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Hard Men Hard Lives

by ChrisB 

Posted: 01 February 2004
Word Count: 2781
Summary: This is the first of a collection of short stories that I am calling the Celtic Antholgies...I think

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This piece and/or subsequent comments may contain strong language.

Hard Men Hard Lives

By Christopher John-Nicol Bowser

The cage elevator rattles, clanks and hums as the strong silver thick coils pull it

slowly upwards ; forty eight heavy feet in sturdy beaten boots stand firmly on its

muddy dirty metal floor, above their heads twenty four beams of light spread out

in all directions, and move like light sabers battling with each other for space as they

move their yellow miner’s hats ; the headlamps on top juggle about as they whisper

quietly to each completely exhausted. Their narrow bright white eyes and glistening

white smiles are the only noticeable images on the men’s black faces which are covered

thickly in grimy dirt and soot ; their hands also black, carry tools boxes and their

empty lunch boxes from that day.

The elevator continues its journey upwards to the surface, through the damp dark air

and then the humming comes to an abrupt stop and it halts and daylight can be seen

ahead of them as another man in a bright orange coat opens the cage door for them.

All right boys...yeah fine and dandy now Dai...good day...all better now kid...off down

the Falcon for a couple Jim...I’ll make it for a quick one, promised Nancy I’d be back

for the kids, it’s their first week at school...less off your excuses mun, your getting soft

in your old age...responsibilities gentlemen, you’ll know all about it when you have a

family all of your own.

After a warm shower and a change of clothes groups of men walk down the steep hill

from the pit, chatting and smoking and telling jokes. Jim Williams feels relieved to have

finished another log and laborious day in darkness, physically drained at the endless

digging and shovelling at coal and a dry depressive emotion runs through his heart, but

then he takes a deep sigh and the emotion is covered with a stealth of anger. What is

he working these long days for and for what? He was tired at the meagre money he

was paid and the little opportunities the men were given. He knew more than most that

the future of coal mining was not good. Something had to change and he knew that he

was going to have to change it all on himself.

He realised there was not much point in making himself unhappy. He’d beaten himself

up enough in the past and were had it gotten him. He would make his future a better

one and he would be thankful for what he also had now. His job was secure for now, it

was hard work but steady money. He had a huge amount of good friends, even a few

he felt could trust and most importantly he had his wonderful family, his beautiful

strong wife and two blessed children. All a man really needed. OK a bit more money

wouldn’t go a miss, but at the moment he was doing all right. I’ll get the first one’s

into night fella’s. Waheey what’s the occasion. I’m happy brothers, happy for a short

while, he says with a wicked smile. They continue to walk quickly through the sharp

cold down towards the village square, past all the rows of brown and grey terraced

houses, ragged roofs and unkept gardens, hundreds of them running lengthways in

long rows along and down the hillside. The Falcon looks inviting from high above, and

like kids entering a candy store they excitedly enter the pub, its heavy wooden door

ajar, two large rectangular front windows radiating a golden yellow warmness from

inside, and in the main bar deep voices chatter and laugh and sing and snigger and

whisper and shout from all around, which is only marred by a slight anxiety and tension

as a few patrons stare untrustingly at the three men as they enter the bar, but their cold

eyes soon come to recognise the faces, they nod and raise eyebrows in

acknowledgement and carry on drinking.

‘Evening boys,’ one says.

‘All right, good evening to you.’

‘Three of the usual please Wyn,’ Jim asks the barman raising his voice over the din

of other voices in the bar.

‘Coming up Jim. Good day boy?’ Wyn replies.

‘Not bad, not bad at all.’

‘Busy night again I see.’

‘Yes no bleeding rest for the wicked.’

‘Jim you old rascal you,’ a voice shouts out behind him and taps his shoulder.

‘Evan, how’s it going kid?’ he asks a large man with a ginger behind and a cigar

hanging out of his lower mouth .

‘Good, very good indeed. You up for the game on Saturday,’ he replies shaking

hands firmly, their rough skin rubbing against each other like sandpaper.

‘Don't know, maybe taking the children away this week-end’


‘Thinking about taking them to the sea-side for a bit of a break’

‘It’s the big game stupid...we need all the supporters we get get’

‘Well I’m sure you can live without me, who are you playing anyway.’

‘Those wankers from in Town, we’ll have to show them who are the real men around

here you know what I mean.’

‘I’m sure you will do that, sure you will.’

‘Well you’ve got to make it. Tell Nancie that you’ll take them away the following

week. We’ve got a big dance on afterwards, food, the works so you’d be a fool to miss


‘I’m not promising anything but I’ll see what I can do.’

‘You do now, maybe I’ll get you a few free tickets if you do.’

‘Maybe I’ll take you up on that.’

‘Right I’m in need of a leek, say hello to Nance and the kids for me’.

‘Yeah and the same for Jan,’ he finishes and turns to the two other men and passes

them their pints of bitter.

