It was the knock on the front door that did it

It was the knock on the front door that did it. It was an assertive knock and assertive means enthusiastic and enthusiastic means “I’m selling”. I was right, and there he stood. I’ve no problem with people being shallow, I can deal with that, and the false friendliness. It was his smile; condescending, almost pitying; if I’d owned a cat, he was about to tell me that he’d accidentally run it over. “I see you’ve still got wooden window frames” he said, still smiling, and then paused. The pause threw me; what was next? Was he going to tell me that not only had I let the entire neighbourhood down, but I’d also let myself down? I’ve no idea, actually. I took advantage of the pause to send him on his way to the next window frame offender.

The religious doorsteppers are not too bad really, but they are a bit disorganised. They descend on my housing estate en masse and then split up into smaller groups to do the business. But in my area of small, winding roads, that have dead-ends without warning, they soon get lost. But they are very kindly when they knock at your door; tell them the truth about your faithlessness and they are soon on their way – I did, and they were. Ten minutes later, a second small group are back at the door. Now in sales, a follow-up call is essential, but ten minutes is hardly long enough to see the error of your ways and definitely not enough time for a full conversion. I advised them of their duplication of effort and they looked genuinely upset and apologised profusely. The group leader added: “I’m afraid I’ve lost all my friends” which I think was a geographic rather than a social misadventure. I was tempted to tell him to get out more, which would have been wasted because he obviously did. We parted on good terms and wished each other well.

Charities are a recent addition to my doorstep. This unnaturally cheerful young man was wearing a fluorescent tabard which was far too big for him and crackled during his animated pitch; he looked as if two huge Post-It notes had been stuck to his front and back. Over-trained, he knew his script but seemed to have missed the point when he said that he wanted no money from me (which I had assumed was his purpose and had already declined) but then handed me a direct debit form to complete, which I also declined. This event on its own would not have warranted writing about, had it not have been for the accomplice. Standing behind this young man’s left shoulder was an older man wearing what must have been an expensive raincoat when it was bought brand new in the 1960’s. I first thought he was second in the selling queue, but, no, they were together. He carried a clipboard which with his pen he held in a writing position; but he just stared at me and said nothing. I’ve no idea if he was a minder (is door-to-door selling that risky?), trainer, trainee or observing me for a research project. Probably my oddest callers.

In between there are just door-to-door callers: milk, fresh fish (always “fresh fish” never just “fish”), expensive frozen food and boxes of organic vegetables, scrap gold buyers, over-priced art, window cleaners, tree loppers and gardeners.

I’ve left until last energy sales people and must admit a bias against. Some years ago I was scammed by an energy company who said I had transferred to them and then proceeded to bill me alongside my proper supplier. When I declined to pay this alternative bill, I was threatened with disconnection until I got the statutory energy authority at the time to confirm that my proper supplier was correct and this second company was billing me illegally. Not that this mattered much as this statutory energy authority told me that this sort of practice was quite common.

I’m sure things are better now, but I still get energy sellers telling me that they’ve been asked to call, producing spurious printouts of my potential savings without knowing either my current supplier or usage and purporting to have official sanction to discuss my energy needs. It’s not happened to me, but an elderly relative allowed access to a fake meter reader who turned out to be an energy salesman. On discovery, the explosion in rage made this hapless salesman leave in haste.

Doorstep selling, collecting, canvassing and proselytising seem strangely outdated practices for the 21st century. I’d be interested to learn of better ways.

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