I can feel the hairs stand up on the back of my neck, not in the usual way when you're scared or
proud. This is reminding me of pain as a child. You must be at least in your fifties if you can remember
those hand-held hair clippers. My Great Uncle Tommy used to administer the pain. A sharp pain,
starting slowly and building up to a crescendo as he ripped the hair off the back of my neck. This ritual
was repeated about once a month from the age of about five or six and I was alway taken along for
the treatment by my Grandad. I could never understand why he then put himself through the same
pain at the hands of the less than dextrous Uncle Tommy.
Apart from these episodes of pain, evoked by the very sight of hair clippers, the memories I have of
my Grandad are always of fun and of the many lessons he taught me. Maybe there was a hidden lesson in these monthly visits- certain times in your life will be painful, grin and bear it.
There were more pleasant visits and different lessons to learn. Like on a Friday I was taken to the pit
where my Grandad worked as a miner. He had to go in person and collect his wages. No bank
transfers in those days. He was always at pains to show me the areas where the miners collected
their Davy lamps and their I.D. tags, before going down the shaft in the cage. He explained how they
disappeared down the shaft and then had to walk some distance or hitch a lift on a bogie (a truck),
before arriving at their seam. He often worked all eight or ten hours of his shift in a height of eighteen
inches, six inches of which was water- what he called, "working wet." And all of that, week on week,
year on year.
The portrait was grim but exciting, seeing all the men come up at the end of the shift, black from head
to toe. Grandad's pit, he told me, was posh. They had showers, whilst many others had to walk home.
Yes, walk home, black. The rider to all this was that I shouldn't go for a job like his. The mesage was
spelt out clearly, I should use my brains. The lesson on the value of education was not lost and I duly
worked hard at school so as not to have to, "work wet."
Other memories are evoked about this era of my early childhood too, still centred around my
Grandad. On more than one occasion he took me to see the annual Durham Miners Gala, a fun day
out with lots of noise and colour, filling the streets of Durham, from the parade of brass bands and
banners, to the candy floss sellers. There was always a feeling of immense pride, with each pit having
its own embroidered banner, depicting some moment of history and the life of the pit. The oompapa of
the brass bands streaming down the crowded streets. Many of the miners and their families played in
those bands and were proud to do so.
Pride. That was perhaps the lesson. Pride in a job well done and pride in working hard to provide for
your family. The lessons were all there for me and without even realising, I picked them up- I hope.
No need to "work wet". Work hard for all you get in life and be proud of any achievements. Simple
lessons from a man who left school at fourteen but was a master of the University of Life