Cake Baking as a Metaphor for the Digging-Holes and Getting-Stuff-Out-of-the-Ground Industry

Google knows about this blog, and since what I intend to write now is work related and critical of certain entities, it may upset the relationship my company has with those certain entities.
Given the above, it is necessary to be a little cryptic and to make lavish use of metaphors. If you know me well enough, and know what my current job is, you’ll probably be able to figure out which entity I’m referring to.
If you don’t know me at all, you still may be able to. Perhaps the post title may be of assistance to you.

Let us pretend that I work in the baking industry. I don’t but, for the purposes of this tale of bureaucratic anal-retentiveness, I do.
The baking industry in South Africa is strictly regulated. If one wishes to bake a cake, one must fill out the necessary Cake Baking Application forms and submit them to the Department of Cakes and Confectioneries (DCC).
A number of items must accompany the application form:

  • The exact description of the place you wish to bake the cake, including a map, and deeds of ownership
  • A Cake Baking Recipe, detailing how you intend to go about baking the cake, including such details as:
    • ingredients to be used
    • equipment required
    • which chef you intend to use
    • how much cake you intend to bake
    • proof that you can afford to buy the ingredients
  • Details of the company which intends to bake the cake/s
  • The applicable application fee (either cash, or a cheque made out to the DCC)

Every province in the country has its own provincial DCC office. The one in Gauteng always checks the application forms, and all accompanying documentation and so forth within 30 minutes.
I spent 3 hours at the DCC in the Free State submitting a Cake Baking Application for a client. Having not submitted any applications in the Free State before, the extra 2.5 hours to lodge the application came as a gradual, but ultimately quite excruciating surprise.

At first, it seemed that things were going well. Shortly after my arrival at the DCC offices, a nice person came to look over the application.
At the Gauteng office, the nice person who takes the application from me usually just checks that everything required by the legislation and regulations for a Cake Baking Application is present in the application. If it is, she takes my application fee and bids me farewell. They never check whether or not it is all in order — just that it is there. The 14 days stipulated by the Cake and Confectioneries Baking Act is what is supposed to be used to check through all the details. The Gauteng office does it this way. The Free State office — not so.
The nice person, who afforded me a great deal of time with which to practise patience, looked at the provided map. She then proceeded to check that every aspect of the map was correct, and that everything described in the application form, and the applicable deeds of ownership all matched up with one another.
My client wanted to bake a lot of cake all over the place, so there were a lot of deeds to cross-reference with the information on the map. I discovered that I need more practice in patience. Quite a deal more.

Eventually, she finished going through the map and deeds. She’d found some problems. I negotiated that I send the corrections through via courier. She, to my relief, agreed that that would be acceptable.
After that I waited a long time while pretty much nothing happened. Or rather, to me it seemed that nothing happened, but in actual fact, gross inefficiency was under way. I thought everything was done and that I just needed to pay the application fee and go. Just under 2 hours had passed at this point, and so I was very keen to leave, but no-one wanted to take my R500.00. If I didn’t pay the fee, then they wouldn’t accept the application.
My enquiries as to why things were taking so long were met with cryptic responses, which with hindsight I managed to decrypt. They had to check that no-one else had applied to bake the same kind of cakes in the same area. Again — something that should be done within the 14 day period stipulated by the Act.
At the time I just tried to keep patient.

At some point nearing the 3 hour mark, a person who I had not yet met came through and informed me that they were very sorry, but they were having a problem with their system. It had just recently been upgraded, and the only person who knew how it worked was not in the office. They asked me if I might be able to help.
That’s right. They asked me to come and do their job for them. I really wished they’d asked earlier, because then I would’ve left the building after 2 hours and 10 minutes, instead of the 3 hours that I actually spent there.

I’m heading back there on Monday to withdraw the frigging application because the place we said we want to bake cake isn’t quite in the right place.
At this rate, I’ll have so much practice at patience I’ll reach Nirvana in almost no time.

Dysfunctional Appliance

I have a larny chrome kettle. It’s shiny. It’s spiffy. It goes well with the other brushed steel appliances and containers in part of my kitchen.

It broke.

Dada-esque Kettle

Now, I’d like to say it was due to a design flaw, but that would probably be unfair to Mellaware. They do have a mark inside the kettle that indicates maximum water level. This guideline may have been ignored on several occasions by those in the family who embrace entropy, and all it’s associated chaotic effects, wholeheartedly.

