The most disgusting thing you’ll ever eat

When I travel to a foreign country, I like to sample the local dishes but whilst we were in Paris and Rome earlier this month, something happened to me that made me question my adventurous nature and the way in which Google and Wikipedia conspire against unsuspecting travellers. This blog was written the night after this life-changing event…

“Last night Christelle and I visited this quaint little bistro outside our apartment in Paris. To put things in context, we’d spent the entire morning in transit from Rome, then walked about 16km exploring the city, as one does when one is living in an actual postcard world. Earlier that day, at lunch time in fact, we had this incredible vegan meal (I see you raise an eyebrow, vegan? LiabilityGuy? Never). But yes, I actually ate a vegan burger from this place called Hanks and it was so good. I’ll definitely have another if given the opportunity.

But I have to say that being raised in South Africa and not having consumed meat with my mid day meal, left me feeling, well lets just say a little unpatriotic. So last night we stopped in at the bistro down the road from our apartment. I was pretty hungry and didn’t fancy the usual array of French nouvelle cuisine. That’s when this dish caught my eye; a local delicacy called andouillette. It’s pronounced Andoo-yett apparently. I spotted it on the menu and did a quick wiki search. I didn’t open the full wiki page on my phone so this is what I saw:

“Andouillette is a coarse-grained sausage made with pork, intestines or chitterlings, pepper, wine, onions, and seasonings.” Admittedly I should’ve been a bit grossed out by the intestines bit, and I had no idea what chitterlings are but they sounded cute. I also thought “aren’t all sausages encased in some sort of intestines?” So I ordered this traditional sausage. 

Christelle and I engaged in some holiday chatter while we waited. We’d really been having the best time and not a single bad meal. Until now.
Let’s just say the sausage announced its arrival by a peculiar aroma not dissimilar to that of a dead, rancid wild boar’s butthole. Not that I’ve been that close to a pigs ass, except this one time when I visited parliament on a school tour but that’s a story for another time.

In any event this freaking sausage arrives with string on both ends. You know to hold all the goodies in. And by goodies I mean intestinal stuff and get this, it’s actually the colon. No not the punctuation mark, the part of a creature that processes actual crap. The smell emanating from this dish was so disturbing I was transported back to my school days and was reminded of how when your mom had packed you an egg sandwich, you felt obliged to tell everyone that you had an egg sandwich so they didn’t think you farted when you opened it.  I almost apologised on the spot to everyone in the restaurant in the hope that they didn’t mistakenly think I’d had shit my own pants. My inability to articulate this in French, held me back. As well as a strong gag reflex.

So I’m sitting at a tiny French table with my vegan wife and this 12 inch smelly sausage. (I’ll let you think about that image for a bit before I move on). Ok?

Being a die hard Anglo Saxon warrior there was no way I was not going to eat this thing. At 18 euros it had an appeal that almost surpassed my desire to throw it out the window and alert the authorities. Almost. Fortunately the pungent porky also came with chips and some lettuce with a weird dressing so I figured I’d be able to mask the flavor if it was as bad as the scent.

If you’re a human being you’ll know that much of what you taste is processed through your nasal passages, this being one of the reasons why you can’t taste your food when you have a blocked nose. As I dissected the beastly banger, the smell seemed stronger. And it was at this point that I noticed my wife holding her nose. I digress here to remind you, the reader of this tale of gastronomical woe, of the fact that my wife is a vegan. Her sensitivity to strange carnivorian scent cannot be over emphasised. I should also mention that the size of the average table in a Parisian bistro is just slightly larger than a postage stamp. She could not have gotten closer to this meal even if she had ordered it herself.

The smell definitely appeared to be getting worse as I cut into it. I contemplated sticking some fries up my nose to conclude my meal without gagging but instead opted to eat them the traditional way, hoping to use the dish they came in to cover the sausage, blocking some of the putrid aroma.

