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  

Tuesday, January 25, 2011





Peter Frederick

Sunday, January 23, 2011


The day had finally arrived for the Apprentice of the Year convention in Sydney and after a lot of preparations, I started my faithful station wagon for the long drive.
Since my popular boss had great expectations of me, I made sure that the exhibition stand, I had created myself, was safely stored in the back of the car, in proper crush-proof containers, together with all the bits and pieces that link the modular panels together, the clip-on spotlights and my faithful, commercial-quality slide projector.  The slides had been checked carefully and I had this reassuring feeling that nothing could go wrong, if only my speech would go right.
Extension leads, I had been told, would be provided by our Sydney branch and the assurance was given that I need not worry about them.
There was also in my car an enormous plastic tube, with my seven foot fold-up screen resting inside. Well-cushioned with foam and closed at both ends with screw-lids that, too, had foam cushioning for extra protection. This PVC tubing was actually a gutter piping which I obtained from a builders’ supply store and, after much work, I managed to fit slightly larger tube ends, complete with thread and screw-on lids to firmly close them. All this necessitated a lot of sawing of thick plastic and gluing with an unbelievably penetrating plastic solvent. 
I had used my sales promotion equipment many times before and my only apprehension was my speech, which I had memorized word for word in my attempt to avoid bloopers.
There would be waiting for me in Sydney my friend Mel Addams, from a  technical college in Melbourne, who took it upon himself to record the whole event in every detail with his newly acquired video camera.
He kept telling me now for days about this project of his and I had this added assurance that the whole event would be preserved for eternity.
Driving into the vast Sydney Convention Centre, where all the company employees and our honoured guests from all over Australia were staying, I felt the yearning for a good stretch out and a long and relaxing shower. The trip had been approximately ten hours and whilst it is really uplifting to drive through picturesque little towns and impressive scenery, a motel is always welcome as a second home!
Turning into the driveway of the motel and convention centre, I pepped-up a bit noticing my friend Mel Addams standing next to the reception hall, his camera primed and filming my arrival.
‘Hello Peter!’ He shouted enthusiastically. ’You’ve made it. How was your trip?’
‘Great drive, Mel. But somehow, it was a bit too long!’ I returned his smile.  
‘Everybody else is in the bar,’ he pointed with his chin in the direction of a double door, whilst filming my car and the equipment inside.  
‘That’s great Mel. I just want to unload my things and then change clothes and relax. By the way, where is the lecture room?’
Mel, good mate that he is, helped me carry my equipment to a large hall, where a sufficient number of folding chairs had been leant against a wall.
‘Thank you for your help, Mel, I think that’s it. Just one more thing…..where is the power point?’ I was looking around with rising alarm. My sixth sense told me that something was not right.
‘It must be here, surely.’ Mel started to march along the wall, staring attentively at the space above the skirting boards.
‘Nothing, Peter!’ he simply stated, with his usual calm.
There were, however, alarm bells ringing in my head. Whenever I give a lecture, or a demonstration of some sort, there is always a chance of making a fool of myself due to what I term ‘human error’! Totally unforeseen things can happen and leave me red-faced, stammering and with sweat pearling on my forehead. Therefore, it is very important to forestall all this in the first place.
Where was the company’s state manager for NSW? After all, he was the host and had promised me on the phone that he would see to it that nothing went wrong.
‘’Leave everything to me!’ I could still hear his reassuring words.
Luckily, a sales representative from New South Wales, Tom Minter, tried to slink past the door and I managed to stop him and explain my matter with urgency in my voice.
A short time later, Tony Selby, the state manager himself appeared, trying to look as distinguished as our managing director but failing in the voice department.
‘Ah, Peter! Glad you could make it.’ Assuming immediate command of the situation, he added: ‘Well, this is the room! I see that you have already assembled your display stand, your projector and put up your screen – great-looking equipment you have! Did you want anything from me?’
I explained to him my concern.
‘Oh the power point?’ His voice sounded like dealing with a small detail. ‘It is in another room, at the end of this corridor……..’ In his mind the problem was as good as fixed, why, I would only need to plug in there – it’s that simple,’ I could read his thoughts.
‘Tony, I always carry an extension cord with me, but it is not that long! The distance would be over twenty metres.’
‘No worries, Peter, I’ll get my son to bring you an extra long extension cord from home. I’ll give him a phone call now.’ And with a casual gesture he had copied from Declan, he fished out of his pocket his trusted mobile telephone. Apparently, there was an extremely long extension lead at home and, for him, like I said, the problem was as good as solved.
My friend Mel would not leave my side, filming everything for his epic movie. The way I looked for a power point, the way Tony phoned home for the extension lead, the smallest detail was going to be preserved!
‘I want to record everything, Peter, and edit later for a long documentary!’ His enthusiasm was infectious, however, there will be a lot of editing of the video recordings, I thought.