Dada-esque Kettle

I suppose I should try to fix it. I’m uncertain though: does it need welding or soldering? And what effect will the heat have on the nice shiny bits. Will they be permanently tarnished? Will the kettle get all bent out of shape (literally).
At any rate, I don’t have the required equipment, nor the desire to own it. Suggestions on a permanent fix to this problem are welcome, but in no way urgent. I’m using the kettle as a kind of performance art piece now.

Dada-esque Kettle, with gloves

Metal kettles full of recently boiled water get hot. One cannot pick them up to fill the teapot without insulation. Perhaps I’ll get Angie to help me take an action shot of the Dadaesque performance art kettle in use.

The pod splashed down safely in the Pacific

I’m back on Earth now.

Audit Fun in Sishen
The week in Sishen has been elucidating, and, as you are already aware — red.
I know a lot more about environmental auditing now. I also know a lot more about Sishen Iron Ore Mine. Although I know more, this must not be mistaken with me knowing much. That mine is massive, and 5 days to look around only gets the dust of knowledge under one’s nail.
I’d probably have to stay there 2 years before the dust of knowledge coated me as thickly as the physical dust of iron ore did in the 5 days of my visit.

I just washed my clothes, and it seems I’m going to have to get used to a red undertone in the denim. Ah well.

But what does Mars actually look like?

Mars looks like that pit. Doesn’t really seem that big, does it? Well, here’s something to give you a little perspective on it all. Those three little blotchy bits in the middle are haulpacks. They are the massive 250 ton trucks that move the iron ore from the pits to the stockpiles, and from the stockpiles to the primary crusher.

They don’t really look like much there, but they are big yellow (at least, initially yellow) trucks. The little people seen maintaining them in the following two photos are, in fact, normal-sized people. Thus, the trucks are enormous. Thus, the pit is bigger than enormous. I can’t think of a word for that at the moment. I’ll make one up instead — the pit is gigabig.

In conclusion, the place is big and red, as is everything in it (this includes quite a few of the people, although results may vary). I may be repeating myself on this, but I don’t believe it is possible to over-emphasise the importance of the bigness and redness of Sishen Iron Ore Mine.

That’s not all. For your viewing pleasure I also present an image of part of the mostly decommissioned south plant. When the mine started the crushing and screening plant was here.
All that is left is the reinforced concrete skeleton of the place. It was a little like I’d found evidence of the lost civilisation of Mars. Of course, that wasn’t really the case. If I’d really found a Martian civilisation, then I’d find evidence of intelligent extra-terrestrial life. All there seemed to be around Sishen were miners [1].

I don’t think that I can really go into the details of the audit (and I’m thinking even these photos might be iffy, but I don’t think I’m really giving very much away that isn’t public knowledge anyway), so I’ll move on to the difficulties of leading a vegetarian lifestyle in the Kalahari.

The Difficulties of Leading a Vegetarian Lifestyle in the Kalahari
I stayed at the Cranberry Cottage, a B&B in the town of Kathu, just a few kilometres from the mine. It’s a really lovely place to stay if you happen to be passing through that way for some reason or another. I really liked it there. The hospitality was traditionally Afrikaans, and the people were extremely friendly, even to Engelsmanne like my colleague and me. But then we threw them a curve-ball: Could they cater for a vegetarian?

Puzzled looks. Very puzzled. Cranberry Cottage is a family run business, and so the members of the family really care about the service and experience they provide to their guests. I really felt for Magda Fourie as she tried to get her head around this concept of me not wanting to eat any meat.
“Vegetarian?” she asked, “Will you eat chicken?”
“Uh…” I said, but not wanting to distress her, but my facial expression must have been skeptical.
“Fish?” she ventured.
Hesitantly, I agreed that fish would be an acceptable “vegetarian” meal. That evening, for dinner, they made me an especially prepared chicken potjie. By not digging too deep into the stew-pot, I managed to avoid most of the chicken and feasted on the included vegetables.

There was a rerun of this on another of the days where we negotiated for fried fish as my vegetarian meal, and I received braaied chicken. Crispy. Charred. Very much a dead animal. Not wanting to offend my hosts and their efforts to provide me with a vegetarian meal, I struggled through the chicken, eventually giving a third of it to my colleague who’d already polished off a T-bone steak.

But hey, as Magda told me one of the evenings, “In the Kalahari, chicken is a vegetable.”

The guest house wasn’t the only place where I was met with general confusion regarding my lifestyle choices. The guys we dealt with on the mine were also perplexed, although whoever did the catering at the mine seemed to understand what vegetarian meant. I was provided with a Greek salad for lunch once I’d let them know of my meal preferences. No chicken or fish in sight. Unfortunately there was also no originality in sight. While everyone else was provided with a different meaty dish each day, I got my trusty Greek salad, three days running.

