Two Scenes From My Life In Thatcher’s Britain

1. Plank Lane Leigh Lancashire July 1984

One evening we were heading north towards Wigan on the Canal. Shortly after eight o’clock we reached an electric swing bridge near the Plank Lane coal mine in Leigh. The bridge, as we found out, was only manned until eight so we had no chance of going further until the following day. An evening in Plank Lane it was.

There was a pub was in the shadow of the winding wheel of the colliery. The machinery was silent as it had been since March. A group of pickets greeted us and waved, rattled their collecting buckets. It was a balmy summer’s evening, not the time of year for a miners’ strike I reflected. The pub was quiet, very quiet. No money meant no business and a group lf students, even students who hadn’t had a proper bath for a week was a Godsend. Our welcome was very warm and carried on into the small hours. Shortly  before closing tine a few locals came in, , the doors were locked and the curtains drawn. Plank Lane was determined that, even if we were moving on the following day. some of our money would stay behind. And we left a little bit more as well, stopping at three o’clock to put as much as we could afford in the collecting buckets. We had just finished university, had jobs waiting for us, careers to begin, The people of Plank Lane had a further eight months of not knowing where their next meal was coming from.

2. Dudley West Midlands July 1988

I was looking to buy a house and had found what I thought might be a suitable property in Dudley. I arranged a visit one evening. I was not alone. The estate agent had arranged a mass viewing and nearly 50 people crammed into the inter-war semi. The message was clear. Bid well above the asking price or you’ve got no chance. This was the year that Nigel Lawson’s budget slashed income tax and announced the end of double tax relief for couples with effect from 1st August, sending an already booming housing market into a frenzy the like of which we had never seen before. At least that house made it into the estate agent’s window. Many houses at that time were sold even before the boards went up. It was not unusual for estate agents to buy houses through intermediaries  ensuring that their clients never knew of better offers. They, of course, resold immediately and cashed in. The culture of greed, that has led to the mess we find ourselves in today, had well and truly arrived..


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