The next port of call for me was Dunkton, a small rural town, where I had to visit a farm. Apparently, there was some problem with an installed vinyl flooring. It was maintenance that was a concern and I tried to refer the caller to the flooring contractor as he would have had the necessary technical information and maintenance instructions.
Turning right and off the main road, I found a small country road with its unmade surface, rather pleasant as it was tree lined, mainly with poplar trees, providing a welcome shade in the bright midday sun. Each tree had a copper plate attached with the name of a fallen soldier from this area. I found it a very nice custom, a way of conveying for posterity details of people who have made the supreme sacrifice for the current generation’s benefit.
The straight road suddenly widened and I was now driving on a surfaced highway, very wide, with a generous dividing nature strip in the centre. Geraniuns in all colours bloomed there and the whole layout conveyed tidiness and order.
Further down, towards the centre of the town, were some shops, all farm oriented: a grocery store, a post office, a council administration building, a farm machinery sales yard and a farm supplies store. No big stores, as obviously everybody either drove to Melbourne or to the nearest bigger town for their main purchases.
Following my map, which I had resting on the steering wheel, I found the little turn-off which changed into a lush-green and shady lane. It wound its way through trees in a most pleasant way. With my windows down I travelled slowly along, enjoying the aroma of the bush wafting into my car’s interior.
Suddenly, I was out of the dark green shades and enveloped in bright sunlight. The woods had finished and grain fields stretched as far as I could see. The young plants were still green and gently waving in a mid-day breeze, as if in welcome!
And there stood an attractive farmhouse as if in waiting for me. Judging by the bricks it had been newly built and the car park next to it housed two gleaming cars of the luxury class. The overall impression was that of wealthy farmers who happen to own an area where there was no drought.
At the door I noticed a fashionable doormat, however, too small to really take any farm dirt off the shoe soles as it was easily stepped-over and everything would be deposited right inside the house.
A young woman opened the door and she, too, was not what I had expected. Her figure was tall and willowy, so elegantly dressed and adorned with jewellery that she could have been in one of Melbourne’s upper class suburbs.
‘Please come in!’ This was a command rather than an invitation, followed with an outstretched arm pointing into the interior of the house.
‘Thank you Mrs. Westcott. A nice place you have here,’ I handed her my business card.
She glanced at this card, and I noticed her look at the line below my name, ‘Sales Representative’. Was she disappointed about my low rank? If she was, she showed no sign in her well-maintained face but went straight to the point.
‘Look at my floor! It is terrible; I am very disappointed!’
Her accent startled me too. It was too well spoken for a farmer’s wife, more like Melbourne Girls Grammar and it sounded very much like one of our past Prime Minister’s wife’s.
Slightly confused about all these unexpected impressions I forced myself to press on with my task as I had already two architects waiting for me in the nearest town before closing time.
‘Mrs. Westcott, I am here to assist you. Would you mind telling me the nature of your complaint?’ Again, I automatically opened my clipboard and my pen hovered eagerly over the paper.
‘Well. You tell me!’ She assumed a commanding stance, with her fashion-shoed feet firmly planted.
‘Mrs. Westcott, for legal reasons, you need to tell me and I shall note everything down for a report to my company. After that you will be notified of the result.’ I managed a cordial smile.
‘Good Lord, just look! Can’t you see?’
‘As far as I can see, and I am representing the manufacturer of the flooring, it looks perfectly manufactured and in good order and condition….’
She gave an exasperated gasp ‘Don’t you see the dirt? What are you going to do about it?’
‘Have you been given any maintenance instructions? The flooring retailer surely has left it here for you.’ I tried to hand her another such sheet of paper but she refused to take it, glowering at me with well-maintained eye-lashes and frowning eyebrows.
I placed the instructions on her nearby kitchen table.
‘Mrs. Westcott, ‘I continued, ‘you need to tell me your concern!’
‘Who is going to clean it, I am certainly not!’ A proud statement, but incongruous with the appearance of the floor, I thought.
‘Mrs. Westcott, all floors need to be maintained; there will never be such a thing as a maintenance-free floor!’ I decided to get it over with quickly. ‘All floors need to be swept and mopped when necessary.’
‘How often, with what and how long will that take? ‘She stomped an exasperated designer-shoed foot. ‘‘Who is going to do this – I am certainly not!
I ignored her and pressed on: ’Of course, if you have dirt barriers at the entrance and back door……..’
‘Well, these should be industrial mattings of five paces or more. Statistics have shown that they would take everything off shoe soles before they reach your inside floor. Therefore, most of the maintenance requirements would be gone. Of course, the mats too, will have to be cleaned once in a while, otherwise they will stop accepting dirt….’
‘Who is going to do all this – I am certainly not…..’She sounded exasperated. ‘And how long will that floor last me?’
‘This is an industrial flooring, that means, in a domestic situation, it will last longer than the house. It just needs to be maintained.’
‘Now look here, my good man, who is going to do all this – I am certainly not!’
I had the urge to tell her that I was not her ‘good man’ but remembered that this was merely a phrase she probably had been taught to use. Biting my tongue, I assured her: ‘A good mopping of the floor, exactly as per these maintenance instructions will restore its original appearance. Besides, the retail shop where you bought the floor from can assist you with everything…’
There was an interruption, as a farmer entered the room. He had just pulled up with his tractor, a gleaming new vehicle, with more chrome than necessary, I noticed. Obviously, it had air conditioning and all the other comfort the parked cars had. ‘Except cruise control,’ I mused.
It was a youngish man, tall, sinewy, athletic and sun-burnt. His working clothes were clean and his checked shirt appeared to be freshly pressed. Without a word he quickly observed the situation and curtly replied to my ‘hello’. Satisfied that his wife was handling the situation, he turned around and disappeared again. I heard his tractor roaring up and saw it chugging into the fields and out of sight.
I, too, had to bid my adieu and on the way out she implored me for an answer to her most important question ‘Who is going to do all this? I am certainly not!’
There was suddenly a ringing in my ears only I could hear and it alarmed me. Taking a deep breath I forced a smile: ‘Nice meeting you, Mrs. Westcott. Thank you for showing me your floor - I shall write the report to my management but have to state that I found your flooring blemish-free and in perfect condition. Of course, the manufacturer’s warranty still applies if correctly maintained… Good bye!’
I started my car quicker than usual and revved up the engine with unusual haste. With wheels spinning on the white gravel, I took off trying to escape my dark thoughts.