One of the people we dealt with assumed I must be on a diet. I think the other guy assumed I was crazy. Every time I ate my salad he made some comment about it. Eventually I got a little annoyed and asked him why he didn’t eat his tortoise (which he’d rescued and nursed back to health after being run-over) or his pet dog. We concluded that he only eats animals he hasn’t taken the time to get to know. I let my follow-up question slide. Why doesn’t he eat people he hasn’t yet got to know?

[1] And they were very nice miners. If you are one of those people who likes to perpetuate stereotypes, you might choose to interpret this comment as implying that miners are not intelligent. However, there are a number of interpretations of the statement available to our intrepid reader. Examples; Miners are not alien lifeforms, Miners are not intelligent aliens, There are only miners in Sishen and no aliens, The Holy Grail is buried at Sishen, The winning lottery numbers are 8 13 27 32 38 44
The interpretation is entirely up to you

The Best Way to Complain About Bad Service

Shout at the top of your lungs in the general direction of the
restaurant staff that you’ve been waiting 45 minutes for your beer.

I witnessed an unhappy individual doing just that at the Spur Steak
Ranch in Johannesburg International this morning. Damn was it effective.
I almost went over to worship the guy because I wish I had the guts to
make that much noise in as public a place.

[WaffleG] The East African Edition (No.19)

I seem to be struggling to remain in South Africa, oh humble wafflings. It’s not like I was trying to travel all over the place, it just seemed to happen. Such is the nature of being the Mighty Waffle Master. Cower before my syrupy magnificence!

Kenya is the destination for this issue. Next month the moon, and then after that – Mars.

New Members
None this time. But the following still applies, I suppose.New members: If you’re confused about this, visit the Official Waffle
Group Web page

It’s unlikely to clear up your confusion. Email me for clarity.

See the end of the message on how to unsubscribe.

The Destination
I found Mars to be just as red, barren and dusty as it always appears to be in the movies (and in photos). I found the thin atmosphere to be somewhat suffocating, and it was a real pain to always put on a pressure suit whenever I wanted to go out for a walk.
There were no tourist attractions to speak of and the locals were very strange and alien.
I don’t recommend you go there unless you really like the colour red.

Stop Being Silly Now
Ok. I’ll try. No promises.Firstly I’ll express my disappointment that I saw neither Tigers nor Lions in Kenya. Weebl – you are a trickster and a cad!
But, perhaps I should not be so harsh on Weebl. There are no lions and tigers in Nairobi. I didn’t manage to venture out of the confines of the city, so perhaps he speaks truth. I can confirm that there is a tall mountain with snow on the top. I saw it as we flew 1500 feet above it on the way to Kenyatta International. The disembodied voice that spoke to the passengers on the plane called the mountain Kilimanjaro. You need to ask yourself whether disembodied voices are trustworthy.
How can you be certain that anyone is actually flying the aeroplane? As a passenger I’ve never seen the pilot sitting at the controls. Is a disembodied voice flying the plane?
I propose that a small camera is fitted in the cockpit so that when the pilot has something to say, passengers can actually see him/her/it speaking on the TV screens. This is so obvious that the only reason it’s never been implemented is because no-one is flying the plane. And the air stewards are probably all robots.

The Point of the Visit
I went to Kenya because the UN headquarters for Africa are in Nairobi. Just down the road from the UN is the US embassy. The same US embassy that was bombed back in 1998. Exciting stuff! I was surprised that no-one tried to kidnap me, being as important as I am in the sphere of waffles.We met at the UN for the 1st African Symposium and Workshop on Life Cycle Assessment (LCA) from 29 August to 2 September. “We” being people from 11 African countries, and few people from other regions to assist in facilitating proceedings. My expectations for the event were not entirely met. Most of the attendees had heard of LCA, but didn’t know much about it. I was actually one of the more knowledgeable people there. As a result, I didn’t learn many new things about LCA (as I had hoped). At the same time, this is encouraging since it indicates that I probably know more than I thought I did, ergo I haven’t been totally misleading myself while studying LCA.
The best thing about these sort of gatherings is meeting new people who are interested in your field of study. Ultimately, when the studying is done, you can try to sucker some of them into giving you a job (or at least referring you to someone else who might give you one). Those guys who worked for CSIR looked particularly promising.
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The UN venue. I felt important sitting there

