Rag and bone man

Photo Credit: Antha via Compfight cc

Photo Credit: Antha via Compfight cc

“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.


About colonizethemoon

36 years old. Reformed smoker. Unreformed drinker. Antisocial neighbour. Sometime shower-singer. Speaker of appalling German. On a quest to become a grown up. In all the good ways and none of the bad. Originally from Sydney (via Wales, Spain, and Newcastle, NSW) now living and working in god's country - aka Munich, Germany.

Posted on August 25, 2014, in Game on, My Purse is Closed and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 9 Comments.

  1. It is true that people don’t repair things any more. They usually just buy new ones. Of course, repair shops often say the same thing. I guess they would rather make commission on a new one rather than have to work to make the repair fee.

    As for your fixing jobs… I salute your ability. Keep it up.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thanks Anthony! Yes I just wonder where all the stuff we throw out ends up. The ocean, mostly. I remember buying supplies for a new year’s eve party some time ago. I was with a friend and her husband. I wanted to buy giant novelty light up glasses. He took them out of my hands, put them back on the shelf and said “landfill”. I’ve tried to think more about purchases since then. I recycle and compost here in Germany, everyone does. But there’s still so much waste!

      Liked by 1 person

  2. I try to repair rather than replace whenever possible. I also believe that if I have something I don’t love anymore, I might as well donate it to a thrift shop so that someone else has a chance to love it.

    Your bit about the light up glasses – we used to buy red disposable cups every time we went to the wholesale club. I finally got sick of it and instead went to a discount store and bought 6 reusable plastic cups about the same size. Now we wash and reuse those instead of throwing out a plastic cup every time we finish a drink.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Totally agree about thrift store donation! They make it really easy here, with clothing bins in basically every hood. They’re all respected too, don’t seem to be grafittied or have eggs shoved down them like at home.
      And well played with the cups as well! I wonder how many of those disposable cups are floating in the pacific garbage patch.


  3. Catherine Maloney

    I just asked Mum if it was taring?, but its darning. I’ll post you some wollen jumpers of mine to darn! Great post, love tit from an enviro point of view too xo

    Liked by 1 person

  4. OMG I meant to type loved it, not tit!!! Sorry x


    • Umm, can you not bring my blog down to gutter level and keep your tits for others, thank you very much? Haha! Yes, sure baby sis – send me your socks and your jumpers. But just think about the aviation fuel wasted to get them here…;) That’s my ONLY hesitation.


  5. Good old Steptoe and Son, hey? I have memories too of cars being bogged up with milk cartons and then resprayed. They don;t fix them like they use to 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    • They don’t make em like they used to either! I guess they had no idea the pace technology would change. There kind of isn’t any point in making a TV to last 15 years any more, because the technology will be superceded in 3! But you shouldn’t be allowed to get a new one until you’ve properly disposed of the old one. I’m sure there are parts they could use.


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