Shifting Horizons by Lynn Beaton
Doreen and I were standing in the backyard to chat and enjoy the sunshine. Mark and Michael were playing with some trucks nearby. I looked over at their happy little faces and suddenly felt a surge of joy at the sight of Michael looking so fit and healthy and playing just like any other child. ‘Look at him, Doreen,’ I said. ‘Isn’t he lovely now, he’s really looking like himself.’ There'd been so much illness in Michael’s life and all the anxiety I'd felt about him was washed away for that moment.
Since they'd diagnosed Nephrotic Syndrome he'd been a very sick little boy. The first attack had kept him in hospital for two weeks, and the two years since then he'd had about six relapses. It had been a very hard time for all of us, just when we were confident that he would be fit and healthy we were suddenly confronted by the fact that he had a very serious disease which could only be held in check by giving him regular doses of steroids. The steroids themselves had all sorts of side effects including a tendency to obesity and hyperaction, so the hospital was reducing the dosage to try and find the best balance.
We had to test his urine every day to measure the amount of protein in it. Too much protein was a danger sign, it meant that his kidneys were not retaining it as they should and therefore he was likely to have a relapse. We also had to take him to the hospital every week for tests. Those hospital visits had become more and more tedious over the last year, we always had to wait hours and hours. I never felt at ease in the hospital, there were always so many people bustling about and I felt as if they didn’t really have time for us. Somehow you almost felt guilty just being there, but we had no choice, Michael’s illness was very serious. It was awful, just waiting and waiting with a lively little boy getting cantankerous because he was so bored. We used to get quite annoyed about it. One day, one of the doctors was walking about obviously half asleep, Alan asked him what was wrong. He told us he'd been on call for the last forty-eight hours and that all the staff were really run down because there'd been so many cut-backs in the hospital budget. We were quite shocked, we'd heard about Government cuts to the Health Service but it hadn’t really hit home before that it was affecting us. Alan said, ‘How can the Government and Health Authorities expect you to give a full hundred per cent to these children in your care; sometimes it could be a matter of life or death.’ The doctor agreed, he said, ‘You're right, but what can we do.’
As the steroid doses got lower, Michael began to return to his proper weight and as I stood with Doreen watching him and Mark playing I was overcome by how beautiful his wiry little body really was. The next day when I tested his urine it was showing too much protein. I wasn’t really worried it was only 2 +, when it gets up to three or four it becomes really dangerous. But the next day it was right up to four. It was a Friday, we rang the hospital and they said they'd ring back. But they never did.
We rang again on the Saturday morning, but there were no Consultants there over the weekend and they told us to leave it till Monday. By Sunday night he was screaming with pain. We wrapped him up in a sleeping bag and rushed him into hospital. When they examined him, they said they couldn’t feel anything in his tummy but they'd keep him in because of his high protein count. They said they'd call the Consultant and they settled him down for the night and then sent us home. After that he started swelling again and he just swelled and swelled. They increased the doses of Steroids, but things seemed to stay the same for about a week. There were no signs at all that he was getting better.
Everybody was worried about him, some evenings we'd call in to see my parents on our way home from the hospital to let them know how he was. They kept asking if we were sure that he was getting proper treatment, they wanted us to get a second opinion. Alan’s parents were saying the same sort of thing so we decided that we should have a word with the Consultant when we saw her the following Tuesday if nothing had changed.
That week the Government announced that Cortonwood Colliery in Yorkshire was to be closed on Monday, 12th March. The Cortonwood miners walked out on strike on Friday, 9th March to prevent the closure from taking place. The rest of the Yorkshire pits followed suit.
There'd been discussion for some time about a strike, no-one was very happy with the situation, but the NUM executive had lost two ballots. When we first heard the news about Cortonwood, we were very surprised and confused, but worry about Michael overshadowed it. By the weekend we were fairly sure there would be a strike. Alan and I discussed it.
I asked him, ‘If there’s a ballot, how will you vote?’
‘I'll vote for a strike, I'm against pit closures, I'll vote for a strike.’
‘Well, you do what you think best,’ I said. I had confidence in Alan’s judgement, I knew that if he was in favour of a strike it must be necessary, he wasn’t a militant and he knew that we really couldn’t afford a strike. So for him to vote in favour of one the situation must be very serious. But I was worried. I didn’t think Arthur Scargill was the right man to lead the union. He'd had so much bad publicity, I'd listened to the reports and read the papers and as far as I was concerned he was a bad man ~ just out for a strike. I was also worried about Michael being in hospital and how a strike could affect him.
The next Tuesday we saw the Consultant and Michael was transferred to Nottingham City Hospital. I rode in the ambulance with Michael, and Alan drove the car. It was awful in the ambulance, I was so worried about Michael. His little body was so swollen and distorted he didn’t look like himself. It was monstrous to see him, he was like a pregnant three year old. He had stretch marks on his tummy and his privates were so big that the skin was transparent and you could see right through it. This was the worst he'd ever been and my anxiety was all the more intense because I had so recently begun to feel that he was beginning to return to normal.
I decided to stay at the hospital. There were units for mothers to stay in and I wanted to be near Michael all the time. Somehow the bigger Nottingham hospital seemed so strange I didn’t want to leave him there on his own. It was also further from home and it would have taken us longer to get there if we were called. Alan was working nights so he went off to work. The first day Alan came in at about lunch time after he'd had a sleep and we just sat about all afternoon wishing there was something we could do. We'd never seen Michael like this before, he wasn’t only swollen but he was very poorly as well. Other times he'd at least been up and playing with other children, but this time he just wanted to lie down, he was very miserable with himself and it was heart-breaking to see him and feel unable to help him.
Alan mentioned that everybody at work had been talking about a strike and it seemed definite that it would come.
I said, ‘I hope it don’t happen yet, if we can just hang out till Michael’s better, then I don’t care.’
I expected Alan back at the hospital the next day at lunchtime again so I was very surprised to see him walk in quite early in the morning.
‘Hey up, you're early, what’s the matter.’
‘The Yorkshire lads came down last night and I didn’t cross their picket line.’
My stomach sank, I knew all at once that I was terrified of this strike coming before Michael was better. If Alan went on strike we wouldn’t be able to afford to visit Michael, we had to find petrol money to drive to Nottingham, money to buy food while we were at the hospital and money for bits and bobs for Michael. We had no money at all put away because the overtime ban hadn’t left us any spare. Almost against my own better judgement I said,
‘You're gonna have to go Alan, even if you just make a few shifts to get us through this patch.’
I knew the importance of the principle of not crossing a picket line. I'd always learnt from my Dad that holding these principles was just part of being a miner. I also sensed that the issue of pit closures was not something we could let go by. But my anxiety about Michael’s welfare, my need to make sure that he had everything he needed to get better and that we must do everything we could to make him better, overpowered everything else.
Later that afternoon Doreen and Pip came into the hospital. I took Doreen down to show her the mother’s unit where I was staying. As we walked along the miles of corridors to get there, we talked a bit about the strike. Doreen told me about the Yorkshire lads forming a picket line in Blidworth saying that it was against union rules to cross it. We had a bit of a heart to heart about it. We agreed that we would stand by our men if they had to strike, but we were both very worried. Me, because of Michael and Doreen because she was scared of another struggle over Pip’s maintenance like they'd had after his illness. When we got to the unit, I showed Doreen the little cooker that was there for cooking toast and bits and bobs. She said, ‘Do you want me to get some things and send them in to you, it'd be cheaper wouldn’t it, if you could cook your own meals?
So I made out a list of things that I could use and she said she'd get them for me. That’s what Doreen’s like, she’s very supportive and practical. She’s been a brick all the way through. All along with my pregnancy with Michael and then with him being in hospital, she'd ask if there was any washing and she'd have Amanda at night for me. She was a brick, I wouldn’t have got through without her. She was the one person that stood by me and gave me support when my own family didn’t. And it was the sort of support that I needed. It was firm support because that’s what Doreen’s like, she’s a firm person. She used to say, ‘Come on, keep your chin up, you're gonna be all right.’ It wasn’t the sort of sympathy that can make you feel worse when people say, ‘I don’t know how I'd manage if it were me.’ You don’t need that, you need someone to stay strong and say, ‘Look, it'll be all right, Michael will be all right you'll see.’
It was good of Doreen to come and visit Michael. And I know that it’s been hard for her. I know the first time she saw him with his little body so swollen, she choked up at the sight that met her eyes, she didn’t know what to say. It’s good to have friends like that, you need friends like that.
