that to go to a foreign place with the oil business without my wife was just asking for trouble, and they were right.  They told me that being alone weakens ones defences, which it does.  They warned that I would meet strange foreigners who would entice me to do things very much against my better judgement, and they were right about that too.  They said I ran a high chance of waking up in the morning regretting what I had done the night before, but unable to do anything except face up to the consequences and try to move forward when all you want to do is curl up and die.  And they were right about that too.  They were right about everything.  But I didn’t listen, and I fell into the same trap that has claimed many a poor soul, and with my experience I should really have known better.  So there is nothing left to do but to confess.

Yes, on Thursday night I met a Russian guy who had worked in Sakhalin and we went and got hammered in a local bar.  I woke up on Friday morning cursing all things Russian and wishing my head didn’t throb so much and I didn’t have to go to work.

As a rule, I avoid drinking during the week.  I’m an all-or-nothing fella when it comes to drink, a couple of pints does nothing for me.  It’s either get blind drunk or stick to the orange juice.  The main reason for this is that I cannot handle hangovers unless I have nothing to do but sit and drink coffee and vegetate in front of the TV or computer.  Having to do anything which may involve brain activity, movement, interaction with people, etc. I cannot handle, so for some years now I have avoided turning up to work hungover.  But every Thursday our hotel lays on what they call a cocktail party, but is in actual fact an hour of free drinks by the pool to which all guests are invited.  This sounded like a good place to meet people, so I trotted down to see what was going on.  I joined a Frenchman I knew at one of the tables, and got introduced to a young chap called Oleg.  Within a couple of minutes we’d established that I hadn’t forgotten any of my Russian just yet, and for the benefit of the French who were standing around, that not all Brits are linguistic retards.  Oleg was from Moscow, but it turned out he spent four years in Sakhalin before moving back to Moscow and then eventually to Nigeria, where he works for the same company I do.  It was good to meet somebody who knows Sakhalin, and he said he was pretty happy to be able to speak Russian again.

In his 3 months there, he’s barely spoken a word of Russian with anyone.  But that night he was to speak plenty.  There was some professional tennis tournament going on in our hotel, probably featuring third or fourth tier players, so the gathering by the pool included a whole load of young European tennis players.  At some point not long after I’d met Oleg, he was dragged away to meet a Belorussian tennis player who didn’t seem to speak much English; eventually I joined them.  She seemed bored in the hotel, and so did we.  So Oleg, who knew the lie of the land better than I, suggested we march right off to a bar nearby and drink.  The tennis player seemed keen to leave, but not so keen to drink: she had tennis practice in the morning, which made it sound as though we were taking a schoolgirl out.  Anyway, we tramped across sandy lots and broken pathways to a bar nearby the hotel called Michael’s.  At least half the occupants were prostitutes, something I’m used to after seven years in the overseas oil business.  Beer mats would have caused me more surprise.  We found three stools at the bar and Oleg and I proceeded to order large gin and tonics, whilst our Belorussian friend ate an ice cream, which made me wonder if she actually was a schoolgirl (she wasn’t, she was well into her twenties).  We must have been there a few hours, and all but the bar staff avoided us having heard us speaking in a strange and foreign tongue.  I know that by the time we came to leave the bill was $35 (which meant the place was cheap, not our drinking restrained) and I was pretty drunk.  We walked back to the hotel all agreeing that we would meet up on Saturday night.  I have a feeling that Oleg and the Belorussian tennis player met up a lot sooner than that.  They’d started pawing each other an hour before we left the bar, and by the time we walked back they were holding hands and in no mood to end the night there.  Being a good wingman, I left them to it and went to bed.

So, I’m in Lagos barely a week and I’ve already gotten drunk with a Russian.  That’s not bad going.

