See, several years ago, I was... well, I'm not entirely sure why, but I was home and watching one of those morning programs that are 70% sales pitches to bored housewives, 25% terrifyingly smiley hosts and 5% actual content. The Smilers were talking to a man who was not one of the usual guest - probably in his mid thirties he was balding, and had none of that artifical charm. This was Paul Carter, the host told me, who's written a book about his experiences working on an oil rig. The book was called 'Don't tell mum I work on the rigs, she thinks I'm a piano player in a whore house.'
I was intrigued.
Paul explained that it was an old rig saying, and that his mum was perfectly aware of what he did for a living; she was, in fact, an oil company employee herself before she retired.
The Smiler asked about a chimpanzee who was a bartender on a rig. Paul told the story of Ah Meng, a chimpanzee who'd been spotted in an Indonesian market by the barge captain and brought back onto the rig. One of the other crew members was a cabinet builder, and he'd built a beautfiul teak bar room below deck, and Ah Meng became it's bartender. She apparently kept the bar brilliantly, and would even make a cocktail if you pointed to a picture of the one you wanted.
Ah Meng had one rule, though. Her stool. If some hapless human (usually a newbie offered the stool by an old hand) sat on her stool, she would 'put down the drink she was making, go over to him, pick him up by the crotch and the neck' and literally throw him the length of the bar, to where a large couch had long ago been set up as a landing area. Apparently, it was even funnier if you could get another new guy to sit on the couch when the first guy sat on her stool.
I resolved to buy this book as soon as possible.
The book is a slap-dash collection of mad adventures and crazy people, exotic locations and dangerous situations. Among other things, Paul has been a bystander during a gun-fight in the Philipines, been held hostage on a rig in Nigeria, came face to face with a full grown seal during a typhoon (in the middle of doing a pirate impersonation) and accidently blew up his beer-drinking, chain-smoking pet monkey. He's had dysentry and an abscessed tooth (both while on long plane flights, and he owes some flight attendents a very good meal). He's watched a mouse kill a scorpion and a guard kill a prostitute (the latter gave him nightmares for months). He's driven his mate 2 hours to the doctors after a massive trucker beat the living hell out of him in a way that made me feel sick. Then he's driven the same mate back to the hospital when a kangeroo when through the poor guy's windscreen and straight into all the metal holding his face together. He's... he's done a hell of a lot, okay? Some of it terrifying, most of it hilarious.
Paul writes very, very well. He's remarkably insightful and well aware of the 'dark side' of the oil industry. He will make you laugh, wince, and swear that he's making it all up. He's a very likable narrator, witty, generous with the compliments towards others and self-depreciating.
Reading (or re-reading, in my case) this book is like sitting down at a pub next to a guy who turns out to have had one hell of an intersting life and is also one of the funniest story-tellers you've ever met. You'll buy him drinks all night, just to keep him talking, and possibly try to set him up with your best friend/sister/yourself. Then, as you stumble out of the pub together, you're accosted by a one eyed man carrying a parrot, who punches you in the stomach then runs away, screaming about fishes eating his toes. Lying on the floor, eyes watering, you look up at Paul, who says 'This sort of thing happens to me all the time.'