Apr 17, 2010


This post was inspired by 'Coffee Helps'. A fascinating blog written by an Irish lass, depicting her frustrating and often comical struggle for 'survival' (and understanding!) in the S. Korean teaching world.

It was whilst reading Hail's latest South Korean adventure (i.e., predicament!) on Coffee Helps this morning, that I was jolted back in time, to the noisy street vendors of long ago British childhood.

Where did he go to? That deliciously scary, scruffy looking fellow - the Rag 'n Bone man! Attired in miss-matched, ill fitting, worn out clothes and (most confusing of all to little girl me) a pair of grey woollen gloves, with the fingers cut off (?!) (What was that all about...?).
Stopping at regular intervals he would cup his weirdly gloved hands to his mouth and yell his time worn mantra:

"Rag 'n Bone! Rag 'n Bone!"

His gigantic old cart-horse, with dinner plate sized hairy hooves, would be pulling a cart filled high with old clothes and metal; and if you were lucky enough, your 'Mam' would give you a broken clock or a few old garments to dispose of, along with a carrot or slice of bread for the horse - and the 'Rag 'n Bone' man would as often as not, give you a tiny goldfish in return! Sadly though, these poor little creatures would almost always die within a week or two. So after about the fourth 'fish burial', complete with dandelion wreath and 'cross' made out of clothes pegs and usual floods of childish tears - Mam's word was law. 'No more goldfish!'

But the comfort of sweetmeats was never far away! I refer of course to that bain of parental life; the 'Ice Cream' van!
What a "*!#@^!" nuisance that was! (And I speak from adult experience too, since it was still around after I grew up and had my own first child). At least four times a day during the Summer months, along our street he would cruise; chiming his wares and sending kids mad with disappointment (and tantrums) if Mam said 'No'! Which was often.

Best of all though, was that one occasion when the 'Gypsies' (can I still say that?) and their ponies came a-calling! Twopence, for a ride down the street; where you would then be yanked off and another child dumped on - and you had to walk back. But who cared! You'd dared to ride a 'Gypsy Pony' in front of everyone. However..... on second thoughts....
Up until this point, as I relive the ride, I had always thought I'd enjoyed it.... I remember being allowed a 'go', because I was three years old and considered big enough to stay on - but even as I think about it, I am wriggling on my stool! The discomfort of tiny legs stretched wide across the pony's neck, small hands clutching in desperation to a flying mane and the actual pain in my rear as the pony's owner (a laughing young woman with gold earrings) thwacked the animal on its rump, making it break into a trot and bumping me mercilessly up and down. Ow! Ow! Ow! And come to think of it, as memory clears, I now remember feeling great panic and being lifted off after just a few trots. Huh! Have never wanted to ride any kind of Equine since - and that's probably why.

And of course, there was the good old Coal Man...!

"Sack-a-coal! Sack-a-coal!"

Trudging from house-to-house with his horse drawn cart loaded with heavy, grimy sacks, which he would lift onto his back and carry up the garden paths to dump into the coal 'holes' or sheds. So delightfully filthy, with his teeth shining white through all the black dust. We kids loved him and Grandad loved his horse, sending us regularly out with bucket and spade to collect manure for the roses! (2008 post).

But on final reflection, perhaps the best Street Vendor of all - was the Indian Peddler. No noisy shouting; no pain; no dead animals; just a gentle tap on the door and there he would be - resplendent in suit and tie and all topped off with a wondrously mystic silk turban. Whilst at his feet, a huge, battered old suitcase would be opened invitingly, to display a myriad of Eastern treasures!
Oh what wonders that suitcase contained (!) and Mam could rarely resist buying just a little something. A brightly coloured, jewelled butterfly hair slide for me and/or some trimming ribbon or nylons for herself.

All things considered, I do prefer the modernity and labour saving devices of contemporary life - but if it ever came to a competition between today's Vending Machines and the Street Vendors of yesteryear - I know which I would vote for! And it would not be the kind that swallow your money and don't give change and then try to snap your hand off whilst you attempt to retrieve your wares from behind a too tightly sprung hatchway door or window!
Well at least they are not noisy, I hear you say.

All right then. What about those street corner Yobs on motorbikes and mopeds, roaring past the house at midnight...grrr...!

P.S. I forgot to mention the Milkman!

.....Empty bottles on the front doorstep, along with an assortment of equally empty jam jars, intended to cover the tops of the full bottles and protect the cream topping from the tom-tits!! Happy days!
(Do they still have door-to-door milkmen in Britain? I've been gone so long..............).


Kate said...

Ah the memories!!!! Yes they still have milkmen but its not so usual now - its cheaper to buy it at a supermarket!
I remember rag and bone men I wonder what they do now?
I also remember collecting the golly badges from Robertsons jam - not that we got that often - Mum used to make her own. Of course they're banned now!

Jay said...

Oh yes, there are still door to door milkmen - my Mum has one! She doesn't need the empty jam jars though. Since she can't bend, she has a box on the wall with a lid, and the bottles go in there!

I remember the rag'n'bone man in London. And the coalman, too! Delightfully filthy, both of them, though the coalman smelled better!

Grannymar said...

Great memories Geri! A milkman delivers round here, but only three of my neighbours take milk from him. At one stage there were four different milkmen delivering their goods every day.

At that time we had the assorted milk men and the letter postman and the parcel van here between 5.30 and 7am each day, then you could get back to sleep!

Geri Atric said...

Kate ~ It's nice to discover that the trusty milkman has not yet faded altogether from British streets!
And oh yes, I remember those Robertsons jams and gollies. My brother even had a toy gollyw*g.(I'm ashamed to even type the word now!). Good job they were banned.

Jay ~ I'm glad for your mum that she still enjoys the services of a door to door milkman! That wall box is an ingenius idea too. Why didn't we think of things like that in the 'olden days'?
And you're right about the coalman, he did indeed smell a lot nicer than the r 'n b chappie! And as an added bonus, it also brought 'good-luck' to shake his hand (if you were getting married).

Grannymar ~ You had four milkman a day? Now that's what I call service! We only had the one, plus his milkboy helper - but the postman and postvan were also around our way well before breakfast time! It hardly seems possible now does it..? And I'd be inclined to ask what planet this was, if I (we) hadn't experienced it all first hand!
It seems that only newspaper delivery has survived the test of time. Except that instead of the respectfully silent pre dawn delivery of yesteryear, our whole street is now awoken around 5 a.m. every morning, by the screeching of the latest paper boy's 'souped up' mo-ped!

steph said...

"Jay ~ I'm glad for your mum that she still enjoys the services of a door to door milkman!"

@ Geri LOL (and apologies to Jay)

When I was a wee girl, our milk was delivered by horse and cart and I can still recall the early morning sound of the milk bottles clinking together as they wobbled about on the cart.

Ice-cream vans are the bane of those who work night shifts as they destroy any hope of getting enough sleep by day.

Geri Atric said...

Steph ~ Oh naughty! I swear I wasn't suggesting that Jay's mum welcomes the milkman in her negligee! (Sorry Jay's mum!)

Yes, those horse drawn milk carts were jangly things all right. It's a wonder the bottles didn't break.

Do you remember how thick and yellow the cream was on top of the milk? Ummm. Haven't tasted anything like it in donkey's years.

There are no ice cream vans here in Holland, at least not around where I live....bliss!
(Just that infernal 5 a.m. newspaper boy on his moped, although he doesn't deliver to me. I cancelled my paper in favour of online news, years ago).