It’s a rare occasion that I leave the house other than to go to work, Greggs, or the pub. I went to see a photography exhibition this week.
Entitled No Redemption and showing at Northumbria University, it is a documentary by Keith Pattison of the miners strike in 1984/85. Pattison was commissioned by Sunderland Artists Agency to document the strike as it affected one small community in County Durham; Easington Colliery. He lived among the community and recorded the strike from beginning to end.
Pattison was accepted by the community as they wanted him to show their perspective, and this proximity to the miners and their families helped him create many striking images. He was present on the picket line, in the streets of the town, in the miners welfare and in their homes. The shots taken on the picket line were particularly effective, as he witnessed miners being arrested and police escorting working miners home. Some shots were slightly blurred and out of focus which gave the impression of a photographer hard at work, battling with his camera to capture an expression on a face and the feeling of a moment.The shots showed how life had changed for local people in the village; police guarding street corners as old women shopped and a school girl returning from school with police marching past. This kind of photo puts extraordinary events into the context of the ordinary.
One of the first things that struck me, upon seeing small children innocently caught up in a very adult world, was that I could have been one of those children. I was 4 at the time. It’s strange to think that this was going on as I was growing up, not just in a village down the road but all over Britain.
I find fault with the exhibition at this point, as the images were all in black and white. If the shots were in colour, I think it would have brought the events to life. It was in my lifetime, it was the 80s. Displaying the events in black and white ages them, and perhaps keeps them in the past. At the time a lot of photographers were shooting in colour as part of the “social realism” style of the day. This project would have worked well in colour.
Still, the exhibition got me thinking again about the strike. I was too young at the time to appreciate what was happening but as I’ve taken more interest in society, politics, history, the media, class issues and all that kind of crap, the strike fascinates me.
The strike initially began as a response to Margaret Thatcher’s Conservative Government, announcing that many pits across the country had become unprofitable and would be closed. Many communities, especially in North East England, relied almost entirely on the pits. Without the pits there would be mass unemployment. Angry and fearful, many miners in the affected areas went on strike. Supported by their union, the National Union of Mineworkers led by Arthur Scargill, the strike was declared a national strike.
As it progressed the strike became increasingly bitter. Stung by a previous strike which effectively brought down the previous Conservative government, Margaret Thatcher brought down the full weight of the state upon the miners, their union and its representatives. She was determined to bring national industries into a free market and to crush the trade unions that prevented it.
Police were drafted in from around the country to oppress protests and used brutal and violent tactics, resulting in the injury and arrest of thousands of miners. MI5 was used to spy on union officials. The courts were used to freeze the assets of the union. Welfare benefits to strikers families were stopped. The right wing media condemned the strike on a daily basis, often editing events to make the strikers look bad.
Thatcher declared war on the striking miners and the union, calling them “the enemy within”. Scargill declared this to be class warfare, and for many miners struggling to feed their families and heat their homes whilst the middle classes thrived, it was. Millions of pounds of public money was spent on policing the strike – money that could have been spent on supporting the mining industry.
Support for the strike was much stronger in working class areas. Scargill was a hero to many, refusing to back down in the face of severe personal provocation from a government hellbent on destroying working class communities. To the ruling classes, he was a dangerous revolutionary intent on overthrowing their way of life with the intention of housing the Queen in a council house and creating a Marxist superstate.
Of course, there is only so long that a family can do without money, and the miners had to return to work. And of course many mines were closed, many jobs were lost, communities were torn apart and broken and lives ruined. The coal industry was privatised along with many other industries and unions damaged forever. Thatcher got her wish. The government was free to run the country at the expense of the poor for the benefit of the rich.
As in 1984, Britain in 2012 is divided along class lines. The Conservative led coalition government is continuing what Thatcher started, with a constant stream of policies protecting the privileges of their own class whilst simultaneously attacking the vulnerable working classes. The police continue to oppress demonstrations with brutal force and the right wing media continues to demonise those who go on strike to protect their livelihoods and their futures.
So when David Cameron talks about “Broken Britain”, he would do well to remember it was none other than his idol that broke it. But then, that’s exactly what they want, because when Britain breaks, it’s the poor people that suffer. And they ain’t poor.
Pattison’s exhibition is showing until 27th January. Here’s a link to the images if you can’t make it…
The process of creative writing is very much like that of moving your bowels. There’s a degree to which you can sit there and force it, but if it doesn’t want to come it won’t. Plus, you have to appreciate that mostly what you will produce will be crap.
My very first blog, just over a month ago, was a statement of intent. I set out to keep up with my writing, mostly as an exercise to keep me in practice for when I eventually get around to writing something more involved – like a novel – so the subjects of my blogs were a secondary concern. I can proudly say that, after five weeks, I’ve exceeded my expectations. I’ve blogged seventeen times about all manner of subjects, and not short, insignificant entries, but material with clout. But I fear I’ve burned myself out a little, and hit a patch of what is known as writer’s block.
It happens to the best of writers, but I’m not including myself amongst them plus I pay little attention to their advice on how to get yourself in the right frame of mind to write. As amateur and part time writers, we face slightly different challenges to someone sat staring at the blank sheet of paper in their typewriter all day, with no pressures other than a publisher’s deadline to worry about. We may face roadblocks in the shape of lack of confidence in our efforts, a void of inspiration, or simply just finding the time to sit down and bash keys.
