South Africa’s electricity crisis

Woo. “Crisis”. There’s a strong word. But yes, that’s what it is.

It’s a complicated story, but it boils down to this: years of poor planning and underfunding, coupled with a healthily growing economy simply means that there isn’t enough electricity to go around. And therefore, in order to protect the national grid from damage through supplying electricity that’s not there and being hopelessly overloaded, Eskom, the national electricity supplier, has introduced load-shedding. This is a system whereby, when demand exceeds supply, they cut power to areas of the country so that the remaining areas can get on with life.

You can see the issues. Industries are in the middle of production runs, businesses are working on computers, residents are cooking dinner. And then – click. All is calm, all is bright. Apart from the bright bit, obviously. 
And you’re taken back to a previous time, before electricity had been harnessed and controlled. A wonderful age, with steam trains, gas-lamps and cheeky schoolboys playing with sticks and hoops and running across cobbled streets in front of horse-drawn carriages. Quaint, but actually bloody annoying.

There are upsides. Generator and candle sales have never been better. But they are the exception in this sorry tale. Businesses can’t cope, they’re losing money hand over fist. Householders complain, but except for the odd case*, it’s actually just an inconvenience. A culture of blame ensues – letters to the local press name and shame electricity wasting buildings and lament the fact that streetlights are left on during the day. Misinformation abounds. Eskom is a laughing stock and it just wouldn’t be South Africa if there was no racial issue in there somewhere:

We always had enough electricity when the whites were in power!

Yes. Of course you did. That’s because outside investment in the country was virtually nil and the economy was held together with duct tape and a weekly prayer to the bloke upstairs.

There is an even darker side to this though (no pun intended). The past participle issue.
How do you describe, when complaining to your drinking buddies, the local paper or anyone who is still bothering to listen to your incessant and pointless whining, what happened when your power was cut yesterday afternoon? Were you load-shedded? Or load-shod?

I shouldn’t laugh, but it is funny when people are moaning. I understand their frustrations, but they start inventing new words. They think I’m making fun of their plight and slap me, which does temporarily halt my mirth, but only until their next use of “load-shod”.
“Load-shod” just sounds funny, while “load-shedded” is clumsy and doesn’t work.

But it’s ok – I can help you out. If you want to avoid these amusing or difficult phrases, just don’t tell me about it.
It’s symbiotic. You don’t get your tongue twisted, I get a nice peaceful morning in the dark. Lovely.

Look – I’m not saying that these power cuts are a good thing.
They aren’t. Power cuts are a bad thing.
Nor am I saying that you don’t have a right to be annoyed, irritated, frustrated.
Of course you do. It’s annoying, irritating and frustrating.
I think that what I’m saying is that since there is no light at the end of the tunnel – literally, it seems – just stop moaning – how does that help? Be a bit more proactive. Work around it as best you can. You’ll live. Really**.  

And never – never – use the word “load-shod” in front of me and expect me not to giggle.

* Standard hysterical over-exaggeration: “What about all those people on life-support systems at home?!?!?!”
** Terms and conditions apply. Like not being on a life-support system at home.

R437 is a poor effort at the Nellie

From news24:

Cape Town – A man who duped a bartender at the Mount Nelson Hotel in Cape Town to serve him with liquor to the value of R437, but could not pay for it, was fined R3 000 or six months on a charge of theft on Monday.
Dean Jacobs, 43, was also sentenced to an additional R3 000 or six months for the theft of a TV set that was attached to a wall at The Bay Hotel in Greenpoint.
Lawyer Sharon Williams told the court that Jacobs falsely informed the reception at the Mount Nelson Hotel in October 2006 that he was waiting for a friend to bring him his wallet so that he could book into the hotel.
In this manner, he was given a bar tab which permitted him access to the bar where he could drink on credit.
It is only when he already owed R437 for drinks, food and cigarettes, that the bartender approached him for payment. In his inebriated state, he admitted to the barman that he had lied and that he had no money.

Among the items listed on the charge sheet were a burger costing R60, eight beers, four Jack Daniels whiskies, a gin and four Amaretto liquers.

A number of thoughts spring immediately to mind here.

