Monday, November 21, 2011

Bring Out Your Dead!

Living in London often makes me feel like I've gone back in time or been sucked into an alternate universe -- or both.  I had one of those moments today.

I was hanging my laundry up to dry in the guest bedroom (that's a time warp already -- no dryer!) around mid-day when I heard a strange commotion outside.  It sounded like someone shouting and ringing a bell at regular intervals.  I walked out to the landing and looked out the window to see the oddest thing:  an old, horse-drawn cart going right down my street.  There were two men sitting in front, with a bathtub and a washing machine on the back.  One of the men was ringing a bell, and shouting something completely unintelligible.  At first, I wondered if it was, "Bring out your dead!"  It seriously reminded me of this scene from Monty Python and the Holy Grail:

Except, of course, these two guys seemed to be collecting dead kitchen appliances and bathroom fixtures, rather than bodies.

I didn't have time to run downstairs, grab my camera, and snap a photo before they passed by, but I was able to determine, after some quick internet research, what this was all about.  They are what is called "rag and bone men," a profession that dates back over 400 years, and apparently has not changed much over the centuries.  They originally collected rags for recycling and (animal) bones to make glue and soap -- hence the name -- but nowadays collect all kinds of junk to resell for scrap. 

I wouldn't think driving a horse-cart through the streets of London would be as effective a business model today as it once was.  It's not like I have a pile of junk waiting by the door in case they come around, and I doubt any of my neighbors do, either.  Unless you are driving an ice cream truck, it seems like you'd want to alert people in advance of when you are going to be in the area -- and perhaps even provide a list of items you are looking for -- rather than just trotting through the neighborhood ringing a bell.  I suspect it is pretty unusual to see junk collectors who still operate that way, but the Wikipedia entry has a photo dated May 2011 of a similar chap spotted in Croydon -- just southeast of here.

I thought I'd seen everything, but clearly London still has many more surprises in store for me...

1 comment:

  1. There's a cart pulled by horses and two soldiers that comes down our street about 7 AM from time to time , and I'm dying to catch them and ask them what it's all about, but, like you, no time to grab the camera and get out the door before they're gone! Another London mystery!


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