Smudger Snippets

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I suppose it's because I have so much time on my hands these days, that all these memories come flooding back to me.

The Hawk and the Starling

While working offshore on a distant oil rig way out in the North sea in the bitter winter of 1981, I was on a major contract to hook up four new modules that had been built ashore and were to be fitted to the rig to increase production. The accommodation barge which was floating beside the rig was one of the early ones, so to say the at the least it was spartan and, lets face it, rough!

The job had to be done quickly to prevent massive losses of revenue so, with that in mind, they flooded the job with a lot of men to finish it quickly, hence the five tier accommodation barge. The weather was bitterly cold and the wind had the effect of taking your breath away; we had to put vaseline on our faces around the eyes and mouth to prevent the skin cracking. The cabin I was given was on the very top level of five, with the wash room being out in the open. So it was what you could call 'basic' and, when the wind was strong, you could feel the cabins sway! I just completed my first twelve hour night shift and was looking forward to be in the warm and sleeping.

To my horror they started loading supplies in containers onto the roof of my block. The noise was bad enough but, when one of the containers caught the roof of my cabin it ripped it off, allowing the snow to blow in. We were all vey angry, all six of us1. I was elected by the rest of the men to go and sort this problem out with the admin office staff. It took some time for the administrator to believe me, then even more time to get him motivated to have it rectified. There was always bad feeling between them and the workers. In the end I had to go over his head and went straight to the OIM2. When I told him that we were all night shift workers now losing sleep time, he sorted it all out with one quick and noisy phone call to one bemused administrator!

The new modules were soon in position, after the massive offshore crane had finished, but they were not hooked up to any power supply. The result of this meant that they were in total darkness at night and, with the wind howling through them, it made it a very eerie place to be. One of the dayshift men told us that they heard weird noises coming from the modules; we thought that they were just trying to scare us.

Then, that very evening, we heard it; a loud screech, followed by a strange flapping noise. It really scared us, but none of us would admit it. Then, later that night, we heard this loud whooshing noise and there, against the bright moonlight, we saw it; a full grown Hawk! It was quite common to find birds out there in the North Sea, as they would get lost or blown off course. Some even got trapped in the containers that were shipped out to us. But to see this Hawk glide around the rig with its massive wing span, was a beautiful sight to see. No one knew how it got there but, then again, no one was going to try and move it!

One of the riggers, a massive man with a kind heart, had found a small starling that had been trapped inside a container. It was near death when he found it, but he fed it every meal break with biscuits ground into some milk. We used to follow him up to the upper decks to watch him feed the little bird, which he kept in a small unused electrical junction box. No matter how bad the weather was, you would see him up there every day, feeding this bird, he was so proud of it. No one dare to poke fun at him for doing so, as he was a massive man, yet at the same time, a gentle giant. Word got round of this on both shifts and, indeed, the whole idea of it gave us all that little bit of cheer. This was badly needed to boost morale, as the weather was so bitter, it would soon demoralise us all.

Then, one day, the winds died down and the sun came out, just as we were coming off the night shift. Just to see the sun after so long in constant darkness, was a real morale booster. Big Dave, the rigger, scurried across the bridge to be first in line for breakfast so he could go feed his bird again. In fact the weather was so good a few of us decided that we would go back up top after breakfast, just to soak up some sun. Quite a crowd of us, infact, had gathered away in the corner to keep out of the day shifts' way and to watch Dave feed the bird. It was sitting on the hand rail chirping away, as if celebrating the sunshine. Then out of nowhere and with so much speed, we heard that whooshing sound again; this time it was really close! So close that we all dived down. Then, when we got back up and looked, we saw Big Dave just standing there, motionless, and a single feather gently turning in the breeze as it fell. The wee starling was gone! Dave just could not believe it as he stood there with his mouth open and a constant stare at the handrail. It took us a long time to console him, he was so upset, I could see a tear in his eye. After that the sight of the Hawk soaring around the rig, wasn't quite so fascinating; it was as if something special was missing. Just how such a big man like Dave and a squad of 'growlers' - as we were called - could get so upset over a starling, I will never know. Maybe it was a case of 'you had to be there'.

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1Six men to a cabin.2Offshore installation manager.

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