Shifting Horizons by Lynn Beaton
Two days after Alan and the others were released, we were all invited to spend a day in Cambridge with expenses paid. It had been arranged when Margaret, Yorkie and Annette had gone to Cambridge. The whole thing surprised me quite a lot, I had no idea where Cambridge was but I thought it was just a college and wondered why they wanted to support us. The trip was to take place on a Saturday when two coaches had been hired to take us there.
The journey was very noisy because of our excitement. It’s always exciting to go off in a big group somewhere and this time it had the added flavour of mystery. We weren’t quite sure what we'd find at the other end but we knew it would be fun because whatever else, we were all determined to make it a great day.
When we got there it was nothing like we expected at all. We were met by some people who struck us at first as being a bit weird and very different from anyone in Blidworth, but they were very friendly and made us feel very welcome. The woman who seemed to be organising everything was called Alison, she was probably in her early forties but she was dressed in a big baggy top and baggy skirt with scarves and jewellery hanging from her ears and neck. She didn’t look anything like a woman of her age would look in Blidworth, where they'd wear a proper dress and stockings and probably high heeled shoes. But she seemed very nice and although she sounded very posh when she spoke, she didn’t look posh and she didn’t act posh towards us.
As we got off the bus we saw a great big sign that said, ‘Welcome Notts Miners and their Families.’ A procession was getting ready to leave, at the head of it was a great big dragon head with colourful material flowing from it. The kids all lined up under the material and formed the body of the dragon which wove in and out of the rest of us and from one side of the road to the other. The dragon led the way and we all started walking off around Cambridge. By now we'd been on quite a few marches where there'd always been thousands of people so this one seemed very small because there was only us and a few students who were all dressed up as fairies and jesters. One man was dressed up and walking on stilts and another rode a one-wheeled bicycle. Everybody was following the dragon and singing,
‘Follow the dragon to Strawberry Fair,
’strawberry Fair is over there.’
The kids thought it was absolutely fantastic dancing and weaving the dragon about.
We started chanting, ‘Maggie, Maggie, Maggie, Out, Out, Out’ and singing ‘Arthur Scargill’, but the students at the front gave us quite a dressing down, telling us that this wasn’t a political rally and we weren’t to chant political slogans. We stopped singing out because we'd been invited there and didn’t want to make a bad impression but we were quite put out about it and groaned a little under our breath to each other.
Walking around the streets of Cambridge I began to realise how beautiful, how big and how clean it was. The streets were small and narrow and the houses were all very old, it struck me as very quaint and I loved it. There was so much green, I'd never seen so many beautiful parks, there seemed to be grass in every direction. I was really surprised, we must have passed lots of the colleges, but I had no idea what they were, I kept looking for a group of big pre-fabricated buildings which is how I imagined the college. I came away thinking that we hadn’t seen the college at all.
The march finished at the Fair; that was a surprise too. We'd all imagined that the Fair would be just like the ones that came to the green in Blidworth at Whitsun with their mechanical rides and sideshows. This was more what we'd call a Fete. There was a magical atmosphere about it. As we walked around none of us could get over what we were seeing around us. There were stalls and tents everywhere selling all sorts of things. There was loads of odd food on different stalls. Strange rices, beans and all sorts of vegetables chopped up were being sold like salads, but they were not the sort of salads we had. Then there were all sorts of breads and cakes made out of things like carrots and bananas. I'd never come across food like it before, because I like food so much it was great to have so many new things to taste. The tastes were quite strange, quite nice for a change, but I wouldn’t like to eat that sort of food regularly. We bought some fudge I can remember which had a very peculiar taste. I thought it was carrot fudge and wondered how they made carrots into fudge, later I found out it was carob fudge, but then I'd never heard of carob at all.
All the people looked really weird, almost everyone had bare feet, and all the clothes were big and baggy and looked several sizes too big except the trousers worn by some of the women which were very colourful and tight and looked several sizes too small, more like what we'd call tights than trousers and no-one would dare wear them out in Blidworth. There was lots of long hair and all the women had scarves, beads, ear-rings and bangles hanging all over them. Most of the ones that had glasses on had small round wire frames like the old fashioned ones you got off the National Health. Everybody looked like hippies or flower people that I'd seen on television years ago and thought were all gone now. If you wore any of their clothes in Blidworth, people would think you'd gone crackers. One of the tents did head massages and in another you could pay to have your face painted. The kids thought that was just great. As they came out one by one with love-hearts and stripes all over their faces, I was dead keen to get mine done too, but Alan thought it would be too much and stopped me. There were lots of buskers and jugglers and people dancing about, making weird movements and playing instruments. I can remember Dennis Browne standing with his mouth wide open, staring at a bloke who was dressed up as a jester, dancing around as he played a flute. He had a long colourful hat and really long pointed shoes with bells on them.
There were a few rides for the kids, things like bouncing castles. We had our own stall too, the miners stall, where we sold badges and collected money. We had a game on our stall, people threw bean bags at cardboard cutouts of Maggie Thatcher and Ian McGregor to try and knock them over. Later on the bean bags broke and we replaced them with wellingtons which I thought was even better. Then we sang out, ‘Come and throw a boot at Thatcher.’
At lunchtime we went across the road to another park for our picnic. It was wonderful , we all got a package of food, there were egg and cheese sandwiches, cakes, sausages, biscuits, pop, tea and coffee. We all had more than we wanted to eat and drink. It was a beautiful warm sunny day and there were lots of people but as I looked around the green I realized that it was mostly just us from Blidworth and I felt quite emotional seeing everyone there, having the time of their lives. The kids played on the swings and climbing frames and we all sat around on the grass relaxing. It was so peaceful and so different to Blidworth where we were still basically under siege and not able to walk about without being questioned by police. Blidworth seemed like a far away nightmare and to actually be away from it, in such a beautiful place with so many new and exciting things to see made the strike seem a world away.
