Return to Catalogue


 

A SORT OF JUBILEE

 

The news ran through Hallamside faster than a spark through stubble. Somebody had found summat in t‘Tip as would burn.

The promise of fuel in that summer of the General Strike, with coal little more than a memory, was almost too good to be true. But there it was, a few feet below the surface of Vickers‘s Tip, a seam of bituminous material that would actually burn. Such manna from Heaven would furnish hot dinners in that quarter of Hallamside where before there had been only cold commons, and would promise some insurance against the rigours of the coming winter, as the coal strike dragged on into the autumn.

Before the day was half over, the string of two-wheeled contractors‘ carts bringing the spoil of the steel furnaces to the Tip was joined by a motley collection of old prams and makeshift wheelbarrows, their owners intent upon taking the Jubilee away before the seam could run out.

Who first gave it the name of ‘Jubilee‘ – a bitterly ironic title at a time of such hardship – may never be known. But at least its discovery also provided occupation for miners on strike, bored with inactivity and savage for want of tobacco.

In no time at all the level wastes of Vickers‘s Tip resembled the moon-landscapes of Ballarat. The directors of the steel company and those of the contracting firms were aghast at the sight. Mindful of the dangers of so many gaping holes in their tip they determined to put a stop to the exploitation of the Jubilee. But their labours were no more successful than Mrs Partington‘s in stemming the Atlantic. There was no one to bell the cat and none who might have been persuaded to try, against the prevailing tide of popular opinion. It would have been a brave, even foolhardy, man who dared to stand between the miners and the customers. Riot might well have been added to industrial unrest.

Indeed, there were no customers in the strict financial sense of the word. The miners knew only too well how hard-won was every penny; it was left to the goodwill of those who could afford it to slip them a copper or two towards the cost of a packet of fags.

 

Moss Garrett, in common with his schoolmates, was pressed into service. He and his bosom friend Alec Willett joined forces in the task of fetching Jubilee for their mothers.

There was a difficulty at once. In terms of capacity, the Willett wheelbarrow was the obvious choice of transport, but the vehicle had been made by Alec‘s father, who was noted for building for posterity. If our Albert meks a matchbox, his wife was wont to say, yer could use it fer a doorstop. So this wheelbarrow, designed to withstand a siege and having bearings that might have served a power-station dynamo, ran as smooth as silk on level ground, but on an upward slope it would have called for the efforts of a shire-horse, and on a downhill slope it was menacingly self-willed.

In the end they abandoned it for Moss‘s old pram.

Half a dozen journeys to the Tip failed to quench their new-found enthusiasm for the task, but there was a limit to the storage space their mothers could supply, and the boys were left with idle hands. They looked round for further occupation, and at once began to prove the truth of the homily that Satan finds mischief for idle hands to do. Moss and Alec turned capitalist.

They had discovered that there were those in Hallamside who, for want of a husband, or children of an appropriate age, could not take advantage of the heaven-sent Jubilee – and once having stumbled on the fact, Moss and Alec determined to satisfy such an evident need.

It was as they were returning with their spoils from one of these errands of mercy that they ran into one of Moss‘s older brothers. Their obvious industry, and their unusual enthusiasm for work, darkened Jimmy‘s mind with suspicion.

‘Nar then, our Moss ! What‘s t‘game, like ?‘

Moss explained, a little too eagerly and with a suavity that might have been designed for disbelief, that they were doing a good turn, hinting at a praiseworthy desire to succour the widowed and the childless. Jimmy was not deceived, and quickly arrived at the truth.

‘Then yer‘d better not let me Dad catch yer at it, that‘s all !‘ he said.

Moss was puzzled by the warning, and vaguely uneasy. He‘d often run errands for the odd ha‘penny reward. What was different about fetching Jubilee\? Jimmy, impatient to be about his own business, was not disposed to spend time in the enlightenment of his small brother.

‘Neer mind !‘ he called over his shoulder. ‘Just tek a tip, will yer ?‘

The work came to a halt while they weighed Jimmy‘s warning. Alec‘s view was that Moss‘s brother had not fully grasped what they were about; Moss was less sanguine. Something told him that here was a nice point of ethics which neither had grasped. He decided that they needed to take advice on the point – but guardedly, so as not to invite awkward questions and the risk of prohibition.

He weighed the possibility of asking his mother, in a suitably roundabout way, and dismissed the idea at once. If he had failed to allay Jimmy‘s suspicions he would certainly not succeed with his mother. Besides, he added to Alec, it‘s time fer us dinners, any road.

He entered the back door at almost the same moment as his sister, Annie Ruth and, on less than mature consideration, decided to put the matter to her.

‘Eigh up, our Annie Ruth,‘ he began, in what he fancied was a bland and innocent tone, ‘if A was to tek t‘pram ter t‘Tip an‘ bring back some Jubilee – ‘

He paused, uneasily trying to gauge Annie Ruth‘s response.

