Sydney: Falling Shoes

19/1/10

Hi once again, well it’s been another two months since the last email, that seems to be the regularity with which I send these out.  As usual, lots more has happened, and I’m getting closer to writing about current events, in another two emails I’ll have caught up I believe!  Until then, back to where I finished up last time..

I was well and truly over working on the bridge by this stage, but the hours were severely diminished, and I hung in there as it was work for the time being, and kept me going while I looked for another job.  Someone recently asked me if I’d ever go back and repeat any of my jobs, and the answer is no.  Not from pride or stubbornness, but from lack of interest.  I’ve always had jobs I’m interested in, that are fun, or unusual, and when that interest wanes I change.  Now that change doesn’t happen on a whim, nor do I jump ship as soon as I lose interest.  I stay, maybe try another angle of the job I’ve not before, or try to do something different in the same job before I leave for good.  I give it every opportunity to retain my interest in another way, and if it doesn’t then I go.

I was involved in a few incidences on the bridge at this stage that really had me fed up with the company.   In one group I had two young kids, brother and sister from Saudi Arabia (not that that has any weight in the story, it’s just where they were from), and the brother was wearing what looked to me like black school shoes.  Nothing about him stood out for the first part of the climb, until we got to the ladders (still under the bridge at this stage) and I noticed he only had one shoe on, which was kind of obvious when I looked, as he was wearing white socks.  I asked him where his shoe was, and he replied “Back there” indicating a few stairs about 20meters behind us.  I wasn’t having a great day, and was more than a little annoyed with the job, so when I asked him what had happened and he said “It just fell off on the steps”, I rolled my eyes and told him to climb the ladders and we’d sort it out up there (on the bridge but before you get onto the arch).  I decided to get him to climb up the ladders because I had a few in the group who were scared to be standing on the mesh flooring at the base of the ladders (up top was solid steel you couldn’t see through), and I figured if the kid had walked the last section without his shoe he could certainly climb the ladders without being bothered by it.

Well that’s what I ended up getting raked over the coals for – letting him climb the ladders without a shoe, because “He could have stubbed his toe and sued us if he’d wanted to!”  Are you serious?  Yes they were, as I found out in the ‘official’ meeting I had to have with two managers, to ensure I understood the seriousness of the situation and wouldn’t allow it to happen again.  Geez Louise!  Talk about over reaction, and they were lucky I abide by my mum’s motto of ‘Never make a long term decision based on short term emotion’ or I’d have resigned then and there!  I was frustrated with the whole incident and more so because once the kid and his sister had left my climb they joined the one behind me (after new shoes were bought out for him) and I was later told by that climb leader that they’d joked and laughed about how he’d kicked his shoe off at the stairs.  Argh!  How much more responsible can we be for someone else’s stupidity?  Really.

The other event to occur on the bridge that made me furious was regarding a ‘disabled’ climber.  I was informed I had a guy with only one arm on my climb, and that he was not allowed to climb the ladders as a result.  I assumed this had all been explained to him and we wouldn’t have a problem.  Now, when I took the group over to the simulator (practice run on the ladders and mesh section of the bridge that most people freak out on), it got to his turn and he went to climb up.  I had to ask him to step aside and wait until everyone else had gone up so I could talk to him.  I asked him if it had been explained by the duty manager that he was not ‘allowed’ to climb the ladders as a result of having only one arm.   He looked at me incredulously and shook his head no.  I apologised and told him that I couldn’t let him up, and I knew it was ridiculous seeing as he’d already attached his belt and lanyards and accessories by himself without assistance, but I was under strict instructions that he was not allowed on the ladders.  I was mortified, I must say.

This guy was 26 years old, and was quite clearly capable of managing everything we’d asked the group to do thus far.  In fact he would have been more able to climb the ladders than the fatties we get up there each day, who nearly have heart attacks and pass out from the effort of climbing the arch, let alone the ladders.   I was fuming from the embarrassment of having to stop him and explain the ‘company policy’ of not allowing people with disabilities to partake in the entire climb, even when they are more capable and competent than half of our ‘able bodied’ climbers (in fact the day before I’d had an extremely overweight woman on my climb, who shouldn’t have been allowed to climb the ladders but insisted she wanted to, and subsequently had a supervisor follow our climb around the whole bridge with a defibrillator in case she had a heart attack!).  It was also a case of following the rules to the extreme, and was not based on the individual climber.  It was ridiculous because anyone, had they talked to this guy for a few minutes, would have realised that he was more than able to climb the ladders and we were creating an issue by pointing out his supposed lack of ability – so much for the company policy of “Every Climber, Every Climb”.

