Jacob Maroga saved my hearing

Coming hot on the heels of my (as yet unpublished) Jacob Zuma Ate My Hamster post comes some unexpected praise for those masters of the dark arts – Jacob Maroga and Eskom.
For those who aren’t in the SA loop, Jacob Maroga is the CEO of Eskom and Eskom is the company which provides South Africa with electricity.

Sometimes, anyway.

We simply don’t have enough power to go around. I told you about this last week. Then they went and stranded the cable car on Table Mountain – a story which the BBC chose to illustrate with a picture of City Hall taken in 1968.  
Anyway, although I’m pretty sure that the CEOs of major SA industry don’t read this site*, it seems that this week, they have taken my advice and are getting down to the business of dealing with the power outages, rather than moaning about them. Good for you guys.

Anyway, back to my praise of Jacob and Eskom. Why? Because load-shedding has its benefits too.
Obviously, these don’t include the my safety cabinets losing power and MDR-TB starting to drift throughout the lab. That’s not particularly beneficial to anyone, although the shrieks of glee of the recently-freed airborne bacteria was heart-warming to hear.

No. I refer to a particularly ironic and comedic incident as I headed down to the Waterfront for lunch today. Crossing Dock Road, I could hear the sounds of the minstrel jazz band playing along to some cheesy backing track for a crowd of tourists.
Picture the scene. It’s a wonderful atmosphere – the sun is shining, there’s a light breeze and a happy vibe. A backing track plays through a tinny amp while the band – none of them a day under 70, I swear – sit under the trees in the dappled shade; one on bongos, one on a Hammond organ (or similar), one on oil-can guitar and another who occasionally shakes a tambourine, blows a trumpet or sings.

Improvisation is the name of their jazz game. The cerebral musicality of jazz mixed with the visceral groove of funk. 
And their repertoire…? Extensive.
Stretching today to a bloody awful instrumental version of the 1987 Starship hit Nothing’s Gonna Stop Us Now.

Except that then, Maroga and his Eskom boys stepped in, load-shod – and promptly stopped them.

The irony was lost on the tourists, many of whom were only continuing to endure the overly cheesy soft rock hit while trying to work out if the keyboard player was in fact dead or just asleep.
The guitarist spat on the floor, shook his head in disgust and took out a cigarette. For the next two hours, the Waterfront would be listening to the Sounds of Silence…

* They will when I publish details of the ANC President and his rodent-munching antics – senior management loves JZ gossip.

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.