The Tale of Chemical Engineering (Part X of I)

This is the tenth instalment in the long-running Tale of Chemical Engineering series. There are nine other posts, all fairly interesting, but the ones you should be reading for this post are VII, VIII and IX.

Previously Parts I, II, III, IV, V, VI, VII ,VIII and IX.

In the spring of 2007 I felt the dread of impending doom, that crashing wall of noise that was the end of my time at University. I had spent four years struggling with what I now can seriously classify as depression without even knowing it. I was tired, and stressed out, and unable to cope. One of the failings of my university years wasn't my inability to feel like I knew the subject material, but was that they taught me the academic skills to pass/not fail exams and lab work but failed at teaching me how to cope with the stress of failure and, not unsurprisingly, the stress of being unable to handle the workload.

I remember this feeling of dread lifting like a weighted blanket, like a heavy cloud, the moment after I started working in Aberdeen and I realised that the work stayed in the office. I didn't have to stress at home that when I was socialising and relaxing I should have been revising or working - the overbearing feeling of "supposed to be" was crippling, when I was at university, and shedding that was huge.

Over the past thirteen (!) years, since 2006's summer placement in Grangemouth, I have slowly evolved and catalogued many thoughts on my time as an engineer on this blog (a lot less frequently recently, of course). One strange string of thoughts that I haven't put in these long posts are the jobs that I went for and failed at. Not to blow my own trumpet, but until being made redundant at Wood Group I'd been successful at every single interview I'd been to, bar an internal transfer one to a client-side job at the start of my career.

Whilst there have been a few attempts at jobs I haven't got, there were two major jobs that originally came up though more natural means. When Connie and I moved from Aberdeen to Glasgow we moved with the dog and into a flat. It was the first time I'd lived in Glasgow as an adult, and we explored the city and the surrounding area with Frank a lot, and Connie fell in love with the city (and Shawlands) fairly easily. The one place that she fell head over heels for was Troon.

When we drove away from Troon that first visit she cried. We've been back with friends from Canada, with Frank, with Joni, and then with Etta, many many times. Once, we looked at buying a house there. We discussed at length the commute and the logistics of living there and working... well, not there. Then I remembered GSK at Irvine. I was always aware of the plant - my dad had done a small short stint there at some point - and I'd always thought it was a golden opportunity. I said to Con "I could work there, you know" and she nodded, but then I dismissed this - GSK wouldn't hire me, a lowly designer.

A similar story happened with the Lake District. We went to Keswick on holiday in September 2012 and fell in love - and wanted to live there. So, I suggested I could get a job at Sellafield, half joking - they wouldn't want a lowly Oil and Gas designer, would they? Well they did. We moved there in 2015, and lived there unhappily for almost three years, moving back in 2019. The idea wasn't as good as the reality, and through some footering and nonsense with a new job up in Glasgow, we moved, but in early 2019 I started looking for a new job.

And GSK were hiring, so I applied, and now I work there.

For the third time in my career I've changed sector. It was a push to move from Oil and Gas to Nuclear, but now I've moved into Pharma.

I said in Part IX “Roll On Part X”, which was a joke and also a mild promise. Turns out, four years passes and suddenly everything is, once again, different.

Roll on Part XI, then.

The Start of School

Joni is, unbelievably, five years old. I mean - actually it is believably as time doesn’t go slower or faster at any point, and she was born five years ago, so… maybe not unbelievably. But iit is certainly incredible. Or incredulous.

Either way, she passed through one of the biggest milestones any child has at this age, and maybe the biggest milestone since she walked, or since she first spoke a proper sentence - she started primary school. Much is made of this transition and it’s one of the milestones you dream about as a parent when that tiny little baby is cradled in your arms. When she was at her most unsleeping, middle of the night, my mind would wander to five years hence, and what it would be like.

I think the thing I never counted in the dreams was the fact that by then the child would be their own little person. They’d be arguing with you, grumpy from sleepiness, and also excited and nervous, but probably unable to recognise the emotions that were hurtling through them. This meant that Joni, who is a resilient little thing, was handling it better than I could’ve imagined five years ago, and even a few hours before the first drop off.

