Tell Your Own Story

The Rag and Bone Man by Olga Maughan

Article by Olga Maughan ©.
Posted in the Magazine (Tell Your Own Story: , ).
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How many of you remember him? He would come down our avenue shouting, “rags or bottles, old clothes or scrap” as he tapped the horse that pulled his cart. On those hot summer days that we enjoyed so much, when school was finished till September and the sun seemed to shine everyday, it felt as if he called every week. Mothers were horrified to find that their old cardigans were missing or fathers scarf form the hall where it hung on a hook waiting for the cold weather to come back.

Usually a sixpenny coin would be put into your hand if you were lucky enough to have old clothes and a few jam jars to give him, and off you went to the local shop for ice-pops and a packet of Perrie crisps that had a packet of salt in the bottom of the packet for you to shake on as much or as little as you wanted, of course you put it all on the more salt the better they tasted. It was a time when the word “Bored” was not yet invented, or used by small children. We were happy playing in the back yard, making up songs and dances and fantasizing about putting on a show at the end of the week, taking spare sheets from the house to making curtains, and charging a shilling in to see it. Then we would spent our ill-gotten gains going to the pictures, now known as the Cinema. None of this of course ever materialised. But it never stopped us. If we got tired of dancing we would go out front and with a strong rope from your father’s shed you would put it to good use on the lamppost. Hours were spent swinging around that post, only stopping when the odd car, bus, or the Rag and Bone Man came by, we could not swing off the footpath out onto the road then for fear of being hit.

It was on one such occasion that the Rag and Bone Man came along. We could see him in the distance, so quickly we took the rope down and ran inside to see what we could get from the wardrobes in the line of what we would see as old clothes, or the back yard where the glass bottles and jars would be stored until your mother had time to bring them back to the shop where she would get some money back on them. Many a tea was made for the families on the strength of the money from those bottles and jars. That particular day we could hear chirping coming from the back of the cart as we made our way with arms full of whatever we managed to get from the house. The Rag and Bone Man said he had no money today but if we wanted he would give us a little yellow chick for the clothes and jars. Of course we were in awe of what we saw when he lifted the lid of the large wooden box which must have had at least fifty or more chicks inside. There were three of us that day. He handed us a cardboard box with three chicks inside.

Already the plans were hatching in our heads. We could have eggs for our breakfast every morning. One by one we brought our chick home and found a suitable place in the house to put them. Now, my mother was not in the least put out by this little new friend I had brought home. She put the little ball of fluff beside the range in the kitchen to “keep him warm” she said, otherwise he might die. The next day my two friends arrived at my door with their chicks and said their mothers would not let them keep them as they would only attract mice. My mother took them in and sat them in the box beside my chick who was a fair bit bigger than the other two. Don’t ask me what my mother fed them with, this was not something I had to bother myself about, as I knew she would look after them. All I had to do was play with them and invite my friends in to see how their little chicks were doing. Two days passed and my chick, which was considerably bigger than his little new friends, seemed to be quite aggressive toward the other two. I thought this was normal as did my mother. One morning we got up to find lots of feathers around the kitchen floor and on inspection the two little chicks were lifeless in the box. My fine big chick jumped out of the box delighted to see someone who might just feed him.

How upset I was and then to have to tell my friends that their chicks were dead. It did not take long for my chick, who was now all alone with no other chick to play with, to loose all the lovely yellow soft as down feathers that covered its little body and turn red and brown. All of a sudden the chick was not so cute and would attack anything that crossed its path. And another thing, there was no egg for breakfast either. What was wrong with this chick.? My aunt came to visit, she laughed when my mother told her the story of the chick and how it had become the fiend in the kitchen and not an egg to show for the trouble it was causing. Of course she promptly told us it was a cockerel and not a chicken as we thought. She said she would take it to her mother-in-law who lived on a farm as it would be safer there, not only for us but for the cockerel also.

It went away and I did not shed a tear, I had too many cuts to my fingers and toes to love it any more. The same cockerel became a pet in my aunt’s mother-in-law’s house, he even answered to the name she gave him but only when she would call him. She was also the only one who could touch him as he would attack anyone else who was foolish enough to try and pet him. He lived for many years after, attacking anyone who happened to call to the house, just like a watch dog. It lived to a ripe old age but was found one day under its favourite tree close to the house. My aunt’s mother-in-law was very upset, saying she had never came across a cockerel like it before or since.

After we got rid of the cockerel the kitchen became a safe place to be once again, but if the Rag and Bone Man was heard coming down our avenue, my mother would threaten me with all sorts if I attempted to go anywhere near him. Back then it was our way of recycling I suppose. I often wondered what happened to the Rag and Bone Man.

(c) Olga Maughan

Lily Goes to Paris is part of a children’s short story series about the adventures of Lily with illustrations.

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I was born in London and raised In Dublin and spent a lot of time in Kildare and Carlow when I was growing up. I worked for 3Com Ireland for as many years as they were in Dublin and loved every minute of it. With two members of the staff there, I walked across the Sahara Desert for charity, for seven long hot days, great experience. My husband and I moved to Cavan in 2004 where I worked for an Educational and Rehabilitation Centre, retiring last year at the age of 66, but I still volunteer with them in my spare time. Since I retired I have a lot more time to sit at my laptop to write and have had short stories published in Woman's Way Magazine. My interests are reading, writing and swimming, although I don't swim as much as I should.