From Birkenhead to Bandar Siri Bagwan and Bishkek

(The ramblings of a wanderlust Builder)

Chapter 12: Marmalade and Lobsters

Chapter 12: Marmalade and Lobsters

With three fast growing children, heading towards a high school education, we were outgrowing our cozy little first home despite having extending it, a year after I started working overseas. Fortunately, the new generous leave system gave me the time to find a new larger house in a quintessential, quiet Welsh village, off the main roads, but not too far from good shopping facilities. The village school was 200 metres away, and the only pub an equal distance in the opposite direction. A perfect situation for the whole family.

I returned back to work on Das Island in early 1980, to find the management had made good their promise to provide an entertainment budget, which allowed us to book two or three acts a year. Leave schedules, as well as a 24/7 shift, made it difficult for most men to see every show, but we endeavored to schedule bookings to ensure all club members had the opportunity to see at least one professional act a year and to cater for all tastes by varying the type of act. It also gave me personally, as the club entertainment’s organiser, to showcase our resident band as a supporting act and to do some audience warm-up and MC sessions myself.

Among the early acts we were able to fly in, were several recognisable British TV entertainers of that era, such as the Terry Lightfoot Jazz band, Liverpool comic Jonny Hackett, actor and raconteur Lance Percival and popular rock band Marmalade.

Marmalade on the beach

Several projects were underway around the island for both the oil and gas companies and for common shared facilities. This necessitated a lot of coordination on my part with construction consultants and engineers brought in to plan and manage the works within my remit. Fortunately, we all got on well at work and tended to socialise, circulate and dine together.

With the strictly applied dress code for the senior staff restaurant, including the mandatory wearing of a tie, most of the island’s groups, crews, societies and clubs had their own designed ties, tee shirts and other items like sports bags and sweaters. Our team, consisting of six construction and building specialists, set about stamping an identity on our little group likewise.

Fueled by a few beers and high spirits, we launched the Civil Engineering Sobriety Society and Philanderers in the Tavern. The title was, of course, a total oxymoron and the anachronism of the CESSPIT’s epitomised the self-depreciating humour aimed at one low tech aspect of civil engineering works we were responsible for. With some seriously clever designers in our team, we developed a colourful tongue-in-cheek, medieval style coat-of-arms, depicting lions rampant (with a foot each resting on a bar rail) and supporting a shield, embellished with a Doric column with a tankard of beer atop. There were lots of cascading vine leaves and a scroll with the Latin inscription ergo bibamus (therefore let us drink). We had a charter made up in the style of ancient scroll, with copperplate script and complete with a wax seal. Our tie boasted a simple logo of the mathematical one over the eight (1/8) over our Latin inscription.

We set up a monthly CESSPIT’s dinner in the mess, with a proviso that we should invite a single guest, who qualified by having the ability to tell an entertaining tale, relate an interesting experience or contribute positively to Das life. Such became our reputation for providing a good evening; we were getting whispered requests for invitations. We expanded gradually from 6 to 12 including 2 honorary members, who joined us from the USA for 6 months special duties.

After one of our now well-known organised dinners, I was sent for by the Engineering Manager. This was a very rare occasion for me and I racked my brains as to what I had done to merit a private meeting. After closing his normally always open door, I feared the worse, but was then confronted with serious questions about why he had not yet had an invitation to a CESSPIT’s dinner and how we manage to have the constant attention of the mess wine waiter, when his table of senior managers constantly struggled to get served.

I diplomatically suggested he might be under consideration as a dinner guest, knowing his permanently droll demeanor would never fit our group’s idea of good sociable company. I also indicated I would have a word with the wine waiter, but omitted to tell him however, that like us, he needed to sidestep the rule of “No Tipping” in the mess and reward the wine waiter for his attentiveness. The penalty from my fellow CESSPIT’s for inviting boring guests was to be presented with the total drinks bill for the evening. I was not prepared to chance that expense.

