Auld Pit Characters by Bobby Rogerson
Barney was part of Dan Jess’s gang which developed the Modern Pumproom in Bank no. 1 Pit , way back around 1952. ‘What’s my Line? was a favourite tv programme of the day, which involved a team of ‘experts watching some obscure member of the public miming some of his/her everyday activities and trying to guess just what occupation he/she was involved in. Barney was of the opinion that some of them made their money easy—and very forthrightly made his opinions known to Dan. Dan says ‘Is that so, Barney? –So whit wid you dae for a mime? Easy says Barney, and, taking his shovel, made a lunge forward into an imaginary pile of debris, and heaving it thereafter onto a similarly imaginary pile somewhere behind him, meanwhile shaking his head emphatically, brows knit in an angry frown. Oh, aye! says Dan. An’ whit’s a’ that meant tae represent? Barney went through the pantomime again, only this time with vocal accompaniment–I’m a miner—an’ ah don’t f—–g like it!!
I had the pleasure of arriving one end of shift with Barney at the bus stop at the pit road end. We were obliged that day to stay well away from the lee of the stane dyke by the bus stop—some miscreant had, at some very recent time, decided to use the shadow of the dyke as a cludgie, and had left a majestic specimen —a perfectly sculpted, reeking spiral, there for all to regard and marvel at. Barney took one amazed look—Jeeze! he growled It wis nae human bein’ that did that–it must hae been a wumman!
In spite of all his erratic traits, Barney had one great talent —he was an ace domino player, and spent many a night in the pubs in New Cumnock augmenting his pit pay by winning extra cash from would-be challengers. Barney had one other notable trait. When he got into conversation with anybody in the pit, Barney used to look, not at that person’s face, but would talk directly to his pit lamp! Ah, well, not a surprising thing, you might say; no—what WAS surprising though, was the fact that if Barney talked to you in the pub or on the street he was STILL talking to the spot where your pit lamp should be!
There were a fair wheen o’ Parks involved in the working of the Auld Pit over the years. Inkie, I would aver, was the most famed of the bunch, although Bronc, Coomie, Jonta, Map, Scoonie and all the others who had ordinary names like Geordie, Jock, Dan and Dave had their parts to play in mony a tare. Maybe I should mention in passing Coomie —a brother to the effervescent Inkie. Coomie came up with a Monday mornin’ tale once about a weekend exploit which involved, inevitably, the effects of alcohol. He came rolling home on Saturday night, he said, to find all the family tucked soundly in bed and nae supper left out for the man o’ the hoose. And to compound the misery the electric wis aff. Coomie described his quest for sustenance, which he eventually found on a cupboard shelf in the shape of a can o’ cauld meat. Having satisfied his hunger Coomie went off to bed. Ah, but—-in the mornin’, Mrs Coomie was using some very un-Sunday-like language —because some bugger had stolen the Kit-e-Kat and the poor faimly moggie had to go hungry.
Right, back to Inkie. Inkie was a wee fella; a wee cheery, witty fella. If you ever caught him without his pit bunnet or his hooker-doon on his pow, you’d find yourself regarding a hairless noggin that resembled nothing more than an ostrich egg, white, ovoid and possessed of a mere fringe of hair at back and sides. You found Inkie the same no matter where you met him—scratching around in a scant few feet in the pit, or bellying up tae the baur in Brigen’ or the Croon or the Castle Inn. He was incorrigibly impudent and cheerful. [This could turn into a book, but we’ll try some abridgement!]
