Raconteur Photography

Every Picture tells a story

Wedding Photography Pics

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A Touch of History:

I first started shooting weddings back in the mid 1980s, in the days of pretentious, often tipsy celebrants, convinced of their over-riding central importance. However after several years, fate intervened and a long career path as a marketing manager in the automotive industry, followed by a long period working in Western Australia’s mining industry meant I simply didn’t have the time to continue photographing weddings as a profession, although I often found myself shooting weddings for friends and family.

The need to find a photographer to cover my own wedding convinced me to reconsider wedding photography – there appeared to be a plethora of inexperienced, ‘though well-meaning people available, as well as some admittedly experienced photographers charging like wounded bulls! Then there was the consideration of style – I’m not the posed shot of lovers leaping from balconies sort of guy, I like to capture the reality, the tenderness, the hesitation, the emotion and the fun, so and I began to think there was a niche for a relaxed, laid-back experienced photographer to offer great service, realistic prices and a friendly smile.

My wife and I (Ann’s also an excellent photographer and will help out when needed) decided that after we returned from a two month holiday in Europe at the end of 2015, I’d establish the business, although I haven’t resurrected the ‘Chauffered Photographics’ name, from back in the days when I offered a wedding car for free along with the photography. Although, never say never – I just might get around to buying a suitable wedding car at some stage – I’m not sure the bright, bright yellow XR8 is quite everyone’s choice of wedding car – although … if you want to use it as a wedding car you can – I have the appropriate F Class licence.

The Detail

Relaxed, realistic (read candid and natural) photography capturing the essence and feeling of your special day. All photographs are high res, digitally edited and supplied on a USB stick. All packages also include a selection of small JPEGs for your social media sites. There are no watermarks on the photos and copyright is yours, with the understanding that any published photos credit the photographer (me!). Photos available for collection within two weeks of your wedding taking place.

Should you choose me to cover your wedding – thank you for the honour, however we should meet and talk through your requirements, it’s your wedding, you know what you’re looking for and there are sometimes family situations which need care, or special people you want photographed. It’s one of the most emotional moments of your life – you both need to like and trust the person behind the lens. I find for most couples, it’s virtually impossible to meet during working week days, so I’m more than happy to sit down with you after hours.

The Packages

Please note: All packages cover weddings within 50kms of Perth CBD, a mileage charge of $1.00 per kilometre is applicable for venues more than 50kms from the CBD. Regional venues, such as Margaret River by negotiation.

Bronze   $300.00

One and a half hours maximum coverage, including ceremony, bridal and family photographs at the ceremony location.

Silver   $500.00

Three hours maximum coverage, (includes up to an hour and a half at the reception), covering ceremony, bridal and family photographs, along with initial reception photography.

Gold   $1,200.00

Up to nine hours, covering your wedding from the bride’s preparation, through to the Bridal Waltz.

Please note: We request that all wedding packages should be paid in full, two weeks before the wedding day.

Thanks for taking the time to consider me for your wedding, I look forward to meeting with you both.

Mob: 0418 953 275

E: greg.w.ross@bigpond.com

Refugees – A Crisis On Every Level

Several people have asked me to write my thoughts on the current refugee crisis in terms of people fleeing the Middle East and Africa. I’ve hesitated about writing anything, as the situation is so complex, I find it impossible to give a simple two paragraph analysis. Seemingly every point or personal judgement has an equally valid counterpoint, yet somehow, our world has to find a solution and I believe we all have a duty to be involved, after all, many of our countries contributed to the problems. Two things are certain, to be a politician dealing with the situation must be the stuff of nightmares and to be an unwelcome refugee must be a nightmare. My thoughts, for what it’s worth:

The exodus of people fleeing poverty, or violent religious and political persecution from the Middle East and the African continent, has, as we are all aware, become not only a humanitarian crisis, the like of which has not been seen since WW11, but also a trigger point for heated, increasingly xenophobic debate on migration, poverty, religion and compassion. At the core of the crisis are the barbaric lunatic groups such as ISIS, Al Qaida, Boko Haram and Jemaah Islamiyah, not to mention oppressive regimes such as that of Assad in Syria.

Somehow, the very people who are fleeing from the horror of Islamist terror organisations, are being branded as the terrorists they’re fleeing from, simply because the majority of them are Muslims, although many are Christians. If we go back to the barbaric IRA days of the 1970s, did we brand all Catholics as terrorists because the IRA professed themselves to be Catholic, or all Protestants as terrorists because the dreadful Ian Paisley was a Protestant? Of course not.

Unfortunately the current refugees, for the most part, don’t look like us – ‘us’ usually being of white Anglo Saxon / Northern European ancestry. They wear different clothing, their lifestyles seem very different and their religion appears totally alien to our expectation of a modern civilisation based on Judeo-Christian ethics. Not so long ago, seeing a woman wearing a burqa meant you were visiting an exotic destination somewhere in the cradle of civilisation, nowadays you’re likely to see a woman in a burqa at the local shopping centre and it can be confronting. I personally feel very uncomfortable with it (in Australia), primarily as I believe it represents a misogynist affront to every woman and our sense of freedom and values. I am however, untroubled with the hijab (or a sikh’s turban, or a nun’s habit for that matter) – I can’t see a reason to flaunt a religious belief in public, but hey, to each his or her own and to be fair, the question begs – shouldn’t we be free to wear what we like? For all I know, many Muslim women may feel safe and comfortable in a burqa. Having said that, the only women I’ve seen quoted in the media as favouring and liking the burqa, appear to be woman who have converted to Islam and my life experience of people who have converted to any belief system, is they are often far more fanatical than people born into a faith. There is a very telling site on the internet of women from Islamic nations who wish they weren’t forced to wear burqas, or hijabs.

My point in discussing the burqa, is that generally most of us have very little understanding of the Muslim faith, we haven’t needed or wanted to and I think if we’re honest, there is a subconscious hangover from the days of colonialism and the British Raj, deep down, we believe we’re superior. It’s very comfortable and terribly easy to be a condescending tourist, you know the sort of thing –“Oh how lovely”, “how quaint,” “It’s just so beautiful and old world the way they carry goods on their heads” and so on. In Bali, we gasp laughingly in disbelief and take photos of incredibly overloaded motorcycles, not for one minute caring that those people have very little and are desperately trying to eke out a living. But we’re suddenly very uncomfortable when the same people arrive in Australia, or New Zealand, or the UK, or the USA, or Germany, or France etc, desperate to make a new life for themselves and don’t forget the USA’s long-standing horrendous attitude to Mexican people.

My first experience with a person of the Muslim faith in Australia was in the late 1980s, when, as a Greyhound driver out on the Nullarbor heading east towards the South Australian border, a passenger came up to me and asked me to stop the coach so he could pray. I was stunned and told him politely I couldn’t do it. He became very agitated and it was an uncomfortable trip for everyone from then on. My next experience with a person of the Muslim faith was in the mid 1990s, when I was fortunate enough to meet and be invited to the Perth home of Professor Samina Yasmeen, surely one of the most gentle, educated, thoughtful and delightful people on this Earth, light years away from the ISIS terrorists who profess to share her faith. In recent days, I’ve had several brief chance encounters with Muslim refugees in Germany and I couldn’t wish to have spent time with better people.