Fortunately this was not necessary as the waitress appeared and I indicated for her to remove the leftovers (1/2 of the sausage). We paid and left the restaurant. On the way home whilst being subjected to ridicule and disgust by my wife, I went back into Wikipedia and read the entire post which goes onto say, “True andouillette is rarely seen outside France and has a strong, distinctive odour related to its intestinal origins and components. Although sometimes repellent to the uninitiated, this aspect of andouillette is prized by its devotees.”

I’m the Liability Guy and I have just two pieces of advice:
1. If something tastes and smells like crap, it is quite possibly crap. Don’t eat it. Or you may die with actual crap in your mouth.
2. Wikipedia is not the lazy reader’s friend. If you don’t open the whole page you may land up in shit (or shit may land up in you).”

Setting your Out-of-Office message without being a douche

I bet you’re one of those lucky people. You’ve never been this organised. You’ve probably run through the checklist, making big swishy ticks like an eager driving test invigilator whose palm just got greased.

  • Leave applied for a month ago (and approved) – check
  • holiday booked – check
  • desk relatively clear – check
  • email inbox up to date – well as much one can be up to date. It’s a bit like trying to stop running water with a sieve.
  • Out of office message engaged – ah…

I’m only going on leave next week and I still have a bit of time to formulate the perfect “out-of-office” message. Is there such a thing as a perfect out-of-office mail you may ask? The answer to this age-old corporate conundrum, is in this masterpiece of literary genius you are already reading. Ok I’m not sure if the question is actually age-old but the literary genius bit is definitely true.

Perhaps a good starting point here is to explain the Out-of-Office facility, just in case you live in the Outer Hebrides and have never owned an email address. In fact if you live in the Outer Hebrides you probably won’t be reading this on a phone or computer, more likely then you are reading this in hardcopy as a tattered, yellowing, piece of parchment with a treasure map on the other side which you extracted from a dirty beer bottle floating past the island you’ve been marooned upon. If that is the case, read no further, turn overleaf and start digging.

The Out-of-Office (OOO) message was invented by Microsoft in the 80’s although rumour has it, it was called the OOF back then. Mysteriously no one knows what the “F” stands for although anyone who has returned to the office after a month off, is likely to have determined their own definition for the “F”. Perhaps it should be renamed the WTF message once you turn it off after your vacation?

I think we can all agree that it’s actually Bill Gates’s fault that most of us suffer under the tyranny of an inbox throughout the year so I guess in a moment of extreme guilt he thought it’d be a good idea to create an automatic message that helped remind your customers and colleagues that you actually don’t give an “F” about them. It’s an amazing tool that allows you to delegate and irritate two different sets of people at the same time (your co-workers and your customers).

I’ve always felt that the OOO or OOF was a cruel automated gloating system. You’re wading through a quagmire of mail, looking for some way of moving your own pile of electronic despair to someone else’s. You’re lulled into a false sense of security and achievement as you press the send button. Then, almost as if you fired a boomerang shaped missile into cyber space, it bounces right back into your digital mailbox.

“Hi there, I’m sorry but I’m out of the office at the moment. I’ll return in 3 weeks. If your mail is urgent, please forward it to (insert name of hapless colleague). If not, I’ll attend to it when I return. Have a great day. Regards.”

There are hidden meanings in this email that may be invisible to the average email slave. Let me help you decipher this. Think of me as the enigma machine LiabilityGuy. The true message appears with the hidden meanings in red below:

