Change Wasn't Anything New For John In Recent Years
Change wasn't anything new for John in recent years but there was more afoot in the spring of 1990.
He worked as a coal miner for nearly 20 years and after the struggle of the strike in the early 80's every day was doom and gloom at work, every morning he and his workmates expected bad news in the form of pit closures.
Working situations changed but he still had a decent job and could afford to pay the mortgage on their house on Terrace Lane , which had neither a Lane or terraced houses. It was a road leading away from the main village, in winter it looked tidy but bleak and in summer leafy and full of colour. Look up the lane and you could have been in the country miles from any town or industry; look the other way and prominent above the rooftops were the pit headstocks.
His wife Emily and daughter Jude couldn't really see the strains which affected her husband and his future; he kept his innermost feelings to himself and shared every other feeling as a happy family man. He travelled half a mile to work every day although he always wished something would change his life, a lottery win, a Pools win or even a 'Bobby's job doing something nice and easy for the rest of his life for more pay. Yes at times work underground to meet bonus targets got very strenuous and tiring and it was probably the camaraderie and conscientiousness of the team that kept their spirits up.
Emily came from a mining family and once only lived about three miles away from their current home. She loved her house and motherhood and missed her work at times but wouldn't change her life. The family income dropped markedly after she finished work to have baby Jude but John's income was just enough for them to live their lifestyle. Well clothed and fed, a house, a car, a holiday most years and enough for some social entertainment. The mortgage meant they would have to work for many years to come but 'that's life' as they coined it.
On his return home from a dayshift his wife Emily looked a bit distraught. Maybe there is a leaking joint under the kitchen sink or something? John thought "Looks like a trip to the DIY centre and get it sorted before I get chance to relax." But no, his wife looked more on the serious side than that. She had heard from a neighbour that Newcroft Colliery was to close and it was on the local news. She never hesitated and told John immediately. He brushed it off: "They have been closing our Pit since the bloody strike. We haven't heard owt and the 'afters' shift didn't say anything," he assured her. But in the back of his mind he knew it could come at any time.
There had been Pit closures but always transfers to local Pits and even his own Colliery was made up of an assortment of miners from the area, each with their own pit-talk and methods. In a way the melting pot it had become had taught miners to adapt to change. The miners who came from 'family' pits became a part of their new families. Human nature says you can't all get on together but as miners they found a way. Also, in this integration process new friends were made because they were all in the same situation, thrown together by politics and money out of our control.
So, John knew he hadn't got to get a new waste pipe for the sink or paste back some wallpaper that had peeled off. He got down to his dinner and ate as he reassured Emily 'the pit will be here when I'm gone'.
Sayings like this were used many years ago when coal was a vital, part of this country; they often stuck and were often believed in.
John had steak and chips on a Tuesday when Emily bought the meat from the butchers which seemed, at a time when supermarkets were taking over all household and foodstuff sales, a treat.
Local shops and amenities had slowly disappeared over the last decades but no-one was even worried what was happening to the communities nowadays. A baker here and a butcher there disappeared. A local public house closed in the late 1980's and that was put down to less miners being in the village but no-one seemed to let it worry them, there was always the Miners Welfare Institute Club for a cheap pint and another pub down the 'bottom end'.
Newcroft Pit was named among four others in the region to go
Before he had finished his meal Derek Black, Emily's father came in to bring the latest news, backing up Emily's news. He said that Newcroft Pit was named among four others in the region to go (as he put it).
"Well why haven't they told us at the Pit today?"
Derek left on his daily duties down to the allotments where the best vegetables were grown by all the old miners - a place where John could see himself retiring to the same sect.
He had only ever worked at Newcroft and his dad before him had spent his entire working life in the pits.
He always knew this day would come but was able to live in hope and blocked the thought, as if hidden behind a firewall of denial. Lots of his colleagues had recently taken the redundancy offer but John thought about his family and his prospects in the area of getting a job to replace the one he had now. He was an official (Deputy) with a team who weren't all living locally but they had a bond, a brotherhood at work and were quite happy to stick it out together. Every once in a while they would get together and go out for a drink, mainly in the nearby town of Ashtonley. The town was satellited by pits a few years ago and even though classed as a former hosiery town it thrived on the mining communities thereabouts.
John, clearing his plate and seeing the sun shining on the back garden, decided to take Jude out on to the lawn and play for a while. She was four years old going on 40 as they say and after a morning at nursery she was always full of new things to do and dad would oblige with pleasure, but for now he was teaching her to play football of all things.
"She won't know whether she is a boy or a girl if you keeping teaching her how to play centre forward," shouted Emily from her kitchen window.
"Well she might do a bit better than Forest's strikers at this rate," he answered with a smile as he rolled around the grass with the ball as if he was a professional keeper making a vital save on Match of the Day.
