Monday, November 27, 2006

Cast suddenly back into Hell…

Sixteen days ago I took my lunch and plopped down in front of the TV at noon and clicked on Dr. Phil to watch a show originally aired in the States in May. Here in South Africa, our Dr. Phil broadcasts are delayed by about six months.

Some things never leave us, even when we are sure they are dead, buried, and gone. Within minutes of the show’s start, I found myself catapulted more than fifty years backwards, horrified and helpless in the middle of an emotional firestorm.

You have to see the show or read the archive, which includes transcripts and photos from the taped footage, to begin to understand. Karen, a stay-at-home mother of five, rages at them constantly, and reserves a particularly large helping of scorn…including physical assault…for her oldest child. I felt chilled watching her and listening to the child plead for surcease…but here is where it gets weird: as that woman hit her ten-year-old son and chased him into his bedroom and assaulted him again…as the gooseflesh of recognition and empathy erupted on my arms and as my gorge rose…at the that very same time I found myself detach from the entire event. I felt as if I were viewing it through a long telescope. Some of the visuals even had a kind of dark yellowish tint in my eyes, as if viewing it through a filter. And as I heard the boy sob and beg his mother to stop hurting him, my mother’s voice echoed in my head “oh, that’s not so bad.” And then I heard the woman on tape speak my mother’s own words: the boy complained his knee was hurting and he could not walk and his mother said, her voice dripping contempt, “oh, bullshit!”

With few exceptions, this woman could have been my own mother. My mother had only two children and thankfully she was not a stay-at-home mother, but what I saw on that tape was still like peeling back the years and standing alone and vulnerable in the face of a vicious hurricane. Mercifully, the bits of tape were short and Dr. Phil immediately called the mother on the carpet for her behaviour, which she tried to blame on the kids. With her confession that she has convinced herself that her abuse is really their fault…that they provoke it with their own behaviours…I started having a creepy déjà vu sense. Wasn’t this, after all, how my mother excused her own conduct? “Don’t make me hurt you!” echoed around in my head.

But the kicker came...I found myself sitting there, mouth agape, heart racing, shudders wracking me…when one of the most terrifying experiences of my early childhood showed up on the tape: in the middle of a terrifying, towering rage, the telephone rang and the mother picked it up and spoke normally…even cheerfully…to her caller. To this day I find people who can turn a consuming fury on and off, as if they were flipping a light switch, absolutely terrifying.

This has taken 16 days to write and I’m still struggling to write it. She told me not to tell, that she would beat me within an inch of my life if I blabbed, that I was not to air our dirty linen in public. It’s not that I’ve been silent over the decades, for I haven’t. But it took a distancing, a detachment from the reality of events, to loosen my tongue. Fifty-plus years after the fact, five years of intense therapy under my belt, and my normally nimble brain becomes sludge when I try to talk…or write…about it without first donning the filter of detachment and distance to blunt the pain.

Have you ever seen something so horrible that you can only look at it in little peeks? So awful that simply looking at it full on is more than you can bear? Without the cushioning effect of distancing myself, that is how I find myself viewing my early years. Five years of excellent therapy brought me to a kind of truce with the past, a realization that the past is back there and that I control whether or not it taints my present and my future. Most days I don’t think about it or if I do, the protective filters are firmly in place. But on rare occasion something strikes that responsive chord and I am cast suddenly back into Hell. My reasoning brain tells me it was not so bad…that’s what she told me, too. She never broke any bones or drew much blood, I was sufficiently fed. I had clothes and shoes. I even had toys. How bad could it have been?

But I lived in fear. And I knew hatred at a much-too-young age. I had no security…her mercurial nature terrified me, for I could not know from one day to the next what would displease her. And to displease her was the worst sin I could commit. My very existence seemed to displease her at times, a circumstance that could only be mitigated by servitude. At seven I cooked breakfast for myself and my younger brother, standing on a chair at the stove. At ten I baked a cake twice a week after school, peeled potatoes for supper, mopped the kitchen floor every Saturday morning, and dusted and cleaned the house daily after school. But, lacking instruction in how to do these things, I often made errors…the floor wasn’t clean enough in the corner, the cake frosting was too thin, I missed a spot on the dishes…I did the best I could, but it was seldom good enough.

