A Noel Guthrie Acrylic on canvas

A Noel Guthrie Acrylic on canvas
The Cockabully Hunters --- from an original painting by Noel Guthrie

Thursday, 24 November 2011

The Coal Miners Daughter

Charlie Blackler had a bit of land out behind Cheviot.  Along with Marjorie, his wife of thirty or so years, they lived in a little cottage where they could overlook the ocean. 
Marjorie, a fanatical housekeeper, was a plump little redhead, with a temper to match, so some say.  Yet, in all the years I knew that couple, never once did she raise her voice.  She kept that cottage as neat as a new pin, inside and out.
She swore by the old black coal range in the kitchen, it was, according to her, the only method to cook by.  Maybe she was right, for I have never known anyone like Marje, who could slap up a feed fit for a King, in two shakes of a dead dogs tail.  She would have roast lamb when I called on several occasions, with roast spuds, parsnip, and pumpkin.           
But those scones that came out of that oven, you have no idea of how they tasted, they just melted in your mouth.
 There was a flash electric stove at one end of the bench, but I don’t think she ever used it.  When I was there, it was supporting a beautiful crockery vase, filled with a selection flowers out of her garden.
Charlie, well, he was the sole breadwinner in the family. The little lifestyle block was not quite enough to support them both, so to top up their earnings; Charlie sought casual work from around the district. 
My job took me around the countryside, and I called in when the time allowed.  This one time I stopped by, it would have been around the 1960s, and Charlie was grading spuds for a joker by the name of Kinsman, not far from the village.
He was a dapper little man our Charlie, perhaps five seven in his socks, and with a hairdo, the Brill Cream Kid would have been proud of.  Actually, he was the most polite casual worker I had ever come across in my travels, never ever used bad language, and always offered a seat to a lady. 
However, he did have a fondness for a dram or two of the hard stuff, double malt whisky, as a preference.  Get a few nips into old Charlie, well he wasn’t that old really, maybe fifty, and out would come those stories. 
As I said, I called in on my way to somewhere else, just to see the couple. 
“Come down to the pub for a noggin or three,” he said to me.  Marjorie gave him a nod.
“You can stay the night, if that’s your concern, so you can have a couple with me, can’t you?”
We got down to the pub, a cozy little place; I’d never been there before.  Even though Charlie did not drink a huge amount, it was the camaraderie, and all the locals knew him. 
We got chatting away about this and that, before I realized, the group of blokes around our table had begun to increase.  Charlie, it seems, was more than just a bit of a storyteller?  He was a legend for tales in the district, so I found out.                                   
Our visit to the pub happened to coincide with early winter, and Charlie hadn’t yet fully warmed up from grading spuds all day in that cold and drafty shed.  After a couple of snorts, his nose was taking on a pinkish tinge.  It wasn’t until Maggie, that’s the bar maid, shoveled some coal into the fireplace, that Charlie suddenly said. 
“Now, that just reminds me, I need to get some coal for Marjorie.”  Then he smiled, “did I ever tell you fella’s about the Coal Miners Daughter?”  Every body shook their head in unison.
To me, this was a whole new feature of Charlie that I had never witnessed before.  It’s amazing what a couple of whiskies will do to a man.
“Yes.”  Charlie said, wriggling around on his stool in an effort to get more comfortable.
“At the time, Marje and I hadn’t been married all that long, our only vehicle back then, was an old 1929 Model A Ford truck.  Man, she’d done some miles that old girl.  It was about this time of the year, and the coal in the shed was getting down a bit.  I wasn’t doing much that particular day, so we decided to take the truck, and go for a run up to the mine, and load up for the remainder of the winter. 
We covered ourselves with rugs and so on, it was about a twenty-mile drive and the old girl was a bit drafty.  Well anyway, we arrived at the mine, and backed the truck into a heap of slag.  In this heap, were these lumps of coal, as big as Ted Connors dunny, man they were huge.”
I said to Marje,  “be good to get one of those lumps on the old truck, be a load in itself.” 
“You have got to be joking,” she said to me.  “Just climbing out of bed, you put your back out, imagine what you’d do with that lump.”
“Well.”  I mumbled, “I thought with your muscle we’d just about do it.”
“In your dreams Sonny boy.”  She laughed at me.
“Very well,” I muttered,  “I suppose we better start on the little stuff for a kick off.” 
