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How my father gave me a terrifying lesson at 10 (bbc.co.uk)
400 points by arethuza on June 8, 2015 | hide | past | favorite | 164 comments

My dad worked for some years on a coal mine when he was 16. Mind you, this was on a remote village during the post-war era on Spain. He has countless histories even though he does not share them often; smelly rooms with bunk beds, cold winters, or fishing on a pond with dynamite. He later moved from there to the big city, took correspondence studies on electricity and started a tour around multiple companies and projects as an electrician until he settled on one company (a company that started small but later became one of the biggest multinational corporations of pool products) where he worked until retiring.

Sometimes he would do side jobs fixing pools and fancy installations on the high profile clients. I've been there with him helping out. He once told me: "see these big houses, two pools and an spa? They think they need all this, but have no time to enjoy themselves. Me? I have everything I ever wanted."

He has been all his life self learning just as a pastime. His side project being going back to his old village to build a well and water installations to help farmers irrigate their fields. He even used water pressure to make a kind of 'protocol' to communicate different panels. When you go there, it's crazy land. He's been iterating over his initial design for more than 40 years, and he keeps going at it now at 79. One thing he usually says, contrary to what most people think is that life is long, really long. There's time for everything.

We come from two different worlds. To me it's not just about him being a role model but showing him gratitude for all he has taught me.

"see these big houses, two pools and an spa? They think they need all this, but have no time to enjoy themselves. Me? I have everything I ever wanted."

I really needed to hear this today. I like this outlook. Thanks.

An American tourist was at the pier of a small coastal Mexican village when a small boat with just one fisherman docked.

Inside the small boat were several large yellowfin tuna. The tourist complimented the Mexican on the quality of his fish and asked how long it took to catch them.

The Mexican replied, "Only a little while."

The tourist then asked, "Why didn't you stay out longer and catch more fish?"

The Mexican said, "With this I have more than enough to support my family's needs."

The tourist then asked, "But what do you do with the rest of your time?"

The Mexican fisherman said, "I sleep late, fish a little, play with my children, take siesta with my wife, Maria, stroll into the village each evening where I sip wine and play guitar with my amigos, I have a full and busy life."

The tourist scoffed, " I can help you. You should spend more time fishing; and with the proceeds, buy a bigger boat: With the proceeds from the bigger boat you could buy several boats. Eventually you would have a fleet of fishing boats. Instead of selling your catch to a middleman you would sell directly to the processor; eventually opening your own cannery. You would control the product, processing and distribution. You could leave this small coastal fishing village and move to Mexico City, then Los Angeles and eventually New York where you could run your ever-expanding enterprise."

The Mexican fisherman asked, "But, how long will this all take?"

The tourist replied, "15 to 20 years."

"But what then?" asked the Mexican.

The tourist laughed and said, "That's the best part. When the time is right you would sell your company stock to the public and become very rich, you would make millions."

"Millions?...Then what?"

The American said, "Then you would retire. Move to a small coastal fishing village where you would sleep late, fish a little, play with your kids, take siesta with your wife, stroll to the village in the evenings where you could sip wine and play your guitar with your amigos."

That old man breaks his back requiring bed rest for 12 months and multiple dangerous and painful surgeries ... versus a guy who has a couple mil in the bank.

It's a good parable, but doesn't stand up to too much scrutiny.

Thankfully I live in a civilized country with socialized healthcare, so that my choices are more than "go bankrupt after surgery" or "be rich".


No, the ants all pay into the system, leveraging the economy of scale, so that everyone has equal access to health care, rather than privileged access for those who can afford it.

You're describing a mutual society, which is a voluntary thing, and very different in character and consequences to compulsory taxation and a welfare state.

Or, you know, the ants work together to achieve something greater than they could ever achieve alone. Ants are quite famous for that.

What part of 'working together' involves people who don't want to?

You're saying that if the old man worked harder, he'd be less likely to break his back? Or are you saying that if he worked harder, he'd only break his back after he made a few million?

He's saying that in real life the fisherman's job is a bit worse than presented, and the American's a bit better, due to things like healthcare, and financial planning for emergencies and retirement.

And the correct response to that is yes, its a parable, the answer isn't to become a fisherman or necessarily start your business, but to find a good middleground for yourself that keeps the point of the parable in mind.

The way I read the parable, the point is that you can do blue collar work at a humane pace, work smart and have a good life. Or you can work yourself into the ground while life pass you by.

I don't really see how "It's better to be born rich" adds much to the interpretation.

lol, the point of the parable is to remember that you work to live, not live to work. I was responding to your parent post, that was basically just harping that the parable was a bit simplified.

And yet, another extension of the story has the American go to the next fishermen, and they open up a big company together, fishing up all the fish and leaving none for the first guy, plus the supply drives the prices down and make things even worse for him.

Oh, I think they'll just go to the government and arrange to transfer the right to fish to private ownership. That way they can make a profit from leasing out the resource rights, and force the people to pay if the want to catch their own food.

Meanwhile, thousands of people get to eat nutritious fish instead of the stringy pork and stone-baked weeds they were eating before. The population's mean IQ increases a couple of points over the course of a generation. They experience an accompanying rise in various standards of living, from their high-school graduation rate to their average lifespan.

Eventually, the tuna are overfished and the agricultural conglomerates switch to farmed tilapia. Everybody complains loudly... but by now, nobody but a few old fishermen remember how much subsistence farming sucked.

Not quite sure what the follow up is supposed to teach ?

Is it a critic of EU/US development plans in developing countries in Africa. Come in, transform self-sustaining economies into EU/US dependent one (eg: replacing traditional crop by commercial crop complemented by food import), ruin them for profit, and then rebuild them for profit (or using public funds) ?

I took a surfing lesson in Hawaii last week from a guy who has a degree from Florida State (business, if I'm not mistaken, but I'm also not positive).

After graduating, he realized that he'd rather live in Hawaii and spend his days in the ocean than sitting at a desk. Yes, he could earn more money...but he's very happy doing what he does. He keeps in touch with friends that he graduated with, and while many of them would like to switch places with him, he says he wouldn't switch places with any.

Of course, they may be setting themselves up for a better retirement, etc. But he has realized that a simple life that makes him happy is what he wants. Good on him.

And how does he pay for housing in such an expensive location as Hawaii?

We didn't talk about it -- but teaching surfing was definitely his full-time employment. But a quick Craigslist scan finds tons of apartments for less than $1,000 a month. He said that he leads a fairly simple life.

>>"see these big houses, two pools and an spa? They think they need all this, but have no time to enjoy themselves. Me? I have everything I ever wanted."

Unfortunately a lot things have changed since those days. In fact a few centuries back you could have a lot of fun in life doing nothing at all. These days things are so organized, anybody who falls out of line is likely to through a great deal of suffering. Healthcare is very organized and expensive, you can't get a decent job today without education and the overall society is moving towards a trend where not having a certain set of things can leave you with social disability.

