Coal Turf and Blocks


Our story of the week is a story about mistakes from the writer Frank E Lee.

Frank started writing when he was given a pen and notebook for Christmas. Over many years he has written short stories, plays and non-fiction, but has always struggled to be published – so he takes consolation in saying that he writes for himself.

In Coal Turf and Blocks, Frank explores the lingering weight of foolish mistakes.


In the days before Christmas the weather turned very cold and people said it would surely snow. Demand for coal, turf and blocks placed considerable pressure on my uncle’s yard. He ran the undertaking on the labour of his three sons, all big strong young fellows who were learning the rudiments of the family business.

I had been drafted in to assist over the festive season. “Give you something to do,” my mother had muttered, “instead of reading books all the time.” So I was installed as the yard boy, taking orders for coal, turf or blocks from customers ranging over various social strata reflecting the diversity of the developing suburb. The yard was an extensive enclosed cemented space that had once housed the stables of a considerable dwelling dating from the mid-nineteenth century. Old cobble stones paved the streets leading down to the river and the nearby dwellings had once formed an elegant Georgian square. The large house had been converted into flats and the yard now stood almost self-consciously embarrassed amid a fast expanding neighbourhood that included old mansions, fishermen’s cottages, rows of once elegant Georgian homes now falling into disrepair and recently constructed Council dwellings to accommodate those moved from the condemned inner-city slums.

A small wooden office provided the only shelter. Inside the makeshift structure, a desk, table and pot-bellied stove competed for space. In fact the stove seldom worked properly.Read more…