Smorgasbord

Sorry about the lack of posting: I’ve been busy.

Last week I was on a short business trip to Pori in the west of Finland to visit a testing facility and kick off a project I’m managing. Three of us went, flying into Helsinki and then boarding a 30-seater twin prop between Helsinki and Pori operated by Budapest Air Service. Yeah, I couldn’t work that one out. Apparently the flight is subsidised by the Pori municipality, who might worry nobody would come and visit otherwise. When we went to the desk to check in twenty minutes before our flight we found it deserted. We asked someone from the Luftwaffe Lufthansa desk next door and she said it was a bit early. Sure enough, 10 mins before departure a lady showed up, asked us our names, and ticked us off a list. There were only about 6 or 7 people on the flight including us. We were aboard and airborne on time. When we landed they dropped the stairs and we just sort of got off and wandered across the apron towards what we guessed must be the terminal building. This is how flying should be done.

We got a taxi from Pori airport to our destination, about a 10 minute drive. The driver grunted at me once when I gave him the address, again when I paid him, and once more when I thanked him. I initially thought he didn’t like me for some reason, but then I remembered in Finland this is what passes for a warm welcome. Our hosts were rather more chatty, and we spent a day wandering through laboratories and industrial units, stopping for lunch to eat salmon, lamb, and a dessert made with sea buckthorn. Last time I was in Finland I found the food so bad I started missing even German food. This time was a lot better. It’s amazing what effect not being a tourist has. That evening we went for a short walk along the river. Some early snow had fallen leaving a dusting over everything, and there were an awful lot of birch trees. It brought back a lot of memories of Russia, a country I’ve not been to since 2012, and made me miss the cold and snow. It beat the miserable wet of Cambridge hands down. Afterwards our hosts took us to a very nice restaurant and we drank lingonberry vodka and ate reindeer steak, which I ordered rare so it was red as Rudolph’s nose. It was excellent.

We were dropped off at Pori airport at 8pm and we were the only ones in the entire building except one other passenger. About 20 minutes before takeoff a bloke showed up who checked us in without even giving us boarding passes, a couple of pilots who looked as though they ought to be tucked up in bed somewhere, and two security personnel who didn’t yell at us. I rather enjoyed my trip to Finland – they’re nice, competent people – and I’ll be going back on monthly visits either to Helsinki or Pori between now and March or April. So if anyone is around up there, let me know.

When I got back from Finland I quit my serviced apartment in Cambridge and moved to London, lodging with my Dad for a few days while I look for a temporary apartment. I found myself rather isolated up there: I didn’t know anyone, the traffic on the drive to work was awful in one direction and abominable in the other, and the weather was miserable. One of the things which has changed since I left the UK in 2003 is the introduction of flexible working in offices. I arrived in my new job to find I didn’t have a desk assigned to me. Instead I had to hot desk, and carry all my stuff home at the end of each day like a sherpa. It seems nobody is provided with desk phones any more, instead you get given a Skype number which routes straight to your laptop. Most people work 3-4 days in the office and the rest either from home or somewhere else. Attending meetings over Skype is the norm, and I realised that the oil industry is still operating somewhere in the early 1990s. The expense system, travel booking system and HR benefits and admin system are all third-party and online. In my last place of work they were, respectively: 1) paper-based requiring multiple signatures, 2) a confusing chain of emails to umpteen managers and departmental secretaries who often appeared to have brain damage, and 3) non-existent. In short, I don’t really need to be physically in the office as much as I thought. I then discovered I can get a the Brighton to Cambridge train from London Bridge pretty easily, what with it being empty going north once it’s passed St. Pancras and most empty coming south until you reach Farringdon. So I can get a good 40 minutes work done on the train each way.

My intention was to find an AirBnB in London for a month while I sorted myself out. So I found one near London Bridge and booked it, and my credit card was charged accordingly. Next thing I know I get this message:

However looking again at the price it seems to be incorrect I can’t accommodate next to tower bridge in effect a 4 star hotel 2ned suite with lots of storage at £100 a night . Hotels next door are £200 a night tiny double room or £1500 plus for a 2bed suit .

The price should be £175 a night I can do for a compromised £149 a night .

Still very reasonable for that price .

If I can send you a price amendment pls can you accept failing that can u please ask you politely to cancel the reservation.

