Sunday, December 20, 2009

It's Sunday and time for work.

A newsroom duty shift at this time of year is agonising if there's no big news story on the go.
It involves phoning the cops, emergency services and traffic authorities for news checks.
Monitoring other media in case they know about something you don't.
And checking the news wires for updates, news snippets and breaking news alerts. Generally the wire stories are one long scrolling lists of traffic wraps, weather updates at holiday destinations, the odd political announcement (e.g the Minister for Women, Children and Persons with Disabilitieshas called on parents not to abandon their children during the festive season when they hit the shebeens over Christmas and New Year - as apparently is the custom in some places), the holiday road death toll and stuff like that.
And so a day in the newsroom, with glorious weather outside and virtually everyone you know enjoying a holiday, can be torturous. And oh so depressingly loooong.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Flying and the Tiger flag.

Christmas travel plans for people flying on British Airways were turned upside down this morning. It seems their cabin crew staff all voted to strike over the busiest, most chaotic time of year when airfares are THE most expensive. Not a bad move for a crowd wanting to make some noise around the planet, but totally awful for travellers looking forward to Christmas and New Year with loved ones faraway.
It's all still in a maddening state of chaos as BA goes hammer and tongs at re-arranging their entire flight schedule. It took a full day of phoning travel agents, airlines, travel agent associations and tour operators to determine that nobody actually knows anything more than the bland "We don't know/can't say anything yet" statement posted up on the BA website and read out in soothing tones on a recorded voice message on their landline if your call is picked up by their computer.
It's a frustrating and worrying time for many people who have their holiday hopes pinned on Britain's national carrier.
And like most days in recent times, yet another Tiger Woods mistress emerged with a sob story about how, like the other 10 or 20 or whatever, had thought that his marriage was on the rocks and that she was the only "other woman".
Like Accenture, a couple of other companies who fly the Tiger flag distanced themselves from him and have scrapped his face from their product advertising.
His main backer Nike is standing firm in their support of the guy. I don't find this at all surprising. After all, he can hardly be accused of not living the brand of a company whose slogan is "Just do it"!

Monday, December 14, 2009

Clutching out....

Survived the second day in a row at the office today. While people are winding down and looking forward to their holidays, I have drawn the short straw in the form of two Sunday shifts in a row PLUS the December 16 public holiday. In this climate of low energy levels and not much on the news front compounded by a 6am start every morning, I may just as well shoot myself!
But I am hanging tough and being strong. Sort of. Yesterday a staircase collapsed on 70 people in church. Luckily nobody was killed or I would have felt REALLY bad about the awful office jokes about "no staircase to heaven" .
Today the juiciest story by far was the latest development in the woes of Tiger Woods who, in a single day, lost more money than I have earned in my entire life because Accenture dropped him as the face of their brand - something about feeling tetchy over the integrity issue or some such. And his growing list of skelms apparently now numbers 14 including a madam who's dishing out the goss on how much he spent on ladies of the night at her upmarket house of ill repute.
I spent ages going through an entire page of things to do over the holidays. And since I will have a couple of days off due to me after working all these grim shifts, I plan to undertake a few mom-and-daughter adventures with Little One. And there are awesome things out there: bum boarding on carpet slopes, drag racing round an indoor track, sand skiing down mine dumps. I am so stoked.
And then on top, I found Jozi's very own Boksburg-by-the-sea - the Wild Waters fun park. I phoned them to ask if they are snotty like Valley of the Waves at Sun City where they search you at the entrance in case you take so much as your own box of Smarties instead of paying their extortionate prices for whatever rubbish hamburgers and junk food they want to flog you.
"Skattie, you can bring whatever you want with you. Even some meat and have a braai. We just don't allow any glass bottles or alko-holl, and no music," said the delightful lady manning their phone.
Excellent! It sounds even more exciting than the fun balls for kids at Cedar Square. Little One is going to have a blast!

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Surviving the silly shopping season...

Early this morning a gang of armed robbers hit Hyde Park. Soon after that another gang hit a Pick 'n Pay in Soweto. The silly season is well and truly upon us. I came up with the idea of writing a survival guide to Christmas shopping in Jozi. It's not like one you will find in London or Sydney or Hong Kong. I can't think of where else one would start a shopping guide with expert advice that says: if you hear screaming when you enter the mall assume there is a robbery in progress, look around for the nearest exit and leave when safe to do so.
Then it was hot wings and pizza for lunch. All courtesy of The*Editor who sprang for it as a gesture to mark a farewell to my colleague The Brat. She of the mini skirts, thigh boots, lingerie-style tops and long tresses. She is leaving us for a career in TV.
It's a loss to our newsroom. Sad to see her go.But as she says, we will still be able to see her on TV and maybe laugh our heads off at her as she learns the ropes.
Bye Brat!

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

That time of year...

