63 UP, ITV, directed by Michael Apted.

7 Up.jpg

https://www.itv.com/hub/7-63-up-uk/2a1866a0001

‘Give me a child and I will show you the man.’

That old Jesuit or ancient Greek aphorism is alive and well. I’m at 56 and UPward myself and one of my classmates, George Devine’s funeral, was on Wednesday. Arthritis creeps around my bones, but I’m still gloriously alive. When I went to school Mrs Boyle taught us that 9 x 7 = 63 (UP). My life has been in eight instalments, but I’ve followed the nine episodes of this soap opera and read into it things I already know. Class is alive and flourishing in Britain as it was in 1964; a half-hour documentary made by Granada, a World in Action, looked at the state of the nation through children’s eyes.

The villains of the series, as in life, have always been to me the upper classes. I’m like that old priest in Father Ted that when drink is mentioned his eyes glaze and he jumps out of his chair. With me it’s Tories. Fucking, Tory scum.

The first series (7UP) shows us three boys representative of that class, aged 7, Andrew, Charles and John.  They are shown singing Waltzing Matilda in Latin.  In their posh English accents they also boast about what newspapers they read. The Financial Times and Guardian. And tell the viewer exactly what prep school. public school and universities they will attend. And this all comes to pass with Biblical accuracy.  A world away from North Kensington, Grenfell Tower, the same rich South Kensington, London borough, where these boys hailed from.

The exception to the rule was Charles. We see him in 21 UP, long hair, hipster, telling the viewer how glad he didn’t go to Oxford or Cambridge and attended Durham University instead. And he was glad of that because it gave him a different view of the world. Ho-hom. He does not appear in the subsequent programmes. Being educated at the right schools and having the right connections, of course, he went on to become something big in Channel 4,  something big in film and theatre and  threatened to sue his fellow documentary maker Michael Apted for using his image. This shows no class at all. Apted being one of those national treasures, like David Attenborough. Imagine, for example, a beluga whale suing Attenborough for impinging on his right’s images and all because of a bit of plastic.

Andrew went on to become a partner in his solicitor’s firm at 31, by that time he’d married outside his class to a good Yorkshire lass, plain Jane and they had two sons, Alexander and Timothy. His firm was taken over by a larger corporation and he regretted spending so much time at work, but in his modest way, admitted those were the choices he made. I quite liked Andrew.

I detested his and my namesake John. Of all the upper-class twats that little Tony wanted to punch, he would have been my prime candidate. I hated everything about him. The way he looked and sounded. His pronouncements that (Luton) car workers with their fabulous wages could afford to send their children to public schools. His life went exactly to the book, his pronouncements, aged 7 UP, realised. He became a Queen’s Council and gained his silk robe. He married the daughter of a former ambassador to Bulgaria and admitted his great grandfather, Todor Burmov, had fought against the Turks to gain independence and had been Prime Minister. No surprise, the gone, gone, gone girl, Teresa May, who attended the same Oxbridge institution, and helped create the hostile environment for immigrants didn’t exactly rush to deport him. John had the wrong accent, the right register of the Queen’s English, fabulous social connections and the pasty-white colour of skin favoured by immigrant officials. Two of his friends were Ministers in the Government.  Even Nigel Farage, the ex-Etonian, would have complained if John had suddenly been napped and put on a flight to Sofia, but then a strange thing happened. I didn’t mind John so much, and actually admired him.

He was one of the few that didn’t tell the viewer whether he had family or not. The reason he kept appearing in subsequent programmes was to promote a charity that helped disabled and disadvantage citizens in Bulgaria. He admitted modestly that he’d worked hard. While that usually would have me thinking nobody had worked harder than coal miners who’d powered the Industrial Revolution and paid in silicosis and black death, or Jimmy Savile who prided himself on being a Bevin boy and working (hard) down the pits and incredibly hard with his charity work and had other interests. John mentioned his mother had needed to work to send him to public school, in the same way that tens of millions of mothers have to work to put food on the table. John gained a scholarship to attend Oxford University, with the inference he was poor. I’m not sure if his mother was a Luton car worker, but I’m sure she didn’t work as a cleaner in a tower block in South Kensington. I didn’t exactly like John, but I understood him better, which is the beginning of knowledge.

