Shifting Horizons by Lynn Beaton
January was a very hard month for me. I had worked so hard to prepare Christmas and now that it was over I was exhausted. Karen’s baby was due on the 29th December and as the days went by and nothing happened I started to worry about her. She was very fed up just sitting around and I was scared for her. I kept looking at her and thinking, poor little thing, she doesn’t know what’s in front of her. We were all wishing it was over and we could relax with our new little baby.
My son, Laggy, was due to appear in court on the 6th January, I was very worried about him. He'd had a fight with the father of Karen’s baby which had resulted in him being charged with causing grievous bodily harm. Since the strike had begun our three lads had all been picked up by the police and charged several times. We felt the police were holding a vendetta against us. Only the first incident was directly related to the strike, that was when David was arrested outside the strike Centre. Since then, David had been arrested once again, and Laggy and Paul had both been picked up and charged twice. It was becoming a regular part of life to have the police come around with a summons for one of the lads. We began to feel persecuted and wondered if it would ever end. It was one more strain on top of everything else, constantly worrying if the lads were out late at night about what might be happening to them.
At one time Paul had been picked up in Mansfield with a group of his friends and they'd all been charged with being drunk and disorderly. A month or so later we had a letter from the police that Paul was also being charged with obstructing a police officer. Everybody agreed it was ridiculous, all the lads who'd been with Paul that night were adamant that Paul had been one of the quietest.
During the court case I sat and watched a young police woman stand up and tell some story about Paul dragging her across the road when she was trying to arrest his friends. All the lads had stunned looks on their faces, none of them could believe what they were hearing. I was used to it, I'd heard many of the cases resulting from the strike and I was used to there being no correlation at all between the evidence given by police and that given by the accused and their witnesses. To my surprise, Paul actually won his case, he was let off because they said that there wasn’t enough evidence to convict him.
But I was very worried about Laggy, a charge of g.b.h. carried a gaol sentence. Although I knew that because he was so young and because it was his first conviction, the court might show leniency, I was terrified of him being sent down. all the same. I couldn’t bear the thought of him going to gaol. I knew that he'd been provoked and I also knew that he'd acted out of loyalty to Karen, I couldn’t help admire him for what he'd done even though I don’t believe in fighting. I wanted to be able to go to court with Laggy and I knew that if Karen started her pains I wouldn’t be able to.
As a mother I felt torn in two. Both of my children were in situations where I felt I needed to support them. As it turned out, the two did coincide, Karen was in hospital when Laggy was in court. For two days I lived in a daze of worry and then it was all over. Karen had a healthy and very beautiful baby boy and Laggy was given a fifty quid fine. The magistrate, after hearing all the evidence, had been lenient because of the circumstances. I think it actually went quite well for Laggy that Karen was in hospital having the baby when his case came up, it sounded more dramatic than just saying that she was pregnant.
My relief was enormous, but all I wanted to do now was to stay home with Karen and help her with the baby. I decided to take a week off from the Centre and just spend it at home with Karen and the baby who she'd called Ricki. He was absolutely beautiful and I soon realised how wonderful being a Grandmother was. I could love Ricki in a different way to the way I had loved my own kids, it was like loving my own, but it was different, it didn’t have quite the same responsibility.
I got very low with everything except Karen and Ricki and it got so that the only time I was happy was when I was with them. After a couple of weeks I started to get back into work at the Centre. It was fairly depressing though, we didn’t seem to be getting anywhere. We'd been out now for nearly a year and the New Year didn’t seem to bring any hope of resolution. Towards the end of January my attitude to the support we were getting started to change. We all started to feel as if we'd been left on our own to battle it out. Food and money was still coming in but we needed more, we needed industrial support and it wasn’t coming from anywhere. I started to feel resentful towards everybody who was working. The miners had always helped other unions when they were in trouble and now when we needed help no-one was there. I started to hate getting letters of support, they had become meaningless, we had done all we could and now it was clear that we needed more than just letters of encouragement and money. It was clear this dispute was very political and that the Government was not going to back down. If all the people who wrote letters of support to us really wanted to see us win, they would have to take the same stand we had taken, the same risks we had taken.
