Chapter 15. More from Crazies.
I stayed around 6 years with Crazies, and I still don’t know why. The pay was poor, compared with North Sea rates; the conditions were also poor, usually 4-6 men to a room, toilets with plumbing so narrow that they couldn’t dispose of used toilet paper, so waste paper bins were left in each cubicle, and were always overflowing with shitty paper. All the boats had ex-Hull trawler skippers as captains, and a crew of around 6 Phillipinos. One of these would be designated cook, so the meals were, at best, basic, and at worst inedible, so that often you’d survive on toast and corn flakes. Being Phillipinos, the staple at every meal was fish and rice, neither of which I could eat, and my stomach still churns at the number of times I’ve seen the crew sucking the flesh and eyeballs off fish heads at meal times. Phillipinos don’t have the letter “F” in their spoken vocabulary, and most of them can’t pronounce it, and so substitute the letter “P” for any word containing the letter “F”.
I arrived on board one boat for the first time and introduced myself to the cook.
“Hello there, cookie, I’m the new diver, Mick Binns, what time is scran?”
Our names quite often were difficult for the Phillipinos.
He said “Hello there Beans! My name is Pillip! Dinner at 12 o’clock.”
“OK, great, what are you cooking?”
“Pish! Today Priday, so always pish on Pridays!”
Phillip was actually one of the better cooks. He’d arrived as a seaman on a 1-year contract (on call 24 hours, 7 days a week, with a ticket home after 12 months). He saw that the divers were very unhappy with the food and found out what they would like (chips with everything, fresh bread, lots of fried stuff). He realised that he would have a much better life as a cook than a deck-hand and talked the skipper into letting him have a go. The divers ended up very happy, and he got himself a reasonable job. He only knew how to make sponge cakes for a sweet though, so they were served up at every meal time, including breakfast. Ginge C said to him one day, “Phillip! I’m fed up of fucking sponge cakes! Make something else, for Christs sake!”
“What you want me to make, Mister Ginge?”
“Something different! Something sweet!”
He had no idea what “sweet” meant in Western culinary language but was always game to please the divers. Next mealtime, a big stainless-steel dish full of wobbly yellow stuff appeared on the table. We were all rushing our chicken and chips in order to get at the new, exciting sweet. Ginge was first to get there. He ladled a bowlful and we all watched as he took his first mouthful. “Custard! Gorgeous custard! Along with…”
He picked something off his tongue, looked at it, and put it on the edge of his plate-
Anyway, we all had a bowlful, lovely. Except for Phil. When I asked Phil why he wasn’t eating the new, gorgeous, sweet-corn and custard sweet, he told me that he’d seen Phillip washing his underpants in the toilets, in the same stainless-steel bowl, the previous evening. It didn’t delay me for a second.
Middle management of Crazies was run by Indians. They were responsible for wages, air tickets, water, commissary, and fuel supplies, and they had fiddles going on at every turn. The skipper of each boat would make out his list of requirements, and send it in to the office. A supply boat would arrive, usually at night, and all hands would turn out to transfer the supplies on board, a chain of men passing boxes of fruit, veg and meat down the line to the stores. Goods received never tallied with goods ordered, and 1 thing in particular used to really piss me off. An order would be put in for say, 100 T bone steaks. They would arrive, every one with the fillet side removed. The Indians got rich on their little fiddles, at the expense of the poor bastards working their arses off, offshore. Air tickets was another fiddle. They had made deals with various airlines, and pocketed backhanders for the amount of trade they brought in, and we would have to fly home by some daft route, with some cowboy airline. After my dive partner, Andre Marti, was killed, I went to visit his family near Capetown. The Indians organised my flight from Dharran, Saudi Arabia, to Capetown, South Africa – via Amsterdam! After a 3 day visit to Capetown, I was going to visit my sister in Toulouse, for a week, then back to UK for the rest of my leave. My flight plan was Dharran -Amsterdam – Johannesburg – Capetown – Johannesburg -Amsterdam -Paris – Toulouse -Paris – Amsterdam – Leeds/Bradford. It took me most of my leave to recover!
