Friday 10 June 2016

A Rag-and-Bone Man

Walking back from the shops this morning, I heard a sound from the past - the slow clip clop of a weary horse's hooves on tarmac, accompanied by the desultory ringing of a bell. I hadn't heard, or seen, a traditional horse-drawn 'rag-and-bone man' - as we used to call them - on the street for a long time, but here was one ambling up our road towards me.  I stopped to watch as the cart turned into the next road.  It was laden with the modern equivalent of rag-and-bone - an unwanted (probably unused) exercise bike, a redundant microwave oven, an old mower, obsolete electronics - but the driver, who was sitting slouched under a shapeless hat, had the timeless look of detached indifference that is the mark of those who follow traditional trades. The horse was a grubby-coloured, blinkered pony, no longer young, plodding along resignedly, head hung low, its thoughts no doubt on the next nosebag.
 It was a wonderful thing to see, a glimpse of a past that I thought was lost and gone, at least in these parts. When I was a boy, the milk was still delivered by horse and cart (this in suburban London), and the milkman's horse was a cherished presence in our lives. Rag-and-bone men - who in those days supplemented the bell with a forlorn cry of 'Ra'bo-o-o-ne!' - were a stock feature of street life, taken for granted, like so much else that was about to disappear, or at least motorise.
 More than seeing and hearing today's rag-and-bone man, what was most evocative was the faint but unmistakable smell of a passing horse. That really did take me back, all the way to the streets of my childhood... 


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  2. Horse - madeleine, who's counting?

  3. They used a goldfish in a jar as barter, the goldfish tended to last three days.