"I recall the coal delivery man of my youth. As he travelled his round through Windybank Estate where I lived, boys and girls from poorer households would chase his wagon, knowing that it often spilled coal from the top of its overfilled sacks on its journey. The bolder boys would sometimes risk life and limb to get a piece of coal. They would wait near a corner of one of the avenues and as the coal wagon turned it, the bravest boy or girl would jump out in front, causing the driver to slam his brakes on and stop suddenly.
When we timed our intervention correctly, one of the bags would spill over some of its contents onto the road and we would be rewarded with a full sack of coal falling off the lorry. By the time the coal man got out of his driving seat, a dozen kids would have scooped like vultures on their ill gotten goods across the road and carried off their booty to their homes in all manner of containers.
The strange thing I can recall about such times was the scarcity of parents who demanded that the coal be returned to its rightful owner. It was as though a clear distinction between property rights had been established on Windybank Estate. For most parents, it was considered wrong to shop lift or steal under any circumstances and it was the most heinous of crimes to steal from a friend's or neighbour's house, but when it came to picking up a few pieces of coal from the road which had found their way from coal sack to ground without the laying on of a human hand, so long as the child had not physically stolen it from inside the bag on the coal man's lorry, that seemed to be acceptable.
I frequently wondered about these double standards of my youth and in later years, I learned from my reading of British history the probable reasons. I read that all mine owners since the 19th century had been considered by their workers to have been profiteers who worked their men to the bone. Like pit ponies, miners worked in shafts so dangerous, that if a 'cave in' or gas explosion didn't kill off the worker before his 50th year of life, then the black coal dust which clung to his lungs certainly would! The wages paid to miners were meagre and their conditions of employment were oppressive.
The bosses knew how to keep their overheads low and their work force compliant. Invariably, the miner and his family lived in tied property owned by his master. If he lost his job, he also lost the roof over his family's head. In addition there were a list of arbitrary fines imposed on workers which also kept their wages low and the mine owners' overheads down. Wages were often kept so low that on a weekend when the pits were closed, removal of coal from the pit head by the poor families of miners wasn't seen as theft by them, but more a form of justifiable re-distribution to make up for low wages and unjustified stoppages from the miner's wage packet. I also read that theft from coal delivery wagons had been a common practice by poorer folk since early Victorian times and that in all likelihood, our parents, our grandparents and their parents had probably not been strangers to this custom and practice and would have turned a blind eye whenever it happened.
But where did that leave the poor coal delivery man who was master of none and captain of his own coal cart in the 1950s? Somewhere along the line, folk seemed to forget that he and his family often lived on their estate also and operated on the slightest of profit margins!
For anyone who is interested in reading one of my novels about the coal mining industry which I wrote in dedication to my late father who was a miner for many years when he lived on Windybank Estate, I would recommend 'Tales from the Allotments.' The book tells about the closure of a village pit and being the sole employer in the village, all the redundant miners are doomed to life long unemployment unless they up sticks and move to another part of the country.The story tells how they find new meaning and purpose to their lives by working on their allotments. This is one of my favourite stories which is close to my heart and is suitable for any adult over 13 years, especially as it is a seasonal story and takes place between Christmas Eve and Christmas Day. It is available as an e-book, on kindle or in hard copy from www.smashwords.com, www.lulu.com or www, amazon.com As usual, all profits from book sales go to charity." William Forde: November 22nd, 2015.