Whilst waiting for the extra long extension lead to be brought, I ambled into the big function room where the actual presentation of the award will be held and had to stop and gasp at the entrance. The sheer number of visitors was astonishing and what’s more, all the important people, captains of the flooring industry, were there. I also noted some well-respected politicians and even the Minister for Youth and Training with his own entourage of followers. Plus, news reporters and press observers from the mainstream press. They all mingled happily, mostly with a glass of drink in one hand, the other one being used for gesticulating, I observed. Obviously, the whole gathering has been going on for quite a while. The room itself, with its chandeliers and gilded plaster pillars, red carpet and the long bar at the back, all brightly lit and showing off their gleaming rows of bottles and dispensers, helped the atmosphere along. Also, the happy looking and eager staff kept floating through this crowd of people with both hands full with trays of delicious finger food which made everybody feel well cared for and at home. The whole hall had an ambience of cosy comfort and well-being.
Mel was standing beside me and, yes again, he was recording this situation. ‘I’ve got everything on tape,’ he kept assuring me with enthusiasm, obviously proud of his camera and feeling kinship with the other members of the press.
‘I am gonna show this film in the technical colleges around Australia as motivation for all our apprentices’, he assured me.
‘Good idea, Mel’, Have you thought of a title for this film?
‘Oh, I shall think of one. A catchy, inspiring opening…..yes, I can see it already…. a great opening would be very important.’
I had to extricate myself from his daydreaming as somebody tugged me on my sleeve. It was a young lad with dishevelled dark hair and pimply face, obviously Tony’s son.
‘The extension lead has arrived. We have already plugged it in down the corridor in the photocopy room.’ Great news, I thought gratefully.
It has always been my method to connect everything and switch it on for a try-out! Only when I had found that everything worked perfectly, would I switch everything off and await, with peace of mind, the time when I had to give my product presentation.
Sipping my cup of strong coffee in a little cafeteria to fortify myself, I heard a distant bell ringing and Tony, the state manager and host, appeared and motioned me that it was now my turn to perform.
Entering the lecture room, I was amazed at the number of people waiting and they all seemed so eager to hear my report on the latest in flooring technology. It is always with some apprehension that I start to speak but once the second and third slide went up on the screen I was alright because the picture actually tells me what to say. I simply pour out my knowledge relevant to the shown slide, however, I’ve learned that every now and then a little humour loosens things up a bit and prevents my presentation become tedious.
The grateful applause at the end of this report rewarded me for my forty-five minutes of sweating it out! When that sweet noise finally subsided, Declan was suddenly at my side, whispering:
‘Well done, Peter!‘ I don’t know how you do it! When I speak for ten minutes I run out of things to say.’ I was grateful for his approval which I considered my real award.
All this was filmed by an eager Mel.
After saying a few words of thanks, Declan invited our guests to the awarding of the apprentices which was being held in the largest room, on a stage.
As this was the end of my contribution to this event, I started to pack-up my equipment and with the help of my colleague, Ken Butterworth, and Tony,  the state manager, everything was carried to my station wagon and stored carefully and securely.
Walking into the great function room, I noticed an atmosphere of excitement. Like I mentioned before, It was filled with important people from our industry, retailers, architects, government departments, politicians, teachers from the technical colleges and, of course, fellow representatives like myself. And everybody was mingling, talking, eating and -  you guessed it - drinking.
And through the masses pushed Mel his faithful camera, filming everything. Despite his enthusiasm Mel began to irritate me the way he would poke his camera into all my activities.
In an adjoining room were the floor laying apprentices. They had been tested with small, practical flooring installations and product-knowledge via written tests. And now, everybody was waiting for the announcement of the Apprentice of the Year!
Sweating profusely and breathing heavily, they sat, drinking their Coca Cola. Now the door opened and, yes, Mel entered the room filming them as they munched their sandwiches and downed their drinks.
In the convention hall, Declan, again, opened the event with cheerful words, praising the event, his company (and thereby indirectly himself) and emphasised the importance of this event for the whole flooring industry and for the participating apprentices.
The Minister for Industry and Commerce was introduced and he, too, stressed the training of apprentices as a noble task more companies should participate in and so on.
He was filmed at close angle by the eager Mel and would be a major part in his feature film. Nodding towards me between his filming, he obviously saw himself as a movie director  at the start of his illustrious career.
Declan, as our managing director and MC, with his beautiful baritone voice and classic theatrical accent, read the names of the apprentices off a list he held elegantly in his hand.
Mel did a close-up of this and had to be waved back by Declan. The first name was called for an Encouragement Award and it was very quiet in the room. All eyes were fixed to the left side of the stage where the first apprentice was expected to appear. Necks were strained, breaths were bated, and Mel tried his best to steady his camera in his exited hands.
And then, something unbelievable happened. Out of seemingly nowhere a sound was heard: ‘Peter, I’ve run out of film!’
The sound rolled through the hall, an outcry of incredulity and helplessness! All eyes were fixed on Mel who was staring at me with wide open eyes, his jaw dropped and his hands, still holding the camera, were hanging down in helplessness.
With his film career in tatters, Mel slunk defeated from the stage, whilst the events took their turn to their successful conclusion.  
On my long trip back to Melbourne I had time to reflect on a past hectic year and wondered what will be in store for me in the coming year. Of one thing I could be sure, there will still be a road to travel!

