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February 2018


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            Voices from Methil.

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The Innerleven Boolin Club – 8


On the Bing

Ronnie had their coats collected, and Jeanette out of the Club, before Senga had the bill for breakages tucked into her unresisting hand.
“Hoo dae ye reckon tae a wee stroll along the Wellesley bing?”“Do you fancy a stroll along the Wellesley Colliery waste tip?”
I can only assume that Jeannette thought the ‘bing’ had something to do with that Crosby fellow. The one that did the films with Bob Hope and Dorothy Lamour.
“Is the ‘Bing’ abaht heyah, Ronnie?”“Is the ‘Bing’ nearby, Ronnie?”
“Naw. Ah’ll get us a taxi.”“No. I will call for a taxi”

Now, for some reason, since the day that Jeannette had arrived in Methil, no taxi had been seen within a mile of the place. Probably a coincidence.
Just then, a wee Standard 10 came up the road. With two young men in it. Two Jehovah’s Witnesses.
Ronnie jumped out in front of the car.
Two nervous Jehovah’s Witnesses. I’ve never seen a car stop so quickly!
“We’re gaun tae the Wellesley!”“We are going to the Wellesley Colliery.”
“But …”
“Get in, Jeannette”
“But …”
The Chicken Hat got into the car, followed by Jeannette”
Two very nervous Jehovah’s Witnesses.

Ronnie hauled himself into the seat beside Jeannette.
In the front, the two Witnesses were starting to truly believe that Jehovah had drawn their names out of the hat for the testing.
“Where did you say you desired to go?”
The driver’s adam’s apple was working a double shift.
“The Wellesley!”

The two Witnesses jumped to it.
With the front passenger changing gear so that the driver could concentrate on the steering, they were away. Gears crunching, tyres squealing, Witnesses praying, that wee car took the Swan Brae like an express train. Denbeath went by like a vision of Purgatory.
And they were at the Wellesley pit entrance before you could say ‘Watchtower’

As the engine expired from nervous exhaustion, and the two in the front tried to slide down and blend with the seats, Ronnie and Jeannette got out.
Jeannette was all for Ronnie paying the two men, but Ronnie refused on the grounds that a taxi driver should use the clutch when changing gear.
And apart from that, he didn’t have any money on him.
For Ronnie, the women usually paid!

“Jist folley me, hen …”“Just follow me, my dear …”
Just for a fraction, you’d have sworn that the two Witness’s eyes had flicked up.
“… an ah’ll show ye the secret wey tae the bing.”“… and I will show you the secret way to the waste tip.”
(Known only to several thousand pit workers over the past 60 years!)

Jeannette followed Ronnie down the winding dirt path to the pit yard. Those L.L. Bean industrial-grade nylons did their job, and the jaggy nettles and thistles were forced to admit defeat.
“We’ll jist cut roond b’ the electric shop, an along the pit road tae the bing.”“We will go past the Electrical Maintenance Workshop, then along the colliery access road, heading for the waste tip.”
Even at that time of night, the electric shop was humming with activity.
“Ayuh, Ronnie? Who works abaht heyah in the middle of the night?”“I say, Ronnie. Who, around these parts, works in the middle of the night?”
“That’ll be the bell men.”
“Bell men?”
“Aye. They’re the boys that’re no fully skilled, so they’re no allowed near the dangerous stuff. So they jist work on the signallin. Phones. Bells. That sort o thing. Mind you, half the sparkies here shouldnae be allowed near a licht bulb, if ye catch mah meaning. Faur too dangerous fur the rest o us!”“Bell men are semi-skilled workers, not qualified to work on the dangerous equipment. Phones, bells, that sort of thing. Mind you, half of the ‘qualified’ electricians should never be allowed near a light bulb, if you catch my meaning. Far too dangerous for everyone else!”
“And these heyah ‘bell men’ work on their bells at night? Like church bell ringers?”“And these ‘bell men’ work on their bells at night? Like church bell ringers?*”
Jeanette was obviously getting a bit lost here, so Ronnie – always helpful to a woman – filled in the details.
“Naw! Nae bells on the back shift. They’re cuttin up the scrap cable. Chappin it doon, so’s it’ll fit in a piece-box. That wey, they can sneak it oot the pit, an mak some money sellin it tae the scrap men. Guid money in copper cable, so there is.”“No! No bells on the evening shift. They are cutting up scrap cable, into pieces that would fit in a lunch box. That way, they can smuggle it out from the colliery, and make some money, selling it to scrap merchants. Copper cable is valuable.”
“And is theyah much scrap cable?”“Is there much scrap cable?”
“Oh, aye! Some o they bell men c’n turn a twa hunnert yaird drum o cable, new in the day, intae scrap on a quiet back shift.”“Oh, yes! Some bell men can turn a 100 yard long drum of cable, newly arrived that day, into scrap, during a single, quiet evening shift.”

