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It was Downhill After The Bacon And Eggs

July 7, 2010 Leave a comment

If you read my previous piece of creative writing you will know that  bacon and eggs were enjoyed on the colliery locomotive; this is the next instalment and I hope you find it interesting.

Although that railway line was a source of joy there were other types of line that gave me seemingly endless disappointment, humiliation and bafflement. My catalogue of misery started with the fifty yards primary school sprint on a sun filled sports day, one summer in the early 50s; I competed like the slim young child that I was and showed some promise. I quickly established a lead, maintained it and got to the line with much distance to spare. Sadly it was not the finishing line the organisers had in mind; by the time I realised my shortfall some young boy won the acclamation, and observed the parental joy, both of which had eluded me on nothing more than a technicality.    Mum said, ‘Never mind’, but dad remained silent.

My line problems continued – one of which involved a trial for the Durham and District schools under 16s football team; the event could never have been described as a formality leading to my inevitable selection, but clearly the accolade ‘achieved further representative honours’ was worth striving for, if only to savour and enjoy it into adulthood as a counterbalancing consolation for likely academic failure. In the event I was undone by the weather, just as Napoleon had been at the battle of Waterloo, but it was snow rather than rain that caused my downfall. The white stuff had obliterated the touch line markings, rendered the pitch illegal and produced uncertainty, disorientation and dismay to my play in quantities never previously apparent. I wasn’t selected, ‘Never mind’ said dad. He looked disappointed so I never even told mother. Although a line had undone me yet again little did I know that lines of Clapham Junction proportions were about to hit me in the form of Mr Hill.

Mr Hill was approaching old age when I came across him for the first time. He frequently dressed in sturdy tweeds accompanied by a plain white shirt and dull uninspiring tie. I imagine that his teaching style was that of a 1930s disciplinarian but he was operating in the 50s when I found myself part of his captive audience. I did not understand his subject – technical drawing and it was a complete mystery to me, although many of my fellow pupils seemed to grasp it to certificate standards. Terms such as isometric, geometry, oblique and angle meant nothing to me. All those lines going here, there, and everywhere – for reasons that were usually unclear to me – froze my brain. The risk of retribution from Mr Hill was tangible and terrifying; in the event he never chastised me, very probably out of pity. Eventually I owned up to the obvious:  ‘I do not understand technical drawing sir, so can I do history instead?’  Mr Hill did not reply and nor did he take any action. I was too young to assert myself and my parents were oblivious to the problem.

Death and danger were never far away in our mining village but my recollections of it were not associated with gassed, bashed, mangled nor maimed bread winners; it was the death and sometimes near death experiences of children and women that touched me. We shared a two up and two down house: a family that I barely recall were two up and we were two down. A potential tragedy began to unfold when an infant child, of the uppies, was rushed to hospital by ambulance. The following morning Mum and dad talked about a burst appendix and death, and the child was never seen again – neither on the stairs nor in the village. The rushing and fussing had been too late and my childish mind connected the death with the lack of a telephone, the like of which was seldom seen, save in a colliery manager’s house, the grocery store or the doctor’s home. The incident appeared random, puzzling and alarming to me and chipped away at my already frail sense of security.

The above experience was soon replaced by another and it felt all the more intense because it was my brother who took centre stage. The innocent looking opponent was a stubborn, sugar loaded, toffee and I had a grand seat as the event unfolded in our garden. The confection gradually turned my brother blue by lodging itself in his throat. Our alarmed mother, after an ineffective and strangely calm intervention, crucially decided to jump the garden fence and seek help from our unemployed neighbour, Mr Pinkney. He was prompt and equally calm and decisive; he began with a gentle approach to de-lodging, just as my mother had done, but it soon turned to an untutored downward thrust of his finger that brought blood and toffee to the surface. It had been a near death experience but Mr Pinkney’s successful intervention moved our mother to tears of joy and gratitude.     

Great aunt Ada was the next person I saw to be in crisis; she appeared unannounced at grandmother’s door and looked tall, thin and gloomy. Her dark full length coat, fastened with three very large buttons, did little for her and neither did her clumpy flat black shoes. Her furry hat had very wisely been pulled down over her ears to counteract a chilly autumn wind, but she did not appear wise to me; she appeared sallow, haggard and with lifeless eyes more suited to a fish slab. My young mind knew that she was in grave distress. Grandmother appeared delighted to see her sister, and after some time honoured preliminaries, they both settled down to a hushed conversation accompanied by sweet tea and buttered scones. I picked out the phrase ‘we are here for you’ and I knew, with childlike certainty, that some sort of disaster had struck.

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

Categories: Memories