|Working-class heroes. Their descendants work now at Sports Direct. Photograph: Kurt Hutton/Getty Images
That remoteness did not stop in the post-war years when Orwell penned this non-fiction book based on his travels around the north of England. It continues today even if our economy is no longer coal-dependent. It is hard to fathom that at one point, not just a whole nation, but also the majority of the fast-developing, industrial nations of the West relied on coal. If you ever read The Road to Wigan Pier (and I strongly recommend it) you will begin to understand a bit more the class system in British society and the subtle ways in which it works. As I mentioned before, even if I was made aware of how classist the UK still is many years ago, I was still surprised to find it spelled out in such a blunt and no-holds-barred language as it appears in this book.
Perhaps the timing to read one of Orwell’s most famous non-fiction pieces is not that bad. After all, 'tis the season when we want to gather round the tree, so to speak, and spend time with those we love and care for. We also tend to think of those who make a positive difference in our lives and who have an impact on them. I wonder if someone in Hampstead or Surrey, back in ’37 or ’38 ever thought fondly of John Smith, coal miner in Lancashire, who ensured the fire was always burning down south. I wonder if we ever think of their modern surrogates: the zero-hour contract workers, the back-of-the-van, cash-in-hand, newly-arrived immigrants, the recent graduates manning tills at Tesco’s and other supermarkets on Christmas Eve and the below-the-minimum-wage workers grafting at billionaire-controlled retail chains. They do not make things and they do not make our fires burn, especially because most of us enjoy central heating these days. And yet, where would our modern consumerist-minded society be without their contribution? They might not walk underground for hours on end at the mercy of rocks falling and gas explosions as the miners in Orwell's book did, but they are still an essential part of our economic – "unfair", I would add, before that “economic” – cycle. This last post of 2015 is for them, for those unsung heroes that ensure our children are taught well, our hospitals are kept clean, our shops and supermarkets are open at all hours and our brand-new mobiles are delivered before Christmas. To all of you, thank you, I hope you manage to get some time off to spend with the people you love and care for.
See you all in January 2016. Until then, Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year to you all!