Rag and bone man
“Rag-and-bone man” used to be an actual job. Men who collected and sold scraps that could be useful in repairing things. Like in the old British TV show, Steptoe and Son. We used to call my grandfather Steptoe. He hoarded every nail and skerrick and could repair anything at all with a piece of masking tape. Including his own spectacles which he wore proudly and unashamedly with a large piece of wheat-coloured tape across the nose bridge. For about ten years.
He’d have thought it was hilarious that people paid to buy pre-ripped jeans, sandblasted to a worn finish. What’s the point of buying them like that? They’ll end up like that if you have them long enough. This was a man who was immaculately groomed. I mean, he wore trousers with braces and knee socks to the beach. He took great pride in his appearance and always looked like a proper gentleman. Like a fashion grandpa. Even with the glasses. And he fixed his shit if it broke. The TV he had was an old cathode-ray with bunny ears balancing in an unlikely position. He knew just where to smack it if the signal got bad. No point replacing it, worked fine.
I guess these rag-and-bone jobs and people still exist, but not in any developed country I’ve lived in. Mostly because no-one repairs anything anymore. Factory labour means production is cheap, sometimes nasty and often easier to go out and replace than to repair.
A couple of years ago my stepdad, another rag and bone man on a biblical scale, came to visit me not long after I’d moved here. I had paid 20euro for a bicycle but it was a bit shit and I was thinking about replacing it.
“No,” he said firmly. “You can easily fix this.” He went to the euro store and bought me a couple of essentials, and we had a long lesson in bike fixing on the verandah while Ma sipped tea and I think read 50 Shades of Grey. This man is MacGuyver. He’s Indiana Jones. I learned how to reattach a slipped chain, how to widen the distance between the front and back wheels, how to align the handlebars and how to service the brakes. It made me feel wholesome and self-sufficient.
And I’ve been doing it a bit more often at the moment. My black boots wore down to the stump and they’ve been sitting in my closet for about 18 months while I searched online for a similar pair. I’ve finally put them in to be reheeled.
The magnetic clasp on my handbag shattered and it didn’t close properly, so I bought some superglue and I’ve put it back together instead of using the excuse to buy a new one. I dropped the spoon holder my Ma bought me from her trip in Malta. It’s been bonded back together and works just fine.
I don’t know if I will go as far as taping my glasses if I sit on them again, but it has made me realise that not everything needs to be immediately replaced with a new version.