I guess like many other viewers I identified with Tony, this tiny kid from the East End of London, his dad a card-shark crook and he looked to be going the same way. Larger than life Tony from 7 UP was a working-class cliché. He was never going to make anything of school. Left at 15 and he tells you early he yearned to be a jockey. He was helping out at the stables and got a job there. I know how he feels. I wanted to play for Celtic and trained with the boy’s club at 15. Trained with Davie Moyes, Charlie Nicholas on the next red gravel training pitch. Clutching my boots in a plastic bag I wasn’t even good enough to be molested by Frank Cairns, although he did give me a passing, playful, punch in the stomach. I guess he was aiming lower down and the lower league. Tony in a later UP series told us he’d ridden in a race against Lester Piggot. He wasn’t good enough, and is big enough to admit it.

Tony with his outdated attitude to women. The four Fs. Fuck them, forget them and I can’t remember the other two. Debbie sorted that out. She gave him three kids and now he’s got three grandkids. Tony admitted he’d had an affair. Tony, plucky London cabbie, having done The Knowledge, as did his wife and son. A spell in Spain trying to work out as a property broker. I guess, I should have guessed. Tony admitted he’d voted Tory all his days and now he wasn’t sure. More of a Farage man. Fuck off Tony.

Tony got a bit heated when he thought Apted had accused him of being a racist. ‘I’m a people’s man,’ he said. ‘You know me.’

Then he talks about the Arabs, in the same way you’d talk about poofs and Paki shops. The Arabs were the only ones that were helping him make money. It wasn’t Uber, that was ripping him off, but Labour that were taking everything and giving nothing back. Fuck off Tony, read The Ragged Trousered Philanthropist and find out what part of Mugsborough you’ve moved to. Yet, there were his daughter, something that had gone wrong. Sometimes we’ve got to realise that although we circle the wagons, as Tony claimed, only a community can save us.

The old lies are made new again.

Let’s look at the girls from the same social background as Tony. My kind of people. Straight as a die, Lynn, attended the same primary school as Jackie and Sue. Married for 40 years. Two daughter and two granddaughters, Riley, only two-and-a-half ounces at birth. God bless the NHS. Lynn whose first job was in a mobile library. Lynn, who loved kids and loved helping kids to read. Then she worked in Bethnal Green in the library. Under the Tories, of course, we don’t need libraries; we don’t need women like Lynn. Her job was redundant. She was redundant. RIP.

Jackie was always the mouthy one in the triumvirate of girls pictured together. She  told Apted he wasn’t asking her the right kind of questions and patronising them – which he was, a product of his own class. Jackie, first married of the group. First divorced. Said she didn’t want children, but had three boys and ended up  in a council estate in Scotland, but separated from the father of the two of them, but still in love and in touch with him. Jackie, who had rheumatoid arthritis and told the camera, and David Cameron, if he thought she was fit for work then he should show her what kind of job. Disabled, she was classified as not disabled enough and fit for work. Tory scum. Here it is in person. Public policy without humanity and based on a lie. No great surprise the suicide rate on those deprived of benefits has rocketed. I wonder what Farage, who has never worked and continues to draw a hefty stipend from rich fools and from the European Parliament he wants to destroy thinks about that. We know what he thinks. He thinks what rich people tell him. Jackie can speak for herself. Speak for us.

Sue can think for herself too. She got married to have children and had two kids, but divorced their father because she didn’t love him. Karaoke singer, she met Glen and they’ve been engaged for twenty years or more. She works as head administrator in the law faculty of Queen Mary, University of London. She’s thinking about retirement and does a bit of acting and singing. A working class life, made good. But she worries that the world we’re passing on to her children and our children isn’t as good. Doesn’t have the same level of opportunity and social mobility. She’s right to be worried.

