Back in the day the Corporation tip was a mountain of shite in the middle of a muddy field. You tentatively reversed your car up through the mud, opened the boot and threw out the bags of wallpaper strippings, brickbats and plaster dust. A crowd of hopeful no-hopers hung about waiting to pounce on whatever was being flung out. Could the DIY detritus from 40 H.M. Road it be stripped down to something of monetary value?
It was a little bit alarming to be descended on quite so enthusiastically. My father who had spend 3 years in the RAF in Algeria (we think dispatching cargoes of this and cargoes of that - another story here I think) spent enough time observing the local population to describe our opportunists as 'sand Arabs'. He must have had his reasons.
These days of course, tips have become 'Recycling Centres' - visions of bespoke and labelled skips standing on pristine concrete overseen by a hi-viz jacketed workforce who invariably have made themselves a cosy den in a bijou Portakabin. 'Elf 'n' safety reigns.
We toss our 'recycling' and minimal refuse in the appropriate places and push on. Where's the fun in that? But here in Potter's yard - Welshpool's state of the art recycling centre - there is always the lure of the bits and pieces put to one side for 'sand Arabs' like me to pick over. We not talking treasures here - mostly it's discarded car boot tat - la crême de la dross - but sometimes - just sometimes - a little gem turns up.
Look - I've found 'The Cotton Spinners and Manufacturers Directory (for Lancashire and adjoining Districts.) Pocket Edition. 1920'. A fab find indeed. Musty, dog-eared, the size of a large prayer book - documentary evidence of a lost world. I notice I have found it almost 90 years to the day from when its owner - A B Goss inscribed his purchase with a bold and florid hand.
Did I say 'lost world'? Well, the days when cotton was king in Lancashire are long gone - the textiles' trades have moved to the far east where labour is cheap. We just do thinking and drinking in those cotton towns these days.
My little book is, as it says on the cover, a Directory. There are entries for nearly 3,000 manufacturers. District by district mills are listed; listed by process and by product - it's a world of specialists; spinners, bleachers, fullers and finishers, cloth clippers, cloth raisers, dyers, finishers and sizers - pause for breath - doublers, flax, jute and hemp spinners, plush manufacturers, wool and worsted spinners, calico printers, sizers and slashers....what? What is a sizer and slasher? Raiser, stretcher and beetle finisher? Beetle finisher?
The Park Mill Spinning company in Bolton lists: '102,882 spindles, 20/110 twist (so far so good - I understand that bit), pin cop and doubling weft, bastard and full twist size, combed and carded mule, flyer-throstle and ring twist, ball and cheese warps, beams, bundles, comes and tube barrels...' I couldn't make that up.
Raw goods in from overseas, up the Ship Canal, from America and Egypt and out again to home and empire. 'Cotton Goods for the West African markets!' Not only did we rule the world - we clothed it, curtained its windows, sheeted its beds, clothed its tables and made linings for its overcoat pockets. My vivid imagination supplies a sound track of mill town noises - the thunder of looms and the clatter of clogs on cobbles - played out under smoky and tenebrous skies.
All gone now of course. The air is clean. Mills demolished and chimneys toppled and with them a way of life almost as remote and mysterious as that of the dinosaurs. My little book is perhaps the equivalent of fossilised remains.