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(22.11.1944 / Nottingham, England/live in Australia)

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The Rag & Bone Man

We’d hear the horse with its iron shoes
And the dray with its wooden wheels,
Approaching slowly over the hills
And down to us by the fields,
He’d always come in the afternoon
When the sky was heavy with rain,
In his old top hat and his hob-nailed boots
The Rag & Bone Man came.

The dray was covered with fusty sacks
As he led the horse up the street,
But penny whistles and jumping jacks
He carried to give us a treat.
He’d raise his arm and he’d ring the bell
Like a knell for the day of doom,
And we’d stand and shiver and stamp our feet,
And sometimes hide in our room.

He carried balloons and plastic toys
And pegs he had by the score,
‘Bring out your iron, bring out your rags,
And you’ll get a balloon for sure.’
He carried a bucket of pennies too
For the women who wanted cash,
They’d bring out their useless junk for him,
Old wheels, or a window sash.

He’d never shave for a day or two
And his waistcoat once was green,
But none of the clothes he ever wore
Had seen a washing machine,
The horse was blinkered and stood its ground,
And sometimes dumped on the road,
So we’d go out with a bucket and spade
To scoop up the steaming load.

He’d call us over and give us mints,
‘You tell your Mam that I’m here,
A bag of rags for a dozen pegs
Or some empty bottles of beer! ’
The girl next door had a bag of bones
That she took, she said, from the dog,
He gave her a couple of jumping jacks
And a cream filled chocolate frog.

Each week she’d bring out a bag of bones
While her parents watched through the blind,
They’d never had much to do with us,
Our Mam said they were unkind,
They lived together with Grannie Stokes
Who had lost the use of her legs,
‘They never feed her enough, ’ said Mam,
‘I hear whenever she begs.’

They had a copper way out the back,
Were always cooking up bones,
‘The smell is rotten, it makes you sick,
It turns my stomach to stone!
The husband works in a butcher shop
So they get the bones for free, ’
I heard my Mam, telling my Dad
When we all sat down to tea.

The horse stood out on the street one day
And refused to even budge,
It carried a nosebag full of hay
And needed more than a nudge,
The Rag and Bone Man hit it once
And it reared, tipped up the dray,
And the next door neighbour’s sack fell off
And a head went rolling away.

There wasn’t a strand of hair on it
There wasn’t a slice of skin,
But the neighbours rushed on out the door
And they kicked up quite a din,
The Rag and Bone Man picked up the skull
And he said, ‘This isn’t a joke! ’
And Mam came out, ‘Oh God, that’s her!
They’ve boiled up old Grannie Stokes! ’

Whenever I hear a horse and dray
As it clip-clops over the hill,
With a man in a filthy waistcoat
I can see their faces still,
They said, ‘She died of a stroke, she did, ’
I can hear their feeble moans,
They told the police that they didn’t want
To waste the old girl’s bones!

27 May 2013

Submitted: Tuesday, May 28, 2013
Edited: Wednesday, May 29, 2013


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