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A proper bin-man

A Long Read in the Guardian this week got me thinking, got me smiling, got me finding memories which have been quiet for a while: ‘Who remembers proper binmen?’ The nostalgia memes that help explain Britain today | Society | The Guardian

A proper bin was made of galvanized tin, and stood about 3 feet tall. It was round with a galvanised tin lid, which the bin man would twirl to roll the bin along its bottom edge, to be placed at the kerb for collection by the bin lorry. This might be a modified lorry with a fold up top, or one of the more modern versions with a rotating hole in the back which mysteriously sucked in the waste to its innards. Key component of the waste came from the cinders left from yesterday’s coal fire – This guaranteed dust everywhere, especially over the bin-man, his face, his hat and all his clothing. First thing when getting home must have been to strip off and a bath. Wives must have loved it.

The Long Read was picking up on a surge of interest on the internet for memories of the 1950s, with bin-men as perhaps its most notable icons.

We are challenged to remember: Steptoe and son (addictive TV), asking permission to leave the table at the end of a meal, drinking Lucozade being equated to being poorly (if we were really bad there would be a sip of brandy in warm water), 3 bar electric fires, blackboard erasers (rubbers to us – sometimes used as missiles by irate maths masters – especially one), spud guns, Rod Hull and Emu (saw them on stage), dripping sandwiches, the rag and bone man, Choppers (bikes and axes), ‘Act your age – not your shoes size’, skipping, coal fires, Proper Coalmen (also with a black face and wearing a studied black leather waistcoat to bear the bags of coal on their shoulders – and the rumble of coal as it was tumbled into the coalhouse), the slipper, the ruler, the cane, a thick ear. Inkwells, Duffle coats, Gabardine macs (and their smell on a rainy day in the confines of upstairs in the trolley bus), Bob-a-job, clippies (bus conductresses), cigarette machines.

All these are there in my memory store – images and warmth to go with them.

I did not recognise: ’Knock down Ginger’ which turns out to be the game of knocking on a neighbours door and running away. We did not do that, but Uncle George never tired of telling the tale of tying a skipping rope to the door-knockers of neighbouring terrace houses in the Bilston of the 1920s, knocking one of the doors and running away but staying to see the fun when one neighbour blamed the other for disturbing them.

Nor ‘The Cockle-man’. Well did not have them – an example given is from Wigan and shows a man selling basins of shrimps, cockles etc. Perhaps we were too far from the sea.

Just wonderful and it makes me happy to think of the innocent pleasure being had by people posting stories of these times of our lives on the modern media.

But returning to bin-men. I was immediately drawn to my reading the Wizard and the unbelievable Bernard Briggs – a large, unpretty young man with especially long arms, who drove a motorbike with a sidecar which was a bath. He worked as an odd-job man and plumber and the bath carried his tools and anything else which might be useful on a day. One day he became goalkeeper for the local football team – Clean sheets for the whole season. On another day he stood in for a friend who was unwell – Bernard did his dustbin road for him in double-quick time – carrying two or more bins under his extraordinary long arms, not needing to roll them as everyone else did. Bouncing Briggs (

We did not have superheroes as seen in modern comics, but we did have down-to-earth wonder-men such as Bernard – and there was The Great Wilson: Wilson the Wonder Athlete - Wikipedia

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