Friday, 21 September 2012

Caution. Mother on soap box.

I feel a pang of sympathy with the hardships endured by the Welsh slate miners of 1896. Even though I'm not Welsh, not a slate miner, and wasn't born in the 1890s.

My touchy feely is stirred up by today's educational visit to the National Slate Museum based at Penrhyn Quarry, North Wales.

I blame my mother. The mother tongue passed to me this particular responsive chord. Listen to the trials of the working poor. Aged six in 1926, she remembered the General Strike with a special reason: her father was a foreman in a Sheffield mine. He was a total bastard, manipulative and cruel, so I'm not romanticising the past to convey the idea that he lived through a time when working people were boiling dishcloths for dinner while the indifferent wealthy were serving pineapple froth in picturesque mock castles.

What sets me off today is this mother memory evoked by the gentleman slate splitter. A deadly combination. He tells us the economics of the slate mining industry, the bargaining of the slate sellers and the easy profits to be accrued from slate mined in China and South America. Then he tells us about The Great Strike of Penrhyn. He says, For three years I don't know how they slept at the Hall at night, when they knew how people down here were starving. 

Well, my touchy feely nerve is ringing nineteen to the dozen. I lay aside the aspirations I originally began with - to introduce the little grits to Welsh industrial heritage - and begin lecturing my offspring on the selfish money grabbing bastards who care nought for people and all for power, privilege and profit, and don't forget your grandmother and the history of the labouring classes. And this is only a starting point, because from here I wander off into green belt development, home education registration, shareholder loyalty only to profit, environmental impact of mining in South America and where peas come in the supermarket profit industry. It'll be a history that comes in useful when you're trying to sort out the future, unrolling right before your eyes, so follow the money, and when you track it, look on a global scale.

With my offspring locked in the car travelling at 70mph I end dramatically about four hours later on Junction 15 on the M1 with the words How do you stop this history being told? How? HOW? CUT OUT THE MOTHER TONGUE.

Unlike the little grits, you can be spared the lecture. You can read about the Penrhyn Strike in Wikipedia.

The quarry holds a significant place in the history of the British Labour Movement as the site of two prolonged strikes by workers demanding better pay and safer conditions. The first strike lasted eleven months in 1896. The second began on 22 November 1900 and lasted for three years. Known as 'The Great Strike of Penrhyn' this was the longest dispute in British industrial history. 

For brevity, and without the dramatic strangling sounds, finger jabbing, or multiple hand gestures, I recommend it.

Squirrel, learning a skill bound to keep her poor, exploited, and out of work.

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