The Rag-and-bone Man
As a rag-and-bone man, Alf Masterson, who has been doing the rounds in Camden Town for 30 years, is the father of all recycling. He rings a bell as he goes from street to street, his fox terrier Pip balancing precariously on the cart. Pip once picked up three £50 notes in the West End and brought them to Alf in his mouth. "The streets of London are paved with gold," says his master.
Alf left school at 13, by which time he had already started "totting" (the word now used for his trade) with a friend's father. Originally, the rags were used for making paper and the bones (from Sunday lunches) collected for glue and bone china. Skips, charity shops and recycling bins have all made life harder for Alf, but he has a knack for recognising all sorts of different types of metal, and counts this ability, as well as good sight, hearing and a way with people, as a requirement for the job. He reckons that he walks 15 to 20 miles a day, six days a week, and on a good day makes £40 to £50. Alf and his wife Phyllis live in a neat three-storey house which is entirely kitted out with items he has totted over the years, from the beds to the kitchen cupboards and the television set. There are some things he's picked up that he has preferred not to keep, however-including a human skull, a coffin and a stuffed turtle.
The Knife Grinder
In the village of Giustino in northern Italy's Vale Rendena region, Bruno Maestranzi's paternal grandfather used to make knife-grinders which looked like bicycles. They were worked by being pedalled on the spot and transported from house to house by horse and cart. Bruno's father, Aldo, was born in Clerkenwell, a stone's throw from the Italian church, and continued the family business with his brother Vito. Now Bruno has taken over, running his mobile sharpening service round the Covent Garden and Bloomsbury areas.
Bruno sharpens everything from knives and scissors to garden shears, and he stops outside many of the butchers, cafes, sandwich bars and restaurants in his patch. Chefs, in particular, are very possessive about their knives, some of which can cost as much as £150. They even refer to them as their babies: "It's a big responsibility," Bruno says. As he works, he holds the knives deftly against the grinding wheel at the perfect angle to bring the blade to razor-sharpness, the older knives developing a character all of their own as their blades curve and shorten with use, some ending up half their original length. The wheel, turned by a 65-yearold Thames barge pump, flashes and screams as it spins, and a slight scent of gunpowder wafts in accompaniment from the open doors of Bruno's van.
Bruno Maestranzi (0961) 307880. Prices from £ 1 for knives, £1.50 for scissors.