For inspiration for a subject for this article, I looked back to that very first blog. My intention was that my articles should never amount to a diary, not should they be journalistic reporting. They should lie in between, and that would be my first point: although it’s important any facts used are correct, your opinion is as valid as anybody else’s. So, in one sense, nothing you write is wrong. Don’t worry about people disagreeing or else not being interested in what you have to say. That’s what opinions are for and this is the internet, so someone somewhere will be interested.
As far as confidence goes, you have to remember you’re not writing for The Times, and as long as you can string a sentence together in something approximating English you’re good enough for blog writing. At The Camel’s Hump, we affect an air of professionalism, but don’t let that put prospective writers off. We also have an editor, and she’s there to advise and suggest, not criticise. A good editor can help you improve your writing no end. The best advice I can give if you don’t have an editor is to find a friend willing to read your work and give honest feedback before publishing.
On the subject of inspiration, I would suggest it is everywhere if you learn to look for it the right way. You have to stick your aerials out to catch the signals. There’s material all around, even in the daily Facebook grumbles we all make – why are children on buses so annoying, and why do old people have to smell? But I don’t think you can chase inspiration down, like a bailiff looking for debtors – finding where it lives, coming round and kicking its door down. Once you have the scent of an idea, if it’s a good idea, decide what you think about the subject, research what others think about it, and start when you have more of an inkling what you’re going to write about. You’ll never write a thing by staring at a blank sheet of paper, and the sheet will stay blank if your mind is blank.
In regards to finding the time, it’s all very well to say “Tuesday at 8pm I’ll sit at my desk and write for sixty minutes” because an hour after you’ve started you’ll probably still be staring at your screen and checking your social networks every five minutes. You may be inspired to write at any time of the day, and you have to be prepared to jot down your ideas and thoughts. I write most of my first drafts on the Word application on my smartphone, then neaten them up on my laptop later. For those of you not yet a part of the touchscreen revolution, notebooks and biros have been the writers friend for many years. Keep them with you and use them, even have them next to your bed as you sleep.
Since The Camel’s Hump began, we’ve been continuing to look for contributing writers. So far, enthusiasm has far outweighed product. That isn’t a criticism, as all contributors give up their time and talents for free, but I hope this post can inspire some of those who haven’t got around to it yet, and perhaps raise interest in being one of our writers from others. So in conclusion I’ll say this: If it was easy, anyone could do it. I’m not saying it is easy, but no one should be afraid of trying.
“January 1st: I have decided to keep a journal of my thoughts and deeds over the coming year. A daily chart of my progress through the echelons of command, so that perhaps one day other aspiring officers may seek enlightenment through these pages. It is my fond hope that, one day, this journal will take its place alongside Napoleon’s War Diaries and The Memoirs of Julius Caesar.”
Next entry… “July 17th: Auntie Maggie’s Birthday.”’
From the diary of Arnold Judas Rimmer BSC SSC.
Who are we fooling? The same person we are writing for: ourselves.
That’s where I think the idea of diary writing falls down. Who, exactly, are we trying to impress. Diaries written entirely for the self are no more than a very arduous form of masturbation, and diarists, in my experience, are consequently very tedious wankers. They’re introverted, pseudo-intellectuals, with more self-reflection than a hall of mirrors, sharing their innermost with a few ounces of tree pulp because no one in the real world would understand them.
Unless we’re writing with the aim of eventual publication in the form of a memoir – which I find self defeating, as we can never be truly honest when we know someone will read our scribblings – what exactly is the point? We might as well keep those thoughts in our heads, and, if you’ve gone to the extent of buying a diary, imagining you’re going to keep at it for the whole year, your head is probably big enough to keep them all in anyway.
But the twenty-first century has provided the perfect platform for the would-be diarist who usually stumbles at the first hurdle when committing to regular writing: The Blog.
The Blog fills a gap – one of those gaps you didn’t know existed until someone filled it, like a piece of physics-defying parallel parking – somewhere between the lonely pursuit of a diary and the published opinions of columnists. You can guarantee, no matter how obscure or vague your subject, interests, opinions or even your grasp of spelling and grammar, there will be someone, somewhere in the world who will be willing to read your offerings.
Maybe this all seems very obvious to you, the veteran blogger, but what you’re reading right now is my first ever blog. Yes, even I, who has never got beyond the first week in a diary, have now been dragged kicking and screaming (why are people always dragged kicking and screaming? Why can they not be coerced with a kind word and a biscuit?) towards the idea of putting my thoughts into pleasing, well punctuated sentences, and pasting them into the text field of a public blog on a regular basis. This is January the first: the first blank page in a faux-leather bound life, metaphorically speaking. My new year’s resolution: to be honest – to a point – irreverent, intelligent, interesting (hopefully), informative, and, most importantly, to fill those metaphorical pages.
So, why did I decided to take to my typewriter – well, start up a word processing program, but the idea of a writer with a solid, old fashioned black typewriter is so much more romantic – and share my thoughts with you? Well, a number of reasons. Firstly, because a friend asked me to. Why she thought me qualified, I couldn’t tell you. Ask her. Secondly, because there is something in all of us that believes they are a writer – it’s said that everybody has a book in them, and, some would observe, it should stay there. Thirdly, because the opinions, political leanings, social standing and general outlook on life of my fellow bloggers, are compatible with my own. Fourthly, and finally, because there is always the possibility of positive feedback – something any creative type craves. I desire validation, as, I suspect, do most writers. That is why I have never succeeded in maintaining a diary, because I need that person reading over my shoulder.
Will I keep it up? Who knows? Wish me luck, and keep looking over my shoulder, and maybe I’ll write out of the sheer embarrassment of having you there, breathing down my neck.