Two events last weekend
Two miners’ strike commemoration events last weekend raised different social haunting issues for me. The first was the With Banners Held High (WBHH) celebration at Unity Works in Wakefield on Saturday 7th March, the second was the ‘march back’ at Hatfield Colliery - one of the 3 remaining British pits - on Sunday 8th (some photos posted here). Both events were very valuable, necessary and interesting but in different ways, and both spoke to the ‘past in the present’ in different ways too. Much as I really enjoyed WBHH’s speeches, debates, performances and upbeat conviviality (and I did, very much: no caveats), I felt it addressed the issues in a necessarily conventional way: as any such big event had to do, really. It was well organised, thoroughly planned and ran pretty much like clockwork. I spoke about my work and our social haunting project in one of the debates and was well received.
The march back event at Hatfield was very different I felt, and it really struck me. It was VERY real somehow. Of course, we were in the pit village of Dunscroft, the home village for a working pit, so it was real in that sense. To see the Colliery head gear just over the top of the village was extraordinary: a sight I haven’t seen close up since my last local pits shut in the early 1990s; a sight, back then, that was an absolute commonplace for me. I was born less than 50 yards form the pit gates in Langwith, Derbyshire, and before the strike in 1984 there were a dozen pits within about a 10 mile circle of where I sit writing this now. I used to pass a number of them every day just going about my life. I could see one, Brookhouse, from this window.
In Dunscroft, as well, the real impoverishment of a once thriving village was clear and shocking and even though I know many of the villages like the back of my hand I still find this aspect both upsetting and a source of fury. That felt real. And hurtful too. But that aside, the Dunscroft/Hatfield event had a real life and a raucous energy to it: people opened their doors or sat on their walls and watched excitedly, just as they did in the ‘march backs’ of 30 years ago. Kids tagged along as they did then. People talked and talked and talked and laughed as they waited for the new Hatfield Main NUM banner to be unveiled. And the beer went down in the Broadway pub in a clamour of voices and chinking beer glasses that I have’t heard so loud and alive anywhere around here since the end of the strike! In fact, it felt like being in the strike all over again. Maybe it was - literally - (from Walter Benjamin’s philosophical perspective at least) being in the strike all over again. Maybe that’s a way in which the ghosts might make themselves known beyond the conventional fear and depression that they breed. Maybe they just burst through into the present of a still urgently living past: enfleshed, sinewy, perspiring, a little bit uncouth and bellowing loudly for attention. Not at all the spectral wraiths of our conventional imaginings. Even in the saddest of sad, private moments when a singer sang the Ballad of Freddie Matthews - a picket killed in the 1972 strike - the feeling was of life embraced, cherished and vigorously, viscerally lived. At the event after the march, the Miners Welfare was heaving like all the clubs did 30 years ago: no tobacco smoke maybe, but noisy and sweaty; none of the concert room microphones quite working properly; queues at the bar and the buffet; all a little bit ramshackle, but swelling with life. Abundant with life. Which is just the thing that struck me about theThatcher funeral that took place at Goldthorpe.
Geoff Bright 8th March, 2015