Inkie was aye his ain man, a trait which got him inevitably into some scrapes. And thus it transpired one Monday morning—-
Hammy Broon, the oversman, used to station himself in the Black Band pit bottom, about seventy yards inbye by the entry to the main endless – haulage engine so that he could greet each and every man and allocate his task as he came off the cage to start his shift. Now, it came to pass this particular Monday morning that the Auld Pit was honoured by the attentions of none other than the general manager of New Cumnock Collieries, the terrible Johnnie Bone himself. Johnnie was down there in the pit bottom monitoring the oan-gauns as Hammy organised the men. As things eventually quietened, and all the miners had apparently been dealt with, John Bone remarked to Hammy that all seemed to have gone well. Aye says Hammy, but Inkie’s no doon yet! As if on cue, the man-travelling signal sounded clearly from the cage landing. Ah–that’ll be him noo–Ah’ll jist hae a word wi’ him! says Hammy, starting for the pit bottom. Na’! came the retort from the great Johnny Bone AH’LL speak tae him this time! And off went the terrible John to nab Inkie as he stepped off the cage. And there he was, as the wee Inkie stooped under the bar of the cage gate and came toddling brightly into the lights of the pit bottom. From the awesome heights of the General Manager’s stature, and the authority of his high office— Late AGAIN, Inkie!! He thundered. Inkie never halted in his stride, gave a wee grin and a cheeky sideways glance –Aye he says, so am I, Mr Bone! And that was the sum total of Inkie’s chastisement on the day….
During the Inkie era the Colliery safety officer was a rotund wee gentleman by the name of Forsyth. He might be best imagined as Santa minus the beard. His appearance earned for him the nickname Aipple-cheeks. In spite of his benign appearance, he was a man to be reckoned with—and rightly so, in the always-dangerous environment of the coal mines. Thus it was, one day, Aipple-cheeks arrived at the top-end of a run in the Mussel coal of the Bank pit.[A run, for the benefit of those many thousands who have never scartit aboot in the dungeon depths, was a section of coal face–usually around 300 – 400 feet in length, and almost always on a gradient]. On this fateful day he ran into Inkie. With two others, Inkie was busily enlarging a fairly large chamber at the top end. When Safety inspector Forsyth intruded upon the scene. He let it be known straight away that his gast was a wee bit flabbered by the almost total lack of roof supports in the area. Inkie he snapped, what in blazes are ye doin—ye’ve got a place like a ballroom in here! No response was forthcoming, and Inkie continued to hack away busily with his pick. D’ye hear me Inkie—an’ what are ye doin’ in there anyway?? Inkie paused for an instant. Ah’m makin’ a place for the baun!! he growled. Incensed at the cheek, wee Aipple cheeks very smartly laid down the law. Enough o’ that Inkie!–I want a baton up here–an’ here–and fower trees across there! And turning, he stalked off—but, slyly, not out of earshot. Cocking his lugs, he heard the bold Inkie’s sentiments being expressed–Ah ken whit the wee barsteward wants! Aipple cheeks popped his head triumphantly around the corner– Oh, is that so, Inkie?
Aye, Mr Forsyth–ye want a baton up here an’ here an’ fower trees—- But by that time Aipple cheeks had departed, no doubt admitting to himself that he was just one more victim of the Inkie impudence!
Angus Montgomery was a well known member of another of New Cumnock’s prominent mining families. Had you made reference to the name in much of New Cumnock society, however, you might well have been treated to a blank look. It’s my guess that a mere minority could point to the Angus Montgomery you had in mind. Almost to a man [or woman], the name applied to the gentleman I am now discussing was Cock. Unless you knew Cock well, he came across as the most carnaptious, hard-necked cheeky auld b—-r you ever had the misfortune to meet. A friend of mine for a wheen o’ years, he’d still have greeted me the day before he died with the usual Hoo’ye gettin’ oan, ya big bastart! Cock was one of the expert practitioners of the poaching art in the Parish, and could be found many a day traikin’ the hills with his ferrets and his nets, making for the rabbit burrows, and checking his snare-sets along the way. Like many another New Cumnock miner, Cock was a supporter of Glenafton Juniors–at least he was, at important cup ties etc.. Some reading this will have heard of the Larkhall riot. I very much doubt if any will actually recall being there [ and I am telling this from hearsay myself]; it was an incident which occurred ‘way before the war, in the nineteen thirties. It was a Scottish Cup tie between Larkhall Thistle and the Glens. Things might have been ok, if the only away support had come from the Thistle camp—but, unfortunately, there were others. Royal Albert, another junior team from the Larkhall area, had been knocked out in the previous round, and their support was there in force to back up their second choice–Thistle. Things got a wee bit nasty when the Albert support began parading round the terrace carrying a big bruiser of a fella shoulder high, and shouting –Whae’s gonnae fight oor champion?? Well, they inevitably got a taker, in this instance he came in the shape of Quinn [Mungo] Walker [another Auld Pit miner] who quite amiably said to the champ-bearers–Jist put him doon there. They duly did so, and Quinn tapped his chin hard enough to lay him flat on his back. So the riot started. Now, during all this, Cock was at the bottom end of the field, behind the goals. He decided that he’d play his part in the proceedings by having each battered Albert supporter brought to him, so that he could tether them to the fence by the simple expedient of crossing the barbed wire, pushing their heads through, and leaving them securely–and cruelly—collared! Well, the riot finally came to an end, and the Larky support buses were duly despatched homeward [ windowless due to the brick – heaving marks – wumman-ship of the ladies of the fitba raw] with a polis warning not to stop for anything before Muirkirk.
