‘It could only happen to a salesman’
I began my sales career by joining Xerox UK as a trainee salesman. As a trainee salesman, I received the same money as a Centre Group Economist for Viyella International which was taking over much of the English textile industry at the time.
The Xerox office was in Great Portland Street, a modern 4 or 5 story building, just north and to the left of Oxford Circus. Between Great Portland Street, and in and around Berner Street, lay the heart of London’s cut-and-make garment industry, small blocks with a myriad of fashion shops on the pavement side while behind them the infill of cut-and-make, low level sheds with sloping, black-felted roofs.
As a trainee Xerox salesman you were only allowed into the office on Friday afternoons to hand in your call reports and orders and to chat with your managers & sales colleagues. Salesmen tend to be very good buyers. They see the value benefit in all kind of things; so a lot of the jokey conversations was around ‘what did you buy this week’ followed by screams of laughter as the humourists pointed out the disbenefits.
So there I was in the office every Fridays afternoon, usually after 2.00pm. With time to pass until the pubs opened, I would look across at the higher rise offices the other side of the block and look down at the sculptured effect of the shed roofs as they interwove with each other. One day I looked across to the adjacent office buildings and` noticed something rather strange. It was a low, narrow window with sight obscuring glass. What was strange about it was there was a blob of purple pressed against it with what, as I focused on it, seemed to be shoulders. Now I could see, above the colour, the longer hair of a woman. Yes. It must be a woman with her back pressed to the window. There must have been a basin under the window for her to sit on. Then, as I looked, a face appeared over her left shoulder; and, yes, the whole thing seemed to be moving up and down, not a lot but definitely moving. It is difficult to remember how long it took until it went away – maybe 10 minutes, maybe more.
I didn’t say anything to my sales colleagues but, when I came into the office the next Friday, the same thing happened. The blob of colour was there, sometime purple, sometimes blue. Always about 4 o’clock. And the next Friday. Obviously someone was collecting seigneurial rights before returning home for the weekend and the wife.
This went on for about four Fridays before I told my colleagues and, for a couple of Fridays, the office picture windows overlooking the sheds were filled with Xerox employees enjoying the break after a hard week. Obviously people in the cutting sheds became aware of everyone looking out of our windows and they too came out onto the shed roofs to see what was going on.
I will never forget the last Friday. It was a beautiful English day, clear, blue skies with the sun turning golden towards the later afternoon. It looked like a scene from the Sermon on the Mount; or the Feeding of the 5000. At 4 o’clock precisely the roofs were covered in people, hundreds of them, looking up at the magic window. They were dressed in vivid colours with a preponderance of black and the very white, white shirts and the white of their cutting aprons. A magnificent sight. The stars took their position. Slowly and purposefully the purple jersey and the 2 heads gathered and began to move rhythmically together. But clearly, for the face looking out the window, the colours had changed. Instead of the sombre black roofs, there was a kaleidoscope of colour, of people laughing, pointing and talking with each other, drinking drinks and eating the odd leftover sandwich.
Then, as suddenly as it had begun, it was gone. No more Fridays. Only the memory. On both sides no doubt.