Below is a further chapter from A Kerridge Childhood written by Enid Simpson. For a full introduction and index to all the stories please see the head page.
MRS. GRANELLI AND THE RAG AND BONE MAN
In those halcyon days of childhood, before the motor cars came to our village, there were two horse-drawn carts whose visits were eagerly anticipated.
One was the ice-cream lady – Mrs. Granelli. She came about twice a week and visited all the out-lying villages in the area. This was before the days when shops sold this delightful sweet. Electricity was unknown, so it would have been impossible for ice-cream to be stored.
The Granelli family had a small shop in Church Wallgate – a steep hill leading from Water’s Green to the Market Place in Macclesfield. Sweets as well as ice-cream were sold and a couple of tables and chairs made customers welcome to sit down and eat the confection in comfort. I well remember seeing Fry’s famous picture advertising their chocolate cream bars hanging there. Advertising had not become the high powered trade it is today so we studied the few examples closely. This poster depicted five pictures of the same boy registering a different expression on his face. The logo read: (1) Deprivation, (2) Provocation, (3) Expectation (4) Anticipation (5) Realization – IT’S FRY’S!
The Granelli shop was the only one of its kind and everyone on Mrs. Granelli’s round felt a little bit like the Fry’s advertisement – especially Anticipation and Realization.
The cart was a two wheeled, horse-drawn vehicle and painted in gay yellow with lots of red and blue flowers entwining the name of Granelli. It was spotlessly clean as was Mrs. Granelli herself. I think she polished the horse too, it looked like that. A few horse brasses hung on the farthingale and a small bell on its head piece tinkled each time it broke into a trot.
When the stopping places were reached, the horse needed no bidding, it knew them all very well. A little knot of children stood awaiting her, ha’pennies clutched in their little hands. They all hurried to the cart, eager to be first. Mrs. Granelli knew them all by name and obligingly sprinkled some ‘Dragon’s Blood’ on the cornet when requested. Dragon’s Blood was a red syrupy concoction – though the ice-cream she served needed no addition to enhance its flavours.
Compared to today’s ‘plastic’ ice-cream served from a tap and with a bland flavour, the ice-cream served by the Granelli family was as different as chalk from cheese. This was a home-made creamy, yellow nectar. There was a hint of vanilla and each mouthful was savoured to its utmost. The cornets (cones) and wafers (sandwiches) were crisp and tasty and as well as being a container for the ice-cream, added a supplementary taste.
When all her customers had been served, Mrs. Granelli picked up the reins and clicked her teeth to indicate to the horse that it was time to move on. The horse took it’s own time to move away. One or two mothers liked to chat with Mrs. Granelli and the horse knew this, so trotted away when it felt it was time to go.
Off they went, the cart dripping and bobbing on its two wheels, gathering speed and the bell tinkling away, to its next stopping place. The children licking on their ha’penny cornets, trying hard to make them last, already anticipating her next visit.
The other itinerant visitor was the Rag & Bone Man. In sharp contrast to Mrs. Granelli and her gaily painted cart, be used a dilapidated vehicle. It always looked as though it would fall apart within the next five minutes – though it never did. The cart had never had a lick of paint since the day it was built – or knocked together! The flat bottom had three shallow sides, the back being left open to provide a seat where the Rag & Bone Man sat when on a long run. The horse matched the cart, a poor dejected creature looking like a bag of bones. Looking at it’s skinny frame, the poor thing appeared never to have had a square meal. The man in charge looked equally disreputable. His clothes were all misfits – a too small frayed jacket, trousers five sizes too big and held up with string. None of his garments could have resisted a cold wind. He was never known as anything but ‘The Rag & Bone Man’ – we never knew who he was.
The main object of the Rag & Bone Man’s visit was to collect old clothes or bits of old broken furniture. The rags he sold to paper merchants who, in turn, shredded the rags and eventually turned them into paper. The other odds and ends presumably went to scrap merchants. The modern word for this process is recycling. That word hadn’t come into the dictionaries then.
Money never changed hands. In return for the rags and other bits of broken down articles, there was a choice. Inflated balloons were tied to the front of his cart. These were eagerly sought by the children as balloons were considered luxury items and impossible to find should you want to buy some.
The other item for exchange were ‘donkey stones’ made from a composition of soft stones (I don’t really know what the ingredients were). They were a small brick-like size and came in two or three colours – cream, light or dark brown. Housewives used these stones as a final decoration after cleaning their doorstops, as was the fashion then. Fanatical housewives would extend this cleaning to the flagstones surrounding the door steps, looking quite a decoration.
I have learned fairly recently that this ‘stoning’ dates from the time of witchcraft when all kinds of intricate patterns were used around the door to keep out witches. Interesting.
I don’t think the Rag & Bone Man exchanged his donkey stones for this purpose. When he shouted his raucous cry of ‘Rags and Bones’ the customers were ready and waiting for him.
© 1985 Enid Simpson