Tuesday, 28 June 2016

Writing - From the people

Following the exit from the EU, the England football team engineered its own exit from the Euros football championship last evening. It reminded me of the quality of the footballers that won in the World Cup competition of 1966. There were two very special players from the winning team that were from a village in the north east - Ashington - the Charlton brothers. It was also home to another footballing legend, Jackie Milburn and England cricketer Steve Harmison.

Image result for bobby and jackie charlton
Bobby and Jack Charlton

However, Ashington is also famous for a very specific school of art.

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The Pitmen Painters, a celebrated group of miners-turned-artists, rose to prominence in the 1930s with their work chronicling life in the coal-mining town of Ashington, Northumberland. Now, inspired by their example, photographers are capturing the spirit of a community decimated by that industry's decline. 

The movement began eighty years ago as a Workers Education Association created to give coal miners access to art.
-The Pitmen paintings were inspired by the artists' own lives
-The group held its first exhibition in 1936 at the Hatton Gallery in Newcastle and many of the paintings are on permanent display at Woodhorn Museum in Ashington.
-Written by Billy Elliot creator Lee Hall, their story was turned into a play that was performed at the Royal National Theatre in London and on Broadway.

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Ashington is a large town, population around 30 000 people, and is in decline as an industrial area as it was in the early part of last century. The idea of recording the lives of ordinary people on camera is a step forward in technology from paintings but the intention is the same.

The Xmas Tree

So the painting on the left is echoed in the photograph on the right. 

George McLean                                       Julian Germain

The painting by George McLean depicts a husband caring for his wife. In the 1930s there were no carers organisations and no NHS so the duty of caring for sick people fell on the family. The man sitting by his wife's bed was probably a miner, the house would have no central heating and he would be dog tired but there he sits next to his sick wife, fully dressed including flat cap, blanket round his shoulders, there if she needs him.

In today's photograph a carer wearing his latex gloves and probably in a comfortable environment provides the physical care that the man in the bed needs but the difference for me is the fact that there is something missing.

The man in the painting will have to provide the physical help but he is also providing love and making a sacrifice. The modern photograph is purely practical and the relationship between carer and patient will be purely centred around physical requirements. In fact the guy in bed may only have that carer for a short time before he has to become used to another. You can make your own choice as to which you prefer but the art has created questions in my mind. I know that when my mother was nearing the end of her life she had carers, and they were lovely with her but she wanted me, I was her only surviving relative, close which is natural. I was lucky in that the physical environment was comfortable.

Ashington Group Trustees
Washing day

Monday was washing day in our house and it was a fairly steamy draughty sort of experience with lots of boiling water and red faces. People don't have to put up with that these days.


-One of the largest towns in Northumberland with a population of 28,000, it grew from a few farms in the early 19th Century
-Its colliery opened in 1867 and shut in 1988
-At one point, Ashington was the largest mining village in the world.

God Bless