>>One thing he usually says, contrary to what most people think is that life is long, really long. There's time for everything.

This is very true, and this is why if you are going to live really long you better have a good cache of savings for your retirement.

In fact a few centuries back you could have a lot of fun in life doing nothing at all.

Um, no. After reading descriptions like http://www.shakespeare-online.com/biography/londondisease.ht... I'm quite glad to not have had the misfortune of being born a few centuries ago.

As for the importance of fitting in, I remember one book on pre-Revolutionary France that estimated that at any given time about 1/3 of the population was homeless. Their life expectancy was short, with risks of starvation, being killed by bandits, being killed as bandits, and so on. Again, not really a fun time to be alive.

You need to read up on hedonistic adaption. If you think you 'need things' will give you social disability, well, you're in for a long, tough life. Because there's always someone and some social group with more things than you.

What you need is time to think, time for health and body, and time with genuine friends.

While some specific purchases can make us happy, for most the initial euphoria is soon replaced by feelings of uneasiness as our new thing becomes old.

Why do you think BMW hit the big time with their model series, a strategy every other car company as copied? Because you start with the 1 series. A first you love it and are immensely satisfied with your new status. Then you go in for servicing, and dammit don't those 3 series look good. Eventually you trade the 1 at a shocking loss and roll over to the 3. Happiness! Now you're really getting somewhere. You go to a party and someone gets out of a shiny new 5 series. This 3 series looks crap in comparison. Better look into trading on a 5. And so on.

The lesson is, if you plan on living a long time, better to get control of your desires now and settle on a standard of living that makes you happy. The alternative is facing an exponential growth in the cost of living, hurtling towards a time when your working life ends with a champagne taste and a 2-buck-chuck budget. Happiness will not result. And if you've neglected health and family all along, your going to be broke, sick and unhappy, and maybe even lonely.

See here's the thing. Happiness is a state of mind, not a physical mode of being. Many people, including you, think that a person needs some parity with an invisible standard in order to feel contentment. But that's not true. You don't need anyone's permission to have fun, and you don't need to obtain anything to start enjoying your life.

A few centuries ago, when you say people could have fun doing nothing at all, what you call "a great deal of suffering" in contemporary society is actually materially better than even the middle class lived back then. Much better. It's just that people are wired to compare themselves to their community, and by default that's what people base their self-worth and contentment on, unless they do some careful introspection and consciously change their source of sense of self-esteem.

A few centuries ago, the average family lived on a small farm with little education, no running water, no electricity, and little excess. A large fraction of the children would die before their first birthday, and dying of bacterial infection was quite likely at any age. The boys could expect nothing more than a life full of hard physical work on the farm, and the girls could expect to get married or, if they were very lucky, get a profession like nursing or teaching. Yet, this average family was happy, and it wasn't because of their material possessions or adequate healthcare (clearly). It was because they were grateful for what they had, and because of a supportive community who were just like them and were always there for them.

You're missing the point of the quote you pasted. His father had everything he ever wanted because he didn't value material wealth, and was perfectly content with what I imagine you (and probably me too) would call "suffering", because he had friends, family, hobbies, time, and relatively good health. That's really all we need.

> Yet, this average family was happy

That's a huge and unjustified assumption. They likely were exactly as unhappy as a comparable 'average' family today: they would envy their neighbours who owned a better horse, they would fight among themselves (a lot, and with real physical violence among family members), their children would run away and never return, their weakest elements would be bullied mercilessly, and so on and so forth.

Life could be absolutely hellish, even more so for people who did not fit their (fewer and stronger) expected roles.

> It was because they were grateful for what they had

Or rather they were thankful they survived to see another day. That's not happiness, that's just relief.

> and because of a supportive community who were just like them and were always there for them.

They were also ready to judge, gossip, discriminate, bully and cast away anyone who wouldn't fit the strict rules of very hypocritical and moralistic communities.

I can agree that modern consumerism is hardly a paradise, but the past was much worse and there is no reason to look back with rose-tinted glasses. The past was worse in every respect.

Yes, if you didn't fit the cultural mold, I have no doubt life would be very hard for you back then. Also I am by no means arguing that the past was in any way better to the present, just that it is quite possible to be happy without a lot of material wealth.

However, in regard to the probable happiness of the average 18th century family, I still think most research on happiness would disagree with you. People seem to have a default level of contentment that varies only temporarily when major positive or negative changes occur in their lives: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hedonic_treadmill This suggests that being thankful they survived to see another day, while grim by our standards, actually was real happiness.

Exceptions to this, that is, things that make lasting changes to one's happiness include:

* A supportive community of peers with whom you meet regularly

* Regular physical exertion

* Regular time for quiet reflection

* Marriage

* True and devout belief in a religion.

Our average 18th century family had all of these.

On the other hand, modern society has a greater capacity for a person to self-actualize and get into a path where they are able to regularly enter a state of flow, which is also shown to increase happiness. But this is only an increase capability, not the norm.

None of those elements are necessarily missing from "average" modern society, nor are they necessarily positive things (especially "true and devout belief" in a religion one would not get to choose -- in fact, most "devout" people were anything but, they just went along with it because society forced them to; "marriage" is also a weird one, to be honest, considering how unhappy it can be).

What they certainly had more than us, though, was the certainty that they would not get to choose when or how to interact with such elements. They were fundamentally resigned to a life of reaction, rather than conscious action, as it had been the case for millennia. Again, they were content or relieved at the best of times, rather than actually happy. It's an incredible achievement of the XIX and XX century that increasingly large numbers of people can decide what "pursuing happiness" actually means for themselves.

> None of those elements are necessarily missing from "average" modern society

It's not missing only as long as it is available as a choice, but what the parent meant was probably that the majority of people don't live like that anymore.

Last I checked, people in pretty much any country still get married and declare themselves religious in overwhelming majority. We don't have stats for physical activity (which is declining, yes, but for a majority? Probably not) and "quiet time".

> overall society is moving towards a trend where not having a certain set of things can leave you with social disability

To me, just making this statement is an indicator that you've allowed yourself to buy into something you don't like. It's just as viable to live by the opposite view, which is that people who place too much value on a "certain set of things" don't make particularly good friends. And people who are constantly chasing trendy purchases to define their lifestyle don't seem particularly satisfied with their lives.

overall society is moving towards a trend where not having a certain set of things can leave you with social disability.

Towards having to have a spa & a large house? Since when has that been a required set of things to be happy?

(Stable job & healthcare, sure, those are good things to have these days)

The weird thing is, today, what his father said is still true, but what you say is also true.

"Excuse me, can i ask you a question? Are you happy?"

