Thursday, July 28, 2005

Corporate Stress Relief

There is currently a giant roll of "air cellular cushioning material" standing in our boardroom (surreal enough in itself). I think it is one the most beautiful things I have ever seen. If I could get away with it I would carpet our entire office with the Bubble Wrap and roll around in it for about 10 minutes (because you have to do something like that at least once in your life, right?). Unfortunately there are security cameras nearby, so I don't think I would be able to get away with it.

A few months ago we were all grudgingly hauled off to a corporate team-building and work-conference overnight event. We slept in upmarket tents (which were actually quite fun) and had to make our own dinner in competitive groups. The team-building moments were all water based in some way and included bizarre stuff such as building a raft in a small dam with an island in the middle. Many of us decided not to participate (who wants to get wet? In April? It's cold!) and acted as the motivational cheering people instead. Although, in retrospect, the conference wasn't too bad, I think most of us would have been happier if we'd just each been given a large roll of Bubble Wrap and had been left at the office to play with it.


Wednesday, July 27, 2005

Striking South Africans Are Entertaining To Non-Striking South Africans

Two exciting (if you can call it that) things happened at work today. First, just before lunchtime we all received "URGENT" system-wide emails stating that all the toilets in the building (over 20 floors) are out of order and we must use the toilets in the coffee shop on the ground floor. This is the second time this has happened in the past year since I've been in and out of this building doing work on various magazines. Smart people should design buildings so that processes such as electricity, networks, and sewerage aren't all one integrated unit. This has recently become a sore point as we moved to a new office a few weeks ago (all four copy editors (two English, two Afrikaans) now in one, slightly larger (but tunnel-shaped: yuck) room with better view - yay!), so we've had maintenance issues ever since. Someone's phone will suddenly go out, so they'll fix it (after about a week of complaints), and as soon as they do someone else's phone stops working...

Second, the municipal workers held a strike and a brief (rather unexciting) march, which we could see from our windows as the civic centre is near our building. I have no idea what they are protesting, since many of them are rather inept. This is the third strike happening at the moment in South Africa. The workers at one of our largest supermarket chains, Pick 'n Pay, went on strike last Friday to protest a 7.9% wage increase (they want 12%). A few days ago the strike turned nasty at the Pick 'n Pay at the Waterfront, as striking workers tried to barricade the doors and prevent shoppers from entering the store. Police had to fire tear gas to disperse the crowd, as the situation became violent. Although a 12% demand is ridiculous, especially since Pick 'n Pay apparently has some of the highest (and please note that I only say highest, which doesn't necessarily mean wonderful) staff wages in the industry, I just did some quick calculations, and the turnover that the group lost in the first four days of the strike (just under R50 million) would have been enough to fund the monthly increases the 13 000 striking employees are demanding for the next 42 months.

The other strike making the news at the moment is workers at SAA (South African Airways). Passengers here and overseas have been stranded as all the flights have been grounded, and there has been total chaos as the passengers try to find alternative transport. The stupid thing about this strike is that it is seriously damaging SAA, and I won't be surprised if it has to retrench workers in a few months due to the massive loss of income and many, many customers, who have permanently moved to other airlines in frustration and anger.

That was a long backstory.

Around lunchtime, after watching the rather dull strike action, the other English copy editor and I arbed[*] to the copy editing room of one of the other magazines on our floor.
M: "We want to strike. Everyone else is striking, so we also want to strike."
Me: "We should have a subbing strike."
C: "Yes, let's strike."
V: "We all got 5% and just accepted it. At least our posters and signs would be spelt correctly."

We returned to our office. J looked at us arbing into the office with an amused expression, since we usually don't travel in pairs and drift around aimlessly.
Me: "Hello. We tried to strike, but nobody noticed."
J: "You need to get someone to style[*] your strike, then they'd notice."
M [thoughtfully, to no one in particular]: "Margaux [our stylist and picture editor], please style our strike..."
J: "'s up?"
Me: "Yeah - I wanna go to the bathroom and I'm pissed off that I can't."
J: "'Pissed off' is not the right term..."

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Wednesday, July 20, 2005

Success In South Africa Doesn't Amount To Much

In the office we're discussing the new Harry Potter book and how it's doing in terms of sales figures.

M: "In the UK you have to sell 50 00 copies of a book in a week to make it to the top of the charts. In SA it's 1000."
J: "With gold and platinum records here you only have to sell 25 000 for a gold record..."
Me: "...I think platinum is about 50 000... "
P: "...and only Steve [*] gets that here."
J: "That's probably equivalent to the stainless steel version in the UK."
P: "No, it's probably sturdy cardboard."


Tuesday, July 05, 2005

It Requires A DVD Store To Turn Me Into A Shopaholic

One of my goals while on my trip overseas was to go to an HMV, since we have nothing like it in South Africa, and I have have been compiling a mental list for years of things (mainly DVDs) to get when I eventually find one. During the course of my stay in London I drifted into three different stores (which is not too hard since they are practically on every corner) and bought a stack of stuff – so much so that I had to post most of the items to myself as I had no room in my suitcase for everything. I didn't even manage to buy everything I wanted, but there came a point at which I realised I had to stop as I had already spent a few thousand rands on boxed sets, rare DVDs that I can't find here, and DVDs on my "general" list that were on sale at HMV. (Although the funny thing is that it still worked out cheaper to buy these items overseas – and post them to myself – than to buy the items that are available in South Africa here and pay our rather inflated retail prices.)

I had been feeling a little shopaholic about all of this, as it is very against my character to shop so much, until a few minutes ago when my boss drifted into our office and said: "Did you hear about what happened to me this morning? I went to Tafelberg [Furnishers] to buy a vacuum cleaner and I ended up buying a dining-room suite instead."

Monday, July 04, 2005

It's Independence Day!

Well, not for me. I'm at work, on a magazine deadline week, so it's very busy, but for my American friends I guess this means lots of fireworks, parades, and a spacecraft crashing into a comet, in true American style. I've been to the NASA Deep Impact web site and I still don't understand the point of spending all that money to do this.

Meanwhile, the irony that the American people are the least independent and free than they have been for decades is not lost on me.

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