Date

SOUP KITCHEN SOLIDARITY.

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The 1984 Miners’ Strike under the reign of Margaret Thatcher.
Please note that I do not own the rights to this image.

 
The much-anticipated ‘verbatim-style’, extensive, 14-page poem on the Miners’ Strike of 1984-5 (in the era of Margaret Thatcher), is now here in full for you to read.
 
* This poem is a piece of verbatim poetry drawn from numerous commentaries surrounding the 1984-5 Miners’ Strike under Margaret Thatcher’s reign as Prime Minister. In my attempts to create this work ‘verbatim’, I have restricted myself to using, primarily, the words as they were said by individuals involved. The title, Soup Kitchen Solidarity, is taken from the ideas presented in Chrys Salt and Jim Layzell’s edited book: Here We Go!: Women’s Memories of the 1984/85 Miners’ Strike (London: London Political Committee, 1986).

 

 
I hope you enjoy it. x
 

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Soup Kitchen Solidarity*
 
 
 
 
Foreword

 

            There are many things to say about this strike. Most important, perhaps, is what it has meant for the people who have been directly involved; the miners, their wives and their families. To capture this experience in a few words is a simple impossibility. It would take a book, and more. When people stop and reflect over the months of the dispute they astonish themselves with just how much has happened. A lot of people say that they’ve never experienced anything like it. Ever. It has been the major event in their lives. None of them will forget it. 
 
– Huw Benyon, Digging Deeper, 1985.
I.
I guess you could say
I never quite understood power;
Power is the gift of authority.
 
“It’s the way a politician holds authority over the entire country.”
 
My Daddy calls me his little Aggie.
 
The Prime Minister, or the President,
(Well, that’s if you’re an American),
can enter a room and address, wholly,
the entire nation.
I’ve been learning Fractions in Maths
this week, with Mrs. Smith.
 
“And I thought I can’t just sit here doing nothing: Labour isn’t working”.
 
– Below the poverty line:
Mothers are packing endless baked beans for their kids, and
there’s no room for Nappies, Tampax, Sanitary Towels –
because ‘they’re too expensive’.
 
This time, I really get it;
I mean, I really understand it.
 
So you just throw it in,
‘Our lass’ll find a way around this’,
because nobody is trying to help.
It’s going to go on and on, and on,
– below the poverty line, and that’s it!
 
“And I thought I just can’t sit here doing nothing.”
It’s easy really, if the number’s even.
 
They write what people want to buy,
that’s the power of the press.
You’ve seen it on the telly, but
don’t just take our word for it,
go to any Colliery.
 
Like half of fifty –
 
A couple of minutes, in Barnsley, even Mardy,
but you don’t really see any of it, just
those mad, married mothers –
The Miners’ Wives.
 – that’s twenty-five! And
that’s where I live, 25 Churchfield Drive.
 
“THE NEW THATCHER GOVERNMENT:
Set to solve problems defied by predecessors since 1945.”
It’s the grottiest kind of place.
Cakes – more than a day out of date –
not fit for feeding seven hundred a day.
“STRIKE: 358 Days!”
Dented tins were cheap use in the kitchen, but
the supermarket came back with a box of rat poison.
It’s when it’s odd that it starts to get tricky.
Sandwiches first –
we couldn’t afford staple foods, so
we did soup,
then we moved onto stew.
And fresh veg,
buttered their bread;
it was everything for our men.
 
“They must be worried to death about the debts.”
 
That’s when you have to start number dissecting –
 
Everybody had a rota –
from washing pots to peeling potato.
You had to run your kitchen like a business.
When we read what was in the press,
about us Nottingham wives,
we saw absolute red!
– like the way Mum always dissects our veg
with her fork,
and makes me eat a third for tea.
“We weren’t like they were painting us by a long chalk.”
 
 
“SCARGILL’S REAL AIM IS WAR” (The Sun, 1984)
 
It might sound crazy,
that our relationship only had occasionally, and yet
it grew stronger.
We women had experienced awakening,
that’s all it were.
From kids, pots, and housework:
wash your breakfast pots before ten o’clock –
Peas and carrots, yuck!
I think if I had to go back to that, I’d jump in t’ cut!
 
One time, I tried to hide them down my red velvet dress –
They owe it to us
because we have stood up.
We had meetings in garages, in a pub.
We had meetings on the double-decker bus!
– but she caught me midway, stuffing my sleeves,
and sent me to bed without supper.
 
 
“And the lines on your face will continue to speak of our story, Mrs. Thatcher.”
 