From your Correspondent in Lagos

I’ve had occasion not to be polite about British Airways in the past: the last time I flew with them was in July 2008 between Moscow and London, and the cabin looked as though it had been involved in evacuating refugees from an African civil war.  So it is only fair that I praise them for the service they provided me on the way to Nigeria.  They’d allocated me a seat in the lower cabin (this being a 747) on a row which appeared to be otherwise empty according to the self check-in screen at Heathrow.  However, when I went into the lounge there was a large Nigerian lady in front of me accompanied by a small baby and a toddler.  As they went through and I handed over my boarding pass, the lady manning the lounge reception looked at my pass and said “Oh, they’ll be your neighbours.”  One of the joys of flying business is that usually there are no kids nearby (unless you are flying with wealthy Arabs, who pack their whelps into first and business class without batting an eyelid at the twenty grand which has just left their wallet), and I really didn’t fancy a flight with a baby and toddler beside me.  Not that I have anything against children.  Actually, I do.  I don’t like to be near them, or see them, or hear them.  Besides that, I have no objection in principle to their existence.  Anyway, I pulled a face.  The lady at the counter then helpfully looked on her system and relocated me to the upstairs cabin where there were free seats and any children were stowed away in the overhead locker for the duration of the flight.  I wasn’t even aware the girls at the lounge counter could change a seat and reissue a boarding pass, so I was mighty glad that she had the sense of service to offer it.  That she was Indian and not British may or may not be significant. Continue reading

Little White Lies

Phrases commonly heard in the oil and gas industry which are not to be believed:

1.  Somebody will be there to meet you.
2.  It’s only for a few weeks.
3.  You don’t need to bring anything.
4.  This project must be finished by [insert date here].
5.  The procedure will explain how.
6.  It is important you attend this meeting.
7.  HR will take care of that.
8.  Transport is available.
9.  He speaks English.
10. It’s pretty much finished, it just needs a little tweaking.
11.  We will decide that later.
12.  Not for personal use.
13.  All necessary tools and equipment will be provided.
14.  Competitive rates.
15.  It’s fairly straightforward.

Readers are free to add their own in the comments.

Off to Nigeria

Well, it looks as though it’s going to happen.  If all goes according to plan I will collect my Nigerian visa on 11th October and take a British Airways flight down to Lagos on 13th October.  My position has changed since the initial discussions and I will now be based in Lagos rather than Port Harcourt.  The salary uplifts are not half as good in Lagos so I’ll be getting paid less, but I will probably not be expected to take quite so many bullets in the torso or man the watchtower cannons quite as often.  In fact, I’ve heard you can even have something resembling a social life in Lagos, plus it is a lot easier to get to (and, perhaps more importantly, out of).  I can fly directly from Lagos to Dubai on Emirates Airlines, and from Dubai straight to Bangkok.  Had I been in Port Harcourt, it would have involved either going through Paris or London or an internal flight to Lagos or Abuja.  Internal flights in Nigeria are, so I am reliably told, to be avoided.

My leave flights, of which I get 5 per year, are economy class but my mobilisation, demobolisation, and all business flights are in business class. Is this a big deal?  You’re damned right it is!  I’ve spent 7 years flying about with my knees around my chin, a lot of which was on Aeroflot or Transaero on the 9 hour route between Yuzhno-Sakhalinsk and Moscow.  I’ve been chasing a job with business class as standard for my entire career thus far, and the closest I got was when I joined Sakhalin Energy and enjoyed a single return flight to Japan – an hour away – in business class before, within two weeks of my joining, they changed the policy.  So now I am pretty glad that at least my business travel, including my flight from to Nigeria, will be at the front of the plane enjoying fine wines and international cheeses (as I did when I came from Thailand to London last month).  Do I sound smug?  I should hope so.  I grin like a Cheshire Cat when I board a plane and turn left instead of right.  I’ve been waiting years for this.

Believe it or not, I will have family in Nigeria.  My stepmother is from Nigeria and by the time I go I will be in receipt of some handy contacts in Lagos and, should I ever go there, Port Harcourt.  I’m not sure what my company’s security manager will say about me hanging around with unvetted locals, but as I learned in Russia, knowing one or two local movers and shakers is pretty handy.  From what I can tell thus far, my new employer looks to be pretty good – they have, for example, organised people in Lagos to meet me at the airport and help me to negotiate customs and take me to my hotel, and provided me with instructions on what to do thereafter – and the role I am in looks to be both challenging and interesting.  Make no bones about it, I’ll have my work cut out.  I have to adapt quickly to two new cultures – Nigerian and French – whilst getting to grips with the job itself.  I have to learn French, learn to live on my own again, and try not to miss my wife and friends too much.  And I’ll have to find enough to do to stay out of the bars.

In some ways it’s like emigrating for the first time all over again.  Am I worried?  Of course not!  I love this kind of life, and wouldn’t have it any other way.

Blogging from Nigeria will commence shortly after I arrive.