Tuesday, January 31, 2006

Lunchtime Conversations From The Office

When you're on deadline at the office, slowly going mad, strange conversations can occur, such as the following sample from today, submitted for your perusal:

R is hovering near my desk, and then looks at me.
R: "I've got nuts everywhere."
Me: "I didn't need to know that."
R: "...in my mouth."

Earlier in a rather soul-draining day, a suggestion is made (not by me) that we should all quit our jobs and go and start a yoghurt farm (I'm not really sure why yoghurt (or a farm), but anyway).
Later, as things become progressively worse, the following conversation occurs:
M: "Let's all leave now and go and live on the yoghurt farm."
Me: "I don't want to farm yoghurt, but I will go and live on the farm, as long as I can have Internet access to do my own thing."
J: "...what are those people in America?"
Me: "The Amish. I find them quite charming."
M: "They don't have computers. You won't have Internet access."
Me: "I didn't say I want to be the Amish, I said they're charming."

J: "Kalahari[.net] has just sent me book suggestions for Valentine's. They're all sex books." [J reads some of the titles aloud.]
Me: "Why is that? Why would they send that? Have you bought books like that from them before? I don't get emails like that..."
J: "No. I've never bought any of these books..." [Reads more titles aloud.]
... [I'm snipping some inappropriate stuff. Children may be reading this!]
M: "First you get a love letter from some guy [an errant email received yesterday that was sent to the wrong person], then you get book suggestions from Kalahari..."
Me: "The universe is trying to tell you something. I wonder what that is?"

J: "Sometimes, when faced with yet another [a certain type of job we do] I think perhaps it might be better to go off and vomit for three days [rather than do the job]."
Me: "Actually I don't get the urge to throw up so much as crawl under my desk in the foetal position."
P: "Show us."
Me: "I'm not doing it for your amusement."
P: "Not? How selfish is that?"

R and I have a disagreement with P as to whether P has a DVD writer in his Mac.
I go to his machine to prove him wrong and point out that he, indeed, does have a DVD writer so he can pretty much write anything (CDs, DVDS). He expresses great, excited surprise (as only he can).
Me: (waving hands emphatically in the air): "Oh! Now we're going to have all sorts of things happening."
R: "Smoke's going to start coming out of that machine.... You'll need a plastic protective device..."

The art department is right next us, and we're only separated by a thin wall, so half the time we can hear snippets of conversations (which I would do well to remember for reasons of personal preservation, but never do). We overhear one of the art people asking, in the art room, where a job bag is. She then walks all the way around to get to our office to see if we have it.
J (before she can speak): "I have it here."
Art person: "I think we need a porthole in the wall."
Me: "A porthole, or a portal?" [I imitate zapping things through a portal.]
M: "I want a portal so I can go home."
Me: "...and not come back?"
M: "No, so I can go forward to the weekend."
Me: "That's a time portal. That's a bit more difficult."


Monday, January 30, 2006

My Photographs Of The Fire

Breaking news!

(Just kidding.)

Get the pictures developed. Scan the pictures in. Resize the pictures. Ugh. Film cameras are fun.

Anyway, here is a selection of the photographs I took of our recent fires. My apologies if the images are too dark - I didn't have time to correct the colour as well as everything else.

26 January 2006
16:08: Taken from the office window. The fire has been burning for a few minutes. No one realises yet that it's serious.

16:14: Taken from the office window, six minutes later. Notice how fast it has spread in such a short amount of time.

16:34: Taken from the roof of the building (through glass), 20 minutes later. We have a raging fire.

16:36: Taken from the roof of the building (though glass). Have a look at that orange glow!

16:52 (approximately): Taken from the office window. The fire has spread way up to the top of the mountain.

18:06: Taken on Heerengracht at the Boer War memorial.

18:18: Taken through the car's windscreen on Orange Street (top of Cape Town closer to the mountain). A helicopter is on its way back to pick up another load of water.

18:18: Taken through the car's passenger window on Orange Street (top of Cape Town closer to the mountain). The helicopter flies over our car.

18:19: Taken through the car's windscreen (driver side) on Orange Street (top of Cape Town closer to the mountain). The helicopter ducks down behind the buildings to refill at the reservoir in De Wall Park.

18:20: Tag art on the passenger side of the car. It's part of a promotional campaign for Hip2B2. The text on the right reads "think ahead". The guy was a passerby who was watching and photographing the helicopter.

