Saturday, January 29, 2011


I had to make my outgoing phone calls quickly before the incoming calls prevented me from doing so! I only needed to turn on the ignition key and the loud buzzing of my car phone  told me there are many early risers in need of urgent assistance in some matters.

Right now, my good friend Tony from the Department of Education wished me a Good Morning! and came straight to the point:
‘I have received a complaint from the principal of a secondary school near the New South Wales border. He and his school committee are very concerned about their flooring. They have a new school cleaner and, as much as he tries, he simply cannot make any progress in his floor maintenance. And since the principal has requested my call, I wonder if we could go together to this school….’

‘Of course, Tony! You know I love to travel with you! Why, it will be a great outing for us!’
‘Ha, ha, I, too, enjoy travelling with you. A day away from my desk will do me a power of good.’
‘Let’s make it tomorrow, then?’ I will pick you up from your office at about 8 am?’
‘Great, Peter! I’ll let the principal know of our coming. See you tomorrow!’
‘Click’ and he was gone. I always preferred to attend to service calls right away as, psychologically, their perceived gravity seemed to quadruple with every day they were not investigated!
Travelling with Tony was a pleasure, as usual, as he did the actual driving whilst I attended to the incoming phone calls. In a quiet moment, I tried not to neglect my companion for the day:’ What’s new in your job, Tony?’
‘Oh, I’ve got a new lady boss, Peter!’
‘Well, what do you think of her?’
Not much! When she found out that I get every day approximately 400 emails, from all over Victoria, she ordered me to write a report for her, about each email enquiry and the action I have taken….’ His voice suddenly sounded very strained.
‘You cannot possibly do that, otherwise you would do nothing else but sit at your desk writing reports all day without doing any of your actual work.’
I was disgusted about such an instruction, from a superior who should know better, to such a hard worker.
‘Why, you would work yourself right out ouf a job!’
‘Yes, but that is what I have to cope with Peter!’
‘Unbelievable, Tony!’ And suddenly I found that working in private enterprise was not so bad!

Reaching the border town, we pulled up at a newly-built school, that was well laid out under a group of shady trees. As there  was a school holiday, the whole complex was looking quiet and deserted.
But the entrance was open and behind the glass doors was the principal of the school waiting for us, with his vice principal, the school’s secretary and the cleaner, who was easily identifiable as the only one casually dressed.

As soon as we came through the door, the school cleaner received us with the words: ’Your floor is giving me a lot of problems!’ 
This exclamation startled me as we hadn’t introduced ourselves yet but I recovered quickly and got on with my business of inspecting the flooring.
The floor looked badly neglected, to say the least. It had taken on the reddish-brown colour of the outside soil and was so thick that I could write my name in it.
‘It is beautifully installed!’ Tony remarked, giving credit to an  installation of highest standard!

The whole group of us walked from classroom to classroom, through the offices, sports hall and toilets, in silence, except for the cleaner who kept remarking at the bad state the flooring was in or sometimes just clicking his tongue disapprovingly and shaking his head.

With our round completed and back at the entrance, we were not even offered a cup of coffee but got icy stares from everybody.
I opened my folder to record a few details and asked the school cleaner for his business card to obtain all the relevant details I needed for my report.
‘I ‘aven’t got a business card.’
That was the first dent in this person’s professionalism.
‘Sam, here are our maintenance instructions.’ I handed him the leaflet. ‘It only needs a good stripping-back to get the smeary substance off and then normal mopping with a non-residual, neutral detergent..’
‘A what?’
You know, a detergent that does not leave a film on the floor. Here, there is clearly a film on the surface that holds back dirt and smears. It is also very slippery.
‘What is that? Where can I buy it from?’
‘Form a cleaner’s supply store.’
‘Where is one?’
‘I do not know the area but you will surely find it in the telephone directory under cleaners’ supplies.
‘Hmph’ a loud grunt was heard.
‘And also, if you have dirt barriers at the entrance….’ Again I did not get any further.
‘What’s that?’
‘You know, industrial mattings, for indoors and outdoors. They take everything off shoe soles and by the time people reach the vinyl flooring, they are clean. This saves most of your cleaning problems.’ I was directing this to an incomprehensible face with open mouth.
‘Of course, the industrial mattings need to be cleaned too, once in a while……’
‘How often is once in a while?’ The cleaner demanded.
‘That needs to be assessed, depending on its state of saturation.’
‘So‘ I explained the text on the maintenance instructions ‘The floor needs a good scrubbing and stripping back….’
‘With what?’
‘A floor scrubber!’
‘Where can I get one?’
‘Again, where you get all the other cleaning equipment from!’
He nearly asked me for the second time for the location of such a supplier, but something in my look must have jogged his memory.
Tony and I had to spend some time answering patiently all his questions and it turned out that he did not even have a floor polisher, no detergent and this school was his first customer!

But what really made me hot under the collar was the principal’s complacency. This man had had a high official of the Department of Education come all the way from Melbourne, accompanied by a manufacturer’s representative, who was struggling to cope with his daily appointments, all because of his floor cleaner’s incompetency!

Somebody, who had never cleaned before, with no equipment or   knowledge, got us two out of our way for a whole day, free-of-charge. There was not a word of reprimand from the principal to this cleaning amateur!

At the end of our visit, we thanked them all with great restraint and headed back to Melbourne, shaking our heads every now and then about the situations we’ve just found ourselves in.  

Peter Frederick  

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