Thursday, March 31, 2011


Once, upon answering the telephone, I encountered a voice on the other end that had sounded very agitated. It belonged to Frank Cunningham who ran a very large architects’ office in the town of Mayfair, Tasmania.
‘I have received several complaints from my client, the Crown Reception Centre. Your vinyl flooring is no good. There are black spots appearing everywhere!’
‘I am sorry to hear that, Frank. What kind of spots are they actually? I do not understand what you mean by “spots”.’
‘Well, little round black spots. I want you to come here right away and sort things out!’
That was tricky! I was asked to fly to Tasmania immediately - just to have a look at ‘spots’! Of course, spots do not just develop on PVC floorings. It must have been something to do with the floor maintenance or other external influences. Never had I received a complaint like that and I had kept thinking about it .A hectic day went by and I was still mulling things over when I received another call from Frank.
‘Peter, I want you to come over as quickly as possible! More and more spots are appearing.’
‘You mean there are male and female spots?’
‘This is no time for levity, Peter. I’ve seen the spots myself They are round and black and they are increasing as time goes by!’
‘Frank, I’ll phone my boss for permission to fly to you right away. You’ll hear from me in a few minutes.’
‘Okay, Peter. But remember this is urgent. I have a client who is very unhappy and probably thinks I’ve specified the wrong flooring. Remember, I’ve seen the spots myself. I will get no more assignments from him and of course I cannot specify your products any more in future projects. So, I am waiting to hear from you shortly.’ ‘Click’ and the line went dead.
Yes, it was the old blackmail again, I had thought bitterly. The real reason for getting me to fly to Tassie was because it costs the architect nothing! Since my company paid the costs for this service, it was easier to request my coming than to try a bit harder and find out the cause of the complaint themselves.
Still, it was my policy to attend to complaints immediately, no matter what, because if problems were allowed to drag on, they became magnified and in a legal dispute the motto seemed to apply: ‘blame the manufacturer unless he can convince us otherwise’.
Having informed my boss, I had booked a ticket and the next morning I was on my way to Tassie. Arriving in Launceston, I rented a car, phoned the architect to meet me at the site, the reception centre, and had driven off.
Upon, arriving at the Crown Reception Centre, I had encountered a whole group waiting for me - my ‘welcoming committee’, was the thought that raced through my mind. There was the owner of the Reception Centre, his manager, the cleaner, the architect and somebody from the Health Department.
I had to laugh ‘inside’ just looking at them. They all had grim faces and looked like a mob ready to lynch a ‘mainlander’! Regional patriotism was ripe everywhere, and I had found it particularly strong in the island state. Nothing good can come from the mainland, seemed to be their thought. Their polite greeting was extra stiff, as if they were welcoming a mass murderer. But then again, I may have been exaggerating, as usual.
We all went through the decorative wrought iron main gate and headed for the largest building. It was a very pleasant looking reception centre, a white complex in Spanish-style imitation; the owner walked ahead, followed by his manager and then the remainder of us, in a kind of pecking order.
The owner had then aired his unhappiness with the floor using particularly descriptive words, for my benefit, of course! There were indeed lots of small black spots on the floor which nobody seemed to want to touch. And as they walked along, they all kept nodding gravely to each other and every now and then, shot damning glances at me, especially the cleaner and the Health Department official!
I was hanging back as I had wanted to have a close look at everything, take photos, check the whole installation and basically take everything in as not only would I have to write a report to my company but also I would have to come up with an answer!
Like I said, I was hanging back from the group and had noticed immediately that the so-called black spots were in fact confetti from a wedding party. They were lying loosely on the vinyl flooring. The cleaner obviously did not sweep the floor with a broom before mopping and when he did mop the floor, he did not pick up the slurry but merely swished everything about and let it dry. Of course, the confetti on the floor went darker with every mopping! Another reason for my trailing behind the group was that I was busily picking up some of the dark confetti. And the heap in my hand grew bigger all the time.
The others were waiting for me at the end of their ‘excursion’, back outside their building. They looked at me with dark expressions that said it all: ‘Now what do you have to say for yourself? Isn’t your floor terrible!’ I went to the architect, my main contact.
‘Frank, hold out your hand, please.’ He did so with a puzzled expression. ‘Here are your spots’ I poured enough to fill his hands while he screwed up his face.