In the afternoon some of the kids were taken swimming, those that hadn’t brought kits had them provided, other kids went for a tour of the colleges. We stayed at the Fair, our kids were too young to go off on their own but we were perfectly happy to continue walking around taking everything in.
At about four o'clock we were all rounded up to go off and have tea with the Lord Mayor. An upstairs room had been reserved for us in the Y.M.C.A. We expected that tea would be a proper meal, a salad or something. Some of the kids expected a hot meal because they're used to having one every day and lunch had been sandwiches. Not that any of us were hungry, we weren’t, but we were surprised when we realised that ‘tea’ was a cup of tea or coffee and a scone with jam and cream. The Lord Mayor came and walked around the tables talking to everybody, the kids played with his Chain of Office and he seemed very sympathetic to our cause. That increased our feelings of being a world away, where some authority figure actually supported us.
When we got back to the Fair lots more people were arriving. A band had started playing peculiar music and they'd started selling beer which lots of people were drinking. The police arrived, apparently something had been stolen from a car. They started to question a young black lad who looked very upset and scared. We had no idea whether he was guilty or not, but from our own experiences we felt fairly sure he wasn’t and anyway our hearts went out to him. Eventually they let him go and we all cheered. But it had brought us all sharply back to reality.
By now it was getting close to the time we were leaving and lots of us were so tired that we went to sit on the bus. Just outside the bus window a group of people starting passing a cigarette to one another. Somebody said,
‘That’s a joint, that is.’
We all stared out the window. I'd never seen anybody smoking a joint before and I don’t think hardly anybody else on the bus had either from the way they all looked. We thought, ‘Ooh, they even smoke pot.’ But the important thing was that we'd got lots of support at the stall we'd had, raised lots of money and been given an absolutely fantastic time. It was clear that even if these people seemed different to us in many ways, in others they were very close and that made us all think quite a lot about judging people by what they look like.
The buses and food had cost £749 and we were taking home £226 with us, on top of that we'd had the time of our lives. Going home on the bus we were very tired but contented people still in high spirits. To round everything off in our own way and to re-establish our sense of the struggle we were all involved in, and going back to, we sang all the songs we'd learnt since the strike started and more that we made up.
During the week of the siege and then while the men were being held by the police Doreen and I hadn’t been into work at all. We kept sending sick notes and in th e end we decided to send in our notice. Our involvement with the strike was then so strong we could only work the minimum number of hours anyway and so we were earning little more than we would have if we'd applied for Social Security. Alan went over and collected our cards and some pay we were owed.
Margaret had taken on the responsibility for Welfare Rights and she had become an adviser to us all. She found the whole thing so interesting that she started taking a course about it at the Nottingham Polytechnic. Doreen and I asked her what we should do to make our claims.
The Government had said that miners’ wives were entitled to Social Security for themselves and their children but not for the striking men. On top of that fifteen pound was deducted from what we would normally have got because it was claimed by the Government that all strikers were receiving fifteen quid a week strike pay. Not only were they receiving nothing at all at that time, but even if they had received it, that should have only covered the men’s living costs which we weren’t claiming anyway. Margaret gave us a form to fill in for claiming, so we sent them off. A fortnight later I got a cheque for twenty-three pound. As it turned out we were entitled to claim a heating and diet allowance for Michael. We didn’t know that at first. so for the first seven months we didn’t claim it. When we finally did we got it back paid, so that was a bit of welcome relief, which came just at the beginning of winter so we could afford to buy some coal. Doreen had a struggle for her money. Because some of the lads and Karen were paying her board, she had that deducted from her entitlement, which was really unfair, she wasn’t claiming for them, but still had to keep them.
With more time I started to go up to the Centre a lot. In fact the Centre became the main focus of our lives and like a home away from home. I used to help in the kitchen with the preparing and serving of the meals and then washing the pots and cleaning up. We were serving three meals a day, seven days a week to anything from one hundred to five hundred people and one of the biggest problems was estimating how many to cook dinner for at midday. It was by far the largest meal, it was always a hot meal, usually some sort of meat and vegetables and there were always more people for dinner than for any other meal. A lot of men would come up to the dinner picket and then come into the Centre for the dinner. There were quite a large number of single men and a lot of others whose wives and kids didn’t come up very often. Some lived outside the village, some of the wives worked or had other responsibilities such as sick relatives, and others just preferred to cope on their own for one reason or another. The amount of time that each person spent at the Centre was entirely up to them. There were about twenty of us women who had made a complete commitment to the Centre and we went up there every day. Lots of others came regularly but less often.
We always had a cooked breakfast, usually beans, sausages, sometimes eggs and bacon, depending on what we had in stock. The numbers that came in for breakfast varied a lot too, but that wasn’t a problem because we just sort of cooked on the spot for whoever wanted it. Teas were fairly static, roughly the same number of kids came in every day after school and we usually made sandwiches and soup and gave everyone a packet of crisps. So our only real problem with the cooking came with dinner.
About a week after we went to Cambridge, Martin Walker rang Doreen, the booklet he and Susan had written had been printed and he asked Doreen if she'd go to the NALGO Conference in Brighton to promote the sale of it. She wasn’t able to go and so I agreed to go with one of the other women, Maureen North. Martin came up to the Centre to talk to us about it and gave us twenty quid to spend between us. All the expenses were being paid and I said to him, ‘No, Martin, we can’t take your money, we'll be looked after.’
He laughed, ‘Oh, go on,’ he said, ‘Get the fuckin’ thing in your pocket and be done with it, you'll find something to do with it.’
He'd arranged for us to stay in London and then go to Brighton on a coach with people from NALGO who were also going to the conference. Maureen and I set off on the train. Neither of us had ever stayed away from home on our own before so it was quite an adventure. We giggled and chatted all the way on the train, wondering where we would be staying. We had no idea, we just knew that someone was meeting us at King’s Cross Station. We kept speculating about who it would be, how we would know them, whether they'd be there and what we'd do if they weren’t. We wondered if it might be a black person, neither of us had ever stayed in the home of anyone of a different race and although a lot of our prejudice had gone we were still quite nervous at the prospect of staying with someone whose food and domestic life might be different to ours. But most of all we just felt smug that here we were, just the two of us on a train going to London. Neither of us had been to London since we'd been children, when we'd been taken by our parents.
When we pulled into King’s Cross we were met by Gay, we were wearing all our badges and she came up to us and said,
‘Hello, I'm Gay, are you from Blidworth?’
She led us through a maze of tunnels down to the Underground. I wondered how ever she found her way around. I'd never been on the Underground before and the first thing I noticed was how beautiful the music of the buskers was in the tunnels. I thought it was great, it was exactly like I'd seen it on telly and the only part that surprised me was the way the wind blew through the tunnel just before the train came in as if it was a cork pushing the air along in front of it.
Gay’s house was very close to the tube station, and it struck me as very different from any house I'd been in before. It was a big old house, and inside everything wasn’t neat and tidy like in our houses. There was no matching three piece lounge suite or fitted carpets, there were lots of odd comfortable looking chairs and a great big long table. In the kitchen there was lots of wood, there was no cupboards to hide things away in, everything was out on the shelves which were everywhere and covered with plates, cups, saucepans, jars and packets of food and I especially noticed lots and lots of spices. Gay’s daughter came in from school and we sat having a cup of coffee and chatting to her. She collected badges so we gave her some of ours. These people were friends of Martin’s and they had one of our leaflets there, so we talked about the Centre and how it ran. Then Martin rang to make sure we were alright, and we talked to him on the phone. Chris, Gay’s husband came in, we had tea and then they said they'd take us out to see some of the sights of London.
Big Ben, Trafalgar Square, Buckingham Palace were all passing us by, it was magic. We stopped by the Thames and walked across a bridge then went to a sort of art gallery on the other side of the river for a drink. I don’t know what it was, it wasn’t a pub, it was more like a library and art gallery, but there was a bar there and we had a drink. As we walked back across the bridge to the car, we felt enchanted. We kept taking deep breaths to try to breath it all in. The stars were shining, there were wonderful lights on the bridge and a gentle warm breeze blowing up from the river.
I said, ‘This night could last for ever’ and that’s exactly how I felt. I felt wonderful, it was so nice to be away, just me, just Pauline, not Pauline Radford or Pauline Saint, but just me, a person in a place she was enjoying and not worrying about anything else. It was all so enormous and so different. Blidworth, boring old Blidworth seemed miles away, here we were, seeing new places, meeting people from different walks of life and I was soaking up everything around me.
Two mattresses were put in the front room for us to sleep on, it was a sort of music room, there was a baby grand piano in it and some violins. When we lay down to go to sleep we started being really silly, we felt just like a pair of children again. I started telling Maureen all these ghost stories and then I said,
‘You see that grand piano, it’s haunted you know.’
We'd pretend to be really scared and I suppose in a way we were, then I'd say,
‘Hey, that plant there might wake up when we go to sleep and eat us.’
It was ludicrous, but we both giggled away like a pair of schoolgirls sleeping at each other’s houses for the first time. We couldn’t get to sleep. At one time Maureen said,
‘You'd better turn the light out.’
‘Shall we?’ I said.
‘No, leave it on a bit.’
We had to get up very early the next morning. Chris woke us with a cup of coffee. We got dressed and he cooked us breakfast then took us to meet the rest of the people who were going on the coach. They were all really friendly, when we first started out, we didn’t know them at all and felt a bit strange, but by the time we got to Brighton we had taught the whole coach all the miners’ songs we knew.
We set up our stall with Martin and Susan’s books in the lobby of the conference hall. We met some Kent miners and talked to them and they made us feel very welcome and gave us some of their badges. After a bit we went upstairs and listened to some of the conference, then we went into the bar and had a drink. People kept coming up and talking to us because we were miners’ wives, asking how we were getting on and how we thought things were going.
We got a collection bucket and collected as people were coming out for lunch. Then we decided to have some lunch and then look around the shops to spend the ten quid Martin had given each of us. It was such a luxury to have money in our pockets to spend on what we wanted. We decided to take something back for our kids and for our husbands who were looking after our kids for us. I bought some Brighton Rock, a skipping rope for Amanda, a gun for Michael and, I'm ashamed to say, a coffee mug for Alan which was shaped like a woman’s breast. We bought a police hat each, when we saw them I said, ‘Ooh, I want one of those to wear on picket line.’
Maureen thought that a good idea, so we both bought one. My feet were absolutely killing, the only shoes I had were worn out and the soles of my feet were aching so we decided to buy some shoes with our one remaining pound. We got a pair of plastic flip-flops each. So there we were walking around Brighton, with police hats on, flip-flops and all our badges and stickers. We even had collecting tins and leaflets.
When we got back to the Conference Hall someone asked where we got the hats from.
‘We had to kill two policemen to get ’em.’ I said and everybody thought it was ever so funny.