Peter Frederick  

Wednesday, January 19, 2011


The town of Lambrington, which I always mispronounced Lamington, is located in the dry parts of north-west Victoria. Despite water being scarce, it is a well-kept town with well-irrigated fruit orchards. In fact, when driving towards this town, the fruit trees on either side of the road seem to form a welcoming guard of honour.
Upon reaching this town, the palm trees seem to take over. Much taller than the fruit trees, they keep waving one on and into the town. Suddenly the road widens and has an immaculate surface, with modern shops and offices lining the sides, indicating a vibrant local business and trade.
One day I called on the local floor covering shop, Stanley’s Floor Coverings, expecting to meet the boss himself, smiling at me as usual and offering me a strong cup of coffee. To my surprise, I found myself being welcomed by a friendly middle-aged lady who introduced herself as his wife, Mary.
Stanley had to go out ‘on a job,’ as they used to say which could mean anything from obtaining new business to collecting money from a reticent customer.
Mary offered me the same hospitality as her husband and because there were no customers in the shop, she started to talk to me a bit about herself. Business was very quiet at the moment and because Stan could not afford to employ anybody for the shop, his wife offered to give up her career at the hospital to assist her husband.
‘A brave thing to do, Mary!’ I exclaimed. ‘As you know, there is a recession on at the moment and most businesses are struggling.’
‘Yes, Peter, I was the matron in the hospital and know everybody in the town. In turn, everybody knew me and we got on so well together.’ Something was depressing her and it was time for me make an uplifting remark: ’But together with Stan, you are surely an unbeatable team!’
Her eyes suddenly seemed to swim: ‘You have no idea what we have been through, Peter! Nobody pays anybody, these days. Our business would not be so bad if we have money coming in – but only on paper.’
Of course, I knew this very common reality!
‘We, too, have bills to pay and sometimes have troubles doing so. And that shouldn’t be that way as we have a lot of money outstanding.’
‘Yes, Mary, most businesses have special people employed to do nothing but chase payments from tardy customers.’ Whilst I was conveying empathy, it did nothing, of course, to alleviate her business’ predicament.
‘You have no idea, Peter, how people can change. They are not the same people I’ve met and cared for at the hospital! They are completely different. And terrible!’ She broke into tears and sat down at her desk.
Sitting opposite her, in front of the desk, I cupped my coffee mug and desperately thought of something to say.
‘They all tell lies, Peter, about the cheque being in the post, about the husband dropping off the payment when he picks up the children from school….’ She shuddered at the thought of the many untruths she had been told.
‘Peter, one day I sat here, trying to balance my books and couldn’t do it. So, I broke down and cried and in my desperation I prayed to God: “Please Lord,” I prayed, “You do the books for me for I cannot!  Business-wise, Stan and I are working very hard, in an honest way and are getting a fair amount of work, but nobody wants to pay us. I cannot do the books any more – You do it, Lord!” And I closed my ledger book and went home.’
‘That is a terrible situation to be in, Mary, you and Stan do not deserve this!’ I confirmed.
A weeping woman is always difficult to handle. You cannot simply put your arm around her shoulders ‘There, there!’ But what could I say?
But Mary continued: ‘Would you believe it, Peter, the next day we received a long outstanding cheque from a factory out of town. It was a large amount and suddenly we could keep going and struggle on for another month!
‘I cannot understand how people avoid paying for a good installation, Mary. I could not live like that!’
‘Yes, I cannot understand it either. They were all different when I met with them as Matron at the hospital.’
To help Mary and Stan a little bit, I promised to speak to my boss about the possibility of extended trading terms, if only temporarily, till they were financially over this squeeze.
Thanking Mary for her hospitality and assuring her that I would support her any way I could, I left this struggling retail establishment, in a depressed mood, despite the strong coffee.
Of course, the payment morality in general has worsened since then but I like to think that good, honest, people can turn to God and receive help when they can’t turn to anywhere else!

 Peter Frederick 

Monday, January 17, 2011



Peter Frederick 

Friday, January 14, 2011







Peter Frederick