Belated season’s greetings and apologies for the lengthy pause between postings. It has been a busy and mobile period.
Leyla and Medina are both well. The latter was five months old yesterday and she celebrated in a laughing and smiling style that has become joyfully customary. I feel truly fortunate to have such a happy child.
At time of writing I am back on home turf for a few days to enjoy the holiday period before diving into a new and likely very demanding job. November saw the conclusion of my part in the Skarv project after three and a half years. To borrow a comparison that might be familiar to the home mechanic: the team I was with had the task of compiling the workshop manual for machine that was designed and constructed by the project; the manual is now ready to be handed to the owner/operator of the machine.
Next up is more of the same but for a different project, a different machine and a different company. It is with no small sense of trepidation that I have parted ways with BP (amicably) and started working for Eni – similar line of business but a different company as one might expect.
November was a lively mixture of completing final procedures for one job while sorting out preparations for the other and simultaneously getting packed and ready for moving everything out of Oslo. The strike on Wednesday 30 November and the doom-laden predictions for Heathrow played their part in that just to add spice but we muddled on through safely in the end.
The first two weeks of December took me to Stavanger on the south-west coast of Norway where I started my acquaintance with the new job. Aside from two days of ice and snow the weather was a constant blend of strong winds and heavy rain which made me quite glad to depart; not a place I would recommend too highly as a holiday destination.
Next stop was a week in Baku to catch up with family and friends and introduce Medina to them. It has been three and a half years since I last visited and the city has changed at a rate that shows little sign of slowing. If you manage to blink and miss the massive new terminal buildings under construction at the airport, the expansion of the main airport road from four to eight lanes and the lit ‘artwork’ lining it all the way to the city should catch your attention.
The buffing and lighting continues in the city centre where the facades of the buildings lining the major roads have been scrubbed up and lit as if trying to wrestle the ‘city of light’ title from Paris in some way. Step back a block or two and the old Baku of darker streets and pot-holed roads remains, augmented by frequent piles of rubble in some areas as charming old low-rise buildings are demolished to make way for, well, whatever grand plan might fill the gap eventually. To give an idea of scale: the area between Fizuli Square and the Heydar Aliyev Concert Hall (Samad Vergun Street) used to be a neighbourhood but is now a muddy hole around twenty metres deep covering an area about the size of half a dozen football pitches.
Public transport is putting on a smarter face now with the battered old minibuses replaced by newer, larger buses (getting a bit battered too) and the taxi fleet showing similar signs of renewal. It is even possible to hail a ‘London’ taxi in Baku now: same shape as the LTI machines but purple instead of black and a copy made in China (hopefully under licence) rather than the ‘real’ thing.
Major hotels such as Hilton and Marriott have arrived in the city with vast new buildings and other big western brands are also arriving in ever greater numbers to relieve the wealthy elite of their cash. Debenhams and Versace are one thing, the gleaming showroom for Bentley Baku I think is quite an other.
While the rate of progress is impressive, I have reservations about how ready the city will be for hosting the Eurovision Song Contest in a few months time. Leaving aside the time, money and effort required to obtain a visa before flying which might surprise a few Shengen-familiar Europeans (the buy-on-arrival service was stopped over a year ago), I am not sure how ready the city infrastructure is for what could be a huge number of visitors in a very compressed period. Time will tell.
We got back to London from Baku just in time for Christmas and have been enjoying catching up with people as best we can while unpacking boxes from Norway and re-packing before flying on to our next stop for the new job: Korea. It’s back to the shipyards and the kimchee for us, Hyundai at Ulsan this time rather than Samsung at Geoje. Some people think we’re mad. We probably are but so far we are looking forward to it.