Thursday, July 15, 2010

Saturday, July 11 DURHAM

Today is a big day in Durham and it gets off to an early start. It is the 126th annual Miners Day Gala. For over one hundred years Durham County was a huge coal-mining region and has had a very strong Union presence, with strong Socialists leanings. On the second Saturday of July the various unions come to Durham to march in a parade and attend a political rally. At its height in the 1950s the parade attracted over 250,000 people.
The coalmines were already starting to fade when the evil Maggie came to power in the early 1980s and declared war on the coal miners unions. (She won.) The last coal mine in Durham County closed in the mid-1990’s. The end to a way of life, which has yet to be replaced.

However the parade goes on. It starts at 8.00am sharp. Each union is represented by a large banner and hires a small marching band to march in front of the banner. As my room faces the river and this is the beginning of the parade route, it sounds like they are marching thru my room. I was actually ready for this, so I grab my camera and join in. Its mostly sunny today and the streets are quickly filling with people come to watch the parade.

Watching the passing banners one thing quickly becomes clear. The unions are dying. No mines = no jobs = no new union members = dying unions. Some of the banners have more band members in front of them than union members behind them.
I am reminded of a song by Mark Knopfler (who grew up around here) that I have not been able to get out of my head for a while now. It’s called “5.15 am” and includes the following:

“Seams blew up or cracked
Black diamonds came hard won
Generations toiled and hacked
For a pittance and black lung.
Crushed by tub or stone
Together and alone
How the young and old
Paid the price for coal.”

Nothing remains now but the dead and dying.

About 10.00am the pubs open and the day’s second favorite activity begins – drinking. Coffee cups disappear, replaced by pints.
I get the idea and go back to the house. Time for another challenge – laundry. The only laundry facilities are back at the main house. Three washers and three dryers for all the house linen as well as the personal clothing of all the guests. Oh boy. I manage to get everything done with destroying anything.

On my way back to the house I can see that the marching goes on – on and on. Eventually they will make their way to the cathedral where there will be a blessing. I don’t go but those who do say the priest made a speech whose socialist leanings shocked them. They have never heard something like that coming from a pulpit. (The day I arrived in country the new government told all government ministries to prepare new budgets reflecting 40% cuts. If that happens the social service programs that areas like Durham depend on will be devastated and the region as well.)
I wander around town for a while watching the non-Gala activities then go back to the house for a nap. I leave the house at 7pm to get some dinner. I get 15 feet down the street where I find people have taken to sitting in the street and drinking. I can see it is going to be one of those nights – a night best stayed indoors away from the drunks and trouble.

About the images:
The flags and marching bands that repersent the various coal mining unions.

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