Sadly with so many people fleeing to the sanctuary of western democracies, many people in western countries are understandably worried about a perceived clash of cultures. Quite apart from the shocking reality of home-grown terrorism, what most of us have witnessed through the media in the last thirty or so years, is that many of the hard-line Islam based countries are run on brutal barbaric lines. If one takes a country such as Saudi Arabia, where daily beheadings and public viewings over coffee are an accepted norm, why should we expect an Islamic terrorist organisation to behave any differently? Brutality is what the leaders of these organisations have grown up with, it’s normal to them and the West has sanctioned, helped, financed and accepted brutal dictatorships throughout the region for a long while and still does. Bashar Al-Assad stands as testimony to this, if his own people don’t get to him first, you can guarantee some country – probably Russia, will offer him sanctuary, given that the end-game for Putin in supporting Assad, is surely the establishment of a Russian military base in Syria.  ISIS is said to fund its operations with the production and sale of oil and the madness of this trade means they’re even selling oil to the people fighting them.

Since the British were so arrogantly stupid as to ignore the knowledge and advice of T.E. Lawrence re tribal lands, groups and allegiances and simply drew territorial lines in the sand to divide up the Middle East as spoils for allies, (they did exactly the same with Pakistan and Bangladesh), the region has been simmering with tension and tribal hatreds, add to that the establishment of the state of Israel and the simmering hatred has magnified a thousand times. I don’t know why, but for some reason many left wing people these days seem to have a hatred of Israel and anything “Jewish”, the anti-Semitism is frightening, the current British Labour leader, Jeremy Corbyn is a startling case.  I don’t know what it is that people don’t understand about being attacked every day, surrounded by hostile nations and organisations who have always openly declared their aim is to exterminate Israel – if you fly on an Arab owned aircraft, Israel doesn’t even appear on the flight path maps. All I would say to Corbyn, is “Mate, if you were PM and we were being attacked every day, I’d want you to not only defend us, but take pre-emptive moves.” It’s just possible that the best thing that could happen with ISIS, is for them to follow up their newly stated aim of attacking Israel, the Israelis won’t stuff around! France has just as much dirt on its hands as England in terms of colonisation on the African continent and places such as Syria and although we quickly blame the USA for every fire in the Middle East, the reality is in recent years we’ve left the USA to deal with the arrogant mistakes of the British and the French.

This is not to deny that past USA policies have created nightmare situations, but the facts is it was France and England that led the push to oust Gadhafi and England and the USA, plus Australia, led the push into the lie that was Iraq. George Bush, Tony Blair and John Howard have got off lightly considering the insanity they’ve created and left us to deal with. And people wonder why Barrack Obama is leery of putting troops on the ground in Syria, it’s never worked before in the region and there’s no reason to believe it will again, besides, I don’t think he has the taste for what would inevitably be the death of millions of Syrian civilians and the death and maiming of many US soldiers. Putin is another story – he’s possibly more dangerous to ISIS than Israel, where Israel does care but would have to act in self-defensive, pre-emptive or not, Putin doesn’t care, he’s looking for revenge, a military base and an ego boost on both his home and world stages.

The world is lurching to the right, seemingly moving inexorably to totalitarian governments, ordinary people such as you and me are under surveillance in a way that would have brought about absolute outrage and the fall of governments 20 years ago. Australians will remember when the Labor Hawke government wanted to introduce the Australia Card for every citizen to carry, Labor still bears the scars and there isn’t a politician in Canberra who isn’t aware of that debacle.  Poland is the latest example of this insidious creep – the Polish government is acting more and more like the old Soviet Union, with a virtual take-over of the judiciary and a crackdown on journalistic freedom of expression. Democratic EU governments across Europe are calling for, or already putting razor wire border barriers in place, even Germany is now calling for border protection. The UK is better off than most other EU countries – the Channel is a natural barrier, the buck stops with France and the English are very happy about that. I’ve lost a long friendship with somebody in England, who although married to a wonderful woman of African heritage, is frightened and stridently outspoken at what he perceives as the Islamisation of England, unstoppable migration from Africa and the inability of the UK to look after its current population.

It’s entirely possible that this refugee crisis will destroy the EU in its current form, France, Germany and England cannot realistically expect Turkey and Greece to retain, shelter and feed the millions of people pouring in to their countries, yet the barriers are going up. It’s a growing crisis that will inevitably reach an explosive point in the near future. The poorer East European countries cannot and will not support the millions of people either, the temptation to send the refugees on to the wealthy West European countries will become politically irresistible. It would be a fair bet to imagine that sometime in 2016, everyone will need a passport to enter or leave any EU country.

In the USA, Donald Trump, might actually become President – how far from the humanity and fundamental decency of the Kennedy era would that be? Possibly he’d only last a year or so before they’d have to impeach him as a maverick making his own rules, however the damage he could wreak upon the world, let alone his own country is frightening. Sadly the strident xenophobes are having an effect, President Obama has signalled he’s rounding up illegal Mexican families and sending them back, regardless of individual or family circumstance, not to mention that Uncle Sam’s economy is built in part on the virtual slave labour of Mexican people. In Australia, people on social media and in demonstrations are openly campaigning to “Take Back Australia!” From whom? As far as I know, nobody’s taken the joint!

We’ve recently become aware the Australian government has been towing back boats overloaded with refugees to Indonesian waters, if the boats are too unseaworthy, (read slowly sinking), the Australian navy gives them lifeboats and supplies, then pays the Indonesian crews cash to take the people back to Indonesia. And don’t we love it – “Fuck off, we’re full” declare the stickers on car windows and on Facebook. Governments also love it, they feed off this fear, consequently we’re giving tacit approval for ever tighter restrictions on citizens, more surveillance and more totalitarian power to the police. Pushing back boats overloaded with refugees is nothing new, there’s a startling similarity with packet steamers overcrowded to the point of insanity with Jewish people fleeing Europe at the start of WW11 hostilities, being turned away from North African ports, nor were these people welcomed with compassion and joy to most of our countries. What in the name of anybody’s God have the Jewish people ever done to deserve this treatment? I am constantly ashamed of how Jewish people are currently being treated and Israel is demonised.

Time and time again, I read and hear comments about the refugees from people, along the lines of “Yeah! They’re all young men, the bastards should stay and fight ISIS in their own countries if they think it’s a problem!” or “The pricks are just trying to save themselves, they’ve abandoned the women” and so on. Obviously people choose to ignore history, since time immemorial, men have gone away to find new homelands and forge a new life for their families, once established they send for their wives and children. Think of the Chinese and Afghan men who came to Australia during the gold rush times of the late 1890s, the Greek and Italian men who came out in the early days of the 20th century, or after the end of WW11. German men came out after WW11 as well, there was nothing for them back home, indeed German refugees returning to Germany at the end of the war were not exactly welcome – there was no food or work for them, they weren’t wanted back in their own country.

These men worked in whatever country would take them, sending money home for their families, gradually establishing themselves to the point where they could bring out their families. I can’t be certain, however I suspect it would be culturally unacceptable for most of these families to send the women and children out on a perilous journey, while the men stayed at home. How many Australian blokes would think it was fine to stay home and send ‘the missus’ out with the kids, a suitcase and a mobile phone to establish a new life?

So now we’re all terrified, believing the millions of refugees streaming into Europe are all terrorists. Yes, it would be naïve to think that there are no terrorist sleepers amongst the refugees, there must be, but the reality is 99.999% of all these people are fleeing terrorism, brutal regimes and total destruction. Of course they’ve got mobile phones etc, the majority are educated, normal working people just like us! They’ll be an asset to any country providing sanctuary – unless they are marginalised and either don’t or can’t assimilate into the culture of their host country.

