Saturday, 12 November 2011

Mining Memories - Inspirations for Poetry....


I had only just moved to Melton Mowbray. Many of the lads had moved to the area around Asfordby from about 1987, although some of the mining pioneers like Don Povey, Andy Wilkie, Frankie Chambers and

Frankie 'Rabbit', had been over here whilst the shafts were being sunk.

The moving deal was very attractive, with men able to claim for all their solicitors’ fees, the moving costs and subsidised mortgages over about 5 years. There were stories of miners moving from terraced houses into big detached houses.

I used to laugh, thinki
ng that the Meltonites would be twitching their curtains when the Colliers arrived in town…. Looking for evidence of Pigeon lofts, flat-caps and greyhound runs. detached houses in the outskirts of Melton Town.

Most still travelled from Coalville, South Derbyshire and after 1992 – Cotgrave. A few moved to the Melton area and then moved back. I like the Melton area, but always viewed the fact that most Miner’s remained in their original communities as t
estimony of their richness and neighbourly values.
Many of you will be aware of the massive investment in Asfordby Mine. Over £360 Million. The timing of the development was terrible, in a political context. The Coalfield was found in the mid 1970’s energy crisis when OPEC raised the price of oil. The drillers were actually looking for Oil, of which there are a few pockets in the Vale, when they found the rich seam
s of Coal – The Deep Main seam being over 2 meters thick!

The Tory’s had been in power from 1979 and it was during the protracted Miners Strike of 1984 that it was being developed. In many ways the Tories presented the development as their commitment to a new kind of Coal Industry, whilst they closed what they viewed as ‘Uneconomic Pits’. In reality, it allowed them some time as there second wave of closures were planned for 1992.

I still find it incredible that they could close a major industry down so quickly and turn power generation from mainly Coal to mainly Gas! Thatcher would never forget the 1974 Miners’ Strike when the Tories were kicked out of power.
I had worked at Whitwick Colliery from 1974 as a Mining Trainee, completing my face training in 1978/79 aged just 18.

The pits in the North-West Leicestershire & South Derbyshire Coalfields, essentially one coalfield, were old. Most dated from the early1800’s. There were 26 previously privately owned pits, that were now all under the NCB.

I didn’t actually live in a Mining Community. We lived on the New Parks Estate on the edge of Leicester, a short distance from Desford Colliery and Coalville was about 10 miles away. My Father had been a Miner since the end of the war. I guess there were few jobs in the traditional industries of Hosiery and the ‘Boot & Shoe’ trade, so he didn’t have any previous connections to the Coal Industry. I have done some research and my Ancestors come from the Bulkington area in Warwickshire. They were Ribbon Weavers but the area had a large mining community and I wouldn't be surprised if digging a little deeper, there wasn’t some mining connection over there. In fact, if you go back far enough. Most working class families and quite a few middle class one’s have connection to our industry.

I didn’t get on too well with my old man, so it wasn’t possible to work at Ellistown Colliery, so I chose my 'Mother Pit' – Whitwick Colliery. Whitwick was on the main bus route and aged 16 I travelled to Coalville and had an interview with Tom Hollick, the Training Officer at Whitwick Colliery.

I loved Coalville & its people. It was different in so many ways. As I
walked up Victoria Street almost everyone spoke to me, dressed in this dapper brown corduroy suit and tie! “A-up me O’d Bod” really required a translation….. I just smiled politely and nodded back. There was a warmth to these communities. All the building seemed to be Victorian and blackened by smoke. There were so many pubs! Far too many to mention….. But I used to listen to the old colliers tales of nights in ‘Polly’s’ or the ‘Vic’ the ‘Half-way-house’ and of course the Snibby Inn! There seemed a richness & closeness that was missing in so much of society.

I spent my first 4 weeks in the Lamp Cabin cleaning lamps and dusting down the shelves where the Cap Lamps were recharged. I also used to watch Jack Unwin clean and refill the Flame lamps. I wasn’t allowed to touch the Davy Lamps as they had to be closed and remain airtight. There was a Lamp Superintendent and a Baths Superintendent. I don’t know where the Superintendent bit came from, but they seemed to relish the title.

As a young boy, I would watch these characters in the morning collect their lamps, most with a final cigarette behind their ear. I would listen to the friendly banter and joshing and couldn’t wait to join them deep in the pit.

The Lamp Cabin.

