WISERD conversation – The Shadow of the Mine

In September I was asked by my friend Ian Rhys Jones at the research Institute WISERD to give a talk at their awayday about the bookThe Shadow of the Mine that I had written with Ray Hudson. The awayday became a virtual one, as a consequence of the virus, and we decided that rather than me speak for 40 minutes it would be more interesting to have a conversation about the book with my old friend Gareth Rees. This was recorded, and  as with the interview for Jacobin it extends some of the issues that we discussed in the book. Some people have found this interesting, the video is below and here’s the link to the event on the WISERD site

Breaking Point

Film – Miners Strike 1985

When the renowned Swedish film director Kjell-Ake Andersson was a young man, he visited South Wales in 1973 on a photographic expedition. Travelling on a shoe string, with his girlfriend and eight month old daughter Matilda he was taken in to a miner’s home in Bargoed. They stayed together in the village for three months, talking with the people and  taking photographs, returning twice in the following year. Widely accepted by the miners and their families, Anderson’s photographs portrayed their lives in intimate detail. His book, Gruvarbetare in Wales, was published in Sweden in 1977 and has become recognised as one of the most perceptive visual accounts of mining life in that period. One of the photographs is included inside The Shadows of the Mine and we are hoping to find a way of exhibiting his work in Wales in 2022.

Today Andersson often looks back to the time at Bargoed and recalls ‘meeting the mining community has made a great impact in my life. The generosity and solidarity and friendship I have never forgotten’.

He did return to the valleys in 1985 to make another important contribution. By this time established in film making, his documentary, Breaking Point, on the 1984-85 strike at Oakdale provided a telling account of the community in the snows of January. He has provided us with a version of this film: the narration is in Swedish, but the sounds of the valley town and the words of its people can be clearly heard, bringing back memories of the weeks before the strike ended. Take a look.

Breaking Point (1985). A film by Kjell-Ake Andersson

Our book is now published…

Well our new book The Shadow of the Mine: Coal and the End of Industrial Britain is now published and also reviewed here and there:

“A hymn to working-class community and to men and women’s souls” Will Hutton, author of The State We’re In

“Refreshing and necessary … [The Shadow of the Mine] explains in loving, careful detail why working people’s relationship with Labour in former industrial communities … had become complex and ultimately soured.” Laura Pidcock, Red Pepper

“Their brilliant analysis of the decline of British coal mining, and its social and political effects, is required reading for those who would speak for this working class. It is in many ways a study in the lost world of British labourism.” David Edgerton, The Times Literary Supplement

The Shadow of the Mine reminds us why this spirit [of solidarity and collectivism] has lived on in the coalfields, in spite of people feeling a sense of political betrayal going back decades … enlightening.” The Guardian

“Their new book is essential reading for anyone who wants to dig deeper beyond vague generalizations about the “red wall” that have proliferated since December 2019…Beynon and Hudson encourage us to explore the long-term trends that have shaped the bewildering political situation we find ourselves in now” Charlotte Austin, Jacobin

“The Shadow of the Mine, is a moving account of 150 years of coalfield history, focusing on South Wales and Durham. It is not, however, a detached study of the past. By tracing the “deep story” of the marginalisation of Britain’s coalfields, it aims to understand the continuing exclusion of working-class people in deindustrialised areas from political and social life…if the current Labour leader wants to understand the challenges facing him, he would be far better reading The Shadow of the Mine than listening to PR companies telling him to wrap the party in a union jack.” Diarmaid Kelliher, Antipode Online

About the book

The Shadow of the Mine: Coal and the End of Industrial Britain, London, Verso, 2021, 402pp. ISBN -13:978-1-83976-156-0

This historical study of the coal industry tells of King Coal in its heyday and how communities of mining families created a unique and powerful social and political presence in areas like South Wales and Durham. In 1984 miners here were involved in a yearlong strike to save jobs  and to save coal mining. After the defeat the industry went into precipitous decline and this book outlines the social and political consequences that followed: often told in the words of the people themselves.

FORD Closes engine plant at Bridgend

Today – 25 September 2020 – Ford will close the engine plant that it opened in Bridgend in 1980. At that time, it was seen as a major development for the local economy and the prospect of South Wales emerging as a major producer of automobile parts.  Standing alongside Ford’s axle plant at Jersey Marine and its spark plug operation in Treforest it suggested the prospect of a growing concentration of employment in that sector, The presence of Borg Warner’s transmission plant at Kenfig Hill and Girling’s brake production facility at Cwmbran all added to thus optimism. It seemed that a happy accommodation had been reached between the investment decisions of large transnational corporations and the aspiration of the (not yet devolved) Welsh economic development strategists.   The opening of the engine plant was also hailed as a major success for the “speed and effectiveness” of the old Welsh Development Agency with the £180 million investment flying at its masthead. It was, said the newspaper headlines “A Triumph for Wales” So where did it all go wrong? Or how did it happen at all?