And that really does get right to the heart of the terrorist acts we’ve been witnessing. To the horror of governments across the world, the people committing these acts are almost inevitably home-grown, for the most part, they are the sons or daughters of refugees, who are shocked and mortified when they discover the path their children have secretly chosen. France in particular doesn’t want to talk about it, but the fact is their colonial activities in Africa and the middle east meant they’ve had to accept people as French citizens, but they haven’t accepted them socially – they’re not really French, or Belgium for that matter, with the consequence that ghettos of unemployed young people, shunned by mainstream society, with no hope of jobs or a tangible future, have become restless, ripe for the picking by radical Imans. Belatedly the authorities are reaching out, but it may be a little too late.

Australia stands out as possibly the most successful nation in terms of multi-cultural blending, perhaps because we’re young, still shaking off the shackles of British rule and as yet, we don’t have a really strong national identity, language and culture in the way countries such as England, France and Germany do. Germany is particularly interesting, in that while she was never much of a colonial power, her past aggressive culture of waging war, racism and aggressive territory annexation, has meant these days, the country can be seen as being deliberately far more enlightened than many others, Germans are terrified of their early 20th century history – witness Angela Merkel’s initial offer to accept as many refugees as possible.

Back to Australia, and here the Aboriginal people must, like the Maori people of New Zealand, be somewhat bemused at people of European descent demanding their country back! Apart from initial white convict settlement, Australia has had several great waves of migration – the goldrush days of the 1880s and 1890s, on a smaller scale, the pearling industry boom from the 1880s through to the early 20th century, then huge migration from Europe, including England, after WW11 and on a smaller scale, Asian peoples coming after the Vietnam and Cambodian wars.

Under any examination, these migrations have been an enormous success for Australia, migrants arrive to better themselves, they work long and hard and they enrich our society, bringing their cultures with them, in terms of food, lifestyle and yes, religious belief. Certainly they have communities of their own, whether it’s Hungarian clubs, Italian clubs, Greek Clubs, Chinese business associations and so on, but there is no threat, perceived or otherwise, so why are we so terrified of Muslim people from the Middle East?

I have to be honest, the thought of a future Australia becoming a quasi Islamic nation does not appeal to me. There have been some wonderful more or less democratic Islamic nations such as Iran, Turkey, Pakistan, Egypt, Malaysia and Indonesia, but with the exception of Indonesia and Malaysia, although they both have strict Sharia law courts and in the case of Indonesia, in Aceh Province, Sharia Law applies to non-Muslims, they have either fallen to hard line Islamists, or appear to be in the process of becoming hard line. We are told things such as Sharia Law are quite harmless, but that’s not the evidence I see and to discover in the last week, that Sharia Law is being practiced with a degree of government approval in Sydney, to me is both frightening and unacceptable, I don’t want that for my children’s children. And let’s not forget the abominations of forced female circumcision and the arranged marriages of young girls.

I’m best described as an Agnostic lapsed Church of England bloke and I am a firm believer in the absolute separation of State and Religion, but Religion interests me and everyone should have the right to follow their own chosen faith, or non-belief if it comes to that, however I also believe it is a private matter for individuals, nobody should ever have the right to impose their religious belief system on anybody else and the rule of law must take precedence over any belief in a god. That appears to be a real issue with Islam. I can only rely on what I’ve read and heard in the media, but continually we are told by Muslim leaders and their people, that Muslims answer to their god (and therefore the Imans rulings) first and their country second. Now that’s OK in principle, potentially it could even be argued that it’s ethically and morally right for an individual, but if the God you believe in is being forcefully interpreted by an Iman preaching intolerance and hate, then there is a terrible and totally unacceptable problem. As yet, I have not seen an Iman preaching love and tolerance in the way Church of England, Catholic, Buddhist and the Orthodox ministers and priests do and that worries me.

Reflecting on the above, it occurs that try as I might to avoid it, much of what I think must be affected by my own sub-conscious prejudice and I acknowledge my paucity of knowledge and interaction with the Muslim faith, perhaps my fears are groundless, but maybe they’re not, I simply don’t know.

One thing is certain, this is one of those enormously significant periods in history when there is a seismic change in terms of human migration, nothing is going to stop the millions of people fleeing these ravaged areas into western democratic countries. They don’t seem remotely interested in going to Arab countries, such as Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates and Qatar etc, nor do any of these autocratic states show any interest in taking in the refugees – the quality of mercy sure as hell isn’t strained, indeed a number of credible commentators believe some of the above states are actually encouraging and helping finance the terrorist organisations. Whatever the truth, it’s telling that the predominantly Muslim refugees don’t want anything to do with these Islamic-based states, western democracies are obviously seen as far safer, better havens. Which also tells us we have nothing to fear from people who don’t want anything to do with the crushing brutality of hard-line Islamic states.

What we do have to fear, is offering sanctuary, without acceptance and reluctant grudging acceptance of unacceptable religious practice and dogma. There has never been a more urgent need for dialogue and mutual understanding, whether it’s England, France, Germany, Australia, the USA, or any other country and although we are hardly flooded with Muslim refugees, Australia does have the world’s largest Islamic nation on its doorstep. I am convinced we are in a period of profound social change and the Western world has been caught unaware.

I’m not for one minute suggesting capitulation, or a ‘She’ll be right’ attitude, events are proving ‘she’ won’t be unless we become involved on every possible level. Meanwhile, we have no choice other than to be vigilant, as far as I’m concerned if somebody has consciously become a terrorist, planning, or carrying out an act of barbaric terrorism and then cops a bullet, too bad and if some mad cow decides to rush off and offer herself in support of a terrorist organisation in the Middle East, don’t let the bitch back into Australia and sadly, if children are dragged into the parents depraved insanity, even participating, as we’ve seen in some horrifying cases, then those children cannot be allowed to return to Australia either. Who amongst us would want them mixing with our children or grandchildren? These are admittedly dreadful decisions, but they are forced on us by these terrorist butchers, yet we somehow we have to find a path through the murky quicksand, putting an end to these terror organisations, but at the same time, not losing our humanity, decency and sense of what is right, or we risk becoming exactly what the terrorists try to tell their followers we are.

Greg Ross

Curiouser and Curiouser … a Westpac Bank Tale

My wife is experiencing a fascinating and on-going experience with seemingly abandoned cash and corporate honesty. A couple of months back, she found a very substantial amount of money lying on the keyboard of an ATM in Perth, she then stood beside the machine holding the cash for several minutes waiting for somebody to return and claim it. When nobody, distressed or otherwise turned up, she and the friend she was with, went to the nearest branch of the bank involved, Westpac. Of the two bank employees who attended to her, the younger person was totally nonplussed and queried what my wife thought the bank could do, she didn’t seem to grasp the fact that somebody would hand the money in – hmm, in light of what has consequently occurred, she’ll probably go far up the Westpac corporate ladder. However the older woman thanked my wife, put the money in an envelope and wrote my wife’s contact details on the back of it, saying words to the effect that they’d look into it, although she pointedly didn’t provide my wife with a receipt.