There were numerous adventures involving travel. One diver, Gary, was a notorious hardman, ex French Foreign Legion, who always ended up fighting after he’d had a drink. He’d married a Cypriot girl in the UK, and had then moved out to Australia, where she had family. However, somewhere along the line, he’d started an affair with a Saudia stewardess, and would stopover with her for a few days before going home. Things had come to a head when his wife found out, and a traumatic leave resulted in them splitting up. He was returning to work, flying via Hong Kong. A long wait in Hong Kong meant Gary got drunk, which meant trouble for anyone in the vicinity. They refused to let him on his flight for being drunk, and that’s when things kicked off. the HK police officer who ‘tried’ to arrest Gary ended up with a broken arm after being projected through a glass screen!
He ended up being overpowered by 6 policemen, but a lot of damage had been done. Dave Atkin got a call from the Hong Kong Chief of Police, asking if he would take responsibility for the damage caused, somewhere in the region of £1000. Absolutely not, said Dave, he’s responsible for his own actions. They weren’t prepared to let him go until the damage had been paid for and didn’t want him cluttering up the Hong Kong prison cells – even more expense! He had an American Express card which had a small limit to the amount of cash he could withdraw – not enough to cover damages! So the chief took him, in handcuffs, to a gold shop, where he made him buy £1200 worth of gold, which he sold back immediately to the shop owner for £1000, who then gave the £1000 to the Chief of police. He was escorted to the airport, and made to buy another 1-way ticket to Saudi on his sorely abused American Express card, and told not to bother coming to Hong Kong again. He learned absolutely nothing from this experience. A few years later I was working in Lagos in the office of Hydrodive and saw that Gary’s name was on the manifesto for a job. They’d hired him without knowing anything about him. The next morning, the manager had to get him released from Jail. He’d had a few drinks, and as the boat was sailing had started a fight and beat up the Captain. Back to port, Gary arrested, couldn’t understand why he’d been sacked, and not paid for his 2 days with the company….
A story from Dave -Gary D & Shaun S went on leave, and as was the custom, sat at the back of the plane and started to catch up on the lack of alcohol they had endured over the past 3 months in Saudi. They became a little rowdy and a Saudi gentleman in front turned and asked them to quieten down. Fack Orrf! says Shaun in his best Alf Garnet! ‘Your not in Faking Saudi now’. The gent turned back and the East End duo continued drinking, getting louder as they went. Eventually the Saudi gent decided it was time to confront these alcohol sodden infidels, so getting to his feet told them in no uncertain terms to shut up, be quiet and stop drinking! Now this man had never met Alf Garnet so had never heard one of his tirades against ‘Yer bloody Wogs’. However, Gary and Shaun knew Alf very well and let rip at the unsuspecting Arab. ‘You facking cant’ says Gary. ‘I tell you what, you facking raghead, get some of this!!’ at which point he pulled a tin of lighter fuel from his pocket, squirted half the contents onto the now petrified man’s headdress and followed it with a lighted match!! Who needs ISIS when divers are giving it large?!?
Dave Atkin had to explain to his Saudi boss that it was just ‘high jinks’ and that they meant no harm!! They were both arrested on arrival at Heathrow, jumped bail, and wondered how they happened to get rearrested when they tried to board a flight back to Saudi a month later. Both were smuggled back to work via Bahrain.
One of the best characters at Crazies was Iain F, a legendary diver, and there are a wealth of stories about him. I never met Iain – my misfortune – but have loved hearing the stories. He was a supervisor when Dave and Robbie went out there, and they both worked with him. He had a reputation through the fleet for being a bull-shitter, and was not popular with a lot of the guys because of that. But it turned out with time, that all his stories were true.
At one of the first Offshore exhibitions in Aberdeen, Iain jumped onto the podium after the Welcome! opening speech, and grabbed the microphone. He said “My name is Iain, I represent the largest Diving Company in the world, and I have a blank cheque in my pocket to buy huge amounts of diving equipment. I’m interested in meeting anyone who can supply same…” He was buttonholed immediately he got off the podium, by company representatives who all wanted a piece of the action. This was Monday, and he was due to return to Saudi on Friday, so he quickly drew up a schedule to meet people in the intervening days, for lunch or in the evening . At his first meeting, over an expensive lunch, he mentioned that he’d been unable to secure accommodation due to his last-minute arrival and the popularity of the exhibition.
