Towns called malice – the legacy of Thatcher

Darton blog

I WAS born into a middle class Tory voting household and to my eternal shame joined the Conservative Party at age 16.

I guess my father’s right wing doctrines influenced my own, and as a teenager and college student I followed those politics quite radically.

At 21 years old, against a left wing university backwash, I was Yorkshire vice-chairman of the Federation of Conservatives Students. I was a radical Tory, brushed shoulders with Michael Portillo, shared a whisky with former PM Ted Heath and fought hard in Thatcher’s election victory of 1979.

That remains the eternal shame of my youth.

But life is a great leveller and educator, and chalk face experiences over 38 years changed all that… it changed me as a person, socially, spiritually and politically.

In the year Thatcher was first elected, a more socially aware friend of mine warned: “There will be war in three years!”

How right she was!

In 1982 we were at war with Argentina over the Falkland Islands, ostensibly to liberate islanders loyal to the British Crown, but in reality because we had discovered huge reserves of oil in the South Atlantic a few years earlier.

And with Thatcher’s ratings in the opinion polls falling, there was a nothing like a bit of jingoism and nationalistic war fervour to boost Tory ratings.

But it was what I discovered years later as a newspaper journalist, which cast the Falklands War in a new light.

Not only was our prized battleship cruiser HMS Sheffield sunk while carrying nuclear depth charges, but against all international treaties to keep the South Atlantic nuclear free, Thatcher had deployed a British nuclear-armed submarine into the area.

The orders were clear: if the Argentines sunk another of our flagships, a pre-emptive nuclear strike on Cordoba was to be considered.

Just think for a minute where that might have led in 1982, at the height of the Cold War. Thatcher was prepared to risk a global Armageddon to secure her political ends.

But it was at home, where my opinions of Thatcher and her politics changed me forever.

My real education began in the early 1980s as a secondary school teacher in the South Yorkshire pit village of Darton – the home of Woolley Colliery, where NUM leader Arthur Scargill began his working life.

I lived in the village for four years among miners and their families, and many of my pupils were the sons and daughters of miners. Most of the boys were destined to become miners, and many of the girls would get jobs in businesses dependent on mining.

I played cricket each weekend with miners. My neighbours were miners. I went to football matches at Oakwell with miners. And I bought my first house from a miner.

The sound of the local pit hooter and the rattle of coal trucks woke me early each morning and the coal dust got into my clothes and my life.

But what struck me then, and has stayed with me ever since, was the sense of community and friendship which imbued every aspect of life in that village.

Life was vibrant!

If one of my charges misbehaved at school, I could be sure his or her parents would know about it, and he or she would be disciplined at home.

If I was ever ill in bed, a neighbour would knock at the door and ask if I needed any groceries or would leave a casserole of stew.

If the snow was deep we would all help clear each-others’ drives or pathways.

If anyone had a party in the street, the whole street would be invited, no exceptions. And those parties were real parties with Yorkshire beer, pies, gravy, chips and puddings.

And if my girlfriend had to walk home late at night, I wouldn’t fear for her safety.

It was a time of the greatest friendship and community I have ever known.

I moved away for misled career aspirations in 1983.

One year later, Thatcher’s brutal decision to crush the trade union movement at any cost, laid waste to this community and countless more like them.

They were never to recover.

For those not familiar with this time and place, watch the BBC TV boxed set Our Friends in the North to gain a little perspective.

All that was wonderful was lost forever due to capitalist greed and Thatcher’s need for unbridled power.

We had a nation divided against itself where the rich got richer while the rest fought for the scraps.

A whole street’s belief in Sunday’s roast beef

Gets dashed against the Co-op

To either cut down on beer or the kids new gear

It’s a big decision in a town called malice.

(Paul Weller)

My politics changed fast.

In 1988 I was in hospital in Cardiff undergoing surgery for a lung cancer.

It was a time of personal trauma, but also the making of new friendships.

Many of these friends were former miners from the South Wales valleys. Most were suffering from lung cancer due to a lifetime working among coal dust.

But it was their tales of how Thatcher crushed the miners’ strike that will always stay with me.

Some blamed Scargill for getting some of the NUM tactics wrong, but it was Thatcher they blamed for the decimation of their lives and families.

I learned how she used MI5 and the Met Police, and every dirty trick imaginable, to tarnish the personal reputations of the striking miners, even down to the conspiratorial murder of a taxi driver.

When I had fully recovered from the cancer in the mid-1990s, I travelled back to my old village near Barnsley to see how things had changed.

