What does the following quote from D.H. Lawrence's novel, Sons and Lovers, mean? "An' I says, 'Tha'd better stan' on a bit o' clunch, an' hold it up wi' thy 'ead.' So 'e wor that mad, 'e cossed an' 'e swore, an' t'other chap."
In this phrase from D.H. Lawrence's Sons and Lovers, a gaffer (in England a foreman, in particular the overseer of a group of laborers) comes to Paul Morel—who works in the mines—and complains about the props. A "prop" is some kind of beam, pole or structural support to hold something up. When Morel responds, he uses the word "clunch" which, in parts of Europe, particularly in England and Normandy, it refers to a common building material (hardened clay).
This comment is made by Morel at a tavern or pub, which he frequents on a regular basis:
An' I says, 'Tha'd better stan' on a bit o' clunch, an' hold it up wi' thy 'ead.' So 'e wor that mad, 'e cossed an' 'e swore, an' t'other chap.
According to Morel, when the gaffer complains, Morel meets his concerns with a flippant (or disrespectful) response. He basically says:
And I said, "Thou [You] had better stand on a bit of clunch [hardened clay] and hold it [the "ceiling" of the mine] up with thy [your] head." And the gaffer was so mad, he cursed and he swore at the other chap [man].
It would appear that Morel is venting his own person frustration. His home life is hard, living with a Puritan woman who punishes him for his failings, not seeing him at all for who he is, but who he could be. It is a struggle for Paul Morel. He spends some time, almost everyday of the week, drinking, though it rarely interfers with his work. It does, however, support the notion that Morel aggravates others for the pleasure of it. Perhaps this makes him feel that he has some small control over what happens in his life.
The manager of the mine was complaining that the props were not sufficient to hold the roof of the mine up. Mr Morel replied that he should stand on a lump of hardened clay (common in mines) and hold the roof up with his head. The manager was angry and cursed and swore at him, and the other man....