The Cage Incident
Twelve thirty PM – noon shift
Pit canteen – dinner – mug of tea
Chatting – pit banter
Pop in to shop – for chewing ’baccer
A tin of snuff – last cigarette – ’til we ride the pit
From the start of the shift – once we walk on to The Cage
Our lives – in danger
Threatened – from the beginning
Should you not pack an ounce of fear
You’re just not right in the head! The Pit is lethal!
Danger – every step we take! Always – we are conscious – of that!
From the pit canteen – pit shop to the bathhouse
Strip off – one last cigarette – conversions – jokes – pit banter
Put on our orange overalls – leather – steel-capped boots – white helmets
Fill our Dudleys with water – hope it will see us through the shift
We walk across the pit yard – to the lamp cabin
From the lamp cabin – to the winding house
Cracking jokes – we go across the Pit Yard
Towards our fate
The sun shines above us
As if the sun is – pitying us?
As if like the sun knows what awaits us down there – below – her rays
Shining – down – warming us – a temptress – is the sun!
Tempting us to turn around – head away – from where we’re heading
From where we were going to – from – what we we’re going to!
To where the sun had not shone down for hundreds of thousands of years
Could well be millions – for all we know – or care there much
Think of us dressed in our bright orange overalls – we reluctantly walk
Some say, “Fook it! Turn back!” – well – that’s it for them!
The temptress sun won out – at least – over – two or three!
Well to The Welfare Club – then catch the day bus back home!
Tatty – torn – ripped – stained with oil – grease – are our orange overalls
From the shifts we’d completed
Survived – that week – down The Pit
Lamps fixed – attached to our white helmets
Helmets – showing clear evidence of The Pit – uncertainty
Evidence – of being hit – somer’t – solid – hitting our helmets!
Some hang lamp cabals – around our necks
Batteries and self-rescuers on our belts
Self-rescuers – a device – should fire break out
Always a probability!
Time and conditions allowing
Lads – trained – to remove helmets – pull of the lid
Off the metal steel box – affix – the device over nose and mouth
Helmets – back on
Device – purifies – the air we breath – well, breathable air!
Forty five minutes to walk out – to safety
Providing we are able to walk – walk to – Pit Bottom
The most experienced collier could make the wrong decision
Go in, “Bye!” And perish
The Pit would be total blackness – lamps would be of little use
Reveal – show – nothing – only dust – coal and stone – flickers
So we hope self-rescuers will not be needed that day
Black leather steel-capped boots – carry us – as each step we take
Takes us closer to – The Cage!
Idle chat – jokes – pit banter – some even funny!
Walk towards the winding house – to The Cage
Across – The Pit Yard
Three decks – thirty five men to a deck – that will take us down
We each hand over our brass riding check to the banksman – for the records
We have two – one we kept – each one has our pit number – stamped
A mile below ground – Kent’s green and pleasant land
In to a world that not even Dante could’ve imagined
Take us down – down – down – to Hades! Man-made hell – under Kent
We give our ridding brass token to the on-siter
Walk on to The Cage
When each man is on – the gates are pulled shut – shutting us in
We hear the sound of bell tolling twice – signalling, “Going in, bye.”
Some chat – others crack jokes – others are quiet
Then suddenly – without warning – the cage drops!
Out of control! All goes quiet now – so quiet – the hearts beat – faster
No panic – that – goes on inside our minds – minds frozen – with fear!
I swear I could hear the speeding hearts – beating – blood pumping – heavy breathing
All are thinking, “Is this it?”
Most – trying not to think! Minds trying to blank
Out thoughts! Stop – thinking!
The Cage plunders down – down – towards – the sump – the very bottom
Of the Pit – Hades – awaits us all – certain death – to embrace us all in death!
Total silence – The Cage – drops us – ever downwards – to Hades
Will The Cage ever stop? Before it crashes into a twisted – bloody heap
Its human cargo broken – a pile of broken bones – lifeless – bodies
Thigh bones – leg bones – shin bones – foot bones – forced – through our yielding
Soft flesh – our blood – released – mixing with the coal and stone dust – oil and grease
Stagnant – water – oh, what a stench – down there – where we’re going to perish – down – there!
Of the impact – the revolting mess – that would be – us – I know of that
I’d read of such an “incident” – I hoped none of the lads had!
Then as suddenly – The Cage – stops its deadly plunge – emergency braking
System – applied – it – works! Thank fook!
All the lads were very – very quiet – each – still in fear of what
Could’ve been – our ending that day!
A lad snaps out of his fear – (that were me!)
Says to one and all:
“Don’t know about you lads, but I’ve just dyed me orange overalls a deep brown from the inside!”
A spontaneous cry of “You bastard!” – broke the silence!
Yes – a brown trouser moment!
We had survived – something – rather nasty
An electrician had been working on the wiring – above – caused the trip
With his booted foot
The emergency braking system kicked in
Saving us from certain misfortune – oblivion – death!
The Cage Incident – never made it into the news – as no one died – that day!
© 2011 Ken D. Williams
The Dyslexic Wordsmith.