It’s one of those embarrassing things you don’t like to talk about. I had an ear pain. And I had run out of ear buds. I saw one time-worn earbud floating in a dusty remote corner of my dressing table drawer and after a few doubts about its cleaning abilities, rolled it back into shape, fiddled with it, hesitantly put it into my ear, pulled it out & proceeded to order a fresh pack of earbuds for myself.
This was a situation I never saw coming. Ever. And there’s a reason for that.
To tell you the reason would be to tell you a very rummy story about the relationship between some items of my grocery list and my days in the oilfield.
The two, though apparently unrelated, have a grim connection. Also deep. As deep as the wells we used to drill. (That’s a simile I have always wanted to use somewhere)
Swabs, Our Light Sabers
Back in the oilfield, we used to use swabs for cleaning all the electronic parts of our tools – the high tech fancy equipment that we ran down the hole (well) along with the drill string (the assembly of drill pipes and other stuff that goes with it). The parts required frequent cleaning with special sprays we called CFC/CRC and swabs were our instruments of choice. These swabs, before, after and without use, were generally found in all parts of the “Unit” – the makeshift “office” which had nothing other than computers, computer accessories, our laptops, drawers with all our paraphernalia, chairs for us to sit on, 1/4th of the space we needed to get out of the chair and reach the exit door, and our tired, mortal souls.
Because of the surplus in which the swabs always existed, two things happened. One was that I always bought swabs ( = earbuds) in a quantity which would be considered abnormal by most people. The sales guys at the billing counters probably thought that I have a chronic ear infection or that I plan to run my own business of earbuds. The second outcome of this was that I never expected to run out of swabs ever. Ever. I always ordered more way before they could run out. I was always so well stocked. I could run out of food, milk, water, even tea, but not earbuds.
Today was that rare day which happens only once in a decade. Now you know why this story is so germane to this happening.
While we are talking about it, why not also talk about some other grocery items.
The Most Precious Item
So there were the tally books. Not exactly a grocery item, but you know. In a similar categorization of items.
They were really, really, really precious. From the company man (The Big Boss) to the roughnecks (the poor fellows who slogged on the drill floor), everyone wanted a tally book. Always. Every time you met them. The greet you and exchange pleasantries and then politely ask you if you have tally books. Or if you are planning to have. Or going to have. Or getting them made. And sent. Here, on the rig. Because they were so nice.
These tally books were where we scribbled everything.
Field notes, readings from instruments, our notes to ourselves, our artwork (shapeless doodles) when drilling was at 0.2km/hr ROP (Rate of Penetration), our observations on Life, The Universe and Everything in between, our arguments over something trivial or big, our meeting notes, our made up meeting notes, and anything else required noting – like importantish emails and people wanting to give you their numbers in the hope that you will call them some day. Even if it’s 20 yrs down the line, it was okay. If you are a girl, that is. Hopefully guys never got numbers. Hopefully. They also had all possible conversion tables used in the oilfield, saving the less educated folks a tonne of brainwork.
We never had enough tally books. And if we had them, we had to hide them in corners which won’t be visible to people visiting the Unit. They should not haplessly fall out of our cabinets in front of the driller, for example, while we were extracting a pen or swab or multimeter.
Even now, my last two tally books – one used and one brand new – have been preserved in my stationery cabinet, partly as a memory and partly as a reminder of how something so little meant so much that it could bring tears of joy on a sucky, lonely New Year’s Eve. A brand new tally book made up for all the shit. It was the last souvenir I gave to myself when I left the oilfield.
And while we are still talking about it, I also want to mention that these tally books went from new to oil-muddy in 2 hrs’ time. To be more specific, Synthetic Oil Based Mud-dy. Everything in the oilfield smelled, looked, tasted or felt like SOBM. My overalls. My laptop. My face. My ipod. My book. Everything that ever visited the oilfield always came back with the smell, taste, look or feel of SOBM. Even if it was only a few minutes on the drill floor. 5 mins were more than enough; 2 mins would do the job. SOMB would always find you wherever you are. It was what life was made up of on the drill ships.
If I had to go on talking about grocery items, I would not miss the Honey Nut Crunch icecream that was my lunch/dinner. I couldn’t swallow food when the eatery had the stench of dead animals (non veg “food”) so I just ate icecream later on. I dint altogether regret it. I had the biggest bowl of icecream and people always seemed happy seeing me with a big bowl of anything. No one would ever say no to me for anything resembling food. I was the tiniest creature on the ship.
Coming back to where we started, while there are many grocery items on my list right now, it can never really match up to the lists I had when in the oilfield. Making sure I had enough “dirty t shirts” (t shirts which were meant to get dirty) and shampoo (to rise out the SOBM). But I sure do make up for it in unprecedented ways like ordering swabs so I never have to run out of those. Ever. Again.