It has taken days to get this all written down and arranged in some semblance of order. The memories come out in disconnected jumbles, each one sharp and dark and haunting, and I don’t want to look at any of them very closely or for very long. The writing is easier now, I have been pulling away, detaching, trying to remember the facts and emotions without actually feeling them. The dark, shadowy edges are clearing from the memories, and the vignettes are clearer, less difficult to look at. I am starting to see events now, without becoming emotionally engaged by them…

Mother and I are standing in the bathroom, the water running from the tap, me stifling my sobs, she is screaming at me, her face puffed-up and suffused with blood, her carmined lips large and terrifying. “Don’t you ever tell me that you can’t again!” she is shrieking at me. I want to cringe away, but I know that will earn me a slap or yank of my hair. I can feel tears leaking from my eyes and running down my face and my lower lip is trembling, and I can only pray that she is too wrapped up in her rage to notice. “When I tell you to do something, you’d damn well better do it, and do it tout de suite,” only she mispronounces it “toot sweet.” I am nodding my head mindlessly, knowing that my only possible salvation lies in agreement with her. The water is still streaming from the tap and she points to it, her diatribe continuing unabated, my agreement ignored. “If I tell you to tie a ribbon around this stream of water, I don’t want any excuses, I don’t want any whiney ‘I can’ts’ from you, I want you to just do it and do it fast! Do you understand?” That last is delivered in a bellow so forceful it makes my ears ring. “And stop that blubbering,” she commands me. “If you want to bawl, I can give you something worth bawling about.” My face immediately goes blank, my tears stop, my throat grows a lump the size of Kansas. I wait silently until she exits the little bathroom, then turn off the tap and creep to my room, shutting the door as quietly as possible so that nothing draws her attention back to me.

She’s dead now, she has been for several years. She can no longer lie to the family about me, manipulate my children, or beat me for blabbing. But still, when I force myself to fully look at my early years, without flinching or changing the subject in my mind, without the numbing effects of detachment, my brain slows, my normally articulate self disappears, my fingers stumble on the keyboard. My words come out choppy and slow, hesitant and clumsy…my eloquence deserts me and I find myself staring at the words on the screen, motionless for long periods while snippets of the past race darkly through my brain.

Some things never leave us.

Friday, November 24, 2006

Oops! They're at it again!

So, after a couple of weeks of titillating the public, Fed-Ex’s mouthpiece comes out with his big bucket of whitewash and tries to repair the wannabe rapper’s non-existent reputation. The sex tape, trumpeted by the media and even the subject of commentary by those who have allegedly seen it, does not exist. Furthermore, a second cleansing brushstroke claims, poor Kev has been the innocent victim of the envious and malicious who have slandered him with untrue allegations that he had such a tape and was shopping it around for the best price. Not a word is true, Lawyer-Boy says. Nary a word.

Yah, right.

I’m guessing there is something, probably tamer than has been advertised. So tame, in fact, that those who would stoop to make money from such a tape have deemed it unmarketable, either through lack of quality (can’t tell who the woman is) or lack of sufficient prurience to generate enough cash to pay back the initial acquisition and distribution costs. So, after a couple of weeks to flog the tape to various internet porn merchants and finding either no takers or receiving offers well below the millions anticipated, what’s a sleazebag to do? Deny, deny, deny!

Other, not-mutually-exclusive, possibilities include Brit’s legal team having a little chat with Kev’s legal team of one, reminding said individuals that her image is her legal property and the release of such a tape could be seen as a serious infringement of Britney’s intellectual (how’s that for an oxymoron?) property…which would mean any money he made from selling such a tape could be awarded to her in an infringement lawsuit, plus damages. Even a porn king might want to sit back and rethink the tape under such conditions, ya know?

And what if a little birdie perched on Kev’s scrawny shoulder and cooed into his ear “Ya know this will make her even more marketable, right? You do this and fans will flock to see her, to buy her music, to attend her concerts…this is priceless promotion that will make her millions and make you look like and even bigger schmuck than you are today. Let the scales fall from your eyes…nobody’s seen that tape yet and it is already happening! You’re doing her a favour, making her money, and you aren’t getting one thin dime of it!”