The next few days sort of went by uneventfully really, my overwhelming concern was with Michael. I might have heard more about the strike but in the hospital with everything being so upsetting all you think about is where you are and what you're doing and the child that’s in front of you. I couldn’t really think about the strike, if people talked about it, it didn’t really sink in.
That Friday, March 16th, the Notts. area of the National Union of Mineworkers held a ballot of its members to determine whether it would support the strike. At Blidworth the ballot was held, to the surprise of many of the men, at the pit itself. The National Coal Board had made a room available.
After the ballot Alan came into the hospital and told me that he'd voted for a strike, then later, Pip and Doreen came in. Doreen and I went to have a cup of coffee and again we talked about the strike. Doreen told me that Pip had taken a bag of potatoes up to the Yorkshire lads on the picket line the night before. She said, ‘At first I said to him, what about us, we need those spuds, but then he told me that they were starving and cold and all huddled around a fire and so he'd put some spuds onto their fire for them.’
Doreen continued, ‘I felt awful then, I asked him if they needed ought else, bread and butter or ought. But he said that Yorkie and his Missus were there and she'd gone to fetch some.’
‘Who’s Yorkie? I don’t know him.’
‘You must have seen him, he’s a tall lad, and he’s from Yorkshire but he lives in village and works at pit. I don’t know him, but I've seen him about.’
‘I don’t think I have.’
‘He’s on the union committee, I've heard Pip talk about him before. Anyway, they were on the picket line with all the Yorkshire pickets. I couldn’t sleep then, last night, whittling about those lads up there. I asked Pip if they needed somewhere to sleep, but he said they'd be having shift changes and going home.’
We talked some more about our worries if there was a strike. We knew it would be a long one and we tried to look at it as best we could. Doreen seemed resolved that it would happen.
She said, ‘I've heard that your mortgage gets frozen and your H.P. Thing is, if they don’t go on strike, they'll as likely not to have a job soon enough, it’s important now.’
She could tell that I was still worried about it and said, ‘We'll manage, we're both working and that'll help. Because we can go to Tesco’s and get what we need to eat and everything else will just have to go.’
‘Yes Doreen, but while Michael is in hospital if we don’t get any money, Alan won’t be able to afford petrol to get in to him.’
‘Well, he oughtn’t to cross a picket line. Look, if worst comes to worst he'll have to come and stay in here with you. We'll look after Amanda. We'll just have to sort it out between us like that.’
But underneath I was still worried and I knew that Doreen was too. We were both very torn, neither of us wanted a strike and somehow hoped that there'd be some way out of it.
When we got back to the ward, we all watched the television news and they said that Notts. had voted and it was expected that seventy-five per cent had voted against joining the strike. It threw us all into more confusion.
‘What do we do now?’ Alan asked, as if talking for all of us.
‘Well,’ said Pip. ‘What I want to know is, how come they know the result. We don’t even know us'ens yet. I think we should wait till Monday and see what’s going off.’
Although we were all confused we were clearly angry with the result of the ballot and talked about Notts. being scabland in 1926. It was very strange, none of us wanted a strike, yet we all had a sense that it was necessary and that we didn’t want Notts. to let the rest of the NUM down. We discussed it for quite a long time and both Alan and Pip were disgusted with the Notts. Executive for not making a clear call to strike in the very beginning.
‘At least then we'd know where we were.’ Alan said, ‘This way we don’t know what we're supposed to be doing.’
Over the weekend Michael seemed to get worse and I got more and more worried about him. I forgot all about the strike again but I did say to Alan that he should try to make at least a couple of shifts the next week, just to tide us over.
On Sunday night I was exhausted, I wanted to get home and do some washing but most of all I was worried about Amanda. She was pining, she'd hardly seen me and I thought I should spend a bit of time with her. Michael seemed used to the routine at the hospital and so I decided to go home for the next few nights. On Monday night, Alan went up to the pit to see what was going off and he went in to work. No-one seemed to know what was happening or what we were supposed to do — most of the men who had been on strike the week before were going back in. The ballot results were not official, but it seemed that Notts. would not go out. Going to work must have been difficult for Alan because the next night as I was getting his snap ready he started talking about whether he should be going in or not.
I said, ‘Well you ought to, because we can’t afford for you not to and it’s not fair on Michael being in hospital.’
