Third World Ant

The thoughts of a little ant on a big planet.

Wednesday, September 05, 2007

Week 1 in the Peonda!

So, here I am, writing to you from the dusty backwaters of Mpumalanga.

The week was filled with frantic packing, frantic driving to and fro between Joburg and “The Second” (Secunda’s name is from Latin), frantic planning of my birthday/farewell party and frantic last-minute admin for the new job, my UK cabbage patch, ahem, property investment, my father’s business etc.

Some strange facts / observations about my new “home”:

1 – This place is writhing with domestic violence. Not of the beat-your-wife-up-senseless variety – no no, these people take things to a whole new level. It’s the more terminal route of I-shoot-the-wife-and-then-myself (and sometimes the kids too) variety. There have been a spate of such killings recently, none of which make it into the press. Gilb’s colleague witnessed one such incident at 5am last week, through his chicken-wire fence in the neighbour’s yard. Why such stunningly bizarre behaviour? Read #2 for more…

2 – “The Second” is a place of sharing – sharing spouses behind their other half’s backs, that is. The twisted stories I could tell you but won’t… eye-popping stuff. It’s so publicly done, too…

3 – It’s a dry area on Sundays! I tried to buy some super el-cheapo wine for cooking (I swear!) and wasn’t allowed too, until I coquettishly batted my eyelids at the manager. Speaking of cooking, two other points to note: 1) (unrelated to Secunda) I was given two fabulous cookbooks as birthday gifts – one was Pasella, in Afrikaans, as practice for being kaalvoet en swanger in die kombuis one day. And, 2) I’m going to need to do extensive shopping trips in “The First” for food items that are not available here – black bean sauce, rice noodles, coriander and rocket are the first few items I’ve noticed to be lacking.

4 – Rent is ridiculously expensive here – I’m expecting that we’ll be paying 50% more for a place that Peas and I were paying. We may even buy a place because I baulk at the thought of shelling out so much cash for rent, when a little bit more would pay off a bond (although our view of leaving in 18 months does make for a compelling argument not to buy)

There’ll be plenty more to tell over the next few days / weeks / months. So I’ll save it all for later. But, I’m receiving my ‘Personal Protection Equipment’ this week, which comprises a hard hat, safety boots and overalls – how cool is that? Never going to wear it, but it’ll be handy for dress-up parties, I’m sure…

Totsiens julle!

Friday, August 31, 2007

The day has come...

Well, the day has finally arrived. It marks the cusp of a variety of events: the end of my flatmating (well it’s a word now, purists!) with wonderful Peas; the official end of my life as a Joburger; the end of my life as a bachelorette (living with Gilb is practically being married to him, right?); the end of my brief employment hiatus; my last day as a 26 year-old.

Quite a list, eh? In December 2006 I said 2007 would be my year of change, and I got what I wished for – of course, the devil is in the detail, and here the mischievous fiend has taken vast liberties, for the changes are not at all the ones I’d been hoping for. Ah, well. These are the changes I believe are best for me now.

But let’s not wax too philosophical – plenty of time for that while immersed in the culture of Secunda, a.k.a. Satan’s Lung.

Instead, I thought I’d take a trip down memory lane and share with you the highlights of my two-year life with Peas – she has been so central to many of my fond memories of the past two years that moving out of home with her might be the hardest change to adapt to.

So here goes, in as chronological an order as my gnat-like memory can muster:

1. The night before I move in, Peas throws a welcome party in my honour, which is loud enough (or could the music have been so offensively 80s?) to land us in trouble with the neighbours and almost get us evicted. Enter with a bang, they always say (do they?)

2. We get invited to a ladies chocolate party at the Westcliff, and we behave badly. Terribly! All the other ladies are skinny shmodels who don’t indulge in the celebrated afternoon tea platter, so we steal everyone else’s cucumber sandwiches and pastries and shovel them down our throats. That’s not all we steal, eh Peas? A roll of 3-ply, a napkin (so soft that I keep it in my cubby-hole and use it to clean my sunglasses), and an umbrella. And we’re rather heavy-handed on the free alcohol, drinking bubbly alternated with single malts and cocktails. Unbelievably, we’re not the name-draggers of the day: two girls who got slightly giggly themselves started swearing loudly and offending other guests, and had to be told by management to shut up or get out. Amateurs.

3. Peas’ raucous birthday party complete with trouble-inducing jacuzzi. Completely plastered, I dragged my name through the mud and then some. But I did meet a lot of her very cool friends who have thankfully managed to overlook my obscene behaviour and still speak to me.

