Who would have thought that an annual tradition established over about 260 years could have changed so much and so quickly? Sir Henry Cole, the first director of the Victoria and Albert Museum in London, asked John Callcott Horsley to design a card that he could send to his friends and relatives instead of sending many time-consuming hand-written messages. The first commercial Christmas cards went on sale in 1843 and bore a design showing a family Christmas dinner and the greeting "A Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year to You" on hand-coloured stiff card. Henry Cole was apparently also involved in inventing the perforated postage stamp and the postcard, so maybe he would have understood the need for changes in the way we communicate. The enactment of the Penny Postage Act in 1846 (only a couple of years after Christmas cards were introduced commercially) allowed people to send a letter anywhere in England for one penny. The number of Christmas cards sent around the world annually (over a thousand million in the UK alone) peaked around the year 2000. It interests me to see that we now receive far fewer printed cards, more letters (which we really enjoy receiving), and more electronic communication. It seems that e-mail has taken on the role of the penny post, allowing people to stay in touch much more easily.
What a year 2003 has been for us - rather difficult, demanding, and tiring. We didn't even manage to get away for a holiday the entire year. Even this letter has taken almost a month to complete. (Although it is so late, we still wish you the very best for the year ahead.)
We started off quite well, enjoying the last few days of school holidays at the beginning of the year, by going on a few fun outings such as a behind-the-scenes trip around the Johannesburg Civic Theatre, and a 'cultural' visit to the Top Star Drive-In Cinema, located on top of one of Johannesburg's mine dumps. Then, just after school began, David (and his cousin Jason) swam in a 1200m race across Germiston Lake (in just over 30 minutes). We (and they) were rather proud of their accomplishment.
In March and April, we managed to fit in a couple of theatre visits, to see Patrick Mynhardt's portrayal of the Herman Charles Bosman stories in 'Tjeerio Jerepigo' (which we really wanted David and Sarah to experience) at the Pretoria State Theatre, as well as a student production of 'Taming of the Shrew' at the Wits Theatre. Later in the year, we attended a couple of excellent popular science lectures at the old Observatory.
To celebrate Sarah's 12th birthday in April, we took a group of children to Warmbaths where they had great fun on the water slides and in the heated pools.
Shortly after that, the children had great fun on a day's outing to Gold Reef City.
We made the most of some lovely autumn weather this year by taking Kayla on numerous walks around the many parks, ridges, and rivers around our city. One of the most enjoyable was one along Westdene Ridge, on the west side of Melville Koppies. The walk was organised by Tim Truluck, a friend from Sarah's dog agility class, who has published a guide to Dog Walks in Johannesburg.
This past year has been an exceptionally busy one for me at Mintek. Communication technology has made it possible to have in-depth discussions with people from all around the world (Egypt, USA, Russia, India, Canada, Australia) without even leaving home. Of course, some of the discussions don't get as far as a real project, but some do, and that's one of the things that keeps my job interesting. There is always the possibility of something new and interesting coming along. This year, the most interesting projects involved the development of applications for twin-electrode DC arc furnaces (used for very high power installations), and a number of processes for the platinum industry, including a pliot-plant campaign for a variant of the ConRoast process that I have been heavily involved in for the past few years. There have been ongoing arguments with patent examiners from Russia and the USA this year, but at last they have accepted our point of view, and further patents have been granted. I was invited to spend a week lecturing at Murdoch University in Perth again this year, and also presented an invited lecture on platinum smelting at the University of Pretoria. I was also given the opportunity to present Mintek's capabilities to Anglo American's chairman - Sir Mark Moody-Stuart. There have been (and will soon be) some major international metallurgical conferences in South Africa, and I was roped in to referee many of the technical papers, which kept me busy for a while. I also had a few interesting plant visits to see the UCAR electrode manufacturing plant in Meyerton, Namakwa Sands ilmenite smelter near Cape Town, and the new platinum smelter in Polokwane (Pietersburg).
I have kept myself fit by continuing to take Kayla for long runs (usually about 10 to 15km at a time) over weekends. During the year, I ran in a road race in Johannesburg to celebrate the opening of the Nelson Mandela Bridge, and participated in the 15km race as part of the annual Soweto Marathon. I also indulged in quite a bit of photography during the year, and one of my enjoyable projects was being asked to photograph many of Johannesburg's skyscrapers for a website called www.skyscrapers.com. You can find a selection of the pictures at www.amethyst.co.za/JhbLandmarks/ where I have a list of the tallest buildings in the city. I have also tried to keep track of former classmates from Germiston High School (1976) and Wits University (~1980), and it has been wonderful to hear from many of them for the first time in years. On the computing front, I have been experimenting with various forms of wireless Internet access and home networking.
