When I was a child, me and my sister had a sand pit at the top of the garden. My dad made it as he was handy that way. It was sunken, lined with plastic and edged with railway sleepers. My sister didn’t really play in it so I assumed responsibility and claimed it as my territory. I loved it. My favourite toys were diggers and trucks. My pride and joy was an 18 wheeler HGV. It had sliding doors and the cab uncoupled from the trailer. Put them in the sand pit and that was me sorted.
Problem was, the sandpit had that really soft sand that turns to powder. So pretty much all you could do was make a glorified egg timer. I was having none of it; I wanted to bulldoze, layout roads, make tunnels and great building sites. So I mixed in soil and water and got the consistency to where I could explore all the potential careers I might do in the future; landscape architecture, road building, civil engineering, maybe even baking. I made a right mess, but probably did a lot of subconscious learning. You aren’t a proper kid until you’ve eaten mud, and I was a master mud maker.
15 years on, I found myself with surveying qualifications in the middle of the Syrian Desert directing significant bits of kit, bulldozing through wadis and working with a team using explosives to shift stuff and test soil compressions and look for oil. I got to work with proper boys toys and for a while played in proper sand; lots and lots of it. The following images are some that I managed to snap in between working hard, very hard; 12-14 hour days starting in sub zero temperatures, where we had to defrost the trucks only to take an enforced break at mid day as it was too hot to work. You worked in shifts of seven weeks, working every day; that’s every day. You then got three weeks off and you needed it.
There weren’t any digital cameras or phones in those days, and due to the nature of the work I missed taking many images of the Syrian countryside which was varied and had its own charm. Whilst I worked in the desolate parts, I did get to travel through the inhabited areas; Damascus, Deir-es-Zor and Palmyra and I managed to get down the Euphrates valley to Abu Kamal on the Iraqi border and see many of the old ruins from the dawn of civilisation. I even met some archaeologists who were looking for Noah’s ark. No, really. Such a shame what is happening there today, but there were hints of it even back then.
I suppose therein lies the history behind this post that enabled me to take on the challenge set by some good folk on twitter. It originated in a tongue in cheek twitter convo about the merits of attending Les Misérables film. The alternative option was to stay home and watch Ice Road Truckers. That led to a debate as to what was the best ‘boys toys’ programme to which some folk suggested I blog about. Not that I always do as I’m told but I’m usually up for a challenge; there might be a tale here that you may find of interest, if nothing else a chance for me to reminisce.
So I have a bit of experience with muck and trucks and of the lifestyle that TV programmes like Trawlers, Rigs and Rescues, Monster Moves, The Deadliest Catch, Roads that Kill and Ice Road Truckers portray. It was an apprenticeship of fire and mistakes could easily kill. If you got lost or broke down or took risks it was serious. It was in the mid 80’s when people were getting kidnapped and unfortunately the two things that perhaps cause most of the world’s problems; religion and oil, were present in the places I had chosen to work.
The troubles cut short my love of working with muck and trucks; perhaps the wrong sand again. Fortunately by then I’d gained enough experience of what it entailed. The sorts of careers portrayed in the above TV series mean working away from the ones you love, in dangerous situations. I’m lucky I learnt that lesson early and so made the right choice to change career, especially as I’d been offered, and declined, a contract in Saudi Arabia a couple of years before the first Gulf war started.
The ironic thing is when people hear this tale they say ‘so how on earth did you end up in local government communications?’ Well, oil exploration and comms are actually pretty similar. You need to explore, find evidence and insight that provides quality data. You have to remove superfluous noise that confuses the situation and then provide results that people can make decisions on. Then there is the ROI factor. Fortunately, I ended up in a job I love and fortunately, to date, much less chance of getting kidnapped.
I think maybe though I still have a soft spot for muck and trucks and that’s probably why I like what others might see as trash TV. But that’s what makes us interesting.
Whilst Les Mis is not my bag, I’m wise enough to know that it sometimes pleases other people to share their interests too. I’ll probably end up at the cinema. I might even critique it in a blog.