As much as Britney has shown herself to be a vulgar, under-educated red neck tart, Federline’s various attempts to further blacken her image (and make money off it) are backfiring. His suit for custody and alimony are publicly lampooned and the very media that delighted in catching Brit in all of her thoughtless moments with Sean Preston is now left-handedly defending her by revealing K-Fed’s long list of parental transgressions. Not only did he spend a whopping total of four days with his newest son in the first eight weeks of the child’s life, it’s been revealed that while married to multimillionaire Britney and dropping as much as $50,000 a night at the craps tables, he has paid no child support to the C-list actress, Shar Jackson, for the two children he sired on her. Oh, he pays for their private school, she tells the media. He does? With whose money?

When I last looked in on Fed-Ex’s antics, I was thinking he couldn’t get any more stupid, but I have to admit that I was wrong. With his attorney spewing out nonsense designed to make Kev a sympathetic figure…a victim of someone else’s malicious press and gossip…he just makes the guy look so much more the pathetic loser…and that’s quite an accomplishment.

Wednesday, November 22, 2006

Murphy’s Law in action

South Africa has a number of large supermarket chains and, like in America, there is often one or two of them anchoring certain of the local malls. Here in Cape Town, Pick ‘n’ Pay is one of the dominant chains (where I do a lot of my shopping), Checkers is another (which I perceive as being a bit downmarket), and Woolworth’s is the premier “luxury” food shop, the place you go for the best quality produce and exotic cheeses. This morning I planned a trip to Woolies, with a stop at the nearby Checkers for some packaged goods. It did not go well.

I drive an SUV. Clearly aware of the prejudices against the vehicles and those of us who drive them, I try to be particularly circumspect when I drive and park, taking particular care to align my behemoth properly in the space. So, can anyone explain to me why, when I emerged from the supermarket this muggy, sweltering morning with a trolley full of perishables and a miserably aching ankle, the space available to open my car door was slim enough to give Nicole Richie pause? And, since I’m built more along the lines of the “before” pics of Kirstie Alley, getting into the car was a bit of a challenge, particularly with that sore ankle. And the cause of this inconvenience? Another gargantuan example of the automaker’s art? Would you believe, a VW Citi Golf, parked catawampus in its space, making ingress to my car…and egress from the parking space…an exercise in white-knuckled creativity?

The sore ankle was a large part of the problem, since the car is right hand drive and I must support my not inconsiderable weight on it as I fling my left leg and haunch up into the driver’s seat. Having my manoeuvring space compromised by the Piggy Parker next door made it all the worse. So why did I come out shopping if my foot is still so sore, you ask? Well, it wasn’t particularly tender when I left the house and, had my experience at Checkers gone according to plan, it would have been fine at the end of my excursion. But things at Checkers did not go well…and I never even made it to Woolies.

One of the things my husband says he loves about me is my practicality. I tend to plan things out…even such mundane things as shopping trips. My plan was to arrive at Checkers at opening time, dash in and pick up a few things, and get out before the store got crowded and the lines at the cashiers got long. From there to Woolies for a few things only Woolies carries, and then home in time to catch the latest instalment of All My Children (several years delayed from the US). But you know what Murphy said…

I hadn’t planned to buy produce from Checkers, but on entering the store, I saw a terrific display of white seedless table grapes (Hubby will only eat seedless grapes), so I grabbed a bunch and bagged them. I’m planning stuffed peppers for dinner this week, and the peppers looked to be in good nick…and there were fresh apricots, loose so I could choose my own (the pre-packaged punnets always contain about 50% unripe and sour!). Now, one of the ways that South African supermarkets are different from American is that loose produce must be weighed and the bags sealed shut and tagged in the produce department…the fruit is not weighed by the cashier at check out. To this end, there are scales and employees manning those scales at every produce department in every major market in South Africa. Or at least that’s the way it is supposed to be.

Once I had my fruit bagged, I headed for the scale. A young man in a red T-shirt with a Checkers logo on it was busy hefting a huge plastic bag onto the scale…and I mean huge…the size you’d ordinarily need a small wheelbarrow to move about. The bag was leaking copious amounts of sticky wetness all over the scale, the stand, the floor…and it stank something awful. It was easy to deduce from the smell that the bag contained decaying produce, most particularly rotting grapes. When he had hefted the nasty goo-dripping bag onto a nearby trolley, he turned to me expectantly…and I looked pointedly at the disgusting mess on the scale.