It may be assumed from what has been read so far that Cock was a bit of a bad lad: ah, well, he was no angel, but I can but speak from experience, and I can assure one and all that while he made a very bad enemy, he was in even greater measure a very good friend. When my son Walter was born at the Bank Brae, the first person at the door was Cock’s daughter, bearing a baby outfit for the wean. But good friend or not, I had to run for my dear life the night I stuffed his pipe with oily waste in lieu of thick black. Cock came up from the pit bottom on night shift to enjoy his flask of tea and a puff of the pipe [ He ended his mining days as nightshift bottomer in the Auld Pit]. As usual, as nightshift engineer, I was in the warm berth in the winder house, having my usual back and forth repartee with Jock Murdoch, the engineman, when Cock arrived and set himself down against the wall. I watched slyly as he put a light to his precious pipe and the thick, stinking smoke began to fly off the smoldering oily waste. Cock’s expression was sheer bliss! Are ye enjoying the smoke, Auld Yin? I asked. Ye’re f—-n richt Ah am! was the reply. And then Cock noticed that he was the centre of everybody’s attention. And he got the flavour of the baccy all at once in his mouth. And I had to move smartly, skidding through yon door with a murderous Cock Montgomery at my heels!
When Cock worked in Number six Mine [the site of the man hauler disaster of 1938, and the rescue of the trapped miners from Knockshinnoch in 1950] somebody began stealing his chewing tobacco on a regular basis from his piece-bag. Neither Cock nor any of the other fellas could catch the culprit. Ah, but there was a Cock Montgomery solution to the riddle. At that time, pit ponies were part of the scene. Cock was one of those who tended the ponies. Soooooo——-he selected a fairsized leaf of baccy from his roll, and proceeded to set a trap. And what a trap! He patted the wee pony, and gently removed some of the nameless and aromatic accumulation from its willie, and wrapped it carefully in the tobacco leaf. Suffice it to say that later that day a very sick baccy thief was seen trudging up the mine gradient, stopping to vomit every few steps, and having to suffer Cock running alongside him shouting Aye —Ah got ye ya bastart—eh? I could name the baccy pincher, and I think he’s long passed on, but in deference to any relatives, I will say no more—-
Again, there’s enough for a book–but time we moved on.
Bob Belford inherited the Dey’ from his father, who was a deputy in the Auld Pit, a post held concurrently with his famous son’s sojourn there. Dey was an unforgettable character. It was hard to say whether he was employed as a worker or as an entertainer. Some of his more outrageous exploits took place while he was part of the Black Band level team [not a name given to a musical group–a genuine title for a hauler level from which the products of the black band coal seam were extracted.] Dey shared hauler-engine operation with another well known worthy, Spider Smith. Dey, however, was about to play second fiddle to no man–so from two-by-four batons, he built for himself a very elaborate throne, and organised a coronation at which he was crowned king of the Black Band Seam and Lord High President of the Auld Perkin Club. So now you know the origins of the salutation Hya doin’ auld Perkin! The throne had to be demolished; Wull Dougan made it clear to the King that either the throne goes, or YOU go!