He started shouting, ‘You don’t have to cross them lines, you don’t have to go by them men. They're my mates. I don’t like to go through.’
Then we started arguing and it got around to family. My Mum hadn’t been in to see Michael, she'd just sent him a card and said that because it looked like they were going to be on strike they couldn’t afford the petrol money to go into Nottingham to see him. Alan knew that had hurt me, so he threw it at me.
‘Your parents are not bothered to go and see Michael are they? Your fuckin’ family don’t care a toss about you and you're too bloody blind to see it.’
That made me really mad so I said, ‘You pissin’ bastard. You can piss off back to your mother’s,’ and I lashed out with my fists and started hitting him on the back. He picked up his snap bag and just walked out and slammed the door. After he'd gone I wondered whether he'd rather cross the picket line or come back and have the argument with me. I waited up for a while and he never came back so it was apparent that he had crossed the picket line. But I sat there crying and feeling awful that I'd made him go to work against what he felt.
The next morning I got up when I heard Amanda wake, Alan had slept on the sofa but he came into the kitchen when he heard Amanda and I having breakfast. We all got ready to take Amanda to school and then go straight to the hospital. It was very tense between us, we only spoke when absolutely necessary.
At the hospital I looked straight away at Michael’s chart, I always did that because we'd had a lot of trouble with him taking medicines. The chart showed that he'd taken them with force. Then a nurse came up and said that they wanted to put him on a drip and that a doctor would be along soon to talk to us. The doctor said that his condition was not improving and so they wanted to put him on albumin which would make him direece. We knew that direecing would bring him relief so we agreed that he should have it. Apparently, it’s a very expensive drug which they had to send off for so they couldn’t give it to him until later that afternoon.
Of course in the face of Michael’s predicament the tension between Alan and I just vanished. I gave him a kiss and said I was sorry and he said he was sorry and then he went off to have a sleep before he picked up Amanda. At about half past two, they came with a drip. Michael hated needles and as soon as they came near him he knew what they were going to do and he started crying.
‘No Mummy, no Mummy, don’t let them hurt me.’
I sat holding him down and stroking his head and they had hold of his arms. They tried three times to get the vein, each time piercing his skin but then having to try again. Then, when they thought they had it and set the drip up they discovered it wasn’t in properly and so they had to start all over again. Michael screamed and screamed.
‘Mummy, don’t let them do it again, Mummy please stop them.’
I was crying and Michael was crying and I was holding his little hand and they were taking the drip out of one arm and trying to put it into the other. It took another three or four attempts to find the vein again and each time they'd try I'd think, ‘Oh come on, please let them get it this time.’
My overwhelming instinct was to tell them to ‘go away and leave him alone,’ but I knew that what they were doing was necessary and so I just had to try and help them and comfort Michael all at once. I had to leave as soon as they'd finished because I was so distraught. I went into the television room. There was another woman there who gave me a cigarette and I sobbed and sobbed and told her what had gone off and she just sat with me for a few minutes. I've never experienced a child going through pain like that, and there’s just nothing you can do about it. You can’t take that pain off them. As much as you want to, you just can’t take the pain off them. I think it’s one of the worst situations to be in, to see someone, that you feel responsible for and that you love so much, suffering like that and not be able to stop it.
Half an hour later I went up to see him and he was sitting up in bed singing Sunday School Choruses. That just did it, that was marvellous. I went and sat with him and sang the choruses with him and thanked God that he was on the mend. That was the turning point. Later when Alan came in after picking up Amanda from school I hugged him and cried and cried. I said, ‘You should have been here, he’s gone through hell.’ And I explained what had happened. As I did I kept crying and I can remember saying that he had already made two shifts that week and that he didn’t need to go to work tonight. We could manage on two shifts and I needed Alan with me at the hospital. So for the rest of that week Alan would come in and stay with us all day until he had to go and pick up Amanda and then to save petrol they'd both stay at home at nights.
Over the next few days we had a few setbacks and a few more traumas with Michael, but by the weekend he was well enough to take home. It was such a relief to all be together again. Amanda, Michael, Alan and me.