When we left the conference we felt quite pleased with ourselves. We'd sold twenty-five copies of ‘State of Siege’ and taken orders for another hundred as well as that we'd collected quite a bit of money for our Centre as well.
We stayed that night in London again and then caught the train home the next morning. Back to Blidworth. back to reality, back to the picket line, back to the police and back to the Centre. Funnily enough, it was lovely to be home, it’s always nice to be home.
The cooking at the Centre was getting more and more under control, we were learning how to cater for so many with the limited equipment we had. At first I didn’t get very involved in the cooking itself, there were women who were already doing it and they seemed to be coping alright. I was interested though, I've always been interested in cooking. For me it’s an art form.
At first we did everything in pressure cookers, but we never had enough room, not only were the pressure cookers not big enough but we only had a normal cooker, with four hotplates, an oven and a grill. It was always the potatoes that suffered. because we could always substitute powdered potato instead. There were three large electric water boilers and we only used one for making tea and coffee. One day someone had the bright idea, that if the boilers boiled water, they should cook potatoes as well. We tried it and it worked, so that helped to overcome the problem of not enough cooking space.
A chef who lived nearby and was on the dole came up one day to see if he could help. He brought up some of his knives and cooking implements which was a big help and he also gave us some very useful hints, but in some ways he was as confused as we were because trained chefs are used to having proper equipment and tools at their fingertips and our equipment was so basic. He used to do a lot of pastry baking and I watched him carefully, he made cakes, sponges, flapjack, treacle pudding and egg and bacon flans. He was only with us for a couple of weeks because then he got a job. But his presence helped a lot.
After he stopped coming up I took over the pastry baking and I really enjoyed it. While he'd been with us, he'd made dumplings and they were a disaster, they all just disintegrated into the stew. One day after he left, they were making stew again so I said I'd have a go at making dumplings. Dumplings can be very temperamental, but in fact I've always prided myself on being able to make a good dumpling. I was quite nervous that they wouldn’t work but still I tried. I was delighted when they turned out OK and everyone complimented me on them. It was a real boost to my confidence, that my dumplings had worked, I started to do them more and more. Two of the women who had been doing most of the cooking went away for a fortnight, so I became much more involved with the actual cooking of the main meal. I was working with Mary, but she had different ideas to me about how things should be done. They always say that two women can’t work in the same kitchen and it’s true that everybody has a different way of doing things. But we proved that saying wrong, we had to, we had no choice, it was much too much work for just one person and I felt that she'd been there since the beginning and so I should accept the way she did things.
A sort of pattern started to develop in our lives. Most mornings Alan would go on the morning picket. If we had a baby-sitter staying over from the night before we'd both go, but normally one of us had to be there for the kids. Sometimes all of us women from Blidworth would arrange to go up and give the men a lie in. I used to enjoy picketing. It was a chance to let my hair down a bit, shout at the scabs and make nasty remarks to the coppers.
My attitude to the coppers had changed since the siege. I'd resented them being on the picket line from the beginning, then I'd been angry at what I'd seen them do, since the Siege I hated them and thought them capable of anything at all. I didn’t trust any of them, not one little bit. I'd been brought up to respect the police, I always believed that they had a hard job to do and that they did it quite well, I even felt sorry for them, when I saw them on telly trying to control football crowds or disturbances. When I was a teenager I even wanted to be a policewoman, the only reason I didn’t apply was because I knew I would have to move away to train and didn’t want to. Now that we'd experienced hundreds of them and the tricks they got up to, I lost all respect for them and all that was left was hatred. They had lied to us, pushed us and our kids around for no reason, the most brutal bashing I'd ever witnessed in my life was the one I'd seen them give Terry Dunne. They'd threatened my husband and neighbours and then they'd held Alan for two days without any grounds at all and tried to make him believe that somebody with a minor injury was in a critical condition. All this had happened in front of my own eyes, and it came as quite a shock. I'd really always believed that the police were neutral, that the law was the law and if somebody was breaking it the police would step in. I'd always believed that if you didn’t break the law, you wouldn’t ever have any trouble with the police. But I found out all that had nothing to do with it. I was shocked and appalled to discover that the police are not neutral at all, they do take sides. You stand there on the picket line and they're there to support the working miners and it doesn’t matter what the scab does, whether he breaches the peace or attacks one of the pickets, uses abusive language or whatever, he never breaks the law. But a picket only has to shout ‘scab’ and he’s breaking the law. The realisation that there was no such thing as the hallowed British Justice we always heard so much about was horrifying. During the siege, after the police had left and we'd all gone to bed, I can remember lying there and thinking, they could come back and do anything. Who could we turn to when it’s the police who are terrorizing us?
After the morning picket, we'd get the kids up and dressed and then we'd all go up to the Centre for our breakfasts. The Centre was becoming a more and more important part of our lives. We were all becoming a very close community, and our own community, sort of like one big family. We shared everything with each other, we were all in the same boat and we all had financial problems, we all knew that each other had sacrificed a lot for their principles. All of us had suffered enormous economic hardship. Now we were managing to feed everybody really well, and lots of clothes were coming in, but you could never depend on it and although those basic needs were met, you had no money to pay your bills, or get repairs done on things that needed them. Nearly everybody had lost something. I had had my phone cut off because I hadn’t been able to pay the bill, and we couldn’t afford to pay our television licence, so officially we weren’t supposed to be watching telly. Eventually it broke down anyway and so we were without one.