A first job - just
amongst men
freed from a
crushed existence in

Old miners - now

cleaning lamps
filling Davy’s
with kerosene wiping
off the dust and clay.
Jack - with his toothless
smile and deformed
creased head -
some things you just
don’t ask.

down the shelf’s
burning the lamps

of men not
turned in
today -
for what ever

It was Dixie I overheard
“The roofs bad on 101’s
Jack – real bad”
and violently spits
a plume of dark
tobacco juice onto the
hard floor-
me - just fifteen
years old wide eyed

a voyeur
to all their trepidations
and fears.

One of my jobs was to take the Manager’s lamps to his office. These Managers were like Gods and there every movement was communicated down the line as he progressed form one area to another. Mr Bradford was his name and I always wondered how he could remember everyone’s name. There were over 1500 men working at Whitwick and he knew everyone.

After the first 4 weeks I was sent ‘On the Bank’, filling tubs with timber for the pit. We also had to load steel on to ‘Dannies’ – low trolleys used for transport. The blokes se
emed old to me at the time but I guess they were in there late 40’s. Like many of the surface staff they had been ‘retired’ from the mine following accidents. We had Jack in the PPM (Maintenance Dep’t) with a severely deformed cranium, a one armed Tally man and Loggie and Albert had opposite limps so they could only walk a certain way, with Jack on the left, Albert on the right, or there limps would be un-synchronised and they would bang their heads together!

Jack once asked me if I wanted to take some ‘Cock-Wood’ home for my mam. I didn’t know what Cock-Wood was, but they sawed me a couple of Noggins from a 9 foot bar. Everyone took wood home for there fires. So I went home proud of my logs. As I entered our front room my dad was sat in the chair and my mam was next to him. I said “Mam I’ve got you some Cock-Wood”. My dad nearly fell off the chair laughing and my mam went bright red! I’d never seen my mam blush before.

Whilst on the bank I got used to the camaraderie and learnt this new language ‘Covillian’. I also saw lots of the mining paraphernalia: Auxiliary fans, Pipe-work, Chocks, Mining machinery, air ducting etc.
There was a Saw mill and a Saddler, who I could watch all day. The Saw Mill had a roaring Coal fire where we would gather when the weather was freezing cold.


The sun and sky, brutally quiet -
another industrial morning where
corrugated friendships gather
and sleep is wiped out the corner
of sad red eyes.

Hulks of corroded metal
hug the earth, while the
harshness of another day
is softened by comradely

Shared crusts of bread are
washed down with ice
cold water, floaters rise
in the glass, like moths.
We grow with each other
aching arms - aching minds
and push into another shift
like mice, like men.


I worked at Whitwick Colliery from 1974 until 1985 when I transferred to Ellistown Mine, my dad’s old pit. Lot’s of the Lads finished working altogether when Whitwick closed. These were not all old men and the change from being employed full time with all the camaraderie, to unemployment was tough for a lot of them.
Quite a few of them went to a Miners Group that was set up. They met at Snibstone Miners Welfare I believe they called it their ‘Play School’. They would go on excursions to Skegness, have horticultural shows, even basket weaving and painting lessons. There was one chap that went from being a Collier to a professional artist selling his wonderful paintings of horses. There was a feature about him in the local press. Some others struggled in accepting this new life, without the rhythms and ordinary beats of a Collier’s life, some found succour in a pint or three of Marston’s Pedigree, the strongest of local brews!
I couldn’t take advantage of the generous moving terms on offer to relocate to Asfordby Mine. My daughter was seriously ill in 1987 when I eventually transferred to the New Super Pit – Asfordby Mine. Sarah was born with Cystic Fibrosis, a genetic disease that affects 1 in 20 people in the UK. If you carry the mutated gene, there’s a 1 in 4 chance that your child has the full condition. Cystic Fibrosis affects the lungs and digestive system of patients with the cond
ition. Sustained chest infections cause scar damage to the lungs which makes it hard to breathe. Sarah was put on to the transplant register in 1990. It was one of the most heartbreaking moments when I took her along to Great Ormond Street hospital. She had to be strong enough to walk the 30 paces in the corridor yet weak enough to allow the Heart Lung Transplant team to select her for donation. Her pretty face when she managed those 30 steps, I’ll never ever forget. Sarah died aged 9 on the 21 March 1992.
It was a tough time for Lorraine, my wife and I. It was my other family the colliers who supported us and helped us get through it. Russ Miller was a Miner I first met at Asfordby. He was a ‘Bag’uth’ man
. Younger then me, he was a great character. We worked with a team of 6 others in ‘G-Head’ a drivage roadway straight out of the pit bottom. It was to be the ‘Empties Marshalling Roadway’. This was the main arterial roadway which would contain the main full & empty mine cars.
This type of development was new to all of us and to be fair, we struggled a bit at first. It was more civil engineering then mining. Everything was on such a huge scale. The arches we set were approx 5 metres wide. We did 3 sections or ‘benches’. The first section was cutting out the top section, which included roof bolting before we set the Crown. We would set about 30 arches, then a second bench was taken behind with the Dosco heading machine. We would then extend the legs by about another meter. Jeff Harris & Roger Portsmouth would then cut out with a ‘Webster’ cutter loader and set inverts. Finally the whole team would sheet up the arches and grout behind the supports, filling any gaps or voids behind. They said these roads cost £13,000 per meter. It wasn’t paying for the bonuses we earned that’s for sure. I was the team Charge Man and we always seemed to be in dispute over our contracts!
Someone brought a Jelly mould in the shape of a Rabbit and literally
hundreds of Rabbits popped up around the Pit Bottom circuit. They would make a load of Rabbits when they were flushing the Grout pipes out, with remnants of the Grout mix. Some were painted with florescent paint so you couldn’t help but spot them with your cap lamp when walking to various districts in the mine. I think they were a dig at Frankie Parker whose nick name was ‘Fwanky – Rabbit’; Frankie was our Deputy and another fantastic bloke.