Bruce, representative of the middle class,  who when he was 7 UP claimed to have a girlfriend in Africa that he probably wouldn’t see again and wanted to be a missionary, always had that look on his face as if he’d missed something. His father, perhaps, in Southern Rhodesia.  Bruce was beaten at public school. He freely admits it and agonised whether Christianity was an outdated doctrine and whether it was liveable. I wonder about that too. I see the façade and under the façade more façade. The devil seems to me more real than any god and Jesus whose only weapon was love. Yeh, I like Bruce. For a start, although he was public school and went to Oxford to study Maths, he was never a Tory. He taught maths to children in Sylhet, Bangladesh and in the East End of London (Tony’s old school, if I remember correctly). Late in life he married and had two sons.

Peter, who went to the same school in Liverpool as Neil, was also representative of a different strand of the middle class. Both boys claimed they wanted be astronauts, but Neil hedged his bets and claimed he would be as equally happy being a bus driver. Peter went to university, got a degree and took up teaching. The greatest moment of his life was, he claimed, the 1977 Tommy Smith goal for Liverpool in the European Cup Final in Rome. No mention of his marriage or his teaching career. He dropped out of the 7 UP series after being targeted by the Daily Hate Mail and other right-wing publications for criticising Thatcherism. He later re-appeared, in 56 UP, having remarried and hoping to promote his burgeoning musical career. He claimed to be happy working in the Civil Service. Good rate of pay, good pension. He must be ecstatic now that Mo Salah and Liverpool have given him another greatest moment of his life in Bilbao. Anyone that sees through Thatcherism has walked in my shoes and I love my team, Celtic in the same way he loves Liverpool.

Neil never became an astronaut or bus driver. He did go to study in Aberdeen University, but dropped out in the first year and at 21 UP was living in a squat in London and working as casual labour on building sites. Neil makes for good television. Contrast the bright, beautiful and confidant seven-year-old boy with what he’d become, a shifty-eyed loner, with obvious what we’d term now, mental health problems, or as he admitted depression or problems with his nerves, madness. At 28 UP he was living in a caravan in Scotland. Then he was living in Orkney.  Neil never fulfilled his boyhood potential. But I guess that’s true of us all. Then somehow, in that long curve on life he seemed to be making a comeback. 42 UP he’s living with Bruce and later becomes a Liberal Democrat councillor in Hackney. 56 UP he’s moved again to middle England as well as being a councillor is a lay preacher in the Eden district of Cumbria. Able to administer all the rites of the Church of England, apart from communion. 63 UP he’s living in northern France, a house in the countryside he’s bought with money inherited from his parent’s estate. Neil has become a squire. Like me he hoped to have written something people would want to read.

Nick, educated in a one room school house in the tiny village of Arncliffe, in the Yorkshire Dales, a farmer’s son, who went to Oxford and gained a doctorate in nuclear physics, is a story of meritocracy and upward mobility. He didn’t want to run the farm, he said, perhaps his brother that was deaf, could inherit the farm. Nick wanted to change the world. A fellow student at Oxford commented that he didn’t associate Neil’s Northern accent with intelligence.  He was right, of course, intelligence has nothing to do with accent, and upward mobility has nothing to do with meritocracy. Nick’s comments that Teresa May would never have become Prime Minister if she’s gone to an obscure polytechnic would have at one time seemed inflammatory. But Nick lives and teaches in Wisconsin-Madison. Before Trump, and the moron’s moron continual twittering, nothing has ever been the same again. Nick had a son with his first wife and later remarried Cryss. But in 63 UP he admits to having throat cancer. He’s intelligent enough to know what that mean.

In 56 UP, Nick admitted having long conversations with Suzy, who had appeared in eight of the nine episodes, but not in 63 UP. Suzy when asked about the series when she was a chain-smoking, twenty-one-year old, thought the series pointless and silly. By that time her father had died, she’d dropped out of school and been to Paris to learn secretarial skills. Her upper-class background true to form meant she was a pretty enough catch. She duly married Rupert, a solicitor and prospered as a housewife and mother of two girls and a boy. After 28 UP she glowed with good health.

Symon and Paul were the bottom of the heap in the first series of 7 UP in 1964. Symon was the only mixed race kid in the programme. His mother was white. He missed her when he was in the home. She just couldn’t cope with him, but later they became close.

Symon went to work in Wall’s freezer room. He had five kids and was married by 28 UP. He wanted to be film star. He didn’t know what he wanted to do. At 35 he was divorced and remarried. He remarried a childhood sweetheart. They met in the laundrette. She had a kid and they had a son. They fostered hundreds of kids over the years. If you take away the money Symon has been the biggest success story and has given the most.

