I was a blithering idiot but he got me job
I found myself thinking of Colin Campbell’s brilliantly funny "Local Radio" tapes and CDs earlier this week. The reason? Because I was staying with friends just outside the village of Clatt in north west Aberdeenshire.
Popping into the paper shop in nearby Rhynie on Monday morning, and hearing the locals speak to each other was to be taken straight to Colin Campbell’s "Radio Auchnagat" and "the loon" working at the Mains of Slacktacket, Clatt.
Those tapes – I loved them; and I frequently played them in the car as I commuted back and forth between our rented house in Midmar and Aberdeen. "An here’s a late fitba result. Echt five, Fyvie echt" – the old ones are the best, and Colin Campbell is today still recognised as a star turn.
We had three very happy years in Aberdeenshire – indeed our twins were born there – and being there this week brought memories flooding back. Heresy, I know, but there is another part of Scotland in my life, besides Tain and the Far North. If some deity deemed that I would have to spend the rest of my days in somewhere like Clatt, well I could probably cope with it.
It was the departure from Nigg of the Conoco Hutton tension leg platform, "the TLP", and its subsequent hook-up and commissioning, that took me from Tain to Aberdeen. I was one of the lucky ones when the TLP left and the redundancy notices were sent out. Did I mind relocating to Aberdeen? Did I heck. It was a job and when you have a young family, that is paramount. Besides, still in our twenties, we saw the whole thing as a great adventure, which it certainly turned out to be. It was only the sudden and somewhat untimely death of my father and the pressing needs of the Stone family cheese business that rendered imperative our return to Tain.
Over two decades later the TLP impresses itself on my mind for another reason. As all old Nigg hands know – it’s back. There, all six vast yellow-painted steel columns of it, the TLP lies again in the Cromarty Firth. The topsides have gone (sold to the Russians?) and the leviathan sits waiting for whatever the future holds. Its life as a working oil production platform turned out to be a lot shorter than those of us who built it would ever have guessed.
It was a difficult contract, not least because of the cracks in the steel that appeared while the six columns were still being assembled. This delayed completion and drove up costs – as too did the famous "orange juice strike" of that time.
Ostensibly about a management decision to withdraw supplies of refreshing fruit drink for the workforce, the strike quickly became big and relatively acrimonious, with massed pickets on the gates at the start of each day shift.
One particular day during the strike I remember very well indeed.
Going back a while, the man I reported to at Nigg was a retired colonel called David Girvan. He was a decent spud, dressed in his tweed jacket and cavalry twills, but with his clipped moustache and military manner he cut an unusual figure in a fabrication yard teaming with "bears" and "Hey Jimmies" in hard hats and rigger boots. He also enjoyed a dram.
One morning I walked into the office that I shared with him and Christine Watson from Inver, only to find him bent forward over his desk with one eye closed and the other about an inch from the desk top. Unaware that I had entered the room, I heard the colonel mutter to himself "Thank God, it’s stopped moving…" Clearly it had been a heavy night.
Via an altercation with a gate pillar at the Delny House Hotel where he was staying, eventually the constabulary decided to relieve him of driving duties and his company car was handed over to me and Christine in order that one or other of us could drive him back and forth to Nigg. It was during the colonel’s year-long ban that the big strike took place – and what I remember is trying to drive the two of us through the massed picket.
"Whatever you do, Jamie, don’t in anyway antagonise them" the colonel nervously instructed me. "We don’t want this to get nasty". But as we slowly made our way through the strikers, I suddenly recognised two union officials that I had known during my days at Kishorn. They smiled and winked at me through the window. At this point I realised that there was a bit of fun to be had. Despite horrified protests from my passenger, I wound down my window, winked back, and gave them verbal what for.
The result of this was a thunder of protest, followed by the car being rocked by my friends and the crowd. Poor David Girvan, he thought the end had come. "You blithering idiot!" he spluttered "I expressly told you not to antagonise them!!" When we eventually got onto the site and into our office, he was off like a shot to the bottom drawer of the filing cabinet.
I would never have joined the hook-up and commissioning team in Aberdeen if I hadn’t been recommended by David Girvan. I may have had fun at his expense, but he was a generous man and I recognise this and remain grateful to him, even after all these years. He is dead and gone now – but I thought of him too on Monday morning – in Clatt, in Aberdeenshire.