What happened to the men?

I guess you might relate to this post depending on your age and status in society. If you do, I’d love to hear your story.

So I’m referring to the people in my childhood who all carried the word “man” at the end of their career titles. Funny thing is – there were no women in these jobs.

I’m talking about the milkman, the postman, the egg man, the vegetable man, the laundry man, the burial man , the coal man, the shoemaker and the “Shit bucket man” – pardon my English. The policeman? Yeah I’ll say something about him too.  I think there were also inspectors for everything. Your neighbour could snitch on you for breaking a by-law, then a health inspector or building inspector would show up.

Now if this is way beyond your time, I’m talking about those days when there were people who had a singular job description – to deliver a particular service or product.  For example, the milkman mysteriously left a squat glass bottle filled with creamy milk topped with a silver foil lid on your doorstep each morning. As children, the race was on to see who could get to the cream at the top of the milk first.

The egg man walked from door to door selling eggs and collected his money on Saturdays. The same applied to the laundry man. He came to collect the Sunday clothes that needed dry cleaning and pressing. He too showed up for his money on a Saturday.

You want to know what a burial man was? Well, everyone had to die sometime right? So Mr Jones in the neighbourhood, probably one of your friend’s fathers, sold burial policies. If you came from a working class background as I did, people were paid weekly wages. So Mr Burial man visited each household with his book and you paid your instalment for the week which he duly recorded with a stamp in an old dog-eared exercise book. This ensured that your funeral concerns were taken care of for the week.

Incidentally, not too many of these men owned cars. These days, I see postmen ride bicycles, but in those days, everyone walked.

The one exception was the vegetable man. Generally, the vegetable man was an Indian man and he owned a battered old white van. You would hear his hooter as he entered your street together with a cacophony of other sounds. For one – he himself would do some loud repetitive vocal advertising of the special price of tomatoes, onions and potatoes . Children would run to alert their mothers that the vegetable man was driving down the street, dogs would be barking and this was a great time for our mothers to meet each other and catch up on some gossip.

Of course one of the most unpleasant jobs was that of the “Shit-bucket” man. In the days of no flush toilets, someone had to come each week to swop your bucket from your outside toilet with a clean one. God forbid if you happened to be in the toilet at the time. You had to just hold it right there. I recall a time when those men took to wearing wigs to disguise themselves. Fortunately, most of us have long moved on from those hard times, but there are still many throughout the world who don’t have basic sanitation. I was surprised to listen to an interesting discussion by the vice president of the World Toilet Association – a story for another day.

As for the policeman – having grown up reading British books, the policeman was depicted as a Bobby on the beat with only a baton for protection. My first grade books led me to believe that if I ever was lost, I just had to find the closest kind policeman to take me home. Of course reality for us was more often the brute force of police serving as the arm of enforcing unpalatable discriminatory laws.

I guess much has changed since then. The men have made way for the internet of things. The interesting thing is that that a courier (also a man) now comes to my door on his motorbike, delivering something I ordered on the internet. There is also Mr Delivery, Uber Eat – convenience at the touch of a keyboard. So what has changed? I guess the men now have wheels and are owned by the company. Others were just wiped out of the supply chain.

I’m dying to hear about the men in your lives 😀

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