I live in an area, in Guardianista speak, of ‘post-industrial’ decline. An interesting catch-all phrase meaning an area that was once incredibly useful to the economy but which is now seen as a drain on it. A blip. A polyps. A carbuncle. Something the government wishes would disappear back under the rag rug from which it came.
This town and its army of workers were called into being by the capitalist economy of the 19th century. They risked and lost their lives, like so many others across the northern industrial lands of England, to build, to mine, to catch, to create, and bring the industrial and technological leviathan to life. It breathed fire, it crumpled things underfoot, and centuries-old ways of life were brought to a shuddering halt to turn a once mostly rural economy into one based on urbanism. Millions came to live in places like this to work, raise families and pass their lives as the industrial juggernaut, like some dragon guarding its gold pacing the country leaving it smoking and utterly and irredeemably changed.
But the leviathan has moved elsewhere stalking for prey, it’s now just a puff of smoke in the distance, a faintly heard roar. Those workers, and millions like them, now based on the other side of the world, since we outsourced our labour, helped to create the modern lives we live now, those roads, bridges, railways lines, methods of communication, international travel and consumer goods.
But what happens to an army of workers that are no longer needed? Civic architecture that now looks surreally bombastic and out of place? Rows and rows of workers houses now no longer seen as being quite fitting for modern lifestyles?
Thousands of people whose ancestors had a purpose, whose lives were mapped out for them from birth end up as being a problem, in government speak, that should be managed in its decline. What’s the ultimate future of places like this? Do we end up as buildings buried under grass, like some deserted medieval village, slowly buried by the sands of time and years of irrelevance to the modern capitalist economy.
Surely anyone who gets an education or gets a job or gets a live should ship out and leave right? But that’s to forget about what makes up a life. I was born and brought up here, went away for four years to study but then came back. Why? Because sometimes the things that make a life go beyond that which can be quantified. Family, friends, neighbours, neighbourhoods, the sense that people here know you, familiarity, security, memories, knowing that in some small way you can make a difference to the lives of others. Not ideas that will work well on a spreadsheet but things, that to me, still count.
And those that are currently enjoying the upside of being the focus of the leviathan should remember that things are born and they die. Everything has its day and its season then passes. Life goes on.