What met me was post-apocalyptic.

All vestiges of coal mining had gone, the shops had steel shutters on their windows, litter blew around the main street and pale youths gathered on corners with eyes that seemed devoid of hope.

The ghost of a steam train – echoes down my track

It’s at the moment bound for nowhere –

Just going round and round

Playground kids and creaking swings –

Lost laughter in the breeze

I could go on for hours and I probably will –

But I’d sooner put some joy back

In this town called malice.

(Paul Weller)

But time passes, and surely with two decades of government promises of better lives and Tony Blair’s “Things Can Only Get Better”, that despair I witnessed in 1997, must have changed.

So last weekend I returned to Darton once again, for the first time in 20 years.

In the distance the old pit heads have been replaced by rolling grassland, trees and green parkland.

To a passer-by it is picturesque… but this is nature’s illusion to mask the reality.

On the main A637 a small single business park is all that has replaced a mining industry that employed thousands in Barnsley alone.

And as I strolled round the decaying remains of the village and community I once loved, everywhere I looked brought tears to my eyes.

Long gone was Steve White the butchers, Broadheads the ironmongers, Henrietta’s dress shop, the local newsagents, the greengrocer and the launderette – a community meeting place for the miners’ wives.

Below uncleaned windows and blackened limestone walls they have been replaced with a Chinese takeaway, a tanning studio, an exotic pet store, a charity shop and boarded-up facades.

Cars and buses pass by quickly, rarely stopping on their way to somewhere else.

Only the elderly trundle along the pavement, past shops where there is nothing left to buy; walking small dogs and faces waxing grey and etched in lines of worry.

It reminded me of scenes I also witnessed in Northumberland (where my paternal grandfather and great grandfather were both miners) where three generations of families have been unemployed since 1984.

Their former pit communities have crumbled into decay, with all manner of social problems: derelict housing, rotting schools, drug dependency, street crime, high rates of teenage suicide and homelessness.

The villages remain, with three buses a day to their nearest towns and any chance of a better life, the lasting memory to Thatcher.

Thatcher’s true legacy lies in the coal dust of the communities she destroyed and the lasting fear of nuclear war.

And 38 years of Tory government (including Tony Blair’s New Labour Toryism) has ensured that the decay and legacy continues.

But the reality is there is an alternative.

That is the terrifying truth that the media, government and big business work so hard to conceal.

It the past two years, Jeremy Corbyn has woken us all to that truth and shown that alternative way forward… for the many and not the few.

  • No more forgotten communities
  • No more decay
  • No more unemployment
  • No more homelessness
  • No more scapegoating the poor
  • No more rough sleepers
  • No more fear of war

We can change the future for everyone on 8 June.

This is a journey we can all go on together, all of us. We can include everyone and fear no one.

I am voting Labour.

 

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Manifesto: the General Election choice is simple

Choice blog

NEXT month’s General Election is a pivotal moment and will change our country for a generation and beyond.

The choice is simple.

We have the “strong and unstable” Tories who are hell bent on turning our country into a Little Britain for the powerful and rich and let the devil take the hindmost for the rest of us.

Or we have a Jeremy Corbyn led Labour government dedicated to serving and helping the “many and not the few”.

If we, the electorate make the wrong choice, I fear deeply for our collective futures.

For decades our country has been sleep walking into a world of personal greed, arrogance and self-importance with totems such as million pound homes, winner takes all, designer clothes labels and reverence to the aristocracy.

Human kindness, gentleness, peace, society and social justice were jettisoned for a winner takes all mentality and a scapegoating of the homeless, those claiming benefits, the disabled, Muslims, asylum seekers and the poor in general.

Once again, the choice is simple.

We must not again elect a UK government compiled of self-seeking rich Tory elitists who care more about their mansions and banking friends than about people.

And their shopping list for change is truly terrifying.

Over the next few years an unshackled Theresa May Conservative government will:

