Rag and Bone Man
I spent my early childhood in Yorkshire; the North of England (in the 50's). The Rag and Bone man came around twice a week with his old horse pulling a dilapidated cart. His loud cry would echo as his horse clomped slowly up the cobbled street; “Aaaraaabooons” he would cry out in a long wail (or, something vaguely similar). We all knew he was shouting “Any Old Rag and Bones?” but over-use tended to simplify and drag out the words, even to the point of incomprehensibility, although we always knew who it was. (This was satirized by the comedian Marty Feldman in his "Ay-oh frye" sketch, where he played a rag-and-bone man who, when asked, said he had no idea what his call meant).
We would give him old clothes, sheets, blankets, beds, toys and large appliances we couldn't deliver to a dump. These goods weren't worth anything to us, but the rag and bone man would pay a couple of shillings for them, knowing he could pass your rubbish along elsewhere or recycle it. His cart often had balloons fastened to it, so if we gave him a reasonable amount of rags, (or bones) we would be rewarded with a balloon. You could also purchase the odd household item from his cart for a few pennies.
The rag-and-bone men were an important component of society before we all had two cars. We had limited ability to travel to collection points to get rid of heavy items, so we relied on the rag-and-bone man to take them away, or to provide us with odds and ends we hadn’t the transport to collect. We also had the butcher van coming up our street and stopping outside each door, as well as the fishmonger and occasionally, the baker's van. Milk was delivered to our doorstep and so families only needed to go to the corner shop for the odd tinned item, or the green-grocer for fresh vegetables. The increasingly widespread use of cars made these dealers unneeded in many areas.
During the late 60’s and early 70’s, some rag-and-bone men traded their horses for a lorry or pickup truck. Other social changes, such as the tendency for all members of a household to work outside the house (not to mention higher levels of traffic) made street-by-street pickup impossible.
Just writing this story brings a smile and a hankering for the ‘good old days’ (and I’m not that old)! Whilst times were hard, there was much more of a community spirit. Everyone knew everybody’s business in our neighborhood. This might be seen as nosey, but no-one would go hungry or die alone; it was a caring community. The butcher, baker, milkman, grocer and rag-and-bone man were a constant; and I never realized until writing this story, just how secure that made me feel.
I miss hearing “Aaaraaabooons” twice a week and rushing to the bottom of the garden with odds and ends ~ in exchange for a bright red balloon.