‘Barearse boy’ JON TAIT explains why men like his grandfather impelled him to write about the miners’ strike
My granda Jack Atkinson worked down the pit.
I used to marvel at his NCB donkey jacket hung up by the dart board, the heat that came off the kitchen stove and his motorbike stood in the brick passage by the scullery where the coal was piled up.
He was a big influence on me. He still is. At 90, I’m pleased that the old miner has outlived his enemy Margaret Thatcher.
The strike of 1984-85 came during my formative years — a heady mix of football, teenage girls, Adam and the Ants, writing, the Communist Party, the NUM and Arthur Scargill. These are some of the themes in my debut poetry collection Barearse Boy, published on June 1.
Jack instilled a sense of social responsibility in me, a hatred for injustice and a strong belief in the trade union movement for both the good of the wider community and social change.
I was born in the old Ashington General Hospital, built with money from the mineworkers, so my first view out on the world was probably of the pit-head wheels in the place once known as the biggest mining village in the world.
My paternal nana used to live in the colliery row directly opposite the pit gates in Ashington. Coal was in my blood.
Granda Jack was in the RAF during WWII before he was sent down the mines and he was a Bevin Boy. I have worn his dog tags at stressful times — exams, driving tests — like some lucky charm. He gave me his old air force bag to use as a tool bag when I left school at 16 and started work on the building sites as a joiner.
If you want to read the cliched angry Northern poet, then that’s me. I recall watching the police charging lines of striking miners on horseback on the TV, the blood running down their faces after being whacked across the head with truncheons and worrying that my granda was there.
I couldn’t fathom the loathing that the Establishment could conjure up for men like him. A good, honest man with his hair Brylcreemed back, a RAFA pin in the lapel of his tweed jacket.
He always had a smile and kind and encouraging words, going to play dominoes with his old comrades in the club.
Compare that with Thatcher — the hatred in her eyes and her patronising voice, talking down to the working class, dubbing the pitmen “the enemy within.” My granda? The enemy of whom?
I remember the lads standing in line for their dinner at school with free chitties as their dads were out. I recall the poverty that she drove the proud working class into, the rage and disillusionment.
We’re still fighting the class war now and 30 years on it is more apparent than ever. The miners may have been defeated but my granda is still my hero.
Barearse Boy, published by Smokestack Books, will be available from June 1 and can be purchased from smokestack-books.co.uk