Andy Binman was a skinny redheaded lad of about twenty. His wavy hair, and abundance of freckles, however made him look more like fifteen. He came from a long line of municipal workers, whose steady salaries allowed them to afford meagre, but comfortable lodgings in the Old Guilds district between the Great Market and the Alleys.
Andy was the second child of Arthur and Alice (nee Mucker) Binman. The elder Binman was a supervisor for the city’s “Streets Department,” a civil service tasked with the sweeping of roads, and the collection of the metropolis’ refuse. The Binmans, in fact, were one of the three primary families of “the Streets;” and being born into a “Streets” family was tantamount to being born to the service.
The Binmans were a proud family. Their homes well kept, and as a matter of principle they (like their colleagues the Muckers and Sweeps) always named their children with a name beginning with the letter “A.” No one knew for sure where the tradition had began, but each “Streets” family was proud the have a brass plaque upon their front door which bore the legend, “A Binman,” or “A Sweep.”
Andy, however, dreamed of greater things than municipal service. This in part was the result of seeing his father returning home exhausted each evening, or suffering from long bouts of “sweeper’s elbow.” No, Andy’s mind set on serving the kingdom, not the city. He at first considered joining the army. However, on learning that soldiers often slept on the ground, and ate meals comprised primarily of field biscuit, he decided that another avenue must await him.
The turning point occurred when he was accompanying his older sister Annabelle, and her friend Andrea Mucker on a shopping trip to the Great Market. The two young women couldn’t take their eyes of a well groomed watchman standing his post near the stalls. Both were expressing their admiration of the sharp black uniform, with its rose crest and shiny buckles. Andy’s mind was made up. He would become a “Rosie.”
* * *
Arthur would hear none of it. It was total nonsense, and a betrayal of all the family stood for. Alice sat quietly sobbing in front of her unfinished dinner, unable to even look up at the boy. In the end, after a shouting match with his father, Andy stormed out of the house.
He really had no idea of what to do or where to go. After wandering the Old Guilds for a while, the thought struck him to go to his Aunt Agnes’ house. She welcomed him in, and after hearing the entire story said quite surprisingly, “Good for you.”
She made him up a bed on the couch for the night and on the next morning she accompanied him the Fourth Precinct Watch House. He walked cautiously to the desk where a middle-aged sergeant was sorting some papers.
“Yes,” the watchmen said without looking up.
“I have come to enlist,” young Binman said quietly.
“Speak up, Son,” the Roseman said firmly.
“I have come to enlist.”
“Enlist? No, you have come to apply,” the sergeant corrected.
“Apply, then, please, um, Sir.”
“Sergeant, not sir,” the watchman again corrected.
“Yes, Sergeant, I have come to apply,” Andy said more boldly.
The man slide a couple of forms towards Binman. “In duplicate,” the man said, again without looking up.
Andy took the papers and went to sit between his aunt and “a lady of easy virtue,” on a wooden bench near the door.
On completing the forms “in duplicate,” he returned them to the sergeant.
“We will be in touch,” the man said. And that was it.
* * *
For the next three days Andy slept at his aunt’s. Then a letter arrived which instructed him to report to the same watch house at 10 the next morning.
He arrived about ten minutes early and was directed to a room at the end of a short corridor. When he arrived there were already four other young men sitting at desks, with a stack of papers turned face down before them. Andy took the remaining desk.
At the stroke of 10, a rather tired looking senior constable came in and sat at a larger desk at the front of the room facing them. He then said “You have one hour. Turn the papers over and begin.” He then flipped an hourglass over to start the sand, and proceeded to nod off and snore loudly for the next fifty minutes.
The man, without any indication of the time, sat up abruptly at exactly 10:58 and opening one eye said, “You have two minutes.”
At eleven the papers were collected, and the five candidates were again told, “We will be in touch.”
* * *
Two more days passed, and Andy gave in and returned home. His father was still not speaking to him, but mum seemed glad to see him back. Another week passed and the entire episode was beginning to become just an unpleasant memory, when a letter was dropped off by Agnes.
Andy broke the seal, and looked at the brief instruction for him to report the the Main Watch House in Parliament Square at nine on Thursday.
With some anxiety, Binman arrived at the marble pillared home of “The Firsts.” He reported to the desk sergeant, who read his letter twice before directing him to a chair outside of an inspector’s office. Shortly afterwards he was called in.
“Andy Binman reporting,” he said a little uncertainly.
“Binman, Binman . . .” the man said as he shuffled some papers. “I knew a Binman once, Arnold, I think it was . . . Ah, here, ” he said picking up a folder. “Andy Binman, quite impressive scores for an Old Guilds lad,” he continued. “I am pleased to be able to offer you a position in the Ninth if you want it.”
“Yes, Sir. I would very much like . . . ”
“Good, good,” the officer interrupted. “Report to Inspector Cruikshank first thing on Monday morning at the Alleys House. Welcome to the Rosemen.”