He told me he went rock climbing, he drove a car, and, to make matters worse, he had been born without his arm, so he’d lived his whole life without it and didn’t know any differently!  I wanted to refund this guys money or something, as the climb wasn’t going to be anywhere near his expectations of excitement or thrills, that is if he could forgive me for creating an issue where there need not be one.   I was so close to just letting him on the simulator, but I knew the supervisors would have notification of him on my climb out on the bridge and I’d be creating more hassles by pretending they’d let him climb the ladders out there.  I would have walked out had it been me treated that way, but thankfully he was too polite to do so.  The bonus for me was that he was really nice and didn’t blame me for the stupid decision (made by someone who didn’t have to deal with the consequences I must add!).  I talked to him as much as I could throughout the climb, as he was the most interesting person in that group, and arranged to meet up with him the following day to catch up before he went home to the UK.   The rest of the climb passed without incident, however everyone knew of my indignation via radio communication I’d had with control when the climb got underway, and if looks could kill there would have been more than a few ambulances called to the bridge that day.

Therefore, I needed another line of work.  I was keeping my eyes and ears open when I came across Industrial Abseiling.  Wow, that looked cool.  I met some guys who were working under the bridge, hanging up netting.  We as climb leaders were told to tell the climbers it was because of all the rubbish people were throwing over the side of the walkways, however it was actually because chunks of concrete were starting to fall off the bridge, and it was a safety aspect to stop someone getting hit on the head with a piece of the bridge!  Anyway, over a few weeks I talked to these ropes guys, and watched them work.  They wore full harnesses, not the belt type ones we wore on the bridge, and they climbed around the parts of the bridge I wasn’t allowed onto.  I was intrigued, and I wanted to do what they did.

I spoke to the guy who was running the job, and asked about doing that type of work.   He messaged me the phone number of a trainer because I didn’t have a pen on me as it wasn’t allowed on the bridge (never mind he had his mobile while hanging there, just goes to show how ridiculous some of the BridgeClimb rules were) and on my lunch break I called the trainer and booked into a course!  It started the following week, so I had to give away my bridge shifts and get some money together for the course, as it wasn’t cheap.  My departure from climbing the bridge had begun.

The ropes course was fun, it was extremely physical (climbing up ropes all day, and a small amount of abseiling, just to climb back up again), I had to learn heaps of new terms and how to use all the equipment, and I loved it.   It was also an internationally recognised qualification, and gave me options for work when I travel overseas.  I didn’t resign from the bridge just yet, as I figured it may take a few weeks to get some work, but low and behold, I got work straight after the course!

I got a job doing concrete repairs with a ropes construction company.  This basically means that the guys I worked with were concreters and labourers who’d also done a ropes course.  We had to repair commission flats that had concrete cancer throughout all the balconies.  For those who don’t know what concrete cancer is (and I certainly didn’t when I started), it means that all the steel framework inside the balconies has begun to rust – usually from poor construction in the first place, where the steel has been placed too near the edge of the concrete and begins to oxidise or rust – therefore expanding and cracking the concrete.  The job was to cut away (jackhammer) the old concrete, grind the rust off back to the steel, coat the steel with zinc paint to prevent further rusting, and repack with new concrete to match the remaining old balcony.  And all of this is done while you’re hanging on a rope.  Makes for interesting work to say the least!  I’d never used a jackhammer before, and my introduction was while on the ropes.  All the tools you use have to be attached to ropes in case you drop them, and you lug them and the power cords up to whatever floor you’re working on at the time.  You also have to erect nets below where you work, to catch all the pieces of concrete that fall, and you get covered in concrete dust when jack hammering, as you’re working below the balconies where you’re loosening the concrete.  I was picking black chunks out of my nose for days on end! J

My induction for this company was at the pub on a Friday night, where I met all the other guys after they’d been drinking for the afternoon.  The work was interesting for a while, and it was hard physical work.  I bought myself a pair of tradesmen pants, and was so proud; I’d kept my tradition of jobs where I got to wear pants and boots!  The guys were nice, and didn’t care too much that I was a girl, yet they did mind their language for the first week or two.  The work was hard and heavy – lugging buckets of wet concrete up nine floors meant I quickly worked out a pulley system with the ropes – and I was making good money at the same time.  I was employed as a contractor for the first time ever, and it was interesting seeing how much money you make before you take out tax..

My birthday came up during this new job, and as I’d just started working with the company I figured I’d work on my birthday, which is unusual, as I always take the day off and all my friends know this.  My phone was running hot all day, because everyone expected me not to be working, so fair enough.  I won’t work on my birthday this year!  I had planned a dinner in Sydney on the Thursday night (my actual birthday), then I was flying to Melbourne on Friday and having a party on Friday night (courtesy of Rodger, thank you!), going to the footy on Saturday, and having dinner at a pub on Saturday night.  I love my birthdays, and I’ll celebrate for as long as I can each year, and this year was in two states, so I didn’t do too badly.  It was while I was back in Melbourne that I realised (or rather Linda pointed it out to me) I now had a job I could move back with.  And my decision was made as simple as that, I was coming back to Melbourne!

I would stay in Sydney until near the end of October, as I’d planned a road trip with my sister Felicity from Sydney to Brisbane at the end of September, and the annual pistol shooting competition I partake in was being held in Sydney in October 2009, so it didn’t make sense to move back to Melbourne before the competition.

I’ll detail the road trip, shooting competition and move back to Melbourne in my next email.

Hope you’re all well and had a great Christmas and fun start to 2010.

Cheers,

Belinda

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