Sunday, 23 March 2014

Man of Harlech

Iain Jones wiped the sweat from his brow as he crested the overgrown slag heap. Never properly landscaped, the unnatural mounds had been reclaimed by nature and were all that was left to mark an ancient industry. His fathers and their fathers before him worked this rugged landscape and in their turn had fallen prey to King Coal. Black lung, pneumoconiosis, had taken many before their time or crippled them in their short retirements. But it was how men of steel made their living and it was in their blood.

Jones himself had never worked the pit; just before he left school to take up his apprenticeship and his job for life they’d stolen his birthright from him. Bloody Tories, bloody Margaret Thatcher and bloody English rulers. Not for him the life of honest toil and the glorious shared struggle against the pit owners. Not for him the narrow horizons of the valley and a short life of graft and crippling pain. Like many others he had been forced against every fibre of his solid Welsh heritage to take a cushy job with the local authority where he worked to European Working Time Directive hours for a pittance. And then the bastards had the gall to tax him at the millionaires’ rate for it. His father had never dreamed of becoming a higher rate taxpayer and Jones wore the shame like a badge.

From the top of the manmade hill he looked down on his self-build home. Once there had stood rows of miners’ cottages, huddled in the shadow of the pit head; now long gone. Forced to accept Tory blood money the terraces had been flattened, the land cleared and sold off for building plots. He’d grown up in a cramped two-up, two-down but now he endured a spacious, four-bedroomed Scandia-Hus detached house, furnished by his stay-at-home wife from the catalogues of Maple, Waring and Gillow, with a kitchen by Smallbone of Devizes. His working-class soul was tormented by the luxury but damn it, he’d worked hard for what he’d got. Bloody Thatcher.

Jones trudged on to the old Miners Club for the meeting. During all the years of strife the government had never broken their spirit and their solidarity was as strong as ever. As he approached the hall, the last rays of the dying sun disappeared behind the hills; the distant glow of Port Talbot’s industrial lights took over and a chill, katabatic breeze began to flow down into the valley. He shivered once as he strode across the car park; a few BMWs were parked in a straggly row, but the new Jaguar and the two-year old Range Rover told him his old comrades were already there. A wave of warm air greeting him as he stepped inside; Taffy and Dai stood at the bar, pints in hand as they engaged in the same conversation they had been having for thirty years.

“This bloody Tory government is ruining this country, see” held forth Dai, “letting the bastard bankers get away with thieving from us working class boyos.” Jones took a large swig of his drink as behind them a gavel was struck and the meeting was convened. Speaker after speaker took to the stage and the familiar litany of grievances was aired. What gave the Tories the right to dictate to the working man? How dare those who had been schooled at Eton assume superiority over men who worked with their hands? What gave them the right to rule, they who had never done a proper day’s work in their lives? Every angry statement evoked shouts of agreement from the audience. How dare they?

“Yesterday” said the final speaker “on the BBC’s The Big Questions, they were discussing making reparations for the oppression of slavery! Well, we here in the valleys have always been slaves to the ruling classes!” A cheer from the crowd. And I tell you what, lads” he continued “we don’t even get to have our own king. All we have is the Prince of bloody Wales, look you!” A roar rang round the hall and Dai yelled out over the melee:

“Prince of Wales, ‘e calls himself? ‘E don’t even live y’ere. ‘E never even visits! Spends all ‘is time with them Cornish toffs down south. And ‘e’s never ‘ad to work for a living; ‘e got the job just because of his bleddy parents. Well, I didn’t ask for ‘im and I, for one, don’t bleddy well want ‘im!” The crowd’s response was deafening and it took some minutes to subside as, to a man, they noisily agreed with Dai’s vocal rebellion against the yoke of the privileged. It took the repeated banging of the gavel to bring the meeting to order. Finally, silence resumed and the speaker summed up.

Man of the people

“Comrades, we will no longer suffer this ruling elite. The Bullingdon boys can go to hell and the only man who can represent these honest sons of toil is a true man of Wales; a man hewn from the living Rhonda coal, somebody who has broken his back at the seam and knows the sorrow of poverty and the plight of the working man!” The assembled throng held aloft their Labour membership cards, to a man. “So, it is agreed, the next Member of Parliament for Aberavon will be Stephen Kinnock!”

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