I’ve always ran away from poverty, using it as a trampoline to launch myself off onto better things, turning my back on its existence refusing to accept its misery.
In 1942 I was born and bred in a mining community a small village called Silksworth with the pit at one end and the long arm of the law, the local cop shop at the other. An ugly mile of grimy colliery houses, Blind Lane, so aptly called; lay in between, all uniformly belching clouds of deathly smoke in to the impoverished atmosphere. Behind them ran the pits railway, which was the local playing area for our young, where a dear friend lost a leg being ran over by a train. Adding to this depressing scene was the infamous pit waste heaps. The continuous stench of sulphurous fumes rising from the hot ash was forever polluting the air in our small village. Often causing major health hazards and creating dangers for our vulnerable children. However this was partially controlled later and sprayed with the dirty water pumped up from the mines. I often wondered which was worse as neighbouring villages suffered the continuous drone from the electrically operated pit pulleys, as they menacingly ran their gruesome gauntlet swinging dangerously in the air, leaking its foul odour of unsightly substances, carrying unwanted by products to the North East coast. On arrival the pulley automatically swung out like a hopping in a fairground, around the u shaped bend, dispersing its contents from a great height into the North Sea, silhouetting the natural beauty of the area with a never ending flurry of filth.
There were of course the usual ale houses within our village, six to be exact which included the British Legion and Working men’s club. Never did they suffer from a lack of clientele. Mainly miners who ‘d march in their hob nail boots head to tail ,like little black sheep, their pearly white teeth shining against their ebony skin, wetting their whistle. A daily ritual performed after a long miserable shift in the bowls of the earth.
The grime and black coal dust together with the continual stench of slurry as it forced its deathly fumes down your throat onto your lungs, was the high price to pay for employment. How could anyone become accustomed to this god forsaken place? However these circumstances were set in stone from previous generations.
I have vivid flashbacks of leaving dad at the quaint wooden style which was close to our back yard ,handing over his bate, usually fresh tuffies which were loving made by mum, then kissing him goodbye. I watched quietly as he faded anonymously into the bleak horizon. A lonely soul unable to escape from his cast iron roots, leaning sorrowfully into the wind with his flat cap pulled tightly down to the edge of his scarf.
As far back as I can remember I promised myself that I would leave as soon as I possibly could. Nothing would stop me. I would decide my own destiny. Id work hard and escape from this black hole of misery. No son of mine would be forced to lead his life working knee deep in cold black sludge hewing coal at all the unearthly hours god sent.
Little did I know then the politics involved, when ambition was seeking the next hot meal. I knew education was the route out, but hating the regimental life of my school days made it difficult for me to learn. Along with my frivolous personality and natural attraction to trouble I soon became recognised as a non conformist, which secretly pleased me, how else could I break free.
I religiously sauntered my way every day to the nearby village school with its small play yard and strict teachers where yesterdays battles still hung heavily in the air.
One of my dreaded teachers disliked me immensely, she had a terrifying spider mole growing out of her plump cheek which on cold days, seemed to hold a crusty fly in the middle. Her soulless eyes only showing signs of life when she was smacking some ones ungrateful brat in her care, usually me. She often caught me daydreaming and marched quickly up the isle braying arduously on my wooden desk. Id smile and say
“Sorry Miss, then completely ignore her returning my gaze to the friendly sun smiling mischievously through the tiny square glass panes held in a dilapidated frame. Beckoning me to come out and play to escape from my boring class room. However, with the thoughts of facing the consequences kept me firmly glued to my wooden seat, if only, I’d sigh, if only.
At fifteen I left knowing not much more than when I started, although I truly believed it to be everyone’s fault but my own. I defiantly followed my sister Barbara to the local factory which employed a sizable bulk of the school leavers in Sunderland. Looking back I feel I moved from one regimental institution to another the only difference being at the latter Id be paid a pittance and be expected to be grateful. Right I thought in naivety this is it; I’ll work and save hard.
The years flew by and every penny I earned was wittered away. No matter how hard I tried poverty wrapped its familiar blanket around me. I then realised life was not quite as easy as I thought, maybe I could find a partner and together we could escape this vicious trap. At twenty one I fell in love and married, the usual dreams of romance and eternal happiness filled my heart. Poverty would now be a thing of the past. I would spread my wings and sore like a bird.
This was short lived as I fell pregnant unexpectedly, but was blessed with a son ten months after being married. To my surprise, the happiness we felt could not be matched. The joy he brought into our life was beyond belief. He was the sole reason for living. How could this be? Everything I had always dreamed of came with a price.
Contentment now in place we settled down and went on to have two more beautiful children who then gave us four beautiful grandchildren the happiness continued to snowball. My deep rooted principles however remained the same, education provides the key to open many doors and I did partly fulfil my promise, in that my children all went on to further education and have reaped the benefits. Life is still hard but the reasons to carry on are not materialistic. Love and support is the recipe for success.
Now in my twilight years together with my loving husband of forty seven years my views on poverty have changed, from the grim trampoline of youth to the cold companion of maturity, but the richness spawned in between has created an emotional wealth beyond compare. A sea of love and comradeship which are now treasures of the past.
Happily retired in that same small village Silksworth we often meander up to our local beauty spot, the ski slope, which once was the pit. The forgotten place where much suffering was bore by our loved ones, the bane of my young life. It is now embraced in greenery, a beautiful lake where white swans glide and young ones play in safety, unbeknown of the pain and suffering of those bygone days, but unlike the poet Davies, I do have time to stand and stare, pondering
Where once she stood above the ground
That mammoth wheel that grinded round
Carrying miners below the earth
Hewing black gold for all their worth
Hungry souls with thoughts on food
Difficult conditions, misunderstood
A comradeship no wedge could part
Fourteen years old, hence he did start
A drawn black face and little cap
Pulled tightly where his scarf did flap
Weary feet in hobnail boots
Anchored lamely in his roots
A tepid smile concealed his sorrow
Head bent low in shoulders furrow
A scene to sadden any heart
A punctured pride from poverties dart
Fifty long years he trod that path
Suppressing turmoil bottling wrath
And every time that wheel did turn
Inside our hearts despair did yearn
Trudging up that long black hill
Where coal dust floated deathly still
A coldness running through my spine
Helpless feelings undefined
But now that pit is past and gone
Twix the setting of the sun
Shafts heads mast so bold and bare
Each new horizon where I stare
No more the ebony silhouette
A beauty spot of etiquette
That solitary shaft of years gone by
Surrounding beauty holds the eye
Children play within that park
Which once harboured sadness, in the dark?
Long since forgotten times played its part
But none canst heal my broken heart