I’ve been reliving my primary school years this evening. Heading back to the tender age of ten when Skid Row released their first album. I went to see them last night and they were awesome! Skid Row aren’t the only reason I’m trawling back through the annals of my primary school memories. This week, all I knew in those early years died.
We are currently listening to reports on the news of women being underrepresented in the FTSI 100 boardrooms. My first memories are of the most powerful person in my life. Margaret Thatcher. I was born in 1978 and for the whole of my childhood we had but one prime minister. She was all-powerful. She could decide whether I drank milk or water. OK, maybe that’s not all powerful, but it is nearly as powerful as my mum. My mum knitted me a jumper using scraps of wool with a He-man sword on the back and baked us a gingerbread house cake! Margaret Thatcher was nearly that powerful!
For the last three days I have been in a strange and uncharted world. I see the a family grieving for Mrs T and I feel for them. I see the press deifying her in none stop rolling coverage. I also see a church that is divided in its opinions of her and unsure of what it is supposed to do in this situation. I don’t know what to do in this situation. I am torn. I write this post with one question throbbing in the heartland of my cerebral cortex. “What am I supposed to say?” Heck, I’m ‘the vicar’ so surely I should have ‘something’ to say.
Actually, I’m at a loss for words. I’m stuck between the rock and the hard place. I’m a [luxury*] miner’s lad! I come from a pit village in the heart of God’s Country, Yorkshire. I lived through the miners strike. At five years old I watched people sharing everything on the kitchen table and working out who needed the money most. I played kerbie outside whilst they decided who could eat this week. Liver and onions. Or cheese pie, a dish my gran invented by layering everything that everyone had in a casserole dish. Tinned tomatoes, mashed potato and grated cheese then placed under the grill. My mum made that for me about four weeks ago as a nostalgia kick. And I still love eating liver! Nom!
Every one of my male relatives was put out of work except one. My dad had moved to potash mining which continues to this day at Boulby in the North Yorkshire Moors. It was purely down to a decision my parents made to move to North Yorkshire. but everyone else remained in the pit village. Everyone lost their job. Some never worked again. A village, a town, a community was ripped apart. The community had its heart ripped out. No paramedics were called. No hospital treatment was offered. No transplant was given. Just the body left lying on the floor bleeding out.
Two years ago as part of a our ongoing ministerial education, I and three other priests had to present the socio-political factors in our respective parishes. We had to compare and contrast the different areas around our region. One of these priests comes from the same pit village as my family. He was then ministering just down the road in the village next door. What were our discoveries? Just by being born in an area your average life expectancy reduces by six years. 1 in 4 are suffering from long term illness. More than 50% of the population have no qualifications. At all. 1 in 3 have a job.
But I’m the vicar. So I have kept a rather undignified silence. There are people watching. The press are watching. Waiting for that chance to single someone out and make an example of them. And so I’m “not allowed” to remember those experiences I’ve lived through. Certainly couldn’t put them on Facebook. Couldn’t blog about them. What if the Daily Mail saw it? I’d get in trouble. It is as if someone has taken my voice. This week something died… inside me. And I’m not allowed to mention it. So I won’t. I will maintain my undignified silence. I’ll leave it to a bishop.
“Where the pit head once stood, with thousands of people working to produce more coal faster and more efficiently that at most other pits, there is smooth level grass. Empty to the eye, but pregnant with bereavement. All around, despite the heroic efforts of local leaders, there are signs of postindustrial blight, with all the fallout of other people’s power games. And that sight stands in my mind as a symbol… What hope is there for communities that have lost their way, their way of life, their coherence, their hope?” – NT Wright, Surprised by Hope p5
*My dad always reminds me that he’s “an electrician who worked down the pit. A luxury miner”.