4. Many, many nights of karaoke. If Michael Bolton were in his grave, he’d be turning – spinning, even. So would Whitney Houston, Lionel Ritchie, the Carpenters (she’s already turning!), the South Park soundtrack guys, the Annie soundtrack guys, etc. This karaoke has been performed in a number of styles: drunk & clothed, drunk & unclothed, sober & clothed, sober & unclothed, drunk & in a trolley. The singing, however, is consistent – think round 1 Idols – should or should we let them scrape through? It’s touch and go, I tell you.

5. The men in Peas’ life: the tubby one, the skinny one, the tall one, now the blondie. Mine has been much more mundane with just one recurring act, the Gilb (but how memorable he is!) Peas and I share sex stories, relationship questions, and yes, even discuss our sex noises. I remember calling her a grunter, I can’t for the life of me remember what I am. Peas?

6. Peas’ eccentric behaviour, to which I can only imagine her new flatmate will have a number of cartoon-style double-take moments: eating tuna out of the tin, and leaving the tuna in the tin, plus a fork, in the fridge for tomorrow; loud singing in the bathtub, with the door always open; let’s not get started on the music collection, she’ll find out pretty soon (including Peas’ current rave phase); her addiction to Home & Away (good luck trying to watch anything else during that time slot); her inexplicable fondness for foods like Golden Smackeroos and pork bangers and her obsession with Snackwiches. There are plenty more, but if the new flattie reads this I don’t want to give away all the surprises that lie ahead, now do I?

7. Hiding booze and spliff in a picnic blanket and getting royally drunk at Zoo Lake. Walking around the Artists in the Park exhibition and saying, perhaps a little too loudly, “crap, crap, frigging awful, crap, almost decent, crap…” as we walked past the exhibitors’ artworks.

8. A dinner party where Peas, using a glass ornament aubergine (not in our flat, I assure you) demonstrated fellatio on nervous Gilb. There’s a picture floating around somewhere…

9. The Amazing Race, where our car’s participants were supporting the Ikeys, and wearing eye-catching phrases like ‘F.UCT’ and ‘Niknak poen’ on our clothes and bodies. We were magnificent! And we even put in a decent performance, coming third and winning a set of steak knives for the effort.

10. The Durbs July last year – not too much that we can remember directly, but the pictures don’t lie: we had a royally fantastic time, that’s certain. Sneaking into the expensive tents, wearing name badges of guests like ‘Thokozile Makhanya” and having the bewildered waiters serve us free food, dancing up a storm on chairs in the Pinkies tent (of course everyone wanted to watch us dancing, we’re fabulous!), posing as tea pots and stalking tigers…

And, just because lists of 10 are contrived, here’s an extra:

11. Famous Peas. It’s amazing to see how much cult status she’s achieved, I think even the new flattie’s a bit starstruck. From her blog, to the countless mentions of her in the media, to the blog awards, to her sex column, Peas is certainly a mini-shleb in this part of the world. And it’s all been achieved through the force of her personality, coming through in her delightful writing style. Truly amazing.

Alright, that’s it. Any more reminiscing and I’ll change my mind about moving out. To Peas: cara Pisella, ti amo molto. Spero che non dimenticherai di mé e saremo buon amiche sempre.

I expect numerous visits from Peas to the Poenda, I’ve insisted we don’t move into a place that doesn’t have room for a spare double bed, so there’s always a home for you (and any other visitors) in the backwaters of Mpumalanga, dear friend.

PS: much more frequent writing will resume from next week, when I am once again officially employed. And proper attention will paid to your blog sites, too!

PPS: thanks to Rev for your awesome idea for my birthday/farewell party! Everyone’s dressing up like they’re from the Poenda, and I’m arranging for some sokkie musiek for everyone’s pleasure and/or pain.

