Sunday, 3 March 2013

In the Field - First chapter of new book

In The Field

An autobiography of my life between 2008 and 2013

From being an unemployed graduate applying for endless jobs to a sexually frustrated field worker in Oman, this is a brutally honest account of the last five years of my life.  Sex, drugs and rock and roll, there is none of that here – just a load of sexual mishaps, botched interviews and stupidity. 
I’m just an average guy but it doesn’t mean I don’t have a good story to tell.

Part One

The Year of Unemployment:   
May 2008 – May 2009

1.     Graduation

I never knew what I wanted to do with my life and I still don’t.  There is nothing I’m truly passionate about, aside from writing, but the one book I sell a month (if that) is not going to keep my finances in check.  The vast majority of people go to university to study what they love and to pursue a career in what they’ve always dreamed about.  You study law because you want to be a lawyer, or you study medicine to become a doctor and emulate the doctors from ER or even J.D. from Scrubs.  I studied geology not because I wanted to be a geologist, but because it was simply the only degree I could see myself doing.  Not going to university at all was simply out of the question and it never entered my mind.  Once I passed my 11+ exam and got into grammar school, I was on a set path: pass GCSE’s, pass AS-Level, pass A-Level and, finally, get a degree.  I was going to be the first one to graduate from my family and nothing else ever entered the picture, certainly not a gap year and definitely not failing any exams to leave me a year behind my friends. 
            At school geography was one of my favourite subjects; however, I didn’t want to do it at university.  I didn’t really like the human side of geography, urban and rural studies, as it was just boring and I couldn’t see what job I’d get out of it afterwards.  I certainly wasn’t teacher material and all I knew was that the oil and gas jobs demanded a geology degree or mechanical and petroleum engineering.  So, geology it was.  Plus, if I studied geology I had the faint hope of keeping the only job I’d ever partly dreamed about alive: volcanologist.  I remember watching as a teenager the film Dante’s Peak in awe.  I wanted to be Pierce Brosnan and study volcanoes all around the world.  As a teenager I envisioned my life being exactly like the movie: successfully predicting a massive eruption, being the hero, pulling the hot women, saving lives – yes, I could be that dashing and charming volcanologist.  But did I study volcanoes in my spare time?  No.  When volcanoes came up in geography, did I go beyond what was expected of the course material during school? No.  Geology was the subject for me and a career in oil and gas was something that beckoned me, not through passion but because I thought it was a logical choice based on the world’s demand for energy, and therefore jobs would always be available. 
I’m not going to describe the four years of my geology course nor the events that happened at university, not in any great detail at least.   All I will say is this:  I graduated in 2008 with a 2:1 after four years of playing computer games, drinking, partying, sleeping until midday, going on awesome field trips and generally having the best time of my life.  I was very happy with a 2:1, if you got a first it meant you studied too hard and didn’t enjoy your social life, and anything lower than a 2:1, well, you probably shouldn’t have bothered going to university in the first place.  I will always miss being a student.  Upon graduation, I was optimistic about my job chances: there were dozens of graduate fairs coming up in the next few months, many applications to fill out and I had a solid degree from a very reputable university.  I was convinced that eventually, within a few months perhaps, something would turn up.  It had to – I had a geology degree, right?        

