Reluctantly I stopped minding my own business, and went to answer the door, where I found a smart-looking young man with a large bag over his shoulder.
"Good morning," he said. "I wonder if you have ever read this little book?" And he pushed a religious tract into my hand, which I saw at a glance would lead to eternal salvation if I followed its precepts.
"No," I said, "and nor do I want to. Eternal salvation sounds too gloomy by far. Temporary salvation, maybe. Salvation every other Thursday, definitely. But not the eternal kind."
His eyes never flickered.
"You're not a religious person, then?"
"I have my own personal arrangements with God," I said. "He doesn't bother me and I don't bother Him."
"Fine," said the man. "How are you off for oven gloves?"
"Pardon?" I said, taken slightly off-guard.
"We have some particularly good gloves at the moment," he said, opening his bag to reveal a spread of domestic treasures. "This is the good old- fashioned cotton kind, absolutely proof against burns, in three traditional colours ..."
"Hold on," I said, "I thought you were a God salesman."
"And so I am," he said. "If you had shown any signs of being saved I would have tried to save you, but as you were obviously beyond redemption, I thought you might buy some oven gloves."
"Do you think oven gloves will redeem me in some way not known even to oven-glove manufacturers?"
"I will ignore your snide tone," he said. "I will merely point out that those of us who tramp from door to door trying to spread the gospel, and usually failing, have recently realised that we should diversify. We have unique access to the front doors of the kingdom. Why not use it to sell useful objects as well?"
"And make a bit of money on the side?"
"And make a bit of money on the side. Now, we have also got garden kneelers, clothes pegs, ironing board covers ...."
He went through the usual list of pedlar's wares. As usual, I didn't really need any of them. As usual, I bought lots. I have almost enough gardening gloves now to start my own peddling business. Maybe that is how a lot of door-to-door pedlars get started. They're simply off-loading the stuff they have bought from other pedlars.
I started to close the door to indicate that I had run out of ready money.
"Well, if you're not going to buy any more," he said, "perhaps I could come in and get on with the rest of my business."
"The rest of your business? Reading the gas meter, perhaps?" I said, with a return of my snide tone. "Watering my house plants? Doing a bit of letter dictation?"
"Retuning your TV set to Channel 5," he said.
"You're a Channel 5 retuner?" I said.
I hadn't been expecting this one.
"Once you're a combination missionary and pedlar," he said, "it is but a small step to taking on other functions. Many small fundamentalist churches have eagerly embraced the opportunity to learn a new skill, that of retuning your TV set to receive the new channel. Indeed, you could say, could you not, that we men and women are all of us TV sets, human TV sets, as it were, but only programmed to receive what we want to hear. How easy it would be to retune our hearts to receive God's message! Would it not be better to point your aerial in the direction of good news? Why not let Heaven retune your heart now ...!"
"No," I said.
"No, I don't want it."
"Don't want God's word? Or Channel 5?"
"Neither. Either. I do not want to receive God's word and I do not want to receive more television. In a sense, you know, we are all like off switches. We can all turn ourselves off and go and do something more useful."
"You get a free gift if you let me retune you to Channel 5."
"A free gift from Channel 5?"
"Yes. Some perfume."
"What kind of perfume?"
"Chanel No 5, of course!"
He roared with laughter. He roared alone. Never swap jokes with a salesman, that's my motto. I started to close the door again. He bade me a reluctant farewell and started to retreat. I opened the door again. He stopped.
"As a matter of interest," I said, "tell me one thing. Why didn't you diversify a little further and take the golden opportunity to do some canvassing for one of the parties in the election?"
"We did think of that," he said.
"We decided there were some things we wouldn't sink to."
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