Just at that precise moment, this shadow crossed my path.  I looked up, and here was this woman, in a set of dirty overalls. 
“You people right,” she asked in a gravelly voice. 
Cripes she was whopper, couple of rounds in a king size bed with her, and you’d be in traction for months. Of course, as a joke, I had to say we were just going to lift 
“You.  You little squirt, you couldn’t lift my shovel, let alone put that lump onto the truck.”  She slapped her hands together and spat into her palms, then smiled at me.  “Get out of the way shorty.” 
She waddled up to the nearest lump of coal. 
Look, without a word of a lie, she must have been six eight in her socks, hands the size of a leg of ham and a bum on her the size of the back end of a double-decker bus. 
Wearing an old crumpled slouch hat, she smiled, exposing this huge set of teeth and gums.  I’ll swear to this day, there’s a Clydesdale connection, somewhere in the family genes.
Anyway, she looked at this lump of coal for a minute or two, and then she balled her fist and drove it right into the centre of this lump.  I stood there with my mouth open, as a crack appeared in that block and it fell in half.  I was expecting to see her hand all mangled, but she just blew on her knuckles and picked up the biggest half, and waddled over to the truck and just dropped it on the deck. 
The old Model A groaned a couple of times; the front wheels jumped of the ground, but then she seemed to settle back and take the load. 
“I think that’ll be enough for the wee thing,” she barked.
 I nodded in agreement. 
Marje went up to her and thanked her for her trouble. “My name is Marjorie,” she took her hand. 
“Oh you poor darling, that must have hurt.”
“I’m Bess.”  The coal lady said, looking down on Marje.  “Big Bess, they call me.  The old man owns the place, and no, it didn’t hurt lady.  You better toughen up the wee fella’ though.”
“Have you paid this lady.”  Marge says to me, still
embracing the hand of that giantess.
“No,” I said, “you can pay her and I’ll get the truck started.”  I got in, adjusted the spark, and pushed the button on the floor with my foot.  She was dead.
“Blast” I said, and shoved my hand under the seat, pulling out the starting handle.  I decided I’d have to crank the old girl.  Placing the handle in its slot, I gave it a turn, but to no avail, not even a little kick.  I adjusted the spark again and gave another couple of turns.  This time she gave me a kick, and almost broke my arm and flattened me on my back. 
I looked up, as this shadow appeared to tower over me again.  Bess grabbed the crank handle. 
“Move, squirt.  For Gods sake, get out of the road.”
            She slammed the handle into the slot with a clang.  Bloody hell; I was expecting to see the crankshaft shoot out the exhaust.  Then she gave that handle a bit a turn, but nothing happened.  So she rolled up her sleeves, shook her boobs a couple of times, and then with her feet apart and steady as a rock, she laid into that handle with an almighty swing.  You won’t believe it, but that motor gave a kick, Bess stood there, like the rock of Gibraltar, hanging onto the handle so tight, that the old truck just flipped itself clean over onto its back, coal and all.  Bess just stood there jiggling the handle in her hand, and her mouth wide open.  “Jeepers,” she said, “that’s the first time I done that!”
I picked myself up and sauntered over to the truck.  I gave it a kick in the headlight, shook my fist, and yelled. “There, take that, you bitch!”
There was a howl of laughter from the crowd, and someone shouted Charlie another dram of the hard stuff. 

I laughed for month after that story.  However it was the last I saw of Charlie and Marjorie for quite a while after that.  I had been relocated to another sales district.  Yet I still recall that night, just as if it were yesterday. 
I still laugh at that story from time to time, when the memories come round to Charlie.  I have even tried to imagine a romp with Big Bess, and wondered if it would have been worth time in traction.  Anyway, I’ll never know now, will I?
Sadly, my friend and outrageous raconteur, passed away not so long ago. 
During the service for Charlie, many of his mates from around the district, spoke of him with great affection, and repeated some of his stories. 

That would have been the only time in my life I have ever witnessed a Minister of Religion, almost wetting himself in Church Pulpit, at some of those tales. 
Even though Charlie has gone, and I do miss him.  His memory, along with his hilarious stories, will remain forever, deep in my heart.
Marjorie still tends to the garden, as far as I know.  I must call in again sometime, for another taste of my favourite scones. 

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