if I’m allowed to

The room is full of vidioettes, those who await a six digit connection to several remote sites by videoconference. There’s a buzz in the room while the remote is sourced, mute is on. Space for wall flowers at the room’s periphery is tight, for those seeking the outer limits of obscurity. Table hugging job grade climbers seek prime locations at the laminated board table edge. These are prime spots in the “look at me” status stakes. Those surer of their status hover mid distance tween table and wall, knowing their interruptions can always be sustained by a table hugger unmuting the mic for them before they speak.
I nearly slumber. The previous meeting minutes are skimmed, while I shuffle an untidy sheaf of papers which I know don’t contain the minutes. It appears though I’m better prepared than those who’ve chosen to go to the meeting paperless and tablet less. Impressions count. Then the call is made,
“Who’s gonna move the minutes?”
Most of the wall flowers have their tongues firmly stapled to the rooves of their mouths, but a Hobart table edger slips a digit up and says,
“I’ll move ’em!”
“So who’s gonna second them” comes the disembodied voice from Launceston again. Nothing happens, nothing. The video at North West judders, there’s pixilation from Burnie, slightly less than MCH and I look around. It’s quiet in Hobart.
“So who’s going to move them?” is asked again. After a pregnant pause a soft voice from the Launceston theatre is acknowledged as a seconder.
It goes on like this meandering through the action list items for which apparently no-one in any of the rooms is accountable. There are waffly self aggrandising minor updates on where the heck they’re going. At least the meeting form is being followed!
And onto a dissertation on “The Transition,” from the Launceston Revealer. Its long, torturous and rambley, covering old and new ground at the same depth, consistently shallow. It dawns on me that what she’s talking about convolutedly reverts us nearly right back to where we were just over two years ago. That the change was “nothing much to worry about” while ” we continued with business as usual” allowed us to watch as the change sowed the seeds of its own destruction. Ultimately the new brooms were closeted.
The same description is being used by the Launceston Revealer to describe this new change. I find myself wondering why senior people who had the means, leverage or gall, decamped to regions unknown only to re appear as the designers/reviewers of “The Transition”.
From the pit of my tummy something stirs. The lyrics sound the same, the melody vaguely familiar. Though there seems circularity and vague symmetry, some folk in fact did worry and were affected. Though in the first iteration the union got involved causing the process to drag and drag the fact that the implementers were naïve to Taswegian practices and mores, conspired to make the whole experience mind numbingly extended. The tricky mass meetings trying to ‘sell’ the idea were a massive waste of time for such a patently self evident need for change. An amalgamation of disparate sites into a cohesive whole wasn’t exactly rocket science. But then again this is health, nudge nudge, wink, wink, and it must be important hey.
So after a further meandering through the peaks of professional status and troughs of divisions at the 42nd Tasmanian parallel, a Hobartian dares query the Launceston Revealer.
” Will this Transition be subject to a change proposal for union consultation!”
After some more waffling, the Launceston Revealer’s response attempts to bat the issue right out into the long grass.
” Is there anyone down there, some senior manager who can take this query off line and explain this to Hobartian enquirer,” she hopes.
Its a little tense, then tenser, Hobart eyes formerly raised are now floor gazing, as its apparent there are no senior managers present. There’s plenty of wannabe acting managers and the otherwise disengaged, two of whom are already thumbing it on mobiles.
Eventually we hear,
” I’ll take it up with the enquirer,” a Hobartian says. Who it is, isn’t clear.
Sorted, phew, the Launceston Revealer goes on,
“Ok, then I’ll continue about the Transition for the rest of you,” she says, adding ,” if I’m allowed to.”
The muted tone of the slipper sinking in.
Do others hear it? Doubt it. Those who matter to me do.
I jot it down.


Leaving pivot

The CEO of the organisation of the World wide organisation came  to present me with the Award for best operational performance, worldwide.
His name was Julian, unused to standing on linoleum which was laid canteen in the workers canteen. His shoes were more acquainted with the soft springiness of wool on superior underlay. After speeches lauding the achievements in the past few months he presented me with “the Bosses Baton”. He’d explained that this baton had been a tradition of the organisation after it had originally been found in an antique dealer’s and had been used by the organisation for formal awards. Contained within its perfectly interlocking halves was a scroll of attainment which the Chairman or CEO presented for meritorious performance.