Correctly interpreting my glance, he looked for something to clean the surface of the scale with and grabbed a plastic bag from one of the rolls of bags in the produce department. Of course, his efforts to wipe it clean succeeded in only smearing it around so he tried another tactic…a larger wad of plastic bags. I looked around for a “regular” produce department employee…they usually wear turquoise blue uniforms and aprons…but nobody was around. I did, however, spot a different scale. Unfortunately, the young man couldn’t make this scale work at all. My foot was starting to get tired, for I had been on my feet nearly 15 minutes by this time, and had barely begun my shopping.

To my left was the produce department, brimming over with employees, but not a produce department worker in sight. I asked a deli worker if she could help me, and she grabbed a “cleaner” (grocery stores have regular employees whose only job is to roam the store and make sure it is clean, mopping here, collecting refuse there, etc) and asked the cleaner to find someone to help me. Eventually she found someone, but she could not make the scale work either. She beckoned me to the other scale but I balked. “It’s filthy,” I told her. “I don’t want to put my bags on that thing.”

Sure enough, she found the scale in the same sticky, stinky condition as before. She dashed off to find something to clean it with while I, hobbling now on my sore foot, crept over to the scale…only to find, by the time I got there, that a line had formed! By the time I got to the scale, I was third in the queue and she was weighing the produce of another customer! Eventually I got the bags weighed and tagged and I headed off to the packaged goods section of the store for some things I knew Woolies didn’t carry.

By the time I was finished with my shopping, I was weighing whether or not my foot would stand the trek down to the Woolies at the far end of the mall or not. I had to stand in a queue to get a cashier (something I had hoped to avoid by arriving at the store early…my plan thwarted by the fiasco in the produce department), but finally it was my turn and when she rang up the total, I handed her my Visa card. She put the card through and a message came up on her terminal screen: “verifying transaction”…machine-speak for verifying my credit card had enough headroom to charge a few hundred rand worth of groceries. Problem is, two minutes later (an eternity in nano-second driven machine time), it hadn’t verified…or rejected…my card. The cashier pushed a button to resubmit the transaction for approval and a little blue window popped up on her screen: her credit card terminal was off line. So what does she do? She keeps me standing there for fully another five minutes (while the queue behind me grows and grows and grows…) as she repeated tries to resubmit my transaction on a machine no long functioning. Just as I figure out what she is doing, she rings for a supervisor who comes over, reads the “off line” message on the screen and tries to submit my transaction for approval on a machine she knows is off line and non-functioning!

To give her credit, she didn’t make multiple attempts, she just wrote down the total of my purchase on her hand, grabbed my credit card and said she had to use a different terminal, then walked away. With my credit card. And so I had to hobble after her…in a direction away from the exit where my car was parked…to complete my transaction.

By the time it was done and I had my credit card back and my groceries bagged, my foot had started to swell. I checked the time and All My Children had already started…I was woefully behind schedule, every step on my right foot was like a sabre stabbing me from the heel to the knee, and I hadn’t even been to Woolie’s yet. Hobbling out the door, pushing my trolley in front of me, I headed for the parking lot, only to find the little VW snuggled up to my driver’s door like a lover.

Murphy was right.

Tuesday, November 14, 2006

What part of "I don't have it" did he not understand?

If there is anything worse than a complacent civil servant, it is the witless customer service rep whose mind is incapable of thinking beyond the narrow confines of his ordinary job.

This morning my power went off and, after checking my DB board to make sure it wasn’t a problem with the house, I called my local power utility.

“I live in Table View and my power just went off,” I said.

“What is your account number?” he asks me.

“I don’t know,” I said. “My husband pays the bills, he is out of town, and I don’t know where he keeps that stuff. But I live in Table View…are there any outages here?”

“I can’t tell you that without your account number,” he drones. Honest to God, the man had no inflection in his voice!

“I told you, I don’t have it, but I can tell you my street address…”

“I can’t locate you without your account number,” he tells me. Right…Table View is this tiny little remote village that cannot be located without a multi-digit number to which I have no access…NOT!

“I can give you my street address,” I repeat helpfully. Ya know, when my tenant was trying to get her power turned on, they demanded a street address which, once they received it, they promptly told her was non-existent! What is going on with these people? My husband works for the same company and, believe me, there are plenty of really, really smart people working there. Maybe they refuse to hire intelligent people for the customer service area like the telephone company in America that told me I had scored too high on their test and was therefore too smart to be a directory service operator.