Firstly, how thick are the Mount Nelson’s bar staff? Why did the bartender not think to question why Jacobs had a television set, marked “Property of The Bay Hotel, Greenpoint” and still resplendent with twisted wall brackets, on his lap?

Secondly, why did it take the bartender 17 drinks (and a burger) to work out that Jacobs’ “friend” might not be turning up with his wallet? I wonder if it was as Jacobs crossed the unwritten threshold of R436 that the barman suddenly thought he’d better step in and ask for at least the first installment? Thanks to news24’s detailed reporting on how to dupe the Mount Nelson, I may pop in there tomorrow with a stolen tv, then carefully add up drinks and snacks to the value of R435 before I get sozzled, fall over twice and head for the car park.

Working on my average drinking rates, I’m going to say that we’re looking at an absolute minimum of 2½ hours of boozing there. Although, Jacobs is obviously an expert. Still, you can tell how bad things were getting as he slipped from the staples of beer and JD into the shady underworld of gin and almond liqueur. It’s the alcoholic equivalent of allowing one’s standards to drop and taking the ugly girl home from the nightclub. Actually, thinking about it, almond liqueur sounds more like he was ready to take the ugly bloke home… 

Thirdly, why on earth did he not go for a few stupidly pricey drinks at the start? The Mount Nelson is notoriously posh and expensive – to only rack up R437 (that’s about £32 or $63 for my non Saffa readers), well… it’s actually a damn poor show. Pathetic, even.
I would have fined him another three grand just for that.   

Finally, you’d think that news24 (South Africa’s premier news source) would have a spellchecker that might notice the fact that the word liqueur actually has two U’s.

Picky. I know.

Ooh – and photos from Franskraal, as promised in my last post, are now available at my flickr.

Hole    Franskraal    Boo!    Hello!    Rock    Sunset

 

Franskraal. 6110 miles from civilisation

Welcome to Franskraal. A sleepy Afrikaans dorpie so tiny that even the locals aren’t sure where they live. Frans may have had his kraal here, but it obviously wasn’t much to look at. Photos of the main features of the village (that’s 1. the beach and, 2. Alex) will follow when we return to the Mother City, where the interwebs is fast enough to… well… do stuff on.

Today, the weather is beautiful, a stark contrast to the howling gales of yesterday which left everywhere covered in a thin layer of fine sand. This explains the slightly gritty feel to the keyboard as I grind this post out.

We’re away for a few days, enjoying a short break after a hectic Christmas and staying in a little self-catering cottage just back from the beach. Although we’re rattling around a house that sleeps eight, the beds are uncomfortably small. I commented that there wasn’t even room to swing a cat in there but my wife told me to stop being silly. Fortunately, a neighbourhood feline was easily procured and I was quickly proven correct. Cleaning up the mess, as I told the missus, is certainly not the job of the victor.

I’m also using the time to try some New Age fathering techniques. Thus, when Alex screams, that’s fine, because he’s “expressing his inner rage”. Either that or he’s found some chunk of dismembered cat in his parents’ bed. Truth be told, our little boy is a little angel anyway. The only reason he has been upset while we’ve been away is because he’s covered in sand, his toys are covered in sand or most likely, him, his toys and everything else around him are covered in sand.

Of course, that is aside from the journey here anyway, where he was too interested in what was going on around him to get any sleep. And bribing him into his slumbers was a great plan if only the sweeties in question weren’t full of tartrazine.

While he was delighted to arrive here and be free from his car seat after the 2 hour trip out from Cape Town, he reminded me never to put him through such an ordeal again by swiftly expressing his inner rage with a kick to my bits as I extricated him. His mum can get him out of the car at the other end.

Ah. 11am. Time for a cold bottle of hearty Milk Stout to help me through to lunchtime when we will head beachward again. The beach is packed today compared with yesterday when the only brave souls out there were us and a dog-walking couple chasing their fox terrier as it did a remarkably accurate impression of a tumbleweed across the sand. We saw the same lot out again this morning, the dog looking sheepish. In a suitably canine way. 

And so, dear reader, I must away. There’s the company of the sun and a son to enjoy before reality hits home on Monday as I return to the lab and start playing with infected sputum again. Oh, happy days…
 

Disaster

Remember Ireland in 1845? No. Neither do I.