Alongside Julian stood Carl, an operations general manager, and Steve the plant operations foreman. I’d stood in almost the same spot in that canteen some seven months earlier when being considered for the role of plant manager. I’d scanned the sceptical employee faces in whose eyes I read,

“Who the fuck’s this Chinaman?”
Carl was however a little more up market, only just. He wanted to know what I knew about making superphosphate. He’d been in the game more than 30 years at various Australian plants, and was recently retrenched from a New South Wales operation. The role he was now filling was something of a comedown  though the job at least kept him employed.
“Nothing really,” is the essence of what I told him. Though the plant was massive and filthy the basic chemistry and processing was simple. Grind up bird shit, pour on concentrated sulphuric acid, granulate the output. I wondered how hard it could really be.

However, I could appreciate his scepticism at having me foisted on him, the plant’s performance clearly gave those in charge up the line the heebie geebies. The  opportunity to make vast profits from the Chinese closure of exports of superphosphate was going begging. Carl’s view and those he reported to were, um, at variance.
Having determined some technical issues of grinding mill outputs, I’d gone out to visit customers to understand what they really needed and how well we were doing in their eyes.
“Been spreading super for 30 years out here and this is the first time we ever saw anyone from the plant let alone ask how we’re doing” was the response of the largest superphosphate spreading contractor in the western district. I’d found this comment enlightening. He showed me samples from one or the other of stockpiles through his yard, and after caressing each handful assessed each as good or crap. I tried the same unable to tell the difference, though it seemed to do with the particle size distribution. In fact these contractors had been issued with plastic samples for quickly assessing sizing in the field. Such devices were unknown in the plant.
Reporting back on my foray out to our customers to Carl replied.
“Never had to bother seeing these guys, they take what we make, they’re lucky to get anything any way. That’s the first and last time you waste the company’s time on such jaunts.
“Hmmh,” I thought, suitably chastened, “seems like the mistakes made thirty years ago are repeated reliably year on year since then.”

I kept these thoughts to myself.
Two months after Julian’s presentation to me the plant continued to perform well when the HR manager Sam caught me walking down the long corridor to my office early one morning,
“Come on in,” Sam said let me make you a cup of coffee, real coffee! I’ve got something to tell you.”
“Ok” I replied, entering his office and easing into a dark red fabric covered chair beside the occasional table in the corner of the somewhat spartan office.
“Wadda ya reckon, that’s real coffee eh!” he beamed having gone through the whole rigmarole of creating that dark black Turkish coffee on a silver salver half the size than would have been adequate.
“Not bad, not bad at all!” I replied, “We seem to have gotten on top of the plant issues now”
“Um, well that’s sorta what I want to talk to you about.”
“Oh,” I said.
“Yes” he replied. ‘Carl wants to get rid of you.”
I looked at him. Not really surprised but not really expecting the guy who’d spent a lot of his time recruiting me had such a message to deliver.
“Ok,” I said after a moment’s reflection. I’d come with a specific task in mind, plant improvement. The EBA I was negotiating with the local union wasn’t going that well. In fact it was stalled. Holding the company line in negotiations it was clear to me the position was untenable. The delegates had told me directly that Carl was the man. They regarded him as the decision maker, and though I was handling the face to face contacts, they knew that real decisions were all subject to their drinking mate Carl’s veto. Together they’d all drunk their way around the pubs of Geelong together, lubricating the victory of Geelong in the AFL grand final.
“Ok, I’ll leave right now with three month’s salary in lieu of notice.” I continued.
Sam looked at me.
“You sure?” he said.
“Never surer,’ I answered, thinking that such an idea would never be accepted.
Sam looked at me, swigged down half his coffee, rose from his desk and said.
“I’ll see what I can do. Stay here, make yourself another coffee.”
He opened the door, swung left, and went down the corridor to Carl’s office, half way to my office.
I sat there. A year’s pay for nine months work. Nice gig if you can get it I thought. The office seemed to shake a little.
Halfway through a new brew, the door opened slowly and Sam appeared, downcast mouth and eyes. Can’t be good his face seemed to say. Closing the door his face lightened then beamed.
“Ok, ok…. got it!” he said.
“What!’ I nearly shouted, “what!, really .. really?’ I was incredulous. “Really?
“Yep, you can pack you gear and leave now,” he said.
I trusted Sam but not others. Together we calculated what the payout would be and once agreed I said.
“When I see that amount in my CBA bank account, I’m outta here.”
“That’s pushing it,” Sam said, “ we can get it into your account next payday.
“Well I can’t go unless I see the dough. Don’t trust it’ll all arrive. By the way how did you do that anyway.”
Sam opened up “Well, I said to Carl you wanted four month’s pay and he hit the roof!” I guess that was the building shaking  I’d felt.
Sam said Carl had shouted at him “Get that bugger out of here. Give him three month’s pay and out of here right now”
Sam told Carl that he’d see what he could do and had left Carl’s office tail twixt legs.
“Just go down to your office, pack your things and check your bank account in the next half hour. Carl’s onto it right now.”
I tiptoed down the corridor past Carl’s closed office door, and in the time honoured tradition emptied my personal belongings into a cardboard carton, a carton for baked beans of the Heinz 57 varieties if memory serves me well. I fiddled around with the pc, transferred personal stuff to a thumb drive then opened internet banking. Like a PC poker machine jackpot, the bank account was updating with five figure amounts I’ve rarely seen. Could it be true?
I turned the PC off, then back on again. The account balance had now stabilised at a figure several tens of thousand dollars greater than had been there an hour ago.
Cardboard box under my arm, I closed my office door quietly strode up the corridor past Sam’s office for a cheery sayonara and then I was gone.

