The day after our fight if I had expected Johnny to say something about the scrap to me, I was very mistaken. He was loud, vociferous and as self assured as usual. It was if the day before had never happened. I thought, at one time during the day, I heard him say to one of his mates, that my punches had not hurt him. I was not sure but if he indeed said that, I could well believe it. My punches seemed not to have affected him at all.
My kudos in the screens team rose a little. One good point in my favour was that no one tried to involve me in any further initiation rites. Other newcomers were not so lucky. Over the next few weeks I gradually became accepted as a full screen member and often the screen charge-hand would send me on short errands. This would enable me to look round other parts of the pit yard. If nothing else I was always interested in my surroundings.
One morning, during a lull, Joe sent me to have the First Aid box brought up to date. Screen workers were very susceptible to cuts bruises and trapped fingers; bandages and plasters were used quite often. At the ‘ambulance room’, as it was called then, there was a man in attendance. It was questionable if he had any medical qualifications, other than a first aid certificate. This was a time when safety first at work was not a priority, producing coal was.
The ambulance room was more of a storage room. It had a long couch for the placement of injured miners waiting for an ambulance to ferry them to hospital. Other than the meagre medical stores it also served as a soap and towel sale room. As I have said there were no baths at the pit for normal workers. Deputies and upper management had a small makeshift place were they could have a lukewarm shower but for the normal workers there was nothing.
Once a month all colliery workers were given the opportunity to buy subsidised soap and towels. The soap was of the hard wearing variety but it was cheap and did the job. The large bath towels were luxurious by the standards of those days. Usually all workers took advantage of buying the pure white heavy towels when they could, even if their own towels had not worn out. A ready resale value was placed on them to friends and neighbours; a small money making sideline.
As I was leaving the ambulance room I looked across the pit-yard and saw Fred W, “Firey Fred” as he was usually called. Fred was another old collier, was about forty but looked at least fifteen years older.
He had worked underground most of his adult life until a fall of roof underground had trapped him. He was supposed to have been buried for over an hour before he could be released. His resulting head injuries were not just physical but mental as well; he never seemed to be quite with it. Normally he had a pleasant disposition and he would always wave, or shout greeting and pass the time of day. It was also common knowledge that if anyone upset him he could lash out, with anything he could lay his hands on. Firey Fred was employed to do the menial surface jobs. He was presently engaged in cleaning the pit-yard toilets.
The only surface toilets (there were none underground) other than ‘management only’ toilets, were a six cubicle block. Every cubicle had a wooden seat with a galvanised metal can underneath. Each can had been doused with a toilet chemical. The back under-wall, where the cans stood, was left open to the elements to create an air circulation.
As I was walking past, Firey Fred was pulling a bucket out from under the rear wall. As he usually did, he hoisted it to his shoulder, he then transferred the can to the top of his head, his hands holding the side handles. He did this usually as a little show of his competence, proudly walking the length of the pit-yard. The contents of the can would be then poured down a washer drain.
“Hiya Fred”, I shouted, although it was doubtful that he knew me. Firey Fred was hoisting the can from his shoulder to his head, as I called out to him. At that moment, as he turned round to look at me, his head went through the bucket bottom. The galvanised bottom must have been eroded by the weather, allowing the inner metal to rust, causing weakness. Fred’s head went almost through the bottom and a cascade of liquid and solid human waste, cascaded over his head and shoulders. Fred let out a howl of protest and taking the bucket from his head, he threw it in my direction.
It was the funniest thing I had ever seen and I just could not help but laugh out loud. Firey Fred obviously did not think it was something to laugh at. He began to run over to me, seemingly to blame me for his misfortune. I wasn’t waiting around to explain; I was off like a shot.
It still remains the most hilarious incident of my life.