Why are you still here?

No, dear readers. This isn’t a question for you. 
We all know why you’re still here. It’s the almost ethereal, magical, magnetic attraction of the prose you read on these pages. It’s a completely understandable and excusable addiction.
No, this was a question I was asked by the Molton Brown Boys over a particularly tasty curry at Bihari last night. I guess it’s at this point that I should explain that the Molton Brown Boys are a group of friends that get together for a curry and a beer every so often and discuss everything from Borat through to cement statistics.
We were drawn together by our shared outlook on life and our penchant for fine soaps. Deal with it.

So – why are I still here?

The question was posed, I believe, in response to the current “bad news” vibe in South Africa and my ability, as a UK citizen, to up and run back to the safety of Blighty at any time. Why would I want to stay?

Let’s look at the bad news: electricity shortages, crime*, bloody awful customer service. Sure, they’re huge issues – especially those first two. If you’re samzn0, then you’ve obviously had a particularly bad couple of weeks in January and the third one is a big problem too.
But if you want to complain about something else, then you actually have to dig a bit. You could moan about the Government, but some would argue that in many respects, they’re doing a pretty decent job – it’s politics and no-one ever agrees about politics.
You could moan about the inflation and interest rates, and it is a real drain on one’s finances each month, but these growing pains come with a developing economy and frustratingly high oil prices.
You could moan about Bafana Bafana’s exit from the Afcon tournament, but they got drawn in the Group of Death – Senegal are out too. Who’d have thunk it?  

No, life isn’t always easy here, but then is it always easy elsewhere? You see, I believe that wherever you run to, you’ll still find problems and drawbacks. Maybe not as acute and as pressing as those here, but irritating and frustrating, nevertheless.
Examples? Is Gordon Brown everyone’s cup of tea? How much is a litre of petrol in London? And what are England’s footballers doing this summer?

There’s always the plus side. The bit that some people in South Africa (and virtually everyone on that appalling internet forum) try to bury under all the bad stuff. And yes, there are also plus sides wherever else you go in the world as well.
I’m not stupid. I keep an eye on the news and what I see and hear “on the street”. I’m aware of the challenges SA faces now and in the future.
But perhaps part of the lure of SA is the rollercoaster ride between the bad news (which is often pretty bad) and the good bits, which are actually exceptionally good.

There’s the weather, the lifestyle, the food, the scenery, the braais.
There’s the people, the smiles, the optimism, the hope, the World Cup(s). 

It’s hard to define the experience of living in South Africa right now. If one were only to review the newspapers and the news websites (like the people on that forum do), then one would get a horribly skewed version of the country. Actually living here, it’s not like that at all. I’m typing this in a brightly lit room on a PC which is working absolutely fine. I haven’t been murdered today.
Note that I’m not making any claims about customer service though.

One must take the rough with the smooth. And the smooth in South Africa more than makes up for the rough.
I’m staying put, thank you very much.

* Interestingly, the moaning about crime has dropped significantly since the recent round power cuts began. Evidently, even your highly-trained, seasoned moaner can run out of negativity.

I’m building a power station

I think it’s the only way out of this infernal power crisis.
No lights? Whatever.
No TV? A minor irritation.

But allowing my beers to get warm? Action needs to be taken.

Sod the Government, the captains of industry and the so-called experts countrywide who all say that there is no quick fix. I think they’re blinkered. If everyone builds their own little power station, we’ll be sorted.

As far as I can remember from my physics lessons at school, all you have to do is make steam (water + heat), turn a turbine and Bob’s your uncle.
For your average Southern Suburber, with a pool (water) and a braai (heat), that’s surely not such a big ask.
Apart from the turbine bit.

I drew a quick diagram and presented it to my wife.  With hindsight, I probably should have put it in Powerpoint with some fancy graphics. The back of Alex’s first school painting was not a good idea.
Still, once I had survived the hormone-driven onslaught of the enraged mother and wiped the blood from the plans, the idea seemed to get a cautious welcome.

“What’s that?” she asked, pointing to a hastily scribbled rectangle.
“That’s the pool.”
She hesitated.
“Well, what’s that then?” she asked, pointing to a second rectangle.
“That’s the braai.”
“And this big space?”
“That’s where the turbine will go.”

It didn’t help that the drawing was not to scale and made it look like the turbine was going to take up most of the garden, turning her beloved lawn yellow and (thankfully) squashing her Fatsia japonica, the ugliest plant in existence and rumoured to be a key part of the nightmare which gave John Wyndham the idea for The Day Of The Triffids.
In actual fact, by my calculations, it would also flatten the neighbours pansies as well. And possibly part of their house. But on the bright side, I could probably generate enough electricity to run the pool pump and my beer fridge. Just about.

“How much will it cost?” she asked, suspiciously.

This was a problem. Although running the unit would be relatively economical, subsisting solely on rooikrans bought from the scary lady in the light blue horsebox in Diep River, the initial capital expenditure was a touch over 300 million Rand. The missus turned a strange shade of crimson when I told her this.
Alert enough to recognise the imminent danger, I ran. Almost quickly enough.

Nursing my wounds at the Fireman’s Arms, where the fridges always work and SuperSport plays 24/7, I was approached by a Iranian dwarf who claimed that he could get me a partly decommissioned Russian nuclear power plant for 10,000 US dollars, three gallons of whipped cream and a night with the Ad Wizard.

I have a feeling that I’m going to have the coldest beers in Cape Town this summer, whatever games Eskom play.

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.

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