18:21: Taken through the car's driver window as we were driving further along the M3 towards De Waal Drive (I wasn't driving).

27 January 2006
13:13: Taken from the office window. The top of Table Mountain flares up again.

13:14: Taken from the office window. Zoom in on the flareup. If you look carefully you may be able to see a helicopter dropping water.

13:17: Taken from the office window. Lion's Head on fire (you can just see it between the two buildings).


Friday, January 27, 2006

An Update On The Fires In Cape Town

It turned out that the fires actually spread further and wider than we first realised - in fact they had jumped to Lion's Head, which is the peak to the right of Table Mountain, and they also did run down the other side of the mountain and were threatening houses in Green Point and Camps Bay.

On the news last night we learnt that one woman had died in the fires. Usually there are no deaths because the fires proceed more slowly and people have enough time to evacuate, but not this time. This morning we heard that it was a British tourist who had been walking on the mountain and had succumbed to smoke inhalation.

Coming in to work we could still see a few small spires of smoke drifting away from the mountain at a few spots so, although we were told it's under control, not all the fires are out and this still presents a danger. The city was also covered in worse smog than usual, a residual effect from the giant clouds that were formed yesterday as the mountain burned.

Sitting in my office this morning and looking out the window I could see a long line of scorched trees that forms the boundary between the top line of the houses and the lower slopes of the mountain. We found out via the news that a UK tourist has been arrested for starting the fires - the claim is that he tossed a lit cigarette. Usually it's quite hard for a cigarette to start a fire, but under the right conditions it can happen.

Just after 13:00 I looked out the window to see that the smaller fires had once again reached the top of the mountain, and a helicopter was bravely flying overhead and dropping water. I also noticed that the fire on the slopes of Lion's Head was getting worse. A few minutes later I had to leave the building to run an errand and was quite surprised to find how warm it was outside, and that the wind was nothing more than a strong breeze, which is quite a contrast to the last few days: we have had galeforce winds that make it incredibly difficult to walk around the city. The relative calmness of today is a strange contrast to the drama of the fires.

By 15:30 the small fires near the top of the mountain had been put out, but ones lower down are still smouldering, as is Lion's Head. Helicopters continue to fly around the city gathering water and then dumping it on the fires. They seem to be battling to keep that blaze under control, and it's quite near houses there too. I can't imagine how much money this must be costing in terms of fuel costs alone.

The pictures below are once again courtesy of René Nortje, and depict what we can see of Lion's Head from our building. (My apologies for the buildings in the way.)

Some of the media coverage has been quite interesting. IOL published a story yesterday about the residents whose houses were threatened as the fire swept down the mountain. News24 ran a story this morning about the death of the British tourist and the alleged fire starter being granted bail, as well as one about the daughter of the tourist that was killed identifying the suspect. News24 also has two photo galleries online that capture the drama from all over the city: one for pictures taken by the professionals and one of images submitted by residents. A local blog also posted a photo of Cape Town burning by night that is being hosted on the Helderberg College server.

Meanwhile, over the past few days there have also been fires raging elsewhere in the city and its surrounds, including in Paarl, a town just outside Cape Town that is famous for its wines. I'm sure that our resources are stretched to the limit so we can only hope that nothing else happens in the next few days.


Thursday, January 26, 2006

Fire On Table Mountain

There is a massive fire burning on Table Mountain right now. We often suffer from fires in and around Cape Town but this one is particularly noticeable because it's directly in the middle of Table Mountain and you can probably see it from almost everywhere in the city.

Just after 16:00 we saw smoke out of the window of our office but from the angle it looked like a building in the distance behind another building was on fire. Armed with my camera I walked down the corridor to see if I could get a better look from another angle, and met up with a few people who said it was actually the mountain itself. We love our mountain and are very protective of it, and fire is a regular problem, so we were all quite concerned, especially since Cape Town's fire department has been making headlines all week due to budget cuts and terrible working conditions. As citizens we all know how important our fire department is, but the administration is choking it to death to use the funds for other "projects".

I digress, though. Back to the fire. At first it was just a small area on the side of the mountain, but by 16:08 the slither had shot way up and the fire had expanded slightly to the right. Two helicopters were battling the fire but we could see that it just wouldn't be enough.