School, for me, was fun. I loved Primary School. I have rose-tinted memories of it - warm summers playing “spies” around the grassy hills. Playing endless games of football in the playground. The rainy days where we weren’t allowed to go outside at playtime, being baby-sat by P7s whilst our teachers had their 15 minute break. There are obviously bad memories - my punishment exercise in P3, aged 7, is still a really sore memory. When my POGS were stolen from my desk drawer in P6, or when my lunch box was smashed in the same year and the teachers all ganged up on me, calling me a liar…

Yeah, Primary School was pretty formative. When taking Joni along, all I could think of was that she had to be and feel safe. The rest could follow on. Her learning is in Con and I’s hands as much as the school’s, so we feel in control of that to an extent, but the safety part is the bit I’m struggling with. The “loss” of control, so to speak, which is something I’m very much not good at coping with, just ask Connie.

Joni has, as far as we can tell, thrived at school. I guess we will actually find out when we speak to the teacher. She was excelling at Nursery and everyone was ready for her to excel at school but ther eis no pressure. She has years to fluctuate in the environment. She is more tired, and more grumpy, which is to be expected, but also she seems more self confident. She gets to pick her own lunch, carry her own bag, and fill her own time for the first time maybe ever, and I hope she enjoys it.

I hope that she is safe as well. That’s my biggest concern, and so far it seems like she is.

It is Always Canada

Since the beginning, Canada always has been our default destination for pretty much any holiday. The reason why this would be the case is obvious - family. We went there when we lived in Texas, when we lived in Aberdeen (at winter) and then most summers have ended up there. since we moved to Glasgow, Cockermouth, and then Glasgow.

When Joni was born in August 2014 we went in the winter, and then the following summer in 2015. The summer after, we skipped it due to Connie being pregnant with Etta, so we went the following summer in 2017. Then we skipped 2018's summer for my sister's wedding, and then we went this summer. In between those times, we have brought Connie’s mom over four times (late 2011, summer of 2014, autumn 2016, and summer 2018) and her father over once (May 2016).

After many years of discussion and planning we finally, this summer, tried out our "perfect" holiday. Canada and Scotland have slightly synced up summer school holidays, which is great as Con's mom works at the local High school and we steal all of her holidays. The plan always been a simple but effective one - take the whole summer off in Canada. As close to seven weeks as possible. Connie would go with the girls for all of it, and I'll take my holidays for several weeks towards the end.

This summer we did it. Thanks to some jiggery pokery with my work, we were able to manage to get such a long holiday away it was astonishing. Joni left nursery on the Friday, had a family fun day on the Saturday, and the following day I took them all to the airport. They then had three weeks without me, with Frank and I home alone, and in that time I started a new job. (Expect another Tale of Chemical Engineering soon).

I then met up with the team, and had four insane weeks on holiday.

It was glorious, and we will likely do it again next year, and pending any other issues, most years after that.

Chernobyl

Some thoughts on the HBO and Sky television series Chernobyl, and it’s relation to other disasters.

I move to Houston Texas in August 2010 following living for three years in Aberdeen. Just before moving to Houston there was a massive disaster in the Gulf of Mexico, known widely as Deepwater Horizon, but known initially within the industry as the Macondo disaster. The incident featured a huge drilling rig, the Deepwater Horizon, suffering a catastrophic blow-out which lead to an explosion that killed eleven men on board.

This happened in April, four month before I went to Texas, but the effects were huge. By the time I arrived the company I was working for were changing the way they worked based on the preliminary findings into the disaster, and certain employees knew folk who had worked for or on the rig. Even more interestingly, was that BP employees were told to avoid telling local people they worked for the company - it was their well prospect that had blown up, despite many other companies involved. BP would end up having to pay out billions and billions to the communities on the Gulf affected because the explosion and deaths were just the beginning - it was the oil rushing out of the well and the inability to stop this from flowing that caused the massive amount of environmental problems for the area.

In 2016 a film starring Mark Whalberg was released about the disaster. I suggested it’d be a hard watch because of my links to the disaster, but when I did see it it turned out I was worried for no reason. The film was terrible - not well directed and badly acted in my view, but the biggest issue was the way that it approached the subject material. It turned a disaster into a hero film of sorts. It felt more like an action film than a thriller, one that made many of the panic and chaotic scenes that were likely horrifying in real life into, instead, action set pieces.

So it goes.

