Whenever I delve into memories of my time as a rep, the most colourful ones are those involving complaints, mainly from the public, that is, the end-consumer. Naturally, I have always been on the consumer’s side being a consumer myself. Where there has been a manufacturer’s fault I have always said so in my report and made sure that swift action was taken by my company. There was a Mrs Pendlebury, an elderly lady who seemed to have, despite her age, a lot of energy. ‘Please, Peter, go out and have a look at her vinyl flooring – I can’t find a thing wrong.’ These were the words of her harassed flooring retailer. ‘And she hasn’t paid me yet!’ the latter was being said with an anguished voice with a soupçon of pleading. ‘Of course, Simon, I’ll gladly help you!’ I had a busy day but this kind of service took precedence over everything. ‘I shall phone your customer now and ring you straight back about our appointment. And don’t worry, Simon, if it is a manufacturer’s fault, I shall say so!’ ‘Thanks, Peter!’ came his grateful reply. At the appointed time, Mrs. Pendlebury received me well enough, opening her door widely and giving me a gesture of welcome. ‘I am terribly disappointed with the floor. It is not as I expected and looks awful, especially with the spot I told the retailer about. I cannot remove it, no matter how hard I try……..’ She took me through the large, clean house to the back door and there, her bony finger pointed at the floor: ‘There!’ she looked at me accusingly. ‘I am sorry, Mrs Pendlebury, but I can’t see anything wrong. What exactly is it? I had put my trusted microscope on the floor and lying flat on my stomach, ascertained that the pigmentations and pores were without blemish. I had to force myself to keep calm because I had two architects already waiting for me who wanted to discuss business. I had the habit of living in ‘airtight compartments’ as I termed it. Each matter is being dealt with thoroughly and satisfactorily without any thoughts of other tasks that are awaiting my urgent attention. Only when one task was completed would I move on the next one! Suddenly Mrs Pendlebury started to tell me how she saw the spot every time, but only from a certain angle – I could not follow this explanation and asked her to be more specific. ‘Perhaps, it would be best if you would demonstrate to me how you see the spot that is so annoying you.’ I suggested. She nodded with determination and her rimless glasses showed some reflecting light, giving her a piercing look. With a commanding gesture she stepped ahead through the house with me following her, slightly confused. She opened the door to a toilet. ‘There!’ she played her trump card. ‘When I sit here, with the door open, I can see through the passageway into my lounge room, and there, at the other end, near the back door, I can see this spot! Very irritating – I am not putting up with that!’ ‘But we were there and there is no spot!’ ‘If you sit down you can see it!’ she exclaimed. ‘It could be a light reflecting of something – even my microscope showed nothing.’ ‘Sit down and have a look!’ Her voice sounded hostile and I realised that time for diplomacy had come. ‘I have noted everything down and taken photos of the area at your back door and shall complete my report as soon as I get to my office. Further, I shall phone everything you said to my office in advance to speed things up. I only want to quickly measure the distance from the back door to your er…..seat, for accuracy sake.’ Pulling my measure tape from my belt I quickly took action. She seemed to be satisfied for the moment as she had got more reaction from me than from the other people she had complained to before. Back in my car, I had this unreal feeling I occasionally get and took a long gulp from a soft drink bottle. The next complaint I had to inspect was actually justified. There was a smeary substance on the floor’s surface, making it extremely slippery and holding dust and dirt. Mrs. Mandel turned out to be a proud housewife. She wore an apron and the smell of delicious food wafted through the rooms of the house, wonderful and, yes, appetising! She showed me through the entire house which was in a spotless state, decorated with Jewish religious objects which seem to gleam with pride. Walking through her lounge room she briefly introduced me to a young student from Israel she had staying with her. He seemed to be immersed in religious studies, judging by his orthodox attire, his pale face and the book he had in his hand. Her large dining room was a showcase and I noticed from the way she talked that he had trust in me, which I found a rare feature among complainants. Most of them would treat me with caution and expect the worst from me. Mrs Mandel, in her polite way, started to talk about her flooring whilst I opened my clipboard and made notes as she talked. ‘As you can see, the floor is unusually slippery, very slippery.’ And she started to act out a recent incident. She swept her hand over the long, old-fashioned oak table and the high-backed chairs, neatly positioned as if inviting me for a meal. ‘A few days ago I had guests here. When I came into the room from the kitchen with a full tray I slipped and nearly fell on top of the rabbi!’ My head went deeper into my folder and my writing hand shook a bit as I pictured the scene. In this case I could recommend a floor-stripping solution in the mopping-up water, easily obtained from any supermarket and an acrylic-based surface treatment instead of the wax-based solution she had been using. Writing down the brand names on a piece of paper, like a doctor writes prescriptions, I left this place with the good feeling of having actually been of help in a genuine case!