As the events developed I had an increasingly horrible suspicion that this fire may have been set by some idiot trying to prove that the fire department is understaffed, underpaid, and very, very necessary. I hope I am wrong.

By 16:17 the fire was much, much larger, covering a much wider area, having expanded drastically upwards and to the right. Everyone was commenting on how fast this all happened in such a short amount of time.

Back in my office at 16:28 I looked out the window to see that the fire had spread far enough to the right that we could see it past the side of the skyscraper that is blocking our view, and it was heading downwards, towards houses that are partway up the mountain.

At 16:32 I went up to the roof of the building to see if I could get a better view. Our building's windows haven't been cleaned in over a year, so I had been struggling to get any decent shots that didn't have grimy rain, fingerprint, or paint patches on the glass (the building was painted about six months ago, and they have yet to clean up the outside properly). Unfortunately the roof access is still closed off due to building repairs so, although I had a much better view as I could just see over the skyscraper that had been obscuring my view elsewhere, I had to stay inside and so was confronted with more dirty glass.

At 16:43 the entire CBD had been enveloped in think orangey-black smoke and the fire was high up on the mountain. I've never see it reach so far before. By now there were three helicopters bravely battling the blaze in high winds. There are dams and a few large pools in and near the CBD, so every once in a while you could see them duck down between buildings and then reappear a few minutes later with a filled bucket.

Back in my office at 16:57 I looked out the window to see that the fire is pretty much at the top line of houses on the side of the mountain. As it's a weekday, the homeowners are likely to be at work, so that means there are a number of pets in very serious danger. Already many wild animals that live on the mountain must have died. It freaks me out to think about such things.

At 17:03 the smoke had cleared a bit and wasn't so thick and black, and much of the fire that had been creeping to the top of the mountain, right on the left, had been put out, but the fire near the houses was still raging, as was the fire in the middle that had now actually reached right to the top of the mountain (I didn't initially see this as there were window blinds obscuring my view). Thankfully the cable car and cable stations are on the far right of the mountain so people who had been on top of the mountain could be successfully evacuated.

By 17:23 the fire had definitely reached the top of the mountain, so I don't know what that means now for the ability for the helicopters and fire fighters to fight it before it runs down the other side and threatens houses on the western side of the mountain.

I have taken photos, but with my film camera, so it will be a few days before the pictures are developed and I can post them in my blog. The funny thing is I was saying to a colleague just a few days ago that I need a digital camera for blogging moments, but I haven't yet quite found the perfect one for me.

[The photographs in this post were graciously lent to me by René Nortje, who has a digital camera built into his cellular phone, unlike me (I don't even have a phone...but that's another story).]


Wednesday, January 25, 2006

Ladysmith Black Mambazo Releases New Collaborative Album

Yesterday Ladysmith Black Mambazo released a new album, Long Walk To Freedom [Listen], which features collaborations with some awesome international and local musicians. (Ladysmith Black Mambazo is an a cappella group that is famous for its collaboration with Paul Simon on the album Graceland, from 1986, in case you are unfamiliar with the name.) The only reason I know that the album is out, however, is because I received an announcement email to say that Sarah McLachlan would be performing with the group on two upcoming TV appearances: The Tonight Show With Jay Leno, which was actually aired two days, and Ellen: The Ellen DeGeneres Show, today. As far as I know neither of these shows are shown on South African TV, but I was very excited to see Sarah collaborating with Ladysmith Black Mambazo, and therefore was curious as to how this collaboration came about and wanted to find out more about the album.

So off to Google I went.

Two minutes later I had found out that the album had been released yesterday (thanks for the news coverage South African press!), and not only does it feature "Homeless", the collaboration with Sarah McLachlan, but it also features collaborations with some of my other favourite performers, including: Melissa Etheridge, Emmylou Harris, Natalie Merchant, and a cappella group Zap Mama from Belgium. The album also features some local legends and up-and-coming artists, including: Lucky Dube, Vusi Mahlasela [Listen], Hugh Masekela, and Thandiswa, amongst others.

If you have time, click on the links and find out more about the local contributors (and buy their music, if it's available). They are some of our national treasures, and their music, often without us even realising it, intrinsically provides the soundtrack and rhythms as we go about our daily lives all over this beautiful country. It's one of those things - that we cannot really explain - that defines our collective bond as Africans, no matter what race we may be classified as or what religion we may follow.

I, meanwhile, can't wait to get my hands on a copy of Long Walk To Freedom.