Symon and Paul kept in touch and they reunited in 63 UP in Australia where Paul lived. He emigrated, following his father down under. Paul worked in the building trade. He was always one of the shy ones in the programme. He went walkabouts with his wife Susan, who thought him handsome and that he had a nice bum. They had a couple of kids and stacks of grandkids. Their daughter went to university. The first of their family to enter an institution of higher learning. Paul and his wife work together in a retirement home.

The 7 UP series tells us about ourselves. When it began the Cuban Missile Crisis had been played out the threat of nuclear annihilation had passed. Or so we thought. With global warming and tens of millions of migrants on the move, the threat of nuclear annihilation is more likely, but for a different reason, because countries divert rivers and tributaries and claim them as their own.

The jobs that each one did will be redundant. Self-driving cars mean taxing will be for the birds. Amazon are already delivering by drone. Any kind of administration is child’s play for artificial intelligence. The bastion of law and medicine is based on pattern recognition. We can expect the new Google to run our health service, or what’s left of it. Nick, the nuclear engineer, might not have much of a future. The future is green, totally green. Those Arab states that rely on the mono-crop of oil will become bankrupt almost overnight, like a Middle-Eastern Venezuela. Russia has long been bankrupt, but without oil it implodes. Let’s hope it doesn’t take the rest of us with it. Money flows from the poor to the rich at an increasing. rate, like an ever-growing, speeded up, Pacman creating new wealth and eating it up more quickly. We are left with dysfunctional politics, tyranny and chaos. The centre cannot hold. Our homes will be battery powered. Plants and trees are already solar powered. They shall become our new cathedrals. Scotland should be green by then.  That’s something a celticman appreciates.

 

Selina Todd (2015) The People: The Rise and Fall of the Working Class.

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I liked this book, it’s about us, the working class often portrayed standing outside history books adding a bit of colour to the stories of kings and governors, quietly happy to die for their country, or the working class portrayed as a Lemuel Gulliver lying down in the long grass and falling asleep and being tied down by Lilliputians who make theatrical speeches he doesn’t understand but he does what the little men, the 1% of the population want him to do, anyway. That’s not the case. If the working class were Gulliver he’s prone to poke himself in the eye. Tie down one foot and chop off a leg and dance the hornpipe. As Selina Todd makes clear the working class are not a uniform body. What they have in common, what we have in common is our relationship to the means of production. The working man needs to work to survive. Elite groups do not. Class is about who is holding the stick, how big is it and how hard are they going to hit us?

If you look at relationships this way things become a lot clearer. Take Teresa May, for example, a sluggish economy, just over 1% growth, because of the managed industrial decline of industry in the last fifty years we have non-jobs and the highest personal-debt ratio in Europe, common people are struggling,   Britain is dependent on selling its goods and services to the largest trading block in the world and if the EEC doesn’t want them, well, what stick is she going to hit them with? We import more than we export. We are a debtor nation.  Withdrawal, the longest suicide note in history springs to mind.

In the Afterword, Selina Todd quotes John Maynard Keynes, on the 2008 crisis applies equally here. Capitalism relies on ‘the astounding belief that the most wickedest of men will do the most wickedest of things for the greatest good of everyone.’

She could equally well have quoted Owen the narrator of The Ragged Trousered Philanthropist from almost 100 years ago:

The question is, what is the cause of the lifelong poverty of those who are not drunkards and who DO work? Why, if all the drunkards and wont-works and unskilled or inefficient workers who could be by some miracle transformed into sober, industrious and skilled workers tomorrow, it would, under the present conditions, be so much worse for us, because there isn’t enough work NOW, and those people by increasing the competition for what work there is, would inevitably cause a reduction in wages and greater scarcity of employment. The theories that drunkenness, laziness or inefficiency are the causes of poverty are so many devices invented and fostered by those who are selflessly interested in maintaining the present state of affairs, for the purposes of discovering the real causes of our present condition.