This was rather odd: I thought we’d agreed the price and I’d paid, and now he wanted more – 50% more, to be precise. So I told him to sod off. Then I got this:

Hi Tim

I hope your okay . I’m new to airbb (my property is on One Fine Stay at £250 a night).
I’ve called airbb to rectify the pricing if it was just a couple of nights stay I wouldn’t mind . But for a months stay I simply can’t make commercial sense flats in the area rent out on normal market at £3000 plus a month .

So if you can’t pay the extra can I pls ask you to cancel I hope your decide to stay as I can’t imagine your find better in this locality .

This chap makes Theresa May look like a master of negotiation. Anyway, I told him to sod off again. Which resulted in this:

Hi Tim

I hope your well.

I’ve just been on the phone to airbb customer service they have advised me to increase the to a commercial viable amount I do hope we can compromise and meet half way. Once you see the apartment it’s great home and you won’t be disappointed.

Thanks for your empathy and storage is no problem .

Assuring you of my personal attention at ALL Times .

The next thing I know I have someone who sounded Filipina calling me from AirBnB trying to persuade me to pay the extra money, adopting the role of negotiator with his interests at heart. I explained to her as far as I was concerned the deal was done and I’d paid an she said “Yes, you make a good point, I’ll go back and tell him that.” Whether she did or not I don’t know, but within 5 minutes my booking had been cancelled and I received this message from my would-be host:

Best of luck best price £135 a night very responsible to be opposite Tower Bridge in Luxury apartment same as a five star hotel suite .

I fired off a complaint to AirBnB and they said “they were sorry I had to cancel my booking” but I’ve been refunded, although the money could take up to 15 days to reappear in my account. I told them I didn’t cancel it and they went quiet until I started having some fun telling the story on Twitter while tagging in @Airbnb. Eventually someone emailed me and said they’d investigated but due to privacy reasons they couldn’t tell me what the outcome was. The email, like all their correspondence on this case, was littered with spelling mistakes and grammatical errors. I’m wondering how long AirBnB are going to be in business before someone is killed in an unsafe property and they respond by sending the grieving relatives a list of alternative properties and wishing them a pleasant stay. In the end I got 10% off my next booking, but I’d have preferred my would-be host’s head mounted on a spike at the Tower of London.

Anyway, the good news is I’ve met someone in London who is neither Russian nor a lunatic and therefore is unlikely to be providing much blogging fodder as others have done. I’ve checked and she’s not into polyamory, which must be a disappointment to my readers. In fact, she’s rather wonderful. And that’s the main reason behind my move to London and, if I’m being honest, my lack of blogging.

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Ad of Hitler

A reader in Hong Kong alerts me to an interesting selection of adverts under my latest post.To think, I once got an email from the advertising agency that my commentators might be a little sweary for Google’s sensibilities.

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Stakhanovite

So my new job is keeping me fairly busy: I am in the process of writing a scope of work for a metals dissolving plant. I hadn’t the foggiest idea what one of those was until about the time I started writing it, but I’m a quick learner and it turns out it’s something to do with dissolving metal.

Unfortunately, this sudden demand I do some work is having a detrimental impact on my blogging. It’s not that I don’t have time to write posts at home, it’s that I don’t have time to surf the internet all day finding things to write about. Tomorrow I’m going up to Billingham for a couple of days, and Wednesday evening I expect I’ll be in the hotel without a whole lot to do, so maybe I can knock out a post then. The other problem is I have to dedicate a few hours a week to my dissertation. I’ve just spent all weekend working on it, thus missing the Battle of Britain re-enactment at Duxford just a few miles away. I’m managing to watch the important games of the rugby world cup, though.

So, if I’m not posting as regularly as I was, you’ll know why. Sorry about that, but there’s not a whole lot I can do. Apparently organisations outside the oil industry expect their employees to produce something occasionally. Who knew?

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Travelin’ Man

Blogging might be a bit sporadic over the next few days. This morning I’m busy cleaning the apartment in Annecy and packing my bags, and this afternoon I’ll drive to Paris. Tomorrow I’ll meet a couple of people – one of them being this chap, assuming the Metro strike doesn’t interfere with that plan – then Saturday I’ll drive to Calais, take the ferry to Dover, and head up to London. On Sunday I’ll drive to Cambridge, where I’ll be living for the next month so if anyone is around and fancies a beer, let me know. I start my new job on Monday, where I don’t suppose I’ll be loafing around with time to blog. I’ll see what I can do to keep you all entertained.

