My Dad was an artist and storyteller. When I was younger he would tell us stories of his time in India during the Second World War. After many years of hearing the same stories we would start to roll our eyes when Dad started with “When I was in India…” But they were often funny and always interesting reminiscences.
Dad made many drawings while in India – and painted in oils when he had time during his working career. After he retired he turned to water colours – a medium that suited him far better. I like these paintings of his the best. All paintings are by H.D Sprange, photos (C) Rod Sprange
The photographs are deliberately off-square, to avoid reflection on the glass.
After he retired Dad started to tell stories about his work life. He had been a salesman and then a sales-manager in the paper business. He provided paper to box-makers, packaging firms and Christmas cracker makers (we were given some spectacular bon-bons at Christmas – there is a story to be told – but another time).
Many of Dad’s best customers happened to be Jews. Their manufacturing plants were in London’s East End. Dad shared some rather earthy stories about his adventures in selling to these business owners.
One of his favourite people owned a firm that made cardboard boxes for other businesses. He started out as a very difficult customer – literally. Dad began to call on him soon after taking over this area of the business. Dad was warned he wouldn’t get anywhere with this particular owner. One day Dad decided to make a cold call on him. He was outside in the secretary’s office – the door was open and Dad could hear the whole conversation between the secretary and her boss. Dad is sure the boss knew he could hear too. “Who is it?” “It’s Sprange from X&X.” “What’s he want?” “It’s a sales call”. “Well tell him to … … (expletive deleted)”. When dad told us this story, later in life and in mixed company, I was absolutely shocked he didn’t use a euphemisms. He just came out with the raw language of the East End. I had never heard Dad say anything remotely impolite, let alone this very coarse command!
To continue… The secretary explained her boss was busy. “That’s OK, here is my card, I’ll be back”. He received the same treatment the next two or three times he called on the man. I think it was on his fourth visit that Dad was finally admitted to the presence. And another two or three before he received the first order. Later this man became one of Dad’s very best customers.
The man was very wealthy, but you wouldn’t know it to look at the way he dressed. Sartorial elegance wasn’t among his priorities.
Dad told us that every time he called on him and asked “how are you, how is business?” the man would reply “Terrible Sprange, business is terrible, I don’t know where the next meal is coming from”. After a nice chat, he would give dad a large order.
One day the man asked about my Dad’s health and wellbeing before Dad had asked him. Dad thought he would be funny, and replied “Terrible sir, business is dreadful, I don’t know where the next meal is coming from”. “I’m so sorry to hear that Sprange”. The man reached into his baggy trouser pockets and pulled out three hundred pounds in crinkled up notes (an enormous sum in those days). “Here, take this. You can pay me back when things get better”. My dad tried to explain he didn’t need the money, but the generous man wouldn’t listen. He knew Dad as a straight-shooter and couldn’t believe he would have told him he was broke unless he really was. Dad had to thank him and take the money. He waited a few weeks then went back and returned the money with thanks saying business had improved considerably.
Next time Dad was asked “How are you? how is business?” he replied “I’m well thank you and business is good”. He still asked the man how he was and always received the same answer, “Terrible Sprange, I don’t know where the next meal is coming from!”.
Which reminds me, my next meal is coming from the kitchen, I’d better go and help.