‘Cheers gentlemen get those down your necks.’

‘Been bloody looking forward to this all day,’ Llwyd says and takes the beer from his

hand before they clink the three pint glasses together strongly and take a large sip of

the pale brown looking liquid.

‘Ah that’s bitter,’ Ifan says with a smile on his face as the he wipes the head of the

beer from his upper lip with the opposite hand. They all laugh.

‘I that’s bitter, much bitter,’ Jim says and slaps him on the back and again they roar

with laughter as their faces glow with an orange reflection from the lamps above and

the stresses and strains of the working day loses its momentum and gets released and

transformed into lighter emotions of happiness and joy.

Men sit around, rugged hard faces, dark hair and dark eyes and their working mans

hands, big hands, rough hands with strong arms gesticulating in the air, telling jokes

and stories when they kids and preparing for the big match at he weekend and the free

time that they will spend with the joys of their families, temporarily away from the

hardness of working life. In the games room men play darts and games of pool,

throwing down pint after pint of thick liquidous brown ale in heavy cut pint glasses,

wiping their faces with the excess, and smoking another rolled up woodbine, some

chew snuff and spit it out onto the floor, rubbing the mess into the wooden covered

floor with the rest of the dirt and slime. Hundreds of black and white photos surround

the room, rugby teams dating back from the early nineteen hundreds, tradition runs

long and a pride stems through the men that they can be proud of one thing in their

humble and hard lives. In the main bar, men are more serious and talk of work and

politics and the state of the country and socialism and working men’s rights and better

lives when their futures will be more free.

‘That’s why the union is so important. Without that how can the working man voice

his opinion. If we haven’t got freedom of speech then what have we got?’ Ivor

Llewellyn says with his fierce blue eyes and red hair and a face engulfed in a thick red


‘But we never get anywhere with talk. Are the bosses really listening. Do they even

give a damn about us,’ Ifan replies with equal angst.

‘Ahhh look, a battle is never won without many fights. It’s easy to be impetuous and

impatient when you are young but we have to think like them. more than that we have

to outthink them,’ Robert Gyn-Jenkins shouts sternly, a tall grey haired man in his mid

fifties, dark eyes and an equally dark complexion.

‘How can we do that when they have spent years at their fancy colleges and top

schools. Most of us had to leave school when we were sixteen and some earlier. Some

of the men can barely read so how can a man stand up and speak when they can shoot

us down with their fancy words.’

‘Don't lose spirits gentlemen, and remember we have the same hearts and same minds,

what we ask of them ourselves is up to us alone. These obstacles seem great but a

great man raises above them.’

‘Nonsense what good is talk alone. We need more than talk, we need action, we need

changes, we need more money and better working conditions. Then we can have better

standard of living for ourselves and out families. I’m sick of just talking, we do

nothing,’ Jim says losing his temper and hot heatedly continues his assault. ‘Yes I say

we rebel, we rebel and strike now. We demand our rights.’

A loud noise from the games room interrupts them all and shouts of Liars you fucking

lairs we won the game fair and square can be heard . As the men turn around they see

a group of four men squashed together like small scrum, hands grabbing hair, punches

flying wildly. You fucking scum dirty liars. We won it fair and square. All right lads

lets stop this nonsense, screams Wyn Jones at the top of his voice and a couple of

other young men pull them apart. If you can’t sort your problems out quietly then sort

them out outside...OUT and he points to the door. Sheepishly they walk out towards

the door, Jim recognises the leader, Paul Pritchard, his main rival at school, always into

trouble and always fighting over the same girl.

‘Pritchard, won’t you ever learn?’ Jim says as he walk past.

He stops in his tracks and turns around venomously at Jim. For a moment the bar

comes quiet as the two men look at each other, aggressive tension fills the room and

then the barman intervenes once again.

‘All right gentlemen lets be having you. We’ll have no further trouble today.’

‘Williams. When I want some advice I will ask for it OK,’ Pritchard says with equal

vigor and then squares up closer to Jim, face to face, an inch between the men both

equal in height and they continue to stand and stare at him other hatred eyes.

‘How is your tart of a misses anyway?’

‘You better choose your words carefully around me Pritchard.’

‘Yes and what you gonna do about it you piece of shit.’

Jim loses his temper and throws his right arm out and his hand grabs around his throat.

taking him by surprise.

‘I’ll teach you a lesson you’ll never forget.’

But then Pritchard swings out his right arm, it catches Jim around the eye. He falls

back but then punches him back in the stomach. Both men then grab each other and

fall over a small round table, the glasses of beer fall onto the floor and smash. The men

are both dragged off each other screaming and kicking and the Pritchard is forced out

with his other troublesome mates through the door.

‘Well that’s a little but of excitement for one night’ Jim says trying to laugh it off.

‘What is it between you and him Jim’

‘The bastard.We go back along way what can I say.’

