It’s the same every morning in winter; no-one’s keen to rouse themselves. Out on the bare pit road, as the moonlight gives way to day, all we see are the fences that funnel us towards the clocking on room. It’s a relentless procession with heads down, identical kit bags over our shoulders. Everything seems to point in the same direction: the coal train that pulls in, the rows of telegraph poles, the wires. Even the birds fly this way. Our Johnny and me, we trudge along together, hardly a word between us.

We clock on, taking our tokens. I’m on yoking up the ponies first thing, but Johnny’s a young ‘un and was taken on as a hewer, muscles like a weightlifter. Time drags all morning, but, as soon as we get to our break, the whole day seems to turn around on its head, leaning towards the end of the shift rather than the beginning. My bait tin has bread and dripping in it today; I usually chuck the crusts away as they are filthy by the time I get to them. There’s a bit of crack about last Saturday at the club, but I think about the missus making her speciality mutton stew. My mouth waters through the rest of the shift. They’ve got me on onsetting this afternoon, loading and unloading at the pit bottom. At least I am near the pithead for hometime, first out hopefully.

Up the lift, it’s a race down the path to the gate. Johnny still manages to overtake me, with a skip in his step because he’s got a date and wants to get to the sink first. I’ve no intention of leaving the house again tonight, so stand by the fire until he’s finished. A canny good splash of soap and water on my face and hands does me today. The rest can wait for the tin bath tomorrow.

“Your dinner’s on’t table,” she says, cutting a crust to soak up the stew.

“That’s real tasty,” I mutter, through a mouthful of mutton, “It’s grand to be home, lass.”

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Voice-Team
Voice-Team(@voice-team)
Admin
1 year ago

This story shows us that home has the deepest hold on us when we’re someplace else. Details—like the crusts of bread—are brilliantly chosen and highlighted. The day “turning around on its head” around noon, “leaning toward the end” is a feeling familiar to most of us, and wonderfully worded here. A happy ending, and we see that it is hard won, every work day. 

Eric Radcliffe
Eric Radcliffe(@eric-radcliffe)
2 years ago

Love it, you drove me right through every sense of being in a time long ago, long forgotten, but brought back to life in vivid pictures of life down the pit. I could feel the feeling of what it meant to come home alive, after a hard days graft.

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Sandra James
Sandra James(@sandra-james)
2 years ago

An old friend who grew up in Scotland was a coal miner’s daughter and she told me many stories about the often harsh life. Thank you for bringing it back to me – I like to think this is how it was in her family. Very well described 🙂

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Carrie OLeary
Carrie OLeary(@carrie-oleary)
2 years ago

Susan, you’ve really captured the essence of the miner’s day. My grandfather was a pit man, lost a foot in one collapse and had his chest crushed in another, after which all his work was at the surface. My grandma liked to regale me with stories of the tin bath in front of the fire in the kitchen. It brought back many memories.

Fuji
Fuji(@fuji)
2 years ago

Susan, I can’t thank you enough for all you’ve added to my life through just a few brilliant stories. Samuel Pepys, Claude Monet, Grace Darling, and now Norman Stansfield Cornish – all these people and their worlds have come to life from your pen. Two of these historic figures I already knew, but two were new to me. I just spent a happy half hour studying the Pit Row paintings and learning more about Cornish’s life and work. I can’t wait to see what you will write about next!

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Fuji
Fuji(@fuji)
Reply to  Susan Dawson
2 years ago

It’s hard to imagine you stuck on any writing theme. I mean, you British folk have all those ancient castles and battlements and even Merlin the Druid, back in the mists of time. All we Americans have is Ichabod Crane … Edgar Allan Poe … Charlie Brown in the Pumpkin Patch. Hmmm. Sounds like we all have good material to choose from. Or make up. Boo!

Last edited 2 years ago by Fuji
Carrie OLeary
Carrie OLeary(@carrie-oleary)
Reply to  Susan Dawson
2 years ago

How about Matthew Hopkins?

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Alan Kemister
Alan Kemister(@alan-kemister)
2 years ago

Good story. Life can be bleak, but a home is still a home. The story reminded me of the description of the lives of coal miners and their families in The Road to Wigan Pier.

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Alan Kemister
Alan Kemister(@alan-kemister)
Reply to  Susan Dawson
2 years ago

George Orwell, my favourite author, from his more journalistic earlier part of his career.

musing mind
musing mind(@musing-mind)
2 years ago

Lovely story, especially reading this line made my day “cutting a crust to soak up the stew”.

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Eric Radcliffe
Eric Radcliffe(@eric-radcliffe)
1 year ago

Hi Susan, just thought you might like this article –  https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-england-norfolk-54592215

Eric Radcliffe
Eric Radcliffe(@eric-radcliffe)
Reply to  Susan Dawson
1 year ago

You did – (k)not know? Did you hear the noise they made Susan, no sleep, even if you lived miles away.

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Linda Rock
Linda Rock(@linda-rock)
1 year ago

There was so much in your story that I loved Susan. What a talent you have for description; I lived every moment of that day. Bread and dripping instantly took me back to my younger days (at home and not down a mine fortunately) and I could actually visualise the dirt on those crusts. Congrats on being a finalist, very well deserved.

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Linda Rock
Linda Rock(@linda-rock)
Reply to  Susan Dawson
1 year ago

I did! Wouldn’t do it now though! I’m going back to the mid 50’s… another delicacy was bread and sugar!!!

Lotchie Carmelo
Lotchie Carmelo(@lotchie-carmelo)
1 year ago

What a lovely piece, Susan. I enjoyed it so much.

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