Sunday, 14 April 2013

Onwards and Upwards - The Thatcher Legacy!

I would love to discuss some lighter topics but this week this would seem somehow inappropriate.

When someone dies, whatever your view of that person you can't help but reflect on the past.  Maybe that person had an influence on your life or maybe not,  but the fact that they are no longer around fills you with a feeling of bafflement, and an awareness of your own mortality.

I can remember as a young girl that when someone in your own street died, everyone displayed a great deal of respect.  You probably didn't know the deceased but were aware of their existence. We always closed our curtains during the time of the funeral, people often lined the route of the courtege and men would remove their caps as the hearse passed by. People talked in hushed tones and I was aware of the family and friends' sadness associated with the demise of this individual.

I contrast this with then and now and the way some people have chosen to express their views of Margaret Thatcher who only died a few short days ago.  Whatever people's views about the politics of the time, the quite extreme comments of individuals of the past week are certainly worrying and depressing.  Courtesy and respect for the dead is absent. Some claim the right to behave in this derogatory way but were not even born during the time of Thatcher's premiership.  Even worse are those who are of a certain age and indeed my age,  who were around and indulge in this pseudo anger and venom which is totally disproportionate to their own experience of these times.

The fact is that although many carp about the destruction of communities in the North and the part that MT played, they are looking at the world then through rose coloured spectacles........and also the most vociferous were not even there.  Academics probably listen to the very vocal minority who pedal their own perspective according to their own agenda but do they reflect the real feelings of the vast majority?

Let me explain where I am coming from..........

I was brought up in a small mining community in South Yorkshire.  My late father was Polish and had joined the Polish Army as an underage recruit, encouraged to escape the worst aspects of the invasion by his family.  Dad was one of many unsung heroes of the War who couldn't bring himself to talk about many of the things which happened to him and his family.   After the war he was given the choice of the UK or USA to live and he chose the UK.  Many years later the Red Cross put him in touch with the remaining members of his family who had survived the camps and other vehicles of war.

Displaced as he was he needed employment with limited options and that is how he became a miner.  Dad always had a very strong work ethic and always wanted to achieve. He didn't see mining as long term but in the end he worked in the pits for 20 years on the coal face.  It was a miserable existence and was fraught with danger - he sustained many injuries and they left a long term mark on his health.

I can remember mum waiting by the window for him to return home from a shift and when he was late the worry and anxiety was etched on her face.  Lateness usually meant an accident.  One specific incident was when Dad had been in a tunnel as they were excavating the coal and part of the tunnel collapsed.  A pit prop fell with the debris and struck Dad on the head and he was knocked out.  As a child I was amazed at the size of the lump on his forehead. He never fully recovered from this and would often wake in the middle of the night with blinding headaches.  If you also factor in his flashbacks of the war he must have gone through hell, but he did't complain he just got on with things.

Dad didn't work in a colliery near to his home as "foreigners" weren't allowed to work there. So he had to travel quite a distance to work.

Why am I telling you all this?  Well to provide a true picture of what really went on. Yes there were communities within communities - those who wanted to maintain the status quo to maintain the nuclear family.  People lived closely and  knew everyone. Fathers and their sons, uncles, brothers would often worked in the mines. Families worked and played together. Their social lives revolved around the network of working mens clubs. The fact that maybe you could move on and do something different was not always an option that was aired - why would you want anything different?

My mum and dad saved as much as possible during those 20 years and eventually enough for dad and my mother to start small businesses which they then could use their considerable skills and determination and were very successful.  They did not want to perpetuate a regime where your children had to follow in their father's footsteps into an industry which was dangerous and also very limiting.  They wanted something better. The grammar school/ secondary modern system helped to provide an alternative future for us. Academically or practically based education provided different avenues for children which many exploited to the full and achieved more promising futures.

So when we hear about the communities who vilify Thatcher, who by the way closed less mines than
the previous government......, did they really want to perpetuate this way of life for their children just to maintain the status quo?  Many of us have retrained and moved areas in search of more meaningful employment.  What is key is the response to change - nothing ever remains the same nor should it. Maybe the transit could have been handled more carefully but really can't see how with such entrenched positions.

Many mines were not viable, many miners did not agree with the unions but felt intimidated, many did not want to get into destructive financially damaging strikes. Too often the Unions purported to speak for the masses without having a vote.  Who were the winners?  Very often the ones that push the agenda and attract excellent salaries and perks which continue long into their dotage........and the protesters..........they are still protesting............

We all have gripes about our lot in life but you can't remain locked in this negative frame - what does it get you in the end? Achieving more doesn't mean to deny your roots - it means you build on them, this firm foundation which provides progress and alternatives  and a better way of life - that is why Thatcher may at times have been a blunt instrument but she was a necessary one.

Instead of remaining a girl who served behind the counter in her father's grocers shop she chose the alternative.......the Prime Minister of Great Britain............