The House of Rufus

House of Rufus

I took on my first job while I was still at school working for a local family owned shoe repair business. My duties were to cycle around specific routes on specific days returning repaired shoes to their owners, collecting payment and collecting more shoes for repair to be returned the following week. The areas this work took place in were Bray, Holyport, Maidenhead and Windsor; all in the Thames Valley of Berkshire.

The mode of transport was a ‘trade bicycle’ like the one Granville used in the TV series ‘Open All Hours’ with David Jason as the down trodden junior and Ronnie Barker as the curmudgeonly and lechorous shop owner.

One major problem with the trade bike, soon to be overcome, was the big wicker basket on the front.

The rider could not see what the front wheel was doing so understeered or oversteered for the early attempts at mastering this cycling skill. Until I mastered this new mode of cycling I was convinced that the front wheel was independent of my efforts to direct it. These learning attempts were punctuated by grazed hands and knees as a result of falling off. Pain accelerated the learning and soon I could manouvre the bike as accurately as a competitior in the Tour de France but without the speed.

Another problem was the gears, which as the bike was so old were beginning to wear out. As the rider stood on the pedals to just get that little bit of extra speed on the flat or apply a special effort to go up hill the gears would slip and the rider’s lower regions would come crashing painfully into contact with the cross bar. Gradually, I learnt that there was a tipping point up to which extra stand up effort could be applied without causing the gears to slip. Once again, pain was an accelerant to the learning process.

My job started in the spring when I would report for duty after school on Friday afternoons and again on Saturday mornings. Sometimes there were two of  us and we would toss a coin. The loser would get the trade bike while the other could ride their own. Occasionally, when there were a lot of shoes to deliver the owner’s son in law would take us delivery boys around in the trade van they had. It never rained on these days.

One spring Saturday morning I called on a regular customer in Bray. I parked my bike against their gatepost and walked up to the front door of the house. As I got there the lady of the house signalled to me to keep very quiet and follow her into the attached garage at the side of the house. I followed her in and she pointed to a large cardboard box under one of the benches. Expecting to see kittens or puppies I was completely surprised to see four or five fox cubs bundling over one another at the bottom of the box. I watched them totally entranced until the lady touched my arm and signalled for us to leave the cubs in their nursery.

Another Saturday in the depths of winter when the frost crystals stayed on the trees all morning and everything felt like the metal on a ship going through the Baltic in winter surrounded by ice floes, I cycled to work. By the time I got there I was absolutely numb with the cold. The trade bike was loaded with shoes almost falling out of the stack. The workshop was warm, cosy and the air was heavy with the smell of rubber, shoe polish, leather, rubber and above all the glue used to repair the shoes with. The owner and his son in law both had mugs of hot tea and told us we had to go out on the bikes as the shop was so busy.

What I had noticed about the son in law was that he never seemed to drive us around on wet days or cold dank days but came out on sunny dry days. He even came out with us just before Christmas ‘to help us out’ but in fact he was hoping to cash in on the tips customers gave us at this time of year.

Through my numb face I told him there was no way we should be expected to go out in the extreme cold and have to deliver such a huge pile of repaired shoes on icy roads. I described my conclusion about him being a fairweather delivery person. This was the equivalent of breaking wind during the silence in a funeral service. There was a bit of a standoff between the two delivery boys and the son in law. He retreated with father in law to the back of the shop to have a talk. I don’t know what was said but he came back and told us to put the repaired shoes in the van and he would take us around the routes.

Apparently the owner of the shop phoned my parents later that morning about what I had done. He was not happy at having his routine mucked up but made some favourable commet on the principle stand I had made.

On a Friday afternoon I was working by myself covering the routes around Holyport, Fifield, MoneyRow Green and Stud Green. I was the only one on duty so by default I had the trade bike. I had become an expert rider by now without falling off or suffering pain as the gears slipped. The sun was shining. I had just seen a girl from school I really liked and I had nearly finished my rounds.

There was a customer’s house in Stud Green set at the end of a long curved driveway through tidy lawns and past a huge pond shaded by a weeping willow tree. Normally the owner’s dog, a German Shepherd, would be barking from behind a slatted fence at the back of the house. On this day ‘Rufus’ was sleeping on the front lawn under the willow tree. As soon as my wheels hit the pea gravel of the driveway Rufus woke up and took up his alert position. Head up and ears forward. He approached me as I cycled up the driveway. First at a walk and then at full speed to catch up with me which he did just as I reached the front door of the house where I parked my bike. No need to knock as the owner was standing there with some some shoes for me to collect. Rufus looked rabid and was salivating at the prospect of getting some fresh raw meat.

The owner told Rufus to behave. Rufus elected to suffer from fake deafness. Over the barking the owner told me how he wanted his shoes to be repaired in a very complicated way and that they must be back by this time next week as he was off on his travels the following Saturday.

Rufus got a a shout from the owner to shut up and stay. The door closed and I was stuck on the porch with a mad dog.

I got on my bike and Rufus did stay as he was told to do so. I cycled back along the driveway and just got beyond the pond. A quick look back and Rufus was still on the porch. ‘Made it’ I thought to myself. Still looking back I could see that Rufus had set off in pusuit like a cheetah after an antelope. He took the straight line beside the pond ignoring the curved driveway. I stood up on the pedals to get some good life saving acceleration. Completely forgetting the dangers of the worn out gears, my lower pelvis and testicular area crashed down on the cross bar. First there was a sharp surface pain and then that deep rooted pain from somewhere in the intestines that makes your toes curl. As these seemed to reach a crescendo a third pain wiped them when Rufus sunk his teeth into my backside. He held on nearly dragging me off the bike until we got to the gate.  As soon as I crossed the threshold out of his territoy he let go of me.

I got off the bike a few yards down the lane away from Rufus and sat down on a small embankment. Rufus paced up and down his border barking and snarling at me. I held back a few pain tears and got my breath back while my assailant returned to his shady patch of lawn. When I got back to the shop I told them about Rufus and was told that I was wrong.  It could not have happened as the son in law had been there many times and not had any trouble. That may be true because he never went there on a trade bike and Rufus was probably always behind the house. I passed on the complex repair instructions and said the shoes had to be ready for return the following Friday.

The following Friday I reported for duty hoping not to get Stud Green deliveries but I did and there in the big whicker basket were the shoes of Rufus’s owner. I did my rounds and the last shoes to deliver were for the house of Rufus. I got near the gateway and there he was sitting in wait on the front lawn. There was no sign of any owners as all the cars were gone from the driveway. There was just Rufus, my canine nemesis sitting there salivating and winding up to bark.

I was not going to risk that driveway again. Certain that no one in the house had seen me I retreated. To deliver the shoes I found a house three or four doors away which was not one of our customers. There was no in but they had an American style letterbox at the end of their driveway. My revenge on their rightful owner was to leave the shoes in the mailbox. As I did so someone walked by saying that the people with the mailbox were on holiday for two weeks. Perfect! I left a note saying who the shoes belonged to and cycled back to the shop. All I told them was that the customer was not in and so I had left the shoes with a neighbour.   All of it was true. I parked the bike, returned my cycle clips and told them I had a new Saturday job starting the next morning and never heard anymore from the shoe repair shop.

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About alangrenville

I live in southern Britain near the fabulous New Forest. While studying for a BSc in International Studies I have developed a strong belief in 'NIBAW' or 'nothing is black and white'. Hence my favourite saying "Too often we...enjoy the comfort of opinion without the discomfort of thought" (John F Kennedy).
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