Taken from January 2022’s ‘Tatters’ – newsletter for the Tigerfolk – formerly known as Traditions at the Tiger
By John Bentham
Monday January 4th 1971 was cold with freezing fog, I know.
I well remember it as it was my first day as a sales representative with my very own patch. Back in September 1970 I joined a company selling their own brand of hair dressing preparations to ladies hairdressers. Starting as a trainee, I went out with other reps to learn the trade and after a few weeks I worked as a “Rover” or relief covering areas which weren’t being serviced, for whatever reason, sickness or holidays for example, by the company. But I’d served my time and here I was heading off to East Anglia with high expectations and trepidation.
As I worked a monthly calling cycle it took until March to get to know the area as I covered parts of Cambridgeshire, Huntingdonshire, Norfolk and Suffolk covering around a 1000 miles a week. But, all in all, it was going well and I was getting to know how things worked. Every day I set time aside to prospect for salons that were not customers of the company and, hopefully, open new accounts and so it was in late spring that reality seemed to get suspended.
My last customers on this particular day in Haverhill had been called on and I went in search of some more potential sales with new clients. I was drawn to a signpost that I had seen on previous trips that pointed to Steeple Bumpstead. Well, who couldn’t resist going to Steeple Bumpstead so off I drove and sure enough, there was a hairdressers. It was a corner shop and I confidently pushed open the door. Unfortunately for me, it was a stable door and only the top half swung open and I nearly fell into the salon. While this was going on a bell was constantly ringing and a voice from the back room shouted at me “To get inside and off the mat” (this was because there was a pressure pad under the mat activating the bell). Not the best of entrances! Having introduced myself I was informed that the owner livid in Orchard House and to go back over the ford, turn left and it would be on the right. Retracing my steps and composure I knocked on the door of Orchard House only to be greeted by the sound of baying hounds that were racing up the hall towards the front door. It opened slightly and a rather harassed lady poked her head out asking who I was whilst at the same time trying to hold back two hounds from hell. When I told her she laughed and told me to wait while she tethered the beasts. Shortly after the door opened and now a smiling lady welcomed me in and showed me into the front room explaining that her husband would be with me in a couple of minutes but at the moment he was upstairs shooting pheasants. Was I dreaming? Had I entered a parallel universe? Anxiously I sat there and not long after in walked a hefty, late middle-aged man. I stood up and introduced myself and my company, Schwarzkopf. He beamed broadly, shook my hand and introduced himself, “Joe Bilton, ex Clynol sales manager” (Clynol being one of our main competitors)! His wife came in with tea and accompanying her, two passive, tail wagging hounds who just wanted fussing and ended licking me nearly to death. He then explained the pheasant shooting as his father was in the garden with a gun and he was upstairs directing operations from his vantage point on high, as it were. And if you were wondering, the pheasant got away. The outcome of this slightly if not totally bizarre episode was that all the business from his small but busy salon came my way. Prospect and prosper.
So why bore you with this odd recollection, why not tell you about the time a car wheel came off the car in front of me and came back up the road to rebound off my bumper or being served curried aubergines in a Berni steak House?……..
Well, two or three miles east or east-ish of Steeple Bumpstead is Helions Bumpstead (which I didn’t visit for who knew who lived there and what they might be up to for a man can only take so much in one day) but it might be of interest to you.
For some years later whilst at Haxey Hood, for the ball game, talk got round to traditional singers in Suffolk. We talked of Cyril Poacher, the Ling Family, Bob Scarce and many more and the recordings made by the Helions Bumpstead Gramophone Co. came up in conversation and were highly recommended. Now many of you will know the books of George Ewart Evans in which he writes of life in bygone Suffolk and one of his go to sources of information and contacts was Neil Lanham. Neil was an auctioneer in Campsey Ash at the time and was an endless mine of knowledge for GWE. For he was and still is passionate about his beloved county of Suffolk and has spent his whole life time collecting all things relating to life in the county including recording many singers, musicians, storytellers and dancers. He has performed for many years and has been instrumental in promoting and preserving the Suffolk Punch as a breed of heavy horse. If you are interested in Neil and his magnificent recordings on CD and DVD then go to; www.oraltraditions.co.uk and find out more of this remarkable man and his collection.
And no more tales of life on the road, honest…..well maybe the odd one.
SEE YOU AT THE FALCON INN