The decision to locate the engine plant at Bridgend had been taken three years earlier in 1977 and then after a lot of planning by Ford and a lot of manoeuvring on the European chess board. Ford had decided to bring out a Mark III version of the Escort which would be a complete rebuild and different in many ways from the classic Mark I which I had seen first roll off the assembly line in the Halewood plant in 1966.  That was at the time when the company was creating Ford Europe. Ten years later much had changed with the company then talking of global production and of making a “world car”. The mark III was to be this car with the same model being built in identical plants around the world where it would also be sold and driven. In Europe Ford needed a secure location for a plant that would produce almost 700,000 engines a year for this new car. Just how it ended up at Bridgend was an interesting and revealing story which I wrote about in the second edition of my book Working for Ford.

In 1977 Prime Minister James Callaghan was recovering from the shock of the previous year’s financial crisis and the draconian intervention of the IMF. In this weakened state he met with Henry Ford in Downing Street and told him: “Henry we are turning this country around. And you, if you choose, can help us do it”.  This must have been music to Henry’s ears given that UK wages were significantly lower than German ones, while car prices were significantly higher with Ford’s outselling all other makes at a time when British Leyland was in terminal crisis. 

By that time too Ford had scoured Europe and put together a number of possible sites for its new plant. Each one had been analyzed in what the company (with a glance at history and the macabre) called its “Doomsday Books”. In these books, issues like geographic location, the state of the labour market and trade unionism would be weighed along with the inducements on offer, though a series of 92 questions.  In the end it would be the finance that would settle it, and Ford was renowned for its capacity to play hard ball in such negotiations. Having been given the green light in Downing Street it decided to press its advantage.

In South Wales at that time there were Special Development Areas that provided inward investors with a 22.5% grant – Miskin was one and was thought of by the WDA as a suitable site for the new plant. Ford however had chosen Bridgend because of its proximity to the interchange on the new M4; but Bridgend was not a Special Development Area. So in the October, Ford issued an ultimatum to the government in London given it 24 hours to change the designation of Bridgend.  This produced one of the more farcical moment of the Callaghan government. Alan Varley the Secretary of State for Industry was not available  to sign the relevant  papers so they had to be taken across London to Tower Bridge where  the junior minister Alan Williams was on a visit to the Port of London Authority in order for Ford to get its extra two and a half percent.

When the sums were all added up, and finally made public, the £180 million investment looked rather different. In addition to the £40 million under the regional grants scheme Ford also receive £75 million for assisting job creation. A total of £115 million is state support to which Ford added £65 million.  It was a good deal for Ford.

Now as the global strategy tilts it’s off somewhere else; it has another engine plant in Mexico with spare capacity. However it  leaves  behind more workers without jobs, and  a shattered  industrial strategy that raises serious  questions about the future.

‘My Dog’s Got what I’ve Got!’

Dogs and Humans

Some years ago I was helping with a study of older people and the ways in which they kept in touch with friends and family. As part of the survey we showed them a circle and asked them to place themselves in the centre and locate their friendships around them – the closest nearer to the centre (and them) and others further away. We were often asked whether pets could be included and they were invariably placed near the centre of the circle revealing an important truth about human-animal friendship. Many people find their closest emotional bonds to lie with animals as well as humans; animals as several people asserted, have become “part of the family”.

jack1In sociology human-animal interaction has previously been of little interest and has rarely been studied. When it has been given attention this has most often involved considering animals as entirely separate species and “objects” in relation to human beings. However findings like these, studies by biologists of living animals in their natural settings, and documentary programmes such as those by David Attenborough have revealed many of the similarities between humans and animals. Animals are now viewed as sentient and imaginative beings in their own right. All this has become clear in my personal life. At home we have five cats, two horses and two rescue ponies. We also have a dog: a springer spaniel called Jack. They are all very much “part of the family”, but this is a story about Jack and me.

Jack the Dog

Jack is a springer spaniel and we took him on when he was three months old. He had been living with a family with four young children in a semi-detached house in Cardiff. Without exercise he was proving difficult to handle! At that time our previous dog (a spaniel) had died and as we were planning to move from our house in a village to a smallholding we thought that it would be an ideal time to have a new puppy.

We knew about spaniels and that springers were especially energetic but nothing could have prepared us for Jack. He was ‘perpetual motion’: forever running flat out, jumping over walls, always with something in his mouth, often a plant pot covering his eyes.

jack2I got used to finding my slippers in the compost heap. The builders who visited found their gloves and caps disappearing, as well as their paint brushes and hammers. When anything was lost the shout would go up for “Jack!” Soon this little dog had come to dominate all our conversations, usually accompanied by laughter. People became convinced that he had a sense of humour. He would take a glove, run away with it and drop it when asked, only to run back to take the other one of the pair where you had left it! One of our friends was asked by his work mates why he kept smiling and he replied: “I’m just thinking about that bloody dog”. For us, he had become the centre of the house, with an excited greeting every morning, looking forward to the day, following us wherever we went; brilliant and happy with the cats and the sheep and with people. Oddly enough the dog had made it easier for us to interact with people who visited us here on the farm.