“Hi there, I’m sorry but I’m out of the office at the moment. Hey asshole. I have no idea who you are, hence the reason for this impersonal, automated salutation masked as a friendly greeting. I’ll return in 3 weeks. Note that I’m not openly telling you I’m on holiday but unless people take lunch for 3 weeks at a time in your company, you can assume that I’ve probably saved up all my leave for this extremely long holiday. I’m gloating at the fact that you, mere mortal, used up most of your leave with a day here and there during the year, and now you have to work and read this, the electronic equivalent of being “flipped the bird” in the traffic. If your mail is urgent this is important because if you are like 90% of the contacts in this mailbox you’ll email me for any old random shit that you could probably resolve on your own within a few hours, let alone weeks, please forward it to (insert name of hapless colleague) As a bit of a joke, I’ve forwarded my mail to a colleague that has absolutely no idea what I’ve been working on for the past few months. This means that you’ll spend 3 weeks trying to explain yourself by which time I’ll be back at work dealing with this in person. If not, I’ll attend to it when I return. See previous comment and note the clever way all choices have a single outcome Have a great day. Regards. As I’m typing this glorious message I am laughing loudly. Not just any laugh but a deep, taunting, gloating, belly laugh at the fact that by the time you read it, I’ll be tanning my cheeks somewhere exotic (which means anywhere but in the office where you need me)

I realise we all need a break and that the OOO is probably the best way to make sure people know you won’t be attending to their mail within the usual 5 seconds of receiving it. You know those people that email you and then call immediately afterwards to make sure you received it. That call is important because in spite of major technological advances in digital communication, these individuals assume email is as reliable as the homing pigeon or the stagecoach postal service. Bandits lurk behind every data boulder, ready to jump out screaming “Stand and deliver”. Hands up if you thought of Adam Ant a second ago (if you don’t know who that is, go and ask your mom).

Seriously though, if you think about it, the Out of Office message could use a bit of an overhaul. I’ve compiled a list of do’s and don’ts :

  • Don’t forget to update the message to cater for the current period you’ll be away. Nothing worse than receiving an out of office message from someone that suggests they’ll be back from leave, 6 months ago. Really, do you own a time machine and you’re actually going to come back before you leave?
  • Don’t forget to change the content of the message to keep it current. Ladies, if you were on maternity leave 3 years ago, your clients and colleagues do not want to be reminded of this historical fact every December. This is not Facebook moments…
  • Do tell your colleagues if you are forwarding mail or redirecting senders. Most people receive way too much mail already. Adding another mailbox to one person’s load unexpectedly is evil. Dante would’ve allocated a 10th circle of hell to this, entitled Inbox Inferno if he lived in the 21st century. I’m not sure if one can prepare for an email avalanche any more than one can prepare to be shot in the face but I guess its just common courtesy.
  • Do explore the latest Microsoft advancements in the “Auto Reply” video. There are some good tips that will help you avoid upsetting clients and colleagues.

Above all, remember that unless you manage your Out-of-Office effectively, you are really turning the company’s problem (of you being away) into the sender’s problem. Not a sustainable solution.

I’m the LiabilityGuy and I’m out of the office…

Does kak weather really come from Cape Town?

Why do people think all kak weather is made in Cape Town?

I was at a cocktail party in Joburg the other night and one of the other guests spent a good fifteen minutes going on about the dodgy weather in the Cape. He rounded off the conversation by demanding an explanation as to why this terrible weather not only existed, but also why we, the people from the Cape, insisted on bringing the miserably, inclement, climatic condition to Johannesburg. Basically that all cold and wet weather came from Cape Town in some sort of magical suitcase of cloud and cold miggie-piss (for those of you outside SA, this translates to “midge urine”). I wonder if that would need to be stored in the overhead stowage bin on the plane or in the hold?
Of course as we were having the conversation, it happened to be a glorious spring evening in Jozi. I enquired as to whether the Cape was also to be blamed for that glorious weather. “No that comes from somewhere else”, he mumbled as he stuffed another hors d’oeuvre in his mouth.

