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 Β 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 dreamΒ ? 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, Β 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


46 thoughts on “Pedlar

  1. I love this fable! Dreams are such personal visions and ambitions, and encouragement to embrace them can indeed come from unlikely sources. I like what Thoreau said, “If you have built castles in the air, your work need not be lost; that is where they should be. Now put foundations under them.” Wouldn’t it be interesting if we were all in a room together and felt safe enough to openly share our biggest dreams…who knows what could come from that πŸ™‚ This was a meaningful post, Kate. Debra

  2. Kate, and some of us end up on TV. I had such a moment, it’s taken a long time, over 20 years and TV was nothing to do with it.. One day I’ll tell you the story. Go for it – whatever your dream. That’s why I’m absent at the moment – I’m living my dream….

  3. Living the dream seem to be the current buzz words. You hear it all the time on programmes like X factor, teenagers say I am living the dream. Imagine fulfilling all of your hopes and desires at such an early time in life.
    Loved your fable, some dreams, however, are nightmares!!!

    1. It has acquired the quality of a naff soundbite, I agree, Rosemary. But your Shakti Gawains would just call it creative visualisation, and your Charles Handys, vision. The Dream spurs us onwards, whatever name it is given. I’d venture our minds need it to function. We’re back to John Bunyan’s ‘Promise’ aren’t we?

  4. A very cool little story, sometimes you just have to go with your dreams and see what happens. It may not always appear to be the smartest thing to do, but, what’s the worst that can happen? You go for it and then try a new dream if it doesn’t work out.

    1. …and that last part is almost the most important. I learn from a gentleman called Lou Tice that we have to be resilient; and if at first one dream doesn’t work, then try again. It really is the most splendid recipe for happiness.

    1. Hi Yaakov! So chuffed you decided to comment: and yes, for five years when my two were young dreams were a thing of the past and future but not the present. The kids are worth it πŸ˜€ But when the time comes for you to regain the sleeping pattern of your pre-family years I wish you many tranquil dreams. May they be all the sweeter for having been absent all that time….

    1. Ah: a confession: Phil used ‘gormless’ the other day and it must have stuck. He is my proof reader and as he read, he laid claim to it. That’s my word, he said, you used it. And I had to put my hands up and say yes, honeybun, I did.

      So I had better credit him with first gormless. I am but a humble second gormless user.

      Swift journey to London Bridge πŸ™‚

      1. I love the word ‘gormless’! I’ve always been baffled by it though, because if one is gormless, they lack gorm. But I’ve never heard of the phrase ‘gormful’… πŸ˜‰

  5. There is a voice inside of you
    That whispers all day long,
    β€œI feel that this is right for me,
    I know that this is wrong.”
    No teacher, preacher, parent, friend
    Or wise man can decide
    What’s right for you– – just listen to
    The voice that speaks inside. ~ Shel Silverstein

    That probably speaks more to conscience, but, nevertheless….. Dreams ought to be followed, or at least investigated. πŸ™‚

    1. Shame! ( hope I used that correctly…trying out my SA expressions…) I would love someone to roll up on two wheels and offer corn on the cob. Now that’s a pedlar I can live with.

  6. Our attitudes to pedlars have changed completely but it does seem a more environmentally-friendly system. I am a country bumpkin but sometimes I too get the urge to stand on London Bridge but the grass is always greener here. πŸ™‚

    1. You know, Andra, at the top of this was a dedication to you but I got cold feet and took it out at the last minute. Didn’t want to seem presumptuous. You were in my mind the whole time, especially in the dark days you have had recently: and sometimes a submission is just another stance on that old bridge. I hope beyond hope that your dream finds its mark.

      1. Kate, this comment made me teary. I take almost nothing as presumptuous. Heck, I dedicated a post to you after following your blog for a week!! πŸ™‚

        I am not really struggling with the rewrite. It is like working puzzles and trying to get all the pieces to come together, and I’m enjoying it. I just hope the pre-editor enjoys it when she gets it back to edit again before submittal.

        My stress stems from an ongoing saga with family that flares from time to time. It won’t ever be resolved, which is what makes it so frustrating. Now that we’ve had a flare up, though, I should have a few months of peace. πŸ™‚

      2. A few months of peace – not that sounds good. Sounds like these flare ups can be cathartic. So pleased you’re enjoying the writing, and that the direction of your manuscript is firmly towards publication πŸ™‚

  7. I loved reading this post, Kate. Your description of the Pedlar reminded me of the Fool in the Tarot, he too has a little dog nipping at his heels, and a bag of goodies… and the shopkeeper said the very same thing!!!
    I don’t think I could follow my dreams in as much as achieve them – well, some of them anyway – but everything is possible! πŸ˜€

    1. Your dreams are so complex, Tom, I know already that you are so busy unraveling and interpreting them that where they are headed seems a secondary concern!

      My wish for you is that you find some origins. I think you would love that every bit as much as a dream coming true.

      1. Thanks, Kate, and that is so true!
        I had another complex dream last night that I’ve had to write about. I’m still none the wiser, but at least I don’t have to carry it around in my head now!
        I think that once I start to find the answers I am looking for, the dreams may stop. Or make more sense. Or bring more questions… πŸ˜‰

  8. I loved this post, Kate . . .

    We never know when the Universe will back up the wink, whisper, or nudge with a pot of gold found right in our own backyard. πŸ˜‰

  9. Makes me think that how well we pay attention to those dreams that double and treble till they make our heads hurt is a measure of how much we think of our own ideas and sensibilities. I think I need to listen to some of those headaches a little more closely sometimes.

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