“I think we can do something about that” said his host, as he scanned the huge list of equipment that Iain had drawn up “We’ve taken a suite in a local hotel for the week, you’re welcome to stay there. I have my own house locally anyway. “His meals, drinks and entertainment over the next 3 days were all taken care of by potential clients. He had a great week at no expense to himself, and no-one ever saw the blank cheque supposedly in his pocket before he flew back to Saudi on the Friday…
Sitting on the boat one day, someone was playing a tape with a song by Francoise Hardy, a beautiful French pop singer. Iain casually mentioned he’d had an affair with her, followed by the usual groans and muttered “Bullshitter” from the other divers. Robbie had a good relationship with Iain, and later on Iain showed him a photo of himself, with Francoise Hardy draped over his neck, and a handwritten message of love on the photograph. The story of how they met was quite remarkable. In 1966 an American B52 bomber with 4 nuclear bombs on board, crashed in the Mediterranean Sea, near Palomares, Spain. 3 of the bombs were found on land, but the 4th was lost at Sea. The Americans were desperate to recover this bomb as soon as possible and launched a huge salvage operation. Divers were essential for this, and they were recruiting anyone who was experienced and available. Iain was in France at the time and decided to hitch-hike down to Spain at once. His first lift – all the way to Spain – was in a 2-seater sports car driven by the young pop star. He ended up pulling the beautiful Francoise, and also being involved in the hunt for a lost A-bomb!
I loved stories like these; my first job with OTS was a seabed inspection in the Irish Sea for potential sites for a 3-legged jack-up rig, prior to the rig moving on location. One of the divers on board was a real old boy, Dick T, who was a friend of Peter White, the owner of OTS. This was the first time I worked with Dave Puttock, the Supervisor, who became my mentor in OTS. Dick had once done a job for Peter White in Saudi Arabia, supposedly a short job. During the job, a short storm had blown up, and the boat took refuge in Bahrein. Alcohol was illegal in Saudi, but easily available in Bahrein. Dick took advantage of his situation, and loaded the boat with as much booze as he could afford. Within a couple of days of landing back in Saudi, he’d sold the lot, and made a small fortune. He couldn’t wait to do it again, and after re-starting work, talked the captain into radioing a bogus bad weather call to the office, and heading again to Bahrein. He re-stocked the boat with as much booze as he could lay his hands on, and they set off once more for Saudi. Of course, this time, the Customs had sussed out the bogus weather call, and were waiting for him. Dick was arrested and thrown into clink without so much as a “mind your fingers” when the cell door slammed. This is well before the instant communications of the Internet, or mobile phones. No-one knew he was slammed up. Embassies weren’t for the likes of Dick. He managed eventually to bribe someone to get a message out to Peter White, saying basically, “Help”. Peter asked Dave Puttock to go out and try and sort out the situation. Once out there, he located the jail, and bribed the jailer so that he could see Dick. Dick outlined the situation, and said that an early release could be arranged by means of an ex-gratia payment of around £1,000, in cash, to the Judge, who happened to be the brother of the jailer. Dave phoned Peter White, who arranged for the transfer of funds, and also air tickets back to the UK. By the time they flew back, Dick had been banged up for around 6 months, obviously without a drink or a woman. Dave was under strict instruction not to let him out of his sight, as he was now a substantial amount of money in Peter’s debt. Their flight back was via Amsterdam, with a connecting flight to London the following day. Dick hadn’t had a drink for 6 months, and talked Dave into taking him out on the piss. Drinks, of course, led onto girls, and Dave ended up having to fork out even more money to slake Dick’s thirst for, well, his dick. Dave seemed to be on a roundabout he couldn’t jump off. He finally managed to get him back to London, into the custody of Peter White, who told him he could work off his now substantial personal debts, and hence his trip out to the Irish Sea. We were working on an old 2nd World War boat, which had been used to land commandos right up onto the beaches in France and Belgium. There were no showers on board, unusually, but there was a glorious deep bath that we could use after a dive, with an endless supply of hot water – Absolute Luxury. I remember Dick, well into his 60’s, taking advantage of this luxury, singing his head off with happiness, followed by a blood curdling scream, as one of the divers threw a still alive dog-fish (baby shark) through the porthole of the bathroom, into Dick’s bath. The same night, we all went ashore in Fleetwood, where Dick paid for all our drinks, all night, after learning that one of his oilfield investments had come in big after a huge oilfield find in the North Sea. That was the last time I saw him, and I hope he got to enjoy his massive win.
©Mick Binns 2018