The Civil Engineering Society and Philanderers in the Tavern, original members

As much as the imported professional entertainment and homemade fun and banter maintained good spirits and enhanced camaraderie, work was always the over-riding factor for being there and something we had to be aware of, around the clock.

As previously alluded to, if work did not come under the heading of Mechanical, Electrical or Instumentation, it must be in the scope of the Civil Engineering Dept. It was under this premise that we inherited the Painting Section and my previous simplistic notion that industrial painting had little technical merit, was forced to go through a drastic reavaluation. I attended technical courses and spent a period at the premises of our specialist coating supplier in UK to get some insight into specifications and acquire Quality Control procedural instruction.
Special paints had been developed to deal with the extreme humid and saline conditions which prevailed locally, much like marine paints. However the the severe atmostpheric conditions had a detrimental effect, even on high quality stainless steel. When the liquid gas inside the pipes was at minus 162°C and the exterior temperature was plus 45°C and rising the resultant reaction was perhaps not fully anticipated. It is acknowledged universally that stainless steel does not normally require coating, due to its unique non-rusting composition, but the cryogenic conditions applied to these massive pipes, showed that over time, the huge disparity in outer and inner surface temperatures was inducing stresses that developed into tiny, but growing surface fractures. This applied in particular to the bends of the pipes where the natural tension and compression factors, inherent when bending pipes was further exacipated by the freezing liquid gas swirled like a vortex internally.This was a seriously concerning scenario, as the meeting of gas and air with their extreme +200°C temperature variance was capable of expanding and vapourising at such a rate it would causing a catostrophic event.

After urgent meetings with expert Metalogists, Industrial Chemists, Gas Engineers and the ever present Safety Managers, it was concluded that the outer temperature of the pipes needed reducing, but as they would still need monitoring, cladding with insulation should be avoided. It was then that our specialist UK paint supplier, came up with a unique coating that had the effectiveness of reducing the ambient heat from being absorbed by the stainless steel enough to change the massive temperature variance that triggered the defects.

With initial guidance by our expert supplier, we immediately prepared and coated all the stored replacement stainless steel pipes and fittings in our Grit Blast & Painting yard and after passing exacting Quality Control procedures, they were installed during a series of short production plant shut downs, to replace the original defective pipes. To date, I have never found any other circumstances elsewhere that required stainless steel to be coated.

Preparing pipes for coating in the Blast Yard

As someone who enjoyed good food, in particular seafood, I had discovered very soon after I arriving on Das Island that perhaps one of the best kept secrets of the Gulf was the variety and quality of fish available. Local fishermen had berths in the company harbour for their shows and contracts to supply the mess with fresh fish, so I was royally catered for. Friday, being the sabath, was always looked forwarded to, as among the several choices of dining possibilities was the Sailing Club beach BBQ, featuring one or more of the local fish specialities, such as Red Snapper, Hamor, Sultan Ibrahim, Sharrie, Barracuda or even a fabulous Tiger Shrimp curry, cunjured up by the talented Indian chefs employed to keep us happily fed. For a few days or rather nights in March, there was a phenomenem off-shore from the island, when large patches of the sea surface were bubbling with a frenzy of breeding Cigali, a local crayfish like crustacian, known in other parts of the world as Slipper Lobster. The crews in the Marine Department knew exactly where and when this annual event took places and made sure they were anchored accordingly, ready to scoop them up, with little effort and nothing more than buckets full of holes on the end of a rope. These delicious seasonal shellfish are an expensive dish in top resturants, but except for Das Island, I don’t believe there are any other places in the world where freshly cooked lobster tails are served as free bar snacks.

Cigali (Slipper Lobster) on the grill

Author

Bernard C. Dagnall, CIPM

Bernard is a highly experienced professional Project Manager with credentials earned over a span of 35 years with VVIP Clientele and Blue-Chip brands in Europe, Middle East, Central Asia and the Far East. He is also a creative writer having penned many industry-related articles and blogs.

By: admin | May 6, 2021