Monday, May 25, 2009

I love Australia

So it has been well over a week since Little One and I set foot on Australian turf. And we have been having an amazing time - enjoying our holiday and learning all kinds of life lessons along the way. Time spent Down Under has been illuminating indeed. So allow me to share some insights.
Discoveries I made before leaving Jozi:
1. In all the four years my brother has been happily settled in Sydney, he has never encountered a single frog or cane toad. So I assumed that despite my frog phobia, I would be safe on holiday even in the face of their rampant cane toad problem. (see previous posts for more info).
2. An open packet of wine gums left in a kiddie's car seat in a black car parked in the sun will turn into warm gelatinous mass. Should the kiddie who occupies this seat find this treat and submerge her hands into it before you can get to it, the goop can spread alarmingly far.
3. Should the discovery of a dollop of melted wine gums spread down the side of your car drive you mental, relax for a while and let it cool. It will peel off easily.
4. Work colleagues who torment you mercilesslessly because of your frog phobia will be nice to you on your last day of work. EvilIncarnate even gave me a small bottle of Dettol as a goodbye gift after hearing that the stuff is poison to he cane toads riddling the country.
Discoveries I made during the trip:
1. Despite the fact that you have to provide all your personal details, show your passport and all the rest, airlines apparently do not automatically recognise people aged 4 as kids. Kiddie meals are lumped along with vegetarian, seafood, halaal and other special order dishes that should be specifically requested before your flight.
2. Grilled salmon with liquidised potatoe and greenish vegetation (the menu description might be somewhat more exotic but I like to tell it how it is) will never meet the approval of a fussy four-year-old.
3. Sydney airport has also had those temperature scanning machines installed to check incoming passengers for swine flu threats. Just like the machines at OR Tambo International Airport.
4. A flushed and barefoot four-year-old dashing towards customs yelling at the top of her voice "I'm in Australia everybody! I'm in Australia! Is this really Australia, hey mom?" will be targetted for temperature scanning.
5. Australian customs officials have absolutely no idea what chakalaka is. They have to do a lot of checks on it, but it remains among the few food items that are not banned from entering the country. You can happily enter with two tins of it for your brother.
Australian discoveries:
1. Four-year-old girls recover a whole lot quicker from jet lag than their mothers do. I was checking e-mails and pondering the universe at 2am for three nights straight while Little One took to slumbering for 12 hours straight after only a single weird night of adjustment.
2. For frog phobics: the fact that one's brother has gone four full years without seeing a single frog is no guarantee of anything. On day six of my holiday a frog hopped in through the door of a house a bunch of us rented in Kangaroo Valley just outside Sydney.
3. Just because those self-service check-out tills look so quick, convenient and easy to use for Australians does not mean that this simplicity applies to foreigners. It is possible for them to freeze and crash four times when you are trying to buy just one single item, even when a patrolling supervisor reboots the thing in a flash and assures you it's the machine that's problematic. I still think it's personal. I could have queued and paid for a trolley full of groceries quicker than making that self-service purchase.
4. I would totally suck at being a journalist here. My news sense is geared for Jozi and I reckon I would not know a lead story here if I stepped on it. The Sydney Morning Herald lead story on a Sunday: the chemical made famous by Erin Brokovich in America on her quest to help ailing communities is leaking into some or other river in the city. My own feeling is that the Erin Brokovitch story is only sensational because it was turned into a blockbuster movie starring Julia Roberts and that without this weird little news angle the Sunday paper would have been sadly lacking a front page burner.
A lunch time radio news flash I heard while roaming in a supermarket: some local guy was arrested and charged with child abuse after smacking his son, pulling his hair and flicking his ear. It's a sad realisation that an incident like this rates less than zero on the news scale in a city where most murders go unreported altogether.

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Second last day...