Todd charts the high points of the People, the working class after the Second World War up to around 1970 and the advent of neoliberal policies designed ostensibly to revive the economy but took money from the poor and gave it to the rich. Trickle-down-economics and the ideology or Thatcherism, everyman for themselves finds expression in quixotic Think tanks like The Centre for Social Justice which is the kind of sham that had Boris Johnson standing beside a bus and promising to spend £150 million a week on the NHS when we left the European Union. The sham of The Taxpayers Alliance, which demands value for money, which sounds laudable, but they don’t mean their money, they mean poor people’s money. The working class won the Second World War, but lost the ideological war and are now paying for that failure, but which is marketed as a success. We know, of course, right-wing neoliberals with double-barrel names don’t read books like this, but they do write government policy.

Here are some common myths Todd deals with.

Myth 1: The economic crisis was caused the welfare state.

What history reminds us is that targeting welfare at the poorest is not the answer. Instead we need wealth to be redistributed more equally.

Myth 2: We can only solve the economic crisis by all working very hard.

‘Hard work has never solved poverty. If it did, then no one would have been poor during the three decades after 1945, when work was more plentiful than before or since.’

‘Rather than dividing people between those who are and aren’t members of “hardworking families” we should ask why anyone should have to work at all.’

What Todd is saying here isn’t that much different from those on the far right, charting the rise of the robots and the mass unemployment which will ensure in the next ten years and whose talk once more turns to citizens being allocated an allowance.

Myth 3: Working-class people’s opportunities are blocked by women and immigrants.

‘By focusing on migrants, we move our gaze from the real culprits: employees and politicians, who turn migrant workers into cheap and exploitable wage slaves.’

‘If migrants are wrongly blamed for the economic crisis, so too are women…Far from “choosing” to go out and earn [pin] money rather than have babies, many women go out to work to support children, unemployed husbands or partners, and parents who, in old age, face poverty. In 1996, 67% of mothers with dependent children went out to work, by 2013, 72% of them were doing so.’

Myth 4: Social mobility, promoted by selective and private education, can solve inequlity.

‘It’s ironic that a political consensus exists that post-war Britain was a meritocratic society, given how clearly erroneous that claim is.’

‘A society as technologically advanced as ours, as rich in natural resources and wealth, could and should be committed to providing all children with the best possible start in life, not just a handpicked few.’

‘Since 2010 spending of education has fallen at the fastest rate since the 1950s.’

Myth 5: People’s greed and selfishness prevent us from creating a different sort of society.

‘What we have to do now is to start working out the first steps towards revealing an alternative way to live better than neoliberalism…class testifies to inequality and inequality has not worked or any of us.’

‘economic growth does not improve quality of life, but economic redistribution can and will. Britain was healthier and happier place in the post-war years because there was some re-distribution.’

We need to trust ourselves to find a more democratic and transparent way of creating an equal society.

We can do this because we’ve done it before.

We need to question why work is at the centre of our lives. There is no reason why so many of us should have to spend most of our lives working in jobs that achieve little or nothing…no reason why we should not be able to undertake meaningful work, organized for the benefit of society and not the 1 percent who live off profit.

Class, as a relationship of unequal power, shapes British society.’

The important thing is to recognise the shared experiences and build on it, not quibble over semantics.

If the past teaches us anything it is this: if the people want a better future, we can, and must, create it, ourselves.’

 

 

 

Richard Holloway (2004) Looking in the Distance: The Human Search for Meaning.

looking into the distance.

Richard Holloway’s Looking in the Distance, predates, his classic autobiographical account, Leaving Alexandria of leaving the Anglican church, where he was a Bishop of Edinburgh, Primus of the Scottish Episcopal Church and Gresham Professor of Divinity, which is quite a mouthful for an agnostic.  This is a short volume. A working out of ideas, a companion piece to Godless Morality, which I’ve not read and not likely to read. It reminds me a bit of the kind of chapbooks properly brought-up, young, women such as, Jane Austen’s heroine Catherine Morland kept in Northanger Abbey. A personal note of things they should know and others should know that they know. If that sounds old fashioned then Richard Holloway is old fashioned and so am I. My reviews tend to remind me what I’ve read and what I thought of it. I’d forgotten, for example, I’ve read Holloway’s A Little History of Religion. My memory is appalling. I write something down and forget what I’ve written and what I thought of it. There’s a bit of showing off, as well, of course, but since nobody reads my reviews I’m quiet safe. The problem for me is time. If I continually review books and films I’m not writing fiction and that’s what I choose to write. But it’s not that simple. Reading is the engine of writing.