Anyway, this drone continued to demand my account number which, inevitably, pissed me off. And, contrary to my normal behaviour with anyone, service people in particular, I shouted at him. “I DO NOT HAVE IT!” I yelled. “I have a street address! My husband is out of town! I don’t have access to his papers! My power is out! Now if you can’t help me, let me speak to your supervisor!”

He put me on hold for a mercifully short period of time, then returned to say his supervisor was on another line, but if I would leave my telephone number, she would call me back within five minutes. Yeah, right. But I gave him the number anyway. About 15 minutes ago. I’m still waiting for her to call me back…

…and the power is back on.

Dumber than dirt...

In today’s sex-saturated media, can anyone seriously believe that a Britney Spears sex-tape will do any kind of lasting harm to the pop princess’s slutty, trailer-trash public image?

C’mon folks, a tape like this took Paris Hilton from being no more than a scrawny, skanky heiress to being a famous, scrawny, skanky heiress, and Pam Anderson’s career certainly suffered little lasting ill-effect from the release of a similar tape. Can Britney’s career fare any worse?

I get the impression that Fed-Ex, as he is now being called, is a veeeery long distance from being one of the intellectual heavyweights of Hollywood. Not that Britney is the sharpest knife in the drawer, mind you, but she’s got that control freak mother of hers and a battalion of legal sharks swimming in her waters, helping to keep her feather-brained choices from taking too much of a toll on her fortune. Like marrying Jason Alexander without a pre-nup…or marrying Kreep Federline at all. But Federline takes the cake for being the intellectual midget of the moment…the guy who pissed off the Golden Goose to the point that she’s taking all of her golden eggs and going home.

I mean, just how stupid can one person get? He was smart enough to recognize the smell of money when Britney flashed those big baby blues at him, crass enough to dump his heavily pregnant girlfriend and their toddler when Brit’s money started winking seductively his way, and quick enough to make his union with Brit legal, thereby securing himself access to her fortune. But either he didn’t read or understand the pre-nup he signed or he was arrogant enough to figure he’s find a way around it when the time came, or he just figured Britney would put up with his crap. Whatever his reasoning, he may have secured access to the cash cache, but as any strategist worth his salt will tell you, winning the battle is only the beginning: now you have to secure and keep the territory won.

And that’s where Federline has shown himself to be dumber than dirt. Oh, we can add some modifiers as “arrogant” and “over-confident,” too, but the bottom line is, dumb, dumb, dumb. Who in their right mind, after all, manages to land on their feet in a bed of soft, cushy roses and then immediately proceeds to kill the bushes that produced them? Federline could have had his bed feathered for him for life, had he just observed a few very simple rules of relationship conduct: 1) don’t look a gift horse in the mouth; 2) don’t kill the goose that lays the golden eggs; and 3) don’t shit where you eat. Even a puppy knows that last one!

So, after two years of repeatedly pissing off the keeper of the purse strings, after regularly embarrassing the meal ticket with his less-than-committed behaviour, after publicly dissing the diva, the only surprise is that he was surprised when she gave him the old heave-ho. But, like the low-life, scum-sucking loser that he is, rather than consider himself fortunate for his brief ride through the good life on Britney’s back, he’s decided to retaliate for her having the impertinence to divorce his faithless, talentless, conscienceless ass: he’s threatening to release a sex tape of the two of them unless she hands over the kids and a hefty sum of cash. He couldn’t be more stupid if he put actual effort into it! Assuming he is not arrested and charged with blackmail and he succeeds in putting the tape up for internet view, what makes him think it’s going to harm Britney…or make him any money he can keep? She has legal control of her brand (her image), the tape is half hers anyway, and this kind of sleazoid reveal is exactly what her sagging career needs for a boost, if Pam and Paris are anything to go by.

Geeze, Federline, why not just shoot yourself in the head? (But be sure to have someone help you point the barrel in the right direction.)

Friday, November 10, 2006

Home again, home again…

The lavender farm in Franschhoek
Wednesday was our third wedding anniversary and to celebrate the occasion (as well as Hubby’s new job, which starts on Monday next), we took a few day's sojourn to the local wine country.

The village of Franschhoek is less than a two hour drive from Cape Town, but a world away. Joburgers, who think Cape Town is a laid-back, “hang loose” kind of place, must find Franschhoek to be standing still. But Franschhoek isn’t the quaint little village it likes to think of itself as being…oh no. It’s appeal is as studied and contrived as Disneyland’s Main Street, USA, for all that many buildings on the main road through town are truly masterpieces of the art of building preservation.

