The travelling salesman’s conundrum.

I have been told that men are bad at taking hints. I have been present where we have discussed this sort of thing, and one school of thought points out that a hint is not an instruction. It is an intimation, a suggestion, and is always vague. The members of this school pointed out that in the real world, vague orders are not orders are all, and if issued by a superior should be queried. This questioning is a matter of simple self-defence. If you obey these vague orders and fail, then it is obviously your fault because you didn’t obey your orders properly. If on the other hand the orders are detailed and you obey them in both letter and spirit and still fail, some of the blame can be pushed back up the chain of command to your superiors. So in their eyes, the male inability to take hints is a positive trait. It might get you into trouble but not as much trouble as you could get into if you took the hints and got it wrong.

At this point it should be mentioned that one of those discussing pushing trouble back up the chain of command works at the race tracks. He commented, “Trouble is like horse piss. It tends to flow downwards, best of luck trying to push it back up a chain.”
Now I understand and agree with his analysis, but seem to have wandered off the point of the tale. Edwal Gleehopper was a travelling salesman. He worked for Nailsons, one of Port Naain’s leading manufacturers of lady’s small clothes. They also had a range of gentlemen’s nether garments but these tend to be cheaper and sold in bulk with less thought to style, line and fabric. In his line of work, he always said that he took instruction, not hints. He would call at a clothing emporium on Ropewalk, or in Prae Ducis, pull out his notebook and write down the exact order.

Not only that, but there was none of this nonsense of large, medium, small, petite. Everything was given absolute dimensions. What the vendor chose to describe them as wasn’t Edwal’s problem. Edwal took an order, ’Thirty pairs, pattern three, mixed colours, size thirty-four.’ His employers supplied some nicely printed labels. They would have the vendor’s name and the size. These could be sewn in by the vendor. Most vendors purchased large numbers of these, but only in the medium and small categories.

One reason for his determined inability to take hints was that Edwal could legitimately, for reasons of work, find himself surrounded by ladies wearing only their underclothes. As he said, it didn’t happen often, but when it did, it could be very distracting. So he developed the persona of a slightly obtuse individual with a limited sense of humour. Indeed his only joke was to introduce himself as “Hello, I’m Edwal Gleehopper, I travel in lady’s underclothes.”

Now Gaffar Nailson, recognised Edwal’s abilities and trustworthiness. So whilst most of the company’s sales force are kept on a tight rein, Edwal was used to explore new territories and to cover the more distant markets. Whereas lesser personnel would arrive home two months late with an expenses bill that suggested that they had inadvertently funded a convention of poets or at the very least, a small war; Edwal was back on the day he said he would be. He would live sensibly and he would present a slim expense account and a thick wad of orders.

But the other thing that guaranteed Edwal’s travelling lifestyle was literary. After being away for three months and returning home from a successful trip, Gaffar took him gently to one side and said, “Look young Edwal. You’re doing well, you’re good and I trust you. But when you disappear off into the depths of Partann for a quarter of a year and we hear nothing, we do tend to worry about you. Next time, just drop us the occasional note, let us know how you are and what the area is like and how trade is doing.”

Edwal, dutiful employee that he was, could see the sense in this. Not only that, but because it was an instruction, phased as such, with no pretence it was merely a hint, he obeyed.

His first such missive arrived at the offices of Nailsons just as Gaffer was about to go home for his evening meal. So he trust the letter into his pocket. After lunch, as he relaxed in front of the fire with a glass of excellent brandy, he remembered the letter. Now he was a man blessed with two daughters, Lena and Kareta. Both were sitting quietly reading so were ‘doing nothing important’ and he asked Kareta, the nearest, if she would mind getting a letter from his coat pocket. She dutifully brought it to him, and he opened it and read it.

At one point, with tears running down his cheeks, he had to put the letter down. He was laughing too much and could not control his breathing. Kareta grabbed the letter and she and Lena sat and read it. They too struggled to get to the end. Edwal, when he put pen to paper and was not forced into his persona as an underwear salesman, had a dry wit and possessed remarkable skills of observation. Stuck in a drab boarding house, writing solely for the eyes of a boss he rather liked, he allowed his wit full rein.