We're in the downward slide to the end of the year - that awful time when it takes effort and energy to blink, and everyone around seems to have cosmic fatique or whatever you call that lethargy pervading office spaces where people are hanging on and counting days til they go on leave.
It was in this state that I sat at my desk this morning and was asked to rush off to the Jozi High Court to assist my colleague in his efforts to interview the relatives and victims of Ananias Mathe - the slippery character who was sentenced to spend the next 54 years in jail for something like 79 counts of robbing, raping and pilaging. The judge was apparently not overly impressed with his claims that he became a damaged soul when he was turned into a child soldier at age 11.
So I rushed down to transport to get a drop-off. But there were no drivers. So I had to walk all the way across town, arriving just in time for nothing. Seems all the family and victims had stayed away from the sentencing procedures. So there was nothing for me to do but walk all the way back.
And continue working on the pile of stuff I am trying to get through.
Then a friend mailed me this little personal ad. I thought it was great:


To the Guy Who Tried to Mug Me Downtown night before last.

I was the guy wearing the black Burberry jacket that you demanded that I hand over, shortly after you pulled the knife on me and my girlfriend, threatening our lives. You also asked for my girlfriend's bag and earrings. I can only hope that you somehow come across this rather important message.
First, I'd like to apologize for your embarrassment; I didn't expect you to actually crap in your pants when I drew my pistol after you took my jacket. The evening was not that cold, and I was wearing the jacket for a reason.. My girlfriend had just bought me that Kimber Model 1911 .45 ACP pistol for my birthday, and we had picked up a shoulder holster for it that very evening. Obviously you agree that it is a very intimidating weapon when pointed at your head ...... isn't it?!
I know it probably wasn't fun walking back to wherever you'd come from with that brown sludge in your pants. I'm sure it was even worse walking bare-footed since I made you leave your shoes, cell phone, and wallet with me. [That prevented you from calling or running to your buddies to come help mug us again].
After I called your mother, or "Momma" as you had her listed in your cell, I explained the entire episode of what you'd done. Then I went and filled up my tank as well as those of four other people in the petrol station, -- on your credit card. The guy with the big motor home took 150 gallons and was extremely grateful!
I gave your shoes to a homeless guy outside Vinnie Van Go Go's, along with all the cash in your wallet. [That made his day!]
I then threw your wallet into the big pink "pimp mobile" that was parked at the curb ..... after I broke the windshield and side window and keyed the entire driver's side of the car.
Later, I called a bunch of phone sex numbers from your cell phone. The phone company just now shut down the line, although I only used the phone for a little over a day now, so what 's going on with that? Earlier, I managed to get in two threatening phone calls to the DA's office and one to the FBI, while mentioning President Obama as my possible target .
The FBI guy seemed really intense and we had a nice long chat (I guess while he traced your number etc.).
In a way, perhaps I should apologize for not killing you ... but I feel this type of retribution is a far more appropriate punishment for your threatened crime. I wish you well as you try to sort through some of these rather immediate pressing issues, and can only hope that you have the opportunity to reflect upon, and perhaps reconsider, the career path you've chosen to pursue in life. Remember, next time you might not be so lucky. Have a good day!
Thoughtfully yours,

Monday, December 7, 2009

The jerk and the arrest threat.

So I almost got arrested today.
I was sent to cover the launch of the festive season anti-crime campaign at Primedia House in Sandton. Off I went, directed by Gina, my Garmin, who decided the most direct route was the easiest. However, a Metro police officer had blocked off the bottom of Fredman Drive – to make life easier for all the diginitaries attending this event no doubt. For heaven’s sake!!! It’s only like one of THE busiest routes in Sandton.
So I did a quick u-turn and came back to ask the burly cop manning the slip road he had blocked with plastic cones if I could please go through.
“Hey! You! Don’t you see that I have blocked this road. Do you want me to arrest you?” he yelled at me, as I told him that I was a journalist for a large media house and desperately needed to get to the smart function he was obviously blockading off.
No joy.
“I want you to reverse and go out and around another way,” he yelled at me, menacingly.
So I stared back menacingly, unable to go anywhere because of the flow of cars behind me. So I pulled out my notebook and pen and made a big show of writing down the registration number of his traffic cop car parked arrogantly across Fredman. But I failed to intimidate him into letting me through.
Thanks to Gina I found another way around and got to the function in time to see our new police chief Bheki Cele, the deputy minister of safety and security and a whole bunch of other high ranking cops all standing for the national anthem.
Then almost two hours of speeches. All about how the cops are gonna take hands with the nation and shoot dead every criminal they come across.
Bheki reiterated his controversial policy: “I have never told my men to shoot to kill. I just said they must use deadly force.”
The talk was tough: the time for criminals to see their graves is nigh, the lucky ones will spend Christmas in orange overalls behind bars, mothers who know their sons are up to no good should now come forward and report them.
The talk was long. Then celebrities took to the podium. Apparently Lira has been a crime victim. And Hip Hop Pantsula as well, according to his ABC t-shirt (“affected by crime” ). And Kurt Darren has been robbed twice and attacked by six guys in his home who tied him up with cable ties.
Everybody was talking tough. Everybody’s had enough. I would be ecstatic if traffic cops were assigned to real work instead of threatening to arrest civilians who dare challenge the placement of their stupid plastic cones.
I hope that not too much blood will flow this Christmas.