In early December, some five weeks later, my wife, by then on holiday in Europe, asked me to contact Westpac to see what had happened. I rang the branch concerned and was treated with what can best be described as uninterested disdain, reaching a point where the woman said, “Why are you so interested?” I replied that as far as we understood it was lost property and that if no one came forward to claim it, my wife would be entitled to the money. “Oh no,” was the severe response, “That’s not possible, it belongs to the bank, besides, it can take up to 12 months for anybody to claim the money. It might have come from our machine, but it could have been through another bank. It all has to be traced!  Anybody claiming the money will have to prove it’s theirs.” I replied that the money was not actually in the machine, it was lying on the keyboard, it may not have even come from the machine and therefore nobody at this stage knew whose money it actually was, unless it had been claimed. Then came a very cold accusing remark, “Just because your wife found it and is now trying to get the money, doesn’t mean it’s hers! She can’t just have it!”

Slightly offended at the woman’s tone, I reminded her that my wife hadn’t kept the money, she’d been scrupulously honest, her concern was for the person who had misplaced it and she’d handed it in to the bank as the best means of finding the owner, having rung the police who advised her to take it to a branch of the bank concerned. I went on to say that we didn’t need the name or details of the person who’d lost the money, but we did require a written statement from Westpac that the money had been claimed and given back to the rightful owner. The Westpac representative replied that they would certainly not be providing anything in writing. Alarm bells rang. I responded that that made me suspicious and perhaps I should put my journalist hat on and dig a little deeper. She got even colder and said, “In that case I can’t talk to you any longer, you’ll need to ring our PR department.”  I replied that I didn’t consider it necessary at that point, however I felt our request for written confirmation from Westpac as to what had happened to the money was entirely reasonable. She responded that it wasn’t, the bank would deal with it, but they certainly wouldn’t be telling us what had occurred. We debated for a further couple of minutes, with my saying I’d reached the stage of feeling I should ring one of the newspapers as she and Westpac were in my opinion acting deviously, to the point where I thought the whole thing was unethical and as shifty as all Hell, repeating that all we wanted was proof of return of the money in writing, it surely couldn’t be that difficult.

By now, I sensed she was tiring of the conversation, she didn’t like me, she certainly didn’t like me inquiring about the cash and she sure as hell didn’t like any mention of the media.  Finally, in a rather obvious move to get me off the phone, she told she would ring me the following day (a Friday) after she’d made some inquiries, although it might take until the next Monday. Of course I understood full well that neither she, nor anybody else from Westpac would call me or my wife.

Needless to say, we’re now only four days away from the end of the year, but to be fair, I’m currently in Europe and the Telstra card is out of the phone, so I can’t say Westpac haven’t tried to ring in the past couple of weeks, however Westpac does appear to have battened down the hatches, I can only assume they’re all hiding in a vault deep under St George’s Terrace, clutching the envelope and I’d hate to be the person who lost the money, I suspect their task would be even more impossible than ours.

We still think honesty pays, however it would appear some banks march to a different ethic. One wonders at the scenario where if nobody does claim the money and Westpac keeps it, is that technically theft? Most certainly, after this experience with Westpac, I would advise anybody finding money to hand in to the nearest Police Station, sure the Police don’t seem to want to deal with it, but at least if nobody claims it, you’ll become the legal owner after three months, whereas if you hand it into a bank such as Westpac, they’ll grab it, smiling like the proverbial rat with a golden tooth and then you’ll become a pariah.

Greg Ross

DHL – Logistical Gouging Experts.

The ability of business to gouge customers as much as possible never ceases to amaze me, whether it’s utilities charging extra for payments a day overdue, or other add-on fees that defy description or reason, they all seem to do it. And although airlines are masters at the game, at least the consumer knows they’re doing it and can choose not to have certain options or benefits, unconscionable credit card charges aside.

I’ve long held a theory that the constant ‘too clever by half’ extra charges and the consequent ‘Press button 2,3,4’ time wasting calls, along with politicians refusal to give direct answers and chameleon ability to drop election promises etc, have combined to leave people with not just a lack of faith in systems and politics, but also led to a weary rudeness when you’ve had enough.

Most of us at least once every couple of months come up against what can only be described as deliberate corporate bullshit. You might be better behaved, or more patient than me, but these days, after the usual ten minutes of waiting on the phone, telling the same story, including repeating name, rank and serial number, I crack. The conversation usually goes something like, “Look I’m sorry, I know you haven’t set the policy, you just work there, but this is nonsensical crap, it’s basically theft, I’m not prepared to bloody well accept it.” The inevitable comeback is usually something along the lines of, “Please don’t swear sir, I find it offensive!” which elicits the response from me that I find the overcharging / extra unexplained charges offensive.

More often than not, you do win, but by then I’m angry that I’ve had  to waste so much time keeping the bastards honest, worse, I am absolutely certain there are many less assertive consumers who simply would find it impossible to question aggressively, they meekly pay the nonsense charges, which I guess is what these companies rely on.

My latest experience of what I see as unethical gouging, involves DHL Express, with an eye-watering unannounced charge so magnificent, they deserve an award – perhaps a dog turd in the mail. To explain:

I usually order my aftershave online, the one I like is hard to get in Perth and the two department stores occasionally stocking it, charge around $115.00 a bottle, where as I can get two bottles delivered by air from the USA for under $100.00, which by the way, tells you the department stores must be buying the aftershave in bulk for about $30.00 delivered and they wonder why online shopping has taken off!

Anyhow, as I was going to Germany for Christmas, I arranged for delivery to my wife’s mother’s home in Germany. As you’ll see from the copy of the invoice I’ve posted, a different delivery address was not a problem, (I have taken out personal address and contact details from the pictures, for obvious privacy reasons), the all up price delivered was AUS$97.83. The company I purchased from, www.fragrance.com sent me freight details of the package they’d sent with DHL, excellent customer service as usual.

A week or so later, by now in Germany, I wondered where the parcel had got to, then I received an email from DHL, telling me they had the parcel, but I needed to pay VAT duty to the German government before they could deliver it, however if I signed and emailed back the attached document, they’d pay it for me and I would reimburse DHL on delivery. I wasn’t aware I’d have to pay VAT, but fair enough, if that’s the system, it’s got to be paid and there’s a lesson for Australian online consumers here, in that no doubt it’s the future for overseas online purchases delivered to an Australian address.

Two days later, the parcel was delivered, but payment required was a shock – € 24.45, which equates to AUS $37.19! more than a third of the total original cost including freight! I was initially incensed at the German Government, then I opened the DHL Statement of Account (see accompanying picture gallery).

The actual VAT payable to the German Government was €12.55 ($19.00), not exactly cheap, about 20% of the total price including freight, so the government’s not missing the chance to gouge either and obviously the German authorities don’t want their citizens to shop internationally on-line either.

But the real shock was that DHL had added another € 10.00 ($15.00), for paying the duty on my behalf AND there was a further € 1.90 ($2.87) duty charge!

I was not made aware of the extra charges and how is one supposed to pay VAT – go to the German Customs office at Hanover, or wherever? So these pricks (DHL), who have already been prepaid €15.47 ($23.51) to deliver the parcel have gouged a further € 10.00 ($15.00) for ‘processing on my behalf.’

Bullshit, DHL, I think you’re unethical, it borders on theft, and yes, you’ll probably get away with it, but every time I see something with DHL written on it, I’ll think, “One more bunch of unethical thieving bastards.”

As a postscript, I think this is a warning to Australians as to what’s coming – how is the planned GST impost going to be paid? It doesn’t take much to imagine exactly the same system and fees will apply, whether it’s DHL, or Australia Post and its Startrack subsidiary.

