Father’s Day, Coal Dust

by | Mar 10, 2020 | Life, Shorts | 0 comments

“I don’t like the other Dad” my brother would whinge as we got on one of three busses

My little brother used to think we had two Dads. There was our Dad, the fella that sat at the kitchen table reading the Daily Mirror racing section sucking a short wooden bookie’s pencil like a 30’s gangster. Smoke would be curling up from the nearby ashtray into his eyes as he squinted at the lists of runners at some race meeting or other. His auburn hair was neatly slicked back with butter he’d scooped from the dish, a long finger shaped gash out of the shiny yellow pat nearby evidence of his buttery felony.

Then there was the other Dad, even though they were one and the same person.

“I don’t like the other Dad,” my brother would whinge as we got on one of three busses to start our ninety minute journey from Fawdon to Scotswood Road. When we arrived at our destination the long straight avenue was punctuated with ale houses on every corner, spilling out their contents of grey clad workmen bedecked in the uniform flat cap waving pints of amber liquid. More of the brew would be spilt than drank but that didn’t matter it was payday, plenty more where that came from. We ran the gauntlet of this drunken but friendly rabble, Mam fending off comments that I didn’t understand with retorts.

“In your dreams, Bonny Lad,”or “Fat chance shorty.”

We arrived at the huge black wrought iron gates and stood at an innocuous metal door chiselled into the blackened stone wall. The rusting enamel plate on the door read PAYMASTER and listed the opening hours, Thursday 11.00 – 13.00. There, standing by the door, which was split horizontally like one of those stable doors, stood a tall muscular man black from head to toe in coal dust, bearing no resemblance to his alter ego at the kitchen table. He took a giant step forward towards Mam but was stopped in his tracks by the wave of the tiny white hand.

“Come no further John Forster, this is me best twin set.” The huge man staggered back as if hit by a sledge hammer.

“Sorry pet I forgot meself there”.

“Hand it over before you end up like this lot.” Mam demanded nodding in the direction of the nearest crowd of inebriates, spilling out of The Clasper Arms like ants out of a nest. As the hulk thrust his massive black hand into his pocket, he gave a me a wink and a shake of his head. Unlike the smoke hastened squint at the kitchen table, here the whites of his eyes were intense against his blackened face like those dancers on the telly on a Saturday night. I half expected him to start singing Cole Porter in a southern American drawl. He reluctantly withdrew the small brown packet from his trousers and slowly handed it to Mam. She immediately snatched it, checking to see if the seal was broken. Satisfied it was intact she began to count the coloured notes that were neatly folded and protruding from one corner of the packet. Placated by her examination, she carefully tore open the packet and pulled out a small red note. It had a picture of the young Queen and “ten shillings” in fancy writing on one side. She handed this tiny token of Dad’s week of toil to him with the words.

“Don’t spend it all at once”. All the while my brother was hiding behind Mam fighting off the urge to look at this monster. When he finally plucked up the courage to peek from between Mam’s long stocking clad legs, the man quickly bent down and shouted.

“Boo!”, staggering back in a peel of laughter. The little fella clung onto Mams legs and let out an ear piecing scream which must have alerted every stray dog in the West End not to mention the drunken throng outside the Clasper. Mam lifted her patent leather handbag and before the creature could duck, dealt him a glancing blow to the left temple sending his huge flat cap tumbling to the ground. At that she spun on her matching patent leather stilettos and marched off in the direction of the bus stop, dragging us both in her wake. She was met with whooping cheers and applause by the crowd outside the bar as Dad bent to pick up his cap and melted into the heaving mass of bodies to jeers and derisory laughter.

Miss you both every day…


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