‘Well ?‘ she asked, her face revealing nothing.

‘Well, would there be owt wrong wi‘ that ?‘

‘For your mother ?‘ asked Annie Ruth, six-and-twenty, conscious of a need to rise socially, and striving to ‘talk posh‘.

‘Well, anybody – ‘ Moss began.

Annie Ruth gave it as her opinion that such an action would be a good one. Moss gave her answer some thought, and proceeded with more haste than caution.

‘An‘ what if yer was to charge fer fetchin it ?‘

Annie Ruth was her mother‘s daughter. She caught Moss‘s drift at once. Without any perceptible change of features and, as though weighing the question, she said,

‘Charge ? Why, how much did you charge ?‘

Moss walked blindly into the jaws of the trap.

‘On‘y a penny !‘ he replied.

Annie Ruth‘s righteous indignation caused her to forget for a moment the need for care in her speech.

‘Yer‘ve bin chargin‘ folk fer fetchin‘ Jubilee, ‘ave yer ?‘

Moss grunted assent.

‘What sooart o‘ folk ? Folk as couldn’t fetch their own, eh ?‘

Again Moss was obliged to agree.

‘An‘ what‘s me Dad gunna say when ‘e ‘ears, eh ? What d‘yer suppose Chapil folk‘ll say, when they ‘ear as Moss Garrett‘s bin tekkin‘ money from folk as can‘t affooard it ? At a time like this an‘ all, when folks‘s scrattin‘ fer every penny ! Yer should be downright ashamed o‘ yerself, our Moss, that yer should\!‘

Moss had the feeling that he had stepped outdoors into what he thought was a breeze to be struck instead by a typhoon. But Annie Ruth had not done.

‘Ow much did yer mek, then ?‘

‘Twopence,‘ he replied. ‘Twopence fer me, an‘ twopence fer Alec !‘

‘Then yer can just goo ‘n give it straight back, d‘y‘ear !‘ Annie Ruth exclaimed, lapsing yet further into her native wood-notes wild. ‘This minute !‘

‘A can‘t !‘ Moss protested. ‘We‘ve spent it !‘

‘Oh, you ‘ave, ‘ave yer ? Right,‘ she said, reaching for her purse, ‘yer can tek it back now, befoor you ‘ave yer dinner !‘

Moss was defiant in despair.

‘A shan‘t ! Besides, what about Alec ? ‘E‘s spent ‘is an‘ all !‘

Annie Ruth took him by the shoulders and shook him.

‘Yer not responsible fer what Alec Willett does ! Yer responsible fer Moss Garrett ! Now,‘ and she took the coppers from her purse, ‘yer‘ll tek this money back now. All of of it, mind ! An‘ if A find y‘aven‘t done it, A‘ll tell mi Dad, d‘y‘ear !‘

Moss started to blubber.

‘A ‘aven‘t gorrit, A tell yer ! A‘ve spent it !‘

‘So yer said,‘ Annie Ruth replied. ‘tek this fourpence ‘n give it straight back. An‘ then yer‘ll owe it to me, won‘t yer ?‘

Moss was livid with the injustice of it all.

‘A shan‘t ‘ave any spice fer four Sat‘days !‘

Annie Ruth was quite unmoved.

‘Then yer‘ll just ‘ave ter lick yer lips an‘ remember all the spice yer‘ve ‘ad today, won‘t yer ?‘

She silenced any further protest with a raised hand.

‘Of coorse, if yer can get Alec Willett‘s twopence out of ‘im, it‘ll only be two Saturdays, won‘t it ?‘

She pressed the four pennies into a reluctant hand, turned him about, and sent him on his errand with a smack on his behind.

Moss found the returning of the money even more embarrassing than the scene with Annie Ruth, the more so as two of the clients protested that they were well satisfied, and thought the favour cheap at the price. Moss, knowing what the consequences would be if he returned with other than empty hands, grew quite desperate in his pleas to them to take the money. He had a shrewd suspicion that murder would out rather more quickly in Hallamside than in some other places, and that Annie Ruth would surely get to hear if he did not carry out her instructions to the letter.

Alec Willett was another matter altogether. As Moss had feared, he saw no good reason why he should mortgage his Saturday penny for a fortnight. To Moss it seemed a harsh and unjust world, and the prospect of four spiceless Saturdays added bitterness to the cup of his humiliation.

 

But he was to learn that expectation is sometimes a liar, and not always for the worse. Before he could begin to feel the pain of a spiceless Saturday, the tables were astonishingly turned.

On the following Thursday night his father came home from Choir Practice rather earlier than usual, and asked for Moss. But his son was already in bed, so it was to Lizzie that his questions were put.