The court case resulting from the Jolly Friar incident started on the twenty-fifth of February. It became our main concern. The charges were very serious and Ken and John faced prison sentences if they were found guilty. A lot of us were defence witnesses so we couldn’t go to court, or talk very much to anybody about what was happening. It was very frustrating for those of us who couldn’t go, but a lot of the men and some of the women from Cambridge were going into court each day to give Ken and John moral support. Each day they came back and seemed happy with the proceedings, but it looked as if it would go on for at least a couple of weeks. Ken had been waiting eight months for this court case and had no reason to hope that he would get justice. We hadn’t been involved in a case yet that had been conducted in a fair way. But somehow Ken’s case was so ridiculous and the prosecution case so fabricated that we did dare hope he'd get off.
At the end of the first week everybody seemed happy with the way things were going. For some reason which none of us understood, the prosecution had Alan down as one of their witnesses and so of course he was able to tell the story as it actually happened, and able to do so as a prosecution witness, which made their case look a bit silly.
Things up at the Centre had become very tense. Our numbers had dwindled and we were all at our wits’ end. Suddenly there was another whole year in front of us with no hope for an early victory, we were beginning to wonder if it would ever end. We started to have arguments amongst ourselves about the possibility of winning. Little things were getting people down and so we decided to close the Centre after dinner each day and give everybody a food parcel to make their own teas at home.
There was quite a bit of talk about a return to work. On the Saturday after the first week of Ken’s court case I had a discussion with Sue about it. I said that I thought there might be a return to work soon. Sue didn’t agree with me, but I think she couldn’t face it because she knew that Ken couldn’t go back to work. There had been a lot of rumours about a return to work in Wales and we knew that the strike was now breaking in Yorkshire.
The next afternoon I was sitting at home watching television with Karen and Paul at about four-thirty when there was a news flash.
‘The pit strike is over. Miners will return to work on Tuesday the 5th of March. Arthur Scargill will be holding a Press Conference a little later.’
I thought, ‘Bloody hell.’
Karen was alarmed, she said ‘Mum, what you going to do now, strike’s over.’
‘Oh shurrup it makes me feel sick.’
Pip was outside doing something to the car. I ran to the front door and shouted.
‘Pip. It’s just been on television, strike’s over. Scargill’s going to do a press conference later.’ Pip said,
‘Oh shit, I don’t believe it, you're having me on.’
I closed the front door and ran around to Pauline’s house. Alison from Cambridge was staying with us because of Ken’s court case.
I said, ‘Have you seen television?’ ‘No we've not got it on, why?’
‘Strike’s over, Scargill’s coming on in a bit.’ She said, ‘Ooh, bloody hell.’
‘Yeah’ I said, ‘That’s exactly what I feel.’ Then I started going on about how the bloody trade union movement should have backed us, how this shouldn’t have happened, and how the hell can we go back on these terms. I started yelling and going crazy. Pauline had been in another room, when she came in she looked at me, stunned. Then Pip came in and started talking about the car.
I said, ‘Did ya hear what I said to ya.’
‘Yeah, but it’s not true is it?’
‘It is, it is Pip, Scargill’s coming on television in a bit.’ ‘Ooh, I don’t want to know then.’
And he went back outside again.
But it was true and we all had to believe it. We cried and cried, all of us, we felt sick and ill. It didn’t seem possible that we had been through so much and for it to end like this. We were also very angry, angry with the rest of the labour movement and trade union movement for leaving us on our own and not coming out with industrial support. Ever since the TUC Conference we'd been asking other unions to support us with industrial action and they hadn’t, we felt very let down. We even felt resentment about the money we'd received and the letters of support. I felt as if we had carried the whole British labour movement on our backs, they'd given us the money for food and they'd given us words of encouragement but they hadn’t got off our back and fought for themselves. We needed other unions and union members to go out on strike with us, but they had let us down.
That night we all wanted to be together so we went up to the club, but it was terribly depressing. The men were all angry and at a loss to know what to do. At one stage Pip and Yorkie were going up to the toilet, they were both so mad that I was worried that they might start a fight, so I escorted them to the toilet and back.
The next day we all went up to the Centre as usual but it was terrible. Ken, John and everybody who could, had gone off to court. The rest of us hung around the Centre not able to think about anything except that the men were all going back to work and leaving Sue and Ken in the Centre on their own. Everywhere there were people in tears. We hardly managed to talk. We tried to comfort each other, but it was poor comfort. None of us had anything to give. We couldn’t even share our misery because we were no longer all in the same boat. Ken was on trial and he had no job to go back to and although it wasn’t our choice we felt we were deserting him.
All of the men had to go up to the pit individually to have an interview with the Manager to see what shift and what job they were going on. They all got a lecture, they were told to keep their feelings to themselves, not to cause any trouble and not to mention the strike. They were all rostered to work with groups of scabs, so they couldn’t even go back and work together.
