Working for Singer, part 3
by Graham Forsdyke
Issue No. 32
Early days at Singer
....... Continued from ISMACS 31
Many of my journeys in Kent were through some of the most lovely agricultural district in Britain, and during the summer months, when the hop gardens and the orchards were full of fragrance and blossoms, my days were overflowing with pleasure and joy.
What happy afternoons I spent, and what good business I obtained from a canvass through the hop gardens among the pickers! How often I look back and wish I could again enjoy such experiences as I had in those days! Some parts of my district, however, were bleak and lonely, and in the winter months I had some rather exciting experiences.
One dark and cold night, as I was returning home across Barham Downs, after a very successful day as far as collections were concerned, my mare and I were both in very good spirits, she knowing we were on the last lap for home, and myself feeling a hard day's work had been well rewarded, I had a weird experience when reaching a very lonely spot. I, as usual, wound the whip lash round my wrist, so as to have the butt end for use if necessary, for on this particular road there had been many robberies.
The sides of the road were overhung with trees, and we had just descended a hill, and had another to go up. Strange to say, I had a sort of premonition that someone was getting on the back of my trap, which was a four-wheel wagonette type.
Looking round, I just discerned a figure trying to mount the back, and with a shout I struck out with the butt of my whip, and felt the blow reach home.
I then gave my horse a good hint to move on. We tore up the next hill at some speed and, on reaching a tavern, I stopped and obtained the assistance of the landlord and two men, who went back with lanterns, as I fully expected to find someone on the road, either dead or badly wounded.
However, we did not find anyone, but we found enough blood on the road to prove I had given the would-be highwayman something to think o dream about.
I have been held up in snow-drifts, knocked down and run over by runaway horses, lost at night in the middle of a wood, when trying to take a short cut for home, and many times I have not reached home until midnight, when the roads were bad, and traveling was difficult. My work was a pleasure to me, and these little adventures only made me more persistent to succeed.
There was a funny side, too. I remember one day getting strict instructions to proceed to a certain place and lift a machine which I had just before discovered, and had been missing for a considerable time from another district.
On arriving at the house, I was told very politely that I could take the machine, and as I was tying up the machine at the back of the trap a big black retriever was loosened from the back of the house and set at me, fixing me by the back of my trousers.
My dog, Jack, however, was near at hand and he promptly came to the rescue, and had I not pulled him off, he would I know, have killed the retriever. the lady of the house then broke loose and cursed me in the good, old-fashioned style, stating I should never get that machine home safe. Strange to say, her curse proved effective, for on my way home I stopped to canvass some houses at the bottom of a field, and before I could tie my horse up it took fright and ran away, smashing one of the shafts, and the machine and stand were pitched out and broken to pieces.
I used to go to Whitstable each Saturday for collecting, and it was usual for an agent of the Prudential company, an old Jewish gentleman with his box of jewelry, a man selling furniture and wringers, and myself, to go down by the same train and in the same carriage, and if possible we returned by the same train in the evening.
One Saturday on our way down, we started a controversy on the art of salesmanship, each contending that their particular trade called for the most skill. In the end, I guaranteed to take my Jewish friend's box, and sell more in two hours than he was in the habit of selling for the whole of the day. Arrangements were made, I got his box, with instructions as to prices, and started on the job.
As soon as our train reached Whitstable I had already made up my programme, and started among the larger houses, canvassing the maids, and where possible got introductions to the mistress. I was at our meeting place soon after the two hours had expired, and my friends were much surprised, especially the owner of the box of jewelry, when he received from me the result of my sales, which amounted to over £8.
I was, of course, delighted with my demonstration of the Singer skill in salesmanship, and still further pleased when, following up my push of the morning, I finished up with one of the best day's results in my own business that I ever had in Whitstable.
My dear old mare sometimes suffered with fever in her feet, and at such times I used to either walk or cycle my journeys. At this time we had got past the old wooden-rimmed "bone-shaker" on which I first learned, and had entered on the tall cycle with rubber tyre and small back wheel, and many a rough journey I accomplished in this way. A favorite way of descending a hill was to put both legs over the handle-bar, so that if you struck a stone you would stand a chance of being pitched on your feet instead of your head or face.
I remember one day starting from the top of a hill to go down, and when midway saw, to my horror, the road covered with rough metal. I immediately took in the situation, rode straight for a bank at the side of the road, and was pitched clean on the top of a close-set hedge.
Strange to say, my machine came through with only a bent handle-bar, but it took me fully half an hour to pick the thorns from myself, and when I got my handle-bar straightened, my riding was very painful for the rest of the journey.
On another occasion I started to ride down a hill and, on nearing a very narrow part, I found it blocked by a cart loaded with hay, leisurely going the same way.
I landed against the back of the cart, and was pitched on the top, close beside the driver, who evidently thought I had descended from the clouds, for he failed to utter a word for some minutes.
This time, my wheel was so buckled up I had to get a lift from the driver of the cart to the first blacksmith's shop, where I promptly got it put right.
To be continued ........