The polymath Umberto Eco tackled the problem of memory in his novel The Mysterious Flame of Queen Loana. The protagonist Yambo has had a stroke and he has to reconstruct himself from the books he’s read and the early films he saw. Memory is who we are, he is told.

Memory can be beautiful…Someone said it acts like a convergent lens in a camera obscura, it focuses everything, and the image that results from it is much more beautiful than the original.

Holloway makes the point that there comes a time when most of our life is behind us. Death is not on the horizon, but waiting to tap us on the shoulder. In the first part of the book he begins with Still Looking and quotes Vasili Rozanov:

All religions will pass, but this will remain: simply sitting in a chair and looking into the distance.

Holloway deserves tremendous respect. Most folk make a ghetto of their lives. To turn aside from a role he has carefully crafted and grafted and  saying,  no, I no longer believe in religion, or god, is courageous. It sets an example. The example of Jesus is one that the moron’s moron, the American President, pays lip service to. In books such as The Ragged Trousered Philanthropist the counterweight to capitalism is nationalism and religion based on Calvinism and the gospel of Holy Willie’s Prayer.

O Thou, who in heaven must dwell,

Wha, as it pleases best thysel’.

Send ane to heaven and ten to hell,

A’for thy glory.

And no for ony guid or ill

They’ve done afore thee!

I bless and praise thy matchless might,

When thousands thou has left in night,

That I am here afore thy sight,

For gifts and grace,

A burnin’ an’ a shinin’ light,

To a’ this place.’

Robert Burns delighted in undermining class and religion pomposity. It’s not surprise that his poem To a Louse, takes place during a Kirk service, but could just as well have been the inauguration of the 45th American President.

O wad some Power the giftie gie us

To see oursels as ithers see us!

It wad frae mony a blunder free us,

An’ foolish notion:

Holloway sees that hypocrisy of saying one thing and doing another. Morality can be complex or it can be a simple precept based on the notion of doing unto others what you would (or would not) do to yourself, which is the footstool of all the major religions. The authority he quotes and the question he asks comes from the Russian novels of Fyodor Dostoevsky, The Karamazov Brothers and the character Ivan:

Tell me honestly, I challenge you – answer me, imagine you are charged with building an the edifice of human destiny, whose ultimate aim is to bring people happiness, to give them peace and contentment at last, but in order to achieve this it is essential and unavoidable to torture just one little speck or creation, the same little child beating his breasts with his little fists, and imagine this edifice to be erected on her unexpiated tears. Would you agree to be the architect under these conditions?’

To move away from Holloway’s creed, this is familiar Stephen King territory. Would you, for example, murder Hitler in his crib?

Thomas Piketty Capital  quotes Balzac to suggest inequalities are so entrenched that if in order to move up someone must be harmed or murdered, would you allow it? Eh, aye, probably, is the same answer as those Christian folk that mourn 22 children murdered in Manchester, but Mail-hate cheerleaders are  quite happy for over 200 folks to drown in the Mediterranean in the same week.

Holloway has something to say about fundamentalism and it applies equally to Trump supporters as it does to the Sunni (Saudi sponsored) branch of Islam in which ‘the gates of interpretation is closed’. ‘Immobolism’ Holloway calls it. What he means is Holy Willie is right, to a god given right,  and you are wrong if you believe otherwise. For Holloway there is nothing more dangerous than a fundamentalist. This book was written pre-Trump Presidency. Such an idea then would have been laughable.

Moral relativism. I had to think of an example for this. It comes from another Scottish writer, John Buchan, The Herd of Standlan. The irony here is the author of the First World War bestseller The Thirty Nine Steps later became a Conservative MP, but in this short story a humble Scottish shepherd, has a choice, whether to let go of the hand of Mr Aither and let him drown or hold on, even though he’s got a broken arm and might drown himself. The shepherd does hold on, or there’d be no narrative, but later regrets it, because Mr Aither, goes onto become Lord Brodaker and a prominent Scottish Tory.

