Things ain’t what they used to be – but they soon will be, on current evidence.
As I write, across the road a man is going through the bins in search of useful items. Pushing a shopping trolley in which to store his bounty, he’s working through the enormous skip in a methodical manner extracting glass bottles (which can be traded in for a small deposit), electrical items such as plugs and fuses, and strong carrier bags that can be sold on or used as panniers to increase his collecting capacity.
There’s nothng particularly unusual about this sight – these community recycling officers – or tramps, hoboes or bomsi, according to your preferred description – trawl through the refuse even in this not very rich part of town on a regular basis.
But there is one surprising sight about today’s ragpicker – instead of the usual bomsis uniform of ancient, battered sheepskin and formless but warm hat, he is rather well dressed in spotless stonewashed jeans (complete with fashionable rather than inadvertent rips just below the arse) and one of those expedition-type jackets that are all the rage.
Either he’s just had a particularly good day’s ragpicking in Jurmala or Mezaparks or he’s only recently taken up the profession, at a guess.
There are a couple of other possible economic indicators kicking around here in Tornakalns at the moment.
First up, the Potato Man has increased the frequency of his visits. A previous star of this blog, he formerly visited our block once every couple of weeks. But now he’s coming nearly every day, he says, as people decide it’s much cheaper to buy a big sack of spuds from him that will last a month or two than to keep going to the supermarket or even the market.
Following close behind him is the Log Man. A couple of weeks ago, notices were nailed up all around this area of wooden houses, like some kind of Lutheran proclamation, informing the residents that logs were available at very reasonable prices.
The notices even had handy tear-off numbers passers-by could take and were available in both Latvian and Russian, exhibiting a good understanding of his potential market in this part of town whichs is split roughly 50-50 linguistically.
I took a number and gave him a call. A couple of days later his big white van was reversing into the communal yard and nicely-dried logs were tumbling out of the back.
A lot of the houses here still have wood-fired heating and even those that switched over to electricity or gas have worked out that it is cheaper to get their fires going again than to pay the rapidly rising tariffs.
Needless to say, neither the Potato Man nor the Log Man are enthusiastic about accepting a Parex Bank-issued American Express card (I wonder how many of those they have issued this year?) so it’s strictly cash in hand.
If this movement towards cutting out the middle man is happening more widely than in the gold-paved streets of Tornakalns, it looks like thanks to raising VAT from 18 to 21 per cent, the government can increasingly expect to collect 21 per cent of nothing rather than 18 per cent of something.
STOP PRESS: In a development sure to warm the hearts of Adam Smith fans everywhere, the invisible hand of the market has intervened to break Log Man’s monopoly! Yesterday new flyers started appearing offering an alternative source for all your log-based needs.
All this talk of logs reminds me of a Les Dawson joke: “I went to visit my mother-in-law yesterday but when I got there she was sleeping like a log. She was lying on the floor with her head in the fire.”