May 23 2005

Recycling was something we didn’t know much about in Stafford in the 1950s, but some of us did our green bit without realising it. And it kept us on the streets.
Two regular visitors made it easy – and lucrative: the Corona pop lorry and the rag-and-bone man. Both offered incentives.
The Corona driver was manager of a mobile bottle bank which gave an instant return on investment.
His empties were as good as hard cash. Half a dozen provided a week’s worth of sweets, or a couple of comics and a roll of caps.
Often they were used by neighbours as a reward for running errands.
Old Mrs Williams, blind, bent, widowed and pretty much confined to barracks, gave a couple – and a slice of her home-made fruit cake – everytime one of us did her shopping.
We’d queue outside her house in Sidney Avenue waiting like stevedores to be chosen.
On a good day the cake would come with a glass of dandelion and burdock as well. Then, as a bonus, she’d add the bottle she’d just emptied to the two she’d already given us.
The pop was good – Corona dandelion and burdock was the best in the world – but the empties were even better.
And when they ran out there was always the rag-and-bone man.
Not that his his horse and cart showed up as often as the Corona lorry but we always knew when he was coming. You could hear him streets away which was our cue to dash indoors and start rummaging for, er, rummage.
He announced himself and his mantra never varied.
“Steps and lineprops!” he’d shout, inexplicably.
Steps?
Never saw any.
But, then, his trade description was a bit of a misnomer, too.
Rags?
Well, yes.
Bones?
Never saw any.
Every few months he’d arrive, a Christmas cracker on wheels, and in exchange for last year’s school flannels with the knees out and a jumper the moths had got at, we’d get a tracing book, a kazoo, a lopsided goldfish or a day-old chick doomed to die overnight in the airing cupboard.
When he drew up there was pandemonium as we fought for his attention with our carrier bags of wampum. One favoured individual would be handed the nosebag and the horse would snack while the R&B man examined each proffered load, rejecting non-woollies with a disdainful shake of his expert’s head and shoving the good stuff into big hessian sacks.
Sometimes we’d sulk when domestic needs took priority and our mums squandered everything on a new lineprop.
Mostly, though, we’d end up with something to smile about.
Then the nosebag would be handed back and he’d be off, leaving us to swank with our kazoos or trying to remember where we’d put that tub of ant-eggs bought for the goldfish he gave us last time.
There were always plenty left.
The life expectancy of a goldfish wasn’t much more than a day-old chick’s.

 

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