April 12, 2010


by Paul Carter
224 pages, Da Capo Press

Review by Hereward L.M. Proops

Winning the prize for the greatest book title ever, Paul Carter’s autobiography of his time working on various oil rigs around the world certainly has the power to grab your attention. Opening with a catastrophic episode of amoebic dysentery on a passenger plane and closing with a cocktail-shaking orangutan, Carter’s globe-trotting jaunt is a likeable, but ultimately shallow glimpse at the life of a “roughneck”.

Carter is an affable narrator, openly sharing his (often highly embarrassing) adventures on the rigs in various dangerous locations around the world. Though Carter is not the greatest writer by any stretch of the imagination, his style is fluid enough to keep you reading. He never dwells too long on one incident and whilst some of the subject matter is shocking, his laddish sense of humour gives the narrative a strangely optimistic streak, enabling the book to be completed in one sitting. Unlike most travel-writers, the places Carter writes about are unlikely to inspire folks to visit. In the course of his travels he gets mugged, shot at, hijacked, held hostage, poisoned and watches a double amputee get thrown from a moving train. Most normal people would forswear any foreign visits after experiencing just one of these incidents but Carter seems to thrive on trouble.

He’s not blind to the corruption within the oil industry either. Whilst Don’t Tell Mum... is not a whistle-blowing exposé of the shady business conducted by the be-suited wankers who exploit the ever-diminishing resources of the planet, Carter does not seem to have an awful lot of respect for those in charge of the oil companies. He highlights the shocking conditions in which those on the rigs are expected to work and details some of the horrific accidents he has witnessed. He rationalises the work he does by seeing fossil fuels as a necessary evil until a viable alternative can be found. Oil, he explains, fuels the planet and we are all involved in the oil business in our own way.

Don’t Tell Mum I Work on the Rigs, She Thinks I’m a Piano Player in a Whorehouse is definitely not a book that will appeal to everyone’s tastes. Some of the accounts of his escapades may be a little too frank for readers of a more sensitive nature. Colourful language and toilet humour are the order of the day and those fond of gentle, highbrow humour will find little to enjoy here. Likewise, animal lovers might wish to keep a wide berth from the book. Early on in Carter’s adventures he manages to kill his pet monkey with an explosive coconut. Later on we are regaled with tales of kangaroos being splattered by a 4x4, mice battling scorpions, a ferret igniting a bar brawl and a monstrous hunting dog with a mechanical jaw.

As already mentioned, Carter’s book can easily be read in one sitting. Indeed, those who enjoy the rough humour will find it hard to put down. This breakneck pace is entertaining enough but one finds that the book ends as abruptly as it begins. There’s no dénouement, no sense of Carter’s journey leaving him with anything more than a load of scar tissue and a well-thumbed passport. Reaching the end of the book is akin to chatting to a very amiable bloke at the pub for a few hours then discovering he left the building when he said he was just nipping to the toilet. You’ve been thoroughly entertained, but you’re left a little disappointed that you never get to hear the end of his stories. Maybe this is what Carter had in mind all along as there is a sequel to this book, amusingly titled This is Not a Drill. Though I’ve not yet had the opportunity to pick up a copy, I very much doubt it will differ radically from its predecessor. That’s just fine with me, I had a blast reading this book and, though short-lived, it’s one that I would happily recommend to someone looking for a few cheap thrills.

Hereward L.M. Proops

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