‘That’s confetti!’ he exclaimed, totally bewildered. The remainder of the group just stared at his cupped hands which were overflowing with the ‘black spots’ and every now and then one slowly drifted to the floor.
I had swallowed deeply and taken control of myself - no good making enemies! I tried to make light of it. ‘Now that this is settled, could I invite everybody for a cup of coffee? I am a coffee addict myself and am having withdrawal symptoms right now. Where is the nearest cafĂ©?’
The manager of the reception knew his cue: ‘Good idea, I will take care of this. Please come with me.’ He took us all back inside another building. A table was quickly covered with a fresh cloth and, with amazing speed, it was populated with coffee and plenty of hot scones, butter and jam.
We started to relax and talked about all sort of things except what we just had been through and soon we laughed together as if we were celebrating a reunion!
To be honest, I had always liked to go to Tasmania because the people there were genuinely friendly and their hospitality was always great. They seemed to look at you and see a person with feelings and not a title or position. In fact, I almost wished I had more complaints in the wonderful island state!

Peter Frederick

Thursday, March 24, 2011


One day, I had received a request for a meeting from a very large architect’s firm in Melbourne’s CBD. A Ms Anne Blakely, an interior designer, wanted to discuss with me the various PVC floorings I had on offer and their best applications. Calling on her somewhat early - I always did that - I asked the receptionist whether I could sit in the waiting room. Feeling comfortable, I had arranged my samples, looked at my notes in my clipboard and then observed the goings on around me.
The soft cushion-chairs were of imitation leather and the carpet on the floor was made of nylon fibre. It was a rather old carpet and I remembered that the early nylon carpets could build up quite a bit of static electricity. The plastic furniture in leather imitation, too, would not help dissipate any static current. I must have had second sight because of what happened next.
When Anne, the interior designer, finally walked through the door I had noticed with alarm that she was expecting a baby any moment. She moved towards me awkwardly, extending her hand. To save her some walking, I shot up from my chair and rushed towards her. As I tried to shake her hand and with our fingertips almost meeting, there was a strong crackling sound and sparks flew . So strong was the static electricity that it really hurt me. Anne, too, forgot her usual bright smile and grimaced for a moment. We exchanged polite introductory words and I pretended nothing happened. Anne, however, seemed to take the electric shock for granted.
As the entire premises were covered with the same nylon carpet, I wondered how Anne’s fellow architects and designers coped with this phenomenon. At first glance I had noticed nothing but then I became aware that whenever somebody had to open a door, he or she quickly touched the door knob to duct the static electricity before grabbing it again and turning the handle. Also, when they approached the metal shelves of their extensive library, they quickly touched the metal before browsing at their leisure. All this behaviour was automatic, I noticed, and only visitors may have become aware of this odd behaviour. Of course, the current generation of nylon carpets do not have these problems any more, but since they were hard wearing, the early carpets can still be seen in some offices.

Peter Frederick

Monday, March 21, 2011


Stopping outside the warehouse of the company Harley Kraus, I walked past the rows of parked cars, all company vehicles.
 Among them was the managing director’s car, which was always a Holden Statesman. The other executives’ cars and the representatives’ vehicles were mainly station wagons, like mine. There must have been a sales meeting in progress because the whole car park was occupied with company cars, with no space to spare.
Parking in their large driveway where a sign indicated ‘No Parking Allowed’ - we had an understanding in this matter- I had walked purposefully into their warehouse, where a group of salesmen were standing around, cheery, laughing and eager to explain to me the reason for their hilarity. But this was done in a roundabout way.
‘Did you see all the cars outside?’ Lyle, their Senior Salesman made a start. ‘Yes? Did you see our country traveller’s car, parked outside our managing director’s window? Ha, ha. . . ‘ He had to stop to cope with another attack of laughter. Actually everybody in the warehouse seemed to be in an unusual state of merriment. They all laughed, from storemen, the representatives, to the cleaning lady. I felt like an undertaker at a clowns’ convention!
I probed Lyle again: ‘What is so funny about your country traveller’s car? Go on, tell me. I could do with a good laugh!’
‘Go and have a look at his car. You can’t miss it. It’s parked right outside the managing director’s window.’ He could not speak any further as he was doubling-up again.

