Miles Kington: Another victory for door-to-door salesmen

I already have 36 devices for removing cat's hair from furniture - and I don't even own a cat
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The Independent Online

"Could you read this?" he asked.

He pushed at me a card on which was written the story of his life in a few familiar words.

"Through no fault of my own I have been unemployed for several years and now I am making a fresh start going door to door selling objects of domestic use. Please help me by purchasing a few."

He must have sensed a faint heart in me, because he then pushed identity at me, a card containing a photo of himself and his name underneath. The photograph had been taken in happier times.

He was about to press home his advantage when I hit back.

"Just a moment," I said. "Could you read this for me, please?"

I pushed a card at him which I had prepared earlier.

"Through no fault of my own," it said, "I have to write for a living, and when you rang the doorbell just now, you interrupted the most brilliant idea I have ever had. If all you have to offer instead is a chance to inspect your travelling bag full of gardening gloves, ironing board covers and all-weather scissors, many of which I have already bought from previous callers in the same line of business, I shall be tempted to throttle you personally and thus reduce by one the population of Nottingham, Sheffield or whatever hapless Northern town you hail from."

He looked at this reflectively for a moment and then opened his bag. I feared for a moment that he would bring forth a device for removing cat's hair from any furniture (I already have more than 36 such devices, such is the heartbreaking salesmanship of these itinerant chaps, and I don't even own a cat) but instead he produced a card which read: "In the North? Nottingham? I beg your pardon! As you detect, I am indeed from further north than this soft southern spot, but to call a Midlands town like Nottingham part of the north is to devalue the whole concept of the North/South divide! Are you aware that Nottingham is level with the Wash? That it is further south than Chester, and Stoke, two places which by no stretch could be called northern towns?"

He had me there. I tried to wriggle out of it by scribbling quickly on the back of his card: "What about Sheffield?".

He took my card and wrote on it: "What about it?"

We seemed to have reached an impasse. Sensing that he was about to open his bag and show me ironing board covers, which are things I detest, I hastily produced another card upon which I wrote: "Was it not Les Dawson who, when he met someone from Nottingham, said: 'In Sheffield we use Nottingham as a windbreak'?"

His reply was crushing.

"I doubt it," he had written. "Les Dawson didn't come from Sheffield. He didn't come from Yorkshire at all. He was a Manchester lad who eventually settled down in Lytham. Which is also in Lancashire. For your information."

Not one to be brow-beaten, I shot back with a card bearing another piece of information which I thought he would not know, as I had just made it up.

"Ah, but did you know that in Paris, where Les Dawson performed for a while, they thought he was a group? This was based on his name, which in French is a plural article, as in Les Miserables. 'Les Dawson !' they would announce, and on would come only one person. He would always be booed off, as the French felt short-changed."

He looked at me. I looked at him. There was a silence. Then he opened his bag and said that these scissors would cut through anything. I said I didn't want anything, so he left, though only after I had purchased, just to encourage him, a solar-powered torch, several bags of clothes pegs, some garden kneeling mats, dusters, tea cloths, a thing which removed cat's hair from tablecloths, as well as several other items.

As he retreated up my yard, I held up a card saying: "And don't bloody come back!" but I don't think he saw it.