Greg Ross

Men Shopping for Ladies Clothes … DON’T DO IT!

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There is a golden rule men learn very early in their development  – buying clothes for the lady in your life is a nightmare! It all comes down to size and here, as we’re all aware, clothing manufacturers don’t play fair. Every bloke knows even T-shirt sizing can’t be trusted, but when it comes to sizes in clothes for women, all bets are off. Is S really an S, or is M really an M? And  let me tell you brethren, there is nothing after M!! if you have to start looking through larger sizes, don’t! Buy her a CD, flowers, perfume, anything, but don’t gamble with larger sizes.

Now we’ve all been in that situation, where the love of your life asks innocently “Do I look fat in this?” This is a death trap question, a terrifying, possibly even life-altering moment and unbelievably complicated. One solution is to say “Yshahhhhhe wa  dddoodoood ehee ah” and smile, but under no circumstances give the one word response  “Yes.”  If she looks fine, there is of course no problem, but if she doesn’t, you need to find a delicate way of letting her know, she does actually want you to tell her. It needs to be understood, no woman, apart from a Lady of the Night,  dresses for you or any other bloke, they dress for other women.

Think about it guys, we sashay down the street, instinctively appreciating the figure of the girl passing by, but we never really see what she’s wearing, possibly due to the unavoidable reality that base instinct sees straight through any clothing. I know, I know, totally non-PC, but as every heterosexual male knows, it’s true. Fortunately, civilised behaviour takes over after the first brief second, or a great car drives past.

Now you’d think, given the wisdom of experience, a man of my mature years would have more sense than to go shopping for a gift of apparel for my wife, but no, apparently not, one more fool rushing in where angels fear to tread – well there were two angels in the shopping mall, they’d stopped to have a mulled wine each, I must admit it did look like Christmas, seeing two pretty girls in white angel gowns and wings, standing having a drink, but I digress.

Bielefeld, somewhere in northern Germany, I’m looking for a Christmas present or two for my wife, when some sudden onset of insanity – no, not because I was in Bielefeld!  … be nice!  … found me gazing into the Benetton window display at an item I felt my wife deserved and would like. I walked into the shop.

I found the rack where the garments were. The pretty young 20 something assistant pointedly ignored me – the brand is a fashion icon after all and somewhat obviously, perhaps correctly, I was deemed not to be. Colour wasn’t a problem, size was the issue. I know roughly what she fits into in terms of Australian sizes, but German sizes are beyond me. I carefully took one of the garments and went over to the counter, “Do you speak English? I asked.

“Ya, a little,” said the sloe-eyed, pretty dark brunette behind the counter. I explained, adding truthfully, “She’s about your size,” which is why I’d picked her to talk to. “Could I hold it up against you?” I inquired.  She did better than that and obligingly slipped the item on. “It looks good, but it’s a little tight isn’t it?” I said.

“Ya, a little”, she responded, surprise in her eyes. “Could we try the next size up?” I said. She immediately picked out the next size up and put it on. “That’s a perfect fit isn’t it?” I said, she smiled and said, “Ya.” She saw the hesitation in my eyes, “Perfect for your wife?” she simpered. Ya gotta love a 20 year old sales assistant who’s concluded the old bloke is buying. “Well,” I said, “The shoulders are right and the waist is right, but her breasts are larger.” I couldn’t think of a more delicate way to put it and believe me I tried before I opened my mouth.

Silence. I knew exactly what she was thinking, “ I AM PERFECT!  I AM BEAUTIFUL!  Hang on you old bastard, you’ve been looking at my tits!” Well yes I had, for the briefest moment, I needed a similar body shape to evaluating / comparing,  how else is a bloke supposed to do this?

I knew exactly what was going through her mind and struggling to regain high moral ground, replied “You’re basically both the same size, but she needs a little more bust room than you.”  She looked at me, big brown eyes growing larger and darker, then suddenly, looking straight at me, she plunged both her hands down the neckline of the garment and pushed the breast line out with her hands, still fluttering her eyes. “Yes, “ I said, “That will fit! My wife has magnificent breasts.” I think at that stage she was beaten, but only just.

Back to the counter, “ Will it be possible to exchange, if it doesn’t fit?” I inquired, Brown eyes glowered at me, however an older lady stepped in with a knowing grin, “Yes, of course, we understand it’s not easy for guys to get it right.” You bloody bet!

Greg Ross

Emirates – the Emir of Airlines?

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Flying Economy Class can often be a nightmare for a middle aged, overweight, broad shouldered bloke and in my case, sadly, nature and a complete lack of self-discipline have left me with a body best viewed fully clothed and though I stand only 175cm, I have long legs, worse the days of company expense accounts and business class are but a fading memory.

The salvation these last six or seven years, has been the introduction of Premium Economy, for around half the price of Business Class and an average of about $1,200 more than an Economy ticket on a return trip to Europe, you get leg and backside room, comfort and yes, a certain sense of style.

Not all airlines do it well, British Airways are the worst in my experience and not all airlines have adopted Premium Economy, consequently, although I travel overseas frequently, there are quite a few airlines I haven’t flown with, including the oft praised Emirates.

I unexpectedly found myself with much appreciated free time over the holiday period and decided to join my wife Ann in her homeland of Germany for Christmas, however impulse decisions to travel during peak periods inevitably mean limited availability of Premium Economy seats and so it proved. Only one airline offers Premium Economy out of Perth to Europe – Cathay Pacific and they were booked out. More often than not, I fly Economy in an exit row aisle seat to Singapore then Premium Economy to Europe, but peak times meant even Economy fares were expensive, the whole exercise getting perilously close to the cost of Business Class.

I pondered giving up the idea, however Qantas were offering a reasonable return economy fare to Frankfurt and I could use Frequent Flyer points, so reasoning that I could choose an aisle seat in an exit row, I booked (online as always), but as the booking was confirmed (paid for), I discovered the entire return trip was a code share with Emirates, there would not be a Flying Roo in sight. “Too late now,” I thought, “I’ve paid,” although my wife assured me I would find I had sufficient room in Economy with Emirates. I then discovered, presumably as I was not at that stage an Emirates frequent flyer, my choice of seats was limited and certainly exit row seats weren’t available to me. And so, with some trepidation, four weeks later early one December morning, I found myself at Perth Airport waiting to board an Emirates 777.

Up in the nose of the 777, the boys flying us to Dubai introduced themselves –  an Australian and a German. I liked that, as I’m an Aussie married to a German and to my relief and surprise, I liked my economy aisle seat. Sure enough, as Ann had said, I had room, I could even put the tray down flat, impressive. It was obvious the entertainment system was ultra-modern, the only annoying thing was that aisle seats didn’t have power or USB charger sockets, the other seats did. The aircraft was obviously young and I really liked the overhead locker layout, clever, plenty of space for the lunatics who always have twice their own weight in carry-on luggage (not me I hasten to add – I won’t mention my wife!) and you could stand up properly.

The plane was full and sensibly there were a large number of cabin crew on duty to look after the passengers. I like the Emirates uniform, it pays homage to the Muslim faith without erecting psychological barriers and it was truly a multi-cultural crew, with each staff member wearing a small brooch depicting the flag of their country. They were all young, so there wasn’t the relaxed self-assured attitude of Qantas international staff, who are often in their 40s and 50s, but they were obviously experienced and there was genuine warmth and engagement, somewhat different to the professional but almost cold disinterest I’d experienced with an Etihad cabin crew six months earlier.