Dey launched several [mythical] businesses and advertised on just about every coal tub and flat surface in the pit; Use Yucko, the new elaskit! and Get your Scones at Missus Scoories! Who the heck Mrs Scoorie was is anybody’s guess. Another of his personally founded organisations was the Auld Stockin’ Club. And the origin of another oft-heard salutation. Dey was far from being dumb, in spite of his hare-brained antics. Some of his Poetry [ here’s a gift, Stephen Kennedy] was well worth a read. The only drawback in this respect was [and is] that all his poetry was done in white chalk on either a coal-hutch side or on some other handy flat surface, and tended to fade and disappear with time. A couple can be revived, however, as they made enough impression on me to stick in the memory. Seen on the pit head wall, adjacent to the cage—
Deputy! Oh, deputy wi’ the Glennie lamp,
Wha’s duty is tae quest for ‘damp’
Ye’re ower-peyed, ye lazy scamp,
For ocht ye dae–
There’s better men hae stripped a stamp
For hauf yer pay!
Another verse involved the pit manager of the period, the much feared [by all bar Dey] Wullie Dougan.
Bill Dougan in his office sits,
Deductin’ bonus shifts an’ such’
Frae chaps like us, wha don’t earn much.
But never mind Lads, Bless us All–
The nicht we dance in the Chapel Hall!
The day arrived when we all had to say a goodbye to Dey. He went on holiday to Blackpool, and simply decided not to come back. Bill Dougan tried, through his father to get Dey to return, but all he got was a postcard bearing the legend–If the Pans wont go, use Yucko!!
Shortly thereafter Dey turned up in the Royal Navy, where he signed on for a three year stint. He was a day over the three years, for he got jankers for some crazy prank or other on his second last day. I never saw Dey again. I know that he went to Australia, and was involved in some daft doings connected with smuggling Japanese cameras for a while. The last I heard, from his sister Grace [A Mrs Jock Jackson in Dreghorn, Stephen, in case you ever run across the lady] Dey was married and living contentedly somewhere down under. Following is a wee glossary of mining terms for those who might be thrown by some of the poetry–
Stamp—the stretch of coal face which a miner was expected to load on to the conveyors during his day’s toil.
Glennie lamp—-the hand held Davey lamp used by the Deputies in testing the atmosphere underground.
Damp—either black damp [carbon dioxide—a suffocating gas] or fire damp the stuff of which deadly explosions are made; and also a suffocating gas, as it can reduce the oxygen percentage to dangerous levels.
Chapel Hall—a much-favoured dancing venue in Auchinleck.
Bobby was a chapper — a hammer man — in the Bank Smiddy. He assisted, most days, Wullie Young the blacksmith, he of the slavery pipe mentioned among the worthies of the Castle. Not a tall man Bobby was invariably seen wearing his inevitable hooker-doon bunnet. He was possessed of one good eye, the other being glass. It may seem strange to say, but had Bobby never lost an eye, a lot of fun would have been missing from his life. Like many another New Cumnockian, he had a nickname; he was mostly referred to as wee Dally. Bobby had a stock welcome for each new apprentice, one with which he introduced himself to me, and which, with all the rest of the gang, I looked forward to with every new arrival. Bobby would approach the new lad, hand covering his eye,and an appropriate amount of tears’ running down his cheek. Here Son—can ye look an e’e? Of course, all the lads [me included] would say something like Aye — I’ll try—
and were immediately handed a glass eye from a now-empty socket with the words — Hae a look at that yin! Another trick of his was , while standing in the bus-stop queue taking his glass eye out and throwing it up alongside the bus tae see hoo mony folk wer up the stair! Bobby had a habit of regaling all around with his past experiences — jobs, holidays, etc.. He was at it one day in the smiddy, and I quietly started taking notes as Bobby told how he started work here, stayed for ex number of years, then went to there for so long and then a number of years over at this other place —– Hey Bobby! I says ye’d better stoap! Bobby stopped. Hoo’s that? he asked, a wee bit miffed.
Cuz ye’ve worked tae ye’re a hunner an’ fower, ye haenae coontit the time at Bank Smiddy yet—an’ that’s assumin’ ye’ve been workin’ since the day ye were born!! Bobby wasn’t too pleased, but we all had a good laugh. We were still mates—he wasn’t one to bear a grudge.