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The End of the Oilfield Expat

Okay, I’m back. Sorry for leaving you all in the dark over the last few days, but I’ve been busy.

Last week I was back in the UK, mainly for a job interview. I never intended to come back to Britain, but always said I would for the right job, and now the right one seems to have presented itself. I will be leaving the oil and gas industry, moving into energy technologies, which I’m glad about because it looks like a far more dynamic environment. The oil industry moves at the pace of a snail.

Now maybe some of you are asking why I didn’t pursue my intention of being a freelance consultant or interim manager as I explained back in June. Well, I tried. What I quickly learned was:

1) Nobody will hire you as a consultant unless you have lots of consultancy experience or a big name consultancy on your CV. Simply knowing a lot about a particular industry and having general competence is not enough.

2) Industry experience is everything. Unless you have all the keywords related to a particular industry on your CV, forget it. A construction consultancy would rather hire a janitor who worked on a building site than an engineer who worked in oil and gas.

Now I didn’t put 100% effort in – and I thank everyone who helped me or made themselves available – because my oil and gas CV started working for me on its own. When I started getting calls about jobs which aligned with my CV out of the blue, I started to wonder if it was worth killing myself for 2-3 years building a reputation and network from scratch. And in the end I found a job which looks to be very interesting and pays well, so it became a no-brainer. It is very much an engineering-related position, and although I’ll not be using my HR knowledge directly, there will be ample scope to use it indirectly. So apologies to everyone who put themselves out to help me with my freelance plans; it was not my intention to mess you about. If you feel that aggrieved, I’ll buy you a beer.

I was initially sad I’ll no longer be able to blog about my experiences in dangerous foreign lands filled with strange-looking people with odd customs and a scant grasp of the English language, but the feeling vanished when I realised I’m probably going to be living in London. The other option is Cambridge, but I think London suits me better. I’ve been away for over 16 years and the UK has changed in that time, and so have I. I’m actually looking forward to it.

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Rehosting

I’m going to be migrating the blog over to a new hosting service over the next few days, so if you see the site has disappeared, don’t start panicking.

UPDATE

Well, I would have migrated the site if my new hosts weren’t taking the best part of a week to process the order. Harrumph.

UPDATE II

The migration is complete. It took longer than it should have mainly because I was being dumb.

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Favour

I have a favour to ask. A friend from my MBA course – who happens to be pretty, blonde, and Austrian – is doing a survey for her dissertation and is struggling for respondents. I posted it on Twitter and several people said the questions are poorly designed and contradictory, but that’s by-the-by: she’s a friend and I’m helping her out.

So if anyone is bored and has some time, would they mind completing the survey here? Thanks.

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Travel Again

By the time this is posted I’ll be on en route to Florida were I’ll be spending the next nine days. I’m killing several birds with one stone: going to my brother’s 50th birthday bash in Miami, taking part in this bluegrass jam session outside Orlando, visiting an old vet buddy I worked with in Kuwait up in Pensacola, and meeting a mysterious Russian woman who I suspect is a spy sent to kill me with polonium for blogging unkindly about Putin. If I’m not back blogging within a few weeks, start looking for alligators that glow in the dark.

Until then, enjoy yourselves.

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Travel

I’ll not be posting for a few days as I’m going to Tarragona in Spain to meet up with a Venezuelan mate and, probably, drink rum until I fall over. I’ll be driving down, and this afternoon I hope to stop at the Pont du Gard to marvel at Roman engineering and construction. I’ll spend the night in Perpignan and continue on my way tomorrow.

Be good while I’m gone.

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Random Question

Here’s a random question for my readers concerning something which might become very important or perhaps not at all.

How easy is it for a Brit to get a US residency permit? Presumably the best way is to get a job with a US company willing to sponsor you, but how likely is that in the DC or north Virginia area? Is this something they generally do, or they avoid? Bearing in mind I’m a project manager/general manager with an engineering background. Anyone know?

Serious answers here, please folks. I know I could switch my name to something ethnic and swim the Rio Grande, but I’m looking at something more robust. And more studying is out of the question.

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