The Life We Choose – Episode 57

Daniel had taken to waiting with some of the older men who took the last cage up to the surface. They were the observant ones; the ones who knew the pit best. It was from them that Daniel could piece together the information he needed.

“I aye hear it – the sound o’ water – but I couldna hear it the day,” Blinks Murdoch said.

“Aye.” Clugs Mathieson tapped his knee. “My Lizzie’ll be right glad that ma claes are dry for a change. Nae dryin’ in this weather, she tells me.”

The talk ebbed and flowed as the cage came down and the men got in. Apart from the odd remark to him, Daniel wasn’t included in it. The others admired him for having the courage to be their leader, but it took years for a man really to be accepted into the brotherhood of miners.

Daniel studied them as they talked among themselves. Blinks Murdoch got his nickname from blinking rapidly all the time. The Glenny blinks, Daniel had been told, was a legacy from working by the flickering light of the carbide lamp on his helmet. Clugs Mathieson dragged one foot, his pit legacy from an accident with a fully loaded coal hutch down at the coal face.

Nicknames. A sense of humour all of their own. Daniel glanced at his companions. They were all grandfathers, had sons working side by side with them. Their lives had been mapped out for them since they were fourteen years old. So where did the humour and the camaraderie come from? Perhaps Pate’s explanation of it all was the best one, Daniel reflected.

“They’re juist makin’ the best o’ a bad job,” he’d told Daniel.

Daniel screwed up his eyes against the daylight as the cage came to the surface and the men spilled out.

“Danny.” Lofty Baxter, the only man in Langrigg who was smaller than Tricky Binnie, tugged at Daniel’s sleeve as if to detain him. He looked anxious.

“There’s somethin’ far wrang doon there.” He jerked his thumb back at the pithead. “I did a nightshift doon there the ither week, and I was workin’ up ahead o’ the ithers when I heard it – the rumblin’. In at the back o’ the brick screen, y’ken where the auld workin’s bricked aff.”

Daniel stared at him, alarm etched on his face.

“Have you heard it since, Lofty?”

The other shook his head.

“No, but the workin’s have been a’ but dry since that, Danny. An’ the pit props up at that end are splintered in places, like there’s pressure on them.” Lofty took off his helmet and wearily rubbed his eyes. “I tried tae tell Rushforth, but he widna listen, so Ah’m tellin’ you, for there’s somethin’ no’ right doon there. Next time you get a chance, go up an’ hae a look at the brick screenin’.”

A group of small boys led by Pud Maxton were dancing around the pit gates, shouting at the miners coming off their shift.

“Pit pieces!”

Lofty was momentarily distracted.

“Wid ye look at that? No’ a hungry wean among them an’ they’re still lookin’ for pit pieces.”

Some of the men were opening their piece boxes and handing out unwanted cheese and jam sandwiches to Abie Makin and his friends, when Lofty was further distracted by the sight of his grandson, Pud Maxton.

“Here, you, away hame. If you eat ony mair ye’ll blaw up.”

He shook his fist at Pud, who beat a hasty retreat with his grandfather in hot pursuit.

Alan Spink

Alan is a member of the “Friend” Fiction Team. He enjoys working closely with writers and being part of the creative process, which sees storytelling ideas come to fruition. A keen reader, he also writes fiction and enjoys watching football and movies in his spare time. His one tip to new writers is “write from your imagination”.