Cleaning up

cleaning up

Sandi the Broom is a sweeper. According to Mutt, who I suspect may be considered definitive in these matters, she was the first. As far as I can make out, she abandoned what had been her home and at the age of about six or seven took to the streets to fend for herself. At some point she acquired a broom. Whether she brought it to the streets with her, or picked it up there, nobody has been able to tell me. Also, within a week or two of arriving on the street, she found a bucket as well.

Her method of working is simple. She will start at one end of a street and just sweep it clean until she arrives at the other end. Horse muck and similar goes into the bucket. Small coins and other potentially valuable items are tucked into pockets secreted about her clothing.

Obviously you need to choose your streets. Ropewalk would be perfect were it not for the fact that it’s too busy to even consider. (Although she does occasionally contemplate sweeping it late at night. Only her well-developed sense of self-preservation has prevented her.) Equally obvious was the fact that there was no point just going back to the start and beginning again. She developed a ‘round’. Six streets which she would sweep, one a day. The sixth and last street brought her back to the start again. This allowed debris to accumulate, thus meaning it was worth sweeping again.

Another issue was the nature of the street. You didn’t want something too busy or it gets dangerous. Similarly quiet streets never accumulate much. The perfect street is busy at times, has at least some houses with gardens, and is a comparatively prosperous area. After all, you didn’t want a street inhabited by dwellers who would happily crawl the length of it on their hands and knees looking for a ten dreg piece they thought they’d dropped.

After a few weeks on the streets she started to build up a network of customers. Certain houses contained a keep gardener who was happy to buy her bucket of horse muck and miscellaneous sweepings for the compost heap. Similarly whilst coins are of universal utility, other things that she finds can be cashed in if you know your markets. On one occasion it was obvious that she was following an absconding troubadour, doubtless fleeing an outraged husband. She found two guitar plectrums, three spare strings, one gent’s shoe, and perhaps a vintenar in miscellaneous copper coins.

Knowing your customers is important in this trade. The perfect house to sell your bucket of assorted sweepings is one where the gentleman of the house is a keep gardener. As you knock confidently at the side door you can be sure that the maid will sigh, roll her eyes in good-natured exasperation, and summon her master. He will beam with pleasure, tell the cook to give you a new loaf, split and plastered with butter. He will personally cut a good chunk from the cheese which sits on the table in the dining room. There’s even the hope of an apple from the maid.

If your customer is just the gardener, then he’ll doubtless be pleased, but he lacks authority with the cook. Thus when he comes out of the house to pay you, he’ll rather shiftily hand you the loaf from the bottom of the bread bin, no butter, and the last of the cheese before the mouse-traps claim it.

Then when it comes to selling what you’ve found, shoes are easy. Several of the rag shops take them. They don’t pay a lot, twenty-five dregs at most. But then, from their point of view it’s a speculative investment. One legged purchasers aren’t common. There’s a chance that you’ll get a mate to the one you’ve bought, at which point you’re in the money. It’s even possible for the owner to appear and to buy it back. But in this latter case they never pay well, and only with considerably chuntering and moaning. As the owner of one of these emporia commented to me, “There are times I do wonder why I bother. The trade isn’t worth the candle.”

Otherwise, for Sandi the Broom it was a case to knowing your market. One second hand shop gave her a good blouse that almost fitted her in return for the plectrums and guitar strings. In other cases she has received a reward for finding a glass eye whilst a gold tooth is a genuine treasure to be secreted away as a reserve.

On top of all this she is also a ‘watcher.’ That’s how I came across her. She will keep an eye out for things and pass the news on to Mutt. Obviously the streets she cleans have their own watchers, small children innocently playing, or sitting silently under the eaves. But from Mutt’s point of view these are a nuisance. They work of other, doubtless competing, aspiring crime lords. Sandi covers more ground, but in less detail than these other watchers, but still, any information she sells him enables him to keep an eye on the area.

Mutt once asked me to pass on a message to her and to buy her a meat pie as part of her wages. (Marvel at the confidence he reposes in me!) As she devoured the pie we discussed work and life on the streets. She does have ambitions. One possible way forward is to go into service with one of the houses on ‘her’ streets. She has kept her eyes and ears open and there are houses she would work in. She makes a point of treating housekeepers and butlers like the aristocracy they are should she meet them in the street, and even downstairs maids will get a polite little curtsy from her.

Her confident expectation is that in the next year or so she will be offered a place as, ‘the girl as does’ in one of her chosen houses. This will guarantee her a bed, a roof that doesn’t leak, and regular meals. Ensconced in such unaccustomed luxury she pointed out that if she couldn’t progress to be a housekeeper in her own right, it would be her fault.

On the other hand, I could detect signs that part of her would regret abandoning her own business and the independent life. As she said, if she found a few more gold teeth she might set up a stall of her own, and perhaps, if Lady Luck smiled on her, open a second hand emporium in an empty shop. As she said, she knows Mutt, he owes her, and with his street children behind her, she could soon stock it.


We’re on tour again, and today you’ll find us with Annette, so to read the rest, click on the link below and go to her blog

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