"Well, i got a boat, good friends, and a trampoline... You tell me."

Wise words from 30 Rock:


I think he's absolutely right about life being long.

Just out of curiosity, where is that on Spain?

My version of this, with my Dad, was when I was precocious 16 year old, failing highschool because I was spending all my time hacking code, smoking pot, and girlfriends. Not a bit of schoolwork was being done, and my Dad was having none of it.

So he gave me a summer job. In the hot Australian sunshine, I was sent off to be a labourer on building sites. Since I was the young blood, the brickies and other construction types gave me the shit jobs .. moving piles of bricks from one end of the universe to the other, shovelling shit from one end of the universe to the other, getting lunch and ciggies and mud and bricks to the brickies from one end of the universe to the other. It was monotonous, hot, boring work, and I hated getting up at 5am every day just to get there on time, and work until the sun went down every day, just to go to bed in time to get up again and start moving shit from one end of the universe to the other.

It did teach me a lesson, and that lesson - which dear reader I hope you understand - is that work is good for you. It expands your universe and gives you a life beyond the realms of the little box we're otherwise born with.

So, at the end of summer, I took my hard-earned wages, bought myself a new computer, got back to hacking, split up with my girlfriend, and got myself the hell out of that situation.

And I've never looked back.

Well, now I look back .. because now I'm the Dad, and more than anything else in the world I want my kids to grow up knowing that hard work is good for you, but smart work is better. Don't know how its going to happen, but that's the joy of fatherhood, innit ..

When I was ~22 I had a brief spell of unemployment. My dad, who was a malt whisky distillery manager, said I could work for a bit at his distillery as a warehouse man to fill in for one of the workers who was off sick. The job mainly entailed rolling filled casks from the filling store into the warehouses, unloading empty casks delivered from the coopers, moving and loading casks of mature whisky into lorry trailers, internal cask movements and cask "dipping" and inspections.

Dad was a real stickler for time keeping and we had to be on-site and in the rest room for the day's briefing by 0800 on the dot, not a minute later.

I had been sailing pretty close to the wind for a few days and then one Thursday night went out and got quite drunk with pals, eventually getting to bed at around 3am - and yes, there was whisky involved. The next morning I had a stinking hangover, slept in, and arrived a whole five minutes late at the rest room. My dad said nothing about being late except for suggesting that it was about time I learned the ropes on filling whisky barrels.

For the next two hours (and for my sins I suddenly realised) I filled whisky casks. This was done by hand. You basically have a big hose with a nozzle and a tap. The flow rate is quite high which means there's a high speed out-gassing of very strong whisky fumes that hit you right in the face. The last thing you need with a whisky inflicted hangover is to be around the smell and fumes of more whisky, especially when it's hitting you square in the face like a small gale.

It took all of my being not to be sick, or faint (pardon the pun), and was probably the best lesson on time keeping and not partying on his watch I've ever had. He never said anything that day except for a knowing wink and a wee grin that he gave me from the window of the weighing office as I silently retched and struggled to maintain my composure surrounded in sickening malt whisky fumes :)

We still have a laugh about that to this day yet.

I think I'm getting hungover just thinking about how bad it must be to be working in a whisky factory, hungover. Ouch.

Nice character-building, tho'!

My friend was considering dropping out of school. In the US, you have to get your parent's permission to drop out at 16, and he asked his dad.

His dad said, "Well, son, you can make a living as a dropout. It's not easy, but it's doable. My brother dropped out of high school. Tell you what - if you work with him for a week and decide that you still want to drop out, I'll sign the paper."

My friend's uncle was a furniture mover in Boston. Boston has lots of old apartment buildings. His job was to help move couches, dressers, tables, and all sorts of other stuff up and down stairs.

He made it two days and said, "Alright, Dad, I'll stay in school."

"work is good for you. It expands your universe and gives you a life beyond the realms of the little box we're otherwise born with"

That's the sad truth for many people. I mean most people even find their love interests at work.

I was unemployed for about 1 1/2 years now and I didn't miss work for a second.

I coded what I wanted, I learned music instruments, I did sports, had much time for friends and slept till noon. After half a year I couldn't even imagine a life with a job anymore. I had so much todo even without a job.

I've only been a full time employee for a short period of time and I see exactly where you are coming from. It's not even that I don't like my job, just that there are so many things that I'd like to be doing instead. When there are days with awesome weather I feel like I'm wasting them by staying cooped up in an office all day.

Nobody said work is life.

I'm able to do amazing things with my life now, because I worked hard. Work is only a part of the picture - but its an important part, and if you try to occlude it from life, you will eventually get bit. The default state of the Universe involves entropy; working, on anything, is the only way to change that.

You're right. It just triggers my bite-reflex if people talk about how good work is for your life...

I often have the feeling for many people work IS life and often not a good one :\

Everyone should have at least one physical labor job and one service job in their early life. They teach you to appreciate hard work, understand what people go through in those industries, and empathize.

I want my kids to grow up knowing that hard work is good for you, but smart work is better. Don't know how its going to happen, but that's the joy of fatherhood, innit ..

Send them on a labourer summer job where they have to wake up at 5am moving piles of bricks from one end of the universe to the other.

Ha. I variously did several hard labour jobs including summer time lawn mowing (not ride-on, the supervisor did all those jobs), working as a cleanup-boy at a butcher, returning supermarket trolleys, and working in a timber and hardware yard for twelve months after fluffing the final semester.

When I got my first desk job, nobody worked harder than me. Just being inside in air conditioning with clean hands was all the motivation I ever needed. While other new grads moaned about having to work 40 hours, I was in heaven at only doing 40 hours, all inside, and all on the weekdays!

It is a tough question, though, how to instil that same work ethic into your kids without taking it too far. I fear laziness in kids more than anything else, because laziness is pervasive and destructive.

It's several generations since my ancestors had to work a manual job, but my grandfather sent my dad to work on a mushroom farm for a summer, and in turn my dad told me I needed to find manual work for the summer when I was 18 if I expected any financial help from them during university.

I worked in a series of factories, mostly cleaning machines. None of the work was physically tiring — I think I was too useful to be given that work — but I at least met other people who'd probably be doing similar work for the rest of their career.

Similar story as yours, although you had it worse. When I was 13 or 14 my dad made me start helping him with all his side labor jobs. Commercial fishing, firewood splitting, etc... Today he would probably be called out for child endangerment for having me run a log splitter at that age or yelling at me for not opening up a cast net fully on the throw. He also went up and down the street and signed me up to cut almost every neighbors grass.

Those jobs pushed me quickly to go get a 'real' job when I turned old enough to drive. I ended up working overnights in a grocery store stocking. Working 10pm - 8am was eye opening and something I certainly did not want to do forever.

