Knocker and the Ghosts

The other day, me marra was late for work, so I says, "Hey, what's the matter wi' ye the day?"
He says, "Oh, man, Ned... I slept the caller!"
Why, I knew what he meant ... that he'd slept in ... but it took me mind back to the time when every pit village really did have a Caller. Ye know, a sort of human alarm clock, somebody that went round the rows in the night, gettin' folks out o' bed in time for work.
The one I remember best was the one they had when I was a bairn, Old Knocker Jordan. There used to be a lot o' talk about how he got his name, an' some folks said they called him Knocker 'cause he went round the doors knockin' folks up. Others, though, used to say that in his young days he'd been a bit of a boxer, an' he got called Knocker 'cause he knocked folks out.
Anyways, even in his sixties he was a fine figure of a man, an' his job meant he got plenty o' exercise. Every hour through the night, he went round the whole colliery, carrying with him his lamp an' his little wooden mell.
In them days, hangin' outside every back door there used to be an ordinary bit slate, like they put on the roofs, an' if anybody wanted a call, why, they just used to chalk the time on it afore they went to bed. Like a big 2 if they wanted callin' at two o'clock, or a big 3 or 4 or so on. Then, as he did his rounds through the night, the Caller would shine his lamp on the slates to see whe wanted callin' when.
He needed the lamp, o' course, 'cause there was no street lights then, an' he needed his little wooden mell for brayin' on the doors wi'. The sounder the sleeper, the harder Old Knocker had to hammer, an' he'd keep on hammerin' away there until somebody came downstairs to open the door.
In fact, openin' the door was the only way o' gettin' rid o' him, an' if ye kept on sleepin', why, the noise might easily wake your neighbours so there'd be some angry words in the mornin'.
Once he'd called ye, though, Knocker had done his job, so if ye went back to bed an' to sleep again, it was your own fault an' "ye'd slept the Caller!"
Mind, talkin' about Knocker Jordan reminds us of a tale I once heard about him. It seems like there was two young chaps once thought they'd play a bit o' a trick on him, an' give him a bit a' a gliff. They dressed themselves in long, white sheets, an' in the middle o' the night laid in wait for him at the end o' Institute Row. Then, as Knocker turned the corner, they jumped out on him, waving their arms, an' moanin' an' wailin' someick awful ...!
The idea was that he'd take them for a couple o' ghosts, an' turn an' run ... but, no, they'd picked on the wrong man!
Knocker Jordan sees these two frightenin' lookin' figures, but he doesn't turn a hair. He just ups wi' his little mell, an' starts brayin' away at where the ghosts' heads would be if ghosts had heads. With all the practice he'd had hammerin' on back doors, he was a dab hand at it, and the two young chaps soon found out their heads weren't so hard as the doors Knocker had practised on. The wailin' an' moanin' that come from them then was far worse than afore, an' it wasn't long afore they took to their heels an' ran. Aye, they disappeared even quicker than real ghosts would have done ...
Why, wi' the sheets ower their heads, Knocker didn't know who they were ... but next morning', it was easy to spot them! There was two chaps off work then, an' for a canny few more days, an' they went round the colliery wi' bandages wrapped round an' round their heads.
Mind, Knocker realised they hadn't meant him any real harm, so, even when he knew who'd tried to put the wind up him, he didn't do anything about it.
Except for one thing ... ever afterwards, them two young chaps were never sure at what time they were ganna get called! They might be havin' a nice sound sleep, not expectin' to wake until mornin', an' then about three o'clock, there would be this hammerin' on the back door. When they went downstairs to find out what it was all about, Old Knocker would point to the slate hangin' up, an' show them he'd only called them at the time chalked on there. Then, when they said they hadn't put it on, Knocker would look puzzled.
"Why, if ye didn't put it on," he used to say, "I wonder whe did ...? Aye, I know ... it must have been a ghost!"

L.W.