Wednesday, 10 July 2013


Sheep Revolution : Makeshift Studios 2013

Everybody, at some time or another in their lives, has hopes, ambitions and dreams. It is what keeps us all fired up through the dark times, and as we inch closer to those aspirations it's what lightens our mood. It is why we strive at school, at university, in work, so we can secure and maintain a lifestyle we can enjoy. We face challenges and work hard and hope to be valued and loved and cared about. All these efforts also fit many of our emotional, psychological and spiritual needs.

Me? I want to travel more, make contact with, talk to and write people's stories, and try and understand the world that spins so rapidly around us.

That's what the Rush Hour project is really all about.

But what happens when you hit the wall?

You hit the wall through no fault of your own. In fact, you have done everything right, everything the teachers, politicians and economists advised you should do. You have been a model citizen, student and worker, worked extremely hard and now you can't find a job with your university degree. Or you have toiled all your life only to be made redundant, discarded like an empty milk carton and forced to join the unemployment line. Your hopes, ambitions and dreams quickly crumble into dust. Opportunities to develop in your chosen field vanish, your lifestyle dissolves, you feel empty.

The contemporary problem, of course, is not unemployment but the persistence of high unemployment. We are five years into financial crisis and the numbers remain far too high. Overall, Europe has an unemployment rate of 12.1 per cent (May 2013), while the size of the problem within individual states varies enormously.

In Greece and Spain the unemployment rate hovers around 27 per cent, with youth unemployment (18-24) an astonishing 62 per cent and 56 per cent respectively. In Portugal unemployment stands at 18 per cent, Cyprus 15.5 per cent, Republic of Ireland 13.5 per cent and Italy 12 per cent.

But the data masks something else that lies deeper and more disturbing within our societies. A gradual slide toward lower wages and underemployment. A feature our elected representatives seem powerless or unwilling to do anything about it.

Young people for whom the future has been closed off and older, more mature workers no longer have any of the old certainties as redundancies increase, pensions attacked and welfare chopped.

I recently spoke with an ex-miner in a pub. Jay C was 58 and happy to chat to me about his life in the coal industry. He recounted the time when, at the tender age of 18, he and a colleague had been buried alive when a beam in the pit where he worked crumpled and the roof started to fall in on them. They managed, somehow, to clamber under some wooden tressels and call out for help. In those days they had a tannoy system that ran along the walls of the pit and they were able to use this to direct their fellow workers to where they were.

I saw him pause and raise his pint to his lips. He looked older than his 58 years. His skin was paper thin in the artificial light and crumpled around his eyes. Deep, unforgiving, lines were savagely cut into his forehead, his cheeks red and glowing, his hair sparse and greying. He had worked in the coal industry all his working life and told me that in 1965 an average of 4 miners a day lost their lives in the British coalfields.

Now, he was telling me that after 40 years, he had just been made redundant.
'Not even a f*****g carriage clock' he smiled. 'Just like that,' he clicked his fingers.

He then pointed out that Stephen Hester, the retiring CEO of Royal Bank of Scotland, is being given a £6 million handshake for five years work.

'How the f**k does that work?' He sounded perplexed. 'I worked 12 hour shifts, six days a week and get a few thousand in a works pension, and certainly not enough not enough to retire on. You tell me if that is fair? I wonder if Osborne thinks I am a shirker now?*'

He took another pull at his pint.

On the short walk home I passed the park near to where I live. I could see a group of youths by the entrance, some were on bikes, flatlanders, otherwise known as BMX, others were smoking and drinking from litre bottles of White Lightning (a brand of cheap white cider). They were loud and raucous, as teenagers fueled up on a Saturday evening tend to be, and I hurried past not wishing to engage them.

However, I had second thoughts and considered that these are the very people we should be speaking with. Aggressive, nihilistic and despairing, their teenage eyes already empty.

I thought about the ex-miner, nobody really seemed to care or was willing to do anything about his situation, just as no one seemed to care about these lost kids happily killing their brain cells in the park. Across the generations no one seemed to be able or willing to help any of them young or old, now they just looked for solace in alcohol.

What about all those hopes, dreams and aspirations? Lost in the haze of a drunken hour... I suppose ( with apologies to Morrisey).

* A reference to George Osborne's implied comment that the unemployed were shirkers.

No comments:

Post a Comment