‘You gonner have a shiner there in the morning’

‘God damn it I’ll have to tell Nancie I knocked it during the day. Anyway gentleman I

better be making a move. Kids to put to bed and an early night’

‘Well you better finish another half and wait for those idiots to come home so the coast

is clear for you.’

‘Aye good idea.’

‘You don't want any more trouble tonight.’

‘That would be for sure. Anyay good night to you Gents, see you tomorrow.’

Jim stumbles from the Falcon slightly merry and wanders up Pandy Hill dragging his

feet tiredly under his body, but he feels warm and mellow and he realises how much he

likes the feel of the cold and sharp air against his face. As he walks back up the hill,

past the rows of houses, he passes number seventy three and magically he sees an

image of his late Grandmother, her thinning brown hair up in a bun, wearing a pink

apron with white squares on it, brown thick tights and a pair of old shoes. A duster in

one hand standing at the door, her face with the reddest of cheeks and the biggest

smile waiting for him as he arrived home from school. She would pat him on his head

and ruffle his hair, but he didn’t care as he loved her, everything about her, she made

him feel special and she would spoil him with home cooking, how he adored her

Sunday roasts, and candy bars he would receive every Wednesday when she would do

her mid-week shopping. He smiles and the memory touches him, he looks up into the

sky the millions of stars tinkle at him as if they were made just for him and him alone,

and the three quarter sliver slippery moon has just risen over the four pointed breast

shaped hills that merge together into a unity behind him.

When he arrives at home, as soon as he opens the living room door Tom and

Charlotte come running up to him wide eyed and full of vigour and excitement.

Daddy...Daddy...all right kids, how are my two sweet angels doing then...Tom got

told off by the teacher today..no I didn’t she’s lieing...did to..didn’t...tell tale, tell

tale..shhhh...shhhh. He says loudly and picks them both up in his two strong arms and

kisses them both on the sides of their pink soft cheeks. Both of them shine with an

inner glow of purity, angelic they both rest their heads on his shoulder with a feeling of

safety and security from their strong father. He wanders over to his wife smiling and

sitting comfortably by the open log fire and kisses her on the lips.

‘They’ve been like that all afternoon, absolute murder’ she says happily.

‘Yeah they’re both a handful aren’t they’ he says putting them down and pinching

them both around their hips.

‘Stop it Daddy, stop it’ they both scream and stumble on top the sofa behind them.

‘What have you done to your eye love, it looks a bit swollen. Haven’t been fighting

have you?’

‘Oh no Nance, don't be stupid, I fell over under the shaft, hit my eye on a jagged rock.

Bloody hurt I can tell you.’

‘Well lets get some ice on it and you’ll be wanting your tea I take it also.’

‘Ohh Nance, you know the way to a mans heart,’ he says and pinches her bottom.

‘Cheeky,’ she says and kisses him again on the lips

Exhausted and with a slightly merry head his whole body feels warm and he falls onto

the floor tiredly, but a mellow warmth of love and contentment fills his heart again as

he looks at his two beautiful children and the sound of his devoted and amazing wife

preparing his food in the kitchen ; he stares into the glowing red orange and yellow

flames of the fire and takes off his heavy boots and warms the tops of his feet and

hypnotically they trance him into a gaze of love and warmth and seem to reflect how

he is feeling inside. He picks up a copy of USA by Dos Passos by the side of the sofa

and again his mind goes back to the impoverished man and rebellion and fighting for

working mans rights. I’m a lucky lucky man, but our lives must be better, we must try

and fight and improve out standard of living he thinks. He lays back his head, closes his

eyes and a small tear forces itself out of one corner and rolls down his cheek.

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Comments by other Members

Ralph at 09:29 on 04 February 2004  Report this post
Hi Chris
I found this really interesting to read. There's some lovely dialogue, and lyrical rythm to your writing that fits very well with the notion of a celtic history.

I did stumble at the start a little, just because therte seemed to be a few too many adjectives to be able to take everything in. I wondered if perhaps taking a few out would add more impact to the images you created.

The other thing was that it jarred a little, going from an objective perspective to the POV of Jim. I think it works, but possibly needs leading in a little bit. Or perhaps start it earlier, so that it's Jim who's looking around the elevator shaft at the start?

This might just be me, so please do see what other people think.

I know you said this is part of an anthology. How many stories are there in all?

Looking forward to reading more

All the best with it



ChrisB at 14:56 on 05 February 2004  Report this post
Hey Ralph,

Thanks for taking the time to read this and I'm glad you like it. It's work, which is close to my heart, and I hope that shows in the writing.

I've written five stories so far, but this is the only one I am as yet reasonably happy with.

The points you've raised are interesting ones and they may provide useful changes which I can use to polish the work. I'll definitely try your suggestions and see what turns out - if it improves, all the better.

Thanks and I look forward to reading your own work and more in this group.


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