Wednesday, 14 November 2018

History Mine

Most kids, my day, went to castles,
Museums or off to camp,
Even an odd art gallery,
Nowhere near fire or choke damp.

But not my class, oh no, not us,
They weren’t places we would fit,
When we went off on our school trip
We went to, and down, the pit.

Might’ve seen my dad and uncles,
They were all colliery men,
Just like the both of my granddads,
Although they’d retired by then.

We went right up to the coalface,
With ponies, props and much more,
Down there, in the dark, we clearly saw
What our futures had in store.

One year to go in the classroom
And then the day came around,
We stepped from desks into the cage
And dropped and dropped underground.

Not that we were fearful, not us!
We boys wanted to be men.
Perhaps a bit apprehensive,
But do the first day, and then

You’re in that cage with your workmates,
Take first day pranks as they came,
Reborn into a way of life,
Rechristened with a nickname.

It wasn’t as bad as most folk think,
Even better, we got paid,
Jobs for life with prospects, it seemed,
With the chance to learn a trade.

Hewer or sparky or chippy,
What might be a lad’s intent?
One day a deputy maybe
Or even pit management.

Four years as a craft apprentice;
Too soon, it seemed, to assume
Schooling was dome with, on the job
Training backed by the classroom.

Colliers would put a good shift in,
Pride in work felt by workers,
With purpose behind the banter
And disdain for the shirkers.

There was no doubt about danger,
A moment could kill a bloke,
And far too many near misses
Each one dismissed with a joke.

Stories retold in the club bar,
Tall tales sometimes, the odd boast,
And a pint helps sober reflection,
Raised in memorial toast.

Some new pit lads might be careless,
Thinking they’d already grown,
Until some nasty accident
Happened go one of their own.

The men, though, kept a wary eye
In case of some stupid gaff,
Danger averted, then the lads
Learned to share the nervous laugh.

So, school boys grew into colliers
And all other pitmen’s trades,
We earned our way and self-respect,
Dressing up as sharp as blades.

When we wed we married daughters
Of dads who worked down the pit.
We thought our sons would also find
A job in the mine that fit.

But then the future looked black as coal
When a threat to mines arose,
Even a valiant strike didn’t help
As the pits began to close

Though colliers moved from pit to pit
The future was plain to see,
Our reward for skill and effort
Was to be redundancy.

As communities fragmented,
A man’s measure had one gauge,
Not his value as a miner,
But the size of his package.

Without a job to be proud of,
Where is a paid-off man’s pride?
Shafts and gates can be filled in, but
It leaves men hollow inside.

Hundreds of years of uncut coal,
Machines worth millions of pounds
And centuries of history
Lie abandoned underground.

Shafts have been sealed, headstocks removed,
Pit wheels now used as town signs,
Collieries become country parks
Show nothing of once being mines.

All except the heritage pit
Where I now guide folk about,
The main gate draws the tourists in
And the tail gate lets them out.

We’re still taking school parties down
Into the dark of the hole;
As I lead them out from the cage
One kid asks, “Please, what is coal?”

Dave Alton