Monday, August 20, 2007

Back from the abyss

Hello world, it’s been a while. Sorry for the lack of contact, I’ve no decent excuse beyond the predictable “life’s been hectic” adage. And perhaps too much has happened to describe any of it in any detail, but what the hell, here goes:

1 – News officially broke that my (former) company was closing down. Which brings with it the predictable angst of “what do now?” and its even worse cousin, “what is it I want to achieve long term?”. On both of these questions, I’ve been suffering a lot of anxiety and pull in opposite directions – for one, I’ve been LONGING to go overseas for about three years now, and something’s always held me back. There’s no better time to go overseas than when you get retrenched, unless of course you have a boyfriend with whom you’re about to spend your fifth anniversary…

2 - …which brings me onto the next critical occurrence. I applied for 2 positions with S.Asshole (I’ve copyrighted it, you bastards) in June, and the sloths have only got back to me now. One position rejected (I received news of my rejection by SMS, complete with the de riguer SMS abbreviations: “Tx for applying for position xxxxxx. We regret to inform u that u have been unsuccessful. Best wishes”) and one accepted – offer still pending. Everyone has advised me that having S.Asshole on my cv would be a terribly bad thing, so I have looked for alternatives – at the end of the day, it boils down to 2 alternatives: the aforementioned company and a consulting company that has told me I’m asking for too much money (despite the fact that I’d be working just as hard as at my previous job and potentially travelling more).

On this last issue, I have to be pretty discerning. See, if I’m making the distinctly large sacrifice of moving to the Poenda and forgoing my career progression, then why take a job where I’d be travelling 4 days a week, only to see the Gilb on weekends only (which is my current situation), instead of staying in Jozi where I could find a far more challenging job? My current thinking is to taken the 8-5 Poenda job and supplement with a part-time MBA to compensate. I simply can’t back down anymore – it’s the Poenda (where Gilb and I get to test our long-term yet long-distance relationship and see whether it’s worth continuing any further) or overseas; Joburg’s no longer an option.

3 – The universe has an unprosaic way of spitting on you for its own personal enjoyment. See, the day I became officially unemployed, I also had to give a speech at a seminar at Wits, and the beautifully ironic title of this speech was “Alternative careers for Chemists”. Of course, I opened my speech with the irresistible “Please take everything I say with a pinch of salt as I am unemployed and therefore not a stellar example of what you can accomplish outside of the Chemistry industry.” Ja, well.

There is much more to say, but I’ll try to share more over the course of the next few days, if I get the chance. What I’d love even more is to have the time to catch up on all your goings-on, please believe me when I say that a) I have very limited access to the Internet and v) I’m working harder as an unemployed person than I ever was as an employed one.

Toodles, and I’ll write again later this week.


Friday, July 06, 2007

Property baroness

Guys, I’m glowing, and it aint even post-coital.

You see, me, I’m a leasing lass, I’m very hesitant to make even the teensy-weensiest investment (of course my beloved Mini, Ant, was a recent – and single – exception to this rule, even though the most prudent of you will argue that that’s not an investment per se), on account of the fact that this ties you down – you know, mortgage bonds and shit.

But, I recently threw caution to the wind, when my beady eye was attracted to the phrase “strategic investment” on a banner at a property sales stand in Sandton City the other day. I went to have a look-see, and decided that this kind of property investment wouldn’t really tie me down. So yesterday, me and 3 other people took the plunge and paid the deposit on this little piece of …. cabbage patch. I shit you not.

I am now the quarter-owner of a 250 sqm patch of agricultural land in South East England. Why? Because I can. Although the ownership aspect is academic at this point – the four of us have decided I’m the one who should face the brunt of the tax clearance investigation (i.e. everyone will deposit money into my account and I pay on everyone’s behalf, instead of everyone paying on their own behalf), which should pose some interesting technical debates, given my current SARS situation (they think I owe them big time, but my Dad’s tax dude says I’ve overpaid and they in fact owe me a reasonable amount). Pending the clearance of such issues, we should be all systems go, though, in which case some English farmer cedes his farm property to me and my mates.

And the really bizarre thing? I had a whole list of questions to ask (all technical kak like payment of stamp duties, property insurance, tax issues etc) but failed to ask one obvious thing: what is currently being farmed on the property? (The farming will cease once the land has been rezoned – that’s the whole point of the investment, to get the land rezoned as residential property and sell it at a fat profit to a property developer – but until such time, for legal/technical/cost issues, the land will continue to be farmed).

My guess is that it’s cabbages, which is quite useful if I fail to secure a new job in the next few years (remember, unemployment officially starts at the beginning of next month) and need to camp out for free on a piece of land, and live off its produce; although I’ve never been compelled to search for them, I’d imagine there’s an abundance of recipes involving cabbage (cabbage soup, cabbage soufflé, cabbage rosti, cabbage curry, cabbage gruel, and let’s not forget that picnic staple, the coleslaw).

I have a huge aversion to rabbits and goats and sheep, so as long as it’s not any of those, I’m quite happy that my “investment” (my boss thinks I’m ridiculous applying the term in this case. “It’s pure speculation, not investment!” he adamantly declares) is morally okay, and of course, living off the fat (profit) of the land in 5 years’ time will make the decision all the more comfortable.

