It had to come. I had been working at the screens about two weeks. Joe G. had stopped the screen conveyor, a large piece of rock had descended on to it and it was too heavy to lift off and throw it into the hopper in one piece. Joe said to John, “Get the hammer John and break it up”
John C. then said to me, “Jack go get the hammer for me, I’ve got to break this lump up,” and with that he jumped up on to the conveyor. On reflection if John had asked me to get him the hammer, I would have done so. The hammer was no more than a few yards away. But it got my back up to think that he was ordering me about.
“You want it, you get it for yourself. Joe said for you to get the hammer not me.” I retorted.
“Are you getting me the hammer or do I give you a leathering?” Threatened John with an expletive of words.
“If you think you can give me one,” The whole screen team heard the heated words.
Neither person could now back down. John sounded the more confident of us. “Are you going to get the hammer or do I give you a good hiding after work?”
“No, get your own hammer and if that’s how you want it, so be it” I had no intention of backing down now.
“Jack, get me the hammer will you?” asked Joe G. It was said more as a way of cooling the situation down.
“Yes,” I answered, “but I’m getting it for you not him.” and with that I went and got the hammer and gave it to Joe, who in turn gave it to John. It was all a bit petty but my place in the pecking order of the screens was at stake. I always felt that to show weakness was not manly, although at the time I was trembling. Soon after Joe called time for the under eighteen’s.
“I av’nt forgotten,” said John as he passed me on his way out of the screens.
“Nor me” I responded. Although secretly I wished John had.
“Behind the ‘lamp hole’ then”. The lamp hole was the building where the miners electric lamps were stored and charged.
“Right I’ll be there within Ten minutes.” I was hoping to sound the confidence that I did not feel
The area behind the lamp hole was considered out of the colliery premises. It was common knowledge that fighting anywhere on the pit surface or underground was not tolerated by management; instant dismissal was the threatened punishment. In later years I saw and heard some really heated arguments that looked like coming to blows. They never did, not on pit premises anyway.
All the less than eighteen screen team and a few others, who had heard that there was a fight on, gathered at the scene of the proposed fight and a ring of spectators formed. My adrenaline began to flow and I was no longer afraid. A feeling of self preservation was taking over, I always felt like this before every fight in the ring or out.
“Last chance to apologise,” offered Johnny.
Did I detect a note of uncertainty in John’s voice? I hoped so, it was to my advantage. “No way,” was my reply and with that Johnny lunged forward like a charging bull. I was not taken by surprise, other than being surprised how easily it was to step to one side and hit Johnny fair and square to the side of his head as he continued past. True to a bull’s action he turned and made another rush forward, exactly the same thing happened. I could not believe my luck. My father had always coached me to try and get the first punch in, and if you can keep that one ahead you should win in the end. Here was I with the first two full on target.
I was a boxer and John was a natural fighter. A fighter is usually the one to come forward both hands punching. He does little covering up and is prepared to accept punches to get some of his own in. He is quite happy to stand toe to toe with his opponent, swapping punches. A boxer uses his feet to avoid any rushes and punches. He is always prepared to counter punch and learns to hit whilst retreating. He is not usually prepared to stand toe to toe.
It is a well known fact that you should fight a boxer and box a fighter. If you were losing a match change your style of fighting. I had no reason to change my style John was doing all the work for me. The fight carried on in much the same vein with John now trying to come to grips with me and me keeping my distance. Throughout the whole of the fight, I was wary of the fact that if I relaxed and let John get just one punch in, it could be curtains for me; luckily this did not happen.
Suddenly John stopped and said, “Enough’s enough,” with that he held his hand out to shake hands. In those days it was the done thing to shake hands to call the fight off. I took John’s outstretched hand and said something to the effect of. “Fair one.” I could not believe my luck I had just finished a fight with quite a worthy opponent and come out without a solitary punch landing on me. I felt elated. Although I went home with a little spring in my step, I still realised that if John had connected with just one good punch the outcome would have been vastly different.
As I reached our house I could see father clipping the privet hedges with hand shears. “What you doing Da?” I enquired.
“What does it bloody look like? Salmon fishing?”
“No, it’s just that I don’t understand it,” I joked, “it’s not like you at all, I didn’t know you liked gardening, are we entering our garden in the Tenants best kept garden competition this year?” I carried on indoors before he had the chance to fling the shears at me. My father hated gardening and only just managed to keep it tidy. On asking my mother what the story was about Da’s gardening she replied. “We got a letter from the housing place this morning; giving us 14 days notice that if the hedges are not pruned to below the regulation maximum of 6 feet then they will apply for an eviction order. Anyway it’s frightened your dad into doing something about them.”
“I’ll give him a minute when I’ve had my tea.” I offered
“Yes he’ll appreciate that.”
After my meal I gave Dad a break. Funny that, if he’d have told me or asked for help I’d probably make some excuses as to why not. By not asking me he’d put me to shame. Besides I was a little short this week Dad will probably now lend me something.
It was November the fifth and Tommy C. had invited me to his bonfire. He had said that he had some brilliant fireworks. The fireworks of those days could be described in many ways but brilliant was not one of them.
When I arrived at the bonfire the party was in full swing. There were plenty of peas and pies and bonfire toffee. Lots of fireworks and bangers were let off, but as of yet I had not seen any that were unusual.
I asked Tommy where these brilliant fireworks were. He went into his house and came out with a ‘pill’ of mining explosive.
“Where did you get that? I gasped, “You’ll get Ten years if you are found with that in your possession!
“Its nowt,” he said, “I found it in the screens. It came over the shaker.”
I had seen a few cartridges or pills as they are called, of powder come over on the screen conveyor. At such times they were handed to Joe Garvey. I think he took them back to the Explosives store.
“What are you going to do with it? I was becoming interested.
“Set if off of course”
“It won’t go off. I’ve heard you can hit them with a hammer or put it on the fire and it still won’t go off”
“It will with one of these” he said. With that he produced a ‘Little Demon’ firework. The little demon fireworks were the strongest of the day and gave out a very loud bang.
“You can’t let it off here,” I cautioned “there are too many people about”
“We’ll go over into the back field then.” Tommy said. I agreed. It would be something most unusual; a little exiting. With that we both went to the field at the rear of his house.
Tommy, with a penknife, slit open the grease proof paper of the pill and then sliced it in half length-ways. It was a little like Plasticine, quite pliable. We placed the little demon in the centre of the cut open mine explosive. Then it was moulded around the firework, leaving the blue touch paper protruding. He placed it on the ground upright and lit it. We raced away as fast as we could. The firework exploded but it did not set the explosive off. We further tried a few more times, all to no avail. By the time we had finished the pill was in numerous pieces. We collected them all up and returned to the bonfire. Throwing on the pieces, they burned with a slight blue flame.
Afterwards I realised what fools we had been. We could both have been maimed for life, or even worse, but it did prove how stable the mines explosives are.