‘All this guffawing and nobody tells me the reason!’ I muttered. And since I am not inquisitive, just a bit nosey, I keenly walked back outside to find out more about this. In the company car park, I found the managing director’s window and sure enough there was a traveller’s station wagon parked outside it. It looked clean and shiny and peering into it from one side, I noticed it filled up with samples and rugs, literature and leaflets. There was an order book and even a pair of gum boots for rainy days and rough roads in the country. I saw nothing unusual and felt disappointed.
Back I went into the warehouse and confronted Lyle: ‘What is so funny? This car looks like my own car; perhaps a bit cleaner. It seems to have been washed recently!’
The laughter around me started again and Lyle offered further assistance: ‘Go outside again and have another look at it from the other side, the street side, you know, away from the window.’
Feeling a bit silly and irritated, I went out again to the car and walked around it to the side facing away from the managing director’s window. I stood stunned, staring in disbelief. The other side was the filthiest car I had ever seen. There seemed to be the dirt of centuries of country trips sticking to it, with bundles of grass peering at me from behind the mudguards. The side windows, smeared with red dirt, seemed opaque, giving complete privacy. But only on this one side! Looking at the car from both sides I saw that it had been carefully washed and polished - but only on the side facing the managing director’s office window. There was a clear demarcation line right in the middle of it, separating civilisation from wilderness.
‘That is incredible’, I exclaimed, rejoining the crowd inside the building.‘What is the story behind all of this?’
And then they explained: ‘Every time we have our weekly sales meeting, our country representative, you know old Bill, a bit rough and uncouth, comes straight from his country trip and always parks his dirty car smack right outside the managing director’s window. And his whole wagon always looks like the dirty half you’ve just seen. So, whenever we have our sales meeting, the old man sees this filthy, dirty company car outside his window and doesn’t like it! So, last week, he sent a message to the country representative: if his car was not cleaned to a shine he was not to park it outside his window. He doesn’t want so see all that filth . . .’ More derisive laughter all round.
‘So, to please him, our Bill, great joker he is, carefully washed the side facing the window. And the managing director is now happy.’
Shaking my head and laughing, I completed my business there. Life was wonderful, I thought, full of funny incidents - nobody could make up such a story! Reality was much funnier.

 Peter Frederick

Thursday, March 17, 2011


     ‘Good morning, Sharon. How are you today?’ I greeted the sales lady  cheerfully upon entering the large shop. She sat behind a desk and her eyes had left the magazine pages slowly and turned towards me. Obviously, she didn’t like to be interrupted whether by company representatives or even customers. In this matter she treated everybody with equal indifference!
‘Morning, Peter,’ she mumbled with a face long and bored. ‘The boss will be in tomorrow morning.’
‘I know, Sharon, I’ve just come to update your samples.’
‘I don’t know where they are but they are here somewhere’ she shrugged her shoulders and repeated, ‘the boss will be in tomorrow morning.’
‘Yes,’ I said and smiled. ‘I’ll find my samples,’ and walked towards a brick wall where all the sample books and catalogues were laid out in a neat row. They were, however, totally mixed up with other companies’ samples and it took me a while to collect and rearrange them to display them all together in one section of the shop. Then I brought in new samples from my car and handed  Sharon a new pricelist and maintenance instructions.
 ‘Any problems?’ I inquired, ‘anything I may be of assistance with?’
Again, she forced her gaze away from her magazine ‘Don’t know’ she muttered, looking utterly bored. ‘The boss will be in tomorrow morning.’ And having said this, she lowered her head, returning to her magazine.
Suddenly the telephone rang. She slowly reached for the receiver and listened to a customer talking. When the flow of words stopped, the familiar phrase was heard again. ‘The boss will be in tomorrow morning’. ‘Click’, she  hung up!
I tried to strike a conversation: ‘There is the Argus Hospital not far from here and they need a lot of floor coverings. The maintenance manager’s name is Ted Kneebone. If you contact him and ask for an opportunity to quote, I can help you with a quantity discount to win the contract.’
I did not get any further as she cut me off in a sleepy voice: ‘The boss will be in tomorrow morning’.
Knowing when defeated, I bade her ‘Goodbye’ and as I walked out of the shop I saw her attend a customer who had just walked into the premises. She was a housewife, asking right out for wall-to-wall carpet, which she was keen to have installed as soon as possible. She explained to Sharon that she had a party in a week’s time and that she just ‘had to have the carpet installed by then.’
And to my amazement, I heard Sharon answer - yes you’ve guessed it! I had the feeling that if somebody had told her ‘Excuse me but your warehouse is on fire’ she would have said just as calmly: ‘The boss will be in . . . ‘ until the flames reached her behind, I thought nastily.

