Clearing The Tubes

Good morning to you,


Well I am in a remarkably excellent frame of mind this morning,  given that we got to bed late last night and were up in the early hours again this morning.

All  to be bathed, combed, dressed, emptied and breakfasted, all far too frantically, all  by some unfeasibly early hour, in order to be ready for the painters arriving to begin their second day of labour in our coalmine.


They did quite well yesterday, preparing surfaces for future painting, although there is a lot of dust unfortunately, given that it starts me coughing.

Not very cool to be heard coughing convulsively, like some old miner with his lungs full of coal dust, still smoking his unfiltered Woodbines.


That actually reminds me of my old Uncle Herbie.

He was one of the very few relations that I knew as a child.

When I went to see him on a Saturday morning he would be dressed in his big black boots, a collarless shirt open at the neck with a thin muffler, and a pair of big brown trousers with wide braces over his shoulders.

Along with the braces he would also wear an extremely thick, wide leather belt with a huge brass buckle, which was fastened over the trousers to cover the small of his back.


When I asked him why he wore the belt, as well as the braces, he told me that he used to work on the docks unloading the ships.

Some of the freight was extremely heavy, so the dockers would always wear the belts to prevent injury from the work.

Somewhat like weightlifters I suppose!


I remember being fascinated by some of his colourful tales.

Especially that he always tied the legs of his trousers to prevent them being caught and to stop anything climbing inside.

He told me that when they were unloading a ship containing something like bananas, he sometimes had to stamp on things like tarantulas.


The trouser legs were also useful for pinching stuff, and sometimes they would all walk out with huge legs because their trousers were full of loose tea.

Once they had given the man at the gates a small sum, they would all be passed, and walk out with their booty.

Jobs on the docks were very popular because times were hard and people had huge families to feed.

If they did not have work then they starved.

If they could not pay the doctor to visit then he did not come.


My dad’s father (Uncle Herbie’s brother)  was a policeman, and that was a very, very good thing to be.

When my father went to school, there were only two of the children in his class who had shoes.

One was him and the other was the Greengrocer’s son.

Most of the other children used to come to school, even in the middle of winter, in deep snow, with blue feet and chilblains etc, and they were often very hungry too.


A lot of people talk about the good old days but sometimes you have to wonder which planet that was on!


Anyway, I seem to have digressed quite far from what I was saying.

I meant to tell you that Uncle Herbie had always smoked strong unfiltered Woodbines.

‘Real men’s’ cigarettes.


On those far off Saturdays he would have put the kettle on the big, black leaded, kitchen range before he got shaved and dressed for the day.

I would arrive and he would pour us both a strong cup of tea, into big enamel mugs, adding several spoonfuls of sugar and a good dollop of condensed milk.

The tea was always a deep orangey-brown colour, and the teapot would be left next to the roaring fire in the range for the whole day.

Every time it got empty he would add more spoonfuls of tea to the pot along with more hot water from the hanging kettle.

By the end of the day the teapot would be half full of tea and so strong that the spoon would practically stand upright in the cups of tea he poured.

He said that by the end of the day the tea was perfect!


After the tea was poured for us, he would light his first Woodbine of the day.

For me, it was fascinating to watch.


He would start coughing from deep in his chest, each time getting stronger and stronger.

You could hear the phlegm bubbling in his lungs as he drew each breath.

It was so violent that he would hang onto the mantelpiece with one big bony hand and he would draw himself up on tiptoe with the spasms.

His free hand would be holding the lit Woodbine of course!


The spasms of coughing would finally end in huge mouthfuls of thick phlegm, which would be spat into the fire and left to bubble away merrily.


Eventually uncle would straighten back up and have another draw on his fag, smiling blissfully, and saying “Well, that really clears out the tubes of a morning!”


I assumed that it did and that it was good for you.


I really loved my Uncle Herbie.


Have a grand day…and clear tubes”




Big H read my blog this morning and told me that he remembered exactly the same type of men in his childhood.

Dressed exactly the same and also smoking Woodbines.

He says that the end of the day, where he lived, the miners would return home on the bus at the end of their shifts and go straight into ‘spit and sawdust’ pubs which were at the ends of the streets.


The floors of these pubs were covered with sawdust.

This would clean up the muck from the drinker’s shoes and also absorb the results when they missed the spittoons and their mouthfuls of phlegm  landed upon the pub floor.

They would light up their fags and start the same sort of hawking coughing as my uncle….clearing out all the coal dust and muck.


Ahh..those were the days!



Leave a Response