There was also a fascinating bureaucracy about the event. We held several open forum discussions, and various people voiced their opinions on extremely diverse issues. Most had very little to do with LCA, and the capabilities of LCA.
In one case we discussed potential impact categories that would be relevant to Africa, before anyone properly explained how impacts are modelled. Impact categories are usually things that can be determined using scientific principles and models. The impact category Climate Change is determined using some measurable variable, like CO2 and CH4 emissions (believe it or not, I am making an effort not to bore you into a catatonic state as I explain this). Data plugs into the model and voilà you have an impact score.
Sometimes you can define impact categories that don’t operate on a scientific principle, but you still need some sort of reliable statistical data. I hope you can see why I shook my head woefully when the impact category Corruption was proposed.
I suppose this kind of thing was partly a symptom of the delegates’ ignorance, and not their entirely their fault. Yet, I got the feeling that many people liked to propose motions that would be completely impractical or simply impossible to carry out. Everyone just smiled and nodded and made little notes in their little notebooks.
Sometimes certain people would challenge an opinion and there would be much debate and nodding and smiling and so on. Timeless discussions with no apparent end.
I started to see the merits of dictatorship. Benevolent dictatorship kicks democracy any day.
As Kevin (who also attended) said to me, “If this is how a bunch of academics discuss things, I’d hate to spend the day with a bunch of politicians.” Touché

The Most Chaotic Traffic Flow of Nairobi
There seems so be only one traffic rule in Nairobi: Keep left unless that’s inconvenient.
The rest are just guidelines.

At any intersection, the vehicle travelling at the greatest velocity has right of way:
Unless a stationary vehicle already blocks the road, in which case this vehicle has right of way until the vehicle blocking its path clears a space.
Give pedestrians a chance (I actually saw a road-sign stating this) since there are no pedestrian-crossings and very few traffic lights.
Keep a following distance of at least 1000 Angstroms. This also applies to vehicles to your left and right.
Hoot at cyclists
Get your mind checked if you are a cyclist

Because of the special guidelines traffic had a kind of organic quality to it. It seemed alive. Where the road was clearly designed for 2 lanes, there were three. At one stage our bus was driving on the wrong side of the road because an extra lane had spontaneously grown out of the left side of the road, consuming a lane on the right side. I recommend visiting just to see the traffic. I also recommend you get someone else to drive for you.

Festive Hotel Locations
Kevin and I (and most of the delegates) stayed at 680 Hotel. I think the website makes it look better than it is, but at least it was clean.
Kevin and I undoubtedly had the best rooms in the place. We were on the top floor and we looked down at Simmers, a wonderful bar/club/whorehouse that had a live band every night, seven days a week. Oh how we rejoiced as the pumping jams wafted tranquily up to our room, drowning out the insistent cackle of the television until the early hours of the morning. Oh, how well we slept each night with these soothing rhythms stroking our eardrums in gentle lulling softness. Oh how we were started awake each night at 3a.m. to the sudden silence at Simmers closed for the evening.
Indeed, as their pay-off line stated, Simmers was truly “The answer on a plate!”
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But does it look like the answer, on a plate or otherwise?

Simmers – A Closer Look
What to do in the evenings? Well, Simmers had been aggressively advertising using an audio medium, so Kevin and I figured we’d join Chris there for a drink.
It was festive and pleasing and we spoke of many things. Chris and I met up first and waited for Kevin to arrive. It took him quite a while. Apparently he’d been delayed by a waiter who had insisted that there were no other white people in the place, and he was to sit here at this table, and nowhere else because there were no other white people here. Fortunately, Kevin was strong-willed enough to break free and seek Chris and me out.Time passed. Beer bottles were emptied. There was talk and merriment. Then there was an overly friendly woman. She figured she could probably charge the gullible white men more for services rendered. She first sneakily positioned herself at the table next to ours. Then she drank some alcohol, presumably to build up some courage. Then she started talking to us. Then she started touching Kevin (since he was closest). Then we realised that we were actually surrounded since the woman seated at table on the other side reached out and gave my back a friendly stroking.
Then we paid for our drinks.
Then we left.

Later in the week Kevin and I were held up in the hotel lift by someone who claimed to work at the massage parlour on the second floor of the hotel.
“That’s nice. We’d like to go to our room now.”
She didn’t like that idea and continued with her marketing, preventing our escape by standing in the elevator doorway.
“That’s nice. We’d like to go to our room now.”
But she promised that the massage would be very nice, right over here on the 2nd floor. We could come any time we liked, and all the women who worked there were very beautiful, and look! here were a few of them right now. Aren’t they lovely?
“They’re nice. We’d like to go to our room now.”
Then the other ones started marketing a little. It didn’t look like our tactic of complete disinterest was working very well. Kevin attempted another approach.
“Maybe some other time. We’d like to go to our room now.”
It didn’t have much of an effect either.
But, the new characters didn’t seem to be as drunk as the one barring the door, and they quickly saw that we weren’t going to be giving them any money, so they dragged our new friend away and we returned to our room and the Simmers party.