Tuesday, January 10, 2006

The Best Blonde Joke (Ever)

Ok, so the point of this blog is not to post jokes, but I'm making an exception this one time only.

Thursday, January 05, 2006

Back At Work: Day 02

(I wasn't actually expecting this to be a serial, but anyway...)

Everything was moving along swimmingly (well, actually not, but we can pretend for the sake of this blog post, ok?) until lunch. Earlier in the day I placed my expensive plastic Addis lunch container in the office fridge, as it contained fruit and vegetables that I painstakingly washed, chopped (where necessary) and assembled last night for my lunch today, as part of my new campaign to eat more healthily. Yesterday threats were made that the fridge would be cleared out (so we should remove anything we want to keep), as it has been kinda rank since we returned because some stupid people had left food (in some cases in open containers) in it for months. This morning I checked the fridge, and noticed that most things had been removed, including all the gross stuff, so I presumed that everything was now sorted, and put my lunch on the shelf.

Lunch time. 1:30pm and I'm quite hungry. I go to the fridge to get my lunch. There's even less in the fridge than there was before, and my lunch is gone. Gone! Confused, I check the (gross) bin to see if some fool had thrown it out. It's not there, although a bunch of other people's containers are. I wash my hands (literally) with manky [*] soap that happens to be at the sink. I immediately start feeling grief for my lost, expensive container and lunch. I return to my office and start checking my bag and my desk, because now I'm questioning everything: did I actually bring my lunch in today, or did I leave it in the fridge at home and only imagine this? Did I bring my lunch in, but accidentally leave it in my bag? Is it on my desk?

I can't find it. The PA (personal assistant [explanation added for a friend who obviously doesn't have one]) who would know what has happened is on lunch, so I phone her, but get voicemail. I leave a message, and then go back to the bin, but as I pass the PA's desk I hear her cell phone beeping that it's received my message, so I know she doesn't have her phone with me. I check the bin again, more (*ugh*!) thoroughly. It's still not there. I wash my hands again, this time with dish-washing liquid. I wonder if maybe someone put a few things in a fridge on the other side of the division, while whoever did whatever with our fridge. I check that fridge. No lunch. I return to our kitchen and check the bin. Again. Because I'm obsessive like that and sure that I'm just not seeing my container. Another PA happens to be in the kitchen at the time and I tell her my tale of woe. She says that it's possible that someone may have put my container in a cupboard, and in one magnificent sweep swings open the correct door and there it is in a little pile of homeless Tupperware and plasticware. But my food's gone.

And I'm hungry.

Despondent, I return to my office and dramatically demonstrate how my container has been found...but is empty. It is suggested to me that I go upstairs to the cafeteria and buy food there, and then bill the company. I initially balk at the idea because the cafeteria is run by one of those food-service companies whose sole purpose is to service the food needs of large corporations, and the food is pretty vile a lot of the time. I also don't see why the company would reimburse me but I'm hungry (but not quite enough to venture out of the building to find a real restaurant), so I decide to chance it, and go to the cafeteria. The vegetarian meal of the day is macaroni and cheese with a side salad, so I ask for it, pay, and return to my office.

At my desk I'm tentatively eating my macaroni and cheese while I read Piled Higher & Deeper online, because I can't possibly type or do any other real work while I'm holding a fork (you know?), when A asks: "How's your macaroni?"
Me (at a loss for words): "It's...an experience..."
A: "A good experience or a bad experience?"
Me: "I'm not sure. I can't decide. It's very strange and it tastes weird. There's a giant glob of cheese on top, which I'm having a hard time with because I don't have a knife."
M: "...you have to find the macaroni..."
Me: "Well, I can see the macaroni, I just don't know how they can make it not taste like macaroni..."

I eventually finish lunch (and - writing this - two hours later I'm still alive). The PA, who has returned from lunch, reimburses me with no questions, to my surprise.

The topic of conversation in the office turns to TV. CSI season 5 has been showing on M-Net, and we're 14 episodes in (to a 25-episode season, which ends with the Quentin Tarantino written and directed two-parter that I am looking forward to with great patience), yet the M-Net TV guide is listing it as finishing next week, to be replaced with Prison Break, and the latest issue of tvplus, the bi-monthly (and only decent) TV guide, says the same thing.

