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The Rag and Bone Man

Posted by Lewis on July 18, 2003

In Reply to: "A tot" of a house posted by James Briggs on July 17, 2003

: : : : What does "'a tot' of a house" mean? The sentence was apparently in referenced to a London dwelling.

: : : One of my British slang references says "tot" means small regarding a drink. I don't know if that carries over to houses.

: :
: : 'tot' is a noun that means 'a small one' - it is usually used to indicate a small amount of alcoholic spirit or a child.

: 'Totting' is east End (of London) slang for the trade of a Rag & Bone man - a man who pushed his cart around the streets buying up old rags, bones and anything else people would sell to him. Long gone in the East End, I guess but, according to Gary, still seen in Sheffield.

The Rag and Bone Man is a champion of recycling - like scrap metal merchants - occupations with a dirty/sleazy reputation, but providing a valuable service. When I was a kid in the 1960s, the rag and bone man with his cart and horse, would come round the streets calling out "ragn-bone" and householders would offer anything that they no longer wanted, whatever condition.
I think they were still active in Luton in the 1970s, as I can remember the horse and cart coming down the street, even after my parents moved up-market. Bigger houses had better cast-offs, but they were less inclined to haggle and would often let stuff go for nowt - so good pickings there.
"Pickings" - that reminds me of other recyclers - rag and rope pickers - years ago, kids used to sort through rags for reusable material and unpick rope, so that the fibres could be re-used.

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