Once we were home life started to resume its normal pattern. Doreen and I decided to hold Sunday School the next morning. She came around early so we'd have time to catch up on each other’s news before the kids came. But as soon she started talking I realised that life wasn’t going to return to normal at all. All Doreen could talk about was the strike. She and Pip had been rowing about it. She was terrified that they would have to go through the nightmare of the maintenance back-payments again. The Notts. officials had announced the result of the ballot, seventy-two per cent had voted against a strike and it seemed that we weren’t involved. But still we all felt that it was wrong to cross a picket line. Pip was quite ill with worry, crossing the picket line made him badly but facing the financial worries which Doreen was presenting him with was just as bad.
Doreen also told me about the police arriving in the village. Alan had mentioned that they'd been up on the picket line, but he'd not said a lot. Doreen had been driving back from work when she noticed eight police vans on the road, four in front of her and four behind. When she got into the village she was shocked to see the car park of the Forest Folk pub full of police vans.
‘Pauline, there must have been at least twenty of them,’ she said. ‘They were all full of coppers. Ooh it were ’orrible. I was fair frightened. I couldn’t believe it were Blid’th I thought it must of been Poland. I couldn’t believe it were England. I've never seen police like that before, ever.’
‘What were they all doing here?’
‘They're still here, they've come up because of pickets, aren’t they. All the pickets from Derbyshire and Yorkshire. they reckon they shouldn’t be here, they can’t do that can they?’
That week both Pip and Alan went into work, I started back at work again too and it was really awful. Doreen and I were sickened by the attitude of the other women there, most of them were married to miners who were working and didn’t support the strike at all. They kept slagging the Yorkshire pickets and saying that they should go back to Yorkshire where they belonged. And they were calling Arthur Scargill everything under the sun. Although our husbands were sometimes going in to work Doreen and I argued with them about it because we just didn’t agree with the sort of things they were saying. In some ways listening to them made us realise what side we were really on and it made us ashamed that we weren’t really living by what we believed in.
Pip and Doreen rowed all the next weekend. Doreen was worried about Pip.
She said, ‘Crossing picket lines makes him as low as a snake’s belly.’
She'd given him an ultimatum, she'd said to him, ‘If you want to go on strike, you've got to ring a solicitor and get your maintenance taken care of. If you don’t do that, you don’t go on strike.’
Doreen had found out that the reason Pip had to pay so much maintenance was because he was still being classified as a single man and that he needed to have his new situation presented to the Court. Once that had been done they would never have to pay back so much at once again.
When we got home from work on Monday, Pip said to Doreen, ‘I've phoned the solicitor, I've got an appointment tomorrow morning. Alan’s gonna drive me.’ She said, ‘Is that it then?’
‘Yes, that’s it, me snap tin’s in that cupboard there and it’s not coming out until we've won.’
When Doreen told me this a couple of hours later she was glad that he'd made his mind up.
‘I knew as soon as he'd phoned the solicitor. You know Pip, he’s not the sort to come up to me and say, “look, there’s no way I can cross them picket lines” but as soon as he said he'd phoned the solicitor then I knew that was it.’
Pip had been through a very hard time. On the Friday before, he'd not been in to work but spent the morning talking to some of the union officials from our pit, he'd decided then not to go in any more. But on the Monday morning after rowing all weekend with Doreen he'd gone off to work. When he came off his shift they'd put a special picket line on for him and his mate, Howard. After talking to them for a while Pip had kicked his snap-box across the field in front of the pit and said, ‘That’s it.’
Doreen was fully prepared to support him.
She said to me, ‘He’s gonna need my support now in’t he?’
She said, ‘What’s Alan gonna do now?’
‘I don’t know I suppose he'll come out.’
‘Well, she said. He oughtn’t to be crossing picket lines.’
‘But he’s not at the moment ’cause he’s working those odd shifts and there’s no pickets there when he goes in.’
‘Well, maybe they oughta put a special picket line for him like they did for Pip and Howard.’
The next night they did put a special picket line on for Alan and he refused to cross it. That was it then, we had all put our everything in with the strike and we felt good about it because we knew where we stood. Now we were standing up for our principles and that made us feel proud. That week so much seemed to happen, our lives really began to change. The first obvious change was at work.