One more day of work, and I am done for one significant while!
This second-last day of slog was absolutely agonising to get through, but thankfully busy.
So the first assignment had PicturesEditor and me dashing out to a particular spot in Main Reef Road near Langlaagte. The Metro cops had blocked off this entire main route into the city because somebody had gone and spilt oil on the road. Off we rushed to check it out - I mean oil on the road??
It turned out to be the most bizarre incident you can imagine. Some little factory business - which I suspect manufactured somekind of extremely unhealthy snacks or fastfoods containing those killer trans fats that dieticians are talking about - had experienced a leak of some kind in the middle of the night. Apparently.
So this oily goop had run out of their yard, through a gap in their grey pre-cast wall, down the pavement and then spewed like a river down the middle of the road. However, it is somewhat chilly here in Jozi these days - particularly outside in Langlaadte in the middle of the night - so this stuff hardened into what looked like congealed fat.
And then cars started driving through it, skidding like crazy, and one truck apparently even flipped and knocked over a street light leaving crazy amounts of wiring standing exposed on the centre island. So THAT's why the traffic was ultra bad this morning.
We tried to get onto the factory premises, but people in the yard had locked the gates and weren't letting anyone in. Not even investigators. PicturesEd held his camera up high, tilted the lens over the wall and shot images of what was going on behind the scenes. But we couldn't figure anything out.
Ah well.
Back to the office. Then out again to one of those awful, awful stories. A father in Sundowner was shot dead in front of his wife and kids last night by armed robbers who ran off with the hard drive of an old computer. His phone, keys, car, wallet and everything of remote value around was left untouched. The family's phone number was unlisted so I got the job of heading out to speak to them at home. I was relieved when they asked for a bit more time to grieve and gather their thoughts. I handed the story over to the night shift guy. I breathed a sigh of relief.
One more day at the office, then tomorrow evening Little One and I will be seated in the sky....
The e-mail torment today was not so bad:

Monday, May 11, 2009

Distractions and cane toad worries

I'm in the downward slide to my annual leave - only two more days of work before Little One and I board a Qantas plane for Sydney. Needless to say, this has turned work into a distraction. And so many things have to be organised.
So this morning I e-mailed the IT guys to please-oh-please-oh-please take my e-mail address off the many lists it is on. We have an extremely limited e-mail capacity at the newspaper establishment for which I work, so the usual dirge of incoming press releases, invitations, news alerts etc clogs up one's inbox quicker than The Hoff's fanbase can pack out a rock concert venue in Germany. Left untouched for a month, I think I might be looking at spam jam of immense proportions. So I am being diligent and warding this off.
On the news front - it's all been about Zuma and his new cabinet. Like cane toads in Australia, they are puh-lentiful. I spent most of Sunday frantically researching them so we could run a bright little informative piece on each one. It was not a difficult task - just painstaking and time consuming. Until such time as our internet servers decided that the government website - our main source of this information on the new faces appointed to lead us - was suddenly banned due to breaches of the company's no pornography rule. "Your attempt to access this website has been recorded" was the snooty message that came up as the page went blank. So - another issue for the techies to sort out today.
On the sidelines I have been frantically exploring the problematic cane toad issue in Australia. I have so far managed to ascertain that Sydney, Tasmania, Kangaroo Valley and Cowra are currently frog-free areas, so those parts of the holiday are no longer a worry. But news from the Brisbane relatives has not been so positive. Apparently they do have cane toads. But according to my aunt, the people in her neck of the woods generally don't follow FrogWatch's (a real organisation, I swear) recommendations that they catch these toads, smear them with haemorrhoid cream, pop them in the freezer and then later liquidise them into a toad juice that makes for delightful liquid fertiliser (not kidding, see previous posts for the lowdown). They don't even follow the second best option of hitting them with a bat, and instead stalk them with golf clubs. Or else they spray them with Dettol, which is poisonous to them and causes them to shrivel up and die.
So after receiving this news I have been looking into several self-help options to deal with my frog phobia and have been trying out a bit of DIY cognitive behavioural therapy and some neuro linguistic programming.
But my efforts are somewhat hampered by the merciless and ongoing terrorist acts by my colleague EvilIncarnate. This weekend she was away, so I had a bit of peace. However, she was back today. She sent me an e-mail entitled "2 days to go". I foolishly opened the attachment. If I was asthmatic, I would have had an attack. If I had epilepsy, I would have had a seizure!
Not so?

