Read an Extract from Keeping On Keeping On by Alan Bennett

Read an Extract from Keeping On Keeping On by Alan Bennett

5 November 2005, Yorkshire.

I have failed on several occasions to order in more coal with the result that the coal shed is almost empty, with piled against the back wall a large heap of slack – wet coal dust – well mixed in among it a lot of small coal and the occasional large cob. I sieve this out, saving the burnable coal and putting the coal dust into (extremely heavy) sacks. I wish the village still had its bonfire on the recreation ground as it could have gone straight on the pile.

But it reminds me how when stocks of coal were low during the war we used to sift the coal dust then and how for some (though not in Armley) that was their living, scratting on slag heaps for occasional cobs of coal which they would pile in an old pram and wheel home.

Just after the war, it must have been early in 1946 when we were living at Grandma’s, Aunty Myra, Gordon and me went with a pram to a place down Armley Road where we queued for logs which we pushed back up over past Armley Gaol and down to Gilpin Place.

All these thoughts going through my head this Saturday afternoon as I sift the coal in the shed and sweep it out, and so pleased am I by the emptiness of it, and by the fact that I have cleaned up thirty years’ accumulation of slack that I go back two or three times to admire my handiwork. Once, I suppose, it would have been an opportunity to whitewash it.

We have mice, the result of R. leaving a bag of grass seed in the cupboard under the stairs and tempting in some migrants from next door. Occasionally in winter we’ve had field mice and even on one occasion dormice, but have taken care to restore them to their natural habitat. But these are dark small house mice and so fast-moving they’re hard to see – there’s movement, but what of?

So ‘mice’ goes down on the Settle shopping list where there are two hardware shops. Practically Anything in the marketplace is just that, an Aladdin’s cave of household goods, pots, pans, buckets and brushes and gadgets of every description, all very low-priced. But no poison. Tom, who keeps the shop, doesn’t approve, but doesn’t have any humane traps in stock either so that sends us to Ashfield, the more ordered and professional hardware store on the car park. While this is the shop for the dedicated carpenter or DIY enthusiast and is also a farm shop, happily absent is that blank-faced flat-voiced male expertise such shops often purvey, particularly in London. Indeed when I ask for a mouse-trap, the oldest assistant, now in his eighties, says, ‘Follow me to the mouse department,’ and we are taken to three shelves stacked with every type of rodent eliminator. We get a humane trap and some poison on the principle that if the mouse doesn’t take the sensible option and allow itself to be caught and transported, it deserves all it gets.

‘Does this put them to sleep?’ I ask.
The assistant pats my hand. ‘We like to think so.’

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