After Asfordby Mine closed Russ started up in business and brought a Guest House in Blackpool. He was very successful being such a great lad, always brilliant company. We used to go all over the UK watching Leicester City play. Once, on the way back from watching Leicester beat Stoke 3-2 we stopped off for some Fish & Chips. Russ’s Coalville mate XxXxxx, 6 Foot 2 and built like a brick outhouse weighing over 18 stone placed his order…..
“I’ll have a Large Fish & Chips, Battered Sausage, Savaloy and a Curry Sauce please……… Oh and a diet coke!!!
We never stopped laughing all the way back up the A50!
I stopped at Russ’s place a couple of times and would stay at his bar drinking and reminiscing about all the good old days and laughs we had along the way. I got to ribbing him about a time we were redeployed to some remote place in the pit replacing props that had come loose, or doing a bit of spot bolting. We had loads of spare time once we had done the jobs we were sent to do. It wasn’t at all common to be left alone like this. Anyway, we took a travel chess game along and had fiercely competitive games that lasted for what seemed like hours. I was ribbing him about beating him at Chess and him disputing my recollection of winning. I suddenly said:
“You know Russ I never understood why they sent us on those jobs, they were hardly important.”
We seemed to be dossing about for a month or more. It was only then – ten years later - that Russ told me what happened. After my little girl died, Don Povey the Colliery Overman had a word with Russ to look after me. He sent us to areas that were safe and where I couldn’t come to any harm. He was watching my back and didn’t want me in an area where my concentration might slip. What can you say? I never fail to be amazed, to this very day, in the compassion, empathy and kindness of this community and I honestly never had a clue at the time!
No such thing as society.
The mines have long gone
the empty church bells
chime for lonely skies

Wet empty streets
dormant but
for the old man
stick and flat cap
heavily leaning on
a pedestrian

The local with
boarded up windows
stands another
shell in a lost

No children’s song
lifting in the breeze no
smiling mothers leaning
prams and push chairs


only bullet grey
skies and memories
of the old days
full of stories
when people had
hope and each

Monday, 7 March 2011

For Amy & Jay On their Wedding.

Any casual observer

could see

this searing love

and in their eyes

the deepest of all reachings

for the promise of tomorrow.

This wonder of

each other

that moves in

new seasons, where


sultry afternoons slip

into passionate nights,

where the gentle murmur

of lovemaking and heartbeats

rise up to the heavens

embracing the moon

and the stars.


Great news, another poem published in the magazine Nibble!!!

I received a free copy of the printed version of the magazine!
That's a first!

The poems featured on this Blog, just scroll through the older poems section.

It's called 'The Clamour of Sundays'



I thought I caught his


as I moved from the mirror

saw his walk as I lurched

through empty


Even my hands now

hold his thick veins

calluses and

wrinkled skin.

My arm falls

behind my back

in that damn same

way I

don’t smell of whisky

my chin lacks stubble

there's an absence

of violence.

He’s dead of course

and yet I feel him

in my pain

in my blood

my poetry.

Wednesday, 16 February 2011


I don’t know why

the snowdrops

bow their heads

only that

in this new spring



reminds me

of you.

Sunday, 23 January 2011

The awe of happiness.

It’s not all about


Banquets, Champagne

and Caviar.

It’s the strangers

Smile on the subway.

The luxury of

buttered toast

steaming coffee

and a three bar fire.

Sunday, 26 December 2010

Poems Published!

Great news.....

I've recently had two more poems published. I wrote them some time ago.

There published in a new quality Emagazine here:-