Sue sat at one of the tables in the back room watching as the men walked, one by one, up to the pit for their interviews. She hardly said anything at all. It was hard for me to talk to her. I didn’t know what to say, I didn’t feel like telling her what shift Pip was on and what had happened when he'd been up for his interview, but there seemed nothing else to talk about. We all knew how she was feeling and we were all suffering with her, but there was nothing we could do to help.
We'd heard that some of the pits in Kent, Wales and Yorkshire were going to march back in with their banners and we women wanted to make a banner and to march back with our men. Margaret Groves went home to start making one. It said ‘BLIDWORTH ACTION GROUP, WE'RE PROUD OF OUR MEN.’ But the men were so fed up that they didn’t want us to do it. They felt so miserable at the thought of having to go into work with the scabs that they couldn’t face any celebration of our twelve months’ struggle.
Dennis Browne and Pete Savage had been to a union meeting in Ollerton and when they came back into the Centre they looked as sick as dogs. Dennis looked as if he'd been crying, he was really full-up. As he walked in a lot of the men said, ‘We're not going back to work without Ken.’
Dennis said, ‘You have to, we've been told to, we've stood by the union for twelve months, and we've got to stand by it now. We've got no choice anyway, if we don’t go back we'll all be sacked.
Then he went straight up to Sue and sat down and had a long talk to her. He said,
‘You understand, don’t you Sue, they've got to go back. Ken wouldn’t want them all sacked because of him, would he?’
I couldn’t stand any more. I went into the toilet and sobbed and sobbed because I just couldn’t think about them all going back and Ken still being out. I was angry and pissed off with everything. I stood in the toilet and I kept thinking, ‘Where’s God now? Let God come now and show us what’s what. If he’s really there, he’s got to prove that he’s really there and he’s got to throw Ken’s case out of’ court and let’s have one thing to have a celebration for.’
When I got back a lot of the women were crying. Sue’s voice said, ‘I know they've got to go back, I understand.’
But it didn’t sound like Sue talking, I think she was in a daze, I don’t think she really believed that it was happening. I looked over at her and Dennis was sitting beside her, quietly sobbing.
Two supporters from London had come up and they took me out to their car where they had two bottles of champagne, they said,
‘We've brought these up to celebrate Ken’s victory and Karen’s baby.’ I looked at the champagne and tears started to swell up inside me again.
I went back inside and made myself a cup of coffee. As I did, a car pulled up outside and John Holroyd walked into the Centre.
‘The case has been thrown out of court,’ he said.
Immediately the atmosphere inside the Centre changed. We rushed back out to the car and got the champagne. The other cars started to arrive from the court and people filed into the Centre as the champagne corks popped and the glasses were filled. Pauline and Sue hugged each other with pure joy. In a few seconds an atmosphere that had been suicidal became filled with excitement and relief. Ken had been cleared, the police case hadn’t stood up in court, and most of all, Ken was not going to prison. Two bottles of champagne couldn’t have gone very far between so many of us but suddenly we all seemed drunk. Someone had gone to fetch Karen because one of the bottles had been brought for her and Ricki, but by the time she got to the Centre the champagne was all gone.
That night we went out for a drink to celebrate Ken’s victory. It was a strange celebration because we all knew that it was our last night on strike. Our excitement that Ken was not going to prison was short lived because he still didn’t have a job to go back to.
The next day we went up to the Centre and cooked dinners, most of the men were on ‘afters’, so they came up and had some dinner at the Centre before they went in. Everybody was very miserable, after dinner the men begrudgingly walked out and off to the pit. Margaret had packed Yorkie some snap to take but before she could give it to him, he had disappeared. No one knew where he'd gone. Someone said they'd seen him walking out the door and Margaret went out to the street and he was half-way up to the pit. She called after him and he came back.
‘Where’s me kiss?’ she said.
‘Kiss?’ He said, ‘I've got nothing to kiss anybody for.’
Pip was one of the last of the men to go in because he had been rostered on late afternoons. He stayed home until dinner-time and did the hoovering as usual, then when he came up to the Centre he was in a foul mood. He kept saying that he hoped there'd be a picket line on, so he couldn’t go in. We'd heard that some of the Kent lads had refused to go back and were picketing around the place. At one stage, Pip actually walked up to the pit to see if there was a picket line there. He'd brought his snap box up to the Centre with him and when I opened it to pack his food there were still two chocolate biscuits there from the last day he'd worked. He took them with him that day.