This blog began as a cyber-fire around which a very large and scattered family could sit, and, to mix metaphors, dip into.
This is a heartfelt rant from my cousin, Michael McDonald, in his own words: 'currently knocking round Newfoundland on a big, rusty, metal mental asylum....'
It's long but instructive and will leave you wanting to down a can or two of strong ale. Maybe five or six...ten, twelve... Over to you, Mike.
I'm frequently asked by friends and family back in Liverpool what it's like to be on this ship. So to allow them to share in the experience I have devised a little simulator. Now they, too, can have their very own offshore Wellservicer experience from the comfort of their own homes.
First of all, you need to simulate the unit, i.e. the room you'll be spending 12 hours a day in. Choose the smallest room in your house and divide it in two (a blanket or some bits of board should do the trick.) Half a typical small room is about the size of a typical unit. Remove anything remotely decorative or comfortable, and paint what’s left into this weird beige colour; throw in an off-cut from the 70's style Indian restaurant carpet knocking round the attic. Find yourself a metal desk, perhaps a filing cabinet too, and then a chair, although you first need to break the chair and attempt to fix it, just make sure you can't sit back and relax.
Set up a laptop and other random bits of electronics, install a phone that has no outside line, and give yourself an intermittent internet connection. Better still, have no internet at all. If you have intermittent internet, make sure all sites remotely interesting or useful are blocked by the company’s access policy, in fact just cut and paste the following screen as your pc screen saver screen.
The website you have attempted to access has been blocked.
This is in accordance with the Technip Internet Access policy.
After all this make sure you get fleeced good style by someone: any treats for yourself to take to your set up simulator room must come from an old cupboard; the sweets will not have seen the light of day for at least 14 months and all sweets must be unnervingly close to the sell by date. Write camp boss on a family members T shirt and get that person to sell you some sweets for seven times the price. This is important: make sure you have no other option.
Get them to also sell you a phone card that pertains to be for 2000 minutes but actually only giving 2 minutes 22 seconds. Remember this is your only possibility of contact with the outside world, but switch it off when you really , really, really need it.
keep all your important numbers on the wall, then spend 2 minutes keying in 24 numbers before dialing the one you actually want, whilst anxiously looking at the keypad hoping you inputted fast enough and correctly whilst looking at the number on the wall, then when you think you have cracked it, cut the phone dead and start again....do this several times... take more minutes off your phone card each time.
Now put a TV in the corner somewhere, so when you sit back, you can’t really see it. Hook up a video with a 5 minute recording of sky news and play over and over again , all day in fact; you must ensure the remote control does not match or control your particular TV set; open up the remote and bite the batteries so they contain teeth indents and place back, put black tape round the battery compartment to hold it together...ensure you have no other channels....pay thousands for the installation of the satellite and at yearly intervals have someone come round and dismantle the dish and put it back together. You must pay obscene amounts for this, but make sure it’s still not working. Shrug your shoulders and do not complain, just accept it.
So we have now our basic cabin and workspace, but the ambience is all wrong. Crank up the heat to an unbearable level, and install a gigantic air conditioner/fan in the room. Ensure it doesn't work. Allow it to switch on and blast air around very noisily, but make sure it isn't remotely cooling. Just outside of the room/unit, you need to create a source of noise. Perhaps 2 to 3 Hoovers might do the trick. This is mere background noise,
To accurately simulate the agonising blowing of the foghorn we regularly endure, you may need to borrow a Newfoundland seal and have it tortured at two minute intervals. Really, really hurt this seal, over and over again. In fact, put it in front of a megaphone as you do so.
You may close the door to soften the noises (a little), but if you do so, you must increase the heat greatly.
To simulate the PA system, simply turn on your radio, find a grainy piece of static, and put the volume to full blast at random intervals.
Ensure there is no intelligible content within.....get a recording of some Pole or Pilipino trying to make an announcement in broken English...make sure you can’t understand it...
If you choose to simulate dayshift, your hours are 6am to 6pm, with meals at 5.00am, 11.30am and 5.30pm: and nights opposite. Meals should consist of 9 year old steak from the back of the freezer, or anything from the pound shop that they cannot sell in Turkistan, and some mystery meats in wraps or anything hiding beneath a layer of cheese or powdered mash to cover up the poor quality. Cheese must be the processed cheap type, if you’re feeling particularly adventurous chop spam and sprinkle on top! (don't attempt to eat unless your teeth are in A1 condition.) Safest option is chips.
You are perfectly entitled to go outside at any time, but must wear luminous coveralls, a hardhat, gloves and safety glasses, given to you by a ‘safety man’. Find a member of the family to simulate him, one that has failed in every other walk of life, preferably someone that has had a few accidents, can talk down to people and disappears the first sign of trouble, and talks constant rubbish. You must ensure he is trained in the art of deflecting any responsibility or common sense, and likes the sound of his own voice! If you have such a person in your family - one who usually lives in the Far East somewhere with shady tendencies for young women.
Whilst outside listen to ugly men swear. (find a large family member that can take off a north east UK accent, preferably from the Newcastle area, and make sure they look particularly scary) All communication must be grumpy. Humour is only allowed in small and very bitter doses. Do not smile. Do not be nice. Do not talk about your emotions. Remind those around you how miserable conditions are. If you have a full blown conversation, ensure it is about mechanics, football or engineering or bits of pipe, and do not try and understand it...just nod and smile to them, they will eventually go away when the mystery meat curry is being served up in the galley.
To accurately simulate sleeping conditions, find a single bed too short to stretch out in. You may turn off some of the Hoovers, but keep the seal torture up. Remember every two minutes!
Every couple of nights, simulate the steward by having a friend open and close your door just as you’re nodding off, and sometimes turn the light on and off. Don't say much to him/her, or he will talk to you usually about sex or if in foreign waters "jiggy jiggy" Get your friend to ask you if you have any of them "decent" DVDs for him...or about if you know when the next port call is.
Here comes the key part of this simulation: it must last for weeks...no, months. In fact, when you begin, try not to even know how long it will last. Have a friend roll a dice in secret, and then have them tell you an entirely different, lower number. It is vital you begin your simulation believing it to last three weeks when in fact it will last six.
The good news: when you finish your Wellservicer ship simulation you are allowed - nay, obliged - to drink very heavily for weeks and weeks. DO NOT STOP.
And then, just when you've spent your final penny on your final bottle of Stella, crank up the Hoovers, borrow the seal, and plunge yourself into another month or two of sensory shutdown. You are now ready and primed to embrace the offshore existence aboard the Wellservicer.