  • Bungle a Hard Brexit in which we will lose all the social and economic benefits and safeguards we have collectively fought so hard to preserve for the past 45 years.
  • Rip up the Human Rights Act, which underpins our legal system and protects all our basic freedoms and those of persecuted minorities.
  • Spend £200billion on replacing Trident with new nuclear weapons, which at the push of a button could wipe out millions of lives and pollute our planet for tens of thousands of years.
  • Make £12.8billion of cuts to welfare, leaving the poorest, the oldest and the weakest in our society facing the bleakest of futures. In turn this will ensure the need for a food bank in every town and extend child poverty ensuring suffering and a loss of opportunity for millions.
  • Begin a phased end to council housing, thus pushing up rents in the private sector and making families homeless. Once again – as under Thatcher – we are already seeing a surge in rough sleeping and begging.
  • Will enact tougher sanctions on migrants and refugees whether from Europe or beyond.
  • Involve the UK in further illegal wars in the Middle East and trigger an increase in racism and Islamophobia.
  • Back a return of the barbaric blood sports of fox hunting and deer coursing.
  • Extend zero hours contracts, thus massaging the unemployment figures and leaving thousands of the poorest people without any job security.
  • Legislate for more private schools and academies which will imbed the class system even deeper in our society, rather focus on improving our state schooling system.
  • Escalate and accelerate the privatisation of the NHS, so medical care will depend on wealth and power rather than need.
  • Then redraw constituency boundaries so these same corrupt capitalist elitists stay in power for another 20 more years.

But under Jeremy Corbyn, Labour is offering a real and radical alternative which gives renewed hope of a better future.

Over the past two years this gentle political firebrand has packed out meetings and hustings the length and breadth of this country with his simple messages of fairness, compassion and change

His messages have caught the hearts and minds of millions.

Now those messages are wrapped up in Labour’s pledges for this General Election and will be spelt out fully in the party’s manifesto, which will be launched next week.

Jeremy Corbyn’s 10 Pledges to Rebuild and Transform Britain are quite simply breath-taking and wonderful:

  1. Full Employment – a publicly-owned National Investment Bank and regional banks will back up £500bn of investment across energy, transport and housing.
  2. A Secure Homes Guarantee – over a million new homes in five years will be built, with at least half a million council homes, through its public investment strategy.
  3. Security at work – people will have stronger employment rights “from day one in a job”, an end to “exploitative zero hours contracts”, repeal the Trade Union Act and the creation of new sectoral collective bargaining rights. Ensure that any employer wishing to recruit labour from abroad does not undercut workers at home – because it causes divisions when people are played off against each other.
  4. A secure NHS and social care – an end to any NHS services being outsourced to private health providers.
  5. A National Education Service – universal childcare to give all children a good start in life, allowing greater sharing of caring responsibilities and removing barriers to women participating in the labour market.
  6. Action to secure our environment – an expansion of green industries, using the National Investment Bank to invest in public and community-owned renewable energy.
  7. Put the public back into our economy – people will have “a real say in their local communities with increased local and regional democracy”.
  8. Cut inequality in income and wealth – the tax system will become “more progressive” so higher earners are “fairly taxed” and people on lower incomes will have their pay boosted through a higher minimum wage of £10 an hour.
  9. Action to secure an equal society – Labour will take action to tackle violence against women and girls, racism and discrimination on the basis of faith, and secure real equality for LGBT and disabled people.
  10. Peace and justice at the heart of foreign policy – human rights and social justice will be built into trade policy, while international treaty obligations on nuclear disarmament will be honoured as it encourages others to do the same.

A brave new world indeed, and those Corbyn led Labour pledges are forever true.

Fairness, compassion and equality can finally overturn the scourge of capitalist greed.

Hope is renewed.

The choice is simple: vote Labour.

 

Beware of Darkness – Into the Light

World Mental Health Day 2016

 I WROTE the attached blog piece three years ago, following my nervous breakdown in June 2013.

https://seagullnic.wordpress.com/2013/10/08/when-you-gonna-wake-up-and-strengthen-the-things-that-remain

At the time of writing I was recovering slowly from what I believed had been the lowest point in my life.

But, an ongoing deep depression took over from the breakdown.

My depression was classified as ‘reactive depression’ – a reaction to what life had thrown at me.

The sexual abuse I suffered as a young teenager, a major life crisis in my late 20s, battling cancer in my early 30s, relationship breakdowns and divorces, the loss of my children, bankruptcy, assault, the loss of my home, the loss of two careers and unexpected close bereavements.

The depression manifested itself in the more obvious feelings of deep lows or worthlessness, but also in many other less obvious ways such as anger and irritability, frustration, OCD behaviour, unconscious selective hearing, tiredness, insomnia, over-eating, forgetfulness, clumsiness and inability to concentrate on one thing for long periods.

In my case, it was all of these.

During this time only my writing, my loving family and a few close friends sustained me.

But pain is shared, and I had not realised how much my depression was affecting those closest to me.

Two deep lows were met: in June 2015, when I tried to end my life; and again in November last year when I eventually called out for help.

Six months intensive psychiatric counselling followed and I came out of the experience a different person… stronger, more open and able to live again.

