Here’s a secret about me I’m not exactly proud of: when I was growing up I lied about where I was from.
I was born in Rotherham. A town which everyone knew was a shithole. A joke.
Rotherham wasn’t always that way. It was a town with pride and beauty that had it’s heart ripped out by the real life implications of a political ideology; Thatcherism.
Rotherham is a town that never recovered.
I rang my mum last night and mentioned Thatcher’s funeral in passing. I was surprised at how emotional she got. My mum’s pretty chilled now, but this was bordering on a rant. Like the shakes in Glenda Jackson’s voice as she addressed the house in her tribute, you could feel the depths of that emotion, still raw after all these years.
‘It brought it all back’ she said.
‘They’re saying that everyone loved her. Well everyone didn’t bloody love her’.
My. Mum. Never. Swears.
I was born in 1981. I was too young to have a clue about who Thatcher was and why she wanted to close the steel works and the pits. Why she wanted to destroy the Unions. What that meant to my family and my community.
‘Do you remember when your dad worked in Templebrough, before it got shut down and they turned it into Magna?’
‘Do you remember getting stuck for hours on that bus because the strikers were fighting with the police?’
I don’t remember shit. And partly I was protected from it.
But it was there. Floating about in the atmosphere between more pressing concerns such as trying to convince my mum to buy me one of those Girls World heads so I could be like the rest of the kids on the estate or crying my eyes out because my cousin told me that if you ate the pith from an orange you’d get cancer and die.
It was there. Round the dinner table. Pervading my consciousness.
Strikes and Unions and mass unemployment and all the shops shutting and the dole and my dad suddenly being around a lot (which was great, but not great because there was no money for Christmas presents or anything else really and my parents were arguing a lot) and scabs and pickets and my cousin getting beaten up at the Poll Tax Riots and Hillsbrough, fucking Hillsbrough and Thatcher as the villain and the butt of every joke
But really, these aren’t my memories. They are my mum’s and dad’s.
A while ago I asked my mum about the strikes and she said ‘No one talks about it anymore. We don’t want to talk about it. Because that’s when we lost’
What happened to Rotherham and Wakefield and Doncaster and Sunderland and the pit villages of Wales was trauma. Something important and precious was taken from us and destroyed and entire populations were decimated and lost their pride and their purpose. And they fought hard to keep it, fought fucking hard, long after everyone thought we’d give up, and eventually we lost anyway. And in some ways we never recovered. These became the towns where daughters would lie about when people asked them where they were from.
When you go through trauma you have to find somewhere you can put it. So you can go on living day to day, without constantly being hurt by it. You have to get on with the job of living.
I get that.
But now our recent past is being re-written and Thatcher is being painted as a great moderniser, who didn’t really cause much harm, aside from putting a few Lefties noses out of joint, and par for the course right? And these stories of pain and the destruction of lives of people like my mum and dad, from towns like Rotherham; who no one ever really gave a shit about anyway are being purposefully silenced.
And as a child who grew up amidst all that and who came out the other side, I’m damned if I’m going to let that happen.
Because history is being re-written.
You can see it.
It’s time to start talking.