On the shop counter were rods of several sizes. Tubes with the middles filled in. Some covered in paper like Trebor Mints. Some with a metal finish. Others that had a look of wood about them. Ranging from half inch diameter to three inches. They were kept from rolling about by two prismatic rods at either end with flat bases, the only rods that weren’t round in cross-section.
The man selling these rods wore a brown overall, half-moon spectacles and he seemed to spend most of each long day pressing hard with a biro on a pad interleaved with sheets of purple carbon-paper. He only stopped this activity at the odd moments when the shop-door opened with a ting-a-ling-a-ling. About one customer every two hours. Despite the aura of calm, upon every successful sale of a rod, the man noisily sent the cash offered by the customer inside a brass canister along a taut wire – sometimes for it to return to him on the same wire, should change be required. One therefore assumed he had an assistant in another part of the shop – a cash desk in the gods as it were – who was entrusted with money-handling. One could hardly credit that the business paid for itself let alone made profits – as there was a further member of staff, a young man who came through now and again with a broom busily sweeping the floorboards. Wish-wish!
Ting-a-ling-a-ling! The shop door opened and in strode the fifth customer of this very long day. The man with the purple carbons released the pressure of his biro and watched the fifth customer sorting through the rods.
“Have you got a switch rod?” the fifth customer suddenly asked.
The purple carbon man’s face remained expressionless as he, too, sorted through the rods, clink-clunking them against each other.
“Here’s one.” He pulled out a rod that was of medium size stuck over with labels that someone had evidently tried to tear off leaving just the glue-dry residue of the labels (like spent holidays) with no clue as to what these labels had originally said.
“Ah, thanks,” said the fifth customer.
Chink, click, zoom, zip – zip, zoom, click, chink – as the money-exchange took place with the maximum efficiency.
“May I say this is the best switch rod I’ve ever seen,” said the fifth customer. “I’ll recommend you to the sixth customer as soon as I find him outside somewhere.”
Ting-a-ling-a-ling! The shop-door shut.
The shopkeeper returned to pressing hard on the purple carbons. He was pleased that today nothing had put the mockers on things. Lucky he had exchanged the best rod for the worst one, just at the last minute. No wonder the firm’s profits had never been stronger. He looked up, blew a kiss at whoever was in the cash-desk and returned to pressing on hard with the rest of his day.