Doreen asked the Manageress if we could work our own hours to get as much overtime as possible because our husbands were on strike. She agreed that as long as we did the five hours we'd signed the contract for, we could work what we wanted. We had a supervisor called Pat who was very unpopular with everybody. She was always picking on the young lasses and she was very two-faced. If you did something wrong, instead of bringing it back to you to fix it up she'd take it straight to the Manager so you'd get into trouble. If she didn’t like you she'd bring someone else’s repairs and say they were yours, so you'd waste time cause you didn’t get paid for doing your own repairs. She particularly hated Doreen and me because we just came along to earn money and we sat next to each other and we'd always be having a laugh and a joke. We did our work easily and hardly made a mistake and that really used to annoy her.
The other thing that annoyed her was that if we wanted anything we'd go over her head and straight to the management. When Doreen asked for overtime, she made a whole lot of snide remarks to us at first. But when she found out why we wanted it her attitude changed. We were very surprised when she came up to us, sat in front of our machines and asked how Michael was. She stayed and talked about Michael’s illness for a long time and then she said to Doreen:
‘Why didn’t you come to me about extra hours?’
Doreen said, ‘I didn’t think it mattered, I thought Marie was the one to ask.’
Then she asked why we wanted extra hours and when Doreen told her she said, ‘Well, I'm really proud to know you.’
Then she told us that she came from Yorkshire and was fully behind the strike.
After that we all became good friends and Pat used to make sure that we got all the best jobs, and the ones that you could make most money on. Sometimes she'd bring us some repairs of someone else’s and if they took a quarter of an hour, she'd mark it down as half an hour. The scabs’ wives got really mad about that and used to make snide comments all the time.
‘Oh look at the favourites.’
‘You can tell who’s in this week.’
I started to bring a radio in to work with me so we could listen to the news about the strike. Every hour me and Doreen would stop our machines and Pat would come up and listen with us. At first all the others thought we were really funny for listening to all the news broadcasts but then they got quite nasty and stopped talking to us, or else they'd sneer and make snide remarks.
‘Arthur Scargill wants shooting.’
‘He’s tried before to get the men to strike, those with any sense won’t strike now either.’
‘All them lazy idle strikers should get back to work and keep their families.’
If they weren’t making comments like that they'd talk in loud voices about all the things they were buying with their husbands’ wages. It got so they never spoke to us unless it was uncivil. But the three of us used to have a laugh and a joke about it all the time and we knew that we had the bond of the strike and that was more important than all their pettiness. Later when we got more involved and started taking a lot of time off we used to come and say to Pat, ‘We weren’t well yesterday, but really we were at that rally in Barnsley,’ or ‘We went to a meeting to raise money,’ or ‘We had to stay in t'village ’cause our centre opened today.’
Pat used to say, ‘Good lasses.’ She was pleased that we were telling her the truth and also that we were out working hard to support the strike.
One day at work this joke came up and we all laughed about it for ages. There was this scab’s wife who used to sit behind us and she was always telling jokes in a really loud voice. Often they were about the strike and strikers but sometimes they were just jokes. This day I heard her say, ‘What’s the most useless thing in the world?’
I turned to Doreen and said, ‘A Nottinghamshire miner.’ We thought it was so funny we creased ourselves laughing. The real answer was a prick, because it’s got no arms, no legs and a hole in the head. When we got home that night I went next door and told Pip the joke. He laughed and then I told him the real answer and I was just finishing saying ‘and a hole in the head’ and Alan walked in.
Pip said, ‘Tell Alan that one.’
Well Alan thought we were talking about him and when I said
‘What’s the most useless thing in the world, Alan?’ he said,
‘There’s nought wrong wi’ me.’
Well, we just fell about in hysterics, we laughed and laughed. It became a sort of standard joke then and all any of us had to do was mention it and we all burst out laughing.
Alan was getting up and going picketing every morning at about four o'clock and I always used to lie there and listen to the men shouting on the picket line. It was quite frightening and I used to worry about it. There was also something exciting about it and I used to wonder exactly what went on up there. On Wednesday Alan came back from the picket line and said to me, ‘I seen ya Dad go in this morning.’
‘Ah well, he’s got his principles,’ I said, ‘if he wants to do that, let it be on his conscience not ours.’