Each day is different, but I am now looking outwards and to the future.

So, to celebrate World Mental Health Day, I append a few of the songs and poems I wrote during that Long Dark Tea Time of the Soul. They are all dark, but out of that darkness came creativity and now light:

 

Darkness

The black veil advances

Cutting out the light

The smoke of day draws in

Dimming all in sight

The blanket haze envelops

Blurring edges of my plight

Dim memories are created

Nothing now seems right

Dark forces are advancing

Forcing hope to flight

The wind howls like a hammer

What can resist its might?

The emptiness inside me

As the day it turns to night

 

Soul

I am the self-consumer of my woes

The bed of my depression

I am the heart of a life that beats

The bed of my regression

I am the hope that burns within

The heat of my transgression

I am the demon that tempts me still

The soul of my oppression

I am the man that will not give in

The hope of my suppression

I am the hands of peaceful fate

The well of my aggression

I am the smile on a face with tears

The deceit of my expression

I am the sin of empty thoughts

The redeemer of my confession

I am the clock of future years

The focus of my progression

I am the whole of a living soul

The core of my possession.

 

Keep on Keeping On

I’ve just reached a place where I can’t go on

My friends all tell me to just be strong

But strength is an illusion

I have known too long

So far away from where I began

Now I just stay where I don’t belong

Play my guitar and sing this song

It’s the end my love

The end

 

Time is a window into a world gone wrong

Far away from the maddening throng

But happiness is a façade

I have worn all along

So far away from where I began

Now I just stay where I don’t belong

Play my guitar and sing this song

It’s the end my love

The end

 

Hope is the marathon we try to prolong

All the way from Memphis to far Guangdong

But music eases the pain

I have carried too long

So far away from where I began

Now I just stay where I don’t belong

Play my guitar and sing this song

It’s the end my love

The end

 

The Edge

The morning dawns grey

A blanket on another day

The savage wind

Whispers

Of another place

Where time stands

Still

Like a bitter pill

Unswallowed

 

Cry Awhile

Heart pounding

Brain exploding

You wonder what to do

The pain it tears

At emptiness

Isolated and alone

Coruscating deadliness

When there’s no direction home

 

Well, I’m crying to the heavens

Feel like a helpless child

Yes, I cried for you

Now I’ll sit and cry awhile

 

Chest heaving

Shallow breathing

Lamps are burning low

The hope it flickers

At idle fears

The fringes of the night

Cascading misspent years

When darkness dims the light

 

Well, I’m crying to the heavens

Feel like a helpless child

Yes, I cried for you

Now I’ll sit and cry awhile

 

Final days

The brush strokes of the passing day

Paint his life in shades of grey

The clock it ticks each fading hour

As his life withers like a dying flower

 

A road less travelled lies ahead

Finding a place to rest his head

The old brown moss, the limestone comb

The wooded glen where wild cats roam

 

The final doorway to his life appears

Colours saturate the passing years

Red of anger and deep blue pervade

Under the bent willow he’ll find his shade

 

Beware of darkness

Beware of darkness

It eats the soul

Nightmare claws attach

Voices whisper

Wild thoughts

Trespass

Beyond sanity’s climax

 

The hopelessness surrounds you

Watch out my own sweet love

The dead of night

Darkens deeply

The shooting star

That shines

Above

 

Beware of sadness

And words that linger

Deep inside your head

Memories twisted

Vain hopes

Blistered

Beyond your own deathbed

 

Broken Man Blues

The day you held my dick in your hand

Abused so hard I could not stand

A broken man

The day I made my great mistake

A blight from which I cannot awake

A broken man

The day the scalpel cut so deep

Nightmares have filled my deepest sleep

A broken man

The day you stole sweet Andrea’s life

And left behind pain, chaos and strife

A broken man

 

Meet me at the bottom, don’t lag behind

Bring me my boots and shoes

I sit blindly in your doorway

Playing my guitar slowly

And sing for you these broken man blues

 

The day you swallowed pills of disdain

And your stepfather shot out his own brain

A broken man

The day you cheated in our marriage bed

Then denied everything I had ever said

A broken man

The day you stole our daughters away

My life it faded to a deeper grey

A broken man

The day you lied with a poison tongue

More years of agony had just begun

A broken man

 

Meet me at the bottom, don’t lag behind

Bring me my boots and shoes

I sit blindly in your doorway

Playing my guitar slowly

And sing for you these broken man blues

 

