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Feather's Miscellany: Teddy Walker And The Dead Donkey

Surely Teddy Walker couldn’t sell a dead donkey?

John Waddington-Feather tells a tale of Yorkshire business brains.

What droll genetic input the Stone and Bronze Age settlers gave to Yorkshire, I don’t know; but the Celts who came in the Iron Age brought with them the Tyke’s love of music and poetry, I’m sure. The Anglians who settled the Broad Acres were farmers through and through, but when the Vikings sailed in from Norway and Denmark, they added more flavour to the gene pudding. The Danes settled in the old East and North Ridings and the Norsemen settled the wild west of the county in the Pennine Hills, coming as hard-headed merchants via Dublin which they’d founded as their trade centre a couple of centuries before.

In was in the west and south of the county that industry sprang up in the eighteenth century and mushroomed in the nineteenth. The valleys and dales filled with mills and factories, and in south Yorkshire mining and steel production flourished. The expanding industry produced wealth right into the twentieth century. It also produced muck and squalor, which had to be cleaned up later.

Slag heaps were shovelled back underground as the mines closed. Slums were demolished and healthier housing built. The rivers ran clean again and the atmosphere was freed from the shrouds of soot which had smothered it for generations. All in all, west Yorkshire became a better place; and if the old mill towns like Keighworth didn’t quite match up to the spa towns of Ilkesworth and Harroby, they certainly were more pleasant places to live in.

One trait which Keighworthians shared with all their fellow Tykes was their ability to make a quick quid; to see where the opportunities lay to make money and to go for them. Not without good cause did the poet T. S. Eliot describe one of his characters in “Waste Land” as ‘One of the low on whom assurance sits/ As a silk hat on a Bradford millionaire.’ Not that Tykes are low. After all, Eliot himself married one of them in time and I bet he had his ear bent for penning that line. Yet he was right about their self-assurance.

One of the most self-assured Yorkshiremen I knew lived in Keighworth. Where else? He was called Teddy Walker and was brought up down Garlic Lane for a time. For years, his dad peddled hardware from the back of a horse-drawn covered wagon. He was an early re-cycler for he also collected jam jars and rags. Old Walker must have made a healthy bob or two for just before the war he moved to Ruddledene on the sunny side of the valley; an up-and-coming suburb for the ambitious. Not that old Walker had any ambition but he had the cash to move to a nice semi-detached bungalow with its own garden; a bit different from his terrace house down Garlic Lane with its scrap of a backyard and outside lavatory.

Young teddy inherited his dad’s nose for a bargain. Even at school he did a lively trade in comics and sweets which he bought cheap from a wholesaler who dealt with his dad. He’d always plenty of cash as a boy, delivering papers each night for the local newsagent and working for his dad at weekends. He was sharp all right and could smell where a bargain lay, but he was canny, too. He never threw his money about.

He did well at school and won a scholarship to the London School of Economics where he read politics and business studies. Yet even at university he traded and on Saturdays had a pitch in an East London street market selling fruit and vegetables he bought from Covent Garden. He made enough to see him through university with a bit to spare and it was while he was in the green grocery trade he made a packet selling a dead donkey. Yes, you read right – a dead donkey.

It hadn’t escaped his notice that the stall-holders who did the most trade had their donkey or pony stood all day by their stalls. You know how soft some folk are with animals, especially sad-looking donkeys. They somehow bring out the mother in women who can’t resist stroking and feeding them. Teddy realised that if he had a donkey by his stall he’d attract more customers – and they’d feed it with the box of carrots he had ready for sale on his stall.

He knew a costermonger who was retiring and Teddy thought he’d get his donkey cheap. He went round to his place one night and made him an offer of £100 cash down. The costermonger agreed and said he’d bring the donkey round the next Saturday.

Came the Saturday and the costermonger turned up looking shame-faced, but without the donkey. When Teddy asked where it was, the costermonger said it had died in the night, so Teddy naturally asked for his money back.

“I haven’t got it,” said the costermonger, avoiding Teddy’s eye. “ Yer see, I went to the races during the week an' backed the wrong horses.”

When he’d told the costermonger what he thought of him Teddy calmed down and did some quick thinking. It was no use arguing and he knew his cash had gone for ever. Suddenly he had a bright idea. He told the costermonger to hang on to the dead donkey for another couple of days before he got rid of it. Bemused the costermonger agreed and left, wondering what Teddy was up to.

No sooner had he gone than Teddy had a large poster made to display on his stall the next day. “Donkey Raffle,” it said in large, black print. Then underneath, “Buy a raffle ticket and save a retired donkey for the animal sanctuary. Tickets only £1 each.”

By the end of the day he’d made over £500 and asked a regular customer to pull out a name from the raffle tickets he had in a box. When she did, he pinned the name and address of the winner to the poster for all to see.

The same night he went round to the costermonger’s place and told him what he’d done. He couldn’t believe it!

“What yer goin’ to do when the bloke what’s won it turn’s up to claim his donkey?” he asked.

“That’s where you come in,” said Teddy. “I’ll take him to your place and show him the dead donkey and explain how it died in the night. Then I’ll give him his money back.”

He never said what he did with the rest of the raffle money. All I know is that he left university with a good degree, went into politics and eventually became a successful M.P. Need I say more?

John Waddington-Feather ©


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