Rag, Tag and Bone Tales

This particular story does not relate to the Garw valley, but to an earlier childhood memory of mine.

I must have been 7 or 8 years old and because of the housing shortage, my mother and I  were living in my paternal Grandfathers house in 225 City Rd. Cardiff. I remember it being and sort of house literally sandwiched between a bank and other business premises.

Entry to the house was through a normal front door, but then there was a very long passageway and into the kitchen/dining room and then out into the scullery and eventually the back garden.

My Grampy  worked as a gatekeeper/watchman for the removals firm Pickfords, my Nana was at that time bedridden, what from I never knew. She was looked after by a 

lady  who lived in, called Auntie Lucy.  She was a formidable looking woman who scared the daylights out of me more than once when our paths crossed  on a darkened landing. I do remember a huge chest and even huger pink bloomers.

We lived in a damp attic, my Nana ‘s room was below ours and as she was bedridden  I was constantly told off for making a noise, so I had to creep about all the time.  There was a garden of sorts,  but because of the tall surrounding buildings it did not get a lot of light. My Grampy  grew his flowers in the only spot that got sunlight. I recall there was a metal bucket and shovel kept just outside the back door, this was because we lived right by a set of traffic lights, and when the Brains Brewery dray horses were making their  pub deliveries,  as they stopped for the lights sometimes they would poo!  My job if I spotted this was to race down from the attic to fetch the bucket,  and shovel up the great steaming piles of manure. This would be carried back through the house and put outside to be used as fertiliser. My Grampy used to water it down and sprinkle it over the flower bed as a liquid fertiliser. 

One day I spotted the horses coming and flew into action and I was outside even before the great shire horses had stopped!  I waited patiently but no Poo was forthcoming. Then suddenly one of the nearest horses started to pee! This was something I had not seen before, but undaunted I reached under the huge beast and filled my bucket! Carrying my liquid load back into the garden without slopping it everywhere was a challenge, but I did it. It was then the idea came to me. Instead of waiting for Grandad to come home to water down the manure, why not put this liquid directly onto the flowers? Feeling justifiably proud of this potential good deed  I was shocked to received a clout around the ear later on that day, when shown the consequences of my actions. Every flower was dead, shrivelled up  and ruined.

I was banished to the attic  for what felt like forever;  my slightest movement was punctuated with thuds on the ceiling below from my Nan’s walking stick.  I was very lucky to be a good reader so I lost myself in books. And in doing so I readily identified myself with the Prisoner of Zenda, and the Man in the Iron Mask.

My mother would be out at work at this time and I was in the care of my grandparents most of the time during the holidays. After the ‘garden incident’ was forgotten, I was once again left to my own devices. One day I was wandering about in a nearby street when I was fascinated by a man with a horse and cart.  He travelled along shouting out  what sounded like ‘Eeeaboww’ occasionally. Now and then a woman or a small child would dash out of a house and give him a bundle of something, and for this they would get a Goldfish or a Balloon.  Now I knew it wasn’t the Salt and Vinegar man because this cart didn’t have the little barrels of malted vinegar or the huge block of salt that had to be sawn off for the purchaser, so detective-like I followed this new phenomenon a few times after that, and thought this was a splendid way to spend the day, handing out multi-coloured joy to the people. 

One day Albie ‘the man’ and his horse stopped at my traffic lights, and because he knew me by sight now I plucked up courage and asked him if I could come with him. He replied ” Go in and ask your Mother”. I ran back in and got permission (Not) flew back out and climbed aboard the cart. What a feeling that was sitting there in the traffic! We got under way and I was soon learning the ropes as a trainee Rag and Bone man, for ‘Eeeaboww’ was translatable as “Have you got any rags and bones”. I did not stay on the cart all the time, I ran alongside and met people at their  gates, carrying the rags back to my ’employer’ to inspect and decide whether they were worth money. If a child brought out a glass bottle or jam jar they could have a choice of balloon or a  goldfish, these were dispensed from an old milk churn lashed to the cart. Sometimes the man would be offered an old pram or gas cooker, then some serious haggling took place. And once there was almost a fight between Albie and a Tramp over an old mangle. Albie won!  I loved every minute of it. Later in the day we stopped, the horse (Nick) was given a feed bag of oats. Albie  went into a pub and came out with a bottle of pop and a bag of Smith’s crisps for me, and I was left in charge of the whole business. How important was I, shooing away urchins and  horseflies with an imperious flick of my hand! After lunch I fetched a bucket of water for the horse and we continued. In the quieter streets sometimes I was allowed to hold the reins. I don’t remember much about our conversations, but I do remember wishing that  Albie would marry my Mam and then I could do this forever! 

 At the end of the day we took the cart back to the stables and off-harnessed Nick and fed him.  Albie  gave me a balloon and two shillings and told me to “get off home,”  and I walked home happy as a Sandboy, with not a care in the world. In fact  as I came level to the Globe Cinema  in City Rd.  I went straight in and started to watch the film Smiley.  About half way through the film it was paused, the lights were put up and there was a public announcement made by the manager about a missing child!      ” Last seen wearing a red and white striped T-shirt and khaki shorts”. In fact just like the ones I was wearing!  Suddenly everyone was looking at me, so I left in a hurry. Running up the street I could see my Mam talking to two huge Glamorgan Constabulary policemen outside my house! She spotted me and ran with arms outstretched and picked me up and hugged me almost to death, which was nice. When she finally released me the policemen asked me where I had been all day,  so I  told them about my day with Albie and Nick and they seemed quite happy with my story and that no harm had come to me. My Mam told me to go inside like a good boy and wash and get ready for bed, whilst she finished talking to the officers, which I dutifully did.

There is a darker side to this tale; I received an almighty walloping from my Mam!

I do understand that I must have worried my Mam sick while I was ‘missing’  and  I probably deserved a bloody good hiding but I still think what I suffered that day was more about her frustration because of our circumstances than my wrong doing, 

but I would wish that the reader should go on remembering the wonderful carefree day that I spent as Lord of all I surveyed, dispenser of the largesse of  balloons, and fish. The envy of urchins far and wide.

I often pass by that old house, it is now a Stamp Auction House and one of these days I will pluck up the courage to ask the proprietors if I can have a look around that attic just to see it with a grown-up’s eyes, but not just yet.  I would still rather remember that one golden day as a Rag and Bone trainee. And not the consequence. 

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