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john davies
notes from a small vicar
from a parish
in Liverpool, UK

    Monday, November 27, 2006
    Brilliantly, the people's work
     
    Ricky Tomlinson's championing of working-class culture and causes is well-known, well-founded and genuine. So watching Disappearing Britain: When Coal Was King on Five this evening, it was moving but unsurprising to see him shedding a tear in a Senghenydd hall while the grandsons of those who died in Britain's worst ever mining disaster sung their hearts out after watching their own fathers in the 1965 documentary classic Master Singers - Two Choirs and a Valley. Neither was it surprising (though it was amusing and akin to my own deeply-held feelings) to hear him bring the programme to a close in looking forward to the day when he will toast Margaret Thatcher's death with a pint: "You won't have to worry about coal were you're going Thatcher, as it will be bloody roasting".

    Tomlinson is angry about the gratuitous demise of the British coal industry - the dubious economics of the 1980s brought into question by the ongoing viability of worker-controlled Tower Colliery. And his anger was raw as he stood at the entrance of the former Sutton Manor Colliery: two iron gates standing impotently, guarding nothing - a vast abandoned scrubland stretching out across the hillside beyond. Tomlinson is right in saying that this is no sort of memorial to the tremendous industry and community which were built here by the local people over 400 years and brought to an end by Thatcher's cynical politicking barely 15 years ago.

    So how timely to also read today of Sutton Manor's involvement in the forthcoming Channel 4 Big Art Project - wherein local communities work with major artists to create significant pieces of public art. The people of Sutton Manor have successfully bid for the opportunity to make a statement as big as they like, on that vast old piece of land standing large over Merseyside just above Junction 7 of the M62.

    "This site, it's a huge blank canvas and it's waiting. It's waiting for something to come along and grab the imagination of the people of St Helens," said Gary Conley, one of the ex-miners organising the bid.

    Reporters are already calling Sutton Manor an art project to rival the Angel of the North. And just as that piece of work gained so much integrity by being produced by the hands of Hartlepool fabricators and welders, so too it looks like whatever gets to sit atop Sutton Manor in 2008 will also, brilliantly, be the people's work.