Near the end of my business trip I suddenly developed a toothache. ‘Why is it that whenever things are going well, there is always something to mar the joy?’ were the thoughts that went round in my head. ‘My days in Tasmania have gone really well: I obtained a number of orders, helped a lot of clients with my service and expertise and now I suddenly have this intense pain.’ I had had troubles with a back molar before and the dentist back in Melbourne had deadened the nerve, pending a proper filling. Naturally, my repressive memory worked well – too well – and I had forgotten all about it. But now I was reminded of this unresolved problem at the most inopportune moment! Now I suddenly had to find a dentist and find one fast! It was a very modern practice with a few treatment rooms and plenty of dental assistants. There is always a way of identifying an upmarket dentist by the number of assistants and this one really had them milling about behind the reception counter and rushing in and out of treatment rooms. After noting down my personal details on a questionnaire, I was taken to a large room, ultra-modern and furnished with everything pneumatic, electric and ecstatic, I thought. Dr John Benton came into the room and introduced himself to me whilst the two assistants stepped into the background, looking at me expectantly. Dr John was a pleasant looking youngish doctor, with an air of competence about him. He realised right away that I had neglected my treatment in Melbourne and with the dead nerve in my tooth, probably gangrene had set in, hence the pain. He was very tactful about this and only mentioned this in between praising me for brushing my teeth regularly. Pressing a button, whilst talking to me, he positioned me horizontally and whilst examining my mouth, filled it with various instruments, preventing me from talking. Looking up to the ceiling, I found that even that area had been commandeered for the patient’s comfort. There was a large picture on the ceiling, right above my head, a painting of an idyll, that is, a lake with white swans gliding serenely past a boat with two semi-naked ladies or water nymphs sitting in it, gracefully admiring water lilies they were holding in the palm of their pretty hands with a comely gesture. A gentle wind seemed to take some leaves from the willow trees at the water’s edge, couching them lovingly as it transported them through the air to place them gently onto the water’s surface, around the boat, like placing a baby into its cradle. It was a picture of complete serenity and taking it in was like a beautiful dream…. And then I saw something horrible that would have made me sit bolt upright if I had been able to! It was so disgusting that my mouth clamped shut but could not do so properly because of all the instruments I was biting into. There was on the picture, right above my head, the biggest black spider I had ever seen! Larger than my hand and wearing a disgustingly bristly black fur coat. It did not move but should it ever wish to drop down, it would fall directly into my mouth! Perhaps that was what this arachnoid was thinking know because it remained motionless, clearly contemplating its next move. Staring at it in horror, I heard John’s amazed voice: ‘Open your mouth, please!’ I could not tell him anything, as this monster could decide any moment to drop on me and it was clearly better to keep my mouth shut. All I could manage was some gurgling sound. John ordered something from the assistant who was standing by his side. ‘Peter, open your mouth please!’ He noted that something was wrong with me, as my body was rigid and sweat was appearing on my face. My eyes were wide open and staring upwards. He switched off some apparatus and the sucking noise stopped. It was relatively quiet in the room. ‘Why doesn’t anybody look up to the ceiling?’ I increased the pressure of my bite on the instruments in my mouth. By pressing a button, he quickly converted my dental chair into upright position. ‘Peter, why don’t you open your mouth?’ He asked with forced patience. His pretty assistants looked at me puzzled. Up there!’ I groaned, managing to use one arm. Finally, they all looked up and saw it too. With horror on their faces, they ushered me into another room with identical layout but minus the spider. The following root canal treatment was sheer bliss for me – I cannot relay the relief I felt and shall always be grateful to the good dentist and his dedicated and understanding team!
