At every stage of the planning for our trip to the North Sea, Caroline Swailes (Community Programme Co-ordinator at Bibby Line Group) and I were warned that, at a moment’s notice, it could all be cancelled. The weather, the sea, and the operation itself are all volatile in nature, and of course, safety is paramount. Somewhat naively though, I never doubted that we wouldn’t make it offshore…
As the aeroplane from Manchester to Aberdeen soared skywards, tracing the jagged coastal periphery of eastern Scotland, I glimpsed the golden sun rise above a golden cellophane sea. It seemed incomprehensible that the water would ever move again. And yet, only twenty-four hours later, the swell of the waves was so immense it rendered a helicopter journey out to the Alba FSU too dangerous to attempt. For some reason, I recalled some words from Scottish writer Iain Crichton Smith’s essay Between Sea and Moor:
‘On summer days how innocent it [the sea] looks, how playful, how almost Mediterranean. How easily like a human being it is transformed from serenity to anger, from calm to sudden outbursts of rage…’
That comparison between the ‘sea’ and ‘human being’ is particularly potent. The sea is indeed as unpredictable and as full of vitality as the human spirit. And some people – sailors, oil rig workers, fishermen – are drawn to the sea, allured by it, perhaps in the same way as they are drawn to other human beings. This fervour is made explicit in John Masefield’s poem Sea Fever:
I must go down to the seas again, to the lonely sea and sky,
And all I ask is a tall ship and a star to steer her by,
And the wheel’s kick and the wind’s song and the white sail’s shaking,
And a grey mist on the sea’s face, and a grey dawn breaking.
I must go down to the seas again, for the call of the running tide
Is a wild call and a clear call that may not be denied;
And all I ask is a windy day with the white clouds flying,
And the flung spray and the blown spume, and the sea-gulls crying.
I must go down to the seas again, to the vagrant gypsy life,
To the gull’s way and the whale’s way, where the wind’s like a whetted knife;
And all I ask is a merry yarn from a laughing fellow-rover,
And quiet sleep and a sweet dream when the long trick’s over.
Last week I too wanted to ‘go down to the seas’. Instead, I simply sat in Aberdeen heliport watching hordes of men preparing for their long stints upon rigs and platforms, men who all ‘must go down to the seas’. The difference between my ‘work’ and theirs was impossible to ignore. I felt like a mere observer on the fringes of this very foreign world.
What do you think?
Have your say about different kinds of work, here in the comments box.