“Theres always a deal to be done” is what he used to tell me, ever since I was a small child my father would offer me that phrase as a lifelong endowment, there’s always a deal to be done.
Of course he was a born salesman, he could sell anything to anyone, selling things was a challenge to him and it was also his job and he’d drive the highways and byways all across the north of England selling time clocks, for that was his job, selling what used to be called “clocking on clocks” or “punch clocks”, initially spring wound wood cased clocks but then big sturdy steel affairs, he sold them, to anyone.
And in his spare time he sold anything else, literally anything else, slippers outside a pub for instance, or previously used NHS spectacles, he never ceased to amaze us kids with the stuff that he’d bring home to sell to his mates at his various working mens clubs.
And during his day job selling routine he’d go to lots of business premises, some a little more interesting than others, and if the business premise had something to offer that he would like to have, then there was always a deal to be done.
The Cats Whiskers in Meanwood for instance, for decades it had been The Capitol Ballroom, he had been a Saturday night regular when “courting” my mother as they danced the light fandango late into the night in the 1940s and 50s, but by the 1960s the public didn’t want joined-up dancing to a tuxedo’d dance band any more, they wanted “The Theatre Club” venue, or at least the owners of The Capitol thought that’s what the public wanted – so they rebranded, brought in tables and chairs where the dance floor used to be, and The Cats Whiskers Theatre Club was born to compete directly with the world famous Batley Variety Club and the slightly less well know Wakefield Theatre Club.
My dad went to The Cats Whiskers one day to sell them a punch clock, well they employed people didn’t they, so they’d need a punch clock, tenacious was his middle name.
He sold them a clock and as part of the deal (there’s always a deal to be done), he snaffled himself four tickets for their opening night for on their big opening night celebration they had booked none other than Frank Ifield, the Australian chart topping yodelling singer (yes really, he yodelled, it was his act), which would have been a big deal had it not been several years since Frank Ifield had had a record in the charts, but still, Frank Ifield eh, everyone had heard of him even if they thought he was rubbish these days.
My mother and father dressed up to the nines for their evening soiree with Frank Ifield and they took along Ralph and Joyce too, Ralph even wore his special “black tie” regalia for he was a caterer and officiated at posh functions, my father wore his work suit, for he did not.
Business could have been a little brisker on the opening night, in fact by the time that Frank Ifield came on stage the huge auditorium only held my mother and father, Ralph and Joyce and six other people, all seated randomly somewhere out there in the candle light dark – Frank Ifield walked on stage to the sort of applause that only ten people can generate and staring out into the spotlights he said “I know there are some people out there but I can’t see you, would you all like to come down and sit at the front and we’ll have a bit of a sing-song”.
“He was bloody rubbish” was my dads summary, “he sang I Remember You three times and no-one joined in”.
The Cats Whiskers Theatre Club became The Cats Whiskers Disco pretty quickly after Frank Ifield.
But it was when Billy Smarts Circus came to town that we kids got excited for the company that my father worked for had a strange contract with Billy Smart, for Billy Smart had an old wood-cased spring wound punch clock that travelled the country with them (hey, they employed people, they’d need a punch clock), and every time they relocated the clock had to be stopped, moved and then reset in a new town – the company that my dad worked for had lots of branches and each branch would get a call to ask them to go to the new Billy Smarts site to set the clock up again.
And so at least once a year my dad would go to the circus to set up their punch clock and when they asked how much they owed him he’d “do a deal” which usually involved tickets for the family – one year he turned up at the fence and waited for someone to take him to where the punch clock was, eventually a man turned up with a huge Indian elephant walking behind him, “Clock man ?” is what he asked if my father had a pound for everytime someone had asked “clock man?” then he’d have been a millionaire and I’d be living an idle life of luxury on his inheritance right now.
My dad picked up his tool case ready to walk to where the clock was, “Oh don’t carry that” the elephant man told him, “let her carry it for you” and so my dad got himself an apprentice, an elephant who walked patiently behind you carrying your tools. Me and Ned loved that story and got him to tell it to us dozens of times, and then we’d rush to school and tell our friends, “My dad worked in the circus yesterday and an elephant went with him to fix the clock”