My first graduate career fair was not what I was expecting.  I actually believed it was a fair where you turned up, flashed your CV and signed a job contract.  I know I’m stupid, but damn, that was pretty stupid of me to assume.  Still, I put my suit on, my best shoes and even styled my hair for the fair but within seconds of walking in I realized my mistake.  Every other student was in hoodies and all the stalls were completely unrelated to anything I wanted to do.  Stall after stall of generic companies handing out flyers, squishy balls, key rings, pens and carrier bags.  All the applying was done online after your initial chat with the company representatives anyway.  I might as well have stayed in my room, watched porn and applied online to companies I already knew existed from The Times Top 100 list of graduate employees.  Still, the freebies were good.
I remember going to another graduate fair in Liverpool a few days before my graduation.  This time I didn’t overdress and I was mentally prepared not to be expecting anything.  It was the same setup: mainly the large companies handing out flyers except this time there was also a few local companies.  Specifically a geotechnical firm from Liverpool was looking for graduates with an Earth Science degree – I was the perfect candidate.  I chatted to the manager and he was very keen, he even gave me his personal mobile number to ring him and discuss the work further.  I left the fair feeling buoyant and my spirits uplifted because I was optimistic that jobs were out there for people like me and, with hardly any effort other than the commute to Liverpool, I’d been offered a potential job.
However, I never rang the manager in the days or months afterwards.  I don’t know why I didn’t, perhaps, I think, it was because I was nervous to have potentially found a job already and move to Liverpool; along with the sudden realization that my student days were officially over and it was time to be a grown-up.  Maybe I thought it wasn’t a good enough job for me, there would be bigger companies out there with better salaries.  I’m not sure I can explain why I never rang the man back, in my head I knew I should have tried for the big oil companies like Shell, BP, Total and Halliburton.  Maybe after everything I’d worked for ‘only’ working for a small company was a failure as such.  Even as I type this now I realize how selfish this all makes me sound.  I was just happy that I’d had some success through getting hold of a number and it reassured me that the job hunting process was going to be a short-term thing, or so I believed. 
            At my graduation I said goodbye to all my course mates and I was also quite shocked to find that they had already found jobs, predominantly mining jobs or exploration work in Australia where the job market was booming.  They had sorted out their jobs months before graduation and all they had to do was secure their degree grade in the final exams.  Was I seriously so far behind in the job hunt race?  I considered getting the number of the manager from Liverpool a success at this stage so to hear my friends had jobs was a bombshell.  However, I knew I didn’t want to move somewhere so far from home and my high school friends no matter how good the money was.  Plus, all the snakes and spiders in Australia scared the crap out of me.  I guess it’s ironic considering where I work now, but Australia is literally the other side of the world.  A big part of me has always wanted nothing more than an office job, a bungalow and raising a family in the same area that was so good to me growing up.  I knew I wasn’t so prepared to just pack up and start a new life, but I was taken aback by how easy it was for my course mates to do such a thing.  All I wanted was the same kind of lifestyle that I’d had during the last four years at university, but instead of lectures at 9am I’d switch it for work.  What was I holding on to so hard in the UK that was so easy for my course mates to let go?   After graduation my course mates and I parted and I didn’t see them again for years. 

I didn’t see moving home as a step back.  I wanted to eat good home-cooked food and have my clothes washed and ironed.  I enjoyed the prospect of seeing my hometown friends more often and going out on the pull every weekend.  The trouble with home was that I didn’t have the internet.  Looking back, this was a setback for me in terms of ease of research and application for jobs.  The only internet access I had was from the public library where you were allowed two hours each day.  Ultimately though, it wasn’t because I didn’t have the internet at home that didn’t get me a job, it was me – my complete and utter lack of any work placements, experience, travelling or extra-curricular activity to set me aside from the other candidates and make me stand out.  I was a perfect student in terms of grades, but at the interviews and assessment centres I got ripped to pieces by other candidates far more experienced, passionate and just plain better for the job than me.  From my initial optimism after the Liverpool graduate fair, the reality of unemployment and sense of uselessness began to creep in over that coming summer.
To help explain how useless I was with my previous spare time and helping to set the scene to describe the following year of being unemployed, it’s probably worth taking a quick look back at my history of summers and how I spent them being unproductive and with no regard for my future career at all.

My summers of nothing:

2002:  Playing F1 2002 on the N64, a full race season on the maximum number of laps.  Work: Washing up at a hotel.

2003: Playing GTA: San Andreas, completing all missions and hunting for the stars. Work: Washing-up and making garnishes.

2004: No specific game, but plenty of washing up, double shifts and close to 80 hours a week earning a whopping three pound sixty pence an hour.

2005: Playing Zelda: Twilight Princess, Age of Empires and Battle for Middle-Earth.  Work: Bar work at York races.

2006: Computer games and six weeks compulsory field mapping in Spain for third year project.

2007: Playing Risk, Smash Brothers and Mario Golf.

So, as you can see, between 2002 and 2008, although I did work, most other people my age were at least spending one or two of their summers doing an internship or work placement in the area of their likely future career.  My summer: I saw it solely as an opportunity to do nothing for three months.  In fact, I saw it as my right to do nothing based on the fact I’d just been studying for the last nine months.  Aside from the six weeks in Spain for my mapping project, I didn’t even go traveling.  My good grades got me through the first step of the application and then they counted for nothing except filling up a few lines on my CV.

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