There was a small travel pack supplied free and what looked to be a reasonable quality set of headphones, (I carry my own noise-cancelling set). I also liked the fact that the Boeing had directional air vents, Airbus have unfortunately dropped the individual system, I happen to be one of those who likes air blowing over my face. It was also good to see a plentiful supply of restrooms throughout the aircraft, they were well equipped with handwashing liquid etc and the crew kept them clean throughout the 11 hour journey. Full marks.

Then there was the food – it was excellent, there were the usual two choices of main course, but for the first time in my life on a flight, I couldn’t finish what I’d been served, there was too much even for me. The crew were also wonderful with water, coffee, tea, soft drinks, wine and whiskey, asking, rather than waiting, they continually worked the aisles looking after passenger needs.

Two huge meals, several wines, a couple of whiskys and a movie or two later, we landed smoothly at Dubai – I’m one of those who really enjoys the cameras allowing passengers to follow landings and take-offs, I love the grunt of the power plants and watching the skill of the pilots in controlling these magnificent machines.

I’d been warned that Dubai is a massive airport and that with just an hour and a half to spare before my connecting flight to Frankfurt, I might find myself in a heck of a rush to get from one terminal to another, but luck was with me, my next flight was literally the gate next door, although we did have to go through security. I don’t think anybody complains about security these days, the bombing of the Russian plane out of  Sharm el-Sheikh illustrated what happens when security becomes lax. The staff were polite, friendly and thorough, yes, it could have been quicker, but the need to inspect bags and contents properly unavoidably slows the process down.

We boarded the next flight and that’s when I discovered there is a slight difference in the various sections of Economy with Emirates. This time I was in F section, just behind Business, it’s smaller, similar in a way to Premium Economy sections – less seats and people, and Economy service starts in that section. I also found I had power and two USB sockets in my aisle seat, I suspect the 777 was a slightly newer model than the one we’d flown in from Perth to Dubai. It’s reassuring to know you’re arriving at your destination with a fully charged phone and or laptop. The pilots on this leg were South African and French and again, a very professional, friendly, caring multi-national cabin crew. It occurred to me that Emirates have probably poached the best people from other airlines to pilot their aircraft and head up their training centres, overseeing the introduction of the company philosophies, the whole experience of travelling with Emirates is almost soothing – the second leg of my journey was an exact replica of the first – more food than I could possibly consume, ample refreshment and smiling attentive service. I disembarked into Frankfurt Airport, actually looking forward to my return journey in late January, hopefully I can change my seat into F section of Economy.

I’m an unexpected convert to Emirates, to my pleasant surprise, I can actually travel reasonably comfortably in their Economy class, but if, as the rumours go, they do introduce Premium Economy, they’ve got me for life.

Greg Ross

 

Code Sharing – When the Traveller Becomes a Mistress

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Now we all know the battle for survival in the skies has been long and hard, some famous, seemingly invincible names have disappeared forever – Ansett and Pan American instantly spring to mind. I vividly recall flying out of Sydney to Perth with Qantas on the morning of the 9/11 atrocity, the day became even more surreal, as Air New Zealand had finally pulled the plug on the fatally haemorrhaging Ansett. Our lives would never be the same and nor would air travel, the glamour gone, replaced with hours standing in security queues, often treated as offending prisoners. Yes, it’s sadly necessary, even more so these days, but it’s not an enjoyable experience.

And from that fateful day, airlines across the world appear to have struggled, with the notable exceptions of the Arab airlines, in particular, Emirates and Etihad and to perhaps a lesser degree, Qatar. There have been shrieks of protest from older players that these airlines have been getting fuel deals not available to anyone else. Whether there’s any veracity to the argument, I have no idea, but one thing is for certain, these Arab airlines have changed the game forever, offering brand new state of the art aircraft, with individual entertainment screens, USB and 240 volt charging for economy passengers, let alone those at the pointy end of the aircraft. Even today, the difference in stepping off an old world aircraft and on to an Arab airline aircraft is jarring, with the exception of Air New Zealand, who seem to have found their mojo about the same time Frodo found the Ring. Earlier this year, I flew to Amsterdam, the first leg to Abu Dhabi with Etihad, the second leg, Abu Dhabi to Amsterdam with KLM. Whilst I’ve always loved the 747, it was obvious the KLM plane was twenty years older than the Etihad 777, which segues into code sharing.

I had booked the entire Perth return flight with KLM, however it turned out they code share with Etihad out of Perth Western Australia and I discovered a code share passenger from another airline, is welcome but not in any way privileged. Yes, you may be a Frequent Flyer with one of the airlines, but that counts for nought with the code share partner. It can be quite infuriating, either way! In my case, I found KLM are anal about luggage weight, at their Schiphol terminal, the passenger does all the work loading suitcases into very accurate weighing machines and woe betide anyone with a suitcase more than half a kilogram over, a machine voice orders you to a counter, where the bag and weight docket is assessed, yet you know your 23.5kgs will be perfectly acceptable to the code share airline, Etihad, who allow each passenger 30kgs. Yes, of course, flying an aircraft is all about weight, but if one airline manages, how come the other can’t?  The KLM luggage debacle felt suspiciously like a budget airline trying to gouge as much extra money as possible,

Sometimes the code sharing is between two airlines, who are in fact the same company – Air France and KLM being the classic example, which makes it easier in terms of frequent flyer point allocation – you’re Flying Blue, regardless of the logo on the tail. Then there are the issues of  seat room in economy and the availability of Premium Economy, you might be on a code share flight with two airlines running the same planes, but one will have seating designed around the majority cast from Snow White and the Seven Dwarves, while the other airline will have seats where you can actually put the food tray down and there’s space between your knees and the seat in front. It gets worse – with ‘your’ airline, you can book and pay for a seat with extra legroom – I usually do this if I can’t get Premium Economy, but you’ll find that benefit is not available on the code share airline, ditto with Premium Economy.

For some reason, the Arab airlines don’t seem to do PE, although I’ve heard a whisper that Emirates might be converting some aircraft in 2016. I think airlines who don’t offer the option are missing out, in my experience, there are a lot of regular travellers like me, who no longer have the good fortune to have a company paying for Business Class and can’t justify or afford the extra cost, but will very happily pay for PE on long haul flights.

Qantas is a weird player here, especially for travellers domiciled in Western Australia, Perth is purported it be the most isolated city in the world and we have nothing but long haul, yet they don’t offer PE out of Perth?  In fact only one airline does, Cathay Pacific, but that’s via Hong Kong. Otherwise you need to fly up to Singapore or Bangkok and join an airline offering PE to Europe. It’s not bad way to go, as you can hop a budget airline such as Air Asia to Singapore, there’s a great lounge with excellent shower facilities for about AUS$12.00, or you can hire a hotel room for AUS$50.00 – $80.00 to rest between flights and the whole return trip out of Perth to Europe will usually cost around AUS$3,250.00. There are two traps to this – firstly PE will allow you to have two suitcases, but the budget airline will charge like a wounded bull for anything over 15kgs with the first suitcase and gut your bank completely for a second case, then there is the time factor – you can be looking at a total travelling time of 36hrs to get from Perth to Europe.

