Chuseok 2017

Earlier in this blog I have written about Korea’s Chuseok festival that takes place annually at harvest time and includes the giving of gifts that to English eyes might look rather unusual (presentation packs of Spam for example).

A friend has forwarded me this link to a Korea Times news article describing how the current situation across the border has made survival kits a popular gift this year.  A sign of the times.

If it were me, I might be tempted to put a can of Spam in the bag to create the arguably ultimate survival kit.

Baltic or Tropic?

It is a September evening on the west coast of Denmark and I have just caught a mosquito in my living room. Surely this is a national first?

Breezing Along

Today is my six-month ‘semi-anniversary’ working on this project. To mark the occasion, Esbjerg has provided a Force 10-11 gale (63 mph according to the BBC Weather app) and heavy rain showers. It looks like a quiet night in to celebrate is in order.

Drama in Denmark

Barely two weeks back at work and summertime in Baku already feels like a very long time ago.

Having several deadlines to meet in the project is demanding plenty of focus. On top of that we all received a surprising piece of news on Monday morning that provides further food for thought: Maersk Oil is to be bought by Total.

A “town hall” meeting was immediately convened on Monday followed by an other one on Tuesday. Yesterday was long-set in the diary as a day of activities designed to promote teamwork and togetherness and it took on an extra dimension in the light of the buy-out announcement. Suffice to say my project productivity has dipped below plan while I have remained rather busy.

Opinions and emotions on the subject of the sale understandably cover a broad spectrum. Maersk Group (from which Maersk Oil was in the process of separating already) is a long-established, family-run Danish business with a large global presence. There is some pride at stake here.

The move towards independence has already wrought a lot of change. According to “Plan A” the bulk of it was over and everyone could look forward to settling down a bit now. To a certain extent Monday’s news has thrown everything up in the air again. I will hold my counsel for now.

Meanwhile in other news, the nation is in what might best be described as a state of shock following the murder of a journalist in Copenhagen.

In brief: international journo meets rich eccentric on homemade submarine; submarine sinks; eccentric saved and later reports journo “buried at sea” after accident; journo’s head- and limbless torso washes up on shoreline a few days later.

This sort of event does not occur in Denmark very often if at all. The news coverage is extensive to say the least and the story would run with only a fraction of the intrigue that surrounds it. As things stand at present, we have the makings of a modern saga on our hands.

Summertime Snooze

One-thirty in the afternoon.  Hot sun burns bright in a cloudless blue sky.  BBC Weather says it is forty degrees Celsius and rising which means it is probably hotter.  Sitting on a shaded veranda with a light breeze helping the cooling makes the temperature bearable.  “Hello again” summer on the Absheron peninsula.

Everyone else is asleep at present so I am taking the opportunity to scribble for a few minutes before resuming family duties.

It has been a longer break than planned since the last post was published.  Chiefly this was due to the charger for my laptop deciding to expire gracefully over the course of a busy few days.  By the time it had most definitely ceased to function, I had landed in Baku.

Thankfully there is the “Alma Store” here (alma is apple in Azerbaijani) which is dedicated solely to service and repairs while retail space is at a different address.  Thanks to that differentiation I was able to pop in, agree the fault with the friendly technician, purchase a replacement charger and be on my way again in a matter of minutes.  With Apple seeming to have more-or-less standardised prices around the globe the wallet surgery wasn’t too painful either.

As with previous summers, most of our time is being spent out in the ‘countryside’ of the northern coast rather than in central Baku so there is little to report from the city.

That said it is good to report that Kefli is still in business with its range of rather enjoyable local wines.  There is also a new coffee shop on Khagani Street called Barista & Chef that is well worth a visit.  The decor and the staff dress code both appear rather NYC/London inspired, the service is very friendly and the drinks are produced to a high standard.  I chose the “Charlie Choco Factory” milkshake and was very satisfied (see picture below).

There is a third cookie sandwiched between the two large ones…!

Away from town we are mostly following a routine of visiting the beach in the morning and retreating back to the shade before it gets too hot.

There have also been some social get-togethers, one of which involved a dacha garden, kebabs on the barbecue and of course some samovar tea.  As it has been a few years I could not resist posting a photograph of the latter (below).

Samovar tea – hot stuff.

Snooze time is nearly over and I had better get ready for the children.  More news soon.

The Value of Good Humour

Twenty-odd years ago, a school friend and I were on one of the last flights to leave a Caribbean island for the USA before a major hurricane was due.  The pilot of that American Airlines flight had a very relaxed and reassuring manner over the intercom and even dipped a wingtip to improve the view during one those “we are just passing…” parts of the speech.  He brought some much appreciated levity to a rather tense crowd.

That pilot came to mind this evening while waiting to depart on the SK506 to Copenhagen.  It was a full flight and with schedules at Heathrow being notoriously tight, I imagine the captain was keen to get boarding completed in good time.