Franschhoek Village
This place is a village only in the sense that it is fairly small in size…but don’t look for the support services you would expect of your average farm village. I didn’t see a musty old hardware store or a farm equipment dealer or repair shop, no forge for mending unhappy implements, no drilling company or pump and irrigation sales…a village for the support of the neighbouring farms, Franschhoek definitely is not.

An old house in the village

So what is it? The main street is lined with one well-preserved ancient Cape Dutch building after another, In most cases only the façade is fully intact, the rest of the building having been gutted to serve as home to a long queue of trendy restaurants that range from “just ordinary” to “truly superb” in quality. I’d like to say “with prices to match,” but our seven meals, unfortunately, lead me to believe that restaurants in Franschhoek range from eyebrow- raising to “quick, call the paramedics!” in price.

Hubby is a man who enjoys his creature comforts and when we take these little holidays they are usually short enough to allow us to afford four-and five-star eateries and accommodations. But sometimes you wonder why the stars were granted. The eponymous Reuben’s, known as not only the best restaurant in town, but the best in South Africa, deserves every one of the five stars in its crown. But don’t expect cuisine…fine or otherwise…from The French Connection, despite the recommendations and stars. Any restaurant that feels it must notify its patrons that it is a “bistro” and to therefore not expect greatness in the fare, should be approached with caution. We found the food…particularly the lamb and the French fries…overdone and the portions rather skimpy (a ham sandwich with one layer of nearly transparent ham?), and the woman at the table next to us sent her entrée back to the kitchen because her roasted kudu was refrigerator-cold. How many stars is that kind of gastronomic offering worth?
Pond at Bread & Wine Restaurant

Accommodations are likewise “luck of the draw,” the stars meaning considerably less than one might ordinarily expect. I expect a certain level of luxury and upmarket appointments in a four star accommodation…certainly a queen-sized (if not a king) bed, and definitely a real shower, certainly not a hand shower in the tub (and no shower curtain). I have long come to expect mosquitoes every place I go in South Africa…we don’t seem to have gotten the word about window screens yet…so checking the ceiling corners for mossies before turning in is a nightly ritual nowadays. But we didn’t sign up for an army of creepy little roommates! On our second night I was jolted awake by an overly friendly spider which Hubby then had to hunt down and slaughter, the third night I found a little slug merrily running laps around the inside of the bathtub rim, and every night a battalion of two-inch long centipedes marched across the bedroom carpet, defying both squishing with shoes and picking up with tissue…and refusing to die even after being heavily dosed with Doom. Ya know, to my mind, the fact that the proprietors of this establishment thought it prudent to supply our suite with a can of Doom says volumes all by itself.

View of Franschhoek Mountains from Lavande

All negatives aside, though, the Franschhoek Valley is as beautiful a place you could ever hope to see. The craggy, majestic mountains encircling the fertile river valley, kilometre after kilometre of lush green vineyards and silvery-sprigged lavender fields, rustic thatched-and-whitewashed homes…it’s as delightful to the eye as the wines are to the palate.

Boekenhoutskloof Winery

Lavender fields at Grande Provence Winery

It was an enjoyable few days and aside from my sore foot and ankle rather slowing me down (adventurous pursuit of photographic ends is a bit difficult to do on crutches!) we had a lovely time. Lovely enough, in fact, that we plan to return to Reuben’s (even if one meal there did cost more than my maid’s monthly wages!)…but first we need to find a nice guest house with showers. And big beds. And no free-loading, uninvited roomies!

Friday, November 03, 2006

On the road again…

No, not travelling…sprawled face first on it.

Well, it was a driveway, actually…and a gravelled driveway, at that. And for the past ten days or so I have been dosed with pain killers and confined to anyplace where I can keep my right foot elevated, preferably higher than my heart. So I’ve been spending a lot of time in bed. With my foot up. Stoned.

This isn’t the first time I’ve bunged up an ankle and ended up on painkillers with my foot strapped up and propped up. Early in 2001 I managed to fall off my porch (don’t ask…I haven’t quite figured out how yet, myself) and landed butt-first in a big geranium bush. Unfortunately, as I plummeted the entire metre from porch step to geranium-cushioned earth, I heard a sickening crack in the region of my left ankle…a breaking bone has its own distinct, stomach-turning sound. Alone and in excruciating pain…thank goodness one of the cars had an automatic transmission…I drove myself to the emergency room and emerged several hours later, one hand clutching a shocking hospital bill, one foot encased from toes to knee in Velcro-strapped black plastic.

