a short but improving tale.
Most people who know my old friend, Mr Bloggs, will know that he is a council dustman. Except that these days dustmen get called all sorts of different names such as ‘Cleansing Department Operative’ or ‘Waste Recycling Technician’ – names with lots of CAPITAL LETTERS in them which makes Mr Bloggs feel very important. Mrs Bloggs, whom you will not be surprised to learn is Mr Bloggs’s wife, thought it all a lot of nonsense.
“Where I come from ..” (which is a town called Bootle – strange name for a town, sounds more like the name of cat) “Where I come from we like to call a spade a spade,” and she folded her arms and adopted an expression which meant she was not to be trifled with. Mr Bloggs was familiar with that look. He looked bemused because he wasn’t a spade, he was a dustman, so why should he be called a spade. Anyhow he didn’t say anything; he found that best.
So, where was I? Ah, yes. Mr Bloggs was a dustman – or CDO ( Cleansing Department Operative) or WRT ( Waste Recycling Technician) or whatever name the important people in the Town Hall had dreamed up for him that week – who drove around the town and countryside collecting up people’s rubbish; your rubbish, my rubbish, the lady down the street’s rubbish, it was all swallowed up in his large dustcart.
Now, you ought to hear about the dustcart because it was quite something. It was big, it was noisy and had big doors at the front that you could open to climb into the cab. You could get at least eight dustman in that cab on a good day with a following wind. Only seven if one of them was Tubby Scruton because he was very fat and was always reading large books of philosophy in his lunch break.
At the back of the lorry was a large container. This was where Mr Bloggs, Tubby Scruton and all their mates used to tip the full wheelie bins. Then at the pull of a lever the container would rumble upwards and disappear into the depths of the dustcart with a satisfying scrunchy, munchy, squashy noise. A few minutes later it would come out again, empty. Although he had been doing this for twenty seven years Mr Bloggs still thought that this was great fun – except for the day when his hat fell off into the container, just as it was off on its scrunching, munching, squashing and disappeared for ever. Fortunately Tubby Scruton had a spare hat (which he said had been eaten by an elephant and had emerged from its bottom two days later, undamaged. Mr Bloggs was not sure whether he wanted to know this.)
Now, and I really must get on with this story or you’ll go off to sleep or disappear to do something far more interesting like picking your nose ;now the big secret about Mr Bloggs was that he wanted to be an Olympic swimming champion. There. Now I’ve told you, it’s not a secret any more! Oh dear.
Yes. It’s true. He had dreams of speeding down those vast Olympic swimming pools, winning prizes and getting his picture in the papers.
There was only one trouble. There was no swimming pool in Barnsley (Barnsley was the town where he lived). There had been a swimming pool but the council preferred to use it for a Distressed Cats’ Home. I’m not actually sure what a Distressed Cat is, possibly a pussy that has just had bad news about a close relative or has been made to jump through hoops at the circus, so the swimming pool, emptied of all its water of course, was full of mewing, mournful moggies, all bewailing their fate. Not a nice noise at all.
So Mr Bloggs had to find somewhere else to train. He had tried the bath at home but Mrs Bloggs complained, “Alfred, the water’s coming through the ceiling! What on earth are you doing?” Well, what Alfred Bloggs had been doing was perfecting his butterfly stroke which entailed flailing his arms around like a madman whilst lying on his tummy in the bath. He decided that this wouldn’t work and so abandoned the attempt.
After that he tried lying face down in the garden and doing the breast stroke up and down the lawn. This time he did make a bit of progress but the trouble was that he left a trail of torn up grass and turf behind him. Mrs Bloggs, you will have no difficulty in believing, was not amused. In fact she was very cross. She gave him an ultimatum (which isn’t a juicy piece of fruit but is a kind of last warning), either he finds a proper place to practise or he gives up this stupid idea of being a swimming champion.
Rather mournfully J. Alfred Bloggs (for that was his full name; he thought that the J. sounded rather important and the whole name could be that of someone that people would write books, or even poems, about. He had no idea what the J. stood for. Neither do I.) Mr Bloggs set off for a walk to think things out. Wearing his once-through-an-elephant hat he wandered down the street, past the allotments (where somebody was growing a nice crop of ultimatums) and on to the canal.