While sometimes fun, all the work definitely made me a driven person. It also gave me a sense of confidence that no matter what I could likely work my way through something, which has been super useful in IT.

because now I'm the Dad, and more than anything else in the world I want my kids to grow up knowing that hard work is good for you, but smart work is better.

It's also important to raise kids who understand that there is a lot of hard, necessary work out there, and culturally (at least in the U.S.), we tend to devalue this work. I'm not suggesting that being a sanitation worker is better than being a programmer, but both types of work are necessary for society.

There is a different world where you dad never sent you on that job, where you ended up starting a business based on what you learned hacking. In that timeline you are now much richer.

Do you still think hard physical work is good for you.

In fact, it is exactly what happened: I put the cash earned that summer into new computer gear, and coded myself into the future .. without my Dad pushing me to make the cash and encouraging the investment, I wouldn't be nearly as well off as I am (quite fine, thanks) ...

Identical story here. Nothing like carrying lumber around and dragging shingles up a roof all day in 100F degree weather to convince one to go learn an "office" skill.


I'm a software developer, duh. 30+ years and still going strong .. still, right about now, getting out there and building a house, brick by brick at a time, seems like it might actually be better for me at the moment. I must be getting old.


I'm wondering if that question was meant to be rhetorical or merely self-referential. :)

The coal mines were tough places way back when. I know a few old boys from the mines in Wales and Lancashire, less so over in Yorkshire.

Hard. As. Fuck.

Almost fearless. Grateful for a quiet life now they're out of it.

I know one guy who bought a very small mine in the High Peak which he and a mate thought there was 3-4 years work left in for them. Just them. On their own. Tiny, tiny seam. Off they went. Utterly bonkers.

I grew up in a mill town myself, and all the local towns have stories about kids being put to work and the odd one being killed. My school trips were to Litton Mill, where the working conditions were once so bad there was a Parliamentary enquiry into the child deaths there.

What I'm getting to is, I am unbelievably lucky to live in the age I do where I get to work with my brain, I was able to get a decent education despite relatively modest beginnings and I would never, ever, ever look down on a manual labourer like a coal miner: they were tough bastards.

And it is of course now mostly past tense - not many mines left in the UK, despite there still being plenty of coal down there.

Not many in the UK, but worldwide there are plenty of mines and that story could take place in the present day quite easily in many countries.

Oh absolutely, and the stuff going on out in China right now will scar generations in numerous ways.

But in the UK at least, coal mining and even big/heavy industry is mostly historical now. Coal mines, ship yards, even a lot of the bigger factories and nearly all the mills are now very quiet. A few still around, but not many.

It's why Fred Dibnah was so popular in his later years: walking, talking history.

As an American, I had to Google Fred Dibnah since I had never heard of him. The quick-and-dirty: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fred_Dibnah

Extra bonus video: here he is at age 50 scaling a chimney... https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3R3-YwDZrzg . Made my palms a bit sweaty just watching it. Amazing that he didn't even use a harness.

Fred Dibnah was pretty much a steam hacker.

Thanks for that link, amazing story.

I met Fred on numerous occasions before he died, his sons are members of the forum I run. Fred was a great storyteller, it was chance he was picked up by the BBC and over time he developed into a great TV orator of the British Victorian age.

So much of our society is built upon those now seemingly antiquated inventions - old Fred had a way of explaining it and making it interesting with his enthusiasm. Like some many who's history he documented he was taken too young.

The big mines in Australia are all open cut and it's all done with monstrous size machinery. When they are done they fill it all back in again and nature reclaims the land. A much better way.

And some of these make the working conditions UK in the 70-80s look pretty good by comparison.

If you want to give your kids a lesson today, you can simply take them to the factory where their iPhones are manufactured. Although lack of geographical proximity will make it easier to forget.

I've never been to either place, but judging from internet photos, the iPhone factories are not nearly as impressive as where old iPhones end up at:


What exactly is the lesson given here I wonder?

Appreciating living in a first world country.

George Orwell has a great essay about his visits to coal mines: http://www.george-orwell.org/Down_The_Mine/0.html

"It is impossible to watch the 'fillers' at work without feeling a pang of envy for their toughness. It is a dreadful job that they do, an almost superhuman job by the standard of an ordinary person. For they are not only shifting monstrous quantities of coal, they are also doing it in a position that doubles or trebles the work. They have got to remain kneeling all the while--they could hardly rise from their knees without hitting the ceiling--and you can easily see by trying it what a tremendous effort this means. Shovelling is comparatively easy when you are standing up, because you can use your knee and thigh to drive the shovel along; kneeling down, the whole of the strain is thrown upon your arm and belly muscles. And the other conditions do not exactly make things easier. There is the heat--it varies, but in some mines it is suffocating--and the coal dust that stuffs up your throat and nostrils and collects along your eyelids, and the unending rattle of the conveyor belt, which in that confined space is rather like the rattle of a machine gun. But the fillers look and work as though they were made of iron. They really do look like iron hammered iron statues--under the smooth coat of coal dust which clings to them from head to foot. It is only when you see miners down the mine and naked that you realize what splendid men they are. Most of them are small (big men are at a disadvantage in that job) but nearly all of them have the most noble bodies; wide shoulders tapering to slender supple waists, and small pronounced buttocks and sinewy thighs, with not an ounce of waste flesh anywhere. In the hotter mines they wear only a pair of thin drawers, clogs and knee-pads; in the hottest mines of all, only the clogs and knee-pads. You can hardly tell by the look of them whether they are young or old. They may be any age up to sixty or even sixty-five, but when they are black and naked they all look alike. No one could do their work who had not a young man's body, and a figure fit for a guardsman at that, just a few pounds of extra flesh on the waist-line, and the constant bending would be impossible. You can never forget that spectacle once you have seen it--the line of bowed, kneeling figures, sooty black all over, driving their huge shovels under the coal with stupendous force and speed."

If you're ever in the Scranton PA area in the summer, visit the Lackawanna Coal Mine, part of the Anthracite Heritage Museum. Cost is $10. Take a light jacket as it's cool down there.

Fact I learned on the tour - the wooden supports you see in the old mines aren't there to support the roof. They're there to provide warning (when they break) that the roof is coming down.

Although not nearly as horrific as a coal mine, I learned this type of lesson in a bout of unemployment. I'm a self-taught programmer, and had been laid off of my job, and with only 1 year of experience and no degree it's super tough to get anything in a small town.

So, I ended up working at a local factory. The labor itself was hard, hot, and sweaty(in the summer, the temp was usually around 120F), but you got use to it after a month or two if you don't have a heat stroke (which is common).. The most horrifying thing I saw in this though was the utter disregard for human life.