If all else fails, I’ll be aiming to secure a client base for cabbage sales. I’m taking advance orders now, so be sure to let me know of your cabbage needs in the medium term. I’m running a “buy 5, get 1 free” promotion, if any of you are interested…

PS: I met someone last night who’s a blogger (a big fan of Peas) who wouldn’t tell me the name of his own blog, but nevertheless, hi dude! I couldn’t twist Peas’ rubber arm enough to reveal your site’s name just yet, but I’ll get there :)

Wednesday, July 04, 2007

Long weekend break

I spent a glorious 4-day weekend in the Cape, using the opportunity presented by a former colleague’s wedding to extend my stay into a proper mini-break.

At the outset however, it looked like the trip was going to deliver much uphill, as evidenced by the following:

1 – Friday evening: unexpected late afternoon/evening at work to meet a crunching deadline (yes, even though companies close, someone’s got to do the work till the very end, right?), plus three social obligations to meet, before packing for our 7am flight on Saturday. Of course, I also had to run an urgent (unforeseen) errand before social engagement #1, but just before dashing out of the office, I miraculously remembered to print out flight/car rental/accommodation details. I unfortunately forgot to find out the actual venue for the wedding (somewhere in Elgin), which Gilb so kindly reminded me about, say 5 times an hour on Saturday.

2 – still Friday evening: exasperated with life, I decide to skip engagements #1 & 2, and skip straight to 3, where out of sheer exhaustion, upon leaving the restaurant, I manage to bring a plate crashing down to the floor, and cause a waiter to run after me and present me with the car keys I’d left behind.

3 – yep, not yet past Friday evening – I get home, manage to pick out a dress to wear to the wedding with relative ease (delightfully, even if somewhat inappropriately summery and pink), and then spend 15 minutes alternating between the pink shoes (you may remember this famous pair; quite English rosey in combination with the dress) and the silver shoes (metallic glam, baby!) and eventually decide that glam is more important than class. What I do not realise at the time, however, is that I end up packing one pink shoe and one silver shoe in my luggage (both left feet, incidentally), and that the 15 long minutes spent deliberating over which pair worked best, was wasted as I’d end up having to wear my only other pair of heels, the green ones, with the outfit.

Thankfully bad things only happened in 3, and the rest of the weekend was spent decidedly blissfully. Auspiciously, it rained – no, poured – for the wedding, and Gilb and I, who were late in booking into the hotel that the bride had recommended weeks ago for everyone to stay in, ended up staying at the far nicer (and marginally cheaper) 4-star B&B all of 150m down the road. The groom, my former senior colleague, who had nothing but criticism to dish out to me and my peers when we worked with him, gave a surprisingly stirring and tear-jerking speech. It’s nice to see men crying out of loving emotion from time to time, and weddings are a good bet to see such small miracles. My current boss did a stellar performance as MC*, and I had to go to pains to make sure no-one thought we were together, as we were seated next to each other and a fair portion of the audience (the coloured contingent) might have been tempted to throw daggers at his back, due to his irreverent coloured jokes (granted, being coloured himself, he was more likely to get away with the dodgy humour than a whiter or blacker person might have).

Sunday was spent idling over breakfast in Elgin, lunch in Hermanus and dinner in Constantia – our trusty little rental did significant revving to bring us between towns A, B and C in the required times.

Monday was spent on the tennis court, where Gilb and I had our first-ever tennis encounter (after much nagging from me, and some inspiration from Wimbledon highlights). Turns out the little geek is a past tennis freak who showed no mercy in dismissing me 6-1, 6-0, 6-1. (“40-love!” he’d scream. “You don’t have to rub it in my face, do you?!” I’d retort). His serve scorches across the court – my greatest success was in dodging any ball-to-body contact that would’ve left me bruised an unpalatable pruney shade. This was followed by the de rigeur walk around Kirstenbosch (my favourite sanctuary, a bit of torture for the Gilb though), a visit (finally!) to the Mitchell’s microbrewery at the V&A for me to try their cider (praised a few months ago in Wine magazine), and apartment-cooked dinner (oh, and of course, tons of sex. On all days – goes without saying).