Different business people took different attitudes to our plight and it was just a matter of luck whether you were dealing with sympathetic people or not. Most housing loans and rents were given a moratorium although the terms of it and how easy it was to acquire varied enormously. With other things, it was just the luck of the draw and we all suffered in some ways. For example Doreen had a rented television and video, the company she had dealt with were prepared to place a moratorium on her payments until the strike ended. At one stage the video actually broke down and she contacted them not expecting anything to be done, but they came and collected it as if her rent was up-to-date and replaced it with a good machine. Yet much later in the strike when her dog was sick she rang the Vet who she’s dealt with for fifteen years and in that time developed quite a close relationship with and for whom she had quite a lot of respect. When she asked him if he'd come to have a look at her dog, he said,
‘Can you pay?’
‘Not right now, but I'll pay as soon as the strike’s over.’
‘No you won’t, I'm sick to death of you bloody strikers, expecting everybody else to help you through, the whole lot of you bloody idle buggers should get back to work.’
Because we were all in the same boat we understood what each other was going through. I know that some people would say, what does it matter to be without a video, but that’s not the point, if you chose to spend your money on a video, when you want to defend a principle, you shouldn’t have to lose that thing. It’s as if, as a miner, you're allowed to have little luxuries like videos as long as you're prepared to accept whatever the Government wants. We, it seemed, suddenly had no rights at all just because we disagreed with a plan which promised to destroy our communities, and deprive us and our children of our way to earn a livelihood. In any case videos were extremely important to us during the strike, we were out so much and there were so many current affairs and discussion programmes about the strike, that the only way we had access to that information often, was to video that programme.
Many of us at the Centre had lost family through the strike, and we found a new one in each other. I began to love the people at the Centre just as I love blood. We had our disagreements and falling cuts, but just as a family does. Basically we all trusted one another and enjoyed being together and getting to know each other.
Everything came out up there, if a husband and wife had a fight, the whole Centre usually knew about it and would quite often interfere, telling one person that they were being a bit pig-headed or stupid. Usually when that happened it was all right, because we all knew that we must all pull together. If anyone’s financial problems got too great, they would always bring them to the Centre and we would try to help out. People were always mending each other’s cars, or washing machines, or doing whatever we each could to help the others.
By this time our committee was quite well established, we met every Sunday morning at the Centre. At those meetings we discussed everything that was happening, there was always a report on what money had come in and how it was spent. Meetings people had gone to were reported on, and it was decided who would go to which meetings that were coming up. There were always loads and loads of things coming up, not just meetings, but rallies and socials as well. We felt that as a group we should try to support as much as we could because we had received such fantastic support ourselves.
The committee meetings also discussed any problems that were arising in any of the work, things that came up at the Centre often needed discussion, if any conflicts between people couldn’t be settled between them, they would be brought up at the meetings as well. The work load for the committee was getting very hard, especially for Doreen and Annette, who were really doing all the paper work between them. One Sunday morning, Doreen said,
‘I think that Annette and I are taking on too much of the responsibility and it’s time that we shared it around a bit more. I think some of the jobs could be taken off us, it’s better anyway if we all learn how to do different things.’
Everybody agreed with that, but I think everybody was nervous about taking any of the jobs on. Doreen said that the Treasurer’s job had become a very big one because there was so much money going through the books every day, she suggested that we appoint two new Treasurers, who could work together and relieve Annette. She also suggested that we appoint a Minute Secretary, up until then, Annette was doing that too. Doreen then proposed Mary and I as Treasurers. I was a bit hesitant at first, but I didn’t like to refuse. I wasn’t confident that I could do it properly. I had been quite happy just being a member of the committee and helping with the cooking and I was quite afraid of this added responsibility, unlike any I'd ever had. That suggestion was seconded and then voted on and that was it. I was one of the Treasurers.
Mary and I took our job very seriously, it really was an enormous job, not a day would go by without some amount of money being received, usually quite a lot, at the same time money had to be given out to cover the costs of living day by day. There was food, which was always the main cost but on top of that there were other expenses always cropping up. For example if someone was going to a meeting or a rally, the money for petrol and expenses would come from the cash tin. We set up a special hardship fund and if anybody had a very pressing need for some money it would be given to them, either as a loan or because the Committee decided that we should help out. Apart from the few quid we got from Social Security, it was the only money that we had. A big expense turned out to be cars. As time went by, more and more of them needed repair work and the Committee would often pay for them. Cars were vital if we were to travel around and so it was necessary to keep at least a few of them on the road.
Mary and I decided to ask the NUM Branch Auditors, who were both strikers, if they'd agree to help us to set the books out properly and to audit them every fortnight, so we could be sure everything was being recorded properly. We spent hours with them, learning how to keep books. It was quite involved but eventually we worked out a system which worked really well for our purposes. That was fantastic for me then, I had taken on a responsibility I wasn’t sure I could meet, and when I realised that I could manage it my self confidence really grew. I had also started to speak at meetings which was another breakthrough, at first I was very nervous but I soon got quite relaxed about it. I knew what I wanted to say, all I ever did really was to talk about what we were doing, so it wasn’t hard.
The men held an open meeting every Friday morning, everybody usually attended it. There were always reports about the strike, what the Union was doing, and a report on the situation in the Notts. Area. Doreen always gave a report from the Women’s Committee, she'd tell the men about what we were doing, sometimes she'd ask them for some help for something, sometimes she'd give them a rollicking because she thought they weren’t pulling their weight in some way. As time went by Doreen got better and better at organising things. She was recognised by everybody as the leader of the women. she always seemed to know where the problems were and mostly she worked out solutions to them. Some of the men came to our meetings too and brought up things they thought we should know about and sometimes asked us to do things for the men. Pip Browne had become for the men what Doreen had become for the women and the two of them consulted daily to make sure that the work we were both doing fitted in with each other.