A freelance copy editor currently with us in the office mentions that she does work for tvplus and suggests that I email particular people there, as they may be able to help me. So I do, with a very impassioned message. Seconds later one of my recipients phones and we have a lovely conversation about TV (my favourite kind of conversation), as he tells me the sick, sick news. M-Net is halting CSI, mid season, to air Prison Break and then some other programme (presumably either secret or still to be determined), before returning to CSI (again, mid season, in a rather gripping season, too) in December. December!

This news, which I had feared but could never have imagined would actually be true, is devastating to me, as is evidenced by my responses, which begin benignly with "...no way...", and "...are you serious?..." but rapidly scale upwards to "...that is, like, the worst news ever...". By this point I am struggling to hear my new TV friend on the other side of the phone, however, because the people in the office with me are laughing their asses off listening to my side of the conversation as I become increasingly despondent. But come on! CSI is being interrupted for an entire year. December is a year away! A year! I'm forced to console myself with memories of seeing Marg Helgenberger and her husband Alan Rosenberg and their son in line at Musée d'Orsay last year while I was on vacation in Paris.

I really hope the rest of this year is not going to be like this...


Back At Work (A Lot Can Change In Two Weeks)

Happy to new year to everyone! If you're still on holiday, lucky you. Yesterday I returned to work after a very short 12 days off, during which I didn't once turn on a computer, nevermind access the Internet, or watch much TV (the hours I clocked on the PlayStation 2 are another matter, however). Traffic was pleasantly light heading into the city, because most people are still on vacation and schools don't open for another few weeks and as I arrived at the office I marvelled at the number of parking bays that were still open at 9am. Usually, by this time, you have to fight for parking. Well, in theory, because you'd need ramming spikes, a murderous gaze, and lots of insurance. In practice you have to chance parking in a dodgy area or illegally, or you have to drive around for ages until you find something (unless you want to pay a high price for a parking bay: I'm not so into that, on a particular principle).

The day was rather quiet and uneventful as half the staff members are still on holiday (another bonus), and I spent part of my morning trying to catch up on my email and, unfortunately, route out all the spam that is currently magnetically being drawn to my personal address. On the plus side, however, the aircon was on a decent setting for a change (it's either way too hot or absolutely freezing, and it's never on a standard setting, so you have to arrive at work with clothing appropriate for both extremes, because you never know what you're going to get).

The day slowly drew to an end and I left the building just after 5:30pm to find a warm evening with a moderate breeze waiting for me, which was a surprise as I'd spent the day watching the clouds - known as the "table cloth" - pour over Table Mountain, and had assumed that it was - at best - mild outside. During the day I also noticed that the Heerengracht fountain, one of my favourite features in the city centre, has turned a sickly dark green, which means that it probably hasn't been switched back on since it was switched off a few weeks ago, and no one has cleaned it. Yuck. I guess the people responsible for that are on holiday, along with the people responsible for watering the grass, which surrounds the fountain and which lines the middle island of the road that runs eastwards from the fountain, as most of it has turned brown, which makes the whole area look depressing.

As I walked towards the car the city was eerily quiet, as there were far fewer people around than usual, which also meant fewer taxis [*] disrupting the serene atmosphere. I did, however, see a number of tourists. I don't know what they all do at this time of the day because most businesses are closed at this time (except some restaurants), and I presume it's too early to go to clubs (I think I should do some research on that, LOL). You can usually identify the tourists because they often wear shorts, moon bags, and funny hats, but even if they appear more "normal" you can usually suss them out because they'll be walking slowly while they gawk at everything (whereas I walk fast while I'm gawking at everything as I go about my business in the city).

What could I possibly be gawking at after having lived here my whole life? Well, there is a lot of urban renewal/reinvention/development going on at the moment. Construction usually stops during this time of year, but I noticed many changes, which I hadn't seen before my holiday, to a number of buildings that are being gutted and redone near where I work and along the route I walk to the car on the other side of the city. It's a weird process to witness, as these are buildings that have been around forever but, suddenly, they are being transformed in a strange way in that, technically, while the building is still there, so much about it is changed that its entire character and history slowly disappears. Forever. I find it disturbing, I guess because the loss is so permanent.

So that was my first day back. Thankfully there was little drama, so my stress levels are still reasonably low, although this will change within a few days as more people return to work, the next deadline looms, and the madness escalates. I am not looking forward to it. I think I need another holiday.



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