 
‘Now I must wash your dress again’, she said,
‘and it’s only just fresh out t’ laundry.’
I think it’s the male industry, full of
sexism and male chauvinists.
It seems the mining area breeds it.
She said carrots were good for me
cos’ they can make you see in the dark.
 
It weren’t no bunch a’ roses, it were hard,
all this ‘shut up, and get upstairs’ lark, but
we picked Jane Dunn as our chair.
Her husband was the President of NUM.
We women would talk a lot,
meeting rooms full – choc-a-bloc –
as you can imagine with planning speeches:
“It’s your turn girls, get up an’ do a good job!”
 
‘Just you wait ‘til your Dad gets home!’
 Mum had shouted at me.
 
Obviously the old weren’t getting their coal properly
so our lads went to logging.
Sometimes you could be at home,
got no money and feel real low
so you’d just have to get out.
 
But I knew Daddy; he wouldn’t shout.
 
I don’t have that now,
we pull together now.
It was like a reversal of roles.
We did the packed lunches in the workman’s hall.
 
I was Daddy’s angel.
 
– How many children were there?
 
He’d sit quiet whilst Mum did the telling off;
he could calm the situation with one word.
 
We needed food for donations, and
we needed strength for the demonstrations.
 
We were without our husbands
whilst they picketed in the Midlands –
pulled out to docks and power stations.
 
My kids used to always say, ‘who’s going away today?’
 
But Daddy, he in’t here no longer –
 
Women have got stronger ‘cause of what’s ‘appened in the pits.
We were singing, and the kids –
well, they enjoyed it.
‘We can’t afford to feed them; you feed them’, we sang and
in the background, they were screaming.
 
– and Mummy has no money.
 
When you went out shopping,
you’d miss out things: like Bacofoil,
and Clingfilm,
and dustbin bags –
they weren’t a necessity.
We lived on beans,
we looked like beans.
We lived on corned beef –
I’d have done just about anything to eat meat not from a tin.
What I wonder will your memories be,
and the effects of the strike on you three?
Will you remember how I felt so bad,
because I couldn’t give you what others had?
 
Now, we’re a one-parent family.
We were breathing, just, on the bread line.
 
Coping like a one-parent family,
and I can’t even go to school.
Striking miner’s children have to line up
separate –
a free school meal of spectacle.
I have to face the scab’s kids there.
 
Human beings and their feelings come at a low premium to her.
 
Why is the table bare, Mam?
Why is the table bare?
‘cause the strike’s been long and its made us poor,
They’ve used the coppers and bent the law,
It’s the nation’s future we’re fighting for, and
that’s why our table’s bare.
 
“And the lines on your face will continue to speak of ourstory, Mrs. Thatcher.”
 
“MAGGIE BRANDED MILK-SNATCHER!
They trip me and they grab my hair.
 
You shouldn’t be aggressive
but it’s how it’s made us.
Once I called a policeman a ‘pig’, then
STOPPED –
and thought ‘you silly bitch’.
It is solidarity.
The scab kids they all pick on me,
and laugh.
Do you remember the Great Strike of ‘26?
A guy fell out with all his people and
well, he was left on his own.
That is how it should be;
it’s a betrayal of your class.
I don’t know what it is, working in the pits, but
– have we come all of this way for nothing?
“This Lady is not for turning!”
They say I in’t really got a family no more and that’s probably true,
 now all that’s left is Mummy and me.
It’s Soup Kitchen Solidarity.*
 
II.
I guess you could say
I understand power now;
Power is the gift of authority.
 
“It’s the way a politician holds authority over the entire country.”
 
I used to be Daddy’s little Aggie.
 
The Prime Minister, and the President,
(Well, that’s if you’re an American),
can enter a room and address, wholly,
the entire nation.
I don’t even get to learn Fractions, in Maths,
anymore with Mrs. Smith;
 I don’t even know if I understand them.
 
“Power has the ability to make enemies of two countries, and to divide a nation.”
 
“There are no miners around here now,
from these pits there is no resurrection.
All is now sealed and silent as graves –
after an archaeologist excavation.”
Like half of 50, that’s still 25. But –
 
Thatcherism had the ability to divide a whole street –
 
– it’s when it’s odd that it’s still tricky.
– even an entire family.
 
Mum, Dad, and Aggie, we were three, and now?
 
 
 
There’s only Mum, and me.

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Thank you for reading.
(C) The Student Wordsmith,
Sophie-Louise Hyde, 2013.