In 1984 I was twenty-two and having a nervous breakdown. I had taken an English A Level (which I failed) and I remember the question of whether Hamlet was mad or not really fucking me up. Turns out the madness rubbed off on me for a time. Hospitalised with short-term psychosis (thankfully) the faces in newspapers would be staring at me; there were men in the corner watching me; the doctors seemed extra-terrestrial. One day, when supposedly in recovery, I sat in the TV room trying to catch some kind of normality but happened upon the news and the heightened social realism of men standing in a dusty field being charged at by the riot police. I started hyper-ventilating, feeling like I was going to pass out, then the belief that something worse was about to happen. The fighting continued but no-one would turn the TV off. Finally, a nurse entered the room (which was in fact empty), made the fighting go away and helped me back to bed. The miners’ strike, in this instance the Battle of Orgreave, had induced a panic attack.
Such battles are what remain of the history of the miners’ strike, and in the case of Orgreave, justice has still not been done. However, the lives of people affected by the strike, not just the miners, has taken some time to be told.
Jane Burn’s beautifully detailed poem, Gala Day, Durham Miners, depicts a day in the near past. “At eight-fifteen, the band stands up in regimented lines. /July, before the schools break – the morning lull broken /by the stray parp of tuning notes, loud and sudden /through nets ghosting open windows.” This is a day of excitement, of defiance; a day of celebration even for the community, to let bygones be bygones. “Dorothy – bitched about me once, with them at thirty-one,/but if I cannot forgive her that, what use as a person am I?/Her Arthur, taken by cancer in less than a year.” (more…)