Swing Three: Ouch, ouch, ouch

This swing I made a new friend. I have heard about my new friend before but we haven’t really had a chance to get acquainted. My new friend is Manual Labour and boy! did we get to know each other well over the eight days of my third swing.

What happened after I met my new friend, Manual Labour.

Oh the pain! It is day three of swing three as I start typing this and I am in a bit of pain. The walking and stair master work has nearly tripled this time – that’s just in the first three days too. My (newly discovered) muscles were screaming by the end of day one. My heels burning by the end of day two, thanks to fabulous blisters which resulted in a couple of days of tip toeing around the place. Falling behind as everyone walked due to the blisters – not the best way to be a positively contributing team member. As various equipment around the plant come to life, teeny tiny bits of me seem to be falling apart! However, having chosen this path, I must push through the pain barrier and no, I am not going to the medic for the blisters. I am tougher than that, even if it means walking on my tippie toes!

Biggest blister I have ever had. A constant companion over the full swing and into the break.

Whinging about my tootsies aside, it has been a very interesting swing. Even before I jumped on the plane I was already told to get my wellies (gum boots) and shovel ready. We were faced with bogged pipes which meant flooded and extremely muddy walkways. About six inches of mud in the shallow/safe parts and close to knee high in the no go unless you have wellies zones.

Walking from one end of the plant to the other can occur several times a day. The same goes for stairs – up and down, and up again, then down again, then up again… You get the picture. Sadly though, even with all the walking, my pants seem to get tighter. At the moment I am blaming this phenomenon on the dryer. It has to be the dryer, not the bacon and eggs breakfast and the dessert that comes with every dinner and sometimes after lunch all through the swing. Not fish and chips Friday, BBQ Saturday or roast Sunday. Surely not, it’s definitely the dryer!

Ice bath for my blistered feet. Must get a foot spa…

Halfway into the swing the stairs and walking was replaced with hosing. As we are now starting to get the concentrate going, there’s some trial and error. I have learnt that trial and error is the technical term for things bogging and spilling over. At least half the swing was spent on the hose. Not your garden variety green hose. This hose is a lot heavier and the water pressure a lot greater. I don’t know how some of the experienced guys manage to stay clean while hosing because after a few hours on the hose I usually end up looking like I have spent those hours rolling around in the slurry rather than trying to hose t clean. Mind you, it is great fun – at least I am making a contribution to the crew even if I spend all day frolicking in the mud. I still haven’t had to shovel the concentrate off the ground. I think the crew knows I am too weak for the shovel and I need to build up my muscles. Maybe another few days of hosing will build up my arm muscles. I tell you I most certainly feel it at the end of the day. One night as I sat on my bed it felt like I was still hosing. It was akin to sea legs but on your arms – hose arms!

As much as I want to be able to do the simpler tasks on my own, even if the intention and the spirit is strong, certain tasks are just impossible! Getting supplies out of the container. Simple enough… Until I had to close the container. After what felt like 10 minutes of trying, some bloke finally got feed up watching me struggle with the door and came over to close it himself. He did it in two seconds. VERY embarrassing but it’s the reality now, I do have to ask for help when it involves muscle work. Same goes for changing the hoses or unplugging them. I know how it’s done but when I try to do it myself, the thing just doesn’t budge. The harsh reality I have to accept is that I will not have the strength of The Hulk overnight; I may never be able to do certain things these guys do easily. That doesn’t mean I stop trying. I refuse to be the weak girl on the crew. So, does anyone out there have any tips on how I can be as strong as the green dude? Minus the angry bit – I have that covered.

Another constant during the swing. Take note of the hose (that snakey thing on the left hand side) – most definitely not a garden variety hose!

The reality of not being able to keep up with the guys hit home this swing. Especially after a random contractor tapped me on the shoulder and grabbed my hose. He then went on and started hosing whist explaining, “see… dirty, now clean”. Please note, he was doing exactly what I was doing. I was completely baffled by him taking over that I stood there dumbfounded for a few seconds. He then followed up his comments with – “easy job for man, not easy job for a lady.” Yes, true story. At that point all I really wanted to do was push him over the edge into the mounds of slurry we were hosing but instead I just took the hose off him and told him to get real, at least I’m trying here mate. I was under no illusion that I wouldn’t encounter scenarios such as this but it still blows my mind when it does happen.

