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29

the other side of the road the glass walls of the control station gazed back at him blankly. Where was PRESTONLINKS COLLIERY where it had all begun for him nearly 30 years before as a young laddie starting at the pithead? He closed his eyes trying to put together in his mind the scene in the early 1950's of a pit where so many local men had spent their working lives working the coals below the Forth .....
The four youths stuck out like sore thumbs that Monday morning in late July outside the pit office. They were branded by the shininess of their tea flasks and piece boxes, the pristine newness of their shins and trousers but mostly by the solid glow from the pit boots, their virginity untouched by scuffs or dirt. The day shift of colliers slowly trudging past the check office poked fun at the newcomers waiting for the training officer to take them to their first jobs on surface to await their turn for underground training. "Mind and no get thae bonny new bits dirty or yer mither'll skelp yi' when ye get hame". "Watch oot for daft Wullie on the pithead he eats laddies like you for breakfast". They turned away red faced praying for the day when they could develop that casual. manner of dress, the boots well greased and worn-in, the clothes inpregnated with coal dust, the helmet at a jaunty angle with the cap lamp swinging casually over one shoulder. It would come with time but they had to serve their apprenticeship first.
They were taken over the yard, past the rows of waggons being marshalled into train loads, steam shunting locomotives huffing and puffing busily about. They passed under the screens where showers of coal emptied into the wooden-sided wagons. A long iron staircase led up to their first workplace the picking tables. The noise was deafening, a continuous cloud of coal dust hung in the air. Three long, slow-moving steel plate conveyors clanked and screeched from one end of the building to the other. At the far end the coal was tipped onto the screens which separated the fine dross and the smaller pieces leaving the larger lumps of coal and stone, (they called it redd) to travel down the picking tables. Their first job was to separate the coal and stone, to remove the redd and put it down a chute into one waggon while the coal travelled on and dropped into the coal waggons. Their workmates were a motley crowd, old men no longer fit for underground, some minus an arm or a foot in accidents, misfits and a few dafties they were afraid to ask which one was daft Wullie. The work wasn't too hard, the coal, and redd, came in bursts with quiet periods in between when there was no coal corning up the pit and laddies could get up to mischief, like hiding wee Charlie's piece bag or filling auld Tarn's pockets with heavy lumps of ironstone. And then there was the "Howff", a low brick building at ground level with no windows,
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