We decided at one of our meetings that the men should help more with the kitchen work. Some of them were already helping with peeling potatoes and washing pots, but it was only a few and it was always the same ones. We decided to make a roster for them. So it became official that the men peeled all the potatoes and washed the dinner pots. When we told the men about it, most of them took it well, although they made lots of jokes about it, they were all good natured and they all seemed to accept that it was quite a fair request. After that it became part of the Strike Centre routine that every afternoon two men would sit in the back room surrounded by plastic garbage bins full of spuds preparing them for the next day’s meal. And then after dinner every day, two men would come out to the kitchen and wash the pots.
I thought the attitude of the men to these chores was a good indication of the extent they appreciated what we were doing and respected us. We were coming into our own, really, the men were beginning to realize that without us, they wouldn’t be able to go on. We were no longer simply supporting our husbands, we had become a vital part of the strike and without us I couldn’t imagine the men being able to stay out as long as they had.
Things were beginning to change between the men and women, we were the ones who were raising the money and somehow that changed things. I think it was very important to all of us to see to what extent the men respected that and it made us all feel more equal to them. The men had to accept it and most of them did, although some also complained about it from time to time. I remember the first time we actually went out, just the women, to a social we had been invited to. We had received an invitation from Barnsley in Yorkshire to go to a women’s social. We were all quite excited, it seemed nice that just the women had been invited and that we would all go out together. A coach had been provided to take women from several Notts pits and we had been allocated twelve seats. We told the men we were going to a meeting, but they were a little put out.
‘Why can’t we come?’ they'd say ‘What’s this just women business?’
‘We can’t see why men can’t go on this bus trip.’
But we kept telling them that they couldn’t, that they hadn’t been invited. Then they started asking us what time we'd be back, we told them we didn’t know.
‘Oh, whenever the bus drops us off,’ we said.
We all got dressed up in our best and went up to the Forest Folk where we were to meet the bus. It was a great night, we all larked about on the bus, at a stop in Ollerton we charged off the bus and into the nearest pub where we each bought ourselves a can of beer and a packet of crisps. When we eventually got there we were the guests of honour. The social had been organised for Notts. women, they said that we were marvellous because we'd been so strong and supported our men in spite of all the scabs and so they had thrown this social in our honour. We had a fantastic time, there was a disco and we all danced, ate and drank and when it was over we piled back into the bus. We noticed a chip shop open, so we got the driver to stop the bus and all piled into the chip shop. The chippy wondered what had struck him, a bus load of very high spirited, mostly tipsy women suddenly filling his shop. By the time we got back to Blidworth it was about two o'clock.
The men were having to change in other ways too, because we were always out, either up at the Centre working or out fund raising or attending meetings, we never had any time for housework. Alan had always helped me with the housework, but gradually he was doing more and more and eventually taking full responsibility for it. We had a few rows about it, occasionally he'd say that I was never at home, that I wasn’t paying any attention to the kids. I'd point out how important what I was doing was for the kids and everybody else too. And really, that was the truth so Alan gradually accepted it. Alan started to take Michael home in the afternoons and clean the house. It was funny to watch the way he did the housework, he worked completely different to the way I do, and he used to moan about it all the time. All the men did. They did the housework quite willingly but they'd moan as soon as it got dirty or messy again. It used to make us women laugh. For years we'd done the housework and expected it to get messy and have to be done again so we never moaned, but the men moaned all the time. Alan and Pip both hoovered every day. They were quite obsessive about it, if they hadn’t hoovered they wouldn’t think they'd done the housework. I wouldn’t hoover every day, in fact I'd only hoover the bedrooms about once a week, but I did other things that Alan never seemed to notice, like clean the stairs and wash the kitchen floor.
Pip’s hoover broke down and so he started borrowing ours. That was all right because he'd always wait for Alan to finish our house ,and then he'd do theirs. But after a while that hoover broke down too. Pip made one working hoover by putting parts of the two broken ones together, so then they had a joint hoover. Then they started to have petty little fights about it. They always seemed to want it at the same time and they'd argue about whose turn it was to have it first, and Pip would moan because it was always full of dog hairs from our house.
The other part of housework they took seriously was the washing. Both Pip and Alan washed clothes nearly every day, I don’t think either of them had ever realized how many clothes a family goes through. They'd moan about that too. Often up at the Centre the men would be looking at the sky saying, ‘I hope it doesn’t rain, my washing is out.’ They'd have long conversations with each other about it and if it did start to rain, they'd all be off to get their washing in.
One day we underestimated the number that would come in for dinner, so we served all the meat and potatoes up to the men and kids and the women made up some powdered potato and just had that with some of the vegetables that were left. That afternoon at tea, there was a little bit of pork pie so the women decided to have pork pie and salad and we made soup for the men and kids. Some of the men saw us eating our salads and got quite mad. They brought it up at a meeting, that the women were eating salads and feeding them wishy-washy soup. They gave us quite a dressing down. But once we explained the situation, they accepted it. I really think that men just don’t have any idea how self-sacrificing women naturally are.
The number of visitors who came up to the Centre increased as time went on. Lots of people came from all over the place for one reason or another and most of them would go up to the dinner picket and come back to the Centre for a meal. They were usually very impressed by what we served and that was always very reassuring for us.
One day at about this time, we had a very special guest, Arthur Scargill was coming to a union meeting with the men in the morning. Margaret went up to the Welfare where the meeting was and asked him if he'd stay and have dinner with us and he agreed. We were so excited and nervous, we knew he wouldn’t mind what he got, but we felt we wanted to make sure it was nice. We were having a salad that day. When he arrived he sat opposite the kitchen hatch and was immediately surrounded by all the kids asking for autographs. He must have signed his name a thousand times that day, all the kids treasured the signatures and probably will for the rest of their lives.
