Journey down the pit with my latest bookshelf find - Ian McMillan

Running my eyes along my disorganised bookshelves I spot and old-style Penguin cover with the orange spine and the instantly recognisable Penguin at the top; when I was a young man I bought loads of Penguin books.

Ian McMillan's latest bookshelf find is about mining.

The Penguin Modern Poets series and the Penguin Modern European Poets introduced me to writers I’d never otherwise have come across as did the Penguin Classics and the Penguin Modern Classics. I’m looking forward to the day when I can spring out of lockdown and go to a charity shop and hunt out any Penguins I might not have read.

I pull the book from the shelf in my room and it’s a pretty old one from one of the aforementioned charity shops. The cover is by someone called John Griffiths and it features some stark-looking pithead gear, a couple of miners, an ashtray, a few paint brushes and some bottles of beer.

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The book is called Weekend In Dinlock written by an American journalist called Clancy Segal. It was published in 1962 and at the time it caused a bit of storm in a snap tin because of the way Segal portrayed the people of the coalfield.

The Yorkshire Post columnist Ian McMillan

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To be kind to Sigal, he is plunging into a world that’s different to the one he’s used to and I guess he’s trying to be objective but if you want to use that contemporary term ‘othering’, he’s certainly othering the good folk of Dinlock.

Here’s his first view of the place: “I walk along the wind-swept cold streets of Dinlock without any people on them. Ugly and dreary, certainly, but no more so than many such coal towns I’ve visited. The usual semi-detached and back-to-back malignancies, shabby brick dwellings with unkempt gardens, the brick old and cracked and sooted.” A tourist brochure it isn’t!

Sigal is taken down the mine and the writing springs to life as the cage plummets down: “Suddenly we are plunging down at a dizzying, terrifying pace into sheer, impossible blackness. Without my willing it my head jerks up, my eyes explore for the last sign of daylight. We appear to be dropping at a rate too fast to let us stop short of disaster.”

If you can get hold of it, Weekend In Dinlock is well worth reading; it’s of its time, certainly, but it’s still a very interesting outsider’s view of a vanished world. Wonder what I’ll find on my shelves next week?

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