Friday, 12 April 2013

Thatcher, Ice Lollies and a Poem by Tom Warner


It seems that everyone has got an opinion on Margaret Thatcher. It would be difficult not to to have an opinion on her as she is such a divisive figure. Since her death it feels as if everyone has time-traveled back to the 80s, reliving their 80s youth or middle age whether they were there or not. Like many people I have quite a few memories and experienced quite a lot living under Thatcher. She came into power during my babyhood. My mother and father lived in Tuxford, North Notts. My father wasn't a miner but he worked in various coal-fired power stations in South Yorkshire and Nottinghamshire. Before I was born he lived in a static caravan, much to my newly-wed mother's horror. He was a classic itinerant worker, going from job to job, saving money for a house. In the 60s and early 70s these jobs were often plentiful. By the time my mother was pregnant with me these jobs were starting to become scarce. One of my earliest memories is the sight of him coming home from work covered from head to toe in soot. His face was the colour of liquorice. Nevertheless I didn't mind getting grubby and I remember running towards him, arms out-stretched with my latest artistic creation.

Having an ice lolly under Thatcher circa '83,
blissfully unaware of my father's imminent unemployment.

Another thing I do remember very clearly is the sense of identity our village had based around coal. There were Working Men's Clubs, pub gatherings and a community that felt very close. Everyone has something to do with coal and everyone had a open fire with few people having central heating. There were many nights when fire engines came round as chimneys got blocked and sparks lit up the dark. After we moved, many years later, I opened a bin liner full of baby clothes and there it was the smell of soot. You couldn't get away from the stuff, it hung around.

We moved in 1984. Jobs related to the coal industry were becoming obsolete. I didn't want to go. London was the work of the devil. No one spoke to each other. You couldn't ride a bike in a flat with just a balcony.The other night we watched an episode of 'Spitting Image' from around this time and it seemed very edgy and controversial. It was hard to believe that this was aired on the same channel that shows 'X factor' and 'Dancing on Ice'. I'm not saying this was typical of ITV, but it appears to me there were more contrary and satirical voices around back then in TV media then there are now.There was a scene in which Margaret gets gardening advice from her neighbour at No.9, who just happens to be an aged Nazi dictator (guess who) who also enjoys dispensing political advice as well. Ironically, it's been said that pop culture was quite good under Thatcher and perhaps it's her only positive legacy for many. The Smiths may not have been The Smiths we know so well if they didn't have her to react against. We may not have had the force of feeling that defined an alternative pop generation. See below for Robert Wyatt's cover of Elvis Costello's 'Shipbuilding,' a song about the changing face of industry in the 80s. The song describes how the shipyards were kept open only because of the need for ships for the Falklands war. That voice is so naked and vulnerable. Put that in your pipe Simon bloody Cowell:


I was part of the Nottinghamshire exodus. A lot of people moved, communities were broken up and those who were left had to begin to live without a reliance on coal for heat and industry. This is why I've decided to end this blog with a poem by Tom Warner called 'Scabs.' Tom read at the Nottingham festival of Words and has a pamphlet published in the 'New Faber Poets' series. You can read more of his work at his website here. I like this poem because it reflects what was going  at the time from a child's point of view:


All through those weeks off school our fathers watched us
our mothers took extra hours in part-time jobs

and the news was men in denim thumping coaches
police playing British Bulldog or riding horses

while Mr Oxby lined up rollies in a tin
pinched bitter shreds of Virginia from his tongue

and taught us kids exactly what was what
whose parents were digging deep and whose were not.