Anyhow, it’s Wednesday back at the old grind, but there are two pieces of good news: 1) tonight I go to a launch party for the new Lamborghini Super Allegra, and get a freebie hair styling and expert make-up application for the event – it sucks to be you, doesn’t it? And, 2) Sass-hole have decided that maybe I’m not completely worthless and will be interviewing me this coming Monday. Oops though – the HR chickie called at 8:30 in the morning, which is the time I’m unfailingly annoyed by calls from people trying to sell me insurance/credit cards. I was a tad rude, especially cos she got my name wrong, and it looks like she’ll be the one interviewing me – d’oh!

*My favourite of his quips for the evening, relating to the high number of employees from a major financial services institution present at the reception (because the bride used to work there, which was how the groom came to meet her, when we worked in Cape Town on a project for the company): “… So I met [groom] at a casino. Which is quite apt given the number of employees of [SA financial institution’s name] we have here tonight. Because placing your money with them is always a gamble!” Ok, this was hysterical at the time, maybe you had to be there (or have worked with this company) to understand its humour…

Tuesday, June 26, 2007

Inefficient consumption

First off, thank you for your comments on my last post – it gives me some comfort that you all acknowledge that I have some difficult decisions ahead of me, it’s not just some ridiculous issue in my head. Life and love, eh? Still, I wouldn’t ever opt to have the future made far easier by not having met the Gilb…

Anyway, today’s topic is something that although arbitrary, has disturbed me for years. Perhaps I have a somewhat Calvinist inclination, but I like to believe that anything you buy for consumption can indeed be consumed in entirety.

There are quite a few things, however, that you buy and acknowledge that some portion thereof, will not be used – ever. If I had a day to myself, I’d sit down and find a way to overcome this shortcoming and become a millionaire in patenting improved, more efficient designs.

Below, a list of some of the things that annoyingly can’t be used until finished. Feel free to add to this list of poor functional designs (or submit ideas for improvement that I can pilfer. Be generous, folks, you know I’m going to be jobless at the end of next month J). And in brackets, my estimation of the percentage of the product that can’t be used:

1. Clutch pencil lead refills (20%)
2. Normal pencils (20%)
3. Erasers (10%, depending on original size)
4. Soap (5%. If you’re my father, you glue the 5% sliver of soap to the new soap bar by squishing them together when they’re wet and then using them as a single bar. Looks like it’s clear where my Calvinistic tendencies come from…)
5. Any expensive facial product in a plastic tube (up to 10%, depending on the size to volume ratio. This, I’m convinced, is no accident – the less you’re able to use from a tube, the quicker you’re going to have to replace it. With my expensive eye cream tube, I now cut the bottom end off the tube when I can no longer squeeze more product out, and then proceed to extract the remainder of the contents as needed. It lasts about 4 weeks extra that way!)

That’s all I can think of off-hand; strange that everything I listed has a stationery/toiletry theme…

Thursday, June 21, 2007

Pin the tail on the donkey

I look back on my last past and think that perhaps it’s a tad melodramatic – the world won’t end after all, just because I’m temporarily without a job.

In truth, the angst I’ve been facing has just received a much-needed kick up the butt towards resolution, because I can’t now drag and delay my decisions along forever.

See, the million-dollar question is this: I’m with a man I adore, we’re almost upon our five-year anniversary. We’ve never lived together, and in fact, in September (our 5-year mark) 43% of our relationship will have been spent long-distance (I was in Cape Town for 9 months, he will have been in Secunda for 17 months); every month we continue in our present situation will only serve to increase that percentage…

So, what does a loved-up lass do in the situation? As I’m ever so fond of doing, I created a list of all possible options:

1 – we continue as is. Despite the fact that I largely enjoy my life in Joburg and he enjoys his in Secunda, this is no longer a viable option. Beyond December, I really don’t want this to be the case without a damn good reason. Why? Because I’m almost 27, and life and love must move forward or cease, whether you want it to or not.

2 – we live in one of these two locations or halfway in between (Delmas: have you ever been there? Nope – you blinked and missed it) and one of us / both of us commute a fair amount. As wiser friends have pointed out, the strain of moving in together for the first time coupled with the daily trials of traffic and rude driving will not make for an easy, or dare I even say successful, relationship. Plus, the stress of worrying if the Gilb made it there okay every morning with mist, single lanes and blind rises to battle against – nope, I could not live with myself if any terrible accident were to occur on account of my need to move in together.