But I couldn’t understand his attitude at all. This strike was over things that I knew he'd always believed in. All my life my father had been a strong unionist and it was because of what he'd taught me that I knew it was wrong for Alan to be crossing a picket line. I can remember him in the 1970’s strikes when he was solid and behind them and used to talk about what a terrible thing strike-breaking was. I couldn’t understand how his attitude had changed so much. I hadn’t seen my parents in the last ten days since Michael had come out of hospital. Alan had told me that while I was in hospital my Dad had called him a scab because he'd gone in for a couple of shifts. My Dad had been out for the first full week but had apparently gone back after that and not missed a shift since. I could only think it must have been over money. They'd bought a holiday bungalow and a new car. I suppose he felt that he'd worked hard all his life for what they'd got and he didn’t want to risk losing it. But it hurt me and I was bitter about it. I thought, after all, we've only got one house to lose. I knew then that it would be a long strike. I thought maybe about six or eight weeks.
The next morning I was woken up by a commotion outside our house. I could hear people laughing and joking and I got out of bed and looked through the curtains. I saw a couple of vans and loads of blokes standing around them. Somehow I could tell they were pickets. It was only about quarter past three but I woke Alan and said,
‘Hey, pickets are here.’ I was really excited that they'd come to our house.
Alan hardly woke up and just grunted.
I said, ‘They're out there in the cold.’
‘Didn’t we ought to get up and make a cup of tea?’
‘No, not at this time of the morning, get back into bed.’
‘But it’s cold out there.’
‘Oh shurrup and get back into bed.’
So I lay in bed listening, but I couldn’t stay there and when I looked again I saw a police van go by and all the pickets dived back into their vans. Then I saw a neighbour looking through his curtains and I thought, that ratty old bloke he’s called the police, so I said.
‘Alan, George’s sent for t’ coppers. We ought to let ’em in ’ouse. It’s freezing and now there are coppers going by.’
Alan said, ‘Well, go on then.’
And so I got up, put my clothes on and went out and asked them if they wanted a cup of tea. That was the first step to me getting involved really. It turned out that they came from Derbyshire and that was quite nice because my uncles were on strike in Derbyshire and I thought any of these could be my uncles.
I've got a great big teapot that Alan’s Mum had given me for Sunday School and a whole lot of plastic cups. I filled the enormous teapot with tea which took two electric kettles and then put milk into it and took it out to the men. Alan got up then and some of them came in the house and we all chatted about the strike. It was very exciting, I nipped in next door. Doreen was just getting up and I told her all about it. She'd heard the noise as well, but was too sleepy to get up. Doreen likes her bed more than me in the mornings.
All the men went up to picket. I told them to come back for another cup of tea after picketing and by the time they did it was nice and sunny and so they all sat around the back yard on the patio steps. Doreen and I had to leave for work, but we really wanted to stay and talk to the pickets and listen to their stories about the strike. All the way to work and all through the morning we kept talking about it.
‘Fancy them coming to our house.’
‘I wonder if they'll still be there when we get back.’ It was lovely to feel involved and it made us feel important that they'd come to our houses.
After that they used to come every morning and either I'd make them a cup of tea or Pip would. When they came back from picketing they'd always talk about what happened and be really excited if they'd turned someone back. We all thought then, that if we could just get all the Notts. Miners out we'd win the strike. Doreen used to get up to go to work and the house would be full of pickets spread all over the floor and up the stairs. And they'd be all over our house too. By this time the police were aware that the pickets were coming in and they started following them all around the village. Doreen would open their double gates so the pickets could drive in and then the police couldn’t touch them.
More and more I was wishing I could go picketing, but I just didn’t think it was the sort of thing that women did. I suppose I remembered the ’72 and ’74 strikes and knew women weren’t involved so I assumed this would be the same. But I also knew that I'd found those strikes exciting as a child and that stimulated my interest and my wanting to get involved now that I was a woman.
On Sunday night, Alan and I were just getting ready to go to bed when he heard loads of shouting next door. Doreen and Pip were really going at it screaming and shouting.
I said to Alan, ‘Ooh listen, to ’em next door, they're really having a barney, all hell’s let loose. I wonder what’s gone off.’
Alan said, ‘Oh, probably they've had a drink or two.’ ’Bloomin’ ’eck, she sounds like she’s gonna kill ’im.’
The next morning Pip came around and said that Doreen wasn’t feeling well and wouldn’t be going to work. I knew damn well they'd had a fight the night before but I didn’t let on and Alan drove me into work. When I got back I was dying to hear what had gone off so I was eager to listen to Doreen when she came around a bit later for a coffee.