It took months for it to heal, despite its being a fairly mild break, as breaks go. Of course the doctor put the Fear of Surgery in my heart by warning me that if I didn’t keep my Darth Vader boot on at all times, they’d have to go in and “pin” the bone together, a fate I emphatically wished to avoid after seeing him demonstrate the procedure on my x-ray. So I hobbled around on the ugly, clumsy thing for the prescribed three months and emerged, eventually, almost as good as new.

Fast forward five years and a Monday morning in Cape Town. I went out to pick up the mail and found the neighbours’ little bulldog, Xander, peering up at me through the bars of my front gate. Xander’s predecessor, Lexie, wandered away from home and ended up dog-napped, never to return, much to the heartache of the two little boys who live across the street. So, being a good neighbour sort of person, I took it upon myself to escort Xander home and close the gate that someone had carelessly left open.

This is another one of those “I dunno exactly what happened” deals. I closed the gate and turned to walk down the gravelled driveway, as I have done dozens of times in the past, and after only a few steps my right foot struck something hard and I suddenly went flying. Instinctively, I stuck out my other foot to steady myself, and struck something else! The next thing I know, I’m skidding on my hands and knees on a driveway full of sharp gravel, a sharp pain shooting through my right foot…thankfully without cracking sound effects.

Pumped full of adrenaline from the fall, I picked myself up and limped across the street to my house, looking back to determine that I had fallen over a large white stone that had somehow become detached from the driveway’s border. It didn’t take long, however, for the throbbing and swelling to begin, and so I called Hubby… “I’ve either broken or badly sprained my right ankle,” I told him over the phone. “I’ll be right there,” was all he said. And he was.

By the time we reached the hospital, I couldn’t bear any weight on it at all. X-rays, however, revealed no broken bones, just lots of blood in the spaces between all the little bones in my foot. A bad sprain, the doctor told me, along with instructions to stay off it and to keep it propped up, preferably higher than my heart.

It was two days before I had the courage to remove the elastic bandage, but I was desperate for a shower, so I took it off and, with the help of a wheeled office chair, rolled into the bathroom. Once the bandage was off, I was horrified at the sight of my foot! Fat as a purple and blue balloon, with five plump little sausages sticking out of one end, it was alarming! I quickly showered and wrapped in up again…the compression helped keep the pain down to a dull ache…and rolled back to bed, where I’ve pretty much been confined ever since.

Two days ago I discovered I could put enough weight on it to hobble to the loo and back, and last night, fortified with painkillers and Hubby’s strong arm to lean on, I managed to make it to a dinner out, but today I’m back on the bed with my now purple, blue, green and yellow foot propped up and mildly throbbing.

But next week is our third wedding anniversary and Hubby has booked a getaway in the winelands, a few days and nights at a lavender farm in Franschoek, and you can bet I’ll have this foot thing under control, one way or another!

Thursday, November 02, 2006

Hubby moves up the corporate ladder!

It's been a while since I've blogged and I won't make any excuses except to say that I've been rather tied up with things that sort keep me from ruminating...which is necessary before a good blog can form itself up. But Hubby has recently had a event of which I am inordinately proud...

The Western Cape has suffered from electricity supply problems for just about a year now. Not only has the unprecedented (and unexpected) migration to the Cape from other regions of the country caused unanticipated demand to the existing infrastructure, the local power plant suffered a shut down of several months for repairs, throwing us into months of rolling blackouts and unplanned interruptions.

Koeberg Nuclear Power Station, Africa’s only nuke, provides about half of Cape Town’s power needs, the rest coming overland from upcountry coal-fired stations. Cape Town, being the most outlying location on the national grid, continued to suffer from unplanned outages whenever there was a disruption on the grid. In addition to seeing to the repair of the damaged Koeberg generator, Eskom, South Africa’s national power utility, responded to Cape town’s travails by embarking upon an ambitious plan to increase generating capacity in the Western Cape, a plan that could eventually end Cape Town's virtual dependence on the national grid.

