A Woman at Number 10 Was All I Knew

I’ve been reliving my primary school years this evening. Heading back to the tender age of ten when Skid Row released their first album.  I went to see them last night and they were awesome!  Skid Row aren’t the only reason I’m trawling back through the annals of my primary school memories. This week, all I knew in those early years died.

We are currently listening to reports on the news of women being underrepresented in the FTSI 100 boardrooms.  My first memories are of the most powerful person in my life. Margaret Thatcher. I was born in 1978 and for the whole of my childhood we had but one prime minister.  She was all-powerful.  She could decide whether I drank milk or water.  OK, maybe that’s not all powerful, but it is nearly as powerful as my mum. My mum knitted me a jumper using scraps of wool with a He-man sword on the back and baked us a gingerbread house cake!  Margaret Thatcher was nearly that powerful!

For the last three days I have been in a strange and uncharted world. I seeMargaret Thatcher in 1982. the a family grieving for Mrs T and I feel for them.  I see the press deifying her in none stop rolling coverage. I also see a church that is divided in its opinions of her and unsure of what it is supposed to do in this situation. I don’t know what to do in this situation. I am torn.  I write this post with one question throbbing in the heartland of my cerebral cortex. “What am I supposed to say?”  Heck, I’m ‘the vicar’ so surely I should have ‘something’ to say.

Actually, I’m at a loss for words. I’m stuck between the rock and the hard place.  I’m a [luxury*] miner’s lad!  I come from a pit village in the heart of God’s Country, Yorkshire. I lived through the miners strike. At five years old I watched people sharing everything on the kitchen table and working out who needed the money most.  I played kerbie outside whilst they decided who could eat this week. Liver and onions.  Or cheese pie, a dish my gran invented by layering everything that everyone had in a casserole dish.  Tinned tomatoes, mashed potato and grated cheese then placed under the grill.  My mum made that for me about four weeks ago as a nostalgia kick.  And I still love eating liver! Nom!

Every one of my male relatives was put out of work except one. My dad had moved to potash mining which continues to this day at Boulby in the North Yorkshire Moors.  It was purely down to a decision my parents made to move to North Yorkshire.  but everyone else remained in the pit village.  Everyone lost their job.  Some never worked again.  A village, a town, a community was ripped apart.  The community had its heart ripped out. No paramedics were called.  No hospital treatment was offered. No transplant was given.  Just the body left lying on the floor bleeding out.

Two years ago as part of a our ongoing ministerial education, I and three other priests had to present the socio-political factors in our respective parishes.  We had to compare and contrast the different areas around our region.  One of these priests comes from the same pit village as my family.  He was then ministering just down the road in the village next door.  What were our discoveries?  Just by being born in an area your average life expectancy reduces by six years.  1 in 4 are suffering from long term illness.  More than 50% of the population have no qualifications.  At all.  1 in 3 have a job.

But I’m the vicar. So I have kept a rather undignified silence.  There are people watching.  The press are watching.  Waiting for that chance to single someone out and make an example of them.  And so I’m “not allowed” to remember those experiences I’ve lived through.  Certainly couldn’t put them on Facebook.  Couldn’t blog about them.  What if the Daily Mail saw it?  I’d get in trouble.  It is as if someone has taken my voice.  This week something died… inside me.  And I’m not allowed to mention it.  So I won’t.  I will maintain my undignified silence.  I’ll leave it to a bishop.

“Where the pit head once stood, with thousands of people working to produce more coal faster and more efficiently that at most other pits, there is smooth level grass.  Empty to the eye, but pregnant with bereavement.  All around, despite the heroic efforts of local leaders, there are signs of postindustrial blight, with all the fallout of other people’s power games.  And that sight stands in my mind as a symbol…  What hope is there for communities that have lost their way, their way of life, their coherence, their hope?”  –  NT Wright, Surprised by Hope p5

*My dad always reminds me that he’s “an electrician who worked down the pit.  A luxury miner”.


19 Responses

  1. Thank you Robb. I am not ashamed to admit it made me cry; or that iyt makes ne question whether what I have been doing in the ivory towers of academe has any value in terms of obeying the Gospel imperative of building the Kingdom of God.

