Caught by the River


7th May 2012

A poem by Mike Laycock.

A place of former frantic activity
Denaby pit, between river and rail
Empty of men, silent with birds
On old shale and coal nuggets
Grow the hardy flowers, roots mining
For seams of nutrients and moisture
Weeds, working-class plants
Greening the dirty desolation
Scabbing a valley’s wounds
To return it to how it was
When Sir Walter Scott first saw it
And inspired, gave Ivanhoe
His home in this Yorkshire glen
So far from his Tweed, this Don
Dirty Don, that once supplied
Passage for barges of black treasure
Now invites salmon to pass again
As they did in the Scottish laird’s day
Here amongst the penny-moons
And dog-roses, I found it
A fossilized fern, beautiful
How oft had my steel-capped boots
All those decades ago, disturbed it
Ignorant of its ancient presence?
How many more pit-boots in their rush
To descend to the levels of its origin?
Those dark, secret cellars of the earth
Where miner’s sweat will never sting
Those coal-mascared eyes again
Fossilized is my apprentice world
A job for life . . . dead as dinosaurs
Birch and broom over the blacksmith’s shop
Nettles and couch-grass cover the ‘washer’
An infant forest surrounds the capped shaft
The fitting shop’s a fox’s dream
The boat-staithes that once loaded
Trent-bound barges, now host fisherman
Ex-miners, prospecting for silver
And memories deeper than river beds
Where now are Aldrick-Jack,
Odo, Spanky, Rocky and Jock?
And comradeship, that glued
Scot, Geordie, Taffy and Tyke in
Coal-scarred union of sweat, blood
And “Barnsley Bitter” hand-pumped at the ‘Pig’?
I turn over the fossil-fern in my pocket
Feeling its ancient Braille-story with grubby fingers
Souvenir to fading memory of a pit,
Its people and place in South Yorkshire history

Michael Laycock, a brief biography: …apart from being an ex-miner as the poem intimates, I used to be the manager of the ‘House of Hardy’ museum and retail outlet at Alnwick and was privileged to meet and converse with many fine fisherman and tackle-makers from all over the world. I really miss those times and people. Sadly ‘Hardy’s’ has gone the way of practically all British manufacturers now. My favourite anecdote, related to me in all that time was the story Jim Hardy delighted in telling me. He and his brother Bill had invited Dick Walker to a meal/meeting at one of the famous London hotels (I think it was the ‘Ritz’ . . .Charles Ritz being also a famous angler and rod-maker). This with the purpose of discussing Dick becoming involved with ‘Hardy’s in a rod design capacity etc. Upon arrival of the main course, the famous carp angler and British, rod-caught, carp record holder was momentarily taken aback by the appearance, on a huge platter of a freshly broiled specimen carp, much to his delayed but eventual amusement.