Friday, May 8, 2009

Friday at long last!

Friday: my turn to stand in on the newsdesk as the early morning news editor. My chance to be the boss, handle the breaking news stuff and send everybody else running around on stories.
So I did. There was a chopped up body found in Wynberg, the new Gauteng Legislature cabinet was announced, we heard that three armed robbers held up an orphanage in Randburg last night and slapped two of the kids around and bit a social worker on the hand. Then M-Net called a press conference to clarify the colossal stuff up with sms votes on Sunday's Idols final. They'd crowned the wrong winner. Ooops!
The day passed as smoothly as a smooth day possibly can in a newsroom - basically like driving your car minus its tyres over a 4x4 dirt track at 100 k's an hour. It's a bit hairy and uncomfortable, but doable and you get there in the end.
The working week is over.
EvilIncarnate had the day off and I was spared her wicked tauntings about the cane toad plague in Australia, so I had a happy time disappearing mentally into my happy place to think about my pending holiday and the fact that I leave on Wednesday!
But did she leave me alone completely? Of course not!
She did not fail to leave me this lovely image:

I am sure this ongoing harrasment is now bordering on terrorism.
I'm just saying.

Thursday, May 7, 2009

Hail, more on Blairgowrie and Jeremy gets sick.

Today was one long, hard, slog - with not so much as a disturbing frog photograph, lunch break or even one e-mail threat to cancel my pending leave to break the pace.
First was the traffic chaos caused by this morning's unexpected hail fall on the East Rand.
That done -then a quick update on the bizarre signal jamming in Blairgowrie. The situation is still not resolved and work is currently underway to switch off all the stupid boxes so that their batteries can die and hopefully put an end to their silent screams (loooong story - see previous posts on mayhem in Blairgowrie for the whole lowdown).
And then the most awful story ever!!!! I received a notification from Highveld Stereo that Rude Awakening presenter Jeremy Mansfield has chronic lymphocytic leukemia. I felt sick when I read the e-mail, but felt better when I saw it wasn't life-threatening.
So then started the research. Man oh man - I cannot believe how much junk is thrown out there on medical conditions. On one particular website I found a research paper on CLL and scanned it hopefully. It left me utterly speechless. My theory: some woman by the name of Juliet Cohen took a research piece written in some foreign language like Japanese, ran it through a computer programme that translated it directly into English, slapped her name on top and slammed it out on the net. If that is not what she did, she has incredibly poor English for someone purporting to have great medical knowledge.
For example, what is one supposed to make of this? I copy and paste here for your perusal: "The chronic lymphocytic leukemia (and called CLL) is slowly usually obtains a worse blood and the marrow disease. CLL is the secondary common type leukemia in the adult. It frequently will occur in or in the middle age later the period. It very little occurs regarding the child."
And further on: "It is short very much is seen in a person younger ratio 40. The disease is together the Jew which drops in Russia or Eastern Europe, with is uncommon in Asia. The chronic lymphocytic leukemia cannot cause the sign or the symptom."
Say what? Jawellnofine. I rest my case.
She later surmises: "The chronic lymphocytic leukemia is possible and to cause the bone ache, the joint pain, the lymph node to swell the liver and the spleen, with expansion in neck, underarm, stomach or mouse footpath."
I shudder to think of "expansion in mouse footpath".
So I spoke to Jeremy and he is cool and pretty upbeat. As he says, this is not a life-threatening disease, he just has to get through the chemo and keep a watch on things. I think he's in for a tough time when the news hits the public domain, poor guy.
Jeremy and Jacqui - sending you guys strength and warm wishes.

Wednesday, May 6, 2009

Patricia, The Hoff, a heist and a heart attack!