I’d love Qantas to offer PE and fly out of Perth to Europe, but they don’t, what they do do, is code share with Emirates and I’m just about to discover the full intricacies of the deal as even the budget airlines are charging top dollar for flights to Singapore over December and January. The price added to PE out of Singapore was getting perilously close to the price of Business Class (about AUS$5,500.00) and Cathay didn’t have anything available. Qantas offered a good price for a return economy flight from Perth to Frankfurt, so I bought in and discovered I won’t be anywhere near a Flying Roo, it’s all Emirates.

Now unlike many people, I’m an Emirates virgin (remember they don’t offer PE), people tell me it’s an excellent, though increasingly expensive airline. My wife regularly flies with both Emirates and Etihad, she reckons there’s more food on Etihad and last week, after a hiccup with a rude check in staff member at Perth, they upgraded her to Business (she’s a FF with both airlines), she says she’ll probably stay with Etihad after the experience. I flew with them for the first time in June, but found they didn’t like serving any more than one small glass of wine – I’m not a lush – well, statistically I may be! – but two to three glasses of wine with the meal, followed by a scotch on ice and nobody hears from me again till we land ten or twelve hours later. KLM, (like Qantas and Air France), understood the etiquette of it all far better, more civilised from my perspective, regardless of the older fleets.

My voyage of discovery as a code sharing passenger with Emirates has already begun. When I purchased the ticket on the Qantas FF site, seat options were offered, although they were limited, but at least I could choose from several aisle seats – I’m just average height, but as an old rugby union player gone to seed, I do need some leg, bum and most importantly, shoulder room. If it had been a Qantas flight, I could have chosen (and paid for, no problems with that, I’m a marketing man, I understand) an Exit Row seat, but as it’s not Qantas and I don’t ‘belong’ to Emirates, there was no way I could book such a seat. Interestingly, as it’s an Emirates flight, I’m allowed 30kg in one suitcase, whereas if it had been Qantas, I’d have been back to 23kg, although I’ve always found Qantas to err on the side of generosity.

But four weeks later, (last night), I thought I’d do the online check in, only to discover my chosen seats weren’t allocated and I had to repeat the process on the Emirates website. Again, seat options were very limited, with large swathes of the aircraft blocked off and various options simply not available to me. I also discovered that although Qantas has all my details, including passport information etc, none of it transfers to Emirates; it was necessary  to fill out their online form.

At this stage, I thought I’d join their FF programme, after all, if they are going to kick off a PE service out of Perth, Emirates and I could become firm friends. All went well, until I inputted (is that a word? – must be, Spell Check seems happy) my email address. Then a flashing warning in red script came up that that email address was already allocated to somebody else on their system. So I couldn’t join!

So here I am, much like the mistress, acknowledged but not really in favour, quietly granted some things by the wayward husband, but he’s not really in control! Will I be well fed, will I be well watered, will I be comfortable, will I be welcome?  The perils of being a code share pax are upon me.

Greg Ross

 

Neil Diamond in Concert, Sandalford Winery

I’ve long puzzled over where Neil Diamond fits in the musical scheme of things – he’s usually ignored regardless of his past superstar status, in much the same way as the Seekers often don’t rate a mention, yet Diamond’s been a major contributor to music over the past fifty years. His big emotional ballads are superbly crafted and his lyrics, while perhaps not in the same class as Cohen or Dylan, are right up there with Paul Simon and Bruce Springsteen.

And in recent times, he’s brought out some peeled back, reflective albums, evidence of an older man at peace with his past, whilst not forgetting the good times, the loves, the mistakes and the memories. In short, his song writing skills are still there. Having seen him in concert twice before (circa 1972 and 1994), I knew his stage performances were superb affairs and when my wife Ann, who’d never seen him perform live, suggested we go and see his Sandalford Winery outdoor concert, the thought that he might perform his more recent works, intrigued me enough to once again go see the Brooklyn Kid.

Sandalford Winery in the Swan Valley on the outskirts of Perth, is an excellent venue, offering Perth people a huge advantage over Margaret River’s Leeuwin Estate, in that there aren’t the associated travel and accommodation costs that easily add another $1,000.00 or so to the cost of the concert, however I do think they’re gouging on the price of wine at concert events. Sure, it’s reasonable not to allow people to bring in their own wine, but really, charging $25.00 and $35.00 a bottle leaves a bad taste, the tannins become bitter. By all means have more expensive wines available, but be fair and offer quaffable wine at $15.00 a bottle, the PR factor alone would benefit the winery. But on to the concert.

The sound system was a big let-down for the night, it was second rate, lacking guts, clarity and punch. Anybody who attended the 2009 Leonard Cohen concert at Sandalford knows what it’s like to hear a gold star sound system and Lenny ain’t AC/DC. There was nothing wrong with the backing band, which included the legendary Ronnie Tutt, Elvis Presley’s drummer, although the dubbed strings were disconcertingly Karaoke, but the sound quality was muzak-like, no guts.

Neil Diamond can still sing, yes there were a couple of moments when age did weary the vocal chords, but he certainly didn’t need the backing singers to cover for him and the hits rolled out one after the other. With a gold studded back catalogue like this guy’s got, it was never going to be a problem filling a two hour, non-interval show.

Don’t get me wrong, we both really enjoyed the show, but Diamond does not connect with his audience, the embracing outstretched arms, the “I love you all” lines are probably utterly genuine, but they do come across as cheesy American. Sure there’s warmth in the lyrics, but there is no real warmth from the performer. This is a well-rehearsed routine, slick, smooth and choreographed to within an inch of perfection, wonderfully nostalgic, but weirdly, it was almost like watching a Neil Diamond tribute show, fun, but not the real thing.

It’s a mystery, he seems an utterly down to earth person, the accompanying concert programme attests to it, as do those latest albums, but it’s not what you get on stage and he only really did one song from the latest album, telling us that song took him five years to write, although I’m not sure why after reading the lyrics on the screen behind him. It was almost as if he was afraid to go there (to his new stuff). Yes, the hits were wonderful, but of magic, there was none, there was simply no connection, just a very polished Vegas cheese.

If I was his manager, I’d tell him the feeling really should be laid back – sit down, tell us about that lyric, talk for a minute about life. At the moment, going to a Neil Diamond concert is like watching a sort of Richard Clayderman / Barry Manilow combination, more Cubic Zirconian than Diamond, not only do we the audience deserve better, so does Neil Diamond.

Greg Ross

KPIs for Dummies – The Wonderfully Absurd World of KPIs

Penguin-KPI-cartoon

I’ve grown to love the charade of corporate KPI investigations – performance reviews, analysis, measuring, all those glorious paths of goal-based indicators to help keep employees focused and on track. I know, I know, you’re already vomiting.

Bear with me, after all this is big business! There are companies out there making a fortune convincing upper levels of management of the value of such systems, they even convince CEO’s to undergo KPI analysis – why? Aren’t the Chair and board capable of analysing the performance of the person they appointed? But I digress; let us descend deep down to the workshop floor, Blue Collar level.

Yes Narelle, these days, even truck drivers and cleaners must submit to annual performance reviews, it seems questions such as; Were the toilets clean all year? Or; Was the truck damaged? (In other words, did he or she do their job properly), are no longer relevant, it is of far more import to assess your own performance then meekly, subserviently and yes, gratefully, sit with the appropriate manager and jointly go through said questionnaire.

