today is the end of coal mining in britain. some people have questioned as a middle-class indulgence the coverage which has mourned the end of that time. some have said ‘the greens and the lefties keep telling us we can’t burn coal’ ‘the miners complained about the danger and the conditions – why do they expect us to mourn this? the hypocrites!’
not ‘why?’ ‘what’
you have to know what we are mourning. we aren’t mourning the dirt, the smoke, the pollution. we aren’t mourning the blood, the broken bones, the history of men crushed deep underground or coughing their lungs up to pneumoconiosis (a word i learned young), the lines of women and children at the pithead waiting silent, grim-faced to see if fathers brothers husbands sons will walk out or be carried out to be washed and laid out one last time by mothers sisters wives daughters – women built that world as much as men did. we aren’t mourning the centuries of exploitation, the creaking of the pit props that gave some warning of collapse, the tommy shops where the men paid in tokens spent their pay on goods sold to them by the mine owner who wasn’t making enough capital on their blood already.
what i’m mourning is the loss of community – community above ground where they supported each other through strikes, through poverty, through the loss of breadwinners with little or no compensation, through every working day when the pit bell rang; community below ground where marrers spoke their own language, sweated together, looked out for each other, dug each other out and manged to survive in the earth’s dark places where men were never designed to go.
but they went there.
if you’re from a pit family, you know. you remember. and today we mourn. but more than that we respect what those men and women have done. i hope we move on – nobody should have to do the job the pitmen did, but it was a job; it was a job that lay at the heart of a community and many of those who walk out of kellingley for the last time today will never have another job; many of their communities have already been destroyed. today i want to celebrate the community, the job and the courage of the men who did it. it was a filthy job that killed too many; some quickly, many slowly, spitting the black out of their lungs for years after they came back up into the light.
just because we move on, doesn’t mean we have to forget.
i remember. i respect. i move on – but i will carry it with me; it’s where i came from. it’s home.
close the coalhouse door, lad, there’s blood inside.