Working for Singer, part 2
by Graham Forsdyke
Issue No. 31
Early days at Singer
.... Continued from ISMACS NEWS 30
MY FIRST few years in the service of the company were spent in Kent, and very happy years they were.
My horse and I got very much attached, although at the beginning I had some trouble in breaking her from the habit of stopping at the wayside inns. This was not, as might be thought, a reflection on the habits of my predecessor, but due to the fact that we had not had her long, and previous to that she had been used by a brewer's traveler.
Dear old friend, your faithful service is always a pleasant remembrance. How many days we jogged along the roads together, through sunshine and shower, through winter and summer, starting out in the morning eager and fresh for conquest, and returning at night sometimes so tired and played out that we often caught each other napping, and when we reached home she would rub her nose on my shoulder, and delight in getting out of the harness for her well-earned rest.
Many times when I reached home, especially after a cold winter's day, I have been so fatigued that I have fallen asleep while taking my meal, and have wakened up with my head resting on a pillow on the dining room table, and my mother moving quietly about so as not to disturb me.
I was at this time just about 20 years of age, was a great swimming enthusiast, winning several championships (mostly for diving), was a good boxer, and cyclist, having learned on the old "boneshaker" with wooden wheels and iron rim, was a "corner-man" in an amateur minstrel troupe and could give a good conjuring show.
These qualifications naturally kept me busy, as my services were in constant demand. However, I found them profitable to my business, for it was soon known I was a real "Singer" and very few passed me by when an order was in question.
It was the regular custom and habit in this district for those who traveled the country to keep a good dog, and naturally I could not be out of the fashion. I was introduced to an old dog-trainer and rat-catcher in Barham, from whom I bought a young Airedale terrier about 10 months old, and who I named "Jack".
He was splendidly trained, as I soon found out, and as a guard and watch dog for the trap he could not be beat. Most folks were frightened when they looked at him, and his expression, if they came near the trap when I was away, was quite sufficient to keep away intending thieves.
A gentleman who was looking at him one day asked me what breed he was, and my answer may best describe his appearance: "between a dog, badger and a door-mat". He was a game boy, was "Jack", his training, as I have already said, was splendid, but rather disconcerting at times.
A few days after I had him, he was as usual jogging along the road, keeping pace with the horse and trap, when he suddenly dived into a cornfield and was lost to sight.
On looking round for him some time after, to my surprise I saw him, just cantering behind the trap, dragging a big duck along by the neck. I instantly got down and gave him a good thrashing, but it was some time before I cured his fascination for poultry.
He had a particularly bad habit of giving hens a lift on the road, although strange to say, he very seldom hurt them. It was a pretty sight to see him catch rabbits, and he rarely missed his quarry, once he started out.
He was a persistent old poacher to the end of his days, but if taken out with the gun he would stand as steady as an old retriever.
One night on returning from a journey to Herne Bay, and when we were nearing home on the road between Sturry and Canterbury, I missed Jack. It was just in the twilight, but although I drew up I could not see him anywhere on the road. I whistled and I called, but no Jack.
Turning round, and driving back for about half a mile, I saw him coming slowly along the road, dragging what looked like a human body from that distance, but as I got nearer I saw it was not; I got down from my trap and went to meet him, and to my astonishment found it was a magnificent astrakhan fur-lined rug. After giving him the requisite praise and caress, I took it in the trap.
The sequel was, that after a few days after it was advertised and proved to have by lost on the road by Colonel ----, of Sturry.
When I returned it a few days after, the maid brought me back sixpence as a generous reward for my honesty; this I returned with the message that the lady no doubt needed it more than I did.
Jack grew old in the service of the company, for he was a real servant, and ended his days in Edinburgh at the ripe old age of 14 years. He was just as game as he was ugly, bore marks of many a hard fight, and yet he was beloved by hundreds of old friends and customers, and especially by the children.
Polly and Jack were great friends, and on going to the stable in the morning they showed unusual signs of affection.
I look back on those bright days with great pleasure, for my dumb but faithful comrades played their part in the service of the company, and each in their way helped for to many a hard-earned victory, also shared many little adventures.
One night as I was returning home late after a long and successful journey, and when on a very lonely and dark part of the road, my attention was suddenly aroused by a strange feeling that someone was behind me, and on turning round I could just distinguish someone trying to get up on the back of the trap.
I swung the butt end of my whip round, making aim at whoever it might be, struck the object, which dropped from the trap, and I made off at full speed, for I had between £30 and £40 on me that night.
This part of the country at that time was now and again startled by robberies on the road.
I have been stuck in a snow drift, lost my way at night when trying to take a short cut home, with many narrow escapes from accidents, as roads were not so carefully kept in those days.
To be continued