Manic day today!
I arrived at work and was immediatly assigned to the Patricia Lewis story. The poor songbird has been diagnosed with six tumours on her thyroid. Her record company announced that, if timings worked out perfectly, she would be recording a duet with David Hasselhoff before going under the knife.
Apparently acting with Pattie's blessings, Sony Music announced all the details of her health issues so as to stop false rumours starting. The story was pretty straight up and down, so I decided to dolly it up with a bit of background and interesting facts and so googled up a storm.
Turns out, Pattie won 13 beauty competitions in her youth, starred in some TV ads and had a fling with The Hoff. Now googling David Hasselhoff was, as always, a completely entertaining venture in itself and I was stoked to discover a site that documents him as the anti-christ. But back to Patricia! I will have you know that this is not to be found anywhere on her official CV's - but in 1996 she starred in an erotic German thriller, a made-for-TV film that screened on late night German television. She initially denied allegations that she'd acted in a porno movie, but later admitted that she had starred in a production that did not quite get a porno rating, that she'd only said four or five lines in the entire flick and these had been dubbed into German and actually a body double had been used for the nude scenes.
Go figure.
First deadline over - then another big cash heist happened just near Lenasia. It was hectic! We had robbers galore shooting everywhere, scores of police reaction units, car chases, multiple crime scenes and tragically some poor hapless guy sitting in a park with his kid got shot in the head. And then during all of this, a police chopper is dispatched from the Joburg Air Wing. The pilot gets nailed in the leg, but carries on flying, using his police radio to direct ground units towards the fleeing baddies. Then he gets popped a second time, and still manages to fly himself and his crew to Milpark Hospital. Completely incredible!
All of this heady action served as a good distraction for me as I have gone into a mild panic state over my pending trip to cane toad-ridden Australia. I was planning on not worrying about that issue today. But then EvilIncarnate sent me another picture:


Tuesday, May 5, 2009

Frogs, haemorrhoid cream and a liquidiser

I have been feeling a tad unsettled in my life of late and, although not generally one for spontaneous actions, when this feeling coincided with a sudden 2-for-the-price-of-one special Qantas put out (*terms and conditions apply, OBVIOUSLY), I jumped through all the hoops and successfully booked two return tickets to Sydney. So next Wednesday Little One and I will be heading Down Under for a spectacularly divine holiday of note.
This sudden turn of events has me feeling quite perky and anxious to share the joy. However, those around me who have run out of leave or money seem reluctant to share the feeling - so I am trying to be sensitive and therefore subtle in my expressions of glee.
So today when a friend of mine mailed me the details of an interesting networking breakfast with a talk entitled "Journalism: A Profession Under Siege", I noted that this event will take place while I am away and thoughtfully passed it on to news editors C-For-Serious and her sidekick EvilIncarnate. I have to admit I was unable to restrain myself from adding the tactful note: "I am unable to go to this because … wooo hooooooo…… I won't be here as, um, now I remember, I am going to be on leave and in Australia!!!!!!!!!!!!!"
So EvilIncarnate - who once upon a time was a reporter in the newsroom alongside me and a good person who kept her dark side hidden - mailed me back with a warning that my leave was not yet approved. Apparently a decision still could be taken to keep me here in order to attend the blinking breakfast story!
So, not one to be easily intimidated, I bravely responded: "Too late".
EvilIncarnate: "Hmm, I could just have a word or two with my colleagues in HR and then we will see who laughs last – Mwah ha ha ha."
JoziJourno: "I already spoke to HR, my china! They have set me up with international medical aid cover, an interest free loan to buy a smart kompewter while I am there and so they will know that you are just being mean if you keep me back to cover a horrible breakfast! MWA HA HA HA! Hear my raucous laughter at the airport……"
EvilIncarnate: "I hope when you there one of their plague toads jumps on your foot!"
JoziJourno: "Erm ... so do you know about my weird frog phobia? Or was that a lucky shot?"
EvilIncarnate: "I don't know about your frog issues, but I watched a National Georgraphic documentary on Sunday about how the entire continent of Australia is completely infested with cane toads."
JoziJourno: "No way, you are talking crap. That is not happening in the urban areas where I am going."
EvilIncarnate: "They are totally everywhere! You will actually be really lucky not to see one."
JoziJourno: "I simply don't believe it."
So, true to her name, she proceeds to e-mail a whole bunch of research showing that Australia does indeed have a cane toad problem - so bad that it is regarded as an ecological disaster in progress and they even have an entire organisation to deal with it called FrogWatch. Sheesh! And, as if that wasn't bad enough, she sends me FrogWatch recommendation that the most humane way of dealing with these creatures is to smother them with haemorrhoid cream (to anaethetise them) and then pop them in the freezer!!!!!!!! The second method - simpler and less labour intensive - is to hit them with a cricket bat. Dear lord above, this is not a lie or an urban legend.
And then it gets worse. Apparently the dead frogs should be liquidised, and the resulting toad juice, FrogWatch claims, is a fabulous liquid fertiliser.
So, after freaking me out completely, EvilIncarnate proceeds to send me ANOTHER e-mail in which she suggests I get one of these frogs as a pet for my Little One, and attaches this picture:

She is cruel indeed!

Monday, May 4, 2009

Hurry up and wait!

Ah - another day in the Johannesburg High Court.
This morning my colleague Boulders and I trudged multiple street blocks through the city to the high court building where we parted ways and headed off to the different cases we were covering. Today was the scheduled start of trial for ex-bouncer Gary Beuthin, his girlfriend Melanie and their mate Warren. The three of them are accused of luring a former Hells Angel guy to a house in northern Joburg where they apparently bashed him up with a baseball bat. It was a pretty gruesome affair - another journalist showed me phots the Hell's Angel guy's friends sent her. He was smacked so badly that his calf muscle actually split out of his leg - eeeew!
I arrived to find the court room empty. I asked around and was told the judge was sick and things were only going to start happening after the mid-morning tea break. Ah well - time to crack another fiendish Sudoko puzzle. Slowly other journalists started arriving. QuirkyOlderWoman who files for another daily paper arrived first, her reddish-coloured hair pulled back in a pony trailing down her back. Then my long lost friend FabulousShoes - wearing a particularly natty pair of black patent wedges strapped with a bow to her stocking ankles.
FabulousShoes: Wow QuirkyOlderWoman, this is the first time I have ever seen your natural hair. You always have it pulled up, or a hair piece or something like that.
JoziJourno: Ja - it's amazing. I never realised it was so long.
QuirkOlderWoman: Yes, well, after I had that hideous West Rand poodle cut that left me with short hair in the front and weird layers in the back I was not able to let my hair be seen. It was almost in a mullet style!
Sympathetic murmurs echoed round the gallery from all directions.
QuirkyOlderWoman trotted off. Then FabulousShoes disappeared. Eventually the lawyers for the accused got tired of waiting, crossed the passage and found another judge who was willing to quickly postpone the matter. *sigh* A few minutes later - trial delayed til July!!
The lifts at the high court, I had been warned by Boulders, were not only slow and unreliable, but were now regularly trapping people for several hours at a time. This may be fun for people paid by the hour, but not so much for me. I opted for the stairs where I bumped into two colleagues who invited me to join them as they covered the final part of today's ruling on when our Chief of Police currently on special leave due to corruption charges will finally get to go on trial.
Why not? So I joined them, and it proved to be an entertaining venture. Several Scorpions were there, seated together covertly scanning the room. Commissioner Selebi with his wife and bodyguards proved to be the focus of attention for the two TV cameras perched on tripods in the corner of the room. Paul O'Sullivan - that curious character who has done strange jobs for the Scorpions, conducted his own investigations into many of the big corruption cases on the go at the moment and appeared to take some joy out of harrassing journalists - sat down in front of me and proceeded to take photographs of the court with his cellphone.
And then the judge postponed our honourable chief of police's corruption trial to October.