The Last Shift
Danny switched on the kitchen light and peered at the clock on the wall above the cooker. It was 5.10am, the middle of Winter and two hours before the central heating came on. Butch opened one bloodshot eye, gave Danny a tokenwag, sighed and settled down again in his basket. He wouldn't budge until there was a chance of a titbit or two around seven thirty. The calendar on the wall above Butch's doggy bed had a red ring around today's date, the eighteenth of December, two thousand and fifteen.
On the work top sat Danny's battered flask, washed and sterilized and his snap tin containing his lovingly wrapped favourite snap, hand-cut ham and mustard on thick white bread. Janice had prepared these for him last thing last night, as she had done for the past forty two years. Danny switched on the kettle and stared through the kitchen window at the dark morning. Droplets of rain slid down the glass and the cold
darkness stared back at him, completely oblivious to the enormity of
the coming day. He filled his flask, packed his haversack, put on his
coat and looked round at Butch as he opened the back door. He was now snoring gently and just as oblivious.
Danny's pride and joy sat on the drive looking cold and lonely, but immediately flashed two bright orange smiles at him as he pressed the key fob. They were soon on their way through the sleeping estate, taking all too familiar turns to an all too familiar destination. He switched on the radio and settled into his thirty minute journey with Radio Leeds to keep him company.
Today's headline topic, as he knew it would be, was the the sadness expressed by everyone at it being the last day for the few remaining miners of the last remaining deep shaft coal mine in the country, Kellingley Colliery. Today was the end of an era, the end of an industry and the end of a way of life for an entire community. In the dark privacy of his pride and joy Danny was suddenly overcome by a desire to weep. He made no attempt to fight it, in fact he pulled into a lay-by and wallowed in the indulgence. This had been building for a long time, the rumours of possible closure, the defiant denials, British Coal's assurances that if targets were met etcetera, etcetera, etcetera; but deep down, in the deep mine, they all knew in their vulnerable hearts what was coming and today it had finally arrived.
As he turned into the main entrance he glanced across at the monument as he always did, the monument to the nineteen men who had died at this pit in the fifty years of its existence. Between 1965 and today, nineteen friends had been killed and dozens of people had had their lives turned upside down. Danny had known and respected eighteen of them and had loved one of them, his son Ian, killed in a roof fall on the twenty seventh of September, two thousand and eleven. Danny had eighteen hidden scars, an open wound that wouldn't heal and a tear stained face as he clocked on for the very last time.
'Danny boy, don't tell me you've been peeling onions as well,' yelled Doug Cameron across the locker room. 'You'll be the third one this morning.'
'Just some dust in my eye Doug, must have rubbed too hard.'
'Dust my arse,' quipped Kev Wallace, 'he's just opened his wallet, first time since nineteen ninety seven when he last bought a round in the Social.'
The gang of eight on Danny's shift were now changed and ready and bantering busily as they headed for the lift cage. They had worked together as a team on the same shift for more than seven years and were now inseparable friends, totally reliable workmates and each one dying a little inside. They had done the hardest and most dangerous job on earth with fortitude and diligence, hitting targets and overcoming unbelievable odds. They had carried each other through the difficult times in life and had come to know and trust each other; even with their lives as they had sometimes had to do. Every strength and every weakness had been exposed underground, creating a bond between men that was only ever equalled in the trenches of the Somme. Today they would go their separate ways, but the bond could never be broken.
They handed their discs to the banksman and descended at breakneck speed eight hundred metres into the bowels of the earth, their comfort zone. After the three mile paddy ride and a half mile trek they were back at the face, coaxing the cutter into life and feeding the belt with fossilised vegetation destined for Ferry Bridge power station. The banter continued above the noise and dust as the team of eight fought
silently to overcome their apprehension, not just of what the future
held for them, but how they could possibly survive it without each
other. These were the toughest guys in the world about to be tested
to the limit by the most traumatic event in their lives.
Back at the surface they were greeted by camera crews from Look North and Calendar and those unable to avoid an interview expressed sadness at the situation and did their best not to show any sign of weakness. They finally retreated to the shower block where they scrubbed each others backs as they always had, a final bonding before they faced the unknown. They may well enjoy the company of friends and colleagues in the future at B&Q or McAlpine or Network Rail, but nothing will ever come close to what had just been so needlessly destroyed.