Monday, March 29, 2010

Life in Maximum Security

By Geoffrey Carrascalao Heard

After two weeks’ practice, I’m pleased to report that I can now get from inside my back door to sitting in the car outside my front gate with the seat belt on ready to drive to work in a shade over six minutes.

The reason why I think this is news is that I live in Port Moresby, Papua New Guinea, where there is more crime in a few minutes than most cities of similar size (some hundreds of thousands of people) experience in a year.

This necessitates living under bizarre security circumstances. The city is like a jail pulled inside out. The good guys (or at least, that’s how we like to think of ourselves) are inside the razor wire while the criminals roam the streets.

In my case, the house my employer has provided is an old place in a select part of town (just up the road are the residences of the heads of two major diplomatic missions) -- within a gated community no less atop a high ridge. Guards stand at the entrance and patrol the two to three metre high, razor wire topped, boundary fence. Guards with dogs roam the well lit streets at night. Inside that fence, each house has its own high fence, elaborate locks, alarms, maybe a guard or two, and dogs. My house came complete with a six foot corrugated iron fence all round, razor wire on top, grilles on all windows and doors, deadlocks on every door, external and internal, and an alarm system which no-one knows how to use. It also carries the signs of at least one break-in before the deadlocks were installed.

At night, I am pretty thoroughly locked in and I have been told by those who care that I should be. I was pretty spooked by the whole thing initially but now I am desensitizing myself to it and getting it under control.

It is such a nuisance, though, when you want to do a simple thing like go to work.

It has taken me two solid weeks’ of dedicated training to get down to within reach of the six minute mark for getting out of the house and on the road. My initial, untrained time was in excess of 10 minutes. Refining my technique and putting in the hard yards at training, I have pulled that down day by day until now I seem to have plateaued just above six minutes.

I would like to state unequivocally that I am no quitter -- I am up for the challenge. I have the six minute barrier in my sights, and I *will* break through. I know about sporting barriers; I am of the generation that saw man crash through the four minute mile barrier. Forget the Irishman and the Brit, they were mere bit players. Go John Landy, you’re a legend. It’s all a matter of the right mindset and dedicated training. I can do it.

This is how I have succeeded so far. I have separated the two back door deadlock keys (one for the door, the other for the grille) and a gate padlock key from the three front door deadlock keys (two for the door and one for the grill) and a duplicate gate key. They are now on separate rings in separate pockets, as are the four internal door deadlock keys plus the fire escape deadlock grille key. On the two plus one ring, I have added a colour tab to the key for the door. This makes for much faster key drawing and selection. In addition, I have oiled all three locks involved in a profligate manner to get rid of sticking on key entry and exit.

Picture me poised just inside the back door, computer bag over one shoulder, plastic box lunch in one hand. Shorts hitched, sandals firmly fastened. (You can see the Olympic connection immediately; the originals wore sandals, althogh not shorts.)

I check my watch. Go!

My hand dives into my pocket for the door keys. Insert red key into door lock, twist, drag door open. Untagged key into the grille, twist -- damn! wrong way, other way -- open. Step on to the verandah, put lunch box on rail to focus on shutting and locking doors. Door then grille.

Keeping keys in hand, dive into other pocket for car key. Grab lunch box. Three quick strides to car, unlock at drivers’ door, stick car key in ignition and start car (air conditioner on full -- at 7.30am it’s already hot), round to back, put computer bag and lunch in boot (not wise to have computer bag showing on seat, I have been warned a dozen times by high and low alike) then on to gate. Unlock padlock, swing open right gate, then left, kick into place rock to hold left gate open.

Back into car, reverse out and pull into kerb. Out again leaving engine running with air conditioner on full blast, kick aside rock and swing closed left gate, swing closed right gate stepping outside, reach through hand hole to padlock chain inside (as maintenance man sternly adjures “so the rascals can’t get directly at the lock with a lever”). Three steps and back into the car, pull seat belt over should and plug into socket.

Check watch. Six minutes 12 seconds.

I’m not suggesting that I am Olympic class just yet, but I definitely have that six minute barrier in sight. I do have a concern about apparel, though.

So far I have been wearing conventional shorts, with one pocket each side. However, I have found to my surprise that one pair of shorts I grabbed off the last of the summer sale racks before I left Melbourne has a useful feature -- multiple front pockets. (Two other pairs have hip pockets with flaps in place but sewn down!) The conventional pockets each side have shallower pockets in front of them. I feel that if I made full use of this feature, I might be able to smash down through the six minutes in one fell swoop.

But would this be ethical? I have in mind the recent banning of certain swimming costumes, and I cannot forget how naff the lovely Kathy Freeman looked striding to victory in the 2000 Olympics wearing a hoodie.

And ethical at the time or not, legality is what matters in the end. It’s no good claiming a time which might be disallowed by ruling bodies later and scrubbed from the record..

Maybe I’ll compromise. I’ll try a run in the special shorts and see how I go. If I break through the six minutes, I'll record my time but not claim it publicly until I see which way the ruling bodies sway on the issue. Meanwhile, I’ll go back to conventional shorts and work on refining my approach.

I really am confident I can do it. Really.


This material is copyright © Geoffrey Carrascalao Heard 2010.

Geoffrey Heard worked in media in Papua New Guinea in the 1960s and 1970s and has just returned to that country as an Australian Volunteer supported by AusAID working with the Media Council of Papua New Guinea. The opinions and comments in this article are his own and do not represent the views of the Media Council of PNG, Australian Volunteers International, or AusAID.

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