In the moments of silence as Jeannette thought her way through all this, the faint sound of praying drifted down from Wellesley Road.
“That’s stealing!”
“Only if ye’re caught, doll. Only if ye’re caught. This is the Coal Board we’re talkin aboot. There’s nae end tae the lives that the coal an the politicians h’ve ta’en. Thae men’ll work hard aw nicht, tae steal a fiver’s worth. Guid luck tae them!”“Only if they are caught. This is the National Coal Board that we are talking about. There is no end to the lives lost by by coal and politicians. Those men will work hard all night, to steal £5 of scrap. Good luck to them!”
Soon, Ronnie and Jeannette were past the (rapidly diminishing) cable store, and out on to the pit bing.

If you’ve never been out on a bing, and especially at night, I’ll have to try and describe it for you. Standing high above the bing were hundred-foot towers. Big steel pylons with powerful lamps on them. Some were yellow with sodium light, and some were blue-green with mercury vapour lamps.
The street lights up on Wellesley Road showed the world of man, but that world was a distant past, and had no part of here and now.
The ground was flat and bare. Nothing grew there. Here was dumped all the stone and dirt brought up from the depth of the pit, and never trodden on in the entire history of man, ape or monkey.
Grey and monotonous during the day, it became a land of gold and silver at night. Shadows of deepest dark, with suggestions of form that the eye could never comprehend. No landscape that man could find himself fitting into, but memories from the depths of evolution chittered in the back of your mind.
And yet, it was beautiful. Like an eternally frozen landscape. Silvered plains and gilded crests. And like a dream, it would all be lost in the morning.

Ronnie was a master.
Jeanette was under the fairies’ spell. Many a lass had fallen under the enchantment of the Wellesley bing. There could only ever be one outcome …
Up on Wellesley Road, the two Witnesses prayed.

On this night, of all nights, Ronnie didn’t have the bing entirely to himself.
Right in the middle of the bing was the explosives magazine. All pits do a lot of shotfiring, and need to keep plenty of explosives on site.
Of course, nobody in their right mind wants half a ton of ICI and Nobel’s finest anywhere near, if they can help it. So they dig out a hole in the middle of the bing. Put big, strong walls around it. Then build an explosives magazine with a roof so thin that you could blow holes through it with a pea-shooter. The idea being, that if one dodgy stick of Unigel or Polar Ajax goes ‘whoops!’, the other half ton will join in with a flash and a bang.
With the strong walls and the flimsy roof, all the blast goes straight up. No harm to anybody, unless you happen to be a seagull on its way back from a late bingo session, and taking a shortcut across the bing.
Not a place, then, for the sane and sensible.

But, then, that wouldn’t include Jeek Walkinshaw!
Jeek was a gun fancier. Most men settled for greyhounds or pigeons. Easy to feed, and not likely to attract the attention of the police. Jeek liked guns. Shotguns, he could get a licence for, but pistols were definitely out of the question. Lugers from the war, and those big, heavy Webley revolvers that the army dished out to officers. Guns so heavy and clumsy, that officers – not being daft – would leave them behind rather than lug them around. They spoiled the cut of a nice, tailored battledress.
And what an officer left behind, the Jeeks of this world would sell on for a carton of Player’s Navy Cut. Grubby hand to grubby hand. Down hill all the way.
Ending up with Jeek Walkinshaw.

Now Jeek had figured out that the last place on earth, anybody would want to come, would be an explosives magazine. And if Jeek wanted to shoot off a few bullets, then the magazine was the safest place to be.

That night, Jeek had the Webley, a box of cartridges, and a shopping bag full of bottles. Not Barr’s Irn Bru or anything like that. You got thruppence back on them. But the ones that would go in to the bin anyway.

Jeek was partial to HP sauce, and he liked to read out the ingredients on the side of the bottle. In French. This was the only French that most Scots learned as children.
As Ronnie guided a bedazzled Jeannette to his favourite spot, Jeek was at the magazine, setting up the bottles.
“There’s a nice wee cumfy bit across here, hen, if ye want tae set a spell.”“There is a nice, comfortable spot across here, if you want to sit for a moment.”
Ronnie was heading for a particularly advantageous three-piece suite that somebody had dragged out on to the bing, and dumped.

Revolver in holster, ready for his Wyatt Earp quick draw, Jeek started in on the French …
“Cette sauce d’haute qualite, est une melange …”“This high-quality sauce is a mixture …”
“Do you hear something, Ronnie?”
Eager to keep the magic going, Ronnie shushed Jeannette.
“Jist you sit yersel here. There’s nuthin oot there!”“Just sit yourself down. There is nothing out there!”
“d’epices et de fruits orientaux …”“… spices and oriental fruits …”
“Sounds like French, Ronnie. Real bad French. But French …”
“Dinnae be daft! Whaur oot here w’d ye get a bluidy Frenchman?”“Don’t be silly. Where would we find a Frenchman, around here?”
“… Est Egalement excellente pour enrichir le saveur …”“… It is also excellent, for enriching the flavour …”
The magic was fizzling like a damp squib.
“Ayuh rathuh thank it’s time we were a-goin home, Ronnie!”“I think that it is time we were going home, Ronnie!”
“… aux soupes, hachis et ragouts.”“… soups, hashes and stews.”
“Whit the bluidy hell’s gaun on, here?”“What on earth is going on, around here?”

Jeek spun round. Out came the Webley, and as the sauce bottle wobbled into his sights, Jeek pulled the trigger.
The bullet went past the sauce bottle without so much as a by-your-leave. Nowhere near it!
Whizzing across the bing, it hit the only target that a self respecting bullet could possibly go for.
The Chicken Hat!
Feathers, pins and bits of felt flew everywhere. This tribute to bad fashion sense was gone in an instant. And the fashion industry on two continents breathed more easily.
Jeanette, on the other hand, dropped to the ground like a sack of potatoes.
Ronnie stood in a cloud of feathers. Stunned. Like the child in a pillow fight who suddenly realises that his mum will be looking for an explanation. And Ronnie was looking for an explanation.
So when the eider settled down, he found one!
Jeek Walkinshaw.

It would not be an exaggeration to say that Ronnie was not happy. When Jeek saw Ronnie heading for him, neither was Jeek.
Now it was time for the Wrath of Ronnie! The very air took on an Old Testament feel, and quotes from the Scriptures seemed easy to come by.
Jeek dropped the gun, and ran!
Up the pit road, accelerating like a tourist who had, unknowingly, eaten Calamari for the first time.
(“Whit’s this stuff ah’m eatin, then?” Octopus! Oohhh …”“What is this food that I am eating. Octopus! Oh, I think that I am feeling unwell!”
His one-time secret, safe place was now the last place he ever wanted to be.
Ronnie picked up the gun. It was starting to look as if the bing would be Jeek’s last place. Ever!

“Come back here, ya miserable wee bauchle!”“Come back here, you miserable excuse for a man!”
Jeek ran even faster.
The bullet gouged the heel from Jeek’s left boot, and Jeek started veering around in circles.
“Mmmm?” said Ronnie “Ah winder …?”“I wonder …”
The next bullet removed the other heel, and Jeek rocketed off at a tangent. The Wrath of Ronnie was guided from above. It seemed that the very air was crystallising, and the powder of prayer was falling on the ground.
Standing in a swirl of gold and silver smoke, Ronnie looked ready to part the seas.
As it happened, only Jeek’s hair got parted.
There was no way that a man could move that fast …
… but that night, Jeek could have girdled the world in 80 minutes.

As Ronnie lined up the last bullet, between the ‘O’ and ‘A’ of Jeek’s National Coal Board donkey jacket, a quiet voice came from the direction of the 3 piece suite.
“Leave him Ronnie. He ain’t no-way worth it.”“Leave him, Ronnie. He is not worth the trouble!”
The quiet contempt of a woman will stop a man, no matter how far gone he is in his anger. With a wee shrug of the shoulders, Ronnie turned away from Jeek.

Kerrack! The sauce bottle disintegrated!

“Ayuh Ronnie. I think I wouldn’t mind a wee cuddle …”“Oh, Ronnie. I think that I need comforting …”
And Ronnie, being Ronnie, obliged.

Up on Wellesley Road, the two Witnesses were still praying. They’d been at it for half an hour, and the car windows of their Standard 10 were completely steamed up. In a different age, things might have been said, but this was then, and things were different.
There is no doubt that Jehovah always listened to his Witnesses, but even they accepted that it wasn’t right to demand answers. Or actions.
That night however …

Suddenly there was a terrified face pressed up against the steamy window. Hands were banging on the door, and Jeek was shouting!
“Save me! Save me! Fur the love o Goad! Let me in!”“Save Me! Save me! For the love of God! Let me in!”
Now you show me the Jehovah’s Witness who would turn down that request!

That, of course, was years ago.

Jeanette went back to America. Got married soon after, and had a wee lassie. She called her Ronnetta. The two Witnesses emigrated to Kenya, set up house together. And spent the rest of their days, happy in a native hut with no doors. That way, no-one could slam a door in their face.
Jeek moved to Bellahouston, and can still be seen in George Square; lecturing on the evils of firearms and irregular bowl movements.

Ronnie was always Ronnie.

That 3 piece suite on the Wellesley bing might be updated from time to time, but nothing really changed. Ronnie was so successful with the women that he gained one more nickname …

The Pirnie Perambulator.

There were so many women who had to move out of the area, and find another place to push their prams. (Wee note for Americans – that’s a baby carriage)
Folk were a wee bit stuffy then, and the only way to be a respectable single mother was to be a ‘war widow’. Thanks to Ronnie, later genealogical researchers were exceedingly puzzled by a mysterious regiment from the Methil area; one that seemed to have sustained one hundred percent casualties in the early 60s in one of those undeclared bush wars that Britain was perpetually mixed up in.

Nobody could trace the fathers, or the regiment. But those in the know, would look at the father’s address, and if it was anywhere near Innerleven, well …
… just pencil in Ronnie McLauchlan.
The clincher being Brylcreem stains on the original certificate.

Just the other day, I received a letter from wee Ronnie. You know the one I mean – Nettie Simpson’s great-grandaughter from America, Ronnetta’s son.
He’s really in to that genealogy business, and thinks that his family has some connection with the 1st Regiment, Levenmouth Fusiliers.
Heaven knows what he’s been told!
I’ll have to think very carefully before I answer his questions …

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