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
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
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
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
"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!"