Archive for April, 2012

From Rags to Riches

April 1, 2012

                              FROM  RAGS  TO  RICHES


          Another great tale of East Leeds by Eric Sanderson

Did I say “ Riches “ ?.  Well hardly , that must have been a daydream – a “senior” moment.

When we were young, most things were scarce, especially money. So we had to find ways of trying to earn the odd shilling and these are just a few of the ways that some of my friends and I tried out.

The days I refer to are now over 60 years since so the memory might just be a little hazy – but never mind, a little inaccuracy can often save an awful lot of explanation

Sometime in the late 40’s , probably following the drain on resources of WW2, there was a shortage of most raw materials and people were encouraged to recycle, often by way of a financial incentive to do so.

The most obvious of these was the couple of coppers paid for the return of some types of bottle which for young people who were mostly skint , could be a useful way of garnering enough to fund a trip to the front end of the Princess Cinema, which at that time was six old pence,  two & a half pence in today’s money.

Trawling the neighbourhood for such bounty could only be done at infrequent intervals without making a nuisance of yourself and most people in any case wanted to take advantage of the benefit themselves. There was also a practical problem to overcome. Most shops would only accept returns if they were purchased originally from them, especially if they were being returned by an urchin who’d simply scavenged them, and so trying to sort the empties that way was a bit of a nightmare, but usually worthwhile

            Glass itself must have been in short supply because a small sum was also paid for a collection of clean jamjars which were much more plentiful as there was no refund for returning these to the shop. But, the returns were pitiful and often meant a nasty job of having to clean out unwashed jars so this was money spinning of last resort.

            Even wrought iron railings which normally surrounded schoolyards were in demand and were removed from many schoolyards, even those fronting onto busy roads, such was the need for iron & steel for the post war boom, but this was a job for the serious scrap dealer, not your common or garden youth opportunist.

            The best opportunities, we thought at the time, lay in the collection of waste paper and old clothes. Paper, usually old newspaper, was freely available but was a filthy activity and required a place to keep the paper dry and store the large quantities needed to justify the effort to generate even a modest return.

            Three of us decided one time that we’d try this out and worked our way round the area, knocking on doors for weeks on end , coaxing reluctant householders and storing the harvest in a disused garden air raid shelter. The day came when we decided we had a sufficient haul to cash in but the problem was, we had to get the stuff to a yard some way from where we lived. I seem to remember the depot was somewhere in Hunslet.

It was far too heavy and bulky to carry but we managed to salvage the sub frame from an old pram onto which we piled all the paper. The pram base wasn’t too sturdy to begin with and when we stacked it up to a height about up to our heads, it began to look distinctly creaky. What’s more, it was top heavy and difficult to maneouvre, having a mind of it’s own much like the nightmarish supermarket trolley we’ve all experienced.

Nonetheless, one of our crew , (JT), was of good Yeoman stock – very strong in the back , and put himself forward as driver whilst the other two of us would navigate.

            Off we set and the first part of our journey wasdown EastParkView, a not inconsiderable incline and the laden pram began take on a cussed life of it’s own, rocking and rolling almost to the point of instability on it’s way down the hill.

JT struggled manfully but even he couldn’t prevent the overladen wheels from starting to buckle and throw the whole carriage around , developing an alarming lurch as it began to run out of control down the hill.

Fortunately, the road levelled out towards East Park Parade and so the transport began to slow down much to our relief but, in the process of gathering speed, the stacked up newspapers had begun to blow off in increasing numbers. Whilst JT was wrestling with the control of the bogie, the other two of us were scrambling to retrieve the rapidly disappearing pile of newspaper, with only a limited amount of success.

Coming to rest near East Park Parade and having recovered as much of the newspaper we could (much of it was still blowing around in the wind several days later !), we had to take stock of our position. One solution, to sit on top of the paper pile was tried, but the wheels took on an even more threatening warp and bearing in mind we had some way to go, dispensed with this idea.

We finally settled for tying the paper bundles down with string and rigging up a set of “reins” so that we could all help control the downhill charge of our rickety old carriage.

            Eventually making it to our destination and weighing in our motherload , we came away with the princely sum of about 2 shillings, to be split three ways. Not much for all that effort. So we decided that would be the end of waste paper collection because one form of insanity is doing the same thing over and over and yet expecting a different outcome and the difference between stupidity and genius is that genius has it’s limits.

            Nevertheless, undeterred by our unprofitable wastepaper project, we thought collecting old clothes might work better. It would be much lighter work ,not so filthy and we’d learned a lot about securing the load and controlling the transport from our previous escapade.

            So off we set once again, all around the district, collecting discarded clothing and “rags”. Of course we didn’t have the faintest idea about sorting them into material types, they were all the same to us. This time, the depot was somewhere along Dewsbury Road, not too far from Leeds Bridge and the journey there went without too much mishap even though the pram was  decidedly on it’s last legs by now and only just made it before expiring beyond repair.

            On arrival at the depot, a stinking dark hole in the wall type of place, we had to “negotiate” with an ageing harridan weighing  at least 25stone and sporting a  moustache that any self respecting Mexican Bandit would have been proud of. She also had a fag with about 2 inches of drooping fag ash hanging from the corner of her mouth which was probably responsible for her hacking cough and deep baritone voice.

            Digressing slightly but on a similar theme, writing this reminded me of an occasion when , many years later, we were taking our 3 or 4 year old grandson for a bus ride. He was between us , kneeling on the seat and facing backwards. He was unusually silent, staring straight behind us for a while and then said in the loud voice young children use – “ Grandpa, why has this lady behind us got a moustache?”. I hastily tried to deflect attention away by saying “oh, do you mean that one on the pavement there?” . “No” he said, “this one right behind us”. I turned and sure enough, the lady in question did have a somewhat luxuriant upper lip growth . Apologies only seemed to make matters worse, drawing attention to the fact and so embarrassed were we that we dropped off at the next stop, miles from our destination to await the next bus home.

            Anyway, back to the rag merchant. She contemptuously tipped our cargo onto the floor, tossing aside much of it and growling that it was of no use. I think that she was interested in only woollen articles and much of ours was probably cotton, rayon and the like. Our haul was soon reduced to a fraction of what we’d collected and we were once again heading for a reality check, finishing up with even less the we’d coined from the wastepaper collection.

            Downcast, we trudged home with a few coppers in our pocket, not even enough to finance a visit to the Princess, which in itself would have been a disappointing return.

            Our spirits soon recovered though, as young people’s do, whilst we thought up our next moneymaking enterprise, which turned out to be offering ourselves as odd job boys , from shopping to garden tidying. Oddly enough, that didn’t work out either but, had we three failed entrepreneurs realised it, there was a valuable business lesson to be learned as a result of those escapades – never put more into a venture that you can reasonably expect to get in return, that is only a certain route to failure.

On the other hand, if you don’t succeed – you can always redefine success !.

What a great tale, Eric!

                                      Next month look out for another £10 Pom tale