‘I did what I thocht my duty at the time and I was rale glad I saved the callant’s life. But now I think on a’ the ill he’s daen’ to the country and the Guid Cause, I whiles think I wad hae been daein better if I had just drappit him in.’

Imagine you’re holding onto the hand of a young Donald Trump, he’s at his mother’s old croft, would you drappit him in?

 

William McIlvanney (2016 [1975]) Docherty

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I think this was the first William McIlvanney novel I read. It won the Whitbread Award for Fiction. When McIlvanney was writing the book there were still such a thing as a coalminer. There’s probably a picture of one in the Daily Mail hate archives, the equivalent of a Lascaux cave drawing to remind them what these men that held the country to ransom, the aristocracy of the working-class, trade-union movement, looked like. Coal powered the industrial revolution, but the men who dug it out saw little of the rewards. Such was its value coal miners were exempt from conscription in the First and Second World Wars. In the latter war 1939-45,  men could be conscripted not only to the army, navy, or air force, but also to the coal face and coal mines near the industrial heartlands. Bevan’s boys kept the machinery of war and killing going   It must have been around the 1980s when I read the book. And according to the right-wing hate mail propaganda machine, Arthur Scargill, and the coal miners were again holding the country to ransom. The strike of 1984-85 was notable for the coal miners out on the streets collecting donations and food – we had food banks even then. Scargill, of course, suggested that Thatcher and her cronies, including Ian MacGregor, had stockpiled coal and oil and set out to break the unions and to do away with the coal-mining industry. History proved Scargill right. It doesn’t take Agatha Christie to tell us there were 84 000 coal miners then there was none. Policing operations were particularly inventive. The cover up at Hillsborough part of that sad tradition. Hi, you might be shouting, what happened to the book you’re meant to be reviewing?

Well, it’s quite a simple book, a love story of the working class. It’s quite a difficult job to make a superhero out of an ordinary working man, Tam Docherty, who died, how he lived, a working class hero, laying down his life for another. There is another argument that the real hero of the book is Jenny, his wife, who gave him three boy and a girl, but who, with little money and loaves and soup pots works miracles that Jesus would be jealous of. He only fed the 5000, Jenny has to do it every day for over 25 years. You’d need to look at Maheau’s wife in Emile Zola’s classic story Germinal to show how one wage is never enough and each child is sacrificed to the pits, for an adequate comparison of how little miners made and how far it had to stretch. Or Jenny’s daughter, Kathleen, who marries Jack, who beats her and spends his wages on booze. Realism begins with reality and not fake news.

Mick, Docherty’s oldest son, loses the sight in one eye and one arm in the trenches in the First World War and he accepts he’s one of the lucky ones. He made it back. But his search for  meaning has contemporary resonance and one of the books he reads to make sense of the post-war world is The Ragged Trousered Philanthropist. What he says to his wee brother, Conn, after his fight with his other brother Angus, is relevant today as it was then. Angus has broken with his father and his family. He’s got a girl pregnant and refuses to marry her. He marries someone else, Annie, and fathers another child. But Angus represents everything his father detests. Individualism, an atomised life, and every man for themselves. Tory dogma. Angus’s brute strength, he deludes himself into believing, will safeguard the future of his family. The older brother’s bitter experience, when the sky might be up and it might be crashing down, has taught him better.

‘Whit’s happenin’?’

‘Whit’s happenin’? is that folks don’t ken whit’s happenin’. They just want wages an’ they canny accept that they’ll hiv tae tak mair. Tae get whit ye want, ye’ve goat to settle fur mair, that’s a’.’

His father understood that better than anyone, he lived it. A community is not a collection of individuals looking after number one.

‘He was only five-foot four. But when yer hert goes from yer heid tae yer toes, that’s a lot of hert.’

The William McIlvanney’s and Docherty’s of this world would have their work cut out making sense of Tory councillors elected in Ferguslie and a moron’s moron elected as President of the United States. It makes a pleasant change to read about a working-class hero without the tag, Benefits, being added. Coal miners, aye, I remember them well and I understand what they stood for, what they stand for.

‘Nae shite from naebody.’