THE way so many people volunteered to clean up the mess after those awful riots in London was most pleasing to see, and it reminded me of those days when places all over the country were kept looking spick and span by the roadsweepers of those days using no more than brushes and shovels. In my nearby native village I simply knew our roadsweeper as Tommy and I greatly admired his steady, conscientious work as he wielded his brush and shovel and pushed along his barrow-like dustcart.His dedication and real pride in his work was plain to see in the neat and tidy roadsides all around the village. He always made time to pass the time of day and to have a bit of a chat with us. He wanted to know what was going on at school and what bits of mischief we had been up to. As we chatted his tanned and leathery features revealed a broad smile. Come rain or shine, old Tommy was always the same; warm hearted, welcoming, cheering, as his eyes lit up at the exchange of simple, homespun bits of news.
The best time to natter with Tommy was when he was enjoying a steaming brew of hot tea and a bit of lunch around midday. I was fascinated as I watched the various chunks of cheese, onion and crusty bread disappear beneath the generous spread of moustache amidst that intriguing visage. These noonday natters would sometimes be interrupted by the drawing up of a grocer’s dray, a farm cart, or a couple of shiny-coated shire horses being side-saddled to their labours. At these times there was even more talk about neighbourly doings; how things were going on the farm, how had the crops fared, and many, many other village affairs to keep tongues wagging happily.
At length Tommy would slowly heave himself up from his seat on wall, gate, stile or grass verge, glance at his very impressive pocket timepiece and exclaim, ‘Well you lads - ah mun be moving on’. Once again he would resume his characteristic steady, rhythmic cleaning up routine we knew so well. In those days the roadside rubbish was mostly leaves, sweet papers, cigarette packets, fag ends and dried dog dirt augmented with the muck and grime from carts, drays, and the very occasional car or lorry.
Today I look out along Westgate and Sandtoft Road observing the heavy road sweeping vehicle making its cold, impersonal drudge of a passage with its well clad operator ensconced in his warm and comfortable glass protected cab, and think how far we have progressed. Oh certainly - we do not want to return to the days of old Tommy and his methods, and yet you know, looking at the state of some of local streets today, might there not be a place for some of our present day unemployed to perhaps somewhere emulate the efforts of my old friend of yesteryear.
Next week in Part 36 - Hot Cross Buns