First, however, Eskom had to replace the damaged rotor in one of Koeberg’s two generators…and they had to do it fast. The reactor powering the undamaged generator was scheduled to be taken down for refuelling in just a few months, and there was no way that Cape Town could enjoy an adequate electrical supply with both generators out of service. A replacement was located in France, but the massive 200 ton behemoth defied conventional methods of transport. My husband was appointed Logistics Manager on the “Generator Recovery Project,” and tasked with finding a way to transport the rotor not only to Cape Town harbour, but up the 30+ miles of urban and suburban roadways to the power station as well. The generator went down on Christmas Day, 2005, and on 5 April, 2006, after weeks at sea on a South African naval vessel, the rotor arrived. Hubby arranged the loan of the naval vessel and crew, a 12-axle trailer and two tractors to transport the rotor from the harbour to the power station, and a pair of massive mobile cranes to offload the rotor from the ship and onto the trailer, and later from the trailer to the generator housing. It was a Herculean undertaking, but ultimately successful. By the time the second reactor had to be taken off line for refuelling, the rotor had been installed and the damaged generator was repaired and on line. And Hubby returned to his regular job as a Senior Engineer for the PBMR project.

Eskom, however, was determined not to get caught with its pants down again. Construction of two gas-fired power plants near Cape Town were fast-tracked and nebulous plans for a second nuke at the Koeberg location were firmed up. Cape Town, the fastest growing location in South Africa, was no longer going to be a poor step-sister on the grid: the Mother City was slated to have enough locally generated power to at least meet her needs, and possibly enough excess power capacity to meet peak seasonal demands without depending on the national grid.

Ground was broken in Mossel Bay, a small town on the other side of the Cape Peninsula, and at Atlantis, an economically depressed settlement only a few kilometres from the Koeberg power station, for the construction of the two gas-fired plants. Hubby was restless after his success with the rotor project, and his present assignment was moving ahead at a snail’s pace, affording him little professional satisfaction and precious little opportunity for advancement. Looking at the company intranet one afternoon, he found a division that was seeking to fill four Chief Engineer openings. With his rotor project success recently tucked under his belt, he applied and, just a month ago, flew up to Johannesburg for an interview.

Most new job offers are anything but instantaneous. Usually you interview, you come back for at least one more interview, then you wait interminably until either you get a card saying “thanks, but no thanks” or The Phone Call. Less than an hour after Hubby left the Johannesburg offices, while he was still in the car en route to his hotel, his cell phone rang and the division had an even better offer for him than Chief Engineer (in a location that would not require us to leave our idyllic Cape Town home). Seems the Atlantis gas plant, which is presently half built, needs a Site Engineering Manager…and once that site is up and running, there will be a promotion available, 12 to 18 months out, on the new nuke that will be going up on the Koeberg site…was he interested? They faxed the formal offer to him at home the very next day.

Requesting a transfer, offer in hand, turned out to be a bigger drama than going to Joburg and interviewing for the new job. The whole of Eskom has less than two dozen turbine specialist engineers, and of those, only two are nuclear qualified…Hubby being one of them. When he presented the offer and the transfer request to his boss, all hell broke loose! Not only did the boss refuse to sign the transfer request, he tried to turn the meeting into an impromptu criticism of Hubby’s performance. Strangely, his boss claimed that the project really needed Hubby’s rather rare skill set, but when Hubby said he would consider staying for a salary increase and promotion (there are three open management slots in the department), the boss turned him down…and heaped a bit more character assassination on him. Great way to keep the talent, eh?

The new organization, however, was keen to have him and, once the transfer was signed (the boss wasn’t allowed to refuse…the transfer request was just kicked upstairs until someone in authority signed it) Hubby discovered that his new boss was someone he knew and had successfully worked with for five years at another location. Because the gas plant was only half built, Hubby was concerned about offices and local infrastructure, and didn’t even know if he was going to be the sole engineer on site or if he would be assembling a staff. Imagine his surprise when his new boss chatted with him a couple of days ago and revealed that there was already an engineering department of 10 on site! Last Friday his present department gave him a going away party and he has been accosted half a dozen times since by engineers in his old department volunteering to come to work for him at the new location.

So, at the tender age of 34, he’s broken into the engineering management ranks, his first assignment giving him a staff of ten in a brand new facility. He tries hard not to show it, but I can see that he’s proud of himself, and with good reason. Here’s hoping he finds management everything he has hoped it would be!