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June 29, 2010 Leave a comment

Here are a few fond and genuine memories expressed in a way that has been much influenced by my attendance at the local university writing course. I hope you enjoy them:

Walking was the default mode of transport in the coal mining villages of the 1950s. But the experience wasn’t all dirt and grime. It could, and often did, produce memories inspired by nature with a cast of thousands:  Bluebells carpeted the wood, smiley sunflowers decorated Mr Dean’s garden, Mr Hope’s carnations popped up at village weddings, and dog roses appeared everywhere, other than at weddings. Two of nature’s spectacular specialists, thunder and lightning, occasionally lit up the stage, with support from unforgiving rain that lashed in their wake.

But Nature’s theatricals came at a cost. Parental condemnation, brought about by ill prepared rain sodden explorations, expressed itself sharply in a motherly fashion, ‘You stupid boy, why did you not take a raincoat?’ Her question was unanswerable but it was followed, like night that follows day, with an act of love made tangible by clean warm clothing – and Spotted Dick, if my luck was really in.

String, steam, and skewer were the enablers that etched themselves into my memory bank. The string secured the greaseproof paper that overlapped the basin’s sides and the steam process contributed to producing a pudding far superior to that other fraudulent alternative, the baked version. The skewer, having being inserted into the pudding at the allotted finishing time, to test for readiness, confirmed it by coming out clean and uncluttered. Much later the ever remembered cooking process would eagerly bring forward powerful and nostalgic yearnings for that 1950s version of the comforting, sweet and substantial Spotted Dick. Its availability was never guaranteed and a familiar substitute, equally remembered but seldom lauded, was the tired left over Yorkshire pudding; it was forever in alliance with blobs of strawberry jam and filled my non protesting young stomach with qualified contentment, if the pudding was not soggy or brittle.

One particular Sunday produced a well of excitement and expectation within me; it was signalled by a smiling father’s directive, ‘’Meet me by the buffers at two o’clock’’. He had a tremendously special job at the colliery and had promised to share it with me. I anticipated being the envy of a league of junior school personnel: the pupils, the teachers, the canteen ladies and even our caretaker, a man not easily impressed by much, if my little chit chats with him were a reliable guide.

 Shortly before the appointed hour a proud and noisy show off announced itself with some rhythmic chuff chuffs;   it became bigger and noisier by the second and its plan was to meet me. A different mode of transport, flight, was under my active consideration, but I stood my ground against a giant that seemed both friendly and intimidating. My guardian, the driver, my father no less, smiled a knowing smile as he scooped me up from the footplate into his cabin; the inner sanctum was full of puzzles, noises, threats, fiery glow and uncertainties – but he was a confident, well seasoned operative, and I knew it.

Father tugged the whistle cord, despite it being Sunday, and opened the regulator to control the passage of steam from boiler to cylinder. With the safety valve shut down – signified by a clicking noise, we began to move away from the buffers towards the colliery, known as the pit. I began to relax and remember that I had not eaten since breakfast, but that disconcerting thought was brushed aside by means of parental planning, provisions and a big shovel. It became clear to me that the fiery locomotive furnace, immediately in front us, was to be the cooking method; the ingredients would be bacon and eggs – they had suddenly appeared from under dad’s cap – and the shiny shovel would do the rest. First to submit were the uncooked eggs closely followed by the bacon. The treat was all the more delicious because of the entertaining and novel means of production which father had orchestrated with panache.

[Wilf Bell asserts his moral rights to be identified as the author of this work]

Categories: Memories