In My Young Day by Mhairi Pyott.
Currently featured on the front pages of the newspapers are concerns regarding “Recycling Centres” and their availability to members of the public . Everywhere you can find them. Collections skips for clear glass, green glass, cotton goods, woollens, clothes for re-use. We have become a nation aware of the need to slow down the amount of waste our country generates every single day. This recycling project is by no means a brain wave of today’s bright boffins. Recycling of materials has gone on for centuries. People born before the Second World War, will distinctly recall how little waste there was to be found at the end of each day, from the average family home. In the first instance there was a short supply of money, which in itself promoted careful use of all material things. The sound of a bugle heralded the arrival of the ragman’s horse and cart on a collection round. “Bring out your woollen rags and get the bairns a goldfish” I desperately wanted one of those fish for a pet. ” You must have something old and woollen Granny?”, I nagged at her. I can picture it yet as she pulled off her ‘working ‘ cardigan, “Take the clothes off my back, and maybe I’ll get a minutes peace, lassie”. I got the fish in a jam jar — a fair exchange for Granny’s jumper that was darned, patched, and most possibly worn by several owners before being handed over to her. Needless to say that the fish had not survived very long
The jam jar would have been stored with others and exchanged at the local ‘rag store’ for cash. In some towns it was an accepted practice, that two jam jars paid entrance to the cinema. Glass lemonade bottles were another good source of pocket money, if collected and returned to the shops. Even those that had been stored under the bed for days in the production of that fabulous drink Sugarelly Water, made from a stick of hard liquorice, placed in the bottle with water, shaken vigorously, then stored in the dark beneath the bed, to mature.
With the War on and everything rationed, and produced under the ‘Utility Regulations’, new clothes were something of a novelty. Out grown or part worn garments were handed from family to family, dependent on who had someone the size and shape to fit. Fashion never seemed to be part of the equation. “Run up to the meal store, or the bakery and see if they have any flour bags”, was a common command. Washed and bleached, they could be turned into pillowcases, table cloths, blouses, knickers in fact anything Granny set her mind on having.
When wearing apparel could no longer be considered respectable enough to be seen in public, then it was handed over to Grandad. On the dark winter nights he spent many hours with a home made ‘cleek’ looping multi coloured strips of rags through a canvas sack., ultimately ending up with a brightly coloured designed hearth rug. Blankets, thinned by many years of service were revitalised when covered with squares of material from all types of items. Flannel shirts, curtains, aprons, dresses, anything at all. It was a good game to play at night looking at the various patches and remembering where you had last seen them.
Jumble sales at the Sally Army were great material sources, for re-fashioning. A man’s large woollen pullover could be ‘rattled down’, the wool washed then knitted again into several smaller garments. “Hold your arms up, and still”. What a tiresome job it was holding up hanks of wool until they could be wound into a ball. “There you’ve let some drop and it’s all tangled up now” The agony being prolonged until the knots were unravelled. The final parting of woollens and clothes was normally at the time of the ‘Spring Cleaning’. This involved a journey to the ‘Rag Store’. “Clean woollens over there, and others to this side” was the instruction before weighing the separate lots in exchange for cash.
Rabbit skins were also much sought after, with regular door to door callers requesting the honour of “taking them off your hands”. With food, including meat being rationed and living in a rural area they must have done good business, as many a Sunday dinner started off in a poachers pocket. Any household garbage such as vegetable peelings were quickly added to the compost heap, or collected as swill for local pig farmers. There were still several families who kept a pig in their garden for their own use.
The age of plastic containers had still not arrived, which meant most packaging was of paper or cardboard. Apart from what was utilised , cut into squares for ‘delicate personal ‘ use, all newspapers wrapping and clean paper was carefully stored, then collected by the ‘ scaffles’ on refuse day. Old prams, bicycles and bits of toys were turned into ‘carties’, or saved as spare parts. Broken or unwanted furniture was used as fuel, for the fire when coal was in short supply. Zinc buckets, some still with the obvious white and maroon paint, from the berry fields were filled with ashes from the open fires in every home, and set out for collection on the day appointed by the Cleansing department.
There never appeared to be any other type of rubbish left on the pavements. Certainly nothing to put in today’s selection of multi coloured wheelie bins. With the advent of smoke free zones and central heating it should mean a reduction in the amount of garbage. No ashes for a start. Recycling collection points overflowing, and yet we need the emptying services for the blue, black, brown, and green, chest high receptacles at regular intervals. There certainly wasn’t all that rubbish when I was young.