Once home I showered off the dust of Incitec Pivot.

Porridge [Scottish]

blueberry bowl breakfast cereal
Photo by JÉSHOOTS on Pexels.com

It’s the morning tea setup out front of the Development Day Conference, a time to mingle and network

“G’day, I’m David, and I can see that you too prefer full milk rather than the skinny or other emasculated slops that imaging themselves as milk.”

“Yes a victory of marketing over facts,” she says somewhat authoritatively ” Golly when I go by the supermarket there’s so many  types of so called milk, A2, full fat, low fat, skim, lactose-free  and more in the cold glass fronted fridge, its’ so damn difficult to find just real milk!”

“My thoughts exactly….if God had meant all these types he’d have built cows differently hey,” I replied with a nod.

I asked how she had found the sessions so far which I’d absorbed with interest.

“Oh bit hard to concentrate for me as I’ve just got back from three weeks in UK which was magnificent.”

“Oh,” I responded sensing that talk of the developments at ACHS were on the back burner for now.

“So how was that for you, where did you go?”

“I went for family reasons down south in Devon, but the weeks we spent in the Orkneys and Shetland were incredible. The geology and scenery were so breathtaking, lonely and wild.”

“Really.” I said, “and so cold up in the Shetlands close to the Arctic Circle.”

“Yes it was amazing. I was born in Tasmania and this was simply at another level! So much variety, the birdlife was stunning and the grandeur of the cliffs awe inspiring.”

I remembered being fascinated by a televisual documentary I’d seen on the geology of Great Britain, its diversity and variety of landscapes. Rocks of almost all geological ages being shown and their representation across the isles from the folding of the earth’s crust. But now wasn’t the time.

” So what else was really worth while seeing in the North of the UK ” I asked.

“Ah the water mill at Golspie Mill, Sutherland Scotland” she said.

“They were milling wheat and oats in the traditional way, labour intensive but so much more healthy, the nutrients are all retained.”

‘There’s nothing like oat porridge with a pinch of salt and stirred till creamy.”

“You use salt in?” she queried, “Down in Devon where I’m from is was sugar. I remember when I was a little girl on school camp how funny we found it when at camp on the lochs of Scotland that the porridge was so salty.”

“But it was just a pinch of salt” I said.

“Yes” she said but how Scottish!

And my mind went back through time. I wondered how I knew to put salt in porridge rather than sugar while cooking. I’d watched my mum cooking porridge over the gas stove and as I get older I long for the same comfort food. She must have learnt the same from her mother all those years ago, who passed the Scottish custom on to her.

I’d been reminded of my heritage.