If you got hurt on the job for any reason, the company would try to find anyway they could to fire you as soon as possible. One guy had a family to feed and all, and due to a missing guard ended up grinding a spot on his arm down to the bone. Although the department head had told him to work as fast as possible and disregard the missing guard, it was the employees fault for getting hurt. He came in the next day bandaged up and on painkillers (because they still didn't let him have a day off) and then fired him at around an hour before closing.

In another case, a guy in my department that I commonly ate with lost his finger. I didn't hear the story of what exactly happened, but he was fired, determined to be his fault. Also, the factory tended to actually be a highly sought after job. It was well paid (for the area, around $13/hour) and accepted anyone with a high school diploma. So, if you complained about too much, you could easily find yourself canned for not meeting impossible quotas and with a replacement at your station in less than a week.

Also, people drove from all over (Oklahoma) to go to this job. So, when there was a rare snow storm and most people were trapped in their house, they all had to take "points" (ie, their only allocated time off) if they couldn't leave. I think 5 or 6 people wrecked on the way to work.. They kept this crap up even after being sued for some relatively small amount by an ex-employee for being fired due to crashing on the way to work when there was an ice storm (She was fired because she ran out of her allocated time off)

The way the managers and company would treat humans more like robots was really more painful than the work, and when I quit (because I got a programming job again) I did not complete my 2 weeks I was suppose to and ensured that I'd never be able to work there again

You might enjoy "Gangster Capitalism: The United States and the Global Rise of Organized Crime"[1]. It's full of cheerful stories like this. One favourite deals with how a company doctor working for Union Carbide IIRC became aware that workers were suffering from some form of poison/lung damage. Rather than tell the workers, he told the bosses -- they ended up giving the doctor a promotion and keeping the medical situation under wraps, leading to some deaths etc.

[1] http://www.amazon.com/Gangster-Capitalism-United-States-Orga...

Conditions such as these are the reason labor laws and unions came into existence. It seems that with anti-labor and anti-union sentiment, especially in the South (of the US), the pendulum is swinging back to grinding the ordinary individual down to the bone :(.

From a Northern European perspective, it is unbelievable such labor conditions could exist in a (supposedly) first-world country. Preposterous.

There was a simple misunderstanding, someone told the owner that his factory needed to be "Prosperous", and he heard "Preposterous". Could have happened to anybody.

An anecdote...

My father did the same thing in a mid 80s scenario in the UK.

He took me to work. At the time, he was importing containers full of stuff from Taiwan for the the new PC clone market i.e. building PCs, assembling them and reselling them.

I spent an entire day slicing my hands open on cheap PC cases, box cutters, cardboard boxes and standing on dropped PC case screws and installing MS DOS.

To the child poster, as HN has stopped me replying, yes literally slicing my hands up - they were cheap pressed metal back then and had edges like razor blades.

This is why I did electrical engineering and now software :)

(incidentally his volume was 4x Michael Dell's back then but due to sod-all business sense, he screwed the company up)

> slicing my hands open

Not literally, I should hope?

Some cases have really sharp edges and corners and will easily cut you

When I was a grade-school child, we were taken on a tour of a coal mine.

It was an operating mine but there was a section that had been updated to safely give tours.

I was too young to appreciate the kind of effort that went into being a miner but it was readily apparent to me that I did NOT want that kind of life.

When I was working my way through college, I had a summer job at a machine shop. We made parts for train cars. Two months of that work made me appreciate the value of the education that I was getting. Every day when I woke up, my hands were too cramped to move them. I used to have to wake up 10 minutes early and place my hands under my back to use the weight of my body to stretch them out before I began my day. I began to experience numbness in my fingertips that didn't go away until more than 6 months after I left that place to go back to college.

All in all, I think it's a good idea to give people a taste of work like this while they still have choices. It's far better to know, in advance, what you're in for if you do not acquire some other marketable skill.

By now I think it's actually more of an asset to have lived through such a "surprise" than something unfortunate. I remember my mom always telling me about her work in a sausage factory before she became a teacher and me thinking something like "hell no, I won't even start like this". Then I messed up my university studies big time and in a lucky shot - born from the threat of imminent homelessness - started my career in 24/7 customer service. By hard work and some luck, I eventually found a back door into engineering at that company, ending up as CTO only 6 years later. I'll never forget the lessons of sitting alone through night shifts though for the rest of my life and it's just such a great way to recall some gratitude and humility whenever I need it.

As people in the UK can gather from my surname my family is originally from the North West. Both sides of my family were coal miners. Both met an early grave thanks to coal dust. My father worked at the pit above ground.

My grandparents and parents worked very hard to provide me with the environment to succeed. Success? Stopping another generation from going down the pit.

Whilst I was at university so many other students had the same background. As mundane as call centre and supermarket work maybe at least so few are subjected to those working conditions in the UK now.

There's a fascinating site that maps distributions of surnames in the UK at various times in history:


Here's the map for Blackburn in 1881:


Thank you!

> My grandparents and parents worked very hard to provide me with the environment to succeed. Success? Stopping another generation from going down the pit.

This feels like the generalised version of the story in the BBC article, in a way. Though with the pit closures, what happened to the generation whose parents didn't work hard to get them a chance to do something different?

Half my family is Welsh and I have coal-mining ancestors -- only my great-grandparents, I think, as my Taid ran a pub. I'm the first one in that side of the family to go to university, and I know they were always extremely proud to have put my mum through nursing school and let her find a different path. It really makes you stop and think, and in my case, feel deep gratitude for those who worked hard to set up a better life for relatives they barely even met.

Gave self a "terrifying lesson". Enlisted in the Marine Corps on an open contract. From Day #1, was surrounded by profoundly competent, but wholly crazy, people that seemed to cherish all manner of physical discomfort or mental terror experienced in the course of a day's 'work'. Damn right that the VA benefits were subsequently used for school and CS degree.

Hah, I gave myself that experience after leaving graduate school, but I chose infantry.

I am about to be admin separated from the reserves, but I will say that the experience has been an overall huge positive. You learn how to quickly identify all of the ways leadership is poor in the tech industry, and then get it all fixed. You also don't lack for motivation since you know what it's like to be hounded by a DI or NCO :) .

I can't visualize what's happening when they move the jacks and let the roof collapse. Obviously they don't let it trap them, but I don't understand where the face, cutter, and jacks are in relation to the tunnel that lets them in and out. Does anyone here know?

It sounds like they were using this technique:


Thanks! Those hydraulics are unreal.

This video (apparently marketing material from CAT) helped me understand it: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bXORrVmxwbM

Here's a rough translation of most of it. There may be errors, and I would be happy for more fluent speakers of proper deep Yorkshire to correct them.

    "Come on, son. Gerrup! Ah've a surprise for thi!"
Come on son, get up! I've a surprise for you!