Ben Sampkins had a large retail shop that was not located in a shopping centre but hidden away in an area of factories. Somehow, this attracted lots of customers to him and he was placing orders quite frequently with my company, making him a much valued customer. Of course, I made sure that he had the latest samples and installed an attractive display stand in his shop. It was made of tubular steel with large, horizontal, selector pages to flip over. Housewives and decorators alike loved to stand there and leaf through its range of patterns. Arriving there, I noticed a few cars parked right outside, which is always a good sign of business. It had a very wide shop front and the interior reached a long way to the back to where the offices were. Stopping for a moment at the entrance, I took in picture, the whole layout of this attractive showroom. There were big rolls of carpets, arranged in herringbone fashion and on the side walls were hung beautiful rugs, passageway runners and over-locked carpet pieces. And sure enough there was a vinyl flooring section far in the back, near the offices, where my company’s display stand dominated the PVC flooring section. From the ceiling were hung large signs, pictures of room settings and ‘Specials’ advertising, swaying slightly in a gentle breeze. There was something else that called attention to itself: a grey tabby cat that kept brushing up against my leg in a friendly gesture of welcome. I patted the top of a roll of carpet and it understood immediately, jumping up onto the spot I indicated. Naturally, since every staff in the shop seemed busy, I felt unobserved and therefore tickled this fluffy creature under the chin, behind the ears and stroked it vigorously, whispering sweet nothings and looking into its beautiful trusting eyes. I have never heard a cat purr so loudly; it licked my hand fast and with dedication – obviously, this gorgeous creature loved to be loved and to give love! Eventually I had to stop and proceeded into the back of this gigantic showroom, where I found Ben in his office. He was a middle-aged man with the youngish, ruddy complexion of a country lad. Sitting down, I immediately directed our conversation to the subject of my visit. There were new samples of floorings with especially developed low maintenance properties, always an excellent selling feature which I had to make him acquainted with. Together, with prices, technical literature and maintenance instructions, I stacked everything neatly on his desk and then decided to pay him a compliment. ‘You have a lovely cat, Ben! I’ve just played with it………’ But I didn’t get any further. ‘Oh, that bloody cat – drives me mad!’ Was his unexpected outburst. ‘But – it’s a lovely cat!’ Was my stunned utterance. ‘Well, you can have him.’ he acclaimed. ‘Why? Don’t you like cats?’ I jumped to its defence. ‘That bloody cat’, he repeated, ‘gets on my nerves…..I’m gonna get rid of him. Hangs around, costing me money, always wanting something………’ ‘But it is a wonderful creature, a loving companion, a kind of partner……’ I found myself representing cats in general and that fluffy, furry creature I’d made friends with. ‘Take him with you! Go on, take him I can’t stand the sight of him anymore.’ His face reddened even more and his voice sounded very aggressive. The arguments went back and forth for a while. Realising how long I had been with him and that it is never wise to upset a good customer, I stood up to bid my farewell. Trying to hide my hurt feelings I left his office. Once outside his room, I found the cat was waiting for me. With its big amber eyes it looked so friendly and its fuzzy face was so lovable and trusting, my heart sank. ‘You poor creature’, I thought if only somebody would love you’. Then it started to show me the way to the entrance of the shop. Trotting ahead with its tail upright and looking back from time to time, it led me through the gigantic showroom and when we nearly reached the entrance, it jumped onto the same roll of carpet it had sat on before and looked at me encouraging. Naturally, I too, remembered what we had done before, so I stroked and tickled it and whispered sweet nonsense in its lovely ears. And it purred and licked my hand in rapture. ‘Hello Peter!’ One of Ben’s salesmen walked past and I had a desperate thought. ‘Do you want a cat, John?’ He looked surprised and taken aback. ‘Why would I want a cat?’ ‘Ben wants to get rid of this lovely thing here. It needs a home!’ John sounded irritated: ‘He’s had that cat for years…..it wandered in one day and they have been together ever since.’ ‘But he said he ….’ ‘He never gets rid of him. He only talks funny’, John said, walking away and leaving me so relieved that I virtually floated out of this shop as if I’d gotten a very big order!