When the dinner was ready everybody started to queue up as they always did and I served one dinner and gave it to someone to give to Arthur. He stayed for about an hour and a half and spent most of the time chatting with the kids, who were asking him questions, he seemed perfectly at home, and we all felt very privileged that he'd come.
Our relationship with the Cambridge Support Group had grown since our day at Strawberry Fair, they were working very hard raising money and things. They adopted four pits, us and Rainworth in Notts. and two other pits in South Wales. They were very creative and had lots of fantastic ideas about the sort of support they gave us. They started to send a car load of food up very Saturday, quite often those that drove the car would stay and talk to us, so we were getting to know different ones.
One of their ideas was to offer holidays in Cambridge to families. Different ones there made their houses available and quite a lot of us took up the opportunity at different times. At first we were all a bit shy about it and so no one had accepted the first offer. A few holidays had been offered for the second week in July and no one had taken them up. Doreen got a phone call asking what was happening so she came in and asked Alan if we'd go the following weekend to stay for a week. He said we could.
When I got back from the Centre, he said,
‘We're going to Cambridge at the weekend for a week’s holiday.’
I was a bit taken aback. I thought, fancy him making arrangements without telling me. I realized I really didn’t want to go, I was worried how everybody at the Centre would manage without me and I didn’t like the idea of going off and not really knowing where we were going. I had no idea how the kids would get on or how the people we were going to stay with would treat them. I was really worried that it would be a posh house and I'd have to be telling the kids off all the time and stopping them from touching things. Alan had made a commitment and so we had to go, but I was a bit off with him about it.
He said, ‘I don’t know. I thought you'd be pleased to get the break.’
I said, ‘Well, I suppose I am, but I don’t know them. I'll only go if we can come back on Wednesday if we don’t like it, I don’t want to have to stay there a whole week unless it’s all right.’
On Sunday, we set off, the Centre packed us a great big food parcel, all sorts of stuff because we didn’t know whether we needed food or not. Much to our surprise we had no trouble finding the house once we reached Cambridge. When we first arrived we were taken out the back to a beautiful glass sunlounge which was shaped like a fifty-pence piece. Sue, whose house it was was sitting out there with a friend and with her six-week-old baby daughter Kate.
From the minute we arrived Sue made us feel very welcome and very relaxed, we didn’t feel uncomfortable at all. Sue introduced us to her friend and then showed us our room. It was fantastic, it was upstairs in a sort of attic room, it was really big, like our own little part of the house. We had a cup of tea and chatted about the strike.
Sue said, ‘You're supposed to be on holiday, if you don’t want to talk about the strike, I understand.’
‘Oh no, it’s quite enjoyable talking about it, it’s a break just not being there,’ I said.
She asked what is was like being on strike for so long and I said, ‘It’s hard at times, especially when you've got family that’s working.’ And I told her about my family and how none of them were speaking to me.
She said, ‘That must be very hard, it’s one of the worst things that has come out of this strike is the way it has split families in Notts.’
Then she asked about the support we were getting, she asked if the support from Cambridge was helping us, if it was substantial support.
I said, ‘Yeah, without Cambridge we wouldn’t be managing very well at all, they've become our main source now. The thing about the Cambridge support, is that it’s regular and we can count on it each week.’
We continued to talk about the strike for the rest of the week one way and another. Sue and I became really good friends, we ended up talking about everything, she'd just had a baby and we talked about that, we talked about Michael and his illness and I told Sue about the beginning of the strike and how hard it was for us to make a decision when the Notts. Area had declared the strike unofficial.
I was very keen to have another baby at this stage, ever since Michael had been born I'd wanted another one and I'd wanted to have a home birth. So it was fantastic to be with such a young baby and to be able to talk to Sue about the birth and everything. I loved playing with the baby, nursing her, playing with her and changing her. In fact I was happy to do everything I could. She was breast fed so I couldn’t feed her, but I would have loved to.
Sue’s husband Simon came home for dinner that night and we all sat and ate and talked. He went off to a camp with their son Joey the next day so we didn’t see much of them that time. The next day we went to Great Yarmouth with Sue and her friend. The kids were so excited to be by the sea, we went to the beach, then we went down to where all the rides were and Sue’s friend paid for the kids to go on rides. It was only 10p a ride and so they went on everything. They thought it was great, the sun was shining, it was red-hot. We thoroughly enjoyed it, we had one of those great big ice creams with fresh cream in it. Sue and her friend wanted to walk around the shops, so Alan and I stayed on the beach with the kids. It was just gorgeous. It was like a bonus, we didn’t expect that going to Cambridge would include a trip to the sea. On the way home we stopped at a pub and sat outside in the glorious sunshine with a drink each and the kids with glasses of pop and a packet of crisps having the time of their lives.
The next day, Sue took us walking around the town, she had Kate in a harness on her back and we walked all round, so we would know how to get about ourselves. We stopped for afternoon tea and Sue bought us all a cake, I had a beautiful piece of chocolate gateau.