One doesn’t expect to meet a qualified meteorologist at a financial services soirée yet they do seem to be scattered about the place at practically every insurance function, lurking undercover until some unsuspecting Capetonian makes themselves known.
As you may know, I am from Johannesburg originally so I may have engaged in this western-province-bashing pastime loved by so many Egoli residents, before I moved. It is for this reason I thought it’d be worthwhile doing some research on the origins of the weather in our country, with a view to uncovering the source of our problems. A bit like Livingstone trekking through the bushveld in the early 1800’s. Perhaps providing travellers from the south west of the country with some ammunition for fending off aggressive armchair weathermen.
fre
So it turns out that the unique climate in South Africa is primarily caused by three factors;
1. The warm Benguela current on the east coast of SA
2. The cold Agulhas current on the west coast of SA
3. The relatively high altitude of Johannesburg 
When a cold front develops, it actually starts out at sea and then moves through the Cape and up across the country often bringing cool, even wet weather. Do we make this weather in the Western Cape? Actually not, we do make a great many strange things such as wine, fruit, cheese and Helen Zille. But not the weather. The Cape is really the first place to receive the cold oceanic  weather that hits South Africa. It then does its best to warm it up as it travels inland, saving the rest of the country from certain death due to hypothermia.
Conversely when it is warm in Johannesburg this weather often originates in the north. No not Sandton but actually in Zimbabwe. Robert Mugabe makes all the warm weather for Johannesburg in Harare. “Thank you Bob” or as they say in Shona, “Ndinotenda asshole”.
I’m sure you’ll all agree that you’d rather have the locally filtered and ever-so-slightly warmed, democratic weather than the imported, dodgy, dictatorial stuff.
I trust this puts the meteorological matter to rest once and for all. 
You’re welcome.
LiabilityGuy

A tale of two cities – the life of the corporate commuter.

It’s been almost 3 and a half years since I moved to Cape Town from Johannesburg. Read my earlier blog, the Jozifugee when you have some time.

A lot of people find it strange that I don my suit every Monday and head off work. Not because I’m going to work of course, nor because I still wear a suit (even though most of the profession I work in have gone for less formal attire). People find it strange because I live in Cape Town and have my office in Joburg. Whilst many South Africans file into the traffic on our congested roadways, I squeeze myself into a cigar tube with 200 strangers who are doing the same thing I am. We are the corporate equivalent of a migrant labour force.

So what’s it like, and why do I do it?

I’m a liability specialist by profession and they need those more in Jozi than they do in Cape Town. I see you scratching your heads trying to figure out how someone could be an expert in liability. I mean you’ve heard of asset managers. And assets represent the other, nicer side of the balance sheet right? I’m in insurance. The kind that companies buy to protect themselves against law suits. Kind of like a paper Barry Roux. I put it to you.

I digress. I do that a lot so bear with me. I moved to Cape Town to be with my wife. Well she wasn’t my wife at the time but my courtship plans were being seriously hampered by the 1400 kilometers between us. So I left my job in Jozi and set off to the republic of Cape Town. Regrettably my time in the mother city was marred by beautiful scenery, friendly people and a generally rewarding lifestyle. “Awful”, you must be thinking. “I could see why he’d want to start working in Johannesburg again.”

Jozi, the city of gold. The place I grew up in and have spent 91.5% of my life. Now I see you thinking, “What a precise fellow the LiabilityGuy is, he must be good at his job, lets place all our liability business with him.” The number is actually accurate as I spent the first 3 years of my life in the UK and then a year in Cape Town before the commute started. So guess you could say I’m working  back in my home town.

“Hey what about the girl, the one you semigrated for?” you may ask. Well she’s a commuter too now. We both take the red eye to Jozi in the morning on Monday. We don’t however travel on the same plane. Joburg, being the brilliant, sprawling metropolis that it is, has two main airports and we travel to different ones. I recall when we first started doing it, the strange looks from fellow passengers as we kiss and say goodbye on the airside of the security checkpoint. A regular scene from Casablanca. Here’s lookin’ at you.