The day you ran off with a married man

And left me homeless without a plan

A broken man

The day the plate cracked open my skull

The grey in my life then all turned dull

A broken man

The day the nervous breakdown came

Nothing would ever be the same

A broken man

The day I lost a lifetime career

I drowned the shame in wine and beer

A broken man

 

Meet me at the bottom, don’t lag behind

Bring me my boots and shoes

I sit blindly in your doorway

Playing my guitar slowly

And sing for you these broken man blues

 

The day my eldest wed his bride

It left me with no place to hide

A broken man

The day I collapsed in a forgotten heap

The drugs numbed me in a zombie sleep

A broken man

The day my last child went far away

Nothing in life was left to betray

A broken man

The day I left the town of lost souls

I stumbled into a welcome of city scrolls

A broken man

 

Meet me at the bottom, don’t lag behind

Bring me my boots and shoes

I sit blindly in your doorway

Playing my guitar slowly

And sing for you these broken man blues

 

The day you told me to go away and die

No-one was left to hear me cry

A broken man

The day I walked into the swirling sea

I hoped in vain you would hear my plea

A broken man

The day my sweet granddaughter was born

My life was then fully ripped and torn

A broken man

So I tremble shaking to hold onto a dream

That nothing is quite as it may seem

A broken man

 

Meet me at the bottom, don’t lag behind

Bring me my boots and shoes

I sit blindly in your doorway

Playing my guitar slowly

And sing for you these broken man blues

 

Top of the End

Head screams pain

Life broken again

The grey sky

Burning eyes

Hope that shone

So bright

Now

Dust under the feet

My, oh my, oh my

Let me die

 

Laughter now dead

Words are all read

Plans for the future

Solitary torture

Life that fought

So hard

Now

Lost and beaten

My, oh my, oh my

Let me die

 

This is the Sea

Swirling salt water laps at my feet

The west wind finds frailties

Of what remains from the sleep

Greyness spreads to the dark horizon

Herring gulls call me to the deep

This is the end

This is my friend

This is the sea

 

Memories meander around what happened before

Questions open wounds bleakly

Yet we all know the score

Emptiness echoes as hope once evades

Waves they now crash upon the shore

This is the end

This is my friend

This is the sea

 

Black Dog

Black dog at my feet

The darkness drifts dreaming from another place

Been here before

But still I’m not sure

Where it all will end

 

Black dog by my side

The dawn drowns drinking hope from the daylight

Been here before

But still I’m not sure

What the morn will bring

 

Black dog on my lap

The day drags drearily to the dark of noon

Been here before

But still I’m not sure

When the sun will set

 

Black dog at my back

The evening draws draping dankly upon me

Been here before

But still I’m not sure

When the night will end

 

Punch Drunk

Punch drunk

Been knifed in the back

Punch drunk

Dazed by distorted fact

Punch drunk

Hit between the eyes

Punch drunk

Poisoned with their lies

Punch drunk

Twisted tales that they tell

Punch drunk

Stumbled and then I fell

Punch drunk

Reeling on the ropes

Punch drunk

Left with little hope

Punch drunk

One too many blows

Punch drunk

Blood running from my nose

Punch drunk

Nothing left to lose

Punch drunk

Stand inside my shoes

Punch drunk

Depression runs too deep

Punch drunk

Fighting for some sleep

Punch drunk

Trying to stay straight

Punch drunk

The fightback is too late

Punch drunk

Dimming of the light

Punch drunk

Losing every fight

Punch drunk

The game it is too rough

Punch drunk

Think I’ve had enough

 

Beware of Darkness

Beware of darkness

It eats the soul

Nightmare claws attach

Voices whisper

Wild thoughts

Trespass

Beyond sanity’s climax

 

The hopelessness surrounds you

Watch out my own sweet love

The dead of night

Darkens deeply

The shooting star

That shines

Above

 

Beware of sadness

And words that linger

Deep inside your head

Memories twisted

Vain hopes

Blistered

Beyond your own deathbed

 

The 08.49

Sparkling Eyes

Framed

With smiles

Open heart

Pounding

Humour

You came from

Nowhere

Hanging on a

Rumour

But the more

I looked

The less

I saw

Until you

Opened

Your door

Clattering out the engine shed

Nattering down the line

Words tumble outwards

On the 08.49

Spinning words

Edged

With tears

Heavy heart

Pounding

Fears

But children

Sustain

Laughing in the

Rain

And the less

I looked

The more

I saw

Once you

Opened

Your door

Clattering out the engine shed

Nattering down the line

Words tumble outwards

On the 08.49