another perfectly good motorcycle ruined.......

Wednesday, 7 August 2013

'them were the days youth'

returning from my nightly walk with the dogs along the road where i live i saw an old man sitting on his front door step enjoying the early evening sunshine, his eyes closed and his hands resting upon his knees, i usually wave to him as i pass, he is usually sitting next to the window watching tv or reading in his chair, but tonight he was outside catching some rays, 'ey up', i think i startled him from his thoughts and he looked up with a 'hello' and immediately brought a hand to shield his eyes from the lowering sun, 'oh, hello' he says again 'i'm sorry, i didn't realise it was you' he stands up, [you know how old people get up from being seated] he pushes his hands against his upper thighs and rises slowly, his hands slip backwards to his hips and he stretches before walking over to join me at his garden gate, he fusses the dogs and we spend twenty minutes or so chatting, i ask him 'hows your wife, i've not seen her for while?' he paused and steeled himself before answering my question, before he spoke i already knew the answer, 'my wife passed away.....'  he pauses again and i look this proud old man straight in his blue eyes '.........eighteen months ago.......' damn, i live less than ten houses down from him and i never knew, i wish the earth would swallow me up and then, suddenly he breaks into a broad grin, he tells me how they met and how long they were married, about his children and about past times, he was a coal miner, like a lot of men from around here, he first entered the pit as a trainee at the age of fourteen, his first job was looking after the pit pony's before he graduated to hand picking the coal, yep, literally using a pick and shovel to work the coal seam, 'eight yards [7.3152 metres] a day or you didn't get paid, if you hadn't mined eight yards then you stopped in your own time until you had, no overtime back then!' often lying on your side in the sweltering heat, water running down the walls, underground at 0600 and back to the surface at 1400 [unless you hadn't mined your eight yards that is], if you wanted the toilet you just dug a hole and buried it, water from a pot-bottle to quench your thirst and a sandwich wrapped in a cloth for dinner, all this for a handsome two pounds a day, [ three dollars], he told me of the accidents, he saw men crushed and one fell to his death from the open transport cage, there wasn't even a pit-head baths when he first started work and he had to catch the bus and walk up the portway in all his filthy work wear, home to a bath in the kitchen, a hot tub, literally a tin bath, just long enough to sit in and usually after the kids had been in first! he worked underground for twenty- seven years until the pit shut for good and he went on to work at a big factory in derby making electric cables, until he retired, [the two colour photos are the actual pit head and slag heap and the production board, if you look closely you can see the legend 'up the rams' chalked upon it, a nod to derby county] 'you know, they used to bring the pony's up to the surface for two-weeks when the pit was shut for the annual holiday, i can still see the little buggers running around the meadows above the pit, it must have been the happiest time of their lives, at least we came up every afternoon'... it wasn't all doom and gloom though as we talked about the prank's played and the football matches against other collieries and the ale consumed afterwards, 'you used to go to a dance in ripley, alfreton or derby and you could always tell who the miners were, they were the ones with the black rings around their shirt collars and cuff's where the dust was sweating out of them!' the sun is almost gone now and the dog's are asleep on the pavement, bored by the hour and a half of human chat, 'right, i suppose i'd better get them fed' i say, he shakes my hand, a strong, firm handshake belying his ninety-years on this planet 'you know, my favourite part of the day was waving at the girls working at the denby pottery, they were all pretty and always waved back or blew you a kiss, them were the day's youth.....'