For this last Saturday before Christmas, I thought I’d share this fantastic piece by David Evans, which made me think of summer and time’s passage. David is writing top-notch stuff right now and I know just how much you folks love his work. As Ever, thanks to David for all his effort. This blog wouldn’t be what it is without him.
The sands in the egg-timer were slipping away. In the bustle and hustle of everyday life in Walsall Wood people were just too busy to notice. New housing estates, new ‘overspill’ people were arriving almost daily, and their children felt the discomfort and confusion that every pupil experiences when faced with a room full of inquisitive, half-smiling faces. Soon, usually at playtime, the newness and strangeness evaporated, just as soon as the Dordon skipping rope was let loose, or the half-inflated case-ball was kicked.
Away! This was the word which had previously meant that annual, exciting excursion in a coach, with the football team, to such adventurous distant places as Gornall, or even… Away! An unforgettable day away with the Sunday School , Marching Band , Boys Brigade, or the Working Men’s Club, to Malvern Hills, to Matlock Baths or Drayton Manor.
Away! Loading the car had become the fashionable expedition , with a picnic hamper full of ham and marge sarnies, a Thermos full of tepid, tinny tea, to be enjoyed in a field that exuded the unmistakable aroma of cows’ buns. Here, and despite nature’s numerous hidden sticky landmines, the game of cricket was attempted. Everything was to hand, a bat, to be shared, one set of bails, and a well-worn cricket ball, mostly covered in mangled leather. Whilst the ladies watched, and knitted, and watched, and knitted, occasionally smiling that matronly patronising smile in the general direction of, well, anybody, really, their husbands, sporting bracers specially tuned for the requirements of day, and the accompanying squad of assorted lads, ‘carried on from where the Druids had left off’. Play!
Away! The post-druid chants and rites worked, and without warning sudden rainfall drenched everything and everyone.
Grandparents, ensconced inside the numerous cars around the perimeter, looked on blankly, rhythmically rumbling their dentures and nodding gently for no apparent reason.
Away! Those new creations, teenagers, (Brylcreem, Rivet Levis, Kardoma check shirt, their ‘hens’ in pleated skirts, white socks, pumps, and incredible conical blouses) had gone away on their new motorcycles, those gleaming Triumphs,Velocettes, Nortons or FannyBees, away for the day to enjoy their new freedom in the countryside with their friends. Away, to stand by these machines, to compare notes, to share news about their friends in the forces.
Away! To be engaged in Military Service, lads only. To leave their homes and go far, far away, and then to return transformed into an adult. Two years in the compulsory service of the monarch, vital to the defence of the nation, served initially by whitewashing coal, peeling spuds, and ultimately becoming bosom pals of Lee Enfield, no less; but to emerge from this experience confident, assertive, disciplined and independent .
New homes were now being built not far away, in Cheslyn Hay, Great Wyrley, Aldridge, Burntwood, Chasetown, Chase Terrace, but hardly any in Walsall Wood. This generation was about to move away, to live, to marry, to work, to raise families. New jobs in the nearby industries, at Aldridge especially, gave this younger generation the one chance to move away from the omnipresent coal mine which once had employed over a thousand men.
Away! Some of the post-war generation had gone away to study in universities or colleges, a thing unheard of before the war. There they trained and qualified, then went away to wherever their new careers took them, to the emerging new nations and colonies, far, far away!
Then, one day in 1964, the pit-ponies were brought up from the mine. Not to spend the industrial fortnight closedown time munching and nibbling blindfold in the field in Brownhills Road only to be taken back to the dark stables underground to resume their work. No, this time it was to be their own, final departure. The pit was closing down. The winding gear would stop. The pit hooter would sound for its last time. The ponies were going away for ever; away to their merciful retirement in the beautiful lush green countryside, away to hear and see birds, to feel hedges and gates, to see clouds , feel rain and snow, to nuzzle each other. Away!
Slowly, piece by piece, girder by girder, brick by brick and load by load the sweat-soaked, grimed, broken body and heart of Walsall Wood, the Coppy Pit was dismembered, dismantled, demolished and taken, taken away.
David Evans December 2011