Friday, June 03, 2005

Snakker Du Norsk (Part 3)

The contract in Norway included six paid trips home in addition to the initial flight out and the re-patriation. The six flights were based of full economy rates, although it was perfectly permissible to do back-to-back Apex tickets in order to fit in more trips home. The Married ex-pats who didn’t have their wives with them favoured this approach, although being single I tended to plan the holidays around large events in my Eighteen Plus Calendar. The highlight of the year was always the 18 Plus Easter Holiday at Caister, and that year I flew from Stavanger to Schipol (Amsterdam Airport) then onwards to Norwich Airport, where I hired one of those new fangled Mini Metros for the drive to Great Yarmouth. The contrast in airports was dramatic, Schipol was large, spacious and well planned, Norwich appeared to consist of Portakabins to make up the facilities. I haven’t returned to Norwich since then, although Schipol is now a lot more rambling and scrappy than it was in the 80s.

I mostly flew back to Newcastle (where all of my stuff was, my Dad having arranged a horse box to transport my worldly possessions back from Coventry to Home for the duration. My worldly possessions consisted of clothes, books, records and a Mobile Disco!)

On another occasion, I took the Olsen Bergen line ferry from Stavanger to North Shields for a friend’s wedding in Newcastle, however the boat wallowed outside Tynemouth for a couple of hours and I missed the ceremony. The return journey was spent in the cabin with a soldering iron as I had bought an electric piano in kit form and hadn’t finished assembling it at home! It was quite a rough crossing, the fleet only had rudimentary stabilisers and one of them was known as the “vomiting Venus”.

In the summer, I had my parents over to stay (I must have slept on the couch) and we had a pleasant trip up to Bergen via hydrofoil, an overnight stay and a flight back down. On eating breakfast in the hotel, we heard an American guest ask the waitress if the bill included a service charge, the reply being “yes, but not tips…”

The other tourist trip to do from Stavanger was to go and see Preikestolen, or Pulpit Rock. This was a three sided protuberance way up high in a nearby fjord known for the brave and foolhardy to actually get married on (if you were OK with a two hour walk and hiking gear rather than tuxedos). A 40’ cruiser (which may have been called Clipper)made the trip daily during the summer months from the harbour and I may have went on it twice, once with Hans the telex Supervisor. I don’t remember too much about the trip, other than it took a couple of hours and they fed mountain goats on the way.

Mobil introduced language lessons for ex-pats in conversational Norwegian, which I looked forward to immensely. Our teacher was very practical, and on one occasion he brought the contents of his daughter’s dolls house for us to learn the words for furniture. We didn’t progress beyond “present tense” but combined with my CSE German, it was certainly enough to get by, especially as most of the Norsk speak excellent English.

As the year progressed, I found myself more and more into the local social scene. We had cabin painting out on the islands, I met some of my neighbours socially (they told me their Mother thought I must be a Russian spy!), I declined invitations to go cross-country skiing and I half-planned (but never implemented) a trip by boat up past the arctic circle to see the northern lights. I went to one particular birthday party that saw me heading home at first light, after long sessions singing with a guitarist and also discussing the finer aspects of undersea construction with a North Sea Diver. Of course, a lot of the time there was nothing much doing, so I rented a lot of videos and replaced my Acorn Atom PC with a proper Apple II system that I bought off an ex-pat Yank. It was all 110 volt and came complete with TV, fan feed dot matrix printer and transformer.

It didn’t look as though there would be further work beyond the first year, so I landed a follow-on job with Northern Telecom out in the Middle East. Inevitably, after I signed the Contract, another job appeared, this time for Esso Stavanger. In my final weeks, I was invited to the Mobil Christmas Party, which was a delightful event. I also visited the home of one of the Operators who I had a crush on, a stunningly pretty older woman who had the looks and charm of Felicity Kendal (in her Good Life persona) who was also an outrageous flirt. I was a little shocked to meet her husband, who proudly showed me his vast collection of antique hunting rifles, all fully working…

On my last day, the team presented me with a glass mug engraved "1981" and a saying in old Norwegian which roughly translated said with good humour, life is to be lived. Sadly, it got cracked in one of my many subsequent house moves (whilst the various crystal decanters didn’t!) but it now lives at my Mum’s house for safe keeping. Now that David is no longer a toddler it is probably safe to bring back to Morley.

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