The canal ! He hit his head with his fist which made his hat fall off. Of course, the canal is water. Quickly he ran to the edge.
Now I don’t know whether you have seen a canal. It’s a sort of straight river. You might have one near you. You might even live in a boat on one, some people do. They tell me it’s very nice but there’s not much room to swing a cat. It seems to me that there’s another pussy for the Distressed Cats’ Home.
Anyway some canals are clean and tidy but some are very dirty. I am afraid that I have to tell you that the Barnsley Canal was one of those. Very dirty. Extremely dirty. Green water and full of old push-chairs, shopping trolleys, wheelie bins (“wheelie bins! ” thought Mr Bloggs; “who’s been chucking them in there, they’re council property”) and all sorts of rubbish.
Mr Bloggs stared mournfully into the water. Desperate though he was to practise his swimming, he couldn’t bring himself to plunge into this green, sticky, gooey mess. Would you? I think not.
And then the beginnings of an idea came into his head. This, it has to be said, was not that common an occurrence. Ideas were not things that happened to J. Alfred Bloggs much – even though Mrs Bloggs was always warning “Now, don’t you get any ideas, Alfred Bloggs.” It always mystified Mr Bloggs because generally he couldn’t get an idea, even if he tried really hard. But this was different. This idea was going to grow. He rushed off to see his friend Percy Gumtree.
This Percy used to be a dustman but had answered the call to higher things and now ran his own business building brick sheds for people’s back gardens. Barnsley people loved brick sheds in the back garden, some of them had so many that they had no garden left, it was all sheds; as a consequence Percy Gumtree’s business flourished and he became very prosperous. His wife joined the Women’s Institute and made jam and he bought a brand new big lorry with a crane on the back.
Mr Bloggs banged on Percy’s front door. After a moment the door was opened by Mrs Gumtree, smelling of jam. “Oh, hello Alfred. Nice to see you, love.”
“Is Percy here, Mrs Gumtree?” He could not bring himself to use the name that she had started calling herself, now that she was in the W.I., which was Hortensia.
“Yes. He’s watching the Night Garden. I’ll call him. PERCY!!” she bellowed, “it’s Alfred.” A few moments her husband shuffled into the hall.
“Sorry to keep you waiting, Alfred. Just had to see the end of the Night Garden.”
Alfred quite understood.
The two men talked together for a few minutes and then went out the back to Percy’s lorry. Within a couple of minutes they were down by the canal.
*Piece of cake, Alfred old chap.” Percy climbed into the cab that operated the crane. They worked hard for two hours and by the end of that time they had a huge pile of stuff that had come out of the canal. There were bicycles, rusty bits of old cars, shopping trolleys (lots of them), dustbins, prams, two wardrobes, half a double bed, six mattresses, a lavatory seat (engraved with the words A Present from Scarborough) and a penknife which had one of those useful things for removing stones from horses’ hooves.
The canal was now clear. Percy loaded all the junk on to his lorry to take to the dump – he kept the lavatory seat, thinking it might be just the thing that Hortensia Gumtree would like. It was a wonderful job.
Mr Bloggs stared at the canal. It was now a cleared but he still didn’t think he could plunge in to perfect his crawl. It was still green and oozy and smelt of the kind of cabbage that you’d rather not eat, thank you very much.
And then something very magical happened. There was a gurgling, splooshing sound and bubbles started appearing in the green slime. At the same time the level of the water in the canal began to drop. Within half an hour it had all gone. Mr Bloggs was amazed. He was even more astounded when who should come marching down the canal bank but Tubby Scruton, a book on Spinoza under his arm and a big grin on his face.
“Used to work on canals, I did. Understand about these things” he said as he walked past. For a student of philosophy he was a man of few words.
Further along the canal was the ancient machinery which worked the sluice gate. In a few minutes the canal had filled with fresh, clean water.
“In you go, Alfred” said Tubby and he watched as J. Alfred Bloggs tore off his clothes to reveal his swimming trunks underneath, dived into the water and set off on a surprisingly fast swim down the canal.
The only trouble was that he had forgotten to take off his hat. It floated in the water behind. A passing elephant hooked it up with its trunk and swallowed it.