2 – I move to Secunda. Which I wasn’t overly charmed at the idea of, despite not having an overwhelming aversion to the place – yes I’m a self-confessed city whore who enjoys the pleasures of international boutique store shopping as much as the next metropolitan maiden, but Joburg is only a 2-hour trip away. The real reason behind the lack of enthusiasm is more for the fact that I’m a bit of a career lass, and my concern that my career moves after a ‘step-down’ in Secunda might be limited (yes, Rev, I did also look into the delicatessen thing, Secunda doesn’t know what a decent bakery/coffee shop is – but maybe that was what was missing from my plan – beer and boerewors!). Two things have happened since: I’m beginning to question whether I shouldn’t be re-evaluating my goals: do I really want fame/fortune over love? And, 2: my mighty arrogance has been somewhat humbled. I took it as a given that I’d be granted a job at Sass-hole upon submission of my pretty cv, but they gave me not so much as a call-back. And I submitted it twice, for two different positions, and even pointed out that one of their new engineers might leave their company if I couldn’t find a place there (it’s strategic for Sass-hole to employ the partners of their engineers, it’s a retention thing they do to hold onto their scarce and precious employees). So this currently puts Secunda out of the question.

3 – We move to a place where we can actually both live and work in the same city. Pet faves right now are Dubai (big and growing, with plenty of scope for work for engineers and financial services people alike – High in Dubai has rather good things to say about the place) and the obvious UK (more jobs for someone like me, who is also endowed with an EU passport).

Thing is, as we’re making some earnest attempts to make moves in this department for the new year, I can’t help thinking that I’m demanding a hell of a lot from the Gilb: leave your newish job (which you enjoy) in your recent(ish)ly relocated town (which you also enjoy) and all your friends (who you adore) and family (less of a big deal) to go overseas because your girlfriend’s pestering you to, just so that you can live together in the same house and see whether you were meant to be together or not… I would really like some opinions on this – from people who know neither of us, and therefore cannot be biased towards/against either one of us.

It’s not like I don’t ask the Gilb repeatedly “Are you sure you want to do this? You’re not just doing it because I asked you to?” it’s just that I’m not convinced his positive response is completely honest. Yes, he is one of those people who prefer to follow rather than lead, but how far can I actually lead him down this path, in fairness? Moral dilemma, you see…

4 – I say f@ck it, to hell with my life in SA and with the Gilb, and I do the trek alone. Reminding you of what I said earlier (“I’m with a man I adore”), you see why although this is the logical – and least disruptive – path to all concerned, I am having exceeding difficulty in committing to it. Sigh…

I don’t know what to say or think about it any more – I’ve run through the scenarios again and again and again and still have come out none the wiser. I have the distinct feeling it’s one of those choices you have to make by blind-folding yourself and throwing a dart at a board, and then sticking with it.

Tuesday, June 19, 2007

For glory

So. My company’s closing. Finished, kaput. It hasn’t been a real surprise; by coincidence I sit in the same area as management does, and I would have had to be completely blind to ignore the body language.

Ironically, the same challenge is faced by my father’s company at the moment – I imagine one of the top (if not the top) reasons small companies fail is a clash between key senior people in the firm.

After a three-year stint with this company (out of a total 3.75 year permanent working career), it’s time to reflect on what I’ve learnt during my time here:

1 – It takes a special breed of company to look beyond your actual qualification and rather at the person behind it. Some things can be learnt on the job as required, and all that is required is a bit of brainpower to get there – the Deloittes/KPMGs/Braits of this world can’t seem to get beyond the need for a physical qualification as proof of your capability.

2 – Small new companies can only dare to take on their mighty competitors when they have the people who are brave/arrogant/bloody-minded enough to do it. Mavericks at the helm, if you will. Without this bravado, the big guys will always win – why else would people opt to work for small companies? It isn’t the money or lifestyle that makes you go for small over large and established, after all – it’s the promise of glory because as long as you’re hungry for it, there’s only one way to go: up.

3 – Bearing in mind point #2, the vision of the few guides the crowd. There’s no executive board, no shareholder AGMs, hell, not even company guidelines, on how to deal with conflict within the upper echelons. At some point, a disagreement spurs a desire for a critical employee to leave, and because of its small size, the critical person carries enough mass with them to tear apart the fabric of the small organization.

4 – Small companies deliver a superior product – they have to. They don’t have the brand to charge as much as the larger companies do, and they have to deliver something more interesting to convince the client that they’re actually better than the large guys out there.

5 – As the owner of a small company, you have a bloody difficult task convincing everyone to pull in the direction you want to pull. Individuals are so much more important to the small company than they are to the large ones, and the good ones are that much harder to replace. A legacy is left behind by each and every person.

