The Captive Rat by Kenny Phillips

Kenny in his Kilt

I was in correspondence with Kenny shortly before his death in August 2023 and he sent me the following poem that he had written.   

The Captive Rat  by Kenny Phillips


Here am I trapt in a cage

Still gettin’ o’er my ain outrage

Tae think that me wi’ much experience

Should pey the price tricked only yince.

But then again I must admit

At that time I felt a tad unfit

My adversary was Norman Vallance

He led me mony a merry dance.


He had been a skilled gemkeeper

And long time weys of Nature seeker

Noo he leads the Ayrshire Patrol

Sharin’ a’ he kens on Pest Control.

I was born near Dalgarven Mill

And feedin’ there took my fill

But grinding stanes unsettled me

So aff I set completely free.


I followed the Bombo and the Dusk Burns

Tae visit the various ferms by turns

Fae auld Blair Castle tae Wheaty Falls

And Cleeve Cove fossils near Ashyfaulds.

Alick, I watched ye getherin’  fruit

Tae make delicious bramble jelly

And unner the stanes ginnel for troot

And laugh each time ye tickled their belly.


Jimmy Wallace wi’ boys and much clatter

Transferred fifty troot tae the Blue Watters

Fae the Dusk doon below in a pail

Sclimbed up the hill withoot much scail.

Each troot wrigglin’ and still alive

Was gently slipt intae paradise.

The clear watter contained much feedin’

And that wis a’ the troot were needin’.


Big fat minins were the main fare

And hunners o’ tadpoles added mair

In a few short years they became five pounders

And everybody thocht they were real sounders.

Yae fine day by lucky accident

My smelling nose picked up your scent

Near some auld kilns that made quick lime

And followed you tae Bowertrapping mine.


Alick, frien, you left me a crust

Atween the pit props and coalface dust

And here we seemed a rare pair

Sharin’ a bite o’ humble fare.

Crawlin’ aboot on hauns and knees

Cramp would aften yer muscles seize

Watter dripping doon the walls

Soakt through yer stinkin’ overalls.


Lying lengthwise on yin hip

Yer carbide lamp could barely lit

The twa feet seam o’ precious coal

Extracted wi’ much costly toll.

On your hunkers ye stopped tae rest

Tae ease the cramp and heaving chest

Nae heicht tae staun ablow the ceilin’

Or bandage  knuckles skint and bleedin’.


I ask you, Alick, to forgive me, please

For helpin’ spread the Weil’s disease

Like you, I suffered the bitin’ flaes

Hidin’ among oor woollen claes.

Brocht up fae the mine a’ dishevelled

Norman set my cage on dross he levelled

Noo he’s gien me an hour’s grace

Tae clean me up and wash my face


In warm sunshine my een are bricht

My coat is shinin’ and I’ve lost a’ fricht

Nae mair being chased by cruel young brats

Wi’ sticks, ferets, bulldugs and tomcats

The time we spent was short and brief

And I hope oor pairtin’s no wi grief.

I can relax here jist noo at my leisure

And think richt back on you wi’ pleasure


I sit up stracht my whiskers tae brush

And listen tae a pheasy and thrush

Norman makes shair my end will be quick

With finger and thumb and only one flick.

But Alick, my frien, I don’t envy thee

Fae yer hard wark ye canna flee

Graftin’ awa’ tae feed wife and weans

Risking yer life and broken banes.


The flaes that spread the Weil’s disease

will still be bitin’ aroun’ yer knees

Doacters can cure you o’ many ills

But lingerin’ pneumoconiosis defy their pills

Ye’ll cough  up blood and blackened lung

Much worse than by a bee being stung

Strugglin’ for braith ye’ll fade away

Wi’ excruciating pain till the last day


The coal ye howk causes climate change

The economy will fail on a wider range

Being made redundant will be dreaded

And worse, trying for Universal Credit.

I was quite taken by the poem and tale it told and sent him an email saying that I had known him since the 1960’s but hadn’t known he was a miner.   His reply read as follows:

“The background to my poem is: I was born in a miners Raw in the Peesweep, Dalry. Most of the farms and mines in Dalry belonged to the Blair Estate. The heir to the Estate, Miss Blair, collected money for every ton of coal dug but was discomforted by the occupiers watching her travelling to the kirk on Sundays in her pony and trap and she got all the windows moved to the rear of the houses, when the houses were then called Peesweep or Turned or Blair.

During the 2nd world war I lived in a single end in a tenement with 8 families in Smith Street. Dalry, with my parents and 3 sisters. The miners were asked to dig for victory and when a new mine was opened at Bowertrapping, Dalry, one of my cousins in New Cumnock came with a pal to work the night shifts and return home at the weekend. When we went to school in the morning, they slept in the bed which never got cold. No miners baths at that time. Outside cold tap or zinc bath in front of the fire. Carbide lamps.

My grandfather and uncles were all miners. My grandfather was reputed to be one of the hardest workers but he died in his fifties with pneumoconiosis. I watched my mother’s uncle die, fading away to six stone and coughing his lungs up. Only his spirit kept him going. I vowed then never to become a miner.

I trained as a Sanitary Inspector and Meat Inspector. Norman Vallance. a former gamekeeper became the top Pest Control Officer and he taught us all the skills used to catch and dispose of pests. He could kill a rat instantly with a finger and thumb breaking its neck. When meat was de-rationed in 1954 I was appointed as Meat Inspector in the three slaughterhouses in Kilwinning, Saltcoats and Largs. Near the Kilwinning slaughterhouse was a large henhouse infested with rats, which was not responding to the new magic Warfarin treatment. We sat in the office eating our pieces one lunchtime discussing the problem. Warfarin takes 3 days to fill the lungs with water instead of blood and the unsuspecting rats drown . We decided that these rats were obtaining compensatory blood with spillages at the slaughterhouse. Norman reverted to the old poisons and the infestation soon cleared up. 50 years later, I read a PhD paper coming to the same conclusion. Doctors keep prescribing Warfarin as an anti-coagulant but I have always resisted using it.

Rats can carry fleas infected with Weil’s disease and Miners are prone to be infected with the disease transmitted by the fleas. Seeking out the rats can involve dangerous locations.

When I was Burgh Surveyor in Stewarton, I was introduced at a Public Health Conference to Willie Cunningham, Chief Sanitary Inspector of Clydebank, Red Clydeside. He said, “They are all communists in Stewarton”. My reply was, “I am the only one”.”

He was a quite amazing man – I kept finding out wee bits from time to time but when his life has been laid out as he did there for me in August this year I was surprised again and the breadth of his experiences and the depth of his thinking.   It came then with no surprise to hear that there would be no funeral, he wanted to donate his body to Glasgow University.   Some man.