The rest of the week passed fairly uneventfully, we spent lots of time walking around the beautiful parks and sometimes riding bikes that Sue had borrowed for us. We talked to Sue endlessly, we must have told her everything about the strike, about the Centre, the siege, taking over the Youth Club, everything came out over the week. She talked a bit about her life, she wasn’t working then but her last job had been as a researcher for Yorkshire Television. That seemed very interesting to us, it was also interesting to hear her talk about the television stations from the inside and about the bias of the media in general. I liked Sue, I felt that she was a very genuine person, at first I'd wondered how I'd get on with someone who spoke in a way that sounded very posh to me, but it didn’t make any difference at all. We were two women who talked easily to each other about all sorts of things. Alan liked Sue too, they talked quite a lot while ‘I played with the baby. Alan asked Sue lots of questions about her life, he was quite fascinated by the difference between their life and ours. In some ways staying there and getting to know Sue and Simon as we did made Alan a bit restless. It made him feel that perhaps there was a more interesting life for him outside the pits. But I think we all taught each other a lot, our lives were very different and we all knew about different things.
Sue talked to Alan about how she saw herself as a woman, and Alan was quite impressed with what she had to say. Later, he said,
‘Sue feels that she wants to play a role in life which is not just staying at home with children, she said she thinks having babies is all right, she said she likes having babies, but also she wants to have time to do other things, which she thinks are of value to her and to her kids.’
Sue did a lot of baking, she baked bread and apple pies, it was raspberry time when we were there and they had raspberry bushes so we picked lots of raspberries and ate them with ice cream. Sue made some jam and froze a whole lot. I talked to her about the problems of cooking for so many at the Centre, I can also remember saying,
‘It’s so different cooking for hundreds, when you're used to cooking for four. I wonder what I'll do when strike’s over I can’t imagine cooking for four again.’
The food that Sue cooked wasn’t really that different to ours, she used a lot more herbs and spices and she served it all in dishes on the table for you to help yourself to. I remember thinking that was nice and that if I had nice dishes like she did I'd do that too.
At the end of the week we left feeling that we were leaving a very close and dear friend. We knew we'd see Sue again soon, she'd said to come up any time we liked and that she and Simon would visit us in Blidworth. Our holiday had been so successful that when we went back and told everybody, they were all keen to go too. So bit by bit lots of families went to Cambridge to stay and it sort of worked out that everybody got close to one family in Cambridge and so that is where they always stayed whenever we went there and also the Cambridge people stayed with us when they came to Blidworth.
On the way back in the car Alan and I had a bit of a discussion about the difference between life in Cambridge for Sue and Simon and life in Blidworth for Alan and I. Alan was very impressed by what he saw as a calmness in their lives. He saw our life, in contrast as being full of effort. Everything revolving around work.
He said, ‘The trouble with us is we whittle too much, I do especially, I'm always whittling about something. I whittle in case the car breaks down, I whittle about paying the mortgage and having enough money to buy the things we think we need.’
‘Yes Alan, but I think that’s because we're not as secure as they are.’
‘No, it’s more than that, it’s a way of life, they both have jobs that are relaxed and bring contentment, so they can be relaxed when they are at home.’
‘ It’s not just that either.’
‘They have more money, it’s the constant lack of money, the constant worrying that it won’t go far enough that worries us. When you haven’t got money you just can’t think for yourself, you don’t know which way to turn, things come in on you, clam up on you, and then you start to panic and whittle, and say, “What shall we do.” You start to blame yourself and then everything gets worse.’
‘Yes maybe, but money doesn’t buy happiness, I'm happy as it is.’
‘But I feel I'm missing out on something in life, there’s something out there waiting for me, not just pit, going to pit, I mean more intellectual, there’s something underneath.’
‘I don’t feel like that.’
‘No, maybe you don’t, but I do, I want more, I don’t know what but more out of life.’
‘You can go on forever wanting, no matter what you've got there’s always something else that you want. The time to worry is when you're not happy.’
‘Yeah, I suppose you're right’ Alan said.
For the rest of the way home we were both quiet and I was lost in my own thoughts, I was thinking about what Alan had said and I was thinking about my own impressions of the differences in our lives. I wouldn’t really want to change my lifestyle to theirs, although I enjoyed it when I was there, but I was also quite happy with my own. Then I started to think about choices and I realized that the difference was that they had choices about what they did, we didn’t have those choices. There shouldn’t be any classes. I don’t think we should individually try and become middle class, that’s not the answer. It’s a fight for the whole working class.
We are entitled to a standard of living that is comfortable, instead of a living that is hard. We shouldn’t have to work seven days a week to be able to afford a comfortable house. If we had just five days working and a comfortable life, living would be a lot more pleasant. We'd have time to do things we enjoy instead of always doing things we have to. A lot of it has to do with the education system, the working class children aren’t given the same opportunities as the middle class children are. Working class children aren’t expected to go to college, or expected to do well. Nobody gives a damn whether the working class kids do anything or not, the teachers don’t give a damn, nobody gives a damn, the parents don’t give a damn because they don’t expect their kids to go to college anyway. They expect them to finish school and get a job and be able to help towards the upkeeping of the house. That is one of the main problems, it shouldn’t be that way. We should let our children do the best that they can do and the teachers should expect the best from the working class kids as well as from middle class kids. Just because you're born into the middle class doesn’t mean that you have more brains that the working class, it just means that you have a better chance. Anyway if you're working class and want to go to college, usually your parents have to pay for your upkeep and working class wages usually don’t run to that sort of thing.
I was beginning to think it was a vicious circle, I'd never really thought these thoughts so clearly before but the injustice of the whole system was presenting itself to me. I realised what I'd thought earlier again. It has to be the whole working class, you've got to stand up and say, no more, we want things different and the sooner that the working class find out that they are strong enough to do that, then the sooner things will change. For too long we've been made to believe that we're not strong and as good as other people. I realised that was what the strike was all about, we were standing up and fighting and showing our strength. We were fighting this Government because it was hell-bent on maintaining the rule of the higher classes.