Debbie has continued her involvement with HeartWork (and Kairos) at the Johannesburg ladies prison, and our church has provided her with considerable support for this work. At church, she also ran a personal growth course called CAIR (Christian Adults in Recovery). Deb also facilitated a Lifeline course in June. She has also done some work for Khulisa, and has had a couple of trips to Ladysmith to carry out training courses.
David is now 15 years old, and is quite distinctly the tallest in the family. Early in the year, he made quite an impression on his new headmaster at Redhill, by doing what all chemical engineers (and sons of engineers) do at some stage of their school lives. He and a friend had experimented with some firecrackers that made quite impressive waves when exploded under water in our swimming pool. So, they thought they would repeat the experiment for friends at school - but, the only readily available water was in the school toilets (fortunately clean). Suffice it to say that David now has a real and personal understanding of the effects of an uncontrolled release of pressure in a confined space. His pocket money was sorely depleted for most of the year while he paid off the replacement toilet. Another highlight of the year for David was a school tour to the KwaZulu Natal battlefields in September. David is going into Grade 10 this coming year, and he has made his subject choices: English, Afrikaans, French, Maths, Additional Maths, Science, Geography, and Computer Studies.
Sarah has had a good year in Grade 6 this year, and has made many friends. She went on an enjoyable school camp in February to a place called Carolina Lodge. She has continued in her training of Kayla, especially enjoying dog agility classes. She (and Kayla) came first in a class competition for those who haven't yet participated in formal competitions, and won a trophy for her efforts. On the sporting front, Sarah has also really enjoyed playing netball and softball this year. It's hard to believe that she has only one more year left in primary school.
The last quarter of the year was a particularly tough time for us. Debbie has a close friend, Marie, who has worked very closely with her in presenting the HeartWork courses to ladies in prison. Marie has had a tendency to have breathing problems for some years, but suddenly became very ill (during a weekend course in the prison) and we had to take her to Johannesburg Hospital. She spent over eight weeks in intensive care (and three full months in hospital in total), literally at death's door, struggling with some major infections on top of fibrosis (scarring) of the lungs, which the doctors have declared to be terminal, giving her a life expectancy of one to two years. Marie moved to South Africa from the USA many years ago, and we were for practical purposes her closest 'family' here. Debbie and some friends put in an enormous effort in packing up Marie's home, distributing her possessions, and arranging accommodation for her in a frail-care facility where she is now living, unable to earn an income, permanently on oxygen, at age 51. It also was left to Deb to break the news to Marie that her condition was terminal. There is something incredibly exhausting about taking care of a close friend or family member, especially when you have to go through many times of not expecting them to live beyond the next day or two.
On top of all that, we had two break-ins to our home, a month apart. The police said that it was probably the same person both times, as this is quite a common phenomenon. The first time happened while we were at home asleep at about 3am. Someone had broken the lock on our side door, and managed to take Debbie's purse and cellphone before Kayla barked (waking me up) and chased the person away. There was no serious loss, other than the horrible violation of one's personal space, and the loss of feeling secure at home, and the huge inconvenience of having to replace a phone, driver's licence, ID book, credit cards, etc. Just when we were getting over the event, a month later, the same door was completely broken shortly after we left home in the morning and some electronic equipment and jewellery (most distressingly including Debbie's engagement ring) was stolen. We are still sorting out the (insured) replacement of the items.
The real highlight of our year was the fact that Debbie and I celebrated our 20th wedding anniversary in November. We spent the day visiting an art gallery and a photographic gallery, and had lunch at Kapitan's restaurant which is the oldest in Johannesburg. (It started in 1886, when the city began, and has been run by the same family through four generations. The restaurant is quaint, idiosyncratic, and full of character.) It was treat to take a day off work and just enjoy each other's company.
Mintek closed for its annual shutdown for a few days from before Christmas to after New Year. We went along to a Carols by Candlelight evening in conjunction with a performance by the Lipizzaner horses in Kyalami. Christmas day was spent at (my sister) Lynne's house in Germiston, and a good time was had by all.
During the end-of-year break, I did quite a bit of running with Kayla, and really enjoyed the scenery in a somewhat forgotten nature reserve that I recently found between Dainfern and Diepsloot. It was lovely to run alongside the Jukskei River which is rather pretty at that point, and to enjoy the fresh air, the unusual birdlife (korhaans, bee-eaters), and the open wild grassland.
We are hoping for a more peaceful time in the year ahead, in which we have more time to spend with friends.
Rodney, Debbie, David, and Sarah