Working for Singer, Part 5-2
by Graham Forsdyke
... continued from previous issue
My service in the Edinburgh district ended when I was asked to go south and manage the Plymouth territory. It was a big change from "John o'Groats" to "Land's End", but I was feeling the want of a change at this time, and was glad to get into the English Riviera.
One can hardly realise what such a change means both with regard to climate as well as the great difference in the character of the people; however, I soon got acclimatised and in tune with the natives.
The work was very stiff for a time, but good progress was made, and during my first year the business made excellent progress. I found many splendid loyal workers in the district who assisted me in bringing the district into a prosperous condition, and I believe many of them are still bearing the "Red 'S' Banner".
We had the youngest counting house staff in the country at that time, and I always feel proud of them for they were indeed an enthusiastic lot of lads, and among these I recall Mr Gee, Mr Weeks and Mr Munday, who are still in the company's service.
The only part of the district that reminded me of Scotland was Dartmoor, and I thoroughly enjoyed a trip to Princetown. I have visited a large number of prisons (on business of course), but Dartmoor Prison is certainly the most depressing of any of them. The prison stands in the picturesque little village of Princetown on the top of a hill. To reach it, the railway winds upwards and twists round a bit like a snake. We did quite a nice little business, both in the prison as well as with the warders.
Devonshire and Cornwall need no description from me, for most of my readers I am sure know that these counties are, with Kent, the most luxuriant and beautiful of all the counties of Britain. The only thing that troubled me was the heat, for after my sojourn in the north I felt this very badly, and was rather slow in accommodating myself to the changed conditions.
Well do I remember my surprise on entering the counting house one day to find the staff minus their coats and vests, their sleeves rolled up and some of them wearing cummerbunds. I learned, however, that the change of climate called for a change in clothing. My work was very interesting for the need of re-organisation gave me plenty to do and plenty to think about, yet I missed my comradeship with the men outside, and my happiest hours were when I could meet the men together and have a heart-to-heart talk with them.
This was the age of circular letters and the pushing of "smalls" and it was about this time that we began to analyse the difference between a "shop attendant" and a "saleswoman", and the necessity of realising that the former only served what was called for and the latter sold more than the customer asked for.
We also began to see that the sale of "smalls" had a considerable bearing on the sale of machines. This gave us plenty to write and talk about. I remember calling for a special effort to show what could be done in selling silk. Mr J Harris, who was superintendent at Penzance, not only broke the record (I can't remember how many boxes he sold) but I do remember that he sold us clean out and put us in an awkward position as we could not supply some for the other staff.
We used to work the Scilly Isles about every three months, the superintendent and a collector usually spending a week there. I was anxious to visit the islands, and thus see for myself what they were like, so I arranged with Mr Harris to accompany him on one of his visits. Preparations were made, plenty of needles, cottons, oils and general "smalls" were sent forward with a few machines. Then the "Cryer" was advised and gave notice at St Mary's that Singer's representatives would be visiting the islands on certain dates and would be staying at a certain address.
Then came the day for sailing. How it all comes to my mind again. The old "Lyonnese" on which I sailed is still on the water I believe. The voyage was a most enjoyable one, for although we had a good breeze the weather was warm and balmy, for we were in the Gulf Stream.
Mr Harris and I made up our plans and were determined to make a record visit for business.
There are five islands inhabited, the main island being St Mary's. The Governor's house "Tresco Abbey", is on the Island of Tresco, and is the only spot where I saw any luxuriant foliage; the rest of the islands were comparatively bare of trees, very much like the Orkney isles.
The waters around the islands are very treacherous, both on account of sunken rocks as well as strong tide-ways and sudden squalls. The bed of the ocean is luxuriant with giant sea plants and weeds, consequently there are shoals of all kinds of fish -- shellfish being abundant. I also learned that at times these waters were infested with the cuttle or devil-fish.
We had to charter a sailing boat for the week to take us to the different islands. We did splendid business and vied with each other to do the most business during each day.
One day on starting out we had omitted to bring any provisions, and so I told Harris, who could not smoke a pipe and had no cigarettes, I would provide the larder for us, although there were no shops or stores.
At the first little farm I canvassed on this day I sold some oil, and at the same time I remarked to the lady what a fragrant smell there was in the house. I was told it was from some fresh-picked apples, and that the Scilly apples had a flavour all their own, and very few were grown. I was interested and informed the lady it was my favourite fruit -- result, a present of a bag of apples.
Shortly after this, I was asked in to adjust a machine. After doing this, the lady was explaining to me that they produced on their farm mostly grapes and tomatoes, and kindly offered me a few nice bunches of grapes, which I most graciously accepted. Just then her husband came in with a young man, who, I was informed, was a London tourist saying with them. This young man kindly offered me a cigarette from a box he took from the mantelboard. I explained to him I was a pipe smoker, but unfortunately a friend who was with me came away without a supply of cigarettes and could not smoke a pipe, so would he mind me taking one for him. In his great kindness he presented me with a handfull which I carefully put in my bag.
This was all right, but I felt I had started the wrong end first, and was providing desert and smokes before meat, but my luck was in, for the next farm I came to was the largest I had called at on this island. I took the back part of the house and was met by a rosy-faced maid who gazed at me in amazement, for visitors were rare, especially those with a smile such as I carried, and a tongue that wagged so merrily.
A savoury smell issued from the kitchen and I was informed there had been "a killing" and it was also explained to me that when this took place the others on the island took a joint or part of the meat. They were cooking the "smallmeat". I asked the girl if she wanted to save the lives of two starving men, if so, to make two nice fat sandwiches. She thought I was joking, but I soon convinced her that I was quite serious, and carefully explained the situation. I got my sandwiches, and also did good business in that house. Mr Harris always admitted after that, that I was the best scavenger he had ever known.
We had one sad experience during the visit. One day while sailing, we passed a boat with but one man in it (who turned out to be our boatman's brother). Our boatman remonstrated with him for being out by himself, for as he explained to us, squalls occurred so suddenly that it was very dangerous to be out alone.
The following morning we were called early, and informed that our man had called for us to go out with him as his brother had not turned up. Several men had been out all night visiting all the islands, but no trace of him could be found. The boat was eventually found in a bed of weeds, but the body was never recovered. Needless to say, the result of this visit afforded us some striking figures to work on for some little time, but I often think how I could enjoy another such visit with Mr Harris.
To be continued .....