Sitting so close to London, hovering on the outskirts of one of the biggest capital cities in the world, we are encircled by what we call motorways. Theses days the lorries thunder up and down taking Stuff from one people to another.
There have not always been motorways, or lorries.
The people who moved stuff around centuries ago were called pedlars.They were a distribution system.
Pedlars were travelling sellers. Door-to-door salesmen of their time, but rather less sales and more utility. People really needed their stuff: villages were not connected to towns in the same way they are now, and a man knocking at your door with a backpack full of saucepans was not quite the dodgy proposition he would be today.
The word derives from ‘ped’ – Latin for basket. It was one of the two trademarks of the pedlar’s image; that and a dog trotting at his heels.
The Pedlar weaves through our history in the same way he once trod the roads of the country: few geographical regions unexplored, few eras sacrosanct.
And there was one pedlar who became rich, and so famous he had his own Dick Whittington-style fairy tale.The story is first recounted in the diary of a minister in the late seventeenth and early eighteenth century, Abraham De La Pryme.
It goes like this.
Once upon there was a Pedlar who lived in the Norfolk village of Swaffham.
And one night, the pedlar had a dream.
He dreamt that if he got up and made his way across the wilds of Eastern England, all the way to London Bridge: and if he stood on the bridge and waited, he would learn something to his advantage; in the words of De La Pryme, “he should hear very joyfull newse”.
He sleighted his dream, and went on living his life.
But – and this is writ large in my spirit right now – his dream “doubled and trebled upon him”.
Ever had a dream or an idea do that to you? Gain momentum like some great boulder rolling down a hill?
The peasant could stand the doubling and trebling no longer. It hurt his head. He was not encumbered by family or chattels;only a small dog. He picked up his basket, and made for London with his dog trotting companionably at his heels.
So some days later, there he was, standing on London Bridge, waiting for Something to happen. Not the cleverest thing to do; but sometimes, I wonder if intellect should take a back seat to instinct, anyway?
So the pedlar stood there with his dog for three days, waiting for Something. One of the shopkeepers had been watching this gormless figure out there, waiting, waiting, never selling anything from his pack, never begging for alms from passers-by.
His curiosity prompted him to ask the pedlar: what in heaven’s name was he doing?
“Why,” the simple man replied: “I am waiting for something to happen,” and he told the shopkeeper all about the dream.
The shopkeeper guffawed. He was highly amused at this village idiot who had come all this way, making not a penny’s profit, and all on the strength of a dream.
“I’ll tell thee, country fellow,” he mocked. “last night I dreamed that I was at Swaffham, in Norfolk, a place utterly unknown to me, where methought behind a pedlar’s house in a certain orchard, and under a great oak tree, if I digged I should find a vast treasure!
“Now think you,” says he, “that I am such a fool to take such a long journey upon me upon the instigation of a silly dream ? No, no, I’m wiser. Therefore, good fellow, learn wit from me, and get you home, and mind your business.”
Job done, as they say.
The pedlar came home, dug under the great oak tree and discovered a vast fortune. He was generous with his wealth: the village church was brought back from ruin by his money, and to this day there is a carved statue of the Pedlar of Swaffham in the church. And nearby, a carving of the faithful dog who trotted at his heels.
We all nurse dreams.
Some of them seem utterly foolish: yet they insist on doubling and trebling on us.
And just occasionally, we get called to a London Bridge moment: when we stand there, feeling gormless and utterly foolish, our credibility on the line, all for a dream which seems built out of air.
Yet there are times – not every time – but meetings of the fates, when someone will turn up with a solution which even they do not think is the answer.
But it’s staring you both in the face.
I do hope that, if you have a dream, this happens to you.
Illustration from More English Fairy Tales, 1894, Jacobs.J, New York courtesy of Wikipedia