How to tick persistent pedlars into submission

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The Independent Online

I wrote a piece not long ago about the kind of stray people you get calling at your door in the country. Not in the city. I lived in London for 20 years and the only people who ever rang my doorbell were those I was expecting or who had pressed the wrong doorbell. But in the supposedly deserted countryside I get a constant stream of pedlars, Jehovah's Witnesses, frozen fish salesmen, tree surgeons etc etc, all with their well-honed spiel.

Well, it breaks up the day and gives me a chance to practise my debating skills ("Would you like to come in and see the world's largest collection of unused gardening gloves and ironing board covers?" usually deters all but the most persistent pedlar), but it is clearly not the sort of thing that appeals to Mr Walker of Chester. I know this, because Mr Walker of Chester wrote to me and said that there was an ideal way of deterring callers and that was to place a notice at one's gate saying:

"A POLITE REQUEST

Thank you for calling but we do not want:

- double glazing

- replacement windows

- kitchens

- insurance of any kind

- religious instruction

- or any other kind of goods for sale.

Please don't knock or ring the bell."

Mr Walker says that it works, except with those who can't read, and I am sure it does. The only reason I don't rush out and put such a notice on my gate - apart from not wanting to reinforce my neighours' view of me as a misanthrope - is that most of the people who offer me things such as redesigned kitchens and windows and time shares and investment advice, do not knock at my door. They ring my telephone or send me junk mail.

The telephoners I can almost always identify because of their habit of asking if I am Mr Maynard. I am not Mr Maynard, but my wife's first husband was called Maynard, and she still uses that name professionally, and people assume that the name Maynard must belong to a man. So when they ring up and ask for Mr Maynard, there takes place the following exchange:

"Mr Maynard?"

"You want to speak to my wife's first husband? I'm afraid he doesn't live here, but I'll gladly give you his number."

That shuts up all but the most thick-skinned, who do occasionally take his number. I have never found out if they actually ring him, but I wouldn't be surprised.

But what I really need is a handy answer to all the letters I get that offer me unwanted services, bargains, holidays etc. This is not a new problem. I remember reading about some once-famous writer who was, for some reason, always getting long, involved letters from students in India, to whom he would always answer politely that they would be far better off writing to Edith Sitwell, and helpfully gave them her address.

None of the junk letters I get is even as interesting as that. On the other hand, I do sometimes feel a bit cavalier in throwing them away unacknowledged. And I think Mr Walker has unwittingly provided the answer. What I shall now do is print off a formula reply that deals with random writers in the same way that he dealt with random callers. As follows:

"Thank you for writing to Mr Kington. I am afraid he will not be answering your communication because:

* he already has too many credit cards

* he has made plans for his next 10 annual holidays

* he has once or twice tried reading the magazine to which you want him to take out a subscription, and thinks it is sloppily edited

* the grammatical error to which you refer was almost certainly not committed by him but most likely inserted by a malicious sub-editor

* he already suffers from most known life-threatening diseases

* he cannot see the point of putting paintings on plates and then hanging them on the wall

* he never goes to art exhibitions, for fear of being tempted to buy something

* he is far too mean to give to charity

* he has already sold his vote at the next election to the Tory party."

All I will have to do then is tick the appropriate box and return the package.

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