In response to a regular Memory Lane feature and the question, "What were you doing 30, 40, 50, 60 or 70 years ago?", Rosemary Hoggard writes:
70 years ago this autumn, I found myself in charge of a wheelbarrow on the towpath by a disused lock on the Grand Union Canal in Leicester. I was five years old and about to participate in a new pastime. I watched as my grandpa clambered up onto the lock gates and balanced precariously.
War had just broken out and we had been warned by the government to expect shortages. But Grandpa had an answer to that. He had decided to revive the old custom of 'raking the cut' (the cut was what local people called the canal).
"Be careful Grandpa", I shouted.
"You stand well back", was his reply as he prepared to trawl the bottom of the lock with his home-made apparatus - a garden rake with a long rope secured to the top of the handle. Holding the rope he cast the rake into the murky water then hauled it in.
Grandpa was a small chap with a dodgy ankle, legacy of a wound collected on the Somme, so he struggled. But gradually the canal gave up its bounty. He flung each hard-won treasure to land with a splosh on the path beside me. Stout pieces of timber handy to 'mackle up' the gaps in his home-made shed. Rougher bits of wood which could be dried out and burned as fuel on the living-room range. A cycle tyre which, cut and shaped, would serve to sole our shoes. An industialised oval fish tin (probably from a factory canteen) which, by dint of being scoured then 'purified' in the range fire later, became the hull of a pull-along sailing ship for my brother (a toy much followed by the neighbourhood dogs, who could doubtless still smell the fish).
Today the enterprise might be termed 'freecycling' but all those yesterdays ago it was completely in line with the government policy of 'make do and mend'. This was only the first of many such expeditions for Grandpa and me. We always felt really chuffed after a trip with the wheelbarrow, over the bridge, to slog away at the time-honoured tradition of the poverty-stricken - raking the cut.
And here is someone 'raking the cut' in modern times. This man was using a grappling hook to recover old bikes from a bridge hole on the Leeds and Liverpool Canal Leigh Branch in July 2008. At the time he told me that he got £200 for each van load of the scrap metal thus obtained.
(edited to add date info about the magazine)