Enough waxing lyrical. There have been bloody exhilarating times, but bloody hard ones too - it’s now a time to move beyond reflection of why things happened the way they did, and into the realm of “what next?”

I can no longer use my favourite excuse “But I have no time to think about myself” to bury the soul searching that has lurked beneath my surface for some time now. The questions of Where? What? With whom? now need definite answers… in December I pre-emptively labeled this year as the ‘Year of Change’ and my recent actions have set in motion big wheels that cannot be stopped. I might not like the forks of the paths these wheels choose, but I have accepted that choosing any one of those paths is more important for me right now than remaining in the present rut.

Here’s hoping that I have greater resilience than I believe to possess, because I will need every spare ounce of it to make the decisions that need making in the next few months.

Thursday, June 14, 2007

Fuel for thought

If you’re at all like me (and yes, in this instance you are), you’ll moan about the fact that the petrol price keeps rising. Either the price of Brent crude’s increasing, or the Dollar’s gaining on the Rand, they always tell you. But even when the Dollar weakens against the Rand the price still rises.

Now, for an un-economist like me, this confusion is downright frustrating and smacks of excuses and refineries lining their oily pockets with even more absurd profits. So, I’ve done a little check on historical prices (using data from here and here) to see whether there’s been one mother of all consumer rights cock-ups, and, the answer is that I’m undecided. (The real truth is that I had to manually redraw the graphs below, so didn’t have the actual figures to convert the y-axes to equivalent scales, where a fair comparison could be made, so all my conclusions are based on visual estimation of the figures rather than on the actual figures themselves).

Warning: I really must warn you that I have as much Economics training as a pistachio, so feel free to ignore/correct me, peeps.

First, I present for your attention Graph A: the Dollar/Rand exchange rate plotted against Brent crude price per barrel. Because I don’t have data going further back, I can’t tell you whether there is any reasonable correlation between the two statistics – 9/11 was an anomaly which will have caused substantial disruptions to either or both figures (for example, demand for fuel fell as people lost their appetite for travel by aeroplane). At face value though, one might assume that there was no significant relationship between the two.

Next, I present Graph B: Brent crude price per barrel versus petrol price. Now this graph is more the stuff of statisticians’ wet dreams, because one can draw some conclusions off this: our petrol price is quite strongly correlated with the cost of Brent crude, which while being marginally inconvenient given the uncomfortable inching up of the barrel price on a daily basis, is also reassuring in that it sort of says that the stuff we fill our gorgeous Mini Coopers with is actually mostly fuel (without too many diluting cheaper substitutes like refinery fat-cat urine). I’ve even added pretty green circles to highlight the lag in changes in Brent crude price affecting the local petrol price.

But wait, there’s more… I’ll omit the third permutation of the above data (local petrol price vs Rand/Dollar exchange rate) because it’s much like the first graph (what with the close pattern between local petrol price and Brent crude price), and skip straight to the combined graph, where all three variables are plotted on one graph:

Now again, I warn you that the scales used on the y-axes are not comparable, so visual comparison is actually not going to be that accurate, but I’ve tried to estimate the actual values for more accurate comparison than just looking at the differences from the pictures. The first pretty green circle shows an increase in the Dollar’s value against the Rand of around 70%, with the arrow indicating a corresponding 40ish% decrease in the Brent crude price over the same time period. What happens to the petrol price over this time? It remains constant on average. i.e. the smaller change in the Brent crude price appears to buffer the larger change in the exchange rate. Now look at the second green circle: this depicts a 35% drop in the Dollar: Rand value over the period, while the arrow depicts the 150% increase in Brent crude price, and the corresponding 80% increase in the local petrol price.

If the impact of the percentage changes were like for like, then the first green circle scenario should result in a (70%-40%) = 30% increase in the petrol price (as opposed to it remaining roughly constant), while the second should result in a (150%-35%) = 115% increase in petrol price rather than the actual 80% experienced.

So what does this all mean? I can think of only four options:

1) Government is lying, they’re using the exchange rate as an excuse to hike up petrol prices to fund their (social) parties (I’m thinking Zoolander parties where they spray each other with “expensive” petrol for shits, giggles and cheap thrills)

2) The lag in the exchange rate’s effect on the petrol price is out of sync with the lag of Brent crude’s effect (i.e. the major impact on the petrol price is not seen until later than Brent’s price’s impact, so we’re comparing the wrong time periods for each graph against each other)

3) Government chooses to subsidise partly the effect of the exchange rate on the petrol price, but doesn’t feel the need to do so for the effect of Brent crude’s change in price

4) I’ve got something grossly incorrect here and am now spreading a groundless conspiracy theory, in which case I humbly apologise, Big Brothe…

Tuesday, June 12, 2007

Mood of the month

Up here on the blogosphere, where ordinary people gets to express their personal thoughts and day-to-day diatribe, much has been said about PMS, and therefore perhaps one could be excused for assuming that an irate woman is behaving as such only because she’s about to have her period.