‘What did they say at work about me not coming in, did you tell ’em I weren’t very well?’ She asked.
‘No, I told ’em you had a barney last night with Pip,’ I joked and we both laughed.
‘Oh that bloody Pip’ she said as soon as we'd finished laughing.
‘He’s a right bloody article he is. You know what he did last night. He begged me to go out wi’ him, I weren’t really bothered, but he begged me to go to Friar for a drink w’ him and then when we got there he buggers off and talks to a bleedin’ scab all night.’
‘Yeah, but you know how obsessed I am about him sitting wi’ me when we go out ’cause with all the kids we never get time together on our own at home, so I think that when we go out we should sit together. Well we'd only been there about a quarter of an hour when Pip goes up to the bar and starts talking to this scab. He were stood there for thirty-five minutes and I were getting madder and madder and in the end I got up and walked home. I walked right past him and he were so engrossed in his conversation that he didn’t even see me walk by. And it took him twenty minutes to notice that I'd left cause he drove home and didn’t get here until a bit after me. Anyway he says, ‘What’s up wi’ you’ and I said, ‘Nothing’ and he says,’ ‘Come on. So I told him. I were so mad wi’ him, well, you heard us, so you know. He said that you gotta talk to scabs to let ’em know what it’s all about and I says, ‘rubbish, you stand on the picket line to talk to scabs, you shouldn’t be talking to them when you take me out for a drink.’ I said to him, ‘I'm finished, if you're on strike, that’s it. I'm backing you all the way and if you want to treat me like this, when you take me out, well then, I'm not going to work no more. If you want to stand around talking to scabs then I'll do your job and stand on the picket line.’ He got really mad then, he said, ‘I weren’t just talking to scabs I was merely trying to convince them that they should be on strike and what’s more if I catch you near the picket line I'll get you by the hair and sling you into the nearest police van.’
‘Yeah, he did. And I've a good mind just to go up there tonight, just to show him.’
‘I'll come with you, I'd love to go up to the picket line.’
‘Right, that’s it then, let’s go up tonight.’
I didn’t really expect her to go but just after Alan had left for picketing Doreen came in with her coat on and said, ‘Shall we go then?’
‘I can’t really, I've got the kids. I'd thought about it and it didn’t really seem possible to pay a babysitter while I went picketing.’
But Doreen said, ‘Well, Karen’s looking after Mark, I'm sure she won’t mind listening out for your two as well.’
When we first got there we were quite timid and stood on the corner a bit away from the main body of the picket. Gradually we edged closer and closer. As we got near to the back line we saw that there were some other women there as well. We didn’t know them then, but it was Pauline Howarth, Sylv Browne, Betty Savage and Ann Bradley. Betty Savage said, ‘Oh it’s lovely to see some more women up here.’
‘We'd have been up before if we'd known that there were women here, we thought it were just for men.’
‘Oh no, duck,’ Betty said, ‘I've stood here every day since day one. We can do our bit too can’t we? I think it’s important that we do. It’s our fight too in’t it duck. I'm ever so glad to have other women join us.’
While we were there I listened to the conversations around me and I really began to understand the issues in a different way from before. The older women told me that their husbands were union officials. They said that Arthur Scargill hadn’t wanted a strike now but that the Coal Board had forced the Yorkshire men into it by threatening to close Cortonwood Colliery. I'd never really understood that properly before. So for me, going up to the picket line really changed the way I saw things. I liked being there as well, I liked feeling that I was involved in it and was doing something.
When the picket finished a lot of the men came over to welcome us. I noticed Pip standing a little apart and looking quite sheepish when he heard Dennis Browne, who had become the picket manager saying to us, ‘It’s nice to see women up here. We're pleased to see you.’
I was pleased the men had made us welcome, it made me feel accepted, because of Pip’s attitude I wasn’t sure if we would be welcome and I was really glad that we were. I knew that the picket line was a place I belonged and I was relieved to know that others felt that way too. As we started to leave someone asked if we were coming back the next day. We explained that we had to work but said that we'd be up again the next night.
Betty said, ‘Oh good, I'll bring you a pair of frilly knickers. Some nights I come up with seven pairs in my pockets.’
I looked at her, I didn’t know what she meant. ‘We wave them at the scabs and ask them if they want them — they're not really men are they?’