WEE JIMMY THE SPANIARD
When folks mentioned Wee Jimmy, it often led to confusion as to which Wee Jimmy was under discussion; there were dozens of Wee Jimmies — and that’s still the case as I’m sure all will agree. So, in order to make certain that the listener clearly understood the identity of the wee man being named, the identification was extended to Wee Jimmie the Spaniard . So it was that this diminutive gentleman acquired the longest [ four-word] nickname in New Cumnock. I’m not aware of whether or not Jimmie [ I can’t keep on giving him his full title—too much work!] ever worked underground at Bank Pit. Somehow I don’t think he did. I can’t even describe the wee man’s function at the pit — he always seemed to have something to do, but nobody seemed able to put the finger on just what Wee Jimmie’s job was. One minute you’d find him in the fire-doors [boiler room] shovelling with the boiler man, then maybe acting message-carrier between Bank and Knockshinnoch, or turning up in the smiddy as a hammerman — or just for a blether. Jimmie was, like other Spanish folks in the local community, a refugee from the Franco regime in Spain. His belated discovery that I dwelt at Lochside prompted a stream of questions . You hev ze chickens? — Ah — you bring me kikirikee fer Chrissmus!! I learned later that kikirikee’ was a Spanish word referring to a cockerel. Jimmie had a love-hate relationship with the formidable Jock Murdoch, smiddy foreman. Jock, a very competent craftsman, had a severe health problem in the form of acute asthma. This caused him, at times, to lose working time. Jock was having his first morning back on the job after one such severe bout. He was leaning against a bench, head down, literally gasping for breath, having just accomplished the simple manoeuvre of taking a measurement with his three-foot rule. Wee Jimmie’s arrival did nothing to improve his misery. As Jimmy came toddling along the shop floor, I stood up from my labours; I knew that anything could happen. Jimmie arrived in front of the slumped form of Auld Jock, stooped forward and looked impudently up into Jock’s face. He gave a quick look aside at me — Zis auld **** no deid yit?
A bad mistake; auld Jock wasn’t quite as far gone as appearances suggested. A big left hand shot out, whipped Jimmie’s bunnet off his wee baldy heid, while the right wielded the folded three foot rule with devastating effect — bouncing it with some violence off Jimmie’s shiny pate and sending the footrule-cum-weapon soaring up among the smiddy rafters. Jimmy grabbed his bunnet and bolted, yelling at all and sundry about whit ‘at aul’ bastur dae tae me! I looked with some uncertainty at Auld Jock, and found with some relief [ I had to work wi’ him, after all] that both his mood and his health appeared to have improved considerably. In fact the spluttering he was now involved in was more due to the effects of mirth than to any asthmatic reaction. And wee Jimmie got scant sympathy. In fact, there was more than a wee bit o’ hilarity when I described the pantomime.
More could be told of Wee Jimmie the Spaniard, but I leave him now, remembering what I think is the funniest thing I ever hear coming from him — Cairter’s wife goat haricit beans oan ur laigs!
Some Couthie miners’ sayings —- F — the doacter—get the chip pot oan! Jock Freeburn to his wife, who was trying to keep him to his medical diet.
Naethin’ tae bate a sympathy orchestra playin the ‘Blue Daniel’ — An auld pit fella [later killed underground] arguing with Dan Jess about culture’ in the baths.
But there’s naethin at Hurlford, Maurice—whit the hell’s et Hurlford? Jock Freeburn’s response to advice from Maurice Shankland after his wife had produced yet another wee yin. The advice?— Ye should learn tae buy a ticket tae Kilmarnock, Jock, an jump aff at Hurlford!
A certain Mr McGregor, attending a fertility clinic at Irvine central—Doctor Disolvanhoff [sp?] — And did you both come together this time Mr Mcgregor? McGregor Oh aye, Doctor — we baith cam doon in the yin o’cloack bus!!
Davey Park, sitting in MY house, having been invited with his missus to have supper with us — Ah like gettin invitit oot for ma supper oan a Sunday nicht — it saves the meat in yer ain hoose!
Davey Park describing a lady he met in Blackpool while on holiday there with Matt Broon She wis yin o’ yon kine wi the great big H stamped oan her broo!
Hammy Broon chastising a Glesca Bevin boy when he caught him asleep underground [an offence under the Coal Mines Act] — Ye shouldnae be sleepin doon here lad! Bevin boy Ah’m no sleepin!
Hammy — Nane o that Son—yer e-en were shut! Bevin boy — Ah’ve goat ma buits oan,— but Ah’m no rinnin!!