THE BLOG
16/10/2017 08:16 BST | Updated 16/10/2017 08:16 BST

Charcoal Lines

If our lives are like sediment rock, marked by the lines of defining circumstances, my childhood must be a prominent line of coal dust.

The coal mining identity shaped the part of Yorkshire where I grew up. You could tell this from the annual gala, pub names, the miners' rescue station, or even the cracks of subsidence in almost everyone's homes. My grandad had been a miner, as had uncles and cousins. My dad worked in the industry too - sending his days as a clerk sorting out mining supplies. And when I took my partner to go see my childhood home, we paused down the road at the black, rather Victorian-looking obelisk commemorating seven miners who'd died in a flooded mine tunnel near that spot.

And then, of course, there was the bitter 1984-5 miners' strike. I was at a comprehensive in my final year of compulsory education at the time.

Today, the strike has become emblematic - there's a general sense that the striking miners were heroically hanging on to the last, and essentially walked the moral high ground. You'd be hard pressed to find anyone but the most diehard right winger who'd say otherwise. Combine the image of a strong industrial workforce with that of Thatcher as a brutal suppresser, and one's left with a powerful impression of epoch-changing events. Britain's version of the Berlin wall coming down, maybe. And of course - the wistful thought of how that workforce, glued together in solidarity, might have gone from strength to strength.

Of course, as always with these events, the reality at the time was more nuanced. It wasn't just Thatcher, Ian MacGregor (Head of the National Coal Board), Peter Walker (Energy Secretary) and the police against Arthur Scargill and the striking miners. There wasn't 100% workers' solidarity - not every coalfield's miners were on strike. Opinion was polarised.

Baby food, dog biscuits and nappies

In striking areas those who didn't trust Scargill kept their heads down, just as they would at the ballot box - explaining why constituencies in the heart of Yorkshire coalfield, like Pontefract and Castleford would get a sizable minority of 10,000 Tory votes. Others played along subversively - 'the youngsters and pets can't help it if their dads and owners support Scargill' a neighbour told me, explaining her subterfuge of giving baby food, dog biscuits and nappies to the door-to-door striking miners' collections.

As for our dreams of a bright future beyond the strike, the mines continuing with their 300 years' worth of fuel to feed powerhouse Britain, the government ruing the day... Climate change, which in 1984-5 wasn't even on the political agenda, subsequently turned public opinion against fossil fuels.

I guess this could be the stuff of nostalgia, idle speculation or, even worse, sixth form essays. But for me, it's part of life. Like that coal seam in the sediment, it colours my impression of events.

In December 2015, we saw the closure of Kellingley Colliery, the last of Britain's deep coal mines. Ironically, Drax, a coal fired power station, was just seven miles down the road. We learnt that, in these days of globalisation, the proximity to the power station didn't help when importing coal from overseas is cheaper. Naturally, this sad footnote to 1980s battles for Britain's future was given due media coverage.

Yet a mere six months later, when we woke up, shell-shocked, to the Brexit referendum result and the subsequent fall in the pound, my thoughts went straight back to coal, to Kellingley. I told myself how awful it was that we seem as polarised as in 1985. I ask myself if it would still be cheaper to import coal now that sterling's on the slide. Of course, these thoughts were only fleeting, and soon I'm thinking about other implications, other events even. Life isn't just about coal mines, or mining heritage. It's just that the line is never erased.