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A Shout From The Attic: Don't Put Your Muck In Our Dustbin

Ronnie Bray, continuing his life story, confirms that there are treasures to be found among things which other folk have thrown away.

To read more of Ronnie’s vivid life story please click on A Shout From The Attic in the menu on this page.

Other people’s dustbins were reliable sources of treasure trove. Our dustbin was always full of ashes from the fires, and other useless rubbish. Our kitchen waste, such as vegetable peelings, was put on the fire last thing at night to bank it up and keep the house warm for another hour or so.

When night drew on and most in the house had already shuffled their way to their beds, my stepfather, who I called Dad, thought everyone else should be in bed. This was unusual because he had no status in the house and took no part in the general proceedings. However, whenever a couple of the more interesting lodgers and myself, would sit roasting our legs up the chimney, Dad would appear from the kitchen, tacitly bearing the day’s load of soggy vegetable detritus and plonk it on top of the cheery blaze. The fiery licking fingers succumbed with a long, hissing sigh, as a drowning man might resign himself to his inevitable end.

No one demurred or looked at Dad, and none displayed the slightest sign of grievance, appearing to have fallen each into an incommunicable trance. There was a fatalism, an overwhelming sense of the inevitability that good times were not under our control, but at the whim of a higher, unsympathetic power. And so, thus surrendered, we fell silently to bed.

What wouldn’t burn went into the bin that we kept at the bottom of the steps out in the back yard. The dustbin men, who came weekly to empty them into their stinking fly-infested wagon, were men of muscle and grumble. When everyone used tea leaves in the time before tea bags, and only the slovenly poured them down the sink, a leaking bin caused the slimy dregs to dribble down the back of the binman’s neck as he hoisted the galvanised steel tubs onto his shoulder to carry them to the wagon. That’s when they grumbled. It wasn’t ‘cool’ to be a dustman.

Nobody ever scrounged from our dustbin. If they did, they never came again for it contained nothing that was not thoroughly useless. Books were never put into the bin. They could be read and re-read. Shoes that could not be revived by a visit to the Cimmerian regions of the cobbler’s shop were consigned to the dustbin, but this was a rare thing. Cobblers could work wonders, although it took time.

It was not a throw-away time. The shortages that war brings and that follow in its wake had spawned a philosophy of make do and mend. The lesson had been learned, especially by the poor, and it was an unusual dustbin that contained anything of value. Jumble sales and rummage sales – I never learned the difference – were places where poor people gave up their cast-offs, and paid hard-earned money for other people’s. The irony of that was never appreciated.

Yet, the dustbins of some people contained things that I coveted. Most of them were just a little broken, or only slightly worn. I attribute my magpie-like disposition to collect things to my failure to make satisfactory human relationships. It seems that those who can not collect friends, collect things. I can understand that, because if you have things they act as compensation for lack of friends or familial affection. I am just beginning to be able to discard ‘treasures’ that I have had for many years.

A rummage through the right dustbin could yield unexpected, but hoped-for, treasure. One glittering prize were ties that had belonged to a gentleman, bearing the tell-tale label of Ernest Clough, Huddersfield’s most highly regarded bespoke tailor. These fell into my hands from the bins behind the posh flats in Trinity Street, just below the church where I was christened. They were a little threadbare, where hundreds, perhaps thousands, of knots had been pulled a little too tight a little too often, but who would notice? I have worn ties ever since, although they have never been from Ernest Clough.

Once, passing by Ernest Clough’s shop in Westgate, I noticed a handsome bow tie. I had heard people say, “If you have to ask the price, you can’t afford it.” The pleasing article bore no price tag. I went in and asked how much it was. “They” were quite right. I couldn’t afford it!

Broken toys were toys all the same, and my small stock of motor cars was no worse for having some with a wheel or two short, or some part snapped off by impatient tender hands. I was never ungrateful. A motor bike with a broken wheel and a headless rider, or a three-legged cavalry charger, went at incredible speeds when their deficiencies were overlooked, and the imagination of a child was applied

To be grateful for that which others find of no use, is a gift. To have a soul that is satisfied by those who are less than perfect is a blessing. To be able to accept people who have limitations, with full and thankful hearts, heads off the awful bitterness of disappointment felt by those who are long on criticism and short on love.

I have found few who accept the rubbish I am shown to be when placed alongside any standard of perfection. Yet, I know that there is One who does not regard me as worthless, fit only to be discarded for my imperfections: I know there is One who loves me with all my shortcomings, and though I hide myself in the shadows, and am heavy dishonour, stained by sin, and reeking with the stench of the world, the Perfect One lifts me from my dark corner and takes me into the full light of His loving bosom.

Just as I loved the broken toys that I scavenged and prized though they were contaminated with the waste of life in the darkness of foul dustbin dungeons, so the Holy One finds me, makes me His own, and counts me chief among His treasures.

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