Whilst going back through the photographs from the trip I came across one that brought back a flood of emotional memories. Worth sharing I think.
When we were in Easington on the North East coast of England we stopped for a short break and to have a bite to eat. Two things from that day really stick in my mind and I would like to share them with you.
The first was a gentleman by the name of Edward who Gill befriended whilst I was off in search of a public toilet. I came back to find my place on our bench had been taken by this cheerful old man and he was happily engaged in the business of telling his life story to Gill.
A miner for 35 years, he had been made redundant, or thrown on the scrap heap as I understood it, just twelve months before he was due to retire. Just four years after this devastating and humiliating treatment his wife died. At about the same time the mine he had worked in for all those years was closed for good. When we met him he had been a widow for twenty six years. Now he spends his days sitting on his bench observing his home town as it tries desperately to maintain a modicum of dignity amidst the devastating economic and social damage done by the closure of the pit all those years ago. He told us that a few jobs had been created in start up businesses in the years following the closure but most had withered and died as soon as the grant money dried up. Now the town is occupied by a generation of Mums and Dads whose only skill that they can pass on to their children is a detailed knowledge of the state benefit system. It was all terribly sad and only Edward’s undaunted and determined positive outlook on life could lift my spirits. That is until I wandered into the community centre still looking for a toilet. There I found Amanda and Angela and a whole heap of positive energy and community pride. They appeared to be doing a giant jig saw but on closer inspection the pieces turned out to be small bits of coloured glass and the jig saw was in fact a large mosaic. The plan was to involve as many people as possible in it’s creation and to record the names of all the contributors in a book about the project. We were thrilled to be asked to stick a couple of shiny squares in place and to leave our mark, however small, in this symbol of defiance and optimism.
It was very inspiring to see this spark of pride and community amongst these people. They must have really had the stuffing knocked out of them over the last twenty years but they were still hanging in there and sticking together. It was just the kind of thing to bring us down to earth and remind us how incredibly lucky and privileged we were to be able to just swan off on a five month bike ride.
Not long before we got to the end of our trip I received an e-mail that made me incredibly happy. Amanda and Angela had remembered our visit and thought we might like to see the finished result. I thought you might like to see it too.
How wonderfully uplifting is that? If ever there was a shining example of how important it is to not give in, to battle on and look for the positive then this mosaic must surely be it.