When my father went from shot-fireman to the dizzy heights of deputy, a sort of health and safety inspector underground in the coal mine his duties would now involve testing for gas, checking the general condition of the roof, and measuring water levels. This work would often take him into old workings and places where time had little meaning. Keeping track of time would require the purchase of a watch, however, coal mines and watches did not good bedfellows make. Dust, water, and a harsh working environment would all be pitted against such a delicate instrument.
The pages of the ‘Exchange and Mart’ cast up a likely candidate that would fit the bill. The advert told him it was shockproof, showerproof, dustproof, and came with a lifetime of service guarantee. The watch, cleverly marketed as ‘Aircraft’, therefore quality assured, could be his for the princely sum of 1 pound 2 shillings and 6 pence. Dad duly sent off a postal order for that sum and in return received a shiny new pocket watch.
To protect the watch dad fashioned a pocket made from an old piece of sheepskin. Once secure within this pocket the two were placing inside a Four Square tobacco tin, such tins were common place at that time, and not only did such tins have a screw on lid, but an airtight seal to keep the original contents in fresh condition, ideal for keeping dust and moisture away from the watch. Now the watch, secure in it sheepskin jacket and further protected by its steel overcoat, as a first line of defence against knocks and dents, was ready for work.
Dipping his lamp as he approached a team working at the coal face, one lad, on recognising my father, called out.
“Have you got the time on you Jimmy?”
Dad removed the watch, first from its metal case, then its sheepskin jacket, but before he could read off the time the lad called out again, in a voice loud enough for all to hear.
“A telt yi Jimmy had money, even his watch has a fur coat”