Of course, as is to be expected in this age of multiple answer questions, one must grade oneself from 1 – 5, five being the ultimate in excellence and one being – well, better start searching Seek. And as Blue Collar workers can hardly be expected to understand the intricacies of such a system, KPI self-appraisal forms come complete with a simplified explanation of the marking system. One is encouraged to be honest with oneself, providing thoughtful, reasoned marking. Today was my turn and I must admit, I have learnt considerably since undergoing the test.

There were many questions – well, 20 or so and to be fair, they did cover a wide range of topics, some of which seemed a little irrelevant to the actual role of punting a 300 ton roadtrain up and down a dirt haul road, perhaps there were subliminal layers of interpretation contained within the presumably clever wording, but then, what would I know?

So, grateful for the opportunity of self-analysing how I function in my role, I bravely set forth, sailing through what turned out to be very murky waters. Oh I was honest, I even gave myself a 2 for one question, although, yes Narelle, I did give myself several 5s and more  than a few 4s, with the odd 3 chucked in. Fascinated, even confident with my grades, I submitted the paper.

An hour or so later, it was my turn to be called in. “Take a seat Greg.” I resisted the temptation to ask where I should take the seat (on a mine site you quickly learn not to assume or think for yourself). I sat gratefully alongside my supervisor at his desk, his support act stood by the closed door. Perhaps the expectation was I would try to run, but nothing could have been further from my mind, after all, I knew the marks I’d scored.

Lo how the mighty do fall! Gravely my supervisor turned from his keyboard and monitor and slid my KPI questionnaire across to me, “I’ve now given my marks for your performance,” he stated, “I’d like you to look at them and give me your comments.” I nodded in complete agreement and proceeded to read.

Alas, not a 5 in sight, not even a 4. 3s were everywhere, indeed there were nothing but 3s, even the 2 had disappeared, replaced with the ubiquitous 3. As I went through each question and the supervisor’s mark, I said things such as, “No, I disagree with you there,” No, I’m sorry, I think I do do that very well,” or even, “No, I think you’ve got that wrong.”  About half way through my repudiation of his grading, a puzzled look fell upon his face, “Greg,” he said, “You have to understand, you can’t get a 5 or even a 4, if you did, you’d have the boss’s job!” I replied, “Yes?”

He chose to ignore that remark, it was obviously too far-fetched to take seriously. I think I even detected a slight frown, as he tried to gauge whether I even grasped the enormity of what my Yes suggested, He went on, “You have to understand a 3 is like an A, it means you’re surpassing the levels of satisfaction, it’s excellent, but,” he said, shaking his head, “you can’t have a 4 or a 5!”

I was confused, “Why have a 4 or a 5 to choose from then?” But of course I knew the answer before I even mouthed the question, if it was a grading system of 1 – 3, then 2 would be the A, if you follow the wonderfully absurdist logic.

I don’t know how much the company has paid for the exercise, all I can say it that I found it priceless.

 

Eine Kleine Renaissance Music at the Prince’s Castle

Schloss Detmold

[img src=http://www.gregross.com.au/wp-content/flagallery/schloss-detmold/thumbs/thumbs_01-concert-programme-001.jpg]40Concert Programme
[img src=http://www.gregross.com.au/wp-content/flagallery/schloss-detmold/thumbs/thumbs_02-concert-programme-002.jpg]00Artists and organisers
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[img src=http://www.gregross.com.au/wp-content/flagallery/schloss-detmold/thumbs/thumbs_17-detmold-schloss-concert-021.jpg]20The Castle Courtyard
[img src=http://www.gregross.com.au/wp-content/flagallery/schloss-detmold/thumbs/thumbs_19-detmold-schloss-concert-024.jpg]20Hall of the Ancestors balcony
[img src=http://www.gregross.com.au/wp-content/flagallery/schloss-detmold/thumbs/thumbs_06-detmold-schloss-concert-007.jpg]10Castle gardens leading to the Hall
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[img src=http://www.gregross.com.au/wp-content/flagallery/schloss-detmold/thumbs/thumbs_05-detmold-schloss-concert-003.jpg]10The Hall of the Ancestors
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[img src=http://www.gregross.com.au/wp-content/flagallery/schloss-detmold/thumbs/thumbs_21-detmold-schloss-concert-027.jpg]10The moat and park lands around the castle
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[img src=http://www.gregross.com.au/wp-content/flagallery/schloss-detmold/thumbs/thumbs_22-detmold-schloss-concert-029.jpg]10Detmold skyline
[img src=http://www.gregross.com.au/wp-content/flagallery/schloss-detmold/thumbs/thumbs_25-detmold-schloss-concert-034.jpg]10The Four Horseman of the Apocalypse
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[img src=http://www.gregross.com.au/wp-content/flagallery/schloss-detmold/thumbs/thumbs_33-detmold-schloss-concert-045.jpg]10French influence - perhaps not Sans Souci, but ...!
[img src=http://www.gregross.com.au/wp-content/flagallery/schloss-detmold/thumbs/thumbs_23-detmold-schloss-concert-031.jpg]10Ann and fellow music lover with the programme
[img src=http://www.gregross.com.au/wp-content/flagallery/schloss-detmold/thumbs/thumbs_24-detmold-schloss-concert-033.jpg]10The Lippe flag,

Although we have a wonderful, vibrant  music scene  across all genres in Australia and New Zealand, it’s impossible to stage a recital or concert in a 600 year old castle – the performance may be of equal quality, however the ambience and sense of real history is impossible to replicate.

Last night (late June), I was treated to a wonderful renaissance music recital /  concert at the Prince of Lippe’s residence in Detmold and yes, the current Prince was in attendance. I often find my fellow Aussies and Kiwis are surprised to find royalty still acknowledged in Germany, I suspect due to the fact that our formative years were so British centric – most baby boomers (myself included) were taught very little of European history and have little knowledge of German post-war social reconstruction.

Armin, Prince of Lippe, (Leopold Ernst Bruno Heinrich Willa August Fürst zur Lippe)  was born in Detmold on 18 August 1924 and is the son of Leopold IV and his second wife, Princess Anna. For those who like history, the Prince is the first cousin of Prince Bernhard, consort of Queen Julianna of the Netherlands, who abdicated  in favour of her son in 2004.

Back to days of future passed, the Prince’s ancestor, Simon VI, was a great supporter of music in the late 16th and early 17th centuries and in honour of that, the music played was from that era, including compositions by a local composer of the period. The concert was held in the wonderful Ahnensaal – The Hall of the Ancestors – with the music played and sung by students of the Detmold Music Academy, the evening was organised by the Lippe Philharmonic Society, with Professor Dr. Sabine Meine giving detailed background information to the works and composers.

The programme featured works by:

Marco Uccellini  (+1680), violinist and composer

Johann Grabbe (1585 – 1655), organist and composer

Giovanni Battista Riccio (1620), organist, violinist and composer

Alessandro Grandi (1586 – 1630),

Heinrich Schutz (1585 – 1672)

Claudio Monteverdi (1567 – 1643)

I’ve photographed the performers names from the programme , rather than listing them all (see the photo gallery) and mention must be made that not only are the students in final study mode, renaissance music is not their normal forte. On that basis alone, the performances would be considered superb, it really was an utterly captivating evening, something special.

Detmold (northern Germany) is a beautiful city and  after the concert, taking full advantage of the late evening summer light we strolled around the park lands and moat surrouding the castle, taking a picture or two, before returning home to Lage for ‘Evening Wine Upon the Terrace.”

http://www.philharmonische-gesellschaft-owl.de/

http://www.stadtdetmold.de/touristinfo.html