Rules & Reg’s.

Historically, pretty much everything in Norway (and the rest of Scandinavia) is, in comparison to most of Europe, outrageously expensive – alcohol especially – the government applies punitive taxes to alcohol in a bid to stem a national drink problem.

But there’s also a sort of finger-wagging undertone which manifests itself in various inconveniences, the first of which I encountered last Saturday when I popped into the supermarket to get a well-deserved beer at the end of my 12-hour shift – 8.00pm. ‘Sorry Sir, we can’t sell alcohol after 6 o’clock on Saturdays’. I went back to the hotel and had not much more than a half pint glass of cold frothy stuff – £7.80.

I thought I’d beat the system the following Saturday by buying a couple of bottles on the way to work. ‘Sorry Sir, no alcohol sales before 8 o’clock’ (and you’ll be out of luck tomorrow – Sunday – as well chum). On Sunday evening, the hotel bar was closed and I asked the hotel receptionist why. ‘Don’t worry’, she said and with that, she disappeared behind a curtain (?) and came back with a small glass of lager (an eye-watering £8.00).

I’m no great drinker as my friends will attest but, when you’re deprived of a simple pleasure, it suddenly becomes a mission to get what you think you deserve at (almost) any price – which could be the start of a problem?

I’d taken a couple of panoramas of the dock when it suddenly occurred to me to take a vertical panorama – I nearly fell over backwards but it would be a useful technique when trying to capture a fabulous ceiling in an Italian church – I must remember that when I’m next in Naples.

During a break, when the cable we were magnetising was being tested on board the Flintstone, I ambled over to the car park to give a hand getting this Ford going (informed sources have since corrected me; it’s a Dodge). I’d noticed that it had been a more or less a static fixture over the last couple of weeks and was wondering if it actually ran.

Anyway, chap had the bonnet up but didn’t have any tools to check if he had sparks and fuel. By the time I’d got back with a screwdriver and spanners, the ambulance was hitched to a Transit and was being towed around the yard. That did the trick.

1943 apparently and in very usable condition – it sounded fine and no smoke from the exhaust as it sped away from the dock.

In idle moments, there were other activities to watch – these Leviathans trundled up and down the dock throughout the day and I remember them from my first trip to Drammen when we loaded the Olympic Commander. And, other than the cranes, I don’t, from that first trip, remember much at all except being huddled in a container on deck for a week of very cold and wet night shifts.

And when you’ve read enough books, watched enough films and twiddled your thumbs to a stop, there’s always the rain to photograph – that’s art, that is.

At the end of our stint in Drammen, we got the train back to the airport. Scandinavian trains are on time – to the second – and this one, the Airport Express, very comfortable.

There was some thought-provoking public art at the airport; perhaps a warning to those who circumvent the rules and reg’s?





Jeg Forstår Ikke….

… and nor am I ever likely to but I’m happy to report that in Norway, English is spoken by almost everyone.

Olympic Commander

So, need I tell you that of course I’m uniquely qualified to undertake the magnetising of undersea power cables (for wind farms and so forth) and for this purpose I was whisked to Drammen and put aboard a general purpose supply vessel, the Olympic Commander. A fellow Magneteer flew in from Germany to assist in the setting up of the equipment and to get the show on the road – so to speak.


Drammen at night was a pretty sight…


… much prettier than it was during the days to follow when the clag was on the deck and rain was almost continuous. Apparently it was unseasonably warm during the week – hence the rain – and the preference among the crew was for the colder, brighter weather that they had expected. Either way, I think we were lucky that the wind didn’t put up more than 3kn. 10 kn would have made things jolly uncomfortable.


It’s always a treat to go somewhere new; language, architecture, agricultural styles, the quality of light and the people themselves are always fascinatingly different. Looking out of the window of the train from Torp to Drammen, my first impression was that I’d arrived in some gigantic railway set. The tidy and colourful timber houses, the carefully decorated municipal buildings and even the forested fjord sides, themselves conspiring to form the back-drop to this orderly layout, looked as though Frank Hornby had had a hand in their creation.

Olympic Commander

I was lucky to draw the midday to midnight shift which, proffering only a few hours of daylight, imparted a touch of drama to my sense of the ship. The hum of motors, the crackling of walkie-talkies, the ring of footsteps on gangways – the rhythm of their fall announcing crisis or calm – were the sounds that made up this particular Night music.


Excluding travel to and from the ship, if I were to map my sphere of operations over the last 7 days, it would appear as a ball no more than 30 yards in diameter. Within that globe every facility was to hand; life continued without the slightest inconvenience – even my laundry involved only getting it to the laundry room and collecting it 12 hours later.

Cable spool

The magnetising of the cable was done as it came aboard the ship direct from the cable factory on the dockside. The cable passed through a ring of electromagnets attached to which was the only moving part in the set-up, a wheel that both counted the distance off and acted as a switch – when the cable stopped moving, the magnets switched off and vice-versa. The Magneteer’s job was to monitor the computers, keep a log of events and at intervals, check the measurement of the magnetic flux. Some general house-keeping; integrity of the machine, cables and wiring and comms with the other contractors on board kept me alert and left a bit of time to catch up with the London Review of Books – a pile of which had been accumulating in my sitting room over the last 12 months.

3.00am on the bridge

Over the week we put through about 22km of various sizes of cable and as we left the ship in the early hours of Saturday morning, she slipped away into the night, bound for Copenhagen.

Cable tensioner

But not without my first spotting a potential source of Jowett Jingle Bell wheels; I’ll give Learned Counsel the old, ‘ahoy there’.