The Carnivore
A whole bunch of delegates went to eat meat at the Carnivore. If you don’t like meat, you shouldn’t go there because you won’t like it. If you do like meat, you should go there. They will give you as much meat as you can eat. You will get meat from a cow, a chicken, a pig, an ostrich, a lamb, and a crocodile. Apparently they used to serve other game, but stopped doing that. Something about protecting endangered species. What are endangered species good for if you can’t eat them?
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Hell for Meaty BeastsThey will bring you the meat skewered on massive sword-like things, and slice it off using pangas. It’s really quite vicious, but most yummy.
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Dead beast is served

The day before going to the carnivore, some of us atoned in advance for our actions by eating at the vegetarian restaurant, which really made the most incredible meals, and for hardly any money at all.

Meeting the Family
After the conference I stayed the weekend. This gave me opportunity to finally meet my oldest uncle and his family who have been hiding out in Kenya all my life (and longer, but I’m still not convinced that anything existed before I did, so these claims may not be true).
I’d met all my other aunts and uncles before, so it was excellent to finally close the loop. It’s sort of creepy how is similar to my dad in many ways.
He drove out all the way from Kitale just to see me and I was really flattered by how important he and Freda considered our meeting. Initially I’d just thought it would be nice to meet them, but it really was a whole lot more significant than that.
I wanted to stay longer, but the taxi came to take me back to the hotel. I plan to go back for a holiday. Perhaps I’ll see the tigers then.

Thanks go to…
I arrived home to my darling wife to discovered that she’d gone a bit odd in my absence. She had a bit of a freak out while I was away, and it would appear that I actually keep her sane just by being around. Perhaps insane people emit sanity waves, which is why two insane people like us have to live together in order to keep stable. This hypothesis doesn’t explain why I didn’t go nuts, but then I did have Kevin around a lot while in Kenya, and there’s clearly something wrong with him.
In future, I will just have to take her with me wherever I go.
The good news is that the positive effects of my presence are starting to influence her once again, and I predict her recovery will be swift.
A bunch of people helped Angie through the weak (ah look! play on words!) and I’d like to thank them impersonally via email and the Internet. Yes, electronic media is eroding our humanity. Cope.Megs, Jaco, Louise (and I suppose Rob, you helped too, although you are in a way an extension of Louise). Thanks so much for looking after Angie (and Bean where applicable) when she needed you most.

That’s all. Any comments, suggestions, complaints, insults. Send them to me.Checkout the official Waffle Group Webpage at
Unless, of course, you are already there. Good on you!

If you don’t want to receive this newsletter from me, send me an email with the phrase “SOD OFF” in the subject.

Hostel Food vs The Waffle Master

While scratching through some of my old high school junk I found a copy of the school newspaper that I contributed to. It’s dated 14 October, 1996.

Here I reproduce the article I wrote for your reading pleasure:

The Multiple Personalities of “The Kitchen”
I fear that the kitchen of Potchefstroom Boys’ High School is going though an identity crisis. I reached this conclusion after being subject to its meals one ill-fated weekend last term.Saturday’s breakfast was reasonable, but the The Kitchen was only being devious. It was waiting for lunch when a schizophrenic seizure would take control of it. Lunch is supposedly the main meal of the day, but since it consisted of pap (which I personally cannot stand), and a single piece of wors, it did not seem too main. the Evil-Miserly-Kitchen personality had taken control here. Yet, on the other side of the school, the Generous-Host-Kitchen personality was serving a five-star meal to a visiting cricket team.

However, the Schizo theory is not the only one in circulation, and it cannot explain all of the properties exhibited by The Kitchen. Another popular theory — the longest running theory, in fact — is the BLOP (Bio-Chemical Luminous Objects Project) Theory.

According to the BLOP Theory, The Kitchen is in fact an experimental laboratory for testing luminous substances. It is believed to be a laboratory that came under heavy fire from anti-animal cruelty societies, and so now tests its products on boarders at College. The glowing green scrambled eggs are a good example of one of these products which we received for breakfast on both Saturday and Monday of that unhappy weekend.

Although meals during the week are usually satisfactory, and Sunday lunch has improved, it would seem that The Kitchen believes that over the rest of the weekend boarders do not like to eat.

Lone Scribbler

Yip. I signed it with a pseudonym, not wanting the wrath of the kitchen management to fall upon me.

I also submitted a cartoon to run with the article. It seems strangely familiar. I’m sure you’ll agree.

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