    "Ah see Leetning lost three on t' thutty-niners
     t' other week, Poke. Bloody belt'll kill some'dy
     sooin, tha knows."
I see Lightning lost three (fingers) on the thirty-niners the other week, Poke. Bloody (conveyer) belt will kill somebody soon, you know.

Poke was the author's father's nickname.

"Lightning" was his father's best friend's nickname.

"Thutty-nine" was the coalface they were working on.

    Dad often threw a sickie ...
To take a day off as sick leave, despite not being ill.

    "Stick wi' me, son. Tha'll be reet."
Stick with me, son. You'll be right."

    "Hey up, Poke. Is that thy lad?"
Hey up, Poke. Is that your son?

    "Hey up, Young Pokey. Is tha barn darn t' pit?"
Hey up, son of Poke. Is the child down the pit?

    "Aye, sither. Ah'm barn darn t' thutty-niners
     wi' t' fa'ther."
Aye, you see. I'm (the) child down the coalface with the father.

    "He's a cheyky young bleeder. Tha wants to
     gi'im thick end o' thi belt."
He's a cheeky you lad. You want to give him (the) thick end of your belt.

    "Tha knows Leetning, dun't tha?"
You know Lightning, don't you?

    "Aye, sither, but even then Ah still do bart
     twice as much as thi fa'ther."
Aye, you see, but even then I still do about twice as much as your father.

    "But thy an't had thi surprise yet,"
But you haven't had your surprise yet.

    "Poke's lad darn yet?"
(Is) Poke's son down (here) yet?

    "Reet oh. Ah'll start droppin 'em.
     Watch thi'sens."
Right oh. I'll start dropping them. Watch yourselves.

    "Tha wain't say nowt to thi mam nar,
     will tha? This is just between us men."
You won't say anything (lit. nothing) to your mother, will you? This is just between us men.

    "But tha knows why he done it, dun't tha?"
But you know why he did it, don't you?

    "Nay, lad,"
No, lad.

    "Thi dad had to grease a few palms to
     get thi darn t' pit that day, tha knows."
Your dad had to bribe a few people to get you down the pit that day, you know.

    "Nar look at thi. Tha passed thi Eleven Plus, ...
Now look at you. You passed your 11-plus (a significant school exam),

    "... tha's bin to college an' tha's got
     a reet good job, an't tha?
... you've been to college, and you've got a right good job, haven't you?

    "Exactly! Sither nar, sunshine?"
Exactly! See it now, sunshine?

I'm from the other (right) side of the Pennines but that all looks pretty good to me (and it's not a million miles away from the "lanky twang"[1] either.)

[1] http://www.amazon.co.uk/Lanky-Twang-How-Spoke-Minibooks/dp/0...

A better reading of "Hey up, Young Pokey. Is tha barn darn t' pit?" would be "Hey up, Young Pokey. Are you going down the pit?".

    "Is tha" - "Are you" (from "thou")
    "barn darn" - Barn here mean "bound" or "going"; "darn" is just "down"
    " 'pit" - The pit (roughly the mine)
Similarly, "Aye, sither. Ah'm barn darn t' thutty-niners wi' t' fa'ther" would be read as "Aye, you see. I'm going down the pit with my father".

Slight aside: Anyone else from Yorkshire use/hear "seefing" to mean "seeing if" (as in "I was seefing/seeing if tickets were available"). I hear it relatively often, but I don't recall ever seeing it written, even in dialect.

Shouldn't 'bairn' be spelt that way and not 'barn' as in the article?

Dialectic differences.

  Yorkshire dialect word     : barn
  Generally accepted meaning : child
                              (especially a young child, infant) 	
  Old Norse source word      : barn
                               Same as bairn, which comes from
                               the Old English bearn.  bairn is
                               used as an alternative in some
                               parts of Yorkshire, the other
                               northern counties and Scotland.
From http://www.viking.no/e/england/yorkshire_norse.htm

Pretty sure 'barn' in this sense means 'bound', as in 'heading' or 'going'. "Hey up, Young Pokey. Is tha barn darn t' pit?" reads to me as "Hello, son of Poke. Are you heading down the pit?"

Given that this conversation appears to be directed at the child in question, and the child responds by saying "Ah'm barn darn t' thutty-niners", seems unlikely he'd refer to himself as a 'barn'. Makes more sense to me that he's agreeing - he's bound down the thirty-niners.

Thanks, it's not too hard to grok, but some of the specific words like "Lightning" are hard to understand.

I'm not a native speaker and it was quite hard to understand everything. Reading the sentences aloud made it a bit easier though.

Even as someone from Yorkshire, it's a little difficult to read, because you rarely see it written out. Hearing it definitely helps

My Grandfather is a softer version of this dialect, and I listen to him without a problem, but if he tries to write the same way he speaks, it can be difficult to follow.

"I'd finished college, got my degree and had a highly paid job in social work"

Is that the famous British humor, or do they actually get paid pretty well on that side of the pond?

The popular theme of denigration of labor and blue collar work in general was carefully followed to the letter in the story, but, the author hid some social rebellion in there, describing the feeling of brotherhood and family the workers feel for each other. I worked some labor type jobs as a school kid back when that would actually pay your tuition without taking out loans (aka I'm old) and I also did some time in the reserves and shared adversity leads to brotherhood. You put up with insanity because 1) you actually can do it and 2) your brothers need you. To this day no one has ever had my back and vice versa quite like this one grocery store night shift manager or this one sergeant I was assigned to in the army. Never, in all my white collar experience since. Given the working conditions I don't think making a life of it would be wise, but its an experience worth having.

There's a side dish of most people are extremely soft and aspire to be soft, yet, most people really can also be old school tough.

Also a lesson about anxiety, telling the kid they're going to drop the face would probably create great anxiety and terror for every second from when he heard about it until after the drop, assuming the kid had any idea what they were planning.

It was an enjoyable story and thx for posting.

do social workers actually get paid pretty well on that side of the pond?

The childhood incident is mentioned as being in the 60s, so he'd have graduated in the 70s. At that time, it would have been solid middle class work, and as a graduate he might have gone in a few pay grades up from the bottom. Almost certainly more than the miners.

The strength of miner solidarity would be shown in the strikes of the 70s and 80s. The final strike went on for a whole year and included battles with the police. That was essentially the last stand of the old UK labour movement; since then it has become increasingly difficult to have a legal strike and union recruitment has collapsed.

>> "I'd finished college, got my degree and had a highly paid job in social work"

>Is that the famous British humor, or do they actually get paid pretty well on that side of the pond?

Depends on your perspective. I suspect a social worker's salary in the mid '80s looked pretty good from the perspective of somebody who grew up in a UK mining town (the failed '80s miners' strike and mass redundancies brought some pretty horrible poverty). Social workers are not well paid compared to people who do important work such as frontend web development[1]. Sometimes their managers do pretty well (probably not compared to what they could make in the private sector). In the context of HN I think pretty much everybody is unimaginably poor.

