When the rag and bone man meant a balloon or a goldfish - if you were lucky
Talking to my wife recently about downsizing and decluttering, I said: “We didn’t have anything to declutter in our day, did we?”.
But back in the 1960s and 1970s we had a rag and bone man.
If we didn’t have anything to declutter, what was the need for the rag and bone man?
As kids, the excitement he caused was only second to the ice cream man turning up.
The horse alone generated a lot of fuss. Inner city kids never really saw many animals apart from stray dogs – which there were plenty of back then.
Always popular was the prospect of a stroke of the horse, if you were brave enough.
Such a placid animal, it must have been so used to children.
Some youngsters even got to ride on the cart for a short distance.
The rag and bone man always generated much excitement in my day, made me realise that we did have stuff to get rid of back then.
The rag and bone man was an integral part of the UK economy, returning large amounts of iron and steel back to the steel foundries all over the UK, to be reprocessed back into manufacturing materials.
The rag and bone man also collected bones, which were used in the manufacture of glue.
And the men with their horse-drawn carts had a wonderful and ingenious marketing ploy – goldfish.
I remember pestering my mum for an old rag for a balloon or a goldfish.
All those young children doing all the cold calling, for a balloon or fish? All those young kids were motivated to hunt and scour their homes for items, which were ‘mostly’ unwanted.
I’ve heard of mums having to chase down the rag and bone man after a child had handed over her best blouse or her husband’s Sunday best shirt in exchange for a balloon or goldfish.
The poor fish, I hardly remember the fish. Its welfare couldn’t have been that high on the adgenda.
I think the fish went into an old wash bowl or a jug for a while then died quite quickly.
I’m glad animal welfare is a lot higher in people’s consciousness nowadays.
People of a certain age will all remember the 1970s comedy Steptoe and Son, where the characters seemed to live a contemptuous and chaotic lifestyle.
Back then they seemed humble, if not deprived, but scratch below the surface and Harold and his father were quite well off.
“Where there’s muck there’s brass,” as people say.
I saw the actors who played the Steptoes – Harry H Corbet and Wilfred Brambell – interviewed on TV once. A nd I remember being shocked and disappointed at how well spoken and educated they seemed – nothing like their characters.
But as well as a collector of ‘clutter’, persons of a certain age will remember the rag and bone man was the main source of something that every proud housewife had to have – donkey stone.
This was used to make sure all the terraced houses had pristine white door steps throughout the week.
Anyone who didn’t have pure white net curtains a well donkey-stoned doorstep was widely frowned upon by other proud housewives in the area.