With all my belongings carefully stored in my station wagon and a full tank of petrol, I drove out of the town only to slow down immediately. Water was everywhere, as far as the eye could see on the horizon. There was no safe land anywhere to be seen, except part of the road ahead where the floods were greedily lapping at its edges. This narrow road was divided by a white centre line, forcing the trucks and semi-trailers to drive perilously close to the edge where there could be a deep ditch submerged beneath the treacherous water. I had no choice but to keep driving as the vehicles behind me were getting impatient. Gripping the steering wheel and taking a deep breath, I drove on. I switched my radio off, as I needed all my concentration to stay on the dry part of the road and to cope with the traffic coming from the other direction, which would submerge me in a wave of water and make my windscreen wipers work more furiously. I glanced nervously at my watch. I had been driving for about thirty minutes and must be halfway to the town of my destination and became aware that my shirt was soaked in perspiration. ‘How these truck drivers manage to overtake each other in such conditions I will never know!’ I wondered. Thundering along, beyond the clearly marked edge of the road and far in the fields, now covered with water; a motorboat was speeding towards me. Its bow created heavy waves on both sides, ‘is it called starboard and stern?’ I thought to myself. As it came closer I recognised it was a four-wheel-drive vehicle, heading for the only dry ground in this inland ocean. An incredible sight, I thought, but there was no way I could have stopped and taken a photo of this strange world, with waves as far as I can see, seemingly trying to merge with the sky. The traffic thinned out with most vehicles overtaking me with breathtaking confidence. Then I noticed that the water’s edge was starting to invade the road. Tongues of water tried to reach the centre line; waves created by overtaking cars and trucks causing me set my windscreen wipers at a faster speed. The rising water seemed to abate and the traffic began to slow down. Then I noticed something like a brown lump ahead of me. ‘A mound of soil? I thought. ‘Or a rock?’ dangerously close in the path of traffic? I better keep an eye on this object and try to avoid it, just in case. At closer observation, I noticed it moving, slowly swaying back and forth and it seemed to be transporting itself along the road. Then I clearly recognised a medium sized, brown dog, was trying to trot with the traffic, God knows where because there was no land anywhere to be seen. The creature seemed to understand that all that traffic was going somewhere and simply wanted to move with it! Its brown fur was dirt-encrusted, especially on the underside of its body, with grass clumps sticking to it. The legs gave the appearance of wearing boots with thick dirt clinging to the body. As I came closer to it, the poor creature looked back at me. And there I got my first shock; this beautiful teddy bear-like face had such an incredible expression of tiredness. The normally attentive ears were drooping, the head was hanging down low, and dirt covered its chest which eventually merged with the muck from the underbelly. ‘Had it been trying to sleep somewhere’? I thought to myself. The dog disregarded my slowing down, visibly not expecting anything from me. I felt that I had to do something for the poor thing. Freaks of weather can affect us all, some more, some less. And I have always considered animals as the most disadvantaged members in our community. I overtook it carefully, taking a risk of crashing into traffic coming from the opposite direction. I stopped the car and opened my rear door invitingly, waiting for the dog. As it approached, I noticed again that it was extremely tired and sore. Its movements were slow and forced. I wondered about how long it had been on the road? With a dripping wet coat, and trying to trot through the water, the dog was clearly spent and worn out, hungry and looking in desperate need of a rest. There was nowhere for it to rest, as there was no firm ground except the road itself, and far too dangerous with the traffic thundering over it. Lifting its droopy head for a moment, visibly strenuous, it recognised my parked car and the opened door. And in a dejected gesture, it decided to ignore me, continuing as if I wasn’t there. ‘Come on! In you get,’ I encouraged, trying to invite it into my car with a gesture of my hand. Then I received a shock, the dog growled and snarled with in such a hostile gesture. I never thought a dog had so much control over his face muscles. The normally beautiful, brown eyes were blazing hostility, conveying, what I thought, was the sensation of terrible disappointment with the human race. This poor creature had been through utter and cataclysmic disappointment and now considered me as a member of a low-life species. Its sense of disgust seemed to penetrate me and reach deep into my soul. What had it been through? What had it experienced? We are certainly not all like that and my help is here now! Slowly, it moved around my parked car, the extra effort of doing so was visibly draining it more. It could not go on like this much longer. I started my car again, carefully overtook the creature and stopped again. Opening the back door of my station wagon again, I quickly threw my carefully arranged samples and other rep’s paraphernalia into the car’s interior and spread the blanket that normally covers everything, inviting the door onto the free space. I felt a wave of anger at myself for not having any food in my car, not even a biscuit or sandwich I could offer. What sort of hospitality was that? And I resolved quickly, that from now on I would always have some sort of sustenance for dogs and cats in my car, together with drinking water and clean bowls. (I had this equipment in my car from then on!) Now the dog came closer again, seemingly heading straight to my opened backdoor. ‘Come on, in you get!’ I said, following up with a determined gesture of my arm, patting the warm blanket I’d spread out. As the dog growled and bared its teeth in a very tired gesture, the normally white in its eyes flared with yellow hatred. Hatred against the human race! And without losing momentum it staggered around the car and ahead, looking so very tired, desperate and utterly disappointed. Since it clearly did not want to have anything to do with me, I had no means of getting it into my car. And unable to leave a morsel of food as a gesture of compassion I drove off to reach the next town, Woolara, where I hoped to get help for this wretched creature. Narrowly avoiding some accidents, I hurtled along the highway, sometimes torn sideways by the waters, but filled with desperation. This was an urgent matter, since the dog could not last much longer the way he was and surely, it could break down somewhere and eventually be run over and killed. On the horizon ahead of me, dry land became visible and then a sign appeared, ‘Welcome to Woolara!’ Reaching the centre of the town, I headed straight to the local police station, half-expecting to be brushed off with my urgent concern. The sergeant looked tired as he sat at his desk, but listened intently and with great compassion. Having just finished his night shift, his leather beaten face betrayed nothing, although at first I was not sure what he thought of my desperate appeal. Then came his short exclamation, ‘These truck drivers are bastards! When they have had enough of a dog they simply kick him out of their cabin!’ Somehow, his voice had the same growl as the dog had. I ended my report with the urgent plea that something needed to be done there and quickly. ‘Isn’t there a dog catcher in the town to rescue him?’ I pleaded. ‘He looks so terribly tired. If it costs anything to rescue him I will gladly pay for it.’ I could not go any further because the policeman looked up at me and said with red eyes, full of moisture, ‘I will be heading in the direction you came from and will look out for the dog! Just leave it with me.’ Heaving himself out of his chair, he reached for his jacket and for his car keys and quickly headed out of his office to his waiting car. But there was something in his movements, some determination, something that filled me with the assurance that someone was looking out for the poor creature.
The day turned out to be a real hot stinker! With not a cloud in the sky and no change predicted for at least another week, everybody was on the beach, enjoying themselves in the beautiful blue water, where gentle surf lifted the people, up and down in rocking motion. Children’s laughter could be heard as Santa, in traditional costume, wandered up and down the sandy foreshore, spreading good wishes and handing out sweets to children. ‘Ho, ho, ho’ could be heard as he went on his merry way, and somewhere, a radio played Christmas carols. The only difference with this Santa was that he was wearing red shorts! One would have thought the whole population of Melbourne was on the beach that day, except me, as I kept driving, going to my next call. Feeling decidedly victimised, I turned the air conditioning a few degrees higher in my car. The last thing I needed was for my dark business suit to become soaking wet with perspiration, with a crumpled shirt sticking to my back. Even the silky appearance of my tie changes with the heat, and looks as if I had just escaped a hanging. The last impression I wanted to give was that of a wretched creep when I was standing in front of a client. Eventually I arrived at my destination and as I got out of the car, the heat hit me like a fly swat. I quickly got my business paraphernalia together and sprinted to the building. I let out a gasp as soon as the swing doors closed behind me and felt the cool air surround me in the air-conditioned building. Somehow, when I entered the architect’s offices, I found the rooms colder still. I wondered whether it was because they didn’t sweat, at least not from the heat. They are always struggling with deadlines, builders, and, of course, like today, because of the heat, the building workers were sent home from the building sites. When I had concluded my business with my client, I had to step outside into the heat again, and as I quickly stored my belongings back into my car, a tourist approached me. ‘I am terribly sorry to trouble you, but would you mind telling me how I get to the airport?’ the tourist spoke in an English voice, sounding honest and desperate. ‘Do you have a car?’ ‘Oh no, I am a visitor’ the young man smiled. ‘Well, the airport bus would take you there. There is a stop right here on the beach road. If you want I can walk you there! Or you can take a taxi, they are everywhere.’ I said. ‘I’ve tried that, but they don’t take any money, I mean British pounds.’ ‘No, they don’t, maybe you could exchange them at the bank! ‘I tried to minimise his problem. ‘The banks are all closed, everywhere!’ He was ahead of me! ‘Ah, yes, there is a bank strike on, state-wide and even their head offices in the CBD have closed. We do like to strike here’ I smiled and tried a bit of what I thought was British humour. ‘But what is your hurry? Bad news from home? I mean any international hotel will accept your credit card or even exchange your currency. At a slightly higher rate, of course. ‘I cannot understand why nobody wants my British Pounds. In Europe they accept them everywhere.’ He said. ‘I wouldn’t say everywhere but, yes, it is widely accepted! You see, they do not know that money here.’ And suddenly, I had the feeling that there was something else that was troubling him and I may be the only person listening to him in a foreign place. I had a few minutes spare before my next visit and made a decision. ‘I tell you what, let’s go into that nice café over there, where we can talk. I know I can help you but it’s too hot standing here! By the way, my name is Peter, and it’s my shout.’ He introduced himself as John. I think he sensed that I may have a solution to his problem, just so long as I was properly informed in order to help. Sitting in an air conditioned café, on comfortable cushioned seats in a quiet nook, he revived a little bit. And I think he sensed that I knew Europe a bit, and started to confide in me, ‘As you know, back home, there is now snow and ice, the trees are stark and devoid of leaves, with the rest of the nature dead or dormant. Some animals are hibernating; others leave the country for southern climes. That’s when there is this terrible Christmas rush, getting more and more hectic every year. People have no time for anything except for Christmas preparations, which they do with their tongue hanging out. There is frenzy everywhere. At work, when shopping, and over-drawing on credit cards.’ John took a grateful sip from his iced coffee, soaked in the coolness of the shop and was increasingly more at ease as he opened up to me. ‘And what really got my goat were these family obligations! Aunts, Uncles, cousins, Grandma, Grandpa, neighbours etc. I hated all of this, they are phoney social obligations as insincere as they are trite. And for once, I wanted to experience Christmas without any of that. Just to be by myself, relax for once, and the hell with everybody else!’ I could clearly understand his sentiments and sensed what he was leading up to. ‘So, I booked a flight to Melbourne, settled in a nice hotel in the inner city, ready to experience something pleasantly different.’ ‘What went wrong, John?’ I was ahead of him. He started to swallow heavily, his eyes suddenly had an embarrassed look and he closed his mouth firmly, not to say anything wrong. ‘You found things very different here!’ I stated. ‘I panicked!’ He burst out. ‘The first few days went all right as there was so much to see, especially the lovely beaches, the friendly people I soaked it all up. But when I saw Santa in shorts and sweating under a palm tree, all the outdoor advertising for lawn movers and the surfers riding the waves, everybody in thongs, a kind of panic came over me and I just had to get back to the Christmas I know.’ ‘Say no more, John, I fully understand. It’s your world, and if you haven’t got your family, what have you really got?’ He nodded eagerly and continued, ‘I have this sense of unreality, I feel like a fish out of water, and now I am suddenly stranded without dollars and have already vacated my hotel.’ ‘That’s no problem, John, because the banks at the airport are always open and you can also arrange for your return flight there’ ‘Yes, Peter, once there, I would not need to go anywhere and simply stay there till my departure.’ He saw the solution and liked it. ‘But how do I get to the airport if nobody takes my British pounds, could you change it?’ I laughed and shook my head. ‘No, John, but since it is Christmas I will shout you the taxi to the airport. It’s important that you get to the airport and once there, you will be able to solve all your problems.’ At the airport, you will be calmer and relieved and there will be nothing stopping you from going home.’ He tried to get up to hail a taxi, but I laid my hand on his shoulder. ‘We do it from here, John,’ I reached for my mobile phone. John wanted my address to post me the money from back home ‘in Australian dollars’ as he emphasised, but I declined. ‘Consider this your first Christmas present this year!’ I explained. It was not long before the taxi arrived. Wishing him a pleasant trip home and a Merry Christmas, I suddenly felt very mellow. Whilst John walked round to his passenger side of the cab, I gave the taxi driver the fare to the airport and they were soon out of sight. The last thing I saw of him was a smiling young face and I pictured a mother welcoming her son back home and just in time for Christmas.