Peter Frederick

Sunday, March 13, 2011


I had known Ken Kendall for many years. Always cheerful, a great yarn spinner and very entertaining to listen to, I found that whenever I was in a pensive mood, meeting him always made me laugh and forget whatever stress I was under. Tall, somewhat overweight, but in a pleasant way, he had the ruddy face of a country lad rather than a city slicker’s. Plus, he had the widest grin in the country, with only his ears to stop his face from splitting.
‘Will you have a cup of coffee with me, Ken?’ I was enjoying the prospect of a good yarn and was not to be disappointed.
‘Alright, Peter.’ He sat down comfortably whilst I ordered him a coffee. ‘I arrived here this morning and have to work my way across the towns along the border with NSW. Which way are you headed?’
‘I have to work my way back to Melbourne, Ken. There is some business to attend to here which I will have finished by tonight.’
Knowing that Ken was privately a keen breeder of dogs and had won numerous prizes by participating in the many dog shows in the country, I steered the conversation to this subject.
‘And how are your dogs doing, Ken? Any recent successes?’
To my amazement, he became suddenly very serious and nearly swallowed his coffee the wrong way.
‘Don’t ask me about that’, he stated, ‘I have had a terrible disappointment recently and suffered great embarrassment which I won’t be living down for a long time! I don’t wanna talk about it.’

Knowing Ken well, I just looked at him in expectation. He was going to tell me the details any moment now and it would be a real yarn! And perhaps it would be a funny story. But I had to help things along. ‘Come on, Ken, you can tell me? You know I love animals; you can confide in me!’
‘Oh, I don’t know, really . . . alright! This is what happened to me.’
I quickly ordered two more capuccinos as he began filling me in.
‘Yes, Peter, like I said, I had a great disappointment at a recent dog show. You know that I breed pedigree dogs and have won a number of prizes with them. Well, I have this beautiful dog and groomed him for an upcoming dog show, confident of winning a prize. Unfortunately, I noticed that the dog had only one testicle, which disqualifies him from any dog show. These dogs have to be perfect! So, I spoke with my veterinary surgeon who explained to me that sometimes one testicle remains in the body.
‘”But we can do something!” he said. “Why don’t you let me give him a silicon implant, the same size as his other testicle - it’s only a very small incision and practically invisible. Nobody will know any difference. And you can show him and win prizes!” Anyway, that’s how my vet talked and I really thought ‘beauty, I’ve solved the problem!’
‘And, what happened? Did it work?’ I was at the edge of my seat.
Ken, who quickly sipped another mouthful, suddenly assumed an expression as if he had just tasted lemon juice.
‘Well, yes and no’, he continued. ‘I had that silicon testicle implanted and the dog looked terrific. Nobody was any the wiser.’
‘And? Did you win a prize with this dog?’ I asked slightly breathless with suspense.
‘Let me finish the story,’ he reprimanded and continued. ‘On the day of the dog show, when the judges came to judge my dog, he was on a high pedestal, with the spotlights trained on him. It got really quiet as everybody’s eyes were riveted on the judges and on my pedigree dog. And then the scandal broke. The judges found that the bloody dog had three testicles! Peter,’ he touched my forearm, ‘it was terrible. I’ll never hear the end of this.’
I doubled up with laughter and wiped the tears from my eyes.
Ken spread his hands disarmingly ‘Honestly, Peter, how could I have known that the thing stuck in his body would suddenly drop overnight. And it did so just in time for the show!’

 Peter Frederick