I have done the most physical work in my whole life over the last eight days. How do I feel? Achy but fantastic. I feel like I have achieved something and I am in for a lot more challenges in the swings to come. When I did arrive back in Perth, I was convinced there was something wrong with the car as it felt very, very heavy. Of course, there was nothing wrong with the car – my weak arms were just extremely achy. Even my palms were aching! Did you even know that could happen? I most definitely did not!

My boots formerly wheat in colour, now just completely caked in concentrate/slurry/mud.

I wish I could give everyone an insight into what next swing will involve. There may or may not be mud, there may or may not be lots of stair master and walking, there may or may not be shovelling and lifting (or in my case lifting attempts). I cannot tell you for sure, but I will most definitely keep you all posted.

Site wildlife. No words…

Swing Two: The Sequel

Everyone knows that movie sequels usually struggle to be as entertaining as the original. Off the top of my head I can think of a few not so worthy sequels to great original movies – Cars, Dirty Dancing, Grease, The Matrix, etc. In the same way, my second swing didn’t start off as great as the first one. Mind you, it got better and ended in a much better way than any of the movies  mentioned.It wasn’t as fun and inclusive at the start. It is getting busier as the plant slowly comes alive. New parts and equipment are commissioned on a daily basis and everyone is getting busier as the list of tasks get longer. Due to this, us greenies were left to fend for ourselves. Not a hard ask if you had an idea what you were supposed to do but challenging when you have no clue where to start. A couple of days ended on a pretty low note; feeling lost and not knowing what was really happening or what was going to happen. It was at this point that I started putting together a pros/cons list in my head. Luckily, the situation was rectified pretty quickly as we were assigned mentors who we buddy up with as things got busier.

A storm was brewing!

Although the situation changed, the importance of the pros/cons list stuck with me for the rest of the swing. It doesn’t matter what the situation was, I seemed to have gotten into a habit of doing a mental pros/cons list throughout the swing. A sort of continuous assessment as the week went on. I then realised we all have a choice. There are pros and cons in every situation and task we come across. The difference in how we deal with it depends on which side of the list we choose to run with. The choice lies with us. We are the only ones who can make a situation fabulous or horrendous. After a few minutes of whinging, I decided that everything in the next few months will be fabulous, regardless of the cons.

The scary stairs up close.

The first few days of my second swing involved a lot of stairs, the scary ones I mentioned previously, and a lot of standing around in platforms 20 metres off the ground ensuring the conveyor was working properly. Yes, I spent a good few days up the top of this platform. I had to mentally coax myself to move close enough to the edge so I could press the green “go” button to start it up. I don’t know what it is about me but I seemed to volunteer for the jobs that involved going up the scary stairs. I am still absolutely petrified of heights and still freeze but I am slowly and surely getting better (I think). The guys have been great about it and are very patient when I get slower as we climb stairs. One of them even tried to get me used to standing on the edge and knows when I am freaking out on the inside so he slows down. He is on a mission to get me on an elevated work platform in six months even if I have told him it is NOT going to happen (maybe in 12 months but definitely not in six, no way).

Dirty gloves after a day messing about with a fire hose

The next few days involved getting dirty and dusty, packing up the other crews rooms, and doing a bit of general running around. The last few days involved a lot of rain and mud, which in my world meant a whole lot of fun. If it meant getting my boots muddy, I was there! On the morning of the last day, a few of us were tasked to build a temporary fence. Yes, “the HR girl”, got muddy and sweaty, lifting fences and bolting them into place. I was sent off to get a few tools from the warehouse in order to bolt the fences together. I learnt earlier in the swing what a shifter and spanner was but I had no idea what a ratchet was. I ran off to the crib room to find someone who I hoped wouldn’t laugh at me and asked him to explain to me what a ratchet was. The poor thing had to draw what it looked like because I could not understand what he was describing. Off I went to the warehouse to get the tools we needed. Alas, another challenge came about. I had no idea how to put the ratchet together! I knew what size I needed but I could not figure out how to put the bits together to make it work. I knew how the ratchet functioned but I couldn’t piece it together. After a few minutes of trying, I decided to take the whole set of ratchets and let the guys put it together. Of course, I got a bit of a ribbing but they also let me have a crack at using it first up. There was even cheering once I finished! There was also cheering earlier in the week when I FINALLY managed to close a valve. The guys had closed two pumps each plus had a few minutes of waiting by the time I managed to close one. There was cheering AND high fives when I finally finished with mine. A bit patronising but all in good fun!

This is what the rain creates. Muddy, slippery paths.