[1] That was the famous British humour

"The popular theme of denigration of labor and blue collar work in general was carefully followed to the letter in the story,"

You know, I am grateful to those who labor hard on my behalf while I work at a desk, doing a job many of them would hate quite thoroughly... but let's distinguish between "hard labor" and "work that will kill you". Lots of people do hard labor in jobs that do not have an "statistically expected number of fingers lost per decade" meaningfully above zero. I've seen a lot of the show Dirty Jobs, and the vast majority of them still have 10 fingers.

Indeed, the brotherhood and sense of camaraderie is what a lot of people miss today, and may not even realize it. I suppose some people get that thru participatting in sports, I never did.

>> To this day no one has ever had my back and vice versa quite like this one grocery store night shift manager or this one sergeant I was assigned to in the army.

Conversely, no one has ever deliberately and methodically screwed me over the way my old sergeant did. That guy was diabolical. Crazy, mean, stupid, pick two, if you're lucky. If you're not then you get all three.

Can confirm, had a nutball bipolar sergeant. On his bad days, he wanted to fight me and then try to bust me down for "disrespect of a superior non-commissioned officer." On his good days, he would whine about how no one respected him or liked him.

I got meritoriously promoted solely to get away from him. The master sergeant congratulated him for "mentoring" me to be such a good Marine. Motherfucker.

Thankfully, he's now EAS'd and in Alaska with the bears, where he belongs.

Agreed, social work is just another kind of welfare, that just tries to give people dignity.

Anybody who is interested in this dialect or 'Yorkshire Life' should give Kes a watch http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0064541/

God no, do not put anybody through that.

We had to study the book and watch the movie for GCSE English.

The writing is florid nonsense. The movie is worse: only one professional actor used throughout (the school teacher), and it shows.

Oh, and spoiler alert: the story is you can't have nice things, because even once you've found something nice you enjoy your brother is a dick and will kill it and put it in the bin.

Horrible, horrible, horrible book and film. Awful.

I'd upvote you 1000x if I could.

Seconding the recommendation. It's a beautiful movie about the friendship about a boy and a bird (also selected as part of the Sight & Sound Top 250 list of best movies of all times).

I've just been rewatching https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Our_Friends_in_the_North , and it's great (although not the same bit of The North).

It stars a James Bond and a Dr Who, and thanks to Game of Thrones I've just got to watch Peter Vaughan tragically decline twice in a few days. It's available on tpb.

Conditions in Victorian coal mines shocked victorian England, particularly when it was discovered that topless young girls co worked with naked men.

My family in medieval times were squires. My grandparents in Yorkshire worked in these conditions. What I've inherited from it is a very strong back.

It's a fascinating time, and a commission was formed by queen victoria to look into it.

This may interest some.


This article has a nice photograph of supports being installed.

Those supports are active - they move forward as the coal is being cut. They have something called a "Chock Control Interface" (it's the smallish box, at knee hight, on the hydrolic arm, with the big thick cables attached.)

I used to build and test those boxes. I was part of a sub-contract firm, the client was Dowty Mining, then Longwall, then Joy Mining. They were fun to build - you used a variety of different engineering.

Seeing that photo gave me a bit of a flashback.

EDIT: This article mentions a radio programme, but does not link to it. The BBC iPlayer makes it hard to find the programme the article talks about.

Here are some about coal mining (including "The Light", the programme talked about): http://www.bbc.co.uk/radio4/collections/p02t6qzd

(One of those mentions the Forest of Dean, which is where one of the Stack Exchange devs is from.)

and here's a direct link to The Light: http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b05y4f96

And here's another programme from that author about growing up poor: http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b01nzqvr

I'm relieved to say that whole drunk father story turned out better than I expected.

... And that's why you always leave a note!

On British regional accents:

I saw a BBC drama from the 1970s where a man with a West Country accent would say (it was subtitled as) e.g. "He'm a farmer", replacing "He is a farmer", consistently throughout.

I have never come across that grammar before and can't find any source for it. All of his other grammatical constructions were comfortably familiar, and no other character (not even neighbours in the same village) spoke in that way.

I wondered, were we supposed to understand something particular from that? Would we have, in the 1970s?

Some people say "I is", so I guess it's conceivable that others say "he am". And I think they say "we am" / "we'm" in Norfolk.

* here's a book on Cotswold Dialect, mentioning we'm and you'm. https://books.google.co.uk/books?id=SNS8AgAAQBAJ&lpg=PA11&ot...

> here's a book on Cotswold Dialect, mentioning we'm and you'm. https://books.google.co.uk/books?id=SNS8AgAAQBAJ&lpg=PA11&ot....

That's a wonderful reference! Thanks so much!

Not everybody in the UK has an exhaustive command of regional accents, including people who work on BBC dramas. It's very possible they just made something up and hoped to get away with it.

Interesting suggestion that I hadn't considered.

I suppose it's possible, but the accents otherwise seemed very natural to that area and to the actors, and it seems remarkable as a choice of invention.

I'm reminded of "I can't use contractions" Cmdr Data in Star Trek. (He does, all the time). It didn't seem an artificial choice in that way.

I can't say I've ever hear it in the south west, but in the west midlands (specifically black country area) the 'am' replacing 'are' is a very common construct (possibly because 'ar' is used in the same context as 'aye' so "Oh ar" or even just "ar" = "Oh aye!" in other regions) so you get things like "am ya?" = "are you?" and "you'm" (or even just "yam") being a contraction of "you am". anecdata: when i lived in Kidderminster, my more well spoken friends used to call people from Stourbridge "Yam yams" because of their propensity to say "Yam awrite am ya?" (Are you alright?) as a greeting

He said "He'm a farmer", and that's what the subtitles said, and he said that instead of "he's a farmer"?

I'm not sure what the question is. I've heard people from rurL locations say this, although it's more Bristol / Dorset than Gloucestershire.

I don't think the BBC has an agenda other than accurately reflecting what people say.

Looks like, "him a farmer", to me. Like:

"What does he do?"

"Him a farmer, he is"

I'm from the south west, pretty sure that's legit.

Subtitling error for an accent the subtitler was unfamiliar with?

Sorry if this wasn't clear: that is what I heard, and the subtitler agreed.

Hmm, I'm not terribly familiar with the West Country accent, but from the little I know, "I" could be drawled out to "He", no? If not, disregard me :P

As a kid I heard the song 'We Work The Black Seam Together' by Sting. It was protesting the closure of mines in England. Even as a kid I couldn't imagine what was going through his head. Yes many minors were put out of work and I'm sure many of them and their families were put into horrible poverty or worse but breaking the generational cycle had to have been a positive thing.

