I did training the other day, with the East Dunbartonshire Council, as I’ll be starting as a supply Cultural Assistant. I got to look inside the Auld Kirk museum in Kirkintilloch, an amazing place, very small, but quite densely packed with interesting things. I sometimes have a problem with information-heavy museum displays – not enough evocative objects, too much narrative, but the Auld Kirk has it pitched just right. There isn’t a lot of stuff there, but what there is is interesting, and backed up by some very interesting displays as context.
One of the displays was about the old coal mines underneath the area, and the miners who worked there. It wasn’t pretty – one display discussed how a family noticed their father had hundreds of pussy sores running down one side of his body, leaving him uncomfortable. It was from working on his side in dirty water for hours. Another brutally honest display quoted a miner as discussing what happened down there when you had an upset stomach. I hadn’t even thought of going to the toilet down there, never mind when a bunch of guys have the shits. It’s not a pleasant thought.
All of which got me thinking – you know generally, we’ve never had it so good. I mean, I know sometimes we say this, and I know at other times things are really tough, but I personally think it’s worth remembering that we (in the West, certainly) are living in a time of privilege and good living standards. Our fathers don’t have miner’s lung. We don’t have miner’s lung. We don’t have to be out there slogging our guts out on the coal face. Sure, we call it the coal face, and it really, really gets us down when we’re stuck in our soulless, mind-numbing jobs, trapped in a spiral of debt or consumerism, always waiting for the next big milestone as our jumping off point. But we don’t know the hardships of our grandfathers and grandmothers, and their fathers and mothers.
I think that’s worth remembering, but not for the reasons you might think. In an age when we’ve never had it so good, I think it’s worth recognising that in some ways, shit-faced governments like ours have us over a barrel oven more. There’s more available to us, more for them to hold back, and in making us think that we’re dirt poor, we become it. We don’t think we deserve to rise above our place, to demand more. In this day and age, it’s all there for us to take. Of course there are people whose circumstances make that incredible difficult. There are people who will never be able to achieve more than what they have right now. Of course that’s true. But to listen to the majority of us right now, you’d think we were all living in some crumbling Eastern bloc country right after the fall of the USSR.
That’s because we allow our leaders to make us think like that.
As part of my personal transformation in 2012, I’m going to try and remember those quotes from the miners, and remember that when I’m feeling downtrodden and put upon, I don’t know what real suffering is, and I’ll be thankful. And then I’ll remember to do my absolute best to make my life as exciting and interesting and self-fulfilling as I have the right to make it, because the opportunities are finally there.