Letter from South America – another day in the life of a mine manager

Mining Technology Division
14 Jun 2016

Every morning in bed I wonder what I’m doing here, a bloke in his 60s who ought to be tottering around his rose garden. Then I remember I’m working for my daughter’s university fees, the bottomless pit.

It’s now 5:00 am, I put the kettle on.

My shattered left knee and sciatic back are protesting bitterly from the night, so I have to move. Falling back to sleep and lie-ins are a long distant memory. I do my physiotherapy and listen to the news to see if there’s been yet another horrible terrorist attack. But it’s a routine day: the fine choice between the Fox “Trump” News and Mrs Clinton’s CNN.

Out at 5:45 and down to the mess hall and see if I can face my breakfast slops of overcooked scrambled egg that sweats some sort of clear fluid, and if we’re lucky, a bowl of hard under-ripe fruit.

Perhaps I’m a grumpy curmudgeon. The locals here don’t do Western style breakfasts, they have coffee and a tortilla, so little attention is paid to the quality of foreign breakfasts. And they get fed far better than they do at home.

Off to the open-pit. This is a large low ore grade operation that is currently removing overburden. I try to catch the pit superintendent just as dawn breaks and there’s enough light to see by. We check the working places for safety before the workers get there – an absolute must in the best mining practices, and finish at sun-rise on the waste dumps, listening to the howler monkeys in the trees having their morning squabble. Sometimes we see the toucans fly across the rising red sun, the spring green parrots in the trees, always in pairs like lovers. The rainforest dawn is all too soon destroyed by the groaning on the go-line of big Cat dump trucks, excavators and dozers.

Off for a cup of tea and the inevitable 1,001 emails to read. Many writers distribute to everyone they can possibly think of, even their great aunts and cleaning ladies; people love to be noticed and to convince the big bosses that they are very busy people. These I can throw into the virtual bin, but quite a few do need answering, .

I get through these by about 10:00 am then it’s another brew and a perusal of the British press for 15 minutes, the Telegraph, the Mail, the Guardian, while I drink my tea. Sometimes the daft inanities of the Tories, political correctness and left-wing insanity make me nearly swallow the tea-bag, but I get diverted by “Man Eats Cat”, that they’ve found the Sphinx on Mars, or something that makes British politics the small thing it seems from so far away.

Invariably there’s a meeting with the project development staff mid-morning. I avoid some meetings because I find they are cosmetic and vanity. In my view it’s best to communicate individually or in ad-hoc small groups face-to-face. I find all too many people love formal meetings. Why I can only guess: speaking to the captive audience, the companionship of others, passive attendees convincing themselves and others that they are working. Other meetings I cannot avoid; the safety meetings and the project progress meetings which occupy the rest of the morning until lunch time.

At last it’s lunch. Down the road to the mess haul anticipating the gourmand delights to placate the palate, or more like wondering what they’ve burnt for us today. The local style of cooking is cremation; no self-respecting local will eat anything cooked unless it is carbonized. It was fish today, a thin layer with the texture and taste of ancient papyrus, accompanied by a soft grey mush of veggies.

After yet another cup of tea, back to work. I have one essential meeting; my main production meeting to plan the coming night shift and next day shift, and it works well to call the planning engineers, geologists, surveyors, pit managers, supervisors, mechanics, drill and blast engineers together to make the plan. I let everyone have their say and know what the others are up to. I can also give them information that has descended down the food chain from senior management.

And now the best part of the day, a precious hour or so when I can think about the longer term stuff and the endless requirements of head office. I never have too long at this before fire-fighting begins; typically, the fight over resources: the mechanical staff do not have enough bucket teeth, someone wants a schedule change, the campesinos or country dwellers are blocking the road again so we can’t get the night shift in, we’re short on drillers, and so on - an endless variety of problems that used to annoy me as I couldn’t get any technical work done. For the last several years I realise this IS my job to sort out other peoples’ problems and keep the wheels turning, and that any technical work has to be delegated down to engineering, construction and geological staff. All I have time to do is review it and sign off.

By 5:00 pm I’m getting tired so I take a short break – either Skype my long suffering wife or read my Gmail account. And of course, another brew.

For the last hour I find something light to do, either write a few less important emails, read a report, or on a less busy day, read around something that may help me in my job – perhaps a few articles in a mining magazine or the business press. Or if I’m feeling really brassed off, something totally irrelevant like browsing Amazon, or writing letters.

6:00 pm finally arrives. Sometimes I’m overloaded and I keep on going till 7;00 pm, but most days I go to the gym to walk on the machine as the doctor ordered for my knee and back. Then the evening meal and bed. And the whole cycle begins again, and I wonder why I am still doing it…



Opinions expressed in the foregoing article are those of an individual, and do not represent any company or organisation