People in the UK can listen to this on BBC (radio) iPlayer as it was on Radio4 this morning: http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b05y4f96

Having just read the article, I'm now so much more thankful that watching my parents' relative struggle was informative enough for me to pursue education and a good career, that they never had to "scare" me out of anything.

I still have no idea what the surprise was. That was really poorly written. The roof caved in? They did it on purpose and then something exploded?

Does anyone need a translation of any of that? I don't speak broad Yorkshire, but I can probably help out with the more difficult bits.

I never was given a lesson like this, but I learned the same lesson by working one summer in a factory that made gas barbecues. I saw the hard physical work, the utter tedium, and it was without doubt the best motivation to get a good degree and work I enjoyed.

This was a great read. Thank you.

That article struck a chord with me as I grew up in a small village in the north of Scotland that was dominated by one industry - fishing. Most of my male ancestors for ~300 years had some connection with fishing and an alarming number died in accidents.

At high school we had one teacher who had a simple way of attempting to motivate kids - his room was at the top of the school building and had a splendid view out over the Moray Firth - he'd simply look out the window and comment on how rough the weather was - everyone knew what he meant.

When I was at University one of my school friends suggested I come away with him on the trawler he worked on for ~5 days - just to experience it. I lasted about 3 days before pretty much having to retire to my bunk with a mixture of sea-sickness, fatigue and quite a bit of fear (one of the crew helpfully pointed out the likelihood of escaping from the cabin where the berths were if the boat went down). It was cold and, to me, amazingly rough - which everyone thought was hilarious as it was the middle of July and they used to fish year round.

"Hey up, Poke. Is that thy lad?" - Hello, is that you lad?

Then to me: "Hey up, Young Pokey. Is tha barn darn t' pit?" - Hello, Young Pokey. Is your child down the pit?

"Aye, sither. Ah'm barn darn t' thutty-niners wi' t' fa'ther." Yes he is, the child is down the mines with the father"

"He's a cheyky young bleeder. Tha wants to gi'im thick end o' thi belt." - He's a cheeky young bleeder(bugger), you want to give him the thick end of the belt.

"Thi dad had to grease a few palms to get thi darn t' pit that day, tha knows. Nar look at thi. Tha passed thi Eleven Plus, tha's bin to college an' tha's got a reet good job, an't tha?" - Your Dad had to grease a few palms to get down the pit that day, you know(Good gestures to the right people). Now look at him, he passed the eleven plus, been to college, got a right good job and that?

I'm from Leeds, Yorkshire. But this is very broad Yorkshire. Was a pleasure to read it actually. The part of Yorkshire I am based at the moment has a lot of folk who still speak this way. Some things still throw me. Tha' knows.


It's like a whole new language, the southerners struggle to understand us sometimes and think we're crazy.

There is the little detail in there that when the kid is speaking like that the other miner assumes he's joking, because that's not his natural accent. It's very regional. The bit in My Fair Lady where Higgins places people to the street level by accent isn't quite realistic but it's very close.

(a map for our American readers:


Movement of households, radio, TV, and internet are homoginising accents. E.g. yoofs speaking Ebonics in island nations.

Some people have an incredible ability to place accents e.g. I was hitching in Ireland, he picked up another guy, and then thw driver guessed the birthplace of the hitcher to a tiny village (10s of people) just by accent.

I have picked that someone I met at the pub was from a particular house (flat) by accent once (students sharing house).

A minor point, but in the third passage Leetning is speaking to the author and so I think the translation should be "Now look at you, you passed the eleven plus..."

"Is that your lad?"

"Ah'm barn darn t' thutty-niners wi' t' fa'ther."

I'm bairn down the thirty niners with father

Not grammatical - hence I think why folk though he was talking the mickey.

@ColinWright, can you help out with following text from the article? Just don't want to miss out on the inner meaning of the message from father to son. Many thanks!

> "I'm sorry. Tha wain't say nowt to thi mam nar, will tha? This is just between us men."

"You won't say anything to your mom now, will you?"

Tha = thee, the familiar form of "you". "Only thee-thou's them as thee-thou's you": family and close friends only. This is dying out. I recall my Yorkshire grandmother using it, but only intermittently.

wain't = won't nar = now

These are both on the other side of a vowel shift.

Nowt = nothing. This is a bit of dialect that's still alive, partly due to its use in the TV advertising slogan "Bread wi' Nowt Taken Out".

TV and the class system have long worked against UK regional accents and dialect.

I live in Leeds now, but grew up in Nottingham (70 miles south, also coal-mining country) and we said "owt" and "nowt" - but pronounced like "oat", not "out".

Also your stereotypical Yorkshire would shorten "the" to "t'" (going down t'pit) - we would drop it completely "guin' dahn pit".

Sometimes I reckon Yorkshire folks think I'm taking the piss the way I say things.

I was at Uni with a bloke from Burnley, and he used to say "obbat" and "nobbat" (for "owt" and "nowt" respectively), although I've never heard them since.

Just a quick note, I thought this was all the same thing, as it was on the same line, but now I see the split

"wain't = won't nar = now"

wain't = won't

nar = now

I only got it after reading your comment. Thanks.

The idea that the old thou/you distinction is finally dying out for good at the start of the 21st century genuinely upsets me.

nowt = naught

The main one to get is "tha" and "thi" which are various pronunciations of "thee." Archaiac pronouns, "thee," "thou" etc are still used in various english regional dialects.

When I was a kid in the south west I used to hear people say "About she-high" or "about yay (yea?) high" when gesturing to approximate the size of an object.

"About yay high" is a pretty common expression in New England, especially the more isolated parts

I certainly heard it, and I grew up in a large Midwestern city...

"ye" for you is fairly common in some Scots dialects e.g.

"far ye gan?" - "Where are you going?"

I've put a more complete translation of the non-standard English bits here:


"Watch thi'sens." = "Watch yourselves"

Make sure you read to the end. TL;DR doesn't really work.

TL;DR: Kid thinks Dad is crazy. Crazy dad takes kid to hell of an workplace. Kid hates dad for that. Kid discovers dad did it so that kid won't ever have or want to work in a place like that. Kid love dad again.


nailed it!

Thank you. I really despise this sort of blatant clickbait headlines.

It could have been more descriptive, but I'd say it's pretty low on the scale of headline obnoxiousness. And the story is well-written, detailed and touching, I thought.

click baiting from the BBC is quite rare so it is not so bad.

I think we've jumped the shark. You're pleased that you got a TL;DR for a non-clickbait, well written article, just because you despise blatant clickbait headlines?

With a story like this, a barebones explanation loses something - there's a reason all those other words are there (to convey feeling or emotion, to place you in the context of the story, etc).

Well that only works because you actually did read the whole thing and made it shorter. Isn't TL;DR; any more :-)

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