Thursday, December 3, 2009

How much did you spend, Mr Mayor?

Joburg's Executive Mayor Amos Masondo is a politician indeed.
Following some not-so-positive media reports about his recent trip to China, Vietnam, India and Russia he quickly called a press briefing to do a bit of damage control.
So off I headed to hear what he had to say. Not surprisingly, he revealed nothing more than was already known. That he had taken 15 people - three of which were "support staff" or aides with him to four countries on a "trade mission".
He lost no time in telling us what a punishing schedule they had. How he sympathised with his fellow travellers when their feet were swollen at the end of the day (perhaps the aides were taken along to massage the tender footsies at the end of the day). It was gruelling, but they did it for the people. The needs of the people were core to all of this.
All of us journalists wanted to know one main thing: exactly how much did this jaunt cost Jozi ratepayers?
First round of questions. First question: "How much did this whole exercise cost?"
Answer: One comma something million rands.
Second round of questions. First question: "Can you be more specific on the cost, please? Can you give an actual figure?"
Answer: When you are talking about these things, it doesn't matter if you spend R1 or R2. You need to weigh it up against the value of what you get at the end of the day, and that is what is important here. We spent something more than a million. It was more than a million, that's all we are saying.
Third round of questions. First question: "Please put an exact figure to the cost of this trip or tell us why you cannot make the cost known. And how do you measure the value, what measures or monitoring process do you have to quantify the value of the trip?"
Answer: You can never quantify these things. There is no way to measure them, but the value is inestimable and will come out in the long term. You see nothing in the short term. But the reports we write will not gather dust, I can assure you. The final cost will be detailed in a report that will be made public in due course".
How is that? The mayor takes 15 people with him to Vietnam, India, China and Russia and now refuses to divulge how much it all cost. Stuff ratepayers, public interest or any other argument we put forward.
He simply refused to say. And there was nothing we could do about it.
So once again the extra-mural activities of Tiger Woods made for the most interesting news of the day.
One of the subs sent me this spoofed Tiger on holiday pic. Classic!!!

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Death on a treadmill

This morning a man working out at the Southgate Virgin Active gym died on a treadmill.
One of the people working out there called the paper to say that this had happened. So I scooted off there with PixEditor, who was sure this was going to be one of those difficult situations.
And so it was.
We arrived at the gym and there, through the front windows, we did indeed see a body on the floor next to a treadmill. It had been covered with one of those silver space blanket jobs, and there was a mobile screen placed next to it - but even the very presence of death was not going to stop the fitness fanatics of the south from getting their morning workout. The rest of the treadmills were buzzing as the gym bunnies did their thing.
The cops were on hand going about investigations - photographing the body and talking to people.
So we entered the front door and encountered the general manager who explained, as one could so easily predict, that he could tell us nothing. They were checking with their lawyers, running their bland statement by a billion top managers for clearance and so we could expect a comment sometime later in the day.
We left. But then PixEd decided to turn back and shoot some images through the glass. This annoyed the gym staff highly and they came storming out, ready to kick butt. The confiscated the camera and stomped off back inside where they handed it to the cops.
PixEd was highy irate by this time, I was on the phone to the newsdesk and the newsdesk got hold of the lawyers. A whole bunch of intricate wranglings went on and the upshot was that PixEd was made to erase his pictures and leave without his R80 000 camera, now in the hands of the police.
We've had to make statements to our lawyers who now have to go the legal route to get the camera returned.
But it seems the story was popular. A mere half-an-hour after my short little news piece went online it had received 3000 hits.
Who would have thought?

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

The woman who did not want to wear black.

Not much action for me today. Another stint on the newsdesk, ordering everybody else around.
This was not the case for my colleague The Brat who had one very exciting day. Which made my day more exciting because it meant I had better stories to offer for the late edition of today's paper.
So poor Brat was out covering the Jackie Selebi trial. Government was arguing why some intelligence guy should not be allowed to testify when a woman in black decided to shake things up.
While court was in session she decided to demand attention for a case that had apparently gone unheeded. The judge walked out and security was called in.
The woman apparently remained adamant that someone listen to her story in the middle of the corruption trial of our former police chief, asking that she be killed if not allowed to talk.
True quote: "I am asking to be killed if my matter is not going to be addressed."
Security started dragging her out, so she tried to rip her clothes off.
They didn't listen to her. But I don't think they killed her either.
It's now back to boring business.
As I say - it made for a decent diary item for tomorrow's paper.