My father was a coal miner for 46 years, starting in 1935 aged 14. By the time he retired, he drove a coal-cutting machine costing several million pounds and a shift of men relied on him for their health and wealth. Reckless work could literally bring the roof down but being too careful meant smaller pay packets.
He rarely talked about work so I knew little about what he did until I started drinking in the same pubs and clubs as his fellow miners, where I came to realise that in a small way, he was a legend in his pit.
I recall a story told to me by his long-time workmate that went something like this: “Ayup, thaz Raymond’s lad, int tha? He’s a reyt un, thi fatha, tha norz!”
This translates as: “Hello Neil. You are Raymond’s son, are you not? He is a character of note, you know!” To save time, I shall use the translated version for the rest of the story.
The workmate continued: “Your dad does not stand for any nonsense from the deputies. Bernard [a deputy] came round the other day and requested that Raymond cease the getting of coal to complete some formalities. Your father pointed out the national and personal importance of the work in which he and his colleagues were engaged. He then dismissed Bernard, with instructions to go and find himself more worthwhile labour.”
After my dad retired, he often said he would go back to work the next day if they would have him, although by then the mine had become a casualty of Margaret Thatcher and Ian MacGregor. All his life he did an honest job, accepting necessary regulations – of which there were many – because he was smart enough to know that lives depended on them. But he had no time for box ticking.
Much as he loved the pit, he was always adamant that I should not become a miner, as were all my friends’ fathers with their kids.
All my working life I have been in financial services, where the office walls are straight and there is no danger of the roof falling in. The floor is dry, there is no gas, nor any of the dust that killed my dad at 72.
Financial services should be seen as an occupation to aspire to. In reality, I know advisers who are as adamant as my dad that their kids will not follow them.
The reason is that to new recruits and seasoned professionals alike, the regulatory regime is seen as overly intrusive, substantially unnecessary, counterproductive and verging on the vindictive. If Bernard had given my father Section K to complete, Dad would have told him to stick it in pigeonhole A.
My dad, of course, was in the NUM and the union was generally a good thing. It worked for its members and they were a lot better off for its existence. I am in Apfa for the same reasons. Politics is far too important to be left to the politicians.
Perhaps a bit of my dad’s attitude to officialdom and regulation has rubbed off on me. I hope so.
Neil Liversidge is managing director of West Riding Personal Financial Solutions