There was a pit village at the rural fringes of the county. Along with many others, the pit had closed following the miner's strike of the mid 1980s. Everyone who had worked there or had otherwise worked for the National Coal Board had lost their jobs. Many of the other jobs that had relied on the income generated by the mine had also been lost, and many of those that remained were hanging by a thread.
Within a short time of the closure, the village's fabric had begun noticeably to decay. Paint peeled from woodwork, nail-sick roof tiles slipped out of place, boarded-up shops and houses dotted the streets, and tall grass and weeds grew through the litter in the gardens and grass verges.
Such had been the importance of the mine that no aspect of village life went unscathed. Absenteeism increased in the local primary school. Tearful childish squabbles could quickly escalate into hitting out. Hitherto able to find solutions through their common bond, parents would fall into angry arguments with other parents at the school gates about what one child was said to have done to another child, the school often being dragged in as each side tried to convince the teachers that their child was the innocent party.
In these disputes, one name came up repeatedly. This was that of Daniel, a 10-year-old boy. By all accounts Daniel had once been, if not exactly a model pupil, then one who was not significantly different from his classmates. But he had, according to some parents, taken to bullying, and some of that being rather unpleasant. The actual evidence against him was slim and itself not suggestive of systematic bullying. But when a bandwagon gets rolling, it doesn't need evidence. All it needs is belief.
The sharpened eyes of parents and of the other children were on Daniel as they awaited further confirmation of his bullying, such confirmation inevitably arriving, and with a frequency in direct proportion to the extent with which it had been expected. But, with equal inevitability, closer examination of the incidents had always revealed behaviour which once would have been regarded as nothing special but which was now interpreted as bullying. Where once a child might have said Daniel stuck his tongue out at them, they were now inclined to describe his behaviour as bullying.
None of this was particularly unusual and the school staff normally would have dealt with it themselves. But such was the tension over the matter and the way in which Daniel had become something of a lightning conductor, that the head teacher decided to seek outside help. Accordingly, he called Daniel's home and asked his mother for permission to consult me. This she gave readily and with relief for she was frightened at the way things were developing. A date was set for the four of us to meet in the school, the idea being to talk things through and see what, if any, steps might be taken.
In the event only Daniel's father turned up for the meeting. That in itself was unusual since out of two parents it was most often only the mother who turned up. Besides, in this case it was not as if either had other demands on their time since both had lost their jobs. The head teacher and I exchanged glances as if to confirm a mutual suspicion that there had been a domestic row.
It was immediately apparent that Daniel's father was not a happy man. He gave my offered hand a perfunctory touch before settling uneasily into a chair. I began in the usual way by explaining to him what I was and what I did. He stared at the floor as I talked. Then, also as usual, I began to outline to him everything I had been told about the situation so far. In doing this, I used the word 'bullying' insofar as it was part of what I had been told.
Daniel's father bristled instantly. 'So you're telling me my son's a bully?' he broke in angrily. 'You're just the same as everybody else!' I tried to explain that what I was doing was letting him know what I had been told about what other people were saying, the purpose of that being two-fold: first so that we all knew what information the rest of us were starting with; and second, to have it examined and corrected where necessary. But the man had stopped listening. Before I'd finished, he got to his feet and told me there was no point because I had already made up my mind that Daniel was a bully. On his way out, he paused momentarily by the open door, turned round and said he was going to report me to Arthur Scargill.
I looked across the desk at the head teacher and shrugged. As far as I was concerned, Arthur Scargill was a fox that had long since been shot, even if he had pulled the trigger himself. And even if Daniel's father could get in touch with him, he would scarcely be interested enough in such trivia to take time off from his wider political mission.
The head teacher clasped his head between his hands, his face suddenly
ashen. 'You don't get it,' he said. 'Arthur Scargill is a hero to these folks.'
Scargill was not a distant figure to them, the head teacher went on. He was approachable and he always listened. And he was formidable in pursuit of their interests, even after their jobs had gone. He personally would pursue cases on their behalf, such as injury compensation claims, or ensuring that their needs were addressed in respect of pneumoconiosis and other lung diseases. He advised on and pursued benefit claims for them, often overcoming obdurate officialdom where all else had failed. He had even been known to go round the doors asking if there was anything he could help with.
I was much chastened. For irrespective of whether all of this were true or folklore, the fact remained that Scargill was a venerated figure in the village. I was also much alarmed. The prospect of being worked over by such an articulate and determined figure was not an appealing one.
Back in the office, much sport was had at my expense as my innocence (I was relatively new to the job) was ruthlessly exploited. 'Oh dear!' went the general theme. 'You're toast!' Although aware that the humorous function of teasing only works if its substance is plainly untrue, I remained mightily worried until a seasoned colleague eventually put the matter in context. Sure enough, she said, Arthur Scargill was much respected in his mining communities for his union work. But, she went on, people don't get that kind of respect by agreeing with everything their followers say. They get it by being straight with them. If ever Daniel's father did complain to Scargill, he was more likely to be told to reset the meeting, and this time to play it more thoughtfully.
In the event, no more was heard about the matter. I did hear some months later, though, that the problems over Daniel had faded away to nothing. I have often wondered if Arthur Scargill, or even just the thought of him, quietly sorted it out amongst his members in the village. But I shall never know.