22 Dec 2010

And Then We Lit The Tree….

The other day I spoke of rummaging below the Christmas tree. I wouldn’t have done any rummaging when I was but a pup if the tree was lit up.

Now my very early memories of lighting the tree up didn’t entail anything technical like the flicking of a switch. It meant lighting the candles with a spill, is wot I’m talking about. Anyone go back that far? You don’t even know what a spill is? Come on, please. Okay, these be spills. Hold one end and stick the other end in the fire to light him;


Kept in a pot on the hearth and primarily used by the old man to light his pipe, and at Christmas, small cigars and those fancy coloured cocktail cigarettes for the ladies. Sobranie?

Swan Vesta

There were {are?} also the matches pictured above – Swan Vesta.

As I hunted for the image, not too hard to find, I remembered a nice storey about Swan Vesta I was told many years ago. A perfect storey for Christmas afternoon over the port. After the Queen and before Billy Smart’s Circus.

I’m sure your imagination will more than make up for my poor use of words in the recounting of this, surprisingly, true tale.

Before we begin, the figures, percentages and similar I use in this telling of the tale are wot I’ve made up and some names have been changed to protect the incontinent;

One day, a Wednesday if you will, of a week in a year towards the end of the Victorian era, a Swan Vesta shop floor labourer, herein after known as the Herbert, approached his Foreman and asked if he could possibly speak with the factory Manager as he had an idea that could save the company money.

This request was duly relayed to the Manager and the Herbert summoned. The Herbert said his idea would save ten percent on the production costs of each box of matches. When asked to explain this idea, the Herbert said he would only divulge his cunning plan to the Board of Directors and owners.

The Manager, not wanting to risk the possibility of this idea getting ‘lost’, contacted the Board members and a meeting was arranged.

With the Board and owners agreeing to humour the shop floor Herbert, he was once again summoned to present his idea.

The Chairman, smiling at his fellow board members, enquired of the Herbert as to what this miraculous idea may be. {‘Harrumphing’ can be inserted here if you wish.}

The Herbert first said that, as the idea would save so much, he would like to be rewarded. How? The Chairman inquired. The Board were shocked and taken a-back when the Herbert requested that one percent of the ten percent per matchbox saving be awarded to himself and his family in perpetuity.

In the words of the Herbert, the Board then, ‘Wenaway-an-ad-an-uddle.’ This being colloquial Herbert speak for, ‘Went away and had a huddle.’ This being colloquial for, ‘Had a private meeting.’

During this huddle the Board were quick to see that a ten percent saving per box equated to a ten percent increase in profit per box which would very quickly add up to a quite substantial figure. They were equally quick in noting that ten was one better than nine. And nearly as quick to note the Herbert was just a shuffling, cloth cap wringing, un-educated shop floor Herbert.

To this end they concluded that if a simple Herbert could find this idea, they, educated gentlemen of high station that they were, could also find the solution so keeping the full ten percent. Thusly, they turned down the Herbert's request and sent him back to the shop floor.

As the days turned to weeks the Board were no closer to discovering the idea. Shorter matches? Pipe smokers burning their fingers was deemed ‘not a good marketing move.’ Less matches per box? The public would soon rumble that one, and all the manufacturing machinery was tip-top, top-notch, and tickerty-boo to boot.

Reluctantly, after much harrumphing, the Board decided to sacrifice one percent for the possible gain of nine and yet again summoned the Herbert.

With the percent agreement in place and signed, including the Herbert’s ‘X’, the Chairman, peering down his nose at the Herbert, asked him to lay before the Board his magical and cunning, harrumph, idea.

Tugging his forelock nervously he addressed the Chairman,
”Sir, beg your pardon sir, but at present your matchboxes have striking sandpaper on two sides.”
With audible sighs and with many heads being buried in hands, the Board realized, too late, where this was heading.
”Sir, leave the sandpaper off one side. Thank you.”

According to the storey as I remember hearing it, the Herbert and his family became extremely wealthy.

Quote; Charles F. Kettering.

“If you want to kill any idea in the world, get a committee working on it.”

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