When I heard that there was a Chernobyl television series on the way I assumed it was going to be the same, but I couldn’t have been more wrong. Chernobyl revels in the facts (despite shuffling some of them around) and presents a lot of the show as a horror film, turning a terrifying and awful disaster into a non-sensationalised essay on what happens to people in disastrous consequences.

It makes me wonder what a show like it on Piper Alpha would be like. It gives me pause when thinking about the other disaster films about real events - ones that have turned the real events into big action pieces, and that now with the success of Chernobyl maybe more shows will take this tack.

Sobering

I am not an alcoholic. I don't excessively drink. I do, however, suffer from harmful drinking, and what this means simply that when I drink my behaviour changes in a detrimental way. Without getting into it, I turn into a bit of a prick - or more of a prick, I guess - with alcohol being the excerbating catalyst. I have lightly touched on my anger issues in the past and to put it mildly I have a temper and alcohol seems to not help. 

Not at all.

Drinking and I have had an interesting and irresponsible relationship with each other. I've binged a lot when I was younger and found myself drinking alone when I lived in Texas. I used to drink the thing that would get me drunk the fastest and for the cheapest, like any good student, and certainly drank my fair share when I was a student and everything seemed like it was cheap.

When I first met Connie she explained she didn't really drink for her own reasons that I won't go into, and this rather naturally (slightly) reduced my own drinking. We have obviously still enjoyed having a drink together at times, but mostly the binging stopped - bar work nights out, Scouters weekends, and the odd trip to the pub with pals. 

Actually that makes it sound like it didn't make a difference, huh.

Hwmowever, what came next definitely made a difference. Since Joni and Etta, and then the move to England, my drinking kind of abruptly stopped. Gone was a Saturday night bottle of red and in its place was tea and Irn Bru - okay, let me be honest, mostly loads of Irn Bru. And chips/crisps. This change would actually lead to one of the scariest moments in my life.

One night, after unusually drinking a bunch with friends at the house, I went to sleep. I woke in the morning to find Connie a bit worried and scared - that night after we had gone to bed I'd woken up, drunk, and slept-dream-woke (I'm not sure how else to characterise it), pulling at the power cords down under my side of the bed, and then in turn talking vaguely threateningly to her in my drunken confusion when she asked what was I doing. 

I was appalled. And scared. As far as I knew this had never happened to me before. Not in the way she described it to me, and it frightened me. I stopped drinking a lot there and then, but have since drank a few times more, most notably a sharp uptick since relocation back to Glasgow what with friends again, baby sitters, and public transport. 

We really missed Glasgow.

So after a few heavier than usual drinking periods recently it has become clear to me a few things, the first and most important one being I need to take care of myself. My physical and mental health is poor - I weigh too much and certainly don't do enough exercise, so drinking is especially bad for me. Secondly, I act like a pure dick when drinking and everyone else has to deal with it. 

And thirdly, I actually don't really enjoy it anymore? I hate hangovers - I'd not get them at all when I was younger, much to the chagrin of my flat mates, but now I get a hangover even when we are out with other people drinking which is no fun. Beer has also became needlessly complicated and difficult to know what is "good", but that could be a whole other blog post. 

I just think for me the benefits are none. Why should I keep putting myself through this cycle of shame and disaster, and for what cost? A day lost to feeling sorry for myself, and making stuff feel worse impacting my kids? It isn't worth it. Literally - it costs £30 to get drunk out these days anyway.

The ultimate answer is this - I am trying to be better and my temper is a key aspect I'd like to control at all times, and if at any point I lose it then I've already lost. So I've decided to go sober. 

This isn't really an issue to be honest, day to day. Con doesn't drink so I don't either and we instead drink pop. This is, arguably, worse for you long term, maybe, but I don't feel like I'm losing control when I neck a pint of Bru. What it might do is make people feel like I am being not fun thanks to perceived bullshit social conventions, when they're out getting pished. That's on them, I gotta do me.

The only slight roadblock, regarding peer pressure, is a pair of long time best friend stags due this year, but I know what I want to do I just need to follow through. 

 Don't let this sound self righteous either - I'm not looking for sympathy or even agreement, just feel like writing this out might help me understand it, own it, and commit to it, and thusly help me on a slight road to change.  

I just feel, ultimately, drinking is something I don't want to do anymore and these are all just justifications for me, and it is a decision I know will be better for me, and most importantly my family. That, in the end, will actually be the reason for it being easy to follow through on, because it is as much for them as it is for me.