So, in the interests of dispelling this myth – or, perhaps to confirm it – I’ve done a 5-minute research effort (predictably, Wikipedia is a primary source) to uncover its truths.

Before starting, I’ll point out that I’ve never made a mention of having PMS on my blog, largely because I don’t believe I suffer from it. I’ve even looked back through my blog posts over a one-year ahem, period, to see if I could identify any correlation between my apparent mood when writing vs my menstrual cycle, and I can confidently say I haven’t found one. Sure, some months the pre-menstrual discomfort is greater than others, but I can’t honestly recall a time when this might have put me in a bad mood – I do believe I become more scatter-brained than usual at this time, and if I’m ever irritated about anything around my period, it would have to be this aspect – but again, irritated not irate. And irritated with myself, not anyone else. Discomfort, not unbelievably crippling pain.

So, what do the experts say?

Apparently, somewhere between 70% and 95% of women suffer from some PMS symptoms (that’s not a particularly helpful statistic. Either 1 in 4 or 1 in 20 don’t suffer any symptoms at all…), and to varying degrees. The level of discomfort can vary from month to month (the article doesn’t say why), and the most commonly reported symptoms include:
Weight gain from premenstrual water retention
Abdominal bloating
Breast tenderness
Stress or anxiety
Crying spells
Mood swings, irritability or anger
Appetite changes and food cravings
Trouble falling asleep (insomnia)
Joint or muscle pain
Fatigue (medical)
Trouble concentrating
Social withdrawal
Body temperature increase
Worsening of existing skin disorders, and respiratory (eg, allergies, infection) or eye (eg, visual disturbances, conjunctivitis) problems
Out of the 17 symptoms listed here, I experience seemingly random combinations of between 2 and 5 each month.

The Wiki entry goes on to report that 14% of women between the ages of 20 and 35 have such debilitating PMS that they have to miss work on some days, and that an unfortunate further few suffer from even more exacerbated symptoms, and this condition is considered to be distinct from PMS, labelled ‘premenstrual dysphoric disorder’ (PMDD).

The most interesting thing the entry points out is that “there is no laboratory test or unique physical findings to verify the diagnosis of PMS”, and that “a number of medical conditions are subject to exacerbation at menstruation, a process called menstrual magnification. These conditions may lead the patient to believe that she may have PMS, when the underlying disorder may be some other problem”.

Perhaps this is the reason for the discrepancy of the figures provided above – i.e. about 4 in 20 people believe they are suffering from PMS when it is actually masking some other potentially serious condition, such as depression, migraines, seizure disorders, chronic fatigue syndrome, stress and asthma.

There is also a school of thought that believes PMS is a socially constructed disorder, a product of a ‘hypochondriatic culture’ – a view that actually cannot be refuted scientifically because of the vast lack of study of the syndrome.

This last fact, coupled with the poor diagnosis of PMS versus other conditions, alarms me because it has, in my mind, only negative consequences:

- Women who are suffering immense pain for around one solid month of the year may have had no cause to suffer, as their symptoms have been casually labelled by the blanket term ‘PMS’ when other treatable conditions are the cause of majority of their pain. This in turn affects their productivity in the workplace, and perhaps contributes to a perception by some that women are weaker/less ambitious than their male counterparts, because they have to take a day or two off work every month to cope with their symptoms

- The lack of scientific diagnosis leads to a social misunderstanding, one that indiscriminately labels all female unpleasantness as ‘PMS’ which is belittling because women have as many rational menstrually-unrelated reasons to get pissed off from time to time as men do (and of course no lesser tendency to display irrational anger from time to time), without their anger being dismissed for existing only because ‘it’s that time of the month’.

The point of this little piece? None really – I guess I’m just expressing my gratitude at not having to deal with the severe monthly trauma that people like Peas have to – from my side, I hail the coming of my period as a fantastic confirmation that I have not accidentally fallen pregnant. Until, of course, the day I perhaps decide I do wish to fall pregnant, in which case the onset of a period will potentially cause me far more anxiety than any period pain ever did.

South Africa's Top Sites