The Stiff Hutch

Background: Just after the last war the flags were hoisted on every pit throughout Britain. We were nationalised a, dream come true. But the men who were appointed to run the Coal Board were nothing but a motley collection of glorified pen-pushers, some of whom had never seen a pit in their lives, some I suppose couldn’t tell you the colour of coal.

For the sake of comparative values this happened at a time when the miners ‘average wage was around seven or eight pounds per week. This tale is about the Coal Board.

The Stiff Hutch

At last we’ve left the weary days o’ maladministration
The advent o’ oor Coal Board is a cause for jubilation
Nae mair the senseless bunglin’ o’ the owners causin’ grief
The settlin’ o’ oor problems noo is masterly and brief.
l’ll show jist wan example how their reign is no a frost
And then, dear freens, ye’ll see yersel” they’re valued whit they cost’

My tale’s aboot a hutch o’coal that landed up the pit
But, when we got it on the plates*, we nearly had a fit
For we pushed it an’ we shoved it, an’ we ca’ed it unclean names
But it sat there like Gibralter an’ defied oor weakened frames.

Then by a stroke o’ Providence, while we were sweatin’ there
A fella fae the Coal Board came up the Pitheid stair
We stood aside obediently, tae let him hae a look
His manner was official-like, an’ so was his wee book.
He scribbled, then he pondered, an’ turned another page
The ordered the Pitheidman tae stop the windin’ cage

The clangin’ o’ machinery died doon at his behest
As he wrestled wi’ the pioblem that had put the Board tae test’
He glowered at the vehicle as tho’ he bore it grudge
Then jotted doon conclusions that, “The ‘demned’ thing wouldn’t budge.”

He closed his book wi’ stately snap an’ telt us no tae touch
Until he phoned his senior tae come an’ see the hutch.
Ye’ll unnerstaun his reasons why he had his boss tae seek
He was jist a wee official we’ a hunner poun’ a week’
We waited, an’ we waited, an’ we waited for an oor
Tae the wee official’s boss arrived, in a lordry cloud o’ stoor.
He questioned his subordinate while we a’ gathered roun,
His bearing, an, his weekly ‘poke’, was worth two hunner poun’.

Well, ‘Two Hunner’ an’ a ‘Hunner Poun’ decided there an’ then,
As they couldnae solve the problem, for some Higher-up tae sen’
So two Hunner’s big black flashy caur soon speeded on its way
Tae fetch some ‘Higher Salary’ and let him have his say.

But, by this time the gaffer, who was puzzled at the haud +
Came up the pit for someone’s bluid, blasphemin’ poor Oul God
When he got tae ken the reason why we werenae windin’ coal
His clasical obscenities, nae Christian ear could thole.
An’, pouncin on wee ‘Hunner Poun’, demanded tae be heard
Who stood as silent as a sphinx, ignorin’ ev’ry word.
For how undignifying, of minin’ tae discuss
Wi’ a common Undermanager, an’ his unseemly fuss.

So the gaffer singed the alphabet, Oh how he made it burn
He had two solid spellin’ oors, before the caur’s return.
Then the wee official asked him if he couldnae show respect
Tae his betters, who had gathered roun’ the problem tae inspect
Noo, ‘Two Hunner’ conscientiously, had done his job quite well,
For, there in a’ his glory was ‘Five Hunner Poun’ himsel’.

They poked the hutch, an’ stroked the hutch, then tried a spirit-level
‘Three Hunner’, in his notebook, had an algebraic revel.
Then they drew aside an’ whispered, ‘Five Hunner’ shook his heid.
The lowest paid official then set aff wi’ urgent speed.

He got intae his ain wee caur, an’ soon was oot o’ sight
‘Five Hunner’ drew a fag-case oot, ‘Three Hunner’ gied a light
An’ there they stood contented, an’ smoked an’ Smoked an’ smoked,
Oor raging Undermanager jist choked, an’ choked an’ choked.
But at last he couldnae staun it an’ barged intae the ring
O’ NCB officials – whit a sacreligious thing.
He telt them ony laddie in the pit could have explained
‘Five Hunner’ jist ignored him while the rest o’ them looked pained

Then, in anither cloud o’ stoor, wee ‘Hunner Poun’ came back,
An’ ran sedately up the stairs wi’ a wee red canvas sack.
They gethered roon the hutch again, an’ wi’ a wee bit rag
They took some samples o’ the coal an’ shoved it in the bag.

‘Five Hunner’ then produced a tape an’ measured ev’ry side
Tae see how high, tae see how long, an’ then tae see how wide.
But before they got it jotted doon, they nearly deid wi fright
For, burstin’ in among them, was an’ awe-inspirin’ sight.
The poor oul Undermanager, completely lost control
The names he ca’ed thae fellas wad hae damned the Devil’s soul.
For hauf-an-oor he lashed them an’ finished wi’ a wheeze -
“Ya show’r o’ dumb unprintables, this hutch jist needs some grease.”
They looked a wee bit chastened, an’ acknowledged their mistake
But tae save their doubtful dignity, a try they had tae make
They ordered us – “Full speed ahead” – but, tae finish aff ma rhyme
The gaffer gently told them, “lt’s efter lousin’ time.”

* sectional steel plating laid on the floor of the pithead to facilitate shunting of full trams.
+ Puzzled at the hold-up

John Mallaghan