Wednesday, January 10, 2007

Pit Ponies

As long ago as Long Ago, and as long ago again as that - which takes us back to about 1943 - the Communist was a Bevin Boy, working as a miner in the Yorkshire coalfield. His main claim to fame was the biggest pair of miners’ boots in Yorkshire – he was only 5’8” tall but has size eleven feet.

Some of the time, he used to work with pit ponies. These poor animals lived down below ground for fifty weeks of the year – the other two they came up to see sunlight and green fields before plunging down into the depths again.

Not being able to devote much time to normal pony activities such as grazing and looking at the view, they spent fifty weeks of the year trying to outwit the miners.on a day-to-day basis, and, thinking longer-term, devising cunning plans for the abolition of coal mining, which they finally managed to put into practice, mostly, but not until about 1985.

Meanwhile, their daily duties involved walking several miles in the pitch dark accompanied by a miner with a light round his waist – they didn’t have lamps on their helmets in those days – and then pulling trucks full of coal back again.

The ponies could count, and under Pony Union rules they were not prepared to pull more than two trucks of coal. They were perfectly able to pull three: they just didn’t want to, and who could blame them? Ponies, they reasoned, were not meant to live in caves and if they were forced to do so they would do the absolute minimum to get by.

So, the Communist would attach the first truck to the pony – CLINK - and the pony accepted this with reasonably good grace. The second one he accepted – CLINK! - with reasonably ill grace. But if he heard the clink of a third truck that was it, he wasn’t going anywhere. So the whole of the Yorkshire coalfield was full of miners attaching the first two trucks very noisily and then a third one in complete silence, so the pony wouldn’t know.

Also, if the pony reached a narrow part of the mine, with the miner walking ahead, he would simply stop in the narrow part secure in the knowledge that it was nearly impossible for the miner to reach him to get him to continue.

One time the Communist walked the three miles to the coal face with the pony and then tied him up for a short while. However, untying reins was one of the things the pony had been practising in the long hours when he wasn’t in a field, so when the Communist returned to the pony he had legged it back to the stable, where he was later discovered muttering to his companion about how the end of this coal mining lark was to be brought about.

Three miles, in pitch darkness, with ropes across the passage and many twists and turns. Clever animals, pit ponies.


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