The big wooden gate creaked open and then entered Terry Butler, his cousin, workmate and old school pal. They were mates since the 'old king was alive'. Terry, a big built chap, was engaged to get married next year and John would be his best man of course.
"This is what you want, some exercise; or you won't get into that Top Hat and Tails rigmarole next year", dug John. This is how they were most of the day down the pit and anywhere else but neither took the huff.
A muffled "bollocks" came the reply at a level only John would pick up on as Jude wandered off with the ball into John's recently planted out lettuce plants. He lunged and whisked her up in the air so as not to startle her but make sure she knew you don't kick the ball on daddy's plants.
"Serves you right", came the voice from the window again.
Before either party could laugh, Terry said: "Have you heard?"
Before John could say 'what', Terry relayed the news about the pit closing on the news; John didn't deny it but shrugged his shoulders saying he wasn't bothered anyway, which was a blatant lie.
He asked where he had heard it and they both mused why they hadn't got to know anything at work that morning.
"The bloody Union should know something or are they in on it."
And it went silent after the recent years of disarray in their Union ; both started to fear the worst. Terry said he had to go for his dinner and would see him tomorrow at the pit reminding him it was his turn for the grapefruit. This was far from worrying about the news; but when they both worked in hot conditions in a seam called the Tupton, a mouth-watering bit of fruit at the end of a shift was welcome. The fact that all Terry was worried about was the grapefruit; maybe an indication that neither believed there would be any pit closures soon. Turning a tired Jade over to Emily, he got stretched out on their sofa and contentedly dozed off to make up some sleep lost after rising at 4.30am on that day's shift.
The usual statements and reasons were given out but within a week the writing was on the wall
The next day the pit was in turmoil, some miners still in their pit muck (dirty clothes) from the night shift and others still not changed to go down the pit. They were all milling around the Union office until eventually an official asked if only a representative of each team would stay on the surface and everyone else to go about their work as normal.
"What's f-ing normal about this then", came a shout from a burly miner still in his dirty clothes.
"Were going nowhere until it's sorted out."
And the big man didn't. Fortunately most of the men on day shift went down the mine and then their anger was turned on to the management who were conspicuous in their absence.
The usual statements and reasons were given out but within a week the writing was on the wall. The manager had implied that jobs were being lost by the industry day to day and if anyone wanted job security then they would have to seek a transfer to another pit. This was a recurring situation at the time. Tell the old ones to take the redundancy offer before it is withdrawn. Tell the younger ones that they will have a job for the time being but if they hang on to this pit then another one will close and the jobs will be taken by other miners.
Transferees from other pits mainly decided they had been gypsies of the coal field too long and would sooner take the money, older miners didn't want to travel and try to adapt into another pit's families or cliques.
A battle was fought but the Management knew they had done enough scare mongering to oblige their superiors and the job was done. The Colliery Manager and his team were looking after their own backs and is it soon apparent where they stood in all this at Newcroft.
The miners were in too much turmoil to act efficiently as a unit, however, the Unions were split after 1984 and within ten days the last coaling shift was photographed for posterity entering the air lock at the shaft side.
John had mates he only ever saw at work because they had transferred from out of the area and soon they were never to see them again (in the foreseeable future at least).
It came so fast that John didn't have much time to think the terms over and went for security and transferred to another pit.
He got a transfer to Betteville which was the nearest to Newcroft village but most of is colleagues had to go further afield due to the skill needs of different pits. He was to stay on at Newcroft until next February as some parts of the mine were being salvaged and a few transferees would stay on until the job was done. He often wondered if he had done the right thing, maybe he ought to make a clean break and leave the industry. Ex workmates who had left seemed to be doing alright; or did they just profess to be doing well. Talk in the local pub was about investments and shares and savings plans. Others were wishing their lives away by counting down the weeks months and years to their pension.
He often felt a bit out of the clique of some of his old workmates who didn't have to work three shifts, drove around in new cars, spending more time in the pub and welfare. In his mind the mathematics told him he could not afford to lose his rate of pay and there didn't seem many if any good jobs outside the industry. Terry and a lot more of his pals had all gone to the same pit which was Denford, over 15 miles away. They said the production bonus was good there, signed on and went. Just like that, the bonus is good, let's have some of it. That's all that mattered for some these days.
John's time at Newcroft had come to an end. Jude was at school from 9 to 3.30pm and Emily started a part time job, how a few months had changed their routine. The day came in mid March eventually when John started at his new pit. He was a little nervous at this new start but he was an experienced underground man, he new what mining coal was all about. He also knew that the terminology underground differed in only a mile or so with various pits but that was going to be amusing at times as he would compare his old terms with the terminology of his new pit.
Knowing a few lads who worked there was a help, he would see and pass a friendly face for sure as he settled in. In fact his granddad had worked there as recently as the 1960's. His dad had followed but moved to Newcroft as miners did back then, mainly for more money. So in actual fact he was the third generation to work there and that gave him a good feeling.