However, at about 1745 this evening, I was at a local supermarket. Things were going well. Alex had enjoyed the journey there, boogie’ing away in his car seat to the energetic (yet somewhat inappropriate) Smack My Bitch Up by the Prodigy* and was now happily sat in the trolley, nibbling a chunk of biltong. Life was good.

And then – down the snacks aisle, right next to the puffs, this:

Potato Shortage

I have to admit, this was a new one on me. We’ve had shortages of oil here, which led to shortages of petrol and widespread panic buying. Been there, done that back in the UK. We had a lack of glass that almost meant they couldn’t make beer bottles. That was very worrying. We even ran out of carbon dioxide (yes, really!) which led to a scarcity of fizzy beverages. We soldiered on through (though strangely, Seth Rotherham seemed irrationally alarmed by the news of a Coke shortage).

But a shortage of chips really is a true cause for concern.

Immediately, I thought this must be a callous marketing ploy by the supermarket in question in order to raise the price of any available chips by preying on the minds of innocent chip-purchasing shoppers. There was only one way to find out – the leaders in South African potato news and information: Potatoes South Africa.
It’s where we all get our potato-related information over here. Sample quote:

They may not be celebrities, but potatoes certainly get their share of media attention. Read about how potatoes are profiled in the press, the news they generate by just being themselves, and who to contact for more information if you are one of our media friends.

I may have missed something here. Not that I’m a big reader, but are the pages of Hello, OK and the pisspoor South African You/HuisGenoot really packed full with our starchy friends sunbathing on foreign beaches, partying with some European royal or flashing their bits as they exit a sports car?
Can a potato really generate news by “just being itself”?

Surely not.

Anyway, I digress. Back to the great Cape Town potato shortage. It seems that the hastily-printed fluttering A4 warnings were all true. Not a single potato arrived in Cape Town today. Just look at that terrifyingly empty CPT column. Even SPG got more than us. SPG**, of all places!!!

It’s going to be a long, cold, chipless winter***.
I fear that increasing my beer consumption may be the only way to keep my carbohydate levels up.

Oh well. Needs must.

* 6000 miles… does not advocate smacking your (or anyone else’s) bitch up.
** No, I have no clue. Sorry.
*** Once we’re through our long, hot, chipless summer and long, mild, chipless autumn, obviously.

Up the mountain

“Two out of three ain’t bad”…

So fat, sweaty rocker Meatloaf told us back in 1977. He went on to say that he wanted me, he needed me, but there was no way he was ever going to love me. I could have told him that.

We went up Table Mountain yesterday evening for sundowners. Sundowners is a South African tradition whereby you drink beer and watch the sun set. It should not be confused with other South African traditions, such as drinking beer while watching the braai, drinking beer while watching the rugby, or smoking tik while you rob someone’s house.

So, three things we need for our sundowners up the mountain: Beer, cash and camera.
And thus, we took: Beer and cash.

No camera*. Words cannot express how annoyed I was at this. The first three beers barely touched my rage. The next two were slightly more pacifying. By the sixth, I was chatting with all the little goblins and they pointed out that the whole scene was blurred anyway. They were right, everything was all hazy, including my speech.

I suddenly remembered Dave – my trusty Sony Ericsson w900i. I’d never called it Dave before, but the beer was talking and saying that perhaps I should have done. While Dave’s primary function is actually as a telephone, when it comes to taking pictures, he is the canine’s bits (as far as 2 year old camera phones go).  And while the images would have been sharper and potentially lovlier had we not left Malcolm the camera** at home, I think Dave did a pretty good job as a substitute. Especially if you don’t look too closely. A couple of the goblins did dare to comment on Dave’s poor resolution on low-light images and were immediately flung to the dassies, who pounced on them with eager goblin-devouring delight.

And so I’m especially proud of these efforts, one of the queue for the Cableway on the way down and the second, looking over my beautiful city at twilight. Remember – these were taken with a phone. Imagine how good they’d be if I’d had Malcolm with me… Grr.

Catching the last car down   Table Bay by night

Thus, the flickr set Table Mountain – Dec 07 was born. And I urge you to view it. Several litres of beer and a whole gaggle of critical goblins died bringing you these photos.

* There are decent reasons why the camera was left behind. I’m not telling you want they are though.
** I’d never called it Malcolm before, but…