However we began to notice a change. When he was about three he was coming into the house in the afternoon and sleeping in his bed. He wasn’t quite as eager in the mornings and we thought that this was the sign of him “slowing down” as he matured. People had predicted that this would happen and that he couldn’t carry on at the pace he was setting. While he was still running around, it was not with such manic intent, and on one occasion he had taken a rest in the field on the way home. I suppose that this should have alerted us to a problem. However it soon become very clear that something was badly wrong. One morning we woke to find that Jack had been sick in the night and couldn’t get out of his bed!

Addison’s Disease

jack3Our vet, Bernice Fitzmaurice, was worried. She looked in Jack’s mouth, and his cold white gums indicated that he was in shock. He was put on a drip and kept in over the weekend for tests. She thought that he might have Addison’s Disease, a rare condition in dogs but not impossible given his symptoms.

We thought this was most unlikely, even impossible, because I had been diagnosed with Addison’s Disease ten years earlier. The disease is even more rare in human beings than dogs and the chances that both of us would have it were exceptionally limited. However, and in spite of all our doubts, the tests confirmed that Jack did indeed have Addison’s – our dog had the same illness as me!

The current estimates of the national incidence in dogs vary from 0.036% to 0.5%. It was common to calculate its prevalence in humans at 35–60 per million and although recent studies suggest a figure nearer 117 per million ( 0.0117%) it is still very rare. So for both of us to have ended up with this unusual and uncommon illness was quite a surprise. Although Riverside Vets in Abergavenny have 7 other dogs (of different breeds) with Addison’s , none of them have owners with the same condition, nor have they ever come across a similar case.

Addison’s Disease is an idiopathic adrenal insufficiency, most commonly brought about by the progressive destruction of the adrenal gland by the immune system. As such the symptoms become more acute over time, explaining Jack’s progressive deterioration. It is the same disease in humans and dogs but there are some differences that relate to our differing metabolisms. The human adrenal gland has three zones producing glucocorticoids, mineralocorticoids and a male hormone. Dogs have just the first two zones but not the third, and they produce much less glucocorticoid than humans. As such the treatment – which is to provide replacement medication (‘steroids’) – is slightly different.

Diagnosis

I remembered how it came about that I was diagnosed. I had been very weary for many months. Sometimes in the evening after work I would find even talking to be too much effort. My wife, Helen, thought that I exhibited many of the symptoms of depression yet paradoxically without seeming miserable. I became more and more tired, occasionally exhausted and then unsteady on my feet. After a fall, a registrar at Neville Hall noticed pigmentation of my skin which is a tell-tale sign of Addison’s (which is notoriously difficult to diagnose) in humans. His suspicions were further aroused by a blood test showing high levels of potassium and low levels of sodium. One of the other features of the condition in people is a “postural drop” in blood pressure that occurs when standing up and produces unsteadiness. This of course can be checked but I wondered how vets were able to come to a diagnosis, given that the symptoms are so unspecific and, of course, dogs can’t talk.

jack4Bernice explained that they see Addison’s as “the great pretender”. It mimics many other conditions and in their training vets are alerted to “things that don’t respond as they should to treatment”. They look out for any unsteadiness or hind limb weaknesses and are especially alerted by intestinal problems, or vomiting and dehydration and, as with humans, they would initially check on the electrolytes and see any warning signs of low sodium and high potassium. This is what they did with Jack and, as with humans, followed it with the Synacthen test which confirmed that his adrenal gland wasn’t working. 

Tablet Routines and Recovery

Given our differences, our medication is slightly different: I need to take a lot of hydrocortisone while Jack has to take much more fludrocortisone in a tablet called Florinef to replace his mineralocorticoids. We have to do this daily and this does mean that we have similar routines. We are the great tablet takers!

To ease this vital process, Jack’s tablets are wrapped in a piece of chicken. This has meant that he never forgets. When the dose is due he has been known to stand looking at the fridge door to remind me. This also reminds me to take mine!

The tablet regime brought things back into balance for Jack. He was soon back to normal: he hadn’t really slowed up at all!

Crises

jack5However things can go off the rails for him and for me. Jack had broken his leg when he was still a young dog and he had endured the surgery and the recovery period with great fortitude. However when he needed a further operation to remove the metal work in his leg, the fact that he had Addison’s Disease was a cause of concern requiring the surgeon to provide steroids during the operation and us to (temporarily) add hydrocortisone to his tablet regime when we got him home.

Infections and stress can also make things go out of balance which, if not corrected can turn into a crisis.   Both Jack and I have had crises and they aren’t very pleasant. I can end up in A&E. The last time I was there the Senior House Officer was amazed to hear about Jack and he insisted that I should write about the fact that ‘my dog’s got what I’ve got’. That’s just one of the many ways in which Jack has entered the fabric of our lives and been good for us.

jack6We have also been good for him. If you don’t have Addison’s Disease it’s hard to understand what it is and how it operates. We’ve learned that it’s important to spot the signs in me and this helps us with Jack. It means that we have been able (so far) to intervene when things are out of kilter for him and to prevent an acute crisis.

So we help each other. Given how rare the disease is in humans the chances of Jack finding us was a bit like a needle in a haystack; perhaps two and a half million to one. For his sake and ours, we’re glad that he did.

Huw Beynon

Many thanks to Helen Sampson for her help with the writing of this piece and to our vet Bernice Fitzmaurice for her advice and encouragement.