Yesterday, I afforded my readership a narrative titled Making Unwanted History – Part One. Within this piece I suggested the stark times consequential of China’s alleged opening of a COVID-19 Pandoras Box will most probably feature as the biggest existential event any of us will ever experience.
This unwanted accolade of living with a coronavirus affected existence, the catalyst to evoking notions of major archival landmarks that’ve occurred during the half century, or so, I’ve wandered this planet.
Wishing to avoid yesterdays narrative becoming overly long, once I’d reaching 800 plus words and with the essays chronology only at 1979, I concluded the literary piece. Promising to work through later major historical events while meandering through the ageing process in today’s journal.
I finished yesterday’s monologue with Margaret Thatcher taking the prime ministerial throne in 1979. Her arrival at 10 Downing Street coinciding with me commencing a post room role at the National Coal Board, aged 16.
Mrs T’s nickname of ‘The Iron Lady’ was a pseudonym which always baffled me. I mean, in the eleven years she lead the government, not once did I witness her in the proximity of an ironing board or steam iron!…… To my mind, a chore bearing too much of an odour of the overly feminine to dovetail into the PM’s workload.
For ten weeks in 1982, like the majority of the UK populace, I became involved in the jingoism pouring from our armed forces conflict in the South Atlantic, with Argentina. The spoils for which they fought two small islands 300 miles east of the Patagonian coast, along with their territorial dependence South Georgia.
The undeclared war initiated when the Argentine junta claimed sovereignty of the Falkland Islands, which’d been a British Crown colony since 1841. Consequently, and much to Mrs T’s chagrin, invading the territories and overrunning a small British military contingent in Port Stanley (the capital of the islands).
Ignoring a huge pile of ironing, Maggie, her cabinet and military advisors put together a naval Task Force to travel the 7,000 nautical miles to drive the invaders from the occupied British colony. This flotilla containing 127 vessels including two royal navy aircraft carriers; the cruiser Queen Elizabeth II; 43 naval vessels; 62 merchant ships and 12 swan pedalos from Scarborough’s Peasholme Park lake.
Ten weeks after the invasion, despite fighting against an enemy with double the number of defensive troops to offensive soldiers, British forces returned sovereignty to the Crown. I was 19 years old at the time and recall these weeks between April – June, in 1982, as possibly the most nationalistically euphoric era I’ve witnessed.
At the time, I was fascinated by this conflict. Absorbing ever morsel of detail I could muster from a variety of media channels. These sources including Secretary of State John Nott’s daily updates, BBC correspondent Brian Hanrahan’s bulletins and the dubious propaganda of the Daily Express…… Despite this obsession with Falklands conflict facts, I’ve never been able to ascertain the fate of the 12 sailors powering the swan pedalos.
A couple of years after the Falklands conflict, I was still working in the National Coal Board north east area offices during the 1984-85 Miners Strike. Mrs T and her US henchman Sir Ian McGregor taking on the miners union (NUM) lead by Arthur Scargill.
Scargill, a trade union man with left wing political leanings, taking his men out to protest against pit closures, a planned Tory combover tax and the fact Thatcher was planning to stop ironing his shirts.
Without a ballot and NUM leadership’s failure to persuade Nottinghamshire miners to join the strike, they were stark times times for mining communities. When the strike finally finished in 1985, it’d proved to’ve been a futile industrial action. None of the key demands were achieved. Worse still for Scargill, Thatcher introduced a bushy ginger sideburns tax at the actions conclusion…… The British coal industry was privatised in 1997.
In 1983, Britain had 174 working pits, by 2009 there were only six, as of 2020 there are no working pits in the UK. Cleverer people than I deem that it was pretty clear Scargill was right about pit closures all along, but not holding a ballot amongst NUM members before striking was a huge flaw in his strategy.
Being a former employee of the National Coal Board/British Coal, in addition to living most of my life in formerly thriving coal mining areas, it saddens me to witness what became of this once proud industry.
In 1979, as a 16 year old boy being interviewed for a role in the post room of the NCB area offices, one of my interrogators (Alan Powell) commented that if I was successful, and kept my nose clean, I’d have a job for life in the industry. Going on to boast there’s two hundred years worth of coal under the UK.
When staff cut backs started hitting the coal industry hard, I took voluntary redundancy in 1987. Leaving the office building served by 1,100 staff in 1979 when beginning my employment. Around two decades ago that building was raised to the ground and a Sainsbury supermarket stands proudly where I started my working life.
As the old adage goes, ‘You can’t stand in the way of progress….. Or, indeed, a 7.5 tonne truck!