    It makes me angry that the Cof E (absurd generalisation but you will know what I mean) is so obsessed with status and sexuality (and bangs on about these in terms of the need to safeguard the Gospel) whilst under its nose the Govt is systematically dismantling the welfare state and destroying education and health care provision – things which actually matter in terms of building a kingdom of shalomic justice. How have we got it so badly wrong?

    • I’m not sure that it is. The media is obsessed with portraying that narrative. There are lots of examples of less well pushed news angles. Here is the Telegraph last week.


      A google news search for “church” and “government” brings many examples of this over the last few months. They aren’t widely publicised as it doesn’t fit the narrative.

      I also note the Faith in the City report, it’s date and position in history.

      • Robb – I take your point about reporting of gender/sexuality issues but I don’t entirely agree – or rather I think that saying ‘this is a media obsession and used to serve another agenda’ whilst true (and one can see obvious parallels elsewhere, for example the disproportionate coverage given to recent ‘grooming’ trials according to the ethnicity of the defendants) at the same time ignores the fact that these arematters which consume excessive amounts of time, energy and emotion – particularly at the level of structural church governance – which could be invested elsewhere; and also underplays the extent to which such reporting, irrespective of whether it accurately represents anything , is a factor in shaping people’s (those who aren’t in contact with churches doing good things) perceptions of the Gospel/the church/what matters to Christians. (Sorry if that is a bit tortuous – brain a little sleep deprived!)

        However, it is somewhat aside from the main point of your post – which I very much appreciated – take it as an expression of fustration sparked by other stuff I’ve been reading lately 😦 So I apologise for the ill-judged diversion because clearly, the thing I really wish to be foccusing on is that as Christians, I think we have a gospel imperative to oppose certain actions (some of which are legacies of the mind set initiated by the Thatcher Gvt) which HMG is currently involved in.

      • If these weren’t things that society was wrestling with the church wouldn’t be wrestling with them either. I don’t presume to think that the commons is made up of Christians. And yet they are debating them as a contentious issue.

        Actually, I believe that they have been created as a side show to distract us from …. All of those questions of wealth and poverty you rightly say should be top of the agenda.

        We all like a good sideshow. That is why the NHS was effectively privatised in the same week as the Olympics. It’s amazing what you can pass when people are looking at shiny gold torches.

        Look at the shiny shiny.

  2. […] well thought through comments: David Cloake made sense over at Big Bible, and  Robb also said truthful things at Changing […]

  3. I think I got this (a bit more) the second time round reading it. I think when the govt refuses to support people and communities and offer hope and a way to a better future, the rest of us have to try to do what we can to step in to the breach. I am going to be giving the extra income I have due to the rise in the income tax threshold to charities that help the poorest in our society, as suggested here: http://sipech.wordpress.com/2013/04/08/putting-my-money-where-my-mouth-is/

    It’s not much, but its better than impotent anger. I urge all those earning around or above the national average wage to consider doing the same. Maybe we can start a movement that demonstrates an alternative, more compassionate, less selfish way of doing things.

  4. a very human assessment of the past few days, I too am worried at te deification of this woman & the consequent rewriting of history

  5. Wow. What a beautifully, poetically written piece about an area/period of England & her history I barely knew about! You write beautifully!

  6. This is so powerfully said. I’m reading this at my desk in New York City, quite choked up. Thank you for writing it.

  7. thank you robb.

  8. I too come from a mining family …. my Dad was a son of a miner from Mansfield, but they got out. Bought a shop and then voted Conservative, to my horror. He shares the same birth year and death year, as Lady Thatcher.
    She cost me a nursing job when I came out of mission work in 1983.
    I have a ‘virtual son’ he is Argentinian damaged by the war she ‘won’.
    She was a woman whom forged her ideology over humanity and became the ‘Idol’ of Thatcherism. God will deal with false idols we do not have to.
    As for being ‘the Vicar’ just preach the Gospel and not and other ‘ism’.
    As I said on Facebook. RIP Maggie, also RIP Thatcherism.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: