The inspiration for the poem, 'Warnings', below, was the 60th anniversary of an explosion
in William Pit, Whitehaven, Cumbria at 2pm on Friday, 15th August 1947.
It left 104 miners dead and over two hundred children fatherless.
We beg him to come to the beach, get some sun:
thunder's forecast tonight. But he says he's got to work
if we want to eat.
The dog tries to stop him but his mind is made up.
She goes to his shoes, sniffs them all over,
sits by them and whines.
When we coax her to come she lies down and snarls
her head on his shoes.
We leave her behind, catch the bus to St Bees, meet
Her man's on nights and he's at their allotment
so she's brought the kids. They can't understand
why our dog wouldn't come.
When the kids dig a tunnel that the sea undermines
their cries of dismay shroud a steam-horn's refrain:
one long then six short notes
in a sad minor key.
'You can't hear t'pit-horn this far away,' she says.
'Pit's gone up, I know it,' I say, 'we'll ev te gaa back.'
'But we've only just come!' the kids wail.
'Gaa yam, lass,' she tells me, 'They can stay here wid us.'
As I get on the bus I see policemen arrive.
They'll head for the beach where no-one can hear
the pit-horn's lament, and call everyone back
to the pit that's gone up.
Back in 1947, everyone had gone on the bus to St Bees because nobody had cars or even landlines then, so the police were sent to call them all back. Among the anecdotes reported afterwards was an account of a dog that tried without success to bar its owner's departure for that ill fated shift. As many animals can, it may have sensed unusual subterranean tremors beforehand. William Pit was notoriously 'gassy', my uncle being killed in the June 1941 'minor' disaster (10+ miners' deaths in one incident qualifies as a disaster).
We made my faltering recording of 'Warnings' on Paul's Smartphone (by about Take 15) for Cheshire East Libraries' celebration of National Poetry Day. Link:
www.facebook.com/BollingtonLibrary. It is one of 16 poems in my first, arguably most successful, book, Mining Memories (NB: Kindle version available at 99p). It is thanks to author and leader of Bollington Library Writing Group, Nik Perring's determined suggestion that I try my hand at poetry despite been no good at poetry at school, and ending up specialising in a scientific branch of medicine, chemical pathology.
Images of the William Pit Memorial, Whitehaven, Cumbria ©Paul Martin 2007
It's almost two years since I published In Our Fathers' Footsteps (see under BOOKS). My latest book, One Dog and His Cop, about my cousin's police dog,was published 30 November this year (see under BOOKS).