‘Did you know as our Moss ‘ad been fetchin‘ Jubilee for folk an‘ gettin‘ paid fer it ?‘

‘Aye, A did,‘ said Lizzie. ‘What about it ?‘

‘Well, yer might ‘a telled me !‘ said Jim.

‘Why should I ? ‘E gev it all back !‘

‘Aye, so A ‘ear ! Why ?‘

‘Why ? Why did ‘e give t‘money back ?‘

‘Aye !‘

‘Because our Annie Ruth telled ‘im to !‘

‘Oh, aye ! What for ?‘

‘What for ? Do yer want ‘im tekkin‘ money from folk as can‘t affooard it ?‘

‘Oo said as they couldn‘t affooard it ? Does anybody tell you what you can affooard ?‘

‘A should like to see ‘em try !‘ said Lizzie

‘Then why should our Annie Ruth tek it on ‘erself to decide what other folk can affoard ?‘

‘She did what she thought were right, A suppose !‘

‘A‘ve no doubt she did ! But there‘s moor than one kind o‘ right, yer know. What about our Moss ‘avin‘ a right to what ‘e earned fair and square ? What about a labourer bein‘ worthy of ‘is ‘ire ?‘

This cast a whole new light on the matter, a light which Lizzie and Annie Ruth had not considered. Jim went on,

‘A don‘t suppose fer one minute as folk who got their Jubilee fetched expected ‘im ter drag it all that long way from t‘Tip fer nowt. An‘ if they did, just because ‘e‘s a kid, they‘d no right to !‘ He was silent for a moment, and then, ‘An‘ she made ‘im give it all back, did she ?‘

‘Aye, she did,‘ said Lizzie. An‘ yer not gunna goo back on ‘er, A ‘ope !‘

This posed a subtle moral problem. It was clear that Annie Ruth had acted from what she saw as the highest motives, and for that reason must be supported. But in Jim‘s view his son had been unjustly treated, and injustice was something that must not be allowed to prevail. There‘s enough o‘ that about, he said, specially just now if yer look around yer.

‘A s‘ll ‘ave ter think about it !‘ he said.

The result of his thinking was made known to Moss the next day, on the eve of the first of the four spiceless Saturdays.

‘Son, Mrs Wainwright ‘as been tellin‘ me as yer‘ve been fetchin‘ ‘er some Jubilee,‘ his father said in a tone which was clearly commendatory.

Moss looked hard at his father, unable to reconcile the tone and its implications. But, before he could decide how to answer, his father went on.

‘Did she give yer owt fer gooin‘, then ?‘

Moss still suspected a trap, though his father‘s face bore no signs of duplicity.

‘A gev it ‘er back !‘ he said, cautiously.

‘Oh ? Why was that then ?‘

‘Because our Annie Ruth said as A shouldn‘t tek money from folk as can‘t affooard it !‘

‘Of coorse ! But A reckon as Mrs Wainwright wouldn‘t ‘ave minded if it ‘ad cost afe that price. A ha‘penny instead of a penny a load, d‘yer see ?‘

Moss looked even harder into his father‘s face, but still could not read his intentions.

‘So A expect if yer was to tek ‘er another load, she‘d be glad to give yer a penny for both !‘

Moss had the message now, and was about to turn on his heel in search of Alec, to persuade him to share in another Jubilee trip, when he was called back.

‘Eigh up, just a minute, son ! Yer fergettin‘ summat, aren‘t yer ? What about them jobs as yer‘ve got to do at t‘Chapil befoor yer get yer Sat‘day penny termorrer ? Yer‘ll do them befoor yer rush off fetchin‘ Jubilee, d‘y‘ear ?‘

Moss‘s heart was too full of thanksgiving to respond to this in his customary grudging manner.

‘And another thing, his father said. ‘Next time yer tempted to do jobs fer money, there‘s two things as yer‘ve got ter remember – ‘

‘Yes, Dad ?‘

‘First, allus settle t‘terms befoor yer tek it on, see ? Then nobody can complain after !‘

‘Yes, Dad !‘

‘An‘ then mek sure as yer do a good job. One as yer won‘t ‘ave to be ashamed of !

‘Yes, Dad !‘

‘Oh, an‘ one moor thing,‘ said his father. ‘Don‘t you ever expect to get paid fer owt as yer do fer yer Mam – or anybody else in t‘family, come to that. Yer do them jobs fer love, see ?‘

Moss nodded. In truth, he wondered at his father‘s need to make such an obvious condition. Then he turned and ran off to perform his weekly duties in the Chapel.

His father, following with his eyes his small son‘s retreating figure, pondered for a while upon the load of responsibility which parenthood imposes, and then turned to the lesser considerations of unemployment and poverty.

But he did so with a heart unexpectedly lighter . . .