Many, many years ago I started to write a story set on an inner-city housing estate, similar to the one I worked in. The main character was a small girl, small in size but about eleven or twelve in the firs year at secondary school. She lived with her dad’s ex-wife and had a rather miserable life; another character was the Alchemist, a kindly teacher who taught chemistry, and then a mysterious ambiguous character, maybe real, maybe not, maybe malign, maybe not, who had a horse and cart and collected ‘rags and bones’ – and any other recyclable rubbish – he was Ragbo; even if he was not a ‘baddie’ Ragbo was sinister and unsettling.
When we were kids the rag ‘n’ bone man used to come round our streets and people would bring out stuff like old iron and metal, old wood, broken furniture, bags of rags – just stuff. The dustbin men would take away the real rubbish, things which couldn’t be of any use to anyone, and all vegetable waste went on the compost heap – recycling! I guess the rag n bone man might have paid a few pennies for what he collected, I have no idea. What he did with what he had I don’t know – he would have got a deposit back on bottles, and maybe metal was sold on to a scrap metal man.
When I was an adult and moved to Manchester, there were rag n bone men with their horses and carts, and only gradually replaced by men with trucks. Every so often someone comes down out road now with a loud-speaker, calling out for scrap metal. This has passed into popular culture – Peter Sellers had a hit with ‘Any Old Iron’ in 1957, but the song was originally written in 1911 by Charles Collins, Fred E. Terry and E.A. Sheppard, and in the 1960’s there was the popular sitcom ‘Steptoe and Son’.
The reason that I’ve been thinking about this is that was given the album ‘Human’ by Rag ‘n’ Bone Man. He is actually Rory Charles Graham and has been making music for a very long time even though he is only thirty-two (nearly thirty-three) ‘Human’ is also the title of his first major hit having achieved acclaim not just in he UK but across Europe – it was number one in Austria, Belgium, Germany, and Switzerland, and also gold in Italy, the Netherlands, and Sweden. He has an extraordinary voice and what I particularly like as well as the melody and the sound he makes are the lyrics.
In complete contrast to Rag ‘n’ Bone, is Peter Sellers:
… and here is a very interesting set of reminiscences about other Ragbo’s: