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Ho Ho Ho - A Christmas Miscellany

It’s nearly Christmas, but the weather is nearly July! Flogging coal at the moment is like trying to sell sand to Margate Council. It’s a good job that Jenny is good at it. Selling, that is. A picture such as the one below generally helps to remind people that winter does sometimes happen, and, hopefully, spurs them on to order more than usual - “just in case”.

Winter Scenes - 66


These long, dark evenings provide a minute or two to catch up with things that have languished on the “to-do” list for years. Obviously, the pub is an option, but getting there at five o’clock every evening is a little dangerous to say the least. One of the items on said list is to sort out my old photos. I’ve been rooting through what I call “my collection" lately, (a fancy name for a load of carrier bags filled with loose, unsorted photos), and I have also managed to get the old steam-powered scanner fixed with me trusty rusty computer-spanners. Some of the pictures are interesting, but the quality is poor - the old Box-Brownie was not really up to much. 

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The above photo is from the late eighties, and shows me, (with hair), on Roach with Achilles in tow. My mate Amer is steering the butty, and I expect that we were on our way to the Black Country Museum from Gas Street. These were good weekends back then, as the whole of Gas Street decamped to the museum, drank the pub dry, and populated the annual barn dance with inebriates.  I have to say that the canal-scape of Birmingham was more interesting in those days. There’s a heap of modern flats (sorry, apartments) built alongside the canal now, peopled by folk with little interest in the waterway. I expect that it’s all to do with making pots of money.

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This is more like it - a wintery scene showing Jenny steering Roach along the Dudley No 2 canal. Roach is loaded with loose coal, 10 tonnes of house-coal, and 10 tonnes of Taybrite smokeless briquettes, all loaded at the wharf on the Netherton Tunnel Branch at Tividale. This was during the last Foot and Mouth epidemic, when we were confined to Withymoor Island moorings for the duration. We bagged all the coal up there, and delivered it to our customers by road. It was a trying time as British Waterways had shut the canal system down, presumably in an attempt to show that they were playing a part in the containment of the disease. We were able, however, to drive to all our customers, even the ones in rural Gloucestershire who lived next to fields where cattle carcasses were being incinerated. These were terrible times for farmers with livestock, our own landlord being affected, which is why we were working from Withymoor Island. Luckily, The Old Swan, otherwise known as Ma Pardoes, is just up the road from Withymoor Island, so we made the best of a bad job.

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Another random selection.Years ago, 1998 to be precise, I spent a week in a caravan at Tyn-y-Wern Colliery. This was not for my holidays. Tyn-y-Wern was a drift mine, situated on the hill-side above Tower Colliery, near Merthyr Tydfill, and was well-known at the time as being a source of steam coal, much sought after for steam rallies, quite a few of whom we supplied at that time. The mine itself was in the middle of nowhere, a few miles down a forest track along which I towed a borrowed caravan with my £100 Ford Sierra. I had decided to try bagging the coal at the pit-head as we were getting loads of slack in the lorry-loads delivered to our yard. Welsh steam coal is very soft, and it was breaking up whilst being loaded into the lorry, and further broken up in transit. We were getting around four tonnes of slack in every twenty tonne load. I had an interesting time there, and was taken down the mine for a look. I have absolute respect for the miners who worked there; the main roadway ran straight down an incline, with just enough room for the rope-hauled railway trucks, or “drams” as they were known. The main roadway was supposed to be five feet high, but was nearer four feet in many places. It was hard work to just walk down into the mine, never mind put in a shift shovelling coal onto a chain conveyor whilst on ones knees. My experiment did work, but living in a caravan miles from anywhere in a forest by myself (not to mention a five mile drive to the pub in Rhigos) was never going to be a career move. And I can’t speak Welsh.

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Anyway, back to Christmas. We will be having a half day off on Christmas Day, (well deserved, obviously) and will be back at it Boxing day, I expect.

Jenny and I wish you all a merry Christmas, and I’ll sign off with a picture of me enjoying the festive cheer last year.

P.S. Don’t forget to get your orders in before the Siberian winter hits.

coalboat@waitrose.com © John Jackson 2014