Spectators' applause evokes terrible nostalgia: Andrew Brown travels to London with miners from Trentham, where 1,500 jobs are at stake

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The Independent Online
TRENTHAM colliery in Stoke- on-Trent produced more coal than anywhere in England last year - 2.3 million tons. If it shuts on 13 January, as British Coal plans, this will put more men - 1,500 - out of work than any other closure in the programme.

You would only have guessed the first statistic from the mood of the miners who gathered there in a drizzling ash-coloured dawn for coaches to the demonstration in Hyde Park.

The eight coachloads of men and their families who gathered outside the pit before seven o'clock seemed cheerful enough. Cold rain seeped under collars as they waited in good-humoured confusion. Many wore Britsh Coal tabards with the 'British' crossed out and 'Not Dole' written under 'Coal'.

On the long journey down, the early radio bulletins explained that the Government had probably wriggled out of its bind. The miners concentrated on the support they were getting from the other inhabitants of the traffic jams north of Birmingham.

A coachload of pensioners waved vigorously. At the back, a little old lady brandished a supporting sandwich at the passing miners - 'caviar butty]' shouted someone.

Kevin Perry, one of the union officials on the coach, had been sent to beard Mr Heseltine on his estate earlier this week. He didn't seem greatly impressed that the minister had spoken to him for 50 minutes - nor by the fact that the President of the Board of Trade's garden was so big that his daughter had had to summon him from a distant part by dialling his mobile telephone.

Everyone around Kevin Perry mocked him enough to show how proud they were. They kept saying he had signed up as Mr Heseltine's gamekeeper. But they did not explore the possibilities of this fantasy very far: the last time an ex-miner signed up as a gamekeeper was when Mellors went to work for Constance Chatterley.

Kevin described his surreal conversation with the minister - 'Pezza meets Hezza', his pals shouted - and concluded: 'What Heseltine had was excuses and not solutions. He went through all the options. But there was one option he had forgotten - that we're going to fight tooth and nail. We don't consider these our jobs, they're our country's jobs and our children's jobs.' This was not meant as a joke, though other miners said no young man had been started down the pits since the strike of 1984-85.

The sight of a coal lorry in Park Lane with a couple of sacks on an otherwise empty platform made the whole coach laugh. 'Nobody's got a coal fire in London. What they burn round here is council houses,' Dave said.

Once in London, it was a moving experience for men about to lose their jobs to walk for 400 yards down the Bayswater Road between double lines of spectators, applauding, not jeering, as they passed by. But there was a terrible nostalgia about the support for their cause. At a time when even the miners dare not strike, loud calls for a general strike now brought home the weakness of their position.

A Trotskyite girl with a megaphone started a chant not heard for many years: 'The miners, united, will never be defeated.' But there were more than three times as many miners at the end of the 1985 strike as there are now. Saddest of all were the banners. There are so few now. One from Yorkshire showed a Forties couple gazing into the bright sunrise of nationalisation. Another, from Easington, had the motto: 'Close the door on past dreariness.'

Afterwards, on the coach, the men discussed how many people had turned out for them. A union official guessed at 150,000 and claimed the police would say 60,000 or 70,000. It seemed a matter of pride to them to believe that the outside world conspired to pretend there were fewer than there are.

As they left the capital, they were only the third item on the radio news, after a bomb that hadn't damaged anybody. The announcer said 'tens of thousands' of miners had marched. 'Ten thousand]' shouted someone. 'What did I tell you?'

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