Within Gaffer’s family, a family tradition grew up. When Edwal’s letter arrived, he would fetch it home and there would present it to his two daughters. Lena and Kareta would abandon whatever they were doing and sit together on the sofa to read it.

When one of the letters intimated that Edwal was about to return home, both girls demanded that they be allowed to meet their hero. Thus he was invited to dine with the family. Somewhat to his surprise he discovered he had an enthusiastic readership. Luckily, because he rather liked both girls, if anything his letters improved. Whereas previously he had mentioned things that he knew would amuse Gaffer, now he included things which he felt would amuse Kereta and Lena.

Eventually Edwal married. Even on the road to matrimony he allowed his persona to protect him. Any number of ladies hinted or made very veiled suggestions. These he managed to avoid. On the other hand he had become friendly with Ioni, a young lady who worked as a librarian in the Great Library. He’d got to know her when using the library and they even dined together on occasion. When he got back from his travels he would make a point of contacting her and they would have a meal together. Finally Ioni asked, “If we got married, would your employer allow me to travel with you?”

Somewhat nonplussed, Edwal answered. “I don’t know.”
“You’ll have to ask him.”

A somewhat bemused Gaffer told Edwal that the company would make no difficulties in this regard. (He suspected a number of his salesforce had multiple spouses that they expected him to subsidise.)

When Edwal reported the positive answer, Ioni asked, “Well, are you going to ask me to marry you then?”

He did.

But the minute word leaked out, Kereta and Lena contacted the bride to be, and begged to be her bridesmaids. As she got to know them during the course of the wedding preparations they admitted that they didn’t mind Edwal getting married, they just dreaded his wife stopping him writing the letters.
She put their minds at ease on this matter. Indeed if anything, Edwal’s letters improved as Ioni’s literary knowledge and observational skills were added to his. Even when Kereta and Lena were married with families of their own, their father would send a note inviting them ‘to peruse some sales correspondence.’

Ioni herself was not without wit. She even added to Edwal’s only joke. Now, when he introduced himself by saying, “Hello, I’m Edwal Gleehopper, I travel in lady’s underclothes,” she would add, “And I’m Ioni his wife. Much to be my relief, I discovered he doesn’t.”



Should you wish to learn more about life in Port Naain………

More of the wit, wisdom and jumbled musings of Tallis Steelyard. Includes the unexpurgated account of the Mudfold and Cockeren feud, the dangers inherent in light music, and how Tallis first met and wooed Shena.

As a reviewer commented, “This is a collection of stories about Tallis which go to show that it’s not all drinking afternoon tea or partaking of soirees for a jobbing poet. We discover some of his early life, some of the society feuds he became entangle with, and the story of how he met his wife and acquired the boat on which they live. Great little tales!”

7 thoughts on “The travelling salesman’s conundrum.

  1. I have to confess, that in a short period from 1971-1978, I was a travelling salesman, for various companies. Though we called it ‘Repping’, with a decent salary, and and a new company car. Usually a Mark 111 Cortina.
    So you will appreciate that this episode rekindled some bad memories.
    Best wishes, Pete.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. In agriculture we always called them ‘reps’ as well. Being agriculture some managed to ‘go native’ and fit in to the farming community, even if they didn’t have a farming background.
      I remember one who’d gone through the war as a Royal Marine officer and had stayed in after the war as a regular. Then he’d retired and gone as a feed rep on farms. He was always immaculate, always polite. His family had farmed before the Second World War and he’d done farm work before the Marines.
      He’s always remembered fondly, he always made a point of quietly attending funerals. He’d just be quietly at the back and then fade away back to work as the coffin was carried out. Never used the funeral as a ‘sales opportunity’
      The only time I heard him mention the marines was during the Falklands war. He just shook his head a bit sadly and said “poor beggars.”
      When asked who he just said, “The Argentinians, the Marines will eat them alive.”

      Liked by 1 person

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