I was up and out of bed by 2.30am this morning so that I could walk the 5 miles to the pit to get there in time for the first shift arriving at 3.30am. Westoe is a mixture of ‘sanddancers’, miners from the coastal area, and ‘Hillbillies’ ,those men bussed in from the pitless villages of the rapidly shrinking Durham coalfield. Some of the ‘Hillbillies’ have been at over 5 different pits that have been closed, and there are a lot of veterans of the ’72 and ’74 strikes.
I enjoyed the walk but it was bloody freezing, and I arrived too late to catch the first shift buses arrive. I blame it on dodgy knees.It was lovely to see the fire coming out of the home made brazier, a tin barrel with holes hacked into the sides randomly. Problem was I couldn’t get near it for the bodies basking in its heat, about 30 pickets altogether. The nightshift had managed to borrow fuel from the pit yard, coke, and timber and canvas from which they’d made a nice hut. No one has managed to work out a heating system yet so its still bloody freezing! We had 2 policemen on duty who chatted amiably with a few of the lads and hopped about from foot to foot in a vain attempt to keep warm against the icy blasts sweeping in from the North Sea only a few hundred yards away. Anyway, the buses all passed through the in gate of the pit and drove through the out gate in minutes, not a single passenger, and none on foot either, so Westoe is solid.
At 5.30am a bit of excitement when the Deputies turned up but made no attempt to cross our picket lines, which is great. The only other bit of excitement was when the management started to crawl in to their nice offices in their nice shiny cars. We gave our voices an airing as we vented our anger at the them, and let them know exactly what we thought of the NCB threats.
It’s now 6.30pm and I’ve just had a phone call asking me to go to the pit where a bus was waiting to take us to Dawdon, still working. I reluctantly turned it down because I’m just off to the local community centre to rehearse for a play I’m in, ‘Close the Coalhouse Door’ by Alan Plater. I play a character called Geordie who tells awful jokes, and the play is all about pit closures, and has a great Alex Glasgow song,’The Socialist ABC’ which I get to murder. We’ve been at it since last October, but we only meet once a week and we are all really amateur. Hopefully it will be ready before the strike ends. So, I’ve missed the opportunity to have my first taste of flying picket duty.