After making the customary welcome announcement in Danish first, his switch to English opened with: “Ladies and gentlemen.  There may be fifty ways to leave your lover but there are only eight to leave this aircraft.”  After which he exhorted us to pay full attention to the safety demonstration that was soon to follow.

The English version of the pre-landing speech started with: “Ladies and gentlemen.  What happened in London stays in London and here comes Copenhagen.”  We landed ten minutes ahead of schedule.

Our captain for the evening was Mikael Kirkensgaard.  As I had just read in the inflight magazine about a different SAS captain who had been a decorated competitive skater, I asked Captain Kirkensgaard what he did when not flying.  He is not a stand-up in his spare time but a football coach.  He is also rather handy at the controls of an Airbus A320.  I hope we might fly together again.

SAS Captain Mikael Kirkensgaard

Unfortunately the smile waned somewhat shortly after landing.  The flight to Billund has been cancelled and a three hour bus journey awaits.  I wonder what the driver’s sense of humour will be like.

Heathrow hat-trick

Friday night I landed at Terminal 5; last night I waved farewell to my family at Terminal 4; tonight I am flying out of Terminal 2.  Three nights on the trot at Heathrow Airport.  Perhaps I should buy shares in the business.

As I have to wait a few minutes for the gate number to be announced I am taking the opportunity to scribble a few words while sipping a cold drink: on this occasion a pint of Fuller’s Sticky Wicket which I have never seen anywhere before and is apparently a seasonal special.  Quite a pleasant ale it is too if perhaps a little sticky by flavour as well as by name.

“Go to gate” the screen suddenly declares.  Bye for now.

I’m on the bus…

…and I’m online.  So I am writing a quick post simply because I can.   No doubt I am showing my age here…

The bus in question is a recently introduced service to Billlund Airport that has replaced the one I used to take.  Hardware upgrades make it similar to an aeroplane (lights and air vents per seat for example) but with huge windows and one of those large tables with four seats facing it; which is where I am sitting now.

There are two other people on the bus, one of whom is the driver.  As the other chap is sitting very quietly at the back I can almost pretend this is my private conveyance.

DKK 80.00 for the bus ticket versus around DKK 1000.00 for a metered taxi.  When the schedules align, no contest.

Now Then, Where Were We?

Time to fill in a few of the more recent gaps.

The Ulsan job came to an abrupt end in 2015. The giant we had spent three years constructing left the quayside on its journey to the Barents Sea and nearly all of us were sent home the next day. As the slump in the oil and gas industry had pretty much bottomed out around that time there were very few other projects available to move on to and home meant home.

After two years of mixed fortunes in England, the ‘phone rang with a call from an agent who had found a small reference in my CV matching a client requirement in a job description. Three tests, two interviews and a set of return flights later I found myself hired with a start date set on a project based in Esbjerg, Denmark.

The project is in its relatively early stages so the contract is short. On that basis it makes more sense for me to commute to Denmark rather than move the family abroad with me. If/when the project gets full confirmation and I get invited to stay longer we will reassess accordingly.

In the meantime I am getting quite familiar with the flight permutations between London and Billund plus the connection possibilities outwards from those airports to home and office respectively. Danish bus services are certainly punctual!

Rankings appear to be popular in Denmark and when I hear (frequently) that Esbjerg is the nation’s fifth largest city I do not doubt the claim. I do wonder how it is measured though.

This city covers plenty of acres and does so with long, wide roads in a grid layout. There are some grand buildings of various vintages in the centre, attractive residential streets, a large port, beaches and even an Esbjerg Airport. Clearly this is a settlement built accommodate on a fair scale. The one thing I can’t see much evidence of is people.

In mitigation, I do spend the working/shopping hours of the day tucked away in the office so I miss the possible throngs on “Denmark’s longest pedestrianised shopping street”; I have paid but one visit to the recently opened mall at the end of said street: I do not spend my weekends here. This is Scandinavia.

However, speaking as boy of London’s outer suburbs, it feels unavoidably odd when I can frequently walk the fifteen minutes from the city centre out to my flat of an evening passing only three fellow pedestrians and barely more moving cars during the journey. Where is everybody?

No doubt there is plenty to be observed in the rise and fall of Esbjerg as a fishing port and latterly as an oil and gas centre (see above) but this is hardly a languishing, abandoned city. Several building projects (like the aforementioned mall) are testament to the forward-looking nature of the administration here. Let us hope it is not comparable to the “build it and they will come” philosophy used to mixed effect elsewhere in the world.

Putting a Londoner’s population concerns aside, Esbjerg is a good place to be. There is plenty of fresh air with a strong wind nearly every day and the weather is so variable, the locals are on a par with the English when it comes to discussing the subject. So far so good.

To The Polls We Go

General Election Day in the UK today.  While a WhatsApp group I am part of is comparing merits of the local candidates, bookies’ odds on the possible outcomes and similar, at time of writing the banner headline on the BBC News website leads to a selection of statistics about previous elections and details of who will be presenting the television coverage later.  Compare and contrast…