The advantage of spending unusually large helpings of time in an airport is that you get to know people. I’m on first name terms with some of the security people. I mean if a dude’s gonna feel you up twice a week, and he’s not your doctor, might as well introduce yourself. Speaking of airport security, here are some tips:

Stuff

  1. Make sure you put all your metal shit in your bag so you don’t have to frantically pat yourself down looking for the phantom coin that keeps setting off the scanner. Your fellow travellers will love you.
  2. For goodness sake, don’t lock your laptop in a case that requires you to input a Fibonacci sequence and a retinal scan before you can remove it at the X-ray machine. Your fellow passengers will not love you.
  3. In SA for domestic flights you generally don’t need to remove your shoes at security check points. That’s a foreign thing and is likely to attract undue attention, particularly from the sniffer dogs that are likely to think you’ve got hidden quantities of anthrax in your socks. The security people will not love you.

Life on a plane isn’t too bad if you’re organized. I’ve got the very good fortune of having the wonderful Stef in our office who always gets me the emergency exit seat. This I’ve learnt gives you loads of leg room but does generally mean you’ll be seated next to a giant, the kind of person you secretly curse when they sit next to you in a normal seat, “why don’t these meaty monoliths sit in the emergency exits?”. Well they do actually.
I tolerate this, being a slight person myself. Firstly because I’m grateful for the leg room and secondly because I don’t want to get thrown out the exit in mid flight by a giant.image-1-3 Incidentally, I’ve noticed that most of the giants would not be able to squeeze out of the little emergency doors, blocking people from leaving what would probably be a flaming cigar tube in a crisis. The airline crew always ask if you’re willing to assist in an emergency but they don’t tell you that involves stuffing the 200kg Neanderthal through a veritable eye of a needle before you can avoid certain death by incineration.

About 4 months ago we also got an apartment in Joburg. This really has made life a lot easier as I no longer have to travel with a suitcase. That suitcase really was a source of much irritation. Lugging around a small house like a tortoise. An endless cycle of packing and unpacking every week. The circle of bag-life. Furthermore I found that the wait for my bag on the conveyor was almost as long as the flight, only without the comfy chair and sweaty giant.
If there’s any advice I can give to anyone commuting, its that you have to get a home base where you can keep your clothes and recharge your batteries. Unless you’re a politician and can afford to stay in the presidential suite of your hotel, an apartment is the way to go. Furnished is ideal so you don’t need to worry about buying two of everything. We found this great place close to my office. It comes with this old, retired caretaker guy who insists on calling me by the name Colin. I corrected him a couple of times but now I’ve just settled on Colin. Colin Colman. His name is Charles but I call him Fred for that is a good name for a caretaker.image-1-4

 

I also have no car in Jozi. I recall a few years ago, not having a car in Joburg meant you were stranded with perhaps the only upside being the reduced likelihood of being hijacked. If you wanted to go somewhere you’d have to put your life in the hands of a taxi driver. This privilege of being nearly murdered in a twisted, mangled mess of metal would also cost you a small fortune. Thankfully this is no longer an issue.

Uber is the most brilliant service I’ve encountered. It’s really made an enormous difference in my life. It costs me about R60 a day to get to and from work. For 4 days a week that’s just R240. I can’t buy a car for that and I was spending more than that on petrol. I also get to chat to a different driver each trip. Here’s an interesting stat. I’ve done about 250 trips so far this year and have never had the same driver. It’s a shame really because the most engaging conversations are always cut short by the end of the journey. This does get irritating because it’s a bit like watching an episode of a great series and then never seeing what happens next. “You see sir the only way we’ll be able to sort out the economy and government is…ok here you are, bye” or “I’m so pleased to meet you sir because I think I know the true meaning of life and it’s …ok here we are, have a good day”. Again my advice is get an apartment as close as possible to your office and use uber. Your life will be better.

So if you ever find yourself in the position of travelling constantly between these two spectacular cities (or any others), don’t complain, embrace the privilege and be the best Jozifugee you can.

I’m the LiabilityGuy.